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Friday, May 26, 2006

Cool Education Resources

Here are some awesome educational resources that I’ve been checking out lately.

is a clearinghouse of peer reviewed educational resources out of Rice University.

Creativity Techniques offers cool tools ranging from Idea Generation to SWOT Analysis and everything in between. A must have resource for teachers and professional developers.

Learning Sciences and Brain Research Excellent resource; I used this site to create the Anticipation Guide for Brain Based Learning.

The Society for Neuroscience
offers Brain Briefings, Brain Facts as well as facilitating the neuroscientist/teacher partnerships.

Indiana University’s How to Write a Better Test Handbook is a great resource for teachers, administrators, and parents interested in improving assessment.

WikEd out of UIUC is an awesome site for teachers, parnets, and all those interested in education. It is one of the best Wiki Education sites out there today.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

All You Need to Know About Book Banning in Suburban Chicago

All you need to know about the attempt by northwest Chicago suburban high school District 214 board member Leslie Pinney's quest to ban books like Beloved, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Things They Carried , The Awakening, Freakonomics, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is this:

“Leslie Pinney admits she only read passages of the controversial selections…"

I have no comment.


In a 6-1 vote, the District 214 School Board approved the reading list as-is. This may have the added benefit of having kids actually read the books on the list, something we can't say for Leslie Pinney who soughtht to ban the books in the first place.

Are teachers and education professors ignorant or arrogant when it comes to teaching reading?

It appears that many teachers and schools of education aren’t following the guidelines put forth in the National Reading Panel. Schools of education persist in presenting all methods of reading instruction as “equally valid, and how one teaches reading is merely a decision that works best for the individual teacher" rather than teaching scientifically proven methods.

Here are the “scientifically proven” methods:

  1. Early identification of children at risk of reading failure.
  2. Daily training in linguistic and oral skills to build awareness of speech sounds, or phonemes.
  3. Explicit instruction in letter sounds, syllables, and words accompanied by explicit instruction in spelling.
  4. Teaching phonics in the sequence that research has found leads to the least amount of confusion, rather than teaching it in a scattered fashion and only when children encounter difficulty.
  5. Practicing skills to the point of “automaticity” so that children do not have to think about sounding out a word when they need to focus on meaning.
  6. Concurrently with all of the above, building comprehension skills and vocabulary knowledge through reading aloud, discussing, and writing about quality children’s literature and nonfiction topics.
  7. Frequent assessment and instructional adjustments to make sure children are making progress.
The study conducted by The National Council on Teacher Quality examined 72 elementary education programs throughout the United States. The findings are discouraging. According to the authors, “only 11 out of 72 institutions (15 percent) were found to actually teach all the components of the science of reading.”

The problem appears to be an outright contempt of the “science of reading” in professorial circles. This stance is arrogant because it flies in the face of quantitative studies and destructive because it ultimately retards the intellectual growth of millions of children. The problem is bigger than that though: "The big step between us and animals is language. But the big step between civilization and more primitive forms of human society is written language" Dr. John Searle, Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of California- Berkeley, 2004 National Humanities Medal winner for Contributions to the science of the Mind. (COTC Interview)


Many reading teachers and textbooks describe the process of becoming a reader as a natural, organic process, though there is no scientific basis supporting such a view for any child, even for children who seem to find it easy to learn how to read. Many courses indicate that exposing children to literature that speaks to their own experience will spark a natural development of reading skill; the right motivation is sufficient to build skill. However, these assertions are also unsupported by scientific evidence.

Obviously we need to right the ship. As parents we need to demand that our schools teach scientifically proven reading methods. We need to hold teachers, administrators, and boards of education accountable. As pre-service teachers we need to challenge our professors when they downplay or ignore the science of reading. We shouldn’t stop their though, we need to hold professors accountable for propagating reading myths by outing them.

Undoubtedly, some folks will argue that the National Council on Teacher Quality is a conservative think tank ala the Fordham Foundation, but remember to distinguish between name calling and the refutation of facts when evaluating their research. The future of our civilization may depend on it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Anticipation Guide for Brain Based Learning

True or False

  1. The brain is only plastic for certain kinds of information during specific "critical periods", with the first three years of a child being decisive for later development and success in life.
  2. There are visual, auditory and haptic types of learning.
  3. We only use 10% of our brains.
  4. In bilingual students, two languages compete for resources.
  5. Knowledge, acquired in one language, is not accessible in the other language.
  6. In order to become bilingual the first language must be spoken well, before the second language is learned.
  7. Left brain/right brain dominance determines a person’s way of thinking and his/her personality.

Go here for the answers.

Teachers Differ on Prior Knowledge of "Prior Knowledge"

What’s your prior knowledge of “prior knowledge”? Where does prior knowledge come from? What role does it play in learning? Researcher Helen Meyer asked teachers these questions and found out that their conceptions of prior knowledge (pk) differed with experience and expertise.
Novice teachers believed that pk came from prior teaching as in “I hope that they have studied this before.” However, expert teachers believe that pk comes from “life experiences”.

As for its role in learning, novice teachers view pk as a hook—a way to get students engaged in a lesson—and as a foundation for new learning. In contrast, expert teachers view pk as a bridge to understanding and integrating new information. For expert teachers pk is all about building connections from one experience to another or from informal to formal learning. Pk is about synthesis.

In summary, for novice teachers students’ pk is about nouns; for expert teachers it is about verbs. Novice teachers sought to replace faulty pk like one might replace a brick in a wall. While expert teachers viewed pk as a means to get at how students put their ideas together and to get them to think in new ways about what they are learning.

Novice teachers are also less apt to adapt their teaching according to students’ prior knowledge than were expert teachers. This does not mean that novice teachers are bad teachers; it means that they are learning how to teach. Let’s make sure they have a firm understanding of how to fully realize the potential of mining students’ pk.

What we need to take away from Meyer’s research is the need to clearly define terms like prior knowledge and explain how to integrate it into teaching beyond a “hook”. Mining students’ prior knowledge is critical to enhancing student learning. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to implementing it in the classroom.

Related Posts
Knowledge Management and the Classroom
ACT Reading Prep and th 2 Point Conversion

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Mental Edge in Teaching and Learning

I just picked up a copy of Kenneth Baum’s The Mental Edge. Baum is a premier sports performance consultant. He has worked with Olympic and professional athletes. His book is all about maximizing your athletic performance, but I think it has a lot to say about teaching and learning. Early in the book, Baum outlines "10 Perception Stretchers" that have a direct application in the classroom.

  1. “A loss becomes a gain if you change how you trained.” So, if your students aren’t doing well on assessments, examine your approach and make the appropriate modifications. Teach your students to do the same. Have them examine their deficiencies as a means to lean about themselves and modify their learning.

  2. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” I have heard this one a million times, but Baum is right. When we resist change we are refusing to admit that there is a path to improvement. However, being able to change and adapt is critical to increasing our performance and the performance of our students. This means taking risks and trying new approaches in the classroom. In essence we all need to become educational explorers. The added benefit in teaching this way is that it gets us outside the monotony loop. Each day we are energized. This approach to teaching fights off burnout and the desire to phone it in. Of course we should encourage our students to discover new ways of doing things too. If you’ve ever watched a kid play a video game, then you know that kids are natural explorers. We need to harness this curiosity in our classrooms.

  3. “The imagination is more powerful than the will.” This is all about visualization. Teaching ourselves and our students to visualize an experience before they actually encounter it. Walk them through visualization exercises. I used this type of preparation when preparing kids for numerous assessments. I even had students compare their actual experiences to the visualized ones. An added benefit is that visualization strategies go a long way toward preparing students for stressful situations like testing.

  4. “The mind gets in the way.” The student who knew it all, but didn’t execute on the high stakes exam is an example of the mind getting in the way of optimal performance. Remember that brain research indicates that students who perform well on high stakes tests have more efficient brain activity than those who don’t perform well. Doubt is a killer distracter for our students. It feeds anxiety and impedes focus. Unfortunately, when it comes to performance it appears to be all about focus.

  5. “Limitations are temporary.” Teach kids that there are no limits to what their minds can do. When students understand that they can always forge new neuropathways, then they are more open to learning. Feelings of intellectual inferiority are replaced with feelings of hope. In essence, teaching kids that limitations are temporary teaches them to be resilient. That’s why it is important that students have a basic understanding of the brain. It is time to create a nation of little neuroscientists.

  6. “Anyone can improve.” That’s right even the best can get better. Despite being the best in the world, Tiger Woods still works on his game. We can always improve our teaching and learning if we are willing to work on the weak points. This is an inspiring lesson for students. A taste of improvement goes a long way toward sustaining increased academic achievement.

  7. “Events have no meaning except what you give them.” This is all about mindset and flow. We create meaning. Our perception of things is the reality we live. Therefore, education should not be a zero-sum game, but a continuous improvement game. Think about the meanings we attach to things and how that frames our experience. Think about how kids perceive our classrooms. Perception makes us negative or positive people. We can help students manage their perception of learning by helping them framing it as positive, neurobic experiences.

  8. “Getting better is more important than winning.” I remember telling my baseball team that the real accomplishment will be when we play the “perfect game”. We never did, but it gave us a focus beyond zero-sum thinking. The same holds true in the classroom. The key is to persuade the students that improvement is better than “winning”. After all who improved more the student who comes in knowing everything and cruises to an “A” or the student who struggles overtime and improves to an “A”?

  9. “Practice like you play.” If we want students to perform well on high stakes assessments then it makes sense to give them plenty practice that mirrors the big day. This is essential if we want to break students of self-defeating test-taking behaviors like answering the questions in numeric order. The “practice like you play” mantra holds true for performance assessments too. All too often students are required to give oral reports in school with out as much as a mini-lesson in public speaking. The solution is to scaffold the oral report with mini-lessons that introduce public speaking and require students to practice public speaking with critique. One method of scaffolding is to have students talk to the duck. It is time to put the meat in the “learn by doing” approach to education.

  10. “The more you expect from a situation, the more you will achieve.” Yes, Baum is all about internalizing high expectations. Remember, it is one thing for us to have high expectations for our students; it is quite another thing for students to have high expectations for themselves.
Of course there is more to Baum’s book than the "10 Perception Stretchers" outlined above. I strongly recommend reading The Mental Edge, because it complements the latest in brain research and learning theory in a reader friendly way.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

E-Prime the Classroom

We all want our students to write with clarity, but seldom do we give them the tools to get the job done. Student writing often appears both vague and flat. We tell them to tighten up their language, use a variety of verbs, to show and not tell. We tell them lots of things and expect them to get it. Sadly, most students don’t get it at all. They want a rule and not ambiguity.

We must E-Prime our classes. E-Prime prohibits the use of the verb form “to be” in all its forms. For example the phrase “roses are red” becomes “roses appear red”. The phrase “the book was great” becomes “I like the book”. Cool, huh?

Obvious bonus: practicing E-Prime eliminates the passive voice.

Therefore, ban the forms of the verb “to be” in all written work. Essentially, transform the classroom into an E-Prime zone. I recommend reading Elaine C. Johnson’s “Discovering E-Prime” for a classroom perspective on E-Prime.

To recap, E-Prime bans:
  • be
  • being
  • be
  • being
  • been
  • am
  • is; isn't
  • are; aren't
  • was; wasn't
  • were; weren't
  • I'm
  • you're; we're; they're
  • he's; she's; it's
  • there's; here's; there's
  • where's; how's; what's; who's
Related Posts
Find Something You're Passonate About
Teach to the Duck
Little Idea: See What Students See
Big Idea: Teacher Stories and Professional Development
Big Idea: Teachers enroll in classes at their schools
Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Good Teacher or Great Teacher?

In my experience as a parent and a teacher, I can attest that great teachers are honest, passionate and gritty individuals who are never satisfied with “good”. Today, I’m going to focus on the qualities of great teachers; the kind of teachers I want my daughter to have. Great teachers have to be honest people. After all, no one wants his or her child taught by a dishonest person. Honest teachers engender trust, and trust is a critical component in fostering a diverse learning community—be that a classroom or a school. Thankfully, the vast majority of teachers are honest people.

However, a great teacher needs to be more than an honest individual. After all, my accountant is honest, but that does not make him a great teacher. No, honesty is best viewed as a prerequisite for a great teacher. Good teachers are honest, but great teachers are passionate about teaching and learning. The surest sign that a teacher is passionate is evidenced through reflective practice. Great teachers use a variety of strategies to interrogate their instructional practices. For example, great teachers use formative assessment to diagnosis student progress and instructional effectiveness. Great teachers realize that teaching and learning are about continuous improvement and are never satisfied with their results. This drive to improve feeds their passion to perfect their craft and realize ever-higher levels of student achievement. Needless to say such teachers are intellectually curious and creative people.

It should be no surprise that great teachers are gritty individuals. I define grit as the determination to accomplish an ambitious, long-term goal despite the inevitable obstacles. Grit encompasses tenacity, resiliency, self-discipline, and optimism. Teachers with grit never quit.

The difference between good and great when it comes to teachers is one of character and work ethic. In a world of instant messaging, speed dating, and immediate gratification, being a great teach comes down to perseverance.

Related Posts
Badass Teachers...
Selling the Benefit to Students
Teachers enroll in classes at their school
Think Alouds, Justifying Methods, and Learning Jams
Knowledge Management and the Classroom
Teacher Stories and Professional Development
Teach to the Duck
See what the students see

Cheating, Academic Honesty, and Creativity

Academic honesty is hot because of academic competition and high stakes testing. Schools across the nation are wrestling with cheating, and an entire industry has sprouted up around academic honesty. Ipods, Blackberries, graphing calculators, photo phones, text messaging, paper mills, and Ebay have made cheating easier and more sophisticated than ever.

Companies like Turnitin and Caveon offer sophisticated gotcha services to schools for a fee. For example, Turnitin will compare electronic copies of your students’ papers to its database and highlight “lifted” passages. Caveon services include forensics to identify exam cheats.

However, the solution to classroom cheating doesn’t reside in the tech sphere; it resides in the teaching and learning sphere. Creative“plagiarism proof” assignments are critical to restoring academic honesty to our classrooms. Sometimes it is a simple as placing constraints on assignments like utilizing essay templates that force students to synthesize information instead of appropriating online resources.

As for cheating on assessments, vigilance wins the day. That said, Caveon has an informative slide presentation on cheating. The oldies but goodies are there like the rubber band method, but so are the more sophisticated methods too. Anyway, if you are a teacher or administrator it is worth a look.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Leadership Team Qustionnaire and Teacher Satisfaction

This entry is a riff on “Ten Self-Defeating Behaviors to Avoid” by Mark Goulston applied to school leadership.

If you’re on a leadership team and your team is guilty of these behaviors, change now.

If you’re a teacher and your school’s leadership team is guilty of these behaviors—find another school before your career becomes a variation on Sisyphus. Your career curve and mental health may well depend on how you answer these questions.

Is your school leadership team guilty of lousy leadership?

Do they
  • think their indispensable?

  • talk over teachers?

  • not listen to teachers?

  • micromanage teachers?

  • embrace the latest educational fad without even reading the book?

  • speak in educationese?

  • are afraid to fire the real awful teachers?

  • fear confrontation?

  • fail to get buy-in?

  • take attendance at every meeting?

  • solicit input, but don’t consider it?

  • take programs because programs mean more money?

  • blame teachers, parents, students?

  • restrict access to opportunities to their “pet favorites”?

  • use other people to enforce their rules?

  • selectively enforce their rules?

To add to the list post a comment.