Higher standards and weight loss

I joined Weight Watchers because I know that at a lighter weight I will feel better, have more energy and of course, be all around healthier.  Weight Watchers is a great program that understands that everyday healthy eating that provides all the right nutrients along with exercise will get me to a healthier weight.

Now, if I had higher standards like our federal, state and district governments are mandating on public school children, I’d work on losing 5 – 10 pounds a week by walking 10 miles a day and eating only a leaf of lettuce every day.   But you see, I know that trying to lose this much weight that fast would actually be detrimental to my ultimate goals of feeling better, having more energy and actually being healthier.  I know that if anything I am putting myself in danger of some serious health related issues with this unhealthy, more rigorous diet.  And guess what. . there is NO evidence that higher education standards or a starvation type diet work.  I’m so tired of the words higher standards. . . so very tired as in the last 30 years, higher standards have not fixed our public schools.

And yet, this is exactly what we are doing to our children.  By setting these so called higher standards, we are ruining their natural curiosity, desire to learn, internal drive, and all around academic success by focusing on the wrong issue.  I joined Weight Watchers because they focus on healthy eating choices, portion control, and exercise – all of which create a healthy lifestyle that leads to a healthy weight loss.  It does not mean starvation, deprivation, and extreme rigor.  That wouldn’t work.  Even if I chose to starve myself and was able to lose weight, I know that the weight would come back on because I would go back to the unhealthy choices and probably even gain more weight than I started with.  I expect our current standards craze will cause some horrific damage to actual learning and probably make it even worse.

I want to have a healthy school environment.  I want them to play, discover, follow their curiosities, and grow into healthy, scholarly, democratically driven human beings.  We’ve emphasized standards far too long with no proof that they work.  Instead, let’s provide children with small class sizes, a rich curriculum, expert teachers that are allowed to teach and authentic meaningful educational practices that actually work.   Let’s stop labeling children but instead create a community public school that supports all children and not just a few.   This healthy approach is what will make our nation’s children successful!!

Alright, time to weigh in.  Have to go find the ruler!!

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Behavior Modification for teachers

I had the pleasure of attending the most propaganda laden school board meeting EVER.  When I got home, my daughter asked why I was gone so long.  I told her I actually left early to which she replied that I might miss the important stuff. . . I laughed as there is no way that our school board truthfully covers the important stuff. 

In fact, tonight I had the joy of listening to the revised version of probably the most elaborate behavior system set up for our teachers.  Douglas County has implemented a CITE evaluation system which relies on a rubric system that rates teachers as highly effective, effective or down right sucky.   But it needs to be called what it is: BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION for teachers.

According to the online definition behavior modification is the alteration of behavioral patterns through the use of such learning techniques as biofeedback and positive or negative reinforcement using rewards.  


Around 20 years ago this was the returning fad in education around how to manage the classroom.   You couldn’t expect kids to just behave or do what they were expected to do.  You had to reward them like dogs trained to do tricks.  That’s all there was to it. 

I had the joy of seeing behavior modification first hand when subbing in a 1st grade classroom.  Kids were running up to me stating they needed 3 more stars to get a coin and 4 more coins to get their  name in the rewards bucket.  I remember how involved the children were in the behavior program that this first year teacher had set up.  After morning recess, a little girl with sandy blond hair approached me to inform me that she got a star for not hitting anyone at recess.  Her friend confirmed this.  Throughout the day, kids were coming up explaining their behavior from sitting up straight to not interrupting . . . and in turn they were telling me the prize they expected due to their amazing behavior.  I was horrified at the dog like behavior we were expecting from our children.  I don’t remember a lot of learning going on that day, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by implementing a system that had nothing to do with relationship building and actual old fashioned learning.  It had nothing to do with actual teaching . . . NOTHING!!

A few days later in the same school, I subbed for an experienced teacher and panicked when I didn’t see any discipline plans at all.  As kids entered the classroom, I quickly pulled one aside. . “What does  your teacher do if you talk when you shouldn’t?” 

The student looked at me like I was crazy. . . “She tells us to stop talking.”

And right then and there, I realized why deep down I knew that behavior modification was a fraud.  I spent the day actually teaching and responding to what the students in the class needed.  I needed no external training program to do this.

And that is exactly what is happening in Douglas County, Colorado.   After tonight’s board meeting,  I realize the biggest issue that is at the heart of all of our issues is this elaborate behavior modification for teachers who are so busy running around earning stars that can be turned into coins.  It makes me sick.

And for once, I am saying I want to go back to the old time tradition of just expecting  and respecting the teachers’ ability to teach. 


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Computerized reading programs

“If we expect the students in front of us to look to reading for pleasure and solace in their adult lives, we need to give them the gift of reading today. We need to create beautiful reading rooms with calm, uninterrupted reading hours. Above all we need to fill our bookcases with the best books available. I wouldn’t have attempted to read if my bedside didn’t boast the best novelists, journalists, historians, and poets. When we have the best books, and use them in thoughtful and well-informed ways, our children will need their favorite views out the window. Their reading will inspire them to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Isn’t that what reading is for?”

Writing through Childhood by Shelley Harwayne

This week my daughter is being introduced to a computerized reading program called “Raz Kids.” While I’m still waiting to see if it’s a choice and not mandatory, as a teacher who became familiar with reading programs like Accelerated Reader, I’m very concerned about the use of this program in creating life-long readers.

Reading in simplest terms is interaction with text. It is an understanding of the text read and taking it much deeper through connections, questions, inferences and evaluating how those words inform and change how we interact with life. You get much more out of it by participating than sitting on the sideline or in the audience. Reading involves action. But computerized programs, like Accelerated Reader, do not allow for kids to pause and think deeply. Instead it forces kids to sit on the sideline and watch.

Kids who are required to use programs like AR understand reading to be answering multiple-choice questions that someone else has deemed important. These simple recall questions are supposed to provide teachers with information about a reader’s understanding of the words on the page.

As I think about the desired conversation I want to have with student readers, I think of adult readers. Do they read a book and then go to take a multiple-choice quiz? Or do they sit and drill each other for short simple answers? I’ve never experienced this as an adult reader. As adults we read a variety of text and talk about what sticks out to us, or more importantly what a text means to our own lives.

Shelley Harwayne writes,

“I learned from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain what it was like to fight for survival during the Civil War. . . I learned from Virginia Hamilton Adair’s poetry collection, Ants on the Melon, to look at the world with new eyes and insights. I learned from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, to be ever so grateful to have left the hospital and ready to appreciate each day awe. . “

So let’s get back to reading that will inspire readers to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Instead of spending all of that money of glorified technology quizzes, purchase books and text that kids will want to and need to read. Get back to the heart of reading. Let kids interact with text.


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Who are you again?

“The goal is not what you learn today; the goal is to expand on your capacity to learn every day.” Seeds of Tomorrow by Angela Engel

One of my favorite teacher/authors is Franki Sibberson. I have read two of her books and particularly like and used Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop as a guide in how to assess reading behaviors. I’ll talk about that assessment in another blog.
And if you have read my first blog and can agree that reading/learning is not linear like today’s market based reforms lead you to believe, I would like for us to explore that even more. In one of Franki’s blog entries she shares who she is as a reader. http://readingyear.blogspot.com/2010/10/100-things-about-me-as-reader.html
I’m going to share 10 things about me.
1. I love to read certain types of literature like historical fiction, biographies, novels, and professional books around teaching pedagogy.
2. My favorite reading spot is on my bed, under my comforter after my kids have gone to bed. Our bed was specifically bought to cater to my reading needs.
3. I have many favorite authors. Most recently this list includes Kate Morton, Maeve Binchy, and Tracy Chevalier.
4. When I find an author I like, as the ones listed above, I choose other books to read by the same author.
5. After reading a lot of a certain genre, I get sick of it, and have to switch to a different genre.
6. I have at least 2 or 3 books and various articles spread all over my bed stand ready to read. Right now the books in waiting are Education for Life by J. Donald Walters, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Tested by Linda Perlstein, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
7. I have to read the endings of fiction books sometime during the story. I hate surprises and once I know how it will end, I can enjoy the book.
8. The librarian at my elementary school inspired my desire to read by always asking me about what I liked to read and then making a strong effort to find the perfect book stating, “I think I have a book you’ll love. Let me know what you think.”
9. If a person asks about what I’m reading, I have a hard time orally retelling it. It takes a few attempts for the person asking to get an idea about what I’m trying to say.
10. I wish I could figure out a way to enjoy poetry, but I just haven’t yet.
I could go on, but won’t. What do you know about you as a reader? Please share a few with all of us.

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What do you see?

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

Last night Sidney, my oldest daughter, read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? to her younger siblings and me. When she turned the page before she had read it, I told her of the forgotten page. She quickly told me that she was just looking to see what animal came next, and then she went back to the previous page and proceeded to read.
During a pause, I told her how impressed I was as I know one thing readers do is use pictures and other ways to help them understand what they’re reading. I told her that’s exactly what she did when she checked to see what animal came next. I didn’t make her rely on sounding out words, but I did state that I also know the word was red because it starts with the “r” sound. In fact right now, Sidney’s reading relies heavily on meaning, and I’m happy about this because I get the importance of meaning in reading.
You see, I read Dr. Brian Cambourne’s comments on my first blog, and it seems he also does what Sidney is doing. “I think I have a very strong need to make sense or construct meaning around symbol systems-when Nature selected meaning-making using symbols as a human survival attribute I think I must have gotten a triple dose.” So she’s in good company.
I love paying attention to what my young readers are doing. As I’m writing this, Bryson, my 1 ½ year old, is sitting on the floor with a book in his lap mumbling as he looks at the pictures. I have become an observer in this way because I began teaching before No Child Left Behind was implemented. During that time, teachers were paying attention to the research done by actual researchers. These researchers are people who have spent many hours watching and paying attention to readers. These people include Brian Cambourne, Marie Clay, Yetta and Ken Goodman, Richard Allington, and Peter Johnston. I was very fortunate to have teacher mentors who were Reading Recovery teachers, and their knowledge behind reading acquisition was mind boggling.
But No Child Left Behind forced the teaching profession to follow a corporate driven model instead. In my last few years of teaching, I felt like we were being indoctrinated into a data/number driven craze that was all about number crunching. Instead of following our scholarly experts, we have been following companies out to make a buck off of our children. These companies decide what “research” we pay attention to and what we teach. We have been forced to count how many words a student could get correct in a minute all in the name of data collection.
I can’t help but wonder if our literacy experts feel like Galileo must have felt when the powers that be squelched his findings in regards to astronomy. He was so controversial that he was placed under house arrest, and only later was his work recognized for the brilliance that it was. No doubt the brilliance in our field will be recognized in a much broader sense someday as their work around reading acquisition is just as important as Galileo’s work around astronomy. But unfortunately, my children need their expertise now.
Parents and teachers, what do you see?


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I’m a reader, what are you?

How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.

John Dewey

Democracy and Education, 1916



Recently I attended my daughter’s school’s PTIO meeting and left with a heavy heart.   A  chunk of the conversation revolved around programs being implemented to work with below proficient, proficient and advanced readers.  From what I understood, these ratings were decided by the yearly TCAP test as well as the computerized MAPS test.  (I have never understood how a multiple choice test of any kind could determine a person’s reading ability.)  It was also my understanding that kids that were below proficient met before school to do a reading program implemented by advanced readers in the upper grades.  It was then that I wanted to turn to each parent and teacher in that group and ask them what kind of reader they were.

As a teacher who implemented a reading workshop model, I truly wasn’t smart enough to determine a child’s reading ability and because of this, we were all readers in our classroom.  We were not advanced, proficient, or below proficient.  Instead we talked about various skills, strategies, and thinking processes that would enhance our reading processes.  These artificial labels restrict literacy achievement and very seldom empower a reader to reflect and grow.  But when we’re all readers, the possibilities are limitless.   And I still wonder how and who determines what questions are asked on these high stakes tests that determine a person’s reading ability. 

And while I get that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a little more complex than Bill Martin Jr. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You You See?, I get that beyond that, the ability a reader brings to their reading is all about opportunities.  The best opportunity for every reader is to be immersed in literacy through choice reading, quantity of reading, and writing.

My overall reading goal was to addict readers to reading.  In this addiction all would continue to reflect on their reading and grow as even I continue to grow as a reader today.   I often told students there is nothing passive about reading.  You don’t sit on the sideline passively watching the game.  Reading involves getting in the game and there are times when your brain can be quite sore from the activity.  And for my musically invested students, I told them readers aren’t in the audience watching the concert but instead are playing many different instruments.

Due to a manufactured need to collect data, reading has become defined in a linear and numeric way, which tells us absolutely nothing about the reader.  The reading process is much, much more complex than this, and I can’t help but wonder what damage we are doing to readers by using such a simplistic, error ridden model to label them as readers.
The more I think about it, I don't know what my reading ability is, but I do know one thing. . . . I'm a reader.  How about you?


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