Tag Archives: learning to read

Core Elements of Learning

On The New York Times Op Ed page, February 23, 2010, columnist Bob Herbert talked about Deborah Kenny’s philosophy about improving schools in this country. In setting up the successful charter schools known as the Harlem Village Academies, she explained, “If you had an amazing teacher who was talented and passionate and given the freedom and support to teach well that was just 100 times more important than anything else.”

She went on to tell Herbert, “I had five core things in mind for my kids [her own children], and that’s what I want for our students. I wanted them to be wholesome in character. I wanted them to be compassionate and to see life as a responsibility to give something to the world. I wanted them to have a sophisticated intellect. I wanted them to be avid readers, the kind of person who always has trouble putting a book down. And I raised them to be independent thinkers, to lead reflective and meaningful lives.”

Herbert concludes, “It never crossed Ms. Kenny’s mind that a rich and abiding intellectual life was out of the reach of kids growing up in a tough urban environment.”

Kenny’s hiring philosophy is the same that I used at WCATY and I endorse her learning philosophy 100%. In hiring our WCATY teachers, we used three criteria: they had to be excellent in their field; they had to have a passion for that field, and they had to want to pass that passion on to their students.

I think some people perceive that because I have written a book for young children that emphasizes the importance of being smart I put less value on character. This is far from the truth. If you read “Grandma Says,” all the qualities mentioned by Kenny are in some way described or implied: a passion for learning, the love of reading, being good to the world, sharing with others, and in Kenny’s terminology, a “sophisticated intellect.” Being smart includes respecting and developing one’s own and other’s curiosity, creative thinking, critical thinking, independent questioning, exploration, and problem solving. I agree with Kenny that every child, from an early age, at home and at school, should grow up knowing that learning is cool – something they CAN do with great joy!

Grit, persistence, or the understanding that success involves hard work is the one quality that I may not have emphasized to the degree some would prefer in my children’s book. It will be addressed up front in the next – because children do need to understand that practice and careful attention to the tasks at hand are among the keys to learning. Although Kenny didn’t talk about this in the Herbert interview either, I suspect she  considers it a part of the “sophisticated intellect” as do I.

Second Printing: Grandmas and Little Kids Love This Book

Authoring a book about the importance of early childhood education has not only created many wonderful opportunities for me, it has given me a new career.  Copies of “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” are now available from the second printing. For those of you in the Madison area, watch for them in more and more boutiques and book stores. For those of you from further away, feel free to introduce me to individuals (grandparents, parents, early childhood education teachers, elementary school teachers, early childhood caregivers, or anyone interested in the education of young children) as well as public venues that you would suggest for distribution. Your continuing notes to me – like this one from a grandma of a one-year old – are heartwarming: “Your book is marvelous. (My son) was very touched to have a copy of your book for his Ellie.  You can be sure that I will read it to her often, as will her parents.”

The Gift of Learning

What better gift to give that special child than the message that learning is cool. Most children really think that naturally as they begin to explore their world by walking, talking, and gaining new skills at a rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers. A cartoon in the Dec. 14 “The New Yorker” shows two little kids in a sandbox. The older one says to the younger one: “It’s all learning-is-fun and invented spelling, and then–bam!– second grade.”

What’s wrong with second grade? As a teacher, consultant, longtime educational specialist, it is sad to often see fewer smiles and sparkling eyes with each advancing grade of school. Rather than continuing to believe that learning is fun, cool, an ultimate aim, too many children dumb down, hide their talents, and proceed in a lock-step method of learning that doesn’t fit them and holds little appeal. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Miraculously, my children fought the school battle and won – proud of themselves as topnotch learners throughout their k-12, college and graduate school years. I want the same for my grandchildren and yours. I want little children to hear and believe from their first year that learning is exciting, reading introduces you to people, places and things unknown, and asking questions and exploring possible answers is the key to advancement.

I hope “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” helps many children to firmly believe that second grade and all the grades after that will still be “learning-is-fun” — and that creativity is good too even if not usually when spelling!