Friday, January 31, 2014

Project Groundhog!

Project Groundhog began in 1994 with a group of teachers in Newfoundland, Canada, as a way to use the World Wide Web in their classrooms. It has become an international project for teachers and their classes in grades K to 6. The purpose to find out if the groundhog as prognosticator is myth or truth.

For the six weeks following Groundhog Day, February 2nd classes record the daily temperature and sky conditions in their school community. The data is collected weekly online on the Project Groundhog website. In addition to the collection of data, classes in teams of 6-8 communicate with each other what they have learned about the groundhog. At the end of the six weeks, each class examines their data and makes a judgment about whether the groundhog was correct in his prediction. Lots of science and social studies goes into this project and it’s a way to get past the boring winter months in school. I discovered Project Groundhog in 2003 and made sure each of my classes after that got a chance to participate.

Some people may think I’m off my rocker to get this excited about a rodent. But this rodent is no stranger to me. In reality, we have a groundhog or two (or three) that lives in our yard and whose photo I have been able to snap a few times. My class named him Bacon, because another name for groundhog is “whistle pig.” Get it? Pig = Bacon. He helps us out in our volunteer work. My hubby is a steamboat captain for the Steamboat Classroom, S.P.L.A.S.H. (Students Participating in Learning Aquatic Science and History), and when he is asked to predict whether or not the weather will be good on trip days, he always makes sure to consult Bacon first. The email headings always say, “Bacon says…”

I have always loved Groundhog Day! Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Punxsutawney Phil and his weather predictions. Even when I was old enough to understand that all the hoopla surrounding him was just for fun, I made it a point to recognize Groundhog Day as a winter holiday and wish everyone I met, a happy Groundhog Day! By the time the movie, Groundhog Day, came out with Bill Murray in it, I had already indoctrinated my own children in the fun, as well as my school children. We always had a party and sometimes sang Groundhog carols, especially rewritten for the occasion. As you have probably guessed by now, I saw the Bill Murray movie when it came out and have it on DVD for posterity. And any time I can catch it on TV, I’m there.

When I taught fifth grade, Project Groundhog was a perfect reason to have a little educational fun, as well as to reinforce our math and social studies’ skills. After we registered, and were assigned to a team, we researched the areas where our teammates went to school and learned where the states and provinces were on a map of North America. We’ve been partners with classes in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Hampshire, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana. I always put up a big bulletin board with our team’s states highlighted and photos or data that they shared with us. We emailed our teammates descriptions about our school, community and city, and what we learned about the groundhog. What a blessing that was to have the kids discover the treasures that were in our city, and have to advertise them! Some of our reading, science, and writing time was spent reading about groundhogs and writing reports, stories, poems or songs to show what we discovered. It was easy to integrate Groundhog Time into the lesson plan because it hit so many standards at once!

Each day, at Morning Meeting, someone was assigned to get the high and low temperature for the day, as well as the weather that day. If school was closed, they were required to record the high and low temps from TV or radio and fill in their data sheets. Every day we averaged the temperatures to get one sample temperature for the day. This was done in Celsius as well as Fahrenheit, since the project headquarters was in Canada. At the end of the week, we averaged the averages to obtain one weekly temperature that we could enter as data along with the number of sunny, snowy, rainy and cloudy days per week. Fifth grade is the time students learn how to average and this was a great opportunity to practice that skill in a meaningful way. If you didn’t know how to get the average in my class at the end of the six weeks, you were brain dead!

At the end of the six weeks, we examined our data, researched and discussed what typical winter and spring temperatures were common in our city, and decided, after much debate, whether the Bacon the groundhog was a good indicator of an early spring or late winter. It was about 50-50 when you examined the data we collected over the years, which is a better than Punxsutawney Phil!

I hope this year you will participate or at least have it on the radar for next year. It’s a worthwhile interdisciplinary project and a lot of fun too!



A South Pole Groundhog Day -



Still learning!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

No Bad Apples

Lately, in the education forums I frequent, a collection of people who are not educators keep making the same assertions that we hear from the so-called reformers. Unfortunately that’s all the public hears these days, about how the bad teachers are bringing down the educational standings of our nation’s youth, how these bad teachers can’t be fired, and why these bad teachers need to be gotten rid of by giving the good ones performance pay or by ranking teachers by test scores and firing the lowest 10%. Union-busting corporations pay for giant billboards in cities and claim that the union teachers are thugs who can’t think for themselves. Not true. In fact, teachers all over the country are getting riled up enough to do some fighting back.

Seattle teachers refused to give one more standardized test. Chicago teachers struck and parents supported them, Philly teachers, parents and students have marched on the School Board building several time to protest school closing and draconian budget cuts, principals, teachers and parents on Long Island have declared they’ve had enough of testing  and ill-conceived teacher evaluations, NY school superintendents have sent letters of protest to the NY State Chancellor decrying the adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards and attached tests. Diane Ravitch wrote a book explaining that the education crisis is manufactured by corporate interests, and it is a best-seller. We are speaking. Is anyone listening?

In my 37 years of teaching, I have come across six bad teachers.


In 37 years.

That’s 6 out of 100+ teachers I have worked with. Less than 6%. Let’s do the math, shall we? That means 94% of the people I have worked with were NOT bad teachers. But the public continues to treat us in the 94% like those 6%. We are not just babysitters. We are not the bottom of the barrel students in college or high school. Indeed, I graduated 10th in a class of 600 from high school and with a 3.5 GPA from Beaver College, now Arcadia University. Teachers come early and stay late, tutor kids at their lunchtime, buy supplies that the school doesn’t provide, provide snacks and treats fr the class, keeps them safe from harm, protects them from people with guns, lays on top of them during tornados, comforts them when a snowstorm makes them shelter in place. It’s not he teachers that are the problem in this supposed education crisis.

Research shows that a teacher only had from 10 to 30% influence on how successful a child is in school. The other 70 to 90% come from parents, environment, and physical and mental health.

On his website, It Takes a Village to Teach a Child, Robert Bacal, explains why it’s generally not the teacher’s fault that the standardized test scores are low. He says, “The studies suggest the answer lies, not with teacher pay, not with the quality of teachers (although that's certainly part of it), but with a much broader, and problematic issue. National culture, the beliefs, and values of the country.
The countries that fare better than the USA on these metrics simply have cultures that value education more highly. They also tend to have cultures that tend to be less individualistic and value the welfare of the ‘group’ whether it be family, neighborhood, organization, and much less on individual accomplishment, and ‘standing out’. In countries that fare better, teachers are more respected and held in higher esteem.”

You can read more of his writings on this subject by clicking on this link.

John Tapscott, an independent Education Management Professional, says:

In my 45 years of teaching I have worked with hundreds of dedicated professionals and as far as measuring them against each other I am at a loss. This is because each teacher is different. Each has a different set of skills, a different bank of knowledge, a different set of beliefs and something different and unique to contribute to the lives of the students they teach. 
The work of a teacher is not his or her work alone. It’s a contribution, together with that of their colleagues into the knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes of the next generation. I think at least 50 teachers contributed to my education over the years. 
The reason why it appears that more teachers are failing to meet expectations is that expectations have increased to the point where it is impossible for all teachers to meet all expectations all the time.

Thank goodness things seem to be turning around and the students and parents voices are being heard in support of teachers and in defiance of testing. I hope that the young people continue to examine what they need to succeed. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with tests, but whether each student can reach his or her potential in life. Take a look at what this young man has to say about education today. It takes a village to nurture those apples.

Still learning!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not My Education President!

I did not watch or listen to the State of the Union Address last night because I had already been in A-fib from stress last week and I didn’t want to do it again. But I couldn’t get away from it because of the teacher organizations’ blogs and Facebook pages exploded with it. I did have the chance to listen to the education sections of the speech and I tend to agree with the overall opinion of teachers that it was too little, too late, with a side of uh-oh.

I was happy that he chose to begin the speech with education. though I felt he didn’t say anything new, only repeating the same worn-out phrases and ideas. I would have liked him to recognize that even though he stated that school shouldn’t be a place to learn how to do bubble forms, it is that place. And bubble-form testing will remain the focus of schools until No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top is repealed or heavily amended. The same requirements for NCLB that everyone cried about, that is, the need to increase goals every year for all subgroups of students, remains the goal for Race to the Top. The consequences of not making Adequate Yearly Progress are one and the same for NCLB and RttT alike.

Schools that need the most support are still being closed or taken over by private entities, the charters. The same tired “reforms” that have not changed education in 20 years, are being touted as the salvation of education. Call it what you like NCLB/RttT has done nothing more than demoralize teachers, frustrate students, demonize administrations, and take community control away from those who need it most, the high-poverty communities. How can closing a school help it? Put some resources and high quality professional development there for the teachers, decrease class sizes and allow the parents and teacher a say in the programs and strategies they need to improve. Those things work. I know because I taught in one of those low-performing schools. We received all those things and within three years, were able to make AYP. There is only one problem. After the school is able to make AYP, the assistance is withdrawn and the school is left, once again, to fend for itself. And to once again descend into the abyss. Why? Because in high-poverty schools, small class sizes, additional personnel, and quality coaching programs work, and when they are removed, it’s back to the same old same old. And the whole time, the threat of closing or turning into a charter school hangs over your head.

I voted for Barack Obama twice. I really did vote for him, not against his opponents. I think he’s accomplished some of what he set out to do, but I discovered too late that I was opposed to his education policies and appointments at the Department of Education. His appointment of Arne Duncan was perhaps the worst of those decisions. Mr. Duncan is NOT an educator, how can the head of the DOE not be an educator? It doesn’t make sense! Linda Darling-Hammond would have made a great Secretary of Education. She understands. Decrying NCLB and then instituting RttT was a slap in the face for teachers, Then, the establishment of the Common Core Standards, without educators of every age involved in making the standards, was an even bigger mistake. I thought that RttT would replace the incessant standardized testing of the NCLB but it just made it worse.

And then there was his proposal for early childhood education and universal Pre-Kindergarten. He called upon “CEOs, Military Officers, and Law Enforcement Professionals” for support for Pre-K. No teachers? I would love to see the above professionals try to handle a class of Pre-K kids. If they’ve never taught that age, how would they know what is best? Is the inclusion of Pre-K in RttT going to mean standardized tests in those classes? I predict that the horrible curricula and assessments of K-12 will seep farther to Pre-K and remove the last semblance of childhood play from schools. Those classes will become little bubble form factories, too.

For a slightly more to-the-point comment on the disappointing speech look at this blog entry on raginghorse blog.

He did have a good idea about making sure that the student loan payments are not more than 10% of a graduate’s salary. That was the best education idea in there. But that’s it. The next president I vote for will have to undergo an awful lot of scrutiny before I cast my vote in favor.

In short, although I voted for him, he is not my education president. Mr. Obama, you’ve got to do better.

Still learning!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Land Is Your Land

On this sad occasion of Pete Seeger’s death, I feel that I must dedicate a blog entry to him and his influences on me, and the world. I entered the world in the 50’s. It was a heady time of growth after World War II, but there were dark things going on that deprived citizens of the USA of their rights as people in this country. Whether we talk of civil rights, farm workers’ rights, the anti-war movement (dare I call it the PEACE movement?) or union rights, Pete Seeger and others he influenced took the fight for justice and peace to the airwaves. It came on the simple words to catchy tunes repeated by people of all races, colors, creeds and countries.

Perhaps not so much through his own singing, but through his playing or writing songs which others made famous, I was mesmerized by the folk music which became popular during my formative years. It’s no wonder I didn’t know much of Pete himself, as he was my parents’ age. I didn’t come on the scene until 1952, and so didn’t really understand the Dust Bowl/Depression Era songs for which he was famous, until much later. Indeed, when I was 11 or 12, I thought he was a newcomer on the folk scene. My passion was folk music at the time and if I was singing, it was most likely something from the repertoire of Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, The Byrds or Simon and Garfunkel.

Pete Seeger’s repertoire became the soundtrack of my teen years and the reason I became comfortable on the stage, playing guitar and singing. His music was everywhere! At campfires I learned Kumbaya, a Gullah song he brought to the masses. I sang songs he had written as well as those he made famous, such as “Where have All the Flowers Gone?”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to which he added these lines for Native Americans,

This land is your land, but it once was my land,

Until we sold you manhattan island.

You pushed our nations to the reservations;

This land was stole by you from me.

Pete Seeger was a huge part of my growing up, learning guitar, singing in a group and by myself, participating in protests against injustices. For I had the honor of living in the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Caesar Chavez. I had the honor of protesting against the War, and for civil rights and union rights. Pete Seeger's music followed me all through those formative years.

I continued the tradition by teaching my classes to sing and play his songs. His songs as well as songs of others were invaluable in teaching background knowledge for Social Studies or as culminating celebrations. My students used their reading skills in interpreting the verses of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? And we sang “This Land Is Your Land” many times when learning about the Depression, Dust Bowl, Civil and Union Rights, and the Wars of the 20th century. He will still live in the songs of my students and their children, as his songs are truly timeless. Maybe one of them will write an additional vese to that song in the future.

I have not stopped singing Pete Seeger’s songs, nor have I stopped protesting unfair laws and policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I will bring his words and tunes with me to my grave, I am sure. Pete Seeger was Every Man in Every Country, and there will not be one like him soon, if ever again.

I was thrilled to watch this at President Obama's inauguration. Don't you know I sang along loudly.

Still learning!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Conspiracy Theories

I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but it’s hard for me to believe that there is not a widespread, systematic plan to decimate public schools. In the places where public schools are the most fragile and the most needed, they are being attacked on every side. For the past dozen years at least, the high-poverty cities have been pummeled by city, state and national politicians (even the President), budget cuts, pension raids, right-to-work laws, Teach for America (TFA), and manufactured “crises” in education.

In her latest book, Reign of Errors, Diane Ravitch blows open the myth of educational disasters manufactured by people wishing to privatize education. Reality is that we are graduating more students than ever, that the low-poverty schools are at the top of the international tests in ranking, and the “reforms” put into place to raise scores don’t work in the long run. Behind all this are the testing corporations, who have been there at every "reform," ready to make a new computer program or test, and even to have a large hand to write the Common Core Standards. Fueling the reforms and insuring their implementation are the graduates of the Broad Academy and TFA, who believe in the factory model of education and that any monkey can teach. Even our education unions seem to have rolled over, belly up, to accept the carrot of reform dangled in front of us. Even the unions have acquiesced to the Common Core Standards, Merit Pay, and standardized testing in order to participate in the Race to the Top. Behind it all, the politicians in charge sponsor bills to slash corporate taxes and education funding, and to write faulty laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT).

The people in the trenches, the teachers and support staff, along with the students, are the only ones who are actually being adversely affected by all these so-called reforms. They sit in over-crowded classes without sufficient supplies, books and desks. They endure 36 days of standardized testing (1.5 months of school), and school days lacking music, art, and theatre classes.

Both teachers and students struggle to implement and understand brand new standards which were implemented in a way that would make your head spin. What should have happened is this: 1) the standards should have been written by teachers from each grade level, instead there were only a few educators and many test makers writing them; 2) The standards should have been piloted one grade at a time and rewritten as necessary to avoid the current situation with the primary grades’ standards being highly developmentally inappropriate; 3) The head of any Department of Education should be an educator with at least 15 years experience, not a person from another profession. You can’t understand the ins and outs of teaching, and using standards to develop a curriculum unless you have actually walked in a teacher’s shoes for years; 4) the funding for education should have a fair and consistent formula to make sure every student gets and equitable education. Fair does not necessarily mean equal as high-poverty districts need much more help in order to address their students’ needs and begin to reach those standards; 5) the assessments for the standards should be as diverse as the learners in each class. Differentiation in teaching should be matched with differentiation in evaluating the learner; and 6) evaluation of teachers should not be based on standardized testing, as the tests do not address the differentiated needs of the students.

The advent of the manufactured crisis of education spawned too many laws aimed at the decimation of unions - teachers unions and others. People like to point out that tenure means a bad teacher can’t be fired, but that is far from the truth. All tenure does in that case is to insure that the teacher goes through due process. Believe it or not, there are many bad principals and administrators who are quick to fire anyone who disagrees with them. Due process makes sure that the teacher is truly ineffective and not just disagreeing with the principal. There are already items in the teachers’ contract to remove bad teachers, if a bad teacher doesn’t get fired, it is the principal’s fault for not providing evidence and going through all the paperwork involved. It is much easier to “persuade” the teacher to transfer to another school.

The establishment of charter schools plays a big part in the real public school crisis today. Originally, charter schools were supposed to take the kids that the public school was not teaching well, and find innovative ways to turn them around. Instead, what they have become are schools that are indeed, selective of their students, but schools that siphon off the best and the brightest students from the public schools, leaving the regular schools with the special ed students, the English language learners, and those with behavior problems. This is not the scenario that the original proponents of charter schools had envisioned, but it is a nightmare for public education.

We are facing an election year and I hope we will take advantage of that and elect legislators and governors who truly support education, rather than delight in its decimation. Let’s put the conspiracy theory to rest by electing those who are true supporters. Start by voting out Governor Tom Corbett in PA.

Still learning!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework!

“The dog ate my homework!” is still the classic no-homework excuse it ever was. While I think it’s incredulous that so many dogs enjoy eating paper, I can honestly say our dog actually DID eat someone’s homework one evening because they dropped peanut butter on it, Our dog was a peanut butter lover and had half of the page gone when we discovered his transgression. I rescued it and we sent it in with a note that the dog had indeed eaten half of it.

As a kid I was no fan of homework and nothing changed when I became a teacher. I still stand by the idea that homework is not necessarily a good thing. Let me expound.

When I was a kid in school, homework was used more as a punishment than anything else. If the class was good, there was minimal homework. If not, then the homework was piled on thick. I remember one year in particular was a nightmare. We started the year with Sister Carmencita, who was a doll, despite being universally feared by the rest of the school. She even gave grades over 100 if you got everything right and then some. When she had a heart attack in January, we got a substitute nun who apparently had never taught third grade. Or maybe she had never taught at all. She truly was someone to be feared and it was in her class that I got my first and only F in history. She ran her class by intimidation and accepted no mistakes from anyone.

One day we were having trouble with long division (they don’t teach it now until 4th-5th grade). She assigned to us every long division problem between 1/1 up to 144/12, including all problems with remainders. I remember trying to explain to my mother what we were expected to do. She couldn’t see how an 8 year old could be expected to do all those problems in addition to the rest of the homework. She called around to the other parents, who were equally confused with what their kids had told them was homework, My mother was inclined to have me NOT complete this homework, but I insisted, otherwise I’d have hell to pay at school in the morning. She did a tag-team thing with me, she’d make all the long division signs and subtraction lines on one page, and while I was working on the problems, she made the long division signs and the subtraction lines on the facing page. I worked for 4 hours that night, well past my bedtime, until Mom called it quits. When I woke up the next morning I worked on them until it was time to leave, still not finished. I was terrified. Mom wrote a scathing letter to the nun as well as to the Mother Superior. I don’t know who else’s mom may have done that but I was grateful for her support against the evil one.

I don’t remember much else about third grade, but that year colored my psyche against homework. Now, I always did my homework in the rest of the grades, but I surely did not enjoy it. Writing homework was particularly hard for me, as I could never think of something to write. I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table crying almost every night we had to write. I’d eventually think of something, but I don’t know how Mom tolerated my incessant whining about it. I eventually got over it, and actually enjoyed writing term papers in high school. Go fig.

Fast forward to college education classes.

We took methods courses where we learned how to teach the various subjects we’d have to be experts about in our classroom. During these classes we often talked about what kind of homework and how much of it to give. One of the teachers said something that gelled into my philosophy today. She said the purpose of homework was to practice what you learned in school. The math professor advised us not to give more than 5 problems for math, because “If the kid can do it correctly, he can prove that to you in 5 problems, and if he can’t do it correctly, any more than 5 problems will do nothing more than reinforce his mistakes.”

What a revelation! I took that concept and ran with it. It made total sense to me. I had to give homework according to the school district, but they didn’t say how much in each subject. My default reading homework was to read a book of your choice for 30-45 minutes, which we’d chat about the next day. Math homework was often to play a math game with someone and have the person comment about it, or to teach someone a new way to do computation. I’d often give them interview questions when we learned certain topics in science or social studies. Or they could make up 1 or 2 problems for a math test and solve them. The collected problems would be their test on Friday that week.
If a child did their homework consistently, they would get a pizza party or game time or some such thing. If they didn’t do it consistently, they got a phone call asking why. All I asked of the parents was to write me a note explaining why the kid couldn’t do the homework and that was that. I don’t agree with counting homework as a percentage of your grade, since many times I wonder exactly who did the work the parent or the child. When I taught 2nd grade it was pretty obvious who did the homework from the look of the handwriting. And it wasn't the kids.

My hubby has tales of homework pushback in high school. One of his teachers counted homework as 33% of the grade for the subject, the other 66% was evenly divided between class work and tests. Vic got 100s on all the tests and did enough problems for homework to get him a passing grade. Even though it was obvious he knew all of the course work, his final grade was only 70, due to missing homeworks. He challenged the homework policy that he thought was flawed, and I’d have to agree with him on the concept. I didn’t have the guts to do anything like that in school, but our children are very familiar with the concept, and it made for some interesting parent-teacher conferences. All that being said, I can’t see where hours of homework should be given every night. They’ll get enough of that in college.

I know too many parents standing exasperated over their school-aged children as the kids cry over all the work they have to do. Too much homework only makes the parent-child relationship harder than it needs to be. If the child can’t do the homework, notify the teacher and explain what you’ve gone through Ask the teacher to strike some sort of deal about homework, something you and your kid can live with. Sometimes it’s better to just relax, read and play at home than spend hours with both of you stressed out. Many kids are involved in after school sports, which are important because of the decreased time allotted to recess in school these days. If they eat dinner, then go to practice for an hour or two, by the time they get home, there’s really not time enough for more than 30-45 minutes of homework. A kid has to relax and sleep sometime!

Dog eat your homework? No worries in my class.


Still learning!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You Owe Me 30 Million

Click and watch before you begin reading please.

Why is this so important? Because this is how children learn their language. This is how children get exposed to vocabulary that is not used in their homes. This is how children learn to read and appreciate books. All this is important, because if you read often (more than once a day) to your children, they will do better in school. I’m not talking reading to school-age children, but reading to babies and toddlers.

Reading to children accomplishes more than exposing them to vocabulary, it allows for one-on-one interaction between parent and child. Book time is a time away from your cell phone, totally dedicated to your child. A sacred time is never rushed, but every moment cherished. What joy that baby is getting from her daddy! She may not remember this scene in future years, but this will help cement her relationship with her dad forever. It’s a positive parenting experience for the grown-up too. A chance to just enjoy a child without worrying about discipline or safety.

Being a teacher, I’ll come back to the reading achievement/vocabulary topic. By the time they reach 4 years old, kids living in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than those kids in high-income areas. Thirty. Million. Words. 30,000,000 words.
Betty Hart & Todd R. Risley report in their book, The Early Catastrophe,


In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children from better financial circumstances had far more language exposure to draw from.


It’s no wonder, then, why kids in high poverty situations start out behind and continue along that way throughout school. You may think ot shows the importance of quality preschools, but I will go one step further. In my mind, sending a 4 year old to preschool won’t do much of anything because they are already 30 million words behind. It won’t do any good to teach them numbers and letters early because they need the exposure to language first and foremost, through field trips and activities, not academics. We need to train their parents to talk to them about everything when they are babies, to put down their cell phones, turn off the TV and mp3 player and tell stories, talk to them when they are riding the bus or walking in their strollers or in the grocery store. Ask them questions while driving and answer their questions with more than a short answer if appropriate.

I wrote a blog entry in July of 2011 about a tale of two mothers ( where I observe the reactions of two mothers to their preschoolers on the trolley ride. It shows exactly why there is such a huge vocabulary gap. Now, I am not saying that every poor mother doesn’t talk enough to her children, but I have seen too much of the not talking to know that it seems to be prevalent in the inner city neighborhoods. The poor kids whose parents talk to them a lot are the ones who do well in school. Period.

So if you are a parent of a baby or young child, talk to them. A lot. Tell them why you decided on hamburger for dinner, how long it takes to cook, what the ingredients are and what colors are the vegetables and fruits, hiw you know the meat is cooked. Where that meat comes from, How the farmer raises his crops and takes care of his animals. Take a ride to the beach and feel the sand while describing how it smells and feels, Watch the ocean roll in and try to figure out whether the tide is going on or out. Imitate the seagulls, dig a hole to China, watch the boats as they go by. Are they sailboats or motor boats? Fishing boats or tourist boats? Eat seafood that was just caught. Go to the mountains and watch a stream and the insect larvae and fish on the water. Observe a Great Blue Heron catch a fish dinner, watch for nests and other birds, listen to the bird calls and try to identify the birds that way. Camp in a tent and cook over a campfire.

You can observe cars, trucks, people, animals, houses, tall buildings and river boats and animals right here in the city. Go forth and TALK about it. Make that 30 million word deficit disappear.
You owe your kid 30 million words. Pay up!

Here is a baby whose mom has obviously been reading to this almost-two-year-old toddler. I think she'll be in the top for language, she's "reading" already!

Still learning!

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Must Be in Love, My Heart's All Aflutter

I am sorry I missed last night with the blog. I was admitted to the hospital with Atrial Fibrillation, a heart condition where the heart beats very fast and irregularly. Many people have it and don’t know. I know every time though, when it feels as though my heart is going to beat out of my chest. I had not had an episode of A-fib, as it’s called, for the past 2 years, and I was only in the hospital overnight this time when my heart “converted,” or went back to normal rhythm. I must give my cardiologist props for making my heart behave. It wasn’t always this easy to get under control.

The cause of my A-fib is unknown, but my Mom has it, and in me it seems to be stress-related. Vic and I joke that he makes my heart go all aflutter, and he IS the love of my life, but this is no joke. I had been under so much stress at school and didn’t realize the toll it was taking on my body. It manifested itself with my irregular heartbeat five times in the last 2 years I taught. These last two years without an incident were proof of the stress connection. I have been retired for almost 2 years and without an A-fib incident.

Indeed, the last time I was admitted for A-fib, it was frustrating and a bit disconcerting, as they had to shock me with paddles in order to get the heart back to regular rhythm. I had been going into A-fib with increasing frequency and decreasing intervals for a year when I ran up against the wall, so-to-speak. Although I had faithfully taken my medications (except when the mail-order pharmacy didn’t mail them), My heart just would not convert. We waited 2 days longer than usual and finally I went under the “paddles.” I was not awake at the time and it was obviously successful, but I was very tired, a bit confused and my chest hurt afterwards. I do not want to go through that again.

There was a long conversation with a consulting electro-cardiologist before the procedure. He explained all the risks and benefits associated with this method of bring the rhythm back. And pretty much told me it was the last non-surgical option left to me. The procedure could make the heart beat more wildly or it might stop the heart all together, neither being the wanted outcome. Then again, it might stop the heart from beating wildly and prod it into going back to normal. The whole thing took less than an hour and a half with all the preparations, and did what it was supposed to. I came out of it in perfect rhythm.

Some of my meds were changed after that and I was not discharged until they were sure I would not undergo adverse reactions to one of the drugs. I was concerned about one of the drugs, as whenever a medical professional heard that I was taking it twice a day, their reaction was usually an ominous. “Oh? Wow.”

But I needn’t have worried, as it’s kept me out of the hospital until now. It was reassuring this time, whenever I mentioned my cardiologist, the medical professional in front of me said something akin to, “Oh! He’s really good.”

I was angry and frustrated at having to be admitted this time, because I figured I had it beat after two years. But I was relieved at the same time, that everything resolved itself without intervention. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, techs, and the lovely lady who delivered my breakfast this morning. And of course to my hubby who takes such good care of me, and my family and friends who wished me well in phone calls, text messages and on Facebook.

I intend to be around for a long time to come. You can’t get rid of me that easily!

Still learning!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This Has Merit

One of the ways our esteemed current governor, Tom Corbett, intends to bring the drowning School District of Philadelphia out of its financial and educational disaster  smash the teacher’s union is by insisting on merit pay. I certainly do not see what merit pay will do to increase test scores, provide funds or decrease spending. If anything, it seems to me that merit pay will only increase the need for additional funds. You will have to pay the “good” teachers more, right? Maybe he doesn’t think there ARE many good teachers in the city schools. But I digress. Let me speak for a bit on the test scores and the new Common Core strategies which are being foisted on teachers.


There are in fact, many good teachers in the Philly public schools. You may not realize that by the test scores of the students though. Test scores show one thing – how that child was able to answer 70-140 multiple choice questions on a test that they must do entirely on their own. There is no help allowed from the teacher on even reading directions, or clarifying them. Doing that would constitute cheating on the Reading PSSA test. Reading selections are done “cold,” that is, without the usual vocabulary and background knowledge instruction that goes on in the classroom before reading a narrative or non-fiction account.


Many children have very limited experience in situations outside their own little neighborhood. Most poor kids in Philadelphia have no idea what the beach is like, or a farm, and how life in those environs is very different from their own. A story set on a farm assumes that you know that seeds are sown and pollinated, crops are fertilized, grown, and then are harvested. Vegetables just don’t appear in the supermarket. Animals must be fed, doctored, and protected, and are not just let out in the yard. A simple third grade book such as Sarah, Plain and Tall needs the background of the settlement of the West, homesteading, and the role of women in the society at that time, in order to appreciate what is going on. You can see, therefore how a poor, inner-city student will not do as well on reading selections where they have no prior knowledge.


Both reading and math scores are counted in determining scores in the standardized tests. The powers-that-be addressed the disparity of the scores in rich and poor districts by coming up with the Value-Added Measurement (VAM), a mathematical formula, which supposedly evens the playing field That VAM has me really confused. How does one put into a mathematical formula the differences between rich and poor, minority and majority, high and low scorers, and come up with a formula that indicates whether a teacher is good or not without ever having entered their classroom? VAM scores have been statistically shown to have an error rate of up to 25%. So if you get a score of 50% effective, theoretically you could be either 25% or 75% effective.


A 25% error rate in a VAM score for a teacher could mean the difference between working or getting fired. This actually happened in Washington DC, where 40 teachers were unceremoniously let go before it was discovered that their VAM scores were in reality, higher than necessary to keep their jobs.


Another problem with VAM scores to judge teacher effectiveness and consequently, merit pay, is that the students are being measured on the improvement from one year’s test to the next year’s test. If the tests contained the same test items, you could truly say whether the student improved. But different things are learned in different grades and you are comparing apples to oranges in many cases. In addition, some areas of testing consist of only 1 or 2 questions on the 70-question test. How can your knowledge of a concept be based on only 1 question?


Although the VAM formula was invented to fairly compare the differences between high and low poverty schools, so much more indicates whether a teacher is good enough to get merit pay or not. All through school I got high marks, not necessarily because of my teachers and sometimes despite the teachers. My parents pushed for me to do my best always, stayed interested in what we were learning, provided for my health issues in a timely manner, kept a stable environment in the home. My mother was a stay-at-home mother, as were most in those days, who believed that doing your best in school would get you into a good college. My siblings and I were the first in our parents’ families to have a realistic chance to go to college, so we were prodded to do well.


A child in my class whose parents had no expectations of their children going to college, pushed their children to “just make sure you pass.” Which child is going to do better? If we had the same teacher, how would you grade how effective she is? Today’s children are no different. Kids whose parents prod them to do well, usually do. Those who are indifferent usually have indifferent children where school success is concerned. What about the performance of the pupil whose parent has just been deployed to a war zone? Or had a family member recently meet a violent death? Or was a pawn in a messy divorce? Or whose house just burned down? Or whose classmate was killed in a drive-by shooting? Who do you blame for that child not scoring well on the standardized test? How do you put those values in that instructor’s VAM?


And then there is the issue of poverty and the disparities between the richer and poorer school districts. If I were to teach high school in Lower Merion, I would teach in a state-of-the-art school, with state-of-the-art computers, a huge library, 7 counselors, and a student body of 1200, many who lack for nothing. While just 10 miles away, a Philly school of 4000 students has 2 counselors, no library, old computers, and not enough books for everyone. If you go by scores on the PSSA, which kids do you think would score better? Would that lead you to conclude that Lower Merion teachers were better than Philly teachers? 




Really, there are better ways to judge a teacher’s effectiveness and reward excellent teachers. While we don’t get paid too well, we didn’t go into teaching for the salary. What we value more than money is respect shown for our profession in the form of: 1) buildings that are safe, clean, and equipped for the 21st century; 2) enough personnel in the school to give the troubled children the time and attention they need and deserve; 3) the autonomy to deliver the curriculum in the way that our students need it delivered, not tying us down to one scripted method that doesn’t work and is boring; 4) time to plan, with our faculty, the best methods for raising the educational expectations of the school; 5) class sizes that are reasonable for the amount of attention our students need to have in order to succeed; and 6) most importantly perhaps, recognition that we know what works for our students better than an economist putting all our “worth” into a mathematical formula.



And how to decide whom to reward? Actually, a combination of principal and actual teachers should observe the class in order to judge effectiveness. And if a teacher is judged to be not-so-effective, figure out what they must do in order to become better teachers. If they are terrible, let them go. If they are not-so-effective, give them the opportunity to strengthen their teaching. In this way, “churn,” or teacher turnover, would be way less and pupils would have the benefit of a teacher staying in the school. One who is familiar with them and with the school’s culture, and has their trust.


In short, many teachers in the Philly schools are meritorious teachers, who come early, stay late, work hard at providing students with a myriad of learning opportunities, and keep the interest of the kids. They come day after day, knowing the hardships both they and their students will have to endure in poorly-staffed, inadequately funded schools. These teachers never give up and give 150% every day. These are teachers of merit, but not according to their students’ test scores. It’s just not right.


Merit pay is an idea whose time has come and gone.

Here a couple of easy-to-understand article about VAM, with suggestions for other ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

For even more proof of merit pay’s shortcomings, read here:




Still learning!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Governor Chicken Runs, But He Can't Hide

I am still fuming over the fiasco here in Philadelphia last Friday. For those who missed it, Our Governor was scheduled to visit one of the top high schools in the state, to honor Central, Masterman and Carver High Schools, for their stellar PSSA performance last year. This was a very big deal because, in his three years of leading the state, he has not once set foot in a school in Pennsylvania’s largest school district. He cut funding, redistributed education money to politically connected districts, and refused to raise taxes or transfer tax revenue to schools. He blatantly refused to help the state-run, financially destitute, Philadelphia School District, and had never bothered to visit any of the schools to see what teachers are up against every single day. He’s probably kicking himself now for not visiting earlier. He would have gotten a better reception a few years ago, than he got in his aborted visit to Central on Friday.

I am thrilled that our beleaguered city had THREE of the top schools in the state despite the high poverty and draconian budget cuts our city schools endure. But the general public should know that these are very selective magnet schools that admit only the best of the best. I would have been very surprised if they had not done well. Kids that attend neighborhood schools would kill to be admitted to any one of those schools for high school so they could avoid the drama and apathy that so often seeps into their local schools. That said, I congratulate the wonderfully smart and articulate students that attend the three high schools. They were very dissatisfied with the outcome of the Philly schools’ financial inadequacies, and were prepared to let him know at their now-cancelled meeting him.

Philadelphia has a very vocal parent organization, Parents United for Public Education, as well as an active and vocal student-run Student Union. Both groups have joined the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in marches, protests, and testifying before the SRC meetings. The union sent some representatives to Central to voice their displeasure, but the large majority in attendance seemed to be parents and students out to exercise their civic rights and responsibilities against a leader who has shown disdain for public education. What a better way to learn civics than to participate in a non-violent protest?

When it became apparent that the Governor was going to be met by protestors, he moved his entourage to the safety of his downtown office, insulated from any dissent. He decried the protest as an adult bunch of theatrics that would have taken away from the honor he was about to bestow on the schools. What he may have realized, however, was that there were as many, or more students inside the building who wanted to know why they didn’t have a library, supplies, books, and enough counselors. They wanted to know why their classes were filled to the brim, their teachers overworked, and the other schools in the city had it much worse than they did. They were dressed in red in solidarity against the crippling budget cuts schools in the city have endured this year. They had a petition prepared to present, and an open letter to the Governor asking for help. These were not just any students. These are the ones that will get accepted into prestigious universities and do great things in the future. These are the kids that will be able to vote in a few years, and hopefully express their displeasure with Pennsylvania’s lack of support for public education.

What he may not have expected is that his avoidance of controversy at Central High School would make things much worse for him politically than if he had addressed the protestors. He is running for a second term, even while his poll numbers indicate he is the least popular governor ever.

Good luck, Mr. Corbett! You’ll need it.
See an excellent response to the situation in the media. Someone has an Attytood.

Still learning!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Power to the People!

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." ~ Martin Luther King Jr. 

On this official celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am happy to report that protests are alive and well. As my teen years were spent in the 60’s, I am well versed in the art of protests. I marched against the Vietnam War, for the Civil Rights Movement and for the Grape Bycott by the Migrant Farmwokers. I participated in protests in my school for more student representaion and a demonstration or two.

I come by it honestly. My father was a Democratic Committeeman in the 23rd division of the 61st ward. He had no end of opinions about what was going on in the world and encouraged us kids to speak out what was on our minds. He used the fine art of debate to hone our skills, often taking the opposite side of an issue just to see if your reasoning was sound. As a teen, I was often angry and dismayed that he could have certain opinions of the issues of the day. But when I got older, I understood that he didn’t necessarly feel that  way, but wanted me to think about the reasons I felt the way I did.

These days in Philadelphia, I am heartened by the parents and students protesting against the draconian cuts in funding for education in Pennsylvania, espcially in Philadelphia.  Our union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has always been vocal in their displeasure of the corporate reform takeover of the city schools, but until recently most members just stayed quiet about it. Now we have weekly rolling protests at city schools where we hand out pamphlets and do informational picketing.

Since the School Reform Commission (SRC) took over the school district as a way to save money and supposedly raise test scores, I have watched parents such as Helen Gym start to organize and question the motives of the state-appointed board. She has empowered and mobilized a much-needed ally for us teachers. Helen is respected city-wide and like EF Hutton, when she talks, people listen. Diane Ravitch had chosen her to participate in the debate that Michele Rhee eventually cancelled. So, Helen is not only a familiar voice in Philadelphia, she is known nationally. Helen has organized parents to fight for the public schools herein the organization, Parents United for Public Education. Her organization keeps the community up-to-date on major issues in education and she is not afraid to call out the SRC, the PFT, the Mayor, or the Governor if she feels they are wrong. Her vocal protests have indeed turned the tide of apathy where the parents are concerned.

The high school students have also formed an organization to make sure their voices are heard. The Philadelphia Student Union has been present in large numbers at the marches held downtown to protest the closure of schools and the decimation of the school district’s budget. On January 17th, the Governor was scheduled to address the student body at Central High School and honor Central, Masterman, and Carver high schools for their excellent performance on the PSSA. Parents, teachers and students planned a demonstration at the school when Corbett arrived to let him know that we need a fair and equitable system of school funding, something we don’t have now. The Governor decided not to give the schools their state certificates because of the protests and instead went to his center city office. A large group of parent and union members along with some students, followed him downtown and made sure they brought the protest to him.

This was the TV coverage about the incident.

We need more people to tell the SRC that we are sick of the closures, charter school fraud, and lack of funds. We need to keep these issues in front of the public in order to make that change. We cannot “accept evil without protesting against it” or we will be in bad straits.

Power to the People!

Still learning!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rotten to the Core

The Common Core Standards (CCS) loom huge in the minds of teachers all across the nation, as 45 states have approved them to be adopted for their standards. Detractors, as well as proponents for CCS, have been very vocal on education websites and in the media. Although both the NEA and the AFT have rubber-stamped them, there is an awful lot of dissention among the rank-and-file union members who actually have to deal with them. Randi Weingarten recently affirmed her belief in the CCS but discouraged the use of evaluative tests in the implementation year, while teachers get training and feel comfortable dealing with the new standards. Diane Ravitch on the other hand is totally opposed to the CCS as more educational policy handed down from on high from non-educators. There is something to be said about each of those opinions.

States have always had education standards on which curricula is based. To be honest, until NCLB made a big thing about addressing the standards, districts typically expected the textbooks it approved to do that for us. I had been teaching a decade before I noticed the concepts the math curriculum didn’t emphasize, were the things that student really need help with. It seemed to me, as the Math teacher in the school that the district was more concerned with computation than Measurement, Geometry or Problem Solving, and Statistics didn’t even appear on the radar. At that time, we only took one standardized test a year, in May, and it was used to determine who was eligible for Title I services. The idea being, if you were doing your job, a goodly portion of the kids would score out of Title I services. Some did, but a large number stayed in Remedial Math and/or Reading throughout their elementary tenure.

Standards became big business in education in 2000 when NCLB was born. It was at this time that the Philadelphia realized the need to more adequately address the State Standards and called for a Core Curriculum with a pacing schedule, aligned with text books they had approved as likely to address as many standards as possible. It took more than 2 dozen teachers about 6 months of work to match the textbook lessons to the state standards, taking onto account re-teaching, background information and adaptations for ELL and Special Ed. Unfortunately, the ELL and Special Ed suggestions were removed before it went to print. I know this because I was one of the few dozen teachers working on it. It took so many hours! We worked a half-day at our schools and then 6-7 hours more every day for 6 months. Although we received a stipend for the work, we ended up making less than $2 an hour when we tallied it all up. Was it worth it? Maybe.

The unfortunate thing about the Core Curriculum was the rigidity of the pacing schedule and the lack of time to go back for kids that hadn’t mastered the concepts. But I was a master teacher by this time and figured out a way to review every day in small groups in math. I also had enough confidence to introduce concepts as I felt they needed to be for each class. That didn’t always jive with the pacing schedule. My principal gave me slack as my students generally did well in math. When she left it was a different story. The pacing schedule was written on stone tablets for all to follow. Our scores went down. I wonder why?

My nieces went to school in school districts in two states. There was a marked difference in the standards in each state and it appalled me. One state offered tough standards and advanced coursework, while the other one was sorely lacking. This is why I believe that there needs to be common standards throughout the nation. Why should students in one state be at a disadvantage where education is concerned, and other states like Massachusetts have an excellent set of standards and great outcomes in education? We need some way to straighten out the disparities, hence the Common Core Standards.

But I cannot endorse these Common Core Standards. Why? Because these standards were not written by educators. A very few educators had a chance to look them over after they had been written, but it was already a done deal. So who wrote the standards, if not educators? The head of the College Board chaired the committee, joined by a few teachers. The rest of the CCS authors were people appointed from the National Council of Governors and players in the test-prep industry. They looked at what you needed to know when you got to college and then backtracked the standards down to Kindergarten. Here’s where the troubles begin.

First of all, not every student needs to or is capable of attending college. Because of the “college ready” curriculum, Vo-Tech schools have been disappearing like bugs from Monsanto corn. We still need hairdressers, plumbers, electricians, roofers, and carpenters. Stonemasons and steel workers will continue to be needed in the future. None of these professions require a four-year college degree. They should have the opportunity to be apprenticed in high school and to be better equipped in finding a job when they graduate. Not all students should learn calculus, chemistry and physics, only if they are interested and it is needed in their future course of study. There need to be, but are not, common standards for these Vo-Tech courses so that jobs can be obtained upon graduation of they don’t intend to go to college or can’t afford it. Not everyone who is able wants to go to college.

Secondly, as they backed the standards down from college to kindergarten, no one took into account whether the concepts and activities they need to learn were developmentally appropriate. Some of the standards in the primary grades are just plain old impossible for most kids to grasp. They want abstract thinking when most of the kids still think concretely.

Third, some of the literature and writing standards are so limited on scope, most of the creativity has disappeared. In reading, what we learned was important in our teacher prep courses, has been thrown out the window. Prior knowledge and background knowledge, along with vocabulary, are out of favor and gathering information from the selection only is in. This is ridiculous. I taught in the inner city and if we were reading about the beach or a farm, I had to bring on books or show films about what goes on at the beach or the farm before we read the selection. The kids had no idea before they saw photos of a volcano, or a dogsled race why the characters in the story had to act the way they did. Each of those areas has special vocabulary words that sometimes are not explained fully in the essay. Those words must be introduced before reading so the kids have some context when they read. Otherwise it’s just words in the page. With the increased use of non-fiction books, this is even more critical.

Peter A. Greene states in his Curmudgucation blog, - “The literature standards in grades 9-12 complete ignore any study of the cultural context or background from which the literature emerges. This fits with CCSS ties to a twisted version of Close Reading, a vision of literature that exists in a cultural vacuum. In this world, we are supposed to read "A Modest Proposal" without knowing why Swift would suggest such terrible things, read The Great Gatsby with no knowledge of the 1920s, read Animal Farm without hearing about the Bolshevik Revolution, and read the Gettysburg Address without talking about Lincoln or the Civil War. (In short, we are to read all literature as if it's practice for cold reading excerpts on a standardized test).”

Writing is down to a science with the Common Core. Each type of writing has a template that must be followed, down to a certain number of sentences in a paragraph and a magic number of paragraphs to an essay. This is not necessary. Take out a book, open to any page. Chances are, both paragraphs and sentences are varying lengths. In examining the writing of some of the most treasured authors in America, you will even find paragraphs that are only one sentence or one word long. Those authors would not pass the Common Core Writing tests.

What should have happened is that the CCS should have been piloted in certain states, tweaked, piloted again, tested, tweaked, and then tested again, before they were rolled out to all the states. This rollout is the instant gratification of the authors, and should not have been.

So although I do agree that we need common standards, I do not agree with the current set of standards because the authors were overwhelmingly not educators, the activities are not developmental appropriate in the primary grades, the lack of alternatives for those who cannot or do not wish to go to college, and and the narrow interpretation of good methodology. I feel that’s enough for us to take a second look at CSS and to stop the rollout now.

And I haven’t even mentioned the assessments. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

Check out Peter Greens' blog here:

Everything you wanted to know about the common core but were afraid to ask:

A real look at the results of corporate control of education

A 45-minute eye opener about how Common Core came about.
Building the Machine



Saturday, January 18, 2014

All Work and No PLAY

I never went to Kindergarten as a child. Growing up in a heavily Catholic neighborhood, most of the kids started school when we entered first grade, as there was no Kindergarten at our local parish school. But those “good old days” (I can hear my father now!) we cut and pasted and poured and drew and traced at home. We ran and skipped and trotted and jumped rope. We climbed trees and played on all of the equipment at the playground. By the time we got to first grade, most of us were ready for the fine motor activity need to read and write.

Not so today.

Today, many mothers are forced to work in order to put food on the table and cannot stay home like the mothers of my day. Quality day care is not always affordable or available. Babysitters may allow your children to watch more TV than you’d like during the day and are often not interested in doing “messy” activities that are necessary for your child’s fine motor coordination and spatial reasoning. You need to make sure your day care provider is offering the old standards of blocks, clay, tracing, cutting, puzzles, sand or water play. If they are not, please consider that unless you are doing these activities at home, your child is at risk for school success.

I once had a neighbor who called me, knowing I was a teacher, and complained that her son was being retained in kindergarten. “He’s learned a lot this year,” she said, “He learned his colors, shapes, how to count, how to cut, and how to write his name.” She was not pleased to hear me say that he should have learned all these things before he set foot in kindergarten!

When I began teaching, I was assigned to pre-Kindergarten and then Kindergarten for a total of 5 years. I remember scouring my child development books for large and small-motor tasks in order to make certain they were ready to read in Grade 1. The push for reading and basic math skills in Kindergarten was just beginning in the 80’s. That push has caused more harm than good I am afraid. The achievement gap between black and white children begins in pre-school.

With the increased emphasis on early teaching of math and reading came less time for things like role-play and outside play. By the time full-time kindergarten came to be, activities such as puzzles and painting were disappearing and being replaced by reading, math, and writing centers All activities which require much eye-hand coordination as well as fine motor skills that many 5 and 6 year olds just do not have. It’s not that they are in need of special ed, but because each child develops physically in their own time. Look at a class of kindergarteners and first graders. Along with their differences in physical growth, there is a wide range of developmental skills and emotional states that just have to take their own path to maturity. Asking the kids to do things that are developmentally inappropriate is like asking a newborn squirrel to climb a tree. All in good time.

The increased time in kindergarten should have meant more time to pursue playing. Playing with materials like puzzles, blocks, paints and clay, role-playing with costumes, marching around, riding tricycles, climbing monkey bars.  Instead it is all academics and any gains kids make, decrease as the years go on.

 David W. Grissmer, a research professor, found pupils who attended high-poverty preschools had little or no opportunities to play with construction paper, blocks, or modeling clay.

“… the black-white achievement gap in elementary school also may have some of its roots in those foundational skills: Black children studied by the center entered kindergarten on average 9½ months developmentally younger than their white classmates in executive (focusing, listening, following directions) function and 8 months developmentally younger in visual-spatial skills, though it's not yet known why.”
 Sarah D. Sparks, outlines the study in her piece called, “Children’s Spatial Skills as Key to Math Learning,” at Education Week’s website.

According to Dr. Grissmer’s study for the National Institute of Child Health and Development done for 7 months in the 2010-2011 school year, “(low-scoring first graders) showed significant improvement in both math and executive-function skills” when they attended four weekly 45-minutes sessions where they performed handwriting and tracing tasks to music. They also practiced copying patterns and pictures by drawing, modeling, or using manipulatives such as Legos, clay, pattern blocks, paper chains, and beads. They showed very significant advances in their standardized test skills in math, although math was never mentioned or taught specifically during the sessions. They also showed great improvements in focusing and listening in their Grade 1 classes, thereby making it easier to learn.

“The development of fine-motor coordination and executive function may be more critical than subject content for early-childhood classrooms,” researcher David A. Grissmer stated. In the earliest grades, he said, "you can't just teach reading and math to get higher reading and math skills."

I certainly hope the powers that be read this study and make some changes to the academics in the earliest grades. If a child is not ready because they have not been taught the prerequisite skills, no amount of academics will make a difference.


Let the kids PLAY!


You can read the whole article (it’s worth it) here:

Still learning!