Teaching the Academic Essentials - The Finale

I took a day off from blogging on the conference to let it all sink in. Honestly - the last day of the conference was the best for - with rapid fire connections happening all over the place.


1. When discussing the reading process, we often speak about before-during-after reading activities. But more importantly - as teachers we need to think about what we should be doing before we give the reading, while the reading is happening, and after the reading is completed. Seems like common-sense but the planning page provided here, along with the matrix discussed in a previous post, really tied things together for me. We discussed our purpose for having students read certain text, thinking about how we wanted them to interact with the text and how to monitor those strategies, and WHY we had them do particular things after the reading.

2. We need multiple entry points to reading. Again - common sense but the visual that was presented was pretty powerful!! (I'll see if I can scan my notes!) Kids have lots of barriers to reading: lack of background knowledge, social/emotional/cultural issues, vocabulary, poverty to name a few. We need to be purposeful in structuring our before-reading activities to help all students access the text.

3. Thinking in three complicates things. Never really thought about this before - but as we progressed through examples, it really started to make sense. For example, we could take the current war in Iraq. If we made a simple T-chart of the perspectives of those in the U.S. for and against the war, our students might do this easily. It also forces them into an "either or" position - where they have to decide which camp they fall into. That could be dangerous - and narrow. So - let's add the perspective of the Iraqi people. That could complicate matters. Now let's add the perspectives of the various Iraqi people - Sunni and Shia. Now - let's add the perspectives of Great Britain. See how things become much more complicated and will involve a higher level of thinking? The more layers we add - the more complex the thoughts.

Jim Burke also had an afternoon keynote - which will be podcast soon. Some highlights:

4. Learning should be an "invitation to struggle." In his work on academic essentials, Burke keeps coming up with words like "grapple" and "struggle" and "wrestle" - and those need not be bad things. Back to the weight-lifting analogy, education is something we are all trying to get better at - so wrestling with these things means we are growing.

5. First and foremost, Jim Burke is a teacher and one who obviously cares deeply about his students and their success. Over time, he and the class have developed a set of principles that are practiced in the classroom, and eventually in life. Telling a series of personal stories, Jim shared the following with us.

Put yourself out there!
Do what you think you can't.
Success is never an accident.
Everyone must find their "thing;" all education is SELF education.
You are worth the effort.
Invest in yourself.
If you cannot SEE it, you cannot BE it.

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

Leadership that Works

It's always nice when someone does your work for you. . .

Read a review of: Marzano, Robert J.; McNulty, Brian A. & Waters, Timothy. (2005) School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Apparently, it's a must read. "This text absolutely belongs in a course that focuses on the principles of educational leadership."

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 2

Top 5 take-aways from today:

1. "Discussion improves comprehension, increases engagement and enhances memory when it is structured, purposeful, meaningful, and constrained by time. Even one minute of effective classroom discussion shows measureable benefits to student learning." This was a nice reinforcement of what a CSETL Fellow has been sharing in her work with academic discourse, as well as a reinforcement of my belief that learning is social. While much of my learning during this workshop has come from the presenter, I have learned a great deal from those folks sitting around me, in part because the presenter has worked discussion into our day on a regular basis. It is a refreshing change from rushing through material. If I feel that way - I can only imagine what it will do for kids.

2. "You have the men you have - and it's up to you to make them into the soldiers you want them to be." This quote (or something like it!) was attributed to George Washington but it makes a great deal of sense about education as well. Whenever I hear teachers complaining that students don't work hard enough or won't do this and can't do that, I get a little angry. We should be teaching with the belief that the students in our classroom can succeed - or we have failed. I have always said that parents send us everything they've got - they aren't hiding the good ones/the smart ones at home! It is our job to teach each and every child that we are gifted with.

3. Most teachers, particularly those at the secondary level, don't know what we do when we "read" - it just happens to us. We, as teachers, need to be more explicit and transparent with our students and bring our process into the class. We did a great activity in the session today after reading a "complex" piece to chart visually our reading process - what we did when we didn't understand things, how we made connections to comprehend. This reflection was very helpful to me in thinking about how I have taught reading in the past - but also how I might be able to do it with teaching writing as well. I need to ponder this a bit - but you can bet there will be more to come!!

4. There are many different kinds of text and we use different strategies when we read them. I have known this - as I believe that each content area has it's own literacy. We read different things in social studies class then in science, math, and ELA. I needed to teach my kids how to "read" political cartoons, maps, newspaper articles written in the 1800s. Charting out what I do for each of these different texts will help me when I work with teacher and primary sources.

5. I don't like Yeats. I'm kidding - sort of! We did a great activity at the end of the session using "The Second Coming." The discussion around the poem and the strategies that we used were invigorating and inspiring. If I could open a school with the people sitting in that room today - the kids would be engaged and all see success. I am still tortured by the poem and what it means and the fact that I didn't get it the first three times we read it (not sure I still get it but I've read enough Internet reviews to fake it!!) Jim Burke made a great analogy today when we compared learning/reading to weight lifting. When you lift weights - you want to lift a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue. That allows your muscles to grow. If we don't challenge kids with difficult text - and teach them to navigate problems - they won't grow as readers. I might not like Yeats but I loved the discussion today!!

Cross posted on Writing Frameworks.

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 1

I'm lucky enough to be spending the next three days re-charging by attending the 3rd Annual Reading Institute in Jamestown, N.Y. First - I need to say kudos to the folks who have organized this - it is impressive!! And an even louder round of applause for the over 200 teachers who are attending this session in the "shadow" of their school year (we just ended last Friday!)

The speaker that I was originally going to be spending time with had a family emergency and so I was cast adrift. Fortunately - my dear friend David charted a course for me. So I will spend the rest of the week with Jim Burke.

I hope this doesn't offend him but to this point, he has presented in much the same way that I do. If we are going to be spending time writing - we best be writing!! Too often - we want to sit and absorb information. If our brains click with it - we use it. If they don't - we discard it. But if we really engage in the activities, then we can determine how to make it our own, to make it work inside our own classrooms. I can understand how my participants feel when I make them do this - so I took some notes about what I can tweak in my own work - but I loved that I got to write, write, write today!!

Top Five from the session today:

1. "Graphic organizer" can be too limiting a term. Instead - we should be providing students with "tools for thought." I liked this idea - it was really about setting up a simple tool for students to organize thoughts and some guiding questions/prompts to start them on their way. We folded a piece of paper into thirds and simply labeled them to guide our reflections. Jim then led us in narrowing down what we had written about to reflect further - and then share with colleagues. For this exercise, we reflected upon what worked this year (or what didn't!)

2. Weekly poems. This was something that worked for Jim last year (yes, Virgina - even presenters share!!) He selected short poems (less than 30 lines) that students read each day for a week. Each time they read the poem - they reflected or reacted to something different (initial reactions, imagery, tone, etc.) so that at the end of the week, they had notes to use to write an analytical piece. These poetry pieces could be done in just 10 minutes of class time but certainly packed a punch.

3. "Well Words" These words come from Jim's Teacher's DayBook. We selected five words from the list of 52 that would have made an impact on our personal/professional lives if we paid a bit more attention to them. We then narrowed it down to one word and then developed 2-3 questions we might ask to prompt writing around that word. Finally - we wrote. GREAT STRATEGY that followed his "Academic Essentials Matrix" and had us "Bloomin' upward!" Careful! This strategy will be coming to a workshop near you soon!!

4. The emphasis on connecting to students!! And that without connecting to students - we'll never get them to learn (or see themselves as learners.) This was especially powerful to me - as I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this since last year's High School's New Face Conference. Jim read to us from my favorite coffee table book and had us reflect upon the connections we have made (or not made!) in the past year. Very powerful community building exercise for us!!

5. The idea of teaching and expecting students to be generative thinkers. The premise comes from the work of Judith Langer and seems to fit what I have felt all along. Students need to create their own knowledge - to seek out different viewpoints, to search to make their own meanings and connections. Much of what we did today modeled how to scaffold instruction so that students could practice this important life-long skill.

I left re-energized and with a million thoughts floating through my head. I can't wait for tomorrow!!

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

No more excuses

I suppose the title has two meanings for this blog. First, a link to an article about a study that indicates we have an inate mathematical senese. Yahoo has posted a summary on the front page, I'll scour the UB library for the original. What I got out the article is that the burden many people carry around - I'm just not good at math (or maths, according to the British authors) is a lame excuse. Apparently, little kids who do not have an understanding of numbers are able to solve math problems. Very encouraging news for math(s) instruction.

On the other hand, no more excuses applies to this blog. Theresa recently recommitted herself to blogging and she makes several good points. On my morning commute - from the bedroom to my office down the hall, I was thinking about the idea of positing. Who is our audience? Is it you? Whoever you are? Or is this akin to a journal that may or may be left open on the dinning room table? Is this the epitome of self-indulgence or a means of reinventing public discourse? At this particular moment for me, it doesn't matter. I'm happy to wander the terrain that is educational research and topics and engage in Grand Rounds with whomever may wander by.

In any case, I'm still eager to discuss educational research and topics with others and so I put forth this question: Does math instruction as it currently exist "beat" the math knowledge out of students or does it enhance it? Or is it something else? Do share, kind stranger.