Friday, August 19, 2011

What Worksheets Are For

A friend handed me a stack of worksheets the other day and asked if I wanted any of them. My immediate reaction was to politely and simply hand them directly back to her and reply, "No, thanks." But then I thought that maybe I should look through them quickly and see if any of them gave me any new ideas. So I had an inward sigh and sat down with the stack.

Among the coloring pages, dot-to-dots, and math board games, I found one choose-the-right-word on needs and wants. Needs and wants is an important topic that's actually taught in public schools today, although I don't think any students or teachers actually internalize any of it. This paper listed scenarios and wanted students to decide if something is a good or service and a need or want. I'll list some from what I remember.

"Sally went to the barbershop. She paid for a __(good, service)__. Getting a haircut is a __(need, want)__."

Easy. She paid for a service; a haircut is a want. Alright, let's move on.

"Sally went to the mall. She paid for a __(good, service)__ at the store. Clothes are a __(need, want)__."

Okay, this one's a little trickier. Clothes are obviously a good, but because Sally had to go to the mall, the clothes she bought there are probably a want, not a need. However, the question just asked about "clothes" in general, which ARE a need. It's a little questionable, but acceptable. Let's check out the last one.

"Sally went to the pizza parlor. She paid for a __(good, service)__. Food is a __(need, want)__."

This one really got me. Because Sally went to a restaurant where food is prepared for her, she paid for both the good of the food and the service of having it prepared. Because it merely talks about "food," the answer should be "need." But again, because it specified that she went to the pizza parlor, pizza is a want, not a need. So although the "correct" answers are a "good" and a "need," you could easily argue either way.

And come to think of it, on the second question, when Sally paid for the clothes at the mall, which were undoubtedly overpriced, she probably paid for the service of having children in third world countries gather the materials and construct the clothes at the American equivalent of one dollar a month and at terrifying working conditions, the shipping of the finished products, the paychecks of CEOs that decided to outsource the company, and the employees of the store who marked up the price of the product by 75%. So, in fact, she paid for their services as well as the good itself.

With all that in mind, I wrote off the worksheet as stupid, cookie-cutter fodder common in most traditional classrooms across the country and handed the stack back to my friend.

But today I thought back to it and all of the comments I had. Wouldn't it be great if my students thought these thoughts as well? Wouldn't it be cool if I could use this silly worksheet to ignite these thoughts?

And then I thought, couldn't I use these silly worksheets to explain the molds that other teachers and other people in the world will try to fit them into? I could tell them, "This is what they will give you. And you know the right answers. That is, you know what answers they will be grading for. And you can try to talk to them about it, like we did together, but chances are, they won't listen. So you just have to put the answer you know that they want. And if you don't know, just guess. You may have guessed what they want correctly, and you may have guessed incorrectly, but it doesn't matter. Take your C and go sit back down because there's nothing more you can do with that kind of person. They just want to grade for what they think is correct and give you a score and label you and fit you into a category. And it doesn't matter. What matters is that you know that there's more to knowledge than that."

So that's what worksheets will be for in my classroom--preparing my students for the terrible teachers they will have in the future. Steeling their hearts for it and instilling more confidence into them. I look forward to the wonderful conversations about worksheets I will have with my students.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Introduction to Cooperative Education (with links to Teacher Tom)

Earlier this month, my husband and I took a trip to Kansas City. On our first day, we had a nice, romantic walk along the plaza in search of a local gourmet burger place he wanted to check out. We found it, and other nice-looking businesses, right next to an early childhood Montessori preschool connected to a temple. I wish I had a picture to show, but even a picture wouldn't do it justice. The feeling I got as I walked along the outside the building I knew wonderful things had and did happen inside, it was a sort of excitement mixed with recognition and nostalgia. What an atmosphere it had! We walked down a little ramp and into our hip burger joint, and the feeling wouldn't leave me alone. I was considering the dream I had recently. I looked the school up on my phone while we waited for our order. Could it be? Was this the school I had dreamed about? Was this Marketplace Education in action?

It was not, of course. It was a regular Montessori preschool, just located on the plaza next to some local businesses. The website did have me intrigued at, "families work together to provide children with the best possible educational environment," however. That was part of my dream, after all, the parents as the business owners and education assistants inside the school.

But that's about where the similarities ended between my dream school and the school on the plaza.

Today an education blogger that I follow posted a new post about coop schools. He's been teaching in a cooperative preschool for the entire time that I've been following his blog (for way longer, actually, more than 10 years). It's been staring me in the face from his sidebar all this time. Of course I had read many of his posts in which parents take a center role. But I wasn't ready to learn yet. "When the student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear."

I read Teacher Tom's post about teaching in a cooperative preschool and subsequently, every post he has written with the "cooperative" label. I nearly cried at each word. THIS was closer to the school in my dream.

I have a lot of learning ahead of me. How does a coop school really function? How does one get started? How would an elementary coop differ from its preschool counterpart?

"Sometimes I describe us as a bunch of families who have decided to homeschool their kids together." It sounds perfect, Teacher Tom. I look forward to learning as much as I can, and perhaps even my own venture into cooperative education.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Classroom Libraries

Teachers will go to great lengths to keep their classroom libraries looking nice. Many have checkout policies for borrowing books to prevent them from being stolen. Some even include a kind of temporary barter system by taking something that the student will obviously want back by the end of class, like a shoe.

These teachers are very concerned about their books because they, undoubtedly, have funded them out of pocket from expensive bookstores. New books aren't cheap. But children don't care if you bought your books from Barns & Nobel. Worn books represent loved books. They have been read and enjoyed by many people. Even books without pictures on their covers will find their way into students' hands.

But many children in this country don't have access to books. Many don't have a single book in their home. They may not even be able to make it to the public library safely. There are organizations that work very hard to supply these kids with books to read. But for some, it's too late. Many children already despise reading. It's a horrible truth that hard for me to even think about.

So, in my opinion, if a student cares enough about a book in the classroom library to steal it, someone's doing something right. If a student cares enough about a book to steal it, I believe that they should have it. Sure, the student may not have the proper ethics yet to know that stealing is wrong, but at least they haven't given up reading. At least they have the motivation to want to own something that will lead to their own growth. And perhaps they may get to the point where ethics matter more.

I have a large collection of picture books and young adult novels that I've gotten for cheap from half-priced bookstores and garage sales. I don't even have a classroom of my own yet, I don't even know what grade I'll be teaching, but I've already gotten my classroom library ready to go. And I hope many of my books are stolen.

Edit: My husband says it still promotes miscreant thievery and ill ethics to have these philosophies, even if I don't announce them to my students. Perhaps I will have some sort of no-checkout take-home policy of my classroom library books. I don't want to give books as any type of reward (perhaps other than for simply completing a year in my classroom), and I don't want to have a situation where I'm allowing each student to take a book but "Megan" already took the one that "Jose" wanted because she got to go up before him. I'll have to see what I can come up with.