Friday, December 21, 2012

How to Unleash Creativity

Below is a summary of an article that I received in the December 4th addition of the "Marshall Memo." As I described in the past the "Marshall Memo" is a great source for educators to grab some of the most important information being shared in our field. Sometimes these snapshots keep us in the loop. 

I have always tried to encourage and foster risk taking. Unfortunately, some of the mandates in our profession (and lack of training in this area) doesn't always allow us to "unleash creativity." Please read the ideas below. I welcome your comments.

“Most people are born creative,” say Tom Kelley (University of California/Berkeley and University of Tokyo) and David Kelley (Stanford University) in this thoughtful Harvard Business Review article. “As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and call them dinosaurs.” But as the years pass, formal education takes its toll and many people no longer see themselves as creative.
Kelley and Kelley believe creativity is vital to getting results, and they’re in the business of helping people rediscover their creative confidence, defined as their “natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.” They use “guided mastery” to help people get past fears that inhibit creativity:
            Fear of the messy unknown – One’s office is cozy and predictable, say Kelley and Kelley: “Out in the world, it’s more chaotic. You have to deal with unexpected findings, with uncertainty, and with irrational people who say things you don’t want to hear. But that is where you find insights – and creative breakthroughs.” Venturing out of one’s comfort zone and treating it like an anthropological expedition is a sure way to fire up creativity.
            Fear of being judged – “If the scribbling, singing, dancing kindergartner symbolizes unfettered creative expression,” say Kelley and Kelley, “the awkward teenager represents the opposite: someone who cares – deeply – about what other people think. It takes only a few years to develop that fear of judgment, but it stays with us throughout our adult lives, often constraining our careers.” People self-censor ideas for fear they won’t be acceptable to peers or superiors, constantly undermining the creative process. Kelley and Kelley recommend keeping an idea notebook or whiteboard and scribbling ideas – good, bad, indifferent – with abandon. It’s amazing how much good stuff is written down by the end of each week. They also suggest scheduling “white space” time when the only task is to think and daydream – perhaps while taking a walk. It’s also important to reach an agreement with colleagues to use more supportive language in response to wild and crazy ideas, shifting from “That will never work” to “I wish…” or “This is just my opinion and I want to help.”
            Fear of the first step – “Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning,” say Kelley and Kelley. “The writer faces the blank page; the teacher, the start of school; businesspeople, the first day of a new project… To overcome this inertia, good ideas are not enough. You need to stop planning and just get started – and the best way to do that is to stop focusing on the huge overall task and find a small piece you can tackle right away.” A boy who procrastinated on a school report on birds till the night before it was due was on the verge of a panic attack, but he got some great advice from his father: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
            Fear of losing control – Many people think they have to solve problems or come up with answers by themselves. Kelley and Kelley say that when we’re stuck, we need to let go and reach out for help. “Confidence doesn’t simply mean believing your ideas are good,” they write. “It means having the humility to let go of ideas that aren’t working and to accept good ideas from other people.” Call a meeting of people who are fresh to the topic and brainstorm. Let the most junior person in the room lead the meeting. Look for opportunities to let go and leverage different perspectives.

“Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” by Tom Kelley and David Kelley in Harvard Business Review, December 2012 (Vol. 90, #12, p. 115-118), no e-link available

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Should Children Read?

Over the Thanksgiving break I received a flurry of emails regarding this article, which was posted in the New York Times. We have been having this conversation internally. I found the article to be very stimulating. Educators are on the brink of a major shift in reading and writing. The battle between fiction and nonfiction is on. 

With the adoption of the Common Core Standards we seem to have little choice of what to assign our students. So, how do we deal with this shift .....even when philosophically one might disagree?

This article has even motivated me to look at additional resources for our school. On Monday Kristen and I will be meeting with a representative for an online newspaper app for the iPad. 

Your thoughts are welcomed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bad Dreams Teachers Have.... and What Do They Mean?

I'm sure we have all lost sleep at night over a pending school issue.... Thought this would be a fun article for you to read. Please feel free to comment on what your nightmare was!

“Even your worst nightmares are just your brain doing its thing to help you become a better teacher,” says Florida teacher Roxanna Elden in this Educational Horizons article. Here are her interpretations of some recurring teacher nightmares:
            You come to school in a bathrobe, your pajamas, or the clothes you went out in last night. Interpretation: feeling vulnerable, inadequate, afraid of being unprepared.
            You are already running late and then get lost on your way to school. Interpretation: perhaps a desire to avoid responsibility, or perhaps just fear of being late.
            Your subject or grade level has been changed at the last minute. Interpretation: fear of wasting all that preparation you’ve done for your classes due to capricious administrators.
            Students come to your house and start helping themselves to bowls of cereal from your kitchen cabinets while you think of ways to keep them busy. Interpretation: you think about your students all the time.
            You are in a physical fight with a student, fellow teacher, or administrator. Interpretation: fight dreams express a desire to defend your honor, values, or personal space. They may also reveal anger, frustration, or a genuine desire to hurt the person in question.
            Your classroom is in the cafeteria, an open field, or an irregularly shaped room in which you can’t see all your students and they can’t hear anything you say. Interpretation: preparing oneself for the worst possible teaching scenario.

“Class Dismissed! Your Unscientific Guide to Interpreting Teacher Nightmares” by Roxanna Elden in Educational Horizons, October/November 2012 (Vol. 91, #1, p. 31)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bullying in the News..... Literally!

On October 2nd news anchor Jennifer Livingston decided to take to task a watcher who chose to comment on her Facebook page with a remark about her weight. She cited that this type of bullying behavior is inappropriate and damaging.

I found this video to be a helpful tool in showing children that bullying exists in our world at all levels. Also, that not learning to communicate effectively early in life could lead to continued bad decision-making. It reminded me that as an adult we are still potential targets and need to know how to address it when it happens.

One of the tenets of the RESPECT Campaign is "Name it!...Claim it!...Stop it! Jennifer definitely did just that.

Please watch this video and feel free to use it in your classroom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Caine's Arcade

As many of you have requested I have supplied here the video for Caine's Arcade as well as the link to this video on You Tube.

Remember the lesson behind the video. It takes only one person to take an interest in a child to change their course. Be that person.

Please feel free to share this video with your students. I'm sure they will be as inspired and motivated as you were. (I'm already working on building my own school out of cardboard!)

I welcome and appreciate any additional comments about the video or an experience you have had.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Ten Principles

            In this article in The Reading Teacher, University of Pennsylvania/East Stroudsburg professor Maureen McLaughlin lays out the goal of reading instruction – “teaching students to become active, strategic readers who successfully comprehend text” – and presents ten principles of reading comprehension she believes every teacher should know:
            Principle #1: Comprehension is the active construction of meaning as the reader makes connections between prior knowledge and the text.
            Principle #2: Most of what we know about comprehension comes from studying good readers. They work at making sense of what they are reading, have clear goals, ask themselves questions as they read, monitor their progress, have a repertoire of strategies, problem-solve and “fix up” when they aren’t understanding, discover new information on their own, think about their thinking, and read widely in a variety of texts.
Principle #3: It’s all about good teaching. Effective teachers believe all children can learn; differentiate instruction using a variety of techniques and groupings; understand that students learn best in authentic situations; orchestrate print-rich, concept-rich environments; have in-depth knowledge of reading, writing, speaking, and listening; provide lots of opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss; draw on insights gained from good readers; and constantly use assessment evidence to fine-tune instruction.
Principle #4: Motivation is a key factor. Effective teachers make students want to read by creating the right environment, making compelling texts available, and instilling intrinsic motivation.
Principle #5: Explicitly teaching a variety of reading comprehension strategies builds students’ reasoning power. These include previewing, self-questioning, making connections, visualizing, knowing how words work, monitoring (Does this make sense?), summarizing, and evaluating.
Principle #6: Vocabulary development is essential. It is fostered by building students’ interest in learning and using new words, developing precision in word use, getting students actively involved in the process, studying how words work, exposing students to new words multiple times, and extending vocabulary development to other subject areas.
Principle #7: Students should read a variety of types and levels of text. These should include instructional-level books for teacher-guided lessons and easier texts for independent reading. Motivation and achievement increase when students read texts that interest them.
Principle #8: Students should use multiple modes to represent their thinking. Oral and written responses are fine, but students should also be able to sketch, dramatize, sing, and create projects about their reading.
Principle #9: Constantly check for understanding. Teachers should observe students as they read and discuss, look at their informal written responses, and use other assessments – and use insights gained to follow up and fine-tune instruction.
Principle #10: Push students to comprehend at deeper levels. Students need to go beyond passively accepting a text’s message and read between and beyond the lines, thinking about the author’s purpose and the underlying message of the text. “Critical literacy focuses on the problem and its complexity,” says McLaughlin. “It addresses issues of power and promotes reflection, action, and transformation.”

“Reading Comprehension: What Every Teacher Needs to Know” by Maureen McLaughlin in The Reading Teacher, April 2012 (Vol. 65, #7, p. 432-440),; the author can be reached at

Friday, April 27, 2012

How Far Would You Go To Give Your Child a Voice?

Recently in the news was the story a father from Cherry Hill New Jersey who felt like his son Akian Chaifetz was not acting his usual self. Akian who is a 10 year old boy diagnosed with autism did not have the voice to express to father why his mood had shifted from pleasant to moments of emotional outbursts. Stuart, Akian's father, began to grow suspicious of the school that Akian attended.

After growing frustration Stuart Chaifetz took a daring step and wired his son with a camera and microphone before sending him to school. What he discovered confirmed his suspicions. 

Mr. Chaifetz was so appalled by the behavior of Akian's teachers that he posted some of the video to YouTube and it has since gone viral with over 3 Million views!

There a lot of issues that have arisen from this case. Three I can immediately consider are; 

1. Did Stuart take the right steps in giving his son a voice?
2. What are the implications for schools if students have cameras on them?
3. How does the ability of "going viral" impact our profession?

Please take a moment to reflect on this pressing scenario. I appreciate all comments and welcome your own questions.

Below is a link to the full story including a video. You can also search the actual footage on YouTube.

Stuart Chaifetz, Father, Puts Wire On Son With Autism, Records Verbal Abuse From Teachers (VIDEO)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Khan Academy

                                                                       Home Page

"Watch. Practice.

Learn almost anything for free.

With a library of over 3,000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 315 practice exerciseswe're on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace."
This is the message that welcomes you to Khan Academy! Check it out! It can be an amazing resource or amazing recreation! Click on the link below to watch a video about Khan Academy that aired on 60 minutes this past Monday. I welcome you comments!
                                                                  The Khan Academy

Friday, February 3, 2012

What's Your Brand?

Have you ever thought about why teachers still get so many apples? Or why the "little school house" still represents what a school looks like? Why do we still brand our profession with age old images?

Click on the link below and check out how Studio 360 and a New York based design firm HYPERAKT has approached re-"branding" teachers and the education system. Watch this 5 minute video and check out our new look!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Reading" the Research

As a present to the administrators in our district we were given access to a publication called the "Marshall MemoA Weekly Round-up of Important Ideas and Research in K-12 Education." In their January 2nd edition they summarized the research behind assisting struggling readers from various sources. I was pleased to see how well it correlates to strategies we currently use inside the classroom during the "Northeast Reading Academy" as well as techniques we employ utilizing support staff. Please read below and feel free to comment on a best practice!

Marshall Memo Item - The Writing Road to Reading Proficiency

            In this Harvard Educational Review article, Steve Graham and Michael Hebert of Vanderbilt University note that major initiatives over the last ten years to improve reading achievement (No Child Left Behind, Reading First, the National Reading Panel) have produced disappointing results: while NAEP math scores improved significantly, reading scores have flatlined and large numbers of students are far from being proficient readers.
            Why? Graham and Hebert believe it’s because the instructional practices identified by the National Reading Panel in 2000 and pursued with gusto across the nation were “too narrow and not complete.” In this article, they report on a meta-analysis of research on one of the underemphasized factors: the impact of effective teaching of writing on students’ achievement in reading. Here are their three research questions and what they found:
            • First, when students write about material they have read, does their comprehension improve? Graham and Hebert found there is significant positive impact in grades 2-12 when students are asked to write about literature and material in science, social studies, and other expository texts. Students did extended writing, summary writing, note-taking, and answering and generating questions. The positive impact of this type of writing was greatest in middle school and with students who were weakest in reading and writing. Why is writing about reading so helpful?
-   It fosters explicitness, as students must select which information in the text is most important.
-   It encourages the writer to organize ideas from the text into a coherent whole and establish explicit relationships among the ideas.
-   It fosters reflection because it’s easier to review, reexamine, connect, critique, and construct new understandings from written text.
-   It gets students personally involved by requiring them to engage in active decision-making about what they will write and how they will treat it.
-   Students must transform or manipulate the text’s language to put it into their own words, which makes them think about what the ideas mean.

            • Second, does explicit teaching of writing skills strengthen students’ reading skills? Again, Graham and Hebert found positive results in this research, which covered grades 4-12 language arts classes.
            • Third, does increasing the quantity of student writing improve how well they read? Yes, say Graham and Hebert, reporting on studies of students in grades 1-6 language-arts classes.
            The authors end on a cautionary note: “Just because a writing intervention was effective in improving students’ reading in the studies included in this review does not guarantee that it will be effective in all other situations,” they say. “As a result, the safest course of action for teachers implementing research-based practices is to directly monitor the effects of such treatments to gauge whether they are effective under these new conditions.” They suggest these key components:
-       Frequent student writing;
-       Explicit skill instruction;
-       Starting small and measuring the impact of each initiative before embarking on others.

“Writing to Read: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading” by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert in Harvard Educational Review, Winter 2011 (Vol. 81, #4, p. 710-744),

Marshall Memo Item - A Non-Pullout Approach for Struggling Readers

            In this Better: Evidence-Based Education article, Lynn Vernon-Feagans and Marnie Ginsberg of the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill describe Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI), a program they developed for the regular classroom teacher that they claim is as effective with struggling readers as pullout programs. Here are the components:
            • One-to-one instruction – The classroom teacher devotes 15 minutes each day to one struggling reader while the rest of the class is working on another task. The focus is on that student’s most pressing need and the daily tutorials continue until the student is making rapid progress and can be moved into small-group and independent activities.
            • Diagnostic thinking and instructional match – “By learning a set of diagnostically efficient word identification and text comprehension strategies that are matched to the skill level of the struggling reader,” say Vernon-Feagans and Ginsberg, “classroom teachers can dramatically increase struggling readers’ progress in early reading.”
            • Moving from decoding to comprehension – TRI teachers focus on helping students crack the code through multi-sensory instruction in sound-symbol relationships, guided oral reading in books at students’ level, and having students summarize, answer questions, and discuss implications.
            • Building sight-word speed, fluency, and comprehension – Struggling students do daily, challenging reading practice in one-to-one and small-group settings, followed by repeated reading of the same text.
            • Literacy coaches – Coaches shadow TRI classroom teachers as they work with struggling readers. “Weekly or biweekly coaching sessions, either live or via webcam, have been shown to permanently change the way teachers think about and teach their struggling readers,” say Vernon-Feagans and Ginsberg. “Through this professional relationship, the teacher learns more about reading development, diagnosis, and efficient strategies that profit not only the one child, but the other students in the class as well.”

“Teaching Struggling Readers in the Classroom” by Lynne Vernon-Feagans and Marnie Ginsberg in Better: Evidence-Based Education, Fall 2011 (Vol. 4, #1, p. 6-7),

Marshall Memo Item - What Works Best in Elementary Reading Instruction

            “Children who do not read well in the early elementary grades are likely to have problems in all areas of schooling, are unlikely to graduate, and may develop serious behavioral or emotional problems,” says Robert Slavin (University of York and Johns Hopkins University) in this Better: Evidence-Based Education article. But which reading approaches work best with readers who are falling behind? Here are the results of a rigorous analysis of 96 studies done by Slavin and his colleagues, listing programs starting with the most effective:
            • One-to-one tutoring by specially trained teachers with an emphasis on phonics (for example, Reading Recovery, Early Steps, Targeted Reading Intervention, and Reading Rescue);
            • Improved whole-classroom approaches, including cooperative learning and teaching metacognitive “learning to learn” strategies (for example, Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies, and Direct Instruction/Corrective Reading); this approach was most effective in the upper elementary grades.
            • Comprehensive school reform programs, combining cooperative learning, phonics, teaching of metacognitive skills, and one-to-one or small-group tutoring (for example, Success for All);
            • One-on-one tutoring by paraprofessionals – This is less effective than tutoring by teachers, but paraprofessionals using programs such as Sound Partners can be cost-effective.
• Small-group tutoring (2-6 students) using phonetic programs (for example, Quick Reads, Corrective Reading, and Voyager Passport);
            • One-to-one tutoring by volunteers – This is more variable than paraprofessional tutoring, but well-trained volunteers using programs such as Book Buddies and SMART can have very good outcomes;
            • Computer-assisted instruction – “Of all the approaches included in the review,” says Slavin, “technology was found to have the smallest effect on the attainment of struggling readers.”

“What Works for Struggling Readers: A Review of the Evidence” by Robert Slavin in Better: Evidence-Based Education, Fall 2011 (Vol. 4, #1, p. 4-5),