Wednesday, November 14, 2018

NCTE 2018: Countdown to Launch Session K.19

NCTE is on the horizon. We are about to enter the time-warp that is international travel to get there. Traveling to NCTE from Singapore makes the conference even more special, this year especially.

This year, I'll be talking about two power practices (independent reading and conferring). Specifically, we'll explore conferring, feedback and how we give students agency within workshop structures. I'm curious about the types of conversations we have with middle and high school readers. How do we assess readers based on those conversations? How do we gather conferring data over time, so that we can use it to plan next-steps or to empower students to set goals?

This year, I'll be presenting with two of my favorite educators: Nancy Johnson, children's literature guru, literature circle maven and one of my education sheroes and my son, Collin Larke, currently a senior at Singapore American School and formerly one of the youngest members of NCTE.  Nancy will address pillars of independent reading: knowing readers, knowing books and making the match.  Collin will share his senior project and engage us in conversations about teen readers--their preferences, their attitudes and their challenges when it comes to reading for pleasure.

I am delighted that Collin is going to share his voice and the voice of several students in his reading community.  Collin has been coming to ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE, since first grade. Our ALAN family of educators and authors has shaped him as a reader and learner. I am hoping he will talk a bit about that too, but we'll see.

We leave for the airport this evening and take off just after midnight Singapore time. We have just under 30 hours of travel time. We'll watch movies. We'll read books. We'll rehearse and anticipate. I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Into the Woods

from Weschler, Lawrence. (5 Nov 2018). "His Three Loves." The New York Times.

I am doing something that is really hard for me to do. I am pushing myself into my discomfort zone and I am not experiencing much success, yet.

Being a novice is not easy. It is especially hard when you compare yourself to experts in the room.

A friend asked how the project was going and  "I don't like it" was my quick reply.

Hearing myself, I reframed my quick reply into a more forward-thinking frame. Saying things like, "I love to learn", and "I enjoy the group I am learning with..." Both true statements.

At the third practice, I felt anxiety creep up my spine and settle in my neck.

Did I say "I don't like it" in order to cover up for something I should have done or prepared or practiced in order to be ready to do the thing? Is it a lack of skill prompting this attitude or is it performance anxiety?

I am curious. I enjoy learning. I take risks. Singing and performing in the faculty musical is meant to be fun team building for faculty. I mean, I know I'm playing Cinderella's Stepmother in Sondheim's Into the Woods, but really. What's up with my initial feelings?

Bill Ferriter recently blogged about negative people in organizations. His writing about negative people spoke to my own negative feelings about my recent performance.  Ferriter writes that seeing negativity in people in organizations really points back to the work you yourself need to do. He writes,  "You have knowledge building or skill building or relationship building to do."

I know I get irritated with myself when I am underprepared for something. Nothing good comes out of a vacuum. Polished performances take practice, skill, and knowledge

Ferriter cites Anthony Muhammad who argues that reasonable, rational people resist change for four reasons:

  1. They don’t understand the work that you are asking them to do. 
  2. They don’t understand why the work that you are asking them to do matters. 
  3. They don’t know how to do the work that you are asking them to do. 
  4. They don’t trust you.
Am I resisting the changes this new learning demands? I wondered. 

I realized that I have forgotten how to read music. There are gaps in what makes sense to me on the page. My violin and piano playing days ended when I was in high school. I lost some of those skills. I don't always know how to do the singing work my part demands because I don't always know how to read the music--especially when three people are to begin singing at once. That is something solid I can land on and work to learn how to do. I bet with practice, I'll develop more confidence. I bet by March, I will love the singing and the practicing. I also bet that the love will grow over time with the work I put in.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shifts in School

Thought partner, Tom Vander Ark at Singapore American School.

I had the privilege of listening to Tom Vander Ark (@tvanderark) address members of the Leadership Cohort at Singapore American School yesterday and of listening to him talk to a smaller group of leaders this morning. Futuristic and energized, Vander Ark spoke about our rapidly changing world. He posited shifts we need to make in education and framed everything with awe. Indeed,  as he said, "It is an incredible time to be an educator."

Vander Ark referred to several shifts that will be as world-changing as the shift from print to digital has been. He framed this part of his talk with us using these big questions: What does it take to be a capable human being? What are the most important capabilities? The shifts we will see in education are look to answer those questions. Vander Ark's three shifts include:

1. Moving toward measuring, marking and communicating the broader aims of education. These aims at Singapore American School are called Desired Student Learning Outcomes (DSLOs). Other schools on the planet call them dispositions or character traits. Our DSLOs include creativty, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competence, and content knowledge.

As a system, we will need to expand our reporting dashboards so that a learner's profile captures more than just content knowledge or criterion-referenced data.

2.  A move toward more active learning where learners co-construct experiences and have agency over what, how and when skills and content are learned. Imagine project-based learning schools. Good work, as he said, is being done right now on this front around the world.

3. A move from awarding credit based on time (seat time) to credit based on competency.

Really, sit silently with these shifts for a moment. They are huge. They are complex.  What will it take? How will we get there? We've not yet created the systems or tools that would make such a leap forward entirely possible yet.

What is most important? What is most important at work? What is most important at home? What is most important in relationships? What is most important in civic life?  These are the types of questions that will guide learners and leaders of learning in the future.

It's likely that the ability to tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor is not most important --but it is a content knowledge I've taught in English language arts classes. It has been important to me at some level as I make meaning in the world.

Content, from all of the academic disciplines, is important, but I am continually reminded that content is the context in which we learn. We learn to empathize through literature in English language arts. We learn to collaborate by conducting investigations with others in science class. We learn to think critically when we study history (and math, and science and English and everything, really). Content is the context for the learning we must do to become capable human beings.

I am sure I will be thinking about all that Tom Vander Ark shared with us for quite some time. Don't miss his work on current trends we educators need to pay attention to now on Getting Smart.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Math-tastic Practices

Holy cow, today was a math-tastic day. Here are five reasons why (and you know they are serious reasons because I'm counting down from ten):

5. Monday began with coffee and breakfast in a middle school math teacher's room: egg-salad sandwiches, fresh fruit, crispy bacon, coffee, tea--a literal buffet of healthy breakfast items set up by one of the kind people from our school's cafeteria and catering group.  Food is not the most important thing, but it sure is a kindness. I did not have to stop along the way to school to purchase snacks for teachers. I did not have to bake items to contribute to the buffet.  We are well cared for here at Singapore American School.  I do not want to take that for granted.

4.  We practiced five practices for math discussion from Smith and Stein's 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion, 2nd EditionEven though the teacher-coaches at my table processed the answers to the questions we were working verbally, so I didn't have to do the math... I enjoyed a teaching ah-ha moment.

3.  I can adapt and connect the math practices to what I would do in an English language arts class with writers.

Imagine this:
Our goal is to generate toipcs for writing an informational piece. Imagine setting students up for a writing problem or challenge-- you might frame it around recent readings or personal learning about topics of interest. Students get right to talking and writing (on a shared document or on white boards or on chart paper or in notebooks--that how is not as important as the thinking they are demonstrating).   Imagine monitoring how small groups of students used strategies to address the writing challenge. As groups worked on that task I could walk the room, listen in and take note of strategies students were using to meet the challenge. Some students may generate ideas in a list, some may make and reject suggestions, some may use questions from earlier in the unit to guide topic selection, others may talk about a mentor text and connect topics, others may do some sort of mapping (imagine a bubble map or a circle map to borrow language from Thinking Maps). Then, imagine that I want to feature specific strategies in the sharing out. Instead of calling for volunteers, I would make intentional selections so that students could see a range of strategies and hear a range of thinking processes that gets at the challenge. We may even be able to critique each other's strategies and talk about which were most effective for generating ideas. During this sharing process, I would connect what students say to the learning goals for the lesson.

2.  Mind blown. Of course, this isn't really evidence for math-tasticness, but honestly, my mind zoomed to applying the practices in English and in science and across learning contexts. These practices make Yetta Goodman's "kid-watching" more transparent or explicit almost. As a teacher, if I am anecdotally noting which leaners are doing and saying what, then using that data to make instructional decisions on the spot: wow! Powerful practice. For pictures of some of our work and to learn with us, follow Steve Mead and others tagged in his tweet.

1.   Be intentional. Think about where different clusters of learners are and choose a variety of learners to make their thinking visible. Critique and discuss the thinking-- about math, about writing, about book/genres choices.

Simple, right? Maybe I need to start more Mondays with math.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

PLCs Reflections

The table I am sitting at is made up of moveable pieces: one rectangle and two half-moons. The half-moon pieces are pushed up against the short sides of the rectangle, so the table is a long oval. The rectangle table-top has a whiteboard, dry-erase finish whereas the half moons are a beige-y wood-grain laminate. There are seven teachers around the table who teach the same subject at the same grade level.

Here at Singapore American School collaboration is highly valued. PLC groups meet once or twice a week depending on group or division (elementary, middle or high school). Last year, teaching English in the high school, I belonged to three PLC groups: English 9, AP Language and Catalyst (like a senior project for my friends in FL who used to do such things). We met weekly.

This year, I am one of three "teachers on special assignment" working in a gift-funded position on competency-based personalized learning initiatives for the Pre-K thru 12 future. (There is more to the new position, but that is another story.) We've begun by connecting with PLC groups in our respective divisions: elementary, middle and high school.

I love learning in PLC groups. Listening to how teachers facilitate the group's work, address student needs, co-plan... all of it intrigues me. PLCs are complex-- relational and dynamic-- there is more to their work than first impressions would imply. Back to that table, where I'm sitting this morning. I am listening in on a PLC meeting with a group to whom I'm new. It's my third visit.

Today the PLC group is doing a variety of things: checking in around group norms, reviewing a rubric, ordering supplies, planning a goal for the year and reflecting on their PLC.  I am intrigued by the PLC Reflection.

I can see how this tool moves groups forward. It's simple (one page). It invites conversation.

The sequence (noted below the rubric) is sublime. Today, I enjoyed how it invited conversation in the group I'm sitting with--especially when participants differed in terms of levels for specific criteria.
 PLC Reflection

  • Give each PLC participant a copy of the reflection rubric (the entire reflection is linked to the image above) to complete individually without conversation.
  • Share.
  • Pass reflection pages to the PLC leader.
  • Read score levels aloud and/or tally each criterion. 
  • Invite conversation when members score criteria more than one indicator apart.
  • Discuss. 
  • Contribute and commit to PLC reflection level(s).
  • Set goals for future work. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Reading Logs

How can I monitor and keep track of what learners are reading in authentic ways?

I struggled with this question in my own high school English classroom. I struggled with my teacher-need to monitor and assess while at the same time honoring students' process and voice. What's the balance? I wondered how I could keep an eye on readers while staying out their way.

When I think about my reading life, I realize my own reading ebbs and flows with the demands of work and family. There are weeks when I read a book a day and weeks when I dip into many books, finishing none. There are weeks when I have a "consumable" fun read going and I'm reading professional texts for work and I'm dipping into poetry and a bit of the Bible. While my reading rates or books read may vary from week to week, I am always reading something.

But I'm a reader, right? Some of our learners are not. In my high school English classes, many learners were "I'd rather" readers. They could read but they often chose not to. They were, as Donna Alvermann describes,  aliterate. Learners who would rather do just about anything except read.

Perhaps the question is not only what is authentic when it comes to reading, but also how do we engage all of the kinds of readers we have in our rooms?

The kids that are readers already likely do not need to keep track of their reading for the entire year. Of course, I want to assess their reading habits, their interests, the connections they make, the ways they level up when it comes to self-selecting challenging texts. Do I need them to fill out a reading log in order to do that?


More than a decade ago I asked every learner in my class to complete a weekly reading log (*gasp*). I asked students to record the date, the times they'd read, the book title, and the page number they left off on.  As a proud content-creator, I thought kids could use their handy reading log as a bookmark, so I printed three to a page and thought kids could cut them apart or fold them into their books.

One thing I liked about the log was that I could get a picture of what learners were reading across a few months at a time. I got a lot out of the conversations, the conferring, I did with them when I checked-in and graded their reading log.
What was I evaluating with the reading log? Time read? A learner's ability to record? A parents ability to sign off on whatever their child presented to them?

Just a few years later I became that parent. My son is an avid reader. He has had to keep all sorts of reading logs in his twelve years in school. I  have signed (or forged) many a log.  My experience with him and my own professional learning shifted my practice around reading logs (So many mentors) .

Gone was the timekeeping. Gone was the page tracking. Gone was the parent signature. Gone was the daily tracking. Gone was the lock-step weekly due date. Gone was the grade in the gradebook.

Lately the reading records I keep vary.  I learn more about readers during conferences than I usually learn from a log, still I do like to have a record of books learners are reading. The record helps me make recommendations or create book displays that will connect to and extend learners' choices.  I have not totally abandoned all record keeping. I have allowed for more variety though.

We kept records last year on a shared Google Sheet. I asked learners to jot down the titles they were reading each week. Why each week though?

A month into a school year usually shows me which learners in my class are independent readers, which are on the cusp of independence and which need more support. Still, I kept the reading record all year. The reading record gave us a place to gather around titles and talk. It gave us a place to check in with one another about books.

Is it authentic? No, it's record keeping for school. Still... not everything we do in a classroom will be authentic. Practice is not always authentic, but learners need a whole lot of it.

Authenticity around independent reading happens at the bookstore or in the library or in front of the bookcase when I'm recommending a title to a friend. Authenticity happens when one reader talks books with another reader-- in conversation, in book clubs, online, over snacks or dinner.

I must say that authentic conversations about books did bubble up in our classroom when we noticed titles on our reading record that others were reading that interested us, but still... I've got some thinking to do about the why and where and to what extent learners need to be documenting their reading lives.

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge each
Tuesday during the year and daily during the month of March. 


Alvermann, Donna (2005). "Literacy on the Edge: How Close Are We to Closing the Literacy
Achievement Gap?"Voices in the Middle, 13(1), 8-14.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Planning for Transparency

Learners need to know what we want them to learn. The clearer teacher-me can be about the what (and how to get there) the better students understand.  If learners don't know or don't understand the expected lesson or task outcomes they may miss the mysterious mark. Demystifying the learning goals and the thinking processes for how to reach them is key.

Early in my life as an English teacher I defined what I taught by work or by book. Surely we've all said at one point in our teaching lives, "Our next unit is on [insert name of literary work]."  I taught Beowulf, then Grendel, then Canterbury Tales, then Hamlet,  then Romantic poetry and the list of works goes on. Then, I was teaching works. I was teaching the reading not the reader. In the late nineties the what I taught began shifting from works to standards. My lesson plans began to evolve. I still created units around whole-class, anchor texts, but the focus was on strategies and skills students could transfer from unit to unit, class to class or class to world. Where I worked or in what department dictated what I needed to include in my lesson plans (Planning for Practice).  I've written my thinking about planning for the what here and about unit versus lesson planning here.  I'm a planner, I admit it. While I linked to learning activities and assignments, I wonder now, how or if on those early plans, I made the assessment sequence clear to learners. Or did that sequence, that assessment cycle get lost in the mix of too much or a lot of other information?

The last time I wrote about transparency (here) I was writing to making my thinking visible. This time I'm thinking not only about how what I do in the classroom and behind the scenes makes learning (or assessment and or thinking) visible.  I'm also thinking about how you align such a process across departments, PLCs, or divisions of a school.

My current school, Singapore American School, is in the process of shifting from standards-based instruction to competency-based instruction. One goal is to de-couple age and stage from skill or competency in order to give students opportunities to pursue learning on their own terms. A learner's personalized educational future is already here. We see that in the virtual learning world with platforms like Crash Course or Khan Academy or the Global Online Academy  Crash Course, Khan Academy and other such platforms deliver content. They mostly leave assessment to teachers in schools.

Still, those content providers allow learners to choose their paths. That is one step our school wants to take too. Some teachers in our high school are already doing it with digitized content that flips and blends learning. Performance assessments is where we are beginning across divisions.

One school goal this year is for PLC teams to create an embedded performance assessement. As reDesignU defines it, this assessment plan is a a student-facing document that details the formative thru summative assessments students will experience. These student-facing plans may, one day, enable students to self-pace in a course.  Some say they are one key to the customized pathways of personalized learning (Bray and McClaskey;  Rickabaugh). 

We may debate the format. We may debate the contents. We may debate the look or the layout or how such assessments are different in a science class or a visual arts class.  We might even debate the benefits, but I know one thing. Being transparent with leaners creates clarity. Teaching students the thinking behind the doing builds understanding and can lead to transfer.

Beyond that, sharing an assessment plan with the learners establishes purpose. It points learners toward a goal and gives them a map to get there.

I can't wait to see what we discover as we do this work together.


Bray, Barbara and Kathleen McClaskey. (2015). Making Learning Person: The What, Who, WOW, 
Where, and Why. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Rickabaugh, James. (2016). Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning: A Roadmap for School Leaders. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge each
Tuesday during the year and daily during the month of March. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Assessment Thinking

Performance assessments, authentic assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments, high- stakes assessment, embedded assessments, assessment of learning, assessment for learning, assessment as learning--I am immersed in assessment language this week.

What does assessment mean to and for learners in our classrooms? To learners in high school classrooms, assessment often means a "final test" or a grade. The test may be a performance. Students could be asked to create a product or write a paper to demonstrate skills and learning.

What does assessment mean for learners? Assessment for learners or assessment for learning means that students are getting the specific feedback they can apply to their performance or demonstration of learning.  Practically, for me as a teacher, assessment for learners means that I need to build in routines or processes so learners can get feedback in a timely way, when and where they need it.

As a teacher, figuring out how to make time for that was always a challenge and I wondered:

  • What works in terms of feedback? 
  • What does the research say? 
  • What makes sense for kids? 
  • How does feedback in one class differ from feedback in other classes?

In my English classroom, feedback routines worked for me. Balancing oral and written feedback of learning at the end of a unit to the feedback students receive along the way. Assessment as learning involves the learner in self-assessment. Such self-assessment happens as we are learning, right? We measure each step we take against the mental model we have of success.
worked for me. Getting students to give me feedback about what was working or not working for them as learners or getting students to tell me what they understood and what they were unsure of worked too.  Assessment for learning shifts the emphasis from the culminating, one-shot assessment

When administrators talked with me about high-stakes assessments my students took, I used to say that such a test needed to be one image in a student's album of assessment. States and I find countries differ in many people use that metaphor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Deck the Halls

Thanks to the team for creating community,
and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

When I walk through the back gate to get onto our campus, I have to scan my identification badge. The gate is guarded. The gates are like revolving doors made out of bars. They only unlock once your badge has been processed. It's an interesting system: safe, secure. When I arrive on campus I come through the elementary school gate.

Our campus is thirty-six acres. On those acres are more than four thousand learners who are in grades pre-K through grade twelve. The high school serves roughly twelve-hundred of those learners, more of course if we count ourselves, the teachers, among the leaners.

When I walk through the elementary school to get where I begin my day--this year it is in a shared office, last year it was in a classroom-- I get to see all sorts of things in the hallways. I see displays of student work, art installations, institutional values, club happenings and even an interactive chalk-board station with a weekly drawing prompt.

I love the hallways at Singapore American School.

There are pieces of art for me to explore (and imitate). This multi-paneled piece is on permanent display near the third-grade classrooms. Playful circles and patterns move and play on the panels. What you may not be able to see is the intricacy of the background. It is filled with inked patterns and symbols and images. 

It inspired me to paint a few panels of my own. I needed a screen in my bedroom to block the air con from blowing on my face at night. I have not yet finished the inked details of the background, but I sure had fun painting the circles and patterns.

This week, I walked by some writing in the third-grade hallway that got me thinking. We are in our second week of the school year.  This is the time of year when teachers are establishing relationships with learners and getting to know them. This is the time of year for initial assessments and the data gathering we do about skills that will help us plan and differentiate instruction. Two pieces, I've loved this week--one used math for an "about me" sort of writing and another is a letter written by last year's learners to this year's class.

First the math connection: Figure Me Out! I love the prompts: My age (48+4). My birth date (16 +8).  The number of letters in my name (7 x 2). The number of people in my [extended] family (3+30).  I can't help but answer the math questions AND create my own answers in the form of an equation. I love the title and the conversations I can imagine. Even my office-supply nerd is tickled with the sticky notes.

The other piece of writing I've enjoyed on my walk to work this work are letters written from last year's learners to this year's.

Dear lucky third graders, 
You are about to enter the best class in the whole of third grade. In this class we do things like sing, dance, do plays and short videos! Third grade might be hard but don't worry in this class you will think everything will be fun! In math we have a viriety of fun things. We get a lot of choice in writing. We have a lot of units but in the morning we get to stay inside the class at lunch and get to sit alone without the teacher and after speshils we get to walk to the lunch hall our selves! HOPE YOU ENJOY THIRD GRADE!!
I love the creative spelling and the contrast between hard and fun. I love the seriousness of this learner's voice: all business. 

Dear unlucky third graders, 
beware you will face many dangers in this haunted class like, legit, this is where R.L. Stine got the Idea of goosebumps! you must operate as a class against Ms. B... to survive. I will not explain the rules because [it] will take so much paper all trees will be cut down. here is 1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000 of the rules:
  • no laughing
  • no talking
  • no breathing without permission
  • no smiling
  • no jokes
  • always let Mrs. B... torture you
PS: if you break a rule, you get locked in the secret dungeon. ... JK [just kidding]

Oh, the voices! Can you imagine these third graders?! I love them already. 

Happy start to the new year, teacher friends!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Good, groceries and Vietnam

 This week,  friend Sara Holbrook wrote about food being served in a school cafeteria in Romania. Her post resonates.

I heard echoes of it on vacation in Vietnam. An Australian and I were helping ourselves to some passion fruit juice and fresh tomatoes and cheese during breakfast on the AuCo cruise through Ha’Long Bay. I started raving about the food and presentation as cruisers go do. He echoed the praises for the fresh prawn and tamarind, the wasabi mashed potatoe, the hot soups: mushrooms and coconut chicken. Delicious, decadent, the food and caring service. Then came the next standard question, “where are you from?”

“I live in Singapore, but I am from the United States,” I replied.

“Ah, they’ve all but ruined food in the states, right? Poison and preservatives, I think,” he said.

I don’t disagree. How could we reshape ourselves, our children, our elderly, if stopped serving factory-made foods? If we didn’t, as Michael Pollan says, eat anything our grandmothers or great grandmothers wouldn’t recognize as food.  I know I would be healthier if I consistently made good food choices. 

Eat fresh. Move more.

Part of the moving is gathering and preparing the food ourselves. That  part of the work of food is easy to avoid. We can order delivery or stop in a food court (in Singapore these are called Hawker centers). We have groceries delivered to our doors. We buy pre-made pastas, pre-cut vegetables, pre-baked bread, whole pizzas or meals, frozen.

Walking the wet markets in the old quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam, I can see the work that fresh, whole food takes: growing, harvesting, cleaning, trimming,  chopping, selling. There are certainly less plastic and preservatives here, an environmental  bonus of choosing such foods. 

We might gain time, but our health suffers when we give up all the work of food. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Will and Skill

Birdsong begins as day dawns. The air is cool, humidity low. The streets are starting to wake up in Hanoi. I can hear the busy beep beep of motorbikes coming around the corner next to the Cinnamon Cathedral hotel. Such skill those motor bikers have. They stream through the streets in seeming endless swarms. Sometimes their flocking movements make sense and other times they cut random routes across plazas or pedestrian walkways.

Skill and will— we have  conversations about both  at school in our PLC groups when we talk intervention or acceleration strategies for learners. Does the learner have tremendous skill and the will to push forward? Or is skill lagging because the will is not engaged? 

I’ve noticed tremendous skill and strong will here on the streets of Hanoi. Women cycling or walking their bikes with stories of flowers or paneers brimming with greens, herbs and vegetable. Women running local restaurants from stock pots — turning steam and vegetables and bits of meat and noodles into old broth and meals to share:  a living. 

Women working from bicycle shops selling eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Strong will and the skill to skirt traffic and communicate clearly and wheel such loads gracefully. Good reminders for me.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Good Morning Vietnam

I am an early riser, a morning Lark not a night Owl. I wake up early—usually before five. This vacation morning I was ready to sleep. The bed was comfy. The air con was set to chill and the cathedral-view room, cozy and dark.

Then: church bells. A chorus of bells, clad, ring, bong, Dong, clang, hummm. [When I get home I will add the church bell video— the WiFi here at the hotel won’t upload to YouTube this morning.]

“No, we won’t mind the church bells,” I reassured the hotelier when she checked us in.

And even at five in the morning, I didn’t, really. The Lord must wake the priests, the nuns, the lay people— entire town or at least those in a two block radius, I grinned groggily once the bells woke me.

Good morning, Vietnam!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Landed: Vietnam

We arrived in Vietnam after sunset. A man wearing a badge took us from the taxi to his van. We showed him where we wanted to go. He quoted a price—about 90000 dong, about $40 dollar, about 1 hour, maybe 30 kilometers. It is hard to be sure. We got in the van wound our way to Hanoi’s old quarter. Motorbikes sped and zipped and whirled and spun trailing streamers of ezxhaust. Cars nudge and lean and honk into lanes crossing traffic.

We check in to the Cinanamon Catnedral hotel. Cathedral view,  teak floors, teak beads, sliding teak doors to get into the brightly tiled and slated bathroom.  American outlets. The room is lovely and the balcony space just makes it.  Look at this view.

We drop our bags and fly down the stairs for an initial explore. Undaunted, we wade into traffic and safely cross several streets. My friend Allison’s nd I are traveling with our teenage boys and they are mighty hungry, so we go in search of dinner. There are cafes where patrons sit at low tables nearly on the sidewalk. Then are store-front, street level cafes and then even two and three story cafes with balconies. We choose, of all things, an Italian spot and are greeted by as my friend says “real Italians!” We sometimes forget how wide the world is and how International the landscape. Here in Southeast Asia we hear so many languages and see people from Italy to Uganda, from the U.K. and Germany, from Canada to South America. All the languages we hear in snippets on the streets while we walk. 

Hanoi is lit  at night. People are out: on feet, on bicycles, on mopeds, on scooters, on motorcycles and Vespas, in cars and trucks and taxis and vans and buses.  Motorcycles are parked four and five deep along the narrow road. Traffic is a bit of barely organized chaos.

We are in for a spring break adventure! 

Friday, March 23, 2018


Today the birds were singing in the trees on my pre-dawn walk to school. Mynah’s throaty thrum and chirpy songs underscore the lilt of the brown throated sunbird and whistle of black-napes orioles.

My flip flops slapped against my heels as I walked up the first hill peering into the leafy trees. The morning birds make me smile and this morning they reminded me of the family who lived next door to ours when I was a kid. In that neighborly family, Jere, SR used to sing in the shower in the morning. We loved overhearing a few lines through the bathroom window which was a cracked a bit to let the shower steam out. I can’t remember what songs he sang. I can remember his deep voice and my Mom’s voice praising the song when she crossed the driveways and tippy toed up to the window and aimed a few funny words up into Jere SR’s ear. 

Oh they laughed— those young parents. I was in third grade, maybe fourth. I can’t quite remember.

But I do remember Jere, Jr. maybe a year younger than me; maybe two? 

Today is Jere’s birthday.

More than twenty colleagues and  friends and family members have birthday’s this week. 

It’s the biggest bitlrthday week on my calendar. My birthday is tomorrow, the twenty-fourth as is Michelle’s and Bonnie’s and Dana’s and Luana’s and @HeyLeeAnn’s daughter. Oh the living and the joy in sharing tempers the bittersweet of firsts. 

My first birthday without my Dad in the world with me. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

It's All Relative

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

"Is it tomorrow? Or today?"

"Do you mean my tomorrow or your tomorrow? Because I'm living your tomorrow, today."

"What time is it there? Oh, it's your morning. That's right. I forgot."

"If he arrives midnight Wednesday, is that tonight, Tuesday, or Wednesday?"


So relative, right?

Relative to zone and schedule and calendar and mindset.

I've missed a time or two blogging this month. To post for the 21st, which this morning was many of my readers' middle of the night, I should have published by noon. But people. But questions. But meetings and plans sometimes don't operate on a schedule or in their calendared spaces.


Am writing.

Shout out to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the 11th annual
Slice of Life Story Challenge. Magic happens when teachers who teach writing,
write themselves. Joins us. Link up everyday in March or on Tuesdays throughout the year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Grades Talk

Grades talk.

How and what a teacher grades says a lot about what a teacher or a team of teachers values. Consider two teachers: teacher x and teacher y.

Teacher X and Teacher Y both work in a public school district whose teaching contract specifies a minimum of nine grades per quarter for high school students. Both teach ninth grade English.

A look at a student's grade report in Teacher X's class shows four vocabulary assignments categorized as homework, three vocabulary quizzes, a bell work grade and a worksheet grade.  Nine grades total.

  • What is the student learning? How can you tell? 
  • What does the teacher value? How can you tell?
  • What's missing? What makes you think that? 

A look at a grade report for a student Teacher Y's class reveals grades in categories: homework, classwork, projects and tests. There are eight homework grades all titled journal, only two are not exempt from the final grade (so they are not averaged into the final score). There are two tests one named TKAM and another TSB. There are eighteen grades in the classwork category: four vocabulary practices, five quick writes, four discussion grades, and five independent reading grades. One of each type (vocabulary, writing, discussion and reading) appears to count toward the final grade. An essay is noted under projects as is a book trailer (both count).

  • What is the student learning? How can you tell? 
  • What does the teacher value? How can you tell?
  • What's missing? What makes you think that? 

This feels like a complicated word problem, doesn't it?

Here's a trick question to take your thinking on a tangent: what do these grades say, if anything, about feedback students might be getting? 


Teachers should not independently control or create how the grade book is set up for any given course. I have come to believe that these  decisions must be made by course-alike teachers working together in PLC groups (or the like). Grade books from course to course  should match. Your A and my A for the same course, let's say English 9, should mean the same thing. When individual teachers make individual decisions about assignments and grading policies our As don't often mean the same things.

Make sense, doesn't it?

I'd love to hear your thinking around grades and grade books (or grade book programs). Who decides at your school or in your district? How do your teacher teams calibrate or insure alignment when it comes to assignments, assessments and grades (evaluation)?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Shout out to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the 11th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. Magic happens when teachers who teach writing, write themselves. Joins us. Link up everyday in March or on Tuesdays throughout the year.

A recent hand phone* conversation:

12:16 a.m. 

Buzzz, buzzz
My Singapore phone vibrates. My son is enroute from the states, so I answer immediately—- sending a prayer up as I do.


“Good morning, lah.”

“Good morning.”

“Did you know you are missing your Singapore American School card, lah?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t. Did it fall out in the cab?” I think about how my badge hold has a small split on one side— the tropics are tough on plastic. I think about how. I have money I might have on my card at the moment. Our ID cards work on campus and off (for the bus and train).

“Ahh, yes, lah. Can I get it back to you?”

“Yes, you can give it to security at the school or at the condo if you are in the neighborhood.”

“Can. Give it to security at your condo, Lah?”

“Yes, yes. Can. Thank you.”

“Okay. Thank you! Bye, Bye.”

The cab driver called back just a few minutes and said if I was not yet sleeping could I come get the card.   So, of course, I did. 

Imagine leaving or losing something in a taxi cab and having the driver call you, notify you and return it to you.

This is Singapore. 

I try not to make a habit of losing things, but I once left my cell phone in a cab. The driver brought it right back to my school (where he’d dropped me off) and now tonight’s escapade with my school i.d. card. 

If you’re going to lose something in Singapore, you’ll likely find out that things here are always found. 

* Singaporean English (Singlish) has some unique words and sayings:
Hand phone for cell phone.
Can - used like yes (and cannot, like a no can do)
Lah—added to the ends of phrases and sentences— I am still investigating lah, leg, lot,  moe mah and meh— as well as some sounds like a deep aahh — her’s hoping  Lah is not the equivalent of  a Carolinian’s “bless her heart.”

Monday, March 19, 2018

Now's the Time

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I first published this piece in 2015 and today as my son wings his way home to Singapore and we text about his schedule for senior year, I thought I'd repost it. 

My son's biggest complaint when he was a sophomore in high school was that he sometimes he got bored in some of his classes. "It's too quiet," he would say or  "the teacher talks a lot."

Who didn't get bored in a class or two in high school? I sure did. Who's been bored in a college class or a professional development session? I'd raise my hand for that one too.

A little boredom's not going to hurt him. In fact, some of that mind-wandering down time, may actually be good for him. But there is a difference between boredom and engagement.

Whenever my son talks to me about his classes, I wonder about mine. That's one teacher-parent bonus. Would my class have bored him or engaged him yesterday? If he had walked in yesterday, he may have gotten bored. But given a choice, he'd have engaged in reading a book. The writing practice part of the lesson, well, that might bore him.

The students in all but two classes were so engaged in reading or writing on Monday that they were silent save the hum of the air conditioner. They were  silent for a good twenty-five minutes. It about killed me.

The quiet, I mean.

It's not all that exciting to watch kids read and write. I mean, to me it is. I love to read and write. I love to study kids' reading habits and writing skills. But to your average person stopping by or to the everyday student not engaged in a book, it can look and likely sound pretty boring. It can sound like nothing is going on, like no teaching is happening or has happened.

We know that's not true. It takes a lot of teaching and modeling and conferring and talking to create a reading and writing community. It takes a lot of work to get to the silence of twenty-five minutes and every single student in the room is engaged in either reading or writing.

Every student in all but two classes. In September I anticipated this day. I know it takes time to get here.

That quiet --the whole class engagement-- happened yesterday. Now is the time. The book seeds I sowed are sprouting and growing. It is a sweet season in our reading and writing year. So much changes for the readers and writers in my classes between now and January.

Yesterday, Kids weren't asking me for book recommendation or interrupting their reading or writing time to ask a question about a project or vocabulary test. Kids weren't interrupting each other to gossip about the chemistry test or bemoan the AP World History essay they were writing. They settled into our routine quickly and got to their books and ideas.

The students were working. I was working to not distract them.

Oh, how I wanted to confer. Oh, how I wanted to talk about Before I Fall with Meghana. She's  on page 160 or so according to our Reading Record. Before I Fall is my favorite Lauren Oliver books and I wanted to ask her what she thinks of the structure. I wanted to show her on our our current learning progression or evidence-based scale how the novel she chose fits one of this month's instructional goal.

But I didn't (yet).

I wanted to interrupt and ask questions. I wanted to listen to what kids had to say about the books they were reading.  I wanted to ask. I wanted to push. I wanted to book talk new titles. I wanted to do, do, do but yesterday, I didn't. I let the kids do.

I didn't get them talking yesterday because kids need work time in class too.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sunday Sights in Singapore

The National Gallery
Ahhh, art. If that is your art opinion, you will be well satisfied by the exhibits (both permanent and on loan) at Singapore's National Gallery. This fall we saw works by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow. Awesome. Currently impressionists' words from the Musée d’Orsay Museum are on display. Two highlights from this exhibit include a collection of paintings showcasing how impressionists used shades of black and a collection of artist's tools and how technology of the time (paint tubes and the like) influenced the impressionists.

Madame Darras  by Renoir

Can you imagine?! Renoir's palette and paint box!

The Cloud Forest
Bring a jacket or a wrap when you venture to the Cloud Forest. When you walk in you feel the temperature difference immediately. Constantly cool, the Cloud Forest must measure temperatures in the high sixties, low seventies. Definitely chilly to folks who are acclimated to the eighties and nineties of the tropics. Cooler than the air are the flowers--and they are everywhere! Imagine a three story man-made mountain cloaked in greenery: that is the Cloud Forest. At every turn up the "mountain" we marveled at floral displays that brought art exhibits to mind.

Up on the walk way in the cloud forest.
Orchids on exhibit

Tree Top Walk
I enjoy a walk in the woods. The birdsong, the cricket chorus, the squish and rustle of mud and leaves, nature is restorative. We first did the Tree Top hike in July. Computer science teacher, Nick Kwan, organized a group of new teachers. He also took 360 degree photos and uploaded several to Google Maps. My husband is in the picture below.  Beware of the monkeys though. Don't smile at them (showing teeth is a form of aggression in the world of monkeys). Don't carry food, either. Monkeys chased us like trolls across the suspension bridge.

The sun was barely up when we arrived at the park this morning for the Terry Fox Run. If you do not know about the Canadian hero, Terry Fox, take a few minutes to be moved by his story.  It is a beautiful day for a run/walk at East Coast Park--bougainvilleas are in bloom  and the breeze coming in off the water--glorious. The park is much bigger than I first thought and along the pedestrian trail are camping sites,  restaurants and rental stations. I can't wait to go back with our roller blades and to rent paddle boards and explore. 

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Head over to share your own slice.