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. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Magnificent Five: Students Who Prove That Public Education Is Worth Saving

The Magnificent Five:

 Students Who Prove That Public Education Is Worth Saving

by Jill Jenkins
As a retired teacher with 39 years of experience in public schools it has been my privilege to interact with many incredible young people.  The spirit, resilient, and perseverance of many students astonishes me.  Since some in the political arena who have never set foot in a public school or met these amazing students would like to destroy the public schools with a financially handicapping voucher system. Even though many average students would not be negatively affected by vouchers, the most vulnerable students would.  I would like to introduce them to five of my former students who have greatly benefitted from public education dispelling the myths that public education is a cesspool as Ms. DeVos would have you to believe.  Using public school money for a voucher system in Michigan has ravaged the public schools in Detroit leaving the schools in such vile physical conditions that the teachers willingly walked off the job to draw public attention.  As a result, I feel compelled to show the world the spirit of American young hoping the public might recognize its value.  The names of these five students have been changed, but the stories are true.

A.V.I.D. helped LaShondra

While teaching in San Bernardino, the administration recognized that although 90% of the students were Black or Hispanic, less than 10% or that population were enrolled in honors or advanced placement classes. Analysis of this situation led the administration to conclude that many of these students were from either single parent homes or economically deprived households where both parents worked long house to support their family making it difficult to monitor their children's schoolwork.  The solution was to identify bright students from these subgroups who were not performing to their expectations, enroll them in honors or advanced placement classes and support them with a study skills classes. The program was originally called Century Club, but after evaluating the study skills methodology in the A.V.I.D. program (A Visa In Determination), it was changed to AVID. LaShondra was one of the students selected.  She was bright, but sheathed in anger.  Sometimes she exploded at classmates, but most of the time she seemed to be smoldering in insolence.  Each morning I arrived an hour before students to prepare my classroom and lessons.  One morning, LaShondra was sitting on the floor in the hall outside my door waiting to talk.  She told me how she grew up in Florida with a single mother who was addicted to heroine. When her mother needed drugs, she would sell whatever furniture or assets the family owned.  When the assets were gone, she would bring men home and exchange sexual favors for drugs.  When LaShondra was as young as ten, her mother would bring men home to sleep with her daughter in exchange for drugs. LaShondra's mother would disappear for days at a time leaving LaShondra to care and feed her five siblings.  One day LaShondra's mother did not return.  Days turned into weeks.  Soon there was no money, no food and the rent was due.  Frantically, LaShondra telephoned an aunt who lived across the state.  Her aunt retrieved LaShondra and her siblings, contacted each child's biological father and sent each to live in different homes across the country.  LaShondra was sent to San Bernardino to live with a father and step-mother who had four small children.  She had never met her father and had only heard terrifying stories from her mother.  She has frightened, but discovered they were a loving family.  LaShondra was frightened and lonely for the siblings she had raised and wanted to know where they were and where her mother was.  I took LaShondra to the school counselor and sat with her while she shared her story again.  The counselor helped her share her story with her parents who helped her locate and contact her lost siblings.  Unfortunately, they discovered LaShondra's mother had died of an overdose. Regardless, with the help of her parents, LaShondra began to heal.  She became a happy, successful student who went on to have a successful career in the military like her biological father.  Public schools can not solve the social problems students face, but they can help students develop skills to cope.  Without proper funding to public schools, schools would be forced to eliminate programs like AVID, a program that played a key role in helping LaShondra.

Alternative Education

I taught at an Alternative School in Livermore, California where most of our students were failing in regular school and many would have dropped out without the emotional support of the smaller setting.  Some felt isolated because of their sexual orientation .  Some felt isolation because they had been physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Some had one or both parents incarcerated and had to accept the role as adults before they were mature themselves.  Some were fourth generation gang members. The one who stands out in my memory was Nadia.  Nadia was not outgoing or angry.  She did not disrupt class or miss school.  She was silent.  She sat like a stone statue in class showing no emotion.  As assigned reading, the class was discussing Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine where the narrator is saying goodbye to his childhood.  As a writing assignment, I asked my students to think of something or someone important to them that they have had to part with and write a farewell letter expressing what they have lost and why it was important to them.  The next morning, Nadia and her guardian were waiting to talk to me.  Nadia's guardian explained to me that Nadia was her goddaughter and she had only recently moved to Livermore.  A few months earlier Nadia had been living in Puerto Rico with both of her parents.  Her parents had contacted a AIDS and had both died within a month of each other. Nadia had never met her godmother and had had a difficult time articulating her grief, but the assignment had allowed her to express her sorrow.  Her concern was that Nadia's paper was so touching and personal that she felt uncomfortable sharing it with the rest of the class. I told her that I was happy she had made the assignment meaningful to her and I would respect her wishes. Alternative schools allow teachers the freedom to help struggling students in ways that meet their individual needs.  Vouchers would make the expense of providing alternative program an impossibility.

Students With Disabilities

Throughout my career I have taught many students with disabilities: students with autism, visually impaired students who require special tools to see, student with learning disabilities and students with physical disabilities.  Two students, Juan and Bryan stand out because of their indomitable spirit. In Salt Lake City I taught Juan who had lost both arms when his parents were escaping arrest during a political topple in South American.  Juan's mother threw Juan, then two years old, out the window of a third story apartment to the waiting arms of his father.  Unfortunately, as Juan fell his outstretched arms hit high tension electrical wires severing them both above the elbows.  Juan was in the tenth grade when he attended my English class. He had not only overcome his language barrier by then, but had developed skills writing long, coherent essays with the stub of a pencil in his mouth. He carried his books, his pencils and his notebooks in a backpack. Although anyone would help him, he would accept no help retrieving his books, pencils and notebook with his chin and replacing them into the backpack in the same fashion.  Furthermore, he was always smiling and amused the class each day with his "joke of they day."

Like Juan, Bryan shared his amazing attitude. I met Bryan when I taught in South Jordan, Utah.  Bryan suffered from Muscular Dystrophy, a condition that slowly deteriorates the child's muscles until the muscles cannot support the heart or the lungs and the child dies.  When Bryan was in the seventh grade, he was healthy and happy. He careened around the hallways in his electric wheelchair at high speeds and worried teachers that he would crash when spinning around a corner.  As a ninth grade student he was gaunt and pale, but he still raced down the hall.  Even though Bryan qualified for an assistant like Juan, he refused the help.  The school counselor advised me to help him get his books, notebook and pencil out of his backpack and place the pencil in his hand which I did each day. He preferred a student help him, so I buddied him with an attractive girl who put his materials away the last five minutes of class.  Bryan's ability to speak loudly was diminished by ninth grade; however, since the school had installed an audio enhancement system in my class, I had two microphones: one that I wore and one that students passed around.  I or a student held it for Bryan when he shared his imaginative stories and poetry with the class.  Recently, I learned of Bryan's death at 18.  A former colleague sent me his obituary.  In it, his parents had shared a poem he had written in my class where Bryan referred to himself as:  "I am the calm and caring cripple ninja." He was.  Despite Bryan's refusal of helps, others need it.  If public education funding is reduced by vouchers providing help may be impossible.

Language Barriers

Many of my past student have suffered trying to learn English in school districts that provide little or no ESL support.  San Bernardino was the exception.  They not only provided ESL teachers and classes to support students, but those teachers were a great resources to the other teachers. (Thanks Bobbi Houtchen.)  As a result, many students who might still be struggling became star students in academic areas. Benito was a student who excelled in all of his classes.  He was bright and articulate and often told me that it would be wonderful if he taught advanced classes in other languages to help those just arriving in the United States.  When the time came for him to take his A.P. tests, his family did not have the money, so all of his teachers chipped in and paid his fees.  When the time came for him to apply for colleges, his mother had thrown away the family's documentation during a domestic dispute, so the principal paid for an immigration attorney to get the documentation Benito needed and hired him as tutor at the school to help with his tuition. 
When I hear people defame public education as cesspools or insult public educators as uncaring, indolent slugs, I become outraged.  Public schools and public educators work very hard to provide a quality education to all students.  If public schools lose funding programs like AVID, Alternative Education, aids for students with disabilities, special education and ESL classes will disappear.  Students like LaShondra, Nadia, Juan, Bryan and Benito will suffer.  Millions of students will not be given the quality education they deserve and as a result will not live the quality of life that they are capable of living.

Friday, March 10, 2017

HB 610: The Good Old Days Are Here Again?

HB 610: The Good Old Days Are Here Again?

Or The Fleecing of Public Schools.


By Jill Jenkins
My first day of school in 1959 wearing a dress my mother made me accompanied by my older brother John.

Nostalgia is fun sometimes remembering how wonderful life was in the 1950's and 1960's. I started school in 1959 wearing a dress made by my mother and carrying a brown paper bag filled with three waxed bags: one containing a tuna fish sandwich, one containing a handful of Clover Club Potato Chips, and one containing three Oreo cookies. I was lucky. Not everyone in my school had breakfast before school; not everyone ate anything for lunch; and not everyone in my school looked forward to a warm meal when their father came home from work.  Many of the legislatures and the president believe that returning to the good old days is the right thing to do. They are thinking of the lucky ones, but do their plans help those less fortunate?

HB 610 would destroy much of the progress that the war on poverty legislation passed during Lyndon Johnson's presidency made in 1965.  Despite, Bill O'Reilly statement that poverty hasn't really changed since 1965 despite the trillions spent according to the article,"Bill O'Reilly says poverty hasn't budged since 1965 despite 'trillions' spent" in PolitiFact., the facts show a different story.   According to Pew Research considerably fewer people live below the poverty level than did in 1965, especially in the deep South.  The chart below:
This graph shows that significant gains have been made.  The 1950's and 1960's might have been alluring for those who were White, male, and rich, but for the poor, Black, Hispanic or female, there were few opportunities.  My brother-in-law, Aaron Lobato, tells the story of his father, Silas Lobato, bringing Louis Armstrong home to dinner, because Louis Armstong who was performing at the Hotel Utah walked into his barber shop looking for a barber who would cut the hair of a Black man.  After Silas cut his hair, Louis inquired where he might find a restaurant that served Black men, so Silas brought him home.  Even though, Louis Armstrong was a successful and famous musician during that time, he was treated like a second class citizen: able to entertain the White audiences of the Hotel Utah, but unable to eat or get his hair cut there.  This is unbelievable today. Not only was their a greater level of prejudice, but there was a difference in the quality of education available for those with less means. There is a direct connect between the quality of education and the amount of education a person receives and the persons' ability to break out of the poverty cycle.  Helping people break the cycle of poverty improves the lives of everyone as more people earn more money, pay more taxes and have fewer reasons to participate in crime as a means of support. Nevertheless, the President and the legislature want to return us to these less accepting and uplifting times.

My brother-in-law Aaron Lobato.

First, many low income children depend on free or reduced lunches everyday.  If these children are not fed, they can not perform at their highest levels in school.  This proposed legislation would abolish funding of federally funded "No Hungry Kids Act" and do away with nutrition guidelines for cafeterias. This would significantly diminish the opportunities for success for these hungry students.  Eliminating the nutrition rules for school cafeterias means school might have the option of selling foods and beverages that benefit the school financially but not the nutritional needs of the students. I have worked in schools that placed soda machines throughout the schools to increase sales and received kick backs from the beverage distribution companies.  When schools are allowed to receive "kick-backs" from beverage companies, students begin to drink an abnormal amount of sugary beverages.  The schools make a profit to pay for activities, but the students' behavior becomes outrageous, and their ability to concentrate reduced.  No one wins. 
My step-son Braden sitting before a collection of pies.  If there are no rules for the cafeteria, why not.
Second, this legislation eliminates ESL classes, AP classes, honors classes.  Students who do not speak English as their native language have little opportunity assimilate successfully into our society without ESL classes.  Placing students who have little or no language skills in class filled with English speaking students frustrates that students and slows the progress of the other students when the teacher is pulled aside to assist that student with no or limited English skills.  Everyone loses.   The quality of their education is significantly hampered.  I know Trump believes he is going to send everyone back to Mexico, but our population is diverse.  Many schools have students who speak 17-20 different languages.  The population in the United States is much more diverse than it was after World War II so returning to classrooms of that era is counterproductive.  Meeting the needs of all students is important, not just those who are average.  Students who are intellectually gifted, those who have learning disabilities, and those who have language barriers all have differing educational needs, but all of their needs should be addressed.

My grandchildren, Elias and Isaac and my sister grandchildren, Damion and Natasha

Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Education Act also required schools to provide quality instruction, curriculum, accountability and educational opportunities for educators to improve their skills.  All of that seems like a logical, but all of this disappears in HB 610.  Perhaps the legislatures are unaware  that quality instruction by well prepared teachers increases the likelihood that children will have an effective educational experience or perhaps they don't care.

What does this bill offer us?  State Block Grants to be used as vouchers.  Essentially, this bill would replace public schools with a publicized program of education with no accountability or quality requirements. They are hoping their rich friends who start "for profit schools" can become richer from the public school coffers like they did from the "for profit" colleges that sent millions into debt for sub-quality educations like those at Trump University. This isn't back to the "good old days,"  but for whom? No, the students. This is moving tax dollars from the education of the poor, the intellectually handicapped, and those with language barriers into the pockets of the greedy businessmen. Some want to use these vouchers to provide tax dollars to those who wish to homeschool their children, because they feel their children should not be exposed to the immoral attitudes in public schools.  Isn't stealing funding from poor children a greater moral issue?  Making money while depleting the schools ability to provide for the poor, the handicapped and the gifted is like hawk devouring carrion on the highway is not the answer. This is opening the door for shysters to devour the educational funds by providing low quality education and leaving all of those students most difficult to teach in the dust.  That is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they set up a program of free, public schools.
My daughter, Jeanette and her friend, Carly graduating from 8th grade.

Either states are going to be buried in debt trying to pay for the programs that the federal government is dumping on them, or students who do not speak English, who have a learning or a behavioral disability, or those who are intellectually gifted will all suffer.  Students from low-income families who come to school hungry will stay hungry and poor.  The American tax-payer will be fleeced by the Trump Elementary and High School Program and the affluent homeschoolers.  Call your congressman before it is too late.  The good old day are coming again!