4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading (from Cracked.com)

I can’t be the only one who feels like the schools pulled a sort of bait-and-switch job on us when it came to reading. When I was in elementary school, they went to a lot of trouble to make sure we thought reading was fun, with bookmobiles and read-a-thons and tons of fun books about mice and motorcycles and phantom tollbooths. I had confidence that I could go to the library and pull anything off the shelf except a Baby-Sitters Club book and I wouldn’t be disappointed.

That was the bait. In junior high and high school, they made the switch. I guess they heard about how drug dealers give you free doses of the good stuff until you are addicted, and then once you are hooked, they start cutting it with 50 percent baby powder or something. Actually, junkies notice when you do this. And kids notice when you swap their fun books for boring crap.

So one summer you are reading A Wrinkle in Time or Fantastic Mr. Fox or whatever, and then you show up for your first day of school and BAM, The Scarlet Letter. And get on that pronto, kid, because we are going to talk about metaphors and symbolism in Chapter 1 tomorrow. I opened these books thinking they would be great and rewarding, like the books I was used to, but it was like biting into a delicious-looking cake and finding a bear trap. After my face had been so destroyed by so many bear traps (to continue the metaphor) that the greatest reconstructive surgeon in the world could do nothing to save it, I stopped looking at books as wonderful presents I couldn’t wait to open and started looking at them with a sort of low-level PTSD.

To read more, go here.

Positive Learning Experiences

What aspects of the classroom environment contribute to positive learning experiences?

At a minimum, the environment needs to be predictable. Whatever systems are in place, they need to be executed consistently and fairly. This includes both the harshest and most permissive learning environments. The rules need to be clear and fairly and consistently enforced. All participants (students and teachers) need to be treated consistently with respect.

I believe (somewhat controversially) that this includes understanding that most students will not thrive with boring and/or seemingly irrelevant coursework. This is where constructivist pedagogy particularly distinguishes itself. Allowing the students to construct their own knowledge, making it more durable, more relevant, and more fun.

I also believe in a risk taking classroom. In such a classroom, the students dare to be excellent and learn to cherish their mistakes. Being wrong is on the road to being right. Included in this is the humanity of all participants, their desire for inspiration.

One of my most basic philosophies comes from William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire”.

Why Do So Many Gifted Kids Think They Don’t like Math?

by TIStaff on Sun, 2011-12-04 14:15

Why do so many bright and gifted kids think they don’t like math? Experience and the reading of lots of research leads me to believe that boredom, under-instruction and poor instruction throughout elementary and middle school lie behind the problem.

My best girlfriend since high school is a math teacher north of Philly. We’ve talked about this a lot. She and I are both aware that our own math instruction lacked a lot. As I give IQ tests, too, I see something that I thought many people would be interested to know. As those who have read the work of Benbow and Lubinksi, among others, know, math-reasoning ability has a huge ability spread among individuals of the same age. Even when kids are ability grouped, there tend to be outliers—people who are truly math geniuses compared to other really bright kids—in the top group. My friend Pam and I were not math outliers but we were 99th percentile people in math. Having an outlier in your class is a problem for self-esteem and confidence related to math. What I see really missing in math instruction for high ability kids who aren’t outliers is twofold:

1. Their route through math during their school years is way too slow and easy for the first 8 or 9 years and then they’re slammed with stuff that is really challenging and for which they aren’t prepared;

2. They don’t get nearly enough practice on “story problems,” that is, how to recognize what needs to be done so they can set up the proper sequences and steps for solving the problems. There is far too much time spent on memorization of how to solve problems that are laid out for you (memorization of math facts, for example), and really bright kids who aren’t outliers quickly become overwhelmed and conclude they aren’t good at math as they see the smarter kids “get it” so quickly.

 To read more, go here.

Who Needs Advanced Degrees?

This is one of those education discussions that sends shooting pains through my head. In what other profession would anybody think that advanced degrees are not effective? Should we encourage a shift towards undergraduate medical degree programs, undergraduate lawyers, engineers?

Intuitively, masters degrees have to add value. If that isn’t true, nothing in our world makes any sense. The question we should be asking is why research shows that advanced education doesn’t improve teaching outcomes.

There are three simple answers. The truth probably lies in the intersection of all three.

First, it’s all about incentives. We pay teachers to complete these courses. We don’t pay them to have better outcomes. Why should we be surprised when they take a lot of courses but their results don’t improve?

Second, we should examine the content of the courses. Our educational system is infested with archaic concepts of dubious merit. If we want to teach teachers to be more effective, we have to teach them effective techniques. I am of the mind that teaching is an art and therefore there isn’t one effective way to teach. We need to teach alternatives – but effective alternatives. See Teach Like a Champion and Rafe Esquith for examples of two very different ways to be effective in this century.

Third, we need to look at the educational environment. Look at the pay structure. Look at the benefits structure. Look at the incentives, or lack thereof. Look at opportunities for job satisfaction and personal efficacy. Most importantly, look at what it takes to be a successful teacher. Ask if the environment attracts the people who can do the best job? All too often, teaching is much too much like working at the DMV. Why should we be surprised that the intrinsic motivation of many teachers doesn’t match our aspirations.

Anyway, here’s the article. What do you think?

States’ Costs Skyrocket on Master’s Degree Pay for Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk on July 17, 2012 2:18 PM
Despite little research supporting the practice, paying teachers for earning advanced degrees continues to cost states billions of dollars—in 2007-08, an estimated $14.8 billion, or 72 percent more than just four years before that, according to a report released today by the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

The report contends that the funding could be better spent on other compensation schemes, such as offering more to teachers in shortage fields, like math or special education; higher salaries to retain the best teachers; or incentives to teachers who take difficult teaching assignments.

Research indicates that, outside the areas of content degrees in math and science, there’s not a lot of evidence to support the idea that advanced degrees make for better teaching. (About 90 percent of the master’s degrees held by teachers are from education programs, the CAP report states.)

The report builds on CAP’s 2009 analysis, which estimated that the degrees cost some $8.6 billion in 2003-04. The study employs much the same methodology—using U.S. Department of Education and National Education Association collected data to compute the average salary increase for earning a master’s and applying that to the average salary figure and total number of teachers. The report’s authors, CAP’s Raegen T. Miller and the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s Marguerite Roza, provide a state-by-state breakdown of the figures.

To read more, go here.

Mr Whiskers

What type of classroom management do you favor? Why? What will you do if your style is different from your master teacher(s)?

I am a firm believer in non-disciplinary approaches to classroom management in a 5th grade classroom. I believe one core contribution I make to my students is teaching them life skills. I believe (a la Alfie Kohn) that punishments and rewards teach selfishness. This is because in a rewards system, a student’s behavior is linked to a student getting stuff, good stuff and bad stuff. Students learn “If I do this, I get that” with little or no link to intrinsic logic. To teach more effective life skills, discipline needs to be internally motivated. This may appear harder than just using external methods, but my experience is external methods don’t actually change behavior. They just moderate it. Instead, I would start day one with teaching Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development and apply that as a template to discussions of behavior in the classroom. I also believe that most misconduct stems from boring and/or irrelevant lessons. My goal would be to make my lessons sufficiently relevant and interesting such that inability to participate in lessons is sufficient incentive to act in a socially responsible manner.


I worry that some students might get diminished by any negative observations. There is that theory about building high self-esteem, after all, and I certainly don’t remember my teachers caring about my self-esteem (and I didn’t like it). However, I’ve found (and read) that this approach is ultimately ineffective. Better is having very high expectations of each student. Sure, it is essential to balance positive comments with discussions of areas needing improvement but even this doesn’t quite work for me. What I have settled on for the moment is to care about the student’s work and reflect to them the strengths they’ve displayed and the areas for further work. I’ve tried hard to build a culture of kaizen (constant improvement) and one that accepts mistakes. “Cherish mistakes,” I’ve taught them, “being wrong is on the road to being right.” What I hope and expect will happen is that they will quickly learn they are working in a safe environment where all feedback is positive whether it highlights areas of strength or weakness.

School Staff

DQ2– What is the importance of building relationships with all school personnel (i.e. custodians, school secretary, librarian, support staff, etc.)?

A school is a VERY cramped environment.  Like a ship, everybody works in tight quarters and is forced together in cooperation regularly.  While teachers spend their days in relative isolation, they are nonetheless connected to the other site personnel.  To function optimally, a teacher needs all the other staff on her side.  Each member of the site team holds keys to smooth success, from lending a screwdriver to working out a snafu with books to navigating an arcane district form.  They also have the power to make things easy or hard.  They are human and consciously or unconsciously respond to how they perceive they are treated.  On a less practical more emotional note, working in a friendly environment beats the alternative by a mile.  The best way to work towards a friendly environment is to be preemptively friendly.  Finally and most importantly, I believe that students learn from our behavior and treating other adults with respect and friendship models not only how they might treat their peers but also how they should behave when they become adults.

The Whole Child

What is the most difficult task in integrating health and physical education with other subject matters? Why?

I think the most difficult task in integrating health and fitness education into other subjects is realizing the importance of such behavior. For far too long, our society – particularly the intellectual elite – has dismissed the physical and concentrated largely on the cerebral. It is not a unique observation to say that many educators treat education as an industrial process, where knowledge is poured into children’s heads. Fortunately the pendulum is swinging back towards center and current educational thought emphasizes child-centered and whole child teaching. In this vision of education, the decisions as to what if efficacious starts with the child. The question is how to optimally prepare our students for becoming creative, productive, successful, healthy, open hearted adults. This inquiry leads quickly to understanding a need for the re-integration of body and mind in the classroom. To teach a child, we need to take care of their intellect and their physicality simultaneously.

Two books I think every teacher should read are Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and Strategies for Teaching Boys & Girls. The first book explains the research and practical results that show the critical connection between body health and fitness and brain health. Physical exercise not only builds a strong resilient body, it is essential to balancing the neurochemistry of the brain. The second book discusses a number of research based, child-centric strategies for helping children engage successfully in their own education. It emphasizes the need for relevance and novelty in lessons and the very high level of need for physical activity in the classroom. Complementing these two books is Brain Gym, a series of mental/physical activities to refresh, focus, and activate learning.

Unfortunately, mainstream education values classroom control above nearly everything. A teacher whose classroom appears chaotic, even if her children are excelling at performance criteria, will be viewed at best with suspicion. Control seems to be the primary fear of many educators. “Losing control of the class” is perhaps the biggest fear and biggest sin. The price of this is lower performing classrooms overall and a major equity problem for the large minority of students with strong physical needs and/or less powerful self-control mechanisms. The simple fact is we are educating our children unnaturally and many cannot or will not endure the discomfort.

It should be noted that this apparent indifference to the physical spill over into health in several ways. First, this indifference is clearly broadcast to most of our children on most days. Is it any wonder they too grow up not valuing the physical? Second, they certainly receive little formal training in health and there is little in the culture to support healthy decisions in the absence of such formal training. Third, being trapped in classrooms like egg laying hens does nothing to teach them of the joy of physical health and activity. Fourth, what PE we have often offer taxes their meager capabilities, leaving most with the sense that physical activity is unpleasant, hard, and something beyond their genetic ability. Finally, they are taught to subordinate health to other things society deems more important, two leading examples being achievement and convenience. Is it any wonder that so many Americans settle for fast food meals as they ricochet through their hectic lives?

Having decided to go contrary to the culture, a classroom teacher who wants to integrate health and fitness into her classes is left on shaky ground. She will be seen to be out of paradigm and she will have little support, in most cases. It is a bit of a leap into the dark. She must integrate lessons on health and fitness, at the cost of other core instructional activities, and she must take the time to address the fitness/activity needs of her students. Some argue that crisp transitions between activities is key to better student performance. Industrial logic suggests that more time on task is more learning. A health sensitive teach will add physical/mental refreshers into transitions, lengthening them. Fortunately, research and practice both confirm that hammering core subjects constantly is inferior to a balanced schedule. Study after study confirm that less time on core subjects balanced with more time on PE, recess, art, and music leads to increased performance in core subjects. The leap into the dark will bear fruit, we know that. So what is left is braving the social stigma in the school community. This is where quiet dedication and a willingness for non-judgement information sharing can help the teacher and, perhaps, change the school environment for the better. It may not, the teacher may feel she is constantly battling her peers and administrators. Then it’s time to look for a more convivial work environment.

PE and Core Curriculum

What other subject area would you consider for integration with health, physical education, or both? Briefly describe how you would integrate the subject area with health or physical education. 

As is no doubt clear from my two prior posts on this subject, I have a somewhat non-canonical view of this question. I believe that physical activity is essential for a successful elementary school program. Most students of this age absolutely require frequent opportunities for physical movement. The requirements that we impose on children as young as four years old to sit still and “properly” is unreasonable. Certainly there are many who can and do comply but also many that cannot and begin at a very tender age to suspect that “school is not for me.” For this reason, and because the power of “play” to cement learning is so strong, I believe that the kind of physically active learning games discussed in Dynamic Physical Education are extremely appropriate for use in the homeroom “core” education. I think children need to move their bodies every half hour, if not more frequently. Anything that gives them this opportunity is good, and the more playful learning becomes, the more effective the learning and retention. So my view is that the integration needs primarily to go the other way, PE needs to be continually integrated into core subjects.

Certainly there are opportunities to integrate core subjects into PE as well. Students can and should learn not just the rules of the sports they play but the history. In that history they can learn the history of the times as well. One brilliant and perfect example is that equality has always been a hallmark of sport, yet there have been notable moments in history (1936 Olympics, segregated baseball leagues) where that spirit of equality has been famously violated. Then, having been exposed to the fascinating history of sport (so many famous battles, the football “Ice Bowl,” Mets vs. Red Sox in 1986, on and on…), it is logical to integrate literature. By giving students the opportunity to read exciting books about these dramatic sporting moments, we create the possibility of books being interesting, a concept that is certainly not obvious to many students today. Science and math can be linked in how an ice hockey rink is cooled or the physics of hitting a home run 278’ or the brain science of concussions and football (or soccer). There are many ways to use the natural excitement so many students have about sports to extend that interest into “core” learning. Most students just need a reason to care about what we are teaching them and sports can be that reason for many students who haven’t otherwise found one.

Jazz and Blues in the Classroom

Jazz and Blues both have as their origin African musical traditions as filtered through the experience of African-Americans in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.  Both have become important and distinct musical styles.  Jazz has evolved in many different ways, encompassing Dixieland, Swing, several types of Latin Jazz, and, more recently, Acid Jazz.  Blues is its own style as well and heavily influencing other styles such as jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.

Defining characteristics

Jazz is quite hard to define.  A working definition would be that it is “characterized by syncopated rhythms, solo and group improvisation, and a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques.”   For me, its most important characteristic is the improvisation.  This feature sets it apart from most music and creates a unique and powerful relationship between the performers and the audience.  Each performance is unique, created, if you will, based on those particular circumstances of time, space, and intangible chemistry.  The best jazz creates a sense of danger in that no one knows where the music will go.

Blues is easier to quantify.  It is usually characterized by its unique 12-bar chord progression.

Relevant timeframe and where the movement originated

Jazz and Blues both originate amidst the African-American population of the United States.  Blues emerged in the late 19th Century.  Jazz emerged in the early 1900’s.

A few artists of the time and the effect the artists and/or movement has had on society

Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King are all legends of Blues.

Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie are a few of the jazz legends.

According to Tom Bacig, jazz had a “profound effect” on the literary world, the fashion world of the 1920’s, the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the status of African Americans.  “For the first time in American history, what was previously considered ‘bottom culture’ rose to the top and became a highly desired commodity in society.”

Why the genre is especially appropriate for incorporation into the elementary school classroom

There are many reasons jazz and blues are especially appropriate to incorporate into elementary school classrooms.  Among these reasons are their tight linkage with African-American history, their important status and uniquely American musical styles, and their intricate and joyous music.

At least one way you might incorporate that music genre into another subject, lesson or activity

Studying jazz is like a master class in music.  It builds on all that came before in innovative and brilliant ways.  To understand jazz is to have better access to many or most other musical styles.  This encourages the teaching of jazz in any music or music appreciation class.

Rather than teaching dry history, each period can be brought to life by accompanying it with the art, music, and dance of the period.  From the Civil War to Reconstruction to WWI to the Roaring 20’s to the Swing Era to the 60’s and beyond, there is music from these styles that give life to common experience of the era.  For example, whether in economics or history, understanding of the Roaring 20’s is not complete without a sense of the (jazz) music of that era.  Without jazz, the Roaring 20’s do not roar.

The intricate beauty and complexity of jazz is salubrious for brains of any age.  I believe in using background music whenever appropriate.  Like baroque and classical in general, I believe students find it simultaneously relaxing and supportive of contemplation.