Tag: Common Core Standards

Staying After-School at Pond Gap

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

 

“Pond Gap has the answer: provide needed support with daily activities, teach engaging skills after-school, and show students and parents that ‘school’ is a way of life.”

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A Pond Gap student practices interviewing skills with his classmates during a music and performance class led by Ronda Mostella.

When school was out at Pond Gap in the 60s, I went home to watch television. My folks were often still working, so I grabbed a snack in time for the start of the Early Show, a program that showed mostly reruns of old Tarzan movies. I sat for hours by myself not wanting to miss prime time shows like Andy Griffith or the Beverly Hillbillies. If I were attending Pond Gap Elementary today, however, my childhood would be different.  I would be able to stay at school and participate in a wide range of fun, creative activities, take field trips to local events, and even have dinner.

Bob Kronick had this vision of a full-service community school in the late 1990s. A professor of educational psychology at UT, Bob was researching how to improve academic achievement in Title 1 schools, those schools whose student body comes from less advantaged backgrounds and often includes children of immigrant families. He later encountered the university-assisted community school movement and convinced James McIntyre, then the incoming superintendent of Knox County schools, to let him design a program for use in local schools. In 2010, Susan Esperitu, the principal at Pond Gap, joined forces with Bob and Pond Gap became a national model for delivery of a wide range of after-school services. This model receives generous support from several sources, including local philanthropist Randy Boyd, United Way, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Just how comprehensive are these after-school services? Mark Benson currently coordinates the myriad of offerings. He notes that students receive extra help with academic subjects such as reading and mathematics. Students can also take lessons in art and music year round. Problem solving and team building skills are taught through such activities as science night, cooking classes, and the stilt-walking club. Medical and eye exams are provided on site as well as washers and dryers. Counseling services are available to help students with difficult issues such as the loss of a loved one. After dinner is served at 6:30, parents can even attend special classes such as those that prepare for the GED, teach Spanish or Mandarin, or teach English as a second language.

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After-school Coordinator Mark Benson observes as Blaine Sample teaches mathematics to Pond Gap students.

Pond Gap has become a model for how to integrate academic instruction with community services that builds student confidence, takes certain burdens off overworked parents, and leads to a reduction of student problems, such as tardiness, absences, and behavioral referrals.  Nationally, schools are implementing Common Core standards that elevate the bar of acceptable academic performance. For these standards to work with certain populations, Pond Gap has the answer: provide needed support with daily activities, teach engaging skills after-school, and show students and parents that “school” is a way of life.

On a recent visit to Pond Gap, I sat in the office waiting to interview Susan Espiritu. Back in the 60s, I was sent to the principal’s office often, for engaging in disruptive behaviors. My only after-school memories were of detention. As I looked at young students in the hallways switching classes, I thought of all the opportunities that awaited them and felt sad at the experiences that I probably missed. As the principal asked me to come observe the special programs, however, I knew this time I would not mind staying after-school.

 

 

 

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at mike@testprepexperts.com.

Free speech, creativity, and the revolution in videos, books, and apps

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

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“One estimate suggests that there are 900,000 apps just for the Apple iPhone, iPod, or iPad.”

Can free speech promote creativity? Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his famous dissent in the Supreme Court case of Abrams v. United States (1919), suggested that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected the expression of controversial ideas: “the ultimate good…is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Holmes wanted to overturn the convictions of protesters who had merely written and distributed leaflets criticizing U. S. involvement in World War I. Today, we all benefit from Holmes’ dissent and his support of free speech. Combined with the forces of technology, citizens in the United States, and in many other countries, can express their creative ideas, however controversial, through videos, books, and apps. Read more →

…and speaking of public speaking

Fear and confidence in public speaking

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

Aug2013MSmith

“The fear of appearing foolish can only be alleviated through guided practice in rewarding contexts.”

Walker Percy, in his Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, describes a prevalent fear: “A recent poll asked people what they feared most. A majority of respondents agreed in ranking one fear above all others, above fear of sickness, accidents, crime, war, even death. It is the fear of speaking before a group, stage fright.” Why is speaking before a group so frightening? “Is it because you fear a total failure of performance such as never happened in the history of the world, so that not one word will come to your mind and world chaos will follow?” Percy exaggerates so that the reader will reflect on his or her own feelings about public speaking. Is this skill of public speaking so important? Can we just avoid this fearful event? I do not believe that we can but we do need to be aware of strategies that build confidence.

Many situations require adults to present their ideas to others. Workers could be asked to discuss their solutions to a company’s problem. Students in university classes are often required to make a class presentation on their original projects. Adults, in many social and church events, may be asked to give their opinions, to speak their minds. Interestingly, speaking skills are also a part of the new Common Core standards. For instance, Grade 8 students should be able to “present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-known details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.” Furthermore, students should be able to “adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks.”

What can parents and teachers do to help students develop these speaking skills? All skills require proper practice to develop mastery and confidence. Parents can be an encouraging audience as their children rehearse any presentations required at school. Parents could set aside a few minutes at home weekly to have their children talk about their interests and activities. Teachers can construct classroom exercises that encourage students to speak in various contexts, from reciting a poem to reading a story to talking about a nonfiction topic.

This summer, my oldest son participated in a science internship at Oak Ridge. He researched various activities that attempted to teach Java computer programming to middle school students. To end the summer, he was required to present his findings to other interns and scientists. In the weeks before, he organized his talk, made a PowerPoint, and practiced a lot. As parents, we listened to several rehearsals. He was both excited and nervous as the scheduled day approached. All this effort paid off when the actual talk went smoothly. This success will hopefully build confidence toward future public speaking engagements.

The fear of appearing foolish can only be alleviated through guided practice in rewarding contexts. As the new school year starts, parents and teachers should look for opportunities to help students master public speaking. The rewards are immense as these future citizens learn to speak their minds, a skill essential in any democracy.

 

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at mike@testprepexperts.com.

Can our schools promote healthy minds, bodies, and spirits?

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

Apr2013-MSmithThe word “health” derives from an Old English word that meant “being whole or sound” and was used in Middle English to mean “prosperity, happiness, and welfare.” To be “healthy” should mean more than to just be “well”; a healthy person has an approach to life and the life of others that strives for this prosperity and happiness.

Can our schools promote healthy minds, bodies, and spirits? Do any educational standards, Common Core included, provide any support for curriculum geared to “healthy” approaches to life? While not immediately obvious, I believe that some of the basic assumptions of the Common Core Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language standards do advocate a broad and thoughtful approach to education and thus a broader sense of the word “healthy.” These standards suggest that students who are college and career ready have developed four characteristics.

Students demonstrate independence:  “They become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials.” Self-directed learning is a characteristic valued by teachers and employers. Individuals who can seek out help when confronted with problems—whether personal, academic, or professional—display an ability to grow and change in new circumstances.

Students build strong content knowledge:  “They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise.” Success at work is often related to acquiring the expertise needed to perform a job well. General life satisfaction is often correlated with acquiring specific habits and hobbies that enrich life. Both can contribute to a healthy lifestyle that enjoys both work and play.

 

“…a healthy person has an approach to life and the life of others that strives for …prosperity and happiness.”

 

Students comprehend as well as critique:  “They are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.” An individual must be able to evaluate all the claims about “healthiness” that float around in our society. What foods should be avoided? How much exercise is needed? What types of activities help with aging? These and many other issues routinely make the headlines of newspapers and magazines. Which ones are “correct”? Which should be followed?

Students come to understand other perspective and cultures:  “They appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.” This characteristic is the most difficult but the most important for our revised conception of “healthy.”

A “healthy” person comes to understand and respect others, whether those others are better off or worse off or from different cultures or the same culture. Every person must live and work amidst others and his or her long-term “health” is dependent on the health of the society in which they live. Schools do not need to worry about courses in “healthiness.” The general philosophy of the Common Core, if implemented, should help students achieve a lifelong respect for themselves and others that will contribute to healthy minds, bodies, and spirits.

 

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at mike@testprepexperts.com.

How can I help my teenager with middle and high school math?

By Tracey Matthews, Knox County Schools Supervisor of Family and Community Engagement

 

In last year’s February issue, we took a general look at how parents can remain involved and engaged in their teenager’s middle and high school years. This year, let’s take a closer look at one area of high importance: Fear of middle and high School Math! Not our teenagers’ fear, but parents. Read more →