Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

What’s In A Fishbowl?

Wow…I watched my 5th graders on Wednesday have a great discussion on Today’s Meet about books.  They were sharing and recommending, and asking for recommendations and connecting and just basically having a ball. They went on and on for around 30 minutes.

On Thursday, I put 3 of my fourth graders into a “fishbowl” to talk about the books they are reading.  The kids watching the fishbowl conversation were supposed to write down thoughts they had that connected to the book talkers, or questions they had. The first group was extremely self conscious, but they could each talk about their book.  Success! After all, this is literacy group, right?

They just didn’t have a conversation–each of them took a turn talking and then there was dead silence. Then one kid asked if either of the other two had anything else to say, because he could “add a whole bunch more”.  When neither of them spoke up, we started hearing the whole story of the book he was reading!

So we tried a second group–after one kid had said, “A conversation is supposed to go back and forth, back and forth–and they just said something and no one responded.”

So in the second group, I told the “watchers” they were to listen for questions the group members asked, and still write down their connections.  That prompt itself changed the conversation–since the three kids knew the rest of them were listening for questions, they did ask questions of each other–in 5 minutes, they asked each other somewhere between 12 and 15 questions…

The we noted that one of the speakers wasn’t looking at both other people in the fishbowl , but only looked to one. We talked about how that body language could make someone feel left out, and how nice it feels when someone looks at you and smiles as they are talking. At this point, the kids were all clamoring to get in the fishbowl to talk, and to show they could ask questions and they could talk to both people, and be the best they could be.  However, our time was up…so they all walked out of my class wanting it to be tomorrow so they can come back and talk about books. They can’t wait!

And neither can I.  I want to see their eyes light up as they hear about books and they decide they want to read that one.  I want to see them scribbling furiously as they make those connections to their friends talking and as they think of something they want to ask. I want to watch their questions get more and more sophisticated and their connections get stronger and stronger as they realize how the stories they read and the books they study have connecting features ands elements?

Now, it’s my job to keep ramping it up so their conversations become more than retelling the story and sharing favorite books. Keep tuning in…I’ll be sharing how I shape that happening as I go along.

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5th Graders Recommending Books

My 5th grade literacy group on Wednesday participated in a Today’s Meet and discussed books for well over 30 minutes.  I had asked them to share about the “Letter books” they read with a sub last week while I was away. (A “letter book” is where the story is told through letters or a letter (or more) serves as a major prop in the story.)

Here’s the transcript:

https://todaysmeet.com/readingletters/transcript

Enjoy!

Why I Don’t Give Grades

My 4th grade math group is a bunch of geeky math kids.  They love puzzles, trying to figure out problems by themselves, and they do math just for the fun of it.  It’s really an amazing hour three times a week.

Our fourth grade is where kids in our county encounter report card grades for the first time.  Up to this point, they’ve gotten behavioral and work habit scoring and a satisfactory (or not) ranking on subject areas–but no A, B, C, D, F to this point.  Here, though, they begin to encounter that grading system we all know and love.

I have nothing to do with their grade–the classroom teachers do that. I also don’t have the same kids all the time.  Our 4th grade teachers pre-assess at the beginning of a unit and I work with the kids who need extension.  Kids stay in their math class Monday and Fridays so the teachers can make sure they get exposed to and work on all pieces of the curriculum. I work with them the other three days of the week.

My current 4th grade math group is working on analogies and patterns in math right now as an extension to their place value work. For the past week, they’ve been working independently on a series of worksheets and problems that stretch them in all kinds of ways, and they’ve been loving it.

They love feedback, so when they finish a page, they find a buddy who has finished the same page and compare answers–when answers are different, they work the problem together to find the correct one. As they discuss and solve problems and question each other, I glance over their work, but I don’t ever sit down and go through their papers problem by problem, to score it in any way.  Our work is collaborative enough and we talk enough about  the work that I know who’s still a little iffy on certain things, who has it solid and who needs lots of support. We end class lots of times by going over the problems someone found hard that day.

Today was hilarious–I was teasing some kid–I honestly don’t even remember about what, but I said something stupid like “if you do so and so, it’ll be an “F”.”  The kid I was talking to looked at me and her eyes starting widening, getting round as saucers.  I looked at her and was thinking–but not saying– “Really?  You really think I’ll give you an F?” She hesitated, and then she said,

“Do you actually  grade our papers?”

I laughed.

It was such a foreign notion to her–she had no clue what that might look like.  Me judging her? Me putting red marks on her paper?  Me crossing out ones she missed and counting them up? (This is the same kid who earlier today had looked at me and said, “I don’t see how you do it–so many kids are asking for help and you help all of us.  Any other teacher would be yelling at us, telling us not to call her name anymore!” )

(I have to say I don’t think that’s really true in my school, but I know we’ve probably all had days we wished we could change our names–even if just for a little while!)

So, why don’t I grade their papers?

Because I think kids learn more from reflective feedback and deep questions and studying and finding and talking through their own mistakes.

Because what we learn from grades is to compare ourselves to others around us–and I’d rather set them up to look for their own growth in relation to themselves, instead of their performance in relation to someone else.

Because I know them–from our class discussions and our quiet one-on-one talks and the questions they ask, and the comments they make and the strategies they share– I feel no need to give them a letter grade to tell them what I think.

Because I get to know their thinking every day as I challenge their sharing, ask them hard questions and honor their responses as a learner–right or wrong.

Because we share strategies and thoughts every day–and they trust themselves to ask questions about stuff they don’t understand–and their questions help me know what to teach and help them learn.

Because I expect them to be learners–and people who care about their own learning don’t much care about outside evaluations of their learning–they know when they know it and when they don’t. They don’t need a grade to tell them that.

So, yeah, when I was asked if I actually grade papers, I laughed…and we do that a lot in my class.

So, Reagan, this blog’s for you–keep asking those hard questions, thinking, looking to make meaning and sense of your world  and most of all, keep laughing with those sparkly blue eyes!

On Pundits, Professors and Philosophers

“Pundits fret… once again about how kids today can’t write—and technology is to blame. 

Clive Thompson in Wired magazine, “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy.”  August, 2009

This article tells the story of a Stanford University professor, Andrea Lunsford, who did a study of writing in Stanford students.  While she found that students today are doing MORE writing than they used to, much of it (38%) is what she calls “life writing,” the writing that takes place out of the classroom.

Here’s part of the article:

The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it’s over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

In the past 6 years I have been using wikis and blogs, I’ve known my students were doing some quite thoughtful–and thought-provoking–writing. I’ve often been impressed with their idealism, their insight and their willingness to ask questions and challenge the status quo. I’ve tried hard to give them leeway to stretch themselves and their thinking while also not going past boundaries that would get either of us (them or me) in trouble with our community (parents, teachers, admins) in any way. We’ve walked a line between oral conversations and me asking them to write online–both to each other, and to others whom I convinced to interact with them on wikis and blogs. Some of my student writers have been amazing storytellers, most of them have waxed philosophical at some point or another, and I have enjoyed reading and responding to their thinking as we learn together in our conversations, both written and verbal.

Now, there aren’t many people I don’t think, that would say Aristotle or Socrates or Plato weren’t smart  or didn’t have intelligent discourse with their students and people of their time. In their day, conversations were oral.  The time to think, reflect, ask questions, and participate in deep discourse was crucial to becoming an informed and intelligent person.

Thomas Jefferson, in designing his “academical village” at the University of Virginia, designed gardens outside of the professors’ on-grounds homes where the professor and students could meet after class to continue the discussions begun in class, or probe the thoughts shared that day. The Pavillions were created to increase the opportunities to talk…much as our online opportunities to engage each other allow us to do today–only TJ’s professors met their students face to face in the gardens behind each pavilion and our connecting with others to learn and grow, especially in recent years, has been done through various forms of writing (Twitter, chatting, Google+, and on and on).

However, when pundits (to use the authors’ word) say the writing that students are doing online isn’t helpful to them or their future, here’s another statement in the article I thought was important.

The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

So our students are learning as the “masters” taught years ago–perhaps without the questions and probing form minds like Aristotle or Socrates, but in that manner.

Kids are learning how to talk to one another, hold intellectual discussions and arguments, ask questions, research, be concise (with 140 characters , one MUST be concise), be descriptive, and most of all, assess the audience and write to persuade, engage and debate.

And the conclusion? What are students learning in all of this online writing?

 What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

That’s what I want to help my elementary kids “get”–that if you want people to listen and hear what you have to say, the message needs to be written (or spoken) in a way so as to attract and engage the audience in thoughtful reflection and/or action.  I want my kids to go back to those thinking, curious days of being 4 and 5, where every other word was “Why?” or “How does..?” or “I wonder…”

After all, if I had to listen to or read a pundit, which is defined by wikipedia as someone who “offers to mass media his or her opinion or commentary on a particular subject area … on which they are knowledgeable (or can at least appear to be knowledgeable), or a professor or a philosopher, the pundit wouldn’t be my first choice.  And, furthermore, if children had to listen to, or try to be a pundit, professor or philosopher,   I’d definitely prefer the latter, wouldn’t you?

How do I Know What I Think…

Until I Hear What I Say?

Back in the late 80’s I rode in a car to Dayton , Ohio with some other folks from my county, along with my mentor from UVA, Daniel Walsh, to have a conversation at some small conference about that question.  That was the name of our presentation–

How Do I Know What I Think Until I Hear What I Say?

Doesn’t that sound strange?  However, back then, our instructional facilitator for early childhood, Jamie Endahl, had begun a series of Early Childhood conversations where any K-1 (and sometimes grades 2-3) teacher who wanted to, came together to just talk about our practice.  The conversations were powerful.  They were life-changing, and they changed practice around our county.  I, for one, felt heard for one of the first times in my life.  I had a place to talk about my practice, my art, my science of working in a classroom with young learners. It was the beginning of being a Connected Educator for me. The power of finding both like and unlike thinkers to challenge, support and question me was simply amazing.

I’ve never forgotten how powerful doing that conference with others was –Carole Lear, Jamie, Mary Smith, Janice Eiden, Daniel, and a couple of others, I think.  We didn’t formally prepare–we simply shared about our EC conversations, and talked about the transformation they had caused in our practice and beliefs.

Simple conversations–but in them, I gleaned new understandings into why and how I was shaping my class to allow K kids to grow and learn.  Sitting and hearing others describe their classes, their practices, their beliefs made me delve more deeply into my own–and doing that solidified some things, challenged some things and definitely changed some things.

As another blogger writes in a post with the same name, “It is not until we are forced to articulate our ideas that they take real shape and we can gain clarity around what our thoughts are really about.” And  another blogger on yet another post with the same name also says, “I have always found that I work out my view or understanding of something by talking about it. It gets my brain connections working.”

Gaining clarity…

Brain connections…

Feeling heard…

Aren’t those things we want our children to experience and feel? So how do we find time for that in our standardized test-driven classes?

I believe it’s in our literacy classes. I believe it’s in our social studies classes. I believe it’s in our math classes and our writing classes, and our science classes, and our field trip bus rides and our lunch conversations and recess conversations…in other words, whenever we can. We have to get kids talking to one another, sharing thoughts and questioning, listening, challenging and empathizing with one another.

Writing is a powerful way to do that. When we ask kids to write to our prompts, to our directives, in our ways, we stifle what they bring to the table. We stifle what they have to say, because they are living within our constraints. We need to find ways to bring them into the conversation with their thoughts, not what they think we want to hear.  I really hate it when smart kids play school and give me the answer they think I want to hear rather than their own thoughts.

Last summer (2012) I was one of the state workshop presenters for writing in the summer SOL workshops for teachers.  I was presenting on media literacy, but we began with a presentation for everyone on the state writing tests.  The literacy person for the state said clearly in that workshop that they did NOT want to see 5 paragraph essays in the March writing test–and that if they saw a cohort of kids doing that on the test from a particular school that they would know real writing instruction had not occurred.  She further went on to say that the typical beginning is to restate the prompt and the typical ending is to ask a question.  We’ve all taught those conventions at one point or another.  So what do we put in place of it?

How do we “get there” with reluctant writers?  How do we scaffold kids who have never felt heard and who often don’t have a clue how to organize their thoughts?  How do we keep kids from ending a piece of writing with things like “That’s all forks.” (Seriously, I had a 5th grader write that this week.)

We talk with them.  We listen to them and question them–carefully–so they will continue to share.  We hold writing workshops. We confer with them, letting them do most of the talking. We share good writing, and we share our passion for amazing and powerful words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and stories and books. We share our own writing, and talk about OUR process as writers…but we never talk more than the kids.  You see, how do they connect to others if they are only writing for the teacher?  How do they learn to share and empathize and understand their likenesses and differences form other people if they cannot see those? And most of all,

How do they know what they are thinking if they don’t hear what they say?

I Write To Make Meaning

A while back, I wrote a post called “I Write For Myself.” I’ve been thinking about whether that was completely true or not, and I’ve come to realize that writing is incredibly important to me.  I started a blog years ago because I was beginning to connect online and it seemed like the thing to do.  As people read and responded to me, though, I realized the connections were important , but my figuring out what I had to say was even more so. I do write for myself, and I write to make meaning. But without an audience, an authentic audience of people who choose to read my writing, I wouldn’t grow nearly as much as I have since I began that blog.

Ruth Ayres, in Celebrating Writers, said, “We write to communicate clearly, to come to new understandings and to connect to others.” I think that pretty much sums it up for me as well. Writers–real writers who understand the craft of writing–know that it is, as Ms. Ayres also says, not about writing for publication but writing for meaning. I write to understand my own thoughts, and when others respond to them, it helps me learn, ponder, think and grow.

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing. I’ll have 6 hours to (potentially have to) undo the idea of what writing is that they have learned in school.  For many kids, there is school writing–the 5 paragraph essay, the writing on command, the writing for the teacher, the writing just to be writing– and then there is

w*r*i*t*i*n*g*

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* tugs at our hearts, it is hard work, it connects us to other people. 

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* exhilarates us, it makes us cry, it makes us laugh, it makes us feel human–big and powerful. It also makes us feel small and alone.

W*r*i*t*i*n*g* touches us in ways other things can’t–but only if it is good…and we have to help kids find that thread within themselves that allows them to share those thoughts and feelings–through words– with the world.

We can’t set kids up to think writing happens for the teacher–or for the grade.  or worse yet, for the test. Writing comes from within, from a need to get it out–and yes, from a need to be heard. 

Tomorrow I begin a six week writing club after school. I’ll have 6 hours to support these kids who chose to spend some time after school writing.

I won’t be using a red pen–we’ll confer to talk about how to change their writing.

I won’t be having them write for me–they’ll have a real audience, and I hope you might be part of it.

I won’t be asking them to write to prompts of my choosing, but I will help them find ideas– theirs, not mine.

I won’t even mention the 5 paragraph essay (except to maybe say ignore that structure as they write), but we will be talking about beginnings and middle and endings.

I will be working to touch their hearts and tug at their empathy strings and  help them feel their emotions and learn their thoughts through what they write.

I will be asking them to get to know themselves better and make meaning of themselves and their world.

I will be asking them to respond to each other, to reflect on what they are doing, and to rejoice in what they are learning.

I wil be asking them to write for meaning.

Priorities–we all have to make them.

So, in late August, I committed to some folks over Twitter (through Shawn White,  @swpax) to writing a blog post every day–or trying to–for the month of September. I had ups and downs, but I did it, and a few days I even wrote two posts.

BUT, it wasn’t the most fun I ever had writing.  I thought about what was I going to write about when I wasn’t ready to write.  I worried about it, even.

When I knew I had a post due and I had no inspiration, I found myself thinking, “What can I do to get’r done?”

I hated those days.

BUT I found out some things, both about blogging and myself:

  1. I can do it–write a blog post every day. The question is, do I want to?
  2. Some days are more inspirational than others.
  3. I have had some incredible administrators in my tenure as a teacher in my county. They rock in so many ways and often gave me encouragement in September. (My former principal is an amazing friend.  She needs to tell her stories!)
  4. My colleagues in Albemarle County Public Schools are incredibly supportive and kind. (I knew that already, but I was reinforced in that belief this past month.)
  5. Many of  the people on my staff were reading my blog!  One even commented here, many over email or to my face. Thanks to all of you–your encouragement means a lot.
  6. I found myself looking at the stats and the retweets, and I found myself looking for patterns in the posts I wrote.
  7. While I started this blog to share what I was doing in my classroom and describe that (how I was working to amplify my students’ minds), those seemed to be the least read posts, looking at the stats.  They were definitely the least retweeted and commented on.
  8. While people didn’t often comment on here, the things I was saying were starting conversations face to face and other places.
  9. I received several DMs, or had conversations that people felt uncomfortable posting to the web. While I wanted conversation, I understand sometimes a reaction just isn’t appropriate to post online.
  10. I hate feeling forced to write on someone else’s schedule.  And, while I KNOW I was the one who decided to do this, there were times I wanted to blame someone else for feeling irritated I had a blog “due”–even if it was just due to myself.
  11. The days I felt like “Get ‘r done.” weren’t worth it to me. I love writing and want to continue to love writing.  I don’t want to feel like writing is a chore.
  12. The commitment kept me going and writing, even when it was hard… and that’s got me thinking about making a commitment-any commitment.

So, as I think about doing this every day of the year, for 365 days, I’m just not sure  I want to do that. I tried the photo 365 one year, where you take a picture every day for one year.  I lasted until April or May before I quit, I think… and while the project was amazing for getting me to look at the world around me differently, I began to see it as a chore. Writing a blog post a day for one month seemed really doable to me back in August.  Looking at 365 days seemed unsurmountable. I’m now pondering long term and short term goals (365 days versus 30 days, in my case.).

I guess I really want to think about what we do to kids when we set their goals for them.  That’s what the state standards do, don’t they?  The standards define their minimum learning for the entire year…and we all know kids who could–and should–go WAY beyond those bare minimum requirements. So when we begin a unit in Social studies, or science, or even math or literacy, do we tell the kids from the get-go all we’re planning to teach them?  Do we ask them what they want to learn? Do we gather their thoughts and consider them in our planning?

Part of why I’m asking these kinds of questions is because Stenhouse just publicized a book called, “Celebrating Writers” which has a preview of the entire book you can read online.  I began it last night, and read through part of the first chapter–a story about a kid named Mason. You see, Mason looked like he was doing nothing during writing workshop–but the teacher gave him space, and was able to then use his behaviors to motivate others and help them learn…

The whole book seems really worth reading, says she who has begun the first chapter.  Go check it out.

Well, I took some space this past week, after September 30,  because I was out of town, at two different summits and incredibly busy.  I had no time to write, I had no inclination to write, and I had no brainpower to write after having been in some pretty heavy conversations each day, all day.

Having taken that space, and doing the reflecting I’m doing today, I’m not even going to think about doing 365 posts. I like writing and don’t want to look at it as a chore.  I want to model good habits of writers for my students and I don’t think this is one. Writing on a regular basis, yes. Writing even daily, probably.  But writing just to post a post each day?  No.

And, here’s a funny–I was going to point you readers to the list of people who had joined the 365 blog-a-day group.  I knew Shawn had created a Twitter list, so I went to his twitter feed to find it, I went to his blog  to find it, and I found this instead.
Priorities–we all have to make them.

ISTE 2014

I had to laugh–at the National Technology Leadership Summit in DC this past week, Camilla Gagglio, who is the program chair for ISTE, shared that the window had closed for proposals October 2.  She was sharing on October 3,  and said ISTE had received 2600 proposals.  1400 came in on October 2.

Over half of the proposals were submitted the night they were due.

I was one of those last minute submissions.  So were several people in the room at NTLS. (Don’t worry, I won’t out you!)

We’re all crazy busy, aren’t we?

EDUsummIT2013

So I am an invited member of an international summit on ICT in Education. You can click on the logo below to join the discussions through google groups, and I hope you do!

Drukwerk

I am so excited for the next few days –it is such an honor to be here, and I really have been nervous about what I can contribute.  There are some amazing thinkers here (including some of my Apple Distinguished Educator buddies), but my introversive tendencies and also my belief that others could contribute so much more make me wonder how I’ll share.

However, my friends come to my side to shore me up without even knowing they do…Monday evening, my Superintendent wrote a great blog–How Twitter Tore Down My District’s Walls. Pam gave me great credit in her story (or great blame… I guess it’s all in how you look at it, LOL). My librarian and I did a workshop Monday and we made an impact on our teachers….nothing feels better than that in the moment! And, then, Monday night was the reception for the Summit–at the Library of Congress, no less, the day before the U.S. government might shut down! And, the coolest thing happened.

I really am not good in receptions.  I really am not good in large groups.  I mean, I can be, but I really prefer small groups or individual conversations over being in a large room of people and being expected to mingle…but I pushed myself to go to this reception. I ended up at a table talking with two guys from Europe–Hans from the Netherlands and Balfour from Italy.  After we had all finished our small plates of food, Hans from the Netherlands asked if we were on Twitter.  I said I was and he pulled out his phone to look me up. The first name that came up was not me, but I saw a tweet in his search that had @pammoran in it along with other names–and I pointed and said “I bet I’m the @paulawhite mentioned in that tweet.”  Sure enough, I was–but then Hans from the Netherlands (that’s how he named himself multiple times while we were standing there, which is why I call him that) turned his phone around and, showing me the little “following bird” said, “See, I’m already following you–I thought I recognized you. You have a great profile!”

That was a confidence booster…once again a friend came through without even knowing they did. Just knowing her knew something about me from Twitter made me feel more like I was chatting with a friend than standing in a room full of people I didn’t know. I’ll have to point Hans to this post tomorrow as a thank you!

But this makes me wonder–how many of our kids–our introverts-our insecure ones–our kids who are not confident–go through each school day wondering who will notice them, who will get into their space, who will ask them to talk when they don’t want to, who will ask them a question when they want to be left alone?

How much do we pay attention to the cues they send us?  How much do we honor their request (silent, maybe, but there none-the-less) to be left alone? How much do we accept them (without commenting on the different behavior) when they do choose to interact?  How much do we afford them opportunities to work alone or not require the collaboration we ask of others?  Is that fair? How often do we set them up to be seen as competent by their peers?

How do we, as teachers, read each kid, meet each kid, and help each and every kid? How do we support the learning of all kinds of learners?

Well, the answer is simple.

We don’t.

We rely on the networks we establish–the community of learners in the classroom, our online friends, our friends in the building. We realize no one person can do it all and we work to set up the best situations for all learners–or any learner. It’s not about looking at one of us or ourselves or any individual as the one who can do it all. We work together and grow together and share what we know about kids to help all of us grow and learn and be better…

It’s not about us in isolation–it’s truly about us as an “us.”

Because the “culture of participation” Pam describes truly does help all of us.  As Maya Angelou is given credit for saying (and @beckyfisher73 always quotes), “None of us is as smart as all of us.”  And, as Pam says in the post I mention at the beginning of this,”No one of us is more powerful or important than all of us together.”

So we need to work together to do the best we can for our kids, and build everyone’s capacity to work together and be sensitive to one another.  I need to rely on the network of people in our Summit, and in the room, and out of the room to help us all think deeply about the issues brought to the Summit.

Won’t you join us in the Google groups and help us all get smarter?

Thanks!

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