By:  Pat Austin

My classroom

SHREVEPORT – My summer is over.  It’s back to school for me tomorrow to begin year twenty-four.  Or is it twenty-three?  I can’t remember.

I want to take a moment today to thank the readers of this blog for their donations to my new classroom library; so many of you hit that Amazon Wish List and sent a book to us, or reached out to me for an address so you could send your own gently used books.  I am so grateful for all of that, really.

On my own blog I posted some photos of my classroom and thanked readers of my blog for their donations, and if you’re interested, you can check that out.  I want everyone who sent a book to see where it ended up.  Not all of the books are loaded on the shelves in these pictures, but most are.  You might notice that the non-fiction shelf is pretty empty and I’ve purchased about thirty books on my own to help fill in some of that, and I’ve updated my Wish List with some non-fiction.

I have two more shelves we can grow into, so I’m still collecting!

It’s no secret how I feel about the new Louisiana curriculum and specifically scripted lessons with pre-canned slides which are mandatory.  I hate them.  They are soul crushing for both students and teachers and they strip all creativity and fun from learning.  I do my dead level best to get around it and to give my students what they need and I pray every day that I don’t get in trouble for deviating from the endless stream of speeches and dry articles we are required to put in front of kids, along with highlighters of multiple colors for the many annotation exercises.

Louisiana may be recognizing the fault in this overreaching Guidebook curriculum, however.  I may be assuming too much, but Louisiana was recently given permission to try out a new series of tests that are more relevant to what students are learning in the classroom as opposed to the standardized multiple choice tests we have now:

Louisiana is applying to build a LEAP 7 format, covering both ELA and social studies, that measures student understanding of pre-identified knowledge and texts from their daily classroom experiences, rather than the usual random assortment of texts. The format is intended to make assessments more relevant and connected to the classroom, while still providing valid and transparent data on student growth. External partners will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot.

These new tests will help measure background knowledge, which I know from experience many of my students need some help with.  Students in poor schools from economically challenged backgrounds with parents who don’t have books in the home or don’t read to them have a large gap in background knowledge as compared to more affluent students.  That’s one reason why this classroom library project has been so important to me.

This statement from the Louisiana Department of Education seems to recognize that more work is needed on the current curriculum (emphasis mine):

 Though improved dramatically in the past three years, the Louisiana Assessment of Education Progress (LEAP) continues to measure the ELA standards, including specific skills such as summarizing passages and locating main ideas, but it does not go above that to measure whether students have developed a base of knowledge. Consequently, in many schools a focus on discrete reading skills predominates the English classroom, with minimal attention paid to knowledge. Building assessments in a new way—bringing ELA and social studies standards, curriculum, and assessments into full alignment— would make the academic systems more meaningful. and reinforce the same vision for student learning.

It seems to me, what this statement says, is that we are spending a lot of time identifying main ideas with kids in dry texts and annotating with little effort to make use of that information.  We are teaching skills, but not knowledge.

Amen, brother.

That’s what rebels like me have been saying from day one.

That’s why I want my students reading books.  Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, all of it.

Anyway, we will see what comes of all that curriculum business as it rolls on out, but in the meantime, what I really wanted to do here was to thank you good people who sent books for caring about kids and for caring about literacy.  You warm my heart!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  She is the author of Cane River Bohemia due out in October from LSU Press.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In my post last week I attempted to take you inside the Common Core classroom, to pull back the curtain and show the complete and utter loss of autonomy and creativity teachers have experienced under this program to the point that teachers are not even allowed to use their own words; we work from scripts, prepared slides, and prepared teacher notes.

From my post last week:

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled, and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

There are many problems with this approach to teaching, only one of which is that every student is taught in the exact same way.  All that training we received on diversified learning styles was apparently hogwash.

Another problem is that some teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of recriminations, so we don’t really know how bad this really is.  Some of us just close our door and teach the way we know students learn.  We use our own words and our own activities developed with specific student needs in mind.  Then when the test scores come back, and they are wonderful, it looks like Common Core is working.

Let’s restate that: teachers are silently rebelling against this boring drivel and teaching as they were trained, and they can’t speak out for fear of getting in trouble.

Other teachers are just leaving the profession.  The nationwide teacher shortage is epic.

Consider this teacher from Georgia; explaining why she left the classroom she writes:

You start talking to teachers, trying to figure out where their fire for education has gone – why they appear as robots, or automatons, simply going through the motions. What has happened? You dig deeper and learn of prescribed and scripted curriculum; teachers are expected to be at the same point in the same lesson every day. For transient students that idea seems based in reason, but the practice has been detrimental to teachers.

You learn of the pressure felt by both teachers and students to perform well on standardized tests. You learn of the autonomy stolen from teachers to make any decision beyond a seating chart in their room. You learn of the complete lack of empowerment (and active process of disempowerment) of the teachers and then learn this is a widespread issue. Teachers across the country are begging for a shift away from this robotic sort of teaching.

Some are leaving the field. I did, and, while I ultimately found myself working toward my doctorate, I knew the k-12 space was no longer an option as I refuse to leave my brain on the sidelines and act as a robot. Feeling disempowered was a nonnegotiable for me and for many educators.

It’s all about the test.

When did it quit being about the students?

Michael Deshotels at Louisiana Educator writes:

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today’s world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the American education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

As a veteran educator it hurts me to see this happening to students.  I don’t teach English: I teach kids, and I care deeply about my students.  To see their eyes glaze over when the slides come up and the informational texts come out, when the script is read, is so disheartening.  So yes, I’m that teacher that goes off script. But I’m also speaking out.  Tentatively and yes, with some fear.  I love my job and don’t want to lose it.

At this point I can only hope that this fad goes the way of all of the others that I’ve seen in my twenty-three years.  These programs hang around for five years or so and then we reinvent the wheel and do something else.  I hope I can survive this one.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  I have just completed year twenty-three as a teacher of sophomore English.  I’ve been there long enough that people are starting to ask, “How many more years do you have left?”, wondering if I am planning retirement one of these days.  I have always said that I would stay as long as I enjoyed my job, my kids, and my mission.

But let me tell you, teaching today is not what teaching was when I started.  Back in the good old days teachers had autonomy in the classroom: as long as you followed the curriculum and taught the mandated standards for your subject area, you were free to achieve that however best suited the needs of your students.  I’ve been to hundreds of workshops and training days where we learned that all students learn differently and we learned how best to reach all types of learners.

Apparently the game has changed.

Now, all kids learn the same way from the same script from the same pre-fabricated slides and they all read the same text on the same day across the district.

The Honors kids are taught the exact same material as the remedial learners.

As a veteran educator who has worked hard to bring life and creativity into my classroom, this new method has been a real challenge for me. Common Core has absolutely stripped my classroom of the fun things we used to do.  No more classroom debates over the guilt or innocence of the boy in Twelve Angry Men; no more mock trials of various literary characters, no more novel studies, no more poetry slams.  Now, we read “chunks of text” and highlight them.  We annotate.  We fill in graphic organizers.  We look at dull slides.

Teaching has always been a passion and it seems to me that the best teachers are those that inspire and mentor.  It is about so much more than just the material in the textbook.  Teaching is about building relationships; a child will learn more from a teacher if there is a connection made between them.  If that child knows that the teacher cares about him and is interested in his success, he will learn. Teachers develop these relationships in part through meaningful lessons developed with the needs and interests of their students in mind as well as through individual conversations with students.

This common bond is harder to develop with scripted lessons.

On my own blog, I wrote an end-of-the-school year post in which I lamented how scripted lessons have changed my classroom and I received several inquiries about the scripted lessons that Louisiana ELA teachers are now mandated to use.  In my post last week I wrote:

[The year] began with a series of workshops and in-services throughout the summer last year which served to introduce us to a drastically new curriculum which we were mandated to implement “with fidelity” this year. It was so radically different from what we have been doing that this was a terribly stressful objective to me.

I’m “old school” in many ways and teaching without a textbook and following a script has been hard for me. I am also a rule follower and so while I wanted to follow my mandate, I’ll admit publicly right now that I did not always follow the script. I tried. We are on block schedule and so our academic year is made up of two semesters: I have one group of students from August through December, and then new ones from January through May.

First semester I tried really hard to do that first unit as prescribed. It took less than two weeks for the light in my students’ eyes to go out and for them to start eyeing me with dread. I stuck with it and supplemented more engaging lessons where I could while teaching all the same standards. Second semester it was much the same. I was a little more comfortable with the new curriculum, but it is still mind numbing and dull. Nothing but annotation, graphic organizers, and Cornell Notes. All day, every day.

I’ve always been under the (perhaps misguided) belief that parents would not be pleased with the scripted classroom.  “If only they really knew!” I would tell myself.  I have railed and ranted about Common Core but it seems that either nobody is listening or else that nobody has the power to change it.  Or maybe people just like it.  Whatever the case, this post is just one more attempt to pull back the curtain of the classroom and show people what the typical day looks like in a scripted, Common Core classroom.

A few years ago a group of Louisiana educators came together to write a new ELA curriculum designed to help students be successful on the high stakes end-of-course tests:

[Meredith] Starks is one of the more than 75 teachers who have been selected by the Louisiana education department to write an English/language arts curriculum. While most states using the Common Core State Standards tend to look to commercial publishers for standards-based curricula, Louisiana educators couldn’t find material that fully and coherently represented the now 7-year-old ELA standards.

“We just decided … there wasn’t anything on the market good enough for our teachers,” said Rebecca Kockler, the assistant superintendent of academic content at the state education department. And who better to fill that void than actual teachers?

The state started developing its ELA curricula, called “guidebooks,” in 2012, and the first iteration was published in April 2014. Louisiana has since revised its own standards, which are based on the common core, and revamped the guidebooks to give teachers more resources.

These Guidebooks are what we are now using in lieu of traditional textbooks in our classrooms; they are comprised of “readers” which are copies of material bound together which are non-consumable and serve as a sort of textbook.  Students also receive a consumable packet with each of the four units and these are copies of graphic organizers, text passages, speeches, charts, etc. that students can write on and annotate as required.  These are reproduced and distributed each semester to students.

Teachers work from scripted Teacher Notes and prepared slides which we are instructed to follow “with fidelity” so that every student in every classroom gets the same text on the same day in the same way.

That’s what I mean by scripted lessons.

As an example, let’s just walk through a typical lesson in tenth grade English.

Unit 1 is on Rhetoric in grade ten and Unit 1, Lesson 1 goes like this:

After verbally introducing the unit, this is slide 3 in which the teacher introduces the unit objectives to the students:

With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:

“Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.”

The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It’s a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of “What is Rhetoric” by Gideon Burton.

The teacher reads the text to students while students follow along.  This is supposed to take about two minutes.

Then with the above slide displayed, the teacher directs students to read the text independently and annotate.

The teacher notes at this point look like this:

Suggested Pacing: ~ 7 minutes  Directions: Have students read the first section of the text again, independently. Instruct them to use a yellow highlighter to mark “central ideas” and green highlighter to mark “supporting details.”
Guiding Questions and Prompts:  Say, “ Central ideas are main ideas. They are what the reader should remember after studying the text. They are usually followed by details that provide support. What is the central idea of this section?
Say, “Supporting details are specific pieces of information that support the central idea. They can provide explanations and/or examples of the central idea.” What details does the author use to develop the central idea?
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that a big idea is an important part of the text.
Access the annotated exemplar in the Additional Materials section. Be absolutely sure students understand what a big idea is before beginning the task.
Students should re-read the text independently, marking the big ideas of the text with their yellow highlighter.

Students are directed to take out their “Vocabulary Log,” write down “rhetoric” and define it.

The teacher notes  look like this.

Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system).
Then the student is directed to turn to his partner and talk about the word “rhetoric.”

Following this, students are then directed back to the text and their annotations and the teacher is directed to have the students write a “summary statement”:

Ask: “ What is the most important information in this section of the text?”
Ask: “How can we boil that down to one statement?”
Have students write their summary statement in their RRJ. Then, model a concise summary statement under the document camera or on the whiteboard.
Ask the guiding questions below.
Guiding Questions and Prompts:
“What makes my model summary statement good?”
“Does your model have the same qualities?”
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that the definition of rhetoric is the most important information in this section. Students should then write a practice summary statement in the reading response section of their RRJ. Model summary statement: “Rhetoric is the study of the effective use of language in one’s own writing and in the writing of others.”

With this new slide displayed, the teacher then directs students to revise their summary statement.

Following that, the teacher verbally recaps what students should have learned in the lesson and then she moves on to lesson two.

Unit 1, Lesson 1 is comprised of eleven slides that must be displayed as the teacher works through the lesson.  In districts on a 90-minute block, two lessons are to be completed each day.

The teacher can vary slightly from the script but must follow the lesson with fidelity.

In Lesson Two, students read the same text again, “What is Rhetoric,” and highlight in multiple colors to identify main ideas and supporting details.

That’s what a scripted lesson looks like.  They are literally that: scripted.  Teachers have a printed stack of these teacher notes which are to be annotated before presenting each lesson and which she can produce to supervisors upon request.  The lesson number and standards must be visible to students on the board each day as well as the objective.

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

The Guidebooks are on the Louisiana DOE website and most of the graphic organizers and their completed versions can be found there by both parents and students.  It’s important that students do not have their cellphones in use in class or they can just look up the answers and copy them down; teachers must monitor this.

Scripted lessons have pros and cons.  Many teachers bristle at the loss of their own creativity and autonomy; many feel that scripted lessons strip the passion from teaching and focus too much on the test while others are relieved at not having to write lesson plans or create their own lessons. Districts know exactly what is happening in each classroom on any given day and feel that a prepared curriculum is one way to ensure all necessary standards are taught.

However you feel about scripted lessons and the prepared curriculum, parents should at least know what it is and how their child is being taught.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By John Ruberry

Theodore Herzl School of Excellence, Chicago’s West Side

Is a new beginning the only way out for Chicago Public Schools?

That’s what crossed my mind this morning while I was watching Mike Flannery on Fox Chicago’s Flannery Fired Up.

The show opened. with an interview of David Jackson, one of the investigative reporters who penned a disturbing yet indispensable series of articles about sexual attacks at Chicago Public Schools.

“I was flabbergasted to learn the frequency of sexual assaults against students in Chicago’s schools,” Jackson told the host. “I expected dozens of cases. There were hundreds.”

What did Chicago Public Schools do about it, Flannery asked?

“Very little,” Jackson replied.

During the ten-year period the Tribune investigated those attacks, which include rape, there were 523 reports of sexual assaults inside city schools. That’s about one a week. Not included in that total are sexual attacks off property.

CPS protected its employees, to the detriment of students, as did the Chicago Teachers Union. The accusers–victims, I should say–were aggressively assailed by CPS lawyers who were more interested in protecting the teachers, coaches, custodians, and security guards than serving justice and safeguarding its students.

Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, readers leaned that a “blitz” health inspection of 125 schools found that only 34 passed. Rat droppings, filthy bathrooms, and unsanitary food preparation equipment were discovered. The most egregious violations were centered on facilities Aramark was hired to keep clean. Who was in charge of CPS facilities? A former Aramark employee, Leslie Fowler, who resigned her high-paying post last week. While the bidding process was open for a food contract, an inspector general’s report cited “questionable conduct” when Fowler twice dined with the president of Aramark

Her ex-employer won the bid.

Prior to her hiring as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett was a consultant for SUPES Academy, which produced training programs for school administrators. Once in charge of CPS, the woman known as BBB steered a $23 million training contract to her old employer. She was to receive a ten-percent kickback from that contract as well as a promise of a job whenever she left CPS.

In an email to a couple of SUPES bosses, Byrd-Bennet added to the already voluminous lore of Chicago corruption by boasting, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.”

It’s suspected that such crony-capitalism between CPS brass and their former private-sector employers is widespread. If true, then such private-public cross-pollination is simply a revolving door of corruption.

Dunne School on the South Side, where your blogger atteneded kindergarten

Byrd-Bennett, along with those two former big shots at SUPES, are now incarcerated in federal prison.

Despite the reputation of CPS for failure, Barack Obama chose one of BBB’s predecessors, Arne Duncan, as his first education secretary.

Obama’s daughters attended a private school in Chicago.

How is CPS doing in regards to educating children? Not very well. Not even one-in-four students read at grade level. Yes, I am aware that unlike kids in most suburban schools, there are additional challenges in teaching city children, many of whom come from abusive homes. But one-in-four? After years of so-called reform?

And what about the filth and the sexual assaults?

If the goal of Chicago Public Schools is to educate children in a safe environment, then it is failing–and has been for a long time, despite most schools incorporating such words as “Excellence” and “College Preparatory ” into their names. Before their well-needed demolition, public housing high rises, which never should have been built in the first place, were derided by liberals as “warehouses of the poor.”

Most CPS schools are warehouses of the poorly educated.

If the goal of CPS is to provide a generous income for teachers, maintenance workers, and of course administrators, along with bountiful pensions for them, then it is a fabulous success. Oh, let’s not forget the bottom lines of those contractors. They are doing well too.

As for those pensions, they have long been a slush fund. one that is dancing with insolvency. rather than serving as a retirement program.

Fitch rates CPS bonds as junk.

So, by nearly everyone’s standards, CPS is failing.

Does it continue on its same road to defeat?

When do Chicago taxpayers, who are increasingly angry because of repeated property tax hikes to pay for unfunded pensions, scream, “Enough!”

Firing everyone–and starting over again might be the only way out for CPS, which could be possible if state law is changed and public agencies are allowed to file for bankruptcy protection. Rehire the good teachers and the administrators who fight waste and theft.  Charter schools aren’t the answer. UNO, an Hispanic group with close ties with former Mayor Richard M. Daley, utilized charter schools for crony capitalism and graft. More privatization isn’t the answer, as Aramark isn’t able to keep schools clean. School vouchers? Maybe. But some parents, sadly, don’t have the initiative to better the lives of the children.

Floundering schools are already closed and re-opened with new staff here-and-there in Chicago.

Blogger in downtown Chicago

For those of you who cry out “more money” for Chicago’s schools, keep in mind more cash opens the door to more theft, or at the very least, more squandering of taxpayer funds.

Crime, high taxes, and rotten schools are the primary reasons given by people who decide to move away from Chicago. And Chicago is the only major city with a declining population.

Next year there is a mayoral election in Chicago. One of the candidates, Paul Vallas, is a former CEO of CPS.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. He attended kindergarten at a CPS school, Edward F. Dunne Elementary School. It is now the Dunne Technology Academy Elementary School.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It has been about ten days since I launched my Classroom Library Project in an effort to build a new classroom library for the purpose of encouraging my high school students to fall in love with reading again, and in those ten days I have now received over 60 books donated from my Amazon Wish List.

That’s simply amazing to me.  It reaffirms my faith in humanity that people will donate to a project like this.

To recap, our state has adopted its own version of Common Core and is now fully invested in pushing this curriculum across the board.  As far as ELA goes, it has stripped complete novels from the syllabus with the explanation that “if students want to read the entire book they can do it on their own.”  Meanwhile, students are required to read non-fiction articles and complete endless graphic organizers analyzing claim, rhetoric, proofs, as well as endlessly annotating through one “close read” passage after another.  In one case we read the same twenty-one-page speech three times, each time looking for something new.  No wonder kids hate reading these days.

As these books from my Wish List have been coming into the classroom, my students curiously eyeball me as I open boxes and envelopes, log in the accompanying notes so I can send thank-you notes, enter each book into a data base, and then I stick a pocket and sign out card into the back of each book.  Each book jacket gets laminated for protection.  I read each new arrival if it is something I’ve never read before.  I want to be able to talk about these books with my students. My kids are watching these books stack up and I can literally see their brains start to fire up.  They’re anxious to start reading!

One of the books that arrived (an anonymous donation) was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book on social media and now there is a movie coming out based on the book.  I’d never read it and in fact when I read the dust jacket my initial reaction was “ugh…another propaganda piece” because it is about a black teenager who gets shot by a white policeman.  The narrator of the book is a girl, his best friend, who was in the car when the incident occurred.

Despite my hesitation, the book has drawn me in and I can’t put it down.  I’ve already encouraged my students to check it out of their local library and read it and we have had long conversations about it.  The book never tries to preach one way or another, never bashes police officers, never takes sides; what it does though is open the door for dialogue. Reading gives us the opportunity to “rehearse” real life situations and talk about them, whatever the subject matter. The writing is engaging, and the characters are excellently drawn.  I can see a teenager picking this book up and not putting it down until the end, and that’s what I want to see.

I’m going to continue to build my little library over the summer through my Wish List and by combing thrift stores and garage sales.  I’ve also started a Donor’s Choose project to help get funding, and I’m applying for a couple of local grants.

I’ll teach the curriculum because it’s in my contract but I’ll bend over backwards to ensure that Common Core doesn’t kill the love of reading for my students.  If I have to work harder and spend more of my own money to do it, then so be it because I think it’s that important for kids to be readers and to love reading.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (Oct. ‘18/LSU Press).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — “What was the last book you read outside of school — something you read just for fun?  And if you don’t like to read, why not?”

That was my First Five for my grade 10 ELA students one day last week.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research this past year on literacy, curriculum, and how reading affects test scores.  It’s no secret that Louisiana has consistently placed near the very bottom of the list when it comes to reading scores as compared on a national level.

There are a lot of factors that go into those national scores, such as NAEP scores, and it’s not really accurate to say that all students in Louisiana are poor readers.  That is far from the case. But for clarity, in this post, I’m looking at those poor readers. Many of them come from low income families who don’t have books in the home or are products of families where nobody has had time to read aloud to the children very often.

As a parent of two avid readers, I was reading to both of my kids before they were even born.  As infants they were read to every single day.  They’ve never seen me not reading at least one book and our house has always been filled with books and magazines.  It’s just who I am.

But that’s not the case for many of my students.

Compounding the problem for these struggling readers is the Common Core curriculum in which students no longer read entire novels.  Common Core, at least as far as ELA courses, is terrible.  It’s killing the love of reading.  I’ve written about that rather extensively herehere, and here.  As teachers, in my district we have been told that if a student wants to read the entirety of a novel from which we are only teaching certain chapters, “they can read it on their own.”

Well, that’s okay for a strong reader, but I know a lot of struggling readers who will not be able to take on the elements in The Scarlet Letter without some help, nor would it be a book they would willingly pull off the library shelf.

Additionally, there is a difference between academic reading for class and simply reading for the pure fun of it.

What I want to be able to do is to create lifelong readers; I want my students to leave my class having read several books of their own choosing, about topics that they are interested in, and that they are excited about reading.

And since my official mandate is that they “can read on their own,” I’m going to start a classroom library.  Oh yes, we have a school library and it’s wonderful.  We have a librarian who orders books kids like to read and she listens to their requests and suggestions.  But I also think that a classroom library can supplement that. And a student that might not make an effort to go to the school library might just access a classroom library.

Having a library in the classroom sends a message of literacy and encourages reading to students.  If that library is filled with nice, interesting books, just waiting to be read, even better. I want my classroom library to be filled with books that my kids want to read and that are geared toward their interests and their lives.

In response to my First Five question above, about the last book you read, I got answers like this:

“I can’t remember the last book I read.  I hate staring at thousands of words and sitting still that long.  I hate reading!”

and this:

“I don’t know. I think it was a Goosebump book.  I don’t have time to read.”

and this:

“I love to read books and I used to read all the time.  I don’t really know why I don’t read any more.  You can learn so much when you read.”

That student is right.  Reading can drastically increase a child’s vocabulary.  That in itself will increase test scores, but this isn’t about test scores for me.

A lot of the responses indicated that they liked reading in lower grades but somehow just quit doing it.

I don’t want one more child to leave my room not having read a book.

So, I have a plan.  I’ve assembled an Amazon Wish List to start a classroom library and as this school year draws to a close, I am planning new things for next year.  If I can’t teach books in class, I’ll do it out of class; I’m a rebel like that sometimes.  I have plans to encourage students to read from my classroom library and to share what they’ve read with others.  If I need to use incentives to get this started, I will.  (A kid will read almost anything for a honey bun!)  I have shelving and I have a corner space ready to go. I’ve ordered book pockets and cards so I can check the books out to my kids.  It will be attractive and inviting.

I want this to be a fun experience; not like the old Accelerated Reader program where you had to read a book “on your level” with the proper color sticker on it and then take a ridiculous test on it to step your way up to a quota.  Research shows that this program is useless.  Kids that like to read will read anyway and kids that have to read to get an AR grade just learn to hate reading more.

I’ve started an Amazon Wish List and if you would like to help, you can go here, and order whatever you like and have it shipped straight to my classroom. Most selections are under ten dollars. I’ve already started assembling books on my own through thrift stores and through the library book sales and the college book fair.  What I need now are nice, new books that pull my kids into a love of reading!

The list is here.  It’s long and I’m constantly adding to it.  I posted it on my own blog a few days ago and already I’ve received thirty-one books!  It reaffirms for me not just the good in people but that people really do believe in kids and believe in education.  The notes that are coming with the books indicate that people are choosing books that meant something to them or their own children as readers.

I’m collecting these books all summer and when we go back to school in August, I hope to be able to offer a well-stocked classroom library full of engaging books of all levels and subject matter to my students.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of the upcoming Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press/Oct.’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Don’t ask me, Bill. These are your people.

by baldilocks

Shakespeare wept

And in other news regarding the downfall of the UK

Schools are removing analogue clocks from examination halls because teenagers are unable to tell the time, a head teachers’ union has said.

Teachers are now installing digital devices after pupils sitting their GCSE and A-level exams complained that they were struggling to read the correct time on an analogue clock.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said youngsters have become accustomed to using digital devices.

“They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone, on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere.”

Mr Trobe, a former headmaster, said that teachers want their students to feel as relaxed as possible during exams. Having a traditional clock in the room could be a cause of unnecessary stress, he added.

He said that schools are trying to make everything as “as easy and straightforward as possible” for pupils during their exams.

“You don’t want them to put their hand up to ask how much time is left,” he said.

“Schools will inevitably be doing their best to make young children feel as relaxed as the can be. There is actually a big advantage in using digital clocks in exam rooms because it is much less easy to mistake a time on a digital clock when you are working against time.”

Emphasis mine.

Additionally, British schoolchildren are having trouble holding writing implements, aka pens and pencils – a result of over dependence on iPads and whatnot.

In fairness, I can bet that many Americans younger than 40 are also unable to read a face clock. Both here and in the UK, there’s a singular reason for this: the previous generation of parents failed to teach this formerly mundane skill.

One envisions a dismal future headline if digital toilet paper is in the invention hopper.

Besides, the murder of Alfie Evans at hands of the UK government has already indicated what time it is. But it’s certain that many can’t determine that either, which is just how that government wants it.

Hunters like their prey to be relaxed. And the US is far from immune from this sport.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

Hit Da Tech Guy Blog’s Tip Jar for his new not-GoDaddy host!

Or hit Juliette’s!

No matter how “woke” you think you are, you are tolerating things right now that will make you cringe in 25 years. – Bill Maher

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. – inigo Montoya, “The Princess Bride”

While I disagree with some of the specific examples Bill Maher cited in the linked video above, I agree with his two main points. The first is that it is silly to judge people or actions out of the context of their time, and the second is that years from now we will be appalled at the things that are being done in our society today. I shudder to think that twenty-five years from now our society could possibly be more “woke” than it is today, mostly because I have to believe that we have reached peak silliness in the perceived intersectional injustices that are supposedly perpetrated by us normal Americans. When Starbucks can be accused of being racist simply because a store manager did not want to allow non-paying non-customers to squat in a store, thus keeping paying customers from using the space, then you know that the Left has truly crossed the Rubicon of Wokeness, and no one is safe.

Of course, the biggest problem is that real damage is being done right now, not only to our society, but to individuals who are caught up in all this intersectionality and wokeness.

When my son was going to college a few years ago, he filled out a survey and his college provided him with several other incoming freshmen to contact to see if they might be suitable roommates. He contacted one individual, but upon learning that this student was militantly homosexual, sexually active and expected his roommate to be OK with this, my son politely declined to room with this individual and selected another roommate. I wonder how long it will be until some student like my son is brought up on charges by the school for being “intolerant” of such a potential roommate – even though my son would have chosen not to room with a sexually active heterosexual as well – and perhaps being forced to live in this situation as a way to “expand his views” or some other such “woke” nonsense.

We are in the process of visiting schools with my daughter, and encountered a surprising trend among several “elite” colleges that we’ve visited. Gone are the days when dorms were segregated by male and female floors, or even wings, and the idea of male and female bathrooms has gone the way of the dodo. At several of these schools, males and females share the bathroom, including shower facilities. Apparently the showers are individual locked stalls, but that still means that my freshman daughter could step out of the shower in her robe, and be faced with a male senior who may only be wrapped in a towel shaving at the sink next to her. Now, given the #MeToo environment we are currently living in, I am fairly confident that any male in such a situation would be scrupulously careful not to give his female neighbors any pretext by which to accuse him of harassment, but that doesn’t really make the situation a good one. And if it were my son in this situation, I would tell him to shower at 2am and make sure there were no women in the bathroom to avoid just such a possibility. How is that possibly a good environment for either sex?

The only possible “solution” to this quandary at any of the non-Catholic schools we visited was the traditionally all-female dorm at one school. Of course, given the times we’re in, this has now been expanded to the all-female-and-gender-non-binary dorm. This means that my daughter could be sharing the bathroom with a man who claims to be a woman. I wonder if such a person would be nearly as scrupulous as the male in the co-ed bathroom about covering himself in the presence of my daughter. After all, if he’s a “woman” what’s the big deal? And I’m sure that my daughter – or your daughter – would be the one brought up on disciplinary charges for complaining about the situation.

It is my sincere hope that, when we look back on these times twenty-five years hence, our society is in a place where “wokeness” is the what-were-you-thinking absurdity. It has to be, because if it’s not, then that means that we’ve gone even further ‘round the bend and I can’t even imagine what that might be like.

I spoke to Willian Nardy of Rousa News at CPAC 2018 after the president’s speech

Since camera 1 died I switched to Camera 2 to finish the interview when we were joined by the Lone Conservative Kassy Dylan

She should not be confused with the Lonely Conservative who alas is no longer blogging.

DaTechGuy at CPAC 2018 The story (blogged) so far:

Thursday March 29th

Voices of CPAC 2018 William Nardy of Rousa News PLUS the Lone Conservative Kassy Dylan

Wednesday March 28th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Peter from Reno
Voices of CPAC 2018 Tyler from Florida Post Trump Speech

Tuesday March 27th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Ricard from NY post Trump speech
3 Clips of President Trump at CPAC 2018 plus Rachel from VA again

Monday March 26

Voices of CPAC 2018 Jeff Hulbert of Patriot Picket
Voices of CPAC 2018 Adam from NY of the Young Republicans

Sunday March 25

Voices of CPAC 2018 Betina Viviano of the Media group America’s Voice
Voices of CPAC 2018 Susanne Monk of Trump Talk

Saturday March 24th

Voices from CPAC 2018: Tyler

Friday March 23rd

Voices of CPAC 2018 Debra (Nice Deb) Heine

Thursday March 22nd

Voices of CPAC 2018 Traci Belmonte

Wednesday March 21st

Voices of CPAC 2018 Evan of the College Republicans

Tuesday March 20th

Voices from CPAC 2018 Chris from EWTN

Monday March 19th

Voices at CPAC Heather of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty

Saturday March 17th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Seton Motley of Less Government

Friday March 16th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Leo from MA

Thursday March 15th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Yvonne from Illinois

Wednesday March 14

Voices of CPAC 2018 Kurt Schlichter

Tuesday March 13th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Tony (Don’t call him Anthony) Katz

Monday March 12th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Elizabeth of the Mt. Holyoke College Republicans (Yes you read that right)

Sunday March 11th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Grizzly Joe

Voices of CPAC 2018 Rachel from Virginia

Saturday March 10th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Connor Wolf of Inside Sources

Friday March 9th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Chase from the Houston Young Republicans

Thursday March 8th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Chris from NY Longtime Prolife activist

Saturday March 10th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Connor Wolf of Inside Sources

Friday March 9th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Chase from the Houston Young Republicans

Thursday March 8th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Chris from NY Longtime Prolife activist

Wednesday March 7th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Michael from Liberty University

Tuesday March 6th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Sarah Rumpf

Monday March 5th

Voices from CPAC 2018 Doreen from Michigan
Voices of CPAC 2018 Susan from New Mexico

Sunday March 4th
Voices of CPAC 2018 Myra Adams

Friday March 2nd

Voices of CPAC 2018 John Hawkins and Sierra Marlee

CPAC 2018: Two Men who made a Difference For Me

Wednesday Feb 20

Voices at CPAC 2018 Dylan and Watson

Voices at CPAC 2018 Kira Innis (Two Angles)

Monday Feb 26th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Greg Penglis of WEBY 1330 Radio

Sunday Feb 25th

CPAC 2018 Dutch Kitchen Cannoli Sicilian from Brooklyn Approved

Saturday Feb 24th

CPAC 2018 / Don’t give a VUK Meet the Voter the Media Narrative says Does Exist

Friday Feb 23rd

Voices at CPAC 2018 Senator Ted Cruz Answers Two Question for DaTechGuy

Thurs Feb 22nd

We Interrupt CPAC 2018 for CNN and their Gun Control Galaxy Quest Moment
Voices of CPAC 2018: Ron from PA

Wed Feb. 21st

Voices at CPAC 2018 Vicki from Minnesota

Voices at (or near) #cpac2018 Lea from National Association of Developmental Educators We talk Students and Math

DaTechGuy at CPAC 2018 The Calm Before the Storm and What I’ll be Asking

If you don’t want to wait or my blog posts to see my interviews my youtube channel is here.

Full CPAC 2017 list (for those who feel nostalgic) is here

A reminder I have copies of my Book Hail Mary the perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer available at CPAC with me, price $7 and I will happily sign them for you.

Or you can just order it on Amazon

If you don’t want to wait or my blog posts to see my interviews my youtube channel is here.

Full CPAC 2017 list (for those who feel nostalgic) is here

A reminder I have copies of my Book Hail Mary the perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer available at CPAC with me, price $7 and I will happily sign them for you.

Or you can just order it on Amazon



I spoke to Evan of the College Republicans at CPAC 2018

You’ll find a lot of College republicans at CPAC but they are as different as the regions they come from


DaTechGuy at CPAC 2018 The story (blogged) so far:

Wednesday March 21st

Voices of CPAC 2018 Evan of the College Republicans

Tuesday March 20th

Voices from CPAC 2018 Chris from EWTN

Monday March 19th

Voices at CPAC Heather of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty

Saturday March 17th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Seton Motley of Less Government

Friday March 16th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Leo from MA

Thursday March 15th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Yvonne from Illinois

Wednesday March 14

Voices of CPAC 2018 Kurt Schlichter

Tuesday March 13th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Tony (Don’t call him Anthony) Katz

Monday March 12th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Elizabeth of the Mt. Holyoke College Republicans (Yes you read that right)

Sunday March 11th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Grizzly Joe

Voices of CPAC 2018 Rachel from Virginia

Saturday March 10th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Connor Wolf of Inside Sources

Friday March 9th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Chase from the Houston Young Republicans

Thursday March 8th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Chris from NY Longtime Prolife activist

Wednesday March 7th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Michael from Liberty University

Tuesday March 6th

Voices at CPAC 2018 Sarah Rumpf

Monday March 5th

Voices from CPAC 2018 Doreen from Michigan
Voices of CPAC 2018 Susan from New Mexico

Sunday March 4th
Voices of CPAC 2018 Myra Adams

Friday March 2nd

Voices of CPAC 2018 John Hawkins and Sierra Marlee

CPAC 2018: Two Men who made a Difference For Me

Wednesday Feb 20

Voices at CPAC 2018 Dylan and Watson

Voices at CPAC 2018 Kira Innis (Two Angles)

Monday Feb 26th

Voices of CPAC 2018 Greg Penglis of WEBY 1330 Radio

Sunday Feb 25th

CPAC 2018 Dutch Kitchen Cannoli Sicilian from Brooklyn Approved

Saturday Feb 24th

CPAC 2018 / Don’t give a VUK Meet the Voter the Media Narrative says Does Exist

Friday Feb 23rd

Voices at CPAC 2018 Senator Ted Cruz Answers Two Question for DaTechGuy

Thurs Feb 22nd

We Interrupt CPAC 2018 for CNN and their Gun Control Galaxy Quest Moment
Voices of CPAC 2018: Ron from PA

Wed Feb. 21st

Voices at CPAC 2018 Vicki from Minnesota

Voices at (or near) #cpac2018 Lea from National Association of Developmental Educators We talk Students and Math

DaTechGuy at CPAC 2018 The Calm Before the Storm and What I’ll be Asking

If you don’t want to wait or my blog posts to see my interviews my youtube channel is here.

Full CPAC 2017 list (for those who feel nostalgic) is here

A reminder I have copies of my Book Hail Mary the perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer available at CPAC with me, price $7 and I will happily sign them for you.

Or you can just order it on Amazon


If you’d like to continue to support independent journalism, help defray the $140 a month extra I’ll need for my new hosting site) and think my CPAC 2018 reporting is worthwhile please consider hitting DaTipJar here.

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Finally might I suggest my book Hail Mary the Perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer makes an excellent Gift.