Introspection and Perspective

ùIt’s been 10 years since I blogged here,  and almost 5 years since I retired. Hard to believe…

I have always loved stories and storytelling. I was born in West Virginia and lived there until I was seven. Some of my best memories are of my mother reading stories to us. (The “us” is me and my three brothers.) I learned to read before I entered 1st grade at 5 years old- that young entry was allowed in WV.

Later on in life I spent time going to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee the first weekend in October. It was amazing to spend an entire weekend moving from festival tent to another festival tent listening to all kinds of stories. I loved it.

Story time in my classroom was one of the best times of the day, I thought- I had many favorite books and couldn’t wait to share my love of books with my kids.

Fast forward to the present, being a retired teacher with two homes which are 2 hours apart. The drive between them often a time for introspection for me. Recently I bought a new car and received a SiriusXM trial on it. My thinking is often accompanied by music from the channels I have chosen on that platform.

I like country music and one reason I do is that many of the songs tell a story. Today I heard Kenny Rogers sing “The Greatest” for the first time. The writer of the lyrics was Don Schlitz. 

Here are the lyrics:

Little Boy, in a baseball hat
Stands in the field with his ball and bat
Says “I am the greatest player of them all”
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down.
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound.
The baseball falls to the ground.
Now the little boy doesn’t say a word-
Picks up his ball, he is undeterred.
Says “I am the greatest there has ever been.”
And he grits his teeth and he tries it again.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down.
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound-
The baseball falls to the ground.
He makes no excuses, He shows no fears.
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers.
Little boy, in a baseball hat
Picks up his ball, stares at his bat
Says “I am the greatest. The game is on the line.”
And he gives his all one last time.
And the ball goes up like the moon so bright-
Swings his bat with all his might.
And the world’s so still, as still can be
And the baseball falls, and that’s strike three.

So, I am guessing you’re imagining, as I did, his disappointment- or maybe you’re thinking about the crowd cheering- for what? Or maybe you’re thinking something else, but KR’s use of the words “strike three” imply a failure—to me, at least. Remember, the game was on the line. 

BUT—and this is BIG—as Paul Harvey says, here’s the REST of the story (the ending lyrics of the song):
Now it’s supper time and his mama calls
Little boy starts home with his bat and ball
Says “I am the greatest-that is a fact.
But even didn’t know. . .
I could pitch like that.”
He says “I am the greatest-that is understood.
But even didn’t know. . .
I could pitch that good.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could teach our students to change their perspective when they fail and look at what they CAN do, and not what they can’t?  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could conference with students about an assignment by helping students know what they did right instead of marking all the wrong? Wouldn’t it be amazing if ALL parents could talk with their children about how to look for successes instead of failure? We, as teachers, share that responsibility with the parents of our kids- to help kids see their work from a perspective of success, new learnings and goals to become even better.
If I still had a classroom of kids, I’d use this song to start a discussion about perspective and goals. 

A Letter to Authors of Children’s Books

Dear Authors,

My school has one iPad in the library, along with several iPods for kids to check out.  The iPad is reserved for teachers to use with their students, and we have the accessories so that it can be hooked up to an LCD projector (in all of our classrooms) or the computer.

Here’s my issue. Our PTO gave us some funds to buy children’s books and apps for the iPad and iPods. However, to populate those and get teachers to begin to use them, and kids to want to check out the iPods for something other than games, the books on there need to be high quality and intriguing to both the readers and the instructors. I really want to use this tool to introduce teachers to some amazing books and new authors instead of the same ones we already know.

I HAUNT book apps online for bargains for cheap books. I subscribe to every single online place I can find that offers kindle books at a discount from time to time. I have just spent several hours trying to find cheap e-books to put on this iPad for kids and teachers to discover and experience good books.  I AM a bargain shopper.

But very few of you have cheap books out there…and by cheap I mean $2 or $3 ones.  I guarantee if you have just ONE of your really good books selling as cheap Kindle book, people will buy it, and more people will get to know you as an author! Ask Amazon to feature it in their daily Kindle deals. Tweet it out and ask teachers to retweet it.  send me a tweet (@paulawhite) and I will get the message out as much as I can…but for goodness sake, let us help you get known!

The majority of the books I currently have on our iPad are newer authors I am discovering and recommending…and that means some of my favorites are losing out. I would love for my teachers to be able to use some of the books I love and some of their favorites with an iPad, showing it on the LCD projector. If you haven’t seen a picture book done this way, you are missing a great new way to share picture books with kids!

Please consider changing the price of at least one Kindle adaptation of a really good book you wrote to $2 or $3 so that people can discover you anew…I have to say if I have a bound copy of your book, I won’t pay full price for an e-book.  But if I can share one of your books cheaply, my kids will go home and talk about it and then the parents may buy several of your books for the home iPad.

We teachers would love your support of education in this way.


Paula White

School Right Before a Winter Holiday Break

All week, kids have been bringing me holiday gifts–and most of it is homemade food–cookies, brownies, even small cakes.

I’ve had no clue what my schedule will really look like each day as I’ve walked in–it’s been changing by the moment all week as parents show up with special treats for the holidays, or something special is taking place the teachers forgot to tell me, or the kids need more work on their gingerbread houses, or the program took longer than we thought it would, etc. I go with the flow, as it’s part of being a resource teacher.

Yesterday I had two cool things happen. As a kid was leaving my math class, he walked off, saying, “I’m going to keep trying, because I know if I work hard, I’ll get better at it!”

That is such a wonderful statement to hear coming out of a 7 year old!

There is a recognition ceremony put on by our county-wide student council that asks students to recommend people to be “noticed” for whatever the kids want.  It’s called “We Notice” and all the nominees–bus drivers, teachers, custodians, secretaries, whomever– are invited to a small celebration and receive a few small gifts and the nominations from the students who write them. It’s pretty cool to see what kids say about you, but for some reason they didn’t have last spring’s ceremony.

On Wednesday, I went to check my mail and saw someone putting water bottles in some mailboxes. Later that day, I found I had one of them.

Turns out it was the “We Notice” gift and attached were the notes from the kids. My notes were from mostly middle and high school kids. What a humbling experience–to think that these kids are remembering up to 5 years back to things I had done that made a difference in their lives. THAT was truly a paycheck of the heart!

Then there’s today–

I’m in the midst of testing a kid with a multi-part test, and have no idea what time I can have him for the next part, with parties, and presentations, special events happening in almost every classroom.  We were supposed to be finished, but see paragraph 2–real life has been getting in the way of my testing.

Knowing this week would be nuts schedule-wise, I told my forth graders last Friday this one would be “game day” during math. That means they come in and play some of the cool games I have collected that really make people think, and I get to see their thinking in different kinds of situations. One group is playing a relatively new game called “Gemlock,” which is amazing for developing visual spatial skills.Another large group is playing Apples to Apples, and yet two more groups are playing Skip Bo Dice and Skip Bo Breakers.

One kid comes up to me and the following exchange takes place:

Kid: “Ms. White, do you have any Febreze?”

Me:  “No, Why do you need Febreze?”

Kid: “Because my clothes, my hair, and even my skin smells like stinkbug!”

Now, you may laugh at that, but if you’ve had even one or two of those nasty, invasive bugs in your home, you feel for the kid….I sent her to the nurse, who DID have Febreze, just for this kind of situation!

Once again, I am impressed by the ingenuity of school nurses and the solutions they devise for the kinds of situations they encounter!

The kids decide they’ll continue working/playing right through lunch, which their teachers regularly let them do.  Other fourth graders join in, including the kid I need to test.

One kid asks if she can type up something she needs on the computer.  I say yes. She sits at the table where another kid and I are playing a card game called golf,which is not so challenging with only 2 people. I start bugging her to join us and she says when she is finished.

It is taking her a bit (we only have 20 minutes for lunch) so I ask her what she’s writing.  She avoids answering the question directly, so my radar flips up, but then says her Mom told her she had to type it because she wrote it too messily at home. I go back to the game.

The kid that needed to finish testing?  He decided to stay in from his recess so we could finish before winter break! He said he didn’t want to think over break about having to finish a test as soon as he came back in January.  (And I so appreciated that, as doing it over weeks would have wreaked havoc on using the  norms!)

In a few minutes the typing kid comes over from the printer, flips a piece of paper at me and says “That’s what I was writing.”

I read:

Dear SPCA people,

Could you please take some pictures of the animals you have there and send them to me?  I would like to make copies and sell them to people for $1.00 to help raise money for you to take care of the animals. I will work hard to raise lots of money for you, and maybe someone will even adopt some of the pets whose pictures I show.

That’s all I want for Christmas.

 Thank you.

Name, age                                                                                                                                                          address

 Amazing, hm?

And all I want for Christmas is for ALL kids to be safe, happy, loved, warm and well-fed.

(That goes for all of you reading this, too!)

Happy Holidays!






It’s About Learning!

A friend, Brian Kayser, (@bkayser11 on Twitter) tweeted this tonight:  ESPN analyst “The great coaches adjust to their players [strengths]”

We all know great teachers do the same.

A while back, Carol Tomlinson, another friend, shared her beliefs about coaches and grading, which I blogged about here.

A bit of that bears repeating:

Let’s think about some people in real life who get judged on their performances every day they work—like sports players or musical performers, and look at how they learn as we think about some key principles of effective grading:.

1. Coaches don’t grade practices—they make decisions about what comes next based on the performance during practice. The judgement comes in at the game—or at the recital! It’s unwise to overgrade student work.

2.  Why would anyone think grading a pre-assessment is wise?  That’s what‘s supposed to give us information as to what to teach and how to group.  Why grade someone on something they are ABOUT TO LEARN?

3. Students need opportunities to practice, analyze work, and learn from errors in a safe context.   The formative assessments given should be just that—formative—not final grades. I’ll say it again—Coaches don’t grade practices, so why over-grade ongoing assessments?  Give feedback instead.

4. Use summative assessments and a body of evidence against the standards as primary data for grading. Grades should be reliable over time, meaning that the results of any given test on the standard would be relatively the same for the same kid.

5. Is the learning target clear?  Do students clearly understand what they need to know, understand and do? Grades should be based on clearly specified learning goals.

6. Grades should be criterion-based, NOT norm-based.

In norm based grading systems, the human factor suffers:

a.) There will necessarily be winners and losers competing for scarce rewards.
b.) The implications for learning environments are predictably negative.
c.) The outcomes for both struggling and advanced learners carry high negatives as well.

Students should be striving to reach the standards that have been set for them to learn, not competing against classmates for the top part of the bell curve.

So why am I writing about this now?  We are in the throes of doing midyear assessments…and many teachers used released state tests to do that. We give tests to kids on things they haven’t been taught and then flip when the scores are low–so we think we need to ramp up our remediation, our direct instruction, our telling kids things.

If we want a kid to play basketball, what do we ask the kid to do? Play basketball.

If we want a kid to play a musical instrument, what do we ask the kid to do?  Practice it.

If we want a kid to do ballet, what do we ask the kid to do?  Practice it!

You get the idea.

So why do we believe it’s okay to pull a kid who needs to learn to enjoy reading, who needs to feel confident, who needs to feel smart, out of a cool reading experience or great book they want to read and drill them?  Why do we feel us teaching them is more important than them experiencing it? I’ve seen it happen over and over in many schools….and it still saddens me beyond belief.

Great coaches teach to player’s strengths.  Great teachers do the same–and when a kid is a great talker, you make sure they have an opportunity to talk–and that they have something to say. When a kid notices EVERYTHING socially, but doesn’t succeed in school tasks, it’s not that the kid isn’t smart…it’s that s/he is choosing not to be smart at school tasks many times.  I’ve blogged about this many, many times.  We need to work from a strengths model, not a deficit model.  We need to look at what kids can do and build from there.

School is not about remediation.  It’s about learning.


Empathy–and How Do We Teach It?

Boy, that’s a question and a half.  I tend to work on helping kids take other perspectives through literature. I have some favorite books I use with all grade levels and some that are reserved for certain grade levels in my mind.  Right now I’m using several with my third grade lit group–and I’m amazed at some of the discussions we’re having.

I set up the group by doing book talks on the books I had chosen and we had ordered for this group, and then, eventually, our book room–Wonder by R. J. Palaccio, The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff , and Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  Then the kids blogged about which book they wanted to read and why.  (Click on this link and then go to the last page of the list to see those posts.) Most kids began wanting to read  Out of My Mind, but many moved to Wonder when those were the first books to arrive. We began with about half of the kids reading Out of My Mind and half reading Wonder, with only one reading  The Thing About Georgie.

It’s taken weeks for this group of third graders to get far enough in the books to begin looking for similarities between these three kids and so we’re now having those conversations. Here’s what happened last week.

I asked how or if they had changed their attitudes towards people who had challenges since they’d been reading their book. Some of the answers were just what I had hoped some of them would realize:

“Well, before I read Wonder, I think I would have been scared if someone who looked like Auggie had come to my school.  Now, I think I might be scared a little bit, but I would still try to talk to them.”

“I think just smiling at people is important. Melody tried to smile, but people didn’t know it.”

“Sometimes we think we might know what’s in other people’s heads but I think we don’t know.”

So as we talked, I pushed a bit more…I asked, “Suppose I told you that a blind student would be in your class beginning Monday?  What would you think, or feel, or do, or want to know?”

Their first responses were about whether the blind person would have a special helper (teaching assistant) and how they got blind–had they been blind all their lives, or had it been caused by an accident or illness?   Once they got past that, though, I reminded them their lives WOULD be impacted, as we would need to be sensitive to the additional needs–and every time they got up, they would need to be careful to push in chairs, not leave pencils or papers on the floor, put away pillows or beanbags, etc.

Kids are usually so willing to be thoughtful of others and helpful, if we give them the reasons why something is needed. It’s just that so often, we get caught up in all the minutiae that we forget to give kids the big picture…and some of them need it just as much as some of us do. I deliberately set up this book study with the kids somewhat in the dark.  I did the book talks so that they wouldn’t pick up immediately that each main character was facing issues in their lives because of something way beyond their control–a birth defect, genetics, whatever….but they figured the connections out pretty quickly.

What I wanted out of them reading these books was to be more sensitive to the feelings of others–to not be someone who merely tolerates differences, but who recognizes them and moves beyond them to looking for and finding the good in people.  Is that teaching empathy or something more?   Is it a reasonable goal?  And, if it is, why isn’t it in the curriculum?

Empathy is being able to step into someone else’s shoes to imagine how they are feeling.  So much of the hatred and hate crimes that happen, so much of the bullying and ostracizing of people or groups that happens is done without really feeling for the other who is being hurt. It is often done by someone who is hurt…who feels bullied by someone, who feels ostracized. If we teach empathy…if we talk with our students through books and life experiences about feeling for other people, will we make a difference in how people treat one another years from now?  I believe we will–and  the ability to make a difference begins as we teach and reach children each and every day in our schools and our lives.





What I Want To Be When I Grow Up:

A misfit. A rebel. A troublemaker. A round peg in a square hole. Someone who sees things differently.  Not fond of rules. No respect for the status quo.


Not really….or at least I don’t quite want to be quite most of those things…  I already am seen as many of them, but it’s because I think differently than most people.  And, most of you probably recognize that from the “Think Different” Apple ads of the 90’s. I have some of those posters, given to me by a dear friend, Marianne Jolley, who used to be our sales rep. I’m in the process of hanging them in our school, and wanted to send a link out to the staff, so I googled them and found the wikipedia article on them. What I found surprised me.

Not only did the wikipedia article describe the ads, pictures and share the text of the message (which I have always loved!), but it also shared part of an interview with Steve Jobs from 1994.


Steve Jobs in interview for PBS‘ ‘One Last Thing’ documentary, 1994
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.


I’ve written sometimes here and on the Cooperative Catalyst blog about how my thinking, my ideas, my sharing, my work has gotten me  in hot waters….but I persevere to do what’s right for kids and I continue to strive to interest and engage them each and every day in meaningful, real ways. Some folks can’t handle that constant thinking and are threatened by it….those are narrow minded folks I try to avoid.  Because I want to, as the text says, “push the human race forward.”


I am so lucky that I grew up in a household where it was verbalized that I could do or be anything I wanted to do or be. I heard that all my life growing up and it has always impacted me–so I ask why when I am told no.  I ask why not when someone says something can’t be done. I keep my eyes out for opportunities and don’t hesitate to ask when I see one of those…and more often than not I am told yes.

I grow from those yesses more than I grow from the nos.  I learn from the yesses more than I learn when told no.  I learn from the responses when I ask why and why not, and  get a thoughtful, thought-provoking reason.

Steve’s response really spoke to me when I found it yesterday–we need to instill this belief in every kid we teach. We need to honor and celebrate their strengths and not beat them up with their weaknesses. When we have kids doubting themselves because of grades on a report card, or believing they are incompetent because we only harp on what they cannot do, we do them a tremendous dis-service. It’s only when they have confidence, when they believe in themselves, when they feel comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses that they will begin to be one of these who will

“change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.”

I see my goal as one which will support my students to  do as Steve says, “shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”

I have made a mark upon this world, however small.  I want my kids to make bigger ones. So I’ll continue to show them I believe in them with all of my heart and soul.

Technology–How Did I Get Started?

Back in April, 2012, someone asked on Twitter how people got started with technology.  I began this blog post, but didn’t finish it then.  Six months later, here’s my answer.

I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s, entering college in 1970–nearing the end of the Vietnam Era, but fully in the hippie era, and joining marches for peace. I remember taking a field trip in a High School Math class to visit the University of Virginia (UVA) and look at a computer–which took up a whole room and used punch cards to work.  I took a Fortran class in college and loved the logic of it–probably because logic puzzles were familiar to me. (See a previous personal post on “Visualizing Math.”) I won a portable TV in a contest when I was 10 years old, but don’t remember growing up with electronic toys.

I bought a computer of my own in the late 80’s, and used it mostly for word processing as I sent weekly notes home to my kindergartners’ parents. I also used it for the graduate classes I was taking. A pilot project through UVA provided modems to a few classes in Albemarle County and mine was one of the two at my elementary school. I remember my K kids using email with people in our central office and me figuring out how to add a phone to the jack so that I could get both phone calls and emails into my classroom. I was on listservs through bitnet and conversed with teachers from all over our county and the surrounding area that were also involved in the pilot program that later became Virginia’s Public network (Virginia’s PEN).

In the early 90’s I moved to the first completely wired elementary school in our county (and I believe in the state of VA). In a Kindergarten class there, I began using Hyperstudio, Kid Pix and the Internet with my students as we learned and played together, and I taught myself html to create web pages that shared what we were learning and doing.  (My “Cut Loose With Dr. Seuss” webpage was well know in those early days of the Internet and brought quite a bit of traffic to our county web site in the early days of its existence.) I began presenting at state conferences and my students won contests for their multimedia projects.

In 1999, I was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator and became part of a larger group of educators from all over the United States, and that opened many doors to global collaboration. I remember how much I learned in those early days of helping projects happen–like not to try doing HyperStudio with all 21 first graders at the same time. I recall having 11 kids do Hyperstudio timelines and arranging for the other 10 to do Kid Pix animated slide shows. I’ll never forget how well received that idea of not having every kid do every project was received as I did presentations around the state. I continued to provide opportunities for my students to work with technology in many ways, and will never forget how smart my young students were about many parts I didn’t think of intuitively.

There was one time when Mason was working on his life timeline on Hyperstudio (as a first grader) and was drawing a picture of himself in a class in Germany where he had attended kindergarten.  He drew one stick figure sitting in class and then copied and pasted it a number of times to make the other kids in the class–giving them various hairdos and colors of clothes to make multiple kids with little effort. I remember Miranda, another 1st grader, figuring out keyboard shortcuts for closing a window based on knowing command p was print and command s was save–so closing a window must be command w. I remember clearly Harry telling me he could show off the use of technology by drawing a picture by hand and using a scanner to copy it for the front of the program.  And these all happened in the early 90’s when we were lucky to have one computer in the classroom.

I remember working with student teachers and UVA grad students to create WebQuests like Who Wants To Be A Pioneer?, or use Excel spreadsheets to prove whether vampires were real (Drier, H. S. (1999).  Do vampires exist? Using spreadsheets to investigate a common folktale. Learning and Leading with Technology 27(1), 22-25. ).  We used technology to create communities of learners in math (Drier, H. S. (2000). Investigating mathematics as a community of learners. Teaching Children Mathematics 6(6), 358-363. [Special issue on children as mathematicians.]) We explored real life situations like the displacement of people from the Blue Ridge in during the “New Deal” era (What Price This Mountain?) and we created web pages to help organize our student research.

I collect antique eggbeaters and was awarded the honor of state runner up for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teacher based on the description of using eggbeaters (and an accompanying web page) to teach simple machines to first graders–and tying them into the use of Duplos and gears. To this day, I still haunt kitchen gadget aisles looking for unusual “machines.”

Since then, I’ve keynoted an international symposium-more than once. I’ve become pretty well-known on Twitter and helped others get started there who have far surpassed me.  🙂  I’ve co-started a blog that got thousands of hits in a day and I’ve helped organize things like #Blog4reform. My students have wikis and blogs and some of them have even presented in international conferences like k12online! I continue to be seen as a vanguard in the use of technology and have won many grants to try new things or support the use of technologies that have proven to be useful.

But t answer the question, “how did I get started with technology?,” I go back to my childhood. I watched my dad tinker to fix things. I observed my mother  using a pressure cooker regularly to make our meals and got lessons in how it worked. I played with my brothers’ toys–lincoln logs and erector sets. I played in the dirt, I built in the sand when we went to the beach, I played in the water and I created things in my backyard. I was allowed to build forts out of blankets and bats and chairs and tables. I climbed trees and still remember the day my brother knocked his teeth out when he fell because he was trying to swing like Tarzan from one tree to another. I remember another  brother’s tooth being chipped as he and some friends threw rocks straight up at the street light. I learned from their mistakes. (I certainly learned form my own, too, but theirs were always more spectacular.)

I explored heights and found open spaces by climbing out of my bedroom window onto the roof. I found hidey holes by exploring the undersides of turned over boats and trailers and climbing into boxes in closets with those brothers–and then delighting in the stories we made up in the dark. I roamed my neighborhood, both on foot and on my bicycle. I looked closely at how things worked as I saw oddities–toys or tricks that made one think.  I grew up in a home that played card games and logic games and counting games and word games. Part of the fun of Christmas for me growing up was that afternoon AFTER we had all examined our Santa “loot”–playing the new games anyone had gotten! Logic was a part of my life, as were tools. I grew up curious and asking questions–and having experiences that allowed me to think deeply and ask about those deep thoughts. I grew up having my thinking and my curiosity and my questions honored and respected…and so I learned to be a thinker, to be curious, to ask questions.

THAT’S how I really got started with technology.


Getting Smarter Together–ALL Of Us

I teach in a building with others who really work hard to do what’s best for kids and who try daily to meet their needs, and so I feel pretty lucky about that. One of my first grade teachers and I have found some pretty cool  ways to work together over the years to do that–things like comic book vocabulary work for extremely high readers, merging her kids into a fifth grade group for math centers, and this year, accelerating one of her kids into a 3rd grade math group. That’s been a mind blowing experience, as this kid is probably one of the smartest I’ve ever seen. She also attends my after-school wiki club with 4 others (ranging from 1st-4th grade), where she has learned much about coding and learning together, with and from others. (She had already completely created a wiki at home, which included embedding home videos, inserting various kinds of media into tables and labeling those so her reader will know what’s going on in each.)  She is grasping coding with html, and teaching it to other kids.  She is finding plug ins and widgets to add to her wiki.  She figures out stuff for herself–like how to change the background of widgets she finds on the web. I am consistently amazed at her ability to work independently (but ask for help when she needs it), setting goals for herself and going after the knowledge she needs to accomplish those goals.  I love it when she says, “Ms. White, I want to…. Can you help me?” Then we sit down together and I get to watch her thinking processes and see what she already knows as we figure out together how to accomplish her set task.

I once was sitting beside her and we were, together, trying to figure out something and I backed up a step (talking to myself, but thinking aloud to let her see my process) to say “We first have to…. ” and I began searching to try to figure it out.  She pretty much snapped at me, saying, “I know how to…” and instead of rebuking her for her tone of insolence to an adult, I simply said, “I know you know how to do it– I’m asking for me, not for you.”  That seemed to be a turning point…up to that point in working with her, she was constantly trying to show how smart she was–but not now after that incident. She clearly heard that I was learning and that I also respected her knowledge as well. In my class, it’s not about having to prove how smart you are (although it certainly is about being smart)–it’s really about knowing how to learn and knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do–having strategies for figuring things out, and using those to become smarter.

So many times in a classroom we forget to honor prior knowledge, and I constantly hear from kids about how dissed they are in “normal” classrooms, and how much time they waste doing things they already know how to do. I’m coming to believe that not allowing for kids’ expertise and helping them find time to work on their passions or explore new ones is one of our fatal flaws in education as it stands today.

I keep going back to my kindergarten roots as I struggle with being a resource teacher for my staff. I keep thinking how resilient young learners are and how thirsty they are for knowledge and growth. I wonder where we kill that attitude and why we adults (for the most part) don’t exhibit that in work situations…why we feel, like my young student, that it’s all about “showing how smart we are” instead of opening ourselves to honest, self-reflecting dialogue. Kids who feel like they have to prove themselves–heck, PEOPLE who feel like they constantly have to prove themselves–can’t listen because they’re trying so hard to be heard.

My principal wants us to become more of a “STEAM school,” centering on teaching with design thinking in mind as we set up lessons and experiences. In reflecting on that, I’m already into  thinking about next year…how we develop as a schoolwide community of learners. As we consider our PLC questions–

  • what is it that we want all kids to know, understand and be able to do?
  • what will we accept as evidence that learning has occurred?
  • how do we respond when kids come to us already knowing how to do those things?
  • how do we respond when we’ve done our teaching but learning hasn’t happened?
  • what does our teaching look  like to support important and effective teaching and learning?

I think we also need to center on finding competence rather than incompetence, that we need to honor what kids do (and what we do as teachers, too) and we need to reflect on the following questions:

  • We’ve been working with these PLC questions for years- How do we grapple with those differently next year than we have this year?
  • Do these questions just apply to 12 and under, or should they apply to everyone 21 and older in the building as well?
  • If the PLC questions apply to all as we learn how to teach and learn better together, are these paths disparate or do they converge and diverge? How do we see those “in the moment” and differentiate for all learners, no matter the age or job?




When Is Listening Not Enough?

I’ve got kids who are concerned about their world. Some fourth graders started a wiki about endangered animals last year. The year before, some different kids in the same age group had begun one called the “Earth Protection Club.” Another group this year (also in fourth grade) started one about the destruction of rainforests, and they even have a campaign going to write to the president of Brazil to get him to stop its destruction. Our fourth grade teachers do a geography unit that apparently brings global issues to the forefront of kids’ minds. I think that’s pretty cool.

Kids think about making a difference. India has blogged about being humane to animals, despite her uneasiness sometimes. Noa has made a wiki page about her confidence in changing the world. Nicolas, 2 years after he left my school, is still thinking about the need to reform school.  And, I can’t even begin to cite the number of verbal conversations I’ve had with kids who care about different issues and worry about them.

Several weeks ago I began something called “Conversation Calendars” with my literacy group. I had found the idea online, and knew it came from a book by Cris Tovani,  Do I Really Have to Teach Reading(106-110).  I was really interested in the kids reflecting each day on their participation, and it’s not been a great success for that.  However, many folks who have implemented this strategy talk about the relationship building it allows and I have found that to be true.  I’ve gotten comments from kids that hardly ever speak out in class, and that’s been pretty cool.

My group is made up of advanced readers–kids who are motivated, highly engaged with books and passionate about their book interests. They also, for the most part, like to talk.  They have lots to say and often are seeking an audience. So, for several kids, the conversation calendars have been a godsend–they have a direct pipeline to the teacher, and since they’ve been taught since Kindergarten (birth probably) that that’s their audience in school, they want more.  So I have two young ladies who asked if I could make the box bigger–or if I could give them more room to write.  One of them said, “We have a lot to say to you,” and the other one was standing by her side nodding.  I thought about it and decided I would provide small notebooks for them and let them go–and see if I could possibly nudge them to move what they say to their blogs or wikis and go for a more global audience.  So yesterday, I provided them their small notebooks, which they were thrilled to get, immediately put their names on and I had to chuckle as they almost skipped out of my room, they were so excited.

My kids have strong opinions about their rights and beliefs, but they also recognize they are usually not empowered to act.  Today I got an email from a former student who continues to follow what I do with kids.  Here’s his email:

“I decided to look over the discussion your current students are having, when I came across stuff from my former neighbor Ricky. I looked at the discussion between you two (not all of it), and I realized that there are obstacles that stop us from reaching our dreams, and that one of Ricky’s obstacles is being a kid. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your age should not stop you from doing things.”

I agree, age should not be a barrier to doing what you want to do.

We’ve simply got to find ways to give kids voice in ways that matter and that they feel heard.  We’ve simply got to stop making them feel squashed, and like we steal their dreams.

If you haven’t read Wounded By School you should.  If you haven’t read Readicide you should.  If you haven’t read what my kids say about dreams being stolen from them, you should.

We’ve simply got to find ways to validate their feelings,  empower them to act, and not just listen to what they say.







Stop Stealing Dreams

This week Seth Godin released a 30,000 word manifesto entitled “Stop Stealing Dreams.”  I asked my kids to pick a part that sounded interesting to them and then respond on Today’s Meet.   It was fascinating to watch the process unfold…As the students began they were sharing the piece they read and trying to give a one or two statement synopsis or quick reaction.

Then the conversation took off and they began discussing dreams and the purpose of school.  What amazed me was the insight of these 10 and 11 year olds.

“Schooling was invented to teach kids how to be obedient.”

“I think that dreams are some what EASY to build but even EASIER to destroy. It angers me.”

“It is very sad that most teachers don’t help you follow your dreams, they just tell you to sit down shut up and listen.”


“”We all will grow up on the outside, but I will stay like a kid on the inside.”

But my absolute favorite is

“This is a question for everyone- This sit down, be quiet and follow the rules has been going on for 80 years. Why have things not changed?”

That kid follows up with: “Why are we just complaining and not making a difference?”


I asked them what school should look like and got two responses that basically said “that’s a tough question.”  I know it is, but I also know they are thinking about it.

I showed the Today’s Meet to their parents in a “Learning Lab” we had this past week.  Several students said they had gone home and asked their parents to read it.


I can’t wait to revisit this conversation with them next week.  I think my beginning question will be something like “Last week we read parts of a manifesto named “Stop Stealing Dreams.” What have you thought about that since then?”


Do you have a better suggestion for a question?