Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparing by slicing

The winds are already blowing as I quickly respond to Stacy's "early shout out to slicers!"  The forecasters and politicians have assured us that we need to hunker down for this Frankenstorm and we are; however, my preparations were certainly as unique as my life. 

So what did I do?
  • Brought and delivered lanterns, candles in safe containers, and pre-made meals to my elderly mom and aunt (yes they have stores nearby, but the store bought blueberry muffins would signal love during the potential blackout time).
  • Brought and delivered candles, batteries and biscottis to my children in northern New Jersey (yes they do have that stuff there - most within walking distance - but the stop allowed me to have a rice-paper sushi lunch).
  • Emailed family members reminding them we have a GENERATOR this time (knowing full well the kids are saying, "Why did you wait so long to get one?")
  • Rescued my visiting cousin from her lower Manhattan apartment and brought her to our home in a place called (really) "Storm"ville instead of STAYING in the city and catching some great Turkish food and a Broadway show (thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Mayor had fallen victim to all the hype and was shutting things down too soon).
  • Scanned a zillion weather maps and acted like I knew what they meant (even though I am not a meteorologist).
  • Watch way too much scary coverage of the storm (even though I know it is a form of entertainment and that we all need to "know" what is happening around us.)
  • Questioned if the generator was ready to go, just in case (knowing we bought it after last year's epic storms left us for weeks without power and that he had spent weeks setting things up to be ready)
  • Slept fitfully wondering why there wasn't more wind and when it would come (even getting up to check the radar weather on the Internet)
  • Laundry and the dishes (we will need clean undies and forks no matter what happens)
  • Got the Scrabble board and some books ready to go.(first game cousin 304, me 299, but in my defense we were tied at 300-300 at the very end...she's good...rematch soon)
  • SLICED (My virtual friends are in my thoughts and prayers wherever you are)
  • Prayed for those in harms' way (specially the homeless, the frail, the elderly and infirm who are most impacted by such a stressful storm) wherever they are.
So what did I not do?
  • Buy milk, eggs, bread (we have food, water [and wine] to last for quite a while and if the power is out for more than a few days, we will need to cook and eat some of what we have in the fridge and freezer!)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

PLN: Twitter, Eduation News and the NYTimes

IMG_232813In my early morning checking of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) I usually rotate between my Twitter feed (Kevin has something important to share every day), Education Week, the New York Times Education section and Two Writing Teachers.
IMG_2809Every day, I am amazed and envious at the energy, creativity, and ingenuity of my colleagues and fellow teachers. They write, create, make, think, reflect, learn, smile, cry and share snippets of their professional lives generously for us all to emulate to the extent we can! 
IMG_2659[1][3]I must admit that some days, I feel like a real "slacker" even though I am always at school early and often still at school at 5 PM.   I'm not doing nearly as much with technology as I would like to do (yet) and I my space is still not as neat and organized as those wonderful teachers who came up with the idea of Teachers Pay Teachers.

Then, the other day a colleague was showing her flyer from the TC conference, and my heart was filled with thoughts of, "I SHOULD BE GOING, TOO."  But like busy teachers everywhere, I cannot do everything.  I will continue to read and share professional books.  I will continue to grab an idea here and there from virtual friends and colleagues.   I will continue to "connect" with my PLN in the early morning, in my pajamas, with a cup of tea. Together, we are making a difference in teaching and learning. 

October: Magical, magnificent, madness

I think I've always loved fall, even as a child.  I loved (still do) getting new shoes, notebooks and sharpened pencils and going "back" to school to begin the new adventure.  I especially loved (still do) settling into a routine allowing learning to accelerate at rocket speed.  I loved (still do) the juxtaposition of cool mornings and warm afternoons with colorful, rustling leaves as an added bonus. I loved (still do) the opportunity to be outside when the weather and sky provides the best show on earth.  When my firstborn made her early October arrival, it sealed the deal that October was my favorite month! 

Over the years, my relationship with October has been challenged.  There was an October Blizzard back in the '80s that left us without power or water for more than a week.  There were football games in upstate NY when the sun at our downstate home was replaced by snow and sleet at the stadium forcing me to head for Walmart looking for longies! Then, last year, another freak storm left us without power in late October forcing schools to close and cancelling many Halloween celebrations! 

This year, October has been filled with marvelous warm days and magnificent sunsets.  I've soaked in the beauty of the leaves and the wonder of settling into our learning patterns.  A "surprise" visit from my westcoast based cousin should have sealed the deal for a marvelous month; however, based on the weather reports, Mother Nature is challenging my relationship with October, again!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sharing a blog

I did not find this one on my own.  I can thank my PLN Twitter reading @aruddteacher100
But with a click of the mouse, I think, outside of my box and beyond my day to day APPR, CCSS, and other day to day life stressors.  This blog post caught my eye because it stirred memories and connects my past to my present. It's a real life, text-to-self connection even though I did NOT grow in in a crime family ! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

At the falls this fall

I'm participating in an "Extreme Reading Challenge" this year,
so I I was planning a photo of me reading raking leaves,
until my husband suggested the falls on a fall afternoon
It's a restored factory turned venue for weddings and parties,  
thus, it was no surprise that an afternoon wedding was wrapping up
while we did "our" photo shoot. 
The spot, while not all that extreme, is significant in that   
the best from the past (factory buildings and a powerful waterfall)
 have intermingled with  new ideas, furnishing and people. 
I guess that is why the site is perfect, now, 
merging pasts into new families, creating futures.
Perhaps I was mesmerized by the rushing water and the setting sun; but,
I could have stayed like those who, in the past, found solace from their labors,  
and like those who, today, see potential in merging the past with the future. 
My photo depicts "holding tight to things of value," even if they are old,  
while embracing new ideas and envisioning potenial for the future.  
There was a lot more than meets the eye in this photo at the falls. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


These words are often read at weddings; however, they are most useful on other days (days when we are disappointed in someone we love)

Love is patient and kind.

It does not envy nor does it boast.

It is not proud nor is it rude.

It is not self-seeking nor easily angered,

It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil.

But rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. 

 Corinthians 13:4"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

National Day of Writing Reflection: Following the Script and Taking Some Chances

Truth be told, in most aspects of my life, I am not a "take lots of chances" kind of  person.  Making this blog public was a big decision.  Finally,the need to practice what I preach overpowered my reluctance to possibly offend someone. Yet, to be a writer, one must be a risk taker and must lay themselves out before others accepting critique, discussion as well as agreement. 

On this National Day of Writing, I am reflecting on a powerful conversations this week with teachers who will lead this next generation of writers.  We discussed Katie Wood Ray's  vision of writing workshops as places where students make "things" that matter.  Ray (2004, p.6) notes, "From the very first day of workshop, we fold up paper, staple it together so it looks like a book and then say to the five and six year olds in front of us, 'Come on everybody, let's make books.'  It's this making of something that matters so much to them and drives their work across the year."  (thanks Amanda for pulling out that quote) We talked about creating passion in workshops on all levels through writing across the curriculum (poems in history; songs in science) and encouraging the writing that occurs during free choice times (comic strips about Stone Fox; cards for friends; creating games). 

We talked about demands to write good essays, complex informational texts, book critiques and more spurred by CCS as well as district mandates.  At times, it feels like we do not have time to write about what is really meaningful and important to kids in ways that will inspire them to be writers.  Our tone was quieter for a bit as we worried about how it might all "fit into our packed days," and then we realized that teachers MUST:
* find ways to empower kids to be excited about writing
* try out new genres
* encourage writing for personally meaningful reasons
* explore writing formats (comics, digitally, poems) even if they do not align with standards
* practice what they I preach

I guess I am becoming a bit of a risk taker these days as I "lay my thoughts and ideas out there"  accepting critique, discussion as well as agreement.  I guess I am, finally, becoming a writer!  Donald Graves would be proud of me AND the teachers who will lead this next generation of writers to be effective essay writers on tests AND passionate about sharing their thoughts, ideas and stories with others in a global marketplace of writing! 


National Day of Writing: Sharing Digital Writing

I knew there was going to be a lot of good sharing of writing and writing ideas out there today!

Celebrating Writing, Digital and Otherwise

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Today is National Day on Writing, hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English. Events surrounding the celebration of writing include the ongoing #whatiwrite, a Twitter-based space for participants to share links to their writing online. Follow the #whatiwrite hashtag here. Groups and projects popping up in the conversation include The EdTech Primer and How I Share Is As Important as #WhatIWrite, a Creative Commons resource page from the National Writing Project. A few titles of interest for digital writing in the K-12 classroom:

Check out Catherine Gewertz's post at Curriculum Matters for more about National Day on Writing, including NCTE resources and events related to the occasion. And, lest we overlook handwriting amid the celebration of digital writing and sharing, David Polochanin's just-published Commentary contemplates the role of cursive in an increasingly digital world

National Day of Writing: Plight of the Pajama Novelist

I suspect there will be lots of great writing published by devotes of the National Writing Project today, but this one you really must read!

The Plight of the Pajama Novelist

I stand accused of being nothing more than
a pajama novelist
padding about in bare feet
with fingers twitching on my cell phone
as I unleash yet another sentence, word by word by word,
into this text-ural world.
My accusers use their diplomas for prosecution
as if a piece of paper
might yield some artifact from the past
to determine the present state of affairs
when words are so cheap that anyone is a poet;
anyone, a novelist;
anyone, a composer.
Locked into the ribbon of their old punch-key typewriters,
they don’t imagine that writing can ever be different than it was,
that it might change with the pulse of the times
and become stories scribbled out on the thumbpads
during the afternoon commute back home.
Odysseus remains lost in the mire
but Genji is alive and well,
immersed in the politics of the palace
of internal intrigue which we — the denizens of Keitai Shosetsu –
pick and choose from of the remains of the skeletons
of the past.
Yet who am I to defend myself as I sit in anonymity,
disguised as a woman of heartache
whose lover is in chains;
whose past remains broken;
whose heart is in flames;
with passions, spoken: all for public consumption
as I sip my beer and imagine the possibilities.
A million hits can’t be wrong — a million eyes on the screen –
as they wait with eagerness
while my accusers stew in their discordant certitude
that this signal the End of the Novel.
So yes, I plead guilty to charges
and wait for the jury of my peers — one million strong –
to come to my defense so we can write this new tale of ours:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Which comes first? lesson plans. or writing?
It's National Writing Day (Octobe 19-20) and everyone is encouraged to share theirwriting in all its forms via Facebook , Twitter , Google+ , Instagram , or NWP Connect .

From the NWP
"It's a fun traditions among Writing Project sites, and although the officially recognized day falls on a Saturday this year, schools are encouraged to celebrate during the week before or after October 20.
At the National Writing Project we believe that writing, in its many forms, is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. We envision a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

No More Homework?

image via

      An educational reform movement across the Atlantic has the potential to make us rethink teaching and children in ways Common Core Standard enthusiasts and Annual Professional Performance Review advocates can only dream!  In France, President Francois Hollande is hoping to eliminate homework as a means of raising educational expectations for all students!  He was quoted in the Daily News: "An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home."  While this reform movement may appear to run counter to the common perception that "more is always better," there might be some research to support rethinking homework and ways to make sure all students get the "most" from school.   Alfie Kohn, for one, has been asking schools to rethink homework for many years.  Kohn's research found no correlation between homework and a meaning full measure of achievement on an elementary or middle school level and a weak correlation at the high school level.  Cathy Vatterott, at ASCD, proposes if we do have homework, it should always be beautiful, have a clear, student chosen purpose, be personally relevant and customized!   While Kohn, Vatterott and even Hollande may have a personal vendettas against homework, theyare asking us to rethink our practices in light of the bigger picture of what we do in schools and what we do for all students after they leave school for the day.  Perhaps longer school days with planned times for "reading and study" might be a better option? Perhaps longer school years with more time spent for "reading and study" might be a better option?  While there are many children (and probably quite a few teachers) who would love to rethink "homework," it is a big conversation with the potential to change how we encourage students to be lifelong learners before and after the bell rings. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Growing Tired

"I'm so weak and very tired," she said as we headed to the ER. "I'm just so tired," she mumbled as we got her onto the gurney.  "I feel like I just can't keep going," she moaned when she realized that the ER was packed full on this rainy fall evening.  "I don't think I will ever get seen," she sighed  as we made our way to the cubicle where they would, eventually, evaluate her condition.

She did perk up when she realized she had a "birds eye" view of the station where the nurses congregated.  She did perk up when that cute young doctor came around.  In fact, when asked how she felt, she might have actually smiled and said, "I feel sh)+y, that's why I'm here."  After the nurses, aides, and doctor had left the room, she returned to her real real, deep concern that her body was just plain worn out! While the medical staff felt there was nothing they could offer to "fix" her condition, she readily accepted a "bag" of saline solution to help "perk her up a bit."

She says she is tired of watching those "old farts" dancing on TV and telling you that your Golden Years are the best years of your life. Tired, she says, of watching life pass you by quickly while you move slower and slower.  It's hard not to resent "growing older."  It's hard to watch sparks changing  to charred embers; yet, that is what happens to all of us "lucky" enough to grow old. 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sharing from Ed Week: Anthony Cody's How Can a Teacher Be Great and Awful?

Im sharing part of a letter....and part of an comments...just sharing :)

How Can One Teacher be Both the Best and the Worst? A Letter to President Obama

Follow me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody
I have volunteered to help Diane Ravitch collect and organize letters for the Campaign for our Public Schools, which will culminate on Thursday, October 17. .....
Dear President Obama,
I am a 7th grade writing teacher. I love my school, my job, and my students. Summers are torture to me because I'm out of the classroom. I truly feel I was put on this earth to teach middle school. My job is me and I am my job; the two cannot be separated. After twenty-five years of teaching, walking into my classroom each morning still produces little sparks of excitement within me. I am a lucky, lucky person.
I teach six classes a day in a former-rural-now-bedroom-community near Seattle. My students cross all socioeconomic lines. Some children in my school come from wealthy families and some children in my school are living in cars. Some kids have never known want or need. Some get two of their meals, their supplies, and their clothes, for free, at school.
When I teach my honors class, made up of kids who are gifted and talented, I am the most amazing teacher in the world! The kids hang on my every word. They laugh at my (pathetic) jokes. They pay close attention in lessons, apply their learning directly to their own writing, and ask writerly questions. They strike up conversations about books they've read or movies they've seen. When I ask them questions, like, "What did you do over the weekend?" they give answers about museums, stage productions, sporting events (both their own and professional), music recitals, restaurants, travel, family activities, and events within their well-connected and well-supported social stratum. My job as a teacher is easy and very natural.
In another class, I am the worst teacher on the planet. The kids from that hour are distracted and disengaged. It would appear they've never been in a classroom. They are rude to each other, profess no need for adults like me, and they do not complete their work. Attentions are short. Stories are only funny if it involves someone getting hurt or humiliated. Many have been in fights, been suspended, and have seen the inside of the principal's and counselor's offices many times already this year. If I ask about their weekends, they say they did, "nuthin'." If I refer to a piece of art or a musical or a book, I get blank stares in return. Many spend their lives outside of school unsupervised, so imagine their reactions when they enter a structured environment, like a school, or worse yet, Mrs. Barker's class. My job as a teacher is strained, difficult, and emotionally exhausting.
So what gives? Same teacher, same twenty-five years of teaching experience. Kids from the same town, attending the same school.
Obviously, the variable is the vast differences in my students' lives. We cannot ignore the fact that some kids come to us programmed to learn. They've had amazing experiences in their short lives. They have parents who support their endeavors, be they academic, artistic, or athletic. They do not come to school hungry and they do not go to bed scared. They travel during school breaks. Their houses are warm and their many pairs of shoes fit. My students who live in poverty do not have their basic needs met. In addition to lacking food, shelter, water, and clothing, many live in chaos. Violence, missing parents, low wages, drug use, loss of employment...the list goes on. How can a child focus on crafting a good title or writing an engaging lead when so many forces, out of her control, take center stage in her brain and her psyche? I'm positive you studied Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in your academic years. NOTHING that propels growth can happen in a person's life until those very basic needs are met.
Here's the kicker: none of this is ever an excuse and I'll continue to work one hundred times harder for my students who struggle and live in poverty. I'll go toe-to-toe with them to demand they finish their work, and finish it well. I'll call them in at lunchtime so they can work and eat at the same time. I'll stand strong as they unload the burdens of their brains and hearts, offer them hugs, and then keep pushing because I know education is their only way out. I'll continue to strive to be that adult who is the example, knowing that sometimes all it takes to pull a kid from the cycle is one single grownup who cares.
Truth told, I live for these kids. Most times, I never know where they end up because of the transient nature of their lives. But in those moments, when a 25 year old man knocks on my classroom door and tentatively says, "I'm sure you don't remember me..." and proceeds to apologize for being a little "s--t" in my class and then tells me that he's been accepted to the State Patrol Academy and that he's on his way to having his life in order, I am rewarded. I cry in those moments. I'm sure you understand why.
Ending poverty will end many problems in public education. We are by no means perfect, but when our mission is to take in anyone, no matter their conditions, how could we be? Our great nation has the wealth to make sure kids don't go hungry. We have the money to support struggling families. We put our resources and energy into the things that matter most to us. By today's standards, the United States does not value the well-being and education of all its children.
Proof is in actions, not words or plans to test the life out of children.
Please, be a democrat in the best possible definition. Please return to your idea of hope; it is why I voted for you. Your plan for education runs frighteningly close to that of Governor Romney's and does not allow me to cast my vote for you this time around. You still have time to turn this freighter. All it takes is some honesty and commitment from you, the only one who can reject Race to the Top, the testing culture, the privatization of public schools, and the eventual collapse of what makes our nation greater than any other: a free education for all.

With all the sincerity I can muster,

Shelley Barker

Snohomish, WA

Here is Diane Ravitch's call for letters -- from teachers, parents, students, administrators, and citizens who care about schools.
You can add your letter to those being sent by submitting it here, to the Campaign for our Public Schools.
You can also mail copies of your letters through US mail to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 20500
You can send them directly to the White House by email from this page.

What do you think? Will you add your letter to those being sent? What would you like the president to understand?

brain scans MAY predict reading skills

Thanks to my PLN (Professional Leaning Network) on Twitter, I sometimes start my day with inspiring stories.  Other days, when I read headlines like this, I think about them all day!

The headline: Brain scans may predict kids’ reading skills

Notice: in my headline, I used uppercase letters for the word MAY.

The researchers scanned children's brains and then they took standardized tests to gauge their cognitive, language, and reading skills.  In each case, children with above-average reading skills had f nerve bundles that were initially low, but increased over time. Children with lower reading skills had declines over time.  THEN, the Yeatman, a doctoral candidate at Stanford noted "By the time kids reach elementary school, we’re not great at finding ways of helping them catch up.”
FIRST, this is NOT "hot" news but rather a repeat of studies done 10 years ago. The famous and frequently quoted Shaywitzes, doctors from Yale, have devoted their careers to the challenge of identifying and helping kids with specific and profound reading difficulties.  They talk about their research findings and propose retraining solutions that use phonetics and meaning to retrain the brain.
There has ALSO been lots of other medical-based studies such as this one that have show people can become   capable readers using different neural pathways.  They conclude that there are two systems for reading: a typical one for most readers and another system that is more effective for the dyslexic thinker. They conclude a meaning based approach is best.
Reading articles like this in the morning can get me thinking all day.  I want to write a and tell parents and teachers that they should not give up on kids just because they are "behind" in reading.  Teachers who identify strengths and support weaknesses can teach every single child how to read.  Some may read more slowly that others and some may have many more miscues because that is how their brain works; however, every single one of us have parts of our brains that do not work as well as others.  We can all learn to compensate for our weaknesses. 
However, remember Doctor Ferreri says this: Teachers, not programs, teach kids.  Teachers, who differentiate can teach all kids. Teachers, who differentiate can find ways to help all kids catch up.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Goals, I Have a Few

In my district (and in many others) part of teachers' Annual Professional Practice Review (end of the year grade) is determined by the evidence we show towards our established "goals" for the year.  I really, really, really need to finalize my "goals" for the 2012-2013 school year because my meeting is looming; however, every time I start to write up my goals, they change. So, for the sake of trying to sort out my thinking, I am going to write down some of the things I would like to do!  

* do everything in my power to make every child have the strategies they need to be an effective reader and writer
* provide books that every child wants to read including Captain Underpants, comic books, and graphic novels galore...whatever it takes! 
* make sure every child wants to read because everybody around them wants them to enjoy books rather than because they will get a higher score on the ELA
* make writing workshop a place where every child writes for every teacher about personally interesting topics and gets feedback that encourages them to write more
* wear a t-shirt to school every day that lists Cambourne's conditions for learning so that everyone will think  every day about the impact of their words and never  get negative feedback for their attempt at learning
* plan and do a summer reading program for kids
* plan and do a summer writing program for kids
* write a book to help make sure that every teacher of struggling readers and writers know that it is teachers, not programs, that need to be differentiated to assure all kids can learn....
* publish my easy readers because they really are exciting when kids are just starting out of the box

This is Anita.
She is ready to go. 
She has lots of goals.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Birthday Kale and Canolis

I don't cook like Julia and I don't accessorize like Martha; however, I have always treasured family dinners.  In the early days, the husband and I shared hamburgers from a tiny hibachi inches from our basement window (not too safe in retrospect).  Later, mealtimes were valued because the kids were "still" when strapped in high chairs with food.  Later, mealtimes where when, if I was lucky, they might talk about the good and bad "stuff" of their days.  Now, when the "kids" make a visit, it is treasured time and I savor every word.
So when my daughter suggested coming "home" for a birthday bike ride and dinner, I picked up veggies at the farmer's market and eagerly strapped the bikes to the car! I was confident she was not expecting a lot of "hoopla" and would be happy chopping garlic and kale at her "party."  It was an impromptu event without siblings, cousins or friends.  There were no shrimp cocktails and no lobster tails.  There was neither cake nor ice cream.  There were no blow up houses, no balloons and no games.  It was far too cold to even eat on the porch!
Italian Fig Cookies I RecipeWe arrived home after a lovely ride across the Hudson River and inhaled pesto, hummus, and veggie chips.  We toasted the birthday girl with bubbly as she chopped garlic and peppers to be mixed with fresh kale.  There was fresh flounder and swordfish simmering on the grill.  We wrapped up the dinner with fig cookies, mini pastries and micro-canolis.  Her gifts included a "dress making form" from her BFF, a "garlic braid" from me (from last week's garlic festival) and a "dryer vent cleaning brush" from her dad!

This was a celebration as unique and special as the miracle I first "brought to the party" long ago, on a crisp fall afternoon.  

Vocabulary...hmmm it just might be the answer

Columbus, Americus, or Jobs? Part II

As I said yesterday, I really love this "3-day weekend" in mid October and I want to keep the tradition of celebrating the fall; however, over the years I have started to feel more and more guilty over the hypocrisy of celebrating "Columbus Day." 
The story I first believed was of a determined sailor who worked tirelessly to find funding for three ships that would prove the world was not flat!  However, we now downplay that fabled story as it appears Columbus may have earned his "legacy" primarily through his carefully documented journals for his sponsors.  After all, he was looking for a "short" route to China when he accidentally landed int he Bahamas and he had to have something to "give" those who funded his trip!  
Some historians even speculate that Columbus already had some knowledge of "new lands" across the Atlantic from Europeans who had been here fir trade and fishing and thus his voyage became "a research trip" for his "professional" journal writing!
The saddest part of the Columbus story is not the "scam" of European royalty,  however, it is the violence toward and enslavement of the indigenous people of the regions.  There is evidence of genocide, rape and violence towards all of the people who did not flee the domination of the Europeans. 
So why does America celebrate Columbus Day?  While some may suggest it has more to do with our need to justify the domination of our ancestors, I speculate it may have more to do with "tradition." No matter what the reason, it might be time to reposition this holiday as one honoring the many people whose discoveries have helped to transform our world. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Please Do NOT Mess WIth Big Bird

Columbus or Americus Day? Part I You Decide

File:Columbus by Lawrence.jpg
Don't get me wrong, I really love the "3-day weekend" in mid October that I have come to associate with colorful leaves, cool morning walks and a bargain shopping trip of some sort.  Yet, over the years I have started to feel more and more guilty over the hypocrisy of celebrating "Columbus Day."  Back in the old days, when I was in school, we sang about CC, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue"; however, today there is far greater acceptance that he did not "discover" America. 
About 20,000 years ago, Native Americans came across a narrow land that connected Asia and North America at the time. By 1492, there were millions of people in the Americas. Then, about 1000 A.D., Vikings landed in Greenland and later traveled to  North America. Leif Ericson is believed to have lead that exposition. And let's not forget Americus Vespucius, for whom our country is named who made maps of his travels to our part of the world several years before Columbus sailed to this hemisphere.  
So, not you are wondering, why do we celebrate CC as a fashionably late arrival to the already burgeoning New World?   I have more to say about this issue in Part II!  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tips for Reading Aloud

I really intended to log on for a post....but then I read this...(even though it was written a while ago, it popped into my Twitter for teachers feed ) and I must pass it forward.  Matt Renwick, a midwest principal, writes about HIS framework for reading aloud to students.  There is really nothing new here; however, he writes this from a framework of WHAT HE DOES WHEN HE READS ALOUD TO HIS STUDENTS!  He's not telling US to do it....well he is...but rather then tell...he SHOWS US WHAT HE DOES.  I am pretty sure that Matt, is quite a teacher!
Great work, Matt!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Garlic, Garlic and More Garlic

For years, my husband yearned to attend the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, a weekend long extravaganza for garlic lovers.  I had reservations about "giving up" a glorious fall day that could have been spent bike riding or exploring the Botanical Gardens.  Spending the day with a bunch of smelly garlic lovers? Well, this year I relented!

My hesitation turned to a smile when I realized that there were  craft booths and each included something "garlicky." I didn't buy them, but will long remember the garlic shaped silver earrings for $65.  Where else would you find that!

 In the farmer's market area, we talked to growers.  I don't know about you, but I always thought garlic was garlic. 
WRONG!  There are MANY different kinds of garlic all with subtle differences.  There is German, Italian, Russian, and even Irish garlic heritages growing in the rich soil of upstate New York.  Words like subtle, spicy, warm, and vibrant are used to describe some incredible garlics that people are using to make hummus, pesto, jellies, oils, vinegar and even ice cream. 

I sampled some garlic (I did NOT try the garlic ice cream) and left with bags of garlic, hummus and vinegar that will grace our table for months and provide us with warm memories of the harvest 2012. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sharing From the Washington Post...Sigh

Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 09/30/2012

New teacher evaluations start to hurt students

Much of the discussion about the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers has centered on how unfair the “value-added” method is to teachers because it is unreliable and can — and does — label effective teachers as ineffective too often. But there are consequences for the students too, and they are just starting to be seen. This is explained by in this post by Carol Burris, the award-winning principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores, which has been signed by more than 1,500 New York principals and more than 5,400 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.

By Carol Burris
The first “growth scores” for the teachers of students in Grades 3-8 have arrived in New York State and they are even more problematic than expected. What is happening in New York is happening across our country. The question that those who love our public schools and their students must confront is what credence will we give them and how will we respond.
We know that of all of the many factors that account for the variance in student scores, the teacher is the greatest in-school factor — she contributes more for example, to student test scores than does the principal or the school size. However, factors other than the teacher account for roughly 85-90% of the variation in students’ test scores. Teachers account for only 10-15% of the variance in scores. Some researchers have argued that even that percentage is too high due to the conflation of teacher contribution with class size and peer effects. What that means is that the urban legend that three excellent teachers in a row will close the achievement gap is not grounded in research but rather in speculation.
The shortcomings of evaluating teachers by test scores were apparent in the recent report of the American Institute for Research (AIR), which developed the New York growth score model. AIR, in its BETA report, shows how as the percentage of students with disabilities and students of poverty in a class or school increases, the average teacher or principal growth score decreases. In short, the larger the share of such students, the more the teacher and principal are disadvantaged by the model. I predict that when the state results are made public, you will see a disproportionate amount of teachers of students with serious learning disabilities and teachers in schools with high levels of poverty labeled ineffective on scores. And that label will be unfair.
Likewise, in the model used this year, teachers who have students whose prior test scores were higher were advantaged, while teachers whose students have lower prior achievement were disadvantaged. This phenomenon, known as peer effects, has been observed in the literature since the 1980s. There is no control for peer effects in the model. We will see patterns of low scores for teachers of disadvantaged students. Over time, the students who need the best teachers and principals will see them leave their schools in order to escape the ‘ineffective’ label.
Perhaps the best critique of the model comes from AIR itself. The BETA report concludes that “the model selected to estimate growth scores for New York State represents a first effort to produce fair and accurate estimates of individual teacher and principal effectiveness based on a limited set of data” (p. 35). Not “our best attempt,” not even a “good first attempt,” but rather a “first effort” at fairness.
And yet, across the state, teachers and principals have received scores telling them that they are ineffective in producing student learning growth.
During the first two weeks of September, Principal Harry Leonadartis surveyed principals around the state to find out if the growth ratings they received for their teachers appeared to be an accurate reflection of their teachers’ skills. More than 500 New York principals responded.
Seventy three percent of respondents said that the “ineffective” label assigned to some of their teachers was either not a very accurate or an inaccurate reflection of that teacher based on their observations and the performance of that teacher’s students. A majority said that the scores overall were not a very accurate reflection of teacher ability. Regarding APPR, the state-imposed evaluation system, 81% regarded it as a tool of limited or no value for the evaluation of teachers. Only 19% had a positive attitude toward APPR with minimal concerns. Over 81% described themselves as either reluctant participants or opposed to APPR. More than 1510 New York principals have signed a letter of opposition to APPR which can be found here.
In the comments section of the survey, several principals reported having excellent special education teachers labeled as “ineffective.” One principal wrote: “Two excellent teachers who volunteer to take on my toughest students got an ineffective. Their hearts were broken. So was mine.” Another principal remarked, “The teachers who were identified as ineffective…have been teaching for more than 15 years, and have cared for students in ways that no test can measure.”
Other principals remarked that teachers who received poor ratings were teacher often praised by students and parents alike. Some principals stated that they would change their teacher’s assignment next year and assign them less needy students so that they could protect these excellent teachers from the ineffective rating. The unintended consequences to students are beginning.
How can an evaluation system in which the evaluators themselves have little faith possibly be productive? The question is, what will we collectively, and individually as school leaders do?
There are principals who are bravely standing up. One of them is Don Sternberg, the leader of the Wantagh Elementary School on Long Island. You can read his letter to parents here.
Don wrote:
Of additional concern to me is the relationship between children and their teacher as we move into an era where teacher job status is based upon student assessment scores. Guess what, some children will become more desirable than others to have in class! And, conversely, others will be less desirable. There, I wrote it! That concept is blasphemy in our school where teachers live to prepare children to be productive learners and members of society. Teachers state-wide are worried that their relationship with students might change when they are evaluated based upon their students’ test scores. Teachers want to educate students, not test prep them for job security.
Additionally, what should be shocking to you as a parent is that state and national databases are being created in order to analyze and store students’ test scores – your child’s assessment results and your child’s school attendance! Do you realize that the state has mandated that classroom teachers must take attendance during every math, ELA, social studies and science lesson – everyone, every day for the entire school year! Those records are sent to the state and become statistically part of the teacher evaluation process. It will no longer be enough that your child ‘was in school.’
Rather, if he or she was at a band lesson or out of the room for extra help in reading and a math lesson was taking place in class, he or she will be noted as absent from that instruction. That will be factored into the teacher evaluation….This is all part of the massive, multi-million tax-payer dollar teacher evaluation processes started by our Commissioner of Education, our governor, and our state legislators and fully supported by statisticians employed by the state and assessment-making companies. No one in Albany is selecting to see the end of the journey; that 98 percent of the students graduating from Wantagh Schools go on to two- and four-year colleges. Their myopic view is focused on the ‘parts’, not the whole. Who will eventually suffer? Your children!

Further upstate New York, an outstanding principal, John Mc Kenna, worked with the Niagara Regional PTA to create a resolution against high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation by test scores to be presented at the New York State PTA convention later this fall. You can read their resolution here:
Poverty matters. It does not seal the fate of a child, but if we are to overcome the disadvantages that it brings, we must level the playing field by providing effective supports to poor students and the teachers who serve them. The “no excuses” philosophy which seeks to blame teachers for the burden our entire society must bear is a cold and shameful response to our most disadvantaged students. The waste of billions of taxpayer dollars on testing, test security, test shredding, intrusive data systems and test-score teaching ratings is a violation of the public trust.
How many more brave educators and parents will stand up, speak and say “no more?”