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professornana
10 July 2014 @ 08:40 am
How is this for a headline: Against Walter Dean Myers and the dumbing down of literature: 'Those kids' can read Homer? Who is the author? The same person who wrote an op-ed piece about "balanced literacy" this week for the same New York Times. This article coms from 2 hers ago: http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/walter-dean-myers-dumbing-literature-kids-read-homer-blog-entry-1.1637371. I have seen this argument against contemporary literature before, many times before. YA literature is a dumbing down of literature. It cannot possibly measure up to classic literature, right?

Nazaryan is critical of Myers and his works. He also says in the opening line that he knows Myers because his kids read Myers' books. I am still trying to figure out whether Nazaryan actually met Myers or if he is assuming he knew Myers because he read his book. If we had met Myers, I have to hope that his tone might be more respectful. It should be reverential. If anyone has read any of the tributes that have poured out since Myers' death, perhaps Mr. Nazaryan would be over to perhaps read some more of Myers' work and perhaps, dare I say, read it more critically? If he were to deign to do so, he might see the complexity, the demand, the depth is indeed there. Moreover, it is present in a way that makes it accessible to contemporary readers.

This quote is particularly galling, "Myers’ books on the other hand, are painfully mundane, with simple moral lessons built into predictable situations: the projects, prison, redemption."

Nazaryan goes inn to talk about the power of words. However, the only words that seem to count have to originate with Virgil and the "classics." The cannot come from a contemporary author as those words do not elevate (his words not mine). I find this condescending at best. Any author can wield power with words. Myers wielded considerable power in MONSTER and FALLEN ANGELS and PATROL and so many other books. So do those authors who came along because f Myers such as Christopher Paul Curtis.

I think the world of literature, not just YA or children's literature, would be somehow worse were it not for Myers and his books. Read JAZZ (and give the audiobook a listen). Read aloud the prologue to MONSTER. Check out SCORPIONS. Here is an author who knew the value of books and reading. To dismiss his work as that stuff that does not elevate the reader is WRONG, DEAD WRONG.
 
 
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professornana
09 July 2014 @ 01:49 pm
Somehow I agreed to get Smart Brief emailed to me regularly. I know I clicked somewhere I probably should not have done that, but there you go. Lately, I have been questioning how "smart" these briefs are. This morning, Donalyn Miller texted me to see if I had read the most recent Smart Brief. I had. She and I shared a common concern: the lead article was about required reading lists and math packets kids had to do over the summer. Here is the link: http://walpole.wickedlocal.com/article/20140705/NEWS/140708553/?Start=1.

First, I think I would transfer my child if he or she had to do math packets in the summer. I get that kids lose stuff during the summer. I get that we want to stop the "summer slide." But asking kids to work problems in a packet? No thank you. Surely there is a better approach?

Ditto asking all kids at a grade level to read a SINGLE book and then to be prepared to take a test over the book when they return to school in the fall? Let's just suck every single bit of joy from reading, OK? The article calls the reading being assigned "hobby reading." I am not sure that term is one I want to use. This assigned reading is hardly something that will lead to kids wanting to make reading a hobby. I suspect the opposite is truer.

My bigger issue is not with this district and their decision to assigned reading and math over the summer. The larger issue is WHY does the Smart Brief highlight this practice? That acts as a sort of endorsement from NCLE in my opinion. Surely, a literacy organization does NOT endorse this approach. To the editors of the Smart Brief: if you would like links to credible literacy activities, they are out there. I posted recently about what Katy ISD is doing this summer. THAT is much closer to what we would want to endorse.

Please stop giving readers links to articles that are not best practices.
 
 
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professornana
08 July 2014 @ 01:41 pm
Yesterday/s New York Times featured an op-ed piece on balanced literacy entitled THE FALLACY OF BALANCED LITERACY: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/07/opinion/the-fallacy-of-balanced-literacy.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0. There is NO balance to this opinion piece, and I do understand that there is a point of view that needs to be communicated here. However, the criticism of what the author terms as balanced literacy is wrong in so many different ways.

First, there is a basic misunderstanding of the term balanced literacy. According to Alexander Nazaryan, he understood balanced literacy to be independent reading and writing with no instruction. Moreover, he points to Lucy Calkins as the architect of this approach. He also mentions that there are studies showing her approach is wrong, and kids do better with E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Foundation.

So, what is wrong here?

1. Balanced literacy is not limited to FRV (free voluntary reading) and writing without instruction. Balanced literacy is much more. This was the same attack used with whole language back a couple of decades ago before the National Reading Panel declared there were pillars of reading instruction and using authentic texts, reading aloud, choice, etc. were almost excluded from their recommendations.

2. The research cited in the article is flawed. So what else is new? Let's go ahead and dismiss balanced literacy based on research that really does not look at each approach fully.

There is more here as the writer almost has an audible sneer as evidenced by phrases like this: "I take umbrage at the notion that muscular teaching is joyless." Muscular teaching as opposed to feeble teaching? Like we see in balanced literacy? Or this: "The fatal flaw of balanced literacy is that it is least able to help students who most need it. It plays well in brownstone Brooklyn, where children have enrichment coming out of their noses, and may be more “ready” for balanced literacy than children without such advantages." As if balanced literacy is only for the elite while poor kids need more muscular teaching?

Sigh.

The motto of the NYT is "all the news that's fit to print." Perhaps the motto of the op-ed pages need to be "all the opinions not supported by facts?"
 
 
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professornana
07 July 2014 @ 06:04 pm
Karin Perry and I are spending the week doing a Literature Academy in Conroe ISD. Day 1 was today. Between the day and the heat this afternoon, I hesitate to post anything for fear it might be incoherent. But please go to the New York Times and read the op-Ed today about "balanced literacy." Readers of this blog know I have discussed this false war recently. Now the NY Times is involved again with an op-Ed dissing independent reading and calling for a return to the CCSS continued roll out.

Call me paranoid, but the NYT has a long history of this use of an op-Ed to move agendas forward. I think this is another example.

I will be posting more about this piece later this week. In the meantime, watch this space.
 
 
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professornana
06 July 2014 @ 12:57 pm
I love Paul Thomas' blog post about balanced literacy. He says much of what I did but, as always, more eloquently. In the post (here:http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/attack-on-balanced-literacy-is-attack-on-professional-teachers-research/), he cites a definition of balanced literacy from 25 years ago. Instead of a formulaic definition like so many of those "pillar" folks or CCSS, there is no prescription for percentages of this or that. This is not a recipe in a cookbook. We are not dealing with inert ingredients. We are teaching children.

While we have the food/cooking metaphor going, I am thinking about Food Network. I love watching cooking shows. I am not a chef nor do I aspire to be one. However, I do love to watch, gather ideas, and creating my own dishes. I operate much the same way as a teacher. As I put together a reading list or a syllabus, I am pulling in from many different resources. When I taught middle school I found my own version of the workshop (and before I even knew what it was called as my teaching proceeded Atwell's IN THE MIDDLE) by some years.

So this renewal of the battle over balance is such a waste of time. We know what works. BOOKS and TIME and CHOICE are a good place to begin.
 
 
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professornana
05 July 2014 @ 05:00 pm
It is always nice to see a headline declaring problems with CCSS. Here is one from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/29/common-cores-testing-framework-is-crumbling/.


Here is another from the Washington Post discussing how the monies spent on testing could be better spent: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/24/better-ways-to-use-millions-of-dollars-now-spent-on-testing/.

BSP warning: this is a nice recap of the first LSU YA Conference spearheaded by Steve Bickmore. I was lucky enough to give the opening keynote: http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/lovepurple/2014/06/13/young-adult-literature-conference/.

Finally, I love this: Welcome to the Common Core Hospital: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-greene/welcome-to-common-core-ho_b_5441445.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000023.

Hope everyone is enjoying a long holiday weekend.
 
 
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professornana
05 July 2014 @ 09:39 am
Phillipe Petit was one of the speakers at last week's ALA conference in Las Vegas. If you do not recognize the name, read THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS, a Caldecott winning book. I cannot comprehend someone walking a wire high above the pavement (or even close to the pavement for that matter). What is incomprehensible would be if Petit remained on the wire for years, decades. How long can one maintain "balance" over time?

That is the question that popped into my mind as I read a spate of pieces in the New York Times about "balanced literacy." Here is the link. You need to click to read all 7 pieces that contribute to the "debate." http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/02/the-right-approach-to-reading-instruction

Does anyone else recall this same "debate" when the phonics folks declared that whole language approach was a crock and that the only credible research strategies involved the "five pillars" of reading? You should recall this as CCSS is in part founded on this same flawed philosophy. And the NCTQ evaluations of ed prep programs looked for evidence of the same five pillars in the materials they "researched" for their analysis recently published in US News and World Report. Here is a link to the pillars: http://www.readinghorizons.com/research/five-pillars-of-reading-instruction-strategies.

But back to the NYT article. Here are some of the same old stale arguments from the same old "researchers" (ED Hirsch) about phonics being THE approach. Hirsch even includes research that has been roundly criticized. This seems about par for the course. While other voices here call for reason, it is the voice of Ebony Elizabeth Thomas that should be the clarion call: "Meaning is made by readers. No two readers decode and comprehend a text in the same way. With so many students, teachers and families in urban communities in crisis, not only does context matter, so do children’s lives."

Why are we still engaging in the reading wars? Why is the mounting research about choice and community and engagement being ignored STILL? Remember that the National Reading Panel made a conscious decision NOT to include some research including the research on the effectiveness of reading aloud. CCSS states it is based on research but that research is not easily accessed. Here is the result when I search for that research at the CCSS site:

"What evidence and criteria were used to develop the standards?
The standards made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence, including:
Scholarly research
Surveys on the skills required of students entering college and workforce training programs
Assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance
Comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing for English language arts
Findings from Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and other studies, which conclude that the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement
The following criteria guided the development of the standards:
Alignment with expectations for college and career success
Clarity
Consistency across all states
Inclusion of content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills
Improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations
Reality-based for effective use in the classroom
Evidence- and research-based

No links to the research. NOT. ONE. LINK.

So, again, I will ask: why are we debating? I have the research that underpins reading aloud, choice, community, engagement, and the rest. SHOW ME THE RESEARCH that suggests we should still need to debate.
 
 
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professornana
04 July 2014 @ 04:34 pm
JUNE BOOKS READ

360. QUEEN VICTORIA’S BATHING MACHINE
361. ALL DIFFERENT NOW
362. VEGGIES WITH WEDGIES
363. DINNER WITH THE HIGHBROWS
364. SEND FOR A SUPERHERO
365. THE FROG WHO LOST HIS UNDERPANTS
366. A PIECE OF CAKE
367. PETE THE CAT: TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR
368. I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO
369. HICKORY DICKORY DOG
370. THE NUMBERLYS
371. POISONED APPLES
372. ZOE’S JUNGLE
373. THE TREEHOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
374. RULES OF SUMMER
375. HELLO MOON
376. A PET FOR FLY GUY
377. HOPE FOR WINTER
378. BURIED SUNLIGHT
379. IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD
380. MY GRANDFATHER’S COAT
381. RICKY RICOTTA’S MIGHTY ROBOT: THE MUTANT MOSQUITOES FROM MERCURY
382. THE NIGHT PARADE
383. THANKSGIVING FOR EMILY ANN’MAX AND THE WON’T GO TO BED SHOW
384. HOT ROD HAMSTER AND THE WACKY WHATEVER RACE
385. NOODLE MAGIC
386. THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY
387. THE CAT, THE DOG, LITTLE RED, THE EXPLODING EGGS, THE WOLF, AND GRANDMA
388. I KNOW AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A DREIDEL
389. READY PLAYER ONE
390. RHYME SCHEMER
391. FORGET ME
392. SISTERS
393. WE’RE GOING TO THE FARMER’S MARKET
394. CREATURE NUMBERS
395. NUMBERS
396. SHAPES
397. FROODLE
398. GASTON
399. GOATILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS
400. MOGIE
401. MY NEW FRIEND IS SO FUN
402. PARDON ME
403. MISTER BUD WEARS THE CONE
404. ABSOLUTELY ALMOST
405. LOWRIDERS IN SPACE
406. THIS ONE SUMMER
407. MONKEY ME AND THE NEW NEIGHBOR
408. PRINCESS PINK AND THE LAND OF FAKE-BELIEVE
409. WHY FISH FART
410. I AM ROSA PARKS
411. MEANIEHEAD
412. MIDNIGHT LIBRARY
413. PLANET KINDERGARTEN
414. VERY LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
415. RUNAWAY TOMATO
416. TIMMY FAILURE #3
417. ITSY BITSY SPIDER
418. TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR
419. FLATLAND
 
 
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professornana
03 July 2014 @ 01:27 pm
Cut scores. I wonder how many outside of education know what cut scores are and how they are determined. ETS defines cut scores thusly, "Cut scores are selected points on the score scale of a test. The points are used to determine whether a particular test score is sufficient for some purpose." And therein lies a huge problem. Scores are selected after a test has been administered. I wondered about this when Texas began testing many years ago. It seemed as though the passing scores for the tests moved. Turns out that educational reformers have been doing a bit of cutting, too. Because if you set a cut score at a particular point, you can pretty much determine how many pass and how many fail an exam.

Anthony Cody gives us an example of how this happens here: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/06/common_core-aligned_tests_and_.html. The chart was mind-blowing. Look what happened in one sate when Pearson took over the GED test and testing. Cody suggests some reasons why cut scores might be adjusted. They seem almost dystopic, don't they.

Carol Burris wrote about cut scores several months ago in The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/29/the-scary-way-common-core-test-cut-scores-are-selected/. Yet, somehow, there has been no outrage over how scores are selected, how we can move kids from passing to failing.

Why are we so obsessed with numbers? I encounter students of all ages who become crazed if they do not receive full credit or the highest grade. Even at the graduate level I receive pleas from students for just a few more points. I wonder if this obsession is a direct result of all the measurement we do? What happens to those who do not measure up?

In the last couple of weeks, some of our educational leaders demonstrated a severe lack of understanding about "scores" when they began pointing out that special education students never seem to catch up with other students.

Linda Darling-Hammond commented on test scores in a recent article as eel: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-darlinghammond/to-close-the-achievement_b_5542614.html. In tis instance she is talking about VAM, using test scores from students to measure the teaching effectiveness of their instructors. She concludes: "The United States is the only country in which students are tested annually with external, multiple-choice standardized tests, with scores reduced to a value-added metric assigned to teachers. Aside from the wide error range found to be associated with these metrics, they offer no information about what students actually did, said, or thought that could help teachers improve their practice."

It is time to CUT it out, folks. It is time to tell parents that the score their kids receive on so many of these tests is not a measure of their kids but something that has been manipulated. In some instances the manipulators have monetary interests to protect. Some achieve political capital. All at the expense of the children.
 
 
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professornana
02 July 2014 @ 06:50 pm
A recent report on reading caught my attention. The headline proclaimed: AN OBVIOUS PATH TO PROFICIENT READING. You can read it here: http://about.uniteforliteracy.com/2014/06/an-obvious-path-to-proficient-reading/. Using the results from the 2013 NAEP administration, the author compiled a chart indicating factors that seem to have an effect on whether students are basic, proficient, or below basic. The factors: number of books in the home, and time spent reading for fun. Here is a chart which needs to be shared widely:

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 6.50.20 PM

I do not know that there needs to be much more comment here. More books, more time spent reading has a positive affect on reading scores. After reading all of the programs out there that make claims about increasing test scores, it is lovely to see that the basics of books and time might just be the best UNprogram out there.

I return from ALA soon. One suitcase is filled with books, books I will pass on to others as I finish reading them (and I have read 6 of the picture books and 1 of the middle grade novels). I hope they will make their ways into homes, especially homes where books are not plentiful. Several of my friends and I are in the middle of weeding our own bookshelves. I have dozens of bags and boxes of books already set to go to new readers. Once those are in new homes, I can weed again. At the office, I try to weed a new shelf daily. Those go onto a cart in the hallway outside our offices. Before the end of the day, those books have found new homes. People come by daily to see if there are new books to be had. The incredible reward of seeing books move on is almost as good as chocolate.

See if you can float on some books. If we can get more books into homes, if we can kids find time to read, we might just make those pesky snake-oil programs go bust.
 
 
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