Tag Archives: teachers

Visiting the Rishi Valley School…Part 2


While at the Rishi Valley School I had the opportunity of visiting the Rishi Valley Institute for Education Resources (RIVER), a teacher training and development wing of Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre. The school serves children from the surrounding rural communities, several of which are impoverished. At first glance the RIVER school appears to be like many rural schools in India; one large classroom, one teacher, twenty-five students spanning across 5 grades. However, after spending an afternoon in the classroom it became clear that this classroom was not like the others. First, there are no desks or chairs; rather, there are four large tables with students purposefully seated at them. Second, Kala, the classroom teacher, does not do any stand-up teaching. Instead, she moves from table to table working with small groups of kids or one-on-one with a child with laminated graded cards. Kala is using the multi-grade, multi-level methodology which the Rishi Valley School has spent years developing, and she has spent years perfecting. At the RIVER school a “community-based curriculum is taught…where the academic curriculum is graded for individual levels of learning, grounded in up-to-date information, and framed in the local idiom, and…where the curriculum is integrated with activities.” (http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)


The classroom

I was most interested in the pride the students took in their graded cards they had completed, as well as their designated space on the wall to record their progress (pictures below). They were all very aware of what level they were at for each of their subject. The graded cards are part of an educational kit the RIVER school has created.

This is how the educational kit works:

The education kit, a series of carefully graded cards, replaces textbooks in the area of language, mathematics and environmental science. Each card in the graded series is marked with a logo (rabbit, elephant, dog) and mapped on to a subject-specific “Learning Ladder”, a progress guide which traces out the learning trajectory for students.

Spaces on the Ladder are sub-divided into a set of milestones. These milestones consist of  cards that explain a concept;  the applications of the concept;  evaluation of students’ understanding and, finally, provide means of testing, remediation or  enrichment. A student identifies her own place on the ladder, and creates, within the broad confines of the milestones,  her own path from grade one to grade five. 

Blank spaces on the ladder allow teachers to introduce independent content into the learning process. Indeed the Ladder can be designed in flexible ways to allow for multiple trajectories between which teachers and students are able to choose so long as the sequencing required by the academic disciplines is maintained.(Source: http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)

 Although I only spent an afternoon in the classroom, it left a lasting impression on me. The MGML approach seemed to really have been working, and effectively addressing the prevalent issue of mutli-grade classroom across rural India. The MGML approach is being used in rural school across Andhra Pradesh, and has been adopted by many school in the state of Tamil Naidu. The creators are advocating for the approach in several other states in India. Take a look at some photos below!


Kala (the teacher) working with the students. 

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Students working on Math problems at their own individual levels. 

The Milestones Chart


Student progress for the week. 

The Danger of Silence

I came across this short yet powerful TED talk. Educator Clint Smith delivers a power piece of spoken word on what he believes  to be  the dangers of silence. Smith, like many educators, values students’ voices and opinions. He believes we must encourage our students to speak out against injustices because silence leads to discrimination, violence, and war. Through the use of poetry, Smith helps students shares their stories- share their “truths.” Smith begins his spoken work piece with a powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Smith also shares 4 core principles that he runs his classes by:

1. Read critically

2. Write consciously 

3. Speak clearly

4. Tell your truth

Watch Smith’s 4-minute video here to hear more about the dangers of silence:

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10 things your child’s teacher wants to say to you

I (Clare) came across this “open letter” to parents by by Lyndsi Frandsen which I found very interesting. As many schools gear up for Curriculum Night where teachers meet the parents of their students for the first time, I thought this article very relevant. As teachers we so often are misunderstood.Below is the full letter and here is a link to the website>


SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers can be a misunderstood breed. A lot of times we find ourselves taking the blame for anything and everything. Your child failed a test? Blame the teacher. Your child got pushed down on the playground? Blame the teacher. You’re having a bad hair day? Blame the teacher.

But have you ever thought about what your child’s teacher would say if the teacher could speak openly and honestly, without any backlash? I interviewed dozens of my fellow teachers and colleagues. Using their comments, I compiled what I hope will be a helpful list of suggestions to improve the parent-teacher dynamic.

Now, before you call an emergency neighborhood meeting and start writing “1,000 things parents wish they could say to their child’s idiotic teacher,” take a step back. Give these teachers the benefit of the doubt, and know the educators who weighed in on this are wonderfully talented, kind, educated, adoring teachers who love what they do.

(On a side note: As I was reaching out to teachers, I felt like I should title this “The help: teacher edition.” It took a lot of coaxing and reassurance in order to get them to talk.)

“Thank you for sharing your child with me each day. … Thank you for trusting me with your most prized possessions. Thank you for helping me create the “magic” that is learning, educating and inspiring.”

1. I can’t do it alone

I am here to tell you that whatever is accomplished during the long school day can be completely undone in just a few hours at home. I am only human. I can’t snap my fingers and get your child to the target reading level. Will I try my hardest? Yes. Will I ever stop trying? No. But if you aren’t actively engaging with your child and reinforcing learning at home, you are robbing your child of opportunities otherwise. I am giving your child the best hours of my day. Please be willing to give your child minutes of your day to spend on homework, reading, etc.

2. I never stop thinking about your child

Even when I am finally home and able to focus on my own little ones, I am still thinking about yours. I am constantly thinking about how to help them overcome educational barriers. I am continuously brainstorming how I can cater to their various learning styles. But it doesn’t end there. I lose sleep thinking about the much-too-heavy-burdens of life their tiny shoulders carry around. I worry about their future and the scary world they will grow up in. I love them fiercely and they are always on my mind.

3. Yes, I am saying your child is lying

I am an adult. I am not a mean, petty, immature teenager who makes up rumors to make your child look bad. If I tell you your child called a classmate a name — then your child did. If I tell you your child refused to complete work — then your child did. Please believe the 30-year-old adult and not your 8-year-old child.

4. We are all cheering for the same team

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I am not the enemy. Like you, I love your child. Like you, most days I invest more time and money in the children, than I do in myself. Like you, I want what’s best for them. So, when you feel tempted to tell me all the reasons why I treat your child unfairly, or am out to get your child, please remember that. When I hold your child accountable, I’m not treating your child unfairly. When I challenge your child academically, I am not out to get your child. The end.

5. We really don’t think every child needs medication

One teacher (and mother) I talked to learned this lesson firsthand. After her own child was diagnosed with a processing disorder, she realized he just might need medication to help him focus. It was a hard fact to swallow: that the medication she had been so against was the missing piece of the puzzle. Her words: “You would not consider keeping a child from their asthma medication because it would change who they are, so why would you consider keeping a child from medicine that would help them to be their best self?

Medication is not a death sentence. It does not mean that they are dumb or out of control. It does not mean they are ‘one of those kids.’ ” Teachers observe every type of child on a daily basis. Being receptive to their observations and opinions just may pay off for your child. Parents need to advocate for their children. Sometimes, they don’t know how or where to begin. And that’s where we come in.

6. The way you speak about education directly influences your child’s opinion

If you place great value on learning, your children will. If you speak kindly about their teacher, they will. If you tell them they have test anxiety, they will. If you treat school as a chore, they will. If you have high expectations for them, they will.

7. Your child doesn’t have any friends because he is unkind

I understand this isn’t a fact 100 percent of the time. But generally speaking, if your child is kind, compassionate and friendly, then other children will want to be your child’s friend. Funny how that works, isn’t it? It is your responsibility to teach your child how to be a good friend. If your children are hearing you gossip, belittle and exclude others, chances are they will be the same kind of friend you are.

8. It’s OK to let your child struggle

This is how we learn and grow. I understand your overwhelming desire to intervene at the drop of a hat. I understand it is hard to watch your child go through hard things and sometimes fail. I don’t like to watch your child struggle either. But if we do everything for them, they will never be able to do anything for themselves.

9. Your appreciation goes a long way

We don’t want you to feel bad for us. We chose this profession, and if we could go back and do it again … we would be doctors. Just kidding. We would do it all over again. Teachers just want to feel valued and appreciated. Our payoff (clearly) doesn’t come in the form of a check. It comes with watching your child grow and develop a love of learning. Parents who express their gratitude underestimate how far that really goes. So, write a thank-you note every now and again, tell us what a good job we are doing, and spoil the living daylights out of us during teacher appreciation week. (Kidding … sort of.)

10. Thank you

A well-known teacher that has a wonderful reputation with students, parents and colleagues said it perfectly:

“Thank you for sharing your child with me each day. Thank you for taking an interest in what he/she is doing. Thank you for caring about your child enough to let them fail from time to time, but being there to pick them up, brush them off, and help them grow from the experience. Thank you for investing time in your child. It is the most valuable gift you can give them. Thank you for taking time away from your phone or your computer to really be there for them. Thank you for teaching your child responsibility. Thank you for helping them realize that the choices they make are their choices and the consequences, good or bad, are not because of someone else. Thank you for letting me be a part of the ‘village’ that gets to help raise your child. Thank you for the opportunity I get to make a difference in their life. Thank you for trusting me with your most prized possessions. Thank you for helping me create the “magic” that is learning, educating and inspiring.”

Lyndsi Frandsen is the creator of the Facebook page For All Momkind and author of the For All Momkind blog. She has many titles, including wife, kindergarten teacher, sister and her favorite title, Mom.

Teacher Education, Schooling and the Teaching of Holidays

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. For many Thanksgiving is a holiday of rest. A long weekend for a quick getaway or time to gather with friends and family to feast on turkey and pause for a moment to reflect on one’s blessings. For many, it is a happy holiday, not associated with historical ties or religion.  For others, Thanksgiving holds alternative feelings and reminders.  As a teacher educator I do not mention the holidays in my class nor do we discuss possibilities for addressing the holidays in the classroom. Now I am thinking maybe I should… not for the purpose of generating teaching ideas and strategies but for the broader more philosophical discussion of what should be considered when raising the topic of holidays in the classroom?

I remember Thanksgiving celebrations at school; we decorated autumn wreaths, coloured turkey pictures and shared what we were thankful for with one another. But, is that what Thanksgiving is about? To some, it may be just that. But is it something else? What are the perspectives? The history? And how do we share that information in ways that are inclusive and safe? In fact, how do we share any holiday content with children in our classrooms? I am interested in unraveling the embedded practices that are based more on tradition (doing what we’ve always done) and thinking more about the students in our classrooms and how the stories and histories and significances of the holidays may or may not touch their lives.

Quick searches online led me to inconsistent explanations of the origins of Thanksgiving in Canada. So I am left to share a simple wikipedia here:


There are significant differences between Canadian and USA Thanksgiving, far beyond the different date.

And then of course there is the perspective taking on the holidays. Thanksgiving is one where Aboriginal perspectives, for example, weigh heavily in my thoughts and move me to contemplate how best to approach the discussion of the holiday in schools.

There are several online resources available and people to talk to about the varying perspectives. Information can be found. Yet I am still left with the questions, how do we approach this in the classroom? Do we continue to colour in turkeys and refer to a ‘harvest’ that many 4 – 10 year olds cannot quite imagine and have children share what they are thankful for? Do we tell stories and share multiple perspectives on the past and present? Do we do nothing at all?

I’m interested to hear from teacher educators and teachers about what you are doing or have see done in teacher education and in schools.  An interesting discussion with many angles and points of view.

Sending warm wishes to those who have celebrated and enjoyed the holiday this weekend.


Attack on “Balanced Literacy” Is Attack on Professional Teachers, Research

I (Clare) read this article and felt it would add to the posts on this blog about teachers as decision-makers and the need for teachers to be seen professionals.

radical eyes for equity

The allusion in Robert Pondiscio’s Why Johnny won’t learn to read accomplishes something different than intended. Pondiscio’s uninformed swipe at balanced literacy actually reveals that, once again, ideology trumps teacher professionalism and literacy research.

The reading wars are about almost everything except reading, but the most important lesson from this newest version of the same old thing is that if we start with what balanced literacy is, we begin to see just what those who attack balanced literacy believe:

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Spiegel’s definition shows that the term “balanced literacy” is about the professional autonomy of the teacher, the wide range of research on how children acquire literacy, and honoring individual student needs (those who need direct instruction and those who do not).

Like “whole language,” balanced literacy does not reject any practice that is needed or effective, and does not prescribe practices either.

When Pondiscio and others, then, reject balanced literacy, they reject…

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Winter Clothing is a Basic

thermometer with snowflakesMany of us in North America are enduring the coldest weather in decades. This morning it is -39 Celsius (= -40 F). Bone chilling does not even begin to describe the experience of being out in this weather. Whenever we have frigid weather like this I recall my time as a classroom teacher. I taught in very high needs schools and when winter roared in, many of the children suffered terribly because they did not have adequate winter clothing. Last night on Chris Matthews’ show, Hardball, on MSNBC http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/the-need-to-sustain-the-social-safety-net-108521539760
there was talk about the American Congress wanting to end welfare benefits. All those politicians who vote to end or reduce welfare benefits they should visit an urban school in the depths of winter and tell some children that they do not deserve a winter coat and mittens.

When I was a teacher, every year I would go to children’s clothing stores and beg for winter gear (coats, mittens, boots) for my students who were so inadequately dressed. Never once did I leave a store empty-handed. Many of the teachers on staff engaged in similar missions and many who were moms or dads would bring in winter clothes that their own children had out-grown. So those politicians who want to micro-manage teachers and impose an array of  standards should accompany those teachers to children’s stores to beg for donations. I am sure this reality-check would have a real influence because they would learn what teaching is all about. Their view that teachers need to be told what to do and should be penalized for not focusing solely on the “basics” might change. Aren’t winter clothes a basic? I think so. Stay warm! Clare

New Business Model for Education: Respecting Teachers

There is a great article in the New York Times magazine today, A Ready-To-Assemble Business Plan Adam Davidson


It reports on studies done on “how to make low-paid work more rewarding for employees and employers alike.” Zeynep Ton argues that “Even the most coldhearted, money-hungry capitalists ought to realize that increasing their work force, and paying them and treating them better, will often yield happier customers, more engaged works, and – surprisingly – larger corporate profits.” Although the article is about workers in big box stores, we think that there is relevance for the way we treat teachers. If we treated teachers with more respect (as they do in countries like Finland), have more fully-staffed schools,  and pay teachers a decent (competitive) salary rather than trying to “teacher proof” the curriculum and impose draconian measures on them (pay raises linked to student achievement on standardized test) we may actually improve education! Perhaps, it is time to flip the approach from controlling teachers to respecting  and supporting them. Let’s try this experiment in 2014! Clive and Clare

Is Alternative Certification Really an Option?

Our blog has included a number of posts about our longitudinal research on teachers. All of the teachers in our study completed a full teacher certification program yet many faced real struggles. Although we know that teaching is a very demanding profession, the clamor for Alternative Certification programs seems to be increasing. Alt Cert programs are flourishing in many countries which to me defies reason. I read a really interesting blog about a young teacher who was part of Teach for America (TFA) corps – her TFA program had 5 weeks of training. The title of the blog captured my interest: Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout. Here the link to it:  http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/12/29/tell-all-from-a-tfa-and-kipp-teacher-unprepared-isolation-shame-and-burnout/
The blog by reflections, video clips of TFA recruitment, and some stats. It is really interesting.  Here are two excerpts from the new teacher’s reflections which I found heartbreaking:
Unpreparedness for the Classroom
The 5-week summer session at Rice University was a fast-paced, well-run training session, but it was not enough to prepare me to lead my own classroom in my first year.  While I learned valuable techniques and tools to become a teacher, it certainly did not equip me for creating systems in my classroom, writing unit plans, and creating valuable assessment. Five weeks was not enough to create the type of magic that Teach For America describes in its vision.  Training was like leading us to the top of a cliff before we had to jump off into the reality of our own classrooms. All I can say is the mountain was high and the fall was hard.
Shame has a terrible place in this organization.  I never believed that shame would become a motivator in my Teach for America experience, but shame holds onto the necks of many Corps members.  Placing young college graduates in some of the toughest teaching situations with 5 weeks of training has negative repercussions on the mind, body, and soul of Corps members.  The message is “If only I were stronger, smarter and more capable, I could handle this. I would be able to save my students.”  Unfortunately, TFA intentionally or unintentionally preys on this shame to push Corps members to their limits to create “incredible” classrooms and “transformative” lesson plans. Would these things be good for our students? Of course.  Is shame a sustainable method for creating and keeping good teachers in the classroom? Absolutely not. It is defeating and draining.

Thanks Julian for your blog. After reading the blog can anyone actually say, that Alt Cert is a viable option? I think not. Clare

What To Do Until the Evidence Arrives

A common refrain internationally today is that teaching should be evidence-based, and certainly, that is the ideal. However, it will be a long time before all the evidence is in. It can take millions of dollars and many years to test the impact of just a few teaching strategies; yet teachers must daily use a large repertoire of strategies. So what to do in the meantime?checkmark images

Teachers must rely largely on their judgment about what is most likely to have a positive impact (drawing of course on their training, PD, and years of experience). This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than waiting until the evidence is complete.

We commonly use our judgment in evaluating teachers and teacher candidates. We say things like “So and so is one of the best teachers I’ve seen,” without having detailed student outcome data. Equally, we must let teachers exercise judgment about what and how to teach. We should give them our advice, evidence-based or not; but it should build on their current judgment and practices. Clive

Informal Teacher Learning. Teachers as Experts.

This past week we’ve been writing a paper on ongoing teacher learning, based on our 9-year longitudinal study of 42 teachers. What has struck me is the amount teachers learn after their initial preparation, mainly through experience in their own classroom and other informal means (e.g., chatting with colleagues, professional reading, searching the internet). As Marisa said at the end of her sixth year:

 When I started teaching, I soon realized there was so much I didn’t know. The first couple of years I struggled, and had to work really hard on my programming. But over time I’ve become more confident…I try new things, work with other teachers, and use what I learn to improve my program.

External input by formal means is potentially very important, but at present not much happens. And if and when we finally get around to it, it has to be done in dialogue with teachers, building on the approach they have already developed. Teachers are truly key experts, perhaps the main experts, on teaching. Clive