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More Trouble with Dyslexia

April 20, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:36 AM

The other day I wrote about my dislike of the dyslexia label, and a number of people wrote in to disagree with me. They listed three reasons why it was beneficial to label kids dyslexic: it is necessary in order to access the kind of instruction their children needed; it is necessary in order to receive accommodations for their children's learning difficulties; and it is necessary in order to reassure the students that they weren't stupid. I respectfully disagree, and here are my reasons.

1.  Access to necessary instruction.  We can all agree that something is very wrong if a school system forces parents to jump through hoops in order to get the right kind of instruction for their children. However, I still have a couple of points to add. Firstly, the kind of instruction that hard-to-teach students need - namely clear, direct, sequential instruction in sound-letter correspondences and blending the sounds together to make words - is beneficial for all students, not just the hard-to-teach ones. If this kind of instruction were offered to all students, then it would be quite easy to make an early identification of the students who are struggling, the minute they have trouble with any part of the sequence, and quickly give the students extra practice that will allow them to overcome their problems before they have a chance to snowball. Which leads me to my second point which is that you can't get blood from a stone. If you are dealing with a school system that doesn't already provide decent instruction along these lines and furthermore requires huge bureaucracy and the attendant delays before its hard-to-teach kids can get the instruction they so desperately need, then this is probably a school system that parents should not turn to for remediation. If one of my children had had trouble learning to read, and one did, I would either teach him myself (which is what I did) or pay for an outside tutor. Schools that have to be forced to reluctantly do what they should have been doing in the first place will probably offer a service that is barely adequate, if that.

2.  Access to learning accommodations.  While I of course agree with lowering expectations for children with intractable conditions, like developmental delays and health problems, I do not agree with lowering expectations for children who are merely hard to teach. Instead, I think that these children's learning problems should be straightforwardly acknowledged and addressed as soon as they appear. The children should be told that they are going to have to work extra hard to master a particular skill, but that eventually they will prevail, and then on to the next step. Very matter of fact.

3.  Protection from feeling stupid.  In my opinion, the approach used in paragraph 2 is a better protection from feeling stupid than telling a child that he has a lifelong condition that will forever limit his potential. Kids with learning difficulties aren't stupid:  they just have learning difficulties, that's all. No big deal. No one finds everything easy to learn (think drawing, singing, teaching...) So here's a great way to cultivate a growth mindset in children - demonstrate your own belief that most problems can be overcome by hard work and perseverance. When all is said and done, kids who overcome learning difficulties actually feel stronger and smarter and readier to tackle the next challenge. 

Sunday at the Movies (Theorems are Forever)

April 19, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:39 AM


The trouble with dyslexia

April 18, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:30 AM

This article by a teacher about her "dyslexic" daughter got me going. How much do I hate the term "dyslexia"? Let me count the ways.

Children's ease of learning to read falls along a continuum. A few kids find it so easy that they practically pick it up if someone whispers the word "phonics" in the next room. The vast majority of kids readily learn to read with so-so instruction. And there is a smallish group of kids who find reading really hard and need to be taught very carefully. 

The further along the continuum a child falls, the more carefully he or she needs to be taught. If only this were widely understood! Instead, most education systems find it easier to label the hard-to-teach kids "dyslexic" and thus avoid the heavy lifting necessary to overcome their difficulties. Particularly pernicious is the practice of focusing on the child's strengths, in this case math and science. 

Here's what Siegried Engelmann, who has taught thousands of students to read directly or indirectly (as a trainer), has to say. "And we've shown for the past thirty-four years, that if kids are taught properly in kindergarten, you won’t have non-readers. There are NO non-readers. I've never seen a kid with an IQ in the range of 80 or above that couldn't be taught to read in a timely fashion. And I've taken on various comers that said, 'Oh, this kid has no visual perception' and so on. They can all be taught to read if you start at the right level and you provide a sequence that is going to teach them systematically." Thirty years ago, Mr. Engelmann offered a thousand dollars to anyone who could produce an exception to his boast, but he still has his money.

The trouble with the term "dyslexia" is that it implies a life-long condition, a handicap that must be accommodated and worked around, but the truth is that all children who are taught to read properly, no matter how difficult the process, end up in exactly the same place as children who were easy to teach - and the same high standards and bright future should be held out to them.

For more detail, click here. H/T TB

Success for Low-Income New York Students

April 17, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:20 AM

I'm currently visiting New York City, and so I was interested in this article about the runaway success of the Success Academy charter schools here. There are currently 32 schools serving 9,000 New York City students, and over the next two years an additional 13 Success schools will open their doors. These are schools in New York's poorest communities; yet their students score far above the state average - with 64% scoring "proficient" in English and an amazing 94% in math. One hundred percent of fourth- and eighth-graders passed the state science examinations. These kinds of scores have attracted all kinds of accusations from status quo educators, for example teaching to the test, creaming, and scripted instruction, and the article examines the truth of these accusations. The article is quite long, but it is very interesting in that it demonstrates how complicated it is to build a good school and isolates some of the important elements. 

Certainly, anyone who assumes that Success Academy schools are focusing on lower-order skills to the detriment of higher-order skills will be completely disabused of that assumption.

Shiny education ideas that are getting very mottled

April 16, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:42 AM

Today, I want to draw your attention to a helpful website, namely Stuff for Parents - which contains a lot of helpful background information on current education trends and arms parents to advocate on their children's behalf. Teachers, too, will find much of interest here.

Cheryl’s Birthday

April 15, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:38 AM

This is apparently an everyday math problem from the Singapore grade 5 curriculum. Can you solve it? It yields to pure logic.

In case you give up, the answer is here.

For some reason, the puzzle has gone viral. Does this mean people grasp that it's possible for kids to learn so much more?

Methinks the union doth protest too much

April 14, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:01 AM

In Louisiana, the legislature is debating whether to discontinue the practice of having the union dues of teachers and other public employees automatically deducted from their paycheques. Although the main antagonists, the teachers' unions, say that the costs of payroll deductions are trivial, they are fighting mighty hard.  more

In fact, automatic payroll deductions are worth their weight in gold to unions. Without this system in place, it would be possible for dissident and deadbeat public employees to avoid paying union dues, and the cost of going after non-payers would be sigificant. In addition, the unions would have to add a whole department of administrative workers to levy and receive union dues. Automatic payroll deducations are a very considerable fillip to unions, one that most people just take for granted.

The article positions opposition to automatic payroll deductions in terms of the small percentage of fees that go to outside agencies like Planned Parenthood, but IMHO the financial benefits are a very significant factor as well.

Mindset: How Teachers can cultivate a growth mindset in their students

April 13, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:40 AM


Here are ways that teachers can cultivate a growth mindset in their students.

1.  Assign work with meaning and purpose. The growth mindset is a person voyage towards excellent that is unlikely to be motivated by traditional school metrics. Teachers need to have bigger goals than increasing their school's EQAO scores, while students need to have bigger goals than satisfactory marks.

2. Establish schools that are communities of learners. The growth mindset is infectious; since it doesn't require students to prove themselves by winning, growth can be generously shared. The feeling of connection in an academic community can empower every member. But such an intellectual community must start with the teachers, administrators, and staff demonstrating and modeling their own journey of learning.

3.  Give students a sense of independence and agency. The students must feel they are in charge of their own learning, that their success is the result of their own efforts - as opposed to extern factors. Educators must become mentors and coaches, rather than authorities and supervisors.

4.  Give students authentic feedback. Obviously, it is painful to tell a student that he or she is underperforming, and schools find many ways to avoid this. But the growth mindset relies on honest evaluations and frank criticism.

5.  Teach the harsh realities of learning. The first step is never easy. Some things are out of your control. Not everyone will support you. Everything is harder than it looks. The building blocks - memorizing facts and drilling algorithms - are as criticial for academics as they are for sports. Our society, for some reason, values 'effortless' success and celebrates the gifted - but we aren't honest about the hard work involved in achieving excellence.

6.  Celebrate failure, because that is how we learn. There is no learning involved in popping out the right answer - only evidence of previous hard work. It is when we don't know the answer or can't solve the problem that learning happens. Send those who know the answers on to struggle with harder problems.

7.  Most importantly, teach that ability and intelligence is something you build and grow, not something that comes naturally. Teach the growth mindset in every lesson, in every task, in every activity.

Sunday at the Movies (Carol Dweck on the Power of Yet)

April 12, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:52 AM

Mindsets: A Great Teacher

April 11, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:23 AM

"Marva Collins taught Chicago children who had been judged and discarded. For many, her classroom was their last stop. One boy had been in and out of thirteen schools in four years. One stabbed children with pencils and had been thrown out of a mental health center. One eight-year-old would remove the blade from the pencil sharpener and cut up his classmates' coats, hats, gloves, and scarves. One child referred to killing himself in almost every sentence. One hit another student with a hammer on his first day. These children hadn't learned much in school, but everyone knew it was their own fault. Everyone but Collins.

"When 60 Minutes did a segment on Collins's classroom, Morley Safer tried his best to get a child to say he didn't like the school. 'It's so hard here. There's no recess. There's no gym. They work you all day. You have only forty minutes for lunch. Why do you like it? It's just too hard.' But the student replied, 'That's why I like it, because it makes your brains bigger.'

"Chicago Sun-Times writer Zay Smith interviewed one of the children: 'We do hard things here. They fill your brain.'

"As Collins looks back on how she got started, she says, 'I have always been fascinated with learning, with the process of discovering something new, and it was exciting to share in the discoveries made by my . . . students.' On the first day of school, she always promised her students - all students - that they would learn. She forged a contract with them.

'I know most of you can't spell your name. You don't know the alphabet, you don't know how to read, you don't know homonyms or how to syllabicate. I promise you that you will. None of you has ever failed. School may have failed you. Well, goodbye to failure, children. Welcome to success. You will read hard books in here and understand what you read. You will write every day . . . But you must help me to help you. If you don't give anything, don't expect anything. Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.'

"Her joy in her students' learning was enormous. As they changed from children who arrived with 'toughened faces and glassed-over eyes' to children who were beginning to brim with enthusiasm, she told them, 'I don't know what St. Peter has planned for me, but you children are giving me my heaven on earth.'"

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