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First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our
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August 21, 2008
How do you decide what’s developmentally appropriate?
How do you know when something is developmentally appropriate? asks the Science Goddess. My first thought was, I'll bet Daniel T. Willingham has addressed this one. Willingham, from the University of Virginia, writes a regular column in American Educator called "Ask the Cognitive Scientist," and sure enough, his column this summer asks, "What is developmentally appropriate practice?" Willingham writes that research has disproved some key assumptions behind the "developmentally appropriate" concept. The problem is that cognitive development does not seem amenable to a simple descriptive set of principles that teachers can use to guide their instruction. Far from proceeding in discrete stages with pervasive effects, cognitive development appears to be quite variable--depending on the child, the task, even the day (since children may solve a problem correctly one day and incorrectly the next).
August 21, 2008
An interactive whiteboard for the DIY teacher
(And really, what other kind of teacher is there?) Via DC Education Blog, instructions for making your own interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote, an…
August 21, 2008
More resources for creating a safe, productive school environment
With the start of the school year fast approaching, and the list of "persistently dangerous" schools released yesterday by the state, student behavior is on the mind of many educators and parents. New and returning teachers alike plan procedures and systems to help their students focus on learning, and many wonder how they will be supported as they try to create a positive classroom environment. Class rules, <em>by ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindah/113841605/##LindaH##</em> In response to last week's post about restorative justice, a reader sent me a link to the Dignity In Schools website, which includes an annotated list of resources for schools that want to implement strong, positive behavior management systems, improve family involvement, and make schools safer. Worth a look; I could imagine whole schools or grade teams coming together to study and implement some of these ideas.
August 20, 2008
Wanted: An urban planning activist-educator for LivableStreets.com
Anyone who’s spent time observing children watch “Sesame Street” or “Blue’s Clues” knows that kids enjoy learning most when topics are made fun for…
August 15, 2008
Restorative justice: An alternative method to make schools safer?
Yesterday's Student Safety Act rally brings to light the need to explore alternatives to policing for making schools safer. Few would dispute the need for school safety agents to handle the most serious incidents of violence, but what options exist for resolving the low-level incidents that characterize many school environments and make students feel unsafe on a day-to-day basis? Could school safety agents and others in schools play a different role in resolving conflicts? Finally, how can schools prevent problems and resolve underlying issues? This post takes a look at one possibility — expect more in coming weeks. What is restorative justice? An article about restorative justice in Rethinking Schools describes what happened when a student who broke a window at Humanities Prep in Manhattan went before the school's "Fairness Committee": During that session, the members of the committee found out that the day before he broke the window, his family received notice that they were being kicked out of their shelter and had no place to go. While this did not fully excuse his actions, we were able to discuss more fully and fairly what the consequences should be, as well as discuss more constructive ways to deal with anger. We jointly decided that he needed to give back to the school community in some way. Knowing that it would be ridiculous to ask a student who was homeless to pay for the window, we all agreed he would help answer the phone after school for a month. In the meantime, his advisor and the school social worker were able to reach out to his family and offer support. If the fairness committee had been a systematic, rigid mechanism, we would not have been able to brainstorm these solutions. "Restorative justice" refers to interventions like that conference that facilitate discussion among the offending student, those harmed by his or her actions, and others with significant relationships to either the victim or offender, such as family members. The process seeks to make the offender aware of the harm he or she has caused, take responsibility for it, and try to repair that harm to the extent possible by making reparation to the victim or community.
August 13, 2008
Online student-teacher friendships: pedagogically sound or just too risky?
Research shows that when teachers develop personal connections with their students, often by sharing information about their personal experiences and feelings, their…
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…
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