Archive for February, 2011

I changed the background of my blog to spice it up a little.

In reference to the title of this blog, yesterday in my class a student became frustrated when I revealed answers to the classwork before he had completed the assignment. He said, in an annoyed voice, “Give a brother some extra time!” Then he pushed his paper away from him and said that all he needed was more time.

I find that some students in developmental reading courses tend to process information a little slower than what is considered normal, so I generally allow all students to have more time, especially on quizzes.  The college I teach at, probably along with all other colleges, “is committed to the philosophy of nondiscrimination for individuals with disabilities.”  Students may not realize it, but colleges are “in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.”

What the above information means is that students can apply for services such as additional time, taking a test in a quiet setting with less distractions, having a note-taker, having font enlarged if they have poor eyesight, etc. I tell my students that if they had any of those services in high school, they can receive them in college as well. I even know a graduate student who utilizes disability services. Once students apply and are given documentation, their teachers have to comply with the services by law.

Having a little extra time, as my student would have liked to have had, makes a big difference for some students and may be a determining factor in whether or not they are successful in college.


I finally got around to watching the documentary Waiting for Superman last night. The film came out at Redbox, so I went ahead and spent my $1 to see what it was all about.

Several children and their parent are interviewed for the film, and in each case, the parent is passionate about seeking better education for his or her child. Each parent ends up entering his or her child into a lottery. The lottery has been created because the demand outweighs the space and resources in the school for students, so by law the schools are required to hold a lottery where the children are chosen at random. The students who are not chosen go home defeated, often with crying parents.

The mother of Bianca, a little girl from Harlem says, ““I don’t care what I have to do. I don’t care how many jobs I have to obtain, but she will go to college. And there’s just no second guessing on that one.” Then she adds, “You don’t get a job you get a career. There’s a difference.”

The parents interviewed in Waiting for Superman know that there is great value in a quality education, even if they themselves did not receive one. Watching the parents fight for the best for their children reminded me or Dr. Ben Carson’s mother, who only had a third grade education, yet made her two sons spend time reading books in the library and limited their use of television.

The parents in the film may not have received a high level of education and they may face struggles such as unemployment and having family members with substance abuse problems, but they are well aware that education is key to success.

When listening to “dropout factories” talk about their schools, it becomes very obvious why parents invest a lot of energy into finding better schools for their children. For instance, in reference to a failing LA school, a man says ““We lose 800 kids between 9th and 10th grade.” He goes on to say that many of them are on a first to third grade reading level and have been pushed through the system. Who would want that for their kids?

I have been reading a book for my graduate class called A Path to Follow: Learning to Listen to Parents. One point made in the book’s forward that I found relevant to this film is that “In some cases, parents believe that academic development is a domain of teacher expertise and responsibility.”  Some parents may not question the quality of their children’s education. They may assume that the schools are doing enough for them, and may never give much thought about the idea that the education system may be failing their children.

The only aspect of the film that stuck out to me as lacking was the fact that competent and incompetent teachers were represented in the film, but we only saw competent parents. What about the parents who are not questioning the quality of their children’s education? What about the parents who are drunk on a Wednesday afternoon, or who never help their children do any homework? What about the parents who say “get out of my face” or “I’m going to sell you to the cashier.” What about parents who are still teenagers and are more involved in their own life that that of their child? In order to present an unbiased view, the film should have addressed the fact that not all parents are that actively passionate.

The children waiting to be chosen in the lottery were sitting in those rooms because their parents or some adult who cared about them had advocated for them. What about all of the children who do not have an advocate? When a school takes a pool of students who all have someone advocating for them, the results are bound to be more positive than if they were taking a legitimate sample of the population. Unfortunately, all students do not have parents who have the knowledge, passion, or strategies necessary to advocate for them. Where were those kids during the filming of Waiting for Superman?

By the way friends, I just created a facebook page, so check it out!

The pictures got slightly out of order. They are from this morning…Didn’t get to see the president, but he drove right by.

My graduate texts and professors have really emphasized the idea of letting students choose from a variety of texts. While pretty much everyone else in my graduate classes teach K-12 students,  I think this idea works well for older, college students as well. For anyone who is not familiar with me, I teach developmental college reading to freshman in Baltimore. When students take the community college placement test, if they don’t meet a certain score on reading comprehension, they are required to take a non-credit reading class before they are permitted to take most credit-bearing courses. That’s where they meet me!

My class has one required basal textbook. This semester I had a student say, on the very first day of class, that she didn’t like the textbook because she didn’t like “that kind of reading.” Check out one page from the text to see what she meant by “that kind of reading.” (click on any of the pictures for a zoomed-in view)

The textbook chapters are broken into different strategies. For example, one chapter may be dedicated to finding the topic and stated main ideas. Students typically read a paragraph, find the stated main idea, and then read another, completely unrelated topic, and find that stated main idea. This is not representative of real reading, and it is not engaging. The back of the text has about eight to ten short stories, and about one or two of them are interesting.

The book, Collaborating for Real Literacy recommends having “a large, rotating collection of high interest books and literacy materials.”  Another statement in the book that I find important is that “the key to higher student achievement suggested by research and demanded by new federal laws is not expensive reading series and special programs that publishers try to convince administrators that they need.” I am convinced that I can promote critical thinking and lifelong literacy in my classroom without even needing a basal textbook (although I do make some use of them since my students are required to purchase them).

One problem in a college setting is, if an instructor is going to provide students with a variety of books, where will those books come from? I have devised my own crafty way of getting books into the classroom for my students. Here are some books that I brought in for my students last week:

How did I get them? I found a thrift store that sells 5 paperback books for $.90, which breaks down to $.18 cents per book. I buy any books that I think my students would find engaging, and I also buy books that I can resell. I list the valuable books on Alibris. For example, today I sold an old photography book for $19.95. If I bought 50 books for my students at $.18 cents a piece, I would spend a total of $9. So when the math all works out, I’m pretty much getting the books for free.

Then once we have the books, we do activities like this (anonymous sample from last semester):

Students pull out information that they find interesting, and then they ask questions, and then other students ask question about the same topic. This activity gets students into the habit of formulating their own questions. Then later on, we can get into more complex readings and higher level questions.

Give students reading material that interests them, and they just might read it…

To promote literacy and to have some fun, I am creating a contest where one lucky person can win nine Captain Underpants Books (one of the nine is a Super Diaper Baby book). To enter the contest, all you need to do is comment on this post and explain what you think the goal of reading is. Your response only needs to be one sentence.

When I determine the winner, I’ll let you know how I do it 🙂 Then I’ll mail out the books!

Responses are welcome from adults, young adults, and children. (Click on the photo for an enlarged view) Make sure to sign up with an email where I can reach you. You don’t need to actually register to the blog to participate.

Also, stay tuned for more book giveaway contests!

Twitter is Awesome :-)

Posted: February 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

I just wanted to dedicate a blog to the awesomeness of Twitter (spell check didn’t identify awesomeness as being incorrect, so I’m justified in using it). Twitter has really helped ignite my passion for education and has enabled me to spread the messages I want to get across off the ground. I have learned from so many people of diverse backgrounds: teachers, administrators, principals, students, caring community members, authors, news reporters, etc.

I know I still have an immensely long way to go, but I’ve never felt more confident that true, raw success  is possible. When I go to Google, type in “Baltimore Schools Twitter” and see @bmoreschools come up as the first hit, I know my mission to improve education reform is possible (Give the Google search a try; It works!) . I know frustration often seeps through my tweets, but I don’t feel like Baltimore, or any other city, is on point in terms of ed reform.

I’ve always felt that the first step to effective reform is to bring together everyone in the community to discuss ways to best meet the needs of our students. Using teacher jargon or reform jargon and holding discussions exclusively with other educators or reformers isn’t going to make enough of a difference, because too many populations are excluded. I want everyone to contribute comfortably to the conversation, including students, former students, parents, professionals in the education field and outside the education field, and all other community members.

I feel like the community is coming to fruition, and Twitter is playing a big part in making that happen, and for that I am very, very happy.

Below, I included the John Mayer video, “Waiting on the World to Change.” (My professor played it for us, so I stole her idea)

“Now we see everything that’s going wrong

With the world and those who lead it

We just feel like we don’t have the means

To rise above and beat it.”

I think we do have the means. We have to dedicate time, energy, passion, and perseverance.

Booo I don’t think the video works, but you can watch it on YouTube for the full effect!