Friday, November 20, 2009

Quick question

I keep reading that a teacher's effectiveness is the most important factor in improving student achievement.

Isn't teacher effectiveness the only "factor" that's measured by improvements in student achievement?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Required Reading: Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap

There's research on a 15 minute intervention that reduces the racial achievement gap. Seriously. 

Helps African American students but doesn't hurt European American students. Lower achieving students get more of a boost than higher achieving students.

Works across content areas. The research is an experimental study, so it is causation not just correlation. From a short activity that fits into the first week of school mayhem.

And I hadn't heard of it until I read it for class this week.

Frequently, class discussions ask what's being done to implement the research we read. This week we asked why this article, which sounds like it should have gotten full-on media buzz, was new to everyone. (Including the Journalism professor.)

The original article was published in Science in 2006. A two-year follow up was published this April. (My professor says Science has a 98% rejection rate for social science articles. Multiple review levels. You don't get in without really good material.)

The intervention is simple. Give students a list of values and have them write about their two or three most important values.

That's it.

The theory is that this intervention breaks a negative cycle. That some students feel like school doesn't care about me so I'll perform poorly making school cares less about me and I'll do worse...

Breaking that cycle can actually begin an opposite cycle. "Oh, maybe they do care. I can do better. They like me more, I'll do even better..."

I am oversimplifying. And the news article I found does caution, "This is not a silver bullet. The improvements came from the psychological interventions paired with good resources and good teachers."

But still, 15 minutes of class time. Less than the interruption that my old school is having for today's Halloween festivities. Potential for real change. (Low achieving African Americans had  raised their GPA, on average, .41 points over two years where they repeated this activity a few times.)  Why wasn't I doing this?

Why aren't you?

The inner math teacher has to come out somedays

If you followed my move from the old blog to here, chances are good that you've already seen this picture floating around the interwebs.

Pretty cool map, yeah? If you're not familiar with it, read the original article. Now. The rest of this post depends on it. (And not just because I can pick out the McDonald's where the tenth grade English teacher at my old school works on weekends.)

When this was going around Twitter originally, people kept wanting to use it as a WCWDWT lesson. Teachers are fascinated by the map, let's have students play with it!

Problem is, there's not a motivating question. I mean, I have fun trying to see how closely I can identify different towns I've lived in, but that's not going to entertain anyone else.

Then today, I visited to find this.

Zoomed in.

"You Will Never Find a McDonald's More than 107 Miles From Another McDonald's"

Wait. I don't think that's what they found. Checked the Slate article. Actual headline, "Furthest Distance From a McDonald's: 107 miles."

So how far apart can McDonald's locations be?

Not sure how much of this one is just a rewritten textbook question and how much it can scan as WCWDWT. As always it depends on how it's presented to students. I'd show the map and the headlines.  Go all English teacher, "These headlines say different things." Pop the question. Puzzle it out.

If the class asks, take a look at the map of the "McFarthest spot" (go back to that original post, it's good). if they don't ask, shrug, comes too close to revealing the answer anyway.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can you help me with this?

First an introduction. Friends, this is Shannon.

I met Shannon two years ago. She's a ball of energy and I'm always excited when my weekend plans include seeing her. (Not at all related to the fact that weekend plans with Shannon usually involved skiing, camping, or otherwise getting out of classroom mode. ;-)

Actually, that aside is only partly true. Even when we're out of the classroom, Shannon continues to think about her students and ask about yours. Kinda typical of the the teachers I've met online.

Like a lot of teachers online, Shannon uses Donors Choose. She sent an e-mail today, that I wanted to share. I'll let her take it from here.


Hello Friends,

As you (probably) know, I teach at Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  My students live in one of the poorest counties in the country and very few have access to books in their homes.  Below, you see a picture of T---, second grader.  This is my hope for all of my students: that they become proficient life-long readers.  In order for this to be a reality, the school library must have books that appeal to their interests.

Here's what you might not know: I'm part of the teacher community, where teachers post projects for the resources that would make the biggest difference in our classrooms.  I currently have several projects posted for books.  If teachers collectively get 5,000 people to give to classroom projects by October 31st, $100,000 in additional funding will be released.

Here’s the catch.  It won’t even cost you anything besides about 10 minutes of your time.  Yahoo! is inviting everyone to share their creative singing voices by customizing and uploading their Yahoo! Yodel (you know, the catchy part-song, part-celebration shout trademark Yaaahooo!).  In return for submitting your own Yodel by October 31st, Yahoo! will immediately provide you with a $10 electronic Giving Card code to help fund the classroom project of your choice on  Hopefully, of course, that would be one of my projects, but it’s up to you!

Here’s what to do:
1.     Go to the Yahoo! Yodel Studio and make a yodel.  It doesn’t have to be good.  Here’s mine.  Any submission counts. 
2.     After you’ve submitted your yodel and Yahoo! Has emailed you your gift card, use this link to go to Donorschoose:
3.     Support any classroom project.  My projects can be most easily found by searching under location -- > State: SD.  County: Shannon.
4.     Please also forward this email to spread the word.

Please note that the last day to use your code is Halloween.  Thanks in advance for making it the best trick-or-treat I’ve ever had.  


Monday, September 28, 2009

Background bias

“Is it your passion or something you just fell into?” he asked.

I’d met him in the past half hour. We were hiking at the same pace and quickly fell into conversation. It was the type of conversation that you have with a friendly stranger. Openly sharing details of your biographies without exchanging basics. He didn’t know my name, but was asking about my motivation for starting graduate school.

“How about a passion that I’ve fallen into?”

We laughed, but it’s as good of an answer as I can come up with. 

I don’t remember when I first heard the terms “educational inequality” and “achievement gap,” but I have been learning about them all my life. Growing up in the small-town South, I attended schools on both sides of the divide. From an elementary school in a condemned building to another school in brand new building with computers in every classroom. From reading The Best School Year Ever in my eighth grade Advanced Reading class to studying different theories of literary analysis when reading Hawthorne and Fitzgerald two years later. 

A generation after Brown v. Board finally took effect (my dad was integrated during high school), I knew that the downtown school where I started my elementary education had been the white school and that the school on the far side of town had been the black school. Even though integration meant that the schools were divided by age, the neighborhoods surrounding them continued to fit the racial categories. Further, though my schools were integrated, my tracked classes were disproportionately white. 

It’s a passion that grew out of those experiences. It’s something that I’ve fallen into again and again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obligatory TFA Post

My uncle, the CEO, asked the right question to get me to talk about my Teach For America experience. “What would you change?”

There are lots of things TFA does well. I received more help in my classroom from the TFA South Dakota support staff than I did from my school’s teacher mentor. TFA observed me regularly, if not frequently. My mentor never made it into my classroom while students were present. TFA maintained clear expectations of me. Their Teaching as Leadership rubric gives concrete ways to improve my methodology. My school constantly shuffled its directions, saying it wanted one thing but not following through.

So what would I change?

I want TFA to share more openly. TFA melds the “best practices” and look to improve them, but I don’t see the push back into the wider education world. Why can’t anyone who wants to be a better teacher look at the Teaching as Leadership rubric? Must the Resource Exchange be unaccessible to people who aren’t affiliated?

There are plenty of reasons not to share. Copyrights. Staffing issues. Critiques from te rest of the education world. 

But the vision that motivates us isn’t about TFA teachers. “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” That tells me we should help everyone be their best.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Every new beginning

"It's so strange being back in college," I told my parents. "I'm sitting on this man-made island. I'm on a bench underneath these trees looking at this path that all these college-y people are running on in their running outfits. Or biking. Even the old guy biking toward me right now is college-y! I can't believe I'm here for so long. It's still surreal."

But classes are starting tomorrow; it's time for me to start blogging again. Maybe this space will help me understand my new reality.


It's not that I don't see the appeal of keeping one continuous journal over the years. But I like noting chapter breaks. When I want to know what I was thinking, I know which journal to look in. The one my grandmother gave me in middle school. The camp one. The one I bought on sale at the shop in part because I wanted to have something that smelled of that time and place.


I was on the phone last night with my former roommate. She's got my students this year and is having trouble planning for one class. I don't have high school math textbooks in my living room. And for just a moment, I felt lost.