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Getting Smart with Tom Vander Ark: Podcast

When I called for positive education voices, Tom Vander Ark agreed to share. You'll find out about his book, TVA Getting Smart, as well as his predictions for 2014. I recommend this one as a faculty meeting, administrative council, professional development discussion starter. Listen to another voice for positive education and education technology change.

Enjoy and learn by listening to Getting Smart with Tom Vander Ark:
(Embedded player requires Flash) 

MP3 Link: http://blogtalk.vo.llnwd.net/o23/show/2/753/show_2753779.mp3

ITunes Link: http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-royal-treatment-blog-talk/id414014159

Robert Newton Peck: A Day My Reading Program Didn’t Die

WildthingsAs a young teacher, I was forced to use basal readers with my 4th graders, and have at least three reading groups—unbelievably referred to in faculty meetings as the three reading levels—Bluebirds, Robins, and Crows. None really fit any of my students, and I got tired of hearing how father and mother gathered the whole family, including the dog for a picnic in the country. Believe me that was a big stretch for basal families, who were usually confined to the area behind a white picket fence.

What I did

I managed to get my hands on a box of assorted paperbacks, with multiple copies, which were in a storeroom. I think they were labeled Library, but the dust labeled them mine. It had some great titles, as well as great authors. I think it was actually for a program called Great Books. Well, I shanghaied that box. Then I did something, which teachers have done forever—I reached into my and bought some new, fresh paperbacks, again in multiple copies. I finished off the collection by visiting our small school library, and lugged back all the books I was allowed to carry out. I was young, naïve, and didn’t think beyond doing what I thought was a good idea and in my mind the right thing.

Change

I collected all the basal readers and shelved them. Then I shared the books I’d collected with my students, and began my own individualized reading program. Most students chose appropriate levels, while some needed help. It was the usual, good readers choosing easier books and poorer readers choosing higher-level books. I never said no to a book, but always suggested students take another—at a more appropriate reading level. By using center activities, I found that I could conference students pretty effectively, as well as individualize reading instruction and assignments. Kids devoured the books, my non-readers became readers, and specific student interests developed.

The Authors

My students loved Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and went absolutely bonkers for Robert Newton Peck, Peckauthor of A Day No Pigs Would Die, Soup, and Soup and Me.  I began contacting nearby authors to see if they might visit my classroom of readers. Maurice Sendak turned me down; he enjoyed writing for kids, but not presenting in front of them. But I didn’t give up, and called Robert Newton Peck. Mr. Peck’s answer was “Sure, should I bring my horse?” I told him that I wasn’t sure if I could handle the horse. He agreed to come, and even bring books. Peck said he’d speak to the school, as well as my class, so I set that up. Board members and administrators from other buildings wanted to be there—pretty thrilling stuff. Things were working out—or so I thought—I was soon to discover that rocking the reading boat had unforeseen consequences.

A Day My Teaching World Stood Still

On the very morning Robert Newton Peck was to arrive, my principal came to my room and escorted me to his office. He was a WWII veteran, tattoos and all, with a knack for very colorful language. Well, he laced into me, replacing subject, verb and adjectives with a few choice and colorful words. “Who do you think you are to change the way students were reading in his building.” He explained that my insubordination was grounds for dismissal. “Get those basal readers back in that class, and get out of my office!” Again, that’s the non-Navy version. I was devastated.

Carry On

I’ve spent other head-in-hands days in my career, but that was the first—and it was a very emotional beating. I went back to my class, and continued preparing for the day. My partner teacher asked me what had happened. She was planning her own basal reading revolution. I told her, and my teaching heart shattered all over again.

Robert Newton Peck Arrives

Robert Newtown Peck walked into my classroom, wearing a cowboy hat, and actually had to bend his head to get through the door. He stood well above the classroom chalkboard. Peck was carrying his book Soup, and when he spoke to my class it was a gentle story—telling us things about himself, writing, and the characters in his book. He answered all questions, and even told us about new books he was thinking and writing. They’d heard me read, but when Peck read, you could hear the love he had for his own characters.

Lunch with Robert Newton Peck

Lunch separated the classroom from the afternoon school-wide presentation. My partner teacher and I took Peck’s advice, and we found a spot outside, and sat down for lunch. All three of us sat on some rocks, ate, and talked. After some chatter about characters in his books, he looked at both of us and said, “OK, what’s going on?” My partner teacher shared that my reading program had gotten me into some hot water with the principal. Peck said something about it being the reason he had visited, and that things tend to work out.

The School Presentation

The principal held the microphone and introduced Robert Newton Peck to the school, board members, administrators, and parents. Peck towered above him as he reached out to take the microphone. When he had the mic, Peck started with, “Sir, did you actually pay money for that tie?” Everyone roared. The tie was awful, but I didn’t know where this was heading. The principal’s face turned red as he backed off. And then, Robert Newton Peck talked books—real books—and basal readers. He talked about his books of course, but it was more about books read by students, and he used my class as an example. I’m not sure if all there knew what they were listening to, but I did.

Eating Crow

The next day, the principal again escorted me to his office—saying nothing. I was certain it would be for Cathat more of a tongue lashing, as well as an order to pack up. Instead, in his office, he asked me to sit, and he quietly said, “I have to eat crow” I really didn’t know the expression, so was glad when he continued. It turned out that after meeting with the superintendent and the board—they had decided to go in my individualized reading direction. “They want you to keep doing what you’re doing.”

I still remember that uneasy smile the principal gave me as I left his office. Again, my partner teacher wanted to know all. The next week, she collected her basals, and set up her classroom like mine. Not everyone in the building changed, but the ones that didn’t were now in the hot seat to do it.

I’d like to think that Robert Newton Peck had something to do with the Day My Reading Program Didn’t Die. I know that I only used basal readers as supplemental resourses from then on.

Discovery Education Outreach & Techbooks

Scott_kinney3 Learn about new-age teaching, education collaboration, and Techbooks. Scott Kinney, Discovery Education's Senior VP for Global Professional Development, Policy, and Education Outreach gets The Royal Treatment. Find out about the global Discovery Education Network, and how to join.

Listen to the interview (embedded player requires Flash):

MP3 Link: http://blogtalk.vo.llnwd.net/o23/show/2/191/show_2191267.mp3

iTunes Link: http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-royal-treatment-blog-talk/id414014159

Scholastic eReader Poll: Tech Survey?

Carrying Books 3 While it’s nice to have a few statistics, Scholastic’s recent results for an eReader poll of students shouldn’t be earth shattering, although it does bring up more questions than answers. Scholastic surveyed more than 2,000 kids, ages 6-17 last spring. 25% of the students said they had read a book on a digital device, and 57% said they’d like to in the future. Only 6% of the parents surveyed had used an eReader. Just my opinion, but I’d check the parents again in light of the recent iPad craze. This poll is about more than just one gadget.

We should be talking about all digital devices that can be used for reading, right? Beyond books students should be reading digitally in school today, and not just on eReaders. If they are not, then the real news here should be the lack of digital devices for that purpose, and so much more, in the hands of students. I’d include, eReaders, tablets, netbooks, notebooks, desktop computers, thin client solutions, and even smartphones. Furthermore, any interactive device that can do that, such as whiteboards, slates, and other displays should be added to the list. This poll can be seen as another call to action for more technology for students. And, kids today are supposed to be further along technologically than their parents.

That should be part of the teaching and learning. That said, kids should continue curling up with real books—no batteries or backlight required, where the only heat generated is human. Whatever it takes to transport a child to a place where imagination sparks is OK in my book—paperback, hardcover, or digital.

Administrators: More Apps Fewer Books

Reading1 I was about to send an educator some books for her building administrator the other day. She laughed, and said, “He doesn’t read.” Now, most would be shocked with that, and probably run off to write a negative post that would certainly make the Internet rounds, but I immediately followed up with, “If he doesn’t read books, what does he read?” The answer was what I expected. “Oh, a lot of online, and he’s forever forwarding us article links. He uses all these phone apps, too.” It looks like more apps and fewer books, with a lot of online reading may be a common trend for busy admin.

It made me think back to a conversation I had with a superintendent friend of mine. He told me that there was very little time to do the reading he used to do—or would like to do. I’m sure that’s true for many administrators, today. I expect that most young administrators are more likely to catch quick reads online, and also find phone apps more accessible and available than books, from their office shelves, these days. And, I only see that trend growing.

Here are some online and app admin-reading suggestions:

Edjurist A blog that focuses on issues of school law http://www.edjurist.com/

Top Ten Qualities of Prime Leadership 
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200910/business-top-ten-qualities-prime-leaders

Leading Blog http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/

Connected Principals http://www.connectedprincipals.com/

Educator’s PLN http://edupln.ning.com/

Scholastic Administrator http://www.scholastic.com/administrator/

Follow me on Twitter @kenroyal for many more links from educators and administrators.

Note: Special thanks to Eric Castro for sharing his twitter thoughts with me.

Shmoop Resources: Literature to Math

Shmoop1 Shmoop is an educator’s free resource dream. Oh yes, librarians love them, too. Shmoop has been around since 2008, and have racked up quite a few Internet awards. The name still makes me smile.

Its Learning Guides are digital, and you can search literature titles by number, alphabetical order, and author, too. Shakespeare has his own link, so he’d be happy about that—I’m sure. Other category breakdowns include Poetry, Best Sellers, Biography, U.S. History, Civics, Economics, and Music. It even has overviews in Spanish. All are accessible from an easy-to-use link menu.

Educators, who are PhD students from Stamford, Harvard and UC Berkeley, write Shmoop learning guides. They’re very well done, and fun, too. The resources are available as iPhone Apps, for Android devices, and eBook readers.

Note: Getting graduate students to do this type of work has been common practice elsewhere, especially in start-ups developed at universities. In Connecticut, UCONN has been quite successful launching businesses in this way.

What’s New Shmoop?

Shmoop Does the Math is a free online pre-algebra curriculum—just launched. Yep, the literature and humanities barrier has been breeched, and according to Ellen Siminoff, CEO of Shmoop, “We’ll do whatever it takes to make math understandable and fun for students.” My suspicion is that Shmoop will continue to expand its middle school curriculum. In my book, that’s good for educators and great for kids. Wonder if a line of Shmoop characters will be next!

Check out Shmoop at http://www.shmoop.com.

Internet Makes Music: Sound Innovations

SI Book Covers I recently tried out a great idea from Alfred Music Publishing. It’s Sound Innovations a way Music educators and Music department heads can create and modify beginning concert band or string orchestra lessons/”method”. It’s as simple as going online and clicking through the choices that best suit your students’ needs. I was able to create a book specific to trombone in a matter of moments. My music knowledge is limited to what I remember from guitar lessons as a kid, so someone with a bit more knowledge will have an even easier go of it.

According to Alfred Music, the “method” will be available in two formats: the Standard Edition and Director's Choice edition, which allows teachers to customize the method's pedagogy, music, and enrichment materials based on their experiences and preferences.

They are written to state and national standards and based on comprehensive research of music educators' needs and preferences, Sound Innovations provides fundamental teaching tools in a clear and organized format that allows directors to incorporate their own style of teaching.

Sound Innovations is written by music educators Robert Sheldon, Bob Phillips, Peter Boonshaft, and Dave Black, "We surveyed a vast number of music teachers from all parts of the country to find out about their teaching, what they want in a method, and what would be the most helpful in meeting the challenges they face based on their unique teaching situation," said Phillips. "We looked at everything available for teachers, got in depth information about their preferences, and pieced together the best of all worlds, with many exciting new additions."

Sound Innovations: Director’s Choice allows a director to easily customize the method to fit his/her unique teaching styles and classroom situations. "We're empowering teachers to select what they want to teach and the way they want to teach it, by allowing them to choose the things they do and don't want in their method book, while still providing the solid foundation they need," said Boonshaft.

And there’s more, including an MP3 CD with instrument-specific recordings of every single line of music in each student book, and their SmartMusic program provides free access to the first 100 lines of music for students using Sound Innovations.

I recommend that district music staff and department heads check out Sound Innovations at www.alfred.com/soundinnovations to use the internet-based step-by-step program to build and preview their own method, or to view sample books.

Failure Is Not An Option!

Blankstein I had a great conversation with Alan Blankstein, author of Failure Is Not An Option: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, which has been recently updated and released. Alan is also Founder and President of the Hope Foundation.

"The second edition of Failure Is Not An Option shares what people who read the first book did with it," says Blankstein. "It's really about transforming schools and taking them from "D" to "A". Some have done this on their own by using the book, and others with Hope Foundation help. It's about working with schools to help them form high performing leadership teams--in order to turn things around in the short term, but to make that happen long term as well."

Listen to my conversation with Alan Blankstein, a bit of how to, leadership building, culture changing, trust and hope.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Royal Treatment are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.