Posted on

Question Everything.


A student who’s in the AVID program at school recently asked for ‘help’ in writing some “Level 3” (based on Costa’s work) questions. Having taken AVID training myself a few years ago, and created Levels of Questions work, he knew I was a go-to source. However, what he was not understanding that “giving” him questions was not appropriate nor was it helpful. But at least he’s honest–he just wanted the “answers” in the form of questions. He didn’t want to do the mental heavy lifting. And he’s not alone–far from it. Students have been parroting their purposes for learning things like pull-string talking dolls:

Me: “Why are you learning CERs?”

Them: “So we can get a good education.”

Me: “No–how do they help you learn?”

Them: “So we can learn.”


There are several factors I can think of why the wheels are off the bus, but the wheels are off indeed. So time to figure out how to get some traction going again.

No more Mrs. Nice Teacher. (If I ever was.)

Back to foundational lessons, and the one that gets the most learning mileage includes questioning strategies. In order to be an independent learner, we must be able to ask questions.

Here are some good resources I’m digging into, and you might find useful, too.  Some I’ve created, and am happy to share.

Mix Things Up: 3 Student-Centered Approaches that Balance “I Do, You Do, We Do.”

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab


Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab









Posted on

Numbers game.

Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.
Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.

None of this is new news.

We are hurting.

Our economy, our growth, our creativity: we see it, we call it out, and we try, desperately, to avert the tsunami. And it feels as if the invisible force of money drowns us, like a force of nature, pressure systems, and earthquakes shaking us little humans and dumping us on our heads.

I constantly think about…

coal miners.

People who’ve worked in the ground for centuries and what they dig from the earth no longer matters. And everyone knew it. So they equate the people who dig as the ones who don’t matter.

I’ve thought this since I was in second grade: why don’t the big companies shift and switch and do research into energy and food that’s sustainable and gives people the jobs they need?


Don’t they want to stay in business?

Don’t they want to make a profit and have people buy their stuff?

Seemed to me the best way to prevent revolutions and bloodshed is to be real, mature, and functional about the realities of how the world works.

But now I don’t know how the world works anymore.

My childhood questions echo back.

I need to know where good is. Where growth and prosperity are.

I don’t need America to be #1. This is not a zero sum game. I want all of us to get what we need.


Things may get worse, again, before they get better. We can’t seem to move forward without burning it all down.

PBS produced a show about childhood poverty in the U.S. six years ago. Here are some of the highlights:

More than 16 million children, or roughly one in five, were living in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (pdf). That is higher than any other age group. Among 18– to 64-year-olds, the poverty rate was 13.7percent, while among seniors the rate was 8.7 percent. (Nov 20, 2012)


Only three other countries in the developed world have a higher child poverty rate (pdf) than the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico leads all nations with a rate of 25.79, followed by Chile (23.95), Turkey (23.46), and the U.S. (21.63).

Financial experts have been writing about education and income for years, too, along with research and data:

Eduardo Porter wrote an article for the New York Times, ‘A Simple Equation: More Education  = More Income.’

But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.


Nate Silver, love or hate, is a statistician. Here are his latest numbers about education and voting trends:

Education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump.

But since education and income are so closely connected, I’m not sure if his thesis is whole. Yet.

And now we have this horror show.

So money, education, and politics. Oh, my.

But: I have to keep hope alive.

Who gives me hope?

To be clear,  I never think one man or woman is a savior. Humans are all flawed. With those flaws, come some genius moves.

Who inspires me now?

Elon Musk

Ira Glass

Sarah Vowell

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Malala Yousafzai

Malcolm Gladwell

Steven Colbert

John Oliver

Jon Stewart

Samantha Bee

….still thinking.

And recently I described our nation has millions of tiny little needles. Guess I wasn’t the only one seeing it.

Postscript: Thanks, Kid.


Posted on

750 and counting.

Seven hundred and fifty minutes represents five classes of core/honors ELA classes, multiplied by ten days, fifteen minutes each period. For every student, in two weeks’ time, each one has read 750 minutes.

And to my shock and awe, at no point did I give them some long lecture about how to read, what to do during reading time, what to think or how to behave. I didn’t co-construct an anchor chart or show them my PowerPoint called The Reading Zone based on Nancie Atwell’s work. 

My student teacher and I kept it simple: 

  1. Put out hundreds of books — (yes, this has cost me thousands of dollars): everything from graphic novels, Calvin and Hobbs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, novels of all genres, resource/science books (I have a thing for resource books).
  2. Told them to pick a stack of two to three, so if one lost their interest they could go to another one.
  3. Give them time to read at the beginning of class, first fifteen, with a nod to the Book Whisperer and Ethical ELA.

What have we observed? They’re reading. They’re actually reading. Not fake reading, not complaining, but asking for more time, like they’re getting away with something–it dawned on me that this might be the only quiet time they get in their day. They don’t distract each other, they don’t talk, they’ve been asking to check out books from my classroom library, they’ve been stashing and hiding books to make sure they have the one they want when they come in the classroom, and been asking for more title options of genres they like. (Yes, S, I will find more romance for you!)

Now that’s not to say that mini-lessons, co-constructing ideas about approaching texts and media will not follow or be threaded throughout this year. They absolutely will be. That’s my job and passion. However, I’m adjusting and refining my own instructional approach with the skill-based focus from the district and coaches/admin. It’s hard to take a critical lens toward one’s practice sometimes, but the only way to move forward. I am seeking a balanced approach to skills/strategies, and may have to continue looking outside one PLC for creative and innovative approaches.

Case in point: I discovered during conferencing time with every student that the vast majority could not articulate why they were learning about claim, evidence, and reasoning–a skill that has been the focus of the first quarter. Though we as a staff have done CERs for years and created rubrics, etc. this year it’s the mandated focus with rubrics and scaffolds created outside of our PLC. And focusing on one skill isn’t inherently bad educational practice, and it’s understood it isn’t the only one, but it’s the only assessment that’s being discussed or analyzed. The scaffolds are formulaic and helpful. There is no question students need directions that are clear. So what went wrong?

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question: what went right?

Did I have my learning targets and success criteria dutifully written on the board, and express those to students? Of course I did. Of course my student teacher did. Did we scaffold and break down? Yes, as best we could.

But teaching that skill in isolation away from purpose was a destructive approach, one I’ll not do again. If we decide as a PLC/staff to participate in a singular, monolithic skill to teach it is my intention to make sure students participate in the construction of their purpose first.

What goes right is showing them how they’re getting it–and on my part to be honest and transparent–to tell them, hey, I realize some of this slid past you: let’s look at it a different way.

I know getting the materials pre-designed created confusion for myself and others–we wanted to help create it, too, and engage in the process. So if we teachers are feeling this way, imagine how students must feel?

Bored, disengaged, and fatigued.

Enter Ken Robinson. This particular TEDTalk contains so many nuggets of wisdom, for all learners.

One estimate in America currently is that something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I’m not saying there’s no such thing. I just don’t believe it’s an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour,doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know?

And yes, we are focused on testing. They are the dominant culture of American schools.

The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education.They should be diagnostic. They should help.

And yes, I am taking control and direction of my classroom. I’ve worked too hard, passionately, and productively, to craft a professional life that is best for students. I maintain a growth mindset, and seek wisdom at all levels–to me there is no such thing as rookie or veteran: every colleague has something to offer and share.

And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.


There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.


And until we understand and accept committees can only create so much before creative professionals want to add their own nuances we will lose the ability to move forward. Blueprints and frameworks are only as good as providing a foundation, not decorating the house.

And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working.You have to put it back to the people.

So I’ve taken control of my classroom. I am hoping others in charge ask me what I’m doing, what’s been successful, and where I’ve had to tweak and adjust.

Conferring with a student on Friday, she seems intelligent and creative, but is clearly bored with school. We spoke for awhile about personal motivation, and finding what sparks us individually. I hope I can inspire her.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people, people who either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography.They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it’s at odds with the life they’re living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique. I was at a meeting recently in Los Angeles of — they’re called alternative education programs. These are programs designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features. They’re very personalized.They have strong support for the teachers, close links with the community and a broad and diverse curriculum, and often programs which involve students outside school as well as inside school.And they work. What’s interesting to me is, these are called “alternative education.”

Where am I going with this reading thing, anyway? What are the next steps? November is a funky month, that’s for sure. This next week we have student-led conferences (which is where I discovered 90% of my students had no clue as to why they were doing what they were doing, in spite of intentional purpose from not only me but the other content area teachers, too). We also have short days, Thanksgiving Break, and then we’re finishing up a unit I created about Honor. December will be my annual “drabble a day” writing. I was heartened when one of the most intelligent students I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach sent me an email asking if I was doing that again and if I would start the writing club this year.

Have no doubt that our students, and ourselves, want choice and growth. They want forums and places to create and share. Their purpose for learning is more than a learning target and the message of intent and importance. The thing about ELA that’s different from other subject areas is sometimes it can’t be contained in a simple formula. That ambiguity is difficult to accept.

Oh, in terms of conferring: this is a ‘just in time’ idea:

Conferring with “If… Then… Then… Then…” in Mind

And assessment that’s important and valuable:

Posted on

Who cares? Who knows? Who says?

Much is made in social media about a lot of offensive and divisive issues–hand-wringing, outrage, and heavy-handed bouts of misinformation that spreads while truth and fact-checks go unheard as whispers. No one seems to be listening. One of those cries is, “Doesn’t anyone teach Civics anymore?” implying that how could anyone vote for X or Y if they knew what the outcome would be?

I’m going to pull at that thread a little bit — and answer I don’t know, really. I have a narrow scope on what is taught in middle school. I know that the social studies teachers have taught civics and government, as well as American History, as best they can, including participating in mock trials, etc. But the turnover and continued traditions of teaching actual civics…that I can’t speak to. Uncomfortably and painfully — we’ve been directed toward skills only approach, and not strategies or really allowing for skills and skill assessment to direct or help with the bigger thinking. Point being, if the skills of civics are taught — the functions of government and their definitions –how are those transferable to really, deeply understanding and critical thinking that our world demands?

This was an election of feeling, of id, of lizard brains, wishful thinking, prayers, voodoo, lies, and bigger lies. But the results are concrete. On day one, those who listened and felt empowered by hate speech have taken action, the new normal of propaganda and destruction.

It is well documented Trump used careful and intentional seditious, incendiary speech.

It is well documented that the Clintons have had years of fighting against scandals. 

And while all of this swirls down the sewer drains, we cling to the filth and try to make plans on how to stay strong and safe. If you’re not sure how our government is supposed to work by law, and can’t figure out why half of the nation is howling in Constitutional pain, then read and learn.

Here are Washington State’s requirements regarding Civics instruction:


As we’re watching history spin, spin, spin down the drain, feeling sick and terrified, and then being told to “calm down” — may I respectfully ask that YOU READ SOMETHING.

For example, History Tells Us What May Happen Next with Trumpit and Brexit by Tobias Stone.

And consider this: Is hate speech protected?

In the wake of the tragedy in Oklahoma City, a national debate has erupted about speech counseling violence or inciting hatred of public officials. Of course, we do not know whether such speech had any causal role in the Oklahoma City bombing. But new technologies have put the problem of incendiary speech into sharp relief. It is likely, perhaps inevitable, that hateful and violent messages carried over the airwaves and the Internet will someday, somewhere, be responsible for acts of violence. This is simply a statement of probability; it is not an excuse for violence. Is that probability grounds for restricting such speech? Would restrictions on speech advocating violence or showing how to engage in violent acts be acceptable under the First Amendment? Aside from legal restrictions, what measures are available to the nation’s leaders and private citizens to discourage incendiary hate and promote the interests of mutual respect and civility?

Now we have a president-elect who daily used hate speech. Citizens relinquished their blood-fought rights for a man who will not only not serve them, but despises them and put all of us in harm’s way.

We must now all become veterans, all become soldiers and stand against this to protect ourselves and each other. The threat is from the inside, and has been for decades.

Why the picture of Anne Frank? Because we don’t teach about Anne Frank anymore. Her diary is boring. The Holocaust is ‘boring.’ Blah blah blah 6 million people died blah blah America was the hero with our Allies Hitler’s dead and we won. Did we learn anything? I am disheartened to say my fear is no, but my hope is yes–we have access to writing our own diaries now and having hundreds, if not thousands of people, read them in real time. I want boring. I want life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Just like Anne Frank. Just to be normal, and not normalized.

For my part, folks have had the audacity to minimize my knowledge with ‘eye roll’ emojis.

I know why people voted for Trump. My husband and I have suffered many of the same marginalization of the middle class and lower financial status classes. They want to feed their families, save for retirement, and grow. We all do. And their voices were ignored for so long, they became desperate and angry. They allowed themselves to be drawn into scapegoatism and bigotry because that’s what nuzzles up to anger. Kindness is boring. Being smart is boring. Being angry and loud–now that gets peoples’ attention. But when despair creeps in again, and it will very soon because of the financial moves he and his ‘people’ are about to make, and those who voted for him realize they just put their necks in the wolves’ mouths, I may be out of parables and warnings.

Read or die.

That is all.

If you want to help, here is a link.