Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Words That Ignite Learning - Or Don't

A great article on the Ecology of Education blog about the ways in which language influences our beliefs about ourselves and our ability to learn:
Words reinforce beliefs, and beliefs, especially those about intelligence, influence learning. Students can hold or lean toward either believing intelligence is something you’re born with (or without), or intelligence is something you gain through effort. A student who believes you’re born smart—or not—is less likely to put forth effort to learn. This student seeks to convince those around him that he is one of the chosen who were given the gift of smart at birth. Either that, or the student may believe he is not among the chosen so effort is futile. The same belief interpreted differently yields the same result: a student who is unlikely to work to learn when learning does not come instantly or easily.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Brief History of Standardized Tests

From the Mothering website:
One might hope that the education bureaucrats of our day would listen to the words of Carl Brigham, the creator of the SAT. Near his death, Brigham wrote a five-page letter to the president of Harvard, stating, "If the unhappy day ever comes when teachers point their students towards these newer examinations, then we may look for the inevitable distortion of education in terms of tests."
Read the entire article (very short) here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Window Into Wellspring

Check out some photos from Wellspring Community School on our Facebook page. While you're there, don't forget to click "Like" so you can receive updates from us regarding upcoming events and interesting articles!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Introduce Thinking in Schools

An interesting article discussing the idea of introducing a course on Thinking Big in schools (and in life):
The facilitator of the thinking module does not need to know anything about "divided middles" or "syllogistic reasoning" or "remote associates." Rather, she needs to be comfortable with -- or, to begin with, at least able to fake being comfortable with -- providing students with genuine permission to think. This involves helping them propose big questions worth answering, helping them embrace complexity and helping them honor not knowing. She should expect to feel a little nervous facilitating this module, as there is no curriculum to teach or information to impart. After a little while she will come to understand her job and be thrilled by the results.
Read the whole thing here.

And don't miss the comments - they're pretty interesting in and of themselves!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scientifically Tested Tests

Another great op-ed piece by Susan Engel about the shortcomings of standardized tests:
...we should come up with assessments that truly measure the qualities of well-educated children: the ability to understand what they read; an interest in using books to gain knowledge; the capacity to know when a problem calls for mathematics and quantification; the agility to move from concrete examples to abstract principles and back again; the ability to think about a situation in several different ways; and a dynamic working knowledge of the society in which they live.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are We Learning for Earning or for Living?

A recent article in Education Week asks this important question about the purpose of education.
The late historian Paul Gagnon, viewing schools through the lens of democracy, suggested three aims: preparing young people for (1) work, (2) citizenship, and (3) private culture. Within this framework, schools empower citizens to participate in the economy, to serve the community and have an informed voice in public decisions, and to enjoy a rich personal life nourished by the freedom to choose from all that the human experience has to offer. Gagnon also emphasized that, in a democracy, government-supported schools, at least, have the obligation to offer a first-class program of studies to every student. There are no second-class citizens, so there can be no second-class schooling-no mere training for worker-bees; no Delta indoctrinations from the Brave New World.
Read the entire article here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Value of Picture Books

A recent New York Times article links the decline in picture book sales to parents' push to read chapter books are increasingly early ages:

The economic downturn is certainly a major factor, but many in the industry see an additional reason for the slump. Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.
Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”
I wonder how much of this really is related to the economic downturn.  I have a huge picture book collection, but almost all of it was purchased before I actually had children - either for me and my sister when we were kids, or because I saw them in a bookstore and loved the art or the story.  Now that I actually have children, and the resultant budget crunch, I almost never buy new picture books - or books of any kind, for that matter.  Almost everything we read is borrowed from the library, purchased used from an online book dealer, garage sale or used book store, mooched on BookMooch, or handed-down from someone else.  I don't think that extrapolating from a decrease in picture book sales to a decrease in picture book reading is necessarily accurate.

That said, what if it's true?  What if children are being asked to read chapter books at an increasingly early age as yet another way to urge them towards higher academic achievement?  I think that would be very, very sad.  First of all, most of the chapter books for early readers that I've seen are painfully written and full of dialogue as a way to move the story.  I do not find them to be rich in narrative, or particularly compelling, at all.  My daughter can't stand them, and neither can I.  But even the good ones are missing something that picture books offer.
Just yesterday, I substituted for the Elementary One teacher who needed to take an afternoon off, and she left some reading for us to do together.  Frankly, I did expect the books to be text-heavy, but they weren't.  What they did do is engage the children, keep their attention, and encourage them the depart the text, make predictions, ask questions, learn vocabulary, and appreciate the artistry of the illustrations.  One book in particular, Some Things Are Scary by Florence Parry Heide, Illustrated by Jules Feiffer, led to an amazingly rich and powerful discussion.  The book starts out with what you would expect - swinging too high is scary, holding someone's hand and then realizing it's not your mom is scary - but then it turned to more complicated social situations.  Seeing people laugh and thinking they're laughing at you is scary.  Finding out your best friend who has a best friend that isn't you is scary.  Thinking you might not be picked for either team is scary.  
The mood in the room turned contemplative and serious as the children shared stories of times they had felt left out, awkward, unwanted, not good enough.  They felt free to share their thoughts and feelings, and their friends held the safe space for them and listened to their stories.  I listened to what they had to say, but I didn't have to try to resolve the problems or offer solutions, because simply being able to get these things off their chests and knowing that they weren't alone, that everyone feels this way sometimes, was therapy enough for them.
This was a discussion that never could have happened any other way.  The funny illustrations and situations in the book (drinking something and then finding out it wasn't what you thought it was is scary - "That's not scary, it's gross!") kept the mood light enough to facilitate such a serious discussion without getting bogged down in it, in a way that no conversation or chapter book could have.  It was amazing how easy it became to work through real and tough issues of kindness, friendship, and safety with this book as a tool.
Maybe, when we're talking about things like plot, character development, and independent reading, there is a need for the chapter books.  But when we're talking about the intangibles of literacy, not to mention the intangibles of humanity, nothing beats a good picture book.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Applied Learning in NYC Schools

An interesting article from the website of the New York City Board of Education singing the praises of "Applied Learning":

What is important about an applied learning project is that it involves students in working to create a solution to a problem that addresses a genuine need, for which there is no preconceived plan and solution but for which there is an expectation of a genuine outcome.
Working on applied learning projects is a way of helping students make connections between what they learn in school and how that knowledge is used for real purposes both in school and out of school. One of the things that teachers notice about their students when they do projects like these is the level of interest and commitment the students demonstrate.

Read the whole thing here.