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August 11, 2008
Texting: the next big thing in balanced literacy? j/k!
Forget safety or motivation – the real reason to give a child a cell phone is to promote literacy. Newsweek reports that…
August 8, 2008
Manhattan Free School bringing “democratic” education to the East Village this fall
Brooklyn Free School on YouTube. The new private schools mentioned in this week’s Times article about growing demand for private school kindergarten spots all…
August 7, 2008
On using models, drafts, and peer critiques in the classroom…
I think people are afraid of candor with kids because they feel like they don’t want to fight with them; they don’t want to hurt their feelings; they don’t want to step on them. I think that’s a big mistake. I don’t think clarity and candor means meanness or hurting kids’ feelings. If you can be very specific about what’s working in a piece of work and equally specific about what’s weak, it’s a gift to the student who created it. So says Ron Berger in a thought-provoking interview in UnBoxed, "a journal of reflections on purpose, practice and policy in education" published by the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. Berger, of Expeditionary Learning Schools, thinks student projects should be organized around the concept of "crafting beautiful work," with the teacher using models of excellent work, peer critiques like those practiced in writing and art workshops for adults, and multiple drafts to help students create something truly masterful. Berger says that his ideas were informed by his experiences in the arts and architecture: As a self-employed carpenter I designed homes and additions, and you would never do blueprints for anything without an incredible amount of critique from the homeowners, from engineers, from other builders, from architects. That process of many different iterations of the project and many improvements along the way was the ethic of what we did. And that ethic, of being a craftsman and carpenter and trying to do things really well, certainly spilled over into my sense of what a classroom should be.
July 29, 2008
Children’s literature controversies, then & now…
I was very interested to learn from last week's New Yorker that some of the first public libraries for children were right here in New York City; the first in 1896 at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, followed in the early 1900s by a Central Children's Room at the New York Public Library and children's programs at the NYPL branch libraries. Anne Carroll Moore, who founded the Children's Library at Pratt and went on to run the Department of Works for Children at NYPL, also reviewed children's books, playing a decisive role in creating and shaping the field of children's literature. E.B. White and his wife, Katharine White, who wrote reviews for the New Yorker, tussled with Moore over what was appropriate for and appealling to children.
July 23, 2008
Random Family reflections
I'm a few years behind in reading Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's book chronicling a decade that she spent following a family from the Tremont neighborhood in the South Bronx. Timely or not, I can't help but post about it. The first thing that broke my heart was the pervasiveness of sexual abuse. By about 15 pages in, every single woman and girl in the book up to that point had been sexually abused by a family member, family friend, or acquaintance. One girl was only two years old when she was molested. The psychological toll of abuse is enormous, and when a problem is as widespread as this book suggests that it is, where do you even begin in helping people heal? The legacy of abuse runs through families, as daughters blame their mothers for not protecting them, even as they are often unable to protect their own daughters.
July 11, 2008
What are city teachers doing with their summers?
Buses parked at Coney Island School’s been out for about two weeks in New York City, and now that teachers have had a chance to…
July 10, 2008
Do better readers do better on tests of reading?
Yesterday, I took an initial look at the Manhattan Institute's study, "Building on the Basics." Today, I want to look at Florida's state science exam, the focus of the study. A common criticism of standardized tests is that they all, to some degree, test reading ability. What does the Science FCAT look like? What skills would you need to perform well on it? I've only seen the NYS Science exams, so I decided to download a Florida sample test and take a look. The first thing that surprised me about this test was the reading level, which seemed high. Many of New York City's fifth graders would (for better or for worse) stumble over sentences like, "Florida has many limestone caves containing formations called stalactites." I tracked down a site of readability analyzers and entered text from test items. Question 1: Melissa’s school rings a bell to alert students that it is time to start class. When the bell rings, it vibrates. The use of vibrations to send messages is an example of which type of energy? This one ranged from 4.72 to 10.07 in estimated US grade level required to understand it, which certainly calls into question the reliability of the readability analyzers, but also the ability of average 5th graders to understand this question.
July 9, 2008
Taking a closer look at “Building on the Basics”
I read with interest the Manhattan Institute’s report, “Building on the Basics: The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Student Proficiency in Low-Stakes Subjects.” The…
July 8, 2008
Recess in a huge public school is so loud you can hear it six stories up. Children play basketball, kickball, double-dutch, and games…
July 4, 2008
That’s one way to use your school’s gym
A More Perfect Union from Andrew Sloat on Vimeo. This moving civics lesson was filmed in the gym at St. Ann’s…
June 26, 2008
Middle school graduations: momentous or overblown?
My first year teaching in the South Bronx, I helped chaperone my 8th graders’ “prom.” I was a little surprised to hear them calling it…
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