Thursday, August 7, 2008

First Installment of Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire

Okay, okay, I know this isn't the assigned book, but since I picked it up I can't put it down so Young Fu is just going to have to wait a few days.  Kami finished it, by the by, so I expect some comments on it will be posted by early next week.  I plan on finishing it Sunday at the latest.  Too bad I wasn't reading it when I stayed up until 4:30 am the other morning, but that is another story.

So, Julia told me to read this book and I am halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it.  A few comments.

First of all, I don't know how I missed Lawrence Kohlberg's 6 levels of moral development, but I am looking the man up to read more.  What a lovely way to teach your kids about the ultimate goal--and there are so MANY excellent examples to use to demonstrate the highest level (I have a personal code  of behavior and I follow it).  Loved that he uses Atticus Finch as the ultimate example--it is a great one, even if I was surprised that he was reading To Kill a Mockingbird with his fifth graders.  I guess preserving innocence isn't a factor when you teach in inner-city LA.  

I really loved this idea of the moral levels.  I plan on making Timothy make a really great, permanent, display of some sort of all the levels and for the rest of their lives my children will be thinking about what level different people are at as we evaluate behavior in every setting.  Louis L'Amour books would be excellent for this.  As would people like Emmeline B. Wells.  (Kammers--call me, I decided what I was going to do with that and it is BRILLIANT.  So . .  . call me.)  

So that was great right off the bat, although I want to read what Mr. Kohlberg has to say on the subject as he's the man who developed the idea.

--Next, I really liked what Esquith (the author) had to say about discipline shouldn't be based on fear, but trust.  I believe whole-heartedly that it is true.  I hate it when Miriam looks scared of me (of all the kids, she's the one most justified in looking that way), but man it is harder to control your temper than anything else in the world.  At least, for me.  

pg 31 had a great quote:  "Powerful forces of mediocrity have combined to prevent perfectly competent children from learning to love reading.  These forces include television, video games, poor teaching, poverty, the breakup of the family, and a general lack of adult guidance."  He missed a few, but great summary of all that's wrong with education that has almost nothing to do with teachers.  He mentioned some really horrible teachers in his book--which is strange, because overall, I only had two teachers that I thought were really despicable.  Most were totally okay with mediocrity, however, and that is a problem.

pg. 41: "Most parents and teachers agree that when a skill is being taught, there needs to be an assessment to see if proficiency has been achieved.  Discussion is never enough."  Esquith is referring to teaching reading here, and I wholeheartedly disagree.  Comprehension questions never help students comprehend what they have read better.  Comp questions determine whether or not kids know how to take tests.  If the students know the answers for the test, they knew them before the test or they were able to eliminate the worst answers.  

Discussing what you have read is the second best way to increase comprehension and "test" comprehension.  Writing about what you have read is the best way to fine-tune what you think about what you read.  As he mentions later--writing requires a precision that discussion does not.  However, I cannot agree that students need anything besides discussion and writing for learning to comprehend reading.  We need to give our students multiple choice comprehension tests so they can practice their test-taking skills, not their comprehension.

pgs.  45-48 about how the teaching of grammar and writing has gone downhill over the years was brilliant and hilarious--my fav part so far.  Example: 2000 (as in the year): Our school adopts a new basal reading series.  We are assigned two literacy coaches to help the teachers.  One of the many jobs of the literacy coaches is to remove the grammar books from classrooms.  Teachers are told they may teach grammar only from the new materials.  Instructors complain that while the new series does indeed address parts of speech and sentence structure, the older grammar books do a far better job.  Teachers are told they must surrender the grammar books anyway.  We ask if we can compromise and use the grammar books as a supplement to the official school texts.  This is not allowed.  Frightened younger teachers turn in their books.  Some clever older instructors hide the books or share one series among themselves and teach their children good grammar secretly.

AHAHHAHAHHHA.  Okay, maybe I laughed so hard because that happened at my school.  All the English teachers, except the ones on the adoption committee for the new texts, hid at least three of the old books before giving up the rest reluctantly.  All of our meetings for the rest of the year were about whether or not we were ONLY USING THE NEW BOOKS.  Whatever--I thought the new books had a few cool things, but my kids wrote.  They didn't do lame-o questions in a textbook.  I was frequently in trouble.  In fact, one of the teachers was annoyed with me because she was a special literacy coach for those who needed extra help in reading and she got tired of my students saying, "Mrs. Young already taught me that."  Apparently, I was stepping on her toes by teaching comprehension skills.  Love that Esquith describes staff meetings as worse than chemotherapy--too true.

pg. 50: "In room 56, rather than receive poor grades, my students are told they must get at least 90% or better on grammar assignments or do them again.   The Dreaded Rewrite makes kids understand that Room 56 is a serious place and they might as well listen, try hard, ask questions, and get things right the first time."  Very similar to my teaching philosophy of quality over quantity, and TJEd's only accept quality.  A VERY important teaching principle.

pg. 74: "It is ironic that the people most obsessed with testing children do such a poor job of creating conditions in which the kids will perform well."  Amen and amen.

The whole section on science and letting kids make mistakes and figuring out what they did wrong and fixing the mistakes themselves is pretty critical.  I remember way too many times I feigned complete inability in order to get a teacher to do my work for me.  As a teacher, it is always easier to do the work than listen to a student whine.  I want my kids to be better academic problem solvers than me.

That's all for now.  I'm about halfway through and enjoying it.  One thing I've noticed, it's pretty obvious, is that exceptional teachers don't have lives.  I would never be willing to be the kind of teacher he is as a wife and mother because there isn't enough balance.  Our education system combined with our dismal expectations combine to make it almost impossible for teachers to achieve exceptional levels with their students in a normal school day because the kids are going home to imperfect situations.  

Kammers-you would like this book.  I just realized how choppy, disorganized, and poorly written this whole post is.  Forgive me--as I am just a product of a broken-down education system, the technological age of informal writing such as text messaging and email, and I am lazy to boot.  :)

No comments: