Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? (Alfie Kohn)

by Fran McVeigh

Wow! The Twittersphere was on fire on 10/22/2020 when the #G2Great chat discussed Alfie Kohn’s article from the Boston Globe, “Is Learning ‘Lost’ When Kids Are Out of School?” You can check out the article here and the Wakelet for the chat here.

I trust that you will want to check out the article as Alfie Kohn succinctly answers his own question. But that also causes a few more questions for readers which is why the discussion was scheduled with the #G2Great audience. What’s important? What matters?

Here are a few tweets illustrating that point.

Where do we begin? Many government officials and capitalists would have us begin with assessments but if you espouse “student-centered” education then you already know that we must begin at the very beginning. Are there really gaps? How would those be assessed? And how would we really assess learning? And that circles back to student-centered learning. We begin with student assets as identified in the tweets below.

In the Boston Globe article, Alfie Kohn pulls no punches with his beliefs about standardized tests. Do they REALLY measure learning? Well, that then requires us to think about learning. Is learning merely the regurgitation of factoids, examples, and curriculum that could be answered by a Google search? Or is “learning” something else? What do educators believe? How would students respond?

Here are some thoughts on “What is learning?” from the #G2Great community.

So if we are not going to use standardized assessments to measure “Learning”, what can the education community STOP doing now? How can we help “Learning” be the sustained focus and not just the “flavor” for a chat response or a newsletter? How can we make LEARNING the focus of all our future conversations?

In order for instruction to provide opportunities for learning as well as choice, and adding in “student-centered”, what will educators need to be working on expanding? What about: Student agency? Empowerment? Choice?

These four tweets will jump start your thinking about additional actions for your school community.

Is learning lost? There may be some summer slide, but as previously mentioned, students have shared powerful learning from their at-home work that has longer lasting life-time implications for their communities. Where will change come from? What will it look like? It will begin with a belief in the need for change. We can no longer afford to prepare our children for the 20th century. Change has been needed for decades and is evident that we are now in the THIRD decade of the 21st century. The pandemic just made the need for change more visible when schools were shuttered across the U.S. (and Canada) last March.

Where will YOU begin? Who else needs to read and discuss this article with you? When? The time for action is NOW! The students are depending on YOU!

Additional resources:

Alfie Kohn (Books, Blogs, Resources) Link

Alfie Kohn – Standards and Testing – Link

Alfie Kohn – How to Create Nonreaders (Yes, 2010, but read all 7) Link

Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie: The Distance Learning Playbook

by Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.

Doug and Nancy are not new to #g2great. Previous chats include: This is Balanced Literacy, December 12, 2019; and All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, August 29, 2019.

This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.

Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book!
Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)

What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.

So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.

One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.

HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!

Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.

All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.

This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.  

“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”

How are you handling your self-care needs?

What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?

Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site

Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach? Vicki Vinton & Aeriale Johnson

By Fran McVeigh

Thursday, August 27th, #G2Great welcomed back familiar guest hosts Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson. It was a night eagerly anticipated by the #G2Great team as we celebrated a blog post written by Vicki on February 23, 2020, that included learning examples from Aeriale’s second grade classroom. That post, “Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?” can be found here.

But more importantly, I was personally eagerly anticipating this conversation with Vicki and Aeriale as a toast to the end of summer 2020, this neverending summer that desperately needed a finale. Vicki Vinton has been a part of my summers in New York City as a group of us typically connect and catch up on life dating back to our first #WRRD chat. I also met Aeriale in NYC at a #TCRWP summer institute while she was a teacher in Alaska and her stories fascinated me. I have also been one of Aeriale’s admirers asking about her “book” as she has so much to say about student learning.

And yet this blog writing task seemed like a mountain to scale after the chat. For the first round of quotes, I pulled 11 pages of tweets from the full Wakelet (here) that I felt would illustrate the brilliance of the chat. If you missed the chat, you really will want to read through the Wakelet as it was impossible to capture all the brilliance of our one hour chat in one mere blog post and 10 tweets.

So let me begin at the beginning.

Do you know Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson?

It’s sincerely my pleasure to introduce my friends, Vicki and Aeriale. (See if you learn something new about either of them.) Vicki is a writer. She is co-author of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, (with Mary Ehrenworth); and a novel, The Jungle Law as well as a blogger at “To Make a Prairie.” Aeriale is an avid learner. This quote about Ellin Keene’s Engaging Children personifies my view of Aeriale: “I finished the book on a Tuesday; I integrated the four pillars of engagement she illustrates into my instruction on Wednesday.” Aeriale is a third grade teacher in San Jose, CA. in San Jose, CA, a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow who blogs at Heinemann.com with posts such as “To Tiana, With Love,” as well as Kinderbender.com, the site of “Kinderbender: Drinking daily from the glass of tiny human giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life.” Both Vicki and Aeriale write extensively about all the brilliant learning that occurs when teachers are knowledgeable, build community and have high expectations.

Where do we begin?

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” – Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

This quote came from Cultivating Genius and our June 18, 2020 chat (Literacy Lenses blog post here) just a little over two months ago. This book was also the #BookLove professional development book for elementary and secondary teachers this summer with two weeks spent on studying, reflecting, and listening to Dr. Muhammad twice.

How does this connect to the topic of “Underestimating Our Students?

Education is complicated. How we measure its effects is quite controversial and often very limiting. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on values, beliefs, expectations, intellectualism, instruction, assessment and listening. I had to have some criteria in mind as I narrowed down tweets to use in this blog. The tweets that I immediately moved to the MUST use page were those that included statements about those topics and also matched my own beliefs and values.

Hmmm. Confirmation bias at work.

How do we focus on students without underestimating them and yet include their stories, their identities and their excellence?

Expectations … “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating” (dictionary.com)

John Hattie has teacher expectations at the top of his list of factors that impact student achievement with an effect size of 1.62. Other researchers have long documented the fact that a growth mindset allows teachers to focus on student assets instead of deficiencies. Research has shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from low income families and/or for persons of color. It is a tragedy to set low bars of expectation for any students! As Vicki and Aeriale explain in the following tweets, “expectations” in the classroom need to be linked with learning opportunities.

To Think About: What are your expections? How do you communicate your expectations to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Intellectualism … “the exercise of the intellect” (dictionary.com)

This emphasis on intellectualism builds an even higher target for students and their excellence. This is the call to thinking, to making thinking visible, and to applying learning as evidence of those higher pursuits by students. Students who are going to meet their potential are going to be challenged to grow every day. Low level tasks, worksheets, and activities will simply not exist in classrooms where intellectualism is the standard. Teachers in these classrooms will always be amazed by the challenging work that students do.

To Think About: How do you define intellectualism in your classroom and then communicate that value to students, caregivers, families, and the community? (Or are your children stuck being “students”?)

Instruction … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Instruction that values student stories, identities and excellence is rooted in a culture of belief that students can construct knowledge as they read and write. Right answers are not the norm. Inquiry is a focus and questioning is a routine expectation for students and not an inquisition by the teacher. Students need time and space to be curious and to build the relevance that matches their lives and leads to deeper curiosity and wonder.

To Think About: How do our basic beliefs about instruction emphasize curiosity and inquiry as well as nurturing genius?

Assessment … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  If we truly value meaningful assessments then we will consider the ones that allow us to sit beside students. We can share assessment results that are qualitative and rich in descriptions of all that students “can do” instead of lists of skills that may not YET be under the reader’s/writer’s control.

To Think About: How do you communicate what you value about assessments to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Listening … “paying attention; heeding, obeying” (dictionary.com)

One of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbox is the power of listening which is often underestimated. Wait time is seldom mentioned in new educational research but it still is a free attached, accessible resource. Time and how we allocate it is critical. It’s also an observable way of checking for alignment of values, beliefs and resources when matched with the priorities in the daily lesson plan/schedule.

To Think About: How do we ensure that students have enough time to make sure their invisible thinking is deeply understood?

In conclusion . . .

We all have different but yet equally challenging roles in education. Whether we are beginning to plan for school or we have already planned and executed the first week(s) of school, how will we continue to reflect on our expectations for our students? How will we be responsive to the students in front of us? What will show up in our time allocations? Our reflective blog posts? Our Twitter conversations? How will we use what we know to make this the best learning year possible for our students? Your values and beliefs will show in many visible ways as the year progresses. Prioritize based on intellectualism, instruction, assessment, and listening to your students and your families.

What are your expectations for your students? How will we know?

#G2Great: Preparing for the Unexpected

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet Link

Thursday, April 2, 2020 #G2Great focused on lessons learned on the journey from typical March classroom experiences to environments ranging from “shelter in place” to the distribution of online learning sessions. Each chat participant had their own stories to share. Their own successes. Their own fears. And even their own JOY.

Words matter. Words matter most in times of uncertainty. This is my new favorite word: Ultracrepidarian. An eight syllable word that packs a lot of meaning. According to dictionary.com, it means:

“noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise: The play provides a classic, simplistic portrayal of an ultracrepidarian mother-in-law.” (dictionary.com link)

Recently education has been under attack from many groups. Many of them seem to be ultracrepidarians. We won’t know the full extent or REAL impact of Covid-19 school closures for generations because there are just too many “unknowns” at this time. We can speculate that some immediate changes will occur. But will they be lasting changes? Will it depend on the REASONS for the changes? We need to be aware of the voices and words from ultracrepidarians.

Three key ideas that surfaced in our chat were: a focus on students, daily choice reading and writing, and teachers as a collaborative community of problem solvers and leaders.

Focus on Students

In Kylene Beers’s “Office Hours” session earlier in the day, Kelly Gallagher shared with all the attendees that one true abiding belief that sustains him is that students are at the center circle of all we do. That seems fairly common. But let’s follow his thinking as Kelly explained that the second concentric circle is for teachers and then out beyond that is the curriculum, the standards, and the course content. Inherent within that first circle is all the joy, creativity, curiosity, and independence that radiates from students and requires careful nurturing to flourish and grow in times of trouble. When we begin with a focus on students at the center of learning, it seems easier to ensure that instruction is responsive, matches students needs, and continually challenges students to stretch and grow. Marisa Thompson’s tweet matches those beliefs.

Daily Choice REAL Reading and Writing

Stories sustain us in times of trouble. Stories provide an escape from reality and allow us to dig into deeper meaning in our lives. Writing stories also allow us to reveal our thinking, explore ideas, and process the events occurring in our lives. Using “stories” literally does not mean short stories only. It also doesn’t mean books only. Reading and writing need to include short and long term projects and sources to keep volume, interest and engagement high as communication needs shift. Time for REAL choice reading and writing may also mean “going slow to go fast” and/or reducing the number of teacher-directed units. As teachers plan to “finish out the year,” those plans will require flexibility so students have equitable access, opportunities to learn, and the needed structures to ensure motivation and engagement remain high as Julie Wright describes below in her tweet.

Teachers as a Collaborative Community of Problem Solvers and Leaders

Teachers are being challenged to move from 0 to 60 miles per hour immediately to find ways to provide supportive, safe environments for students to flourish. Some had the benefit of time to organize and study together before plans were finalized. Some had the benefit of opportunities to gain input from parents and caregivers before brick and mortar schools closed their doors. Some pressure is self-induced as teachers have high expectations for student learning. But not all expectations are the same and local, state and federal administrators will be wise to ascertain local needs and expectations before mandates become edicts.

Why does it matter? Teachers as the leaders and the decision-makers are entrusted with the care of students’ emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth. That is why teachers begin with students and their needs as the focus. Technology-based learning may be a concern, but it is only ONE way of approaching student learning. If students have no devices, technology is not the answer. If students have no bandwidth, technology is not the answer. If parents/caregivers, and multiple students need to be online learners within the same environment, flexible schedules will be necessary with fewer synchronous learning requirements. All of those components will require teachers to generate thoughtful plans and choices. Similarly a “packet” of papers is not the answer either. Learning expectations need to be purposeful and clearly designed to meet student needs. This is not the time to revert to practices that are not in the best interests of students. A community of teachers collaborating together can problem solve and generate learning ideas to maximize time and space to lead to a higher degree of success. This is after all why so many people are teachers as Kitty Donohoe shares in her tweet and also framed in Justin Reich’s quote shared prior to our chat.

So why does it matter? Everyone is scrambling. Everyone has ideas. Everyone has personal preference. But everyone also has to remember the WHY of instruction that matches their community values. Basic needs have had to be prioritized as folks have lost jobs and endured weeks of lockdown in close proximity of family members who are struggling with the loss of food and fiscal resources, fear of the unknown and the stress of rapid changes. During times of trouble, time becomes an even more precious commodity.

What do you value? How do we know?

The final question, question 8 from our chat, is one you all need to discuss and come to consensus on in your buildings and districts so that your actions will be based on your beliefs.

Link

And here is a quick summary of the eleven items that #G2Great chat members listed more than once when responding to Q8 according to the Wakelet.

  • 2 mentions: See learning differently, Joy, Laugh, Love, Rest, Go Outside
  • 3 mentions: Create, Listen, Talk
  • 4 mentions: Play
  • 6 mentions: Write
  • 8 mentions: Read

In conclusion, there are no WRONG answers in the current uncharted Covid-19 Survival World. There are “better” answers. Slow down and be thoughtful in your responses. Commit to strengthening relationships. Commit to doing the best you can. Commit to being the best you can. Commit to being the kind of person that you will be proud of. Commit to finding a group of folks to bounce ideas off of and to share the load of the work ahead.

And above all, give yourself grace to make mistakes, to make missteps, to ask for help, to grieve, and to take care of yourself, your family AND your school communities! Be safe! Be careful! Use soap and water!

#G2Great: Reflective Readers with Travis Crowder

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet Link for All Tweets

On Thursday, January 23, 2020, Travis Crowder shared his wisdom with the #G2Great community around his new book, Reflective Readers: The Power of Reader’s Notebooks. The Wakelet link above will yield hours of clarity, direction and awareness of reading selves which are at the center of reflection. Because being REFLECTIVE is the heart of this book, this post begins with Travis and his reflections.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

Since I began teaching, reflective thinking has been at the heart of what I do with students. As my instructional practice moved from traditional to a workshop approach, I found myself asking students often to look back at their reading and their reading lives and write what they noticed— new understandings, beliefs, feelings, and the changes they saw in themselves as readers and thinkers. Without even recognizing it, these ideas became the foundation for action research I was doing in my classroom.

I wrote this book to share my thinking with colleagues who are intrigued by the critical literacy work we do, as well as educators who are wanting to see shifts in students’ reading lives. I stand on mighty shoulders. My work with readers is heavily influenced by other educators who have learned alongside their students. I hope that teachers will take my ideas and place them beside their own. I don’t see my work as a replacement of the work teachers are already doing, or a program; instead, it’s a model of thought, one that has helped me move my readers forward. It has deepened their thinking, helping them see how they’ve grown in their personal reading lives. I hope that it will help the professional world look at reflection differently, and hopefully, engage us in a discourse that will ultimately make our students grow into confident and more capable readers. 

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

First, it’s important to know that response and reflection are not synonymous. They serve different purposes in the life of a reader. Second, it’s important to have a balance of them in the classroom. When I started writing about reflection several years ago, I noticed a beautiful dance between response and reflection— the ebb and flow, how one naturally moves into the other. So often, writing about reading stops at response, and although responses to texts are paramount, reflective thinking is what moves kids into deeper analysis. Last, I want teachers to help students read better versions of themselves. We teach in a climate where kids have forgotten what it means to connect. But we can remind them of their sentience. With books and time to respond and reflect, we can help them see the models of the world that await them in stories. And over time, I truly believe they will impact their world. 

So what did we explore during the chat? Three key items emerged as I perused the Wakelet and revisited my notes. Those items are: clarity, direction, and reading selves. You know your own practices best. Will you begin with reflective work in your own reader’s notebook or with the work your students are doing in their readers’ notebooks?

Clarity

The chat began as does Reflective Readers with a discussion of what “reflection” is and isn’t including its relationship to “response”. Both response and reflection can include personal thoughts but it really depends upon the depth of the work which can be readily accessed in a student’s writing in a reader’s notebook. This notion of similarities and differences between response and reflection led me to making a personal T chart to compare the two in order to help me both define and understand them. A response is often tied directly to the surface facts or elements of the story, character, or plot lines. A reflection usually reveals more thinking that connects the text and the reader. As I explored this idea for several days (remembering that I see the questions in advance), I considered my past experiences and opened up my own reader’s notebook. Response, response, response. That is what seemed to be expected in many classes and in work that requires text evidence. Multiple choice tasks. Tasks with “right” answers. . . Those all led to responses. Reflection came in when I spent time digging into a specific topic/theme and compared texts or how I personally connected texts in novel ways. How does clarity of REFLECTION help you to deepen your own understanding?


Direction

Where does our reflection lead us? The direction of our thoughts depends on our reading, our texts, the time and space that we provide for reflection, and our goals and values. Reflection cannot be rushed. Reflection provides “the contour to our experiences, and forms the geography of our thinking.” (Crowder, T. Reflective Readers. p. 6) Students can document their own growth and change in their reflections as Travis so beautifully shares the frames in his portrait gallery of students. Do you want to up the game for students? Frame their work. Provide frames or mats to showcase the importance.

Reading Selves

What are the habits of readers? What are the most important habits of readers? Your values influence your answers. One inarguable habit would be that one needs to read and read a lot. Volume of reading matters. It may have a different effect at different stages in life, but reading is at the core of being a reader. But is reading a lot sufficient to be a reader? I would argue that it is NOT sufficient. Instead it is the reflective thinking that develops additional life-long reading habits.


Just as we began with thoughts from Travis and myself, the conclusion will circle back to Travis’s message from the heart and my final thoughts about Reflective Readers.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

The professional text that is at the center of this chat is a culmination of my thinking over the past several years. It is not a program or prescription for readers; instead, it’s a way of thinking about kids and their reading lives. More than anything, this book is the story of my literacy work with young people. I value the stories they bring to the classroom, the things that make them who they are, and I want them to see reflection as part of their story— of their reading and their learning. Giving students opportunities to respond and reflect with tools like hashtags and Tweets give them another lens through which to see their reading. They aren’t the only tools, though. I’m confident that the things that you do in your classroom to help your students tell the story of their learning are brilliant. Placing them beside my thinking will only strengthen what you’re already doing. And placing my thinking beside yours will nudge my readers, too.

Is reflection only for school days? I think not because I believe reflection is a lifetime pursuit. That is why this topic and text has fascinated me. I have to both respond and reflect on my own reading before I can ask students or teachers to do the same. Our own practice with responses and reflections will guide our learning journey as we develop our own portrait galleries. When we value competent, confident readers for today and tomorrow, our students will develop into the reflective readers that we need!

Additional resources:

Benchmark PD Essentials: Reflective Readers: The Power of Reader’s Notebooks (Link)

Travis Crowder Blog (Link)

Twitter:  @teachermantrav

Fran’s T chart comparison of Response/Reflection . . . After Reflection

Fran’s T-chart that evolved with reflection on Clarity, Direction & Reading Selves

The Right Tools, Towanda Harris #G2Great

By, Jenn Hayhurst

Access to Wakelet by clicking here.

Disclaimer Alert: I Love Tools!

It’s true, I have a soft spot for tools. From my earliest memories, I have loved working with tools. My father would invite me into his garage and would marvel at the hooks and draws and bins full of useful devices that could help a person get any job done. My love for tools has remained constant, just the other day I inventoried my kitchen tools to assess which ones were most useful. I love tools because they help us to perform at higher levels, to be more independent, and to feel empowered to make a change. Tools make my teacher’s heart sing.

Needless to say, when Towanda Harris agreed to join our #G2Great community… I was VERY enthusiastic! On August 15, 2019, Towanda Harris initiated a discussion stemming from her beautiful new book, so aptly named, The Right Tools, that I believe, will be a book teachers will use and love.

Instructional tools offer a pathway towards active learning and aides for assessment for our students. They are mediators engender high levels of engagement and support. So, why aren’t we all using tools on a regular basis? Towanda, spoken like the true teacher puts it simply,

Today, we often find ourselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they be a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher a professional book passed on by a colleague, a unit plan saved from a previous year, a teacher’s manual found in the back of a storage cabinet, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a set of activi- ties discussed on Twitter, a chart found on Pinterest, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure or an email. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful new resources without squandering funding or instructional time?

Towanda Harris, The Right Tools, xii Introduction

How do we begin? This post is dedicated to beginning the process.

I feel so privileged to share the voices of the #G2Great community. Thank you for sharing your expertise so that we may grow our understandings of this important topic.

Having well-defined criteria for what tools are brought into the classroom is an important first step. When developing a criterion, we begin as Towanda suggests, with clarity for the tool’s “purpose” so they may meet students where they are. While Travis reminds us to consider the appeal of tools, is they “kid-centric” if kids don’t like them they won’t use them. Mollie brings us back to basics as she reminds us to keep tools grounded in authentic opportunities for use. Sonja comes at tools from another perspective, when she tweeted that the best tools are flexible ones that “bend.” So true!

Tools offer teachers opportunities to be responsive to students needs. Faige, adds her voice to the conversation as she explains that criteria for tools cannot be set unless teachers have time to observe the students who are in the room, she invites us to consider students’ “interests, needs, and strengths”. Towanda echos this truth as she perks our attention to knowing “learning styles” so we may avoid that “one size fits all” mentality that becomes a roadblock for a successful transfer to independent use. As always, Mary brings the discussion back home, as she implores us to be “honest” in our estimation of tried and true tools we love as educators. We have to always be reflective to make sure we really do have the right tool for the job. Laura, says it best I think when it comes down to the underpinning for criteria for tools, “Students are criteria” Know your students first, then develop or offer the tools they need to be successful.

This post offers just a snapshot of the conversation we had about tools. I do encourage you to go to the archive if you missed the chat. It is a treasure trove of ideas that could spark a meaningful discourse for any Professional Learning Community, (PLC).

On behalf of my #G2Great team, I’d like to thank Dr. Towanda Harris for joining us for this meaningful discussion. Teachers everywhere are organizing and getting their resources together to kick off the school year. With books like, “The Right Tools” in hand they will get closer to “great practice”, and that is what teaching from a learning stance is really all about.

Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination

by Mary Howard

On 6/20/19, #G2Great culminated our 5-part intervention series as we highlighted a central feature of this process: Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination. I took great pleasure in writing this post since I also had the honor to write the first post in the series on 5/23/19: Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. My writerly bookends status seemed fitting considering these features reflect two essential factors that hold the entire intervention process together and can ultimately become what will enrich or diminish this process. 

As I reflected back on our #G2Great chat and perused inspired tweets, I wavered in my quest to find a hook for this post. But the more I thought about the five descriptors in our title, the more I realized that intervention success is dependent upon our ability to understand each of those words individually. With this depth of understanding, we can then merge those words in a thoughtfully responsive way. Suddenly I knew it made sense to deconstruct the title word by word: Design, Flexible, BridgeCollaborativeCoordination. After all, how can we create a thoughtfully responsive intervention merger if we don’t understand the critical role each descriptor plays within that merger?

With this in mind and in celebration of the conclusion of our five-part intervention series, I’m going to depart from my usual #G2great post by discussing these five words individually in order to emphasize the importance of each within the intervention process and then reflect on how those words will work in tandem to create that thoughtfully responsive merger of collective commitment. 

Design

The word “design” brings to mind an active process of creating something that could support and enhance our vision for what we want to accomplish. One of the struggles that we have had in creating a powerful intervention process is that too many schools have been weighted down by a design based on flawed mandates and dictates that restrict our efforts rather than to afford us the freedom to create a design based on a wider vision unfettered by limitations. This design must begin with a clear understanding of our vision at a deeper level as we then to consider how we can bring a shared vision to life within a supportive foundation in that spirit. To do this we may need to get out of our own way by breaking down the ties that bind as we refuse to allow marketeers and warped ideas to blind us. What is possible in this design process will come into view only if we don’t let anything stand in the way of a design that would breathe life into possible. 

Flexibility

But creating a design that would bring a shared vision to life is only the beginning. No matter how good our design may be, that design will be compromised by the flawed belief that any one-size-fits-all intervention view will ever be adequate. The choices that we make within our design must maintain flexibility of purpose as we identify intervention opportunities that are student-centered rather than other-centered. If interventions are not based on the unique needs of that child at that time, we miss the point. Our design is the foundation but it is flexibility that affords us an instructional playground with room to make the richest possible professional decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment and child-to-child basis. There is an inherent danger of losing flexibility if we are more concerned about what is easy, cheap or fast rather than what is in the best interest of the child. 

Bridge

I love the idea of a bridge that will maximize our design and elevate our ability to hold tight to instructional flexibility since it’s how we get from where we are to where we need to be. But a bridge assumes a two-way entry point from either end with ample room to meet in the middle and all points in between. Too often, schools create a design with a flexible view but then seem to believe that they have “arrived” and thus see no room for growth and change. The flexible decisions that we make within our design playground are always changing and growing as our children change and grow because our bridge allows for continued movement in any direction. Our success is dependent on our willingness to invest both the time and financial resources that supports long-term professional learning that will thus transform that learning into worthy instructional practices. But as teacher maneuver their way along our bridge, they need ongoing support, preferably through high quality coaching with respectful and timely feedback. Without this, our view along a pathway to a child-centered focus will always be blurred.

Collaboration

But even when we have managed to breathe life into a flexible design bridge centered on the child with the ongoing learning that leads us to professional empowerment, we’ll still fall short until we can invite respectful conversational dialogue to the thinking table. The collective impact of our intervention efforts can’t live in a professional vacuum so dialogue that revolves around the needs of our learners is essential. Interventions viewed from a lens of collaboration has the potential to transform our professional conversations into collective commitment for the greater good of our school, our teachers and the children we support, whether they are in interventions or not. Our combined professional wisdom requires us to embrace this shared learning as we grow into our best selves within a never-ending learning process. Our unwavering dedication to children is a reminder that we can find our way to excellence in the company of others. And as we grow as professionals, so our flexible design bridge grows with us. There is no end point of arrival for achieving this lofty goal. Rather we choose to courageously embark on a shared journey that is oft times riddled in the uncertainty that inspires even more passion-driven collaborations.    

Coordination

That brings us to our final descriptor that could further enhance our efforts. We can have the most instructionally powerful flexible collaboration design bridge, but this is irrelevant until we consistently coordinate our intervention efforts within and across tiers. The first four descriptors will offer a common professional lens that makes it possible for every educator who is supporting this child to coordinate their efforts. But success is dependent upon cumulative knowledge of literacy research and our knowledge of the child in front of us. This child-fueled understanding has nothing to do with narrow data points but the daily informants that support our shared decision-making. To know the child assumes that we know the same child and not the one we purport to know individually. Our responsibility to this child will require our efforts to be inseparably intertwined so that we can use that cumulative knowledge to offer interventions based on intensive “in addition to” coordinated support. The minute we create a divide and conquer mentality, we are doomed since our professional choices must be mutually supportive and not at cross purposes. Through this coordinated effort along our collaborative flexible design bridge, our interventions will lead to the accelerated progress our students need.

THE INTERVENTION MERGER

And so, we come full circle as we bring our descriptors together in order to initiate the thoughtfully responsive merger our children deserve. Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination is but an empty promise based on isolated words until we bring each descriptor to life in joyful integrated harmony in the company of children. This is the turning point where we are able to elevate our intervention impact within and beyond the intervention process. For too long we have celebrated narrow ideas based on the shallow terminology that gives us nowhere to go. No matter how grand that terminology may be, those words are meaningless until they come together in celebration of student learning. And we owe that level of dedicated commitment to each and every child.

But now we need to blend the key components of the intervention process one step further. My two writerly bookends reflect only the first and last chats in our series, but the term “series” implies that one topic cannot stand alone. This is certainly true in this case and thus the reason we have three other topics that are all equally critical. If we look to our umbrella title in the series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and then reflect on each of the five topics in combination, we can again see how each of our parts work in combination for the greater good of the whole:

Intervention Series

5/23/19 (#1): Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense written by Mary Howard 

 5/30/19 (#2): Embracing Books as our Strategic Intervention Heart and Soul written by Jenn Hayhurst

6/6/19 (#3) : Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal written by Fran McVeigh

 6/13/19 (#4) : Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions written by Valinda Kimmel

6/20/19 (#5): Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination written by Mary Howard

All five of these important topics are key considerations within any thoughtfully responsive merger that has the potential to translate into intervention excellence. I believe that this spirit of excellence is the only option we have and one that is worth fighting for in our schools.

MY FINAL REFLECTIONS

Before the chat began, we shared one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes that seems like a perfect closing to this post. Our intervention efforts have resided on shaky ground since IDEA 2004 made RTI our intervention reality. Given the research on our lack of success within this process, we need a new reality – a vastly improved reality. We have focused our intervention attention thus far too heavily on the chocolate and as a result have ignored the oxygen that would put us back on terra firma. The oxygen we need will only come when we can refocus our attention on the intervention process from a broader lens. Bringing our new intervention reality to life will require us to know our WHY from a much deeper level so that we can use this to translate our WHAT and HOW in the most purposeful and yes, thoughtfully responsive merger. It is my deepest hope that we will be able to make this reality transformation in our schools in the name of our children. 

In the end, that’s the only intervention outcome that matters!

#G2Great Embracing Books As Our Strategic Intervention Heart & Soul

By Jenn Hayhurst

May 30, 2019, marked the arrival of Part 2 of our 5 part series, Rethinking Our Intervention as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We had an inspired conversation about how we might embrace books as our strategic intervention heart and soul. When teachers use excellent trade books as a centerpiece for a classroom intervention, they are rewarded with authentic reading experiences with children. Good books combined with responsive teaching is just what is needed to bridge student gaps.

What is it about that word, intervention? To me, it gives off this negative connotation that students need something overly complex when what they really need is good teaching. So when our #G2Great team thought about having a chat that focused on using books as an intervention tool, it just felt right. The #G2Great PLN also seemed to agree:

We refer to books as a strategic intervention heart and soul because connecting with books is life changing. Literacy changes who we are in very real ways by influencing what we think about and even who we aspire to become. When teachers know who their students are they have this immense power to put students in touch with books that will resonate and reflect their identities and values back to them. It may sound lofty but as I read these tweets I see that this is inherently true:

There is so much potential for growth if we were to make a commitment to embrace books as our strategic heart and soul. Think about it. An intervention program that is built on good books and thoughtful teachers is one to celebrate. Invest some time getting to know students, add in a teacher’s expansive knowledge of books, and now there is real potential. There is the potential not only to improve a child’s ability to read but also to shape the identity of the reader. I think that Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly say it best in their book, Reading to Make a Difference:

Teachers build their bridges for their students one book at a time. Truly, the most effective interventions are both elegant and simple. A teacher, a good book, and a student with an open mind can change the world. Believe it.

On a personal note, I’d like to welcome, Brent Gilson to our #G2Great team. Welcome, Brent! What was once only three dedicated teachers has grown into a bigger more vibrant team.

Welcome to Writing Workshop with Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman

By Fran McVeigh

The #G2Great chat on Thursday, April 4, 2019 welcomed writing workshop aficionados near and far as a powerful duo, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, joined us to chat about Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. It was an hour of celebration as well as an hour of learning and affirmation of basic principles of writing workshop practices.

Welcome to Writing Workshop was lovingly written by expert writers, expert writing teachers, and expert writing coaches. As you enter the book, whether you are a novice to writing workshop or an experienced teacher, you will find that Stacey and Lynne’s words linger in your brain and you will return to pictures, pages, and charts to consider your own alignment with the expectations outlined. Kelsey Corter said it well on TWT:

Welcome to Writing Workshop is not the kind of book to read and shelve. It needs an accessible home, perhaps at a favorite writing spot, or perhaps in the classroom, alongside a conferring toolkit. Keeping Welcome to Writing Workshop nearby means never being in it alone. Stacey and Lynne are there, every step of the way.” TWT Blog

In this blog post, you are first going to see Stacey and Lynne’s responses to three questions about their goals and messages for Welcome to Writing Workshop. And then you will view some curated tweets that are representative of just a small portion of the  tweets generated during the #G2Great chat, followed by some additional resources available to support your learning.
Stacey: Write alongside your students no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. Keep doing it. Day after day, it will become easier. If you’re writing, then you’re part of the classroom community of writers and that is the secret to being a great teacher of writing.

Lynne: Make time for writing every day. Writing is the most valuable tool we have for thinking aloud on paper. Writing instruction and time to write daily is absolutely essential. When our thinking is there, we can organize it, layer it, and revise it. We can let other people’s thinking in because we are not worried about forgetting what we wanted to say. After we listen to others, we can revise our thinking. Expressing our opinions, sharing information, and telling our stories. Human beings are storytellers. Every day is a new page to write on. The stories of our lives are important!Stacey: We hope teachers will listen to children’s ideas when they confer and help them create pieces of writing — across the genres — that hold meaning and value to them. Most of all, it’s my hope that teachers will treat kids like real writers. Kate and Maggie said it well in the foreword, “The promise of writing workshop is that if we help every child become a writer, they will write and think well. This book shows us ways we can thread that needle—how we can reach for high standards yet not at the expense of the heart and soul of our classrooms.”

Lynne: Of course, that a teacher of writers has to be a teacher who writes. Writing is not a spectator sport – you have to jump in and play the game! Modeling with your own writing and thinking aloud so you can make your process visible to your students. So, an understanding of the importance of writing process. Also, we talk about the importance of the physical and the socio-emotional environment. Our workshop should look like, sound like, and feel like it is student-centered where our young writers have a voice and lots of choice. Another big takeaway is daily time for writing which involves good planning so we can move through a literature hook, modeling, active engagement, and on to writing. Closing with reflection is also essential.Stacey: There were two motivations for writing this book. First, we were both adjuncting and noticed there hadn’t been a new, stand-alone book on the fundamentals of writing workshop in quite some time. I was teaching online and had grad students in my classes from across the USA and around the world (e.g., India, Peru). Many times my international students were unable to get print copies of books and wished there was an ebook they could purchase on writing workshop. Therefore, we thought it would help if there were a new book, that would also be an ebook, about writing workshop. Second, through the consulting work we do, we noticed that many teachers are given a curriculum to teach writing, but they are unfamiliar with the guiding principles that make writing workshop work. Therefore, we wanted to write a book for people who were new to teaching writing workshop so that they would have a solid foundation on which to implement the curriculum they were given.

Lynne: I have wanted to write this book for years and years!  My interest in writing began in elementary school. I was inspired by my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Steinberg and even tried to write songs. I loved playing folk guitar. Later, I became an NWP fellow through the PA Writing & Literature Project. As I began teaching graduate courses on writing and presented at conferences, I realized how many teachers were uncomfortable with their own writing and with teaching writing. When Stacey and I got together to talk about the possibility of writing a book about writing workshop, we realized that the last book that discussed workshop essentials was a book by Ralph Fletcher – Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide. Ralph’s book was not available as on online publication. It was a 2001 copyright, so we thought there was room for our book. Our goal was to provide video clips as well so teachers could have a glimpse into writing workshop classrooms.

Curated Tweets

In Welcome to Writing Workshop, teachers will find tips to enhance their writing instruction including how to manage time, choice, environments and the socio-emotional supports to engage ALL learners. A teacher who is interested in “re-invigorating” or making their workshop more joyful will find the essential information in this text and supporting materials and videos. The pause at the end of each chapter in the “When You’re Ready” section provides the time and space for the reader to reflect and consider how to best use their new learning. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
#G2Great Wakelet Link
Stenhouse Book preview Link
Kelsey Corter’s Review on Two Writing Teachers Link

This is Day One #G2Great with Drew Dudley

By, Jenn Hayhurst

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post about one of our #G2Great chats, I spend a good deal of time in the archive. I read over the Wakelet, and reflect on the thinking each tweet reveals. I return again and again because they understand the challenges that teaching brings with it and they are so generous as they share their ideas and thinking freely. With each chat, I find that they have such smart things to say full of insight and wisdom. For these, and so many other reasons, I see my teacher colleagues as leaders, each and every one of them.

What values define leadership for you? If you had that power, which value would you choose? When it comes to leadership, these are the words our #G2Great PLN valued most.

I think of them all as leaders, yet if I were to ask if they regarded themselves as leaders, I bet many of them would say, “I’m just a teacher.” On February 7, 2019, #G2Great welcomed leadership guru, Drew Dudley. Drew, is the author of This is Day One A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters. We asked Drew, what his motivation was to write this book:

The book emerged from frustration to be honest. I was frustrated being surrounded by young, dynamic, compassionate and brilliant young people who weren’t comfortable calling themselves leaders. They were raising money to eradicate any number of diseases, dedicating hours upon hours fighting for social justice, sleeping outdoors in sub-zero temperatures to raise awareness of homelessness—yet they didn’t see themselves as leaders because the examples they had been given were all giants. They saw what they were doing as preparation for leadership It came to a head when I asked one of my most remarkable students “why do you matter?” His response? “I don’t yet…that’s why I’m working so hard.” That’s an unacceptable answer from anyone that you care about. However, it was the type of answer echoed by other student, professionals, even CEOs. I was shocked by how many people were living their lives driven by the idea that “I don’t matter yet…that’s why I’m working so hard.” People matter when they engage in acts of leadership, so I wrote the book to highlight a form of leadership to which everyone can and should aspire – one unrelated to money, power and influence. One that urges people to evaluate their leadership not over blocks of time, but on a daily basis. A form of leadership that can give people evidence that they matter every day. Recognizing that in the professional world most people don’t hold executive positions or positions that have traditionally been associated with leadership, I wanted to help people recognize that their leadership wasn’t tied to their salary or title, but to their daily behaviours. A fundamental premise of Day One leadership is that you, your principal, the superintendent, and the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies all woke up this morning having engaged in the exact same number of behaviours that deserve the title of “leadership”: none. That means we all have an opportunity and an obligation to live our own form of leadership every day.

Drew Dudley February 2019

As much as this is a book about leadership, it is a book about self-empowerment. Knowing that leadership is defined more by our actions and values than by our titles and salary. What we do matters, it matters maybe even more than we realize. This was a question that resonated with me, “Why do you matter” is the most difficult self-reflective question for people to answer. Why do you matter? Why should we ask students that question? This is what we said,

Every day is a fresh start. Every day can be “Day One” Day one begins with knowing why we matter. Knowing why we matter gives our lives a sense of meaning and purpose so we may live an authentic meaningful life. Isn’t that what schooling ought to prepare students to do? To live one’s life as their most powerfully authentic self. As I pause and ponder, I begin to wonder, What kind of experience am I creating for students? Am I teaching them to see themselves in this light? There are three important takeaways, Drew wants every teacher to consider:

There are three key things I’ll highlight that I feel are particularly relevant to teachers:

1. The people we choose to use as examples of leaders matter. If we keep our focus on “famous”, we cause our students to devalue the leadership they do demonstrate every day. As much as possible, focus on examples of leadership that aren’t famous, don’t hold positional titles, and. Ask students to identify the most impactful people in their lives, and keep the discussion around examples of leadership behaviours, rather than titles. Students see themselves capable of emulating behaviours, but many don’t see themselves as being able to acquire the positions and titles traditionally associated with leadership.

2. There are a lot of things that are “learned but never taught” in our classrooms that stand in the way of young people embracing their leadership. One of the big ones is that academic achievement is rewarded at a higher level than personal awareness and impact. Whenever possible, reinforce the idea that “I want you to make your grades extraordinary…I want you to work twice as hard to make sure they are the least impressive thing about you.” You can’t just say it though, you have to make sure that the reward structures in your schools actually reinforce that idea.   

3. Ask your students, “why do you matter?” Don’t let them wiggle out of answering, and don’t let them claim that they don’t.

Drew Dudley February 2019

Sometimes in life, you get excellent timing. Publishing this post the day before Valentine’s Day gives me an opportunity to send out this message of adoration for every teacher. You matter. You matter because you are shaping a child’s life every day you step into the classroom. You matter. You matter because all of our work and dedication is an investment in the future. You just have to do one important thing: believe it. Only you can make that choice to lean into leadership and get in touch with how powerful you really are. We asked Drew, to share a message about this book that comes from from the heart. A message for every teacher to keep in mind:

I want them all to remember that they drop depth charges.
One of the most exciting things about releasing a book is delivering a copy to every single English teacher you’ve ever had. The final one I delivered was to the most influential teacher in my life – a bittersweet meeting as he had been recently diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. During our visit I told him that many of the ideas in the book can be traced back to lessons and insights he had first planted.
“Ah yes, the depth charges” he responded.
He went on to explain that one of the most rewarding and frustrating things as a teacher was the fact that the most significant impact of his work was often deferred. It was often many years before students truly recognized the value of some of the lessons he tried to impart.
“You have to accept that what you’re doing is planting depth-charges in students’ minds,” he explained. “You can’t expect to see the results of your work right away – it could be years before something you said goes off in a student’s mind and helps them in some way. When I was first starting out as a teacher I would get so frustrated that students ‘just weren’t getting it’. I now realize they just weren’t getting it ‘yet’. Their life hadn’t needed that insight yet.”
There are very few professions that play a bigger role in how the next generation will understand and engage their leadership. However, the day-to-day reality of the job can often make you feel you’re having little impact. Remember you’re dropping depth-charges – you may never see the way your lessons change the worlds of your students, but they do.

Drew Dudley

These conversations about leadership, authenticity, and empowerment are the kinds of conversations educators need to have and need to have often. Thank you, Drew. Thank you for saying “Yes” and for joining us. You made an impact!