Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Learning Progress

Years ago, when I worked as a literacy consultant during the summers, I had a favorite sequence that I did in a workshop on scaffolding independence. My purpose was two-fold, to demonstrate a strategy teachers could use to get kids processing content and to get teachers talking about grading. The sequence went something like this:

  1. Quick write: What does a grade mean?
  2. Share out and chart initial responses
  3. Read an article by Tom Guskey on using zeroes in grading like this one.
  4. Do a dialogue journal (silent conversation between partners): write, exchange respond, repeat
  5. Discuss/share out whole group

I've got to tell you, in the late nineties, those conversations would ignite teachers! Many of the teachers  then believed kids should be "held accountable" or "penalized" for not doing an assignment. Many could not understand why I would "give" my high school students no grade or a 50% F if they had turned nothing in. In some places, teaches still believe those things.

Singapore American School recently hosted a Solution Tree Institute:  Professional Learning Communities at Work.  It was the first time I'd heard Tom Schimmer speak.  He is a fabulous story teller, and speaker. His review and teaching about assessment affirmed my thinking and validated everything I know to be true about grading. He cited many educators I'd read and some I haven't, so I mapped out some learning for myself. I love to learn and I am passionate about equity and fairness in grading practices. How did I miss  Grading from the Inside Out last year ? I don't know, but I'm reading as fast as I can now.

My son learned to walk on a different day, and at a different age than my brother's daughter did. His path to learning to read was different than his buddy Ethan's path to reading. As Richard Allington has said every time I've heard him speak over the past ten years, research has proven one thing definitively about learning: kids are different. So, pair that with the idea that we teachers need to demystify the learning process for students.

Remember when we were demystifying the writing process and how we "grade" writing?

We need to do the same thing for every standard we assess.

Different communities, different departments, different districts or buildings are at different places in this work.  Here at Singapore American School (SAS) , ninth grade has been teaching theme. Our SAS rubric has four levels of understanding: exemplary, meets, approaching and area of concern.  Here is the top level of what the ninth grade team is using:

 The SAS rubric draws directly from the language of the reading standards one and two (citing textual evidence and analyzing theme). Each level of this rubric repeats the same language with different   qualifiers; the approaching level, for instance, uses the words "attempts to", instead of with sophistication.

At my former school in Florida we had been using Marzano's scales to score students. I led a grade level team and worked for several years to develop and revise scales for each of the standards we taught. Those scales are still changing because what we understand about learning and learners changes. The first scales our teams made embarrass me now --I wrote about them this very week in 2013.  What was I thinking with the bird metaphor? How is labeling a learner dependent or limited mitigated by also labeling him or her a fledgling or nestling? Our early teams struggled to come to consensus on language.

I've been tinkering with my scales from last year. Here is my most recent iteration. 

In my daily practice the steps to the skill -- teaching kids how to analyze a theme (or deconstruct an argument) has weight and purpose: kids attend and practice in the one on one conferences over their work in reading journals over the course of the quarter. They see clear steps and act on the feedback they get on their bi-weekly writing (we're on a rotating block here).

Still, it's a work in progress.

What I've learned since  Maya Wilson's Rethinking Rubrics book study many of us did on the English Companion Ning, is that feedback really matters. Learning progressions, called scales at my former school, called rubrics here-- are tools I can use to make feedback clear.

I  have to give kids feedback (and encouragement ) as quickly as I can to support their learning. I have to tell them where they are on track and were they need to do more work. I need to be systematic about about tracking what I say to whom, and when, so I can check back in and I need to monitor or keep an eye out: are kids acting on my feedback?
Feedback ideas I want to remember. Mine the institute by searching the #atplc hashtag on Twitter

You know, if they are not , then maybe I need to rethink my delivery.

I'm working on that part next.

Sorry, this is sort of slice of a week ago last week, right? Sometimes my ideas take some time to take shape
especially in a tropical climate on the Singapore side of the world. Thanks so much to the team at  Two Writing Teachers
 for hosting the weekly link up.  I learn so much by writing and reading with you all. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

The bell chimes three tones. It is time to begin class. We start with independent reading. It's the second week of September, so it takes a few minutes for the class to get settled. This week, I had three students come to class early, break out a snack and a book and get started long before class time--that sort of reading behavior is much more common in February--it can mean a lot of things though, so I won't read too much into it right now.

Minutes before the bell chimes,  a teacher asks if it is okay to sit in and observe. Another student would like a sports book recommendation. Someone has a book to return. There is a lot going on in the first five minutes. I point the sports reader toward Cheripko's Imitate the Tiger which, as it turns out, is not shelved where I thought it was. I redirect him to When I Was the Greatest and see what happens as he previews the book. Two others are book shopping next to him and the room begins to settle.

Did I greet the class and say hello? Did I review our plan for the day?
We won't be able to have two discussions on Thursday-- one is part of our formative assessment and the other is
routine in my room, but I have not yet revised the plan. Plans in my room are flexible. I revise them
before or after each class based on what kids understood or were able to do. 

Today was a C day; our schedule rotates A-D. I am still getting used to all of the moving pieces. My last class of the day, block three, are freshmen. They are excited, energetic, connected and ready. I have five students sitting in the "u" (a u-shaped collection of desks at the front of the classroom). They have their reading journals open, some have underlined their claims and they are ready to talk to me about the writing they practiced this week. One students asks how to return a book. Another needs a book recommendation.  Two more students are camping out in the "u"  just to sit together and read.

 At year's start, settling into story at the beginning of class can take a few minutes. These independent reading routines are new to kids. I remind myself that readers have needs. Not all readers need the same thing at the same time either.

One of my personal-professional goals is to personalize reading and writing instruction. One way I aim to get to this goal is through regularly scheduled reading-writing conferences.  I create a schedule.

Students sit in small group on their assigned day (or jump into the group if they want additional feedback and there is an additional seat). I wrote about this last year and I am still working on it.

I set a timer for twelve minutes for independent reading  and we are off. I confer with a small group while the rest of the room reads. They record their reading weekly on our Reading Record. The record has changed in the past year or two, but that is another post. One goal for year's start is to get independent reading routines running smoothly in the first two weeks of school, so that I can use that time to work with individuals. It often takes more than two weeks.

When my classes met every day of the week, the schedule was, perhaps for me, easier to remember and routinize. On a rotating block schedule, I am seeing kids one every two weeks, but with holidays and altered schedules, I have yet to meet with all of the Monday kids.

Ideally, I see a different group of students in small group five days a week.  I talk with them individually, so it's not a group conference. The seating arrangement just maximizes the time and my ability to confer. This first quarter of the year, we are talking about what kids write about what they are reading.

I am teaching students how to read closely in order to analyze theme or tone. The practice writing they do in their reading journal prompts them to do just that. I've been working on this practice for a while--its coming along.  That is one of the joys of teaching--figuring out what works best for the learners that are sitting with you right now. No two years are exactly the same for me. Routines are. Procedures may be, but specifics often shift.

This week, we are on our second round of conferences for most. As I talked with students today, I thought about last year.

I want to make a shift from:

  • me taking notes in/on students entries to students recording notes from our conversations.
  • me talking to kids talking.
Those are two starting points I'm focused on for our conferences this year. I am not there yet. I realized it as I wrote (scribbled) notes while talking to readers today. I need to hand off the responsibility for noting a student's goals for next week.

 How do I do that ? What words should I use? 

That's what I am thinking about  this evening. Well, that and Hurricane Irma.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Inquiring Minds

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the 
christening of all children, I would ask that her gift 
to each child in the world be a sense of wonder 
so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
- Rachel Carson

Inquiring minds want to know. Inquiring minds question. They wonder and are curious. Such minds seek patterns and aim to make sense of the world around them. Inquiring minds learn continuously.


All of us have minds made for inquiry. One visit to a pre-school group will confirm such a claim. We are born curious. It is through observation and exploration and discovery that we learn. We began our learning lives that way and if we are lucky such learning ignites our passions and interests in ways that engage us our entire lives.

This week at Singapore American School,  authors, Kath Murdoch and Trevor Mackenzie are working with teachers around inquiry. Their books are new to me, so I've been playing catch up with my professional reading--modeling reading during independent reading time in class and continuing my own learning reading and thinking at home. They are working here at school to deepen inquiry practices across campus.

In the two sessions I sat in on, Trevor Mackenzie, discussed stages of inquiry (structured, controlled, guided, and free) as well as how teachers' current practices can act as scaffolds to inquiry later in the school year.

Today I am thinking a lot about those scaffolds. How do my current practices structure opportunities for student agency? How do I give students voice and choice everyday in the classroom? What language do I use or can I use that will help kids develop inquiry mindsets as Murdoch says?

Today in Catalyst class [Catalyst is a semester long inquiry course where students delve into an interest--the course takes them or gives them space to create from pitch to product to presentation.] a student was working on an idea around putting on a course for young children on financial topics.

He had completed a self-assessment of his strengths and interests and he was working on what the course developers call a "Squid diagram." This thinking tool aims to get students to flesh out the who, what, where, when, how much, how and so what of an idea. The student had drawn a squid diagram on the whiteboard wall and he called me over to review it.

"So, talk me through your idea," I said to him.

"Well, essentially, I want to share information about finance with kids... uh, you know like create a syllabus of things I could teach to kids. I'm not sure what age, and I'm thinking of all of these finance topics, " he gestured to his diagram.

I borrowed his marker and wrote on the wall's edge: so what? for whom? how?  "Can you tell me a little more about these ideas: so what? for whom? and how?"

He reviewed his "for kids" whom and the importance of financial literacy and his interest in finance and then a bit of magic happened. When he looked at the how, he pointed at the word "syllabus" he'd jotted in his diagram and he replaced it with "course."

"Ah, a course, so how would you deliver that content? what would that include?" I asked.

From there came more ideas: video, an age-appropriate book, course handouts or modules kids could use to learn. He gestured to those ideas, I'd scribed for him and said, "ah, that can move over here... " to grow the "what" and "how" of what he wants to accomplish.

In another part of the room a student was working out several ideas. She was considering large topics: personal defense, the environment, ceramics and tolerance.  They seem so disparate at first glance don't they? I asked her, "where do they intersect?"

She drew a four-circle, Venn diagram showing the overlaps. I offered an example: ceramic water filters that people carry during trail hikes or when wilderness camping.

That example did stretch the tolerance aspect of her interests in a direction that may not have been true to her first thoughts (I was modeling on the fly). She understood my thinking  and started to brainstorm possible intersections. Another boy wandered by and asked us what we were doing.

"Thinking. Trying to figure out an idea," she answered.

"We're looking at the intersections of her interests," I said.

He looked down at her table drawing, pointed to the overlapping center of the four circles and said, "It would be really cool to design a project that would fit right in there."

Wouldn't it?

In sharing one of those moments during Trevor Mackenzie's session this afternoon, he suggested that, that moment with the how? and so what? questions would have been a moment when he stopped the class for a mini-lesson. He said he would have shared the student's thinking and ah-ha around the question stems in order to demonstrate for students how to think about their topics in generative ways in order to focus on a viable product (to use Catalyst  language) or a unit of study or idea (to use Mackenzie's words).

I can see where stopping the class and sharing that moment could work. It would not have worked mid-class in that Catalyst class period though. My co-teacher and I had 38 students spread across several spaces -- some not in shouting distance. Context matters. We had a good chat about how I could use that moment next class to focus on students' individual ideas and the work ahead. Work flow and routines matter too and I am reminded once again of the beauty of the infinite. There are an infinite number of ways to learn and to organize or support learning.

What resonates with me right now is how I can shift my practice. How can I use the language kids need to internalize the thinking long before they will use it on their own? How can I create  instructional routines-- that sort of mini-lesson ah-ha share out --on a regular basis to teach kids the transferable thinking skills they need as they approach independence as impassioned learners?  How do you establish that sort of routine? What sort of remembering (or anecdotal note-taking) would the teacher need to do in order to insert this into the work cycle of the class?

I love thinking about the possibilities. After all, like Emily D., I dwell there.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Unsettled Meet Grace

It is day eight of the new school year. I am still trying to get my feet under me when it comes to the new schedule, new PLCs, new buildings, new routines, a new common language and new to me ways of talking about the standards. All of my classroom things are in new places, new cupboards and new drawers. There is a new sequence to connect the projector and document camera, new Apple TV and new AirPlay mirroring. There are new log ins and new learning management tools, new teachers and new kids too.

New has high expectations. Whew.

It is easy to get overwhelmed at the start of a new school year. At Singapore American School in the days leading up to our start, leaders surprised me by talking about grace. Give each other, give your families, give your students, give yourselves, give a little grace as you face the demands of getting a new year going.

Grace takes a breath.

Grace assumes positive intent.  Grace gives us permission to fail or forget or forge ahead. Grace helps us to try again, to keep going, to work the tasks, one manageable piece at a time. Grace knows we will get to that sweet spot in the fall where routines take hold and you know all of the students' names and you know where you're going and who's on your team.

Though we are on day eight, I have seen my freshmen just three times, so in many ways it still feels like the first week of school. I am still getting routines in place. We set up our journals: academic and reading/writing. We started class with independent reading. We shared a word of the day. We wrote to each other.

Sentence completions and Dear Ms. S letters connect me to kids from day one. Love the reading and
writing strengths I see in their letters to me already! 

Familiar routines. Feels good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Do You See?

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for linking us up and creating a community in which to write.  I learn so much about writing (and teaching) by writing with this community. 

SAS runs on a rotating block schedule. We have A day and B day and C and D day. The mornings are soft starts with planning time (for teachers or PLC groups) and flex (free) time or Advisory for kids. Tuesday was our second first day of school.

While I want to write about the schedule and the school and the Welcome Back dinner. While I want to write about the army of folks--from security to landscaping to maintenance to food service-- care taking the day to day operations. I want to write about the futuristic Pathways -- learning spaces that are open flexible and mobile. While I want to write about PLCs or the grading policy, today, I’m a selfish writer. I want to hold this shiny moment at my new school and just let it sparkle.  In the challenge that is relocating to  new country and a new school, this moment made me feel ever so connected to the people I call home.

I was standing in the hallway during passing time with teacher and writer, Josh Curnett-- he teaches ninth grade and AP Language across the hall from me. Supportive and transparent, Josh has shared curriculum and tips and how tos with me since last April. I landed knowing I would learn a lot from him based on his chapter in  Global Perspectives. Here’s is just a moment from a day that sparkled with rain showers.

Josh: “You know Penny Kittles’ work?”

Me: grinning, “I do! I would consider her my friend. Well, you know, I know her from her work and from NCTE and ...”

Josh: “Your teaching reminds me of her.”

Me: “Wow! That is … I am friends with Penny Kittle. Well, not friends, friends, but I’ve skyped into her UNH class a few times to talk about my notebook and we’ve corresponded or emailed..”

I hear myself babbling, so I close my mouth and I fall into Penny memories from NCTE: introducing myself to her after reviewing, The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching, for California English . Emailing her pages from my notebook after sitting across from her at Middle Mosaic, skyping with her UNH summer students about my notebooks, resting in her Book Love words… she is one of the folks I walk with into my classroom each year.

Josh: “All those New Hamsphire folks, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, …  what you’re doing reminds me of…”

Me: “Really?” I shift from one foot to another then snake one foot up behind a calf. I tell him I once spent a spring break in Linda’s classroom.” An think how formative that event was in terms of my learning and practice.  

He’s standing stoically at his blue door, nodding to kids as the come down the hall. His feet are hip width apart, solid, an athletic stance.

Josh nods, “Yeah.”

Josh: “You know Donalyn Miller?”

Me: “I do.  Yesterday was her birthday!  I see Donalyn at NCTE and ALAN conferences each year… yes, The Book Whisperer? Reading in the Wild? You know her work? ”

Josh: “Yes. Yes. You remind me of her too.”

My mind goes to NCTE last year, a group dinner out. Then my imagination skips to the long banquet table set up of the ALAN conference. I see book stacks and sleep brown hair and a crisp blouse. I  I see Donalyn engaging my son, Collin, in conversation about books and high school. She leans in and he does too, nodding, listening, talking. When I walk up we talk about our children, her daughter in an IB program in Texas and my own difficulties as a teacher-mom. She tunes in to readers, to teachers, to kids -- her spirit opens and she shares.  I love catching those moments when her book spell weaves its way around Collin’s reading life (or mine).

Me:  “Really?

Josh: “Yeah. I see them in what you are doing.”


Josh’s compliment will resonate with me for a long time.  This is a pink stone moment for me because you know, we teachers. We work hard. Teaching is challenging work and there are times and places where people don't really see us. They may not know us or understand us or be members of our tribe. Josh's compliment felt like it came from a place of knowing, of paying attention, and of intention too. His kind words may even set the tone for my year--what powerful words!  What a label full of portent and positive possibilities he gave me and my teaching today.

He also made me think about how I am with educators. Do I spot peoples' strengths? Do I name their talents? Does what I say build others up? Am I that intentional in how I talk with teachers about their practice? Am I that affirming of others?

I need to go back to Choice Words and revisit Peter Johnston. I am going to learn a lot from Mr. Curnett this year. How lucky am I to have him right across the hall?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Share Your Why in PLCs

It's hard to say what I've appreciated the most about my new school's on boarding process: the settling in week at a beautiful hotel, the new teacher introduction to Singapore American School week or the vulnerable and honest communication from administrators and PLC team members as we get started planning the work of the first weeks of school this week. It's the start of  week three, pre-planning for the whole faculty. We've had two days of speeches and meetings and today we have a break for Singapore's National Day. It's a national holiday here, so schools and many businesses are closed. I am grateful for the time to take in and process what I've learned so far. Topping that list is working in teams and  PLCs.

Singapore American School is tight on PLCs. Teachers meet weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, in two different PLC groups. Yesterday we talked about PLC culture and expections. We played PLC Chutes and Ladders and discussed several toxic PLC scenarios that were achingly familiar.

(Chutes image, rogue slide)

I am in the ninth grade English PLC and in the Catalyst PLC. More on Catalyst later. In essence it is kid-driven inquiry that is literalky out of this world in some cases. Last year kids designed an experiment, sent it to THE space station, astronauts ran it and beamed the data back. I will co-teach one section of Catalyst the first semester.
My PLCs are high functioning and healthy. And one reason that must be is because administrators have modeled and modeled so much of what teachers are expected to do.

For example, start with story. Build relationships. That began at the aurport upon arrival and continues. Here's a snapshot of stories shared around the table of incoming high school teachers. You know who shared his why and how first? The principal. You know who shared second and third? The deputy principals. Then each new teacher shared.

(Story notes image)

 That relationship building continued in PLCs this week. Each began with members telling stories about theirnexperiences. We thought about questions such as: How did you get here? Why do you teach? We told our stories. With each telling we learned something new about each other. That bond building took much of our first ninety minute meeting. Men and women around the table spoke from vulnerable places and we affirmed and listened and connected, some cried.

Affect, emotional weight matters to memory and meaning making. That resonates with me this week.

Monday is coming. Kids will arrive. I know my room will be ready. But it isn't yet. I know I will have syllabi for my three courses posted and a stable log in and name games and a plan. But those things are not firmly in place yet.  The PLCs here have course materials that have been developed across years. Courses have institional memory and longevity here.

The principal said recently that the PLC process can be tough for teachers who come here at the top if their game. It can be tough because this is absolutely not a "do whatever you want" sort of school.  PLCs work togetjer to plan, create, assess, analyze and decide on next teaching mives. The intervene and extend when it comes to learning too. When teachers are told their grading categories must match in the digital grade book- they must. Instructional decisions are made by PLCs as a group that is a hard (tight) expectation and administrators are clear about that even before you are hired. If you go rogue, you go home.

There is tremendous innovation here in PLCs and across the campus in a myriad of ways. I am honored to be a part of it. I know I will learn a lot from the established curricula, and I love that this school and these people speak my language around topics like independent reading, assessment and grading. #This is Singapore day sixteen.

[I am working in my cell phone without WiFi and will have to upload pictures later. Post in orogress.]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Day 10

It’s near dawn, day ten in Singapore. Tonight will be our last night in the hotel.this afternoon we will do a final walk thru of the condo we chose last week. Workers have been busy painting. Instead of dark red walls and an orange ceiling, it is now a fresh white.

Elvis will have left the building. By this tomorrow my husband will have left the country. He is headed back to Florida and Walt Disney World. He will enjoy a Singapore vacation home in October when we will next see him.

Tomorrow we will transition out of the hotel and into new home. We will have more clothes than closets and more books than shelves. We will have two beds and two dressers and mismatched service for twelve.

Today we have new teacher orientation. I will learn power school and admire the cabinetry of my classroom.i will anticipate the magic and envision unpacking the classroom library.

I will finish reading the student handbook and meet with the guidance counselor to support Collin as he chooses classes. Today I will pick up the laundry and get coffee from the cafeteria, complete my medical screening and have a chest x-ray. I will meet my agent and sign a lease and pay a comission and take two cans. I will listen and sketch and take notes and imagine the new school year today too.

Tomorrow we will walk home from school to our happy gate and begin again this new life in Singapore.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Origin Story

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for crafting such a caring writing community!

I agreed to interview with the high school division of Singapore American School during Art Basel Miami. Our family enjoyed Art Basel in Hong Kong for my birthday last March, courtesy of an amazing Art Basel rep, so we bought tickets to the show in Miami in December.

I researched South Beach hotels and Air B&B spots and settled on a "boatel", a Californian Yacht, circa 1989. With two bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen, it was much more spacious, private and affordable than a hotel room in South Beach. The boat had wifi, so I figured I would be fine for a Skype interview with Singapore American School.

I am a native Floridan. My city is not quite as densely populated as Miami and while I-4 can be dreadful, it has nothing on Miami traffic jams. Of course on the way down to the boat, we got caught in traffic. We'd given ourselves six hours from home to dock, plenty of time I thought to get settle and be interview-ready.

"Are we going to make it? Should I set up your phone as a hot spot?" I worried from the passenger seat.
"We'll get there. We're going to make it."

I clock watched: 6:00, 6:30, 6:45. We had a 7 pm appointment.

At 6:55 I am reading the directions aloud: pull up to the public park, see the tennis courts, pull in to the drive, unload baggage, park in the public lot across the avenue, venture to the end of the dock, use the code on the combination lock.

Was this for real? Would the combination work?

Collin and I were rolling suitcases down the aluminum dock when the phone rang. Our boat was tied up at the penultimate slip.  We were climbing the aluminum stairs. In front of the boat a tennis club--teens taking lessons. Behind us, mansions and stars. Rick was parking the car.  The phone chimes.

Skype. Singapore calls.

I wave at Collin. "Figure out how to get in! You have the directions on your phone..." I flick my hand up and climb into a white bean bag chair on the bow of the boat, right arm stretched, selfie-style in front of my face. I put the traffic behind me and smile.

"Hello?!" I answer.

Stephen, Amy and I talked for more than an hour. I could see shoulders and elbows. I couldn't see their faces during the interview. I figured it was the phone screen or some such tech issue. I was speaking forcefully (think loud and proud) into the phone as I faced the tennis courts. We talked about literacy and about PLCs and about people and about parents and about kids and passions.

We talked about successes. And we talked about failure. We shared stories and my heart opened. And there was silence from Singapore for a few minutes.

I knew that no matter what ... this was a moment, an important moment and I was all in.

Thankfully, Collin and Rick figured out how to unlock the boat and get in. Once the interview ended, I made my way aft and descended into the cabin. Rick's first words, "Mama picked a winner again!" He was stretched out on the couch in the living room watching a game on the huge t.v.  The full kitchen was three steps down.

It was an amazing boat and an amazing art weekend and the best interview I've ever had.

I am delighted to join Singapore American School and I am so blessed by friends and family who have made this move possible.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chipper and Laughing at All Write

Last week I spoke at the All Write conference in Warsaw, IN. Twenty pages of illustrated notes, great sessions and new friends made it wonderful. I will reflect more on the sessions soon, but I wanted to capture meeting some Twitter and blogging folks first.

I made my way up the aisle in the dimmed auditorium to get settled in to listen to Lester Laminack, All Write's opening keynote. I sit in front rows.

In the front row there are less distractions. In the front row, I don't need to wear glasses to see the screen.  In the front row, there is less chit chat from others. I can hear the speaker pause to breathe. In the front row, I can read the expressions on speakers' faces. I am a front row sort of person.

So, I settle in near the middle in the empty front row. I open the last zipper of backpack and slide my black sketchbook out from it's spot next to my laptop. I unzip the second zipper and fish around the pocket for my Staedler colored pencils-- the ones in the stand up case. I pause and look up the long angle to the projection screen. This front row is neck-crick close to the screen.

A woman behind me leans forward and says, "Hey! You're the other Lee Ann!"

"Oh my gosh, Leigh Anne!" Leigh Anne Eck was sitting just behind me. Of course she was an up-front sort of participant too. We originally met online-- on twitter, on our blogs. What a delight to finally meet face to face. Leigh Anne has already started blogging her learning from All Write-- I love how she framed her learning from my session as things she would take-forward into next year. 
Chiper (@chipten) photobombing behind us.

We started sharing bits from school and life. Suddenly, in leans another smiling face. "And I'm Jennifer..."

From YESTERDAY? Jennifer Laffin participates in  Slice of Life blogging hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I'd read her blog about her first trip to All Write just the day before. She wrote about taking the plunge to attend All Write alone four years ago and how braving the conference by herself changed her professional life. I commented and hoped to connect and as if by magic, or God's unseen, happy hand, here she was right behind me.

Jennifer Laffin and I at the Boathouse after All Write day #1

"And this is  Chiper," Jennifer said motioned to the woman sitting to Leigh Anne's left.
"Chiper? There must be a story behind that great name!"

"I was a chip off the old block and I'm always happy," Chiper said. As one who has been accused of farting rainbows and unicorns, can I just say I how it tickled me to meet Chiper.

Just like that, I found more members of my tribe:  happy learners who sit up front, take notes, talk teaching, laugh and write.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilates, Practice and Incremental Shifts

I see blue skies and oak leaves waving in the wind. The sun is out this morning and a summer blanket of cirrus clouds approach.  I am parked in front of the Move Pilates Center waiting for my teacher. I'm early.

I am new to Pilates. I have not completed even a year of practice yet. My body is relearning how to properly align itself. My knees have to be reminded not to fall out and away from the line drawn from big toe to ankle. My sacrum is learning to stick and stay planted so that my center does the lifting. My head and neck often have minds of their own. I'm working at it. I have yet to strike the teaser pose Stacey Shubbitz wrote about here, but I am making incremental improvements in my practice each class, each week.

The small improvements in practice are noticeable just like they are in our classrooms. In Pilates class, I know when I am moving in a way that builds strength when my teachers,
respond to how I’m moving and helps me revise my position. I know how to self-correct too because Ligia and Tharai have taught me to listen to the feedback of the springs on the reformer or to the feedback of the rollers or spine stabilizers.

So often my teacher reminds me to minimize the movement. Incremental shifts. "No so big! You can't control the movement if you make it too big." The tremble of truth in my core muscles tell me she's right.Feedback leads to learning whether that feedback comes from my teacher, my body or the equipment. I need to pay attention to it if I am going to get stronger.

In my English classroom, I give and get feedback too. Students, peers, and administrators inform my practice. Even test scores talk to me about my teaching practice. Standardized test scores for our annual state test were recently returned to schools. I’ve finished crunching my numbers and I am satisfied with what they tell me. Our state test is just one measure. It is a snapshot in an album of a child’s learning and growth over time. Many people and many factors contribute to gains and losses in the context of an academic year. It matters when a child misses a lot of school. It matters that teachers that teach alongside me in this child’s academic year are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It matters when teachers work alongside kids: reading, writing, conferring and encouraging. So much matters in schools when it comes to kids’ futures.

Analyzing testing data is but one layer of performance. Kids’ attitudes matter. How my PLC team works together matters. What my administration believes and knows about effective teaching and learning, all matter. One year these pieces--kids, peers, administrators and scores-- will align. I dream of perfect triangulation: anecdotally, attitudinally, qualitatively and quantitatively.

The numbers are good this year. In my state these scores are a student’s bottom line. Without a passing score of 350 students do not get a high school diploma. I teach high-achieving students. Some think and say, "it doesn’t matter who teaches this kind of kid." Those critics have a mindset that these kids will do just fine no matter who is in the classroom.

Perhaps. Is that really what we want to say to teachers though? High achieving students may pass, but this data set doesn’t agree with that assumption one hundred percent. Most years, most pass, yes. But will students continue to grow?

Last year my principal stopped me in the hall and congratulated me on the growth he saw in my students’ scores. He said something like, people don’t realize that it is as hard to get a kid at the top of the scale to make progress as it is at the lower end.


I know that has been a rallying cry in gifted education in year’s past. Still. In  my teaching heart of hearts, all of the work we do in classrooms is hard work, especially in Title I schools like mine.


I didn’t figure out how to move six students over the line this year. Of the six students that didn’t quite reach the line, all but two grew.

Sometimes we fight for each single point on these tests, so while a move in the positive direction may not have statistical significance, it sure has practical significance. These six students will retest in October.

Overall, I can see that incremental shifts in my practice are working. I changed my feedback loop this year. I made it tighter and I personalized learning goals for each student. I checked in via conference weekly. Wow, did it work! Running a workshop classroom, works. Giving students choice and voice works. Practice--reading every day, writing every day, giving students timely feedback--counts.

I may be twenty-three years into teaching, but I am still learning.  Practice still matters. What I do with kids every class period of every day determines how strong we will be at year’s end.  My students grew by leaps and bounds this year!  While I may not agree with the testing law of the land, I delight in kids’ success.  I am so proud of their hard work. We did it!
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Summer of

A talented teacher-author I know has named her summer the summer of silver. She tags her photos with the name. She's creating and curating memories. I love the sound and the slippery joy of a silver summer. I enjoy getting a peek into the memories she's making on social media. The summer of silver brings water glints and sunshine to mind in ways that I can smell. In a way that makes me smile and hum. 

Do It Yourself, Andy Warhol, 1962

I don't yet know the story behind my friend's naming of summer, but I like to imagine what it could be: an anniversary or an element. I'm in the copper year of my marriage, Copper Summer doesn't sound too bad- I like the patina and pastiche of it. What elemental name could I give summer? Surely not Sulfur and I'm certainly too lazy for Iron this year.  Naming the season or the summer reminds me of how we organize stories-- a name is like a narrative thread we can pull. I like the intentionality of naming.

Intention counts -- not with calories, unfortunately, but with mindsets and hearts. 

It is summer, sweet, sweet summer. I am going to swim and sleep and read and draw and create and love and skate and smile and hike.  I already got the bikes in working order and arts and crafts ideas lined up. I have time to make plans and meet friends, to cook or go out.

We are in our second glorious week of summer and I feel the slip and slide of time. This time last year families were stunned and grieving the lives lost at the Pulse night club. This time last year I was walking around Lake Eola and the Dr. Phillips' Center downtown, praying with the community and marveling at the musicians churches sent out to comfort mourners. So much can happen in a summer.

This time next year I will be half a world away finished with my first year at a new school. Next year, I will planning a trip to see family. 

This summer I want to be in the moment. In the right this minute of now. I want to feel the beauty of seconds and see love in details. 

I want to savor time with family and friends before our big move to Singapore in July. Savory Summer or the summer of savory, sounds too food-centric.  I did my fair share of stress eating to close out the school year, so I need a little less sweet and savory in this summer. So what could I name this summer?  I don't know what or even if I want to name it, but I sure know I plan to enjoy it.

I hope you do too.