My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior
Sure, the senior thesis is a giant, time-consuming project -- but it's all about you and your passions, Elizabeth Landau writes.
April 17th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior

Elizabeth LandauBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a writer and producer for CNN.com. She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University.

(CNN) - When I told my mother that my senior thesis proposal had been accepted, that I would travel overseas to study the legacy of medieval Judaism in Spain, her main question was: “Where is this all going?”

For a 21-year-old, it’s often not clear where anything is going. I wasn’t entirely sure myself. In today’s tough job market, it may be hard for students - or parents - to rationalize working on an extensive academic research project over the course of the senior year of college, especially in the liberal arts.

But this is the season when some students are deciding whether to pursue one, and the seniors are submitting them. So, parents, listen up: A senior thesis is something that you should motivate your college student to do, even if the subject doesn’t lead to an obvious career path.

Outside of graduate studies or academia, most people will never again choose a topic that they want to research deeply for months, and write about what they discovered. As long as there’s an academic supervisor, reading and writing involved, the process can help with job and life skills.

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February 15th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: How we talk about guns in my Chicago classroom

Courtesy Sandra SteinbrecherEditor’s note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.

By Ray Salazar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke about gun violence, and he continues the discussion in Chicago today. He recognized in his speech, “our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.”

As a high school teacher in Chicago, I want to hear more than an acknowledgment that shootings are happening, that young people are dying violently and unfairly.  I want to hear his determination to push through Second Amendment politics and assure us his leadership will make our streets safer. We might not be able to prevent every senseless act, but we must decrease the desensitization that encourages only one-word reactions to shootings: “Again?”

My first teaching job in 1995 focused on troubled teens at an alternative high school on Chicago’s Southwest side. I grew up in this neighborhood, but only knew gun violence in Little Village as a distant reference - until one of my students got shot in the middle of the day, about one mile from the school, about one block from my house.

Sergio had returned to school in 1996 after dropping out. He slouched and wore a black, dusty hoodie. He struggled. His spelling was so bad that all I could do was rewrite his crooked sentences so he could then rewrite them correctly. He never complained. He sat, mostly silent, usually working. One day, his parole officer met with me and said his spelling was getting better. In 1997, he was shot and died.

He became the first person I knew killed by being shot. A couple of years later, someone shot a gang banger in front of my house while I dozed off to “Saturday Night Live.” A few years after that, my wife and I were shot at near our home as we returned from a wedding. Despite my anger, my disappointment, my fear, I felt all I could do was call 911.

In 2012, Chicago reached 500 homicides. So far this year, Chicago has at least 42 murder victims, one of them a high school student who performed at events around Obama's inauguration.

We've explored controversial issues in my classes, but we never took on gun violence, perhaps because it wasn’t controversial. There is only one side to it - it should not exist. I didn’t know how to push students into a deeper conversation or meaningful debate about this.

It was after the Sandy Hook shooting, however, I felt obligated to engage my students in conversations about guns. Gunshots, because of Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut, finally captured people's attention beyond Little Village. I knew my students would hear perspectives on the news, online, on Facebook. What would they say? What would they do? They needed to know the vocabulary, the history, the rhetoric to challenge closed minds and respond to open-ended questions in ways that represented their individual reality. We needed to join the national discussion.

These, after all, are the experiences that show students how the writing in their notebooks matters outside of our classroom.

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Filed under: Guns in school • Politics • School violence • Students • Teachers • Voices • Writing
Nation's Report Card:  Writing test shows gender gap
September 17th, 2012
04:32 AM ET

Nation's Report Card: Writing test shows gender gap

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) When it comes to writing, girls are better than boys.

That’s a generalization, but it’s one that is supported by the latest writing test from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The test, taken by 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 students in the 12th grade, was administered in early 2011. NAEP tests in different subjects have been given to students in the U.S. since 1969.  This year, however, marked the first time that the writing test was computer-based.  Students were able to take advantage of editing software and other writing tools, such as spell check and a thesaurus, as they crafted their writing samples.

Since this was the first large-scale writing assessment designed to be taken on a computer, the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the NAEP, said that it could not make comparisons to previous “paper and pencil” writing tests.

Students were asked to perform writing tasks in three areas:  To persuade, trying to change the reader’s point of view; to explain, trying to broaden a reader’s understanding of a topic; and to convey experience, trying to provide an account of a real or imaginary experience to a reader.

The NAEP writing test is a scaled test with a range of 0-300, and a mean score of 150.  “Achievement levels” were set along that scale for the categories Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.

Among eighth-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 54% basic, and 20% below basic.  (Because the numbers were rounded, they do not add up to 100%).

Among 12th-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 52% basic and 21% below basic.

According to the board, performances varied by race, ethnicity, gender, school location and other factors, such as parents’ educational attainment.  But the most notable achievement gap was between males and females in both eighth and 12th grades.
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Filed under: Practice • Testing • Writing