Rethinking Education


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

After reading Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richared Halverson, I am left with many more questions than answers. The following is a sample of my written notes from the margins of my copy. I highly recommend this book.

We have experienced the knowledge explosion. The dust settled. Can we evolve, adjust and survive?

Have computers extended the human mind beyond the limits of even the finest teachers?

Is technology disrupting local community building?

Are today’s schools mostly knowledge factories where one attempts to learn what “very esteemed thinkers” believe necessary to prosper?

Will we build schools that respect the students’ innate curiosity and need for solving real-life problems? Will we change only when we start losing our client base?

Will we create an environment where we celebrate failure as a sign of pure learning?

Will we allow students to roam freely between learning spaces? Will we trust students to take control of their own learning?

Can we create schools that create organizations and systems that enhance, rather than stifle, innovation?

Am I part of the problem?

Can we recognize and celebrate all that we are already doing to satisfy our students’ far-reaching demands?

Will we allow parents and students back into curriculum development and implementation?

Are we teaching all students successfully? Can we afford to let our students live a life of confinement until they leave high school?

Can we name and end the barriers of learning?

With improved educational leadership, can the need for classroom management be a thing of the past?

Can all teachers be allowed to inspire?

So many of my students are competitive, scared and lacking confidence. Am I allowing my kids to make the most of their time in the classroom?

Can we continue to teach curriculum that we know is out of sync with what students need to know?

Can we create a system that respects students right to question and investigate their own answers?

How much of my work day is bureaucracy of one form or the other?

Why is school attendance still compulsory? Why can’t kids learn from home?

Why are kids graded by age? Never, in the past year, have I been in a room filled with fellow forty-five year olds.

Why are teachers’ editions of textbooks still used in school?  Why is so much of the school day dedicated to tradition, behavior control and consistency?

How come students, parents and teachers do not write report cards collaboratively? Why aren’t all students on an Individualized Education Plan?

Why are Middle and High Schools such pressure cookers?

Can we accept that students are much more tech-savvy and more understanding of the adult world than we are wiling to believe?

Can we pay teachers to pursue their own personalized learning?

Can we allow for more project-based curriculum?

Can we accept that a culture of lifelong learning is what we all need to survive?

Can educational gaming and simulations become more of the day-to-day instruction and not a distraction to avoid at all costs?

Will alternative certificates and “badges” replace standard issue, high school diplomas?

Is High School already an anachronism?

Again, I urge all to read this book.  Your students will thank you.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology. New York and London: Teachers College Press


Image from Google Images

Making Language Learning Funner



Recently, I read Sandra Wilde’s Funner Grammar, Fresh Ways to Teach Usage, Language, and Writing Conventions, Grades 3-8. What a lovely little book. Wilde gives the teacher a rationale and respect in allowing for meaningful language study in the classroom. She spells out the fallacy of trying to use worksheets to teach grammar as “not only boring, but useless.” Instead, Wilde offers sound approaches to teaching the absorbing subject of linguistics.

What I love most about this book is the questions that Wilde asks. To wit: “Were your parents annoyed by anything about the way that you talked as a teenager?” “How many languages are there in the world?” “What is language?” What is the most complex language?” “The easiest?” “Will we all speak the same language someday?” These are far more perplexing and child-friendly than diagramming sentences.

I am also grateful for Wilde’s thoughtful unpacking of language and social justice. She provides that to discriminate and stigmatize according to how one speaks or writes, is narrow-minded, as well as foolish. She challenges teachers to stop correcting kid’s speech, instead accept, acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and richness of our contemporary communication. I took this to heart.

Wilde offers an alternative path to teaching children the importance, meaning, joys and beauty of language. It is chock full of lesson ideas that I cannot wait to try out on my fourth graders. Plus, Wilde offers a plethora of bibliographic choices for teachers to explore. Her Kid’s Guide to Citations and Reference Lists, alone, is worthy of appreciation.

Resources for further study:

Below is a sample of resources that Sandra Wilde recommends interested teachers and students of linguistics to explore:

1000 Languages: The worldwide history of living and lost tongues: London: Thames and Hudson

You are what you speak: Grammar grouches, language laws, and the politics of identity. New York: Delacorte Press.

The Language of Names. New York: Simon and Schuster

The infinite gift: How children learn and unlearn the languages of the world. New York: Scribner

Sequoyah: The Cherokee man who gave his people writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ox, house, stick: The history of our alphabet. Watertown MA: Charlesbridge

Alphabetical Order: How the alphabet began [Monde de alphabets]. New York: Viking.

So now what?

More than anything, I am grateful for this book. Wilde does not advocate banishing grammar teaching; rather she gives sensible, thought-provoking strategies towards approaching all things language. It is time well spent and one of the few “teacher books” that I will reread (perhaps, right away!). If you are a teacher or parent of a little one, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy for your library or tablet.

How to Teach 4th Grade: Read Aloud

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“I begin every session I ever lead with teachers by reading something aloud. Even if my assigned topic is something like spelling or assessment, I still begin by reading aloud because I believe it is the single most important classroom structure there is, and so I demonstrate it wherever I go.” (Wood Ray 1999)

I read aloud to my fourth grade students each day. I read with passion and I read with expression. It is my most ingrained ritual of my teaching career. Every read aloud book is an opportunity to connect with my students in a way that is personal and meaningful. Also, it allows the students to hear worthy literature read from a someone that cares deeply about books and the writers who write them.

Below is a list of titles that I will read to my students this year. I have purposely excluded picture books, although I read these often throughout the year as mentor texts. I reserve the right to switch up my list according to mood and class structure. Each book is special to me for various reasons. They are in no specific order:

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a favorite. It is a novel written as poetry about a Sudanese war refugee adjusting to life in his adopted Minnesota. The boy, Kek, has seen his father and brother die in battle. He has seen babies die of starvation. He has never felt the bitter cold of a Minnesota winter. His only wish is to see his mother somehow return. This is remarkable story of hope.

A Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida is a longtime favorite of mine. I read this to my first class backing 1990 and continue to read it each year to my students. Yoshiko Uchida, “almost single-handedly created a body of Japanese-American literature for children, where none existed before.”(1.) This is a story of a Japanese family that struggles with racism during the Great Depression. I read this for it is a powerful book of the indomitable strength of family.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a classic adventure of city boy that endures a plane crash deep inside the Canadian wilderness. This grand tale of survival will mesmerize my students. I will read this mainly for fun although it is a meaningful book for kids dealing with divorcing parents.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata This is a Newbery Award winner about a Japanese American family trying to make it in rural Georgia. The protagonist loses her older sister to cancer. I read this story for it gives a powerful message about the value of labor unions. Kira-Kira is essentially a story of love among family.

Chew on This, Everything You Don’t Want to Know about Fast Food by Eric SchlosserI normally read this book during my non-fiction literacy unit. Chew On This is disturbing in its portrayal of the American fast food industry. My students squirm uncomfortably from the information in this book. I read it each year in the hopes that they will think about the food they ingest.

Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo is a historical fiction novel about a boy sold into slavery in a carpet factory. This is a fictionalized account of the real Iqbal Masih. If you don’t know about him, you should. I read this so that the students can appreciate the horror that is child slavery.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup is a wonderfully funny story of the pressures of making and keeping friends. I love that I get to speak in an Italian accent while reading aloud. I  occasionally make soup to celebrate the ending of this fine tale from Sharon Creech.

Fourth Grade Teachers, What will you be reading to your students this year? 

Which ever books you choose, read aloud with heart. They will remember you well for it.

Have a great year.

Applegate, K. (2007). Home of the brave. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.

Creech, S. (2003). Granny torrelli makes soup. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books.

D’Adamo, F. (2001). Iqbal. New York: Atheneum Book for Young Readers.

Kadohata, C. (2004). Kira-kira. New York, NY: Scholastic INC.

Paulsen, G. (1989). Hatchet. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

Ray, K. W. (1999). Wondrous words, writers and writing in the elementary classroom. Natl Council of Teachers.

Schlosser, E., & Wilson, C. (2007). Chew on this, everything you don’t want to know about fast food. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Uchida, Y. (1981). A jar of dreams. New York, NY: Scholastic INC.

1.Yoshiko Uchida from Encyclopedia of World Biography. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.