Saturday, June 21, 2014

Confessing Making

I've spent the past week working with the teachers from our Partnership Schools on an intense focus of Making STEAM.  The maker movement has been alive and thriving in our group.  Currently the daybook I'm drafting this post in is flashing red, blue and green through the pages as a result of a paper circuitry make using copper tape and LED's to remind me of my new found comfort with play.

You see, even though I've been messing around with make for the past year, I've had this nagging feeling somewhere way in the back of my head about its curricular connections.  On Tuesday in Lacy's workshop I read a piece from Tinkering:Kids Learn by Making Stuff that really did a great job of connecting up the power of make for nontraditional students.

We work with a lot of "at-risk" kids, rough kids who are falling through the cracks of the system.  We actually seek out these kids because we see that they are often quite successful at tinkering, using tools, making a project work, and adding new ideas.  It is clear that often this success is new to them and that it builds confidence.  This sort of confidence is solid-not the ephemeral sort that comes and goes with an authority figure's praise - for after a successful tinkering experience, there is no question of the student's capabilities.

This confidence, this lack of doubt about a student's capabilities is what's missing for so many of our school children who are shown daily that they aren't smart by the testing industry.  In this context Make seems like not only a cool way of learning and connecting up curriculum in ways that grab student interests, but an essential way of teaching and learning if we mean develop student identities in each and every one of our students.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

More on the Rhetoric of Help

My husband is reading Lights out in Wonderland by DBS Pierre and ran across this quote:

"The need of this assortment of new-age ano-extremists to patronize, wield authority, and lord false compassion over others is a more breathtaking and sinister disturbance of character than anything I could aspire to.  

This has me thinking again about the rhetoric of help.  This quote gets at what is disturbing to me in the question "who gets to help and who has to be helped."  This idea of swooping in to "fix" people in poverty and then lording over them how much better we are than them as a "breathtaking disturbance of character."  I'm going to be thinking about this one for a while.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quilt Making at the Maker Faire- Where's the Science?

Yesterday the UNCC Writing Project held a Maker Faire.  My make was story quilt blocks.  We had tons of fabric  from my mother and mother-in-law and the kids had a grand time writing 6 word memoirs and then making quilt blocks to represent them.  There was tons of cutting of fabric and fabric glue involved.  So what I'm wondering is where is the science in this make?  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thinking About 8th Grade and Class Size.

I mentioned that I was going to be working some in an 8th grade classroom.  I did that last week and the class has been on my mind ever since.

There are 32 children in the class and they all really want to learn.  The trouble is that that it feels like they ALL need individual attention.  So you give directions, and then you walk around the classroom giving the directions again individually while they wait for you to get to them and get into mischief.

Thirty-two 8th graders in the same classroom, not to mention the 32 neediest kids in the school in the same classroom is a systemic issue and not one that I have a magic wand to solve.  Ms. K and I have decided that the thing to do is to split the class in half for drafting of their research papers so that we can give them some more individual attention.  It's a good solution but not a viable one for the real world. I'm there volunteering.  I have 10 years of classroom experience under my belt along with a PhD in Urban Literacy.  She has almost 20 years of experience, a master's degree and is a highly qualified, creative teacher with only this one class to teach.  This classroom is my wheel house. And it's still very, very hard teaching because of the sheer number of students in the class that desperately need individual attention.  There are teachers all over the state - the country - with multiple classes of students in just this same situation with no highly trained volunteer to help out.

So I'm problematized about this article I want to write.  We are managing to engage the students with some real world writing and I do believe that the pieces that come out of this work will be notable.  But it will take BOTH of us to accomplish this and that's just not something that's readily replicable.  In my head this is becoming about the dire need for smaller class size.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Making at Discovery Place

Our Writing Project is really embracing the Maker Movement.  One of our major projects is "Making STEAM" a partnership between some K-12 schools and Discovery Place - a local science museum.   A lot of the time I feel like I'm still trying to figure out what "making" is, but this field trip with some 8th graders from Kannapolis really helped move my thinking forward.  There were spaces all over the museum where the kids could "make."  Legos, blocks, duct tape, tin foil and crystalizing paint.  The students just dove in and created all sorts of things.  To me, this is the heart of making -  experimenting with materials without too many instructions as to what to do with them.  The kids were learning all sorts of things about that materials and structures as they created.  Physics, Chemistry, Art - it was all in there.  Amazing and humbling to watch.  

And they are making major connections on our Google + Community.  They took tons of pictures and notes in their daybooks and came back to school to "make" picture collages to post their reflections.  It's amazing to see that they really do "get" "maker."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Inklings of an Article

I have an article in my head that I want to write with a dear friend of mine who happens to also be an awesome teacher.

In my mind it opens like this. . .

"They were and unruly bunch, and with good reason.  They'd been bounced around from teacher to teacher all semester before they finally found themselves in the steady care of Mrs. K.  It's not surprising that it took some convincing for them to believe that she was there to stay and meant to teach them whether they liked it or not."

In my mind this is about engaging reluctant writers, but I want to tread carefully.  This is not a teacher hero narrative like Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds.  This is about listening for the critique the resistant, reluctant student has on the system of education and capitalizing on that for learning.  That's the challenge of this piece.

I should really do something with these wonderings about help here and here as well.  Maybe all of it will work together somehow some way?  Hmmm brow crinkles.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bakhtin and Eagles

I found this in the drafts of my personal blog from 2008.  It's speaking to me today about writers.  

Last night I was lying in bed with the Braddock Essays freshly read on the heels of Bakhtin and Vygotsky at the end of a semester of reading in Rhetorical Theory. As I closed my eyes, I knew that today was the day to park myself in my chair and write/ wrestle with it all. And as I filtered through the ideas and theories streaming through my semi-conscious mind and gently probing for ways into the writing, for connections, for new ideas, I had the sudden image of myself hovering somewhat precariously on the edges of balance and strength in eagle pose.

The eagle is a tough pose for me. I consider myself a pretty strong person with a new found balance that I’ve cultivated over the past two years. Eagle has reminded me that one does not attack a yoga pose the way one attacks a hill sprint. You can’t gut out balance. The eagle must be approached with calm, peace, and respect. The scattered, racing mind will bring distain from the wise and regal posture. One must study the intention of the pose in her mind, think about arms, legs, core and what those muscles should be engaging without actually thinking of one muscle over the other. And then, she must totally relax, focus on a tiny dot of consciousness and hold her mind there, calm, assertive and at peace. The raw determination, pounding music, and thoughts of conquest and brute strength that propel a girl up a monster hill at top speed, beating the scattered mind into a state of exhausted submission are useless here. This is a new realm requiring new habits of mind and body, much like wrestling with theory.
My first real success with writing, and the piece that I am still most proud of, began with a metaphor of running and writing. At the time I was writing the piece (and running 4-7 miles a day) I felt that I had reached my pinnacle/ potential as writer, a teacher of writing. And then, a couple of years later, I found something new. I discovered that the writing that is most appealing to me and to my students is a hybrid of forms and genres. But as I began to attempt to write about it, the words, thoughts, ideas simply wouldn’t gel. “There is nothing NEW here.” I kept saying. “Multi-genre is not what I’m writing about.I didn’t even know that term when I started experimenting with this stuff. It’s the lyric essays and how they get kids to think that’s interesting.”

But Why? How? What?

And so began the process over the past year that had me hovering carefully and precariously in that calm assertive pose in my mind last night. But it is precarious because it is a calm that could shatter at any second if I listen to the voices in my head. The voices incidently, that so many of my students hear each time they sit down to compose school writing. And the voices that I hope to help them engage and transform.

What I’ve found and what I want to explore here is what happens when we respect the language practices and ways of knowing that our students bring to us as legitimate language practices that are useful and important to learning. The NEW ideas about language and literacy that can come from the bumping together of the institution along with all of the diverse things our students bring – from “playing” in the Vygotskian sense of the word with in the figured world of school and the improvisation that comes from that when “school” writing/ language meets “home” writing/ language.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tinkering with Failure

There is a poem, “Fire” by Judy Brown about space.
“Too much of a good thing” she says
“too many logs, packed in too tight”
will put out the fire.

This has me thinking of the space to fail.
But maybe failure is not what I mean.
Maybe I mean the space to tinker
to try out.

Success is a good thing and
I want my own children and my students
and myself to have it.
But at what cost?

When success is all that’s allowed
it becomes piled on
like too many logs
snuffing out the flames.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Read to Achieve

There are reports that prisons use third grade reading scores to predict how many beds they will need.   While this little factoid is not true, "there is a connection between literacy rates, high school dropout rates, and crime."
Hence the Read to Achieve Law passed by North Carolina in 2012.

The law essentially states that 3rd graders must pass the End of Grade Reading test (EOG) in order to move on to 4th grade.

Students get two chances to pass the EOG test at the end of the year. If they fail twice, parents can request that the student take the "Read to Achieve" test.  They also get the chance to build a portfolio comprised of 36 tests developed by the NC Department of Public instruction around 12 reading standards, Reading 3D reports and a Personal Education Plan if the student has one.  Students have 8 chances to pass 3 tests on each of the 12 standards.  If they do not pass a standard, they cannot complete the portfolio.

If students pass those tests, they can be promoted.  If all of that fails, they are required to go to summer school, or summer "camp" as our district is calling it, where they will take the "Read to Achieve" test again at the end and continue to work on passing the portfolio.  If they STILL fail the portfolio or the test, they go to a 4th grade classroom with a 3rd grade retention marker on their file.  The student will learn 4th grade material and be given intensive help with reading.  They will take the test again in November.  If the student still doesn't pass, they continue to receive help and take the 4th grade EOG test at the end of the year. Whether or not they pass that test, the school can then decide whether to retain the student or send them on to 5th grade.

Obviously students have many opportunities to pass the test and many measures are being put in place to help all students pass and learn to read.  That's a good thing.

The problem I have is that the ability to read is being solely equated with passing multiple choice tests. There is so much more to reading than that.  There is nothing here about love of story and love of books and information.  There is nothing here about reading for the sheer joy of learning something new. Much more emphasis is being put on teaching students to pass a test than actually teaching them to read and be life long readers.  While I think having a portfolio is a huge step in the right direction in this process, I'd like to see more project-based work that allowed students to show what they know at an individual level.  I want to see how students perform when they are engaged with texts that are interesting and important to them.  All of the testing equates students to widgets on the factory assembly line.  A project based portfolio would be more expensive and time consuming to assess, but don't our students deserve that time and investment?