Principal: Teachers don’t know how to teach reading


CNN’s Kelly Wallace takes part in a game of Hedbanz during reading instruction at P.S. 94 in the Bronx.

Teachers need to be taught how to teach reading, says Principal Diane Daprocida, who runs a Bronx elementary school. University programs teach “philosophy of education, sociology of education, classroom management,” but not reading, she complains.

Finally, she partnered with Teaching Matters, which got a a $600,000 grant to improve reading instruction in high-poverty Bronx schools.

In each classroom, small groups of children work independently: In kindergarten, a table captain might say the sound of the beginning of a word while the other students write the letter on their smart boards. In second grade, students play the game Hedbanz, in which one person wears a headband with a word they can’t see and gets clues from the other students to try to guess the word. In third grade, three boys read “Paul Bunyan,” with each reading the text attributed to a different character.

 In addition to these independent work stations, teachers lead small groups of students in guided reading instruction. In kindergarten, a teacher and students discuss a book about feathers and what clues they have to know that the book is not about birds. In third grade, students reading “Behind Rebel Lines,” a book about a Civil War spy, discuss the motivations of the people they are reading about.

Teachers observe each other doing a guided reading lesson, then discuss what worked and what didn’t.

In the past, one or two third graders might read a fifth-grade-level book, said Daprocida. Now, “we’ve got third-grade kids across the board … reading those stories and being able to discuss the plot of those books, and it’s just amazing.”

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

She’s “had to buy a ton of new books.”

A majority of third-graders are reading at grade level by mid-year, an independent evaluation found. In the past, only 30 percent reached grade level, the principal said.

The major obstacle to success wasn’t that her students come from low-income families or don’t speak much English at home, she said. It was the skill level “to be able to teach reading, and that’s what we needed to bring to our teachers, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Timothy Shanahan has advice for being an effective reading coach.

Free-range Marge

In the Simpsons’ season finale, Orange is the New Yellow, Marge Simpson was arrested and sent to prison for letting Bart play in the playground without supervision.

It turned out to be a vacation from her demanding family.

Lenore Skenazy appreciates the plug for what she calls Free-Range Kids.

Chief Wiggum tells Marge: “A mother at the park saw something she disapproved of and, luckily for your son, she overreacted.”

When Marge gets 90 days for child neglect, Lisa says, “This is Kafka-esque!”

“I’ve got my eye on you,” says the judge.

Lisa: “Now it’s Orwellian!”

‘Mindfulness’ may help students learn


Mindfulness training may improve achievement, reports Emily Deruy in The Atlantic. A Chicago study is looking for evidence of effectiveness of breathing and relaxation exercises or asking students to focus on a feeling or emotion.

Children learn to focus, handle transitions and recover quickly from upsets, said Amanda Moreno, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a child-development-focused graduate school in Chicago. That frees up time for learning.

Moreno said she’s heard from teachers with students who have gone from five or six tantrums a day to none because they know they can go to their classroom’s “calm spot” whenever they feel like they’re spiraling out of control.

The program seems to be helping good schools get better, she said. It doesn’t do much for schools that lack a sense of community or a commitment to learning.

Mindfulness aims to “create compliant students who can manage their own behavior, focus on their assignments, and calm themselves when angry or frustrated with school,” wrote David Forbes in Salon.

That’s a bad thing, he argues. “Such students can then turn into passive, unquestioning consumers and cooperative workers who will help their corporate employers better compete in the global economy.”

People who can manage their own behavior also are a lot less likely to end up in prison.

Chicago teachers worry their students will be killed, writesMarilyn Rhames, who’s now an alumni counselor for a K-8 charter school.

Lee McCullum Jr., 22, — featured as the troubled kid turned honors student and prom king in the 2014 CNN series, Chicagoland — was shot and killed a few weeks ago. His girlfriend, Tiara Parks, 23, was killed a week earlier.

More learning leads to less violence


Philadelphia schools cut teachers and counselors, but not security guards. Photo: Matt Rourke, AP

Raising test scores may be the best way to prevent school violence, according to a new California study, reports Hechinger’s Jill Barshay. Safety doesn’t come first, the study found.

Schools that reduced violence and improved school climate tended not to produce academic gains afterwards. Instead, the researchers found, schools that first raised academic performance usually got large reductions in school violence. School climate indicators, such as whether students feel safe, also improved in schools that first increased test scores.

Surveys of students in middle and high school were compared with school test scores over a six-year period. Researchers were surprised to see that “academic gains preceded school safety and climate improvements,” writes Barshay.

“The best violence prevention is a school that works very hard to improve academics,” said Ron Avi Astor, a USC professor and co-author. “The school climate and school bullying researchers should continue their work, but, for intervention strategies, if they tie in with the school reform movement on academics, they will get a bigger bang for their buck.”

Do flabby kids want flabby heroes?

To protect children from “fat shaming,” teenage cartoon characters should be fattened up, argues Project Know. Characters  “idealize a body type that’s increasingly unattainable for many.”

Gohan

Project Know starts with Robin, writes William Hicks. “A character that literally spends his nights running across roof tops, fighting bad guys and training with Batman in the Bat Cave. So how dare he shame us with his slim physique!”

Gohan, a powerful fighter eager to save the earth, is too muscular for Project Know. “Teens are unlikely to see their physique being reflected in his defined chest and arms that ripple with muscles.” Their version is flabbier.

Do kids really want their cartoon heroes to be realistic? Where’s the fun in that?

First-gen students help each other through UT


“La Raza” members kayak on Barton Springs in Austin with visiting friends from home during Spring Break 2014. From left to right: Perla de la O (foreground), Zarina Moreno, Xenia Garcia, Bianca de la O, Jose R. Peña. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Going from Roma, Texas, a ranching town on the Mexican border, to the University of Texas in Austin is a huge leap, writes Lillian Mongeau in the Washington Monthly.

“It was overwhelming,” Jesús “Nacho” Aguilar, 23, said. “It was also liberating.”

Mongeau, who taught English in Roma for Teach for America, asked Jesús, Tomás González, 23, Perla de la O, 22, and Eduardo Rios, 20, how they succeeded at UT despite the culture shock.

They helped each other, the Roma grads said. They call their homegrown network La Raza or just “the group.”

The group holds potlucks featuring food from home. They get each other jobs. They help the newest Roma-grads-cum-UT-freshmen find housing, the laundromat, and free food on campus. They share textbooks and help each other with homework. They carpool home for the holidays. They ask each other: How do you sign up for health insurance? Can you explain this financial aid form? Where is the registrar’s office? When someone is sick, they cook him dinner. When someone is lonely, they talk. When someone is struggling, they encourage her to reach out to resources on campus they know can help.

. . . “You think you’re the only one struggling,” Jesús said. “But no. Everyone is in the same boat.”

Seeing each other struggle, knowing you’re not the only one crying in the shower that first desperately hard semester — that’s what gets you through, Tomás said.

Students who’d aced AP Calculus at Roma High discovered they were not prepared for UT classes.

“On his first college test, Jesús, a star student at home, earned a 50 percent,” Mongeau writes. He worried he was letting others down. “When I experienced failure, it wasn’t just my own failure,” he said.

The Roma students found helpful programs at the university, “special scholarships, offices full of mentors, friendly professors and former Roma TFAs who live in Austin and host welcome dinners for freshmen,” writes Mongeau. Now they advise younger students to join organizations and look for help.

“There are people looking out for people like us,” Eduardo said. “But we have to find them.”

Several members of La Raza “posed” for a photo at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas in 2013. From left to right: Valeria Molina, who now lives in New York City, Jonathan Peña, Travis Pham, Tomás González, Jesús Aguilar and Ziyad Alghamdi, who is not from Roma but was adopted by the group. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Teaching courtesy, etiquette

Alphonso Hawes, 10, “learned how to be a gentleman to a woman” in the after-school etiquette club at Baltimore’s Shady Springs Elementary. “I learned how to speak properly,” he told Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie. “I learned how to write thank you letters. I learned how not to bully.”

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in "Guys with Ties, Girls in Pearls," an after-school etiquette club: Photo Baltimore Sun

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls,” an after-school etiquette club. Photo: Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun

Wendy Carver, a guidance counselor, started “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls” four years ago. “It has been my hope that by teaching the students manners and etiquette they will become more respectful of others and themselves,” she said.

Thursday is an optional dress-up day for fourth- and fifth-graders. Boys are encouraged to wear jackets and ties, the girls to wear dresses and skirts.

Once a month, students stay after school to learn “how to correctly pull out a chair for a lady, how to write a thank you note, and what they should or shouldn’t say on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat,” writes Bowie. About half the fourth- and fifth-graders choose to participate.

Teacher Julie Taylorson was teaching Internet etiquette to a group of children one afternoon.

Before posting anything on social media, she told them, ask yourself three questions: Is it nice? Is it honest? Is it necessary?

She warned them that what they put on social media can’t be erased, so it will be there for their parents, future teachers and future employers to see.

. . . In the next room, another teacher was helping students think about how and when to write a thank you letter.

The etiquette club “has changed the whole atmosphere of the school,” said Taylorson, a second grade teacher.

At Randallstown Elementary, a program called Boys in the Good encourages boys to work on projects that help their school and community, simultaneously fostering good behavior and good deeds.

Homeschooling passes private school in NC


Shane and Bruce McGregor study in the living room, while their mother, Deanna, reviews curriculum. Photo: Ken Harper/Creative Commons

In North Carolina, homeschoolers now outnumber private school students, writes Genevieve Wood of the Heritage Foundation.

About 3.4 percent of the school-age population is educated at home, according to federal estimates.

“In the Tar Heel state, homeschooling has increased by 27 percent over the past two years,” writes Wood. “Those who run local homeschooling groups in North Carolina say Common Core is a big factor.”

According to a 2011 national survey by the U.S. Education Department, 91 percent of parents said they chose homeschooling because of “a concern about the school environment” which included worry about safety, drugs or negative peer pressure, 77 percent said “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction” was a major reason and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

‘Hamilton’ speaks (and sings) to schoolkids

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, with a hip-hop and rap score and a cast of mostly black and Latino actors, is a smash hit on Broadway. Tickets cost hundreds of dollars. Twenty thousand New York City public school students will see the show about the founding fathers for $10 each, thanks to the show’s producers and the Rockefeller Foundation, reports PBS NewsHour.

Teachers use an interactive study curriculum to prepare 11th graders to understand Hamilton.

Kids need ‘serve-and-return’ parents, teachers

Skills such as self-control, resilience and grit are products of a child’s home and school environment, writes Paul Tough in his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.
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What’s most important is “the way the adults in their lives interact with them, especially in times of stress.”

That sums up nearly all we need to know about parenting and teaching, writes Annie Murphy Paul on Brilliant Blog.

Warm, “serve-and-return parenting,” which can be done in many ways, “conveys to [children] some deep, even transcendent messages about belonging, security, stability, and their place in the world.”

Effective teachers “convey to their students deep messages—often implicitly or even subliminally—about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity . . . In the same way that responsive parenting in early childhood creates a kind of mental space where a child’s first tentative steps toward intellectual learning can take place, so do the right kind of messages from teachers in school create a mental space that allows a student to engage in more advanced and demanding academic learning.”

In addition, writes Paul, students must be exposed to deep, meaningful, sensibly sequenced knowledge.”