"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, May 27, 2019

One Size Does Not Fit All

More than four dozen literacy experts have signed on to a letter expressing concern over the lack of balance in PBS Newshour's segment about dyslexia.

Among the signers of the letter are Reading Hall of Fame members, Richard Allington, Pat Cunningham, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Michael Graves, Stephen Krashen, P. David Pearson, Gay Su Pinnell, David Reinking, and Barbara M. Taylor.

The entire letter can be found at Concern_letter_to_PBS.pdf and is listed with all signers.

One objection the signers have with the PBS episode is the assumption that there is only one way to teach reading that works for every child, and that other variables and individual characteristics of students are unimportant. The show also implies that America's teachers don't know how to teach reading, once again, misdirecting blame onto teachers for a lack of achievement among students.

There are a wide variety of out of school factors which could result in reading difficulties such as vision problems, lack of literacy experiences in the home, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead, and family trauma.

Dyslexia is defined differently in different places and by different people, so one single method of teaching reading is insufficient to cover all differences. Because of the confusion and differences in defining dyslexia, the American Psychiatric Association has removed dyslexia from it's Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

The letter goes into detail on these and other issues.
Paula Kerger, PBS, President and CEO

Sara Just, Executive Producer, PBS NewsHour

Dear Ms. Kerger and Ms. Just,

We, the undersigned, write to express concern about the PBS NewsHour segment on dyslexia, broadcast on April 30. As experienced senior scholars in the field of reading and literacy education, we found this segment to be inconsistent with the NewsHour’s stated aim of balanced and trusted reporting.

Our professional work is devoted to studying literacy and how it can be developed in schools to enrich the lives of all students. So, we well understand and share parents’ and others’ anguish and frustration when children are identified as experiencing reading difficulties. Competent reading and writing are fundamentally important in and out of school, and difficulties can shape children’s concepts of themselves as learners, while affecting virtually every aspect of their everyday experience.

Our concern is that the NewsHour received inadequate and incomplete scientific advice when producing the segment on dyslexia. The result perpetuates inaccuracies, misconceptions, and distortions related to reading, how it is taught, and the complexity of reading difficulties. It suggests erroneously that there is scientific certainty about dyslexia and how it should be addressed instructionally. In fact, the research evidence is equivocal and there is much room for debate about whether dyslexia is an identifiable condition, whether it can be reliably diagnosed, and whether there are instructional approaches that are uniquely effective in ameliorating it...

...We are particularly concerned about the dyslexia segment’s suggestion that a narrowly conceptualized instructional approach is unequivocally effective, not only for individuals categorized as dyslexic, but for all individuals learning to read. Such a suggestion perpetuates a view that there is a single approach guaranteed to transcend the incredible diversity of factors and individual characteristics that might explain why learning to read is easy for many but incredibly difficult for some. It is widely accepted that learning to read English texts entails instructional attention to sound-symbol correspondence and other phonemic aspects of reading. But, the amount and form of that attention, how it is balanced with other aspects of reading and learning to read such as motivation, and how it might deal with the orthographic irregularities of English spelling, cannot be reduced to a single, narrow, unquestioned approach. In particular, we worry that such a narrow view might divert teachers from attending to other scientifically based facets of good literacy pedagogy, such as attention to oral language, knowledge acquisition, motivation and self-efficacy, and sheer exposure to print. Again, such issues, in one form or another, have periodically blossomed into public controversies across decades and are often nurtured among the general public by shallow or misleading media reports such as the NewsHour’s segment.

We are also dismayed that the NewsHour segment implicitly questioned, even if unintentionally, the professionalism of teachers and American schools in regard to teaching reading. It was suggested that teachers were ignorant of or resistant to the scientific certainty of dyslexia and how reading can be effectively taught, not only to those children diagnosed with dyslexia, but to all children. Beyond the absence of such certainty, as we have explained above, the segment unfairly provided no opportunity for a rebuttal from qualified representatives of those groups. They could have pointed to a complementary body of scientific research that supports alternative explanations of reading difficulties and instructional approaches that have been shown to be effective for a wide range of students with reading difficulties. That lack of balance was exacerbated when the segment included emotional comments about how children’s needs were not being met...


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Music Interlude - Bach

From the website of Helene Schulthess

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 for Organ by J. S. Bach.

Composition date unknown. There are some suggestions that the piece wasn't written for organ...and that it wasn't written by Bach at all. No original manuscripts have been found.

See Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's All About Growth


One of my favorite bloggers, Peter Greene, is on his second set of children...his older children are in their thirties and he is the father of twin babies. It's normal, I think, that we look back at our lives with a certain amount of nostalgia and Greene does this in a beautiful and thoughtful way in his post, Parenting Is All About Losing.
My wife asked me the other day, "Is it always like this?" We had turned around and had one of those moments when you realize that your baby looks like a small child, an undersized person, but not an infant any more. It's a truly mixed moment emotionally, one part pride and joy at how big your child has grown, and one part sadness and loss because there was an infant just here a moment ago and now that tiniest person is gone forever.
There are conflicting emotions accompanying our children's growth...
Not that it's all loss and sadness. Every stage of my older children's lives was the best so far, the best until the next new stage revealed itself to be even better. They get stronger and wiser and more terribly beautiful each time. It would never be enough to try to hold them back, to trade the unnatural prolonging of one stage for an unrealized better stage to come. Not that some parents don't panic and try some emotional equivalent of binding their children's legs so they won't learn to walk or run. It never works. Children were born to grow, and grow they will, with or without our help.
So, he acknowledges that the emotions are conflicted and there are some good aspects to those changes, yet he titles his piece Parenting Is All About Losing, perhaps unconsciously emphasizing the negative.

I'd like to, respectfully, turn that around, and focus on the positive. Parenting is all about growing...for the parent and the child.


My first thoughts on reading his post brought me to Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
We can't go back, but we can watch our children grow. One stage is over and the next one appears without fanfare until we realize we're seeing a new version of our child (and, I would add, ourselves). We never noticed the change until it was upon us.

There's some comfort that we're repeating the growth that our own parents experienced as we watch our children grow from childhood to adulthood. Greene recognizes this when he thinks about his own adult children.
...it is an unspeakably great big warm ball of blasting sunshine to experience your children as grown humans, fully themselves and making their way in the world.
At this point, however, he returns to "the losing."

I wouldn't. As I have seen my own children become "grown humans, fully themselves and making their way in the world" I would prefer to reflect on the ways we have grown together. They have, without doubt, taught me as much as I have taught them. I have grown as much as they have. There's nostalgia in the past, but as Joni Mitchell put it,
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
The positive side is that things can get better and there are plenty of new dreams, no matter how old I get. Some of those new dreams are trivial, like seeing the latest season of Star Trek, and hoping that the Cubs will win another World Series in less than 108 years. Other dreams, though, are profound...and remarkable, like hearing my great-grandchild learn to talk, and seeing my children and grandchildren work to make a better world.


As educators, we see the same pattern. Greene writes,
Teachers go through the cycle of loss, too...
I always experienced a sense of sadness at the end of the school year and I had to say goodbye to my students -- even the difficult-to-teach ones. When teachers look back at a year filled with 20 - 30 human children we see the growth they made and feel that same sort of nostalgic joy and sorrow. We see a different version in June of the child who entered our class the previous fall.

Spending six-plus hours a day together, for five days a week, and thirty-six weeks is an intense experience that non-teachers might not be aware of. The relationship between a teacher and her students is more than just an adult exchanging information with a child. It's more than just teach and test. There's a relationship which develops that goes both ways...a deep understanding of who the person is on the other end of the pencil. (If you don't understand this relationship or have never experienced it, read through Beverly Cleary's classic Ramona the Pest. The relationship between Ramona and her teacher, Miss Binney, should be explanation enough.)

Our growth as teachers, though, should be positive, too. Yes, it's sometimes sad and hard to watch students move on with their lives...and often we never know how their lives progressed. Still, we have to trust that the growth is positive...for us and for them.

A few years ago I wrote a post about meeting a former student. We talked about the experiences we shared when she was eight and nine years old. I wrote,
She didn't thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn't thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn't thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.

There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – living, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects of the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.

No test can ever measure that.
Teachers don't always know how they affect a student's life. I have been lucky to meet a few former students and learn that I had a positive impact on their lives, but that doesn't always happen. We have to do our best and hope that we provide more positive than negative. Building good relationships helps ensure that the balance will lean more toward the positive. In the process of building those relationships, the positive impact will land upon the teacher as well. Teachers and their students, both, are part of each other's circle game...


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ten Thoughts on Teacher Appreciation