Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shortage of ADHD Drugs

In the NYTimes, FDA is Finding Attention Drugs in Short Supply.

Agent Boggs of the Drug Enforcement Administration said his agency was concerned that A.D.H.D. drug abuse was on the rise. “We see people abuse it in college and then continue to abuse it nonmedically once they leave,” he said.
Since the drugs have been shown to improve concentration, and not just in people with A.D.H.D., they have become popular among students who are seeking a study aid. And since they can impart a euphoria that users have likened to a cocaine high, the pills are sometimes ground up by people who snort them for a thrill.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Leveled Readers

Bookmarking an excellent discussion about leveled readers (used in both my daughter's previous and present schools!):

Sara on Leveled Books

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stupid Principal Tricks

Myer Elementary School principal gets slimed by 3rd graders Wednesday

Homework Blues said, in a comment to Pajama Day:

To add: Even more offensive are silly gimmicks the principal pledges to pull off if the kids read more. One local stunt had the principal lug her desk onto the roof where she spent the entire day.

Anonymous, lest you think I'm out to kill all fun too, what I hated about those ridiculous contests is each time the students read, they logged their reading logs onto a master graph. There was a goal and the principal promised to do something crazy if the kids met that goal.

No, I'm not out to ban fun. Hardly. What I didn't like about those condescending contents is that school keeps inventing new and ingenious ways to kill reading. Then, in lockstep motion, just as we predicted, the kids hate reading. Voila! Mission accomplished.

Now the school tears its hair out. The kids aren't reading! Oh, dear, we have NCLB, what shall we do?

I'll tell you what to do. Ban reading logs. Ban stupid assignments with dippy questions that cause children to groan in despair. Cultivate a love of reading. Then the principal won't have to die her hair green, climb a chimney or wade in the mud.

Reading is not a gimmick. It's a way of life. For some here, it's the only life!

Homework Blues, you said a mouthful.  You're giving me flashbacks to the days when I used to watch the local news (haven't for many years.)  Stupid principal tricks were a staple for "happy news" on the local broadcast.

Everything about this is wrong.  As you point out, we're telling kids that reading is so unattractive that it has to be "motivated" by those in authority with all kinds of gimmicks and tricks. 

Besides that, the assumption that it's fun for kids to see someone in authority humiliate themselves bothers me.  Do we really want to promote this?  Aren't we telling kids that of course they should enjoy making someone else uncomfortable?  We're encouraging their worst instincts.

Why should we be surprised if kids don't respect the principal, after she's engaged in some ridiculous stunt?  Kids know that they are at the mercy of the adults who control their lives, and it hardly builds their confidence to see the principal dye her hair a silly color, or spend a day on the roof, or whatever. 

There's an element of narcissism in there too, as if kids' lives revolve around what the principal does.  I don't see why the average kid would care what color the principal's hair is.  

It's just so wrong-headed.  Of course that shouldn't surprise me any more ...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Learned Helplessness

Since we're on break, I'm channeling my inner Tiger Mom and working hard with Younger Daughter.  We're going through the "finished" Investigations workbooks that her second-grade teacher sent home, completing some of the untried pages and fixing mistakes.

So, I turn to an untried page and say, "Let's do this one".  Then YD just looks at me expectantly.  She's gotten so accustomed to having the teacher read the directions to her that she doesn't even try to read them herself.  Me:  "Go ahead and read the directions!"  Several times YD has started reading the directions, and reverted back to her worst habits of word-guessing, reading "color" for "circle" and "equation" for "equals".  I think it's a form of learned helplessness, and I think it's got to stop.

So I had Sainted Husband type up a list of all the vocabulary words that show up in the workbooks, and we'll start drilling them with YD as part of her daily reading practice.  Not only is Investigations heavily language-based, which creates unnecessary roadblocks for a language-delayed child, but the language it uses is not remotely aligned with the reading curriculum.  I'm sure YD isn't the only second-grader who has trouble reading words like "equation", or, God forbid, "trapezoid".

If I were purely homeschooling YD, I could choose what curricula to follow, and we could use it in a systematic way.  But since I'm sending YD to public school and afterschooling her in an attempt to bring her up to grade level, I vacillate between using the best curricula I can find (phonics and Singapore Math) and preparing her to deal with her classroom environment, which pushes reading "strategies" and Investigations math.  I just hope it all works for her.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pajama Day?

Today is "Pajama Day" at Younger Daughter's public elementary school.  She actually doesn't have any pajamas -- she just sleeps in her clothes.  (So sue me!)  Sainted Husband dressed her in clothes that look as pajama-like as possible, and they were off to the bus stop this morning.

I really really don't get the point of Pajama Day, or Silly Hat day, or Wear Something Purple day.  I don't understand why people think it's fun or amusing, and I wouldn't have found it fun or amusing as a kid. 

Perhaps it's because I'm a nonconformist at heart, as are both of my kids, and these "let's all wear the same unusual clothing item" days are really about conformity. 

Nobody finds it fun or amusing if one kid decides to wear his pajamas to school; his parents would probably get an icy message from the school about appropriate dress.  No, it's only perceived as fun or amusing if the whole school does it together on the same day.

Bah, humbug! I say. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Learning From Your Mistakes

Recently, Younger Daughter's teacher has sent home YD's workbooks from their math program, Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.  Looking through these books, the first thing that strikes me is the (large) number of uncorrected errors.  Does the teacher correct these workbooks at all?  If not, what's the point?

Older Daughter told me that in her experience, this is one of the main differences between public and private school.  She was amazed to find that in her private school, they go over the homework the next day, in class, with the goal that everyone should understand all the problems.  Back in public school, homework might be graded, but there was no attempt to fix mistakes.

I don't get it.  What good does it do Younger Daughter to write wrong answers, if she's never corrected?  It's actually worse than not doing math at all -- she's confirming wrong ideas.  On this page, she's made a consistent mistake, thinking that "doubling" is the same as "putting a 1 in front of".  (Hence, "4 doubled is 14", "7 doubled is 17", "9 doubled is 19", and "8 doubled is 18".)

I can see why YD thinks that schoolwork is mostly a question of filling things out.

When I work on Singapore Math with YD, I check her answers immediately after she writes them, and if the answer is wrong, I erase it and we go back over the problem.  Every page is filled out correctly by the time we're done.  Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

While we're at it, I can't believe the amount of wasted paper in the Investigations workbooks.  They use an entire page for one simple addition problem.  This also results in worse handwriting -- YD's handwriting is neater in the Singapore Math workbook, which gives smaller spaces.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Not the Only One

I found this post in a dcurbanmoms forum thread called "Kindergartener doesn't want to go to school anymore."

My DS also started to dislike school in K and it got progressively worse as most of the other kids started to read and write with what must have seemed like ease in comparison to his struggles. It took until the end of 3rd grade to get the learning disability diagnosis and put all the pieces together. We thought there were social issues or something else going on but it was all frustration at having to work so hard to read and write and feeling stupid that he couldn't keep up with the others in class. He just couldn't explain to us that this is why he hated school until he was older so we got lots of vague complaints instead. The tummy ache complaint was a classic. I'm sure his tummy really did ache, but from anxiety about what was going to make him feel stupid in school that day, not from an actual physical issue.

Sounds just like last year with Younger Daughter!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Christmas!

Dead Quiet

From the Whole Brain Teaching Forum:

A question from one WBT teacher:

Have gone over expectations of lining up many times. Hard to have a straight quiet line. Then I wonder is it really necessary? Feel like I am wasting too much time on this and my energy could be for something else. Any suggestions?

And an answer from another, who apparently missed the point about wasting time and energy:

I teach them four line expectations:

1. Laser-straight: the tiles on the floor help a lot, but we also have lines painted on our sidewalks. They know, because I remind them often, to make sure their left foot is on the line.

2. Dead quiet: I never allow any talking in my line. Not even to me.

3. Arms crossed: I used to allow kids to choose whether they crossed their arms or put their hands in their pockets, but I found that if you give an inch, they take a light-year. So, arms crossed only.

4. Faces forward: It's really irritating to me when people standing in line at theme parks aren't paying attention when the line moves forward, leaving a huge gap. I don't want my line to have gaps in it either.

I teach these four expectations, and slowly wean them off me reminding them of each one when we line up, and settle for the aforementioned "LINE CHECK!" They repeat "LINE CHECK!" and instantly snap to attention in a perfect, orderly, OCD-tickling line (tears of joy!). The key is consistency and unbending, unwavering expectation of perfection. As long as it's not perfect, we don't move. If we're already moving and it stops being perfect (arms swing out, someone talks, someone veers way out of line), I call "FREEZE!" and everyone stops. I say "LINE CHECK!", they respond appropriately, then we're on our way.

All of that sounds terribly militaristic, but the whole time I've got this "Gosh, isn't this fun?" maniacal grin on my face, and I'm constantly praising the ones who've got it right and encouraging the ones who don't. We've only been in school for a week, and my kids are trained. They know exactly what I want, and I get it...and they're as proud of themselves as I am of them, because they know they've got it together, and they're the best-behaved class in 5th grade.

Gee, how about aiming for the best educated class in 5th grade?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Homework at the South Pole

The youngest-ever person to ski to the south pole, Amelia Hempleman-Adams, 16, tried to bring homework on the trek, but her father took the books off the sledge to lighten the load.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dream Schools

I want a dream lover
So I won't have to dream alone.
-- Bobby Darin, "Dream Lover"

TeacHer asked, in a recent comment:

I've been wondering about this recently: if you were to design the perfect school, how would it look? What about the perfect teacher?

Thanks for the question, TeacHer!

My dream school would combine the best of the progressive and traditional philosophies.  From the best of the progressives, I would take an interest in the child as a complete human being, with physical and emotional needs as well as academic ones, and the goal of developing an independent thinker, with a continuing interest in learning.  From the best of the traditionalists, I would take a true understanding and appreciation of content knowledge, including technical content like math and science, and a respect for linear, well-designed curricula.

So, with the progressives, I would throw out authoritarian classroom-management systems like PBIS and WBT, but with the traditionalists, I would throw out bad curricula like fuzzy math, non-phonics reading instruction, and meta-meta-meta "comprehension" questions that baffle and alienate small children.

My dream elementary school would assign no homework, or optional homework, and never restrict recess as a punishment, or for any reason.  Teachers and administrators would work towards a genuine partnership with parents, not the current Jeeves-and-Wooster farce that passes for "partnership".

My dream teacher would be well-educated and genuinely interested in learning, as well as humane and caring (that's a surprisingly difficult combo to find!).  She would be open to new ideas, and not ideologically wedded to certain techniques (and yes, I understand that a lot of important classroom decisions aren't under the teacher's control any more.)

And here's an impossible dream for you:  just once, I would like to read a newsletter written by a teacher with no grammatical errors. 

Readers, what would your dream school look like?  How about your dream teacher?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Grown-up Good Girls

From Chris' comment on Nicey-Nice:

I think it's a kind of prisoners' dilemma. If everyone spoke up, the resulting debate would have to be beneficial for the schools. But if you think you're going to be the only one who speaks up, the potential downside seems much more prominent than the upside. People are rationally reluctant to do anything that might offend the people who take care of their kids all day long.

Chris, I don't think it's a rational decision at all.  I think it's cultural.  I live in a high-achieving, well-behaved type of suburb where people send their kids off to school with the basic assumption that the schools will do a reasonably good job and all the parents need to do is support the school's efforts.  Even I felt this way when Older Daughter started school! 

On top of that, the school itself is constantly sending the message that parents will be judged, and parents don't want to be judged harshly.   Parents regress back to their own childhood when dealing with school personnel.  What I see among Moms in my neighborhood is a residual good-girlism, no doubt left over from their own school days.  Perhaps I'm fortunate that I wasn't a good girl as a child, and it didn't take much for me to get over the desire to be approved of by teachers and administrators.

Parents are constantly excusing the school's behavior, and trying to distance themselves from those other bad parents.  I had a typical discussion just this morning with a neighbor.  The background is that she's applying to get her son into the gifted program, and met with a lot of hostility from the same psychologist who was nasty to me.

Neighbor:  "I understand, I'm sure they get lots of pushy, obnoxious parents."

Me:  "Maybe they do, but they should still assume the best of each parent they meet.  They shouldn't start with the attitude that you're unreasonable.  Don't we try to do the same for them?"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Older Daughter likes to put up decorations for the upcoming holidays, but she's less interested in taking down the decorations from holidays gone by.  That's how we wound up with a "Ho Ho Ho" sign on our front door which is apparently dripping blood.


I want to tell you something
I wouldn't tell you no lie
Wild women are the only kind that ever get by
Wild women don't worry
Wild women don't have no blues.

-- Ida Cox, "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues"

I ran into a neighbor at one of our public school's events.  She was surprised to see me there.  The conversation went like this:

Neighbor:  Oh, are you in the public school now?

Me:  Yes.  Our older daughter had such a terrible time in the public school that we moved her to a private school, and then our younger daughter had such a terrible time in the private school that we moved her to public school!

Neighbor (with big vacant smile):  Aren't we lucky to  have so many choices!

Well, yes, we are lucky to have so many choices.  And, yes, I understand that most people aren't interested in long rants, and I'm careful not to rant at people that I happen to come across while I'm out and about.  (That's what this blog is for!)

But I'm worried about the suburban good-mom culture which won't allow criticism of our schools.  Our schools have real problems, and they will never be addressed without criticism, discussion, and dissent.

Another neighbor of mine is concerned about the math curriculum.  She told me that she has been unable to get other mothers interested in the problem.  They don't want to criticize the schools; they think their role is to support the school, no matter what.  There's a widespread feeling that our schools are already "great" (i.e., they're attended by the children of professionals, who rack up impressive test scores) and nobody wants to rock the boat.

Of course the schools are very happy to have parents who don't ask questions or voice concerns or make complaints.  They're not interested in hearing from parents in any case.

But how can the schools ever improve if they just do whatever they want, with no feedback from those most affected by their policies?