Monthly Archives: October 2012

How to Train a Brain

In the article I read for the NY Times, written by Dan Harley. Harley is a “neuroscience reporter writing a book on new research into intelligence”, and in this article he discusses something that has really sparked an interest in me, brain training. I’m sure we have all seen the Luminosity commercials, well that is brain training. In this article younger students are the focus. The CEO of luminosity discusses that he is shocked to see such a younger user base, because brain training was originally intended for an older user base. However, many young student ranging from 11-21 are using this online based brain training. Luminosity apparently waives their fee per the request of teachers, but other brain training companies such as LearningRx do not and in fact are pricey. Unlike tutoring, which makes a student better at one particular subject, brain training is said to make students “smarter”.

In particular Dan looks at Taylor a lacrosse player. She plays so well that she is being looked at by college recruiters, her parents wonder if brain training could do for school what her lacrosse coaches have done for her as an athlete. She is enrolled in brain training and admits that for the first few sessions it was hard and she had headaches. However, the article goes on to explain that “She’s now studying for the SAT. ‘It used to take me an hour to memorize 20 words. Now I can learn, like, 40 new words in 20 minutes.'”. It is also used for students with learning disabilities. This leads to the question of why schools aren’t incorporating this into their schools or why we as teachers aren’t using certain methods in our classrooms? Even though, “For all the glowing testimonials, there are postings to be found online from parents of children with learning disabilities, complaining about substantial fees and minimal benefit”. I wonder if these negative remarks have mostly to do with cost of these programs which can run about $80-$90 per hour with a “brain trainer” from LearningRx. I would love to hear what others have to say on this topic and if anyone has tried “brain training”? I am going to enroll in luminosity. I have always been curious about the site and this gives me a reason to look into it.

If you want to check it out with me: Luminosity Let me know how it goes and what you think!!

Link to article, it is a bit long but an interesting read, Article



Filed under Uncategorized

Five Practices For Building Positive Relationships With Students

Since this week our class has been talking about the importance of the teacher-student relationship, I thought this article would be interesting to read. You must have an account with, but it only takes a few minutes to sign up and from then on you can sign up for weekly newsletters about education, which may help you with this blog and this class.


1. Leave yourself reminders on your laptop.Although it seems impratical, sometimes it is hard for a teacher to remember important details about his or her students, and reminders are helpful. When a student tells you or you overhear that they are going through a hard time or plan on being very busy with an athletic team or extracurricular group during a particular week in the year, this is important to remember. It might help you to know that you have to work around these problems in order that he or she gets the support he or she needs to learn at an optimal level.
2. Never let students see you react inappropriately to a student’s comment.
This one was hard for me to really agree with–I understand not wanting to embarass a kid when his answer is wrong, but there is a difference between embarassing someone and correcting them. In fact, I think it is much more respectful to point out to a student when his or her ideas are wrong than to ignore it to “save” their feelings. Once they find out that you have done that, they will feel even more embarassed and wonder how many other times they’d been openly wrong and left uncorrected. However, I do understand the difference between “constructive criticism” and rudeness, which I’ve noticed some other teachers don’t.
3. Actually use the information you get from a first-day student survey.
I like the idea of this first-day survey. No one delves too deeply into academic material on the first day, anyway, so why not use this as a good time to learn a bit about your students? One thing I especially liked was the question centered on learning styles. In one my my language classes in high school, we always played academic games that usually highly favored extroverted, high-energy students. As someone who was extremely shy in high school, I absolutely loathed these activities, and I could tell that I wasn’t the only one. Valuing student feedback in order to design curriculum activities that truly utilize individual learning styles is a great tool for any teacher who wants to be effective.
4. Schedule “bonding” time.
As in any work place, there needs to be a friendliness and rapport between co-workers in order for good work to truly get accomplished. So it seems strange that in so many classrooms, where students will be spending a good chunk of their day with one adult, that it seems rare that these relationships are ever developed. Even though it can be hard to get close to a teacher only to have to move to a classroom the next year, it helps students academically to have that support. One thing I really liked was the “individual conferences” one middle school teacher I had held with students throughout the year. If we were working on a big assignment, she would take us to the library to use the computers to do our research and write out our essays. This was helpful to me, as I didn’t have a computer at home to write with. In that time, she would schedule 15 minute “conferences” with each student about the work they had done so far and also to chat with them about how they were doing in the class. It felt really validating to know that someone cared about my hard work on an individual level.
5. Learn all your students names as quickly as possible.
Prof. Mueller talked to us about this one. As someone who is terrible at memorizing names, I know this will be a challenge for me. However, I do believe it’s the most basic way of showing respect for your students and beginning a relationship with them.


Filed under Uncategorized

iPad Evaluations

As recent as last year teachers were still using the old standby evaluation techniques. Teachers would take to pencil and paper and jot down what they observed of the students capacity. However, with technology on a fast paced evolution track, teachers are now presented with new opportunities in evaluating their students. At the beginning of 2012, educators in Connecticut were presented with the new evaluation of using iPads to track the students progress. Instead of having pages upon pages of raw data with no end result the iPad offers student portfolios and ways to process and learn from the teachers observations.

Erica Forti, the district of East Haven’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction says that this method has, “opened up the doors for different types of teaching and learning.” Now the teachers were able to go back to the processed data and be able to more thoroughly aid a struggling student. However, it isn’t just the students that need assistance, it is the teachers as well. In order for this new system to work nationally, training needs to be put in place for the new evaluations. Each instructor would need to know how to operate the software and how it works so that the full benefits can be taken advantage of.

Personally, I am in favor of this kind of technological advancement in the evaluation of students. Some may argue that we are becoming a too technologically dependent generation, but I disagree. I believe that this kind of use for the iPad really shows that we can grow further and smarter as students and teachers. If there are ways that we can better our teaching then we should take those steps. Katie Ash, the writer of this article “Rethinking Testing in the Age of the iPad,” writes a statements from Reshan Richards, the director of educational technology at Montclair Kimberley Academy, that “most schools are hesitant, however, to jump into assessing with mobile devices.”

This hesitancy should be surpassed by the benefits that this new system can provide. When evaluating students, what is most important is using the best resources that we have available so that they can get the most detailed feedback. Only then can we show greater improvement.


Filed under Uncategorized

Impress vs Express

In a recent blog post by Sachal Afraz which he titled “The trouble with academia: Write to impress or write to express?” he questions the academic paradigm.  He notes how “We are teaching university students that the language they use must consist of ‘impressive’ vocabulary and sentences must have academic syntax. The result is a fake, pretentious manner of prose that the author constructs to appease teachers and hit the word-limit while sounding ‘academic’. “  His discussion reminds me of our class discussion of “standard English” and my own experience in academia.  I remember my college freshman year when I had to write my first English paper, I would often use the thesaurus in order to replace words I thought to be “high school” words with bigger words that I thought to be “college” words.  This created more stress for me and restricted me from expressing my true thoughts.

Afraz also notes that “Compulsive use of difficult vocabulary is compared to the young actor who overacts just to show off his entire range of expressions.”  There have been many academic articles that I have read through the years that used complex and difficult “standard English.”  Thinking back, it feels as though their purpose was more to impress than express, as Afraz notes.

Afraz also points to a TED talk of Sir Ken Robinson where he suggests that the current academic paradigm is outdated.  Sir Robinson notes that the current academic system is industrially based and that it follows a factory model (ringing bells, separate facilities, specialization, etc).  He states that the current academic follow is an economic platform and is not suitable for this age, because the economic future is uncertain. He notes that it used to follow that if you work hard and go to college and graduate, you will get a good job.  But this is no longer the case as jobs are no longer guaranteed after college.   He suggests that we must focus on divergent thinking, which is kind of like thinking outside the box.  He mentions a study where a group of kids were tested on their ability to think divergently.  The study first tested them when they were in kindergarten and found that 98% of them would be considered “geniuses” and as they got older, that percentage got lower and lower.

I believe as future educators, we must follow the advice of Sir Robinson and Afraz.  When teaching, we must allow and encourage our students to think divergently.  When they write, we must deemphasize their need to impress, but allow them to express their own ideas in their own ways.


by | October 22, 2012 · 5:26 pm

The article, “Seeking Aid, School Districts Change Teacher Evaluations” gives a good overall look at new assessments for teachers that are set to be in place by the 2014-15 school year. An increasing number of states are directing districts to use these new evaluations in decisions about how teachers are granted tenure, promoted, or fired.

            The new assessments will be based on two elements: how students’ perform in standardized testing, and classroom evaluation- which includes lesson plans and instructional materials. These evaluations will come from principals, peers, or outside evaluators. A 24-page rubric has been designed to give the evaluators some concrete things to look for when they are observing the teacher. I am very pleased that there is a rubric being given out as this will allow for thorough and fair feedback which I feel many teachers fail to get.

            Though I hear a lot of frustration surrounding standardized testing I think that this is a fair thing to evaluate teachers and more importantly, students on, as one of our goals is of course, graduation. I also agree whole-heartedly with the idea of having observations inside the classroom. In my opinion, far too many teachers get too comfortable after a few years and become lazy, just simply collecting a paycheck and showing up on time. Most jobs, regardless of what sector, ask for regular assessments and/or check-ins that target weak employees or areas for improvement, why not education? Especially, when the idea of tenure comes into play.

        Colorado has decided that starting in the 2014-15 school year, “anyone who receives an “ineffective” or “partially effective” rating for two consecutive years will be stripped of the state’s equivalent of tenure status” (NY Times). I would hope that teachers who do not meet satisfactory marks are given fair opportunity to improve and offered assistance on new teaching practices and methods. Perhaps, these teachers could be required to take a few classes or something?

             Of course, I am not implying that I hope to see numerous teachers being fired but rather, that I hope these assessments offer advice for teachers whose methods seem to be failing, encouragement to teachers who are doing a stellar job, and if nothing else, an excuse to get principals in the classrooms. As one official from the state Education Department said, “It is not about a ‘gotcha’ game,” “It is about elevating the game so you get better at what you already do.” I also think that the in-class assessments would allow the principal and others to use successful teaching methods and pass them on to others in the same school who may be new to teaching or who just need to revamp their old ways.  


Filed under Uncategorized

Bait & Switch

In this article written by Christina H., she addresses how students are given the “bait-and-switch” when it comes to reading. In elementary school we are, as Christina writes, “baited”. This happens with read-a-thons, bookmobiles, and other ways that make us feel that reading is fun! She calls this the bait, “That was the bait. In junior high and high school, they made the switch. I guess they heard about how drug dealers give you free doses of the good stuff until you are addicted, and then once you are hooked, they start cutting it with 50 percent baby powder or something. Actually, junkies notice when you do this. And kids notice when you swap their fun books for boring crap”. She paints quite a harsh picture, but I’m left to wonder is she right? She continues on to discuss how youngsters look forward to reading and read enjoyable books to having to “talk about metaphors and symbolism in Chapter 1,” removing all the joy that once existed in reading. She concludes her article by breaking down what she feels is going on in classrooms today that is in turn, turning adults into non-readers.

High school required readings suck: She opens by boldly claiming, “The Scarlet Letter, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Ethan Frome, Walden, Heart of Darkness, Madame Bovary, The Catcher in the Rye and The Sun Also Rises all suck”. I can’t say that I have read them all, but I can say that those that I have read have not all been amazing books! She states that most teenagers will blog about how much they hate the books they are reading and that is a problem. I find myself agreeing other on this point, why not make the book selection have the students voice, let them help pick the books they’ll be reading.

You’re not allowed to talk smack about the books: She explains that teachers fear that if students begin to express their dissatisfaction with the book more students will jump on board and question the reading. Further explaining that students can’t just state that a book was “preachy” without having to “cite” examples from the text.

Anything fun is to shallow: Christina writes, “Sometimes they let kids read one or two “fun” books (like the Hunger Games books or something) in a concession to try to keep them into reading. But they treat them like candy, a necessary evil that you should spend as little time on as possible. Maybe you give a book report, but otherwise they don’t want to waste time on that popular crap. The argument is that fun and popular books are too shallow to get much out of. They’re not going to have as many themes, or new vocabulary words, or symbols, or unusual storytelling techniques as a classic novel. And that’s probably true in a lot of cases. The point they’re missing here is that most high school classes never even get close to digging out all the analyzable stuff from a book, because of time limits or limits of the students’ reading level”.

Enjoy reading? Preposterous?: In this final point she addresses the fact that at one point reading is no longer described as fun, but, instead, made into work. Moreover, are told that they need to read for a specific purpose of “improving their mind” and if not it is a waste of their time.

The reason that this article really grabbed my attention was of because of one the pre-Practicum classes I am in. The picture I attached is of my notes in that class. The teacher doesn’t let the students take home the books, so she reads to them in class. Her reason being that she knows they will not read at home. However, if you look at my notes the majority of the students have checked out of the classroom, they are in their own world. This brought the question that is starred in my notebook to mind, how do we make students who hate reading, read? After reading this article I found myself asking did these students enjoy reading at one point and do they now hate reading because they fell victims to the “bait-and-switch” Christina refers to in her article? How do we as teachers prevent the “bait-and-switch” from happening? How do we make reading enjoyable throughout the secondary years? I’ll be exploring this topic more in depth and hope to post more information in the future on this topic, for now I simply am stumped.

Link to article:



Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Ya Lit

The first day I read the syllabus to Prof. Mueller’s English 464 class, I was suprised to see the book Hunger Games as one of our required books. What could Dr. Mueller possibly want us to do with this book? I had an inkling that this book had something to do with the application of popular literature in an academic setting as a method to encourage a love of reading in students, and I was immediately intrigued. As a huge fan of Harry Potter in middle school, I have seen how certain popular novels can get a segment of the younger population reading that would normally never pick up a book. I even managed to get my younger brother reading the Harry Potter books–one of the few books I think he’s ever read cover-to-cover outside of school–and he even continued the whole series despite being teased by his friends for being a “nerd.” And, despite Harry Potter’s label as a “children’s book,” the series does deal with some suprisingly adult concepts: love, death, depression, discrimination, governmental suppression and even latent homosexuality (yes, Dumbledore IS gay).

So, naturally, I was interested to read this article by Mike Roberts from the TCTE website, which is about applying Young Adult novels to curriculum in school. Interestingly, this article wrote about applying popular literature to subjects outside of English, like science and math, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Teaching literature in a math class? It never occurred to me.

However, I can easily see how this makes sense. Reading is an important skill for children to learn and literature is always valuable in academia. So why not combine good literature with other subjects? I remember vividly taking a Biology class in high school and excelling in it simply because the textbook was well-written and intriguing, not because I was good at science or even interested in it. Powerful, interesting, well-written literature has the power to engage students in subjects that they would otherwise find uninteresting.

The author of the article cites several popular books that can be applied to science, history and math classes, which is helpful. Her guide to getting other teachers to apply literature to their classes is a bit strange and sneaky, however: I doubt that any teacher that would refuse to apply literature to their classroom would also read a Young Adult book on their free time simply because some other teacher suggested it, and then magically become convinced to use it as part of their curriculum. In fact, I think most teachers would resent that kind of condescension. If I wanted to work with another teacher to apply literature to a non-English subject, I would be upfront about my intentions. The author’s idea of “co-teaching” was one that I found especially exciting. I f I were an English teahcer, I would love to have a history or science teacher visit my class and explain some of the aspects of the plot of the novel in a deeper way. Likewise, I would love to help a science or math teacher use an interesting piece of literature to make his own subject more interesting or informative.

I still am not sure what Prof. Muller intends us to do with The Hunger Games. However, suffice it to say that I am even more interested to find out.

– Mary Beth


Filed under Uncategorized