Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 Grade 4 Literacy Test Results

Congratulations to the teachers and students in the schools falling in the top quintile in the Grade 4 Literacy Test, sat in June 2011, results of which were published in The Gleaner on Wednesday November 9, 2011. Special congratulations to three schools in the parish of St. James:

Salter’s Hill All Age, with 3 students in grade 4, all of whom achieved mastery, had a marvelous turnaround from 0% mastery in 2010 to 100% mastery in 2011.

Mount Zion Primary, with 5 students in grade 4, had an equally commendable turnaround from 0% mastery in 2010 to 80% in 2011, with 20% (one student) almost achieving mastery. (The total enrollment at this school has unfortunately fallen from 45 to 30 students.)

Mount Horeb All Age and Infant had only one student sit the exam, but since this student achieved mastery, that gave them 100%.

These were the schools I tracked in my post ‘Class Size and the Teaching of Reading’ on September 6, 2011, when I didn’t name them, because of their poor performance. I am now happy to highlight their good performance. Unlike The Gleaner, Thursday, November 10, 2011, which chose to write about poorly performing schools, under the headline ‘WEAK SCHOOL WATCH’, when they could have given prominence to the fact that there has been an overall 4% improvement in results over last year.

That article glossed over the fact that the schools with 0% mastery are all small schools. The statistics (published on Wednesday), and responses from the principals, to the charge of being called ‘weak schools’, published in the Gleaner on Friday, November 11, 2011, reveal the following:

Grades 4,5 and 6 students at Mount Vernon Primary School
 Mount Vernon Primary, St. Thomas: The school enrollment was 13, with only 1 teacher to teach grades 1-6. The number of children in grade 4 was 3. One of them sat the test and obviously didn't attain mastery. The school enrollment increased to 15 this school year, and there are two teachers, one of whom is the acting principal. The school is in a remote location, with no road. More students used to attend this school, but parents prefer to send their children to Trinity Ville Primary.

Rose Hill Primary, Manchester: The Gleaner’s statistics state that the school enrollment was 38, with only 2 teachers to teach grades 1-6. The number of children in grade 4 was 4, two of whom sat the test. However, according to the principal, 8 students were eligible to sit the exam, 2 were absent, 2 had no grade sent for them. Of the other four, one got mastery, 2 non-mastery and one almost mastery. He also stated that they have a serious attendance problem with the students. The current enrollment is 80.

Hamwalk Primary, St. Catherine: The school enrollment was 23, with only 2 teachers to teach grades 1-6. The number of children in grade 4 was 5. Four of them sat the test. A teacher’s comment “The previous principal was the grade 4 teacher and most of the time the students didn’t have any teacher… they were not prepared for the exam.” Where was the principal? He should have been able to do his administrative work after school was dismissed. The present acting principal, on secondment from another school, pledges to improve on this performance. I believe she will.

Juan De Bolas Primary: The school enrollment was 43. Pupil teacher ratio was given as 9:1 indicating 4 teachers to teach grades 1-6. The number of children in grade 4 was given as 5, while 6 sat the test (did one turn up who wasn't enrolled?)

For these 4 schools, the number of children who sat the test, and failed to achieve mastery, adds up to 13. Compare this total with a school with 68% mastery, a population of 1,067, a grade 4 enrollment of 205, and having 184 children sit the test. 32% of 184 means that 58 children didn’t achieve mastery. This school is not on the weak school list but clearly needs help.

However, I still think there’s a case for closing these (and other) very small schools and sending the children to schools where there is at least one teacher per grade, specialized in the curriculum for that grade. The minimum enrollment for a primary school, I think, should be 210—six grades with 35 children in each grade. Despite the challenges of teaching in deep rural areas, it’s really not fair that some teachers have such small classes, while those in urban areas have classes of 50. Furthermore, it's because parents move their children from these deep rural schools, possibly because teachers are not teaching as they should, that the rolls are falling and those in urban areas are increasing.

One other observation from this year’s results: Of the 33,148 students who achieved mastery, 56% were girls and 44% were boys. This highlights the challenge of teaching boys to read. Perhaps there needs to be more appealing reading material for the boys who aren’t achieving mastery.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jamaican Children's Writers meet at JCDC Awards Ceremony

L to R: Diane Browne, Helen Williams, Hazel Campbell and
Jean Forbes after the JCDC Creative Writing Awards
 My previous post stubbornly refused to upload this photo. It must have wanted a post all to itself, so here it is.
Diane Browne is a multiple gold medal award winner in the JCDC Creative Writing Contests. In 1985, she won a gold medal for her children's story  "Debonair the Donkey". The Commission published this book in 1986 - their first publication.
Diane's most recent book is "Island Princess in Brooklyn" edited by Hazel Campbell, published by Carlong in their Sand Pebble Series.
Diane recently won the Special Prize for a Children's Story in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2011, for her story The Happiness Dress. Congratulations Diane. You can read it by clicking on this link. (I haven't yet discovered how to post a link to a link!)
You can read more about Diane on her blog

Hazel Campbell is a writer and editor of children's stories. She describes herself as a
retired, freelance writer of fiction for children, radio and video scripts, but she doesn't appear to be retired at all. She still teaches a writing class. Her latest books - A Goatboy Never Cries -LMH Publishing Co., Bernie and the Captain's Ghost - Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd. Bernie and the Captain's Ghost won the BIAJ best children's chapter book award for 2011. Hazel was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for 2011. Congratulations Hazel. You can read more about Hazel on her blog

Jean Forbes is another children's writer who won an award at the JCDC Awards Ceremony, for a short story in the junior category.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

JCDC Jamaica Creative Writing Awards Ceremony

The moment of the long-awaited Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Creative Writing Awards Ceremony and Exhibition Opening, at the Knutsford Court Hotel, finally arrived on Nov 2, 2011, at 5:30 p.m. We awardees seated in front of the audience anxiously scanned the list for our names in the various categories, and congratulated each other on our accomplishments. I was happy to see that I had been awarded a bronze medal for Delroy and the Marog Princess (sequel to Delroy in the Marog Kingdom). About it the judges—Ms. Cheryl Brown, Dr. Lorna Down and Dr. Kimberly Robinson Walcott—said,

This is a creative and imaginative story with echoes of other myths and legends. It appears too to be a Part 2 to an earlier tale with significant details missing. The fantasy world that is created has a consistency of details allows the reader to willingly suspend disbelief. The writer clearly has a talent for creating memorable characters, with distinguishing features; the plot is fast-paced and holds the reader's attention. Many adolescents should find this tale engaging.

The ceremony started promptly at 6:00 p.m. but we had to wait a little longer to find out if we had won any of the Class or Overall Awards. In the meantime we were entertained by the Vaz Prep Dance Troupe; and readings by the Gold Medal Winners—Stephanie Lloyd, Donna Hall, Fabian Thomas and Seon Lewis.

Bronze Medal and Trophy for
Best Intermediate Novelist
 I am happy to say that, in the Class Awards, I received the trophy for Best Intermediate Novelist for Delroy and the Marog Princess.

Congratulations to Seon Lewis—Best Overall Writer (1st place)—with 2 gold and 1 silver-medal- winning poems; and to Stephanie Lloyd—Outstanding Writer (2nd place) for her gold-medal-winning short story. Congratulations also to Hazel Campbell for having four past students from her writing class, including Stephanie, winning awards at this year’s ceremony.

After the ceremony, the Exhibition of winning entries was launched. It will be on display at Parish Libraries from Nov 8, 2011 to July 23, 2012, after which it will go on a World Tour.

Delroy and the Marog Princess in the Exhibition

Andrew Brodber, Speech, Drama and Literary Arts Specialist of JCDC,  presents me with
 a gift basket, courtesy of Yummy Bakery

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Books for Boys at Bookland Part 2 - Non-Caribbean books

Before the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter series, publishers had been unwilling to accept such long books, assuming children would read only short books. We have to thank J.K. Rowling for not only dispelling that myth, but also for making reading all the rage for children and teens.
Since J.K. Rowling, many authors have successfully published fantasy series for children. Not all the books in all the series listed below are on the shelves at Bookland, but they will be able to get them for you.

1. Rick Riordan. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for children, which features a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who discovers he is the modern-day son of a Greek god.

Books in the series are

i. The Lightning Thief

ii. The Sea of Monsters

iii. The Titan's Curse

iv. The Battle of the Labyrinth

He has a new series—The Kane Chronicles:

i. Book 1: Red Pyramid

ii. Book 2: Throne of Fire

For fifteen years, Rick taught English and history at public and private middle schools. He now writes full time. His greatest satisfaction comes, not from being a bestselling author, but hearing from parents that reluctant readers cannot put down his books.

2. Neil Gaiman – “The Graveyard Book” for grades 5-8. The title tells the setting for this fantasy story.

3. Cornelia Funke wrote the Inkheart trilogy, published between 2003 and 2009—more fantasy for 9-12 year olds

i. Book 1 is Inkheart

ii. Book 2 is Inkspell

iii. Book 3 is Inkdeath (which I saw in Bookland.) Next to it on the shelf was“Reckless” published in 2011, at present a stand alone fantasy story, but a sequel may follow.

4. Paul Steward and Chris Riddell: The Edge Chronicles Fantasy Series. 10 books in this series for 9-12 year-olds.

5. Suzanne Collins: The Underland Chronicles (5 books)

i. Gregor the Overlander

ii. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

iii. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
iv. Gregor and the Marks of Secret

v. Gregor and the Code of the Claw

6. C.S. Lewis “The Chronicles of Narnia” (7 books) written in the early 1950’s, long before the current spate of fantasy stories, but reprinted and popular.

7. Lemony Snicket: A series of Unfortunate Events. There are 13 books in this series.

8. Jeff Kinney: Diary of the Wimpy Kid—many titles for 8-13 year-olds. These humorous books make a welcome change from the surfeit of fantasy.

Books for 12-15 year-olds, known in the publishing industry as young adult (YA).

9. James Patterson: The Witch and Wizard Series

James Patterson was selected by teens across America as the Children's Choice Book Awards Author of the Year in 2010. He is an internationally bestselling author.

10. Philip Pullman: His fantasy series “His Dark Materials” consists of 3 books:

i. The Golden Compass

ii. The Subtle Knife

iii. The Amber Spyglass

11. D.J.MacHale: The Pendragon Series: 10 books in this series of fantasy, science fiction and time travel.

12. Christopher Paolini: The Inheritance Cycle, starting with Eragon.
Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon at the age of 15. After writing the first draft for a year, he spent a second year rewriting it and fleshing out the story and characters. His parents saw the final manuscript and decided to self-publish Eragon. They spent a year traveling around the United States promoting the novel. He has since written sequels to Eragon.