The Shack

the shack masks blog 2018
I created this digital sketch for my book, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. Although the skills displayed are crude, the picture helps to tell my story and conveys the mood of the day.

I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”.  It’s an odd book.  Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not.  As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall.  The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture.  My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.

 

As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.

With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.

The shack was my library.

Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.

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Avoiding the Summer Setback in Academic Skills

By A. G. Moore

summer

We all feel it, the summer lassitude that settles in sometime in June and doesn’t lift until trees start losing their leaves. Autumnal shedding reminds us that time is passing and we have to hustle in order to catch up.

 

For kids, the casual days of summer present an opportunity for adventure–and the risk of diminished academic skills.This is especially true for lower income children.

 

In general, children lose about two months  (according to standardized tests) in math performance and about the same in reading over the summer months. The result, however, is not consistent across income levels. Children from middle and upper income homes do not on average experience this decline in reading scores. On the contrary, in many cases there is actually a bump in those scores. In seeking a reason for the disparity between middle and lower class outcomes, one study suggests that the answer lies in access to books.

 

This study is described in an article published by The Institute for Educational Sciences (a US government organization).  According to the study: “…family socioeconomic status has been linked to the access children have to books in their homes and neighborhoods”. In order to reach this conclusion researchers divided a cohort of lower income students into two groups. In one group, students were allowed to self-select books for summer reading. The second group served as control; these students were not given access to books.

 

The results, as interpreted by the study’s sponsors, showed that access to books had a “significant effect”.  The effect was more pronounced in students from the lowest income group.

 

Of course, this is one study; its conclusions may be accepted or rejected. However, most people will probably not be surprised by the authors’ analysis. It’s pretty much accepted by parents and educators that the more kids read the better their skills are likely to be. Increased access to books, particularly ‘self-selected’ books, certainly increases the chance that reading will take place.

 

While most parents may be in agreement with the basic principle that more reading makes better readers, encouraging a reading regime in the lazy summer months can be a challenge. What the study and others like it show is that rising to this challenge is worth the effort.

 

Kids take the summer off; parents can’t. Parents don’t get a vacation from their job, not until a child is grown and parental responsibility has been fulfilled.

 

The American Library Association claims that 95% of all public libraries have a summer reading program for kids. Interested parents can check local libraries to see if one of these programs is near them.

 

Besides engaging in a reading program, parents may find that summer is a good time to offer so-called ‘enrichment’ material that the crowded school curriculum increasingly neglects.  The flexible summer months may be seen as an occasion to round out a child’s academic experience with informal exposure to ideas and subjects that otherwise might not be covered.

 

A summer break from school need not be paid for with a ‘setback’ in skills.  Children learn in many ways. What they learn–academically, socially or culturally–depends largely on environment.  With access to the right environment, including books, children may not only maintain skills but may experience a ‘bounce’–in academic skills and in their general store of knowledge.

 

In that case, when summer is done and leaves turn orange, time’s passage may be regarded not with regret but with anticipation.

The Birthday Effect: Firm Cut-off Age for School Admission May Impose a Lifetime Disadvantage

School_Classroom
This is a picture of Bedford School, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The school, located in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, was built in 1915. Picture credit: Andrew Postell, 2014, Creative Commons Attribution license.

Educational program design would likely not be controversial if children were interchangeable parts, if they were like components on a factory assembly line.  In that case, different children could be placed in the same seat every year and have  a predictable and consistent outcome.  Traditional educational models seem to be predicated on the assembly line model. Children are expected to bend to the system; the system does not accommodate the individual.  One area where inflexibility has apparently resulted in measurable harm is in age cut-offs for kindergarten admission. Longitudinal studies show that younger students, as a group, perform more poorly on achievement assessments than their older classmates.  Called the  ‘birthday effect’, a strict age cut-off policy results in a kind of age lottery. Winners of the lottery are rewarded with lifetime benefits, benefits that are evident in areas outside the academic sphere.

study out of England, for example, demonstrates the disadvantage suffered by younger children in early school years and in their later academic careers.  Members of the younger group are less likely to attend university than their older peers; if they do go to a university, it is likely that they will matriculate at a low-tier institution. The age cut-off in England is fixed firmly at September 1, which is the beginning of the school year.  Consequently, the youngest children in a grade are those born in August. Called ‘August children’, these students statistically perform more poorly than their older classmates in tests that look at academic achievement and ‘happiness’.

There are educators who do not find these study results persuasive. The former Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Chris Woodhead, for example, believes it would be wrong to make all children”‘comfortable”.  In commenting on the  findings about firm age cut-offs, Sir Woodhead declared, “If kids are always completely confident and comfortable, they aren’t going to make much progress.”

A debate about the ‘birthday effect’ has been examined by systems outside of England.  Norway, for example, also has a firm cut-off age for school admission. In a paper presented at Harvard University in 2004, Bjarne Strøm, a researcher from the Norwegian University of Technology and Science, discusses the birthday effect on 16 and 17 year-old students.  Professor Strom provides a detailed analysis of how early disadvantage endures throughout the academic careers of the younger student.  Professor Strom concludes, “These results suggest that more flexible enrollment rules should be considered to equalize the opportunities of the children”.

Yet another study, cited on NeuroNet, addresses the impact of the ‘birthday effect’  on grade retention. This study demonstrates that the youngest children in a kindergarten class are five times more likely than their older peers to be held back in a grade. The experience of being retained in grade can have a devastating effect on the child’s psyche and future achievement.

Advocates for student discontent aside (i.e., Sir Woodhead), a growing body of research indicates that rigid adherence to age cut-offs is likely not in the best interest of children. Studies suggest that children should be evaluated, individually, for school readiness.  While this may not suit a structured, one-size-fits-all educational model, it may suit very nicely the student for whom the educational system is presumed to exist.

Bully pic blurred
One child bullying another. Studies show younger children in a class more likely to be bullied by their older and larger classmates. Public Domain Photo