Archive for the ‘Curriculum’ Category

This post is the second in my series of Up and Coming Blogger Posts.


The first, A Bigger and Better Teaching and Learning Circle mentioned how expanding the EduBlogsphere and hearing less-heard voices currently on the fringes would improve the blogging experience for all of us exponentially. Getting more people involved is my new thing, my new cool.


This post begins what I hope will be a weekly custom: Every Saturday it will be my endeavour to introduce you to a blogger whose writing you should check out. I have laid down 3 simple criteria for identifying these bloggers:


a) A Technorati Authority of 25 or less.


b) One post in the last 10 days and at least 5 in the last two months (this would give me a large enough sample of posts to decide on whether the writing appeals to me as also to exclude bloggers who write sporadically).


c) Focus on personal, opinion-driven writing, rather than on posts linking to other writing without comments by the writer herself.


The chosen blog will be linked on my site, will always be linked every subsequent post in the Saturday Spotlight sessions, and will hopefully get some traffic going towards her blog that should get her to write more and write better. A recent convert to blogging myself, I know how important readership numbers and feedback can be in the early days.

I have also tried my hand at Photoshop (first attempt ever) and created a badge the blogger may like to display on her site (there is a smaller version of the one below, Nancy!)




Saturday Spotlight



The blogger who kicks off the Saturday Spotlight Award is Nancy Flanagan who writes at Teacher in a Strange Land


Nancy has been blogging since the start of 2007, but is no newcomer to Teaching. A Doctoral Student, Nancy is a 31-year teaching veteran and has a varied career that spans Teaching (web and classroom), Providing consultancy to the Michigan Ed Department, and running all-line communities and workshops to promote Leadership in Schools. She was also Michigan Teacher of the Year 1993.


Congratulations, NANCY!


She has a warm and thoughtful writing style and she gels teacher and administrator persepctives quite eloquently. Most of her posts are comments on reports and surveys emanating from Research Universities and Think Tanks- I found her post on Tracking Students by Achievement Standards quite interesting and extremely well-written.


I hope you will visit her blog, read her posts and write in with comments. We need to motivate her to write more often than she does. Here is her link again:

Teacher in a Strange Land


Happy Reading!


More about Up and Coming Bloggers:


1. Eric Turner over at Second Hand Thoughts runs, I found out through his comment on my first post in this series, a similar exercise. You can access his latest blogger finds right here. (I love his Green Blackboard Award!)


2. Dr. Scott McLeod has been posting information and comments on new bloggers intermittently. You can access his range of posts starting with this one on Pete Reilly.


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One of my biggest learnings of 2004 was understanding Reading levels. I knew, earlier than 2004, that there are reading levels, age-appropriate bands of text complexity, determined by research for classroom settings.

This meant that in your classroom you would want to use text:

a) That was at the reading level of the children in your class or just slightly above

b) That there was the possibility that some there may be a range of reading levels in your class: some students may be reading ahead their age-appropriate reading level and some behind

c) That you would have to make allowances for this spectrum of reading levels, especially in Individual reading classes or Sustained Silent Reading Lessons, else you may end of frustrating the reader (should there we a dissonace between his reading level and that of the text he is offered)

I used reading cards and books in the class that came with the publisher’s recommended reading level guidelines. Else, by scanning the material I made an educated guess on what the reading level could be.

That’s when I stumbled upon stuff like the Gunning Fog Index and the Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease.These are tools to determine the reading levels of any piece of text.


The Gunning Fog index can be calculated with the following alogritm (courtesy wikipedia). Don’t get bothered by the computation; towards the end of the post I will provide links to sites that can compute this stuff in seconds for you:

  1. Take a full passage that is around 100 words (do not omit any sentences).
  2. Find the average sentence length (divide the number of words by the number of sentences).
  3. Count words with three or more syllables (complex words), not including proper nouns (for example, Djibouti), compound words, or common suffixes such as -es, -ed, or -ing as a syllable, or familiar jargon.
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words (ex., +13.37%, not simply + 0.1337)
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4


gunning fog index





The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease can be calculated like this:

flesich kincaid reading ease


The Gunning Fog Index gives you a number that corresponds with the number of years of schooling one would need top understand the text. A number of 6, for example, would mean that a 6th grader could understand the text.

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease would return a number between 0-100 with numbers closer to 0 being meaning easier text.

The alogrithms look complicated in their computation, but simplistic in the number of variables they take into account. The shortcomings of this approach may be that the formula cannot account for

  • account for writing style or genre
  • usage of passive/active voice
  • redundancy of expression
  • use of language that is simple or familiar
  • complexity in ordering of logical thought,

all of which are important in making text readable and determining what grade they could be appropriate for.
Here is a look at some popular texts and what their readability is like (GF: Gunning Fog, FRRE: Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease)

New York Times (webpage at http://www.nytimes.com), GF 9.04 FRRE 60.09

Wall Street Journal (webpage at http://www.wsj.com), GF 9.18 FRRE 59.33

Walt Disney Company (webpage in the site disney.go.com), GF 7.13 FREE 54.02

The Bible has a GF of 6, Reader’s Digest of 8, Time Magazine of 10. A GF of 16 or above means readibility suitable at a post-graduate level.

I ran tests on the first page of my blog and came up with this:

Total sentences – 455

Total words – 4936

Average words per Sentence – 10.8

Words with 1 Syllable – 3298

Words with 2 Syllables – 963

Words with 3 Syllables – 410

Words with 4 or more Syllables – 265

Percentage of word with three or more syllables – 13.68%

Average Syllables per Word – 1.52

Gunning Fog Index – 9.81

Flesch Reading Ease – 67.04

Flesch-Kincaid Grade – 6.60


This seems to suggest that my blog is readable by some 9th graders and most 10th graders: given the directionality of the content on this site, I am happy with that. Ideally, I would recommend a readability between 8 – 10 on the Gunning Fog Index.

How does one use this in the classroom? Here are instructions on calculating readability statistics for Webpages, Word Documents and Texts:

Word Document: Fortunately MS Word has an inbuild functionality for this- for many years I was just ignorant of it!

1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. Click Spelling and Grammar on the Standard toolbar.

Now every time you spell check a document, Word will give you data on Reading grade and Level. As a bonus, it will also tell you how many of your sentences are passive!

Web Page: I recommend Juicy Studio– thats where I ran the stats for my blog shown above.

Text: There are several on the web, I love Jack Daniel’s is one.

The good news: It has its limitations, but can be handy for a quick check of readability and hence a great help in the classroom. Also, it unfortunately it won’t make you a great writer, but it can stop you from being an ordinary one!

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cover of tin tin in congoIt seems Tintin is a racist.

That’s what the Commission for Racial Equality, a government watchdog, has declared after thumbing through Tintin In Congo. They were referring to the following:

1. The portrayal of the Congo people and monkeys are facially indistinguishable.

2. The Deifying of Tintin and Snowy by the people of Congo.

3. They also objected to the way he treats animals (older versions showed him stuffing a stick of dynamite into an ox)

The exact quote from their spokeswoman: “This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the “savage natives” look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.”

tintin in the congo

Have a look at the photos below: you can see clearly that the natives are portrayed as rather comical and monkey-like. I tried to find a caricature of a monkey from the book, but couldn’t find it.

It seems that this book has a historical context– Congo was a Belgian Colony (the creator of Tintin, Herge was a Belgian citizen). The comic tried to glorify the name of Belgium, deliberately set in a region the colonial power was eager to hang on to. This story showed the dual face of colonialism, an exploitation of the natives and also the benevolence of Belgium through provision of infrastructure, utilities, health services and education.

This fact has been documented and denounced publicly earlier. In fact, Herge himself admitted to regretting certain caricatures in this volume.

My question to you as an educator is this:

1) Should we be shielding our children from comics like these? If yes, how far can you go?

2) Is there a possibility to use these comics as a tool to explain the zeitgeist back in Colonial Europe as many of the Imperialistic powers scrounged to hold on to their fiefdoms?

I am not in favour of racism, but nor am I in favour of mollycoddling our children. Comics are an evocative, visually-rich media and reactions like this will happen. That shouldn’t drive us to pull them off children books shelf. What will be next – puritans questioning the Batman-Robin relationship or the relative absence of clothing on various comic heroines like Teela and Sheeba?

The comic may have been moved from the kids section to the adult section (action by Borders post the watchdog comments) but this publicity would only drive more kids to it. Unlike with alcohol, you can’t stop a child from buying it from there.

As always, I look forward to hear what you want to say. Have a good weekend!

Update:  See an update to this post here

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I’ve learnt a lot from Sanjiv Bawa over several meetings, both formal and informal, over the last year and a half – especially about business. He reminded me, in his comment on Arts at the Core, an earlier post that comics can be a very useful tool of learning.

I couldn’t agree more. Comics have a potential to be a great tool for teachers in the classroom, if used intelligently and innovatively. I was introduced to Amar Chitra Katha comics- popular work for children that centred around mythology and ancient literature as a child. I learnt about the Ramayana through Comics. They made Ram and Sita (part of the Hindu pantheon of Deities) cool for a six-year old kid. It laid the foundation for my understanding of Religion.

Given their immense popularity with children and adults, a well-meaning class with comics as teacher’s aids can go downhill if either the content is not age-appropriate or if the teacher is not able to channel the enthusiasm of the kids. I would be nervous before handing out Garfield and Peanuts or Holy Textbook- the Batman Series to the kids.

Some suggestions on how comics could be used in the classroom:

1. With Struggling English Learners or Readers: A child who is struggling to read has to be scaffolded. Have you ever tried learning a new language? You know reading can be difficult enough, without it being made dull.

a) Comics have pictures. The pictures often have quirky characters. That makes reading more interesting.

b) Comics reduce the amount of text on a given page. At the same time, comics lessen the amount of text in a complete story to a manageable level. Moreover, they often use similar terms, ensuring that students keep connecting the dots. Hence, students are able to read and complete whole stories in a reasonable amount of time. This means that a student has followed a narrative from start to end and created used his knowledge to link panels to each other and string together meaning all within a short time. That is a big plus.

c) Pictures go beyond making things interesting. They provide visual clues to the struggling reader, specially when he is reading independently, allowing him to keep persevering with reading.

d) At a later stage, comics provide a bridge between the struggling – but – becoming – slightly-confident reader and more complex material. e.g. A student reading about TinTin and Snoopy in Alaska may be keen to know about the Arctic Circle in greater depth. This can lead him to non-comic reading with more complex sentence structure at a higher grade level.

2. As a tool in other classes:

a) Comics can also be used in Creative Writing Classes in various activities: E.g. Remove the last panel of a 10 panel comic strip. Let the children give their recommendations. Or, remove the text from the voice balloons, let the children fill it in based on the story they see developing.


b) Remember doing character sketches you did as a child? Write a character sketch of Uriah Heep. Yikes! Write a Character Sketch of Sinbad the Sailor. Wow! As a teacher i’m interest in the quality, depth and complexity of your analysis, not who you are analysing. At least not in Upper Primaries.

c) As hinted at earlier, they can be used as bridge texts for more complex subjects in the Social Sciences.

d) Art class- there are several opportunities in this domain.

Comics can also help to cultivate a general interest in reading. Research in the US has shown that 60% of children read comics outside of school. Only 12-15% of them read any other kind of literature. I would posit that comics and its older cousin the graphic novel (type of comic book, usually with a lengthy and complex storyline similar to those of novels, often aimed at mature audiences. The term is commonly used to disassociate works from the juvenile or humorous connotations of the terms “comics” and “comic book”, implying that the work is more serious, mature, or literary than traditional comics) with its theme borrowed from classic literature & contemporary children’s novels, could be used to push up reading levels in children even while keeping them entertained with their brand of reading.

In finality, I would say that comics and their use in classrooms should, initially for a teacher, be with the lower forms and struggling readers. As teachers become more versed with the nuances of comics as teaching tools and the school more comfortable with this brand of teaching, they could graduate to senior and more advanced classes and to more developed themes. As i noted, one can do a MA or PhD in Comics (called Sequential Art in the academic circles) too, nowadays!

Lessons in History for readers of the blog: Comics, that were more popular in America and Japan before they were in India, went into the Dark Ages in the 1950s. After World War II, comics in America tended to have more blood and gore than ever, prompting psychologist Dr. Frederick Wertham’s infamous book, “The Seduction of the Innocent.” The book criticized crime, superhero and horror comics genres, in particular those by William Gaines (who later started and ran MAD magazine). The book claimed that comics glorified sex, violence and drugs – and that these texts were one of the prime causes of juvenile delinquency. Read more about this here.

Coming to India: This country has a more recent history of Comics. The staple fare for children in India was Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Chacha Chaudhary, though the new generation is unlikely to recognise most of these titles. Archie and his friends from Riverdale rule here now. In fact most of India’s comic heroes are American imports, it has very few of its own creations. Branson’s Virgin in association with Gotham Comics released India’s first attempt at a Manga-type comic- lush illustration and a more-real superhero. Meet- Devi a striking superheroine but sadly one who still has to catch the fancy of the masses. Maybe an Anglican name would help.

Teachers who are keen to know more and find activities for their classroom can follow download a free chapter from Stephen Cary’s new book Going Graphic- Comics at work in the Multilingual Classroom right here.

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This post over at De-Conversion, a blog for de-converting or former-Christians, has been at the top of the WordPress Most Read list for a couple of days now.

circular reasoning

The premise of the post is this. There common assumption is that a holy book can somehow validate itself. Most Holy Books will tell you that God exists, that there is a right way and a wrong way and that if you don’t toe the line bad things may happen.

The author questions the authorship of the holy books. Who knows if God exists in the first place? The book makes the claim that God exists and then tells you to do live your life in a prescribed manner since “God said so.” That to him is circular reasoning.

I will not go into the merits of holy texts and whether God exists. Our president-in-waiting definitely thinks so. My post is on circular reasoning.

In many classrooms, young learners coming to grips with critical thinking and logical reasoning make this mistake.

e.g. Alcohol is injurious to health because it affects the body.

e.g. Rahul doesn’t like me. Why? Because He doesn’t share his Homework? Why doesn’t he do that? Because He doesn’t like Me.

Question of the day: How does one teach students to avoid Circular Reasoning? Any ideas?



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A friend called- he mentioned that the Arts (a subject of my previous post) were a central element of the Guru-shishya parampara, a system of schooling prevalent till as late as the last century. Students would be taught by a Guru (teacher), staying at his house, doing all the housework, tending to the fields or other vocation. It was training for life. Sort of Small-Schools-Movement meeting Residential Schools.

Mira Alfassa, one of the founders of Auroville, affectionately called the ‘Mother‘, oversaw the Aurobindo Society’s Education work for a long time. She was a tireless educator, always eager to ensure her schools provided what she called “a vital education” In her book, Mother on Education, she writes about Arts Appreciation:

“Aesthetic sense should be added as early as possible. Aesthetic sense is the capacity to choose & adopt what is beautiful, harmonius, simple, healthy and pure. The child should be shown, led to appreciate, taught to love the beautiful, lofty, healthy and noble things whether in nature and human creation- one who has this refinement will feel incapable of acting in a crude, brutal or vulgar manner; it will finding expression in his behaviour and protect him from base and perverse movements. “

I extend this train of thinking from appreciation to involvement. If a child is involved and then motivated to become engaged in an activity, he will “feel incapable of acting in a crude, brutal or vulgar manner; it will finding expression in his behaviour and protect him from base and perverse movements.” When talking about ‘create discipline’ in schools- what really should be called ‘creating engaging schools’ – this practice can be invaluable.

An aside: if you haven’t heard of Auroville, I recommend reading about it. You can do so here. Described as a place for humanity- of unending education, of constant progress, and youth that never ages, it is really quite remarkable in the quality of life it provides its citizens and in the community-service initiatives it undertakes. After the Asian Tsunami, as a volunteer in Nagappattinam, India’s most affected area, I noticed that Aurovilleans were the most sincere, dedicated and responsive of all the donor and non-governmental agencies assembled.

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The Boston Public Schools are proposing Arts be introduced as a compulsory element of the High School Curriculum. States like Washington and Utah (these are two I know of) have some credits in the Arts deemed mandatory for Graduation.


I think everyone agrees that the Arts are important till the middle-years. I am not certain whether they believe this should be so. My discussions with some educators (mostly in India) has lead me to believe that Administrators give the Arts Carnegie Units till these years because:


a) The coursework or curriculum coverage till the middle years, especially in the absence of state-testing is not as important as it suddenly becomes in the High School Years. Then Math, Sciences & English take over. Till then, the Arts are seen as an activity that kids love & is low maintainence – hence it should be allowed to continue.


b) Arts allow demonstrations at PTAs. They allow Demonstrations at Annual Days. The School looks pretty with colourful posters on the walls. Makes the school look good.


At the slightest provocation Art Classes are disbanded and recsheduled to other teachers who lag behind in Syllabus Coverage.


In my opinion, two inputs could change this thinking.


1. The Arts should be defined more broadly. In too many schools the Arts mean a Paper, some colours and an active imagination. Hence teachers struggle to see the connection between coursework and Application in life. After all, how many times have we drawn as adults?


The Arts go beyond paper and colours. I attend lots of power-point presentations. Most are dead boring, ofter because of the power-point. Not that the software is to blame- these speakers have never understood (haven’t been taught) the power of visual communication.


The map, by Charles Minard, portrays the losses of Napoleon's army during his 1812 invasion of Russia. Beginning on the left, with an army of 442,000 men, the graphic shows the march to Moscow. The black line moving from right to left, shows Napoleon's retreat.


Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales. (courtesy Edward Tufte)


The arts encompass graphic designing (my wordpress template designer is one beneficiary), animation, choreography, storyboarding, photography and hundreds of other techniques that could make this subject more interesting and relevant.


2. There is a strong link of the Arts with Learning and more importantly with Doing. Arts (through graphs and diagrams) help us understand better (especially those of us with special needs), have been shown to be an important intelligence, increase development of the brain and as Daniel Pink says, it maybe amongst the most important skills for the future.


I feel there is a strong care to be made for the Arts in Education and there definitely should be a component required all the way up to college. There should be a mandatory exhibition of mastery over the work and a student-centered rubric that will allow teachers to assess the student. Assessment in the Arts is a reality and I would love to start a conversation with anyone who’d like to know how.


I leave you with an example of good design in communication (some have argued against the use of this word to describe strength of this work).


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