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It’s personal.

Some sentence starters that lend themselves to bridging personal connections to text, or not.
Some sentence starters that lend themselves to bridging personal connections to text, or not. *Not my sticky-note, but provided by a superlative consultant my district hired to guide us in close reading strategies.

Wanted to share a great discussion about how students can use personal connection to interact with text more deeply. I cannot remember which educational scholar suggested never to use personal connections when discussing text, but it doesn’t sit right. Every text is personal at some level: it’s the getting beyond the personal that creates critical thinking.


The Common Core State Standards: Misunderstandings about Response and Close Reading

by Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona

Teaching something from a text should come after personal response and dialogue, after readers have a chance to see that text as significant. That teaching should focus on one aspect of a text or one reading strategy. Beating a text to death with skill after skill is counterproductive—the reader walks away determined never to return to the text again and with little retention of the skills. By choosing one text structure or reading strategy, teachers provide a focus for students to explore and come to understand without destroying the text. It’s much more useful for students to examine one or two significant metaphors in a particular work of Shakespeare, for example, than to identify every metaphor in that work.


And this NPR story, Common Core Reading: The Struggle Over Struggle — I have used that swimming in both ends of the pool analogy myself! 

This is also where leveled reading comes in. No matter how good the teacher is, reading complex stuff can be exhausting. Kids need variety, says Willingham, and lots of books that they can read on their own, without much struggle.

The hope, says Willingham, is for these easier texts to build a reader’s confidence and create “a virtuous cycle where, the more you read the more you see yourself as a reader. You’re also picking up more background knowledge. You’re picking up more vocabulary. All of these things sort of feed on one another.” And help when it’s time for the next complex text.

Let’s go back to that reading-as-swimming analogy. It turns out, learning to swim requires both ends of the pool. And, ideally, kids reach a point where they can simply glide under the divider and choose for themselves.

Move to pairings of stories, the many tales we share and hear every day, from the most innocuous, mundane questions, to the powerful stories of perseverance and stamina.

Storycorp: “I will do four, five, ten, a hundred jobs for your education.”


You can take these stories any where you want — with your own thinking, and with students’. If they are not allowed to experience the majesty of human spirit in themselves and in others, what’s the point?

So here it is — every story is personal. If you are a human, you have parents. In class the other day, a colleague shared this story book:

father and daughter talesShe is quiet and kind: I could ask her why she shared this book, what it means to her, but perhaps her own personal story is just that — personal. We cannot disconnect ourselves from our connected, collective consciousness, and I will challenge anyone who suggests otherwise. The trick is to not allow students’ thinking to be truncated by stopping right at the text nor ending the conversation with a personal anecdote or connection: circle back around. That’s how it’s done.



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Drawn to the light…

The Moth
The Moth

Last night I dragged my family to see The Moth–the theme of the night was “Fish Out of Water.” The host for the evening was Ophira Eisenberg, and she was sparkling funny.So hearing stories: that’s what we want. All of us,  no matter our age, want this connection.

That is what is so tough when I am being observed and don’t point to a learning target in the middle of a conceptual anecdote that connects to a bigger idea. Students love stories. Observers often misconstrue the art of the story as “teacher talking too much.”

Ever notice how often students want us to continue with the story? They think that they are flattering us, and that they don’t have to do any real “work” if we’re talking, but in actuality that is often when the real learning is planted.

Cybele Abbett, Pam Flowers, Cole Kazdin, Adam Mansbach, and Vin Shambry were the storytellers. A violinist Luke Fitzpatrick played in between presenters. The stories we heard will stay with us. Pam Flowers spoke – a little 5′ woman who is as big as a mountain of spirit.  The audience gasped when she said she had to pull out her rifle to (possibly) shoot a polar bear. She clearly stated it was the polar bear or her dogs. The crowd in Seattle had a hard time understanding such a choice. To many of them, choosing between the organic brownies or the free-range fudge is the toughest thing they do. Okay that was snarky. Apologies. I fell in love with this woman. My husband said he would have been just as satisfied if he didn’t have to drive downtown and listened to the podcast. I disagree. Seeing her tiny frame and tell her story in her pragmatic, sweet voice, I felt the expanse of the tundra, felt the crunch of the shattering ice, and felt her love of her dogs.

There were five storytellers that night. They told stories of love, motorcycles, camp, homelessness, babies, and transgender children.

And the sound a polar bear makes when it’s about to attack.

Stories stay in our minds because they come through our soul: I learned more about dog sledding in ten minutes than I ever could have by simply reading the ‘instructions.’

The current recommendation of texts is 30% fiction and 70% non-fiction. What someone didn’t mention is that’s for 12th grade:

Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 NAEP Reading Framework

Grade Literary Information
4 50% 50%
8 45% 55%
12 30% 70%

(2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Well that night at the even we had a full serving of personal, “informational” narrative. Does memoir-esque storytelling have a genre? Does personal truth and factual supports count as informative text? Was it 100% informational since everyone’s story was true to them? I suppose so. Personally, I love personal narratives/informational text in all forms. But I also love a great ‘once upon a time’ moment too.

Well, regardless of the recommended daily dose of what a 12th grade student should or should not be reading, I am going to keep striving for purpose and integrity, and not worry whether or not it’s ‘good’ for me. Stories are inherently good.

 Update: This article relates to the topic of narrative and information synthesizing to make greater meaning: ‘Could Storytelling Be the Secret Sauce to STEM Education?’

“I’m a narrative learner,” said Fruchter. “I nail down concepts by aligning them to stories or making up stories about them,” he said.

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Mrs. Love’s Note:I asked one of my favorite science teachers/doctors/bloggers I follow for a little clarification, because I knew that this information wasn’t completely on target. I knew we aren’t “fish” people. We are life forms. We share traits, like bones, guts, and eyeballs. I am using this as a metaphor, which I’m sure you all know. The metaphor is we share a sociological and biological imperative, a need to tell a story. At some point, humans stood up, looked around, and said, “I want to talk about this! Better invent language! I need to write this down! Better invent pigments for the cave walls! I need to read a letter from Aunt Mudpie, better learn to read! (She has a recipe for grilled mastodon that is to die for!)

Here’s what he had to say:

Dear Kelly,

A couple of thoughts on your evolution post.

Humans and fish and reptiles all have common ancestors–just about everything alive does depending how far back you go–but no species around today evolved from any other species around today. Humans did not go through a “reptile” stage–we go back to a common ancestor.

The ontogeny illustration is lovely, and you’ll occasionally find it in textbooks, but it does injustice to the real appearance of embryos/fetuses at their respective stages. Ontogeny sort of recapitulates phylogeny, but not nearly as closely as would be fun to believe.

“Phylogeny” is a great word–it comes from “phylon” which means tribe, race,  or clan; “geny”, of course, goes back to the same roots as genesis, and means birth or origin. So phylogeny is looking at the origins of our tribe!



Also:  It is a lovely illustration, isn’t it? We animals/birds are all thrown together in an antiquated chart like some sort of indigo rainbow spectrum of life-light, albeit scientifically erroneous.

This is a stretch, I know, but perhaps early mankind felt more connected to the critters, creepers, and caterwaulers of the earth and sea, and that’s why animal spirits played an important role in spirituality, mythology, and fables.

 Now, on to our originally scheduled post, already in progress:

If carbon-based organisms keep some genetic memory, some imprint, of our collective consciousness, is that why we keep telling the same stories?

Ontogeny is the development of an individual organism; in other words, from its embryonic “egg” form to its mature, developed state. Phylogeny is the scientific discipline that studies the evolutionary history of a group of organisms. In other words, ontogeny would study how you went from an embryo to who you are now; phylogeny would study the entire human race’s path. (I think that’s what it means. Perhaps one of my science friends can help me out with this one!)



 The Connection between Ontogeny and Phylogeny 

The evolution of the human brain over millions of years and its development over the course of one lifetime are inextricably linked. In fact, the best way to get an overview of the stages through which our brain passed in the course of evolution is to look at those through which it passes as an individual develops.

The phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was coined by Ernst Haeckel in 1866 and for many decades was accepted as natural law. Haeckel meant it in the strict sense: that an organism, in the course of its development, goes through all the stages of those forms of life from which it has evolved.Modern biology now rejects this dogmatic perspective. Though recognizing that human beings evolved from fish and reptiles, biologists cannot discern in our development any stages that correspond precisely to those of a fish or a reptile.That said, species that share the same branch of the evolutionary tree clearly also go through the same early stages of individual development, though they diverge subsequently. One good example here is the basic skeletal structure of all vertebrates, which is one of the anatomical structures that is laid down earliest in the process of embryogenesis. In fact, the most precise way to describe this whole phenomenon might be to say that related organisms start with a common general embryonic form and then eventually diverge into distinct adult morphologies as they complete their development.

To understand the link between phylogeny and ontogeny (in other words, between the evolution of a species and the development of an individual), one must understand that a species can evolve from a series of small mutations in the development program encoded in its individuals’ genes. The earlier that these mutations occur in an embryo’s development, the more likely they are to be lethal, because of the fundamental changes that they will involve. That is why we tend to see more mutations in the later stages of development, and why various species show similarities in their early embryonic stages. But sometimes a mutation in the program at an early stage of development will still leave the embryo viable, resulting in a differentiation of these early stages that erases any strict correspondence with the phylogeny of this species. That is why a strict interpretation of Haeckel’s law of recapitulation does not withstand close empirical scrutiny.  

Ride this Ride

Great conversation Friday afternoon, tying in with our World History studies. Consider early mankind. If you want to put a face on it, think about Lucy. With more time on her hands, perhaps she communicates a story to her young. They in turn, tell a story, too. They ask questions. They think of answers. They think outside of themselves. They begin to reflect on the meaning of their own existence. They use the spark, the light, the inner awareness (call it what you will) to look to the skies and ask, “Why am I here?”

How are we answering that question today? We’re still asking it. We’re still fighting over it. We’re still debating it. And sometimes it even involves blood, sweat, and tears. We want to know. We ate the fruit. We got fire. We created big rock clocks. And though we increase our data/technology construct, processing more information in the last five minutes than we did in the last five hundred years (I’m guessing), we still tell stories.

Is that what keeps us moving forward, or stuck in a rut? Or, is just a way to stay human?

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.