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(My mom thinks his brother-in-law wrote this.) July 31, 2005 By the Script By SEWELL CHAN In many New York City public schools, children sit cross-legged on rugs. Desks must be arranged into clusters of students with varying abilities, not in rows. A "word wall" serves as a vocabulary reference. Lessons last five minutes.

All of the above are elements of the city's "balanced literacy" curriculum, and it has newly minted college graduates, bursting with ideas about shaping young lives, complaining about a disconnect.

"It's not up to you what to teach every day," says Christian A. Ledesma, 25, who has taught for three years at Public School 9 in the Bronx, in second and fourth grades. He joined Teach for America in 2002, a year before the introduction of the curriculum, and earned his master's degree in elementary education through evening classes at Pace University. There, he learned about backward design, which emphasizes teaching with the end result - knowledge of state reading or math standards - in mind.

But in his classroom, he was not designing anything; instead, he was following the balanced literacy script. In a 90-minute period, actual imparting of knowledge was restricted to a lesson as short as five minutes. Then pupils broke into small groups for independent guided work, and reconvened to share their efforts. School administrators made unannounced visits to ensure that teachers were using their rugs and abiding by the "flow of the day" schedule posted in each classroom.

To avoid being caught if they did not follow the schedules, some teachers began "actually training their kids to switch subjects on command," Mr. Ledesma says. "They can be doing a reading lesson, and if somebody walks through the door, all of a sudden they're doing the writing lesson."

Even so, he has not lost his idealism. "You still have to bring your personality to do the teaching, even if it's written right in front of you - lesson, mini-lesson - every step of the way."

Arthur T. Costigan, assistant professor of education at Queens College, has interviewed about 300 middle-school teachers since 2001. He links high turnover among new teachers to overly rigid curriculums. "Research shows that it takes about two years for someone to develop the basic confidence to begin feeling comfortable teaching," says Dr. Costigan, an author of "Learning to Teach in an Age of Accountability." "When new teachers are coming in and forced to teach these scripted lessons, there's no reason for them to develop."

The problem may be acute in alternative certification programs like Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows, which fill vacancies in the city's poorer neighborhoods, where the curriculum is required. "The irony is they're supposed to be these urban pioneers - innovative, creative people," Dr. Costigan says. "Then they land in the schools and are forced to teach these highly scripted lessons, which they find frustrating."

Many new teachers say they like the curriculum but find it applied too strictly. "They took a progressive model and implemented it in a conservative fashion," says Nicholas J. Graham, a 32-year-old fifth-grade teacher at Intermediate School 528 in Manhattan. "I do see myself as someone who goes into this job every day to provide a unique, uplifting, alive experience for my students. That requires creative freedom." Mr. Graham has two master's degrees in education, from Harvard and from Pace (for state certification). He says his school has used three different reading and writing programs in the five years he has been teaching there, and he does not feel he was adequately trained for any of them.

Lucy Calkins, the prime architect of the curriculum, says a rug can be a useful tool to help students focus when the teacher is presenting information, but is by no means a requirement. She does say that direct instruction should be limited because she believes students learn to read and write best by reading and writing.

"Nobody's pushing rugs, and nobody says you have to have 5, 10 or 15 minutes of mini-lessons," says Dr. Calkins, a professor of English education at Teachers College at Columbia. "Sometimes the teachers are right - that the principals who are assessing and supervising them are themselves just learning and too rigid."

The city's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, Carmen Fariņa, says the number of teacher complaints about overly scripted lessons has decreased as principals have been trained in the new curriculum. She says that the "flow of the day" is intended to make instruction more consistent but acknowledges that some schools have not been flexible enough. "There might have been some teachers, or even administrators, who looked at rules without really understanding them," she says. "When you don't know something, you tend to overregulate it."

Some young teachers seem to be figuring that out on their own.

"If the word wall is an extension of what is being done in the classroom, then it makes sense," says Jonathan Schleifer, 28, a graduate of Teachers College who works at I.S. 303 in the Bronx. "If not, then it's just wasting teachers' time. In many classrooms, the word walls have the same words at the end of the year that were there at the beginning."

Sewell Chan is a reporter for The Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/31/education/edlife/chan31.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1123299176-SMAWvqzUt/Ixxxk8qH3bHQ&pagewanted=print

boomwhackers July 31, 2005 Boomwhackers: Instruments of Democracy By MELANIE D. G. KAPLAN NEVER underestimate the power of a basic concept. In 1994, Craig Ramsell, a guitar player with a master's in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invented Boomwhackers, brightly colored plastic tubes that make musical notes when whacked against arms, legs or inanimate objects.

By the end of last month, he had sold 3.5 million of them, about 80 percent to elementary schools. A set of eight tubes costs $25, so schools can afford more tubes than, say, trombones. As Larry Scripp, founder of the Music in Education program at the New England Conservatory in Boston, observes: "Music educators understand that we need to be practical and egalitarian. Much better to have Boomwhackers for every kid than two clarinets for two kids."

Susan Ralston, a music teacher at Schwegler Elementary School in Lawrence, Kan., has five sets, two of which she bought herself. She uses them in fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes. If students whack each other or use them as "Star Wars" light sabers, they lose privileges.

Mr. Ramsell might have been the first to market his tubes to schools, but innovative teachers have been on to the sound of plastic for years. Ms. Ralston says that a decade ago she spent $30 on four-inch-diameter PVC sewer pipes and cut them to lengths as long as six feet to produce low sounds like a bass guitar.

Now her concerts include all sorts of tubular instruments. "You don't want to listen to a bunch of Boomwhackers," she says, "but you can use them for melody and combine with xylophones and sewer pipes and get rhythm with percussion."

http://nytimes.com/2005/07/31/education/edlife/boomwackers1.html

For decades, education schools have gravitated from the practical side of teaching, seduced by large ideas like "building a caring learning community and culture" and "advocating for social justice," to borrow from the literature of the Hunter College School of Education, part of the City University of New York. With the ambition of producing educators rather than technicians, in the words of Hunter's acting dean, Shirley Cohen, schools have embraced a theoretical approach. But critics say that ill prepares teachers to function effectively in the classroom. For decades, education schools have gravitated from the practical side of teaching, seduced by large ideas like "building a caring learning community and culture" and "advocating for social justice," to borrow from the literature of the Hunter College School of Education, part of the City University of New York. With the ambition of producing educators rather than technicians, in the words of Hunter's acting dean, Shirley Cohen, schools have embraced a theoretical approach. But critics say that ill prepares teachers to function effectively in the classroom. http://nytimes.com/2005/07/31/education/edlife/hartocollis31.html

-- CatherineJohnson - 05 Aug 2005

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