Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Walk_on_the_wild_sideTitle: Walk on the Wild Side

Author: Nicholas Oldland

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 36

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I am not required to publish a positive review, just an honest one. So…here you go.]

Walk on the Wild Side is a whimsical tale about a beaver, a bear, and a moose who decide one day to go on an adventure. We are introduced very early to what would eventually be the main 'conflict' in the book: the three animals loved adventure, but they are competitive–and this competitive streak sometimes gets in the way of their having a good, fun time.

This story moves quickly from the decision to go on an adventure to the adventure to the conflict to the resolution. I like that the parts of the story are easily discernible and that the characters always seem to be smiling. I also enjoyed the easy text and that the amount of words on each page were limited to a few. This helped keep the story moving. I read the story to my students and they were engaged the whole way through the story. When we talked about it at the end, they were able to clearly define what happened in the story, recall elements of the story, and recall the characters in the story. It was also fun to have the students make predictions during the reading.

When we were finished with the story, I asked if the students liked it and to a student they said, "Yes!"

I am a sucker for the artwork in a kids book. The artwork in this book is strange and quirky, but it works and I love it. The color palate is limited to greens, greys, browns, blacks, and blues. The only other color was a small smattering of red that colored a bird that appeared on nearly every page–as if 'he' was watching the story unfold. I think the artwork is creative, fun, and in a positive sense, silly.

In my classroom, this book was used to talk to the kids about being competitive. Some of my students always have to be first or 'boss' or make everything a matter of winning or being first. We talked about how it is important to work together, play together, and to simply have fun being with one another. This book was a great help. In other applications, this will be a good story for helping students make predictions and, perhaps, sequencing or ordering events in a story.

A book has to be pretty bad for me to rate it lower than a five, and this book was not even close. It's a five star book that students will enjoy very much. This is a fun story that children will enjoy from front to back. I love this book because it was a fun and enjoyable read. I will be adding this to my personal library in my classroom. Highly recommended.

5/5 Stars

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Probably the most significant change that took place within the last year is that I changed schools, changed classrooms, changed students, and moved. So the past seven months or so have been spent getting to know an entirely new population of students: teaching years 1-3 were spent in an MD classroom with a variety of students—students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, Cognitive disability, and one with a rare disorder called Smith-Magenis Syndrome. There were a few others students with varying disabilities too and the age range was vast: 2nd grade through 7th grade.

Then, on a whim, I applied to the Educational Service Center in my home county. I noticed an open position on their website and sent off a resume the next day. I was called back about a month later—at the last moment when I had already given up hope of being called—and the director conducted a pre-interview question and answer type conversation (i.e., a phone interview) and asked if I was interested in a high school position. It wasn’t my first choice, but I was interested in moving back near my family so I agreed. Then I waited…and waited…and waited. No call.

Then one day, in July 2014, I received a call from the director and was asked if I was still interested in a position with the county. Funnily enough, I was in my classroom tutoring a student when the call came because I had just told my principal a day or two before that I had given up hope and would be back next school year. She was gracious when I eventually broke the news of my impending departure.

Anyhow, I said I was still interested and I was told that an elementary position had become available and would I be available for an interview—in like two days! The rest is history. I scheduled my second interview. Passed. Then went on to a third interview with the building principal. Passed. Had a background check. Passed. Reference check. Passed. I was hired and within the next thirty days packed a house, rented another, resigned my position, rented and loaded a U-Haul, moved, and began the long process that moved me from a mixed age MD unit in a rural community to a strictly elementary (K-2) ED unit in an urban area near my hometown.

Moving from a solidly district school classroom to a county run classroom is a strange thing that required all sorts of adjustments both mentally and professionally. Although I am housed in a regular elementary school building, accountable to the building principal, and can fully participate in all building-wide activities I am not—nor are my students—officially attached to the school or the district itself. I work for the county (not the local school district), my students come from all over the county (I have eight students from five different school districts), and I see my official principal very infrequently (yet she’s always only a phone call away, so this is no criticism, and the building principal is always available to us also).

One of the great challenges I have had to master is the art of communication. Since my students are drawn from five different school districts, I have to communicate with no less than five different special education directors. I also have to communicate with several administrative people at the county level—for attendance, for classroom needs, for payroll, and much more besides. I had to learn how to negotiate scheduling issues when writing IEPs in order that all parents, therapists, district representatives, and ESC representatives can be present—people coming from all over the county. I also have to contend with five different bus schedules—no small feat when it comes to the writing of daily report cards, packing of backpacks, and actually getting children out the door.

Another significant change is that I also have three adults in my room besides myself. Thus I am also managing the work and break schedules of three other adults. Add into this mix managing the therapy schedules for eight different children who at varying times attend occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Finally, throw into this dough the specials schedules also: art, physical education, library, and music and making certain that the paraprofessionals are where they are to be.  

Wow, that’s a lot to contend with now that I think about it. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also consider that I am still finishing my residency (I am a year three working on my Resident Educator Summative Assessment) and anyone from Ohio knows what a pain that is, that I am still required to go through the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (which requires 2 formal and 2 informal observations, the writing of Student Learning Objectives, and more), and that this year I had to learn a new aspect of education in Ohio (because my students are not cognitively disabled,  they are not eligible for the Alternate Assessment which means they must be prepared for regular state testing by third grade): RIMPs—Reading Improvement Monitoring Plans for the wonderful 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee.

Make it better: KRA—Kindergarten Readiness Assessment; First Grade Diagnostic Assessment; Second Grade Diagnostic Assessment. Parent-Teacher conferences.

Really, this year has been an amazing, whirlwind of adventure and learning because besides everything I have just mentioned, there is the daily pressure of patiently working with students who have an emotional and/or behavioral disability, writing lesson plans (for 8 different children in three different grade levels!), managing IEPs, communicating with parents (and home districts), breakfast, lunch, behavior intervention plans, math, language arts, science, social studies, data collection, progress reports, report cards…and we have three months left in the school year.

It never ends, and there’s never enough time.

I am not writing any of this because I am looking for sympathy or because I want anyone not to go into teaching. On the contrary, I think this is reality—not just for me, but for every single special education teacher who goes to work every single day and lives on the island I like to call ‘where is my professional support team here in the school?’ I was talking about this one day with the music teacher and the physical education teacher and we all agreed: if you teach specials or special education, you often teach on an island. Not many people understand what we do every single day in the special education classroom; specials teachers come close, but only to an extent. Being a special education teacher or an intervention specialist is a lot of work, and I think it might be easy for the young teacher to get overwhelmed in those early years if they do not have the proper supporting staff from administration all the way down to classroom paraprofessionals to mentor teacher during residency.

As I said, this is reality. We have to work very hard to participate with the general education teachers—they have their own unique problems to deal with so I’m not disparaging them—so that our students can be included as often as possible in school wide events and activities. I work with a great group of teachers who have graciously allowed me to integrate some of my students into their classrooms for short periods each week. This is reality: if you are preparing to be a special education teacher, these are the things you do each day—and let’s not even get started on supplies, funding (I recently learned of the joys of www.donorschoose.org; you can contribute to my current project by visiting www.donorschoose.org/jerry.hillyer), and simple things like printer ink, paper, glue sticks, and curriculum).

And there is the ongoing, constant need to create new learning tasks for your TEACCH bins or for IEP objectives, or for Dr. Seuss week. (Thank God for Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook!!)

The reality is that in a sense special education teachers have to work hard(er) to make certain our students are getting everything they deserve each day. It’s not easy work, and we do it for reasons we often cannot define or place a finger upon. We do it because we look deep into our students and we see potential that might otherwise go unnoticed or be overlooked because of behaviors. We do what we do because we want our students to have hope and because we want our students to have the confidence they so obviously lack. We do so because our students are special and not typical. We do what we do because we often think to ourselves that we might have done better ourselves if these classes had existed when we were school children and struggled with large groups, not enough attention, and lack of confidence.

This is reality. I have quite a few teacher friends in other areas of life—church, acquaintances, and elsewhere—and sometimes they say things to me like, “I am thankful for you; for what you do. I could never do it. You must be special to work with those kids.” Sometimes it is kind of embarrassing when they say it because I think, “Nah, I was trained well. Anyone can do it if they are trained well.” Then other times I think, “You know what, maybe I am good at what I do. Maybe I do it because I can, because someone else cannot.”

It’s not a bragging thing, it’s a truth thing; a reality thing. You are in the place you are right now because you can do it, because someone else cannot do it. You have the gift(s) to help your students realize their potential every single day. Surround yourself with solid people, work hard every day, and most of all love your kiddos. Not everyone can do what you do; not everyone will.

Dear DragonTitle: Dear Dragon Goes to the Aquarium

Author: Margaret Hillert

Illustrator: Jack Pullan

Publisher: Norwood House Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 32

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked to write a minimum number of words and to be honest. Done.]

One thing I did before writing my review of this book was I read it to my nephew who is now in the second grade. I also let him read it to me and when we were finished we talked about the pictures, the words, and whether or not he actually enjoyed the story. 

So on a cold, Sunday afternoon me and my nephew sat on the couch together and read the book. He snuggled up to me and we enjoyed the whole 7 minutes together reading about Dear Dragon's trip to the aquarium–alternating who read between the pages. Of course he enjoyed the story and he enjoyed the artwork. I asked him what he didn't like and he said 'the sharks'; I asked, 'why?' And he replied, 'Because they eat people.' His favorite part was the goldfish–but I was unable to get out of him exactly why he liked the goldfish. It could be that he's 7 and just liked the goldfish. Finally, he was able to read it with little effort. So if this book is rated for K-2, it might be too low for those at the high-end of second grade. In some instances, this might be too low for those more advanced first grade readers also. I think each teacher will need to assess if the book is appropriate for a student; although, to be sure, one can't practice too much even with 'easy' books.

Personally, I like the artwork. It depicts happy people at an aquarium enjoying and afternoon or morning looking at various animals that might live at an aquarium including penguins, catfish, sharks, and more. I like very much that there is an adult guiding the children through the aquarium and teaching them about all that they are seeing and I also like the play on words with the various names for fish: cat, clown, gold, and star. This is a fun way to involve the student and help them make predictions and also requires a bit of pre-knowledge in order to make such predictions. Students shouldn't have too much trouble with this exercise. Finally, this book will be helpful in practicing sight/high-frequency words.

At the end of the book there is a section featuring Reading Reinforcement practices for teachers to use in group work or for students to practice on their own with a parent or other. Some of the exercises are phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension–all important things for young and emergent readers to practice. I am glad this section is included because, personally, I love to build curriculum and academic games around literature. Having some ideas built into the book is helpful in that regard.

I have two small complaints about the book that I am, frankly, not sure how to handle. First, on page 22 there is a picture of dolphins and the text says, "Look at these fish." Well, in fact, dolphins are not fish. It bothers me that I am clearly looking at dolphins and the text calls them fish. I think this should be corrected. Second, on page 26, the text says, "Oh, I see. I see gold fish." This one is sketchy because I am not sure if the author is saying, "Oh, look at the gold fish" or if the author is saying, "Oh, look at the goldfish." If students are being asked to look at a particular species of fish then it should be written 'goldfish'; if, on the other hand, students are being asked to look at fish that are gold, then it's fine. So I'm not sure what to do about the second issue because I'm not sure the author's intent (even though the teacher in the story is looking at a school of goldfish. The first issue, though, is clearly wrong: dolphins are not fish.

The story reminds me a little of The Magic School Bus which is a good thing. Overall, I enjoyed the story and the useful text and the play on words. It's a good thinking book and the reading is easy enough (although I think it's rated too low for higher readers who may not enjoy the textual simplicity. I should also note that this story is part of a larger series of stories featuring Dear Dragon–when I checked it was 14 stories.

4.5/5 Stars.

The following information is excerpted from the Norwood House Press website:

Grade level: K-2
Dewey: E
Subject: Dragon, Fiction, Aquarium
Accelerated Reader Reading Level: 1.0
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 171090
Lexile Level: BR
GRL: E

*You can also read my reviews at Amazon.com, Goodreads, and occasionally I will also post at Shelfari. Visit NetGalley also for more reviews.

***UPDATE***

I received this email from the publisher concerning my complaint about the word 'fish' being used to describe a dolphin:

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for your feedback on Dear Dragon Goes to the Aquarium.  We recognize your comments about dolphins not being fish. Although we were going for simplicity there, we could have chosen better words and will change the word fish when referencing that illustration.

Thanks for your input!

Sincerely,

Patti Hall

President & Publisher

This is awesome. A publisher actually listening to a reviewer!!

JasperTitle: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

See also: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

Author: Caroline Adderson

Illustrator: Ben Clanton

See also: Ben Clanton's Squiggles and Scribbles

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: March 1, 2015

Pages: 124

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review of the book. All you get here is honesty and my opinions.]

My initial reaction after I finished this book was that I didn't care for it all that much. I mean, frankly, I work with children all day long who need absolutely zero drinks of Torpedo High Energy Drink. On one level, I perfectly get the humor; on another level, the story was an echo of what I deal with every single day of my life. I'm sure I am in for some nightmares. I jest, of course, but reading about my students in this book was fun and helped me see them in a little different light. Maybe I can just go to work each day an imagine they have dads or moms who allowed them to drink Red Bull before they came to class.

So, let's start with what I didn't like about the book and from there move on to what I did like.

First, the role of the parents kind of bugged me. I see this in children's books a lot. The parents are present, but they are also kind of stupid. I'm not sure if Jasper's parents are sitting back and waiting for Jasper to figure out the problem on his own or if they are aloof (mother) and kind of irresponsible (dad). This is the only Jasper story I have read so I'm not sure if this is typical or atypical of the parents in the series. I'm not sure why the parents seem so strange, but they bugged me because they seemed to provide no guidance whatsoever in the story; they were there, but they were absent. The age group this story is written for (7-10 according to Kids Can Press) is an age group that needs guidance during discovery. I'm not sure I want my sons' best friends giving them guidance for living–even if I am not naive enough to disbelieve they get it from them anyhow.

Second, there were a few language issues that bothered me. Maybe it's Canadian to say things like 'the lates', but this is not something that is typically understood in American English–and it's certainly not something we teach in Language Arts. It's a colloquialism that might need explained to students who read the book or adjusted in versions destined for the US. Second, I'm not sure why there are so many randomly placed capital letters in the book. At seemingly random places, random words are capital in the middle of sentences. It's odd and, again, it's not how English is taught. I'm sure it's a literary device, but I still hate it because there's no accompanying explanation as to why it is that way.  Third, I'm not sure I understand the author's intention in using the word 'pills' to describe cutting celery. As an adult, I understand what it means; I'm not sure children will understand. And the notion that 'it would be so much easier to swallow a pill with Torpedo High Energy Drink…' is just a bit too close to reckless even if the author is talking about celery.

I am a teacher and I see the results of children who make reckless choices. I also see the results of parents who are irresponsible and aloof. I understand that some things are meant to be funny, but lampooning dangerous things can problematic, for children, if done so without explanation. I hate to be critical, but if I want children to read a book I have to read it with an educator's eye and a parental eye. It seems to me that these, and some other strange things, might require explanation or some guidance. It also appears that Jasper is simply destined to learn the hard way. He keeps going back to this energy drink, he keeps feeling badly about it, and he keeps swearing off drinking more. There is probably a lot of truth in this for adults as well as children. If Jasper learns he cannot manage these things on his own, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned by adults too?

Now, on to the things I liked about the book.

First, I think the book is really funny. As an adult, I saw the humor and some innuendo that made the book interesting. There was one particular conversation that I thought was terrific:

"Three things, the. Good sleep? Check. Good breakfast? Check. Dad set two plates of bacon and eggs on the table. "With your good sleep and your good breakfast behind you, you'll feel confident and strong for the game, Jasper.' 

"My breakfast is in front of me," Jasper said.

"But after you eat it, it will be behind you."

"Won't it be in me?" (46; digital edition; NOOK)

I love conversations like this. Here in this conversation I think the author captures well the spirit of a precocious child. It's really a wonderful exchange and it characterizes many of the conversations that take place in the book. It's funny and charming and totally exasperates the dad.

Second, there are not a lot of illustrations in the book, but the ones that are there are well done and add texture to the story. One of my favorite pictures is of Jasper falling asleep on picnic table in the park while his friend Ori, wearing a shirt reminiscent of Charlie Brown, looks on. I would like to have seen a few more illustrations, but that's a personal preference. The ones that are in the book are fun and capture well the tenor of the story.

Third, I think the ending added a nice twist to a story that seemed to me lacked an overall plot. Essentially the story goes from scene to scene and works very hard to see how many 'bad' things Jasper can do after drinking the energy drink. There's no real rising action, no real climax, and the can of energy drink must be the biggest can of energy drink on earth. But the end of the story provided a fresh twist that I truly appreciated and, to be sure, brought the story together for me. I laughed out loud when I read it and, after I thought about it for several hours after finishing the book, it caused me to reassess the entire story. Really it was the ending that won it for me.

Overall, I like the story even if I have a few reservations about some of the things in the story. Those reservations might well be matters of personal preference and nothing more. This book is part of a collection of Jasper John Dooley stories–early chapter books for young readers. I am sure that young readers will be amused by the chapter dedicated to Jasper's underwear, to toilet foot, and to getting stuck in the wrong bathroom. I'm sure they will be amused by many things in the book. It's a good effort even with my exceptions noted in the above paragraphs. It's a fun story I think will be fully enjoyed if there is some parental or teacher guidance. The book is not just about making good choices or the sketchy things that happen when we make bad choices, but about learning to resist temptation. In this regard, it may be helpful for some adults too.

4/5 stars

Grades 2-5/Ages 7-10

BOBTitle: Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Author: Brooks Olbrys

Illustrator: Kevin Keele

Publisher: Children's Success Unlimited, LLC

Year: 2015

Pages: 51+

Blue Ocean Bob Website

[Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.]

Blue Ocean Bob wants to be a marine scientist who helps all the animals and 'safeguard the sea.' What follows are five short stories told in a series of couplets (AABBCC, etc.). Each chapter is relatively short, but they are fairly well balanced and interesting enough to hold the attention of the reader. It took me about 20 minutes to read the book and I enjoyed it.

In chapter 1, Bob has to help a baby seal learn how to swim, but first he must learn how to dive himself. In chapter 2, he has to help clean up the water, but in the process gets a pelican tangled in a net and has to solve another problem. In chapter 3, he has to warn some sea animals that a storm is coming and they need to find safe place to wait it out. In chapter 4, he has a crisis concerning his choice of a career path and has to wrestle with some tough decisions. And in chapter 5, Bob finds his calling once again by rescuing an animal that needs help.

Bob has to work hard to see his goals through to the end in each chapter. I'm guessing this has something to do with the author's interest in 'achievement philosophy.' The little bird, Xena, his 'guardian, ally, and friend,' is kind of annoying and serves as a sort of Jiminy Cricket type character except that Xena is (seemingly) always negative and warning Bob of the dangers that lie ahead and why he should just abandon all his quests and his ambition to be a marine scientist. Bob has to press on through this constant negativity, through constant challenges, and seek wisdom from others in order to accomplish his goals of rescuing and warning animals in the sea.

I do like this book. There are times, yes, when the rhythm of the rhyme gets a bit difficult and that may prove challenging for students at times. With that said, I have no real problems with the story as such. I would use this book in my special education classroom because I find that many of my students often default to 'I can't' or 'it's too hard.' Sometimes those negative nancies abound and it would be helpful for them to have another voice showing that they can, in fact, accomplish things they put their minds too; that they can achieve when they try. Bob is a great character study in perseverance.

One final note, the artwork is spectacular. I would like to have provided a link to the illustrators website, but I'm not sure I found the right one so I didn't include it. I love the pictures and the color and the overall wonderfulness of the art. It is appropriate to the story and enhances it on every page. Children seem to like stories involving interaction between humans and animals. I think this accomplishes that in a nice way, even if there are moments when the grammar could be a little clearer.

I recommend this book and will adopt this as part of our social skills curriculum in my classroom.

4.5/5 stars

Middle schoolTitle: Middle School: The Inside Story

Authors: Cynthia Tobias & Sue Acuna

Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Publisher: Tyndale

in association with Focus on the Family

Year: 2014

Pages: 208

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book by Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was not provided with anything in exchange for my review. And as always, I promise to be perfectly honest about what I read.]

I will say upfront that I didn't like this book, but that doesn't mean it's not a good book for someone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with the book and there is nothing about the book that is unhelpful. I just didn't like it.

The book is divided into four parts: Changes, Parenting, Friends and Other Problems, and School. Each part is then subdivided into smaller parts dealing with issues under the general heading. So, under the section 'Changes' the authors deal with the strange dealings that come along with changes in the body as the child gets into his/her junior high years. The sections on Parenting and School are the longest sections with each having six sub-sections. The other two sections, Changes and Friends and Other problems, only have three sub-sections each which unbalances the book a little.

Throughout the book there are quotes from random middle school students who were interviewed by Sue Acuna, co-author of the book. I'm not really sure what to make of the quotes. It could be a case of these are genuine and fit nicely in with pre-determined chapters or it could be that they helped shape the content of the chapters. For me they were a distraction, mere fillers that acted as chicanes more than anything else. Periodically, too, there were brief anecdotes from the authors. These brief stories, mostly from their own families' or anonymous sources, again seemed to be perfectly fitted to the subject matter of the chapter–a fact I always find a little too convenient for my taste, but that's just me. I don't think the filler hurts the book but neither do I think it helps. I think it is filler that stretches a 75 page book to over 200 pages. (There is other stuff that I consider filler too. The only filler I appreciated was the 'Here's a Thought' text-boxes.)

The book is easy to read and it's not terribly deep. There's no doubt that it is filled with all sorts of helpful information that someone might well find beneficial. Nevertheless, I think even the authors would acknowledge that every family is different and has different needs and operates under a different dynamic. Thus we have to be careful when applying a template and suggesting that all things will work in all families. That being said, I don't think the authors of this book do that. Frankly, I think they manage to strike a very good balance between 'here are things that we have learned through our experience' and 'here are things you should do that will most certainly work for you.' They offer suggestions and helpful hints and ideas, but I think they manage to safely avoid dogma.

However.

I want to go back to those quotes that are laced throughout the book. These quotes are from 'a middle schooler.' We are not told the age or the sex of the student or the circumstance under which the quote was collected. What I found is that most of the quotes that are pulled out and put front and center are highly negative about parents. One would think, after reading a few of these quotes, that most parents are absolutely horrible people and that the only way to solve the issue is to get along with this program. I think that if middle school students are just learning how to be middle school students then perhaps their parents are also just learning to be parents of middle school students. Perhaps a few quotes from disoriented parents would have provided some balance to the book. Me and my wife have raised three sons through their rough junior high years. It was not easy because all three boys were different and had their own unique personality that we had to adapt to, but it did get easier with each boy.

Finally, I want to say this. I get that this is a popular level book written for a general audience (I suspect their audience is primarily moms, but I could be wrong) and that they want to get helpful information into as many hands  as possible and that neither the authors nor the publishers want to bog people down with technicality, but 9  ? Really? Not even a bibliography or a 'here's where you can find more information' type page? With the exception of a couple of pages directing us to Focus on the Family stuff, a couple of references in the book to Tobias' other books, and a couple of references to Focus on the Family publications, we are simply left in the dark as to where all this information, helpful or otherwise, comes from. I think books that are designed to help us navigate such things as parenthood need to have a slightly more substantial research base than that of pull out quotes from 'a middle schooler.'

So, as I said at the beginning, there isn't anything necessarily wrong with the book. I just didn't like it. It is written from a female point of view (which again isn't wrong or bad), by two women who (according to their bios, have tons of practical experience). But I detect nothing in this book that would inspire another man to want to read it. I suspect stay at home mothers will enjoy this book and probably nod their way through in agreement. But I also think that if you are an adult, and you have happen to have any amount of common sense, you ought to be able to navigate your way through those strange middle school years without much help from this book.

3/5

41eVM7qA80L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: How We Learn

Author: Benedict Carey

Publisher: Random House

Year: 2014

Pages: 200 (e-Book (Nook), ARC; hardcover book 272)

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was given no compensation and I am not required to write a positive review. I only tell you this because someone in the government thinks you need to know. To be sure, I don't even get to keep the book.]

The problem with reviewing this book is that I don't  know enough about Mr Carey to know if he has an agenda for writing this book or if he is just really excited about the sort of research he reports in the book. That is, maybe he's so interested in this stuff that he just needed to have an outlet and wanted to share it with an audience who would appreciate it. Then again, "The more I discovered about it, the stronger the urge to do something bigger than a news story" (185). I actually get this. I actually understand something so powerfully welling up inside that it has to have a vent. This book exudes Carey's enthusiasm for this subject.

But he goes on to spell out his objective a little more clearly, "It dawned on me that all these scientists, toiling in obscurity, were producing a body of work that was more than interesting or illuminating or groundbreaking. It was practical…" (185) I get this too.

I work in Special Education and much of the work that I do involves the day in, day out, routine building type of consistency that drives me nuts. I need the mix up. I need the frenzied action that comes with chaos. Oh, sure, I have lesson plans and I try very hard to follow them. But maybe there is something to the idea that going through a day without distractions, a day full of routine, a day without ever taking a break is not the best way to learn.

Or maybe it's like writing a book review: so that when I get stuck with what to say next, I should just stop, re-read what I've written or take a video game break, and start again later. I used to do this when I was preaching full-time: maybe I had writer's block, maybe I couldn't get the transition to work smoothly to the next point, or maybe there appeared to be no coherence between the introduction and conclusion. I would just stop. I hadn't read a study that suggested doing so was a healthy idea, I just did it. I'd put it away and forget about it…sometimes not even bothering to finish until Sunday mornings…sometimes not finishing until I actually stepped into the pulpit to preach the sermon.

I remember learning to read Koine Greek this way. I would practice my vocabulary words until I learned them and then use them in class and in translating, but when it came to test time, I would break out the cards again. It was helpful, to me at least, to create space between study sessions. There's also the idea of 'spacing' which I found to be an especially helpful idea–particularly as it relates to how I teach in my classroom. Regrettably, we spend a lot of time with word lists in education–especially sight (or high-frequency words) words which are the words we use most in our conversations and reading. Maybe what I hadn't considered is how environment does affect student learning. We always say that behavior is environmental, but suppose learning is too. This would explain (in part, at least) why students–especially special education students–find it so terribly difficult to generalize skills learned in one environment to another–whether related to behavior or academics.

What I like about this book is that it confirmed that I am not an oddball because certain things worked for me. A quiet setting never worked for me when it came to studying (cf. p 11). I prefer to study in a place where there is activity and action; chaos and confusion. I like the distractions. I like to sit in the middle of the living room with a television or radio playing in the background. I like to study in different places–and at different times. I like to mess with the schedule–and I like to do that for my students as well. I love scrapping the lesson plans, no matter how beautifully written, and challenge the students with a game or hands-on task (cf. p 52). I was especially happy to learn that 'forgetting' is as important to learning as 'remembering' is. I was also happy to learn that taking naps is not a sign of being a slouch.

Maybe this book isn't so much about the way we learn as it is about the way we teach. Interestingly, much of what I read in the book seems to correlate wonderfully what I have been learning over the last two years about formative instructional practices. (Teachers who read this will understand what I mean without my having to give a dissertation here as space precludes such a lesson.) Knowing ahead of time that 'testing' is important for learning as mere studying is was enlightening. One of the hardest things I have found in my own classroom is getting students to buy into the idea that we don't have to get everything correct. I did this just today when I was giving my students a pre-test on simple subtraction facts and one of my students complained, "I don't know what to do." I kept telling him that it didn't matter; just guess. Write down some numbers. Practice. Try. "…guessing wrongly increases a person's likelihood of nailing that question, or a related one, on a later test" (89).  But we are born and bred on the notion that we must get it right. (I think chapter 5, The Hidden Value of Ignorance: The Many Dimensions of Testing was my favorite chapter because it was the most practical.)

I enjoyed this book. It was readable. It was fun (the author includes a lot of samples in the book so the reader can practice the theories being written about.) There were helpful charts and illustrations scattered throughout the book. It was an interesting tour through some of the history of learning that I hadn't read about in graduate school. Some of the names were familiar, but as he notes, these scientists who have pioneered these studies in how memory works worked in relative obscurity. So unless you are on the cutting edge of this research it is likely you haven't heard of many of these men and women. I applaud the author for bringing them to the popular reader. Carey makes their stories readable and enjoyable.

This book will be helpful, in my opinion, for teachers who want to do a little experimentation to see if some of these theories are true in practice. But for the armchair psychologist (as well as the expert), this is a good place to begin a study of how we learn. It's a fun read, but it's not light. It is challenging at times; nevertheless, I think Carey did a great job of parsing out much of the nomenclature for his readers and making this work accessible to a larger audience.

I'll let him close my review: "Learning is hard. Thinking is hard. It's as exhausting, though in a different way, as physical labor and wears most of us down at a similar rate" (p 176). Maybe something we should do is simply let our students take a nap every now and then.

5/5–an excellent volume and contribution to our understanding of how we learn and, conversely, how we teach.

PS-even though I received an ARC (which I don't get to keep), I will be purchasing this book so that I can do a little more research and enjoy the book at a deeper level.

 

I am happy to say that I did not make this task. One of the paraprofessionals who worked in my classroom did. All I had to contribute was a 'seal of approval' and a grateful heart that she put her skills to use and make something wonderful and useful for the students.

IMG_1054This was not a difficult task to build. Nor is it a difficult task to use.

Materials: library pockets, marker, laminate, shapes (either bought or homemade or perhaps from an Ellison machine), a sheet of card stock cut lengthwise, and glue (I prefer Elmer's Rubber Cement).

First, write the numbers that you wish to use on the outside of the library pockets. In our example, we were working with addends that resulted in sums 6-10. You can use whatever numbers (sums) you like so long as the addends correspond to the numbers written on the library pockets.

Second, take whatever little shape you have decided to use and using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, write your addends upon them. In the example from my classroom, we have used three different addends for each sum. These addends are written upon the shapes as shown below–in this case, we used stars. I think they were purchased at the Dollar Tree or some other thrifty store.

IMG_1053After the addends are written upon the shapes, you may choose to laminate them. I personally laminate everything in the classroom because I work in special education and things tend to get folded, spindled, ripped, mutilated, and chewed upon with great frequency. This helps protect them and give them a longer shelf life–so to speak.

Third, take the library pockets and glue them to the piece of card stock (or you can use a piece of poster-board too). If your school has a laminator, it would be a good idea to laminate the entire project.

And that's just about it. The great thing about this task is its flexibility. You can use any numbers you like and even though we used addition facts, you can also use subtraction, multiplication, and division so long as the numbers correspond. IMG_1051

One final thing, I have no problems also allowing my students to use manipulatives (objects) to represent the math they are doing at the time. Students who are visual learners will appreciate having counting bears or some other such objects to help work out the problems.

Two things of note:

    1. Storage might be somewhat of an issue given that the project is oddly shaped. I solved this problem by folding the game in half.

    2. The possibility remains that the students might memorize the answers based solely upon the placement of numbers. Feel free to mix it up as much as possible in order to prevent such a reflex.

Common Core Standards addressed for addition and subtraction: K.OA.1, K.OA.5, K.OA.3, 1.OA.5, 1.OA.6 (perhaps more).

Enjoy!

Related articlesSee also this game that we built in my classroom. It too deals with addition and/or multiplication.

Learning Addition or Multiplication Playing Games

_225_350_Book.1092.coverTitle: Schools in Crisis

Author: Nicole Baker Fulgham

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2013

Pages: 90

Barna Group

FRAMES on Twitter: @barnaframes

FRAMES

Be Undivided

[WE BELIEVE building strong community means making sure kids and schools thrive. Be|Undivided is churches investing time and effort year-round in students and schools. Whatever the need. And without agenda or strings attached. It’s that simple, and that powerful.–From the Be: Undivided website]

[I am required to inform my readers that I have been provided with a free copy of this book. All I am required to do is write and post an unbiased review of this book. You can also find this review at http://www.goodreads.com and http://www.amazon.com, both helpful places to find books; although, I'd prefer you just read them here at my blog.]

I should let you know at the outset of this review that I am a Christian, a former church pastor, and a (current) public school teacher. I am licensed to teach moderate/intensive special education (k-12) and I do so in a rural, public, elementary school. This is, primarily, the reason I chose this book for review.

I was a little surprised at the dimensions of the book. It is rather small and will be difficult to place properly on my bookshelf and manages to live up to the FRAMES motto: read less and know more. This doesn't really inspire me, but they at least live up to their ideal. The book is heavy on graphics and colorful charts. The writing is sparse and the paragraphs have large spaces between them. It took me about an hour to read this book, but I'm not really sure that I know more after having read it.

Of course, after reading, I know all sorts of Barna statistics and and the book is nice and colorful, but what the author told us really isn't a surprise, isn't really shocking, isn't front page news, and isn't altogether that crisis laden. Are there bad schools in America where children are getting the short end of educational outcomes? Yes. Should we be doing more to help 'fix' these problems? Yes. Are there concrete, real world solutions to these problems? Yes. Should the church be involved in these solutions, a part of the solution, the solution? Depends on who you ask. Here's why I say it this way.

On page 23, the author quotes a rather startling statistic: 'Barna polling shows that nearly half of the nation's public educators are practicing Christians, meaning people who attend church at least monthly and who say their faith is very important to them.' This bothers me a lot–and I'm one of them. She goes on: "More than seven out of ten of the nation's primary and secondary public school students affiliate with Christianity, and millions of those are actively involved in church, confirmation classes, and youth groups." (23-24) This should give anyone reading this book pause. It seems to me that if this number of people in the schools are already Jesus followers, then something should be changing about our schools from the inside. And yet we are constantly told that schools are in crisis, standards are on the decline, and that children are the ones suffering the outcomes of white privilege (see p.70; 'white privilege' always seems to be a part of the problem, but given that this book was published during the 2nd term of a black president, I find it terribly difficult to sympathize with this sort of racially charged, irresponsible, statement especially when there is no evidence or footnotes pointing to evidence to support the charge.)

So why aren't they? I have drawn my own conclusions, but they are tangential to the point I'm making about this phenomenon which is, simply, that if so many Christians are already a working part of the public school system, then why are things going as poorly as they are and as they have? This is a problem that is not significantly, if at all, answered in the book. But I think the underlying current is this: Christians have, historically, been as much a part of the problem as the rest of the population and not a significant part of the solution. Perhaps this FRAME book can help bring about some changes, but I suspect that the wrong people will read it. Teachers who are Christians need to read it and I suspect that not enough will, and until Christian teachers realize that they have become part of the problem (for various reasons which I will not catalog here) I don't see church volunteerism being a significant part of the solution.

I realize that FRAME Books are written for a niche audience and that they are unlikely to branch too far outside of those confines. This is unfortunate because there is a real sense (at least to me) that if the 'right' people were reading this book (i.e., teachers in public education arena) that maybe we could accomplish something or bring about the changes that are necessary. I'm not one who happens to think, however, that these changes need to start from the outside and work their way inside as seems to be the point the author is making. It's a great thing to donate time to making school buildings in urban areas look pretty, it's a great thing to donate school supplies to needy children, and it's a super thing to volunteer time as after-school tutors. But the fundamental problem, as the authors point out, is that children are coming out of schools ill-prepared in various areas of literacy and mathematics. A pretty building is not going to fix that problem when the students still go home at the end of the day to homes that are full of violence, drugs, little food, or no parents.

Indeed, as the Barna research notes in answer to the question, "What do Americans think will improve lower-performing schools?" 76% said greater family and parental involvement. (Running a close second was 'more high quality teachers' at 70%. Frankly, I'm not sure most Americans know what 'high quality' really means. I know teachers, and the rigors we are put through in order to become teachers and stay teachers are excruciating at times. There really are not many 'low quality' teachers in schools.) But back to the point, more parental involvement is key because I firmly believe that that education starts at home–which is why I could not disagree more with the author's contention that we need to 'educate early and often' (41ff). Academically, there is point and counterpoint as to whether or not early education benefits students. I necessarily lean towards it being mostly unhelpful because young children are simply not developmentally prepared for the rigors of education.

In this scenario, the school becomes little more than a babysitting service. We are given some nice anecdotes about sending 'babies on to the local public elementary school' and seeing them fail. We are told about how the these remarkable children made great progress in pre-school only to see it 'erased in their elementary years' (42; see also page 68). My thought is, 'of course they failed. The local school is not the same as a small church run preschool.' The problem is that we are not given compelling evidence-based reasons for why, aside from such heart-wrenching anecdotes, early education is necessary or that it prepares students for anything (aside from their own surveys and 'research' there is no research to speak of supporting this work–at least none that is reported in a resource list or peer-reviewed evidence, etc.). In fact, a quick google search shows there is actually a mounting body of evidence to the contrary–that is, we probably send kids to school too early in life when they are not developmentally ready for the day in-day out rigors of a school day. (A related point, is the idea that we need to extend the school day or school year so that 'children will have more time to learn' (73). I disagree. Children need more time at home, with their parents and siblings, to play and live and make memories about their childhood–memories that do not involve drill and practice in the alphabet and counting.)

I do agree with the author on another point though. She writes, "Literacy affects every aspect of a person's life. And, as Christians, we should care deeply about the kind of life people are equipped to lead. But, as Christians, literacy resonates with us at an even deeper level as well. We are a community that centers itself on a book of truth, so literacy is essential for spiritual education." (50) And she is correct. This is compelling enough reason for people, Christian people, to be concerned about the schools that educate children on a daily basis. There are, as the author well points out, a lot of reasons why we should be concerned that children, people, know how to read. To this end, I think that Christians should do a great deal more to help our public schools, but again I must point out that that I believe this is should be centrifugal in nature and not centripetal. That is, it should start with that nearly 50% of teachers who self-identify with the Christian faith and work its way outward.

If this book finds itself in the right hands, I think it will be dangerous (in a good sort of way) and might prompt a small revolution in the way things are done in schools. If, however, it remains among  the niche audience, it will merely be, proverbially speaking, preaching to the choir.

4/5 stars

 

Related articles

Becoming Something Because of What we Know

Myth_spoiledTitle: The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Author: Alfie Kohn

Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books

Date: 2014

Pages: (preview copy e-book) via netgalley: 282

Author Page: Alfie Kohn

[You need to read this before you take another glance at this page: the FCC wants you to know that it is imperative information that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I'm glad that's off my chest and I hope you feel better knowing it.]

I was warned about Alfie Kohn when I was in graduate school. I was warned that his ideas are somewhat 'naive', that they sort of controvert the 'mainstream,' and that they are not compatible with 'reality.' So I began the reading with not a little nervousness and apprehension. Yet, as I went deeper into the book I found myself nodding in agreement, highlighting in agreement, and sort of shaking my head in disbelief at the depth of common sense I was discovering with each turn of an electronic page. I was warned that Kohn is a little out of the mainstream; I was not told that I might actually find what he is saying useful, helpful, and sensible.

I was trained at a university in the finer points of Applied Behavior Analysis and I am a strict student of the tools, techniques, and trials that accompany such a method of educating students who have special needs. I am a special education teacher, an Intervention Specialist, and when I think about a typical day with my students, I think about the words I have used throughout the day: "Don't ask me why;" "The goal of this exercise is so that the student will learn to comply;" "These students will not always have us around to guide them on every step of their lives, they need to learn how to do on their own without all the hand holding, mothering, and coddling;" "Good job!;" "Because I said so;" "Prize box at the end of the day if…." And so it goes, on an on. These are the words that accompany other interventions (such as time-outs, various rewards, Class-Dojo points, deprivation of recess for misbehavior, and so on and so forth). All of this is designed for one purpose, and that is to elicit compliance–a word, as I have reflected on my teaching practices, I use entirely too much. Kohn writes:

In reviewing popular books and articles for parents, I'm struck again and again by how their focus is on how to elicit compliance. There's considerable variation in the strategies they propose, from bullying to bargaining, from techniques frankly modeled on animal training to subtler forms of manipulation. But the animating question in such texts is rarely 'What do kids need, and how can we meet those needs?' Rather, it's 'How can you get your kid to do whatever you want?' (37)

Kohn's book caused me to pause and gasp quite a lot–not because it is necessarily deep, but because it makes sense, more sense, in any number of ways, than Applied Behavior Analysis. It also caused a great deal of reflection, deeper reflection, about the way I work in my classroom. It made me think long and hard about what my ultimate goal is with my students who have various disabilities and it made me think of the various ways that I attempt to motivate them to those ends. Frankly, the book made me question a lot of things about a lot of things: what was the purpose of my own education from elementary school to graduate school? What is the overarching purpose of today's public education system? It seems to me that perhaps more people ought to be asking some of these questions too–people who are in positions to ask them and bring about necessary changes. The more I think about what Kohn wrote the more I am convinced that a larger portion of the things we teach kids each day in school would be better off consigned to the rubbish heap.

One of the more important points that Kohn makes in his book is that we give way too much emphasis and enthusiasm to competitive pursuits as parents and schools. I have written about this as plank in my own ideas about education reform, but suffice it to say that I didn't take it to the ends that Kohn did–but armed with his analysis I am ready to do that very thing. I won't spoil all of the fun of reading through Kohn's analysis, but suffice it to say that I believe he is correct: there is far too much emphasis on competition in families, in schools, in life and when competition is introduced at an early age, well, what can we expect when our children view life through that lens?

Something I don't particularly care for is his heavy lean to the left of things–to the extent that even though he claims the current president extended and intensified the education policies of the former president one still gets the sense that it is still the former president's fault for initiating them to begin with. Now I don't particularly care one way or another if Kohn is liberal or conservative or Martian.What bothered me is that at the beginning of the book that 'an awful lot of people who are politically liberal begin to sound like right-wing talk-show hosts as soon as the conversation turns to children and parenting' (2). He goes on:

Have a look at the unsigned editorials in left-of-center newspapers, or essays by columnists whose politics are mostly progressive. Listen to speeches by liberal public officials. On any of the controversial issues of our day, from tax policy to civil rights, you'll find approximately what you'd expect. But when it comes to education, almost all of them take a hard-line position very much like what we hear from conservatives They endorse a top-down, corporate-style version of school reform that includes prescriptive, one-size-fits-all teaching standards and curriculum mandates; weakened job protection for teachers; frequent standardized testing; and a reliance on rewards and punishments to raise scores on those tests and compel compliance on the part of teachers and students. (2)

He goes on to note that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans all sound the same when it comes to education (and parenting). My point is that even though he says the two sound alike, it is the conservative side of this conversation that receives the majority of Kohn's verbal aggression. All of our problems with parenting and education date back to an appalling sense of devotion to Puritanism and the so-called Protestant work ethic and their perpetuation in our current day. He says that it was left-leaners who sounded like conservatives that prompted the book (2) and yet there is nary a word of criticism for those left-leaning folks who cannot make up their minds one way or another. In other words he uses words like 'right-wing', 'Puritan', 'religious', and 'conservative' all in a pejorative sense and, frankly, it just gets tired after the first 100 repetitions.

In my opinion, Kohn  made a lot of good points–points that I fully agree with and intend to implement in my own work as an educator. Kohn has a way of stripping us of our blinders and forcing us to look at our own prejudice:

We Americans stubbornly resist the possibility that what we do is profoundly shaped by policies, norms, systems, and other structural realities. We prefer to believe that people who commit crimes are morally deficient, that that have-nots in our midst are lazy (or at least insufficiently resourceful), that overweight people simply lack the willpower to stop eating, and so on. If only those folks would just exercise a little personal responsibility, a bit more self-control! (170)

He also has a biting sense of humor–as a fan of sarcasm, I appreciate his efforts.

Finally I will say this. I really do not know what to make of his analysis and critiques of newspaper editorials, blog posts, and peer-reviewed papers. He could be correct, it could just be his opinion of those things. For every point he brings up, the skilled researcher can probably find a counterpoint, for every yin he slings, someone will sling a yang. Kohn writes from his contrary, against the mainstream, point of view and most folks in research are aware of that so I'm sure there will be plenty of peer-reviewed critiques of the book. Nevertheless, the book is meticulously referenced and footnoted (37 pages of end notes) and referenced (26 pages of references) and even if one happens to disagree with his points and his ultimate conclusion (of which I am a bit skeptical to be sure) it cannot be denied that he has stirred the pot–frankly, for the better.*

It is time to strip the pretenses we have as parents and educators of children and dial back some (all?) of our antiquated ideas about how children should be raised and how they best learn. I may not be on the bandwagon for every jot and tittle of this book, but by and large I have been challenged to reexamine my own value system, my own educational practices, and my own care and concern for children–my own and others'.

The bottom line is that kids learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. If we want kids to take responsibility for making the world a better place, then we need to give them responsibilities. That means dialing back our control, whether of the flagrant or subtle variety. (189-190**)

Well said. It requires courage, but I think it can be done. I think folks who are willing to have their presuppositions challenged, who are tired of the status-quo, and who are tired of people in the media telling them how (and what and when and why) to raise their children will appreciate Kohn's frankness, the depth of his research, and his skillful analysis of the myths perpetuated by those who have more of an agenda than an actual valid point.

5/5 Stars

*The book will also, in its finished form, contain an index.

**I previewed a pre-publication copy of the book. Page numbers may have changed in the actual published book.

I've been reading this book called The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn. I'll be reviewing it on this blog soon so I won't spoil much with this post, except to say that if what Kohn is saying is true, and at this juncture of my reading I'm leaning towards that particular assessment, then I may well have to reinvent myself as a teacher of students with disabilities. If what he has written is true, maybe more parents, teachers, and administrative specialists in schools ought also to read it; slowly.

The thing about life is that we are always at a juncture of knowing and learning. There are many folks among us who stand at said junctures and say something ridiculous like, "Well, I know; therefore, I need not learn." They are making a commitment to stasis, to static. Everything is fixed, nothing will change. Everything is stable and there is no upsetting that balance.

Others stand at the same juncture and say something lucid like, "Well, here I am. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain. I do not know. Teach me." These folks are making a commitment to a certain level of functional chaos; to imbalance. Everything is fair game, there is no balance. These folks have made a lifelong commitment to learning which necessarily means they are willing to change–at any given moment, on any given subject.

It used to be said, it might still be said, that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. I think it is a human beings' obligation to change our minds, our hearts, our lives, our views, our entire being. What would the world be like if we were born with a set of beliefs or values or ideas and those were the only beliefs, values or ideas we ever had? What if we lived in a world where learning was nothing more than the compulsory memorization of meaningless points of historical trivia? What if criminals were sentenced to summary execution which was summarily carried out and were never, ever given the chance to change?

This leads me to question the very nature of education. Is education merely about learning facts and dates and numbers? Or is education about learning to think in such a way that our minds might actually be changed and our lives irrevocably altered? What is change? Who is to say what change is and what it means? Who is to say how much change is required or how much effort should be invested in making changes? Who is to say what standard should be applied to measure whether change has occurred or not? It's all very confusing and rather unpleasant to think about this late.

Yet, I am rethinking everything I have learned about what it means to educate and, perhaps more importantly, what it means to be a teacher; what it means to be a human; what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Maybe I have those in the wrong order.

There I was: at work, not so much enjoying my day. The day didn't start off too well. It didn't continue too well either. There is so much to do and so many distractions. People coming in and taking students off for therapy, phones ringing, school psychologist stopping in and handing me a stack of papers that I have to complete on one of my students. There's always so many things going on in the room at any given moment.

It's not so much mayhem, but neither is it much less. I kind of like it that way. I always have at least an idea of what we are doing in the room, but to the uninitiated it probably appears like a three-ring circus inside a whirlwind trapped in a teapot.

So there I was, working, wondering–trying to imagine how it is that I can either repair some broken relationships among my colleagues or make them worse or just leave well enough alone. I'm really good at making matters worse, but I've been working hard to make things better. I take my work very seriously, but I confess that most of the time working in special-education feels much like an being naked-and-afraid on a deserted island. That being said, I get lonely at times for adult companionship at work–perhaps many other teachers feel the same way, but I'm willing to bet that it is just a wee bit worse for male teachers working in special education.

I confess to the sin of second period self-pity.

I was working with a student, a little girl to be exact, and I was feeling a bit salty about some things. Then, while watching her work, a thought occured to me that significantly brightened and changed my day: she was working; working hard. I had given her a paper to complete which contained about 40 math problems. They started out very simple and became increasingly more difficult as the paper went along. Out of the 40 or so problems, she managed to get exactly one, the first one, correct. After that it was all a complete guessing game–no math, no calcuations, no counting, just writing numbers on the lines.

I watched her write every one of those numbers; you know why? Because she was writing those numbers to please me. She was working about as hard as a person who had no idea what they were doing could. She was not for a minute going to return a paper to me that didn't have a number on every provided blank answer space. She was writing with the intensity of a professional athlete. If we gave grades based on effort, determination and intensity, she would have passed with flying colors.

It was at that moment that I realized that nothing else about my job matters except that little girl (who represented all the students I work with and for each day.)

At school, it's only about my students. Her smile melted me. I have much to learn.

Today was a long day at school, hence the title of this post. It was a long day of teaching that began as most of my days do: waking up from a night of restlessness and nightmares. The day ended with me sitting here at my laptop writing about what a long day it was at school.

I made some new friends tonight and spent some time with other friends while playing a small part in  our school's 'spring' literacy night. I was privileged to stand behind a table and scoop hot nacho cheese into plastic bowls–a slight improvement over bus duty; at least no one cursed at me tonight.

Previous to that experience, I tutored a student for two hours. We spent the entire time struggling together through the Brigance Diagnostic Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills. It's startlingly good fun and if you've never administered such an inventory before, well I highly suggest that you get busy doing so.

In fact, I enjoyed Brigance so much today, that I pretty much did nothing else but Brigance with my students today.

That was my day.

I cannot merely assess a days' worth based upon whether or not I actually accomplished anything though. I mean, I'm sure I accomplished something, somehow, and in some way, for someone. I don't feel like I did, but I'm sure that somewhere along the way I was able to positively impact at least the chair I sat on most of the day. Although, since I left an impression, I probably had a negative impact on the chair; I'm just saying.

Being a teacher is demanding work at times.

Do you know what the best part of my long day was? It was not administering the Brigance. It was not serving nachos–as fun as that was. It was not my daily foray into the swarm of cars and buses I fought through in bus duty. It wasn't hearing from the high school principal that one of my own children was about to be suspended.

The best part was being around the people I am privileged to work with every day. I was able to spend time with my principal, fellow teachers, parents, children, custodians, and others. It was nice to hear the stories of their day, touch base with their lives, make a connection that might not have been there in the past, and in general just get to know them on a personal basis. It was fun to see them 'outside the classroom' during our evening Literacy Night (with a fiesta theme.)

What I have found is that teachers are humans. We have our flaws. We make our share of mistakes. We have some faulty idealistic dreams that are incompatible with the real world. Yet, what I saw tonight at Literacy Night was a wild pack of teachers, who had been teaching all day, giving more of their time to encourage literacy among our community.

And we would it all over again. And we will.

It probably sounds somehow wrong, but I am one of those sort of teachers who actually enjoys bus duty at school. I love it so much that I do it twice per day: once in the morning when all the little children are arriving at school full of joy and happiness and songs (0nly to later have it all sucked away by the Schoolmaster and Ohio Academic Assessments) and again in the afternoon when all the tired children are being hoarded into giant yellow super-marines–gone are the smiles, gone are the songs, and the skipping-hand-holding energetic future ballerinas.

The contrast is remarkable from morning to afternoon. It is amazing what 7 hours in school will do to a child's personality. And, interestingly enough, it could not be more different for teachers who arrive in the morning hunched over from all the bags of stuff being carried in, slurping coffee, and walking about as slow as a human can without actually falling over from lack of motion and are all smiles and joyful and full of energy come 3 o'clock.

Bus duty today was fantastic. In the morning, I saw no little commotion on one of the last arriving buses. Then I saw children begin to file out of the bus, mouths covered, noses pinched, and groaning of a rank smell on the bus. I assumed it was a bus, what could be wrong? Then I discovered that a small child had hurled, puked, vomited or maybe all three in the aisle. "It smells like rotten eggs," reported one little boy. "Oh, that is gross," observed an astute little girl to her friend. A few minutes later I was in the office when a small boy walked in literally, yes, literally, covered in puke, calm as the day is long. I was impressed.

Later on in the afternoon, I was back on duty standing at my designated spot where me and my masters degree, hand in hand, direct 15 buses onto the highway every afternoon. After the buses are safely on their way to the left and right and center, I hang around to usher out the three rivers of cars that arrive at a small confluence in the school parking lot that smashes perpendicular into the highway in front of the building where passing traffic carefully avoids reading the sign emblazoned with the words 'School Zone Speed Limit: 20 MPH'.

Good times.

Today, as I lifted lever on the last remaining foodgate and the pent up power of the last river of traffic began pouring into the confluence, I heard a parent shout out the window of his truck in my direction, "Screw you!" I guess he had to wait too long in the line to pick up his child and that the best way for him to express his angst at having to wait his turn.

In the morning, a kid vomits on the bus; in the afternoon an adult pukes on me.

Such is the life of a teacher on bus duty.

I read an article today that had something to do with Jerry Seinfeld. I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld to the extent that I still laugh out-loud when watching the reruns in syndication. The article had something to do with something called the 'Seinfeld Strategy.'

I haven't the slightest idea if there is any truth to this being something Jerry Seinfeld actually did/does, but it sounded worthwhile so I thought I would give it a whirl. The gist is that success is somewhat dependent upon consistency of practice. So, in Seinfeld's world, he would make the effort to write every day. The author of the article writes:

Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.

He also adds a simple caveat: the daily task has to be "meaningful enough to make a difference and simple enough that you can get it done." I think this is a solid plan.

My plan, therefore, is to make it my daily goal to blog 500 words. I have no particular agenda, but I'm thinking that I might blog about my Bible reading for the day or about something in education that happens to be irritating me at the moment. I'm sure of this: there will be no lack for things to blog.

For example, today I'm particularly irritated by the amount of tests that I have to administer to my students in order for them to be qualified as students. It's almost like the state and federal government doesn't trust teachers to teach so they mandate all sorts of tests just to make certain we are doing something in the classroom. I spent some time tonight reading through the 2nd grade Diagnostic Assessment manual which was enough to make me want to take a sick day. 

Where do people come up with all this stuff? Add on top of 2nd Grade Diagnostic Assessments the ten Alternate Assessments I have to administer and Brigance Comprehensive Assessments I have to administer before I can write IEPs and it's easy to see why my students are stressed out and why I am ready to shave the skin from my scalp (I have no hair to pull out).

Fact is, teaching ought to be exciting and thrilling and a daily adventure. Learning ought to be worse: a delightful and amazing journey into the unknown, where darkness is illuminated, ignorance replaced with wisdom, and grace heaved into our hearts in massive doses. We get to live on this earth for a very short period of time if we are lucky enough to live at all. We get to spend some of those years in formal educational settings. Why, oh why, would we want to steal all the joy that should be there and replace it with anxiety and stress?

The end.