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Our Blog Has Moved!

John and his musings have found a new home at our main website.  New posts can be found here.


Welcome Back!

…and we’re back! What a wonderful holiday break. I hope everyone survived the “polar vortex” and at the very least got to enjoy calling it the polar vortex. Classes are beginning this week! Students are again scanning their IDs at the front gates, familiar faces are spotted in familiar classrooms, and syllibi are being passed out and reviewed. A quick reminder that the add/drop period for classes ends February 3rd. Contact the Registrar’s Office with questions.

Many of us in supervised field work positions began a new placement this week, as well. I had been in a 2nd grade classroom until the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, and now I am starting in a 5th grade classroom. Luckily, I am at the same school (same hallway even), and I can see my kids from last semester regularly. It’s been a tough separation from them this week. I had been there since late August and after all the field trips and parent involvement everyone felt very connected. However, on to new and exciting things.

This semester on the blog, I am hoping to tackle one subject specific to the spring, which is the application process for prospective students. Other topics, not necessarily spring specific, will be alumni profiles, an interview with someone in financial aid, and also continuing or following up on posts from last semester. As always, feel free to email me with any comments or suggestions on what to cover, or if you would like me to feature you or something you are doing on the blog.

Off we go!

Farewell 2013

See you next semester!

See you next semester!

Well, we’ve come to the home stretch of the Fall 2013 semester! Final projects are due along with final papers & presentations. Salvation Army Santas jingle bells in the street. It has snowed twice. The smell of sidewalk Christmas trees hits you every few blocks, and it’s cold outside. For some of us, we’re finishing up the last few things before completing our program entirely! I will say that at Bank Street, there seems to be a trend of a semester-long portfolio style assignment serving as your “big” project at the end of the year, so you’re basically chipping away at it starting in September.

This semester was different for many of us due to a change in class scheduling. If you haven’t heard, things are going back to the way they were. Did you get this email?

After listening to your feedback, this spring we are pleased to announce that the course schedule is returning to a 2-hour format once again. This means 2- and 3-credit courses will meet for two hours (with 9.5 hours of additional instructional time for the 3-credit courses to meet our state credit requirements).

I think it’s great news! While I applaud the College for listening to feedback at the end of the Spring 2013 semester and trying a new schedule, I thought that the 9:20/50 end time was just too late, especially if you have a longer commute. Apparently I wasn’t alone in this sentiment (based on student surveys) and so things are going back to the way they were. So again I applaud that Bank Street takes feedback from its students seriously and makes changes for us.

As the winter break approaches, I begin to flirt with the idea of reading something for pleasure, now that I’ll have a little time to do so. I’m considering Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, which from the first chapter seems right up my alley: wordy, dense, rewarding, and quirky. I also want to make time to get the movies, in particular the new Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis.

It has been great blogging so far and I’m looking forward to next semester already. Feel free to send a message to if there is something you are doing at Bank Street or something you think would be good to feature on the blog.  I hope everyone has a restful and warm holiday break.

Experiencing “the ABC’s of it” with Leonard S. Marcus, curator


New York Public Library Bryant Park

This week, instead of our usual Wednesday gathering, my fieldwork conference group and I met at the New York Public Library in Bryant Park. I assumed we would be viewing an exhibit on the important aspects of children’s literature then discussing what about those books made them appropriate for literacy work. I didn’t realize what an evening this would turn into. Thanks to the efforts of the Reading & Literacy department (Mollie Welsh KrugerHelen Freidus, Lynne Einbender and Susan Goetz-Haver), we were given a tour by curator Leonard Marcus. The exhibit was phenomenal. Rather than offering a collection of linear artifacts, it provided an experience for the viewer both visually and tangibly. As you walk in, there is a large visual representation of an early text, Songs of Innocence, by William Blake. The actual book, with its extremely tiny print, is presented inside of it’s larger representation. Visually, it is engaging and thought-provoking. I stood back and then stood closely, pondering the relationship of text, sizing, meaning, and text-as-art. Throughout the exhibit there are books to read, touch, listen to, as well as recreations of classic children’s stories to sit in. One pillar within the space, for example, could have been a pleasant white bench but is instead shaped and textured like an arched hedge, with a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden available to read.

We learned how many of the earliest books geared to children were meant to offer salvation for their sinful souls. While my initial reaction was to feel that the children who endured these books were in a way oppressed, Leonard countered my assumption with the point that the practice arose from people with admirable intentions (like minister Cotton Mather, who wanted to save children from sin). I immediately thought of all the reasons we want children to read certain texts today. While they were worried about sin and salvation, we worry about recall and comprehension, or instructional level and decoding. Hundreds of years from now, will someone in a similar exhibit looking at leveled readers and running records be wide-eyed and aghast at the thought of the children that had to endure such hardships? Hopefully someone like Leonard will be there to tell them that we had admirable intentions, too.

Speaking of admirable intentions, students at Bank Street would be very interested in the display about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. Rousseau advocated that children under the age of 12 should focus on learning from “the book of Nature”, by which he meant their experiences. He even goes so far as to say that children should not be reading anything until age 12, which he describes as the age of Reason. While we at Bank Street certainly value Piaget’s teaching philosophy with it’s focus on experience, would a teacher these days really go so far as to advocate NO reading until age 12? Learning by natural consequence is an interesting concept, and like educators before him it was born of good intent.

The exhibit is so experiential that I do not want to spoil too much of it, though I’d like to write about it for hours. Just to list a few more highlights before I stop, there is a collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original copies of Mother Goose which he read to his children. You can see in them some edits the family made to what they must have considered risque rhymes. A favorite of mine was how his wife Sophia cleverly

I should have shaved

Author Robie Harris and I

changed “…the cobbler did swear” into something more wholesome which still rhymed (you’ll have to pay a visit to find out).  Another part of the exhibit was called “Lights out – Reading Under the Covers,” and was centered around what Leonard described as “literature that children embraced but critics disapproved of.” In the display was one of his own copies of MAD magazine from when he was a child. Another favorite of mine was a pageless 2011 book by Joydeb and Moyna Chitrakar called Tsunami . To be fair it had ONE page, which unfolded like a scroll, but it was unexpectedly fresh in a room full of bound books. To me, the unraveling of this page, with a river of debris expanding to include homes and people, evoked the very nature of the 2004 tsunami. The characters’ faces are drawn with little affect in the Patua art style. Didn’t the illustrators consider this? My feeling was that we often forget how helpless we are to nature’s forces. Perhaps they were honoring the dead by showing their last moments as part of nature’s cycle, and not as terrified humans facing demise.

By chance, our tour group was joined by Bank Street Alumna and Children’s author Robie Harris. I was introduced and chatted with her by happenstance just outside of the Censorship section of the exhibit. Robie is part of an upcoming discussion on censorship with Leonard and others on February 1st. More info on that event here.

The exhibit runs until March 23, 2014. Leonard told me he hopes that parts of the exhibit may become permanent – however – I strongly encourage any educator (or reader for that matter) to get there and see it in it’s entirety.

Note: A big thank you to Mollie Kruger Welsh for the photo and clarifications on a few names and dates.

Reducing or Eliminating Standardized Testing

Javier C. Hernandez’s article in The Times, “New York State Seeks to Scale Back Student Testing” details some steps being taken to reduce the amount and type of testing for certain students in New York state by John B. King, Jr. Hernandez outlines a few points, namely that:

“students struggling in English would be given exams in their native languages. A math test would be eliminated for some eighth graders. Students with disabilities would take tests matched to their level of instruction, not their age.”

test-pencil-school-400a0618071Many of those who are against the trend of standardized testing are surprisingly unhappy about the decision. Hernandez cites the group Time out from Testing, who is calling for Dr. King’s resignation. That group, and other opponents, feel that the changes are a false compromise which leads people into accepting the testing culture. They would prefer testing be eliminated altogether. From a progressive education standpoint, standardized testing is a very bureaucratic, policy driven concept, which distracts from real learning. The time spent on teaching how to do well on the test is better spent doing something more productive and meaningful.

Proponents of standardized testing have a point, too: how can we be sure our schools are educating fairly?

I don’t ever remember being “taught to the test” when I was growing up. In fact, I remember being told that the standardized test would not effect my final grade and that the teacher would not see it. In high school, I vividly remember a class full of students apathetically filling in 100 “C” bubbles in 30 seconds, and then either doing their homework or taking a nap for the remainder of the testing period. I can’t imagine how that would’ve skewed testing data, now that I think about it. In a middle school I worked in as a paraprofessional from 2007-2009, March was devoted to the state test. I do recall that the teachers did teach students how to respond to the types of questions that would appear on the test. In other words, my own experiences with standardized testing are varied.

Is there a way to strike a balance between testing too much and not testing at all?

Bank Street’s Music and Movement Mindset


At the beginning of each school year, Bank Street hosts the Barbara Biber Lecture. As a graduate student here, you’re likely to have the chance to attend one or two of them. I was lucky enough to get a last minute ticket to the Biber Lecture this September, where the guest presenter was Jacques d’Amboise, renowned ballet dancer and National Dance Institute founder.

D’Amboise engaged the crowd effortlessly, and related his life story to the crowd of alumni, current educators and graduate students. He is not a ‘typical’ learner. He was dancing for the New York City Ballet from a young age and founded the National Dance Institute in 1976. d’Amboise not only spoke of his passion for education, he also showed it by calling some young dancers from NDI to join him on stage. He had them improvising and moving in sync in what seemed like mere moments. He was funny, but also serious and demanding of the children. They seemed to immediately sense that they were working with a master. The sense of wonder and respect for him translated into engaged learning. I think that all teachers should strive for this kind of reverence from their students.

One memorable moment of his lesson on stage was teaching new dance steps by having students envision a clock on the floor. Standing in the center, d’Amboise gave certain hours – “12, 9, 3, 9, 12!” – and the student’s feet bounded to each, creating a dance which looked as though it had been performed for years. Accompanied by a pianist, the whole lecture had a musical current through it, particularly since the piano could adapt to the mood and motions d’Amboise was masterfully creating out of thin air.

I am taking a class this semester about music and movement with Nina Jaffe, and there are so many ways his lecture connects. In Nina’s class, we learn about how to teach academic concepts, culture, and empathy through music and dance. I also took a course at Bank Street with Susan Griss, a renown dance and movement educator and author, who combines movement and classroom space to create meaningful experiences which enrich learning.

I think Bank Street has done an amazing job at pushing young educators to think outside of the box, and realize that there are effective ways to teach that do not involve sitting at a desk all day. Having d’Amboise set this frame of mind for the school year is one of the many things that makes a Bank Street education so unique and wonderful.

For another excellent take on the event with beautiful photographs, head over to Kent Becker’s “Ballet Focus” blog here. Bank street has posted a video of the entire event here.

Thanksgiving Plans

This Thanksgiving break will be different than usual. In the past, I have gone to see my parents and cousins in Connecticut, however this year I’m staying in Brooklyn to take it easy at my apartment. A friend is comging up from Baltimore to have Thanksgiving with my girlfriend and I. Having forgotten to pre-order a Turkey, a chicken will likely be cooked in it’s place. Maybe two. I will not be participating in any of the ‘Black Friday’ sales which have come to mark the holiday in recent years – you’d think people haven’t figured out how to use Amazon by now. It will be a great few days to recharge my batteries from student teaching, and take a bit of a breather as the busy month of December looms on the horizon.