Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “Questions”

Superheroes and Stereotypes…

I haven’t written on any blog for quite some time. I haven’t done much writing on any social media for quite some time. I have been involved in my schoolwork, my kids and more recently, getting ready for my wedding. I have lots to share about all of that, but really, with all the news focusing on Caitlyn Jenner and a post that came over my feed today (Heteronormativity in Schools) and a recent happening at school, I just need to think out loud.

I love the message this picture I saw on Facebook sends to girls:

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 7.20.49 AM

It comes from a campaign begun by a tech company that sponsors a “Girls in Tech” event.  Quoted from that:

“In science, technology, arts, mathematics, politics, houses of worship, on the streets, and in our homes, insightful women are often uninvited, overlooked, or just plain dismissed.

“Through storytelling, community building, innovation and creative disruptions, It Was Never a Dress will foster necessary conversations, vital voices, and images from around the world that honor ALL women. When we see women differently… we see the world differently!”

When I showed it to a second grader, she immediately smiled and said–“It’s a cape!” Her Mom happened to be right behind her, walking into my room and said, “Oh, cool.  Girls are superheroes!”

Then the original girl and another kid asked to put some around the school. I suggested they put them in the girl’s bathrooms, and so we printed a bunch out and a middle school helper and two 2nd graders organized hanging them around the building.

About 15-30 minutes later I was in the girl’s bathroom when an adult came in “checking for signs.”  All of the work the girls had done had been undone in less than 30 minutes. I don’t know on whose authority (our principal wasn’t there that day) and I also don’t know why. It’s been a heck of a week, and frankly, I just haven’t had time to ask. I will ask, but we’re two days away from the last day, and it’s crazy busy right now.

But I have been thinking and wondering why…

I have also been wondering why no one said anything about it–no question to the staff, no comments, nothing–and there’s one of these on my door, and on the doors of other teachers/classrooms in the building.

I am a gay woman getting married this summer. I have gotten some pushback about that from some surprising places, but have encountered MUCH more support, and my colleagues and principal have been just plain downright wonderful. As I said to my staff in a celebration they gave me, unless you’ve been part of a minority that’s experienced discrimination, you really have no idea how deeply it impacts your life in many, many ways–both good and bad. It makes you pay attention to things that may mean nothing, but may also be representing people unthinkingly perpetuating discrimination or prejudice. One often doesn’t know, but if you are part of a minority group, you wonder.  At least, I wonder.

I just can’t help but wonder why a picture that makes young girls think about themselves as superheroes would be a bad thing to post in an elementary school.  Thoughts?

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!

What Gets Tested Gets Taught

We all know the adage, “What gets tested gets taught.”  We’ve (many of us, if not all of us) been in the position of feeling the pressure to teach the state standards in ways that will assure our school a decent, if not high, pass rate.  And, we know that when the principal asks teachers to do something, teachers feel an obligation to do so.  (If you don’t believe that, go read @mssackstein’s book, Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective.) I was lucky enough to help her do some last minute editing and got to read part of her work. She does an awesome job of explaining how teachers feel obligated not to say no when the principal asks for something. So, I see an “if, then” statement happening here.

If what gets tested gets taught, and if the principal can ask teachers to do things and expect them to do it, then   the principal can call the shots as to what and how the teachers teach, right?  That means all of the woes in schools today are the principal’s fault, aren’t they?

So what follows is that we need NOT to fire bad teachers, but instead fire all principals in any school where teachers complain about having to teach to the test and that all they have time for is the state mandated curriculum.  Then, pull in a principal who can lead the school, telling teachers what to do to make schools better, support kids to learn more and in different ways, following their passions, learning to code and make, and becoming well-rounded citizenry.

So why hasn’t that happened? I’ve heard about principals telling their teachers to use our new learning spaces all over our county. I’ve watched my principal tell our teachers they have to get connected-and so they Skype, join the Global Read Aloud, collect and pin on Pinterest, interact with one another on Facebook, and some even blog, have their students blogging, lurk on Twitter, and do who knows what else online? I’ve watched many a principal say “Your PLCs will meet this week” and so they do.  I’ve worked with many a principal who has told us to do many a different thing, and we do.

But, you know what?  No matter how much our legislature and the public point to schools and say “close the bad ones”, or to teachers and say “fire the bad ones” or to principals and say “be a different kind of leader,” it’s NOT about individuals and individual schools, or even, (most times) individual leaders. It’s about systems and changing  them to meet new ideas and our changing world.  It’s not about integrating technology but recognizing and supporting technology-enabled learning for everyone at all times. It’s about belief systems and philosophies and honoring students as learners and everyone asking good questions (not just the adults) and believing in competency and having a growth mindset and trust and a whole bunch of other things that come whenever a group of people congregate. It’s about human interactions and human feelings and expectations and support and helping one another be the best we can be. It’s about acceptance and yes, love–of oneself and others.

So if we believe what gets tested gets taught, why don’t we test whether we treat each other as humans first, and whether we can grow in our abilities to build a better world, for this generation and the next?  Why isn’t our focus on the future instead of solely learning what has already happened to the human race and what science we already know? Why aren’t we fighting to develop our abilities to think mathematically or scientifically or engineeringly, or codingly, or architecturally (that one’s for you, Emilia!) or however we need to think to make our world more sane, more humane and more wonderful for everyone?

That’s where I’d like to see our emphasis–more on engagement, deep learning through the use of various tools, and empowering people to be competent and efficacious learners who lead us to a better place.

(And, for the record, the first part of this post was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Principals don’t deserve to be blamed any more than anyone else does.  I appreciate mine pushing us to push ourselves, and try something new. I wish we all pushed each other a bit more. )

I’m an Idea Person–You’re the Writer

Some of us are better at some things than others…and if we’re lucky, we know it.  I’ve had teacher friends over the years that I would go to with specific questions, and I’ve had others who come to me for help in certain areas. What’s wonderful is when we both know those strengths and share openly, honestly and in ways that help the other person grow. You see, I believe we should help each other just as much as we try to help our students. The people we work with are there to do the same thing we are–so when we work together towards common goals, the whole community benefits.

I’ve worked with folks before who act like a crab from the crab pot theory. (I think that came from Larry Lezotte.)  But when I get stuck in that position, I work to get out of it as soon as I can.  Life is simply too short to spend time with people who only think of bringing others down.

So, I enjoy finding folks who have strengths I don’t, so I can learn from and grow with them. That’s an awesome reason to join the Twitterverse, and to be online in a variety of venues. It was through Twitter I first really felt the isolation of the classroom diminish…It was from Twitter that I met so many new friends way back in 2009 at ISTE, (which was then NECC).

But at some point, I distanced myself a bit from Twitter to go into my school system to bring others online. I know there are people on Twitter because of me. There are people now working in our county that wouldn’t be working here if not for me. But that’s not what’s important to me.

I have watched a ton of folks, both within and outside of my county learn to use social media of all kinds to grow and learn–some much better than I have. But, I continue to learn, grow, try new things and interact with others to get better for my kids. That’s what’s important.

I often run blog posts by others for an opinion.  I’m blessed in that I have a bunch of critical friends I can call upon to do that for me. Recently, as I was listening to feedback from a specific friend, she was waxing eloquent about the topic.  I told her she needed to write about the topic, not me, and her response was, “I’m the idea person, you’re the writer.”

What?  Why would anyone say something like that?

But as I thought about what she had said,  I realized it’s partially true….she provokes me to think and reflect and put things together in unique ways. She builds up my knowledge base and challenges me to think differently. She IS an idea person–but she is also a writer, a thinker, a scaffold and a support beam for many people.  She’s humble, asks amazing questions and has integrity…a true educator.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could surround ourselves with people who are such catalysts?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be that kind of an educator?

So now my question is, how do we build confidence in our children (or our friends) when they classify themselves as only a writer, or a mathematician, or a reader, or worse yet, NOT a writer, or NOT a “math person”, or NOT a reader? How do we structure our classes, and more importantly, our learning experiences, to be inclusive and allow everyone to stretch themselves, wherever they are?

I’m wondering how to help make learning accessible in all classrooms and why it’s taken us so long to realize just how bad we are at that much of the time? What’s our commitment to changing and getting rid of the sorting and selecting? What are our next steps to support learning–of all kinds and about all topics and in depth and for personal reasons and to share passions?  What’s our dedication to opening our processes of learning to allow for personal leadership, inner wonder, dedicated questioning and resilient searching and building and making?

I’m looking for ideas as I write to learn…

Great Questions For Learning

“Interesting questions to engage kids as thinkers” means different things to different people.  My math collab teacher and I recently had a conference with a parent and we were describing our math class. When we said her child was really engaged with our problems, her response was ,”Oh, yeah, the word problems.”  I was initially confused by that–but thank goodness for my partner–she got it–the parent meant the handshake problem.

Okay, so that started me thinking…my initial thought was that no, we hadn’t been doing word problems. But, I guess you could categorize our shaking hands work as a word problem.  Then, my next thought was that all math problems should involve words. Then, I thought, no, when I see a problem on a piece of paper, it’s not necessarily about words.  Then I started thinking about what constitutes a word problem and what makes a good question?

We read Counting on Frank earlier in our math class and talked about “Henry questions” which are questions modeled after those in the book.  The kids wrote some they thought of here.

The third column is where we’ll go through them and see if we know how to solve such questions–then we’ll do that again at the end of the school year.

But, where do we get good questions to explore?  Here’s one source, a book called Good Questions for Math.  I especially love the ones that have multiple responses–that’s sometimes a great source of easy differentiation!  Here’s another, a pdf about asking effective questions.  And, yet another, Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, which is an awesome resource K-8 and would be great for a faculty book study! But I have to say, my absolute favorite source is the kids themselves…when they’re engaged, and trying honestly to figure something out, they ask the best questions. They also cause me to make connections and ask great questions. And what’s better than getting provoked to think deeply?

So here’s a couple of what I think are cool questions that just play around with numbers (and number sense) for you, my reader…

You multiply two integers.  The result is about 50 less than one of them. What might the two integers be?

Oh–don’t like that one?  Okay, try this–

A shape has some perpendicular sides and some parallel sides.  What might the shape be?

Or, try this:

Using the divisibility rule of three, make a five digit number that is a multiple of both three and five.

Do  you have any good ones to share, or another source of interesting questions?

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