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25 October 2014 @ 06:39 pm
Due to the utter lack of connectivity in the hotel in South Padre Island, I was unable to post to the blog. Now that I am back to the land of wi-fi, I will catch up, I promise. In the meantime, here is the power point from yesterday's speech at the Region One Fall Media Conference.
23 October 2014 @ 03:21 pm
Margaret Hale shared this photo with me (and the rest of Facebook) this week.


In case you cannot read the sign, it says that magazines are on LOCKDOWN until AR scores improve. It is signed with love by "your reading teachers." Please, I thought, please let this be an April Fool's prank left up too long. Or maybe it is for a piece for The Onion? Trick or Treat? Unfortunately, it appears to be legit.

Dear Loving Reading Teachers:

When I saw this sign, I winced. Then I wondered how denying access to reading material would make me feel if I had been one of your students. I probably would have gone home and dug up some of my Mom's "True Confessions" magazines and spent the rest of the afternoon blissed out by this forbidden reading. I might have walked down the street to the drugstore and curled up with a magazine until someone shooed me out. I would have read. But then, I am contrary (oh, the horrors, I know). And I had a Mom who fed me books, fed my love of reading all manner of materials. I also grew up in a pre-AR time where my reading was not always measured by multiple choice tests and point systems. I was lucky.

But I was not one of your students. And I am not one now. Nor are my kids of the age where they could be in your classes. My kids are grown. But they have not moved on from reading books and magazines. But I worry about the kids you teach right now, the ones who were "welcomed" by this sign recently. The ones told what they could not read because their test scores did not measure up. I wonder if you see the irony of forbidding kids to read until their reading scores increase?

I have to ask you, what is reading and why is it important? It seems to me that your definition is narrower than mine. I count magazine reading as reading. I count reading online, reading menus, reading brochures and pamphlets, reading signs, and so much more as reading. Reading is important to me because it connects me to the larger world as well as to my inner self. And I think you place emphasis on discrete skills (as measured by programs such as AR) rather than on reading as a life skill, reading as something kids WANT to do and do not HAVE to do.

I know if my kids attended your school, you would have one rather upset parent making her way to the building. I suspect she might even have bought out all the magazines she could locate and was carrying them with her to hand out in the halls on her way to the principal's office.

BTW, teachers, you are not the only ones I blame here. I wonder who permitted this sign to be placed? Did anyone ask that it be removed, or are others complicit here? Who expended the funds to make AR a centerpiece of reading? Who agreed to remove the magazines?

When teachers excoriate me for my criticism of AR, I point to instances where AR has been used to penalize and punish kids. It is a crime when educators allow a program to penalize and punish kids. Part of me wishes I could consign these loving teachers to reading nothing but books on their lexile and level, to take test on book after book, and then to make dioramas for each title, too. Maybe the punishment should fit the crime?

In the words of Donalyn Miller #letmypeopleread.
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Current Location: on the road again
Current Mood: angryangry
23 October 2014 @ 07:59 am
I have to ask myself why a professional organization emails ads to me such as the one I received this week. It touted a new product about writing. And here comes to eduspeak, jargon-ridden description:

Built from scratch to meet the new higher expectations, Ready Writing empowers students in grades 2—5 to take charge of their learning.
Download a free sample lesson and you will see:
A research-based, gradual-release instructional model used to help unlock your students' writing potential.
Source texts embedded right in the student book and explicit, systematic instruction for teachers—all in one place!
An interactive approach to building confident, competent writers, and guiding students through every step of the writing and research process.
A program that is flexible enough to seamlessly integrate into any literacy curriculum.

And if you want to download the sample lesson? All you gave to do is fill out a form with all your contact info. No thanks. I have seen your other products, and they are not the panaceas you advertise them to be.

Your K-1 reading kit offers students NINE whole books, count 'em NINE for each grade level to read aloud. Here is what you need to know about the books: you have to have their 9 titles (though if you already have them, you do not need to purchase them again) and you have to purchase the resource materials in any event. Why do I need a resource book for read aloud books, I wonder? CCSS is the answer, of course. More commodification.

Putting aside products that commodify reading aloud and other strategy, what really makes me want to scream is that this ad is delivered through my professional organization. Sure, there is a disclaimer:

This is a paid advertisement for S#$%^* readers.
The content does not necessarily reflect the view of S#$^^* or its Association partners.

The very fact that this ad arrives courtesy of the organization is still problematic. It reminds me of times spent in exhibits seeing booth after booth touting programs, programs that are not what they advertise themselves to be. That is all about the $$$, I know. But how often do we need to sell our souls to the devil before we are part of the dark army?
Current Location: home
Current Mood: puzzled
22 October 2014 @ 11:23 am
OK, it is an awkward and forced title. But when Arne Duncan opens an editorial with this assertion, I think maybe he has had a change of heart: "As a parent, I want to know how my children are progressing in school each year. The more I know, the more I can help them build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses. The more I know, the better I can reinforce at home each night the hard work of their teachers during the school day."

I agree. When the kids were younger, I spent time talking with them about their day. We talked about what they did at school. They told me what homework they had. I offered help as they asked for it. I reviewed work they would turn in. I like to think I was helping them. I did not "reinforce" their learning, but I did let them teach me what they had been taught. And sometimes I answered questions they still had. Over the course of several decades (kids and then the residents of the back bedroom), I was eternally grateful that I COULD help them. I worried about their classmates who did not have access to an educator at home.

Back to Secretary Duncan's piece, though. While I was pleasantly surprised by the opening lines, I soon came to see what this piece was really all about: testing. Here is the link: entitled STANDARDIZED TESTS MUST MEASURE UP. Ugh. Here we go again. See how long it takes you to spot the same old reformist agenda:

1. Other countries outperform us. PISA rears its ugly head.
2. We have to hold everyone accountable. Tests and grades are best at that with a parent-teacher conference thrown in for good measure (no mention of student work, just grades).
3. We must increase test scores.
4. Teachers need to be accountable for how their students do no matter what, but hey, we are giving them a break right now and not using VAM (which has been largely discredited).
5. The new tests will be better (more rigor, harder) than the old ones.

And my favorite: "America’s schools are changing because our world is changing. Success in today’s world requires critical thinking, adaptability, collaboration, problem solving and creativity — skills that go beyond the basics for which schools were designed in the past."

You see, education is just now waking up to the importance of critical thinking (Bloom et al notwithstanding) and problem solving (Big 6, anyone? Maybe CPS??). Creativity? Why didn't we think of that sooner? And, wow, collaboration, that's a good idea. I do not know how far back Secretary Duncan can go in terms of education, but I can go back to the 50s as a student and the 70s as a teacher. I can report without fear of contradiction that none of this list of his is NEW. it has been part of classrooms for a long time. It might have been put aside when NCLB transformed classrooms into test prep factories (show progress or lose funding and lose the school and faculty).

Secretary Duncan needs to get into a WAYBACK Machine with Mr. Peabody and visit the classrooms of the past, before the emphasis on a single measure of accountability.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: miffed
21 October 2014 @ 11:01 am
As I was reading Facebook this weekend, the inevitable ads seemed to jump out at me. I suspect it had more to do with my level of fatigue after a long work week capped off with two conference presentations on a Saturday morning. However, the ad from SRA caught me completely off guard. I had somehow assumed (and you know what they makes me, right?) that SRA had gone the way of the dodo. Not so. Here it was in all of its glory, but better (or so the ad promised). Here is the link. You have been forewarned.

First, this is on a blog called WE ARE TEACHERS. I cannot locate much information about the site, its authors, etc. I will say there are numerous posts about products, though. Including this doozy about SRA 2.0 now with SOCIAL LEARNING (does anyone else hear that announced as if it were laundry detergent or a new car with some sort of extra something?). Now I recall the "old" SRA. The kits were in the teacher's materials closet when I entered teaching in the 70s. Many of my younger colleagues recall using those kits when they were in school. I did not elect to use them in my classroom though I was encouraged to do so because they would help me "individualize" (this was the word we used before "differentiate" took its place) learning for my students. Thanks but no thanks. I used real books in reading class (yes, I was a rebel back then, too).

Here is the first line of the review: "SRA Reading Lab has jumped out of the box—literally—and implemented a new, engaging, seriously fun online program that will get your students excited about reading. " Fun and online? Can both of those be true? What manner of social interaction is present? How does it engage?

If you read the rest of the review, it appears that there are plenty of the old skill and rill lessons there but they are, indeed, online now. Worksheets on a screen! Yay! Then, there is text delivered to the student via the program in "increasing complexity" which I am assured will leave students encouraged at their "personal growth." And there are SECRETS in each online worksheet, too. Words spin, make noise, and are worth POINTS! Wow, sign me up! Seriously, this is what we call engagement? The social aspect of it occurs naturally, according to the review (which does read as a promotional brochure) because it is all done in SRA's "community" which is secure.

Small print advisory: the review is sponsored by McGraw-Hill). And the author of the review? Here she is in her own words: "Hey there, I am a new member of the editorial team at WeAreTeachers. I am so excited to be sharing content to assist you in your awesome work serving children and families. I am the daughter of a teacher, the mother of three young children and a writer. I am also a parenting blogger, avid reader and yoga devotee."

Following links to the ads always ends up with new learning for me.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: confusedconfused
20 October 2014 @ 10:59 am
I loved this post about reading: Too many articles in the past year have excoriated adults for reading books written to younger audiences. As someone who makes her living talking about children's and YA books, I have never felt the need to apologize for reading books not written specifically for me. As a matter of fact, there is a long history of lots of people reading books not written for them. Go back to the early folk and fairy takes. Many of them were told for the entertainment of adults; the content was a tad, well, adult. That did not stop kids from adopting the stories and making them their own.

I read mostly children's and YA books, pausing occasionally for an adult book that piques my interest. I read Roz Chast's GN when I saw it on the longlist for the NBA. I read Stephen King still (love, love, love his books). From time to time someone will recommend a book to me. However, when I see posts about a book someone has slogged through, I think, "life is too short to read books which require slogging." I read the canon, big chunks of it, as a teen and during my college studies. I have no desire to revisit most of those stories. Been there, read that. But a stack of picture books makes me salivate. I always have a stack on my desk at work. I can grab a few minutes and read one throughout the day. It breaks up the work, and generally it makes me grin or weep or shudder--RESPOND.

So, I agree with the sentiment of the article: let's permit folks to read what they want. The same goes for kids, too. CHOICE is so important. Selecting the books for my TBR, choosing books to pick up and read, electing which audio will accompany this week as I commute: this is what keeps me an avid reader. It keeps me connected to language and style and art. It keeps me reading.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: exonerated
19 October 2014 @ 01:05 pm
My head hurts. I just read a sample chapter from a forthcoming book on nonfiction. Since it relates to CCSS, it is, of course, rife with all manner of jargon and chock full of activities from anchor texts to guiding questions, etc. While I am not stating that nonfiction is a simple genre, it is much more simple than the author leads teachers to believe. Part of that is the use of the term genre. Genres here are defined as categories of nonfiction that are divvied up by their purpose. So, NF that describes is its own genre. NF that explains is another. And on it goes. And so the the author acknowledges her list of genre might not be complete. Hey, NF might be used to entertain. So, add that genre to your list. I am restraining myself from tearing out my hair because I love the color it is now. Seriously, the confusion this chapter caused me is deep. I can only imagine what will happen when we use the author's terms with kids.

I am in the middle of preparing a preconference on NF for the YALSA Symposium in Austin in November. Karin Perry and I will present along with Steve Sheinkin, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Kelly Milner Halls. I suspect I could make the part Karin and I are doing incredibly complicated. Instead, we are focusing on a brief history of the genre (term used correctly here), some of the leading resources and awards for NF, plus some ideas on using NF within libraries and classrooms. But then I am not trying to sell materials; I am attempting to provide information (guess that makes my "genre" according to this author "explaining nonfiction"). And this blog post could be "explaining nonfiction" or could be "persuading nonfiction." It could also be "describing nonfiction." And herein lies a problem. Literature is not this nice, neat, easy to categorize thing. Nothing is cut and dried, not even the meaning, hidden or otherwise. And that is the subject of another presentation I am preparing for NCTE (and another blog post). Proclaiming that purpose is more important than form, format, content, organization, accuracy, audience, and the like is just simply wrong.

Happy Sunday, everyone. I am wishing you a day that is simple and enjoyable, and that involves books and reading. If it is NF, I expect youth be able to label purpose, form, format, etc.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: irritatedirritated
18 October 2014 @ 09:02 am
I am spending today at TCCA listening to sessions on technology and education. I am also presenting two sessions on APPS for ELAR. Here is the presentation:
17 October 2014 @ 03:19 pm
I know I am opening a can of worms with this post. I have commented about this article on Facebook and been taken to task for ignoring the needs of striving readers. Let me state categorically, I am not ignoring those needs. However, I am questioning the use of "technology" (apps and programs that can change the level of the text to accommodate the needs of the reader) in terms of several statements the programs make. This is all related to the post about adult authors sanitizing and simplifying their books for a YA market which ran here last week: And Liz Burns responded brilliantly to this piece, so I will add only a link to her post:

Here is the article that set me thinking: The question posed was whether texts should be given to kids at their frustration level or their comfort level. The very question bothers me. Why give kids things that frustrate them if we want them to gather information from the text? If I am looking for information about how to uninstall an app, I want clear, precise, easy to understand material to read. I do not need more.

But the article goes further, touting programs that can individualize reading levels from student to student. Here is the assertion about the value of such programs: "First, new-generation leveling tools like Newsela allow every student to read the same story, albeit at varying levels of complexity. “This facilitates the social learning that happens when students engage in a shared discussion of the text,” Cogan-Drew notes." So, let me ask this: are students indeed reading the "same story"? I don't think so. First and foremost, I do not think any TWO of us read the "same story."

The second claim that these services, programs and apps remove the stigma of leveled texts in more traditional forms (i.e., a book or newspaper): "Second, digital reading programs can make leveling more discreet, preventing students from being teased or stigmatized for reading at a lower level. Compared to the large numbers emblazoned on the covers of many leveled-reader print books, the computerized versions call far less attention to the degree of competency of their users." I guess I must be missing those numbers emblazoned on covers of books. If they are there, someone has added them. Trade books do not come emblazoned with reading levels on them in plain sight. At least not the ones I read.

Further, these stories come with quizzes. Calling them formative assessments does not make this read-and-then-answer-questions-at-the-end any different from anything else in a textbook, worksheet, or test. We are measuring only one aspect of comprehension: the ability to recall details. There is no higher order thinking going on here.

Finally, there was a comment after this article that caught my eye. It began like this: "The practice of “leveling” texts relies on two faulty assumptions: that texts actually have identifiable, discrete levels, and that a text should be matched precisely to “where we are.” Much of the literature we read exists at many levels at once."

Leveling texts using a count of syllables and sentences and even adding in syntax and semantics is still application of mathematical formulae to artistic creations. And THAT is where this mania for trying to measure a text fails miserably. Kids will read materials well above their "levels and lexiles" if they are interested in the book. Likewise, I routinely read well below my levels and lexiles. Yet no harm seems to have come from that. Here is my first book from this morning:


I am fairly certain that this picture book by Misty Copeland with illustrations by Christopher Myers is below my ZPD. I cannot give you that measure because there are no numbers from AR or The book is too new. However, I can tell you that I am absolutely, positively sure it is below what those sites would recommend for me.

What a shame that I would miss this glorious book with its rhythmic text and illustrations that convey mood and tone because some measurement put it into different hands. Books are not numbers. Kids are not numbers.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: upset
17 October 2014 @ 09:02 am
Rather than post something myself, I encourage each of you to go to Paul Hankins' blog ( and read his post for today. While you are at it, take a gander at Part One and Two as well. I appreciate how Paul shows his thinking, his reflection, and most of all his LOVE for teaching.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: impressedimpressed