Thursday, March 21, 2019

Happy Birthday!

When I was little, I would start watching the mailbox for deliveries around St. Patrick's Day. Each year for my birthday, my grandmother would send me a ten dollar check. I would get mail from Grandma B and mail from Mama and Papa Rietveld and birthday notes from my cousin or far-away friends.

Today is my cousin's birthday. She is two days older than I am. When we were little she enjoyed lording that age over me. We'd be out to lunch with our Moms sitting in a booth waiting for milkshakes and French fries. Legs swinging against the spring-sticky red vinyl, she'd delight in teasing me for being the younger one.  Now I get to be two days younger!

My Mom has had a difficult diagnosis this week. It has reminded me to stop and appreciate living. To celebrate and connect. To leave a bit of the worry and fear and remember the now and the moments. My son and I are going to do just that next week for spring break.

Mom, Aunt Suzanne, Krystal and me 

I loved sharing birthdays with Krystal when we were little.  Now I revel in all of my friends' March birthdays! Can you believe 26 of them are THIS WEEK! It's a banging week for birthdays in my feed.

It's quite the cast in March: friends I work with, friends I've known for decades, former students, former teacher colleagues, several teacher rock stars, a few adolescent literacy experts, my childhood neighbor and a pretty spectacular performance poet. Four teachers in our English department here at Singapore American School have birthdays this week!

Today is the last Friday before Spring Break. Yesterday I wished my friend, Michelle, a happy early birthday. She and I chatted about the quarter's end. She's often on holiday for her birthday as it usually falls during our spring break. As they say here in Singapore "same same." I'm usually out of school for my birthday too. I can't wait to get the celebration started! Happy birthday and happy spring break, teacher friends!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Smoke and Silence

Early morning dawns a few shades lighter than midnight blue. The sun has hit snooze. It won’t rise for another hour or so.

The apartment is a cool twenty-two degrees Celcius. The hum and huff of air cons the only sounds so far. I slide my feet into FitFlops and grab my school bag. It takes me a minute to rummage through my school stuff. My fingers find the front zipped pocket of my day pack. I unzip and pull out the wristlet that has key cards and my bus pass in it.

Bus pass in hand, I  step into the hallway and carefully close the iron gate so it doesn't make a sound. The hallway heat hits as I wait for the lift. In my condo, hallways are not air-conditioned nor are bathrooms or kitchens. Air con is its own story here on the equator. The lift is quick. I exit right and press the wall switch to unlock the building door. I step outside.

 The morning mugs me. Still air. Smoke hangs in the humidity. I can almost see it in the beams of the streetlights. 

Something somewhere is burning: palm crops in Indonesia perhaps.

It's been a heavy week here in Singapore.

I turn right out of my condo and walk toward the corner. The Esso station shines at the corner--neon and fluorescent light washing the cement sidewalk, I take a short-cut through the parking lot. My steps skirt the entrance and soon I'm walking out the otherside.  I look up to check the street for the bus and hear, "Good morning!"

A worker stands smoking in the exit drive. He smiles and nods. Strangers on the street here rarely speak to one another. It was a cultural shift for me (and not one that I adopted).  I return his greeting and it's not but a few seconds later when an Auntie sings out, "Morning!"

Oh! God winks.

My heart lifts. My steps lighten. The bus arrives.  Still savoring the sweet morning moment, I step up.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Revising Competencies

"Okay, let's color code these handwritten comments."

"What are you thinking?"

"Well, we're seeing a lot of comments about language, so let's make that a color--green?"

"Green works."

"And we know we are looking to revise for any pitfalls from the reDesign criteria--quantity, adjectives, measurable and such--so let's make that yellow."


"And blue--we've seen a lot of level shifting comments. Teachers want performance descriptors leveled up or down across the continuum so what about blue for that?"

"Sounds good."

"I'm going to write it on the wall."

And so it goes. I work on a team of three Curriculum, Assessment and Data Specialists. We are charged with designing and aligning tools and process across the learning system that is Singapore American School. Currently, we are working with partners to develop a set of competencies that will define outcomes for every graduate. Twenty competencies are organized by "desired student learning outcome" or DSLO as pictured below.

We have just finished feedback rounds. More than eighty faculty participated in the sessions. Those faculty, along with Ed Leaders and the Guiding Coalition (distributed leadership groups) gave us feedback on the competencies. Now we are re-reading the feedback, looking for patterns and revising the competencies based on teachers' input.  It is detailed writing work.

Should we reorganize where competencies are nested? Is Self-Directed Learning collaborative? What about the performance levels for skills? Do we scale back the ten levels we created and vary them based on the skill? What's most appropriate for learners and learning? When we say the word ___ what do we really mean? What does, for instance, formal and informal discussion mean to learners?

We ask a lot of questions as we read and read and talk and talk and decide and revise.

We try not to get too mired in single words.  This is, after all, just our next draft, our best thinking at this time.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Designing Learning

Today's slice is a draft post that comes out of the Blogger vault. I originally wrote it in 2016.

Post it notes--in heart shapes-- were on sale at Office Depot last week. I had to have them for today's activity. Teachers at my school were charged with delivering a design question four (DQ4) lessons this week. Marzano's DQ4 concerns investigations. School-wide students are testing hypothesis, making a prediction, creating, researching, inquiring, evaluating and reflecting. That's the plan.

It is the end of a marking period. I know many of you have exams at the end of your marking periods. We don't have exams exactly.  Teachers do not give exams mid-year like we used to; we're not allowed. Now only select courses are tested mid-year and the tests given (most, end of course exams for half-credit classes) were created off-site by others and facilitated by teachers on campus this week. Many are computer-based. My students in English 2, are assessed by the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), our state test, so now students do not have a mid-year assessment grade that figures into their course grade. Teachers are not "allowed" to create or give an exam, but we can give a nine weeks test or, an assessment. My mid-year assessment has been an individualized essay question I write for students based on their independent reading choices ( I wrote about them here and here). We will get to them, but not this week. This week, my PLC and reading coach planned other activities for us: computer-based, essay test practice and our DQ4 activity.

I am enjoying our DQ4 activity. I love the buzz of conversation and the swagger of challenge as students present and rebut arguments. We've been teaching argument and my PLC (our tenth grade English teacher team) decided to do an activity that asks students to argue for a heart transplant patient. Students, working in teams, would have time to create, argue, rebut and close their cases. One of the teachers in my group did a"Who gets the heart?" activity during an AP Language and Composition training. She shared the set up and we were off.

Getting to the Heart of Argument

I modified her original handouts to suit my students. I added a couple of articles to prime the pump (knowing I could use them to assess close reading/annotation) and I imposed a bit more structure on the patient profiles with help from sources I found online.

Patient advocacy groups crafting their arguments before appearing before the board. 

The Medical Board working on criteria for patient selection.

Today, revisiting this draft from two years ago, I am thinking about all of the ways we let kids lead the learning. During this learning experience, kids did not lead. They did design the experience or set the goals or have too much choice in terms of what and when and how. They did have opportunities to DO, to choose their roles and to research to craft their argument. Some performances in class are more guided than others.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Saturday Showcase: The Faculty Musical

This time last week, players from our faculty musical were reliving moments from the show in our WhatsApp group chat. Anna Criens,  music teacher and mother of three, played the witch in our show. Her daughters were in the show too as a little hen and a gnome, so cute. Last Saturday morning, her girls were up earlier, dressed in costumes and performing a scene between Jack and his mother.  Anna sent everyone a video clip of her daughter singing Jack's mother's parts of the Prologue. 

Lucinda, Cinderella and I rocking our 1950s Victory roll hair-dos. 

There's the step family frozen in the background! 

Last Friday we closed the faculty musical with our third performance of Into the Woods. Here's a clip from our warm-up backstage. 

The faculty musical was fun for so many reasons. It gave me an opportunity to get to know people that I do not see or work directly with day to day. It stretched me out of my comfort zone. The musical gave us a common goal to work toward. It also taught me a lot about learning. 

I struggled. I struggled with reading music. I'dforgottent how since my violin and piano playing days in high school. That in an of itself reminded me of how complex a skill reading is-- and how it differs across contexts. I struggled with focusing on my cues. I would get swept up in the story and the performances of others--we had some amazing talent in the cast. Each time that happened, each time I missed a cue during rehearsal I would realize it just a couple counts too late.  Doh! Again and again I had opportunities to learn how to manage my embarrassment at my mistake(s). I am sure it frustrated our stars and our director, but they didn't react; they encouraged. 

Here are ten take aways. 

  1. Connect:  reach out for extra help if you need it. 
  2. Listen to the music, to cues,  to other people: their stories, their experience. 
  3. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make permanent. Put in the time. 
  4. Be present. Be with the people onstage and in the wings. 
  5. Encourage and support each other.
  6. Persist. Even as you fail and fail again, keep at it. Effort matters. Find a way to make it work.
  7. Be kind. When learners struggle, encourage and support. Learners make mistakes and those mistakes aren't personal, so why punish the learner for learning? 
  8. Pitch in. We rarely had a rehearsal with everyone in it. Our schedules here at Singapore American School are demanding and layered. Whenever a role was not filled, someone else from the case would read those lines during rehearsal. I know it must not have been easy for Florinda and Lucinda to cover for me when I was traveling with the students in the final two weeks before rehearsal. They pitched in and it all came together in the end!
  9. Share: stories, photos, smiles, laughter, little jokes on stage and off. 
  10. Have fun. Ultimately, we did. I did. The success of the show was absolutely fun and delightful. Imagine elementary school learners greeting their now "famous" teachers after the show as they exit the theatre. It was heart warming to witness that love and joy.

 I am still dreaming songs from the show.  Why I wake up around midnight to "there are giants in the sky" is a mystery.  I love it though and now I know all the words. Being a part of the faculty musical was quite and experience. What a team builder for a faculty! Beth Burrows, third-grade teacher and our director, has begun some powerful magic with this program. Magic for teacher families who have the opportunity to perform together. Magic for faculty to get to know one another and to work together to create something wonderful. Magic for students and our community who get to see their teachers in new lights. It was rewarding to play even my small part. 

The Into the Woods cast during the finale. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Capitalize on Strengths

"Everybody has their strengths and we can't have everybody else's strengths. It's just not the way it works. We bring our own stuff to the table." - Mandy Froehlich "5 Ways to Achieve Balance"

Singapore American School is a strengths school. Faculty take the Gallup's CliftonStrengths assessment during the on-boarding process. We then have strengths conversations with Strengths Communicators and or Strengths Leads.
Domains of strengths are color coded.

I signed up for strengths communicator training this fall. There are several sessions over the course of the year. We read about our strengths. We have conversations with at other people about their strength. We share two of our eight conversations, meet with our strengths mentor, provide evidence of our training conversations,  and then we are added to the list of communicators at the school.

Build a cadre of committed people and it will impact school culture and climate.

Gallup's sample size is ginormous. They've surveyed more than twenty-million folks at this point in time. They have data levels that rival Dante's Divine Comedy. And it is fascinating.

I wonder a lot about it. I wonder if Gallup has researched what happens when people take the strengths assessment multiple times or at different stages of their lives or careers. I wonder in Gallup has researched any factors that influence strengths outcomes. I wonder how the four domains of strengths were created.

3 of my top 5 fall in the strat

I know I could dig into some research. I do love a good rabbit trail.  I just haven't done it yet. I like thinking and wondering about it though. Some might say that is because of my executing (achiever)  or strategic thinking strengths (futuristic, learner, strategic).

I appreciate using the strengths as a lens. As someone in a recent session said, they help to depersonalize potential conflict or to detach from reactions or initial feelings. For instance, "one reason you may feel that way, is because it is in your ___ nature. As someone who is ____ you have a need to ___ or feel that ___." Or to be more specific, "of course you feel skeptical about a mandate from the district especially because of your strength as a learner. While you enjoy and are strong when it comes to exposure to new information and experiences, you need the experience of learning for yourself and a perceived mandate sounds to you sometimes like a "know it all" is giving orders.

Everyone on campus knows their strengths. Most people on our campus fall into two camps in terms of their strengths beliefs: embracers and eye-rollers. Do I buy in 110%? Do I swallow the hook with the "Cosmo quiz" or psycho-analytic feel of the bait?   I see real value in using the strengths as a lens for how we work individually and on teams. I also appreciate analyzing conflict from a strengths lens.

Ultimately, in terms of value, I keep thinking back to Gallup's (N)--the sample size. It's a ginormous. And much of what surfaced in my own strengths assessment rings true.  Could be confirmation bias or could be true. Perhaps it would change if I assessed again. I can't help but think about Gail Sheehy's Passages and New Passages. We change over time. Change is our only constant, right?

Still, Gallup onto something here.  Something beyond consulting dollars and products for the capitalist market they serve. Something that seems statistically and perhaps personally significant.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What are the odds?

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 every day in March or on Tuesdays throughout the year.

I scooted into my theatre seat. We were somewhere in the middle in a row towards the back of the smaller theatre at Orlando Shakes.  My son and I were seeing Native Gardens with my sister-in-law last December. Our seats were not in a row. There was someone between us.

She arrived soon after we did. Once she sat down my sister-in-law leaned forward to see if she could negotiate a seat switch.

"Hi, excuse me, would you mind switching seats with my nephew? He and my sister are visiting and..." she said something like that.

The woman replied with a wonder, "Oh, where are you visiting from?"

Kathie, my sister-in-law answered for me, "They are here from Singapore!" I'm more than eighteen months into living in South East Asia and it still surprises me when I hear it out loud.

"Really?" the woman replied. "I used to live in Singapore."

"You did?" I asked. "What did you do there?"

"I taught school," she replied.

"I teach English. Where did you teach? " I replied sending heading nodding affirmations.

"Singapore American School,"  she answered.

"You're kidding!--" at this point, I turned to my sister-in-law repeating what Deborah said and adding, "Can you believe it? She taught at SAS?!"

We chatted and shared names of people with whom she worked and with whom I work. We talked about the school's traditions and reach.

"Singapore American School is everywhere," she said.

It wasn't a year later when we felt the truth of her words when we were on a flight in the U.S., but that is another story.

Deborah's birthday is this week. Facebook alerted me. I took a bit of delight in that she, like me, is a March baby.

I went to leave her a happy birthday message on her Facebook page and though, it's been more than fifteen years since Deborah lived and worked here, today I realised there's still a person currently working at SAS that we have in common. 

I sent a friend request.

We'll see what stories connect us.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Play On

Romario passed me a note. Scrawled on a scrap-half on an index card, the note read, "Wake Me Up" by Avicci. I looked at him and before I could ask, he said,

"It's a song. I think you'll really like it."

Class ended. Students packed up, lingered and left in the rush of three minutes until the next bell.

I picked up left overs, straightened out books on tables, pushed in chairs and opened iTunes. I typed "Wake Me Up" in the search box, found the song and let it play--loudly through the classroom speakers. It had just the right amount of jingle jangle.

Romario was right. I loved it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Remembering School

When I think about school work I did that had a lasting impact on me as a learner a few moments come to mind.

In grade four we had poets work in our classes. There was an arts-integration program funded in part by the local university. We fourth graders wrote all sorts of poetry during that time and we published a book of our poems -- the poem I wrote for the book was about a pig that drank iced tea. The "published book" was produced at a copy shop and had a staple-binding. We shared the poems aloud in class to celebrate our writing.  At the time, we thought we were WRITERS.

Legit. Writers.

The newspaper even came and wrote a story about the arts programming. My mom has the news clipping and the poetry book with it's bright yellow cover tucked into the back of a photo album in the family living room. In grade four I seriously entertained the idea of becoming a writer.

At my current school one of our courses, nurtures just such writers. The course, Advanced Topics English: Writing Workshop and Publication, led by Dr. Michael Clark gives students the opportunity to produce a book-length collection of short stories. Writers in the course workshop their pieces throughout the year and serve on production committees which are tasked with each part of the book production process from invention to copy editing and launch. It's as real-world as it gets, this English course.

I wonder how many students will still have the books their class produced five, ten or twenty-five years from now? I bet many if not all.

Not all school work results in some big, book-like thing at the end of learning though. Another moment I remember from my own learning didn't result in an artifact or a product. Instead it was the practice I remember.

In grade seven Mr. Stage, my science teacher at Lakeside Middle School, took a group of students out to some mud flats to gather soil samples for an investigation  being run by a science organization. I don't remember the organization only that I was one of the helpers who got to spend a Saturday with Mr. Stage in the mud.

I remember going out to the mud and sinking into it. Mud oozed around my ankles and swallowed first my shoes, then my shins, then my knees. Manuevering in such deep mud was tricky. I remember the oyster shells we saw and the reedy water plants. I'm not sure where we were outside of Jacksonville-- I don't remember the exact location. I remember that we needed samples from different levels of mud, so we had to do some creative digging. I remember that we gathered mud samples in tubes that Mr. Stage marked and labeled. I remember wondering.  I wondered what was in the mud: creatures, minerals, fossils, shell bits.  I wondered why scientists would study that particular mud. I wondered if they were investigating the water: was it salt water, fresh water or some brackish in between? I wondered what sorts of discoveries they would make. Practicing science in the world suddenly became real to me.  The process of gathering samples ignited my curiosity.

Much like, I imagine, the process of building a robot must or of designing an experiment must, or of growing and studying pea plants or examining traffic patterns or of writing code and running a program or of investigating wait time on Food Panda deliveries.

Investigations are interesting.

Experiences are too.

Sometimes our  most memorable learning experiences happen in the world and sometimes the most memorable experiences happen in school with the teachers we most love.

I will never forget dissecting a  cat in my high school anatomy class. The cats had been killed in a variety of ways, some hit by cars, I 'm sure. They arrived steeped in formaldehyde and shrink wrapped. We worked outside on stools with our lab partners to skin them. Then, over the course of several weeks we examined them system by system.

We were assessed on the muscular system. The assessment was part oral explanation and part successful dissection.  We had to bring our cat into the office and explain what we'd learned through the dissection as well as answer any questions Mrs. McGee posed to us about specific muscless and the movements they controlled.

I can hear still Mrs. McGee asking me to explain the "palmerus longus" muscle. In the echo of my memory my voice describes it as the muscle in the  forearm that enables us to flex at the wrist and just as I answer, Mrs. McGee confirmed my answer  by repeating something she used to say in class. She called the "palmerus longus" the "bye by muscle" because it's the muscle that enables our wrists to wave goodbye.

Can cats even do that?  I don't think so. Still...

What were these things we did in school or in the community? Were they projects? Were they assessments? Were they performances? No doubt some were all three. As a teenager, what did I know about pedagogy and purpose? Not one thing.

What did I know about my own mind or my thinking. Not much.

Now, I know that certainly each was a performance. I was doing, investigating, creating, thinking. I was writing, speaking, explaining.  I was doing the work of writers and scientists. Now, I know the steps writers and scientists' thinking often follows.

Knowing the thinking, knowing the steps learners follow seems key now. Imagine if we could teach leaners that! What worlds and wonders would they unlock then?

Sunday, March 10, 2019


I believe in transparency. I believe that the more we, as teachers, can share and show about our practice, the more parents and others at school can support us in our work. Transparency supports families, students and colleagues. It builds connections between home and school. Transparency can also kick start professional conversations.

Transparency can connects us. It throws open closed classroom doors.

I came to this belief online during the early years of the dial-up Internet. In the late nineties, our first access to the internet enable computers to connect via the Florida Information Resource Network (FIRN).

We had to dial in. It sounded like this.

The connection was slow compared to the broadband and wifi connections we have today, but the doors to worlds of information were opened.  The more I discovered from other teacher's classrooms and virtual filing cabinets, the more I grew in my own practice.

I am not teaching in a classroom this year. Transparency is still vitally important.

As our curriculum team discusses curriculum, assessment, and data from a systems view,  how do we keep doors and windows open for teachers and the community?

How do we make our thinking visible about systems' level tools and processes --even as those tools shift and change as our thinking is refined?

How do we work transparently so that educators across our system have opportunities to engage, debate, discuss, provide input and shape systemic thinking? 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Saturday Showcase: Popera

Schools are filled with talented people. In a school the size of mine, it can be a challenge to know everyone's name much less their stories and talents. Teams at Singapore American School find ways to showcase peoples' stories, strengths and talents. I will talk about the stories and strengths work at school another time. Now, let's talk talent. 

How do you give people the opportunity to share their talents? Beyond clubs at school for kids, how do you engage faculty, staff and families? 

Take the Popera this week. Music teacher and opera singer, Kristen Symes, performed in the middle school library during lunch on Thursday. Her "side gig" (a word I've heard teachers use often) is opera. She has two performances coming up. An Operapocalypse  and a gala concert, at a Chinese Cultural Center. Her husband, also a teacher at our school, shared the events with faculty via email this week. 

There are often "pop up" events in Singapore: markets, performances, food stalls. So it was rather exciting to get this message on Thursday morning.

There was everyone's favorite fresh popped popcorn  from the Hoe Brothers Catering (the company that runs our cafeteria) and some marvellous minutes of music.  I couldn't help but think about luck and blessings and attention. How when we pay attention to people, get to know their stories, their strengths and their talents, we find ways to connect them to others. And those connections provide others with opportunities. Our middle school kids had an incredible pop up opportunity with the Popera! Fleeting, momentary and beautiful--

Goosebumps, right?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sharing the Ultimate Field Trip

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 every day in March or on Tuesdays throughout the year.

"What kind of horn is that?"
"Who brought the machetes?"
"It's not a rhino horn!"
"That good!"
"Let's practice the dance, you guys."

Here we are  in Ol Pejeta with one of the last two Northern White Rhinos in the world.
It was after six o'clock. Parents were scheduled to arrive just before seven. Juniors and seniors buzzed around the room setting up swaths of Kenyan cloth, brewing Kenyan coffee, popping popcorn, setting out ebony carvings, admiring Kenyan paintings and blowing up balloons.

Last night we showcased students' experiences and learning from our interim trip to Kenya. High school students at Singapore American School have interim semester each year. Interim takes students off campus out into the wider world to learn. Our school runs more than sixty trips, some here in Singapore and others in far-flung places like Bhutan, Nepal and Kenya. Two chaperones accompany twenty students on each trip. Each trip runs a bit differently. Some trips require student presentations, others ask students to journal and reflect on what they learn.
Anna, who is from South Africa, shared her key learning in her journal. 

I chaperoned the trip to Kenya with legendary teacher, Mr. Ian Coppell. His British wit and attention to detail kept us laughing and engaged.  We enjoyed an incredible itinerary:

Day 1: Adventure activities in the Rift Valley Adventure camp to get acclimated: biking, hiking, climbing, and archery.

Day 2: Conservation tours at Ol Pejeta, Northern White Rhino education sessions and the Chimpanzee rescue project experience; end the day with cycling through the conservancy.

Day 3 & 4: Service at Mitero Primary School: cabinet building, classroom painting projects, relationship-building with kids.

Day 5: Massai Cultural experience: Meet Massai women and experience village activities: welcome rituals (dance), water carrying, wood gathering, mud building, craft marketing.

Last night we shared that with parents. Mr. Coppell and I also celebrated students by giving them trip titles: The Night Snorer, The Artist, The Gabby, etc. Coppell is a master storyteller. He talked about each student on our trip for a few minutes. He shared the funny moments and lines we'd noted along the way. I loved watching the students and parents' reactions: so much love and laughter in the room last night.

Kids had jobs on the trip: photographer, videographer, parent night hosts and hostesses, and the like. The kids got it all set up yesterday. They practice the dance they'd rehearsed. They listened to the Kenyan music they brought and shared trip memories.  I'm still thinking of the lessons we learned and the golden lines I gleaned from the kids' journals. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Conferences and Time

In my new role at school, I am out of the classroom, but I think about classroom teaching every day. I still dream it too. As my school moves toward a competency-based personalized learning system, conferring with learners will be key. How do you organize learning conferences? By students, by need, by project, by book? 

When I taught English, my goal was to confer with each reader at least once a week. The professional literature I was reading often organized conferring around books and quantity. So that teachers would confer with readers for each book the reader read. 

Reading conferences in my former high school classroom last anywhere from two to seven or so minutes depending on the readers' needs. Imagine the math if I conferred with each student multiple times for each book they read independently. I tried this out as a word problem: 

 An English teacher meets with readers for three-minute conferences two times for each book the reader reads. If ninety percent of the teacher's students finish one book every two weeks, how much instructional time will the teacher need to devote to reading conferences? 

Let's look at one class group, say first period. What is 90% of 25 students? 

90/100 = x/25

If I have 3-minute conferences with each student, that's:

22 students x 3 minutes = 66 minutes

Two conferences per book would be: 
66 x2 = 132 minutes

The length of our classes varies. Here at Singapore American School, I had 80-minute classes. In Orlando, I had 43 minutes. Some of my favorite literacy and workshop writers write about organizing the conferring schedule by book, but didn't work for me. 

Routine did. Making a schedule and sticking to it created a consistent formative assessment routine for me as a teacher.  I imagine routine may work when it comes to other types of conferring teachers do too. Ideally, I'd want a schedule, so that I am sure to check in with each learner over a block of time and then I'd also want the ability to be flexible and responsive to what learners may need in the moment. 

PS: Into the Woods rocked opening night! I will write more about my experience as a learner in another post. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Into the Woods

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 every day in March or on Tuesdays throughout the year.

"Please may I go to the festival?" Cinderella sings.

"The festival?" I should respond and then pause as the narrator says, "The poor girl's mother had died."

"You, Cinderella, the festival? The festival--The King's festival?" the step-family rants on.

Oh my gosh, I am IN a musical!  It's opening night for the faculty musical. Tonight we'll put on Into the Woods (the junior edition). Eeeek!
That's me, Auntie Em, far right in the front row. Next to me
is Maureen, then Stacy and Phillip-- we were all in Mrs. Charles'
class at Brookshire Elementary. 

The last time I was onstage in a play was maybe grade three, 1975. I was Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz.

I've been "off book" since early February. I know my lines. I know the music. That doesn't mean I can actually do the thing though.

I am in the learning pit! I am not an expert nor do I have much experience--it's sometimes a struggle being that learner on the stage.  I hate to let others down. Making mistakes doesn't feel as good as getting it right.

What do I do when I miss a cue? What do I do when someone who sings/speaks before me misses a cue?

The answer, I know, is not to open your eyes and mouth so wide you have three big circles on your face. That fish-out-of-water gasp doesn't do much good for the show either. Eeeeek!

My costume is ready. My hair is practicing it's "victory role." We perform after school today, tomorrow and Friday. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Conceptual Understanding

Middle School social studies teachers at Singapore American School discuss performance
indicators from the standards. 

"Let's start with eight minutes and see where you are after that," Julie Stern says as she releases teachers to practice. Middle school social studies teachers are practicing writing enduring or conceptual understandings from dimension two of the C3 standards.

Julie's got me thinking about learning targets and objectives. What do we want to see in classrooms? What do we want kids to be able to say when we ask them what they are learning?

Julie is asking teachers to use dimension two performance indicators to generate the conceptual understandings we want learners to reach. She gave teachers this frame: Students will understand: ___________ (concept) __________ (verb) __________ (concept).  Or, for example, students will understand how the value of a source involves considering its validity (from D2. His.13.6-8). This gets me thinking about objectives and learning targets and lesson planning.

And I am taken back to a literacy institute. I am sitting in a dim, well-airconditioned auditorium listening to my mentor, Janet Allen. She's talking about Hunter's model of lesson planning and she's explaining that we must explicitly teach students how to summarize or paraphrase or evaluate validity even.  We teach the strategy using or in the context of our content and then we apply that learning to produce something. Janet Allen's frame for writing objectives for strategy lessons went something like this: Students will learn how to ___________(strategy) using _______________ (literature/resource) in order to __________________ (performance indicator).

Knowing how is important but so is knowing why or where. Concepts get at the why and the where of information. Concepts build schema. Teaching students to organize information by concept enables them to access that information and transfer it to new contexts. Schema organizes information so that we can knowledge-build.

But do we give them those enduring understandings? Do we put that "objective" on the board? In some places we do. But what if we want to teach from an inquiry stance?  What if what we really want is for learners to do the thinking for themselves, right?

Don't post the "objective" or the understanding, turn those understandings into essential questions and let the questions lead the learning. Of course,  this is Understanding by Design and how we Build Conceptual Understanding.

Good learning with teachers and Julie Stern this week! I love processing my own learning through blogging and by reading other teachers' blogs. You can do that too. Check out the Slice of Life blogging challenge this month at Two Writing Teachers. It's never too late to join in the reading, commenting and writing fun!

D2. Civ. 1.6-8
Different groups hold and use power in different ways, often with corresponding differences in responsibility.
Citizens play a variety of roles to help their

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Cheaters Learn Too

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Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

I don't know a teacher who isn't embarrassed by something they "used to do" in the classroom. I cringe at some of my "used to" practices-- and believe me there are many. I used to have students log the time they spent reading independently. I used to use the "awk" abbreviation when commenting on student writing (not to mention the whole host of additional abbreviations). Oh, earlier teacher me was often on the steep slope of the learning curve. I still am because I believe our practice continuously changes.

Don't you?

Still, one "used to" practice bubbled up today when I talked to a fellow teacher about collecting essays and discovering a student had plagiarized. 

I am embarrassed by how I used to punish students who were dishonest about their academic work.

Though I  stopped punishing learners with a grade of zero long ago (I've written about that before here and here.), I did use a zero as punishment for cheating or plagiarism. I must admit, sometimes, I cringe when I hear my own voice in memories of that time. I used to give kids who cheated zeroes: no negotiation, no resubmission, no explanation.  I was a black and white thinker: you cheat, you fail.

Well, what does that teach a child? Really.

Instead of taking a caring approach, I punished.  I applied the ultimate consequence in order to affect the average (also a "used to" practice, averaging) in the worst possible way.

I held onto to that last practice for a long time. Yes, I too, was once a rim waver as Rick Wormeli says. From Wormeli and others, I realized that punishing a learner with a grade did nothing to teach the her. So, I shifted. Instead of wielding the zero, I had to confront the behavior or the academic performance in a way that keeps kids connected to school and learning, in a  way that communicates my genuine care for students and their learning.

Now, when I discover plagiarism, I meet with the student.  Before I even meet with him though I ask myself: did the student misunderstand? Are there gaps in the students' research writing knowledge?  When we meet, we have a conversation about what the writer did. Then we invite the writer's parent(s) into the conversation. The student calls the parent and talks about the plagiarism or cheating and then I speak to the parent about next steps in terms of learning and second chances. If this is a pattern of behavior (ie: it's happened more than once in my class or in others), the student meets with an academic dean or administrator for another conversation about consequences.

Reteaching or additional learning and practice are the next steps. I find some time during the school day or after school and the student comes in for a short mini-lesson. Then they have time to write and re-do while also having me for support at the start. If it's an extended assignment or an assignment of length, the writer won't finish the revision in a "supervised" sort of way; the writer will finish at home and resubmit.

It's not my job to punish kids. My job is to support and teach learners. Learners fail. That's one step toward learning that I now recognize. Failure or initial learning as some like to say is key to having a growth mindset.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Tight and Loose

“I work for the school. I don’t work for myself, so be clear about what I have to do and I will do it,” said a teacher at breakfast. This teacher’s table conversation struck a chord with the rest of us. We talked about all of the things teachers feel they are expected to do— from concept-based planning to PLCs,

Some schools define their values or core practices in terms of nonnegotiables. In the high school at  Singapore American School, we talk about policies or practices that we are "tight" on. Being tight on means a practice is non-negotiable. When a practice is "loose," teachers or teams have autonomy.  Across divisions (elementary, middle and high school), we are tight on working collaboratively in PLCs.

Just as learners in our classrooms differ, so do PLCs.  Groups form and reform each year as faculty change positions, leave or land in Singapore. Each PLC may be in a different place in regard to how they use or approach the Dufour's four essential questions:
  1. What do we want students to know and be able to do? 
  2. How will we know each student has learned it? 
  3. How will we respond when some students don't learn it? 
  4. How will we extend learning for students who demonstrate mastery.
Everyone is expected to collaborate.

Helen Dewaard's sketchnote of the Seven Norms of Collaboration hangs in most elementary and middle school classrooms and offices. The language lives in the high school, the posters or sketchnotes not so much.

Standards vs. Standardization
  • Our learning targets within a course are the same. How we get to them may be different.
  • Our grade books within a course will match in terms of categories and weights which determine final grades. How we  record formative steps to give feedback to learners and parents may differ.
  • How we summatively assess our shared learning targets will match in terms of rubrics used. The product or format of a learner's assessment may vary from class to class or student to student.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Walking to School

I am walking to Jakarta Intercultural School. It’s early in the morning. The sun hides behind hazy clouds. Humidity remains high.

Motorcycles swarm up the street. Engine noise—the rumble, growl and whine of mufflers—sets the cadence.

 I take big steps across uneven modular sidewalk stones. Stepping on a sidewalk cracks here is unavoidable.  It’s tough to walk and take pictures at the same time. I’m afraid if I pause too long over an open portal to the underworld, some sort of clawed reptilian hand may reach out and grab me.

“Hari, hati, hati...”—be careful my heart, one student says to another in Bahasa.

My heart, my son, sends his good morning text message. He’s up early and heading to school too: band rehearsal, an ultimate frisbee tournament. My husband pings in. He’s running evening errands in Florida: a grocery store, a thrift stop and drop.

I am walking up a gentle hill past flower vendors and Gojak cycles, past barber shops and fruit stalls. Tall stalks of white lillies and green leaves send fragile scents that don’t quite mask bus exhaust and watery air.

Today is the final day of Cultural Convention. Singapore American School’s  speak and debate teams have contestants in every round. Wish us luck!

Today is the first day of the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Join us in writing and commenting and sharing each day during the month of March!