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Seed Newsvine

The Chicago Tribune finally addressed the issue of the Cary-Grove High School response to Allan Lee’s response to a senior English writing assignment. I add some additional quotes from the article below:

Involving the police struck Jim Barnabee as overkill. He is a creative-writing instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and, like most teachers, has been trained to alert counselors or administrators if he thinks students might harm themselves or others.

He referred a student to a school social worker this year after she turned in a poem about suicide. It was a poorly written “emotional spew” that paid little heed to the assignment—all hallmarks of potential trouble, he said.

He added that Lee’s essay, by contrast, seemed more like the product of an annoyed senior, deserving perhaps of school discipline but not police intervention.

“If you refer someone to the police, all you’re going to do is teach kids to hide their feelings, to shove it down and not let it out there,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what we want to teach young writers.”

The point here is that the CGHS teacher and administrators over reacted rather than practice appropriate measures.

Mary Kay Albamonte, a 22 year veteran teacher said:

“There are some rights that stop at the schoolhouse door,” she said. “Kids can’t just say or do anything. We’re responsible for them, and we have to be vigilant about it. When it’s staring you in the face you have to take it seriously.”

She and other teachers talk about limits with their students at the beginning of their courses. But some say that with violence and sex pervading American pop culture, teens don’t always understand what’s appropriate.

The issue is not one of rights or the lack of rights. It is one of the appropriateness of adult behavior when faced with perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more students.

If a student is engaged in a criminal act it is fully appropriate to arrest that student and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. When did completing a school assignment become criminal. My goodness, would that we could get more students to complete their assignments. What may have been inappropriate was the content of Lee’s essay which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link. The language of the essay is not, even in the wildest stretch of ones overactive imagination, criminal. Disturbing, perhaps, but criminal, not in a million years.

As an English teacher, I read the essay in the context of the assignment, and through the lens of adolescent pop-culture. I read the words of a senior about to graduate and get on with his life. I read words that reference music, events, and even conditions in the classroom. I read the words of a very typical free writing exercise, one that is neither intended to be finished work nor coherent and cohesive in form.

Lighten-up CGHS. Give this kid some rope.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A high school writing exercise that ended with the arrest of a McHenry County student last week was a dramatic illustration of a dilemma faced by young authors and their teachers: Where is the line that separates provocative from alarming?
The answer, many say, depends on far more than the words on the page.
A student’s demeanor, disciplinary record and relationship with the teacher all relate to whether a bloody piece of work is viewed as a bold, boundary-pushing statement or a thinly veiled threat.
“Judgment calls are required on all of this,” said Chris Meade, an English teacher at Glenbard North with 30 years of experience. “Nothing happens outside of a context.”
Allen Lee, 18, a straight-A senior at Cary-Grove High in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct after he turned in an assignment that had called for him to write continuously for 30 minutes without making corrections, and without judging or censoring what he produced.

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Seed Newsvine

A number of issues jump out as Chicago Public Schools fire 775 teachers, not the least of which is the simple fact that when coupled with a larger than normal retirement pool due to a program called Pension Enhancement, CPS will have thousands of openings in all grades and subject areas this year. As a teacher educator my students are pleased because their chances of landing a job are increased. I am worried, however, that the removal of experience from the classroom exacerbates an already difficult problem for new teachers–who will mentor the new teacher in the classroom. If experience is removed from the schoolhouse then who will be most effected–that’s right, the students.Another problem I see is that the the mass layoff of 11% of the non-tenured staff wreaks of intimidation along with a failure to properly mentor new, inexperienced teachers. The claim of incompetence is belied by the fact that last year, when over 1000 teachers were fired under the provisions of the union contract that provide the principal with absolute power to hire and fire, 11% of those let go were rehired at the school from which they were let go. Politics, not competence, seems to play a role in who goes and who stays.

While teachers suffer, the fact is that students are the ones who are left out in the cold. Building a stable, independent teaching staff is crucial to educating children. Continuity builds safe expectations for children and parents. Failure of the schools to provide proper induction for teachers does not, as School Chief Arne Duncan says, “allow principals to build the best teams for their schools.” The effect it does have is quite the contrary…arbitrary power to hire and fire builds fear and compliance rather that independence and creativity in teachers. Students suffer when their teachers are mere robots delivering compliant scripted lessons in their classrooms.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
About 775 probationary teachers in Chicago public schools learned Friday
they are losing their jobs in a purge that district leaders say could improve
the quality of instruction in the system’s most challenged schools.
More teachers were let go last year, when a budget crunch forced schools to
cut hundreds of teaching jobs. This year’s dismissals were triggered largely
by performance issues.
Schools Chief Arne Duncan said the cuts allow principals to build the best
teams for their schools, and they are not to solve budget problems or get rid
of outspoken teachers, as some critics have alleged. He said the quality and
quantity of the teaching recruits this year gives him confidence that these
vacancies will be filled by educators who can better reach students in
hard-to-staff schools.

The cuts represent about 11 percent of the district’s estimated 7,000
non-tenured teachers.

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Seed Newsvine

In the inappropriate action of calling in the “thought police” the Cary-Grove High School began a process that may cause Allen Lee’s life to be adversely impacted, perhaps beyond repair.

When I was teaching in the middle school I had an 8th-grade student who was a brilliant writer. She was also into the entire Goth scene. She wore her hair like Morticia, painted her lips and nails black, wore black clothing from head to toe and I cannot ever recall her smiling or laughing. She wrote stories and poems that made reference to blood in the snow, stabbings, trees that strangled strangers as they passed by, death and dismemberment. I thought her writing was brilliant but it was also quite disturbing. In discussions with my principal at the time we decided the best course of action would be to refer this student to our school counselor for evaluation. The counselor met with this student, discussed her findings with the school psychologist, met with me and the student’s parents and we all came to the conclusion that the student was neither a danger to herself or to others. This was the proper and appropriate course of action. But it was not the course of action taken by the Cary-Grove High School.

What evidence, other than Lee’s freewrite, is there that he is a danger to himself or others? What intermediate steps did the high school take to determine whether Lee is an immediate or future threat to himself or others? It seems that they skipped these steps and went for the immediate kill–call the cops. The best they could do was trump up a disorderly conduct charge. And Lee’s life is forever altered.

Shame on the teacher, the principal, the district superintendent, the police and the charging prosecutor for not taking the time to assess the situation. Shame on all of them for not thinking of alternatives that might actually be more appropriate. But, then, when one has already made up one’s mind why does one have to bother with facts or alternative solutions.

The first major fallout is the Marine Corps withdrawing their commitment to Lee’s joining the service. My goodness, the boy hasn’t yet been convicted of anything. What ever happened to the proposition that one is innocent until proven guilty? What will be next in store for Lee as he spins down this Kafkaesque path.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Like many misunderstood writers, a Cary-Grove High School senior arrested for turning in a provocative class essay offered an “author’s note” Friday by way of explanation.
In it, Allen Lee said his reference to “shooting everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies” was not a personal statement but words a character in a story might say, which explained why the sentence was in quotations.
His references to drugs, he said, were a comment on drug problems at the school.
However, the Marines informed the student Friday that they have discharged him from the enlistment program because of the incident, but that he could reapply if the charges were dropped. Lee said he couldn’t comment, but his lawyer said his client was crushed by the news.
Although students were warned that they couldn’t threaten anyone in their writings, Lee said he assumed those parameters were removed when the teacher told the class to take 30 minutes and write whatever came to mind—without worrying about censorship.

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Seed Newsvine

Allen Lee, an 18 year old straight “A” student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested for thinking violent thoughts and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. Lee’s senior English teacher, after reading what Lee wrote in response to a “Free Writing” assignment was disturbed enough to report the incident to the school’s principal. The school then notified the Cary police and the decision was made to arrest Lee.In America we do not criminalize thinking. What is criminalized is action. One can think all kinds of evil thoughts so long as one does not act on those thoughts there is no crime. In America we do not arrest authors for writing violent passages, for writing bad poetry, for writing propaganda or any other authorial endeavor. There is no Gestapo, KGB, SS, or Secret Police; no thought police and no book burners.

As a teacher of writing and author of a book on teaching writing, I understand the “Free Writing” assignment and advocate two versions of the practice in my book Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom: Strategies and Skills for All Students, Grades 6 – 12 (Jossey-Bass Teacher). I do not, however, advocate arresting a student for responding to an assignment irregardless of how inappropriate I believe the product of the assignment to be. There are appropriate measures such as referring the offending student to counseling services, psychiatric services or social services, parent, teacher student conferences, and the like. But in America we don’t call the cops for thinking and writing.

While I understand the concern the school had considering the horrendous events at Virginia Tech, there is no justification for over reacting to Lee’s writing. The message sent is irreversible, sending a chilling effect through the entire creative process. I would urge the school to reconsider charging Lee with this crime and pursue appropriate measures to try to understand what is going on here.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A Cary-Grove High School student charged with disorderly conduct for writing a violently descriptive class essay had received an assignment that said: “Write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing.”
Allen Lee, 18, responded with passages about “shooting everyone” and having “sex with the dead bodies,” according to a disorderly conduct complaint filed Thursday by McHenry County prosecutors, Tom Carroll, the first assistant state’s attorney, said.
Lee’s English teacher, Nora Capron, and school officials found the senior’s stream-of-consciousness writing so alarming that they turned it over to Cary police, who arrested him Tuesday morning while he was walking to school.
Emling provided a reporter with a copy of the class assignment, which was titled “Free Writing.” It advised students to “write non-stop for a set period of time. Do not make corrections as you write. Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ “

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Seed Newsvine

The DoED press release clipped in part below is interesting, though not complete. There are also questions of trustworthiness of the report. One must never take a single study as being true on its face. Rather serious critical questions must be raised about why one should trust the results. Questions like:

+ Who funded the study?
+ Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings?
+ What is the purpose for undertaking the study?

In the case of this work, the study is internally funded by the DoED and, therefore, is suspect. It is sort of like trusting a study whose findings advise parents to delay toilet training for their children that was funded by the manufacturer of Pampers. The investigators have a bone to pick because their patrons have a bone to pick.

Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings in this study. The fact is no, there is not. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence that is in direct conflict with the results of this particular study.

One can only assume that the DoED funded this study in order to show how good Reading First and NCLB really is. This is not an independent reason for conducting such a study. Rather it is further evidence that the discredited notion that educational progress can be determined by reducing all learning to a single test score number causes teachers to teach to improve that number no matter what impact that teaching might have on the students they teach.

Sorry, but I have to dissent from the DoED. Reading First and NCLB are flawed policies and must be significantly revised.

clipped from www.ed.gov
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education today released new state-by-state data on the effectiveness of Reading First, indicating that students who receive instruction through the program achieve strong gains in reading proficiency. Another measure of the program’s success since its launch in 2002, the state-by-state data demonstrate that Reading First is working to help our nation’s neediest kindergarten through third-grade students significantly improve their reading skills.
The data released today reinforce the positive indicators from the Reading First Implementation Evaluation interim report released in July 2006. According to the interim report, Reading First students receive on average 100 extra minutes per week of proven, research-based instruction from teachers, tutors and reading coaches.
Secretary's CornerNo Child Left Behind

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“These results are yet another confirmation that Reading First is working on behalf of our children,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Farris

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Seed Newsvine

While I might want to argue that NCLB’s goals are neither laudable nor effective, the real point is that NCLB is fundamentally flawed and must be revised in meaningful ways.A movement to return the conversation about curriculum to the forum in which it belongs, the local school level with mitigation from the district but not mandates from above, is one place to begin to rethink schools and schooling. NCLB has effectively cut that conversation off at the knees causing schools and students to suffer. There is a great deal of evidence emerging from study after study, some even funded by the Department of Education, that demonstrate that reducing knowledge to a single test score is counterproductive.

The NEA offers only one approach. There are others. My point is that these alternatives must become part of the national discourse or we and our children shall be doomed to mediocrity

clipped from www.nea.org
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, established laudable goals — high standards and accountability for the learning of all children, regardless of their background or ability.
However, the law must be fundamentally improved and federal lawmakers need to provide adequate funding if NCLB is to achieve its goal. Congress has to reauthorize the legislation in 2007, offering an opportunity to make it more workable and more responsive to the real needs of children.
NEA is in the forefront of the effort to improve the No Child Left Behind Act. We have developed a comprehensive Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization�that spells out detailed recommendations to make the law better. (Read more.)

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Seed Newsvine

Just a couple of things here. First, it is difficult to blame teachers for teaching in compliance with the law. NCLB stresses basic skills and not problem solving, Furthermore, NCLB places an inordinate stress level on teachers, so much so that they have little time to attend to things teachers traditionally attended to such as emotional support.Secondly, bashing teachers is unproductive. The profession is hard enough without someone standing over one’s head with a cudgel ready to strike a final blow.

If we are serious about quality education then we need to rethink educational policy so that standards are used to guide conversations about curriculum and curricular decisions, that these conversations are supported by policy and law, that they engage teachers in both horizontal and vertical planning, and that teachers be valued as professional members of the educational team. Otherwise, we are just in for more of the same.

clipped from www.edweek.org
The quality of instruction in elementary classrooms has little to do with whether teachers have the credentials that meet their states’ definitions of “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act, a federally sponsored study suggests.
Detailed observations of 5th graders in 20 states show that students in classrooms overseen by teachers labeled as highly qualified spent most of their time in whole-group or individual “seatwork,” focused on basic skills rather than problem-solving activities, and may or may not have received emotional and instructional support from their teachers.
“This pattern of instruction appears inconsistent with aims to add depth to students’ understanding, particularly in mathematics and science,” write the authors of the study, led by Robert C. Pianta, an education professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “

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