Archive for the ‘teacher preparation’ Category

Good Habits for Pre-Schoolers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Take Care articles in April 2016 focused on character traits that can be encouraged in public schools and in May 2016 focused on the need for pre-K at public schools. Two program models that enhance the traits of self-control, perseverance, sociability, and others enable children from infancy on to negotiate life in and out of school.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children: What Works and Why, described a project in Kingston, Jamaica, that focused on training for parents and adults caring for children even before they were old enough to attend pre-school. The researchers coached a group of parents to spend more time with their infants and toddlers: playing with them, reading to them, singing and talking to them. Seems obvious to adults with time to nurture their children to understand how to prepare their children for the education world. But it’s not to all families, especially those in which work takes up most of the day and education is not the highest priority. A second group received a kilogram of milk each week.

Guess what? As the research followed up on the children, those who were played with did much better when they reached school age than those whose nutrition improved. They did better “throughout childhood on intelligence tests, aggressive behavior and self-control.” New York Times, “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” May 22, 2016.

If only Congress and state legislatures would see how funds are better spent for a model that coaches parents to prepare students, especially in impoverished neighborhoods, and that would help those children grow to productive adults.

Intervening with adults who have very young children is valuable, but a second program addresses coaching pre-school teachers to overcome stress as well as the four-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods. Those children can come from chaotic family situations which leads to quick anger, inability to follow directions, and acting out. The Chicago Readiness Program developed by Cybile Raver, a professor of applied psychology, and her research team from New York University, trains Head Start teachers in practices to create a calm, consistent classroom day. They pick up methods to set clear routines, redirect negative behavior, and help children manage their emotions. In this research model, mental health professionals are assigned to work in designated classrooms, concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher in a difficult environment. As any teacher wishes, the idea is to be calm and balanced throughout the teaching day.

Again the results of follow-up on the children indicates that those who spent their pre-K year in the program had better attention skills, impulse control, memory ability, and stronger vocabulary and math skills even though the year did not focus on traditional kindergarten readiness.

Professional development to improve pre-K classrooms is one of the most important to improve education throughout K-12 and beyond. The Century Foundation offers more support to these propositions:

“Favorable working conditions for the teacher predict improved academic growth [at all levels], even in schools serving low-income, high minority student populations.” Randi Weingarten, President AFT, “How the teacher shortage could turn into a crisis.”


Rethink Teacher Training

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015
high-achieving suburban high school

 suburban high school

I just heard about XQ: The Super School Project, funded through the Emerson Collective founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ wife. The XQ campaign sets out to inspire teachers, administrators, and education leaders from all sectors to rethink high school. Ms. Powell Jobs says, “The [current] system was created for the work force we needed 100 years ago.” As has been noted in this blog, there are many incredible, but incremental, changes occurring right now, but nothing is coordinated throughout the country except Common Core State Standards (CCSS). And even the standards have received abundant criticism.

As is stated in the news article I read (“A Campaign to Establish High Schools for a New Era” by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, September 14, 2015), the project is looking for efforts to alter school schedules, revise curriculum strategies, and use technology, each of which has already been happening across the country. But to upgrade and change high schools, workable projects must be devised to be eligible for funding by XQ.

One has been able to read about improving outcomes in high school for a long time. To think about what must happen to make improvement occur, start with teacher training. Daniel T. Willingham ( New York Times Opinion article “Teachers Aren’t Dumb,” September 9, 2015) addresses the need for change in each college and university’s teacher education program. As any teacher can agree, most courses for credential or degree stress pedagogy on theories of instruction or theory of child development. Mr. Willingham stresses, however, that a good teacher knows the subject/s and how to teach it so that students learn it. If you teach beginning readers, explicit knowledge of literacy concepts is important. If you teach middle school mathematics, it is important to take math classes which, for example, teach techniques for drawing analogies that explain math ideas. So, before XQ projects will succeed, the teacher must be knowledgeable about the subjects they teach. So let’s watch for university education departments to upgrade their curriculum.

A great deal of emphasis for school success relates to parent involvement in the school. However, Karen L. Mapp from the Harvard Graduate School of Education feels it is more important to teach school staff members how to communicate with parents, especially across racial and socio-economic divides. In addition, Keith Robinson at the University of Texas, Austin, and Angel L. Harris from Duke University have analyzed surveys of parents and found that the biggest impact of parents on learning was if they expected that their student would go to college.

At this moment, I can cite two examples that may help in the design of a worthy project. Recently, Glass Lab’s Paula Escuadra explained how the innovative maker of learning games based on the use of computers has opened in 6000 middle schools across the country. Designed to provide an “ecosystem of learning” engrossing low and high performing students, the model addresses both English/Language Arts and math/technology.  Glass lab uses standards from CCSS which are available and encouraged to help students think critically and problem solve. XQ, here we come.

Schools are being asked to encourage parent participation. Whether in school committees or just reminding students to learn for college, the model associated with this blog may help. Called “Take Care!” the DVD program helps school staff learn positive ways to communicate with each other and especially with parents. Interested? Look at the website and then get in touch with me at Please put TakeCare in the subject line.

Speaking at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday September 14, 2015, President Obama said good words for teachers, bombarded on all sides to “do better” for kids.

“If you hear a candidate say the big problem with education is the teachers, you should not vote for that person. It is a hard job, and it is the most important job we’ve got, and folks who go into teaching don’t go into it for the money. They go into it because they’re passionate about kids.”

Passionate? Find out about XQ: The Super School Project, and Glass Lab, and Take Care! Go to the head of the class!




The Dreaded Math and Common Core

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Until now, nobody has asked how and why does the student use sums, subtraction, multiplication, or division to find the answer to why one train reaches a station before the other. As if most children care. In the real world they are bundled into a car. And are only interested in asking “Are we there yet?” So much for making math part of the student’s world.

It has been established that Americans, in general, are not only poor readers, but admit their innumeracy, inability to perform more than very simple arithmetic. To be kind, Americans are at a low level compared to Finland, Japan, Singapore—all countries with strong mathematical students. Do those statistics make it all right to have a few math whizzes and everyone else be a victim of innumeracy ?

As has come to the attention of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Commission, it isn’t that students are not capable of learning math concepts. It isn’t that America has poor teachers. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in the 1980s affirmed that memorizing facts was not enough. Finally, the time has come to admit that other strategies make better math learners.

However, teachers in the United States, old and young, rely on teaching the way they were taught. The issue is that very few American teachers are trained to improve their abilities in alternative teaching methods at student education institutions or in professional development classes arranged by a County Office of Education.

Take a guess why. In spite of the NCTM’s strategies, acclaimed as the best methods invented in the world, do you know a teacher at your school that will not implement a new strategy, no matter which resources are available to support a new model? What are the reasons? “It’s just another idea.” “It won’t last.” “Something else will be pressed on me.” “My kids do well enough.”

Nevertheless, transformation is happening. With the adoption of CCSS by 43 states and the District of Columbia, teachers have the opportunity to learn how students learn best and so raise the school population out of the muddy waters of innumeracy and illiteracy.

For example, in Northern California teachers attend a MERIT two-week professional development class for language and technology at the Krause Center for Innovation on the Foothill-De Anza Community College campus or FAME that stresses student collaboration to find more than one way to solve a mathematical problem. Did you know that it can be done and certainly teaches students how to think?

There are many programs like these. Search in your teaching area. Here’s the chance to change your whole concept of teaching. It takes time to change old habits, but America’s students will benefit in school and in the real world. Isn’t that the point?

To learn more about math anxieties in the U.S. read “Q: Why Does Everyone Hate the New Math” by Elizabeth Green in The New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2014.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Teachers, do you find yourselves in an interim where you teach, just waiting to see if Congress comes around to the cost of running a country before 2012 ends? And keeping your fingers crossed that ‘sequestration’ doesn’t cut into money for schools?

Aside from the fiscal conundrum for the country, the United States Department of Education and the National Science Foundation have been tracking student achievement in science and math. Why? The next step for the Common Core State Standards is implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.

A notable education news article about the Next Generation Science Standards urges reassessment of teacher preparation to make sure

  • Teacher-learning experiences should include what the standards are asking all students to learn. Teachers cannot teach what they themselves cannot do.
  • Teacher-learning experiences need to be close to the classroom. Teachers should see, hear, and feel what this new vision of science looks like with students that compare to their own, over extended periods of time, in order to recognize the implications and adapt their practice.
  • Teacher learning requires working with rich images of desired practice beyond modifications of instruction. They call for an ability to engage students in building and refining scientific knowledge.
  • Teacher-learning experiences should provide educators with models of expertise in different formats. Examples include videos of real classrooms, scientists’ and engineers’ perspectives on practices such as modeling, and print and technology-based resources.
  • Resources and teacher-learning experiences must be scalable, widely accessible, and interwoven into a well-coordinated system of expertise, resources, tasks, and tools adaptable to different learning contexts.

These concerns and solutions come from a November 30, 2012, article “Science Standards Require Teacher-Learning Rethinking” by Jean Moon, Sarah Michaels, and Brian Reiser.

Not a new issue, the STEM Education Coalition updates teachers interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to legislation and projects in states all over the country. From Congressional legislation authored by Senator Bennett (D-CO) to Representatives Honda (D-CA) and Hanna (R-NY), federal grants are designed to support state projects and tax benefits for higher education students.

In addition, Change the Equation, a business leader’s group has devised signs to assess each one of the fifty states’ education emphasis on STEM fields. See “Business Group Gauges STEM ‘Vital Signs’ Across States” by Erik Robelon, September 12, 2012.

Aside from schools, STEM projects of all kinds attract students. For one, the American University of University Women (AAUW) sponsors girls for a summer interactive week with women teachers and professionals from STEM fields at twenty university campuses in California. The project is being introduced at five more sites across the country in 2013.

Do you want to prepare students for jobs of the future? Advocate for fund allotment to plan space and time for STEM at your school from Kindergarten to University.

Where Are the Great Teachers?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Within a month, three articles appeared in national magazines describing great teachers–who they are, what they do, how they do it.  Check out The Atlantic, January/February 2010; The New York Times Magazine, March 7, 2010; and Newsweek, March 15, 2010.

high-achieving suburban high school

high-achieving suburban high school

Perhaps the writers were making up for the put downs, blame games, and finger pointing, reasoning that, after all, some teachers must be doing a great job.  Otherwise, how would there be students at public university UC Berkeley, private school Harvard, or any of the terrific higher education institutions in between the coasts?

However, there are also plenty of reports about teachers in failing schools.  For example, the media flocked to Central Falls High School in Rhode Island when the board of education on the superintendent’s recommendation fired every single teacher because the school was performing on state tests at a persistently low level.

All that was reported was the fight between the teachers and the superintendent.  Couldn’t the Central Falls debacle be a story of what demographic and economic changes in the community let the school slowly sink until it was too late to address the problem?  Or why the school board let the problem fester for years and years?  Or why the superintendent and teacher leaders at the school site didn’t sit down and plan a satisfying turn around?  Hard to find clarification for the dismal picture of that school.

But as of March 15, 2010, the president and the U.S. Department of Education have taken on American education.  Revising No Child Left Behind to raise academic standards, turn around the most distressed schools, and develop tools to better evaluate teachers and principals.

And everyone is surprised?  Did every state think the issues would slither around the edges, lost in the tussle for school funds, while high-achieving students went to Stanford and the other kids got a finger wagged at them?

Speaking of which, this week California distributed its list of 188 persistently lowest-achieving schools in the state.  Mostly middle and high schools were placed on the list to go along with the state’s effort to get funds from Race to the Top, the biggest pile of money out there to help transform secondary schools.  Next application deadline is June 2010.

In the meantime thousands of teachers and students took to the streets on March 4 to advance comprehension of the disaster befalling California in which teachers will be laid off to balance school district budgets when the state can’t balance its own budget.

Which creates the question: what happens to good teachers with no money available?  Three possibilities have surfaced in the news.

First, great new teachers will be gone unless, as in San Francisco, the PTA gets families to chip in money and attract matching donors to make up the deficit.  Think that can rub out $1300 million?  Or the Educational Foundation asks each district family to contribute $375 to erase the $3 million deficit as in Cupertino.

Second, a school board in a district like Los Angeles, $200 million in the hole and 23 low-performing schools to turn around, will lay off teachers and improvement efforts will sit on the back burner to simmer and bubble.

Or third, school boards may take the cheap way out and let for-profit charter schools take over the low-performing high schools, getting the problem off the school board’s back.

As the three articles showed, the latest teacher preparation has improved a teacher’s ability to manage the class, understand the curriculum, and use best practices to teach.  No statistics tell how many and where are the great teachers.  There is an answer.

The truth is some great teachers work at Central Falls, just as they are found in every public school.  All schools could have many, but the effort to increase the number of good teachers is like the discipline needed by school boards to turn around low-performing schools.

It’s daunting, time-consuming, and depends on teacher-leaders, administrators skilled at communicating*, and, above all, resolute school boards willing to back the teachers doing the hard job.

*For one model of good communication go to the website for this blog: