The Write Thing.

We are having a grand conversation about the rigor of texts in our school, looking vertically both to the lower grades and the high school grades, to find appropriate, “rigorous” texts (as some define by high Lexile scores as the sole criteria).

As with many shifts, if I don’t do the reading and thinking on my own, I never can adapt or shift professionally. So, to the experts! Away!

Grant Wiggins defines rigor as being in the task (so therefore, not the teacher, and not the text).

So, what is rigor? Rigor is not established by the teaching. It’s not established by framing teaching against standards, therefore. Rigor is established by our expectations: how we evaluate and score student work. That means that rigor is established by the three different elements of assessment:

  1. The difficulty of the task or questions

  2. The difficulty of the criteria, as established by rubrics

  3. The level of achievement expected, as set by “anchors” or cut scores.

The blog post continues to discuss Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and rubrics for deeper thinking. This is so comfortable to me, and something I can wholly embrace. I feel that in my practice I have been doing this for years, but never had the clear light shining on the rest of the path.

And by now we are all familiar with this triangulation of text complexity:

common-core-in-public-and-school-libraries-21st-century-nonfiction-conference-15-638

But in the tug-of-war about rigorous texts, it is my mission to include writing. Deep, rich writing. I have been reading The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham: every so often we read an educational text that both validates and inspires. This is one of those. She masterfully balances the art of reading and writing, not an either/or.

How did I figure out that reading informs writing? Well, there’s a wealth of educational research to back up this thinking, which you’ll find in Chapter 2 . But mostly, experience has taught me that reading makes better writers. When I read poetry, I’m likely to try my hand at a poem or two. And while they may not be as memorable as those I’ve just enjoyed, writing my own provides me with a mental workout and a valuable learning experience. When I read a powerful nonfiction article, it makes me want to read more about that topic and find a way to weave that information into something I’m writing. When I see a campaign slogan, I think about how the candidate is saying a lot with a little. When I hear a song lyric that speaks to me, I find myself singing along, noticing the rhythm of the piece, and trying to replicate it in prose. I hear a powerful verb or phrase and steal it for my own writing. I’m a writing thief. It seems like every writer should be.

Culham, Ruth (2014-04-28). The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing (Kindle Locations 185-192). International Reading Association. Kindle Edition.

My question is, is there a triangle of complex writing tasks, and moreover, should there be? Culham blasts the standard, formulaic “five paragraph essay” model, along with other rigid modes of writing. The writing for standardized test she views as just one small mode of writing, not the end-all, be-all.

If you could create a writing model, what would yours include?

Off the top of my head, here are two charts I created that in no way do I feel are complete:

What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?
What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?
What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?
What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?

Sometimes the simplest means to have students engage in more complex ways is the minimalist approach. Don’t put numbers or word count on the task, but put voice and thinking above all. I have enjoyed adding to my collection on my writing blog Up From the Gutter (my writing blog for students/teachers) and think John Spencer and his team have done a phenomenal job with Write About.

And we need great mentor texts, and refreshing and singular voices to hear with new ears, and old friends to listen to. Here’s a list of high Lexile books I’ll be revisiting and researching. Some I’ve used for years, and others I need to take a look at:

https://bpljrreadingsuggestions.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/high-lexile-1000-yaadult-titles-in-bpls-collection/

But over-arching, consider the highest level of rigor, and that is evaluative, real-world issues:

www.tolerance.org/blog/diversebooksspotlight

So, how would you describe the rigorous integration of writing and reading? Ultimately, we all agree we are guiding our students to find their voices. What say you?

 

Sit down. Shut up. Do what I say.

diane ravitch

Ah, what would the world be like if bullies were easily identifiable? What if, when a bully spoke, a brackish green cloud formed with every word, and their bodies glowed eggplant brown, a visible aura to show their words were angry and full of fear? That ugly beacon of fear would shine from me on occasion, and at checkpoints throughout the year, and my students would know I am Angry and Afraid, the twin spawns of dictatorship.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid that when I am refining and honing my craft, the art/science of teaching, time will be stolen from my students so they won’t see the full benefit or be able to work on a continuum.

I am afraid of being misunderstood, under-appreciated, and patronized.

I am afraid of others taking credit, not collaborating or building.

I am afraid if I speak up. share an idea or insight, even build on another’s in a collaborative spirit,  I see the inner (and sometimes overt) eye-rolls from others who dismiss my ideas.

And I am angry that many educational cultures around the country foster this paranoia, insecurity, and fear. And the fears are real. We are afraid of losing funding. We are afraid our schools will be bought out and privatized, and someone will profit (but not students in the long run). We are afraid our children will not have access to the jobs and opportunities in our own nation.

Whew, that’s a mindful. I should say mind-full. Mindfulness is the jargon word of the moment. Not a bad one, but one.

We are given pathways and signals on how to be, how to think, how to move forward. And with any of these wonderful tropes what may be lacking is the how – how to overcome when our best practices grow carbuncular obstacles?

I reposted this image a few days ago, and it took off like wildfire. 

How do you measure the immeasurable?
These great ideas may not fall on a rubric.

The article asks, among other things:

Are you flexible? In inquiry, the journey matters as much as the destination. Constant reflection is a necessity to improving thinking and doing. Metacognition encourages wisdom, the ultimate goal of any worthy education system. Flexibility tells the brain and heart to keep working, keep going—you’re getting there.

Am I flexible? 

Well, depends on who you ask these days.

If you ask coordinators, coaches, supervisors, professional development trainers, co-workers, office staff, or my students you will get a very different review of my level of flexibility. (Which, isn’t that paradoxically the very essence of flexibility? Knowing your audience?)

I am still experiencing thought thieves, and worse, time bandits. And not cute Terry Gilliam ones.  Recently I asked my Facebook community if there is one thing they could change about teaching, what would it be, and their answers are thoughtful and wise:

ideas

 I realize this is a very small sampling, but do you see a theme? Time.

This past month, I tried something new. Though I have always taught to the highest standards, provided the highest expectations, and worked to craft scaffolding that was supportive and upward bound, I took a risk and thought I would try to jigsaw The Hobbit. It’s not a bad idea. (If you would like the full unit, email me. It’s yours.) It’s chock-full of Tolkien goodness (sounds like a brand of nougat), and most of the students were getting it: close reading, annotation, etc.

Where the wheels have come off the bus lies in one simple truth: I haven’t been there, and won’t be there. I have more professional development tomorrow, and have a personal issue on Wednesday, so whatever continuity of instruction I sought is dashed against the rocks of others agendas and poor timing once again. In order to get students engaged, I need compliance. And in order to get compliance, I need flexibility from them and from my supervisors. I’m in the middle, feeling pinned in. If I say “no,” as we adults are often advised to do, there may be retribution and passive-aggressive fall out. If I say “yes,” I am working nights and weekends to make it work for everyone else, because my students are the ones who are ultimately short-changed.

I make this plea: if those in power would really, sincerely like to see change, please do away with top-down management. Like trickle-down economics, those with the power/status are not as likely to share the spotlight. Do away with the spotlight altogether. 

And one more thing: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. With all the ‘how to reach introverts,’ (which I excel at because well, I know that world too) I am concerned about the extroverts. (I would wager most of us are ambiverts anyway.) They are often told to just be quiet. I tell them, too. One thing I’ve learned is constantly remind them of reciprocal needs: last week I held up my hand with three fingers up. I had three teaching points to make before they started working. As I made a point, I put down a finger. This way the extroverts had a visual cue to check and monitor their listening, and I kept my promise of not talking too much. We maintained a balance of power and mutual respect. (Students in a crowded sixth period class are done. I’m done.) Every year is different, every class community varies, and every student comes equipped with their own grooved brain. This tip might work for that class now, but not sure about next time.

That’s flexibility.

So back to the color-coding of emotions, an overt ‘mood ring’ of inner monologues: when we see someone is in the red-line, their amygdala is wigging out, and the lizard brain is in charge, maybe we could be more compassionate, slow down, and learn how to process and calm down. If we only had time.

Time Bandits Trailer

Read the script!