messy + free-flowing= to know is not enough

Engage Me!

More food for thought….

Leave a comment »

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!

1 Comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

1 Comment »

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…

Leave a comment »

Young Children, Colorado Massacre and Language-in-use

Texts these days aren’t limited to the ‘textbook,’ let alone written material. The rapid broadening of the term “text” to now include the media, oral and graphic texts have left teachers k-12 and beyond breathless. A practicing teacher of young children for a number of years now, coupled with my individual pursuits of ways to connect research and practice have led me to believe that ‘critical literacy’ (“socially perceptive literacy” according to Gee, 2004) should be a ‘Must Do’ strand in our curriculum across the globe today. As a first grade teacher, I am used and very open to innocent ponderings from my children, some think-aloud type of comments that can totally viral and capture everyone’s attention and continue to hold that interest for considerable time. In recent times (past 10 years) children are very aware of their society in ways that they never were before.

One would argue that this is nothing new given the rapid change in our contexts due to the rise of popular culture and the advent of information technology. Hence, even if parents are under the misconception that their kids are unaware of the real world happenings—-WRONG!

What I hear and have heard show just the opposite. Children are just as cognizant about the real world as we are. This is why the recent ‘Colorado Massacre’ is troubling me beyond words. I am struggling with the thought that the utter simplicity of a movie-going experience has been robbed from us forever (at least for now). Further, the subject matter—BATMAN, every child’s superhero has been traumatized and tainted.

To add to the disturbance, the solution seems to be in not naming the person or to describe the person as unhappy. My question is that on September 5th, when my little ones trickle into their new classroom, someone might remember this horror and sound it out. I feel the word unhappy is too overextended in our society today, especially, in the world of primary children. Not all unhappy people go around shooting people in a movie theatre! Young children recycle words that are part of their schema and unhappy is one such word. A child has a right to be unhappy— just as adults do. One is unhappy for so many reasons, some tangible, others not—first day of school, leaving parents, leaving the summer behind, the idea of making new friends, meeting a new teacher and so on.

By using the term irresponsibly to describe actions like the ‘Colorado Shooting’ only goes to show how adults now need to step up and rethink this. Children already know…we are not helping them: first, by robbing and then layering words in every child’s repertoire with connotations that are false.

A child and adults too, have a right to be unhappy—–these moments could be brief, lengthy, just as we can be happy. So finding another language to justify such cowardly acts is the way to go. As educators and parents we must help develop a different language…. What that would be or what it would look like is up to us to envision. But borrowing words from children to fulfill our goals seem to me an equally cowardly act.

Leave a comment »

Boxed In

The sparks flying around at the CWP—-let your inner self out, is the message everyday. Good for both parties involved—teachers & students. Loved Ellynne’s question:

What creates literacy competence?

Mulling all the way home, over dinner, more writing tonight…

It just struck me we should treat the disease and not the symptoms.

But how???

concerted efforts on all our parts?

1 Comment »

Exhausted Yet…

week 1 of CWP for me = exhaustion + exhilaration or e2

Leave a comment »

Time Travel

If this is not time travel, what is? Left on Thursday, via LA. Missed Friday as I flew for 15 hours to Melbourne. Haven’t had sleep since then…Today is Sunday and have been on the Pre-Workshop on Action Research all day. On until Thursday….so after a little sleep can write a ton on creatvity and teaching boys.

Leave a comment »

Time Travel

If this is not time travel, what is? Left on Thursday, via LA. Missed Friday as I flew for 15 hours to Melbourne. Haven’t had sleep since then…Today is Sunday and have been on the Pre-Workshop on Action Research all day. On until Thursday….so after a little sleep can write a ton on creatvity and teaching boys.

Leave a comment »