Friday, July 5, 2013

Rethinking Narrative Writing and the Common Core

Narrative writing has taken a back-seat with the common core, and I admit that, at first, I had the attitude of “wait three years and it will make a comeback with renewed importance.”   I dismissed it at that.  Then, after listening to Kelly Gallagher, Ralph Fletcher, and my general fix of NPR commentaries, the realization struck me.  “Wait a minute!  We can’t ignore the narrative – it is part of our very being.” 

If we are teaching kids to utilize primary sources for the CCSS, what are they accessing?  They are reading journals and first person accounts; in other words, narratives.  Narratives of our lives at some point become our history.

Kelly Gallagher, Secondary teacher and author of several popular books on reading an writing, makes an interesting point when he speaks about David Coleman, the “lead architect” of the Common Core and  his call to de-emphasize the narrative for students’ writing requirements within the CCSS.  In stating his case for less narrative, David ironically uses just that – a story to make his point as to why narrative writing should be de-emphasized in a rigorous curriculum.

The CCSS are supposed to prepare students to be workplace ready.  Imagine a profession that does not use a narrative story to illustrate a point (leaders, teachers, doctors, salesmen, politicians, ministers…).  In telling a story in context of a presentation or speech, the narrative provides the listener with prior knowledge to increase understanding of the subject.

So I encourage David to do what we continually encourage students to do – revise.  Revise the CCSS.  The writers of the CCSS need to realize the value of the narrative in preparing secondary students to be workplace and college ready.    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cost of Testing

Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says.

Where do I start?  Sometimes someone will say something to you that hits a nerve and you mentally react.  Every time I see this quote, or one similar, I think “what are we waiting for?”  For years we have been operating our public schools (which I support) under an agrarian system.  As a society, we look in the wrong places for results.  The idea that tests can measure student learning and teacher effectiveness alone is so far from reality.  We bore the students at the top with time spent teaching to the test and we drag along the kids at the bottom hoping they will respond and perform better on tests.  There is a time and place for tests and testing, but the testing in our public schools has gone too far. 

What can we do to bring those at the bottom of the class up in the education process?  We need to excite them.  We need to see what talents they possess and nurture those talents as we continue to teach them the basics of reading, writing and math.  We need to integrate these lessons into their skill set.  There are many individuals who have gone through Special Education, or been ranked near the lower end of their class, who had to wait until they were out of the school system to succeed with their  talents.  This should not be.

At the other end of the class we have students bored with school.  School time for them is a time to socialize, and learning equates to going through the motions to please a particular teacher in a particular class.   It is when these kids get home that they start to learn, focusing on their interests be it computer, art, or work.  One could argue that these students could not do what they do outside of school if it were not for what they had learned in school, but what if these kids were encouraged to learn more in school not just prove they can do well on a test.  

Race to the Top and the Common Core have people and educators thinking of how to push students to strive harder, and increase their expectations of themselves and what  they can accomplish  in school, but we are still falling back on expensive testing and not funding the very programs that would allow these students to achieve more in the public schools.  As a nation we are too fast to blame the teachers and students for lack of achievement.  What we need to do as citizens is to take a greater interest in our public schools and look for results in our community, not in test scores.  
For those who follow the testing debate, I encourage you to check out the following websites.
Last fall ,the following two sites were brought to my attention again: and  The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial. You may also want to follow Harvard's Graduate Education Studies Newsletter where one can find recent articles on the subject of testing, (  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Individualized Instruction is not a replacement for Gifted and Talented Programs

Many great thinkers have been self taught from books and, in this digital age, we have more resources for an individual who is self driven to expand their knowledge.  That, however, is only one type of learner, and to say that all Gifted and Talented (G&T) learners are self motivated is a grave misnomer.

There is a relatively new self-published book on Individualized Instruction by Schwahn and McGarvey titled Inevitable:  Mass Customized Learning in the Age of Empowerment.  This is a good book on laying out the foundations of individualized instruction and acknowledging the training that needs to be done for this type of instruction to be successful.  This is also a good book for book study groups, but I think we also need to balance this book with the concepts of, perhaps, Copeland’s book, Socratic Circles, particularly the thoughts presented on page 47.  Why?  Because learners need to think beyond their own mind.  It can be argued that when we share, collaborate and listen to other ideas, we learn the respect needed to work in the 21st century workplace as educators, scientists, business people and even politicians.  Imagine - what is Social Studies without expressing opinions?  What is Science without challenging hypotheses? What is Language Arts without discussions about literature, or having to revise what one thought was the perfect piece of writing?

When we expose our ideas to others we are ready to learn, for most likely our ideas will be met by the ideas of others, some in agreement and some in disagreement.  This is when the learning process begins because as with writing, we may need to revise, rethink, and rework our thoughts before expressing ourselves again.

If we are to teach beyond the minimum standards and equip the 21st century workforce with the knowledge base and skills it needs to succeed,  we need to look at our education system and see where it gets bogged down.  Federal mandates may be one place to start such scrutiny, but that is a slow process.  We need to act locally and think about our future generation of workers at the community and state level before we tackle the cumbersome federal level.  We can blame federal standards for different issues in or education system, but we can also act locally to improve our schools from the ground up.  We need to stand up for our teachers and the programs that further the growth and knowledge of our children.

Unfortunately, the legacy of NCLB is perhaps that average and above average students can take care of their own learning.  This is what I call our investment in “adequate” or minimum education.  Unfortunately, a decade has passed without challenging these students, and ignoring the gifted and talented students.   We need to invest in our G&T programs  that challenge our students and have a ripple effect in enhancing the education of all students.  When a school has a G&T coordinator to support both teachers and students, everyone benefits (as long as the program is funded).  G&T teachers can help teachers differentiate as well as work with students in small groups, or on a one-to-one basis, to enrich their learning.  Currently, G&T programs in some schools have been cut as administrators and uninformed taxpayers opt for  Individualized Instruction as a way of reaching talented students.  However, too often, this Individualized Instruction is ineffective and equates to more busy work for a student without meaningful follow-up with a teacher or mentor.   This is not education.  Individualized Instruction does have a place in our future, but involves more training than many districts are ready to pay.  Until we reach that point, we need to invest in our 21st century workforce.  

“To succeed in the 21st century, all students will need to perform to high standards and acquire mastery of rigorous core subject material.  All students will also need to gain the cognitive and social skills that enable them to deal with the complex challenges of our age.”

                                                               -The Partnership for 21rst Century

Sunday, September 9, 2012

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

For several days, this book was the source of my emotional, literary paradox: I had a hard time putting it down but then didn’t necessarily want to pick it up again. I wanted to read it but at the same time wanted to spare myself, preferred that it collect dust on the bookshelf rather than haunt my thoughts. I received the book as an advanced copy, and after I started to read, the poems began to creep into my mind routinely, playing with my emotions and distracting me periodically throughout the day. The book consists of 68 different poems; the author, LeslĂ©a Newman, created “fictitious monologues from various points of view.” The star-filled night sky, the fence that Matthew was tied to, and Matthew himself all have a voice. I think that students will have positive reactions to the book, but I feel that it helps if you, as the teacher, read it first. The message permeates most classroom discussions—arousing themes of respect, acceptance, and individuality. At the same time, I hope this book is not over taught (i.e. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher) but instead used to teach and reflect in a way only a good book can do.

To find out more, check out the book on our website. The book will be released September 25th.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

♫ Summer readin'... had me a blast... ♪ ♬

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading—both personal and professional. My favorite personal read in the last couple of months is Yes, Chef, a memoir by renowned chef, Marcus Samuelsson. I like his narrative voice; he has a way of putting you in the scene without any convoluted description or flowery language. It’s hard to put down the book, as you travel along his international path to culinary renown. I like most books that pertain to food, but he also includes personal details in such an open, simple way—you feel the raw human emotions he experienced in pursuit of his dream.
Professionally, I have picked up and put down Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. The Times Educational Supplement exclaims that this book, "...reveals teaching's Holy Grail." The author, John Hattie, has pulled together an enormous amount of research from experts around the world. I don't think that I could digest this book during the school year, but it is the perfect "pick-up, put-down" book during the summer. I find myself referencing it while researching various projects for curriculum directors and school administrators. 

Happy reading!

Monday, July 16, 2012

E-book Battles

E-books. We sell them. Some of my family reads them. Some, like myself, have not particularly taken to the new format. But, what does all of this digital publishing mean for libraries and small bookstores?
An article in the Christian Science Monitor caught my attention recently. (“Battle Over e-books in the Library” June 18, 2012 p. 43). It outlines the brewing battle over price and usage between publishers and libraries. In some cases, prices have jumped 700% due to the possibility of multiple readers reading the same copy and thereby making the publishers believe the books to be more valuable. Last year, Random House announced that e-books sold to libraries would expire after being checked out 26 times.
I have watched e-book prices yoyo as publishers try to gain and understand the e-book market—the underlying reason for the current tug of war between publishers and libraries. Will the price be what sways the reader? It did initially with $0.99 books, but publishers can’t keep up with this loss forever as evidenced by price increases. Some say the e-book will spell the end to small bookstores, but right now, I still believe it will be the below or at cost sales of Amazon and other corporate stores that affect the independent bookstores the most. But like the e-book publishers, these corporations must recover those lost profits somewhere…

Here is the link to the CSM article:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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