Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I.D. Risk Factors Early!

Over the next several blog entries I will be sharing strategies from the book Designing Thriving Schools, authored by Daniel Burrus and myself. It was launched, as an eBook, on October 20, 2007 and you can find it on my website at DTS brings our empowering method of thinking, learning and planning to educators, with 45 strategies and more than 40 technology tools that have the power to accelerate learning and improve professional performance at every level. It is available for purchase on the homepage of my site.

Strategy # 15 from DTS

Have you watched students move from grade to grade, but never catch up?

As some students progress through the primary grades, their inability to make meaning or learn new concepts becomes more apparent. By then however, the child may have lost precious years of learning. The earlier we identify risk factors for students, and implement strategies to accelerate learning, the greater their chances for success.

Early childhood education is critical. It is far better to prevent failure in the first place than to remediate later. The consequences of failing to learn to read in the early grades are severe. As early as the end of first grade, students who have trouble reading begin to view school as punishing and demeaning. (Slavin, 1993) Effective early intervention programs help students maintain their enthusiasm, motivation and self-confidence. But, without intervention, failure to read in the early grades will almost assuredly guarantee failure in later schooling.

But, some students become “at risk” later in their school career. Others may come in and out of risk because of changing factors or personal issues. These students are often harder to spot, so staff must be able to recognize the warning signs.

The term “at risk” does not imply that the problem is with the learner.

Risk factors include anything and everything that is blocking learning. Today, the term takes on a broad connotation, as more and more children – from all classes and income levels – are “at risk” not only from school failure but from outside forces. Tragically, factors outside of school such as instability in families, abuse, neighborhood violence, homelessness, or the death of a loved one affect many children. Older students are increasingly drawn away from school by the magnetism and danger of the streets. Helping these students internalize and visualize being part of a classroom community can be an essential factor in making them feel like they belong.

Yes, many students need special attention – and fast. You can never do third grade again for the first time. Technologies like Data Warehousing can be of tremendous help in quickly identifying factors such as poor attendance, tardiness, falling grades, low test scores, and even students dropping out of activities. A comprehensive staff development program that includes training on how to recognize warning signs and initiate intervention will increase the chances for success. And don’t underestimate the willingness of parents to intervene and help their kids or support teacher policies.

Looking At the Research:

Educational Leadership highlights this topic in their October 2007 edition: “Early Intervention at Every Age”. They look at interventions that research and experience are validating as effective ways to reach out not just to students on the verge of crisis but also the many students who need an extra nudge to stay on the path toward success. The articles look at crucial crossroads in students’ lives and times when interventions can have an incredible payoff.

Take a look at what leaders in the field are saying:

“Changing the Odds”: by Susan B. Neuman How do we improve the academic prospects of the poor?

“Giving Interventions a Head Start”: A Conversation with Edward Zigler, by Deborah Perkins-Gough The founder of Head Start talks about its early days and its long-term potential.

“The Perils and Promise on Praise” by Carol S. Dweck Praising students' effort is more effective than praising inherent intelligence.

“Perspectives / Interventions That Work”, by Marge Scherer

Ask yourself:

  • Do we know our students well enough to know when they are “at risk?”

  • Can we really have early intervention at every age?

  • Could our staff benefit from professional development on identifying risk factors and implementing interventions?

  • Take action:

    Review the “at risk” factors you currently use to assess whether a student is in need of intervention. What additional information would be helpful?

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    “What, We have to take the test again?” Michigan Students Ask

    “What, We have to spend hundred of thousands of dollars?” State Asks

    There are lots of “unhappy campers” in fifth and sixth grade in Michigan where thousands of students must retake Michigan's standardized writing test after a community newspaper published two of the writing topics without realizing the implications. "The Department of Education had no choice but to make this extraordinary decision," said Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley. "We have to maintain the integrity of the test, and we have to ensure fairness for every student in Michigan."

    Jennifer Mrozowski writer for the The Detroit News in her article “MEAP Leak Forces Retest for Thousands of Students” of October 12, 2007, reported “State officials don't know how many of the more than 250,000 fifth- and sixth-graders in Michigan have already taken the test, but all will be given the new writing section.

    Ackley said development and distribution of a new writing section could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, the decision to retest students was made after the department learned a reporter was allowed into Jackson Public Schools during the administration of the test, a violation of Michigan's testing ethics.

    "It's not like we were going to find out the answers," Brooke Nemens, 10, a sixth-grader at L'Anse Creuse Middle School -- North, said after she heard the news. "I don't even read the newspaper." Brooke, who took the test earlier this week, reported it was easy but she doesn't want to take it again.

    Brenda Nemens, Brooke’s mother, said she would retake the test, "I think they should have to do that for the security of the answer," she said. "But they put way too much emphasis on the MEAPs. My kids get stressed out."

    Dearborn Schools Superintendent John Artis said he “hopes the Jackson paper will consider paying for the costs of the "fiasco." Educators who would engage in a similar breach of security could have charges brought against them,” he said.

    Ask Yourself:

    • Does your school put “too much emphasis state testing?

    • Do you think students in Michigan should loose another day of instruction for the mistake of a reporter?

    • Should the paper pay for the cost of the “fiasco”?

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    “Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-Roll”: Keeping Kids Attention

    "At the end of class they didn't get up when the bell rang. They still had their hands in the air," says Duke University pharmacology professor Rochelle Schwartz-Bloom, in an article entitled 'Rusting' Also Describes How Methamphetamine Harms The Body, published in September 28th issue of the research journal Science.

    Schwartz-Bloom recalls how her own high school teacher taught her about oxidation by describing how iron and oxygen combine to create rust, "I'm not going to talk about rust," Schwartz-Bloom told the high school students. "I'm going to tell you how methamphetamines kill neurons. It's through oxidation, and it's the same reaction."

    These lessons sound interesting to me, as I believe they were to the students and it didn’t stop there. Schwartz-Bloom and her team taught high school teachers how to incorporate drug-related topics into biology and chemistry classes in a national experiment. Their research shows how they increased 7,210 students' science scores by 16% by incorporating drug-related topics into high school biology and chemistry classes, according to the study.

    Schwartz-Bloom describes another lesson this way. "I talked about the different formulations of cocaine if it's smoked or if it's snorted, Of course they were already street-savvy about the fact that you can get addicted more easily if you smoke crack. So I asked them, how can that be? It's the same chemical. We talked the whole hour about that.”

    "I call it 'stealth learning,'" said Schwartz-Bloom, who is a science-education expert. "The students are having fun picking up facts about things they're interested in. But at the same time they're actually learning basic principles about science."

    Read about the 11-year-old project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in which Schwartz-Bloom's group has developed a Pharmacology Education Partnership (PEP) involving Duke faculty and high school science teachers from around the United States.

    Ask Yourself:

    Would my students be more interested in science if it related to their life or interests?

    Could I do a better job of connecting content to the social context of my students life in every lesson?

    Related Reading:

    Posted on Science Daily site: Lessons About Drugs, Nerve Gas Teach Students Biology And Chemistry More Effectively,

    Check out the book review of: Wasted : A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher on the Science Daily site.