I Wish Laryngitis on the Reformers

I wish laryngitis on all of the reformers. They need time to stop talking and start listening. I lost my voice last week with laryngitis. Although this made my demonstration lesson on how to speak publically a lesson in irony, it forced me to speak less and listen more.

My students seemed to listen better to my hoarse voice during me lessons last week. If their presentations on Monday are any indication, they understood more too. Their assignment was to present Prezumes, which are resumes made with Prezi to the class. The students spent 5 days putting their presentations together. I began each class with a 5 minute tutorial on using Prezi or public speaking. The goals of the Prezume-tations were to 1. be memorable and 2. be honest. I created a rubric for students to peer-grade one another based on the elements of public speaking we reviewed in class.

What happened on Monday was beyond my expectations. I introduced each student even though I sounded like Harvey Fierstein’s interpretation of Don Corleone. After each presentation, the students clapped and yelled “Positive reinforcement,” a part of our classroom culture created on the first day of school.

The presentations were memorable and honest as was discussed in days prior to the presentations. However, I could have not expected them to be as moving and inspirational as they were.

One student shared his dream of working in theatre, how over coming dysgraphia made him a faster typist, and showed how he worked up to a position of leadership and responsibility in the school’s theatre department. The presentation ended with an empty slide because his moment of greatness had yet to be reached.

Another student shared her impressive academic achievements reflected in a perfect grade point average. But even she is more than a score. She is part of a nationally recognized dance team, an award-winning flutist, and aspires to be a music teacher.

A third student’s presentation focused on his pursuits outside of the brick and mortar school house but were no less impressive. He creates music, flies on a skateboard, and drinks philosophy. His presentation included a video he created of him skateboarding that could have part of an ESPN feature.

The last student shared the journey, struggles, regrets, and dreams of a child uprooted from his home. It was riddled with spelling errors and used only basic features of Prezi. It ended with the loudest claps and the most “positive reinforcement” shouts.

The presentations were not perfect. But that’s the point; they did not need to be. All students start from where they are. It is the discover of what is not perfect, and journey to make what is imperfect better that gives meaning to students’ lives.. It gives the students a reason why to engage; because it matters to them.

Whether it is lack of imagination, financial gain, or indifference to our students’ futures, education reformers do not have the tools or hearts to improve what goes on within our schools any more than they can fix the brick and mortar outside. They do not have the tools, experience, or motivation to do either.

Transformative teachers, inspirational leaders, and informed parents can no longer allow this flight on a plane being built in the air to continue. Leaving no children behind has dragged the underfunded unfairly and has raised no students to new heights. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

From a reformer’s perspective, Monday’s class was a success because a special education student, an honors student, an African American student, and an ESL student completed a summative assessment using computer technology to address CC speaking, listening, and writing standards (which by the way, none of which are part of state tests). The students in my class listened to four peers share who they are and what they love to do with people who care about them. They inspired their classmates, increased their self-esteem, and evaluated their lives.

To listen, love, and inspire is a noble dream for school leaders to have. Perhaps if those who have assumed control listened with loving ears, they too could inspire.

Union Leaders Give Teachers Boot to the Forehead

christmas-story-6-5

Teaching is an act of service. Learning is a product of teaching. Education is the social/political system in which teaching and learning happens. If the focus of the educational system shifts from service to control or self-preservation, the system will be corrupted. Teaching would become a controlled input to manufacture learning as a measurable output.

Trying to control teaching with scripts, test prep, assumes the problems with learning can be measured with test scores. Trying to control learning with inflexible standards assumes the human mind can be standardized. Although it may be possible to standardize minds, why would anyone want to? Teachers do not want common students anymore than parents want common children.

The control approach to education is as dangerous to a child’s education as it to a local district’s budget.

It changes the reason for the school house from a place of teaching and learning to one of scripts and scores, neither of which is important to the people inside.

The education reform rhetoric belies the realities. Schools are not failing. The reality for teachers is the children in their classrooms with genuine needs, curiosities, problems, and dreams. Leaders in education such as Randi and Karen are responsible for protecting children first by representing the teachers’ voices, not to manipulate the message with robo calls in eleventh hour. Teachers’ voices have been silenced

For example, thousands of passionate children, teachers, and parents gathered from all over New York State in June of 2013 to show their united stand against Cuomo, Pearson, and the reformers. Then Randi screamed, “AND I SUPPORT THE COMMON CORE,” into the microphone. The gathered thousands froze in disbelief. And just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story after Santa tells him “You’ll shoot your eye out…” the collective spirits of the crowd were pushed down the slide with a boot to the forehead. Christmas in June was ruined.

The recent Time magazine cover depicted a gavel ready to crush a shiny new apple and 100,000 people signed a petition. The reasons for outrage over “bad teachers” is shared by teachers. Crushing the profession with well-funded attacks on tenure, unions, and schools with poor test scores will not fix the school house. It will perpetuate the negative system of control imposed by those without children in the school house. Service to children is the singular reason for everyone in education to act.

The actions needed are scary to many teachers and administrators because they fear losing the opportunity to do what they love and what they feel they were born to do. The irony is not acting will hasten what they fear. The steps for change require leadership to stand up for children, not just sit down with those in politics and business. Money accepted from grants will not protect children from the push to remove local control of districts.

A Tree for the Teacher

I always thought of a shiny red apple as the quintessential gift of thanks to a teacher. It is a symbol; recognition of the immense effort required to impart understanding to a learner. Fruit, in itself, is a product. It is the outcome of a laborious and beautiful process that requires time, energy and optimal conditions. Time magazine’s depiction of the teachers themselves as apples; rotten or otherwise, suggests a fundamental flaw in their view of teachers and the process of educating children.

Just the image of a teacher as an apple is offensive. All apples eventually rot. They are at the end of the cycle. If anything, teachers are the tree. They are always growing and changing. Sometimes they need some pruning, but they always have the ability to grow again with the proper environment. No one would argue that some trees are better than others, but the actual designation of which are good and bad is completely subjective. Some trees are good because of the quantity of fruit they produce. Others are good for the quality of their fruit. Others produce very little fruit, but are great at providing shade and shelter from a harsh environment. Some trees provide a place for children to climb, explore and be inspired. Trees offer new perspectives; each limb giving a different view of the world below.

Unlike trees, apples can only be consumed or thrown away. Time magazine should be presenting teachers as the producers, not the produce that is destined for the compost bin.

Common Core Math Adds Up, But Doesn’t Subtract Down

A recent study (http://www.redding.com/lifestyle/peek-into-brain-shows-how-kids-learn-math-skills) put brain scanners on children and watched how their brains learned Math. While Bill Gates is probably drooling at the thought, the study did confirm what many have long assumed- drilling students on math facts will pay off. “If your brain doesn’t have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.”

Knowing this information, one would assume the 21st century standards of college and career readiness would place a premium on memorizing math facts, but that is not the case. In fact, Common Core Math actually demands less fact memorization than the standards they replaced. Take Common Core Standards in NY, please just take them :) (Be forewarned, fluency and memorization are two separate ideas. A child can fluently subtract 400-388, but can’t do it from memory). Look at the first grade Math standards that are related to facts:

  • Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

In second grade, students are finally asked to memorize, but only addition facts with no mention of subtraction:

  • Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. (those listed in first grade) By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.

At least in the old standards, Math facts were introduced in grade 1 and were strengthened in grade two. The Common Core Math Standards never require a student to memorize subtraction facts and that simply doesn’t add up (or in this case- subtract down).

Stop Racing. Run.

Students run in my classroom, they do not race. Racing is dangerous with 34 teenagers in a classroom filled with desks and chairs.

Running can’t be measured with a multiple choice test, so I do not give multiple choice tests. When I did, I wrote them following the model that I experienced in some of my high school classes. Each question had one correct answer, one close answer, one bad answer, and one funny answer. I enjoyed writing multiple choice answers, but hated test days. Watching students struggle to recall the color of Holden’s hat from their reading was an effective measure of their memory and/or ability to cheat but little else. I learned that no bubble, no matter how completely filled in, can reveal students’ understanding.

So, I stopped giving on-demand assessments and used technology to create student “webfolios” that increased healthy communication among my students. The emphasis was switched to the students, their self-reflections, personal responsibility, and away from racing to finish a test.

My students learn that writing is a process, and their best writing will not happen in 40 minutes. They discover that sometimes the best way to learn something, is to try to teach it. They face their fear of public speaking. They experience the difference between argument and debate. They organize, plan, and execute. They embrace opportunities to lead their peers. They reflect frequently and share openly. By the end of the school year, they know the value of their school year is directly related to the effort they put in each day.

The finish line for my seniors is the end of their secondary run. I give out awards based on how they ran. When they leave my class it is usually for college, career, or the military. My hope is they will continue to run because they found something, not stop running because they lost a race.

The educational race error cannot continue. No Child Left Behind left millions of children behind. Race to the Top erased billions from the classroom, increased class sizes, and replaced teaching and learning with underfunding and over-testing.

Racing is dangerous in a classroom and devastating as the philosophy for an educational system. Children can grow strong by running for fun but too many will be crushed by racing for rigor. Teaching cannot be canned in a module. Childhood cannot be measured by a score. Our children are not common. Our students are not data points. Our schools are not for sale.

No more false accountability. No more punitive measures. No more racing. Go for a run in green laces and continue to effect change. Running brings people together. It raises awareness. If enough people run, we can effect change.

As one.

4 Not More Than 2

derek-jeter-GC

This may sound like a CC math problem, but it is more a solution to CC: How is 4 not more than 2?

Nearly 70% of children who took the NYS tests last year were given 2′s and below which is supposed to indicate that they are not college and career ready.

Derek Jeter, #2 on the Yankees has been one of the most ready players for the last 19 years. What’s in a number? A career by any other digit would have been just as sweet. While his statistics make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the immeasurable and intangible aspects of his game are what have made him “Jeets” to the millions of fans who will watch his final home game today. He is “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November.” He made “the flip,” “the dive,” and “the jump throw” even though he was not taught them from a script or a set of standardized plays.

Number 2 is more than the score of today’s game or the number of hits he has amassed during his career. He is the son of loving parents, a player on a baseball team, and the source of joy for millions of fans and rivals. Thanks DJ for always being ready. You have taught thousands of kids that being a 2 can no more stop a kid from reaching greatness than being a 4 guarantees it.

An On Demand Note About On Demand Writing

Each day, my son enters school with a smile. My hope is that he returns home in the same great spirits. I am afraid with endless quest for data, this simple hope is too much to ask.

In addition to the countless other assessments my second grade son is asked to take, the latest really has me scratching my head. Each student (K and up) is being asked to “on demand” write for 45 minutes on a genre that has not been taught. Imagine 5 , 6 and 7 year olds being asked to start every writing unit demonstrating something they have never been taught? Then, these students will spend a month or more working in that genre. They will use the writing process to develop and publish amazing pieces of writing and each unit will culminate in a Writing Celebration. The celebration ends when they are asked the very next day to write another “on-demand” piece to demonstrate their growth in this genre. I find this practice to be redundant and unnecessary. The issue is further complicated on the following day when the cycle resets and they are asked to write another “on demand” piece without receiving a single day of instruction in the next genre. Here is how each unit will present itself:

  •  On demand writing without receiving any lessons in the genre. 45 mins
  •  Lessons are given in genre. 1-2 months
  • Piece is published. 1 week
  •  On demand piece after receiving lessons. 45 minutes
  •  On demand piece in new genre without receiving any lesson in the genre. 45 minutes

What drives quality instruction during these writing units is the continual conferring that occurs between student and teacher as well as small group instruction to target any needs children may have. I do not see the value in adding beginning and end of unit “on-demand” pieces when our writing workshops are already structured to show student growth. A challenging part of teaching writing is getting students to love it and I fear that adding these many on-demand writing assignments will stymie that love for my son and his second grade friends.

Rather than demanding writing of 5, 6, and 7 year olds, we should be encouraging and inspiring them to write. Through a multiple year portfolio system, we can discuss and plan based on what our students can do instead of what they can’t.

On demand writing provides the same prompt for 5 year olds as 13 years olds (picture below). Clearly, not much thought went into this and there is no way this can be researched based. I hope somewhere along the way they realize that on demand writing is not supported by a single Common Core standard in the lower grades. This is test prep at its finest and writing at its worst.

My 45 minutes are up.

1395201_10202202150633142_1029835216_n

Lace to the Top 

@lacetothetop on Twitter

Teacher to Parent

Dear Parents:

As we begin another school year, we would like to set your minds at ease about a few things.  First and foremost, please know that we are not upset about going back to work.  We love teaching and consider it the most rewarding profession in the world.

We look forward to meeting your children.  We know that everyone has quirks.  Some people are cranky in the morning.  Some people are nervous to speak in front of people.  Some people need an extra smile of reassurance every now and again.  We promise to do our best to understand your children and make our classrooms places where they feel comfortable, appreciated, and happy.

It is the needs of the students in our classes that dictate the pace and content of our lessons. “One-size-fits-all” is for ponchos, not education.

We see you as teammates, not adversaries, and we hope that you see us the same way. We know that you know your children best, and we appreciate when you share your observations about how your children are managing the demands of our classes. An open dialogue between us is necessary for success.

We take cues from the students about what works and what doesn’t work and adjust our methods accordingly.  Our goal is not to simply get through a lesson.  Our goal is to make sure your children are engaged every step of the way.

We are concerned about the future of public education and we are taking active roles in preserving what we believe to be the right of all children to have high quality, meaningful education that will prepare them for their own unique long-term goals.

Take a deep breath, parents. Have faith in our ability to maintain our focus on educating your children in the face of the many obstacles being thrown in our way.  We have not given up.  We will continue to support your children in the classroom and fight for them outside of the classroom.  Most of all, we thank you for trusting us with your babies—whether they are in kindergarten or twelfth grade—and we promise to take good care of them.

Respectfully,

Teachers

Lace to the Top Response to Daily News Op-Ed

In Gregory Cizeck’s article, he makes many claims.  After he is done telling us how wonderful he is, he prepares readers to be amazed by his analysis of NYS Common Core testing.  Instead of wowing us with data, he tells a bizarre story about… baseball. He then gets way up on the soap box and tells us NYS Pearson Common Core tests”are unquestionably the most accurate, least biased, time and cost-efficient tests…”  Having never seen the tests and without access to technical reports, I wonder how he can make such claims?     

Although Greg seems more concerned about the color of my laces than the actual data presented, I would like to offer additional support for the blog that Gregory referenced. Greg may claim that NYS is simply “equating” and that the scores are tweaked to compare tests across multiple years.  Well, riddle me this one Greg- why is “equating” only done on the pass/fail cut score of 2/3.  Take a look at the third grade ELA.  No equating done on level 1 or 4.  Why only equate levels 2 and 3?  Ohhh that’s right, this is the level that determine if a student is proficient or not.  

Greg, you are always welcome to join our group and wear green laces. Seriously.

 

(2013 on the left and 2014 on the left)

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 9.42.25 PM

 

Lace to the Top 

Join on Facebook

Follow @lacetothetop on Twitter

Put on green laces & let students know they are more than a score.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,726 other followers