Let me tell you something about decimals…

Two of the elementary school principals I’ve talked to in the last week — John Melvin at Lincoln in Chinatown and Monica Thomas at Greenleaf (formerly Whittier) in East Oakland — told me about a skill their staff are helping students build, one that can’t be measured on a bubble test: oral presentation.

Here’s a short clip of Erika Brown’s fifth-grade math class at Greenleaf yesterday. Her students are adding decimals, but they’re also learning how to talk about them. Is this something your school emphasizes as well?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • AlgebraTeacher

    Now if only our newscasters and weather people could start to use that correct language on television…

  • Gordon Danning

    This is very nice and cute and all, but that’s all it is: nice and cute. Schools have much bigger fish to fry than oral presentations: reading, writing, research, analysis. Every kid who goes to college will have to write and analyze. Most high-paying jobs require the same thing. In contrast, relatively few require oral presentation skills. It’s kind of like the kid in 3rd grade who writes a report and spends 8 hours on the cover and 45 minutes on the content. I’m reading a bunch of essays written by seniors. It is a practice essay on “My best teacher” – NOT a high school level topic, but I have to spend time on it becuase so many kids have never acquired rudimentary skills re: organizing and writing an essay wih a thesis and relevant supporting evidence and argument. Why didn’t they learn that in elementary school?

  • Local Teacher


    Your comments about being able to write an essay are not really relevant to the video and what the teacher is trying to accomplish. Ms. Brown is embedding a focus on oral presentation skills into her math lesson. This is hugely important for the students that Ms. Brown teaches as most of them are English Language Learners and do not spend a lot of time actually speaking in English, let alone presenting in English. The fact that the majority of the students were speaking in complete, grammatically correct sentences is incredibly important. You’re being narrow minded because you’re blinded by your own frustrations that have nothing to do with the great things happening in this classroom.

    Also, how do you know that the students aren’t being taught how to write an essay or how to organize their writing? All we saw was a 2 minute clip of a math lesson – we have no idea what the writing content is that’s being taught in this classroom.

  • Jenna

    It is relevant to say that there are only so many hours in a day and if there are Z hours spent on math and oral presentation, there are only Y hours left for the other subjects. That’s how it works. If the scores are high in math and language arts because 50% of Y hours are spent on comprehension strategies, vocabulary and writing, then we are down to X.

    Science, Social Studies (social science), PE, Art, Music, and Performing Arts are all part of the California State Standards. How are these standards getting met?

    Perhaps the oral presentations for math are part of the Performing Arts standards?

  • Katy Murphy

    Monica Thomas, Greenleaf’s principal, did acknowledge this time limitation you’ve mentioned, and she said the school initially focused on bringing the students to proficiency on English language arts and math. Now that the students have made progress in those areas (Greenleaf’s API is 826), she said, the school has some room to focus on other skills, too.

    The presentation tips I saw that day didn’t strike me as very time-consuming, though. I often hear of the need for students to improve their “academic English,” so it wouldn’t surprise me if good teachers squeezed it in anywhere they can.

  • http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com David B. Cohen

    Viewing this 2-minute clip provides evidence of one, good instructional strategy. It does not provide, nor does it seem intended to provide evidence of time-allocation, alignment with standards, or anything else people worry about in the comments above. It’s like you saw a video of two minutes from batting practice and start complaining that you don’t see any emphasis on conditioning, fielding, pitching, or simulated games. Relax, everyone. Take it for what it is.

  • Gordon Danning

    My main point really was that I don’t know why the lesson merits a post on this blog. We spend too much time celebrating what is, essentially, pretty trivial. Far be it for me to tell an elementary school teacher how to spend his or her time in class, but of all the things that students do in OUSD, why does this merit a post? Why, for example, do we never see articles celebrating a student’s really good senior project?

  • MsKat

    All I have to say is 826 API! It took more than 2 minutes to reach that goal. We set a standard for our students and we help them reach and exceed that standard.
    Go Greenleaf Go!
    I am proud to be an Oakland public school teacher and I teach at Greenleaf!

  • Katy Murphy

    I wouldn’t use the word “celebrate” to describe what this blog post — or this blog, in general — is about, though it does often highlight the accomplishments of students, teachers and schools. But here’s how this post came about: I visited Greenleaf because I hadn’t been to the school and I heard it was doing good things. While I was there, I took some video. I thought the focus on presentation was interesting. I also thought the clip would give people a glimpse of an ordinary day in a fifth-grade math classroom.

    In other words, I didn’t go to the school with the purpose of producing this particular video clip. It was something I happened to observe while I was there. Now that I’m using more video in my reporting, I’m hoping to convey some of the things that are happening in OUSD — the extraordinary and the everyday — in a different medium. Know a student with a fascinating senior project? Tell me about it.

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com maestra


    “In contrast, relatively few require oral presentation skills”

    What?? Many high-paying jobs absolutely require oral presentation skills!

  • Yet Another Oakland Teacher

    Those kids were speaking in complete, thoughtful, on topic, academic English. From speaking comes the knowledge, then the ability, to write in complete, thoughtful, on topic, academic English. So, Mr. Dannning, rest assured that kids who have grown up with the excellent teaching at Greenleaf, will come to middle and high school with writing skills (as well as thinking skills) The wave of children who have had years of coherent, directed, effective instruction (represented by increased test scores) is just starting to hit middle school.

    Go Greenleaf – You guys work really hard and it is good to see you get the recognition you deserve.

    PS – months back a poster made a snarky comment about the school name – Greenleaf was the middle name of Poet John Whittier (former name of the school). The name was chosen because a green leaf is new and growing, and also as form of continuity with the previous life community and identity.

  • gordon danning

    Maestra: I agree that many high paying jobs require oral presentation skills. Nevertheless, relatively few do.

    Yet Another Oakland Teacher: I hope what you say about kids with years of coherent instruction is true. But I take issue with this: “From speaking comes the knowledge, then the ability, to write in complete, thoughtful, on topic, academic English.” In my experience, there is little correlation between the two. I have had many students who speak well, but who are utterly unable to construct a logical written argument (let alone, an insightful one). I have had many immigrant students whose oral English was awful, but who wrote tightly reasoned, insightful papers. I’m sure other teachers will back me up.

    Katy: I have access to some interesting senior projects from last year, but not from this year, since they have not yet been written. Of course, those students are gone. I have access to interesting research topics from by 10th graders from the last couple of years, but I dont have all the papers. But you can email me if you’d like samples.

  • oakteach

    Being able to describe a mathematical process in your own words is one of the pillars of contextual understanding. It signifies that the student has internalized the process and applied it to their own schema. Good math teachers have their students presenting learning every day: either through pair shares, cooperative activities, or written summaries.
    So this isn’t a trivial or auxiliary activity, it’s just plain good teaching. And it’s an activity that shouldn’t be limited to a school over 800. Which is the problem with most uninformed critiques of instructional strategies: the schools in the greatest need of the good stuff are told that it should take a back seat to the less effective rote learning.

  • Yet Another Oakland Teacher

    Oakteach – What is shown on that video is what moved Greenleaf from the 500’s to the 800’s. Those scores are four years of extremely hard work using honest best practices in a truly collaborative and demanding environment.

  • Donna

    Liberal arts colleges are increasingly requiring oral presentations and oral defense of senior capstone projects. And of course, almost all jobs require passing some type of oral interview.

    Someone, please tell me: What happens to boys by the time they reach their teenage years? Their speech turns into incomprehensible mumbles! Does all that lip energy go to their thumbs (so they can text and play video games)?

  • From the East

    It is interesting that someone would find something to say that takes us out of the moment of such a positive glimpse of what is going on in our school systems today. I do not know about CA, but here in VA, on any job listing, the first requirement is to have presentation and speaking skill. Whoever said speaking skills is unimportant is out of touch with reality. The only professionals I have come across that do not need to communicate well are IT people and maybe some engineers. Anyway, great post. Let’s continue to encourage complete sentences and that presenter’s voice!

  • Nextset

    The high-prole jobs require speaking skills also, and interview skills. I am currently trying to help a 27 year old through a selection process for a high-prole job and it’s not looking good. I believe he can do the job well and would be a good company man, unlike a lot of proles he is free from drug and alcohol problems, has a clear driving record (most prole males don’t). But he’s not interviewing well. He’s been told to return for continuation of the screening interviews with the complete job and address history that was missing on his initial filing. We’re getting him suitable clothes. I’m concerned these deficits & others may have already cost him too many demerits in the process. It seems he just wasn’t raised to be competitive like this. Others are, especially the immigrants. Or anybody from a Catholic Grade School. He’s public schooled, and boy does it show.

    Oh Well. Life in the Brave New World goes on.