Take a Break Twitter Post

This Week

This week so far has been a week of learning. I signed up to be a part of this little cohort that is looking into Agriculture as a focus for learning opportunities within our currently established curriculum. Headed up by a couple of excellent teachers that I have the pleasure to call colleagues we have spent time both working on project development and going on some excursions to really get a handle on what it is we want students to learn and also to understand that Agriculture is so much more than farming. The week has been interesting from discussing Tariffs with Dairy Farms to checking out some animal subjects at a research facility. We have talked Canola, Potatoes, self-sustained farming, the importance of bees and looked at Aquaponics and Aeroponics which are both very cool. Aside from all of this great learning I was able to speak with coworkers, learn and work together and just have some immersive learning in the middle of the summer break. Beyond that, however, I have had some moments of personal learning and appreciations that I wanted to share.

Overcoming Adversity 

IMG_0380

A coworker from our cohort pointed this out to me and I just had to take the shot. This little potato plant just working its way up a floor pipe in search of that warm light. Obviously, there is an analogy here. As teachers do when put on a bus together we talked teaching, sharing stories of struggles we have in the classroom, ideas, concerns for our students. The list of things teachers think about in the summer is definitely longer than this but these are a few of our topics. I thought a lot today about the kids who struggle, the ones that we can’t seem to reach, I want to say that I know the answer to help them, sometimes I do but the teacher is only the hole in the floor the plant wants to grow from, the real effort comes from those students. We provide them with a way, but they must put in the effort to the best of their ability. We are there to move the grate, to open the door to show them the light. I am not sure how we teach students that “grit”, that desire to do their part, whatever that might be, to overcome adversity. But it is our job to do that. To invest in our students without qualifiers, to work through the adversity because it will come but we can not choose to shrink into the hole, we must stretch toward the light.

Life Long Learning

IMG_0375

If I could remember this gentleman’s name I would share it. He is a potato farmer and was discussing the science behind potato farming and even shared some words on GMO’s and other topics like trade and the impact different things can have on trade relationships. One of my coworkers asked a question about if after all his years farming anything new comes up, his response stuck with me,

“I have been doing this for 35 years, every year I am learning. We are always learning, you are teachers you know this.”

We are teachers, we do know this but sometimes we don’t act on it. This week has been interesting because it has taught me that I have a lot of preconceived notions about things. Listening to all of the men and women we have talked to this week go into such great detail about the trials and challenges that their jobs bring, the desire to fully embrace technology from some while others are grateful to get to do everything by hand. I am so grateful that I have put myself out there this week and learned things I would never have discovered had it not been for the chance to really listen to those who are living different experiences than I do. Which brings me to my last point of the week. Literacy-related so if you were here for the Agriculture review then feel free to skip it but important info coming up.

Books as windows when we are comfortable in a box

So many of you have heard the phrase “Books serve as mirrors, windows, and doors”, the opportunity to potentially see ourselves, others or even to leave our world to experience and enter another. As a teacher in a small rural community, I see the importance but despite my efforts, my students have not really ventured into the windows and doors portion of reading. Their interests still are very much into that of their own experience. I continue to buy books, talk about them and try to share and I wondered how important it is. This year, for example, I had one or two students that were not white in each of my classes. I don’t say that to downplay the importance of having examples of characters that look different or have different experiences but just to illustrate the demographics. I asked myself the question, “Why is this really important?” The answer came in visiting a post on one of the teacher groups that I am a part of on Facebook. A teacher asked a simple question, “Do you read the N-word aloud when you encounter it in a text?” I assumed this would be a simple topic, “No I don’t” and off we would go. Much to my shock and surprise, this was not always the case. Some teachers defended their choice to read it aloud in their class as a “learning opportunity”, others wanted to “respect” the authors choice and “honor” their work. This blog has not been a space where I tend to get into deep topics like racism, I mostly just rant about AR and talk about things I love. This revelation about the ease with which some teachers use the N-word in class though troubled me. I can’t help but feel if I had a black student in my classroom and chose to read the N-word the only learning opportunity it would be was that my student would learn that I do not respect or honor them, by keeping a word that stands for nothing but hate in our classroom and coming from my mouth. How could these other teachers not see that? As I thought about it I think I figured it out. They had to sit through reading these books as kids, the words were normalized because “it is just in the book”. Their teachers justified using the vile word in the same way they do now, but really they likely had no windows as kids and now have a hard time lifting the blinds. They likely were exposed to books with a lot of “themselves” and only a little of everyone else, if any. It is important to show our students the world around them and at the very least have those examples available. Your students might not read Ghost by Jason Reynolds as it sits on the shelf but you can share it with every student that asks for a suggestion. They might not keep reading Dear Martin by Nic Stone because it does not relate but the chance they might and the conversations that come are worth it, even if it is just a few of your students. Empathy is born from experience. You might not ever experience personally the trials others face in the world but to be able to read about it, connect to it is important if we ever want our students to grow up learning about the experience of others. That is why we have the books, so that when our students decide to look at something other than a mirror the window is there, the door can be opened and hopefully one more student will gain some degree of understanding of the struggles of others and why it is not ok to read the N-word in a class read aloud.

 

 

I finished reading The Wild Robot Escapes this weekend and finished it out in the glorious sun this afternoon. I loved this sequel more than the original. A robot that has developed independence trying to get back home. The way the author Peter Brown takes a robot and makes it the purest “human” character in the story is special. The journey to find acceptance and the fear others show that do not understand Roz the Robot has so many connections to the world around us.

One line that stuck out to me,

Beautiful Glitch

Roz is different from the other robots, her behavior is unique, she does not follow the programming that she was designed to follow. She has struggled because of this glitch in her programming and yet… she refers to it as beautiful. It made her who she is, it brought her the friends and family that she has. That sort of mindset would be so helpful for us to teach our students.

Yes you are different, yes you at times make choices that make things more difficult but it is what makes you unique. That beautiful glitch.

If parents, teachers and fellow students starting seeing other students struggles as unique qualities rather than shortcomings and beautiful glitches rather than mistakes in their programming I can’t help but wonder the difference it could make in our learning communities but more importantly in how our students see themselves.

Food for thought I guess. A short post on a Sunday before a few Twitter chats. Love the book, go buy it. The Wild Robot Escapes.

 

 

I was sitting outside my car filling up at the gas station, across the parking lot there is one of those quick payday loan money lender establishments. These types of businesses offer quick loans that individuals can pay back when they get paid, if not the interest can be crippling. As I was looking at this sign that had, “Come in and get your $10,000 today”. Funny in that moment I thought about a program like Accelerated Reader. The promise of students developing comprehension skills all while earning points and having fun and… What they forget to mention just like the sign on the quick loan establishment is the interest rate, what we will be paying for long-term for using their services.

This morning at the gym I was checking my twitter feed (in between sets) and came across a few tweets, teachers, parents and administrators all lamenting about AR and the damage it has done to students and the joy of reading. Now before anyone gets all worked up I know the program is not to blame, the educators that continue to use it are. We know better and we should do better.

I started the year this year asking my students about their reading life, likes dislikes, all that great stuff. Over and over I received comments that dragged computer reading programs. They were: boring, too easy, too hard, the questions didn’t make sense, the computer voice was creepy, I could just watch the movie and pass the test, my friends would just tell me about the book and I could usually pass, I picked easy books that I could read fast to get more points, I intentionally failed tests because I liked the series I was on and did not want to move up a level. That last one really made me angry. Angry because students that love to read felt forced fail a test because they didn’t want to be told they had to move up and read different books. I know that is not AR that tells them this but it is the teachers misunderstanding of how to use AR that created this mess. This is that hidden interest that just builds.

The AR quizzes can be mindless but they can also be tricky. I heard an author once failed an AR test on his own book…I have direct conversations with students that would help each other to pass just for points or speed read. Did their comprehension go up at all? Sure maybe marginally. Did their love of reading grow? NO, of all the students I talked to as they came out of an elementary program that has supported AR NONE gave it credit for building their love of reading. Some said they liked it because they read anyway so they got a lot of points but what about the ones that don’t read anyway? They are either being forced to read and take quizzes (negative) or they struggle to make the points their peers make because they are not reading at a high enough level or high enough volume but that point disparity (negative) defeated them as readers.

The hidden interest of programs, of which AR is the example, but there are others creating a debt load that our teachers can not pay off. We are losing readers to bad reading experiences because we want the fast easy money instead of putting in the work learning how to manage our reading instruction and the payday being students reading joy increasing. I am a broken record on AR, I know this. But if the first thought I have when I see some lending company promising riches if only you sign away your paycheck next week and I think hmm that is like AR maybe there is a problem.

I can’t convince everyone because hey, “It is the teachers using it not the program” or “AR is great my kids love the points” or “It makes checking if they are reading so much easier” but if we continue to have the conversations maybe people will stop defending a program that does not take into account the reader only the answers they give. I choose to invest in the reader. In the end that will pay off.

 

Ok, bear with me. This morning while I was at the gym I was on a rest between sets and came across a tweet from Pernille Ripp. As she was going from one reading conference to the next on the plane she reflected on some passengers in her upgraded first class area already ordering Vodka, in contrast, she was ordering cheerios and milk. I joking said that should be a blog title but as I continued to work out it became less of a joke in my mind. The idea of how we start our day kept popping up.

This summer I have started my day the same most mornings. I go out and play with the dogs, then get them breakfast followed by getting ready to head for the gym. I mix up my pre-workout and BCAA’s and then head to the gym. I set up my equipment and stretch to warm up. The dogs don’t let me forget that I need to play with and feed them so that is a given. Where things can at times go off the rails is in the space between dog time and gym time. I might forget to pack a protein bar, leave my BCAA’s on the table or forget deodorant (it is 5 am so cut me some slack). When I get to the gym I might forget to warm up (do to be frustrated by the forgotten items or worried about others in the case of forgotten deodorant. My workout is not as good, I might be tired, I might even hurt myself from my careless rushed approached.

Now I take and look at this idea of starting the day the right way and look at the classroom.

As our students arrive what are we doing? We can’t control how their morning started before they get to us but we can have things in place to address the missing morning “to-dos”. So let’s look at what we can do to take our morning from a Vodka before 8am to a Milk and Cheerios kind of morning.

  1. Keep some breakfast bars or other simple snacks on hand. Students that are hungry are not students that can focus. I keep cliff bars or granola bars. Some take advantage of the simple snacks and other “take advantage” a box at Costco for 40 plus bars is like 8 bucks if a student is going to take them even when they don’t need them it won’t break the bank. By allowing them to do this, however, it will show that to me them feeling ready to learn is more important than controlling if they can have a granola bar or an apple.
  2. Soft Starts, (I have seen this term attributed to Sara K Ahmed she is on Twitter and you should follow her). The soft start is a way to start the class that helps students to get settled and ready to do the work of the class through some low/no risk activity like free reading or writing. This is not a Language Arts specific task. A science teacher having some cool articles out ready for students to look at and discuss, some current events out in Social Studies or perhaps a math brain teaser to figure out in the early minutes all work to get students “stretched” and ready for the day.
  3. Utilize a visual schedule It was funny how much my students depended on a visual schedule still in 8th grade. I did not start the year with one, students came in and I told them the plan and we got to work. The days a visual plan was utilized we worked better, the students seemed more prepared, there was less confusion about tasks that would be accomplished. The visual plan served as an anchor for my students just as my work out plan anchors me once I am there.

Starting off the day with Vodka or Cheerios as an analogy made me chuckle but the thoughts that came in as I worked through a leg and back day made me reflect on where I can grow to start my day with my students. Are we giving them what they need to be successful or supplying them with bigger distractors, stressors and anxiety generators?

Something I plan to reflect on more for sure.

Today I spent the day sitting by the river and in the silence of my in-laws home in the mountains and just sat down and read Lions and Liars by Kate Beasley. The synopsis of the story places Frederick as the flea on the butt of an antelope when being described by his best friend as the role he fills in society. Circumstances lead to Frederick getting lost and mistaken for another boy at a camp to build character in young boys that may have lost their way. It is a great story that displays so beautifully the dangers of labels and being defined by our mistakes rather than who we really are.

So many issues come from judgments and in the classroom, students are marginalized daily by the judgments made about them based many times on a single action. I am not going to be giving away any spoilers because I really want everyone to read the book but one section where a boy from the camp is reflecting really stood out to me.

But then, after this one thing, which I didn’t even do, it was like everyone forgot I was this smart, good kid and all they thought about me was that I was the kid that broke Rich’s robot…I figured everyone already thinks I am bad, why try to be good?

The power of a label can change a student in a single moment and yet… we still do it. We start the year and ask for the files on past students, we get the down low from our co-workers and allow our opinions to be formed before we even meet our students. How many times have we been guilty of saying this student is trouble or this student is low?

We create a self-fulfilling prophecy when students discover the labels they carry. This beautiful story Lions and Liars gives us an opportunity to look at how we can come back, how through surrounding ourselves with people that build us up, that remind us that we are not the labels that have been attached to us we can overcome.

I plan to open the year with this as a read aloud, not only because of the message but the characters are funny, relatable and heartwarming. This has been more of a book commercial post but I really love this book and think the message is one all students (and teachers) need to hear.  Go BUY this book here

35791906._UY400_SS400_

 

I wrote this whole post out yesterday and then promptly deleted it. My brain was going in all these different directions and I could not get a handle on exactly what was at the back looking to get out in my words. This morning working out and checking my twitter feeds and facebooks posts I found it.

Teaching is this wonderful profession that I love. The unique ability that it has to change and morph, even weekly, as new ways to teach are discovered and discussed in journals, social media, blogs, and books is exciting. Lately, I have however noticed a trend that I find unsettling.  I deadly combination of stubborn closemindedness on one end and what I can only describe as a “too quick to drink the kool-aid” mentality on the other.

Teachers (not all but some, and it is ridiculous I need to make that clarification) seem to be looking to take offense when none is intended as other question practices, make rather innocuous statements that create fissures of contention in a community that should have their focus on improving a profession with the best of practices not casting side-eye glances over a staff room table or getting into a flame war over social media. We are professionals and should be able to hear alternate points of view from our own without rising up with nothing more than platitudes.

We are professionals so when questions arise we need to look at things like research and results not just how something makes us feel. Earlier this week Robert Marzano (a researcher who has contributed a lot to my own teaching) posted on Twitter how it is the teacher in a classroom that is the sole reason for students being engaged. The implication thought by many was that if students are not engaged it is because of the teacher. Now, he has since apologized and agreed there are many factors beyond a teacher and also admitted that he is not the person behind his tweets (which is odd to me) but the initial comment was met by much outrage. Teachers feeling as though they were having too much placed on them, others calling him out of touch (the not writing his own tweets thing does lead me to believe this is more accurate than not) and some even calling for him to be ignored completely, that his past work is no longer relevant because “he no longer understands what it means to be in a classroom.”

This last reaction is the one that has me concerned. I have been and will continue to be a voice against Accelerated Reader, I have read the research and I have done my own. Students report a negative correlation with their lifelong reading and Accelerated Reader use.  My sharing these opinions in a professional world should lead to a dialogue where we weigh the pros and cons but too often we get, “well my students love the prizes” (of course they do) or “the competition works for most of my students” (what about the rest?) and finally, “I like that it is easy assessment” (Is it?) See when our responses come only from how WE feel and do not reside at all in research and reflection we are not just doing a disservice to ourselves and our students but we are doing a disservice to the profession.

Marzano was not wrong in that teachers play a role in student engagement but I did not take that much offense because I know that I do everything aside lighting myself on fire to engage my students and that is really the root of the problem. Statements that are sweeping and a quick overreaction.

Some of us (myself included) need to read statements like Marzanos to reflect, to ask the question of our practice. If you feel guilty because of his statements then DO SOMETHING MORE. Read a book, find a PLN, do some research. Look into ways to improve your practice because if you think you are done, that you have no room left to grow Marzano was speaking to you. Teaching changes by the minute, new ideas are formed to address the growing needs of our students and if you are unwilling to look and see and take what will work for you and your unique class, if you are unwilling to question your own practices than I imagine you are unwilling to recognize that perhaps you are not filling the role you need to play in your classroom. We are the thought leaders, we are the lead learners and we are the first line of defense in our classrooms to help our students. If you can’t fill that role find support to get you there. This is not a condemnation but it most certainly is a call to action. Stop shouting into the wind when you don’t like what you hear. DO SOMETHING.

My friend Mary wrote an amazing post this morning talking about the professional risks she takes doing just what I have advocated for here. She speaks up against the injustices in educational practices and backs it up with research and evidence and yet puts her own standing in the educational world at risk because there are still a lot of wind shouters with seemingly nothing better to do. Still, those who seek to make money off the tears of frustrated students sitting in desks doing basal readers and worksheets without purpose, still those who think a witch finger pointer that is “fun” is more important than meaningful work that should be engaging, still those who think a computerized test with answers, not even the authors get right is more important than taking the time to read with every student. Still, more that will defend their penguin units because they love them and why would they analyze the “why” when it works “good enough”.

Our students deserve more than good enough, more than computerized reading programs, more than worksheets and basals. They deserve more than being entertained. On both sides of the teaching world, we have those who are inflexible to the idea that there may be a different way. The sit in the desks and learn vs the kindness solves all our problems, the traditional vs the new age. This has turned into more of a rant than I wanted but I think we are at a breaking point right now. With all the information, books, social media and other influences on education, we are faced with a choice. Do we allow the strongest winds to push us in a direction or do we plant our feet firmly in research and set up shop in the grey. The land where we take the best of both sides and put it to work for the best of students?

This is where I will choose to stand, at times I may overreact or overstep but I hope to keep in mind always the real reason we are here. Not for likes on Facebook or retweets on Twitter or to catch the eye of a book publisher so that “I too can change the face of education forever” (at least until the next changes everything book is released) but to help guide our students to become successful educated critical thinkers.

And Scene lol

 

 

#oneword2018

As I sit here after the gym on a rainy and cool summer day I had the pleasure of stumbling on my friend Fran’s blog post I love the coincidence that we share our one word at its root. I love her reflection and was inspired to do my own.

This year has been a journey for me, I had my first year working in the junior high setting after my first 7 years as an elementary teacher. I, of course, started the year with excitement. New students that were older, would clearly love reading and would love time to write, after all the students I left in grade 6 had moved on to grade 7 that way and so my new grade 7/8 students should be there too right?

Wrong, I did not inherit students with a love of reading, I inherited students that liked it enough, but enjoyed the quiet time to sit with their phones hidden in books more, that doodled in their writing notebooks rather than write and basically avoided literacy time. I couldn’t blame them. I spent years developing a way to teach literacy that worked and they had experienced literacy work of a different form. I won’t say bad, just different. I spent a large part of the start of the year trying to figure out how to reverse this attitude. I started to wonder why it was they were so resistant to change, why their previous teachers had made the choices they made regarding literacy practice, why kids prefer fake reading over real reading and why they would rather doodle than write. That “why” continued to multiple. Why do I use journals? Why do I use picture books, Why have independent reading time? On and on the whys continued to pop up and I wanted answers.

Thus my #oneword “Curiosity” was born. I have spent the year reading my own books, looking at the teachings of other teachers I consider experts in the field, those still in the classroom trying new practices, not in a research facility telling me how to do but never actually doing. I tried new things and reflected on their success and failures. I built up new practices and continue to curiously explore what is and is not working.

Some of my students changed their views on reading and writing and many have not. My friend Melinda talks about her experience with High School students and all the damage she has to reverse, practices that damage readers. I would love to find a way to help reverse those practices before they reach high school. I continue to explore ways to engage my students, not entertain but engage. This whole movement of making our classrooms a circus because students need to be entertained 24/7 is a whole different topic.

My next steps… I am curious about how to reach my students in need but also engage those who can go forward with my guidance from afar. I think The Grid Method might be the answer and I am having a lot of fun exploring it and Chad Ostrowski (the creator) is awesome to respond and help while I am taking the online courses and learning more about Mastery Learning. I love the idea of personalizing the learning journey my students are on while providing them the roadmap to meet the outcomes they have to meet. Using a bit of my summer to better my practice is something I enjoy doing every year and I have a list of books to read both professional and recreational. I plan to look into workshop for my classroom structure, I will be doubling down on Notice and Note and BHH and I will continue to explore voice and choice as it applies to engagement.

I finish with a comment on something that concerns me as I explore curiosity as it comes to learning. I caution those who are looking for quick fixes, they use to appear as worksheets, basals and computerized “intervention” that removed the curious journey learning should be, I fear they now are being replaced by the “do as I do” teaching books that are coming out like a flood. Teaching is not an exact science, I love all the ideas coming out but to just adopt anything without the journey and mindset that not everything works for everyone we are likely setting ourselves up to fail.

I am going to continue to let my curiosity guide me, to inform my practice and hopefully find the answers to reaching all my students. I am pretty certain it isn’t in “A Book” but in countless, the research is out there and I am excited to discover, try, reflect and continue on this curious journey that teaching and improving our practice should be.

Now back to watching Prisoner of Azkaban because it is THE BEST Harry Potter movie and that is what rainy Tuesdays are for.

main-qimg-9e7b087522abd06edda22f686c8adfe7