Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Printing Off Web Resources

I am in the process of putting together my children's curriculum lists for the fall.  I went to the post I wrote about reading comprehension units.  When I clicked on a few links for the leaping into 5th grade website, I discovered that the author has taken them down.  If I were a betting person (which I'm not), the author has probably taken down her units and placed them on a site like Teachers Pay Teachers and is likely selling them for a fee now.  I realize that many teachers have done this.

But, this is the reason that when I put together my reading comprehension plan, I printed off the units I wanted for the future.  When you find something on the web, there's no guarantee it is still going to be there tomorrow!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Christian Romance Series

A while ago, I read the first book in Jen Turano's Christian fiction series that began with A Change of Fortune.  I enjoyed it.  It just fun to be lost in a book for a little while.  I don't usually follow a series, but I did end up reading each of the books in this series.  It was just light Christian romance fiction.  Last week, I finished reading the last one, A Match of Wits.  

This story centers on Agatha Watson and Zayne Beckett.  Many books within a series are written as stand alone novels.  Others need to be read within the series in order for the reader to understand and know the characters.  That is the case with this book.  Read the books before it first.  Each one adds details that you'll need to know in order to understand the interactions and dynamics of the relationships between the characters.  Agatha is a spitfire and Zayne is the recovering scorned former beau of another.  Agatha gets herself in messes that come as a result of good intentions.  From the outset, you know that people are after her and are threatening her life, so she is on the run in the west.  Zayne runs into her and she foils his plans to run away from home any longer.  

Family and friends enter the picture who are all described well in the course of the other books.  This book is light on the description.  If you only read this book, you'd likely see Zayne as a wimp and the relationship between Agatha and Zayne as completely unfathomable.  But, if you read the other books, you'll get a very different picture of Zayne.  That was my one frustration with this book.  Zayne was almost a different person than he was in the other books.  Of course, his heart had been broken between this book and the last one so that has wrought some change in him.  But, it seemed weird to me how he is in this book.

Would I recommend this book?  Maybe.  But, it wasn't one of my favorites.  I'd recommend the others in the series first.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House publishing.  


You might have heard this... I know it's going around.  My husband said this to me as we walked outside to throw a ball around with our kids...

Sitting is the new smoking.

Yes, I think it is.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lightly Heavy Romantic Fiction

This morning I finished another romantic Christian fiction novel.  One might wonder why I read so many of these given that my reviews are often what might be considered 3 star reviews.  Well, my mom loves them and so I search for good ones to pass on to her.  

Ann Gabhart is one of the authors I have enjoyed more than others.  Her latest, Love Comes Home is very
clearly a romance.  It's funny to me that it's labeled "Historical Fiction".  It should really just be labeled "Christian Romance" in my opinion.

This latest novel by Ms. Gabhart is about a family of sisters after World War II finding their way to love.  There's pain and suffering in the novel.  The recovery of the men from the war is only touched upon and not delved into.  The story focuses more on the role of love in each of the sisters' lives and their trials, travails, healing, and blessings.  

Picture four sisters ranging in age from 14 to 25 years old (I think).  One wonders about the family who left her amidst the Great Depression.  One adjusts to pregnancy and her husband, a rescued POW, returning from the war.  Another grieves the loss of her husband to the war and processes how to heal and continue living with her toddler daughter.  The last, who saw herself as the strong one, copes with her husband returning from the war who she loves but doesn't know that well.  The story follows these four sisters and their stories.

I'm just going to consider this in terms of being a romance.  If you enjoy Christian romance and want a book that isn't going to put things into your mind that you don't want there, this book will fit the bill.  It does idealize love a little bit and make it seem as the be and end all of life, but don't most romance books do that?  I appreciated the way the sisters bore with each other amidst different personalities, gave each other space when they needed it, but put each other first, too.  It is a good, solid book about family and what it means to love one's family.  The story is set in a time when families lived in closer proximity than they do today.  Our culture has changed.  But, the ideas of loving one's siblings and bearing with irritations are the same things that happen in families even from a distance when siblings communicate regularly and have relationships with one another.

If you enjoy Christian fiction set around the time of WWII and romances, you'll probably enjoy this one.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Out of the way Read...

I hate writing reviews before I've finished the book.  But, this time, well...I'm running out of time.  So, I'm writing this book review with the caveat that I haven't finished it yet.

I've shared before that sometimes I pick up books and think they'll be interesting, but then just can't seem to get motivated to read them.  That's the case with this book.  It sat on my desk for several weeks without me opening it.  My daughter happened to pick it up, though, which started an interesting conversation...

Mommy, what's Anorexia?
Hmm... Hmmm!  Well, sweetie, that's when people choose not to eat.
Why?  Do they not have food to eat?
No.  They have food.
You mean--they diet?
Yes, they diet.  But, they choose not to eat.
They starve themselves?
Yes, they do, sweetie.
The conversation went a little longer as I tried to explain in 10 year old terms why.

My daughter, my sweet daughter who talks to me about everything, was connecting the dots in her head between the Dr.Oz tv show we saw that was discussing ways to diet when she got stitches on her toe at Urgent Care 6 weeks ago and the idea of anorexia.

Ironically, the woman who's memoir I was reading began starving herself when she was 9 years old.  She was younger than my oldest daughter when she began choosing not to eat.

The book I'm reading is titled Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look by Emily T. Wiernega.  This book is Ms. Wiernega's memoir about her struggle to find love and accept that love.  It
tells the story of her relationship with her parents, husband, and family.  I'm about 3/4 through the book.  Interspersed throughout the book, I've found thought provoking nuggets that have made me think.  I am curious about how the author will draw the book together.  The story is supposed to be about the author finding her home and love, but it is a very complicated memoir with many themes.

I have to admit that this book has been quite difficult for me to read at times.  My mom is sick and the author of this story goes back and for between different times in her life and her time caring for her mom as the brain cancer overtook her body.  At other times, the story has simply touched my heart.  There's one story she shares of the conversation she has with her mother in which her mom shares that she's been praying for her.  She felt and understood the depth of God's love for her through her mother's love.  This encouraged me.  I love my kids so deeply and I want them to always know that through the good and the bad times--through the things I say right and the things I say wrong.

What is this book?  A Christian memoir?  No, not really.  A secular memoir?  Again, not really, but closer.  Because of some of the scenes the author shares, I wouldn't call this a "Christian" memoir in the way many people think.  Instead, I'd call it a secular memoir written by a Christian.  Does the author talk about God?  Yes.  But, the tone and subject matter often crosses lines that I think many conservative Christians would be uncomfortable with.  One example is that she describes her wedding night with her husband.  In terms of her journey through anorexia, this is significant.  But, it's almost too much information.

This book isn't one of those that you'll agree with all of the author's opinions, but I suspect that it may cause you to reflect.  Reading about someone else's life can often help us grapple with our own (according to Leland Ryken).  I agree with that.  I think this is the book I've been supposed to read right now and I keep pressing on.

If you enjoyed Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson, or Notes from a Tilt a Whirl by ND Wilson, or Secrets of an Unlikely Convert... then you would like this one, I think.  This book doesn't fit a mold.  I'm glad it doesn't.

If you're looking for some unusual summer reading, I'd read the preview of this one on Amazon (HERE) and see if you think you'd enjoy reading it.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Books.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Thoughts on Education

This morning I read this article HERE about a battle in education in Maryland.  In response, I wrote the following letter to the writer of the article that I thought I'd share here...


I just read your article from Sunday's Sun about “A New Battle in Maryland Education”.

I wanted to share a few things that might be interesting to include in future articles on the subject of testing and teacher evaluation. But, before I begin, I should explain who I am so you can understand the background I am speaking from. I earned my MA Ed in curriculum and instruction thirteen years ago. I taught middle school in Colorado and Texas. Then, I taught remedial math in a community college GED prep program in Georgia. I also taught math part-time in a private school in Georgia for one term. Since moving to Maryland eight years ago, I have been homeschooling my three children. I have seen all three modes of schooling (public, private, and homeschooling) and do not feel that there is one right answer for all children. For some children, homeschooling is the best option. For others, private, and for others it is public schooling. As a former public school teacher and as a community parent, I care deeply about what happens in the schools. I have many friends who work in the school districts here and I talk to people wherever I go about our state's education system, because I care.

When I first moved here, I was floored to learn that the school boards were not entirely elected. I grew up in Southern California where the boards were wholely elected. As I researched the state board, I learned that the board was not representative of our state's varied counties, but focused in on two or three counties. I was shocked to read the biographies of the board members and additionally learn that seven of the twelve have not been educators. This last piece of information is a very influential one. Teachers who have not been parents often think they know how to parent because they can manage a classroom. But, on the flip side, parents often do not understand the challenges and skills a teacher needs to have and use constantly in the classroom if they have not been teachers themselves.

In the same way, policy makers who have not been teachers often place unreasonable expectations on teachers. The SLOs are an example of this. I have assumed that teachers were involved in the invention of these plans which are basically “classroom IEPs” but I have not researched the matter in depth. Most of the teachers I have spoken with in the counties surrounding the area where I lived still didn't know how to write one of these mid-year of this school year even though they were supposed to be implementing one this school year. Maryland is micro-managing the implementation of the common core standards by dictating lesson plans and adding on the additional burden of the SLOs to teachers' plates. My understanding from your article is that the state is requiring teachers to be accountable to these SLOs (which many teachers have received very little instruction about) but not the test scores from the common core for two years? Is this true?

To connect test scores to teacher evaluation is extremely unfair in my opinion. I recently had a friend call me from Nevada and ask me about the schools in Maryland. He had a friend who was offered a job in this state and was considering the position, but wanted more information about whether the schools would be good for his child. He quoted the national ranking of his state (49th) and asked about Maryland. In reply, I told him that as an educator I don't pay any attention to those statistics. There are many important factors that statistics cannot take into account. The first is the socioeconomics of a community. The more resources—intellectual and physical—that a community has, the more successful the schools in that community are. Here are three articles that I found quickly on the web that mention its importance:
This article explains SES and mentions in its conclusion that although SES is often mentioned in the introduction of research, it is not factored into the measurement of outcomes... as it is not factored into test scores.
A quick and easy article to read which summarizes the relationship between SES and education outcomes.
A third, easy to read article about the relationship between SES and educational outcomes.

The second factor I mentioned to my friend about why I don't pay attention to test scores is student transience.
This article makes some wonderful points about the impacts of transience on students. Students who move a lot are typically below grade level. They do not have the academic and emotional stability to rebound quickly from a move.
This is an excerpt from a book that states that the number of moves a child makes is connected to lower test scores.
This third article is a dissertation focused on a particular school district in Tennessee. Its implications are limited in my mind, but it made the point that most of the transiency was interdistrict and when standard programs (ie. Curriculum) were implemented there was less variance. The problem with taking that and applying it to a nation like the Common Core does is that children across the nation have such widely different sets of background knowledge and experiences. A child from an urban, inner city area will not understand the same stories that someone from a rural area in Iowa would. I would daresay that the academic needs of the communities are different. So, when the focus of classroom education is required to focus on taking a test, teachers are not able to build the knowledge children need to understand the world they live in. There simply isn't time. Within our own state, we have urban and rural areas. The state policy makers on the board of education all come from urban areas. Hmm.
To judge a teacher on test scores when 50% of her students are not the ones she began the school year with, is extremely unfair. Transience is not factored into test scores to my knowledge in any way.

Lastly, the encouragement I gave to my friend was that the greatest predictor of how a child will do in schools is the parents. I live in an area of our county that many people look down upon and people often ask me about the schools. This is what I tell them in reply. How your child does depends on you. Get involved in their schools. Communicate with their teachers. Ask about their days. Our county uses a math program that most parents struggle to help with at home (and which causes issues for most students I hear about). Parents need to be able to help their children with their homework. It is not a school's job to parent children. They are to educate students. Teachers and Parents need to become teams again—working towards the same goal.

Unfortunately, our system currently seems to constantly pit parents and teachers against each other. Teachers are defensive because they are judged by test scores, yet there are so many factors that they have no control of. Those factors multiplied this school year when districts micromanaged classrooms by dictating lesson plans to teachers and how the common core should be implemented. Teachers are not supposed to be robots. They, like me, were trained modify curriculum and teach to the needs of their students. Back up, go a little slower, reteach, move ahead. Teachers have been trained. We need to let them do their jobs and what they were trained to do.

Obviously, my opinion is that test scores are a very poor way to measure how teachers are doing. We live in a world now that doesn't believe in teachers and doesn't believe they can do their jobs. Why do we have so many teachers on instructional plans in Maryland schools? Why don't we have administrators that are backing their teachers and believing in them? I've heard of a few. I've heard of many that aren't. My heart grieves for the state of education in our state. I may homeschool my children, but I still care. I do not homeschool because I don't think teachers can't do their jobs. I homeschool because I love teaching my children and I am able to modify their education plans in a way that public schools cannot do. It is the best option for my family. I am a better teacher after homeschooling for the past seven years. I have learned a lot. It has also prompted much reflection in me about my time in public schools. My conviction that teachers need to be allowed to teach and do their jobs has never wavered. I someday hope that we will let them do their jobs again and believe in them.