Et tu, Mrs. McCarthy

Julius Caesar’s assassination was “mean,” said one of Bridgit McCarthy’s third graders.

“JC helped get France for them — except it was, you know, Gaul back then,” said another. “Plus, his rules helped the plebeians get more stuff from the laws.” 

But students remembered last week’s lesson. “Well, it did kinda seem like he wanted to be a king—and the Romans said no way to kings.”

McCarthy teaches at New Dimensions, a public charter school in North Carolina that uses the Core Knowledge curriculum. Students learn about world civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt in first grade, ancient Greece in second grade and ancient Rome in third. They enjoy it, she says.

A student was playing a dune-buggy race car computer game in my room during indoor recess. I scoffed at its total lack of educational value. He pouted at me a bit and said, “Dang, that’s what my mom said last night! Et tu, Mrs. McCarthy?”

Children can learn a great deal in the early grades if teachers use “a really rich, cumulative curriculum in which the topics build off of each other,” concludes McCarthy on Core Knowledge Blog.

Core-ish art teaching

Teachers can integrate the arts into Common Core classrooms, according to a video series by the J. Paul Getty Museum and Teaching Channel.

Here’s one on finding “evidence” in a painting to support an argument or “claim,” a very Core-ish endeavor.

Untouchable students

Should Teachers be Allowed to Touch Students? asks Jessica Lahey. She teaches English and writing at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. “Many of my adolescent students have endured sexual and physical abuse,” she writes.

Schools are adopting no-touching policies for their students. Teachers fear a pat on the shoulder could be seen as aggressive or sexual or . . . who knows?

Touch can built trust, says David J. Linden, a Johns Hopkins neuroscience professor, is the author of a new book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind. “More than anything else, what touch conveys is ‘I’m an ally, I’m not a threat.”

However, context determines how touch is perceived, Linden told Lahey.

An arm thrown over your shoulders by a domineering boss is perceived very differently than an arm thrown around your shoulders by a trusted friend, for example.

“Appropriate social touch in school is vitally important to children who do not experience it at home, or for children who are abused,”says Linden. “It’s important for kids to realize that there is a role for social touching that isn’t abuse, that’s simply a normal and healthy means of bonding with other human beings.”

When I started tutoring school kids, I had to pay to be fingerprinted and prove I’m not on the state’s data base of sex offenders. I decided not to touch a child on the arm or shoulder, not to hug.

Do kids want tech? Do teachers fear it?

School Sleuth is asking What Do Kids Want? when it comes to classroom technology.

And What Are Teachers Afraid Of? 

‘Integrated’ math is hodge-podge math

To force math teachers to change their teaching to fit the Common Core, Darren’s school district is switching to “integrated math,” he writes on Right on the Left Coast.

The new books mix algebra and geometry, but don’t integrate the concepts, he complains. It’s just a “hodge-podge.”

Instead of Algebra, Geometry and Advanced Algebra, his high school will offer Integrated Math 1, Integrated 2 and Integrated 3, then the option of Pre-calculus, Stats and Calculus.

While Common Core opposes acceleration in middle school, his district will allow the best students to take Integrated 1 in eighth grade.

So if we want kids to be able to take AP Calculus AB and/or BC in high school, we need to accelerate them in high school.  . . . so in addition to Integrated 2 and 3 we’ll now have Integrated 2+ and Integrated 3+.  And if a student isn’t quite ready for Integrated 3 we’ll offer Transition to Integrated 3.  Of course that means we’ll also have to offer Transition to Integrated 1 (which would in effect be an 8th grade math course, or the pre-algebra course we haven’t been allowed to have in years) and a Transition to Integrated 2 course.

Integrated math has been around for a long time. I remember when San Jose Unified tried it. And then abandoned it. Common Core standards don’t require integrated math, but some think it’s a better fit than the traditional math sequence.

School goes ‘rogue’ on Core teaching

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Test scores fell at nearly all New York schools due to the shift to Common Core-aligned tests. The Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner looks at a rural school that raised scores by “going rogue” on Common Core teaching.

Lockwood teachers divided up lesson planning to have time to design new lessons using technology. “What’s worked well for us is the whole teamwork thing, realizing that we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Tyler King, who teaches third grade. “We show no shame in letting each other know when we fail.”

. . . the school decided to group children by ability for 30 minutes daily in both math and English across the grade. That allowed some children to catch up, and a deeper dive for others even as they all learned the same basic material together. The change meant that for an hour each day, teachers left their classes and took a group of students that could number between 3 and 15, who were at a similar learning ability for that subject.

As a result, the lessons, and the assessment of the children, had to be in lock-step. The strongest and weakest teachers worked as a team, and often met at the end of the day to discuss which lessons worked and which didn’t. They also kept track of the progress of individual students using “exit tickets” or short assessments on tablets at the end of each class.

The state curriculum included a manual with “minute-by-minute directions for how teachers should teach,” writes Kolodner. Teachers were allowed to deviate when the script didn’t give students enough time to understand concepts. The next year, they dropped the manual — and the homework that came with it. It simply repeated the day’s lessons, said teachers.

“If they couldn’t do it in class, there’s no use having them get frustrated at home,” said (third-grade teacher Traci) Krist. For the students who did understand, teachers didn’t see the value in having them simply repeat the exercise. Lockwood teachers assigned their own homework.

Knowing parents were frustrated by the new curriculum, Lockwood staffers invited parents to meetings to ask questions and express their concerns.

How to connect with students

Let students get to know you in order to get to know them, advises James Alan Sturtevant, a veteran high school teacher in Ohio. Telling personal stories isn’t a waste of class time, he writes. In a new book, You’ve Gotta Connect, he advocates building relationships with students to boost engagement, productivity and achievement.

Differentiation is a failure

Differentiation is a failure, a farce, and the ultimate educational joke played on countless educators and students,” writes James R. Delisle in Education Week. A consultant on gifted students and a part-time teacher, Delisle is the author of Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do to Fight Back).

Differentiation sounds great, but “is harder to implement in a heterogeneous classroom than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back,” he writes.

Toss together several students who struggle to learn, along with a smattering of gifted kids, while adding a few English-language learners and a bunch of academically average students and expect a single teacher to differentiate for each of them. That is a recipe for academic disaster . . .

. . . the only educators who assert that differentiation is doable are those who have never tried to implement it themselves: university professors, curriculum coordinators, and school principals. It’s the in-the-trenches educators who know the stark reality: Differentiation is a cheap way out for school districts to pay lip service to those who demand that each child be educated to his or her fullest potential.

Dismantling special classes for gifted kids, struggling learners and disruptive students has “sacrificed the learning of virtually every student,” argues Delisle. 

I volunteered in my daughter’s classrooms when she was in elementary school in Palo Alto. Nearly all the students were being raised by highly educated white or Asian-American parents. Yet, in what may have been the least diverse school in California, there was enormous variation in children’s abilities to sit still, pay attention, follow directions, write letters, read fluently, etc.

I predict “blended learning” — using technology to personalize instruction — will expand rapidly as a way to help teachers manage classrooms in which students have a wide range of skills. But it has its limits.

Here’s another hit on the myth of learning styles.

What’s wrong with U.S. teaching

Why Is American Teaching So Bad? asks education historian Jonathan Zimmerman in The New York Review of Books. Zimmerman reviews Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher and Garret Keizer’s Getting Schooled.

Goldstein quotes Horace Mann’s praise for female teachers, whose low-cost labor had enabled Massachusetts to create a common school system.

 “How divinely does she come,” he declared, extolling the female teacher, “her head encircled with a halo of heavenly light, her feet sweetening the earth on which she treads, and the celestial radiance of her benignity making vice begin its work of repentance through very envy of the beauty of virtue!”

For centuries, Americans have “lauded teachers’ moral virtue and deplored their lack of adequate knowledge and skills,” writes Zimmerman. Now, teachers are expected to ensure students do well on tests, not to mold their characters.

 Who becomes a teacher in America? . . . In the first half of the twentieth century, as Goldstein notes, bookish urban immigrants used the profession to catapult themselves into the middle class. During the Great Depression, especially, teaching attracted people of outstanding academic achievement—including some with Ph.D.s—who couldn’t get work elsewhere.

Since the 1960s, however, the proportion of top college students who have entered the field has steadily declined. Part of the reason lay in the feminist movement, which created new occupational opportunities for women outside of teaching.

Most teachers get a little theory in ed school, writes Green.  They’re expected to learn how to teach on the job, where they’ll work in isolation.

By contrast, many other advanced countries have institutionalized critical commentary by peers and also provide intellectual support to improve skills and learning as part of teachers’ professional practice. Japanese teachers . . .  have designated periods to observe each other’s classes, study curriculum, and otherwise hone their craft. But they also learn a great deal in their pre-service training, which is both more rigorous and more demanding concerning particular subject matter than anything American teacher-education students are likely to encounter.

In Finland, would-be teachers study the subject they’ll teach and then “spend a full year apprenticing in a school, receiving regular feedback from several mentors.” Finally, they research and write an original thesis on a scholarly trend or controversy within their fields.

Many U.S. educators think teachers don’t have to be smart, writes Zimmerman.

So Garret Keizer’s first supervisor worried that he might have too many grades of A on his college transcript to succeed as a high school teacher, and Elizabeth Green concludes her otherwise skeptical book with the much-heard platitude that teachers need to “love” their students.

Keizer is offended by comments like that, and he has every good reason to be. Do lawyers have to love their clients? Must doctors adore their patients? What American teachers need now is not love, but a capacity for deep and disciplined thinking that will reflect—and respect—the intellectual complexities of their job.

“The U.S. badly needs to design and develop an entirely different system of teacher education, stressing cognitive skills above all else,” Zimmerman concludes.

Why do teachers obsess about not being good enough?  asks Ellie Herman on Gatsby in LA.

It starts with “pathetically inadequate” teacher training, she writes. A “hodgepodge of useless state-mandated courses” didn’t prepare her to deal “with large classes of students who were several years below grade level, many of whom had difficulty controlling their behavior in class.”

Furthermore, “once you’re in the classroom, you’re pretty much on your own.”

For gamers, school is boooring

Kids think school is “boooring” compared to their video games, writes Washington Post columnist Esther Cepeda, a mother and former teacher.

Until you’ve put on a pair of headphones, grabbed your controller and strolled through the beautifully scored, eye-popping landscape of “Skyrim” for hours and hours that passed like minutes, you don’t can’t get it.

If you’ve never been engaged in a highly addictive three-dimensional lifelike murder mystery such as “L.A. Noire” or driven shiny, drop-dead gorgeous race cars across some of the world’s most storied autovistas with the feel of the engine rumbling in your hands and the sound of air whooshing past your face, you might not understand the appeal.

Teens play “in better-than-real worlds where you’re invincible and can make money with little effort,” while teachers desperately try to “entertain them into learning,” Cepeda writes.

She starts with an odd example of low-tech classroom fun:

Last week, my eighth-grader engaged in World War I-style trench warfare. It involved students in his classroom arrayed in ranks and a great many wadded paper balls. My school-hating son called it his best class ever.

In his mind, it’s just too bad that every day can’t involve something as fun.

Kids throwing paper balls at each other does not simulate trench warfare. Perhaps a very depressing video game could show the mud, the rats and the slaughter — but not the cold, the smells and the fear. I’d suggest reading All Quiet on the Western Front and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est