Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Withitness in Teaching

"A teacher's communicating to the children by her actual behavior (rather than by her verbally announcing [instructions]) is educational researcher Jacob Kounin's definition of "withitness" that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his New Yorker article "Most Likely to Succeed."

Gladwell draws upon the techniques used in identifying college quarterbacks who would be good in the NFL to assess teachers who can find success in today's classroom.  

Bottom line in the article for me - "Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a 'bad' school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Getting a Handel on Classical Music & Kids

Water Music and Concerto in B Flat for Harp are two of George Friderick Handel’s (1685-1759) most famous compositions that have garnered my attention, pleasure, and musical appreciation. During the holiday season, my wife and I attended – for the first time – Carnegie Hall to hear Handel’s Messiah performed by The Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra.

The $25, third row tickets I bought through
tdf (Theater Development Fund) were an added surprise treat.  tdf is the non-profit organization that operates the tkts booths in Times Square, Brooklyn, and South Street Seaport.

As I prepared myself to listen to this renowned score, I scanned the packed house to see how many spectators were, say, below the age of 30. . . not many. . . certainly, no one under 10. My initial reaction was, “Too bad.” Even after hearing the chorus sing the familiar
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” and “Hallelujah” I realized a three-hour performance is too long for any child to develop an appreciation for this great music.

As a lover of classical music, which by the way, I did not begin to fully appreciate until half way through college, I have always believed that children should be exposed to it from birth and in appropriate doses. Also, children will let you know their listening pleasure. It’s always good to listen to music with your children/students, be it classical, rock, international, musicals, etc. together.

Monday, December 22, 2008

He's 7?

Ethan Bortnick has been playing the piano since he was three years old.  Well, now he is seven, and you should hear him play.

You can also listen to a charming interview on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jon Scieszka

I first met Jon Scieszka (pronounced SHEH-ska) when I discovered The True Story of the Three Little Pigs; how I enjoyed reading it aloud with a tough Brooklyn accent . . . and that was before I moved to the outer borough. I can remember reading it to a New Heads of School cohort in 1992. This Simpsonesque story is witty, lovable, and perfect for reading to children and adults.

Just about every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. I am tuned to NPR’s Weekend Edition, hosted by Scott Simon. And on one recent Saturday, I was captured by
a delightful interview with Jon, talking about his new memoir Knucklehead. (Click on the recent review of Knucklehead.)  During the interview, the 54-year old author and the nation’s Ambassador to Children’s Literature stated that the key to getting children to read is letting children read what they like - comic books, magazines, graphic novels, etc.

Here's a 
YouTube interview about this wonderful guy who began teaching in a Manhattan school. You may know Jon from some of his other popular books - The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, Math Curse, The Frog Prince, and Science Verse.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Context

Helping a child understand the use and importance of contextual clues when reading has always been a fascination of mine. Knowing whether the word “wind” refers to what you do to a watch (old-fashioned, that is) or what keeps a kite aloft on a blustery spring day can only be understood by looking at the words around “wind.” For this concept a lesson presented itself when I least expected it . . .

. . . my office is situated on a hall that leads the two-year olds to the rooftop play area. Each day in the fall and while at my desk, I would wave to them as they sheepishly walked past, heads focused straight ahead never venturing the thought of exchanging a wave. By December, one or two would walk by, look in and timidly lift a hand in an attempt to acknowledge my flapping gestures.

Well, by February, the teachers cannot move them past my office because they all have to stop, wave vigorously, and say “Hi Dane.”

The other day I was standing outside of my office and the twos were making their way back from their daily venture to the rooftop. I was excited; now I could be close by and exchange a happy hello instead of the behind-the-desk wave. Hovering close to the hall wall, anticipating my office, three children prepared themselves to crane their necks around the door jamb to offer their daily greeting when they looked up at me and quickly shied away as if to say, “Hey, who are you and what are doing here?” They wanted nothing to do with me. Then it dawned on me that I was out of context. I immediately said, “Oh. Wait a minute. I’ll fix this.” I ran to my desk and began waving. Without a hitch, their faces beamed, hands started flapping and the “Hi Danes” took over as if I were always there.

By the way, it isn’t only children that need contextual clues. Last weekend, my wife and I were at the green grocer and a parent gave a hearty “Hello Dane.” I smiled and wondered who that was. A minute later, when it was too late, I realized that it was a parent . . . but without his child and not walking through the front door of the school. Like the twos, I, too, needed contextual clues.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


In the November 16 issue of The New Yorker magazine,  Joan Acocella's article "The Child Trap" reviews four books on parenting.  I think that you will find the piece interesting, balanced, and helpful in understanding books on the market regarding today's parenting versus the previous generation's styles.  See what you think.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


What does it take to succeed?  Of course, that depends on how you choose to define success.  

So, how do we keep our own baggage from interfering with our children?  Do we have the discipline to let our children discover what success means to them?

Here are some resources for perspective:

1) Malcolm Gladwell's November 10 New Yorker article "The Uses of Adversity" opens with the rags-to-riches review of Sidney Weinberg who - as Gladwell states - was Goldman Sachs.  

2) Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick and Fame and Fortune.  If you have not discovered the Alger experience, take a weekend and grab on to one of his  wonderful, turn-of-the-century novels.

3) Frank Loesser's famous "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play from the same bootstraps vintage.  Remember how actor Robert Morse plays J. Pierrepont Finch and works his way from window cleaner to the top of the company?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seeing What You Heard

On two separate occasions, I stumbled upon instances where people were initially assessed by their voice, and when the voice did not match the imagined person, rejection followed.

The first instance was when I read a New York Times article "Princeton Honors Ex-Judge Once Turned Away for Race" by Karen W. Arenson. The reporter tells the story of New York Supreme Court Judge Bruce M. Wright who applied and was accepted to Princeton in 1939, but when the young black man arrived on campus to begin school, he was turned away.

The second instance came as I listened to a "Studio 360" interview with the talented Sarah Jones in "Sounding Black." I witnessed, again, a story of a black person being turned away because the voice that was initially heard did not match the person. This fascinating piece is actually an interview between Jones and author John McWhorter discussing his recent book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English.  Click here to read the NYTimes Review of the book.