Friday, September 15, 2017

Grade 4 Science Curriculum in Jamaica

Ministry of Education, Jamaica.
 In 1999, the Jamaican Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) replaced the Common Entrance Exam. Because Science and Social Studies had previously been given little emphasis, exams in these subjects, based on topics covered in grades 4, 5 and 6, were introduced in GSAT. The curriculum was overloaded with content, much of which would be taught again at the high school level. Great pressure was exerted on the students to get them to commit to memory a large amount of information.  Therefore a decision was made, as I understood it, to cut down on the content and have tests at the end of each of the grades 4, 5 and 6, to give a Primary Exit Profile (PEP). More emphasis was to be placed on developing critical thinking skills and less on rote learning.
A new National Standards Curriculum, for the grades one to nine levels, was written and should have come into operation at the beginning of the 2016/17 school year, but was delayed by a year. According to JIS:
“The goal of the new Curriculum is to improve the general academic performance, attitude and behaviour of students, which will redound to the positive shaping of the national social and economic fabric.
Under the new system, emphasis will be placed on project-based and problem-solving learning, with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics/ Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEM/STEAM) integrated at all levels.
The approaches will allow the learners to have hands-on experiences that are similar to real-world situations, making the learning experience less abstract and more concrete.
The new curriculum will allow students to utilize their own talents, and experiences in the learning process, while facilitating the increase use of Information Communication Telecommunication (ICT) technologies.”

I was therefore disappointed and alarmed when I perused the Grade 4 Science book: The New Integrated Approach – Science Workbook 4 by G. Harper, M. Dennis and D. Ellis published by Gem Publishers, which adheres strictly to the curriculum  produced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. The content is MORE than that in the GSAT curriculum. Several topics previously taught in Grade 6 are now to be taught in Grade 4, namely the eye and the ear; flowering plants – types of plant, root and shoot systems and the flower. Forces and work – types of forces and friction; sinking and floating, previously taught in Grade 5, are now in Grade 4. The other topics previously taught in Grade 4 remain, except for Simple and Complex Machines; and Rocks, Minerals and Soils.  It is also unfair to the teachers of these grades, who are not specialized science teachers, to change the curriculum at such short notice.


Furthermore, the content of The New Integrated Approach – Science Workbook 4 is sloppily researched and presented. Many experiments are suggested. Did the authors of the book, or the designers of the curriculum, try out the experiments before putting them in the book? Is there scope for the children to design and carry out their own experiments? Have they been taught how to? In First Steps in Science Activity book 6, by Vilma McClenan, Hortense Morgan and R. Dorothy Pottinger published by Carlong, (1999), is the following statement: “The activities that you will do will require you to use the process or inquiry skills which you have been using in science since grade 1. These include : observing, communicating, inferring, predicting, hypothesising, measuring, planning investigations that are “fair tests”, recording and interpreting data, drawing conclusions and looking for patterns and relationships.”
As far as I know, grade 4 students have been using few of these skills. They are more encouraged to learn by rote and regurgitate information they do not understand. Furthermore, primary schools do not have equipped laboratories. Teachers might be able to bring a thermometer, and a scale but, with 50 children in a class, it would be hard to use them as prescribed in The New Integrated Approach – Science Workbook 4.
The illustrations leave much to be desired. Several are clearly not of the Caribbean. Why, when the book is intended for Jamaican children? In the picture on page 36 of people playing musical instruments, most of the performers are white, and the unnecessary, confusing background of trees is the same background as on page 102, showing some people in a park. How were these pictures put together? The one on page 110 is obviously of the English countryside.
For several topics in the book, students are required to research on an electronic device , and in many instances to download and print pictures. For example, on page 41, students are instructed to print pictures of hearing aids and paste them in their books. How many children have access to a printer, and are able to download and print without help? I have to ask, what is the educational value of this activity? The reason “Teacher says you must do it to get a grade.” What critical thinking is involved here? It is a mindless waste of time and resources.
There are seven end-of-unit tests consisting of multiple choice questions many of which are confusing, for example:
Q6. (page 15) Sandy pasted pictures of herself in her scrapbook. She could be showing:
A.    How living things grow and change.
B.    How living things respond to stimuli.
C.    How living things remain the same.
D.    That living things are visible.
This system of testing, while capable of grading large numbers of scripts in a short time, has the effect of encouraging teachers to teach and students to study for that kind of test. It does not encourage critical thinking, analyzing and inquiry skills. If we want our children to become critical thinkers, we need to cut down on the content of the curriculum and devote more time to the development of inquiry skills. Surely it is not beyond the capacity of the MOEYI to do this? 
Additionally, is any public scrutiny of that NSC is being done by Jamaican stakeholders, as had been done with several previous  curricula? It seems to me that far too much emphasis is placed on the content of the curriculum and not enough on the capacity of the teachers and schools to deliver it; and the ability of the students understand it. We end up teaching the curriculum and not the children. Surely, principals, class teachers, parents and the students themselves should be allowed to have some input in the development of curricula.
  











Thursday, September 7, 2017

Class Libraries for Jamaican Schools



One of the joys of life is exploring new worlds through books. Many children in Jamaica are denied this pleasure because the only books they have are their school textbooks, which hold no particular interest for them. They don’t visit the parish library, and few schools have libraries with a qualified librarian able to assist hundreds of children in the school.
I’m therefore making a suggestion that schools have class libraries. The class teachers know their students well and can select books which they think each child would like and be capable of reading. If the class library had sufficient books, children could browse and make their own choices. Children learn to read better by reading books which interest them at their current reading level.
Then there needs to be a set time each day when the children “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR), one of the unfulfilled objectives of ESTP (the Education System Transformation Programme).
Where can these books come from? They can be donated, parents could be asked to buy one book (a different book for each child to add to the pool) or money could be given to, or raised by the schools to purchase the books. In this and subsequent posts I’m making some suggestions for suitable books to stock class libraries. I'm starting with books for beginners. 
Little Lion at Bat by Kellie Magnus
Although an enormous number of books available, I've tried to narrow it down to a manageable number. Picture books appear to be an obvious choice, but in many of them the text  is intended for reading aloud by a proficient reader and is too complex for emergent readers. Another important consideration is that children see themselves in books from an early age. Ones featuring Jamaican children are listed in my post “Books for Young Children by Jamaican Authors”. 
There is a good selection of books from the wider Caribbean on the Anansesem website and on Amazon. For example: Coconut Mon by Linda Milstein – a counting book.
A coconut's life for me by Jonathan de la Rosa 
Five Birds on a Wire by Melanie Charlene

In addition, there are several graded readers written specifically for Caribbean children. Here are my picks:
Macmillan Caribbean: Reggae Readers (written specifically for Jamaican children.)
                                    Ready, Go  Series
A book in Macmillan Caribbean
 Ready, Go series
Language Tree Reading Scheme by Leonie Bennett
Cambridge Storybooks I wasn't able to look inside any of these titles, but they are designed for English Language Teaching, which would seem to me to be suitable for Jamaican children in Grades 1 and 2.

Ladybird books Penguin continues to publish new titles in the Ladybird imprint. Many of them are relevant to the Caribbean and are available in Jamaican bookshops.


My story in the
Stepping Stone Series


Pearson’s Stepping Stone Series is another set of readers intended for Caribbean children, but it is hard to get hold of in Jamaica.

The Ministry of Education in Jamaica used to supply schools with the 'Literacy 1-2-3" books and the Doctor Bird Readers, but no longer does so.

Usborne  is a leading UK independent publisher of children's books. They have over 2000 titles in their collection which includes fairy tales, folk tales, fiction, and nonfiction. Their website is organized so that you can choose books for a particular aged child, but not their reading level. You cannot 'see inside' the books so it is hard to gauge the reading level.

There are many books and series written for the American market, most of which have a universal appeal. I compiled the selection below, in alphabetical order of authors, from a list of books enjoyed by students at the  Center for Teaching and Learning.

1. Bridwell, Norman     The Clifford series  Each of these books is about 30 pages long. They are available on Kindle as well as paperback for US $2-4.   
2. Dean, James   Pete theCat series Each about 40 pages. Titles in the Harper Collins 'I can read series'. 

3. Krauss, Ruth    The Carrot Seed 
4. Lakin, Patricia Vroom, Zoom, Bud (Penguin Young Readers, Level 1)
5.  Lobel, Arnold    The Frog and Toad books, Mouse Tales,  and other books in Harper Collins ‘I can read books’
6.  Marshall, Edward    Four by the Shore, Three by the Sea and others. (Penguin Young Readers series.) 
7. Marshall, Edward and James    The Fox books (Penguin Young Readers series.)
8.  McMullan, Kate   Fluffy Goes toSchool (Scholastic Reader).
9. Numeroff, Laura   Jelly Bean’s BigDance  a picture book with simple text.
10.  Parish, Herman    Amelia Bedelia books The original books, by Peggy Parish, about a maid who took all instructions literally, causing her to perform incorrect actions, amuse readers with a good command of English. Jamaican students in grades 1 and 2 might not find them amusing. However, Peggy's nephew has continued the series by writing about Amelia Bedelia's childhood.  
11. Portis, Antoinette    Not a Stick, and Not a Box  - Penguin Story picture books with simple text, could be starting point for discussion or writing. 
12. Rylant, Cynthia   Henry and Mudge series, (Ready to read series) Boxed set – 6 books $12 
13. Seeger, Laura Vaccaro   First the Egg (32 pages). This is an easy read for grade 1 and is also suitable for  Basic Schools. 
14. Stevenson, James    The Castaway,  Don’t Make MeLaugh, These books don't appeal to me, but you can never tell what children will like.
15.  Willems, Mo    The Pigeon books, and the Elephant and Piggie series
16. Wilson, Karma    Bear's New Friend and the rest of the Bear books 34pp  These books are actually more appropriate for reading aloud in basic schools and for discussion with a teacher or parent, but the illustrations are delightful and could encourage children to read for themselves.

I hope this list will provide a starting point for those interested in buying books for class libraries or for individual children in Grades 1 & 2 in Jamaican schools. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ideas for Summer Reading for Children


Diane Browne's 'Ebony and the
Auntie of the Starlight' is on
Amazon as an e-book.
Summer Schools are mostly over. What now? In the several weeks of summer holidays remaining, there is no better activity for children than reading for pleasure. The premise is simple, but implementation meets a number of obstacles.
The first is to convince parents and teachers that it is true, although many studies have shown that when children are allowed to read books of their own choosing, most areas of study at school are enhanced. Reading improves comprehension and knowledge of grammar, and increases vocabulary more than do exercises in books designed for that purpose.

The second, especially in Jamaica, is to expose children to an adequate number of books from which to choose. The third is to find people who are willing and able to help them make these choices.
In this and subsequent posts, I am putting forward some suggestions of sources of books (other than The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and books by Enid Blyton).
One of the titles in Carlong's
Sand Pebble Series 

There is a common attitude that Jamaicans don’t write and illustrate books, but this is clearly not true, (see my list below). Many of these books are available in local bookshops and libraries; and children enjoy reading about heroes and heroines who look and speak like themselves. There is wide selection of Caribbean books on the Anasesem website. Anansesem is an online magazine featuring news, ideas, art and letters from the world of Caribbean children’s publishing. It incorporates a bookstore where Caribbean children’s books can be bought online.
Nowadays, children have the option of reading on their tablets or even on their phones. Book Fusion in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information have made available books in the Doctor Bird Series, Literacy 1-2-3 and the Blue Mahoe series, which are no longer available in print.
There is also the International Children’s Digital Library  I was surprised to find The Cat Woman and the Spinning Wheel by Diane Browne, illustrated by Andrea Haynes-Peart in this library. Diane didn’t know it was there either! She told me it was one of the most popular books in the Doctor Bird Reading Series, back in the day. To find the Jamaican books, search books by country.
Marley Dias

Marley Dias, a girl from New Jersey whose mother is Jamaican, took social media by storm with her campaign
"1000 Black Girl Books" after she was tired of reading about white boys and their dogs. See below for the books she chose for girls her age.
          On  Amazon, you can find many children’s e-books, for example, Diane Browne’s “Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight” and “Abigail’s Glorious Hair”.
An advantage of choosing both e-books and hard copies from Amazon is that you can read the first few pages. You can see the size of the print, the type of vocabulary and sentence length, and the illustrations. Children too can choose books in this way.
Another source of book ideas is the Center for Teaching and Learning website. At this school, reading for pleasure is mandatory, both at home and at school. The only problem is that the lists of books which children like are very long. I have been through one for girls in grades 5 & 6, and picked out the more well-known books - see below. It is my intention to pick out and recommend books for boys and girls for other grades, and post them in  my next blog.

List of books by Jamaican Authors

1. Flying with Icarus  by Curdella Forbes                  2003 (Walker Books)

Carlong Sand Pebble Series  available in Sangsters Book Stores

2. Jojo’s Treasure Hunt by Cherrell Shelley-Robinson           2003 (10-12)

3. Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne                                  2002 (10 -12)

4. Island Princess in Brooklyn by Diane Browne       2011 (10-14)

5. Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost by Hazel Campbell          2010 (10-12)

6. Tek Mi! Noh Tek Mi by C. Shelley-Robinson et al            2008 (10-14)

7. Every Little Thing will be All Right by Diane Browne 2003 (8-10)

8. Little Island - Big Adventures by Maria Roberts-Squires 2007 (12-14)

9. Jenny and the General by Jean D’Costa                 2006 (8-10)

10. Miss Bettina’s House by Hazel Campbell                        2004 (8-10)

11. Ash the Flash by Hazel Campbell and Nattalie Gordon   2014 (10-12)


Published by LMH,  available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading.

12. Juice Box and Scandal by Hazel Campbell

13. Tilly Bummie by Hazel Campbell

14. Ramgoat Dashalong by Hazel Campbell

15. Goat Boy Never Cries by Hazel Campbell

16. Be-All-You-Can-Be: Yalena and the Spelling Bee by Lil’ Island kids

17. Fly Away Home and other Caribbean Stories by Andy Mead

18. Project Climate Change by Petre Williams-Raynor

19. Inner City Girl by Colleen Smith-Dennis

20. Saving Joe Louis by Isabel Marvin


By Diane Browne

21. A Tumbling World - A Time of Fire

22. Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune. Now available as an ebook

23. The Ring and the Roaring Water


By Linda Gambrill (Beenybud Stories)

24. Miss Tiny (7- 9)

25. A Boy Named Neville (7 - 9)



Island Fiction Series (Macmillan Caribbean 2009) available at outlets supplied by Novelty Trading and on Amazon.

27. Delroy in the Marog Kingdom by Billy Elm  2009 (9-14)

28. Night of the Indigo by Michael Holgate  2009 (12-15)


Scholastic

29. Blue Mountain Trouble by Martin Mordecai 2009 (8-12) 


By Cedella Marley


31. One Love (2011)

32. Every Little Thing (2012)


33. A Jamaican Storyteller’s Tale by Lorrimer A. Burford ( 2005)


By Suzanne Francis Brown

34. The Mystery of the Golden Table (Arawak Publishing)

35. Searching for Pirates. A Port Royal Adventure (Arawak)

36. Marcus Garvey. (Suzanne Francis-Brown/Jean-Jacques Vayssieres)(Ian Randle Publ)

37. The Mermaid Escapade (E-Published, Kindle, 2013) 


38. By Helen Williams ‘Delroy and the Marog Princess’ (self-published e-book sequel to Delroy in the Marog Kingdom).



The following stories were written longer ago (‘70’s,’80’s and ‘90’s). They are probably better known than more recent publications, because many of them were on school book lists.

By James Berry


40. Ajeemah and His Son – Harper Collins1993 (8-up)

By Everard Palmer

41.  A Cow Called Boy 1972 (6-10)

42. The Sun Salutes You (Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2007) (8-12)

43. My Father Sun-Sun Johnson 1974 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2012)

44. Cloud with the Silver Lining 1987 (8-12)(Republished by Macmillan Caribbean 2011)

By Jean D’Costa


46. Escape to Last Man Peak

By Andrew Salkey (all reprinted by Peepal Tree Press 2011 in the Caribbean Modern Classics  Series) (12 - up) 


47. Drought (Oxford 1966; )


49.  Riot
            50. 
Hurricane

By Vic Reid (1913 - 1987)

51. Sixty-Five (1960), London: Longman.

52. The Young Warriors (1967), London: Longman.

53. Peter of Mount Ephraim (1971), Kingston: Jamaica Publishing House.

54. The Jamaicans (revised edition 1978), Kingston: Institute of Jamaica.

55. Nanny Town (1983)

56. The Horses of the Morning (1985)

57. The Leopard

Books chosen by Marley Dias for Middle Grade (some are higher level and some lower)
(The asterisks are not mine and have no significance in the context of this blog post.)
  1. Almost Zero by Nikki Grimes
  2. At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers*
  3. Bayou Magic by Jewel Parker Rhodes
  4. Bird by Crystal Chan
  5. Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
  6. Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon
  7. The Case of the Missing Museum Archives by Steve Brezenoff
  8. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E Tate
  9. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  10. The Cheetah Girls by Deborah Gregory
  11. Ernestine and Amanda by Sandra Belton
  12. Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
  13. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
  14. Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
  15. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer
  16. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
  17. Half-Way to Perfect by Nikki Grimes
  18. Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
  19. The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
  20. The Laura Line by Crystal Allen
  21. Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham
  22. Let The Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor
  23. Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas*
  24. Ludell by Brenda Wilkinson
  25. The Magnificent Mya Tubbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen
  26. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
  27. Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl by Tonya Bolden
  28. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
  29. Mo-Ne Davis: Remember My Name by Mo’ne Davis*
  30. Nikki and Deja by Karen English
  31. Nikki and Deja: Birthday Blues by Karen English
  32. Nikki and Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter by Karen English
  33. Nikki and Deja: Substitute Trouble by Karen English
  34. Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  35. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  36. President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
  37. President of the Whole Sixth Grade by Sherri Winston
  38. PS: Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
  39. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  40. The Road to Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor
  41. The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes
  42. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
  43. Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden*
  44. Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon
  45. Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones
  46. Skit Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill*
  47. Standing Against The Wind by Traci L Jones
  48. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  49. Twintuition: Double Vision by Tia and Tamara Mowry
  50. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  51. Unstoppable Octabia May by Sharon Flake
  52. Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough*
  53. Who Was Maya Angelou? by Ellen Labrecque*
  54. Who Was Michelle Obama? by Megan Stein*
  55. Who Was Rosa Parks? by Yona Zeldis McDonough*
  56. Who Was Sojourner Truth? by Yona Zeldis McDonough*
  57. Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes
  58. Zahrah The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  59. Zora and Me by Victoria Bond

Books chosen by girls in grades 5& 6 attending the Centre for Teaching and Learning
Lexile is a way of matching readers with text using the same scale. The lower the lexile, the easier the book. Not all books have a lexile assigned. Grade equivalents are given in the lexile website as a guide, but the important thing is to match reader with text.  
Lexile
1
Agell, Charlotte    Welcome Home or Someplace Like It
2
Bowler, Tim    Storm Catchers
560
3
Brashares, Ann    The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants trilogy
4
Carman, Patrick  Thirteen Days to Midnight
760
5
Choldenko, Gennifer   Al Capone Does My Shirts
600
6
Colfer, Chris    Land of Stories
7
Creech, Sharon    Walk Two Moons
770
8
Funke, Cornelia    Inkheart, Inkspell, and The Thief Lord
780
9
Giff, Patricia Reilly    Wild Girl
640
10
Grimes, Nikki    The Road to Paris
700
11
Hale, Dean    Calamity Jack
560
12
Hale, Shannon  Princess Academy
13
Hiassen, Carl    Flush and Hoot
14
Hobbs, Will    Jackie's Wild Seattle
15
Holm, Jennifer    Turtle in Paradise
610
16
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly    Fish in a Tree
550
17
Lord, Cynthia    Rules 
18
Lowry, Lois    Number the Stars
670
19
Magoon, Kekla    The Rock and the River 
20
Myers, Walter Dean    Fallen Angels, Game, and Monster
21
O'Dell, Scott    Island of the Blue Dolphins
22
Park, Linda Sue    A Long Walk to Water
23
Patterson, Katherine    Lyddie
24
Riordan, Rick    The Lightning Thief
470
25
Ryan, Pam Munoz Esperanza Rising
750
26
Sachar, Louis    Holes
660
27
Watkins, Yoko Kawashima    So Far from the Bamboo Grove
28
Woodson, Jacqueline    Feathers
710
29
Yousafzai, Malala    I Am Malala
30
Zhang, Kat    What's Left of Me