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Lightbulb moment: when my Dad told me what puns Goscinny and Uderzo used for Asterix.  Brilliant.
Lightbulb moment: when my Dad told me what puns Goscinny and Uderzo used for Asterix. Brilliant.

For the past two years, I’ve shared Julian Treasure’s two powerful TED Talks about listening and speaking.  I wish my PLC would watch them together and come to some understanding of how we can communicate to our full potential and then was reminded there is no magic wand or quick fix. And, we’re not broken either, just new and working out our particular personalities. But I can have my students watch them, gleaning the best advice he offers. All my students shared in an interest survey they would like quiet when reading or writing — heavy cognitive demands. And yet, those who talk continue to do so. Continue to interrupt, fill in the spaces of quiet, step on others thoughts. There are many reasons for this, which Treasure outlines in his ‘filters’ of listening bullet points.

But one word caught the ear of my third-period class, and it became a teachable moment for the rest of the day. When we lose credibility in our spoken word, one of the sins is being dogmatic. They said out loud, “What is that?!” and I told them I was so proud of them for stopping and asking. Fourth and fifth periods said nothing, going along until I stopped the film and asked them if they knew what that meant, and no, they did not. I said that is an example of metacognition, what third-period did showed they didn’t understand something and then wanted to find their way back.

And then I explained what it meant and we thought of examples.

I choose this word because that seems to be the current theme of the hour: many are dogmatic in their educational and political practices, speaking their opinions and not allowing any processing time. We all display times of dogmatism from time to time. All I can do is keep myself in check and weigh out passion from dogmatism, research and risk to capriciousness.

And we all could use some time to listen to each other more. Starting at third period, I timed a three-minute quiet break, where all they were asked to do was listen, and write down the noises/sounds they heard. They loved it. In this era of cacophony and mayhem, perhaps that is one gift I can offer more frequently– time in their own heads.

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You may all think I am evangelizing the mighty gospel of gaming, but that is not true.

What I am promoting is relevance.

My brother-in-law works for Blizzard games. He has been working 60-90 hour weeks for months on end. He is extremely talented and intelligent, like all of the Love brothers. He sent this e-mail about his work on Diablo III yesterday afternoon:

The above link has some breakdown videos of various player skills in Diablo III. We just released this info to the public today. I did all of the special FX for these, except for the baseline whirlwind and some of the Cluster Arrow variations. Some of these things, such as the Monk’s Sweeping Wind variations, require a entire week to create. So, now you can see where all those long hours have been going.


Here is an e-mail I sent to my brother-in-law in response:

B-I-L: – shared this with some of my students this morning, and talked about the relevance of learning math, science, language arts especially – and how they connect. Between the understanding of complex mathematical systems, and science systems, like flocking, physics, etc. and the dialogue and text of Language Arts, they need to know these entertaining and engaging games don’t just come out of “nowhere” but come from months of blood, sweat, tears, and mainly: intelligent talent.

 The real challenge of an 8th grade teacher is making sure they begin to connect the relevance of their education with their connected and engaged futures. They are going into 9th grade where things start to ‘count,’ and if there is undiscovered talent or drive, oftentimes it gets lost in the mystification of “how is this going to help me?” They are constantly looking for the cost/benefit analysis and finding a vacuum instead.

And, they all thought it was COOL! Me, too! Can’t wait.


PS Someday it would be wonderful if you could come and speak at my school.

Just a mental note-to-self that was motivates us is not necessarily not doing any work at all, but doing work that feels important and relevant. Many times this year, perhaps, that’s what I felt: that what I was doing wasn’t making a difference, wasn’t relevant, or impactful. My motivation, my drive, in the past was signified by being a rock star of curriculum planning, creative lessons, etc. I need to get back to those roots, the big, burning questions of our lives we want answered.

My team and I are looking forward to next year so much. There is a renewed excitement that feels genuinely needed and warranted. Hope the blood, sweat, and tears of my own profession leaves me just as satisfied and proud.

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Leveling up: Pathways to reading

mc escher

Wonderful colleague posts this question to the universe:
Calling ALL opinions: students are reading below grade level (anywhere from 5 to 1 year behind) and I want to do a book study to meet some CORE standards. Can I use one that isn’t at grade level? Or is that just making it too easy? Is it OK to use any book as long as it is higher than their current level of performance? Weigh in…and not just teachers!

My quick response:I have a lot to say about this, but Lucy Calkins said it well: “I want to know when I am about to ski down the black diamond slope.” In other words, make the reading levels AND the student’s current reading abilities as transparent as possible, with the key ingredient: Once they know, teach the hell out of how they can improve. I have “let go” so much regarding levels as far as what they “should” be reading – I encourage ANY kind of reading–comic books, picture books, fairy tales, graphic novels, cereal boxes, video game quest logs, you name it. In fact, on the MSP there is a place for “functional” reading–which I agree with. Being able to read a functional document means a functional adult (or a greatly improved chance). I stress, stress, stress to my students if you don’t understand it and can’t talk about it, you’re not “reading” –you’re faking it. So, encourage them if they want to read something higher than their “level” but let them know they are going to have to approach it a bit differently. And, they can get deep meaning out of any narrative or information they find interesting and meaningful to them.

So, here’s what I’m thinking: In order to get my own head on straight for this upcoming, topsy-turvy year, this week I will do a series all about reading, and my reflections on its process, purpose, and perpetuating the pursuit.

I would love any guest bloggers to engage with their philosophies, strategies, and reflections on this as well — what have you tried that worked with the majority of your students, and what have you tried that worked with the minority of your students?

Send me an e-mail:

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Got Imagination?

 You know me. I like to be creative. Think. Make art. Write. Read. I really appreciate what Keri Smith put together in her book about exploration.

For example, on page 144-145, she writes:

Thought Experiments: Einstein used “thought experiments” (questions that can only be solved using imagination), on a regular basis. He actually formulated the special theory of relativity by asking the question, ‘what would it be like to travel on a beam of light?’ It is interesting to conduct these thought experiments in the midst of everyday life.

Some thought experiment starters:

  • what if all my neighbors had secret lives?
  • what if the newspaper held all the secrets of the universe in some kind of code?
  • what if all leaves had secret messages embedded on them?
  • what if little elves lived on the roof and only came out at night?
  • what if my house were a playgroun? a blank canvas? had secret powers?