The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

In Attempts to Fix School Problems the Best Consultants and Fixers Are Left Out

Today I will summarize two articles I just read that deal with student negativity about their schooling. Then, I will let you know why both of them irritated me. The first article, written by Betsy Hammond, was published in our local newspaper, the Oregonian; and the second, written by Tara Garcia Mathewson, appeared on an Internet site called “Youth Truth”.

 Youth Truth, a San Francisco non-profit organization * conducted a survey of 80, 000 students in 24 states from grades five through 12 in order to find out their feelings about their school’s culture. The results showed that that 44% of 6th graders had positive feelings while 9th graders had only to 32% and 11th graders only 28%. It appears that no younger students were surveyed.

Although fewer than half of all students felt that discipline at their school was fair, the percentages varied for different ethnic groups. Fourty-nine percent of Asian students said that the discipline was fair, compared to 39% of white students and Latinos, 34% of multiracial students, and 28% of black students.

While this information is interesting and significant, the article does not say how it was gathered; nor does it give any examples of the questions asked.  In searching the Internet I was unable to find any further information about the nature of the survey or any action taken in response to it.What purpose did it serve?

The Oregonian article was about chronic student absenteeism, but it did not mention any student surveys or cite percentages of absences.  Instead, it cited data on the numbers of students who had been absent for least 10 percent of the school year  and described a plan conceived by state officials to fix the problem.

This new plan will create a team of experts to assist schools that have the highest numbers of student absenteeism. Those experts will train 20 coaches to work with the schools selected to devise and implement new practices to improve student attendance.

Newly trained attendance coaches would help the chosen schools examine in detail what is going wrong, not only at school but also at home. Then they would make customized plans to reverse those negative patterns. Although most of the work would be done by the coaches, the participation of other school officials is mentioned. No specifics are given about the activities of either group.

What irritated me about both articles was the absence of any mention of interviewing  students to get at the sources of absenteeism or school dissatisfaction, or any suggestions of how to change student behavior. Although I think that the assumptions made by the proposed coaches or school officials will have some value, the actions mentioned leave out the voices of the only people who can identify and solve the problems: the students. For goodness sake, why can’t teachers and principals have some private discussions with students to find out what they think is wrong with the school culture–in addition to discipline– and how it can be changed?  At the same time, discussions could reveal problems outside of school that are causing student absences, such as family conditions, student health, transportation, or fear of being bullied.

In reading these two articles I continued to be appalled by the total failure of our education system to bring students into the groups of problem identifiers and solvers. When it comes to school, those are the roles they are best fitted for and the ones most likely to make them better students and citizens.


*Youth Truth was developed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy in collaboration and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Youth Truth was founded in 2008 by Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy; Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and former director of Impact Planning and Improvement at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Valerie Threlfall, former vice president at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and founding director of YouthTruth from 2008 to 2012.

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The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

As a regular reader of by Lu Ann Mc Nabb’s “Literacy & NCTE” blog” I was greatly impressed by a recent essay, titled “Read Alouds for Life” by  Rick Joseph, the 2016 Michigan State Teacher of the Year. Below I will summarize the major points of his essay and then, as usual, add my own views.

Rick Joseph, who teaches a grade 5/6 class in Birmingham Michigan, has a personal love of reading that he shares with his students and other children he comes in contact with by reading aloud to them as often as possible. Not only does he choose books that he enjoys personally, but also ones that will be new and inspiring experiences for young people.  For example, in selecting “The Junkyard Wonders” by Patricia Polacco as the Official Book of the Michigan Teacher of the year in 20i6, he hopes to spread the book’s message that all people are geniuses in their own way and should use their abilities to make the world better for everyone.

Joseph believes that all people love stories and benefit greatly from hearing them or reading them regularly. He says, “Our stories have always helped us not only to communicate, but to make sense of our world and realize our place in it.”

From his viewpoint as a teacher, he also believes that reading aloud to children is a strong factor in increasing their learning: “Stories expand children’s vocabulary, improve their ability to learn to read, and—perhaps most important—foster a lifelong love of books and reading.”

Practically, Joseph also recognizes that reading is only one element competing for attention in the lives of children. Every day they are free to choose from a number of recreational experiences on their own time: “television, movies, the internet, video games and after school activities.” So it is essential that children think of reading as a pleasure rather than a chore. Teachers can do a lot to encourage this belief by reading aloud to their students on a regular basis.

In addition, Joseph recounts a personal experience when he read to a 5th grade class at another school. When he returned the next day, a number of students greeted him eagerly, holding their own favorite books and asking if he had read them. He felt that this single episode of reading aloud to them had created a bond between him and those students that would last and encourage them all to read more.

In many ways I wish I had written this essay myself. I also wish I had read to my students more often when I was a teacher or a principal. I agree completely with Joseph’s beliefs and would go even further by exhorting teachers at all levels to do what he has done. Even high school teachers could read aloud to their classes one day a week, and college professors could introduce new books in their field by reading aloud a page or two .

All too often parents and teachers believe that reading aloud to children should stop when those young people can read on their own. They do not realize that there are strong reasons for continuing this practice, even if it must be less frequent. Because I believe as strongly as Rick Joseph in the benefits of adults reading aloud, I will list the ones he mentioned below in more formal educational terms, and add a few others that I believe in and think he would agree with.

Teachers and parents should read aloud to children of all ages in order to

Introduce them to books they would not choose on their own

Broaden the range of their reading

Build their vocabulary

Increase their knowledge of unfamiliar people, places, and experiences

Encourage the belief that reading is an enjoyable everyday activity

Accustom them to the literary structures of short stories, poems, novels, and other types of literature

Improve their knowledge and use of proper grammar and sentence structure

Help dyslexics and poor readers to get the information and skills other students have acquired through reading

For now, let’s all take off some time and read a new book.

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“The Treasure Hunter”Seeks Unheard Voices

Being elsewhere for the past two weeks has given me a new perspective on what should be included in this blog. Up until now I have focused on information about school practices in different places obtained from various news sources, accompanied by my reactions and suggestions. I have also argued for my own beliefs about education and described some of the practices in the schools I worked in or visited after retiring. From time to time, I have also posted essays written by other educators. Yet, important voices and crucial information have been missing entirely. Both readers and I need to know what students of all ages think about their schools today and what changes they would like to see happen.

Although some of the articles I’ve read contain quotes from students-almost always young ones-they are brief and formulaic, telling how much they love their teacher or their new commercial materials. Nowhere have I read what older students think about the Common Core Standards, high stakes testing, the curriculum, the amount of homework, class sizes, technology in the classroom, bullying, or the emphasis or being prepared for college and the workplace. These are the things all teachers, principals, and education decision makers need to know about and consider in making decisions about school structures and practices.

Although I have been and continue to be a supporter of teachers, students, and public schools, I really have no idea of what school life is like today. I retired from my principal’s job in 2000 and stopped supervising student teachers and visiting classrooms of teachers recommended to me in 2014. To do a good job with my chosen role of writing this blog two or three times a week, I need to hear more from the people who are living a good part of their everyday lives in schools today. That means not only students, but teachers, student teachers, aides,  and other school employees or volunteers. Although I might ask a contributor for more information or some revision, I will respect the efforts, opinions and anonymity (if requested) of anyone who sends me a submission. Even If you have only a short comment to make, I will find a way to include it.  Also, however, I retain the right to reject anything that seems inaccurate, disrespectful of others, or illegal.

Teachers and parents, please consider encouraging students to contribute to “The Treasure Hunter” or contributing yourself. Not only will you be helping to make my blog better and my life easier, but you will also be adding the voices that most need to be heard.


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