With its inspirational story, the Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, attracted lots of attention. Now its influence is extending in ways unforeseen. The "developed world" is accustomed to offering advice to those in the "developing countries." Now at least in one area, that relationship is being turned on its head.
The film was modeled on the Hole In The Wall learning project of Professor Sugata Mitra where computers with internet connection were installed in Delhi slums for local children to discover. Mitra found that the children began to teach themselves English, computing and maths, just a month after starting to use the PCs.
reading "Slumdog Millionaire Provides a High Yield" »
This week, in the Wall Street Journal, Diane Ravitch, a leading educational figure, has produced an seminal article titled Why I Changed My Mind About School Reform. In a total reversal of her long advocacy for ideas such as school choice, accountability, “No child left behind” (NCLB) and charter schools, she makes the statement
“…deregulation and privately managed charter schools” are “not the answer to the deep-seated problems of American education. If anything, they represent tinkering around the edges of the system. They affect the lives of tiny numbers of students but do nothing to improve the system that enrolls the other 97%. “
reading "A Major--and Courageoous-"About-Face"" »
We are extremely fortunate with our language. Going against all predictions, English has become the leading language of international discourse. That allows us to use English in almost any country where we travel.
Unfortunately, as often happens with too much of a good thing, it has allowed us to be less than diligent about mastering other languages. Nancy C. Rhodes and Ingrid Pufahl of the Center for Applied Linguistics recently conducted a survey entitled "Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools." It has a clear message.
reading "A Critical but Neglected Area: Foreign Language Teaching" »
For the third year in a row, U.S. News has ranked America's Best High Schools. Based on student scores on statewide tests, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate tests, the rankings involve a three-step process that analyzes how schools are educating (1) all of their students, (2) their minority and disadvantaged students, and (3) their college bound students
And the winner is ---Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia with a course load that includes DNA science, neurology, and quantum physics. But that is not all.
reading "America's Best High Schools" »
The figures about high school graduation rates in the United States are more than disheartening. The estimate is that approximately twenty-five percent of our nation's youth do not receive high school diplomas. it is a figure that is troubling at every level--for the students, for their families, and for the nation.
Against that background, the achievements of a high school in North Carolina are exhilarating.
reading "Making The Seeming Impossible Possible" »
Robert Oliphant, a lexicographer, is interested in using the current economic downturn as a means of encouraging high school freshmen to increase their word knowledge and ultimately have an edge when seeking a job. (A lexicographer, by the way, is one who analyzes the components underlying the words--the lexicon--of our language).
Encouraging students to use electronic dictionaries, he urges them to become conversant with the "high tech workplace American English vocabulary system. For example, using the field of anatomy, he offers 375 terms ranging from 15 letter words such as cerebrovascular and parasympathic down to
reading "Working with Words" »
Years ago, I had the good fortune to study at Cambridge University. Living on student stipends did not afford me much opportunity to take taxis on my ventures into London. But one time, when I was late for an important meeting, I frantically hailed a taxi and told the driver my predicament. He calmly replied, “Don’t worry, luv—I’ll get you there.” And he sure did. In the process, I stared in amazement as he negotiated the unbelievable maze of streets with skill that can only be described as phenomenal.
reading "Exercising the Brain—A Collosal Effect" »
Math is, unfortunately, one of the least liked subjects in school. For many children, it is just a series of painful memorization of tables, lots of tedious calculations and nothing much in the way of being interesting.
if you want your youngster, or yourself, to see math from a new and somewhat amazing perspective, get hold of the book by Kevlin Devin titled The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius. http://www.amazon.com/Math-Instinct-Mathematical-Genius-Lobsters/dp/1560256729
reading "Did You Know that Lobsters, Birds, Cats and Dogs Can Do Math?" »
A while back, in one of the blog entries, I wrote about the fact, that despite the pessimistic predictions, children with ADD often turn into successful adults.
Now we could not have a clearer example of this brighter picture--Michael Phelps. Diagnosed at age 9 with ADD, he now is the Olympic champion with eight gold medals.
reading "Michael Phelps: A Golden Example" »
Some years ago, a colleague--Laura Berlin--and I were attracted by the wealth of educational software programs that were appearing on the scene. To help parents make decisions in this area that was so new and unfamiliar, we wrote (for Microsoft), a book titled Parent's Guide to Educational Software. We were certain that this would be the beginning of burgeoning field.
reading "Educational Software--A Neglected Realm of the Digital Age" »
Our usual view of academic success is limited to the "three R's"--reading, 'writing, 'rithmetic." But we would do well to think of adding music to that list.
This year, touring the United States, is a dynamic, highly skilled, youth orchestra from Venezuela. It was started many decades ago by Dr.José Antonio, an economist, trained musician, and social reformer who believed that poor, dreadfully poor, Venezuelan kids would find a path out of poverty via classical music. His view has proven to be totally on target.
reading "The Amazing Power of Music" »
Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer is the chairman of "Ed in '08"--a project that received $60 million to try to make education a prominent issue in the race for the White House. In a recent radio interview, he acknowledged that, even though it is of central importance to our children and to the nation, it has been difficult to get candidates to talk about education. It keeps being pushed into the background by issues of the economy, health care and the war.
But the project has lots of valuable things to say about ways to fix our schools and strengthen the economy. Those who want to keep up with the state of education today can turn to http://www.edin08.com/
As those who follow the education scene know well, literacy testing takes up a huge amount of time, effort and money. Tom Sticht, an international consultant in education, in reviewing the field has termed the situation "The Debacle of Testing Literacy Ability." He summarizes the state of affairs as follows:
"Despite extensive use of standardized tests by the 50 states, 30-year reading trend data show minimal if any improvement for 9-, 13-, or 17-year-old children since the early 1970s...Further, the testing of adult literacy in 1992 and again in 2003 shows little or no improvement in literacy at the lowest levels and a decline at the highest levels."
reading ""The Debacle of Testing Literacy Ability"" »
A recent headline in the British press read, "Primary schools have lost their sense of fun and play." What is being referred to is the emphasis in classrooms, not confined to the U.K. but present in our country as well, to teach traditional academic subjects as early as possible.
The inevitable result has been an elimination of the relaxed, play-like exploratory activities associated with early schooling. In their place have come the drills and tests associated with new academic standards. For example, in many classrooms today, recess has all but been dropped from the school day. This is a disastrous development--particularly in an age where so many children show attentional problems and opportunities for physical activity are of enormous benefit.
Now, at least in England, there is a move to return to a more balanced approach. There, a national inquiry, recommends scrapping end-of-term national curriculum tests.
reading "Is There a Ray of Light in Rethinking about Early Schooling?" »
A dedicated teacher had set aside some invaluable, individual tutoring time with one of her junior high students who was struggling with social studies. She structured the session by presenting relatively short segments of information and then immediately checking by asking the student some questions aimed at seeing if he understood what she had said.
The teenager always responded but his answers were variable. At times, they were correct; at other times, they were totally off the mark. Finally, the teacher said, "You have to listen!" At that point, the student looked up and plaintively said, "I'm listening but I don't understand."
With those seven words, this youngster summed up the days and lives of so many, many students. They are not resisting the system; they are trying the best they know how --only to find their efforts resulting in total confusion.
What can we do to help?
reading ""I'm Listening, But I Don't Understand" (1)" »
When their children enter first grade, legions of parents find themselves facing an unexpected, perplexing situation. Up till that point, all seemed well. Their children seemed so bright and alert--and they were. Then suddenly, when faced with the small squiggles on the printed page, the youngsters' confidence is drowned in a sea of confusion. Almost no parent expects this but with the reading failure rate nationwide consistently hovering at about 40%, this is what a million of more parents face each year.
The parents' response entails not simply anxiety but also, and quite naturally, a search to determine what the cause might be.
reading "Learning: The Two Forms That Are Rarely Distinguished" »
"Itâ€™s boring!" If children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) have a mantra, this is it. And were they to list the activities deserving of this mantra, reading would be at or near the top. In their eyes, it is the epitome of BORING. As a result, it is something they avoid and something they do very poorly. It matters little that it happens to be one of the most vital skills they can learn. Both for their welfare and for that of the nation, it is essential to bridge this chasm between what they need to do and what they are willing to do. But how?
Many have sought the answer in the realm of motivation: The hope is that the children would willingly read were the material sufficiently appealing. It would be fantastic if this "Pied Piper approach" worked. Unfortunately, it doesnâ€™t. (Given the outcome of that story, perhaps that is not all bad.) In any event, in an era of high tech, phenomenal, sophisticated, quick-paced, glitzy stimulation, reading cannot compete--when the choice is based on "pleasing power."
The answer must come from a different realm. One that holds promise can be summed up in a single word-COMPETENCE.
reading "The "A, B, See's" of Reading for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder" »
I was speaking to a father whose 11 year old son had significant language problems--problems severe enough to keep the child mired at a first grade level of reading. The father asked, "Do you think your Phonics Plus Five program might help my son?"
I told him that while he could only find out by trying, the prospects were good. I knew from personal experience with large numbers of families that it led many children to successful reading--even after they had been failing for years.
Then, plaintively he asked a second question, "How can I convince my child to try it?"
reading ""How Can I Convince My Child?"" »
A recent report in the Washington Post Foreign Service stated that, in China, despite a 50-year-old campaign to stamp it out and a government declaration in 2000 that it had been nearly eradicated, illiteracy is increasing. For the most part, the reasons rest with the infrastructure--or rather the lack of infrastructure. Although the law says that every child has the right to nine years of schooling, in many rural areas (and that is where most of the population live), schooling remains unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Those who do go to school often do so only for the very early grades. Then, once they leave, they â€œforgetâ€ what they learn.
Given the competition that now exists between the US and China, we may be tempted to embrace these findings and comfort ourselves with the idea that the Chinese after all, are not that great. That would be an unfortunate conclusion. It would be far better to use these findings to re-examine the situation in our nation.
reading "Even in China!" »
While reading failure dominates the news, math failure comes in as a close second. The recent headline in the Seattle Times "New-age math doesn't add up" is but one of the many examples that appear almost daily, highlighting the weaknesses in the math education offered to our children.
Aside from the issue of failure, the two spheres of reading and math are rarely linked. Nevertheless, reading problems are a major contributor to math difficulties.
reading "The Reading-Math Connection" »
"Opportunities to Learn in America's Elementary Classrooms." That attention-getting title headed an article in the March 30th issue of the prestigious journal Science. Reporting on a study of over 2500 classrooms in 1000 elementary schools, the article reported that children across the grades spent over 90% of their time in whole-group or individual seat work with minimal time spent in small group instruction. Overall, they concluded that "opportunities to learn ... proved highly variable and did not appear congruent with the high performance standards expected for students or for teachers as described in most state teacher certification and licensure documents."
How are we to interpret these less than ideal findings? The answer is "It depends."
reading "Learning in Classrooms" »
"This interview left me more frightened than frustrated." With these disturbing words, Dr. Kathleen Loftus (of EducationNews.org) summarized her response to an interview she held with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
In the interview, Dr. Loftus raised a range of concerns with Secretary Spellings such as the poor performance of US students relative to those in other nations, our failure to produce enough scientists, and the high drop out rate in high schools.
In answering these challenges, "The best she (Spellings) could come up with was something about how the traditional classroom structure has changed little in 50 years, but could then offer not one concrete suggestion as to how to make America's schools better, other than alluding to something about teachers needing to make the subject-matter more interesting. She failed to even acknowledge how today's students are a different breed, coming from far different circumstances with vastly different learning needs than their predecessors."
While the interview was muddled and disturbing, it still came across with a loud clear message. For Dr. Loftus, the message was frightening. For parents, it is a call to arms.
It sends a clear signal that parents who want their children to succeed must take responsibility to ensure that goal. That is the basic premise behind Phonics Plus Five. It is designed to give parents all the tools they need to foster success from the earliest years of life and so prevent the failure that is so devastating to a child's life.
When parents start the program, they often express surprise at the children's willingness to do the lessons. Accustomed to the fights over traditional school materials, the parents gird themselves for yet another set of battles. But Phonics Plus Five is designed to bring easy, steady mastery from the get-go. When this is combined with the children's deep motivation to succeed, the result is a cooperative, happy child who is a full partner in the teaching-learning experience.
Parents Warned Over TV That was a recent headline in England announcing a new report by a psychologist Dr Aric Sigman. He reviewed over 30 scientific studies that identified as many as 15 negative effects that excessive TV watching can have on youngsters. They included childhood obesity, eyesight problems and hormonal changes. Dr Sigman was particularly concerned about the fact that many young children now have televisions in their bedrooms--thereby permitting endless hours of watching.
The report did not cite reading problems as one of the potential dangers. But in my experience, too many hours of TV watching play a key role in this area as well. The ability to sit back and do nothing for hours at a time sets in place a passive mind-set which works against the active processing that effective reading requires. It's like suddenly having to do heavy exercise when all you've been doing is lounging around.
There Is no problem with carefully selected, time-limited TV programs. They can be a wonderful addition to a child's life. But if you want your child to be a successful reader and a successful student, you would be wise to take this report to heart and control TV time so that it serves to enhance, rather than detract from, your child's potential.
When parents see their child struggling with reading, they naturally turn to the teacher to find out what is happening. Often the response is, "You shouldn't be concerned. He is right in the middle of the class." Typically, the parents' instincts tell them that this answer is not satisfactory. And their instincts are absolutely on target.
For a start, 40% of children across the nation struggle in learning to read--so any child in trouble is automatically likely to be "right in the middle"--along with the many other children who are experiencing difficulty.
Further, reading achievement scores often fall far short in terms of the information they provide. Generally they are designed to yield a score which says whether a child is reading at grade level or not.
reading ""But he's right in the middle of the class"" »
The low levels of U.S. students' reading achievement in international comparisons have led to a lot of controversy. Some have used the less than stellar scores as evidence that American schools are failing disastrously. Others say that the problems are overblown. It is clear, however, that we are far from being number one. If you want to learn more about this issue, you can turn to an interesting discussion available at the Center for Public Education. http://discussions.centerforpubliceducation.org.
reading "Reading Achievement of US students" »