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8 Articles Categorized in "Books"

Maren Johnson | Books, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | November 13, 2013

Class Size and Deathless Prose: Clamor in the Classroom!

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by Maren Johnson

When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you're not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.

~Frank McCourt, Teacher Man

McCourt, a thirty-year teaching veteran and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes, is describing the reason it took him so long in life, until the age of 66 actually, to write his first book.

Unlike Frank McCourt, I am not trying to "fashion deathless prose." I am just trying to write this blog post. However, I know what he is talking about. After a day of five classes, interacting with one hundred-and-some-impossibly-large number of high school students, putting together a coherent series of thoughts can be a daunting challenge.

Last year I had a student teacher--an outstanding one. This year, she has her own classroom in a different district. One of my fellow teachers recently gave her Teacher Man, which we also read for a school book study a few years ago. My former student teacher brought the "deathless prose" and "clamor of the classroom" quotation above to our attention. Yes, that "clamor of the classroom" is often a positive thing, but, still, it is a day-long clamor! My former student teacher is dealing with many of the challenges faced by new teachers as they enter the profession. On top of all this, she has some very large class sizes! I have a few of those as well, and some of my colleagues have classes that are downright physically crowded.

My large classes are full of students with large personalities! One student wants to tell about the funny thing that happened to him yesterday afternoon. He has a new story every day. Another student has a long, complicated, and ongoing drama involving a boyfriend. A student is learning English and wants to follow me around asking questions. Another student is learning English and sits silently. One student unexpectedly shows up with some silica salts that change color when dehydrated. This will require a Bunsen burner. Three students are about to leave for the sports event and need their homework right now. All that put together adds up to "clamor in the classroom," seriously complicated by large class sizes!

While the sheer number of daily human interactions itself can sometimes be hard for both students and teachers, there are other reasons large class sizes pose problems. With smaller classes, we are able to provide more individualized attention to each student--and students have more opportunities to make relationships with adults in the classroom and with eachother. Low income students show especially large academic gains when they have small class sizes. Teachers stay in the profession longer when their class sizes are not so large--and this results in more consistent and stable instruction in schools.  School counselors with large caseloads face similar issues.

Back in 2009, the Washington state legislature passed ESHB 2261, which established the Quality Education Council. The Quality Education Council adopted recommendations for specific lower class sizes, but staffing allocations in the state budget have yet to fund these.

Now the Washington state legislature needs to put its own recommendations for lower class sizes, recommendations adopted by the Quality Education Council, into place in our schools.  It might be time to clamor for it.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | September 17, 2013

Growth, Part Two: Open to Learning

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By Mark

About a year ago I was sitting in a training, titled "Common Assessments, blah, blah, blah" (I can't remember the title).

But it was in that session that I remember, for probably the first time if not in my career then in a long time, actually learning something I thought I could use. Hence, this facebook status update:

Esd training

I had just finished my tenth year of teaching, and was about to embark on my eleventh and begin referring to myself as "mid-career."

In reflection, it obviously wasn't that I had never been exposed to quality professional development. (Well, maybe...) The change, though, happened in my head. Suddenly, I was at a point in my career where I was mentally ready to learn. Seeing a new strategy was no longer a threat meaning that "the way I teach is wrong." Rather than feel obligated to accept and apply everything the trainer offered, I realized that even walking away with the tiniest applicable nugget was a success.

It was really at that moment that I finally began to grow as a teacher. It started by simply becoming open to learning that challenged me, rather than only being open to learning that already fit into my current view of myself and my practice.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Science, Travel | November 15, 2012

What’s that standard? Excellence in Washington State and Finland

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by Maren Johnson

Pasi Sahlberg 1I attended an amazing conference in Seattle this week, Excellence in Education: Washington State and Finland. We learned about some great things going on in Finland, we learned about some great things going on in Washington, and I experienced some culture shock.  Was it the differences between Finland and the United States that struck me?  Well yes, there was that, and that is what got me started thinking about culture.  However, instead of international differences, I was thinking about some of the cultural as well as philosophical differences between education groups in our own Washington state: differences between people who are in the classroom and those making policy decisions guiding classroom work; differences between policy makers and those doing education research. How to overcome those differences and build on them?  Keynote speaker Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of Finland’s Education Ministry, said, “So much of what we do in Finland, we have learned from American researchers and educators.”  He then very provocatively said the difference is that in Finland, they actually implement that research!  Here in Washington, we need to get those research<—>policy<—> implementation links tightened up, and yes, those are double-headed arrows: information needs to flow each way!

There are some vast historical and social differences between Finland and Washington—an education system cannot just be transplanted.  However, Finland has not always been an education high performer—it languished in the mid twentieth century—but over the past several decades, as Pasi Sahlberg said, “Finland has improved a lot, while the rest of the world has improved a little bit.”  This improvement can be traced to policy decisions.  What are a few of the Finnish Lessons we might learn?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 20, 2012

The Mindsets

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FWhen I was an undergraduate, I loved having the opportunity to choose whichever courses interested me. Outside of my major, I took everything from calculus to photography to sociology. I also took advantage of another benefit offered: the option to take courses "pass/fail." I engaged this option whenever there was the chance that I would earn less than an "A."

At the time, I justified it from a financial standpoint. I had tuition and housing scholarships which required a certain GPA: a "C" would harm my GPA, but a "P" had no effect on it and I'd still earn the credit. However, in hindsight, I see that this behavior was a sign of something I'm only now starting to understand: my transcript was my identity.

Recently at an after-school meeting, one of our building associate principals shared an article summarizing the work done by Carol Dweck of the Stanford University School of Psychology. The gist: while it is not absolute, there are generally two "mindsets" into which people can be classified--the "fixed" mindset and the "growth" mindset. 

A person whose disposition is in the "growth" mindset will relish challenge, recover from failure having learned and applied critical lessons, and "end up" in a different and usually better place from where they "start out."

In college, I was clearly of the "fixed" mindset.

Mark Gardner | Books, Life in the Classroom, Literacy | October 14, 2012

The Budget

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Sale booksAnother invisible: the budget. I spend a lot of time on amazon.com as part of my job. As chair of the English department, I have keep up the inventory of our resources--a key resource, of course, is our store of books. Every student at my school is required to take an English class, and my department budget works out to be about $1.80 per student per year. Granted, once you buy a book you can use it multiple times--but books also wear out, and our department budget also has to cover, among other things, basic supplies like paper, staples, dry erase markers, and the other necessities that my 18 full- or part-time English teachers usually end up buying out of their own pocket when the department supply runs out around mid-November.

When I get an email that we are a class-set short of copies of an anchor novel in the curriculum, I have to find a way to cover that gap. In a dream world, I'd buy library-bound hardcover copies of each novel, which start at about $20 per copy. Scratch that: in a dream world, I'd supply all of my students with e-readers wherein they can interact with, annotate, and easily carry their texts. 

Travis Wittwer | Books, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | December 26, 2011

Camp Fired

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 By Travis

The message is clear. Very clear.

On the surface, the message comes across as positive, saying there is an organization out there to help children. I am all for helping children.

However, there is hidden message. An agenda, perhaps? This subtle meaning sends its message to the community even if the community does not consciously read it that way.

Mark Gardner | Books, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Parent Involvment | September 22, 2010

Banned Books Week

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Source: American Library Association (click for source site) By Mark

It is one of my favorite times of year... Banned Books Week is September 25th through October 2nd. The American Library Association (click on the photo to go to their site) promotes the freedom of choice by encouraging libraries across the nation to celebrate every American's right to choose not to read controversial books.

Notice that I didn't emphasize "every American's right to choose what they read." When I consider the titles which have been challenged or banned over the years, what I see is not just the loss of a choice to read a book but the loss of the choice to not read. There is a reason I haven't read Mein Kampf and haven't watched Natural Born Killers. These are not the same reasons I choose not to read Twilight or watch, well, Twilight, but the fact is that I have the right to choose not to consume these texts. That decision was not made for me. Sure, I agree that every student's parents have the right to say that a text is not appropriate for their kid and ask for an alternative if a text is assigned in a class. 

But, there are only two parents who have the right to say what text is not appropriate for my kid.

Appropriately, this year's theme for Banned Books Week is "Think for yourself and let others do the same."

It's particularly fun this year that Banned Books Week corresponds with my teaching of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Down on the farm, literacy is wielded like a weapon. Those who are literate easily overpower those who are illiterate, essentially enslaving them by controlling information (hello FoxNews). A great Orwellian theme, and one to which we ought always pay close attention.


As a side note: There's a very intriguing interactive map at the ALA press-kit site which uses Googlemaps to tag exemplars of challenged or banned books. Some of the titles and reasons are rather surprising.

Travis Wittwer | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mathematics, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Parent Involvment, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech, Weblogs | February 7, 2009

Stories from School now on Twitter!

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