Friday, February 28, 2014

March is the month to have your voice be heard

Yesterday members of NCTE and their affiliates went to Washington DC to speak at the Capitol in honor of Literacy Education Advocacy Day. Yesterday was also the day that the National Center for Literacy Education published a study about the importance of teacher collaboration, especially with regards to standards implementation.

As I followed along with the tweets, I was stuck by one teacher in particular, Kristen Nielsen. Her tweets at the beginning of the day were energized and excited, but then as the day wore on and she met with political staffers, her upbeat attitude seemed to dwindle:

These tweets are really a microcosm of the teaching experience today. We constantly feel alone and are made to feel like we don't matter. Not only that, but Kristen reminded me of how few teachers actually stand up and use their voices in front of the people who are responsible for making change happen. I hope next year she can be made to feel like she's not alone by getting more actual classroom teachers to join the crusade.

And there's still time. Febrary 27th was Advocacy Day, but March is Advocacy Month. NCTE has some suggestions for ways you can make your voice be heard:
Advocacy Day and Month

Read some of the tweets from Advocacy Day:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On this day ten years ago...

Ten years ago today I visited Berlin, Germany for the first time. That visit was a pivotal moment in my life because it opened my eyes to the realization that the world is so much bigger and wonderful than I first imagined it to be. I wanted to experience every piece of history that I could find in that first visit. I wanted to soak in the frenetic, youthful energy of a city that was once divided by not only a physical wall but a wall of ideologies.

There is something so poetic about Berlin despite its harsh, bold exterior. Watching footage of the Wall coming down on that fateful day in November of 1989 still moves me. That wall came down, not with weapons, but from the will of the people who wanted to live in freedom. The study of history glorifies wars more than anything else, but that's why Berlin and the Cold War are my favorite era of history to study: because it didn't end in a battle. It ended peacefully with people on both sides  hugging and kissing and celebrating together. That joyful energy is still there. It still exists and for that reason it remains, to this day, my favorite city on earth.

As I think about the passion for history and travel that visiting Berlin instilled in me, I'm reminded that sometimes education requires us to leave the classroom and become students of  the world. The best education I ever received was the two years my husband and I lived in Germany and traveled through Europe. It helped me to leave my comfortable bubble and think about the ways in which other people live and maybe that everyone doesn't want to be like us. Americans have this superiority complex in thinking that everyone in the world wishes they could live here. And while that is true for many, it is not true for all. Some of our laws can be just as oppressive as other places around the world. We are not a perfect government, nor will we ever be. But seeing how people in other countries live has a way of making you feel not only grateful for your own way of life, but also long for another at the same time.

But isn't that what education is all about? To always be seeking and longing and questioning? That first trip to Berlin reminds me every day to always seek new knowledge and to celebrate the people and places I have had the privilege of visiting in this short life. I can only hope that ten years hence, I will have been able to learn even more from being a student of the world.

From the top of the East Berlin TV tower, East and West were obvious even 15 years later
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church: a bombed out shell from WWII left as a memorial
East Side Gallery: An art gallery on a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall

The stunning Brandenburg Gate which many of us recognize from Reagan's famous "Tear down this wall!" speech

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Motivation: How it works

I am constantly fascinated by how motivation works. In my case, I avoid something for a while and put it on the back burner. Then something new appears that I'd rather avoid instead so I go back to the other thing I was avoiding in order to avoid the new thing.

Just felt the need to share that because, you know, I'm avoiding something. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Formative Assessment That TRULY Informs Instruction

Sunday night, NCTE hosted a wonderful Twitter chat on formative assessment, led by Franki Sibberson and Antero Garcia, who were two members of the task force responsible for writing the position statement Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction. You see, testing companies as of late seem to have sullied the term formative assessment and turned it into something much different than its original intent, which is to give teachers immediate feedback in order to adjust their teaching to help students make meaningful progress. That is where NCTE's new position statement comes in. There is a desperate need for schools to really consider how and what they are assessing their students. Therefore, this new position statement should be shared widely. It is a perfect vehicle for discussion, which was proved in spades, and 140 character bursts on Twitter this past weekend.

Here is a slideshow of some of my favorite tweets from the chat:

It is my hope that if you're a teacher, administrator, or educational policy-maker, you will not only take the time to read NCTE's position statement on formative assessment, but also share and discuss it among colleagues. Unlike the Common Core State Standards, this document gave teachers a seat at the table and contains a thorough annotated bibliography. Transparency, fairness, and professionalism in education -- what a concept!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Turning off my teacher voice

Since I left my teaching job in June of last year, I found that I immediately missed the classroom. This year of rest and rejuvenation has made me realize that it is darn near impossible to turn off my teacher voice, the one that looks for a teachable moment in almost every situation.

For example, I recently finished reading It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, and all I could think about were the ways six-word memoirs could be used as a form of assessment in almost any subject-area. In English class you could ask students to write six-word memoirs for the protagonist and antagonist in the books they finish. In social studies students could write a six-word memoir for a famous historical figure like Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, or Nelson Mandela. In science students could write the six-word memoir of an amoeba or an element on the periodic table. There are so many ways this could be used that I get excited just thinking about it.

Another example of not being able to turn off my teacher brain was watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. All those creative, funny, heartwarming, and profound commercials constantly keep me on the lookout for teachable moments. This year the commercial that immediately sent me into teacher mode was the Bob Dylan Chrysler commercial. Despite the fact that I really enjoyed it, I am also a bit dubious that Chrysler has been resting on their laurels and rather than innovating by trying something new (something, one would argue, that got them in that whole Bankruptcy mess) are trying to recreate the magic of Eminem's Imported from Detroit commercial from 2012. So I think it would be interesting to have students compare Chrysler's Super Bowl ads from the past three years and examine, not just the ads in their entirety, but also isolate the writing (I am an English teacher after all) to see their effectiveness on a strictly text-based level. Where are the similarities and how are they different? Just writing about this makes me wish I were in my own classroom this year.

I gotta admit, all three of those ads do make me wanna buy a Chrysler so while I am critical of their motives, I can't deny the ads stir the soul.

So the moral of the story is, no matter how hard I try (oh who am I kidding, I'm not really trying) I can never turn off my teacher voice.