Seven hundred and fifty minutes represents five classes of core/honors ELA classes, multiplied by ten days, fifteen minutes each period. For every student, in two weeks’ time, each one has read 750 minutes.
And to my shock and awe, at no point did I give them some long lecture about how to read, what to do during reading time, what to think or how to behave. I didn’t co-construct an anchor chart or show them my PowerPoint called The Reading Zone based on Nancie Atwell’s work.
My student teacher and I kept it simple:
- Put out hundreds of books — (yes, this has cost me thousands of dollars): everything from graphic novels, Calvin and Hobbs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, novels of all genres, resource/science books (I have a thing for resource books).
- Told them to pick a stack of two to three, so if one lost their interest they could go to another one.
- Give them time to read at the beginning of class, first fifteen, with a nod to the Book Whisperer and Ethical ELA.
What have we observed? They’re reading. They’re actually reading. Not fake reading, not complaining, but asking for more time, like they’re getting away with something–it dawned on me that this might be the only quiet time they get in their day. They don’t distract each other, they don’t talk, they’ve been asking to check out books from my classroom library, they’ve been stashing and hiding books to make sure they have the one they want when they come in the classroom, and been asking for more title options of genres they like. (Yes, S, I will find more romance for you!)
Now that’s not to say that mini-lessons, co-constructing ideas about approaching texts and media will not follow or be threaded throughout this year. They absolutely will be. That’s my job and passion. However, I’m adjusting and refining my own instructional approach with the skill-based focus from the district and coaches/admin. It’s hard to take a critical lens toward one’s practice sometimes, but the only way to move forward. I am seeking a balanced approach to skills/strategies, and may have to continue looking outside one PLC for creative and innovative approaches.
Case in point: I discovered during conferencing time with every student that the vast majority could not articulate why they were learning about claim, evidence, and reasoning–a skill that has been the focus of the first quarter. Though we as a staff have done CERs for years and created rubrics, etc. this year it’s the mandated focus with rubrics and scaffolds created outside of our PLC. And focusing on one skill isn’t inherently bad educational practice, and it’s understood it isn’t the only one, but it’s the only assessment that’s being discussed or analyzed. The scaffolds are formulaic and helpful. There is no question students need directions that are clear. So what went wrong?
Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question: what went right?
Did I have my learning targets and success criteria dutifully written on the board, and express those to students? Of course I did. Of course my student teacher did. Did we scaffold and break down? Yes, as best we could.
But teaching that skill in isolation away from purpose was a destructive approach, one I’ll not do again. If we decide as a PLC/staff to participate in a singular, monolithic skill to teach it is my intention to make sure students participate in the construction of their purpose first.
What goes right is showing them how they’re getting it–and on my part to be honest and transparent–to tell them, hey, I realize some of this slid past you: let’s look at it a different way.
I know getting the materials pre-designed created confusion for myself and others–we wanted to help create it, too, and engage in the process. So if we teachers are feeling this way, imagine how students must feel?
Bored, disengaged, and fatigued.
Enter Ken Robinson. This particular TEDTalk contains so many nuggets of wisdom, for all learners.
One estimate in America currently is that something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I’m not saying there’s no such thing. I just don’t believe it’s an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour,doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know?
And yes, we are focused on testing. They are the dominant culture of American schools.
The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education.They should be diagnostic. They should help.
And yes, I am taking control and direction of my classroom. I’ve worked too hard, passionately, and productively, to craft a professional life that is best for students. I maintain a growth mindset, and seek wisdom at all levels–to me there is no such thing as rookie or veteran: every colleague has something to offer and share.
And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.
There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.
And until we understand and accept committees can only create so much before creative professionals want to add their own nuances we will lose the ability to move forward. Blueprints and frameworks are only as good as providing a foundation, not decorating the house.
And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education — That’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide, they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working.You have to put it back to the people.
So I’ve taken control of my classroom. I am hoping others in charge ask me what I’m doing, what’s been successful, and where I’ve had to tweak and adjust.
Conferring with a student on Friday, she seems intelligent and creative, but is clearly bored with school. We spoke for awhile about personal motivation, and finding what sparks us individually. I hope I can inspire her.
The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people, people who either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography.They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it’s at odds with the life they’re living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique. I was at a meeting recently in Los Angeles of — they’re called alternative education programs. These are programs designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features. They’re very personalized.They have strong support for the teachers, close links with the community and a broad and diverse curriculum, and often programs which involve students outside school as well as inside school.And they work. What’s interesting to me is, these are called “alternative education.”
Where am I going with this reading thing, anyway? What are the next steps? November is a funky month, that’s for sure. This next week we have student-led conferences (which is where I discovered 90% of my students had no clue as to why they were doing what they were doing, in spite of intentional purpose from not only me but the other content area teachers, too). We also have short days, Thanksgiving Break, and then we’re finishing up a unit I created about Honor. December will be my annual “drabble a day” writing. I was heartened when one of the most intelligent students I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach sent me an email asking if I was doing that again and if I would start the writing club this year.
Have no doubt that our students, and ourselves, want choice and growth. They want forums and places to create and share. Their purpose for learning is more than a learning target and the message of intent and importance. The thing about ELA that’s different from other subject areas is sometimes it can’t be contained in a simple formula. That ambiguity is difficult to accept.
Oh, in terms of conferring: this is a ‘just in time’ idea:
And assessment that’s important and valuable: