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.

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.

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.”

Principal: ‘Harry Potter’ damages young brains

Fantasy books “can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children” and lead to mental illness, writes Graeme Whiting, headmaster of the private Acorn School in England.

Is Harry Potter's evil foe, Voldemort, too dark and nasty for children?

Is Harry Potter’s evil foe, Voldemort, too dark and nasty for children?

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series,  Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and Terry Pratchett’s novels “contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children,” wrote Whiting in a post that’s gone viral. “Yet they can be bought without a special licence.”

Whiting wants “children to read literature that is conducive to their age and leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality, and when they have first learned to love beauty.”

Lord of the Rings' Sauron is evil.

Sauron, the Lord of the Rings, is evil.

He praised the “old-fashioned values of traditional literature,” such as Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens and Shelley.

“Beware the devil in the text!” Whiting concludes.  “Choose beauty for your young children!”

I loved fantasy books when I was a kid, though I didn’t go from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings till I was in sixth grade. I think my brain survived. But, then, I wouldn’t know if it hadn’t, would I?

As a child, Neil Gaiman was allowed to read whatever he liked, he tells the Guardian. Somehow that’s not a surprise.

“I definitely haven’t been traumatised for life and I’m not entirely sure if the subversive element made things enjoyable,” says Gaiman. “Except possibly in Chaucer and The Bible, where you’re actually discovering murder and masturbation – and you’re going ‘this is cool, this is subversive, because it’s the stuff they want us to read and they seem to have forgotten that it’s filled with stuff that they don’t want us to read’.”

We read Canterbury Tales in 10th grade English and were astounded — and delighted — by the dirty jokes. Finding sex jokes in Shakespeare was fun too.

Getting grit: Balance challenge, support

In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth tells stories about exceptionally gritty people, including NFL football players, West Point cadets and successful business leaders.

The book includes Duckworth’s personal story, writes Evie Blad in Education Week.  When she was a child, her father would say: “You know, you’re no genius!”

After earning a Harvard degree and a “genius” award, Duckworth dreams of traveling back in time to confront her father.  “I’m going to grow up to love my work as much as you love yours. I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

Educators have “embraced the grit concept in recent years along with a wave of research and policy centered on a variety of non cognitive traits and social-emotional skills, like growth mindset, self control, empathy, and healthy relationship skills,” writes Blad. Stanford’s Carol Dweck gives similar advice on promoting a “growth mindset,” the belief that struggle is a sign you’re learning — not a marker of inevitable failure.

The question is whether schools can “teach” these skills.  Duckworth thinks a mix of challenging assignments and support will enable students to strengthen their ability to overcome obstacles.

Teachers should ask themselves: “Is there a clear learning goal that’s very specific and do my students really know it? Do they have a clear strategy to remove distractions so they can focus 100 percent?” Duckworth said.

And they should offer frequent feedback, she said.

“They should ask themselves, ‘Am I encouraging repetition and refinement, or, as when I hand back your term paper or your test, is it over?’ “

At the Education Writers Association conference last week, Duckworth said schools shouldn’t blame students for lacking grit when they fail. “The whole point of the grownups in the room is that it’s our responsibility to get kids where they need to be,” she said.

In the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz wants grit to be less individualistic and macho.

Train to be great: Can teachers do it?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice isn’t enough, says Anders Ericsson, known for the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. In his new book, Peak, Ericsson explains how to practice to be awesome, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in a rave review.

The key to achieving awesomeness is “deliberate” practice, writes Willingham, summarizing the book. Three points stand out for me:

  • It’s for skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques exist.
  • You typically work on one small aspect of the skill when you practice.
  • It requires meaningful feedback, and meaningful response to the feedback.

For example, to create better doctors, “the medical field needs to identify experts in each field, figure out what underlies their superior performance, and develop the logical steps to build those mental representations in novices.”

What about teachers? Peering Around the Corner, a Bellwether Education Partners research paper, argues that teacher trainers
don’t know how to make great teachers — or even competent ones.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers' strategies for getting student's attention.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers’ strategies for getting student’s attention.

Every year, nearly 27,000 teacher preparation programs turn out 200,000 would-be teachers, Bellwether notes. Yet there’s no evidence that preparation requirements — licensure tests, grade or SAT minimums, student teaching hours and performance assessments — guarantee effective teachers.

It’s also not clear how to help experienced teachers develop their skills, the report found. “At every stage of a teacher’s career we simply don’t know how to help her improve.”

Doug Lemov focuses on improving teaching practice in Teach Like a Champion. Is this the way to greatness?

Stop hazing new teachers

It’s time to stop hazing new teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. Without training in classroom management, new teachers are set up to flounder and fail.

In The Battle for Room 314, Ed Boland refutes the “hero teacher” narrative, writes Pondiscio. Boland didn’t save his tough, inner-city students. He struggled for a year at a New York City high school, then quit.

Pondiscio recalls being a new fifth-grade teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. He was saved by a mid-year transfer to take over an experienced teacher’s class and by reading Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55, which listed “classroom rules . . . to teach his students to be attentive, engaged and respectful.”

Taking over a new class gave me a fresh start in my first year and an opportunity to undo my rookie mistakes; Clark’s 55 rules helped me develop a hard-nosed action plan to address my prodigious classroom management struggles. It’s worth noting that Clark’s book was a direct repudiation of the training I’d received, which encouraged us to allow students to create their own classroom rules so they would feel “ownership” of their “classroom community.” The only thing that got owned was me.

Boland followed the traditional teacher prep route with two years of graduate school and six months of student teaching. “I had taken courses in lesson planning, evaluation, psychology, and research,” he writes. “Next to nothing was said about what a first-year teacher most needs to know: how to control a classroom.”

“We treat the first-year teaching like it is some sorority or fraternity hazing,” notes Kate Walsh, the head of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Educators expect a new teacher to be sick to her stomach every day at the thought of how she is going to survive the day just because that’s what they once did. It’s appalling!”

Often, schools “are filled good people trying their best and failing,” writes Pondiscio. Boland was “failed by those who trained him, hired him and left him to crash and burn.”

Crazy about math

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE“Hell hath no fury like a mathematician whose child has been scorned by an education system that refuses to know better,” writes Barry Garelick in Math Education in the U.S.: Still Crazy After All These Years.

After a career in environmental protection, Garelick earned a teaching credential and began teaching and writing. He criticizes “the well-intentioned but highly injurious nonsense that passes for math education.”

“I often feel that I am explaining in detail why jumping out of an airplane without a parachute will result in death,” he writes.

The way up

51ek6vWlGBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Education for Upward Mobility, edited by Fordham’s Michael J. Petrilli, asks how schools can help children born in poverty to “transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults.”

I wrote the chapter on high schools — a dual-enrollment public school, a charter and a private school — that work to prepare lower-income, minority students for college.

Other chapters question the “college for all” movement, look at “non-cognitive skills” and analyze the role of early childhood education, poverty-fighting elementary schools and middle-school tracking.

‘Mockingbird’ will cost more — and be read less

imagesTo Kill a Mockingbird is taught in 74 percent of U.S. schools, according to a 1988 survey by the National Council of Teachers of English. That number may decline, reports the New Republic. Harper Lee’s estate will no longer allow publication of the low-cost, mass-market paperback edition. Schools will have to pay more to buy a “trade” paperback.

“The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is both so accessible to young readers and so widely taught in America is crucial to its cultural importance,” writes Alex Shephard. Next to Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Huckleberry Finn, it’s probably the most assigned novel in America’s middle- and high schools.

Lee’s legacy appears to have fallen into the hands of stupid, greedy people.


Good textbooks raise achievement

Image result for shelf of textbooks

Good textbooks can boost student achievement significantly, especially in math, concludes new research by Thomas Kane at Brookings.

. . . if all schools could be persuaded to switch to one of the top quartile (math) textbooks, student achievement would rise overall by roughly .127 student-level standard deviations or an average of 3.6 percentile points. Although it might sound small, such a boost in the average teacher’s effectiveness would be larger than the improvement the typical teacher experiences in their first three years on the job, as they are just learning to teach.

Identifying “more effective curriculum materials can yield outsized bang-for-the-buck, because schools are already buying textbooks and better textbooks do not cost more on average than less effective ones,” notes Kane.

“Textbooks have no unions and it’s easy to replace one textbook with a better textbook,” adds Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution.

Educators are turning to free, open-source texts — with backing from the U.S. Education Department, writes Hechinger’s Nichole Dobo.

At an event tagged as the #GoOpen Exchange, the department praised pioneering educators who were working to upend the traditional model of textbooks and materials. To assist with that work, the Department of Education has recruited a full roster of supporters, both public and private, including Amazon Education, Microsoft and Edmoto.

The Department unveiled a website, the Learning Registry, to help teachers find free textbooks and materials.

However, identifying which non-traditional materials help students learn is a huge, time-consuming job for teachers.

I’ll add that my husband is updating his computer engineering textbook. It takes many hours of work to do it well. He hopes to be paid for his labors. I don’t see how we’re going to get high-quality learning materials without compensating the writer/developers.