Log in

11 February 2016 @ 08:40 am
One of the lovely things that comes about when I sit and talk with friends and colleagues is this: I generally come up with blog topics. Such was the case earlier this week when Donalyn Miller and I drained our #fancyphone batteries during a lengthy conversation. Note: neither of us ever asks if the other has time for the "quick call." NOT, GOING. TO. HAPPEN.

Sometime during the conversation I mentioned to Donalyn that new regulations from TEA will require programs to use benchmarks. There was some silence as that piece of news was digested (and my reaction when told was NOT silent, I assure you). Finally, she remarked about how we schedule things around the testing in our public schools. And it hit me: there is a testing season. We joke about seasons here in Texas. We do not have traditional seasons. Ours are more like HOT, not too hot, hey kind of balmy, time to break out the jackets, RAIN. And all of those could happen within a 24 hour span.

But there is definitely a season of testing in Texas. It is a lengthy season which begins in September and runs through late April. Right now there are calls for limiting the season and the number of tests. Normally, this would be greeted with happy cheers. But when the details are shared-- not so happy. Here is a link to a recent piece about the new ideas about testing here in Texas: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/amid-complaints-staar-testing-faces-revamp/nqKkm/.

Here are some of the "ideas" they are considering:

•Assessing students more frequently but on a smaller scale throughout the year.
•Shortening the state curriculum standards that the tests cover.
•Removing the requirement that students pass the test to graduate.
•Moving the test online.
•Replacing high school students’ end-of-course exams with the SAT or ACT.

So let's examine these individually. First, let's ratchet up the number of tests but make them "smaller" which I assume to mean shorter, but who knows. I am not sure what it means to shorten standards but the closest I can come is eliminate some of the pesky ones. Allowing students to graduate without the test is an interesting proposal. I am not sure how that would work differently than it does now when some students are passed without passing said test. And if we don't want tests to determine advancing a grade, why even bother with the test? Why not use some other assessments? Moving the test online? Seriously? Show me the research that says this is effective (because I have the research that says it is counterproductive). But I do love the final suggestion: make all kids take an SAT or ACT exam to pass end of courses. I suppose they will take this test so many times (there is more than one EOC test each and every year of high school) that our SAT and ACT scores will improve (maybe).

There is much more involved, to be sure. Testing is a lucrative business here. Just ask Pearson who lost their contract with the state (who will now use ETS). There are those outside of education who wonder how teachers and schools can be held accountable without a measurement. And so, the testing season in Texas will continue to be a long one.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: upset
10 February 2016 @ 04:37 pm
Part of the long phone conversation yesterday between Donalyn Miller and me was the topic of reading aloud. She had mentioned the phrase "paradigm drift." That fit reading aloud perfectly as so much of what I see these days is what is called "interactive read aloud." This appear to be a code name for teacher reads aloud a couple of paragraphs then stops to ask questions on the text. Repeat as needed. True read aloud is NOT the time for quizzing kids over the reading. It is a time for the teacher to share a text and for the kids to enjoy said text. No summarization activities, no question to interrupt the story, no checking to see if you are paying attention.

So, when I saw this posted on Facebook (again, thanks Donalyn), I knew I had to share it here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/community-voices/article57361258.html?linkId=21126460.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: happyhappy
09 February 2016 @ 11:51 am
In many ways, I have the perfect job. I mentioned this at the YAK Fest a few weeks ago to the kids in the audience. Basically, I told them that a large part of my job is to read and to talk about books. And it is. A couple of kids visited with me after the author panels to talk about how they could get a job like mine. I spent some time with each of them outlining what was required. They seemed to leave happily thinking about a career in higher ed.

And then today, I read this on Facebook: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/mount-st-marys-president-fires-two-faculty-members-one-tenure?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=8bca58981a-DNU20160209&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-8bca58981a-197667913. The President fired two professors, one of them tenured, for disagreeing with his new policy on student retention. He is quoted as saying, "As an employee of Mount St. Mary's University, you owe a duty of loyalty to this university and to act in a manner consistent with that duty."

Yes, I do owe loyalty to my university. But if my President were to put into place a retention policy that does not so much aim to retain students as to make it easier to dismiss them from the university, I think I would stand up and speak. If you read this blog, you see me question things all the time. It is not that I am disloyal, it is more that I want to have a more complete discussion before we implement some new plan (yep, it's all about that change, bout that change, no changes).

Part of the problem in this piece is that the new President does not come from academia but from the world of business. Have we not learned our lessons yet, folks? Education is NOT a business. Kids are not widgets or unassembled products. Teaching is not assembly line pieces being fit together so that the product that rolls off the line is no different from the product before and after it. Terms like college and career ready have at their core some misconception that this means the same thing for all kids. And for all colleges. And for all careers. It also turns K-12 schools into those assembly lines. College readiness looks like this, I hear some teachers say. I tend to disagree. The 5 paragraph essay, the research paper, the prohibition against first person in writing, the canon of old or dead white men: some of these things no longer exist at the university or they have shifted somewhat. Career ready seems almost an Herculean task as the careers our school aged kids will have to select from might not even exist today. How do we prepare kids then?

Simple: make sure they are readers and writers. Not that they know HOW to read and write: the simple mechanics are not sufficient (though necessary). They must BE and self-identify as readers and writers. Connie Epstein wrote decades ago that if schools sent them kids who loved to read, kids who were graded for the weight of their reading rather than the titles, etc., then college English departments could take care of the rest.

I know I have gone rather far afield from the purpose of this blog post, but such is the nature of writing. One thing I know from being a writer: let the "story" take you where it needs to go!
Current Location: office
Current Mood: dismayed
08 February 2016 @ 08:32 pm
I make plans. They seem like good plans. And then the unexpected happens. My BH can tell you that changing plans is not something I do easily (and he is not the only one who will testify to this as well). But today, plans got changed.

All kinds of things went haywire. But now, at the end of a day that saw upset plans, I have graded assignments from my grad class. Karin Perry and I have updated our YALSA course. I got a new pair of shoes. BH got some socks. We had a lovely lunch. We even were graced with a visit with College Girl. Bottom line: go with the flow, Teri.

How, you could rightly ask, will Teri make a point about books and reading and teaching?

I think many of us have plans. We plan to read every day. We plan to blog every week. Then life comes at us. Time for reading, thoughts of writing go up in smoke. It happens to the best of us. So, we revise, reschedule, move on.

My friend Kylele Beers uses the term "dormant" readers. I love this metaphor. Sometimes, we need to lie dormant, gain nutrients, grow almost invisibly. The book can wait. A blog post will be written. Maybe next time plans go awry, we need to claim dormancy, go underground, rest, grow, spread our roots.

My plans did not include a lengthy discussion with Donalyn Miller today. But, heavens, am I thankful it did happen. I walked away from the discussion with a head full of possibilities. So, perhaps I need to include in my plans the time for plans to fall apart, reassemble, change.
07 February 2016 @ 05:20 pm
We received a flyer from the "Conservative" Republicans of Texas (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) that came complete with a pre-marked ballot indicating the way they believe we should vote in the upcoming primary (though we are registered Dems in this house). What was particularly interesting, though, was the handy chart on the back of this mailing indicating the difference between conservative Republicans and "Liberals." It is an either or decisions. Sort of like the one Bush issued when he said we either supported the war or the terrorists. In this case, here are some of my choices:

Repubs Dems

oppose LGBT agenda which requires allow men to enter into women's rest rooms, locker
homosexuality to be TAUGHT rooms, and showers

for capital punishment against capital punishment

for income tax cuts for tax increases and income redistribution

It goes on (and on and on and on), but you get the drift. This is not a new approach. We have seen it in education. Back in the reading wars, you were either aligned with phonics or you were in league with the devils of whole language. False dichotomies, anyone?

We need to be careful when it comes to programs that ask us to abandon one practice in favor of another. Many of these programmed approaches offer false dichotomies. One of my favorites has to do with levels and Exiles. The argument goes that, if we fail to level books and use levels and Exiles when selecting books for kids, they will never read anything that challenges them. This is false on more than one ground. First, as we have demonstrated here time and again, levels and Exiles are not accurate measures of the complexity (nor the rigor if you prefer that word which I don't). There is another fallacy or dichotomy here that is sort of unspoken: that has to do with choice. If we are the only ones selecting texts for readers, we are eliminating CHOICE. That would be wrong as well.

So, beware those false dichotomies. I think sometimes they are easier to see in these insane political flyers, but they exist in our field as well and are just as polarizing and harmful.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: puzzled
06 February 2016 @ 05:31 pm
I am always fascinated by discussions on the various listservs about books and their audiences. Lately, the target of some discussion was ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL. The central question was whether or not to place the book in a middle school or a high school. I think there is such a fine line that I have a tough time drawing it between middle and high school. I tend to think more of what the reader needs to bring to the book in order to enter fully into the story. I tend to ignore suggested age ranges.

However, a lot of this discussion about where to place the book boiled down to the use of "language." Someone asked me once if there was language in a book I was talking about in a presentation. Flippantly, I replied that, "Yes, there was language. It was in English." I apologized for the flippant retort, but I was only half facetious. Language, THOSE words, are the wrong focus, IMHO. If the words used are of the 4 letter variety, I do not often notice unless: 1) they seem out of character for the character (not the case for the novel in question); 2) gratuitous (again, not the case for this text).

However, this went on to mention that Common Sense Media rated the book, so, of course, I had to click on this link: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl#. Now I am not a fan of web sites that label books like this. One of the reasons I think this irks me as much as it does is that there is an adult take. "Readers and their parents may also be put off by narrator Greg's teen self-centeredness and admitted lack of empathy with his friend Rachel -- or by the characters' liberal use of crude and profane language. " Anyone who reads YA has, I hope, the understanding that teen protagonists and antagonists are TEENS. Self- centered? Probably. Not terribly empathetic? Could very well be. Parents who do not read widely might not like these aspects, but I would argue that this is why the book might actually connect with a teen more than, say, Pollyanna or Rebecca from her Sunnybrook Farm.

Here is part of the summary for CHALLENGER DEEP, the National Book Award for Young People's Literature: "Sexual content is limited to hand-holding and one night of cuddling in bed. Caden's parents are mildly intoxicated in one scene. Caden takes a "cocktail" of prescribed medications, and the regimen helps him heal."

Every one of these sentences frightens me. Sexual content in hand holding and cuddling. Good heavens. Parents drinking? Say it ain't so! Caden taking meds for his illness. Darn him! Is it just me? I find this and other similar web sites to be more problematic even for those seeking some resources. I think they are more censorious than helpful. If I want to know where to place a book, I will ask colleagues. But, more often than not, I will read the book myself. And I will not limit the audience too much as I have had some middle school kids in the past who were prepared for more mature books and others who were not so much. It is tough to make that call for all kids.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: worriedworried
05 February 2016 @ 06:07 pm
I always take a book with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I headed out to get my oil changed armed with 2 early reader/chapter books. I don't often think consciously about the books I take to read in public. These two seemed to be about the right size for an oil change, so off I went.

As I was sitting in the waiting room, I began to be aware of some sidelong glances. I think I could almost hear the thoughts of the folks with me in the waiting room. I smiled and continued reading. I guess I could have just switched to checking my cell phone, but I was enjoying the books (nd I think I managed not to laugh out loud as I know this can make folks look even more askance).

Taking those two books along with me, coupled with the audiobook I was reading with my ears, meant I read 6 books yesterday. When folks ask how to find time to read, I will point to situations like this. These stolen moments, Donalyn Miller calls them "edge time," add up; they make a difference.

So, if you see an older woman (with electric hair much of the time) reading books in public that appear to have a younger audience, come over and say HI!
04 February 2016 @ 11:04 am
Recently, a post offered some ideas for getting boys to read. You can read the post here: http://www.theedadvocate.org/how-to-get-boys-excited-about-reading/. Of course, I clicked on the link. I am always interested in motivating readers, all readers. And since I am a girl, I often turn to the work of others to see what I might be missing. Not much as it turns out from this piece.

While the two bold-faced ideas are good suggestions, it is the content under each section that gives me pause. FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN: yes, this is a great idea for ALL readers, boys and girls, young and old, skilled and not-as-skilled, avid and dormant, etc. Choice is a big factor here, and I applaud choice, I encourage choice, I recommend choice. However, I do cringe a bit at giving kids an interest inventory that suggests books to the child upon completion. And I wonder where the teacher's role is in this program. I worry that use of programs such as the one mentioned (and I am not familiar with this program) gives the power, the autonomy, the opportunity to a computer. Instead of the teacher being able to talk to a child and ascertain her or his interests, the child is given a program. It seems too impersonal to me. I want to connect to the reader. Using a program as intermediary distances me from the reader. And, as I suspected from the get-go, there are quizzes. Sigh.

KEEP THEM MOTIVATED is also an excellent suggestion. Feeding them books and then helping them become more independent in their selection seems logical. However, we turn again to a quiz as motivational. I never see an adult in a bookstore or book fair asking about whether or not there are quizzes available. I have never read a book time and again so I could take a quiz again (and most programs do not permit this in any event).

So, let's boil the advice down to the basics:

1. give kids choice in what they read.
2. if they do not know what they would like to read, let's talk to them about what is of interest to them and then help them find some books.
3. let's talk to them after they have read, or have them share their reading with classmates instead of taking a quiz.
4. let's provide more time by removing the need to quiz over chapters, etc.
5. let's read entire books.
6. let's share our own reading with kids.
7. let's talk about books to introduce them to kids.
8. let's make sure they have access to books in and out of school.
9. let's build classroom and school libraries.
10. let's read, read, read ourselves.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
03 February 2016 @ 10:35 am
I am growing tired of the edubabble of late. It is one thing for educators to use shorthand acronyms among ourselves. It is something entirely different when we seem to be creating edubabble so as to rebrand an idea and repackage it. Here is an example from a recent NCLE newsletter: http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/framework-capacity-building.

Deprivatizing? Really? Enacting? Shared Inquiry? This infographic could just as readily be labeled COLLABORATION. Then, the various aspects of collaboration could also receive simpler labels: observe, talk (or discuss), share, repeat. But then I could not use an asset inventory unless I use the new labels, right? Now I need new worksheets and checklists, and (I bet) anchor charts, etc.

There are numerous examples of this sleight of hand via edubabble. I joke sometimes that I would love to repackage something for the sake of sales (profits). Maybe we can give new labels to the parts of speech? Then we will need new texts and worksheets and posters for the classroom. Some eduformists have created new genres, new processes, new categories. Most of them are unnecessary. All seem to be profitable for those who rush to press with new and improved materials to cover them.

All this relabeling and repackaging does, IMHO, is distance what we do from students, parents, and the larger community. Instead, we should be working on eschewing the obfuscation: eliminating the edubabble, writing the content plainly, providing simple explanations.

All this comes on the heels of our state education agency pushing more and more requirements onto our plates. Our syllabi, already overcrowded and virtually meaningless to anyone outside of higher ed (except for assignments, points, grading scales, that is), now have to contain even more information. My syllabus for children's literature is over 13 pages long. Only one page is of interest to students. The content of that page: assignments (with links to examples and directions for completing them), grading scale, class policies (half of which are meaningless in an online forum; I mean, cell phone policy, really?).

Even the concept of having a syllabus seems a trifle outmoded and sort of wrong in this day of online instruction. I use an online platform to provide screencasts, sample assignments, etc. But, there still remains the need for a syllabus from the powers that be, those far removed from the classroom. Would it not be lovely if we could speak plainly, offer documents that are short and sweet and to the point, address the important aspects instead of all the minutiae?
Current Location: office
Current Mood: tiredtired
02 February 2016 @ 10:19 am
Chances are if you are reading this you are an educator. I also feel certain assuming you are an educator who cares about books and reading and readers. This does not make me psychic. I know the focus of my blog, and I know that someone not vested in teaching and books and reading might stumble here once but would not be likely to return time and again. I think I can make one more assumption without fear of contradiction: if you are reading this, you are a reader yourself. And that is important. Teachers who are readers: how could we be anything else?

Donalyn Miller and I are working on a book about reading and reader identity. Our discussions in person and online have raised some interesting questions. About 6 months ago, we had a conversations via messaging on our #fancyphones about identity and engagement. We talked about how we come to identify ourselves as readers (and writers, too) and wondered why everyone does not reach this same identity.

We know quite a bit about how readers come to reading. We know there are certain experiences likely to produce readers: reading aloud, choice, having an adult show interest in reading, models of reading, access to books, etc. But does everyone who shares these experiences develop into a lifelong reader? And do those who might miss out on some or all of these experiences come to identify as a reader? If so, how does that happen?

As you can see, these are some big questions. We continue to wrestle with them trying to piece together the roles of identity and engagement in this whole process. Sometimes I feel as though my admission of being a reader is part of a 12 step program: Hi, my name is Teri, and I am a reader. Admitting you are a reader may be step #1.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: wondering