Friday, November 17, 2017

Dependence

My smart board went out today.

It was working fine. The kids were doing the math I had posted on it. We were about to go over the math, when - it went dark.

I tried turning it back on. I felt around in the back in case there was a secret reboot button. Then I went across the hall to get the teacher who's used one at another for years. She had no luck. So I did the only thing I could do; I crawled under my desk, curled up into a fetal position, and whimpered softly - until students tried to talk me out. Then I covered my ears and began howling.

Well, not really. Actually I got out my teacher's edition and used a marker and white board to teach the lesson. It took a minute though. I have quickly become used to using the smart board. I have my math and English Language Arts lessons ready to go every day on that board. It took a minute to change my thoughts back to pencil and white board. It wasn't automatic. I'm a victim of technology. I depend on it to be there. I've been seduced.

The tech guys fixed it later that morning. It was a blown fuse, and various devices were off line in all of the rooms on my side of the hallway depending on where they were plugged in in the classroom.

But then -

The Think Central website went down while our students were supposed to be taking their weekly online reading test. Our Title person made copies of the tests for the entire grade level and the students took them with their pencils rather than on their laptops. They adjusted well.

Now I've got paper tests I have to grade. Online, Think Central automatically grades them for us.

Oh, the humanity!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Immigrants and Sanitation

Telling the truth is now a punishable offense in some parts of the United States. At least it is in Hamtramck, one of two tiny cities nestled in the bosom of Detroit, Michigan. Hamtramck councilman, Ian Perrotta found that out the hard way after making comments that although may have been truthful, were found to be insulting. From the Detroit Free Press:

Earlier this month, Perrotta had told WWJ 950 AM there was an issue with trash and some immigrants. About 44% of Hamtramck residents are immigrants, the highest percentage of any city in Michigan. Many are from Yemen or Bangladesh. 
"There is an issue with trash in Hamtramck,” Perrotta told the radio station. “I think some of it comes from the fact that some of our immigrant population comes from areas where regular trash collection and sanitation is not available, or not a priority.”
“The previous iterations of the immigrant population were more Europeans who maybe came from places that had similar methods of sanitation,” Perrotta said to WWJ. “The current wave of immigrants is primarily from Yemen and Bangladesh.”

Uh-oh!

Nobody bothered to assess whether or not Perrotta's theory was valid. He said things that some community members didn't like. He also had the temerity to suggest that Western culture carried a bit of an advantage over the cultures of Bangladesh and Yemen. We know that's a huge no-no.

A resolution introduced by Councilman Miah read: "Councilman Perrotta’s bigoted comments relied upon and furthered harmful and hurtful stereotypes about European and Western cultural superiority over many of the immigrant cultures represented by members of this Council and the broader community."
It said: "Councilman Perrotta’s bigoted comments brought disrepute upon this body, held up members of this community and the city itself for ridicule and scorn, are demonstrably false, and have no place in civil public discourse."
All cultures are equal, right? It's bigoted to even think that Western culture is superior to others. It's also forbidden to ask why so many people immigrate to the US from other cultures if US culture is equal to the one they left.

Maybe I'm just slow, but I'm still waiting for the demonstration of the falseness of Perrotta's comments, which must be false since I assume, a majority of the Hamtramck city council and Hamtramck residents agree that it's false. If that doesn't make it "demonstrably false" I don't know what does. 

However, according to this article about cleaning up Bangladesh's slums: 

Gazipur has an estimated population of 3.5 million living in 329 square kilometers. Currently, Gazipur has weak legislation or no formal garbage management system to deal with the huge amount of rubbish and garbage produced by industries and households. The area lacks a waste disposal site to cope with the 150 tonnes of rubbish produced daily. No garbage management system operates to clear away household or community waste. Failure to regularly clean outside drains results in the overflow of fluid, making pathways slippery and difficult to move on. Disease from contaminated water is common and particularly acute during the rainy season. Common affilications include diarrhea, respiratory infections such as coughs and colds, skin diseases, and infections impacting the kidneys and liver.
“We used to throw garbage here and there, in a nearby puddle. As a result, the whole locality had a stench, and was full of mosquitoes and flies. A neighbor of ours, Kusum Ali — 9 to 10 members of his family were continual diarrhea patients throughout the year,” said Rokeya Begum from Dakshin Tetultola.
Yes, they are trying to improve things, but that doesn't change the fact that sanitation services in Bangladesh are not quite as efficient as those in the United States. Hamtramck council members are shutting down the truth.

Meanwhile, in war-torn Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East:

Hardly a paragon of waste management before the war, Sanaa was at least able to separate out the most dangerous materials from the 10-million-ton hill thanks to a nearby treatment plant.
No longer. The facility was bombed by a Saudi-led military coalition battling the armed Houthi movement which controls the capital in June of last year and again last December.
Now vast stinking pools created in part by untreated medical waste accumulate at the pile’s base, threatening to contaminate the water supply for the parched city which experts have long predicted will be the first capital to use up all its water.
Nope, nothing here that might suggest that Yemen's waste management is any different than that of any big US city. CAIR (unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing trial), of course, jumped right in. There are some truths that they will not tolerate and are "demonstrably false" because they say so. No actual demonstration is necessary.

Lesson: be careful what you say. Some people find comforting lies more satisfying than an unpleasant truth.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Why 2,000 Detroit 9th-graders just got free cell phones

Yes, it's true. 2,000 Detroit ninth graders were given free cell phones from Sprint. Why? To improve their education of course.

According to the article, the poverty rate in the Detroit School District is about 80%. Also, according to the article, some students have phones, including iphones. Some students at first refused the phones until they got a look at them. They must be might fancy phones. Not as fancy as an iphone, but they do have a "hot spot", so as we are reminded more than once, students can now do their homework.

Maybe it's because I've been losing my critical thinking faculties over the years, but I don't see the connection. Khan Academy or not, why would teachers in a district with an 80% poverty rate give homework that requires internet access? Especially if these poverty-stricken students only have iphones and can't access the web?

Oh, they're going to close the "digital divide." Students might not be able to read, but they will have internet access in order to do their homework. And we know they will pay attention to the caveats:

The phones come with some sober advice about using the device responsibly, contained in a set of information given to each student. Don't use it in class, unless the teacher says it's OK or there's an emergency, they're told.
Don't use it to bully or be mean to anyone. Don't use it while driving. Don't share personal information online like Social Security numbers, addresses or phone numbers.
And speaking of sharing, the students are told to be cautious when sharing and posting information online.
"Remember, the Internet does not forget!" 
The Internet might not forget, but students might forget to do their homework after spending their evenings on social media.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Our New Promethean Boards

The Promethean boards were installed in our rooms last week. Today we were given a few hours training on them.

I haven't yet touched the board in my room. I wasn't sure if it was ready and I had no idea what it could do our how to do the things it could do. Besides, I've seen them at other schools in the past, and we've had a portable one for years. While they looked interesting, and there were technologically advanced things I watched teachers do on them, they seemed kind of cumbersome. They were interesting, but not really impressive.

But after our training today - Wow! They've made some major technological advances in the past few years, and these babies rock! They are giant touch screens. They are monster-sized tablets. They are computer monitors. They are computers in their own right with thousands of available educational lessons and apps. You can also download things from your classroom computer or your phone onto your Promethean board. Students can work on it from their district-supplied laptops.

Teachers can use them to create and give lessons and tests, show static and moving displays, play educational videos, and probably do lots more stuff that I'm not even aware of yet because I just learned about them today, and we only spent 2 1/2 hours at the workshop.

My new Promethean board is bright, and shiny, and new, and computerized, and I can't wait to get back into my classroom to begin exploring all the  things this baby can do. And all those things I've been saying over the years eschewing classroom technology because it hasn't ever and it won't ever enhance student achievement - forget it all. I've changed my mind. These are the greatest educational tool since avocado toast.

Hmm, that was not just a mixed metaphor, it was a mixed-up metaphor. What I meant was, due to the incredible "cool" factor of the Promethean board, I want to be wrong. I want this computerized behemoth to actually lead to greater student achievement. That would make my life and the lives of my students so much easier and more pleasant.

I know that students will be much more engaged because we all become much more engaged looking at a computer screen than we do looking at paper.

However . . .

I also know that this will be another educational boondoggle. Nobody would ever try and convince us that putting a young athlete in front of a computer to play Madden NFL will improve his football skills. That only comes form lots of hard work in the gym and on the field. That's how academic achievement works too. Pick up that pencil. Apply it to the paper. Get those hand and arm muscles moving and sending messages to the brain.

When that pencil wears out, get another one. Make sure there are stacks of paper. Work hard.

Remaining hypnotized in front of a computer screen is still not the way and never will be the way students learn. Will the educational establishment ever learn that lesson?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Freshman Comp Students Struggle to Get an ''A'

They fight against learning throughout their entire school career. There's no help from parents. So it ends up like this. What a surprise.
Your first skirmish will pit you against invisible, nameless, and formidable adversaries: all those “language arts” teachers from the past who, at least according to many students, seldom held them accountable for anything. To hear them tell it, their every idea was deemed above average, รก la Lake Wobegon. Thesaurus-diving was also encouraged, so that a word like “plethora” will in their view serve their purpose much better than the perfectly clear and acceptable “many.”
And if you expect reasonably well-structured sentences with close-to-appropriate punctuation, don’t be surprised to encounter something like this: “They said all their usual announcements then they talked about a contest for writing and they read the winners that won it was only three from my school two boys and one girl.”  
Should you succeed in routing the enemy this first time, your work will have only just begun.  Although some of your students may be impressed by your promise to expect only their best work, they will view themselves as casualties if their first essay—often a revamped version of one written in high school—earns a low grade.

Why Teachers Suck

This is only part of it.
  1. … because of expectations from a broken society.
Teachers no longer simply teach their subjects.  Our schools are now responsible for raising children.  Not many kids learn basic “life skills” and attitudes at home, so we expect teachers to do what moms and dads won’t (or can’t).  Oh, and they’re also supposed to make sure the kids get fed.
Too many schools now have food / toiletry / clothing pantries for kids whose homes can’t provide basic necessities.  These are run by volunteers … and teachers, of course.
We ask teachers to teach, feed, clothe, and parent our children, but refuse them the resources, support, and time to do the job.  Instead, we shame them for not saving our fractured society.
“Not only are schools and teachers expected to fix all of society’s ills, we are also expected to turn out a fantastic product,” Susan says.  “It would be nice if it could be remembered that we are working with human capital, not with a product whose outcome we can control completely.”
And therein lies the biggest key to understanding why teacher’s suck …
Our teachers end up parenting a lot of kids, and that role comes with a costly emotional and psychological investment.  Teachers are often caring for students who are functioning orphans—and they do it for countless kids.  While they’re teaching their preps, answering emails and phone calls from angry parents, trying to ignore what some yahoo has said about them on social media, and filling out an insane amount of hoop-jumping documentation to help some politician get re-elected, they’re also trying to get the girl who’s been raped into counseling, making sure the kid out of rehab stays clean and on track, and trying to tenderly engage that discipline problem who’s now living on the streets because his parents are both in jail.
There is so much more.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A's on the rise in U.S. report cards, but SATs flounder

From USA Today:
The good news on America's report cards: More high school teachers are handing out A's. But the bad news is that students aren't necessarily learning more.
Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.
In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.
That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A's on report cards might be fool's gold.
Ahh yes, how many times have I heard from parents that "C"s are not acceptable, "A"s and "B"s only? And this would be from parents of average to below average students. The parents of true honor roll students, you know, the ones who really achieve, who earn the top grades, didn't have to tell me anything. It showed up in the work of their children. It was obvious in everything they turned in and in their daily work habits.

The problem is that some teachers have come to accept ridiculously low standards, or they don't want to have to deal with angry parents. So I get students coming into fourth grade who can't read yet have been on the honor roll every year. I used to doubt parents when they told me that. I've learned.

When we used to have honor roll assemblies, some of us would count the number of honor roll students being announced by each teacher. Sometimes we laughed. If there are 16 honor roll students in a second or third grade class of 25, you know that you are going to have a rough time when you get those kids - if you maintain your standards and honesty.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why Aren't Schools Hooked on Phonics?

You must read this article in The Metropolitan. Why? I wrote it. It may be the most important article I've ever written. It may be the only article I've ever written. But it does raise some very important points regarding elementary education.
Children don’t need expensive computer labs fitted with colorful computer programs and websites that “make learning fun.” Children need a good sharp pencil, lots of paper, and a teacher who has learned and therefore can teach the phonetic structure of English.
Here’s why. Phonics is the beginning of reading. It’s learning the sounds that the letters make, both individually and in combination with other letters. Some students, especially those whose parents read to them frequently, can usually do this with little phonetic instruction. Those children coming from poverty and a lack of household literacy usually can’t. We know that. It’s been documented and re-documented. And yet until recently, almost all big time reading programs ignored phonics in favor of “balanced literacy”, formerly known as “whole language.” Teachers began in the middle with sight words and were taught that phonics doesn’t work.
Since the “balanced literacy” name change, phonemic awareness has become a piece of beginning reading instruction, which is kind of “phonics lite” with no expectation that teachers know and understand English on a phonetic level. How can teachers teach what they don’t know? Even Common Core, which does have some phonics requirements doesn’t truly address the issue since teachers are not trained to teach phonics and don’t know enough phonics to be effective.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Legislating Literacy

Can passing news laws help children learn?
I think we know the answer to that. (And if you don't, the answer is "no".)
And yet, here in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, the legislature has passed what is known as "The Third Grade Reading Law." In theory, students who can't read at grade level at the end of third grade are to be retained. And there are supposed to be extra services for students who test below grade level in K-2. In other words, the teachers can't teach these kids to read, so it's time to call in some real experts as literacy coaches.
And who will these coaches be?
Based on past experience, they'll either be current teachers who will receive extra training in same literacy methods that haven't worked previously, or they will be para-pros, fresh out of teachers' college, who are doing this until they can get a full-time teaching gig with salary and benefits.
They will be immersed in subjects like phonemic awareness, fluency, decoding, and comprehension. They will learn (hopefully) entertaining activities that they will use with individuals or small groups of struggling readers. The activities will be "research-based". They will be "data-driven." They will entail activities on various literacy websites and programs. They will be failures in teaching students to read.
How do I know? We've been through this too many times already to not know. It's always failed, not because the students couldn't learn, or because the teachers couldn't teach, but because teachers haven't been taught to teach correctly for generations. Remember "No Child Left Behind?" or "Race to the Top?" Great successes, weren't they? Neither one focused on the ineffectual reading curriculum.
Yes, I'm getting back, as I frequently do, to phonics, or phonetic instruction, or whatever you want to call it; getting back to the beginning, the phoneme, the smallest piece of reading, so that students can begin at the beginning with tiny bite-sized pieces of impending literacy and build; from phoneme to word, to sentence, to paragraph, to story or essay, to literacy which opens up infinite worlds to them.
So like I was saying earlier, Michigan has this new law. And third grades in some of our lower performing schools are going to get very crowded if teachers are not allowed to promote their non-readers.
Fortunately (or not) there are enough exemptions and loopholes to the requirement that nobody need take it seriously. First of all, as the law currently stands, it doesn't take effect until the 2019-2020 school year. Second of all, there are nine (yes nine) possible ways out of retention. Some of them are absurd. Example:
(iii) The child demonstrates a grade 3 reading level through a pupil portfolio, as evidenced by demonstrating competency in all grade 3 state English language arts standards through multiple work samples.
Yes, a third grader who can't read will have no trouble with this. Of course, since parents can request an exemption anyway the point is moot. Yes, the exemption has to be approved by the district superintendent. For this, rubber stamps are already on order - or my name isn't "The Teacher That Exploded!"
I did find one interesting section of the bill:
(iv) Provides reading intervention that meets, at a minimum, the following specifications:(A) Assists pupils exhibiting a reading deficiency in developing the ability to read at grade level.(B) Provides intensive development in the 5 major reading components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.(C) Is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and sequential.
Phonetic, multi-sensory instruction. That's what I do, baby! Part C is what a good phonetic reading program should be. So of course, it will be ignored by school districts. And since politicians only know what their most generous lobbyists want them to know, they won't even know enough to question whether or not school districts are following these basic necessities in literacy.
In other words, we in Michigan are in line for another spin on the merry-go-round of illiteracy.
I'll be laughing just to keep from crying.