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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.

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