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Adding it up.

via GIPHY

Since I asked the question not many answers appeared. Time to put on my Cape of Hard Research and Thinking, TO THE INTERNET! AWAY!

Just how do we constructively analyze, evaluate, and make meaning out of student data? The fundamental questions of a PLC frame the discussion: what do we want students to learn, what do we do if they don’t, and what do we do next if they do? From the data on display, it would appear that many students stalled: the more capable ones have nowhere to go next, and the struggling ones didn’t make connections to the routines and scaffolding to the independent steps. Since I am not an ELA teacher this year by title, I could say well, my “name” isn’t associated with students’ scores. But that is the opposite of how I feel and act, and I know many of my colleagues do, too. They want access to the data and understand to their core that we are all teachers of literacy in every shape and kind. That would be my first step: all teachers in the building working together in cross-content teams to share student information, data, and insights. (I wonder where I put that student form from a few years ago we used when we had that team?) Teams are coming back, so that’s positive.

Here are some articles about different ways to look at data. The data carousel, paradoxically, one of the most powerful and weakest: it allows for good comments and discussion, and then never discussed again.

3 Ways Student Data Can Inform Instruction

Get Curious About Contradictions and Take Action: How about that ace student who didn’t do so well on the standardized test? Possibly a nervous test-taker? Or it could simply be low motivation, since many students never hear about their standardized test results from previous years? Prior to a test, a brief pep talk or quick review of strategies for lowering test anxiety could be all they need. Also, there is much information to be gained from having individual conversations with students who have these contradictions between their standardized test scores and their classroom grades and performance.

From The Teaching Channel:

How Data Carousels Help Teachers and Students:

As said, data carousels create a burst of powerful discussions, but are not sustained over time.

This one may be the best: from Larry Ferlazzo,

Response: How To Use Data – & How Not To Use It – In Schools

Below are suggestions to assist collaborative inquiry teams in examining student work.

  1. Begin with anonymous student work samplesperhaps from a colleague’s class in another school (this colleague and the students should remain anonymous). Initially examining work that does not ‘belong’ to anyone in the group will help to build confidence and ease the transition to the more risky activity of sharing their students’ work.
  2. Use protocols for examining student work. Protocols provide structures and guidelines for looking at and talking about student work. They are designed to help team members reflect on their practice as it relates to student learning and development.
  3. Select 3-5 students of interest and monitor their progress over time. There is no need to bring student evidence from an entire class. Teachers might select 3-5 students who are performing at different levels of achievement. Collaborative inquiry teams will find it more manageable (and equally informative) to monitor the progress of a few students.

The anonymity piece: making it safe for teachers to share and discuss takes away the judgmental attitude of ‘bad’ versus ‘good’ teachers. And the “progress over time” — showing growth versus proficiency is the miracle of teaching and learning. That is why we are here and do what we do: Larry Ferlazzo’s tips are doable and smart. When creating norms and structures for PLCs, I am hoping my colleagues see the value of adding these protocols.

Onward.

 

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Hot piles of data.

via GIPHY

Well, today we had a data discussion. And it wasn’t pretty. I got a little excited when I saw that the SBA ‘Brief Writes’ had gone up, but that was mostly for 7th grade. And though I shared so much with the 7th-grade team, I tried to sell the 8th-grade team on having students do them, but with no luck, except for one colleague who worked with me the last three weeks before the test. In essence, and in the most passive way possible, an idea came from a coworker for “no excuses” and wanted to see all the data with teachers’ name tied to it. I don’t mind if people see my numbers. Want my data? My age? My shoe size? Sure. But numbers never tell the whole story. Not 0% in one subject, or 8% in another.

But how do you talk about data in a constructive, honest, and collaborative way without it becoming personal and toxic? I am genuinely curious. It can’t be mean-spirited and snotty, nor can it be sugar-coated when the numbers are there. All I know is I asked everyone who would listen to please consider using the rubrics for the Brief Writes so students would know what exactly would be expected of them, whether they got a narrative, explanatory or argumentative prompt. The students performed better on the longer performance task writes, so that’s comforting. And my Honors kids did well. And some of my Essentials kids met proficient, which is quite a feat.But I want all students to do well. This idea that a teacher is ‘bad’ based on one data point, proficiency, is dangerous, and it seems the loudest teachers perpetuate this. But that’s usually how most things work.

Now what? So why am I feeling so awful after a few comments at a meeting? Why does it bother me so? Because those comments move nothing forward. Nothing. They’re tone deaf and self-serving.

One thing that I pray will change the conversation from the blame-throwers to constructive is the movement toward showing students’ growth and not just proficiency. How wonderful would it be to have a student who is new to the country and language go from a second-grade level to sixth grade or more, and that would be the number celebrated? I’ll be one who is paddling that river, keeping it flowing, even though I’m not directly responsible for the ELA scores this year. But like an old fire horse, I still hear the siren: once an ELA teacher, always one. And I hope to be one again.

Why?

Because I’m good at figuring out what students need, and amazing at it when I have great collaborators, which I do this year. As Mr. Rogers said, “look for the helpers.”

This idea that a teacher is ‘bad’ based on one data point, proficiency, is dangerous, and it seems the loudest teachers perpetuate this. But that’s usually how most things work.

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Heart-shaped box. (Or The Giving Tree reimagined.)

Are there two kinds of people in this world? Those who X or those who Y? Or maybe that is the paradox, thinking we can be this or that. But if I was the kind of person who asks if there are two kinds of people, (which I’m not) I would ask if you like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

You know the book– the story begins with a boy and a tree, and the tree, or Tree, ends up giving the boy everything and ends up being a stump for the boy, now an old man, to sit on and rest.

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

How do you feel about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?

The Giving Tree

Do you ever feel tapped out by the financial and emotional demands of teaching? I sure do. This week alone there were tens of broken pencils on the ground. Stolen candy. Requests to buy T-shirts for ourselves for the school fundraiser. Requests to pitch in for the staff morale committee (12 years x $20 = $240, of which I’ve never received a card, birthday cake, or any acknowledgment or benefit. I’ve been in the hospital, my husband had surgery, and yeah); also, requests to pitch in more money for a friend’s birthday present (I have the misfortune of having a birthday during the midwinter break). I pledged $40 to the fundraiser already. Good thing it was payday yesterday…oops, and it’s gone.

Over the summer I thought ahead and made sure I would have  Lord of the Flies books, spending my time and goodwill with friends and family, begging them to donate the books I thought I would be using this fall. Like the Little Red Hen, I planned ahead, spending hours over the summer creating and curating important resources, building on research, professional judgment, and knowledge. And this week I planned lessons, shared knowledge, gave away books, bought a new teacher a $30 gift card for Amazon so she would be able to get a few books, got a request for books for a teacher returning to her classroom, and let’s not forget the four current natural disasters (although one could argue the ferocity of the Level 5 Hurricanes is man-made). There are teachers in Texas and Florida trying to rebuild their classrooms and schools.

So the teachers who are teaching 8th grade ELA this year asked me for the Lord books, and I handed over the box and then went to my room and cried. Those were my brand-new books with really cool book cover illustrations. They didn’t even have my name on them yet. I wanted to write my name. I have black Sharpies. They’re mine.

For me.

New.

Mine.

Later, I asked them both if we could please compromise, and they’re great colleagues, and I’m sure they will. But it wasn’t easy for me to speak up.

It’s so hard for people, and I could make a strong case for women especially (see The Giving Tree reference if you’re confused) to say no. Women have different sins than men. The sin of selfishness. The sin of owning things. The sin of hard work and time not being for everyone else’s benefit but their own.

My family takes emotional energy, in the best of ways, but in hard ways, too. Jobs, health, dreams, goals: mothers/wives circle around the members making sure everyone has what they need, and if she doesn’t, is thought of as toxic or dysfunctional. My own brilliant husband told me the other day he thought I planned stuff because I liked it. After 25 years he still has some things to learn about me. Because I am good at something doesn’t mean I like to do it. 

So here to permission for us all to say No, or I can’t make it. Perhaps another time. Or just back to “no?”

I’ll share a secret, too. Teaching ELA is the best teaching gig ever. Books, stories, creativity, imagination…and oh, did I mention the books?!

In Computer Essentials I answered the same repetitive, mind-numbing questions because students wouldn’t read a sentence or two of instructions. They don’t know how to talk to each other, no matter how many strategies I scaffolded.

But as far as not knowing, yet, how to do and collaborate, I don’t blame them: they have a pass with me. They’re wonderful, and they’re trying. And when they get something, they thank me, and I get a smile in return.

It may not be a coffee mug, but those smiles keep me going.

 

 

 

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Saving Summer: Amygdala and The Brain

Teaching is stressful, there is no doubt or debate. And it’s also joyous, satisfying, and filled with discovery and success.

But let’s get back to the stress for a moment so we can move forward with more moments of joy, satisfaction, and discovery.

My buddy Sharon and her Brainiacs are developing a PD session for SEL/Teachers/Students. Tangentially, I’m developing the digital curriculum, along with her and other colleague’s input. When we talk about preparing students for their futures, not our pasts, we must have a deep understanding or exploration of what is happening to our brains in the digital world. We must share this knowledge, so students can adequately reflect, practice mindfulness, and know when to take on that “big view.” Elena Aquilar’s post, “5 Simple Lessons for Social and Emotional Learning for Adults” was a deja-vu moment–my husband was just advising me of these ideas yesterday while we had street tacos at the local lunch truck. Take the big view:

“Lesson 4: Observe Your Emotions”

We are not our emotions. If we can practice observing them — seeing ourselves experience emotions from 10,000 feet above earth — we are more likely to make decisions that don’t emerge from them. We might notice that sometimes they’re powerful and gripping, and sometimes they’re lighter and less sticky. It helps to practice non-attachment to emotions. They’re just emotional states and they come and go — and remember that we have some control over these states. Sometimes I visualize my emotions as weather patterns: There are storms and calm skies, heavy rain, and light winds. They always change. I visualize myself as a tree experiencing these emotions that come and go.

An article posted in the New York Time’s by Lisa Feldman Barrett, “When Is Speech Violence?” walks through the key points of amygdala hijacking and the effects of chronic stress.

“What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.”

A school year is a long stretch of ‘simmering stress.’ Whose job is it to maintain the physical and emotional safety of a building? In truth, everyone is a stakeholder. Building trust and relationships that can find strength in discourse and dialogue, strong respect and cordial working relationships are the desired culture of any building. And as the Stoics believed, it is not what happens to us that affect us, but how we view and control our thinking about events. What if we all pledged to think about the school stress as a means to practice our own care and mindfulness?

In the meantime, I’m reading a book my husband recommended to me a few months back, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, first published in 1973. Yeah, not exactly a little light summer reading, but it’s what I need right now: hefty intellectual grips by which to grab onto the rocky surface, and climb up. Getting a new perspective or two is a great way to get that higher view.

And though I can’t control others behaviors, I will strive to speak the truth, ask questions, seek answers and common ground.

 

 

 

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Pledge.

These are to re-read, read, and organize: the binders need to be gutted and reorganized. Oh, sticky tabs and Sharpies: how I love thee.

I always have this summer break lag–it takes me a bit to realize it actually is break time, and not only relax, but reflect. And just not think at all.

Last summer I had everything planned out, and offered my time and expertise to go over the CCSS and come up with a menu of critical ones I knew our PLC should take a look at and consider for the common/formative/assessments. Well, that didn’t work, and that’s okay: the team decided to focus on one skill through the lens of one or two standards. Am I going to stop coming up with ideas? Did I learn my lesson? Nah. I can’t help myself. I love designing good curriculum.

Next year I’ve been tapped to construct Computer Essentials for 7th grade, and will be teaching only one class of 8th ELA. (Just can’t quit you, Humanities….). To say our students need the computer skills is an understatement. (I’ll post my ideas on that later.) In the meantime, this post serves as a pledge to myself to read: I have the trifecta of my summer: a hammock, sometimes blue sky, and time. My focus is to create a curriculum map that is more reflective of what ELA students are truly expected to know. The horizontal, silo-approach doesn’t work. I’m actually envisioning a circle map, updated, and global: a way to teach units that are connective and authentic, with a heavy dash of choice and design. Give me a week or two, and I’ll have something figured out.

 

Oh, and I need to add some new videos to the list:

What is one thing you taught more than one year, and feel it is a “must?”

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