Friday, March 30, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Creative?

Not exactly what might immediately spring to mind.

I have a friend who is a dreamer. He comes up with the best ideas; they are intriguing, make you think about things in different ways and they sound brilliant; however, many of these ideas stay in their shapeless form, never to be realized.

An article on Psychology Today points out that our former ways of measuring creativity - including a focus on ideation, flexible and divergent thinking, etc - is not enough and actually discredits the creativity that can happen when one adds persistence and execution to the idea. It is not enough to merely have an idea, says the article,

Being creative also means actually executing an idea. Daydreaming is invaluable to ideation, but the world is full of daydreamers whose scripts and inventions never get past the novelty spurt or grand vision. To move from lightning-bolt idea to completing a novel, or a new way to use a room, or starting a business, or a new product design requires far more than the idea itself. 

Bravo. 'tis true. This is another case where perseverance wins the race with simple creativity. You must work and work hard to execute your vision, or it will always remain a vapor.

The article goes on to talk about the environment and physical influence of creativity; where you are and how you are feeling, including your physical and mental state, actually influence how creative you are able to be. For some reason, we avoid talking about this when we discuss creativity; humans like to cling to the idea that our physical self does not matter when it comes to dealing with the brain (specifically the creative nature of the brain), but we are influenced by our surroundings and our fleshy vessel whether we like it or not. The article brings up Haruki Murakami and his excellent discourse on the topic of physical being to creativity (please take the time to read his work; it is pure genius), and, of course, school is mentioned with regard to environment:

We're just now beginning to accept that cinder-block classrooms with low ceilings and poor lighting might actually affect the way a teenager can compute mathematical formulas or play music.

Why are we just now beginning to accept this truth? Shame on us. Are we beginning to change it? Probably not.

This article gives hope to those who have thought of themselves as "not creative types" just because they don't paint or write or play an instrument. Creativity is tied to problem-solving, but it doesn't always have to be flashy; there is more than one way to skin a cat, and sometimes the simplest one is the best.

So to paraphrase, here's to the dreamers and the misfits, but here's also to the ones who follow through and make their vision a reality.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Money and School

Want to know how to determine whether or not your child will be successful? Look in your wallet.

Money is what determines the kind of education your child will get and how far they will go. This is a cynical view, and I try not to be cynical.

This morning, however, after reading a great blog on the Speyer Legacy School, a school designed specifically by three very wealthy and powerful New York women to address the needs of a mere 325 gifted kids, I am feeling cynical. According to the blog, 3,000 children in NYC public schools qualify for gifted education, clamoring for only 300 slots that are slowly being eliminated. The writer points out that the US currently spends two cents of every 100 education dollars on gifted learners. So three "high-powered" parents opened a school with highly-trained teachers and started recruiting, ending up with a K-8 school that costs nearly $29K to attend (and features an award-winning nutrition and health curriculum delivered on the school's organic farm).

Don't get me wrong - this school looks incredible, and who wouldn't want to send their gifted child there?

But who can afford to? People whose children will be exceptional no matter where they are, largely due, in part, to financial resources that allow them to supplement mediocre public school with vacations and other experiences.

Who can't? Those students who need it the very most. The ones who are unidentified gifted students (read: low-SES and minority, typically, and second-language learners). The ones who get held back for not doing work they feel is pointless. The ones who have "behavior problems" because they are frustrated twice-exceptional learners trapped in schools that do not recognize that one can be gifted AND have a learning/behavior challenge.

HoneyFern charges tuition, certainly. It is enough to keep the lights on and the curriculum going. We go on field trips and do experiements, read lots of books and dissect a million different things. If we need something, we get it. However, we are on a shoestring, and although it makes life difficult for the one and only teacher to be spending most of the tuition on supplies and stuff for the school (instead of salary), we make it work because I believe that what HoneyFern (and yes, Speyer) does is how ALL kids should be educated, not just the privileged few who can afford college prices at kindergarten.

Why are we leaving so many gifted kids without adequate education in this country, and why are there so few alternatives for kid who want to learn faster and more? We are dividing students into the "thinks" and the "think-nots"; money gives access to all kinds of opportunities to grow and change and learn, and those without it get nothing but inadequate schooling and a bleak future at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Good on you, Speyer Legacy. It's a step up. But why did you make it so tall?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

In a short sentence: had I not read The Hunger Games, I might have enjoyed the movie. Then again, maybe not (if you have been living under a rock or in a pineapple under the sea, here is a brief summary of the plot to reference).

To begin with, the casting was excellent. Jennifer Lawrence was very good as Katniss, not playing it sexy or pretty (a refreshing change from a movie aimed at 13-30-year-olds), and her silences were as potent as her words; she is not a damsel in distress, also very refreshing. Lennie Kravitz as Cinna is inspired, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch could have been incredible (I said "could"; as with all characters, he remains undeveloped, with no explanation for A) his drunkenness or B) his sudden sobriety), and the guy who plays Peeta (I have no idea what his name is) was perfectly cast as the too-good-to-be-true foil to Katniss. Gale? Who knows? All we got was a couple smoldering silences, and although Effie Trinket looked good, they did not even call her by her name. Nevermind the simpering stylists who epitomize the nature of the Capitol itself and provide ironic contrast to the bloodbath they are prepping Katniss for - this is not even mentioned in the movie.

The movie itself is superficial, though; all of the themes and relationships that make the novel so brilliant and riveting are completely absent. We are supposed to understand the deep ideological differences between the residents of the Capitol and those in the Districts. We are supposed to understand the progression of events that gave rise to a totalitarian regime. We are supposed to believe that Gale and Katniss are somehow bonded through a brief and meaningless interchange in the woods. We are intended to infer some connection between Katniss and Peeta and a kinship between Haymitch and Katniss through very little development of either their relationship with each other or with themselves. All of these things the audience is supposed to magically understand; there is not enough explication or exposition, and the small flashbacks offered are no substitute for the lack of storytelling.

Even the depiction of violence is glossed over with fast-moving camera work that blurs the rawness and offensive nature of the very premise of the Games; I am not advocating a cinematic bloodbath, but choosing to cover up the element that is central to the brutality of the novel is something of a cop-out.

Importantly, there is ZERO indication of the relationship between Katniss and President Snow which is the pin upon which the rest of the book series turns. The people of the Capitol are caricatures, life-sized Bratz dolls or Tim Burton characters; the excess and opulence, the difference between the poverty of the 12 districts and their master, is barely touched in the movie. The rebellion in District 11 seems like a mere riot after the death of a tribute, not a full blown insurrection.

Even the symbolism of the Mockingjay is glossed over entirely, an ommission that is unconscionable (yes, I said unconscionable). The rest of the series is based on the sybolism of the Mockingjay; indeed,. the final book centers on this and is, in fact, called Mockingjay. How will that be remedied?

Perhaps it is significant that, in the elimination of depth  and thought and real exploration of the conflicts in the Hunger Games, we are still supposed to be entertained. Is this the intention of the movies? With a 100 million dollar opening weekend predicted, are we proving the point that we will sit and watch violence just to be entertained without thinking?

The next movie needs to be done in two parts; the author needs to slow down and develop her characters for the screen. Replace the director and introduce the characters so we have a sense of them as people, not archetypes. Readers of the books will be disappointed at what is missing; although it is typical to eliminate some parts of books in their movie adaptations, I feel that The Hunger Games demonstrates a thoughtlessness in the edited parts. They will need to remedy these glaring inadequacies to insure the integrity of the story and the loyalty if the audience. If not, the odds of success will not be ever in their favor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writer's Block

HoneyFern haz it.

Maybe it is the season; spring is usually a time of high activity outside and generally features me collapsing, exhausted, at the end of the day.

Maybe it is the current crop of news, which features conflicting reports on the rising graduation rate (a piddly increase of 3.5% over almost a decade) and America's problem schools threatening national security; I don't know which one to address first, so perhaps it is best to leave them both alone.

Maybe it is the overcrowding in my mental space which caused me to rise and shine at 3 a.m., thinking of fieldtrips and watering the garden and ESL and next year and softball and visiting relatives and and and.

Maybe it is just a sign that I need to get offline and IRL a bit more these days.

Perhaps it is just time for some navel-gazing and/or mountain climbing. We shall see.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Meaningful Busywork

Is there such a thing?

An interesting article on the subject from Psychology Today that looks at both the student/parent perspective (why should I do something I already know?) and the teacher perspective (not all work can be thrilling, and sometimes it just needs to be done). The article cites Carol Ann Tomlinson who states that work should be "respectful"; that is, teachers should take into account student ability, weakness and preferred modality when assigning work.

Yes, of course we should.

There is a big "however."

Some work is going to be tedious. There is no getting around it. The professional tennis player hits 300 backhands in a row during practice. The professional pianist practices scales and chords until their hands are numb. HoneyFern School, on Friday, sifted through buckets and buckets of fine silt and sand to look for macroinvertebrates in our adopted stream. These are tedious, time-consuming, occasionally mind-numbing tasks. HOWEVER. They are a means to an end, part of the larger process, and thoroughly necessary.

Don't get me wrong; there are some wretched teachers out there still assigning 30 problems of homework a night to students who can demonstrate mastery in 10. They are assigning 3rd grade spelling lists to students who are reading/writing on a high school level. Those assignments, my friends, are busywork. The problem with busywork becomes when there is no grander purpose, and no attention paid to the individual who is receiving the work.

Attention, though, students and parents. I am not a tap-dancing pony. I do not wear bells or a frilly cuff. Although I do my best (with your help!) to make learning that applies to you, there will be things that are not thrilling or exciting. Yes, my 3rd grade tutoring student, you must learn your multiplication tables. Yes, my 6th grade student, you must properly cite your sources in your research essay. When we try to make everything fun, we fail miserably. Some things in life are not fun; laundry, dishes and vacuuming spring to mind. But if we want clean clothes, something to eat our food from and to win the War Against Dust Bunnies, we must do all of these things.

(Or else assign these chores to your children. Just kidding. Sort of. Not really.)

The point is that if a teacher needs to have an ultimate objective that takes the student into account, and they need to be able to explain why the task is necessary. For gifted kids, fake explanations that are manipulative will be easily spotted, and the teacher will lose all street cred instantly. The truth is that not everything is fun, but if it is connected to something meaningful then, although still tedious, it may be a little easier to digest.

Off to wake up The Child. We have some dishes to do.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How Gullible Are You?

I have, apparently, taken most of this week off from reaching out and blogging/tweeting. It has not been intentional. Sometimes it seems as if the message is stale, and repeating it over and over gets tedious for both writer and reader.

Today, though, I break my silence to comment on citing sources from the Internet and our general laziness when it comes to figuring out if a source is accurate and reliable or not. I got into a plagiarism discussion with The Feminist Breeder (do not visit this site if you are easily offended; she speaks her mind and has posted some controversial things), and I listened to a story on political dirt-digging on NPR. These two events came together this morning when someone forwarded me a ridiculous, completely untrue story from an unreliable source about Pepsi using aborted fetus cells in its beverages (I refuse to post the link. Google it if you must).

It seems that we are so lazy about our information that whenever it comes across our desk, we skim it, believe it and send it along without checking the source, the bias or even pausing a moment to think about its possible veracity; the authors of We're With Nobody call this "truth by repetition." We believe whatever we read because it has been around for so long or we have seen it in multiple places. The fine art of vetting a website remains largely untaught, and people everywhere take at face value whatever they are reading. Even those who follow up with "research" don't take the time to consider the sources they are using to prove or disprove whatever they have read, ending up drawing faulty conclusions based on opinion, conjecture and bias. We are, essentially, looking for sources that confirm what we believe, rather than looking for sources that will reveal the truth.

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. ~Mark Twain~

The granddaddy of the zinger (Ben Franklin being the great granddaddy) was correct. We can take information and twist it to whatever purpose we have, but that twist doesn't change whether or not something is true; the twist makes it more convenient for the twister. It makes it easier to continue to proceed through life without ever learning anything new, without ever opening your mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, your assumptions are wrong.

Perhaps if we all sat down and took a hard look at facts we might believe differently. If we combine that hard look at facts with compassion, perhaps we might all act differently. For now, though, I will settle for people simply taking the time to ask the question, "Where did this come from?" before simply forwarding the link/story/soundbite.

Thank you, and have a great weekend!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do What You Say You're Going To Do

This message delivered beautifully today by Danielle LaPorte: "Do what you say you're going to do." Imagine a world where everyone follows through and does this. Happy Monday!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gifted Children Left Behind: Advocacy & Alternatives

Here is my guest blog published on Parenting for High Potential's website.

Gifted Children Left Behind: Advocacy & Alternatives

PHP Guest Blogger, Suzannah Kolbeck is the executive director of HoneyFern, Inc., a non-profit private school whose mission is to create a community that cultivates caring, intelligent and curious learners.  Suzannah has over a decade of experience in public schools, teaching and learning with gifted students.

Most gifted kids in traditional schools are not being challenged. Shuffled between No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, reorganized into Common Core Standards stretching across the country, and then, in some school districts gifted program entry standards have been relaxed, or muddled entirely, to allow services for non-gifted but high-achieving students, or to block services for the gifted yet underachieving, twice-exceptional, or those with conduct challenges. Gifted students get short shrift in their schooling, which shows up in their persistence and motivation as they come of age. Best efforts are masked by work that is too easy. Rather than being compared to their intellectual peers and inherent ability, gifted learners are too often compared to same-age peers. At root, their unique needs are not taken into account when curriculum and process are being designed most classrooms.
According to a research conducted by the Gates Foundation and reported in The Silent Epidemic, the result of the inattention to the unique needs of gifted learners is:
Nearly half (47 percent) said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school. Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with peoplewho were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard.
Nearly 7 in 10 respondents (69 percent) said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard, 80 percent did one hour or less of homework each day in high school, two-thirds would have worked harder if more was demanded of them…
So how can we change this, especially given the extent of the economic climate that continues to impact schools and their funding, including consolidating or eliminating some gifted programs altogether? Think of education as a three-legged stool with the parent, the school and the student holding up the seat. If one leg doesn’t work, the stool falls down. Here are suggestions for all three legs:
You know your child better than anyone, and you can be your child’s most effective advocate. Watch for sudden changes in behavior patterns, such as:
  • notations on the report card that your student is talking too much or bothering their peers, coupled with
  • suddenly sloppy work
  • a rise in grades across the board (e.g. all high-percentage A’s, 98-100% in academic classes),
  • sudden withdrawal and a precipitous decline in grades, or
  • an intellectually gifted student saying things like “I hate school,” or “It’s too boring/easy.”
These signs may indicate that your child is not being adequately challenged in class. Extreme fluctuations are warning signs, however, minor fluctuations one way or another is normal.
Talk with your student about the work being done in class. Sit down and look at their homework. Depending on your parenting style, there are a couple different approaches you can use:
  1. Express your concerns to your student and ask for their explanation of what is happening in class. Ask them if the work is interesting to them, why or why not, and ask them if they have spoken to the teacher. Check in to see what the class routine is like – lots of whole-class instruction, lots of movement and independent work, a bit of both: whatever the day looks like. You are trying to determine where your student fits in and where the disconnect might be. Stress to your child that that they are a big part of their education, and sometimes things aren’t always fun or interesting. Help them to find ways to focus on what excites them about what they are learning, even if they are not thrilled with the subject. For example, if you have a student who hates math but loves gardening, work the geometry angle by having them design and construct a raised bed garden, then research plants that will do well, planning the season from start to finish. Have them figure out how much they will need to plant to feed your family for the growing season and how much money they will save.
  2. Talk with the teacher. Tell them you have noticed that your student’s grades or engagement has changed and you are wondering what the teacher is observing in class.  Work to keep the conversation with all school personnel win-win. Think of the teacher as your partner, and assume that they want the best for your child, too. Ask for suggestions of possible learning extensions for the curriculum, including field trips and other websites you can study with your student outside of class. Offer to provide needed classroom resources for your child. Keep an eye out for enrichment opportunities in your community that match your child’s interests, including volunteer opportunities for your student.
School culture is difficult to change and requires commitment and long-term thinking. However, there are some important developments happening in education that will help gifted students better engage in the classroom. Project-based learning (PBL, sometimes referred to as problem-based learning), an old idea in education that started in medical schools, is gaining new traction in schools, with successful projects all over the country. Even in standardized classrooms, PBL offers room for not only basic skill instruction, which is often what is holding back gifted students who already know the material, but also the chance to work collaboratively and deeply on a project of significance, building not only content and core knowledge but also critical thinking and problem-solving skills. PBL can be implemented school-wide or simply one classroom at a time providing both immediate solutions and an opportunity for cultural change.  PBL helps students develop seven critical skills for success in life, not the least of which is flexibility and adaptability, as well as creativity and imagination.
In addition to PBL, schools can develop a way to individualize curriculum for students who must go farther to learn; this can be a period of independent study during the day (e.g. pursuing a student-led but teacher-mentored project), subject acceleration (e.g. if the student is highly gifted in reading they should move to an higher level for that class), whole grade acceleration for students who qualify with a combination of testing and portfolio evidence, or some combination of these techniques. Combined with daily quality instruction that includes tiered assignments, curriculum compacting and true differentiation of tasks, questions, reading materials and assessment opportunities gifted learners will have the opportunity to learn. Teachers can get better at getting to know their learners’ interests and abilities so that they can design effective and engaging activities for everyone in their classrooms!
The Center for the Gifted identifies five patterns for underachievement. The longer a child is sent to the corner to read, the more likely they are to fit one of these patterns. Motivation is a four-letter word for the checked-out gifted kid, and the longer they are checked out, the harder it is to bring them back. There is a very simple math formula to solve this problem, though:
 Patience + persistence = success/time
Learners must be involved in their education. By empowering learners to make decisions about what they would like to learn, asking them how they would like to learn, and the manner in which they would like to show what they know, motivation is fostered and life-long learners are created
Consider the following 9th grade Common Core Standard:
Standard for Literacy in Ninth-Grade History
Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources, noting when the find­ings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.
Does it matter what the findings are in one text, or what the other sources are as long as they demonstrate these standards? And does it matter how the findings are presented for this particular standard? No. Students need to engage themselves in shaping their own understandings; this helps develop true confidence in their abilities while making them active participants instead of passive vessels.
Your advocacy for gifted child may make the difference in how her school approaches this standard.
 Final Thoughts
There are other ways of educating gifted children outside of public school, away from expensive private schools. Many districts now offer free online schooling, which can be simply a continuation of public school, just at home, so be selective, and homeschooling has expanded its offerings to include co-ops, a wide array of classes specifically for homeschooled students and hybrid programs such as HoneyFern School that offer the accreditation and curriculum coordination of a private school with the flexibility and individualization of a homeschool. Dual enrollment and early enrollment in college, as well as internships and other travel and volunteer opportunities open up the world for gifted kids not being served in their traditional setting. Several families have sold everything they own, rented out their house and embarked upon a year of (low-budget) travel to experience the world they are preparing their children for firsthand. You can work and homeschool, and you need not spend your life savings to provide a good education for your child. One long-term, large-sample research study of homeschooled students showed that education level of parents did not matter at all when it came to the quality of schooling for homeschooled kids and that homeschooled kids scored an average of 18-28% higher on standardized tests (with no statistically significant differences for gender, income or race of the families). This is not your grandfather’s homeschool!
Regardless of the option you choose, do not let your child languish in the corner, skills undeveloped, talents wasted, bored.  All students deserve to bloom!
Suggested Resources:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Number Talk - Math Matters

When I first starting teaching gifted kids I attended a professional development conference in Athens, Georgia. For the most part, it was pretty standard in that there were more vendors than new ideas, but one speaker (whose name escapes me, unfortunately) stood out. Her presentation was about profoundly gifted kids and what to do with them in class, and she used as one of her examples a nine-year-old who was taking college-level math with college students.

The speaker asked his parents, both high school dropouts, the mom a stay-at-home mom and the dad a mechanic, what they had done to encourage their son's math ability.

"Nothing, really," said the dad. "We just talked to him about numbers." They played with numbers in the car the way most families play with words (the license plate game, the alphabet game, etc). They talked about money, counted and moved numbers around. Nothing formal, nothing extra, just daily conversations.

Turns out, this is one big change you can make today to help your kid with math:

The frequency of number talk in the children’s homes had a big impact on how well the youngsters understood basic mathematical concepts such as the cardinal number principle, which holds that the last number reached when counting a set of objects determines the size of the set (“One, two,
three—three apples in the bowl!”). A 
subsequent study by Levine found that the kind of number talk that most strongly predicted later knowledge of numbers involved counting or labeling sets of objects that are right there in front of parent and child–especially large sets, containing between four and ten objects.

Also turns out that there is gender bias starting at home with math, with parents speaking to boys about numbers about twice as often as girls.

Does talking about math guarantee that your kid will be profoundly gifted? Well, no, but it gives them a leg up as they move through school and familiarizes them with simple concepts early on, perhaps making them more comfortable down the road, and that is one simple change everyone can get behind.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Teacher Fired for Making Math Homework Exciting

I just love the headline of this brief snippet of an article. Essentially, a teacher went online and downloaded math problems from the Singapore math website (Singapore Math is popular with homeschoolers). Problems aimed at 4th graders included zingers like this one:

My grandpa and grandma had the same number of strands of hair in their nostrils. I volunteered to pull out their nose hair with my trusty tweezers. I removed 201 strands of hair from my grandpa's nostrils and 185 strands of hair from my grandma's nostrils yesterday. My grandma had thrice as many strands of nose hair as my grandpa after that. How many strands of nose hair did each of them have in the beginning?

This is awesome. Just the right level of gross for a 4th grader, and it is interesting (see the whole worksheet here). I am not sure who complained, or why the teacher was fired; hopefully (?) it was just the last in a line of issues and not another case of micromanaging curriculum and teachers. My guess is the latter, but that's just based on 12 years of experience with edu-crats and how they work, so I might be wrong.

How about this math problem:

Bob the Administrator had one problem with Jane the Teacher - she taught outside the norm and did not agree with standardized testing, even though her students always did well on The Test at the end of the year (students: as an historical interdisciplinary study, please trace the development of the teaching profession over the years and write an argument for or against having an inordinate number of female teachers managed by an overwhelming number of male administrators. Please reference recent comments from Rush Limbaugh regarding the worth of women as well as the movie trailer for the documentary Miss Representation in your argument.). Bob felt handicapped and oppressed by the teacher's unions (or at least, public opinion of the teacher's unions), so he knew he would have to find another way to fire her. If Jane does her job very well (but not as Bob feels she should do it), how long will it take Bob to find another reason in the media to fire her? Consider that the school year is between 178 and 190 days long but getting shorter as awful teachers like Jane are furloughed to pay Bob's salary.

Please present your answer on a PowerPoint as well as an Excel spreadsheet and cross-reference Race to the Top.

Happy computation!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reading Shakespeare Has Dramatic Effect On Human Brain

What I have suspected for YEARS is true: Shakespeare is exciting.

Yes, folks, it is merely teachers that suck the life out of Shakespeare (and yes, I confess, I have done that myself. Teaching is a reflective process, and, upon reflection, I realize that I have not always been the best at teaching Shakespeare, but I do love him so, and I am working hard to get better). Researchers in England (bias?) found that,

Shakespeare uses a linguistic technique known as functional shift that involves, for example using a noun to serve as a verb. Researchers found that this technique allows the brain to understand what a word means before it understands the function of the word within a sentence. This process causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backwards in order to fully understand what Shakespeare is trying to say.

This is great. Teenagers, the general audience upon whom Shakespeare is inflicted in school, often seem to be speaking their own foreign language. Shakespeare himself coined words and used phrasing in ways that were completely backwards, even in his own time. The simple act of attempting to make sense of what he is saying makes your brain more active and, thus, makes you smarter. On the flip side of that, trying to understand teenagers and their phrases might also make your brain more active, so much so that it eventually explodes.

Kidding aside, some ways to make Shakespeare interesting when teaching:

1. Go see the plays. Shakespeare was written to be performed, not read out loud. Seeing the actors inhabit the characters of Shakespeare brings the writing to life in a way that simply reading in a classroom will not. We go to the Shakespeare Tavern here in Atlanta; they are dedicated to performing the plays in the manner in which they were intended to be performed as closely as possible. Plus, they are incredibly talented, very nice folks who understand what teenage audiences like (and adults; at night you can have a glass of wine or beer during the show). In addition to performances, the Shakespeare Tavern offers summer acting camps and school year playshops for students.

2. Have your students re-write the plays in their own language. Please, for the love of all things Shakespeare, do not buy them those awful "translations" that are already in modern language. Have them read the regular play and "translate" themselves. I recommend the Folger editions for older students, and the Barnes&Noble editions for younger (Folger's explanations are a bit wordy at times, whereas B&N are a bit simpler). Assign scenes and have students re-write; they can modernize with text-speak, change the time period, whatever. The integrity of the scene should remain, but playing with language is the goal.

3. Teach them how to insult each other, Shakespeare-style, with an insults generator. It is difficult to be angry with a student who tells another, "Eat a crocodile, thou impertinent, guts-griping harpy!"

Most of all, pick the plays you enjoy to teach. I have made the mistake in the past of teaching a play I didn't adore (or, let's be honest, completely understand past basic plot and character - Shakespeare is dense), and although I tried mightily, my efforts did not pay off. If I love something, my passion for it comes through. I may not convert all of my students to Shakespeare on the page (my own child is not a fan, natch), but hopefully they will appreciate the language, understand the context and enjoy seeing the plays performed. Even in the struggle, they will get smarter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril? Really?

The latest in a series of "go to school or else" type propaganda comes from professors of molecular biology and neuroscience; they argue that delaying, or "redshirting" a child's entrance into kindergarten is detrimental and results in all kinds of catastrophes, from a five-points-lower IQ to less motivation in high school. The authors also say that school is necessary for socializing a child (see full article here).

I sent my child to kindergarten, right on time, where she learned her colors and numbers for the third time, along with her letters for the second time (she learned to read at home, well before they actually started reading at school). She also learned that "brown children play with brown children, and white children play with white children" (couldn't hardly believe when that came home), you shouldn't try too hard, and when you are "done," you should read in a corner. These skills and socializations were learned in one of the better public schools in the district.

I couldn't disagree more with the authors; in fact, I argue against sending your kids to this current iteration of public school at any age. Once again, I will say that I am for the idea of public school, and completely against how it is right now (including all of the "reforms" that are merely re-tooling, not reforming). The biggest proof against the argument of entering kindergarten on time is the following paragraph:

The benefits of being younger are even greater for those who skip a grade, an option available to many high-achieving children. Compared with nonskippers of similar talent and motivation, these youngsters pursue advanced degrees and enter professional school more often. Acceleration is a powerful intervention, with effects on achievement that are twice as large as programs for the gifted. Grade-skippers even report more positive social and emotional feelings.

Age is a number; grade skippers are happier and more motivated because they are working at their intellectual level instead of being held back and reading in the corner. These are two different articles completely. Grade acceleration for the gifted has almost nothing to do with entering kindergarten on time; most gifted students are working well ahead of their peers in at least one subject by the time they enter school, so entering kindergarten "on time" is a moot point.

Additionally, these younger grade skippers are working with their intellectual, not biological peers; they may be in classes with students who are two or more years older than them. This blasts a hole in the author's arguments as well; if school is supposed to be a normalizing, socializing mechanism, why do we insist on placing 30 kids of the same biological age in the room together? At what point in your adult life has that ever been the case? Grade skippers and late entries to school have a more natural social experience in that there is some variety of biological age (and intellect, and social/emotional maturity) where they are.

Of course there are benefits for some groups of kids to enroll in school on time (lower-SES families, for example, where there may be less literacy activities and experiences in the home), but the idea that everyone is placing their children in peril by not enrolling them in kindergarten at five is ludicrous. This article is nothing more than edu-cractic propaganda, aimed at parents who are unsure of their choices. Every kid is different; education philosophies like this one (enter by five, leave at 18) treat people like products, mass producing "Educated Person" in the most generic, efficient way possible.

The truth is that most parents DO put their kids in public school at five, and look at where we are as a country. Instead of focusing on age, how about we improve what is offered at every level and meet kids where they are? Instead of worrying about the dinosaur of same-age socialization, how about we work in grade bands and group kids on interest and ability, not biology? And instead of blindly following the edicts of the edu-stablishment like sheeple, why not look at our kids and figure out what makes sense for them?

Why Are We So Fascinated With Homeschooling?

Perhaps this quote from the article of the same name explains it all: "... [by 5 years old,] public schools become a reliable source of child care...."


That's a rhetorical "really." Public school has been a reliable source of childcare since it was no longer necessary to educate factory workers (like, say, since the 1950s).

Homeschooling is attractive because the child is more than a number and their needs are met by people who care about their success. Homeschooling is attractive because the focus is on learning, not testing, and there are all kinds of options to get from point A to point B, not one way that only works for certain students.

The animosity directed towards homeschooling of late is a bit puzzling. Homeschoolers are called elitist or isolationist, unrealistic and tunnel-visioned. People assume homeschooling families are rich and religious. There are lots of misconceptions about homeschooling, what it means, how it is done and who does it. Before you criticize and denigrate, do a little research; you may be surprised. If the best public schooling has to offer is "reliable childcare," perhaps it's time to become more fascinated with what happens at public schools and less concerned with the work being done at home.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Science Friday!

Yes, you can extract your own DNA with just a few simple materials! Works with fruit DNA, too! Have fun!