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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
November 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 3


Special Voices

Special Voices by Cora Lee Five. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc., 1992.
The author is an elementary school teacher who, through use of the process approach to writing, achieved extraordinary success with children in a special education class. Through highly readable case studies, Five recounts the stories of seven children with learning problems and one gifted student who thrived in her classroom, lovingly described as a “community of learners.”
With techniques learned from Nancie Atwell, the author uses a workshop approach to writing and thereby helps students become active learners. Five acted as a “teacher researcher,” and her observations of each child help the reader see how three crucial elements—providing time, allowing ownership, and valuing response—transformed the learning process for students.
The premise of Special Voices is that special education students typically worked on isolated skills in an isolated setting, focusing on what they didn't know and couldn't do. They had few expectations for themselves—and neither did anyone else—but their image of themselves changed through their work.
This book is inspiring because it provides additional support for using the process approach to writing. Adopting the methods described in the book should help classroom teachers and administrators use process writing to help special education students achieve more than they might through traditional techniques.
Available from Heinemann Educational Books, Inc., 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, NH 03801, for $17.50.
—Reviewed by Leslye Abrutyn, Springfield High School, Springfield, Penn.

Bringing out the Best in Teachers

Bringing out the Best in Teachers by Joseph Blase and Peggy C. Kirby. Newberry Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, Inc., 1992.
Recognizing that strong instructional leadership is a key factor in school effectiveness, reflective educators have been seeking to learn more about what effective principals do. An exciting new perspective on this question has been provided by Blase and Kirby. Rather than identifying principals by the achievement test scores in their schools, the authors asked more than 1,200 teachers to describe their principals as “open and effective” or “closed and ineffective” and to identify the strategies the principals used.
Each chapter in the book discusses a strategy used by the effective principals, such as praise, high expectations, involvement, granting professional autonomy, supporting, suggesting, modeling, and visibility. Also considered are personality traits like optimism, honesty, and consideration. The authors provide a concise theoretical foundation for each strategy, but the most engaging aspect of the book is the fact that the strategies are brought to life by teachers' descriptions of specific principal behaviors. The teachers' comments about how their principals helped them to grow as professionals are heartwarming and motivating. Each chapter concludes with specific implications for practice, which principals can use to reflect on their own behaviors as well as to consider new strategies to use every day.
Available from Sage Publications, Inc., 2455 Teller Rd., Newberry Park, CA 91320, for $18.00.
—Reviewed by Carolyn Hughes Chapman, University of Nevada, Reno.

Side By Side

Side By Side: Essays on Teaching to Learners by Nancie Atwell. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1991.
Atwell's Side by Side will be warmly greeted by those who believe all children are learners, who dream of classrooms filled with meaningful reading and writing across the curriculum, and who are themselves dedicated to lifelong literacy.
This collection of eight essays relates Atwell's experiences as a teacher, a learner, and a parent. Her words challenge educators to become teachers who make a difference for kids. She challenges readers to relinquish traditional teaching methods and the controlled curriculum and instead lead learning through rich reading and writing that will reveal one's own literacy. Atwell is an advocate of teaching that shows rather than tells.
Side by Side is warm and friendly. The reader comes to know Atwell's cast of characters well and feels pulled into their experiences in the same way one is captured by a rich novel. There is Laura, an 8th grade special education student, who was invited into a regular classroom for a writer's workshop. Laura's writing and accomplishments defied the test results that labeled her a deficient learner. She illustrates how cooperation nurtures learning in ways that isolation never could.
Mike and Tiffany use writing to address important concerns. Their stories reveal how hard students work when the content is real and for a genuine purpose. Among other students is Atwell's daughter, Anne. Atwell finds parallels between Anne's language development as a young child and the lessons Atwell learned from her 8th graders, lessons that are important for those leading learning in writing and reading workshops.
Atwell has mastered the art of teacher/researcher and shares helpful ideas for asking questions, wait time, modeling, record keeping, and reflection for those who dare to join “the field army of teachers across the country who lead full, literate lives, who sit side by side with kids, discover what feels right for them and their students, and make writing and reading workshops their own.”
Available from Heinemann, 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, NH 03801, for $16.95.
—Reviewed by Judith Shively, Harwinton, Conn.

Elementary Schooling for Critical Democracy

Elementary Schooling for Critical Democracy by Jesse Goodman. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1992.
If you're like me, you've forever been bothered by the “deep structure” goings-on in schools that seem to confound your strong, intuitive feelings about the importance of shared participation, discipline, leadership, and almost all aspects of curriculum and instruction. In Elementary Schooling for Critical Democracy, Jesse Goodman helps us to see and understand that our society's focus on individualism—and the consequent tension between individuality and community this focus brings into our schools—is one such “deep structure.”
Goodman details the ideology of individualism prevalent in our society and our schools and develops an alternative, “connectionist perspective,” which promotes a more caring, just community and a concomitant sense of social responsibility. Goodman presents his thesis through stories from a case study of life within Harmony School in Bloomington, Indiana.
Wonderfully free of turgid language, this book creates a truly meaningful and understandable “language of democratic imagery” for all who would try to make schools—and the world—a better place for everyone.
Available from State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY 12246, for $12.95.
—Reviewed by Dan Marshall, National Louis University, Evanston, Ill.

Dynamite in the Classroom

Dynamite in the Classroom by Sandra L. Schurr. Columbus, Ohio: National Middle School Association, 1989.
Administrators who are instructional leaders shouldn't miss Dynamite in the Classroom, even though it's subtitled A How-To Handbook for Teachers. Schurr, a former principal, avoids the term “whole language” while describing whole language practices in traditional curriculum terms. Both teachers and administrators will benefit from her ideas.
  • Preadolescents want and need authenticity, independence, and opportunities to set realistic goals.
  • Learning “takes” better when learners discover relationships and generalizations inductively.
  • Students learn a great deal from one another, so their education should incorporate social interaction.
Call them learner-centered or whole language, the skills described in Dynamite are crucial for the next millennium. Teaching postindustrial generations what to think instead of how to think will serve them poorly: “The skills most desired in our 21st century students will most likely be innovativeness, risk-taking, and communication techniques. Right now our schools [do little] to nurture these elements in our curriculum” (p. 171).
Schurr offers teachers active, learner-centered, language-promoting ways to nurture those elements, all designed to increase learner independence. Administrators will find this book useful to better understand the role of the teachers in a learner-centered classroom and to provide leadership for teachers who are trying to move toward that kind of instruction.
Available from the National Middle School Association, 4807 Evanswood Dr., Columbus, OH 43229, for $15.
—Reviewed by Carolyn S. Andrews-Beck, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

Evaluation and Education at Quarter Century

Evaluation and Education at Quarter Century. Edited by Milbrey W. McLaughlin and D.C. Phillips. Chicago: The National Society for the Study of Education, 1991.
Readers with a jaundiced view of edited “readings” will find this volume a refreshing change. Its editors have used an unusual approach—and some unusually talented authors—to produce an interesting and important book. Its purpose is to capture the essence of what has been learned about evaluating school programs since 1965, when a professional cadre of experts in educational evaluation first began to emerge in response to Congressional calls for accountability in federally funded education programs. Rather than attempting to summarize the voluminous evaluation literature that has accumulated since then, the editors have “focused on classics,” as they view them. Eleven authors who are widely acknowledged as important early contributors to educational evaluation were invited to revisit their original ground-breaking concepts and reflect on what they might say differently if they were to write their paper or book today. The authors' responses should prove as intriguing to thoughtful school practitioners as to the evaluation theorist.
Of the 11 chapters, 4 revisit and extend basic concepts of evaluation, 4 focus more on design or data collection issues, 2 relate to political and social forces that shape educational evaluation, and 1 summarizes professional standards and ethics for evaluators. Although the editors have focused this volume on program evaluation and indicate that they “...do not discuss the domains of personnel evaluation” (p. xi), they fortunately allowed Daniel Stufflebeam to summarize work of the last 15 years that has produced useful sets of standards for both program and personnel evaluation.
Michael Scriven's “Beyond Formative and Summative Evaluation” is especially deserving of comment. In it, Scriven examines several fallacies about formative and summative evaluation that have caused considerable confusion since he first coined these terms 23 years ago. In a wide-ranging and brilliant analysis, he uses these fallacies as levers to pry open and scrutinize many other fascinating aspects of current evaluation thought and practice. In so doing, he reflects not only the growth in his own thinking, but also the uneven development of the field of evaluation and the areas still needing further development. It is Scriven at his best. If this chapter were the only contribution this volume had to offer—and it isn't—the book would be well worth its price.
Available from the National Society for the Study of Education, 5835 Kimbark Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, for $29 (cloth).
—Reviewed by Blaine R. Worthen, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

The Politics of Curriculum Decision-Making

The Politics of Curriculum Decision-Making: Issues in Centralizing the Curriculum. Edited by M. Frances Klein. New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.
The Politics of Curriculum Decision-Making supports its editor's argument that the centralization of curriculum is fraught with complexities. Is this a text for teachers? I think it may be, for many of my graduate students, elementary and secondary teachers, recently stated that they chose my course on the politics of knowledge because of a new interest in the subject—a large percentage of them were members of local site-based management teams.
Teachers interested in the subject of curriculum/power in education may find this a comfortable introduction to what is mostly a depressing subject with unfamiliar vocabulary. Goodlad's overview of the text offers a concise critique of reform with all of its complexities. All authors note that reforms rarely meet society's needs, and each author centers on a particular facet. Klein offers a model for thinking of reform. Goodlad hits would-be reformers, site-based members, and others with the challenge to self-discipline our agendas. Happily, he offers a possible way around self-interest, that of using disciplined inquiry. He suggests that this book may be one tool to assist in a reasoned approach.
Missing are other perspectives from the right and left of political thinking as well as two crucial concepts introduced but never detailed: 1) that the tools of decision-making reside with those who hold the power, and 2) that the most powerful of all tools is the control of discourse, thus our thinking.
Education is about the distribution of influence and power, that is, politics. As Goodlad states, if teachers do not want to be just bystanders, they will have to become involved in a new form of political inquiry. Otherwise, by assuming that the good of children is primary in reform, they will suffer the consequences of remaining naive to the politics of curriculum decision-making.
Available from State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY 12246, for $14.95 (paper).

Education Politics for the New Century

Education Politics for the New Century. Edited by Douglas E. Mitchell and Margaret E. Goertz. Bristol, Pennsylvania: Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1990.
School administrators, teachers, board members, and public policymakers will find this insightful yearbook extremely helpful in preparing for their leadership responsibilities in the new century. Authors of the 10 pieces represent scholars in the social, economic, political, educational, and legal constituencies that influence the shaping of educational policy.
The following timely topics are analyzed: the dysfunction of federal education policy and assessment of educational needs; income, race, and inequality relative to urban high schools; the politics of school restructuring and technology utilization; and the role of business leaders in school policy reform. The book concludes with a consideration of past issues and future directions germane to policy formation.
The book predicts that the last decade of the century will be characterized by a continuation of the conservatism the Reagan administration fostered; education will not ascend in priority in the competition for scarce financial resources. This will further reduce the government's support of equal educational opportunity and have a direct effect on intensifying the economic and social isolation of urban youth.
Two chapters discuss the policy ramifications of restructuring schools and climate/culture conditions in which teachers work, contending that changes in both district and state policy are requisite for restructuring at the building level. Another chapter considers the effect of the often proposed technology panacea for education, while two other chapters look at the ways in which the business sector affects educational policy.
Supervision and curriculum specialists are frequently accused of being unsophisticated in the policy making arena. This typically results in our being obliged to conform to policies we had no voice in shaping. Education Politics for the New Century will help readers become more formidable partners in shaping policy that reflects what we know is best for education.
Available from Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1900 Frost Rd., Suite 101, Bristol PA 19007.
—Reviewed by Jerrold D. Hopfengardner, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.

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