Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Grammar grows on educators

Do phrases like "dangling modifier" and "split infinitive" give you the heeby-jeebies? Do you break into a cold sweat just thinking about sentence diagramming?

While anyone over 40 (or all those who've studied a foreign language) may remember the blood, sweat, and tears involved with learning grammar, chances are, your children would stare blankly if you asked them to define a compound sentence or dependent clause. And that's not a good thing, according to a growing group of educators who are reintroducing grammar instruction into their practice.

Washington Post writer Daniel de Vise explores this trend in last week's article, "Clauses and Commas Make A Comeback" (via the Education Gadfly), noting that even the US National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) "has quietly reversed its long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as 'a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing....A 2002 council publication reasserted the importance of 'knowing about grammar' and encouraged teachers to 'experiment with different approaches,' including traditional drills and diagrams."

De Vise notes that "Grammar lessons vanished from public schools in the 1970s, supplanted by a more holistic view of English instruction. A generation of teachers and students learned grammar through the act of writing, not in isolated drills and diagrams."

Apparently, that approach hasn't worked very well, judging by the record-high number of college students enrolled in remedial English classes and plummeting scores on the verbal section of the SAT. In fact, the situation is so dire that the College Board, creator of the SAT, added a third section to the test: "The new section introduced a long-form essay and -- less publicized -- a series of multiple-choice responses that test how well students can assemble and disassemble sentences." Ought-oh!

Tonight I'm going to ask my eighth-grade daughter a few grammar questions. Then I'm going to show her this very cool website on sentence diagramming, which includes a great PowerPoint presentation that shows how it works. Gertrude Stein said it best: "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences." Woo-hoo!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Australia considers a national curriculum

Like many nations currently struggling to improve their public education systems, Australia currently is toying with the idea of designing and implementing a national curriculum for all its public schools. So explains guest writer Jennifer Buckingham, a research fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, writing for the US edublog Edspresso.

Buckingham describes the political -- and educational -- ramifications of such a bold move, and explores other options policy makers in Australia are bouncing around. According to Buckingham, the idea of one curriculum for all has proverbial legs:

"A recent poll revealed that 69 per cent of Australians are in favour of a national curriculum. University academics have also been confirming what parents and employers have long suspected – that there has been a significant decline in standards and therefore in the abilities of high school graduates. It is not just English and history that have been hijacked by agenda-driven curriculum development. Serious problems have been identified with maths, the sciences and even geography."

Australia's goals mirror those of any nation -- or school district -- interested in providing their children with a great education: maximize the quality and rigor of the academic curriculum and minimize the game-playing (and political bias) that often sabotages a thoughtful plan.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bali bound....

The vTs head to Bali* today for a few days of R&R, so posting will be light this week. Thanks so much for checking into JIS Topics, and Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri!

*One of the perks of living in Jakarta -- Bali's just an hour and a half away. Sweet!

Blogging students get real-world writing experience

Having tried this blogging thing for seven months now, I can vouch for the medium's "authenticity." You write for real people -- people who give you real, nearly instantaneous feedback. Does this kind of authenticity make blogging a platform teachers should consider for their students?

Definitely, says Andy Carvin, host of PBS' "Learning Now" blog, in his article "Connect the Dots: Student Blogs and the Nobel Peace Prize."

According to Carvin, blogging

"... helps students feel a stronger sense of ownership over their words, their ideas and their ability to convey them. When students are merely writing an essay for a teacher, it’s often likely that the end result, if they’re lucky, will be a place on the refrigerator for that essay, next to the coupons and pictures of last summer’s trip to the Wisconsin Dells. But educators ... who have pioneered ideas around student-generated journals, websites and blogs have understood all along that the act of publishing student work in a public setting changes the rule of the game. When students publish on a blog or another online tool, they’re opening themselves up to critique, criticism and scrutiny. They must be prepared to defend their choice of words, their arguments, their perspectives. And they’re not just writing for an audience - they’re writing for a community of lifelong learners who are eager to engage them, helping them improve their writing and their critical thinking skills along the way."

Couldn't say it any better. Check out Carvin's piece, and his link to a Seattle Times article on innovative teachers using blogs in their classrooms, including pioneers Mark Ahlness and David Warlick, who've been blogging with their students for years. The article includes links to blog hosting services designed for educational application.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)

Want to be inspired? Check out these two segments of a CBS "60 Minutes" story on the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), an amazing school concept started by two young teachers back in the '90s. Here's Part I, and this is Part II. (Via Eduwonk.com)

Their theory -- education isn't rocket science; it's hard work -- seems to be paying off in some of the most inhospitable school districts in the United States. Students slug through 10-hour school days, parents play a critical role in keeping their kids on track, and teachers agree to be contactable 24/7. The funny thing is, everyone seems to love it.

Everyone....including founders of the Gap clothing stores, Don and Dorris Fisher, who pledged $15 million to help replicate the KIPP concept in more school districts.

So check it out this weekend (while your Jakarta internet connection isn't totally pathetic).

UPDATE: While the educational approaches of KIPP are really promising, sometimes politics -- led by those who want to maintain the status quo -- can get in the way. Have a look at the Washington Post's Jay Matthews' take on the political wrangling that threatened to shutter a KIPP program in Oklahoma.

Teacher evaluation proposal causes upset in Korea

Teacher evaluation is always a touchy subject, regardless of the country. Everyone agrees that teacher quality affects student learning, but how do you measure teacher performance in a meaningful and fair way?

Policymakers in South Korea think they've come up with a solution, but teachers there are crying foul, according to an article in yesterday's Korea Times. Here's what the government is proposing:

The system would allow students and parents to join the evaluation process. Under the new scheme, teachers would be asked to evaluate other teachers' performances based on educational curricula, class preparation and contents. Students would respond to a survey to measure their satisfaction with their teachers, and then parents would evaluate their children's satisfaction levels. The evaluations would take place every three years.

the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union (KTU) says the new evaluation program "will destroy personal relationships between students and teachers and cause confusion." And they're serious -- the KTU "said that if the government introduces the system, its 80,000 members will stage a massive demonstration on Nov. 20."

So how should schools evaluate the quality of its teachers? There are a boat-load of philosophies and methods -- and an equivalent number of opposing views. Great schools have to wrestle with the issue while keeping an eye on the prize: a high quality education for all students. It's a tough issue, but one worth addressing.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sorting through research on education

One of education's Achilles heels has been the underwhelming research upon which many practices and policies are based. Here's what education writer Alexander Russo has to say on the subject (from This Week in Education):

Fair or not, education research isn't held in very high esteem.

There are several reasons for this, of course. It lacks any truly prominent peer reviewed journals (like medical research's New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA). It's produced by a broad range of academic disciplines (economics and poly sci seem to be in vogue right now), as well as by an increasing number of think tanks and advocacy groups. There's little or no agreement on proper research methods. And it often seems obscure or irrelevant in terms of topic or sample size. It's settled very few debates.

In an attempt to help educators sort through existing education research, Johns Hopkins University has unveiled a new service: the Best Evidence Encyclopedia (or BEE), dubbed "the center for data-driven reform in education."

BEE looks at research on several hot topics in education -- from elementary math curricula to reading for English language learners -- and then assigns a Consumer Reports-like rating on the validity of the research on various programs. It also includes full-text reviews on each topic.

So the education world can add another arrow to its quiver of decision-making tools. (There's also another website that wades through edu-research: the What Works Clearinghouse, "established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education.")

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Happy mathematicians = lower achievement

From Tuesday's USA Today:

All you need is love ... unless you're doing algebra. Then you need to work it on out.

That's the take-away message from a new study with an unusual finding: The more kids like math and say they do well in it, the less likely they are to do well. (emphasis added)

The study, being released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, finds the starkest difference among eighth-graders around the world who were asked if they enjoy math.

The 10 "happiest" nations all performed below the international average. The 10 "unhappiest" all scored above average, including Sweden, England, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Netherlands.

U.S. eighth-graders fell somewhere in the middle and followed the same pattern. They were slightly unhappier in math than the average 13-year-old, but they performed a bit better than average.

The happiness factor plays a minimal role in math achievement for millions of children, says study author Tom Loveless, who calls the difference in scores "huge" between the happiest and unhappiest nations.

The data suggest simply making math relevant and enjoyable isn't enough, he says. "If we want the United States to be high-achieving and among the world's best nations, obviously we have to do something beyond that."

The findings come as educators fret about math and science skills and five weeks after the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics urged elementary and middle schools to take a more back-to-basics approach.

Such changes have been long sought by traditionalists but criticized by those who say kids must learn creative problem-solving as well as nuts-and-bolts arithmetic, algebra and calculus.

Click here to read the full Brookings Institution / Brown Center on Education Policy report (pdf document).

For schools like JIS, which are in the process of evaluating elementary math curricula, this research may provide guidance on the question of whether "student happiness" should be considered as an important factor in the decision-making process. Based on this report, the answer seems to be a qualified no.

But it's a complicated issue. Here's some of the analysis that's begun to flow in on this counter-intuitive report:
UPDATE: Jay Matthews takes a deeper look at Lovelace's analysis in this Oct. 24 article in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cheating to make the grade

There are good ways for students to strive for that "A" in school, and then there's a darker path...

"Around 60% of American high school students cheated on a test," according to a 2006 survey of 36,122 students released by the Josephson Institute, a US-based partnership of 700 educational and youth groups trying to improve teen ethics. (Reported by Bloomberg.com, via the ASCD Smartbrief -- click here to subscribe).

The same study, ironically, found that "Ninety-two percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 74% agreed with the statement, 'When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.'"

This study confirms previous research on student cheating, including a 2005 survey of 18,000 students by Rutgers University professor Donald McCabe, which found that "More than 70 percent of students admitted to cheating at least once on a test and more than 60 percent admitted to plagiarism."

The internet -- and a cloudy understanding of ownership -- seems to drive much of the cheating, according to McCabe. "A number of students have a very different definition of when borrowing something from the Internet rises to the level of cheating than their teachers or school do."

As a teacher, I've seen every trick in the book from students. My personal favorite: A student who turned in an essay copied word-for-word from an internet site on Greek mythology. When confronted, he insisted -- in the face of a mountain of evidence -- that he hadn't cheated. After a few minutes of probing, he admitted, "I didn't even write the paper. My mom did." A phone call confirmed it. The mother claimed not to know that copying someone else's writing from the internet constituted cheating. Aye carumba. Where to begin?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Let's switch gears to math

JIS Topics has focused lately on reading and writing in curriculum, but what about the third "R"? (that's 'rithmetic, to those from outside the US.) What choices do schools make when it comes to deciding how to teach math, and how do they make them?

Education expert Barry Garelick walks us through the thought process in his excellent article, "A Textbook Case of Textbook Adoption" (via the edublog JoanneJacobs.com). Garelick is an analyst for the US federal government and a national advisor to NYC HOLD, an education advocacy organization that addresses mathematics education in schools throughout the United States.

In his article, Garelick examines how the Washington, D.C., school board decided to adopt the Everyday Math curriculum "despite considerable opposition." According to Garelick, the board used several dubious tactics to shoot down opponents of Everyday Math (a program that many mathematicians, educators and parents say falls into a a category called "fuzzy math").

Garelick also provides some valuable history on the so-called "math wars," describing the relationship between the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) and the Everyday Math curriculum. (You'll remember it's the NCTM that came out with new curriculum guidelines last month, but since has danced around the issue rather inelegantly.)

I've heard that JIS is now having a look at the math program it uses at the elementary level, so this article might be particularly timely as the school tries to unravel the facts and opinions on the various math programs available, such as Everyday Math, Singapore Math, Saxon Math, and a myriad of others.

I don't know what program JIS currently uses, but I did spy a set of Everyday Math workbooks on the shelves in my 5th grade son's classroom the other day while I was volunteering. (Although interestingly, my job that day was to drill students on multiplication and division facts -- something that definitely wouldn't normally happen in the fuzzy world of Everyday Math.)

Anyway, it's a wonky read, but worth it, especially for anyone in the position of setting curriculum policy on math.

UPDATE (9:25 p.m.): JoanneJacobs adds more fuel to the fire with a New York Post guest editorial on "fuzzy math" -- this time from the trenches of the Big Apple:

"In New York City, the program required in the vast majority of schools is called Everyday Mathematics. Chancellor Joel Klein swears by it. If you ask administrators to explain it, they'll use just enough jargon to make it sound decent.

But the truth is, Everyday Math systematically downplays addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which everyone knows are the foundations for all higher math. Instead of learning those basic four operations like the backs of their hands, students are asked to choose from an array of alternative methods, such as an ancient Egyptian method for multiplication. Long division is especially frowned upon.

There are no textbooks; that would just be too traditional. Instead, the idea is that kids ought to sit in groups, while a "facilitator" - that's the teacher - helps. And, oh, one more thing: Calculators are introduced in kindergarten."


UPDATE (10/20/06): Check out this article on a recent presentation by Stanford University professor emeritus of math Jim Milgram, in which he concludes that "
The numbers of mathematical concepts American children are expected to learn each year results in shallow understanding of the subject." He proposes dramatically narrowing the scope of math study to "six concepts such as place value and basic number skills, fractions and decimals, functions and equations, and measurement." (Via a great education blog Edspresso.com.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: During yesterday's 5th-grade ISA test (that's the International Schools Assessment), my son got to use a calculator for the math section.... Sheesh.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Content really matters -- in writing too

I'm going to file this one under "I don't make this stuff up."

Here's the plug in the October issue of Educational Leadership (a monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, or ASCD) for an article about putting content back into writing:

Short on facts. Long on touchy-feely. If this characterizes the expository writing that high school students are turning in, what's to happen to them in college?

So wonders Will Fitzhugh, editor and publisher of the Concord Review, who's also founder of the National History Club and the National Writing Board.

According to Fitzhugh,

Some readers may mistakenly assume that writing with content is common in schools. In 2002, the Roper Organization conducted a study...and found that in U.S. public high schools, 81 percent of history teachers never assign a research paper as long as 5,000 words...and 62 percent never assign a 3,000-word nonfiction paper (Center for Survey Research and Analysis, 2002). Although 95 percent of teachers surveyed believed that research papers were “important” or “very important,” most reported that they did not have time to assign and grade them.
Fitzhugh concludes:

In 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert introduced the idea of truthiness into the English language. The term characterizes speech or writing that appears to be accurate and serious but is, in fact, false or comical. In college, I learned that one of the objectives of critical thinking is to help us distinguish appearance from reality. The goal of truthiness is to blur that distinction. On satirical news programs, like The Daily Show, this dubious practice brings the relief of laughter, but on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning—in which students are told that it's OK to make things up and to invent experts and “quote” them—it just brings confusion.

The danger is that practices like these can lead high school students to believe that they don't need to seek information about anything outside of their own feelings and experiences. However, college students are still expected to read nonfiction books, which obviously deal with topics other than their personal lives. Students also have to write research papers in which they must organize their thinking and present material coherently. Too many students are not prepared to do this, and many end up dropping out of college. What a terrible waste of hopes and opportunity.

So what kind of content-driven writing is happening in your child's life? It's a question worth thinking about.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How to ace the toughest classes

Via the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News' edu-blog Get on the Bus, here's some great advice for students who want to get an "A" in their AP, IB, and honors classes:
  • Read the textbook, assigned or not. Take thorough notes on reading and lectures, go over them, rewrite/type them if you need more review, and have a highlighter system.
  • Make flashcards. Even if you don’t use them, writing them out helps a LOT and they’re a quick way to review/test yourself.
  • Do your homework. And do extra problems/questions, if that helps.
  • Be engaged in class. Participate in discussions, and try to get yourself interested in what’s going on.
  • Even if there aren’t discussions in class, discuss things with people. Try classmates, friends, your parents….
  • Get a tutor if you need one, or ask your teacher for help.
  • Understand how you’re graded.
  • Read. Just read a lot in general - this improves your writing SO much. Also, learn to diagram sentences. Even if you have all the facts write, (hopefully) you’re also graded on how you write, so you want to write well.
  • Aside from the obvious “listen/do your work,” become interested in what you’re learning. Build rapport with your teachers, drink lots of coffee, and create mnemonics for everything. Confidence/outlook definitely plays a huge role…if other people think that you’re smart, you’ll feel the pressure and rise to the occasion, etc.
I'm going to print out this excellent advice, which was sparked by a student question on the website College Confidential, and tape it to the vT family refrigerator.... Common sense, but a great reminder for students. There's no magic here -- just hard work.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Carnival of Education open for business

The 88th edition of the weekly Carnival of Education is up and running over at The Education Wonks.

Highlights from the midway include:
  • A look at whether Americans have gone testing-crazy (Going to the Mat)
  • An examination of one prestigious New York high school's move to eliminate AP classes altogether
  • A review of Building Blocks, a book by Gene Maeroff, which looks at renewing education's focus on grades K through 3
  • some very beautiful, touching writing from the minds of teachers.
Check it out -- always worth a read, and a quick way to keep your finger on the pulse of issues in the edusphere.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You can look it up...right?

An interesting thought emerged during a meeting at school yesterday. A participant suggested that, since the amount of information in the world is growing exponentially, it's not realistic for schools to teach everything. After all, this logic says, you can always look it up.

This philosophy holds that creating an agreed-up body of core knowledge actually limits children's education and does students a disservice. Things like reading lists of great literature are seen as elitist or restrictive. Instead, according this argument, schools need to arm students with skills that will allow them to function in this fast-growing information age.

Well, no one would argue against preparing students to function effectively in a world that's evolving at a dizzying pace. Critical thinking, the ability to synthesize, interpret and analyze, and a true inner love of learning are all incredibly inportant life skills. But can they be learned in isolation?

No way, according to many leading educators, who decry what they see as an education system focused almost entirely on a Bloom's Taxonomy list of skills without any foundation in shared knowledge.

The philosophical leader of this approach is E.D. Hirsch, whose life work has focused on creating a set of "core knowledge" that all educated people should possess. (Granted, his proposed knowledge set is focused on the American student. But while the actual content he suggests wouldn't be appropriate for an international school, the overarching idea of setting a specific body of knowledge for students is appropriate for a school like JIS to consider.)

Hirsch argues that a basic agreement on what students should know at various points in their educational careers is important for several reasons:
  • Studying carefully selected great literature, art, historical documents, etc., gives students something meaningful to consider as they learn the "higher order thinking skills" that will help them function in our rapidly changing world. We can't separate knowledge from skills, says Hirsch. They're execorably linked.
  • Knowledge builds on knowledge. (For example, knowing and understanding Greek mythology helps students know and understand Shakespearean drama, which in turn, helps students handle other challenging literature.*)
  • A foundation of core knowledge levels the playing field, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
(Read more on Hirsch's ideas in his ground-breaking article, "'You Can Always Look It Up'... Or Can You?" which appeared in the Spring 2000 edition of The American Federation of Teachers' American Educator. This article is highly recommended.)

George Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist, weighs in on the subject in his short piece, "The Demise of Literature." (Apologies for the unconventional link -- I had problems coming up with the original.) He points out that shared reading actually binds people in a common culture.

"Why does content matter?" asks Diane Ravitch, noted educational expert. "Content matters because skills are not enough. Skills are necessary but they are only the beginning of learning. Without skills, one cannot acquire knowledge. Knowledge builds on knowledge."

JIS has the unique opportunity to determine -- as it did when it created the Essential Qualities of a JIS Learner -- the body of knowledge that a great global student should possess at various stages in his educational career. What literature should that global student read? What information about science, history, culture, art, and mathematics should a great global student master? Add this framework to the already strong skills-based curriculum at JIS, and we'd have a cutting-edge approach to fully educating our children.

It would be a difficult, probably contentious project. But just the reasoned process of considering what knowledge is critical in our international setting would make us all smarter as a community.

(*And this isn't just about "dead white men" literature. For example, an understanding of Mitch Albom's 1991 book Tuesdays with Morrie helps students unravel the mystery of Gilgamesh, the oldest epic story on earth. And that, in turn, would let students fully appreciate Episode 102 of Star Trek, The Next Generation. But maybe that's pushing the whole thing too far!)**

**Geeky teacher humor -- I'm a nerd at heart.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on homework -- is it a good thing?

The debate over homework rages on this year, according to this article from last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. The question: how much homework helps students improve their academic achievement? The answer: no one knows.

"'The preponderance of research clearly shows that homework for elementary students does not make a difference in student achievement. It is hard to believe that a strategy used so extensively has no foundation,' principal David Ackerman of Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park wrote in a letter to parents this autumn as he put the brakes on homework."

Based on that, "
a growing minority of educators and researchers are calling for an end to homework as we know it -- and some are out to abolish it altogether," according to Chronicle reporter Vicki Haddock.

Not so fast, counter others in education.

"'Researchers have been far from unanimous in their assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of homework as an instructional technique,' summarized the Journal of Educational Psychology. 'Their assessments ranged from homework having positive effects, no effects, or complex effects to the suggestion that the research was too sparse or poorly conducted' to say."

According to the "most widely regarded analysis of the affect of homework," conducted by Harris Cooper of Duke University, homework yields little value for elementary school students. For high schoolers, more than two hours of homework has no positive affect on achievement.

I'd argue that for our students at JIS, the question isn't so much "how many hours of homework?" -- but "what kind of homework?" It's been our experience that teachers here assign homework prudently: reading each night, math practice to reinforce lessons already learned during the day, and studying for quizzes and tests. But occasionally we see the "macaroni and poster board" project come home. The less of that, the better!

(Click here for a golden chestnut of an op-ed piece on crazy school projects, "'Crayola Curriculum' Takes Over" -- worth a read!)

Monday, October 09, 2006

What literature is good for middle-schoolers?

If you buy the argument that middle school students should read and study great literature, then what exactly does that look like?

Here are some examples of the suggested reading lists from top-rated US states:

  • Massachusett's State Framework for English/Language Arts (a pdf document; once it opens, click on Appendix A for suggested authors that reflect a "common literacy and cultural heritage" -- from an American point of view, of course. Appendix B is the author list from "contemporary American literature and world literature.)

Granted, both of these resources were created for American middle schools -- not international schools. And both documents contain copious warnings that they are not meant to be used as an all-inclusive list. These lists provide school English departments in those states with ideas and options from which to choose.

But despite those limitations, what these lists both share is a high level of rigor and a sense that a great deal of thought has gone into considering the content children should study at various points in their educational careers.

And if you dig deeper, you'll find that the standards in these two states require that students be taught how to read and analyze this literature. The assumption -- often explicitly stated -- is that teachers will guide students as they study these books, speeches, poems, plays and short stories. This is not a "free reading" list -- although wouldn't it be great if students naturally gravitated toward this type of literature!

Students must learn to construct character analyses, unravel theme, identify the key questions posed by a piece of literature, and discuss the authors' treatments of those questions. They have to understand literary devices and why they work, and how literature builds on itself with allusions, metaphors, and archetypes. And this kind of learning doesn't happen in a vacuum. Students don't magically discover how literary analysis works. Teachers have to teach it.

Other school systems also have created a list of books that they feel are critical to their students' education. (For example, Singapore American School has a "protected book list" for each grade -- I'm trying to get my hands on it now. In the meantime, here's a link to its middle school English curriculum.) Core Knowledge also focuses on the content taught in English (as opposed to a purely skill-driven curriculum).

Having a syllabus for each grade isn't controversial. It's common -- and smart. Coming up with the syllabus can be tricky. But if we ask the question, "What literature does a great global student need to read?" we'll be on our way to an answer that will benefit our children.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Google launches "The Literacy Project"

Web giant Google launched a website yesterday that aims to bring together people, resources, and research on reading. "The Literacy Project," unveiled in Frankfurt, Germany, this week, is a collaboration between Google, LitCam (a German literacy organization), and UNESCO's Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Read about it in the Boston Globe, via ASCD's SmartBrief).

The website, dubbed "A resource for teachers, literacy organisations and anyone interested in reading and education," features:
  • A link to Google's Book Search search engine (it's amazing)
  • "Google Scholar," a search engine for scholarly research on reading and literacy
  • Google Video, a new service designed to compete with YouTube and other video sites
  • A map feature to help educators find literacy organizations around the world
  • A link to Blogger, a web service that helps people create, maintain and search weblogs (like this one)
  • "Google Groups," billed as a place to " discover forums on literacy projects and ideas, or start your own debate."
While many of these services already existed (Google launched its book search engine back in August, for example), the consolidation in one place may prove handy for educators and scholars trying to expand the breadth and depth of literacy and reading around the world. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This week's Edu-Carnivals

If you're looking for more news from the world of education, check out these two Carnivals now open for business:
Lots of interesting (and sometimes challenging) thinking from all points in the edusphere. Have a look and see what's happening.

What's school like in ____?

My understanding of school systems in other countries is, sadly, pretty limited. But you're never too old to learn new things, right? So what's it like to be a student in Bulgaria? If you're curious, check out this article from The Sofia Echo (via the ASCD SmartBrief -- click here to subscribe.) Interesting.

If you ever bump into articles about schools in other countries, would you let me know? I'll post them on JIS Topics. Or better yet, you could write a description yourself for JIS Topics readers. (I'm sure Robert's description of Catholic boarding school in Kenya would be captivating -- especially the part about getting spanked weekly with a golf club.* Ouch!)

The broader our understanding of other educational systems, the better.

*with the handle end of the club, Robert informs me. Double ouch.

UPDATE: Apparently corporal punishment still happens in the United States. Click here for an article in last week's New York Times that describes the practice, which surprisingly is banned in only 28 of the 50 states.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Video madness in Chicago burbs

Here's a gem that should go down in history as the worst example of employee relations ever:

"A suburban school superintendent says he was only trying to be funny when he took videotaped interviews with his new teachers, spliced in his own gag questions and made the faculty members look like killers, strippers and drug users," according to the Associated Press (via CNN.com).

If you couldn't see the video with your own eyes, you wouldn't believe it (via the edu-blog JoanneJacobs.com).

And as if making the video weren't bad enough, the superintendent posted it on his district's website. His excuse for the project: He "...made the video to boost morale," according to his lawyer. His district's school board meets Tuesday night to discuss how well that worked out.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Can kids have "too much of a good thing" with school activities?

At a parent coffee morning last month, the school counselors divided us into groups based on our interest in various teen topics, ranging from internet safety to substance abuse. One of the topics that garnered the most interest: helping kids maintain a balanced life.

The overall feeling was that students were being crushed under heavy schedules of academics, sports, clubs, and other activities.

Well, maybe parents can rest easy, based on a yet-to-be-published study by Yale psychologist Joseph Mahoney. In his research, "Organized Activity Participation, Positive Development, and the Over-Scheduling Hypothesis," Mahoney finds that:

"...the more time children spend in organized activities, the better their grades, self-esteem, and relationship with parents and the lower the incidence of substance abuse. Even high school students with more than 20 hours of activities a week don't suffer for it, he says. The study defines organized activities as adult-led and having a purpose. It includes community service and after-school programs, as well as music, religious education, and sports."

"'Based on our data, it's difficult to argue that parents should limit participation,' Mahoney says." (Click here to read an article by Boston Globe reporter Barbara F. Meltz that discusses Mahoney's research. Via the edu-blog JoanneJacobs.com.)