Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"5-Paragraph Essays Allow Students to Say Nothing in an Organized Way"

 5-paragraph essays allow students to say nothing in an organized way.

I have been trying to track this tweet back to its source, but I can't.  It is flying around the #ncte12 Twitter feed--retweeted by so many people that I can't figure out who actually said it in a session. 

Whoever said it, THANK YOU.  I've been arguing against this structure for years, but this one line captures my feelings about the five-paragraph essay.

We owe it to our students to invited them to write authentic pieces for authentic audiences.  We must teach them the essential skills of writing and allow them to write about topics they care about.  All kids--even the ones that struggle with organization, deserve that.

Here are just a few a few interesting links on the subject:

Death to the Five-Paragraph Essay
If You Teach or Write 5-Paragraph Essays, Stop It
Teaching Writing:  5-Paragraph Essay is Not the Answer

Sunday, November 18, 2012

NCTE Reflections

On the flight home from NCTE I had a long time to think about what I learned there, the trends I noticed, and what I want to put into practice right away...5 whole hours awake on a red-eye can be great for reflection.

My top 5 moments from NCTE:

1.  Presenting with Melissa.  It was wonderful to have a partner to share the journey with and who taught me so much about how to craft an effective presentation.   I believe that people left our session having learned something new and useful.
Proof that we presented

Our standing-room only crowd
2.  Listening to Sir Ken Robinson with thousands of other dedicated professionals.  I was charmed by his sense of humor and reinvigorated by his call for sweeping changes in education that begin in each person's classroom.

3.  Learning from my teaching heroes in an intimate setting.  Though NCTE is a huge conference, the sessions are small and allow for a sharing of ideas.  I was lucky enough to attend sessions with Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard, Laura Robb, Matt Glover, Ginny Lockwood, Kathy Collins, Stephanie Parsons, Donalyn Miller, and my new teaching heroes--Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer Mcdonough.  Everywhere I turned I found inspiration.  I also found comfort in the way these mentors presented their ideas--they are still forming them, toying with them, changing them. 
Ralph Fletcher

The Two Sisters!  Joan and Gail sitting in front of me in Kristin and Jen's presentation

The Nerdy Book Club session
 4.  Listening to Natalie Merchant perform the poems-turned-songs from the collection Leave Your Sleep.  She reminded us all about the power of poetry for children (and adults!).
 5.  Being stopped by someone in a hallway in the conference center who said, "I loved your presentation yesterday."  That brings me back to my first favorite moment... 

My Top 5 Action Items:
  1. Find a few teachers who will try Biblionasium with their students to create stronger communities of readers.  Thanks, Nerdy Book Club, for that idea.
  2. Urge all teams K-6 to plan at least one non-genre-specific writing workshop unit.  Thanks, Matt Glover, for reminding me why that's important to kids.
  3. Find one classroom teacher who will allow me to try out Georgia Heard's poem-a-week model for poetry instruction (Tanya, if you are reading this...)
  4. Visit the DailyCafe website to follow Kristin and Jen's progress with their ISCORE writing concept and design lessons for our teachers.  Their idea is fantastic--let's not compartmentalize the writing lessons we teach by genre.  Let's teach kids that good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre.  Good writing has Ideas, Structure, Conventions, One Focus, Real Voice, and Elaboration.  Let's set up those concepts just as we do with the Daily 5 and Cafe menu.
  5. Work with Melissa on an in-house presentation on knocking down the classroom walls--how to use technology to broaden our students' writing and reading lives beyond the classroom.

My Top 5 Realizations and Reminders:
  1. Ralph Fletcher shared that he is rethinking mentor texts. (Wait, he wrote the book on mentor texts!)   He is thinking that perhaps it is better to provide kids with examples of great writing and see what the kids find, rather than saying, "Kids, this piece uses excellent similes."  He's rethinking his work with mentor texts to balance the teacher-directed and student-led noticings.  I heard this idea in more than one session--this reminder that we should trust the kids to make their own discoveries, even if they aren't what we intended.
  2. Student choice continues to be at the center of student engagement and achievement.  This choice is important in all areas of their day--what they read, what they write, what they discuss, and how they think.  Ginny Lockwood demonstrated a mistake so many of us make when doing a read-aloud--directing the kids on how to feel about something in the book.  Let's work on shutting up and letting the kids think!
  3. Teachers of reading and writing must be readers and writers themselves.  I must work to encourage this with the teachers.  Our kids must see that we build reading lives.  And the only real way to name what they are struggling with as writers is if we are writers doing the work we ask our kids to do.
  4. When we catch ourselves saying, "These kids don't..." or "These kids can't..." then it's time for a gut-check.  What are we doing to make kids BE school instead of DO school.  It is our own fault when they ask questions like, "How long does this have to be?" or "When I'm done with this can I..." or when we say things like, "What I'm looking for is..."  Kids came to school as joyful, creative creatures.  There's nothing to blame but SCHOOL when kids lose that.
  5. 93% of a teacher's day is spent in isolation (from other adults)!  When is the time for collaboration, deep reflection, and planning?  How can we allow more time for the collaborative planning and reflecting side of teaching that is just as important as the time spent in the classroom with kids?

NCTE 2012 Presentation: iPads in Language Arts

Here's our presentation
Just a screenshot!  Click on the link to see the video on YouTube

And here are our app handouts for Writing, Reading, and Word Study

Friday, November 2, 2012

How did you get this way?

I've been asked this question twice in one week.  So I suppose it's time to think of an answer.

First, let me clarify the question.  They wanted to know how I became the teacher I am now--how my philosophy of education has evolved into its current "progressive" state.  One of Seth Godin's recent blog posts has helped me realize my answer:

Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with.
And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes.
And the changes are what you become.
Change the outcome by changing your circle.

I have had the chance to collide with a wonderful assortment of people throughout my 18 years in education.  I have changed my circles every 5-7 years, moving from two public high schools schools in Howard County, Maryland to the SEED School of Washington DC (a middle and high charter boarding school) to  Flint Hill School (a JK-12 independent school).  In each school I have found adults who have challenged, shaped, and supported my views about education.  And I have been lucky enough to have students who have let me try out these views.