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Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to Prepare Yourself Mentally for College

There you are, an incoming freshman and a neophyte in college. You still do not have any idea of what college would be like. Relax, there are thousands like you all over the city, who will be setting foot for the first time in a college classroom.

How could you prepare yourself for college?

The following are pointers on how to meet the challenges that your first days in college would offer:


Psyche yourself positively

This should be done several days before the opening of classes.

Every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself positive things:

"I will have a pleasant experience in college."

"I will make good friends in college."

"My first day will be a pleasant one."

"My professors will like me."

This is to create in you an innate positive outlook of college life. Think yourself as a winner. Good things could only happen to those who expect them and who would act to make that good perception happen.

By psyching yourself to be positive, you would be attracting positive vibes as well. As the cliché' goes, "Everybody loves a winner."


During the first day in class, impress your instructor.

"First impressions last," may not always be true, but almost always, instructors would remember the first students who had answered their question correctly.

This means that you should do your research work. Read about the subject matter before attending your class. Don't hesitate to use the library or to purchase books so you could start reading.

The first lesson usually deals with the definition and scope of the subject/course. It would not harm you if you proceed to read more than the definition. Your apparent interest will create an indelible good image in the mind of your instructor.


Be amiable and approachable

Almost all of you, freshman students, would be nervous and tense. Smile and try to engage your seatmate in a friendly conversation. (Never do this, while the lecture is on-going.)


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are Schools Ready for Children?

While much of the research on school readiness has focused on children, a group of researchers in North Carolina is looking at the issue from the opposite perspective: Are schools ready for the diversity of young children who walk through their doors?

Richard Clifford, a senior scientist at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s FPG Child Development Institute, says that closing early learning gaps depends in large part on addressing the mismatch between what today’s children need and what schools currently provide.

A U.S. Census report released in May 2006 found that nearly half of all children under 5 in the United States are from racial or ethnic minority groups. The fastest-growing segment is Hispanic children, many of whom are from families where Spanish is spoken at home.

“We have very large numbers of children coming to school from backgrounds that are associated with their being at risk for school failure,” Clifford says. “Yet schools are struggling to have staff that have facility in a language other than English or are reflective of the population of children who are here.”

The FPG Child Development Institute, which conducts research and helps schools around the country design effective programs for children in preK through grade 3, has formed a committee at the institute that will specifically examine how prekindergarten through early elementary schools can support diverse learners in four areas:

practices that address the specific learning needs of English-language learners
“early intervening” to address the needs of young children who may be eligible for special services
“culturally responsive practices” that take into account the diversity of children’s ethnic and racial backgrounds
early childhood inclusion programs to support more widespread education of young children with special needs in mainstream classrooms
“These are the areas where teachers are really struggling,” says committee cochair Virginia Buysse, also a senior scientist at UNC’s FPG Child Development Institute. “Most teachers just don’t have the training or experience to meet the needs of these children.”

For Further Information

FPG Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #8180, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; tel.: (919) 966-2622.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From Literacy to Learning

Catherine Snow on vocabulary, comprehension, and the achievement gap

Catherine Snow, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is an expert on language and literacy development in children. Her research focuses on how youngsters acquire oral language and how those skills determine educational outcomes. Her current research includes a 15-year longitudinal study of language and literacy skills among low-income children. Here, she discusses with HEL contributor Darcia Harris Bowman and editor Michael Sadowski the importance of high-quality language instruction in preschool and early elementary school, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.

What is literacy, and how does its development determine a child’s readiness to learn and succeed academically?

I define literacy rather narrowly, as the capacity to construct and express meaning through reading, writing, and talking about texts. Clearly, literacy defined this way has to be seen as developmental. Literacy is a prerequisite to the acquisition of new information and the formulation of new ideas. Almost everything kids learn from the fourth grade on they have to learn by reading and writing. Kids who struggle with the task of reading or writing—through which they must convey what they’ve learned—are unable to show their teachers that they understand.

Before fourth grade, what kinds of literacy and language development are important to provide those building blocks for learning?

All of the comprehension skills that we hope fourth graders and older children will use when confronted with texts can be practiced or learned starting as soon as children are learning to talk. However, some of those oral conversations don’t provide much grist for the mill of comprehension. For example, perhaps the most frequently repeated advice to parents and early childhood educators is “Read to kids.” The reason I think that’s very good advice is because the kind of talk one engages in when reading to young children and discussing books with them offers many of the comprehension challenges that children will face in reading texts for themselves when they’re older: connecting ideas across paragraphs; understanding realms of knowledge through language; encountering and learning to use more complex vocabulary than you do in normal, spontaneous conversation; and familiarity with some of the conventions that are used in written language but not used in spoken language.

Why is it important for younger children to develop their vocabularies beyond what they would learn in normal everyday interactions?

There are all kinds of reasons teaching vocabulary is important. For one, we want kids to know 80,000 words by the time they graduate from high school. If you’re missing a year, if you’re allowing some kids to learn words at a rate that’s only 75 percent as fast as other kids, you accumulate huge differences. Because vocabulary is such a big domain, the accumulation of deficit is a big problem. That’s not at all the case for learning letters or learning sounds or learning spelling rules. So you miss some in first grade? You can get them in second grade. You can’t do that with vocabulary.

By the time middle-class kids with well-educated parents are in the third grade, they probably know 12,000 words. But we don’t have a curriculum in kindergarten for teaching vocabulary, and we don’t have a curriculum in preschool for teaching vocabulary. It’s just something we assume kids are going to do on their own. Meanwhile, kids of undereducated parents who don’t talk to them very much probably have vocabularies of 4,000 words by the time they’re in third grade—a third as many words as their middle-class peers.

That’s why it’s important to start early on with vocabulary development, because you bring disadvantaged children—kids from non-English-speaking families, or kids from families that don’t talk very much—much closer to the developmental trajectory of the students from highly educated, middle-class families. That is the mechanism for shrinking the achievement gap.

Are there ways to improve equity in terms of children’s language development and skills when they start kindergarten?

At the moment, the kids with the best home environments are also in the best preschool classes from a strictly language point of view. Clearly, if we were being sensible about this, we’d put kids from families where there are fewer language resources into preschools where there are more language resources and not worry about the kids from language-rich families. This is the way that Sweden organizes early childhood education. It gives priority for the free, very high-quality early childhood settings to the people that they define as most at risk: single-parent families, non-Swedish-speaking families, immigrant families, families living below the poverty line. We do just the opposite. Half of those at-risk kids in this country are in the care of relatives or informal family day care—settings where there isn’t a professional educator present, let alone books and curricula.

What do you see getting in the way of the kinds of early literacy instruction that would be the most effective and reach the most children?

Well, the obstacles for preschools versus elementary schools are probably different. For preschools, there are different versions of the problem. Some have a commitment to natural development and not interfering at all as long as the kids are having a good time. That’s fine as long as those children are having a lot of rich language and literacy experience in other contexts. But it’s not fine for the kids we’re most worried about, such as kids from low-income families and English-language learners.

On the other hand, in Head Start there’s this focus on, “They’ve got to learn the letters, they’ve got to learn their numbers, they’ve got to learn their colors, because those are the things kindergartners are supposed to know.” I don’t disagree, but people are not saying in kindergarten that students have to learn words, they have to learn the language, they have to learn to talk, they have to learn to tell stories, they have to learn to comprehend. That’s harder to test. And it’s harder to take ill-prepared early childhood educators and give them the resources that would enable them to support that kind of learning.

At the K–3 stage, it is really the accountability demands at play. The assessments that are used in first and second grade are heavily focused on phonological awareness, fluency. There’s purely token acknowledgement of the importance of vocabulary instruction in early elementary curricula, and that gets reflected in what the publishers provide. Even in third grade, students are not being tested on vocabulary. They’re tested on something called comprehension, but it’s very literal comprehension. Until you get discussion and vocabulary into curriculum and assessment, they’re not going to happen in early childhood classrooms.

For Further Information

M.S. Burns, P. Griffin, and C.E. Snow. Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1999.

B. Hart and T.R. Risley. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1995.

D.K. Dickinson and P.O. Tabors. Beginning Literacy with Language: Young Children Learning at Home and School. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1995.


Monday, June 15, 2009

10 Dimensions of Good Teaching

The CLASS approach provides a common metric and language for the discussion of quality across grades, thereby addressing problems with grade-to-grade transition and the need for coherence. There are 10 dimensions of interaction that reflect three broad domains of interactional supports—emotional support, organizational support, and instructional support.

The dimensions included under emotional support on CLASS are:

• Positive Climate: the enjoyment and emotional connection that teachers have with students, as well as the nature of peer interactions

• Negative Climate: the level of expressed negativity such as anger, hostility or aggression exhibited by teachers and/or students in the classroom

• Teacher Sensitivity: teachers’ responsiveness to students’ academic and emotional needs

• Regard for Student Perspectives: the degree to which teachers’ interactions with students and classroom activities place an emphasis on students’ interests, motivations, and points of view

The dimensions under organizational support are:

• Behavior Management: how well teachers monitor, prevent, and redirect behavior

• Productivity: how well the classroom runs with respect to routines, how well students understand the routine, and the degree to which teachers provide activities and directions so that maximum time can be spent in learning activities

• Instructional Learning Formats: how teachers engage students in activities and facilitate activities so that learning opportunities are maximized

The dimensions under instructional support are:

• Concept Development: how teachers use instructional discussions and activities to promote students’ higher-order thinking skills and cognition in contrast to a focus on rote instruction

• Quality of Feedback: how teachers extend students’ learning through their responses and participation in activities

• Language Modeling: the extent to which teachers facilitate and encourage students’ language


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Raising Adults; the Importance of Character and Employable Skills

It is critical to ensure that children are receiving an entire education- not only the 3 R's but also the abilities necessary to become a productive and successful adult.

As homeschoolers, we value the freedom that we enjoy to teach what we judge to be the most important. In Texas, we are technically only required to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and Civics. However, I think that most of us teach far more than is technically required as the lowest minimum standard.

Today, when I say 'life skills' I don't refer to laundry, grocery shopping, and measuring ingredients. I think more along the lines of

-independent problem solving
-managing tasks
-respect for authority
-eliminating the unnecessary info
-working alone productively
-managing deadlines
-finding solutions

When I have had job interviews, talked to managers about their employees, or read articles about 'what employers want' etc, I find common threads. The young people that we as a nation are launching into the workforce are unprepared. Even if we completely disregard their academic abilities (such as making change, writing decent memos, and other education-derived tasks) they are terribly unfit for almost any employment. They are unable to work independently, moving from task to task without lolling about on the internet or at the proverbial water cooler. If they run into an obstacle, they don't problem-solve to continue with their task. They cannot sift through extra information to find an answer, they have a short attention span when confronted with a challenge, in short they are without the training necessary to work productively.

We must be vigilant to ensure that the associated tasks of an entire education are being met (such as the list above). We must invest the time at the kitchen table going over work, doing flashcards, demanding rewrites, and raising the bar of requirements for each child's education. We are raising future adults, not children.This will ensure educational goals are met, so it becomes a lifestyle to write and meet goals, to break up tasks into manageable chunks, to pay attention, to respect authority, to solve problems.

This is what is needed today! Whether you homeschool or supplement a public education, you must own and be responsible for the shape of your child's abilities. Your child has complete freewill after he leaves the house. But before that day, you must demand that your child learns the other set of skills that makes a productive and capable worker.


Friday, June 12, 2009

MBAs: Online vs. On-Campus

While the world of academia is sometimes regarded as slow to adapt to the quickly changing world of technology, this view has proven to be somewhat misguided. The large number of respected institutions that are now offering online MBA programs is evidence that traditional schools are embracing alternative and flexible learning methods. Today, students can choose to undertake their MBA education on campus, online, full-time, part-time or independently. Which method is best? That's partially up to you.

For some students, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The structuring and time scheduling of traditional coursework proves conducive to students who prefer to avoid at-home distractions and regularity. Those resistant to online study point to the lack of peer interaction as a detriment to distance learning programs. However, because of new technologies and online implementations, many distance learning programs prove to be even more collaborative than sitting passively in a vast lecture hall. Students in online courses often enjoy direct access to teachers via email, message boards, chat rooms and other electronic means. Still, some students prefer working with their peers and professors in person - it's simply a matter of learning style preference.

Meanwhile, students who wish to pursue careers often enjoy the flexibility that asynchronous learning affords them. Careers in business are particularly demanding of time, with work hours that sometimes extend beyond typical business hours, which can prove troublesome for some students taking night classes. Online study allows them to go at their own pace while still giving them the resources and support that on-campus students are afforded.

Work experience is an especially valuable asset for business students and MBA candidates. When deciding between a student who entered graduate school immediately after earning his or her bachelor's degree and a candidate who with demonstrated work experience and an MBA, the latter is often a shoe-in. The organizational behavior and time management skills needed to pursue a distance learning or part-time MBA program are highly valued in the fast-paced business world, and earning an MBA while holding down a steady job proves that your ability.

Another concern regarding online education is the amount of recognition and respect it garners on a resume. This particular issue is becoming less relevant, however, as more and more traditional schools are realizing the value of offering online programs. Today, students can earn business degrees and MBAs from the very same schools that traditionally only offered on-campus education. In fact, some Ivy League schools are even offering courses online with transferable credit.

The key to earning a degree that holds distinction in the job market is to carefully review the institutions accreditation and reputation. A site like greatly aids in your research. For example, allows students to search a database of schools offering online, part-time and distance learning programs for easy comparison. Students can narrow their searches based on their criteria and request exclusive information directly from the school. Visiting sites like has become standard practice for students seeking high quality MBA education.