Well. Said.

I found this video and short article and had to share it. Chris Lehmann is the principal at Science Leadership Academy. I highly respect the work Chris has done in cultivating the community they call SLA. I am proud to call him a friend, and one of these days we will be able to schedule Chris into coming south to Texas to share some of his work with us personally.

Re-Education | youngandthewireless.com from News21 – S.I. Newhouse School on Vimeo.

While reporting on youth and technology in Philadelphia, one thing we reported on more than anything was education and the city’s school system.

Meet Marcie Hull. She is the technology coordinator and the digital arts teacher at Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a brand-new, one-to-one-laptop Philadelphia magnet school for science, technology, mathematics, and entrepreneurship.

Around the country, educators like Hull are trying whatever they can think of to reform (inner-city) public school systems and boost up standardize test scores.

The one-to-one laptop initiative is one of many recent examples.

Since the new millennium started, Philadelphia has been going through one of the most aggressive and ambitious school reform in the country.

And while reporting in Philly, we spent lots of hours in lots of schools all around the city witnessing this colossal enterprise.

These were mostly inner-city schools, with all the problems of typical inner-city schools: guettoization, extreme poverty, lousy school infrastructure, broken homes, neighborhood rivalry, teen pregnancy, gang activities, violence, drugs etc.

SLA was different: it wasn’t just the curriculum, the building, or the demographics of the student body. It wasn’t even the exceptionally high-and-soaring test scores.

So why in the end this school enjoyed so much more success than many other public schools in Philadelphia?

At first glance, the school appears to be a vivid symbol of what could be achieve with technology.

“But it’s not about technology,” Hull says.

Paradoxically, the idea behind a technological school like SLA is that it is not about technology.

Teachers at SLA built their curriculum around one main pillar: relationships

“The first thing we teach our student,” Hull says, “is the ethic of care. You have to care about somebody.”

It has become the school’s mantra.

And in fact, the most striking thing about the SLA is that it is an exceptionally happy school. There’s no other way to describe it. Everything is happy.

A lot of it has to do with the educators that work there: visionaries, relentless out-of-the-box thinkers, with boundless passion for kids. People like Hull and the philosophy they bring to the classroom and its students.

All were committed to raise student achievement level. All were educators that care.

And in many regards, these educators are changing the way school classroom instruction is done around the country.

A school without walls is how Hull describes it.

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This is a video from youngandthewireless.com, a newhouse.syr.edu and news21.com project.

My Thoughts on Literacy and Publishing to the Web

Photo Credit: Behrooz Nobakht

Today, someone posted a question on a list serve I subscribe to. Being a longtime literacy teacher, it struck a cord with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on both the question posed and my reply.

Her query:

We have a teacher who just started a literature circles blog where her 5th graders will discuss various novels. She mentioned that she is in the process of figuring out how to edit (correct) what they have written before she posts their comments. What do you all think about this? She has encouraged her students – and stated in the rules for the blog – that they are to use correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. If they do not, should the teacher make corrections before she publishes their comments? I’d appreciate any input that you can offer. Thanks.

My response:

Like Miguel, I’m a literacy teacher (but I’m not old 😉 ). I have extensive training in both New Jersey Writing and National Writing Project. I’ve studied just about every aspect of the writing process you can. While I can care less about state tests, I recall maybe one failure in the 7th grade writing test in my classes over a 10+ years at that the middle school.

All of that to say this: mistakes are an important part of the writing (learning) process. If we cannot let our kids make mistakes safely and learn from them, then we are not doing it correctly. Yes, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important. No, they should not be the deciding factor between publishing or not. Mini lessons are meant to help in these such events. How do you fix the errors unless the kids recognize them themselves and buy-in to fixing them. 

Agreed, we do not publish the street lingo stuff (unless it directly pertains to the final product for a reason, see this for example: http://sites.google.com/site/bchscivics/unit/2-3-birth-of-a-nation/john-adams—4 ).

Consider that textbook companies publish and sell (with your tax dollars footing the bill) textbooks that are loaded with mistakes. They make it a multi-billion dollar industry. We teach our kids from mistake laden books.

So, remind your teacher that it is okay to let the “kids run with scissors” (credit to Gretchen Bernabei on the quote). Our students publish all of the time. The great thing about a blog is that it allows for editing. We all love to think we are perfect the first time, but we’re not. If it is a genuine effort to reach the publishing stage, then we publish. Anything less is cheating the child out of a learning experience.

Quick anecdote. One of the first collaborative literacy tools we used in class was a wiki. The kids grouped up and studied certain topics to present to the class via the wiki. I subscribed to the wiki so that I would know what was happening on it. One Saturday night, my email box begins loading up with “edit” emails. Someone was messing around on the wiki and changing things left and right. My first thought was a kid was thinking they could mess stuff up without getting caught. So, I went to the wiki to check it all out. It ended up being an Asian ESL student who was correcting spelling and such for my American students…ON A SATURDAY NIGHT. You cannot get them to do it on command, but they’ll do it if they OWN it. He owned it. He realized the errors in the group’s work. He edited it. We all learned from it (including the students who had their work corrected).

So, let them run with scissors.

Feel free to correct, chastise, or educate me.