Tuesday, April 22, 2008
But the whimpering kept going, so I went to go down to check on him.
On the way downstairs to my son's room, I glanced in at my five-year-old daughter. She was gone.
Panicked, I rushed downstairs. She was sitting with her knees pulled up to her face outside my son's door, whimpering.
I said, "Sweetheart, oh my goodness, what's the matter?"
She said, "You left me behind."
I said, "Oh, no sweetheart. I didn't leave you behind. I had my door shut so I wouldn't wake you up with the light. I would never leave you behind."
I picked her up and tucked her into bed next to me. She was glued to me the whole night. I didn't sleep very well, but she did.
She had a tough day yesterday. Went over to a friend's house, where her friend's mom reported that the friend had a melt-down. When I walked in, it was clear that a good time was not being had. She said she never wanted to go over to her friend's house again.
She later asked, "Daddy, what if you die?"
A little later, she asked, "What if mommy dies?"
My little girl is growing up.
Most of us have already grown up. Most of us are alive, but most of us are alive while drowning. This is the human condition - to avoid drowning for as long as possible.
How to hold my little girl and keep her afloat in a world where so few are saved from drowning? How to trust that she'll learn to swim, that avoiding drowning won't be so scary, that she'll get used to it, like we all do?
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Elkind has an impressive background. He has written more than 400 book chapters and articles, and several stories for children. His numerous books include Reinventing Childhood (1998), All Grown Up and No Place to Go (1998), and Ties That Stress: The New Family Imbalance (1994). From 1964 to 1965, Elkind was a national Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at Piaget's Institut d'Epistemologie Genetique in Geneva, Switzerland. Much of Elkind's work can be seen as an attempt to duplicate, build upon, and more fully explore Piaget's theory and research. Elkind's research has focused on cognitive, perceptual, and social development in children and adolescents, as well as the causes and effects of stress on children, adolescents, and families.
Here are few key quotes from an article Elkind wrote in 2001 called "Much Too Early!"
The deployment of unsupported, potentially harmful pedagogies is particularly pernicious at the early-childhood level. It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents.
Evidence attesting to the importance of developmentally appropriate education in the early years comes from cross-cultural studies. Jerome Bruner reports that in French-speaking parts of Switzerland, where reading instruction is begun at the preschool level, a large percentage of children have reading problems. In German-speaking parts of Switzerland, where reading is not taught until age six or seven, there are few reading problems. In Denmark, where reading is taught late, there is almost no illiteracy. Likewise in Russia, where the literacy rate is quite high, reading is not taught until the age of six or seven.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The eight essays that make up our special “Rewriting the Script” section offer a devastating indictment of the sorry state of teaching and learning that No Child Left Behind has wrought. There is also hope for the future.
Seeking changes within the NCLB framework is not the way to begin the next four-year term, says FairTest’s Monty Neill in the lead essay, “Beyond NCLB.” Neill urges progressive educators and activists to think outside the NCLB box, to be audacious, to search for new language and demands that more adequately reflect what we want rather than merely what we think they can get. The special section includes work from Rethinking Schools editors Linda Christensen and Wayne Au, as well as teachers, activists, and teacher educators.
The issue includes a revised version of my piece, "The Scripted Prescription: A Cure for Childhood."
Please visit the RS web site. Better yet, subscribe. This is a fantastic resource for everyone concerned about social justice and public education.
Friday, April 11, 2008
The most important thing, I think, is to make sure that they know that I am in complete control of everything going on, that there's not a step that I haven't planned in advance.
Elementary School Teacher, Houston, TX
I assume they just don't know anything.
Mary Abdel Sayed
Elementary School Teacher, Houston, TX
Here's a good example of kids in training using Direct Instruction.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
The political mania for inflicting high-stakes tests on students has reached such insanity that a couple of years ago when a teacher revealed that Harcourt, publisher of the widely used Stanford 9 test, sends out instructions on what a teacher should do when nervous children vomit on the tests (soiled tests cannot be discarded but must be returned to Harcourt), it wasn't even a three-day wonder. No group stepped forward and demanded that schools discontinue practices that make kids vomit.For many students, these Stupid Pet Kid Tricks -- as inane as they are -- are not easy. So why might this be the case? As part of the focus on simple, measurable skills, 4 and 5-year-old children are being asked to perform their knowledge in an environment in which their performance on these measures bears an extraordinary weight. The vast majority of children have their fate determined by them. As Monty Neill noted,
The long history of tracking in the US also suggests that students who enter pre-K or K "behind" will be assumed to be less capable of learning and thus put in "slower" classes through which the gap in learning outcomes will expand. "Intelligence" tests have long played that pernicious role, complemented by "achievement" tests. Through these instruments, race and class effects are instrumentalized as "scientific" or "objective."High-stakes assessment, indeed. Starting in pre-K.
As I noted here, a lot of kids are being asked to do things they simply can't do. My daughter is one of these kids. I don't know what it's like from her perspective, but I imagine she looks around and sees one or two kids rolling over, fetching, and playing dead rather well and perhaps thinking to herself that she will never be able to roll over, fetch, and play dead as well as some of her friends can. And -- since school is the place where you are taught to roll over, fetch, and play dead -- that school is not the place for her or, at the least, a place where she will never be good at what is valued there.
For the students that don't excel at high-stakes displays of intellectual acumen/precociousness, learning and schooling become synonymous with anxiety. Reading becomes synonymous with anxiety, as does writing, math, etc., etc. But this is true even for the students who do excel in this context: reading becomes synonymous with anxiety, as does writing, math, etc., etc.
In other words, anxiety becomes the driver of learning even for those that excel in such a context, where the goal is to roll over, fetch, and play dead even better than you currently can.
And for those that do not excel, the physical expression of this lack of achievement comes in the form of the vomit they expel onto the bubble sheet of the standardized test they're forced to take.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
B: Oh, yeah. How do you know?
B: Wow. Really?
B: But that doesn't mean your
They're being taught to concentrate on those things which can be most easily measured. So "reading" is not really reading at all, but rather discrete skills like sound and letter recognition and recall skills involving regurgitation from short-term memory.
Here's a passage from my district's Comprehension Scoring Guide on how to use the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) in response to the question, "What is the benchmark level on the Comprehension Scoring Guide?"
Before moving to the next assessment level students are to not only read accurately (90%-100%) and fluently but also to score in the “Adequate” to “Very Good” range on the Comprehension Scoring Guide.Note that "accuracy" has a specific quantifiable value. Note also the expecation that (1) all kids are supposed to be at the same level at the same time and (2) that something as complex as comprehension can be reduced to either "adequate" or "very good" via a generic scoring guide that asks children to do things like recall events from a story, recite key details, answer literal questions, and make inferences. They are given points for each correct answer. Note also that "fluency" is defined as being able to read quickly without making mistakes.
So do these assessments inform instruction? Or do they determine instruction? In other words, are some kids being taught how to read and write based exclusively on these data?
I spoke to the principal at my daughter's school about assessment. She claimed that the DRA and the DIBELS (they use the DIBELS at the school in addition to the DRA) are just one form of measurement, and that they use others. But when I asked her what measurements they used, how often they were used, and how they improved instruction, she had no answer. She just kept insisting that these practices were in place.
I'm reminded of something that Seymour Papert wrote regarding fluency, something that provides a stark contrast to this incredibly mechanized, utilitarian notion of fluency. Papert worked with Jean Piaget in the 1960's and developed complex notions of how children think and learn. He was also a pioneering force in developing links between learning and technology. In "Technological Fluency and the Representation of Knowledge," Papert and his colleague Mitchel Resnick wrote,
What does it mean to use technologies fluently? To be truly fluent in a natural language (like English or French), you need more than phrase-book knowledge; you must be able to articulate a complex idea or tell an engaging story -- that is, you must be able to make things with language. Analogously, fluency with new technologies involves not only knowing how to use technological tools, but also knowing how to construct things of significance with those tools.Needless to say, these reductive measurements do not determine how well children can construct things of significance. Rather, they tell you how quickly and accurately children can perform Stupid Pet Kid Tricks.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The long history of tracking in the US also suggests that students who enter pre-K or K "behind" will be assumed to be less capable of learning and thus put in "slower" classes through which the gap in learning outcomes will expand. "Intelligence" tests have long played that pernicious role, complemented by "achievement" tests. Through these instruments, race and class effects are instrumentalized as "scientific" or "objective."
What Finland suggests is that there is simply no need to cram pre-reading "skills" down the throats of unready little children, or to turn kindergartens into drill sites. But that is precisely what is happening in the US, accelerating a trend that began some time ago. Deborah Meier, for example, has been traveling around the country, sadly noting the disappearance of 'play' in kindergartens. (As Peter noted, read David Elkind on this.)
The tracking effect will compound early differences. Parents often grasp these realities, and so see the "need" to push their children into these academicized programs - a need based not in real learning or in whether kids could rapidly 'catch up' at say age 7 (as in, effect, Finnish youth do), but in the tracking that will make it ever more difficult for those deemed behind to catch up.
Of course, NCLB was going to end that. For those still willing to believe that illusion, read the consequences of high stakes testing in Texas in Linda McNeil et al's probing analysis. They focus on high schools, but voluminous literature shows the effects of high stakes testing and tracking.
The FairTest website has many articles and links on our K-12 pages.