Category Archives: Videos

One Hour Well Spent: NPR Back to School story

I recently spent about an hour listening to a podcast my husband downloaded from NPR’s This American Life.  I was hesitant to “waste” an hour of my time listening to a news story, even one highly recommended by my hubby.  But I’m glad I did.  And so I realize that you, too, might need some convincing.  Because I’d like to strongly recommend this Back to School story to you.

WHY?
Have you ever had a discussion about standardized testing and the state of education?  If so, it’s likely that you’re either a parent (or family member) or taxpayer, or both.  This topic affects just about everyone.

This American Life’s Back to School news story is refreshingly not a political discourse on policy.

As kids and teachers head back to school, we wanted to turn away from questions about politics and unions and money and all the regular school stuff people argue about, and turn to something more optimistic — an emerging theory about what to teach kids, from Paul Tough’s new book How Children Succeed.

It begins by asking two huge questions:
How much should teachers be evaluated on standardized test scores? Host Ira Glass, a former reporter in Chicago, believes, “Where you stand pretty much comes down to whether you think teachers have a lot of power to raise those scores or not.  Are they lazy, excuse-making quasi-professionals or alternately life-savers…The truth is more complicated.”

And in light of the recent Chicago teachers strike, the question was:
How much could we expect teachers to actually accomplish…with the students they were given?

This story moves the discussion from teachers to focusing on the students in the “achievement gap.”  By looking at research from neuroscience, as well as social sciences like economics and psychology, it details the body of science that explores what a difficult home life can do to the actual biology of the brain of a school kid. The conclusions will excite you and give you hope as you learn the answers to: “What are the determinants of human success?  How fixed are these determinants?  How much can you change them?”

CONVINCED?
I hope so.  Here’s the link to the full story.
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=474

HIGHLIGHTS
Not convinced, or perhaps short on time?  I’ve compiled some highlights that can paint the picture for you.  This post will cover part 1, The Problem.  Part 2 will cover The Solution.  You can also view the transcript at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/474/transcript.

What should kids be learning in school?
James Heckman came across the GED in the early 90’s and, as an economist, was amazed at this test.  It basically says that, by passing this test, millions of people’s cognitive skills are just as good as graduates.  But the average study time for the GED is 32 hours whereas the average study time for high school students is 1000 hours per year.  His logical conclusion: “All eighth graders should take the GEDs…instead of going to high school.”  This would save money and time.

This raised some questions in his mind, which led him to devise a study to follow these students into adult life.  After comparing graduates to people with GEDs, he found that those who passed the GED performed significantly lower in life: performance in earnings and occupation, success in college, success in marriage, and even the military.

But what struck Heckman is that this didn’t show up in the test results. Our entire education system is organized around the idea that testing and the kind of smarts that you can measure on a test, are the most important information we could have about a student. That’s how we evaluate whether a school is well-run. There are kids who do better on standardized tests. That’s at the heart of huge policy initiatives, like No Child Left Behind.

So Heckman concluded that these test scores don’t explain the full picture of what measures success.  There are other factors that public policy isn’t accounting for.  Heckman wanted to find these mystery skills.

And specifically, he was interested in finding skills that he could prove, empirically prove, help kids succeed– and succeed in the ways that an economist measure success. Things like how much money do you earn, and do you end up in prison, and are you on welfare? And he then wanted to try to understand how these things could be taught.

So what are these mystery skills?  We turn to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  He explains that there isn’t a master list but he gave a few terms and examples: non-cognitive skills, character, soft skills, social skills, and personality traits…they’re a bit hard to define with one word.  Examples would include things like self-control, delaying gratification, resisting impulse, keeping your temper, etc…

Theo

Theo

A famous example is the Marshmallow test.  Search for this test in YouTube and you’ll be highly entertained as children are given the choice between getting one marshmallow immediately, or 2 marshmallows if they can wait an unspecified amount of time.  The psychology professor at Stanford, Walter Mischel, who conducted the original test in the 60’s found that these kids’ ability to resist temptation as 4 year-olds had huge correlations to their SAT scores and earnings later in life.

Marshmallow test–

Theo has his meltdown at the 3 minute mark of this hilarious video–

Conclusion
Schools teach and test things that are measurable—cognitive skills like reading and math.  While these are important, the overemphasis leaves a large body of non-cognitive skills unaccounted for.

The next post will summarize Paul Tough’s and James Heckman’s solutions.

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Barney Saltzberg = Biggest Surprise

As I wrap up my last post about the Texas Book Festival, it’s important to note that today’s author, while last, is definitely not least.  As a matter of fact, he was the biggest surprise to me.  Since I’m currently working on 2 manuscripts for children’s picture books (ages 4-8), I was “bouncing-in-my-seat happy” to hear from Rob Scotton, Tad Hills, and Philip Yates.

When I read Mr. Saltzberg’s biography, his appearance on the panel didn’t excite me.  I saw he’d written many board books for preschoolers, but had just published his first picture book, Andrew Drew and Drew.  http://youtu.be/m5jeZJ8Renw

 

What I thought I really needed was to hear from the other authors who had done what I hope to do.  Surely this guy had nothing to offer me.

But I soon discovered how wrong I was.

Right off the bat, I related to the inspiration for his latest board book, Arlo Needs Glasseshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEpNPMCWltc

He shared about his 75 pound golden doodle and the dog’s poor catching skills.  Look at Arlo with a bandana…so cute!  My two silly dogs have also inspired the seeds of ideas for my manuscripts.

Then, near the end of the session, each author/illustrator was encouraged to stand by an easel pad and show their method of illustrating.  When it was Barney’s turn, he removed the marker cap and began talking.  And like me, he spoke while gesturing with his hands.  All of a sudden, OOPS, he’d made a stray mark on the paper behind him that he was supposed to use.

Oops!

This “mistake” was the springboard for him to share his vision for art and his work.

Let me give you some context.  If you’ve ever seen a child with a blank piece of paper, you know what happens when he or she makes a mistake, tears it on accident, or erases too hard and rips the paper.   “I messed up.  I need a new piece.”  And if you don’t immediately comply, the child will either get mad or end up close to tears.  It seems this “broken” piece of paper just will not do.

Barney Saltzberg sees this as a problem and he has helped become part of the solution.

Voila! Rhino-hippo

In Beautiful Oops, his interactive multi-texture and sensory board book, he shows kids the beauty found in the unexpected.

Did you tear your page by mistake?  It’s now the alligator’s mouth.

Did you accidentally spill a paint glob on your page?  Look at that glob for a moment.  What do you see?  Perhaps a puppy or bird shape?

Did you bend your paper?  No problem.  Turn it into the penguin’s face.

The story ends with a lasting message: “When you think you have made a mistake…OOPS…Think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”

This might not sound like a big deal to you, but for me (a struggling perfectionist) it was an attractive reminder.  And as a former elementary teacher, I know many children that also struggle with performance anxiety. Open your mind, relax, and let art happen!

If you’re more of a “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of person, please enjoy one of these classroom visit videos and watch the kids’ reactions to this adult’s behavior.  Kids LOVE him and you will too!
10-minute version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0A3QhGVyDs
2-minute version here: http://youtu.be/gC6fF5IJjjU

Barney further explores this idea in his next project called 2 + 2 = Banana.  There are no right answers, no ONE and ONLY way to do things when it comes to creative expression.

So at the end of the day, I actually spent more money on Barney Saltzberg’s books—yes, preschool board books—than the other authors.  And yes I did have fun pulling and lifting all the flaps.  It was especially fun to try the variety of glasses on Arlo to help him find the perfect pair.

This author/illustrator is also a musician, frequently creating silly songs on the fly when he’s visiting classrooms.  Listening to him, I was inspired by his open mind and passionate creativity.  He is full of energy, ideas, and (most appealing to me) a freedom to make mistakes and explore those mistakes for potential beauty.

Little kids aren’t the only ones who need to hear that.

Author Links:

http://www.barneysaltzberg.com
http://barneysaltzberg.blogspot.com

Interview about his Dual-Book Tour with 2 different publishers
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/54316-workman-and-abrams-team-up-for-barney-saltzberg-tour.html

Crazy Hair Day
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcshjFgOYE4

Rob Scotton Explains His Inspiration for Splat the Cat Stories

What a pleasure it was for me to meet Rob Scotton at the Texas Book Festival last weekend.  This author from Rutland, England, loves to talk.  But I can assure you that each of us in the audience loved to listen–to his ideas and accent!  His picture books about Splat the Cat are very popular, causing a long book signing line at the festival.

Meet Splat the Cat

Inspiration #1

Listening to Rob speak, I especially found the “insider information” about his inspiration intriguing.  As a fellow writer working on 2 manuscripts of my own, I love hearing how the seeds of ideas get started.  I’ve found that my ideas come from everyday things that happen in life.  Anything can inspire.  Rob’s story is further proof of this.

Rob was running his lawnmower in his backyard one summer day when his eyes spotted this ugly beast on top of his fence. It had bald patches and a clipped ear.  It was his neighbor’s cat.  This particular cat had a habit of attacking Rob when he least expected it.  He kept his eye on the cat as he went back and forth with the lawnmower.  Suddenly, a gust of wind came and the cat teetered precariously.  It then hung in the air briefly before falling from the fence.  Rob thought to himself, “Surely this agile creature will land safely on his feet, as all cats do.”  But when the cat landed not so gracefully on its bum, he heard the word “SPLAT” in his head.  He immediately ran inside, lawn duties forgotten for the moment, and played with the idea of a character, Splat the Cat.

Rob Scotton, author of Splat the Cat picture books

A key element for this artist was finding the look of Splat right from the start.  He needed a cat he could enjoy spending time writing stories.  Rob wanted to keep Splat simple.  As a child, Rob had practiced drawing characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto.  These shapes were simple and easy to practice with.  So he designed Splat’s rectangular body with his young audience in mind.

Splat’s rectangular body

And what could be funnier on a chunky body than long skinny “arms” and legs coming off it?

Splat’s skinny “arms” and legs

Next Rob played with various ideas for the eyes, and finally settled on the “wide-eyed” look of the circles close together. This style is similar to Russell the Sheep, a beloved character from his previous picture books.  He also had fun with Splat’s tail, which expresses the character’s mood.

Possible eyes for Splat–rejected

Put it all together, adding belly and tail.

Rob Scotton’s illustrations are created using Painter and Photoshop.  He even has a pressure-sensitive stylus and pad that allows him to create the brushstrokes for Splat’s amazing fur!

I encourage you to meet Splat now at your local library or bookstore.  Then this summer, as “back to school” rolls back around, revisit this story and the Back to School activities below with your child or students.

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrensimages/printable/splat_activity%5B2%5D.pdf

Inspiration #2

Rob Scotton’s latest book is just in time for Thanksgiving, Splat Says Thank You.  This idea has a totally different origin than the original Splat.

Rob was at a book signing and a little boy stood off to the side.  In between signings, this 6 year old kept asking him questions about his books.  It went something like this:

Boy: You wrote a Halloween Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Yes, I did.

[long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: You wrote a Christmas Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Yes, I did.

[another long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: You wrote a Valentine Splat book, didn’t you?

Rob: Yes, I did.  Did you like it?

Boy: Not really.

[another long pause as Rob signs someone’s book]

Boy: Are you going to write a Thanksgiving Splat book?  You should.

And this got Rob thinking later.  How would Splat and Thanksgiving relate or link together at all?  Being from England, he tried to focus on the main theme of thankfulness.  What things are we all universally thankful for?  And that led him to thinking of friendship.  A light bulb went off as he realized he could write a Thanksgiving Splat book where Splat was thankful for his best friend, Seymour.  This would also be a great time to write the two friends’ backstory of how they met and why they’re such good friends.

Parents and Teachers

This writer’s inspiration is a great example for your own young authors.  Sharing the “behind the scenes” of how published authors get their ideas can encourage your child to look around with “author eyes.”  Settings like the lunchroom, playground, and their own backyard can spark an idea for a character, setting, or plot.

Leave a comment if you decide to check Splat out for yourself. 🙂

Rob Scotton’s Website: 

http://www.robscotton.com/www.robscotton.com/RobScotton.com.html

Drawing Conclusions

Helping Your Child “Read between the lines”
to Increase Comprehension

Starting in kindergarten, your child is expected to make inferences and draw conclusions about stories he reads.  He must also be able to use textual evidence to support understanding of fiction elements such as plot, author’s purpose, making predictions, fact and opinion, characters, setting, problem and solution, cause and effect, etc…. Similar expectations apply when reading nonfiction.

If this sounds like a lot, never fear.  I’m going to make it fun and easy for you…even do all the legwork for you.  Whether you’re a parent or teacher, I’ve chosen a great dog book to get you started.

Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman Cooks)
Illustrated by Diane deGroat
Published 2011

This story is told from Charlie’s point of view.  He’s a Basset Hound that thinks he is pretty important on this ranch.  His best friend is Suzie, but she’s just not much help in Charlie’s opinion.  For your child, the fun will lie in picking up on clues and drawing conclusions that prove Charlie has it all backwards.  The pictures are key to understanding the humor and your child will love being in on the secret!

PARENTS

Before reading:
Before you and your child dive into this book, have him look at the front cover.  What do you think this book will be about? What other animals might we see on a ranch?  What do you think a dog does on a ranch?  What do you think might happen to Charlie in this story?

If the child is in kindergarten or first grade, have her take a “picture walk” of the book.  This means she leafs through the pages WITHOUT reading, just looking at the pictures briefly.  This helps her anticipate what to expect in the story.  This also aids in decoding phonics and recalling related sight words.

During reading:
Choose as many, or as few, of these to discuss with your child as you’d like.

  1. When Charlie introduces himself and Suzie, he describes their looks.  Does he wish he looked like her?  What words clue you in to how he feels about his looks?  What do you think “unfortunately” means?  What does he mean by “hold it against her?”
    “Oh, hello. My name is Charlie. This is Suzie.  She’s my best friend.  We sure don’t look much alike, do we? Suzie, unfortunately, doesn’t have the paws I have. Or the droopy eyes.  Or the floppy skin. Or…the big dangly ears. I try not to hold that against her.”
  2. How does Charlie feel about getting up early?  Point to the words that give you the clue he wants to keep sleeping.  Does Suzie seem to like getting up early?
    “The first thing we do every day is get out of bed early. Too early. Dark early. I’d better go wake up Suzie. She’s never been much of a morning dog. [Suzie is at door running with smile while Charlie is in bed, with one eye open, one shut.]  Well, I guess she was a morning dog for once. First time for everything.”
  3. “The next thing I have to do is chase Daisy the cow out of the yard.  Some cows never listen.” [Suzie is in corner of picture staring at cow, cow staring back.]  Suzie barks and the cow leaves.  Charlie is seen in window.  “Well…I guess I’ll let Suzie go ahead and do it this time.  I like to give her a chance to shine every now and then.  It’s the kind of dog I am.”
    This is the second time Charlie has decided to go ahead and let Suzie do his job.  Do you think he normally does it himself?  Why or why not?  What does Charlie mean by give Suzie a “chance to shine?”  Will she glow or look brighter like the sun?  How do you know?
  4. When Charlie and Suzie sniff the front porch to get rid of critters, do his words match the picture?
  5. “Mama loves her garden. I lend a hand” [nap in grass on back while Suzie is planting radishes].  What is Charlie doing to lend a hand?  Who is really helping while he naps?
  6. There are cattle to round up and Charlie is in the jeep while Suzie is running and actually rounding up the cattle.  Who’s doing more work rounding up the cattle?
  7. There are fences to fix.  Charlie sleeps while Suzie holds tools. Who’s doing more work fixing fences?  Do you see a pattern here?  Which character REALLY is a ranch dog?  What would you call Charlie…a lazy dog!
  8. For lunch and naptime, Charlie claims he is only stopping because he doesn’t want Suzie to be alone.  Do Charlie’s words match the picture? Does Suzie look lonely without Charlie? What two things does Charlie seem to really like to do? (eat and sleep)
  9. At the end of the story, Charlie wakes up and everyone is gone, out working.  He hears cows, sees Daisy eating the garden, and barks to get her to leave.   “Good thing I was here.”  How does Charlie save the day?

 After reading
Do you remember your predictions before we read this story?  Was the book about _________ like you guessed?  Did we see any of the animals you predicted? What jobs can a dog help with on a ranch?  What did Charlie spend most of his time doing in this story?  Was he ever any help?  Do you think Suzie minds working hard?  What clue from the story makes you think that?

Be sure to scroll down to watch an actual video with your child of Charlie and the Pioneer Woman.

TEACHERS
After reading the story, have students help you:

  • list on chart paper all the “truths” about Charlie, despite what he may think, or
  • draw a Venn Diagram—one circle lists How Charlie Sees Himself; the other circle lists Truths about Charlie, or
  • create a t-chart—on the left, the child states his inference; on the right, he provides the corresponding evidence from the text or pictures that proves his conclusion, or
  • compare the story with the real-life video about Charlie. (literary nonfiction) Scroll down to see the YouTube link or visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doJdtD_FR1o, or
  • list on chart paper the following figures of speech and have students infer what the text really means (literal vs. figurative meanings): “give a chance to shine” not really glowing like the sun; “lend a hand”  not giving your hand away for someone to borrow; “hold it against her” hold it up to her fur?

See the REAL Charlie on his ranch!

I hope this helps your child more fully enjoy a good story.  Remember, good readers are critical thinkers who ask themselves questions about the text as they read each page.  Then they strive to answer those questions using clues from the pictures, text, own past experience, etc…  That is called reading comprehension!