22 February 2015

Snow Day Reads

A snowy whirlwind two weeks since my last Sunday Salon post and it's been full of both online reading as well as two more books in my book a week journey. Since we've had a Kentucky snow storm (the most snow the state has seen in over 15 years), there's been plenty of time to curl up with books and my iPad to read. Naturally, keeping up with friends on social media has also been a fun way to know what's happening around the state and nation. My friend, Robin, captured this beautiful photo earlier in the week on her way to work. Fortunately for me, I work from home, so there was no need to venture out onto the treacherous roads. A foot of snow may not be much for places like Boston where they are also experiencing record amounts of snow, but for Kentucky, 12-18 inches of snow almost completely shuts things down. Both the public school system and the University of Kentucky cancelled classes this week.

Photo by Robin Hebert. Christianburg, Kentucky Winter 2015
As I've blogged about previously, we ended up in Kentucky because my husband wanted to study at the University of Kentucky where so many literary greats were and continue to be. This article by Lexington's Eric Sutherland highlights some of the literary expertise in our area.

Karen Schubert from Meet the Press offers a brilliant conversation with poet and editor of Accents Publishing, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. I first met Katerina when she and I served on the Advisory Board for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference together. She's an amazing writer and woman.

Horse jockey Isaac Murphy was celebrated this week on a Lexington blog. If you don't know about Murphy, check out the poetry of Frank X. Walker to learn more.

Leadership & Work
Leadership continues to be on my mind. In 10 Negative Results of Believing People are Incapable I learned some valuable advice for working with people. When people appear to possess a lack of passion or a desire to push beyond the status quo, I'm frustrated with them and begin believing they are incapable of doing their jobs. This article reminded me that some of my behaviors fall into the category where I'll end up with negative results--things like acting with impatience and avoiding conversations. Yep. I'm guilty of those things with individuals who I want to change. Fortunately, the article offers me valuable reminders.

I'm interested not only in leadership, but women in leadership. A friend sent me this piece from Harvard Business Review about how Women Directors Change Boards. Fascinating.

I owe my parents the credit for teaching me about possessing a strong work ethic. They modeled this for me, and I've always been a hard worker. This article Worst Advice Ever? "Work Smarter, Not Harder" caught my attention because I've been hearing people offer this advice for the past few years, and I wondered what it was all about since a strong work ethic was drilled into me from birth. The author of the article, also smart and working on a PhD learned the hard way during his graduate work that to succeed he needed to work both smart and hard. Watching my husband, a very intelligent man, endure years of graduate work, I often thought he took the "work smarter" pathway.

One of my favorite print magazines, Cake & Whiskey, arrived in the mail today, so naturally I read it and also enjoyed their new launch of online content as well on their Sip & Slice blog.

Non-Traditional Schooling

Several school districts in Kentucky are experimenting with non-traditional school days when it snows. I start to cringe when I hear they are "doing packets," and I hope the packets are thoughtful and meaningful assignments requiring students to think, do, and learn, not merely complete busy work. A post by Kentucky teacher, Joe Harris, was encouraging since he highlights using Google Apps to connect with students and to encourage them to write creatively.

A school in Sierra Leone also uses non-traditional schooling since students have been unable to attend school in person due to the Ebola outbreak that ravaged the nation. Students tune into the radio to hear their lessons.

For a healthier approach to the school day, some schools are experimenting with standing classrooms. I know my son would enjoy anything that keeps him from sitting all day. Indeed, many schools fail boys by insisting that they sit so still. A Washington Post article earlier this week brought conversation via Twitter amongst a few of us who feel strongly about this topic.

My place of employment is hosting a huge innovation summit this week, and in preparation for that one of my colleagues blogged about the topics featured at the summit, including alternative school models. Read more here.

This post titled Innovation and Improvement Takes a Sustained Push by Tom Vander Ark explores the importance of school superintendents lengthening their stay in districts if progress around innovation is to be made.

Teacher Features
A teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children, Heidi Givens, shared her thoughts about education in this reflective blog post.

National Board Certified Teacher, Sherri McPherson reflected on why she became a NBCT.

It made my day to read this op-ed by Bob Rothamn on the Hechinger Report because I know and work with two of the teachers quoted. Fantastic teachers doing excellent work.

When a Philadelphia columnist wrote a scathing op-ed about why teachers shouldn't get snow days, a passionate teacher offered this rebuttal.

A short Youtube clip titled How the School to Prison Pipleline Ruins Lives Before they Start is worth your time if you care about inequities in our education system.

Literacy expert, Dr. Timothy Shannahan wrote this terrific piece about the importance of teaching content, not just reading. Again, here's another topic I've blogged about because it upsets me to see children offered such a limited curriculum, and it further upsets me that high level district officials demand this approach.

One of my favorite teacher bloggers is Lillie Marshall. She always includes terrific photos, witty commentary, and insightful travel tips. Check out her photos of the record 6 feet of snow in Boston.


The tenth of February brought the fourteenth birthday of my oldest son, so I revisited my blog post from last year where I shared how Ethan taught me to appreciate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Teachers leading schools continues to be a personal topic of interest to me. Read about how districts are beginning to turn to teachers to lead.

Teaching with digital tools explains the importance of re-thinking the way we teach writing in our schools. In fact, I used this article from 2011 in my own recent blog post on the same topic.

With writing (and writing instruction) on my mind, I also enjoyed this post about creative writing in the time of Common Core.

Being cooped up in the house had us experimenting with recipes. We enjoyed this delicious guacamole recipe and chuckled at the accompanying story.

Always a fan of poetry, I and others around the USA were sad to learn of the death of poet Phillip Levine. He wrote about the working class and his poetry, the hardships and worthiness of manual labor.

Something I've never understood in schools are those walls filled with test scores and rankings of students; it's always infuriated me. Kathleen Jasper articulates this same frustration well in her post titled Shaming Students One Wall at a Time.

When my son brought home his first little tokens printed on a 3-D printer, we thought it was cool, but when I read about 3-D printers being used to make prosthetic hands, the innovative possibilities became more clear and important. Imagine the possibilities in our schools if kids can help do something real with their 3-D prints!

15 February 2015

Students Should Create, Compose & Connect Digitally

In the past several weeks I have had the great fortune of working with dozens of teachers, both current teachers and pre-service teachers. Our conversations have revolved around digital literacy and the need to have our students not just consuming media but creating, composing, and connecting. I've heard a wide-range of enthusiasm for the possibilities, a genuine concern regarding access issues, and uninformed complaints about why it's impossible.

It just so happens that my book a week took me to Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler's book Create Compose Connect: Researching, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. What I enjoyed most about this book was the journey described throughout. Starting with Hyler's admission to previously being part of the "cell phone brigade," a focus on being intentional and purposeful emerged as a common thread.

An effective tool for making decisions about writing technology in the classroom is what Hicks calls a MAPS heuristic. Throughout the text, Hyler uses this tool to consider the various digital writing tasks his students create.
Visit the Wiki book accompaniment for more fabulous resources

The book includes practical advice, strategies, and tools as well as connections to the Common Core State Standards with each chapter providing a different focus. My personal favorite was chapter 4 titled Reading Our World, Writing Our Future. The mere title intrigued me, and those of you who know how much I enjoy nonfiction won't be surprised to learn this particular chapter was focused on reading and writing informational texts. Hyler wants "students to understand that informational texts can function in different ways, for different audiences and purposes (61)."

Hyler upgraded the ever popular Article of the Week assignment from Kelly Gallagher to be completed digitally, allowing for more interactivity with the article and collaborative discussion. The chapter also explores students creating book trailers and comic strips with digital tools such as YouTube, Animoto, and WeVideo. Finally, Hyler discusses his thoughts on reading logs, again emphasizing the importance of purpose and intentionality. He wants homework to be meaningful and reading to be enjoyable outside of class, not homework to be dreaded.

Indeed, reading and writing should not be dreaded but rather embraced, and when we move beyond the same five paragraph essay written with pencil on paper in every subject with little meaning and little writing about reading, we open the doors for our students to understand creative processes and writing for the future. In the opening paragraph of a 2011 Education Week article by Liana Heitin, the author begins with statements about how writing has shifted in recent years and then asks why most schools still rely on paper and pencil methods. She quotes Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the director of national programs and site development for the National Writing Project, saying "school are in catch-up mode."

I contend that in most schools we can move beyond catch-up mode with careful and thoughtful planning and with the use of devices available to teachers and students. Clearly, this takes administrators who support Bring Your Own Device options and districts who support students using wi-fi bandwidth (Two of the recent concerns I've heard from practicing teachers). Teachers who have shared their principal's issues with digital writing claim they are required to write five paragraph essays with paper and pencils because it will "help improve scores on standardized writing assessments."

Heitin's article as well as Hicks and Hyler's book address this concern arguing that technology can enhance writing and learning without sacrificing the fundamentals. Further, Heitin reduces the complaint about test preparation by reminding us "digital writing and standardized test preparation are not at odds. Both require that students know the fundamentals. Digital writing, by showing students how writing can be used, often enhances the drive to learn the basics."

In fact, a desire for students to learn and be engaged drove Jeremy Hyler past the point of his place with the "cell phone brigade" and onto a journey to determine exactly what caused his students to be distracted and disengaged. "I had to figure out how to connect with them, make my lessons more meaningful, and engage them in the types of literacy practices that they were using outside of school (1)." He claims this isn't just about the digital devices but about engaging students in meaningful learning that keeps students coming to school and learning what they need to know for success in life. And, isn't that exactly why most of us got into careers in education in the first place?

08 February 2015

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online January 26 - February 08

My work week on January 26th began with a trip to Denver, Colorado. Coincidentally, The New York Times published this article titled What to do in Denver the week before my trip. Though I didn't get to take in all the sites suggested in the video, I did enjoy a couple of meals at local venues. My colleague and I enjoyed lunch at Earle's before a meeting downtown at the Colorado Education Initiative, and we were treated to dinner downtown that same evening. The following day we worked all day with teachers who were analyzing student work and planning revisions to their common assignment units before heading out to the infamous Steuben's (one featured on Diners, Dives, & Drive-Thrus) for dinner.
Morning walk in North Denver

Students in Northern Kentucky took their desire to be makers into their own hands and created this makerspace.

Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world--read about a film exploring this truth.
Pressure for high-stakes standardized tests is apparently ruining creativity in China. Read more here.

"It's now more important than ever to teach students to think and speak critically" says Terry Roberts in this article.

Visions for Shared Leadership from district administrator Mike Stacey are encouraging.

In education (and other field) we are inundated with big data. In this article we are reminded of the importance of human perspective when we analyze data--yes!

Book review for The Test features a school right here in Kentucky using more performance based assessments to measure student learning.

Science teacher, Patrick Goff, writes about re-thinking the way we do science fairs, and I love this idea as a parent and as an educator.

We had the opportunity to see Jack Andraka live last weekend. If you've never heard him, I'd suggest listening to his dynamic TED TALK.


For inspiration to stay active, read about the American man who ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.

As we approached the anniversary the 70th anniversary of prisoners being liberated from Auschwitz,  hear and read a survivor's story here.

Female Militants published a manifesto about it being acceptable for girls as young as age 9 to be forced into marriage. How is this possibly right?

For weeks now, I've been following the story of Raif Badawi, and was pleased to hear his flogging was once again postponed, and I keep hoping for his freedom.

Remember the nearly 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped? They are still not free. Here's a reminder.

A story about girls from Chibok who escaped and are now returning to school, defying the militants.

Madame CEO, Get Me a Coffee articulates some of the gender bias woman still endure in the workplace.

A story about Bob Dylan's speech at the Grammy's was a fun read as was this article about the intersection between art and literature.

8 New Jobs People Will have in 2025 was intriguing.

A delightful Google Doodle on the birthday of poet Langston Hughes.

06 February 2015

Raising the Voices of Teachers and Students

When I left the public high school classroom six years ago last month, I made a promise to myself to keep in touch with teachers and students and to advocate for their voices to be heard more frequently.  After all, a consistent lack of respect for teachers as professionals, a constant demand to practice for tests, and the lack of time for my family were three of the reasons I grew weary and needed a change from my role as a high school English and Arts & Humanities teacher.

In my blog post about why I left the classroom, I referenced the way I thought often about being back in the classroom because previously I knew no better way to impact education than by teaching students myself. Through the support of mentors and colleagues, I have shifted my understanding in recent months to consider how I can impact public education from outside the classroom by elevating teachers' voices, and one of the ways I do this is through blogging and through encouraging teachers to blog.

In November of 2014 Teaching Channel invited me to blog for them on the topic of teacher leadership. What I enjoyed most about that post were the anecdotal stories and quotes by fellow educators from around the USA. You can read the full post here.

In Kentucky, our movement around teacher leadership continues to grow as teachers throughout the state step forward and let their voices be heard. In preparation for an Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) event hosted by the organization for which I work, I wrote a blog post explaining why we support teacher leadership as an organization. You can read that post in its entirety here.

Truly, there is no better time to be supporting teachers as professionals. By working together with classroom teachers we can change the experiences for all the students in our state and our country.