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22 September 2014 @ 09:15 am
It happens each year during Banned Books Week: the challenges rear their ugly head. Perhaps it is because we are so sensitized given the celebrations of the week. However, this challenge from Highland Park (Texas, guys), is emblematic of the reasons why we need to be vigilant about keeping books free and making sure we all have FREADOM.

Here is the article:

Seven books have been removed from an AP reading list in this district due to parent complaint. The titles include: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAINSIDDHARTA, THE WORKING POOR: INVISIBLE IN AMERICA, ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, THE GLASS CASTLE, SONG OF SOLOMON. This list includes many award winners. Alexie's book is a National Book Award winner, John Green's was a Printz Honor, and so it goes. There are authors here who won Pulizter Prizes, too. And there initially was a collection of educators giving thought to this list, placing books on the list for reasons. Here is the money quote from high school teacher Darcy Young: “Our motto is to prepare the child for the path, not prepare the path for the child,” she said."

Here is the ignorance of those who would ban books: "Aimee Simms, another parent, urged the English Department to use classics rather than young adult books that “dumb down” literature. She said classics can address complex topics, such as poverty, with fewer sexual references and curse words." This makes any book not hundreds of years old a target. Convenient.

More ignorance: "Thad Smith, a parent and Highland Park graduate, said at a school board meeting that he was “frightened by the changes to recommended reading that have happened since I graduated.” Smith said his company’s email filter prevented him from sending an excerpt from one of the books." Yes, let's keep reading the same books never considering that there might be something to be gained, gleaned from more contemporary titles. Sometimes, I just want to give these folks a quiz over the classics to see what they recall.

You want more ignorance: see some of the comments.

I am not mincing words again when ti comes to removing books, especially when they are removed without following processes. It is time to point fingers, to use pointed language, to stand up for FREADOM.
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21 September 2014 @ 08:48 am
Book Riot ran a piece on Teddy Roosevelt's Rules for Reading recently. Takeaway? Choice, interest, pleasure were good enough reasons for selecting and reading a book. Not judging a book by its cover or selecting a book because it is good for you made appearance as well. Here is the link to the piece itself.

I have been working on an historic look at research in reading, especially K-12 reading research, and it is wonderful to see that TR's comments are echoed in the research as well. Why, given decades of research and centuries of commentary, are we still reluctant to offer CHOICE. to meet INTERESTS, to permit reading for PLEASURE?
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Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
20 September 2014 @ 01:02 pm
I appreciate reports that talk about the attributes of good teachers. However, I am growing more and more annoyed when they refer to research without actually mentioning something specific I might track back to in my reading. Such is the case with this recent post: From the Wall Street Journal, the author mentions a growing body of research on what makes for effective teachers (or, in this case, great teachers).

The first point is that teachers have active intellectual lives. However, some of the examples (travel, hobbies, having favorite poets) seems to be more than a tad vague. Okay, we should have large vocabularies. I do, but how would you assess that? I do not use the million dollar words in my day to day conversations or even in these blog posts or at workshops. I tend to speak plainly. However, 4 years of Latin and Spanish and a lifetime of reading has added much to my vocabulary. Every once in a while I will throw one out in a conversation with my BH because he loves it. I might throw one out when talking to kids to give them some impressive words. For instance, I taught my middle school kids the term "truncated syllogism" with examples and urged them to use this phrase when confronted with an argument that was faulty because of a truncated syllogism. It's fun to pop one out from time to time, but my everyday vocabulary might not present itself. How, then, was this measured? Tests?

Now we move on to the second way one can spot a great teacher. This is where I began to wonder about the tone of the article: " Research suggests that most students already know almost half of what is taught in most classes. Lame teachers—like one I watched spend a full 10 minutes explaining to a class in a Colorado Springs middle school that "denominator" refers to the bottom half of a fraction—spend too much time reviewing basic facts and too little time introducing deeper concepts. " LAME teachers? How does this person know why the teacher spent time reviewing the term "denominator"? Is it possible that not everyone in that class did know? Or remembered? And, again, there is that amorphous use of the suggestion that research shows something. No references followed the article, so I have no way of verifying the research.

Finally on point three we have an actual reference when indicating that great teachers are data-driven. First, I would argue that great teachers are kid driven. Following that I would use the term evidence-driven and not data-driven. Kids are not data points. But good teachers do use evidence, anecdotal as well as test evidence, to help plan instruction. As an FYI, the research referred to was conducted with 120 or so undergrad students. Thanks for finally giving me some "data" to examine.

The final point referred to asking good questions and reference John Hattie. His book, VISIBLE LEARNING, is one I would recommend for anyone who is interested in looking closely at research. I read it this past spring. The point is a good one. Higher level questions do lead to deeper thinking. However, given the preponderance of tests kids take, I wonder if teachers will spend more time making sure the multiple choice information is covered since many assessments are just that: multiple choice.

This article has been quoted, reposted, etc. On the surface it seems innocuous enough. But dig a bit deeper, and there are some disturbing omissions, most notably the research base for the rather dogmatic statements.
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19 September 2014 @ 10:18 am
This piece from Valerie Strauss' blog on The Washington Post by Carol Burris points to some of the flim-flams being employed by CCSS:

Flim-flam is a nice term for what these really are: lies, deliberate misdirections. Whatever label we use, it is important for us to communicate what is wrong with CCSS to as many constituent groups as possible. One state has filed potential new legislation making it illegal for educators to participate in political processes. They would be forbidden to make donations, to campaign for a candidate, and more. Corporations are people, but apparently teachers are not when it comes to influencing politics? Sigh.
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Current Mood: disgusted
18 September 2014 @ 11:39 am
So, there was this post a while back: I do love a nice berating at the hands of someone who has not been in a classroom. This author asks why schools are not teaching "life skills" such as balancing checkbooks, doing laundry, and cooking and shopping. First, I do suspect there are some classes that do just this. I know I took Home Ec and learned to cook (though I was already cooking since I was the oldest in a single parent family). I knew how to do laundry already, too. Partly, that was because it was my Mom who made sure I know these survival skills, not just because she needed us to help since she worked outside of the house, but because she knew one day we would need to do these things for ourselves and our families.

And that I guess is why I ask this author: since when did schools have to take over Everything a kid ever needed to learn? And, more importantly, what do you think is the purpose of an education?

It is the same question I raise often. If education is simply teaching skills and facts, then surely we are doomed. Education did, indeed, give me skills and teach me facts. But more than that, education challenged me to think, to debate, to consider. It challenged me to read and to write and to reflect on both. It challenged me to see beyond myself and my neighborhood and family. It challenged me to assume responsibility and assert my independence.

I question those who insist the schools do it ALL and yet give them LESS and LESS with which to do it each year. It is time, I think, to answer the question is posed earlier: What is the purpose of education?
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Current Mood: upset
18 September 2014 @ 10:26 am
This editorial from LA should be reprinted in every newspaper, on every blog, linked through Twitter and Tumblr. By denying kids access to books, we are denying them so much more. We have funding for 1:1 iPads and not for books, libraries, librarians?
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Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
17 September 2014 @ 11:20 am
Here is a link to an article in which two former proponents of CCSS not state their opposition: I admire these educators for standing up and talking about the seduction of CCSS early on (and make no mistake, it was a seduction, one that offered all manner of misleading facts and figures and then lured states in with the promise of $$$$$$$).

What I am still waiting to see are admissions from our professional organizations. I want to see the, "We were wrong" statements. Instead I see some criticism occasionally but no admission that they took the wrong path and no course correction. What I see instead are a multitude of sessions centered on CCSS, offered because they "want to help teachers." I see journal articles that are basically propaganda. And I see some professionals offering quick fix PD on CCSS.I see this bleeding into other fields. Book publishers now feel constrained to put CCSS standards on materials associated with their books (and, really, it's a book, so most of the EALR standards could apply anyhow, but hey). I see NCTQ purport to measure teacher ed programs based on some sort of skewed system almost as valid as VAM. In other words, I see so many things that can potentially harm the next generation of kids. And I see our professional organizations and some of their leaders remain silent in the face of the insanity being put into practice.

Who decided that reading ON level meant reading ABOVE level? When did that happen? Where were the literacy organizations when it did? Who decided that AR levels and Lexile markers were the important measuring sticks for complex and rigorous texts? Where was the hue and cry from the literacy organizations when this happened? Where, oh where, was the response to the blessed list of books known as Exemplar? Who decided they were exemplar? Why did the literacy organizations not object to this censorship?

At a time when literature for young people is so vibrant, some complex, so incredibly rich, where are the voices of our literacy organizations recommending HUNDREDS of other texts?

How about starting here with the list of the NBA Longlist for Young People's Literature announced this week:

How many have you read? More importantly, how many have the leaders of our literacy organizations read and recommended? I know the answer. Do you?
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Current Mood: angryangry
16 September 2014 @ 09:56 am
I like that certain professions refer to what they do as their practice. I think that term is one I try to hold close as I enter in my 38th year of teaching. Because I am still practicing. I still do not think I have it all 100% right and good. I am still searching for the BETTER.

This is what annoys me when I see teachers who are not only reluctant to try new things; they stubbornly refuse to even try it; they turn a blind eye to it. When I try something new and it is not as miraculous as I had hoped, I ask myself how I could make it better. Where did I go wrong? Is there a missing element somewhere that I ignored? How can I make it better?

So, most semesters find me noodling with my reading list, fiddling with assignments, creating new screencasts as demonstrations. I cannot imagine how my practice would be different if I had not welcomed change, if I had not attempted to practice.

Why do some of us become insulated and isolated, caught up in the regimen of one year exactly like the last year and the next year?

As a kid, I hated avocado when I first tasted it. Now, I could eat a whole one without blinking. I feel the same way about books. For a long time, I pushed away anything in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. And then I tried one, and I liked it. Do I love them all? Am I fantasy fan? Not quite, but I do read widely in the genre. I try to do the same for other genres, forms, and formats. How do I know what I might like unless I give it a go?

So, I will go on practicing. I will read the work of Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, and others much as I did Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins as a beginning teacher. I will seek out others in a PLN so that disparate voices might inform my practice. This week, my PLN offered me insight into teaching math, reading series books, and so much more. If I were not open to the practice, look at what I might have missed.

Practice does not necessarily make perfect in my case. But it does make it better, more meaningful, and much more productive.

ETA: Please see an excellent post about practice here:
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Current Mood: reflective
15 September 2014 @ 08:56 am
So, after I enjoyed a 2+ hour dinner with friend Donalyn Miller, I did not have it in me to write a blog last night. I think it was the fault of the salsa. Yes, blame it on the salsa. So much of what Donalyn and I talked about could have become blog posts, but I settled on this one (which I am back dating, sneaky me).

Recently, Donalyn commented that sharing textless books is reading. Several folks took her to task on this. Basically, they said that if a book did not have words it could not be read. How sad that some people still associate reading with left right, top down, front back sounding out of words. Here are a few things that reading textless books can do:

Develops oral language
Builds vocabulary
Reinforces comprehension skills:
Reading for details
Noting cause and effect
Determining main idea
Inferencing and drawing conclusions
Encourages storytelling
Enhances more elaborate and complex stories
Emphasizes importance of visual literacy

How are the foregoing not reading.

Case in point are two textless books that were my first books read today. DRAW by Raul Colon is the story (see, I have to call it a story despite its lack of words) about a boy who is sitting in his bed studying about Africa and beginning to draw animals. He is transported to Africa where he gets to sketch all manner of animals (and a monkey even draws a portrait of him). There is so much to be read here.


Next up was FLORA AND THE PENGUIN. I adored it predecessor FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO, so I knew this would be a treat. In addition to the fluid art which seems to come alive as you turn the pages, this book also features a lift-the-flap feature which extends the story (there's that word, again).

flora and penguin

So, scoff all you naysayers. I am with Donalyn and countless others who share textless books with older readers. There is much here that is, indeed, reading.
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Current Mood: fullfull
14 September 2014 @ 09:03 am
I am so fortunate to have the job I do. Teaching children's and YA literature in a library science program has allowed me to stand in two different "camps" over the last 25 years. I am an English teacher by education and by vocation. I teach folks who want to be school librarians. I do not possess an MLS nor any school library experience. Except I DO. I was in my school library before and after school as well as weekly with my classes. I developed a classroom library and curated it. I have talked to thousands of librarians about books and booktalks and reading. No, I am not a certified librarian, but I have learned so much about the field in 25 years.

Sometimes I am frustrated because it seems as though teachers and librarians remain locked within their own "camps." But I know so many librarians who love collaborating with teachers and vice versa. So imagine how much I love this post from Liz Burns (and if you are not reading her blog, make it a point to do so regularly):

Here is ONE of my favorite passages from Liz' post: "I'm afraid that part of the reason literature is looked at as "what can it do for the reader," "what benefit it gives," is that, sadly, is the world we live in - what is valued is not being lost in the book, but the test taken after reading to prove that the message was received and the lesson understood. Reading is literacy and grades, test scores and college applications, jobs and promotions."

For me, it reflects back on some of what Donalyn Miller was talking about last week in her post about language arts and crafts. It seems as though reading always has to have some follow up activity, some purpose other than to connect us with books and reading and writers.

Liz ends her piece with a plea that reading be just for PLEASURE. How would we increase the number of lifelong readers if we allowed reading to be just that: a PLEASURE? Thanks, Liz.
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