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the devastating abyss

 

I am not a fan of Ayn Rand.

At all.

Clearly, this is not an image of Ayn Rand.

It’s Colin Kaepernick.

There is a name on this T-shirt of someone I have seen. I didn’t know him, but my colleagues did. His name is on our gymnasium wall as an athlete of the year from a previous time.

A few months ago at a gathering, a dear acquaintance stated how much she hated Colin Kaepernick. Since I was a guest in someone else’s home I didn’t pursue the topic nor challenge her opinion. We’ve already been divided and our friendship diminished by these current political times. She would be the first to say life is about choices, and she’s chosen identity politics.

And I cannot tag her in a social media post to let her know that one of my school’s former students, who was shot and killed by police, is another name in a long, heartbreaking legacy of names that many respectfully and somberly ‘take a knee’ for. Young men and woman of color whose lives were cut short in a nation of violent responses for prejudicial fear.

We all have this story. We all know friends, relatives, and colleagues with whom we nnow look upon with disdain and suspicion because of 1. their political views 2. their apathy which leads to 3. privilege –their personal endowment of their own rights to ignore what is happening because they don’t perceive it’s happening to them. It’s happening or affecting “others.”

That is not to say that those who chose to remain silent are not affected, nor does it mean they don’t help the affected. There are many good teachers out there who may have voted for the current president, but coach teams, help struggling students, continue to give to charities, work long hours to create the best lessons and instruction they can. They’re working hard to help students read, write, tap into a love of science and wonder. (Well, maybe not science. That would be a hard cognitive dissonance working there.)

My horrifying epiphany came when a few things came on my radar from varying social media teacher pages, this T-shirt, and just thinking about things in general: my own identity politics led me to believe that banning books is bad, censorship is always wrong, and we all need access to great writers.

Coming back full circle, I still believe that.

But I hate Ayn Rand’s works.

And I realized that teachers who use her novels in singularity, without commentary, juxtaposition or nuance may be selling students the same load of garbage I was sold when I was in high school. But now, more than ever, her novels may need to be taught so students have historical context.

In other words: some teachers are still teaching crappy novels, and posturing them as great works.

But that is just like, my opinion, man.

The same thread occurred over To Kill A Mockingbird. However, so many amazing educators provided critical analysis from authors about this seminal work. I love Scout, but I can also criticize her father.

It’s a mourning process when we revisit beloved texts and find out that they may not be the pillars of justice and societal right we once believed. And I guess my wish, my hope –is that educators, have the responsibility above all to make sure students know not what to think, but how to draw their own conclusions.

We are faced with students who come to us with very different political views than we have. There are conservative teachers who are making the more liberal child feel embarrassed. There are liberal teachers who may lecture only one side of an issue.

Please: help students curate and discover connection and nuances in thinking. Support them when they grieve the loss of a favorite media or text.

This is a daunting task. Just please: we must consider and reflect deeply on what we’re offering to students. There is too much anti-intellectualism out there in the ether for us educators not to be incredibly mindful of this. Be brave.

 

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beat of your drum

 

Peter Dewitt posted an article in EdWeek, Why Does Teacher Talk Still Dominate the High School Classroom? 

This is a topic full of complicated nuance, add a dash of cognitive dissonance, and complicated traditions. But seriously:  why do we insist on talking so much?

Well: it’s easier in the short term. But like all actions that require preparation, it exacts too many long term costs.

My epiphany in the last post concerning teacher agency aligns with this: we don’t learn when someone in the room talks constantly, so why should our students?

We don’t love when someone hands us canned curriculum or tells us, “Teach it like I do.” (Good coaches show us how to dance, not step on our feet.) If teachers leave the profession in droves, all one needs to do is refer back to Daniel Pink’s Drive, or their own common sense that asks and reflects, what makes us happy and motivated? Purpose, agency, and creativity.

Teaching is learning: learning is creativity, exploring ideas, taking risks, failing, and reshaping.

If teachers are allowed encouraged to do this, both collaboratively and independently, perhaps we can move forward.

This is not to say that frameworks and scope/sequences are bad–they’re not. But sometimes the unintended consequences are so damning they must be reconsidered. We have big questions to answer, and sometimes I worry that we’re looking for answers in the wrong places. In a system that is chronological and age-based progression versus skill progression, we put emphasis on peer approval and not self-approval or reflection.

  • Instruct for about 15 minutes max. I set a timer and tell students my purpose for talk, and stop when the timer is done.
  • Use co-constructive norms in the classroom, such as Question Formulation Technique, shared notes, side by side notes, partner talk, ‘ambassador of the table’ consensus talk, poster making, etc.
  • Slow down instruction. Painful? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.
  • Link past, current, and future learning together in small leap-frog ways.

New and old teachers want fresh ideas, and no one wants canned ones. And even though Sir Kenneth Robison believes we should not deliver instruction, but become artists, in reality we must be both.

Here is where we are:

Where do we go?

We’d better get real creative real fast, folks. Perhaps administrations all over the nation can take a hard look at what they’ve been promoting in the past, and create their own paradigm shift. Change is terrifying. Give teachers the agency and locus of control they deserve. Promote and encourage master teachers to support all staff and students. Bring PD in house. Utilize and trust the resources and knowledge on staff.

And stop talking so much. Listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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write now

It’s 12:15 PM on November 10th. Do you know where your NaNoMo novel is? Yeah, about that. Good intentions aside, I have done everything but just sit and type. I made a video. Updated grades. Reheated a bowl of chili mac (that will come back to haunt me), and read a few Tweets.

But two things grabbed my brain this morning:

  1. The epiphany that teachers enjoy creating lessons for themselves and having agency, just like students. This has nothing to do with the rest of the post directly, just needed to remember this.
  2. We must flip reading around to writing, or balance it much better.

For some time now, my professional opinion held the research of the National Writing Project that writing helps us become better readers. Reading helps us become better writers, too, but somehow that message got lost in translation.

Summaries, Claim, Evidence and Reasoning paragraphs, Short Answer Responses, etc. are not ‘writing instruction.’ They are a form of writing, of course, living in the Land of Explanatory, formulaic, structured texts, but alas, really do not help or support writing instruction.

And, as one who prides herself on good writing instruction, it’s hard. It’s really hard.

Until it’s not.

Do you know why middle school students give up on their writing lives? Well, wouldn’t you if no one really cared to hear what you had to say? If you didn’t get the answer “right” or scrambled madly for text evidence just to get the dang assignment done? (I asked my students this week if they ever just grab text evidence randomly and every one giggled and confessed yes.) This is not any teachers’ fault –not at all. I am recommending that we teach them how to find their OWN “text evidence” first. Their own stories, insights, moments, etc.

From The Real Reasons So Many Young People Can’t Write Well Today–An English Teacher

“A 2010 study by the Carnegie Corporation called Writing to Read found ample evidence that writing can dramatically improve reading ability. The authors discovered that combining reading and writing instruction by having students write about what they read, explicitly teaching them the skills and processes that go into creating text, and increasing the amount of writing they do results in increased reading comprehension as well as improved writing skill.”

I know this so well. This message is inscribed in my heart. I passed along Writing to Read to past administrators, who’ve come and gone, and I am not sure current ones want or need it. I’ll ask. In the meantime, I’ll take a look at works and reformulate them to fit the digital instruction:

The current test focuses so much on reading, it’s true, but not all of it. Here is the brief write portion of the test, just in case anyone wants it, (even new teachers).

Here is a lesson on memoir writing:

And the parallel writing structure:

Now I’d better go write my own story.

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