Posted in Close Reading, Reading

Runs in the family.

Please read all the heartfelt comments in this thread: many teachers and parents reached out with amazing resources, love, and ideas.

Last night my younger son, Daniel, who’s 23, was hanging out with me, and I asked him how reading The Hobbit was going. He had mentioned he was reading it because, well, he never had, and thought he’d go through Tolkien’s books. He said he hadn’t made it through the first chapter. He said with ADHD, he has to read paragraphs repeatedly, and he just gives up. I asked how that made him feel in school, like everyone knew some secret magic that he was left out of, and his body language and face, his deflated posture, broke my heart. Yes, he confirmed. And it made him feel ashamed. School was a place that took a bright, funny, smart,* laughing little boy and turned him into someone who’s had to fight hard to find his own path. Like every other kid out there. He’s not special. His generation has never gone to a public school building without testing from kindergarten through their senior years, and drilled skill after skill, without little experience or joy knowing what those skills were for. Reading logs and extrinsic motivations, academic achievement, meetings with the principal and band director because the band director was going to flunk him because we needed to go on a family trip for personal reasons. Time and again, the cruelty was the point. My older son followed all the rules and fit their mold. Daniel did not. Nothing I did or didn’t do. And yet these two beautiful sons of mine taught me so much about how horrible a place school can be.

But why does this have to be this way? Why does school have to be a place that most of us ends up hating? We end up resenting?

I told him during the pandemic, this past year, I’ve struggled to read. My escape of novels and fiction just isn’t there. Friends posting book after book on Goodreads while I languish. I find myself reading the same paragraphs, too. I just started reading Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians and am embarrassed to admit I am going to have to start over again for the third time because I don’t understand what happens in the first chapter. Is that an elk? A fight? A fight with an elk? And please don’t step in and explain it to me. I’ll get it. About all my brain can handle right now is watching old episodes of Inkmaster and

My dad, who’s 79, tells a story with some trace of bitterness, how one teacher told him his fate would probably be jail. I don’t know what my dad did or said that prompted this reaction from his high school teacher. My dad was a middle child of three boys, all close in age, with two parents who worked outside the home. And I guess he was mischievous, a troublemaker? Prone to staying out late, maybe? I don’t know details of my father’s high school years. I do know my dad is one of the sweetest, funniest men I know.

My own troublemaker self was almost kicked out of kindergarten, and often sent to the corner or hallway many times for talking in first and second grades. The teachers simply did not understand that I was trying to help others near me understand the material. But those corners of the room smell like tooth-fairy breath and shame. And I didn’t learn a damn thing about staying quiet, except that when I do share ideas and thoughts, it comes with anxiety and sometimes pain.

Okay, enough of this. We have a family history of ADHD, this seems pretty clear. Now what? Whenever I am overwhelmed, I make a list. Here are some of my initial thoughts, and many of these were echoed on Twitter. I promise I was not ‘workshopping’ anything — what a breathtaking community you are. I love you, my teacher out there — ready to jump in, share ideas, with love, compassion, and without hesitation.

  1. Reading is not just print on paper. It’s audio, acting, movement, illustrative, and beyond. Let’s embrace a culture of reading.
  2. Love of stories must come first, and remain, the goal.
  3. I want Dr. Gholdy Muhammad to head up change in our education system with her ideas on Cultivating Genius.
  4. Burning questions (allow students to co-construct their units of study with teachers and shifting classrooms– this is a seed of an idea I have)
  5. More money for better early reading instruction that extends throughout all grade levels
  6. All teachers have a partnership with specialists
  7. Art at every grade
  8. Music at every grade
  9. Physical movement without ableism
  10. Multi-modal essays and collaborative work
  11. Sketchnoting, and other interactive ideas to express glorious passages of the ‘grand conversations’

There is so much more, and we’ll keep talking adding, and thinking.

My son will probably finish The Hobbit someday. Right now he’s switched to Recording Unhinged by Sylvia Massey because he’s been playing a lot of music lately with his dad, (who does not have ADHD), going to school, and working. I’ll finish my books, too, and figure out what that elk is doing.

And please follow Nicole Biscotti, M.Ed:

Some books folks recommended, on my reading list:

I Can Learn When I’m Moving By Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed.

ADHD and Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table by Blake ES Taylor

*He’s still funny and smart. And very darn cute.

Posted in Reflection

the year that wasn’t (1) and what might be (2)

I have a new gig, one I’m excited about. My feelings and response to the next phase are filled with gratitude. Closure, however, is healthy. Some of the things that happened this past year act as a wedge, preventing the door from fully closing.

The year began so positively:

What went wrong? (and what can go right)

Evaluation biases: Someday I may obtain my administration credentials. Not sure if I want to be a building principal; however, when a colleague who’s older and mostly certainly wiser than I told me she saw me in that role, and how good I would be, I took notice. She said I had a way of understanding how to support teachers and students alike. Maybe I am couching this next bit, or hesitating to sound too critical versus a critique, and there is a tinge of fraudulent intent in this next piece: my evaluator this year struggled with the evaluation process and her own newness in administration. Her understanding of the process came from last year’s work where, in her opinion, many teachers in the building received inflated “Distinguished” ratings, and she could not justify Proficient or Distinguished ratings when the school’s test scores were (and remain) low. And though I provided ample evidence and coding about practice, we never spoke to those artifacts or evidence in our discussions. At one point, we union representatives invited an HR representative to our building to discuss, with transparency and objectivity, how the evaluation systems are to be handled. I have yet to get a definitive answer why this didn’t happen, and we were sent an email instead. There is that old joke about meetings that would be better in an email, but this wasn’t one of them. The staff needed to hear directly from him how the evaluation system works. It is very similar to how my previous district handled it (the protocols) and yet in practice, in the building, became a professional boondoggle. For next year: over the summer, one area of practice is to create a means for my own style of work that combines the evaluation system and solid pedagogy. I’ll share. The current evaluation system and how it can be mishandled and weaponized is a hill I will die on. I believe it we can do better to create better teachers and learning.

Note to self: keep track of lessons and artifacts for the TPEP evaluation for next year. Keep a journal of practice, and strive for personal objectivity and reflection.

Building: The space is old. Decrepit, even. I didn’t realize how much that would affect me. The previous building was also old, but had been remodeled and updated. Now I understand how children around the country feel about the crumbling infrastructure of the schools they attend. The carpet is filthy. There is no central air in most of the buildings. The bathrooms have no ventilation. The ceiling rains dust (asbestos?) The staff bathroom comprised of three stalls, one for disabilities, so the other two are so narrow a larger woman such as myself can’t turn around in them. The staff bathrooms are by the front office, so a quick trip to relieve oneself is impossible (we had two minute passing times). But this isn’t about my comfort or convenience. It’s about how students must feel, day in and day out, and how no matter the bulletin boards, posters, etc., they feel disrespected and marginalized every single day: the destruction of what others create is relentless. No bulletin board stays unripped. Well–okay –except for the HOPE(squared) one–interesting when students put up work there is less of a chance it’s destroyed.

If a building is old, make sure the students are given as much opportunity as possible to create cleaner, better, improved spaces. Work alongside them to create the space. The goal is space for them, their work, their ideas.

Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (GVC): I’m not going to spend too much time on this one because I might go insane. The district adopted the EL Education curriculum. The idea was to keep everyone within a two-week schedule, four novel studies per year. Lessons that require full week(s) would be scheduled for one or two days. Learning was rushed. Students in a constant state of confusion. I longed for the simple framework curriculum of my previous district and feel embarrassed for having any issues with it. A huge ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment. Academic freedom trampled, and no in-depth learning happening. The woeful lack of writing instruction is academic malpractice. But due to the GVC standing as a behemoth between me and my students, the reading and writing workshops suffered grave harm.

Make a curriculum framework for next year, and then continue to work with colleagues and district leaders for the best, most equitable access for all. (Since I’ll be teaching high school ELL, be patient with self, and enjoy this new challenge!)

Reading: Never having taught a whole-class novel before, and knowing the GVC included 4 (we got through 2), I immediately purchased A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (which I highly recommend whether you teach whole novels or not). The best success I had once when I went rogue and used The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas paired with the mandated text, To Kill a Mockingbird. My schedule included two ELA classes, and three History/IRLA classes. We were given 1/2 hour for US History and 1/2 mandated IRLA time, to be used for silent reading, conferencing, and tracking students’ reading progress. There are a lot of positives about IRLA, but “leveled books” translates to “leveled readers” in the minds of students. Breaking down that concept that books are meant for burning questions and purpose, not for levels, was next to impossible. All of the time and energy spent reading Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, (and more than I can name right now) felt put on hold.

However: I am not giving up. The cataloging of great reading resources is a passion project for me. #ProjectLit, #disrupttexts, #educolor, #decolonizeED, #NCTE, #IBPOC #writingproject are top search tags for powerful conversations about equity, anti-racist. Follow each woman who began Disrupt Texts. Follow @mrpranpatel. Follow @larryferlazzo. Follow @TheJLV And for love and inspiration, follow @MrsHallScholars (!) (I am following almost 3K on Twitter, so a shortcut to these and other amazing educators @mrskellylove)

Thanks @SonjaCherryPaul for asking a great question that’s generating excellent results. Folks, looking for short(ish), IBPOC #ownvoices short stories? Check out this thread. #DisruptTexts https://t.co/MBzqQ4RaQZ— Dr. Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) June 8, 2019

Keep following those who help with curating excellent books!

Advice: start your own blog and keep these resources handy. Twitter and other social media sites become tangled and distorted.

Writing: There is little or no writing in the curriculum. No space. No time. Misunderstood. Things that worked in my “studio” space of creativity (workshop) withered on the vine this year. I am distraught. That’s all I can about this now.

Make a plan. A REAL plan for writing instruction. Guard it. Protect it. Fight for it. (And keep writing that book. There is space for it.) For me: keep writing and replenish and return to my writing life.

And keep articles like this within reach at all times: Principled Revolution in the Teaching of Writing" by Nicole Bordreau Smith"

I am feeling enthusiastic: as Mrs. Hall inspired me this morning, what we look forward to in the coming year is our love language for teaching! (And this is a great idea!)

Posted in Big Questions, Books, burning questions, Connections, Creativity

For fun…

We teachers have full, wonderful lives outside of teaching. I think. Sure we do! YES! We most definitely do! And why let all the wonderful folks such as Barack Obama create a list!? Here’s my challenge, inspired by @jarredamato, the leader of #ProjectLit:

When a friend posted Obama’s list today, I immediately went to i-Tunes and grabbed some of the songs I liked. Dang, I used to be such an aficionado of new music! What happened?

via GIPHY

Whatever.

Here are the list of movies, books, and music I added to my collection in 2018:

Books:

My Goodreads name is k love (I think) and I read 47/100 of my reading challenge books. *Shrug* https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/11069938

My favorites came out of the #ProjectLit collection:

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)

Dread Nation (see link)

Dread Nation

Long Way Down: (see link)

Long Way Down

And:

Movies/Television:

What did we watch? Well, Black KKKlansman, Black Panther, Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs, Bird Box, (read the book first, dang it!) Game Night (eye roll), Solo and whatever comes out on Netflix. Shows include Ozark, Sabrina, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, Making a Murderer, Jessica Jones, Series of Unfortunate Events, Vikings, Game of Thrones, all of the American Horror Stories, Better Call Saul, Barry, and started Dark. (I feel like there are some missing, but oh well.)

Music

Some songs I added (not new to 2018 necessarily, but new to me):

And I highly recommend the Kill Bill soundtrack.

In addition to consuming media, I like to create media, too! I love to write and make collage images.

@cmclymer tweeted this fun thing – what would your two accessories be?

A toy company makes a replica action figure of your likeness. What two accessories do they include?— Charlotte Clymer🏳️‍🌈 (@cmclymer) December 27, 2018

So thank you, Jarred and Charlotte, for some fun ideas. I’m not anyone important, but I am a teacher, and living my best, creative life helps me, my family, and my students. It is my personal oxygen mask.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, book recommendations, Book Reviews, Books

Summer Series of Saves: Tea with Bears (or the hard sell)

 

clock
Never enough time…

Planning and shaping students’ reading lives–I have some concerns. Selfish, muddy concerns.

Donalyn Miller’s tweet about ill-defined independent reading prompted my own wondering about the basics: what is are the differences and connections between instructional and independent reading? A while back I wrote this blog post challenging those notions, too:  How to Survive a Bear Attack

https://bookwhisperer.com/2015/02/08/ive-got-research-yes-i-do-ive-got-research-how-about-you/amp/

And, the notion of leveling texts also seems outdated, or at least considered revised:

Here is the concern: there are four modules in my new district that are required. We, teachers, have some leeway concerning how, but not the what. My goals are to embrace the curriculum with courage and creativity, so bear with me while I ask some tough questions this beautiful Sunday morning:  what do we do when we’re faced with teaching books we don’t like? My plan is to read the books anyway and be honest with students about when we don’t have a choice, and how to navigate around it.

Four texts were chosen for my students. I have every confidence and assumption the texts are chosen by hardworking and mindful educators. I am wondering how I’m going to cooperate, comply and flourish with a scripted reading program, though, since for years I’ve had full choice over the texts I bring to the classroom. I have always looked for engaging, relevant, diverse, inclusive and popular texts: sometimes it worked, sometimes not. But what if I don’t want to read it? How do I sell it then?

The four books for the year are:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This one looks right up my alley: a short verse novel, accessible and easily paired with Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed and other novels/graphic novels.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Now this one I’m having trouble with. I get it, and I see and wholly understand why many love narratives such as these. (Think of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and others like these. Although for the life of me can’t really figure out how How the Light We Cannot See got in there.) There were a few books I could not finish in the book club I used to frequent (another casualty of time and politics, and my big mouth), and Boys was up on the list. I think I read five pages. I don’t know what it is that I don’t care about personal boy-to-manhood sagas with war as the backdrop. It feels like a failure of character on my part. I will force myself to read it, make notes, and come away with insight and knowledge I didn’t previously have. And that’s exactly what I’ll tell students.

But it still feels like badly cooked broccoli. Someone else put it on my plate and I must be polite.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is one of my adolescent favorites, and am looking forward to pairing it with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and articles about how TKAM needs to be critiqued. That’s we can love a book and still grow out of it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

This one also looks like something I wouldn’t normally read but can get a lot out of, and plan a PBL around it. As I’m thinking about PBLs for next year, and after talking with my friend Sharon, I had this epiphany that the best PBLs stem from the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy. Hear me out: our food, shelter, water, air, and reproductions are the foundation for all problems and conflicts: we were talking about her weaving unit, and how the labor of clothing fell to women, and now how we have an overabundance of clothes in landfills, etc.  I’m looking forward to reading this.

So how can I best disrupt texts and tow the line? 

And in the meantime, donations are welcome and encouraged. I need support for students to disrupt the canon, to add representation and love of literature. Please consider a small donation: Mrs. Love’s Project Lit DonorsChoose Project

Back to the original question: independent reading is choice, but it also includes fostering those discussions and excitement about what we’re reading. Instructional reading is the near-invisible guiding hand that helps students take risks with their reading, and nurture their reading lives. While I process this, read 180 Days, and curate companion texts, my challenge will be to focus on the most important instruction, day by day, week by week. With required reading texts this will be a challenge for me, but one I’ll do my utmost to succeed.

Any help or advice is welcome…

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions

Dismantle, disrupt, and…discontinue?

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 6.11.04 AM

One of my personality flaws is the fear of being misunderstood. I say it’s a flaw because I spend too much mental energy trying to explain my meaning after the fact, and other folks are way past thinking about me or my dumb little thoughts.  But that is why I write this blog; it’s my space to make sense, process, and reflect.

So: it’s early. If you want to go along on this cold coffee and stale toast mental journey with me, great. But if you need to get off at this stop, be my guest.

Loudly and clearly: I am not a high school teacher (yet). I hope to be and soon. It’s been a career goal of mine for a few years. Henceforth, I have never taught, attempted, or even imagined I would teach The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. It meant a lot to me as a teenage reader, but that was back in the late 70s and 80s. I heard the term “dead white men” in the 1980s, in college I think, and it’s stuck with me. I took feminist studies at the University of Delaware, read all the Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker I could get my hands on, and a hefty chunk of Tom Robbins and John Irving. My limited understanding of literature has been a lifelong catch-up.

In high school, the offerings were Steinbeck, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne. I think one of my teachers offered Richard Wright, but there was no discussion or guidance. As background to my adolescent reading life, I lived in Tehran, Iran when I was twelve, moved to Colorado during middle school, and moved to Wilmington, Delaware for my senior year of high school. Authors of other ethnicities, countries, races, etc. were not offered or discussed.

My senior year English teacher shared her love of John Irving with me, and he was one of my favorites because his work came to me at the right time. So did the Scarlet Letter: as a teenage girl I was horrified and in awe of this woman who fought the hypocrisy and repression of her times. Think about the 1970s/80s: coming of age in this time the worst thing that could happen to a girl would be to get pregnant, be thought of as a slut, have rumors spread or be seen as promiscuous. Hester Prynne knocked all that on the ground and held her Pearl close in her arms. We didn’t have to empower statements such as “no slut shaming” or “smash the patriarchy.” And it’s beautiful and wonderful that we do now.

I have no plans on teaching The Scarlet Letter. The only time I’ve mentioned the book is in a PowerPoint I made years ago addressing themes and how 8th grade ELA students can understand the purpose, their burning questions, and the themes authors explore. I am an artist first, writer, and the teacher. Many students were intrigued by the ideas in the novel. I told them maybe the books I mentioned in the presentation would be taught in high school, or they could go look for them on their own. All the while, I kept and keep a wide range of engaging texts in my classroom as possible.

Remember my collegial friends: I came to my teaching career in my early 40s. I am much older than many of my colleagues. I have the unseemly middle-age bucket of both a mortgage payment and student loans: mine and my sons’. So while I know that Jarred Amato’s passion and direct language during this tweeter exchange felt a little pointed, I knew what he was trying to do. He needed to be loud and clear to his audience that we should not treat the “dead white male authors” with any reverence or sacredness. But my social media insecurities fluttered a bit: he liked every tweet around mine. Not a single one of my responses or ideas was liked or retweeted by him. And then I have to reflect; does it matter? Isn’t the conversation the most important part of this, and who cares if I am misunderstood on Twitter? (Trying to silence the inner voice of my insecure teenage girl thinking–the girl who loves something and then someone else craps on it.)

And that is what I am afraid of for our students. And I do not know the answer to these questions: is it our responsibility to provide access to all kinds of texts? Or is it our responsibility to promote texts? I do believe, we must be very careful in showing our biases toward texts: if we hate it (as I do Ayn Rand) or love it (as I do Adichie) is it up to us to get our teacher fingers all over something before students have a chance to explore it on their own? In our book tastings and book talks, how much do we pre-chew the food for our students? (My suggestion would be as little as possible: teach them the skills and strategies on knowing when to abandon a book, not fake read or waste their own reading life line.)

First and foremost, we must be mindful to bring as many diverse books into our classrooms. And that may include, but not featured, a section of classics, and possibly media pairings, to provide all students with a contextual history of art, politics, literature, and science.

And I will attempt at zero misunderstanding: when I spend my own money on books for my classroom, (which is upwards of $5,000 to $6,000 at this point over the course of twelve years) I buy the most current, engaging titles I can: authors such as Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Meyers, Laurie Halse Anderson, Angie Thomas, Kwame Alexander, and many more, sitting in boxes from my packed-up classroom, waiting to go to a new adventure.

There is danger in a single story: and because we have so much work to do to tell and share all the stories, there is no way I would ever get in the way of sharing a thousand stories with my students. Stories that look like them, meet them where they are, and share stories that may speak to them as Hester and Scout spoke to me. But Hester and Scout are part of my reading life timeline: students must curate their own, and I will defend that with my professional experience and humanity.
project lit
Now the real work begins: putting my energy on getting these titles in my classroom. I am going to work with @caitteach on curating poetry and media for Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I have some other ideas for media pairings that work and dig deeper with Understand By Design units regarding contextual historical shifts with art, literature, and politics. You know, a little light summer reading.
Any ideas or thoughts: please share. This work is too important to quibble.

Posted in Big Questions, Story Telling

Series: Elements of Structure Part 2: Shock and Awe

Part 2 of the Elements of Structure Series

When I clicked on this link this morning, I did not know who the producers were. I had no idea about bias, message, or author’s purpose. I just sat and watched it, thinking it a sweet narrative.

Normally I’m not so blinded by the surprise, the hidden but the overarching message. I didn’t think I was susceptible to misdirection: why? Because I know what it means–how can we be tricked when we invented the magic?

But I was, and the effect was devastating.

No spoilers here. I’ll allow you the same effect–would love to hear your comments, though.

Posted in Big Questions, Story Telling

Series: Elements of Structure Part I: Effect

the-story-coaster-grant-snider

As we weave in the CCSS into our instruction, create engaging work, etc. it’s my nature to dive deeply into the subject area–to me, that’s what great teachers do, even if they know a subject intimately. It’s the artist in me: there’s always more to observe and try. With that in mind, I am writing a series on structure, craft, and style.

The first idea I want to share comes courtesy of my intelligent and wonderful colleague, Tami Gores. She and I are both working with coaches, and also have a common ground understanding of my friend and mentor, Holly Stein. (I mention this because it’s refreshing to work with someone who understands me, and I hope she feels the same. In this world, having any shared history with a colleague is a gift.)

She is the Queen of Co-Constructed Anchor Charts. The first ah-ha moment she provided me was the idea of how structure influences effect:

Courtesy of Tami Gores
Courtesy of Tami Gores

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We ELA teachers understand the rudimentary plot diagram:

From Chalkboxtales.blogspot
From Chalkboxtales.blogspot

But structure is so, so much more than this. This is the little engine that could, and while important to teach, it’s a place to start. This series will explore these ideas. With Tami’s help, and working with other ELA folks in my building, I’m sure we’ll come up with wonderful shared instruction for our students that’s relevant and empowering.

To me — there are few things more empowering that understanding another’s story. Stay tuned.

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices

750 and counting.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley

Seven hundred and fifty minutes represents five classes of core/honors ELA classes, multiplied by ten days, fifteen minutes each period. For every student, in two weeks’ time, each one has read 750 minutes.

And to my shock and awe, at no point did I give them some long lecture about how to read, what to do during reading time, what to think or how to behave. I didn’t co-construct an anchor chart or show them my PowerPoint called The Reading Zone based on Nancie Atwell’s work. 

My student teacher and I kept it simple: 

  1. Put out hundreds of books — (yes, this has cost me thousands of dollars): everything from graphic novels, Calvin and Hobbs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, novels of all genres, resource/science books (I have a thing for resource books).
  2. Told them to pick a stack of two to three, so if one lost their interest they could go to another one.
  3. Give them time to read at the beginning of class, first fifteen, with a nod to the Book Whisperer and Ethical ELA.

What have we observed? They’re reading. They’re actually reading. Not fake reading, not complaining, but asking for more time, like they’re getting away with something–it dawned on me that this might be the only quiet time they get in their day. They don’t distract each other, they don’t talk, they’ve been asking to check out books from my classroom library, they’ve been stashing and hiding books to make sure they have the one they want when they come in the classroom, and been asking for more title options of genres they like. (Yes, S, I will find more romance for you!)

Now that’s not to say that mini-lessons, co-constructing ideas about approaching texts and media will not follow or be threaded throughout this year. They absolutely will be. That’s my job and passion. However, I’m adjusting and refining my own instructional approach with the skill-based focus from the district and coaches/admin. It’s hard to take a critical lens toward one’s practice sometimes, but the only way to move forward. I am seeking a balanced approach to skills/strategies, and may have to continue looking outside one PLC for creative and innovative approaches.

Case in point: I discovered during conferencing time with every student that the vast majority could not articulate why they were learning about claim, evidence, and reasoning–a skill that has been the focus of the first quarter. Though we as a staff have done CERs for years and created rubrics, etc. this year it’s the mandated focus with rubrics and scaffolds created outside of our PLC. And focusing on one skill isn’t inherently bad educational practice, and it’s understood it isn’t the only one, but it’s the only assessment that’s being discussed or analyzed. The scaffolds are formulaic and helpful. There is no question students need directions that are clear. So what went wrong?

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question: what went right?

Did I have my learning targets and success criteria dutifully written on the board, and express those to students? Of course I did. Of course my student teacher did. Did we scaffold and break down? Yes, as best we could.

But teaching that skill in isolation away from purpose was a destructive approach, one I’ll not do again. If we decide as a PLC/staff to participate in a singular, monolithic skill to teach it is my intention to make sure students participate in the construction of their purpose first.

What goes right is showing them how they’re getting it–and on my part to be honest and transparent–to tell them, hey, I realize some of this slid past you: let’s look at it a different way.

I know getting the materials pre-designed created confusion for myself and others–we wanted to help create it, too, and engage in the process. So if we teachers are feeling this way, imagine how students must feel?

Bored, disengaged, and fatigued.

Enter Ken Robinson. This particular TEDTalk contains so many nuggets of wisdom, for all learners.

One estimate in America currently is that something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I’m not saying there’s no such thing. I just don’t believe it’s an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour,doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know?

And yes, we are focused on testing. They are the dominant culture of American schools.

The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education.They should be diagnostic. They should help.

And yes, I am taking control and direction of my classroom. I’ve worked too hard, passionately, and productively, to craft a professional life that is best for students. I maintain a growth mindset, and seek wisdom at all levels–to me there is no such thing as rookie or veteran: every colleague has something to offer and share.

And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.

Yes:

There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.

 

And until we understand and accept committees can only create so much before creative professionals want to add their own nuances we will lose the ability to move forward. Blueprints and frameworks are only as good as providing a foundation, not decorating the house.

And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working.You have to put it back to the people.

So I’ve taken control of my classroom. I am hoping others in charge ask me what I’m doing, what’s been successful, and where I’ve had to tweak and adjust.

Conferring with a student on Friday, she seems intelligent and creative, but is clearly bored with school. We spoke for awhile about personal motivation, and finding what sparks us individually. I hope I can inspire her.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people, people who either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography.They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it’s at odds with the life they’re living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique. I was at a meeting recently in Los Angeles of — they’re called alternative education programs. These are programs designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features. They’re very personalized.They have strong support for the teachers, close links with the community and a broad and diverse curriculum, and often programs which involve students outside school as well as inside school.And they work. What’s interesting to me is, these are called “alternative education.”

Where am I going with this reading thing, anyway? What are the next steps? November is a funky month, that’s for sure. This next week we have student-led conferences (which is where I discovered 90% of my students had no clue as to why they were doing what they were doing, in spite of intentional purpose from not only me but the other content area teachers, too). We also have short days, Thanksgiving Break, and then we’re finishing up a unit I created about Honor. December will be my annual “drabble a day” writing. I was heartened when one of the most intelligent students I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach sent me an email asking if I was doing that again and if I would start the writing club this year.

Have no doubt that our students, and ourselves, want choice and growth. They want forums and places to create and share. Their purpose for learning is more than a learning target and the message of intent and importance. The thing about ELA that’s different from other subject areas is sometimes it can’t be contained in a simple formula. That ambiguity is difficult to accept.

Oh, in terms of conferring: this is a ‘just in time’ idea:

Conferring with “If… Then… Then… Then…” in Mind

And assessment that’s important and valuable:

http://www.ethicalela.com/loving-test/

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices

Tagged.

Nailed it.
Nailed it.

Yesterday I spent 15 minutes searching for a website/resource I want to use this year. I couldn’t find it in my bookmarks, or remember its name, just that I discovered them at NCCE, and could have sword that I wrote about them in a post-convention post. Nope. Nowhere. But I did find it in my bookmarks, (forgot which browser I had it on), and gathered the needles and built a new haystack for colleagues.

(I really need to do a better job of tagging these posts.)

In my head:

From The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
From The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

You need this book.

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And links:

Actively Learn

NewsELA

Artifact (DiscoverArtifact)

CommonLit

Podcasts for teaching (link to fictional podcasts — but there are many to choose from for informational/argumentative topics)

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/490972873/490985494

And solid books in print:

IMG_3974