Monday, February 22, 2010

Professional Development

As part of our professional obligations in the state of Michigan, we teachers have to take a certain number of "professional development" hours. Usually they are provided by the school district during professional development days and after school meetings. I don't do too well at these any more. I usually spend the day tuning out or drawing pictures. It's not that the presenters are bad (some are - some aren't) but as I've explained in previous posts, it's the same old crap repackaged - and repackaged - and repackaged.

During the last PD day, I took notes. Here they are:

I said over and over and over again, this meeting's going to be a drag.

By ignoring effective teaching strategies, we are subject to another useless workshop on a reading instructional technique that will make no difference in student achievement, and that will be replaced a few years down the road with the next latest and greatest reading program. It will be under the aegis of the next reading guru. It will have most of the same elements of Reading Workshop (the current latest and greatest - H.) because Reading Workshop has elements of previous programs. It will pay lip service to the phonetic component and it will make no difference at all.

We aged veterans will sit through these workshops wondering why those administrators in charge still buy into this madness. Why do they insist that THIS TIME things will be different. This time student achievement will skyrocket.

And a few years down the road, when we are still having staff meetings - the topic being "how can we increase flagging student achievement?" nobody will make the connection: same techniques, same refusal to begin at the beginning, same refusal to explicit phonics, same dismal results. We will find the holes in the method. They were obvious from the beginning.

New (?) technique - leveled books - but nobody asks if it wouldn't be more effective to give students the ability to figure out the majority of words.

Now we've been given a program that calls for a huge number of books, but we don't have the money.

Is this another example of more money being poorly spent?

Personally, I'd like to have thousands of books, but if we can't, a few excellent titles that teach reading and content would suffice.

Riggs - so much cheaper and more effective.

Colleges are teaching this stuff too. Must be on a carpet (another crutch?) for "turn and talk."

Constant talk of leveled books low enough in each class instead of - how do we improve skills? Oh yeah - guided reading. (a bit of sarcasm there - H.)

Conference on modifying the program. We have to modify it right out of the gate? Is this really what we want?

Stigma of reading groups now becomes stigma of leveled books.

After the meeting I unloaded on a co-worker. He's heard my rant before, and he was willing to spend a few minutes listening to m vent my frustration.

At least we didn't have to do anything on chart paper.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Teach Basics?

I did my student teaching in an Open School setting. It was child centered. Part of their reigning progressive philosophy was the rhetorical question, "Does a child really need to know what a verb is?" Their answer would have been a resounding "No!" Mechanics were not stressed at all. As I knew nothing about education, since all I had under my belt were methods classes and a few small group experiences with students, I happily went along with the program. And it wasn't a bad school. The teachers and the students seemed to be happy there. It was a magnet school, so parents had to want their children to attend. Teachers worked hard. So did some students. It was a K-8 school and I did notice that over on the middle school side of the building, things were pretty raucous . . . all the time.

I was there for ten weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. My mentor teacher was one of the best teachers I've ever seen. She didn't go wholeheartedly for the open classroom model. She had some structure and more than a few expectations. I left wishing that all schools could be like that one. I even tried to model my own classroom like the one I had learned in.

Over the years, as I'm sure I've written about, students didn't learn as much as they were supposed to learn under the open classroom model or under any of the other models that I was exposed to. I've also written about my conversion from the blind unquestioning following of "whole language" curriculum to one favoring explicit phonics instruction. This is in spite of the fact that the public schools still march in lock step to the whole language drummer, accepting new programs with the same foolish faith that previous programs were adopted. Teachers who have been in the business long enough, understand that the newest are the same as the recently discarded, but since they don't know what else to do, they grumble a bit and then go along knowing full well that except for the cosmetic changes, the newest, in this case, Reading Workshop by Lucy Calkins, most recent of big time curriculum gurus, is the same as what's been abandoned.

Explicit instruction in the basics is frowned upon, but a recent reading episode with my class reminded me why grammar, spelling, syntax, capitalization, and punctuation must be taught to avoid the current problem of high school graduates struggling to read their own diplomas.

The passage in the science book (which we read chorally) reads as follows:
For instance, the pectoral sandpiper travels from northern Canada to southern South America each fall. These birds return to Canada in the spring when the weather in Canada warms up.
No big deal, right? The problem was that in the book, it looks like this:
For instance, the pectoral sandpiper travels from
northern Canada to southern South Amer-
ica each fall. These birds return to Canada
in the spring when the weather in Canada
warms up.
At the hyphen, everyone stopped and struggled for a minute to put the word "America" together. Then they continued reading. It sounded like:
Each fall these birds return to Canada in the spring when-
That's where I stopped them and made them go back to the beginning of the passage. And they did the same thing.

So I stopped the Science lesson and gave them a lesson in punctuation. At this point, it's not that most of them can't read the words. They're only reading the words. They're not reading the stories. I reread the passage to them the way they read it and the way it should be read. Then we talked about the difference in meaning.

One of the things I've always had to work on is mechanics. Now, since students are coming into fourth grade with even lower skills, it's become more important to teach and reinforce these skills. Teachers are taught that mechanics don't matter. They can teach "mini-lessons", or work these lessons into the revision process, or who knows what. The problem is that students haven't learned what a complete sentence is. When they write, many have very little idea where one sentence ends and the next one begins. The don't use punctuation in their own writing because they don't know how. Because of this, when they read, the don't really see the punctuation, kind of like the things we see but don't really notice in our daily travels because they just aren't important. To the students, punctuation marks may as well be random scratches on their papers. And capital letters? Something to be added when the teacher tells you to add them. So I will continue to reteach these skills. Some of them will get it, but none of them will ever be able to claim that I didn't teach them.

We teachers are still battling the whole language lobby. If we are ever able to defeat them, things will get better.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Daniel Schorr Solution

I had NPR on the radio this morning as I was driving. Daniel Schorr was doing his weekly news analysis schtick with who-ever-the-host was. In discussing Obama's plan for an executive order to create a deficit reduction panel, they brought up the conundrum associated with reducing the deficit. You see, according to these two NPR geniuses, we need government spending in order to create jobs. And this, of course, will increase the deficit. We have two mutually exclusive needs which can only be solved by the Obama government.

Now, I'm probably not smart enough (as evidenced by the fact that I did not vote for Obama) to work for NPR, but in my backward, simple-minded way of thinking, it seems to me that the way to reduce the deficit is to stop spending so much money, especially the money that the government has to borrow. As approximately two thirds of government spending is done on entitlement programs, I would suggest we start cutting there. After all, entitlement spending is predicated on taking my money that I've worked for, and money from other workers and giving it to people who did not work for it. So besides cutting government spending, that would also leave more money in the pockets of the people who worked for it. We, the people who worked for the money could then take this money and spend it on things that we wanted to spend it on. You know, things like home improvement, new appliances, food, clothes, cars, books, music, vacations to exotic places.

Hey! Wait a minute. If we regular folk we allowed to keep more of our own money and spend it on things that we in our own simple minded, non-government controlled think that we want and need, more people would need to work to create the things that we want and need. Why, that would mean more jobs. For people. Outside of the government. It would be just like an uncontrolled market, a free market even.

That's my embarrassingly foolish plan. I bet Daniel Schorr and the other heavy thinkers at NPR would never come up with anything as silly as what I'm suggesting. After all, they're on NPR. They love Obama, and they understand that all wealth and all freedom is government created. The idea of being endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights is the height of naivete. How could I think such a thing possible?

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Can It Get Any Worse?

Does anything ever go right in Haiti? Outside of the Israeli field hospital, that is. It isn't bad enough that the biggest basket case in the Western hemisphere had their capital city destroyed by an earthquake. The world, well, the western world, well, mostly the United States and Israel were on the ground almost before the earth stopped shaking. Europe, through the EU is there helping too. But then there is the United Nations. Outside of trying to destroy Israel and bring down Western civilization in general, is there anything the UN is useful for? According to Jeff Andrus,

I just returned from Haiti with _____. We flew in at 3 AM Sunday to the scene of such incredible destruction on one side, and enormous ineptitude and criminal neglect on the other.

Port au Prince is in ruins. The rest of the country is fairly intact. Our team was a rescue team and we carried special equipment that locates people buried under the rubble. There are easily 200,000 dead, the city smells like a charnel house. The bloody UN was there for 5 years doing apparently nothing but wasting US Taxpayers money. The ones I ran into were either incompetent or outright anti-American. Most are French or French speakers, worthless every damn one of them.

While 1800 rescuers were ready willing and able to leave the airport and go do our jobs, the UN and USAID ( another organization full of little Obamites and communists that openly speak against America ) These two organizations exemplared their parochialism by:

USAID, when in control of all inbound flights, had food and water flights stacked up all the way to Miami , yet allowed Geraldo Rivera, Anderson Cooper and a host of other left wing news puppies to land.

Pulled all the security off the rescue teams so that Bill Clinton and his wife could have the grand tour, whilst we sat unable to get to people trapped in the rubble.

Stacked enough food and water for the relief over at the side of the airfield then put a guard on it while we dehydrated and wouldn’t release a drop of it to the rescuers.

No shower facilities to decontaminate after digging or moving corpses all day, except for the FEMA teams who brought their own shower and decon equipment, as well as air conditioned tents.

No latrine facilities, less digging a hole. If you set up a shitter everyone was trying to use it.

I watched a 25-year-old Obamite with the USAID shrieking hysterically, berate a full bird colonel in the Air Force, because he countermanded her orders, whilst trying to unscrew the air pattern. “You don’t know what your president wants! The military isn’t in charge here, we are!”

If any of you are thinking of giving money to the Haitian relief, or to the UN don’t waste your money. It will only go to further the goals of the French and the liberal Left.

If we are a fair and even society, why is it that only white couples are adopting Haitian orphans? Where the hell is that vocal minority that is always screaming about the injustice of American society?

Bad place, bad situation, but a perfect look at the new world order in action. New Orleans magnified a thousand times. Haiti doesnt need democracy. What Haiti needs is Papa Doc. That’s not just my opinion. That is what virtually every Haitian we talked with said. The French run UN treat us the same as when we were a colony, at least Papa Doc ran the country.

Oh, and as a last slap in the face the last four of us had to take US AIRWAYS home from Phoenix . They slapped me with a $590 dollar baggage charge for the four of us. The girl at the counter was almost in tears because she couldn’t give us a discount or she would lose her job. Pass that on to the flying public.
Yeah, that's the whole piece. Quite a depressing piece of journalism, don't you think? Not as depressing as the situation on the ground though.

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