Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Parents Choosing To Home-School Children

WIS-TV Columbia, SC (12/28, Pulliam) reported on its Website, "The number of parents choosing to home-school their children is growing. ... The US Department of Education believes nearly 2 million children are being home-schooled nationwide, a 74% jump since 1999." WIS added, "According to the Education Department, 36% of parents take their child out of school for religious reasons. Another 38% either don't like the school environment or the way the teacher is teaching."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Philadelphia School District Facing Deficit Of Up To $500 Million

The Philadelphia Daily News (12/22) reported, "With the loss of power of some of their biggest supporters in Harrisburg and the end of the cushion of federal stimulus money, the School District of Philadelphia is staring down a huge budget hole. District officials said last night that next fiscal year's shortfall will be $234 million, all from the loss of stimulus dollars, but district sources with knowledge of the budget have placed the gap at more than $400 million." According to the Daily News, "A worst-case scenario has it reaching above $500 million, sources say."

Report: California Teacher Shortage Persists

The San Jose Mercury News (12/26) reported, "California's teaching work force is running on empty, according to a new report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. The report – 'California's Teaching Force 2010: Key Issues and Trends' -- says the number of public schoolteachers has reached a decade low in the state, and the job is getting less attractive amid state budget cuts. The budget problems have boosted class sizes, interfered with teacher training and reduced support from school counselors, nurses and aides, according to the report. 'The disinvestment in building a top quality teacher work force is at odds with rising demands for students' academic success,' Margaret Gaston, president and executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, said in a news release."

Maryland District's Decision To Focus More On Math Basics Sparks Controversy

The Washington Post (12/23, Birnbaum) reported that in November, the Montgomery County, MD district "announced that it would significantly curtail its practice of pushing large numbers of elementary and middle school students to skip grade levels in math. Parents had questioned the payoff of acceleration; teachers had said students in even the most advanced classes were missing some basics." According to the Post, "Math education experts say schools too often zoom through as many topics as possible, instead of lingering in depth on the basics. Advocates of the new standards adopted by the District and by Maryland and most other states - but not Virginia - say they will streamline math topics and make education more consistent."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Teen Birthrate Hits Record Low

The Washington Post (12/22, Stein) reports, "The rate at which US women are having babies continued to fall between 2008 and 2009, federal officials reported Tuesday, pushing the teen birthrate to a record low and prompting a debate about whether the drop was caused by the recession, an increased focus on encouraging abstinence, more adolescents using birth control or a combination of those factors. The birthrate among US girls ages 15 to 19 fell from 41.5 to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens - a 6 percent drop to the lowest rate in the nearly 70 years the federal government has been collecting reliable data, according to a preliminary analysis of the latest statistics."

Education Department Investigating California District's Handling Of Bullying Claim

The AP (12/22, Leff) reports, "Federal education officials are investigating a school district in a Central California town where a 13-year-old boy committed suicide after allegedly being harassed by classmates because he was gay, a spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan confirmed Tuesday. The probe was launched in response to a complaint from Seth Walsh's mother that Tehachapi Unified School District employees failed to adequately address the years of bullying that preceded her son's death last Sept. 28, spokesman Justin Hamilton said." The AP adds, "Seth was one of at least seven gay teenagers whose suicides this fall - all occurring within a month - focused renewed attention on the pain inflicted by peers who mock other children because of their sexual orientations."


The Bakersfield Californian (12/22, Barrientos) reports, "Education and legal officials confirmed Tuesday that the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Tehachapi Unified School District's handling of bullying claims connected with the death of Seth Walsh, who hanged himself in September after complaining about being harassed because of his sexuality. The investigation is perhaps the first time the department has investigated a gender harassment, bullying claim since October, when it sent out letters to school districts setting guidelines for bullying prevention and warning of reprimands to those who didn't follow them."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teachers "turned on" to learning truly teach their students

"Successful schools share a number of attributes—good leadership, a common vision that makes a climate of learning the highest priority, teachers who use best practices, an effective accountability system, and parent involvement. An attribute less frequently discussed is the manner in which teachers and staff pursue their professional development.

Would making the school a learning community—one that encourages teachers and staff to grow personally and professionally—benefit the students? Would a school with great teachers be more likely to become a learning community?"

Read more of this article by Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor in the School of Education University of Wisconsin Milwauke in online.

Schools ride the social media wave using educational sites

Students at Westwood Elementary School in St. Cloud, Minnesota, work on projects such as researching the Underground Railroad, reading a book on the subject and writing thoughts about each chapter using a computer program called Weebly. They can work on their project at home, share pages with friends, and update it with photos relevant to the story.

It's part of the social media trend that is taking shape in Minnesota schools. As St. Cloud schools work to finish the region's first technology policy that includes guidelines for staff and classroom use of social media, teachers are already using some sites to enhance learning and engage computer-savvy students.

What's not being used are the ubiquitous websites such as Facebook, Twitter and My Space, but educational sites and programs that most people outside of schools have never heard of. In fact, many schools block the popular social media sites and St. Cloud's proposed policy requires the superintendent's approval for use in the classroom. Among the names popping up in area classrooms instead are Moodle, Edmodo, and Weebly. Read more in the St. Cloud Times online.

Kids' books go online for interactivity

"Staying ahead of the younger generation isn't easy for the book publishing industry," writes Lynn Neary for NPR. "Kids adapt easily when new devices come along, and they are often the earliest adopters of new technology." With that in mind, children's book publishers are enticing young readers with books that include web-based games, interactive websites, and even videos.

For instance, Scholastic's popular 39 Clues series involves readers in solving a mystery using books, cards, and an interactive website. Meanwhile, Fourth Street Media, in partnership with HarperTeen, has developed a multiplatform series called The Amanda Project aimed at teenage girls. Read the full article or listen to the story online at this webpage.

LATimes Warns State Schools Face Serious Funding Crisis

The Los Angeles Times (12/20) says in an editorial that California public schools "have been backed into a corner. Until Gov.-elect Jerry Brown spoke last week about how shocking the state's budget crisis is, and how yet more of the financial pain might fall on schools, the state had been pretending that education was going on as usual, with some snips and some trims and some new freedom to spend sums previously earmarked for specific programs. But that is a gross understatement of the severe problems facing California's schools, and we're no longer at the point where they can make their finances whole by cutting extraneous items and putting the administrative budget on a diet." The public "must be made aware that there is a yawning gap between what it thinks schools can deliver and what schools can pay for with current funding."

California Teaching Force Shrinks, As K-12 Population Set To Grow

The San Jose Mercury News (12/19, Noguchi) reported, "Just as California's K-12 population is beginning to nudge up, the state is poised to lose a wave of teachers to baby-boomer retirements, layoffs and burnout. Meanwhile, the number of people seeking teaching credentials to fill those spots is dropping dramatically. ... It all feeds concern that California -- whose school-age population is predicted to grow 4 percent in eight years -- will soon lack an adequate pool of qualified teachers, particularly those who can teach science, math and elementary school."

Friday, December 17, 2010

World summit on teaching profession planned

Education ministers, national union leaders, education organization leaders, and accomplished teachers from countries with high-performing and rapidly improving educational systems will gather at an International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City, March 16-17, 2011, to identify best practices worldwide that effectively promote, elevate, and enhance the teaching profession. OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will join leaders from Education International (EI), together with the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Asia Society, and public broadcaster WNET, to host the event.

"The prosperity of our nations depends on whether we succeed to attract the brightest minds into the teaching profession and the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms," said OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría. Much of the discussion will revolve around OECD's recently released PISA survey of reading literacy

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Philadelphia School District Signs Safety Pact With Justice Department

The Washington Post (12/16, Thompson) reports, "A year after more than two dozen Asian American students were attacked at a high school in South Philadelphia, the Justice Department has reached an agreement with school officials there, resolving a high-profile investigation into school bullying." Under the agreement, the district must "hire a consultant focused on preventing harassment and discrimination." The Post adds that the pact "will serve as a nationwide standard for school systems trying to prevent bullying."


The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/15, Graham) reported that other provisions in the agreement include "strict guidelines on how racial harassment complaints must be handled at the school going forward, what translation services must be provided to immigrant students and their parents, and what training must be given to staff and students."

The AP (12/16) adds that the Philadelphia district "acknowledged no wrongdoing in signing the settlements with both the Justice Department and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission."

Top 10 library-related stories for 2010 named

What are the top 10 stories pertaining to libraries in 2010? Here's a hint: they include stories about Wikileaks, the Google eBookstore, the role of libraries for those seeking employment during the recession, and more. To access the full list, click this link from LISNews.

Your e-reader has its eye on you

E-books are quickly going mainstream: They represent nearly one out of 10 trade books sold. It's easy to imagine a near future in which paper books are the exception, not the norm. But are book lovers ready to have their reading tracked?

Most e-readers, like Amazon's Kindle, have an antenna that lets users instantly download new books. But the technology also makes it possible for the device to transmit information back to the manufacturer. "They know how fast you read because you have to click to turn the page," says Cindy Cohn, legal director at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It knows if you skip to the end to read how it turns out."

And it's not just what pages you read; it may also monitor where you read them. Kindles, iPads and other e-readers have geo-location abilities; using GPS or data from Wi-Fi and cell phone towers, it wouldn't be difficult for the devices to track their own locations in the physical world. Listen to the story or read it at

Should kids' picture books be read on e-readers?

"E-readers will be good for certain kinds of reading experiences but not others." It seemed we all agreed on that from the moment we took that first Kindle out of its box, writes Marjorie Kehe. And beautifully illustrated books were among the experiences we didn't expect to enjoy on our e-readers.

Think again. There was the iPad, there was the Nook Color, and now here's Apple announcing a "major push" (as reported in The New York Times) into illustrated books. According to the Times, Apple is introducing more than 100 titles to its iBookstore, including "children's books, photography books ... cookbooks" and "[s]ome of the most popular children's picture books of all time."

Is it a good thing for children's books? From an economic point of view, it should be a slam dunk. But read on in The Christian Science Monitor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Study Shows Ways Flu Can Spread In A High Schools.

WLS-TV Chicago, IL (12/14) reported that a new study from Penn State University published online in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," indicates that there are "more than 750,000 opportunities for the [flu] to spread daily" in high schools nationwide. "The main reason is because teachers, students and staff are in close proximity which makes it easy to spread the illness."


Health Day (12/14, Goodwin) reported that the study was conducted "by outfitting students and teachers with wireless sensors," simulating "how the flu might spread through a typical American high school." Researchers then "ran computer simulations using the 'contact network' data collected at the high school" and found that "their predictions for how many would fall ill closely matched absentee rates during the actual H1N1 flu pandemic in the fall of 2009."

California Teachers, Education Officials Suggest Alternatives To School Budget Cuts

Bloomberg News (12/15, Palmeri) reports that during a two-hour forum held Tuesday, "California teachers and school administrators asked Governor-elect Jerry Brown (D) to increase taxes and refrain from cutting their budgets." Brown convened the meeting to discuss "closing projected [state] deficits of $28.1 billion" in the next year-and-a-half. Tom Torlakson, superintendent-elect of the Education Department says that "California voters have approved $82 billion of education- related bond issues since June 2003, illustrating 'a sign of support from the local community.'" At the meeting local school officials suggested that more available funds "be devoted to online education" and that Race to the Top funding "be shifted to a national program that aids poorer school districts."


The Los Angeles Times (12/14) "PolitiCal" blog reported that state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who was also at the meeting, "grew visibly frustrated by some of the comments about increasing funding on programs such as online education, given the gravity of the state's financial hole." Lockyear proposed 25 percent cuts "across the board." The PolitiCal blog added that "Educators appeared shaken by Lockyer's remarks." David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, is quoted as saying, "There is no more meat on this bone to carve, the only thing left is amputation."


The San Francisco Chronicle (12/14, Buchanan) also reported that "Education leaders at the event pleaded for flexibility from the state regulations and laws that force districts to spend money on certain programs. Several people also said that education spending had suffered enough from budget cuts over previous years and that Brown should look elsewhere for savings."

US Education Lag Attributed To Focus On Intelligence Rather Than Hard Work

Educator and author Jonathan Zimmerman writes in the Christian Science Monitor (12/15) that "a standardized test administered to 15-year-olds in over 60 countries," in which "the US came in 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math," is being frequently cited as an indicator that something is wrong with the US education system. "There's something to that," Zimmerman writes. "But there's more to it than that. Put simply, Asians believe that hard work is the prime determinant of their success. By contrast, Americans and other Westerners typically ascribe academic performance to innate ability." He cites a study which found that students praised for being "smart" did worse on a test than students praised for being "hard working." Zimmerman writes, "The moral of these stories seems clear: If you want kids to succeed, don't talk about their intelligence." Instead, he argues, encourage them to work hard.

California's Teacher Force Shrinking, Report Says

The AP (12/15) reports, "The number of public school teachers has reached a decade-low in California, and the job is getting less attractive amid state budget cuts," according to a new study released Monday by the nonprofit Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. The number of teachers in the state has dropped from 310,361 in 2008 to a 10-year low of "just under 300,000 this year," the report says. The Sacramento Bee (12/14, Gutierrez) reported that the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning attributes the drop to "massive cuts to education over the past three years" that "have made it difficult for teachers to meet rising expectations."


The Bakersfield Californian (12/15) editorializes that the reduction in California's teaching force is "an alarming trend, made worse by our longstanding tendency as Americans to undervalue the honorable profession of teaching." The Californian asserts, therefore, "We need to chip away at that perception before we're forced to put automatons in charge of packed classrooms."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Study proclaims value of school libraries

The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) has published findings from Phase 1 of its study One Common Goal: Student Learning, which shows that New Jersey school library programs staffed by certified school librarian media specialists are cost-effective in helping students achieve higher standards and are critical for the intellectual, social, and cultural development of students.

"School librarians have known for a long time that we contribute to student learning," said Judith Everitt, president of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL). "An already large body of research shows a strong positive correlation between student achievement on standardized tests and well-funded school library programs provided by certified school library media specialists."

The study found that librarians help students to master content knowledge, develop the ability to manage inquiry and research processes, become competent in deriving information from a range of resources, and develop the critical thinking processes of analyzing, organizing, and synthesizing information and representing the resulting knowledge in a variety of ways. For more information about this study, read the full news release or visit the NJASL website.

California District Mulls Over How To Place New Teachers Hired With Edujobs Funding

The Palo Alto (CA) Daily News (12/14, Eslinger) reports, "Months after it had to lay off about 35 teachers, the Redwood City School District has received enough one-time federal funds to hire 20 or so teachers for the rest of the school year." District officials will meet Wednesday to discuss "the best way to use the new teachers." According to the Daily News, "the district wants the new hires to help current teachers," but the teachers union "wants the new teachers to be given their own classrooms" so that "class sizes overall could shrink closer to pre-layoff levels." Deputy Superintendent John Baker told the Daily News that "moving students into new classes mid-year could be 'somewhat stressful' for" students. Meanwhile, Bret Baird, vice president of the Redwood City Teachers Association, said, "If it's done right, I don't believe it's so traumatic. ... The kids would get more individualized attention for the rest of the year."

Some Schools Allow Students To Check Out Laptop Computers From Library

Fort Bend (TX) Now (12/14) reports on a laptop checkout program launched by the Fort Bend Independent School District at seven elementary, middle, and high schools. "Each school will receive twelve netbooks which" students can check out from the library "to take the netbook home overnight to complete assignments, work on technology literacy skills, or access provided tutorial content." The computers are all "equipped with a full suite of district approved applications for student use, inclusive of filtered web browsing through Internet Explorer." Bob Arena, Principal at Jones Elementary School, is quoted as saying, "The Check It Out program will help open doors that have previously been closed for some students." Fort Bend Now notes that the school district chose schools for the program "based on technology literacy assessment scores along with economic need."

More States Allowing Students To Waive Physical Education Classes

USA Today (12/14, Schulte, Dooley) reports that even with "growing concerns about obesity among young people, the number of states that allow students to waive or substitute physical education classes has grown from 27 to 32 since 2006" according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). Instead of taking physical education classes, students in these states can "enroll in interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading or other activities." Stephen Jefferies, a public health professor at Central Washington University, said that "the increase in waivers" come from "efforts within school districts to save money." Meanwhile, "The number of states that allow waivers for health issues, disabilities or religious reasons has risen from 18 to 30 since 2006." Online physical education is also an option in some schools. These classes "combine study about health and nutrition with exercise students do on their own."

Study Says Low-Performing Public Schools Stay Open For Years With Little Improvement

Education Week (12/14) reports that according to a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Basis Policy Research in North Carolina, "the lowest-performing public K-8 schools often linger in that state for years, neither improving enough to get off accountability life support nor being shuttered completely." The study also found that "persistently failing charter schools fare no better than regular public schools." Researchers looked at low-performing K-8 schools "in the 10 biggest charter school states: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin" and also found that "charters were more likely than noncharter public schools to improve moderately rather than dramatically, but only 9 percent of either group of schools made at least moderate improvement." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (12/14, Richards) also covers the story.

Michigan District Launches "Classrooms Of The Future"

The Grand Rapids (MI) Press (12/14, Scott) reports that Rockford Public Schools has launched six "Classrooms of the Future" this school year – "two each at the elementary, middle and high school." These classrooms differ from others because they are "set-up to foster collaboration and communication." For instance, instead of sitting in "single desks lined up in a row," students in classrooms of the future sit "face to face at tables of five or six at each four points with interactive whiteboards at three different angles." The school district "set aside $500,000 in a prior bond issue to assist with" creating the classrooms. "It is partnering with [the company] Steelcase, which reached out to the district to be a prototype to gather data on how the learning environment and student achievement."

Obama Signs Child Nutrition Bill

The Washington Post (12/14, Henderson) reports, that President Obama on Monday signed into law the child nutrition bill, "capping months of advocacy by the first lady as part of her efforts to reduce childhood obesity." The legislation "will expand the number of children in school lunch programs by 115,000, increase the reimbursement rate to school districts for meals by six cents, and replace the junk food available outside the cafeteria, such as in vending machines, with more healthful options."


The Los Angeles Times (12/14, Muskal) reports that "the bill reauthorizes the federal nutrition program, a $4.5-billion measure that expands free school meals for the needy." First Lady Michelle Obama with regard to the bill, "We can agree that in the wealthiest nation on earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow. ... Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing."


USA Today (12/14) reports that when he signed the new law at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington, D.C., "President Obama paid joking tribute to its most prominent supporter: first lady Michelle Obama. 'Not only am I very proud of the bill,' the president said, 'but had I not been able to get this passed, I would be sleeping on the couch.'"


CNN (12/14) also quotes the President as saying that "the bill is about 'giving our kids the healthy futures they deserve. ... Right now across the country too many kids don't have access to school meals.'" He added that "even when they do...too often the meals aren't sufficiently nutritious."


Education Week (12/14) reports that "part of the child-nutrition law has been paid for through a $2 billion cut to the nation's food-stamp program, an offset opposed by advocacy groups like the Food Research and Action Center in Washington and the School Nutrition Association, a coalition of school food-service directors based in Oxon Hill, Md." The groups say, however, that the administration has assured them that it "will work to recover funds for food stamps, which is the largest nutrition program administered by the Agriculture Department." AFP (12/14), the Grand Rapids Press (12/14, Murray), the Seattle Times (12/14), the New York Daily News (12/14, Bazinet), the MSNBC (12/14) "First Read" blog, and the PBS (12/14, Devore) "NewsHour" blog also cover the story.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poll: More Adults See Parents As To Blame For Problems With US Education Than Teachers

The AP (12/12, Blankenship) reports, "Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home." Results from a poll by the AP and Stanford University show that "68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what's wrong with the US education system." In comparison only 35 percent of those polled say teachers "deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame." The AP also points out that "those who said parents are to blame were more likely to cite a lack of student discipline and low expectations for students" and "fighting and low test scores as big problems."


California Judges Can Order Parenting Classes With Teen Gang Crime Convictions. The AP (12/12, Watkins) reports that under a new law in California, judges have "the option of sending parents for training when their kids are convicted of gang crimes for the first time." The Parent Accountability Act became effective last January, but "budget cuts in Sacramento meant implementation of the classes was delayed and only in the past month or so have they been rolled out on a limited basis in the Los Angeles Unified School District." The AP added that eventually, parents will be expected to pay a $20 fee for the classes, but that "is being waived for now to draw more participants. If parents fail to attend, they could be held in contempt of court."

Los Angeles Public Schools To Consider Loosening Restrictions On Corporate Advertising

The AP (12/13) reports that "the cash-strapped Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is considering raising funds by turning to corporate sponsors." Current district policy bans "corporate advertising on campuses", but the school board plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss loosen the restrictions. "Under the new rules, selected companies would be able to place logos on everything from sports fields to cafeterias."


The Pasadena Star-News (12/12, Llanos) reported that "the plan could raise $18 million a year - money that would go directly to athletic programs and extracurricular activities that face the chopping block." However, say LAUSD officials, "they will not permit direct advertisement on campuses" and "they will screen sponsors carefully so corporate messages don't conflict with district policy."

Study: Student Feedback Key To Gauging Teacher Effectiveness

The New York Times (12/11, Dillon) reports that that "views of public school students about their teachers" are very "useful, according to preliminary results released on Friday from a $45 million research project that is intended to find new ways of distinguishing good teachers from bad. Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research." According to the Times, "The research is part of the $335 million Gates Foundation effort to overhaul the personnel systems in those districts."


The St. Petersburg (FL) Times (12/11, Marshall) adds that the Gates Foundation-funded student involved videotaping "teachers in seven urban school districts across the country, including Hillsborough County [FL], to find out what makes them effective. Even before that videotaping has been completed or analyzed, the study's use of surveys suggests that students can be useful reporters on what's going on in their classrooms." The Times added, "The study is also being conducted in Memphis, Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., Denver, New York, and Pittsburgh."

Florida Teachers Fit Cursive Into School Day

The St. Petersburg Times (12/13, Logan) reports that in Florida, cursive writing instruction requirements were written into the state education standards in 2007. And now, cursive must be taught beginning in third grade. By the time students reach fifth grade, they are expected to achieve fluency. In order to fit cursive lessons into a packed school day, "some teachers send practice handwriting worksheets for homework, and others include handwriting during bell work, the 30-minute period before school officially begins." Even as early as kindergarten, some students "spend about 15 minutes a day on print handwriting and learning basic letters." Steve Graham, an education professor at Vanderbilt University, said that "good handwriting is key to better writing overall" and "Once writing becomes automatic, students" can spend more time focusing "on putting thoughts on paper."

NEA creates new panel to study teaching profession

The National Education Association (NEA) announced that it is creating a national, independent commission to study the teaching profession and to make recommendations on maximizing teacher and teaching effectiveness. The new Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) will use the wisdom and experience of 21 accomplished teachers (supported by researchers, policymakers, and academicians) who will examine the policies and practices governing the teaching profession and craft a new teacher-centered vision of teaching and the teaching profession. The panel will be chaired by Madaline "Maddie" Fennel, 2007 Nebraska Teacher of the Year and fourth-grade teacher from Omaha, Nebraska. For more information about CETT, visit the NEA website.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Parents embrace documentary on pressures of school

A new documentary titled "Race to Nowhere" examines the pressures students face in schools today. The documentary was created by Vicki Abeles, a middle-aged mother and first-time filmmaker who decided to make "Race to Nowhere," when a doctor said that her then-12-year-old daughter's stomachaches were being caused by stress from school. The film portrays the pressures when schools pile on hours of homework and coaches turn sports into year-round obligations.

A student in the film tells of borrowing her friend's prescription for Adderall to juggle her many commitments. "It's hard to be the vice president of your class, play on the soccer team, and do homework," she says.

"Race to Nowhere" had a one-week run in two theaters, in New York and Los Angeles, but it has primarily been screened by community groups in school auditoriums, churches, and temples. Read the full article by Trip Gabriel from The New York Times
online. Also visit the "Race to Nowhere" 
website to find out about screenings in your area and other information about the documentary.

New holiday tradition revolves around reading

Amy Dickinson, author of the "Ask Amy" column in The Washington Post, is asking families to participate in her "A Book on Every Bed" campaign. The idea of this campaign is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children and also to encourage families to share books by reading aloud. All you have to do is take a book, wrap it, and place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing she or he sees on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate). It's that simple.

Dickinson is working with the Family Reading Partnership to spread the word about the importance of reading with children. The goal is for a million American children to wake up to find a wrapped book on their beds. To read the full article, visit The Washington Post

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pennsylvania school district adapts to influx of immigrant students

The influx of Spanish-speakers to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, gained national attention when its mayor tried to punish landlords who rented to illegal immigrants. But it's not just the adults who are changing the area's demographics, according to a report by Elizabeth Fiedler of WHYY News. 

The Hazleton School District has the challenging task of educating a flood of students who are not fluent in  English. The district's approach has not been bilingual education or a "sink or swim" immersion into regular classrooms. Read about what the district is doing to reach students and their parents or listen to interviews at Newsworks, the online site of WHYY News.

Google launches online bookstore

Google has launched its long-awaited e-book-only bookstore putting, it in competition with Amazon, Apple, and Borders for the electronic book market. The store is only available to U.S. customers to begin with, and Google claims that it will have the largest electronic book catalog with more than 3 million titles. However, only about 200,000 of these books are from licensed book publishers. About 2.8 million of the books are no longer under copyright in the U.S., and Google has scanned them from university libraries as part of its controversial Google Books project.

In response to this project, Amazon told a federal court that allowing Google to scan and sell millions of out-of-print books whose copyright owners can't be found gives Google an unfair advantage in the electronic book market. Amazon's objection comes even though Google has offered to let Amazon and other booksellers sell these books as well. These controversial books will not be available in the bookstore until a federal court judge in Manhattan makes a ruling.

To learn more, read the full article by Ryan Singel from Wired online.

Purdue Develops New Courses For Computer Science Teachers

The Brazil (IN) Times (12/8) reported, "Faculty from Purdue's Department of Computer Science and College of Education worked together to develop two new courses and create a computer science teaching supplemental licensure program for education majors. The program is part of Purdue's National Science Foundation-funded Computer Science for the Education project that is part of a national initiative to expand by 2015 the number of high school educators who are qualified to teach computer science." One course, "Contemporary Issues in Computing," considers "how computing affects everyone in society and what the implications are for the future. " The second, "Methods of Teaching Computer Science," focuses on "effective techniques for teaching computational thinking and presents the latest research on how to teach computing concepts and programming skills." The students will also "take four computer science courses in programming, discrete mathematics and data structures and algorithms to fulfill the program requirements."

Programs Encourage Elementary Students To Set College Goals

Education Week (12/7, Adams) reported, "In the push to boost college-completion rates, high schools have often been the focus of college-readiness efforts, but now the reach is going even deeper into middle and elementary schools. Some educators feel it's too late in high school to start introducing the concepts of college, high expectations, and academic achievement." Thus, programs "are emerging to instill in young children the belief that they can go to college and promote the work ethic needed to make it."

Middle School In Memphis "Urkels" Students With Sagging Pants

KETK-TV Tyler, Texas (12/9) reports that Bobby White, principal of Westside Middle School in Memphis, Tennessee, has "combined a popular TV character, an award system, and zip ties to turn [the school] into a no-sagging zone." Now, "staff members walk the halls with zip ties" and when they find a student wearing saggy pants, they tie up the extra fabric, turning the student "into television character Steve Urkel. The popular character's style of dress is now a verb at Westside Middle School." Student Keldrion Vann told KETK, "It's pretty embarrassing. ... They can put your pants as high as your chest." After Westside started "Urkling" students, it saw a more than 80 percent "drop in the number of people" needing to be zip tied, said teacher Shaka Greene. Greene, KETK adds, "is the reigning 'Urkel' award champ. The teacher started 'Urkeling' up to 80 students a week," and "in five weeks, that number dropped to 18."


Texas' American Statesman (12/8) "Homeroom" blog noted that Westside Middle "even has a 'Steve Urkel: War Against Saggy Pants' wall, in which students...caught violating the dress code are displayed with their pants cinched all the way up." Columnist James E. Causey also covered the story in his Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (12/8) "Uncommon Causey" blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Apply for NEA Youth Leaders for Literacy grants

The National Education Association (NEA) has partnered with Youth Service America to offer Youth Leaders for Literacy grants. These grants will be used to support service-learning projects focused on increasing young people's interest in reading and improving literacy in schools and communities. Successful projects will be youth-led and address an established literacy need in the applicant's school or community. The projects will launch on NEA's Read Across America Day on March 2 and end on Global Youth Service Day April 15-17.

Youth Leaders for Literacy will award $500 grants to 30 young people from across the U.S. Youth ages 5-25 from any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia are eligible to apply along with an adult ally. The application deadline is midnight January 5, 2011. For more information about the grants and the application, visit the Youth Service America website.

New reading curriculum encourages teachers' creativity

Milwaukee Public Schools adopted a new district-wide reading curriculum in July. Previously, there were 17 reading programs in place in its 184 schools. The new curriculum calls for 90-minute reading and 60-minute writing blocks every day and teachers are encouraged to find fun and creative ways to make a love of reading contagious and to integrate other subject areas into the reading and writing blocks.

The curriculum is still in its early days with no results data to track yet, and certainly, with more than 5,000 teachers and principals in the district, not everyone will likely agree on it, writes Bobby Tanzilo in Some educators have intimated that the extra work required by the new curriculum -- along with the expected inertia that comes with changing familiar systems -- has led to skepticism among some teachers. However, even they are quick to point out that kids have taken to the curriculum quickly and that response has helped bolster support. Read more in the Kids & Family section of

Blog: Teachers created standards now used against them

On her "Answer Sheet" blog for The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss hosts two guest writers who believe that teachers helped enable the accountability movement "that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse," writes educational author Mark Pennington. "The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched." His comments are followed by remarks by author Maya Wilson, who agrees that teachers "created standards... that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests. Read the entire post online.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Parents Increasingly Resisting Schools' Requests For Volunteers

The New York Times (12/2, D1, Stout) reported on the front of its "Home & Garden" section that mothers nationwide "are becoming emboldened to push back against the relentless requests from their children's schools for their time." In recent years, "as local and state economies continue to struggle, budget cuts to rich and poor school systems" have increased schools' "reliance on unpaid parent help." Some schools either have or are considering mandatory commitments "to a small amount of volunteer time." According to the Times, "the heightened need and expectations are coming at a time when many parents have less and less time to give." Gary Parkes, the PTA president at Carmel Elementary School in Woodstock, Georgia, told the New York Times, "People are so busy trying to stay afloat, they just do not have as much time as they would like to give."

House Approves Child Nutrition Act

The New York Times (12/3, Pear) reports, "Congress gave final approval on Thursday to a child nutrition bill that expands the school lunch program and sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals, with more fruits and vegetables." The bill championed by First lady Michelle Obama would be financed, in part "by a cut in food stamps starting in several years." The Times adds that President Obama is expected to sign the bill.


The AP (12/3) reports that the bill would expand school lunch and dinner programs to include more children. Some lawmakers say the legislation could help "stem rising health care costs due to expanding American waistlines and to feed hungry children in tough economic times." But opponents are concerned about its costs and say it is "an example of government overreach."


The Christian Science Monitor (12/2, Paulson) reported that "the bill, formally known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, includes some of the biggest changes to the Child Nutrition Act since the program was started nearly half a century ago." It provides "$4.5 billion over 10 years to child nutrition programs – the first time the federal government has increased funding for them in 30 years." Also under the legislation, schools would be reimbursed 6 cents more than the current $2.68 "reimbursement rate...from the federal government for free school meals."


USA Today (12/3, Eisler) adds, "On the safety front, the bill also includes provisions to better train school cafeteria workers and more quickly alert schools that may have received food that has been recalled because of contamination concerns."


Politico (12/3, Phillip) reports that Michelle Obama said Thursday "that she is 'thrilled' that the legislation is close to the finish line. She called it 'a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that will significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity.'" The Chicago Tribune (12/3, Steffen), Reuters (12/3, Abbott), and AFP (12/3) also cover the story.

Eight States Selected For Math And Science Study

The Aurora (CO) Sentinel (12/3) reports, "Colorado will be among eight states to participate in a new math and science study for eighth graders, an assessment that will reach approximately 50 schools in 28 local districts." The 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study will take place next spring, and will compare date from the selected states with "student achievement information from more than 60 countries." Schools in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Carolina were also selected by the Department of Education to take part in the study. Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones said, "Participating in this study will yield that information and we deeply appreciate the cooperation of those districts and schools that have agreed to assist with this study."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Jersey District Named Most Technologically Advanced Mid-Sized School System

New Jersey's News Transcript (12/1) reports that "for the sixth year, the Howell K-8 School District has been named one of the top technologically advanced school districts in the nation" on the 2010 Digital School Districts Survey. For "medium-sized districts nationwide" -- those with 2,500 to 14,999 students -- Howell leads in technology, according to the survey, which "analyzes the use of technology by school boards and school districts to enhance curriculum, engage students, govern the district, communicate with students, parents, staff and the community, and how it is implemented to improve district operations."


New Jersey's Asbury Park Press (11/30, Sapia) reported on some of the technology used in Howell schools. Some "examples include the district's website, creating podcasts, learning robotics, talking digitally from a classroom in one school to one in another school and exchanging e-mails."

Engaging elementary students with primary resources

The Fall 2010 issue of Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Quarterly is now available. The focus of this issue is how teachers can use primary resources—original documents, photographs, music, film, clothing, and other artifacts which were created at the time under study—to engage students in grades K-5. Primary resources are useful in engaging younger students, and helping them to develop new knowledge and critical thinking skills. This issue of TPS Quarterly details strategies and activities for teachers to incorporate primary research into their classrooms. To view this issue, visit the TPS Quarterly

Survey Indicates Improved Academics, Behavior For Students In Single-Gender Classrooms

WLTX-TV Columbia, SC (12/1, Harvin) reports that "a survey released by South Carolina's Department of Education shows single-gender classes have amazing results in boys and girls confidence, motivation and participation." Also, the majority of the nearly 7,000 students who participated in the survey "said the classes have improved their academic performance and classroom attitude," with 79 percent reporting "increases in their classroom effort, and 83 percent" saying "they were more likely to finish high school." Of the 1,120 parents surveyed, 94 percent "said their children were more likely to graduate from high school, and 85 percent of" 760 teachers surveyed said they "saw increases in effort with school work" in single-gender classrooms.


WACH-TV Columbia, SC (12/1, Stone) notes that despite the positive reviews, the number of schools offering single-gender classes in South Carolina has declined over the past two years as a result of budget cuts. "Two years ago 214 schools offered the classes, but that is down to 125 this year."


The AP (11/30, Adcox) adds, however, that South Carolina "still leads the nation in public single-sex programs." On Tuesday, outgoing state Superintendent Jim Rex "cautioned lawmakers not to disrupt what's working." He pointed out that "single-gender is a relatively inexpensive choice to offer, compared to others, but it does require an adequate number of teachers, and some training costs."


The Anderson (SC) Independent Mail (12/1, Carey) quotes Rex as saying, "We've said all along that when it comes to learning, one size does not fit all. ... These results show that the single-gender option works for a lot of students and their families." Reuters (12/1) and WCBD-TV Charleston, SC (12/1, Mitchell) also cover the story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

U.S. graduation rate increases

The high school graduation rate in the United States increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008, according to a new report from America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. While noting that America continues to face a dropout epidemic, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic cites evidence that the nation can improve graduation rates, even in schools from lower-income, urban and rural districts that many previously thought were hopeless. The report also reveals that the number of "dropout factory" high schools fell by 13 percent between 2002 and 2008.

To learn more, visit the America's Promise Alliance website.

Book banning efforts in schools getting more organized

Shortly after the fall semester began this year, Wesley Scroggins, a parent of three in Republic, Missiouri, publicly criticized the local school district for carrying books that he described as soft pornography. "We've got to have educated kids, and we've got to be a moral people," Scroggins said then. "I've been concerned for some time what students in the schools are being taught."

Parents have long raised concerns about school and library books — children's and young adult books, and sometimes dictionaries — often for inappropriate content. The number of reported challenges in the past 30 years has hovered between about 400 or 500 each year, says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the American Library Association. Whereas challenges once were mostly launched by a lone parent, Caldwell-Stone says she has noticed "an uptick in organized efforts" to remove books from public and school libraries.

A number of challenges appear to draw from information provided on websites such as Parents Against Bad Books in Schools, or, and, she says. And the latest wrinkle: A wave of complaints around the nation about inappropriate material in public schools has stirred emotional argument over just how much freedom should be extended to students in advanced courses. Read more in USA Today

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U.S. Department of Education’s annual guide to education programs is now available

The 2010 edition of the annual Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs is now available in hard copy and on CD. This resource discusses how the Department of Education advances its programmatic mission. The guide profiles more than 230 programs and activities including information on funding amounts and the number of grant awards available, program descriptions, types of projects, and more. Get your free copy of the guide online.

Teacher Creates Math Computer Game

The Salt Lake Tribune (11/27, Schencker) reported on a computer math game "being used in a handful of classrooms in and outside of Utah and by a number of Utah home-schoolers. Scott Laidlaw left his job teaching math at a private school in Salt Lake City to create it along with other programs through his new company Imagine Education. He acknowledges it was a risk but said it seemed like one worth taking based on the success of one of his previous math games." In one game called "Ko's Journey," the main character "faces challenges and tasks that require middle-school math, such as ratios, graphing and geometry."

Boston Teens Seek Overhaul Of Sex Education Programs

The Boston Globe (11/28, Vaznis) reported, "A group of Boston teenagers is pushing for free condoms and comprehensive sex education programs at all city high schools in an effort to prevent unexpected pregnancies and reverse an alarming rise in sexually transmitted infections among city teenagers. The students propose that "each city high school...designate a male and female staff member to give out condoms - instead of just health center employees - and" that the high schools "provide a rigorous sexual education program to all students."

Teachers Use Listening Circles To Build Trust Among Classmates

The Los Angeles Times (11/27, Watanabe) reported that at many schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), teachers are using a storytelling "practice known as 'council'" to get students to share their experiences with one another to build trust and strong bonds. The program is based on "speaking and listening circles" long used by "cultures worldwide...most notably, Native Americans." The program that began in Los Angeles public schools in 2006 was "developed by the nonprofit Ojai Foundation." LAUSD chief academic officer Judy Elliott said the program is "a 'very powerful tool' to help students transcend race, gender, disabilities and other dividing lines," and it "gives teachers a strategy to make the curriculum come alive."

Co-Teaching Experiment Combines Three Fifth-Grade Classes

The Hattiesburg (MS) American (11/28, Ciurczak) reported that three fifth-grade teachers at Woodley Elementary School decided at the beginning of the school year to combine their classes and co-teach. "Woodley Elementary is in its first year of school improvement, brought on by low student test scores." Based on "scores from the first round of testing in the Hattiesburg Public School District," the combined class has helped boost achievement. Students in that class "scored highest in the district in language arts on the District Wide Assessment" and "the class also had the only student in the district to score advanced - the highest level possible - on the test." Teacher TaShara Shoemaker credited team teaching for the improvements. "Sometimes you're trying to teach a concept and the kids aren't getting it and we can step in and build on each other's strengths. ... We're better able to teach the whole child," she said.

New Jersey District Declares No D-Grades Policy A Success

The AP (11/29) reports that a "New Jersey school district that eliminated the 'D' grade for students says the change has been a success. The new policy in Mount Olive took effect in September" and it "raised the failure score to anything under a 70 instead of 65." According to the AP, "some school officials and teachers say it's too early to declare the policy a success" noting that "the new policy allows students to retake exams and redo assignments after initial failing grades, often bringing up their scores." The Toronto Star (11/26, Taylor) reported that this year the overall "number of failing students fell to 718 from 1,360 in the first semester of 2009."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Minority Students Become Majority In North Carolina District

North Carolina's News & Observer (11/23, Hui) reported, "For the first time, minority students now account for a majority of the students in the Wake County school system." White students now make up 40.5 percent of the student population in Wake County, down from 51.1 percent last year. "After white students, the next largest group in Wake is black students," making up 24.8 percent of the population. Hispanic students "account for 14.6 percent of the enrollment" and are "the fastest-growing group in the school system."

School Meal Programs Can Help Boost Academic Performance, Report Says

Reuters (11/24, Marcus) reports that school performance of teens living in food-scarce households suffers, but a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics finds that federal school meal programs can reverse this effect. In the study, Christelle Roustit, of the Research Group on the Social Determinants of Health and Healthcare, in Paris, France, analyzed questionnaires given to 2,346 public high school students in Quebec, Canada along with almost 2,000 of the students' parents.

In Reversal Of Longtime Trend, Class Sizes Expected To Grow

Education Week (11/24, Sparks) reports, "After dropping for decades, average class sizes in American schools may be growing again as schools cope with budget shortfalls." According to Education Week, "The national ratio of students to their teachers fell between 1980 and 2008, from 17.6 to 15.8 students per public school teacher, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. ... That number is likely to rise, given states' and districts' financial constraints, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last month at a Washington forum."

Library of Congress lesson plans get new look

The Library of Congress lesson plans, which have been a core part of the Library's teacher resources for more than a decade, are sporting a fresh look and a new address. These lessons, all of which were developed by teachers and tested in classrooms, now have a more consistent structure and a streamlined new look.

Standards and Sharing: Teachers can now find and share Library of Congress teacher resources more easily than ever, thanks to two new tools on the Library's website for teachers.
Searching by Standards: Users can now search all of the Library's classroom materials by state standard. Teachers simply select their grade level, state, and subject taught to discover which of the Library's classroom materials (primary source sets, lesson plans, Collection Connections, presentations, and activities) meet the relevant standards. In addition, each individual teacher resource will have a link that will show which standards it meets.
Sharing Resources: It's now easier for teachers to share and save their favorite Library of Congress teacher resources. Every item on the Library's website for teachers features a sharing toolbar that lets teachers quickly and easily share or bookmark that item via more than ten different Web 2.0 tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. This toolbar also provides easy ways to save, e-mail, and print.

You can access the Library of Congress lesson plans here. The old URLs will only redirect for a few more weeks, so stop by to revisit your favorites and update your bookmarks.

Ten tips for engaging students

When Andrew Marcinek's English 101 class seemed bored and uninterested, he stepped back and reexamined his approach. In his Edutopia blog, Marcinek describes how he established a class wiki and presented the class with some new expectations, many of which involved collaboration. Here's a sampling of the tips: learn beyond the walls, expand your audience, make many mistakes along the way, share, and provide constructive criticism. To learn more, read Marcinek's full blog post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Mustache Movement" At Oregon High School Raises Funds For Cancer Research

KTVL-TV Medford, Oregon (11/22, Villamor) reports, "Many South Medford High School teachers are growing out their facial hair to raise awareness about" prostate cancer. The teachers hope that bringing attention to the issue will help raise money for cancer research. "There are mustache donation jars in some of the classrooms where students have been donating to the cause." Teachers say "the mustache movement" is "a fun way to get students involved." The school has raised $600 so far "for Livestrong and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. They hope to reach their goal of $1000 by the end of the month."

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve "Nation's Toughest" Anti-Bullying Bill

The AP (11/23, Mulvihill) reports, "A law against bullying in schools, which advocates call the nation's toughest because it requires schools to develop anti-harassment programs, was approved Monday in New Jersey. The state General Assembly and Senate both passed the bill overwhelmingly and sent it to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Christie" who said "he hadn't read the bill but that the state's lawyers have raised concerns over whether its provisions infringe on constitutional rights." According to the AP, the "bill would require anti-bullying programs in public schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying."


New Jersey Today (11/22) added that the bill "is the product of nearly a year of research and discussions with top bullying experts, advocates and victims in an effort to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students. ... The legislation will provide school administrators with the tools they need to respond to instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying in a timely and effective manner." Also, "the bill requires annual reporting on bullying instances from schools and districts to be passed up directly to the Commissioner of Education and it grades each school on how it handles bullying, harassment and intimidation." The New Jersey Newsroom (11/23) also covers this story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

12 Ways to Learn Vocabulary With The New York Times


Here are 12 quick, easy and engaging ways to learn and practice new words by reading, viewing or listening to

1. "SAT Words" and The Times: Reading just the front page of The New York Times every day can introduce you to scores of SAT-level words in context. For instance, in this article about Prince William's engagement alone you can find déclassé,
speculation and sought. Did you know you can double click on any word in a Times article to read its definition? Or that the Learning Network has a Word of the Day feature that examines each new word in a recent Times context? To keep track of the words you're learning, use our vocabulary log.

2. Times Fill-Ins:
Every week we choose a high-interest Times article (on, say, a pumpkin-smashing contest,
eating insects,
A-Rod or skateboarding) and take some key words out of it. You can fill in the blanks with your own words, or choose from a scrambled list of the words that were removed.

3. Student Writing About Language: Not only does our Student Opinion question invite students to practice writing and vocabulary usage daily, we also occasionally ask vocabulary-focused questions. Read the entertaining student comments on the following, for instance, then invite your students to add their thoughts as well:

For more student wordplay, you might also look at the results of the Found Poem Student Challenge we ran last April.

4. Times Language Contests: What "family phrases" do you and your family or friends use that would be meaningful only to you? What modern similes ("as generous as a stimulus package") can you invent? Visit the Times blog Schott's Vocab to submit ideas for the weekend competitions. Past competitions have included words you loathe,
Tom Swifties,
novel analogies, favorite slogans, and both the saddest words in the English language and the happiest.

5. Word Infographics: Create a Words They Used graphic or illustration like this one that charts and compares the words used most often at the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Paste text from an article, novel, story or even an essay of your own into Wordle to create and customize instant word clouds. What words in the text you chose are used most often? What patterns do you see?

6. Greek and Latin Roots: What Greek and Latin roots do you know? Challenge a partner to a contest, and find as many words with Greek or Latin roots on the front page of The Times as you can. You might also try our student crosswords on "borrowed" words and the building blocks of vocabulary.

7. Test Yourself Daily Quizzes: Every day we pose a Test Yourself question that uses Times content to strengthen literacy and numeracy skills. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we ask English language arts-related questions that test vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and usage skills. Or, use our Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling and Usage Bingo with any day's edition of The Times.

8. Investigating Etymology: In Ben Zimmer's weekly On Language column, he takes readers into the etymology of currently popular words and phrases, whether student slang,
words from rap music, insults for beach tourists or science fiction languages. Read a few, then try your own: find a word or phrase you're curious about, read up on its history, then write an essay using On Language as a model.

9. Battling Cliché: What do you think are the most overused sports clichés? How do sports reporters keep descriptions of games, teams and athletes fresh? For instance, hunt through the Sports section to compile a list of the different verbs or phrases writers have used to mean "to win" or "to lose." Or, challenge yourself to create an all-cliché description of an athletic performance, like this one from the Laugh Lines blog.

If you're curious about what phrases even seasoned editors and reporters overuse, visit the After Deadline feature. And to avoid clichés in a college essay, consult our lesson plan on the topic.

10. Learning by Listening: Some people learn more easily by listening than by reading. Try improving your vocabulary by tuning in to Times podcasts on topics like front-page news, music, science and stories that could happen "only in New York." Then make your own podcast about something you're an expert in, whether comic books, cooking or baseball, using some of the specialized vocabulary associated with that field.

11. Words and Images: Visit the Times photojournalism blog Lens or our 6 Q's About the News to find a photo that interests you. Write your own caption by trying to describe succinctly and elegantly what you see and what it might mean. Or give it a funny caption, as readers did in this Laugh Lines blog contest. You might try the ideas in this lesson plan for other photo-based writing prompts.

Or, flip the idea and instead of using words to describe images, illustrate a word or concept to help you remember what it means. You might use the illustrations that accompany the weekly Science Times Science Q & A column as inspiration. For instance, how would you illustrate the phrase "status quo" to help you remember its meaning? The word "neologism"?

12. Subject-Area Vocabulary: Many teachers teach difficult vocabulary before having students read an article, especially one that is heavy with technical terms. In several lessons, we've used the List/Group/Label game to make this process more fun. For example, here is a lesson on the debt crisis in Europe, one on the Large Hadron Collider and one on Edgar Allan Poe, all of which start with the technique.

To choose the words for the game, you might enter the text of the Times article you choose into the Visual Thesaurus's VocabGrabberto see which words of different kinds are used most often, or to find the best vocabulary words. (Or try a sample VocabGrabber lesson using a Times article about the ethics of online homework help.)