Rebels With a Cause

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The reason I’m going to NTCE next week is to present my initial findings as well as obtain advice on a pilot study I designed this summer and implemented starting last month in October.

The study centers around paying attention to the literacies (writing, communicating, media development) students naturally bring to the classroom but are not typically sanctioned by school practices. Continue reading

Blogology: Lets Get Students Reading Again

Here’s my new brainchild–Blogology.

It’s an activity in getting students to buy into reading and then responding to that reading weekly and, in some cases, daily. I won’t fool myself into believing I’m the only educator who has thought of this, but when the idea struck me it felt like a true ah-ha moment. It was one of those moments where you feel like an answer has been under your nose the entire time but hidden just enough from view that you couldn’t see it.

I defined blogology for my students as the process of studying blogs, their writing, and media usage. In a nutshell, I’m allowing students to choose a blog of their interest (with guidelines and examples) and asking them to follow the blog faithfully for twelve full weeks. At the minimum, students are to read at least one post during the week and follow the reading up with a reflective post about what they’ve read. I’m using Google Docs to keep up with their own postings. They all have set up a document and shared it with me. They have until Sunday at midnight to give a thoughtful response to their reading each week, and I check the postings every four weeks to assess their progress and provide them with a formative grade. Admittedly, the process at its start can be cumbersome as students forget how to access their documents, don’t read instructions, or can’t settle on a blog; but after about a week of working the kinks out, students are going full steam ahead, reading outside of class, writing outside of class, and actually enjoying what they’re reading and writing about! Novel, right?!

I won’t know the extent to which this assignment is successful until after the twelve weeks are over, but I have a strong inkling that this will be one of my more successful efforts at independent reading. I also like that this causes students to be more aware of what is being written and shared on the internet. If all goes well, second semester we’ll take this activity to the next level and begin developing critical responses to the posts they read. The vision is to give students honest autonomy to critique, assess, praise, or condemn what they read using not only their sole opinion, but their knowledge of what they’ve been reading.

I’ll give a status update in a few weeks.

Here’s to reading outside the confines of what we label school. Cheers!

NY Times: China Educators Look to US Classrooms

The education crisis in America is a myth.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t serious reform that needs to happen in various districts and states, but the cold, hard reality is that nothing the federal government hands down to the states will ever be a cure all for individual systems’ woes. Another reality is that there are groups making money hand over fist from a crisis that has been manufactured by misleading data, media outlets, and policy makers. A glimmer of truth can be gleaned from an article in the New York Times, which you can read here. Published just yesterday, the article sheds light on how countries such as China are actually looking to our American classrooms for guidance on how to teach and prepare students past primary school, specifically in the sciences.

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The article asserts that China’s educators are looking to our classrooms to model our hands-on approach to learning science. The article also explains to readers the highest stakes test Chinese students take and why many parents are sending their children to America for high school. What’s the problem China officials are seeing? Their students can memorize the facts, but they don’t know how they apply to the real world, and they are unprepared to think critically. Sound familiar?

Education can be a problem anywhere, but to state what I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be trying to keep up with other countries’ test scores; rather, we should be leap frogging them in innovation. How do we do that? Continue to push students to think critically, work in dynamic teams, and foster the soft skills so desperately needed in a global market!

Advisement Matters

I have worked on my school’s advisement team for four years now. When I initially joined, my primary motivation was to simply be involved at another level at my school. (The small summer stipend didn’t hurt either.) What I discovered as I worked beside our group’s lead counselor and a few of my peers was that I have a genuine heart for what an advisement program means for all stakeholders–students, teachers, parents, and administrators–everyone.

Our superintendent puts an emphasis on advisement in our district; the county has spent a good deal of money developing analytics and devising ways to interpret the data we get from student and adviser surveys. Five years into developing these tools, we’re just now understanding what they could mean for us and our kids. Seems like a long time, right? What aggravates me and many others in education is that no one is willing to stick with anything long enough to see its true implications, so I commend my district for sticking with the analytic tools they’ve developed since the dividends are just now visible. Even within any given school, advisement is different and often times changes on a large scale as someone gets the next big idea from year to year. That’s how it was at my school the first few years, but now for the last three years we’ve kept with the same basic format and we’re starting to see its benefits on a larger scale.

For the last five years we’ve had freshman mentoring where our junior and senior leaders mentor our freshmen throughout the year. To a degree, this has become a popularity platform and something to notch on a college application resume; however, at its heart it really does give our students the ability lead our youngest group and generates safe and beneficial relationships between a freshman and their often times feared (a misrepresentation) upperclassmen peers. From tenth to twelfth grade, our students have one adviser for all three years and each is attached to an interest topic (i.e. sports, movies, music, health, gaming, etc.), and we try our best to keep groups to no larger than about 16 students. (Bear in mind that we have nearly 2,700 students total.) This year my students are seniors. What I’ve enjoyed most, as I reflect on our current program so far, is that I really know these students. I care for them deeply, and I have an experience with them that is leveled in a way that typically doesn’t happen in a regular classroom.

I’ve never been more conscience of what we do right at my school and district than while taking class this summer. I witnessed stories of broken approaches to advisement and the defeated spirits of other educators who felt like many of their kids–that advisement is a waste of time.

The truth is that advisement is what you and your school make it. Is it a priority? Do you gather feedback from the stakeholders? Do you take that feedback seriously and make changes accordingly? Do you see advisement as the great equalizer that it should be? I don’t mean to be accusatory, but advisement could be the difference between a student gaining a scholarship, making an informed decision about a career, taking the SAT or ACT, or going to college at all. No matter the socioeconomics, advisement can provide access to information that many students and families do not know how to find on their own or answer the questions they don’t even know to ask. Maybe more importantly though, is advisement’s ability to form relationships between students and faculty that genuinely matter.

I realize I’m appealing to a great deal to peoples’ pathos right now, but the logic is there too; there are facts that back up advisement’s importance and relevance. Most are found in the retention of college students, but the premise is the same in high school. If a child knows someone cares about them, what happens to them, their success, then students care in return and engagement changes as well.

Simply put–advisement matters.

“Ruled Paper”

When I first began teaching, I told myself that I never wanted to teach gifted courses. Today–and really for quite awhile now–I see how naive that thought process was. I had at one time convinced myself that I would become exhausted by students claiming they already knew everything and they would be unteachable, but the truth has been far different. The truth is gifted students are truly extraordinary and my initial disdain was out of ill begot notions that reflected my own insecurity as a teacher. But today a few of my gifted students put a beautiful, genuine smile on my face yet again.

I had the classes reflect on the quote that Bradbury places at the beginning of his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 by Juan Ramon Jimenez–“If they give you ruled lines, write the other way.” Below are a few of the papers I received back from them:

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Beautiful, isn’t it?