31 December 2015

Book a Week 2015

 Cheers to another great year of reading!

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing by Vicki Davis
The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools, edited by Suzanne Plaut

Fiction & Nonfiction (Essays and Stories)
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks
Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
Running for Women Over 40 by Kathrine Switzer
Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential by Dan Pallotta

Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath by Mimi Alford
What Color is Your Parachute? Guide to Rethinking Resumes by Richard N. Bolles
Say This, Not That: A Foolproof Guide to Effective Interpersonal Communication by Carl Alasko
The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
Boston Strong: A City's Triumph Over Tragedy by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge
American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander
The Book Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books
Creative Schools:  The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do by Amy Morin
The English Teacher's Companion by Jim Burke

What Connected Educators Do Differently by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, Jeffery Zoul
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman
The Big Tiny: A Do-It Myself Memoir by Dee Williams
Almost Somewhere: 28 Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts
Mountains, Madness, and Miracles: 4,000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail by Lauralee Bliss

Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie

Exposed: Tragedy and Triumph in Mountain Climbing by Brad and Melissa McQueen
10 Habits of Bloggers That Win by Vicki Davis
Teaching Reading in Middle School by Laura Robb

Transforming Schools Using Project Based Learning, Performance Based Assessment, & Common Core State Standards by Bob Lenz, Justin Wells, and Sally Kingston
Solo by Hope Solo
Last Hours on Everest by Graham Hoyland
Self-Help style book about personal topic (Sometimes we all need these, right?)

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning bBonnie Lathram, Carri Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark
The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for The Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith
Avalanche and Gorilla Jim: Appalachian Trail and Other Tales by Albert Dragon
Lonely Planet's USA's Best Trips (Travel Guide)
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
10 Habits of Truly Optimistic People: Power Your Life with the Positive by David Mezzapelle
Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez

Euphoria by Lily King

The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughn
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis
The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging by The Huffington Post Editors
Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed by Charles Fadel, Maya Bialik, & Bernie Trilling
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

To read about my 2014 journey--check here.
To read a complete list of all the books I read in 2014 click here.
To read my favorite books from 2014 click here.
To read my favorite books read in 2015 click here.
To read my response to how I have time to read a book a week click here.

28 December 2015

Favorite Books I Read in 2015

Wrapping up another year reading a book a week, I thought I'd take the time to share reasons why the ten books listed here are my favorites from the 52 books I read in 2015. My reading this list year included books read for fun and books for professional and personal growth.

My favorite books read for fun in 2015

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

With all the conversations about immigration in America right now I think it's important that we remember people and their stories. In this novel, Henriquez's characters tell their stories and reasons for coming to the United States. One character says "We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them." Check out the short review I wrote for Cake and Whiskey Magazine's blog here.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

This book makes the list because, well, because I'm not funny and Amy Poehler is. Honestly, I avoided this book for the longest time because I never really followed Amy Poehler carefully and wasn't sure I'd enjoy her humor, but when I had to drive to the other side of our state (10 hours round trip) for the second time in one month's time span, I knew I needed something other than my thoughts and music to occupy the time. Cue the audio book version of Yes Please. Poehler's humor was just what I needed in those ten hours, and each time I stopped I could hardly wait to get back in the car for more life wisdom from this comedian. No review from me on this one, but check out this fun review from another blogger.

Exposed: Tragedy and Triumph in Mountain Climbing 
by Brad and Melissa McQueen

Coincidentally, the authors of this book were in Steamboat Springs for a talk at a local bookstore at the same time we were there this summer. Their book kept me on the edge of my seat; I read it in two days while vacationing in Steamboat Springs. It's not just the adventure and beautiful scenery that keeps me reading books like this. I also appreciate the perseverance and experiential learning the authors share in their journey.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 

For years I've followed Lamott's writing but hadn't read Bird by Bird, so when I received the book for Christmas in 2014, my 2015 reading journey started with this one. Terrific start to my year with numerous quotes applicable to life. Read more about what I thought of the book here.

Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail 
by Jennifer Pharr Davis

My interest in hiking/adventure memoirs continues and I read several more this year including Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis. This was her first book about her early journeys on the AT. You can read about her record setting AT hike in Called Again. You can read my short review for Cake and Whiskey magazine's blog here.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

This memoir reminds you of the importance of being grateful for life, and it helps you appreciate creativity while also maintaining hope. I blogged about the book for Cake and Whiskey and then wrote a follow up post around Thanksgiving on my own blog because this book had just that much impact on me. It's one of those books I won't forget.

Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie
Another favorite novel I enjoyed this year included Amercanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. This was the first book I've read by Adichie, and I suspect it won't be the last. Her ideas resonate with me, and I appreciate her writing style too. This was another book I blogged about for Cake and Whiskey.

My favorite books read for professional growth in 2015

Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

This book by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith probably had the biggest impact on me professionally because of the multiple opportunities I have had to see the film and to meet Dintersmith. His ongoing passion for reimagining education is incredibly authentic and refreshing. For more information check out this blog post about Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for The Innovation Era.

Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning 
by Bonnie Lathram, Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark

This book had the biggest impact on me as a parent and a blogger because Getting Smart contacted me through my blog to see if I would be interested in reviewing the book. Not only was it fun to review and promote the book, I enjoyed the wealth of information available for parents and educators, and I learned about the Smart Parents movement. You will feel empowered if you read this book...so go for it!

What Connected Educators Do Differently
by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, and Jefferey Zoul

There's really no comparing the amount of reach and connection this book has brought me. First of all, I wrote this post about how the book describes my own journey as a connected educator. Second of all, the authors are engaging and encouraging, and they even participated in a book Twitter chat I hosted this year. Finally, amazingly, somehow, my blog post about this book skyrocketed to the number one most read blog post in my four years of blogging. Really, if you are not connected much yet you should read this short and informative book right away.

26 December 2015

Year in Review: 10 Most Popular Posts of 2015

In just a few days I'll mark the 4th year of my blogging journey. This year brought numerous requests for presentations on blogging with several more anticipated in 2016. No doubt these requests and my most popular blog posts would not be possible without you, my readers. If you haven't yet joined the blogosphere consider making 2016 your year. Let these ten most popular posts of 2015 serve as inspiration. Even if these topics aren't in your wheelhouse find your passion and your voice and share it with us all because blogging doesn't have to be polished like an essay; it's a great opportunity to creatively express your views.

Here at Learning to Muse popular posts in 2015 include book reviews, posts about my sons and posts about my professional passion of re-imagining public education.

#10 Dreaming of a Teacher Powered School
Call it a long shot, but I've taken steps toward realizing this dream by forming a team of students, teachers, and administrators creating a concept and designing a proposal to rethink high school in the XQ Super School Project. And, you? What thoughts can you add about how our public education system needs to change?

#9 As My Oldest Son Starts High School, Here's What I'm Thinking

This post brought comments on social media from other parents faced with sending their children to high school or even to kindergarten (since the photo with the original post included one of my son on his first day of kindergarten). Update: We're off to a great start as my son had a strong finish to his first semester of high school. He started the year by advocating for himself and landing in a specific science class he desired; he's performing well in all of his classes and he mostly keeps up with his progress without much pestering from us. He likes English class for the first time; we suspect it's helped that the assistant cross country coach is also his 9th grade English teacher.

Who doesn't love Colorado? With all the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, you won't be disappointed. Since I've been collaborating with colleagues in Colorado for the past few years they assured me our trip to Steamboat Springs would be fantastic. Of course, we were not disappointed. Our incredible family trip with relatives included multiple hiking opportunities. We loved Steamboat Springs and even found ourselves dreaming about a move to Colorado (Oh wait, it wasn't just this trip--I've been thinking about a move to Colorado for several years now).

If you're a writer or a reader follow Anne Lamott on Facebook for witty and wise commentary on being a better version of yourself. I kicked off 2015 reading Bird by Bird and sharing some of my favorite quotes. Not included in that post was another favorite quote-- "For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth...They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die." I also think they show us how to be better writers which is one of the many reasons why I personally choose to read at least one book a week.

Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler share strategies for engaging students in using technology to create and connect. Gaining increasing momentum in America is the Student Voice (#stuvoice) movement connecting students across schools, districts, and even states. Fortunately, my youngest son has even joined the fun with our Kentucky statewide group, and he's learning and connecting with other students also interested in improving public education.

As parents and educators, Deanna and I share experiences both of us have had with our sons, and we also share multiple links to resources for upping your game as a writing instructor. This post is fun for parents or educators (or both).

If you haven't read this book or seen the film, you are missing out. Dintersmith and Wagner provide details and ideas for how we can re-imagine public education in America. Further, they provide statistics and examples of why we need to change public education. Follow Dintersmith's blog for information about his ongoing book tour and personal mission to push education change.

Read this particular and very popular post for suggested blogs to follow and read. After joining National Blogging Collaborative as a volunteer writing coach this year, I personally found myself connected to even more bloggers--all on a mission to elevate the voices of teachers. If you do decide to get started with blogging this year, check out the free supports available from NBC

In one amazing week, this post became my second most popular read blog post of all time (not just number 2 this year). In case you missed it, I'm sharing it here again so you can learn ideas for student-centered learning. Fellow parents--this book is for you, too, because we can learn more about how our children learn from us about how to persevere, set goals, and persist through challenges.

Even after 4 years of blogging, this one post skyrocketed to the number one place of all blog posts at Learning to Muse. This post is for educators specifically, especially those looking to connect with others.

13 December 2015

Read Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School If You Want to Make Immediate Changes in Your Classroom

Three months ago, I ran across a social media feed where a woman bemoaned the word hack saying it should be used only when talking about a terrible cough or trying to get into a computer system illegally. While those might be more traditional dictionary definitions of the word, the word hack is common in technology and education circles today. The New Yorker dates the playful (white hat) use of the word to 1955 at M.I.T. in this March 2014 articleWhile I'm not sure how hack permeated the education world, I'm guessing it started in ed tech circles. I found myself using hack once in a conversation with an educator in a rural district and quickly realized she perceived negative connotations, so I tried to explain myself. Too bad I hadn't yet come across the Hack Learning series. The first book I read in the series, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, conveys an optimist tone throughout as the authors offer practical can-do now tips to transform teaching and learning.

Barnes and Gonzalez suggest that we don't need to wait for new policy changes, district decisions, or school leaders to change our work as educators. Each of the 10 ideas (hacks) solves problems using ordinary and readily available objects, systems, and people. The authors show others how to creatively address problems by repurposing and reimagining resources. They encourage us to behave like a hacker.
"Embrace the concept of iteration, of continually reviewing and reworking a solution until it becomes the perfect fit for your particular needs."

Each chapter tackles a different problem, offers a solution, provides suggestions for implementation, shares advice for dealing with pushback, and provides examples of the hack in action. 

The problems

  1. Time consuming meetings
  2. Little to no opportunity to observe fellow teachers
  3. No peace and quiet (especially a problem for introverts)
  4. Classroom management
  5. Lack of tech support
  6. Teacher turnover
  7. Flipped learning doesn't always work
  8. Students aren't reading enough
  9. Learning isn't shared beyond classroom walls
  10. Students referred to as data points

Read about creative solutions for all problems represented in the book while you feel a positive culture of ongoing learning coming from the authors. From student run tech-teams to anecdotal data records as a means for knowing your students better to glass classrooms focused on student-centered learning, the authors share practical ways to overcome problems with simple solutions and specific ideas for immediate implementation. No need to wait until next semester or next year. You can implement these hacks now. 

One of my favorite hacks includes the use of student tech gurus to solve the lack of technology support available in schools. 
"Apart from troubleshooting, a team of student tech gurus can also work proactively, training students and staff in basic skills, so the whole school learns together." 

Think about how much your students already know and can do with technology and what they might teach you and your colleagues. From a parent perspective, I also imagine my own son would thrive on a student tech team if offered the opportunity.

Another hack I really like is the Track Record for recording specific objective observations about student behavior. I especially appreciate the focus on recording positive behavior. For example, if a student has problems with being tardy, record how many times she/he is on-time in a week, instead of how many times the student is late. The idea is if the system is put into place with good intentions and is managed well, it's likely to reduce behavior problems. 

Finally, I must mention the Book Nook, and though this idea is not necessarily novel, the idea that the books are gifts, not loaners, is new to me. This minor difference is almost magical, especially for students who don't have many books in their homes. The idea is also simple, easy to implement and focused on building a culture of readers in a school. 

"For every person who sniffs that an idea is "nothing new," there are ten more who have never heard of it. It's the variations, the iterations, that can make an old idea fresh again."

The word hack belongs because the concept is on improving education through a process of multiple iterations and scaling change. I certainly look forward to reading other books in this series. How about you--have you read any of the books in the Hack Learning series? 

29 November 2015

Rethinking Literacy Instruction

As parents, educators, and community members, we must collaborate to change literacy instruction in many of our nation's public schools. Over Thanksgiving weekend, a friend and high school English teacher sent me a piece she wrote to express her frustration with Accelerated Reader. I, too, am not a fan of AR because I think it contributes to what Kelly Ghallager calls "readicide." I asked Summer if I could post a portion of what she shared with me on this blog because I think you, readers, will appreciate Summer's sentiments and will offer your own ideas about how we can move forward and keep from feeling powerless. I remain committed to my idea that if we read up, team up, and speak up, we can and will change public education for the better.

Guest Blog Post by Summer Garris

“Mama, if I get finished reading my AR book, can I please have a little time to read Ungifted tonight?”

“We’ll see if we have time,” I say making myself concentrate on the peppers and mushrooms I’m chopping.  The truth is, inside of me I’m seething.

Sage and I have struggled to acclimate to the AR reading program and processes they use in his school.  It took us a full nine weeks to figure out that he had weekly reading AR point goals that were calculated, we’re told, based on his reading level.  Although one notice said that his reading independently for 30 minutes a night should allow him to meet these goals (which makes sense), this has not been the case.  He reads for his 30 minutes independently, and inevitably, I read to him for 30 minutes to an hour every night, so that he can take his multiple choice book test by Thursday to meet his requirements. 

We had an incident the week of Valentine’s Day.  Despite our nightly binge reading of this horribly trite novel, we had not finished the book.  Since missing his point goal for the week meant missing the Valentine’s party, he took the test on a Wednesday even though he had not finished reading the book.  He failed the test, and then realized that there would be no way to gain his required points in time to ensure he could attend his party. He was devastated, and I could not fathom that this mistake could actually keep him from exchanging paper Valentines and candy with his friends.  I decided to talk to his teachers.

I asked the teachers questions like, “If he finds a book that he really loves that is longer and takes him more than 30 minutes of independent reading each night, can he wait until he finishes the book in order to take his test?” 

His teacher replied, “If the book is too long for him to finish in the allotted time, he should choose shorter books, so he can earn his weekly point goals.”

I thought she misunderstood my question.  “No, I mean, if he picks out a longer book, one that he wants to read, one that takes him more time to read, and he is reading each night, he can wait until he finishes it before he takes his test, right? “

“No,” she replied, “he has to meet those point goals.”

It’s not the reading that upsets me, it is what and how we read.  This business with the book, Ungifted, kind of sums it up.  He picked out this book at the book fair. It is about a boy who invents robots and, according to the back of the book, conducts some kind of experiment on his sister that goes awry.  If you know Sage, you know why this book excites him. 

We started the book a few nights ago, taking turn reading a page.  In the few pages we’ve read together, he’s learned the words “cope,” “justify,” and “inevitably.”  He looked up and read about Atlas, so he could know what the statue looked like that the character accidentally destroyed.  We read together one passage from the point of view of main character Donovan:.  . . when a think is right there in front of me, and I can kick it, grab it, shout it out, jump into it, paint it, launch it, or light it on fire, it’s like I’m a puppet on a string, powerless to resist.  He and I both started to giggle.  He didn’t have to tell me that he deeply identified with this character.  “What’s a puppet on a string mean?” he asked.  Before I could answer, he answered for himself, “Oh, wait – I get it, like the horse puppet GG got me at Derby, right? It’s a simile!”  I glowed inside, the educator inside of me checking of literacy skills as we continued to read.  This is what “engaging in a text” looks like!

This isn’t the only engaging literacy experience I’ve watched my son experience.  From five years old to seven, he was obsessed with the Encyclopedia of Snakes.   When I allowed the kids to pick out a book before bed (for fun – not points), he would ask me to read about some species.  Though snakes are certainly not my favorite subject, it was exciting to watch him make connections with the information.  At the sport hunting store, he checked out the 3D camouflaged shirts.  “Look, this shirt is like keeled scales on a rattle snake.  The different surfaces make it easier to blend in.” 

When he heard about Nikoli Tesla, he spent hours reading (and taking notes) on his new hero.  Twenty four hours later, he asked me if he could build a Teslacoil, and showed me his diagrams where he had calculated how many volts of battery power he would need to create the necessary charge.  I later realized he neglected to take an AR test on his teacher read class book that day.  I guess the idea of a Telacoil was just more exciting than those 10 multiple choice questions.  (We binge read an AR book just in time to allow him to get his banana split on Friday anyway).
Seeing him engage in literacy delights me.  But, this Ungifted book poses a logistical problem in our house.  The book is above his reading level, and so, he can’t read it for points toward his AR goal. 

With the hustle and bustle of weeknights, if he is to meet his AR point goal, we won’t have time to read it most evenings. There’s so little time to read all the wonderful books available anyway; it saddens me that pumping out AR points keeps him from such experiences.  While visiting his school one day, I sat waiting in the library.  I happened to notice a book titled Incredible Plants.  I remembered his fascination with the corpse flower when he read about it in a Weird Facts almanac (another book he loves, but isn’t worth “points.”)  He would love this book, I mused remembering him asking, “Mama, do you think we could grow a corpse flower in the green house?”  I picked up the book to read the back.  The book featured all kind of gross and weird plants.  I flipped it over and looked inside the cover; it wasn’t AR.  I put the book back on the shelf.    

This AR mania apparently doesn’t just supersede our “at home” literary experiences.   If I ask my son what he did in his classes, he tells me the same story nearly every day.  He reads AR books, takes AR tests, and his teacher reads AR books to him for him to take tests.  Rewards day at his school, holiday parties in class, banana splits in class, the photographs in the hallways of the high achievers, the end of the year sleep over celebration are all for what?  Gaining AR points. 

My child’s elementary literacy instruction has become a race to choke down random books to gain AR points.  And these points are gained by taking multiple choice tests that ask trite knowledge level questions that in no way engage readers in critical thinking.  How can this be?

The new Common Core standards emphasize needs for students to engage in texts, to evaluate texts, to write about texts, to access their schema, to make inferences, and to engage in conversations about the text.  As the state department rolled out these standards, they provided us resources in order to change our teaching practices in order to meet these standards.   

The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) provides modules designed to help teachers acclimate to the required coherent approach to teaching literacy.  It provides templates for teachers to design lessons that allow students to read and analyze texts and to use and synthesize the knowledge they gain from this thinking to solve problems.

Then, there are reading and literature circles.  There are so many amazing resources that lay out units that allow students to discuss and engage in texts.    Models have them illustrating favorite scenes, asking characters questions, finding new words to discover, and asking their peers questions.  In such a context they are thinking about what they are reading, making connections to their schema, and all the while, improving their literary competence. 

Why are these initiatives not happening at my child’s school?  Why am I going to tell him that by the time we eat our pizza, take showers, and read another installment of this AR book, we won’t be able to find out if Donovan gets in trouble for the Atlas statue incident?  And, why do I feel so powerless to change it? 

25 November 2015

Grateful for Creativity, Life, and Hope

I remember fondly listening to Elizabeth Alexander read her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama's first inauguration. Newly out of the classroom, I watched with a colleague from a television at Capital Plaza Tower in Frankfort. After the hearing the poem, my colleague, also a former teacher, turned to me and said "can't you just imagine several days worth of lessons from that poem"? Yes. I said. I could imagine students engaging in conversations about the poem and the historic day. You see, when we study poetry and art we connect our experiences to universal ideas. Art offers us a way to express ourselves freely. Art offers hope and life.

The same year Elizabeth Alexander read her poem for the inauguration, I met her here in Lexington, Kentucky at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. She participated in a conversation with other women writers and then read her poems for us at a keynote session. All these memories came back to me when I recently read her memoir The Light of the World. My review posted on the Cake and Whiskey blog today.

In addition to appreciating Alexander's beautiful language, free-expression, and artistry, regular readers of my blog will understand I also appreciated Alexander's mention of her late husband's dream of opening a school..."a school about self-expression...it will be great seeds for healing and peace." I, too, dream of opening a school, a school where we explore creativity and students' interests, a school that offers hope for inequitable situations in life. I also dream of public schools reimagining their approach and offering all students equal learning opportunities.

Since I learned recently that the Ford Foundation named Elizabeth Alexander as director of their Creativity and Free Expression program, I decided to check out other work happening at the Ford Foundation and was pleasantly surprised to see that they also seek creative ways to target drivers of inequality and improve the world. It's refreshing to see a large organization with a focus on improving humanity. In addition to their program for creativity and expression, they also have programs for youth opportunity and learning.

Equity. Social Justice. Creativity. Self-Expression. Learning.

If large foundations can embrace these ideas, shouldn't we embrace them in our schools, too?

15 November 2015

My 10 Most Stated Phrases and Questions

Early in the weekend, a science teacher friend of mine, Patrick Goff, shared what he titled his Pearls of Wisdom or things he frequently says, and he encourages others to share their own.  So...here are mine, and I hope you might also share yours. Regardless of your role in education (teacher, parent, administrator, community member, etc) this is an interesting way to capture what you find yourself saying most frequently.

1.  Remember to convey purpose in instruction.
2.  Students are more than a score.
3.  Stop the test prep!
4.  We need more creativity in schools.
5.  Student choice and interest are vital for making learning meaningful.
6.  Do your best.
7.  Do you use Twitter to connect to other people in education?
8.  Have you thought about blogging?
9.  Why is this important?
10. I'm interested in equity and excellence.

What about you--what are your most stated phrases?

25 October 2015

Testing Action Plan is Step in Right Direction

My sons' individual state test scores arrived in the mail last week. I found them in still sealed envelopes under a bunch of junk mail this morning. I didn't even know to look for them until a parent friend of mine at a dinner party Friday night mentioned receiving scores for her sons.

Conveying her frustration with all the test prep in our public schools, my friend said all the test prep seems to be hurting her sons more than helping them. I wished I had more positive news to share with her, but earlier in the week conversations I had with educators and parents from around the country reinforced her view point. Too bad the news release about the Testing Action Plan wasn't made public until the next day. Multiple friends who know me and my stance on the issue shared links to various press releases while I was out and about with my young athlete all day.

Convo #1: an educator shared his work in a school where kids have been "ability grouped" into high, medium, and low groups. Decisions about which group a child would be placed for all subjects in were determined based on 1 source of data (a mathematics placement test). As they reviewed their state assessment data and considered gaps, they noticed disadvantaged students and students of color were predominately grouped into the low groups and were being taught by the newest teachers at the school.

Convo #2: another educator told me her school reviewed state assessment data and decided (because of her state's emphasis on "novice reduction") that teachers must not worry themselves with the students who are already scoring proficient on state tests (kids like my sons and my friend's sons) because they will be fine. Therefore, they should "teach to the low kids" to ensure those kids can score proficient on state tests next time. Not only should they cater to the kids who struggle, they should do more test prep and become a skill and drill factory, taking away any sort of imagination, creativity, or personalized approaches to instruction.

Convo #3: a parent told me her elementary aged child is provided only literacy and mathematics instruction with limited opportunities to create and explore science, social studies, art, and music. He's offered daily worksheets, a fifteen minute recess once per day, and physical education only once per week.

Convo #4: a family member told me she worries most that all the test prep causes her children to hate school and to be disengaged. That's been a concern of my own for years now. I've seen in it in my sons over the years, and some years are better than others.

Lest this post be all doom and gloom, I'll mention the update on standardized testing we saw this weekend from President Obama and the United States Department of Education who released (after I heard all the above convos) a testing action plan. In it they articulate what should be happening and say "No one set out to create situations where students spend too much time taking standardized tests or where tests are redundant or fail to provide useful information."

I believe the testing action plan is a step in the right direction. The thing is--we have to change the way hold schools are held accountable, too, because as the system stands right now, schools feel compelled to jump hoops and play a game that raises their overall ranking in the state and nation. We must change the overall system of public education in America.

10 October 2015

Most Likely to Succeed Film and Book

More than a half-dozen times now I have watched Brian's eyes light up with an I did it--I created something that works expression, and I have watched Samantha's confidence shine as the all female play she directs garners applause from an audience of family and community members. I have also watched Scout's father, film director Greg Whiteley, acknowledge his daughter's feelings that "this whole thing called school is B.S."

The compelling storyline in the film Most Likely to Succeed speaks to me as a parent, educator, and community member. I've sat in parent/teacher conferences not unlike the one Whiteley's daughter and wife endured and even once was told by an administrator that I should have my son read boring books at home so he would be better prepared to read the boring texts on the state standardized tests. More positively though, I have also observed the I created something and it works look in my son's eyes when he built a computer.

As pointed out in the beginning of Most Likely to Succeed, our education system was designed in 1893 by a Committee of Ten men who wanted more efficient, compliant, and educated factory workers for the industrial age. A standardized education system with a teacher who dispensed knowledge provided what the economy needed at the time and guaranteed workers "a perfectly average job, with a perfectly average family, a perfectly average home, and a perfectly average life, and a perfectly average funeral."

We no longer need as many factory workers because more and more jobs have become automated. We have knowledge at our finger tips as we consider access to the Internet a basic right in our developed country. We need students who can think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems creatively, and collaborate productively to make our world a better place. Most Likely to Succeed does not offer a panacea for the issues in public education, but it does open eyes and convey a sense of urgency needed if we are going to make sure kids receive the education they need in our ever changing world.

In addition to seeing the film multiple times, I have now also read Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. I am encouraged, empowered, and more ready than ever to continue my personal and professional mission of
 re-imagining public education.

As Dintersmith and Wagner acknowledge in their book, we could have completely redesigned our education system, the position advocated by Ted Sizer founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, as we headed into the twenty-first century. Instead, our country chose to "push for incremental improvements and rely on policies calling for curriculum homogeneity, more pervasive standardized testing, and teacher accountability tied to student test score performance (26)."

Unfortunately, we are paying a price for this choice as "student and teacher engagement levels have plummeted in the face of a steady diet of test prep (27)." We've turned public education into a series of hoops to jump and games to play (just ask my 9th grader). The book is not all depressing though; the authors offer examples of how we can re-imagine school. Think about their suggestion of what we might consider as the purpose of education.
"The purpose of education is to engage students with their passions and growing sense of purpose, teach them critical skills needed for career and citizenship, and inspire them to do their very best to make their world better (44)."
If we decide this is our purpose, then we must respond as such and we must offer students--
choice, opportunities to learn from failure, lessons that require critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. We must also teach students to communicate effectively both in writing and in speaking. I've written on this topic previously.

Dintersmith and Wagner don't stop their conversations with K-12. In fact, one entire section of the book is devoted to ideas about college degrees. They say they "don't subscribe to the view that a college needs to revolve around practical courses (169.)" Rather, they give college faculty, administration, students, and parents plenty to think about. As a liberal arts graduate, I was pleased with this perspective--
"Today, employers look for graduates who exhibit critical skills, ask great questions, and demonstrate perseverance and grit. These critical skills can be taught in traditional liberal arts pursuits as well or better than in business courses (170)."
Re-imagining public education has been on my mind for nearly as long as I've been out of college. It started in graduate school when I read works by Ted Sizer, John Dewey, Deborah Meier, John Goodlad, and Maxine Greene. I began teaching in a high needs school in North Carolina and committed myself to teaching with intentionality, even writing "purpose in instruction" at various places around the classroom as a reminder to myself to keep our studies, projects, and lessons meaningful.
Read about how I helped arrange Ted Dintersmith's visit to KY
I'm not alone either because I know dozens of committed teachers throughout the United States who work diligently inside our flawed system to provide students the deeper learning experiences they need. I also know parents who advocate for change and who work together on re-imagining the system. I'm optimistic about what we can do when we work together.

In the past nearly four years, I've used this blog as a place to share my voice about how we need to re-imagine curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the overall system. Blogging has connected me to others and taught me more about what we can do if we speak up and work together. We need to remember that all of our voices can have impact. We can, together, make a difference to bring the change we need in public education. We no longer live in 1893. We need a bottom-up approach led by teachers, students, and parents demanding change to the system.

I urge you to see the film and read the book Most Likely to Succeed because once you do I guarantee you'll be ready to join me.