08/21/06

Cores 1-2:

  1. Check syllabus signatures.
  2. Use the one book meme to start a dialog about books, createing a community of readers. My example.
  3. Review library expectations in order to keep our goals perfectly in view.
  4. Travel to the library, use computers or the bookshelves to find the “next books” from your notecards.
  5. Read.

Cores 3:

  1. Check Syllabus Signatures.
  2. Do written version of Book Meme. My Example. Check individualized goals on AR+ contracts and answer any questions.
  3. Set library expectations.
  4. Travel to the library, use computers or the bookshelves to find the “next books” from your notecards.
  5. Read.

Core 4:

  1. Show students how to find book recommendations, and pass out notecards for “next books.”
  2. Go to library and search on tower computers for “next books” and write down on notecards.
  3. Check-out and read books.

Not Tagged – The Book Meme

I was not tagged to contribute to the book meme, but that is okay because I mostly thought that memes were a little bit hokey. That is until I started looking into memology. I am really enamored with the concept of viral ideas, that we contribute to one anothers conciousness in such a contagious way. I also think that is a great idea to talk about reading as having a large impact our lives. So, here is my contribution to the book meme, even though no one asked for it.

1. One book that changed your life:
Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughter-House Five. I will always remember the first time I realized the true power of “So it goes.” After every death in the book (including the deaths of inanimate objects) this phrase is echoed. It makes me so happy that world goes on after us, that everything around us is normal, even death. Of course, in the book, time travel and aliens are normal, so maybe I keep missing the point.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

The Catcher in the RyeCatcher in the Rye. Every time I read this book I am at a new stage of my life. I identify with a different part of Holden. I used to understand his rebellion so much better because I was rebellious. Now I understand his preservation of innocence because I want that for my daughter.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Old Man and The SeaThe Old Man and the Sea. I think if I were on a desert island I would finally have enough time to analyze the meaning of all of the simple and beautiful words.

4. One book that made you laugh:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Vintage)A Heartbreaking Work of Stagering Genius. Dave Eggar’s humor is some of the ripest and most intelligent I have known. I can’t help but laugh at his tragedy.

5. One book that made you cry:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Vintage)A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He lost his mother and father within a few months of one another. The weight of loss in his story is so overwhelming that it is hard to imagine reading it without at least welling up once.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Simple Answers Suck: A book about the inherent complexity of searching for anything worth knowing.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
ToxinToxin. I had to teach this trash novel once in a Modern Literature course. It has the worst dialogue imaginable and the characters could not be more flat. I eventually had to teach it as an example of bad writing.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the WorldKnow-It-All. I have great respect for anyone who reads the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and doesn’t break up his marraige in the process.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
A NovelEverything is Illuminated. This is a great movie and I have heard that the book is even better. I can’t wait to get some time to dive into it.

10. Now Tag Five People You Want to Hear From:

I would rather tag all of my students. I can’t wait to see what they say.

Consider me surprised.

I have never been so convinced that our political leanings dictate our pedagogical leanings as when I read the comments from “The 95 Theses of Progressive Teaching.” As I was posting it, I thought it would create a lot of a debate upon wording and ideas, but I was not prepared for the debate it created in terms of core beliefs. I was so sure that I had hit upon the universal themes of good education that no one could possible get on the other side of. I mean, who doesn’t want teachers that reflect on their teaching, that are teaching to students’ needs, that are supporting one another, that are constantly trying to learn from others, that are passionate about their job?

When I got the first comment of dissent, I started to think about what I was really putting across with my 50 theses. I realized that much of them could be seen as a grand plan for revolution in modern education. Now, I see that as a good thing, but some people would say that most revolutions either don’t work or are revolutionizing the wrong things.

The other aspect of these comments that really caught me off guard was the way that they were reacting to the title: “Progressive teaching.” Do I mean that I am a liberal democrat when I say this or do I mean that I simply want things to change for the better and not have us become either complacent in our successes or lost in our failures. I was hoping for the latter.

Are we so polarized in this country that even the words we use must either be in support of republican or democratic views? I had always said no. Words are how we enter into debate; they are how we strengthen our communication so that things can actually get done. I was not trying to throw fire onto tradition, and I was certainly not trying to align myself with a hopeless pedagogy.

Now to address the specific concerns that have been raised:

The first firm disagreement from another representative of the Edusphere came from Darren. In picking apart my first four theses, he said,

1. Teachers should be the change they want to see in their schools. What the heck does that mean?
2. Teachers should constantly reinvent the wheel to make it ride smoother and faster over any type of terrain imaginable. Why? There’s another sensible saying: if it works, don’t fix it. This doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t practice a critical pedagogy to determine if their instruction is meeting the needs of the students, but change for its own sake seems a tremendous waste of time to me.
3. Teachers should never teach the same things the same way twice. See #2.
4. Teachers should see tradition for what it is: the hope that things will stay the same forever. This is the most insidious. Tradition isn’t the hope that things will stay the same, it’s a link between the past and future. It gives us a foundation, a rock, something upon which to build. Graduation exercises are a tradition we have–should we get rid of them out of some belief that they’re stale or out of date? That’s not progressive, that’s destructive.

I would like to address each grievance individually.

  1. I stole “being the change we wish to see” directly from Gandhi’s mouth. It was shameless, but I had a good reason. I believe that teachers should never preach a particular way of doing things and then not put them into practice themselves (not walking their talk). If modeling is so important to students, it should also be that way for colleagues. You should be able to walk down the hallways of a school and notice the teachers who are really trying to reflect and collaborate. You should be able to see the change in them.
  2. I do not advocate change for change’s sake. I advocate change because things can always be better. It is hard for me to understand not wanting things to run more smoothly in a classroom, or your teaching to be more effective eveen when 85-90 percent of your students made at least one year’s growth last year. I can never be perfect at what I do, but I want to get at as close to that ideal, as close to reaching every kid as possible. That is why change is so important. If you keep going as you always have, those 10 percent of kids will never get what they need out of education.
  3. At the very least, you have to admit that you will never have the same students twice (they change their minds from day to day sometimes). How can you teach two different groups of kids the same way? I get anxious when I know that I am not engaging the group in front of me. When I know that a lesson isn’t working or could work better, it is my duty to make sure that I make the correct adjustments. Getting better at what I do is so important to me that it literally keeps me up at night.
  4. You are right. This one is probably the most insidious thesis of all 50. But maybe it is just in the way that it is phrased. What I mean is that tradition for the sake of tradition doesn’t make sense. I actually like traditions. I like going out with my wife on our anniversary. I like going out to my grandmother’s house and watching the parade every 4th of July. But these are traditions that make sense. These are ones that are authentic and have purpose for the individuals involved. The traditions that I am trying to change are the ones that lack all of these qualities. Traditions like “Social Advancement” (passing a failing student in elementary and middle school so that he/she will be with age-similar peers) must be changed because they are not helping students to succeed. The traditions that may have been a good idea at one time, the ones that made sense when we didn’t live in a global community and economy, the ones that aren’t focused on helping students to learn, these are the ones that must be changed. As for graduations: I spoke at my high school graduation, and I loved every minute of it. From writing the speech to practicing it endlessly to getting up and showing everyone what I had done. I do not want to eliminate tradition, just the stance that all traditions are necessary.

The second comment that really got me thinking was by another man named Jeff:

Let it suffice to say for now that any random five of these items gives ample reason why my wife, my son and I commute over two hours each day to his modest private school. His school is a cornucopia of diversity; each class in his three years there has been filled with students from across the globe. At the end of first grade he was reading at a fourth grade level and he was by no means the best reader in his class. They are busy mastering subject matter while their public (and many private) school counterparts are being subjected to “an environment that encourages life-long learning”.Our nearest public school is 600 yards away from our house.Public education has been in the stranglehold of the “progressives” for what…about 100 years now?And this is what you have to show for yourselves?
I would like to first say that I am really happy to hear that he and his family are satisfied with their son’s educational experience. I don’t have any problem with going somewhere to get what you want (or need). I am all for choice in the classroom, and I am all for choice in the school as well.Now to address the problems he has with my “makeshift manifesto”:I’m not sure that I understand the difference between creating life-long learners and teaching subject matter. Can’t we do both at the same time? The reason I teach Language Arts (English to you high school crowd) is because I love to teach kids to read and write. I love watching students understand how to structure their thoughts on paper, and I love discussing the intricacies of theme and diction in a novel or short story. Words are why I teach, not to construct teaching theory. But, how can I ignore the theory behind making better teachers and communities of teachers? How can I sit back and not respond to all of the other teachers who aren’t as passionate or reflective? I want all teachers to make sure their students are prepared for the real world of the 21st century, and that takes a lot more than just making sure they know how to write a 5-paragraph essay. I want them to be able to know how to use what I teach them, but more than that, I want them to be able to learn beyond what I teach them.I am not afraid of using data to back up my orientation. I am not afraid to be honest about what this outlook does to our students. Aprox. 20% of my students last year made more than one year’s growth on their reading and writing (according to last year’s state test). More than 85% made at least a year’s growth on reading and writing. Now, I know that these numbers are probably not Jeff’s idea of perfection, but I want him to know that they aren’t my idea of perfection either. What I am saying is that even as a lowly second year public school teacher (last year) I could teach both content and critical thinking (life-long learning) and still produce results that I can be proud of. (I can’t wait to see what my kids will do when I am a more seasoned teacher.)As for being in the stranglehold of the “progressives” for 100 years… I’m not really sure what he means. There have been many failed progressive movements in education in the last 100 years, but there have been just as many failed back-to-basics initiatives. One of the biggest questions I have is for Jeff’s son’s teachers: how would they categorize and describe their own teaching philosophy? I would love to know more about their successes with all of the students in Jeff’s son’s class. How are they getting such great results? Is it due to their private school student population, or is it the way that they are teaching (I’m assuming it is a little bit of both, but probably more weighted on the pedagogy)?

I am willing to swallow any stupid idea I may have, but my focus will always be on making myself a better teacher and making my students better learners. If you want to argue with me about my methodology, fine. But please don’t accuse me of not wanting what it best for my students.

08/18/06

These lessons are a continuation of yesterday.

Core 1-3:

  1. Write-On: Construct a metaphor for your reading life. For example.
  2. Go over Syllabus for the year.
  3. Go to Tower Computer Lab and fill out digital AR+ contracts and explore AR+ book recommendations.

Core 4:

  1. Write-On: How does your concept of reading change when you are allowed to choose your own books?
  2. Go over AR+ curriculum.
  3. Go over Syllabus for the year.

08/17/06

Much of today’s lessons are a continuation of the ideas from yesterday.

Cores 1+2:

  1. Discuss-On: Discuss with at least two people your list of expectations. Try to agree on the two that you think are most essential. Be ready to share them out and have them written on the smart board.
  2. Vote on the most essential expectations.
  3. Re-Introduce my Classroom website, especially AR+ and explore all of its facets.

Core 3:

  1. Turn-In: Perception Comparisons and list of promises/expectations.
  2. As a class, talk about the classroom website. What did you find there that was interesting or useful. What questions do you need answered? How are you going to use this website in order to learn more or become a better language arts student?
  3. Go into depth with AR+. Fill out AR contracts and look at other documents.

Core 4:

  1. Discuss-On: Debate how essential each of our proposed expecations are and be ready to voice your opinion on them by voting electronically through the CPS.
  2. As a class, talk about the classroom website. What did you find there that was interesting or useful. What questions do you need answered? How are you going to use this website in order to learn more or become a better language arts student?
  3. Go into depth with AR+. Fill out AR contracts and look at other documents.

08/16/06

All of this is a continuation of yesterday.

Core 1:

  1. Think/Discuss-On: How will writing these goals down and sending yourself an e-mail influence your actions in class?
  2. Type up FutureMe.
  3. What should our new set of classroom expectations be for this year based upon your goals? What should we all agree to because of who we want our future selves to be?
  4. Come up with at least three expectations in groups.
  5. Re-introduce AR+ and explore website (if time allows).

Core 2:

  1. Think/Write-On: Read over your FutureMe. Think about how will you make sure that your present self becomes your future self. Write down the goals to get you point a (the beginning of eighth grade) to point b (the end of eighth grade and your FutureMe) Example.
  2. Discuss and share goals and future selves as a class.
  3. Type both future self and goal list into FutureMe.org.
  4. How will writing these goals down and sending yourself an e-mail influence your actions in class?
  5. What should our new set of classroom expectations be for this year based upon your goals? What should we all agree to because of who we want our future selves to be?
  6. Develop a list of classroom expectations which makes sure that all of our goals will be met, not just the goals of some.

Core 3:

  1. Act-On: Discuss with at least two people your list of expectations. Try to agree on the two that you think are most essential. Have one person from your group come up and write them on the smart board.
  2. Discuss and vote upon which expecations should go onto the syllabus.
  3. Introduce my Classroom Website and allow time for exploration.

Core 4:

  1. Act-On: Discuss with at least two people your list of three actions. Try to agree on the three that you think are most essential. Have one person from your group come up and write them on the smart board.
  2. As a class, format these actions into expectations for everyone to agree to.
  3. Vote on the most essential expecations to go on the class syllabus.
  4. Introduce my Classroom Website and allow time for exploration.

08/15/06

Cores 1-2 (8th graders):

  1. Reorient students to the new setup.
  2. Talk about the unique opportunity that Looping provides.
  3. Introduce FutureMe:
    1. First days are all about finding your footing again. You have been on the beautiful ocean of vacation for a couple months, and now it is time to step onto dry land again. As you get off of your well worn summer vessel,  your feet feel as though they are stepping through quicksand. Everything is shifting and swaying. Nothing seems real or easy. You were used to the rhythm of the waves, and it is going to take you a few days to lose that watery equilibrium.
    2. In order to help this process along, I wanted to start off by looking ahead. Sure, we could look back and say, “We had a pretty good year last year, I think I am just going to coast by on that for this year.” But resting on your laurels is not an option when you are given a much better alternative: making this year even better.
    3. I’ll admit, in some ways this year is a continuation of last year. You have most of the same teachers, and you are with most of the same students, but you are not the same person, and you won’t think the same way. So, acting like a 7th grade clone of yourself really isn’t a very good idea.
    4. To make sure that our eyes become open to one another for the first time, to make sure that we never become stagnant within ourselves, and to make sure that we don’t become jerks or inarticulate slobs, we are going to participate in FutureMe.
    5. FutureMe begins with looking at your future self. Who will you be at the end of 8th grade? Here is an example of what I am talking about.
    6. You then need to think about who you are right now. How are you going to get from the present me to the FutureMe? Another example.
    7. Once you have both of these things written down, you will be typing them into FutureMe.org. This is a web site that can send you an e-mail at anytime in the future that you want. I would like you to set it to send the end of the year (May 1st), so that you can compare who you thought you would be to who you actually became. When everyone receives their e-mail on the first of May, we will spend a class period laughing at how wonderfully right (and wrong) we were.
    8. Collect hard copies of FutureMe.

Core 3-4:

  1. Introduce concept of Write/Think/Draw/Discuss/Act-On:
    1. How do your perceptions of the people around you affect the way you act?
  2. Share out (with a partner) your perception words and images. Try and boil your how your partner does and does not want to be perceived into one essential statement.
  3. Introduce your partner to the class and share the boiled down statement about how they want to be perceived.
  4. What does it mean to make a promise to see each other better? How will it change your actions?
  5. Make the promise on the smart board.
  6. Introduce my classroom website.
  7. Explore the website and write down any questions about what you find there.

The 95 Theses of Progressive Teaching

I have had the busiest and most productive summer of my life. I have created a lesson planning wiki, a technology integration wiki, the beginnings of a district Edusphere, and a bloated furl account. I have been thinking both big and small about the new school year that is now upon me. This post represents the broadest thinking I have done this summer.

Martin Luther had this idea first, but I’m sure he won’t mind if I borrow it. I kept thinking that progressive education needed a good rally cry, a belief system that we could all debate, discuss, and eventually agree upon. So I decided to start this project. Here are the first 50 theses of progressive education. I have categorized each of my beliefs in order to organize my thoughts and prevent any redundancy. Please write your ideas and additions into the comments for this post.
Change:

1. Teachers should be the change they want to see in their schools.
2. Teachers should constantly reinvent the wheel to make it ride smoother and faster over any type of terrain imaginable.
3. Teachers should never teach the same things the same way twice.
4. Teachers should see tradition for what it is: the hope that things will stay the same forever.

Collaboration and Community:

5. Teachers should be a part of a supporting network of dedicated fellow teachers who challenge each other to be better.
6. Teachers should accept advice, encouragement, and feedback freely from anyone who has their best interest in mind.
7. Just like teachers should never write off a student, they should also never write off a fellow teacher as incapable of change or merely incapable.
8. Teachers should never assume that their ideas will be adopted or believed even if they have research on their side but they should always try to convince people anyway.
9. Teachers should evangelize what they believe, but never prescribe it as a program for other teachers to follow verbatim. All teachers are different.
10. Teachers should not fear certain subjects of conversation with colleagues; all teachers deserve to be challenged in a way that they can understand and accept.
11. Teachers should never participate in anything in their classrooms, departments, or districts that can’t or won’t be shared with others and perhaps improved upon.
12. Teachers should be honest and open about what they excel at and what they need help with.
13. Teachers should be addictive personalities.
14. Teachers should never have to worry that someone has their back.
15. Teachers should see gossip for what it is: the nearly irremovable wedge driven between teachers to cut off all collaborative possibility.

Curriculum:

16. Teachers should be an integral part of all curriculum decision.
17. Teachers should never merely teach their content; they should teach the usage of their content in new and different situations.
18. Teachers should disarm racial, gender, and class biases in themselves and their classrooms by always speaking honestly about the corrosive effects that these biases can have on every question asked and curricular decision made.
19. Teachers shouldn’t see a difference between teaching to the students and teaching to the test. They should trust their methods to get students to where success lies.
20. Teachers should never give an assignment that they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.

Teaching/Learning Theory:

21. Teachers should always have a good answer for the question “Why is this important?”
22. Teachers should find their inspiration for lessons in anything they want. There are infinite entrances to learning.
23. Teachers should learn.
24. Teachers should never think for their students.
25. Teachers should know that they have effects farther reaching than this year’s classroom, and should teach accordingly.
26. Teachers should be an expert in what they teach, but not the expert.
27. Teachers should allow a specific entrance to every student for their curriculum, thus creating universal access to learning.
28. Teachers should promote the complex and sometimes ambiguous nature of problem solving and real world application by bringing it into the classroom and showing students how complexity isn’t a vice, but a virtue.
29. Teachers should use theory only as an avenue to creating real lessons and activities that are student-centered instead of using it to create more theory (application instead of abstraction).
30. Teachers should learn from their students all that they can about student learning, teacher practice, and the next generation of life.
31. Teachers should know who their students are, and because of this, know what they need to learn.
32. Teacher should know what is unique about their school/district, and they should use these things to add idiosyncratic interest rather than jumping on a curriculum bandwagon.
33. Teachers should never frame their days by asking, “What can I fill this time with?”
34. Teachers should be ready to influence minds at a moments notice by asking students questions and learning something from the answer.
35. Teachers should anticipate anything but assume nothing.
36. Teachers should find solutions the same way that they find problems, by looking for them.
37. Teachers should preserve their individuality because it is the only way that they can preserve the individuality of their students.
38. Teachers should be prepared for, have an affinity toward, and see the value and beauty in the inherent difficulties in teaching one child, let alone 120.
39. Teachers should use the language of their craft in their classroom, encouraging their students to know the content more intimately, but they should never shirk their responsibility to be an adaptive translator of their content language.
40. Teacher should blend who they are with what they do. Teaching should be an authentic act for the teacher, not just the student.

Professional Development and Administration Support:

41. Teacher should be confident enough in their knowledge and teaching craft to justify any decision to a parent or administrator.
42. Teacher should know that new ideas exist, and should actively search for them in colleagues, both near to and far from them.
43. Teachers should never hide behind educators’ jargon and acronyms to make it appear as though they have a monopoly on knowledge.
44. Teachers shouldn’t be forced to choose “or” instead of “and” when it comes to resource needs in the classroom.
45. Teachers should read widely from both new and old media specific to their own interests in education, rather than read teacher books from someone unconnected to the classroom.
46. Teachers should never form an adversarial relationship with their administration; no sustained curricular or pedagogical decisions can be made only at the classroom level.

Reflection:

47. Teachers should know what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work in their classrooms.
48. Teachers should collect anecdotes as data just as often as they collect test scores because more people are convinced when stories are connected to numbers.
49. Teachers should see honest reflection as the main avenue of change in teaching.

Technology:

50. Teachers should see technology as being as integral to learning as pen and paper, an aid to but never substitute for good teaching.

I know that this list needs a lot of work. Please help my far reaching attempt to give modern educational belief a clear and powerful voice.

08/14/06

Ideas for the first day:

  1. Present how people see me vs. how I want to be seen. (talking about a fresh start).
  2. Don’t talk at all. Play a song that fully represents me. Ask students to think about the one thing (a song, a book, a character, or a movie that most accurately represents them).
  3. Introduce the concept of giftedness (the curve a la Jen Gottschalk).
  4. Tour of the room for 7th graders going over all of the little areas of the room.

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