Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Arrested Development

Slice of Life is hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres.
Click over to Two Writing Teachers and serve up your own story.

We will never improve as a profession if we continue to train teachers in ways that fly in the face of what we know about learning and engagement. I wish I had had the courage to walk out of a recent training, but I did not. I did not feel right packing up my colored pencils, my journal, my iPad, my pens or  my cell phone into my rolling briefcase and exiting stage left. There were twenty teachers in the room and I worried about them. Plus it was thunder-storming, so I stayed.

We ask students to sit still, be quiet, listen, copy and more. I am sure students have felt and do feel the anguish when all they get in class is information as lecture. High school students suffer through seven hour school days and some still sit in lecture-based classrooms. At least that is what my students tell me. 

I have to sit in this particular training session for six hours. I am five hours in. So far, I have to listen to the trainer talk at us. Only once, this morning, were participants given time to talk to each other. We read, annotated and discussed something,  all in less than ten minutes. We did not work at a task in a small group. We did not get up and move or chart ideas or share insights. A few teachers asked questions, maybe three out of the twenty.

The trainer did not offer us an "invitation to use what is best in the standards" to deepen or practice or reform the cultures of our schools (Calkins,  et. al.). This session would never "beat the odds" (Langer).  The session ignores participants, and technology. There are no N.E.T.S. to catch these teachers. The trainer occasionally questions the whole group in ways that let us know there is a right answer: no wait time, no acknowledgement of a response, no restatement of responses nor invitation to extend or connect. No one knows our names. We were examining texts ( a poem) and listening to an interpretation (the trainer's). The trainer tried to push us to the same interpretation with rapid fire questions about the text and structure. We knew we weren't giving the right answers when it was given to us after the questioning round. Such trickery shuts my learning down. Surely that happens in classrooms too.

More than a decade ago we talked in Best Practice terms saying we need "more of..." and " less of..."(Zemelman, Daniels and Hyde). Where is everyone who internalized that language and practice? Why are they not leading teachers' study of, in this case, Common Core, close reading and PARCC assessments?

My ears are nearly numb. I can hear  someone talking at me, but that does not mean I am listening. I am not sure I believe  a trainer who,  without assessing my level of familiarity with the Common Core Standards,  reads us entire swaths of the document (and appendices) from the screen while chastising teachers for reading to students. 

My teacher voice tells me to do less: lecture, telling, showing, saying, stating, giving. My teacher voice reminds me to look for the lesson. Let learners: read, write, wrestle, discuss, share, question and discover. 

In the real world, I know that not all teachers read. Not all teachers read professional books, nor do they familiarize themselves with research. Not all do, but many do.  Several of the people in this room do.

What is a large district to do? I've really been wrestling with the question of how corporations inform cast. This is one two professional development experiences offered my district this summer. I would label one the in-person lecture and the other computer-based training.  The district pushed five computer-based training modules out to more than 12,000 teachers to encourage summer learning. The modules, as you can imagine, require learners to watch, read and write and take multiple choice assessments. The district is paying teachers one thousand dollars if all five modules are completed within a set time frame. On the up side teachers can work at their own pace and under their own direction. On the down side the content is lecture-heavy, but tech-savvy teachers can click around the scripted power point presentations and read the material for themselves if they so choose. Choice matters.

In the face to face training today choice was limited. As I watch the trainer I put my own facilitator hat on and start to sketch out how I might restructure the day. My teacher voice tells me to read the room, to assess the group, to differentiate and diversify. Differentiating curriculum and diversifying delivery or methods of instruction is not easy in the classroom and it is certainly no small task when working with adult learners but to not attempt such care meets no one's needs.

During today's training a few in the room created their own back channel via text messaging. The trainer did not set up digital discussion spaces: no hashtag, no back room, no parking lot ( whether virtually or in reality on chart paper). Learners had no voice in the room.  

PARCC Content Framework ELA
Instead of examining students' samples (something this particular company says it teaches and trains from) we listened. Instead of discovering meaning, forming questions, planning ahead, we listened. We listened for hours. We had one ten minute break mid-morning and a lunch hour. We had one moment of doing in the morning and one in the afternoon; less than ten minutes of talk time in the span of six hours. Instead of talking together about how the PARCC Content Framework outlines quarterly reading
and writing demands and checking those against past practice and aligning them with current expectations, I got texts that said things like:

Is this what nationalism looks like?
Is he going to stop talking? 
Do we just need to write "Common Core" units to make money?
I'm in PD pain.
What IS he talking about? I've lost it.
My company is going to be called...
We're paying money for this?

At the end of the day, I quickly exited the media center and went into a back room. I took care of a friend's printer issue and then sat to think for a moment. I knew I'd behaved badly. I didn't heckle. I didn't pester the trainer with questions, but I did write. I didn't smirk or snort or sigh. I took notes and drew in my journal (the shark in dangerous waters was probably not a subtle hint).  I also spent a large chunk of time in the afternoon crafting this blog piece. I couldn't sit still and listen. In order to maintain a facade of industry and attention, I wrote. Because I was sitting in the front table, I knew my misbehavior did not go unnoticed. What would I want a participant to say to me if I were the facilitator? I knew I needed to speak to the trainer.

I walked back into the room and asked him if I could speak to him for a minute. The room was empty. He had not yet begun to pack up. He and I sat down.

I said, "You can't talk at teachers for six and a half hours and expect them to learn." 

"I did talk a little too much," he admitted. "But some teachers had questions, so I followed them."  

"I couldn't stayed tuned-in."

"I noticed."

"I'm sorry, but ... teachers will not learn and grow if all we do to guide them is lecture.Questions from the few do not insure engagement from the many." My hear raced, but I was glad I'd spoken up.

Authentic professional development grows out of practice.  Learning needs or goals can come from a department, a cohort, a content-area group, a school, a district--the point is we identify a need, a knowledge or information gap and we work together to address it. When one person in the room is doing the work, the rest are left out of the learning.  


ISTE. "Iste NETs for Teachers: Advancing Digital Age Teaching."  Available: http://www.iste.org/standards

Langer, Judith. (2000). Beating the Odds: Teavhing Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well. National Research Center on English and Learning Achievement. Albany, NY. Available: http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/langer/langerbeating12014.pdf

Zemelman, Steven; Daniels, Harvey and Arthur Hyde. (2012).  Best Practice Forth Edition:Bringing Standards to Life In America's ClassroomsPortsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, Lucy; Ehrenworth, Mary and Christopher Lehman. (2012). Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Not Reading?

with a kid-lit spin is hosted by Kellee Moyee at Unleashing Readers 

I have book guilt. I am not reading as much as I could be. We just finished a more than three thousand mile road trip and I have not many books to show for the miles logged. True, the twisty roads through the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia made me motion-sick enough to not be able to focus on print on the page, but still, you'd think I'd finish at least two books during a sixteen-hour haul home. I didn't.

Instead I watched the world go by. I marveled at Christmas trees growing road-side up north. I rode hills rolling southward through the Ohio River Valley. I snuggled the dog who turned out to be quite the traveler. I told family stories. I navigated. I doled out snacks.  Instead of losing myself to story, I immersed myself in family and friends.

Sometimes that's what readers do. They take breaks. They monitor or manage their time. I liken it to what I tell my son about submersing himself in video-games and electronic devices. We limit his screen-time. When he was six he developed a tic. It was scary. His head would nod sideways. His neck rolled back. The movement reminded me of someone clearing tension--that head roll motion. The tic came quickly and scared me.

We were out for pizza one Friday after school and he made that motion more than ten times in two minutes. We went to a neurologist. The doctor scheduled a cat scan to rule out epilepsy or tumors. Scary stuff.

I noticed that the more time he spent with screens, the more the tic appeared. We'd gotten him a Game Boy  and he'd play in the car, at home or while I shopped; he watched t.v. too. Lucky for us the neurologist declared him tumor and epilepsy free. She said motor tics in boys are common and can be either short-lived or chronic: time would tell. She also told us to limit screen time: two-hours tops preferably with brain-breaks. It worked.

That was six years ago. While I'm sure my son spends more than two hours on screen now, he blogs, he emails, he reads, he watches television and plays video games--he loves Minecraft and Star Wars-- his tic is gone. He self-limits when he games and takes breaks. He knows he needs to "be with the people" our family refrain for when we are out or visiting friends and family. Too often we see kids (and adults) immersed in media instead of the moment. Books (instead of video games) are that media for me.

Reading is important. I couldn't live without story and books. I love to read, but this vacation, I chose to savor the moments and be with the people instead.

That said, here's a short list of books I read (and shared) recently.

I gave In the Museum by Susan Verde (author), Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator) to my five-year-old niece. She loves to make art and draw with me, so it was a fitting title for our fun together during our family vacation to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary.

I brought Art at the Speed of Life  by Pam Carriker on vacation to consult and share with my Mom. We were playing with paint and trying our hands at illustrated journaling. She meant to bring Danny Gregory's An Illustrated Life (a book we both read this year), but left it at home, so we dipped into some of his drawing videos for inspiration instead.

I reread bits of Be the Miracle by Regina Brett, a book I found on the road and gave to a friend at whose house we stayed on the drive home. I read Brett's book during a difficult time, a time when I needed to be still and heal. It's a book to sip slowly, read in bits, one lesson or miracle at a time.

On the drive north, I savored Sharon Olds' Pulitzer Prize winning,  Stag Leap. Tender and raw, her recollections on marriage as it ends gave me new eyes for my own. Love needs tending a good reminder. Care came through in The Round House by Louise Erdrich too. Seeing rape through a son's eyes, heart-breaking. Set on a North Dakota reservation, the book's story of  survivor, Geraldine Coutts, stunned me.

Love, care, family, persistence, strength, all seem to be themes that ran through my vacation reading this trip. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I bought while up north on recommendations from folks participating in Teachers Write. Lyrical, gorgeous prose that juxtapose love and family with violence and abuse. You never know what happens behind closed doors in a family. Adichie paints that picture delicately by balancing beauty against abuse.

I've got lots of have-to-read books ahead to prepare for next year. Some, like Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Outspoken by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger will be re-reads. Others, like Tartuffe by Moliere and Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman will be new reads.

Even when I think I'm not reading, I am. There's nothing to feel guilty about after all. Isn't that how all of life is? When I pay attention and take notice, I often see that I'm doing or reading more than I think I am. Appreciate that about yourself and your own reading today.