Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M: Milestones AtoZChallenge

There's a verse in Proverbs that I think about often as it reminds me that each of us, whatever our circumstances, need the ability to look forward. That is, we need goals. We need purpose. 

Where there is no vision, the people parish. (Proverbs 29:18). 

When I first read it as a kid, I didn't think about the context. The literal text spoke to me, and the verse has propelled me forward for many years. A question in my mind has remained: What is my vision for my life?

This year as part of the National Education Association Master Teacher Project, I have had milestones set for me by Better Lesson, the company NEA has contracted with to host the courses of those in the project. For each milestone, I contract to complete a certain number of lessons. 

When I began my journey with BL and the MTP, I was told I'd be responsible for submitting a lesson every day I teach English 12. At first, I consulted the district calendar and submitted the number of lessons I'd write based on student contact time. In time I discovered not all interpreted the "a lesson a day" mandate as literally as I did. Still, I needed a vision that empowered me to manage my contractual obligations. Otherwise, I would not, I realized, be able to complete the project requirements. 

I've been involved in many other endeavors that necessitate my creating milestones that lead to completion of a task, including earning my B.S. in four years, finishing National Board Certification and recertification, earning my M.A. 

Life in a western world revolves around milestones. To set milestones (goals) we need a vision. 

One of my favorite RSA Animate videos suggests that people operate in one of six different time constructs and that schools need to understand that both culture and technology affect the way students perceive and react to time:

This year has been particularly frustrating to me when dealing with students and time management. I worry about those who seemingly take a cavalier attitude about deadlines, all the while telling me they plan to attend college. 

The first week of school a student from last year visited me and apologized for ignoring my advice about time management and deadlines. He quickly learned that five minutes late in submitting a paper resulted in a 50% grade reduction. 

Finding a way to respect cultural mores while instilling the Western ideal that meeting milestones is key to their academic and job success presents an increasingly complicated challenge for teachers. 

As I look forward to the end of the school year and begin planning for next year, I'm thinking about ways to incorporate lessons on time and milestones and developing a vision into the required curriculum. 

Right now, I feel a bit like the speaker in the Hootie and the Blowfish song "Time." 


Time, why you punish me? 
Like a wave bashing into the shore 
You wash away my dreams. 
Time, why you walk away? 
Like a friend with somewhere to go 
You left me crying 
Can you teach me about tommorrow 
And all the pain and sorrow 
Running free? 
Cause tomorrow's just another day 
And I don't believe in time 
Time, I don't understand 
Children killing in the street 
Dying for the color of red 
Time, hey there red and blue 
Wash them in the ocean, make them clean, 
Maybe their mothers won't cry tonight 
Can you teach me about tomorrow 
All the pain and sorrow 
Running free? 
But tomorrow's just another day 
And I don't believe in... 
[chorus:]
Time is wasting 
Time is walking 
You ain't no friend of mine 
I don't know where i'm goin' 
I think I'm out of my mind 
Thinking about time 
And if I die tomorrow, yeah 
Just lay me down in sleep 
[chorus]
Time, you left me standing there 
Like a tree growing all alone 
The wind just stripped me bare, stripped me bare 
Time, the past has come and gone 
The future's far away 
Now only lasts for one second, one second 
Can you teach me about tomorrow 
And all the pain and sorrow 
Running free? 
'Cause tomorrow's just another day 
And I don't believe in time 
[chorus]
Time, why you punish me?

Monday, April 14, 2014

L: Listen to Learn and Learn to Listen #AtoZChallenge

Hearing is physiological.
Listening is intentional.

Often we fail to understand this distinction. Through a biological process, our ears conduct sound through our brains. In contrast, we choose whether or not we will listen. 

Often, we resist listening. We think we won't be interested in what the speaker has to say. We think we know what the speaker--or in the case of teachers, the student--will say. We think we already know the information, so we have no need to listen. We rely on technology to listen for us, either through recording the speaker's words or as my students often do, by taking a picture of the notes on the board. 

Standard 6 of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the Speaking and Listening standard, yet not once will you find the word listen in the ELA.SL.11-12 standard, and the word listeners only appears once. Perhaps this is because those who wrote the standards aren't too adept at listening themselves. It's easy to tell someone to listen but teaching listening requires much greater skill. This standard troubles me because if focuses on evaluating a speaker's or text's message, as though that's the primary focus and purpose of listening. In Standard 6, the sole purpose of listening seems to be to formulate a response. 

I contend that one of the main reasons students and teachers don't listen as well as we should is because we're too busy anticipating what we'll say next rather than working to listen and to develop empathy for the speaker and/or text. 

One of my favorite resources for teaching listening in my speech classes is Julian Treasure's TED Talk "Five Ways to Listen Better." In this talk, Treasure identifies why "we are losing our listening" and five strategies for developing intentional listening. 


Our survival depends on our ability to and willingness to listen. Remember, listening is intentional. 

"Attentive listening helps us develop empathy," says Leon Berg. In the following 2013 TEDx talk,  in which he describes the Council model as a way to learn to listen. 

We live in a world of talkers, as the Sunday morning talk shows and AM radio illustrate. Talking heads are literally paid to talk--not listen. But Berg asks us to "imagine a world where listening is highly valued." How would our personal relationships, our schools, our governments, our world change if we took a little more time to listen to one another? 

I know the challenges I face when listening, and I worry that I don't always convey a sense that I am listening. As Kate Di'Camillo says in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, it's in listening that our hearts open wide and wider still. How can they not when we not only hear but intentionally listen, too. 

*For a list of other posts on listening, including lesson plans and links to Google docs w/ resources form two conference presentations, click here


Saturday, April 12, 2014

K: Key #AtoZChallenge

Speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act former president George W. Bush said

"I fear the soft bigotry of low expectations is returning, and for the sake of America's children, that is something we cannot allow."

Then Bush said this:

"Whatever difficulties we face, they will not be erased by weakening accountability."

There you have it, folks. The irony of ironies. George W. Bush says the key to student success is----wait for it-------TESTING. That's what accountability in the mind of George W. Bush means. While the current standards movement has its origins in 1983's A Nation at Risk, George W. Bush single-handedly brought us the  current testing mania via No Child Left Behind, which sadly and ironically is better than its replacement, Race to the Top. 

In his speech, Bush lauded "accountability" as the way to guarantee poor and minority children receive an equal education to those of affluent white children. Really? 


  • Not a word about crumbling schools buildings. 
  • Not a word about the low status of teachers, which arguably George W. Bush is most responsible for in recent years.
  • Not a word about inequality in funding education, which in most places is based on property taxes.
  • Not a word about equal access to technology and "smart" schools. 
  • Not a word about the widening poverty gap that increasingly works to create a "pseudo-Victorian" society in 21st Century America.
  • Not a word about the inherent bigotry of standardized testing, which I began researching as a high school student in the mid-1970s.
  • Not a word about the huge expenditures for administering the tests. 
The only equal access Bush cares about is TESTING. 

There are many keys to equal education for poor and minority students, and "accountability" as defined by George W. Bush, is not one of them. 

Keys to understanding the way Bush's lauded accountability movement locks poor and minority students out of equal access and the way it increasingly erodes access for middle-class students abound. Here are some:
There are many others, but these three are a great start. The mainstream media does very little to tell the real truth about the accountability movement and Bush's legacy. George W. Bush is no LBJ. For that he needs to be held accountable.

*Update: After this post went live, Diane Ravitch addressed the problems w/ assessing teachers based on standardized test scores in a post titled "Breaking News: American Statistical Association Issues Caution on Use of VAM."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

J: Just....#AtoZChallenge

Just drawing a _____________.

I've brainstormed ideas for the letter "J" and just can't think of a single idea about which to write. Among the possible post topics I've explored:

  • Justice: I've followed more celebrity trials than I care to admit. They seem to be the story d'jour on the morning news programs. Often I think: If there is any justice in the world....Of course, to attain real justice, the morning talking heads would talk about the discrepancies in our justice system: The number of African American men incarcerated in proportion to their demographic, the irony in Wall Street moguls' unjust trading practices while our prisons brim with the poor and minor drug offenders. The irony in those tasked with dispensing justice abusing that power, as the Department of Justice found is the case with the Albuquerque Police Department.  Nor have I forgotten the Justice clothing brand!
  • Just Write It: I also thought about riffing on the Nike logo: Just do it. Sometimes I put up a bulletin board with a Nike Swish and the line: Just Write It. I first used this twist on Nike's logo long before Facebook, where one can find a Just Write It page. Searching Google, I realized that Just Write It and its Just Write variation really isn't unique. I'll leave the bulletin board blogging to those who actually do bulletin boards. I've had the same ones all year. 
  • J-Word Poems: But I posted a poem yesterday, and all the fabulous Joy Harjo poems, such as "Eagle Poem" are too long.
  • J-Authors: John Green, of course comes to mind. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of his books, his Crash Course, his "Don't Forget to be Awesome" campaign. What high school teacher doesn't love John Green? Then there's Jane Austin. I've only written one post about her and it was a cursory one about imitating a writer's writing style. James Joyce, J. R. R. Tolken, Henry James, Samuel Johnson, Ben Johnson, Shirley Jackson, Sarah Orne Jewett, and many others. Generally, however, I try to use authors in lesson context or to support a topic/theme. 
  • J-Books: Too many to name. Those looking for a list can visit World Cat. 
  • J-Lo: On an education blog? I'll pass for now. 
  • Journey: More of an American Literature theme and a topic I've already written about in recent Frankenstein lessons. Also, a fabulous '80s rock band. 
  • Jaywalking: to cross the road in an illegal manner. Metaphorically speaking I do this often, especially when told how to teach English by those with no ethos. 
Just scratching my head trying to find a Letter J topic. Is it okay if I just go with my list of eight possibilities and punt this one with a genuine promise to do better by K