Monday, July 30, 2007

My Mandala

My computer is back - well, at least the most important part!! Nothing was lost, the old computer was under warranty, and I made it through the first day of our DBQ Writing Institute without causing too much harm. So, without further delay, my mandala is below...let the interpretations begin!! What do you see that might reflect me?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wandering Lost!

I guess I never realized how attached I was to my computer until the hard drive crashed (I think) this morning. Yesterday was something of a whirlwind - between sharing my musings about Web 2.0 groups with interested Fellows, to clarifying what I can do to make my Keep On Learning site a via "publishable" piece, to canoeing down (and eventually swimming in) the mighty Housatonic River I was exhausted. We have spotty Internet connection here at best, so I captured by blogs thoughts in Word late last night and go up early to post.

Alas - the computer does nothing.

Thanks to JoAnn, I am working on a computer but it isn't mine, with my scattered desktop and the comforting pictures of my family in the background. I am trying to remain calm -but the flood of work that I have created may be lost and it is causing rising panic. (I know - I should back up more often and I have learned a powerful lesson!!) Fortunately - a great deal of my work is available to me on-line through blogs and wikis so I am not totally despondent.

I have come to realize that my computer has become an extension of my hands. Pens and pencils work at times, but how I organize my thoughts and my writing is all done electronically. It is comforting to me - the warmth of the battery, the click of they keys, the glow of the screen. I am not sure how to write and organize without it.

Much of our conversation the past two days has been around the use of electronic tools - and I can see the look of confusion and trepidation on the faces of many of my Fellows. It can be a powerful way to join our two communities (Upstate and Downstate) into the one community we become in the summer - but it could also cause others to disengage. I am mindful of this as I ponder ways to integrate these tools into the Collegial Circle that I am planning for the Fall around literacy. I will need to take it slow, temper my enthusiasm to allow others to discover these tools the way that I have, ,and build the community of learners one at a time.

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Letting the Pencil Lead You

We created mandalas this evening. From the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, it represents wholeness and can be seen as a model of an organizational structure. Mandalas can be found in nature, in cultures from Native Americans to India, and can take many different forms.

As we were learning about mandalas and sketching some ideas, our leader in this activity mentioned that we would find that our "pencil would lead us" and what resulted would express our inner self. Strangely, I did find this to be true - at least my pencil leading me part!! (I'll post my mandala after it dries - perhaps you can help me decipher what it says about me!!)

It made me think about writing (of course) and the flow of ideas. In keeping a writer's notebook, I gather a collection of things that strike me: comments, phrases I hear and like, observations. Sometimes, I draw but mostly it is text. Each of these are seed ideas when I am stuck for the right words to say or the right topic to write about. Writer's notebooks are individual things and highly personal.

In taking these seed ideas, sometimes I just write. What ever comes into my head comes out on paper. It isn't always pretty or frankly, any good. But I can then go back to the pieces that sound "right" and refine them. The pencil leads me.

This is particularly true with my blog writing - I find that the words flow very easily in this medium and that other than some spelling and syntax fixes, I change very little. Because I use my blogs to tap my inner voice - it seems to be easier to write.

As I ponder my own writing, I think about what I need to do to help teachers become more comfortable with their own writing - whether on blogs or in model lessons. How do I encourage teachers to take the same risks we ask our kids to take? To write and submit writing for comment. To publish writing and await the reviews. To revise, edit, and revise again.

In researching mandalas after our session this evening, I learned that Tibetan Buddhists believe a mandal consists of five "excellencies:"

The teacher * The message * The audience * The site * The time

If you were to draw a mandala of your writing in light of these five excellencies - what would it look like?

Image from Creative Art Studio.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reflections on Writing: Blogs

I am away this week with my CSETL Fellows reflecting upon my practice and finding a focus for the upcoming year. As always with this group, my thinking is pushed, I am asked wonderful questions, and my head is pounding. I am a bit better off than my colleague Julie who continues to refer to the bile rising in her throat - but not much better. Ahhh....cognitive dissonance! There is nothing like it!!

A large part of my focus this week is on using Web 2.0 tools to build a community of learners. I am posting on Grand-Rounds on how that work is going. A bigger part of the challenge for the week is that I must develop a plan for "publishing" my work in this arena. Clearly - I love to write and care deeply and passionately about writing. It is the formality and structure of writing for publication that is daunting.

And so - this week, I will be reflecting upon my own writing as I experience the ups and downs of a CSETL retreat.

One thing I focused on today was the use of blogs and wikis in education. I have identified three reasons why I don't seem to be having the success I envisioned when I began this process. One biggie is a lack of technical knowledge on the part of the users. The two others are somewhat combined - time and writing.

I've thought a great deal about my blogging process. When I first began blogging, I wrote everything in Word first, then transferred it over to Blogger. It was time consuming but I had a horrendous fear of mis-spellings!! Since then, I have become more comfortable with the tools available on Blogger (including spell-check) but also with leaving things in draft form.

As for ideas - they come to me often and I do keep a writer's notebook after reading about their power from Ralph Fletcher (if I could make one electronically I would be very, very happy!!). More often though, my posts come from something niggling in the back of my head that I just feel the need to get out. I rarely leave something in draft form and visit it later anymore - I am bit more comfortable in my skin now. In fact, after being challenged by Richard Strong last summer to write with my real voice (versus the one I thought people wanted to hear) - I have found my voice in blogging.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Year of Blogging

One year ago today - July 17, 2006 - I began this blog. It was my first blog, although I have created several since. It came to life at a large regional conference called High School's New Face. I didn't actually attend the technology workshop with Will Richardson - but he did our keynote and we all received a copy of his book. Harnassing the excitement of my colleagues - I sat down and experimented, making lots of mistakes, but also learning along the way.

My first blog post featured wisdom from the Wizard of Oz:

"But it is a long way to the Emerald City,
and it will take you many days.
The country here is rich and pleasant,
but you must pass through rough and
dangerous places before you reach
the end of your journey."

Looking back - I know I have not reached the end of my journey (does any educator?)but I have passed through some rough and dangerous places!! Unfortunately - some of those have been of my own creation. Not on purpose of course - but nonetheless, I hold responsibility for choices I have made.

Blogging hasn't quite gotten me what I had hoped. There have been times that I neglected it because it feels a bit like talking to myself. I believe that it can be a powerful tool - but instead of persevering, I let go and walked away. But I always come back.

I hope to use Web 2.0 tools to build community among teachers - to serve as a means to meet and share ideas, to break down the walls of our classrooms. I have moments of sucess, but they are fleeting. It seems that we are all fighting the drumming of time and trying to fit it all in - to many, blogging and using wikis seems like an "extra."

As I enter my second year of blogging, here are some things that I hope to accomplish:

1. Teach my colleagues and staff about blogs and wikis so that we can model their use. Currently- only two of five of us use either blogs or wikis. If we can train each other and slowly ease one another into using these tools, I think that we will be "practicing what we preach" and it can only benefit everyone.

2. Integrate my blogs and wikis into my workshops. I am comtemplating the blogs/wikis being added to my email tags and potentially to business cards. I know I would like them to be added to the BOCES website but might have to deal with some internal politics with that one - and understandably so!!

3. Track the time I spent on my blog/wiki development. This might be important in teaching about these tools to teachers - a way to decide whether they can fit it into their schedules. And a little action research never hurt anyone!

4. Connect more purposefully with other blog/wiki educators. I need to use Skype better and figure out what everyone is Twittering about. I want to partake in the on-line conferences and see how we can use those tools in our region. I get the basics - now I need to expand.

5. More of my writing. Not just on the blog - but for professional journals and colleagues. It will push my writing abilities (the point of this blog) but also help me to clarify the things that I value and believe.

I'm hoping that these goals will help me to utilize this blog (and Grand Rounds)as a tool for collaboration and reflection, to serve as a model for other educators, and to push thinking (and hopefully get pushed back). So - Happy New Year!

Monday, July 16, 2007

I am a writer!!

I am spending the week at an advanced Cognitive Coaching training. We are at a beautiful central New York resort town, which is very conducive to reflective learning. Today was day one and already my head is brimming with new ideas.

One piece has been incredibly relevant to writing : the idea of nested levels of learning from Robert Dilts discussed in the beginning of the session. Below is one page of my notes on this. As we discussed the hierarchy in this model - we thought about where most of our classrooms lie.

We know that when we begin a new initiative or attempt to create change in our classroom, we begin at the most basic level - environment. At this level - change is easy to implement and it is fast. I think about folks moving to a writing workshop. Teachers change the structure of their classrooms or perhaps parcel out their time with kids a bit differently. Voila! Writing workshop.

The next level has to do with behaviors and skills - the what of teaching. With a writing workshop - we conference with students, we provide mini-lessons, we hone our coaching skills. And sometimes - this is where it ends. Some of our students stand up and say "I am a writer!!" - others, most others, don't.

If we are lucky - our classrooms reflect the capabilities phase. We provide structure and frameworks for our students, big ideas about writing for students to hold on to. We begin to develop their capabilities as writer - to make choices about the words they use, the way they organize their thoughts and ideas. They make choices in writing and monitor the impact those choices have on a reader.

But these things can only happen if we approach the values/beliefs stage. If we truly believe that we want our students to be writers, rather than just write (which is the identity phase). And here is where I struggled a bit.

I am wondering if we can ask our students to be writers if we are not writers ourselves. I try to structure my workshops on writing to involve a great deal of writing - and this is where my workshop evaluations fall into the danger zone. Many don't like to be asked to write - just give me the strategies and I'll implement them - thank you! But it is never as easy as that - we need to experience what we are learning so that we can figure out how to make it our own - so that we can adapt it to our learners. And this is very, very important in writing!!

So what is it that makes people reluctant to write? Why don't we write more? We can blame new technologies but I think about this blog. It is a new technology that allows me to write - to hone my writing skills - to be a writer. Does it take time? Yes - but because it is fundamental to who I am, I make that time.

Perhaps if we tapped into what makes us reluctant to write - we might be able to tap into what will encourage students to write. And together - we can all become writers.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Collaborative Stories

Stumbled upon this collaborative writing wiki from teachers in Alabama. The stories are pretty great - some a bit rougher than others but they show what a powerful collaborative tool wikis can be!!

I am thinking about their use for curriculum mapping, planning for larger workshops and teacher collaborative writing. I use lots of different wiki spaces at the moment, but haven't yet settled on a favorite.

Will Richardson also has an interesting post on wikis - Wikipedia specifically. I think the biggest hurdle I have encountered in using wikis with educators has been the idea that it is intended to be a collaborative, not static, web page. He outlines a "classic teachable moment" - be sure to read it!!

It seems to keep coming back to a control factor of sorts - yes, we want to control what our kids post on-line so that it is not harmful to anyone and so that it is in a "final" format - correct puncutation, grammar, spelling, etc. But the power of wikis are that in addition to writing - we can help students work on their editing and revision skills.

I need to think about this more before my next Wiki workshop so that I can model it for teachers better.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Educating Half a Child?

I recently read "Two Takes on Whole" from the Summer on-line Educational Leadership. Hugh B. Price and Stephanie Pace Marshall are interviewed on what it means to educate the "whole child." It continues to surface for me this week as I work with teachers from a local district investigating assessment and grading.

As a middle school teacher - I fully embrace the concept of educating the "whole child;" being able to see beyond just the academics to teacher character, problem-solving and citizenship. These were kids experimenting with being adults, often reverting to early childhood, all within the same day (or class period!) It made sense to me then and it continues to make sense now that we need to equip them for what lies beyond our formal public education system.

I don't think any teacher is out there purposefully teaching to half or three-quarters of any child. It is hard to be in a room full of learners - of any age - and not recognize the other pieces that will come into play. Personal life - how well they slept - what motivated them to be there. All will play a role in how much they learn that day.

So I started thinking about authentic assessment - mostly because at the end of the interview, both Marshall and Price are asked about a childhood moment they'll never forget:

Price:When I was growing up, I couldn't hit a curve ball. But in the course of pursuing my love of baseball, I devoured baseball magazines—for children as well as for adults. I discovered that if I could understand how to calculate a batting average, I'd have long division down cold. In other words, the pursuit of this first love reinforced everything that school was about. It reinforced teamwork, it reinforced my academic skills, and it reinforced my curiosity.

I've often said that a school could take Jackie Robinson's life and turn it into a yearlong course that covers many subjects, from the migration of blacks to the North and West, to equal opportunity, to the military justice system. All these things were incorporated in his life. Moreover, kids could learn how to calculate the square footage of a baseball diamond. In the infield, the bases are laid out in a perfect square. But once you get to the outfield, you've got all these weird shapes, and you've got to learn how to analyze that. You can learn some physics too: When you throw a ball and it's fired back at you, it's coming through a certain plane at a certain speed. The education experience should really zero in on and nurture kids' passions and curiosity.

Marshall: I was always so affirmed as a learner when I was growing up that it stayed with me and built a grounding of unshakable courage. We had a 1956 Ford when I was a child. My father chose to buy it without a radio. Why would you buy a radio, he said, when we could sing? Whenever we went on long family car trips, we made up songs, we spelled words backwards, we identified which states all the license plates were from, and we took the map with us so we knew exactly where we were in the world and in the country. We learned how to pay attention. Everything was a question. We always made up stories, puzzles, and rhymes. It was always about learning. But it wasn't about schooling. It was about learning and trying to figure things out and what would happen if. I was just so blessed.
Those childhood moments capture authentic learning - learning that meant something to the learner, that was relevant and useful to them. We could teach that way - we could create authentic experiences for our students, but somehow we feel bound to "The Test." I am not convinced that was the intention of the test designers - but it certainly is the unintended consequence. I have long stated that I like the NYS Social Studies assessment with respect to Document Based Questions as it asks kids to think like historians- something I was never asked to do from elementary school to college (where I received a degree in history!!)

Now - my childhood memories do not involve unearthing hidden historical treasures. However, many summers were spent at the family cabin in Onoville, NY. Near the Alleghany State Park, there was plenty of outdoor adventure for us: hiking, swimming in creek beds, boating. One of our favorite things to do was to examine the rocks in the creek behind the cabin for fossils. These rocks would have the image of leaves or small bugs embedded in them over time. The highest value was placed on the fossils that looked almost like rock sea-shells. We would save them, trade them, try to sneak them home in the car. Somehow - I believe they all ended up back in the creek!!

Yet they provided hours of imaginative play for us - using them as money like we had read Native Americans did, imagining what the world was like when the fossil impressions actually lived, creating stories about ancient peoples. It was rich fun and probably fueled my love of history. But it wasn't a story I ever shared with my students.

I wonder what our classrooms would look like if we tapped these childhood experiences and brought them to our students. If we designed our lessons to provide opportunities to learn in a more authentic way - to follow a path of curiosity. I'm willing to bet our students would do just as well on several state assessments - maybe even better. So help me - what are some childhood memories of learning you have that we can use to develop lessons in our classrooms?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Real World

I was asked some very thoughtful and thought-provoking questions by a student today. I don't often get to interact with students one on one anymore - something I miss greatly. For several reasons, I was able to meet today with a student who was asking for help in preparing to retake her Global Studies Regents exam in August.

She failed the exam by one point.

Why is this important? First - she came to school last week, asked for a copy of her exam and feedback on what she could do better. Second - when I met with her today to review the test and prep for what she could do in August, she had reviewed that test. And reviewed it very carefully. She knew what she didn't know. And she knew, in terms of her writing, what she didn't do. What she didn't know was how to "fix it" for August.

And she did all this - because of one point.

As we talked, it became obvious that she knew where she had failed, but also how her teachers had failed her. As we talked about how she took the exam and why she chose not to use a graphic organizer or why she changed correct answers on her multiple choice sheet, she was frustrated that no one had taught her "how" - they just expected her to "do." I shared some vocabulary strategies that she could use and we started by having her highlight all the words in the test that she could not talk to me about with confidence. There weren't a great number of them - remember, she missed passing by one point - but there were enough.

We then looked at her writing. She knew she wandered, she knew it wasn't well organized, and she knew she probably didn't answer the question. But she knew she had better include the appropriate number of document references. I showed her how to organize her writing by taking apart the prompt and then use two column notes a la Step Up to Writing to help guide her. Like me, she's not a big fan of the mind map so this plan seemed to make more sense to her. We talked about her writing the longer DBQ essay first, then moving to the Thematic essay - even though they are not in that order in the test booklet.

And we mapped out a plan for her to tackle all of this before the next exam. No more than 20 minutes per night, learn what you don't know, practice organzing writing. Remember that she knows a lot - she only needed one point.

She wants to be a nurse - and starts some CTE courses next year. She asked why I don't teach anymore - I told her I do, I just work with teachers. She asked why...I told her I thought that I could impact more kids this way. She asked me when I was going to start in her district. She made one powerful point!!

You see - I do work in her district. I have for the past four years. Yet somehow - it hadn't filtered down to her yet. All the time looking at data, meeting with teachers, talking about practice, scoring assessments, leading inservice dates on reading and writing - none of it made a difference on the day in June that she took that assessment. One point.

I wonder how she would have done if she had been taught the vocab strategies or writing organizer before the test. I wonder what difference it will make when she takes the test again in August. I wonder what I need to do diferently next year so that there are fewer kids like her - missing things by one point. Missing things by five points. Just plain missing things.

She left this afternoon - off to a holiday camping trip with a folder full of papers and a 20 pound Global Studies book in hand. Hopefully - she'll follow the plan and contact me if it isn't working. But in the meantime - she made me think, and think hard, about the role I play. And she made one big point.