Injustices of the New GED

In January 2014, proposed changes to the GED test will affect many individuals seeking the high school equivalency diploma according to Diane Orson’s report for NPR.  For years the testing service that offered the GED was the nonprofit American Council on Education, but in 2011, the nonprofit stated that it would be “…merging with Pearson, a for-profit British company, and one of the largest educational testing companies in the world.” [Surprise, surprise.]

Needless to say, the price of the test is set to double from $60 to $120.  Some states choose to subsidize some or all of the test for its residents, however the exorbitant increase in cost may deter some governments to provide the financial assistance it previously was able to and will probably render many unable to afford any help at all in paying for the test.  This is antithetical to the nature of the test, which was designed to provide an opportunity for all individuals to obtain a diploma often necessary for more employment opportunities.  Low-income people will be further disadvantaged by the price of the test.

Additionally, the article states that the GED test itself “will be more rigorous and aligned with Common Core Standards” along with its complete digitization.  The computerization of the exam will add another element of division to the new test, a “digital divide” that privileges those who are comfortable with using a computer and taking online tests.  The article refers to some states that are seeking alternatives to the GED, but it doesn’t specify what these testing alternatives are.  I’d imagine and hope that as January 2014 approaches, the alternatives are effective, affordable, and available in all fifty states.


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English & Photography: an interesting pair

I have recently come across an article posted on the WBFO News website entitled “English learners gain confidence using photography”.  The article talks about a program that a school in Buffalo, NY instilled called Writing with Light that lets students “work with words, poetry, and photography” to better tell stories and help them learn the English language.  The articles discusses how this program is especially beneficial to students learning English as a second language.

Noah Falck, a former ELA teacher in Ohio that now works with this program in Buffalo said, “These projects brought professional writers, book artists and photographers into schools across the city, working with a total of 707 students and 34 classroom teachers,”  Noah works alongside CEPA gallery, a gallery which presents some of the students’ work when they complete them.

Barbara Cole, Just Buffalo Artistic Director said, “We wish that you could you all witness the power in seeing an English Language Learner hesitant at first to read in front of the microphone but finding the courage to confidently proclaim her words.”  This specifically stood out to me, because I think it is so important for schools to challenge the normal means of educating the English language, especially to ESL students, and presenting them with new means to incorporate their new language in with art.

This idea of incorporating art with a new language can really help and encourage a student to step out of their comfort zone, and be able to express themselves without the fear of a language barrier, meanwhile at the same time, learning that new language in a fresh, new way.  Perhaps combining an art form with English can help students to feel more inspired to learn this new language, while sparking a creative interest alongside it.

Do you agree that using an art form, or a new style of teaching, can truly help a student who is perhaps struggling? The school’s superintendent Pamela Brown stated, “It’s a source of motivation, I think, for them to be exposed to photography and to be able to combine that with learning to write. It’s a very, very complex skill. And so, the more that we can motivate children to want to do it and to appreciate their own writing, the more successful they will be,”

What are your thoughts?

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Hold onto those fictions!

I just read an encouraging article pertaining to the new Common Coress emphasis on nonfiction.  Due to the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction, many schools’ curriculum has replaced classic novels with nonfiction.  Many ELA teachers are complaining about these new standards and it has reached the authors of the Common Core.  Their reply clears a lot of things up for ELA teachers.  They note that this new emphasis of nonfiction is on only for ELA teachers, but applies across the board.  What they essentially want is for other subjects, Math, History, Science, to have more readings.  If these other subjects do start using assigning more readings, then ELA teachers need not replace any fictions.
What is interesting though is a teacher’s comment of how if the authors of the Common Cores wanted this to be clear, “why are those critical instructions buried in a footnote in a 60-plus page primer on the Common Core?”  I found this question to be very intriguing.  Why DID they hide such an important note?  I wonder if it was  really their intention, that other subjects assign readings, or if this was a kind of contingency note in case ELA teachers complain about this transition.  Aside from history, and maybe science, I cannot think of many ways for Math and Science teachers to assign more readings.  I guess one good way is to assign research and projects.  I remember my high school physics teacher requiring us to to do a research paper on different scientific theories relating to physics.  This was a way for students to read more nonfiction literature.  But how do you keep track of this?  What about lower grades who do not have to do research projects?  How will nonfiction be introduced to them?

This knowledge requires a kind of interdisciplinary collaboration.  In order to know whether or not other subjects are meeting the reading standards, ELA teachers probably have to meet with other subject teachers to discuss about reading material.  While I love effective interdisciplinary collaboration, I can see issues that might arise.  Who will be in charge and hold this meetings and make sure everyone is doing their part?  Will it be the principle?  The superintendent?  Or maybe the ELA teachers?  What if their are disagreements on who will increase their nonfiction reading load and who will not?   I think in the end, the task of increasing their nonfiction intake falls on ELA teachers will probably.  But knowing this, we can at least be a little at ease and our curriculum can be a little more flexible.

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“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Miranda Paul wrote an article called “Books Like ‘Hunger Games’ Makes Reading Cool Again” which grabbed my attention as it is the unit that we just finished. For me, reading is always ‘cool’ but I learned at a very young age that that is not the norm. This article explored how books such as “Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” “Eragon,” and “Twilight” make reading cool. With these books soaring in  popularity, authors and book stores are taking notice. The article writes,“these titles inspired many other authors and kicked-off trends of fantasy, vampires, and dystopian series, to the point that shelves of many YA areas of bookstores have a special section” (Paul 1). I think that this is great.  There were so many times growing up that when I finished a book that I loved I would go to the library and bookstore and ask for another book that was similar. I think it is great for libraries and bookstores to take advantage of that because I believe that that is how you get kids to keep reading, once they have found something that they love.

One trend that the article mentioned that I am not so sure how I feel about, because I love so many of the classics, is the rewriting of classics that most of us are probably familiar with. For example, the article writes, “and although not all teens are picking up the classics, they’re getting the same storylines through a growing trend of retold tales. New spins on old books include “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, “Another Faust” by Daniel Nayeri, “Jane” by April Lindner, and “For Darkness Shows the Stars” by Diane Peterfreund. The case can even be made that Bella Swan’s relationships in the “Twilight” series are akin the angst and longing suffered by Elizabeth Bennett in “Wuthering Heights” (Paul 2).

I am not sure that those would be titles that I would be picking up but at the same time, if it is getting people to read then I guess that it a success. For those of us who have already read some of the classics mentioned above, it might possibly be interesting to see how they retold it. You can definitely tell that current trends are being brought into these classics, for example, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which kind of has my interest on how they would incorporate zombies into such a classic.

Here is the Amazon description of the novel:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

“So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombiestransforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read”




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Don’t Do What You Love, The Money May Not Follow

It is a common cliche that people use, “Do what you love the money will follow”, that may not be so true in our struggling economy. The author of The Chronicle article, “What You Can’t Tell Your Student’s Anymore”, Pamela Newkirk is worried that she may have overused this phrase. Newkirk expressed concern that her student’s will not be afforded the same opportunities she was because her students are dealing with different financial issues, for example debt from student loans.  This is a valid concern from Newkirk because as a professor and parent she has a certain responsibility to present reality to her students and daughters. To continue to tell students to chase their dreams with the hope that “money will follow” is problematic without giving full details of sacrifices that will have to be made.

Newkirk has faith in this generation but after rethinking her advice she has realized that she must set out the sacrifices that one may need to make in order to “do what they love”. Newkirk feels that her advice may have lead some of her past students to stay “un- or underemployed” by internships in hopes to get a job. She now revises that notion explaining, “there is honorable work to be found while pursuing your dreams”, a needed reality for students who may avoid low ,or any paying, job beside that of their interest. Newkirk’s revelation about her teaching advice made me start thinking about my own teaching career and the advice I may give. In a world where reality hits 6 months after graduation, when Sallie Mae calls to start collecting on school loans, it seems like an injustice to try and sugar coat the truth to students but there is also a desire to keep the hope of their dreams alive.

Going into education it was my hope to inspire someone to do and be something great. This notion of giving students the truth of the “real” world my hinder the persistent students. Their are some students out there who, maybe one day, would have turned their dream internship into their career and this new advice, Newkirk has decided upon, may stop that. I always knew that being a teacher was a balancing act but I guess I never realized how complex of an act. Newkirk’s article really opened my eyes to how careful I must be even with the smallest cliches I say to my students.


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The Lost Art of Penmanship

Some States Ensure Penmanship Art Won’t Fade. Boston Globe December 2, 2012

For decades cursive handwriting has been a staple of elementary school, often an essential skill learned in the third grade.  However, the introduction of the computer, and with it the keyboard, has led to a growing trend of typing over handwriting.  In fact, penmanship has become an optional portion of the curriculum or even removed entirely in elementary schools across the country.

45 states are moving toward a national curriculum that does not have any guidelines for cursive writing, but does require computer keyboarding proficiency to be achieved in elementary school.  Has the keyboard replaced the all-mighty pen?

Several states have decided to add cursive writing as a requirement to the national standards, including California, Massachusetts, and Georgia.  These states that wish to preserve the art of hand writing are in the minority.  Longhand has become obsolete in the digital age.

Everything from essays to standardized tests are being conducted on computers, pen and paper tests and essay writing is a thing of the past.  Still, penmanship isn’t going down without a fight.

Many proponents believe cursive benefits the developing brain, improving coordination and motor skills.  It also connects them to a past, our Constitution is written in elegant longhand.  Many believe longhand to be an art of expression and a symbol of personality, and fear its disappearance will have implications on a new generation of students, still many believe it is simply a sign of technology replacing outdated means of communication.

While my cursive is shaky at best, it is a skill I learned early on, in third grade.  While I can’t remember the last sentence I wrote out in flowing script, I can attest one important attribute to cursive– my signature.  My autograph is a product of my lessons in cursive, without it I would still sign my name as it appears on my fifteen year old library card, in big block capital letters.  But my signature isn’t just a stamp on legal documents, it is a sign of my personality and my individualism,  It is uniquely mine.  While digital signatures are becoming more common, it doesn’t leave the same unique mark my handwritten signature does.  It has become my identity on paper.  Will students without this skill grow up never identifying their own unique autograph?  How will they make their own mark?

Surely the keyboard is becoming second nature for many students growing up today, and the pen is fading out, but I would be hard pressed to get rid of all my writing utensils.  Longhand is an art that many people utilize every day without a second thought, scribbling out a signage that has become a reflex.

As we push toward the future we cannot forget our past.  Students without a cursive curriculm could lack the very basic markings we end our letters and our legal documents with.   Cursive script may be a dated and inefficient means of communicating through writing, but there is something uniquely personal about writing out your own name in your own way.


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Students Aren’t Always the Cheater

According to an article written by Motoko Rich for the New York Times, it seems that students are not the only ones in the school system that cheat to gain success. A former Memphis school district assistant principal and guidance counselor, Clarence Mumford, has been caught running a test cheating ring. What I found so astonishing about this particular occurrence was that the cheating ring spanned three states: Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. I’ve heard of teachers helping students cheat in order to boost test score reports, but this is the first time I had ever heard of teachers cheating in order to become teachers.

Mumford was creating false identification for test takers so that they could hire another person to take their test for them. In this case, the individuals involved with Mumford were cheating on the Praxis Exams. Rich explains that the Praxis Exams are, “are taken by people who want to obtain a teaching license or to acquire additional credentials in a specific subject.” These exams are comparable to the MTEL’s that Massachusetts requires of licensed teachers.

So what does all this mean when it concerns students? I found it shocking that individuals who wanted to become an educator, people who shape young minds, were taking such a deceitful route that, hopefully, they would never encourage their students to take. Sarah Almy, the director of teacher quality at Education Trust, sees this as a concern as well: “‘The fact that there were folks who felt like they needed to bring somebody else in in order to meet a very basic level of content knowledge is disturbing, in particular for the kids those teachers are going to wind up teaching.'”

I also find this very troublesome. Not only were these people involved in the cheating ring acting less than honorably, they required someone else to take the test for them because they didn’t know the information required to pass. If these basic requirements are now a major concern for future teachers, so much so they are willing to go outside the law, what does this mean about the quality of teachers nowadays? Hopefully more of these cheating rings can be brought to justice. Mumford ran his reportedly from 1995 until at least 2010. There is really nothing more detrimental to a students education than an unqualified teacher.


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