The Right to Read

The right to read should be given to everyone. Not just the privileged. Not just the children in some countries. It must be given freely and to everyone. According to UNESCO, 750 million people around the world lack basic literacy skills. Two thirds of these are female. One hundred million children around the world do not complete elementary school and do not learn to read or write. In this century we have not reached the goal of literacy for all.

As an educator, I feel responsible for delivering on the promise of this right to literacy. It is my duty to help make this happen.

Here’s some of the things we can do as educators:

Be reading strong! This means that you share your values about books and literacy with others in your community and school. Talk to people about this vision. I try to run a little book talk called ‘Bagels and Books’ at each elementary school to introduce the latest books on the market.

Flood the zone. Design reading rich environments in obvious and not so obvious places. We have books in the classrooms. But do we have them in our nurse’s offices? Where else can we place them?

Build a network. Support, join, and follow literacy associations that advocate for education rights.

I have a responsibility to nurture and grow children who can read, who do read, and who love to read. Join me in making this happen.

Some of the material from this post is from Emily Chiarello’s article “Be Their Advocates.”

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Get Out! The Case for the Outdoor Classroom

 

IMG_0553 (1)This summer I visited The Greentree Foundation. Located in Manhasset, Greentree’s 400 acres of mature woodlands, native grasses, and glacial topography offer a remarkable natural classroom from which to study the biology, ecology, and geology of Long Island. I saw a hawk and watched a salamander slither under a rock.  One of the organization’s notable goals is to school teachers in how to create outdoor learning opportunities.

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Most students today don’t have the same opportunities as their parents did to play outside.  The world is less safe and the draw of technology is a considerable magnet to pull our children indoors.  A great deal of research has been done , though, on the enormous positive  effects of learning outdoors.  Here’s what educators have learned:

  • Natural environments, such as parks, foster recovery from mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety and are found to be restorative.
  • People have a more positive outlook on life and higher satisfaction when in proximity to nature.
  • Observing nature can restore concentration and improve productivity.
  • Natural play settings have been found to reduce the severity of symptoms of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and improve concentration.
  • Exposure to natural environments enhances the ability to recover from illness and injury.
  • A direct experience with nature can provide greater interest in topics introduced indoors triggered by experience that was relevant, real-world, and tangible.9
  • Play with natural elements (e.g., sticks, leaves, stones, sand, mud, etc.) was found to engage children longer than traditional play materials, supporting greater cooperation and pro-social behaviors.
  • Garden-based learning programs have resulted in increased nutrition and environmental awareness, higher learning achievements, and increased life skills for students.
  • Participation in outdoor school has been linked with higher ratings of conflict resolution skills, improved self-esteem, problem solving skills, and environmental behaviors.

The research is overwhelming in terms of the benefits of being outside.  This fall, while the weather is warm, why not take your class outside?  Students can read, write, and explore while feeling a breeze on their cheeks and listen to the chatter of blue jays.  The first days of back to school routines can be stressful.  What a great way to create a special atmosphere for your new students.

 

 

Much of the material in this post came from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/5-benefits-of-outdoor-education-michael-becker

Some of the outdoor education research:

Charles, C. (2010). Children’s contact with the outdoors and nature: A focus on educators and educational settings. Children & Nature Network. This extensive report summarizes outdoor education and nature experience research related to schools and educational settings. It’s available at: http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/Educationsynthesis.pdf

Coyle, K.J. (2010). Back to school: Back outside! National Wildlife Federation. This report summarizes the benefits of outdoor education and provides action ideas, policy recommendations, and additional resources. It’s available at: http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be%20Out%20There/Back%20to%20School%20f ull%20report.ashx 1School performance research

American Institutes for Research. (2005). Effects of outdoor education programs for children in California. Palo Alto, CA. Available on the Sierra Club web site. http://www.sierraclub.org/youth/california/outdoorschool_finalreport.pdf

Blair, D. (2009). The child in the garden: an evaluative review of the benefits of school gardening. Journal of Environmental Education, 40(2), 15-38. This study may be available in a library near you or can be purchased online through the publisher at: http://www.heldref.org/pubs/jee/about.html

Dyment, J. (2005). Gaining ground: The power and potential of school ground greening in the memorable nature of the fieldwork setting.

 

Lead so People will Follow…if Only out of Curiosity

Colin_Powell_official_Secretary_of_State_photo

In April, I had the opportunity to hear Collin Powell speak.

Powell served as National Security Advisor, as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Persian Gulf War. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.With his vast experience of being in charge, I wanted to hear what he had to say about leadership. And he had a lot to say. Without ever looking at a notecard or a teleprompter, he spoke for an hour and he spoke from his heart. He said that the essence of leadership ultimately comes down to a matter of trust. He said good leaders are people who are trusted by their followers. He told a story that took place back in the Infantry School at Fort Benning. He said that one of his sergeants approached him and said, “Lieutenant, you’ll know you’re a good leader when people will follow you…if only out of curiosity.” What Powell was saying, and he saw it over and over again, was that people will follow you when they trust you. Well—how do you do that? How do you get people to trust you? Powell went on to say that in infantry school he was told, “Lieutenant, no matter how cold it is—you must never look cold. No matter how hungry you are—you must never appear hungry. No matter how terrified you are, lieutenant, you must never look terrified. Because if you are scared, tired, hungry, and cold….they will be scared, tired, hungry and cold. Make sure your soldiers come to you with their problems. “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

leadership

When you lead, you must articulate a clear mission. Serve selflessly—not by self-serving selflessly. Prepare your followers– give them what they need to get the job done. Be prepared to take the risks with them. People will follow you into the darkest night, down the deepest valley and up the highest hill if they trust you. So the essence of leadership is about human relationships. People want to know, “Will you have my back?”
Charles Lauer said, “Leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite them on a journey.
Why am I so concerned about leadership? Just take a look around you. We have some complicated problems facing us: sustainable food sources, climate changes, health care, pollution—-the world needs smart leaders who can orchestrate solutions.  We need smart leaders who can solve complicated problems. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. A leader is a dealer in hope.
Leadership is lonely. No matter how big your team, sometimes it’s just you–which means you sometimes you need to look inside yourself for motivation and inspiration.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Harry Potter. Harry was an unlikely leader. But he always rose to the occasion when he was called on. In the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore says to Harry, “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” I hope the leaders of our schools wear it well.

Do You Know My Name?

A few years ago, when my granddaughter started pre-school, I called to ask her how it went.  “It was so much fun, Bubbe.  Everybody knew my name.”

Her comment brought to mind the lyrics of the theme song from Cheers,

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

It’s important to all of us when people know our names.  It is especially important when our youngest students go to school.  It shows we respect and honor them, and that their names are worth remembering.  In that simple act, we make a connection.

In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi tribe has an expression, “I see you.” It is a simple expression, but a statement much like bowing to someone, acknowledging that they deserve consideration. When we greet each student by name, we affirm their identity.  We are implying, ” I accept you, and all that you are.”  It is a powerful statement.

James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale university, said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  This connection is especially powerful for students who struggle.

All teachers know the names of the students in their classrooms.  They may not, however, know the names of the students in the class next door or down the hall.  I am going to make a concentrated effort to learn as many students’ names as I can.  I challenge all of you educators out there to do the same.  I think it will help make the difference.

It did to my granddaughter.  Her name is Everly.

Read Aloud!

Our students need to hear us read aloud.  They need to hear us when they are five and they need to hear us when they are fifteen.  According to Jim Trealease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook,  “A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids.  They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.”

A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.

Reading aloud to a child promotes language development.  It helps them cope with situations they have not yet experienced and exposes them to stories not usually found in conversations. Repeated reading not only helps children learn to read but also has an impact on school success. Lifelong enjoyment of reading is directly related to daily reading. Children see the pictures and print up close, ask questions, and make comments.

Years ago, when I was a principal, I would read to my faculty at the start of every meeting.  It might have been a poem or an excerpt from a new book.  It always set  a tone of community  and allowed everyone to clear their heads.  Mary Bowman-Kruhm, a faculty associate at the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, teaches reading classes for prospective special-education teachers. “I read to my graduate students at the beginning of class because it gives them time to get settled and to clear their minds of the day’s activities.”

It has been observed that reading aloud is most successful in promoting progress in learning when the level of vocabulary and sentence structure are slightly above that used by the child (Chomsky, 1972).  There is a high correlation between reading aloud and vocabulary development , one of the best predictors of reading comprehension (Cohen, 1968).  Children may also learn the meaning of new words from a single exposure to a book read aloud (Elley, 1989).

So have some fun and read a book with someone—-out loud.

 

What Happened in School Today?

Ever ask your son or daughter what happened at school?  Usually, they say something like “Nuthin.”  Or you might get something that sounds like this, “The same old thing.  Boring stuff.”

We have to think about different kinds of questions to get different kinds of answers from our children.  This quick list of questions caught my eye today.  (They originated from HerViewFromHome.com.  There are 50 suggestions there if you want to see the whole list).  The question demands a different kind of answer.  Hope you get lucky with them.  Here are just a few…

  • What made you smile today?
  • Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  • Who did you sit with at lunch?
  • Was anyone in your class gone today?
  • Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  • Did you like your lunch?
  • What was the hardest thing you did today?
  • If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  • What made your teacher smile?
  • What made your teacher frown?
  • If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be?  Why?
  • What kind of person were you today?

 

Digital Badges and Professional Development

 

I still believe that the best way to improve instruction is through professional development.  Not everyone agrees with me.  I know that many teachers groan when they even hear the words professional development. To illustrate the point, in Michael Fullan’s The NEW Meaning of Educational Change, (2007), he quotes a teacher who states, “When I die I hope it is during a professional development session because the transition from life to death will be so seamless” (p. 283).

An Education Week survey conducted in 2016 showed that 42% of teachers say they have little to no influence on the professional development available to them.  Teachers perceive that a wide range of common professional development activities would make a difference in their classrooms, including common planning time and mentorship for new teachers.

Some districts are trying something new called micro-credentialing.  Part of this movement allows teachers to choose their own learning and customize it.  At least three states, Delaware, Florida, and Tennessee, are piloting micro-credentialing programs, along with New York City and other spots around the country.

Micro-credentials are often in the form of digital badges.  Just like in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, when you spend time working on a specific task, you earn a badge.They are sometimes called mini-degrees or web badges.  They can be described as a small certificate for taking a kind of shortened form of a college course.  Some of the work may be done on-line, but work can also be completed collaboratively, or in one’s own classroom. A micro-credential can take anywhere from four weeks to a year, depending on the subject. Providers such as the nonprofit Digital Promise,  allow educators to provide evidence of their knowledge, including student work or videos. Amid the growth in popularity, there is also increasing attention to the need for standards around rigor, value for stakeholders, oversight and teacher incentives for earning them.

Another provider, Learning Forward, requires educators to demonstrate the skill in practice with students.

While there is no empirical research yet on the impact for students, advocates say the benefits for students, are, as their name implies, on a micro level.

Still, as this form of PD becomes more popular, there are a lot of unanswered questions.  According to Education Week, “Not all micro-credentials are created equal , and states and districts have yet to come to a consensus on the level of rigor they must meet and the value different stakeholders  should put on an earned micro-credential” (Education Week, April 26, 2017).  There are also questions regarding who should assess teachers’ work, and what kinds of incentives should be tied to the attainment of the badges.

Many teachers are required to complete a set number of PD hours each year.  This new approach is certainly something to carefully examine.  Sustained, personalized professional development is successfully provided in most fields.  I think most teachers would welcome the change.

For more info on micro-credentials, Read the article in Education Week.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/04/26/customizing-professional-development-through-microcredentials.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teens and Dating: High Schools can Help

 

Information for this post came from Peggy Orenstein’s article in Education Week,  5/10/17 http://www.edweek.org/go/commentary and When Teen Dating Turns Dangerous by Jan Brogan from The Boston Globe’s article from 4/1/13   https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2013/03/31/dangerous-dating/BasnGkyWQG2UMTaEXdWR1I/story.html

If you ask a dozen teens what their definition of dating is, you will get a dozen different answers.  Some define it as ‘hanging out together’ and others talk about people they ‘hook up’ with, and others think of it as having a special friend or a friend ‘with benefits.’ That lack of a common definition can lead to a lot of misunderstanding.

In a 2008 national online survey posted on Loveisrespect.org, nearly half the 1,043 children age 11 to 14 queried said they had already been in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. One in three said they knew a friend who has had intercourse or oral sex. According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of high school students have had sexual intercourse.

Teenagers often don’t know what constitutes a healthy relationship. Many pattern their relationships on what they see on TV or the movies.  These relationships are usually dysfunctional or idyllic and far from reality.  We need to instill the values of compassion, kindness, respect, and caring  into dating that we want our children to embody in every aspect of their lives.

Nine percent of high school students in the state reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner in the last year, according to the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. A 2011 national study puts the number of teen victims of dating violence at one in 10. When the definition of abuse is expanded to include verbal insults and controlling behavior, studies report the incidence at more than 20 percent. Teen dating violence includes emotional, physical or sexual violence. Risk factors include depression, anxiety, drug abuse, early sex and violence at home or in the surrounding neighborhood and peer bullying, according to research.

“All teens, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, are vulnerable as they experiment with their first intimate relationships,” according to Judith Siegel, a social worker and the director of mental health services in Boston Children’s Hospital. Although the majority of abuse is boys against girls, boys can be victims of girls and of other boys, she said.  Abuse is not restricted to heterosexual relationships.  “A teenager’s first romantic relationship plays a critical role in helping an adolescent develop a sense of who he or she is — personally and sexually,” said Deinera Exner-Cortens, lead author of a study at Cornell and a doctoral student in human development . “If a teen’s first intimate relationship is abusive, it may skew what his or her view of what a healthy relationship looks like.”

The study, which was published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, analyzed a sample of nearly 6,000 Americans 12 to 18 years old from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They were interviewed as teens and again five years later.

Females who had experienced teen dating violence — defined as psychological or physical violence — reported increased symptoms of depression and were 1.5 times more likely to binge-drink or smoke and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who did not experience dating abuse. Males who experienced teen dating violence reported more anti-social behaviors and were 1.3 times more likely to use marijuana and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.  The research also indicated that avoiding social media after a break up from an abusive relationship is helpful.

There are a number of programs that high schools can weave into their health classes to help teens deal with the dating landscape.  Schools need to make this part of their curriculum.  In addition, parents need to have an open dialogue about dating.  Parents have talks about drugs and alcohol, but often ignore information about relationships and dating.  Our children need some very clear discussions about the dynamics of real relationships.  They deserve that.

 

 

Science and Fiction: Your Brain and the Power of Story

Much of the material from this post came from Your Brain on Fiction,
By Annie Murphy Paul  published in the NY Times on 3/17/12

When history was shared with me through story I never had a problem recalling the sequence of events or geography of the place.  I knew that stories somehow helped me remember and I knew it helped others remember as well.

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.  The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

In 2011, Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, performed an analysis of 86 fMRI studies, published  in the Annual Review of Psychology, and concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.

As I continue to examine the curricula we offer to our students, I keep the importance of reading stories in mind.  In the past few years we have placed a great deal of emphasis on non-fiction reading, and I think this was important because it had been neglected.  However, too often in education we let the pendulum swing with   a treacherous arc . When we discover something worthwhile, we abandon all else. Students need to read from a broad range of genres.

Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels.  These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have wept with Charlotte and Wilbur, and admired Atticus Finch.

Aloha

Aloha.   Not only is this the Hawaiian equivalent for the English ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ but the embodiment of the Aloha spirit of compassion and peace. Last week I had the incredible good fortune to visit the big island of Hawaii and hike the forests and acres of volcanic rock and black sand beaches. There were many beautiful trees and flowers, notably the banyan trees that I thought only grew in India.  But there was one tree that  really stood out and that was the oheo tree.

The oheo tree is very special because it is the first tree that grows after lava has flowed.  The lovely Lehua flower is the fruit of the Ohia tree, displaying colors of orange, red, and yellow. It grows beautifully in the forest, but can also grow in an arid climate, shooting off air roots to capture moisture in the air. The ranger I walked with also said that during periods of drought the tree will take in less water through its roots, shooting off air roots,  so that a neighboring tree can survive.  We can learn a lot from an oheo tree.

The tree is also steeped in Hawaiian culture.  There is a legend that says that Pele, the goddess of the volcano,  desired a handsome man named Ohia. But, Ohia was already in love with another–the beautiful girl Lehua. Enraged, Pele transformed Ohia into  a tree on the mountain. Lehua pleaded with Pele to return Ohia to her, but Pele refused. So, Lehua went to the gods and begged that she be reunited with Ohia. The gods, having pity on her, turned Lehua into the beautiful red blossom of the Ohia tree so that they could be together forever. It said that when someone picks Lehua, still today, it rains because you have separated the lovers, and the rain is their tears.   No child in Hawaii ever picks the Lehua blossom.  Aloha.