Come read with me and be my Drone
Come read with me and be my Drone
And we will make Common Core our own
That corporate precepts rule our field,
And all the stubborn students yield.
There will we stand with methods right
And Global Economy skills ignite,
Forsake shallow rivers, at whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
Now will I give thee Danielson rubrics
And a thousand checkmarks therapeutic.
The warning of Needs Improvement
Squashes well any labor movement.
A plan must follow the Bill Gates dollar
Which you’ll wear as pretty dog collar,
Forswear student self-selected reading
And follow the rules of Coleman inbreeding.
A plan to follow every day
In the Ed Industrial squeeze play
And for these plans to make your own,
Come read with me and be my Drone.
My silver fixes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.
The corporate swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each school morning:
If these delights in thy mind have shone,
Then read with me and be my Clone.
In Praise of Particularity: A Manifesto
Abstract: Provoked by the need to denounce summer reading packets claiming to hold kids accountable, I found myself thinking about my third grade students, and that, of course, led to Jack Prelutsky as an informational writer.
It didn’t take the Common Core imperative to make me antagonistic to education solutions. I think I subscribe to ReadWorks.org: The Solution to Reading Comprehension simply because of their audacity of putting The Solution in their name.
No I won’t go into a rant about another group that had the Final Solution but for me the word is forever tainted and I look at anybody who uses it with great suspicion. Of course, I have to concede that no organization looking for funders like this would consider Reading Suggestions as its moniker.
There are no rules
Oliver Sacks offers this conclusion at the end of his memoir, On the Move: A Life:
There are no rules, there is no prescribed path. . . .[W]e are destined, whether we wish it or not, to a life of particularity and self-development, to make our own individual paths through life.
For me this is what good teaching is about: A life of particularity. Particular, individual kids experimenting to find their own particular, individual solutions.
With a tolerance for missteps along the way. Teaching and learning are about figuring out how to deal with missteps and move on.
Right now, ReadWorks.org The Solution to Reading Comprehension is trying to convince teachers to send home reading packets for summer reading. We are told this about the content:
The difficulty of the texts is based on the TExT model developed by the ReadWorks academic advisor Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert Ph.D. This model uses research to identify the words and phonics knowledge that students need to succeed at particular grade levels. These critical words are repeated often in SummerReads.Summer Hell
And here’s the pitch from ReadWorks.org:
Dear 2nd, 3rd and 4th Grade Teachers,
Summer is almost here!
Don’t let your rising 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students lose all the reading gains they’ve made this year. Send them on their vacations with SummerReads, texts designed to prevent the summer slump in reading performance.
SummerReads are written at accessible levels for students entering 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade and cover engaging topics related to summer. Each is ready for student use, complete with guidelines on how to use it, comprehension questions, and a place where students can keep records of their reading. Let your students pick and choose their topics, or print the entire packet.
It is important that students are held accountable for their summer reading, so many teachers like to check in with former students at the beginning of the year or coordinate with next year’s teacher.
SummerReads were generously shared by our friends at TextProject.org.
The ReadWorks Team
Packets are available for 2nd graders going into third through 4th graders going into 5th. Each grade gets seven nonfiction passages billed as “informational text.” I don’t need to tell you where that comes from.
Show me the non-informational text.
Here is the table of contents from one text for children getting ready for 4th grade:
Table of Contents
Growing Melons 4
Kinds of Melons 5
Fun with Melons 6
Rate your thinking and reading 7
Comprehension questions 7
Yes, for each grade level, each text set is seven pages long and includes five pictures in full color.
Math Question: How much would it cost to print seven text sets for a class of twenty-five students?
Misery Question: How much fun time skateboarding, climbing trees, cooking–and reading real books–will kids have to forfeit? How much family agony will result from Mom and Dad nagging kids into slogging through the 49 pages?
I hope that no teacher will send this material home with children. If it does enter a student’s home, I hope parents will toss it where it belongs–in the trash–and take their kids to the library.
The people who produce this offal are divided into: Team,which includes two staff writers who produce very institutional-looking material; Academic Advisers; a Board of Directors with lot of LLC and LLP after their organization names; Technology and Content Advisors , whose “connections” are interesting as well as alarming (including principal investor in Twitter).
Here are the funders who back this message It is important that students are held accountable for their summer reading.
Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education
Frances L. & Edwin L. Cummings Memorial Fund
Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust
Leon Lowenstein Foundation, Inc.
NewSchools Venture Fund
Smith Richardson Foundation
Tsunami Foundation – Anson and Debra Beard, Jr. and Family
I’d like to tell these big pocket funders that to prevent the “summer reading slump,” kids need:
a library card
- a family earning a living wage
ReadWorks.org makes a pitch about holding kids accountable, when what we people looking for accountability need to do is look in the mirror. As a society, we need to be accountable for providing all children with ready access to lots of books.
Lots of books that they choose for themselves.
Instead of sending kids home with 49 pages of artificial text adhering to a readability formula and accompanied by low-level recall questions, the above funders should sponsor backpacks filled with free books of the children’s choice.
I can testify from first-hand experience that children make good choices when given the chance. When I won a Scholastic contest giving me 100 free books, the company sent me a list of “programs” I could choose from.
“No,” I said. “My third graders and I are going to choose from the catalogue–one book at a time.”
My students, segregated as the 20 worst readers in our school’s third grade, kids whose official emotional and learning difficulties stretched longer than my arm, just about wore out that catalogue examining titles, arguing over which to order. Each child was given three picks: two for himself and one for the classroom library. I chose the rest. I had inspired/encouraged/browbeat those kids who started the year as “rotten readers” (Dick Allington’s very accurate term) to start each class day with silent reading–books of their own choice. They fought hard against this plan at first but by January they were complaining when I called a halt to silent reading at the end of an hour.
Yes, an hour. And invariably when I bring this up in talks, teachers ask, “But if they spent an hour in silent reading, when did you teach?”
I haven’t yet inflicted any wounds on people asking this question.
Discovering Amelia Bedelia
Jennifer discovered Amelia in December. By that time the children’s period of independent silent reading had extended from the initial torturous time of five minutes to forty minutes which I’d call obedient but certainly not enthusiastic. Yes, I read, too, and my principal learned he could not stop by for a chat during this sacred time.
I knew the instant Jennifer discovered something startling in Amelia Bedelia. Her eyes opened wide; she turned back a page and read it again, mouthing each word. Then she giggled and looked up at me. I nodded and winked. She grinned an nudged Sophie, showing her the page. Then David demanded to see what was so funny, and before he realized what was happening, David, the boy who whined the loudest every single morning, “I hate reading!” was enjoying a book. Before long, 20 rotten readers were scrambling to get their names on a waiting list for, of all things, a book. Then Jesse discovered that there were more Amelias in the library, and we had an Amelia celebration.
It was a celebration of reading. We didn’t use the book as an excuse to do something else. I didn’t interrogate them about main idea; they didn’t make puppets. Each book was an inspiration to read another book. I was appalled a few years later to discover Amelia in a basal. The accompanying teacher’s manual carefully listed the objectives to be taught with the story, including:
decode words based on the spelling pattern generalization that a vowel letter followed by a consonant and final e represents a glided (or long) vowel sound.
Never mind that research shows that the final e rule holds true no more than 53% of the time.
What we need to remember is that “the skills” are in the reading and are acquired by reading and more reading, not by doing worksheets.
Now, in the name of Common Core rigor, Amelia Bedelia’s First Field Trip is moved to the fourth week of kindergarten, where they spend three days in a close reading of the story.
The teacher reads the story aloud and then asks 27 questions.
Then comes the Culminating Assignment:
Read, Think, Discuss, Write
1. Think about the story, Amelia Bedelia. Turn to your partner and tell something new that you learned.
Now turn to your partner and tell your favorite part of the story.
Discuss the things that Amelia’s class experienced in order. (Use the powerpoint as a source of information if necessary.)
Have each student to draw a picture of their favorite part. Encourage the students to write about their favorite part of the story.
2. Compare and Contrast Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip and Amelia Bedelia’s First Field Trip: Name of Story, Transportation, Setting, Characters, Activities During Field Trip.
1. Ask a student to volunteer to be traced on brown butcher paper. This will now be Amelia Bedelia.
In groups make clothes for Amelia Bedelia.
Retell the story to Amelia Bedelia.
2. Have each student identify something new they learned. Draw a picture of this new knowledge.
For one dollar ($1), one can buy a Common Core Character Map for Amelia Bedelia
This PDF file is a character map that allows students to demonstrate the characteristics of Amelia Bedelia and practice using quotation marks in their writing. This activity focuses on Common Core Standard RL 3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring to the explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. This can be used as individual assessment or at a literacy work station to accompany the book Amelia Bedelia.
Everyone in the education universe seems to have jumped on making Amelia Bedelia Common Core-operative. Here’s NCTE and IRA in Read Write Think:
Amelia Bedelia Up Close! Closely Reading a Classic Story
With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and its emphasis on complex texts, students need opportunities to read closely and engage in deep thinking. After reading Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, students discuss text-dependent questions to promote an understanding of the story’s character. Through subsequent readings, they construct and support arguments concerning the character traits of Amelia Bedelia and use the text to determine how Amelia Bedelia and the Rogers can have different reactions to the same events. After these discussions, students demonstrate their understanding of character by completing a trading card for Amelia Bedelia.
Trading Card Creator: When using this resource, students answer questions about a character in their text, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding of how the character develops throughout the story.
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish: Amelia Bedelia is the focus text for this close reading due to its qualitative complexity, which is the result of its use of words with multiple meanings, requiring students to use their prior knowledge to understand the content. . . .
There’s more. . . and more. . .
Enter “Amelia Bedelia” and “Common Core” into an Internet search and you’ll discover how much horror you can stand.
Meanwhile, back with my third graders for whom Amelia Bedelia was the spark that created both individual readers and a reading community. . . .
Third Graders Choose
By Spring, when I handed my students the Scholastic catalogue, they were ready for it. They consulted each other; they worried over/argued over their picks for more than a week. And their choices were stellar.
I’d put my third graders up against any book selection committee in the country.
Note that at the core of ReadWorks offerings is this promise:
This model uses research to identify the words and phonics knowledge that students need to succeed at particular grade levels. These critical words are repeated often in SummerReads.
This is the corporate version of particularity: The critical words for success at particular grade levels. I can see future teacher exams: Name the words 3rd graders need for success!
In rebuttal, I offer Jack Prelutsky, another third grade favorite. David, mentioned above as the kid who was louder than anybody else about how much he hated reading, hid Prelutsky books so he could always access them. David wrote Jack a letter–and received a personal, handwritten reply that reverberated in the community. But that’s another story. . . .
Take a look at a few “critical words” from Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast by Jack Prelutsky:
Coelophysis was a hunter. . .
and its legs were fast and strong.
Coelophysis chewed on lizards,
Coelophysis swallowed ants,
Coelophysis gnawed on mammals,
but it never dined on plants. . . .
Coelophysis was a bipedal, carnivorous, theropod dinosaur that was a fast and agile runner.
As if you needed proof that Jack Prelutsky is a great writer of informational text who captures kids’ interest and enthusiasm without resorting to syllable-counting formulas.
Of course, plenty of my third graders didn’t give a fig about dinosaurs. They found their reading fun–and information–in a multitude of other books.
Particularity makes the world go round
As a coda, I commend Arnold Lobel’s lovely little fable, “The Crocodile in the Bedroom” (in Fables) to the teacher who feels she must be in control–of the skills, the books, and the children:
A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the wallpaper in his bedroom was coaxed outside in the garden by his wife, who invited him to smell the roses and the lilies of the valley.
“Great heavens!” cried the crocodile. “The flowers and leaves in this garden are growing in a terrible tangle! They are all scattered!
They are messy and entwined!” Whereupon he went back to his room, seldom laving his bed.
He stared at the neat and tidy rows of flowers on the wallpaper and “he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green.”
I entreat teachers to remember that Lobel’s moral, Without a doubt,there is such a thing as too much order, applies as much to school curriculum as it does to wallpaper. I think it goes hand-in-hand with Oliver Sacks’ worldview:
[W]e are destined, whether we wish it or not, to a life of particularity and self-development, to make our own individual paths through life.
— On the Move: A Life
FOOTNOTE: 15 minutes after I posted this commentary, John Merrow sent out his list of Good Stuff. Here’s what he said about ReadWorks:
Speaking of reading, Readworks is a wonderful resource for teachers who want their students to become better readers. (That’s just about every teacher I’ve ever met.)
The list hits my rage button on too many things to mention.
— Susan Ohanian
May 13, 2015
That warning comes from a Wall Street Journal on airline safety, March 21,2019
When will the press recognize this fact about school policy–and pass the info on to the public?
A teacher gains more insight into a child’s thinking from a dinosaur riddle than from 10,000 standardized test printouts. But I remember what happened in the late 1980s when the Business Roundtable joined hands with governors to pursue a school excellence agenda. Instead of pointing out that those emperors of excellence were naked, NCTE started selling “excellence” sweatshirts. We don’t yet have “Rasise Test Scores or Die coffee mugs and bumper stickers, but the Chicago AFT accepted a contract that leaves 80% of the public schools without libraries. Over 90% of children in the Chicago schools are children living in poverty.
Here are the slogans I want on my T-shirts and coffee mugs–and in every public school in the country:
- Invite Kindergartners to Play
- Joke-Lopedia Reveals Skill Mastery
- Amelia Bedelia is a critical Rite of Passage
- Exempt 4th Graders from the Global Economy
- Protect 5th Graders from Homework
- Listen to 7th graders
- Tell Bill Gates to Fix Windows and Leave Schools Alone
- Give Kids a Chance: Guaranteed Adequate Income for All
Weasel words not only lie; day by day, they harm children.
- all students
- skills systematically developed
- measure student learning
- scientifically-based research
- scientific methods
- proven education methods
- rapid, evidence-driven progress
- clear, honest, bold data
- you can’t manage what you don’t measure
- schools, just like any business
- highly effective
- stronger accountability for results
- clinical settings/practice
- enriched career advancement structures
- competitive compensation structures
- reward positive results
- highly qualified teacher
- preparing students for 21st century/ for global economy
- the knowledge supply chain
- education as struggle/battle/war/
- education reform
My Fight with the New York Times
12/9/10. 6:45 p.m. From New York Times to Susan Ohanian: We are putting together a discussion on our online opinion forum, Room for Debate, about stress among high school students. These discussions are meant to be mini op-eds (about 300 words by a variety of experts addressing a specific question.
Here’s the question: A new documentary, “Race to Nowhere,” is hitting a nerve among parents across the country who are worried about the levels of stress that their school-age children are experiencing: What can schools — and parents — do to turn down the heat?
12/10 7:53 a.m. Room for Debate submission by Susan Ohanian
“Race to Nowhere” accurately portrays the heartbreaking stress schools place on children. The fear of “not being good enough” now begins with standardized requirements for Pre-K. Although the Times review emphasized the pressure felt by suburban students preparing their resumes for the Ivy League, a Vermont high schooler with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) wrote six pages of expletives on his federally-required test.
You f_ _ _ ing a_ _holes. I have been taking these f_ _ _ing tests since first grade and I am f_ _ _ing sick of it. I know I can’t spell. You know I can’t spell. I have more important things to do than this bulls_ _ _ test. . . . This is a f_ _ _ing waste of time. You could spend this time teaching me something.
Suspended for inappropriate behavior, this youth missed out on the lumberjack test he’d planned to take the next day. The state of Vermont owes him an apology for going along with federal mandates insisting that one size fits all.
The pressure will get worse. The US Department of Education bribed states to accept Common Core Standards and has dished out over $300 million for tests to accompany these standards. Wordsworth and Jane Austen for all.
We need artists, bakers, lumberjacks, manicurists, welders, and yurt builders, as well as people who study math and science in college. Let’s respect the variety of skills needed in our communities”and make sure everyone receives a decent wage. Talking about “Race to Nowhere” is a good place to start.
Editorial Process: The Expletive Problem
1:35 p.m. New York Times to Susan: Unfortunately, I can’t use your anecdote about the Vermont kid, so I’ve tried to rework the piece to make your point.
Edit: And although reviews of the film have emphasized the pressure felt by suburban students preparing their resumes for the Ivy League, they aren’t the only ones affected by this obsession with standardized testing. What about the high school student who doesn’t want to go to college, who would like to be a lumberjack? Or what about the kid who would rather be taking his truck driver’s exam than being forced to sit through another standardized test — the ones he’s been taking year after year since first grade? OR SOME SUCH
2:33 p.m. Susan to NY Times: I “fixed” the expletive problem. I guess I can understand that a family newspaper has certain issues, though I know that the student’s words pull at heartstrings. I read them at my Bank Street College Biber Lecture this fall (They bill it as the annual lecture that sets the tone for the year).
Edit: And although reviews of the film have emphasized the pressure felt by suburban students preparing their resumes for the Ivy League, they aren’t the only ones affected by this obsession with standardized testing. What about the Vermont high school student who filled his test booklet with six pages of rage at the one-size-fits all test required by the federal government? When he was suspended for “inappropriate behavior,” he missed the lumberjack test he wanted to take. I get hundreds of similar stories at my website from desperate parents and grandparents.
3:49 NY Times Edit: What about the case of the Vermont high school student who filled his test booklet with six pages of rage at the one-size-fits all test required by the federal government? When he was suspended for “inappropriate behavior,” he missed the lumberjack test he wanted to take. The state of Vermont owes him an apology for going along with federal mandates that are a disservice to our children.
The Thomas Friedman Problem
Original Text: Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say “No!” to Barack Obama, to Thomas Friedman, to Ben Bernanke, to Oprah, and to everybody else who mouths nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.
1:35 New York Times Edit: Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say “No!” to everybody who mouths this nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.
2:33 p.m. Susan to NY Times: Why has this paragraph been stripped of content? Saying “everybody” doesn’t hold anyone responsible. Is one not allowed to criticize the influential people who mouth the global economy nonsense? I want the original paragraph back.
3:49 NY Times to Susan: Regarding your penultimate paragraph, our feeling is that it seems odd to blame such a large audience — celebrities, etc. — when the fault lies with the policymakers and education experts, so hopefully you’re okay with that tweak, which goes back to most of your original wording.
NY Times Edit: Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say “No!” to political leaders and education policy experts who mouth this nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.
7:17 p.m.: Susan to NY Times: I wrote a book called Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?, detailing why the fault most definitely does NOT lie with education experts. The current education policy was planned by the Business Roundtable with help from politicos like Gov. Bill Clinton and IBM chief Lou Gerstner. Obama has come late to the party, but he’s there. Thomas Friedman, for one, frequently orates about our economy depending on schoolchildren taking college prep curriculum. And his words are quoted by CEOs and politicos. I’m willing to take out Oprah, though every teacher would know why her name is there.
That was the end over the exchange. I did not hear from anyone at the New York Times again. A note on the editorial “we” (our feeling is…) Writing on language in the New York Times Magazine (Oct. 3, 2010), Ben Zimmer says it is unlike that Mark Twain ever made this remark often attributed to him: “Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.'”
I know that not one reader in 10,000 will understand the Friedman sentence. And of those who do understand it, not one in 100,000 will think I was right to destroy my chances of getting into the New York Times by insisting on it. After all, doesn’t getting our words into the New York Times validate us as genuinely important? The problem is that I happen to believe that op eds should increase public understanding of a fundamental issue, not just preach to the orthodoxy of those who already agree about some collateral damage. I wanted people to puzzle over why Friedman’s name is there. I hoped a few might even ask some questions. Most will think the New York Times won. Maybe so. But I think their victory would have been bigger had I gone along with the offer to remove that sentence.
- December 23, 2014