Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting it right the first time?

I never realized how different formal education can be from reality.  I am constantly aware of the many examples around me of genius that evolved from an original idea. Genius wasn't the original idea, it was the process.   Educators work within tight schedules and boundaries.  I have had to sit in doctor's offices, dentist offices, shoe stores, hair salons but never have I had to wait for a class to begin on time.  We are tied to schedules therefore we tie student performance to deadlines.  Seldom does a student edit or redo an assignment on their own.  Students hand work in on time and receive it back with highlighted corrections.  Seldom are these assignments handed back with the expectation that every student will redo them better, with more depth.
On our 2,500 mile journey west this summer, we spent day 2  in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I haven't been there since 1977 and now I was there with my daughter at that same age of seven. She listened and wondered why the original Liberty Bell was still there for all to see and was fascinated by the idea of ringing a sound equal to liberty. In Independence Hall  I listened to the tour guide  with more focus than I did when I was her age.  According to our guide, the original Declaration of Independence was signed here with only two signatures after 80 edits were made. A copy was published on major papers, sent throughout the colonies and not formally signed by the founders until August 2.
I realize that getting the words just right was far more important than the due date. Vetting this bold idea needed to happen amongst peers before presenting to a less forgiving body.
Our most important documents, the Declaration, the Constitution are meant to be revisited, challenged, amended. In analyzing their values, testing their longevity, there isn't one right answer. History is meant to give us stories to build from. I think my challenge as a 21st century educator will be to embrace the spirit of Philadelphia, encourage high expectations with attention to setting goals instead of ar deadlines. What if students could receive a credit for an English class whose soul focus was the editing and revision of student work from other classes.  What if they were responsible for learning how to teach grammar and peer review? Teachers would provide training, students' would engage in authentic practice.... hmm. Well, I included some images of a memorial to the diaspora of slaves forced to migrate to America.  Carved in stone are the names of Washington's slaves.  Slavery was definitely an idea much in need of a redo.
 Off to Wheeling WV tomorrow. Searching for more inspiration in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Classroom readers

In the high school classroom I do not intentionally receive feedback from students as often as I could.  I will poll students for their opinions on news events, or on studies comparing communism and capitalism but I have not consistently collected and published student opinions on the texts we read, the lessons I present or the units that we study.  There is something to be said about giving students the power to evaluate and publish their findings. As I journeyed west to New Mexico, my husband and I sought shelter from temperatures above 110 in public libraries.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My favorite resources for creative inquiry-

The teacher is not solely responsible for what students need to know in school or how they will come to know what we deem to be important.  We are all in an exciting age of collaborative learning in which technology can play an important role.  One of my favorite new resources as an educator is Ted-Ed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why should secondary educators pay attention to rereading and other literacy skills?

At the core of early literacy is the idea that literacy is repeatedly played with, revisited, it can be offered in many forms, and there are few misinterpretations. I believe that more secondary educators could return to the creative practices of literacy in order to promote higher order thinking as well as less failure instead of the systems we have long relied upon.

Intentional literacy- return to 6 skills of early literacy

I have spent my summer researching the administration of reading programs.  It is important to know as a parent and a teacher how children learn to read, it is connected to everything we can learn or aspire to.  Reading does not happen by magic but once it does happen, it is magical.  Everyone requires different amounts of time and experience  but there are six key components that are routine in making this happen.  Intentional review of these skills can ground us when we reach different forms of literacy, different expectations for knowledge at any age.   It is imagery, film, video, song, poetry, fiction, non fiction, manuals, maps, audio prose, etc.  Adults may experience the same struggles with media literacy, online gaming for example, that a high school student experiences reading a professional peer reviewed journal for an Advanced Placement course.  On this blog is a page with the 6 skills and their usefulness to high school education (link)

Intentional Learning- What is it? Who can help?

It is summertime which means that I have the freedom from my daily teaching routine to catch up on home chores, read, eat or play for however long I want or until my seven year old daughter takes over and tells me what to do.  Since June we have read at least a dozen stories together. My husband and I have helped her learn to bike, to ride horses and to swim without a life jacket.  We are learning without any constraints on time and without any goals except overcoming her fears of taking risks. 
Intentional Learning is a theme that my summer research in literacy has exposed.  Parents, community members, teachers all spend a great amount of time trying to do or learn something well.  We go through stages of risk taking, exploration and then revisions for proficiency. Parenting has taught me that I have very little control of predicted outcomes.  Children respond to language, routines and opportunities differently.  This is what makes education a unique field in that there are many ideologies, many demands and many exceptions to rules.  However, I believe that when we simplify our focus and clarify our purpose for everyone involved, we have more opportunities for successes. Biking and swimming did not happen for my daughter because of our parenting alone. It happened because we purposefully chose to involve our friends and neighbors in this experience. 
Intentional learning is 
  • teaching with a purpose, assessing only that purpose and allowing students more freedoms and responsibilities for the goals they choose to meet.  (Kohl,2003) (Epelbaum, 2007). 
  • sharing educational practices in a language that parents and community members can understand. (Delpit, 2002)
  • keeping education simple enough for parents to model in the home.  More modelling provides more opportunity for exposure to skills that help students succeed. (Olsen, 2012)
  • setting up common routines, common assessments to mark progress, but allowing for self expression, creativity and design. (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006) (Purcell-Gates, 2002)
  • using many supports in a community of learners but being able to develop independently. 
  • Discuss, question, argue and laugh about our learning, accept more than one right answer.
  • Defend a child’s sense of wonder- defeat raises the stakes of what is acceptable to an impossibly high level.” (Witte-Townsend, &DiGiulio, 2004)
Next post- meeting a model community member who makes literacy fun!

Intentional Learning- What really shapes us as learners?

For the past ten years I have been making an annualpilgrimage west to New Mexico to visit my favorite person in the world.  My grandmother, abuela as they say in the west, was everything to me.  She gave me the space to find my own identityand she taught me to love books.  It wasthrough the world of books, music, the theater and film that we escaped.  We travelled all over the world withoutleaving her home.  Through these literaryexperiences I was allowed my own interpretations right or wrong. I was allowedto explore both appropriate and possibly inappropriate stories.  I revisited plays and films many times; Ienjoyed many well-worn copies of books.  My grandmother made her exodus from the eastcoast long before I made mine. I only followed her footsteps and keep a tetherto my securities here at home.  Icurrently live less than forty miles from my childhood home and have lived mylife in New England among many well intentioned but powerful forces around tomake certain that I was honorable, honest and a hardworking.  Direct intentions were good influences butthese set pathways were difficult to diverge from, and became a source ofsecurity and suffocation.  My educationwas shaped by many things but when I really try to answer the question, what made me a successful learner, I lookback at the many escapes I made to my grandmother’s homes. Each visit gave meroutine time to be alone.  I had thespace to read, reflect and imagine.  Dinner conversations over revolved aroundliterature and the issues in my life. She remarked on the similarities and differences our life experiencesgave us but she never told me what pathI had to follow.  She would reminisceabout life in the Pre and Post World War II era which usually made my relativeworries less problematic.  She usuallyreplied, “I can’t help ya kid, you are on your own but you have a great life,you will do just fine.” 

We both travelled west overland having stood on the embankmentof the Mississippi, looking back as so many had done in their Conestoga wagonsor horses or Model Ts, feeling that sense of release, that sense of startinganew.   Metaphorically this river was the embodimentof my east coast influence.  The crossingwas the opportunities to make independent, intentional decisions regardless ofwhat was always followed. 
After sixteen years of teaching in the same school system Irealize that there is no one formula for successful learning and yet, no oneever gives up trying to improve education. My intention for improvement will begin in August with my pilgrimage toNew Mexico.  My abuela passed away leaving me her mission in literacy. She spenther Santa Fe years as a reading mentor in a program for public school childrenwho spoke English as a second language. She read with elementary children daily without judgment, listening,reading aloud and sharing stories. I will fill her absence and assist inadministration of the program.  Thejourney west will begin in an air conditioned car in the direction of the SantaFe Trail. The journey actually began with interviews, readings on racism andunintentional bias in literacy. I teach in a predominantly ethnically whiteschool and I will be volunteering in a school that is multilinguistic andmulticultural.   Research deplorably documents the high rate offailures for multicultural populations yet no research accepts failure asinevitable.   What I assumed worked intraditional classrooms never actually worked for many students nationwide andwill not work when diversity increases in Vermont school systems.  I hope that this experience will teach me howto provide more opportunities for success without being in control of every student’schoice in how they learn. I hope to return home having emulated my grandmother’sphilosophy.