Trying New Things is Hard

Quick Podcast version

Twitter is filled with amazing educators. I often get the start of a great idea from something shared by others. For example TQE, an addition to my classroom toolbox was shared with me through Twitter. I discovered my educational North Star Mary Howard through Twitter, I find Podcasts, articles, resources and other like-minded educators on Twitter that I get to learn from, that I can be and am inspired by. One common topic this year is the idea of PBL and Inquiry learning. I have a tougher group in one of my classes. A lot of kids who dislike LA, they dislike reading virtually anything, they hate writing …makes it tough. So after consulting with my students I had this idea for #ProjectSpeak. They can speak on any topic they deem is important and will be completing different learning tasks to measure the LA outcomes we covered this year.

Everything started out great, there was excitement, topics were suggested and explored and tweaked and research began. Mini lessons on writing paragraphs and essays, tutorials on how to use padlet and watching TED talks for inspiration all scheduled in to this inquiry driven project. The problem is there are still students that HATE Language Arts. They tell me they think I am the best LA teacher they have had but they still don’t like LA (not sure if that is a compliment or not) . If I was one of those people that give up at the first sign of resistance I would abandon #ProjectSpeak, give in to the request from this small group to just go back to worksheets and quizzes, assigned topics (they hated those too but they didn’t challenge them) but instead we are going to look at ways to adjust, to alter and to return back to the scaffolding and building.

Twitter is a great place to learn but it doesn’t always present the whole story. We see articles shared about how education needs to change and often step by step guides to do it, but we don’t see the attempts. We have people that proclaim all kids need is a supportive teacher and they will succeed but they never address the mountain of inequalities that bring about that need for support. Social media is a great place to learn, one lesson I have learned is the real work comes from doing the work. I could easily tweet out my success stories, pictures and posts that only reflect the ideal learning environment but in reality the learning comes in the mess. It comes in the struggle, it comes in the reflection and reaction. It is really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything will be better if we just do what an article says, what a book says, what an expert says but in reality teaching is so much more following steps, one ingredient is always changing and that is our kids.

I am learning as we work through #ProjectSpeak that even the most exciting of projects, driven by student choice and voice might activate every learners potential but it doesn’t mean they will like it. I have learned it is a lot easier to celebrate victories than talk about setbacks, I have learned that until you are doing the work sharing advice on “how to” will fall flat with those that are. Teaching is about our students, when they become the focus our practice changes if we are open to change.

Earlier this year I listened to Atomic Habits by James Clear at the gym. One point that really stuck out was, “If Nothing Changes, Nothings Going to Change.” Some times change is quick but in education it never is. Change in practice takes time, change in how students see education takes time. It is worth it, no question, but I am realizing that change doesn’t come over night. No matter how much I wish it would or the amount of articles I retweet.

Time to get back to work. Jut for fun here are some pictures haha

Books have the lessons 01/05/19

For some reason it is loud. Adjust your volume.

#nomoreAR

My friend Mary Howard delivers beautifully written passion rants when topics cause her distress or worry or anger on behalf of students and teachers who might not always be able to speak for themselves. I love her rants and the fire in the words she puts on the screen.

I started blogging years ago with different iterations of this blog. But I too tend to focus on rant worthy topics when I write. I would suggest it is cathartic to get the thoughts out and then I started the podcast on occasion, another way to put my voice out there.

Last week Julie surprised me with a trip to San Diego and one evening while the air was crisp and we were out in the awesome courtyard hot tub we were talking about teaching and she mentioned the hot-button topic of Accelerated Reader. To give some context our division has had schools, including my past school, using Accelerated Reader for years. As a new teacher, I was commanded to use it and didn’t know better. As I travelled to other schools in my own teaching journey I found much of the same and because of what I saw, kids reading and answering test questions, I even suggested my new school dive in. After all Julies school had what appeared to be a very successful program that seemed to have the school enthusiastically involved in reading. But appearances can be deceiving.

A one time mentor in my early literacy journey pointed out an article that spoke to the negative effects of AR and programs like it and asked me to read it and provide my thoughts. At the same time, I started to notice the defeat in some of my students as “point award days” approached. At the time I was a 6th-grade teacher and I asked one of my students one day why he was so frustrated and he broke down. He did not think he could ever make it to the prizes that are “cool” because the books he was allowed to read were boring and never worth enough points. This small eye-opening moment made me pay closer attention to the culture that AR and its point-based incentive system was doing to our reading culture.

I immediately stopped pushing AR at all in my classroom. We had fun self-set challenges. Things like the 40 book challenge from Donalyn Miller adapted to fit different students needs. We did draws for books as students finished books. We talked about books and we read more than ever. Students actually reflected on what they were reading and realized that reading is the reward. No more were they taking idiotic knowledge and recall tests. They were sharing their books with book commercials and writing about the characters or the conflict or the theme.

It was more work for me, without question, but it was worth it.

Back to the conversation around AR. Julie mentioned that while our division no longer supports AR (YAY!) there are still teachers that like it and use it, I was so confused. After countless discussions and posts from Colby Sharp, Pernille Ripp, Donalyn MIller. Books written about creating a culture of lifelong readers by the same as well as Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Todd Nesloney, Travis Crowder and the incomparable Kylene Beers all speaking about the harm Accelerated Reader and other computer-based online reading “programs” do to developing readers. And yet people still defend it and even celebrate it.

I raged for a moment and then sent out a Tweet.

I didn’t think it would do much but in the days since I have had plenty of responses and as I retweet them with the #nomoreAR hashtag there is a pattern. Teachers that are speaking out are not doing it on behalf of themselves they are doing it on behalf of their students and more specifically their students who struggle to read already and are then forced to operate within a system that limits their choice and opportunity to grow as readers.

Just one example

You don’t have to believe me or take my word for it. Ask the kids. AR (run “correctly” or not) destroys reading culture. No author has ever written a book with the dream that it will one day be stripped of its soul and reduced to a handful of multiple choice questions. No teachers ever entered the profession hoping to have their students mindlessly clicking answers on a computer screen after finishing Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds a hauntingly complex story which AR has reduced to a 4.3 Book Level and a 2 point score for getting all the right answers. No student sneaks away to a quiet space to fall into a book with the aspirations of taking a test after. Reading is not meant to be a competition, books should not be the subjects of points, labels and levels in our student’s eyes. They should be adventures, tales of triumph and sacrifice, fun, light, or whatever the reader needs them to be.

I understand the appeal of AR and programs like it. The neat data, the spreadsheet print outs. What I don’t however understand is the boastful ignorance of doing harm when the information is out there.

I have decided instead of just fighting about AR I will actively work to reverse the damage it does, I will speak up and I will share the voice of my students past, present and future. It can be my penance for putting students through this program before I knew better.

Today to wash this terrible AR induced feeling off me I went to the University bookstore and bought picture books. Beautiful, touching, funny, heart-wrenching, lesson teaching picture books and I came home and read them all. I will bring them to school and share them with my students, work on concepts and just appreciate the beauty of the stories inside. One story, The Remember Balloons, is all about a boy and his Grandpa and the balloons we all have that hold our cherished memories. As the Grandpa and boy share their memories slowly throughout the story the grandpa starts to lose his balloons, they float away, they get mixed up with other balloons and one day they are all gone. This analogy for Alzheimer’s hit me pretty hard. My Grandpa Gilson, the greatest storyteller I ever knew passed away after being lost to the disease. The lesson that this story taught, that his stories are not lost, that I heard them enough that I can tell them myself that they are now my balloons is not something AR and its tests can ever replace. The conversations in a classroom about theme are not something a racecar board in the hallway celebrating the strongest readers while the weakest are left in the dust can ever reproduce.

The myth that AR helps readers is just that a myth. I hope that people continue to work to build up literacy without depending on the crutch of glorified multiple choice test. Trust yourselves teacher friends but more importantly trust the books. They contain the lessons.

Practice makes learning

Podcast Episode 7

Practice means “to try things that we can’t already do-to take chances, to make mistakes, and in short, to learn”

 -Gravity Goldberg in Teach Like Yourself quoting Trish Huston.

December already?

So I am sitting in my classroom working with The Chilling Tales of Sabrina playing in the background. Snow is starting to fall outside and I just finished going through reading notebooks. 

Notebooks or Journals… Just a name 

My students are required to use their Notebooks to practice the skills we use in class to help them become better readers and writers. I understand that there are some that would claim this work contributes to Readicide and I would have to disagree. I started using Notebooks (I call them journals) a few years ago. I saw some on social media and I loved that it collected the students work and also illustrated their year of growth. I have spent the last few years grappling with the idea of how best to apply this practice without making it TOO MUCH.

Choice…Assigned…A mix?

I have tried to be a free spirit and give 100% of the choice of “how” to my kids. TO let them tell me if they need to practice or not. That did not work as they rarely wanted to record any thoughts on paper. I went the opposite direction and required it for all reading both class and independent and well…that was TOO MUCH. So we restructured again. Now I feel like I have found a balance that works. We practice in the notebooks with shared texts and discuss our thinking, our writing in discussions in small groups, maybe adding to the TQE process and at times we work individually putting our reflections in to support later work. 

Independent work without fear

My fear was not about going up high but of falling.

-Gravity Goldberg “Teach Like Yourself”

The practice time is perfect for not getting things quite right, for sharing our ideas and making strategies fit our needs instead of making us fit the strategies. It is already December, we have finished our first round of practice looking at the wonderful story Restart by Gordon Korman and short stories like Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan, Poems like Mama by Jacqueline Woodson and the North Star by Peter Reynolds. We practice, practice, practice because in these moments we grow, we climb higher and then when we approach a text alone we are less afraid of the potential fall. Because, well, we know we can get up to climb again. 

Here are some examples for this last month in room 157. 7th Grade Journals with general reflections, different summary strategies, visualization strategies and BHH at work. 

We Read – We Write – We Share

 

I don’t really remember much about my Language Arts classes growing up. I can’t even remember the books I read in class. I remember writing essays I think and some stories but there is nothing that stands out to me, nothing that I would share with my students today. I grew up a Social Studies fan. I remember those classes, the mock UN, the debates, the experiences.

As a teacher, I started out working in third grade and became fascinated with reading comprehension and how students were understanding the texts they were encountering. That fascination led me to look more into different strategies, the endless sea of strategies out there and I dove in. Strategy after strategy and students becoming more and more frustrated with the “work” reading was becoming.

We look for balance and try again. As a 6th grade teacher, I was blessed with the discovery of Notice and Note and the brilliance of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. My students were learning to be thinkers and the search for practice in this area brought me to Pernille Ripp and her most excellent blog. Inspired to continue building my literacy beliefs I was lucky again to read Donalyn Millers The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild and my practice continued to evolve. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher and Disrupting Thinking another Kylene and Bob text made me question everything again in the best of ways. I became a teacher that realized I needed to work with a purpose that my students needed to experience joyful literacy work as my friend Dr.Mary Howard champions.  My students needed to see what literacy was in a real-world way. We read for joy and used strategies to meet outcomes, we wrote about real things because it was not only easier to connect to the stories of our life but because it taught others about who we were.

In the end, I have realized literacy is not about the tasks, the assignments or the tests. It most certainly isn’t about an endless list of strategies or computer programs. If I want students to be readers, to be writers, to be thinkers we need to do just that. We need to read, we need to write, we need to share the beautiful words we craft with each other and celebrate the books that make us wonder and imagine a world beyond our own.

We Read -We Write – We Share

One week

 

In one week I will be returning to the classroom with my students. To say that I am excited is an understatement. I have spent the summer reading both professionally and recreationally and am excited to talk about books and explore different ways to learn in the classroom.

I think it is important that students see us as lifelong learners. Modelling that established that school is not the end of ones learning journey. I have never understood the resistance to learn that some teachers develop as they progress in their careers. The I already know how best to do…attitude.

When I left University and had my first teaching job I encountered many teachers that I would classify as comfortable. They had taught the same thing for many years, got good enough results and could easily say their students had met the learning objectives. So why change? Why move away from the photocopies from 1960? Why move away from the D.O.L? Why move away from the theme units that have nothing to do with outcomes? Why move away from anything we are comfortable doing especially if it works?

I think those are all good questions.

I was watching QB One on Netflix the other day and the question “Do you want to be comfortable or Do you want to be great?” was asked of one of the lead characters. That line stuck with me. I am not implying that teachers that do the same things every year are not capable of greatness, they are. What I am wondering, however, is if our desire to remain comfortable is keeping us from being greater. Are we modelling for our students that trying new things, going beyond our comfort zone is the path to better or are we settling with good enough?

This year with my students I am going to focus on a few simple points.

Our Rules: Be Kind and Work Hard. Easy measures and easy things to demonstrate we are doing…or not.

The second simple point that I want to focus on this year and apply to our learning is the phrase above. Are we striving for comfortable or striving for greatness? Growing is an uncomfortable process, I mean where did the term growing pains come from? But in the end, the results are improvement.

I don’t want anyone to be confused with my point here and think I am asking you to throw away everything that you are doing just because you have done it before. We don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater but sometimes we need to change the water. Kylene Beers discusses the idea of innovation leading to “next practices”. We can never stop because we think we have reached “best practice” we must get uncomfortable and try new things. Our students may be getting a fine education but if we are not asking ourselves if they are getting the best, trying new things to determine what that best is we are letting them down.

When faced with the choice this year I hope my students will strive for Greatness over comfort but to do that I must do the same.