Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teachers Raise Achievement with High Expectations

Faubian Elementary is a school in Portland, Oregon with many minority students from low-income families. However, the teachers at the school have high expectations for their students and because of their hard work the school the school has made dramatic jumps in their statewide assessments. Viewing the video below shows us what a crucial role the teachers play in creating a superior educational environment. The teachers collaborate and work together using a variety a techniques that best suit the individual needs of each student. What I noticed was the flexibility the teachers had to do what they thought was best for the students. The teachers seemed active and willingly engaged in doing the "hard work". I also noticed that a "program" didn't "run" the school. Teachers bought in because they were valued and were considered "the experts". For example, from an article about the school I learned that for 2 hours every other Monday,

"The staff meets to tackle one in a rotating list of topics: math, reading,writing, and life-skills education. They use the time to assess data, develop curriculum, discuss the needs of individual students, and participate in professional-development workshops -- sessions often led by Faubion teachers who have completed outside training on particular skills."
That sounds like a lot of meeting time, but note that it is the teachers who are considered the experts. They don't follow what they are told they must follow, but instead there is a choice involved. When given the choice, the teachers do what needs to be done and they seem to do it willingly, happily, and with great success.

"The key to this training is that teachers choose what they want to learn; each year, they agree on one weak area to give particular emphasis (this year, writing), and it's typically the area where test results show students need the most help. As Harbolt says, "We figure if they're weak on it, we must be weak on it.""
When the teachers are considered the experts, they do the "expert" things. There are a lot of innovative and interesting techniques going on throughout the video.

Lessons learned:

If you want to create a successful school, it takes hard work.

It's not about the "program"! It is about the best experts in the business: the classroom teacher. Treat the teachers like the experts they are. Give them the power and the support they need to do what they know needs to be done. Then, and only then, will wonderful things happen! Bravo! to the Faubian Elementary School!

A Reading Program in Need of Improvement!

Today's Washington Post reports on a Reading Program in Need of Improvement. The article "Study of Reading Program Finds a Lack of Progress" by Maria Glod takes to task the $6 billion Reading First program after a congressionally mandated study determined that students have made no greater improvements or scored no better than students in similar schools who did not use the Reading First program. Of course Reading First is a program funded by the No Child Left Behind law. Here is a sad comment from the article:

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst,director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm."I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

Of course the article also mentions that not so new allegations that some of the people who had oversight over the Reading First program also had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials. Did I mention that this is a $6 billion program? I think I smell a program in need of some corrective action.

There are some really useful things in the Reading First program and there are some dreadful things. However when will the politicians learn that it is not a program that works with students, it is the teachers. Hire good teachers and support them as much as possible so that they can do their job, but don't expect a $6 billion program to be the answer. It sounds like a lot of wasted money.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Simple Way to Learn Luxembourgish (or many other languages)

One Minute Languages is an interesting website where you can learn the basics of another language in ten short 'couple of minutes' lessons. So if you ever wanted to learn Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Russian, Japaneses, or a roster of other languages this is the place to go. Your students might find it fun to learn how to greet someone, to count to ten, or to learn a few useful phrases in different languages. If you are reading a story that takes place in one of these countries, this might be a fun website to share or use with your class.

And if you are not sure why you might want to learn Luxembourgish, just become a fan of the Tour de France. Last year three of the tours top riders where from Luxembourg. Two of them wore the yellow jersey (as tour leader) for six of the stages. What is Luxembourgish for yellow jersey?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Journey Back in Time

Things do change! Check out this class photo from Mr. Hansen's fourth grade class, when he was a student at the Mullen-Hall School in Falmouth, Ma. He is sitting right in front of the teacher, Miss Costello. Kids dressed for school differently back then, but Miss Costello looks like she would fit in as a teacher today! Kids also seemed much smaller. I think the front two rows of the class look like today's' second graders.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

Today I just finished reading the wonderful book "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo to my class. Like every class the past few years who have heard me read this book, they absolutely love this story about a brave little mouse. Today I ran across a trailer for an animated version of this story coming out this Christmas.

Oh no! This is not the book! Everything is different: the vocabulary, the scenes, and in particular, this is not how I visualized the book. Hopefully the movie will be great in its own way, but before you go see this movie, read the Newbery Medal winning book.