messy + free-flowing= to know is not enough

Summer Reflections 2012

As I wait with baited breath for another school year to begin, perfecting on attending to the nuts and bolts in my classroom—I cannot help but ask myself: “So what’s going to be different this year?” Really, year after year of teaching first graders how to read and write and trying to sow the seeds of being lifelong readers and writers, also, teaching graduate students who want a doze of this and some of that—what’s new and exciting?  A summer spent on many worthwhile personal professional development ventures, I have some jot notes that I have taken away.

Being part of a yearlong action research project and probing the use of 21st century tools effectively in my classroom has been very liberating for me. I can’t stress it enough, but my brain seemed to have lost all capacities to embrace technology (never had any to begin with) or so I used to think. Spending time with my team, brought me face-to-face with other members who are also not as comfortable with the speed of enlightenment that we find ourselves surrounded by these days.  Yet again, I met other practitioners who are part of this new era of learning.  So at last, I admitted to myself (always knew it but never quite said it before), that I have a FEAR for new technologies—it may be, as simple as a TV remote to a slightly sophisticated washing machine.  But if I am to remain in my vocation, thrive, and enjoy it I need to come to terms with 21st century tools—they are here to stay, so I need to sleep well with them.  My AR team helped me to identify this trait in me.

Then came the Connecticut Writing Project (CWP), in the month of July.  What an exhilarating experience, and I highly recommend it to all teacher educator’s out there.  Under the guidance of a creative innovator BC, and joined by 10 fascinating and brilliant teachers from across the state—I spent 160 hours reading, writing, collaborating and learning to have FUN with words, to take risks and be a supportive audience.

This week, I just finished our mandatory summer read: Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world, by Tony Wagner.  An easy and enjoyable read (eager to hear him as he comes to speak to us next week), my summer enhancements now seem to make a lot more sense.  The central question I ask myself each year is: How do I go back with a song in my heart?   I am the singer, what’s my new song for my new audience going to be and how will I sing it?

It all goes back to the singer, if you think of it.  Wagner’s book and an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Katherine Mangan have a few ideas in common—some recent thinkings on how we all can keep abreast with changing times, despite self-doubt. They are play, passion, purpose. And this applies to people of all ages.

  • Play: we should encourage and be immersed with things we can explore (that appeal to us)
  • Passion: simply knowing is not enough–so to know more and learn from our students, colleagues, parents, family members and the community-at-large.
  • Purpose: why are we doing what we’re doing.
  • Creativity: making new knowledge for our consumers and us in more palatable ways.

Other strands are intricately woven with these 3 main ideals. For example, resilience (belief in oneself), self-regulation (focusing on key goals), focus (not multi-tasking), grit (dogged determination), and conscientiousness (organized and responsible). Of course, I remind myself these are all good personal tenets to nourish no matter the number of years one has been teaching and some great thoughts to begin our respective journeys again….  Some nuggets that have sprung at me are:

“If we think of the teaching profession as a profession, it is absolutely necessary that we live in a sharing environment, not a competitive one” (Dr. Brad Huff, ‘Comment of the Day,’ Education Week)

“What happens to a lot of people is that they get totally caught up in trivia, and later they complain they were asked to do too much of this or that. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to regulate yourself and decide what’s important  and what isn’t.” (Robert Sternberg)

“If you look at the profile of someone who’s realized creative success, they can’t be conventional.” (Brent Rogers of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign)

“If you’re really cutting edge, you’re going to be bucking the system, and people are going to fight you” (Gregory Feist)


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Engage Me!

More food for thought….

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Do teachers need more PD, or start taking some creative risks?

There is so much controversy about the use of textbooks in schools–what kind of texts, to what extent…. My graduate students have over the years asked me or wondered aloud (almost every semester): “Can you tell us exactly what levels of texts work with what kinds of kids?” and “How and what do we do when the child shows no interest, wish there was a formula.” The recent Harvard Education Letter, published an interesting article where Sue Pimentel (one of the lead writers of the English language arts standards) states,”The difference between what we ask students to read in college and careers and what we ask them to read in schools is the equivalent of the difference between fourth- and eighth-grade performance on [the National Assessment of Educational Progress].” Hence, by the time our students take postsecondary courses, they will be left behind by the complexity of the texts.

It is no small wonder therefore, that Colbert in his study discovered that members of the Congress speak more like high school sophomores. An increasingly important scrutiny as states implement the Common Core Standards is text complexity. Students are required to read and comprehend complex informational and literary texts not only independently but proficiently. This one criteria will be enough to tell us whether we are preparing students in the 21st century literacies—for the complexity of the workforce that awaits them. And in my mind here lies the question: Are teacher preparation programs really doing their jobs and keeping up with the changing times?

If I have been hearing the same questions hurled at me by the teacher candidates, then the obvious answer is NO. The recent thrust toward more PD for teachers—inviting speakers, assigning texts etc, are all great, but like in other fields, where and when do we as teachers are actually asked to analyze texts? Hiebert at the University of California will vouch to this as by their findings, text analysis tends to get outsourced. When I am asked such questions about which kid and what texts, my answer has always been informed by my own cultural experiences (schooling etc), as well as my informed practice: a practicing mishmash.

There is no right formula of course, but teachers have a wealth of knowledge (that they bring to their workplace), and the time has come to use this mixed with some commons sense, instead of waiting around to be dished the next mandate. Some key questions to ask for starters maybe:

  • When I was a student what kind of teacher behaviors (involving texts) sent the right/wrong message to me as an aspiring reader?
  • Looking at my experiences, let’s see if I am unknowingly performing similar actions.
  • For elementary grades, what kind of messages are sent when we tell Maggie, “You can’t use the books in the red bin, why don’t you try the blue or yellow bins instead.”
  • Texts need to be leveled by complexity (for primary grades), yes, but all children should have access to every material and this is where great “scaffolding” comes into play–using other students in the class as allies in this is a huge help.
  • Exposing children to quality read alouds daily, and following them with rich discussions will prepare them better for text complexities.
  • In the higher grades, matching genres with popular cultures and helping students make real-life connections will make Shakespeare more palatable perhaps.

Professional development starts within us. I bet, that if you’re not used to the complexities of a medical journal—you just don’t GIVE UP, RIGHT? You plough through, skip sections, reread and practice meaning making through trial and error. The same lies true for our students K-College.

So let’s begin the school year practicing a growth mindset (Dweck)—as, then only can we expect to live compatibly with the Common Core, go to work with a song in our hearts (I’m assuming all of us teachers want to do that), and make that difference in the lives we touch:

After all isn’t that OUR COMMON GOAL!

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Are we facing famine?

In today’s America, the answer to the question is no. Ever since I’ve been around, the number of neighborhood food stores, restaurants, convenience stores, and vending machines have been on the rise. Wherever we may be highly palatable foods are now available anytime, day or night. This also means that we’re able to eat it easily–in our cars, drive-through, on the go. Every social setting has been contaminated, every social norm compromised. Unilever scientist David Mela commented, “The barriers have been lowered.” 

Susan Johnson of the University of Colorado mentioned, “Food availability and the opportunity to consume are ubiquitous, and that has been a huge driver of energy intake for children and adults.” What surprised me on my recent visit to Australia, is that elsewhere in the world, cultural patterns have tended to reduce the risk of hypereating. Take the French for example–a more research-based hypothesis suggest that they are healthier because they not only linger longer over meals, they also eat smaller portions. A newspaper headline in Melbourne caught my attention, as it focused on how parents of young children are now being held accountable if caught aiding their kids to hypereat. This could be a fine to even state intervention! 

I guess this thought came to me today, as I went grocery shopping and in the name of love and pampering witnessed the worst examples of helping conditioned hypereating. So shouldn’t we as a society teach our youngsters to control their impulses? Explain the food groups better? or Should we just relinquish such must-do’s in the hope that our kids will just figure it out in the long run? More FOOD for thought.

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Australia, July 2012

Australia, July 2012

19th Annual International Boys’ School Coalition Conference, Melbourne
at Scotch College, unearthing creativity with digital tools
is the mantra of the 21st century
NY to LA=6 hours—then, 15 more
I arrive having lost two days
in winter 60 degrees and sunny
skybus to Hotel Renaissance
meeting and greeting of incoming
action research team and straight
to pre-conference workshops 8 to 5
intellectual stimulation to evening
hair-downs, exchanging ideas
with a global flair—speakers that
sharpen my brain-cells, to a seven course
dinner Scottish style with bagpipers
at the mecca of cricket the
Melbourne Cricket Ground;

New friends, writing, making thinking visible
Presenting my workshop with a ‘PD’ spin—gaining
a certificate of contribution
Grayline tours to the penguin parade
where the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean meet
koalas, wallabies, the Great Ocean Road
dramatic, dangerous, majestic Twelve Apostles
250 kilometers of the world’s most scenic route
and I returned home on the same day
full of stunning experiences to carry me through.

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Another Hate Act: Is this the Real United States?

Yet 6 more Sikhs are gunned down when they join in peaceful prayer. Yet again, the action committed more due to ignorance or hate? A question that nags or should as so many immigrants come to this country to make a new start…the melting pot that was…can’t take the salad bowl idea into consideration. Children ask Why, oh Why??
We adults have no answer…or should we be more united in finding an answer to educate…so the masses stop dwelling in the idea that
Ignorance is bliss…
let’s unite and pray…

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