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Posted by on in Literacy


Currently in my district at the elementary level, we are in the process of strategically moving away from our basal reading program. We’ve already “cut out” its writing component, as next year we’ll be hitting the ground running with Writing Workshop and the Units of Study. Also, we’ve begun the process of designing our own reading comprehension instruction with the assistance of Reading with Meaning, Strategies That Work, and Notice & Note (both fiction and non-fiction).

Now, while it may be “cool” and trendy to hate on textbooks, for the benefit of all parties involved – students, parents, teachers, administrators, etc. – I believe it’s important to be able to articulate why we are choosing to deemphasize the program.

With these thoughts in mind, here are three reasons to rethink your basal reader.

1. No Books! No Engagement!

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards
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April 22nd is Earth Day. I’ll be spending it in my daughter’s elementary school, helping to coordinate an all-day “Science Day” for a building full of eager kindegarteners through third graders.

It wasn’t until I had kids and started looking at their curriculum that I began to wonder how key ideas and concepts could be relayed to some of our youngest learners. Earlier this academic year, I marveled at how my daughter’s third grade teacher was able to make science (astronomy in particular) come alive for the class, while using it as a strong, teachable moment to reinforce the Common Core. Imagine that, being able to teach students science, while also teaching to our expectations around English-language arts, teamwork, critical thinking, and the like.

When it comes to the environment, my kids sorta get it. They understand that recycling is important, and will begrudgingly help as we both place our trash in the requisite bins in our garage and then haul them out to the curb each week. And in past years, as previous Earth Days have rolled around, they’ve been quick to come home with new lectures to preach at us. But it has never really gotten at the issue of how one can take a concept like the environment and Earth Day and really make it an integrated part of a student’s learning path.

Regardless of the subject matter, we know that, to be most effective, classroom lessons have to be tied to student interests. This is particularly true with younger learners. One can’t just get up in front of a class of second graders and begin to lecture them on the environment, the causes of World War I, or cell biology. No, we have to find ways to link content to the student. This means both what is taught and how it is taught.

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Successful learning is less about what’s memorized and much more about having the ability to make the right connections.

But should teachers be the ones making all those connections for their students?

TED Prize winner Professor Sugata Mitra talks about creating a “Self-Organized Learning Environment” or SOLE. As he points out, it’s often called “learning on the edge of chaos” because it requires an educator to truly be the “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.” Sugata postulated: What would happen if we presented our students with goal-oriented challenges that allow them choice and provide opportunities to solve problems on their own? In a remote village in India, he placed a computer and track pad in a Hole in the Wall three feet above the ground to see what would happen.

What Sugata discovered, as he outlined in his 2013 TED prize-winnng talk, is that if children were allowed to work in groups to solve problems and had minimal supervision, there was no limit to their capacity to learn.

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Posted by on in General


Timmy the turtle knew the big day was coming. His first day of school was only a month away and he was very excited. His brothers and sisters had always loved school and he just knew that he would too. They would come home each day and tell him of the grand adventures that they had had in class. Tales of projects and exploration were always his favorites.

He already knew what his first project would be. Timmy was going to share with his class all of his favorite books that his parents had read to him over the years. Each day he would dress up as the main character and act out his favorite scenes. He was certain that there would be time for this. He also realized that some of his friends may not have had many stories read to them when they were little or they may not have had many books in their home.

He had planned for this. He was going to bring his favorite books to bring to school each day to share with the kids at recess. There would be plenty of time at recess to share since he was only 5 years old. The tough part would be getting the books to school each day, but he had a red wagon that he knew would work just fine. It didn’t move fast, but he could always depend on it and it could fit everything that he needed to carry.

It was a week before school started and Timmy was ready. His outfits were all picked out and he had the coolest lunchbox. He was so excited he could barely sleep. Each night as he fell asleep he could hear his parents excitedly talking about how their kids loved school. But the night before his first day he sensed a different tone and became aware of a different topic.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

Let's talk so we can understand each other.

I really enjoyed this thoughtful article which I am sharing with you today. What a brave new Common Core world! There are so many educational buzzwords I have trouble understanding them. Maybe you do too. The constant is change; the future is now.

American school teachers are unsung heroes and sheroes. We all know someone who has sacrificed for our country. My son-in-law was in the navy in Iraq. He is a hero to me. I also constantly thank teachers because these "trench veterans" are everyday American heroes.

Obviously I am not comparing a teacher to a soldier. Yet I would like to make the point that our veteran teachers know how to teach. Internet ready-made lesson plans, grading systems, scripted programs, standardized tests serve their purpose, I suppose.

Schools as I have always known them are so technology and goal oriented I wonder where the pianos and rhythm sticks have gone.

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