You know nothing, Mrs. Love, Part II

Anchor Chart on One-Pagers from last year: time to bring this out again--still fits.
Anchor Chart on One-Pagers from last year: time to bring this out again–still fits.

Another thread on the Notice and Note site that spoke to me so strongly, ‘how do you tell other teachers some practices are out of date?’

And what if they’re not, and what if they just need to be polished?

How do you know when to reuse, recycle, or reduce our teaching stuff?

One thing I do know, is the good doctor, Sarah Donovan, PhD at Ethical ELA encapsulated what I’ve been attempting to do this year

http://www.ethicalela.com/9weeks/

This is what I’m trying to do with my Reading Road Trip, but we haven’t left the driveway yet:

I decided the best way to approach the quarter would be with the question of where stories come from, how authors craft stories for readers, and why we read and listen to stories. Framing our independent reading this way, meant that my job was to ask these questions every day and to set up experiences for students to explore these questions. Standards related to author’s craft, words in context, public speaking, and reading diverse, complex texts informed my instruction as I developed essentially five parts to our class, which I will explain below (independent reading, close reading, text structure, language lessons, and read alouds). Essentially, however, I organized our daily time this way:

  • Monday through Thursday: 7 minutes of language study,34 minutes of reading and conferring individually and in small groups; during the 34 minutes, I would either take a small group to a table to do a mini-lesson or I would meet with students individually to book talk  options and confer about what they were noticing about their books.

  • Fridays: readalouds

    . These days, students would read short pieces while their classmates/ audience would listen for and document textual evidence of sensory language, figurative language, tone, mood, word choice, character interaction, etc.

  • Daily Portfolio Development: Every day, students were responsible for documenting their reading experiences. They’d take pictures of books and sticky notes; they’d document reading responses on Google forms. We used these artifacts for an end-of-quarter portfolio to demonstrate learning and negotiate final grades.

Can I get this moving with a student teacher, other demands, PLC work, district demands, and general tomfoolery of a Title I school (everyone has an agenda, including me, on what works best)?

Someone mentioned the other day our scores have never been good.  I guess compared to the district’s numbers, that’s true. Not sure if I paraphrased that correctly, but that was the conclusion she drew.

But have they shown growth? Resoundingly yes.

So, for a few moments, I thought I would look over the scores on the OSPI School Report site, and they are a mixed bag of growth and famine.  Consider in the ten years we’ve had three state tests, and during the SBA(C) time the first year of a pilot year, we had no results or data to review. My continuing concern is that the SBA is not a transparent assessment, and we’ve been working mostly blind for years. The fact that my students scored 65-75% passing last year is a testament to them, not me. Overall, last year the 7th grade ELA PLC (of which I was a part) showed significant gains:

2015-2016-mcms
41% in 2015-2016
2015-2015
35% in 2014-2015

But herein lies the rub: whenever we make decisions about what’s best, how do we accurately gauge based on only two years’ worth of data? In other years my 7/8th-grade students grew from about 40% of passing reading to 60-65% on the WASL/MSP. Those years included as many best practices as I could muster, working as the Curriculum Leader in a collaborative way, and cross-content teams. It’s false to paint a picture that our students have never grown.

Here’s what I do know: if you focus on teaching it, students learn it. Clear and concise instruction that includes skills and strategies, with a hefty dose of student self-reflection, independence and choice make the most sense.

What data battles have you had to fight? Is it providing students with reading ideas based on solely their Lexile? Is the collective or group/team misinterpreting the data?

My biggest obstacle to instruction, however, isn’t from others, it’s from my students themselves. Those steeped in learned helplessness and confusion. Somehow along the way they have no idea what’s happening, and don’t try at all, and turn nothing in. And it is different for every student, and unpredictable (and thank goodness–this would limit my ability to truly get to know them).

So———-November. Nine weeks or so till the end of first semester. With my student teacher’s help, I think we can do this. Getting students to read, transfer those skills and strategies to bolster their reading confidence can only help. We’ve got this, right?

………

You know nothing, Mrs. Love.

Does anyone want to become a judge because they know how to write a claim, evidence and reasoning paragraph?

Has anyone played scales on a clarinet and decided music was their life’s calling?

Did you ever fall in love with someone because of their SAT scores?

No?

Me neither.

In fact, I’m sensing legions of dissatisfied English/Language Arts professionals who bought into the dream of teaching the worth and beauty of communication rising up– an undercurrent of questioning and pushback to forces that represent the opposite of love of language. I’m pretty sure no one became an English/Humanities teacher because they wrote cursive well. They became a teller of stories.

In our data-driven world, we are forced to look at tiny points, a sieve of information that never shows the whole sky.

This doesn’t mean all data needs to be destroyed, any more than I am suggesting we sit around the just “feel the stories” — ew, no.

Look at Pernille Ripp’s work: she balances the formula with the big ideas so beautifully. Her project, Planting A Seed: Our Refugee Project should be our model. Look even closer: students are doing the highest level of Project Based Learning with self-assessment (annotating the way that makes sense to them?! REVOLUTIONARY. Sorry – sarcasm crept in. I’ve been showing students authentic annotations for years, and when true scholars use them, and for what purposes.)

Read John Spencer’s ideas about design thinking. Okay. I’ll wait.

I’ve spent going on eleven years trying to keep ahead of the curve, be innovative, and growth-minded. It is a bit galling to have old-fashioned thinking creep in like it’s something new. It’s not. We’ve solved many notions, and yet many ideas still keep being trotted out. We need to bury some ideas once and for all:

We need to bury some ideas once and for all:

Please:

Don’t display data with students’ names on it.

Don’t assume kids of poverty are somehow helpless or disengaged. by nature. And never, ever assume their parents don’t love them.

Don’t start the year out without providing some foundational love of reading and writing lessons. The skills will come. Skills without purpose are meaningless and thin.

Now, DO:

Go back to the top of this post and look at the work of StoryCorp.

Tell your story.

I want to hear it.

No rest for the wicked.

via GIPHY

This weekend after spending nearly a full work day on lessons from outside sources, editing, and refining to suit my students’ instructional path and understandings, I then turned my attention to creating a OneNote Unit class notebook based on my ‘fear’ unit. My growth and love are curriculum and method planning and delivery: my student teacher noticed and said I would be a great methods instructor at her university.  Maybe someday. But in the meantime, I’m still honing my craft by reading, reflecting, sharing, and altering. (If you want me to share this OneNote file send me an email: k.c.love@comcast.net)

But after dealing with some anxiety since September about how things are going to work, I’m trying to balance outside directions, incorporate, and make sure my work is supportive and supported. 

No small task.  In fact, it’s kind of terrifying.

mirror-scared

My passion is creating units: curating the choicest resources (texts, media, discussion topics) is enjoyable for me.

I realize Heinemann is a publishing company and wants to sell books. Does that preclude that the resources are somehow less credible because they’re sold? Well, you can be the judge of that. I found this article useful, especially since I’m learning about instructional coaching and some of the pitfalls and potholes one can step into. Maybe it’s my confirmation bias speaking, but I found that the “better” column included many of the practices I do all the time, and the “not good” column stems from mandated or top-down practices.

How One Classroom Teacher Improved Her Planning

Instructional Coach Jaclyn Karabinas on how to get started using her techniques

Not good:

Here, teachers’ time is spent:

Better:

One invites students to be literate, constructive, and empathetic members of the world, intellectually prepared to encounter the nonstandard, moving targets that come with it. This model depicts a learning structure where student questions are used as entry points into standards and content, masterfully guided by the teacher. It is a learning environment rooted in Dewey and Vygotsky and the experiences of master teachers everywhere. Each individual brings his or her own background and preferences as they walk through the door, yet everyone thrives on socially constructed meaning and active learning. It is a classroom where students critically read challenging text or joyfully engage with literature because they know how to define a purpose for reading. It is a place where learning is not focused solely on student individual success but also the rhythms and flow of working and functioning in society.

In this model, a teacher’s time is spent:

The article continues to quote John Hattie, a resource I will be forever grateful to my new admin for introducing me to:

John Hattie’s Visible Learning research focuses on not just what works in schools but what works best. Hattie reminds educators to base instructional decisions on the evidence from their unique classroom situations, to “see learning through the eyes of their students” and create a learning environment where “students see themselves as their own teachers” (Hattie, Masters, Birch 2016). This type of approach suggests that making a true impact on student learning requires teachers and leaders to spend time talking about what they actually see happening in their classrooms, to ask why, and to deeply consider the impact on student learning — not coverage. To plan based on real student needs, not a theoretical scope and sequence.

So, while planning, I’ll continue to ask myself these questions–it’s what I do.

Start with your district’s curricular goals: Before you move into your next, planned curricular unit, carefully reread the goals presented at the start of the chapter or in your district’s standard’s document.

  • As you work with students, make notes on not only on how close they already are to meeting a goal but also specific attitudes, thinking, and behaviors they show in relation to it.

Gather more information: When you sit down to plan the launch of the next unit, talk with a colleague about how the current unit connects to the goals of the upcoming unit

  • Launch the next unit using images or video, collaborative problem solving, listing, quick writing, or drawing so students can activate and share prior knowledge; make notes about the information that students already come to class with —yes!
  • Add this information to your prior notes and conversations, noting which goals will be important for each student (a checklist will do this quickly!)

Make it relevant for students: Work with your students to understand the broader goals you’ll be teaching toward and help them to personalize goals for themselves. Relevance is crucial for rigorous learning because, as Kylene Beers and Bob Probst say, “Rigor without relevance is just hard.”

  • Make goals visible (Serravallo 2015) for the class as a whole and as individuals; classroom charts and other learning tools like those suggested by Kate and Maggie Roberts can help (Roberts and Roberts 2016)

Provide time for student reflection: As you design each day, include chances for student reflection. This is an opportunity for learning to sink in and become sticky.

  • You might still move through the teacher’s guide lesson by lesson as you learn this method — that’s OK! Keep student learning goals in mind, and you will be on the right track.*

*I’ve never had a teacher’s guide for any lesson, and I look forward to my district’s frameworks when those are completed. 

No, this is no small task, but important…very important. All of my credentials (National Boards, NWP/PSWP work, summers of workshops and additional professional development on my time/dime, reading, reading and more reading) don’t mean squat if I’m not putting it into practice. I can’t wait to work with a coach from the district on a teacher-action research project I began years ago, and thank goodness my admin saw that the work needed to continue, and thought of me. These moments I’m so grateful for, because working in a vacuum was sucking the air out of me. 

And that’s scary.

curriculum...must...escape!
curriculum…must…escape!

But not as scary as not being the best teacher I can is.

How to survive a bear attack.

bear-attack

Your neck tingles. You feel the hot breath, tinted with salmon bones and gooseberries, mingle in your cheaply-shampooed hair; feeling unprotected, vulnerable, and instinctually aware, you know someone just played the research card, and it feels like a bear attack–wild, demobilizing and terrifying. How do you survive?

Remember that word ‘collaboration’ we’re so fond of? Well, this is where it’s put to the test. When our personalities and teaching styles clash with others, and deductive reasoning paints us in a pedagogical corner, we’re left with few other options than to go to the research well and find other credible experts who support our own teacher-action research and experience. Sometimes it seems our own knowledge and experience aren’t worth the certificate paper it’s printed on. Conversely, when we are convinced of our methods, so sure that our approaches are the best and right, we do so at our peril and ignore a balanced approach. In other words, we’re all trying to do our best, but what if others don’t see our best as credible? 

The specific controversy is about independent reading time. There are hundreds more in education. Here are the links to the authors: 

Strategic, solid teachers are constantly striving to hone their craft, and honor their own life experience. Shanahan argues that independent reading time is a waste of time. I claim trying to make teachers into robotic close-reading drones is worse. Far, far worse. 

After reading the key points, I condensed these ideas:

  • Asking anyone to sit for twenty minutes with a book/text of their choice and independent reading level feels hollow and difficult. If you use it for babysitting time while you check e-mails, etc. students quickly grasp the hypocrisy. When they read, you read.
  • Go back to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle
  • Make your shared text time as meaningful and enlightening as possible in order for students to return to their independent reading time armed with confidence and courage. This is THEIR time, their passion, which leads me to the next point:
  • Get to the heart of what’s stopping them–themselves. If they haven’t found what sparks their curiosity, there’s some work to be done. Use a burning questions approach and return to one’s inner world of what’s on their minds.
  • And yes, more time reading is good. This has been decades-long repeated research. 

And ELA teachers: there is no question we have it tough, but our work has never been more important. My observations and anecdotal data collection includes the increased amount of time students, especially of poverty, spend consuming media and not creating.The struggle to convince students into having faith in me, that we’ll get to use their laptops for creative ends, and bear with me while we do forumulaic mandates. But yes, I’ve seen good close-reading lessons, controversial discussions and working through big thematic, enduring understandings fill their minds with good stuff. 

This blog post by John Spencer sums it up for me, and something I hold dear: “Should Schools Be More Confusing?” Yes. And teachers should allow each other to practice research and ask the tough, inquisitive questions, too. 

“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.” –Rod Serling

Not on our watch, Rod. We’re prepared.

National Writing Day: October 20

Post from the NCTE about National Writing Day on October 20, the question being, just what am I doing on National Writing Day?! 

Um, gee, I don’t know! Not sure where writing fits in with the reading skills focus our district has taken. Intended to be transferable, skills hold the place of being the ‘how to learn’ idea. They are the workhorses of education: many educators feel once a skill is taught, it can be liberally applied to cure any ill. Alas, they are not a panacea, but the good intentions are there. If skills are too much the focus, they become the leech or bleeding, and knowledge building misdiagnoses may occur. Point being: many good ELA teachers are confused by a skills-only focus. But that’s a conversation for another time.

One thing I can focus on with students is the ability to write comments. Found this video in my edublogs feed:

If third-grade students can figure out how to be nice to one another, then it is my hope that we can learn how to again, as well. Maybe on October 20 we can have a classroom discussion on what comments do to us emotionally and psychologically. Stay tuned.