Sunday, April 27, 2014

We Don't Already Do This

The instructional shifts needed in our classrooms are real.  Hard.  Worth it.  Professional practice in which teachers spend more time planning than grading is easier said than done.  Moving from questions with right answers to questions with no clear answers probably means that our students will be writing more than we want to grade.  We will be giving up some measure of control, which does not mean that classrooms will be chaotic, all answers-accepted-as-equal, participation trophy environments. Student centered classrooms are spaces of complex learning, in which teachers put in place the conditions for needed for student questioning, research, debate, failure + perseverance, productive struggle, meaning-making, and hard-earned growth.

There is a simple truth that we must accept, no matter what well-meaning encouragers tell us:

We don't already do this.

To the extent that we have made some changes we are on the right track.   But we can't settle for a message that comforts us.  As Margaret Wheatley advises, we must be willing to be disturbed.  Not crushed to the point of paralysis, but disturbed.

With everything in motion all at once, why would we engage in these shifts?  Things are just going to change again, as soon as we get used to all this stuff. Maybe even before. Grumble, grumble, grumble...

Here's the thing about change...we couldn't get to these needed shifts without all the work that came before.
The mighty oak was once a seedling.  Our efforts aren't wasted, they bring us to greater understanding and more powerful practices.  Onward and upward!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What's on Your Screen?

It's Saturday  and we are lounging around in the family room after having been outside in various pursuits in the most beautiful weather thus far this year.  While family time might have once been a comfortable silence around a shared movie on TV, it is in this moment, the comfortable silence of each of us involved in our own on-screen experience.

My husband is combing through baseball data on the old desktop, thinking about his next fantasy baseball move.  I am reading an actual paper and ink book, but have set it aside and picked up the Chromebook to look up job prospects for the next decade on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, as recommended by the author of the book.  I'll return to the traditional book in a few minutes.

It is a bit harder to surmise what my son and daughter are up to on their iPad and smart phone, so I just ask them.  "Nothing," they say, and I smile as I am immediately transported to their K-12 days, where "nothing' ever happened at school.  

My daughter explains that she is goofing off with SuperWhoLock on Pinterest.  That is, enjoying visuals and commentary from fans of the television shows Supernatural, Dr. Who, and Sherlock.  She skims the visual pins, engaging with accompanying text when drawn in.

My son tells me he is reading about carnivorous plants in South America. (There is no academic paper due here, or deep interest in botany, just an abiding curiosity about everything that was often at odds with school expectations all through his life...but that's another post, or is it?)  When asked what path he took to get to this article, he can only say that he started on Reddit and kept browsing until he wasn't bored.

This is a completely random snapshot of leisure time in 2014 across adulthood from age just-barely-there to close-to-retirement (that would be my husband, not me!) 

This picture strikes me as much more literacy-based than our leisure time would have been ten years ago. 
And it hits me that the fiction content of our leisure literacy is, in this moment, 0%.  

What are the implications for the classroom?  What kinds of reading and writing should kids be doing at school that prepares them for literacy in the real world?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

In the topsy-turvy world  of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice states, "I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then."  I have experienced this odd sensation more than a few times this year.

I'm a true believer in the Common Core State Standards.  Here's why:  They are common across districts and states; read: unprecedented collaborative opportunities.  As a small example, Twitterchats would be far less relevant if we were all working toward different standards.

I love that the standards emphasize literacy as the way to access and make sense of content. They do not ignore listening and speaking as foundational to learning.  Writing is back. The standards are laced with technology expectations.  This last is likely the push many districts need to move into the century that is not too far from 15% complete.  (Shouldn't we have entered the 21st century some time ago?)

If the new standards were not infused with digital literacy expectations, would districts feel the need to push forward with technology?  I think districts are getting a nudge (okay, more like a shove) in a direction that is truly needed.

Best of all, teachers get to decide how to teach again!  The standards are silent on HOW to teach, and what materials to use.  Actually, not silent on that point at all!

"Fact: Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards."

So here's the rabbit hole:

Recently, I was working with a group of teachers who began our time together grieving the testing burden on their students because of common quarterly assessments.  When I proposed a plan to eliminate half of these assessments, they decided to keep them all!  Why?  Because we are in a high-stakes environment.


That's why we have to do better for our students than steer them into assessment-driven comas.

Kids can read books that were written in their lifetime.  We don't have to fill in grammar worksheets.  We don't have to issue vocabulary lists.  Everyone doesn't have to read the same book.  Research isn't just for 'after the test' in May.  We don't have to make sure students master writing conventions before they can explore capturing their thoughts on the page or screen. We don't have to define writing assignments as a graded five-paragraph essay on a piece of paper that ruins the teacher's weekend because she has to read the same thing 120 times.  Heck, we don't even have to grade everything!

It's a high stakes environment...We have to pay attention to what we are doing... and if it is mind-numbingly dull, stop doing it!

As a curriculum coordinator, I expected that I would spend quite a bit of time advocating to administrators that teachers should be supported in their risk-taking innovative strategies.  Instead, more often than not I am making the case to teachers that administrators want to see a shake-up in classroom practices.

Things just get curiouser and curiouser.