Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's a parent to do? Read and talk to your children

What can parents do to help their children succeed in school?

Read to young children.

Talk to adolescents.

In her book "The Smartest Kids in the World," Amanda Ripley talked about the survey of parents associated with the international PISA tests, assessments that form the basis of international student comparisons. She states:

When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they wee fifteen (p. 108).

I then went to the PISA test site and looked at their report, Let's Read Them a Story, and that report, in chapter one, said:

Reading books to children when they are just beginning primary school and talking with adolescents about topical political or social issues are shown to have a positive impact on children’s learning. Even just reading at home benefits children, because it shows them that reading is something that their parents value.

Amanda Ripley sums it up nicely:

Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they wee fifteen years old. that was almost a full year of learning.

What's the take away?

Read to your children!

Talk to your adolescents!

Start today!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Detroit Tigers stir passion. Does School?

My Detroit Tigers are killing me!

But before we get into that, let's start on a positive note.

The Tigers made the post-season. They won their first-round divisional match-up. They have had three pitchers start a game and not give up a hit for at least five innings. They are playing for the American League championship and a chance to go to the World Series.

But still they are killing me!

I was fortunate to be able to attend the game on October 15. The Tigers lost 1-0. In the 8th inning the Tigers had runners on first and third with one out. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were coming to the plate. Surely one of these men would drive in a run to tie the game. They did not.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

On October 13th the Tigers led 5-1 when I gave up and went to bed. It was late. I get up early. Surely a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning is safe. It was not.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

On October 12th the Tigers starting pitcher gave up no hits for seven innings but walked six batters. Boston's first hit came in the 9th inning. Surely this was one of those "easy" games, probably a runaway victory. It was not. Detroit won 1-0! The game lasted took almost four hours to play.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

But, truth be told, I am happy about it. The Detroit Tigers are my team. I root for them. I watch them on TV. I attend their games (when I can). The Tigers make me care.

During that ill-fated 8th inning on October 15, Austin Jackson stood on third base and Torii Hunter stood on first base. Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate and the crowd rose to their feet waving their towels hoping for, if not a miracle, at least a base hit. The crowd was electric!

The enthusiasm, the passion, the collective will of the crowd was fun and energizing.

On my ride home from the game, I asked myself, "What is the corresponding school experience? What stirs our passion? What generates this collective enthusiasm in our schools?"

It is easy to say nothing. There is nothing about education that stirs our passion like - in this case - playoff baseball.

But is that true?

It is true that schools do not have edge-of-the-seat, white knuckle, extreme joy, crushing disappointment experiences like play-off baseball.

But I have seen passion in schools.

Today I saw it in Ms. Zimmerman's kindergarten classroom as she engaged her students around the daily calendar. Students laughed and smiled, they sang and cheered.

Yesterday I saw it in the orchestra class at Novi Middle School. Ms. Rais was introducing a piece of music from the Harry Potter movies that she wanted her students to play. Students were reading along with the music as Ms. Rais played a recording of the song. At the end of the song a student blurted out, "That was awesome!"

I have seen passion in art class, in English, in physics.

In physics? Yes! In Mir. Didio's class at Novi High School students were running experiments on acceleration and velocity, I think, and there was genuine interest and passion about the results.

Schools may not have the white-hot, edge-of-your-seat passion that playoff baseball does. (The events that get recorded where people are screaming at school board meetings don't really count either. Those moments are not really about positive energy and, at times, have little to do with actual teaching and learning.)

But schools do generate passion. I've seen students genuinely enthused and excited about what they were learning. They had to talk about it. They had to find out more. They blocked out distractions to focus on learning.

My Detroit Tigers play tonight and I will be wrapped up in their game. But tomorrow I know that in my school district there are teachers that will inspire students to engage in learning in powerful and passionate ways. I believe that school stirs passion. I have seen it, felt it, and enjoyed it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Homecoming 2013

Who are these people? They are high school teachers at Novi High School waiting patiently at today's pep rally to perform their hip hop dance in front of the student body.

Why would high school teachers willingly agree to perform a hip hop dance in front of the student body?

Who is this? This is one of our high school teachers and would-be dancers ready to perform. Why would a high school teacher dress up like this and be willing to perform a hip hop dance in front of the student body?

The answer to these questions is the same. These teachers understand that relationships matter. When students connect with teachers learning improves.

Dr. Joe Clark (@DrJoeClark) in a tweet earlier this year said the following:

Not one rule your make the first day of school will cause good behavior in May. 
But every strong relationship you make will.

Teachers can connect with students in a variety of ways. These Novi HS teachers are willing to connect during our per rally. Other teachers connect by making sure they say hello as students enter the classroom. Some teachers attend football games. Some teachers coach. Some teachers call students at home. Other teachers open their rooms before school or stay after. 

Teachers also connect by ensuring that they create engaging lessons. They don't waste students time. They communicate that they respect students but making sure that every day in their class is meaningful. 

Every time a teacher takes the time to communicate that a student is important the relationship is strengthened, students are more engaged, and student achievement improves.

I appreciate our teachers and our staff who take the time to build relationships. 

I'm just glad they did not ask me to dance!