FEATURES FOR TEACHERS
Features For New Teachers
Volume 4, Issue 15
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Prompted by an invitation from Toby Kahn-Loftus, director of the Northern Michigan satellite of the Red Cedar Writing Project (RCWP), I embarked on a maiden voyage this summer as a teacher/consultant in a writing camp for 4th-6th graders. This is one of the many camps held throughout the country by NWP centers.
My 2008 school year had ended with earth-shaking, major life-challenges: retirement, knee replacement surgery, and a cancer diagnosis that shattered my sense of well-being. Reeling from these harsh realities, I hesitated in my commitment, not knowing what the future held, but the "still small voice" inside urged me to explore this new uncharted sea as a writing consultant.
I left the safety net of public school endowments for more reasons than health and age. A new paradigm lured me to this place, erupting from last summer's RCWP experience. I had a passion to pursue RCWP "best practices" and catch a few stray fish who had slipped through the public school nets in their journey towards becoming writers and readers. I wanted to engage students in real world, authentic learning. I felt compelled to expose students to excellent mentor texts, to share their writing with one another, to publish, and to experience the pure joy of polished, inspired writing.
Like many teachers I longed for an ideal, supported teaching environment - an environment which had
escaped me in over-crowded classrooms of 30-plus adolescents, using out-dated, didactic, pedagogical tools and methods of a century gone
by. The Spartan Writing Camp was everything I had longed for as a teacher and the experience left me with renewed hope for the future.
I couldn't stop now; I had come too far, and wanted to leave the teaching life on a positive note, so I summoned up all the energy I
had and went to camp.
The kids arrived slowly, one by one, accompanied by their parents in the lobby of the beautiful new North Central Michigan University’s Student Services building. After attending to permission slips and housekeeping details, 18 students and 2 team teachers walked across campus to a classroom in a nearby building. We passed out writer's notebooks and soon began filling our empty "canvas" with responses to wonderful mentor texts.
Unlike traditional school rooms, the 4 classroom walls soon became a mere launching pad to explore the rest of NCMC campus, its neighborhood, and our world. Even downtown Petoskey morphed into a classroom as students embarked on a tour d'force marathon writing experience as our young protégés interviewed local store personnel. In accordance with authentic learning experience, we later published and distributed our newsletters to downtown businesses. Digital photography (based on the picture book mentor text, Zoom, by Istvan Banyai) was also incorporated into our publishing efforts as well. ...But I digress......(The "One child at a time" story really begins here...)
One of our first writing experiences was to consider images from Chris Van Allsburg's inspirational book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and write a story telling what might possibly happen before and after the corresponding image. The first child to finish the prompt eagerly raised her hand and requested to read aloud. She read with little hesitation, straightforward, and with unadorned clarity. Tall and confident, she appeared mature beyond her 10 years and, I assumed, she was a highly successful 5th or even 6th grade student. I applauded her accomplishment incorporating all the basic elements of story: a clear narrator's voice ... character development ... plot ... setting ... description ... an engaging beginning ... a suspenseful middle and a thematic ending. In short, "She has it all", I told the class.
On the 2nd day of the camp, her mother warned me that her daughter, this very same girl who had written and read with such complete assurance and confidence, was a "non-writer and a non-reader". She further informed me, matter of factly, "She hates reading and writing." Mother explained that she had tried every means to motivate her daughter including enrolling her in the Michigan Dyslexia Center ("she didn't like the teacher"), the Sylvan Institute, and had even asked the girl's 4th grade teacher to have her tested for a learning disability. She also said that her teacher tried unsuccessfully to get grant money to help her. I couldn't believe that we were talking about the same child, so I asked her twice to tell me her name. It was indeed the same child who had stood before the class with such confidence. As tactfully as I could, I described how well her daughter had done the day before and assured her I would do everything I could to help.
Finally, Friday arrived, the day of celebration. All the student’s work lay on the desks ready for parents to arrive and celebrate their children's success. We had put together a small book of the students' writing and pictures and her daughter's original story was included. Following the presentations of awards, certificates, etc., I noticed the girl's mother nervously scanning the room. I approached her and invited her to look at her daughter's work. She was reluctant to focus on it and repeated the scripted assertion that “____ hates writing and reading." Picking up the book, I opened to her daughter's story and began reading several lines. "This story could not have been written by a non-reader!" I implored, begging her to look and see for herself. "Your daughter is an excellent writer. I believe this is not a case of inability but lack of will."
The girl's mother turned to her daughter and asked, "I thought you hated reading and writing?"
from their web site The primary goal of the
ISTE NETS Project is to enable stakeholders in PreK-12 education to
develop national standards for educational uses of technology that
facilitate school improvement in the United States. The NETS Project
will work to define standards for students, integrating curriculum
technology, technology support, and standards for student assessment and
evaluation of technology use.
The technology foundation
standards for students are divided into six broad categories. They are
The technology foundation
standards for students are divided into six broad categories. They are
Basic operations and concepts
Social, ethical, and human issues
3. Technology productivity tools
4. Technology communications tools
5. Technology research tools
6. Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
Under each category are several standards for students to achieve. All of this is broken down by grade level to make it easier for teachers to develop and use within their classrooms.
These standards have served us well as we transitioned from the 20th to
the 21st century. But things are changing quickly in the workforce and
new skills are being demanded by employers including problem-solving,
collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and decision-making.
None of these skills can be mastered in the 20th century teaching style
classrooms where students sit in rows and listen to the teacher.
These standards have served us well as we transitioned from the 20th to the 21st century. But things are changing quickly in the workforce and new skills are being demanded by employers including problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and decision-making. None of these skills can be mastered in the 20th century teaching style classrooms where students sit in rows and listen to the teacher.
Technology integration provides the way to change, but we, as teachers,
need to change with it. With this need the isteNETs project has
responded with a draft of new standards to meet the needs of teachers in
the 21st century. Like the old standards, they are divided into six
broad categories with multiple standards for each. They are as follows:
Technology integration provides the way to change, but we, as teachers, need to change with it. With this need the isteNETs project has responded with a draft of new standards to meet the needs of teachers in the 21st century. Like the old standards, they are divided into six broad categories with multiple standards for each. They are as follows:
1. Creativity and Innovation
2. Communication and Collaboration
3. Research and Information Retrieval
4. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making
5. Digital Citizenship
6. Technology Operations and Concepts
These standards certainly answer the call of skills being demanded in the workforce of the 21st century. The final standards will be published in June at the National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. We, as teachers, need to begin to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves the question Am I preparing my students for the 20th or the 21st century?
For more information go to
For more information go towww.cnets.iste.org
Grade retention is the practice of having a student (usually a general education student, rather than a special education student) repeat a grade level of schooling. A retained student is sometimes referred to as having been "held back." In Canada and the United States, this practice is only used in the elementary, middle and high school level.
Advocates of grade retention argue that this is done so as to help the student learn and sharpen skills such as organization, management, study skills, literacy and academic which are very important before entering middle school, high school, college and the workforce. However, extensive research has found short term gains but little to no long-term improvement from grade retention, and significant harmful effects.
The alternative to grade retention is a policy of social promotion, where students are promoted to the next grade despite their poor grades in order to keep them with social peers. The aim of promotion is not to harm the students' self-esteem, to keep students together by age (together with their age cohort), and to allow teachers to get rid of problem students.
The following are common arguments regarding this practice.
Arguments against grade retention
Opponents of "no social promotion" policies do not defend social promotion so much as say that retention is even worse. They argue that retention is not a cost-effective response to poor performance when compared to cheaper or more effective interventions, such as additional tutoring and summer school. They point to a wide range of research findings that show no advantage to, or even harm from, retention, and the tendency for gains from retention to wash out.
Harm from retention cited by these critics include:
Increased drop-out rates of retained students over time
No evidence of long-term academic benefit for retained students
Increased rates of dangerous behaviors such as drinking, drug-use, crime, and teenage pregnancy among retained students as compared with similarly performing promoted students.
Critics of retention also note that retention has hard dollar costs for school systems: requiring a student to repeat a grade is essentially to add one student for a year to the school system, assuming that the student does in fact stay in the system until graduating from high school.
Arguments for grade retention
Opponents of social promotion argue that it cheats the child of an education. As a result, when the child gets to high school they will probably be forced to be retained or attend summer school. Studies have shown that the high school student that is being retained would be inexcusably painful for a student emotionally because high school students are more vulnerable to change; they are experiencing a lot of pressure because of the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Opponents of social promotion argue that it has the following negative impacts:
Students who are promoted cannot do the work
Students will have many failures in the high school years which will most likely lead to dropping out
It sends the message to all students that they can get by without working hard
It forces teachers to deal with under-prepared students while trying to teach the prepared
It gives parents a false sense of their children's progress
Some hold that most students at the elementary school level don't take their education seriously and therefore retention is most likely not to be effective. Since most middle school students value their education more, retention should be used if they are judged not to have adequate skills before entering high school.
Part 2 of this series will detail the history of retention as well as potential outcomes.
When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered,
lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously
contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.
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