Sunday, January 6, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes--Chapter 4

The essence of this chapter can, in my mind, be summed up in the advice the kids give on page 31. One student suggests that in order to learn about something, he must be emotionally attached to it. Another says that if she could focus on learning one thing at a time and have time to discuss, learning would be more effective. If, as teachers, we let these students' words guide the educational decisions we make, our teaching will be lasting and meaningful.

The chapter suggests that by focusing our efforts on creating interest in students about a subject, exploring that subject deeply and thoroughly, and focusing on metacognition, our classrooms can be transformed. I agree.

The practical ideas in the chapter about how to actually accomplish this, resonate well with me. As a literacy coach working with content area teachers, I often feel that I teach the subjects I know less well with greater success. At first this confounded me. The words in this chapter explain the phenomena. When I don't know a subject well, I have to teach myself before I can teach others. As I do this, I carefully consider what I have done to learn so that I can communicate well with kids. I think the reminder to consider how you, as the teacher learns, is an important concept. Purposefully sharing with students how you learn, and asking them to discuss how they learn is a powerful means to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. As you eavesdrop on those conversations, it provides a window into how a student learns that would provide valuable insight into how to present lessons and expand existing strengths of individual students.

As I work with teachers in content areas and read through textbooks, I am not surprised when kids struggle. These books are written in such a sterile way. They are often too difficult for students to read and lack any interesting details that inspire students to read on. When I talk to the teachers, though, they exude enthusiasm for a subject. It leaves me with a sad feeling. These teachers hold a passion for history, science, etc., but they align themselves so strongly with a text that the students don't get to see the enthusiasm from their teachers that I see when we are "just chatting."

This chapter inspired me to begin assembling collections of "way-in texts" (P 29)for teachers to have at their fingertips. I spent some of my Christmas vacation digging in to research and hanging out at the bookstore. I've decided to start with social studies, because I will be coaching a 6th grade social studies teacher soon. The kids must have something more interesting and inspiring to read than the textbook. So, an appeal. I am trying to find interesting articles, picture books, websites, etc. that correlate with the Indiana Middle School Social Studies Standards. I think a lot of us are trying to do this same work. Many hands make light work. Do any of you have texts that you use that you would like to pass along?? (When my order comes in, if the books I've ordered look good, I'll pass the titles along.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

June's thoughts on Chapter 3

This chapter reiterates to me one of the messages Kyleen Beers wrote about in chapter 1, “The Measure of Success.” They both identify changes in literacy demands and the lack of change in teaching methods.

Donna Alverman's use of Steve Johnson’s example illustrating what would happen if video games were introduced BEFORE books was eye opening for me. I believe this is how many of our students are coming to us. I think of my own kids and how young they were sitting at the computer, interacting with games long before they could interact - read books on their own. Sure, we would read together and they would look at illustrations and make up stories on their own. My daughter even slept with books, but video’s and video/computer games were exciting and a big part of their development too.

This experience contrasts with my own introduction to current technologies I remember my first interaction with a computer – my junior year in high school – there was one computer in the whole school – a TRS-80 that we, 5 of us, used to learn the “BASIC” programming language independent study. It’s hard to believe now, but I went through college without a word processor – Looking back, I don’t know how I made it! My post graduate studies include a vivid memory of a professor’s discussion about future technologies. He explained that in the near future, we would be able to order groceries on the computer and have them delivered to the home. I remember thinking, at the time “Yeah, by flying cars!” Now, I do much of my shopping online.

I guess the point is that the world is changing fast (I am not that old – really – really!) Technology has changed immensely over the past 20 years. I wonder what the world will look like in another 20? If I don’t embrace and utilize these technologies in our classrooms, I will be handicapping my students. Students are using these new technologies to shape their own lives. I now realize the need to be involved to help guide them, develop the critical thinking skills needed to navigate these new territories safely and effectively.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Ruth's Thoughts: Chapter Two.

I blogged my thoughts about this chapter here: Favorite Teachers Save Lives.

Here's what I wrote in reflection at the end of chapter two:

Okay, so I'm sitting here teary-eyed after reading this chapter. And again, I'm given words for why I feel uncomfortable being out of the classroom. It's because of the words on the bottom of p. 17 -- top of p. 18.

Students such as these walk into your classrooms in every size, shape, and color. You can't know their histories because their only control is control of their secrets. You are asked to create a safe enough place for them to learn, and for you to teach, and then are provided will ill-thought-out standards, drawn up by men and women so distant from your theatre of engagement as to be functionally illiterate in its regard. These people demand that you test memory-level learning and abandon the staples of real education -- response, expression, relationship -- to chance.
But many of you will refuse to do that, because you didn't invest years of your life getting an education and gathering the tools to follow your passion to be disallowed the right to make the connection with your students that could change their lives. No child left behind? Only policy makers and politicians would need a bill named that to remind them that leaving kids behind isn't a good idea.

I must copy this chapter for every single staff member at my school. I'd like them to experience what I'm feeling right now -- this reminder as to why we are doing this job in the first place. Little reminders like this never hurt.

This chapter also makes me feel urgency for school reform. I want to stand up and be bold and inspire change. (Now that makes me feel a little nervous inside!)

And I did copy and give it to my colleagues.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ruth's Thoughts: Chapter 1

For me, Kylene's words on page 7 struck a chord:
I understand the inclination to default to the more manageable (i.e., testable) demands of academic literacy as the measure of success, but the reality is, literacy demands have shifted and we do our students a disservice if we fail to teach to these demands.

The following discussion of the change in the definition of literacy was enlightening as well. I have never reflected on it in quite this way. I love the ever-evolving definition of literacy:
A set of skills that reflect the needs of the time (7).

Today's definition of literacy is different than what it was when the majority of teachers were in school. And this magnifies one of the primary problems in education today: Teachers are teaching according to how they were taught instead of according to what's best for today's students.

It's time we stand up for the needs of 21st Century students and teach them to produce (not consume) information (p. 8).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nancy's First Blog

Okay, here I am entering my first ever blog conversation, which is exciting on so many levels. I shared with my students that I am blogging and also shared my confessions of being "nervous" at trying something new. They chuckled at the thought of a nervous teacher attempting something that they perceive as second-nature. The blog has been a good thing already in that it has opened up a conversation between my students and I about taking risks, talking honestly with other learners, and sharing thoughts with other readers. So, thanks to Ruth for encouraging me to try something new.

I'm going to jump right into the discussion of chapter one since I am late getting started on the blog. This is the chapter that resonated so well with me and caused me to read so far ahead in the book. For me, this chapter answered the question that I so frequently ask myself as a literacy coach: "Why do teachers spend so much time focusing on rote knowledge?"

I am privileged to work with a very caring staff at the middle school where I am employed. They nearly always make teaching decisions based on what they perceive is in the best interest of students. Just as I was finishing chapter one, I had the experience of sitting in a meeting between an entire team of teachers with a group of nearly 200 students. The topic of the meeting was the students' "lack of work ethic." The lead teacher wrote the following on the board, "Knowledge=Power." The lecture involved the teachers talking about the importance of students completing homework and the opportunity the students have to fill their heads with as many facts as possible while they have the support of teachers who have so much knowledge "to give."

Chapter one of adolescent Literacy explains why some teachers believe knowledge, not thinking, is important. Namely, that it used to be true. In the 1980's and 1990's when many teachers were in school themselves, "The text held all the answers and skilled readers could discern that meaning by setting aside their own thoughts and instead focusing on the clues left by the author." In essence, yielding your own thought to the thoughts of an author or the teacher was desirable.

Now, creative thoughts are more in need. We live in an age where students will need to focus on "making meaning and connections" and "the multiple possibilities of any situation over seeking one solution." Many teachers grew up in one age and they are preparing students for life in an age that no longer exists. The book helped me to empathize with the teachers with whom I work. They believe they are preparing students for life by filling their heads with facts. By naming the issue, I can address it. For instruction to be effective, a philosophical shift will have to happen. The caring, passionate group of people I teach with will have to come to understand that divergent thinking, not rote memorization, is the key to success in the future. As long as teachers believe that "knowledge is power," they will continue to focus instruction on the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy.

Chapter one highlights a conversation that must happen between literacy coaches, administrators, and teachers. We can't create lasting educational reform without having this dialogue.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

June Yazel: Introduction

I, like Ruth, am excited about this new opportunity to read and discuss this book as well as the impact it can make on our teaching. I have already connected with this book in so many ways. For example, in Kylene Beers’ introduction, the question arises, “Is there any chance of getting it right?” I have had this conversation many times with colleagues in my building. Looking back on my adolescent years, I imagine my teachers asked the same question. The world seemed so different then and the question doesn’t change, but our methods must! That is why this work is so important. I look forward to new to new insights in literacy.

In her introduction, Kylene Beers also describes a conversation between two teachers who recently attended the NCTE convention. Coincidently, I have just returned from this years NCTE in New York. I sat in a few sessions hosted or co-hosted by some of the contributors to this book: Janet Allen, Nancie Atwell, Kylene Beers, Sara Kajder, Teri Lesesne, Robert Probst, Tom Romano and Jeffrey Wilhelm. Of course, I took notes, but having this resource, I now have access to a much longer session hosted by all of those great literacy leaders plus many, many more. Ruth’s idea to create a blog around our book study of this work has opened up the “conference” on a whole new level! Thank you Ruth!

Finally, I would like to reiterate the fact that this book is not only for English teachers. In college I remember taking a “reading” course. The Professor asserted that we are all reading teachers, no matter our teaching license subject area. Naively, I scoffed at the idea. The many years in the classroom, NCLB, state testing requirements and having to fill out my own IRS tax forms have taught me otherwise. More than ever, we need to meet adolescents where they are and carry, push and/or guide them further down the road.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ruth's Thoughts: Introduction

Looking down the names of contributors on the front cover made me want to curl up in a quiet corner of a library and just read, read, read from the front cover to the back. However, in the world of full-time work and living with a two year old, this was obviously unrealistic. So I settled with absorbing the book in pieces. And this may be even better, because I can savor it over time.

I love the way the Table of Contents in organized. It's a conversation in and of itself. Very cool. I also appreciate the wealth of information in the appendix. And following Appendix B is a gold mine -- brief biographies about each of the contributors and their EMAIL ADDRESSES! Wow . . . they care enough to want to continue having a conversation about adolescent literacy with the readers of this book.

I was struck in the introduction how the goal of this book is to be a "handbook that helps shape both public conversation and classroom practice" (xii). It's designed for all middle and high school teachers -- not just language arts teachers. Plus it's designed for school administrators AND local, state, and national policy makers. Wow. It's empowering to see a stand for all of us to come together and play together (so to speak). It's time that we all see adolescent literacy as part of our job descriptions. I'm looking forward to learning how I can help non-language arts teachers see the subject of adolescent literacy as a crucial part of their work as well.