Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The More Things Change

To the litany of
my dog ate my homework
or (more wrenching)
my dog died
(correlation, not causation, mind you)

and (mundanely)
I left it in the car
or at home

or just
it didn't save

I’ve been really busy
I ran out of time
asking truly
why are you wasting my time

please add
I forgot to click submit.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Two Slices | One Deep Cut

On Monday, I had these two conversations within an hour of each other.

The first one was after I watched a student-made video capturing an episode in Homer’s Odyssey. I talked to the lead video maker, an eighth grader, about wanting to share his group’s work with a wider audience in order to showcase what learners can make when they chart their own course. After all, given intentionally vague directions to read and understand an assigned passage and then present it to classmates, most students had played it safe (lecture with slides, verbatim reading of handwritten paraphrase). A few groups did take risks like producing a video or acting out a skit, and showing such initiative was what I wanted to encourage. Therein, I see seeds for intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning.

The second conversation took a very different tack one hour later. It started with an eighth grader belatedly following up an invitation to meet after school and me describing how his recent tone in class often sounded: disrespectful, disengaged. I asked if that was his intended message.

He said it wasn’t, but he couldn’t say what he really felt.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it’s disrespectful.”

“And you can’t say it any other way?”


“Better say it then, so we can figure out how to word it more nicely.”

He accepted, eyes wavering on the verge of tears: “I feel like you’re not teaching me, and I’m worried and scared I’m not prepared for ninth grade.”

Oof. Gut punch.

Turns out that student felt like he needed more direct instruction: he wanted to be told what questions to answer and what tasks to do -- what to learn, all narrowly defined. Messy discovery was not yet working for him.

So, here I am that night, dizzy with trying to figure out how to preserve the choice and inquiry in which the first student flourished while providing more structure and direction for the second student to shore up what feels to him like a shaky foundation. This isn’t a new spot for me (or most teachers, I imagine), yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here before. It’s exhilarating and disconcerting at the same time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First Slice

The phrase “wrestling inertia” feels like a paradox, but that’s exactly, um, metaphorically what I’m doing.

I met Kathleen Sokolowski in 2002 during the Long Island Writing Project Summer Institute. A year later, I moved far away from New York. I joined Twitter a dozen years thereafter and, within five months, serendipitous Tweeting had re-connected Kathleen and me. That’s a tiny example of the power writing (even tiny character-constrained writing) holds.

Kathleen has since gently and insistently shared invitations with me -- as I suspect she does with many in her network: #sol16, #EdTime2wrt, LIWP, Two Writing Teachers, among others. Blending writing evangelism and encouragement, she is winning me over as great teachers do; albeit in fits and starts as risk-averse students do.

That’s how writing goes for me, in herky-jerky fashion as I wrestle inertia. It’s certainly easier not to write. To re-purpose Sir Isaac Newton: a body not writing tends to not write. Kathleen, though, is a force whose actions are changing my writing momentum. Full disclosure: A snow day today helps, too, but I’m the force seizing it for my first slice. As for an entire March full of slices… (shudder)