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From David Sipress cartoons at the Condé Nast Collection.

Must-read-aloud books for little kids and parents

Mike Petrilli suggests the kindergarten canon, must-read-aloud books for little kids.

One of the great joys of parenthood is reading to my two young sons. Partly it’s the visceral experience: Little guys curled up on my lap, in their PJ’s, soft light overhead, the day winding down, sleep coming (well, one can hope). But it’s also about the books: An endless treasure trove of stories to share, pictures to enjoy, traditions to pass along.

Here’s his full list, which includes some of my old favorites: Goodnight Moon (I read this every night or recited it from memory), Corduroy and, from my childhood, Caps for Sale and Blueberries for Sal. And lots of others, of course.

Welcome back, dead white males

Welcome back, dead white males  writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor of English, in a New York Daily News op-ed. Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states plus D.C., require students to “demonstrate knowledge of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century foundational works of American literature,” as well as foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence. It’s about time, writes Bauerlein.

For bookish types and patriotic citizens, too, the canon of Ben Franklin’s “Autobiography,” Emerson’s essays, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Huck Finn” is a personal inspiration as well as a sacred heritage.

But to the people in control of high school English — those who craft standards, select anthologies, monitor curricula and teach classes — that great tradition is not a treasure. It’s a threat.

Until the 20th century, they note, nearly all authors were white males, and the cultures in which they thrived cast females and people of color as inferior.

In the last 30 years, high school students have read quota-driven anthologies instead of classic literature, Bauerlein writes.

We’re told that female, black and brown students must encounter inspiring female, black and brown characters and authors — or else they won’t realize that they can become successful adults.

English teachers have to comply, whether they like it or not. Common Core gives teachers “a solid defense against identity quotas in the classroom,” Bauerlein writes.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.

Book killer

Crafts maven Lauren Conrad demonstrates what BuzzFeed calls The Worst Craft Idea Ever, dismembering hardcover books to use their spines to create a “unique” storage box. She suggests using the pages as wallpaper.

Author Lemony Snicket, one of whose books was dismembered in the video, told Slate:

 ”It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence. What a relief it is to see this documented.”

Conrad, who apparent got her start on a reality TV show, has taken down the YouTube video.

Young-adult books? Or kids’ books?

What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? asks NPR in its summer books poll. Votes are coming in from adults as well as teens, reports Atlantic Wire.

Readers can choose 10 books from a list that includes “Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson; Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; the Betsy-Tacy books; the Anne of Green Gables series, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy; and Judy Blume’s Forever.”

In a post, NPR’s Petra Mayer explains she cut A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie, many Judy Blume books and Where the Red Fern Grows, as  “too young” for the category, which includes readers 12 through 18 years old. But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read in sixth grade, was excluded for being too mature.

The panelists aimed to include books like Catcher in the Rye, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which have been essentially “claimed by teens” but weren’t initially intended for them.

I‘m not sure Catcher and Lord of the Flies have been claimed by teens. They’ve been assigned to teens. (Count me among those who thought Holden Caulfield was a whiny brat, even when I was 16.)

The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (teens with terminal cancer fall in love) are front-runners in the poll, so far. The top 100 teen books as selected by readers will be posted on Aug. 8.

Is Encyclopedia Brown Young-Adult Literature? asks Ed Week Teacher, responding to a Flavorwire list of the 10 greatest young-adult series of all time.

The cultural news site included The Time Quintet, the Redwall SeriesThe Earthsea Cycle, and the Artemis Fowl books among their top picks, but excluded The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lord of the RingsHarry Potter and The Hunger Games because, according to the editors, they’re already “so well established” and don’t need to be on a “list like this…”

Commenters are debating the line between children’s books and young-adult books.

Are ‘just right’ books wrong for readers?

Common Core Standards have set off a debate about what students should read in class, reports Education Gadfly. A new book, Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading, argues against  assigning “just right” texts written at a student’s individual reading level. Instead, it calls for assigning “grade-appropriate” texts with special help for below-grade readers.

“Just right” texts don’t frustrate struggling readers, but they don’t challenge them either, the book argues. Teachers can help poor readers understand challenging texts, the authors write.

Old books in sexy, new covers

ht romeo juliet ll 120628 vblog Sexy Covers Lure Twilight Teens to Capital L Literature

Penguin

Sexy book covers are luring Twilight teens to the classics, according to ABC News. Romeo “sports a white tank top and a three-day stubble” on the new Penguin edition of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Publishers hope teens who bought the Hunger Games trilogy, the Twilight series and Harry Potter will give the classics a try, if they’re repackaged as teen romances.

Harper Teen’s new edition of  Wuthering Heights, which sports a red rose on the cover, features a Twilight endorsement. It’s “Bella & Edward’s favorite book.”

Via Instapundit.

Reading ‘Hunger Games’ in high school

Few high school graduates are culturally literate, says Sandra Stotsky in an Education News interview. Her new book, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum, comes out next week. In 2010, she surveyed a national sample of high school teachers to see what books they assign.

. . .  most students in this country experience an idiosyncratic curriculum, a fragmented curriculum whose individual titles don’t relate to each other in any way so that there is no accumulation of literary and historical knowledge of major literary traditions, movements, and periods in American, British and World Literature.

. . . what students read from grade 9 to grade 11 didn’t increase in reading difficulty. They were in essence, being pandered to, not intellectually challenged and educated.

Hunger Games is now required reading in some classes, interviewer Michael Shaughnessy observes. Teens can read the book on their own — it’s written at a fifth-grade level — without a teacher’s guidance, Stotsky replies.

Students who take honors, AP or IB courses may be prepared for “authentic college-level work,” she says. But there’s a vast middle group of students who graduate, go to college and find they can’t read well enough.

They have been shortchanged by an incoherent and intellectually flat literature curriculum reflecting idiosyncratic choices in the name of “engagement,” motivation, or relevance, or trendy ideas from the academy.

Bringing back leveled courses would provide more challenge for the top 20 percent of students and let average students read books written at the high school level in high school, she argues.

1,000 books for home readers

Giving 40 books to each student in second and third grade for their home libraries — 1,000 books over two years — turned struggling readers into confident readers, writes Justin Minkel, who teaches in Arkansas, on Education Week Teacher.  Twenty of the 25 students speak English as a second language; all but one live under the poverty line.

Home reading surveys showed that at the beginning of 2nd grade, my students had access to an average of three books at home. Increasing this number to 40 or more books had far-reaching effects. Students’ fluency improved because the children could engage in repeated readings of favorite “just right” books, and parents reported increased time spent reading at home during weekends, holidays, and summer break.

The only incentive for this increase in reading time was intrinsic: the pleasure each child felt in reading his or her own book, beloved as a favorite stuffed animal.

Scholastic donated 20 books per child. The teacher bought the others with his own money and donations.  Each month, children received copies of class read-alouds, guided reading books and books they’d chosen from Scholastic’s website.

At a cost of less than $50 each year per student, his 25 students made greater reading progress than he’d ever seen before. Second graders started with a picture book, Where The Wild Things Are, and finished third grade with The Lightning Thief, which is geared toward 5th and 6th graders.

“I watched child after child become a different kind of writer, thinker, and human being because of his or her growth as a reader,” Minkel writes.

 

Teaching students to ask questions

What would education be like if students knew how to pose, prioritize, and use their own questions? Vastly better than it is now, argue Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, authors of Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (Harvard Education Press, 2011). If students learned how to formulate good questions, according to the authors, they’d be that much closer to becoming “independent thinkers and self-directed learners”  and practitioners of ”democratic deliberation.”

On the face of it, the idea sounds terrific. The ability to ask good questions can enhance both individual lives and common culture. Many people need special instruction in this skill; most of us have room for improvement. I am not convinced, though, that any of this requires the elaborate group processes that Rothstein and Santana describe.

The research started when the authors were working in a dropout prevention program. They heard from parents that they wouldn’t come to meetings at school because they “didn’t even know what to ask.” Rothstein and Santana began by giving them questions but then realized that this was only increasing their dependency—that they needed to know ”how to generate and use their own questions.” Over time, the authors developed a technique for teaching just that. They and others founded the Right Question Project, now known as the Right Question Institute, which teaches the technique to people around the country and abroad.

The book explains the Question Formulation Technique, which consists of six components: (a) a Question Focus; (b) a process for producing questions; (c) an exercise for working on closed and open-ended questions; (d) student selection of priority questions; (e) a plan for the next steps; and (f) a reflection activity. The authors provide numerous case studies to show how these components have played out.

Before starting the process, students are introduced to the four rules: “(1) Ask as many questions as you can; (2) Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; (3) Write down every question exactly as it was stated; and (4) Change any statements into questions.” Students are supposed to reflect on these rules before proceeding. The authors explain:

The rules ask for a change in behavior, officially discouraging discussion in order to encourage the rapid production of questions. Students thus need to think about how they usually work individually and in groups. They name their usual practices and become aware of how they generally come up with ideas. They then must distinguish their present learning habits from what the rules require of them.

After receiving their Question Focus from the teacher, the students begin producing questions in groups. They are reminded to ask lots of questions and to refrain from judging, answering, or editing them. The teacher is not supposed to give examples of questions, even if the students are having difficulty.

From here, the students work on improving the questions. [Read more...]