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Category Archives: teaching

Literacy controversies

When you have been teaching as long as I have, and all up that’s over forty years, you should become immune to recurrent panics, usually political, media-driven, or coming from “educationists” with an axe to grind. But you don’t…

The latest tea-leaf reading and teeth-gnashing has followed the publication of the PISA Report 2007 (PDF). I posted on that here. Recently too we’ve had the Australian Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2.

However, there are, as always, many reasons to think about how we teachers could do better. Young People Seen Losing Love of Reading by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo appeared in the November 19 edition of the US online magazine Teacher Week.

American youths are reading less in their free time than a generation ago, a statistic that bodes poorly for their academic performance, job prospects, civic participation, and even social well-being, a report by the National Endowment for the Arts says.

Increasing use of electronic media is largely to blame for a decline in pleasure reading among young people, says the report, released today. But the failure of schools to instill a love of reading is also a contributing factor, according to endowment Chairman Dana Gioia.

“The study shows that reading is endangered at the moment in the United States, especially among younger Americans … and not merely the frequency of reading, but the ability to read as well,” Mr. Gioia said in a telephone conference call with reporters before the report’s release. The emphasis in many schools on bolstering reading skills and preparing students for tests, he added, is insufficient for nurturing an appreciation of reading.

“This functional approach to reading,” he said, “is not adequate to instill a lifelong love of the subject.”

In a subsequent online ideas exchange a number of US teachers made suggestions, many of them similar to ideas you might hear in staff rooms or at conferences here in Australia. (By the way, in all those international comparisons, whatever it is they measure, Australia still outperforms the USA in literacy.) For example:

Claudia, a secondary teacher:

I have watched this conversation with interest, because for the past several years I’ve taught nothing but an elective, “Reading for Pleasure,” at my high school. We started small, one section per semester. Now, we run 12 sections, and could fill others if we had the teachers. In my school, there is a strong culture of reading—our media center is active and kids talk about their books. For the first nine weeks of this semester, 131 students in my classes read a total of 269,157 pages. (This includes books for English classes, not necessarily for pleasure.)

My class is designed to share books with students, and to give them a place and time to read, uninterrupted by other demands. Then, everyone writes about what they’ve read. I read with my students every day (tough gig, I know), and I respond to every entry, as a fellow reader.

I’ve noticed the same ‘dip’ in interest among our students that others have noticed. Over and over in their literacy autobiographies students tell me how much they loved reading in elementary, and then “something” happened. They can’t even articulate what it was. I wonder how much can be attributed to new demands on kids’ time, new interests, or peer groups that may not value reading. I spend lots of time in class talking about books, fiction and nonfiction, young adult, classics, popular adult fiction. Once kids learn (relearn?) what they like, they DO read for pleasure, because they have the power to choose what they read.

I want to throw one more idea into the mix. Nowhere in all these articles do I see a serious acknowledgement of the reading kids do the most: online. I would argue kids are interacting with text much more often than the “experts” think when we factor in computer use.

What do you think of this whole question? How do you encourage reading? How widely do your students read?

If you are a student, what is your attitude to reading? Do you think you are “good enough”? What do you read? How often?

 

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Email about the Educational Testing Service

This arrived this morning.

Hello,

Because you write about ESL and learning the English language, I thought you and your readers might be interested in the Educational Testing Service’s [link] new TOEFL Tips & News feed [link]. TOEFL Tips and News is a free way for students to keep updated on the latest TOEFL developments, share English learning tips, and receive helpful insights from ETS on how to pass their exam.

Here are some recent headlines from TOEFL’s Tips & News:
• What Should You Read to Build Your Reading Skills?
• How To Recognize a Pronoun Instantly
• By 2008, seats for TOEFL iBT will increase by 80% in China

You can subscribe to TOEFL Tips & News by visiting the ETS website. Please help us tell students about ETS’ newest educational tool by copying and pasting this code to your blog: Subscribe to TOEFL Tips and News from ETS.

We appreciate any help you can offer to spread the word!

On ETS see Wikipedia.

The Educational Testing Service (or ETS) is the world’s largest private educational testing and measurement organization, operating on an annual budget of approximately $1.1 billion on a proforma basis in 2007. ETS develops various standardized tests primarily in the United States for K-12 and higher education, but they also administer tests such as TOEFL and GRE internationally. Many of the assessments they develop are associated with entry to US tertiary (undergraduate) and quaternary education (graduate) institutions…

ETS has been criticized for being a “highly competitive business operation that is as much multinational monopoly as nonprofit institution”.

Due to its legal status as non-profit organization, ETS is exempt from paying federal income tax. Furthermore, it does not need to report financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission…

It is worth looking at their free magazine Innovations.

See also Fairtest.org.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.

Australian connection

According to the Summer 2007 issue of Innovations, ETS produced the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey used in Australia. I have a post on that here.

 

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ADHD, etc

I really am not an expert on this, but I have certainly encountered examples during my teaching career. Quite often, especially early on, I probably did not handle such people well either.

I was prompted by tonight’s 7.30 Report to write a post on Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. The report showed strong neurological evidence that this disorder, which is still subject of much controversy, really is a physical thing.

A world first study conducted by University of Melbourne researchers has identified a new area of the brain, linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Researchers have discovered a significant lack of activity in a region at the back of the brain, which underpins a child’s ability to manage stress. The finding points to a biological basis for the controversial condition rather than problems of inadequate parenting or poorly behaved children, or even diet as the primary cause of difficult behaviour. The findings could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, which affects up to five per cent of primary school aged children…

There are links to video interviews and to further stories on the 7.30 Report site.

Some issues are discussed in this UK article: Socio-educational and Biomedical Models in the Treatment of Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder and related Neurobehavioural Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence, and their Implications for Adult Mental Health by Ian N Ford BA DMS FRSH.

…We would suggest that there is evidence to support the existence of AD/HD as a neurobiochemical disorder ( or a spectrum of related disorders ) which has a significant impact upon children and adults, affecting their ability to function effectively in a variety of situations, social, intellectual and in education or employment.

These individuals respond best to pharmacological and behavioural treatments, yet traditionally such treatments have been kept as a second tier if not a last resort. One can say that there is not an ” objective clinical test ” for AD/HD and that the diagnostic criteria used are inadequate, inconsistent and confusing. But then all one has to do is read a few sets of notes from a Child Guidance Clinic to wonder if explanations of behavioural problems as due to ” sibling rivalry ” or whatever stand up to similar examination.

It is easy to criticise American doctors for prescribing Ritalin without proper investigation, and to blame the increase in diagnosis of neurobehavioural disorder as an attempt by parents to seek a ” disability ” that explains why their child is not academically gifted. However, one has also to question whether the British establishment has got it right either…

An American psychiatrist, Dr D B Henley, has posted a number of mp3s on the subject (and others) here, and this YouTube as part of a continuing series “It’s a Brain Thing.” It’s 30 minutes long.

There are other stories on the ABC site including Meditation helps kids with ADHD.

 

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Integration of Blogspot posts into this blog

For a couple of months I have been writing posts suitable for teachers and others interested in education at Old teachers never die… I have now incorporated most of those posts into this blog. Doing so extends the range of this blog especially in material of interest to teachers, and it also adds a few more personal and/or opinionated entries. They all feature in the past two months entries. I hope people find something worth reading as they explore them.

From time to time entries of a similar nature will be added here.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2007 in blogs, for teachers, inspiration, pedagogy, site news, teaching

 

The literacy we need but many don’t want…

I wrote a careful essay on the nature of literacy in 1998; you may read an updated version here. At one level literacy involves just learning to read and write, using whatever teaching methods work — and that is always a combination of methods. (The whole-language VERSUS phonics myth is just that, a myth; it is rather whole-language AND phonics.) Conservative critics always focus on one end of this, and berate schools if 100% of students have not mastered basic literacy by, say, the end of primary school — a great aim, but an unrealistic one.

There are ALWAYS, whatever you do, going to be those who do not master reading and writing as well as we would like them to, just as there are those who achieve literacy even before going to school. Of course we all want an outcome that allows all those who can be literate to be literate; no quarrel there, but let’s stop nonsense such as bleating about 25% of students being "below average" and let’s stop imposing standardised tests, or at least let’s stop tying too much to them, or regarding them as anything other than potentially useful diagnostic tools.

A bit less time spent on testing and bean-counting and a bit more time, funding, and effort dedicated to actual teaching and teaching environments might do a lot more good.

But there is a type of literacy conservatives not only do not talk about but positively discourage: critical literacy. My belief is that this is so important that a democracy cannot function without it.

Here is someone who knows why.

Vanessa Andreotti is a Brazilian teacher/trainer who is currently a research fellow and education coordinator at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at Nottingham University.

 

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Recycle 5: from January 20, 2004 — Values in NSW schools

This one is deep in my archives! In its original context it is very political too, being an angry response to Prime Minister John Howard’s unjustified attack on public education. You may see a leading non-government educator’s reply here.

I posted the “Values We Teach” document, since superseded but essentially the same. See Core Values on the NSW Department of Education site — unless they move it again! Terrible, that way, the NSW government. Always fiddling… However, here is the version I posted back in 2004.

Love of learning

NSW public schools aim to create young Australians who value learning and knowledge and who relish the effort and possess the confidence needed to resolve problems, or to master a skill, topic or subject; who can compose clear and precise prose and construct well-founded arguments; who have mastered the art of talking with others as a route to better understanding; who are deeply interested in finding common ground with other people, other ways of life and ways of thinking and believing; and who are interested in imaginative and new ideas, and in seeking out truth.

NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • scholarship, accurate and extensive knowledge, wide reading and understanding of traditional and new fields of study, including information technology
  • rational inquiry and logical, well-founded argument
  • clarity, confidence and coherence in thinking, writing and speaking
  • curiosity and imagination as the basis for pleasure in learning
  • communicating with others as a way of establishing agreement and arriving at truth.

    Aiming for high standards

    NSW public school students are encouraged to achieve their personal best and to aim for excellence in everything they do.

    They are encouraged to participate in sport and creative performances and to learn ways of winning and losing graciously.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • aiming for the best in academic, creative and sporting achievement and in all public performances.

    Care and respect for ourselves and others

    In partnership with parents and carers, NSW public school students are taught how to respect and care for themselves and others, in order to achieve self-discipline and physical and mental well being. They learn respect and care for others through the codes and practice of good manners, the give and take of friendship, the routines of companionship and the management of friendly rivalry. They learn respect for expertise, legitimate authorities, and leadership through acceptance of responsibility. They are taught ways of recognising right from wrong.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • recognising right over wrong
  • honesty and courtesy
  • health, fitness and well being
  • discipline, punctuality, reliability
  • experience, expertise and authority
  • friendship, companionship and friendly rivalry
  • self-discipline, independence and responsibility

    Care and respect for families and communities

    NSW public school students are encouraged to feel and demonstrate empathy and respect for those who are vulnerable and dependent. They learn to demonstrate the values of generosity and compassion and the principles of fairness. In turn they earn the right to expect to be treated by others with respect and fairness. As members of families and communities they learn how to treat others with consideration.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • kindness and helpfulness towards those who are vulnerable, or who are less able than others
  • the rights of individuals and groups to a fair go
  • sharing and equity as principles of personal and social relationships
  • different histories, customs, cultures and outlooks within home and school communities and in the Australian community

    Respect for work

    NSW public school students learn the need to grasp opportunities, the rewards of effort, and the value of work. They learn to see how work is changing and how new forms of work encourage experiment and resilience. They learn with new and evolving technologies and are taught to welcome innovation. Public school students learn to work well together with different kinds of people.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • paid, unpaid and voluntary work
  • opportunity, aspiration and enterprise
  • creativity, experiment and resilience
  • working together and in competition
  • skilled workmanship
  • productive habits and methods.

    Proud Australians and citizens of the world

    As young Australians, NSW public school students learn to understand and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of their land.

    They learn about Australia’s creative arts, literature, and history, and the insights to be gained for the future good of Australia. They learn to appreciate the significance of Australia’s Indigenous people and of immigration to Australian identity.

    NSW public school students are taught to respect the rule of law and Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures. They are taught their own rights and responsibilities, and those of groups and governments under the code of law and systems of justice.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

  • Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures
  • the rights and obligations of governments, individuals and groups under the rule of law
  • the contributions of Indigenous people to Australia, and their history and struggles as our country’s first custodians
  • the beauty and uniqueness of Australia’s landscapes and environments
  • the histories and cultures of all Australians
  • the role of migration in building Australia’s place in the world
  • the interdependence of human beings with each other and with the natural world

    Values for Australia’s future

    These values help each NSW public school student to take full advantage of new ideas and knowledge which characterise the social and economic environment emerging in Australia, and in the world community.

    In conjunction with an excellent general and vocational education, this code of values enables young Australians educated in NSW public schools to freely choose and enjoy their paths through adult life, to master the complexity and variety of the contemporary world, and to contribute as citizens to making Australia a better, more prosperous and happier place.

  • Perhaps the PM regards some of these as “excessive political correctness”? There are probably some values there the PM would have a problem with — but that is his problem, and ours in having a neanderthal for a Prime Minister. I can understand someone who hasn’t had an original or really broad-minded thought in the past forty years thinking that way, just as I can find it quite remarkable that a man whose prime value is how to hang onto power, stifle debate, and lie to the Australian people whenever it seems necessary to achieve his goals is suddenly the mouthpiece for “Australian values.” Am I being disrespectful? Bloody oath I am.

  • With a taste there of the original context, you will note. But this present blog is of course a rant-free zone. 😉

     
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    Posted by on November 14, 2007 in curriculum, inspiration, replays, teaching

     

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    To Sir, With Love

    This was YouTubed by Canadian Barbara Gilmour.

    Well that takes me back.