Monthly Archives: February 2013

Myths of Bullying Prevention

Myth 1: Buying a Program Will Stop Bullying (Part 1 of 3)

By Kathleen Keelan

“Bullying is not the issue this year. Get a program in place and move on.” –Administrator, 2012

The very complex issue of bullying cannot be solved by just purchasing a bullying prevention program. Period.

Schools and school districts want the bullying to end, so they have been known to call in the rodeo clowns, movie producers, and cartoon characters. Unfortunately, because of the intricacies of the power dynamic of all stakeholders, the bullying issue cannot easily be handled by any one solution.

Our knowledge of the issue is growing every day. Our understanding of how to stop the phenomenon is slowing improving. One thing we know for sure: it’s not an easy fix.

One instance I was involved in comes to mind. A wealthy private school had an extensive program against bullying, complete with assemblies, posters, and speakers. The teachers were given tokens that they could hand out to the kids when they behaved in such a way that they were not bullying one another. In one case, a student was bullied. The one who bullied him also felt bullied. Both students’ parents hired a lawyer. There was a restraining order awarded so the two could not be in contact with each other. The principal was completely dumbfounded as to how the situation got to this point, considering he had done so much to avoid bullying in the first place. The principal was not prepared to deal with the complexities of the power issues, the community, and the culture of the building.

Like that particular principal, teachers and school officials often feel at rest when they invest in a bullying prevention program, but their job is far from done. Sadly, when it comes to bullying, they can never really let their guard down until they work on the larger and stickier issue—the culture of the building.

People often ask me what they can do about the culture once it is set. Through my experience I believe there are a few things. To begin to curb bullying, we must work on the immediate interactions between the individuals in a school setting, engage the bystanders, and not rely on programs to fix the problem.

The culture that doesn’t tolerate, encourage, ignore, or placidly condone through silence is a culture that will not allow bullying to take place. A culture where the kids do not see the adults bully each other or other students is a culture that doesn’t encourage bullying. A culture where the kids don’t see adults who are trying to gain power for themselves in inappropriate ways is a culture where bullying will not be tolerated.

Rather than depending on a formal bullying program, adults need to set an example. If they see someone being mistreated, they need to respond immediately, even if it is a colleague or another adult who is doing the bullying. If they see a child being mistreated, they need to intervene quickly.

The mantra in the hallway, the bus, and the classroom must be: “We don’t treat each other that way here.”

Adults who witness an episode of bullying should:

  • Stop it with a quick response
  • Educate and be clear about behavior that is disrespectful; saying you are “just kidding” does not make it better
  • Avoid ignoring it or excusing it

Classroom teachers bear much of the brunt of this immediate intervention role. They must:

  • Know the school’s policy so they can tell the students how they violated it (many do not know it)
  • Try to get the facts (much of the time, they argue that do not have the time)
  • Not judge how upset the target is or tell the target how he or she should or should not feel (this requires training and leadership)

So, is there any value in investing in a bullying program? Consider whether the program addresses the above micro-interactions. It must also address “bystander intervention,” meaning will a bystander “step up” on behalf of someone being bullied? Some of the finest researches in the nation have found this to be one of the key factors in bullying prevention.

In a recent meta-analysis by Joshua Polanin, Dorothy Espelage, and Therese Pigott out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found bullying prevention programs were “effective at changing bystander behavior both on a practical and statistically significant level.”

Changing bystander behavior is at least a step in changing culture. We cannot and should not rely on bystanders to handle all of the issues of bullying, but if they are engaged, at least we can feel that they are assisting the adults in changing the culture. Schools can and should purchase a bullying prevention program as long as it has something to do with improving the culture and engaging the bystanders. However, changing the culture takes work, and relying on a bullying prevention program alone is a mistake.

As educators, it breaks our hearts to know that bullying goes on in our schools. It is important that the steps we take are having a positive impact for our sakes and the sakes of our students.

To oversimplify the issue of bullying is unconscionable, mainly because we choose solutions that are oversimplified as well. If we look at it for what it is, a human rights issue, then we will begin to really invest in true solutions that match the severity of the issue. The solutions will require bystanders and other group psychodynamic complex interventions that look at various power differentials in the community.

The myth of a quick fix for bullying prevention should be put to rest for good.

Polanin, J. R., Espelage, D. L., Pigott, T. D. (2012). “A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Bullying Prevention Programs’ Effects of Bystander Intervention Behavior.” School Psychology Review, 41(1), pp. 47-65.

Kathleen Keelan has dedicated her career to preventing bullying by working as a teacher, therapist, presenter, and expert witness in bullying cases. She has been conducting bullying prevention workshops in schools since the late ’90s and also conducts classes and webinars throughout the United States.

Categories: Family, General Education, Positive School Climate | 11 Comments

How Do We Define an Early Childhood Curriculum?

By Dr. Shirley Patterson

There are numerous approaches to early childhood education. Most, if not all, have a goal of enhancing school readiness, and the approach individual teachers use will most likely depend on their philosophical position on early learning.

Our views related to the purpose of a curriculum and the approaches we use can be envisioned on a continuum (Soler & Miller, 2003), with one end being child-directed input and the other more adult-directed input. The curriculum may become the object of discussion when different views or philosophies are expressed. What is the appropriate content and context for early learning in the classroom?  How will the curriculum be delivered?

Our vision for early childhood education is expressed through the curriculum we implement. I believe that high-quality, intentional curriculum can increase the achievement of children, particularly children from low-income homes (Klein & Knitzer, 2006).

What is an early childhood (EC) curriculum? Can you define your concept of a curriculum? Simple question—not so simple answer. If you ask this question to 10 people in the EC teaching profession, you might get 10 different answers. Some will say it is a framework for learning. Some will say it is a group of activities for children. Some will say it is a scope and sequence of goals/objectives. Is it any of these? Is it all of these? Does it matter that we can define it? I believe it does.

A lack of clarity in the definition leads to a lack of conceptualization of what an early childhood curriculum should be. For the teacher who arms her/himself with all the tools possible to provide the best instructional environment for young children, the curriculum is at the core of the program.

According to a 2009 joint position paper of the National Association for the Education of Young Children  (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE), “Curriculum is an organized framework that delineates the content children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur.”

Here are three other definitions of curriculum:

  • “Planned and guided learning experiences and intended outcomes, formulated through the systematic reconstruction of knowledge and experiences under the auspices of the school, for the learners’ continuous and willful growth in personal social competence” (Tanner, 1980)
  • “A written document that systematically describes goals planned, objectives, content, learning activities, evaluation procedures and so forth” (Pratt, 1980)
  • “All of the experiences that individual learners have in a program of education whose purpose is to achieve broad goals and related specific objectives, which is planned in terms of a framework of theory and research or past and present professional practice” (Hass, 1987)

There are commonalities among these definitions. According to a number of curriculum definitions, whether teachers write their own curriculum or purchase a commercial curriculum, some common features apply. For example, a curriculum is planned, systematic, and organized. It provides a framework and guided learning with the content and context for learning. There are goals and objectives with intended learning outcomes. And, as noted from the national professional literature and guidance, we need accountability and outcome measurements. Curricula must align with state guidelines or early childhood standards, the Common Core State Standards, and/or professional organizations such as NAEYC.

It is clearly a large task to produce an early childhood curriculum that has all components, is developmentally appropriate, and moves children forward in preparation for kindergarten. When we can define “curriculum,” then we can describe what we want children to learn, how we intend to teach, the sequence of instruction, the goals or outcomes we desire/expect, and how we will measure them. It is a big job. What is your definition?

Shirley Patterson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and learning disabilities specialist.  She is a consultant in early language and literacy and a certified instructor for the The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum, which she coauthored with Ornes, McMillan, & Thomas.


Hoss, G. (1987). Curriculum planning: A new approach. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Klein, L. & Knitzer, J. (2006). Effective preschool curricula and teaching strategies. Pathways to Early School Success, Issue Brief No.2. Retrieved from

NAEYC & NAECS/SDE. (2009). Where we stand on curriculum, assessment, and program evaluation.  Retrieved from

Pratt, D. (1980). Curriculum: Design and development. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Soler, J. & Miller, L. (2003). The struggle for early childhood curricula: A comparison of the English Foundation Stage Curriculum, Te Wha’riki and Reggio Emilia.

Tanner, D. & Tanner, L. (1980). Curriculum development: Theory into practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Categories: General Education, Literacy | Leave a comment

Sentences: The Busy Bees of Text

By Nancy Hennessy

I wonder how many of you conjured up images of yourself diagramming written sentences as you read the title of this blog. Some of you may have even cringed a bit (a hint of grammar sometimes has that effect).

I vividly recall Sister Marie Edwina’s class and the innumerable sentences I diagrammed for English (the term language arts had yet to be coined). Assured of a good grade, this task  was high on my list of academic favorites. However, unlike the author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and the Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, I missed the point. Kitty Burns Florey (2006) got it, explaining “… once they were laid open, all their secrets explored—those sentences could be comprehended.”

While diagramming itself may not play an essential role in your instruction, its goal—building an understanding of how parts of a sentence contribute to meaning—should.

The Importance of the Sentence

The sentence lies at the heart of communicating thought and meaning, whether you are the writer or the reader. The rules of our language, syntax AKA grammar, allow for the creation of an infinite number of sentences that serve as the “worker bees of text” (Scott, 2004). The relationship that exists between syntax and semantics cannot be overlooked as educators work at developing students’ reading and writing proficiency. Even the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a bit of detective work and inference, acknowledge a role for sentences in writing and comprehension.

Connections to Writing

We, as teachers, recognize that writing proficiency is dependent on multiple processes and skills, and that the translation of ideas into syntactically correct form is central to conveying intended meaning. The nitty gritty aspects of parts of speech, the notorious sentence fragments, and the nuances of the simple, compound, and complex sentence are all too familiar to those who teach students how to write.

We have also had experiences with the havoc a sloppy sentence can wreak on the meaning of a composition. Many of us have worked with good writers who “know how to think about word order and its relationship with the ideas they are trying to express” (Scott, 2004). We also know struggling writers who often have difficulty using different syntactical structures to express relationships among words within and between sentences. An increasing emphasis on writing proficiency, including a student’s ability to express understanding of reading, should prompt us to explicitly teach students how to translate thoughts and ideas into sentences.

Connections to Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension similarly demands the integration of multiple processes and skills, many of which overlap with writing. One critical component of language processing, necessary for constructing meaning, is the interpretation of sentences. As readers recognize and retrieve the meaning of individual words, they also need to “work out the syntactic structure and sense of the sentence” (Cain, 2010).

As teachers, we have worked with “good readers” who know how to “work with the words” within sentences to identify the ideas and then, to integrate them to make sense of the text. We have also witnessed an inability to do so in some of our students. While the focus of comprehension is often on the text, we need reminders that “sentences one by one communicate the ideas that eventually add up to gist” of a text (Scott, 2004).

Reading comprehension instruction often overlooks sentence comprehension. Kate Cain (2012) tells us the foundation for discourse comprehension rests on an understanding of word and sentence meaning and, when flawed, can be a potential source of comprehension difficulties. While we understand how word meaning (semantics) contributes directly to comprehension, similarly recognizing the role of syntactical structures (parts of speech, phrases, clauses, types of sentences, and cohesive ties) is essential.

Some may be cringing again as I connect syntax (AKA grammar) to comprehension. Rest assured, I am not an advocate for teaching students syntax from a “mechanical” or “memorization” perspective. Rather, I advocate that educators consider how to integrate semantics and syntax instruction by considering respective contributions to meaning. For example, I would not teach parts of speech and their role in sentences without connecting their function to meaning. We know that nouns are “namers,” but they also answer the questions “who or what.”

So, let’s revisit the idea of diagramming sentences.  This, along with other explicit sentence-based activities—such as sentence combining and anagrams—can be used to foster sentence composition and comprehension, but only if we, as teachers, are clear on the purpose: to facilitate the student’s ability to extract and construct meaning. The bottom line is that sentence instruction should always focus on how syntax is used as a vehicle for conveying meaning.

One more thing …

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that both writing and reading proficiency require much more than developing the ability to construct and comprehend sentences. At the same time, I hope that I have conveyed that sentences are the busy bees of text, have been underappreciated, and require attention—particularly as you design and deliver comprehension instruction.

Nancy Hennessy, M.Ed., LDT-C, is an educational consultant and past president of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). She is also an experienced teacher and administrator. While in public schools, Hennessy provided leadership in the development of innovative programming for special needs students, a statewide revision of special education code, and an award-winning professional development initiative. She is an international presenter, national LETRS trainer, and coauthor of LETRS Module 6: Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension (Second Edition) with Dr. Louisa Moats.


Burns Florey, K. (2006). Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and the Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences. Boston, MA: Harcourt Publishers.

Cain, K. (2012). Reading Development and Difficulties. United Kingdom: John Wiley Publishers

Scott, C. (2004). Syntactic contributions to literacy development. In C. Stone, E. Silliman, B. Ehren, & K. Apel (Eds.) Handbook of Language and Literacy: Development  & Disorders (pp. 340-362). New York: Guilford Press.

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‘Real Men’ Read

By Michelle George

About two years ago I was busily teaching a seventh grade English class. We were working on a writing assignment that I had every hope would be engaging, instructive, and maybe even fun. I was wrong.

One of my male students was particularly annoyed. As I was walking around the room, checking progress and encouraging my young writers, this reluctant scrivener brought me back to reality by muttering, “Real men don’t write or read.” Of course I was quick to inform him that they certainly do. In fact, many of the most famous and influential writers in the world have been men. He looked scornfully up at me and quipped, “Yeah, but they’re all dead.”

I didn’t have much to say to that, and for a good week or two afterward I kept mulling that conversation over in my mind. This future man truly believed that the written word was just “women’s work,” with no true value in his world. What to do?

After a few days of ruminating, I came up with an idea. I would assemble a group of muscle-bound, sweaty “real men” who actually do read. I knew a few … several, in fact. And I thought they might be willing to come and share their literary passion with my students. But as I looked over my class, I quickly realized that many of my students would never become that stereotypical “real man.” My class was composed of an array of fascinating characters. I had the bookish, the artistic, the athletic, the ladies’ man, the comedian … every type of boy imaginable. This reality made my search much more interesting.

Starting that year, I took the cold, gray month of February and labeled it “Real Men Read Month.” I invite all sorts of men, from all walks of life, to come into my classroom and share their passion for reading. We set aside each Wednesday of the month for classroom visits.

In January, I work with my students to write appropriate questions for the visitors and practice the seemingly archaic skills of a good audience. When the visitors come, we sit back and enjoy. So far we’ve had readers of fantasy, nonfiction fanatics, history buffs, self-taught experts, young poets, and novelists.

The best part is that, not only do my young students realize that real men do, in fact, read, but my “real men” also discover that junior high students really are rather intelligent and pleasant after all. Now that’s a great way to warm up a February.

Michelle S. George is a language arts middle school teacher in Orofino, Idaho. She has a B.A. in English and secondary certification in English, reading, and journalism. Michelle has been teaching seventh and eighth grade for 20 years, and still loves going to school—as a teacher and a student. She has published a variety of lesson plans and written several award-winning grants.

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