Texas Legislature Chipping Away At Public Schools

The Texas Legislature has written two pieces of legislation, HB 2543 and SB 893, misguided companion bills that would give the commissioner of education free rein to mandate that local school districts base teacher evaluations largely on student test scores. This legislation also slashes minimum pay for classroom teachers down to a mere $27,540 for every teacher, regardless of experience or advanced degrees.

Teacher appraisal should be based on measures that are proven valid and reliable, confirmed by independent analysis based on empirical evidence. HB 2543 and SB 893 would allow the misuse of standardized tests for evaluation imposed by the commissioner of education statewide, negating local authority to rely on better measures. Promoting this guarantees excessive emphasis on standardized testing at a time when parents and teachers alike increasingly view the current testing obsession destructive to teaching and learning.

It’s difficult to imagine another way to lose high-quality, experienced teachers than to tell them their minimum pay under state law is now reduced to $27,540 a year; yet that is exactly what HB 2543 and SB 893 would do. This devaluation of teaching experience is a serious policy mistake and will deter efforts to recruit and retain the very dedicated and talented individuals we need in our classrooms.

In addition to these two bills, the Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 4 that funds vouchers for private schools. These schools are not held to the same accountability as public schools, and furthermore we should not be diluting public funds for private entities.

The hostility of this legislation towards public education is palpable. The Legislators promoting this travesty wish to erode the very foundation that allowed many of them to reach their current educational status.

Teachers deserve better. Students across Texas deserve better. Texas deserves better.

Cultivating Voluntary Reading in the Classroom

One of the greatest gifts my family bestowed upon me was the love of a good story. My mother read to me daily, as did my grandmother, and my father created stories in which I was the main character. Mom will still sit down and read 3-4 novels a week. (I usually finish 3-4 per month, but I’m not retired.)

Early in my teaching career it became apparent that not all families were like mine, and I dare say we are becoming somewhat of an anomaly. Finding this unacceptable, I have always incorporated free reading time into my classroom in addition to reading aloud daily to my students. Today, however, many teachers feel pressed to teach so many test-taking skills that the reading test has become a genre.

We have lost the idea of balance and as a result are losing a generation of readers. But how do we regain that balance and still maintain rigorous standards? Believe it or not, the research supports reading for choice over direct instruction.

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) means reading because you want to. No book reports, no comprehension questions, and the book is one of your choosing. And while class novels are preferable over the reading passage/question worksheet, this will not have the same impact as FVR. Research has shown that FVR improves comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, writing, and grammar (Krashen, 2004).

Having students talk about their reading is critical. Sharing the books they’ve enjoyed through Book Talks, Reviews, and Journals promotes comprehension and is more authentic than asking low-level questions (Atwell, 2007; Miller, 2009). Teaching direct comprehension skills has its place, but it should not be the crux of your reading lessons.

So as you look at your classroom schedule, make time for silent-sustained reading, free voluntary reading, or DEAR time. Regardless of what you call it, just make the time.

“It’s all in my Head”

Was reminded today of one week several years ago when it seemed all my students had discovered hidden talents.

One young lady had accomplished the near-impossible task of completing long-division with remainders without showing any work whatsoever!  When I inquired about her work, she simply replied, “I did it in my head.”  Pretty amazing considering math was usually her most challenging subject.

Another young lady read aloud her rather creative spelling story.  When I asked her to share one of her more remarkable sentences with us, she gave me the deer-in-the-headlights pose.  Upon further inspection, her spelling composition notebook was completly blank.  Her reply?  “I didn’t write down my story – it’s all in my head.”  Sigh…

Tip to parents:  please, please, please review your child’s homework each night to ensure that it’s not all still stuck in their heads. 🙂


So I spent last weekend with three male family members and it occurred to me that communication could have been better.  Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed many well-meaning parents answering for their children, ordering their meals, finishing their sentences.  It’s so important that a child learns to speak for themselves.  That means that when a waitress looks at me and asks what my child would like to drink I kindly tell her to ask him.  And yes, I say the same thing to my husband when he wants to know what our child would like.  How would I know?  Ask him.


In educational settings it’s important to offer many opportunities for students to speak up for themselves.  Teachers call it wait time and we are pretty patient, but often other students speak up.  All young people must be instructed in giving “wait time” to others so they may collect their thoughts, processing information at their own rate, and decide what they want to say.  Easy?  Nah.  Important?  Absolutely.


Next time you find yourself in the presence of a young person, please slow down and allow that child the opportunity to speak for themselves.  It may seem like eons to you, but remember that it’s time well spent.

Thoughts on Writing (republished from my former blog)

My son is a 4th grader this year and is learning how to be a better writer.  He’s enthralled by all the elaboration techniques available these days.  Things sure have changed, y’know.  We used to study/teach similes, metaphors, etc. out of an English textbook.  His enlightened teacher doesn’t use a text, but chooses activities like showing movie clips and allowing him to respond in writing, giving the perfect authentic opportunity to practice these elaboration techniques.  We are even throwing out “trash words” from our daily communication.  He’s growing as a writer and a thinker.  I like that!

My own students struggle with basic reading and writing skills.  They are simply trying to formulate a basic sentence, so the idea of trying to get them to expand on their ideas is daunting at best.  Cop out?  Nah – I work with very special young people whose strengths are not always of the academic sort.  We need to embrace the different learners out there who will undoubtedly add to our society in their own unique way.  Yes, some are meant to be thinkers and some to be workers.  Some to build, some to create, and some to write.  There’s not a darn thing wrong with that.

So what are the elaboration techniques my son is being encouraged to use?  Your basic literary elements are there:  simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, but he is also encouraged to create “thought shots” which share his feelings and to hook them with a really good beginning sentence.  Sometimes it’s contrived; other times it’s pretty good!

Will he be a famous writer?  Probably not, but he sure has discovered a new appreciation for the written words.  And for that I am truly grateful.

Mad about Math!

I love, love, love teaching math.  Had you told me 20 years ago that I would be saying that now I would have laughed in your face, but I have discovered the love those geeky mathematicians knew about years ago.

Math makes sense – logic with numbers, I like to say.  In my small groups we get away from the drudgery of algorithms and get to truly experience math.  They get to make sense out of mathematics instead of simply memorizing facts.  This is the kind of math that drives parents insane (“I just don’t get this new math!”), but it works.

Differentiated education says we need to teach kids in ways they understand (think VAK – visual, auditory, kinesthetic approaches).  Constructivist math takes this one step further and says we need to help kids construct math ideas so they can make sense out of them, aka understand them.  This is where the love part comes in – we get to play with stuff during math class:  my 2nd graders were learning subtraction with regrouping in their traditional classroom.  They were busy memorizing the algorithm and were good at following the steps.  Then they come to me, their remedial instructor.  I ask them the one question that stops all kids in their tracks:  “Why? Why do you need to borrow from the tens place?”

“Because that’s the way you do it,” one young man responded.  How many of us have felt the same way about math equations?

This is when I dump the base 10 blocks in the middle of the table and have them show me the problem without pencil and paper.  I want to see them regrouping the tens and ones.  I want them to get a true understanding of why you can’t simply take more ones than are there.  I want them to have an understanding that goes deeper than simply memorizing the algorithm.  They will need this understanding later on, and it’s much easier to acquire when you’re 7 years old.

Jump ahead to my 7th graders who are in a pre-algebra class.  They’re really good at plugging in numbers to their formulas, however they consistently err due to lack of conceptual understanding.  For example, when subtracting 14 from both sides they ended up with the equation:  7-14.  Three students responded with 13 as their difference.  Why?  Because they had set up the equation vertically with the 7 and the 4 in the ones’ place.  7-4 is 3 then you bring down the 1 that is by itself.  They were just going through the process without considering what 7-14 actually means.  I needed to reteach number lines to 7th graders because somewhere along the way they missed out on the concepts.

Embrace the “new math”.  Learn the best ways to teach your students so that they have a strong foundation with which to scaffold their higher-level math concepts.

Peace – Lynn