Saturday, September 12, 2020

On experts and expertise

Having reached the finish of a Twitter chat this morning under the #PLPNetwork hashtag, I felt a rare, yet familiar itch: I had more on my mind than would fit in another 280 characters or fewer. Those are the times I brush the dust off this moldering blog.

The tangent that caught my attention revolved around notions of 'expert' and 'expertise.' One participant said she eyes the former label skeptically, though she acknowledges that all people can accrue the latter. Another chimed in that she sees "expert power" as the legitimate fruit of motivation plus time spent working towards mastery, à la Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

As for me, I took a walk and pondered fine-sliced meanings that distinguish expert from expertise. 'Expert' lands in my ear with a fixed-mindset thud. It's a label that, once earned, unintentionally encourages resting on one's proverbial laurels. In comparison, 'expertise' speaks to elastic capacity and a growth mindset. That's how I glossed it on my walk, anyway.

For those who want to split an even thinner hair, let's see what you think about this: Do you hear different connotations between these two phrases: reading expert and expert reader? That first phrase primes me to meet an authority, meaning I'm simultaneously respectful, but also a little skeptical -- particularly, until I better understand the person's expertise. The second phrase, with the adjective 'expert,' denoting 'skillful,' intrinsically suggests a practitioner with abundant experience -- from which I might learn. What about this pair: climate-science expert and expert climate scientist? And, in terms of relative credibility, where would you rank just: climate scientist?

This seems like as good a time as any to reference a cognitive bias that I've learned about in the context of backcountry skiing: expert halo effect. This misstep happens when one or more skiers attribute expertise that may not be warranted to a group leader. (Even when the attributed expertise is warranted, the attribution itself short-circuits individuals' decision making.) The group then follows that leader into territory that is more dangerous than would otherwise be frequented if the leader weren't there. Risk exposure, thus, increases. 

In writing this, my intention is not to undermine all experts at a historic moment when their expertise is regularly questioned or ignored. Rather than follow the leader, what if we redirect our attention to cultivating expertise in ourselves and recognizing it reliably in others, in order to learn from (as well as with) them? What if, after hearing from someone claiming the expert mantle, we asked, "On what expertise do you base your thinking?"

Friday, July 10, 2020

ROAS by any other name

    I'm reading The Writer's Practice by John Warner, a book that incidentally confirmed for me what I had long suspected: Educators, as a general rule and even to a fault, embrace acronyms as well as initialisms.
    This conclusion sparked for me as Warner shared his own mnemonic concoction, one that he admits leaves him not yet fully satisfied. "I'm recommending," he writes, "the previously mentioned practice I'd one day like to develop a handier acronym for but that for the time being goes by ROAS." (92) If that's not an invitation to talk back to the author, I don't what is.
    ROAS, for the record, is a four-step heuristic that coaches writers to React, Observe, Analyze, Synthesize in response to a selected text. Of the two writing experiences in Warner's book that I sampled today, one focuses on a commercial while the other looks at a work of humor through (ahem) ROAS-colored glasses.
    The acronym alternative that occurred to me, which may or may not prove "handier," is NOSE. Yeah, as in 👃.
  • N = Notice - Gather first impressions of text and our initial responses to it.
  • O = Observe (unchanged from Warner's original) - Look a second time, whether up-close at our most interesting noticings or at elements we missed before.
  • S = Speculate - Derive new meaning or ideas from prior two steps; what I refer to as "So what?" theories because they reveal potential transferable significance. 'S' could also stand for Surface as this step's purpose focuses on making subtexts more explicit.
  • E = Elucidate - Distill wonderings (what Warner on page 86 calls "raw material") so far into a cohesive discovery, perhaps more than one. I had other candidates for 'E' -- Evoke, Emerge, Editorialize -- and I eventually settled on Elucidate because I like how the root lucidus, meaning bright or clear, dovetails with Warner's emphasis on writing as thinking. "Think of it as a process of discovery in which what you have to say is revealed as you say it." (93)
I work with middle-school students, so I'm hopeful NOSE might hook that demographic through scatological appeal. Plus, I imagine low-hanging kinesthetic fruit -- picture one's finger tapping one's proboscis -- that might make this memory aide even more cognitively sticky. As someone who also revels in homophones and word play, I also appreciate how the acronym subliminally suggests that encountering and reflecting with care on a text can change what a reader knows.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coming through - 3.31 #sol20 Story Challenge

"Run through."
Words urged
by my
high-school
cross country coach.
Atop a tough climb
when I might feel
the need
to ease the pace,
his phrase
transforms punishment
into achievement.

"I crawl through it,"
A. S. King book
about harrowing
times teens
and we
can survive.

"Only way out
is through."
Macbeth's notion,
Frost's poem;
rock lyrics
mouthed by
Alanis Morissette,
belted by Bush.

Through lines,
splicing our slices
to viruses,
together flattening
a Story Challenge's
once-steep curve.


Monday, March 30, 2020

FFT - 3.30 #sol20 Story Challenge

Sunday night, I read about FFTs -- an initialism referenced here by Brené Brown. (The language is salty, so I'll leave you to do the looking up yourself.) Compared to the situations blogged about, I had a much milder first time earlier in the day. Following a lifetime wandering grocery aisles with my basket or cart, collecting items on mental or written lists, scouting the produce with my own eyes and hands, caving to impulse buys (managers' specials!), I made my inaugural online grocery order for pick-up.

I arrived at the appointed time Sunday afternoon and slid my car into one of the appointed spots. I called the number posted where a no-parking sign might otherwise be. A cheerful voice answered on the first ring and asked my name. Minutes later, another employee rolled out a narrow pallet stacked with four milk-crate sized containers. She explained that the store had most of my items, but several were out of stock. I understood and had purposefully deselected the checkbox next to "Permit store to make substitutions" when I placed my order. I feared the unintended consequences that low inventory might invite. In this case, the market delivered on about 75% of what I'd requested. Better than I thought, and I was grateful that someone, flouting my parameters, made the executive decision to substitute available organic carrots for out-of-stock conventional ones.

The employee and I checked the order as I shuttled items from crates to bags, two I had brought and two more that were provided because I was operating under the erroneous assumption that bags from home were now frowned upon. My only complaint, really, was that I might've picked a more comparably sized pair of yams than my anonymous shopping proxy. On balance, though, I'd call that (apologies) small potatoes. The clerk took a few coupons I had on hand, said these would be deducted from the total, and the new amount would be billed to the credit card I had provided online. Emailed encouragement from the store later estimated I had saved 30 minutes making this transaction versus traditional shopping. Not even close to an FFT; more like EZPZ.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Showtime - 3.29 #sol20 Story Challenge

My partner and I escaped into a musical last night, watching The Greatest Showman on cable TV. It was cheesy and ridiculous in the ways that most musicals feel to me. The story's overstuffed melodrama swelled predictably only to be resolved with cartoon ease -- which, I'd argue, was just what the proverbial doctor of wellness ordered.

One song from the score is called "This Is Me," and hearing it reminded me of a clip shared years ago at a staff meeting. In that setting, its purpose now dim in my memory, the moment felt like a cheap, manipulative pep talk. It still gave me goosebumps. (Count me among the suckers born every minute, a sentiment though not a quote attributable to P.T. Barnum himself.)

In our present circumstances, I figure who couldn't use that feeling of shivery exhilaration. So, if you haven't seen this short before or even if you have and you just want to experience it again, watch this when you're ready.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 8 - 3.28 #sol20 Story Challenge

"O brave new world / That has such people in't," proclaims Miranda in the fifth and final act of Wiliiam Shakespeare's The Tempest, a thought I find myself echoing in a corner of my own brain as I sit in front of a laptop, enjoying this digital Hangout version of a Friday Afternoon Club more than I thought I would -- our socially distanced group of 14 colleagues sipping BYOB drinks and catching up on our unprecedented weeks, all while some fold laundry or unpack from a recent move or prep dinner or tend to their beloved pets, chores that would no doubt be frowned on or deemed downright off limits at local watering holes; plus here in the strange isolated comfort of our abodes, connected to and through our devices, we can actually hear everyone talk.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where I'm calling from - 3.26 #sol20 Story Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic seems like a mixed blessing for the video conference industry. On one hand, many of us are now Dick Tracy with a gee-whiz wristwatch while, on the other hand, spotty picture, sound, and connectivity -- to say nothing of this brave new world of etiquette pitfalls -- are regularly proving the genie not quite ready for this abrupt release from its bottle.

Just yesterday, I enjoyed a pleasant one-on-one call with a willing eighth-grade volunteer. The technology afforded a welcome moment of paradoxically remote connection. We got a little work done, sure, conferring about a piece of writing the student started for fun before this long pandemic pause, but the highlights for me were an impromptu tour through his house to see a bathroom renovation in progress and a hands-on tutorial about a board game called Galaxy Defenders, in which the student and his brother have been losing themselves lately. To get to those worthy points, I realized at the call's appointed start time -- when I remained all alone -- that I actually needed to teach the student how to join because a link embedded in a calendar invitation is not necessarily intuitive for most tweens.

Later in the day, I had a call with a colleague and another group session with a dozen far-flung family members. Those tries were fraught compared to the student conference. When available, video signals came across blurry or pixelated; microphones failed to deliver reliably; internet connections bucked and reared, throwing us off our calls. (My brother-in-law, whose routine is remote work, reported, "I heard Zoom's telling employees not to host calls that start at the top or bottom of the hour, to ease off on bandwidth demands.")

With our routines upended by social distancing and an increasing number of shelter-in-place orders, we find ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. It's where we're calling from, to borrow a short-story title from writer Raymond Carver.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Just dance - 3.25 #sol20 Story Challenge

When it comes to my life's potential partners, dancing sits against the wall, pressed into a corner far outside my comfort zone. Music, I enjoy listening to, but releasing my body to those rhythms and melodies is never something I've embraced.

In fact, for our wedding, I tricked myself into dancing by approaching the endeavor as an odd cognitive exercise. (Which, when I write it that way, sounds shamefully unromantic.) My now wife and I enrolled in a semester of dance classes, with four other couples' worth of friends and an instructor who was fittingly a moonlighting college professor. The professor taught us principles and steps, which I learned like recipes. "Put your hand here and here. Your left foot goes there, your right foot, like so. Now do this." Et cetera. We already had a first -- ahem, only -- dance song in mind, one that made us laugh self-deprecatingly, and the professor programmed us with a routine that synced our kinesthetics to the tune's aesthetics. Like a player piano, we followed the mental equivalent of a perforated music roll, over and over.

At the wedding reception, 13 years ago today, we carried out the plan we had practiced. We danced a tango to a cover of this song about tangoing. We smiled at each other all the way to the last choreographed dip, our assembled friends and family grinning in amusement. Whew.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Spiraling - 3.24 #sol20 Story Challenge

Monday morning, I finished reading Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby. As a novel, it's simultaneously harrowing and uplifting. It's also a ghost story, in part.

Monday afternoon, I went walking in search of ghosts. Unsurprisingly, I ended up in a cemetery. I paused at this gravestone.

I wondered about this man who died at age 86 in 1918, the first year of the so-called Spanish flu. William, did a virus claim you, too?

On my return home, a helicopter hovered overhead. I don't know why. I observed how my thoughts that had skewed morbid, now shifted paranoid.

Monday night, I visited NPR's Tiny Desk. The first song of the latest small-scale concert featured these lyrics: "My girl, give a smile when the pain comes; pain, the only thing that'll make it all right. She says she talks to angels."

Which whirls me back to one of the main character in Thirteen Doorways, Pearl, a girl who does smile through pain and at times talks to an angel.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Spring Fling Thing - 3.23 #sol20 Story Challenge

Leigh Ann Eck is hosting a blog party, and I'm in. Or I will be once I conjure three self-care ideas. Fortunately, several are currently top of mind.
  1. Running or bicycling or just walking. (Is that all three? I'm counting those as one!) When engaged in these activities, it never takes long before the only thoughts I have are about the turning of my legs, a rhythm that keeps me moving forward.
  2. Cooking. During my last trip to the supermarket, I refrained from hoarding. I purchased just one can of hominy, for example, though it was 110 ounces -- the size of a can of paint. The self-care part is now parked in the fridge and freezer, where I have four containers of posole leftovers.
  3. Reading. Not the news. Well, I read the news, too, but my leading self-care reading revolves around fiction. At the moment: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby. Three-quarters done, I'm still not clear where this story might head next. While the title sounds creepily fitting for today's circumstances, the tale still feels to me like a welcome escape from our present.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Groaner - 3.22 #sol20 Story Challenge

My dad never met a pun he could resist, so he came to mind yesterday morning.

I was catching up on the news online when the following thought occurred to me: Most of the students I teach are around age 12 or younger -- which means, at their next birthdays, they might accurately be referred to as quarantine-agers.

Some rites of passage we choose, and others choose us.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

So long, distance - 3.21 #sol20 Story Challenge

The situation was going downhill. Because I was running. Downhill.

I found myself jogging in the bike lane as it had been more thoroughly plowed compared to the spotty shoveling of sidewalks. Plus, the heavy, wet snow draping over bushes and branches put me at risk on the sidewalk of frozen dousings worse than an unwanted Gatorade shower.

Ahead of me, I saw a postal van creeping up the hill using the shoulder and bike lane. Soon it would be time for me to jump back temporarily to the sidewalk, I reckoned. The van pulled over, and the driver hopped out. I watched him clamber over a snowbank (to make a delivery, I presumed), but then he crossed the road. Following his path, I noticed a car I hadn't before, lined up at an awkward angle to the next side street. Another person stood by the car's hood, pushing to no avail as the tires spun with futility.

Wordlessly, I adjusted course, as did another jogger coming uphill. In a moment, we four silent partners -- two runners, one USPS employee, and the car's passenger -- were leaned in together, rocking the car back and forth while the driver gave the engine gas. Each shove helped the rocking distances grow with logarithmic power, a term for which I now have greater appreciation, and the car soon slid free.

In that moment, we bridged social distance through the power of an unspoken social contract.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Tree apostrophe - 3.20 #sol20 Story Challenge

Dear tree in the median outside the window above the desk where I'm writing,

Your still-bare branches seem like witch hair or, now tufted with snow, maybe a late-day Cloris Leachman 'do.

No, wait, looking more closely, now I see the spine of your trunk dividing into branches that thin and thin again at each junction. Those aren't twigs; they're dendrites! In the cloudy outline of your crown, I intuit the shape of a brain.

Nah, that's not it. You're an inverted feather duster that whisked last night's flakes from the sky's grimier corners.

Or what if, instead, you're a frozen firework, each limb of your cold wood tracing an imagined line of light?

Don't mind me. I don't think I've ever spent this much time resting my eyes on you, and we've been neighbors for more than a decade. Neighbors -- that's a funny way to refer to you, don't you think? Social distancing expectations must have me grasping at the closest connection straws. Look at you, though, all by yourself on a strip of snow-covered grass between four lanes of asphalt. Is that where you want to be, this place you've laid down your roots? Or would you rather repose in a quiet forest where coming spring breezes might ease your soon-to-be-green branches lightly against other arbors?

Yours,
The writer at the desk by the window

Thursday, March 19, 2020

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 7 - 3.19 #sol20 Story Challenge

British actor and dramatist Christopher Bullock gets credit for writing in The Cobler of Preston in 1716, " ’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes" -- words I'm remembering as I amble to the post office this gray morning through the chill rain that has just started to mutate into plump, wet snowflakes; words that close with a remarkably long-lived phrase composed of two unwavering forces, the former seeming legion in this pandemic moment and the latter accounting for why I'm braving the outdoors on this day at this hour with a sheaf of documents in need of mailing, hoping as I amble that the postal truism claiming, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," still holds.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Market report - 3.18 #sol20 Story Challenge

Rode my bicycle to a grocery store before dawn this morning. Figured, Can't hoard if I've got to pedal it home myself. My first such expedition since the widespread shutdown and related distancing directives. Not too many shoppers at this hour. Not too much on the shelves either, though enough to get by and then some. Reminded myself, Glass half full, not empty. Provided you don't require hand soap, toilet paper, paper towels, chicken, tofu, onions, potatoes, dried beans, rice, noodles that aren't lasagna or manicotti. Fretted one regret: Maybe I'm too early, the restocking crew comes later. A few other shoppers with their carts shuffled about. "Slim pickings," one said, "but not as bad as Frederick." Every fifth or sixth person wore a surgical mask or gloves or both. Or maybe I kept seeing the same people over and over, circling each other, dazed. Hard to say, given my own half-trance. Answering my prior musing, seemingly, a produce clerk piled broccoli heads and bell peppers in the sparse refrigerated case. Nabbed some of each to supplement frozen vegetables. Then, herded my biggest order ever through the self checkout line, only register game in town. Wobbled my two-wheeled mule home where I washed my hands more than once.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Asparagus - 3.17 #sol20 Story Challenge

Packing vitamins for health so propitious,
your slender spring spears taste delicious
grilled with oil & salt
that it's hardly your fault
when you make all our pee smell suspicious.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Cabin fever - 3.16 #sol20 Story Challenge

Digging back several years, I remember a ski trip to a hut outside Aspen, an area that's now one of Colorado's COVID-19 hotspots. The trip included nine friends, me included. We outfitted ourselves as for a camping expedition, loading backpacks with three days of food and gear. On the drive to the trailhead, I coped with sniffles and a mild headache. "Great," I figured sarcastically, "I'll be carrying a cold with me, too."

We attached fabric skins to our skis to counteract their natural sliding inclinations and walked uphill for about six miles to the isolated cabin we had rented. I labored, feeling heavy and creaky, my skin clammy despite the warmth I generated hiking. Part way along, noticing my complexion's light-green pallor, my companions took several bags of food from my pack to lighten the load. My headache intensified as I inched forward and upward, the hut sitting around 11,000 feet in elevation.

Once we reached our destination, an early priority was finding a place to tuck me away. The cabin was a single open space, bunks lining the walls surrounding a wood stove and a small kitchen annex jutting off one corner. "Look at this!" one friend called. He pointed to a sleeping nook we had walked past, just by the entry door. What used to be an area for storing firewood had been converted into a walled-off sleeping cubby. "This'll be perfect for Brian," the friend said. "We can put him in quarantine."

That's just what we did. By the next morning, after 14-plus hours of fitful sleep, I felt quite a bit better, and my infection didn't afflict anyone else.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Stuck in the middle with YouTube - 3.15 #sol20 Story Challenge

It's the Ides (a.k.a. the middle) of March. While there's plenty to beware, my attention this morning focused instead on a project.

Like many in the world with devices and reliable Internet, I've been immersed this month in news from various sources. That's had me thinking about the slants, biases, and preferred territories of the sundry outlets I've been plugged into. An hour or two of research and link scraping led me to make this: bit.ly/mediasample

This collection reminds me, during a period of distancing and connecting from a remove -- if at all, not to get too trapped inside my own bubble. It helps me find (or at least remember to search for) middle grounds, and that feels fitting for these particular Ides.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Everything is broken - 3.14 #sol20 Story Challenge

Yes, there's a virus among us and also:

One stair is in disrepair --  its stone aggregate cracked, flaking, a piece of rusty rebar exposed, starting to sag, a little like a loose tooth; yellow caution tape frays, having outlived what was supposed to be temporary duty. "We got the wrong-sized tread," I'm told, to explain the holdup. "The right one is on the way."

A cough from the faucet, some water, mostly air comes out, more turbulent spurts. Plumbers have been in the building, I surmise.

Rats colonize the nearby dumpster enclosure. We hear them chitter, skitter. From time to time this winter, a sentinel perches on our balcony, in search of sustenance:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Scarcity - 3.13 #sol20 Story Challenge

Having read about recent runs on toilet paper, I've joked with teacher friends who've championed independent reading as a distance learning go-to. Should we train our students, I asked, when browsing for books during the developing crisis to shelve enjoyment in favor of practical text choices based on often overlooked qualities like page texture? (shudder)

Feathery versus crisp page edges were far from my mind earlier this afternoon as I stopped at the library on my way home from school. The announcement had come earlier in the day from district officials: schools will be closed next week and the following (which is already on the calendar as spring break). After that period, we'll see where the world stands, if school reconvenes or extends the leave into uncharted territories of remote learning.

Clearly, I needed to visit the library to fortify myself for being shut in; happily, it was still open when I arrived. The PA announcement that libraries, too, would be going on their own two-week hiatus occurred while I was in mid-browse. I had half an hour to check out as much as I could carry, then clear out. I felt sudden empathy for anyone with armfuls of Charmin.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Game off - 3.12 #sol20 Story Challenge

On the day professional and college sports leagues across the country paused their seasons, my inbox receives a forwarded message from the athletics director at a neighboring school: After-school sports, including practices and games, will be suspended until at least April 6. This decision starts tomorrow, yet we have a game today. I'm an unpaid volunteer, and I'm pondering: What to do?

I email the coaches for the school we're supposed to play. "We're good," they say. "Let's get in one last game while we can." They add that my players and I, as the visiting team, are the ones who must pile into close car quarters to drive, so it's really up to us. I connect with the athletics director at my school for guidance. "Up to you and your kids," he says. He tells me there's a baseball game going ahead as originally scheduled. My players are sending texts hoping the game will go forward.

I dash off a follow-up email to coaches for the opposing team, announcing our intent to play. It takes a handful of seconds after I press send for a response to arrive, our various bytes like two ships passing in the digital night. The news involves our opponents' school district announcing its own set of cancellations, effective immediately. Our game is definitely -- and indefinitely -- off.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Doork - 3.11 #sol20 Story Challenge

The street's still mostly asleep as the sun's not up yet. I stride down the sidewalk, past the doors of another bank. On this one, I see a sign taped to the inside of the plate-glass pane. It says, "Please use other door." I've noticed countless signs like this, on any number of paired doors. Yet today, I wonder for the very first time: Why default so often to the negative, the exclusive, the not-here-sucker-over-there-instead? How come it's so rare to post an inviting welcome on the one that works, announcing, "Please use this door"?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Teachable moment - 3.10 #sol20 Story Challenge

I've seen these bus passengers before, two men not far from either side of their twenties, I'd guess. Neither their body language nor talk suggest they're friends, though they boarded together and, last time, sat next to each other despite ample empty seats. Their interaction strikes me as incongruously formal, for example, the way one walked past their row, waving the other into a seat, before sliding in adjacent.

This time, the one with dark hair sits in an empty row in front of the other traveler who wears his baseball cap backwards.

"Good job," says baseball cap to dark hair, once they're both seated. I wonder at his words.

The bus continues its route, and I overhear baseball cap talking about where the two will disembark, near Highway 287. The two fall quiet until, with the highway junction approaching, dark hair stirs. He reaches for and tugs the yellow cable to signal a stop requested.

"That's your strongest pull yet," baseball cap praises.

Seconds later, they shuffle off, more compliments flowing from baseball cap to dark hair and a thank you tossed back to the driver. That's when the scene clicks: baseball cap, a teacher; dark hair, a student learning how to navigate the transit system.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Ideas are viral, too - 3.09 #sol20 Story Challenge

There's a song I remember by They Might be Giants, called "Fingertips." (Click through to listen at your own peril; it's odd.) Really, it's a bunch of song snippets compiled into one track, the musical equivalent of leftovers. In a similar spirit, I offer these three slices of today's life:

1. The school district where I teach announced that the spread of the COVID-19 virus means numerous out-of-state field trips planned for later this month have been canceled. In the email relaying that news, this statement also appeared: "Please remember that COVID-19 is a public health issue -- not the fault of any person, any country, or any ethnic group. There have been national stories recently regarding Asian Americans who have been subjected to hateful and xenophobic treatment these last few weeks... Please, care for one another. If you see or hear this kind of behavior, step in and stop it if you can."

2. I participated in several intense conversations revolving around equity work, including one that delved into culturally responsive teaching via this article and what that stance might advise for the texts we read -- or purposefully bypass -- in English Language Arts classes.

3. I noticed a sign in front of a church on my bike ride home with these words from Jonathan Edwards, a theologian and writer from the 18th century whose contributions might not make the cut in a culturally responsive classroom. The sign read, "Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!"

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Appetizing alliteration - 3.08 #sol20 Story Challenge

Perhaps pandemic problems are putting pressure on me. Suppose springing clocks ahead has my systems stumbling. Come to think of it, could the chicken carcass in my chill chest have been calling?

Inspired by those influences, I simmered stock this afternoon with minced mirepoix and that nearly picked-clean piece of poultry, padded the pot with beans and barley, along with herbal hints (thyme, rosemary, marjoram).

After barely bubbling through the afternoon, it's done for dinner and, in anticipation, I almost feel fine, better than before.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Phase change - 3.07 #sol20tory Challenge

My wife and I peeked over the modest cornice at the steep slope below. We saw a skier on his back, one of his skis having released on the hard, chattery surface. He slid quite a ways before stopping himself, apparently fine. We looked at each other and at the warming sun above us. It was working on the snow, but needed more time. "Let's come back later," we agreed. We opted instead for a run facing away from the sun, which meant it hadn't melted and refrozen as egregiously. An hour or so later, we revisited our fellow skier's Waterloo. We slid off the cornice this time, onto snow that had been softened by the steady sun from hard crust into grippy mashed potatoes. Our skis stayed on our feet, and we stayed upright for the whole delightful schuss. Timing, in this case, wasn't everything, but it was likely the most important thing.


Friday, March 6, 2020

Perfunctory slice re: worthy PD - 3.06 #sol20 Story Challenge

During staff meeting time that closed moments ago, I sat with a group of grade-level colleagues. Similar groups gathered in their own spaces. Each cohort had been charged with looking collaboratively at some sample of our work with students: an assessment, an assignment, a grade-book practice. Our principal charged us with using a version of this protocol, to give our dialogue shape as well as time limits. Each participant took a quick, informal lead presenting and we all, in turn, responded briefly to what colleagues shared.

A closure directed us to consolidate a handful of take-aways from the wide-ranging conversations. In my view, the session proved fruitful; better yet, we finished a bit ahead of schedule. Both of those circumstances felt novel compared to recent work dynamics during this long late-winter stretch.

Our early-release today, in other words, provided welcome release.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

No go - 3.05 #sol20 Story Challenge

I ran out of gas once. Wasn't me really, though, as I was somewhere in my singles digits at the time, on the last leg of a family road trip from Florida. My chief responsibility involved not pestering my younger brother. A backseat captive audience, I remember nighttime and our little Volkswagen sputtering over to the shoulder. The problem got solved with minimal fuss and perhaps my mom giving my dad a mildly hard time. I remember, but I don't remember all that much.

This morning's commute introduced me to a new vehicle fueling problem: not having enough gas to begin with. Gas in this case serves as analogy since what happened starts with me grabbing off the floor the battery for my electric bicycle. After pedaling through a stiff headwind the day before, I knew it was out of juice and needed recharging, so I plugged it in over night. I noticed its LEDs were unlit the next morning, typical when fully charged, but the nearby adapter brick was also dark. Its green LED eye, confirming a full charge, was inexplicably off. I lifted the heavy battery -- not necessarily a sign of it being full -- to check the connector plug. Snug. My hand traced its way to the opposite end where prongs met the surge protector. Turns out they were a fraction away from being fully lodged in the socket. My tank was empty, and I needed another way to work because this fill-up was going to take about six hours.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Never quiet on the literacy front - 3.04 #sol20 Story Challenge

I came across this nugget in a review of U.S. research by Anne Podolsky, Tara Kini, and Linda Darling-Hammond, published in 2019: Teachers' efficacy grows most noticeably in their first few years on the job, yet it's possible for teachers to continue improving into their careers' second and third decades.

In a word: whew.

And yet in multiple words, this growth feels double-edged. For example, one area where I've added expertise in recent years revolves around phonemic awareness and decoding. (There are 'reading wars' continuing to be waged, you may have heard.) So now I know enough to get myself into modicums of trouble. Today, that meant puzzling with a bilingual student over the subtle differences that vowel sounds throw at would-be speakers of English or Spanish or both.

I'm taking the recognition and production of those sounds less for granted than I did about 12 hours ago. Humility can qualify as improvement, right?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Time for Tanka - 3.03 #sol20 Story Challenge

Choice Reading Gold

Spotting a student
elated to have just reached
a best book's last word,
then realize, proud yet stunned,
intriguing sequels beckon.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Lost and found - 3.02 #sol20 Story Challenge

I appreciate pockets: a bag with a helpful mix of differently sized pockets gets my nod over a single, shapeless stuff sack any day. Likewise, a jacket offering outer and inner pockets, some zippered, others not, is a feature-rich garment that I'll happily don. Today, however, I was reminded how all that's pocketed is not necessarily gold.

Approaching school this morning, I reached in my backpack to fish out work keys, my hand executing the familiar journey without my eyes even looking. I felt past some pens, a thin plastic badge, a few stray paperclips, but disconcertingly never touched the ring of keys anchored by their plastic fob-lozenge. I tamped down a bubble of panic, fumbled around again. No keys in the larger compartment, I confirmed, nor in a seemingly handy sub pocket.

I retraced a mental map through Friday afternoon and evening, the last time I remembered using the keys. Maybe they're still languishing in a pants or jacket pocket, I surmised, or maybe I plopped them carelessly at home, disoriented after a day extended by student conferences. I vowed shakily to check those hypotheses when home and stumbled through the school day, relying on the utilitarian kindness of others' keys.

Once home, I pawed through pockets, checked tell-tale drop spots. Nothing. My mind cast a wider net: What if they fell out when I clambered into my wife's car Friday night? Before that search, though, I went back to my backpack. Some mental itch compelled me, perhaps. I gave the bag a shake, heard a telltale key-like jingle that I hadn't registered before. I eyed the small zippered compartment more closely. While I still didn't see my keys, I did notice a network of sewn-in plastic sleeves -- slots for pens or other small trinkets; micro-pockets, really. I dipped into the largest of these where my fingers triumphantly seized my keys.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Write back where I started - 3.01 #sol20 Story Challenge

One of my alma mater's school songs features this two-word refrain: "Going back." It's burrowed into my memory thanks to an unseemly number of college hours spent playing Ultimate Frisbee when, as pre-tournament cheer, teammates and I would shout the tune's chorus. Players who long predated us had made a few editorial changes to the sanctioned lyrics -- the least of which being contracting that first gerund to the easier to shout 'goin'.' I'd permanently muted that ear worm decades ago, I thought, until I found myself humming the melody Saturday during a walk in the woods.

I attribute the unexpected reprise to, last week, having written my first blog in about six months and then yesterday loading up 31 more blank templates for this Story Challenge. Goin' back to the Slice of Life writing community, sponsored by Two Writing Teachers, evidently puts a song in my heart to start our March together.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

It All Counts

I can almost remember being able to spring off the sofa whenever a call to adventure beckoned. The process now is more gradual: lift myself gingerly into a seated position; weigh the pros and cons of any subsequent movement, which will assuredly not be sudden; warm the requisite muscles, and ready a workable mindset. Basically, marshal a sloppy pile of metaphors to account for my return to this life-slicing space. After a half-year hiatus and in the face of potential global medical, financial, and political crises, I figure I'd best start easing myself back into writing shape, lest I pull something irrecoverable when the Slice of Life Story Challenge's daily routine commences on March 1. This counts, right?