Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Whole Language: Victory Laps

Yetta and I, in recent months, have visited three quite different places where whole language has been going for some time with quite amazing results.

The first was Zaharis School in Mesa Arizona. In a remote part of a very conservative school district Mike  Oliver, the principal has been grooming a faculty over time to apply principles of whole language and make heavy use of literature. When I asked a teacher of second graders, “Are there any non-readers?” She responded, “You of all people should know better than to ask that!” The school serves an important “safety valve function for the district” It keeps a group of parents, who would not be happy with skill oriented instruction, happy. They love the excitement of their children in their rich school experiences. Parents drive their kids miles to attend and the school has a waiting list.
Then shortly later Yetta spoke at the 10th biennial conference of the Guatemalan Reading Conference in Quetzletenango (Xelay) Guatemala. She heard report after report of application of whole language in situations the polar opposite of Mesa. Children of rock crushers and children whose families scavenge the city dumps are enjoying whole language education. Through the work of Steve Barrett, Marcia Mondschein and many others, courageous teachers are developing their own whole language experiences and bringing literacy to many who would not have had access to literacy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Then again we had the privilege of visiting the preschool and elementary school at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Dr. Ruth Saes Vega has been promoting whole language in the school and has just published a book in Spanish entirely by whole language teachers writing about their classrooms. And a new generation of teachers were joyously implementing the concepts of great teaching the book represented. Ruthie also has been taking grad students to a small Mayan village school in Guatemala to work with teachers and kids there. Those teachers presented about their whole language at the Guatemalan conference.

For Yetta and me each situation felt like a victory lap. That’s what the winner of a race does after crossing the finish line. In each case we were being congratulated for what courageous teachers have been achieving as they turn concepts and ideas into reality for children.

We felt like shouting, “Viva Lenguaje Integral”, “Long live Whole Language”. May literacy flourish and may children everywhere, one day, find such enlightened teachers in their schools.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where's Your Data?

I spent the weekend in the hospital. A cough turned into pneumonia. But thanks to modern medical knowledge and technology I' m now at  home - still coughing a little but assured by medicasl science that I'm  ready to go home. My vitals are good, my blood test taken at 3 am shows my kidneys are normal - for me.I'm satisfied with the proof offered me that I'm ready to go home. Besides the food was terrible

Yetta just came back from the 10th bienniel Guatemalan Reading conference  held in Xela, (Quetzeltenanga) 7500 feethigh in the Central American mountain.

We've been going to Guatemala every two years over a  20 year period supporting the efforts of  Marcie Mondschein who goes regularly fromNew York and has put paper back book libraries  in schools  all over Gutemala and provided in-service to many many teachers there. Steven Barrett has been working with an NGO CEPA formerly related to a church in Xela to bring education to children who survive in the markets.

The confernce opened with a chorus of 5-12 year old children whose families earn their livings
crushing rock on the river bank. The children sang three songs in Spanish from song sheets that they were reading.

Which brings me to my topic , Where's the data?

In my three day hospital stay I sometimes felt I was emersed in data. "VItals",sugar count, oxygen saturation, heart monitor, temperature, breathing, I saw many doctors and technicians who spent more time looking  at the data than they did looking at me.

I began to think of how health is evaluated in comparison to how learning- paritcularly literacy is evaluated.

Medical students learn a lot about human anatomy by studyng cadaveers- dead people. But there is a great deal more complexity in my living body than in  a cadaver.

The living body is an integrated and dynamic whole. Any bit of data has to be evakuated un terms of norms, changes, and indicators of how the whole body is functioning.My caregivers shared with me the good news that came from trends in the data..

Language, oral and written is also a  living complex system in use. From studying language in
use we learn a lot that helps us to evaluate reading and writing. But there is danger in trying to use a medical model  to produce sets of data by stopping the complex systems and testing the dead cadaver we thus create.

Those rock crushers children were singing from song cheets. They knew the songs so it is possible that some particularly the little one were singing from memory- but singing a song from amemory is a much more meaingful living language experience than  recodning digraphs and trigraphs under pressure from  a tester who only gives a child three seconds before marking the item wrong..

We use miscue analysis to understand the process of reading with a sound recording of the live oral
reading of a reader reading an authentic text without interruption. That gives us
useful data to evalute  reading both quatitatively and qualtiateively. But the importance and perhaps the only analogy to medical data is  the qualtiative analysis of trends - is theire eidence in the miscues  of  meaning  making?. Is the reader able to retell the meaning that was created during the readiing?.

Reading tests- all of them- are based on a false set of assumptions that aspects of reading could be separately tested which could then be used  with other data from tests of  other aspects to give  a measure of  reading competence. .

But no test of an apect whether sounidng out nonsenes trigraphs or recognizing words or letteers or providing an antonym for sn out of context word or an other assumed sub skill  provides any useful information of the ability of a reader to make sense of written text.

A change in my pulse rate or my sugar score may give useful information to  a nurse or doctor about whether my health is improving.

But there is  nothing in a letter recognition test that tells me  about whether a particular six year old is making progressin in learning to read unless learning to read is defined as meeting the criteron score on the test..

And that reification of meaningless test scores is the stark difference between medical data and reading test data..   The data my medical care givers used was collected from my live bady and qualitatively analysed to monitor my body's heralth.

The reading test data is not reading data. But data from children singing from song sheets, or the numberof paper books each child has read by children living by scavening in the market is real data..

Millions of dollars have been poured into Guattemala's neighbor Nicaragua to test children with EGRA (DIBELS in rebosa) and then millions more to get them to improve their scores on EGRA But that has produced no useful gains in literacy  in Nicaragua as reported to the World Bank and USAID who with the Hewlett foundaton fund EGRA.          .

Marcie Mundschein's paper back libraries funded by selling Guatemalan artifacts at reading conferences in the US are producing literate Guatemalan children, I have been in those schools and seen those children reading And the children of rock crushers are staying in school and learning to read and write because  meagerly funded volunteers understand language and learning and care about the children of the poor.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Another New Year
With a birthday in late December each New Year is also a new year for me. This is my 87th new year. Though it ends a year that was not very good for the world and my country, it was a pretty good one for me and Yetta.

 Each year which we continue to exist is itself a bonus.  And continuing to be productive as also a major plus. I finished what I believe is my most important book which hopefully will be published this year. The new augmented edition of What’s Whole in Whole Language was published in time for NCTE in November by Denny Taylor’s Garn Press. My keynote at UKLA in Brighton England was very well received. It is indeed a good year for Yetta with two major awards The Oscar Causey from LRA and the James Squire from NCTE. Her Oscar Causey Address at LRA occupied her for the better part of the year and was a great success. And the new Essential RMA was just published by RCOwen. See it on our new website Thosegoodmans,

New Year’s Eve has never been much of a celebration for us. Usually we are home watching the ball drop in Times Square. In our early married life we did attend parties with close friends and staying up all night seemed to fun.
The most interesting New Year’s Eve we had was at the Wall in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Millennium in 2000. We were completing a tour of Colleges teaching English in Israel sponsored by the US State Department and some visits to schools with Margaret Spencer for the Israeli Ministry of Education. We had been warned to stay away from the Old City by the US Cultural Attaché.  But Prof. Bernard Spolsky who lives in the Armenian Quarter had invited us to dinner and after dinner we went to the wall to celebrate with his congregation. There were no tourists and no trouble- though as we walked from the Sheraton in Jerusalem we had seen truckloads of Israeli soldiers just outside the old city.
The other interesting New Year was in Pasto Colombia in 1991. My daughter Karen was doing her doctoral research in a village across the border in Ecuador and we were visiting. There is a parade the last day of the old year with humorous floats attacking the local and national government and US policies and political figures. Then at midnight they burn effigies of  the old year in bon fires at intersections.

We live quite comfortably in Academy Village at the Southeastern edge of Tucson, Arizona in the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Our interesting neighbors will celebrate with a New Year’s day brunch. We’ll watch our UA Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl (good game but they lost) on television and like our neighbors be home in bed well before the dawn of 2015.

May 2015 indeed be a happier New Year for all.
Peace, clean air and water, shelter, food
And may sanity return to education policies around the world
That would be enough.
And a few more new years.
We woke this morning to a rare blanket of snow covering our desert plants.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Where was George Bush on 911 and whY?

NCLB, 911 and Ken Goodman  

 Here’s a trivia question: Where was George Bush, the younger, on the morning of September 11, 2001?  And what was he doing there?   Which is not the same question as ,  Why was he there?
Where was he? In an inner city second grade reading a story written by Sigfried (Ziggy) Engelmann for his Mastery Learning Program

Why was he there/ thereby hangs a tale.
It’s a tale of Karl Rove, Margaret Spelling, Sandy Kress, Reid Lyon, Laura Bush and a few others who advised George Bush using a plan that Karl Rove had devised that had worked well in Texas to frame his conservative agenda  as compassionate conservative by “reform” of the teaching of reading the major goal of his first term agenda. It had the benefit of coopting democrat s who could not be seen as against educational reform. And it could even make minority groups who were not served well think he was on their side.
If Bush used this “reform” of reading as his central focus as he had in Texas he could then portray the rest of his conservative agenda  as compassionate reform. He would then be able to use the “reading wars” to portray himself as the savior of liitle children from the evil of whole language and be champion of phonics . Though Margret Spelling said we won’t call it phonics we’ll call it Scientifically Based Reading instruction and we’ll make that the focus of your first term.

Bush brought the black Football coach turned Houston School Superintendent to Washington as Secretary of education and would send him around the country to preside over grand rallies whipping  up support for NCLB.  Kress, Lyon and Robert Sweet (of right wing National RIght to Read Foundation) had rewritten the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to now be called No Child Left Behind. And Scientific Based Reading Research occurs many times throughout that document. Note that NCLB promised to make every child reading at grade level by 2014. Though NCLB is still the law of the land  Congress has never refunded it or reconsidered it after scathing reports of conflicts of interest by the DOE Inspector General and independent evaluaters writing that 6 billion dollars had been spent with no results.

Bush would announce NCLB to the press  in that classroom on Sept 9 2001.
In a book published in 2004, a Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush The author(Ronald Kessler) lays out this plan In interviews with all of those cited above interwoven with an extensive interview with (I kid you not) Ken Goodman.

In Chapter 7 (Dick and Jane) and chapter 10 (Why Johnny Still Can’t read) I am liberally quoted (pun intended) to provide comic relief and to lay out the premises of the campaign. Ken Goodman says “ What we’re doing is turning our schools into drill camps for  testing”. Laura Bush says ,”If you’re teaching to the test you are teaching what you want children to know.”

It goes on like that, I’m quoted and then Karl Rove responds, “People say “Don’t drill”. “What they’re saying is you don’t need to sound out a word or know its meaning. I say how can that make sense to anybody”.

Finally, Margaret Spellings says: “ I don’t know why Ken Goodman was put on this planet, but I don’t think it’s to teach kids to read.”

Perhaps that's  a good title for my next book.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Assembly Line First Grade

On my screen this morning was an unsolicited ad with the headline, “Is your child happy in school?” It advertises an online K-12 school. On-line kindergarten? What has the world of education come to?

But the answer to their question for my oldest great grandchild, now two weeks into first grade at Klenk school in Klein district in the Houston area, is ”Please don’t make me go to school.” This is a child who happily survived her all day sweat shop kindergarten by turning the drudgery into play.

But now I know what follows the Sweat shop kindergarten
. It is an Assembly Line First Grade. 

On the first day of school things seemed to be ok. She came home and announced they were going to have music and PE every morning. It turned out that was alternating mornings. She was having science and learning about safety and she liked that.

 On the third day she brought home enough homework that after two hours her father just finished it for her.  And every night was like that.

On Friday she brought home a sheet of paper that has a row on numbers with her hand written letters next to them. And 61% at the top written in red. That was her test on what? She knew she had failed. She thinks she’s a failure in the second week of first grade?

Judging only by the homework, there seems to be the assumption that beginning first graders are already literate and capable of functioning as middle grade pupils can function.

Our little one survived sweatshop kindergarten. She is not likely to survive assembly line first grade.
I’ve asked the principal for an explanation.
To be continued.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweat shop kindergartens

August 26 2014

My first born great granddaughter, Ezrial, started first grade today. In June when I read about  some kindergarten curricula in Valeria Strauss ‘s Washington Post Blog I sent her an email describing Ezrial’s kindergarten in Klein School district m Houston. As a Sweat Shop Kindergarten. Apparently that phrase put a frame on what many parents and teachers were dismayed at what they were seeing in kindergartens near them.
Google Sweat Shop Kindergarten and you’ll be amazed at the response the term is getting. As they say in web talk it’s going viral.

One labor group is shocked that I would use a phrase from labor history to describe kindergartens. So I thought I’d take this space to explain my use.
It is no coincidence that the campaign in the United States for universal, free compulsory education coincided with the union movement’s campaign to end child labor, which was widespread and pulling down wages of adults. Kathryn Patterspn’s masterpiece Lydie, is the story of children working in the New England textile mills.

Kindergartens came late to America- the term borrowed from the progressive educators of the enlightenment in Germany of the mid-19th century was apt: Kinder garten, a garden for children. It became a bridge between home and school. A place in school for children to spend a few hours with other five year olds, learning to socialize and play. Piaget said "play is the work of children". Vygotsky said "In play a child is a head taller than himself."

 In Highland Park Michigan, where I started my research and where Henry Ford had his first factory, every kindergarten had a fire place and its own play yard. Often there was a piano and autoharps and rhythm instruments for the children to experiment with music. Early kindergartens had sets of hollow wooden blocks big enough so it took two children to lift and maneuver. There was a sand box and a water table. And there were easels and finger paints and plastic clay for playing with art. And of course there were trikes and wagons in the play area.

 But what has happened in the last decade and a half has turned kindergarten into something quite different. No longer is there time or even a place for play. The half day has turned into a full day- difficult for little children in need of a nap. Naps are gone, no more rug to gather and hear a story or sing a song. Children are sitting at desks- all day doing work sheets. Kindergarteners are bringing home more work sheets for homework. They are learning phonics rules before they have had a chance to find out what reading and writing are for. And they are being tested on their ability to name letters and sound out two and three letter nonsense syllables the first week of kindergarten.

They are counting by 2’s and 5’s- chanting them anyway- before they have a sense  of number or one to one correspondence - There is no sand box or water table, no play house to pretend in. And kids who are barely five are getting report cards saying they may be retained – in kindergarten. And the old  joke of flunking sand box is hauntingly true.

There is only work. What kind of work? School work. That’s why I call what is happening in Ezrial’s school a sweat shop kindergarten. We have taken the children out of the factories and put them now in factory like kindergartens.

Ezrial’s lucky. She can play school with the school work. She doesn’t mind being praised for doing something meaningless well. She was six in January; some of her classmates are almost a year younger than she is. But when she comes home from school she’ll run around the house with her sister and brother or jump on the trampoline in her back yard.

Let’s give the right to be little kids back to our littlest scholars.