Blog
Syeda Quadri
Teacher

What Is A Day Of Learning, Anyway?

The measure crops up frequently in discussions of education policies and, sometimes, products. But what the heck does it even mean? Charter advocates like to point to a CREDO study that shows urban charters giving students an additional 40 days of learning growth in math and 38 in reading (while critics bring up the 2013 CREDO study finding that charter schools provided seven additional days of learning per year in reading and no significant difference in math). Indianapolis, New York City, and other big systems find charter advocates touting additional days of learning. Meanwhile, one of the widespread criticisms of online schools is a CREDO study which found that cyberschool students lost 72 days of learning in reading and a whopping 180 days in math–that’s a whole year. Bridge International Academy describes its success in Kenya in terms of added days of learning. Research into the educational effects of variables such as teacher experience is expressed in days of learning. Sales representatives for edu-products will promise additional days of learning. But what exactly is a day of learning? Classroom teachers know that a Monday is not equal to a Friday or a Wednesday. Surely it’s not the day that students get out early, or the day that is interrupted by an assembly, or the day that the teacher was pulled out for meetings, or the day that the baseball team was dismissed early for an away game. Certainly not the day that everyone in school was reeling and preoccupied because of a local tragedy. A day in September is not the same as a day in April, and certainly not any day in the season that we’re approaching, because from mid-November until the end-of-year break classroom teachers are extra-challenged to get a day out of a day. So when is it? When does this proto-typical day, this day on which exactly one day’s worth of learning occurs? Where is education’s answer to Lebanon, Kansas (the geographic center of the contiguous U.S.)? Is it a statistical anomaly like the1.9 children being raised by the average U.S. family? Can this measure be broken down more precisely? Can we talk about hours of learning? Minutes? Seconds? The Learning Policy Institute offers an explanation for days of learning. The short form is that a typical growth on a standardized test score, divided by 180, equals one day of learning. If you want a fancier explanation, LPI looks via CREDO to a 2012 paper by Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann: To create this benchmark, CREDO adopted the assumption put forth by Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessman (2012) that “[o]n most measures of student performance, student growth is typically about 1 full standard deviation on standardized tests between 4th and 8th grade, or about 25 percent of a standard deviation from one grade to the next.” Therefore, assuming an average school year includes 180 days of schooling, each day of schooling represents approximately 0.0013 standard deviations of student growth. So in the end, “days of learning” has nothing to do with days or with learning. It’s simply another way to say “this policy or product seems to correlate with an increase or decrease of scores on a standardized test of reading and math.” Learning can’t be measured in days or minutes or inches or pounds or hectares. Pretending that you can use test scores, assumptions and standard deviations to measure learning the same way you can portion out milk in a measuring cup is not science–it’s rhetorical smoke and mirrors. If you wonder why classroom teachers are not more engaged with or moved by educational research, here’s one reason–because the euphemisms and constructs of researchers use a frame of reference totally removed from the experience of classroom teachers, designed to hide what they’re really talking about instead of illuminating it. Someone who approaches a classroom teacher and says, “I’ve got a way for you to get more days of learning out of your students,” should not expect to be taken seriously. Originally posted at Forbes.com

Surya
Content Writer

The Curious Garden

They say that children’s books are inherently didactic. Particularly those of the picture book variety. There’s an idea that you can’t tell a story to a child without including some of your own personal values in the midst of the tale. And this may be true since immoral children’s books are few and far between (Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book excepted, of course). The trick then is to tell a tale without bludgeoning the child over the head with the message. Get too preachy and both kids and parents will shy away from the material. Not preachy enough and you’re basically just placing words on a page without much in the way of rhyme or reason. Enter The Curious Garden, which is just about the perfect balance of message and text. I’ll admit to you right off the bat that I read the book once, and then put it away without another thought. Then I read the book a second time and my interest was peaked. About the moment I read the book a third time I was hooked for good. Peter Brown’s story isn’t what one would call exactly subtle, but what he’s managed to do here is tell a good story without falling into the usual traps and trials so many environmental picture books have found themselves enmeshed in before. No small feat. In a city like any city where the people spend their time mostly indoors, there lives a boy named Liam. A curious lad, one day Liam stumbles on a stairwell that leads up to some old railway tracks. Upon following the tracks he is delighted to discover a small patch of green in need of a gardener. Though at first he makes a lot of mistakes, Liam becomes better and better at helping the tough little weeds and flowers to grow. The garden, which is as curious as Liam, spreads. Sometimes in a good way. Sometimes in a bad way. And as people notice the growth they too are inspired to start their own gardens. Years later, the city is transformed and Liam (who has married and had children in the interim) is still there. Pruning and tending and happy. Inspired by the beauty of New York’s High Line park (an old elevated railway recently converted into a lush garden) Brown tells the tale of a city melded with nature, producing something utterly new and entirely beautiful. Does every story need a villain? It usually needs some form of antagonist, yes. Someone or something that stands between our hero and his goal. In this book, though, there isn’t much standing in Liam’s way aside from his own self-doubt and, possibly, the cold winter months that render the garden dead and brown. Considering the nature (ha ha) of the story, you would think that Brown would have been inclined to add some evil industrialist or Once-ler ala The Lorax. The funny thing is that the lack of a bad guy doesn’t hurt the book. Some are bound to be put off by the easygoing nature of the story, but since it’s starting from a point of conflict I don’t feel an overwhelming need for Brown to add to that. As Liam’s fighting decay with wildlife, that’s your essential point of conflict right there. A villain with a twirling moustache and shiny pinstriped suit would be out of place in this book. I’ve always been a sucker for industrial beauty. It’s probably why I’m such a huge Ezra Jack Keats fan. Now there was an author/illustrator who knew how to capture the beauty of rust and machinery and graffiti. The city was a raucous riot of color under his hand and everybody knew it. Peter Brown’s book actually does something similar, though his intentions are different. The beauty of the city is still here, but it’s the beauty that comes when the man made mixes and melds with nature. Railway lines into long gardens. Rooftops sporting treetops. Ivy curling up chipped paint and abandoned walls. I still like to find beauty in abandoned tracks and rusted metal, but Brown’s making a strong case here for the beauty of the abandoned in a whole new way. In terms of the art, Brown is working here with acrylic and gouache on board. His style is so slick and smooth, though, that you might initially mistake it for computer graphics of one sort or another. It’s a lot of fun to watch what Brown does with light and color too. Liam’s hair is red, his eyes are blue, and at first he’s the only spot of color in a dank, dreary, grey/brown world. Brown has also done a clever thing with the little tree that Liam begins by tending. It hasn’t exactly been anthropomorphized (for all intents and purposes this is a fairly realistic story) but Brown has drawn the leaves in such a way that it looks like the tree has closed its multiple eyes and smiled with multiple smiles. It’s not an obvious detail, but it gives the story a certain friendliness you might miss on an initial pass. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see that at the end Liam is now an adult and the text reads, “And you could always find Liam in the place where it all began.” Sure as shooting, there he is, tending to that same tree, no longer a little shrub but a great big impressive, and still smiling, companion. There are little things about the art that flicker on the outside of your eyeballs without ever directly catching your eye entirely. The smog, for example. It’s everywhere. You don’t even notice it on a first or second reading. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that pernicious brown soot and smoke lurking in the corners of each page’s borders. It starts as early as the title page, like the dirty fingerprints of a polluted sky. In lingers on the edges of every page until you reach the final two-page spread. It’s still there, mind you. Licking the edges of the left-hand page. But as your eye moves slowly to the right, you might notice that the brown fug evaporates. As this story takes place in an industrial town, it would be too much to expect that the population suddenly found a new industry to support themselves, but Brown has hidden little hints as to why there might be less air pollution. Maybe it’s the abundance of trees soaking up the carbon dioxide. Maybe it’s the windmills, which have apparently been constructed out of the old smokestacks of a factory or two. Alternative clean air energy? Maybe so. In any case, it provides parents with an excuse to talk to their kids about pollution in cities and the different ways of getting rid of it. Of course the book this reminded me of the most was probably Home by Jeannie Baker. In both books, industry is tackled by those citizens who take an interest in natural beautification. Folks have embraced this book as an environmental tale, and I suppose that it is. But I really do believe that its purpose, first and foremost, is to simply tell a good story. If you happen to learn a nice lesson as a result, that’s all well and good, but the tale is key here, not the message. Brown has created his best picture book yet. One that is bound to be enjoyed and loved by families for generations to come.

Surya
Content Writer

Christian Robinson On Art, Inspiration, And Another

Christian Robinson's distinctive illustrations are well-known to anyone who's been paying attention to picture books over the last several years. He's the artist behind best-selling favorites like Gaston and Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, for which Robinson received a Corretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. The list goes on—Robinson has worked with Mac Barnett, Cynthia Rylant, and Renee Watson, and has twice teamed up with Matt de la Peña, including for Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal Last Stop on Market Street. Early next month, Robinson will publish his first book as an author-illustrator, Another. It's a beautiful, wordless adventure story, and we can't wait to get it into the hands of emerging readers. Even more exciting? We're hosting Robinson right here in the shop on the book's release day, March 5. Prepare for the event by reading our Q&A, then make plans to join us—we can't wait to see you there. Another turns the picture book format on its head (literally!) with beautiful, wordless spreads that encourage the reader to flip the book around and engage with it in a very tactile way. What inspired you to take that path on the first book that you've created as both author and illustrator? Turning something on its head or presenting something in a different way is fun! It’s that spirit of fun and surprise that inspires me to create. One of my all-time favorite picture book makers, Bruno Munari, designed children’s books with the awareness that readers gain knowledge from what’s on the page but also from the book as an object. I wanted to create a story that encourages readers to engage with a book in an unexpected way and allows the physical book to play a role in the storytelling. When we read Another, we were reminded of that famous piece by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, where she writes that books can be mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors. That fits in nicely with Another, as your protagonist journeys into a sort of parallel universe and discovers all kinds of people and reflections there. Was that something you were thinking about as you created this story? Children seeing themselves reflected on the page was the spark that motivated the story. The thought that followed was, well, what if a child literally saw themselves in a story? Perhaps a version of themselves from some parallel universe. As a child, I loved stories in which the main character goes on some magical adventure to a world where anything is possible. Oftentimes, those characters didn’t look like me or come from a community that reflected my own. I want kids today to have a different experience. What does your work space look like? We imagine a large desk gloriously covered in scraps of paper; how do you keep that organized? My studio is bright and it’s very clean and very organized. I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but I may have a mild form of OCD, especially when it comes to keeping things tidy. I just think better and work better when everything is in its place. We know you also have a background in animation. Is that something you plan to return to or continue? Because we’re here for full-length Christian Robinson films. Hehe! I have many loves in this life. :) One of my first is animation, and I hope to create and tell stories as an animator, illustrator and now author for as long as I can. Can you tell us a little bit about some of your artistic influences? When we look at your books, we see shades of late Matisse, mid-century graphic design… and probably a lot of stuff we don’t even realize we’re looking at. Where do you turn for inspiration? Ooooh! I’m inspired by so much. I for sure love the work of so many masters of modern art—Matisse, Picasso, Hockney, and Jacob Lawrence. Most of the picture books I’m influenced by come from the 50s-70s:  Roger Duvoisin, Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Lionni. I’m a huge fan of graphic design, I love the illustrated advertisements you’ll see in old Life Magazines and the colors of images in old National Geographics. My all time favorite animated films are by Hayo Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. As for contemporary illustrators, I’m inspired by the work of Beatrice Alemagna, Corrina Luyken and Loveis Wise. What were some of your favorite picture books when you were young? I sometimes feel like I’m being inauthentic whenever I’m answering this question. I can list a few books I remember flipping through as a child, but the truth is I struggled learning how to read and for the longest time had a very distant relationship with books, especially ones without pictures—perhaps another reason why I was moved to tell a story that allows children the chance to engage with a book and not feel intimidated by their developing skills as a reader. A few books I do remember reading (or at least looking at) include Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, those Dinotopia books, and Possum Magic. All photos courtesy of Christian Robinson.

Surya
Content Writer

Wolfie The Bunny – ame Dyckman And Zachariah Ohora

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah Ohora JUNE 20, 2016 BY STEPHANIE CUMMINGS My daughter’s godmother treated her this Christmas to the amazing Lutyens & Rubinstein’s Year in Books for Children. [As a side note, if you have never been to this treasure trove of a Notting Hill independent book shop, go.] The book that came through our post slot this month (my favourite so far) was Wolfie the Bunny. Set in a Park Slope populated by woodland creatures (with the exception of the kindly sloth who runs the local grocery co op – natch), the story begins when a family of hipster bunnies (dad in argyle and fedora, mom in plaid and funky glasses) dicover a baby wolf left at their front door. Mom and Dad are smitten. Daughter, Dot, seems to be the only one who sees the issue with a rabbit family taking in a wolf, “He’s going to eat us all up!”. Dot’s suspicion of her new brother, Wolfie (the wolf who literally ends up in rabbit’s clothing) grows as, well, he does. Don’t let her fluffy exterior mislead you, Dot is one tough bunny, and when her loyalty is tested at the end of the story, she doesn’t disappoint. Delightful details abound throughout Ohora’s playful artwork (painted in acrylic) poking gentle fun at Brooklyn hipster culture (mom uses a polaroid camera to snap pics of baby Wolfie, the local Carrot Patch Co Op sells “local organic lucky bamboo) and Dykman totally gets the host of emotions involved when a new sibling is introduced to a family. This author/illustrator pairing really add to each other’s work. They have recently released another book together, Horrible Bear. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy. I’ll let you know when I do.

Surya
Content Writer

A Bad Case Of Stripes By David Shannon, Scholastic

Summary A Bad Case of Stripes, by David Shannon, is the story of young Camilla Cream, a closeted lover of lima beans and a worrier about others’ opinions of her. On the first day of school, Camilla wakes up to find herself completely covered in rainbow stripes! If the stripes were not bad enough, Camilla’s skin develops everything people suggest she has – someone says ‘checkerboards,’ another says ‘bacteria,’ and she breaks out in checkerboard pattern and bacteria tails. When the Doctor, Specialists, Experts, and many others cannot figure out what’s causing the stripes, a little old woman appears with what just might be the cure. Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion By Jo Fletcher The core theme of A Bad Case of Stripes is learning to be yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin… literally. Philosophically-speaking, the book deals with the issue of identity, spun in several different ways. Camilla is introduced as a girl who worries a lot about what people think of her and whether they like her, and as a result her sense of self is highly malleable. In fact, her insecurity manifests itself by turning her skin stripy. When Camilla goes to school the day after, she and her classmates realize that whatever they say to her becomes a pattern on her skin. This continues until one woman, in a misguided attempt to cure her, tells Camilla to “become one with [her] room.” At this point, Camilla appears to merge with the walls and bed of her room. The careful reader or listener will realize that Camilla’s body is trying to please everybody she meets, thus becoming a victim to the power of suggestion. Whatever they say about her becomes reflected in her, and, subsequently, Camilla realizes she has to be true to herself and her own desires. The story raises the question of whether or not it is important to care about what people think, as well as what the consequences of such worrying are. At some point, Camilla becomes almost unrecognizable, and though she does not appear to lose her sense of self, our perception of her changes. In this way, the function of identity is raised: is it something one defines for oneself, or is it something that is defined by others? Throughout the book, Camilla visibly and physically changes many times. She is always called ‘Camilla,’ but it seems that by the time she has morphed into the walls of her room, there is really no recognizable Camilla left. Thus the question must be asked, is she still Camilla Cream? The philosophy of personal identity has occupied many minds throughout history such as the philosopher John Locke who spent a great deal of time considering what it means to have an identity. He concluded that identity is linked to consciousness of self. Although it is controversial, the idea of self-consciousness persists and is addressed in A Bad Case of Stripes. Because she remains conscious of who she is even when she is transformed into the walls of her room, Camilla, at least in Locke’s theory, never loses her identity. An alternative theory of identity is that of essentialism. Aristotle believed all things had ‘necessary’ and ‘accidental’ properties. Necessary properties are what a thing requires in order to be that thing; accidental properties are properties that are true of a thing, but are not required in identifying that thing. As far as identity goes, the book prompts us to think about what aspects of Camilla’s identity are necessary and what are accidental. It would seem her physical identity is an accidental property, as it changes and she still believes herself to be Camilla. However, the old woman calls Camilla in girl form the “real” Camilla. Does that mean her human form is somehow a necessary part of her identity? These are some of many topics within the bounds of the philosophy of personal identity. A Bad Case of Stripes can also be used to discuss bullying. Camilla is teased by her classmates and talked about on the news, which both effect her mental and physical states. Whether or not what the reporters do is bullying is an interesting question. The media is supposed to objectively present facts, but are there times when news reporting crosses a line? The reporters’ behavior may seem invasive, but one must consider whether or not the reporters have a moral duty to share stories like Camilla’s with the public. Camilla’s treatment by her classmates is a matter of ethical concern. Camilla’s classmates are a textbook example of children who tease other children and thus act as bullies. Bullying is a serious ethical issue, but philosophers debate what it is that makes bullying morally wrong. How does bullying hurt someone? What should a person do when he or she sees bullying occurring? These are the kinds of moral issues raised by bullying. A Bad Case of Stripes offers a wealth of topics to be plumbed in philosophical discussion – self-perception, identity, and bullying. Because of this, one has the option of tailoring the reading and discussion experience to best benefit the students. Questions for Philosophical Discussion Self-Perception Camilla Cream loves lima beans but refuses to eat them because people tell her they are gross. When we first meet Camilla, what is she doing? What does that tell us about her? Is there a food you love but other people do not like? If Camilla likes lima beans so much, why doesn’t she just eat them? Is there a reason Camilla changes from stripes to checkerboards to a pill to her room? Is it important to care about what other people think? Do we define ourselves based on who we think we are, or who others think we are? What does it mean to ‘be yourself’? Is it important? Why? Identity Camilla develops ‘a bad case of stripes,’ which seems to change as people try to figure out what is wrong with her. How is Camilla recognized as Camilla when she is called “The Incredible Changing Kid”? Does she ever stop being Camilla Cream? What is a person’s identity? How does one develop an identity? What does it mean to ‘lose’ one’s identity? How could that happen? Could it happen? Does it happen to Camilla? When Camilla changes back into a little girl, the old woman says she “knew the real you was in there somewhere.” What does that mean? Who or what is the ‘real’ Camilla? Can a person have an essence, an identity defined by things that are essential to his or her person? When the news reporters start camping outside her house, Camilla becomes something of a media sensation. What does that do to her identity? Others’ Perceptions and Bullying Camilla’s classmates laugh at her and call her names, and the news reporters set up outside to gawk at her. What is bullying? Why do Camilla’s classmates tease her? Is it okay to treat someone differently because they have stripes? What if they have an illness? A woman is shown talking about Camilla on TV - what is it she is doing? Is an illness ‘news’? Does the reporter have a duty to share Camilla’s story with the public? Is what the reporter does different from what Camilla’s classmates do to her? Is it bullying? Is it ethically wrong to report sensational news?