Posted on

Room in your head.


fish books
A case for quiet schools…

We can’t see the stars any longer because of light pollution. But as the lady says, “The night is dark and full of terrors,” so we humans master the monsters and use all the power we can to dispel the darkness. But we don’t see things as we once did, or learn from the larger spaces and infinite wonderful universe.

And perhaps — this is just an idea — we have overlooked the other toxic detriment to learning: noise pollution.

Studies come out all the time based on things we know. But the knowledge needs to be re-studied, analyzed, and updated. Olga Khazan recently published a study in The Atlantic “How Noise Pollution Affects Learning.”

“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” Saffran said in a statement.

That’s a helpful tip for parents and teachers, but overall, the study highlights yet another cognitive obstacle facing low-income children. Not only do poor children hear fewer words than rich ones—the gap is estimated to reach 30 million words by age 3—they are more likely to live in loud environments, as McMillan and Saffran write. Their homes are more crowded, their schools are closer to highways, and they spend more time watching TV. (This phenomenon would help explain why children living in urban poverty have lower verbal working-memory scores than those in rural environments.

I would add another noise factor, too, and that is digital noise. Right now I am on overload because of the conventions, the news media, Twitter, Facebook, news outlets, sources, opinions, etc. I am obsessed with politics right now, and cannot seem to break away. Like many educators, I sense I am not alone in this compelling urgency to believe that learning and knowledge can triumph and rescue this historical moment. So I keep reading. I keep analyzing. And the curse of close reading is making my head hurt.

But this — all this — is a luxury, a privilege, of being a reader and thinker. Of growing up in a household, modest to be sure, but where quiet ruled. Where we were allowed to read as long as chores were done, and have mercy on our souls if we woke our mom up from a nap. Being alone and having space in one’s own head was a given growing up. Now I see it not as there wasn’t much else to do, but a gift.

Last year I had two semesters of Computer Skills for my elective. Though technology for publication and communication have always been the standards I’ve employed in my classrooms, this particular elective provided the chance to focus on some newer technologies not attached to content. One project was a podcast. Well, this exercise reminded me of the noise pollution in many homes. (It’s not relegated to homes in poverty, either. Some houses always have a television on, or music playing.) A diligent and creative student came to me in frustration because while she was trying to record her podcast at home she found it near impossible due to everyone else’s level of noise and interruptions. And though we have a room in our building intended for podcasting and filming, it’s been taken over with junk and other things, and proves inhospitable to recording. (I’m going to ask admin if this can be resolved next year, or at least clean out a space of our own for recording.) This is the question: how to make school/classrooms have those quiet/sacred places and times in the day?

This hearkens back to a great discussion on Notice and Note about homework. Not all students have a quiet place to read, practice, etc. I have homeless students. I have students who sleep on mattresses without sheets or blankets. I have students who have disabled siblings that require all the energy and care their parents can provide, leaving them to their own. There is not judgment here, only pragmatism. If I am aware as a teacher that some students face staggering challenges at home, isn’t it my direct purpose to provide reason and solace in the classroom? To explain and make transparent I am not asking for quiet because it makes life better for me, but a gift for them? And trust me — this is one of the most challenging things to do–getting students to be comfortable in their own heads. One student experienced such deep trauma, and was able to share with me that when it was quiet she was not in control of her thoughts just yet. Be aware of this, too, and come up with alternatives.

Middle school students, and probably high school ones, too, fight against all research and reason about multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation and tell them what noise pollution damaged, and how to change habits.

Big talk coming from someone who can’t stop reading.

Okay — I’ll take the dog for a walk. Maybe I won’t even try to catch Pokemon, either.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Metacognition Monday

Made with Repix (

In the 8 Days a Week post, I touched on some of the alliterative devices used to help frame a week. Frameworks help me focus: inviting students into my brain requires some house rules, ya know.

During my cohort’s masters program, our primary mentor and educational goddess, Dr. Schulhauser, introduced us to this word, ‘metacognition.’ She eased us into with masterful prestidigitation, a pedagogical slight of hand, we didn’t even realize we were deeply engaged in a lesson until she showed us what lay behind the curtain: we were thinking about our thinking.

But like all masters, understanding metacognition is deceptively simple. Though I’ve tried ‘Metacognition Mondays’ for a few years (except last year), I’ve been doing it slightly askew. The year before last, the wheels came off the bus. I told students that Mondays would be for reading, and then on Tuesdays we’d talk about it. Right. Nope. Of course I did all the tricks of the trade, but for obvious reasons to everyone else but me, reading time on a Monday was meant with resentment and oftentimes outright hostilities. I wonder now if I had strong guiding questions, or allowances for confusion? Was my classroom culture safe enough? Or were they just too tired and sleep hungover from the weekend to think at all?

My standard anecdote when introducing metacognition is to first explain the parts of the word:

meta: (overarching, bigger), self-referential

cognition: thinking

lost found

I bring them back to a time/place when they became lost from a parent. This is nearly a universal experience. What tends to happen is when conjuring this memory many students become engrossed in their story that the conversation becomes a bird-walking exercise. (You may want to caution students before using this metaphor, or allow for time for them to write first.) The point of the story is all of us move confidently through the world, and then WHAM we are lost. And we know it. And then finding our way un-lost is the trick.

unknown unknowns hell

Regardless of Monday morning morning-ness, metacognition is the key that unlocks all other discussions and learning. It’s that important. Every instance of close reading, writing, graphic organizers, student self-assessment, reflection, formative assessment is structured by metacognition. All learners must know when they’re confused or lost in order to grow. That confusion may come in the form of a misunderstanding, a mistake, or even reluctance. Perhaps even defiance. If a student feels too lost, the desire to simply give up can be overwhelming. Be clear with one and all: not everything is going to be an easy path, and it’s different for every learner.


One of the most comprehensive articles is Metacognition by Nancy Chick for Center for Teaching.  Stop reading this, and go read that.

And then read this to see why it’s important if I haven’t convinced you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Sticks, stones, and comment feeds


This blog acts as a digital sketchbook, a virtual cocktail napkin, as a means of my sorting of thoughts. I am truly interested in what you think, too, so please comment.

The question is: do we label ourselves and others too much?

I know a single mother whose son just graduated high school. Our sons went to School of Rock together, and she took some great photographs during my son’s time there. These young people are amazing musicians. She has survived cancer, is stunningly beautiful, smart, edgy, and talented. She has pink hair. She has perfect skin. She thinks for herself. This I’ve gathered from her social media posts, as I’ve never had the pleasure to meet in ‘in real life,’ or as gamers say, IRL. Her posts are engaging and interesting. I wonder, though, if I would still think so if I disagreed with them? And when politicians/voters label Sanders’ supporters with ‘BernieBro’ or “Sandanistas*’, how does she fit in? She’s almost fifty years old, and certainly not a ‘bro.’ But her voice doesn’t seem to ‘count.’ So whose does?

John Spencer had me thinking the other day (as he’s been known to do) when he commented on a post of mine about ‘toxic masculinity.’ At first, I justified my use of this term, because labels are convenient. The shorthand facilitates speed, but perhaps it does not produce contemplation. He stated:

“But there’s another risk, which is what happens when a negative term is applied to a group. Members of that group either view the critique as extreme and they tune it out or they actively fight against it. I’m not arguing for tone policing or man-splaining or anything like that. People can certainly feel free to use it. It’s just for me, “toxic masculinity” seems to have the same ickiness factor that “white trash” or “feminazi” or “radical Muslim” all have.”

I wonder if ‘white privilege’ fits in here, too. Not sure. What I do know is in this digital age we’ve become so accustomed to trying to be clever with the next quippy saying or catchphrase we don’t consider things in depth. Our human brains still respond emotionally. Which leads me to consider how we, and our students, are processing emotions without context. This processing is unrelenting and aggressive.

GeekFeminism Wiki: 


This chart is intended to be funny, but it amasses just as many tropes as any media. Is the way to fight stereotypes, sexism, racism, and hate with more? How do we reject the labels ascribed to us, and concurrently help students understand in their media worlds what ‘not taking something personally’ really means?

Social media emotions are contagious.

The findings suggest that emotional contagion can occur in an online social network, even without face-to-face interaction between two people. “We show that simply failing to ‘overhear’ a friend’s emotional expression via Facebook is enough to buffer one from its effects,” the authors wrote.

The Facebook users weren’t simply mimicking the emotions of their friends by writing fewer positive or negative posts; these users frequently displayed the opposite emotion of the one omitted in their feed.

What’s more, nonverbal behavior, or body language, doesn’t appear to be necessary for emotions to spread, the study showed. Text alone was enough to have an effect.

So students have been steaming in a big bowl of angry alphabet soup: words without physicality or nuance, and if a child sees themselves in a comment, or two, or two thousand, that pushes and prods, during this critical time of discovering identity how damaging must this be? Adolescents are known to push boundaries and experiment: a few weeks before school two of my quietest, seemingly nicest girls wrote some negative poetry. They literally wrote a narrative for another student. This may not have been a social media post, just good old-fashioned, old-school bullying,


My question remains: how do I inform students about what happens to their brains and emotions when they see negative things about themselves, their beliefs, their values, and their identities? I would think the direct approach would be best: anytime someone posts a fight ‘invitation’ on Facebook or other social media, they are willingly giving up their freedoms. They are behaving like indentured servants to some greater idea that neither loves nor cares for them, the idea of control. Or how about the sexual predator who stalks someone who is in a fog of romantic notions, seeking attention and affection? The archetype of the wolf is nothing new, it’s as old as the dawn; only the speed of digital information has changed. Go back to the shorthand/label: because of the speed we don’t process adequately. Cry wolf, and everyone shrugs. Same with “bully”: no one cares. Swipe right, swipe left, just swipe. Label and dismiss.

Trying to keep you safe…

*No politician is without her or his label or derogatory term. And voters get labeled and characterized, too. If voters don’t want Hillary, the default is they’re sexist. If they do, they’re shrill hawks. At least for one, he is characterized by his actions, which are clear and forthright: xenophobic, racist, and dangerous. No question. Ah, see how that labeling thing works? You all know who I’m talking about.

But what gets lost in the labels are the policies, the plans, the ideas: what if news media used integrity and didn’t report on important issues like it was the Kardashians or a sports game? I think the words “winner” and “loser” have been used more in this campaign than I can remember. Or maybe that’s just me thinking about it differently. If students see things only in terms of win or loss, no wonder they have no field, no stable ground to steady their feet.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to present students with this question, and information: how do they detach unnecessary and incorrect labels/identities others attach? How can they use cognitive skills to be aware when a comment has hurt them? Remember they’re not running for office and haven’t developed the thick hides seasoned politicians have. (Well, some anyway.) As for myself, I’m trying to remember that my narrative is my own. I cannot control how or what others see. There aren’t just facts and opinions, but truths. The beliefs you can’t prove with numbers or data. And they’re not meant to be litigated or debated. For using labels such as ‘toxic masculinity’ I’ll use those labels to reflect and try to make sense out of the unreasonable. If it makes me stop and think, then it hasn’t been wasted time.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Patron Saints of Asking.

“The real secret is, I didn’t make them, I asked them. And in the very act of asking people, I connected with them…”

My daddy told me, “If you don’t ask, the answer is automatically no.” I’m not suggesting this is original with my amazing dad, but I will give him credit for knowing the right advice at the right time. Unfortunately, like most good advice we receive, it settles to the bottoms of our confidence toolboxes, and we forget how to self-talk encouragement and friendship to ourselves. When I spoke with my wonderful admins recently, I tried something new: I asked for some conditions that I know are best for students, and–here’s the revelation: good for me, too, and my workspace/happiness. These conditions are arein alignment with their visions, too. We (women) are trained from birth not to ask for help: we run from archetypal misconceptions that lead to sexism at least, and misogyny at worst.

And constraints are put on educators, too. Recently my district made stipulations to sites like Donors Choose, requiring more bureacratic obstacles than most teachers have time to overcome. And I think back to my art major period, and giving away almost every piece of art I made. My friends didn’t do that: if you wanted a piece of art you paid for it, with no apologies or explanations.

The personal question for me is, do I wrangle my own cultural, ‘southern lady’ independent, never-ask-for-help norms, or do I just say, ‘you know what…I make good stuff, and deserve to be paid for it?’

So: what do I need? I need to support this addiction to teaching. How am I going to do that? 


Link to Patreon: 

And I’m linking books to Amazon, like many other teachers/bloggers do. If you need a book, please link it from this site.

I’m still working on the Patreon page: please have patience. It is Mother’s Day after all, and I already help fund these two of these projects:

FullSizeRender (1)


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on



Been giving a lot of thought lately into what are the responsibilities of districts to provide curriculum, scope/sequence, and planning tools. Many years ago, the Bellevue School District went on strike because of the extremes in their ‘lock step’ approach. Some districts/schools don’t provide enough support for new and veteran teachers, and flounder. Striking the right balance between what’s expected, necessary, and valuable is challenging for the most skilled of educators. Consultants are often called in, and depending on their cultural connection to an environment, either their messages are valued and heard, or not. In other words, if the consultant’s advice doesn’t resonate with some staff members, it’s hard to create meaningful instructional shifts. Fortunately, three consultants I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with have been true mentors and patient providers; however, not all fit this. It’s not them, it’s us.

It’s a dodgy and dangerous to attempt to “tell” teachers what they should and should not be teaching–you can’t make everyone happy, and teachers may bristle. I liken this to when I was getting my BFA; I wanted the guidance and critique of the master artists/professors, and with permission and safety they would ask if they could pick up my brush and ‘show me’ a suggestion. Those moments were rare and beautifully balanced: if they had bullied their way and said ‘this is how it’s done’ they would have lost and angered me. Showing suggestions and giving reasons why is always better. Sound familiar? Isn’t this what we do for our students, too?

Leaders have different styles, too. I’ve been reflecting on the years when I was a Curriculum Leader, and what I got right, and what I could have done better. It’s moot now, because I’m not in that position any longer, but do need to mind my own path. But what I got right was right for me–not sure anyone else valued it. I needed calendars and assessment windows. I needed organization and concrete, global time constructs of scope/sequence. I needed to communicate and be the liaison between the district and the ELA staff. For the most part, I believe I was successful. I know one colleague believed I wasn’t “collaborative” which is laughable because that’s almost all I am. But that’s okay–I heard her words (though she didn’t confront me directly) and took it to heart, and reflected on how I was delivering the messages from the district to make it easier. Other colleagues understood the concept of “don’t shoot the messenger.” What this really says is how powerless and lacking in autonomy when there’s a ‘top down’ approach or mandate. My colleague was feeling powerless, and at that moment in history perhaps unable to articulate it. We all were.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
– Dale Carnegie

It’s important to recognize when emotions are running high where the frustration comes from. And my big question is, in this day and age of shared resources and PLNs (professional learning networks), what value does mandated curriculum have? How do the ones in power balance the needs of the many with local, artisan needs of the micro-community of a single classroom? I may always rely on my own approach in planning via big calendars and researching others skilled sources.

Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping

Look over other districts’ curriculum maps, and see what might work: Rockford Public Schools

If you need personal resources:

Teachers Pay Teachers

TpT is a great resource if you not only don’t want to reinvent wheels but add rims and caps, too. For $10, you can download an entire unit on writing research papers. I’ve gotten some valuable lessons from Laura Randazzo –some are kind of thin, but I’ve altered them to suit my students’ needs.


Much is made fun of about Pinterest and teachers/teaching, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. Yes, you can fall down that rabbit hole, but curating your own and others’ share lesson ideas feels productive, too.


Find images, writing ideas, science, math, and all things gif-fy and awesome.


Need a question asked for the good of the group? Search for #edchat, #pln, and other teachers/educators and you will not be disappointed.

I’m @mrskellylove . Don’t mind the gamer friends, too.

And always go back to the tried and true. Seek out Kelly Gallagher. Kylene Beers. And spend time in your own mental ‘studio’– never forget teaching is an art, and you are not an apprentice.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email