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If I Built a School
written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Jack uses his imagination to create the perfect school in If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Written in rhyme, the first verses immediately bring Dr. Seuss to mind:
Jack, on the playground, said to Miss Jane,
This school is OK, but it’s pitifully plain.
The builder who built this I think should be banned.
It’s nothing at all like the school I have planned.
Unlike Dr. Suess, Van Dusen sticks to real words and the book is ripe with opportunities for vocabulary study—after a long period of enjoying the story and illustrations.
As Jack takes his teacher on a tour, we see his ideas play out in colorful and fun illustrations. His concept includes puppies and a zoo in the lobby, hover desks, and hologram guests. This is such a fun book; I think it would be a particularly good read in the classroom lending itself to much discussion and creative followup as children illustrate and write about their own notions for a perfect school.
Warning to school administrators: there is no mention of testing in this book because as Jack concludes:
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun too.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Dial Press (Penguin) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages: 5-8
Publication: August 13, 2019— Dial Press (Penguin)
This article hits me hard on two levels. One is OVERTESTING! What are we doing when we contrive in standardized tests to create “gotcha” questions that the author of a work can not even answer? The other is a reader’s understanding of a piece. To comment on a work of literature is to bring your own background knowledge to the work. It should affect each reader in a different way. This is not to say that we cannot discuss the possible intended meaning by the author, but to claim authoritatively from a reading what another person thinks is hubris. My view of standardized tests is that you are right, KayCKay; just listen for the cha-ching echoing in the hallowed halls of learning.
Yesterday I posted a review of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories called The Cask of Amontillado. At the end of my review I commented that the story has been analyzed to death regarding the “meaning” of the story and what the story may signify or represent. My final comment was to wonder what Poe would say if we were able to ask him directly. My thought is that he would say it was just a story!
Today I saw an article about a poet that couldn’t answer standardized test questions about her own poems!
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Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder
by Sara Rosett
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder is a thematic shoe-in for me, and it surpassed my expectations. The setting is Georgia, but the author grew up in and currently lives in Texas. The action occurs at an elementary school which is the unlikely scene of a murder. Except for the murder and mayhem, this could have been the elementary school I taught at for a few years in Leander, Texas. The details are perfect for a middle class school where parent participation is high, students wear an assigned color T-shirt for field day, and the Teacher Appreciation Week is five days of food, small gifts, and recognition for hard-working, appreciated teachers.
The main character is Ellie Avery, an Air Force wife, mother of two children, part-time organizing consultant, and very active volunteer at her children’s neighborhood school. The amiable Ellie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She tries not to actively involve herself, but others look to her for help because of previous associations with a murder. Later, someone takes the threat to her doorstep, potentially endangering Ellie and her children.
This mystery is a fun, “don’t put me down” kind of read. The plot has twists and turns that keep the reader engaged and wanting more. The characters are interesting and there is a subplot concerning a competing organizer in town which enhances the appeal. If you like cozy mysteries, you will love Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #10 in the Ellie Avery Mystery Series, also called the Mom Zone Series. I enjoyed it as a standalone.
2. The book also includes “Organizing Tips for PTA Moms” placed at the end of some chapters so as not to be intrusive into the storyline. They are practical and are approved by this former teacher who also volunteered with my school’s Parent/Teacher Organization.
Publication: March 28, 2017–Kensington Books
“Yes, that is my favorite way to relax, supervising twenty-two eight-year-olds hyped up on sugar at eight in the morning.”
I wished the rest of the school year could be more like the end of the year. The end of the year–when the standardized tests were over–was when the kids got to do all the fun stuff, instead of studying for the standardized tests. Why couldn’t the kids do more hands-on activities like this throughout the year?
We rush through our days so quickly and have so many little rituals that we do, day in and day out, but then a moment like that last day of school comes along. It’s a milestone that makes a definite break in the continuum and emphasizes that one phase is ending and another beginning.
Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
What are our children learning from the current obsession with testing?
Source: Mike Keefe, The Denver Post, 2002
Why I No Longer Follow Diane Ravitch’s Blog
When I retired from teaching and began reading blogs, I was excited to find Diane Ravitch’s very active blog. She posted things I had been thinking and saying for years about CCSS, overtesting, and VAM. Diane Ravitch is an education policy analyst, an author, a research professor at NYU and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. I admired that she had originally supported No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but later publicly reversed her position. She was David against Goliath, fighting big business and politicians in their grab for education dollars.
My idol, unfortunately, has clay feet. Too many of her posts are now only about politics. She says that none of the candidates support her position on education, but she has chosen a candidate to support anyway in post after post after post. She supports one candidate with vehement enthusiasm and works against the other with vehement invectives. What happened to education? She says her blog is “A site to discuss better education for all.” What happened to that discussion?
I do not want to invite one-sided trash into my heart and mind. I want to work towards the best educational system possible for our children. I’m leaving Diane Ravitch behind.
TN State Representative Mike Stuart and his wife Ruth opt their own children out of testing. It will be interesting to see what the response of his school district is. The letter is very respectfully written with options for what their children might do during the testing time and the parents’ willingness to participate in preparing materials for those days. As Mr. Stuart is a lawyer, it also addresses the legal aspects of opting out. This great letter could be a model for parents everywhere and can be found on the blog Momma Bears which addresses overtesting in Tennessee: Stuarts’ Letter on Momma Bears.
“Democracy works best when we prepare students to be critical thinkers who are creative problem solvers and question authority–CCSS are preparing students to be obedient worker bees. Ask yourself why students at elite private schools aren’t being subjected to CCSS or PARCC testing? If these standards and tests are so essential to a great education, wealthy parents would be clamoring to have them for their own children. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. CCSS and unfair, rigged exams like the PARCC are for the unwashed, undeserving poor and middle class.”
–Dr. Terri Reid-Schuster
PhD in developmental literacy
currently works as a reading specialist in Oregon, IL