Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shifted Learning Podcast is Up

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be the guest on John Pederson and Julia Fallon's Shifted Learning. The podcast is now up. If you've got a free hour, enjoy! (I haven't actually had the chance to listen to it yet. Fingers crossed.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coming to a Close

Tomorrow will be the final day of the Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP) Summer Institute. Before these few weeks I had only a passing knowledge of the National Writing Project and NVWP. Thanks to Bud the Teacher I was at least familiar with it and interested in learning more.

In these four weeks I have learned much about myself as a writer, myself as a teacher, and just myself in general. The only one of those I had anticipated was the teacher one. I expected to do a lot of writing throughout this institute but I had no idea how much that would mean to me as a writer (or that I would even ever say 'me as a writer'). I have written poetry, narratives and essays this summer. That doesn't sound like a huge range but one of those narratives was from the perspective of a camera. I have tried new things as a writer - something I haven't really ever done independently and of my own initiative.

We are a small group this summer, something I actually think is pretty positive. We have been able to get to know one another well in this relatively short time. I have learned from every other person involved in this institute and I hope to continue to do so. Discussing big ideas in writing, literacy, and education in general with elementary, middle, high, and higher ed teachers has been amazing. They have broadened my thinking simply by sharing their perspectives.

If you are unfamiliar with the National Writing Project, check it out. Chances are good there is a writing project in your area.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More on the March

With less than a week until the Save Our Schools March I'm excited by how much I'm seeing about it on twitter and in my reader. The energy around it is wonderful and exhilarating. It will be absurdly hot next Saturday but I hope folks will turn out, at least for a bit, to show how important this issue is to so many of us.

Deborah Meier, one of my intellectual heroes, will be there. She has been fighting this fight for decades now both in schools and in the public sphere.

In a recent blog post (on her own blog, not Bridging Differences), she writes about the political and financial situation in our country now. She seems to have had hopes, at one point, that she and Tea Partiers might have been able to see eye to eye on some, few things.
But even when the overlap is there, it’s true ONLY about the immediate future of schooling in America. Have to remind myself that schooling is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle—and I got into it sort of by accident and the fight going on today involves all the other agendas that matter to me. Poverty, after all, is best alleviated with money, jobs, power.
She goes on to write quite a bit about the challenges we are facing because of an 'ideological divide' between the few at the top and the rest of us. At the end she voices concern about what our schools and our society are becoming, how much we are expecting students and fellow citizens to comply in many ways.
We need to counter this trend every place we can; we need to praise ornery, feisty resistance—which will sometimes be wrongheaded. We need to arouse anger when its alternative is passivity and withdrawal. We need to look for hope, for alternative paradigms, and for allies—even when it seems utopian to do so.
She gives me hope. If you haven't yet, go and read her words. And, if you can, join us in Washington, D.C. on Saturday!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why I Am Marching

We say we want students to be life-long learners but our actions often contradict that. I could do a much better job of allowing and supporting my students in following their interests, curiosities, and passions. Especially since, as a first grade teacher, I am not directly preparing them for any test.

I wrote the above paragraph more than two weeks ago on the second day of the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute. It was in response to discussions amongst us all about testing and how that has impacted our teaching. Many people find themselves teaching in ways that are very rigidly structured in order to prepare kids to pass a standardized test.

The next day I wrote the following: Balance - that seems to be the key to this conversation. We have to prepare kids for the realities of their future.* We also need to actually teach kids to write - not just to complete a writing task.

If students are going to truly be writers and learners as they grow and move on from formal schooling we have to prepare them for that. We are at a point at which we are only teaching our students what they need to move on from us, not what they need to move on in life.

I know the response is often that students have to pass these tests, both for their sake and for ours. I don't care.

I have two daughters. If I had to choose between them passing a state standardized test (or all of the state standardized tests, for that matter) and them being curious about the world and having the skills to continue learning and searching out the answers to their own questions, I pick the latter without any hesitation.

I firmly believe a person can pass a standardized test without much in the way of knowledge or skills. I don't believe they can truly succeed in growing as a learner and make a meaningful difference in the world without curiosity and the drive to seek out answers. I want my daughters and my students to be curious and driven. Standardized tests don't help with that.

When I began writing this my basic thoughts seemed organized to me. I was reflecting on thoughts from the past couple of weeks at the writing institute.

However, as I hit the end, I feel as though I've inadvertently stated pretty clearly why I'm marching next Saturday. Educators, parents, students, citizens are joining together in Washington, D.C. next Saturday, July 30th, for the Save Our Schools March. This event was initiated and organized by teachers. Some amazing and inspirational individuals will be speaking: Diane Ravitch, Jonathon Kozol, Jose Vilson, and Deborah Meier are ones I can't wait to hear. If you are in the D.C. area, please come out and join us! Send me an email and let me know you'll be there - I'd love to meet folks. If you aren't in the D.C. area, there are events happening to support this march across the country. Those of us in the schools everyday must speak up as we are the true experts. This is a fabulous opportunity to do so!

*I was thinking of future standardized testing such as the SAT or GRE in addition to the K-12 tests.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shifted Learning Podcast

So I'll be on my first podcast tomorrow afternoon (or morning if you are west of me). I'll be chatting with Julia Fallon and John Pederson on Shifted Learning about elementary education stuff. That's vague I know. But I think that's the basic gist.

If you haven't listened to any Shifted Learning podcasts before I highly recommend checking out a few of them. Jon Becker talks about higher ed, technology, and ed policy. Chris Lehmann and Diana Laufenberg talked about The Great America Teach In (a bit dated, but phenomenal). Bud Hunt is just generally brilliant. There are many others worth listening to. I am honored to join this list and chat with these two educators I greatly admire.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

10 People Who Inspire Me

There is so much flying around in my head from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute. However, until it is over next week, I probably won't manage to get it all out and organized in any meaningful way.

Yesterday we talked about changemakers. Again, there is a lot of amazing thoughts around this, but I'm just going to share one piece of what we did. We made a list of ten people who inspire us. The lists were wonderful - parents, teachers, heroes. I found that my list was all people I actually know (although I haven't met one of them). I didn't have Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr or Mother Teresa or Jaime Escalante such on my list. It's not that those people don't inspire me because they do, it's that they didn't come to mind immediately.

Here's my list in the order in which I wrote it:
Most of the above are educators, apparently I can't get away from that. They are all brilliant and push me in a variety of ways - all of which I appreciate.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hitting Pause

As a parent I'm pretty good, but far from perfect, at pausing with my daughters. By this I mean waiting rather than gut responding to them, be it to their questions, comments, or actions. This allows me to quickly reflect on my response options and the effects of them. If one girl is bugging the other, I try to step back and fully assess the situation and weigh the possible responses. When one makes a comment that sounds rude to me, I attempt to take their perspective to determine if the comment is rude given their knowledge and experiences. Then I can better address the issue.

I'm not very good at this as a teacher. Is it because I don't trust my students as much as I trust my daughters? Is it because I feel the push of time in the classroom more than I do as a parent?

Many of the mistakes I believe I make in the classroom stem from this problem. If I were better able to pause with my students I would be able to respond to them in ways that would be respectful and would encourage the behaviors I want to see.

This will be one of my goals for this coming school year. I'm not yet sure how to go about it, but this seems like step one.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Believe

I believe we underestimate children. By we I mean teachers, parents, and our society.

I believe there are two main things we can do to change this. One, we can say yes to children. For the majority of adults the quick, gut response to any request from a child is no. If we would take just a brief moment to consider why we are saying no we might, quite frequently, realize there is no good reason not to say yes. The second thing we can do is to give kids control. The normal relationship between a child and an adult is one of power (at least that is a piece of the relationship). The adult has all of it. Giving the child some control goes against the standard and is, therefore, difficult. It's worth it.

I believe saying yes and giving kids control benefits all of us. Imagine a job at which your every request is turned down and you have no power over how your time or energies are spent. Would you put forth a lot of effort? Would you try your best? I doubt it. Now, imagine the opposite, your ideas and suggestions are respected and encouraged, you are trusted to try new things and spend your time well. That is an environment that encourages people to give it their all.

I believe that these small steps encourage students to be responsible and creative, and fosters leadership skills. Students with these qualities can succeed beyond our wildest expectations and grow into adults who will fly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Be Back Soon

I've got so much flying around in my head these days (thanks to the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute, various readings, and tweets from Constructing Modern Knowledge) but no ability to get any of it out coherently.

Our fridge stopped working a couple of days ago and my back problems have come back with a vengeance in the past few days. So, I hope to have both those things under control soon and be able to refocus.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Initial Reflections on the Northern Virginia Writing Project

I’m participating in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute at the moment. It runs for four weeks, full days four days a week. So far I’ve been through three days and I’m exhausted. It is a good exhaustion.

Our days are pretty structured. We begin each morning with 30 minutes of ‘morning pages,’ writing time. Everyone just writes. I’ve never dedicated that kind of time in my daily life for writing before.

After that we have two presentations. Every participant does a presentation on something about teaching writing. We chose our topics, which allowed us to focus on things about which we are passionate. The presentations are scheduled to last just over an hour. They involve a lot of writing, participation and discussion. We’ve had five so far and they’ve all been fairly different. Wonderfully so.

After that we take an hour break for lunch. I’ve noticed, after just three days, that it isn’t really an hour. First of all, we’ve often run over from the morning presentations. Secondly, we all tend to talk to one another and discuss our thinking from the morning before remembering we need to eat.

Twice a week, after lunch, we meet in reading and writing groups. These are groups of five people who all bring their own writing to share and discuss. We spend time reading each others’ work and discussing it. We might share how we felt as readers during it, lines or phrases that really struck us, or ways to improve the writing. This is about two and a half hours of our time. So far we’ve only done it twice and it was powerful.

In my reading and writing group I’ve taken some poetry. I don’t tend to write a lot of poetry and I certainly don’t share it often, but I started a project years ago that I’d like to work on and hopefully finish. So far my group has not only significantly helped me begin revising two poems but they’ve helped me look at my poetry differently and I’ve begun revising others.

Other afternoons, when we aren’t meeting with our groups, we have outside presenters or group discussion time. We’re a small group this year, there are only about twelve of us. That’s about half the size of the group in past years. I’m grateful for this. I’m looking forward to really getting to know everyone in this institute and being a smaller group makes that easier.

There are teachers here from all levels. I think, as a first grade teacher, that I teach the youngest students. There are third and fifth grade teachers, middle school and high school teachers, and a couple of teachers from our local community college. It is so amazing to have all of those perspectives. I believe it is easy for teachers to do a lot of learning while staying within their comfort zone. I could read and talk only with elementary educators and not even begin to exhaust the resources available to me. However, I would be missing some important ideas and perspectives if I limit myself in that way. So it is a goal of mine to spend a lot of time talking to those teachers not working in elementary schools.

Friday, July 08, 2011

ISTE 2011 Reflections

I’ve read reflections on ISTE 2011 from a good number of people and I’ve begun to conflate their thinking in my mind. That’s unfortunate because it means I can’t give credit to individuals who pushed my thinking here.

Someone wrote about a sense from some participants of smugness or superiority. That hit home for me because I could easily have come across that way (may even have been feeling that way and be unwilling to admit it to myself).

I spent a good amount of ISTE with a colleague who was there for the first time. We heard Peter Reynolds speak first thing Monday morning and that was an excellent way to start off the conference. Energetic and inspirational.

However, our next session was a bit disappointing. While we walked away with a few small nuggets, we felt most of what was discussed and shared was old hat to us. My takeaway and comment to my colleague was that many of the sessions would be that way.

Believe it or not, I didn’t mean that in a sense of feeling superior or smug. I realize that conference attendees all arrive at different points and are looking for different things. My colleague and I spend plenty of time keeping up with the edtech world throughout the year so many of the “next big things” were not new to us.

Plus, we aren’t too interested in the tools. I’m glad there are people who are interested in the tools and who spend time exploring and experimenting with them. I gain immeasurably from their efforts.

But I want to talk about the teaching most of the time. What does this all mean? How does it impact my students? How can I help my students more? I want to have those conversations at ISTE.

Fortunately ISTE set up many opportunities for those conversations. We spent time in the bloggers’ cafĂ© talking with many different people about education and technology in education. We had wonderful discussions with people during poster sessions.

I walked away with a sense of excitement about teaching – always a good thing just after the year has wound down and I’m mostly exhausted. I also walked away hopeful. There are so many fabulous things happening in schools and classrooms around the world and we’re working hard to build on those. At a time when education, at least in this country, seems to be at a low point, it was wonderful to sit on the train coming home feeling good about it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


I have the great luck this summer to participate in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute (a piece of the National Writing Project). It's something I've wanted to do for years but it either hasn't worked in my schedule (during our years of being on a modified calendar) or I haven't been able to make the finances work. But this summer we made the scheduling work (with many thanks to my mom for help with the kids) and my principal found funding. I'm thrilled.

I still don't feel like I fully know what I'm getting into, but I know it will be fabulous. It will be four weeks of full days of writing and talking about writing and teaching. In all the ways I define myself, writer has never been on the list. It will be interesting to see if that changes in the next few weeks.

One piece of the Summer Institute is preparing and presenting on a topic of our choice. I've decided to focus on the power of audience - looking at how audiences beyond the teacher can motivate and support kids in their writing and learning about writing.

Somehow it appears I'll be presenting first, just half an hour into our first day together. So, if you have any tips or thoughts for me, please share!

*I've been meaning to write this post for several weeks now and haven't managed to do so for a wide variety of reasons. It seems like it should be easier to write about writing. Hence the title.