18 July 2014

May and June 2014 Reads

Now that we're half way through July, I'm finally taking time to write about my May and June Reads. I've been traveling for work and pleasure, and reading up a storm but have been taking less time to write. Hopefully, now that I'm home for several weeks I'll get back into my regular writing routine. I'm on a nonfiction reading roll again (if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you won't be surprised). As I have said many times before, I do enjoy fiction and poetry, but I read more nonfiction than I do fiction.

Though biography/memoir nonfiction encompassed a large chunk of what I've read for the past two months, I've also taken the time to read two more professional books. In May, I read a book by my current boss who enjoys empowering women (something I, too, believe is important).  I read the e-version of Become Your Own Great and Powerful: A Woman's Guide to Living Your Real, Big Life by Barbara Bellissimo.  I especially enjoyed the vignettes in each section of the book because they offered a chance for me to learn about real women encountering real problems and coming up with real solutions in their lives--inspiring!

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink had been on my Goodreads to-read bookshelf for several months, and since it was forever on hold for the paper copy of the book at the public library, I ended up reading an e-book version on my I-pad.  I appreciated the journalistic research and writing and found myself always questioning both sides of the ongoing arguments presented throughout the book. Issues of medical ethics are increasingly interesting to me as I grow older.

Things a Little Bird Told Me:  Confessions of the Creative Mind by Biz Stone was a quick and easy read, and I enjoyed the business tidbits presented, especially since there was a focus on humanity. Fortunately, the public library had a hard back copy of this on the newly released shelf. You can read my entire post on the book (link above) to know more thoughts about this one.

Several months ago I read an article in The New York Times by Amanda Lindhout about her kidnapping and 15 months in captivity in Somalia. Since reading that article, her book had been on my to-read list.  A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett was heart wrenching, but it also provided hope because of the way Lindout was able to forgive and understand that the people who kidnapped her were just boys who had grown up in a violent country. In some of her darkest hours of captivity when experiencing pain and abuse, she imagined herself in a house in the sky. The hope from the book also comes from knowing Lindhout went on to establish a foundation where she gives back to women and children and regularly advocates for and speaks about social responsibility and women's rights.


My growing and ongoing interest in culture and life in other parts of the world brought me to  My Accidental Jihad:  A Love Story. Krista Bremer's memoir of her marriage to a man from Lybia and her experimentation with Islam was fascinating. Fortunately, our public library had a copy of this book, so I checked it out and read it in a single day while flying out west for work. The fact that the book involved different locations was perfect for my own insatiable need to travel. Starting with Bremer surfing in California, moving to North Carolina, and visiting her husband's home country of Lybia, there are plenty of interesting cultural situations and geographical locales. 

While following stories of nonsensical violence in the news, I was reminded of the Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head at a public event, so I picked up a copy of Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly from my local library and read it within a few days. You can read more about my thoughts on this book at the link above.

For years I have enjoyed reading about women (and men) who overcome great feats because of their determination, persistence, and desire to prove to themselves they can accomplish their dreams, so when we were discussing an education summit my workplace will organize in the fall, someone brought up Tori Murden McClure from Louisville, KY. As I researched this woman, I learned that she was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Even though she failed on her first attempt, she persisted, tried again, and accomplished her goal. The story was inspiring because of the good reminder that we might not accomplish something the first time we try, but we absolutely must try again. We learn through our failures. It took me only a few days to read McClure's book, A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.


Feeling empowered after reading McClure's book, I decided to re-read the e-version of Trusting Teachers with School Success by Kim Ferris-Berg, Edward J Dirkswager, and Amy Junge. One of my professional goals in life is to be part of opening a teacher-powered school in Kentucky. I've been thinking about it and researching the possibilities for several years now, and most recently, I've met other teachers who are also interested. It's just a matter of time (and a ton of work ahead) now, but I'm ready.

My interest in the ocean and survival stories led me to Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan which I also read in e-version. Only after I read the book and was telling a colleague about it did I learn that Steven Callahan served as a consultant for The Life of Pi  (a movie I never did see). What I enjoy about books like this are the author/survivor's drive to live and survive under the most dire circumstances with little food and water and with the dangers of the ocean always present.

Goodreads has been a perfect application for me to explore books that interest me, so when Rebecca Solnit's book  The Faraway Nearby popped up as a recommendation for me based on my nonfiction reading interests I immediately checked it out from the library and spent a week reading this series of essays about stories and life. I found myself using post-its to mark passages about empathy, loss, and humanity. After reading the series of essays, I started back at the beginning of the book to read the one entire essay written in ticker fashion at the bottom of each page, and I loved the uniqueness of that essay format.

I'm already well into my July reads, so stay tuned.  Happy reading.

08 July 2014

Beware of Individualized Instruction

Imagine a six year old child sitting in a cubicle for seven hours a day completing workbooks each day all year. When I see some people celebrate computer programs and students working at their own computers, I worry that some children will end up much like I did as a child. Now, I had many irregularities in my k-12 schooling, including the fact that kindergarten through high school graduation, I attended 22 different schools in those 13 years, including 3 different schools my fifth grade year.  When I started school, I attended a public kindergarten with a teacher who dressed up like a pumpkin for Halloween. By the end of the school year, my parents decided it wasn't best for me to attend a public school where I could be influenced by secular thoughts. So, they enrolled me in a religious school that used ACE curriculum. Let me tell you what that looked like for the next five critical years of my life.  I sat (as did all the other children) in a cubicle for seven hours a day and completed workbooks (called PACES). We were not allowed to talk or turn around in our seats or we would receive demerits that would require us to miss out on our precious 10 minute breaks from the cubicle that were permitted one time in the morning and one time in the afternoon.  The rules were so strict that my young body had difficulty adjusting biologically and I even experienced a humiliating incident.

Each year we had to work through twelve workbooks (called PACES) for each basic subject.  We read passages, answered questions, and memorized passages or scriptures we had to recite orally to the adult monitors. At the end of each workbook we took a test that determined if we had memorized enough information from the workbook and could move on to the next workbook.  This, for the formidable years of my life, was my primary education.  Then, in the middle of fifth grade my family moved a few times.  The first time I again went to a religious school, but the second time, I went to a public school again for the first time since kindergarten.  Not only was I shocked by the non religious surroundings, I didn't know how to interact in a classroom setting either. My world was officially rocked--big time. I was behind academically because all that memorization of facts did nothing to ensure my understanding of fractions, evolution, or A Wrinkle in Time (all new topics I encountered in 5th grade). For the next five years I attended multiple public schools in several different states.  Then in my tenth grade year, I again attended one of those ACE schools and spent all of my tenth grade year in a cubicle memorizing meaningless facts. Fortunately, by then, I had become more well adjusted socially and I made great friends (one with whom I stay in contact to this day). By eleventh grade we were in another new state, and I was back in public school again where I thrived in career tech/business classes and was an active member of the FBLA.  Academically, however, I wasn't at the top of my game.  Sure, my grades were fine, but I took all basic classes and the easiest math and science courses I could to graduate.  My counselor told me I was a hopeless cause and would never go to college. (Boy, did that make me want to prove him wrong--and, of course, I did). Certainly, all the moves contributed to my mediocre academic performance, but I still believe the so-called individualized instruction I received in my early years put me on a pathway to struggle academically. The individualized workbook approach did not work for me at all.

Flash forward twenty years when I observed at a public school and heard the faculty proclaim with great joy how proud they were of the individualized instruction at their school. I walked in to see students sitting at computers completing online modules for their coursework.  I have to admit I shuddered inside because it took me back to those cubicles of my childhood where I had no learning interaction with classmates or a teacher. The only difference I could see was that they were doing their work using technology instead of paper and pencil. 

Earlier this week, when I read this blog post by Chris Crouch about the direction of learning, it reminded me of my childhood and my recent visit to the school where the faculty proclaimed innovative practice with technology. I became a teacher sixteen years ago so I could contribute to better learning systems than what I experienced, and I persist in the education field now because I want more children to have meaningful learning experiences.  Yes, we need innovation, but we also need authentic learning.

02 July 2014

Professional Learning Journey

My days have been especially full since my last post, and though I thought often about posting a new blog entry, I have been deep in thought and in work, and haven't taken the time to write.  One of the opportunities I had last week was to participate in a state wide conversation about professional learning in Kentucky.  As preparation for that event, we were asked to prepare a timeline to represent our professional journey.  At the meeting, we shared our timelines, and my friend and colleague shared her creative professional learning timeline.  Not surprisingly, I was impressed and asked Cindy if she would share her timeline in a guest blog post to inspire others.  I know she inspired me, and I hope to re-think my professional journey using a similar format.  If you decide to do the same, I hope you will share.

Enjoy & never stop learning, creating, and leading!

Guest Post by Cindy Parker

“A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child...I do not know what it is any
   more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrance designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see
   And remark, and say Whose?” Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

When I started high school, my brother, who is 17 years older than me and a poet, introduced me to Walt Whitman’s poetry.  I remember pondering the strange, wonderful words and form contained in Leaves of Grass.  He has remained one of, if not my favorite poet. So recently, when assigned a task at work to create a professional learning timeline of my journey and experiences with teaching and education, I knew what best represented my journey—Whitman’s words.

I created my timeline using the preface in an old college-student edition purchased at Half-Price Books. My timeline began with my student teaching, then first year of teaching in 1988, both at Harrodsburg High School.  I circled the word “literature” because like all secondary English teachers, I thought that’s what I would be doing as a teacher—teaching the literature I loved. 

Throughout my timeline, I added the names of those who most influenced me as a professional.  In those first years, that was one of my college professors, who served as my university supervisor during student teaching, Jan Isenhour, who would later serve as my instructor in the Bluegrass Writing Project, and who I admired greatly throughout my teaching career.  The second name at the beginning of the timeline is Don Pelly, a biology teacher who served as my KTIP (internship year) mentor.  He was a great mentor, colleague and is still someone I am honored to call a friend, even after we both left HHS in 1998.

A few other highlights from my timeline are colleagues I’ve mentored, such as Monica. I circled “Past and present and future…” because we have continued to work and learn together as friends and colleagues since her first year at Washington County and now at the Kentucky Department of Education.  NBCT appears on my timeline for 2002, the year I achieved National Board Certification, one of the best professional learning experiences I engaged in as a teacher. Renee Boss is among the names recorded along my timeline because of her influence on my growth as a professional, as a colleague whose vision and enthusiasm encourages me, and as someone I love to learn alongside and call a friend.

Something I noticed about my timeline is that the last few years have been packed—with people, with activities, and with new learning.  I circled “progress” and wrote “coherence” as the bringing together of all of this learning. It’s been an exciting time in the last few years to be in education with so many changes.

The final words of the preface sum up this phase of my career, as I enter my 27th year in education and continue to learn, grow, and meet new challenges.  Many find Whitman’s focus on the individual boastful and audacious; I find it refreshing and uplifting and what an educator should strive to be:

“An individual is as superb as a nation when he has the qualities which make a superb nation. The soul of the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go half-way to meet that of its poets.  The signs are effectual. There is no fear of mistake. If the one is true the other is true.  The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.”