December 8th, 2013
Diane Ravitch referred to a wonderful posting today. Here is the link too her blog: http://zite.to/199mgx2
. And here is the quote that brings us to the essence of the difference between how Gates, Duncan, et al view teaching versus what teaching is REALLY all about: 'the most important role a teacher plays in the lives of his or her students is not as an examiner, but as a nurturer."
Nurturing, tending, growing, planting, feeding, caring: there are many gardening metaphors at work in teaching. That does not mean teachers are all the same sort of gardener. Some of us have small plots we plant near the house so we do not have to venture too far from home. Some of us plant huge acres of land. Some specialize in one crop; others plant a veritable banquet.
So we plant the seeds. But we are not done. The seeds must be nourished and the plant watched carefully as it sends out its first stems and shoots and leaves. Day after day we continue to work: some plants needs a little more encouragement than others. I had a houseplant (this was before Scout who considers anything green to be HIS garden) that loved to be moved from one end of the bookcase to another. College Girl still has a cactus that leans like the Tower of Pisa. It is in his (she has named it Carl Cactus) nature to lean. No matter how often we try to train Carl to grow upright, he resists. And perhaps it is this allusion that works when it comes to talking about the difference between being an examiner and a nurturer: we know that not all seeds will yield the same plants, that not all plants will grow to be the same height and width, etc. We know there will be variety, and that is something we actually value. So it is with kids. They all need care and nourishment, but not all of them will need the exact SAME care and nourishment. We do not expect them to be the same. But those outside of the classroom who call for performance as the means to measure teacher effectiveness do not see the variation (and do you not wonder what kind of blinders they must be wearing?). They expect kids to come in one door (and they see them as tabula rasa when they do) and exit the other door at the end of their time in school like little cutout widgets that have been pressed from the same mold, one indistinguishable from the other.
My BH took a photo of me and Donalyn and Karin and Katherine at a dinner in Boston. Donalyn and I are obviously engaged in a deep discussion (hands waving, mouths flapping, faces animated) while Karin and Katherine listened to BH and actually looked up to the camera. This snapshot encapsulates this post. Not all kids are in the same place at the same time. Nor should they be. We need to allow for the variation. Perhaps THAT is the essence of being a nurturer?
December 7th, 2013
Last week my Twitter feed led me to an article in SLATE which compared HUNGER GAMES, TWILIGHT, and HARRY POTTER through text analysis. Here is the link to the piece, but be forewarned: it is sloppy "science" at best: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/11/hunger_games_catching_fire_a_textual_analysis_of_suzanne_collins_novels.html
I would like to suggest to the author of the article that he might apply (or, more accurately, misapply) this textual analysis to any 3 works from the bestseller list for adults and come up with much the same sort of conclusions. For this is not textual analysis as the author suggests. Instead this is an exerccise that looks only at words without their full context. Most frequently occuring adjectives, etc. is interesting for certain. But what does it really mean in terms of analyzing text and, as the author of the article suggests, in terms of the audience for said works? What it means in this case is that the author has the chance to sneer at the books he purports to analyze. The analysis in this case is pretext for pointing out the "silliness" or "simplicity" of YA books. And it misses the point entirely because it focuses on PARTS and not the WHOLE.
This is the problem with levels and lexiles as well: we reduce a work to components, analyze syllables, stence length, syntax, semantics. We dissect and then pronounce the viability of the work. Thus, NIGHT is determined to be at an elementary school reading level. Levels and lexiles do not and cannot come close to "measuring" how the reading of NIGHT (or any other book for that matter) might affect the reader. Measuring is a curious thing. I learned to cook many things by watching my Mother and then by cooking with her supervision. There were no real recipes for soup and sauce and such. And I never make the same soup or suace or such twice. When baking, though, measurement is rather key. But even in baking, there is room for some variation from recipes.
I know this post is wandering. I am trying to work through why someone would use such an analysis to discuss the appeal of movies. It seems to me that this is a pointless exercise: it does not provide much insight. If he had read the books, perhaps he would not label THE HUNGER GAMES as having spare descriptions or HARRY POTTER as "Waiting for Voldemort" but might have noticed classic motifs and archetypes that are, perhaps, also part of the appeal of the books. A true content anaylsis would be more illuminating. A careful reading and discussion might have yielded more in terms of examining audience, complexity, etc. However, this glimpse into pieces does little to elevate the discourse about these (and other) books.
December 6th, 2013
My BH and I flew from Texas to California yesterday right ahead of the cold front which has closed schools in Dallas and delayed openings elsewhere. The temp this morning is in the 40s but will climb to the 60s by afternoon. The sun is shining, ocean breezes are riffling leaves. And the view is spectacular. This shifting of location is sort of a shift in perspective, too. When I travel, I am aware of the similarities and differences in my surroundings. Some routines remain the same, and others shift as well. What does this have to do with my usual ranting and raving you might ask?
Again, several items collided in my caffeinated brain to bring me here to blog. Chief among them was the news story posted on Facebook about Microsoft abandoning its bell curve ranking of employees, a business procedure Gates has assserted would be well applied to education. In the old MS system, emplyees were ranked and rewarded and/or reprimanded or punished. Why not do the same with teachers via merit pay and VAM, wondered Gates. And so it came to pass despite a mountain of research that demonstrates it is not effective either in business or education. As someone whose pay raises are determined by such a system, I can easily point out the problems. We have to complete "portfolios" of sorts each year when there is money for merit increases (which is what pay raises are called at the university level). Last year, my merit was not even equal to what I make doing a day long workshop for educators. I havee no illusion that this year will be significantly different. Yet I do produce what is expected: publications, presentations, community engagement, committee work, and more. Does my merit indicate the time and effort? Not at all. Why do I do it? Because it is part of my job. I teach, I publish, I serve. It is no different from when I was working with middle school kids. I did my job. So why put me in competition with my colleagues? Why set department against department? How does this make for collegiality? How does this benefit students?
The bottom line is that merit does not work, especially in education. And yet, Bill Gates, that expert in education, spoke the words and it was done. Forget the research. Forget the fact that his own company has abandoned the practice he helped put into place in the schools. Maybe it is time to turn to some real experts, folks who have the classroom expertise, teachers who love what they do. I would love to see an Education Nation comprised of folks from the classrooms (and parents and students). Just once I wouuld love to see MSNBC (hmm, what does the MS stand for?) consult with folks with experience instead of turning to Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan. And I would dearly love for a reporter to ask these new reformers for their credentials INSIDE of a classroom. I would love to see them point to all the "miracles" that have turned out to be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. Maybe this will make it onto my Christmas wish list.
But for now, I will return to the balcony and gaze out at the ocean and drink another cup of coffee. Time to regain perspective on what is really important today.
December 5th, 2013
I retain water. Schools retain students. To me, the word retain means "hold in" or "hold back." When we talk about retaining teachers, though, the general intent is that we keep teachers in place, we help them continue in the profession despite obstacles. But I am coming to question even these meanings when it comes to TFA's use of retain. Here is an article from North Carolina about a superintendent who made a deal with TFA without the advice or consent of the school board, teachers, parents, etc. : http://www.news-record.com/news/local_news/article_5c709b3d-2457-5fe2-b401-68a3023b1580.html
. And here is the money quote: "Nationally, about 40 percent of the teachers complete a third year in the school districts where they were placed, Hurley said."
Frankly, I fail to see how this is retention in any way, shape, or form.
I know folks who have come to teaching as second and third careers. They are counted among my friends and cherished colleagues. All of them, however, went to a teacher preparation program (and the concept of teacher prep seems almost insolent to me as well, but it is early in the day and I am not sufficiently caffeinated) as if we prepare teachers as we could prepare a meal. Do we prepare lawyers or doctors or chefs?
This post was also generated in part by the discussion of this book (http://www.amazon.com/American-Teacher-Classroom-Katrina-Fried/dp/1599621274/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386168887&sr=8-1&keywords=teacher+heroes
) on Morning Joe on Wednesday: AMERICAN TEACHER: HEROES IN THE CLASSROOM. The staff of Morning Joe interviewed one of the teachers featured in the book, someone who had created a school within a school. Certain students volunteered (or were selected, this was not quite clear) to enter into this experiment one summer. It is now part of the regular school year. It is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching in which kids do not really attend discrete 50 minute classes but rather tackle topics and issues from a holistic perspective. Field trips, thematic discoveries, and other elements are part of the approach. There is nothing new here except the school invited this teacher to continue his approach after a successful summer implementation. Thirty years ago I was doing the same thing with my teammates; content areas shared time and class and materials and foci. I can still recall the fall where we studied pilgrims, early American literature, food, science, etc. all culminating in a day in which we dressed in costume, conducted trials, made food, etc. all using the crafts of the early American settlers and the Native Americans who helped them survive. But the staff of Morning Joe hailed this as the greatest thing since sliced bread when it is happening now in classroom after classroom daily.
I wish there were more teachers blogging about what they are doing in the classroom. I read posts by Donalyn Miller and Katherine Sokolowski and Colby Sharp and Paul Hankins because they affirm all the wonderful things I know teachers do (go look at Donalyn's post yesterday about bringing Little Red to her classroom after NCTE or Katherine's post about what she thanks her kids for or Paul's musings about the books he received at NCTE and ALAN making their way into Bagels and Books plans). And I wish instead of calling these few "heroes" we would just go with "teachers." I do not mean to take away ANYTHING from the work these teachers are doing day in and day out. What I want the public to know is that this IS the day to day work of teachers, quietly transforming lives, quietly making connections to kids, quietly dealing with all the slings and arrows and offering up instead great books, opportunities and invitations to write, and so much more.
Teachers are a GIFT each and every day they enter the classroom energized and leave drained only to refuel overnight and return the next day.
December 4th, 2013
Firing the Canon
In Boston I had the chance to speak to several hundreds secondary teachers at their Get Together on Thursday evening. I ended my presentation by asking them to brainstorm lists of books they would use to create their own canon. Joan Kindig suggests that a canon is a set of texts we hold sacred. So I asked these teachers to come up with books they held sacred, books they wanted to be sure to pass along to a new generation of readers. They posted them to Twitter using #canon as the hashtag. I collected them for several days after the Get Together and I present them here (and they will be up on SlideShare.net/professornana as well.
What is not at all surprising to me is that the books they listed are a diverse lot. There are some traditional canonical texts. However, they are mixed in with more than a few contemporary texts. Also unsurprising, there were not many titles listed by more than 1 person. The only titles with multiple “votes” were:
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE
THE CHOCOLATE WAR.
If I were to ask a different audience this same question, I have no doubt that some of the titles would be different. When Connie Epstein asked this question dozens of years ago of Ivy League English professors, she found much the same thing: there was little agreement about the specific books they wanted incoming freshmen to know. What one professor remarked has stayed with me over those years: give us kids who love to read; assign grades for reading by the pound. I feel the same way: I want my grad students to love books and reading. I can give them titles and let them explore children’s and YA literature if they already love to read and know the power of a good book (the right book for the right reader at the right time as my subtitle to Making the Match declares). I worry in our prescriptive CCSS Exemplar Text state that we risk losing readers. And so, here is the rest of the CANON from NCTE’s Secondary Get Together. May it be a starting point for more discussion and for more celebration of books and reading.
THE GREAT GATSBY
THE COLOR PURPLE
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE
HURT GO HAPPY
IF I STAY
A WRINKE IN TIME
THE BOOK THIEF
LORD OF THE RINGS
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
WILFRID GORDON MACDONALD PARTRIDGE
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
OF MICE AND MEN
THE CLOCKWORK PRINCESS
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE
FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF MELANIN SUN
A FIRE IN MY HANDS
THE MOVES MAKE THE MAN
CHAOS WALKING SERIES
ELEVEN AND OTHER STORIES
THE LITTLE PRINCE
December 3rd, 2013
The allusion in the title for this post is another from Shakespeare. Hamlet, in response to a question about what he is reading, responds with it. And I worry that perhaps reading is coming down to this sort of response amidst all of the CCSS craziness and the new "technologies" entering into the fray. Now it is Curriculet (formerly Gobstopper which at least had a literary reference). The name sounded to me as though it might be a medical tool, and perhaps that first thought was correct. Read all about Curriculet, the latest offering that will cure all your reading ills, here: http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/11/k-12/curriculet-formerly-gobstopper-partners-harpercollins-offer-enriched-ebooks-schools/
. Curriculet allows teachers to insert all manner of items into an eBook (purchased through one vendor, HarperCollins). The company anticipated questions thusly: “One of the first things people ask is, ‘Won’t it hurt the reading experience to be interrupted?’ What we’ve seen is the exact opposite,” according to Singer. “Most readers need to stop and check to see if they understand. This gives them the chance to stop and take a breath and engage more deeply. Some public schools have gone a step further than we imagined,” Singer adds. “They created a period during the day when everyone reads on Curriculet,” either school-assigned reading or titles of their choice, often for silent reading sessions."
Wow, silent reading has now become reading with interruptions to make sure kids hit CCSS standards. Reading for pleasure is now reading with guidance from Curriculet and interference from teachers. How long will it be until kids truly do equate reading with words, words, words and not with personal response, aesthetic response? Before titles that kids love (GONE, WALK TWO MOONS, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA) become texts that create cringing responses on the part of the most avid reader?
I compare something like this to SUBTEXT, an app that permits readers to stop and comment, question, annotate at will. Here it is the reader in charge (though the teacher can pose questions and make comments as well). But aside from who is in control, there are other considerations:
1. How is access granted? Is it inside of the classroom only? What about kids who do not have access outside of school? Are we still creating and supporting a two tiered system?
2. Where is the human interaction? This reminds me of many of the other panaceas I have seen touted that put a program in charge of reading (and this is just an extension of Read 180 and AR in any event).
3. How much does all this cost? Follow the money.
As I noted yesterday, I am left with many questions and a growing mound of concerns that schools will buy into this and other programs without questioning the costs.
December 2nd, 2013
Names and naming have been running through my head of late. I won the rights to name a character in a new Barry Lyga novel some months ago when I bid for items authors auctioned for relief for Haiti (I also won a Skype visit with Barry Lyga which I donated to Room 407 and Mr. Hankins). At Thanksgiving, I announced to family and friends gathered that Natalie (former resident of the back bedroom and now College Girl) would be a detective in Lyga's next book, part of The Killers series. She was, as I suspected she would be, quite pleased.
And then PARRC announced it, too, was interested in names, this time names for its latest test items. In this article (http://partnerinedu.com/2013/11/26/another-parcc-acronym-the-pcr-or-prose-constructed-response-the-essay/
), PARRC announces its latest travesty on educational terminology (as least as it applies to testing) with the PCR or prose constructed response. I had already translated the other two items they have created: the EBSR (Evidence-based Selected-response) and TECR (Technology-Enhanced Constructed-Response). I particularly enjoyed the tech enhanced response that used "technology" to have kids drag and drop items into a chronological order of some sort on the item in question. This is a rather interesting use of "technology" which demotes tech to some sort of mouse maneuver. And now PCR renames the essay.
The PCR will be on early testing only and not on the end of the year assessment (Why, I wonder. though I do have some suspicions). Here is how PARRC delineates the differences between the essay and their PCR: "The PCR differs from typical classroom assessment essays in several ways. First and foremost, the text base that students will be addressing in their writing is novel or new so students will not base their written text on recollection of lecture or experience. Secondly, unlike most combination multiple choice and essay assessments given in class, the multiple choice questions preceding the PCR will be leading the student to think about the text because these two-part questions will be correlated to the PCR prompt. PARCC’s."
A rose by any other name, folks. I recall many tests as a student where I was given fresh material to tackle, where other test items helped me formulate the essay response. What I need to see a RUBRIC. Will this be scored by a human or a machine? What manner of text will be provided? What does PARRC count as an extended response? So many questions about names and labels. And this is one of my key struggles with CCSS and all the related materials: how EXACTLY does a rebranding, relabeling, renaming make kids any more ready for college or career?
I think we need to make up our own acronyms and meanings. Brand them. Sell them. Make $$$. Retire. That is what too many of the architects and test makers are doing.
December 1st, 2013
NOVEMBER 2013 BOOKS READ
553. THE GREAT AMERICAN DUST BOWL
554. ROTTEN RALPH: ROTTEN FAMILY
555. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ANIMAL?
556. TEA WITH GRANDPA
557. HOW TO WASH A WOOLY MAMMOTH
558. MY HUMONGOUS HAMSTER
559. SOPHIE SLEEPS OVER
561. DINNER WITH THE HIGHBROWS
563. KNOCK KNOCK
564. DUCK TO THE RESCUE
565. PINK CUPCAKE MAGIC
566. MONSTER CHEFS
567. MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND EVERY OTHER WEEKEND
568. EYE: HOW IT WORKS
569. DARE THE WIND
570. JANE, THE FOX, AND ME
571. BAD KITTY: DRAWN TO TROUBLE
572. WITCHING SEASON: STORMCASTER
573. HE HAS SHOT THE PRESIDENT
574. THE MINIATURE WORLD OF MARVIN & JAMES
575. FLORENCE NIGHTENGALE
576. WHAT THE HEART KNOWS
577. FARTY MARTY
578. OLIVIA GOES TO THE LIBRARY
579. A MOOSE THAT SAYS MOOOOOO
553. MUSK OX COUNTS
554. 35 LEGO CREATIONS
555. HOW TO HIDE A LION
556. UNDER THE SAME SUN
557. PICTURE ME GONE
558. A HOME FOR MR. EMERSON
559. HI, KOO!
560. CLARA AND DAVIE
561. PATTI CAKE AND HER NEW DOLL
562. HOT ROD HAMSTER MONSTER TRUCK MANIA
563. THE GOOD-PIE PARTY
565. THE END (ALMOST)
566. A BUNNY IN THE BALLET
567. ELEANOR AND PARK
568. THE PROMISE OF SECURITY
569. ALSO KNOWN AS
November 30th, 2013
I did not post a daily gratitude, but here is the wrap up for the month. And in no particular order.
1. Grateful for my job. I LOVE it.
2. Grateful for my BH who loves me even when I am incredibly unlovable.
3. Grateful for my sisters who love me and cheer me on.
4. Grateful for Cali and Natalie who have grown into such beautiful women.
5. Grateful for my colleagues who get me and let me be me.
6. Grateful for the lovely lake view from my porch.
7. Grateful for Scout who loves unconditionally, though loves me more when I have treats. He also makes me put down the technology and pay attention to him.
8. Grateful for the challenges given me that make me think and consider and learn.
9. Grateful for my friends on Facebook and Twitter that, even though we may never meet, offer succor and support.
10. Grateful for the platform I have to share my opinions (and I have many).
11. Grateful that there are people who do care about my opinions and who, even when they disagree, acknowledge my right to have different opinions.
12. Grateful for the incredible opportunities to travel and to meet colleagues from all over.
13. Grateful for the authors who craft stories that make me understand we are all connected.
14. Grateful for memories of those gone from my life but not and never forgotten.
15. Grateful for the faith that sustains me during dark times.
16. Grateful for the Nerdy Book Club for letting me be a part of their club.
17. Grateful for the chance to laugh with colleagues, friends, and family.
18. Grateful that my family continues to grow. Some are born into it and others elect to join it.
19. Grateful for technology that allow me to stay connected.
20. Grateful for pens and paper and the feel of pen running across the page.
21. Grateful that I am still able to do what I do but also that I can stop doing this soojjn and let others take over.
22. Grateful for Diet Coke and coffee when I need to wake up.
23. Grateful for those who protect and serve (sometimes invisibly).
24. Grateful that I ad the chance to say goodbye to some of those I have lost.
25. Grateful that I found time to list my gratitudes.
26. Grateful for trees, deer, nature nearby and along the way.
27. Grateful for surprise trips (Sweden!).
28. Grateful for continued chances to learn, learn, learn.
29. Grateful that this list is inexhaustible, really.
30. Grateful for chance encounters that lead to deeper conversations.
November 28th, 2013
Today we will head to a brunch at the Marriott in the Woodlands. For the past 25 years, I have come back from a week at NCTE and ALAN on the day before Thanksgiving. Early on, I would power through and actually cook a full turkey dinner. And then I found it was no longer a good idea to operate ovens and burners and wield knives while exhausted. Enter my gift of Thanksgiving. I give my family the gift of an exquisite brunch (with mimosas!) and then cook over the weekend. We GIVE thanks this way. We celebrate, we laugh, we reminisce.
And when I say family, I want to note that not everyone at brunch meets the strict definition of family. We are joined each year by people who have BECOME family. I am lucky enough to have many families: I have my SHSU family, my ALAN family, my YALSA family, and so many others. For this I am grateful (and my gratitude posting will be on November 30). When you gather today with your "family," think about how blessed you are. I know I will. And I will be unable to COUNT my blessings, they are that abundant. I know I miss some of them when they pass by, too. Only later will I stop in my tracks and reflect on a moment that sped past but was wonderful. The pat on the back, the smile in a meeting, the doe grazing by the side of the road. I give thanks for those moments, too. Like A S King, I send love to the passengers.
Love to all of you today and always.