Libraries: The Heart of the School is Disappearing
Alan Haskvitz

According to recent research, the library and a qualified librarian can directly help in the improvement of student reading levels. Add to that the Common Core requirements for additional reading and writing using a variety of sources and you a clear cut case to keep the library at the heart of the school.

With cutbacks centered on libraraisn and libraries in many states, the reserch from Colorado and Pennsylvania makes it clear that the most important factor, outside of the classroom, was having a full-time librarian and this was particularly true at facilities that deal with groups that have low-income students as well as those with reading problems.

Unfortunatley, this research has not been enough to motivate some districts where funding is sparse. For example, in Los Angeles Unified School District half of the elementary and middle schools don’t have a librarian and in New York only half of the high schools have a librarian.

This map shows how far reaching the lack of funding for libraries goes. Some of the sites noted portray a dismal picture and is a must visit for teachers and parents.

On the other hand, this site shows how much money a library and technology center can save

Resources for Librarians and teachers
Excellent list from everything from lesson plans to book publishers

Outdated School Libraries:
What Can You Do to Update Yours?
Where to look for grants and how to make over existing libraries.

Discipline: training that perfects the mental faculties

Ten Skills Every Student Needs and You Probably Don’t Have Time to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

After 40 years of teaching there comes a time when you want to just yell at the curriculum designers and textbook publishers that they have the cart before the horse. Teachers need to be allowed to spend more time teaching students how to learn and less on preparing for a test which measures nothing applicable in the real world.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that every teacher would love to really teach students how to get ready for the challenges ahead of them and use the curriculum as a stepping stone to that goal. Over the years my students always were at the top in the State in terms of standardized testing. Indeed, some of them had perfect scores. The problem was I was teaching them how to take the test. Fortunately, I as able to shorten the material required for the course by removing those elements I though were essentially chaff so that I could teach them essential skills. Essentially, I started by teaching them how to discipline themselves. This worked so well that I still get letters from students, some decades after they were in my class, thanking me for teaching them for life. I have never gotten a letter thanking me for teaching them the Monroe Doctrine.

Here is the list and it far from complete, which are skills that need to be taught. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Learning how to Learn

Developing a love for learning is essential for any educator. It is the most important lesson a teacher can impart to a student and it is also the most difficult. A teacher may have to face a variety of hindrances from lack of parental care, nutritional and emotional problems, and even severe mental concerns. Regardless, there needs to be an effort and the best way is to become a facilitator by prodding, motivating, and providing a diverse array of learning materials to challenge the student to learn for themselves. Most often the textbook, frequently filled with data with little relevance to the student, is the main focus of instruction. And, perhaps, that is the way it must be if the goal is a test that measures improvement in the acquisition of this data. The teacher can feel confident as he or she has covered the material by sticking to the textbook. Motivational, hardly, but that is how teachers are frequently judged. There is another way to do this, but it is time consuming and requires a multitude of rubrics. Providing a variety of materials and having the students learn from them is an arduous task. However, once it is done a teacher can spend the rest of years modifying, adding, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of the students. ReachEveryChild (cited below) provides a variety of sources for this free material and is an excellent place to start individualization.

The second part of learning how to learn based on whether the student is an auditory, visual or kinetic learner and how to use these to their advantage. It is impossible for a teacher to use all of these methods when presenting lessons, but a student can create their own lessons to help them acquire the knowledge. In my classes I have students create poems, songs, graphic organizers and the Cornell note taking system. In this way there is a variety of methods for them to learn. I insist they use my linking and three transfer method of learning as well. The linking method makes them link what they are learning to other things they have learned and create a “learning tree” of it that they add to throughout the year. The three transfer method is to have students read the material, take notes on it, and transfer that material to another mode such as notecards. I also recommend presenting the answer to a question and have them supply the question. This is an excellent test of finding out what they know. It can be used in all subjects.

What is Valid

If you have time, giving the student a variety of short articles to read and asking them to figure out what would be the best way to judge this material is very worthwhile. This process should also include a study of the various types of propaganda, how to evaluate a website for bias, and stereotyping. That is a lot to swallow and so it is best as part of a school-year long program. If you are teaching social studies an ideal unit could be the differences of opinion between the South and the North about slavery. Learning how to learn is not just about the acquisition of skills, but for the student to acquire the ability to judge the material. One of the best tools to get students to read is Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four. As the students read the article they keep track of the characters and reach various conclusions as the teacher hands them the next page. The lesson makes them detectives, but more importantly allows them to learn for life. Seldom are we giving all the answers, but we must make decisions by what we know and judge what is valid.

Speed Reading, not just reading.

It isn’t any secret that the first basic skill is reading. But not just reading, but speed reading. Close reading will follow much more quickly if students can learn how to read rapidly. Reading for facts and reading for pleasure can both be more enjoyable if a student acquires the ability to focus on several words at one time. I taught second graders how to read over a 1000 words per minute at their grade level. The usual improvement was always 200 to 400 words per minute more and this was for language arts and social studies materials. Interestingly the comprehension improves as the speed level doubles as the student concentrates on the material. It is a win-win, but it most be reinforced until it becomes a habit and it takes at least 30 days for it to become a habit. Be warned that some students are resistant to it and so online speed reading sites can help them challenge themselves at their own rate.

Write at Grade Level +

The first thing on teaching a student to write is to explain the types of writing based on the purpose. Taking notes while on the phone or writing a compare and contrast essay may be different in length, but the ingredients are the same. However, for longer works you need to teach the student to write at grade level. I have the students write a one page paper on their favorite vacation either real or imagined. Next, I have them underline all the one syllable words. After that they circle any word that they have not known since primary school. The Fry Formula is applied and the students record their writing scores. They is always silence as the students realize that they are writing at several grades below grade level. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does force them to expand their vocabulary and that is good. I always have a few Thesaurus books on hand and show them how to use them. The results are immediate and the students not only improve their writing, but improve their thinking and organizational skills as well as they strive to improve. My article (citation below) provides an in-depth look at this successful practice that has enabled my students to win numerous writing competitions.

Teach Them to be Journalist

This vital profession is based on training that every student needs. The ability to communicate, to judge facts, and to influence others with their work. There is no other profession that is so vital for students to learn from because it is essentially what they are going to do nearly every day of their life. A good journalist seeks out evidence and judges it. They write using the who, what, when, where, why, and how approach. They use the inverted triangle that helps them organize facts. Finally, it teaches them to be curious and ask questions and, very importantly, take good notes.

Teach Them to be Lawyers

Perhaps, oversimplifying, but lawyers earn them living by researching and providing evidence that their cause is correct. This requires an examination of evidence and organization. This is another valuable trait that can help students of all ages. For example, was George Washington was a good president? Can you prove it? Can you provide evidence that he was not so good? Some may call this critical thinking, but that type of thinking can not really be utilized until a student is able to have a variety of experiences that enable them to make a critical decision. Thus using the basic skills of an attorney in proving a point and providing evidence to that end are skills they are going to need to write essays persuasive and expository essays and in life.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of the school year I ask the students to look around the room and, without naming names, tell me how many other students they would hire to work for them based on the knowledge that they wanted good workers. After that I ask them to write that number down, fold the paper, and place it in a basket. I take out the numbers and place them on the board to come out with an average. In almost every case it is ten percent of the students or less. That means that the others already have a reputation of not being good workers. The reason for this is that many students simply do not hold themselves accountable. Immediate gratification, poor parenting, the need for quick teacher assessment with little assessment of the assessment, all help feed a “who cares” mentality. This results in large scale cheating with little fear of consequence. Research has overwhelming shown that rewards must be intrinsic to be a lasting value. If students are to be held accountable there must be a reward system that works and entices parent buy-in.
People Skills

We aren’t talking about cooperative learning, we are talking about the ability to get along with others regardless of differences. We are talking about good manners, social skills, negotiating skills, and the ability to work together to create a common goal. Skills as basic as how to talk to people on the phone, how to ask permission, or even showing remorse or concern are missing and yet vital for life.

Handling Emergencies
Handling emergencies is also seldom taught at school. Yes, fire drills are held, but what value are they to the student when a fire really occurs elsewhere? My students wrote and had published in the American Fire Journal the problems with school fire drills in the hopes of enlightening others. School administrators essentially ignored it because it wasn’t an area to be tested. Sad, because the issues the students brought up were important. For example, why does the fire extinguisher stay in the room during a fire drill? Why do the students stand up in rows when an explosion could knock them over? Who knows where the dangerous chemicals are? What do the various colored helmets that firemen wear mean? Needless to say, handling emergencies is a vital skill. Why doesn’t every student know CPR? How to stop bleeding? Or to identify a person having a “fit” and knowing how to act? Taking this a step further, how to teach students not to panic and to learn how to identify people should be taught. But, who has the time?

Skills for life

Setting realistic goals, identifying propaganda and bias, budgeting time, operating a computer and touch typing, triage work assignments, handling money and investments, observation skills, where to find information and measure its accuracy, and learning how to listen can all be incorporated in the curriculum. Each of these carry lifelong importance and all can and have been taught within the curriculum if there is time. There are free units of study on almost all of these areas available. The teacher needs to be given the time and flexibility to personalize them for their class.

Before I get off my high horse I must add one more thing and that is for the student to learn how to be happy. My friend Larry Martz, an editor with Newsweek, wrote in his book Making Schools Better, about the small bite principle. This is a simple plan where small strides can result in large gains. An educator who just takes one of these ideas to heart could make a huge difference knowing well that it is at least as significant as anything on a standardized test.

Why Students Cheat

Making Schools Better

Car Rating Site

Government fuel economy site

How to Improve Student Writing

Student speed reading lessons
There are others

Using the Inverted Triangle

Free summer reading program for your class and school
by Alan Haskvitz
National Teachers Hall of Fame

Awesome Stories is offering a tremendous deal for free. Teachers can enroll and track the summer reading of their entire class. I did say free. You can even enroll the entire school. The program is interactive and the stories are interesting and Common Core assignments can be applied. Even if you are off for the summer it would be worthwhile to investigate this site.

Remember that this is all without cost. The site even has a calendar of important dates and reading activities that could be used to make each day a teachable moments. You can use this site for flipping an assignment, blended learning, or just to get students excited about reading. Try this one, Animals as Defendants in Court and the true story of a pig put on trial for murder. The readings have an abundance of primary source material as well and that helps students prepare for Common Core.

Here are some of the stories that are available and the site also offers the true stories of what is behind some movies such as 12 Years a Slave, Remember the Titans, and more. There is even an audio/radio section to help students improve listening skills.

Helen Killer, Benedict Arnold, Bobby Kennedy, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Plessy vs. Ferguson, Vikings, Alexander the Great, even Secretariat winning the Triple Crown.

Site overview

Here is the index by grade/standard/subject

Education link

To sign-up go to and tell them Alan sent you.

Guided reading

By National Hall of Fame Educator Alan Haskvitz

For young and ESL readers guided reading presents a supportive and remediative form of learning to read that offers students the benefits of sharing accomplishments and overcoming weaknesses. It takes time to set-up, needs consistency, and a lot of time, but once the method is mastered it can nearly run itself if the necessary resources are available. Below are some of the best ones I could find about reading and guided reading.

Help for slow learning child

Strategies for motivating readers


Phonics and teaching reading

Videos about guided reading

A fairly comprehensive site

Most everything you need to know here from questioning skills to the time allocation.

A good how-to site

An excellent site for those just started using guided reading

It includes a full range of helpful resources.

A good wiki article

It explains how to do it and provides lesson ideas.

Making Guided Reading Multi-level

Introduces the four block method.

The Significant Benefits of Guided Reading

With Specific Instructions on How to Use Guided Reading

Vocabulary Builders

These sites provide ways for a teacher to provide lessons to accommodate a variety of reading levels easily. They are especially valuable to ESL students and slower learners who need additional practice outside the realm of the textbook. The large link sites are very useful.

Phonics Links

Motivating Students

Read Across America links

ESL lessons

Downloadable books

Help for slow learners

Strategies for motivating young readers

Vocabulary Games>
Self made cards for online vocabulary building. Takes a while to master, but allows individualized lessons and provides hints.

Several lessons about vocabulary games. Simple and of wide range of quality.

Using Podcasts to improve vocabulary

Very large link site

Teacher designed lessons

Basic, but a good variety

Spelling and vocabulary links page

Free technology lessons

Use the Internet to help with vocabulary

Everyday Vocabulary Anagrams

Lots of them.

Reading novel studies on over 20 books.

Check the list. This is a great site for better readers and helps them polish their skills without a great deal of teacher time.

Grammar and Vocabulary Assessment Tests
Have your more advanced students take them to see where they can improve. One hour time limit.

Web English Teacher  
Large general link site for all areas of English teaching.
Fake Out Game
Students select the correct definition from list. Good practice to polish prefix and suffix skills.  SAT Words

Illustrated Vocabulary
For English, French, Dutch and Danish words.

Reading across America Resources free lessons and links

by Alan Haskvitz

I have the following free resources online:

Read Across America Links including Dr. Seuss
http://www.reacheve reading.html

Reading books and children’s reading literature sites
http://www.reacheve language/ english/reading. html
http://www.reacheve language/ other/reading. html

Phonics and teaching reading

http://www.reacheve feature/phonics. html
http://www.reacheve feature/more- phonics.html

How to motivate students to read
http://www.reacheve feature/motivati ng_readers. html

Literature circles
http://www.reacheve feature/lit_ circles.html

Primary teacher sites
http://www.reacheve feature/primary_ resources. html#3

Author sites language/ index.html

Printables feature/printabl es.html#read

Horace Mann Unit of Study:

The History of Public Education

Lesson posted here

This is an encompassing and multilevel unit of study that not only deals with the life of Horace Mann and his contributions to public education by links it with the major early acts that influenced education such as the Morrill Act and the Northwest Ordinance. Includes maps of Native American lands, a table about the rewards of staying in school, and scholarships given by the Horace Mann Companies. For lower level students there is even a word wall.

Easily one of the best units of study on Horace Mann anywhere.

For more free lessons click on



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