Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Acknowledge Others

Hard to believe it's been almost a year since Reading Amplified went live online as one of Stenhouse's first Read and Watch books. It's been more than a year since I began writing it and creating the videos that are included in it. Though I'm not sold on the web-only format, I learned so much writing this book.

As I sat down to write recently, I thought about how we never quite know who will join us on our writing  journey. I am sure my next writing adventure will connect me to people I haven't even met yet.

I could not have written Reading Amplified without colleagues, friends and family. Writing humbles me. Sometimes it scares me. I thought I'd post the acknowledgments from the book just as a public thank you on this first anniversary and as a way to spur myself back to the business of writing.

Thanks all!

"Acknowledgments" from Reading Amplified

Writing informs my teaching. It makes the work I do in class matter even more because it is a public act, shared. Writing exposes. It clarifies. Writing refines. Writing connects. Writing a book is a collaborative effort. God brought just the right people into my life to inspire, support, push and encourage me.

Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger shared the idea of a tutorial-rich, multi-media book and spurred me to write it. Thank you for that and for swinging by portable twenty-nine to inspire my student poets when you’re in the neighborhood. Your friendship and encouragement have meant the world to me.

I am grateful that I got to write the book for Team Stenhouse. My editor and yoga guruHolly Holland, helped me shape the story so that learning could lead the way. Early conversations with Holly, Chuck Lerch and Dan Tobin energized me for the work. Their vision made the multi-media book I’d imagined even better. Many thanks to Jay Kilburn’s superb design work and Jill Cooley’s permissions acumen. I’m grateful to Chris Downey and the tireless copy-editor — their lesson about which numbers to write out may just stick! Many years ago, Philippa Stratton sat in on workshops I offered as part of Janet Allen’s summer literacy institutes. A model workshop participant, she stayed “after class” and talked to me about writing. She listened thoughtfully to book outlines I journaled and encouraged me to start writing. Those experiences would not have been possible without my mentor, Janet Allen—who, above all else, gave teachers like me opportunities to grow professionally. What started as a part-time job presenting workshops during summer institutes turned into sharing learning with a joyful team of generous teachers who wrote at your side. Thank you, Janet.

I am thankful for education’s rock stars. Sara Kajder once told me her goal was to teach me something new—that comment made more than just the day for me. Thank you for believing in me and giving me confidence. Thank you for marking the trail. For the working teacher-writers who have opened their classrooms (Linda Rief) or journals (Penny Kittle) or manuscripts (Cris Tovani) or online worlds (Jim Burke) to me, I am eternally grateful. Through your work and the work of others—Barry Lane, Rick Wormeli, Stephen Krashen, Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Anderson, and Donalyn Miller—I see models of professional lives I want to live. Thank you for leading the way and welcoming me when I followed.

My students bring joy to me each day. I am honored to learn from and with some amazing teenagers online and in person. Thank you for allowing me to include your work, words and pictures in the book—especially Chris and Lea, your family remains an inspiration to me. A special thanks to Hank Green. I am humbled by all he does to encourage young people to learn and do good in the world. DFTBA!

I am lucky to work in a school community with some very smart people. Alpha Geek and personal tech-guru, George Perreault, understands how I love to learn and continues to feed my desire with training and special opportunities offered by the district. Beth Scanlon’s service as a sounding board during our morning commute helped me work through ideas and refine my thinking. My principal, Susan Storch, gave me opportunities to push the tech-envelope at school and in my classroom –thank you.

I am blessed to have two men in my life who understand how to care for a writer. My son, Collin, and I share a six-foot desk in our studio office. Thank you for your optimism even in the face of crashing hard drives. I love having you write across from me. Thank you for giving up some Saturdays and for not minding if I wrote on the sidelines during soccer. My husband, Richard, knows how to turn frustration into production with a good cup of home-roasted coffee and just the right words. Thank you for making me laugh and for helping me believe—even from far flung places like Disney’s Aulani resort.

My mother always believed I’d write. She made writing possible by taking care of meals, errands or my child. She and my father helped me overcome writing fears with unflagging encouragement and the idea that just as I can’t eat an entire pizza in one bite, nor would I write the whole book at one sitting. Piece by piece got the job done just as you predicted, Dad. Thanks.

And thank you to the teacher-readers who, like me, have yet to stop learning. It is in your classrooms and by your example that we will change education and forge the future for youth. Thank you for all that you do for the young people sitting in front of you. Stay true and be strong. I look forward to joining you in the work ahead.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Poetry Club Goes Virtual

Amazing things happen when poetry takes the stage. Next Tuesday youth poets  I
Cypress Creek High Poetry Club Alum:
See these poets on YouTube but not live on Tuesday
coach will take the virtual stage via Google Hangout for our first ever Virtual Open Mic.

I'm a little nervous truth be told.

What if no one else signs up? What if it's just my poets, a group from St. Petersburg and Kwame Alexander? That would likely be fantastic. What am I worried about?

If you don't know Kwame Alexandar, you need to. An amazing speaker, and a down-to-earth member of the literati,  Nikki Giovanni calls him her "literary son." I made Kwame's acquaintance at a Summer Symposium sponsored by The English Teacher's Friend. I was there helping out with Slam Camp, an event for youth poets. Kwame was a keynote speaker. He talked about "saying yes." Say "yes" when the door of opportunity opens. Say yes and see. So many yeses he described to me.

When my students asked for open mic time and we couldn't find a local venue, I said yes. I said I would ask around (email and tweet) and see if anyone would like to join us virtually. I tweeted an inquiry. Kwame said yes in an instant. In less than a minute I had his yes. I did a little happy dance next to my desk (it was after school, so students did see me, but I'd do it again).

I tweeted the message and got his reply in the same minute it seemed. Impressed. Gary Anderson and Deb Day were on it, retweeting.  Thank you! More yes. Such support gave me quite the lift at the end of  last week.

We're taking to Google Hangout on Tuesday (October 22) after school from 2:30-3:30. I figure I'll run the open mic in my room just like my poets and I have seen it run in local venues. As poets arrive they will sign up on "the list" (a blank notepad) to reserve their spot on the microphone. We'll begin at 2:30 EST and take turns on the mic going around the virtual room for an hour. It's going to be awesome.

Give your poets an audience, join us on Tuesday, we'd love to hear what your students have to say.

Details and sign up here. 

Grab a second slice from Two Writing Teachers or
get the skinny on the Slice of Life Story Challenge here. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I'll Show You Mine

Adopted as part of our new teacher evaluation system, the "common board" or common board configuration (CBC)  tells students what their learning goal is and the activities the teacher has planned to help them meet it. Each CBC includes the following headings: standards, learning goal, we are learning this by, bell work, and formative assessment or summary. There is a large gap in the design between bell work, that initial into class and get working activity and the formative assessment or summary of the day's learning. I fill that gap with a "do" section that lists our learning activities in order--perhaps we were originally trained to do just that, I've since forgotten if we were. We used to have to note vocabulary in the "we are learning this by..." section, but that was dropped from the CBC as was the essential question that originally made an appearance near the learning goal and standards.

I believe in posting the goals of a class, a unit, a workshop, a training session, a meeting. You name it. If you are leading people, they need to know where you're going and how they can expect to get there.  Participants, be they children, teenagers or adults, benefit from the seeing what is planned. It helps learners anticipate and reflect. As a learner, I value knowing the end goal and get frustrated when instruction does not point me in the advertised direction.

I am still working out the best way to communicate the end goal to students. I like the "I can" statements of Stiggins, Bill Ferriter described several years ago; we are limited though in our language choices.  Our teachers must write "students will be able to" or "students will understand" goal statements--which proved challenging on the day of a school-wide or grade-level assessment.

Here's my CBC on the day of our one-grade, one- book assessment:

I finagled the "accepted" wording so that it fit my instructional purpose.

Like many English teachers, I recognize that we integrate the language arts: reading, writing, speaking, listening and language. In my classroom we are rarely just reading or writing or speaking or listening or using language. We may be speaking by sharing snippets from books we are reading for pleasure. We may be listening to a peer read from his or her own writing. We may read a written draft for specific language concepts in order to revise or edit our work. These processes work together in an English class. I find writing a "students will be able to" statement is not as clean as I imagine it could be. Here is Tuesday's CBC which shows a bit more of that integration. 

Such togetherness, such routine and authentic integration makes writing a clear daily learning goal tricky. I wonder what James Moffett would make of lean learning goals?

 I tend to stack goals which may or may not benefit students. Am I trying to communicate too much at once? Do students understand how we may be practicing speaking goals while sharing our writing which is about theme, one of our literature goals? Can they make connections between learning to read closely for main idea, learning to ask and respond to questions to propel conversations and learning to write informative or expository analysis? Can students see the big picture? Can they articulate it? Because knowing what you are learning to do is different from just doing it. Articulating the processes and concepts of the goal requires meta-cognitive thinking. Just as students need the work to get them to the standards' goals, they also need the reflective practice in talking and writing about their own learning.

Lately, I've been typing up my learning goals and scales, shrinking them on the copier and giving them to students to paste into their academic journals. This caused a bit of an issue during a recent informal evaluation. The scale, or a scale, wasn't immediately visible. I appreciate that the administrator came back to my classroom in between classes to ask me about it. A short conversation over the current scale we're using cleared up the issues.

Here is an example* we're using to guide our thinking and writing about themes in literary works:

The shrunken goals and scales which are pasted into students' journals may become an anchor for a process, an activity over time (such as weekly Socratic Circle discussions) or a unit of instruction. I'm not seeing students refer to them without prompting yet. Though they have adopted the bird metaphor to describe their progress. Though I have heard students marvel over the notebooks they are creating. The goals and scales are not their guide, I am.

Students are on the trail with me and we're hiking up the mountain but I'm leading the group and it's up to me to point out sights, pack provisions and make sure none are lost along the way.

If your district or school is knee-deep in learning goals and scales I'd love to hear lessons you're learning or questions you're wrangling as you implement them in comments.

*The scoring notes have to do with the tenth grade teachers' common assessment of theme and central ideas. We gave students the same fiction and nonfiction passages. We met to discuss how to score them and what each rubric point likely meant in terms of a students' written performance. I'll save that for another post as I'm still thinking about what I learned from the experience.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Keep Calm and Do

 Katherine Sokolowski's recent "Rose Colored Glasses" slice has resonated with me this week. From her love your way through September lead to her commitment to a positive focus.
I was talking to a friend the other day and she asked me how my year was going so far. I replied that – like always in September – I was exhausted, but I loved my class. 

I love my classes too. For me, students are rarely the stressors at school. My students are the princes and princesses of Florida, future kings and queens of the Southeast. Students bring me joy.

The not so fun  part of school is homework. I've had a lot of homework lately, teacher homework.  I worked four of five days this week until late in the evening--nine o'clock most nights. If I'm being honest, there is good in that work too. I've learned a lot: voice commenting, standards-based grading, scope and sequence planning, and formative assessment have brought moments of epiphany. I love to learn. It energizes me. Good thing because in September the road of work is long and sometimes not well paved.

It is the time of year when we are getting classrooms up and running while gathering initial assessments and building rapport. I've been analyzing students' testing data, assessing initial written pieces, noticing students' needs, planning for instruction, creating a scope and sequence with colleagues, working on common assessment, and reading about Common Core implementations all the while trying to grade student work, give feedback to writers, input grades into the school's management system, connect with parents and manage the book tide that is my classroom library. And these are just my own concerns, not the concerns of the English department I'm charged with leading.

I plan for the work. We have lives outside of school (or we try to): families, dinners, chores, friends, parents, dogs and hobbies. When the work demands doing, hobbies get shelved. I stick closer to home, "go to ground" and lay low for a while. On a weekly basis I have to make sure I manage the home front on the weekends in a way that makes the school week work. I have to let go of pristine and perfect. The house might not be as clean as I'd like. I have to tackle laundry and errands, and spend Sunday afternoon cooking ahead, so that dinners are as easy as chop, combine and serve or "heat and eat."  Pleasure reading slows down.  Exercise sometimes gets sidelined, but it won't always.

Remembering the temporary, acknowledging the always or the lack of always-ness in any given work moment helps me focus on moving forward. I could choose to gripe and complain and seethe. I could collapse into Common Core crazy, but I won't. I won't make that choice. I won't allow myself to wallow in the what could be, the what was, or too much of the who or the why. I don't want to spend my time that way. As I struggle and have concerns, I voice them. I seek solutions in conversation not gossip or complaint. Sometimes I write my way through.

In data meetings with team members yesterday I voiced my concerns about time. It's an old story. Teachers need more time. We need time to teach and time to assess (as if the two are separate). We need time to plan and time to process. We need time to grade and time to confer. Time to call parents and time to organize the classroom. We need time if we are going to collaborate effectively. We need time to read and time to think and time to learn.

Maybe what we really need is help prioritizing. We don't have answers yet. We are going to have figure out the work-arounds, find the balance, as we do the work. Our work is weighty and in September we feel that weight.

Teachers have a new leader at school, several actually. We also have new standards and new expectations. Iron sharpens iron. I have time to do the work that is before me. I've run through September. I am stronger for it. I have time to run the race of the first marking period.  I can. I will. There is no try, only do.

Image from The People Project

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Open House: Today's Slice of Life

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Find details here or visit today's link list for a second helping. 

Open House is a whirlwind of class changes, video messages and handshakes. It is smiles at the door and first names and meeting parents, sometimes for the second time. Our high school Open House ran from six to eight  this evening. 

We began with an announcement from our new principal via the public address system. Then we all watched two videos, one on Common Core Standards and the second a short welcome message from our school board representative, Rick Roach. I appreciated that Roach displayed his email address and phone number for parents. I admire the work he has done in our community and the effort he makes to communicate with and support those he represents. Marion Brady's story about him taking a version of our state's standardized test went viral after being published by the Washington Post in 2011. You can read Brady's piece here or Valerie Strauss's follow up which reveals Roach's identity here.

After the virtual welcome messages teachers had time to talk to parents. Parents get ten minutes in each of their child's seven class periods. They have five minutes or so to travel between classes. 

I spent my ten minutes praising children and showing parents where they can find information about our classes online. We toured our class webpage and peeked into the school portal so that parents could 
see where I am posting homework weekly. We visited a student's narrative essay recently shared via  Google Drive and listened in to a snippet of feedback I'd recorded using see Kaizena

Sarah's narrative essay, pictured here from my Kaizena work space is
an object story mentored by Simon Rich's New Yorker piece, "
I wanted to sit the parents in our Socratic circle, have a discussion, talk balance and learning. I wanted to ask parents to write their children a note I could tuck into their journals tomorrow. I wanted to have parents turn and talk to each other about their children and the joys and challenges of sophomore year. I want to poll, to survey,  to elicit. 

I likely talked too much.
 Ten minutes flies when you have so much to share.