Monthly Archives: October 2016

Understanding Our Task as Teachers

“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, October 28, 2016

By any standard I recognize, the 2016 presidential election season is hands down the most appalling in my lifetime–and I am not a young man. If it is true (as I believe it is), that the election of Barack Obama, the first President of the United States of African descent, exposed latent racism and bigotry in the United States, then this election has in every respect put the icing on that ugly cake. Moreover, it appears that the specter of a Trump administration has aroused anxiety in children and that in general there is “Trump Anxiety” among adults as well. I don’t much care for either candidate, but it is undeniable that the Republican candidate has engaged in dog-whistling bigotry, sexism and misogyny, general vulgarity, and a combination of grotesque vanity and whining self-pity that really ought to put off anyone with reasonably stable mental health.

So this week, less than two weeks before the general election, seems as good a time as any to post a reading on George Washington’s famous letter on toleration for today’s Weekly Text. Finally, here is a reading comprehension worksheet to accompany it.

As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Children and Screen Technologies

Now that screen technologies have achieved ubiquity, it is surely time (actually, that time has long since passed in my estimation) to take a critical look at the way they are shaping our lives. My fascination with gizmos has never extended beyond their utility to help me manage my complicated workload. My smartphone is off a significant portion of the week; besides basic productivity applications, I only have word games on it, and I only reach for those in moments of ennui, or when I am stuck on a train.

Perhaps the most important place to apply critical analysis of these devices is in their use by children and adolescents. I don’t think these devices exactly do wonders for kids who already have short attention spans. Late last week, to my relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidelines for appropriate use of digital devices for children. I recommend a look; it’s long been clear to me that kids are spending too much time with this technology and not enough in parks, and in their own imaginations.

An Epigram for Teaching Literature

“Literature: proclaiming in front of everyone what one is careful to conceal from one’s immediate circle.”

Jean Rostand

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Portable Curmudgeon. New York: Plume, 1992.

The Weekly Text, October 21, 2016

Unlike leading software companies, I try not to publish or release material that I haven’t tested repeatedly in the classroom for effectiveness with students. This week’s Text, a learning support on clauses and correlating conjunctions, is an exception to that rule. I’ve only used this once, for a unit I designed on writing stylish sentences for advanced students. As I reformatted it yesterday, and generally tried to clean it up, it occurred to me that it might be rewritten into two different supports for struggling students.

Of course, there are probably a number of ways to make it more effective. For that reason, there is a distinct possibility that I will revise it and repost it sometime in the future.

As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Arthur Goldstein: The New Grading Standards in NYC Are Absurd and Inhumane

Here’s something from Arthur Goldstein’s blog, NYC Educator, by way of Diane Ravitch’s blog (I couldn’t find a “reblog” button on his site).  Mr. Goldstein is a teacher of English language learners here in New York City, and therefore a distant colleague of mine. He does a very nice job in this post of exposing the inanity we are dealing with in our professional roles as educators in the five boroughs.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Arthur Goldstein has taught ESL students in New York City for decades, and he has one of the best blogs in the city, state, and nation, written from the view of a teacher.

In this post, he lacerates the administration of the New York City Department of Education for a grading policy that further diminishes the discretion of teachers to make judgments about what their students need and how they are progressing. I can’t help but think about the paradigm of all national systems, where teachers are carefully selected, well prepared, treated as masters of their profession, and trusted to do what’s best for their students.

The new NYC rule, Arthur says, is “you will differentiate instruction the same way for everyone.”

He writes:

“That seems to be the main thrust of the new grading policy. A big thing, for me at least, is the policy on what is…

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Beyond Education as Training to Take Tests

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.”

Hannah Arendt, Teaching as Leading

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, October 14, 2016

It’s the final Friday of Hispanic Heritage Month, 2016, and so here is the final Weekly Text in observance of this month. I offer this week a a reading on Che Guevara, one of the most instantly recognizable icons of Hispanic–and Latin American–history. To accompany this reading here is a a reading comprehension worksheet. And that’s it for this week.

As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Anthony Cardinale: New York’s Common Core Tests in Third Grade are Developmentally Inappropriate: An Analysis of Test Questions

Here’s something from Diane Ravitch’s blog of direct concern to Mark’s Text Terminal.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Anthony Cardinale is a third grade teacher who recently met with education commissioner MaryEllen Elia to discuss the Common Core and state testing in New York.  She asked him to evaluate the released passages from the ELA tests.  He found them to be developmentally inappropriate and summarized his finding in a report.

You can download the report at this link:  cc-ela-passage-eval-2016-final-copy

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One Problem with Homework, and a Solution

I’ve been working my way slowly through Ross Greene’s  books, If you teach struggling learners, I encourage you to take a look at his work. At the moment I’m reading The Explosive Child (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), in which Dr. Greene has this to say about homework (I prefer to use the term “independent practice”) and the inflexible child:

“Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe that homework is an essential component of a child’s education. Which is fine, except that many inflexible-explosive children find homework to be incredibly frustrating because they don’t have any brain energy left after a long day at school, their medication has worn off, they have learning problems that make completing homework an agonizing task, or because homework–especially long-term assignments–requires a lot of organization and planning. Thus, it’s no accident that these children often exhibit some of their most extreme inflexibility and explosiveness when they are trying to do homework.

Do these difficulties render some children incapable of completing the same homework assignments as their classmates? Yes. Is it always possible to address these difficulties effectively? No. Does having a child melt down routinely over homework help him feel more successful about doing homework? No. Are these difficulties a good reason to alter or adjust homework assignments? Yes. I’ve yet to be convinced that the best way to instill a good work ethic in a child–or to help his parents become actively or productively involved in his education–is by inducing and enduring five hours of meltdowns every school night. The best way to instill a good work ethic is to assign homework that is both sufficiently challenging and doable in terms of quantity and content. Achieving this goal, of course, takes a little extra effort by the adults who are overseeing the assigning and completing of homework.”