Saturday, November 27, 2010

Parenting is Easy

I...hold on.....sorry, after writing the title I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I remember vividly the day my father told me "being a parent is the hardest thing you'll ever do." He was right. And I really appreciate him waiting until I already had children to enlighten me with that little nugget. It's almost as if he enjoys watching me go through what I put him through. I guess that's fair; I wasn't the best kid. And, coincidentally, I'm not the best parent. What I am is a middle-aged bald man who drives a mini-van and listens predominately to the Beatles, Jack Johnson, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Waylon Jennings. A happening Friday night for me is Walmart and Target in the same night. Maybe a little Barnes and Noble action if I'm lucky. As lame and boring as I am (really lame; really boring), I can contribute in one area of life, as minuet as it may be: I am a parent and an educator, and I have some ideas about how the two entities can form a better relationship.

Parents have some legitimate complaints about schools. Over the next few weeks I'll take a look at these concerns and offer some potential solutions. Today's problem: homework.

Concern: Too much homework/Homework is too hard.

Probably true on both counts. First part first. Simply put, schools need to stop with the busy work. As an educator I can honestly say this: it's gotten ridiculous. It's a waist of time and it has to stop. If an assignment doesn't have genuine meaning, don't give it. Also, too many assignments are not engaging. More on this in a later post (in showbiz, this is known as a teaser. I am not in the entertainment business, but I do watch TV.)

Second part second. Homework is actually not too hard necessarily, it's just parents aren't in the class for the lesson, and can't always answer kids' questions at homework time. Or, on a more horrifying level, parents don't know what the assignments are. This is where schools are really failing; there are a litany of online sources to solve this issue (I don't even want to hear that some homes don't have Internet access. Facebook requires the Internet and everyone on the planet is on Facebook. Everyone.) Schools must stop playing hard ball with parents and make sure parents have some tools as their disposal:

1. Schools have the ability to post activities/assignments online. Why do some schools insist on keeping this a secret? To teach students responsibility? Hey, here's an idea: let's find another way to do that. Let's give parents/students access to the assignments BEFORE they are due. Post them daily, let parents parent their kids.

2. Allow parents to track grades online. This isn't as easy as posting assignments, it probably takes a good student-management system. Let parents be involved in their kids' grades. Number 1 and 2 are essential for a number of reasons, but if nothing else, it allows parents to hold a school discussion at the dinner table that doesn't involve parents asking, "What did you learn at school today?" Because we all know the typical response from kids on this one; "nothing." With #1 and #2 in place, parents can ask specific questions that are not yes/no questions.

3. Use the incredible (I'll say that again; incredible) online sources available to us to help parents and students understand homework. Let's look at math, for it's generally the most difficult for parents. Do the parents in your community know about wolframAlpha? This is a site that allows you to enter an equation and it will give you the answer. It will also show you the proper steps to get to the answer. What an amazing opportunity for parents to not only check homework, but understand it. What about Khan Academy? Do your parents know about this website that offers visual tutorials in math and science? Do your parents know they can go to this website and get a 5-8 minute interactive tutorial on any math concept? Do your parents know their kids can go here for a refresher or for more explanation? If the answer is that your parents don't know, than they need to. And they need to hear from the schools.

For other classes, teachers can utilize tools to help students and parents. Blogging is free and allows teachers to communicate with students, and solicit responses. Twiducate is a twitter website that allows only educators and students to tweet each other. Teachers can send a tweet to their 3rd hour class reminding them of the assignment for that night! It is also free. Teachers can post podcasts and Powerpoints to a webpage, allowing access for students and parents at night. With a little more effort, we can provide parents and students with incredible resources to ensure a more fulfilling learning experience.

Tunes to consider, Head Full of Doubt, by the Avett Brothers. Come on Eileen, by Dexys Midnight Runners. I've Just Seen a Face, by the Beatles.

The Bears are 7-3 and will win the Super Bowl. I just hope they get a challenging game at some point. (I will be shocked if we make the playoffs. My guess is 9-7, with a first round loss. Maybe 10-6, but still a first round loss. Just enough for Lovie to get an extension.) The Bulls look decent, can't wait to see them with Boozer. Fighting Illini basketball looks promising, loving Badger football (on to the Rose Bowl!) and NIU football has had a great year. If the Red Sox can find a way to get Carl Crawford, I will be a happy camper.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Proof. Evidence. Data. Verification. Research-based. Those are fancy words. I am not a smart man. Ask my wife, my kids, my former teachers, people I currently work with, people I've spoken to for longer than 24 seconds......they'll all tell you the same thing. I can't always understand big words. So what do these fancy words mean to me? It works.

If there is data/evidence/proof to support something, it works. If something has solid research behind it, it works. If a program has been verified, it works. Nice and simple. Fancy words are for fancy people. This guy puts his blue jeans on one leg at a time and drinks his beverages from an old fruit jar.

I am currently re-reading Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering and Jane Pollack. Below is a review of Chapter Two.

Identifying Similarities and Differences

Based on research, we know the following:
1. Students will have a better understanding of similarities and differences with specific guidance in identifying these from their teachers.
2. Having students independently identify similarities and differences also increases their understanding.
3. Representing similarities and differences in symbolic/graphic form increases understanding.

Specific guidance, independent work & using symbols/graphics=>understanding.

The authors identify the following actions as support for students in identifying similarities and differences:

  • Identification of important characteristics
  • Comparison Graphic Organizers (Venn Diagram, Comparison Matrix).
  • Teacher-directed task: Teachers give specific items to compare, and specific characteristics to compare them by.
  • Student-directed task: Teacher gives items to compare, students produce the characteristics.
  • Placing elements into groups based on similarities
  • However, its mportant for students to understand the rules of classification (why certain things are placed in certain categories). Also, a key is understanding of why items go into the chosen category (justification).
  • Teacher-directed activities: Teacher gives students the elements to classify and the categories to use.
  • Student-directed activities: Teacher gives the elements; students must produce the categories.
  • Two items connection in a nonliteral relationship
  • Using graphic organizers is a good way for kids to make connections with common abstract patters. Students should be able to identify the common abstract.
  • Teacher-directed activity: Teachers provides the first element adn the abstract relationship.
  • Student-directed activity: Students are given the first element, but are expected to identify the second element and the abstract relationship.
  • A:B-C:D. (Eighty is to eight as dime is to __________).
  • Try graphic organizers for these as well. Have students identify the relationship when working on analogies.
  • Teacher-directed activity: Teachers may present all 4 elements to the analogy and ask students what the relationship is. Or, they may provide 3 of the 4, and ask students to put in the missing element.
  • Student-directed activity: Teacher provides the first 2 elements, students come up with the next 2.
All of these ideas are quite useful at all levels of learning. They can be great as stand alone lessons, or as fillers when lessons end early.

Tunes to consider: When My Time Comes, Dawes. My Old Ways, Dr. Dog. Staple It Together, Jack Johnson.

As I start to get mentally prepared for the Bears season, I find myself really missing the playoff-push of September baseball. My poor Red Sox were just decimated by injuries this year, we never had a shot. As far as the Bears, I truly believe we can ride the right leg of Robbie Gould all the way to the Super Bowl.........

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Our Kids and Poverty

Like many districts, our community is feeling the effects of a poor economy and a struggling job market. Our district is over 33% free and reduced for the first time in recent memory. Because this provides our teachers with another obstacle, the district felt it prudent to provide some training in the area of poverty. Ms. Lynda Byrd performed a presentation based on the work of Ruby Payne to CUSD #424 on August 17th.

Back when I was coaching, I would often go to conferences on the sport I was coaching. My goal was always to pick up one or two things that really resonated with me and that I could use. The same approach applies with academic trainings. Some highlights:

Students in poverty situations often have hidden rules to which they adhere.
  • An example of this is "the mama rule," in which students are often told something is ok by a parent, but would not be considered ok by school standards. For instance, a parent may tell their child to stand up for themselves and use force if necessary, as this is sometimes the only way to survive in a poverty situation. At school, however, we discourage this.
  • Hidden rules are often related to survival. Students in poverty are often only concerned with survival. The only tense they are interested in is the present tense. The future often means nothing to them.
Language issues often form obstacles for students of poverty.
  • Many teachers speak in formal structure, with thousands upon thousands of possible word choices. Students of poverty, however, often speak in casual structure, with far less word choice available. When students ask to have things re-explained, we sometimes assume they weren't listening when, in fact, it very well may be that they didn't understand the words we used.
  • Because there are deficiencies in language for these students, it's possible they haven't learned how to form questions. When we wonder why students who are struggling didn't ask questions or didn't ask for help, it is quite possible they don't have the skills to formulate questions.
Mental Modules help students understand and comprehend material.
  • Have students draw or sketch vocab words. If they can't draw it, they don't get it.
  • Use analogies and metaphors. Have students use these when telling stories.
For your listening pleasure, go back to the 60s and enjoy Kansas City by Wilbert Harrison, Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly, Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley and Runaround Sue by Dion.

Players who have spent major time on the DL for the Red Sox this year: Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkalis, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Josh Beckett, Mike Cameron and Clay Bucholz. And yet we are still hanging on with a glimmer of hope. It does not look good for the beantown boys though.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Boys and Reading

Are their vast differences between boys and girls? According to my wife, I am an idiot and she is a model citizen. That would be one documented difference. My son CJ refuses to wear dress pants, my daughters Cally and Lily play dress-up almost daily. Another difference. And then we have the whole child-bearing thing.......another major difference. So there are some minor differences between boys and girls, this carries over to school as well. Clearly students learn differently, but how do we help when one gender seems to struggle in one specific area? One of our dedicated teachers passed this article on to me; the subject is boys and literacy.

The Problem of Boys' Literacy Underachievement: Raising Some Questions.
Watson, Kehler & Martino (2010)
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Feb 2010

Female students consistently score better on standarized tests in the area of reading and writing. Some key points about boys and literacy:
  • Not all boys are at risk.
  • Socio-economic status makes a larger difference in scores than gender
  • The real issue appears to be the role of masculinity.
"English is more suited to girls because it's not the way guys think. Most guys who like english are faggots." A student from a 1995 study.
  • Maybe the "crisis" exists because our soceity thinks there is a threat to the social order when females out-perform males
  • Some research indicates female teachers may be the source for poor performance. There is very little research to support this. In fact, most research indicates no correlation between gender and learning styles.
  • Previously proposed solutions (boy-friendly strategies, hiring more male teachers, creation of single-sex classes) have proved largely ineffective.
New Alternatives to increasing male scores in literacy:
  • Try to squash the image that reading is for "nerds"
  • Understanding of what it means "to be a man" must be explored.
  • Incorporate a wide range of materials, including digital and electronic modes of expression
  • Find ways for boys to improve their literacy skills without fear of social reprecussions
Tunes to consider: Oh Girl, Chi-Lites. Howlin' For You, Black Keys. Goin' Up the Country, Canned Heat.

The Red Sox appear to be in serious danger of missing the playoffs for only the 2nd time this decade. I am depressed by the rash of injuries and the shocking lifelessness of these guys.

Mike and Mike have the bears going 6-10 or 5-11. Ridiculous. Anything less than 14-2 would be a disappointment.