Life’s Curve Balls

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.

So, one weekend in October, a long time ago when I was teaching Kindergarten, my teaching assistant  (TA) called me at my campground to let me know she thought one of our kids had been involved in a very serious accident–where a car had hit some pedestrians, and she thought a girl in our class was one of them. I went home thinking it wasn’t her, but the next day I found out it was–she and her mother, brother and grandmother were out walking down a country road after dinner and a car had come along and struck all of them. Grandmother died at the scene, brother had a broken kneecap, mother was in serious condition, in a coma, and Annie had severe head trauma and also was in a coma. My 5 year olds wanted to know what was going on and so my TA, Debbie, and I decided to go see her right after school and find out.

When we got to the hospital, we found out she was in intensive care, in a coma. No one was in the room with her–Dad was sitting with Mom in her intensive care room at the moment, and the family was, needless to say, in a state of shock, losing grandma and trying to care for brother and deal with their own losses. When we walked into the room, I was blown away–there was a HUGE bandage around her head, she was hooked up to multiple machines and she looked incredibly vulnerable lying there. The nurse stayed in the room for a few minutes, checking Debbie and me out, I am sure, to make sure we were okay to be with Annie.

Unresponsive and asleep, neither Debbie or I were quite sure what to do, so we began telling her about our day at school, citing what kids had told us to tell her, and who had missed her and what we read for read aloud (one of her favorite times of the day), and how much we hoped she’d get well soon and be back. The nurse observed us and then stepped out until we were about ready to go. She met us at the door and we asked how Annie was doing. She told us she’d been very critical, but that while we were talking to her, the pressure in her brain had come down to normal limits for the first time since the accident. (This was Monday, the accident happened Saturday.) I rode home thinking about the implications of that–that a teacher and teaching assistant could have that effect on a child’s brain in pain. I was hooked.

For the next 4 months, I went every night to the hospital to sit with Annie for a while. Sometimes I ran into Dad and the brother, but more often I didn’t–they had been with her or Mom much of the day, or right after school for the brother, and I generally visited after dinner. I read her books, played tapes we made at school of the kids talking to her (and left them with the nurses so they could replay them during the day) and just talked to her about what we had done. I kept her alive to her classmates by sharing with them the progress she was making as she moved from intensive care to a room, to the rehab center, relearning to talk and walk as she re-entered the world of the living. I rejoiced with her the day she got to see her Mom who was also coming out of her coma, and then cried with her when her mother died. No one was more nervous than me the day she returned to school in March, almost 5 months after her accident. I had lived with her the shakiness of her limbs as she tried to regain use of them, had seen the helmet she would be bringing to school with her to protect her head as she simply walked around, in case she fell, and I knew how much she had come to rely on me for support in the months we had spent together in the evenings.

I knew her strength and determination, but also the fear this little five year old girl felt coming back where she wasn’t sure she would remember everyone, or where she didn’t remember the routine and knew it would be far different from her rehab routine. I met her in the office and the grip she had on my hand as we walked the length of the hall to our room was so tight. Debbie had the kids at the door to see her as soon as they could, and she also was controlling their excitement, as Annie was really sensitive to loud noises (and we were somewhat afraid they would give a huge cheer and scare her.)

Annie came back to our class, and our lives–none of us–were untouched by the miracle of that child fighting the battle to re-enter her life. We watched as she got stronger and settled right back in our community. She wasn’t without differences, without struggles, without changes in what she could do and learn–but she was still Annie and the kids were amazing as they tenderly and kindly helped her relearn things. They supported her and she grew with us because we were a community–a group of people who had lived and learned and loved together since we had been thrown together by fate in August as we began that year of Kindergarten.

I tell this story because I know how I handled this situation was different from how a lot of teachers would have–I had support to take care of my own kids in the evenings. I had a teaching assistant who knew how powerful our support was, and who took extra time to help kids make Annie’s tapes or drawings or who took dictation each and every time a kid said, “I want to write Annie.”  I had support, but I also had an amazing experience that let me see how powerful an impact we can have on someone without knowing it much of the time. When Debbie and I first went to see Annie, we had worked with her only about 8 weeks–but our voices calmed her and she obviously recognized them, even in a coma. Think how critical that was to her, since it wasn’t possible for her to hear her grandmother’s or her Mother’s voice.

Our brains are amazing. Kids’ brains are amazing. It is up to us–as adults, as teachers, as admins, as keepers of the human future–to make sure all kids have a chance to stretch their brains and grow as much as they can, and to believe in the growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about in her book Mindset. Annie’s recovery was truly a miracle, one that my class of students lived through and saw for themselves. I believe each of those children learned something about themselves that year as they supported Annie, and I know my belief in the  ability of the brain to grow beyond what  was expected was cemented forever.  As the song goes, I do believe that children are our future and that if we teach them well, they will lead the way.

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.

 

 

Incidental Learning #2

This post is a continued reflection of me going  into a Kindergarten class to do a series of lessons on graphs and wondering about the incidental learning K kids are doing while I’m in there.  The set up for this series of posts can be found here or here, I cross posted it.

So on Thursday, I went and introduced myself to them with a book called “Once Upon a Time”  where “A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there’s “Not much to do. / Not much to see.” As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters.” (The quote is from Amazon’s review, and the picture below is from Amazon as well.) I was using it to see how well-versed the kids were about what are supposed to be familiar stories for young kids, so I wanted kids to call out and I wanted to see how many could name the characters as they entered the pictures.

onceuponatimeIt was hilarious–kids were giggling, fidgeting, talking to one another and the teacher and I were just howling with some of their comments. It was also a hit–the kids couldn’t wait until I returned the next day to help them tell a story with “just dots and lines.”

So the next day I came back, read a fairly traditional rendition of The Three Little Pigs (Paul Galdone’s verison) and then I pulled out the paper where we were going to make a line graph and tell our story with “just lines and dots.” I modeled doing the worksheet shown here, and we then sent all of the kids to their seats to make their own story to take home.  What an eye-opener–just ask any teacher what they can see when you ask K kids to do a worksheet on the 17th day of school when you’ve just done it in front of them. You can see the kids who have preschool experience who have learned to “play school” well–they want to copy yours exactly.  You can see the kids who have little experience with writing… you can tell the kids who know how to line items up well and those who don’t get that detail…you can see names written (or not) and as they work together, you can clearly see kids who need support.

So I’m standing by a table with several kids who are struggling to do the dots and lines and I’m helping them along.  This activity isn’t set up to see who can do the worksheet perfectly, but to help us see who gets the concept of lines going up and down to symbolically represent high and low feelings of fear in the story.

As I was helping one child, two boys at the other end of my table began the “he wrote on my paper” call outs. I moved to lean down beside the closest one to me and a third child also said it, pointing to the boy beside her. (I’m beside a black kid, looking across the table at two white kids.) I immediately turn to the boy beside me (to stop his continued tattling) and  as I do so, I think to myself, “Dang, what are they thinking with me talking to the black kid first?”  I KNOW how kids watch everything the teacher does and read into it… so I’m now thinking,”This is a predominantly white school, and many of these kids haven’t much experience with other races. Are they reading into my looking to the black kid first that I think he’s guilty when the two white kids aren’t? I know I did it because he was closest and I can have a semi private conversation with him if I need to, but they don’t know that. What can I do to take any possible stigma away here?”

So I say, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?”  The kid is STILL saying “He wrote on mine first” and, looking at the other boy,”You did it to me first.” He was clearly trying NOT to be the first one in trouble, and staking his claim as simply doing back what had been done to him. I literally leaned forward more so he could no longer see the other boy and repeated, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?” He stopped cold in the middle of another disclaimer and looked at me.  I asked it again, and he and I both were conscious of the whole table watching and listening. I repeated my question again, adding, “Did it feel good?  Did you like it when he wrote on your paper?” He simply shook his head no. I then backed up so the two boys could see each other again and asked the white boy how he felt–did it make him feel good when his paper was written on. He also said no. I then asked him if he meant to make the other (black) kid feel bad.  He said no.  I then asked the kid beside me if he meant to make the other (white) kid feel bad, and he said no.  I completely ignored the girl who had tattled, as my goal was NOT to get into who did what when.

I then looked at both of them and said, “If you didn’t mean to make the other boy feel bad, please think of that next time you start to write on someone else’s paper–think how you’ll make them feel.”  And I backed off and went back to the kid I had been helping. They looked at each other and then went back to their own papers.

I hope they learned it’s not about placing blame.

I hope they learned I really don’t care who started it.

I hope they learned it’s about how you make someone feel.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is ALL about how you make them feel.

And when teachers shape behavior, we have to be cognizant of ALL the nuances–what kids might be learning incidentally if we always look to certain children first, or if we always choose certain children to be our helpers, or if our messages are not consistently about taking care of each other and not making others feel bad.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is all about how you make them feel.

Wisdom and Wonder

Been thinking a lot lately about my years as a Kindergarten teacher.

Saw a tweet the other day that said something like, “We could learn a lot from watching a great Kindergarten teacher.”

Used to have this poem on my classroom door:

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

– by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

    • Share everything.
    • Play fair.
    • Don’t hit people.
    • Put things back where you found them.
    • Clean up your own mess.
    • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    • Wash your hands before you eat.
    • Flush.
    • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
    • Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
    • Take a nap every afternoon.
    • When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
    • Be aware of wonder.
    • Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
    • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK . Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

I just keep thinking we’ve lost sight of the goal of school–and that, for me, is to support students becoming self-reliant, independent learners who care about themselves, others, and the world and who will “always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes.”

“Wisdom was not on the top of the graduate school mountain.” Is it in our schools today?

“Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.” Is this Google’s 80/20 philosophy? Is it Gardner’s multiple intelligences?  Is it learning styles? Does it matter what we call it as long as we provide out students opportunities to “draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day“?

“Be aware of wonder.” Do we even provide time for this in our classrooms? I remember little ones bringing me four leaf clovers.  I remember painting ice in the winter with food colored water and seeing the delight in the faces around me as they squirted the bottles I had so meticulously saved. Do kids have time to even look for clovers in the 10 minutes of recess the state defines? Do they have time in their day for wonder?

I wonder: Why do I teach?  Why am I still in this job after 35 years?  Why do kids like my classroom better than some others?  Why do they find it a “safe haven” in a relatively benign school building? What do I do–what do I teach–how do I talk to kid that makes them want to be in my room? What are my goals for them while they are in there?

For me, the curriculum of factoids comes last–because the big ideas in our core content areas are more important for students to understand than who rode a horse shouting “The British are coming, the British are coming!” WHY was someone shouting that?  What difference did it make? Who cared and why did they care?

For me, it’s not about totally unfettered learning, or completely student- directed learning, but tying student’s prior understandings and experiences to some common springboards. And I believe those springboards should help our next generation tie history and math and science to their world in meaningful ways that help them make sense of their lives and build ideas for the future–for their next generation.

And while it’s not about preparing them for their future world of work, for me, it is sort of, in really important ways.  We should teach our children to live their lives today so that they can make informed choices in the future–so that they have understandings of MANY areas of study and can find-or share-the things that ignite their love of learning and fire for exploration. We should teach our children about the choices they have and give them practice making choices in our classrooms so they can learn how to evaluate their choices to get better at making wise decisions.

For me, it’s about supporting our students to become wise–to think before they act, to look at issues from many perspectives and always listen to learn before responding. It’s about helping students understand themselves and how they learn best; helping them understand social code switching and developing the social skills necessary to get along with all others.

It’s about understanding differences and similarities–and honoring both.  It’s about supporting each other and sharing and celebrating and creating rituals that mean something to the group.  It’s about building relationships of trust and caring that transcend the factoids and instead move to deep understanding and thoughts and questions and challenges that help us all grow and change as we work together and support each other’s independence and interdependence.

And, for me, it IS still true:  “no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

iPod Pilot Lesson-Station 3

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 3, the description of Station 3.  (See previous posts for description of stations 1 and 2.)

Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**.  We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.

To introduce this task, I put a three column chart on the board labeled P, A and V.  (I use T-charts all the time as organizers in my classroom, so adding a column is nothing the kids haven’t seen before.) As I introduced the chart, I told them that today we were not only going to record the actual rolls of the dice, as we have done before but we were going to calculate something called “variance.”  I then pointed to the chart and asked what they thought the V meant.  Of course they said variance, and I said I would tell them in a minute what variance meant in this case.

Then I asked about the P, thinking they would immediately say prediction, even though I hadn’t pre-loaded that word into the conversation.  I can’t remember everything they guessed, but the third or fourth guess stuck in my head, and that’s when I told them it was prediction.  One kid raised his hand and said, “PRAY?”  I laughed and said, “Explain that, please,” and he responded, “We pray to roll the same six numbers really quickly?”  At that point I named “P” for prediction and A for “actual,” then gave a few examples, to make sure they not only knew how to fill in the table, but understood that the variance could be positive or negative.

I have never taught negative numbers to these kids, although their classroom teacher has done a quick one day lesson, and many of their parents have told me they have worked with negative numbers because their child asked. However, math just makes sense to these kids, so I don’t worry about them not having prior information–I give them enough to figure the patterns out and they usually do.

As I watched this station, my observations were focused in two ways:

1. I wanted to see if they were indeed calculating the variance correctly and if they “got” negative numbers.

2. I was looking to see if predictions were even close to the actual number of rolls.

What I saw surprised me in some ways.  First, there were a couple of kids whose predictions matched the actual count perfectly at least once. Generally the variance was fairly low, which told me the kids had figured out some patterns in the rolling, and gave me fodder for the next class’ conversation. I was surprised the variance was as low as it was in many cases and was anxious to ask what they were basing their predictions on and what patterns they were looking for in their work.

The kids whose variance numbers were larger were doing things like holding the iPod differently as they shook it, or talking to the iPod as they rolled it, or attaching some ritual to the act of rolling the dice (much like some people blow on the dice before they roll for good luck.) That told me some people were believing, at some level, luck (or chance) could be manipulated, and again, gave me info to use in the next conversation.

While I didn’t initially think this station was as powerful as the others, when I went to observe (and then to reflect here) I realized there was lots to be gained by asking kids to do a similar activity again, with just a small twist. Only one child needed support to understand negative numbers, they all were predicting, couting and recording accurately, and talking to one another about their results as they worked.  PLUS, I found out that despite our work on probability this year, there were a few kids who were still believing they could manipulate chance to improve their results.

The other thing that struck me (AGAIN!) was the motivation they had to predict, shake, record and reflect on their results on the iPod.  The tool is virtual, there is no noise (unless they turn the volume up), but they worked the entire time at this station, doing something they KNEW how to do from prior experiences.

Once again, the iPod Touch motivated them to stay engaged and involved in the learning task. The tool here provides an avenue for learning that allows them to gather data quickly, and easily see results. The tool here engages the student.  AND, the tool here entices the kids to stay engaged.

iPod Touches should be in EVERY classroom!

My Half Time Pep Talk for 2009

I heard  on May 2, 2009 on Twitter about a day for 24 Hours of Innovation.  The quote on the web site said, “We are happy to invite all bloggers to take part in the “My half time pep talk for 2009″ blog action, organized during the 24 Hours of Innovation event.”

My official time for participation is 5:15 PM EST this evening, but since I’ll be on the road, I’m posting early.

As an educator, thinking of writing a pep talk 3 weeks before school is out is like asking a sports player to write an essay in the locker room right before a big game. My head is not necessarily into a pep talk–instead, I am into all the things I need to be doing: the yearbook we haven’t finished, the testing going on and that I have yet to do, the organization of my room for summer packing, report cards, finishing all the teaching I yet want to do, etc. However, it is kind of exciting, too, to think about innovation as another school year winds down.

In education, we wryly talk about how it hasn’t changed for 100 years–how if a doctor from 100 years ago came into a hospital, he wouldn’t be able to “doctor” but if a teacher from 100 years ago came into school today, she WOULD be able to teach. She’d feel very at home in many classrooms and many schools. Yesterday I saw a question that asked, “If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today?” Both of these statements make me think about schooling, and what it should or could be.

You see, in my school, we have an iPod pilot going on, where a select group of students is trying them and reviewing what they try.  We have amazing parent volunteers who are spearheading clubs like Robotics (FIRST Lego League) and “Roots and Shoots,” a service club. We have some amazing teachers who are looking to involve students in deep learning–setting up STEM opportunities in summer school, and creating a STEM group for girls in afterschool. We have 100 students being redistricted, and so our staff is being shuffled–we’re losing some teachers to other schools, resource teachers will have different jobs next year (some going back into the classrooms) and it’s the end of the year, so money is available to get some “dream” items we didn’t think we’d be able to afford. It’s a year of change for us and some new opportunities for thinking differently are opening up.

Plus, at this time of the school year, we all start thinking of all the things we want to do differently next year, so educators sort of automatically do the half year pep talk anyway each year in May and June. Lots of conversations are occurring with each of us looking ahead hopefully and  thoughtfully about making next year better for our students.

Are there teachers, though, or principals, or superintendents, or school board members who are asking our STUDENTS what kind of change THEY want to see?

Last night our Technology Department presented our Tech Plan to our School Board–and they had kids presenting pieces of it and talking about what needed to happen.  One student talked about access–that students shouldn’t be held accountable for contributing to Google Doc for homework if they didn’t have access at home. Another spoke to the fact that while the technology in the schools may be equitably distributed, it’s the teacher’s knowledge and passion that allows student access and he has been lucky to have had courses that allow him lots of access to our technology.  He knows MANY others who have not.  I am thankful we have technology leaders in this division that put students on our county technology advisory committee, and that we have school board members who are lifelong learners and who see their job on our board as being listeners as well as doers .

It’s not just about the technology, though. It’s about the learning. It’s about the collaboration.  It’s about the creativity, the thinking, the sharing, the consequences, and the process. It’s about the future–and that involves what the kids think, and more importantly, how they feel.

The power of student voice.

The power of student action.

The power of student thinking and sharing

is the innovation schools need to embrace.

Here, fifth graders speak to the power of wikis. Here, architecture students speak to the design of schools. Here, a young girl initiates a change with her blog, “Twenty-five Days To Make A Difference.” **update**  Read this article about Laura’s “Twenty-Five days to Make  A Difference” and how it had a GLOBAL impact!! Here, people work to end hurtful words and MANY students blogged about this campaign to “Spread The Word.” Here, pennies collected by students made a HUGE  difference.  I could go on and on with links to what students have done when given an opportunity, but

what if we simply listened to students in our schools and let them make a difference in how they are allowed to learn?

This morning, I was fussing at my students for not completing their wiki work to the standards we had agreed upon, and one student said, “That would be me.” As we continued the conversation about expectations and I answered questions they had and asked my own, he opened a laptop and began doing something.  He continued to participate in the conversation as he also typed.  I looked at him, and asked, “Are you multi-tasking?”  He smiled at me and answered “Yes, I’m working on my wiki.” I couldn’t help but think that most teachers would have nailed him for getting up, getting a laptop and starting something in the middle of a group conversation. In our classroom, it’s an accepted way of work, as long as you can successfully do both.  Many students today constantly show they can.

We’ve met challenges in schools before, some better than others. The challenges we have today may be different, but teachers who are learners can meet this challenge. Educators who listen to students can help THEM develop ethics and their own filters in this connected world in which we live.  Instead of unplugging and/or locking down our technologies, why not listen to what students envision and try to help them learn how to do it, help them find the resources to live their dreams–or change and grow and evolve their dreams– and also help them learn to build safe banks on their own rivers of creation and information flow?

Thanks to The Board of Innovation for the opportunity to participate in the 24 Hours of Innovation!

What’s the Rubric for “Pencil”?

A HUGE thanks to Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73 on Twitter) who helped me think through this blog and who gave me words when mine got stuck in a quagmire of thoughts.

This is a blog collaboratively written. (The “I statements” about being a K teacher are mine.  The brilliance elsewhere is hers! :-))

I don’t think anyone would argue John Grisham or J.K. Rowlings being an accomplished writer.  (If you would, just pretend you think they are great as you read this blog!)

So, let’s think about the rubric for “pencil” or whatever tool they use to do their writing and apply it to their work.

There is absolutely no doubt that we teach “pencil” in school.  As a Kindergarten teacher, I have to show students how to hold it correctly so that their little hands don’t get worn out.  I look out for ergonomically sound practices, so no one is crooking their wrist to cause carpel tunnel syndrome or an achy wrist.  I pay attention to how tightly they are holding it and try to loosen up those kids who are squeezing it for all it’s worth. I watch to see if their grasp is hiding their writing as they write, so they can see how the letters are written  I adjust their grip to make sure they are not holding it too high or too close to the tip. ALL of these things are criteria I use to judge whether a child is using the pencil correctly and most efficiently.

However, by about 7 years old, most kids are using a pencil efficaciously and teachers no longer teach “pencil.”  Instead, our focus now centers on the mechanics of writing, with content being the most important piece. We teach spelling, grammar, usage and mechanics, but what the student has to say is where the majority of our efforts fall. In writing workshops we do mini lessons on word choice, voice and storylines.  We talk about beginnings and endings, suspense building, conclusions, and how to build a good story.  We talk sequence and logical progression as we also encourage creativity and individual voice within student writing.  No longer do we center on the tool they use, as our emphasis is the learning they do about how to craft a great product.

When we think about John Grisham or J.K.Rowlings, do we care WHAT they write WITH?  Do we care if they use a pencil or an old typewriter, or a word processor? Don’t we care most about the product, the book, the STORY?

We have talked about a “developmental continuum” for developing a writer’s craft for years.  We assume the skill of “pencil use” or whatever the tool is as we look at bigger skills and concepts like voice and word choice. How can we look at “Digital Bloom’s” more like the way we look at “writer’s craft” and less like the way we look at “pencil”?

What skills we choose to put on a continua of skills speak to our vision for technology – either changing what kids do or changing how they do it.  What is bigger than how. Why not develop our continua around what?  What does it mean to “collaborate across cultures”?  Do we really care if this is done with a wiki or Google Docs?

The fact that we are looking at continua of development is important, and the fact that this conversation is happening in a number of places–on Twitter, in the wikis, at Paul R Wood’s deck in Texas, in other places we don’t even know yet–with educators from ALL OVER THE WORLD- is even MORE POWERFUL.  As we craft the rubrics for a Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy together, the impact in our classrooms will happen collaboratively and perhaps similarly across cultures, across gender, across SES, across race, across all kinds of boundaries we normally don’t cross with assessment tools.  The way things are assessed affect what gets taught, so let’s make these the best we can!

Join us at Blooms Rubrics to add your voice (and see the Bloom’s blog page to see yet another blog on “Testing the Pencil” by Tim Holt)

Until next time,

Paula

Twitter

Note: I began this post literally over month ago on November 1, but wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go with it after I told the story here. After receiving a comment asking me to write more on my blog, I decided I should at least finish this one. I did, and now hope it feels connected, as the experience with injenuity’s plea for help really did resonate deeply with me, and I’m not sure I did my thinking justice with my ending here. Oh, well, here goes:

Twitter has reduced the isolation of the classroom for me and allowed me to connect, meet and affirm and be affirmed by educators all over the world. I have discovered intellectual opportunities and online conferences I had no idea existed, and been involved in conversations that have stretched me, made me laugh, made me sad and increased both my empathy towards and concern about world issues. I have met people in this online adventure that I know I will see in RL–and I am looking forward to that opportunity. LOTS of folks have written about Twitter, and I know I am simply one more. However, my take on Twitter is slightly different because I want to talk about the metacognitive aspects of this amazing microblogging service.

On Twitter last night a Twitterbuddy, @injenuity, asked for help with understanding her child’s “critical thinking” homework. Being a Gifted Resource Teacher, I thought, “Ooh, I bet I can help here” and clicked on her link to the flickr picture of the child’s homework. It was sad. Labeled “Critical Thinking” by the publisher, it was a simple worksheet where the students were to simply x out the math fact that did not belong in the “fact family.” They then were to match the rectangle that held three related facts to the correct picture. While that may sound simple to the elementary educator familiar with the lingo, the layout of the worksheet was extremely poor, directions were minimal, and it was hard to figure out exactly what to do. Maybe THAT’S the critical thinking part of this worksheet.

While several of us on Twitter were helping Jen understand how to help her daughter, I noticed there were multiple conversations going on with the conversants. @tomwhyte1, her initial responder, was also conversing with @cbell about the fact we were tutoring a parent about a child’s homework on Twitter and making up names for this new service–however, twutor.com was already taken. I explained fact families and gave an example, and Jen responded to me while @monarchlibrary was sending a web site that showed and explained it as well. Jen’s daughter was worrying that her Mother was “cheating” by asking her friends for help and we were all responding to that concern. @courosa began a new conversation talking about how many homework assignments he had seen were meant for entrapment. @tomwhyte1 and Jen were exchanging their usual level of repartee–initially starting out as picking on or teasing one another and moving to genuine help as Tom realized Jen was sincere in asking for help. Jen spoke as a Mom about going to her child’s school and nodding without understanding when the teacher referred to “fact families” in the recent parent night for her child, and I began wondering how many times our “educationalese” astounds/confuses really intelligent people. Jen and her daughter were also trying to figure out the pictures, when @KevinByers joined in to help her with that. Tom continued his conversation with both Jen and @cbell, Jen continued with me, @courosa AND @KevinByers, and I began two other conversations about two other topics with @nnorris and @dmcordell (who was also conversing with @courosa).

Both Jen and I were very aware of all the things happening here at the same time (as were several of the others, I am sure) as she commented on this experience being a blog for her later, and she was keeping up with at least four conversations at once, all working on different aspects of her issue. The fact that she commented on it, (and later wrote about it on her blog) and that I was thinking about it is what got me thinking about metacognition and Twitter.

Some people like Plurk better for microblogging, saying they get lost in the randomness of Twitter. I do NOT like Plurk better, because it seems to be linear, and that makes it NOT as interesting to me. I LOVE seeing a comment on Twitter, not understanding it, and backtracking through the person who posted it (or the person they are talking with) to figure out the context. I often ask a question that gets me IN that conversation and I make new Twitterbuddies that way. I also find new folks to follow that way as well.

Twitter, for me, is WAY beyond a microblogging service. It is a way to connect and to find new thinkers to add to my world. It is also a puzzle, a way to entertain my overactive brain, and an avenue for fun as I explore new opportunities I learn from my Twitterverse. I laugh out loud at least once a day as I read, and I love that I have funny people in my online world. (I ESPECIALLY appreciate @injenuity for her stories as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and her quirky sense of humor.) I so appreciate all of you whom I follow for allowing me to observe your thinking and sharing. Thanks, too, to the folks who follow me. I hope I give you as much to think about as I get from your sharing and thinking in public.

Rules–Schools have too many!

Rules in my Kindergarten room were few–I hated having to enforce all the stupid ones schools make many times. (1 pack of ketchup at lunch, 1 napkin, etc.–how many of us adults use ONE pack of ketchup on our french fries?  I saw things like that as control issues, NOT rules that made sense.)

So I narrowed mine down to three:

1. Be safe. (I told the kids the first day of school that the most important rule for each one was to not get hurt in anything you do here at school and for you to always take care of yourself so that you stay healthy and safe.)

2. Be considerate (I often explained they were not the only child in my classroom and since there were a lot of us, we had to learn in ways that didn’t bother others who were also trying to learn.)

3. Be a thinker (After all, school is a place to learn and thinking is part of learning.  The more you think, the smarter you become too.)
Debbie Shelor, a friend who also adapted these rules to her room, explained it this way:
“Everything we say and do in our work and play together can be defined by these  simple but powerful guidelines. When there are problems that involve a number of the children or decisions to be made that affect us all, we have a class  meeting to work things out together.”
I used them as conversation starters–if a kid was running down the hall, I could ask either “are you being safe?” OR “Could your running be bothering others in classes who are trying to learn?”  if a child hit another one, I could ask “Are you being considerate?”  Getting a kid to OWN and name their behavior is a critical step to getting them to talk about it and make a plan for changing it.  I didn’t accuse them or fuss at them, simply asked if they were following our class rules.  Asking questions is a great way–IF THEY ARE THE RIGHT QUESTIONS–to get kids to think–about behavior as well as the world around them.

Why Tzst Teacher?

I believe in teaching kids to think, so when I taught Kindergarten, I would often play with them with language–if they asked “can I go to the bathroom?” I would respond, “I don’t know, can you?” They soon learned to ask “May I go to the bathroom?” I would then respond, “Of course you can, you don’t have to ask.” (We had a bathroom in our room.) They soon learned to just go when necessary.

Or, when a child would come up and say “Can I ask you a question?” My response would be “Of course not, You’re not allowed to ask questions in school.” Some little ‘uns would then turn to walk off. . . .(I would catch them) but some would stand there a second and look at me, pondering what to do. I would tease them a few more sentences worth and then let them ask their question. . . but what happened is that they began paying attention to how they phrased questions and thinking about my responses.

I would give silly answers whenever I could–especially to questions they already knew the answer to, so they would say “No, that’s not right.” I could then ask them why they asked me if they already knew the answer. My goal was to get them to think and engage the other person thoughtfully.

They would often say “Ms. White, you’re teasing again!” One child, Aynsley, called me the teasiest teacher. I was actually pretty proud of that label. 🙂

The next year I moved to another school and again taught Kindergarten. In that school, I had another child, Joseph, say almost the exact same words–“Ms. White, you’re the teasiest teacher in the whole world!” At that point I knew what my vanity license plates would be and promptly ordered them–VA license “tzstchr”.

The name has stuck, and when I began a blog, I knew that had to be the name of it.