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19 August 2014 @ 04:41 pm
I see a lot of folks talking about how hard it was to take their kids to campus for college. Mika from Morning Joe even had a videotape of getting her daughter settled in to the dorm. Two observations here: I rejoiced when the former residents settled into their dorm rooms. I was excited for what was ahead of them both. BH and I rejoiced when the youngest settled in. We were an empty nest and we were loving the extra freedom. Of course, that might be due to the fact that we had been rearing kids for a lot longer than most of our friends. You see, we got to do it twice: once for our daughter and then for her daughters. Basically, I spent my 30s, 40s, 50s, and part of my 60s with kids and teens in the house. Now, I am enjoying their absence. That does not mean I do not love when they visit or when College Girl calls to ask a question or Career Girl meets us for lunch.

The other observation, though, has to do with privilege. I never had the chance to live in a dorm. I worked my way through my first two years. Then, I married and continued to work and commute until graduation. I am not asking for sympathy. I just want to note that dorm life is not something all of us had the chance to experience. Ditto summer camp and lots of other "extras." Do not assume we have all had the same opportunities or privileges. BH and I have done all we can to ensure the former residents of the back bedroom DID have some privileges. We were happy to do so; we know their importance.

I guess this niggles at me because it is the beginning of the school year. Not all of our kids will have had the privileges some of us take for granted. I remember one student tell me she did not have a TV at home when I asked the class to examine some commercials for propaganda. And I recall how many times our own kids had to surf the net for an assignment or produce a project or use a computer program. Yes, BH and I made it happen. But I cannot help but think of those kids who do not have access. Access to infinite supplies, access to internet at home, access to books, access to the public library, access to the privileges.

How I wish all kids had all the privileges they need. How I struggle with the fact that ed deformers somehow manage to keep their blinders on so they never see that they have privileges that so many others do not. I am angered by the denial of the role poverty (lack of privilege) plays on the part of these reforministas. I am appalled that so many of the talking heads in education elect to place their own kids in more privileged settings, too.

As the new year begins, I hope we all take some time to think about the privileges we will extend to all our kids.
Current Location: San Antonio
Current Mood: angryangry
18 August 2014 @ 04:08 pm
Jon Scieszka has some terrific advice for parents here:

I think each and every teacher needs to take this advice to heart as well. Take this wonderful set of instructions: "Do not insist they read “classics” because you had to. Do not refuse to get a book for them because it isn’t up to their reading level. Do not tell them (or me, or anyone) that they are “reluctant readers.”

My friend Paul Hankins wrote about AR on his blog on the same day Scieszka's piece pub bed. Here is the link to Paul's blog:

Let us PLEASE stop dealing with numbers and concentrate on the WORDS and THOUGHTS and EMOTIONS instead.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: elated
17 August 2014 @ 07:01 pm
I loved this piece from The Guardian entitled "Yes, I am a teacher. No, I am not going to destroy society and your children." Here is the link: I have posted about Campbell Brown and others who are talking about all the bad teachers who deserve to be fired so all the good teachers can gel kids score higher on tests. But here is a spot-on piece about how teacher voice is devalued if not completely ignored while folks from the outside get plenty of on-camera time to spew facts they cannot back up.

Here is the paragraph that sums it all up nicely IMHO: "Instead of talking about new best practices for the classroom and ways to improve teacher training and mentoring programs; instead of discussing innovative school and community partnerships that can enrich student experiences; instead of waging a real war against the insidious poverty depriving many of my students of the advantages and opportunities their peers in wealthier, better-funded districts enjoyed ... teachers now have to convince “real” people (and their very real, very secret monied backers) that we, as professional educators, actually know a thing or two about education."

Having to defend one's own profession is more than frustrating. I watched as Morning Joe gave a great deal of time to an article from the Atlantic about doing away with universities as we know them. I will post about that in the next couple of days. But the point here is that this show (and most others on MSNBC and PBS and the major networks) have bought into the "education is a mess and the only way to fix it is to take it away from educators and give to to corporations" mentality.

Where are the stories about lack of training for TFA candidates before they are unleashed on a classroom? Where is the outrage about spending cuts? Why is no one doing any fact-checking? Why are teachers not being hailed for the work they do each and every day?
Current Location: home
Current Mood: defensive
16 August 2014 @ 08:41 am
As schools begin again in earnest, I know many teachers could use some resources. I wish I could send all of you gift cards to bookstores and office supply companies, but I offer you what I know I can provide for anyone interested. Here are a few resources for locating quality nonfiction for your students.

This is a link to the VOYA Nonfiction Honor List for 2013.

The CBC list of Notable Books for Social Studies is produced annually. Here is the link to the information about the lists. You can also download lists from previous years.

Another great CBC list is the Outstanding Science Trade Books. This link takes you to the site where you can read more about the list and download lists from past years.

YALSA has a list of excellent NF books for young adults. Each year, a shortlist is announced in the fall and then the winner announced at the Midwinter Conference in January.

The Sibert is the children's book award for nonfiction. This link takes you to the home page.

Here is the page for the Orbis Pictus Award which recognizes excellence in nonfiction.

I am just providing the tip of the iceberg here, but it should help get you started in identifying some terrific books to share with your kids.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: helpful
15 August 2014 @ 08:36 am
I am thinking I need to make this a weekly post. There is certainly enough of late to do this DAILY. However, I will resist the urge.

Because of some of the pushback to CCSS in general and to "close reading" in particular, there have been several blog posts of late by proponents of this approach to dissecting text. My favorite was a post that instructed educators to avoid using any of the terms associated with the approach. So, the advice was for teachers to use the terminology only in PD and to use the term "understanding" in the classroom.

Honestly? Really? I mean, let's not examine our practices, do some reflection, and perhaps adjust our approach, right? Let's just use different terms. Sigh.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: perplexed
14 August 2014 @ 01:48 pm
Last year at the NCTE conference, a group of educators and authors was asked to talk about our experiences reading Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. This was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the book and also to prepare for the launch of the feature film. To thank us for our participation, we were offered free passes to a livestream of the premiere this week.

Like most readers of The Giver, I approached the movie with some trepidation. However, I had read somewhere Lois Lowry's advice to see the movie with an open mind (and not with an open copy of The Giver to spot the differences). So, I took my BH along with me (he has not read any of the books). I must tell you that the premier red carpet coverage was fun to watch. One of my tweets even made it to the stream. Here are some photos I took in the movie theater.

cast of giver
lowry giver
re carpet brisdges
tweet giver

When the movie began, I fell into it as I had fallen all those years ago into the novel. I did not care that Jonas was older, that there was a love interest. I did not care at all because the heart and soul of the book was there on the screen in the actors' portrayal of the characters, in the exquisite cinematography, in the VISION so successful presented to the moviegoer. Even when I knew what was coming, I was on the edge of my seat. There were times I had to turn away (as Jonas did) because the sorrow was almost too much to bear. The black and white reinforced the SAMENESS. The flashes of color and then the gradual warming of colors as Jonas begins to receive the memories was perfect.

So, which is better? Oh, there is no right answer for that question for me. My first and then subsequent readings of the novel continue to elicit response from me every time I read a scene. But the movie evoked responses as well. And I love it for faithfully capturing its own vision of what the book could be visually. I love them both. I know I will want to read The Giver again now that I have seen the movie. I suspect the reading of the book will drive me back to the movie as well.

We know from research that one of the activities middle and high school kids find motivating is to see the movie and then read the book. I suspect we will see The Giver rocket back to the bestseller list once the movie opens nationwide.

One final note: there is a great deal of good stuff for educators at the Walden Media site for the movie:
Current Location: office
Current Mood: uplifted
13 August 2014 @ 06:22 pm
A friend sent me a link to a company of teacher created materials. Much of what is offered under the link for Literature are novel guides. The "publishers" assert that since their materials are created by actual teachers, they are successful. I clicked on a couple of the teaching guides for novels including one for The Giver since the book was in the forefront of my brain (I saw the movie Monday night). What I saw in the sample pages were worksheets. One looked as though it had come from an elementary basal reading series. Of course for each handful of chapters there are questions and also a handful of activities. They include what is labeled as a book log, some curriculum connections, and plenty of quizzes. TKAM and The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963 are all listed as 5-8 grade books, too.

So, we are back to the commodification factor here. Moreover, it seems to suggest that everyone reads the same book and does the same activities. If you look further at the materials here, there are books for grammar that contain very familiar worksheets including one where 5-6 graders are asked to select whether the correct article is "a" or "an." Grammar in isolation, yes, but also worksheets on such a tiny sliver of usage that I worry how long the worksheets for each part of speech must be.

When I first began teaching, everything was in packets. We were instructed to do a 3 week rotation of grammar packets followed by 3 weeks of literature packets followed by 3 weeks of writing packets. Someone spent loads of time making worksheets. While I appreciated the materials from time to time, I wondered where the teaching was if I had to simply introduce a lesson and then distribute a packet. Is there not a movie where one of the teachers dies during a school day and no one notices? They just pass out the worksheets.

Many years ago, one of the teachers at the school the former residents of the back bedroom attended had a math teacher request from each student a ream of paper so he or she could run off worksheets. You can imagine my reaction to this request. Now, too much of what I see as technology is worksheet on a computer screen. Again, commodification.

I am well aware that folks reading this blog do not do this. I am once again preaching to the choir. But when I see companies springing up offering books of worksheets, I want to, well, scream, cry, bang my head on the desk. And I bet kids feel even more strongly than do I.

As you return to your classrooms (and many of you are already there with or without kids right now), I wish you a year free of commodification.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: puzzled
12 August 2014 @ 07:57 pm
Donalyn Miller's blog post today reminded me again of he practice of commodification in education. Here is her brilliant post: She sets the record straight AGAIN about the 40 Book Challenge. She writes, " In a nutshell, the 40 Book Challenge invites students to read 40 books across different genres during the school year...The 40 Book Challenge isn’t an assignment you can simply add to outdated, ineffective teaching practices. The Book Challenge rests on the foundation of a classroom reading community built on research-based practices for engaging children with reading. "

It is often tempting to take practices and commodify them. I have seen it done with workshop, literature circles, and reading aloud. A recent doctoral dissertation focused on reading aloud practices in some elementary schools. What was described as reading aloud was, to me, an interactive reading lesson. Educators paused and asked questions during the read aloud. There were questions and activities that followed. Gone was what I would describe as reading aloud, the practice of reading a text aloud to a class. I generally used reading aloud as something that was pleasurable (and that helped get the kids settled in as well, a bonus). There were not worksheets and questions and logs to complete.

This is not to say that I cannot read aloud a text to introduce a lesson or to serve as a mentor text. I can. But then, what I do is not reading aloud. It is using a picture book or a passage as a mentor text. Or following up the reading of DEAR DEER with a discussion of homophones, homonyms, and homographs. If every time I read aloud, there is some activity, soon kids would eschew the reading aloud. Commodification takes a perfectly good practice and makes in onerous for students.

Kids need to have times when they read a book and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Stop the commodification, please. Challenge kids. Don't defeat them.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: supportive
11 August 2014 @ 01:46 pm
According to popular song, rocking the boat is a bad thing. Rocking the boat might end up with the boat tipped over, after all. Or, if you buy into the song from GUYS AND DOLLS, the devil will drag you under. But I think it is time to rock and boat.

We need to stand up and do some rocking or the boat will simply sit in the middle of a giant body of water and never get anywhere.

Okay, maybe this is a tortured metaphor, but it is based on my feeling that unless we speak out and speak out we will keep fighting the same battles over and over again.

Censorship, "balanced" literacy, new standards and new curriculum: it seems as though I slip in and out of time warps and emerge just as the latest iteration of the battle is launched. I wrote about preaching to the choir yesterday at the Nerdy Book Club. I have posted time and again about SpeakLoudly and fighting censorship. The current call for "balanced" literacy infuriates me.

I know we will never convince every single individual. But perhaps it is time to stand up and rock the boat a little. Stand up and stand firm about best practices. Donalyn Miller and I are hosting a chat each month featuring articles we believe are the foundations of our best practices. We have gone back and re-read Allington, Gambell, Krashen, and Kohn with more to come. We have the research. It points us in the right direction. We need to steer the boat in that direction. If that means doing some tipping and rocking, so be it.

So, as you go back into classrooms and face new semesters, set up the non-negotiables: the things you will go to the mat to defend. Make your points pointed. Let everyone know that you will do what is best for your classroom full of kids eager to find someone who will fight for them. Blanace be damned.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: argumentative