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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Maths and English Educational Kids Games To Get Them Ahead When Starting at School

by Victoria Welch

It is your little ones first step into the Big world of school, and for many children this can be an anxious time.

This can also be a very hard time for some parents to, the first time that you let your little child out in to the big world, but there is no need for you to worry, they are going to school, they will have fun learning and meet new friends. Don’t let your child feel you anxiety, as this could unsettle them.

As a parent you have the important role in helping your child learn, it is important to have fun as they learn about new subjects, you will also need to help and answer the many questions your child will ask you about each subject.

The most important thing that you can do is taking an interest in what your child is learning at school; praise them when they have done well and give them the tools to learn more.

All children that go to school, are taught by targets that should be reached, this is usually done by age group such as 5-7 years old, 8-11 years old and so on. But each child is different and will learn things at different speed so don’t be pushy and let them grow at their own pace.

If you play educational kids games that are interesting to them, they will want to play and learn at the same time.

Playing learning to read games that are enjoyable as well as educational, can Make English Fun!

Rhyming Games and Word Games will help them learn new words and they can use their fantastic imagination to create rhyming poems.

We can then help build on this again by letting your child make up their own stories, and putting on a show using Learning Puppets or a Picture Book, this will help strengthen their confidence, and let us listen to the way they speak, to make sure that they talk clearly.

Some children find it difficult to sit and listening to a story or a teacher’s instruction. By playing listening games, children learn to be quiet and still to hear what the sound is, Cock-a-Doodle-Moo, is great fun for kids and learning games like Listening Lotto really grab their attention.

Reading is a wonderful skill, which lets children’s imagination run wild.

Learning to read begins with you reading to your child as a baby. With time your child understands that the content of a book never changes.

Later on, after much sharing of books, children begin to play read and turn the pages of a favourite story while chanting parts of it aloud.

There are two ways are children are usually taught to read, either by Look and Say or by using Phonics

A Word Building Game and learning what new words mean will help grow your child’s mind. Using Rhyming Words Games is also great fun.

If your child has had the opportunity to use paint, crayons or small construction toys this would all help their fine motor skill, and consequently their writing skill.

Teach your child to hold a pencil correctly and guide them over letters of their name or through workbooks suitable for their age group, if they need you to, place your hand gently on top of theirs

Once your child knows how to trace letters shapes with your help, see if they can use their looking skills to make letter shapes by drawing over faint dots you’ve made. From this stage of copying over, comes a stage of copying beneath.

Early writing will not necessarily be the correct way up or stay in a horizontal line. But do try and help your child correct this, so that it’s not an on going problem.

If you love numbers yourself your child will mimic that love, so make any encounter you have with numbers a fun activity for yourself and you will soon transmit this feeling to your child.

Counting doesn’t have to be boring for your child, remember to make learning fun.

There are all sorts of ways to help your child remember how to pronounce numbers and how to put them in the right order.

Some simple activities and Math games for kids that you and your child could do could be; Counting Out Loose Change, Singing Counting Songs or Counting How Many Times They Can Skip a Rope.

Keep an eye out for chances for your child to count out loud, it’s all great practice, and a good time for you to check that they pronounce the numbers correctly, particularly the numbers 11 to 19 as many children find these numbers difficult.

By the age of 7 years old most children are able to; count, read and write whole numbers up to 100, and put them in order, count on or back in ones or tens from different starting numbers, tell if numbers are odd or even, know that you can undo an addition with a subtraction, know when doing addition that its easier to start with the bigger number, understand that multiplying is the same as adding more of the same number, be able to double numbers or half them and know the 2 and 10 times table by heart.

Don’t give your child a calculator to relay on as this will stop them using their fantastic brain, but do show them how to use an Abacus to solve mathematical problems.

But maths isn’t always about calculating exact answers.

Being able to estimate a rough answer is an important skill that helps your child solve problems and check their work.

Virtually all those who have excelled in mathematics have stated that estimation was a prime skill.

Some simple Math games for kids to encourage estimating would be guesswork games.

Ask your child to guess how many peas he thinks are in the bag, or marbles in the pot. Then ask him to count them to check his own guesswork.

Let him know that there is nothing wrong with making an inaccurate guess, and that it is not always possible to know exact quantities, but do encourage him to learn to trust his own guesswork.

Practice with guesswork will make it more accurate as time goes by, but do be playful when you are engaged in guesswork.

With Gratitude and until next time. (artcileAlley)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who Needs School?

By Brooks Elms

The founders of The Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s asked the question: "Who needs school?" Their answer is that school prepares children to become productive members of society-essentially, to be good citizens. Then they asked, "How do we meet that objective? If we could re-start from scratch, or adapt from any known model, what are the social mechanisms we'd choose to best serve the children in meeting this goal?" Those founders quickly threw out the commonly accepted adult-centered approach, and instead moved forward with a democratically run mini-community where the kids follow their passions all day, and collaborate in the creation of rules to protect the individual's pursuit of happiness.

The result, after the first 40 years, is much like they envisioned. Because students create their own unique curriculum, and rules to protect individual liberty, the students tend to be more responsible as adult citizens. They've felt and wielded power at a very young age (even 4 year olds vote to hire or fire a teacher) so they've got palpable experience with the good and bad consequences of large stakes community decision-making. Plus, they also do learn the basic reading, writing and math skills that are so strongly stressed in traditional school, although at Sudbury Valley, they're learned organically, as tools to further their knowledge in their passion projects.

For the children in the industrialized nations growing up in the Information Age, this child-centered model fits perfectly. It's like the world-wide-web personified. The Industrial Era Factory Style learning approach, still deeply entrenched in the mainstream as we begin the 21st century, served its purpose well-enough for decades when the bulk of students we're headed to factories for life. But it's a new world. Even back in the 60's Bob Dylan observed with biting sarcasm that "After twenty years of schoolin' they put you on the day shift." The system needed change back then, and now with the Sudbury model's proven effectiveness after four decades, the change is picking up its pace.

The Sudbury Valley Model has been featured on CBS's "60 minutes," and on the front cover of "Psychology Today." Representatives from hundreds of like-minded alternative schools flock to education conferences every year. There have been several documentaries about the model, and I, myself wrote and directed a fiction film inspired by the model entitled "Schooled."

I believe the reason for the surge in popularity has to do with the reality that we now live in an economy devoid of job security. People have to prove the value of their services over and over for their rest of their lives. And without passion driving that life-long re-invention process, how successful can new adults be when faced with harrowing market conditions and brutal competitors? Just as adults create their own lives within the laws of the land, so do the students in this model, making them far more prepared for productive Information Age citizenship. Another way to look at it is to see that there are many different ways kids learn, so the different schools that exist today-including home schooling-cater to these different ways of learning. These different ways of learning lead to a more "trade-orientated," or "customer service orientated" mindset. How do I serve the customer (and my community) as efficiently as possible? Passion facilitates this.

While the common fear about this education model is that kids will grow up lazy, in actuality, it's the opposite. Driven by desire, these new adults have spent their whole childhood very aware of balancing personal ambition with community accountability standards. They work because they want to. When they fall short of goals, they use their well-honed innovation skills to come up with new solutions. They don't rely on imposed structure to guide them. They don't waste time rebelling against "The Man." They simply create their own structure and solve problems, no matter how the marketplace shifts and re-shifts, because that's what they've always done.

This Information Age education is particularly valuable in a place like the movie business. Nobody needs a degree for anything in Hollywood. The question is: Can you do the job? People get known for their work (and lack of work) and their reputation fuels the next step of their career. While other industries are less extreme than Hollywood's hyper-volatility -- they're not that different. These days, every market hums with volatility and so it's vital that our schools meet these new needs of our future generations.

(c) 2008, Brooks Elms All rights reserved. Reprint rights granted so long as article and by-line are published intact and with all links made live. (

About Author:

Brooks Elms fiercely writes, directs and produces films, winning awards and thrilling audiences around the globe for the last 20 years. His latest film, "Schooled" is like "Kid Nation" meets "Dead Poets Society" and it fundamentally changes the way people think about education:

Diversity In The Classroom

By Lisa J Smith

I was talking with a friend last week about the private school that her 2 boys attended & she informed me that she had withdrawn them at the end of last school year and they now attended public school. When I asked what brought about the change, she told me "The teachers at their previous school told them (when doing are projects) 'We only color the people in our pictures peach.' " My friend, a forward thinking intelligent mom, told her children to follow the rules at school but while at home, she encouraged her children to do artwork and to color their people all different shades because as she put it "The world is full of people of all different colors."

This got me to thinking. When we take our children to school, we assume that we are placing them in the very best care. We believe that the teachers that interact with them on a daily basis are teaching them about equality and being open-minded when in reality, that may not be the case. Teachers are human and bring with them into the classroom, their own set of prejudices. How so we know that they aren't passing them on to our children?

A culturally literate teacher can make all the difference when working with children on the concepts of diversity & racial tolerance. An educator that celebrates differences helps to increase students' self-esteem and self-worth and helps to teach children about these differences in a non-judgmental way. Unfortunately, there are some schools, administration and teachers who fall short of this mark.

What should we as parents be on the lookout for? How can we tell is our child's teacher is ready to take on this open-minded way of teaching?

1. Look for signs in their classroom: Do they have pictures, quotes or artwork representing all cultures and populations?

2. Check out their teaching style: Do they encourage healthy, open discussions and questions about cultural perspectives and topics?

3. Examine the school curriculum: Do the lesson plans fit all types of students? Does it focus on one particular gender, race or religion more than another?

4. Ask the students: 45% of all children in the US are ethnic minorities. Do they feel excluded? Do they feel safe sharing things about themselves in the classroom?

5. Take a look at your child's homework or text books: Are there units or chapters devoted to all ethnicities? Do they look at History or social issues from different cultural perspectives?

Most teachers are good people trying to do their jobs in the best way possible; dealing with school overcrowding, budget cuts and the like. If your child's classroom does not answer with a resounding "yes!" to the above questions, you don't have to make a rush to pull them from school. These are merely suggestions for the optimal learning for our children and if your child's school or teacher can provide even just a few of the suggestions, they are better off for them.

We should of course, be teaching children morals and their belief system at home, but with teachers having a large influence over behavior for a good portion of their day, we do have some cause for concern if they are teaching things that we don't want them to learn. The world is made up of students of all different colors, shapes, and sizes and we need to find educators that encourage communication about differences while demonstrating that these differences do not equate to any one group or person being better than any other. We should be concerned when our teachers tell our children to "only color people peach" and we should applaud those that inspire, motivate and empower children of all colors. (

About Author:

Lisa Smith has a BA in psychology, & is the Owner of Regionz Kidz a multi-cultural infant and toddler clothing line with ethnically diverse characters and designs. She publishes a blog on the Regionz Kidz website that features articles about cultural diversity and children & she is a guest blogger on several other websites and blogs relating to parenting and children's issues. She is also a monthly contributor to Educated Mommy Magazine. You can contact Lisa directly at:

Honesty and Dishonesty Through Handwriting Analysis

By Joel Engel

In order to determine dishonesty in one's handwriting, the ability to recognize honesty is a prerequisite.


In general, the handwriting of honest people has clarity, simplicity and a firm, straight base line. You can see this by taking a ruler and placing it under the middle-zone letters-they are all equidistant from the ruler. When the base line is straight (and certain other factors are not present), we find an individual who does not go to pieces if something unexpected occurs. He is composed, not easily upset, straight thinking, and honest.

The more open the ovals are, the more talkative the writer is. When these letters are a regular feature of someone's writing, he can be said to be both open and honest. However, if there were no oval letters closed, it would be best not to tell the writer any secrets-he may have difficulty keeping them.

If the body of the writing is similar to that of the signature, we see an essentially honest and straightforward individual-one that is not trying to impress others or play a false part. When the signature varies from the body of the writing, graphologists first analyze the body of the writing, to discover what the writer really is. Then they check that against the signature to get an impression of the writer's persona-the role he is trying to play.


Although there are many indicators of dishonesty, which can be identified through one's handwriting, graphologists always rely upon three signs.

*The sinuous base line.

He is inconsistent, prey to mood swings. It is difficult for him to hold a job or perform any function-requiring steadiness.

*Oval shaped letters, which are open at the bottom). This reflects deceitfulness and hypocrisy.

*Figures that can be mistaken for others, reveals lack of clarity in money matters.

When any one of these three signs are found in one's writing, a question mark arises to the graphologist concerning the writer's veracity. Two signs are considered as evidence.

It must be pointed out that the professional graphologist only relies upon these factors when: a) they are significantly repeated

and b) this is the writer's natural handwriting.

A person's illegible signature does not admit of any complimentary interpretation. For how much trust can be placed in a document if the signature that is to prove the signer's determination to carry out his promises cannot be deciphered? In a sense, an illegible signature annuls the document it pretends to put in force.

In contrast, the illegible hand of doctors, for instance, is part of their professional pride and secretiveness; they do not want the layman to understand their notes obviously reserved for other doctors or pharmacists. As this is not the doctor's natural handwriting, it certainly is not an indicator of dishonesty; it is to protect his patient.

Psychopathology in Handwriting

The Habitual Liar

The technique of lying, it seems, has at least three ways of achieving its ends. In the liar's presentation of the story,

l. one (essential) part is simply left out;

2. one (essential) part is left out and a freely invented part is substituted for it;

3. one (essential) part is left out and the gap is filled with chitchat, or meaningless or vague tales. In all three ways, the liar tries carefully not to appear as such; his story and approach must not arouse suspicion.

(Essentially, the habitual liar, as a social type, is unwilling to communicate frankly; he will not express himself without indirection or hesitation.) In writing, the liar's techniques remain the same. While the first letters of words look clear and often are written with great care (to deceive us and to draw our attention away from that part of the word where the lie "resides"), the body of the word behind that first letter is,

1. Incomplete: one or more letters are left out ("ad" instead of "and," "Thanki" instead of "Thanking," "neived" instead of "received," "sicenly" instead of "sin¬cerely"),


2. One or several letters are replaced by letters that do not belong there ("eacl" instead of "each," "mucl" instead of "much," "costme" instead of "continue"),


3. One letter is left out and instead there is a thread ("fr-" instead of' "from,") or something that looks like a letter but is not ("ar-y" instead of "army").

The above samples are taken from one message, written by a habitual liar.

The Pathological Liar

These two seemingly different handwritings were written by one person, a pathological liar. She executed this writing for the doctor who had her under his care, in order to show "how clever she was." From the standpoint of graphology, these handwritings are identical with the exception of the slant; neither contains a basic characteristic that the other lacks.

The pathological liar, to be sure, is not merely a person who tells many lies. He is almost completely identified with the false roles he unconsciously assumes. Consequently, he will characteristically show two or more different styles of writing, rather than merely the slips of the "habitual liar." Such shifting of style is the clue to pathology, which the graphologist can discover. (

About Author
Joel Engel is the author of "Handwriting Analysis Self-Taught" (Penguin Books)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Extra funds for further education

by BBC News

Universities and colleges in Scotland struggling under their current funding deal are to receive an extra £20m in government funding.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop set out the package, which will come on top of £10m pledged in January.

The minister had previously promised to make universities a funding priority after being criticised for their spending review allocation of £263m.

Labour said the funding was "too little too late".

The additional £20m was welcomed by Scottish universities and colleges.

Ms Hyslop claimed the extra resources would allow colleges to further invest in priority areas.

We understand the difficulties higher education institutions face in the final year of the current pay deal
Fiona Hyslop
Education Secretary

She said: "For Scotland's colleges this will provide additional funding for priorities such as supporting young people who need more choices and more chances, articulation, and innovative approaches to learning delivery.

"We also understand the difficulties higher education institutions face in the final year of the current pay deal."

Colleges and universities will remain a priority for any additional funding that becomes available in the future years of the spending review, she added.

The additional £20m will see £10m go to universities and £10m go to colleges.

Convener of Universities Scotland, Sir Muir Russell, said the announcement was an "encouraging" signal from the government.

"This goes a very long way to addressing the cost pressures the university sector will face in 2008-09," he said.

Howard McKenzie, acting chief executive of the Association of Scottish Colleges (ASC), added: "We are delighted to see a further £10m coming into our sector which is working hard to improve learning and skills in Scotland. This additional investment is most welcome."

However, Richard Baker, Labour's higher education spokesman, said the extra funds were "too little too late to address a crisis of the SNP's own making".

Beginning Instruments - Leasing or Rent-to-own

by: George Fetter

Parenthood is a continuous series of new experiences that often create confusion as parents negotiate unfamiliar territory. Finding an instrument for their child is often one of those experiences. The decision to buy an instrument from a chain discount store or over the internet rather than getting one from an established music dealer is confusing for most adults. After all, a trumpet is a trumpet, a violin is a violin in the novice’s mind. If the decision is to secure the instrument from a music dealer another problem often presents itself as the parent shops for the best value, do they lease or rent?

Over the twenty-five years I have headed the school service department I have often been asked, “What is the difference, between renting and leasing an instrument?” These terms are often used interchangeably and this adds to the confusion. It can be bit like, “Who’s on first?” The difference between leasing and renting an instrument is not so subtle when it comes to parents’ wallets.

Simply put, when a parent leases an instrument they are paying to use the instrument for a fixed number of months and then either turn it in at the end of the contract period or extend the contract period without applying any or little of the lease fees to the purchase of the instrument if the parent eventually decides to purchase one for the child. The contract period may include a significant down payment and interest fees followed by monthly payments similar to a car lease plan. This forces the parent into a decision after the initial lease period, should they buy an instrument or continue paying into a lease plan that is not building equity? If they do decide to buy, they may be faced with another three years of payments. This can foster increased drop-out rates from the first year to the second and beyond.

With a rental plan (generally called a rent-to-own plan), parents pay an initial contract fee usually equal to the first month’s rent and continue monthly payments which apply to the eventual purchase of the instrument minus any maintenance fees. Some rental fees may include a carrying charge of some sort based on the unpaid principal. Generally, rent-to-own contracts include a discount on the unpaid balance if the parent wants to pay off the contract early. A rent-to-own contract may be terminated at any time. An added feature of many rent-to-own contracts is the ability to apply a percentage of the equity in the first instrument toward a better instrument (100% with Marshall Music). The advantages to this plan are:

· Payments are building equity toward the eventual purchase of the instrument

· Parents are not forced to make a decision at the end of a specified contract date

· Parents can save on the total price of the instrument if they choose to pay off the balance early

· Parents have an incentive to buy a better instrument for their child since a percentage of the investment in the beginning instrument can be applied to a step-up instrument

· Reduces drop-outs since there is not a cut-off date for the contract

Leasing an instrument can appear to be a better deal to parents since they generally carry lower monthly lease fees due to a higher initial first payment, but after doing the math you will find leasing is more expensive, especially if the parent decides to purchase an instrument after the first year and realizes all those payments will not apply to the purchase of an instrument.

The advantage of a lease plan for the music dealer is it saves capital. By recycling the same instrument through the lease plan year after year there is a reduced need for inventory and the dealer can recoup his investment in an instrument several times. If the parent does decide to buy an instrument at the end of the lease (say nine months) the parent is starting all over again and the dealer has nine months of payments and the initial lease fee in the asset column.

At first look a lease agreement might appear attractive to a parent who is concerned with committing to a rent-to-buy contract that will take 28-36 months to purchase the instrument for a child who is, “Trying band or orchestra for a year.” After all, they only have to sign a nine month to year lease, put down an initial payment with smaller monthly payments than the rental plan. The reality is, for the majority of those whose child will continue in the program, parents are better off with the rental plan because the payments they make in the first year are applied to the purchase of the instrument. In addition, should the child decide to discontinue in the program prior to the instrument being paid off the parent can opt out of the contract at any time with no penalty.

When it comes to providing an instrument for the beginning student, purchasing from a discount chain, leasing or rent-to-own, the answer to, “Who’s on first,” is rent-to-own. It is in the best financial interest of the consumer. It provides a quality instrument that is gaining equity which can also be carried over to a step-up instrument for the advancing student musician.

Inspire Not Require

by: William W. Gourley

We face many challenges as teachers of student and amateur ensembles; encouraging solo and ensemble participation, chamber ensemble performance, pep band participation or getting the students or ensemble members to practice.

Societal behavior has changed over the past thirty years. Requiring students to engage in activities outside of the full ensemble and to practice is alien to the way we function as a society today. The autocratic methods of Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karian and Bobby Knight, have been replaced by the nurturing leadership styles of Neme Jarvi, Leonard Slatkin and Coach Krzyzewski. Few students or adults will accept edicts from the podium to satisfy the wants of a conductor. They need to want to fulfill their individual needs. Intimidation is out, motivation is in.

Let’s look at the difference between inspiring and requiring. This is the art of getting people to want to meet your expectations rather than demanding they meet them.

When someone is required to do something the reason for accomplishing the goal is to avoid a negative consequence, a reduced grade for example. Granted, getting a better grade or a higher salary may be rewarding but the reward is dependent on being denied something if they do not fulfill the requirement.

To inspire someone to accomplish something the individual must experience joy in the attainment of the goal. The teacher needs to create situations that reward appropriate behaviors to create a desire to achieve in the student.


Many people consider grades a great motivator and a majority of students respond to this method. “Just tell me what I have to do to get an A.” While this may be a fairly effective method to get students to learn scales, music and show-up for performances we must ask ourselves if it will encourage the student to want to sign-up for the class next year once the stimulation (the grade) is no longer relevant.

In an ideal world we would not need the extrinsic motivation of grades to encourage students to learn but we all know this is a dynamic tool in motivation but it is a carrot-and-stick mentality. If we create a grading system that rewards or penalizes based on just skill acquisition and showing-up we are encouraging learning by requiring students to meet a specific set of criteria to make the grade. We are waving around quite a big stick relying on intimidation (no show, no scale, no grade) to make them do what we want them to. This does not foster a very inspiring learning environment and does not encourage students to become more accomplished on the instrument or sign-up for your class for next year.

A grading system that offers a variety of ways to make the grade while still encouraging musical growth will be more inspiring since they have more carrots from which to choose and avoid the stick. An example of this might be:

  • Daily preparation, materials and music 25%
  • Tests 25%
  • Performances 40%

· Extra-credit add x% to final grade

    • Private lessons on your instrument 10%
    • Piano lessons 5%
    • Participate in solo & ensemble festival 5%
    • Pep bad or jazz band 5%
    • Prepare a solo for director (3 minutes) 5%
    • Write a report 3%
    • Community performance 2%
    • Attend a concert 2%

The basic areas of this grading system rely on required elements to achieve the goal of creating independent musicians. The extra-credit areas offer other incentives to achieve, in part, that same goal.

Another consideration in grading to inspire students is to award full credit for mastery of the tested item. For example, in my beginning classes an A was awarded if the student had zero to one mistake on an eight measure exercise. This might vary depending on difficulty, length, etc. If a student had two to three mistakes (again, depending on length and difficulty) the student received a B. However, both grades received the same amount of points toward the marking period grade. Exceptional performance (zero mistakes) often warranted a bonus a bonus point or star.

One can argue the need to achieve perfection in performance. I agree that is our ideal but I have yet to hear a flawless live performance from any professional ensemble and definitely not from the student and amateur ensembles I have conducted. By allowing a student to receive full credit for a B performance we let them know there is room for improvement but they still did a commendable job. This enhances practicing by students who may feel no matter how much they practice they just can’t get to the A level so why bother.


For the overwhelming majority of us pumping iron in the gym, shooting free-throws over and over, spending hours on the putting green or practicing chip shots is not what we long to do. We want to smack the ball down the fairway, make the basket, block or serve that becomes the big play that produces the cheers from the stands. That, ‘love to practice’ mentality is reserved for the greatest in their sport who relish the toil in anonymity that will lead to greatness.

Band and orchestra students are no different from their counterparts in athletics. Few of them enjoy the tedious repetition required to master technical facility or improved tone or articulation. They joined to play Hot Cross Buns, not practice Hot Cross Buns.

We have all agonized over the continual growing distractions for students that deter them from practicing. Video games, cable TV, hockey or soccer leagues, equestrian teams, IM-ing and text messaging at the speed of light on their iPhone; leave precious little time-let alone incentive-for practicing the chromatic scale.

Encouraging practice is a major concern especially in beginning students. We need to set realistic achievable goals for young students. Requiring students to practice thirty minutes a day will more than likely create a situation where the majority of students will miss a day at some point and then become discouraged at receiving a lesser grade.

Setting up a more realistic expectation of 80-100 minutes a week or 4 five times a week for twenty minutes offers a more easily realized expectation. To encourage more practice offer extra-credit or bonus points for additional practice in increments of 15 minutes or so. This allows students to practice three times for thirty minutes and still receive full credit. When the student realizes how quickly he can get in the time he is inspired to practice.

Another issue regarding practice is if a student is not meeting practice expectations but is able to play the material at an acceptable A or B level, why should his grade suffer because he is only putting in 30 or 40 minutes a week, if that? I recall a classmate of mine in college who could get more done in the practice room in thirty minutes than the rest of us could in two hours and he still played circles around all of us.

By adjusting your grading policy to allow students who can adequately keep up with minimum practice to get the “good grade” along with opportunities for the less gifted musician to earn the grade through increased practice cards you can inspire both students.


The need to have objective criteria for grading necessitates we incorporate regular testing. There are things we can do to mitigate the negative effects.

Beginning students:

  • Beginning students can be encouraged by a few simple strategies. Allow the students to choose individually what they want to be tested on. Tell them they will be tested on any exercise they choose on page eight. One may choose Hot Cross Buns, another Mary Has a Little Lamb and another may select the two note exercise.
  • After a month of choosing from anything, begin to narrow the choices to a specified group of two to four exercises. This could be their choice of three exercises you want to target. The students still get a choice but you get to focus the testing on more productive material.
  • A month later begin testing a specific exercise along with any of their choosing. You may want to test a technical exercise that you specify and let them choose anything else from the page. This allows students to exercise some control of their destiny and encourages practice.
  • In the fourth month you can begin testing anything of your choice from the week’s assignment. This can be from an entire page or from several selected exercises. It is still a good idea to allow students to select another exercise in addition to your choice.
  • Always assign the test material a week ahead and go over it each day in class to reinforce the concepts and guide students to help them succeed.
  • If a student does not get an A or B on the original testing allow them to retest the material even if it takes months to get it. As you review these exercises monitor the students who have not mastered them. If they are performing them well enough with the ensemble give them the grade.

Intermediate and Advanced students:

  • Assign test material two weeks in advance and review it regularly.
  • If you go “down the line” initially select material that even the least accomplished student can perform. This will build confidence and inspire the students to prepare material that is more difficult once they enjoy the feeling of succeeding in this stressful situation.
  • As with beginners allow them to retest material. We can’t expect all students to achieve at the same speed but they all need to ultimately have the skills necessary to perform the music.
  • Even at this level, (especially intermediate) allowing the student to select from a variety of material can encourage them to practice and want to succeed.

Play it again…and again…and…

It seems that we often think it is forbidden to continue to play an exercise that we originally studied months prior. Beginning classes often have a significant portion (20-30%) of the students who may not master a specific technical study and you don’t want to bog the class down by staying with it. This fosters an environment where the students who had difficulty with the exercise never master it and begin to feel band or orchestra is too difficult.

If you include the various technical exercises and concepts in your warm-up the students who originally had difficulty with a particular exercise will eventually master it. You don’t need to play these everyday. Incorporate them on a rotation hitting them every three class periods.

You can help inspire students by monitoring those who didn’t master the exercise or concept. When they can play it recognize their accomplishment. Eventually over 95% of the class will master the exercise. It may take a couple of months or more but this gradually eliminates or at last diminishes the stigma of failure by creating an inspiring environment where students always have a chance to “win”.

Recognize achievement

One of the most effective and easiest ways to inspire students is through immediate recognition of achievement. This can be especially effective with less proficient students. It can be as simple as praising some improvement and giving a bonus check in your grade book.

Students who have been the least responsive in your class can be turned on by a simple bonus star on a wall chart or as involved as a phone call to the parent praising any aspect of improvement in their child. Rather than requiring them to have all their materials or having correct posture, reward those who do. Gradually, faster than you may think, the class will want to earn the recognition through praise instead of fear of admonition. Instead of requiring them to sit properly, you inspire them.

Granted, this is a subtle distinction. To earn the recognition the student must meet your expectations but you are not demanding (requiring) it, you are encouraging those who do. The more the student is recognized for appropriate practices from bringing equipment to performance the more he will want to achieve the appropriate practices.

Good, Better, That’s It

Too often we spend the majority of the class or rehearsal time correcting. Calling attention to key signatures, rhythmic interpretation, style, volume, attacks, releases and the list goes on. By comparison we spend precious little time on what’s correct. Obviously these are important issues for a successful performance but it isn’t very inspiring when everything the student does is wrong.

Making a positive comment about first, telling the student what is good and then offering suggestions for improvement will create a more inspired student.

  • Good-“John, that was excellent tone. I can tell you are using great breath support.”
  • Better – “Now, if you can hold out the dotted half note for a full three counts instead of two that will be terrific.”
  • That’s It – “John, great sound, rhythm and style. Can you do that again?” Or, “That’s it. That’s a great ensemble sound. Let’s play that again.”

The, “That’s It,” opportunity is too often missed. How is the student or ensemble ever going to know what we are looking for if we never identify when it’s right? There is nothing more inspiring than getting it right and we need to seize on these opportunities to reinforce the teaching to encourage the student to seek more of those, “Aha,” moments.

In today’s “Wanna Be” society we need to adjust our teaching methods from “Hafta Be. We want to be the next American Idle, or star quarterback. Not many of us are happy having to pursue our parents’ careers. The autocratic method may produce satisfactory results but at what cost. It fosters drop-outs and a negative environment. If we can inspire our students to want to be better players we can enhance retention and enjoy teaching in a better environment, thereby inspiring ourselves as well as our students.

Teacher Ed. Community Striving to Interpret Candidate ‘Dispositions’

By Vaishali Honawar

“Dispositions” has been one of the most controversial words in teacher education since the beginning of this decade. Now, a position paperRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader from the leading advocacy group for the nation’s teacher colleges is calling for an open and critical conversation on the meaning and uses of the term.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education first added dispositions to its standards in 2000. But criticism has since swirled endlessly around the political interpretations of the word, as well as the difficulties faced by teacher colleges in addressing and assessing teacher-candidates’ dispositions.

NCATE, which changed its definition of dispositions last year in response to some of those concerns, now defines professional dispositions as “professional attitudes, values, and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and nonverbal behaviors as educators interact with students, families, colleagues, and communities.” The definition focuses on two dispositions in particular that it expects teachercandidates to demonstrate: fairness and the belief that all students can learn.

But there still is a need for more discussion to clarify the complexity of the term for professionals and policymakers, some say.

“We are not at a point where we are absolutely certain about anything in relation to this,” said Mary Diez, the dean of graduate studies at Alverno College in Milwaukee and the chairwoman of a task force set up by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education that drafted the paper.

A Struggle

The position paper, which will be included in a book on the topic to be released next year, was discussed at AACTE’s annual conference last month. It points out that some schools of education “struggle with a fair, just, and effective assessment of dispositional development.”

“Clearly, an expanded, open, and critical conversation about the meaning and uses of dispositions is still needed,” write the authors, who compare the interpretation of the term by educators and policymakers to the proverb of the six blind men and the elephant they encounter for the first time. As each man “observes” the elephant from his particular experience, each comes away with a different idea of what an elephant must be like.

“There is a lack of a clear definition in the way [dispositions] are operationalized in the colleges of education,” said Holly Thornton, an education professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., who has extensively studied the topic.

“It does tend to be the nature of dispositions. It is not something concrete that you can touch or see. … Sometimes, institutions reduce it to something easy to document and measure, like behavior, or a good sense of humor,” Ms. Thornton added.

“While we all know what [dispositions] are, they are difficult to define to people’s satisfaction,” said M. Mark Wasicsko, a professor of education at Kentucky State University in Highland Heights and the director of the National Network for the Study of Educator Dispositions, which holds an annual conference on the topic.

Mr.Wasicsko’s group advocates a definition of dispositions around core concepts, including a positive view of oneself and of one’s students, and the ability to put people first. Aspiring teachers, for instance, respond in writing to a human-relations incident or classroom observations. That approach reveals candidates’ perceptions of themselves in relation to others and the greater world and also an insight into dispositions.

Ms. Thornton includes that model among four she describes in a 2006 paper as being among the most widely used by teacher colleges as a result of NCATE requirements. Each model, she says, has its strengths and flaws. Besides the self-reflection model supported by Mr.Wasicsko’s group, another, for instance, uses a collection of checklists, rating scales, and guidelines correlated to national and state standards. A third one is built around teacher professional characteristics and behaviors such as attendance, work ethic, and punctuality. The fourth model addresses the mismatch between teachers’ and students’ backgrounds, experiences, and languages, and the resulting attitudes of teachers.

‘Taking Responsibility’

Alverno College, often cited as a model, began as far back as 1972 to require candidates to demonstrate eight abilities in order to graduate from the Roman Catholic institution. The abilities are a combination of components including skill, behavior, knowledge, values, and dispositions, and include communication, analysis, social interaction, effective citizenship, and global perspective. Candidates are assessed in those abilities throughout their course of study.

Candidates, said Ms. Diez, need not only demonstrate knowledge of content matter and skills, but also show that they are able to reach out to all students. “It is less a checkoff and more a process of taking responsibility for what a teacher needs to do morally and help students learn,” she said.

Most teacher colleges today are grappling with how to address dispositions, Ms. Diez said. While “in less good situations” some colleges might, for instance, just have a behavior or character checklist, in others the assessment of dispositions is well integrated into every aspect of the program.

Besides the difficulties in actually addressing and assessing dispositions, teacher colleges have had to deal with accusations of political screening by some teachercandidates as well as observers.

In a 2005 paper, William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford University, wrote that NCATE “intended the term ‘dispositions’ to signify ‘beliefs and attitudes’ that reflect a particular stance toward moral issues large and small.”

He warned that unless assessment for accreditation was based on clearly defined principles rather than “the fuzzy intuitions of whoever happens to be in charge of the process at any one time,” the assessment process could be used to eliminate anyone who didn’t pass certain political litmus tests and to indoctrinate those who were afraid of being eliminated.

Teacher colleges that have used dispositions as a reason for expelling candidates have found themselves at the wrong end of a lawsuit. In 2006, for instance, a student released from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., over his views favoring corporal punishment and a rigid instructional approach was reinstated by a court.

Responding to criticisms from Mr. Damon and others, NCATE last year took out the term “social justice” when it revised its definition of dispositions.

NCATE’s new definition was also changed to make implementation a little clearer to teacher colleges. “We expect institutions to carry out assessment of candidates to reveal … that teacher-candidates are fair to all children,” said Arthur E. Wise, the accrediting group’s president. “We do say we wish to see evidence about this in behavior and in expressed attitudes and values.”

Consensus Emerging

Both Mr.Wise and Mr.Wasicsko of the National Network for the Study of Educator Dispositions say consensus has been building in the field over addressing the topic.

According to Mr. Wise, that shared thinking is enshrined in the two dispositions that the new NCATE definition requires teacher candidates to demonstrate.

Mr. Wasicsko says he, too, has observed unification around the core concepts his group espouses. “There’s a lot of coming together in the last two years at the [network’s] national symposium. I’ve started seeing people homing in on those concepts,” he said.

Even non-NCATE institutions are focusing on dispositions.

Other experts say, however, that there still is need for more research- based evidence on the topic. Although they credit NCATE for turning the spotlight on the topic by including dispositions in its standards, they also warn that a theoretical approach to dispositions is not the way to go.

Ms. Thornton proposes arriving at an understanding of dispositions through research, such as time spent studying schools and which teacher dispositions affect student learning.

“A lot of time has not been focused on studying this. We just don’t have a common research base. There hasn’t been an essential focus on what [dispositions] mean,” she said. “People use that term loosely, and personally.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Phonics vs. Whole Word: Excellent New Book Explains A Lot

by: BruceDPrice

I have been studying the Reading Wars (phonics vs. Whole Word) for several years. The crime mystery of the century, if you ask me.

One thing that makes research difficult is that educators in the USA slip around in secrecy. Remember, they’re embracing philosophies, and promoting policies, that nobody ever voted on or even discussed in public. If you look back over the last 100 years, you’ll see a sludge of bad ideas that seem to bob in on the tide. John Dewey set the tone around 1900 with his decision to transform the country’s educational system in a clandestine manner by taking control of the ed schools, and using them to indoctrinate successive waves of new teachers.

A new book reveals that developments in England were similar but more overt. The Labour Party, often in power, was shamelessly Socialist and pushed a philosophy called Progressivism. One goal was egalitarianism any way they could get it. One tactic was to dumb down the schools, and the chief weapon there was Whole Word. In short, the UK story is our story but made visible. This story is spelled out in a wonderful book called “The Great Reading Disaster” by two remarkable women, Mona McNee and Alice Coleman.

If you’re curious about the details of the reading wars and the ed wars, this is a must-read.

I just learned of this book (published in 2007) about two weeks after I’d finished a new article called “The War Against Reading” (#30 on My piece is about the US, not the UK; it’s an historical essay, not a book. Still, it’s remarkably parallel in tone and conclusion. The difference is that I’m often tiptoeing around because I can’t always be 100% sure that X did Y for Z reason. Our educators don’t have mea culpa moments. I make a circumstantial case that our top educators really were trying to dumb down the country with their wrong-headed ideas. Phonics had to be driven out, Whole Word had to be made king. Social engineering went amuck, and now we have 50,000,000 functional illiterates.

McNee and Coleman don’t have to tiptoe. Everything is more out in the open. The dumb ideas are official government policies. Predictably, the situation there got even worse than here.

I’ll just mention two of the book’s main recommendations: every last scrap of Whole Word must be eliminated (including the mixed bag called Balanced Literacy); and the ed schools should be closed as the authors admit they can’t imagine how they can be reformed, so entrenched are the bad ideas!

Here are two particularly lovely quotes: “The real villains were not the victimized teachers who carried out the intellectual child abuse but the training establishments that brainwashed them into doing so.”

“Deweyism is inherently self-contradictory. For all his talk of child-centeredness, he really aimed to sacrifice children’s individuality to the group...While he derided the traditional authority he wanted to replace, he did not hesitate to incorporate more intense authority of his own.”

I have a review of this excellent book on, if you want more details.

YouTube Postscript: I find that even well-educated people have little understanding of why Whole Word is sinister. I am always looking for clever ways to explain this quickly. I created two graphic videos for YouTube titled “Phonics vs. Whole Word” and “Phonics vs. Whole Word--Take 2.” Together they require only about 8 minutes. Then you’ll know!

About the Author

Bruce Deitrick Price's main site is, now up to 50,000 words of original content. Many articles deal with reading wars, ed wars, and efficiency in teaching.

Teaching Skills

LANGUAGE TEACHING SKILLS: Teaching skill is a specific task. Particularly, teaching to blind children its very valuable and very specific task. Language appears when actions begin to be represented symbolically. Its importance is found in the teaching skills which develop during the first two years. Once a child has the ability to represent reality through thought, language and cognition become closely intertwined. The child's ability to acquire new concepts depends upon her ability to express her ideas clearly, ask questions, and comprehend the given answer.

Economically disadvantaged children have smaller vocabularies than their middle-class peers because lack of meaningful experiences. A visually impaired or blind child may also have a smaller vocabulary for the same reason. It may use words or phrases it hears without really understanding the meaning. It may have difficulty to recognise pronouns: you, me, he, she, and it. It may have difficulty relating the sequence of events,.

For that reason, in teaching skills parents and specialists need to be aware of the power of language and experience in helping to develop the child's reasoning abilities and her understanding of the world. Vocabulary is an important part in new teaching skills which is taught. Family "talk time" is important to develop the social functions of language, as well as expanding the child's knowledge. Modelling correct sentence structure provides examples of rules for the child to follow. Reading to the child at an early age promotes a love of books which can open worlds of experience and information generally inaccessible to the visually impaired or blind child.

Socialization teaching skills Socialization is the growing relationship between the child and the world. It begins in infancy with the awareness of "I - you." A visually impaired child and his mother may have difficulty bonding because of its lack of eye contact or a social smile. In addition, some children are tactually defensive and do not like to be held or cuddled. These problems can inhibit the parent and create an environment with less social interaction for the child. Parents need a great deal of support and encouragement to deal with these issues, as well as the grief and loss they are experiencing for the success development of teaching skills.At an older age, the child may be noticeably "different" in a group of children because he is unaware of the group dynamics operating. His body language may not be the same as that of his peers.It is sometimes difficult for a parent to separate from the visually impaired child and "allow" the child the independence to attend a preschool -- particularly one with sighted peers. However, early experience in a group setting can be very beneficial for the visually impaired child, especially if the child has no siblings who are close in age.

Some of the teaching skills in this section refer to the Compensatory teaching Skills section. Many visually impaired children will develop the social skills learned visually without additional teaching. Most blind children will require a little extra help.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Quality Public Education

By Karen Hoeve

In 2004 Forbes magazine ranked Raleigh, North Carolina's Wake County Public School System ( WCPSS ), third in the nation for "Best Education in the Biggest Cities". It's no wonder, as Greater Raleigh is able to provide superior education opportunities in both public and private settings. WCPSS is a national leader on the education front. The school system boasts a solid high school graduation rate, great access to educational resources, and affordability in housing. All these factors, combined with it's amazing programming make for an undeniably strong school system.

If you are moving to the Greater Raleigh area and want to know about specific WCPSS programming, read on:

K-12: The Formative Years

Committed to excellence, The Board of Education has adopted an ambitious goal. They aim to have 95 percent of WCPSS students in grades three through 12, at or above grade level by the end of this year! Such ambitious goals are indicative of a forward thinking and committed board, who are dedicated to providing the best education and ensuring that positive growth continues.

Parents in this area have a wide variety of educational options. There are many traditional public schools and also numerous private and special-needs schools. WCPSS offers over 20 programs in the district with 51 magnet schools. The award winning magnet school program provides creative approaches for teachers to reach students and to meet different student's individual learning styles and needs. Magnet schools in the area, have been especially recognized with awards such as the United States Magnet School of Excellence of award and the Magnet School of Distinction award.

Recently the district received a portion of a 2.3 million dollar grant to open a health and life science themed high school aimed at developing students for both higher education and jobs in biotechnology and health care. Students at these schools will have the opportunity to participate in internship programs and will have access to community college and university level courses. There's other grant funding in place which comes from the New Schools Project, an 11 million dollar grant that will create more than 100 new and redesigned high schools across the state.

Post- Secondary: Superior Education at Your Doorstep!

North Carolina State University, as one of the nation's top research universities, is a great example of one the best post secondary options in Raleigh. Home to BTEC, The Golden LEAF Biomanfacturing Training and Education Center, this University is committed to providing a highly trained, industry-focused workforce. Dedicated to pursue "innovation in action", NCSU partner's with business's, industry and government with a focus to collectively create innovative products and research.

The region's community colleges also offer solid programs for those wishing to pursue technical, or specialized training in particular sectors of the workforce.

North Carolina community college is focused on biotechnology training to provide a highly trained workforce for the estimated 125,000 residents of NC who will be employed in this sector by 2025.

Wake Technical Community College is a leader in biological and chemical technology programs. They also offer North Carolina's only community college lab facility for industrial pharmaceutical technology. As a state leader providing over 20% of all industry training offered by community colleges in the state, Wake Tech serves as a catalyst for economic growth and development. This exceptional community college assists thousands of businesses with its superior Small Business Center and New and Expanding Industry Program.

It is easy to see why Raleigh, North Carolina boasts one of America's most educated workforces. If education is important to you and your family, consider Raleigh, North Carolina as a smart option for a solid future.


NLP improving Accelerated Learning

By Rintu Basu

Accelerated Learning involves three fundamental elements. Firstly there is emotional or state control, the second is self beliefs and the third is the tools and techniques. Generally accelerated learning deals with tools and techniques. The tools and techniques are only really effective if you deal with the negative emotions and limiting beliefs. This article will talk aboutthe first of these elements and how you can use Neuro-Linguistic Programming to make a dramatic change to your learning ability.

State control in a learning context is about two general challenges. The first is about being in the perfect studying state. The second is about dealing with the emotional baggage left from less than perfect schooling.

Many school systems work with a narrow bandwidth of study styles. If this did not agree with you at the time you might be left with some emotional baggage from the experience. Think about aged six being humiliated in front of teachers and your peers about reading. The emotional baggage may manifest later as a fear of delivering training, going on study programmes or reading new books.

Some schooling has a focus on getting things right or wrong with only one answer being the ‘right’ answer. There is a right way to answer exam questions and if you don't follow that process specifically you have the wrong answer. In a competitive environment there are winners and losers, perhaps some children may have lost at the time and after they have grown up, they are still holding on to the emotional charge. It is useful when embarking on a programme of study that you get rid of all of the negative experiences that you may have experienced at school.

Another is caused by having too much energy, excitement and enthusiasm to concentrate on getting the job done.

It is necessary to get the perfect state for your practice and study subjects. The state you need to practice stage routines with your rock band would be completely different to writing sociology essays for example.

Whether calm concentration or high energy is necessary Neuro Linguistic Programming has a collection of techniques to get you there. If you have negative emotions towards learning a particular subject Neuro Linguistic Programming has tools to help you release them. As you can see this is an important device.

NLP is based on modelling how people use their minds and process information. On a good NLP Practitioner Programme you will learn the techniques to build your own study process so you can learn faster than you ever have before. For example using Anchoring, an NLP tool you can build the perfect study state for any particular subject and access it any time you want. NLP Training Courses are geared to give you the methodology to be able to do this and much more.

Going on an NLP Practitioner Course will make a big difference to your study skills. Once you have dealt with unwanted emotions NLP will show you how to change limiting beliefs as well as how you process information the most efficiently. From doing this you will be studying more efficiently regardless of the huge number of accelerated learning techniques you will also study on a good NLP Practitioner Course.


Student loan company settles with FTC over data mishandling

by: Dan Kaplan

A student loan company has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over charges it did not offer reliable security for its customers' personal information.

San Diego-based Goal Financial has experienced a number of data-security shortfalls, according to the FTC, including the unauthorized transfer of more than 7,000 files of consumer information to third parties and the sale of surplus hard drives that still contained the personal records of 34,000 consumers.

The FTC said in a Tuesday statement that Goal Financial violated agency rules that require organizations to assess the risks related to data handling, restrict access to certain information, deploy a comprehensive information security program, provide employee training and ensure partners comply with data-protection rules.

In addition, the loan company broke FTC privacy regulations by offering a “false and misleading” privacy policy that incorrectly told customers their data was being protected through “reasonable and appropriate measures.”

Richard Taylor, who is listed on the company website as Goal Financial's chief marketing officer, told on Thursday that he is “vaguely” connected with the company and unable to comment on the settlement.

A call to Goal Financial's main customer service number yielded an answering machine, and, according to the site, the company is no longer accepting loan applications due to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007.

Under a consent order with the FTC, Goal Financial must implement an IT security program to include administrative, technical and physical safeguards. In addition, the company is required to undergo a security audit every two years for the next decade.

According to the FTC, this is the 17th time the agency has pursued charges against a company alleged to have lax information security measures in place.

6 Steps to Encourage Your Children to Get That Homework Done

by Stephanie Foster

As the school year takes off, the homework battle begins anew for many parents. Kids don't always want to spend hours on homework when they get out of school, when there are friends to see, games to play and shows to watch.

For many parents, this is a nightly battle. They have to check to be sure that the homework is done every night, or even just about have to stand over their child to make sure the work gets done. It's hard on both parties.

Life gets much easier when you find ways to motivate your children to get their homework done. For many families, motivation works far better than punishment.

1. Set a regular homework time. This may need to be somewhat flexible to cope with outside activities, but should be as regular as possible. This time should be free from television and other distractions.

2. Consider a reward system. You can reward completion of homework within a given time, finishing homework without being reminded, or whatever suits your family. Talk over what would be a good reward, and change the rewards as the need for motivation changes.

3. Back up rewards. This is especially important if homework has been a problem. Successful completion gets a rewards; working too slowly or refusing to finish means the loss of a privilege.

4. Know how often to give rewards. Especially as your homework routine gets established, rewards should not need to be given daily. You can have your child work all week toward a reward on the weekend, for example.

5. Follow through. It doesn't matter how your child resists a new routine, you need to keep it up. Children know when they can talk their way out of something. If you can stick to the new routine, they will adopt it. A few days of battles over homework, even if the battles are severe, are better than month after month of battles over homework.

6. Be there for your child. Kids often have questions about their homework. While you want them to understand how to do the work, you can help them understand what the question is really asking or show them how to follow the examples to answer a problem. Doing all the work or even most of it limits how much your child is really learning.

Choosing the right reward can help. Extra TV time is fun for your child, as is extra video game time, but time spent as a family is the best reward. A family game night, trip to the park or museum, and so forth, make for great rewards that your child can build toward.

About the Author

Stephanie Foster runs as a resource for stay at home moms. She offers more time management tips for stay at home moms at her site.

Goodwyn's Teaching Notes

by Kate Marie Ryan


The eight week placement at Glendowie College has literally flown by with little time until now for proper reflection on the progress I have made as a student teacher. Goodwyn's article notes that the teaching cycle comprises of planning, teaching and evaluating. I aim to focus this particular entry on these three areas, combining the influence of my four associates within each area.

Goodwyn notes that the planning stage is all about what the student teacher already knows. It is also about the selection of the range of possibilities that have been observed or recommended. Easily this has affected the level of ease or difficulty I have found in planning my lessons.

For my junior English class I was given free reign of teaching a poetry unit. No framing was given except that I had to incorporate classical forms such as ballads or sonnets. As poetry is one of my favourite texts I found I could bring into the planning my own resources (including those accumulated on the course) and background knowledge. This made the planning stage much easier and I received a great deal of enjoyment out of it. My associate proved helpful in the earlier stages of planning by lending me her folder for stimulus and recommended good websites for reference. The Head of English also lent me a resource and encouraged me to challenge the accelerate class with Year 11 texts such as Browning.

Meanwhile the senior English class was tackling Achievement Standard 3.4 with the visual text of 'O Brother Where Art Thou'. Luckily I was familiar with the film and also a teaching unit had been purchased by the school which helped guide my planning. Unfortunately due to time constraints of getting through the material prior to exams I was only able to teach four lessons with this class. The lessons I prepared focused on character and theme. My associate assisted me by suggesting possible tasks such as splitting the class into groups and completing individual character studies which were then presented to the rest of the class.

As I am familiar with close reading film and also poetry texts I found the planning for these classes enjoyable and less intensive as for my other two classes, media and drama.

The planning stage is definitely made easier if one knows what they are teaching! Unfortunately my knowledge of the development of the documentary genre was zilch and I had to complete some quick study over the weekends prior so I felt confident enough to teach the material to the students the following week. Without visual resources to back up my explanations of the modes of documentary I felt the planning for these lessons extremely challenging. Especially as it was quite dull material on technological developments. I felt that given more time to become acquainted with the material I could possibly have come up with better planned lessons that would engage the students more. Instead they were left with a jigsaw activity, a cloze activity and a group matching activity which ended up being quite confusing. My associate was helpful in the earlier stages by lending me her NCEA booklet on Media which was a great springboard to use. The remaining of my material came from past lecture notes I found over the internet. Unfortunately due to training and other commitments my associate was unable to see most of my teaching of the genre documentary so all of my planning was done independently and I hoped for the best! The other area where I was less familiar with the content was within my drama class. I hadn't observed many lessons so was unfamiliar with the group dynamics and capabilities of the students. Most of my planning was pitched for a more confident class so it ended up being a constant struggle to keep them motivated and their confidence levels up. My associate had not given me a framework with which to work from so from a planning point of view I found this quite a challenge! Perhaps I should have consulted her more at an earlier stage however it proved difficult to find time together to discuss the issues I was having with planning. Michelle Hesketh on the other hand was most helpful during this time in allowing me to see the wood for the trees and I managed to plan a heroes unit with relatively positive outcomes.

Throughout my placement I feel that my planning has progressed considerably. During the first half of my placement I began writing word-for-word scripts, however I have now moved away from these and treat the lesson plans more like a 'blueprint' of what 'should happen'. Throughout the whole placement I have used the GRAPES method in planning (with the exception of drama which has instead been adapted to suit the nature of the subject) which I have found an invaluable structure to use. Earlier on I found that my pace was either too fast or too slow and rarely did it match the timing I had on my plans. Flexibility and awareness of how long activities take has therefore been the key to planning progress here. I also found that I was often planning the night before I had a lesson which proved unhelpful as I was unable to obtain feedback from my associate prior to lessons. In this respect my lessons were done entirely independently with little associate guidance in the planning stages however their feedback proved valuable during teaching and evaluation stages.

My first teaching experience still remains a bit of a blur as I was so nervous and it went so fast. I taught a lesson on listening which coincidently by the end of the lesson was as far from quiet and listening as we could get! My first teaching lesson had been learnt. Lay down the ground rules for absolute quiet and respect for those who are speaking! I quickly developed styles to suit the levels I was teaching. No surprises that the junior classes required much more discipline, repetition and explanation than the senior classes. I had many lessons that I would come out of on an absolute high and then also lessons where I couldn't wait for that bell to go to get me out of there! My senior English class was difficult to teach due to the fact that at times my associate remained the 'teacher' during my lessons. This left me feeling slightly un-empowered when it came to classroom management and gaining respect, however overall the experience and her advice was still invaluable. During the teaching stages I feel I progressed in terms of my instructions for activities and also in the developing knowledge of when not to get sidetracked or roped into silly behaviour.

The evaluation period I feel was one of the crucial areas to my development over the eight week placement. Secondary English Magazine writes that an invaluable role associates' play is that of monitoring and developing the student teachers own reflection on their own teaching. I found that my junior English associate was especially effective in this way. Usually I would take onboard the feedback, both verbal and written, that she would give me at the end of each lesson. I would then go away and jot down some of my own ideas and general reflection on the lesson. Her observations of my teaching isolated a problem with my questioning right at the beginning. I was asking open ended questions to the whole class and not getting any feedback. I changed this to asking open ended questions to specific students by using their names, especially those sitting down the back, to ensure that they remained on task and engaged. This is a technique I also picked up for the other classes. Simple but effective. Her feedback was often positive even when I felt that things had not gone so well. For example when I gave them a task that I thought was too easy for them, she noted that everyone was still engaged and doing it, which showed that learning must have been happening. This was particularly valuable in boosting my confidence which at the time was feeling fragile. My other associates gave both verbal and written feedback although I feel that when they were pointing out where I had gone wrong it would have been useful to discuss how things could have been done alternatively. All of my associates were especially positive about my rapport with the students and noted that this was the first milestone to achieve.

Goals set for self development after each lesson focussed on getting the timing right and ensuring closure for each class. In drama I set myself a goal surrounding the behavioural management aspect which I incorporated into the lesson plans. For example splitting up a troublesome group at the beginning of the lesson and also thinking of ways to make it safer for the more 'geekier' of the class so they were free from being taunted. Overall during the last eight weeks I have learnt to become less reliant on word-for-word scripts and more flexible and aware as to what is happening in the classroom. I feel that I have still much to learn regarding how long some tasks take and also about when and how to pull in the reigns when running out of time. I also feel that I need to set more time aside for reflection of each lesson so I can fully evaluate if the intended learning outcomes were achieved.

My goals for next placement will be firstly where possible to plan my lessons earlier so that my associate will have the opportunity to feed into the planning stages. I feel that I lacked this guidance at Glendowie. Consequently I had been planning tasks to unrealistic learning expectations and timing. Secondly the next goal will be to dedicate myself to learn the names of every student I teach. Not knowing names, especially in drama, has proved disrespectful to the students and has made teaching them much more difficult than it needed to be. By knowing names right at the start I feel I will have a better chance of receiving respect and therefore of achieving learning objectives. Thirdly, I would like to really focus on my timing. I need to find ways of quickening the pace of the lesson so the students are constantly challenged and given deadlines to keep to. They should leave that class feeling like they have accomplished something phenomenal rather than mucked around for an hour. My fourth goal is to incorporate multilevel tasking. As my classes at Glendowie were mostly accelerated I found that they were all relatively on the same level. I realise this is not the case for most classes so once I have my built my confidence on planning and evaluating I would like to do start looking at including multitasking into my lesson plans.

My eight week placement seemed to be in the constant throws of assessment with essays, practical assignments or exam revision. The material taught has been Year 9 poetry, Year 13 visual text and Year 12 media genre. Ideally I would now like to have the opportunity to teach either Shakespeare or an extended text such as a novel at either a junior or senior level. I would also like the opportunity to teach a year 11 class as I think it would be invaluable to note the behavioural shift from Year 10 and Year 11.

Phil Norman notes in Secondary English Magazine that it is important to communicate to student teachers the 'enduring enthusiasm and optimism about teaching itself'. If nothing else the one main thing I have gained from this placement is the knowledge that I have made the right decision to shift into teaching. Everyone one of my associates thoroughly love their jobs and this has been reflected through the respect their students have for them. It has been an inspiration to teach these students and although the planning and evaluating stages still need some work the prospect of having one's own class next year to develop and inspire learning is an exciting and challenging one!

About the Author

Kate Marie Ryan is a Secondary School Teacher of English and Drama. Born in New Zealand, she has lived in Australia, America, Italy and the United Kingdom. She holds a degree in Communication Studies and after working several years in the UK within Theatre, Journalism and Public Relations industries, she returned to New Zealand to complete a Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Secondary). She currently teaches and resides in Sydney, Australia