What Mastery-Based Learning Would Look Like in Idaho

As we discuss children’s literature, it is important to examine connections between learning with and through the written word and the policies that determine what goes on in classrooms.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra  is working to help lawmakers “move from the notion or the concept of mastery-based education to the actual concrete view of what it could look like in Idaho.” The initiative would move away from traditional academic schedules.


Sherri Ybarra

According to the Idaho Education News.teachers from Kuna Middle School and officials from the Council of Chief State School Officers briefed lawmakers, highlighting the mastery-based education recommendation issued in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

The idea behind mastery is that students would advance academically once they demonstrate a thorough understanding of educational concepts, said Stephen Bowen, the CCSSO’s strategic initiative director for innovation.

Such a move would replace seat time requirements, and could allow more students to graduate early or work towards college credits while still in high school if they master concepts early. On the other hand, some students who struggle could theoretically need more than four years to graduate high school.

Some districts and states that moved to mastery replaced traditional letter grades with scores of one to four. A “three” indicates mastery. A “two” indicates students are progressing but have not yet achieved mastery.

“They’ve taken out all seat-time requirements,” Bowen said. “It’s not about did you sit in class long enough to get a C-minus and pass the class. It’s about did you master that (subject area).”

The IEN article by Clark Corbin reported that a statewide move to mastery is complex, and could require legal changes to everything from a state’s funding formula to the laws governing diploma requirements, he said. In some mastery-based schools, students of different age groups are found working together within the same classroom.

“We give (students) a problem we don’t have the answer to and they have to use elements of math, science, English and history to find the solution,” Murphy said.Kuna Middle School teachers Kevin Murphy and Shelby Harris said they’ve experienced positive results in the two years since their team of four teachers moved to a mastery- and problem-based learning system they call Synergy.

Murphy described his team’s classrooms as “a beautiful mess,” where students collaborate (sometimes loudly) in groups, don’t observe traditional bell schedules and view teachers as mentors, not traditional educators who deliver lengthy lectures that consume a class period.

The situation took some getting used to, and some trust, but he said students in the Synergy system outperformed their peers on last year’s ISAT by Smarter Balanced (SBAC) tests.

While mastery offers an opportunity for advanced students to progress more quickly, CCSSO experts said it is equally important to personalize learning opportunities for students who fall behind or struggle.

“One of the most important things when a school moves toward a mastery-based system of education is, if students are working at a different pace, there must be systems of support in place,” said Jennifer Poon, CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network director.

In a 2015 interview, Ybarra emphasized her support for mastery, but described the transition as a “generational change” that will not be completed during a four-year term in office.

Otter proposed spending $1.2 million to continue developing mastery in Idaho. That money would allow 20 school districts to begin piloting a mastery system.

Comments on my Facebook page included:

I devised a mastery system for remedial math in 1976. I can’t imagine a mastery system for government or literature. They are based on concepts, not skills, and student interaction is an important to learning.


This sounds suspiciously like the “level system” that was in place in Maryland in the 70’s. In sixth grade I was in level 8-4 in math, or hslf way through 8th grade math. The Jr. High I went to did not use the same system and I sat in class bored for two years. It is a good system if it is enacted system wide. If it is only in place in a few schools as an experiment it is extremely dangerous. Also it requires a high degree of professionalism for the teachers. Another reason it failed in Maryland is teachers became focused on cultivating the rapidly advancing students to the detriment of those who did not advance due to the lack of instruction.

However, Key features of mastery-based learning (MBL) include:

1. Curriculum design hinges on assessments
2. Assessments may take any form as long as they determine proficiency
3. Graduation to the next grade/level/topic is contingent upon successful completion of prerequisite assessment.
4. Curriculum is committed to the success of all students; students are not “allowed” to give up.

This initiative is intriguing and has promise. It should be looked at and discussed further for the possible benefits to Idaho children.

Winners…and Another Contest! — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

I got zapped with the flu two weeks ago. Really walloped me, like being endlessly pummeled with pillows at a sleepover party. Just when I thought I was getting better—PHHHHHHUMPT! Down I went. Cold compresses, hot tea, lukewarm toast. Sleepless nights, endless days. What a funk! Now I’m happy to be back in the land […]

via Winners…and Another Contest! — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

71bg0qtrhwl“Will bring a chorus of laughter from sympathetic readers.”—Publishers Weekly

Celebrating 40 years of a Judy Blume classic!

Millions of fans young and old have been entertained by the quick wit of Peter Hatcher, the hilarious antics of mischevious Fudge, and the unbreakable confidence of know-it-all Sheila Tubman in Judy Blume’s five Fudge books. And now, Puffin Books honors forty years of the book that started it all, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, with a special edition–featuring a new introduction from Judy–to celebrate this perennial favorite.

“As a kid, Judy Blume was my favorite author, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was my favorite book.”—Jeff Kinney, author of the bestselling Wimpy Kid series

A teacher wrote her thoughts about the book:

I don’t know why I identified with and loved this book so much. The main character and I don’t have much in common. In fact I have more in common with his brother Fudge, us both being the youngest, but I didn’t like Fudge much in this book because in my adolescent eyes the kid never got what he deserved. Despite that, though, I read this book and it’s sequels many many times. It’s a great book though, especially for people with siblings. It’s a subtle story about family love and appreciation. Even if I couldn’t see that when I was younger, there was still something about the book that had warm and fuzzy undertones, part of the reason why I loved it so much.


Amazon.com Review

Passed on from babysitters to their young charges, from big sisters to little brothers, and from parents to children, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and its cousins (Superfudge, Fudge-a-mania, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great) have entertained children since they first appeared in the early 1970s. The books follow Peter Hatcher, his little brother Fudgie, baby sister Tootsie, their neighbor Sheila Tubman, various pets, and minor characters through New York City and on treks to suburbs and camps.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first of these entertaining yarns. Peter, because he’s the oldest, must deal with Fudgie’s disgusting cuteness, his constant meddling with Peter’s stuff, and other grave offenses, one of which is almost too much to bear. All these incidents are presented with the unfailing ear and big-hearted humor of the masterful Judy Blume. Though some of her books for older kids have aroused controversy, the Hatcher brothers and their adventures remain above the fray, where they belong. (Peter’s in fourth grade, so the book is suitable for kids ages 8 and older.)

The teacher continued:


This book can be and is used in schools, especially in fourth grade (of course.) I have seen it used as a class-wide read-aloud quite often. This book is great for kids who are older siblings and don’t get along with their younger siblings. It’s also a great read just for it’s hilarious and well-written story. You could use this book for any number of things.

It depicts a ‘normal’ (or average) American family life, and some kids will of course identify with it more than others, depending on what their family life is like. however, I don’t think this would be a barrier toward using the book, the teacher would just have to be more sensitive about the questions they ask. You’d want to stay away from anything that assumes your student’s home life is in any way similar (Unless you know it is) but I don’t think it would be a big deal for a discerning teacher.

A Summer full of monkeys, thrills and dangers

9780440981756A tree full of monkeys the last thing fourteen-year-old Jay Berry Lee thought he’d find on one of his treks through Oklahoma’s Cherokee Ozarks. Jay learns from his grandfather that the monkeys have escaped from a circus and there is a big reward for anyone who finds them. He knows how much his family needs the money. Jay is determined to catch the monkeys. It’s a summer of thrills and dangers no one will ever forget.

Wilson Rawls (author of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS) has done it again. Summer of the Monkeys is a delightful tale of a poor family from rural Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. Fourteen-year-old Jay Berry Lee lives through incredible events and a rollercoaster of emotions as he comes of age, during one unforgettable summer near the river bottoms in former Cherokee territory. What, another kid-and-his-dog story? Fortunately, this one is much more.  You chuckle and groan with frustration, as Jay and his smart-as-a-coot Grandpa wrack their brains to catch some 30 monkeys which have escaped the circus after a train wreck. Lured on by the generous reward offer, Jay becomes obsessed with trapping the little fellows–in order to achieve a country boy’s dream of his own pony and .22 gun. But those simian rascals prove too human-savvy to be caught; time and again they outsmart the best laid plans–all because they are protected by a fiendishly clever chimpanzee.

Summer of the Monkeys takes place in the 1800s in Oklahoma near the Ozark Mountains. Jay Berry has his eye on a pony and a rifle and he hopes that he can capture Jimbo, the head circus monkey. Jimbo has a price tag on his head of $100. The rest of the monkeys will fetch $2 apiece. Jay attempts to catch the monkeys with traps and nets borrowed from his grandpa to no avail. A storm rolls through and the monkeys nearly die. Jay Berry befriends Jimbo and leads the monkeys to safety and the reward money. Jay then gives the money to his family for the surgery for his ‘little’ sister.  When his sister returns she brings him a gift of a rifle and Jay’s grandfather buys him a pony.

An amazon reviews said:

Jay Berry Lee is happy until the summer he is 14 years old and discovers monkeys living in the creek bottoms near his parents’ homestead. Set in the late 1800s, Summer of the Monkeystraces the boy’s adventures as he attempts to capture 29 monkeys that have (it turns out) escaped from the circus. With somewhat dubious help from his grandfather, and over the objections of his mother, Jay goes about discovering that monkeys are much smarter and harder to catch than he thought possible. Woven into this story is a second theme about his physically disabled sister and the family’s attempts to find money for an operation. As funny and touching as Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows, this book will appeal to the young reader who has always wished for the freedom to run wild through the woods with nothing more pressing to do than find another rabbit hole–or escaped monkey. (Ages 12 and older).

One of my students who read it said that the book is a great realistic contemporary novel.  The figurative language used in this novel is outstanding. The antics these monkeys pull on poor Jay Berry Lee create many truly comical scenes. Summer of the Monkeys is ideal for middles schoolers. Themes of friendship, problem solving, sacrifice, and persistence run through the work.

Summer of the Monkeys is a fun book that touches on many good themes in very colorful ways. There is a part when the monkeys get intoxicated and end up getting Jay Berry intoxicated as well so a discussion about the use of alcohol might have to be used before reading this book depending on the age of the audience.

The book is great for discussing characterization through the intelligence of Jimbo. Setting place a big role in this novel without the storm that passes through Jay might not have ever been able to befriend the chimpanzee Jimbo and the rest of the monkeys. The themes of friendship, the relationship between Jay and his grandfather, and the sacrifice that Jay provides for his family are all worth wile themes to delve deeper into.

Wilson Rawls has written the a superb young adult novel. The characters are so deep in this book; you can tell exactly what Jay is feeling and thinking, and you really get to love him. The story is very original and extremely well written.  It is funny and loveable, but not shallow at all … a real heartwarming story.The mixture of humor, love, family relationships, adventure and magic make for engrossing reading. There is never a dull moment in this wonderful book..

What is the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction?


Richly illustrated, practical ideas for sharing literature with children

“Modern fantasy literature has unexplainable magic, and it is this element that captures the minds and hearts of children.” – Charles A. Temple, Miriam A. Martinez, Junko Yokota in Children’s Books in Children’s Books in Children’s Hands: A Brief Introduction to Their Literature.

I love fantasy and science fiction. Children tend to read a lot of these stories because they are easier to understand and spark kid’s interest with their silly or unique qualities. Many  dream of having magical powers or coming across a mythical beast. The supernatural is so very intriguing to the young mind.  They eat up anything that has magic, dragons, spaceships, wizards, mad scientists, or talking beasts.

The backdrop for this discussion with my preservice teachers is Chapter 8 of the text quoted above.

Nebulous … but distinct

Many stories contain both fantasy and science fiction, making it sometimes hard to tell the difference. Science Fiction is a variety of fantasy in which an author inspired by real developments in science, has conceived by a version of reality difference from one we inhabit. … “Fantasy could never be. Science Fiction has the possibility to be.” Some examples of modern fantasy are Alice and Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh. Some examples of Science Fiction are Frankenstein, Anti-Gravity Paint, and a personal favorite, A Wrinkle in Time. Two classic fantasy books are personified, talking animals: Charlotte’s Web and Babe. 

Low Fantasy / High Fantasy

Fantasy can be broken into two categories: Low Fantasy and High Fantasy. These two distinctions help to separate and classify the literature as well as set up expectations.  The authors also give a definition for science fiction and described the difference and relationship between fantasy and science fiction.  Often, fantasy situations are created using the mechanisms of science fiction to create a “willful suspension of disbelief.”

Low fantasy and high fantasy can then be broken down into subgenres.  Low fantasy includes books that take place in our actual world but utilize magical elements to propel the story.  This chapter describes the subgenres of low fantasy in the order that most children encounter them first.

High fantasy is closely related to myths and legends. It  often asks so much of the reader that if the author is not careful in how they craft their story, they can lose the audience. Because of this, the amount of time spent on world building, characterization, plot and believability are so important that a very rich experience can be produced.  On the opposite side of that coin is what happens if those cares are not taken.

The scholars incorporated many of the attributes from the “Hero Cycle” into what makes high fantasy work, tests of identity, tasks, quests, escape from death, journey etc.  I really liked how the chapter mentioned the merits of fantasy and science fiction, “Fantasy is not an escape from reality, but a mirror in which reality is reflected and extended in the imagination” (209).  The amount of extra care that needs to be taken regarding the craftsmanship of fantasy and science fiction is essential to creating a “willful suspension of disbelief.”


I thought it was fitting that personification of animals was the first subgenre. It is often true that the first encounter with fantasy for children involves animals being personified with everyday traits that children and adults possess. This was followed by personified toys.  Who hasn’t read a story about a toy that has come to life? These two were followed by outlandish characters and situations such as “Marry Poppins” and “Pippi Longstocking.”  I couldn’t help but think of “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

These stories were followed by the subgenre of magical powers.  Scores of people love “Harry Potter!”  Embellished fairy tales are familiar.  This is followed by extraordinary worlds.  The examples of “Alice in Wonder Land” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were given.  I would add “Harold and the Purple Crayon” as well. This brought on supernatural elements.  I was surprised “Goosebumps” wasn’t mentioned. Time slips fittingly finished up the low fantasy subgenre.  Who hasn’t heard of “Magic Tree House” books? I really enjoyed the breakdown of the subgenres of low fantasy.  They are all such different reads, yet each is enriching in their own way.

Good science fiction

Science Fiction is a fascinating and unique genre that takes the elements of real life, such as technology, and creatively builds upon those ideas.  It is amazing that the stories of flight and underwater exploration could be credited with their inventions, “Good science fiction is entertaining, addictive, and inevitably thought provoking” (214).

Science Fiction was broken down into stories that project scientific principles, utopian and dystopian societies, survival of environmental catastrophes, and the combination of science fiction and fantasy. These subgenres all offer different flavor of what science fiction has to offer. The biggest difference between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction is plausible. There is an explanation given for why something extraordinary can take place.

What to look for

The way to evaluate a good science fiction or fantasy work of literature is pretty close to how to evaluate any work of literature.  First, look at the elements of literature and see how they work with the framework that is laid out by the author.  Then see how the characters interact with the environment and rules that are put into place.  By asking if the elements of the story are “convincing, consistent, and well developed” a sense of the quality of the literature can be determined (210).


Teaching tips

The textbook had a great idea for a lesson for teachers. You have students embellish their own fairytale by finding unanswered questions in the story and asking them “what do you think/wish would happen next?” This gets students thinking and promotes creativity in the classroom.

It is very important to include books like these in the classroom. Teachers need to allow children to go to a world that is not in this one. Fantasy and science fiction really makes the phrase “Escape with a good book” meaningful. Our everyday world is at times quite predictable and mundane.

I enjoy seeing the excitement brewing in students when they cherish these types of stories. I have noticed a different passion for these genres than  for any other type of books. Encourage young learners to use their imagination — to think about what could never be — and to imagine what has the potential to be.

Great Children’s Activities and Books Available for Success Club Retreat in Cancun

Proven Success: Attend an amazing Leadership Retreat in Cancun, Mexico! Learn how to Be, Do and Have all you want in life — and bring the whole family!

Join us for Leadership Retreat ’16 at the Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico, March 4th – 6th. Read details and register here.

Entrance to this exclusive weekend Retreat is only $397. The event is very KID FRIENDLY! No charge for children under two. For ages two up to 17: cost per child is $63.00 per day.

Cancún, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, is known for its beaches, numerous resorts and energetic nightlife. Enjoy the awesome downtown area, El Centro. Or stroll along Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants.

“The Playroom” is the state-of-the-art kids club found at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, in the Sunrise and Nizuc sections. Sure to delight the resort’s tiny guests, “The Playroom” is complete with different game rooms, such as a fashion room and beauty salon, a dollhouse area, arcade and creativity area.
“The Playroom” also boasts an Xbox room, a simulated race area with “ezy rollers” and an arcade zone. The kids club also comes complete with a theatre with plush seating and concessions, two playgrounds (one inside and one outside), a pirate boat, sandbox and a mini soccer field. All children are always under the careful watch of the property’s helpful staff. Anything and everything a kid can ever desire can be found in “The Playroom.”


AXS Leadership Retreat 2016: Kids friendly Resort and Playroom | Moon Palace ® Resort

“The Playroom” in Sunrise is open to children between ages 4-12, and “The Playroom” in Nizuc is open to children ages 4-10. Children under 4 are welcome but must be supervised by an adult at all times.

The following are sample activities that will keep your young ones entertained. Please note activities and amenities vary per section and season and are subject to change:

Movie hour; Drawing Time; Piñata Making Class; Build Sand Castles; Puppet Show; Jenga Tournament; Cooking Classes; Balloon Sculpture Classes; Pijama Party; Xbox Tournaments; Chef’s Hour; Bop It Challenge; Soccer Tournaments; Mask-making Classes; Spanish Lessons; Mexican Lottery; Bingo; Zumba for Kids; Playdoh; Arts & Crafts.


AXS Leadership Retreat 2016: Kids friendly Resort and Playroom | Moon Palace ® Resort

Recommended Reading:  Visiting Cancun with your kids? Children’s Travel Activity Book & Journal: My Trip to Cancun is a fun filled activity book and journal is a great way for kids to plan and record their own travel adventures and make a treasured memory book for their trip to Cancun.

Cool Cancun specific crossword, word search, puzzles and other activities will keep them busy on the journey, they will learn about Cancun and practice their writing, reading and maths in a fun way.

Includes a great planning and diary section; which will increase children’s excitement by getting them involved in the early planning stages of the trip.

This is a great gift for children and an amazing keepsake for parents


Included in Children’s Travel Activity Book & Journal: My Trip to Cancun :

Trip Planning: Cool Places to visit in Cancun; Research your trip; Postcard Reminder & Packing List


AXS Leadership Retreat 2016: Kids friendly Resort and Playroom | Moon Palace ® Resort

Activities to do on the way to Cancun:

Word Search
Cool Facts about Cancun
Link up Puzzle; Code Cracker; Number Chains and Puzzles; A-Mazing Maze; Drawing; Coloring.

Cancun Trip Diary: Write a daily diary during the trip

Plus more activities for the trip home …

Click here for a list of other children’s and Young Adult books about Cancun

Read more about AXS CEO Troy McClain:
– Proven Success With AXS CEO Troy McClain: Revisiting the First Season of Donald Trump’s Apprentice 
– A Look at the Enduring, Positive Reputation of AXS CEO Troy McClain
– Lessons from AXS CEO Troy McClain Forum » Topix

A humorous and heartbreaking story about sisters, spies, and World War II


Read this story on Daily Kos

“At turns hilarious, at turns heartbreaking, Shawn Stout’s story shows us the damage that a whisper campaign can do to a family and a community, and at the same time shows us, each of us, a way to find our hearts. Frankie Baum is a hero from a distant time and yet a hero for all times, the kind of hero who never gets old. I loved this book from the very beginning to the very end.”—Kathi Appelt, author of the National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book The Underneath

In my classrooms, historical fiction illuminates time periods, helps integrate the curriculum, and enriches social studies. It piques children’s curiosity and puts people back into history while addressing complex issues.

So I was glad to discover and enjoy A Tiny Piece of Sky (the book will be out in January. I receive advance review copies). This humorous and heartbreaking story about sisters, spies, and World War II on the American home front present a well-told story that presents authentic settings and artfully folds in historical facts. It is a heartfelt, charming, and insightful novel that is based on true events,

World War II is coming in Europe. At least that’s what Frankie Baum heard on the radio. But from her small town in Maryland, in the wilting summer heat of 1939, the war is a world away.

Besides, there are too many other things to think about: first that Frankie’s father up and bought a restaurant without telling anyone and now she has to help in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and washing dishes, when she’d rather be racing to Wexler’s Five and Dime on her skates. Plus her favorite sister, Joanie Baloney, is away for the summer and hasn’t been answering any of Frankie’s letters.

But when some people in town start accusing her father of being a German spy, all of a sudden the war arrives at Frankie’s feet and she can think of nothing else.

Could the rumors be true? Frankie has to do some spying of her own to try to figure out her father’s secrets and clear his good name. What she discovers about him surprises everyone, but is nothing compared to what she discovers about the world.

Shawn K. Stout weaves a story about family secrets, intolerance, and coming of age. Kirkus Reviews said he “uses an archly chummy direct address at several points, successfully and humorously breaking up tension in this cleareyed look at bad behavior by society….Successfully warmhearted and child-centered.” In the book, Frankie experiences for the first time ethnic and racial prejudice in her father’s restaurant. Many community members want to shut down the restaurant because of its owner’s German descent and because he hires African-Americans. It is great for Black History Month units.

And by keeping readers guessing to the end, it is an entertaining read for anyone.

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