Published Online: November 7, 2011
Published in Print: November 9, 2011, as Blogs of the Week

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NAEP Scores Flat; Sun Rises Again

Last week's release of the NAEP scores revealed that, as a nation, we have made little progress in the past 20 years in helping our 4th graders read on grade level. Now, writing about flat NAEP scores is like writing about the sun rising. We can predict the cycles of the sun, plan for it, react to it, but we cannot impact whether the sun will rise every day. We can impact reading outcomes for 4th graders, but as a nation, we have so far failed to do so.

Recent research from Don Hernandez shows that among students not reading on grade level by 3rd grade, one in six did not graduate from high school on time. This rate is four times greater than that for proficient readers. If this doesn't sound an alarm, I don't know what will. Reading well is a fundamental necessity for learning in all other subjects from math to history, even art. Children who are not reading on grade level simply cannot reach their full potential in any other subject. Economically, this leads to immeasurable loss in untapped potential of our future workforce.

Instead of the "keep on keepin' on" mentality that has yielded predictably flat results for two decades, it is time to do something dramatically different in reading instruction: Use what works.

There are pockets of success, and four states—Arizona, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania—have even made progress in closing gaps. It is time we focus intensely on scaling up evidence-based, successful practices. Our kids deserve, and our economy needs, a laser focus on changing these sadly predictable outcomes.

—Robert Slavin


A Reader Asks: Can Teachers Be Friends With Students? (Part one)

Click for parts two and three.

A reader of this blog recently asked, "Can we be friends with our students?"

It's an important question with two key components. One relates to the question of how teachers and students view their relationships with each other on a broader level, and the other more narrowly in the social-media realm.

Jose Vilson, a math teacher, coach, and author, responds to the question this way:

"It's an interesting question in a time when the word 'friend' has already been diluted in the context of social networks. I prefer to think about it in the nontech context because it should give a window for future 'friend' references. "Teachers can and should, in general, be friendly with students, but not be friends with students. The important distinction lies in the degree and depth to which you interact with the students on a personal level. That 'friend' level should only come after having established a 'teacher' authority with them. It's important, for instance, to greet them in the morning and ask them how things are going with them. It's important that students know that you care about them and that they can turn to you. That's only powerful when you've already established that you're their teacher, and that you won't entertain certain behaviors that their friends would during school time.

"Thus, I only add students on Facebook when they've graduated. I can let them know that I'm a big hip-hop fan, but I won't entertain discussions of Watch The Throne unless it's actually (and directly) related to the math at hand. I can give my perspective on what they're going through and occasionally listen to a student vent, but that's usually an aside to the math curriculum itself. Unless I'm integrating their interests into our lesson plans, and we're diverging in that vein, then I usually keep the friendship part away from the business part."

Author Rick Wormeli, in another guest response, writes:

"We look for balance between what to cultivate and what to limit in teacher-student relations. Teachers and students can share an equal interest in local sports teams, for example. Students mature when adults extend these connections, and teachers enjoy the camaraderie for the team and seeing students as more than one more paper to grade. Notice, though, that the teacher does not take the student out for coffee and vent about office politics.

"Students prefer teachers to be adults, not overgrown versions of themselves. Students gravitate toward teachers who inspire them to become something more than they are today. Sure, teachers clown around from time to time, but the better teachers remain clearly adults.

"We forget sometimes that, while different from an adult friendship, the teacher-student relationship is not a lesser connection. It is often more meaningful and special, with tremendous value to both parties. We try to live up to its promise for the short time we have with our students. A friend taught me this."

—Larry Ferlazzo

Vol. 31, Issue 11, Page 14

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