Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quality teaching

Quality teaching is one of my "scholarly" interests. My dissertation focused on quality teaching practices and I spent a fair amount of time defining “quality”

As a parent, I have had numerous conversations about finding the “best school” for my son when he starts kindergarten next fall - public v. private, transfer v. neighborhood, traditional v. Montessori, etc. Everyone wants their child to be in a high quality school.

I recently came across an interesting piece of research concerning classroom quality. I was interested in how they had defined quality, but I was also hoping to find some helpful information about identifying a good school for my son.

This research, conducted by Stuhlam & Pianta (2009) for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD ECCRN) observed and analyzed data from over 800 1st grade classrooms at over 700 different schools. The classrooms involved were varied demographically (socio-economic, ethnicity, public schools and private schools) and so were the teachers (years of experience, education, certification).

When assessing quality, each classroom was rated on both the affective nature (how supportive and positive the teacher was to a student's emotional needs) and the academic nature (the type of academic challenges and the type of feedback a teacher provided for her students). Sadly, only about 31% rated positively on both scales. 17% were rated with “overall low quality”. The rest of the classrooms were either ranked as being positive emotional climate with low academic quality or “mediocre”.

After the classrooms were rated the researchers compared the demographic data and made some interesting discoveries.

1) Students of color and those with lower family incomes were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms. Good news if you are white and middle class - not so much for everyone else.

2) Students with lower achievement scores in Pre-school were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms.

3) A teacher's education and her years of experience does not necessarily translate into a quality classroom environment.

4) Private schools do not necessarily provide higher quality classroom environments.

5) Teachers in the lowest quality classrooms were more likely to report feeling stressed, and facing significant challenges and barriers to success.

All of these findings have implications for parents and other stakeholders. But to me, the most interesting finding was that the main difference between the "high quality classrooms" and "positive emotional climate, lower academic demand classrooms" was the nature of the feedback that teachers gave to students.

6) Teachers in the high quality classrooms “frequently engaged students in conversations about their ideas, their work and their process of learning” (p. 332), while those in the other classrooms “rarely engaged students in discussions about the process of learning”.

No category existed for classrooms where the teacher engaged students academically but didn’t provide a positive emotional climate. Interesting?

In other words, you want your kid in a classroom where the teacher asks him questions and then listens to his answers and asks him more questions

It is strange to think that your socio-economic status and your ethnicity make your child more or less likely to have a quality classroom environment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


As blogging goes, I am not the most consistent person. I have tried on many occasions to make it a habit. Not something I do daily, just something I do on a regular basis.

Recently I have been struck with how many people achieve some professional note by making a promise to do something everyday and write about it on their blog (or other chosen venue).

For example, Julie and Julia, a lovely movie about two woman Julia Child and Julie Powell, started out as Julie's attempt to cook every recipe in Julia's Mastering the art of French Cooking in one year and blog about it. She got a book deal first, by the way.

Another new movie is a documentary about one man, who with his family attempts to erase his carbon footprint over the course of a year and blogs about his journey. He got a book deal out of it, as well.

On a smaller scale, I followed one blog for a while, as one woman cooked her family a crock pot meal everyday for 365 days. She got a guest spot on Rachel Ray and a book deal. She had some fantastic recipes.

Today, I was checking out the New York Times and found this. One woman decided to read a book a day a post a review on her blog. That is ambitious. She tried to limit her books to between 250-300 pages but still, that is a lot of reading. I wonder if she will get (or has) a book deal.

A.J. Jacobs has made the "my life as experiment" genre his life. He has written three books about 1)Reading the entire encyclopedia in a year, 2)Following all the commands in the Bible in a year and 3)a year spent testing out various lifestyles.

Okay.... I need a "life as experiment" type of experiment. One that no has not been done. One that might actually move me forward in my career and one that will get me a book deal.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 9, 2009


Do you remember staying home from school when you were sick. It always seemed like a good deal when I was a kid. Laying on the couch Mom bringing me whatever I wanted, including special treats and watching all TV I wanted.

Sick isn't so good anymore.

The boy spent last week laying on the couch watching videos, getting all sorts of special treats. He had the flu. By Tuesday night he was feeling better but I had caught whatever he had and have been laying on the couch watching videos since. Today we had an unexpected twist, I got a call from the boy's school - He has pinkeye. The man is home from work and after wrestling the boy to the ground and enduring his screams while trying to put drops into eyes squeezed shut the two are playing video games, while I use an entire box of tissues, wishing I wasn't the mom.

I am sick of sickness.