Friday, April 24, 2015

The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education: My Review


About the Book:
Early childhood educators need to be cognizant of the disconnect between public policy and classroom practice—the success of children they teach depends on it. This book analyzes how ineffective practices are driven by unexamined public policies and why educators need to challenge their thinking in order to make a difference in children's lives. A very complex story about public policy and the importance of teaching is told while entertaining and engaging the reader throughout.

Michael Gramling is an expert in providing family literacy training and positive guidance training 
and has conducted experiential supervisor and mentor coach institutes for Head Start programs.

My Comments:
"Data-driven instruction" is one of the big buzzwords in education today.  It is something accreditation team expect to find and something from which lots of computer companies make a lot of money.  Michel Gramling says it is hurting those it is most supposed to help--low income "at risk" kids in preschool programs.  

In short, the model of education adopted by many low-income schools is to define objectives and then plan lessons, experiences and evaluations to determine if those objectives have been met.  This leads to a process of basically "teaching the test" where the teachers constantly go over--teach in a "linear manner" the items on the test.  Making a construction paper jack-o-lantern is an opportunity to review the colors orange and black and the names of facial features.  While not denying that knowing such things is important, Gramling points out that the major difference between high-income students and low-income students is the number and quality of words to which they have been exposed prior to entering schools.  Because the high-income students' parents tend to be better educated and tend to use a more sophisticated vocabulary naturally, even when conversations are not directed at the children, the children absorb the sounds and meanings of those words.  As a result, high-income students are far ahead in language acquistion when they get to school--whether school is kindergarten or preschool.  Further, it is Gramling's belief that the way to increase the vocabulary of low-income students is not to directly teach the words, but rather to engage the children in conversations or to allow her to hear conversations where the teacher is using a variety of words, talking about a wide range of topics and using sophisticated sentence structure.  For example, using the linear model, a teacher would approach a child building a block tower and compliment him on it and then ask him questions about the shapes of the blocks he was using, how many blocks he was using or the colors of the blocks.  Using Gramling's approach, the teacher would look at the tower and ask what it was used for.  Upon recieving an answer, the teacher would continue the conversation, doing most of the talking, but giving the child a chance to analyze, think, and to hear words that would not necessarily come up in a lesson plan.  For example, a child built a house.  The teacher talked about not liking it when people barged into the bathroom and asked about building a bathroom just for the child's mother.  The child had never seen a house with two bathrooms, so she rejected that idea, but did come up with putting a lock on the door to assure privacy.  The linear model, Gramling states, exposes children to far fewer words and does so in an isolated manner.

The pre-schools of the well-to-do focus on providing a lot of experiences in a lot of areas to enrich the child's life.  The data-driven government-funded pre-schools for the poor focus on meeting objectives, many of which are developmental and which cannot be hurried along by direct instruction.  Gramling points out that unless there is a developmental problems, all children learn to sit up, roll over, stand and walk, in pretty much the same order and at about the same time--though some take longer than others, and there isn't much you can do to hurry the process.  Nevertheless, Gramling points out that many preschools attempt to do just that--to force the children to behave in school-appropriate ways with the excuse "they will have to do it in kindergarten, so we need to get them ready".  

What Gramling found most distressing, and what is alluded to in the title, is that the data-driven linear methods of instruction are not what all the research on child development or learning processes reveal to be effective.  In short, teachers and schools are teaching the way they do not because they know or believe them to be the best way but because the drive for accountability in schools has basically forced it on them.  Teachers have to document that they teach the defined skills and that the children have mastered them.

I found the book to be an interesting read.  My older kids attended a public school; my youngest attends a Catholic school.  One thing I like much better about the Catholic school is the lack of emphasis on testing.  Both schools are good schools with caring, nurtuing, stable staffs.  However, the Catholic school's test scores aren't in the paper yearly.  The school isn't considered better or worse than the one down the street based primarily on test scores.  I'm not so naive as to think test scores don't matter to the school, or to the archdiocese, but we don't have kids getting sick because of nerves over standardized tests and if a principal or teacher loses her job, there are going to be reasons other than just test scores.  I personally think that much of the backlash against Common Core is a backlash against the whole over-emphasis on testing.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  Grade:  B+


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Things Unknown to Lily

Things Unknown to Lily (The Lily Series) (Volume 5)

About the Book:
Charlotte was willing to accept whatever suffering came her way, just to be with the man she loves. But she could never have foreseen how difficult it was going to be to weather the louring tempests of her husband’s depression. Mystified by why her devotion is not enough to make John happy, she carries the burden of his sadness, unaware that it is a long-ago secret, kept from his aunt Lily, that prevents him from surrendering to the joy born of true love. Healing is about to come from an unlikely place, as it often does with anyone who has known Lily and grows to understand that something quite unexpected can change everything.

My Comments:
Lily and her family are back.  For those who haven't read the other books, Lily was a woman with Downs Syndrome who made a profound (and good) difference in the life of her family.  This is the story of her nephew (whose mother conceived him so that Lily could have a child to help raise) and his wife.  John, the nephew suffers from depression.  His wife Charlotte is almost totally blind, and will be totally blind soon.  Charlotte wants to help John, but he won't let her in.  In the end, Lily is the answer.

I love Sherry Boas' writing, not only her stories, but her writing as well, and if you peruse this blog, you'll find that there are few writers about whom I say that.  She has a real gift in her use of language; if I had to guess I'd say she was a poet in a previous life, not a journalist (though in reality, she was a journalist).  

While classified as religious fiction, Things Unknown to Lily is on the milder end of the spectrum.  The fact that the characters have faith is mentioned, and Mother Theresa makes an appearance but this is no sermon dressed as a story.  The faith elements are there, but they belong in the story naturally and for the most part did not feel forced.  It is definitely not a "find Jesus and life will be grand" book.  

Fans of the series will enjoy catching up with members of the Lovely family but Things Unknown to Lily stands well on its own--you don't have to read the other books first, but they do add an additional dimension to the story.  I like it enough to give it an A- and if you've read this blog very long, you'll know that's high praise.  

I'd like to thank Catholic Word for sending me a review copy of the book.  Catholic Word describes itself as " a one-stop resource for leading programs and religious titles from over 35 top Catholic publishers. For over 15 years, Catholic Word has built a reputation based on quality, personal relationships and a devotion to excellence in service."  The mission they espouse is "to build up the Church one soul at a time through top quality Catholic materials and resources. Wherever a person is on their faith journey, we offer real help to taking the next step closer to God. Our motto is to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason."  They claim to be "100% faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium".  



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why I Am A Girl Scout Leader

My daughter and I outside St, Louis Cathedral

Reading some Catholic blogs, one would get the impression that Girl Scouts of the USA is the last organization in which I would want my daughter participating or which any decent pastor should allow on parish property.  Yet, I am a proud Girl Scout parent and Girl Scout leader.  Why?  

Purported Problems with Girl Scouts

First, for the uninitiated, the problem some people have with GSUSA is that they claim it is a pro-abortion, pro-contraception organization.  There is a video clip showing the past CEO of GSUSA saying "We partner with churches...we partner with Planned Parenthood".  There is also a denied and disproved story about a UN conference and Girl Scouts advocating for abortion or contraception.  That proves it, doesn't it?  The video clip is real.  However, you have to understand the structure and organization of Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts USA is the umbrella organization to which all American Girl Scouts belong.  Its job is to set policies and create program materials.  There have been complaints about the liberal bent of some of those materials and about some of the women praised in the material.  As a matter of fact, some of the materials were revised because of those complaints.  GSUSA does not partner with Planned Parenthood. 

Under GSUSA are geographic councils.  These councils recruit and train leaders and provide programming.  Councils often partner with businesses or non-profits to provide programming.  For example, a local hospital system puts on science days where Girl Scout Brownies earn their Home Scientist badge.  The Microsoft Store offers free workshops where the girls earn the technology badges for their age level.  Some councils have worked with Planned Parenthood to develop materials or present programs for older girls.  My council has not and will not.  In councils that have, the money flow is from Planned Parenthood to Girl Scouts, not the other way around.  Also, Girl Scout rules require specific parental permission before discussing topics dealing the sex or sexuality.  

Under the councils are individual troops, the groups to which most girls belong.  Again, Girl Scout rules require specific parental permission before sensitive topics are discussed.  Hypothetically, I suppose a troop could bring in someone from Planned Parenthood to speak, or could do service projects in support of Planned Parenthood, but it would have to be done with the knowledge and consent of the parents of the girls in that troop.  

Is Girl Scouts a Pro-life organization?  No, it is "pro-choice" in that it recognizes that Americans have a variety of beliefs about abortion and that parents have the right to teach their daughters their beliefs on that and other sensitive topics.  That is why troop leaders must get specific permission to discuss them--so parents can decide if the troop leader is someone they can trust with that topic.  I work with five and six year old, and the topic hasn't come up.  I helped prepare fourth and fifth graders for their Catholic awards.  The topic of abortion did come up and the leaders' reponses were definitely pro-life.  

Why Should I Believe You Rather Than What I Read?

It would not surprise me to learn that the non-Catholic organization most investigated by the Catholic bishops was Girl Scouts, and with good reason.  Girl Scouting is an important part of youth ministry in my dioceses, including mine.  The findings of the bishops are here.  The conclusion was "NFCYM strongly supports Catholic Girl Scouting and the use of Catholic religious recognition programs as a means to evangelize and catechize girls in Scouting programs."

But What Positive Reason Do You Have for Being Involved with Girl Scouts?

I am a Girl Scout leader because it is a way I can help provide a wholesome activity for the girls in our community.  I do it for my daughters and their friends, and for other kids.  I teach girls to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, to respect themselves and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place and to be a sister to every Girl Scout.  I try to draw out shy girls, provide success experiences to those who don't get them in school, and to teach life skills.  One of my first Girl Scouts went to a different school than the other girls in the troop.  One day her  mother thanked me for allowing her daughter in my troop.  She said that her daughter did not have any friends at her school but that my girls had taken her in and that her daughter loved Girl Scouts.  The mother of one of my current Girl Scouts told me that as a result of having to learn her phone number for the Safety pin, her daughter was able to give a Disney cast member her mom's cell phone number when she got separated from the family at Disney World.  

Why Don't You Join American Heritage Girls or Little Flowers or....

There are a lot of very good youth programs out there.  American Heritage Girls and Little Flowers are two that are often touted as alternatives to Girl Scouts as they are all-girl programs which can have much the same structure and activities as Girl Scouts, without any possible taint of abortion or contraception.  Why stick with Girl Scouts when there are alternatives?  For the answer is two part.  First, being a part of Girl Scouts gets me access to Girl Scout properties and Girl Scout activities.  Our Girl Scout camps are well-equipped facilites that cost my troop far less than similar facilities available to non-Girl Scouts.  Our council provides programming and facilitates leader cooperation between troops.  Our numbers give us advantages that other groups do not have.  The second reason is that as a secular organization Girl Scouts has a reach that exceeds that of explictly religous groups.  We have access to the public schools.  We recruit girls whose families never go to church.  We expose those kids to us and to our valuese, and, depending on the troop, to some religious programming.  In Girl Scouting I teach the values of our faith, even if the words are a little different.  

What About Explict Religous Teaching?

We have that too, where appropriate.  There are patch programs teaching girls about women in scripture and models of faith.  There are major recongition programs that require the completion of a workbook and a service project.  Over 100 Girl Scouts in our archdiocese received those awards this year.  

Conclusion:

I'm proud to be a leader of young women involved in the largest all-girl organization in the US.  I'm proud of my daughter and her friends for earing their "I Live My Faith" award.  I'm proud of over twenty Girl Scout Daisies in my troop (kindergarten and first grade) who learned that the lily is a symbol for St. Joseph and that wheat is a symbol for Jesus.  I'm proud of girls who have gained confidence in themselves, have shown the courage to try new things, or who have developed their character through troop activities.  I'm proud to be part of an organization that tries to reach all girls.  On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by Girl Scout Law.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quick Review: No Time To Cook



About the Book:
No time to cook? No problem! Make weeknight cooking easy with more than 100 foolproof recipes that cover quickie breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and even impressive feasts for guests — all in 30 minutes or less. Created with intuitive graphics that are easy to follow, The No Time to Cook! Book will transform your weeknight cooking and make getting dinner on the table quick, easy, and stress-free. Really!
These recipes are presented simply and easily. The No Time to Cook! Book includes illustrations, flow charts, and pie charts that make recipes easier to understand. Special sections such as "10 Fun Things to Do with a Chicken" and "The Wheel of Dressings" outline easy recipes with the humor that's so necessary at the end of a busy day, and a quick reference section is perfect for the new cook in a time crunch. Take the stress out of dinner with The No Time to Cook! Book.

My Comments:
I saw this one on Edelweiss and since twenty minutes is the usual amount of time I have to fix dinner, I grabbed it.  Unfortunately, they did not give me a Kindle edition I could keep; only a time-limited galley.  Therefore I will not be trying any of the recipes and posting about them.

The book itself looks like  a great gift for anyone setting up housekeeping for the first time, or even for an experienced cook.  It features photos of the recipes, illustrated, step-by-step instructions for some of the dishes and foods that go beyond the old standards.  Readers will learn how to make sushi, fajitas, curries and salsa.  The proper way to cook a steak is shown, along with how to test for doneness.  If you ever wanted to make pickles, this gives a refrigerator recipe.  There are grilling recipies and a collection of ways to make quiche. The desserts look tasty too.

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