Category Archives: Parent Involvment

Thirty Million Words

LogoBy Tom

There’s a kid in my class who I’ll call Arthur. Although he’s in fourth grade, he started the year reading at about the first grade level and his math skills were even lower. He wrote nothing. When we discussed his situation during a September Child Study meeting we decided to “pull out all the stops.” And so we did. Arthur gets pulled out for one-on-one phonics lessons every day from 9:30 to 10:00. He goes directly from there to his small-group reading lesson with our special ed teacher. From 11:30 to noon he receives in-class support for writing and organization skills. At 2:15 he gets an hour of math support.

That’s pretty much “all the stops.” Fortunately, he has started to making progress; if you were to draw a line representing his academic growth since September, it would have an upwards trajectory. But if that line were a ski slope, you would not tremble at the top. And as far behind as he was four months ago, he is even farther behind now; his classmates, after all, have also made progress, but at a faster rate.

It didn’t have to come to this. A famous study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley resulted in the Thirty Million Words Initiative. Simply put, they found that parent-child communication has an enormous impact on a child’s development and academic success. The name of the initiative reflects the optimal number of words a child should hear from his parents before entering school.

I have never met Arthur’s dad, and apparently neither has he. I have met his mother, though, on several occasions. She is very quiet, somewhat sullen, with the air of a person who looked at the low hand she was dealt and folded pretty early in the game. Which was about when Arthur was born.

Arthur is exactly the kind of student that TMW wants to prevent. Had his mother known how important it was to simply talk to her child, perhaps he wouldn’t be in his current circumstances. Perhaps I’d feel a little more certain that he’ll be in fifth grade next year. Perhaps his ski slope would be a little scarier.

We’ll never know. But I do know this: The most important thing non-teaching education stakeholders can do to support education in this country is to help parents help their children. And Thirty Million Words is an example of how simple that support can be. Talk, after all, is cheap. But apparently it’s pretty important, especially early in a child’s life.

Because sadly, fourth grade is a little bit too late.

Guidance Team

By Rob

Struggling students are referred to the Guidance Team.  We identify the most significant barrier to student success.  We develop a plan to address the barrier.  We choose metrics to track the effectiveness of our plan.  We document our interventions and meet regularly to track progress. 

A teacher may bring a student to the team who’s reading below grade level.  We review the student’s reading data.  Perhaps we find evidence they need phonics support.  We align our school’s resources- this student will meet with our reading specialist for an 8 week phonics intervention.  This may lead to improved fluency and the student can then carry the meaning while reading.  As a result, their reading comprehension improves.  I’ve seen this happen.  It demonstrates some of the best work a school can do.

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It Starts with Paper

Paper hand

By Travis

As a child, when I was sick, I would lay in bed watching old black and white shows on the family TV. This was before cable so I watched whatever was showing. Also of note, the family TV had four stations.

I watched a number of police stories as that is what seemed to be on TV in the early afternoon. I enjoyed the suspense and the angles. The drama. Most of the shows had a scene where an inmate would trade secrets, privileges, or wealth for cigarettes. The money system in jail is cigarettes. In my school, the money system is paper.

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Banned Books Week

Source: American Library Association (click for source site) By Mark

It is one of my favorite times of year… Banned Books Week is September 25th through October 2nd. The American Library Association (click on the photo to go to their site) promotes the freedom of choice by encouraging libraries across the nation to celebrate every American's right to choose not to read controversial books.

Notice that I didn't emphasize "every American's right to choose what they read." When I consider the titles which have been challenged or banned over the years, what I see is not just the loss of a choice to read a book but the loss of the choice to not read. There is a reason I haven't read Mein Kampf and haven't watched Natural Born Killers. These are not the same reasons I choose not to read Twilight or watch, well, Twilight, but the fact is that I have the right to choose not to consume these texts. That decision was not made for me. Sure, I agree that every student's parents have the right to say that a text is not appropriate for their kid and ask for an alternative if a text is assigned in a class. 

But, there are only two parents who have the right to say what text is not appropriate for my kid.

Appropriately, this year's theme for Banned Books Week is "Think for yourself and let others do the same."

It's particularly fun this year that Banned Books Week corresponds with my teaching of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Down on the farm, literacy is wielded like a weapon. Those who are literate easily overpower those who are illiterate, essentially enslaving them by controlling information (hello FoxNews). A great Orwellian theme, and one to which we ought always pay close attention.


As a side note: There's a very intriguing interactive map at the ALA press-kit site which uses Googlemaps to tag exemplars of challenged or banned books. Some of the titles and reasons are rather surprising.

Classroom Management: Fear vs. Understanding

Gman By Mark

I have a three-year-old son at home who is that child whose behavior is my karmic payback for the times I mouthed off to my parents. He's a boundary-tester and an eye-lash-batting innocent cherub for whom consequences like time out and taking away of toys have no influence on behavior. Though I regret it, there have been times when the worst of me has come out, and this 32-year-old ends up shouting at that 3-year-old.

And then he cries and cries and I feel horribly guilty.

But usually it changes his behavior, at least for a while. The same results cannot be said for a stint in time-out.

I was venting my frustrations to my dad this last fourth of July when he mentioned that behavior changes only result from one of two things: fear or understanding. I don't know if he discovered this on his own or if he learned this from some workshop, but it rings very true. My dad is a well-respected educator who taught for over three decades, served in the military, and has even volunteered in prisons to teach math to inmates. He made me realize that if I want to influence my toddler's behavior, I should aim for understanding. My son needs to understand why it's not okay to punch his brother or jump off the dining room table. Sometimes a lesson is learned the hard way (he hasn't leapt off the back of the couch even once since that trip to the ER with bashed-in teeth) but there are many other lessons I'm having a hard time teaching him simply because there are a lot of things a three-year-old just isn't capable of understanding yet.

There are obvious analogies to teaching. 

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My “Paid Vacation”

DSCN2569 copy copy

I’m going to lay all the cards on the table: summer was about 95% of the reason I decided to pursue a job in teaching. The other 5% was that I was earning a BA degree in English literature and that’s not a particularly high-demand field in 2001. I can go on and on about how I care about kids and love seeing them learn and grow. Yes, that’s true, and while that’s the reason I stay in the job it has less to do with my choice to become a teacher than most other young teachers will admit.

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My Worries about Virtual High Schools

School-desk  By Mark

I came of age with the internet. I'm fond of telling my students that when I had to do my senior project I had to use these things called a card catalog and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. I had to actually touch materials to use them in research. I had to learn keyboarding on a manual typewriter with ribbon and correction tape…and I'm only in my early 30s.

But by my first year at university, the internet had exploded. Since then, I have learned that I am what is known as a "digital native," perhaps because my father brought home a PC Jr. when I was about six.

I'm all for utilizing the "Web 2.0" as a resource for education, even though I find the moniker kind of obnoxious. I'm on my computer essentially every minute that I'm not with a student or caring for my family. I know that the wired universe (or better stated, the wireless universe) demands new skills sets of our students and "multiple literacies" unheard of twenty years ago. 

I begin to grow uncomfortable, though, when people start to talk about classrooms which exist wholly on the internet–especially on-line schools for teenagers.

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The Reason I Didn’t “Fix” Your Child

U30451904 By Mark

It was at a intervention meeting, where her child's teachers (including me) and the grade-level counselor had gathered to strategize how better serve her child, that she said to me from across the table:

"You didn't do your job. You were supposed to fix my child. Why didn't you fix him?"

She said it with steel in her eyes and barbs in her voice. She was simmering near her boiling point and I started wondering if anyone else in the room knew the extension to reach the school resource officer.

Everyone was flabbergasted. She went on about how at the summer orientation I talked about all the things I do in class to help struggling students: extra support to break down complex tasks, face-to-face writing conferences, online resources, peer support, modified texts…the list went on. In truth, I had done all those things for her son. I had offered these to her child, yet her child still was failing.

Isn't it always the case that we think of the right thing to say well after the moment has passed? That moment passed six years ago, but here goes:

"Ma'am, I'd be more than happy to share with you the reason I didn't fix your child…

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