Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Home plate

My ideal house in 1976, when I was six years old. I made this plate on my grandmother's kitchen counter.

We are moving into our home! We just signed the papers and it's ours.

(This is, by the way, a different home from one I mentioned in a previous post. That one didn't work out, which was deeply disappointing at the time. But now we adore this one. Things have a way of working out, you know?)

We have moved a lot, and I've collected some anecdotal evidence about how moves, whether from one house to another or from one state to another, are HUGE events in a young child's life. They require a lot of conversation to help a child understand. If a child in your class or family is moving this summer, it's worth checking his or her understanding of what's going on.

For example: Before a previous move, my then-5-year-old daughter and I were perusing an online real estate site. In one group of house photos, we paused on a little girl's pink bedroom. "I like that bed," Leah said, "so let's get this house." She had made the perfectly logical assumption that moving house meant leaving all our things, too, her toys and dolls and bed, and assuming all of their things. How stressful that must have been for her, to think that. It was a good lesson for me in thinking about a young child's perspective and frame of reference, and making sure I provided all the important details.

When my son was five, we lived in Alabama, and we knew when we moved there in June that we'd move away the following June. A few weeks before my son's birthday in December, I asked him who he'd like to invite to his party. "Well," he said, "maybe we won't be here for my birthday." So, when my husband and I said, "Just one year," we knew what we meant, but my little boy couldn't yet envision what a year was. He only knew that some day soon, bags would be packed. I almost cried when I realized how much uncertainty he was living in. Another great lesson on a young child's need for context and examples and lots of detail to understand a big idea.
One more: We lived in our current neighborhood for two years, then moved to Ohio for one year, then moved back here to this current rental house last summer. So my children's friends have seen us take off before. This came very clear a few days ago when we told my son's best friend that we bought our house. He grew pale, gulped, and said in a very small voice, "Is it in Virginia?" Never mind that he knew we were looking for a house in the neighborhood. He knew that we'd left before, so as far as he was concerned, we were perfectly capable of moving again to Ohio or Timbuktu. I decided we needed an object lesson, so I loaded my kids and the three friends they had over to play in the car, and I drove them to the new place, just up the street from their elementary school. "This is our house," I announced in my best radio announcer voice, "and we're staying right here."
Everybody cheered.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Excellence vs. Competence

"Test scores don't measure excellence, they measure competence. I didn't send my kids to school to learn competence." John Young, as told to Gary Cartwright.

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

Reading Up on Reggio: Possible Schools

Between textbook readings, I'm trying to read up about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. I just finished Possible Schools, by Ann Lewin-Benham. Have you come across this one? It's not new: published in 2005, it chronicles the life and times of the Model Early Learning Center (MELC) in Washington, D.C. For a few short years in the early 90s, this school went from being choked with problems (running through several new directors within months, and many issues stemming from the poverty of their students and families), to becoming a truly child-centered learning environment that deeply, meaningfully involved their families. They were so successful at adopting Reggio's philosophy, that the Reggio Children organization, in Reggio Emilia, Italy, adopted them into their network of schools. This meant that Reggio Children supported 37 schools: 36 in Reggio, Emilia, and the MELC in Washington, D.C! But, then there were subtle changes in leadership and vision, and that proved to be enough to dismantle the hard-won gains. The school closed.

Possible Schools is an honest account of this school's life, and I'm grateful for that. Lewin-Benham celebrates the huge accomplishments, but she also lays out the glaring shortcomings and disappointments. She doesn't hold anything back about their early days, including the arguments among the teaching staff and their confusion about Reggio. Then, once they achieve the magical learning environment that was the MELC at its apex, she shows how fragile it was, and how susceptible to being dismantled by outside forces. It's a sobering tale. It's also a hopeful one, as the title implies. Lewin-Benham seems to be saying, okay, this was our attempt. This is was we made possible, even if briefly. What will you make possible?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring in DC

We managed to get tickets to the White House Egg Roll this year, along with 30,000 of our closest friends! While it certainly was crowded, it was a treat to see the White House while standing on the South Lawn. I'm happy to report that it looks great up close, especially with all the Spring blooms. The people you see here were members of an orchestra.

How exciting to get a look at the new White House organic veggie garden, pictured here. This garden was part of a whole display on healthy foods at the Egg Roll, part of Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative. I'm hopeful her program will lead to changes in public school lunch (more on this in another post.)

And have you heard of Mrs. Obama's apiary? Yep, right here on the South Lawn. This makes me so happy. I realize this one apiary is not the same as a sustained nationwide effort to protect honey bees, but I appreciate the symbol. I believe in the power of a well-placed symbol.

And DC just enjoyed the legendary cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, too. We went one evening for a dinner picnic while blossoms snowed down on us. Oh, my, I loved it. I must get my future students to a spot where they can stand under a storm of cherry blossoms.

I hope signs of Spring are all around you, too.