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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Thank You and Next

Thanks to the many posters who commented on the thread about teachers, school librarians, and trade books. We learned about resources such as Teachingbooks and Thinkfinity, but also had many confirmations of the fact that whatever resources such as these could potentially offer, they are not appreciably changing how most teachers deal with social studies — the gap remains. Whether that shifts the focus to how teachers are trained, or to some kind of publicity and marketing campaign that shows that books belong in the social studies classroom, we have at least begun to identify the real problem. Which brings us to this post, and another real problem. Did you all see this article in yesterday’s News of the Week in Review?

The article is about schools that are trying to separate evaluations of students that focus on behavior — neatness, promptness, socialization in class — from knowledge, as expressed on tests. Here’s one quotation: “We are getting rid of grade fog,” Mr. Brady said. “We need to stop overlooking kids who can do the work and falsely inflate grades of kids who can’t but who look good. We think this will be good for everyone.” In one way I agree completely, and, though the article did not say this, there is an implicit attempt here to correct for gender bias. Sasha recently started a Kids Dictionary, his first entry explains that, in Kid Language, “nice” means “little kid” “mean” means “big kid.” That is the code as he’s explaining it — tongue in cheek, sort of. But to boys who need to show other boys that they are tough, unbossable, strong, scruffy — the opposite of neat, nice, quiet, and compliant — a classroom may look very different than to a girl accustomed to getting points for fitting in, acting in ways approved of by adults, showing a mixture of demure acceptance and eager responsiveness. These schools seem to be trying to look past those behavior games to what students know.

And yet, the article also says that the very tests the schools are “focused not on exposure to content and activities for their own sake but on outputs.” That quotation is from one of the experts constructing the tests. And there I am less convinced. We do need to make sure kids are learning stuff, and need to measure that. But a great deal of learning is precisely a matter of coming to be engaged in the material for its own sake, not just in the interest of being able to spit it back — in a way the article reminds me of Cecile’s Third Grade dilemma — preparing kids for tests on Greek columns and Roman arches, even as the distract makes “changes” its over-riding theme. So even as we think of how to bring books into classrooms, we are witnessing confusing over what it is that classroom ought to be doing or need to be doing.


  1. I need to read this again carefully. One thing I have found is that the compliant students often being enraged when the non-tradional learners are appreciated for their contributions. This sometimes becomes a classroom management problem. Those compliant kids get on my nerves but since I was one of them as student, I know that they most likely suffer from poor self-esteem. They are very invested in their ability to perform.
    I am very interested in learning how to integrate the traditional high achievers into a community where they can appreciate themselves as well as others achievements. Some of them have enormous untapped talent that is overshadowed by their need to outdo and outperform everyone else. I had an open ended art project once and I saw a ten year clench his fist under his desk and say to his nieghbor ” God , I hate this stuff “. A environment where he was not sure of success was very anxiety producing to him. I have never seen this particular issue addressed. Another concern is that parents of the non-traditional learners have sometimes just given up on their children’s ability to succeed in school or they themselves were traditional learners and don’t understand their children.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Surely there are many different themes and subthemes in classroom learning — from, as you say, kids whose parents cannot understand their school behavior, to kids who only want to do what they will ace, to kids who say little but know a lot. The point I liked in the article was at least the starting point of recognizing that kids (boys) who are not well-behaved may in fact be very engaged with the material and have all kinds of independent thinking that goes beyond recitation. That at least is a place to begin, even if it is not the place to end.