Showing posts from September, 2016

I Don't Have a Reading Brain

       I don't have a reading brain.  

       I'm 52 years old and I've never been good at reading.  In fact, I'm constantly telling my children that I was never a good reader so that they don't feel so bad about being bad at reading themselves.  They are always saying, "Why do we have to learn to read anyway?" and even though I basically agree with them, I try to think of times when reading is important such as when they get a text from their friends.

       I really don't feel too bad about being a bad reader because just about everyone I know is bad at reading.  In fact, we are always joking about being bad at reading.  My sister-in-law is a middle school English teacher and every time we go to a restaurant we always make her read the menu to us.  We just tell the waitress to hand the menus over to her and most of the time the waitress sort of laughs in agreement and says something like, "I get it.  I'm a terrible reader too."  And we a…

My Favorite Teacher

My favorite teacher wasn't supposed to be my favorite teacher.

       I heard he was tough.  I heard he makes you write a lot.  I heard there was a lot of reading in his class.  One person said he was mean.

       He was my 7th grade English teacher.  I was 12 years old.  When I got my class schedule for the year, I started to ask friends if they knew any of my teachers.  The comments about this teacher (it seemed) were all bad.  Of course, at 12 years old, when I said things such as, "Everyone says he's a mean teacher.", what I really meant was, "The extremely small number of 13 year old boys (3) that I spoke with about this said he was mean."

       But they were my friends and I believed them, so when the first day of school came I was worried about this teacher and this class.  His class was third period and up to that point in the day, everything had gone pretty well.  I entered his class with a more than a little concern.

       He let us sit a…

The Case Against Worksheets

The Case Against Worksheets       The "worksheet" has been a staple of the P-12 educational experience for students for the past 30 to 40 years--maybe longer.  The advent of the mimeograph machine and then the photocopier made the duplicating of massive amount of worksheets easy, cheap, and increasing common.  Today there are multiple websites with pre-made worksheets for math, reading, geography, science, and just about any other school subject.  Some teachers love using worksheets.  Some use a worksheet everyday or nearly everyday.  In middle and high school math classes, students sitting in rows in the classroom and independently completing 20 or more math problems on a worksheet is an iconic image that many parents remember as a child and still expect to happen to their children today.
       The problem with the massive use of worksheets in today's classrooms is that they represent the opposite of everything we now know about how students learn best and what we hop…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Rules unnecessary

This is the tenth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Rules unnecessary        Rules govern behavior.  Hence, rules are only necessary when behavior needs to be governed.

       When my child began high school, he was presented with ten school rules.  One of these rules was:
Every student must provide their name when asked to do so by an adult.
This was many years ago, but I still remember it because it seemed like such a strange rule.  I thought, "What student wouldn't give their name when an adult asked for it?"  But I assumed that this was a problem in the school and the school decided that this was sufficiently important of a problem to make the list of top ten school rules [!].  Despite this (disturbing) fact, I can certainly envision a high school that does not have this rule because this sort of behavior occurs so rarely that it doesn't make sense to include it in th…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- One Size Fits Each

This is the ninth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


One Size Fits EACH        School is for learning.

       But students learn in different ways.  Some are quick to answer teacher questions, but slow to see connections between yesterday's lesson and today's lesson.  Other students take time to digest new content and (perhaps) need some quiet time to reflect on notes and classwork before they are ready to ask questions about the new learning.  Some students are eager to be pushed beyond their limits and they don't mind if they have to struggle a little bit to understand.  They like the challenge.  Other students feel like they are not smart if they don't "get it" right away.  They don't like to study (or don't know how to study) and they want to understand the new content right away with relatively no effort.

       When possible, we want the learning, th…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Create

This is the eighth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Create        Should school be a place where students (only) do what they are told to do?  Or, should school be a place the encourages and even requires students to think and hypothesize and create?

       When educators get together to talk about the factors that go into determining a course grade, we sometimes refer to some of these factors as "compliance" grades.  These are things such as: completing homework, completing classwork, following the school or classroom rules, and behaving properly.  While these are certainly going to be a part of the school experience for students, is it appropriate that a student's grade should be based on these "compliance" factors?

       Learning doesn't occur when teachers tell students exactly what to do and what to say.  Learning occurs when students are reminded of past…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Solve Problems

This is the seventh in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Solve Problems        School used to be:

Read the bookMemorize the factsRecite what you've memorized over and over and over again.  
       What are the capitals of the states in the United States?        What year did World War 1 begin?        What is the formula for finding the area of a triangle?
       Today's learners need so much more than mere memorization skills.  They need to know how to use these facts to make predictions, to see connections, and to find solutions.  The classrooms we need today require students to think and reason and discuss and hypothesize.  We need students who can be presented with a problem and know the tools they need to address the issues involved in the problem; and to find a way to solve the problem.
       Problem solving prepares students for the real world they will encounter beyond high sch…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- The Goal is Learning

This is the sixth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Goal is Learning        Don't get me started.

       The idea that the goal of schools is "Learning" is a major theme of mine.  Last year I wrote a piece called Are Your Students Obsessed with Grades.  In this post I included a list of things that students do that suggest they are more concerned about grades than then are about learning.  Some of these include:
They are constantly asking, "Is this going to be graded?"They refuse to do anything if it is not being graded.They ask for "extra credit" or make-up work at the end of the marking term to raise their grade to the next letter grade. These sort of behaviors from students suggest that we have created what I have called The Grading Monster in our schools.  Grades and grading and Grade Point Averages (GPAs) have grown to oversized importance in the mind…

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Kids Think

This is the fifth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Kids Think        It seems crazy to suggest that classrooms in the 21st century should emphasize more student thinking and to imply that this wasn't always the case.  But if you think about the traditional classroom--the sort of classroom that many adults sat in when they were in school--you see a teacher standing in the front of the room and asking a lot of low-level, "recall" -type questions.

       "It's not positive, it's........?"
       "The capital of the United States is........?"
       " The largest planet is........?"

       A student could walk into the classroom after the lesson was taught and still be able to answer these questions.  These are simple, one answer, "just the facts" questions.  They don't require students to think.  Sometimes they don't eve…