Have I Told You Lately?

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday.  It started as nearly all of my recent conversations have: by discussing the state’s new evaluation system.  Twists and turns ensued, and we meandered onto the topic of legacies.  I mentioned to her that of all of the things that I have done in my career, the thing I’m the proudest of — and what I hope my legacy can be tied to — is the staff that has been assembled in this school.  She replied sheepishly, coyly, and with almost a hushed voice, “Do you tell them that?”

The sentence was in the form of a question, but it wasn’t a query.  It was a statement.  My intitial and immediate reaction was to answer the question at face value, until my mind realized that the body language and message behind the message was the real intent, and then I went into some kind of haze — a mental whirling dervish in which all of my own questions and thoughts twisted and turned at a pace I couldn’t match.  I can’t recall my actual response, just the feeling I had while reeling at the verbal joust, and the thoughts that followed.

I felt like I had been asked a question like: “Do you tell your wife often enough that you love her?”  Can one answer that question with a “yes”?  Let me reply to my own rhetorical question by stating that I could not possibly say that to my wife enough.  I think the same would apply to telling a staff that it collectively knocks it out of the park on a daily basis — any level of frequency is lacking.

I swallowed my answer that would have included numerous compliments that I have passed along to the entire group and to individuals through this blog, in staff meetings, in weekly updates, meetings with new teachers, etc.  The implication…no, the accusation…was that people on our staff do not know the high esteem in which I hold them, and that’s because I either don’t say it, or don’t say it convincingly.  Why would I argue to the contrary?  The fact is, I realized, that the accusation must be true (What would the motivation be to suggest such a thing if it weren’t?), and that I ought to learn the intended lesson.

So I can’t help but think of the Van Morrison lyrics that Rod Stewart later crooned (so long ago that our new teachers have no recollection of!): “Have I told you lately that I love you?”  All jesting and quirkiness aside, I am incredibly proud of the staff assembled at ZMS.  It is a collection of talent willing to be industrious, professional, and collaborative.  It would be a true honor to be known as “the guy who may not have had any talent himself, but by gosh he knew good teachers when he interviewed them, and was smart enough to recommend them to be hired when he did!”  That may be a bit wordy for a tombstone, but it’ll do as a legacy.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need to go call my wife and tell her I love her.

RISE to the Occasion

I was watching the Little League World Series this week, my interest particularly piqued by the local New Castle team making it as far as they did.  Unfortunately, by the time they caught my attention, they had exhausted all their wins for the season.  Interesting to me was how differently the home plate umpires called the two games that I did see.  The first one couldn’t identify a strike if you spotted him a seeing eye dog.  To begin the game, the New Castle pitcher was well on his way to walking the second batter by the time the umpire called the first strike.  Generous he was not.  The second night was quite the opposite.  Anything within six inches of the plate was a strike, and the poor New Castle kiddos struck out by the bushelful.  Nearly every out they made was a strikeout, and they didn’t have a hit the entire night.  I couldn’t help but imagine that they had developed a case of strike zone whiplash.  Surely they were thinking, “Just tell me what a strike is and I can hit it/throw it.”

As I begin using the our state’s new Teacher Effectiveness Rubric, it’s not lost on me that our teachers need to know where the strike zone is, just as these little leaguers did.  I’m sure revelations will occur to me throughout the school year as I use the rubric to assess performance in our classrooms, but one area within the instructional domain jumps out at me that could use some reinforcing. 

Ironically, it is the “Checking For Understanding” section that appears least understood, or one difficult for teachers to address effectively.  I think this is true because of the examples we’ve been given throughout our lives.  Strategies that most of our own teachers used on us when we were students (and that we likely saw practiced by our mentors during our student teaching experience) are insufficient to earn an “effective” rating on the Teacher Effectiveness Rubric.  It seems that the typical classroom discussion, during which the teacher peppers the class with questions in order to determine the class’s understanding of material covered, falls short of the bar for several reasons.  The first is that many teachers most often rely on volunteers to answer their questions.  This strategy is effective in finding out if a few of the students understand the material, but falls fall short of learning where ALL of the students’ understanding levels are.  In fact, many students don’t even think about the questions being asked unless they know they might be accountable for it.  Another reason classroom discussions often miss the mark is that even if a teacher calls on non-volunteers, the time that it takes to ask questions of every student in the class is too long, and actual engagement in the conversation wanes as 1 student answers and 29 students listen passively.  It has been my observation that wait time is also a difficult thing for teachers to master.  I have found that even veteran teachers, if their students do not respond quickly enough, tend to even answer their own questions.  Students, by the way, catch on quickly to this tendency. 

The solution lies not in abandoning the questions that teachers ask — most of them are excellent — rather in identifying strategies that allow multiple students to respond simultaneoulsy, and allow the teacher to monitor those reponses.  One of the simplest to use is Think, Pair, Share.  Some teachers use whiteboards and markers to check understanding, others use electronic tools to formatively assess their students.  I witnessed one such example when a teacher asked students to respond to a series of questions on a message board that was projected to the front of the room.  The teacher responded to each post by the students (giving them immediate feedback), every student was engaged in the same work simultaneously.  When the teacher noticed patterns of misunderstanding, he addressed them with the group.

So what suggestions do you have?  There have to be hundreds of different ways, so please share your favorite.  If we work together to determine the best “checking for understanding” strategies, we can all hit it out of the park.

The Creativity of Jobs

My childhood was punctuated by numerous times in which I caused my mother to call out for the patience of Job.  I was reminded of that this summer, while reading the lengthy tome that is Steven Jobs’ biography — a book that I appropriately read on my iPad.  As I swiped through the pages I found myself wishing not for patience of Job like my mother did, but instead wishing for the creativity of Jobs.  No doubt I will find myself as disappointed as my mother found herself back in the day, because there simply aren’t many cut from the same cloth as the iconic co-founder of Apple.

Jobs was a complicated man.  His petulance was legendary, and certainly not something to be lauded or emulated.  But his sense of what the consumer would find useful and essential was impeccable — so much so that his poor behavior was forgiven and tolerated.  Interestingly, Jobs never set out to “give the consumers what they want.”  Instead, he condescendingly believed that the customers didn’t know what they wanted, but that the devices that Apple created needed to be so great that once the consumer experienced them — these things that had previously not existed — they would feel as if the device was necessary, a “must-have,” a “cannot-live-without.”  As dismissive of the customer as that notion was, Jobs was successful using that strategy time and again.  The consumer might not know what he wanted, but Jobs sure did.  Repeatedly, Jobs’ company invented devices with what I can only describe as ornate simplicity.  He didn’t invent the MP3 player, but he created one so simple, user-friendly and inviting that most people believe he did.  No one knew that they wanted an iPod, but once they had one, they couldn’t live without it.  Oh, and along the way, Jobs altered an entire industry.  Once the iTunes Store existed, the music industry, the record companies, and even musicians themselves were altered forever.

Interestingly, as fabulous as the products that he helped develop were, I do not believe that to be his greatest legacy.  Instead, I believe that his biggest accomplishment was in creating the feeling that these Apple devices evoked in their owners.  Apple device owners don’t as much buy machines as they buy a lifestyle — a digital belief system.  Apple-ites (iCustomers?) love the integration of all things tech.  They sense an empowerment given to them by their devices.  And they like it!

Apple computers and devices excel in selling to individuals keen on self-expression.  iMovie, Garageband, and iTunes (among other items) had a major impact in that they allowed people to create and share content with one another in ways that hadn’t existed before.  One of the major criticisms of the iPad — Jobs’ last major product launch — was that it broke with the self-expression mold that Apple had nurtured for so long.  It was a device that was most suitable to consuming content rather than creating it.  Jobs took this criticism to heart — something he rarely did — and made certain that the next versions of the iPad included a camera for video and pictures.  Having said that, however, it should also be noted that a great number of people began writing/selling apps for the device.  Even in failing to create a device that excelled in expanding self-expression, a market was created for people to do exactly that.

While reading this extensive tome, I kept asking myself what the takeaway was for those of us in education.  (The lesson could be that the anti-bullying programs of today are necessary to avoid having more people like Jobs.  He was a classic bully.)  For me the answer is simple: teaching students to express themselves should be our primary goal.   I don’t mean this in an “Apple software kind of way,” but rather that school is (unfortunately) frequently about conformity, about giving the correct answer.  We require students to tell us the order of the presidents instead of asking students which one was most influential and why.  As a foreign language teacher, I always thought textbooks were more about having students manipulate language as opposed to actually creating it.  (In my numerous trips to Germany, I’ve never had someone on the street come up to me and ask me to give the correct form of the verb, or to supply the correct definite article. Sure I needed to know how to do that, but offering a multiple choice or fill in the blank answer is just not a life skill!)

School should be a place in which students learn things so that they can use and apply them in a way that encourages them to express themselves within the curricular context.  Science labs shouldn’t be recipes that students follow step by step until they get to the questions at the end that they answer in order one at a time in rote fashion.  They need to be situations in which students explain what is happening and why based on what they have learned.  Sometimes they should be designed by students, testing their own hypotheses.  When students ask, “Did I get it right?” it makes me wonder if they understand the scientific process and what the purpose of an experiment is.  Likewise, literature is often butchered in schools.  Often forgotten is the personal experience, the emotions and feelings of the reader that the works are supposed to create.  When reading a chapter of a novel simply leads to answering 10 questions about what was read, we haven’t taught students to appreciate literature, we’ve just checked whether they did their assignment.

iFans stand in long lines to get their devices.  They pay more for them and are happy to do it.  The personal experience that they receive with these machines is all worth it to them.  The rectangular black boxes that other companies offer just don’t inspire like the iconic Mac devices.  I can’t help but believe that worksheets, questions at the end of the chapter, word searches, and vocabulary word crossword puzzles are the pc versions of education, leaving so much in the name of self-expression to be desired.  It is my hope that we educators produce the same type of experience as Jobs did for his customers.  It’s been a long time coming.  If only I had the patience of Job.

Unaware, Unable, Unwilling, or Underestimated?

A recent Education Week article (“Concern Abounds Over Teachers’ Preparedness for Standards” April 23, 2012) calls into question our nation’s preparedness to take on the common core standards.  As somewhat of a novice in the area myself, I find no fault with the notion that this may be true, and I have no difficulty with a periodical focused on our profession pointing that out.  Some of the suggestions in the article — okay, most of them — are, however, downright offensive.  To wit:

“Added to those factors are concerns that the standards are pitched at a level that may require teachers themselves to function on a higher cognitive plane.  When standards are more challenging for the students, ‘then you also raise the possibility that the content is more challenging for the teacher,’ said Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.   ‘Of course, it’s going to interact with what support teachers receive.'”

Did someone just call us dumb?  It continues:

“Many teachers,” Mr. Wu contends, “will themselves need more mathematics-content preparation. But training focused at least initially on content could be especially difficult for classroom veterans to accept,” he concedes. “After 26 years of doing things only one way, the common core comes along and says, ‘Let’s try to do a little bit better at this,'” Mr. Wu said. “Well, suppose you’ve been smoking for that long, and someone says, ‘Just stop raising a cigarette to your mouth.’ It’s difficult—it’s 26 years of habit.”

“Some teacher educators believe that conversation will need to begin at the preservice level, especially for elementary teachers, who tend to enter with a weaker initial grasp of mathematics,” said Jonathan N. Thomas, an assistant professor of mathematics education at Northern Kentucky University, in Highland Heights, Ky. “It’s a great opportunity to say, ‘Let’s just take some time to think about the mathematics and set the teaching strategies aside for a moment,’ ” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s imperative we don’t send people out the door with just strategies, tips, and tricks to teach fractions. We have to make sure they understand fractions deeply.”

Yup, they just called us dumb.  Seems fair game to say that we need to change our curricular focus.  A suggestion to concentrate as much on the “whys” of math as on the “how tos” would have been appropriate here.  My own math education consisted way too much on solving problems as opposed to thoroughly explaining why problems solved the way they do.  Math was rarely in context, and, while we could plug and chug with the best of them, we didn’t always know why we were doing it.  Math instruction has made some headway in this regard over the years, yet there is significant room for improvement.  It angers me, however, that calls for instructional improvement don’t seem to be enough — we have to attack the intellect of educators along the way (and in this case, it’s not the politicians or media — it’s coming from within the profession!).  “Understand fractions deeply”?  To borrow freely from an often used exclamation on ESPN, C’mon, man!”

So what should the message about the transition to common core standards be?  I have a few suggestions:

  1. Focus on higher order thinking.  This should not be specific to the common core standards, but common core assessments will certainly hold educators accountable for doing what we all have known we should be doing all along.  Many argue that “learning the facts” is important and therefore continue to create assessments that focus solely on the knowledge level.  Teachers in this category fail to realize that learning the facts and synthesizing, analyzing, applying, and comparing/contrasting are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, one cannot perform those activities without first understanding “the facts.” 
  2. Transition from fiction to non-fiction text.  I have a master’s degree in literature.  I understand and appreciate its value.  I also think that our reading instruction is done almost exclusively with fictional text.  This is an error that simply must be corrected, and the common core standards will set us in this direction.
  3. Require students to make an argument and support it.  This one is directly connected to #1.  Whether working with fiction or non-fiction text, students should be called upon to create arguments rather than recall answers.  These arguments must then be supported by the students with text.  Who is the most influential president, Jefferson or Lincoln?  Whom should Katniss choose, Peeta or Gale?  There is no correct answer, just correct ways to give one.  Students should be required to think for themselves, and to defend those thoughts.
  4. Writing is not just for language arts class.  Self-expression is a critical skill.  It is not something relegated to one subject area, and should pervade every content area.  Just as non-fiction reading should gain status in our instruction, so too should the writing of non-fictional text.  It is no longer okay for other content area teachers to claim they are not teachers of writing.  All students should think of themselves as writers, and all educators should consider themselves teachers thereof.
  5.  Less is more.  The common core standards should allow educators to move from a “mile wide and an inch deep” curriculum to one which allows them to focus on deep skill building within the content area.  This will be a welcome change.  In fact, many of the problems teachers find themselves accused of emanate from a curriculum that is simply too expansive, and state accountability measures that hold them to covering it all.

Every one of the suggestion enumerated above are ones that I would give irrespective of the common core standards.  These are not new thoughts.  They are, in my opinion, topics that every teacher preparation program should endorse and likely already have.

So what are your thoughts on the common core standards?  Are teachers ill-prepared?  Is expansive professional development necessary?  Have teachers been accurately portrayed?  I look forward to reading your reaction.




One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

Those of us in the education world understand that all it takes is a good hook to pull in an audience.  So it was that I sat with bated breath in anticipation at the AMLE conference for the session entitled “Let Them Read Trash: The Power of Marginalized Texts to Promote Imagination, Satisfaction and Social Action.”  I had no idea that Jeffrey Wilhelm was an accomplished English professor at Boise State University, nor did I know he was an accomplished author of books including Engaging Readers and Writers With Inquiry, You Gotta Be the Book, and Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys.  What I did know was that this was a provocative title, and I was curious about the premise.

The session did not disappoint.  I found Wilhelm to be a gifted speaker with a compelling message, all backed up by research, his experience with his own eighth grade class, and statements from his students about their experience.  Early in the session Wilhelm asked attendees to rank the following reasons for reading literature:

___ 1. To help young people explore their own feelings about literature

___ 2. To help young people explore their own feelings and understandings about their personal experiences

___ 3. To introduce students to great literary treasures

___ 4. To introduce students to other cultures, especially those distant from their experience

___ 5. To provide a meaningful context for learning to read

___ 6. To develop students’ aesthetic sensibilities

___ 7. To develop critical thinking and writing skills

___ 8. To learn to “read the world” from a critical perspective

___ 9. To discuss and come to deeper understandings of timeless themes such as love, loss, identity, heroism, etc.

___ 10. To create an opportunity to discuss contemporary issues

___ 11. To help students think for themselves, and to create their own philosophies of life and living

___ 12. To help students to “live through” experiences that are distant from them in time, place and experience, therefore widening and deepening their experience.

___ 13. Other?:

 After that excercise, Wilhelm contended that unless #3 was a high priority, it did not matter whether teachers used the classics as a vehicle vs. any other literature that students would read.  He went on to claim that many students who are gamers in their free time speak of game characters in much the same way as one might discuss literary characters.  (This seems like quite a stretch to me, and seems contrary to the goal of getting kids to read, but I do see how games could be used to discuss contemporary issues, etc.)

The discussion reminded me of my own guilty pleasures (or in Willhelm’s jargon, my own meaningful trash): an episode of Two and a Half Men.  In the episode, Jake, the slacker son who both dislikes and is not good at school, is supposed to be doing a book report on Lord of the Flies.  His father not only can’t get Jake to read the book, he can’t even bring him to read the Cliff’s Notes.  At the same time, Jake’s Uncle Charlie is writing the theme song to one of Jake’s favorite graphic novels, Oshikuru – Demon Samurai.  He gives Charlie a stinging critique of his jingle: “Did you even read the comic?  It’s about a teenage boy in a futuristic society, who’s possessed by the tortured soul of a feudal Japanese warrior condemned to walk the earth fighting the evil that he once embodied.  He lives in dark world.  He battles the spirits of the damned.  Your theme doesn’t capture the mood at all.  It just blows.”  Jake and his critique would be easy to dismiss as the rantings of a fictional character, except I have heard kids talk like this — deeply, and emotionally –on a number of occasions about things that they care about.  And I have frequently seen those same kids frustrated about the “stupid book” that they “have to read” in class.  It is obvious that Jake is willing to apply the same skills required to analyze high-brow literature, he just doesn’t want to do so with The Lord of the Flies.  At some point the question becomes: Which is more important, applying the skills of analysis, or reading that particular book?

To me, the whole point is that we need a way to set the hook.  Whether that is finding a way to make classics appealingly and meaningfully relatable to our students, or allowing them to develop important skills and conceive critical thoughts through different vehicles, is really immaterial.  Regardless, we must bring the horse to the water AND make him drink.  I can’t imagine not reading Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, et al, and yet it seems that a balance can be struck allowing choice and multiple genres to be part of the menu.  Then, in the immortal words of Charlie Sheen, we’ll all be “Winning!”

So, I’m curious…which of Wilhelm’s 13 reasons for teaching literature is your number one?  Can reading trash accomplish the same thing, or is this idea headed for the sanitation station?

The Best 20 Minutes of the Day

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to say that’s the end of the best 20 minutes of the day.”  Thus ended the SSR session I attended yesterday in one of our classrooms.

It’s a bold statement, yet one that was met without argument.  In fact, teachers report that students enter some form of stupor from which it’s difficult to roust them, so it should be no surprise that there was no protest to the claim.  It’s funny, really.  These digital natives and the rest of their generation are frequently accused of entering a transe-like state when playing video games — rightfully so, I should say — and it is frequently suggested that the result of their multi-media immersion is a short attention span.  It seems to me, however, that these same children, when allowed to read from books of their own choosing in a supportive environment, become just as engrossed.  Is attention span the real culprit? 

But if calling 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading the best part of a child’s (or teacher’s) day is bold, it is also humble.  It takes humility to admit that the number of activities and programming that a faculty plans for students on any given day may be less enticing than curling up with a good book.  It takes humility to be willing to give up 20 minutes a day of quality instruction under the notion that students will be better off in the long run.  It truly takes an enlightened and confident individual to admit that.

Research continues to indicate that individuals who read academically outperform those who do not in every way measurable.  While I’m happy that this research exists, it strikes me much as research that indicates people who eat less and exercise more tend to lose weight and be physically fit.  Well, duuuuh!  What is surprising, however, is that it does not seem to matter what people read, it just matters that people read.  Recognizing that school is often cited as the reason people stop reading, and developing strategies to not only avoid having students stop, but to truly embrace and encourage reading through modeling and making it a priority is critical.  After all, schools across the land claim the mission of creating lifelong learners.  If there is a shred of truth that we hold that mission dear, then setting aside time to read in our day is the least we can do.  And if, along the way, we can convince our students that it is the best 20 minutes of their day, we will have really accomplished something.  Except if we do it correctly, students will prove us wrong by making reading the best 40, 60 or 80 minutes of their day!

Bad Dad

It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last, but I failed as a dad last night.  My older son excitedly brought his spiral notebook into the room exclaiming that he wanted me to read the second paragraph of his essay.  This is a left-brained leaning boy, one who rarely, if ever, talks about writing, so I was a bit surprised and eager to read what he wanted to show me. 

I took the notebook in my post-Open House, supine position and began to read aloud.  Well, sort of.  My son’s words flowed from my lips as smoothly as a fifteen year-old drives a stick shift for the first time.  In the mountains.  The poor boy has his dad’s handwriting skills, and the scrawl was simply illegible.  I sounded like an emergent reader pausing every few words, waiting for someone to help me sound it out.

My next challenge was to decipher meaning amidst the randomly placed commas in one of his more developed sentences.  After clarifying what he meant to say, I next directed him to rewrite that particular sentence and to remove some commas while adding others elsewhere.  Unfortunately, because it was handwritten, there was no room for an extended edit.

I asked him why he had written it in his notebook as opposed to using his laptop.  This is a somewhat frequent question of mine, and on top of my other suggestions and comments, was not exceptionally well received.  His labored response: “That’s what we were supposed to do.”  My son continued, “Besides, he told us it had to be a page long, and a handwritten page is not nearly as long as a typed one.”  He left off the word, “duh,” but as a linguist with vast experience in the world of teen dialect, I’m led to believe that it was implied.

The truth of the matter is that I was asking the wrong person.  As I compose this post, I am writing, re-writing, revising, cutting and pasting, moving some paragraphs, inserting others, exchanging words, etc.  (I used to do some of these things on my yellow legal pad, drawing arrows across the page, scribbling sections out, and writing in the margins.  In the end, it looked like one mysterious hieroglyph.)  One simply cannot do these things well on paper, and it can’t be done at all without completely re-writing the entire thing at the end.  All things considered, to not encourage students (or even coerce them) to use digital tools is malpractice for a writing teacher, isn’t it?  To teach writing today without offering the ability to easily edit, and without directly teaching the practice while using those tools, is simply mis-educating.  Often times we educators find ourselves grading finished products instead of actively teaching the writing process.  It’s a shame that we don’t do less of the former, and more of the latter.

Of course, all of the finger pointing in the world won’t change the fact that I completely messed up the moment.  My faux pas of not embracing the opportunity to hear his writing without offering editorial comment was a big one, and left me hoping that someday I would get another chance.

Clearing the Bar

Failing schools are in the news. 

“What schools are being taken over by the state?  Tune in at 11 to get the full details.”

Stories about vouchers abound, including directions of how to help one’s child escape a failing school.  Policy and law makers admit that NCLB is a broken system, though the agenda to alter or dismiss it is put off to another day.  “The Test” becomes more powerful every day, and it is quickly becoming the final or sole arbiter of a school’s or a student’s performance.

Simultaneously, pedagogy is taking a back seat to accountability.  I found it interesting this spring that while our veteran teachers were required to prove to the state that they were highly qualified despite their many years in the field and despite their continuing education requirements, many of the resumes that I received for open positions included the phrase “considered highly-qualified by the State of Indiana to teach (subject area) under a Transition to Teaching Permit.”  These “highly-qualified” applicants had not yet begun their pedagogical coursework, but, by golly, they sure are ready to come in and save our profession.   If you can’t see the sarcasm dripping off the last sentence, it’s time to change your browser.

As a school that creates a perennial success story via our state’s mandated testing, it might seem counterintuitive to criticize the measurement mechanism.  Perhaps.  But success on these tests indicates a starting point, not an accomplishment.  Take for example reading comprehension.  No one would argue against the need to comprehend what one reads, but then what?  All of us who remember Bloom’s Taxonomy recall that comprehension is a low level skill in the cognitive domain.  All of the fun resides in the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  And it’s not just the fun…it’s where one finds meaning, purpose, marketable skills, and any chance of making school relevant.

Our task, then, is to continue our success on the mandated accountability measures by focusing on real goals like teaching kids how to learn autonomously, encouraging students to form their own opinions and then to logically support them, and to help students find their academic passion. 

One of my favorite professors used to frequently ask the question: “So what?”  It immeditely brought complete silence to the room.  The silence was uncomfortable as he exercised proper wait time, but we eventually broke into lively discussion about our perception of the topic’s relevance to our lives and profession.  It was always a hard question to answer because we had to create it before we could give it — it wasn’t written in the textbook.  (It is likely not coincidental, by the way, that he never used a textbook.)  It is my hope that our students can not just give the “what” when asked to do so.  I would love for them to understand the “so what,” and eventually not because we asked it, but because we have trained them to do so on their own.  That, to me, is the point of our efforts in literacy, project-based instruction, 1:1 instruction, etcetera, ad infinitum.  Teachers creating an atmosphere in which students pursue, apply and appreciate knowledge and the ability to learn.

Measure that CTB/McGraw-Hill.

June, July and August?

beach readYou’ve seen the poster/T-shirt/cartoon before: “My favorite 3 things about teaching are June, July and August.”  It’s no doubt meant to be high brow comedy, but I have to admit that I’m bothered every time I see it.  First and foremost, it’s false advertisement.  The saying implies two things: 1) “I don’t work in the summer,” and 2) “I’m happiest when I am away from my job/children.”  Isn’t that when the studio announcer in the sky comes on and says, “Thanks for playing, here are your parting gifts…”?

I have to admit that I relish the summer, but not for the reasons that the general public assumes.  I’m simply not a very good “big picture” planner during the school year.  My summer hours are the ones that I use to dream and imagine what could be.  For me, September through May are spent making things happen, whereas June through August is a period of exploration and reflection unfettered by the realities of having to make it work in class tomorrow.  (Full disclosure would also reveal that today’s 3:30 tee time is not a luxury I can afford during the school year.  Let’s be real, I’m not ALL work and no play!)

This summer I am looking forward to reading The Book Whisperer, and Elements of Grading, developing the next steps from our staff’s group-read Readicide, analyzing the school’s performance in 2010-2011, considering the formation, structure and purpose of a multi-media club, and developing an ongoing dialogue with colleagues about interdisciplinary, project-based instructional strategies.  These aren’t things that I’m compelled to do.  I want to do these things, and I am ecstatic to have an opportunity to do them in a distinctly different environment than the one found in the midst of a 36-week school year. 

So, I’m curious.  What do you plan to do this summer?  The “Let It Out” section in the Indy Star once again included a mention of the “teachers who only work 9 months of the year.”  I know these suggestions are woefully misguided.  Can you help me count the ways?

I look forward to your comments!

NWS Math Day

Math teachers from the Northwest Suburban Conference schools met on Pi day (How’s that for planning, huh?) in an effort to learn best practices from one another, compare and contrast Indiana’s standards with the Common Core Standards, and to discuss meeting the needs of all learners — especially the highest and lowest achievers.  It was an excellent day of sharing and learning.  I promised the attendees to send a screencast of how to upload a document to a wiki page, but later realized that a screencast would be too large to e-mail, too large to host on a free wiki site, and that any Youtube video would likely be blocked by most of the schools (which is a blogpost for another day!).  With that in mind, I decided to simply imbed the screencast here: