Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Back to our regularly scheduled programming?

Today's slice starts in the lounge of a local automotive service department. My trusty steed's just been rolled in for an oil change, so it's me and trepidation, chilling out, waiting for other costly shoes to drop. There's one other fellow on hand, fiddling with the remote control for the courtesy TV. (I do a double-take: The courtesy TV has a remote??) He settles on Fox News. I estimate he's on the far side of 70. For reasons I don't fully understand but which probably have something to do with election season's hyper-charged tension, I decide to conduct an amateur media study for the next half hour. I watch TV and take notes.

The broadcast itself is unpacking Monday night's debut of the Democratic National Convention. Commentators are aghast that ISIS, given its mounting threat, didn't get more mentions throughout the evening. Fox apparently wants to make up for this, and events have obliged. Newscasters alternate DNC-related head shaking with updates from France about two ISIS-backed terrorists having murdered an octogenarian priest during a hostage stand-off this morning. Donald Trump's "evolving" immigration policies also receive coverage. What struck me, though, was the array of commercials (you know, the bits I'd typically surf away from):

  • The latest step-in bathtub technology
  • Back and neck surgery options at the Laser Spine Institute
  • Angie's List touting the quality of its surrogate dog walkers
  • An anti-Clinton campaign ad
  • A recommended facility for lung-cancer treatment
  • An invitation to check out Liberty Mutual Insurance
  • Lear Capital Investment offering to help you weather the latest inevitable economic bubble
  • Trivago on how its website can help you be the savviest hotel shopper
  • ADT encouraging you to beef up your home security.

That's a lot to be worried about, and I couldn't help but think of the gentleman across from me, probably the target audience on this weekday mid-morning. Filter bubbles aren't just for the Internet, and I realize they're not just for Fox News either. (Maybe I'll have to come back early another morning to wrest control of the remote so I can compare MSNBC's fare...)

The experience reminded me of a comment that Jason Ohler made during ISTE 2016, about the pervasive and potentially insidious influence of companies using big data. "Our output is their input," Ohler said. He went on, "Their outputs become our choices." So, in service of careful, thoughtful media consumption, keep your eyes, ears, brains, and options open.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Oatmeal as undiscovered country

Today's slice of life belongs in a bowl.

I enjoy cooking, and I like reading the occasional cookbook or recipe blog. I used to love reading such texts. However, I eventually arrived at a point -- as most home cooks do -- where riffing independently on internalized recipes and past kitchen experiences became preferable, even liberating. This new-found freedom came with its own downside: the solidifying of boundaries around my cooking comfort zone. Certain wildcards could shake me out of this zone, such as rogue produce dealt in the weekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) delivery or a new alluring ingredient on my culinary radar (gochujang, say). I still enjoy cooking; it just doesn't seem to pack as many surprises these days.

That explains my delight with a bowl of oatmeal I made last week. The cupboard was bare of usual breakfast staples, but I knew of a paltry baggie with steel-cut oats. To that, I'd typically add some fresh fruit, which we didn't have. Necessity, meet invention. My cooking brain settled on some stray carrots in the fridge. I wondered: Could I make oatmeal with the flavor profile of carrot cake? Turns out I could. I avoided the temptation to search online for recipes; I wanted to figure out this one on my own. (I later let Google show me 163,000 recipes for "carrot cake oatmeal" in .42 seconds!) I simmered together the oats and grated carrots. I sweetened with light doses of molasses, honey, and brown sugar. I seasoned with generous cinnamon, plus dashes of clove, nutmeg, salt. I tossed in handfuls of raisins and toasted walnuts. (I'm realizing I should give the allegedly bare cupboard more credit...) At the just-right moment of thickness, I ladled out the porridge and threw caution to the wind: I topped each bowl with a spoonful of plain cream cheese -- a nod to carrot cake's magical frosting.

Breakfast was served, my love for cooking's creativity and alchemy rekindled.

In the zone - #cyberPD

In the last #cyberPD chat, one question was about ah-ha moments, and I had one this weekend.

Since the tail end of May I've been spending at least 30 minutes each morning running through physical-therapy exercises, part of life after knee surgery. In the middle of some lunge or squat or who knows what, I had this eureka observation: My physical therapist was acutely tuning in to my zone of proximal development. The ZPD was also a ZPT!

Simply regaining control of my left quadriceps was the first step, one that proved surprisingly hard to manage at first. The therapist resorted to electric stimulation and dry needling to jolt my quads. Once I could reliably engage those muscles on my own, variations on lifting just my leg's weight became the regimen's next order, as well as trying to bend the joint closer and closer to 90 degrees. When those tasks moved within reach, adding repetitions or weight bumped them a little farther out again. Thera-Bands, too, proved ingenious torture. Squatting, lunging, and wall sits came next. Now, I'm continuing those same exercises but with controlled twists or one leg at a time, testing my reconstructed ligament a bit more each day. In this case, teaching to the test (namely, a safe return to sport) feels decidedly okay.

I've been working in Lev Vygotsky's sweet spot through most of this experience, I realized. Neither bored, nor frustrated. I'm being challenged and stretched even as I'm experiencing enough success to stay motivated.

And then I plunged into Chapter Five in DIY Literacy, titled "Just for You: Tailoring Teaching to Meet Students' Needs." See the connection? DIY tools like demonstration notebooks, micro-progressions, teaching charts and bookmarks are all about locating this zone for each reader and writer. (For the record, it's a moving target!) Two statements on page 72 encapsulate this idea for me: "When we find ways to differentiate our teaching that conserve our energy, we are able to do more than just deliver our lessons... By giving students the tools they need, the instructor is helping the students to differentiate for themselves." My physical therapist has been doing this for me (thank you!), and I'm re-committing to doing this for my students.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

On professional learning: confession & observation

The Confession
Amid summer's bliss, I have overextended myself. My head has been spinning this week with professional learning opportunities, to which I have said, "Yes, yes, and yes." Teachers Write! CyberPD! Edcamp Voxer! Not to mention this weekly slicing rhythm I've embraced or favorite Twitter chats I frequent. My virtual world has gotten so much bigger that now I feel an urgent need to pare it down, or at least prioritize my participation. I find myself wondering: "What matters most to me amid this smorgasbord? What should I keep versus let go?" I'm also reconsidering what strike me now as outmoded views of professional learning, carrying over from decades of brick-and-mortar experiences. Maybe, in the virtual world, it's okay to be partially engaged sometimes, to drift in and out, contributing what I can when I can, rather than being fully invested in each of these communities. Face-to-face settings would frown on that, I suspect, while online venues may actually thrive on the flux of participants. (Take that, fear of missing out!)

The Observation
Writing and speaking may be related, but they feel worlds apart for me right now. Writing lands in my comfort zone, as evidenced by how this blogging habit is sticking and the facility I've felt navigating Twitter over the past year. In comparison to writing, speaking as a professional outlet proves itchily uncomfortable for me, highlighted by some Voxer dabbling today. I understand why. I'm at ease massaging writing until it says what I want to say and I deem it ready for an audience. In comparison, speaking feels like the ultimate first draft, words sent to the audience that can't be snatched back. That plants another question in my mind, one that will bear on my learning going forward as well as my interactions with students: "To what extent should I play to my perceived strengths versus stretch my envelope of expression?"

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Towards a classroom vision - #cyberPD

I appreciate the do-it-yourself ethos that Kate and Maggie Beattie Roberts spread in DIY Literacy. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better first step for teaching reading or writing moves than what they advise on page 31: "Try to perform the skill yourself, as an adult, for a few minutes... Step back. Study what you did. Name how you did what you did." I'm all for seeking that space as often as possible: hip deep in a creative mess, noticing what's working and what's not. (Pause for self-awareness: like right now, hashing out this reflection.)

While I'm confident that process will continue fueling my literacy growth, what about my students? Team Roberts puts that crux question this way: "Are the teaching tools I offer my kids really helping them to grow?" (2) And that's what got me thinking beyond DIY. The classroom I'm envisioning in 2016-17 can't stop with each learner doing it themselves; we need a collaborative spirit of doing it ourselves, or DIO. For starters, that means robust feedback loops, willing cooperation, real and virtual mentors, generous sharing, plus open eyes and ears that can blend criticism with empathy. That's a classroom culture coming into clearer focus for me. While I also know I bear professional responsibility for tracking students' growth, I'm aiming to have students increasingly articulate their progress (along with lingering areas of challenge) themselves. Those words can spring from internal reflections as well as audience observations, taken to heart.

The roles to which I aspire in this environment: noticer, listener, question asker, connector, inviter, catalyst. I will succeed when I equip students with tools that either open doors or remove obstacles along their paths to becoming more literate citizens. Those tools, I suspect, do not offer unbridled good. Even as Team Roberts argues, "The tools in our lives improve our lives. They save us energy, time, and struggle," (3) I know those savings are never guaranteed. Not every tool is right for everyone, so choose purposefully, embrace trial and error, and reflect often on what to champion versus what to discard. Those, too, are processes I can demonstrate with my students and capture in teaching charts, demonstration notebook entries, micro-progressions, and bookmarks.