Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Student Blogs re:SpeakLoudly

Hi, Writers!

If you are a student blogger and you've written about banned books, the Wesley Scroggins editorial, Speak, Slaughterhouse Five, or Twenty Boy Summer, would you post a link to your blog in the comments below. My students are wanting to read the words of their peers from around the country on this topic.


Here's Teens Read and Write
The Juniper Breeze

Waiting for Super(hu)man to Change Education

I have to say I was disappointed in Oprah. And I know I'm also opening a can of worms by expressing that. There are definitely teachers who should not be teaching...no profession is exempt from this syndrome. And I must admit, there are many times I was an "inadequate"...and I would even call myself a BAD (embarrassingly bad) teacher at some time during the last 17 years of my career, and am I ever thankful I wasn't fired. Instead, I learned, grew, and worked through my inadequecies because I am in the business of learning. I know there are many, many teachers who are great teachers who have had lessons, units, quarters, semesters, or maybe even years of inadaquacy--but there are so many who change and grow and develop into an effective teacher. I would go has far to propose it's this way in every profession--from "not so good today at my job" to "wow--I rocked it!"

Teaching is hard, hard, hard work. It's a continuous development and when teachers are supported in reflecting on their own practices, learning what strategies are effective (which changes daily in this century and with our kids), and in not being evaluated by test scores, then, quite possilby, we could have an "okay" or "good" teacher turn into a "great" teacher.

I have a big issue with people talking about my profession and trying to "fix" the problem who haven't spent a minute, or wait, make that 282 minutes a day with 130 students for 185 days a year in one single classroom. It gets a little taxing and some days I feel like I'm a great teacher, and some days I wonder what in the world even happened today. I'm not saying I don't think we all can't engage in the conversation, I welcome this discourse--even those who are not teachers, but Oprah single-handedly silenced the voice of all the good and great teachers our country has. There was not one teacher on her "expert panel."

I'm going to see Waiting for Superman so I can join the national conversation regarding its content. But I'm a public school teacher and I serve ALL students. Rich. Poor. Hungry. Snotty-nosed. Whatever. I will see to it that every kid has the right to an education, a good education in my classroom, not just the ones who "qualify" for a privately funded education. I do not believe Charter Schools are the answer.

To my readers: This was an impromptu voice posted on my friend Kim's FB wall after she posted that inadaquate teachers should be fired. I had a lot of other things to write this morning before work--specifically regarding the professor trying to ban books in my school district (which I will write about later)...but her status was the first thing I saw, and I sat down to write. I have more to say on this topic, but thanks to my friend (and great teacher, Kim), for forcing me to start thinking through my own thoughts and beliefs about Oprah and Waiting for Superman.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Promise of Cooperative Learning

One of my students wrote a semi-scathing piece about her teachers starting cooperative learning in their classes this past week. While she read it aloud, she kept looking at me sheepishly, unsure if she was going to get in trouble for chastising her teachers' new approach to learning and how much she despised this new found "cooperative learning." At first her peers acted the same way--looking at me unafraid to show their emotions on the subject, but by the time she finished her satirical piece and showed the drawing that accompanied her writing (administration and faculty with angel wings hovering over the entire school of students leading a Kagan-inspired Rally Robin) the entire class erupted in laughter losing their fear of any repercussion.

I laughed my way through this, too, mostly because I understand this students point of view. (Not to mention she has every right to her own opinion and expression of what's happening in her own learning life.) All of a sudden she's forced to partner and share her work in classes where she was largely doing her work individually. While I'm a big believer in cooperative learning and utilize it in my classroom daily, I realized long ago that 12th graders appreciate guiding words such as "find your partner" and "let's take 15-seconds to think first" over "Stand up, Hand up, Pair up" and "We're going to do a 'Think, Pair, Share' now."

In a strange sort of way, all of a sudden my class has lost validity in the eyes of my 12th graders. It kind of hurts. We read aloud our first poetry this week and afterwards I asked the students to offer up *snaps* to the poet. Where did I first learn this informal way to show quick, unobtrusive appreciation and feedback? The Greater Kansas City Writing Project-2002. Instead though, I was accused of being Kagan-crazed and brainwashed. "What?" I thought to myself,"Does he even have the copyright on "snaps after poetry readings?" Suddenly, my normal routines of collaborative and cooperative learning have been demeaned by the entire school going through Kagan training. "Oh no, don't hit me with another cooperative learning technique" the kids think to themselves. This new student perspective has thrown a kink into my once authentic and honest approaches to collaboration. Now, partnering up to share our work feels forced and not genuine, whereas before the students just thought my class was "different" than others and were inclined to open and share and learn from each other. I was intentionally cultivating a group of learners who were just beginning to learn that we do not learn in isolation.

Incorporating this Kaganesque CL into my classroom is not hard. I am 100% for cooperative learning. In fact, it's only a simple change in the way I word directions to the students. I was explicitly informed there's a "right" way to do things and that "we all need to be on the same page." I really didn't think this would be such a big deal. But to my kids right now, it seems to be. At the beginning of the school year, they felt like I was treating them as adults and with respect, but now, many feel like their knowledge and expertise as learners has been demoted by several grades. Where we once simply found a partner, we now "Stand up, Hand up, Pair Up." Where once we decided our own roles in our learning groups and defined them together, we now have "Sultan of Silly" and "Synergy Guru." Where we once had Gallery Walks (or sometimes Gallery Passes) that began with student-led discussion of what it means to walk through a gallery observing, thinking, reflecting, and responding, we now have "Carousel Feedback." I can't say I like the name changes either. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong if I don't say it the Kagan way. But for the sake of my job and for being part of and supporting the community of teachers in my school, I will do what's expected as we dive into learning what Kagan CL brings to the classroom.

The bottom line, I guess, is that Kagan provides answers. Answers for teachers who are demoralized and deflated from media and political ridicule. There's so much pressure on teachers for their students to perform well on standardized tests that teachers will largely follow any for-profit company who guarantees lowering the achievement gap and raising standardized test scores. Being told what to do and how to do it to get certain results is so much easier than questioning, learning, exploring, discovering, and reflecting on process. Kagan, in a nicely organized binder and a guidebook to accompany it, provides answers.

I guess this is why I love working with the writing project so much. I'm never given answers. And I never give them. I'm never given lectures on "what the research says." And again, I never give them. Instead, I'm valued as a professional educator and expected to be a curious learner. I'm encouraged to question and research my classroom practices, and then share my expertise and knowledge in conversation with other professionals. It is this tapping into each other's faucets that leads to greater teaching and learning. My biggest breakthrough in learning cooperative learning and collaboration came this summer at NWP's Recruiting for Diversity Institute. I realized that in order to build trust and community, it doesn't really take a coordinated effort in the balloon bounce or the untwisting of the human pretzel. Instead, it's the reading together, the writing together, the working together, and the sharing together that fully engages us as learners and motivates us to invest in each other.

(Author's note: Do I need to add that I think Kagan structures are solid and do provide opportunity for classroom conversation and learning? I hope not. If you got from this post that I do not believe in cooperative learning structures, then you're taking away the wrong thing. This post is not about belittling Dr. Kagan's years of research and expertise. I believe in them and have used them for years. But through the years, I've simply adapted versions that work well with my students. I don't believe Kagan structures are the "end-all-be-all" of education. There is never one right way to teach and learn. This post was simply inspired by a students reaction to her first experiences as a learner in many Kagan-inspired classrooms this past week.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sub plans

A few days ago Tory, a student teacher in Arizona, wrote about helping out other teachers on her blog The Education of Miss Waggoner. She wrote about the "extra" work teachers have to do during the day and because she isn't teaching the entire day yet, she had the opportunity to help out her colleagues. She even mentioned how glad she was to be there to give these teachers an extra hand because from her perspective "it would have taken a lot longer for those teachers to get their work done had I not been there."

I'm really proud of Tory. I'm proud that she 1. recognizes there's much work to get done, 2. understands we can hardly fit in all the work that needs to be done with the given hands and time, 3. that she recognizes help is necessary, and 4. that she offers help to her colleagues.

Yesterday I realized I had to be gone from work today. When I realized my student teacher was coming with me, we both stayed to write lesson plans for the day. I knew I had to summon Amy's help not only to save myself some time, but also to help her understand the process of what elements need to be present for the substitute to be somewhat successful.

While I created handouts for the students, wrote out the lesson plan, and wrote a personal letter to my substitute, Amy made copies, stapled and hole-punched the papers, wrote the agenda on the board, straightened the room and organized the desk for the substitute. It took the two of us over two full hours--or 140 minutes--to prepare for a substitute to teach 240 minutes.

And this is why I go to school when I'm sick. :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Girl on Subway

(Author's Note: I wrote "Girl on Subway" in Februrary 2009. I remember this happening, but I don't remember where I was. I've been looking through unposted blog writings and posting them...b/c basically I'm too lazy to write new posts, but since my colleagues are committed to posting to their blogs, then I will too!

We don't have a subway in Springfield, but like I said earlier, I can't remember where I was when this happened. The truth about today is this: I wasn't in the mood to bless the rain even though we so desperately needed it. I was, however, cursing it under my breath every time I loaded and unloaded my school bags, walked thru puddles, and dug around in my wet purse for my lipstick. Then I drove my car by the uncovered bus stop on National, across from St. John's Hospital, and I forgot how wet I was.)

Girl on Subway

I sat across from her.

She looked haggard and tired, like this one day alone had been longer than every day of the month in a hot August. She jumped on the subway at the last minute, barely squeezing between the doors closing shut, her shirt, recently untucked from her skirt suit. She carried her suit jacket in the crook of her left arm, an umbrella and newspaper in her hand. Her oversized bag, black and patton leather, on her left shoulder, a silver thermos in her right hand.

It's 5:43 p.m.

She was simply dressed, but wore both elegance and modernity. A grey skirt and white, collared button up. Panty hose. Gray heels. Making her way through the crowd from the door, she found the seat across from me...open. Empty.

She sat down with without pretending to be a lady. I went home and wrote her in haiku:

Digging in abyss
Rooting, scrounging, foraging
"Where the hell is it!"

Digging and sifting
Searching, Probing, Uncovering...
Chapstick from her purse.