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Posted by on in What If?


Recently, in Diane Ravitch’s blog, I read a truly disturbing letter from a teacher who had quit her job at Success Academy, a charter school, because she couldn’t “in good conscience” be the teacher they wanted her to be. And what kind of teacher was that? Apparently, the kind who “didn’t hold high enough expectations” for her four- and five-year-olds – because she “couldn’t get them to walk in two silent, straight, militaristic lines with bubbles in their mouths and their hands glued to their sides.” Nor could she be watchful enough of “’defiant’ children on the carpet – that is, children not sitting on their bottoms with their backs tall and their hands locked in their laps.”

I expect that anyone who works with and loves young children would do a double-take, as I did, upon reading those words. Indeed, I posted the link on Facebook and found an overwhelming consensus of dismay. Surely these couldn’t be the expectations for four- and five-year-olds! Truly, they shouldn’t be the expectations of any children – or, in my opinion, of anyone other than those in training for the military.

But it gets even worse. Success Academy additionally requires that children will “stand like a soldier, … sit with a bubble in your mouth and your hands locked, you will do all of your work neatly and silently, you will ‘silent laugh’ and ‘silent cheer’ when you find things funny or exciting, you will transition from your seats to the carpet ‘swiftly, safely, and silently,’ and if you don’t, you’ll do it again until it’s perfect, even if that means missing recess or blocks time.”

My stomach and my heart hurt when I read those words. Silent laughs and cheers from little children, who by nature are meant to be full of life and laughter? And the expectation of perfection? That’s not only horrifying but harmful. 

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Posted by on in What If?



When asked how the school year is going, if a teacher responds, “I have mostly boys in this year’s class,” no further explanation is typically required. The message is clear: the teacher has more challenges than usual! But why is that? Are boys just inherently more disruptive? Harder to teach?

WIREDI asked these questions – and more – of Ruth Morhard, author of Wired to Move; Richard Hawley, author of Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys; and early childhood educator Heidi Veal in what turned out to be an insight-filled discussion for Studentcentricity. During it, I discovered, among other things, that boys learn more through their eyes, are less resilient than girls, and are more single-focused than girls -- all of which teachers need to know if they're going to help their male students succeed.

After our conversation, Ruth outlined the problem in this way:

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Posted by on in What If?


Do your students want to be spoon-fed? Are they constantly demanding your help, calling out your name over and over again? If so, is it possible that you’ve unwittingly contributed to their sense of helplessness? Can learned helplessness be unlearned?

Those are among the questions I asked of Starr Sackstein and David Ginsburg on an episode of Studentcentricity. They had a lot of wonderful advice and followed it up with the takeaways below.

Starr added:

Ultimately we need to empower students so they know how to advocate for themselves. We do this by offering them opportunities to be in charge of their learning while giving them room to ask for help where needed. Explicitly teaching reflection and modeling the behavior, is a positive way to ensure that all students do learn to ask for help when they need it, but to try on their own first. After working alone, they should reach out to peers and then beyond that the teacher is available for help and always will be. Usually if students experience success on their own, they feel more confident. We need to make sure they have these successful moments.

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Posted by on in What If?


Thanks to the internet plagiarism is all too easy these days. And with all the pressure students are under – their demanding schedules and an unprecedented fear of failure – it's not unexpected that they would be tempted t take the easy way out.

But do students fully understand plagiarism and its cost to them? Can we help them see that it’s wrong, despite the fact that it’s not plagiarism 1as blatantly harmful as other crimes? Can they come to care about original thought and demonstrating it in their writing?

To answer those questions and others, I invited Laura DeSena, author of Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques, and Barry Gilmore, author of Plagiarism: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It, along with middle school principal Nancy Blair, to Studentcentricity. You can hear the full discussion here.

Following the conversation, Barry contributed this takeaway:

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Posted by on in General


I really can’t say that I knew Deven Black all that well. Because I’d learned he was a thoughtful and well-known educator, I had called upon him to be a commentator for a couple of shows on BAM Radio Network. He happily accepted my invitation. When I asked what topics he would most like to address, he listed: Getting rid of school beyond 8th grade. Not testing kids to the point where we drive out their curiosity, creativity, and passion. Focusing on the individual child. Things in school currently set up around benefits to the system. He told me he was opinionated and not afraid to speak his mind. My kind of guy.

My next encounter with Deven was at the first Bammy Awards celebration. I recall him standing on the stage, clutching his trophy, which he’d received for his work as a school librarian, and expressing puzzlement that he should be the one to get it. His confusion Deven Bammywas genuine. But I knew he was honored when, soon after, he posted to his social media accounts a photo of himself holding that trophy.

Unfortunately, the next photos I remember seeing were not nearly as pleasant. He’d fallen and broken his neck and was documenting the story, along with his eventual healing process. His attitude was amazingly philosophical and good-humored. Many of his Facebook friends, myself included, expressed their sympathy and encouragement.

He was still wearing his neck brace when I saw him at the next Bammy Awards ceremony. Again, he was good-humored about his situation. In fact, he was attending expressly because he wanted to be of help. In an earlier communication he had said to me, “How could I not be at the Bammys?” I was delighted that he felt that way.

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