January 2009


My Summer Reading List

Several teachers at Camp Kindergarten suggested I read these three books. They were all thought-provoking and had implications for the classroom.

You might want to check them out from the library. Here are some highlights from each:

by Diane Ravitch

     My, oh, my! Ravitch will get your blood going when you read her book! I’m not sure I agree with everything she writes, but I do sense her deep concern for teachers, education, and children. As a former assistant secretary of education, her historical perspective on education trends over the past 40 years is insightful. It will help you discover where we’ve come from and what we need to do in the future.

     This is what Ravitch had to say about NCLB: “Perhaps most naively it assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools.” (111)

     About testing most teachers would agree wholeheartedly: “Tests are necessary and helpful. But tests must be supplemented by human judgment. When we define what matters in education only by what we can measure, we are in serious trouble. When that happens, we tend to forget that schools are responsible for shaping character, developing sound minds in healthy bodies, and forming citizens for our democracy not just for teaching basic skills….Good education is more than bare literacy and numeracy.” (167)

     On early education: ”The need for early intervention, even before the age of three, as well as intensive adult education for parents has been documented. Families must do their part to get children ready for school. Families implant basic attitudes and values about learning, as well as the self-discipline and good manners necessary for learning in a group.” (240)

     Ravitch tells it like it is!!!! Good teaching is good teaching. Teachers need to be empowered. School systems need to stop jumping on every band wagon and going with every new trend in hope of a quick fix!

by Carol S. Dweck

     In this book, Dweck explains why it’s not just abilities and talent that bring us success. Teachers recognize this every year in their classrooms. It’s the children with the right mindset who are resilient, love a challenge, and motivated to improve. Rather than praising children for the product or result, we should encourage a growth-oriented process that emphasizes practice, study, persistence, and good strategies. “Praise should deal not with the child’s personality or attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.” (172) Skills and achievements come through commitment and effort – not natural talent and abilities.

     “The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.” (194) In other words, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
     “You’re all talented, now let’s get down to learning.”
     Hard work and more hard work – give them the tools to learn, solve problems, keep on going. Attitude is everything.

SPARK by John J. Ratey, MD

     Now this is what I’m talking about! Here’s a person who believes in the mind – body connection like I do! Dr. Ratey was a little heavy on biology and chemistry for my early childhood mind, but his evidence about the importance of aerobic exercise in education is undeniable! When children exercise they are more prepared to learn, their senses are heightened, their focus and mood are improved, they’re less fidgety and tense, and they feel more motivated and invigorated.

     Dr. Ratey explains that the brain works just like muscles, growing with use and withering with inactivity. Getting the heart and lungs pumping can set the stage for learning and strengthen the relevant connections. He also pointed out the importance of “voluntary” exercise. If children are forced to exercise, it’s not nearly as positive as when it’s fun and engaging! Children are spending an average of 5.5 hours a day in front of a screen – television, computer or handheld device. That’s scary! Not surprisingly, Ratey’s research showed that that students with higher fitness scores also have higher test scores.


     1. It strengthens the cardiovascular system.
     2. It regulates fuel.
     3. It reduces obesity.
     4. It elevates your stress threshold.
     5. It lifts your mood.
     6. It boosts the immune system
     7. It fortifies your bones.
     8. It boosts motivation.
     9. It fosters neuroplasticity.


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