Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

In honor of the National Day of Writing

Why do I write?

There are LOTS of days I ask myself that question. They are usually the days where I’m staring at a blank page trying to start a new project or a new chapter. Or days where I’m looking at a draft that is a pile of drivel, and I recognize it as a pile of drivel, but I have no earthly idea what to do to de-drivel it.

On those days, I walk around snapping at any soul, young or old, silly enough to cross my path and speak to me. On those days, I really start to question my career choice. Seriously. Who do I think I am anyway? Why would people want to read the pile of goo I’m generating? And how am I supposed to teach writing if I can’t get my own to gel?

But then, when I slog on, reaching out to my writing peeps who remind me that they think I’m smart, who are willing to drop a critical lens on my goo, when I follow Joan Didian’s example and park my behind in the chair and glue it there instead of “going into town or out to the garden” day after day after day, something eventually “breaks loose.”

The ideas coalesce. The words of all of those people whose shoulders I am standing on come together in a way that makes sense, and suddenly I’m riding this massive Pacific style wave all the way to who knows where, adrenalin pumping and hands shaking because they can’t type fast enough.

And that moment, that moment of pure joy at words on paper that make sense of the storm of my thoughts, is why I write.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Motivating Efficient Reading?

Part 1: Learning to Listen

It’s no secret to any one who knows me or has read anything I’ve written in the past decade that I’m not a big fan of the Accelerated Reader Program. But I’m trying to change my approach.

Through other work this past spring our Writing Project site connected up with a scholar and improvisation artist. He introduced us to the concept of “Yes and . . .” where instead of jumping on the table and screaming something like . . .

“NO! These types of programs are sucking millions of dollars out of our already strapped education budgets and creating deficit notions of children and children reading!”

. . . I would listen very closely to what the promoters of this program are saying in the school and find a way to say, “Yes! And . . . .”

I wrote to Lil and Lacy for some help.

Lacy and Lil,

I need you two to help me find a way to "yes and" AR.

How do we approach this?

I know I need "yes and . . . " but I can't figure out how to do it.

Thanks for your help!


When I read about AR my teeth hurt--and then I try to think about people who made it work for them without getting caught up in the competition and consumerism and "levels."

I bet at some point--they could get in a place to have the students deconstruct the AR tests--figure out how the test think about "what counts" and how limiting and limited those perceptions are. It could happen that the children could see how testing works and why it is a problem in the BIG picture, but no big deal in the scheme of things.



You might say: “ Yes! And, you all really want to support excitement about reading and are thinking of ways to create more access to books!” And, we could work within the framework of the literature circles and book clubs teachers are already doing to expand that! AND that would also match the inquiry approach the school wants.


Part 2: Hearing

Learning how testing works . . .


S: A 5th grade student reading on the 11.8 level according to the Star Reading Test

F: Frustrated teacher attempting to “work with the system” that asks her to use Accelerated Reader and requires students to test on 5 books per quarter and get at least an 85% in order to have the test “count.”

S. I missed two questions on my AR test on that huge book I read about the Civil War. Can I please go back and look at the questions so I can see how I missed them? I really felt like I knew this stuff and I couldn’t see how my answers were wrong. Plus, the test won’t count since there were only 10 questions.

T. What I great idea! But I’m sorry; the program won’t let you do that.

S. Oh. Well, maybe I could just re-read the book and then take it again. I really want to understand what happened since I have to take these tests 5 times per quarter and make at least and 85% or it doesn’t count. Plus, it’s bugging me that I have a couple of my facts wrong. I’m really interested in the Civil War and I want to make sure I’m getting this stuff.

T. I totally understand that. Unfortunately, you’ll have to choose a different book. The program won’t let you take the test again.

S. Oh. Wow, so I’ll need to read 6 books this quarter. I’d better get busy!

T. Well, you’ll just need to start choosing shorter books so that you can get this done.

S. Oh! Okay then. Short books. Got it. Thanks.

Later that day

S. Guess what, I did what you said. I went to the library and got a short book, read it and took my test. 100. 3 down two to go.

T. Fantastic. Keep it up!

S. Right – this way, I can finish this stuff up this week and then have the rest of the quarter to really read and learn.

T. ( Sighs ) Right. Let’s get the testing out of the way . . . Smart kid.

Part 2.5 And I think Yes, and . . .

Yes, and . . .

while we are doing all of this talking about books and reading, in the background school is about picking the shortest books for the test and “getting it out of the way.”

Yes, and . . .

the grade, the currency of students, is wrapped up in the “get it out of the way” reading. So which has more value?

Yes, and . . . .

the place where education dollars are being spent in this big cycle of testing is the place that “doesn’t matter.”