Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the Road

We're taking the kids out of school early to travel for the next 2 months. I hope to keep up with the blog, at least occasionally.

We'll be home-schooling the kids a bit, so I'll see what that's like.

Paving the Road to Hell

Yesterday we had our last meeting at Natural Friends. This one was attended by a psychologist from the local Intermediate Unit, one of her colleagues, the Natural Friends school psychologist, the first-grade teacher (Teacher 1), and the Head of School at Natural Friends (Teacher Cranium).

The Intermediate Unit psychologist observed YD in the classroom, and tested her reading abilities. Younger Daughter scored in the Average range. The psychologist said the scores were lower than they might have been, because of YD's resistant behavior. So the scores should really be used as a floor; we know that YD is at least average in her reading abilities. The good news is that no-one has found evidence of any cognitive problems or learning disabilities.

The bad news remains YD's difficult behavior. Teacher Cranium's proposed solution was that we should do a mountain of paperwork in the hopes of obtaining a 1:1 aide, or "shadow", to follow YD around all day and deal with her behavior. I see this as a solution for the school's problem, more than a solution for YD's problem.

What I'd like to know is how much of YD's difficult behavior is caused by the school itself. This is a question the school won't even ask, let alone answer. Some of her restlessness and refusal is probably caused by frustration and anxiety at being required to do things that she just can't do. Here's an example that came up at the meeting:

Teacher 1: She can add two numbers together, but when you ask her to explain how she did it, she can't explain!

What a ridiculous thing to ask a 7-year-old child to do, especially a 7-year-old child with known language delays. Unfortunately, it's a basic part of their ridiculous math curriculum, Trailblazers.

Teacher 1 also said that YD loved listening to stories read aloud, and had "astute" responses to them. On the other hand, if you ask YD to demonstrate her comprehension of the dull-as-dishwater leveled books that they teach reading with, she doesn't answer the teacher's questions correctly.

What's the mystery here? If YD is interested in the proceedings and has something to say, she can say it. If she's bored and frustrated, she refuses.

Near the end of the meeting, I said to Teacher Cranium: "Why should we spend (insert large number) dollars to send Younger Daughter here? You can't handle her behavior, and she's behind academically."

To my amazement, Teacher Cranium had no response to this. He nodded his head and said, "Uh-huh". I was expecting him at least to launch into praise of Natural Friends, but he had nothing to say.

I feel that Teacher 1 and Teacher Cranium are basically kind-hearted, well-intentioned people, but that's not enough. They're not effective. They're not willing to turn a cold appraising eye toward their own practices and ask themselves what's working, what's not working, and what they might do differently.

For next year, we're considering the local public school, or a private school that specializes in teaching kids with language delays and disorders.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hollowed Out

(From comment #9 at Borderland: The Six Hells of the Pacing Guide)

Many teachers I talk with observe that we’re seeing a shift in the normal curve of distribution, which shows spikes at the high and low ends of the achievement continuum and a middle range that is largely vacant – pretty much mirroring what we see happening socioeconomically.

There is No Cure

"We've had her declawed, but she's still impossible."

(From The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Horrible Histories: Tudors

I've known the Horrible Histories books for a long time, but I only just discovered they are also a TV series, much of which is available on Youtube. Take a look:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Break them Down One by One

From the Whole Brain Teaching Forum:


I implemented WBT today. I introduced class-yes, the 5 rules, the scoreboard and teach ok.

One of the main problems I saw today was that the smart alecky boys put two fingers to their head like a gun when we rehearsed rule 4. Does anyone have suggestions? This is a VERY chatty and VERY difficult class.

I'd appreciate any feedback.

(Note from FedUpMom: rule 4 is "Make Smart Choices", and the accompanying gesture is to tap the side of your head with your index finger. I like these boys!)

An answer from Chris Rekstad:

I agree with Farrah, and would do everything that she says, with a bit of spice. The spice being for those most challenging boys/kids.

WIth them you need to just say, "I'd like you to practice with me at recess." Once recess comes you have them practice the rule correctly for 1 minute, silently. They may start goofing off or telling you that they aren't going to do it, so then you tell them this, "You can do it one minute my way, or 4 minutes your way!"

You may want to peruse the ebook called Industrial Strength Whole Brain Teaching or Teaching Challenging Teens and look in the section Rebel Clicques. What you have is a situation where you're the new gal coming in on their turf. You're going to have to break them down one by one, starting with the Alpha Dog.

Keep us posted right here on this great forum!

Power to the Teacher!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Turn the Giraffe Upside Down

(From a comment to A Better Way to Teach Math:)

Jump Math has profound implications for education. I myself was a child who excelled on all aptitude tests, fulfilled that promise in the liberal arts, and began failing miserably in math in 5th grade. I had so many teachers whose approach to teaching math was to go to the board, scribble scribble scribble, covering the board with numbers and squiggles and symbols, and the things they were saying made as much sense as "so you take the giraffe and turn it upside down like this, and then the elevator stops, and you torque the red balloon this way, and reverse the mayonaise, and...there!" The teacher would turn around with a big smile and say, "So! Did you get it?" "No, I didn't "get it"!!!" I wanted to scream, "You didn't explain anything!"

This was how math got taught badly the traditional way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Homework and Quirky Kids

(From Quirky Kids, by Perri Klass and Eileen Costello.)

We have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that many schools assign a lot of homework, especially in the early grades, that is meant in large part as discipline for the parents. Oh, sure, the schools will claim that they are building good study habits and helping children get used to the whole idea of working in the evening, but quite frankly, we don't always buy it, especially when it comes to quirky kids.

... For many quirky kids, especially in the early grades, a full day of school is pretty exhausting.

... Many quirky kids already attend extra therapy sessions of one kind or another after the school day is over. It seems to us that these kids deserve to come home and in some ways relax.

Most of these comments apply just as well to non-quirky kids, whoever they might be.

It's interesting to me that the authors put their section on homework in the chapter called "Family Life", not one of the chapters about school. It's a sad reflection on the state we're in today that school-assigned work is assumed to be a normal preoccupation of parents in what used to be their own time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Now It's Your Problem

I'm just back from another dispiriting conference at Younger Daughter's expensive private school, Natural Friends. The upshot of this one was that Younger Daughter is way behind in reading, so we're supposed to bring her up to speed over the summer. The first-grade teacher gave us a list of suggested tutors and programs that we might use.

In effect, the teacher is telling us: "YD has attended Natural Friends for most of a school year, and we haven't managed to bring her reading skills up to grade level, so now it's your problem. We'd like you to fix it over the summer, so we won't have to deal with it in the fall. Good luck." This is known as "outsourcing to parents."

Now I'm more inclined to try Local Public Elementary in the fall. They might not manage to teach Younger Daughter to read either, but at least we won't be paying them for the privilege.

There was one amusing moment at the conference: the teacher showed us a little book that Younger Daughter is writing, called "Skiing at Blue Mountain."

Sainted Husband: "Younger Daughter's never gone skiing in her life."

Teacher: "Really? That explains why she's having so much trouble coming up with details for the story."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

School vs. Education

(From Emily the Strange: Dark Times, by Jessica Gruner, Rob Reger, and Buzz Parker.)

"It's not that I object to education.  Not at all.  I just haven't found any in the schools I've been to so far."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fighting School Daze

(Mom, thanks for the tip!)

In the Trenton Times:  Fighting School Daze.

A couple of quotes:

"I truly believe that most schools are police states," Glazer said. "They are the only places in the world where you need a pass to pee."

"I don't believe that every first-grader should learn about the stars and the planets or every second-grader about volcanoes and Brazil," Glazer said. "I believe they need to pick their own content area and even if there is a list of requirements, children should have choices."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Classical Education?

In the Washington Post, Embracing a Classical Education.

Reform Math Conspirators?

Katharine Beals has an interesting blog post over at Out In Left Field.  I wrote a long comment which was immediately eaten by Blogger, so I thought I'd write a post on my own blog.

Unlike Katharine, I consider myself both liberal and progressive, and I think progressive ed theory does have useful ideas.  The implementation of progressive ed in traditional schools is usually horrendous, but I'm still open to the idea that progressive ed, done well, could be a beautiful thing.  I care a lot about what school feels like for my kids, and I want an education that will help them develop as entire human beings.  I want my kids to enjoy school and learning.

Although Katharine and I disagree in many ways, we agree on two points: homework should be eliminated in the early grades, and Reform Math is a disaster.

I don't think it's fair to include "lay people" among the conspirators who have promoted Reform Math.  The fact is that lay people have zero influence over the schools, especially the public schools. Just ask Sara Bennett how much of a difference her book, and years of advocacy, have made to the homework problem.  For that matter, ask the folks over at kitchen table math how much of a difference they've managed to make, after years of impassioned advocacy against constructivist math.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Student Loans, the Next Bubble

In today's NY Times, Student Debt Mounts, Shifting Graduates' Options.

Rubber Duckie

And now, an example of what music aimed at kids used to be like.  I like this cheerful little song so much that it took me a while to realize "Rubber Duckie" was probably written as propaganda -- namely, promoting good hygiene. 

I'd say the "Kids, take your baths!" message is pretty well lost by the time Little Richard gets through with it.

It's hard to imagine that Little Richard, with his gender-defying makeup and gestures, would be invited on to Sesame Street today.  In the comments to this video, someone wrote: "Sesame Street used to be a lot more fun than it is now."

Overachiever's footnote:  I'm trying to figure out why the melody sounds so different when Little Richard sings it.  Is it because he's using a blues scale?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The saddest song

[From Chris, originally posted at A Blog About School]

This was choral concert week at our elementary school. I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of these school concerts; the desire to make large groups of children sing in unison just seems a little creepy to me. Making matters worse, the songs often seem to have a propagandizing or indoctrinating purpose. I still get a kick out of my kindergartner’s performance of “I Love to Eat My Veggies” last year. (“I was just moving my lips,” she told me afterward.)

This year, mixed in with songs about penguins and pizza, we heard renditions of “Brush Brush Brush Your Teeth,” “Wash Your Hands with Water and Soap,” and “Drug-Free Me.” (One woman said, “What about all the kids on Ritalin?”)

But even I was unprepared for one of this year’s fifth- and sixth-grade songs, “Why Music?” The song started with some relatively innocuous verses:

Do you know what music brings to us
As we learn, as we go?

Do you know that music plays a part
In the way we can grow?

Do you know why?
Do you know why?
Why music?

Then, one by one, students came up to the microphone to speak these lines:

Everyone knows that music is part of a well-rounded education.

But did you know that music can improve our learning?

Music can help us make better grades.

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

It can also help us perform better on standardized tests.

Music training enhances brain function.

Music is a core academic subject, just like math and reading.

Music students are more likely to achieve academic honors and awards.

Music students are more likely to achieve higher math and verbal SAT scores.

Another chorus, then:

Music education can help us integrate learning across the curriculum.

It can help us learn to pay attention, persevere, and solve problems.

Music may contribute to a more positive self-concept.

It can help us improve our social skills and teamwork.

It can help us express our feelings in a creative way.

Schools with music programs have higher graduation and attendance rates.

Music students are more likely to plan to attend college.

According to a Congressional resolution, music should be available to every student in every school.

Search the lyrics in vain for any indication that music might be meaningful, fulfilling, moving, beautiful, or fun. We make music because it raises our test scores and gets us awards. Baby Einstein lives!

I have to believe that the music teacher doesn’t actually think that this is why the kids should learn about music. I assume that music funding is so beleaguered that she feels compelled to put these words in the kids’ mouths in hopes of making her case in the only way our educational policymakers might hear it -- which only makes the song even sadder.

Another parent was so bothered by the song that he blogged his own response, with good suggestions for better ways to choose concert songs. (One of his tips: “Just don’t pick songs that nobody in the history of the world, including now, has ever loved!”)

You can listen to an excerpt from the song here. Just click on “Play MP3” -- it doesn’t cost anything, except a little part of your soul.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What we Teach Kids

Chris has an excellent post over at A Blog About School, about the songs we make kids sing.

I had a conversation with the Local Public Elementary principal many years ago that went like this:

Principal:  We have a very advanced music program.  Music has been shown to improve math scores.

Me:  I think kids should learn about music because it's a basic part of being human.

In a similar vein, my Older Daughter was part of a musical at Local Public Elementary called "It's Saturday!"  Some of the lyrics described the kids' joy that the school week was finally over.  (Also see a discussion on the old StopHomework site about a song called "Homework Blues".)

What do we teach our kids?  We teach them that the only possible reason to learn something is to increase their score on a test.  We teach them that it's normal to hate school and homework.

One of my rapidly multiplying pet peeves is a recurring plot that I see on kids' TV shows (yes, my kids watch TV.)  This plot revolves around a kid finding some object that she decides must be lucky.  The kid decides she needs this object to perform well, then she loses the object but performs well anyway.  The message: there is no such thing as lucky objects; only hard work can lead to success.

Adult athletes, actors, and musicians are famous for their lucky objects, clothing, and rituals.  Why shouldn't kids be allowed to have the same?  Human beings are not completely rational.

What a joyless, driven, competitive world our kids live in.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"We're In it For the Kids"

(From I Used to Think ... And Now I Think, by Richard Elmore.)

I blanch visibly when I hear educators say, “We’re in it for the kids.” This phrase is a monument to self-deception, and, if I could, I would eradicate it from the professional discourse of educators. Public schools, and the institutions that surround them, surely rank among the most self-interested institutions in American society. Local boards function as platforms and training beds for aspiring politicians. Superintendents jockey for their next job while they’re barely ensconced in their current one. Unions defend personnel practices that work in a calculated and intentional way against the interests of children in classrooms. School administrators and teachers engage in practices that deliberately exclude students from access to learning in order to make their work more manageable and make their schools look good. All of these behaviors are engaged in by people who routinely say, “We’re in it for the kids.” 

... To say that the adults in public institutions “represent” the interests of their clients — children and families — is self-deceptive and irresponsible. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How Many Handshakes?

The previous discussion reminds me of a radio show that the Head of School at Natural Friends did last summer.  As an example of the kind of deep problem that kids at Natural Friends might work on, he offered, "there are three people at a party.  How many handshakes?"

I was completely baffled by this the first time I heard it.  How the heck would I know how many handshakes?  There are too many possibilities for a divergent thinker like myself.

There might be zero handshakes, because everyone in the room is germ-phobic.

There  might be hundreds of handshakes, because it's a meeting of the Obsessive-Compulsive Handshakers Support Group.

If two of the three people are married to each other, they wouldn't need to shake hands, so there would be two handshakes (the husband and wife each shaking the third person's hand.)

If two of the three people are Orthodox Jewish men (not allowed to touch a woman other than their own wife), and the third is an unrelated woman, the only legal handshake would be between the two men.

Or it could be that each person shakes every other person's hand exactly once, in which case you have three handshakes. 

That last possibility is actually the preferred one; the handshake question turns out to be a classic problem.  For the problem to work as intended, it must be assumed (or better yet, stated) that each person shakes every other person's hand exactly once.

The problem is fairly sophisticated; as you add people to the party, you wind up taking the sum of an arithmetic series.  I think it would go right over the head of a kid brought up on the thin gruel of Trailblazers Math.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Which Two Go Together?

Today Younger Daughter ("YD") was working on a test with her Speech Therapist ("ST").  The conversation went like this:

ST:  Here's three things.  Which two go together?  Egg, apple, banana.

YD:  The egg and the apple.

ST:  Why?

YD:  They're both round.

That's officially a "wrong" answer, of course.  The "right" answer is "the apple and banana go together, because they're both fruit."

Gifted kids often get questions like this "wrong", because they have creative minds that can justify any answer.  Another answer that I personally feel is correct is "the egg and the banana go together, because you only eat the inside."

The speech therapist told me that another question younger daughter got "wrong" was "which two go together: cee, three, and em."

Me:  What's the right answer, cee and three, because they rhyme?

ST (startled):  No, it's cee and em, because they're both letters.

YD's answer was "cee and three, because they're round."  (I sense a pattern!)

ST also told me that YD is above average in her ability to follow directions.  I demand a recount!


Neither Fish, nor Flesh, nor Good Red Herring

Every school my kids have attended so far is neither truly progressive, because kids have very little choice in what they do, nor truly traditional, because the academic content is so weak. 

Even curricula that are marketed as "progressive", like Trailblazers Math, contain all the worst aspects of traditional ed: bad homework, scripted lessons that kids are relentlessly marched through, and authoritarian pronouncements on how problems may be solved (no standard algorithms!)   

It seems to me that the biggest stumbling block that prevents schools from achieving true progressive ed is simply this: control.  To be truly progressive, to allow students as much freedom and autonomy as possible, just goes against the grain for educators.   School is a place where kids are told what to do.

The biggest stumbling block that prevents schools from achieving true traditional ed is a pervasive lack of interest in real content.  Professional-class parents are often more concerned about college admissions than learning.  Too many educators don't know what real content looks like, and mistake activity for engagement.