Monday, January 25, 2010

Sticks and Stones

The other day, I was watching Momisms, Anita Renfroe's breathless three-minute riff on things Moms say to their kids -- set to the William Tell Overture. And as I listened, I heard in her words the words of my mom -- and of my daughter. It's fascinating, isn't it, that no matter how hard we work at not turning into our parents, how often we end up sounding like them, and how inevitably we pass their advice -- both good and bad -- down to the next generation.

One of my Mom's favorite momisms was "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you." It never made sense to me. Even as a child, I knew that words could -- and often did -- hurt. But that didn't stop me from repeating the inane bromide years later when confronted with my own bickering children..."Mooooom. He said I was...She said I was...He called me...."

"Enough! Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you."

I was reminded again of that particular momism when I read about a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. If you're not yet familiar with "Spread the Word," it's an initiative of Special Olympics and Best Buddy International to eliminate the use of the word "retard(ed)" in everyday speech by asking people to sign an online pledge to never use the r-word again. The goal is 100,00 pledges. Today's total is 51,669. Have you taken the pledge yet? If not, March 3, 2010, is "Spread the Word to End the Word" Awareness Day. Get the toolkit and use it to raise awareness in your classroom and in your school. And then take the pledge with your students. Let's make sure that the r-word, at least, is one word that doesn't hurt anyone again.

Speaking of the Olympics (and video), be sure to check out The Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series from NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation. Narrated by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, the free videos make science more accessible to students by illustrating how scientific principles apply to competitive sports.

FYI: NBC is broadcasting the Olympic Winter Games from Vancouver, Canada, February 12-28, 2010. The USA National Special Olympics Games will be held July 18-23, 2010 in Nebraska.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Helping Kids Help Haiti

Like all of you, I'm sure, I've been horrified this past week by the images of death and destruction coming out of Haiti. Even my grown children are finding those images hard to deal with; their reactions range from tears to "turn it off -- now!" If adults can't bear to watch the devastation, how hard must all this live coverage be on our children?

It occurs to me that in this era of instantaneous images, kids often are immersed in disasters as they occur, making a tsunami in Samoa or an earthquake in Haiti seem as up-close-and-personal as the local weather. Our children no longer are just watching news reports of far-away disasters; they are virtually experiencing them, literally watching as victims suffer and die. How can we -- as parents and teachers -- help them cope?

Hopefully, the resources below will help you not only find the best ways to talk to our children about the earthquake in Haiti, but also provide you with lessons and activities that will help our children reach out to its victims.

FEMA for Kids includes lots of information for kids on weather-related disasters, including where such disasters are most likely to occur. The section for parents and teachers includes lessons and activities on disaster safety and preparedness.

Helping Children Cope With Natural Disasters from the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center offers a list of organizations that can provide information for adults working with children who have experienced traumatic events associated with natural disasters.

Helping Children Cope With Loss, Death, and Grief is a printable list of excellent tips for parents and teachers from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Tips for Talking About Disasters includes a number of pdfs, ranging from "Questions to Help Children Talk About a Disaster" to "Marking Disaster Anniversaries in the Clasroom." All provide excellent suggestions for appropriate home or classroom lessons and activities.

You don't have to be Catholic to utilize the lesson plans, simulation activities, prayer services, stories, and Web links at Going Global With Youth, an initiative of Catholic Relief Services (Click "Resources for Catholic Educators and Youth Ministers"). Although most of the lessons and activities are more appropriate to church-based youth groups, many can be adapted for classroom use.

Reading Rockets' article It Happened Over There: Understanding and Empathy Through Children's Books explains how parents and educators can use books to talk with kids about natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti -- and offers suggestions for children's books and Web sites about Haiti and about earthquakes.

Helping Our Children in Difficult Times -- featuring Marc Brown's Arthur -- is primarily geared to parents of very young children; preschool and primary teachers might find this a helpful printable to send home with students.

CBS News provides full coverage of the disaster in Haiti, as well as advice from psychotherapist Robi Ludwig on How to Talk to Kids About Haiti. The site also includes an extensive list of charitable organizations providing aid to Haiti.

KidzWorld offers a somewhat more manageable list of ten charitable organizations accepting donations for earthquake victims in Haiti.

In Helping a Child Comprehend and Cope With Catastrophe, Charlotte Reznick, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, provides 13 tips for helping kids cope with the devastation in Haiti, as well as several suggestions for ways kids can raise money to donate to disaster victims.

You'll find more fundraising suggestions for kids at How Kids Can Help Kids in Haiti. Help Your Kids Help Haiti offers even more quick and easy fundraising activities appropriate for kids at school or at home.

If you know of another organization, Web site, or resource for teachers, parents, and kids struggling to understand the disaster in Haiti and/or help the victims, please click Post A Comment to share your suggestion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Question of Quality

Every day, I spend a little time searching a variety of news sources for important or interesting -- or funky -- education news articles. Most of the articles wind up featured on Education World's EDscoops page. Every once in a while, an article strikes a chord and shows up on my blog. Such is the case today.

The first article to catch my eye was from The Courier-Journal, which reported that the state panel overseeing teacher licensing in Indiana had approved new rules that "will allow future educators to spend less time learning how to teach and more time focused on subject matter." According to school superintendent Tony Bennett, "We crafted these changes with the belief that students' academic success is determined, in large part, by the quality of their teachers."

I agree with Mr. Bennett's premise that teacher quality is the single most important factor in student academic success; I strongly disagree with his conclusion that teacher quality is determined more by subject-matter knowledge than by classroom management and instructional skill.

In fact, the second relevant article I read this morning was from Education Week. Majoring in Math Not Always a Classroom Plus cites a report released last year by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel that "found no evidence of a link between teachers’ degree attainment in college and student academic gains in elementary and middle grades." There is a difference, the article points out, between mathematical knowledge and "mathematical knowledge for teaching" -- and policy makers need to keep that distinction in mind when setting standards for teacher quality.

The bottom line -- in my mind -- is that prospective teachers first and foremost need to know how to teach. If they don't learn how to do that well, nothing they do learn will benefit their students.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Most Important Child in the World

Welcome a new year...a new semester...a new start...with a not-so-new -- but hopefully newly motivated -- group of students.

I begin this new year as a new -- a first time -- grandmother. My grandson's name is Gavin Chase and he's absolutely beautiful, absolutely perfect. And I think, as I look at him (We simply can't take our eyes off him :), that no one has had a chance to screw him up yet -- and I wish I could keep it that way.

I wish I could tell his parents how to avoid all the mistakes I made with his father. But I know they'll do their best without my advice. And I know they'll screw up at times -- like I did -- with or without that advice.

I wish I could tell the bullies who will harrass him, and the friends who'll betray him, and the girls who'll break his heart, to be kind to him instead -- because he is innocent and trusting and un-screwed up and I want him to stay that way. But I know I can't perfect the world for him any more than I could for my own children.

But mostly, I wish I could say to the teachers who, in just a few short years, will have so much to do with who this child becomes: In your classroom, he will be just one child among many. But to his family -- to his parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents -- he is the most important child in the world. Remember that. For me.

And have the best new year ever.