Monday, May 13, 2013

Paper Chase Race

Love this article on Decoding!
Ready or not, my rural high school is preparing to deliver 1:1 iPads to our entire middle and high school populations next fall. Furtive conversations abound in halls and at lunch gatherings as we debate the possibilities and traditional needs of classroom learning. There has always been a fine line between reliance on products that facilitate 21st century learning or teaching as salespersons for product placement. Are we building a service based society at the expense of academic learning?  What about our rural students? Does reliance on iPads alienate them or become enhancers their  talent? I’m wracking my brain over these questions; I dare not get the answers wrong.  My excitement and anxiety is compounded by my husband’s responsibilities for said project. He is the tech integrationist, a stand up teacher who sacrificed his classroom role to lead this initiative. We have much at stake in this, including a dinner date a year from now.
Teaching in a classroom with equitable digital technology allows students access to more information than I can control.  They will be multitasking, they will be distracted from learning and this will be cause for conflict if I continue in the traditional sense.  Whereas a lack of planning creates an environment with little student investment, the simplest management can present students with reason for investing in their own potential.
Paperless- Among my peers the debates revolve around having a paperless classroom, a selling point for technology for as long as I can remember.   ITSE published a yes/no analysis that presented  practical considerations.  General communications with parents or students improve with less paper waste.  Email or push notifications are great for reminders or redirection to  itineraries and Twitter is very handy in this use.   I am someone who benefits from push notifications from calendar appointments.  Next year I plan to have students develop daily routines: open calendars, review the itinerary, click on surveys and formative questions.  Students will access readings and handouts through readers or pdf which should save me time spent at the copier. When paper copies are needed they can be printed out of necessity instead of excess.
Paper cannot and must not go away. I have heard parents worry aloud that students are engaging in collaborative projects at the cost of writing. Handwriting is vital to foundational literacy and developments of fine motor skills, it is how students decode. Reliance only on applications and spellcheckers weakens skills for deciphering multi-syllabic words and content rich text.  Students need to manipulate language structures kinesthetically and paper is that useful technology. Years ago, I was impressed by an unobtrusive glass case in the foyer of West Point.  The writings and art sketches of former students Ulysses Grant and Robert Lee were displayed as proof that the arts and academia were as crucial to war as firearm accuracy.  There is still a minimum expectation to being able to present with clarity, the potential location for a battle site on paper. (ps- Lee was the stronger student). While  ideas fill tangible spaces around us paper collects, holds and exhibits.
Notebooks- Not having a notebook is like designing fashion without models to wear the clothing.  Another metaphor it as the base camp for mountaineers, holding the  restorative fuel and proof of the adventure.  Students need a  tangible portfolio/binder of their course knowledge.  For years I have had students keep classroom binders for quick reference guides, reflections and geographic studies not knowing that Interactive Notebooks exist in numerous examples on Pinterest  and other publications (Kenney).  Students should keep work both on iPads and in class.  They can pick and choose templates from applications (notabilitypages,Inspiration) to create professional notes that are actually published for classroom use. Common Core expectations for writing tend to push students away from recall and knowledge collection towards analysis and development of word consciousness for a variety of purposes and audiences.  That first audience is the classroom.
Textbooks and primary source documents have a place in an iPad classroom. When the cloud is full or the internet is spotty, textbooks can be read by anyone at anytime. Juxtaposed with E-literature gives students the role of critic, comparing what was left out or how well it presents a point of view.  Multiple experiences with variety of text is essential for struggling readers and the iPad can assist.  My daughter uses hers as a timer for her three minute math. What if the homework was to not to read and finish a chapter but to read for time? What if students reread a piece, focusing in the habits of reading and fluency instead of surveying content? Would the conversations in class be richer? Would they read more often?
Flipped student-  I have observed a variety of  flipped classrooms and have spent hours making videos  of my own.  It occurred to me  that students could engage in similar practice.  The music teacher at our school currently relies on parental signatures to document weekly practice logs.  We discussed having students videotape their practice to post for a weekly review.  They could pick one best piece or one particular struggle. They would be building a portfolio and self monitoring their progress.  In English or social studies flipped students could submit one minute readings of text for fluency.  Hearing a student read aloud shocks and enlightens teachers to the  sincere need for teaching reading strategies instead of plowing through content.
Testing- I love when students come into class demanding  answers to questions on an online test.   Posting tests as instantly scored online homework helps me focus on what I should reteach before I walk in the door (Socratize is a great testing app).  Students sincerely ask and answer a more challenging question especially if there is an allowance to take that test multiple times.
1:1 iPads is going to be an experience.  I do not see it as a threat to the traditions of face to face conversations but believe it will foster considerate attention to integration and celebration of student work.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

State of education

Representing the tiny state of Vermont, it's my humble opinion as a public educator that the commitment to improvements in education is strong. Our state legislators are finishing this session with intentions to find ways to decrease spending yet increase access to early education. According to the Department of Education, more than 80% of towns in our 14 counties already publicly fund per-k programs in and outside the public school systems.  According to news coverage posted by Josh O'Gorman (Rutland Herald, May, 2013) Vermont was one of the only states funding pre-K education to increase spending this fiscal year.  Times are definitely tough for Vermonters but even in attendance at our rural town meeting in March, voters were adamant that children come first.
While 27 of the 40 states reported declines in pre-K spending, Vermont increased its spending by $368 per pupil, from $3,376 per pupil to $3,744 per pupil. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, Vermont had 5,442 pupils enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs at a cost of $20,374,443 (Gorman). 
Vermont is committed to working with reform while also protecting traditional values in education.
The school I teach in is rural with a high percentage of our demographic receiving free and reduced lunch. Low NECAP scores identified us as a school in need but the identification was cause for support and improvement, not branding and disgrace. Funding through school improvement initiatives have helped our faculty design Personal Learning Communities and move towards progress monitoring against student failure and dropout.  For the most part, we accept these changes. In an exciting phase of the initiative our administration made the decision to provide 1:1 digital technologies for each student on our middle school and high school campus.  The role of students and teachers will be impacted; responsibilities and motivations will shift in directions we have yet to understand.
Not all is rosy.  Being a rural Vermont school means that teacher salaries are significantly less than those paid in surrounding counties.  We lose talented younger teachers to this competitive job market each year. Asking such a small communal population to match these salaries is not in the cards just yet.  Vermont's future move is to consider statewide contracts. But not quite yet.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wrapping up

I have two classes left as I get ready to finish my Masters in Literacy. For my 14 fans out there, thank you for paying attention to my intellectual journey. Yesterday afternoon, I sat in an independent study not even noticing the sudden blooms of spring outside the porch window. Instead I was reviewing once and for all the importance of fluency. Reading with speed, accuracy and expression is essential to success in middle and high school and yet many of us do not take the time to encourage it. As I sat and reviewed assessment strategies and screening of fluency I was seized with the sort of thoughts that many first year teachers experience. Thoughts of, "I'm not ready!" ran through my mind. For the first time in 16 years of teaching I have been mentored and coached by experts in the field of literacy who have refined my practice as I teach. It is synonymous to working with Ina Garten in the kitchen or Bob Villa on House design. Can I continue this Mastery without their constant guidance? Oh muses how I will miss you!

First lesson of my literacy muses- I learned that many instincts were correct in teaching but more importantly, I am no longer relying on instinct alone. Guided research and modelled practices have forced me to honestly look directly at the effects of instruction and to redirect in response to students' needs.

Teaching spelling with reason: breaking words into morphemes, phonemes, understanding the structures of words resonates with high school students. When they ask- why do I have to learn this- I have an answer and a means for possibility. Roots of words carry meaning- un (done), un (refined). Un means not or done. So, now I can give them a word to decode, a puzzle and students eat it up. Undistinguished suddenly seems less terrifying.

Decoding- it's related to fluency and comprehension. Teaching morphemes and word derivation help break down intimidating words. Middle school and high school students see many intimidating words. Refining my practice has also caused me to look at my peers and their practices. We are guilty of rushing to expose students to intense content without slowing down to offer repeat practice of intimidating terms. For students in rural Vermont school can be the only safe place for them to use this content. I have restructured my practice to rely on rubrics, skill sets, word groupings consecutively. My new challenge is to spiral and reintroduce terms not only from one lesson to the next but from one unit to the next. I also believe in embedding English courses into my own. It's superfluous to push students through separate sets of vocabulary when I could easily transform my teaching to extend to the use of their terms. Learning more does not always lead to knowing. Practice does.

Fluency- the number of words a student can read accurately in a minute comes with practice. With all of my improvements in the classroom it is still a challenge to urge students to read. I have experimented with re-reading primary source text. Mandela's Speech, a letter from Cesar Chavez take on new meaning when it is used in different context. I was accustomed to avoid oral reading in the classroom because of the stress it can place on different tiers of readers. but mentoring has taught me how invaluable it is for individuals. Eagerly I've noticed great examples of practices for the purpose of fluency. Our school theater program is thriving and those students tend to be our strongest readers. Reading theater is performed annually at our elementary school for Red Clover Day. I sat at the performance this year with an aha! in my mind and how I have the perfect story to perform for a Civil Rights study. Echo Reading, is great for comparing how students think they hear and understand a reading. What happens when we change the tone? Does the meaning change? Would you like, I Have a Dream speech if the tone was angry, or wimpy? What would you think? In this case I am reminded that fluency is really about losing the fear of interacting with literacy. It is the drive to return to a piece of literature. To listen to an Audible and then to still want to read something for meaning.

Fluency builds up over time picking up momentum from many sources (Birsch, 304).

All of my studies on language have made me realize how much more I still need to learn. I need more practice. I forgot why I know what I know. I had forgotten what the difference was between an inflicted verb and a derivational suffix. I forgot how sincere and undeveloped the mind of a fifteen year old student can be when they are often seen taking on such huge responsibilities. I hope I can remember.