Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Situating Instructional Rounds Inside a Lived Context

Note: This is work that I have been doing for the last year with a school district.  We have examined and participated in Instructional Rounds.

Thanks to @irasocol  and @monk51295 for video recommendations/creation:)

I. The Environment Matters

Begin in small, yet important ways by asking: Do children regulate their own physical selves at school?  Are they allowed to determine when and where they sit, stand, lean, and so on...

 What if the environment was not limited to the physical school?


II. We might collapse the entire year into a statement about slowing down and noticing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

250+ Children's Books Featuring Black Boys and Men

Guest Blog: Jane M. Gangi
This post is authored by a friend, colleague and coauthor of Deepening Literacy Learning, Jane M. Gangi.  In this post, Jane is sharing a PowerPoint slideshow that she will be using at the Summit: Building a Bridge to Literacy for African American Male Youth: A Call to Action for the Library Community at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill on June 3-5, 2012 that features more than 250 children's books depicting Black males. 

 Jane's article, "The Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction: Realizing the Implications of the Proficient Reader Research"(MC Review, 2008) offers an important critique of racial representation in the literacy textbooks for teachers and teacher candidates. I encourage you to read it.  She and I have also reviewed professional literacy textbooks from 2004 through 2008 and the news is not good.  Here's  a link to a post Jane did at the end of 2010.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dear Secretary Duncan...

Last night my family and I traveled to Connecticut to attend the Masuk High School choral concert conducted by Dr. Robyn Gangi.  What was so different from other concerts I have attended was that this was less a performance and more an invitation to watch a master teacher and his students create.  It was intimate, deeply moving, and reminded me of the immense value of the arts. To move an audience requires keen intellect, grand empathy, and significant skill. All were displayed last night and had I polled the audience I am confident that there would not have been one among us who would not have said that these young people are 'career and college ready' with nary a paper test to be had.

Have a listen. This was from last night.

Here's the choral group in 2009 (and yes, it is announced at this engagement that the choral group had been invited to sing at the Vatican).

The arts matter in ways we are simply foolish to not acknowledge. As Maxine Greene says, they disturb us into awakening.  They matter more than school math and school reading and the mountain of tests that accompany these subjects. They matter more than STEM and more than PISA results. They matter most, because they awaken the imagination allowing us to be better and (other)wise. Truly, in a world defined by its inter-connectivity, can there be anything as important as becoming (other)wise?  Regardless of our economic circumstances, geographies, gender, ideologies, beliefs--we learn and express what it means to be human via the arts.

Who will our children become when the influence of the arts is denied, repressed, underfunded?

Secretary Duncan, alongside the increased testing that you have supported, funded, and championed that narrowly focuses on school math, reading and writing--the arts are being written out of school budgets and the very academic subjects you want to be privileged are being reduced to only that which can be tested. Now to be sure,  I am not saying that you are the cause of this, but I am saying that your continued emphasis on high stakes testing makes the actions of school boards and administrators inevitable.  This out-of-whack funding will only get worse when billions more are siphoned from public school budgets to pay companies to produce Pineapplegate-quality tests.  More arts programs and deep engagements with learning will be underfunded, and along with these our children will be lost.

The idiocy of this is that the very outcomes your administration and moms like me seek can be found inside quality arts programs like Dr. Gangi's. The study of music is as scholarly as it is embodied; as serious as it is joyful. It is agency personified. Go ahead and look at these young people in Dr. Gangi's choral group and tell me that you cannot see their commitment and agency--hear their voice and skill.

Secretary Duncan, you need to help this country balance its priorities and can do so by recommending a moratorium on high stakes testing for just two years and in its stead fully funding the arts and teachers.

If you ask America's teachers, its local communities, and its artisans to solve the concerns related to student achievement--they will answer.  It will be the start of a revolution that privileges children, not profits; method and outcome.  By the way, Dr. Gangi is retiring from public education in a few weeks. Last night's concert and another scheduled in two weeks represent his final work with these students. He'll have some time on his hands and perhaps you could tap him and others like him who also are leaving public education and ask them to guide you.

If you ask, many will answer and nary a corporation will be among them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 The Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Award Winners

Established in 1969 in association with the American Library Association (ALA), The Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Award was developed to honor African American authors and illustrators. At that time,  no African American authors or illustrators that point in time had ever received ALA’s prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals.

The CSK Book Award is given to African American authors and illustrators annually and its purpose is to recognize outstanding children’s books that “portray some aspect of the African American experience.”

The 2012 winners of the CSK Book Award are:
Author Award

CSK Author Award Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Written (and
illustrated) by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. (Grades 4-6)

CSK Author Honor:  The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Written by Eloise Greenfield (and
illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist). Amistad/ HarperCollins. (Grades 2-6)

CSK Author Honor:  Never Forgotten. Written by Patricia C. McKissack (and illustrated by Leo
and Diane Dillon). Schwartz & Wade/Random House. (Grades 3-6). Available as a kindle text.

Illustrator Award

CSK Illustrator Award:  Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom. Illustrated (and written)
by Shane W. Evans. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press. (Grades K-3)

CSK Illustrator Honor:  Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Illustrated
by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. (Grades 4-6)

CSK Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement:  Ashley Bryan is the third recipient
of this newly established award. It is given as tribute to Virginia Hamilton, a beloved children’s book author. Ashley Bryan is the author and illustrator of many notable children’s books including Sing to the Sun, Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, and Beautiful Blackbird.

There is an exhibit of Bryan's art at the North Carolina Museum of Art happening now through August: Rhythms of the Heart.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preventing Reading Difficulties through Interactive Apps and iPads

One of the challenges in conducting high intensity literacy groups where guided reading, guided phonics, and guided writing is conducted by a teacher with a small group of learners--is the quality of engagements that the other children are doing during these 20-minute lessons. Learning centers are only as viable as how well children are able to independently or buddy learn. With a handful of iPads loaded with specific apps, robust learning centers aimed at preventing reading difficulties can be realized in primary grades.  Here's a few examples.

1. Alphabetic Center/Phonics

The goal at this center is for children to acquire knowledge of letters, letter formation, and their representative sounds.  ABC Pocket Phonics allows children to practice segmenting phonemes and representing sounds with letters.

Word Wagon is my favorite.


Montessori Letter Sound HD
iWrite Words

ABC Pocket Phonics

2. Oral Language, Writing Development and Storytelling

At this center, children work by drawing on the iPad and explaining a process or information they have learned. Using the screen casting app, Doodlecast, the children talk and explain what they are doing/understanding.  The screen cast below was made at Dan Callahan's (@dancallahan) school in Massachusetts.  When I watched it the first time I thought about all the potential oral language development that occurred as children gathered their ideas, wrote their sentences, drew and read what they had written. In the video below, first grade children from Dan's school are explaining important parts of the flower. In many ways they are composing a beginning essay.

Toontastic is an app that supports the creation of animated cartoons.  Through play, children are able to draw and animate their stories and then share those stories.  The app comes with backgrounds and characters and children can also draw their own characters. I especially like the possibility of oral language development (especially when children are working in partnership with one another) as children create their story and how story structure can be learned through play. 

StoryRobe is a storytelling app that allows you to use images, film, and audio to tell a story. It is very simple to use. I like the idea of using StoryRobe as a way for students to more authentically retell stories or to illustrate processes.  Both can be done well. 

Voice Thread: The Voice Thread app allows students to import images, record their voice, and share and allows others to respond.

3. Sight Words
Sight Words 1 - 300: Kids Learn by Teacher Created Materials allows children to hear the words, practice writing the words, record the words with playback, and use the words in activities such as sentence building.  The games are designed to build automaticity (i.e., tic-tac-toe). The first twenty-five words (typical of kindergarten) is sold for free.

4. Fluency

Echo reading:  Having students listen to an interactive text on an iPad and 'echo' read each section of text (preferably what is on one page). This technique can help children to build fluency, accuracy, and expression.

Repeated reading (Samuels, 1979) of a prepared short text can help children to build fluency by matching their voice as they read and reread. Directing children to record their reading using the Voice Memos app or any other recording app you have also is beneficial and allows you an opportunity to hear how their reading changes.  I also like to record a reading of the text for students to hear who would benefit from matching their voice to a reader's with directions to lower the volume each time they reread so that by the fourth rereading they are only hearing their own voice.  Using seen text at the learning station can help to insure that the reader knows all of the words and isn't practicing errors.

4. Comprehension

ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard App
Using the ShowMe app, a teacher can prepare a how-to lesson or directions/prompts that students can view and interact with during a center time.  As students become familiar with the ShowMe app, students can use this app to make their own explanation video.  I made this ShowMe as an example of how I might prompt students to use the 3, 2, 1 strategy while reading informational text. It took me a minute to make.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Affinity Spaces, Collisions, and King's Dream

A Time to Break the Silence (M.A. Reilly, 2009)


It catches me by surprise when my son tells me that the age range on his Minecraft server is 7 to 73.  Eight decades. Wow, what a range of experience, a collection of perspectives, a sounding of life stories.

As a mom, I have an ear to that server and am marveling at what I am coming to understand: connected play allows for the development of ideas--'people collisions' so to speak--that have the potential to generate new ideas, open perspectives, allow for reconsideration. These collisions are inherently nomadic: just where individual ideas begin to morph into new epiphanies is difficult to trace--if at all. Now for sure, there have always been groups and ideas that have rubbed up against one another--neighborly interactions. What's different in this connected world of affinity spaces is the juxtaposition of people who previously would not have had the occasion to notice one another, let alone form important relationships.  On my son's server there is:
  • A 73-year-old Minecraft player from Canada.  
  • A Sultan, a 20-something Saudi prince.
  • A 9-year old beginning coder from Pennsylvania.
  • A 'with it' girl coder from just outside London.
  • A veritable ABCs of teens and more teens from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France...Russia...US and so on...
  • A teacher from Jersey.
Oh to be fly on that wall when this group starts chatting. Who can begin to name the possibilities that open as these players mix, collide? When I think about all those collisions, I get hopeful and I think maybe, just maybe King's dream might become reality.


The first time I recall seeing my dad cry was the day Dr.  King was murdered.  I was a child then and the image of my 6' 2" father bowed by sadness remains decades later.  Dr. King had a dream that we still might get right.   He said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Might our children become less influenced by racism as they interact with others from around the globe and from across geographic areas that are separated by income, gender, belief?  Might they code difference differently when they experience others on a daily basis?  Might affinity spaces, such as a Minecraft server, produce occasions for becoming (other)wise?


We're in the car--the site of so much conversation--when my son tells me that he has changed the economic system he is using on his server from capitalism to communism.  I am uncertain as to what he means by this but do listen as he tells me that capitalism is so yesterday and it just seems to work out so much better when people have what they need.

Who decides what is needed? I ask.

You only have to say.   It's smoother that way, he says.

You only have to say. Hmm.


How different is our perspective when the world is understood as being abundant, enough? Might thinking make it so?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thinking About Student Engagement as Flow

Note: These are notes and activities for a presentation I will be doing this week with administrators as part of a continuing series of work related to Instructional Rounds.

1. Naming

  1. Watch the video and notice what the students do and don't do.  
  2. Discuss with your group the examples of disengagement that you find.  
  3. How do students 'fake' engagement?  
  4. How would you define engagement?

2. Research about Student Engagement and Flow

Csikszentmihalyi's “Flow” 

 from Wikipedia

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.





  1. Very Focused
  2. Very Clear Goal: Not too difficult or too easy.
  3. Balance of Skills and Challenge
  4. Immediate Feedback to their Action
  5. In the present
  6. Flow is the reward


3. Applying

Elementary Kids Monitor Terrain with Technology

1. View Video

2. Code Transcript

Using characteristics we named that suggest student engagement, code the transcript from the video.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Opting Out of State Testing: Motherhood and Boys' Dreams

Skyrim Screen Shot from here.
I. Boys Dream.

During breakfast my son explains how he and a few others are designing a 3D-RPG set in ancient times. The "few others" hail from England and they are actively recruiting other online friends from Japan and Australia and inviting them to bring on their mad programming and design skills. Although they are still discussing roles, they have identified game engine designer, pixel artist, 3D-modeler, environment builder, base programmer, and first person character model designer as essential roles that they believe they can fulfill.  My son's 13 and the boys he's designing with are between the ages of 12 and 15. None have taken official programming classes.  They learn from each other, others on line, reference materials, trial and error.  Their goal is to design and produce a kick ass game that has better graphics than Skyrim. I'm rooting for them.

As a mom, I recognize that the distance between my son's on-line learning life and school is vast and seems to be growing more so each week.  At home he is imagining himself as a programmer and has been learning C++ quite ardently for the last year.  C++ is a programming language and functions as a composing tool.  At school the composition models he is given and expected to follow are of the five-paragraph kind that are designed to replicate state testing.  The reading he does at school is limited to text book passages, test prepping, and YA fiction and children's literature, such as The Outsiders, The Giver, or Freak the Mighty. Alongside the literature are multiple choice NJ-ASK-like tests and short answer responses.  At school, social media is banned and collaboration is limited to peer response to state testing prompt writing.

Screen Shot from Skyrim.
Nary a Skyrim in sight. And frankly, that's problematic. Few of the school activities actually match what literate people do.

The quality of learning at public school is directly connected to the state mandated testing emphasis that has grown out of control since NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and has intensified even more so since RTTT (Race to the Top).  If we want to know why public school learning is less than we want and need, we need only look at those beyond the public school door who have removed the teacher from the classroom and replaced him or her with test prepping. Teachers are kept from teaching in some schools and instead are made to "do test prep."  Electives are replaced with test prepping courses. Curriculum is narrowed. The number of minutes dedicated to science, social studies, art, music, and language has been lessened. All of these actions reduce learning, interest, passion, and commitment.

It's discouraging as a mom to see how narrow the range of learning is at school and how test-centric it has become.  For example, my son, like all students at his middle school, had to take "Creative Math" as an elective, so that students had even more time to learn 'school math.'  What teachers and children at my son's school love and feel passionate about seem to be less an impetus for curriculum design than school reading, writing and math that are privileged on foolish and foolishly made state tests.

The one-to-one correlation between state testing and school curriculum is a mistake and is killing learning.

II. Parents Act.

My husband is a public school educator and I was one for more than 20 years, so it was challenging in many ways to say no to state testing mandates this year.  We did so realizing there could be professional ramifications to our actions.  Nonetheless, we sent a letter to the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education where we live requesting that our son be excused from the NJ ASK (New Jersey's state assessment for reading, writing, math and science).  Here's a portion of the letter:
We are writing to request that our child, XXXXXXX, who is currently a seventh
grader at XXXXX Middle School, be excused from all state testing (NJ ASK). We
have given this great thought and have concluded that the current diet of state
testing in New Jersey is potentially harmful to our son and does not yield important
information about our child. Since 2008 when XXXXXXXX was in third grade he has sat
for the week long assessment. Four years of testing have not provided us with any
reliable or important information about our son’s intellectual capacity. Rather, we
see that our tax dollars have simply been used by state officials to enrich companies
who profit by creating or scoring these measures.

We live in complex times and the archaic method of paper and pencil tests to
measure school math and reading/writing information need to be retired. These
tasks do not reflect the learning we seek for our child, nor do they represent the
complexity of thinking he needs in order to be both joyful and productive in his life.
Further the narrowness of the measures is also highly problematic.

As the state test is a privileged event in New Jersey, we are concerned that our son
is learning that the test content represents the totality of what is important to learn.
If this event occurred once in his life we would be less concerned. However, the
testing culture that permeates schools as a result of NCLB (2002) and the continued
emphasis by President Obama’s education department is informing what our
child thinks is important to know. We do not consider school-based mathematics,
reading and writing tasks as represented on state assessments as being important
and certainly disagree that these slices of contrived disciplinary knowledge are
representative of what a healthy child might come to understand. Simply put, we
want far more for our child and know that these tests stand in the way to better and
more complex understandings of what it means to know, create, and collaborate in

We do not want to resort to removing our child from the school for the two weeks
of testing. Our concern is not with the public school or the board of education, but rather with the federal and state imposition of mandatory testing. We seek to be
honest and deliberate in our request for our son to be able to opt out of NJ-ASK
testing. Again, we request this primarily as we see this testing regime to be harmful
to him.

Please advise.

A week later we received an email from the superintendent who we like and respect that indicated that our request would not be honored as testing is written into state code and must be obeyed (at least by school officials).  I then forwarded to him a letter in which another family from a public school district in NJ with a seventh grader had been excused from the testing.  This seemed to give some pause as the return email from the superintendent indicated that my son would need to be out the following week of testing as it is make up testing and he also gave me the name and number of the state official in NJ. I did phone the NJDOE representative who to date has never returned the call.

The absence of a shiny letter giving us permission, gave us pause and we are better for it.  No authority was going to directly support our parental decision to remove our son from state testing.  We simply needed to take action. And so we did. During the testing week, our son attended school after the morning test was concluded and arrived late during the make up week.  We hope our actions are replicated and that a collective of parents helps to re-balance public school curricula so that teachers' and children's lives and interests may once again matter.

III. Love.

Circa, 1967 (M.A. Reilly)
Parents' love of their children represents a force far more powerful than multinational corporations or politicians and their political appointees.  In the weeks since our son opted out, the news stories about state testing from both New York and New Jersey reaffirm our decision.  From Pineapplegate to a daily tally of Pearson test errors to making 8-year-olds confess their secrets--the idiocy is apparent and reveals the greed that motivates state tests regardless of the rhetoric about "being ready for this century."

I ask you what is writing a five paragraph essay on a secret you've never told anyone getting a child 'ready' to do? 

I want to believe that love is greater than corporate greed; that it is greater than re-election hopes--regardless of what cloth these ideologies get wrapped in.  Beneath such dressing is a stink we cannot deny--one that is killing our children's dreams, motivating fine teachers to leave education, and oddly creating less and less skillful and confident learners.

When boys and girls dream...we ought to pay attention. As parents we need to stand up for our children and say NO to federal and state testing impositions.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Tina Hislop Using Art Conversations to Converse about a School's Mission

It is always a pleasure to have a guest blog.  Tina Hislop is an assistant principal in Connecticut who is in a doctoral program at Western State University. I was a guest in her course this past February and taught a lesson about transmediation by introducing Tina and her fellow students to art conversations.  It was a lovely surprise to receive this guest blog from Tina a few week later.   Tina took the lesson I taught and applied it to her work as an administrator.  Specifically Tina used art conversations with faculty.  An art conversation is a nonverbal discussion that a pair or trio have using finger paint as the mode of expression. You can read more about the technique below and here, here, and here.

Guest Blog: Tina Hislop

We’ve all experienced a meaningful lesson that we are compelled to share with others in hopes to inspire others.   The transmediation experience with Mary Ann in February 2012 was one of those meaningful lessons that I wanted to share with my school.  As assistant principal on my campus, I introduced transmediation to my school leadership team comprised of grade level, special area and pupil service staff.   In efforts to give back, this blog entry is an account of this first introduction. 

Our school reconfigured two years ago, and has a new leadership team to represent our new campus.  This new leadership team’s charge is to examine the direction of the school, ideally with an open mind along the way.  To this end, I introduced the value of transmediation using art to the school leadership team.  To illustrate transmediation, I used our recently created mission statement.  I set the scene by asking the team to consider their students—do they all learn the same way? Have the same strengths? Of course, the answer was “no.”  With multiple ways to communicate through gesture, picture, dance, we need to consider how to engage and reach all of our students.  The more connections we can offer students, the stronger understanding will be built.  Following the protocol of Mary Ann had shown us, I provided the following experience and at the conclusion the teachers participated and reflected.

Art Transmediation

I asked members of the school leadership team to build an art conversation in pairs using an active voice around our school mission statement.   The pairs and one triad were given finger paint: red, blue, green, yellow and black and one large sheet of art paper.  First I projected our school mission statement for all to read at their own rate as they made their own meaning and began their art conversation.  Next I created an iMovie with scrolling text with a man’s voice slowly reading the mission statementthe teachers continued to communicate through their fingers.  The iMovie continued with student pictures and a voice over of an adult and child who slightly struggles reading the school mission statement and finally again, the mission statement read by a student with more pictures of recent school activities and students. 

An art conversation

The teachers could have continued much longer or I could have used smaller paper for the busy team that I yearned to inspire.  I hoped that they would consider this work as they plan their lessons to reach others and we would soon debrief.  The bright lights of the office turned on and as the teachers wiped their fingers the conversations ranged from one saying that this was a difficult assignment and that it reminds her how her students everyday have tough first grade work to start and how not knowing what the right answer is feels.  Another teacher talked how she is so bad at drawing, but the finger paint gave her some permissions.   We displayed the art conversations around the table and all stood to admire each.  First, we quietly made our own noticings and next each group shared out a description of their art conversation.  The groups shared reflections of the process and product of our work.  

Transmediation—art gleamings:
  1. Text meaning changes and grows as we internalize reading and hear the words. 
  2. The experience nurtures creativity.
  3. Sharing the communication process helps us value each others’ resources and talents.
  4. The Gallery walk experience allowed us to discover and value common themes and differences while building respect and respecting others’ thoughts.
  5. Art allows us to express thoughts in a healthy way.
  6. Art conversations are a fun type of learning.
  7. Art conversation are represent meaningful, hands-on work.  
  8. Everything has a place.
The seeds have been planted.  We’re building our bag of tricks or repertoire of practices to meet the needs of our students in our classrooms. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Loss is sound without word

Am I Blue? (Self Portrait, 2008.)

It's always later, well past beginning with grief--as if the topography has been changed and you have not been notified.

The familiar, less so.
The sounds from beyond the open window, a hallow tin.

May 11 is a difficult date and by extension, often a difficult day. 12 years ago my mom died. There is simply no way to soften that truth.

Loss is sound without word.

It's me driving unsure of how I have arrived at a place I don't recognize, for an interview I don't want and passing through it as if the room was a sea. The tiny table where we sit so beautifully round, like a geometric proof I can't quite solve. There are always limits and I hear myself uttering poorly what is expected to be said and I think even I don't believe me. 

And later on the drive home I'm stuck in traffic for thirty minutes knowing that the slowdown is a road repair with one lane access.  And I am oddly content to sit in the familiar where utterances and decisions aren't required.

When my mom died, a friend told me that the pain would subside and would resurface.  Too true, for grief is never a matter of subtraction, of balance. The tally of years means nothing.

When I get home, I do the laundry, placing each item from the washer to the drier--just so--as if concentration on the ordinary will resettle my breath, produce a badge that says, "I'm competent."

Later I read a bit from John McPhee about plate tectonics: "In the middle Mesozoic, as the Atlantic opens, the North American lithosphere, like a great rug, begins to slide west, abutting, for the most part, the Pacific Plate. A rug sliding across a room will crumple up against the far wall" (p.384).

On days like this I take slight solace in having been told that even the poles wander.  Nothing living holds still, even mythological centers, even grief. Sometime next week I will have tucked this grief up like a little ball so very very small that the unsettled balance I carry will hardly show.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Digital Identities as Composition: Thinking about School

I. Composing Digitally

It's late evening when my son asks me to listen to something on his iPad.  The something turns into six different versions of the Elder Scrolls v. Skyrim. He shows me the different versions commenting on what he likes about each and how each is different.  His comments are specific and he speaks with confidence about the use of vocals in one version, the beauty of string violins in another, the simplicity of the piano version and tells me that another is more Baroque in style and that he thinks of himself as being a bit Baroque.  He then shows me a synthesia version explaining that the colors have tonal quality and how this helped him to compose Skyrim in Minecraft.

"I could see the music as colors."

Last week, he played his version of Skyrim in Minecraft for his dad and me.  He had composed the song using note blocks (singles and doubles) powered by redstone circuits and is now editing a screencast of him playing the song. This is a complicated process as the note blocks are visually spaced to represent the time signature: the distance between blocks is equal to each note's duration. Each note block represents a sound and can be layered to represent multiple notes played simultaneously.

Hartmann's Hut of Baba Yaga
He next played the Promenade from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and told me that he planned to compose this as well in Minecraft and do so for me for Mother's Day.  He located a synthesia version and played it and explained that this would help him to compose. Delighted, I thought how the mother's day card evolves. 

II. Composing At School

My son is not a musician by the standard measure. He does not take music lessons although he did for a year (trumpet). He does not play in the school band. He does not have music this year at school.  He hears really well though and he knows how to teach himself by watching related YouTube videos, reading Minecraft wikis, and asking for help from those with whom he interacts with online on his server and in other gaming environments.  He also knows the power of pull (Hagel III, Brown & Davison, 2010).

Hagel III, Brown & Davison explain three levels of pull:
"At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. At a second level, pull is the ability to attract people and resources to you that are relevant and valuable, even if you were not even aware before that they existed. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull—the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential. We can use pull to learn faster and translate that learning into rapidly improving performance, not just for ourselves, but for the people we connect with—a virtuous cycle that we can participate in" (pp. 9-10).
How is 'pull' being allowed and leveraged at school?  How are we altering school definitions of composing to include aspects of pulling (access, attraction, and achievement) and digital work?   How are we investigating the cognitive and social processes our children are using when they compose these digital works inside gaming worlds, as screencasts, as code, as how-to videos, as art works, as photographic works, as remixes? How do we understand the back story that informs the work?   How are we reconciling the 19th century school with digital learners who show up at the school door having composed multiple digital identities? How are we addressing immense equity issues for our learners who cannot show up at the school door having accessed significant hours of online leaning?

III. Composing Identities

We are always composing versions of ourselves.  Research by Sénéchal and LeFevre (2002) indicates that home literacy experiences contribute substantially to children’s success in learning to read.  These home literacy experiences are formed by the frequency and quality of talk between children and parents and the consistent engagement with literacy habits that are privileged (playing word and song games; singing; reading to children; having books, magazines, newspapers, e-readers, computers in use in the home; having available and in use different types of writing materials; listening to nursery rhymes and so on) in the home and at school.  These experiences form identities that inform how children function at school and how they are recognized by teachers.  These children show up at the school door speaking and acting with the school Discourse quite in hand.

The home literacy practices that Sénéchal and LeFevre discussed in 2002 were quite comfortable for our school worlds as they mimicked literacy values of the school.  As literacies are fluid and changing, the way we understand them at school must also continue to evolve.  And this is a conundrum worth thinking about.  There is an increasing gulf between what we value at school as learning and what the connected child experiences as valued learning outside of school.  Likewise there is a troubling gulf between the child who is connected and the one who is not.  The play and work inside digital networks (in)forms and is (in)formed by our emerging sense of identity.  To what end are we considering digital identities as compositions worthy of teaching at school?

Bon Stewart (@bonstewart) has a terrific post about digital identities, "Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of  Networked Publics" that I would recommend reading.  She outlines six key selves that emerge via participation in networked publics (Note: all quotes are taken from the Stewart's blog post):

  1. The Performative, Public Self: "The networked self is linked in multiple, complex, individual node-to-node relationships with others as part of an ever-shifting public."
  2. The Quantified – or Articulated – Self: "...our network contacts are visible and articulated, and our actions and contributions are quantified."
  3. The Participatory Self: "within my networks I am both a creator of my own content but also a consumer of that which my peers produce and share. My relationships are groomed by the constant iterative work of participation, and my comfort with working in isolation towards a final product – as was the paper model of creative work – recedes in the rear-view mirror."
  4. The Asynchronous Self: "Digital sociality practices and networked publics moved increasingly towards asynchronous mediated communications, rather than the interruptive, immediate demands of telephones."
  5. The PolySocial – or Augmented Reality – Self:"...digital identities not as virtual selves, but as particular subjects brought into being by our relational, mobile interactions in the world of bits and extending into the world of atoms."
  6. The Neo-Liberal, Branded Self: "Our social networking platforms are increasingly neo-liberal “Me, Inc” spaces where we are exhorted to monetize and to 'find our niche.'"

In thinking about Stewart's six key selves (also acts of composing and being composed, yes?), I wonder what are we doing locally, nationally and globally to guide children who are connected to understand the selves they compose and are composed by?  What are we doing locally, nationally and globally to address the enormous equity issues most felt by children who are not connected? I want to urge that we resist categorizing composing as simply a matter of ink to paper as is most commonly done at school.  This is simply no longer a sufficient definition.  I am not devaluing ink to paper, but do want us to consider that composing is much, much larger and via the Internet, the social aspects of composition along with the modes of composition become increasingly important, dynamic, risky, confusing, and collaborative.  The selves Stewart outlines is not limited to adults. Our children who participate in networked publics are composing and being composed. Should this not be essential school-based literacies as well?

So let me close with a challenge: Take a walk around the school where you work.  Notice how composing is being defined by the work children produce and the work that is displayed.  I tend to do these walks with my phone in hand. A picture says so much, yes?

I'd love to hear about what you find...

Works Cited:

Brown, John Seely; Davison, Lang; Hagel III, John (2010-02-23). The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children's reading
skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73, 445–460.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Barefoot Knowledge and a Few Birds

Freedom (Mixed Media. 2009, M.A. Reilly)
As early as I could remember it was the habit of the men folks particularly to gather on the store porch of evenings and swap stories. Even the women folks would stop and break a breath with them at times. As a child when I was sent down to Joe Clarke's store, I'd drag out my leaving as long as possible in order to hear more. Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men, Introduction.

I like to be reminded that that there are all kinds of knowing and unknowing in the world.  

I have been immersed these last few weeks in studying the Common Core (ELA) and am deeply appreciative of its insistence that knowledge be an important outcome, especially in primary grade education.  We often have emphasized the code aspects of reading acquisition (not saying code isn't important) and in doing so inadvertently devalued factual knowledge.  Susan Neuman (2010) writes:

the true path to literacy is not the procedural skills that stand out in the crowd, but the knowledge of content and concept that underlie its foundation (p. 301).

It is in naming the knowledge and context, which under girds the development of procedural skills such as code-focus learning (alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, phonological memory, rapid naming of letters, print concepts , and writing one’ own name) that is challenging and critical to do. Again Neuman (2010) concludes:

Code-related skills, the essential alphabetic principles that make up our language, are a critical component in learning to read. But while these skills are necessary, they are certainly not sufficient. At the same time, these skills must be accompanied by a massive and in-depth foundation of factual knowledge (p. 304).
I think that is an outcome that is sought via the explicit inclusion of informational text and the practice of text-dependent reading, alongside foundational reading skills.  What I want to caution about though is the means by which knowledge is composed and the confusion between information and knowledge. 


Reading informational text is certainly one way to nudge open a door to learning about the world.  But we should not mistake that for dwelling in a world of ideas. George Siemens (2006) states it nicely: "All knowledge is information, but NOT all information is knowledge" (vi). If we think that adding informational texts to the classroom, so that they represent 50% of the library and taught texts, will lead to knowledge--we are surely mistaken. I want to believe that the intent of the Common Core is much larger than the percentage of books that are taught. We have before us an opportunity to reclaim the arts, literature, natural sciences, history, geography, anthropology--many of which have ceased to be potential lines of inquiry as school time has been doled out to studying for tests in mathematics and reading. We have before us the occasion to privilege embodied ways of knowing.

The Weight of Living (Mixed Media, 2009, M.A Reilly)


Beneath the window where I am writing this I have been stopping, called away you might say, and am listening to and watching birds.  So insistent are some as they use their beaks to move the very leaves that my family and I have neglected to rake from last fall.  They are I suspect in search of worms, insects, food that rests beneath.  They work with an intensity few would not appreciate. There is a kind of knowing, an indwelling here that needs to be learned, embodied, surrendered to.  


In Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge he explains the need to surrender to what you study.  How possible is that in school when there's so much declared stuff to know?

Polanyi writes:
A true understanding of science and mathematics includes the capacity for a contemplative experience of them, and the teaching of these sciences must aim for imparting this capacity to the pupil. The task of inducing an intelligent contemplation of music and dramatic art aims likewise at enabling a person to surrender himself to works of art. This is neither to observe nor to handle them, but to live them. This the satisfaction of gaining intellectual control over the external world is linked to a satisfaction of gaining control over ourselves (pp. 195-196).
We create environments by the decisions we make--be it in a schoolroom, a boardroom, or a bedroom.  Hauling in a different collection of books will hardly matter if language has been stripped from meaning, replaced with the pre-made 'thought'.  

Contemplative experiences require agency and error.  

Room and breath.


The birds are insistent. I wish I understood what their varied cries and calls meant. It's a sound-alphabet I cannot decipher, cannot hear well to mimic. I can't seem to ease the birds from my mind. It's like that moment in Hitchcock's masterpiece when you begin to really see the birds because they block the sunlight.

The world cools.

This morning I am thinking how the birds are always before me so often in fact that I hardly stop to notice.  This indwelling, perhaps, comes with a cost and so I try to distract myself from the ways the birds seem to part the air by turning to Annie Dillard. I read a bit and it worries me that even as I write this someone else somewhere is penning a quiz or a test based on Dillard's "Living Like  a Weasel," as it is now a Common Core exemplar.  I hope they will resist the urge to test.  As Dillard says in The Writing Life, I hope the birds eat your crumbs.

I have lived a half-century and have read and reread "Living Like a Weasel" and perhaps the greatest thing I can say is that meaning still is slippery. With each age, I read it differently, understand aspects less. 

Is there a quiz in which knowing less is an A?

I Found Words (Mixed Media, 2009, M.A. Reilly)


A task we might try on is one that invites children to name their world--through embodied experiences and text-based experiences.  I know that is hardly the stuff we think about when think about curriculum, but it gives me pause--especially when I think of my own child.  Using what we know to name the world opens us to recast what we first know as simple with increasing complexity, with increasing simplicity.   

This is a kind of knowing we cannot codify for another.


In 'Total Eclipse' Dillard first mentions a child's bucket and shovel as noticed when passing through a hotel lobby: 
On the broad lobby desk, lighted and bubbling, was a ten-gallon aquarium containing one large fish; the fish tilted up and down in its water. Against the long opposite wall sang a live canary in its cage. Beneath the cage, among spilled millet seeds on the carpet, were a decorated child’s sand bucket and matching sand shovel (pp. 11-12).
Later in the essay, when she and her husband have gone to witness a full eclipse, she tugs on that simple mention of the bucket and shovel.
All those things for which we have no words are lost. The mind—the culture—has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel. With these we bluster about the continents and do all the world’s work. With these we try to save our very lives (p.24).
She will return to the bucket and shovel again in this and other essays. It is not that she is tossing facts at us, as much as it is that she understands common objects in multiple and contrasting ways. It is in the space between the mentioning and my recognizing the mentioning that I reach to make sense--there, beneath the codification, is a restlessness that suggests a way of knowing that cannot be taught.

Barefoot (Mixed Media, 2009, M.A. Reilly)

Dennis Sumara observes: "Curriculum is a normalizing experience...Teachers become tour guides, showing students which sites must be noticed...As a daily performance, teaching becomes a pointing ritual that seldom pierces underneath the skin of the everyday" (p. 233).

Paying attention to the everyday is a call to the sensual. See how Luis Moll and his colleagues frame this:

The primary purpose of the work is to develop innovations in teaching that draw on the knowledge and skills found in local households...We use the term funds of knowledge  to refer to these historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual function and well-being.   Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Norma González, 2005. "Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to connects Homes and Classrooms"
For Dillard, like Moll and his colleagues, funds of knowledge are in everyday objects.


There are all kinds of things purported as knowledge. I wonder if knowledge can exist outside a body?

The birds have quit their rooting with the onslaught of Saturday lawn mowers and blowers.  But they remain.  In trees, between trees, on the deck railing across the street, on the wires that cross, I spot them. Their tweets and calls rise above from time to time the insistent motoring of mowers. I wish I knew more about birds, their songs and such.

Pages (Mixed Media, 2009, M.A. Reilly)

There is much to learn in simply being present.


In a few weeks a friend and I will be presenting at a conference.  At that time we will  engage participants in the closest of readings: the kind you embody.  Through choral reading and dramatic tableaux we will step in and out of text.  

I hope they leave unsettled.


As I am not beholden to a system of  learning, I daily grant myself permission to blindly follow 

    lines of flight 

that may     and      may 
                               not lead                          to 
                                                            blind alleys

                                      buckets          shovels   
                    bits of sand

Bloomed Ink and Birds (Mixed Media. 2009, M.A. Reilly)


Works Cited

Dillard, A. (2009). Teaching a stone to talk. NY: HarperCollins - Kindle Edition.
Neuman, S.B. (2010).  Lessons from my mother:  Response to the National Early Literacy Panel.  Educational Researcher, 39, 301-305.
Polanyi, M. 19581962. Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing Knowledge.
Sumara, D. (1996).  Private readings in public: Schooling the literary imagination. New York: Peter Lang.