Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Reigns

The bell will ring at 7:15. I will stand on the third step of concrete stairs that leads into the trailer (portable) that is my classroom. It will be the last year for our portable classroom as renovations at school will eliminate most of the trailers that serve more than three thousand high school students. It will be the beginning of the end for the class of 2015. The beginning of the end for portable twenty-nine.

At 7:15 a.m. I will be standing on the top step, door open. I will smile into the sunrise, answer questions about room locations and survey the changing landscape.

Students will stream down side walks in cargo shorts and Hollister tees, a sea of blue denim. Pocketing cell phones or checking screens, tenth graders will walk tall. Freshmen will clutch maps and wander. Juniors will appear the most serious, eyes set on the beaming senior horizon. We will all trek to the media center to check out our new textbooks.

School starts in less than month.

Students will arrive on campus clutching copies of their schedules. Creased and folded, yellow or blue. Color-coded to reflect changes, schedules will be palmed and peeked at, shared and shown. Students will high-five, nudge, back-pat, grin and cajole as they crowd the sidewalks to class.

School starts in less than a month. For now, summer reigns. Summer is made of watermelon,  blue skies, road trips, and swimming. Summer is sleeping in sweet.



Soon enough school will start.Teachers have begun to meet in planning groups: a day here and there. We talk standards and routines and textbooks and assessment. We have a new test and new textbooks, new demands to meet and students to prepare.

I've been thinking about how I'd like the year to go and how to kick start our classroom community. Because though I am beginning with the end in mind (we have a new state assessment) , community must come first. I'm browsing my favorite team building books (Quicksilver, Duct Tape Team Building, 50 Digital Team Building Games) and sites like Wilderdom and PinterestI'm thinking about how we can use reading and writing to connect to each other during our first week together and how or when we can reach out to other classrooms. I 'm thinking about how YouTubers at VidCon build community  and what Hank Green said when I asked a questions during the community panel. Hank reminded me to give students responsibilities, to ask them for help solving problems. His response to my question reminded me to involve students in the meaningful work that needs doing and in the fun curiosity creates; both build community, sometimes more than hula hoops and human knots.

I want our first days to fill with story and sharing and  laughter. I want students to feel welcome. I want them to feel connected and cared about but also challenged and ready for the work ahead. I want to seed purpose and watch it grow across standards and strands.

What will students want? What will teachers? What will administrators?  That's what I'm thinking about as I count down the days until school starts.

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on Tuesdays throughout the year. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Life Demands Reading


Life demands all sorts of reading. This week alone I’ve read how- to articles, movie reviews, recipes, and contracts. I’ve learn about silk screening, corticosteroids, and “new adult” literature. I’ve read several books: The Woman Upstairs, Sophie’s World, Burning Blue, The LastRunaway, The Center of Everything, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight to name a few. I’ve dipped into many more: Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory, The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, TheEssential Rumi, and Readers Front andCenter by Dorothy Barnhouse.

I am a reader.

Last year at this time I was thinking and writing about the readers I’d yet to meet.  It was my first year teaching in Cypress Creek’s IB program. Though a couple teachers on the team cautioned me against letting students read independently, I just could not do that.  

Students can read more on their own than I could ever “cover.” My first period class of nineteen students recorded reading 374 books independently this year. That’s 19 ½ books per student on average. You can see our Reading Record here.  We also read six long works together: drama, fiction and This I Believe essays) as well as a host of nonfiction, short stories and poetry.  Even the sharpest IB English teachers I know typically cover eight to ten longer works a year. I want to lead students to discover. Sometimes that means we read the same work as a class and sometimes that means students connect learning to works of their own choosing. Together, student readers and I do much more than I could ever cover alone. I believe in balance and reading in community.

That is not just my own belief. An alphabet of educators stand across decades of research at my back: AllenAlvermannAtwellBeersCalkinsDanielsEarlyFountas,  GallagherHydeInghamIRAJagoKajder, KittleKrashenLayne,LesesneMarshallMillerNewkirkOgle,  PearsonPilgreen,
PinnellProbstQuinonesReifRoutmanStricklandTatumTovaniUnderwoodVacca,
WiesendangerWilhelm,  YooZemelman and more.

At a recent meeting a member of our team again criticized independent reading practices saying something to the effect of, “well, I heard a lot of kids just lied about their reading record.” I will have to default to Stephen Krashen (one of my reading heroes). Krashen addresses such attacks   in “Non-engagement Issues in Silent Sustained Reading.” I know from practice and in my heart, that if I am reading and passionately sharing my reading life with children, the majority of them will read too--especially if they have readers and access to books at home (outside of school). Children learn from observation and example, even in high school.

Still, I am sure some students were fake reading.

I could name names. I could talk about how this student or that student continued to “sample” books, dipping in for ten or twenty pages and then abandoning story. I could point to students who only recorded books—whole works—read on Saturdays, some were legitimate read-the-day-away records and some were just a falsification for a weekly grade. I could describe reading conferences with students who admitted that they had faked part of their reading year and reading conferences where students attempted to spark note speak about the book.  Sometimes students fake reading. Teachers kill reading or reading (or homework overload) kills student readers.  I do not have the one answer that fits each unique non-reader.

NCTE book haul --this was just to carry on. I ship boxes too.
I do know that sometimes teachers fake reading too. Some teachers refuse to read professionally. They are turned off to teaching and learning through reading.   They refuse to read around, above, beyond or even below their comfort zone. They distain YA as much as Ruth Graham and see little or no value in professional conferences. Their arguments against such reading are unfounded and fallacious. Some may “teach” the summer reading book, without reading it, by giving a test or an essay the first week of school. Then they swiftly move through their personal or prescribed cannon, summarizing enough of the plot and analyzing enough of the characters for students to seem competent when culminating assessments are given.

I would estimate that less than ten percent of my students are fakers at the end of the year. Students’ reading test scores this year—that limited one day snapshot—support that assessment. Nearly thirty-five percent of the readers in the room had double digit gains in terms of their reading score, even students at the highest score points made gains. In total, sixty nine percent of the readers made a gain: anywhere from one to forty-five points. Only eight students of one-hundred and four fell below proficient—two of whom missed that arbitrary mark by a mere point or two. 

Books work. A reading life sustains a person. Reading matters. 


Works Cited

Allen, Janet. Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading
          4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2000.

Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate,
          Habitual, Critical Readers. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2007.

Barnhouse, Dorothy. Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with
          Complex Text. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2014.

Beers, Kylene and Robert Probst. Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Reading. New York, NY: Pearson, 2000.

Center on Instruction. “Adolescent literacy resources: An annotated bibliography.”
          RMC Research Corporation, Portsmouth, NH: Author, 2007.

Early, Margaret. “Stages of Growth in Literacy Appreciation.” The English Journal.
          49.3 (1960): 161-167.

Fountas, Irene and Gay Su Pinnell. Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All
          Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

Gallagher,  Kelly. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can
          Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Ingham, Jennie. Books and Reading Development: The Bradford Book Flood
          Experiment. Second Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1982.

IRA, “Providing Books and Other Print Materials for Classroom and School Libraries:
          A Position Statement of the International Reading Association.”  Newark, DE:
          2000.

Jago, Carol. “What English Classes Should Look Like in Common Core Era.” The
          Answer  Sheet Blog. The Washington Post. 10 Jan 2013. Web.

Kajder, Sara. Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students.
          Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2010.

Kittle, Penny. Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent
         Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, second edition.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004.

Layne, Steven. Igniting a Passion for Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2009.

Lesesne, Teri. Reading Ladders. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2010.  

Marshall, Jodi Crum. Are They Really Reading? Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2002.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley. Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys
          to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.  Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Newkirk, Thomas. The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for
          Engagement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011.

Ogle,  Donna. Coming Together as Readers: Building Literacy Teams. Thousand  Oaks, CA:        
          Corwin, 2007.

Pearson, David and Nell Duke. “Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension.”
           Newark, DE: IRA, 2002.


Pilgreen, Jan. The SSR Handbook: How to Organize and Manage a Sustained Silent
          Reading Program. Porstmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000.

Quinones, Viviana. “ Sister libraries for Children's and Young Adults' Reading: An
          IFLA Programme for International Exchange and Cooperation.” World Library
          and Information Congress. Gothenburg, Sweden. 10-15August 2010

Reif, Linda. Read Write Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading-Writing
          Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014.

Routman, Regie. Reading Essentials: The Specifics You Need to Teach Reading Well.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.

Strickland, Dorothy and Donna Alvermann. Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap
          Grades 4-12. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2004.

Tatum, Alfred. Reading for Their Life: (Re) Building the Textual Lineages of African
          American Adolescent Males. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009.

Tovani, Cris. I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Stratgies for Adolescent
          Readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2000.

Underwood, Terry; Yoo, Monica and P. David Pearson. “Understanding Reading
          Comprehension in Secondary Schools through the Lens of theFour Resources
          Model.”  Secondary School Literacy: What Research Reveals for Classroom
          Practice. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2007.

Vacca, Jo Anne; Vacca, Richard; Gove, Mary; Burkey, Linda; Lenhart, Lisa and
          Christine McKeon. Reading and Learning to Read. New York, NY: Pearson,
          2012.

Wiesendanger, Katerhine D. and Ellen Birlem. “The Effectiveness of SSR: An
          Overview of the Research.” Reading Horizons, 24.3: 197-201.

Wilhelm,  Jeffrey and Michael W. Smith. “Don’t Underestimate the Power of
          Pleasure Reading.” Education Week. 22 Jan 2014.

Yoo, Monica. Students’ Perceived and Actual Use of Strategies for Reading and    
          Writing. Diss. University of California, 2010. Berkeley, CA: 2010.

Zemelman, Steven; Daniels, Harvey and Arthur Hyde. Best Practice: Bringing
          Standards to Life in America’s Classroom, fourth edition. Portsmouth, NH:
          Heinemann, 2012.

Literature Cited

Chevalier, Tracey. The Last Runaway. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013.

Gararder, Jostein. Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy.  New York, NY: Farrar,
            Straus and Girox, 2007.

Giovanni, Nikki. The Collected Poems of  Nikki Giovanni. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009.

Gregory, Danny. An Illustrated Life. New York, NY: HOW Books, , 2008.

Griffin, Paul. Burning Blue. New York, NY: Penguin, 2012.

Messued, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. New York, NY: Vintage, 2013.

Moriarty, Laura. The Center of Everything.  New York, NY: Hyperion, 2009.

Rumi, Jalal al-Din. The Essential Rumi. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2004.


Smith, Jennifer. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. New York, NY: Hachette Book 
          Group, 2012. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Talking Back to Late Work Policies



While organizing computer files  to close my classroom for the year, I came across Rick Wormeli's article Late Work: A Constructive Response.” It inspired me to write my own version.


It’s the end of the school year. There are less than seven days of school left. You have research papers and quizzes to grade—you took these papers home last Friday and the Friday before that. It’s not a stretch to say that you are behind in giving students feedback. You’re also behind when it comes to posting your lesson plans to the shared network site. You are walking through the building towards the parking lot, dragging a rolling crate, a bag of student work slung over your shoulder, a sack of the week’s Tupperware containers clutched in one hand.

Just as you are about to exit the front office, your assessing administrator calls, “Hey, how about those lesson plans?” You freeze. Smile uncomfortably. You hold your breath without realizing it. Though you were supposed to post lesson plans before teaching the Monday of each week, you haven’t uploaded anything recently.

Your assessing administrator continues, “Any chance you could post them before you leave?  It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to upload.”

You let go of the crate handle, set your sack of student work down and shift the bag of lunch containers to your opposite hand.  You turn back and say, “I’m so sorry. I forgot to do that. I have my lesson plans on my laptop at home. Is it okay if I upload them over the weekend?”

Interested in growing or maintaining a relationship, the administrator says, “Sure. I’ll look for them Monday.”

What happens if you are habitually non-compliant? It should be different.  In all industries, adults  account for nonperformance. If an employee chronically does not complete routine tasks or continually avoids meeting set expectations said employee could expect a written reprimand or a poor yearly evaluation. In teaching, depending the teaching contract and position, a teacher could be asked to leave the school. The teaching assignment could change. The teacher could be sent to additional trainings or required to meet more frequently with supervisors.  All are within an administrators’ rights.

If the teacher regularly complies and meets expectations, one expects a compassionate response.  We expect deadlines to flex  in order to make room for disruptions. Our school week might get thrown off by: talent shows, testing schedules, network failures or lock-down drills. Life happens too: car accidents or bad traffic, sinus infections or fatigue, doctors’ appointments or a days off, weddings, births, deaths, a hangnail or a headache. Surely extremes are not the only reasonable justifications for missing a deadline or arriving late.
If only that common sense applied in all classrooms. Many high school teachers will not accept late work from students. If teachers do accept late work they dock the work unreasonably:  one or two letter grades off or half credit are common penalties. Can you imagine American Airlines refunding half the cost of an airline ticket due to a late gate departure?

What if the penalty for filing our income taxes late was a percentage of our return? What percentage would you deem fair? What if our government said, “Sure, you can file with an extension and we’ll keep half of the money owed to you.”  Did you not earn that income? Did you not pay additional monies into the system to guarantee a refund? Instead of being rewarded, your effort is punished.

I accept late work, unconditionally. Only in cases of dishonesty does a zero figure in to an average. I have yet to disavow all consequences though.  I maintain the fairest consequence I experienced as a student: one-third of a letter grade penalty for each day past deadline. That works out to roughly three points a day if the assignment is worth one-hundred. Students can still earn an excellent grade for excellent work, even it is late.  

Learning is continual. I partner a redo or resubmit policy with the late work piece. If a student wants to learn more they get opportunities to do so and may earn higher marks as they demonstrate learning. That mediates the late penalty a bit and provides more opportunities for me to reward effort and recognize or assess actual knowledge and skill.

Some high school teachers are still focused on behavior. If we grade behavior are we blind to knowledge and skill? Or do we just minimize it? 

Some high school teachers believe punishment motivates. They say that they “don’t have time to constantly grade late work.” They forbid it. These teachers have zero tolerance policies toward late work that decimates a student's average.  

Instead, teach high school students how to prioritize and how to manage or juggle deadlines. Some assignments may need more attention than others. Some grades may not weigh as heavily. Learning to distinguish “what needs doing when” is an important life skill; one students will delay developing if not given the opportunity. We have an opportunity and an obligation to teach students.

Teach accountability explicitly. Explain common challenges and how to overcome them. Share stories of consequence from college and the real world of work. Teachers do more than assign and punish. Teachers  expect and then explain. They  model and teach. Teachers put the feedback loop into practice. Teachers do not send students blindly into a cave we call rigor. Teachers, even in secular schools, must also learn to forgive, forget and forge on.

We teach students about effort by acknowledging it, no matter when it happens. If we do not allow for grace when it comes to deadlines, students will quickly learn that additional effort gets them nowhere. Why do it, if it is going to be used to insult you? Why do it if does not lead to learning? Why grade something—especially a piece of writing—if the grade is the only feedback a student gets? 

We teach students to improve through assessment and evaluation. Assessment at its best shows students how to grow their skill or knowledge. It shows students how to correct misunderstandings and perfect or improve performance. Students improve performance when they learn that turning things in on time counts.

Model compassion and make peace with a teenager's frontal lobe development. Executive functions are not fully functional at this age--nuanced decision making and ethical thinking are developing skills. Treat them as such.

We teach students to persevere in the face of difficulty when we allow them to turn in work late. We teach them compassion and a whole lot about being flexible. Accountability is not a one shot, one day and you’re done concept. That's a lesson worth learning.

*     *     *

Gracious thanks to Rick Wormelli, whose book Fair Isn’t Always Equal continuous to guide me and for his article “Late Work: A Constructive Response” which I used as a model text for this writing. 

Hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers, link up your Slice of Life 
on Tuesdays throughout the year.