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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Notice for Celebration!

Oh, I am so very happy! I have recently heard that several children who were in my class at the tender ages of three, four, and five, have now, as adults, chosen the teaching profession: Matthew Barber, Amy Cade, and Dan Rudnick! And maybe even the Montessori method. Congratulations to you three! May you have the great good fortune to have children in your classes as wonderful as you were.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Oldest Story Never Told

A "Great Lesson" for today:

A couple of days ago my friend and I, each with an occupied dog carrier, climbed into a taxi with an imposing disgruntled driver. “Dogs in the back! Dogs in the back!” he ordered, referring to a third seat, and then aimed a couple additional commands at us which I did not understand.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Africa,” was his reply.

“What country are you from? Africa is a big continent and I'm not smart enough to place your accent.”

“Nigeria. Where are you from?” Still a little hostile.

“Oh, I'm from the United States, the mid-west actually. Ohio.”

Then my friend pipes up from the third seat with the dogs, “I'm from Chicago. I'm Japanese but I was born here. Where were you born?”

“I am from Africa, Nigeria.”

To this I replied, “I guess we could all say we were from Africa.”

“Why do you say that?” He was caught off guard.

“Have you heard of the Human Genome Project? It is a group of people who are trying to find all the human genes. They have gone all around the world to collect representative samples from as many different people as they can locate. When they brought all the findings together, they saw that there were many different human genes in all the continents, but the only continent that had all of them, all the different genes, was Africa. That's when they knew...”

“Knew what?” His tone had changed.

“Well, maybe I should have said 'suspected.' That's when they realized that if all the genes were in Africa, then all of our ancestors must have brought them with them when they left Africa. In other words, we are all from Africa, only some of our families left sooner than others.”

“So why did they leave?”

“Well, according to a Nova program on PBS, they were hunters who depended on animals for food. When the animals ran out of food, they left for greener pastures, and for generations these hunters followed their prey.“

“I'm from Africa so why haven't I heard this?”

“I don't think very many people have heard this story. More people should tell it.”

Studies indicate that all modern humans share a common female ancestor who lived in Africa about 140,000 years ago, and all men share a common male ancestor who lived in Africa about 60,000 years ago. These were not the only humans who lived in those eras, and the human genome still contains many genetic traits of their even more ancient contemporaries. But these are only Humanity's most recent common ancestors. They are identifiable because their lineages have survived by chance in the special pieces of DNA that are passed down the gender lines nearly unaltered from one generation to the next. These ancestors are part of a growing body of fossil and DNA evidence indicating that modern humans arose in sub-Saharan Africa and began migrating, starting about 65,000 years ago, to populate first southern Asia, China, Java, and later Europe. Each of us living today has DNA that contains the story of our ancient ancestors' journeys.

From: genomics.energy.gov


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making Friends with Non-phonetic Words

Even if the following exercises seem somewhat pedantic, their aim is to demonstrate how a competitive traditional group exercise can become a cooperative one. Refusing to fall back on competitive models can change he entire demeanor of a classroom.

Although we Montessorians focus on the phonetics of English, there is a subtle disclaimer thumbing its nose at the children as they pass by their cubbies: their own names. I have already written a little about the phonetic materials, sandpaper letters {“How Terry and Tracy learn to write in a Montessori classroom,” April 10, 2010) and the moveable alphabet (“The Moveable Alphabet,” July 30, 2010). These are the main parts of Montessori's language program, linked to each other and both phonetic. Of course, there is that non-phonetic aspect to English and for this most Montessori classrooms have a great variety of three-part matching cards, made up of one card having a picture with a label, a second having just the picture, and the third having only the label. Lessons are given using these cards, then children may take them out to match them by themselves. Many of these cards are connected to nomenclature relating to materials the children work with in the classroom. And there are yet more ways we can introduce the children to non-phonetic words. When we are sitting as a group, we can play games of word recognition.

Phase one: On a day in September I am sitting with the children in a circle on our rug area, not expressly for the purpose of lessons but because we are waiting. Three children are assembling the room for lunch, and the rest remaining in the circle are taking turns to wash their hands. Sometimes we play games or sing. But today is a time for a practical game of word recognition, in this case their own names. I hold up a name card. I read, “Joseph Katz.” Joseph stands up.
I say, “Joseph, please come here and look at this name card. I want you to be sure this is your name.”
Joseph walks to me and looking directly at the name card, he says, “Yes that's my name.”
I ask, “Can you read it for us, please?” as I hand it to him.
He looks down at it and reads, “Joseph Katz,” hands it back and walks to the hand washing stand.

This reading exercise, like the Montessori hand washing exercise, is a practical one. It enables every child to find his own cubby because each name card is as it appears on the cubby. Each is written on a strip of lined writing paper which any child can copy during class time to practice name writing, his own or even a friend's. I am using the names from this exercise, holding them up one at a time to call each child to wash. In the beginning of the year, I read each name aloud as I show it, then the child named rises to wash his hands. Since two-thirds of the class has been exposed to this game the previous year, before very long we are advancing to the next phase of my showing each name in silence. This can happen when I am certain that at least half the class recognizes their own names. Then I show the names without reading them myself but ask each child who stands to read his own name.

Phase two: It is early November now and we are again sitting in a circle, preparing to wash our hands. I show a name card, Anda Somer, that no one responds to. I say, “If you can read this name, very quietly raise your hand. We do need someone who can read this name. But please don't speak it out loud. We need someone quiet to help its owner read it.”
Several children volunteer by raising their hands. I choose Rollie. “Rollie, can you please take this name card and walk around the outside of the circle and hand this to its owner? Then whisper her name in her ear.” Rollie does and returns to his place.
I look at the whisper's recipient and ask, “Did he say your name?” The recipient nods. “And what did he say?”
“Anda Somer.”
“Was he right? Does this look like your name?”
“Now can you tell me what this says?”
“Anda Somer.”
“Anda, you may go to wash your hands.” She hands me the card as she leaves.”
This exercise works because the name cards are the same as those they see every day on their cubbies.

Fast forward to January and here we are sitting in that hand washing circle waiting again for lunch. Yesterday we sang and played musical games but today we are playing a different kind of word recognition game, this time with high frequency non-phonetic Dolch words.

I begin by holding up a Dolch word and saying, “This word is 'the,' a very useful word. Who would like to hold 'the'?” A hand goes up. “Sandy, can you hold 'the' for us and remember that it says 'the'?”
I continue the same way passing out “to,” “you,” “of,” and “was," our first five Dolch words.

“Now Sandy, look at your word, and if you can remember what it says, very quietly hold it up.“ Sandy is holding up his Dolch word. I say to the group, “If you know what it says, raise your hand, and Sandy will pick someone to say his word.”

Sandy picks Rafael who says, “The.”

I say, “Sandy, Is he right? If he's right, please hand Rafael the “the.” Sandy nods and hands him the card. I say, “Good, Rafael!. And Sandy, you can go to wash your hands.” And we proceed in a similar fashion with the next word “to,” and continue through the remaining three words, giving everyone possible a turn.

In my class we have thirty-three Dolch words that are available on the language shelf as an exercise or for reference. As a group we gradually work through them until we are saturated.
The other Dolch words are:

he, she, they, be, we
said, for, all, there, some
have, little, do, could, one
when, what, where, were, would
my, are, come, very, over
want, two, by

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Education: Conversations about the Future

Last night I went to a meeting held in the Thorne Auditorium at the beautiful Northwestern Law School on Lake Michigan. The meeting was the brain child of its commentator, Bruce Dold, the editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune. It was a meeting whose time had come, with all the important people who determine the future of Chicago's children but cannot agree on much. And Chicago's children suffer because of this conflict. Those present for the Mr. Dold's discussion included:
Ron Huberman, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools,
Karen Lewis, elected president of the 30,000 strong Chicago Teachers' Union in June 2010,
State Senator James Meeks, founder of Salem Christian Academy and now serving his third term (15th district) as the first independent ever elected to the Illinois Senate,
Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago,
Harriet Meyer, president of the Ounce for Prevention Fund, fought for and secured funding for early childhood education, including Preschool for All, making Illinois the first state to offer preschool to all three and four year olds.

The following are comments I have included below because I felt they were significant. I apologize but my voice recorder did not work so I have had to reconstruct the conversation from my brief notes.

Ron Huberman began by saying he sees ineffective teachers as central to CPS's problems, and to correct this he has now replaced many principals with stronger ones who are not afraid of dismissing those ineffective teachers. (There are 120 principals in the Chicago Public Schools.) He has deduced this as a solution because the great majority of ineffective teachers are to be found in the same schools, many at schools in the poorest neighborhoods.

Karen Lewis defended teachers and said removing an ineffective teacher is a process that takes no more than three months BUT the process may not be circumvented. She said Chicago schools are still stuck in a 19th century model. But the major problem that she sees with schools is underfunding, that those schools in the poorest neighborhoods receive the least money and have the greatest problems to overcome because there are no jobs, they are crime ridden, and they offer no promising vision for the students' future.

James Meeks observed that the radical changes CPS needs will not occur until we reclaim our schools, taking them away from the politicians; i.e., Mayor Daley and his appointed board. He supports the use of school vouchers so that children can have an opportunity to go to the school of their own choosing. That way they can select schools having programs that match their aptitudes and their interests, and avoid schools in neighborhoods that put them in harm's way.

Sister McCaughey was introduced as being successful in maintaining schools (Chicago's Catholic Schools) having records of little violence. She said that there are occasional problems between students but there is basically a peaceful atmosphere in her schools. She credits this to the schools' close ties to the children's families and that this cooperative effort is understood by the parents as a prerequisite for admission. She said although it is true that some very difficult children must be dismissed, this is also true for any Chicago Public School. She also pointedly credited early childhood education as being essential to having fewer problems in her schools.

Harriet Meyer, probably the person we have to thank for Chicago's new childhood programs, was confronted with the idea that Chicago elementary teachers feel that local funding of these recently added preschool programs has taken money away from them. Meyer said that we are one of the few western nations that have not funded early childhood programs. She added that research shows that children having an early childhood education, even missing an effective elementary education can become effective adults. Without the early childhood education, any defective educational effort is apt to impair that adult's ability to function positively in society.

At the end of the meeting Ron Huberman stated “The school's culture has to be established by the teachers—not the kids.”

So true, sir. But build a school like the one in my neighborhood, one large enough to house 942 students, 84.5% living below the poverty line, one like Roberto Clemente. Look at the surrounding neighborhoods where they live, and the only obvious wealth seems to come from dealing drugs. By the time most of our boys reach Clemente, they are committed to a neighborhood gang for its power if not its drugs. The gangs have already taught them to be loyal and tough. So even though only half these students are boys, the neighborhood girls defer to them. A company of marines might be able to change their culture, but adults wanting them to read books and write papers... Get real! You are too late. Listen to Harriet Meyer: we have to get there first!