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News Update: Sexism in the Classroom

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This past February, Danielle Kurtzleben’s article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences,” appeared in Vox, speaking to some very important and, tragically, very widespread misconceptions regarding the gender “math gap” in education. According to Kurtzleben:

“A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that something else might be at work here shaping the supposed ‘choices’ girls and women make. It shows that young girls’ teachers have biases that push girls away from math and science early on, which could be influencing where they go later in life.

Economists Victor Lavy from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and Edith Sand from Israel’s Tel Aviv University looked at Tel Aviv sixth graders’ test scores both on standardized tests and internal tests in Hebrew, English, and math.”

In this research, Lavy and Sand tested to see if there was any difference in test scores if the ones responsible for grading the tests knew or did not know the test-takers’ gender. Their results clearly suggest the existence of a “systematic bias against girls in the marking of math exams.” And as Lavy and Sand followed their sixth-graders through the eighth grade and high school, they found that “those early teacher biases led to significant improvements on the later math exams for boys and negative and significant effects in math for girls.”

Of course, as Kurtzleben also points out, “this is a working paper, meaning its results are preliminary, and it studied students in a different culture and school system, so we can’t assume US students would see the exact same magnitudes of effects” (emphasis added). However, what’s most important about this research now, as Kurtzleben explains, is that it shows how powerfully “socialization takes hold early on” as well as showcases

“the power of biases — discourage a child from pursuing a subject, and she will, years later, later perform worse on that subject (encourage her, meanwhile, and she’ll do better). So when you discourage a whole swath of the population from pursuing high-paying fields, all those people will be much more likely to have lower-paying jobs.”

What does this mean for us in the here and now? What does it mean for us as parents, teachers, and/or fellow students? It means constantly interrogating ourselves and our assumptions. It means asking ourselves hard questions before we hand back that test or agree with our daughters that Yeah, math really is boring or Yeah, math is super hard, when we might be telling our sons, Yeah, but you can do it or Yeah, but you want to be a marine biologist one day, don’t you? The insidious evil of sexism is that you can sometimes be adding to the problem and perpetuating old sins without ever realizing it or meaning to.

This is a trend and social failing that should both greatly concern and anger you, for your sake as well as for the rest of the world’s. After all, as Kurtzleben so well explains:

“This isn’t just a problem for women; it’s a problem for society. This study suggests that girls were just as capable as boys at math at the start of the observation period, but they were slowly pushed away from math. To diminish an entire demographic’s talent at once is to squander their potential productivity, and economic growth.”

If we want to one day live in a better, more just, more equitable, and more peaceful world, then there’s really no better or easier place to start than right at home with the editing, improving, and monitoring of our own attitudes, perspectives, and actions. The hard truth is, we will only have justice and equality for all when we begin treating others justly and equitably.

 

All quotes and facts here were drawn from Danielle Kurtzleben’s Vox article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences.”

SAMPLE: Lesson Plan and Why it works :)

Thank you for sharing this, Learning with Alison!

For teachers, professors, and tutors, learning to change tactics when a lesson isn’t working out as planned is an incredibly important skill. This is a challenge that many teachers face in their efforts to best reach and support students.

Having the ability to take extra time to consider a teacher’s points and ask questions in an environment safe from humiliation and fears of shame, is vital for yet often denied many students. Such freedoms not only enable students to better explore a concept and commit said concept to memory, but can also empower students to become more involved in their own learning process and to feel more comfortable actively engaging with future lessons.

Another example of teachers taking such challenges in stride can be found at Georgetown, TX’s Southwestern University. Right now at Southwestern, professors like Dr. Emily Niemeyer (Chemistry) are engaging in what’s known as “Flipping the Classroom”. While Southwestern’s professors still often utilize and appreciate the traditional lecture format, “Flipping the Classroom” is a teaching method founded on learning through practice rather than learning through listening. According to the Southwestern Newsroom,

“While there are many variations of the flipped classroom, the most common one is one in which what used to be classwork (i.e. lectures) is done before students come to class by means of teacher-created videos. And what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class − either with the professor or among the students themselves.”

I am thrilled to see such innovations coming to Southwestern’s classrooms, and can’t wait to hear about their resulting challenges and successes!

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Learning with Alison (ali)

What is “Higher Order Thinking” that is all the rage to chat about and to “enforce” (word chosen deliberately) but that many parents and students question is actually taking place?

As educators we read a lot about “asking open-ended questions” – HR personnel would be given the same advice. What then might it mean to truly encourage a student to move beyond the basics and to begin the process of not merely placing an opinion into an essay in the right spot (close to the end of paragraph 1- so the directions tell) but to actually have an opinion beyond -“it was good” or  “I didn’t like it”?

Thinking is work- even when the thoughts are pleasurable.  Our brains require a form of question response stimulus to actively be engaged, curious and participatory.  Long a proponent of enrichment for everyone I was recently asked about how enrichment and gifted education…

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Maker Movement in Classrooms?

First, I’d like to thank My School of Thought for posting such an excellent article on The Maker Movement. As a tutor and “maker” myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled by the take-off of this movement and am very hopeful for the future of our classrooms knowing that more and more teachers are beginning to incorporate more opportunities for students to build, explore, and engage with the materials they’re learning in new ways.

Just take Allen High School’s Blu Bistro, for example. When I was a student of AHS (I can’t believe how many years ago now that was!), cooking classes were basically nonexistent, but were in the works as a possible future extracurricular option for students. And now? Now AHS’ student chefs are not only serving restaurant-quality food of their own making to Allen community residents, but they’re also competing in kitchens across the state of Texas (in both cooking and restaurant management) including in the 2013 Texas Pro-Start Invitational state finals wherein dishes were judged by “members of the Texas Restaurant Association and chefs from culinary schools such as Le Cordon Bleu and The Culinary Institute of America” (Wendy Gragg, Waco Trib). These students are learning to be Makers of a different kind than the Engineering students we’ve started hearing so much about, but they’re Makers just the same. It’s in the art of being a producer that students can often start finding new interests and motivations for themselves to learn and become more active consumers.

As Dale Dougherty, editor of Make Magazine, explains in My School of Thought’s post, “…I want people to see themselves as producers, not just consumers. I’d like to see it become a capability that we use in home life and at work and that we’re proud of it, where we see ourselves as having these powers to do stuff.” I couldn’t agree more. Being a consumer, while fun, challenging, and interesting in its own right, is often today conflated with being more passive whereas being a producer seems to naturally mean being more active and invested in the product itself. But this does not always have to be the case. Rather, by encouraging children and friends to be more active producers, we can help them and ourselves become more active consumers as well.

We often see this in English courses where some students can have trouble getting interested in assigned readings yet leap at the opportunity presented by a creative writing project. Why is this? It isn’t because students are inherently lazy or come out of the womb not enjoying to read or don’t understand the connection between writing and reading — loving reading, loving science, loving learning (loving being a consumer of knowledge) are all things that must be taught and demonstrated for children from an early age. How can you be a creative writer without also learning to love and actively engage in the process of reading — in the process of consuming written materials? How can you be a builder without also learning to love and actively consume the necessary mathematics and scientific principles?

The answer is simply that you cannot — but you can sometimes begin as a producer and so work your way into becoming a more active consumer.

These two identities, these two ways of learning — producing and consuming — feed into each other in a natural cycle. So who’s to say that you need to have one first before the other can follow? Why not let kids try their hand at building or writing or cooking something before they’ve learned all the elemental pieces? — It might just be the kick-in-the-pants they need to start asking questions, to realize what might be out there for them to learn from the cookbooks, mathematicians, and libraries. And the best part is, if the students are the ones asking and seeking answers to their own questions, then they’re also learning to consume knowledge within a useful context and in a more active manner; they’re learning to consume and apply knowledge for a purpose, rather than simply memorizing facts because a school or standardized test demanded it (which can often lead to those facts seeming disjointed and useless). Learning information for a purpose or as part of a larger narrative of questions and exploration can often be key to that information being retained and applied in new ways. Our children learn from us — their mentors, parents, and teachers — what it means to have fun in one’s leisure time. If we spend all of our leisure time watching TV, then that’s what they, our children, will associate with down-time rather than more active and mind-engaging activities like reading, building, writing, or exploring.

And this is why we can’t leave the Maker Movement up solely to our schools and teachers. If we want our children to be more enthusiastic creators and more active consumers, then we must model this behavior for them and become more active and interested ourselves. This can be as simple as swapping out a night of television for a night of reading or puzzle-piecing or fort-building or creative writing or cooking or gardening or scavenger-hunting.

It can be as easy as learning to have fun with each other again.

How to Support Your Kindergartener’s Education

Kindergarten is an exciting time for everyone – little kids are getting their first taste of Big Kid School and parents are getting their first taste of full days to themselves and their own work again. But even kindergarteners need support for them to keep up and keep interested in their budding educational lives.

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So, how do you support kids this young without overwhelming both them and yourself?

  • A great starting place is to get to know their teacher(s) as best you can. Understanding where their teacher(s) is coming from and what they’ll be assigning can give you a real leg-up when it comes to time management and helping your kids triumph over homework.
  • Be certain to know how your child is performing in comparison to the rest of his or her class. If your child is falling behind, don’t delay in getting them involved in some extra tutoring. There’s a lot for a kindergartener to handle at this age, learning not only new social skills and rules, but new academic knowledge and skills as well. It’s thus important for a child’s self-esteem and skills development that they generally keep pace with their classmates.
  • Another great starting place is to establish habits and patterns of homework/reading time with your kids (at the kindergarten level, of course, “homework” should really only take about ten solid minutes of concentration). Make it clear when it’s study time and when it’s not. When you’ve got that free half hour or hour to sit down with kids and talk with them about what they’re learning, make sure they know precisely what that time is for every single day. This way, homework/reading/discussion time isn’t something “extra” that they have to sit through each day; instead, it’s another scheduled, expected part of their day just like lunch, school, and recess.
  • Know when your child is struggling with something and keep in a friendly, open dialogue with their teachers regarding this and all related developments (though also be careful not to helicopter or overwhelm teachers as this can often shut down relationships before they’ve been built).
  • Nurture your child’s enthusiasm for learning outside of class. There are many terrific ways to do this. Kindergarten is only the very beginning of your child’s life of learning and discovery, so make sure they understand that education is more than just “work,” but that it can be fun, rewarding, exciting, and invigorating as well. So, start teaching by example!
    • Try reading with your kids regularly; playing educational games with them; taking them for walks where you introduce them to different road signs, colors, and conversations; playing board games; introducing them to new people; introducing them to scouts and other team activities; and/or taking them to museums, zoos, and aquariums.

And don’t forget to encourage your kids to take responsibility for themselves and to explore things for themselves, to ask questions, and to talk about new ideas. These kinds of conversations not only expose your children to more vocabulary words and ideas, but also help them develop important character traits such as curiosity, determination, and courage.

 

 

 

Summer Reading – Keep Reading Fun!

Unfortunately for many students, summer reading often sounds boring. Similarly, for many parents, it can sound like a distant dream—something they wish they had time for but believe they no longer do. The truth, though, is simply that we’ve stopped trying to teach our kids that reading can, in fact, be fun, and that we’ve simply stopped trying to make time for reading for ourselves. Reading isn’t something that just spontaneously happens; you have to make a choice. Do I watch this TV show or pick up a book/magazine/article/newspaper? And it’s high time we started thinking more about just these kinds of everyday choices and opportunities, because it’s you and your example that your kids will look to in order to learn what relaxation, fun, and learning can look like.

Tips for making Summer Reading happen:

• Set aside blocks of time each day for reading, such as a half hour in the morning with breakfast and a half hour at night before bed, and turn off all electronics during this time to reinforce the effort (yes, that means cellphones too).

• Pick out a variety of reading materials to choose from and have handy for each month—try a new novel, a new book of short stories, of poetry, and try a new magazine (Orion, The New Yorker, Harper’s—all of these and many like them are filled with long-form journalism, short fiction, book reviews, and often poetry as well). Having a variety of materials available in different genres and styles will help you to keep moving in case you find yourself bored or dissatisfied with your initial reading choice.

• Make sure that you set aside some reading times where you can be surrounded by other readers. This can often help motivate everyone involved to keep reading past any initial feelings of itchiness or wanting to give up. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share and discuss what they’re reading with each other. Discussing works as you read them can both help you to better retain the information you read as well as help make reading more fun and meaningful for all.

•If you pick up a novel, establish a set number of pages you must read before deciding to continue or give up on the text. After all, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before the plot and characters have a chance to whisk you away. (I’d recommend making 75-100 pages as your benchmark.)

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• Challenge yourself and your reading friends (whether they be friends or family) to step outside of comfort zones—try reading things that seem “too hard”; try exploring a new genre; try an author you’ve never heard of; try reading from a female author if you typically read books by male authors (and vice versa); and so forth

• Set up a Book Club with your friends and use it as a means of not only upping your game as a reader but also as a friend, educator, and host

• Get out and read somewhere unexpected! Reading doesn’t just have to be a home-bound activity. Go out and read in a coffee shop, library, restaurant, or park area. If you have a front stoop or porch, read out there and wave to your neighbors as they stroll by. If you haven’t been out on a date with your loved one in a while, why not propose a reading date to your favorite local hang-out or bar? Just you, your partner, a couple of books, desserts, coffee, and a lot of fascinating, engaged discussion–sounds like summertime to me!

 

Reading isn’t something to be afraid of, intimidated by, or to feel guilty about. Reading is a way to exercise your mind, give yourself a break, and reconnect with friends, family, self, and the world.

Using Summertime Wisely (Without Spoiling All the Fun)

Around April and May, people often start talking about summer “brain drain” and learning loss, losses that can be as great as—at least the popular measure tends to be—2 to 3 months of school-learning. However, this isn’t something that students are powerless to prevent, change, or reverse. We’ve all experienced it for ourselves before, whether there was that one summer that seemed to simply disappear without ever having existed at all or that summer where mishap after mishap seemed to just keep tugging away at our every best intention to read, learn a new language, and so forth and so forth.

For many, summer “brain drain” can also be exacerbated by tough financial and domestic circumstances. According to some recent research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander, losses in academic achievement due to a lack of summer learning “often breaks down along social lines.” More specifically, this “summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in likelihood of pursuing a college preparatory path in high school.”

ImageBut summer learning loss doesn’t only impact students—it also carries consequences for their teachers and their peers. Regardless of what many teachers try to do during the April/May school months, they’ll often find themselves wasting time in August/September re-teaching students all of the things they’ve forgotten during the summer months.

According to a survey of 500 teachers conducted by the National Summer Learning Association, “when kids enter the classroom months behind in learning each fall, teachers are forced to waste time backtracking. Sixty-six percent of teachers polled reported that it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous years’ skills at the beginning of a new school year,” and as much as “24 percent said it takes them 5 weeks or more.” (Go here to read the full press release.)

No matter the reasons or a person’s circumstances, however, the infamous summer “brain drain” can often be prevented or reversed with the adoption of a few proactive (and often cost-free) habits and actions.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

For Parents:

  • Meet with your children’s teachers to discuss ideas and options with them regarding how to help prevent summer learning loss
  • Have a formal sit-down with your family to brainstorm ideas on fun ways to keep active and learning throughout the summer

o   Try taking your kids and some friends to your local library; demystify the library’s resources for them and show them just how useful and fun a library can be—providing not only books (which are awesome!) but also events, student extracurricular groups and activities, computer resources, textbook resources, and DVDs

o   Try serving as an example for your kids by reading in front of them and to them regularly (this can be supported by local libraries, but you can also show your kids that it’s not just novels that are important—you can improve your reading comprehension skills by also reading magazines, newspapers, and other publications (whether online or in print))

o   If you have the time and resources, try also planning an educational vacation together, such as to meet and learn about new peoples and cultures (like the Amish in Pennsylvania or the Gullah in the Carolinas)

o   If you have the time and resources, try visiting new museums, zoos, and aquariums, and then see who learned or can remember the most new facts by the end of the visit (maybe the winner gets to decide what the next family outing will be?)

  • What’s more, if you have the time and resources, investigate local options regarding summer learning, tutoring, and camp programs—many often have substantial price tags, but there are also those that run on scholarship programs (especially school-run summer camps; many of these have special options for students who require financial support in order to participate). Bear in mind, however, that while athletic camps are important and valuable, they are not the same as engaging in regular academic/educational activities such as reading

o   Some Texas Options:

For Teachers:

  • Organize a variety of meetings and opportunities for discussion with both students and parents (perhaps together and separately) wherein you brainstorm and provide ideas regarding summer learning and preparation
  • Prepare your students for the year ahead by teaming up with their future teachers to create summer reading lists and assignments aimed at keeping students engaged while giving them a leg up for the year ahead
  • Engage yourself in summer camps and learning programs that you can then advertise and help make more available to your current and future students
  • Advocate at your own school for more summer programming opportunities

For Students:

  • Talk with your parents, friends, and teachers about what groups, activities, camps, and tutoring you might be able to engage in for the upcoming summer
  • Think about what skills you most want to work on and develop for yourself over the summer (Art? Sports? Science? Spanish?)
  • Start your own group activity such as a Writing or Poetry Group, Book Club, Math Club, Art Club, etc.
  • Visit your local library often and set reading goals for yourself—try to find at least two new books (that you love!) per month
  • Try emailing or meeting with your teachers for the upcoming year and discussing with them what you might be able to do to keep on track and prepared for their coursework

 

Further Reading/Tips/Advice/Ideas:

  • Philip Elliott, “Summertime brain drain? Not for these kids, teachers,” The Seattle Times — Learn more about what some schools and teachers are doing during the summer to keep kids on-course for the coming school year while exploring new and innovative lesson plans and teaching tools

ADD & Education

DISCLAIMER: Tutoring 101 fully acknowledges that ADD and ADHD are real diseases that have real impacts and consequences on many people around the world. This post is meant in no way to insinuate that these diseases are “fake” or that people suffering from them should stop taking their medication. This post is intended to simply discuss the issues of over- and misdiagnosis; of understanding how to work with students who are entering the classroom at a variety of levels; and of recognizing the differences between creativity, teaching issues, and learning disabilities/dysfunctions.

 

A big question mark in many people’s minds today is the specter of ADD.

Students and teachers are coming together into a single classroom from a variety of backgrounds, from a variety of points in their lives, and with a variety of motives, goals, and assumptions. Because of this, it can be exceptionally difficult at times to adequately engage every student, to adequately appreciate and fulfill the needs of every teacher, and to accurately assess the performance of either party. Due to these difficulties, many have begun turning to things like ADD as a means of no longer having to accept blame or responsibility for said challenges or any resulting failures/issues.

Fellow blogger, Daryl Dominique, makes a particularly salient point regarding this in his post, “Attention Deficit Disorder & Education”:

“I very firmly believe that A.D.D and various other learning disorders are being used so education can blame its complete and utter inability to successfully educate to a variety of different learning styles on factors that they cannot control. Is there a student who can’t pay attention to the teacher reading from a textbook and is fidgeting or randomly doodling? Definitely A.D.D. How about a student who is always dismantling his/her pen or anything else near him/her instead of reading? Must be A.D.D right? The teacher is doing what they’re supposed to as a teacher, and the other students are learning, so therefore it’s his/her disability.

That drives me absolutely insane. A.D.D is an inability to pay attention, not an ability to selectively tone out their teachers. That ability to selectively tone them out is just because they’re not learning from what’s being done.”

In other words, as many teachers, parents, and students may agree, the expansiveness of the ADD epidemic in the U.S. is not simply due to a vast number of children being born with a new disease, but to a vast number of teachers, schools, and other social systems that are failing to educate larger and larger numbers of children across the country.

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Much of this problem can be avoided simply by parents having frank and honest conversations with their children, their children’s teachers, and their primary care doctors and pediatricians. After this, if it is determined that ADD is not the problem (if your students are even having problems/struggles in the first place), parents still have plenty of avenues for helping their students meet their creative and unique learning needs, whether through requesting new/different teachers, seeking out professional tutoring for their children, moving their children to a new school entirely, or so on, and so on, and so on. There are also plenty of cases wherein children simply need a change of habits or hobbies in order to help them improve their education and academic performance:

  • Exercising more can help burn off endorphins, and thus help children have an easier time of concentrating when they sit down to schoolwork
  • Work in smaller increments, and recognize that you (like everyone) have to work hard to make yourself concentrate—seeking out distractions is natural, and not always a sign of some larger problem (and, frankly, isn’t even always a bad or detrimental thing to begin with)
  • When sitting down to do homework, try removing distractions such as music, talkative friends or family, televisions, cellphones, and computers

Long story short? Don’t go jumping to conclusions one way or another, however tempting that may be. These issues, like the children and families they affect, are full of nuance, and the detailed, nit-picky nature of Nuance always requires a wide-open mind and a willingness to speak openly and honestly with others.

Want more?

-Talk with your child’s teachers

-Talk with parent-friends

-Talk with your child’s doctor

Also, check out Rafael Casal’s Slam Poem dedicated to the issues of over and/or wrongfully diagnosing children with ADD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-2UnriOjVE

(Casal’s performance is definitely worth the time!)