Posts filed under ‘school’

The School: Part 6 Influences


Today’s schools are influenced by so many factors that is very easy to overlook many. For the sake of understanding, influences are factors that affect learning. Part of the reason for successful school is controlling as many influences as possible and aware of the ones that cannot be controlled. Schools that are aware of students loss of interest in reading with an increase of interest in technology offers the school an opportunity to attempt to control this influence. Strategies can be developed to redirect pupil interest in reading and provide technology as a means to an end rather than the end itself. This is a situation in which controlling requires educators to operate as a team. Administrators assist in the “control program” by providing the time for teachers to work as a team. The school board get involved by allocating funds for such a program. The community aids in such programs by supplying the tax dollars needed to implement them. This is an example of an influence that schools can try to control. Weather cannot be controlled but being aware of the threats of severe weather can lead to safety strategies. In this Blog the different influences will try to be categorized.

First, there are internal influences and external influences. Internal are factors that influence learning are issues that result from what happens inside the school. As a result, it is the area that can be best controlled. A list of these factors follow:

Physical Appearance
Cleanliness, Paint on Walls, Lighting, Windows, Condition of bathroom, Smells, Noise level Decorations, Awards displayed, Motivational banners, Size of classrooms, Number of desks in each room, Hall traffic ?????

Classroom Activity
Number of students, Student appearance, Student/Teacher interaction, Classroom appearance, Activity Materials ?????

Human Factors
Age of Teachers, Appearance of staff, Verbal and nonverbal communication, Attitude, Interaction of staff ?????

Curricular Structure
What’s taught, How its taught, How it coordinates, How is assessed,
Relevancy ?????

Can you add to the list?????

Secondly, there are external influences. These are the events that occur outside the school building. The list is monumental. Just to name a few:
The School Code (Statues that govern schools), Support of the community (in tax dollars and respect), gang activity (both in and out of the school), home life, parental expectation and support, diet, genetics, health, self esteem or lack of, life goals, etc. This list runs on and on.

As an example, politicians often react to schools when things catch their attention. Political attention is usually accomplished by media pressure or horrendous tragic events. Recent school shootings lead to increases in school security issues including the installation of metal detectors in schools. Like tornado or fire alarms, schools had to develop “intruder alert” plans. Fears of excessive drug use has lead to random drug searches and random drug testing of students. Concerns of poor kids not getting breakfast or lunch has resulted in food programs. Fear of STD (sexual transmitted diseases) has led to including sex education in health or science class. (Some schools have even supplied students with condoms to exercise safe sexual contact. US students testing poorly on TIMSS. Given at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade levels, the US not only did poorly but actually seemed to loss ground. Science and Math scores showed the US on the bottom. This is one of the factors that lead to NCLB. There is a constant finger pointing toward schools, teachers and students. This has the greatest negative impact on education today as money is diverted from improving learning to creating great test takers. Tax dollars are in greater demand to meet the expectations of the external forces to improve certain aspects of the internal environment. The constant harangue directed toward the school systems make taxpayers less like to pass needed referendum to raise money to maintain schools at just status quo levels.

More of each of these topics will be discussed in future Blogs.


December 2, 2007 at 5:47 am 2 comments

The School: Part 5 Human Makeup

Within the walls of a school, there are kids, teachers, aids, secretaries, administrators, lunchroom staff, and maintenance staff. On occasion, or in certain school, there are student teachers, classroom observers, parent volunteers and security staff. Delivery people are in and out with their packages and bundles. There is an atmosphere created by human activity. In the case of a school, the activity is directed toward learning. As a result, there are different types of activity and the associated sensory stimulations. If we were to take a tour of a typical school, we might sense the following.

We arrive at the front door and ring the bell or wave at a camera. There was a time when we could just walk into a school and go where we wanted. A series of school intrusions resulted in increased school security. As you are buzzed in, we notice bright, eye catching motivational posters. We are met by a security person who asks who we are and what’s the purpose of our visit. Most schools issue a pass that we will be expected to display until we leave. Not too many schools allow visitors free access to the whole school. For the sake of our tale, we will have such open access.

We pass through the cafeteria at lunch. The noise level is almost deafening. Everyone is talking. Could anyone be listening? One girl in the far corner has such a loud piercing voice that she could be used as a tornado siren. The babble assaults the human ear. The smell of melted cheese, baked chocolate chip cookies and that odor that you not quite sure of battles the noise for sensory stimulation. Mixed together it’s a smell that hasn’t changed in fifty years. Somewhere in the deep recesses of the brain memories of school lunch stirs in our mind. We notice the trash barrels filled to overflowing. The hair styles and clothes are different from our generation as is their music. A sense of relief overcomes us as we step by the teacher “doing her duty.” Teachers have assigned supervisory roles in most schools. It part of the job. The corridor outside the cafeteria is welcome quiet.

The hallway is colorful and decorated with student work. We pause as we pass through the hall amazed at the talent of some students. Occasional we see a graffiti identifying the artist as the “gay” so-and-sot for the most part little damage is evident. The quiet begins to fade as we approach the gymnasium. Many schools now have two or more gyms. The sound of bouncing balls and shouting teens grow louder as we approach an open gym door. We look in to see groups of teens running back and forth yelling at each other. Off in the corner two casual dressed teachers sit on folding chairs speaking in animated gestures about something or other. We notice a motley team of teens flopped on the bleachers and Books strewn next to them. They either stare into space or hastily write notes. The smell of stall sweat signals the time to move on.

Silence again. Only briefly as the drums draw us into the arts wing. Trophies fill glass cases that line a back wall. As we step closer we can’t help but notice the film of dust that has been collecting for some time. The choir room’s door is pulled closed. We decide to move along. The clay sculptures fill colorful cabinets and racks. Oils and water color paintings hang from the walls. The strangest designs and colors create the design of each wall. The soft chatter from each classroom does not extend into the hall. Each member of the class seems preoccupied with their creations speaking only to their closest neighbor asking for this tool or color.

We find the photography suddenly demarking the next departmental area. Only one wall holds photos. Next to that wall we can see groups of students arranging objects and taking pictures. Beyond the class we can see a small courtyard where some individuals are attempting to photograph nature. The teacher is at first not even noticed. As we span the room, we discover the teacher huddled with a group attempting to explain the working of a camera. Come to think of it, we never noticed the art or music teacher. We wonder if they were there.

We move around a corner and into another way. There is no hum of conversation or shuffle of activity. There is only the drone of crickets. A large sign printed by a computer introduced us to the “Tech Territory.” Each room was filled with students pecking away at computer keyboards. The teacher sat at a raised area looking at the monitor in front of him. From his dais he could not only watch every student in the class but could monitor the monitors. He looked bore and give us a smile. He was the first teacher to actually take notice of us.

Up a few steps, and we entered a carpeted area plush with sofas and tables and chairs. The wall on the far side was a line of computer desks. Computer screens blazed blue awaiting a client. The library was a vast area. In the center a librarian peered at us as we approached her redoubt. She was the first to challenge our presences. When we explained, she soften into a sweet person who provided a history of the school and a list of the qualities of her library. She pointed out that the word “library” was an antiquated term and no longer in use. This area is “My LRC!” This room contains all the recourses for learning. The Learning Resource Center is the hub of learning in the school. As she spoke, a gaggle of pupils hurdled into the LRC. The librarian, or LRCian, turned and stomped to the new arrivals. “Stop!” We could hear the authority. The impact was immediate. They stopped in their tracks and fear gagged them. The silence had returned. We could hear the orders being issued as pupils sat in assigned places. We better felt the need to move along.

We left the LRC and found ourselves faced with a beehive of activity. Pupils roamed in and out of a suite of offices. A rather pretty young lady sat at a desk. She had a pleasant smile and seemed to know each pupil that came in. She sent some out into the corridor of offices and others took a seat to wait. The phone rang constantly. She retained smile as if it was permanently attached. She had a soothing voice when she answered the phone. The sign on her desk told all: “Ms Penny, Guidance Secretary.” We smiled and moved on.

Finally, a corridor with classrooms. It wasn’t perfectly quiet but it was not noisy. As we ambled down the hallway, we peeked into classroom. Many had teachers who dominated the room with their presence. Lecture or monologue? Students stared into space or were busy preparing a note or trying to hold their eyes opened. In the next classroom, students had desks pulled into circles and were heatedly discussing some issue. They were not screaming. Each seemed to take a turn with little interruption by fellow team members. There was no one asleep here. Everyone seemed engaged in their discussion. It took sometime for us to locate the teacher. He was sitting in a student desk. He listened and spoke in his turn just the students seemed to be doing everywhere. The activity was inviting and we had to struggle away to avoid joining the fray.

The other classes seemed to have competent teachers as we passed along the corridor. We were nearing the end of our tour. Just one more stop. Where’s the maintenance area we asked. The directions carried back near the entrance. We had missed the large doors marked “Building and Grounds” in large bold letters. We stepped into the room. It was filled with clutter. One old man stepped out of a closet and stared defiantly at us. He shrugged his shoulders and ambled away. As we turned to leave the deserted area, we caught site of three or four gathered around a tree on the side of the building.

We looked at each other and waved good bye to the guardian of the door. We had spent an hour roaming the building. The school is a honeycomb of hives with a myriad of activities. Learning seems to be at stake in each corner of this building. It seemed to be the concerted effort of each person to guide the pupils on the path of life. Although, no school is exactly like this, these represent the activities that occur. If we tour another school, these the aspects of the school.

November 28, 2007 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

The School: Part 3 Testing

The TestMy favorite target..Testing.

OH! How I have come to hate testing!!!



Testing can be a very useful tool in helping diagnosis student learning problems. Testing coupled with classroom teacher observations make a good indication of how a student is progressing. Testing can be used to measure the effectiveness of a new program or method. Testing in its place as a diagnostic tool is extremely useful in the learning process.


What is testing and how does it fit in with the school? Schools are artificial forums designed to help pupils learn. The process of helping kids learn is called teaching. Teaching involves three processes: Planning, Execution and Assessment. In time we will take up each of these aspects of education. Teaching occurs on three level: State, Local and Classroom. A fourth level is being pushed today more than at any other time: National. All that said, we are focusing in one topic Assessment.


Assessment is “a method of evaluating student performance and attainment.” Evaluating means “to consider or examine something in order to judge its value, quality, importance, extent, or condition.” Teachers are constantly assessing pupils and methods as a routine of their teaching skills. It is part of what makes a good teacher. All of us are familiar with Teacher testing: essay questions, multiple guess, true and false, fill in the blank, short answer, and practical exams. Assessment should be authentic, reliable and valid. Teacher constructed tests offer the best assessment of learning. Teachers are aware of what learning is expected in the classroom. Teachers know their pupils. There are individuals who cannot perform very well on multiple choice questions. When asked verbally, the pupil responds as a scholar. Recent research has shown that students learn in different ways. Effective teachers react according. Good teachers use a variety of methods to help students learn. Assessment needs also to be authentic and evaluate the actual process to be learned. And good teachers need to use a variety of assessments just as he does methods.


Testing is a regular routine in a teacher’s program. Teachers use standards to construct lessons. Lessons involve a plan in which the standards are converted to objectives which are attainable. Methods to achieve the objectives are designed to provide a variety of learning paths for the accomplishment of the objectives. In order to identify if the student has achieved the objective, the teacher uses an assessment or assessments to determine success. The teacher plans a lesson, executes the plan and then evaluates the plan. Testing is one of the assessments used by teachers to determine the achievement of the pupils and the effectiveness of the plan. 


All readers of this blog have a classroom teacher to thank. Reading is a primary school task and as the neophyte reader progresses he or she are assessed both by tests and observation. This is how tests should be used. In some cases it is a benefit to compare pupil achievement to a broader group of pupils at the same level. The standardized test is ideal for this. The test can then be analyzed illustrating strong and weak points in a pupils education. Schools, teachers and parents can use this information to improve student, teacher or school problems. Unfortunately today’s standardized tests are used to punish and not improve.


All in the name of Accountability.



October 29, 2007 at 3:15 am Leave a comment

The School: Part 2 The Rules

Rules for Students A school, as we discussed, is a brick and mortar structure composed of a bunch of cells (oops! I mean classrooms.) in which children are herded where the shepherd exposes the lovely lambs to opportunities of learning. This the traditional school most of us have in mind and probably what the overwhelming most of the us have experienced. Traditional schools have names PS 45, The William Penn Elementary, Central High School or Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. There are rigid schedules: 8:40 AM to 3:10 PM. There are bells. Don’t be tardy! There were lavatories (rest rooms or bath rooms). And schools had smells! The smells changed as the day progressed.

Schools are governed by rules. There are rules for the school. There are rules for the teachers. There are rules for the pupils. There are even rules for the parents. It would take many blogs to cover all the rules. In this blog, we will briefly cover an extremely complex issue. Public schools are governed by school boards. Who are must follow the mandates of the State Board of Education. Who interprets and executes the mandates of the School Code. Which are the statues passed by the state legislature. These are the politicians we elect every so often.

There are rules that govern the number of days that schools must have on their calendar. This calendar must be approved by the school board. In Illinois there must 180 days minimum in the calendar. Four of those days can be used for Teacher Institute days (Training or development programs). Some school districts have more days on their calendar. The City of Chicago has 185 days.

There are rules to cover the amount of time spent in school. There are so many minutes required for subject area in the elementary schools (Grades 1-8). High schools have minimum credits for subject areas. Each year schools must file forms to show their time distribution. The quality of a school involves the time distribution on the elementary grade and the number of credits achieved on the secondary level.

It is the number of days and time on task that politicians propagandize as solutions to school problems. “Keep those kids in school longer.” I can hear the political candidate bellowing. “More time in the school day and on task.” This has been the “quick answer” solution to apparent problems in education. This is the madness that has stripped away recess in many schools and the 15- or 20-lunch period. Remember when there was recess, hat or cold. There was milk and cookie time. Lunch was an hour. There were some pretty bright and good people that graduated from those schools. They could  add and subtract, read and write, laugh and cry, think and solve a problem; they were for the most part somewhat well adjusted individuals.

So what happened to the rules that used to run our schools. Tests and more tests and even more tests.

October 26, 2007 at 3:09 am Leave a comment

The School: Part 1 The Building

  The Traditional School   This Blog deals with education. It is about teaching, learning, schools, home, teachers and pupils.  It is about what is good and what is bad. I jumped into the most controversial issue that confronts education at the present time- NSLB. But, as we will discover, everything in education is related. I did want to present this blog in a somewhat of a logical flow, if such a thing exists.


 Today’s blog begins with a little philosophy. John Dewey was the most influential educator in the first half of the 20th Century. He was cast aside during the 70’s and 80’s. His philosophy has made a dramatic comeback in the third millennium. Basically, John Dewey sees education as the passing on of traditions and rituals to the upcoming generation. He goes back to primitive cultures where each generation is trained in the “tribes ways.” Children pass into adulthood during rites of passage. The next generation then decides on the good aspects of the culture to pass on. Dewey sees formal education of today’s world as the path that leads to these rites of passage. Learning occurs within social interaction.


Formal education (= school) must first decide what traditions, knowledge and social values are to passed on to the next generation. The curriculum mandates these standards. The classroom teacher must translate these standards into lessons that result in learning. Dewey identifies humans as social creatures. Basic to any school is the social aspect. Through this social foundation learning is accomplished. The school is a social environment in which the traditions, knowledge of past generations and social values are learned. Schools might be considered the basic unit of formal education. Therefore , it is a good place to begin our journey of education.


The humans in a school can be divided to four groups: pupils, staff, teachers and administrators. The interaction of these groups result in an atmosphere of learning. The capabilities and abilities of pupils are determined by the level of the school, i.e., at their location in the continuum of the curriculum. Primary level pupils do not have the abilities of the upper grade pupils. The capabilities of a pupil is determined by previous learning. A pupil would have difficulty writing a paragraph if he was unable to write a sentence. A student learns words in preschool, puts words into sentences in early primary and constructs paragraphs by late primary. It is this continuum that formal education follows.


Schools can be organized into six levels: Pre-school, Primary, Intermediate, Upper grades, High school and Post- secondary. These may be perceived as artificial tiers and to a certain extend they are but the continuum of learning for the sake of formality can be separated into stages of learning. These are the levels that represent the stages of learning. What they are called or how they are shifted is not the important aspect. What is important is that learning is a long term process that results in a socially adjusted individual with the basic tenets of his or her world. Schools divide the continuum into levels.


Schools are made of classrooms, washrooms,  lunchrooms,  offices and corridors. Schools are made of brick, wood, plastic and metal. There are doors, floors, windows and chalkboards. Bulletin boards, lights and desks fill classrooms. Schools sound like bells ringing ,pupils talking, and shoes marching. Bodies bump into each other. Teachers terrify pupils with stern warnings. Giggles grip pupils of every  level. Schools have exteriors and interiors.


Schools are what we make of them. Schools are just buildings made of mud and mortar.  Some schools are like home. Other look like armed fortresses. Others like pleasant resorts. Schools can be inviting or frightening. They can make pupils feel safe and relaxed. Schools can be old and smelly with the structure deteriorating. Schools can be modern. Schools are what we perceive. What occurs in them is what we are most concerned about.


In the blogs ahead, we will attempt to examine the school from as many angles of which we can think. We will offer insights and opinions of what works and what we are doing wrong. Schools are after just a place where learning occurs. It is not the only place. Schools influence learning. 

October 22, 2007 at 1:13 am Leave a comment

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