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!

I just wrote an article about online courses in Baltimore for Check it out!

Also, I have a blog of pictures that I have taken. Lately I’ve been taking a lot of photos of birds. Check it out!

Here’s one of the pics that’s on my blog for a sample…It’s a tufted titmouse!

Read the entire article by Education Week.

Given the state of some of Maryland’s schools, I’d be quite scared to see what is going on in Nebraska D+ (68.6), District of Columbia D+ (69.1), and South Dakota D+ (69.2).

In regards to the information, here are some tweets I pulled from Twitter:

@croberts5: And Baltimore schools are not where they need to be, but MoCo, HoCo, n others overshadow that. It’s like puttin on deodorant wen u dnt wash

@umbjeff Where else but Bmore would top ranking be seen as bad news?I’m not sold on methodology,but survey is good for MD

@GennyDill I feel like it must be a typo, or that it excluded Greater Baltimore, or perhaps was just private schools

@duckydynamo Oh, yeah, Maryland schools got ranked #1 in the nation. This can’t be life.

@Caro_Ames How are maryland schools ranked #1 again?? That explains a lot about the problems of our nation!

@jamesJJohnson How did MD get #2 in the Best Schools in the Country? Did they just ignore Baltimore?

@LOVEonNiC not in bmore RT @BreakingNews MD schools ranked #1 in nation 4 3rd consecutive year

Some are impressed, while others are skeptical…

I went through some personal issues and kind of lost my focus, but I plan on getting back into blogging. Here is my latest article that I wrote for examiner. com about the importance of having students think metacognively. Check out my other examiner articles here. If you know of a story that should be covered that has anything to do with education in Baltimore, email me at


Metacognition is “the process of thinking about thinking.” In other words, when students perform tasks such as finding a main idea or solving a math problem, they are using a thinking process. When they go back and consider how that thinking process worked or did not work for them, they are practicing metacognition.Students who do not use metacognitive strategies will continue to get the same, negative results because they will not create a plan to go about the task differently.

Some underperforming Baltimore schools award grades based on attendance and behavior. Students are able to submit consistently poor-quality work and receive passing grades. Educators who award undeserved grades to students condition them that the quality of work is not of high importance. Students have no need to utilize metacognitive strategies, and this lack of practice hurts them later in life.

Many students entering college will be disappointed to find out that they are required to take developmental, non-credit reading, writing, and math courses. Some students will have extreme difficulty in completing even the remedial courses because they will not know how to turn unsatisfactory work into satisfactory work without support. Even after receiving poor grades throughout the semester, some students will still be confused because in their mind, they completed all tasks that were asked of them. They may even believe that they completed all tasks to the best of their ability. Instructors may perceive these students as lazy, when in reality, they may not have previously developed metacognitive skills, such as tweeking strategies in order to receive different results.

Students need to be held responsible for the quality of their work if they are to become successful adults who are equipped to compete in today’s job market. They need to be taught to adjust their goals to better meet their needs, and they need to be taught to make others aware when they are confused.

Every once in a while, a college freshman will miss the first two or more weeks of a semester. When they do show up, they will sit in the class and never take any initiative to explain their late arrival to the educator. These students are setting themselves up for failure, and it is the responsibility of the K-12 teachers to equip students with strategies so that they can think about their thinking and can express their needs verbally and in written form.


Approaching Thanksgiving Break

Posted: November 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

I don’t really have too much to say. I just wanted to get that Rihanna video off the top of my blog. I will reiterate that giving students the opportunity to select their own topic to research often leads to them becoming more connected to the topic and interested in the assignment.

I have a girl who is off-the-wall goofy, and when it was her turn to give her presentation on teenage pregnancy, she became serious and was intent on getting her message across. She had a child as a teen, and her overall message to the group was not to do that. I found that teenage pregnancy was the most popular topic. I teach a lot of students who are single parents or who had children at a young age, so they really relate to the topic.

One of my students said today, “This is my most fun class.” I’ve had students from prior semesters tell me that as well. I incorporate a lot of hands-on and group activities, so my groups really get to know each other. We get things done, so I don’t think “fun” equals unproductive, just interactive.