Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Protecting Our Most Important Asset: Teachers

Protecting Our Most Important Asset: Teachers

By Jill Jenkins

    A few years ago as the department chairman of the Language Arts Department, it was my enviable job to inform my English teachers that even though our school had nearly the highest test scores in the state that all of their hard work developing curriculum maps, lesson plans and teaching assignment all had to be scrapped because the district was adopting a version of the Gates Language Arts Units.  The teachers were enraged, but eventually acquiesced to the district demands despite the fact that the district offered no money to purchase material or any compensation for the teachers’ time to develop new lesson plans and new teaching materials.  The price of this change was the loss of several great teachers who chose to move to new careers.

    In my 39 year career as a teacher, I saw this kind of change occur countless times.  Instead of analyzing what is working in schools and having educators share their successes, political powers outside the world of education decide the best reforms and teachers either acquiesce or leave the profession.  Still, the public who demonize educators are surprised at teacher shortages.  Those who enter the ranks of education are optimists who want to change through education.  Education is not a lucrative career. No one enters the profession expecting to get rich.  No one stays in the profession without knowing the sacrifices including personal time, lack of respect and even the right to visit the restroom when nature calls.  No one stays in education without expecting to be vilified by some parents or the media without loving students and believing teaching can make a difference. How can we ensure the quality of our schools when we are losing our greatest asset: our teachers?  Three methods of improving teacher retention are: first, increase financial compensation including salary, benefits and retirement pensions without increasing undue burdens; second, allow teachers academic freedom to collaboratively create meaningful projects that include oral communication, reading, writing, technology, team work and mathematics; third, fairly evaluate teachers and schools and provide access to resources to improve.

     According to the book, Addicted to Reform: A 12 Step Program to Rescue Public Education by John Merrow, the average cost of testing is 69 million dollars per state and according to Education Weeks’ article from March 2018 article entitled “Standardized Tests Costs 1.7 Billion Dollars A Year Study Shows” a 2012 study shows a much higher expenditure of 1.7 billion dollars.  If the cost of test preparation materials is added, one can see how frustrated teachers are on the low pay allocated to them.  Benefits and salaries have been stagnant for decades and retirement plans and benefits have been eroding.  According to ABC News, a teacher was removed from school board meetings for pointing out the injustice of increasing the salary of the superintendent while teachers’ salaries remain unchanged for more than a decade in Louisiana.    Furthermore, salary increases always come connected to added expectations.  For example in Utah when “career ladder” was eliminated the pay connected to the program disappeared, but the added responsibilities did not.  Many districts add pay to teachers by having teachers work nine hours a day giving up their consultation period by teaching seven periods a day.  This saves the district money for benefits and FICA.  It, also, increases teacher burn-out because these teachers now correct papers for over 200 students lugging home piles of papers to correct every night.  Teaching requires 100% of the teacher’s focus all of the time.  Without time to plan and reflect on teaching, the job can become stressful and overwhelming. At the end of my career, a former student stopped by to tell me that I had inspired her to become a teacher, but after one year she felt so overwhelmed by the additional requirements, that she quit teaching, went to law school.  She is now an attorney earning substantially more income and according to her with less stress and work.  This is not a new problem, when I began my career in the 1970’s I was teaching in an urban high school.  I taught English classes and run both the debate and drama programs.  I was often rehearsing plays until nine or ten at night and spent the weekend with the debate team at tournaments.  My frustration levels sometimes became so extreme that when I was driving to my apartment with piles of uncorrected essays, I would imagine driving off the road.  When the vice principal asked me to sponsor the yearbook as well, I began looking for a new teaching job.  Not only underpaying teachers is destructive, but so is over working them.  Fair compensation for reasonable expectation added to good benefit and a substantial retirement plan would help retain more quality teachers.   

    Teaching used to be a creative, collaborative activity where teachers worked together to design interesting lessons and tests encouraging learning while engaging students in fascinating activities.  It isn’t anymore.  District no longer trust educators as professionals, so they purchase on-line repetitive drills and require frequent district and state tests.  Before I retired, I spent one week giving state “SAGE” tests and three weeks of test preparation.  That is an entire month that could have been used to teach an additional novel, more essay writing and an entire unit on poetry, web design or anything else.  A month of learning is lost because of testing.  The math department lost even more time because they had more required district tests.  Teachers are frustrated with the lack of academic freedom.  Teachers need to be able to collaborate to create cross curriculum projects that engage students in creative expression and critical thinking involving oral communication, reading, writing, technology and math skills.  Students would learn more and they would be more engaged reducing behavioral problems.  Teachers would find their jobs more stimulating and rewarding, reducing burn-out and increasing teacher retention.

    Finally using student test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers is unfair.  Teachers have no control over who is in their classes.  ESL students, students with behavioral or learning disabilities and special needs students are more difficult to teach and earn lower test scores.  Working in an urban school with many social economic and criminal problems is a more difficult than teaching in affluent, suburban school.  Teachers who accept more difficult teaching positions should not be penalized for their students’ test scores. Improvements of test scores should be part of the schools evaluations, not the teacher’s.  Methods of teaching and students’ engagement should be evaluated by frequent unannounced observation by administrators.  Teacher leaders should help struggling teachers improve by allowing them to observe their classes, sharing techniques and lessons. 

     Our current education system is bleeding talented teachers and talented students are choosing more lucrative careers.  By returning to Lyndon Johnson’s Student Defense Loans that didn’t need to be repaid if the student chose a career in education and worked in a low income community for five years could attract new teachers.  Retaining those teachers means that teachers need to be compensated fairly with money, insurance and good retirement pensions without over-burdening them with excessive hours and responsibilities.  Second, teachers need the academic freedom to create engaging learning opportunities by collaborating with teachers from other departments and time to share projects that work.  Third, teachers need to be evaluated fairly and provided with resources and experienced educators to guide them. Attracting and maintaining a quality teaching force is essential to creating quality schools. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Scam: Lower Expectations to Increase Graduation Rates and Lower Costs

Recently I have been reading John Merrow's book Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education, a book with which I don't completely agree, but a book that makes some compelling points.  (I do, however, strongly recommend it to my friends in education.)  One of the points that I found myself in agreement was how schools have lowered graduation requirements to improve graduation rates; thus these schools appear to be improving, but it is only an illusion.  During my career I saw students receiving high school credit for on-line classes (home-school) offered by an "for-profit" college and packets of meaningless grammar, punctuation and usage drills provided by the same educational institution.  Today, the news announced that students will receive credit in middle schools for activities in which they participated outside of the school: private music lessons, community team sports, and private art classes.  The effects of such decisions may save the state or district money, and reduce the time more affluent students spend in the class, but it reduces the quality of all students' education.

Students who are not intellectually engaged do not retain learning for long.  Meaningless activities like completing worksheets or digital worksheets (which the on-line classes are) is a futile act that students recognize as meaningless and quickly disregard this learning because it is not applicable to their reality. Often the instructions given in these packets lack clarity.  As a middle school teacher, past students frequently appeared at my door after school to ask for help. As a result, I met with these students for an hour or two after school to tutor them, but unlike the "for profit" college that provided these worksheets, I was not compensated financially for my time.  I was appreciative that the student recognized that human interaction is key to learning.  When my daughter was a child, her father and I took her to Florida to visit her grandfather and his wife.  She was excited to find seashells on the beach, but when we arrived her grandfather's wife was appalled at the idea of collecting sea shells because they might be dirty and insisted we buy shells in the tourist shops.  What she didn't understand that finding the shells herself made the shells meaningful to my daughter.  These students do not need knowledge shoveled into them; they need to find the shells themselves.

Second, as a educators, we should be asking what is important for students to know? Since the world is rapidly changing most educators agree that helping students become "life-long learners" is key to their future success.  After all computers were in their infancy when I was a middle school teacher.  With the exception of my math teacher Miss Penniger who told me in 1965 that learning the binary code was an important part of learning to become a programmer, computers were not part of anyones life.  As teachers, we do not know what careers will disappear and what new careers will be created.  We do know that these students will have to learn new skills to stay current.  Worksheets do not teach critical thinking, research skills and have little relevance to the the reality today or in the future.  Repetitive drills do not engage students and stifle any intellectual curiosity the child has.  As a result, the child perceives rote learning as dull and meaningless, and it is. Instead of spending tax payers' money to the "for profit" colleges to create meaningless mush, districts should spend that money on real teacher who could create summer school or after school classes for students earning high school credits. Socializing and group problem solving gives students human interaction skills that will help them in the real world.  At home on-line classes may be an appropriate option for seriously ill students, but it is a poor choice for most students and should be eliminated.

What about giving students credit for out of school activities?  Granted some of the music lessons and sports program may be quality, but as a school there is no way of knowing because they are not controlled or evaluated by the district.  I have seen some truly substandard programs when my daughter was young and I has searching for a community theater program or a sports program for her to participate.  Greed driven individuals with no credentials will be developing meaningless art or sports programs to grab some of the tax-payers money.  This is not good for the children or the tax-payers.  Quality art and sports programs enhance a school and create a sense of community.  It is through working in such programs that students develop life-time friends and an appreciation for both arts and sports.   Like any learning, students become healthier adults if their love for physical activity and creative expression become a life-long pursuit.

Education is an investment in the future of our democracy. When we short change our students by providing substandard education, we create a generation that cannot compete in the global market with highly skilled jobs in technology, medicine, science, business, finance, journalism and every other profession requiring a vast understanding of good communication skills, mathematics, technology, a sense of history and thirst to keep learning more.  We need thinkers, creators, and leaders to solve the problems of tomorrow.  Our schools need to provide meaningful challenges to every student.  Don't "dumb-down" our schools to make data on graduation rates look impressive.  THAT IS A SCAM. A scam that will cost all Americans dearly.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How To Avoid Humiliation In Your Classroom

     In a very successful writing prompt, students described the most embarrassing moment they or a peer had suffered during their years in school. One of my students shared an event in his grammar school where he had pleaded with his teacher to use the restroom. Thinking he was avoiding a test and trying to disrupt class, the novice teacher moved the student to her seat, but children have less control of their bladders than adults.  Despite his pleads, the boy accidently relieved himself on her chair.  This is just one example of an over-zealous teacher trying to maintain control humiliated a student.

     School districts often provide too few bathrooms for overcrowded schools making access to facilities difficult for shy or less aggressive students to complete during class change or recess.  Restrooms are often places for bullying and criminal activities (like smoking cigarettes and pot or exchanging alcohol or drugs) making timid students often afraid to use the facilities during class change.  Teachers are often insensitive or unaware of the time restraints, the limited facilities and the bathroom activities.  As a result, teachers perceive a child's pleading to use the facility as a ruse, an act of defiance or an opportunity to roam the halls.  Sometimes, perhaps, it is.  However, when a shy student observes the teacher rebuking a request by another student, he or she may feel intimidated to ask; thus, the student suffers both physical and emotional trauma.

     Many teachers are unaware of the trauma many middle school girls face with the onset of their first menstrual period. Since the first few yeas of puberty is often characterized with irregular menstrual periods and the first period is always a surprise, girls often do not come equipped.  Putting sanitary supplies in the main office may reduce vandalism and thefts, but imagine how intimidating a shy twelve year old feels asking a strange adult in a busy office for a sanitary napkin or a tampon. More than once in my career, have I had a quiet girl sitting in her desk after all of her classmates have left because she is drenched in blood and embarrassed to walk through the crowded halls to the restroom or office.  I always kept an old sweater at my desk to tie around a girl's waist and escort her to the office where the secretaries allowed her to sit in the sick room while they called her mother and provided her with the sanitary supplies without destroying her delicate dignity.  A bit of advice to teachers in middle schools and high school, make sure you are prepared with a sweater and a bit of assurance for some frightened girl.  This needs to be part of teacher preparation because it is part of the reality of schools.  Also be aware that boys going through puberty often get unexpected erections whenever they feel stressed.  Asking a boy to stand to answer questions could be completely humiliating to him, because even if you don't notice, his classmates will and they will not let him live it down.

    Small acts can have big consequences. When I was in junior high, I asked my math teacher for an eraser.  He tossed it to me and it landed down my neck and into my bra.  Some students (not me) would have been devastated by the accidental basket.  If you do make a major faux-pax, apologize. Students know that teachers are human.  An unintended action can be easily corrected.  If a teacher knowingly humiliates a student, he is not only hurting his intended target, but all of the students in that classroom.  Teachers who belittle and demean students should be weeded out by administrators.  There is no place in education for anything other than respectful words and actions. Never call students names, degrade them personally or in anyway humiliate them.  Students who feel confident and cared for can achieve amazing feats.  Furthermore, teachers should be models of how to treat others.  Examine your school and your teaching and try to eliminate all of the subtle ways schools and teacher humiliate the most timid among us.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Helping Students With Learning Disabilites

In 2010 my husband, Randy, went into Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Even though the paramedics and doctors were able to revive him, the six minutes that his brain was without oxygen caused cognitive difficulties.  For a couple of years, Randy had difficulty filtering, so when we had a family gathering or his late brother Davey came over for coffee and the three of us conversed, he became confused and agitated.  I had to learn to be quiet, so he could process the conversation with his brother. (Being quiet is something I don't do easily.) He was also confused if I asked him a multiple choice question, so I had to learn to simplify every question that I asked him.  Although my husband regained his cognitive ability, it made me think about the difficulties students with learning disabilities face in our classrooms.

I had learned at workshops that many students have difficulties distinguishing between information that is important from information that is nonessential, because they don't have "crap detectors." To help them compensate,  I used both empty outlines and V.E.N. diagrams and taught students how to complete them during lectures and readings.  This helped them identify the main ideas and the supporting ideas, examples and evidence.  I had not considered how extraneous noise might interfere with their learning.  My classroom was located at the front of the school where the public came and went continually. Since I had taught there for decades, many of the parents of my current students were my previous students. As a result, they frequently stuck their heads in to wave, shout a greeting or ask a question.  Furthermore, the band was housed next door, so music or sometimes something akin to music permeated the thin walls.  For a time I was sandwiched between the band and orchestra making a cacophony of noise in my room.  To make matters worse, I have always used small group discussion, so with forty students broken into ten groups of four all talking at once, students with difficulty deciphering conversations were in real trouble in my class.

For most of my students distractions like background noise was of little consequence to their learning as long as they were engaged in a learning activity; however, for students with a learning disability that just isn't true.  Autistic students who are overstimulated by a change in routine often shut down or worse yet have a panic attack.  Still, teachers are expected to meet all of the differing needs of the students while their classrooms are overflowing with students with various learning disabilities, language acquisition skills and emotional problems. 

I am not sure what the answer is or if there is an answer, but I know some things I changed about my teaching.
  • First, give instructions in clear, simple language and use a variety of medias to communicate it: tell them, write on the white board, give them a written copy of the instructions and put the instructions on your web site so parents and special education teachers can also help them. Limit the number of choices presented to students. Costco capitalizes on that idea.  Students need to have a clear idea how to proceed.  For some students selecting which seat to sit in when faced with forty empty desks is an overwhelming decision.  
  • Second, try to keep the distractions to a minimum by shutting the door.
  • Third, arrange the room for quick access to each students individually.  When a student needs extra instruction, kneel next to his/her desk, look into the student's face and whisper quietly so the child is not embarrassed while getting additional instruction.
  • Fourth, vary the types of activities often in a class period to meet the individual needs of students with differing learning styles.  The younger the students the shorter their attention spans are.  With ninth grade students, I rarely stayed on one activity longer than ten minutes.
  • Fifth, develop routines in your classroom, so students can move from one activity to another smoothly with little opportunities for chaos.   Chaos hurts the most vulnerable students.
  • Contact the special education teachers and the school psychologist often.  Their advice on a particular child's needs is invaluable. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ten Books Without Fairy Princesses

Ten Books Without Fairy Princesses

By Jill Jenkins

Many disenfranchised students become disenchanted by education when the literary selections they are fed in Language Arts classes depict a world through rose colored glasses.  Teachers and more often parents wish to protect students from the harsh realities of life and select novels with happy endings and little controversy and nonfiction books that avoid social problems. The truth is many of these students confront the harsh realities of life daily: crime, violence, child abuse and neglect.  Even those with seemingly perfect domestic situations may be exposed to spouse and child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and economic instability.  The inconsistency in the world the literature depicts and their own reality makes students question the authenticity of their entire education.  Teaching students historic novels and nonfiction that accurately illustrates the problems they may be facing or demonstrates how people from the past have overcome difficulties in their own lives provides students with life skills to overcome problems.  When I taught in an alternative school, I saw many high school aged students who felt their problems were unsolvable.  Reading about others who have faced difficult problems successful increases the likelihood that these students will develop a more positive attitude toward life problems.  Some parents complain that showing students the darker side history makes our county seem imperfect.  Some parents complain that showing students the darker side of man makes people seem despicable.  The truth is our country is imperfect and many people are despicable.  If students have a clear view of problems and are asked to develop methods to make the country, the world or people better, the world could become a better place.  Here are some books that I would suggest .

Although this Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne details the Comanche tribe violence and the violence committed against them, it captures the clashing of two different cultures and how both side committed horrible atrocities against each other in an attempt to obliterate the tribe and its life style.   Most of the tribe did not survive, but despite losing everything, a sense of pride and a sense of responsibilities to each other continued.   The book details the life of Quanah Parker whose mother, Cynthia Anne Parker, was kidnapped at  ten year old  by a Comanche chief. After having three children, Cynthia is rescued against her will, when her Native American husband and all of her companions are massacred.  Her two sons escape, pursued by the soldiers and find their way back to camp.  She and her daughter, Meadow Flower are returned to civilization.  Meadow Flower is taken from her and dies.  Her youngest son dies of fever and Quanah Parker, her older son, becomes chief.  Quanah's struggle to free his people and finally to live in peace on the reservation is never without treacherous dealings with corrupt officials. 

The Other Slavery by Andres Resendez non-fiction discusses the use of Native Americans, Asians and other minorities were enslaved from Columbus until the 1900.  Despite laws created to protect them, slavery continued by referring to it by different terminology.  The continual exploitation and murder of women and children from the Caribbean (called the Caribbean so justify enslaving Native Americans by accusing them of cannibalism) to the Navajos in Western United States (justified because whites were saving their souls by Christianizing them.)   Most students are aware of the slavery of African Americans, but many are unaware of the violence, and slavery that occurred to other minorities.  This book focuses primarily on Native Americans, but it touches on all of the different forms of slavery that occurred in the United States.  It also discusses how slavery continued by playing with language and rights.  As a result, many children and women continued to be enslaved despite laws meant to protect them. 

Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s book The Heart of Everything That Is retells the story of Red Cloud, who waged war on the United States Government to keep his tribal way of life intact.  He was successful for some time.  It is also a violent book that describes the fight for freedom and the ferocious warriors of the Wyoming west.  Since those who believed in Manifest Destiny also believed that Whites had the right to disregard treaties and rights of the Native American, they were surprised at Red Cloud’s ability to use his forces as an effective military leader.  Eventually he destroyed the fort that was built illegally on Native American land and maintained the freedom of his people until his death. 


Another book to consider is Dee Brown Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee describing a horrible massacre of women, children and older men at Wounded Knee.  It is equally as violent and disturbing as The Heart of Everything That Is but reading both books together helps the student understand the anger and the violence.  Understanding why a people perpetuates violence is as important as understanding that they behave violently.  The book describes a variety of masacres that occurred through out the West and Midwest by military and westward expansion.  Reading the story of Manifest Destiny by those who lost gives students a second view of history.  

Most Language Arts teachers have taught The Diary of Anne Frank to provide students with an understanding of the suffering of World War II, but to be honest it hardly does it justice.  Lilac Girls
Caroline Ferriday
by Martha Hall Relly told through the eyes of three women: Caroline Ferriday, a New York socialite; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager who is sent to a Ravenbruck Concentration Camp near Berlin with her mother, her sister, and her boyfriend’s sister; Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor who performs experimental operations on the women in the concentration camp.  Caroline Ferriday is based on a real person who raised money and provided corrective surgery of the victims of Ravenbruck.

Herta Oberheuser

  Herta Oberheuser was also a real person who felt she was helping the cause by cutting into the legs of young women, removing bones and muscles, inserting dirt, rocks, and pathogens that she allowed to fester.  She believed she was helping injured German soldiers and the lives of the concentration prisoners were unimportant because they had been sentence to death anyway. 

Kasia Kuzmerick is a combination of many prisoners at the camp.   The problems and the solutions were real and the cooperation of the prisons to increase the likelihood of their survival is also true.

This is an excellent novel to discuss how people cooperating with each other can increase everyone success; however, there are some sexually explicit parts that might make it objectionable in some communities.

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is a true story of Pino Lella who was a seventeen year of Italian boy living in Millan whose parents sent him to live in a monastery in the Alps where he and his fifteen year old brother led Jewish immigrants, downed British pilots and others to freedom over the Alps to Switzerland during World War II.  Afraid Pino would be drafted and sent to the Russian front when he turned eighteen years old, his parents insist he enlist in the Nazi Army.  Using the skills, Pino learned from his race car driving friend, he becomes a driver for the premier Nazi in Italy where he is able to pass information to his uncle and the underground.  The book is violent and has some sexual scenes that are handled delicately.  Although this book does not have the brutality of  Lilac Girls, it could be used to demonstrate that evil can be overcome through brave behavior.  The advantage of an historic novel like Lilac Girls and Beneath A Scarlet Sky is they motivate students to research the real people.

The Orphan Tale by Pam Jenoff is another World War II story based on a true story.  A young teenage girl from Holland finds herself expecting after a Nazi soldier quartered as her parents house pays her an unexpected visit.  Rejected by her family, she travels to Germany and works cleaning train car.  Since she has blonde hair and blue eyes, she is persuaded to have her baby at a home for unmarried mothers where her child will be given to a good German family. Unfortunately, her child does not have blonde hair and blue eyes.  Depressed and fearful about the fate of her child, she returns to work cleaning train cars.  When she hears the cries of babies, she finds an entire train car of Jewish babies.  Seeing one still alive, she grabs the child and runs into the woods being pursued by the German soldiers.  Finally exhausted, she collapses in the woods where she is rescued by a circus clown.  She learns to be an aerialist by a famous German aerialist who is also a Jewish and being protected by the circus owner.  The details of the book are based a real stories from the war even though some of it is fictionalized.

Finally another book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about World War II, is the story of Louis Zamperini  who was an incorrigible youth who became an Olympic champion. He overcame poverty and prejudice to achieve his skill with the support of a loving family.   During World War II his plane was shot down in the Pacific and he was taken to a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp where he suffered unbelievable hardship.  Despite every obstacle, he continued to endure.  Every young person needs to know that despite what obstacle one has to face, it is important to never give up.  Regardless of the cruelty of the camp's leader, Louis did not allow himself to lose hope, a lesson that would help many young people today.  

Before We Were Yours  by Lisa Winegate is based on a true story of Georgia Tann who kidnapped or usurped control of indigent children and sold them to wealthy families.  Although families attempted to retrieve their children, Georgia Tan used her political connections.  Although this nightmare continued from 1930-1950, Ms. Tan was not tried until 1950 when she died before her trial concluded.  This book takes place in Memphis in 1939 when the 12 year old Rill Foss and her three sisters and one brother are abducted by this heartless woman.    This is an excellent novel to discuss whether the rights of poor parents should take priority over the kind of life style a rich family could provide. 

A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt is a fictitious account of child trafficking set in modern day China.  Two twelve year old girls are abducted by a woman and sold to a family living on a junk.  The family wishes one to become a bride for one of their two sons and use both girls as domestic servants.  Many students will find the ending of this book unrealistic because one of the girl's father eventually finds them and all of the guilty parties are punished.  I used to teach Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and my students complained that they ending was too contrived.  They preferred Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame because the ending seemed more believable.   (In the book everyone dies because of their character flaw.) I think most students are too sophisticated and recognize that life is often not fair. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

David and Goliath Applied To Education

David and Goliath Applied to Education

by Jill Jenkins
My stepson, Braden fills my I POD with books that he thinks I will enjoy listening to or that the two of us might enjoy discussing.  One book that he strongly recommends is David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants  by Malcom Gladwell which discusses how a weakness can be used as a strength and a strength can be used against a person.  Gladwell uses examples from biblical times to modern times  to support his premise.  For example, David uses Goliath's mammoth size and cumbersome armor to defeat the giant, Goliath. Goliath's armor restricts his movement.  His size is likely due to Gigantism which has many related health problems including problems with vision even double vision. Since David uses a sling-shot instead of arm-to arm combat, the giant is caught off guard.  His inability to move quickly coupled with his visual disorder meant he neither saw nor expected the rock flying at 90 mph towards his unprotected face; as a result, he was defeated.
One of the modern examples the book explores is class size.  The book claims that even though many prestigious preparatory schools claim to be superior because they offer small class size, class size does not effect learning.  At that, I shut off the tape grumbling expletives and complaining to my husband that I was not going to listen to such nonsense, but I did.  It turns out Gladwell was comparing class sizes of ten students to those of 15-20 students.  There is no difference.  I am not surprised.  If he had taught in any urban school in the country, he would have known that 20 pupils is not a large class; its a dream.  Most urban class sizes have forty or more students and can only dream of classes of 10-20 students.  Furthermore, it not just the class size, it's the diversity.  Finland and South Korea, nations he compared his data with have homogenous groups of students attending their public schools.  Schools in the United States accept all students mainstreaming intellectually handicapped students, N.E.P. and L.E.P. (No English Proficiency and Limited English Proficiency), emotionally handicapped students, advanced learners, and the ordinary students.  Meaning most teachers face classes from 35-45 students packed with every kind of need imaginable.  Does class size effect the teacher's ability to meet the individual needs of each student? Yes, it does.  Mr. Gladwell claims that teachers with smaller class sixe simply don't work as hard.  I was off in a tirade yelling expletives at my poor husband again.  In my 39 years of teaching, I have seen a few lazy teachers, but most teachers arrive an hour before the students and stay hours after the students leave taking boxes of papers home to correct late into the night, over weekend and I remember correcting research papers as my husband lay unconscious in the ICU after a massive heart attack.  Finally, the book admits that even though small class size from 10-20 had no significant difference, class sizes above 30 did and class sizes over 40 had devastating results.  Now, he was talking my language.  However, his first remarks were not seated in reality when one considers the number of students in each class.

Mr. Gladwell's next examples were three college students who according to him made the mistake of attending an ivy league college and changed their majors from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) after each received a "B" in a course.  Personally, I would call that lack of grit.  Something that Gladwell may be unaware of is the difference in how public school students are graded from how students are graded in college.  Students in public schools are graded against a set standard so that any student who earns 94% of the available points earns an "A." The teachers are encouraged to assist with each student's success and are chastised for any student who fails by earning less than 60% of the available points.  Parents negotiate with teachers and administrators to change grades or enhance them with extra credit to improve their child's GPA. In my last teaching assignment 700+ students of the 1500 students enrolled earned a GPA of 3.75 or higher.  Which means teachers are making classes easier to relieve pressure from pushy parents.  The students expect continual success and have no experience competing for high grades.  Ivy league schools accept only the best students and provide them with a challenging curriculum.  The faculty grades on a curve meaning only the top students earn the top grades.  No one coddles the students like the public schools.  However, the student who are selected to go to ivy league schools not only have high grades but high test scores.  Perhaps the ivy league schools should take a lesson from public schools and change their grading?  Better yet, perhaps students should be challenged.  Rather than getting perfect grades, learning difficult material should be the goal.

Next the book,  David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants  by Malcom Gladwell  discusses the value of struggling. To exemplify this, it uses examples of students who overcame dyslexia or poverty to become successful C.E.O.s and doctors.  As an educator I have witnessed this.  If an individual has grit and the support of a positive adult, whether that is a parent of a teacher that child can turn that disadvantage into a strength and perform some amazing feats.  For example I had a student, Dante, whose dyslexia was so severe that reading was impossible.  His parents and friends would read him the material aloud and he would memorize it in one reading.  The book describes people with similar skills of adaption.  However, few students with this type of handicap have either the ability to compensate as Dante did or the support system to help them continue their education.  The reality is most students need a great deal of help to overcome obstacles.  There are exceptions, but their numbers are negligible.  The book analyzes the connection between a child losing a parent during childhood and becoming successful.  It seems that 2/3 of those incarcerated have suffered the loss of one parent in childhood and 67% of all of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during its world domination also lost a parent as a child.  The old adage "that which doesn't destroy you, makes you stronger," seems to be true.  Gladwell's book compares this to the blitz in London during World War II.  Although Britain feared that German's attack of London would demoralize citizens, instead it made them stronger.  Those that were hit directly died; those who witnessed their loved ones killed or maimed were emotionally crippled; nonetheless, the majority of the population witnessed the explosions of a near miss and felt emboldened and stronger.  Perhaps when Native Americans made young boys face their fear by hunting and killing a bear alone, they were preparing them for a future by arming them with courage. 
Finally the book discusses what gives one the authority to rule.  Anyone who is being ruled expect the rules to be fair, that the rules be consistently applied and that those ruled be treated with dignity. Those are my words interpreting his ideas.  I couldn't agree more. As a supervising teacher, I have heard more than once a novice explain, "I could not believe those students turned on me when I was being evaluated!"  Students protect teachers who create a warm environment where they feel safe and feel when they make a mistake they will be treated fairly.  Brut force backfired when the English tried contain the IRA during the 1970's according to the book and neither will brut force help a teacher control a classroom of seventh graders.  Teachers must have reasonable rules that are clearly communicated, consistently enforced and enforced without malice.  Teachers have to help students understand the importance of behaving within the norm.
 David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants  by Malcom Gladwell  may not be a book that I agree with completely, but it opens many avenues for interesting dialogue so it is worth the read. As an educator, it pitched me into a rage, but many of the ideas are sound and well supported.  After my tirade, I would recommend it.  Maybe schools need to help students overcome with fear to face their bear alone and defeat it.  Courage is the key to greatness.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Three Methods To Engage the Quiet Student

Three Methods To Engage the Quiet Student

by Jill Jenkins
Teachers modify lessons to accommodate students who are visual learners, kinetic learners, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, students with autism and students with varying degrees of language acquisition. Is there a larger group of students that we are ignoring?  How do teachers make adaptions for introverts? To accommodate larger class sizes, teacher rely heavily on large class discussions and small group activities.  For many students having an opportunity to articulate and move in the classroom not only relieves boredom, but increases retention of the learning material.  For the shy or quiet students, these activities can be intimidating and terrifying.  Regardless, students need to master the skills associated with oral communication.  Being able to communicate ideas effectively in a group or to a group is an important skill for students to acquire to insure their success in the business world.   How can teachers help the shy student overcome fear of speaking publically?  Here are three methods: first, use task analysis to break public speaking into small teachable skills and have students practice them; second, have student solve problem independently before pairing them with another students to share; third, avoid extemporaneous speaking by allowing students time to prepare before presenting. 

Break the Speech into Small Teachable Skills and Provide Practice 

When I taught speech and debate, I encountered a lot of students who would rather face open heart surgery than speak publically.  During one competition one girl fainted when she stood before a class of students.  After reading Doctor Madeline Hunter's  research on "The Mastery of Learning " I learned to use task analysis to break learning into teachable skills which allows scaffolding for struggling students.  Shy students are often struggling because of their emotional state, so teaching the specific skills in small bites improves every student's performance.  First, I began by talking about speaking anxiety and I asked students to write in their journals how they felt when they were asked to speak before the class.  They shared their writings with a partner.  Second, I taught them breathing and visualization techniques used to calm students and I had students practice each technique.  Third, I modeled how to walk from their desk to the podium with poise, stand at the podium looking at the audience from the right to the left and center and smile before dropping my head, stepping away from the podium and returning to my desk with my head held high and with proper posture.  Each student practiced this with their partner before performing it before the entire class.  Each performance was rewarded with applause and praise.   After each student had mastered walking to the podium, I instructed and modeled other skills including:
  1. eye contact
  2. articulation
  3. gesticulation
  4. projection
  5. pronunciation
  6. annunciation
  7. poise
  8. and the structure of speeches
Each students practiced each skills with their partner and then before the class in a series of short exercise.  Finally each student was ask to compose a 1-3 minutes speech and present it to he class.  Regardless of their performance, I slathered them with praise to encourage them to keep working. 
Adding visual aides like a Power Point Presentation allows shy students to hide behind technology and gives them a real world skill.  Don't forget to model standing before the audience, but not in front of the screen, pointing to objects on the screen while facing the audience and correctly using the remote control.  Allowing students to present in pairs will further increase a shy student's confidence.


Small Group Discussion

With class sizes growing to above forty in some schools, teachers rely on group discussions and activities to increase retention.  Shy students who may have great ideas are often intimidated in this setting and their ideas are often lost.  Having students respond in a journal first allows these student the time and space to compose their ideas making them less hesitant to share.  According to Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain  quiet students respond better in pairs and trios than larger groups.  I found this was true in my own classrooms,  Also sliding two or three desks together was less time consuming and cumbersome than creating larger groups; thus, increasing learning time.  The few dominate students were less likely to silence the less aggressive students because more students felt comfortable.

Avoid Extemporaneous Speaking

Quiet students are often more intellectual and reflective than their talkative counterparts.  These student feel uncomfortable sharing an idea that they are forming or is not completely formed. As a result speaking extemporaneously is terrifying. Allowing students time to think and to write ideas in journals increases the likelihood that they will share them orally with the rest of the class or collaborate with others orally. Using alternative forms of communication before the students speak publically encourages quiet students to more freely share their ideas. For example, sharing ideas electronically can decrease their apprehension .  Other students who dislike this preparation will probably "wing it" anyway, so you are not reducing their performance.  However, giving shy students an opportunity to prepare will greatly increase shy students' participation.  Above all do no push them.  According to  Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, encourage them to stretch their experience and praise them for their efforts. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Bang For The Buck: How to Increase the Number of Innovators and Geniuses

More Bang for the Buck

How to Increase the Number of Innovators and Geniuses

by Jill Jenkins
According to  the United States spent 785.9 billion dollars or 14.55% of the total spending on education in 2014 and an average of 59% of the students graduated from high school. Education is expensive, but those who are not wholly educated become an even greater expense for our nation. To maximize the results in education, perhaps exploring the attributes and lives of those people considered a genius or an innovator could give educators insight into helping more individuals achieve this distinction.  A recent article in The National Geographic Magazine did just that.

Albert Einstein

IQ and Brain Research

According to the article "Genius" by Claudia Kolb in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic, after Albert Einstein died his brain was removed, sliced and diced for study, but revealed little about him (Kolb pg. 34). Using an iron-free keyboard designed by Charles Lamb, a  hearing specialist and auditory surgeon at UC San Francisco, jazz musicians where asked to play both scales and improvised music while an MRI mapped their brain activity. According to this same article, ". . .when playing improvisations, the musicians' brains showed increase activity in the outer network linked to focused attention and also self-consorted quieted down," The moment of creation where past learning and skills is seen in a new way gives a genius or an innovator that creative thought. The article indicates that "richer communication between the areas of the brain may help make those intuitive leaps possible.  Furthermore, those considered a genius showed a stronger web of synapses than those who weren't.  Practice makes stronger synapses connections. The article discussed the research by Lewis Terman, the Stanford University Psychologist which indicated that a high I.Q. alone is not a guarantee of a genius.  According to the article, "Genius," Terman began tracking 1500 California school students with I.Q.s 140 or higher and compared their success with a group with average I.Q.s.  Their progress was mapped by Terman and his associates over their lifetimes in "Genertic Studies of Genius. Some of those with high I.Q.s dropped out of college and some without high I.Q.s out performed those with high I.Q.'s.  I.Q. alone is not a measure of inevitable success even though it does play a role. 

What's in your head?

Nurture Vs. Nature

Although the article did not state genetics does not play a role in the creation of genius as studies are still underway, it did find that nurture is important.  According to the National Geographic article "Genius" by Claudia Kolb, Leonardo da Vinci's "pathway began with an apprenticeship with master artist Andrea del Verrocchio in  Florence when he was a teenager (Kolb 49)." Mathematician protégé Terence Tao, who showed "a grasp of language and numbers early (Kolb)," was provided with a rich environment by his parents: books, toys, games and was encouraged to learn on his own.  His parents sought out advanced learning opportunities and he began his formal education early.  At seven years old, he scored 760 on the math section of his S.A.T and by eight went to the university.  Many students may not have the rich opportunities that Tao had, so it is important that every child be provided with a rich environment at school and encouraged to try new educational challenges.

Leonardo da Vinci

The Importance of "Grit"

Self discipline or what psychologist Angela Duckworth calls "Grit" is another element that the article claims is an essential element of all geniuses.  Darwin spent twenty years perfecting The Origin of Species.  Mathematician Terence Tao writes, "hard work, directed by intuition, literature and bit of luck." Thomas Edition said, "Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration." and he also said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."  As educators, teaching students to focus and the importance of a strong work ethic can help them achieve amazing quests.  Without discipline the students will the highest intellectual gifts will fail to soar.

Charles Darwin

Developing the Minds of All Students

Providing a rich learning environment for the economically deprived is essential, because so many potential innovators are lost.  This means providing not only a college education, but exposing them to books, a rich variety of different learning activities and time to explore.  The school most compensate for whatever these children lack in their home environment.  This costs money.  The government needs to invest both money and resources. Society not only limits those who are economically deprived, but many cultures significantly limit the resources and educational opportunities for women.  According to "Genius" by Claudia Kolb, Mozart's older sister Maria Anna was a brilliant harpsichordist whose career was terminated by her father when she reached 18, marrying age.  Terman's studies found similar results. Many of the females with I.Q.s 140 or higher became homemakers.  In 1972, I fought with my own father who felt a college education was a waste of money for his daughters, because girls are likely to get pregnant and never complete their education.  When I taught in many lower socio-economic communities, I observed the same attitude.  Changing cultural views on the roles of women is essential to open the doors to these potential geniuses. 
Sir Isaac Newton

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Isaac Newton

Geniuses do not bloom in isolation.  "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" is not just a quote by Isaac Newton, another genius, it is true.  Geniuses develop in clusters, piggy-backing on each other.  This means teachers should expose students to the work of others and if possible bring in guest speakers and workshops to expose students to innovators and creative thinkers.

Thomas Edison
As an educator, how do we effectively help more students become geniuses or at least innovators thus giving the government education expenditures more bang for their buck? 
  • First, provide every student with a rich learning environment with a variety of different learning experiences including problem solving, group work, reading, visual stimulus and projects. This means spending more money in economically deprived neighborhoods to enhance whatever the households are missing and providing a free college education to insure that every student reaches his/her potential.
  • Second, insist students develop a strong work ethic. That means hold students accountable.  Every innovator is going to fail and needs to understand that he or she must keep working even when the work becomes difficult.  The work ethic must be coupled with a passion for learning.  This means schools need to be packed with passionate teachers who not only teach, but inspire.
  • Third, genius does not happen in a vacuum.  Students need to be exposed to the innovations and the innovators, They must learn to "stand on the shoulders of giants."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Three Simple Methods To Improve Teacher Morale

Three Simple Methods To Improve Teacher Morale

by Jill Jenkins
Teaching can be a lonely, thankless job.  Frustration, isolation and insecurity can lead to low teacher morale.  Unlike other careers where sales quotas, bonuses, and title enhancements can remind employees of the quality of the work, teachers, especially those working in more demanding areas like special education or alternative education, often feel frustrated and unappreciated.  The media and government attack teachers. Angry parents berate teachers when their children don't meet their expectations.  The pay is low, the chances for advancement are limited, and the frustrations and demands are overwhelming; as a result, 70% of the new teachers hired in Utah, my state, leave the profession in five years according to the Deseret News.  Even though the low pay is a major contributing factor to the retention problem, teacher morale is also a problem.  Principals and teachers can do little to improve the salary. (That one is on the legislatures and the school boards.) They can, however, address teacher morale.  After all no one became a teacher expecting to get rich, but they all expect some respect. Three simple ways to improve moral are:
  • Create A Community of Caring
  • Empower Teachers To Solve Problems
  • Provide Frequent Fun Faculty Social Interactions

Create A Community Of Caring

Because of the size of the faculty in high schools, teachers often feel invisible, unappreciated and unrecognized by the administration.These teachers often become less productive.  To alleviate this one of my former principals, met each staff member, interviewed and photographed each person.  He used the information he obtain to learn the staff's names and something interesting that he could stop and chat with on a personal level.  By regularly visiting each teacher's classroom, he had a feel for who in his staff were competent leaders and who needed extra help. Each morning he stood in the office and greeted his staff and often asked advice from individual teachers.  His efforts built strong relationships with his teachers and; as a result, teachers felt more compelled to work harder for him. Another principal identified struggling students and had each teacher select three students that each could provide positive interactions. Teachers and students perform better when they feel someone cares about them. By identifying the students who were falling through the cracks many students were salvaged, but teachers actually increased their positive interaction with all students and it made their job more enjoyable. Thus, increasing moral in the entire school. 

Empower Teachers To Solve Problems

When the administration tries to solve all of the school's problems alone, the teacher feel alienated.  When teachers feel part of solutions they have more buy-in and feel more respected.  When teachers see one of their own suggestions implemented, it empowers them and provides a sense of pride.  For example, one of my principals implemented one of my suggestions of focusing on the positive instead of the negative by printing out business cards that we called Paws Cards: Catch Kids Doing the Right Thing.   When a student was discovered behaving appropriately or getting a good score, the teacher presented him with a Paws Card.  He took the card to the office and the secretaries recorded his name, gave him praise and small piece of candy.  Later, the school added the students' names into a weekly drawing. The winner of the drawing won a fabulous prize donated by a local company.  The concept is teachers spend too much time focusing on students who misbehave and ignore those who behave.  If teacher spend more time rewarding good behavior, those who misbehave might learn that by behaving they earn even more attention than by misbehaving. Fifteen years later, the school was still using the Paw's Card.  The same idea can apply to teachers: Catch kids doing something right can be catch teachers doing something right. 
If administrators put teaches into teams to brainstorm solutions to problems every school faces: truancy, tardiness, vandalism, poor attendance, unproductive attitudes, or alienation, teachers may develop an effective solution and feel more connected to the school.  At one high school where I taught, students gathered in small groups in corners of halls and in staircases to smoke and exchange drugs during class time.  The faculty was so frustrated that one science teacher grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed a group of students smoking in a staircase adjacent to his room.  The faculty met in small problem solving groups to develop a plan. The solution was simple. Each faculty member sacrificed one consultation period a week.  Each teacher was assigned a partner and wandered the halls on hall patrol.  The high visible patrol made most students return to class without issue.  The more defiant elements were either written up by the team to be counseled and discipline by a vice principal at a later time, or escorted to the vice principal's office for immediate action.  An unintended consequence of the highly effective solution was faculty members who may have never collaborated were working together. I, an English teacher was paired with Keith Tolstrup, a tall shop teacher. We remained friends until his death and I even became friends with his daughter who was about my age. He served not only as a deterrent to wandering students, but a fatherly mentor to me.
Good solutions develop when teachers work together with administrators to solve problems and morale improves.  Furthermore, some of the burdens of the administration are spread to the willing minds of the teachers. It takes an entire community to raise a child.
Behavior issues often drive inexperience teachers from the classroom; however if teachers met with other teachers to discuss discipline techniques and students problems, the inexperienced teachers would feel less isolated and develop positive skills when dealing with difficult students or communicating with difficult parents. These support teams would be more effective use of faculty meeting since most of the information disseminated in faculty meeting could be presented in an email or a memo.

 Frequent Fun Faculty Social Interactions

Finally teachers need a break from the drudgery and need to interact socially.  Frequent social interaction is important.  Have  your faculty create a Faculty Follies, the students will love it and the teachers will be forced to work together at something silly while enjoying themselves.  Create pot luck lunches.  When I taught at one high school, a group of us regularly went to dinner,out to cocktails, to movies or even cross-country skiing.  Venting or just doing something unrelated to school releases pressure in a faculty.  Cook breakfast for your staff like my last principal or bring in a photographer for some crazy shots of the staff barbequing or playing tug-a-war with the kids.