Category Archives: schooling

The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

When I was enrolled in Clare’s graduate course on literacy teaching, our class was assigned a reading from Alfred Tatum’s 2005 book Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap. It was one of my favorite readings and the class discussion was so engaging; many of my peers, myself included, were overcome with emotion. I will never forget reading the introduction, which felt like a Hollywood script until I realized that this is many people’s reality and that the incident he describes is representative of a large problem that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the role of literacy in the lives of young black men must be reconceptualized.

According to Alfred, the book is his attempt “to speak on behalf of all those young black males who yearn for understanding as they journey through rough terrain. Many of these young men want educators to respond to their needs and so help release them from a poverty-ridden paralysis that stiffens dreams” (p. 3).  Check out the introduction/the book here!

On a similar note, I came across this uplifting article a few days ago. An 11- year old boy started a book club, Book N Bros, that celebrates black books and African-American literature that shies away from the typically negative urban stories. With an emphasis on black protagonists, a new book every month, and meetings to discuss themes and complete worksheets, the aim is to improve the literacy rate among boys 8-10 years old. Some of the books that have already been read include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time.       Awesome!BlackProtagonistBook

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.

 

How can we make professional development more useful?

I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to Image_PDcartoonour Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.

Catherine Snow talk

If you are in the Toronto area this talk might be of interest to you.  You can RSVP using this URL: RSVP (acceptances only): http://www.tinyurl.com/mccarthylecture

Image Catherine Snow talk

Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Zongyi Deng and S. Gopinathan shine a spotlight on the success of Singapore’s school system and argue th…

Source: Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

Teachers are thanking Melania Trump

I (Clare) saw this fascinating video on BBC regarding plagiarism – Donald Trump’s wife using Michelle Obama’s words. Here is the link to the video: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-36836599

Teachers and academics in the UK and the US have taken to Twitter to thank Donald Trump’s wife for providing the perfect material to teach their students what plagiarism is and why it is wrong.

Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention has notable similarities with a speech given by current first lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

Challenging the Use of Test Scores to Assess Teachers and Teacher Educators

Clare and I (Clive) have often argued against the use of “value-added measures” (VAMs) to assess teachers and teacher educators, measures that rely exclusively on standardized test scores. Others (e.g., David Berliner, Diane Ravitch) have taken a similar stand.

In the May 2016 issue of the Educational Researcher, opposition to VAMs receives dramatic support from Steven Klees of the University of Maryland. In a letter to ER, Klees welcomes a recent AERA Statement about how difficult it is to assess teachers using VAMs. However, he goes on to say that it’s not only difficult, it’s impossible! He notes that “dozens, perhaps hundreds, of variables” influence test scores, and hence misattributing cause is not only a “significant risk,” it is “rampant and inherent” in the use of VAMs. He concludes:

“The bottom line is that regardless of technical sophistication, the use of VAM is never ‘accurate, reliable, and valid’ and will never yield ‘rigorously supported inferences’” (p. 267).

In my view, even if we give some weight to test scores, it is imperative to supplement them with other considerations: e.g., the judgment of teachers and their colleagues about good teaching, opinions of students about their teachers’ effectiveness, theories about effective pedagogy. Effective teaching is so complex there can be no quick fix in assessing it.

It will be interesting to see how the education research and policy communities respond to Klees’s extraordinary claim, given that VAMs are the latest great hope for the reform of teaching and teacher education.

 

The First Year of Teaching Can Feel Like a Fraternity Hazing

One of my (Clare) students sent me this article from the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/first-year-teaching/477990/?utm_source=SFTwitter

As I read it my heart sank for these new teachers. I recall my first year of teaching (I lost 15 lbs. between September and December) from sheer work. Does it have to be that way? And given all that we have learned about beginning teachers I am not sure how much the situation has changed. Yes the first year of any new job is going to be a challenge but does it need to feel like “fraternity hazing)? I think no.

Brendan Hoffman / AP

This is the first story in a three-part series about teacher preparation and whether programs are doing enough to prepare new teachers to take over their own classrooms.

MIDDLE RIVER, MD—On a chilly November morning, Michael Duklewski stood outside his seventh-grade classroom as students filed in, some shoving each other playfully, others still half asleep. One by one they took a piece of paper from a bin by the front door and made their way to their seats.Image Michael Duklewski

“Good morning!” Duklewski, 33, said in a loud and confident voice over the classroom chatter. He closed the door and paused. A wad of paper flew through the air.

“I’m warning you man, the next time I see someone throw something, it’s lunch detention,” Duklewski said sternly, looking at the student who had thrown the paper.

As students in this second-period English class began to work on their warmup drill—to define the terms “setting” and “mood” in literature—the chatter continued. Duklewski walked over to the chalkboard in the front of the room where he was tracking the points for good behavior that each class had earned. Next to “second period,” he erased the number 14 and changed it to 13.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I already took off a point,” he warned. He waited as the conversations slowly died down, before launching into his lesson for the day on the play A Raisin in the Sun.

Duklewski, one of a growing number of career-changers that enter the teaching profession each year, switched from political lobbying to education after volunteering at an after-school program in Baltimore. This school year is his first, and it has been even tougher than he imagined. In the second week of September, reality hit. “I was like, ‘Oh God, I don’t know what I’m doing here,’” Duklewski recalled.

Duklewski is one of three teachers The Hechinger Report, which partnered with The Atlantic to produce this story, has followed over the course of their first year to look at how training programs prepare new teachers for the classroom—or don’t. As the American education system faces a drumbeat of criticism for its stubborn achievement gaps and lackluster performance compared to other countries, education schools are under attack.

Traditional education schools are trying to reinvent themselves, and alternative fast-track routes are popping up to offer shortcuts to the classroom. Both models seek to help prospective teachers deal with rising standards, increasing student diversity, new technology and, inevitably, the gauntlet of spitballs, note passing, and, these days, illicit texting.

Michael Duklewski leads a lesson in his second-period English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

While aspiring educators now have more choices than ever before when it comes to launching their careers, new teachers continue to leave the profession at an alarming rate, suggesting a breakdown in training and support. At the same time, there is little evidence to show which education programs are graduating the most successful teachers or what kind of support is most helpful for rookies.

Duklewski chose the traditional route to becoming a teacher. In 2015, he graduated from Towson University, a state institution outside of Baltimore that has been training teachers for more than 150 years and graduates nearly 700 new teachers each year. He selected the school because of its strong reputation, and it helped that his mother earned her own teaching degree there in 1972. His course of study took two years, including more than 20 classes and 16 weeks of full-time student teaching—typical for traditional programs, which provide more in-depth pre-teaching training than most alternative programs.

Duklewski was hired to teach seventh-grade English language arts at the same school where he completed his student teaching experience. He was familiar with Middle River Middle School’s administration and policies and already knew many of the nearly 900 students in the sprawling, single-story brick building, located in a suburb of Baltimore.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing”

Though Duklewski said surviving the initial year hasn’t been easy, many first-year teachers are so traumatized they don’t come back at all. Data on new-teacher attrition varies, but studies have found that anywhere from 17 percent to 46 percent of new teachers quit within their first five years. If teachers were trained better, more might stick around, experts say.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). “People say, ‘I just don’t think you can learn this ahead of time.’ Well, you need to set up those conditions ahead of time,” she argued.

Is it possible for teacher programs to prepare educators with everything they need to know on Day 1? Maybe not everything, according to the three teachers we followed.

For Duklewski, although he’s struggled at times with unruly students, he’s not sure what else his teacher education program could have done. There’s no better way to learn how to teach, he argued, than just jumping in and doing it.

* * *

A student works on a reading assignment in Duklewski’s English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

Back in second period, Duklewski, wearing black dress pants and a blue polo shirt, continued to give directions for the next part of the lesson: using evidence from the A Raisin in the Sun script to draw a diagram of the set.

As he ran the discussion he moved constantly around the room, stopping the lesson abruptly—and frequently—as students talked to their neighbors. He kept an even tone as he threatened to call parents and reminded students that one of the class rules is “don’t talk while others are talking.”

Four minutes in, second period was down to 10 good behavior points. “Don’t draw on your arm,” Duklewski told one student. He ignored a student hitting himself in the face with a red folder. Duklewski stared down a chattering group of students until they started working again.

It was now 10 minutes into the period. Duklewski stepped up to the overhead projector in the front of the room and counted down from three. The class fell silent. “Our purpose is to find details about the staging of the Youngers’s home,” Duklewski said, referring to the family in the play. “What rooms are there? What things are there?” Some students raised their hands, but a few boys continued to talk to each other, or, in a couple of cases, to themselves.

“Ladies and gentleman, I’m literally asking you to do nothing when other people are talking,” Duklewski said in a calm and assertive voice. “We’re going to practice being silent for fifteen seconds. If we can do that, I’ll put a point on the board. If not, I’ll take two off.”

Duklewski set a timer for 15 seconds. Four seconds later, a student started talking.

Less than three months into his first year of teaching, Duklewski exuded the confidence of a more experienced teacher. But his second-period class was difficult compared to the other four classes he’d been teaching, a difference he attributed to several strong personalities and too many students—33, far bigger than his other classes.

For the worst behavior problems, his chosen strategy is keeping students after class for a one-on-one talk instead of addressing them in front of other students. “Some teachers come straight at a student when they have an issue with them in class,” Duklewski said. “I found that doesn’t work with them, especially not in a classroom full of their peers. They get yelled at enough.”

The ability to manage classroom behavior is one of the top concerns for every new teacher and can often lead to the undoing of a rookie. A 2014 report by the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education found that trouble managing student discipline is one of the many reasons teachers leave the classroom. Poor classroom management can also get in the way of learning, said Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and former president of Teachers College, Columbia University. “If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.” (The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College.)

Although classroom management is one of the most important topics for new teachers, it is one of the least taught in preparation programs, said NCTQ’s Walsh. “Programs swear up and down that they teach this stuff … [but] there’s little evidence that they’re being taught it,” she said.

In fact, a 2013 report by NCTQ found that many teacher-preparation programs fail to teach certain aspects of classroom management. Of 122 programs examined by NCTQ, the majority focused on the setting up of routines and rules in classrooms, an important skill. But 74 percent did not teach teachers how to use praise in their classrooms to reinforce positive behavior or other day-to-day tricks to keep classes focused and get unruly kids under control.

“If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.”For Duklewski, talkative students can be irritating, but they’re not enough to make him quit teaching.

By December, his second-period class was getting better; during the fall, he had started giving students the chance to earn the right to come to his classroom during lunch and watch cartoons on Fridays. (He nixed the cartoons before winter break.) He moved one particularly energetic student to the back of the classroom where he could sit on a window ledge, stand up or move around without distracting other students.

His class-points system, however, had fallen apart. Right before winter break, Duklewski switched to an individual-point system to reward students for independent behavior. Students could earn points by being on-task, finishing the class warmup first, or answering questions correctly. They could then earn small prizes, like pencil sharpeners, or larger prizes, like “renting out” his classroom for lunch with friends.

He also switched from pointing out negative behavior to pointing out positive behavior. Sometimes he found that just announcing what students were doing—“Jimmy is working on his warmup”—made a huge difference. And only a few weeks into the new system, Duklewski said that the changes were both improving student behavior and his own sanity. “I’m just happier, because I’m saying good things all the time instead of harping on bad things,” Duklewski said.

Happiness is relative for a new teacher. Since Duklewski took over his own classroom last September, it’s been nearly impossible to balance his workload with his personal life, a problem many new teachers experience.

Every morning Duklewski wakes up by 5:30 and he tries to be in bed by 9 p.m., although he often stays up late preparing lessons. He saves time by not eating breakfast in the morning and has 35 minutes to eat lunch—15 minutes of which is taken up by hall duty or checking on students in the cafeteria. After 13 to 15 hours at school each day, he drives home, eats dinner, watches a little television, and packs his lunch for the next day. His weekends are mostly filled with grading.

Moving from a role as a student teacher to a full-time classroom teacher was a bigger jump than he had expected. He realized after his first week that there were many things he didn’t know, like the exact procedure for a fire drill. Or how to balance teaching with noninstructional duties like communicating with parents, filling out attendance, and responding to each day’s barrage of emails.

“When it’s all resting on you, it’s just that much more exhausting,” Duklewski said. “Some of it you just figure out as you hit the ground running.”

On a rainy January day, Duklewski stood in front of his fourth-period class having already downed several cups of coffee to keep up his energy. At 10 p.m. the night before, he had thrown out his lesson plan on monologues, and then stayed up until 1 a.m. reworking it to include video examples.

Students were transfixed. After watching monologues from The Lion King, Harry Potter, and The Incredibles, the class discussed the purpose of a monologue. Duklewski then instructed them to write their own, using point of view and voice. On a worksheet, students answered questions about who they would be, why they were talking, and who they were talking to. Kids erupted into excited chatter as they began to plan and write their monologues.

“I’m myself, talking about sacking Tom Brady, to myself,” one student explained. He read his first line aloud. “Ohh I’m gonna sack Tom Brady!”

When the class ended, students filed out still chatting about their monologues. Oner bonus of an engaging lesson, Duklewski added, is that students stay on task and he doesn’t deal with as much misbehavior.

* * *

Duklewski was assigned a consulting teacher who observes him every two weeks. After those observations, he has a chance to discuss the lesson and receive feedback, such as on his classroom management approach or his use of tests.

The mentoring and a high level of support from his school have helped him keep a positive attitude, he said. “I feel the freedom to take risks, mess up and experiment because I don’t feel pressure. If I screw up, I screw up. They’ll help me fix it.” On his mid-year evaluation, Duklewski was rated “effective” on a scale that included the ratings “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.”

Next year, he wants to do a better job using student data to plan lessons that touch on the skills students are lacking—something he rarely had the chance to do this year because of all the other demands of his classroom and the hours spent preparing lessons. He also wants to get better at long-term planning. And he’s learned from his challenging second-period class that it pays to set up better rules and classroom procedures from the beginning of the year.

As spring break approached, a series of snow days and holidays threw Duklewski’s students off track. He increased the number of phone calls home to parents and doubled down on his positive praise. “I think we’ve come to some sort of understanding about how we’re all going to get along in class,” Duklewski said. He was also getting the hang of balancing his schedule, and had cut his work hours down—to less than 12 hours a day. It helped that he was seeing academic growth. On standardized writing assessments, the class average had gone up by about 50 percent in most of his classes. On reading tests, scores were also rising steadily.

“Next year, I expect it to be much, much easier,” Duklewski said. “I’ve already done everything once. I’ll have stuff to fall back on.”

Although he’s starting to plan his summer vacation, including work as a counselor at a summer camp, he still has one final goal for his students as the year winds down. “By the end of the year, they will not talk over other people while they are talking,” Duklewski said with a laugh. “If I teach them nothing else, they will learn that skill.”

 

 

 

Nell Duke: 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research

In my (Clare) graduate literacy course last night we talked about Nell Duke’s excellent Library book shelvesarticle: 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research. This is a highly informative article because Duke systematically addresses key questions about research – often questions that are not posed because the instant the word “research” is attached to a statement it seems to have more weight. She begins the article: Research-based,” “research-proven,” “scientifically based”—in the reading world these days, it seems that the term research is being used everywhere. it is also being misused and misunderstood.

My graduate students found the article very accessible and enlightening. Many said they will look at “research claims” more closely. It is well worth the read. Here is a link to article which was published in Reading Teacher. 10_things_to_know_about_research_duke_trtr1002

Duke addresses the following questions.

  1. what research can do.
  2. what research is.
  3. what research is not.
  4. the difference between research-based and research-tested.
  5. Many kinds of research have valuable contributions to make to our understanding of literacy learning, development, and education.
  6. different kinds of research are good for different questions.
  7. high-quality research has a logic of inquiry.
  8. conclusions drawn from research are only as sound as the research itself.
  9. where and how research is published or presented requires particular attention.
  10. educational research proceeds through the slow accumulationof knowledge.

 

 

Defining happiness: A child’s take on life.

IMG_0968From the mouths of babes. Motivational speaker Jay Shetty has some wise words for you on how to make the world a better place. A teacher asked her students to write down what they want to be when they grow up. There were the usual responses – astronaut, singer …. And one boy wrote down happy. When the teacher talked to the child suggesting he misunderstood the assignment, he responded. “Miss, I think you misunderstand life.” WOW!!!!

According to Shetty, it starts by pressing pause on your own life and improving the way you IMG_2826communicate with others.  The video is short but it reminds us about what is important in life. Well worth the time. In the video below watch him explain why it’s time for you to take a moment to become more conscious and aware. https://www.facebook.com/HuffingtonPost/videos/10153725769876130/