Wednesday, April 23, 2008
This year I initiated a tutoring program at the high school my children attended. Several student volunteers from Covenant Day High School as well as adults from Christ Covenant Church have been meeting weekly with 12 elementary school students to provide homework assistance. The children have required help with a variety of academic needs and flexibility has been an indispensable part of making the program work. Along the way I have learned the art of training individuals who cared enough to give up an afternoon a week, but weren't sure how to translate that concern into effective tutoring. With an emphasis on helping students learn how to solve problems themselves, here are some strategies which we improvised as needs surfaced:
- When a kindergarten student didn't bring in a book to read or homework to complete, I encouraged his tutor, a high school freshman, to help the student compose a simple story. With that idea, the kindergartner enjoyed dictating and helping to write several sentences.
- Creating math drawings supplemented flash cards and helped students to "get" multiplication tables.
- Tutors needed to learn how to stretch their students' writing. For example, an adult sat and watched a child write a simple paragraph about a book he had read without providing any input. Although the sentences were adequate, words were misspelled, sentence syntax needed improvement, and there was a repetitious overuse of pronouns. The adult needed to see these problems herself in order to provide correction and instruction.
- Tutors frequently needed to be reminded to let their students read (and to not read for them!). Similarly, tutors needed to make sure the students comprehended what they had read. Reluctant readers can be coaxed to read aloud by taking turns—the student one page, the tutor the next. Readers also took turns reading different characters' dialogue.
- When reviewing spelling words tutors needed to find out if the student knew the word's meaning.
For more information on training tutors, see:
Christ Covenant Church, Covenant Day School, Teaching tutors, literacy
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
Holy Family University, Education Book Review, Tri-Lite
Monday, April 7, 2008
On April 4th The Charlotte Observer ran an article with the headline, "Students score well in writing" reporting better than average scores for local eighth graders on the 2007 national writing test. When you look closely, the statistics aren't as exciting as the headline indicates. At closer inspection, you'll find that if all races and income levels are included, only 31% of local eighth-graders were rated proficient on the exam —this matches the national rate. Although 52 % of white students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools were rated proficient as compared to less than 40% of their white public-school peers nationwide and in the Carolinas, I'm not celebrating. (For the full report, go to The Nation's Report Card.)
Perhaps this is (relatively) good news for our local school district, but I'm sorry, I don't find these statistics anything to be jumping for joy about. What about the 69% of eighth grade students across the country who aren't meeting this level of proficiency? What about the remaining 48% in Charlotte Mecklenburg?
The "basic" rating, earned by a solid majority of students regardless of location, race, or income, indicates only a partial mastery of grade-level writing. As the Observer reported and the statistics indicate, "proficient writing, defined as solid performance and competency on challenging subjects, was much rarer."
What's the problem here? As an educator involved in teaching writing skills, I speak with lots of teachers around the country. I think there are several weak links in the educational chain. First, I find that almost all teachers feel a great pressure to "teach to the test." So although an argument can be made that at least class time is being devoted to writing, I wonder how much of this preparation (with its concomitant pressure on teachers whose salaries can be tied to their students' performance), is rote or truly teaches the craft of writing. (See the International Reading Association's position paper for more information.)
I believe that writing skills should be developed from a strong foundation of reading and from analytical thinking. Reading has been replaced with playing video games, surfing the Internet (which at least involves more reading skills than video games) watching movies and TV, or competing in sports, than they do reading. Reading MUST be encouraged, supported, and reinforced by parents and educators. Second, I think we don't adequately challenge kids to think critically. Writing involves thinking. Whether fiction or nonfiction, every piece of solid writing requires the author to generate original thoughts. As much as possible, teachers need to be supported in encouraging students of all ages to think for themselves. This doesn't need to be fancy. An author friend of mine, who is a former teacher, said that when students brought a paper for her to read and asked, "What do you think of this?" she'd turn the question around and ask, "What do you think about it?" Critical thinking isn't an educational quick fix; it starts with engaging students mind's rather than being satisfied with rote responses.
Here's my word for the day: metacognition- the ability to reflect on one's own learning experience. Let's teach it. Let's model it. Let's do it ourselves.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
Believe me, it took a long time for my heart rate to come back to normal.
Check out Stankard's work on his website and you'll see why I concluded the article with: "Paul Stankard has two mottoes: 'Make it well' and 'Never stop learning.' Following those mottoes has allowed Paul Stankard to make magic from colored-glass rods—it's a magic you must see to believe."
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