Tuesday Tidbits, October 5, 2010

Sorry – a day late with this post. Travel and balky airport Wi-Fi to blame.

The Education Trust has a space at its website for parent resources; I like the pamphlet on homework and the questions and answers about academic standards. This set of questions and their answers is particularly important as states adopt the Common Core State Standards. Is your state on the list of those that have?

Do you know the web-based tool Wordle? It’s great fun with kids; it generates word clouds from text, no matter how little or how much, and my son and I played with it with a report that he wrote, to see what words were used most frequently.

A piece from two former colleagues and their take on Waiting for ‘Superman’: “What if instead of focusing our energies on building ‘Super Teachers’ – able to leap standardized testing in a single bound – we work instead to create a bold staffing model that empowers teachers and plays to their strengths? Maybe it’s not about adding on, but about branching out.” You will see in the column that there is role in this new school model, in this new way to think about teaching, for community experts – just like you.

Lastly, I very much like what this blog post from ASCD (formerly the Association for Curriculum and Development) had to say about classrooms and schools. Called Would I Want My Child in This Classroom? and by Steven Weber, it was ultimately about the alignment of classroom instruction with standards (see the Common Core State Standards above), but it asked tough questions about practices in the classroom and the school building, such as, “Would I want my child in this classroom if a majority of the instruction is focused on memorization and recall?” or “Would I want my child in this classroom if the science and social studies classes are considered non-essential for grades K-5, because they are not tested?” or “Would I want my child in this classroom if the teacher is passionate about worksheets?”

The predominance of worksheets in certain school buildings drives me crazy – what I once called the Cult of the Ditto, but then that shows my age. I have been in several classrooms where the teacher sits at his or her desk while the kids dutifully fill out a worksheet. Yes, there is a place in the classroom for quiet, individual practice – with a set of mathematics problems, for example. But these worksheet-driven moments can be an iceberg tip, pointing to more problematic issues with teaching and learning in a classroom.

Maybe some questions to ask: I see that you use worksheets in class – how often does that happen each week? Are children allowed to work together on them? How do you assist students as they work on them? What kind of follow up is done with students – do you correct these worksheets in class, maybe with the whole group, or simply collect them? Have your charges ever developed their own worksheets, for use by the whole class?

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