Monday, June 24, 2013

Defy the doldrums of school required summer reading assignments

Who doesn’t like to eavesdrop on the lives of others? Who doesn’t like to travel to new places? Who doesn’t like to learn about the past? Biographies tap into a child’s inquisitiveness and showcase information that could easily be in an encyclopedia (but how enjoyable is it to read an encyclopedia? Who is satisfied with living one life? Books free us from the limitations of having just one life with one point of view; books allow us to see beyond the horizon of our own circumstance.

Keeping in the mood of summer being a reading vacation, here are 2 biographies that defy the doldrums of school required summer reading assignments.

On the Beam of Light (Jennifer Berne, ages 6-9), goes beyond the usual chronicling that recall Einstein’s development as a scientist and his influence on the world as we understand it. This book allows up to glimpse a genuine person who was late to talk, loved ice cream and who was fascinated by light beams, books, numbers and sugar dissolving in tea.

Becoming Ben Franklin (Russell Freedman, ages 10 and up) is another example of a biography that allows us to know Ben Franklin through his own words. This is a hard to put down look at a life that forever changed our nation and “helped give birth to a new kind of nation.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turn Summer Reading into a reading vacation not a reading assignment.

Research indicates that children lose ground academically during the summer months unless they use the skills they learn in school throughout the year.  Note the following:
~ By sixth grade, 80% of the achievement gap is the result of the summer slides between kindergarten and sixth grade.
~ Low-income students lose about three months of academic ground each summer due to the summer slide compared to middle-income students.
~ Giving kids books to read during the summer may be just as effective as kids going to summer school, say researchers.
~ Many kids are tempted to spend a lot of their time watching TV, surfing the internet, or playing video games. Let them do some of those activities in moderation, while also ensuring that they’re doing activities that keep them learning in fun ways.

Activities that keep children engaged in learning— reading books, taking a class, involvement in activities or sports, camp—all of these activities makes a big difference in how well they’ll make the transition back to school in the fall. One easy and fun way to help children maintain those skills is fun, enjoyable summer reading.  Summer reading shouldn’t be about learning new words or reading books that are difficult, it should be about easy reading. Children, just like adults get burned out and summer gives them the break they need from their regular school routine. Inspire children to read by providing books that feature their favorite characters, hobbies, sports or people.Turn summer reading into a vacation, not an assignment.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Teacher Training’s Low Grade

“The National Council on Teacher Quality has long promoted over-hauling U.S. teacher preparation” says a recent article in the WSJ.  Here is their recent study:

Following up on my previous musing on the Common Core’s lack of professional development being a prime cause of poor student performance, the Council’s report said that “fewer than one in nine programs for future elementary reachers, and just over one-third of high school programs, properly prepare teachers to teach the Common Core Standards and about 75% aren’t preparing graduates to teach reading to youngsters.

Let there be no confusion or surprise about why children and teachers are not poised for success with this dismal piece of information.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Common Core and reality collide.

Who’s Minding the Schools, (NYT)  exposed some of the problems implementing the Core standards and offers a valuable perspective. The current partisan political climate in the US is not helpful to understand the benefits, merits and detriments of the Core. In addition, the Common Core is essentially "an invisible empire, with no public office, no board of directors or a salaried staff, and no postal address nor telephone number on their website.”

By the 2014-15 academic year, public schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia will administer Common Core tests to students of all ages. The ideals that drove the creation of the Core is the belief that "tougher standards, and eventually higher standardized test scores, will make Americans more competitive in the global brain race.”

The problem is the faulty thinking that assumes higher standards automatically creates students who are better educated and better prepared to be competitive.  I am all for higher standards but they must be accompanied by thoughtful and effective professional development—training teachers how to teach their subjects in new ways that foster deep reflective thinking and a command of a subject. In my work around the country I am constantly hearing frustration from teachers who do not feel adequately prepared to teach to these standards.

It seems to me that the cart is before the horse. Teachers need to be well trained and supported before we can expect them to teach children who can successfully meet these standards. The current situation is setting teachers and their students to fail which is not good or fair and will only bring on undesirable outcomes.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does reading fiction make you a better person?

“Does Fiction Civilize Us?” ——caused me to ponder what is the purpose of reading literature?

Most of us assume that exposure to challenging works of literary fiction is good for us. Does reading about Anna Karenina, the good folk of Middlemarch and Marcel and his friends expand our imaginations and refine our moral and social sensibilities? Does reading literature make us become more caring, wiser people? My response to that query is “I don’t know” but I do believe the purpose of reading literature lies elsewhere. My passion to encourage people to become readers is not driven by an aim to improve them but rather to give a person the experience of reading to understand what we have not dared to consider to see in ourselves but rather what we can see in the characters portrayed.

Reading allows a person to better know themselves. Only then can a person follow the wise counsel of Polonius who said: “To thine own self be true.”  An increased self awareness is the gift of literature and to demand that literature also make us better human beings is not an expectation I have for why I read.