Monday, December 11, 2017

Eavesdropper, door propper

I've been dialing down direct instruction as one of my classroom modes for about 18 months now. In some (many?) cases, that frustrates my students. The ones who feel this way say, "You're not teaching us" -- or comparable crushing accusations.

Today, though, as I circulate after a mini lesson and observe students working, I overhear one talking to himself or maybe to his neighbor, sotto voce. "I really need to stop procrastinating," he says. "I should probably look at Mr. Rozinsky's sample writing to figure out what to do."

Words like his kindle my flickering hope: What if "not teaching" props side and back doors that students' themselves eventually push open to learning?

My doubts fade, for a moment.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Open letter

Dear student who wrote in an email Sunday, "I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to raise my grade as the semester starts to come to a close,"

Thank you for checking in. I have fielded countless requests like yours over the years, online and in person, from students as well as their families. Few, though, have come from a learner who's earning an A as you are.

Part of me wants to pat you on the back while I marvel at your ceaseless drive to improve. Another part of me seeks a more consoling gesture as I fret whether your fragile learning motor might wear under apparent strain. (Time for my own wondering: How accurate is your perception of how you're doing in our class, anyway?)

Let's celebrate the forest you've cultivated before we get lost in the trees that debatably delineate, say, 92 from 94 percent. While I am confident more remains for you to learn, I am less sure these steps will elevate your grade in noticeable, calculable ways. For instance, you tend towards the taciturn, so what if you took a more active role contributing in class? Or, since you embrace your comfort zone by usually working with the same partners or reading similar genres of books, what if you took controlled risks to try new things? Would stretches like those lead to new experiences and capacities? I believe so. Would they boost your grade? No guarantee there. Then again, imperfect grades have never been able to circumscribe all the learning that we do.

So, stay motivated and curious. Even as you aim your critical eye at how to improve your game more than your grade, make sure those eyes recognize successes and growth, too, which merit celebrating.

Your teacher

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Son of I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence: Q & A

Was the glass half empty
or half full
this Thanksgiving--
when unprecedented
arid warmth
settled over the high country,
oscillating early-season
slope conditions
between icy crunch
and squishy slush
on the single paltry
open ski run;
rendering hiking paths
passable only until noon,
before they melted
into sucking mud;
holiday driving
a relative pleasure?


Monday, November 20, 2017

Round 1: McPhee vs. Balboa

Let me tell you about a connection I wasn't expecting to make.

Earlier this week, I finished reading John McPhee's Draft No. 4. That collection of essays has left me with a lifetime of writing-craft matters to ponder. I'm picking one from page 82 for this slice:
No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of this fact, there is no real competition between writers. What appears to be competition is actually nothing more than jealousy and gossip. Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You develop yourself by writing.
Daunting and empowering words, though maybe that's just because I'm two-thirds of the way through my truncated whack at National Novel Writing Month. I also find myself reflecting on my role as a responder to student writing due to how McPhee continues the preceding passage. He advises, "An editor's goal is to help writers make the most of the patterns that are unique about them." So I wonder: Am I helping young writers make the most of their distinctness? How might I do better?

The connection I mentioned happened earlier tonight when I finally caught up with a movie from two years ago, Creed. A scene sticking with me is this one:

"Develop yourself" resonates as a powerful mantra, arguably one on which workshop and studio classrooms -- or training gyms -- are built. Yet, notice how Rocky (the teacher) sets up Donnie (the student) to do his work before announcing, "I'm going to leave you two alone for a while."

That's a sweet science to which many educators aspire, and not alone. While we may compete against ourselves, we can collaborate with anyone.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Summit descent

Ten days out from attending a local EdTechTeam Summit, I'm still unpacking my learning. Here are five-plus souvenirs I brought back for you...
  • Keynote speaker Amy Burvall reminded me of the beautiful simplicity that mantras unlock: Creating things is fun. Sharing is worthwhile. Play makes learning sticky.
  • Speaking of creating... When digital projects need images or icons, check out Emojipedia or The Noun Project. (Thanks for pointers, Ro Jaimes and Sylvia Duckworth, respectively.)
  • AutoMastery via Mary Ellen West is a clever dot-connecting add-on for those who assess via Google Forms and then want to parcel out differentiated follow-up practice to students.
  • Jessica Loucks introduced me to free coding resources like CS First and Code Monkey that transform computers into more than mysterious -- dumb! -- black boxes.
  • These words from Jeff Heil: “When kids are chasing grades, they don’t take chances. When kids are chasing learning, all they do is take chances.”
What recent learning knickknacks have you collected? You're invited to strew them in the comments!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reading in the wild

(Hat tip to Donalyn Miller -- @donalynbooks -- for title I borrowed)

I didn't have anything to read, a source of notable chagrin while riding the bus home from school on a snow-gray afternoon. I poked at my phone and saw a branch library had copies of two appealing books on the shelf. One was Celine by Peter Heller, which I'd climbed half way into via audio book on an October road trip. Subsequent car time had proven harder to gather, and this wasn't a story I wanted to leave hanging. The other book was John McPhee's latest, Draft No. 4.

So, rather than walking home from the terminal, I called a commuting audible and hopped aboard a crossing bus route that would take 10 minutes to transport me to the library. I was treated on the way to an animated conversation between two passengers about the merits of author David Baldacci. A different group of bus readers meanwhile debated the merits of e-books versus print ones. I had stumbled into my tribe, apparently, and they happened to be on the 5:07 headed north.

My library visit was a clinical strike: in and out with two books in hand and back on the same bus, which had looped around for a return journey south. I couldn't help noticing the two riders now on board, looking down with Mona-Lisa smiles, lost in reading.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Seven costumes remembered

A clown, face made up with paint that couldn't stand up to my onslaught of tears for no reason I can now remember. The over-sized T-shirt with its technicolor magic-markered design was a masterpiece. (Thanks, Mom!)

A robot made from a large cardboard box, plastic batting helmet wrapped in aluminum foil, copious glow sticks. In case anybody couldn't tell what I was, I wrote on the box in big Sharpie letters, "I am a robot."

A traveling salesman, which involved drawing on a mustache with eyeliner and raiding my dad's supplies for a briefcase and one of his exceptionally wide ties. (Thanks, Dad!)

A group of friends and I dressed as the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, Chico.

A long-distance relationship. Girlfriend and I labeled ourselves as far-flung locations and wrapped ourselves together in phone-cord coils (back when phones had cords). Another time, feeling topical, we were bird flu. I wore a curly, yellow wig (not blond, yellow) and fashioned a jersey to approximate Larry Bird. She was a chimney.

A goriila -- because once I had a gorilla suit, this one was low-hanging fruit.

Whatever costume you might don, hope your Halloween is happy.