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College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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The Power of Reading. Be Empowered, Get Inspired

Get Inspired

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

I can remember the moment in childhood when I was first able to read independently. We were on our annual drive to the Berkshires, a family tradition. As we got onto Route 2 I began to read the signs excitedly to my father. I read each exit number and the names of the towns. “Mohawk Trail” was easy but “Leominster” and “Winchendon” were more challenging. I distinctly remember being in the back seat of the big blue Ford LTD with my dad in the front, feeling his pride as I nailed sign after sign all by myself.

Now, with children of my own, I appreciate his patience and ability to coach me through the tough words. As an adult, when reading is a reflex and you are constantly taking in information, it can be both overwhelming and empowering.

As I grew into a young reader, I would attempt to read everything, especially fiction. Oftentimes I would read deep into the night to complete a novel. I would experience the joy of having immersed myself in a good story, but I would also experience the anticlimax of having finished the story and leaving the characters I had come to know and enjoy. Every final page was bittersweet.

Reading not only brought me information; it transported me to distant places and different times and allowed me to feel the experiences of different people. It helped me develop an understanding of diverse worlds and cultures and showed me places that I might never see in real life. Over the years, the joy of reading branched from mainly fiction to nonfiction. I have had nightmares where I could not read, waking up with chills because I could not make sense of the world around me.

As an English teacher, I hung a poster in my classroom with a quotation that has been attributed, accurately or not, to Mark Twain:

Power of Reading, Keep Your Power

I kept that poster right behind my desk. When I would conference with students about the next project, report, or concept they wanted to explore, half the class would inevitably tell me, “I do not read. I do not like reading. I can just watch the movie.” Of course, nearly all high school students who have to read the “classics” would say that, if only for the sake of bucking authority. I could always appreciate that.

Nonetheless, whenever I heard it I let out a little mocking gasp. Then, taking a deep breath, I would try to appeal to the innate rebellion in teenagers and go into a diatribe about power in the world. Knowing that I only had an elevator pitch to sell my point, I would ask, “You know how the most powerful people in the world attained their power?” Some students would inevitably answer, “Guns or money.” I would shrug and agree, “Yes, those are ways one can assert power over others. But when you trace humankind back through history, power was always in the hands of those who could read.” That is when I would see the student bristle and say, “I can read, I just do not like to read.” Like clockwork I would say “Yes” and then point at the poster behind my desk and ask the student to read it. I would add, “If you choose not to read, you are letting others make the decisions for you and giving them the power.” I would continue, “That means that you get from a book what the film director and screenplay writer want you to get. That means you listen to the newscaster summarize a speech or policy guideline, but without reading it yourself you are subservient to their biases.” I would conclude:

JFY_12-12-19 Power of Reading, Read for yourself

When it comes to teenagers, rebellion against reading does not shock me. With their access to video, text, chat, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. I can appreciate their distraction from focused reading. Reading is a skill and a discipline that needs to be practiced and developed. Learning to interact effectively with a text can be taught both in the classroom and in support sessions.

At JFY, we work to help students develop these skills that are essential to a literate society. While our program tracks where students currently read in vocabulary and sentence complexity, it also allows them to highlight the text for main idea, questions, connections and supporting details. In addition, students can write annotations at the end of every paragraph or at key intervals in the text.

As an educator, I love that we can do this. I cannot induce anyone to love reading, but I can make sure they have the skills to do it well. Being a strong reader is essential to self-empowerment. There have been many occasions in history when learning to read was an act of rebellion, and when writing and reading were the tools of revolution. I will always hold firm with students that once you learn to read well, you will love it. Ever since that ride in the back seat of my dad’s LTD, I have never doubted that reading is fundamental.

More posts from Eileen Wedegartner found here.

The teacher must be sensitive to the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven

Every educator is familiar with differentiated instruction and blended learning. We are bombarded by multiple options for digital learning. There is a glut of high-quality digital content, but do we know how best to use it to serve the needs of our students and make learning accessible for everyone? As teachers, we want students to be engaged and build foundational skills. One of the best ways to engage students is to deepen differentiated instruction with personalized learning.

The Way it Ought to Be… Have we lost the concept of civil discourse?

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

It begins with the way we are teaching our children.

At the conclusion of his news broadcast on CBS each weekday evening, Walter Cronkite would shuffle the sheaf of papers on his anchor desk, raise his eyes to the camera, and deliver his signature sign-off: “And that’s the way it is.” It was one of the first consistent taglines on television. There have been others, such as Charles Osgood’s “See you on the radio” and “We’re in touch, so you be in touch” from ABC’s news magazine 20/20. Entertainment shows followed, like Carol Burnett’s famous ear tug, a secret message to her grandmother, and the current The View which asks us to “take a little time to enjoy the view.” Rachel Maddow thanks viewers for “joining us this hour” and Ellen DeGeneres implores them to “be kind to one another” when she signs off.

DeGeneres found herself the focus of attention within the cesspool of social media recently after attending a Dallas Cowboys game with former president George W. Bush. DeGeneres, a well-known member of and advocate for the LBGTQ community, and Bush, who was resistant to protecting LGBTQ rights, sat next to each other and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. DeGeneres was hysterically vilified on Twitter for fraternizing (or sororizing) with the enemy.

DeGeneres addressed the kerfuffle on her next show. “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say ‘Be kind to one another” I don’t mean only people that think the same way you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

What a concept! Our society seems to have become so embroiled in “us vs. them” attitudes that we have lost the concept of civil discourse. We can’t seem to agree to disagree and find common ground. The online cesspool has moved offline and creeps deeper into our lives every day. What’s important to realize is that it begins with the way we are teaching our children.

On a recent trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was struck by how divided and separated the city remains. When the Troubles ended with the Good Friday Agreement, most of us on this side of the pond thought the issues had been resolved and Protestants and Catholics would now live in harmony. But when I toured neighborhoods in which violence is still a frequent occurrence, I learned that our dreams of peace do not quite stand up to the light of day. Walls, actual concrete walls, longer and sometimes higher than the Berlin Wall, still separate Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. On certain days, the gates between the neighborhoods are closed and checkpoints set up. A full generation after the Good Friday Agreement, the deadliest violence has stopped but animosity and division survive.

While touring these neighborhoods, my guide explained that the Protestant holidays were two weeks away. We saw whole families preparing to celebrate by gathering huge piles of wood for bonfires. Late night ceremonies would burn in effigy significant members of the other side, including the current Pope. Children worked alongside parents and grandparents, stockpiling wood for the conflagrations which would follow daily parades. The gates would be closed and guarded on each of these evenings to keep the two sides apart.

I was shocked and depressed to realize that the issues have not been resolved. Children are still being taught to hate those on the other side of the wall.

I learned on my tour that the Troubles in Northern Ireland involved many other complex issues besides religious beliefs. Underlying grievances concerning economics and discrimination helped fuel the violent protests of the 70s and 80s. Yet my guide confirmed that religion is how each faction primarily identifies itself. Both sides share an Irish heritage, but the identification as Protestant or Catholic is fundamental and decisive– and deeply divisive.

From the point of view of an American former Catholic who now attends an Episcopal church (which originated in the Church of England, the very church attended by Protestant Northern Irish), the fundamental beliefs of the two confessions seem substantially, if not totally, the same. I feel no conflict between the church I was born into and the one I transitioned into. Not to trivialize, but it’s a little like growing up loving baseball as either a Red Sox or a Yankees fan: both fan nations love the game of baseball, but identify with different teams. While I will always be a Red Sox fan, I understand that fundamentally, Yankee fans love the same game I love, though their devotion clothes itself in a different uniform.

If we do not teach our children tolerance and civil discourse, the morass of discontent within society will grow far worse than the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.

The Way it Ought to Be… Have we lost the concept of civil discourse?

We do not need to abandon our fundamental beliefs; we simply need to acknowledge that another person’s different beliefs do not make that person evil and do not threaten our own beliefs. No one is trying to force us Red Sox fans to don pinstripes.

We may not put up physical walls within our own country, but we continue to build attitudinal walls around us and our group. Until those walls are broken down and we allow our children’s minds to develop and explore without ideological boundaries, our social divisions will persist and widen.

My tour guide lived through the Troubles. He acknowledged that it is probably too late for his own generation to reconcile with their counterparts. But he cautioned that if they continue to teach prejudice and hatred to their children, there is no hope for the cycle of division to end. “We won’t see these neighborhoods ever seeing eye to eye in our lifetimes,” he lamented. He warned that the violence that plagued the region for generations could resurface at any time. “The peace accord continues to be precarious,” he fretted, “and it won’t take much for each side to put down their Guinness and pick up a rifle.”

On our side of the pond, we can hope for better. While there have always been different sides to every issue, policy and election, it seems that recently tensions have risen to the level of a “cold civil war.” We can’t accept such divisiveness. We don’t have the bitter history of Belfast to struggle with. We can teach our children that there is a better way.

Uncle Walter was soothing when he intoned each evening, “And that’s the way it is.” But today, it might be necessary to say, “Just because that’s the way it is, let’s not think it always has to be that way.” Change is hard to implement, and even harder to instill in our children. But with substantial effort and a little creativity, we might be able to make our sign-off line more hopeful:

“Be kind to one another and take a little time to enjoy the view, because that’s the way it ought to be.”

See you on the radio. [Shuffle papers. Tug ear.]

Picture source:

Cultivating the Garden, Cultivating Students

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

A teacher is not unlike a gardener.

Time flies so quickly, especially as we get older. It’s now fall and a new school year is underway.

Last weekend as I prepared my garden for winter I started to think about how educators are like gardeners. A gardener sows seeds and then watches the flower seeds turn into beautiful flowers and the vegetable seeds yield their harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and squash. No two flowers are the same, even if the seeds came from the same package. I love seeing the different colors of zinnias and marigolds and the shapes and sizes of tomatoes, each one unique, even on the same plant.

The growth and blooming of flowers and vegetables does not happen spontaneously. The gardener has to water them, feed them, prune them and pull up the weeds. The plants also need the warmth of the sun and the diffusion of rain to grow.

A teacher is not unlike a gardener. To a teacher, students are the flowers that bloom and the vegetables that mature. But unlike the gardener, teachers do not always see the seeds of knowledge planted in the classroom mature and blossom.

I work in high schools and follow students from freshman year until they graduate. I watch them grow and develop over those four years. In those years, students grow physically and mentally with the help of their teachers, administrators, fellow students, and of course families. I marvel at meeting a student as a freshman and then seeing the transformation that has taken place when the student has become a senior. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s the same person!

Teachers are the ones who get to witness the greatest growth in their students. Teachers plant the seeds and then watch the flowers grow. EL teachers will watch their students go from speaking and reading very little English to being noticeably and measurably more proficient at the end of the school year. I have seen this growth in an EL class. The class used our JFYNet reading comprehension program. In September, they needed to have the assignments read to them in English. By the end of the school year, they were reading English by themselves and were able to increase their ACCESS language proficiency test scores by two to four levels. The teacher who planted the seeds of English in these students had a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the end of the school year.

Teachers often get to see the result of a seed or a concept planted by another teacher bloom when the student finally gets it. I have witnessed this delayed flowering many times in my classes. It is exciting to see the light bulb go on when the student finally puts it all together and understands a concept. Or it might be a student who hated math coming to love it at the end of a semester. I teach a small class of adults and only have students for a semester. Imagine how exciting it is to see this happen to all the students a teacher has taught in the four years of high school!

Teachers have the unique ability to plant ideas, concepts and seeds of knowledge in students with the hope that someday they will blossom and the student will realize what a gift has been given. Teachers are not alone in this garden: parents, peers and other friends and relations also plant seeds and cultivate growth. With sun and rain, young people grow and blossom into the unique person they are meant to be. And each season, we plant again.

Another New Beginning-Start of school

It is exciting. It is exhausting. It is a time of transition for everyone.

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

It’s that bittersweet time of year again, the start of school. We pack away our summer gear, bags loaded with suntan lotion, flip-flips, towels and sand, and trade them in for book bags stuffed with new notebooks. Schools have been freshly cleaned and waxed and everything has a glimmer of hope. It’s that glorious time when every desk is shining, every pencil is sharp, and every Expo marker works.

Madison Park Holds the Line on MCAS Math

Madison Park is on an upward trajectory.

by Gary Kaplan

The scores are in, and they’re down. It was expected that scores on the new 10th grade MCAS 2.0 would be lower than on the old “Legacy” MCAS. The new test was designed to be more difficult, with higher-level questions. In addition, it was online, not on paper like the old test, and it contained new question formats—technology-assisted questions and multi-text comparisons, for starters—that students had never seen before. Lower scores were fully expected.

The World After 9/11. What have we learned?

Strength and faith and the hope they will find a way to navigate safely home

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

Every year as September 11 approaches I am drawn back to that cloudless day and the eerie quiet that settled over Boston as the flickering, droning television screen became our collective stream of consciousness. There was no escaping the stark reality of that moment: America had been attacked, we had been attacked, and we were no longer safe behind our oceans as we had felt we were on September 10.