Every day my writing buddies and I get a tiny bit better at writing. Or, we catch a glimpse of an idea or a tactic we can use to get ourselves to another edge. We get better at writing by writing. We find models to teach us. We’re closing the gap between where we once were and where we want to be.
So how come Connecticut can’t close this horrendous achievement gap? (See Richard Wilson’s OpEd piece in the Hartford Courant: http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-wilson-0928-20100928,0,6949022.story)
I’m retired now, but I taught for four decades, and my high poverty school has closed this gap. (See the fifth grade test scores from Vogel-Wetmore in Torrington for what it looks like when the entire school engages in gap-closing.) Here’s what this staff is doing:
They teach the Basics three times longer than is usual. Their reading, writing, and math versus All the Other Stuff ratio tilts way in favor of the former. (This takes TONS of all-staff agreement as to where North is, though. See the list down below of all OTHER STUFF that comes in the way of Just Teaching).
During reading they read. During writing, they write. During math, they do math. They don’t do reading-like, or writing-like, or math-like activities. Kids learn to read and write and do their ciphering because they spend an extended amount of time reading, writing, and ciphering.
Teachers teach. They model, they guide, and they gradually release to the students the responsibility for using what the teacher has taught. The teachers don’t spend all their time managing, assigning, and assessing. THEY. TEACH.ALL.THE.TIME.
The classrooms are full of talk and the talk is conversational, not just interrogational. Many of our students come from homes where talk is minimal. We’ve got to replicate the kind of talk that happens around the kitchen table for our kids that may not have one.
I dug up this old list. It comes from notes I made as we teachers listed all the “Other Stuff” we had going besides the core curriculum. It was a real eye-opener; it propelled us to fix the ratio of What’s Important to What’s Not.
It helped us stop the tail wagging the dog.
(Richard Allington is the guru to re-read. He studied hundreds of high-achieving high- poverty schools and pulled out a few factors all had in common. See this site for one version of his findings: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/96)
I don’t think we need to re-invent the wheel here. I don’t think we need yet another commission. We don’t need another multi-pronged attack. We just need to attend to the time, the tasks, and the teachers.
Just like we women who write, right? We give the time, we’ve got real tasks, and we’ve found the teachers who know their stuff and can model it for us. And for those of us writers and kids who are already behind? We aren’t going to close the gap unless we do it all three times more than is usual. That’s the key.