CSotD: Assess this, pal

Mr. Fitz came along this morning as the third part of an odd bit of synchronicity, which is a fancy word for “coincidence” that assumes the cosmos does these things on purpose.

To deal with the cartoon first of all, this is, unfortunately, something that will ring true with good teachers and probably won’t be seen at all by the others.

“Free reading” simply means setting aside a time each day for kids to read whatever they want.

I knew a teacher who had to stop free reading because her principal demanded she devote the time, instead, to drilling for standardized tests, his exact explanation being that, if he walked past her classroom and caught her giving the kids free reading time, “it will be your ass.”

It was extreme without being unbelievable, but the issues of reading levels isn’t. Teachers would ask me what reading level the newspaper was at, and it was pointless to explain that it really depended on which section you meant, because it only puzzled the type who would ask; media-literate teachers already knew that.

The issue of assessments is a bit more fraught, because a good, instinctive teacher knows when a lesson plan is a good idea without having to mark down how and why, and so it’s a bit of bureaucracy to be resented, and a bad teacher won’t get it anyway, but there may be a lot of teachers who aren’t great but aren’t bad, and for them, stopping to make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing is a good tool.

As long as you keep the idea up front and the explanation of why it works tucked away in a file drawer.

Free reading is not just a good idea but is central to developing kids who are curious and want to learn and will learn even if you don’t tell them to and even if you don’t assess what they’ve learned.


The coincidence: Speaking of brilliant, instinctive teachers, I knew Kate Messner before she was a full-time author, when she was one of the best teachers whose classroom I ever visited.

She posted an inquiry on Facebook this morning because she is about to publish a non-fiction title with a school & library publisher, whose pricing is higher than regular trade houses, and she asked if library bindings really last longer enough to justify their cost.

One of her many followers, a school librarian, replied

(Regular bindings) usually last the life of the information. We generally don’t want nonfiction more than 10 years old. Books disappear more than they fall apart.

I’ve been in school libraries with sadly outdated books and this is a terrific answer but it assumes a budget in which information matters. Still, it’s good to hear a school librarian give such a thoughtful answer, even if not all schools are allowed to maintain that sort of quality in their collections.


Then, just a few posts down, another brilliant author-friend, Brooke Kroeger announced her newest title, of which she is both an editor and a contributor.

It’s a topic that interests me greatly and I know the quality of her work, so I went to the publisher’s site to get a copy and, holy guacamole, I think I’ll be okay with the paperback edition, though I suspect this type of historical writing is still good after a decade.

The moral of the story? I didn’t really have one, but please go read something. If you can find it for $25 instead of $110, good on ya.

If you read it so often that it falls apart, that’s all the assessment we need.


Elsewhere in the universe

Dog Eat Doug inspired a pair of thoughts, one of which is that most dogs really do decide who needs to be responded to and who doesn’t.

There is a cairn terrier on the corner who, if he is out in his yard, barks furiously at any dog who passes by.

When my ridgeback was a puppy, he found this interesting. He properly recognized it as excitement, not hostility, but found that poking his head through the iron rails of the fence did not get a friendly, curious nose-knock or in any way stem the insanity.

So now when we walk by, he barely glances at the maniac behind the fence.

The other thought was that they’re right about Labradoodles, who kicked off the designer-mutt craze, much to the chagrin of the original breeder.

He spent three years working on the cross, which is different than the profiteers who have found that it doesn’t take much expertise to persuade dogs to make puppies.

The interesting-though-not-fatal issue with Labradoodles is that sometimes they pick up the friendly, outgoing personality of the Labrador and sometimes they pick up the less gregarious personality of the standard poodle.

Nothing wrong with either personality, but, as an owner, it may be a year or two before you know if you got “Hi! What’s up! Let’s play!” or a more standoffish “Yo.”

Better outcomes than the apocryphal story of the starlet who suggested to George Bernard Shaw that it would be great to have a baby with her looks and his brains, to which he responded yes, but what if the poor thing had his looks and her brains?


And speaking of not knowing what you’re dealing with, mystery abounds at Retail these days, with, first, hints that Grumbels is on the verge of collapse and now the disappearance of regional manager Stuart.

As a newspaper man, I’ve been in Marla’s position enough times to know that there’s no point in standing on deck waiting for the band to strike up “Nearer My God To Thee,” but I am curious to see where Norm Feuti is taking this.


Okay, one more

I’m not sure why birds need parachutes, but I did like to see Lisa Benson produce a Harry-and-Meghan cartoon that wasn’t snarky, dismissive or just downright unpleasant.

And what’s wrong with that?

I’d like to know.

8 thoughts on “CSotD: Assess this, pal

  1. Speaking of free reading…

    I thought it interesting, in the Jerry Craft piece you linked to a few days back, he gave the Hardy Boys as an example of the type of book he was supposed to read. A generation before his, the teachers would’ve called the Hardys and Nancy Drew trash. Now we’ve got graphic novels and even single issues of comics in libraries. Everything becomes respectable in time.

    (I know that Craft was using the Hardys as an example of a prose novel his readers would recognize, and that he had other issues — titling it “The Case of the Missing Black Characters.” But I think my point stands.)

  2. I don’t remember free reading, but my third-grade teacher read books to us (a chapter or two at a time), and I was so taken by one story (“Space Cat”) that after she finished, I took the book home and read it myself. This triggered a lifetime love of reading. I don’t doubt that I would have eventually starting reading for pleasure, but I think she gave me an early start in that direction.

    One thing I have found is that it is almost impossible to track down some of the books I read and enjoyed back in the 1960s (a lot of them were probably published in the 1930s or earlier).

    Libraries seem to discard older books, at least fiction, unless they are classics. The books I’ve looked for were not classics. Some of them were adventure stories aimed at young boys or girls (my reading was eclectic). It’s sad to me that some of these books may have disappeared forever.

  3. Another observation: when I was a kid, comic books were considered trash and supposedly geared towards people who could not read “real books”.

    Looking at the old comic books, compared to the ones today, they had a lot of text, probably at least double or triple what the modern “graphic novels” that I have seen have. You actually had to be able to read to enjoy the old comic books.

  4. Actually “her ass” was the principal.

    HANK : Space Cat has been reprinted – the whole series ! It’s on Amazon !

  5. The best teacher I ever had on any level was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Moyer, a former one-room-school teacher who read Little House chapters to us regularly, but also did things like, when a character in our reader was having her hand-spun wool dyed, she brought in a piece of indigo for us to pass around. When they made candles, she brought in a mold. She had props for every chapter in our reader and our social studies book, and it made the words real.

    But the love of Laura was a gift from her that I passed on to my own kids, and theirs.

    These days, BTW, it’s hip to criticize Caroline Ingalls, particularly for her attitude towards the Osage upon whose land that “little cabin” was built. But we all knew Ma was, well, not as pleasant as she might have been and that Pa was the moderating influence in the family. Ma could be hard to love.

    Kids aren’t stupid, and, in fact, that’s JK Rowling’s secret — not that she wrote about magic but that she assumes her readers are intelligent and insightful. She treats her readers with respect and who doesn’t like that?

  6. Indeed it was, Hank, and while others might disappoint, that’s one worth looking for at Alibris or Ebay or wherever old books are found. Re-reading it is a trip back in time and not just because of the subject matter.

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