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Thoughts on 'Eddication': Dickens Turns 200

As someone who majored in English, I feel a special duty and obligation to acknowledge the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens this month. (Bias alert: Dickens is one of my all-time favorite authors. My favorite book? Bleak House, of course.)

Needless to say, the bicentennial offers a perfect teachable moment. So, to justify this as a Curriculum Matters blog post, I'll start with some educational resources.

The Guardian newspaper of England has assembled a nice collection of resources on "How to Teach ... Charles Dickens."

The New York Times also has a page of teaching resources and materials of interest. In fact, it's even got the original Times obituary from June 11, 1870: "Death of the Great Novelist."

The Washington Post has reviewed three new illustrated books for children about Dickens.

The Associated Press quotes Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin on one dimension of Dickens' staying power.

"You only have to look around our society, and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant," said Tomalin. "The great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt members of Parliament. ... You name it, he said it."

And now for the fun part: Some quotes from the Dickens canon, starting with a few words of wisdom—of course—on education. (Thanks to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.)

• "I took a good deal o' pains with his eddication, sir; let him run in the streets when he was very young, and shift for hisself. It's the only way to make a boy sharp, sir." (The Pickwick Papers)

• "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else." (Hard Times)

• "There is a wisdom of the head, and ... a wisdom of the heart." (Hard Times)

• "Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule." (Great Expectations)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens.

—Erik W. Robelen


The Challenge of Teaching Higher-Order Skills

Could teacher evaluations begin to offer us the best portrait yet of what instruction actually looks like in America's classrooms? And what changes might they spur in teacherpreparation and training?

Those are implications raised by a couple of different papers looking at teacher evaluations. In reviewing the reports, it strikes me that they have a lot to say about instructional quality—some of which seems frankly troubling.

First up is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's most recent release from its "Measures of Effective Teaching" study. As part of the study, observers scored thousands of taped teacher lessons against a bunch of different teaching frameworks. (The Gates Foundation provides grant support to Education Week.)

No matter what framework was used, teachers got higher scores on procedural tasks like planning and behavior management, but relatively low scores on things like "analysis and problem-solving," "using investigation/problem-based approaches," "student participation in making meaning and reasoning," and "relevance to history and current events."

Second, the Consortium on Chicago School Research recently released final results from that city's pilot implementation of the Danielson Framework for Teaching and found similar results.

The Chicago study also found that principals were not much better at using these techniques than teachers: They struggled to ask questions to elicit good information from teachers on their practice during the post-evaluation conferences.

The findings would appear to highlight some fairly consistent weaknesses in instruction and raise big question marks for teacher and leadership preparation—especially since the Common Core State Standards call for teachers to help students master precisely these kinds of higher-order reasoning and analytical skills.

Most educators would agree that teachers should enter the classroom with a good repertoire of pedagogical techniques. And principals should know how to get appropriate assistance for a teacher who needs it.

There's room for other interpretations in these findings, of course, such as whether the No Child Left Behind Act's focus on basic-skills tests has shifted the focus of instruction. We do know that the NCLB law has caused changes in teacher practices, but we don't know all that much about what the instructional process actually looks like in most places.

—Stephen Sawchuk


After-School Programs May Stem Alcohol Use

Voluntary after-school programs on drug and alcohol use could be successful in curbing alcohol use in middle school students, according to a recent RAND Corp. study.

The study evaluates CHOICE, a vountary after-school program that instructs middle school students about drugs and alcohol, ways to resist using both, and what harmful impacts they can have. More than 9,500 students at 16 middle schools were included in the study, which found students were less likely to use drugs and alcohol after exposure to the program.

While more research is needed, the results of the study show promising findings, Elizabeth D'Amico, lead researcher in the study and a psychologist at RAND, said in a press release. The informal environment in after-school programs may be key in reaching kids at this age, in a less structured environment than school, she said.

—Nora Fleming

Vol. 31, Issue 21, Page 12

Published in Print: February 22, 2012, as Blogs of the Week
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