Are You Following Diane Ravitch’s Blog?

Diane Ravitch, a major watchdog of educational policy and practice, has a discussion blog at  Join in the discussions or just read what others have to say about important issues in education.

Here’s a post that caught my attention on Facebook today about “turnaround schools.”  Is money really being spent appropriately for the best student outcomes? You decide…


Changing Things Around

For years, I have been blogging on education–or at least trying to keep up with what’s going on and sharing what I’ve learned.  For years, I’ve had two education-oriented sites: this one and another at called Eleanore’s Ramblings.  I’ve tried blogs for critiques on children’s books and other topics, and I found that I cannot maintain so many sites.  So  I basically stopped blogging altogether, except for a post here or there.

Part of stopping the blogging experience has had to do with a relatively mild depression, that came on me after various surgeries, each of which brought my activity level lower and lower.  Part of the stop was because of the malfunctioning computers or internet services over the years.  Another part was that I was simply overwhelmed by both the amount of information on education–good and bad–and government policies related to education that have been terribly depressing as well as irritating.  For example, I had high hopes for Arne Duncan when he became Secretary of Education on President Obama’s cabinet.  I had gotten the idea that he had a solid education background, and knew what he was talking about.  Later, I learned that his knowledge of education came from a summer study he did for a project at Yale(?) as an undergraduate, and that he had neither classroom nor educational experience related to education at all.  That accounted for some of the irrational topics he has discussed and the less rational projects he has supported and developed.

After a while, with the government clearly knowing less about education than the average houseplant, I lost interest in almost everything having to do with education in the US–and then outside the US.  So I realized that anything I had to say about education and learning would be of little or no help.  Once I moved to the Caribbean where my husband had accepted a position in a medical school, and I saw the mess that education is here (on a smaller scale but just as ridiculous and very corrupt), I lost all interest in the subject I studied through hundreds of graduate education credits from good universities, and which yielded me both a Master of Arts in Education and a doctorate in Educational Psychology.  The doctorate was not in the precise area I wanted to study, but that’s another story…

Anyway, I lost the will to do much about writing about education in any form.  Every now and then, I would get a serious energy surge, but truly, I had given up.  After all, what do I have to say that is of any importance to teaching and learning?  I am no longer an active teacher at any level–neither K-12 nor postsecondary level.  I am months away from official retirement–although I’ve been unofficially retired for almost ten years.  I used to keep up with new theories and techniques only to learn that the internet search engines–even the specialized educational and psychological databases–were concentrating on the past five years, and that special parameters needed to be entered to go back further.  Over and over I saw “new” theories of learning or “new” methodologies that I had already cycled through at least twice in 40 years.  And I began to wonder if there was a point to anything having to do with education.

Thus I came across the main reasons for my reluctance to blog on education and learning issues.

At one time, I was a computer programmer,working for major companies in the greater NYC area.  I was good at what I did, and knew every quirk of different models in the same hardware series of mainframes by IBM and DEC.  I knew that on one machine my code would have to have an extra line while on another that line would cause a program crash.  I knew the best logic to use on various machines for the most efficient results–and in different programming languages.  But over the years, although logic is still logic and works across all platforms, I got behind.  I would put off learning the quirks of a newer version of a programming language for a few months, only to learn when I returned to it that I had to start over because the internal circuitry acted just a little differently, or the language had been “upgraded.”  Before long, I was so far behind that I could no longer keep up with all the changes because I would have to start too far back and work forward–or suffer the consequences of wondering what the heck a new command meant or how it could be most efficiently used.

The reason for the programming explanation is that I had started this particular blog when I understood how to design the page and add new “buttons” or specific functions.  Each time I went to update the layout or change the format, I found I had less and less that I could do on my own, and I was unable to afford someone to help me create a site the way I wanted to.

Next, I wanted to add webinars to this site, but then reality hit.  Who wants to look at an old lady giving brief lectures and slotting in a diagram or picture here and there?  Besides, I hate make-up and the idea of having to return to putting it on every day was rather off-putting.  What I really need is someone to help me put a good site together for very little money, and people who do that–inexpensively–are almost impossible to come by.  As for finding someone here in the middle of the Caribbean–well, actually on the very edge of the Caribbean as our eastern-most coast borders on the Atlantic Ocean–is more difficult because the technology here is so far behind the times that I’ll never get what I want no matter how much I pay.  And money is still an issue.

I know there are “bundles” that I can buy and persons that I can hire from GoDaddy, where this site resides, even though I use WordPress.  I know that there are old books available on getting WordPress up and running in stunning and useful ways, but technology does not wait for an old woman to read up and practice.  Thus, it will take a while for me to get this site–as well as the sister professional site–up and running.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because this site will take me forever to make it into what I want it to be–to be a place to learn and exchange information, to host small webinars, to discuss innovative and “tried and true” teaching methods and techniques, to argue about new theories… But I will continue to work on that even as I resume blogging on this site.  I have made the decision to blog here once a week, on issues that relate not only to teachers, but also to parents/caregivers, education specialists in emotional and behavioral problems, various learning disabilities including reading problems, and, of course, autistic spectrum disorders.  Although I want to do as much as possible for free, the maintenance of this site will not be inexpensive, and I will monitize it with relevant books and teaching aids, as well as specialized workshops for schools, organizations, and care-givers.  Most of those will probably be on my professional site, .  However, I want to keep as much free information and resources on this site as possible.

Please take the time to send me your ideas for what you would like to hear me blog about, as well as what you would like to see on my professional site.  All comments are welcome, even if I do not get back to you right away.  Appropriate responses will be added to the comments section, whether entered directly or through the contact form.

Next week I’ll be back with a blog post, as I will be writing here once a week.  I haven’t yet decided on a day, as I have been keeping myself very busy with new hobbies–I’m learning to draw and have progressed from sickly stick figures to decent drawing of subjects during the past five weeks; I finally got that DSLR camera  I’ve been asking my husband to give me as a gift for the past ten or fifteen years and am learning to use both the camera and its assortment of lenses, all of which need thorough learning to use properly and keep the images from blurring because of my hand tremors; I have started a business specializing in foundation garments that help us older adults stand a little straighter or look a bit thinner, along with dietary supplements that can help memory, weight loss, diabetes control (along with prescribed medications, of course), and other general health issues.  So I am keeping busy and finding myself with too few hours in the day to learn everything I want to explore, keep up with education news, keep up with news in general, and still find time to cook and eat.

So once a week–that will be the release parameter for this blog.  But I will make it worth your while if you come back to read it.  Nothing will be frivolous; techniques will be for immediate implementation (although for many suggestions you need to know that your own time will be needed to understand and implement it right, with the understanding that the first attempt will undoubtedly fail, or the set-up will take more time than you want to  spend, etc.–nothing good comes without some effort), theories will be explained for their benefits to the classroom and when and why to use different elements, inclusion techniques for special education students will be discussed, guest bloggers will be invited to contribute their knowledge, etc.

Please come back toward the middle of next week (about May 13, 2015) to check what’s new.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you…without you and your input, this little experiment in exchange of information regarding education and learning cannot succeed.

One last thing: Last month, I took my gajillionth class in writing at WordPress’ Bloggers U.  It was not a blogging course.  It was a course to develop writing skills. My posts can be found at a page called Eleanore’s Ramblings at and it will be dedicated to my progress in learning to write.  If you need ideas for yourself or your students–at any grade or postsecondary level–this is a decent place to start.  I will try to update any assignment where I failed to do so at the time with the prompt for the post as well as the “twist” that the facilitator wanted us to attempt. University level students who want to learn something about general writing are welcome to read the past twenty-something posts of assignments for that class as well as my continuing struggle with becoming a better writer.  I originally started taking such classes–usually paying big bucks to take them (this one was free and is offered at least twice a year) to help me report sensitively on special education students and clients being tested for learning problems.  Clinical reports are usually so–well, so clinical.  They generally consist of nothing but dull, insensitive, and largely head-ache producing facts; I wanted mine to have meaning while providing the same information in a readable format that could be understood by anyone who needed to read them. Before taking a number of writing classes, I would struggle for hours writing a single progress report on a single student to express what I wanted to say in a way that was positively structured and readable, including the negative behaviors or regressions without making the child sound like a basket case or sociopath.  Trying to write up 15 of such reports at the end of a week left me with little sleep, and the last reports were grumpier than I wanted them to be (so I never wrote the reports in the same order).  The classes have helped me to be able to say what I need to say about a child with reasonable efficiency and speed, and without sounding like a police report.  If you can’t take a formal class in writing for one reason or another, at least take the time to look at the prompts and twists, and the resulting “story.”  You will also learn far more about me than I ever thought I could share honestly with people I don’t know.  But that was part of the deal about taking the course and learning to write better.

Until next time,

Dr. Ellie, Ed.D.


Fishbowl: Student-led “Forum” Discussions


Think of people standing around a free-standing tank at an aquarium. There may be a few fish in the tank, and there may be a lot more people standing around than there are fish. The people are watching everything the fish do, even discussing what the fish are doing. The fish are swimming around, possibly communicating in subtle ways that are beyond the watchers. But there is basically no communication between the fish inside the tank and the people observing them. That is the general idea behind Fishbowl.

Fishbowl for WP

Three or four “fish” sit facing each other in the center of the classroom. They form the fishbowl. The rest of the students position their seats around the fishbowl as observers. The “fish” discuss the assigned topic, while outside the tank the observers listen to what the fish are saying, take notes, and jot down questions to ask the fish later. As in any discussion, the fish make supportable statements, ask each other questions, request clarification, respond to remarks, extrapolate, etc.

At the conclusion of the discussion, observers interact with the fish, unlike with real fish in real aquaria. The observers ask for clarification on points made by certain fish or respond to statements made by any fish; they comment on any question or discussion point, or add examples of their own that support or refute a fish’s comments. In addition, the observers comment on the mechanics of the discussion, and offer ways to improve fish interaction.

To get started, the instructor can introduce the concept of Fishbowl to the class the day before. The topic of discussion is presented, and reading (or research) is assigned. Students prepare for the discussion, as none of them know who will be a fish. The next day, the instructor announces the fish, and the observers move their seats into a circle around the fish in the center.

The first time or two, ask for volunteers. After that, select students of mixed ability levels, or a mixture of less talkative and more talkative students to be the fish.

So what happens during Fishbowl?

The instructor is not the one doing the teaching. The instructor may moderate and sum up, but the teaching is done by the students.

  • Students learn that there is not necessarily one right answer.
  • Students learn that they have something to share, and that they can learn from each other.
  • Students learn to critique and to take constructive criticism.

How can Fishbowl be used with younger learners?

In Kindergarten through third grade, Fishbowl could be used for Show-and-Tell activities. As the Fish discuss each other’s Show-and-Tell, the Observers might find they have more questions. The discussions might stimulate Show-and-Tell ideas for students who have difficulty coming up with something to share.

Fishbowl can be used to discuss a reading passage or a story the teacher just read. It can be used to discuss history or science concepts, and even explaining how to do an arithmetic skill or solve a word problem.


Fishbowl is easy to implement, but may take several tries before all students are comfortable with it and are learning together. However, the possibilities of Fishbowl and other collaborative learning techniques are only limited by the combined imaginations of the teacher and students. And the best part is, collaborative learning techniques make the teacher’s job a lot easier in the long run.

Some parameters:

  1. Make certain there are “rules” of participation in place, such as talking out of turn, watchers not interrupting fishbowl participants, showing respect for each other, tolerating different views, etc.
  2. Older children can participate in discussions for longer periods, but it is OK to limit the time in the fishbowl to 15 to 20 minutes. Even with discussion afterwards, it is still possible to get in a second round of “fishbowl” with fresh participants. Just leave enough time at the end of the class period for summation and closure.
  3. Younger children may need only 5 minutes per “fishbowl” activity group, allowing either more fishbowls to be formed or time for follow-up or different activities.
  4. If older students can “tolerate” more than one fishbowl occurring simultaneously, that’s fine–as long as the teaching staff is willing to split its attention among multiple groups.
  5. Often, special education students–especially those with attention and/or behavior problems–need closer monitoring. It is a good idea for a classroom adult to be standing/sitting near the most problematic student(s) to provide behavior cues, if needed.

Fishbowl works as well at the university level as it does at the pre-school level, with certain adjustments–such as number of independent groups, length of discussion period, age-appropriate and lesson-appropriate topics. You as the class educator know your students best and know what the students can handle.


Students are more apt to come to class prepared. Students are responsible for reviewing material before class, and will often be more prepared than if all they have to do is sit through a lecture. Few students want to undergo the embarrassment of being “clueless” if they are part of the discussion.

Students practice discussion techniques and general forms of inquiry as they participate inside the fishbowl or outside.

Students develop listening and questioning skills.

Students learn aspects of critical thinking skills as they learn to question certain assertions, especially if what a fishbowl participant says is not the interpretation of the material that another student–within or outside the fishbowl–understood during preparation (or even listening).

After a while, students develop self-confidence in their academic work, whether related to the reading/preparation material or from the proposition of a new idea.

Creative thinking might follow, as long as ideas flow from the preparatory material or from internet/library searches. Outside material should be backed up with references and, if possible, examples.

And there are more positive outcomes that are too numerous to mention.

Fishbowl encourages freedom of expression. This is a single technique among many that allow students to freely discuss and academic/school-related social topics. It leads to exploration without a teacher intervening and telling the student he/she is wrong. So long as the discussion is on topic, allowing the students to monitor the rules to the greatest extent possible can help more shy students gain some confidence in what they know, even if it comes from personal experience or something seen on the TV or internet.

Feel free to contact me with questions about Fishbowl. Other techniques will be posted in the future.