Saturday, January 28, 2012

Check it out

As I mentioned in class this week, reading has changed a lot in the past decade.  I am amazed at the amount of time I spend reading online - and know that this is not a trend that is likely to change. 
As noted in the photos below, books are indeed important to me; however, this new way of reading, thinking and publishing is here to stay because it offers us ALL ways to connect and learn that are extraordinary. 
This blog is one that you should certainly check out!

The author talks about and reflects on her own practice and the changing world of electronic learning that includes terms I would have never even thought of a few years ago such as digital mentors. 

Like this author, "my own beliefs about my own best practice have evolved over the years as I have learned more and taught more."
Like this author, "I think we have to constantly think about why and what we want our kids to be able to do and look thoughtfully for tools and mentors that will compliment our goals for students."

So, if you happen across this site because you are a one of my grad students looking for resources or ideas OR if you happen on this site for any other reason, go check out this blog post...and also consider including some PARTS of digital books in your units of study....
 AOL Kids, Toon Book Reader, You Tube, National Geographic Kids ,

Ready for action

Last Saturday, I spent most of the day cleaning/ clearing the residual holiday artifacts from my "office" space.  My purpose was primarily because I really could the clutter was annoying and looking at the left over wrapping paper, cards, and unfinished projects was a reminder of how many things I just never get "done" like I "want" to get done.  The results of my work is that my office is a LOT less cluttered; however, the REAL value of my work was that I went through some piles and baskets and was reminded of MANY wonderful learning memories.  There were a few grad school papers that I kept and a lots of turned down pages to remind me to share these articles with students.  There was the note from a parent last spring and the note from my son a few years ago.  There was my "last" diploma buried under a dried flowers and unsewn fabric....
Yesterday (Friday afternoon) I stayed late at school in an effort to do a bit of the same kind of "decluttering" there.  It too was needed and warranted after 5 months of busy school days.  As the parking lot cleared and the sky darkened, I at first felt a little sorry for myself - feeling a bit sad that I was not on my way home - HOWEVER, as I looked through my student's folders and reflected on the work of the past five months, I was reminded why I needed to be there: the REAL value of my work was that I went through some piles and baskets and was reminded of MANY wonderful learning memories.  There was the work my third graders did in September - my we've come a long way!  There was the work my first graders did just a month ago - they are taking flight as readers and writers these days.  I reflected on how my 2nd graders are reading real chapter books with good comprehension these days. 
While I stayed late and hit lots more traffic than I would have liked.....I left with the smile of satisfaction that comes when you are indeed "ready for action"...the smile that comes when you have reflected and planned for the days ahead.  The kind of smile I felt when I walked into the office this morning....
As I drove home, I thought about our students.  They too need and should have opportunities to stop, clear out and reflect on their desks, cubbies and work.  Perhaps we can all be most productive when we MAKE time to "get ready for the action ahead!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Martha, Beth and Me Part II

Ever wonder what a professor's office space looks like during a good cleaning on a snowy day?
Now you know my "dirty" little secret: I am not Martha nor Beth...just me...and using this "stuck at home day" to catch and clean up so that I CAN be a little tiny bit more like those neat, organized crafty icons of perfection - at least for a little while! 
MY real reason for taking the cleaning time to post my dirty little secret?  Now I just might feel compelled to post a "POST" cleaning picture to rectify my public image!

Testing 1,2,3..(hyperlinks and more!)

Testing has always been a big part of school life- perhaps the part many people remember the most.  Many of us remember the days of sweating through Regents and SAT tests more than the days of discussion in our HS classes!  
Testing ....or as I would prefer to think of it..ASSESSMENT IS and SHOULD be an important part of what we do in schools.  We really do need to assess the need to teach something before we teach it!  Otherwise, we might just be wasting everyone's precious time.  We need to assess WHILE we teach as FORMATIVE assessments really should guide what we reteach and when we more on....and finally we REALLY SHOULD assess the learning at the culmination of a unit of study.  Summative assessments really do inform US more than they inform our students!  How else can we know who needs our differentiated support and reteaching in order to succeed in content or skills? Assessment that is embedded and integral to our teaching is the work of effective teachers....
I guess I have spent a whole lot more time in the world of rubric assessment than in the formulation of multiple choice questions.....SO..after just spending the last 6 hours of a lovely snowy morning finishing the FORMATTING of a practice ELA test a manner that is at least CLOSE to this.......    Where I had to ADD lots of reworked questions.... I am remembering that GOOD assessment making takes TIME....and evaluating those assessments takes even more TIME.  I guess our team can hope for snow next Saturday morning too! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dear Governor Letter # 2

Last night, because it was the eve of a holiday and I felt like I had all the time in the world to finish my syllabus, lesson plans, and test prep packages, I watched an interview of the NJ Governor by Oprah on the Oprah channel.  (It was a good thing they advertised during the Giants game or I would never have even known of the Oprah channel - sorry I digress).  Anyway, it was a pretty interesting conversation that certainly left me thinking a lot about his challenges to teachers (I have been critical in the past of his comments about physical education and kindergarten teachers).  While his "shoot from the hip" way of speaking can be abrasive, he made two statements that left in thinking.

He said only 23% of students in some cities in his state graduate from HS. YIKES. He said it was the fault of the teachers' unions and that they should be held accountable to do more for those kids. This of course challenged me to "check it out" and I visited a few sites including this site from the Journal Newspaper.
While the NJ teachers should certainly be congratulated on the 87% graduation rate statewide, the needs of students in struggling cities is certainly a concern.  However, Governor, this is part of a much greater nationwide concern for how we educate our students who are learning English as a second language and our students whose families are struggling for socio-economic reasons.  These are not quick fixes for sure - and more laws demanding students reach certain standards 1year after they arrive in this country will not make it any difference.  More laws stating that a score on a single paper-pencil test taken on a single day are indicative of failure will not solve the problem.  We DO agree on one thing: teachers are a big part of the solution to the problem. We can and need to create classrooms and schools where students WANT to come and learn - no matter what is happening outside of the classroom.  We can and should create supportive classrooms and school environments where learning is ASSESSMENT driven and DIFFERENTIATED based on needs.  We can and should create classrooms for EVERY student where learning is guaranteed.  Teachers can and should never give up on any child.  We can and should teach every child to read critically and think mathematically.    We can not, however, do it alone.  We need the help and support of parents and lawmakers.  We need you to hold parents accountable for their kids' attendance in school.  We need you to direct funds to classrooms and teachers where learning takes place. 
I agree with you that teachers need to be accountable for what we do; however, you need to listen rrespectfully and learn from us....and we will listen respectfully and learn from your point of view.  . 
The Governor and Oprah also talked about his battle with weight. Like many of us, myself included, emotional eating of food can be a powerful addiction that impacts our physical and emotional well-being.  I certainly know the daily struggle to keep that force in check and consider it to be one of the great undisclosed biases in our society.  In my opinion, it might even keep the Governor out of the White House. However, while he was talking, I was thinking about the Governor's comments about physical education teachers being less important than physics teachers.....and while physics is is the health of our society.  We can and should create physical education teachers and classrooms where students are learning more than dodgeball....where they are learning about lifelong health and exercise options...where they are learning about weight training and nutrition....and where students can change the course of their own lives;....where the talk is about healthy food choices and the training supports life-long learning.....for all of us...not just those who are athletically inclined!

I guess I am taking a page from the Governor's own book as I "shoot from the hip myself" on this Martin Luther King birthday holiday from school. 

Governor, I really do respect that you confront so many critical issues in our society head on even if I disagree with some of your solutions to problems; however, I think you should take a page or two from MLK's book.  We (all of us, politicians, police, firemen, teachers, parents, citizens) need to work together to make sure that every child has safe schools, effective teachers, supportive family members,  and a safe place to live......we also need to hope that some day, our children will be judged not just on how they look, but on the content of their characters.  We need to remember, as Dr. King said so much better than I, WE all may have come over on different ships and in different centuries; however, WE all now must work together to make this side of the world a better place for ALL of us.  Perhaps we should pay teachers bonuses to turn things around in low performing schools.  Perhaps we should pay our health and physical education teachers more when they make their curriculum more reflective of societal needs.  We ALL need teachers to serve as life-long mentors and to take us to the places of our dreams. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Success: Sometimes it is hard to describe; At other times, it stares you right in the face!

At home, we have been discussing the definition of "success" a lot  over the past few days. I guess it is a stage of life when the "nest" is pretty quiet and there is time to ponder the deep questions we didn't even stop to think about when our lives were at a much faster pace and there were more demands on our thinking time. I am sure that back in the days when we spent our evenings driving to sports practices and fighting over homework (with one of our children), I am sure we didn't ponder anything other than how long until bedtime. I think we were more confident that we knew a lot more in those days.  It's one of those life lessens, I guess: the more you know, the more you know you don't know it all!

Anyway, I thought I knew how I would define success until we started this conversation.  SO now, I am rethinking my definitions of success and particularly how we talk about success in schools, in our workplaces, and in our families. 

The folks at Merriam Webster
define success as a degree or measure of succeeding or the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence. 

The folks at Squidoo
 define success as "something you make. Certainly others can help you, just as others can provide obstacles, but ultimately you make your own success and your own failure."

In school, we are talking about "success" a lot lately.   We talk about what being "successful" in the classroom and on the ELA looks like.  We do not all agree there either, but we do agree that success may look slightly different for different students.  We talk about "successful" teachers and about their students' scores on statewide and local assessments as well as students' preparation for lifelong "success."

At home, it may be seem easier to describe and acknowledge "success" - but it probably isn't.  Does having a clean house equal success? If so, I am not all that successful.  Does having the laundry done mean success?  I won't qualify there either.  How about wealth or many cars define success?

In the last decade, at least one (and most years more than one) member of my family has been working on some college degree.  We've earned a pretty impressive collection of bachelors degrees, masters' degrees and PhDs..  We've also worn out a few computers and accumulated some loans along the way and our studies have certainly been diverse.

When one of my kids sent me a picture of a new one of these yesterday - fresh from the mailing envelope - and crisply representing achievement... I was certainly excited and proud and happy and thinking about success again.....
......I knew it was tangible evidence of successful completion of requirements for a degree. I am sure that it represents sacrifice, many sleepless nights and untold hard work.  It is quite an accomplishment for sure.....

There were some teachers along the way who would find this student's success pretty amazing....those teachers who do not know of unlimited potential of a individuals who set their sites on a goal would have overlooked this student......those teachers who give up on students who do not do homework would not have predicted this student's success....those teachers who expect compliance did not expect this student to succeed.....

We all have the potential to be successful when they really want to do something.....we all have the potential to continue even when faced with obstacles....we all have potential that is not measurable in our traditional formative and summative assessments.....

So, let me just shout it from the highest mountain top....I know someone who has earned 3 college degrees in 7 years!!!!  Pretty amazing!  While I was a pretty compliant student - the kind that teachers' expected to achieve success....I did not ever come close to earning 3 college degrees in 7 years - yet my kids did!

Perhaps - a working definition of success might more accurately be: achieving something you worked hard to do!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Poetry - Big Thinking

Graves (2005) describes poetry as big thinking in a short space.  I suspect that pretty much sums it up; however, poetry also makes visible thoughts that stay with us because every word is so carefully chosen and thus valued. Poetry really may be one of the best ways to focus on teaching on "what the author is trying to say!"


After a while you learn the subtle
Between holding a hand and
chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't
mean security,

And you begin to learn that
kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes

With the grace of a woman, not
the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your
On today because tomorrow's ground
Is too uncertain. And futures have
A way of falling down in mid-

After a while you learn that even
sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul, instead
of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really
can endure . . .
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn
With every goodbye you learn.

Veronica A. Shoftstall

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Effective? Yes Indeed!

I've followed this blog for a while now.  Its author is WAY ahead of me in his use of technology but I do find inspiration and ideas here.  I am thinking a LOT about the mentor texts I use / have used and about ways to integrate technology into my teaching models both for writing and reading comprehension.  I KNOW that some people might wonder if we have the "time" to do this in school....I wonder how we can risk NOT doing it - we need to engage our students and connect to them using the best available means whatever they might be!

How Do We Make Sure Every Child Has....

Highly effective parents?
Highly effective administrators?
Highly effective school boards?
Reliable and valid assessments?
Clean and safe schools?
Enough healthy food to eat every day?
Safe homes....
Safe school enviornments.....
So many critically important elements to consider....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Do We Make Sure Every Child Has a Highly Effective Teacher?

I spent all day yesterday thinking and talking about teacher evaluations.  It's a HUGE subject and a HUGELY important subject for everyone involved in the process: administrators who have to do them; teachers whose livelihood depends on them; communities that depend on teachers; and most importantly for students whose lives and futures depend on every little thing we do every single day. 
I spend a GREAT deal of my "spare" time, all year through, thinking about how I might help MY future teachers to be prepared for both the science and the craft of teaching. I struggle with the balance between theoretical preparation and practical "how-to" knowledge and usually wish my classes were a little longer sot aht I could cram just a little more into each session. 
On this beautiful sunny Saturday in January, I have spent a good chunk of the day thinking about and reviewing the work of a teachers that will contribute to important decisions about a child's future: because what teachers do is that important!
As I reflect on the challenge, I am reminded that teachers, like doctors and nurses and lawyers and dentests and pharmacists..............., are professionals who make ongoing decisions that impact the lives of others each and every day.  Teachers are educated - almost everyone has credits beyond their Masters Degree - but education alone is not enough to assure that ALL of us are doing the BEST we can each and every day for each and every kid. 
I really DO want to help get this right for kids because every child should have a teacher who cares about him / her as an individual AND who knows their content thoroughly.  Every child deserves a teacher who works hard planning, modifies plans as needed and reflects after each lesson.  However, I also want to be fair to teachers at the beginning of their careers and when their hair begins to turn gray.  (After all, it you really ARE a teacher, you WILL be gray!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Refreshing, renewing, resolving

I must admit that I did not make the traditional (for me) bold resolutions to 1) lose weight, 2) exercise more and 3)get my life organized.  I've made those goals and they are still out there - too big to ever be accomplished for too long!  I will always be 1) watching my weight, 2) trying to get healthy and 3) trying to stay organized as long as I am alive!

Yet there are small changes that this new year does call me to consider.  Like the annual "professional goals" we commit to each year, there are things that I do hope I really can do this year.  I am also HOPING that IF I make my "goals" a little bit more public by writing them down, then I MIGHT be more likely to get them done.....we'll see....

* I'd like to write / blog more about not only my life, but also my thinking about our ever demanding profession.  To that end, I hope to write at least a couple of times each week (I might need to get an IPAD to help with this goal)!!!

* I'd like to take pictures of my work in classrooms and record some of my better lessons (and the ones that flop too - they both are important to remember!)

*I'd like to get SOME OF the easy-to-read texts I have been writing for 20 years published....some how...even if I have to do it myself!!!!!!

I resolve to try - after all, it is a new year - a gift of sorts - and I want to make the best of it!!!!!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

new year

These week-long vacations are surely one of the great perks of teaching.

While lots of us could say, "I need just one more day".....

To prepare, plan, make a new center.......

I guess we feel like this after almost every vacation.....

As do the kids....

But, the truth is that we really are all ready to get back into

Learning and working together....

I guess I (we) are never ..

Quite ready in all the little ways I (we) might wish to be...

But I (we) are ready

To give and accept the learning that this new calendar year offers to all of us...

SO even if I am (you are) NOT quite ready for school tomorrow....(I'm not)

Even if my (your) plans are still shaky...

I wish for everyone

A productive and exciting teaching / learning year in 2012

A year with the potential for learning for all children and their teachers..

A year of growing and acceptance and hope - for all children

And for their teachers......