Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Power of Dreaming: Feeling My Way

What the Lark Knows (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

I. Slow Walking

Back in December I concluded a post, When Things Fall Apart: Slow Walking on Made Roads, by writing:
The road before me is unmade.
Will send posts.
At the time I was facing unemployment, uncertainty and alternating between feeling very centered and very scared.  Nonetheless, I knew that doing what I had always done needed to end.  At that time, I wrote:
For the last year I have been writing about learning while walking.  This has been no accident.   And now as I leave my current job and step into that which I cannot define, I recognize that this is and will continue to be a time of significant growth and wonder, fueled by a disequilibrium that has not been soothed by simply taking the next job offer.  I am learning that there's real courage in saying no to job offers, especially in an economy as challenging as this one and with responsibilities to family.  Saying no is not easy.  And yet, I am reminded that simply agreeing to the next job offer that resembles what I am leaving at best 'resettles' my disequilibrium by providing a direction, a baseline, that repeats the same dynamic of schools as mechanistic places.
In the seven months since that post, I've figured out that going on the interviews for school-based jobs was at best, counter-productive.  I gave it up, that last bit of familiar security and I began dreaming instead about how I wanted my life and work to be. I wondered what might happen if I began paying attention to my dreams and saying them aloud.  In many interesting ways, this blog became a way of talking out loud.  Towards the end of 2010 when I began the blog, I had no idea anyone would actually read/view what I was posting and had even less belief that anyone would actually respond. Please know that your responses to my written and visual work, along with my husband and son's responses and support in our day-to-day lives, helped me to believe that I could create other paths to walk. I could not know that I would arrive here, tonight. There is so much to learn by acknowledging what I can't know and acting nonetheless.

II. Daring to Dream

Dreaming is no small matter especially as I learned to consider it child's play, and at best something I might do as entertainment after I finished the serious work of the day.  As a woman, dreaming was largely not something I allowed myself--or when I did, it was a private matter.  I didn't dare say it aloud. Although I daydreamed, I did not make time to follow the lines of possibility these dreams suggested as such action seemed wasteful, perhaps even foolish.

The Color of a Dream I Had (M.A. Reilly, 2009)
In freeing myself from the tangle of doing the work I have always done, I was able to begin to consider what if?  At the time I was working through this, Lolly Daskal (@LollyDaskal) recommended (via a tweet) Whitney Johnson's Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream and I downloaded the book and began to read.  The work resonated. Johnson (2012) writes:
Conventional planning, at which many of us excel, will hold us in good stead as we dream, but dreaming is ultimately about feeling our way toward what we were meant to do (p. 175).
Feeling our way toward what we were meant to do is courageous work and feels right.  I started to dream about how I want to live my life, edging closer to partial understandings through happenstance.  I imagined what good I might do in the world via my own business--one dedicated to exploring and enhancing learning.   I began to appreciate the idea of being self-employed--of being responsible for the work I opted to do and not being limited by someone's version of schooling.

III. Thank You
A Thousand Years of Dreaming (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

I suspect I am not alone in dreaming, curtailing dreams, and bravely trying it again--and so I wanted to share this post.  So many good things have happened in this brief span of months and I have learned that being open to uncertainty is a requisite to dreaming and being.

As a pubic school educator, I have designed and worked to prevent reading-based difficulties for very young children and to intervene in literacy-based challenges for intermediate through high school students during the last 20 years. I've done this work as a teacher, administrator and professor. Because I  worked as a practitioner (regardless of job title), I have had the opportunity to learn so much by teaching, researching, and theorizing. This work across the years has resulted in hybrid practices that blend arts-based learning, direct instruction, culturally relevant pedagogies, with technology-based thinking and tools. Now I have the opportunity to apply this learning (along with new learning) to the consulting work I am designing and doing.

This summer I am working in a city to help teachers prevent reading difficulties for young children. I am so psyched to be teaching and applying what I love to do: engaging in meaningful and emerging work with teachers and students. I am confident that I will learn so much by applying what I observe and what I learn alongside children and their teachers to my practice.

Next fall, I will return to supporting literacy coaches working in NYC public schools as I did this past year, and will also co-teach and theorize with middle school students and their teachers in several urban public schools in NJ, as well as conduct a few other projects focusing on the early grades.  Alongside this, I will make art (both in and outside of classroom spaces).

I can't wait.

Fall Moon Rising (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
IV. Postscript

The road before me,
like all roads we make,
is still unmade.

Will send posts.

Work Cited
Johnson, Whitney (2012-05-08). Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream. INgrooves. Kindle Edition

Friday, June 29, 2012

Learner-Centered Instruction as a Place We Mark on a Map

Marie Clay (1998) writes:
Teachers who try to find out what children do not know (and much testing is directed to this) are looking for initial points of contact in the wrong places. What they need to do is find points of contact in children's prior learning, the things children can do, and spend a little time helping children firm up their grasp of what they already know. Students who are active, independent learners go on adding to their competencies in all their different environments, not just in school. Learner-centered instruction in less about interest and motivation than it is about starting where the learner already is and helping that learner to move toward a new degree of control over novel tasks, teaching so that learners are successful and are able to say, 'I am in control of this.' From there they go on to extend their own learning. Even at a low level of simple performance a sense of control and a sense of being effective will generate attention, interest, and motivation (pp.3-4).
What associational bridges will we build with children that spans the ways they have been learning within and beyond the classroom? What will those conversations we have with children sound like? How will they help us to keep track of what each child knows well so that we can begin at a place of strength? Tonight I am thinking about these questions, reminding myself to make time for conversations with each child. How do you build associational bridges between the child's world of active learning outside of school, and the school-based learning the child is expected to learn? From: Clay, Marie M. (1998). By different paths to common outcomes. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Possibility, Not Certainties: Consulting and Teaching

Dreaming of Fireflies (M.A. Reilly, 2012)
I was reminded today about the complexity of teaching and how in this age of efficiency and faux expertise, how often the hired consultant can and does do significant educational damage.  I say that with some humility as I am a hired consultant. Today I met with primary grade teachers, teaching assistants, special education teachers, and technology coordinators who will be part of an early literacy summer project that I have designed for a city. 11 years ago, I left this same city, resigning at that time from the position of director of literacy.  So in many ways, today felt like coming home.

The work before us is the prevention of reading difficulties for 4,000 children. Although I have shared and refined the design with master teachers from the city, many of whom I had worked with previously, today was the first day that teachers had a look and of course what they had to say mattered greatly. I was encouraged by their response as the summer plan is ambitious and rests on teacher expertise, risk taking, and diligence. Preventing reading difficulties requires expertise and care when working with children, especially those whose reading progress appears stalled. It requires us to be risk takers and to acknowledge what we don't understand as we ask ourselves, what made the child do or say x? It is from a teaching stance of not knowing that great learning is possible.

2-hours into the work this morning, a participant raised her hand and said that she had been visited by a consultant who spent 10-minutes in her class and reported her to the principal because she was teaching vocabulary through a call and response method. The principal later told her that she had to stop this practice as it was wrong according to the consultant. This comment surfaced after I had said that there are multiple ways to attend to a reading aloud component and that what was most important would be our thinking at the time. Several other participants said that they had been told (again by  visiting consultants) that they had to read aloud a text without interruption first and then they could return to it to do intentional work such as attending to vocabulary, aspects of comprehension, etc. I suggested that again that our intention should be informed by our thinking, not an arbitrary rule.

These stories gave me pause, not because of a matter of right or wrong, but because the exchanges exemplify the misuse of power. Consultants often are afforded significant power by those who hire.  It's so very easy to name something going 'wrong' when observing teaching if for no other reason than the work is so inherently complex and the thousands of decisions that a teacher makes are ones that another might and probably would make differently, especially if the other person is not the teacher of record, shares not a histroy with the students, and is simply visiting for a brief period of time. Our personal and professional histories always inform how we see and fail to see. It also is incredibly different to observe a lesson and revise it in your head as opposed to actually teaching. The distance between revising in one's head and teaching is vast.

At best, it's a foolish exercise for a consultant to be a pseudo-evaluator and equally foolish for a principal to situate the consultant in such a role.  In practice, it harms children, especially when it reduces the risk taking and confidence of the teacher.  I find that a method that allows for more authentic and meaningful work as a consultant is to teach.  Part of the summer school plan involves three consultants from my company and myself teaching, along with the city's master teachers.  This literal rolling up the sleeves allows me to work from the stance of learner.  I have no doubt that the children I will have the opportunity to teach this summer, along with their teachers, will help me to learn any number of things that on this late June night I cannot name. That's a gift, for sure.

It is the initial not-naming that I want to emphasize.  When entering a classroom, we need to do so with the stance of not-knowing, so we have enough room to be puzzled, to notice, and to wonder. Complexity requires us to acknowledge that a single path, method, and belief regardless of how sound it may seem, represent not the way, but rather a momentary limitation.

I want to remember that the theory making I hope to do happens best alongside the learners as we problem solve, try on different ways of working, make leaps of faith, and often fail at the very work we most prize. So tonight I am hoping that along with these 160 teachers, I fail in ways that most inform the work and allow me the opportunity to model risk taking through action.

Taking risks, leaning in to learn, problem solving with the children and our colleagues, and becoming confident in not knowing represent important ways of working that open us to possibility, by releasing us from given certainties. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Wide Space Between Personalized Learning and Personal Learning is Choice of Action

Finding Eden (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
When something is personal, agency is required.  When something is personalized, the receiver is acted upon, not acting.  Personal learning requires the learner to be the doer--the actor. Personalized learning situates the learner as the recipient of something that another has determined. 

Personal learning is inhabited by a body. Personalization requires no such agency on the part of the learner and matters of agency are ones we need to consider.

Justin Reich in a recent EdTech Research blog raises questions about the term, personalization.  He writes:
"Personalization" has won the hearts of every camp in education. Whether you are a market-based reformer, an open education advocate, or a 21st century Dewey partisan, everyone agrees that learning should be personalized: learning experiences should be tailored to each individual student. We also agree that personalization is made feasible by new technologies.
Since we agree on these broad principles, we should expect fierce battles over the specifics, over "what we mean by personalization."
Let me be frank: I'm not a fan of personalized learning and I can say squarely that it hasn't won my heart.  Nonetheless, I did wonder at the definitions that Reich might offer. He provides the following understandings of what personalization via 'technology' means:
using technology to individually diagnose student competencies on standardized tests and then apply algorithms to adaptively deliver appropriately challenging content to each student to help them perform better on those tests. It means taking the factory model of education and giving every kid an assembly line.

For some, personalization means that technology opens a world of information and expertise to every student, empowers students as explorers and creators, and lets them follow their interests and passions in diverse directions. It means blowing up the factory, and building something else (maybe creative agencies).
Although these definitions are offered as different, I wonder if they really are.  If we ask who is the agent in each scenario, we do not come up with the learner.   In the first, the learner is situated as sick and the remedy is personalization that is provided through technology.  In the second, technology again (How ubiquitous is that?) has donned the pants so to speak and is the actor that grants learner permission to follow interests and passions, as streamlined through the technology.  Reich says in the first example, the learner is given a new assembly line and in the second example the factory model of schooling is exploded. But is it, really?

At the center of a factory model is control: The owner's control over the worker; the school's control over the learner.  Something other is determining the limits of another's actions. The wrappings of the second model may not look like a factory, but without will and agency it retains a similar level of control--just one that is dressed differently.

Personal learning is quite different as it is, well, personal.  It requires the learner to act, to make decisions--even (and perhaps especially) ones that may be considered 'poor'.  It does not safeguard, coddle, enforce, limit, encourage, or coerce the learner towards a specific direction--as such matters rest in the learner's hands. Whereas personalization requires following; personal learning requires thinking, being.

Interestingly, Reich alludes to the division between Edward Thorndike and John Dewey towards the end of the post and suggests that the differences between the two definitions of personalization he offers are akin to the philosophical differences between the two men.  Hmm.  I don't think Dewey would have liked either definition. 

As I read the post, I was reminded that some years ago I published an article titled, 'Choice of Action: Using Data to Make Instructional Decisions in Kindergarten' with an obvious nod to Dewey (1916) who noted: "The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action" (p. 351). 

Dewey's right--the difference between ready-made and continuous formation is the difference between personalized and personal.

We make ourselves by our actions. Agency is required.

It is this ready-made vs. continuous formation that offers us the sharpest insight into the gross differences between personalization and personal.  Personalization eschews a body, while personal learning is fully embodied; it happens alongside the continuous formation of self. 

Work Cited:
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Playing with Mixbook: Birds

So today I decided to check out Mixbook an online book maker (scrapbooks, photography books, cards, calendar). I like the ease with which you can import images from various sites (flikr, facebook, instagram) although the images stored on these sites often do not have a high enough resolution for printing.  But for an on-line look, Mixbook was easy to use and allowed for enough layout variation and fonts.

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | Start your own Photo Books | Create custom Christmas Cards

Above is the quick little book I made.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Composing through Film: A Look at Student Work

Birdwatching, is a thirty-minute film made by high school senior, Andy Keyes.  Keyes created the film as his final exhibition for the Classics Academy and it was previewed by an audience a few weeks ago. 

It's a quirky work that is oddly compelling. As one who grew up listening to Lou Reed, the work speaks to me through the selection of music and the visual work--more so than the actual plot. I love how the camera sees the figures in the film: follows them, crosses paths with them, holds still as they move away, swoops--birdlike.

I appreciate partial stories--the ones we don't get to know too well as it allows room for the viewer to roam a bit.  We never know the whole of anything--let alone another's life.  It is the partial tellings that are most compelling in art and watching Birdwatching makes me wonder how students, like Andy, come to learn this sophistication.  For this project, Andy was mentored by filmmakers Ben Donnellon and Mike Butler (also his teacher). 

When we think about composing, we need to actively broaden our definition from the limited understanding of composition as a paper and pen matter to resituating it within multiple arts such as film, screencasts, photography, movement, orchestration, song, voice, visual arts (mixed media, painting, sketching), and remixed and multimodal works.

Below is a trailer, my son, Devon made to advertise his server.  He's 13 and self-taught--like so many other young people who find expression through image, video, and sound.

I post both of these works to suggest that we need to seriously broaden what counts as composition at school. Having students write these endless responses to written test prompts is a waste of time and we need to stop limiting the idea of composition to what a student can put on paper in a week's time.  Let's lean in and see what actual composing students are doing in innovative programs like Classic Academy and film classes, as well as out of school.  We can map the skills, dispositions, and strategies that are taught in more traditional composition classes on to these multimodal works. That's the task--not to make learners abandon their passions, but to help shape their learning through those passions and the mapping we jointly compose.

Our collective response to the Common Core State Standards cannot be limited to having students write endless argumentative, expository, or narrative essays in response to test prompts.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Talking in Class: A Look at First Graders Engaged in Word Solving

The news has never been good about the number of minutes per day children at school get to speak, let alone engage in sustained discourse (Cazden, 2001; Dillon, 1985, 1994; Goodlad, 2004).  When learning at school was understood as the transfer of information from a teacher to students--the need for conversation appeared less important. We know that learning is far more complex than the transfer myth suggests.  Teacher talk dominates classroom discourse through lecture and the initiate-response-evaluate (IRE) model of questioning. Both of these remain staples in many classrooms, especially where the transference of information is still considered the main task of the teacher.  In contrast, the video included in this post offers an antidote to teacher dominated conversations.

One of the highlights from the CCSS is its emphasis on structured conversations. The CCSS authors write:

To become college and career ready, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner—built around important content in various domains. They must be able to contribute appropriately to these conversations, to make comparisons and contrasts, and to analyze and synthesize a multitude of ideas in accordance with the standards of evidence appropriate to a particular discipline. Whatever their intended major or profession, high school graduates will depend heavily on their ability to listen attentively to others so that they are able to build on others’ meritorious ideas while expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

In the classroom video below,  Michele Damiano,  leads her first grade students in an inference lesson through an interactive read aloud.  It is important to notice how explicitly Michele models and how engaged the children are in problem solving in order to understand words from the read aloud. The interactive read aloud offers an antidote to teacher dominated conversation while illustrating what a structured conversation can be.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Responding to the #PARCC ELA Framework: Modern Times All Over Again

I can't think well inside the little boxes PARCC provides as they ask for bits, not wholes, so I am doing it here and then posting it via the PARCC response form.

Some considerations as I read the PARCC 'MODEL' Frameworks for Grades 3 -11 (The Testing Years)

1. I appreciate that a range of texts and independent reading during and after school are emphasized. They write:
In addition, all students need access to a wide range of materials on a variety of topics and genres in order to develop their knowledge and joy of reading. Students’ classrooms and school libraries need to provide this wide array of texts to ensure that students have opportunities to independently read texts of their own choosing during and outside of the school day.
I would add that these texts need to not only be diverse with regard to topic, genre--but also with regard to authorship and circumstance.  They K-3 stories that are CCSS exemplars are not diverse. This is problematic.We should seek to be inclusive and the CCSS has failed to do this with regard to K-3 exemplars, especially stories children will actually read.  I would also add that the Internet is a main basis for text (visual, written, auditory, multimodal) and perhaps this was intended in the statement. 

2.  With regard to writing, I appreciate the emphasis on multiple types of text to be authored but think it limiting, if not sophomoric, to impose percentages.
The Model Content Frameworks are organized with the expectation that students will respond to high-quality, text-dependent prompts about what they have read by framing a debate or informing the reader about what they have learned through writing.
Learning how to compose expository, argumentative, and narrative texts-- and to conduct and compose research are important.  The issue though is that once percentages of text type one will author is put into play--agency and intention, which  not only fuel all good writing but represent important skills, become limited. The child is not writing to compel another to do or think in a particular way because she or he desires to do so, but rather because it is the PARCC assignment.   Such writing is aimed for the shredder and the child learning to write needs to have critical experiences that are meaningful, not simply dutiful.

What I find odd is the separation of these text types into discrete categories.  It would seem more sophisticated that as students progress as writers that they be given more,  not limited choice to use what they have learned in the crafting of important texts, not specific types of text. I would prefer that the emphasis shift from prescribed percentages to meaning and intention. Truly, the 'career and college ready' learner needs agency, alongside skill.  Imposing strict percentages reduces thinking, agency, and the very skill that the CCSS purports to be building. Isn't it idiotic to have to be in the position of telling 15-years-olds what types of text to write?  Isn't that a good percentage of the task?  What is it you have to say? What means/method would best represent the content?  And finally, how will you pull others to your message?  These are critical aspects of composing.

3. The PARCC Framework is based on an input-output model that situates learning as simple. Take a look at this opening:
The Model Content Framework Chart reflects the integrated nature of reading, writing and research (as illustrated by the arrows connecting them). Each module suggests both the number and types of texts that students read and analyze. Students then write about these texts either to express an opinion/make an argument or to inform/explain.
Who are these automaton students?

Now add: year after year after year after year as this structure is unyielding and the 'centerpiece' to this framework. Is this what it means to be literate?  Is this the 'recipe' to awaken lives? Could anything be duller?  More predictable? More contrary to understanding curiosity as habit? What arrogance does it take to assume you know the number and types of texts that a child in Ringwood, NJ or Benton, AL or Cold Spring, KY should read and that the number and type of text will remain the same across geographies, intentions, and time?  Why would one even bother with such an intention?

Contrast the predictability of learner behavior assumed by the Framework writers with Tony Wagner's description of innovators:

...innovators must consistently act different to think different (p.16).
4. The PARCC Framework situates reading as a task of extracting information and that the text is the sole source for such activity.  Further they understand the purpose of reading is to understand central ideas and key supporting details.

They write:
Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details.
The preposition 'on' is a curious choice--not in and certainly not between (text and reader). Directing student attention on the text itself may or may not empower as empowerment rests not in the text but as Louise Rosenblatt eloquently penned years ago, in the transaction between the reader and the text. You cannot dismiss the reader if a goal is to compose meaning. That is where the poem is made: between (not on) the reader and the text.  Similarly, dismissing the text which has been a practice in classrooms is equally foolish and Rosenblatt writes about this in the last chapters in The Reader, The Text The Poem.  It isn't all text or no text.  It is about the blending of both and the agency and knowledge to know how to do this. We cannot make another empowered. That is colonial thinking. Empowerment is accompanied by agency. 

The second half of the equation: to understand the central ideas and key supporting details at first seems like a fine and solid idea and it is.  I like to understand when I read too, although truth be told, I especially like to struggle with thorny ideas and have come to understand that there are texts whose meaning I partially am able to compose.  It is this understanding that seems to be missing from the Framework. Truly dense texts (and again density is co-determined by text structure/topic/language and reader) are ones we don't understand completely.  They are ones we return to across time because we are compelled to do so.  I was reminded earlier that today is Bloomsday--that celebration of James Joyce's Leopold Bloom.  I have read/reread Ulysses and can say that whole sections of it still baffle and confuse me and I see this bafflement not as a deficit, but as an opening.  It is opening possibilities, we need to engender at school.  Limiting reading as the extraction of central ideas and their requisite key supporting details is what test makers seek to do.  It is not what readers live.  Children need to understand and experience that meaning evolves alongside experiences.  We are more than big heads on little bodies.

5. Thinking requires getting lost along the way and that the way is largely nomadic if the learning is going to be spectacular, not merely mediocre.

The PARCC authors say:
Once each source is read and understood, students can give attention to integrating what they have recently read with readings they have previously encountered and knowledge they have previously acquired.
Misconceptions form right alongside more clarified understandings and sometimes it is the author of a text who is misinformed. Schema doesn't work like simple addition and tacit dimensions of understanding aren't limited to what can be codified.  Once again, an overly simple model of input-output poorly characterizes complex ways we actually make meaning with and without written/visual text. 

6. Grammar.  The PARCC authors write:
While grammar is meant to be a normal, everyday part of what students do, students should be taught explicit lessons in grammar as they read, write and speak, guided by L.3.1–3.
I do not actually understand what "a normal, everyday part" means.  This needs to be revised so a reader can better understand the intention.

7. Once the reading and writing sections are introduced, the framework reads like a hodgepodge of lifted ideas that are partial. The discussion of grammar and vocabulary seem abrupt and the references to researchers makes me wonder if the PARCC authors actually read what they cited. For example, the reference to the article by Constance Weaver alongside the call for explicit grammar lessons makes me wonder what 'explicit' actually means in practice. Likewise selecting 'tier 1, 2, and 3 words' is method to identify potential vocabulary words, but should not be confused with a method for teaching vocabulary or for understanding of how vocabulary is acquired.

Overall the PARCC Framework is disappointing in that it is so narrow and extreme and that it calls itself a model should give us all pause.  Overly simple, it confuses making a plan with teaching and learning. Input-output mdoels are great if you want to produce widgets a century ago.  Beneath the finery of the repeated use of the phrase, close reading, the banal is present as student as worker is what is being 'produced.'

Student as thinker requires uncertainty, randomness, agency, poetry. Enacted, the PARCC Framework will not produce more critical readers and writers, but rather will continue the poor practice of mistaking the formula for the lived and critiqued experience.

Contrast the predictable and repetitive structure of PARCC Model Frameworks with what Mitch Resnick from MIT Media Lab has to say about innovation and learning (as quoted by Wagner, p. 182) and then tell me if you think following the Framework will yield innovators:
"The key to success in the future is not what you know, but whether you are able to think and act creatively,” Mitch said. “Here at the lab, we take our inspiration from the ways people learn in kindergarten, where kids have opportunities to create, design, and build collaboratively. The best way to develop creativity is to design and create things in collaboration with one another. We also find that people do their best work when they are working on things that they care deeply about—when it’s their passion. Finally, the work here almost invariably leads our students to cross academic boundaries, just like in kindergarten where finger painting is also about learning how colors mix, which is science, and often the kids will write a story about their painting as well. 
“The challenge is to set up systems that allow students to follow their interests. People tend to dichotomize approaches in education: The teacher is either telling students what to do, or standing back and letting them figure it out. I think that’s a false choice: The issue is not structure versus no structure, but rather creating a different structure. Students need to be exposed to new ideas and learn how to persist. They also need support.”

Works Cited
Wagner, Tony (2012-04-17). Creating Innovators [Enhanced eBook]. Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Designing K-3 Professional Support through iBooks Author: A Look at a Summer Literacy Project

I. The Project
This summer I will be working to support teachers and children in K-3 summer schools scheduled at 16 sites in a city. The focus of our work will be on the prevention of reading difficulties. For the last several weeks I have been busy creating eBooks for teachers as professional support for their work. Each book is aligned and helps to explicate the pedagogy and content of the literacy project I designed. 

Four literacy/learning structures dominate the 3-hour block in kindergarten and grade 1 and three in the 90 minute block in grades 2 and 3. These include:
  • interactive read aloud with quality children's books
  • shared, choral, echo, & paired reading/writing/performing (I designed a shared reading anthology featuring diverse texts with city emphasis)
  • guided literacy group (guided reading, guided phonics, and guided writing) with multicultural texts
  • inquiry centers

There will be internal supports (master teachers, principals) and external supports (coaches from my company and myself) along with the eBook guides.  Below are two pages from the 42-page Interactive Read Aloud Guide. In this eBook each of the selected read aloud texts are outlined and include:
  1. book introduction
  2. vocabulary selection
  3. text dependent questions aligned to CCSS [ELA and mathematics]
  4. aesthetic questions and engagements designed to invite embodiment of the text. 
What is significant about iBook Author is that it allowed me to embed specific video of excellent teachers doing the teaching work that is described in the guide, along with slideshows, hyperlinks, images and text.  I have been fortunate to have video of great teachers like Michele Damiano and Barbara Cummings teaching.  I am at the stage where I have just uploaded the books via iTunes Producer so that they can be published and then made available for the teachers to download (if the choose) for their use.

Here are some sample pages:

II. Read Aloud & Guided Texts

The read aloud texts selected include:

  • Aruego, Jose.  (2002). Weird Friends: Unlikely Allies in the Animal Kingdom. Illustrated by Ariane Dewey. San Diego, CA: Gulliver Books.
  • Brenner, Barbara. (1997).  Thinking About Ants (big book format). Illustrated by Carol Schwartz. New York: Mondo Books.
  • Collier, Bryan. (2004). Uptown. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Cotten, Cynthia. (2002). At the Edge of the Woods: A Counting Book. Illustrated by Reg Cartwright. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Jenkins, Steve. (2011). Actual Size. New York: Sandpiper.
  • Thong, Roseanne. (2000). Round as a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes. Illustrated by Grace Lin. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
First Grade

Second Grade
Third Grade
The linkages between students seeing themselves represented in the text and reading comprehension (Bell & Clark, 1998; Bishop, 1990; ) is well established. So too is the importance of teachers modeling with mentor texts and guided texts that are inclusive (Gangi, 2008; McNair 2008; Scroggins & Gangi, 2004).  The guided literacy and take home to read books were selected with this in mind.

Guided Reading Collection from Lee & Low Books (Text Levels: 1-40)

  • Big Cats, Little Cats
  • What Do You See at the Pond? 
  • How Do I help?  
  • What Can Fly? 
  • First Day of School 
  • Family Picnic 
  • This Is My Home
  • Batter Up 
  • Jump Rope
  • What Time is It? 
  • Best Friends 
  • My Family 
  • Laundry Day 
  • What a Street 
  • We Eat Rice 
  • I Play Soccer 
  • I Make Clay Pots
  • At the Park
  • In the Mountains 
  • I Need to Ask You Something 
  • Block Party
  • The Dashiki 
  • Ice Cream Money 
  • Go Go Gumbo 
  • Car Wash 
  • Chinatown Adventure 
  • Confetti Eggs 
  • Living in An Igloo
  • The Best Thing 
  • Silent Sam
  • The Goat Goes to Town
  • At the Firehouse with Dad
  • Pop Pop and Grandpa
  • Surprise Moon 
  • Can You Top That? 
  • David's Drawings 
  • Leo and the Butterflies 
  • African Dance: Drumbeat in Our Feet 
  • Allie's Basketball Dream 
  • Rainbow Joe and Me
  • My Steps
  • Babu's Song 
  • Under the Lemon Moon 
  • DeShawn Days 
  • Saturday at the New You 
  • Strong to the Hoop 
  • Richard Wright and the Library Card 
  • Abuela's Weave 
  • Baseball Saved Us
  • Joe Louis, My Champion
Frog & Toad, Jamaica, Carlos, Song Lee, Hey L'il D, Ivy & Bean, Nikki & Deja, Julian, Mice & Beans, Danitra Brown, Dyamonde Daniel, and Koya Delaney

So the one thing I don't have in place that I know would make a difference would be a handful of iPads/iPod Touches in each classroom with some specific apps that I have used with other children or have seen used.  I am trying to figure out how to get that done--if not across all 16 sites at least at a few sites.  If you have any ideas let me know.

Works Cited 

Bell, Y.R. & Clark, T.R. (1998).  Culutrally relevant radign material as related to comprehension and recall in African American children. Journal of Black Psychology, 24 (4), 455-475.
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6, ix-xi.
Gangi, J. M. (2008). The unbearable whiteness of literacy instruction: Realizing the implications of the proficient reader research. MultiCultural Review, 17(2), 30-35.
McNair, J. C. (2008b). The representation of authors and illustrators of color in school-based book clubs. Language Arts, 85(3), 193-201.
Scroggins, M. J. & Gangi, J. M. (2004). Paul Laurence who? Invisibility and misrepresentation in children’s literature and reading and language arts textbooks. MultiCultural Review, 13(3), 34-43.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guest Blog: Trail of Tears--A Concrete Poem by Katie (Grade 7)

This is an excellent concrete poem that a seventh grader from a pubic school in NJ wrote in response to a unit of study focusing on genocide. Katie's work came to me via her teacher, Rob Cohen (@rcohen54) and is published here with permission from the author and her mother. I was moved when I read it and thought it a fine example of transmediation: the mix in this case of word and image. 

I hope you will take a moment to post a response to Katie.

Katie's Introduction: Nature is a beautiful thing. This beauty is everywhere but it is always forgotten when a tragedy like genocide occurs. While creating a poem for a project on genocide, I wanted to highlight the scenery and the helpless creatures that witnessed the Trail of Tears, but had no understanding of the real actions being taken. The Native Americans also looked to the Spirits and found hope in animals and nature. I found that this was an important part of the genocide, even though it was not actually realized as that. It is an imperative for a culture to retain many of their traditions and lifestyles in spite of the hardships and tragedy of genocide.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Counting God and Being in the Now

Counting (M.A. Reilly, NYC, 2010)

"...To know certain numbers
would be like standing next to God,
a counting God, too busy
to stop for war or famine.
I'd go out under the night sky
to search for Him up there:
God counting, next to Orion
drawing his bow..."

- Douglas Goetsch, "Counting"

I. Tweeting

Last night I took part in a Twitter chat (#leadfromwithin, Tuesday evenings from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. EST) and the general topic was about being in the NOW.  John Bernard's, Business at the Speed of Now: Fire Up Your People, Thrill Your Customers, and Crush Your Competitors was referenced. I read the opening chapter on line and marveled at the connections between the business world it describes and the educational world I recently left. Consider this:

A company's failure to solve  the customer's problem now can mean the beginning of the end of a relationship (p. 6).

Certainly, there are key differences between education as civic enterprise and business. Yet, there are similarities as well, especially as affordable education options, such as virtual and blended learning, arise and those with the means to access these alternatives to public schools may well do so.

Last night the chat was largely about the differences between NOW leaders and THEN leaders.  As is the norm for this chat, the questions were thoughtful as were the responses posted by others. There's a lot to borrow from this inquiry as educators.   Years ago a chapter in my dissertation examined epic and novel language in classrooms. I theorized that when first grade teachers spoke using the present tense, the learning opportunities for children increased as both the teacher and the children were operating in the present moment--the now.  The now allows us to be free from operating via our assumptions, misunderstandings, imposed standards.  Rather, the present emerges and alongside it our reading of it--a reading that is jointly constructed.  At such moments, we grapple to make meaning alongside the children.  This energy and purpose is significant and I watched as it signaled Csikszentmihalyi's notion of flow.  In contrast, when teachers' discourse contained lots of past tense markers, the learning opportunities for children narrowed.  At such times, the ever present moment that in fact was emerging was left unattended.  Little children tend to operate in the present--in the now, now, now. When teachers fail to do so, there is a gap that widens.

According to Bernard (as best I can tell by reading one chapter), the world of now has gained prominence, importance, and relativity as the speed of information sharing has increased with the use of stagecoach,  pony, telegraph, railroad, airplane, jet, fax, email, and most recently texting.  Bernard writes:
Now everything anyone needs to know can travel at the speed of light, circling the globe 7.4 times in one second or traveling to the moon or back in 2.6 seconds" (p. 3).
Yes, it is foolish to confuse information with knowledge, however the speed of information does alter possibility in significant ways and does influence knowledge, power, and community. Fast info makes the now, ever nower, and raises alongside it increased potential to connect, collaborate, compose, and contextualize--so long as you have access and choose to use it.

So long as you have the means and method to not only connect, but be connected.

II. Contextualizing

Last week I left a school where I will be working next year and took a tour around the neighborhood. Here poverty has a weight one cannot upend.  Boarded homes are now partially un-boarded and on this warm spring night, many people--all people of color--sat on stoops.  I wondered about connectivity here--in the absence of electricity and water.  Yes, the phone can be a great equalizer, but it loses when shelter, food, safety, and health care are not secured.

This leaves me to think that never has there been a time when public schooling is more important as digital differences increase creating significant challenges for those who cannot connect and for those who can.  This makes me wonder why we continue to invest in the naming of things to know such as that which we find in national and state standards. I wondered if such national investments don't work to oddly maintain income inequality and racism.  It's like the image I made at the top of this post, Counting.  It's folly to count stars with the hope of representing the whole of stars. That which is dynamic cannot be contained with any accuracy inside closed sets.  

The antidote to this great naming of things to know, is being in the now. It's having the courage at local, state, and national levels for us to stand up and say: making knowledge requires a community of learners to operate without the troublesome burden of someone else's 'best' thinking as the only path to follow.  As such, we are rolling up the epic constructs known as standards with their long and tiresome lists and high stakes testing and in their stead we are asking communities to define what  and how learners demonstrate learning--perhaps a few key capacities such as: reason well; compose across symbol systems with accuracy, passion, and sustained interest; communicate effectively; exhibit curiosity; make things; and be kind. 

Alongside such a grand gesture, the housing of teachers and administrators for life must equally end.   Imposed standards and tenure for life represent epic constructs that are potentially harmful to children. Teachers and administrators must be excellent, not even just okay, let alone awful.  The work among learners (including teachers) must be fluid, not static.  To be excellent happens in the company of others and these settled households we know as schools, must be places where knowledge is being made, not simply consumed by both the educator and the pupil. The money being spent on testing in this country could be better used to create such settled households--a reclaiming, if you like, of main street. 

Perhaps then, the enormous attention being paid to public education by presidential hopefuls, like Mitt Romney and other pundits, who describe schooling for some as 'third world conditions' could be spent addressing the economic and social structures that maintain income inequality alongside racism in the United States.  A century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois writing about race and oppression wrote:
This is the problem of to-day, and what is its mighty answer? It is this great word: The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.
Is such hegemony behind us? The economic, political, educational, judicial, and social structures that represent massive power produce and increase income inequality and they burdens us.

III. Counting

The mindless acts that clutter our day would best be left behind.  A closed set of things to count is best left not started.

Counting is a God-thing, even an indifferent One at that, paring his fingernails...well you know the rest.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

K-3 Global Multicultural Poetry for Shared, Choral, Paired, & Echo Reading

This is a poetry booklet I made for upcoming work I will be doing with primary grade teachers.  It is part of an eBook that explores shared, choral, paired, and echo reading techniques. It can be downloaded.