Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

Mrs. Love's Blog-0-Rama!

National Writing Project (NWP): Yes, in my backyard…

July 14, 2014 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Tell A Story, Writing

spongebob writes

Call this shameless promotion. Accuse me of having an agenda. I do. An important one. As I approach my ninth year of teaching, as I begin to sift through the hours of professional development, stale staff meetings, and reform, reform, reform, and oh, “Would you like a new assessment with that reform?” one clear and shining beacon of hope burns bright for me still — the time and relationships I’ve built with Puget Sound Writing Project, my local chapter of the National Writing Project. The NWP celebrates 40 years this yearlet that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait. 

Did you check your e-mails? Did you post a cat video on Facebook? No, I’m not being smug or snarky: those would be things I would do. Allow the static and volume both in noise pollution and quantity to interfere with my own thoughts. But consider the stalwart insistence of four decades: no matter the changes and turbulence, the National Writing Project has held true to its mission:

Our Mission

The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

They believe something I have not witnessed in many administrators: they believe teachers are the best teachers of teachers. NWP encourages and clears the path for us, allowing us to flourish. What is the very essence of education? My truth–to provide a space where I and my students thrive, push, connect, and remain messily, unabashedly human. There is something that supercedes or transcends devil-in-the-details about Common Core or its accompanying assessments such as the SBAC. It doesn’t matter how we feel about those things — what matters is how NWP/PSWP provides the clear-thinking mental (and physical) space to support each other. All I can think of is a stupid metaphor about how we teachers are the farmers, reform is the changing weather (tornadoes, drought, and pestilence at times) and our crop, naturally–our students. Okay, forgive me. That was dumb. I’m stretching. (Quietly walks over to coffee pot to see if caffeine will help!)

I think it did. Okay. Back to this.

Here’s what it’s done for me:

  • Made me believe I am a writer
  • Given me sustaining and nurturing relationships
  • Provided me with a means to help students tell their own stories
  • Given me a free space where none of my ideas are stupid, dismissed, or discounted
  • Let me talk things through
  • Honored me, and given me status
  • Shown me through gentle leadership how to empower others and give them status
  • Provided a dragon’s vault of valuable lessons and instructional delivery
  • Encouraged and expected my own teaching vision
  • Space for critical thinking and reflection of others ideas and research/analysis
  • Supported connections with educators around the country and world
  • Periodical check-ups for teaching health (this is HUGE)

I thank my lucky stars every day for Holly Stein, too. She’s the former and now current director of the PSWP. Without her encouragement and guidance–don’t even really want to think about that right now. The working studio environment — time to work, time to talk, time to share — honors teachers from all paths. If you’re feeling fatigued from the current state of affairs in education, possibly even close to extreme burn-out, (as I was), consider looking into your own local NWP group. Even if there is not a physical space at a university, consider reading news and updates from this organization. We are digitally connected, and our front porches as close as our screens.

Now — time to write.

National Writing Project, Twitter: https://twitter.com/writingproject @writingproject

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Peripeteia and Anagnorisis: College and Career “You Are Not” Ready

May 26, 2014 · 2 Comments · Big Questions

This is a post you may not want to share; watch it and think about it before it’s Tweeted or posted on Facebook. I’ll post it, just because I love a good discussion. I’ve been labeled “pot stirrer,” but I can live with that. Keeps the good stuff mixed in.

My husband sent me this link to watch, Mike Rowe, Learning From Dirty Jobs. While watching it, it struck me, my own  anagnorisis if you will, about how many of my students who simply do not belong in the factory/cubicle setting of school. Now this is not a discussion on out-dated educational models we cling to like hole-filled rowboats, nor a diatribe about all the things we get wrong. In fact, we get many things right, very right. It is my belief that education is necessary because it is its own reward, its own existence. But I think about one student in particular who walks around the classroom and the campus like a caged tiger. Because we have gone to “war with work,” as Mike Rowe contends, we do not honor an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. This young man has zero interest in finding text evidence to support a claim. He has no engagement when it comes to sitting in fluorescent-lit rooms with algorithms and anagrams. He wants purpose. He craves purpose. He does have one: he comes to school to walk a girlfriend to and from class –it’s his one thing during the day he does well. He has no control over parents’ care, homes, and he is barely in control of his actions or deeds. (And when I say barely, the thin bubble between humor and threat has been scarred).

We are failing this young man in every way possible. We have filled his world predominately with middle-aged women telling him what to do, where to go, and when he can use the restroom. We have taken from his world any journeyman or apprenticeship possibilities, but put him in room with counselors who repeat on auto play “school is important.” Why is school important? What are we really offering him?

Nothing.

Our current banner of every child being ‘college and career ready’ has many holes in it. This is scary for me to write about. It’s scary because I don’t want to be perceived as classist. As being someone who doesn’t believe that every child doesn’t deserve the finest education the world can offer. I do believe, of course. But if I truly believe in the whole child, the whole human, then I am being hypocritical if i don’t call out the crisis of limitations.

We can’t all simply become service industry folks, waiting tables to pay off expensive college loans.  We do need to open the doors wide and true and provide opportunities for one and all. But our menu of choices are so limiting to our children, so bland and tasteless. Why can’t we offer apprenticeships to teenagers, or real mentoring or internships? I don’t know how to do this, and I can’t wait for “someone else.” I am a good mentor with those things I enjoy: writing, discussion, and art. But I have never castrated a sheep, or picked up road kill. I’m just a teacher. It’s a dirty job but…you know the rest.

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26 Love Letters

May 21, 2014 · No Comments · Language News, New News, Writing

patience, practice, and persistence...

patience, practice, and persistence…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, an NPR report discussed the disappearance and resulting anxiety of the lost art of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum. Years ago, when I was working at Starbucks many of my younger co-workers could not read my handwriting, and while this made me feel “old,” it really made me feel sad. There must have been some valid reason why I learned cursive handwriting other than ‘tradition’ or rote direct instruction. There had to be something there, some pedagogical reason besides just having good penmanship. While I strongly disagree with the philosophy, “watch closely and wipe any mistakes out immediately and correct the writing before bad habits or confusion is set”,(*)which completely misses some instinct, some notion about the importance of cursive, I do think the craft of cursive handwriting is fundamental to our beings.

When I learned that cursive was no longer being taught, naturally I thought about my own experiences with hand-crafted typography. It’s so much more than a rap on the knuckles or disappointed home-schooling mother: it’s art, it’s our voice in lines, it’s our signature. We use our chubby fingers to grasp a pencil correctly (to this day I don’t hold a pencil ‘correctly” and have clear memories of my frustrated second-grade teacher gently re-positioning my fingers, and my waiting until her back was turned to do it ‘my way’). The thin newsprint with pale red and blue lines proved sturdy structures while developing “favorites.” To this day I wish my name was Queen Kelly. (I really like the letter K.)

While many feel that it’s near treason American school children can’t read the Declaration of Independence, while some believe it really doesn’t matter if they print or script, as long as students are writing, or that it’s important to do things the ‘old fashioned way,’ but there simply isn’t enough time in a school day.

Regardless of external ideas, I sense there is something deeply important and internal at work at the brain-development level, and I may be right. Studies have been done that find that young children’s literacy capacities are enriched:

When she put the kids back into the brain scanner, the two groups showed very different results: The scans for the group that was simply shown letters didn’t look that different. But in the scans for the group that learned to write the letters, James saw a huge spike in activity in their brains’ reading network.

Okay, I confess; that token scientific research article, as well as this one, serve to sway those who think cursive writing is frivolous.  I can’t help but think to the craft of writing truly being a ‘craft.’ My art background has always supported my teaching instruction: I see the art and creation of ‘making meaning’ and workshop/studio deeply embedded in language arts. My memories of struggling to practice perfect cursive letters, and then embarking on my own signature, then to the signature I have today, is as closely connected to my identity as any portrait: the change from my maiden name to including my married one, my “pretend” writer’s signature, and there must be a journal somewhere with my practicing future romantic roles, “Mrs. Blahblahblah.” As I dabbled in graphic art, not just the fine arts of printmaking/painting, I fell in love with grand typography. I always loved practicing calligraphy, and I adore a former student’s Facebook posts on his attempts with practicing Chinese characters with brush and ink, keeping his Chinese heritage alive.

Yes, generating typography/computer graphics is using technology and not hand-written, but I have often thought before we hand over technology to a child there should be some measure of foundational lessons. I am not talking about the “back in my day” kinds of things, but why do we always seem to need a “movement” to re-purpose or repackage traditional skills? We have the “maker movement,” going back to ‘real’ food, and life experiences that are authentic. I am not discounting the maker movement, only curious about our collective mania for re-branding our lives. My older son didn’t know how to sew on a button the other day, and I had no interest in teaching him. You know who did? My husband. I have a much more bourgeois attitude about the whole thing. Maybe I’m guilty of this — these hand-written cursive signatures seem too precious in our current state of “college and career readiness.” Just not sure how losing our identities further, our signatures, our marks, enable us to do that.

I recently bought a new i-Pad for myself. I’m pretty excited about it. My Kindle kind of stinks with its Silk browser (yes, I wrote a strongly worded review on Amazon about it: power to the consumer!). Last night my husband turned to me to show me this very cool pencil and app especially designed for i-Pads. I can’t wait to try it out, in my older, but still chubby fingers, and draw and write “real” things. Maybe there’s hope after all.

*That’s not even correct grammar. The sentence should read: “…before any bad habits are set.”

 

Good stuff: http://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_brencher_love_letters_to_strangers

and even Steve Jobs gives a nod to typography:

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Framing.

November 23, 2013 · No Comments · Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions

Entrepreneurship Merit Badge

Entrepreneurship Merit Badge

Students speaks out…

This video of a young man from Tennessee speaking on the topic of Common Core State Standards as been hopping around, and I linked it the other day myself on Facebook. He passionately defends his own education and his beloved teachers, from what, exactly, I am not clear yet, and should make it my business to find out. Was this meeting called to speak out against “merit” pay?  Is the issue the (constant) assessment of students? (This year alone we’ve had seven instructional class periods of testing in my content area, not including the PLC common assessment our department created, adding about three more days to the mix: I hesitate to include this because this pre-and post assessment has been extremely valuable in informing instruction). Perhaps it is to simply protest their thoughts on the means by which the CCSS came to be, and a caution to beware on its proponents and their agendas. I too believed it was a consortium of states banding together in response to NCLB, and according to this young man, that was not the case.

And before I go any further, let me be clear: I have no issue with the CCSS. Truly. For Language Arts, the verbage gets a little messy and paradoxically esoteric, but that’s okay, because Language Arts can be messy (and paradoxically esoteric): teaching students how to engage in dialogue, discourse, and “accountable” talk is an imperfect and sometimes painful process. There is no data point for a student who vehemently disagrees with something and is trying to get her point across. Creating a rubric for passionate beliefs doesn’t always work so well.

The “framing effect” may be in play here: the framing effect is how a situation is presented to manipulate choice and decision making. Let’s think about the term “merit” pay. By definition, merit is a positive trait or ability desired. When the CCSS, assessments, and merit pay are framed by those powers who benefit and profit, it takes on this tone of “If you were a good teacher and doing nothing wrong then you wouldn’t be bothered by this.” We feel guilty, and dangerously doubtful when, put to us that way, just what the heck is our beef with CCSS and assessing students? Don’t we want them to do well? Don’t we want all students to achieve and go to college? We meekly answer of course! We all want what’s best for students! What I continue to have an issue with, and will continue to fight against, is the mountains of money that line the pockets of ‘educational carpet baggers’ if you will. Those folks who profit from an $8 per students test, or sell a district millions of dollars of program after program that are all supposedly ‘research based and aligned.’ This alignment seems to go off the rails pretty darn quickly.

American teachers and students are constantly being compared to other nations, and the other nations’ children are saying it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. When trying to synthesize my own self-doubt, of ‘just what is my problem?!” I am desperately trying to synthesize all the pieces so I ensure I am advocating appropriately and correctly. It is reasonable and logical to expect students to show growth in their knowledge. It s reasonable and logical to expect teachers to continue to hone their professional mastery. What I don’t want to happen is continued waste of time and money without clear vision. That is one data point I can stand behind. The PLC work is simple: what do we want kids to know, how are we going to teach it, and what are we prepared to do when they don’t?

I’d like to also add, what are we going to do when they do get it?

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In Praise of the Helicopter Parent

November 17, 2013 · 2 Comments · Being a better teacher, Big Questions

Not exactly what I had in mind..

Not exactly what I had in mind..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot believe it’s almost been a year since my last post. I am certain that anyone who ever read this blog has long given up on me. But that’s okay: I didn’t begin this for anyone or any purpose other than to chronicle my professional journey, and it was originally intended for students to read, too. It long shifted away from a place to share lessons and links with students, but more to share my  insights. Trust me — there have been many occasions I’ve drafted post after post in my head, thinking that maybe this time, no, that time, perhaps nowwould be the moment to jump back in. I’ve also enjoyed just dabbling in fiction writing too, an escape of sorts. I’m not done writing for fun, not by a long shot. 

But I have a few more things to say here, too.

I have two sons. Correction: I have two amazing sons. Each picked up not only alternating genetic physical traits between my husband and me, for they look nothing alike, and have very different personalities. Yet at their core, they are both two of the most kind-hearted, intelligent, funny, and generous young men anyone would ever hope to meet. However, they have been a case study of how our current educational practices work, or don’t. The older one is inherently organized, driven, almost a perfectionist, and the younger one is not. Through chemistry, genetics, luck of the draw, whatever, they are different. The older one is a teacher’s dream: well-behaved, studious, and organized. I was behind him every step of the way, but seldom had to remind him of assignments, etc. He will tell a different story of when he was in 8th grade and all the wind went out of his sails. He struggled to get things done, he had zero motivation, and quite frankly, was burnt out. I’ve also been behind my younger son every step of the way, but the shoes I’ve worn have been more hob-nail boots than running shoes. For the younger son I’ve been in contact with teachers, principals, and counselors since a red flag waved in fifth grade when a big assignment slipped past him, and none of his team of teachers seemed to notice. It’s been a struggle ever since to balance between advocating for him and trying to get him to be independent.

Bottom line: the world doesn’t give a damn if you struggle with ADD, ADHD, organizational skills or lack thereof, if you’re amazing at creating, building, and talking about science but don’t fill out your journal correctly, or if you slip up and completely space out on an English book report. The world doesn’t care if you make mistakes. Repeatedly.

My own anxiety levels have gone through the roof. I know what’s at stake here. If the GPA isn’t high, the SAT scores are high, and he doesn’t walk across the stage during graduation with some kind of sash around his chest then…what? What exactly are the consequences? As a parent, the only tools we have are to reflect on our own academic careers, and somehow, someway, even though I got a D in Chemisty and in Algebra II, I still made it into colleges. I am not sure that would happen today. And not only am I not sure, but the ‘there is only college or the military’ paths have become so constrictive and limiting to our nation we are forced into two chutes via cattle-prod. Who makes the cattle-prod? The big testing companies. This week alone we’re giving the second district-mandated assessment; this will total six instructional periods of bubble-filling. This does not include our own department assessments on the learning targets for the quarter, which took two instructional periods: pre and post. From those assessments I informed more about the neccessary instruction for my students that the bubbles that fly away into the ether, never to be seen or data-collected again.

Now I’m rambling, sorry: back on point.

So, helicopter parents. Those parents who drive teachers crazy with their poking, prodding, assistance, help, micro-managing ways. But guess what teachers, principals, and districts? Sometimes…in fact many times…we make mistakes, too. Big ones. We are complicent in our over-testing. We get steam-rolled by grading systems and confusing technology infrastructures that demand our students to not only be technologically astute and savvy, but offer parents a 24/7 on-demand access to every little blip with children’s grades. We try out new ‘math’ that gives 5/10 points for math homework when a child has done 8/10 problems (this is true: this is the first time I had to have one of “those” meetings with my younger son’s math teacher and principal–my son was getting a F on doing 80% of the problems correctly).

And we have bullies in our profession. Bullies who treat children as if they are adults, and beat us (parents and students) over the head with their grading policies and syllabii that no one questions until the bully teacher is inconvenienced. But hey, this is what bully bosses do, too, right? So it’s just getting students ready for ‘the real world.’ I am not sure anymore what this ‘real world’ looks like: if it’s the vision of a particular bully teacher, it means robotic obedience to a draconian agenda. It means not spending time with family. It means not having an experience outside of his/her realm.

So if it means I need to swoop in and monitor what is going on, so be it. And I welcome parents who ask questions, seek understanding, and want to know how their child is doing. The only times I am ever uncomfortable or feel awkward is when parents ask me about the testing, the grades that may fluctuate, or the moments their child is struggling and I haven’t done every thing in my power to help. We are on the same side, though: we both want our sons and daughters to learn, to grow, and be ready for the ‘real world.’ Whatever that is. Pretty sure it’s not on the test. Parents are responding to what we in education have created: yes, I am suggesting we made this monster. Now it’s up to us to dismantle it.

In the meantime though, I’ll report a conversation I had with my younger son this afternoon. I told him I thought he may want to drink alternative things and get back in his habits of drinking water. He told me, “Someday I’ll be able to make my own decisions and you won’t have control over this…I’ll be working at JPL Laboratories and if I want a Diet Coke, I’ll have one…”

You know what I said? Hallelujah. 

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