Swag bag.

Me, geeked-out preschooler before geek was cool. circa 1969
Me, geeked-out preschooler before geek was cool. circa 1966

Never Start a Post Like This: Back in the day…

Back in the day, I used to work in a small but potent marking company designing and executing trade shows for medical conventions. It’s still run by one of my first, and best, bosses. One thing that was always fun about those conventions was the swag –however, most of it was useless to me, not being a doctor or pharm rep, so it wasn’t until we did a booth for the American Booksellers that I got things that I really wanted — and I still have some of those books today. But that was long before I became a teacher. But these past three days, I have been to the mountain, and I am now going to do my utmost to share the treasures I looted, the swag I bagged, and the privileges of pillaging. The only thing is its all digital–and it’s awesome. Yes–I got to attend the NCCE.  Aside from leaving my classrooms for three days, and planning on going in on Sunday to get caught up, prepared for my post-eval meeting, reading story entries for my writing contest, fix some posts for another student blog (yet to be publically shared), and update the old grade book, and figuring out what is the first thing I’m going to use from this conference. (deep breath: we’re all busy)

Nutshell View: Here’s Who I Saw And Heard

 Chris McKenzie chrismckenzie.weebly.com Twitter: @mckc1 Chris’s presentation “Technology in the English Class: Ideas to Support Deeper Learning” showed me that students can write thesis statements that would make the ivory-est of ivory tower professors weep with joy. He showed me that themes and thesis can be taught with depth. He taught me, or rather validated, that my approach of trying to layer technology and not let technology instruction invade, interrupt or eviscerate content instruction is doable. Also, his literature blog in the voice of one “Mr. Cornelius McKenzie” is an engaging way to teach voice. (Sorry, I don’t have a link to this.) And– ultimately– that when listening to a poem, it can be a thousand times more powerful when viewed through Google cardboard.

…brother lead…and sister steel…

Thank you, Mr. McKenzie. Brian Cleary http://oldbrainteacher.com Twitter: @oldbrainteacher Brian spoke to my heart of my teaching philosophy: the story is the key. How many administrators have the past few years had to cut out science, play, social studies, play, PE, etc. so students could attend double or triple time in reading and math instruction? There was never any need for that, except for the draconian, punitive measure of NCLB. Not going to lie: makes me sick to my stomach. Why can’t every district, building, etc. have innovative librarians that know how to embed reading, science, history, and math at the same time? No more. Look up his website, go to his 90% lessons, and don’t ever tell me again you can’t teach with story telling again.  Morgen Larsen @MSLibrarian Lady Morgen is a wonderful speaker, who also spoke to me via my love of ‘whose story is it?’ in history. I knew we made a connection when we understood that we both think Pocahontas got a raw deal. Even in the Disney version. (Or perhaps especially.) She shared the Stanford History Education Group website — amazing source. Leslie Fisher http://lesliefisher.com @lesliefisher A force of nature. I am going to spend hours this weekend simply curating those amazing things she shared. Couldn’t download apps fast enough, or sign in or up quick enough. And yes, I have my Leslie lanyard. Or should I say “Lesyard?” No no no….however… We are a Cult of Leslie now. SBA, Now What?  @GEMalone The last presentation I went to was with Dr. Glenn Malone–from a sheer data and assessment standpoint, this was invaluable. I appreciate his candor and ‘what we can do’ approach more than I can express. Thank you, sir. He’s the current president of WERA, so I strongly suggest if you want your voice heard in data and assessment, pay attention to what these folks are doing. Twitter The other benefit of the days was buffing up my PLN again – lots of new Twitter followers and follow-ees. Sift through my list to check them out: @mrskellylove Okay all — I’m tired. It is Friday night. I turned 52 this week, and am feeling it. Yes, my birthday was spent at the NCCE, and for sure — I receive some great gifts. Thank you all!

Deep down.

deep diving
Underwater Cave Diving by Viktor Lyagushkin www.flowcheck.es

 

Today I was observed for the last 40 minutes of my last class of the day on the first day back from winter break, and that was perfectly fine. I trust my evaluator completely and know that the feedback I receive will be informed and valuable. In our time -constrained worlds, though, I am not sure I’ll have the opportunity to tell her all the things leading up to the moment where she came in.

So here is where I get to reflect–this space is a good thinking space.

Today I began a unit I created from scratch. I use the steel-cased, reinforced, V-8 engine with multiple air bags of UBD, or Understanding By Design. It’s adaptive, flexible, and meaty. For my vegan friends: packed with protein.

Since I’m Humanities this year, and love cross-content, real-world connections, this past summer, before news of Zika broke out, I thought I would do a yellow fever unit, and how diseases impact history. My Enduing Understanding is: “Disease shapes the course of history, and often societies’ responses to health/disease are culturally based.” One of the essential questions is: How did our new nation handle health/disease?

And I’m using a classroom set, with an in-class reading of Yellow Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I could only get my hands on 30 copies, so I told the students a few things:

1. We only have 30 copies; I can’t get more (a book angel gave me her 12 books from her classroom library, so now I have a few extras: bless you, book angel!)

2. We will work on stamina: stamina is the ability to focus on text during a time. The reason we work on stamina is mental training, just like we’re training for a sport. It’s endurance. It’s getting in the zone and not wanting to stop reading.

3. I told them my insights about students who say “I HATE READING.”

*They hate reading because they kept reading logs

*They hate reading because they don’t have choice

*They hate reading because someone shamed them when it was difficult

*They may struggle and not know why

But this is what got them: I told them no baby is born hating to read. Every baby loves to communicate, to look at their parents’ faces, to babble and blurb, and every baby loves stories. 

They became believers. But they also don’t know how much I have to fight this current trend of just reading passages. Robert Zaretsky, who teaches at the University of Houston, wrote this article, “Taught to pass tests, they don’t know how to read books” concerning how college students are ill prepared to read and discuss novels. 

Today, we are reaping the results of this strategy. Among its many catastrophic consequences has been its impact on student literacy. Like a koan riddle, we might soon be asking if a textbook war can take place if no one knows how to read. The decline of reading among American youth is reflected by a growing raft of books with titles like “Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It,” “Why Kids Can’t Read” and “I Read It, But I Don’t Get It.” These books, written by teachers, confirm what my conversations with my brother-in-law, a bright and dedicated Houston-based high school English teacher, long ago revealed: Forced to teach to the test, he can no longer encourage students to reach for the texts as sources of wisdom and wonder.

 

I am trying not to let that happen on my watch.

Close reading has an important place in instruction, there is no doubt, because…it’s not new. It’s as old as stories themselves. So I created a quote log that serves a few purposes: it provides 3 lenses to consider:

1. The author puts a quote at the beginning of every chapter: why? How is it significant to the chapter once read?

2. Talk about character/plot events: how are the characters responding to the events?

3. Look through the medical/health lens; was there anything in this chapter that related to health?

They will not be doing this alone. We will read independently, and burst forth with conversation. We will learn everything we can about the medical practices of the time, and how science and superstition can devastate or be our savior.

And they will read the entire book.

A few kids are hooked after the first chapter: who can’t relate to a pouty teenage girl who’s annoyed her nagging mother is waking her up to do chores? This response is universal.

One thing Zaretsky may want to try is what I did– remind his college students they love stories. And if he wants them to read stories worth telling, which he does, they will.

Valuable.

circusgirl

Been giving a lot of thought lately into what are the responsibilities of districts to provide curriculum, scope/sequence, and planning tools. Many years ago, the Bellevue School District went on strike because of the extremes in their ‘lock step’ approach. Some districts/schools don’t provide enough support for new and veteran teachers, and flounder. Striking the right balance between what’s expected, necessary, and valuable is challenging for the most skilled of educators. Consultants are often called in, and depending on their cultural connection to an environment, either their messages are valued and heard, or not. In other words, if the consultant’s advice doesn’t resonate with some staff members, it’s hard to create meaningful instructional shifts. Fortunately, three consultants I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with have been true mentors and patient providers; however, not all fit this. It’s not them, it’s us.

It’s a dodgy and dangerous to attempt to “tell” teachers what they should and should not be teaching–you can’t make everyone happy, and teachers may bristle. I liken this to when I was getting my BFA; I wanted the guidance and critique of the master artists/professors, and with permission and safety they would ask if they could pick up my brush and ‘show me’ a suggestion. Those moments were rare and beautifully balanced: if they had bullied their way and said ‘this is how it’s done’ they would have lost and angered me. Showing suggestions and giving reasons why is always better. Sound familiar? Isn’t this what we do for our students, too?

Leaders have different styles, too. I’ve been reflecting on the years when I was a Curriculum Leader, and what I got right, and what I could have done better. It’s moot now, because I’m not in that position any longer, but do need to mind my own path. But what I got right was right for me–not sure anyone else valued it. I needed calendars and assessment windows. I needed organization and concrete, global time constructs of scope/sequence. I needed to communicate and be the liaison between the district and the ELA staff. For the most part, I believe I was successful. I know one colleague believed I wasn’t “collaborative” which is laughable because that’s almost all I am. But that’s okay–I heard her words (though she didn’t confront me directly) and took it to heart, and reflected on how I was delivering the messages from the district to make it easier. Other colleagues understood the concept of “don’t shoot the messenger.” What this really says is how powerless and lacking in autonomy when there’s a ‘top down’ approach or mandate. My colleague was feeling powerless, and at that moment in history perhaps unable to articulate it. We all were.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
– Dale Carnegie

It’s important to recognize when emotions are running high where the frustration comes from. And my big question is, in this day and age of shared resources and PLNs (professional learning networks), what value does mandated curriculum have? How do the ones in power balance the needs of the many with local, artisan needs of the micro-community of a single classroom? I may always rely on my own approach in planning via big calendars and researching others skilled sources.

Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping

Look over other districts’ curriculum maps, and see what might work: Rockford Public Schools

If you need personal resources:

Teachers Pay Teachers

TpT is a great resource if you not only don’t want to reinvent wheels but add rims and caps, too. For $10, you can download an entire unit on writing research papers. I’ve gotten some valuable lessons from Laura Randazzo –some are kind of thin, but I’ve altered them to suit my students’ needs.

Pinterest

Much is made fun of about Pinterest and teachers/teaching, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. Yes, you can fall down that rabbit hole, but curating your own and others’ share lesson ideas feels productive, too.

Tumblr

Find images, writing ideas, science, math, and all things gif-fy and awesome.

Twitter

Need a question asked for the good of the group? Search for #edchat, #pln, and other teachers/educators and you will not be disappointed.

I’m @mrskellylove . Don’t mind the gamer friends, too.

And always go back to the tried and true. Seek out Kelly Gallagher. Kylene Beers. And spend time in your own mental ‘studio’– never forget teaching is an art, and you are not an apprentice.

 

Stop and eat a Pop-tart. (revised)

My brother-in-law said it best this morning on Facebook: “Sometimes I hate us. This is one of those times.” The ‘us’ he referred to is us humans. I get you, bro, I really do. Yesterday I had a belly-full of contentious social media postings: the general screaming from my conservative friends and National Enquirer-esque mode of salacious, taunting headlines such as  “THINGS DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW” just became so tired and trite. Were these otherwise kind, intelligent people seriously believing the garbage? And this is not a one-sided observation: any comments about how politicians on both sides play the cards they are dealt when they get a winning hand became lost in the din. Rationality drowned out by roars. My personal fatigue with trying to have an interesting conversation about things political felt combative and harassing. Folks were getting a little too aggro, if you know what I mean.

My burning question is–what role do,  or should teachers and educators play in terms of debate and opinion? How much value do our personal biases possess in a classroom or meeting? In my utopia, not much, but admittedly, I am flawed. There are some beliefs I cannot reconcile: teaching creationism as science, not as a religious belief, teaching the 6,000-year-old earth idea, flat earth, or discussing religious or political views with students.

This morning was chatting with a friend who lives on the east coast and heard some worrisome tales. Her granddaughter came home with quotes from the teacher saying she was going to vote for Trump because he ‘cares about jobs.’ Also, this teacher asked the kids who had been spanked, and ‘she could tell because those were the good ones.’ Now let me flip this: the teacher said Obama cares about jobs, and kids should never be spanked. (It wasn’t Obama, but I’ve heard some kids speak their parents’ political views about him, too.) In a country as polarized as ours, the students are now divided. And those that fall away from the teacher’s point of view now feel this unease, this sense of ‘the teacher doesn’t like me.’ And they’re right. Often if we don’t feel liked or respected, we go into a defensive stance, and if our family’s values don’t align with the teachers, we end up not liking that person who made us feel bad. And as Rita Pierson says so wisely, “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”

This fourth-grade granddaughter also gets 3.5 hours of homework a night, too. I see the love of learning going straight down the tubes.

Now, what should parents do when their child is told something that doesn’t align with their values? There is nothing wrong with seeking to understand from the teacher, and the principal, with the mindset that this is information gathering and clarification, not a witch-hunt. All of us have said something that out of context can be taken the wrong way in our classrooms. That’s the human piece, and where we truly put our critical thinking skills to the test. Instead of assumptions, seeking context and clarity helps us all. Questioning. Seeking. If we don’t know that we offended someone, we never get the opportunity to mend the rift.

The takeaway is to keep religious and political views out of the classroom. Wait–that’s not quite right. How about make sure the conversation is always three-sided. Use the critical questions skills to challenge ideas, defend ideas, and construct new ones, teachers and students alike. But –with caution –be clear of intent. We are not trying to make students feel that we don’t like them if their views and conclusions are not ours. That’s when we need to check our biases and privilege. (The privilege comes from years of life experience, education, and safe places to come to our own points of view. Students haven’t had this luxury yet.)  Consider age-appropriate discussions. Teach facts, opinions, and truth. Encourage creative, critical thinking with questioning skills and reflection

Caveat: once all modes of diplomacy and peace offerings have been…err..offered, and there still exists tension, I’m not sure what to do with that. Go all “Taylor Swift At The Grammys” speech I suppose.

Information overload.

Copyright Learning Fundamentals
Copyright Learning Fundamentals

 

In a recent story on NPR, ‘Information Overload and the Tricky Art of Single-Tasking,’ there is a link to an Infomagical challenge–making information overload disappear. My relationship analogy with technology feels that the more tech I have/use, my lungs have de-evolved from breathing air to turning into gills. I am so submerged in this soup I don’t even know I’m swimming in it anymore. My focus is fractured to the point I may need to take drastic, heat-pressure methods to reform my brain cells into more granite-like thinking. Even this post is tough to write: I installed Grammarly, and it’s constantly green/red lighting my typing, editing as I go:

"No, I don't mean girls. I mean gills."
“No, I don’t mean girls. I mean gills.”

Chasing the purple dragon of ‘the perfect app’ is like lassoing a bubble. There’s always something new, shiny, and fleeting. In this post, I shall attempt to currate some old and new favorites. Some of these items are the equivalent to Russian nesting dolls– stacked inside one another.

Stopping the Noise:

Freedom– if you need time to turn off those ‘quick check-ins’ to Facebook, etc. install Freedom. It was recommended to be by a ‘real writer’ – someone who’s published multiple titles.

Big Lists:

Cult of Pedagogy’s post:

WriteAbout, Google Cardboard, Versal, Noisli, Formative, and Periscope.

I have used John’s WriteAbout, and have made attempts to get other teachers/district to use it too, but there have been obstacles. We are on overload right now, methinks. Maybe I’ll try again, because last year was crowded with others agendas.

As far as Versal goes, we are piloting Canvas, and have used e-learning. Personally I prefer UX designs like Versal or Edmodo better, but it any online platform seems fine.

Trying Out:

  • Screenshot–app for iphones and ipads — annotate, etc. screen shots
  • Screenchomp
  • AURASMA
  • Chomp–very silly–just entertaining
  • Talkboard–going to try this and record lessons
  • Gaia GPS/Topo Maps–cool way to look at maps

Already Love:

Student brought me food.
Student brought me food.
  • Word Swag- -makes pretty little posters from your photos
  • Snapseed–easy photo editing tools
  • Voila–easy screen recordings for lessons/flipped classroom
  • Dark Sky–well designed interface for the weather
  • Sky Guide–feel like you’re floating through the universe. I get vertigo when I point it at the ground and realize there’s only the earth between me and the universe.

Who am I kidding? I’m not qualified to curate diddly-squat at the moment. During this time, not only do I have Grammarly spying on me, but the laundry is on repeat wrinkle-guard, I’ve read 5 articles on the supreme court issue and new appointee, hit the like button on a few Facebook posts, changed to jammie pants (it’s mid-winter break), watched Principal Gerry videos, sent one email, and thought about “all the stuff I have to/want to do” over break.

Sigh. Maybe it’s time I take the Infomagical challenge, too. I did go to a good, solid old-fashtion art supply store the other day near the UW campus when we met our older son for lunch. It was like going through a time machine for me. I did end up with a box of goodies to take back to the classroom, but even creative-crafty stuff requires focus:

IMG_2234
Annotated with Screenshots

 

And of course, who doesn’t need a plague mask?

IMG_2233

Maybe that’s what we need: plague masks filled with herbs to keep us focused on single thoughts, doing them well and mindfully. Let me go find some paints, brushes, and oh look a text…

…time to use one of my 12 list making apps and start checking stuff off.

Ultimately, what is all this used for? To keep me engaged as well as develop engaging instruction–that’s it. If it doesn’t suit those purposes, perhaps it’s time to tech-purge.