Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mile Marker #1

This year's research project has been unique in that I am not in the early stages of a new research path, but instead deeply into the journey I am on. I spent the entire spring semester researching writing to learn in a way that could make sense to the uninitiated, but what kept coming up was a point of my own struggle. I could not escape the nagging little voice that kept pointing out that in my own teaching my view of assessment was deeply misaligned with my instruction.

What the summer institute has afforded me is not a chance to dig in to research in the traditional sense, though I do want to spend some time in the NWP resources reading up on alternative assessments and portfolios as a way of developing some strategies, but instead has offered the time and place to work on the implementation of new strategies.

Perhaps the most important idea guiding this came from James, who challenged himself to find his nonnegotiables, the outside of the curriculum heart of what successful learning in his class looks like. I took an opportunity to do this for myself, and was able to identify specific student goals in the following four areas:

  • Reading: 
    • choosing, reading, and recording a large number of books, most self-chosen, though some books will be shared and assigned
    • talking about reading through book talks and book clubs
    • writing about reading through weekly responses that incorporate targeted skills, book reviews, and text analysis work
  • Writing:
    • writing a huge number of pieces (12-15 completed pieces by the end of the year) for a variety of purposes- making sure I support all three text types each quarter
    • freewriting as a daily practice
    • talking about our own writing through writers groups
    • focusing on thoughtful, meaningful revision practices.
  • Language Use
    • Expanding vocabulary by working with SAT level words even though it is only 7th grade
    • Working towards mastery on a series of tiered grammar concepts (like the one Kelly Gallagher presents in Teaching Adolescent Writers)
    • Applying vocabulary and grammar lessons to writing 
  • Class Participation
    • attending class consistently and being prepared for any meetings or events 
    • being willing to try new things and make an effort even when things are difficult (no shutting down, no checking out)
    • listening and speaking during class or small group discussions
    • being respectful and generous to everyone and everything in the room (classmates, teachers, teaching assistants, visitors, supplies, furniture, etc.) 
From here I feel confident that I can move on to the next steps of creating the templates needed for weekly recording of grades and reflection on learning, hammering out and creating/revising materials to meet my new grammar and vocabulary plans, and outlining an approach to work with students on creating a rubric that matches these four skill areas.

My research journey so far...

Research so far. I've asked a burning question and then I found a few more.  I have listed projects I'm interested in working on, and then I listed more.  I took time yesterday to really focus on what I want to accomplish and I categorized and organized those thoughts.  

All of this lead me to two projects I want to focus on for the next week and two days, regarding research that is.  I would like to focus on starting to form lesson plans, or answering the question of how to create a relationship based classroom at the beginning of the year.  I really want students to understand personal responsibility and encourage them to take charge of their own learning.  I know that they can do this in a writing to learn classroom.  I want to tease out the lessons and procedures that need to be in place for that to happen.  

My secondary focus is my resource room.  I want to create a writing to learn resource room, and I know these two notions are not mutually exclusive. I plan on using the writing to learn process and isearch process to help me answer these questions in my head.  I have a bunch of other things that will fall into place, but I really want to start there.  Gaining clarity is really exciting because I feel like I've been circling the airport for a few weeks and my plane has now landed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What I learned from our discussion of Because Writing Matters

I learned a few things from our discussion of Because Writing Matters.  First of all, teach who you are. Second, writing to learn is essential, not that hard to implement and really important.  Showing is much better than telling.  I can show another teacher easily, but they don’t really “get it” if I “tell” them.  I’m inspired to write my curriculum guide, but I will show through teaching and strategies the HOW to implement writing to learn.  It’s really important to get other teachers on board. Also, don’t just close my door. Keep it open and start shouting from the rooftops to everyone, in a fun way of course!  Writing to learn is just or more important that learning to write.  The two go hand and hand, and gone are the days of writing as a product.  It’s a process, and when teachers can embrace that process, education will be a much different magical place.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"It's important to understand you cannot place a test score or grade on a human experience."

Hey Danielle,

That line from your last post really stuck out to me, it was my hotspot, and a sign of a struggle I've been having in my own teaching. I've been developing my middle school reading and writing workshop for a few years now, and while I think there are some ways that improvements can be made, I also feel that there is a solid foundation that I can believe in. There is an authenticity in the work we do in my class- we are real writers and readers doing to work of real writers and readers. Students who choose to engage in their own learning as active participants. They quickly learn to get over whether their work pleases me, and start to develop an understanding of what it means for their work to please them personally. Things are great in this respect. But then there's the issue of grading, which is only getting worse with the addition of high stakes assessments, common formative quarterly assessments, SLOs, and my impending ranking in comparison to my peers. 

My principal is supportive of innovation and trying to develop alternative ways of "doing school", but I have yet to be able to approach him about developing some kind of different way to "do grades".  I guess what troubles me so much is that in light of the relationship I am trying to develop with my students- one that puts my approval second to their own approval of their work, I don't feel comfortable being the "gatekeeper" of the grades. It seems to undermine the roles I want us to each take on.

So what's the answer? Do I let them tell me what their grades should be? Do I just opt for a default "pass/fail" (put in the effort get a 95, put in nothing get a 60?) What do grades really mean in a middle school? What is there purpose? What do they promote? What do they hinder?

I know there is a burning question in here, and that I need to do more research. I wonder who has been working with alternatives to assessment and trying to find an assessment system that honors a collaborative, authentic learning environment in the age of the Common Core. I'd love to leave SI this year with a proposal for alternative assessment to try next year.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Feelings... lots and lots of feelings

Hi Kathryn,

Here are some things I'm thinking about after our conversation today.  What is it that makes humans insecure?  Is it that they need validation?  What happens as a young child that creates that insecurity as an adult?  Is it that we are all just insecure?  What is the solution?  

I believe the basic need for all humans is to feel connected to one another.  Even deeper, humans need to be connected to their feelings.  Everything we do is either for pleasure or to avoid pain.  How we go about it us up to us.  We can choose to be in the moment, present and acknowledging how we feel.  Everything we want or do, accomplish or do not accomplish is linked to a feeling.  What is so scary about feelings?  They have been deemed and judged and value has been placed on them.  Feelings are what make us human.  Feelings are what separate us, and feelings are what drive us.  When we can express our feelings, we can feel free.  All human communication is based on feelings.  Are you giving a presentation on a topic to many people?  What feelings are you conveying?  You are expressing your feelings of confidence because you know a lot about a topic.  You are expressing your feeling of need, or you want to help others become knowledgeable about something you are passionate about.  

What happens when you ignore your feelings?  Where do I begin?  I think that for some reason, we are taught as teachers to shut down feelings in our classroom.  We need to get thorough material, we need to teach.  What is the real purpose of what we do?  Isn't it to education humans? Our job is to work with humans. I think we loose sight of that.  We have 20-25 humans in our class every day. 25 different personalities, experiences, people who have feelings and different ways of expressing and viewing the world.  As teachers, we have a choice.  We can encourage those feelings and individuals and teach them how to find their voices and their place in the world, or we can exert our power as a teacher and shut them down so it's easier for us.  Teachers that give space and freedom to their students give a greater gift- the gift of free thought.  We owe it to our students to allow them space to grow.  

I'm not talking about sitting on bean bags all day and holding fluffy pillows while we cry.  A classroom can be a literacy rich, while honoring the individual.  How do we do this?  We write.  Writing is such a simple act of universal acceptance.  When you write as a group a couple of things happen.  First of all, everyone needs to write. Teacher, student, humans, writing together.  When you write together, everyone is equal. Everyone is honored.  You are all working together to put your ideas down on paper.  It can be for a variety of purposes, but the task is the same.  You write to think and thinking provides feelings, or feelings provide thinking.  When you give humans space and time to think, it creates instant community and openness.  

Just because we have masters, does not make us the authorities.  I am not the expert in everything.  We can all learn from each other.  When you have a classroom based on understanding each other's needs and feelings, it's easy to learn and create together.  When teachers feel the need to control and teach AT kids, it's only because they are insecure and they are not honoring their own feelings.  It's important to understand you cannot place a test score or grade on a human experience.  If you are doing a great job connecting and following your passion as a teacher, as well as giving students permission to do the same, you all get an easy A.  

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflections on my year...

Hi Kathryn,

It's taken me a bit to get back to you, but I'm ready to reflect on the end of my school year.  It was a pretty great year. I implemented a lot of what I learned in Seven Valleys Summer Institute.

Here goes!

I learned… that having kids write about topics that excite them is pretty amazing.  I saw my students actually write without pain.  By the end of the year, some of my students were writing all the time.  They even wrote me letters telling me how they loved to write.  We incorporated writer's workshop in three of my inclusion classes.  It was amazing.  When we asked the students what they liked or did not like about writer's workshop, they ALL said they wanted more time to write!  It was pretty cool.

I was stretched by….figuring out how to fit everything I want to do in my day.  I have a lot of restraints as a special education teacher.  I understand that I need to do certain things as a special education teacher.  I need to be better about assessment and understanding how to use data effectively to guide my instruction.  I am very good at understanding where my students are at any point, but I need to be better about "tracking" or "tweeking" data.  I also still struggle with how to be creative and do things that I love, without my "own" classroom.  I'm still working on navigating the co-teaching relationships.

I am excited about…really digging in this summer and trying to explore how to create a literacy rich inclusion classroom where all the students are highly engaged and producing authentic work in all content areas.  I also want to focus on relationship building in the classroom and find ways to honor students, their work and how to push them to achieve to their potentials.  I am also excited about including WAY more technology in my teaching and my classrooms.  

I’m beginning to realize…that I can be so much more and do so much more.  I'm beginning to realize that everything can be controlled by my attitude.  It just takes a shift of focus and where my focus will go.  I need to stop spreading myself so thin, and dedicate time to the things I'm passionate about.  I also realized a few things this year.  I really want to do more work with teachers, and I want to work "outside" the system.  I think when we work with teachers, and help teachers become the best them they can be, we can affect true education reform.  What a radical idea- putting teachers in a room, asking them to create and think and share with each other.  When we do that, amazing things happen.  Humans are drawn to each other to build relationships.  We need to be doing more of that in education, and start with supporting each other as teachers.  I hope to work on this idea over the summer, and come out with some cool ideas/products and systems.  

We shall see!