Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
You can read a short blurb about it here.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Serious benefits await children who engage in serious play. According to researchers Bodrova and Leong (3), play builds foundational skills and complex cognitive activities, such as memory, self-regulation, distancing and decontextualization, oral language abilities, symbolic generalization, successful school adjustment, and better social skills.
Children at play not only hone these cognitive abilities, but they also develop specific literacy, math, and social studies skills that connect directly with Virginia’s Foundation Blocks for Early Learning: Comprehensive Standards for Four-Year-Olds (4). As these standards astutely note, four-year-olds have serious work to do. But it can be accomplished with joy, enthusiasm, and engagement; in short, through play.
I integrate play with standards through careful observation and documentation of the children’s self-directed play. When I observe recurring themes, I develop whole group and small group activities to deepen their base of knowledge, their understanding, and their mastery of skills. I organize my classroom so that every play activity builds literacy, number sense, social interaction, and information about the world around them. Their dramatic, constructive, and exploratory play is richly layered with the core standards. They are building the skills they need to excell in their school careers and in their lives.
Play is an even more important component of a young child’s school day than it was in the past, because the nature of children’s play at home has changed; that is, not all children come to my classroom knowing how to play, and I must teach them how. “Nowadays, young children spend less time playing with their peers and more time playing along, graduating from educational toys to video and computer games” (3). When I see children struggling to play cooperatively and constructively, I scaffold their abilities with well-placed play props, questions to get them thinking, and interventions when needed to help them develop these essential skills.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
- Gabriela Mistral, Chilean poet, stateswoman, and teacher. She was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945.
Many thanks to the Minds on Music Blog, by Kindermusik International, for this and many other inspirations.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Jeremy Rifkin on "the empathic civilization" Video on TED.com
This also puts me in mind of the Roots of Empathy curriculum, a Canadian program that I came across a couple of years ago. Very exciting ideas.
I'm also reminded of the work of Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist and researcher at Duke University who is interested in (among other things) studying children with aggressive and violent behavior. He and his fellow researchers are finding out that these children (and adults) haven't built the skills of reading another person's facial expressions and body language, and therefore are less able to empathize with the other person's feelings. Since they are unable to decode the others' cues, they tend to assume the worst and then act out. One of the things they are doing is breaking down the complex process of reading the cues of others, and then teaching these children how to do it, one step at a time.
There is very good work going on out there.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
What is the design feature/area/organization technique that you wouldn't live without?
What is the one element that isn't in your environment, but you pine for it?
What websites or books are your favorite sources for ideas on classroom design?
Thanks, friends. I have seen many versions of ideal classrooms in your education blogs, so I know you have been exploring this.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Most students in my program do their internships in the Spring--a few of us are doing them now, and I think we're lucky. Yesterday, for example, I was there when my cooperating professional, E., opened her classroom door with the key. We surveyed the piled furniture in a corner, the supplies stashed willy-nilly along a wall by others who had used the room over the summer. We sniffed the air. Then we dug in. E. described where and how she needed things, and A., the assistant teacher and I, set up. It was a very good lesson for me to see the state of a classroom when a teacher begins her year. An enormous shelf that she'd relied upon for storage had also disappeared over the summer, so the set-up had to be different from last year. We discussed and schlepped and labeled, and it was a very good day. It's a privilege to be there from the very beginning.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Aditi Shankardass, a brain researcher, says that it's a funny thing that we typically only evaluate symptoms when we diagnose brain disorders--we don't look at the brain itself. She points out that if someone makes a diagnosis regarding another part of the body--say, heart or bones or blood, we take a look at it first before we proceed. So, she invented a new means to LOOK at brain waves and what they are telling us, with fascinating results. This one's just 7 minutes.
Aditi Shankardass: A second opinion on learning disorders Video on TED.com
Sunday, August 22, 2010
We just finished Coot Club, the fourth in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, and we've begun Pigeon Post. I've been eagerly waiting for this book; this is the one I read when I was a kid. It's delicious it is to revisit a book that I loved so long ago, and share it with my two children, who love it, too.
When I was 8 years old in the mid-seventies, my family lived in what was then West Germany, near Frankfurt. My father was stationed at a now-defunct American Air Base. It was July, and my family was on a summer vacation in our bright red, 1965 VW camper. We were trying to hit as many countries as we could in my father's three weeks of leave, and one afternoon found us in a bookstore on Trafalgar Square in London. I had begged to go in. I had blazed through the books I'd brought along for the many hours on the road, and I was intrigued by this place--with its dense walls of shelves to the ceiling, it felt like a bookstore I'd seen in Frankfurt, yet these books I could read. My parents said I could choose a book to keep me company as we journeyed to Scotland, and I chose Pigeon Post. I had no idea it was #5 in a series, and I didn't learn this until a couple of years ago, when a British friend and I were chatting about beloved books from our childhoods, and she filled me in on what I'd missed.
I decided to start the series from the proper beginning with my own children. Finally, instead of checking out the next book from our library, we are reading the musty, yellowed Penguin Paperback that's been sitting on my shelf all these years.
It's better than I remembered. It's wonderful. And I keep having these marvelous moments of short-term clairvoyance: like when Rodger gets a surprise package on the train, and I realize that I know what's inside of it. Or when Nancy comes back from the High Topps full of news, and I know what she's going to report. Thirty-two-year-old memories that I didn't know I had. It's a tale of brave, funny, daring children (eight of them!) and their summer at the lake, doing their best to avoid adults and scare up some proper adventure.
What a great way to end our summer together.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
My ideal house in 1976, when I was six years old. I made this plate on my grandmother's kitchen counter.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
These are the cleanest, truest two sentences on standardized testing I've come across yet.
Read this commentary for more clear-thinking on education reform from John Young. It hinges on a compelling metaphor: would you blame the mechanic for struggling to repair a neglected car, whose owner never changed the oil or checked the oil pressure? No, you would not. It makes as much sense to blame the teacher for struggling (though still in there, trying, every day) to educate the children whose home lives are marked by the corollary of human neglect. John Young is a recently retired columnist for the Waco Tribune Herald. Lucky for us, he's still keeping an eye on education politics and writing about it.
Another gem from Young's article: "No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals."
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I hope signs of Spring are all around you, too.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
This child's task was to practice writing the classroom "popcorn words" on her white board. "Popcorn words" are sight words, or words that the children are encouraged to memorize and know on sight, without needing to decode them--as quickly and effortlessly as popping a kernel of popcorn. It's a pretty good task--it's empowering to know those popcorn words, and everybody likes writing on (and erasing) the white boards.
She did this at first, and then she was struck with the idea of trying to make sentences with them. I think she went beyond even writing sentences, and wrote a poem.
I was assisting at that literacy center, and I'm pretty sure that technically, my given task was to discourage the fancy outlining of the letters, and encourage her to carry on practicing writing the popcorn words instead.
But I pretended I didn't notice. When she finished, I took a photo and told her I felt she had written a poem. She gazed at the white board for a while, then carried it around to share with her friends. She created learning for herself and others that was far beyond the original task.
Everyone read it, even children who are struggling to read the popcorn words. We all understood it.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
All that creativity was a hard act to keep up first thing in the morning, and as the years went by, I did it less and less. My daughter got notes once in a while, and now, neither of them has received a lunchbox note in a long time.
Well. Yesterday, I happened to be standing next to a Kindergartener who was getting ready for lunch. He had just fetched his lunchbox from his locker, and having a moment to spare, he opened it and pulled out a paper towel. Carefully, with both hands, he smoothed it out, and I then saw that it wasn't just the napkin for his lunch, but something very special.
I love you! oxo, Dad
He saw that I was looking, and he read it to me. Then another friend read it over his shoulder.
The little boy unzipped a side pocket on his lunchbox and pulled out five more paper towels that he had saved from previous days. One by one he smoothed them and read them to us. Every one of them said,
I love you! oxo, Dad
The little boy wasn't interested in creativity and variety. He was interested in his dad's notes. He loved them and saved them, and shared them with pride.
Which was the more beautiful poem: the dad's notes, or the little boy's face as he read them? It's a toss up.
This morning, I wrote both my children notes and put them in their lunches.
I love you! oxo, Mom
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I've just begun my field experience for this semester. I'm lucky enough to have the chance to observe a Kindergarten class. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but the most interesting part of this student teaching observation is that I have the chance to observe. Mindfully so. How much does this come up in life, that you can just sit quietly and watch it all happen?
Even in these usual circumstances, I don't sit much. I'm constitutionally unable to sit while others are working, so I figure out something useful to do in the classroom I'm visiting and I do it. Even so, there are moments when I really don't have a job, and all I can do is watch.
When I'm simply watching in a classroom, instead of being either a teacher or a student, I see things I wouldn't otherwise see. For example, I used to know a teacher (not the current teacher I'm observing, who is absolutely lovely, by the way) who didn't like to be kept waiting when she called on a child whose hand was raised. She would say the child's name, and if he or she took a long pause before speaking, she was say, "Too long!" and move on to another raised hand. This teacher had a lot of great qualities, and no doubt she picked up this technique somewhere as a means to teach children to think through their responses before they raised their hands.
But I wonder if she would have kept using this technique if she saw what I saw. She was busy, thinking about several things and trying to deliver content at the same time. But I was just observing, so my eye could linger on one little boy who had just received a "Too long!" His face sagged inward, he slumped his small shoulders, and he looked down at the carpet. Did he learn the intended lesson, that he needed to think through his responses before he raised his hand? I don't know. But through watching him, I could gather that he learned that raising his hand is not something he planned to do again anytime soon.
What else would I learn if I had the chance to sit and observe my own classroom? It's a great argument for videotaping class sessions, and going back over them later, to pick up the small cues that I missed in the moment. Does anyone do this? What did you find out?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
A couple of months ago, I read Johnathon Kozol's Letters to a Young Teacher, and I promised myself I would read more of his sobering work.
So, I read Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. (It came out in 2005, so I bet many of you have read this.) I thought while reading, why haven't I heard this perspective more frequently, from more quarters? Why aren't we talking about this? Indeed, it's a question that Kozol poses himself toward the end of the book. "It's hidden in plain view," he says.
In brief, his point is this: too many black schoolchildren go to schools that are nearly 100% African American, with very high rates of poverty, with extremely low graduation rates and even lower college admission rates, with over-crowded classrooms and decrepit facilities. This has the effect of cutting them off from the mainstream of American society, which carries over from their school days into limited opportunities in their adult lives.
While I was reading this book, someone saw the cover and said to me, "Apartheid? Well, that's overstating it a little, isn't it?" I didn't say anything at the time, as I had just begun, and I honestly wasn't yet sure if I thought Kozol was overstating his case or not.
Now that I have read it, I do not think Kozol is overstating the separation of the races in American public schools today, nor the negative impact of that separation. "Apartheid" is a razor-sharp word, and makes readers extremely uncomfortable--a reaction, no doubt, that Kozol and his editors were specifically going for when they chose the title and stark cover design for this book.
Interestingly, though, the prose within doesn't match the cover. Kozol is an excellent writer and debater, highly skilled at probing points and dismantling opposing viewpoints, but he is not shrill or coarse as this cover might lead you to expect. Instead of being hammered with angry discourse, I found passionate but polite discussion. It's a really good read, and vitally important to anyone interested in a macro view of the American public education system.
Which should be every American citizen, you know what I mean?
I am really interested in how much Kozol's position on how to intercede for black schoolchildren is in direct contrast to the ideas laid out by Mike Feinburg and Dave Levin (founders of KIPP schools), and other educators who have created highly structured curricula for inner-city children living in poverty. I also recently read Jay Matthews' book Work Hard, Be Nice, which chronicles the development of the KIPP system of schools. I thought that was a fascinating must-read, too. I love the accomplishments of the KIPP schools, and I admire the work and determination of the KIPP educators. But how excited can I get about a program in which I would not want my own two children to enroll? I want nurturing education for my kids. I want open-ended exploration of ideas, and I don't get that impression from KIPP or other programs that are similar to it. Do I think that the needs of inner city children in poverty are really so different from my suburban kids?
Kozol is emphatic that their needs are not different, and that poor black children should get the same forward-thinking education that administrators and teachers tend to arrange for their own children.
I'm thinking this over. I know I have much to learn. I feel a heady level of discomfort talking about the educational needs of inner city children, as I have just a little direct experience (I used to teach a parenting class for teen mothers in an alternative high school in west Dayton). But I also feel that my discomfort is a pretty good indicator that I should read and think more about race, poverty, education, social justice, where they intersect and where they don't and what is our next step.
Read it and let's talk!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The snow fairies came for a picnic.
More snow, another foot or so, is due any time now. The refrigerator, the book basket, and the craft supplies are all well stocked. My own little family is doing just fine in the biggest snow in DC in 90 years, but I worry about the people in my town who are out of power, or who are sick, or who must go to work. I know how fortunate we are.
Monday, February 1, 2010
This is a real emu. See his beak?
This is fake.
You probably knew that, but allow me to share a little story.
My daughter is doing a report on an animal in her 2nd grade class, and she chose an emu. She wanted an animal 1, with a funny-sounding name, and 2, that she knew nothing about before doing the report. I admired both those reasons.
So we sat down at my laptop together and went to a few reputable sites on animals, and she wrote down some facts on emus.
Then she decided to print out a couple of pictures. We went to google images, she typed in "emu," and picture #2 above was the first one that popped up.
Wow! We said. That's astonishing, I said. I explained to her how surprised I was, because I'd never heard of a bird with teeth before, let alone canine teeth, and we talked about how the kind of teeth you have shows what kind of food you eat. I said I was surprised that what we'd read so far hadn't mentioned anything about teeth, and we needed to do some more research. I was thinking of the platypus which is only one of two mammals on the planet that lays eggs, and the platypus is also from Australia, so could the emu be another example of species blending that I'd never heard of? The sad truth, gentle reader, is that I bought it. Of course this emu with teeth is just someone online having a bit of fun and doctoring photos.
So we did further research and found out we'd been had.
I was embarrassed, but this was a teachable moment if I'd ever seen one, so I called to my 4th grade son, and we all studied this photo carefully and talked about how real it looks. Never, I said, think that just because it's online, it's true. Especially stuff drawn randomly in a google search. There is a wealth of wonderful and useful information, but there is also a whole flotilla of silly jokes and downright lies, and it's up to us to check and double check any information gleaned from the internet.
And other sources of information too, for that matter.
I hope they remember this. Ha! I hope I do, too!
Friday, January 29, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything.
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
- Edward Everett Hale
Monday, January 25, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
It feels a little like taking in a deep breath, and letting it out in mid-May.
So I went to class with a little of the first-day jitters, but now that I'm on my way again, I'm relieved. Clearly, I'm doing what I should be doing, because I love it. I'm one semester closer to my teaching license. My sense of purpose is very strong as I commute on the Metro, as I find my way to class, as I take my notes and ask my questions.
Welcome, Spring semester.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Have you heard of Odyssey of the Mind? A quick overview: in the 70s, a professor of engineering at a community college in New Jersey wanted to get his students excited about their end of semester projects, so he staged a contest. The students loved it, and stimulated by the friendly and open-ended competition, they created some stunning projects. He did it the next year, and then they competed against another college, then some local high schools got involved...and now it's an international non-profit that organizes regional, state, and a world competition each year for kids from Kindergarten through college.