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Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I’ve always profited from taking risks with my education. Not to say that my most insightful papers were written in a batting cage, or that I had a moment of enlightenment whilst reading poetry on a 10 story ledge, but my experience has been that when you ignore that little doubtful voice in the back of your mind and jump in before testing the water, you can circumvent comfort and open yourself to experiences that many people deprive themselves of due to irrational caution. Don’t do this. The water is fine. An example. I was a transplant my sophomore year of college at UNH. I found myself with two years of college level learning under my belt, but was denied a higher level seminar-style class in anthropology that was reserved for juniors and seniors. I had heard that it was a really good class… So I went anyway. This was an advanced class in anthropological theory and we spent a lot of time pouring over very old texts written in the most dense language that one can imagine this side of a legal notice of foreclosure. But the other students were “on” the moment they walked in to the class

Suzuki violin

I think I learned more about teaching and learning from my training as a Suzuki violin teacher than from anything else I have studied. I first encountered this method as a traditional teacher who took a pair of students who had just moved to town from a big established Suzuki program elsewhere. It astounded me that the mother came to the lesson and wrote down everything I said. They treated each bit of instruction as a gold nugget and got very excited about my suggestions. The following week they showed up having mastered every bit of what I had assigned and were hungry for more. Normal students were nothing like that, in my experience. This family knew how to learn and somehow they had been taught to learn this way. I was fascinated and decided to learn more about the method. I took teacher training through book four and when I used it in my studio teaching the results were amazing. I learned SO much about how children learn and the importance of play, imitation, preview and review and so very many other things. This happened thirty years ago and I have done a lot of stuff in education since

The Three Most Important Questions in Education

It’s graduation season again – yet nobody seems to be celebrating. On college campuses, graduates are entering an economy in which the stable career paths of yesteryear are disappearing – and the specialized job opportunities of tomorrow have yet to appear. And in communities across the country, parents and young people are left wondering what exactly those past four years of high school were in service of – and how much, if any, truly transformational learning occurred. Something’s gotta give. The Industrial-Age model of schooling, which benefited 20th-century generations by serving as a legitimate ticket to the middle class, has clearly run its course. In its place, we need a model for a new age – the Democratic Age. And we need strategies for ensuring that young people learn how to be successful in the 21st-century world of work, life, and our democratic society. We can get there, but to do so we need to start asking – and answering – the three most essential questions in education reform:   1. How do people learn best? Over the past several years, a slew of research from a range of fields has helped illuminate a much deeper understanding of what powerful

Well Rounded Education is Best

I was in third grade when a very caring teacher, Mrs. DeCarlo, realized that although I was “smart,” I struggled in class and that maybe something was going on. I got evaluated for IQ and learning disorders and they discovered I was Dyslexic. Having a label to put with my struggles helped me to get the right interventions needed to develop my skills to the best of my ability. I went to resource classes for the extra help, which made a world of difference. Mrs. DeCarlo’s teaching style helped a lot too. In fact, I would say having her for third through fifth grade made all the difference for me. She was very creative in our class work. We did not sit in rows and get talked at all day like many teachers do. We did everything in group settings and break out sessions. Hands on was big for her. Math was all about manipulatives so that you could “see” the problem in real life and not just theory. Creative writing was one of my favorite parts of our week. She had many ways to include it in our daily work, such as story starters. She didn’t just explore our

What’s in that box?

In first grade my teacher, Ms. McDonald, came to class one day armed with a big cardboard box that was so big one of us could have fit inside it. We went quiet as we were all guessing what was inside and what this was all about. Ms. McDonald opened the box and pulled out another box that was white and had a rounded shape. That box turned out to be made of styrofoam, which I couldn’t pronounce yet, and there were actually two of them in the larger box. I did not know what to think yet but my curiosity had me leaning forward to see what came next. Each side of the classroom was divided and so we went into groups and either group had its own box. Ms. McDonald went to assist the other group and my group had a teacher’s helper (I think they are called TA’s now) to give us the guidance we needed for our project. We all got handouts and the mysterious box that could be anything was finally unveiled. We were making ovens! Ms. McDonald gave each side a kit with aluminum foil, a corded incandescent light bulb, masking tape and a

My Poems

I am a high school English teacher. The learning communities that I have been a part of that were most powerful were my graduate classes in literature. In most of them a group of 15 or 20 people who loved literature sat in a circle and discussed novels and stories and poems. We batted about ideas, we interpreted and reinterpreted, we disagreed and really enjoyed disagreeing. At the end of a class we would walk out in groups and wander here and there carrying on our conversations. The reason that my title is “My Poems” is that one of the things I used to do in these classes was write poems. Most of the time some other student would say something, a line or a phrase, that I thought was quite poetical. I would jot it down and build around it, even though it wasn’t my line or my thought, and the person who said it didn’t mean it as poetry. But something about it had struck me as poetic, and that was the powerful thing about those classes: I never knew what strange and interesting and poetic ideas were going to just fly out of someone’s mouth at any

“I want to tell my mom about the skunk track!”

“What is that?” the boy asked the old man pointing at a spot in the mud. “Looks like a critter track. I bet you left one too,” said the old man, looking around at the muddy footprints on the rocks near the boy. The boy looks at his own tracks in the mud and on the rocks and asks, “Who made these?” “That is a good question, I have a book of prints and maybe we can figure it out.” The old man and the boy scurry up the rocks out of the creek and head to the house to get the book to see what left the track in the mud. They find the book and take it back to the creek to compare the track to those in the book and figure out that it was a skunk. “I want to tell my mom about the skunk track!” exclaimed the boy. “Good,” The old man replied, “let’s write it in our journal so we don’t forget to tell her tonight when she gets home.” They sit down and the boy tells the old man what to write and they construct a few sentences about what they saw and

Kenneth Bernstein’s Learning Story

Can we call this learning how important it is to empower students? My last year at Kettering Middle School, where I first taught, I had only two classes of 8th grade students, each of which I saw for two 73-minute periods a day, teaching them English, Reading, and American History. I wanted them to work on being able to tell personal narratives. I prepared them using several approaches. First, we read a passage from Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored by Clifton Taulbert. The passage we read was about going to see the circus, but were evicted by an usher and were told ‘This ain’t the night for niggers/\.’ Given the largely African-American makeup of my classes, I suppose there was some risk, but my students knew of my own work in civil rights, and were willing to trust me. The next day I came dressed as a Roman Catholic Monsignor. I then put up two different versions of a personal narrative of my own life, when I as a student of Jewish background was enrolled in a masters program at a Roman Catholic Seminary. While I was Christian, I was not Catholic. One of my teachers, Monsignor

Mr. Riggs

After a somewhat rocky start in elementary school I had a life changing experience in Mr. Riggs' 5th grade classroom. What I remember is how my love of learning grew that year, particularly learning in math and science. Mr. Riggs had a way of luring us into the ideas he was trying to teach in ways that made us want to learn more. I even realized that year that I could be good at those subjects. Formerly a math and dance teacher in public secondary schools and later, a college of education faculty member, I am now the director of City Academy, a secondary charter school in downtown Salt Lake City. I realize there were a small handful of amazing teachers, along with Mr. Riggs, who influenced my love of learning and my path to where I am now: My social studies teacher in junior high, Mrs. Yahtze, who made us all historians, my dance teacher Medora, who first allowed me the opportunity to teach others, and my French teacher, Mme. Spidell who taught me to have high standards for myself. I was also very fortunate to have the example of my mother who was a Chemistry professor and my

Alec Wyeth’s Learning Story

Larry Myatt’s story is much like one of mine. I had a passion to be a surgeon and in high school I read all the books I could find on the heart and heart surgeons. During my junior year I spent a month at Bellevue Hospital in NY volunteering in the Recovery Room. I observed surgery and spoke with patients. My senior year I took a well taught course on Human Physiology that required a real-life research project. I designed a project to study the effects of Physoderm (remember that green bottle?) on fetal rats. I used histology techniques to look at the cell structure of the rats’ brains. I was pumped. So off I went to a well respected university to study pre-med and … I think you may have anticipated the climax of my story. But first, a hallmate and I spent our Saturday nights in Nashville’s city hospital’s emergency room. We saw surgeons in action and assisted where we could. Believe it or not, I was even allowed to tie a few stitches! I was pumped! However, much like Larry’s experience with paleontology, I was turned off by freshman chemistry (the weed ‘em out course). Trying to

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