When we can’t read

Pre-Covid

I was reflecting as I finished my second “for fun” book of the summer on how little I read this school year. Or at least how little I reflected on my reading identity. Before the Covid virus I was reading but largely professional books and articles. I would read random titles to share with the class but my reading rate was certainly lower than years past. Kids have known me as the reading teacher. The one who loves books, loves talking about them and sharing them. This is all true. This year I just was not as engaged in it as years past. I shared books I had read previously, I engaged in discussions around books my students were sharing, when new books came into the classroom they were snatched up before I could read them anyway and then book talked and snatched up again. I was doing other things so at first I didn’t notice how much things slowed. I started listening to audiobooks which was helpful but I am one of those people that just doesn’t love an audiobook on the same level that I love a book in my hands. Reading this year was a more “careful” practice as I have seen Pernille Ripp refer to it, I took my time. Then Covid hit.

Covid Reading Life…

I think many of us hit a wall in our reading when Covid hit. I know for myself I could barely focus on reading and responding to the piles and piles of student submitted work coming in. I spent most of my day sitting in front of the computer and reading, the last thing I wanted to do at night was read more. I did set a goal to read a professional text and that really was a perfect reset for me. My personal reading life was still not the party it once was but getting back into the swing of things. I knew summer which usually was my reading time was soon approaching and so I just decided that I would read some books that I have had on my TBR for a long time and see where we go.

How the sun, coconut oil and books save my soul

My mental health is most definitely impacted by the seasons. Sometime I feel I have a solar powered soul. I love to tan, I love to sit outside and read. So this summer that is the goal. Work a little in the morning before it gets hot outside and then off to the yard to read. We have made some home improvements because of the Covid isolation and put in a ground level deck and dog run. This has given us the ability to be outside and just enjoy it rather than the dogs have the run of the place. Today marks the start of the second week of holidays. I am now on book three. I can feel things starting to click back into place. It was like my reading muscles took so much time away that I have to build them back up and the books I have read so far are my dumbbells. The Marrow Thieves sat on my shelf at school for a long time. Untouched because I knew there was some content I was concerned about and so until I read it I did not book talk it. Now that I have read it I will be using it in class in some form, adding to book clubs and generally celebrating it’s excellence. I just finished Jason Reynolds, When I was the Greatest yesterday while sun burning in the pool. It is a spectacular story that celebrates so much about family, community, friendship, forgiveness, love. I LOVE the book. I actually don’t think I have felt this strongly about a text before. I want all of my students to read it. One of my favourite people, the amazing Dr. Kim Parker has recommended the Boy in the Black Suit which I know I had and now can’t find as a follow up. So to the books store I will go. I have a wonderful list of books to continue to work through. I feel like this is just a beginning of getting my reading groove back but here I am.

A few weeks back Matt de la Peña made a comment about getting our “reps” in in reference to reading. I love it because of my dual passions of the gym and literacy. Right now I am in the Hypertrophy stage. Building back the muscles and getting the reps in. I have a summer of reading and writing ahead of me. Reclaiming my love that Covid and anxiety tried to take from me. We have a lot of unknowns ahead of us. What school will look like in September being a big one. But what I do know is we are going to be going back to the basics and finding our identity as readers and writers and getting those reps in.

Looking back and Looking Forward

In the spring of last year I interviewed for a position I really wanted. I didn’t get it. My imposter syndrome that I have been struggling with this year started there.

I have always been very confident in my ability. I love to learn and look for those opportunities. I planned so many cool things to do with my classes this year. I have the pleasure of teaching multiple grades so many of my students I had in grade 7 I had in grade 9. This was our third year together. The imposter syndrome has continued to plague me but great things have come up as well. Before the Covid19 Crisis we were in book clubs, we were diving in to identity work trying to see both ourselves and others in texts. We were writing, about everything but my favourite things the things I was most excited about were still to come. Explorations in our stories, our passions and our lives. As we prepared to embark on these journeys everything came crashing down. We had projects planned, digital stories and magazines to publish all lined up and then Covid19 sent us home. It closed the doors to the building and I was not sure how we could continue with what we had planned. Welcome back to the imposter syndrome. I questioned if I had prepared my classes enough. If they could pull off what I was hoping we could do even without the classroom connections. In the end this challenge was too much for some. It didn’t help that it was announced they didn’t have to complete any work because it couldn’t impact their grades. I thought back to some ridiculous comment I heard once about if kids would buy tickets to your lessons or come even if they didn’t have to. The answer for many was no. Between March 16th and early May many dropped off. They had the tech support and access but there were so many more factors to consider and I completely understood those who checked out. I wanted to as well at times. It was a lot.

But something really cool also happened. Many didn’t. They wrote, they shared, they reflected. They read books, they shared them ( a lot of teen romance) but mainly they wrote. So many created amazing things be it writing about their families or adventures they had taken. Projects around Pay Equity in Sports, Testing in Schools and many different crises facing the world culminated in TED Talks recorded in Bedrooms or shared in a Zoom. Students created poetry and memoirs, we experimented with lists and finished off with Where I AM From digital poetry presentations. I was so impressed with the work they finished in their homes with only my digital support and our weekly meetings on ZOOM (and a HUGE shout out to their parents). They were prepared. And this time gave me plenty of opportunities to reflect.

Lessons Learned

  1. This is the perfect time to move away from grades for good. The work turned in since COVID could not impact students in a negative way. This made me really think about the point of grades and points and luckily I just so happened to stumble onto Sarah Zerwin’s Point-less and read it enthusiastically and fully intend to embrace her work as I move forward. I want to measure student learning and points tend to just get in the way. I will be blogging about this topic more in future posts.
  2. My instruction is going to be shifting further. In reading the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad I feel both affirmed and challenged to do more. Structure is going to change, I have so much more learning to do but I am excited.
  3. Community is essential. In these last few months I have learned that more and more. My local support network to my Twitter and Facebook teaching community. The connections are important. Leaning on and learning from each other has been pivotal in my own survival during this COVID time.
  4. It is important to have fun. I am starting a Web Series with my friend Carrie. It will be so great and a beautiful mess.
  5. Even if some don’t value me I have value. Not getting that job hit me a lot harder than I expected. I started to question everything I did. I noticed that people where not asking me for advice anymore when they had in the past. Of course, maybe this was all coincidence but with an already shaken sense of professional worth it was just another hit that contributed to my imposter syndrome. Shaky lessons where I was once confident, self isolating in my classroom rather than visiting the staffroom and peers. Contributed. I have battled this thinking all year. But lately I have had these moments. Where I am feeling like I am back on track. I might not be what some are looking for but that doesn’t define me or my ability. That lesson is proving harder to hold on to but I am trying.

The school year ended on many positives. I am helping to plan a conference that I am so excited about. I was selected to receive a Book Love Grant to bring even more books into Room 157 and am so excited for my students. I DREAMED of possibilities… some are big dreams and I am excited. Really I am just excited about the future. We don’t know what school is going to look like in September. But I do know this.

We are going to read, write, learn, share, debate, discuss, grow and dream. Because we can either go forward or back and I already feel behind enough.

After the books

Background

I grew up in Northern Alberta, for those who read my blog and are from communities made up of diverse cultures and people, my home town was not one of these places. I had a few first nations friends at school growing up and one black friend through junior high and high school. This was not some intentional slight. My junior high friend was the first black person I met in my town and her family was the only black family in our town. We went to Disneyland as kids and I recall my dad telling some people that we were rudely staring at that he was sorry but we (kids) had never seen anyone like them other than in movies. This was true. As I got older I moved to a larger place and made more friends but my social groups largely consisted of University friends and I was in Education so… yup mostly white people in Alberta Canada. Now I am an adult living in a rural Alberta and you, I am sure, can imagine the demographics of my community. My school is around 95% white. My students seem to get most of their ideas around race from the media much like I did as a kid and that frankly is dangerous. So I started wondering how I as an educator raised in a mostly all white community, learning in a program that never exposed me to other cultures and then being hired to be a teacher in more largely white communities how I could prepare my students for a world that does not look like where we are raised. To have not just empathy but respect for all other races and cultures. I wanted my students to understand what racism really is and I wanted to know what I could do to be a better teacher for not just the small number of students I had that were members of the Global majority but also for my white students because if the work I was doing was not helping them become Antiracist then the problems of racism would not be addressed.

Learning

I went to Twitter to learn because it was a place that I could find experts who had experiences that were completely different than mine that were completely based in whiteness and my white experience. I wanted to learn because I wanted to better myself not just as a teacher but also as a person. I was that person when I started my Twitter journey who used the “not all white people” line when I felt attacked. I came across discussions led by the group #DisruptTexts, Dr.Kim Parker, Lorena Germán, Tricia Ebarvia and Julia Torres. Those discussions around simply questioning the texts that I was using in my class gave me a starting point but I needed to learn more. So I learned to listen. I followed different discussions, read the books that were recommended and brought them to my class. But that was never going to be enough.

Putting books on the shelf was a start but it seemed to me those books on the shelf and the pat on the back I gave myself for having that diverse library was not doing anything to actually help my students understand race, not being an ally to the few students of colour in my classes was damaging in ways I had never known and they never would have told me about. I only learned those things again through looking at the work of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, People of Colour) educators. Last year was the first round of #31DaysIBPOC an essay project organized by Dr.Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia. 31 essays from different members of the IBPOC communities telling their stories. Some of those stories addressed the very issue some of my students were going through but never voiced. The tokenization in Social Studies class of FNMI students when we ask them about “their” culture without understanding that there are thousands of different communities in Canadian First Nations alone with unique cultural practices. My textbook never taught me that and when you see “Plains Native” in a text book you whitely assume their cultures would be the same. And in making that assumption with other our students even more. Reading the words of educators who grew up facing that kind of othering really opened my uneducated eyes. The writers of the first #31DaysIBPOC project will likely never know the impact their words had on my teaching and in extension my students but they started me on a path to be better for my students and I am grateful for it and this years edition that wrapped up today has just emphasized the important more.

Next Steps

So last week I was watching a Webinar by Dr.Dustin Louise who spoke about the important of decolonizing our education system. I started planning how I was going to change how I approached my new courses with this decolonizing lens. How I was going to help my students see that Whiteness has shaped our history and why we need to question that and challenge it because if we do not we are accepting it as fact and erasing the stories of so many others. History has largely been built on colonization, the erasure of others cultures and stories and so if we are asked to examine world view how can we not examine that without challenging whose worldview we are starting from? So that is where I am going next.

In the End

After watching the events of this last week with protests and riots in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police office and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet being investigated here in Canada I know that just having my students read books like All American Boys, or Dear Martin is not and will never be enough. I know that we have to not only have conversations but we must critically evaluate our practices and materials. We have to challenge our co-workers who make racists comments, we have to challenge the narratives our students bring to the classroom that cause harm to members of our classroom or community.

In the end, AFTER THE BOOKS we must ask what is next. Then we must take steps because as it has been said a lot this week, The trauma that is inflicted by whiteness and white supremacy on our students of colour that goes unchecked and uncorrected, becomes the trauma that spreads harm to our communities when our students reach adulthood.

As teachers and especially white teachers we must do the work to be Antiracist because if we are not we are doing the work of racists.

I again express my gratitude to the educators who have helped me along this journey. As I go forward I would ask my friends starting this journey towards being and Antiracist educator to read, learn and act.

We can’t wait any longer.

While we are away

Sitting down and watching a little Homeland after a day of working out, blogging, yard work and a walk I begin to blog again. I wrote about the early days of this separation from my students the interruption to all the big plans that I have had for how this year was going to end, the writing we planned to do, the exploring. I decided early on I wanted to try and accomplish these goals even with our distance in the way. Funny distance in the way…

Now we are about 8 weeks into this, I have students writing in all of my classes. Not all of my students, some have chosen to disengage from this process, I invite them back and hope they will join us again but I also understand this whole journey is a lot and some of us just can’t do more than get through the day. I hope we can figure out a working system for those students come September because this is not likely to be resolved by then.

I have noticed one thing though that I think is super important to note and reflect on. My students that are engaged, that are writing, they are crushing it. They are talking about their dreams, they are talking about their goals, their families. They are choosing topics to explore completely free of any set rules or direction beyond lets just keep writing and they are crushing it. They are telling me about their sleeping in and deciding to do some work in the afternoon, they are letting me know they are bored, that they are working on the farm or working out on a home made rig and starting to bench real weight. They are talking about their holidays past and hopefully present. They are comfortable and exploring themselves as writers.

I don’t know what it is exactly that has shifted while we are away from the traditional classroom setting. In the room we would have still been writing, conferencing and sharing, we all preferred the immediate in the room, they all say that. The only thing that has changed is flexibility. They work when they want, they write when they want about what they want. We work on feedback. They know their grades won’t be dropping as per government orders so maybe that is freeing?

I am not a silver linings type. This COVID closure sucks. I miss my students, I miss the light up when they notice how much I love their writing (in person). I miss talking about books with them, and putting them in their hands.

I miss a lot.

But a funny thing is happening for some while we are away. They are growing.

Finding themselves as writers.

I can be grateful for that.

Clarity

I don’t think I have ever started a blog post without a clear title in mind. I feel like it has always framed my thinking but today as I begin this post clarity escapes me.

This week on the #G2Great chat we talked about the “blurry why” and how it can lead to instructional blind spots. This conversation combined with my reading of Sarah Zerwin’s Point-Less and many different conversations on Twitter and with colleagues in person this week has really caused me to ponder quite a bit on what I value, how I can focus on the “why” even in this time where distractions are causing me to, at times, lose focus.

When I look at my “whys”, the things I value in education and want for my students, last week I narrowed it down to these

  • Developing a Life Long love of Reading 
  • Find our writing voice and using it
  • Think Critically with a focus on equity and justice.
  • Embrace Curiosity 
  • Be Kind
  • Have a desire to keep trying
  • Work Hard
  • Never Stop Learning 

Like the allergies that have been clouding my vision and blurring my focus the COVID closures has acted as an irritant that has, I think for many, led to this blurry why. We are not sure how we can achieve our often lofty goals. What we would normally want to see seems almost unattainable in its original form, and it might be. The learning opportunities that I have provided for my students address all of my mentioned values and all work back to the why that I want my students to be readers and writers and citizens of the world in the pursuit of equity and justice. In class I could arrange these opportunities to discuss. We could read text together and discuss. In the land of COVID teaching, not all students are able to join at the same time. Access can be an issue as things like internet might be spotty and home printer ownership is not what it once was or at least mistakenly thought it was. Book access to get those inclusive books I value so much in student hands is a hurdle. Motivation to put the time in that thoughtful writing often requires is in low supply. All of these issues have me asking if it is really worth it to keep my eye focused on the “why” even in this time. But in the end I do because I think the message if I allow these things to distract me and blur my vision is that they were only important when it was convenient.

So I do what I can in this time, I book talk inclusive texts on the instagram, I ask my students to write about what matters to them and explore why. I display the life of a learner and have started to rebuild my vision for a teaching world that will look different when September arrives. I read more so that when the time comes for new learning with my students I can reach them in whatever way that looks.

Staying focused on what is important is hard when there is so much noise trying to take us off the path but the alternative for me is saying that what I valued before the COVID is not valuable enough to fight for now that it is in jeopardy and that is not an option.

Taking some eye drops and focusing clearly on what is important.

This was going to be the year

I attended my first Edcamp down in Bozeman Montana a few years ago. It was a neat experience. Teachers gathering together to share their ideas on topics of their choice with the ideas being driven by the teachers, I know we all know what an Edcamp is. I came back to my division and for our divisional PD we did a few staff driven Edcamps that I was able to plan and the feedback was pretty good. Teachers came away with some learning but it was a very limited experience in that we were only drawing on our own School Divisions talents. I wanted to expand. I started to play with the idea of bring teachers from my area not just division together to talk about literacy. We would gather together for a day or two, maybe…fingers crossed book a great Keynote and then have sessions driven by our experience and excitement. One thing I did notice right away is that the field of potential speakers was not diverse. I do not live in an incredibly diverse area and I think when we look at statistics in teacher representation you could probably move it even a few more points away from diversity looking at our numbers. Small mostly rural farming communities don’t tend to have diverse populations. Still it made me uncomfortable looking at the idea of running some kind of teacher PD with just white teachers but that is who was responding with interest and again because I was limited to local (free and no money to pay large speakers) there was not much I could do.

This year the potential to partner with a PD consortium may have opened the door to enlisting a few more speakers from outside our community. I was excited about the prospect. I was going to be able to introduce my local colleagues to the experts I learn from now and maybe even bring some in. The dream was potentially becoming a reality and then COVID-19 ruined everything. My dreams of our school theatre packed listening to an amazing literacy leader and then breaking into small groups to learn from each other dashed by travel restrictions, group gathering limits and Social Distancing. But then I started seeing digital conferences pop up.

I attended a fantastic learning experience but on called Liberate and Chill I was able to learn from amazing educators from both the IBPOC and LGTBQ community on a variety of topics, The structure was so well organized, presenters posted video modules there were chat boards for discussion, learning materials available for down load. It really was an amazing event put on by brilliant educators. During this same time the Educator Collaborative put on its annual free event. A series of Webinars that are focused on literacy work that span the course of a day and teachers can jump in to whichever they sign up for. The discussions occur on Twitter as people view the material. Two different methods of delivering amazing content and both were inclusive of all communities unlike other online courses and events that are popping up at this time.

So this leaves me wondering. Is this a time to say ok the dream of hosting a great PD session in literacy in my area is over or is it time to dream bigger. A digital conference that provides the opportunity for educators to share their knowledge and learning with others with both local teachers and some featured speakers, teachers who just want to share their messages on literacy practice? I have never been a big dreamer but perhaps this is the time.

You test the waters and see. Can we organize something that celebrates the diverse community that literacy instruction really is? Can we introduce new voices? Can we celebrate established ones? Can we honour the voices of all those doing the work?

In my dream we can…

Lets see.

I have included a link to a google form. This information would not go beyond me but I would like to collect info on who might be interested in something like this and also who might be interested in a planning role, presenting role (w/topic) or attending role. If you have time please take a moment and fill it out.

For form click here

Are you ready to change?

When Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream first came out I have this recollection of Chunky Monkey and movies with my friends. A few weeks ago shea martin made a comment about Ben and Jerry’s and I decided that I needed to go pick up some Chunky Monkey and relive my High School days while watching a movie. Much to my dismay there was no Chunky Monkey, so instead I picked up some Tonight Dough and some other flavour. Both were good but they were no Chunky Monkey. My next trip the the store (quarantine eating) I tried another flavour the Netflix and Chill’d. I have moved on from Chunky Monkey and will never go back. I was ready for the change once I found the right thing. I find so often that we are so comfortable with what we know we avoid change. If I did that I would never have discovered this wonderful new treat.

In my teaching life I think there have been 3 really key moments that have changed me as an educator.

  1. Professional Development with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst- I can’t stress this enough I am a different educator because of them. The learning I did that day ignited a spark for professional learning that has never extinguished. I crave it. My favourite professional text of all time is Disrupting Thinking, a book Bob and Kylene co-wrote. My favourite strategies come from their work. I was looking for something to build me as an educator and am so grateful I found them.
  2. Meeting my dear friend Dr. Mary Howard- There are moments in life where you can pinpoint when everything changes. I joined a Twitter chat focused on Disrupting Thinking and met Dr. Howard in that chat. We became fast friends. Her enthusiasm for teaching, teachers and especially for the infinite potential of children fuelled me to learn more. To pursue learning and better my practice to honour my students. I started to write more and follow in the footsteps of Mary’s passion rants and found my voice, loud and opinionated as it is. Mary has been my cheerleader from day one and has given me so many opportunities to grow, meet other amazing educators help my students reach their potential.
  3. #31DaysIBPOC- A year ago tomorrow I stumbled on to a hashtag on Twitter. See I had been following this amazing group of educators Dr.Kim Parker, Tricia Ebarvia, Julia Torres and Lorena Germán and their #disrupttexts conversations. I was starting to learn from them how much I could challenge the texts used in my classroom and the importance of representation. I had always struggled with how to approach subjects like race because my community is not diverse. We are in the rural south in Alberta Canada. I felt it was important to teach my students about the world and communities and culture outside our own but I really didn’t know how to address it. May 1st 2019 didn’t really tell me how but the experience that started that there most certainly helped me see why it was so important. Every day for the month of May I was blessed to read the stories of so many brilliant IBPOC folx. I was able to listen to their experiences, be inspired by their words and understand even a small bit what it was like to be the student of colour in a sea of white classmates, an experience many students of colour have in my community. One of few in our small community. I love my community, we can’t do much about the population but reading these heartfelt and and times heartbreaking powerful post I knew that I had to do more. I began looking into equity, representation I learned terms like Antiracist and starting learning how to make sure I was doing better for all of my students. I realized that I was not just failing my IBPOC students by not having a more inclusive library than I had started, I was not just failing my IBPOC students by not looking at more events of the world. I was failing all of my students. #31DaysIBPOC made me a better teacher. It changed me and I am so excited for it to start again tomorrow.

I think as I consider what it means to change I go to the idea of learning. In each moment that I have experienced significant change as an educator it has been in powerful moments of learning. They can be uncomfortable and heaven knows I have had those moments but I learned from them. These last few weeks I have had the great opportunity to learn from an incredible mix of educators in the Liberate and Chill online course I took. In that I was able to sit and listen to so many incredible speakers reflect on education, equity, liberation and freedom. The passion was incredible. My last post I mention a comment from shea around dreaming and allowing ourselves to dream. As I sit here on the eve of #31DaysIBPOC starting again I have a dream that I will learn more and grow more but more than that I dream others will join me.

We are at a pivotal time in education. Because of COVID so many educators who chose to stay nestled in their comfort of privilege have been forced to examine the inequity that has always been here. My dream is that these educators will join me in the learning that is about to be offered to us this month. That they will see all of their students and work to better the system for them. That they won’t run back to the old normal as soon as it comes calling because it will. That they will sit with the words they are about to read and be changed by them.

It might be uncomfortable, growing is, but in the end we are stronger.

Only in Dreams

I am not talking about the Weezer song but I do now know what I will be listening to tomorrow at work. This last week or so I have been working on some professional development. It has been the culmination of a lot of thinking that I have been doing in the wake of COVID-19 and what I always thought was so out of the realm of possibility that I never planned for it, the closure of schools and move to distance learning a remote teaching. Teachers everywhere were thrust in to an unknown situation and problems many of us chose to ignore or we at the very least grateful did not impact us personally came at us full steam ahead. My own personal reflection was that my practice needed to change. Not for just this moment but for the moments to come. I have always been an advocate for voice and choice and making things available for my students to show their understanding in ways that best suit them but there was the spectre of grads hanging overhead.

I have always thought grades were silly and generally useless. I had this dream of a classroom of writers and readers that worked within conferences and feedback and celebrated each others writing. I started my new position at the middle school a few years ago like I was going to make the dream become a reality. Almost immediately other teachers told me it was not going to fly and students who had been conditioned to see success as a number pushed back hard. I was not prepared enough to push back and caved to the grading monster. Now cut back to COVID and we are at a spot where we have been told that grading needs to look different. More feedback, less numbers.

“If nothing else, we control our ability to dream. People can put barriers up if they want to… but can’t nobody stop your ability to dream.” – @sheathescholar

When I first dreamed of this classroom where were were focused on learning and not scores there were so many barriers in the way. The dream never left but I couldn’t figure out how to overcome the pushback, the barriers. But now with some of them removed I decided to dive back into the idea.

I crave learning. I have had a transformative few years I I have followed different conversations in Social media around education. I have met amazing educators and mentors in various areas. Recently I stumbled across a podcast by Sarah Zerwin for Heinemann where she discussed her new book Point-Less which can be found here I listened and was intrigued and started reading the book and my little dream of a classroom focused on learning and joyful literacy practice seemed to become a bit more of a possibility. I set out to explore ways that I could change my practice and Sarah’s book gave me that roadmap. Another barrier removed. So I started reading, learning and working.

In the book it mentions creating learning goals for out students to strive for rather than points or grades to attain. To do this we first have to determine what we value, then look at what is required and finally craft learning goals that reflect these things. Above is this weeks thinking. It is a Work in Progress.

What I Value

  • Developing a Life Long love of Reading 
  • Find our writing voice and using it
  • Think Critically with a focus on equity and justice.
  • Embrace Curiosity 
  • Be Kind
  • Have a desire to keep trying
  • Work Hard
  • Never Stop Learning 

Required

  • Students can use reading strategies for understanding.
  • Students can use language to make connections to self and world. 
  • Student can think critically about what they read.
  • Students can collect and organize data on different assignments.
  • Students can work collaboratively.
  • Students can plan and create an original text.
  • Students can enhance and improve their writing. 
  • Students can present information to others.

The required list took some work. I went through the Grade 7-9 curriculum that our Education Authority provides us. There are hundreds of Language Arts Outcomes we are expected to cover in some fashion but the Essential ones help to narrow things down a bit. I took those essentials and then organized them into the categories above. Luckily some of this essential finding had been done in working groups so I only had to go through about 30 outcomes for each grade and sort out which one fit together. The result of looking at this list and bringing them together with my values resulted in the Learning Goals that I want to present to my Language Arts students next year.

The Learning Goals

  1. The Student displays the habits of a reader. Setting and adjusting goals, reading choice books and sharing with peers.
  2. The Student has displayed understanding of Notice and Note and other reading tools to assist in critically analyzing multiple forms of text.
  3. The student has demonstrated curiosity in pursuing research topics they are interested in and presented them to peers in an appropriate way that suited their purpose. 
  4. The student utilizes their notebook for reading reflection and crafting written response.
  5. The student applies connections in their own life to multiple forms of text and provides evidence of critical thinking around these connections.
  6. The student demonstrates multiple revisions to their writing considering feedback from multiple sources.
  7. The student has demonstrated being a member of our reading community through bookclub participation and sharing book talks.
  8. The students has crafted multiple writing pieces creating a portfolio of work to share w/ a chosen audience.
  9. Student has demonstrated the attitude of a life long learning applying feed back to improve products.
  10. The student has demonstrated qualities of teamwork participating in class discussions and treating others with respect and kindness. 

These are a draft, a work in progress much like myself. I will continue to spend the time learning and dreaming about a “better” and what part I can play in helping that come to light. There is so much work to do. When we start to act on the dreams we have they can become real. Most certainly there will be barriers in the way that make us step back and look for solutions but I think the solutions are out there. Like shea martin said tonight in the last session of a brilliant series I was blessed to participate in, “can’t nobody stop your ability to dream”

Today I took a step towards one of my dreams. Tomorrow I will take another. Things are changing because I am moving forward. I invite everyone to join me.

Here are the dogs because well… they are cute.

Reflections on Whatever This Is

I don’t know what to really call this distance education, remote teaching, home school, home learning, whatever it is. What I do know is it is about a million times harder than I thought it would be with a dramatically reduced amount of perks. It is basically like You are planning and creating learning experiences, making tutorial videos and scheduling zoom lessons and there there is all the feedback. See, for those who are watching from a distance you might think this would be easier. No students in the building, less behaviours to deal with. But those folks are not teachers. If they were they would know that the kids in the building is the best part. The conversations, the laughter, the moments of total honesty, the connections. That is what we miss so much, that is what makes our jobs the best in the world. So for now we just add more. All feedback is done absent of our students beside us. We spend all of our time in front of a camera or in front of a screen. It is an odd time. Teaching is happening, learning is happening but it is different. I am not so sure what to call it.

I have felt moderate levels of success as we have maneuvered these new waters and so here are some completely unsolicited and maybe incredibly unhelpful tips because we all have different situations but here goes.

  1. Have grace for yourself, your co-workers, your students and their parents– Everyone is stressed right now. Last week I was mad as heck after seeing some less than supportive feedback. I felt attacked, then I sat with it. Realizing we are all stressed I took steps to address the feedback. I am still mad, don’t get me wrong, but I also understand that this is not about me. There are so many moving parts and we need to make room for that. Some kids need due dates, some don’t. Some parents want an email more often than others. Some coworkers need to be left alone and others need some interaction. We all need a little grace as we maneuver this reality.
  2. Less is more regarding classwork- When this classroom closure was announced and we were told we would be going to this model I was not happy but I did feel ready as my students were about to being some larger writing related projects. I thought that posting these assignments in their entirety for students to work on in a choice approach would be best. For some it was, for others… it was not. So we are adjusting, adding check in dates, reducing pieces of the assignments to the individual needs of students and relying more on feedback than grading. Which brings me to my next point.
  3. Grading might be more important to students then we think- I am seeing a lot of posts about forget the grades, connection is more important, relationships… all of these things are true. From students I am also hearing “Mr.Gilson what is my grade on this assignment?” or “I see the feedback but what is my grade?” Students are use to grades, they have attached a value to them. So while we need to move away from this practice as we know it I am not sure completely eliminating grades is an answer. Compassion in grading? Absolutely. Perhaps we focus on less with more feedback. This one is tricky for me I am not sure if my solution fits for everyone but my students in the majority have asked that I continue grading so in some form I will.
  4. Balance- I have worked out a pretty balanced schedule for myself. From 8:30-10:00 I am making tutorial videos and providing assignment feedback. I spend the next 2 hours with available zoom meeting time open to my students. This operates as a drop in but we can also go over general information. In the afternoon I record a book talk, continue with individual feedback, plan both short and long term and work on personal PD. I feel like I am busier than ever but I am learning a lot about ways I can adjust my teaching to have multiple avenues for success for my students.

As I reflect on what has gone well and what has not one thing has become very clear to me. There is no going back to “normal”. There was always inequity in the education system when we look at access to technology, meals, support at home, quality internet. All these things were true before COVID and unless there is some shift and people no longer care about holding on to the advantages they have these inequities will exist after. What I can control is looking at how my practice either pushes back on that system or supports it.

While this experience has not been ideal and I would give anything to have my students back in my classroom. Learning and researching new ways to support them has been a surprising development. As I look towards finishing off this year with a greater focus on learning and building ourselves I am also looking forward to trying new things next year. Researching and developing better ways to measure learning.

For too long we have had the luxury of ease and became comfortable in the way we do things. Some of us leaned into our comfort and ignored the issues. This pandemic has forced us to look at our practice good and bad. We have a choice now to act on what we have seen or just hold on to hope that we can return to normal.

We have a choice.

No Going Back

As I am sitting enjoying my Easter weekend watching movies and playing video games a very small piece of me misses the hustle and bustle of the holiday traditions before COVID-19. The crowded houses, the kids screaming, the card games, the laughter, the food with family. I miss it but if everyone does their part these things will be back.

As a teacher COVID really has forced a lot of change. How we deliver instruction, how we check in our kids, how we assess. It all had to be shoved to the side and we have had to look at new ways of doing things. Nothing is going perfectly for anyone. The balance of how much work should be assigned, how we check on our students learning, how we address access issues, be it technology or even time, are conversations that we are having now out of desperation that we should have been having years ago out of compassion.

For as long as I have been teaching and much longer the education system has been built on convenience. We assigned whole class novels because it was easier to prepare one lesson and read one book, we gave tests, usually multiple choice, because it was quick assessment that was easy to mark. We assigned hours of homework to show parents how hard kids are working but then just added them to a pile after the “homework” check. Over the years new things promised to “fix” education have come up, most of which have relied heavily on technology. The Flipped classroom was heralded as a game-changer by many. Teachers would prerecord lessons and kids would watch them as homework so that our class time and time in front of the teacher was less about lecture and more about working. Sure a few kids would miss out because they didn’t have access outside of school but there was always lunch hour or study hall (that last sentence was written in the snarkiest voice I can muster).

See our focus was never one of differentiation it was one of compliance. Now with COVID we are being granted an opportunity to slow everything down. It is outrageous to assume students should be spending 8 hours a day while at home with no support working on school work, so we are being more purposeful in what we are asking students to do. It is outrageous to hold on to old assessment practices like tests when the validity of such a practice would be impossible to verify in this current distance model. Now faced with the reality that all students need to be working from home we are finally looking at the inequity that comes with lack of technology access, or reliable internet when assigning work that requires those tools and looking for solutions. We (teachers generally) are finally looking at and trying to address all the practices we once held dear and searching for better.

Yet still there are voices that are calling for a return to normal. They want to just go back to how things were. Comfortable.

After three weeks of not having to put a grade on things and just provide feedback to my students as they turn in work, I have to say, I am not interested in going back to how things were when the first question from students was never anything but “what did I get?” This is a perfect time to move away from grades as something to win and move towards real authentic learning. It is a great time to really assess our practices as teachers and take steps forward refusing once this virus has cleared to step backwards. We have an opportunity to really change the system here but only if we take it.

As we continue on with this I hope for nothing more than the virus to be gone and my students back in my classroom. The classroom will be different. I plan to spend this time learning more about how I can help my students achieve without the grades of old hanging above their heads. I plan to read their work and enjoy their lines and reflections. I plan to talk about books. All the things we are doing now but without going back to the grades. I think it can be done, others are doing it already.

Why go back?