The purpose of this blog is to keep past and current students updated on different resources I present in my courses. I hope you find the entries thought provoking. I intentionally keep my comments brief and often have a visual / graphic / poem to supplement those words.
One Year Anniversary
I started this daily blog 1 year ago today
Because I wanted to share what I had to say
To my students who would enter into my courses
Eager to learn from many of my resources
That I would provide for their further education
To enlighten their learning as they prepare their vocation
For working with challenging students of all ages
Who need their dedication and as everyone engages
In building relationships of caring and meaning
Because future students must start believing
That they are worthy of the love and dedication
And hopefully everyone has the revelation
That school is a place for enjoyment and fun
And real learning and teaching are never, ever done!
Work With What You've Got
Work With What you've got.
Don't Dig Deeper in a rut.
Try To Take your best shot.
Strike Some Sparks while the iron's hot.
Nobody Notices New attempts.
Yet, Yearn Youthful exuberance.
Clearly Count Carefully again.
Fight For Future women and men.
Be Brave Between each defeat.
Sacrifice Softly Somewhere down the street.
Persistently Plodding Patiently to each goal.
Gently Going Gracefully to your inner soul.
Magpie Murders - Quotes (continued)
Back in an October blog entry, I identified several quotes from a book I was reading for the second time. Below is a continuation of these quotes:
That’s one of the only good things about being a smoker these days. You’re part of a persecuted minority. You bond easily.
His closest neighbors [other graves] had died almost a century before him and the newly dug earth appeared as a fresh scar; as if it had no right to be there.
When you’ve been pursuing an ambition all your life, it’s actually quite frightening to achieve it because where will you go next?
You read and you read and you feel the pages slipping through your fingers until suddenly there are fewer in your right hand than there are in your left and you want to slow down but you still hurtle on towards a conclusion you can hardly bear to discover.
For him, writing was something mysterious. It was like he was kneeling at the altar and the words were being sent down to him – or something like that.
The entire room seemed to come to a halt, as if it were a piece of tilm caught in a projector.
Learning From Our Mistakes
Parker Palmer continues to influence my values and outlook along both personal and career dimensions. I was quite impressed with the wisdom of a poem to which he referred his readers and I found this poem extremely valuable to share with the readers of this blog: “Autobiography In Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson
Another semester has come to an end
And once more to you this message I send.
Did you get what you expected - or perhaps more?
I hope you learned and accepted what could become the core
Set of values you hold as you venture off to your next career.
I hope you remember what I shared with you this year.
It's not the specifics that I am most concerned about.
It's the overall set of values and do not doubt
That you can make a difference in each student you meet.
Don't let negativity take you down to defeat
By those individuals who have given up the fight -
Those who are lost and can't see the light.
Rise up and give it your best
For there are no answers to many of life's tests.
Be true to your values - let your conscious be your guide.
Honor your students and look forward to the ride
You have begun in the course that now is done.
Remember, it's not a sprint but a long-distance run.
Labyrinth Path of Becoming the Teacher I Aspire to Be
As part of a wrap-up session to one course this semester, I suggested to teacher candidates that they embark on a labyrinth path of becoming the teacher they aspire to be as part of their own professional growth and development. I shared what such a path might look like from a summer course I had taught in 2013. I also discussed other ways in which such a path might be used to commemorate other events of significance in a person's life; i.e., events leading up to a certain age, books read over a certain period of time, places visited while on vacations, etc. I urged any students to send me their labyrinth at any time along their path. I would be interested in what events had contributed to their ever-evolving quality as they acquire a teaching license ... and beyond.
Throughout any given day, I will read assignments and provide feedback relative to the specific work of each individual student. I find, though, that my feedback and comments could have application for all my students to read. Here is a sampling of feedback I provided for specific students today that I will make available to everyone.
- Finding what helps us be calm is an important part of de-stressing during our out-of-school life. When we arrive at work in a calmer state of mind, we are more apt to react to challenges in a more thoughtful, less stressed out manner.
- Prevention is the key when developing a classroom with a positive climate. Misbehaviors are less likely to be triggered when we create a welcoming, nurturing setting in which to learn.
- I have also seen when co-teachers present a lesson, the special educator may be at the white board highlighting what the teacher is saying in a more visual manner. This helps everyone in the class.
- "Time with non-disabled peers" should consist of quality interactions and go much beyond mere physical proximity, as you state among your comments for this chapter.
- You bring up some excellent issues around the concept of "grit" and whether someone inherently has this trait or whether it can be taught. I think it has a lot to do with how we are measuring what we mean by grit. If a synonym is perseverance and stick-to-it-ness, yes grit can be taught and nurtured by how a teacher structures his/her lessons. Resiliency is another way to look at grit as an inherent trait.
- Chunking and breaking a task down to smaller components is a long established evidence-based strategy that I would like to see more of in our public school classrooms.
- Social and emotional learning is one of the points of emphasis in the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) and I will be curious how different schools embrace the spirit of this initiative.
- ADHD is a very misunderstood condition that some teachers may not treat as a "real" disability. There are punitive measures employed that are unethical, in my opinion, when a student is forced to abide by restrictive controls when they would perform much better in an environment that respects and honors their learning differences.
- You are wise to note that many of the suggestive strategies in our text for students with various types of disabilities are actually excellent strategies for ALL students in the classroom.
- You bring up a keen observation about how certain traits cross over different disabilities and some characteristics are common to more than one label.
- Upon reading your comments I am reminded of a TED talk about the dangers of a single story. I think I will include this link as a resource in two of my courses: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-3728
- To me, the Family Message Journal, is a no-stakes opportunity for a student to express him/herself in a way that forms a dialog between home and school. The teacher can still obtain information about the success of writing strategies throughout the year without grading the journal for grammar and spelling.
A Journey From Then To Now
The document I developed today is a composite of a set of slides and narration that I presented during a Pecha Kucha style presentatons at a conference in 2015. This updated version differs from the exact content of that presentation and has been edited to be viewed in its current configuration. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Does Summative Assessment Just Get in the Way?
I am going to suggest a quite radical opionion about the role of assessment. First, formative assessment should be part of each day's normal practices by a teacher. However, the results of these assessments are not to assign a grade to the student but to inform the teacher about what strategies appear to be working as the student advances onward in his/her progress on a specific content area of focus. There is no predetemined place at which that student must be at any given time but decisions are made about what could/should be next in that students individualized education plan. This process eliminates the competitive nature of grades as examples of distinctions among students in some sense of superiority over others. We are all on a path toward knowing more about that which we are interested in. At least that is how I, as an adult, view the learning process. But how would we know what grade level a student should be in? Grade levels are artificial designators of grouping students as if chronological age is the key factor in determining what a student should learn and when that student should learn it. What if we did the same with adults in what they could or could not explore and learn more about? I will never learn all there is to know about anything, but I enjoy the process of learning more about that which I am interested in. What if a student does not or cannot complete a book review as currently prescribed in the grade-level curriculum? How many book reviews doe a person need to complete once they are out of high school? I had a stint as a book review editor for a journal for a five year period of time and the reviews that I completed looked nothing like what I was taught to do in seventh grade! Schools tend to favor those students who have a predispositon to doing well in those subject areas deemed important to "cover" by those in power at the time. I think we are missing the boat on this one. Education should be a process of learning how to become a better functioning and life-fulfilling adult after this process is over - typically when a person leave high school.
EVIDENCE BASED PRACTICES Acrostic Organizer
I developed the acrostic organizer below in an organic fashion as I presented topics to a course I am recently teaching here at CCSU. Now completed, this visual can be an advance organizer for the next offering and I can leave the circles open [currently red as a link to additional resources] and color them in as we investigate each element from this visual.
A Contribution to Statistics
A poem I have long admired is one by Wislawa Symborska. It is powerful in its simplicity and elagance and also has a place in the generality of how one uses statistics.
Personalized Icons for Self-Improvement Graph
I have been working on a theory for a few years and have shared this theory with students but have little research to back my advice up. That is, one aspect of engagement is to personalize learning to a student's out-of-school interests. One way for doing so is to substitute bar graphs often used in data collection to include icons from a student's interests or out-of-school interests. An example follows:
I decided to graph my data of when I walk on the treadmill for any day over 45 minutes while walking at a moderate speed of 2.7 mph, a speed at which I experience less side effects on my legs and feet. For example, today is Sunday, November 26th. I watched the Patriots defeat the Miami Dolphins upon a return from Quincy, MA, accompanying one of our daughters back from the Thanksgiving holiday. While walking, I listened to instrumental blue grass music with a nice beat to it. Last night marked the end of the current leg of the Bob Dylan tour at the Beacon Theater in NYC. Also, our travel to Quincy was impacted by the annual Santa Parade, which caused several detours both in and out of Quincy. Therefore, this data collection acts as a journal of sorts of events for each day that represent what occurred or what was memorable to me about that day. I still remember a similar graphic I constructed in 2006 on which I noted that the ST Louis Cardinals won the baseball World Series, because I have gone back to review this graph on several occasions. I hope to add some empirical evidence to this process in the upcoming years, hopefully if teachers are interested in this theme as part of an action research capstone to their master's degree.
I am reading an article in the New Yorker today - The Art of Paying Attention - with a focus on the writings of Mary Oliver. Here is a quote from the article that resonates with me:
... she offers a blueprint for how to go about it [personal transformation]. Just pay attention, she says, to the natural world around you - the goldfinches, the swan, the wild geese. They will tell you what you need to know. With a few exceptions, Olier's poems don't end in thunderbolts. Theirs is a gentler form of moral direction.
As I looked up a quote on Good Reads I found: Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell aboout it.
A REFLECTION on the Day After Thanksgiving
Reserve the day after Thanksgiving foR
Engaging in the thoughtful awareness of thE
Fullness of how we live our lives oF
Looking inward toward a more heathfuL
Emergence of the sound of our inner voicE.
Clearly, as we engage in these hectiC
Times, moments like this will only lasT
In small increments and if I
Observe the way in which I answer tO
New challenges, I will once agaiN
See the benefits of the practice of mindfulnesS
A Missed Opportunity?
I did not see Dylan the other night
When in Boston he did alight
With his band of extraordinary musicians.
It was one of my harder decisions
To forego concert #29.
Someone else's seat could have been mine.
But, I'm OK - I wasn't missed.
It was just fate that simply twists
In and out of my recent past.
I hope Dylan and his band last
Several more years when I still can go
And honor his presence at another show.
He inspires me to give my best
To my students each day and I'm blessed
With the chance to share what I do know;
Perhaps even some wisdom to show
Them how to be the best at what they do
And be quite satisfied when each day is through.
When Will You Be Ready?
When will you be ready
To be teaching in a steady
Way as you prepare
A lesson to share
With your students today
And show them a new way
To look at a problem to solve;
One that may involve
Several different solutions
And lead them to conclusions
In which several answers will do
And not the same as what you
Would consider as right
When you can shed a new light
On a different way to view
What is in front of you?
Seldom is there one answer to find
With challenges that are one of a kind.
You must consider the unique circumstance
That will cause you to advance
To reach your own insight
Into what could be a right
Way to proceed
For this specific student's need.
Framing A Student in a Positive Light
As I initiated a conversation about enhancing meetings between teachers and parents, one teacher remarked that she often will start a parent conference by identifying those attributes and qualities of a student that impress her and how delighted she is that their son/daughter is a member of her class. By doing do, the concerns she has and assistance she seeks about other aspects of the student, which may require mutual cooperation, will be received in a much more favorable light. She is definitely framing the child's attributes in a positive direction. Someone else remarked that a student can come to class in a particular "frame of mind" and be influenced by how the teacher "frames the activities of the day" to be a more inviting learning environment. We also entered into a conversation about how to phrase behavior in a more positive way when talking to parents. For example, we might describe a child as having lots of excess energy instead of a person who is hyperactive. I believe that a parent may be more likely to listen to some suggestions when it is "framed" as strategies that can provide outlets for excessive energy rather than if that same behavior was "framed" as a behavioral program to limit out-of-seat behavior. Finally, the way in which we frame our students when in the teacher's lounge or during informal conversations with our peers creates an image that could influence how others interact with our students in out-of-class experiences. We must be careful not to create frames of reference that accentuate the negative when a rephrasing of descriptors may lead to an entirely different impression. Is the glass half empty or is it half full?
Quote by Kyle Maynard
As I reviewed some student assignments this morning, I happened upon a website by Kyle Maynard with the following quote:
“Every person on the planet has a disability – not just those we can see.
And we all choose whether we allow our lives to be defined by them or not.”
Creating a Positive Tone Prior to a Meeting
The following ideas surfaced during a brainstorming session when I requested strategies for creating a positive tone prior to a meeting concerning a student with challenging behaviors:
Person's abilities are highlighted using graphs.
Announcements that are sent out to alert members about the meeting could have some positive quotes and sayings on them as well as the agenda.
There is an atmosphere of calmness, tenderness, caring and honesty; openness for discussion
Avoid using labels when discussing a challenging situation. Labels about individuals tend to create more negative images among team members.
Brainstorming approach can be used to develop options with an emphasis on the nonjudgmental reaction to responses.
Focus initially on the challenges that the focal person has overcome in his/her past. What talents does this person bring to the planning team's attention?
Focus on the communicative intent of a challenging behavior. Develop best guesses for why team members think that behaviors are happening.
Dress informally. Direct support persons and family members should not be intimidated by the more formal dress often worn by professionals.
Empathy: put yourself in the shoes of the focus person and visualize how things are from that person's perspective.
Always end on a positive note.
Environmental attractions: fish tanks, pictures/posters on the wall, natural lighting, flowers and other decor that help to create a homey, comfortable environment in which to focus on a challenging situation.
Facilitator's enthusiasm: leader of the group smiles and is generally in an upbeat mod. This tends to put others in an upbeat mood as well. The body language used by the facilitator has an impact on the participants.
Be flexible. Don't be rigid.
Focus on what will help the person, not on what will help you.
Each member of the team can tell good news stories about the focus person.
Guests should be able to bring friends for mutual support.
Humor helps to create a relaxed and accepting environment. Smiles can be catching.
Icebreaker activity at very beginning: a comedian might begin a long meeting with 5 minutes of jokes
Lighting could be dimmed or brightened as the occasion warranted.
Music of an upbeat variety can be playing in the background as team members are assembling for the meeting. Also, it was observed that one presenter had differently paced music to emphasize different parts of his talk.
Mutual interests: team members list activities and interests that they have in common with the focus person.
Noncontingent Reinforcement: everyone gets a special treat or reinforcer prior to the start of the meeting. Examples could include lottery tickets for a selected few, a standing ovation for one of the team members, freshly baked pastry for a snack prior to the meeting, etc.
Positive self-esteem by team members will translate into positive energy for the challenge at hand.
Profile: write a five to six sentence description of the focal person as if someone were describing you.
There should be a question on which all team members are focusing. Any other concerns need to wait until another time. Stick to the agenda at hand.
Realistic expectations by team members.
Recognition for team members who are going up and beyond expectations.
Redirection of negative comments becomes one of the ground rules accepted by team members.
Refreshments could include water with lemon/lime and small bowls with preferred snacks; wine; coffee; bring out the “good stuff”
Reminders for people to arrive on time and to remember the time and date of the meeting – similar to how doctor’s offices call to remind us about our appointments.
Resources: consider the depth and foundation of resources that are available on the team.
Scheduling meeting in midweek as opposed to Mondays or Fridays and convenient time of the day.
Seating arrangements can be organized to contribute to a meaningful dialogue and minimize personality conflicts.
Seating is comfortable and there is room to spread out materials on a table.
Strengths of the focal person need to be identified and brought to the surface. Begin a list of how the person is helpful to others.
Table Tents with participant names and equal billing given to all; i.e., no initials after people’s names.
Talk about something good and positive about the person. Avoid negative talk as much as possible.
Temperature is comfortable.
Time line of prior successes by both the focus person and members of the team. Even if negative experiences are mentioned, the facilitator can comment on a positive outcome that has evolved from this experience.
In the Quiet Places - Parker Palmer
I was wondering what to share today and happened upon a poem that Parker Palmer included in his weekly column for the website On Being. I thought this week's entry was especially insightful.
Music for a Rainy, Dreary Drive to Work
I found the perfect fit for my daily commute to work today amid intermittent heavy rain and an overall dreary feel to the weather. I tuned my Spotify to a mix of tunes by Leonard Cohen. His voice and lyrics were juxtaposed against the splattering rain and heavy traffic of my ride. Although The Tower of Song did not make an appearance among the 6-7 tunes, I was thinking about the following lyrics from that song, but the lyrics, themselves, don't capture their flavor without the haunting voice of Leonard Cohen:
I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song.
Helping Children Succeed
I have used essays / books / videos by Paul Tough in one of my courses. I find his insights to be quite revealing about what areas of focus are the most important on which to concentrate for today's youth. I share two links for the interested reader to become acquainted with his work.
Today, I Listened to a Near Perfect Concert Video
On my daily treadmill walk today, I tuned into a performance by Dylan and his band from 1999 at the Centrum in Worcester, MA. I was not in attendance at that concert. As I listened to each song I thought, "This is the Dylan I relate to most - - - his choice of songs, three of the members of his band (Campbell, Sexton, Garnier), and Dylan on acoustic guitar (amplified). It was a "WOW" experience that encapsulated all that is good in listening to Dylan. His live performances at this time in his career blend together so much of what makes his genius shine through. I certainly admire his current work and marvel at his continued output. He continues to provide me with many hours of listening enjoyment on my travels to and from work.
Let's Investigate the Versatility of Boomwhackers
In preparation for one of today's classes, I introduced a musical instrument called boomwhackers. I wanted to demonstrate that individuals with a wide range of musical abilities could still participate in making music if a teacher had the initiative to use instruments such as boomwhackers, which could be played by students with diverse abilities. Below are some selected YouTube video clips demonstrating use of boomwhackers by performers of varying abilities. I asked teacher candidates the following question: How can you apply the values / thinking behind boomwhackers in your own content areas?
Years of Knowing
Quotes Attributed to B. F. Skinner
Wherever You Go, There You Are
I read a book about 20 years ago, whose author is receiving quite a bit of acclaim as "mindfulness" enters into a revival in our public schools, rightfully so. Here are my comments upon first reading this book by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Wherever You Go -- There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday
Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, New York, NY, 1994, $19.95
Mindfulness has to do above all with attention and awareness, which are universal human qualities. (p. xvii) Physical presence and being there for others is an awareness of mindfulness.
The point here is simply that it is useful at times to admit to yourself that you don't know your way and to be open to help from unexpected places. (p. 90) In being a teacher candidate or professional, expect support from some unlikely sources. Be open to receive the gifts and talents of everyone.
At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient - - only the universe rearranging itself. (p. 54) Even though we emphasize the recognition of gifts and talents in each of us, this quote reflects a final acknowledgment that the giver of a gift is a receiver and a receiver of a gift is a giver.
Our vision has to do with our values, and with our personal blueprint for what is most important in life. (p. 78) Our ability to help each other communicate a vision for a life of quality sets activities in motion and a sense of not turning back to the way things were in the past. Our vision is a source of light and inspiration to advance forward.
On the radio I heard someone define ethics as obedience to the unenforceable. (p. 47) We need to surround ourselves with people of ethics who engage in their work because of unspoken truths that manifest themselves in a chosen life of work (vocation).
The ways in which we need to grow are usually those we are the most supremely defended against and are least willing to admit even exist . . . (p. 76) Most of us can readily see this when confronting static systems that seem to get in the way of person-directed supports. However, as we look within, there may be much more work to do as we develop our inner strength to approach our daily challenges.
Connections can be made under unusual circumstances. I was reading this book while traveling by plane and was at the chapter describing a meditation posture as "sitting like a mountain - with dignity" while visualizing a mountain. As I gazed out the window, flying 29,000 ft., a range of the Adirondacks stretched out for miles in the horizon. Watching the mountains from this perspective brought an immediate connection to the author's passage.
Baseball Game as a Vehicle to Enhance Memory
While I was walking on the treadmill the other day, I wanted to remember the different songs I chose on this walk to build a separate play list for a future walk. As I selected some songs and discarded others, I had the image of a baseball game in mind and tried to connect each song I kept to that image so that I could readily recall the songs upon the completion of my walk.
Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young) - I viewed myself in a rocking chair watching the baseball game on TV
Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoe (Melissa Etheridge) - The baseball diamond was in view when I watched the game on my imaginary TV
The Painter (Neil Young) - The pitcher / when a pitcher throws a ball at the edges of the strike zone, he is said to "paint" the corners
Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon) - The catcher / with all his gear on hiding his true identify as a werewolf
Behind the Horizon (Dylan) - I pictured George Springer from the Houston Astros up and hitting a home run "beyond the horizon"
All Along the Watchtower - cover song by Indigo Girls - George Springer tears the cover off the ball with his home run
The Weight (The Band) - Springer plays for the Houston Astros and this was their first ever World Series Championship - The weight was off their shoulders
When the Ship Comes in (Dylan) - Similar to "The Weight", when someone's ship comes in, they have made it big.
Atlantic City - I used the imagery of First Base as the "east coast" where Atlantic City is located
I Won't Back Down (Johnny Cash) - I thought of second base and taking a throw from the short stop to tag second base even when a runner is speeding toward the second baseman.
Exactly Like You - Third base - known as the "hot corner" / Hot Club of Cowtown - with Elana James and Continental Duo
The above exercise is a common memory device when a student can "peg" information onto an existing set of images or scenario that has meaning to that student.
Letters to a Young Teacher [quotes} by Kozol
Today I looked back on some quotes I extracted from a book a read by Jonathan Kozol. He has been a source of inspiration for what public schools should/could be, especially with urban youth. I will share these quotes with students in my current courses. I hope they have already been introduced to this author and educational reformer.
Education as Poetry
Comments Upon Attending a Chris Smither Concert
The three professors went to a concert last night
To hear Chris Smither in the Infinity Hall light
And were not disappointed by what they did hear
As the blues from his guitar entered each ear
And the lyrics rang true telling of rights and wrongs
We heard Blind Willie McTell as his closing song.
A “sturdy” song is one that stands the test of time
When many renditions don’t detract from the rhyme
And meaning that the artist does write and sing -
Dylan and Berry were mentioned who bring
Such songs who are covered by many fine singers,
Two tunes of which in my mind do linger
Visions of Johana and Desolation Row to mention
By Smither himself – in his own fine convention.
I decided that this month I would not see Dylan on his tour
As he makes his way to the Atlantic shore
In Boston just a few weeks away
It would have been my 29th such show, by the way
And, instead, I sat in the second row of Infinity Hall
To enjoy Chris Smither and to be enthralled
By this special talent of incredible creativity
Shared by three professors from the local university.
My Life At the Moment
I'm a bit behind in my postings in this blog since 10/26/17. By the time many of you read this entry I will have backfilled the previous days' offerings. I have been without power for about 3 1/2 days due to a windstorm that raised havoc with power lines and TV service. I am devoting today's blog to a follow-up to an Idea Share on Writing Strategies in which I participated last month. Specifically, I am thinking of a high school student who may be a reluctant writer but who has a passion for cars. I took a few minutes and looked up the makes and models of 30 or so cars and put them on a sheet of paper. Then, I composed a poem with the intention of inserting one vocabulary word from my list in each line. I was satisfied with the result as it addressed by intent this evening to attend a concert by singer and writer, Chris Smither. I let you be the judge as for its creativity! If I shared my poem with the student I have in mind, I wonder what his poem might be with the same title. Or, he could investigate his own vocabulary list from his own search of brands and models of his own choosing.
Responding to Feedback
I thank all who have written comments to me
About what I have written and how I see
A better day for students in our schools
When teachers can teach without archaic rules
Tied to high-stakes assessments and rigidity.
Instead, we all need a dose of creativity.
Students need encouragement to find their gifts
That no one else can do that lifts
Them into the spotlight of competency and strengths
Everyone can shine and advance to great lengths
When we focus on talents, energy and wit
Engagement, connections, fun and grit.
Schools can be a place where everyone can learn
And teachers can plan, grow and yearn
To form relationships to build on and thrive
And make it possible for students to come alive;
Awakening each day to each new possibility
Of becoming aware of each one's individuality.