The War on (Female) Teachers

I have a firm, unshakable belief that one reason why educators are easy targets for the current war on teachers in America is because 76% of us are female according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

This case study on a young female teacher hit home:

“…it was clear that she was against ‘teaching-to-the test’ and the emphasis on content knowledge, ‘drill and practice’ instruction or other traditional instructional practices, which were prevalent among most of her colleagues…(who) attacked her for being ‘different’ and for not teaching the way everyone else was” (Zembylas, 474).  

Zembylas notes that “shame…(tends) to characterize women more than men” (475). Society has for millennia used shame to demand conformity from women. Teachers who dare to be different in standardized US schools are punished with demands for data and tests to”hold accountable” a female-dominated teaching profession. Continue reading The War on (Female) Teachers

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Curriculum. Simplify, Simplify.

Curriculum “experts” are constantly making the process of curriculum planning more and more complicated.  They are always adding items to teachers’ to-do lists with little or no evidence as to their necessity.  Of course, it must be complicated…otherwise the “educational consultant” might not need to be consulted.

Here’s a list of some of the things to scratch off your curriculum to-do list:

1. Forget “unpacking standards.”

Continue reading Curriculum. Simplify, Simplify.

Immersion: A Poverty of Language

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Children of privilege grow up listening to rich language.  Parents read aloud to them in one or several languages, co-tell stories as they play, and discuss the world around them.  Children in print-rich homes do better on tests of early literacy and have wider vocabularies (Bracken).

Children whose families are holding down multiple jobs hear “Go play outside.” They spend their days talking to older siblings, some of whom are English-dominant and might not speak their heritage language well, frequently code-mixing languages.  They do not have access to books and are rarely read to.

Financial poverty often correlates with poverty of language.

What closes the gap?  Krashen and Brown explain that bilingual education can imitate the effects of language-rich homes to help children excel in the early years.  Research is so overwhelmingly in favor of bilingual education that, as Stephen Krashen explains, even “it’s harshest critics…do not claim it does not work” (1997). Continue reading Immersion: A Poverty of Language

A Teacher’s Notes on Language Experience

 

Collaboration and student engagement happens easily with fluent ELLs.  But sharing and engaging is not so easy for Newcomers or beginning readers who are not able to decode or recognize high-frequency words fluently.   Leading sometimes silent beginners towards increasingly autonomous literacy in an ability-appropriate, scaffolded way is no small feat.

One highly engaging early literacy model is the Language Experience Approach.  In a 2016 blog post, Stephen Krashen describes one simple take on the Language Experience approach:

  1. The student dictates a very short story or anecdote to the teacher
  2. The teacher writes out the story or anecdote (these days using a word processor) and makes copies of the story.
  3. The student and other students read the story, which could become part of the classroom library.

 

Projectors, white boards, or chart paper are canvases for children’s creative ideas where I help record the stories they want to tell.

Continue reading A Teacher’s Notes on Language Experience

Peer Assessment 

What are your best and worst memories from school?  Odds are they came from social interaction with classmates.   I have vivid memories of being picked last for every team in PE.  Although not necessarily traumatic, it was peer assessment that shaped how I thought about my abilities.

Feedback from peers is an unavoidable, powerful force that influenes children, so establishing a classroom that is conducive to constructive peer feedback is key.

Done well, peer assessments can:

  • Help students feel noticed and that their voice is valued
  • Improve the real-life skill of listening and responding with constructive communication
  • Relate to authentic assessment tasks you were already doing anyways; tasks used with peer assessments are usually communicative, not selected response quizzes or tests.
  • Offer low-stakes, low-pressure feedback and are never graded

Peer assessments can be done more or less formally and can be different for different ability levels, or even for different personality types.  They can be whole-class responses like “Let’s clap for (student or group name)” or small group/pairs. They can be “double-blind” with no names on students’ work, or kids can write tbeir names to proudly show off their best work from the week.

One size doesn’t fit all.  Informal, low-key, and simple is better (as is true of almost all assessments).  Don’t bother with a handout when a stack of heart-shaped Post-Its will do. Don’t spend 30 mintues deeply examining every part of a partner’s text when a simple “I liked when you said…” and one line from the text will do.  Peer assessments (again like all good assessments) should be less of a chore and more of a celebration.

Peer feedback should never force output.  Nonverbal assessments take a little more creative thinking,  but just start small.  For example,  after a whole-class shared reading, children can write or illustrate/label an alternative ending.  Trade retells and share with a partner (yes, some L1 will happen but that’s all part of the silly stories fun).  Draw a line on the board:  “bizarre———normal” (as in a forced-response assessment).  If an evaluator is in your room, make sure you look them in the eye as you say “Evaluate your partner’s text.” Note that prior to this, I established expectations for positive feedback and my kids know from our crazy stories together that weirder is better.

There will be a handful of students who beg to have their stories read to the class, insisting theirs is the most creative.  Silliness will ensue.  While other classes have kids staring at the clock at 2:50, my students relish the last ten minutes of class when they get to shine.

English language learners don’t get noticed (assessed) in a positive way as much as other students in the mainstream.  Why not help them in a scaffolded, structured way to navigate childhood and adolescence by turning peer interaction from a source of angst into a confidence-builder?
For further reading: “The Language of Trees” from TPRS The Easy Way by Ben Slavic

Boys and Reading

 

Study after study has found that boys lag behind in literacy achievement. Boys report reading less and score lower on reading tests, according to a 2009 study.

Many books that appeal to boys tend to be frowned upon in traditional classrooms.  “With some notable exceptions, boys’ preferred reading material rarely makes it to the Caldecott or Newbery lists so beloved of librarians,”  says Robin Boltz in 2007, who gives the example of “R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps (and)… Captain Underpants” which were “banned by many school libraries.”

Although increasingly popular, comics or graphic novels are also strongly preferred by boys, though sometimes treated as lesser in schools.  But comics, which boys report reading more often than girls, can be a good “light reading” as a first step toward more serious or academic text, according to Stephen Krashen in 2005.

In Educating Latino Boys, David Campos recommends integrating technology whenever possible.  Reading seems less stigmatized as “something girls do” when technology levels the playing field. Blogs, digital journals as response to text, digital magazines or ebooks are also highly engaging for boys.  In 2011, Stephen Krashen suggests that “Free Voluntary Web Surfing” may also help literacy.  These less-traditional approaches to reading may help reluctant boys feel like reading is “cool.”

To up the “cool” factor, consider a little healthy competition.  Why not have teams of students log self-selected reading hours to see which teams can reach their goal first?

For all students, but for boys in particular, reading for a clear, real-life purpose can be beneficial.  Students who love working on cars with family may love reading about cars; gamers make prefer to read up on their favorite Minecraft blogs to plan strategies and share with friends.

Never adopt an overly-generalized approach to connecting students and books.  Just look out for the girls and boys (who may not ask for books as readily as the girls) in your classroom to make sure everyone is reading what they love.

Find What Children Love

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My son loves Pokemon cards.

He got hooked on the game in the way reading should progress.  It started on the bus with other kids, reading as a low-pressure way to get his feet wet in a high-interest “content”-driven (decontextualized or unfamiliar) world of strange creatures.  No tests or drills in skills, just reading surface-level text to understand each creature.

This progressed into a Pokemon card collection which he categorized based on criteria he determined from understanding of the text and input from his peers. He compared and contrasted dozens of little characters of different varieties with different powers, and of course read several handbooks and the comic book series.

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He built background knowledge and confidence in the content area. He used those schematic constructs to show off what he knew with friends in a social way. With Aspergers, looking other children in the eye or playing less structured games makes him feel nervous.  With a high-interest content area he feels knowledgeable about, he can make friends and engage confidently with peers.

As he traded cards with friends, he used co-textual support to evaluate and draw conclusions. He proudly justified his trades with peers using text evidence for support.

He was reading deeply and narrowly in a high-interest content-area…

Until the bus stopped and he got to school.  There, the teacher handed him a textbook.

Granted, there are more appropriate texts for classrooms. But too often our desire to “do school” gets in the way of reading.  Instead of building skills, when and how we want them to be built, let children come to text naturally through a love of reading.

Instead of building skills, find what children love and build them up.