Archive for the ‘personal interactions’ Category

Years ago, I remember hearing that economics and behavior should have no effect on educational success. Poor kids, I was told, were just as smart as rich ones. I could believe that, because we lived well below the poverty mark, and I still did well in school. Has something changed? Or was I just a fluke?

According to the report The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007)  

“Research shows that poor children are less likely to succeed in school, more likely to have long-term health problems and more likely to rear their own children in poverty than their higher-income peers.”

” Recent scientific evidence further supports these findings by demonstrating that the detrimental effects of poverty are literally built into the architecture of children’s developing brains.”

Something has happened to our spirits, I suspect. I remember poor kids in the 60’s vowing that their children would never live as they had. We had spunk and hope and creativity! I cannot remember any gap or chasm between myself and the children of the scientists and engineers at the area university or government laboratories.

Nowadays, students of hardship enter my classroom with “hopeless” stamped across their foreheads at an alarming rate. When asked if she couldn’t take her studies more seriously, one student answered “I just want to get out of here so I can have some babies and “draw” (go on welfare.)

Nearly 25% of the students in our area live in poverty. I cannot fathom there being a silver bullet for this. Some days I feel as hopeless as they do. But I still believe that somewhere beneath the hurt and hopelessness is a student who wants to make something of themselves. I just hope I can find him or her before they leave my school.


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I’ve often said that I cannot fix in a few short semesters what the world has done to damage a student. As a principal of mine once said “The parents didn’t keep the good kids at home today, they sent you all they had!” It’s that home that sometimes worries me.

At a recent teacher conference, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Henry L. Johnson talk about the myriad influences on a child’s education. He mentioned the usual things like economics, neighborhood, civic and religious affiliations, etc. Then he said something that really caught my attention. He said that a family’s conversations had a profound impact on a student’s success.

One family’s conversation might be “How was school? Do you have any homework? Is everything going alright?” Another’s conversation, on the other hand might be more like “Clean up the kitchen! Get off that phone! Shut up!” And all peppered with curses and threatenings.

Negative conversations at home affect learning at school. –Dr. Henry Johnson

Everything a child comes to school to learn is filtered through everything he already knows from home. Children bring their own culture with them, and the fireworks begin when they try to impose that value set on the outside world–that is, your classroom.

This problem is too vast to try to give you some simple answer (even if I had one–and I don’t) but my hope is that when you spot “that student,” (and you’ll recognize them,) you’ll stop to think about what kinds of conversations created that behavior.

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Years ago, a theory of human development evolved along side Piaget’s famous work, but without the fanfare so often afforded to Piaget. The work of Lawrence Kohlberg and its relationship to Piaget’s is  broader than I want to examine here, but his Six Stages of Moral Development is worth looking at, even at a cursory level.

In a nutshell, Kohlberg posited that our human morals develop in six stages as we grow up. My question is: Could we hasten/improve the development of these stages simply by making our students aware of their existence?

I like to couch the stages in words which complete the statement “I am moral because…”

stage 1: I want to avoid punishment

stage 2: I want to receive the benefits of obedience.

stage 3: I want to be “good.”

stage 4: I want to be law-abiding (legal.)

stage 5: I want to be a good citizen.

stage 6: I want to be a good human being.

Yes, this short article is just a scratch on the surface, but some thought given to it might yield and idea or two worth pursuing. I plan on talking with my students about Kohlberg’s work and see where it takes me.

If you do the same, let me know how it goes.

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My Principal once told a story of a speaker at an educational conference who was from India. This Indian presenter summed up the major difference between education in America and the rest of the world when he said “In America you spend all of your time measuring the elephant. In India we spend our time feeding the elephant.”

How I wish I could spend more time feeding my students than I do measuring my students. Teachers with high stakes testing courses feel even more strongly about this than I do–I teach in the arts.

I was all inspired to blog about this but I was having difficulty putting it all into words. Then I read Canadian educator Jack Miller’s “Education and the Soul.” It sums the topic up so well I decided to just paste in my favorite paragraph and then let you go to his article if you wish.

The accountability movement  is another example of mechanization in the curriculum.  Teachers are expected to be constantly testing students so that the public is satisfied with the what is going on the in the classrooms.  Unfortunately, the tests focus on a very limited portion of the curriculum and ignore the important areas such as personal and social development.  These tests tend to  stress information that will be soon be forgotten by the student.  The student begins to see school as a game where succeeding is based on passing tests that seem to have no relevance to anything except what we might call useless knowledge.   When school is seen as a game, there is no vitality.  Classrooms become lifeless places where students focus on achievement in a narrow and competitive manner.  A curriculum of meaningless tests is another example of education without soul. 

Education without soul…what a frightening thought.

Link to Jack’s document: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=63&gs_id=72&xhr=t&q=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&pq=education+and+the+soul+john+p+miller&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&safe=active&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=9380054e42786d49&biw=1024&bih=600


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I am all about instructional differentiation. I know that each of my students is different and needs to be appreciated as an individual. I know they are the product of a unique set of circumstances. They do, however, have one thing in common: they are all in my room at the same time learning the same information and skills from the same teacher.

In that respect, they must all learn a valued life-skill: adapting to different learning styles and environments. I believe we have mis-interpreted the learning styles paradigm. Whether a student is left-brained, right-brained, kinesthetic, aural – whatever, that preferences only describes that particular student’s natural predisposition toward learning. It does not, however, mean that the only learning that student can experience is that which is presented in his/her preferred manner. We, in fact, do our students a great disservice when we give them the illusion that the great spinning world outside the walls of our school awaits with open arms to custom fit it’s square peg to their round hole.

I do not remember a time when any college professor presented English composition in any manner other than their tried and true methods. We sat in a large lecture hall with 100 other students and LEARNED to LEARN. I do not remember any employer differentiating their instructions to me on the job. Bosses expect you to adapt to them. I have never heard a member of the military tell me that their CO adapted instructions to make following orders more acceptable to them. I can hear you veterans laughing from here.

In short, the most valuable thing we can teach our students is how to learn the subject at hand. This skill, once mastered, will last them a lifetime.

Hopefully, it will be a long and successful one.

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I remember my first online course. It was a continuing education course from a nearby college which, even though just a few towns away, was still beyond a convenient driving range. I signed up by phone, got the course materials by mail, and began logging in nightly to get assignments, turn in assignments, or-and here’s the important part-enter comments on a discussion board.

The discussion board was to take the place of peer interaction. Members (students) would post their comments and invite comment or discussion, or even start entirely new discussions. A single topic and its attendant responses was called a “thread” and could be discussed at anytime during the course. Many of the instructors even required a certain number of entries to be posted, or discussions started as part of your grade.

That seems like ancient stuff now. Our students now have smart phones, i-pads, and many have digital notebooks or i-books. Add to that devices like Kindle and other e-book readers as well as the ubiquitous phone apps which allow students to access the internet for more information than we as teachers have time to ask for and you can see that our thirst for knowledge has us drowning in information.

BYOT (not an official title but one I heard recently) is becoming the paradigm for the future classroom. Students are encouraged to “Bring Your Own Technology” to access information beyond the confines of the school room. In this setting the teacher serves merely to pose the question and moderate the discussion of answers. The building of relationships becomes obsolete. We become abject facilitators.

Ok-so maybe it won’t be as bad as all that, but if we are not really careful, public education will become obsolete. We can already take college courses online, and virtual public high school courses are now available. Soon there will really be no need to sit in a classroom with a real teacher.

I suppose, however, if I can sit on the beach with my laptop and grade electronically submitted assignments and still get paid for it…hmm…let me think about that.

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Years ago I was leading a small team building conference. The leaders were trying to get across the idea of moving from committee models to team models. In retrospect, I fear it was more of a “We’re gonna be a team, darn it, now do what I tell you!” kind of thing. The members wanted to be perceived as sincere when they entered the workplace, and not just as an esoteric group who had attended a seminar and wanted to share their pie in the sky.

At one point, I tried to assure them that if everyone on the team honestly bought in to the new vision, everyone else would follow suit and soon the new behavior would become routinized. I then told them what I call the 100th Monkey Theory. The theory is based on the study of Japanese Macacas in the 50’s, but I can’t recall where I heard it first, but Ken Keys wrote a book on the effect

The theory goes like this:

Imagine a monkey in the jungle looking for food. He eats the same thing day after day. Then one day, he finds a banana or mango in a stream, or perhaps washed clean after a rain. (In the real story, researchers gave the monkeys sand caked sweet potatoes) He realizes he likes clean food better than dirty food just lying on the ground, AND he figures out that if he puts his food in the stream it gets clean. This monkey begins to wash his food on a regular basis.

Soon, another monkey sees this behavior and tries washing his food as well. In time another joins, and soon many of the monkeys wash their food.

Now, at some point, let’s say when the 100th monkey begins to wash his food, if you were to see them washing their food, you would simply say “Yeah, monkeys do that,”  when obviously in the beginning they did not.

Routinized behaviors become the norm.

Then the point I was trying to make took and unexpected and beautiful turn. One of the people at the seminar leaned back and said:

“So what we need is 100 people talking good about our organization.”

I smiled and said “Yes, I suppose so.  Are you willing to be the first?”

He returned the smile and answered “Yeah, I guess I’ll be your first monkey!”

We had a good laugh and a good seminar, but the lesson outlived the session. So let me ask you. If what you need at your school is 100 people talking good about it…

Will YOU be that first monkey?

(To read the original story go to http://www.worldtrans.org/pos/monkey.html )

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