No Wonder Some People Oppose Common Core!

Assignments related to holocaust denial have been justified by the need to teach critical thinking skills to satisfy new Common Core standards. It seems to me school districts should think critically about the consequences of giving such assignments before they are given instead of waiting until there is an outcry from parents.

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Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews
Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews

After my husband directed my attention today to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Reuven H. Taff entitled “Turning Holocaust Denial into Homework,” I decided to see what else I could find out about this online. I wanted to find a more accessible site that did not require a paid subscription. I found it in another form on the Yahoo site:” California School District Under Fire for Holocaust-Denial Assignment” by Beth Greenfield.

The assignment in question was justified as an attempt to satisfy the Common Core standards on critical thinking by helping students to understand and communicate persuasive arguments. This particular assignment to eighth graders in a Rialto middle school required students to complete an essay on whether or not the Holocaust was an actual historical event or just a political scheme. Among the websites listed as legitimate resources for the assignment was one which denied the holocaust happened.

It seems to me that the people responsible for giving this assignment should have demonstrated more critical thinking skills themselves. The Wall Street Journal suggested a number of other topics that legitimately had two sides about which students could write. Among these were climate change, capital punishment, health care, immigration reform, tax policy, energy sources, and many more. You could probably think of many yourself. So why suggest to students with little background in world history that the holocaust might not have been real?

Rialto district officials, including interim Superintendent Mohammed Islam who issued a press release on the subject, said they were aware of the controversy caused by the assignment. Islam stated, ‘The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.’

It should be noted that Common Core standards were used as an excuse for giving this assignment. I would like to think teachers and curriculum writers would think critically about possible consequences of assignments, and which topics are most likely to be most important to the daily lives of American citizens as they become part of the voting public. Or maybe school officials would rather students didn’t think critically about such issues, since they might come to different conclusions than their teachers.

Barb’s People Builders recommends many materials that help teach critical thinking skills to elementary and middle school students.  Television ads, news opinion pieces, and political speeches also offer older students material to analyze critically. Teachers should equip students with critical thinking skills so they can methodically examine what they hear and read to differentiate facts from spin and propaganda. They should also help students acquire the research skills to find the truth mixed with all the falsehoods they hear and see every day.

Your take on this?

I Guess I’m Just Not With the Times

Do you like the way the word “like” is now being used? Do you, like, see no reason to, like, be concerned about this? Are you like “The language is just evolving?” Or do you not like this contemporary usage any more than I do?

I have watched as today’s’ publishers of children’s and young adult books have been letting their characters model what I consider atrocious English usage.  Two of the most prevalent examples of this were using the word “goes” instead of “said.” Example: “So he goes “You’ve got to be kidding.” And so on.

like-1804599_1200-feature

The other example was the use of the word “like” as a  placeholder while thinking of something to say, or in the phrase “was like” instead of “said.” An example of the first would be “So he, like, wanted to take me out, but I, like, couldn’t, like, stand him.”  An example of the second would be “So he’s like “I don’t believe it! and I’m like “It’s true.”

As I read sentences like this in the new books being published a few years back I cringed, because I knew that reading this kind of dialogue would validate less than standard English among those who most needed to learn standard English. Today I saw “How to Use the Word Like in English.” I guess I’m now officially a dinosaur.

It’s also true that books that use this slang will soon be obsolete. Language fads don’t last long. I’m hoping these like-laden books will, like, disappear like very soon.

I believe this was written for people learning English as a Second Language. I rather wish it had been written to help ESL students understand this usage when they heard it, not to teach them that this is how to use the word. This usage not only wrecks the sound of the English language and supports fuzzy thinking, but it also tangles up the rules of punctuation.

Is this the kind of English usage now being taught in American public schools?

How to Take the Joy from Literature

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences.

Snowy Woods

This afternoon I’m weeding through some of my books and came across one by a favorite children’s author, Jean Little — Hey World, Here I Am! On page 28 I came across a poem, “After English Class.” It’s written in the first person in the voice of Kate Bloomfield, who describes how she used to like the Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” She liked the sound of the words and their rhythm, and the imagery. She could see the snow and hear the jingling bells. I think that’s what Robert Frost would have wanted.

The next lines explain how the teacher ruined the poem for her:

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep—
They all have ‘hidden meanings.’
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences. Just as a student of biology may prefer a living whole frog to the dead one they have just dissected, the students who read a poem may just want to enjoy it and respond to it with  their own imaginations. Does the dissection the teacher provides keep students from gleaning meanings they might have discovered on their own?

Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/en/users/PublicDomainPictures/

Illinois Policy Institute – A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools

Illinois Policy Institute – A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools.

We always knew that students in poorly performing schools who could attend private schools with voucher help improved academically. Now in Illinois it appears the schools they came from also begin to improve. This would suggest that competition benefits everyone but non-performing teachers.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools

Why are we using police power to terrorize children who don’t realize they are violating school rules when they bring objects to school rational people don’t consider weapons ? A folding comb? A camping eating utensil? Their fingers? Where has common sense gone when we use police to arrest children for these offenses instead of using them on the streets where real criminals are using real guns to kill innocent people. Mass murders aren’t committed with folding combs or fingers or even the unmoving guns in the hands of miniature toy soldiers in play sets.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools.

Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor
Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor. Yes, he owed the camping eating tool that included a knife.

This is the kind of thing that will make actual criminals out of innocent students. Take the case of Zachary Christie mentioned in this article. He is six years old and a Cub Scout, learning to be a good citizen. He innocently brought a camping utensil to school that’s an all-in-one knife, fork and spoon to be used for eating. For this offense he was sentenced to serve 45 days in reform school. I’d wager that will be a much worse influence on him than a Boy Scout camping trip. He’ll probably learn how to commit real crimes, disrespect authority, etc.

We’ve known for a long time that legislators on the state and federal level have been short on common sense, but it appears this lack of common sense also exists in public school administrators. I’ll bet a lot of them played cops and robbers (or violent video games) when they were young. In fact, if we want to prevent  gun violence, maybe those violent video games are a great thing to make unavailable for children. If the first amendment keeps those legal, maybe the second amendment can at least keep fingers and harmless guns on play figures that can’t even move legal.

A common sense approach would be that students who probably didn’t realize the items administrators find offensive  were considered weapons be informed and warned . Parents should then be called to the office and have it explained to them, and then have the parents come get the item with instructions never to let it come to school again. Things that are normally not thought of as weapons that are forbidden on campus should be listed on the school website that parents use for school policy information. The list should also be on a note sent home at the beginning of the year. Students should also be informed in their classrooms the first day of school and again about once a month.

Meanwhile, while the police are being called to drag these young and probably unintentional offenders from their classrooms, they are not available to track down the real criminals on the streets who are killing each other with real guns. Where have our priorities gone? Where has our common sense gone?  No wonder children aren’t learning critical thinking skills in some schools. Teachers can’t teach what they don’t have.

Maybe the idea is to label these children as terrorists now so they will never be allowed to own a gun when they grow up.  Then they won’t be able to protect their family someday from a real terrorist or common criminal breaking into their home.

The River as an Educational Resource

There’s a lot of science to be discovered around a river in winter, even if it’s half dry. Check the tree branches and trunks for mosses and lichens and even buds. Explore large rocks near the river for life, and if part of the riverbed is dry, check for interesting rocks and notes their differences and learn how they were formed. A science teacher with a camera can produce a lot of her own visual aids on one river walk.

Whether you are a home educator or a classroom teacher, if you have a river nearby, you have a wonderful educational resource. I live near the Salinas River and often hike the Salinas River Trail in Larry Moore Park in Paso Robles. It normally has water only a few months of the year, and only if there’s a normal amount of rain. Most of the year the Salinas River is subterranean. You don’t see the water. The river normally appears during winter, and I usually start searching for water around January. This year, though, we had our heavy rains start earlier than usual. So I went out in search of the river today, December 28, 2012. I found it.

Water in Salinas River
Water in Salinas River flowing north toward Niblick Bridge, Paso Robles

I followed the river bed for some distance, since I always get excited about what I see. Today it struck me how much science there is to investigate in the river and the riverbed.

Is there a story under this willow?
Is there a story under this willow?

As I walked along the edge of the river, I saw these small clumps of willows everywhere. Those closest to the west channel, which always stays full of water the longest, seemed to live on top of brush piles. Let’s take a closer look at one of these. Do you think a child might wonder how all this material happened to be under this willow? Might one try identifying different types of trees from what’s in these piles? What might one learn about a river by observing this small tree?

What's under this willow?
What’s under this willow?

Although the overall impression as one walks along the river in late December is colorless brown and tan branches and dead leaves, some plants show they are very much alive, or host things that are. On the ground beneath are new weed seedlings. There are red buds on some of the twigs. Moss and lichens also add color. Children turned loose with a hand-held microscope would have fun discovering this variety of mosses and lichens of different colors and identifying the new weed seedlings.

Winter Color in the Branches
Do you see all the colors here?

Children would also be fascinated at all they can see growing on a rock.

What grows on a rock in winter?
What grows on a rock in winter?

Not all growing on this rock is moss or lichen. We also see green seedlings. They need soil. How did soil get on this rock? How about the weed seeds? Is soil created on the rock itself? Or does it all blow into crevices? And why does the rock itself look the way it does? How was it created? There is geology as well as life science to be learned. All these questions can be answered through research and observation. As a teacher, you can inspire the curiosity that will make students want to solve the mysteries.

If you aren’t in a position to take your students on a field trip, you can at least make the trip to the river yourself with a camera. Take the pictures that will arouse interest in what you want students to learn. And don’t forget the videos. Watch the river’s current. Study the rocks in the riverbed to try to understand how they became what they are. You can even collect a few rocks to bring into the classroom. Here are some specimens I found.

Egg-Shaped Rock
Egg-Shaped Rock and Some Other River Rocks
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings

What Kind of Teacher Do You Want to Be?

Will you help your students to learn this year? Or will you simply label them as failures if they don’t? What kind of teacher will you be?

My Mother, an Excellent Teacher, in her English Classroom
My Mother, in her English Classroom

My mother, Marjorie Hart, was an excellent teacher.  She got her B.A. and her credential to teach English  in California when I was in high school. She started her first teaching job in Artesia with only an emergency credential, when I was in college. Her first year was very hard on her physically and emotionally, since she still had one school age child at home and she was still having to take classes at night. She almost didn’t make it.

She kept at it, though, and finally got tenure. She finally became head of the English department and trained her share of student teachers. She also taught English as a Second Language at the high school and, for a semester, at the adult school as well. She loved teaching the adults, until the district forced an unimaginative curriculum which her students hated on all adult ESL classes. So she did not continue the adult class when the semester ended. At various times in her teaching career she was the advisor for the school yearbook and the the school newspaper.

Beside me I have my Mom’s scrapbook. It’s devoted to pictures students gave her or sent her after they left her class.  There are wedding pictures, Valentines, birthday, thank you, and Christmas cards. Here is a sampling of messages on the backs of the pictures and in the cards. The student year book for 1969 is full of similar messages.

Mrs. Hart, from one of your most grateful students (I actually know a little about grammar.)

Mrs. Hart / One of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. I hope that the rest of your life is as beautiful as you’ve made mine. I love you always. / Ed-in-chief, Class of 76

Mrs. Hart, / Words can’t express my gratitude to you. I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me. Your (sic) my favorite teacher and I’ll always remember you. With love, T.D., -76-

My mom did not teach all college prep classes. She taught a lot of the students who would probably never go to college. Many had trouble speaking English. Many had problems at home and  confided in my mom. She would tell me about how hard it was for some  to finish homework when they had to care for siblings at home and fix the meals while their parents worked. I know my mom cared about her students. If they weren’t learning, she kept trying to find new ways to help them.

Contrast that with this high school teacher in Pennsylvania who was just fired for blogging that her students were  “rat-like”, “frightfully dim”, “lazy whiners”, and suggested that their future employment was with the local trash company. She considered it all their fault if they didn’t learn.

I have had some English students who did not want to learn anything and did not want to be in school. Many of them had bad attitudes and were in trouble with the law. But I tried to show them the respect due to every human being. Although I was able to help and reach some of them, I failed with some others. I was young and inexperienced and came to the conclusion that teaching in public school was not the right job for me. I only knew how to reach the college prep students. I simply wasn’t prepared enough to give the unmotivated students the inspiration they needed to succeed.

Steven David Horwich, who introduced the Pennsylvania teacher I mentioned above, in his blog, spends the remainder of his blog describing the job of a teacher. If you are planning to go into a classroom to teach this fall for the first or  the twenty-first time, you might want to read this for inspiration.  These are just a few of the words Horwich shares:

It is the teacher’s job to provide the environment wherein a student can experience and grasp information, develop ideas and ambitions, experiment, try, fail, try again and finally succeed. We will need our young people’s ideas and ambitions if we are to progress in any direction as a culture and a people. A teacher who berates a student for failure, who makes an issue of it, is a teacher helping to build human beings who will refuse to try, refuse to reach, will not experiment, try again or ever succeed. The price for trying and failing will be seen as simply too draconian and painful, the lesson students actually learn from teachers who cannot control their critical instincts.

It is a teacher’s job to find any and every way to open up the world and its possibilities to a child. And when that child smiles and reaches for a particular idea, it becomes the teacher’s job to fan that flame of interest into a bonfire with additional experiences and ideas along the same line. This is how a teacher helps to build the next great artists, athletes, business and political leaders.

My mom was that kind of teacher. What kind of teacher will you be this year?

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

Is there anything more important to teach your students than how to break limiting thought patterns and believe they can actually achieve more in their lives than they thought possible? Here’s one suggestion on how to do that.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright FutureDo your students visualize bright futures for themselves? Or do they have low expectations? Perhaps you’ve made goals for yourself this year. But have you made measurable goals for your students beyond the objectives for individual lesson plans?  How about this for a starter? Challenge students to write what they want to be doing with their lives when they are 22 and /or make a visual page for it.

It’s easy to make a page to visually represent a goal in life, short or long-term, using pictures from newspapers or old magazines. If those aren’t available, students could draw their own pictures. Invite them to do this as homework on the first day of school or as a first-week project after coming back from the winter break.

Part of the reason our students don’t get where they’d like to be in life and have trouble breaking out of old family patterns is because they can’t visualize anything better. Even if they may secretly dream of going beyond where their parents have been in life, they may have no idea of how school might relate to getting there, or what baby steps to take or short-term goals to set in order to climb the ladder to where they’d like to be.

One of the most important things you need to do as an educator is to inspire your students to aim high and help them begin to see what is possible for them in life.  If they are proactive in setting short-term goals to achieve long-term goals, they have a target to aim at and the arrows to shoot at that target.

If taking some time to do this exercise with your students will help even one to break out of old thought patterns and a tendency to just drift toward the future, you will have given your students more than any math, social studies or science lesson could. Those who aim at nothing will achieve it.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

What will you do to inspire your students to build a better future?

One-to-One-Instruction

New research shows how important explaining things to mom is in a child’s education. Problem solutions explained to mom help young children retain what they have learned and be able to transfer that learning to new situations. Having to explain helps develop critical thinking skills.

One-to-One-Instruction

One-to-One-Instruction

A lot has been said about the importance of parents in a child’s education, but today I found an article that shows we were using the right approach in our homeschooling —Learning from Explaining: Does it Matter if Mom is Listening?

I’ve written a lot about the need to read aloud to young children often and in past posts we’ve given a lot of hints on how to to that, especially in When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up. I haven’t said as much about the other technique we used to see how much the children understood. That method was to ask the children to explain something to us or to put something they had read into their own words.

Now in the article referenced above,  a study suggests that explaining something to Mom (and I think the same would be true of Dad) is the best way to fix the  problem solving method a child uses in his brain so that the information will transfer to a different situation. The study used four and five-year-old children and gave them some classification problems to solve. Some were instructed to just solve the problems and repeat the solutions. Others were asked to solve the problems and explain to themselves how they did it (while recording), and the third group was asked to explain to their moms how they solved the problems. (The article will give you several pages of details on this experiment and the data generated.)

The results showed that those who explained the solution to themselves or their moms did much better at retaining the information than those that just repeated the solution. But those who explained to their moms did better than the other two groups at transferring what they had learned to solving different problems.

Explaining a solution forces a child to think critically about his method. Explaining to a parent is even more helpful. I would imagine that this would also extend to explaining to a teacher or tutor, but it illustrated once again how important  verbal interaction with significant adults is in student learning. It’s not just important to get an answer correct, but also to know the process of getting that correct answer.  Remembering that process is much easier if the student has explained it to an adult.

 

National Constitution Week is September 17-23

Is your school in compliance with Public Law 108-447, which requires any school which receives federal funding of any kind to have an educational program teach the Constitution during National Constitution Week, September 17-23? Here are some suggestions for easy compliance.

We the People: Exploring the U.S. Constitution
We the People: Exploring the U.S. Constitution

In 2004 Public Law 108-447 came into being requiring each school that receives Federal Funding in the United States to hold a special program on the Constitution on September 17. This year this it happens to be a Saturday, but you can pick any day between September 17 and September 23, which is designated as National Constitution Week. Has your school decided how to implement this program yet? 

If you’d like a quick and easy solution that will fulfill the requirements, I have a suggestion. The National Center for Constitutional Studies has produced a curriculum for National Constitution Week  that complies with the law’s requirement. Its main component is the DVD, A More Perfect Union – America Becomes a Nation, a two-hour movie which brings the Constitutional Convention to life. I saw it myself, and it was easy to follow the issues and controversies that were part of the process of putting the Constitution together.  After seeing this movie, the Constitution will no longer be a “dead” document, but the result of men trying to lay the best possible foundation for the United States of America. Your students will learn how and why the Constitution was written.

The entire curriculum package includes a teacher guide , posters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the DVD of the movie, and an individual pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. For a limited time, schools can order this entire package for only $19.95 plus shipping . It’s an opportunity your school should take advantage of , especially if you don’t have a curriculum for National Constitution Week in place yet. 

If you would like to go into more detail on the history, founders, and issues of the Constitution, click on the picture of the We the People book above, which is found at Barb’s Teaching help, my e-commerce website. It also contains vocabulary activities, a series of critical and creative thinking activities, and a list of additional resources.

Be aware that the local chapters of the Tea Party Patriots will be monitoring schools, as part of their “Adopt a School” program,  to see if they are going to comply with the law. They might be contacting your school district to see what you are planning to do. They also might be letting the media know if you are in compliance or not, since they are very interested in citizens being educated about the Constitution.

If you aren’t in school any more or connected to a school, but still want to see this movie, the DVD alone is currently on sale (as I write this) for only $9.95 at the web site linked to above. I saw the movie with a group of my neighbors in a home, and that’s a very good setting, as it allows friends and neighbors to discuss it informally afterwards. Enjoy!