Category Archives: being a better colleague

The Work in Workshop…

Throwing this out there: I need a writing group. I need the accountability and presence of other ideas. I am wondering if my lack of writing with any regularity, except for this blog, is a result of no structure, the end of PSWP, and not finding another NWP. Writing Workshop works. It is an exceptional means to help students grow as readers and writers. I’ve tried to sell colleagues on it, and because they haven’t been to the mountaintop and met with gurus of enlightenment like my friends Holly Stein and Kim Norton, they don’t believe me.

So I just have to make sure it fits with my students, and keep proving it, time and again.

Our school is trying to do many things in a hurry to get students at grade level: PLC work is the big focus, and for math and ELA, the district provides rough ‘frameworks’ but at least for the ELA group, they’re never done, or if they are, there is a conflict or confusion between the PLC created Common Formative Assessments and the district created ones. These are not mutually exclusive, but nor does this jive with the spirit of a PLC, and that is to be agile and responsive to student needs in an intentional means. Assessments that might be best for students at one middle school in the district may not be what’s most needed for ours.

Along with the PLC work, the administration wants us to focus on our grading practices, and the discussion is open and collaborative. It has always been my personal policy not to mark things down for being ‘late.’ Convoluted systems and make-up work tangles up the process, so I make it simple: there is a due date, and the assignment will ‘close’ a week afterward. It’s marked zero and missing to affect grades because if it’s not, the student isn’t aware it’s missing. These are middle school kids, remember. Once it’s done, I give it full credit. If it’s an assignment that is rubric based, they have time to redo it for a better grade. Assessments for our PLC and district are scored accordingly, but marked as “no count.”

Recently Ethical ELA posted an article about flexibility and student learning:

Deadlines and “Late” Work: The Potential of the Provisional

http://www.ethicalela.com/deadlines/

The writer used my favorite quote that I use as my tagline, and this–this is a fantastic idea:

What will you do with your one precious life? They reflected on their values, dreamed about what, who, and where they wanted to be, took a career quiz, read biographies, explored opportunities in high school, looked into part-time jobs, explored colleges, searched apartments, created a budget, read about philanthropic options, developed mottos, wrote a speech to synthesize the research in the voice of their future self (see an example below), and created a slideshow with images to support the content (e.g., Slides, A Life as an Artist, also see below). I set up a schedule for three students to be “guest speakers” each Friday through January, February, and March.

I may start off with my ‘ambassador of the table’ and then move to the guest speaker idea.

Before the break, the well-laid plans included a quick version of Greek mythology, then onto Box of Destiny! Ah, well. Add three snow days, a studio teacher workshop for the ELA department, the ‘no immigrants’ protest day, things did not go as planned. Do they ever? So, instead of the full-blown BoD presentations, I asked them to focus on just the story of their character from first-person perspective. Developmentally, this shift is very difficult for some students, and that makes it all the more valuable. Many had their stories done, many had them started, and many couldn’t get out of the starting gate, with all the scaffolds available. We did a modified writing workshop protocol on Friday, and I took the papers home to write feedback for one and all. Between my hand-written and typed feedback in Canvas, I hope to see some growth for the next project.

Life is not linear, that’s for sure. Maybe that’s why whenever I watch a Marzano or other expert they always use a math example, not an ELA or social studies one, because reading, writing, and history are messy indeed. But that’s okay: I know other experts to draw from, including my own knowledge and experience. If you want to come to the mountaintop with me, I’ll take you there.

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Doing our part (so we don’t fall to pieces).

 

One Woman (and Dog) March

This month has been rough.

I’m still recovering from my winter break gall bladder removal: the big incision pinches, my diet has changed, and it’s January. And this particular cyclical January has millions of us in the U.S. and around the world incredibly anxious. This month was the ’17 TechExpo and proudly a few Minecraft Club members rallied and represented.

Ethan, Hannah and me

This year the Minecraft Club hasn’t been as big as it’s been in the past, and I’m not sure if it’s because we have a new staff and it needs some promoting. Regardless, we have some hardcore fans. The students have to provide it for themselves, but I’m still working to change that.

One thing that struck me as odd, and irksome, was a woman, (not sure what her role was, etc.,) asked me if “all the kids were doing was just playing Minecraft” for the booth, and yes, basically, that was it. The ‘l’esprit de l’escalier‘ moment came when I thought of all the things I should have said, namely, ‘Go ask the students yourself.” I learned later she asked an IT person who was helping in the general area the same question. It put me on the defense: I’m constantly educating other educators about the benefits of Minecraft in terms of coding, narrative, resource management, etc.

My inner voice screams: WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT?! Manage thy expectations, ma’am.

But honestly, sometimes…I just get a little burnt out. It’s exhausting constantly meeting others expectations. Or falling short.

One thing, though, that wipes away a snooty lady who questions the existence and right of students to share a passion they love was a visit from a former student.

I didn’t recognize him at first: when students grow from 8th to 12th grades, they change a lot. We talked, and he shared that he was going to college, he was working, etc., but he seemed kind of down. When he told me of his college plans, I asked him if he remembered my promise to him and his classmates that I would be there for them, long after 8th grade, if they needed help or guidance. He said he did–and then he skipped a beat and said how disappointed he was that he was graduating under Trump’s presidency.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I swallowed and said I was struggling to find silver linings in things, now, too.

But.

Think of it this way: he’s the first one graduating under his own rule– and that is the most powerful thing of all.

His shoulders lifted, and he seemed ready.

That was Thursday night, January 19.

Friday was the inauguration. I made a point to let it go for the day.

On Thursday in class, I tried something slightly new for Part-Time Indian. I took ten theme seed ideas, wrote them on large Post-It notes, and put them around the room at four table stations. The students counted off, and then rotated and discussed which idea out of the group per table. They kept track of their ideas in their composition books. We’ll use this for their own writing about the novel this upcoming week.

The big ideas of Part-Time Indian.

Friday we talked about the arch of one positive idea, and how one positive idea is often conflicted by negativity. I had them draw the diagram of ‘dreams’ and the betrayal idea versus the racism in the novel. On one side, his tribe and community see him as a traitor, but when he goes to Reardan, he is met with constant aggressive and casual racism.

Then I had the students list positive things about themselves. The number of things was determined by one student choosing a random number between 1 and 10. Next, they had to write the same number of negative things, and then determine how those negative things caused obstacles for the positive thing. They can also use this as part of their final reflection about the novel.

And then on Saturday, I was too exhausted, in pain, and sick to get myself to Seattle and march.

And the guilt was overwhelming.

From Love, Teach

 

So when I get this call to service, to do something else, something more, am I allowed to say “no?”

I write this blog, I plan new, original lessons. I meet with colleagues. I try to walk the dog with my husband. I try to keep up with book club reading choices and read new books for my students. I run two clubs. I am a union rep this year. I stay up on news and curate articles. I watch documentaries. I look and curate new resources. I spend a ton on new books. And this is all part of my personal passions and pursuits. But when I get one more ‘call to adventure’ it’s overwhelming. When I commented on Love, Teach’s post, another commenter told me my service as a union rep was “a good place to start.”

Can someone hand me a Dixie cup of water on this marathon, please?

No one can determine or judge what we do or don’t do. You know why there were millions who marched on Saturday? Because women get it done. Men, good men, do too. We all do our part: we write, draw, take photographs, bravely post our own opinion (even if it doesn’t match others in our circle of friends), and try to come to understand. Listening to understand, instead of responding, is critical, and something I could work on. Concurrently, however, I am not going to back away from my beliefs that are based on deep research and reading. If new information or actions occur that help all Americans, I’ll listen. So far nothing but “post-truth” or “alternative facts” in some Orwellian nightmare has seen the light, but I’ll still look.

And working together as classrooms and community is the best thing of all. Love this idea from Ethical ELA:

In class, we talked about the concept of betraying one’s community. We took a stand up vote:

How many think Arnold betrayed his community?

(no one stood up)

How many think his community betrayed him?

(most students stood up)

I asked those who remained conflicted or neutral to share their thoughts. It is in that ‘third place’ where a lot of truth is told. It is hard to see the community made to feel ashamed that they weren’t able to provide the life and education Arnold/Junior deserves, and understand why they don’t cheer him on when he leaves.

This is our shared conflict: stay in the tribe and ‘go along’ or speak up and question? How do we share of ourselves and our gifts? If we want something different or break away, do we risk losing our past?

For now, this is what I share, and what I do. Many of my social media contacts have hidden me. That does hurt, just a little. But it’s also their choice is they want to read my message or not. I read everything — echo chambers are boring. I can’t control whether or not they want to curate or prune me from their feeds. And as uncomfortable as that is, it is.

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Very dry.

very-dry

Currently, is there any topic that more widely confusing and debated than learning targets/success criteria?

Right about now, I’d love to adopt John Spencer’s Design Thinking, use and implement what I know from Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Donnalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, and the writers at Ethical ELA, Marzano, DuFour, Mattos. Richard DuFour and Mike Mattos both clearly said the learning targets and success criteria do not have to change each day: it depends on the instruction. The clarity and teaching points are the important factors. But now I’m doubting my own ears, sensing their sage advice was a phantom, a mist…an illusion with a puff of confirmation bias.

But this is the current obstacle: the staff and district are so singularly focused on narrow interpretations of learning targets and success criteria tunnel vision is a distinct outcome, and I have witnessed that my students this year are less engaged, grudgingly compliant, and lacking in curiosity more than I’ve ever seen before.

Things are too dry, laid bare, and not engaging or interesting at all–it’s become very teacher-focused and demanding, and not supportive or interesting.

Time to shake things up.

Yes – know where students are going. Be clear. But engagement and inquiry mean the timing and creation of goals needs, nay demands, to be more student driven.

I am a firm believer in student reflection and discussion. 

Here are what others say:

The Timing of Learning Targets: Make sure not to expose so as to decrease inquiry, especially in science.

Grant Wiggins:

Greetings Edutopiates, Grant Wiggins recently posted an article about the mandatory posting of Learning Targets / ELOs. Grant makes a great point in his post. Are you being mandated to post things as well? Mind you, I am fine with posting daily agendas, essential or driving questions, and even learning targets when they help students focus on their learning. How much is too much? Grant raises that question as well – he states: [quote]”…it’s important for students to understand the goals for the day and beyond. But does any supervisor honestly believe–if they would just think about it for one minute–that a policy requiring the chanting out of Standards numbers or making and hanging 4 teacher-crafted posters each day is in the best interests of learning and the best use of teacher time? This gets it all backwards.”[/quote] Posting? Sure! But for what purpose? Where do you think?

From the Grant Wiggins’ article:

So, while the intent of the poster policy makes sense, there is little or no benefit to merely requiring the posting. That gets it all backward, as the agenda analogy suggests. The posting is a means; the end is understanding of the meaning of the work and a way to stay on track. So, merely requiring the posting shows that the policy is really not for the learners at all but for the satisfaction of supervisors to make us all think that focused learning is happening (by osmosis?).

Here is where I contend not just learning target but teaching points are more valuable for students, along with more discussion, teacher feedback, etc. Tracking and parroting learning targets are a waste of time. However, analysis and reflection are not, and incredibly important: there is a huge difference with digging deeper with a skill or strategy and its purpose, and moreover, transference.

Changing learning targets and success criteria daily as a matter of course or procedure is also a waste of time, not best practices, and dismisses learning and mastery. Understand the nuance between process and content-driven targets. 

Nowhere in this article by Marzano does he discuss a mandatory daily change, but getting in deep with the objectives and taxonomy.  https://www.marzanoresearch.com/resources/tips/dtlgo_tips_archive

John Hattie:

Here is my takeaway from this: understanding what the ‘rules of the game are’ isn’t the same as not allowing students to craft and design. I sense many teachers/coaches are not understanding this nuance. Take his example of Australian football: if you told the students the rules of the game that doesn’t mean they’re going to be great football players– all that means is they are allowed to inquire and strategize of how to play the game well. 

Do not confuse success criteria with strategies or mastery.

 

If our goal, our objective, as we’ve repeatedly stated is to have students drive their learning, the most effective measure by John Hattie, etc. then please consider who’s in control of their learning; the teacher or the student?

http://www.joebower.org/2011/10/stop-writing-objectives-on-board.html

Joe Bower passed away recently, and his voice is greatly missed, as is Grant Wiggin’s.

But I’ll carry on the work.

 

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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?

………

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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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