The Elite College Admissions Scandal

The elite college admissions scandal has not only shocked the nation, but has resulted in a loss of faith among many students in the American belief that hard work lies at the core of success in this country.

This scandal has revealed to many that great opportunities are bought for the children of the rich and are not necessarily based on merit. When such a travesty becomes a systemic problem, how can this be addressed by the institutions themselves?

Yale, you’ll recall, spent $500 million to house 800 students in its two new residential colleges, which adds up to $625,000 per student.  USC spent a whopping $700 million on its residential village, which houses 2,500 students.  That’s inexpensive by Yale standards, at just $280,000 per student, in a neighborhood where the average annual income is just one-tenth that amount.

Of course, the champion was Harvard, which budgeted $1.4 billion to renovate its undergraduate residences.

Expenditures like those require lots and lots of money, and, as we have been reminded in recent days, some of the money that elite institutions raise arrives in unsavory ways, for example, in return for special treatment in admissions.  This, in turn, has encouraged other wealthy people to seek their own side doors into elite colleges and universities.

What, we might ask, will be the response to this scandal?

via Responding to the Elite College Admissions Scandal – Steven Mintz |

Explicit Phonics Instruction: It’s Not Just for Students With Dyslexia

“When we know better, we do better.” There is something forgiving and medicinal about that teaching mantra.

I am regularly realizing that I could have taught something more effectively or that I should have been more culturally responsive in my language or practices. Content becomes outdated or is later revealed to be incomplete or inaccurate. Some teaching memories haunt me so much that I have had fantasies about finding ways to apologize to former students for the cringe-worthy lessons they’ve endured.

I recently had a wake-up call around reading instruction, and determined I need to intellectually embrace something that I have long suspected: While dyslexics clearly need robust reading instruction (often more specialized and intensive than their peers), their needs are not as distinct from non-dyslexics as I have previously advocated.

Via Explicit Phonics Instruction: It’s Not Just for Students With Dyslexia – Kyle Redford |

Teach Less, Influence More

Many of us like to set a goal, intention or focus for a new school year. The chance to do so is a wonderful aspect of the annual teaching cycle. I want to offer a possible goal that could make a big difference in the quality of this school year for you and your students: teach less!

Yes, I’m being purposely provocative, but hear me out. I’ve been thinking lately about what we consider teaching to be. Our definitions of teaching are still so rooted in an old factory model of education, in which the teacher delivers a fixed body of knowledge directly to students, who listen passively and learn.

via Why We Might Consider Teaching Less This Year Ariel Sacks |


College Habits – Do We Carry Them Through Life?

If we google ‘college habits’, we get a list of good habits that college students should focus on for success. Then there are articles with lists of habits that successful students typically have. At the bottom are other suggested searches related to college habits which include study habits, healthy habits and the proverbial black sheep of habits – the bad ones.

Habits – the good, the bad and the ugly

After going through the stress of preparing, shortlisting, applying, and getting into college, the years at college are when students revel in the middle of an explosion of information. It’s when they learn from their faculty, peers and the ecosystem they are in. Through these years they form habits which range from the trivial, like using flash cards for making notes, to life sustaining ones like practicing meditation for reducing stress. If they admire a peer or a faculty member, students might actually imbibe one of their habits knowingly or unknowingly, however good or bad it is.

Read my full article on Stanford’s Blog for College Success to find out how to make the most of your college years.

The Need to Teach Scriptwriting in English Class

With the burst of social media into our everyday lives and the ubiquitousness of smartphones, we see the burgeoning possibilities of videos everywhere. Going beyond just movies and television shows, with the advent of Youtube, we now have videos about every topic one can imagine under the sun at the tips of our fingertips.

Needless to say, with our increasingly short attention spans, we would rather watch an instructional video about a household cleaning tip or how to install an app than read a page of instructional text. Videos are quicker and aid us in accessing and processing the information we want faster. Not only that, but the versatility of videos allows us to use them for varying purposes, be it for creating instructional materials, discussing reviews of products, or creating entertainment materials.

Considering this, it would not be an overstatement to say that the use of video clips is soon going to far surpass the use of instructional text even in education. The evolving nature of e-learning content to m-learning content is a testament to this fact.

In such a scenario, it is not only important but also essential to introduce at least the basics of scriptwriting to students as part of their language classes. While we teachers focus on advancing students’ skills of expressing themselves through writing out their arguments and ideas, we do not want to short-change them by not exposing them to other evolving media.

Although scriptwriting is still considered a specialized skill that is relegated to an elective course in most high schools, one cannot deny that we use videos and clips in our own classes to bring to life a novel we’ve discussed in class. I’ve also had students submit video assignments when they were assigned a group creative project. When the use of videos is so pervasive in our more traditional language classes, exploring this medium further can only help our students improve their video-making skills.

Not only that, but we would be introducing students to a new, more creative form of expressing themselves, thus breaking the monotony of only writing assignments. Let me add a disclaimer that I am not advocating for only video assignments, but one in a semester could definitely enliven our classes tremendously. Likewise, this could be the beginning of a career path for some of our students as scriptwriting is currently a very lucrative career, with the demand for it only likely to increase in the future.

Therefore, while the more technical aspects of scriptwriting and the distinguishing aspects of screenwriting do belong in a more specialized class, we English teachers ought to consider breaking down the basics of writing for a production or a video for our students. Students would definitely benefit from the differences in the language that ought to be used for an instructional video as opposed to narrative video. The introduction of the concept of a storyboard, likewise, would give them a glimpse into the world of screenwriting at large.

What your thoughts on this topic? As an English teacher, is this something you would consider introducing to your students? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Teaching Writing for STEM

Writing in STEM(Photo by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash)

Writing is undoubtedly one of the most crucial skills every student must have today. Mastering effective writing not only helps us do well in academics but also articulate, argue, and present our thoughts and ideas clearly. As most students know, a large part of their courses, including Social Sciences and even hardcore Science classes, require them to write effectively. In exams and mid-term papers, students are required to demonstrate their acquisition of knowledge by summarizing, analyzing, and or discussing various aspects of the subject matter they studied that semester. This kind of writing, usually taught in English classes, emphasizes the 5-paragraph essay structure with an effective hook in the introductory paragraph, a strong thesis statement, 3 body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph that summarizes the main points of the essay.

To this day, the essential writing skills that students learn are based on this foundational model of writing. Additional tips and tricks to customize content for different types of essays are taught to expand on this model of writing. Once students have mastered the 5-paragraph essay model, they are taught to tweak it to suit the needs of an informative, descriptive, or argumentative essay. Most of the writing skills taught in school adhere to this structure and focus on developing students’ descriptive and creative writing skills that teach them how to organize their ideas and arguments so that the essay works as a coherent piece of argument or information.

While this model is quite useful for many kinds of writing requirements, exposing students primarily to this model limits their understanding of the kinds of practical writing skills they would need in the future. With the ever-increasing spread of technology into every aspect of our lives, effective writing skills for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields are in high demand today. As one can guess, the kinds of documents usually created in these fields are more objective in nature and demand a more crisp, impersonal and precis form of writing.

STEM fields require students to create reports, procedural manuals, research papers, theses documents, etc. that either record observed data, explain how-to procedures, or detail complex scientific concepts. Therefore, while the approach to planning any kind of writing might be the same (who are the audience, how best to structure the content/argument), there are some fundamental differences between scientific writing and writing in an English or Social Sciences class. The earlier students are exposed to these differences, the stronger would be their mastery of differences in language required for the two.

This can be achieved by changing our attitudes about the onus of teaching writing skills. This should no longer be limited to only the English teacher. Different kinds of scientific text examples and writing assignments should be introduced and discussed in class so that students recognize the difference in tone and language as well as understand the rationale behind them. A thorough understanding of scientific writing can only come from exposure to different kinds of texts and a teacher’s timely intervention to encourage these essential skills for STEM fields.

Planning for Self-Evaluations

With the year almost coming to an end, I decided to take stock of my progress on all my projects so far. While I made good progress with some crucial home projects and achieving important milestones as a family (and even being on target with my reading challenge this year! Woot woot!), I have sadly neglected this blog.

This realization has come as a rude awakening, more so because throughout the year, I had this sense that I was contributing to this blog. Sure, I checked off posting on the blog periodically, sharing content that I found interesting or significant. However, until this stock-taking, I seem to have missed the crucial qualitative evaluation of the content I had posted so far.

Planning(Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash)

There’s an important lesson here. A lesson about planning. Sure, I set reminders for myself to regularly post on the blog. However, I should also have set time aside every 3-4 months for stock-taking instead of leaving it all for the end-of-year self-evaluation.

Continue reading