Archives For Professional Development

The 86th Saturday Reunion (3/22/14) at Teacher’s College in NYC was decidedly political. Not political as in elections or party affiliation, but political as education is critical to “the public affairs of a country.”

The morning keynote address by Diane Ravitch set the agenda. Ravitch is an education historian and an author who served as Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush.  She was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; this Saturday, she returned to speak at Riverside Cathedral.

She began by recalling another political era, calling the cathedral the “sacred space” where William Sloan Coffin had spoken out against the Vietnam War.  This time Ravitch was speaking out against the war on public education.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.48.58 AMShe began by alerting the enormous crowd of teachers about the Network for Public Education. This year-old network was established to, “Give the [us] the courage to fight; our motto is ‘We are are many, they are few, we will prevail’,” she claimed.

Screenshot 2014-03-23 19.04.39“I wrote Reign of Error for you to use as ammunition… but, for heaven’s sakes, don’t buy it,” she insisted, “borrow it from the library, but use it to fight back the efforts to undermine education.”

Ravitch has been organizing a defense that is aimed at exposing the corporate take over of education that is endemic to this country alone. She countered that other nations have “no charters and no vouchers,” adding that “charters and vouchers divide communities” in economic funding. She challenged the treatment of teachers in the USA, insisting that other nations respect teachers and do not let “amateurs become principals and superintendents.” 

She spoke of challenges in providing for the inequities in education, detailing that 25% of children today live in poverty, and she demanded to know how our public schools will survive when education reformers push to replace public schools that accept everyone with schools that are privately managed.

She recounted instances of publicly funded charter schools that teach creationism and other “17th century STEM subjects,” and she railed against a push to eliminate local school boards.
“You may want to get rid of members of your local school board,” she quipped, “but there is a democratic process for that; this is an attack on democracy itself.”

“What is the end game?” she asked after the litany of charges against education reform, and then answered her question, “Nothing less than the elimination of teaching as a profession, systematically aided and abetted by the Department of Education.”

Ravitch continued her argument claiming that, “The education reformer narrative is a hoax, and they [education reformers] cannot win if they continue to perpetrate hoaxes.” She noted several indicators that speak to current successes in public education: falling dropout rates, higher graduation rates, higher minority scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

“We have an incredibly successful system overwhelmed by a high test prep curriculum,” she declared. “The reformers’ passion is for firing teachers. They suggest, ‘Let’s test every child every year and we’ll see what teachers get low scores, then those are the bad teachers,’ she intoned. “They fire 5-10% of teachers when they should be coming up ways to recruit and support teachers.”

Teach for America was a particular target of her scorn as she argued, “Teach for America is not an answer,” noting that reformers who rail against university and college preparation programs for teachers, and complain that first year teachers are “poorly trained are the same reformers that encourage the placement of 10,000 TFA graduates annually into schools, despite their minimal six weeks of teacher training. “They [TFA] leave in two years,” she continued, “and we have lost so many teachers. We are reducing the status of teachers. Who will want to teach? Many are shunning the profession; they [teachers] are getting rid of themselves.”

More scorn was heaped upon teacher evaluation systems where billions of dollar have been spent. “Many states have added value added measurements (VAM) to rate teacher effectiveness,” she noted. One such VAM is the inclusion of standardized test scores in rating teachers, however, Ravitch asserted, “most teachers do not teach the tested subjects (math and English). To assign [these] scores to all teachers is totally insane.”

Even more scorn was directed towards Bill Gates, as she maintained “The Gates Foundation has paid millions to have these [tests] written.” Gates himself has been touring the country this year in support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a tour that included an opportunity “to dine with over 80 senators” that did not escape her attention. Neither did his comment suggesting “it might take10 years to see if this stuff works.”
“You have to admit he has chutzpah,” she quipped. Her more salient point was in her statement, “One man has bought and paid for an entire nation’s education program.”

Her objections to the CCSS are rooted in its creation, and in its rapid adoption and implementation in 45 states.
She objected to the lack of educators involved in developing the standards. She reminded the crowd that only four agencies were involved in the creation: the  National Association of Governors; the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO); and two educational organizations, Achieve, devoted to improving the rigor and clarity of the process of standard-setting and testing, and Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of the Common Core State Standards for all students. She  specifically called out David Coleman, a non-educator and a former treasurer to the controversial Michelle Rhee’s Student’s First enterprise,who now serves as president of the College Board. (See my previous posts on Coleman here and here)

Ravitch commented also on the language that education reformers made in promoting the CCSS, standards that force schools to”Jump into the deep end of the pool” or standards that “rip off the bandaid” asking, “Why do they use such sadistic language? These are our children!”

“This small group [CCSS writers],” she continued, “was aided by the ACT and presented the CCSS as a fait accompli.” She added that the writing process of the CCSS was not transparent, and that, in violation of the National Standards Institute protocols,“there is no appeals process for standards that are seen as incorrect.” Moreover, although teachers were invited to “review” the CCSS,  the standards themselves were implemented without a field test. Now the two federally funded testing consortiums, PARCC and SBAC, will spend the next two years testing these standards online.

“The tech sector loves the CCSS,” she insisted, “there’s new software and bandwidth” included in already tight education budgets, “along with data analysts and entrepreneurial agencies designed to help with the CCSS.” Finally she returned to her message of academic inequities where targets of 70% failure rates on rounds of standardized tests are predicted. “How is it equitable to give a test they know students will fail?” suggesting that a passing rate is fluid, determined by the test creators who choose the “cut rate.”

During the speech, I was seated only eight rows back with a colleague who echoed to me particularly strong statements made by Ravitch on the effects of educational reform. She obviously wanted these statements included in my notes, so here are a few more “Ravitch-isms”:

We must roll back what we see is a poisonous time….

I never met a child who learned to read because the schools were closed.

No other nation doing this. We are alone in taking punitive action.

They [ed reformers] call it creative disruption, but children need continuity, not churn.

As she came to the conclusion of her speech, Ravitch returned to her message on the impact of poverty on academic performance saying, “What we do know about standardized tests is that they reflect socio-economic status. The pattern is inexorable. Look at charts that align standardized test scores with income and education; they [tests] measure the achievement gap.” Ravitch then turned to Michael Young’s book,  The Rise of the Meritocracy, and cited the following quotes:

If the rich and powerful were encouraged by the general culture to believe that they fully deserved all they had, how arrogant they could become, and if they were convinced it was all for the common good, how ruthless in pursuing their own advantage. Power corrupts, and therefore one of the secrets of a good society is that power should always be open to criticism. A good society should provide sinew for revolt as well as for power.

But authority cannot be humbled unless ordinary people, however much they have been rejected by the educational system, have the confidence to assert themselves against the mighty. If they think themselves inferior, if they think they deserve on merit to have less worldly goods and less worldly power than a select minority, they can be damaged in their own self-esteem, and generally demoralized.

Even if it could be demonstrated that ordinary people had less native ability than those selected for high position, that would not mean that they deserved to get less. Being a member of the “lucky sperm club” confers no moral right or advantage. What one is born with, or without, is not of one’s own doing.

She concluded her address with a list of suggestions, of next steps:

  1.  Salvage the standards to make standards better. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) should review and revise the standards. “Fix what is wrong”and “damn the copyright.”
  2. Decouple the Common Core from the tests;
  3. Teachers: Teach what you love and enrich instruction;
  4. Remember that a decent democracy equals values. 
  5. Do nothing to stigmatize those who have the least.

It should be noted that throughout the speech, Ravitch referred to “children” instead of using the word “students.” Her linguistic choice was noted by a later speaker, Kathy Collins. In refusing to use “students,” Ravitch put the focus back on the purpose for public education, to prepare the nation’s children, and she relayed a critical difference between her pedagogy and the philosophy of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “Arne Duncan thinks children as young as five should be on track to be college and career ready. He has said, ‘I want to walk in, look in their eyes, and know they are college and career ready’.”

She paused as if to respond to him, “I see a child. Leave him alone.”

The cathedral reverberated with applause.

“Stand up…. Now, put out your arms,” the instructor stood watching us.

“OK, pull your right arm back past your body.”Screenshot 2014-02-09 06.56.12

This was a EDR 500 level class, a graduate course in teaching remedial reading to pre-school and elementary aged schoolchildren. On this first night, we did not know what to expect.

“Now try with the other arm.”
We waved our arms erratically in the air.
He paused for a moment, looked amused and asked, “Can you teach someone to swim like this?”

The 26 of us were standing in a very dry classroom with no water in sight.

We all shook our heads in agreement, “No”, “Not Really”, “Probably not.

“Well, how can you learn to teach reading without actually working with students?”
We were surprised. Our instructor was admitting to the disconnect in teacher preparation programs.
“You need to be in the classroom to learn how to teach,” he admonished, “any thing else is waving your arms in the air.”

In this class, we were a mixed group in age and experience. Some of us were already employed as teachers in classrooms; others were completing degrees in order to be hired. All of us were learning how to improve student reading from 4:30-7:30 PM on a Tuesday night in a classroom. With not a student in sight, we were learning in the abstract.

Learning in the abstract is not unusual. A large percentage of learning for students in pre-K through grade12 is spent learning in the abstract. For 13 years, students practice skills they will use in college or in real world careers.

However, for those preparing to be teachers, the “real world” is the classroom. Our instructor was acknowledging that the classroom environment is the pool and prospective teachers and veterans should be immersed in that pool in order to learn how to teach. Unfortunately, the evening time slot and location of the class distanced us from authentic practice.

Accessing classrooms and students for teacher prep is largely unavailable under our current agrarian model of education. There are logistical problems for colleges and universities in scheduling, supervision, and, in today’s tense climate, security. Nevertheless,hands on classroom experience is a critically important part of undergraduate teacher preparation, and a semester or two of supervised student teaching is not enough. Teaching training programs need regular and continuous access to students. At minimum, there are must be more integration and collaboration between the teacher training programs, graduate and undergraduate, and local classrooms that are geographically located near these programs. 

In addition, the professors/instructors in teacher preparation programs must be current in the practices that new teachers are expected to know. They must be current on how their state is integrating the Common Core State Standards, the surrounding controversies around the adoption of these standards, and the testing programs that have been funded to access the effectiveness of these standards.

Also professors/instructors must be current in their state’s evaluation programs and how the teacher competencies being evaluated. Information disseminated through handouts and powerpoint presentations on these topics is not sufficient; classroom practice in teaching strategies through simulations, feedback, reflection and extensive discussions on these standards and evaluation procedures are critically important at every level of teacher training.

Finally, the professors/instructors in teacher training programs must be familiar with the wide range of technologies being used in preK-grade 12 classrooms. The disconnect between college programs and the use of technology in real-life classrooms has been widening. The professors/instructors in today’s teacher preparation programs must develop proficiency with the software teachers are expected to use. They must be familiar with Google Apps for Education, Edmodo, Twitter, Quizlet, Dropbox, Khan Academy, Class Dojo, Pinterest, Evernote.

There are forces outside the education profession that are exerting pressure and changing the face of education for new and seasoned educators alike. There is political pressure from legislators designing state evaluation and curriculum standard programs combined with pressure from testing companies. The voice that is missing in response to these pressures is leadership from those who design and implement teacher training programs in colleges and universities.

Leadership is more than just an advertising slogan or an elective course offered by colleges and universities. Teacher training programs need the leadership of professors/instructors who connected with the realities of the classroom. That kind of leadership requires direct involvement and reflection on the curriculum, instruction strategies, and means of assessment in classrooms today.

Only that kind of leadership can design programs that meet the needs of the classroom today as well as anticipate the training that prepares new and veteran teachers with both pedagogy and experience for success.

sport-graphics-swimming-528905

In this current sea change of education, teacher training programs must become the force that exerts pressure and change, not the institutions forced to respond. Teacher training programs currently offered by colleges and universities must move from the abstract, from the practice of training on dry land, in order to move teacher preparation into deep waters of classroom experience. 

Anything else is just waving arms in the air.

 “for we are the only love-gods...”( Much Ado about Nothing: 2.1.386)

Every generation has them, the “love gods”, the cultural icons who capture our minds and our hearts.  They are musicians, actors, playwrights, authors, or poets.  They are artists with a stamp so firm on a culture that the mere mention of their names can call forth an image; artists, for example, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles. They are artists whose images need no text to explain who they are, like Shakespeare or maybe The Beatles.

These paperAnd because these artists have messages that transcend time there are educators who are committed to teaching their students how best to discover an artist’s message through a study of an artist’s craft. There are even educators so committed that they would spend an entire Saturday, (January 24, 2014) learning new strategies to help their students understand and respond to the messages of cultural icons. These are educators who spent the day at the Yale Repertory Willpower!Workshop centered on the upcoming production of These! Paper! Bullets!.

These! Paper! Bullets! is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy play Much Ado about Nothing, with the setting transported to London in the turbulent 1960s. The play’s adaptation is by Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award nominated writer Rolin Jones, and the promotional synopsis states:

Meet the Quartos. Ben, Claude, Balth, and Pedro. Their fans worship them. Scotland Yard fears them. And their former drummer will stop at nothing to destroy them. Can these fab four from Liverpool find true love in London and cut an album in seven nights? These Paper Bullets! is a rocking and rolling version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with a serious backbeat.

Many of the teachers attending this Saturday’s workshop will be bringing their classes in early April to the daytime productions of These! Paper! Bullets!, a series of performances offered through the WILLPOWER! program. This program is the brainchild of James Bundy, dean of the School of Drama and  artistic director of the Yale Rep. According to a 2013 Yale News article “‘WILL POWER!’ gives city students a ‘visceral’ introduction to theater,” Bundy’s concerns about having students see live theatre was the motivation for beginning the program 10 years ago since, “studies show that people who attend the theater before the age of 18 are much more likely to attend later in life.”  

The WILLPOWER! Workshop for educators is coordinated by Ruth M. Feldman, the Yale School of Drama’s director of education and accessibility services, and is usually offered several weeks before a production in order to improve classroom instruction and prepare student audiences for the play they will see.

Feldman’s jam-packed line up this particular Saturday included a preview of sets and costumes with the production’s director Jackson Gay. The costumes brought “aahs” from the audience who obviously appreciated the retro-look of white go-go boots on Twiggy-eque models. There were also musical snippets from the production’s musical collaborator, Green Day lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong.  Listening to clips of these original songs that echoed the sounds of the 60s, composed in tribute to the Fab Four, had all the heads in the room bopping up and down.
“Is there going to be a CD soundtrack?” one enthused teacher asked.

After the question/answer session with the director, Feldman packed off the teachers for a visit to the Yale University Art Gallery, a short brisk walk across the street, to participate in a thematically linked presentation on “adaptations” organized by Museum Educator Elizabeth Manekin and Elizabeth Williams, the John Walsh Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery.  Teachers were briefed on the Pop Art movement as they studied a series of nine panels of Andy Warhol’s Mao (a screenprint of one similar is available on Amazon). The discussion asked teachers to consider how a cultural icon is adapted for new audiences. Next, teachers gathered around Manet’s Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume and continued the discussion on adaptations before heading to the workroom to make collages that were adaptations on Manet’s other reclining female, Olympia.

Andy Warhol Mao 93, 1972 Screenprint sold by RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE. $200,000.00 + Free Shipping

Andy Warhol
Mao 93, 1972
Screenprint on AMAZON through RUDOLF BUDJA GALERIE.
$200,000.00 + Free Shipping!

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883 Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume

Édouard Manet, 
Reclining Young Woman in Spanish Costume -Yale University Art Gallery

Returning to Yale Rep, teachers also had the opportunity to try reading and writing strategies aligned with the Common Core using informational texts, short commentaries about social media and cultural icons. Rachel Sexton, an educational specialist at ACES, engaged teachers by having them participate in a reading strategy that asks students to organize an article that had been cut-up. “Don’t look for matching cuts like a puzzle,” she warned, knowing how some students might look for a short-cut. The next strategy involved reading that text and other short commentaries in order to write a personal response incorporating three ideas they found significant. Dutifully, teachers took pencils in hand. The sounds of scribbling were slow at first but became steadier, and Sexton had to interrupt teachers as her session time was drawing to a close,  I overheard teachers:

  • “This is a great way to introduce a topic”
  • “I cannot believe how much I am getting out of this exercise…”
  • “I know how my students have trouble getting started with writing; this [strategy] solves that problem!”

The last session was dedicated to the lyricism in Shakespeare’s play offered by Dr. Matthew Suttor, Director of the Laurie Beechman Center for Theatrical Sound Design and Music at the Yale School of Drama. His session was  titled, “Let Music Sound…”, a presentation designed to have teachers “examine and experience the creative process for drawing both lyrics and music from a play’s text. (full disclosure: Sadly, I could not attend this last session because of impending snow.) 

As she has in the past, Feldman organized seven hours of first-rate (FREE) professional development through the WILLPOWER! program that was both practical for classroom application and powerful enough to encourage educators to explore new possibilities for bringing the messages of adaptation in culture. Exploring the elements of These! Paper! Bullets! before the opening of the show helps educators prepare students for the experience of Shakespeare performed live.

In addition, knowing adaptations can be made from works created by a cultural icon some 400 years ago is an concept that students today, with their ability to create mash-ups and Internet memes coupled with their  fascination with today’s cultural icons, should appreciate or even (hopefully) try themselves.

Continue Reading…

In the spirit of all end of the year reviews, I have condensed the year 2013 by offering month by month posts from this blog that illustrated the best student (and subsequently, teacher) learning:

January 2013: A Freshman’s Modern Odyssey in the Style of Homer

"Dawn spread her rosy fingers..."

“Dawn spread her rosy fingers…”

The Freshmen final project after reading The Odyssey is a narrative that students complete called “The Wamogossey: A Day in the Life of a Freshman at Wamogo High School.” Writing narratives are once again favored in  Common Core State Standards, and this post explained how students made their own attempt at an epic adventure.

February 2013:  Spilling Over the Corners of a Six Word Text

Short Story in 6 words

Short Story in 6 words

This exercise proves that keeping students “within the four corners of the text” is impossible, even when the text, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is only six words long. This post also serves as evidence that that admonitions on best practices should be limited to those with actual classroom experience, not to the “architects of the Common Core.”

March 2013 If You Want to Watch the Cow Give Birth

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Yes, “If you want to watch the cow give birth, turn on U-stream now!” was an announcement over the PA system. Normally, I am irritated by interruptions to class time, but this announcement cued students about opportunity watch the birth of a calf in the Agricultural Science wing of our high school. The combination of technology in broadcasting and recording the birth of the newest member of the agricultural program with old-fashioned “hands on” physical labor illustrates 21st Century authentic learning.

April 2013 You Never Forget Your First Hamlet

Members of the senior class were fortunate enough to see Paul Giamatti’s “Hamlet” at Yale Repertory Theatre. I’ll let their words speak for the experience:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldn’t mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy.

It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

May 2013 Kinesthetic Greek and Latin Roots

Spelling "exo"=outside

Spelling “exo”=outside

Understanding Greek and Latin roots is critical to decoding vocabulary, so when the freshman had a long list of roots to memorize, we tried a kinesthetic approach. The students used their fingers to spell out Greek roots: ant (against), tech (skill), exo (outside).  They twisted their bodies into letters and spread out against the wall spelling out xen (foreign), phob (fear). They also scored very well on the quizzes as a result!

June 2013 Superteachers!

Superteacher!

Superteacher!

At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, teachers rose to a “friendship and respect” challenge to make a video. With a little help from a green screen, 27 members of the faculty representing a wide variety of disciplines jumped into the nearby closet wearing the big “W” (for Wamogo). Students in the video production class watched and filmed in amazement as, bearing some artifact from a particular subject area, each teacher donned a flowing red cape.

July 2013 Library Book Sales: Three Bags Full!

The original purpose of this blog was to show how I filled classroom libraries with gently used books. The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I added three large bags of books to our classroom libraries for $152.00, a discount of 90% off retail!

August 2013 Picture Books Are not for Kindergarten Any More!Cat in Hat book cover

At used book sales, I am always looking for picture books I can use in high school classrooms. For example, I use The Cat in the Hat to explain Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Superego . Thing #1 and Thing #2 represent Id, and that righteous fish? The Superego. Yes, Dr. Seuss is great for psychological literary criticism, but he is not the only picture book in my repertoire of children’s literature used in high school. This post features a few of my favorite picture books to use and why.

September 2013 Close Reading with Saki and the Sophomores

Saki’s short stories open our World Literature course in which our students will be reading complex texts required by the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS). After a “close reading” the conversations in the room showed the text’s complexity. Saki’s The Interlopers has all the elements suggested by the CCSS:  figurative language, the ironic wish, and multiple meaning in the revenge sought by man versus the revenge exacted by Nature. Our close reading should have been “textbook”. The evidence proved the characters’ demise…or did it? The ensuing discussion forced the class to consider other positions.

October 2013 Close Reading Art

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire

After “close reading” short stories, the sophomores were asked to use the same skills to “close read” several paintings that thematically connected to the Industrial Revolution. They studied a Constable pastoral painting, before J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire. While some called attention to the the dirty smoke stack, others saw the energetic paddling as a sign of progress. They noticed the ghost-like ship hovering in the background, the light created by the sunset which gave the painting “warmth”or “light extinguishing”. When they were asked to use these elements as evidence to determine the artist’s message, there were some succinct responses to the painting’s “text.”

November 2013 Thanks for the NCTE Conference

Five members of the English Department attended the conference and selected from over 700 sessions at the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on English Leadership.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated. We are also grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included in this post.

December 2013 Drama Class Holiday Miracle

Cast photo!

Cast photo!

An ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise their performances of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at three local elementary schools.

Their “dress rehearsal” was a disaster, but, as the adage says, “The show must go on!” and once they arrived at the elementary schools, the students were anxious to do well. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor, the Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger, and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not. I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, with congratulatory e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

End of the year note:

I am grateful to be an educator and to have the privilege to work with students that I learn from everyday. In this retrospective, I can state unequivocally that 2013 was a memorable year… as you can see from many of the reasons listed above.

Welcome to 2014! May this coming year be even more productive!

“A bad dress rehearsal foretells a great performance.”

red curtain

This theatrical superstition is a great comfort to those who botch lines, drop lines, break props, or miss entrance cues before performing in front of an audience. Rehearsals are for practice, to fix what could go wrong so that the performance before a critical audience is perfect.

In contrast, there are no “rehearsals” in the classroom, yet the language of teacher evaluation standards repeatedly uses the word “perform” and “performance”.  There are teacher performance standards, and there are student performance measurements.

Perhaps the most authentic way to describe what happens in any classroom is that each lesson is a dress rehearsal. A teacher can plan the elements of a lesson, ( objective, resources/materials, directions, and assessment), and those scripted elements can look good on paper. A teacher can design a lesson for for a particular audience,  but what can happen in the classroom is a guess. Sometimes, a lesson plan fails; a teacher has a bad dress rehearsalEven if that lesson plan is repeated over the course of a day, there was a first audience of students that was engaged in that dress rehearsal of a lesson.

What teachers do is practice teaching, and practice is another word repeated in teacher evaluation. There are, however,  two meanings of the word practice, each depending on its syntactical use. When the word practice is used as a noun, as in the “practice of teaching”, then the word means:

  • the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.

When the word practice is used as a verb, it means:

  • to do something again and again in order to become better at it
  • to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

The language of teacher evaluation focuses on the word practice as a noun. There is limited use of the word practice as a verb except as an expectation. A teacher is expected to have practiced, or rehearsed, teaching strategies with a group of students. For this reason, teachers try to schedule a “no-fail” lesson plan for a formal observation, perhaps a lesson that has been practiced successfully in previous classes. This small advantage means that an evaluator will see a lesson with all the bells and whistles, a kind of performance.

But what about the “drop-in” evaluation? What kind of teaching practice will an evaluator see in the raw rehearsal environment of the classroom? What happens when a lesson goes horribly wrong, and an evaluator is in the room?

At a session offered by the Council of English Leadership at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference held last month in Boston, Massachusetts, nationally recognized teacher of the year Sarah Brown Wessling openly admitted to lesson failure. Wessling, a English/Language Arts teacher in Johnston, Iowa, was being filmed by The Teaching Channel when the lesson she designed went wrong, a true bad dress rehearsal taking place in real time in front of the cameras.

“I knew they (Teaching Channel) would want this footage,” she admitted laughing to crowded room of teachers, “Oh, I knew they would want this failure!”

The videos that resulted from her failure are some of the most popular on The Teaching Channel website. There are uncut versions plus the final production video (16 mins) that records how she quickly reconfigures the lesson for a different class. The transcript from the video is included on the website. 

Wessling’s voice-over begins:

For a teacher, some days you win, some days you lose.  My third hour tenth-grade English class came completely unhinged, and I had five minutes in which to repurpose it for fourth hour.

She readily admits that even the most veteran teachers experience problems:

No matter how accomplished you are or how effective you are as a teacher, I think these days are going to happen, so when they do, you have to make adjustments.

In her narration, she noted that, “By the time we get to this point, I’ve been in front of the class almost the whole class period, and that was not my intention.”

The video shows her trying to re-engage students in her planned activity. She considers:

Then there was this moment where I realized that I had completely misfired because one of my students did start to read when I asked them to, and she read the first paragraph, and she raised her hand and she said, “I don’t know what any of these words mean.”

Wessling’s final analysis of the lesson’s failure is her admission that:

I opted to try to meet the standards, make sure that the common assessment that I share with the rest of my department meets the criteria of what we had talked about earlier in this year.  In thinking about the adults, I compromised the needs of the kids.

The power of this video is that while this nationally recognized teacher’s bad dress rehearsal informed her practice, it is her training in classrooms that allowed her to redesign the lesson on the fly. Wessling’s second attempt, five minutes after the first class left, is much smoother, as she admits:

We have to be careful with our expectations and realize that we can still teach to these heightened expectations, but it’s going to have to come at a pace that makes sense to the kids who are in front of us.

So how would an evaluator who dropped in on Wessling’s first attempt rate her as a teacher? Would there be a consideration of this first lesson as a “dress rehearsal”?More important, what is the possibility that an evaluator could have stayed to watch the redesign of the lesson to see how her repeated and authentic training in the classroom, her practice, helped her with her teaching practice, her application of teaching methods? Wessling’s first attempt would not meet the criteria in the higher ratings (proficient, exemplary) of many teacher evaluation programs, but her training allowed her to address the needs of the students in subsequent efforts.

The video captures Wessling and her students a rehearsal of learning, which is what happens in every classroom everyday, to nationally ranked teachers, to veterans, and  to novices. Teachers and their students are always rehearsing. Evaluators must consider that the language of teacher evaluation should not be misconstrued. 

There is no performance in the classroom, and even a bad dress rehearsal can still be a great lesson.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.50.41 PMThe National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) met for a convention last week (11/21-26/13) at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Thousands of English teachers and educators (happily) put aside their piles of essays and their red pens in order to attend to participate in a nationwide conversation on teaching English/Language Arts at all grade levels. This annual conference runs the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday, and this year there were many reasons to be thankful that such a great opportunity exists. Here are our specific thanks to all of those who made this conference amazing.

Thanks to our Regional School District #6 in Connecticut for allowing us to attend:

Our first and most important thanks is to the administration, Board of Education, and staff from Regional School District #6 that allowed five members of the English Department at Wamogo Middle/High School to attend the conference and select from over 700 sessions offered from Thursday night-Sunday afternoon.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated!

Thanks to the program chairs who selected our proposals:

Members of Wamogo Middle/High School English/Language Arts department submitted a variety of proposals last year to demonstrate how we use technology in our classrooms. We are grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included below:

The Blog’s the Thing! (NCTE) roundtable discussion

This presentation demonstrated the use of the blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on characters and themes from Hamlet by having students “stop the action” of the play to offer advice to characters during different scenes.

Reinventing the Writing Workshop with Digital Literacy to Improve Student Engagement (NCTE)

Technology has reinvented the Writing Workshop in meeting the needs of 21st Century learners with the addition of digital literacies. This presentation features open source software platforms appropriate to the different tasks, purposes and audiences for writing instruction along with examples of student work and grading criteria.

How We Mooo-ved Our District from Cows to Computer (CEL)

This presentation illustrated how professional development in our district was organized on the ED Camp model to allow any teacher who would like to share their expertise or simply discuss a problem with fellow staff or faculty members.These technology initiatives have allowed members of the English Department to help teachers assess, organize, deliver context materials and related readings (fiction and non-fiction) that improve students’ digital literacy as well as foster independence in each student’s growth in reading.

Digital Writing with Collaboration (CEL)

This presentation showed how preparing students to write for the real world  (21st Century skills) must include the collaborative experience, from the initial creation to the final product. The use of digital platforms allows students to be college and career ready through the production and distribution of collaborative writing.

Thanks to the many teachers and educators who presented:

We are also thankful that so many other classroom teachers and educators from all over the USA shared their best classrooms practices. Our collective regret is that we could not attend every session that appealed to us; the jam-packed schedule defied our best attempts at strategic selection. We agreed, however, that quality of the presentations we did get to attend was amazing and relevant to what we do every day. The conference reinforced the importance of teacher-to-teacher professional development.

Thanks to the book publishers who made books available for classroom libraries:

The NCTE Convention offers book publishers opportunity to put advanced reader copies of fiction and non-fiction into the hands of teachers at every grade level. While publishers hope to catch the attention of teachers who will recommend the book to students, teachers look for books to add to their classroom library collection. Many publishers also make books available at a reduced cost  for the same reason. For example, I picked up several copies of books in the “After the Dust Settled” series (apocalyptic young adult literature) by Jonathan Mary-Todd for $2/copy, a purchase made necessary because these books keep disappearing off our classroom library shelves.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.51.29 PM

Our “haul” from the NCTE Convention from book publishers and authors…headed for our classroom libraries.

 

Thanks to the authors who gave away signed copies of their books:

The tote bags distributed free to all registrants bore popular author Nicholas Spark’s imprimatur, a visual testament to the celebrity draw of authors at this convention. Authors are the rock stars at this convention: the children’s book authors rock, the young adult authors rock, and the educator trade book authors rock. Attendees stood in lines snaking around booths on the convention floor waiting to meet authors and have books signed. In the past, my request to an author is to have the book signed with the phrase “READ ME!” on the inside cover. I had the same done this year, so when a student asks what to read, I will point that the author has already made a suggestion to read the book.

There were also a number of authors representing a variety of genres who served as keynote speakers including: Neal ShustermanTeri Lesesne, Laurie Halse AndersonKelly Gallagher, Walter Dean MyersIshmael Beah, and Robert Pinsky. 

We are so thankful to have the opportunity to personally meet and mingle with the rock stars of the convention!

Thanks for the Tweeters:

Finally, the fingers of dedicated Tweeters attending the convention kept us abreast of all the events at the conference. There was a steady stream of information from sessions we could not attend, summaries of keynotes addresses, and updates as to upcoming book signings. The hashtags #NCTE13 and #CEL13 were invaluable sources for notes and quotes during the convention and for well after we left Boston.  For example, some Friday session tweets were archived onto the Storify platform for later use.

Next year, the NCTE Convention is scheduled for Washington, D.C., which gives me one more reason to be thankful…the convention is within driving distance!

My school district completed four days of first class professional development that began with a visit from Dave Burgess, the author of Teach Like a Pirate and ended with faculty-led collaborative committees organizing for an accreditation visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  In four short days, the veteran teachers adjusted, organized classrooms, and prepared the first week of lessons. The administrators indicated that schools were off to a “great start”  while the facility management personnel finished polishing the floors and touching up wall paint. One group however, looked different.

teacher appleThe new teachers’ eyes glazed over. Although some have taught for years in other districts, each one has been lost in the labyrinth of our hallways at least once this past week. There are at least fifty names they still need in order to match staff to academic disciplines and a number of faces before they begin to match their attendance rolls with students. The location of materials for various units of study has yet to be established; boxes are unopened in their classrooms.

In short, they are whelmed. Merriam-Webster online defines whelmed as

1. to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something : cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
2. to overcome in thought or feeling : overwhelm

According to the dictionary, there is no “over” in being “overwhelmed”. Watching the newest members of the faculty trying to mentally sort through the information they had taken in the past four days reminded me of how I felt my first few years of teaching. Putting “over” with whelmed seemed redundant; I was “engulfed completely” my first years of school as well.

Twenty-three years later, I am less whelmed by the start of school, but I still have to adapt. There are always new materials, new changes to schedules, new students to get to know. In 2013-2014 there is also a new state mandated teacher evaluation system and a set of new tests will be rolled out this year to measure the new Common Core State Standards. For these new-to-district teachers, the flood of information in the early days of the school year must seem insurmountable. There is research, however, that indicates with three years of practice, teachers develop strategies for being effective in improving student achievement in the classroom.

In particular, there is research that demonstrates that “teachers in their first and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their second year tend to perform significantly worse in the classroom” (Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain -2005). In a follow-up interview to this study, Kati Haycock was quoted in Education Next as saying,

“And experience does matter for inexperienced teachers. As a group, first-year teachers tend to be less effective than those with even a little more experience, and effectiveness tends to climb steeply for any given cohort of teachers until it begins to plateau after a few years. According to research by Eric Hanushek and others, disproportionate exposure to inexperienced teachers contributes to the achievement gap.”

How a teacher develops on a learning curve is significant for both the teacher and the students, which is why the story from Mokoto Rich of the New York Times At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice (8/26/2013) flies in the face of both anecdotal data and research studies. The article addressed the high turnover rate of teachers in charter schools by first highlighting the story of 24 year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy. With two completed years of teaching behind him, Dowdy is “exploring his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school.” The article described him as someone, “who is already thinking beyond the classroom, wants something more.” His interest in education appeared cursory, “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing,” he said, “and always moving onto something bigger and better.”

Supporting Dowdy’s lack of commitment to the profession, was the statement by Wendy Kopp, founder of  Teach for America (TFA)  who said,

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers…The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

Kopp’s claims, however, have little credibility considering her own lack of classroom experience. While she has taken TFA from a $22 million dollar enterprise in 2003 to a $244 million dollar business in ten years before her departure this year as CEO, there is no record of her creating or delivering lessons to students herself. She has not had the experience of developing or implementing classroom management skills, a major cause of much teacher turnover.  Teachers, new and old, experience first-hand the fallacies in her argument. Yes, during the first years, teaching can be greatly improved, but that does not mean a new teacher has become “great”. Like so many educational reformers without classroom experience, Kopp dismisses critical teacher training as something that can be condensed, like TFA’s five week summer teacher preparation program.

A five week training for TFA is luxurious compared to the two and a half weeks of training over the summer for other teacher training programs, such as the YES Prep program like Dowdy’s, where new teachers “learn common disciplinary methods and work with curriculum coordinators to plan lessons.” Yet, these teachers from these accelerated programs will look the way new recruits in my district look, glazed and anxious. These teachers will soon learn the importance of experience. They will understand that the only way to learn how to teach is to practice teaching over and over and over….in spite of being whelmed.

Read picture books.

Yes, I am talking to you.

(No, not you kids….)

I am talking to you….you, Advanced Placement English Literature teacher, pretentiously waving me off with your worn cover of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Yes, you too..the one taking notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the book you assigned for summer reading?

Time to do some other kind of reading.

Time to read for pleasure.

It’s time to wallow in Sendack (Maurice), Carle (Eric), and Seuss (Dr.).

Max Horton Ladybug

It’s time to discover Mo Williams’s Pigeon, Jon Scieszka’s Big Bad Wolf, and Jon Klassen’s hatless bear.

BearPigspigon

Why?

Primarily because teachers, all teachers, who are familiar with children’s literature can be positive role models for their students. They can engage students by making references to these books or they can make suggestions to young readers. They may even use them in lessons. But a new compelling reason has come out of a study by Jo Bowers and Dr Susan Davis, senior lecturers in primary education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. A review of responses by teacher trainees for primary grades indicates that reading children’s literature is good for your well-being.

An article in the British paper The Guardian Why Teachers Should Read More Children’s Books explains the study and promotes a paper Reflecting on Teacher Wellbeing that Bowers and Davis will give at Issues and Changing Perceptions conference in December 2013.

They had set up a year-long blog where teacher trainees could post reviews for three books they used with children over the course of the year. They then asked a focus group of these blog contributors a series of questions about their own reading experiences, such as, “What made you become a reader?”

The joys of reading became apparent, namely, how they had enjoyed “getting totally lost in a book” or “absorbed” by the narrative. It also became evident that they had close personal associations with certain texts from their own childhoods, and the fact that they could turn the page of a book and by knowing what was on that page gave them comfort and confidence to share that book with their class.

Trainee teachers reported they were using children’s books of all genres as a form of escapism from the stresses and strains of teaching in the primary classrooms. Researchers concluded that trainee teachers were using the book as a form of bibliotherapy, a therapy “increasingly moving away from its original medical model– whereby practitioners ‘prescribed’ self-help books to patients suffering from depression or eating disorders.” While the teacher trainees had to read the children’s literature selections as part of their professional development, they also found the experience pleasurable:

We have also found that trainee teachers often don’t read purely for pleasure, citing time constraints as the reason. Our blog project forced them to read as part of their professional development, and because they wanted to improve their subject knowledge. Wellbeing was secondary, but nonetheless became part of the project, almost by default. One of our students summed it up nicely: “Books are like best friends during stressful times.”

So, go ahead and pick up that copy of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and chant loudy the refrain “…and he won’t get out!”
Listen to the poetic wisdom of a small mouse who notes that everyone has a gift to bring in Leo Lionni’s Fredrick.
Or, share a red, ripe strawberry in The Little Mouse, The Big Hungry Bear and The Red Ripe Stawberry.

king Fredrick mouse

You will be reading for pleasure. You will be reading quickly, and you will probably feel better, things Thomas Hardy and Nathaniel Hawthorne may not do for you.

References according to The Guardian:

Jo Bowers and Dr Susan Davis are senior lecturers in primary education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Follow them on Twitter: @Jo_Bowersand @drsuzyw. Reflecting on Teacher Wellbeing – Issues and Changing Perceptions conference will be held at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Wednesday 4 December 2013. For further information please contact:cseenterprise@cardiffmet.ac.uk.

 

birthday11July 3rd is this blog’s third anniversary.

WrdPress provides a map of where visitors accessed this blog.

WrdPress provides a map of where visitors accessed this blog since 2012.

One way of determining whether this three year venture has been successful is to look at the overwhelming amount of statistical information provided by the host of this site, WordPress.com. To date, the stat page notes that there have been over 70,000 hits, the most popular search term has been Of Mice and Men, the most popular post has been Teaching Elie Weisel’s Night with Choice Books, and the most frequently used category for this teacher, not surprisingly, has been EDUCATION.

The other way to determine the success of this blog, however, is to reflect on how well writing has served as my own professional development for the past 36 months. In writing each post, I have tried to find links that support or refute a position. I have searched and researched all elements of the Common Core State Standards; read journals or policy statements from educators and education reformers; and cited hundreds of quotes, graphics, and statistics to support my ideas. Even if no one read this blog, the writing experience has been important.

Many of the ideas for blog posts come from links provided by other educators on Twitter. Many ideas come from the students in my classes or from news stories that are related to education reform. Then there are the ideas I have while I walk with fellow educator on weekends.
For example, I will notice how the ripples on the pond create an interesting pattern, and I will casually remark, “that reminds me of how students can create ripples when they discuss their book choices!”
“Well, that’s a great idea for a blog post!” she will respond.

I have discovered that I have little control over my need to write; that the impulse to set things into print is hard to ignore. In addition, the motivation to write comes at the most inconvenient times, often late in the evening, and I have seen many digital clocks click into the AM hours of the morning as I polish a piece.
“Are you still awake?” my husband complains.
“Just finishing,” and I huddle to hide the glow of the screen while I reflect and revise.

Nothing has taught me more about how to teach writing than my writing this blog. Nothing.
Nothing has made me appreciate how hard it is to meet the deadlines and requirements of assignments given to students. Nothing.
Nothing has made me more aware of how important developing confident writers is in preparing students for the real world. Nothing.

My friend, who also writes on her own blog, often quotes the scientist Louis Pasteur who said,

“In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

On this third anniversary, I am confident that writing on this blog has helped me to become a more informed educator. Writing what I think about education prepares me to say what I think when I am at leadership meetings, or department meetings, or when I am teaching. I am primed to discuss any number of issues related to education because my mind has been prepared, and the chances that I will talk about these education issues is more than good.

On this blog’s third anniversary, I am convinced that the best professional development I have is to write what I think.

boringMany educators use Twitter to communicate as part of personal learning networks (PLN). I appreciate the means to share messages with other educators, but I am sometimes alarmed by some of the tweets I read. The brevity of 140 characters does not allow for nuances. The tweet is, by design, blunt.
Example #1: Most teachers do not share a professional language. And they don’t share prof lang with students. 
I wonder, “Really? Is there evidence to support this claim?”
Example #2: Freedom—for educators and parents—is necessary, but not sufficient, for excellent schools
I think, “Define Freedom. Define sufficient. Define excellent.”
These tweets are made of some sentiment that begins an argument, but they are so brief and banal that they cut off debate.
Such was the case this week when prominent author and educator Dr. Tony Wagner paraphrased a statement made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (week May 21, 2013) in a response on his twitter feed.  Wagner is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard; he is a former high school teacher, K-8 principal, and a university professor in teacher education. Wagner’s tweet read:

“‘Too many high school students are dropping out, not because school is too hard, but because it’s too easy @arneduncan’ Wrong! It’s boring!” @DrTonyWagner.

While I disagree with Duncan’s generalization that schools are too easy, I was even more disturbed by Wagner’s response, about school, “It’s boring!”
I hear this complaint enough from students before they read the class novel or before we start the unit. I did not expect to hear it from Wagner.
Students say “this is boring” so much that I will not let them use the word “boring” any more.
But, is school boring?
Is it?
I take issue with Wagner’s claim. I would like to debate this.
As someone who attended Mr. Orontias’s History and Geography class in 1970, I can confidently say I have experienced boring. His 45 minute lecture delivered in a monotone right after lunch was not in a time space continuum; the clock hands did not move.
I know boring.
In contrast, my students’ high school today is not boring. As examples, I offer the following:
  • We have a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative;
  • We employ student driven learning with choice on reading, topics, and presentation;
  • We include project based assessments and encourage reflection on tests.
We do, however, require that students do schoolwork. They practice math problems. They do research. They must complete reading assignments. They have deadlines. Some of this work is repetitious; some of this work is tedious. Some rote learning may be necessary to develop background knowledge before students can engage in active participation or collaboration.
So, when I hear from students that they are “bored” with school, often what they are saying is “schoolwork is not fun.”
This is not unexpected. A great deal of time is spent everyday in “not fun” activities inside school, just as a number of “not fun” activities are required in the real world.
I sympathize, but the reality is that not every lesson in school is fun. Education objectives require students to work rather than have the teachers be the engine of the classroom.
Wagner is one of the innovative educators who promotes education to incorporate more real world problems, reforming education to prepare students with 21st Century skills in order to engage students in meaningful enterprises. Whatever innovations are developed by education reformers like Wagner, students will experience frustrations, and experience failures. There will be efforts expended by teachers and students successfully and unsuccessfully. Work will be necessary, and some of that work will not be fun. If the goal of schools is to prepare students to learn the value of work, to prepare students for the workforce, work should be applauded, even if the work is not fun, or if the work is “boring.”
Arne Duncan’s statement that high school students are dropping out because schools are too easy is a gross overstatement. How easy will the real world be for those high school dropouts?
Similarly, Wagner’s accusation that high school is boring is infuriatingly terse, using only 20 out of Twitter’s 140 characters. How bored will students be if they drop out and cannot find fulfilling employment?
There are isolated cases of students who may write code for some fabulous new social media or video game that goes viral, but those are isolated. A high school diploma is necessary for even the most menial employment.
Today’s schools are not boring. Today’s schools are preparing students for work environments just like schools have done in decades past. Historically, teachers do not predict the job market, instead they prepare students with the fundamentals so that their students may create the job market. Some of that preparation is not fun; it is work, and in student lingo, it is boring.
Stating this needs more than a pithy remark that negates the efforts of teachers who are engaging students with 21st Century skills, with active rather than passive instruction.
Education has come a long way since my experience in the 1970s because of the efforts of education reformers like Dr. Wagner. Forty years ago, education came in primarily in the form of direct instruction. We sat in rows and listened to lectures, and yes, that was boring.
Except for the day that Mr. Orontias stepped into the wastebasket.
That was not boring at all.