A Look at: "Deciding to Teach Them All"

One of the most enjoyable things about the courses I have been taking recently, besides getting to converse with other educators and soon to be educators, is the variety of articles and reading materials that we are required to read.  One of those articles is called “Deciding to teach them All”  by Carol Ann Tomlinson.  The article is about one teacher's decision to move from teaching at a school for children with IQ's of 140+, and her return to a regular ed classroom.  At the heart of this article is differentiation and excellence for all. From this article I chose a word, a phrase and a paragraph that spoke to me.

I found the Tomlinson article to be inspiring and thought provoking overall, beginning with the first page, second to last paragraph, where I will look at the word, “adaptations”.   I chose this word because I think it is an important one to consider as a teacher and because it applies to both my chosen phrase and paragraph as well.  Who do I expect to do the adapting in my class?. . .(or even in my family?)  For me I feel like the thing that has helped me develop my skills working with children, particularly challenging ones (either behaviorally, or academically), is that I have accepted that it is my role to do the adapting to the greatest extent possible, just as the teacher in this article accepted that she would need to make adaptations when moving to a new kind of class.  I am aware that not all teachers feel this way, or perhaps they share that view to some extent on a continuum.  I know that my oldest son struggled at our small school, where the expectation largely seemed to be that he needed to change, something, anything, everything in order to succeed there or receive positive feedback.  That may seem a harsh interpretation, but if we truly think about how very often we require children to bend in a school setting to begin with and then multiply that by a million for how that feels for struggling, emotionally fragile or at risk students.  For my son to succeed in school, I found an environment that first adapted to his needs, that had to happen first before he could work on some of the adaptations he needs to make to create success in school and overall in life.  This experience has inspired me to adapt my thinking and my teaching, to learn as much as I can to supply myself with the tools necessary to create a learning environment with a growing level of differentiation and understanding of diverse learners.

The phrase I picked up on was, “’excellence’ devoid of challenge and sweat” in the last paragraph pg. 3. I love that she points out the crippling effect of letting kids coast along without true challenge or thinking work.  If we are truly to seek equity and excellence, we must allow, enable, challenge (ie. Teach) all our children.  My second grader was placed in a group of 3rd and 4th graders this year to work on a special math project for the school.  It had purpose, it was hands on and he was working with his cognitive peers measuring areas to determine how much garden space the school had available, and thus how much room each class would have for planting.  He was so incredibly proud, he about bubbled over telling anyone who would listen about his privilege.  It was the single most positive academic experience he had encountered so far and it took moving him to an Innovation School to make it happen for him.  I agree with her decision to move to her new position as a way “to ensure that a maximum number of students see themselves as worthy of wrestling with ideas and issues, just as adults do.”  I think it is important to remember that the best teaching ideas and innovations for the brightest of the bright will benefit ALL kids.  (of course realizing the added structure and support for struggling learners) This is for me about adapting my teaching for kids who are at the high end as well as the low end.  It is about adapting my thinking to include great expectations and outcomes for children all across the bell.  This is the kind of teaching I will strive for when I finally get my own classroom once again.

I chose this paragraph, second to last paragraph on pg. 4.
“If we reframe the questions that we ask, a tectonic shift might occur in how we make decisions on behalf of academically diverse learners.  Not, What labels? But , What interests and needs?  Not, what deficits?  But,  What strengths?  Not, how do we remediate?  (or even How do we enrich the standard curriculum?) but How do we maximize access to the richest possible curriculum and instruction?  Not, How do we motivate? But What would it take to tap the motivation already within this learner?  Not, Which kind of setting? But, What circumstances maximize the student’s 
full possibilities? 

I loved this paragraph.  I felt it truly summed up the article and what children need teachers to be asking.  I discovered how useless labels feel, after trying to find the right one to fit my oldest son, only to find that didn’t really help teachers help him.  His new school doesn’t use labels.  I started reading Ross Green and Mel Levine to find the lagging skills that were in the way of his learning.  Strengths are crucial to keep in mind, they are the root, the seed, the sprout of a source of confidence and further learning and growth.  “Richest possible curriculum and instruction?”. . . life and the world is the Richest, how can we bring that to our classrooms?  That is how we tap into the motivation already within this learner! J  Once again, the idea of adapting, “what circumstances” can I the teacher create, to “maximize the student’s full possibilities?”  This paragraph will be posted on the cover of my planning folder every year, on my door, on my steering wheel.  It is something I want to keep in mind as often as possible while teaching and planning.

Of course then I read the last question on Page 4 and immediately wanted to choose this one as the most important as well, because it has to be considered.  “What can we do to support educators in developing the skill and the will to teach for each learner’s equity of access to excellence?”  This is what every community, school comittee, administration should be asking themselves and their teachers.  I can see a parallel between children needing to wrestle with real ideas and teachers being given the autonomy to wrestle with real teaching issues as opposed to imposed issues of rotation of new curriculum every few years, or teaching steered by a higher power, testing, administrative decisions and so on.  Educators need to have opportunities to develop the skill.  Teachers all begin with will to teach, just as children begin with a will to learn.  Another question is how do we best make decisions that can sustain that will, and encourage it’s growth?


Nurturing Introverts in an Extroverted World

Nurturing Introverts in an Extroverted World

This week I came across this article "Embracing Introversion:  Ways to Stimulate Reserved Students
 in the Classroom" 
 (go ahead and take time to read it- but don't forget to come back :-) 
 It is a subject I feel strongly about, maybe moreso as I get a little older and more comfortable in my
 introverted skin.  Plus the article has reminded me to get back to reading Susan Cain's book, the one
 collecting dust on my nightstand, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.
  I will let you know when I finish. 

It is common for teachers to be trained and expected to encourage cooperation and the new buzzword, "collaboration" in their classrooms.  I have been known to use them myself because I know that learning to work together is a skill they will likely need on some level in the future.  However, I am uncomfortable for the introverts in a classroom where the teacher insists on frequent and almost constant talking and collaboration.  I found myself in this situation at one point in my life's adventures and I was not in a position to suggest any changes.  I found it sad, as the children who seemed to me to be hiding behind their own skin, were all but invisible to this teacher.  This statement sums up some of my own frustrations in middle school "the introvert may be pushed out as the extroverts of the group dominate the conversation even if their thinking is not on target."

One of the most interesting tidbits from this article comes from Cain's book and the idea that shyness and introversion are two different things.  Where shyness is a painful experience that tends to hold a person back, introversion has more to do with a person's style of processing information and how they "re-energize".  A shy person may be introverted or extroverted, and an introverted person may be shy or not.  This is something I have reflected on a lot in recent years.  I truly am an introvert in need of time and space for thinking, reflecting, restoring. . .  I am a bit shy too, but I can turn on the extrovert occasionally, or even regularly as a teacher.  I know that my self reflection can be seen through my growing understandings of how children learn, behave, and develop.  I have learned to be a participator in discussions, though I still give myself time to listen and think first.

Three main tips, time, space, and "asynchronous learning opportunities".  Give them time.  I can see this as giving a child a heads up about something they will be called on to talk about in discussion, providing partner or smaller group opportunities rather than all large group, and allowing other more natural forms of expression as often as possible.

Give them space.  I can recall a time in 6th grade when I just screamed at a student sitting behind me.  He was making constant noise, bumping my chair and my desk at every opportunity, just simply 'driving me crazy'.  I was a quiet, well behaved student otherwise.  Frankly I didn't say much at all, most of the time.  I think of the cramped rows of most classrooms I grew up in, with little space or opportunity to disengage from the group and know that my own classroom, will be different, because I know about needing space.  At home when I was pregnant with my third child, we expanded our house a bit.  It wasn't the obligatory extra bedroom, nursery, or a playroom for the kids, though.  It was to enclose a porch (lots of windows, air, and nature) that is just a little out of hearing range from the rest of the family fray.  It was the best decision we ever made for this introverted mom who sometimes needs a little space.

It has taken me a minute to wrap my brain around the third suggestion "Asynchronous Learning Opportunities" in this context.  Asynchronous to me brings to me a varied level of development in different areas of one person.  The article suggests online opportunities for collaboration, which provide collaboration and alone time all in one.  I know people are leary of allowing children too much tech time, letting introverts hide behind the screen, but I can relate to the idea that sitting at the computer is a cathartic, and enjoyable means of self expression, and a fairly safe way to participate in group discussions that I sometimes wish was around when I was growing up.  

So, I am off.  I will continue reading Susan Cain's book and pondering the best ways to meet the needs of diverse learners, family members, and myself.


Summer Social Time

When I was a kid, I dreaded the weeklong camp experience most of the time.  I was never particularly fast to make friends and spent most of the week either trying to figure out how to fit in, or trying to pretend I didn't want to.  I was caught between the dream of wanting to have friends and the reality, most other kids and their various unpredictable ways drove me nuts!

So on the tails of that experience, I have my own children and the understanding that they should have opportunities for social interaction outside our family sphere.  The predicament is that I am highly aware of the challenges of trying to create summer friendships as a kid.  Vacation friendships are always hit or miss, and it always seems my kids find the "perfect companion" the day before we head home.

We haven't tried camp, but we go to the same vacation destination each year where a core group of regulars reside.  This poses it's own set of challenges when you have a core group of kids roaming the beach and neighborhood like their own little island, where parents seem to live in their own parallel world until something goes wildly wrong.  This week, that was a bunch of kids tormenting and repeatedly pantsing another child while simultaneously having a rock throwing 'war'.  My guess is this is not what my son's teachers had in mind when they recommended social interaction over the summer.  Yet at other times, moments of harmony occur around looking for turtles in the bog, explaining how to tie a fly, or the all American backyard baseball game.

So here I am straddling the helicopter parent vs. keep your child out of harms way with as little interference as possible line.  Glad that at least one boy had the sense to walk away from a bad situation, greatful neither child was involved in the commotion, I am left uneasy.  I would hope one day they would have the courage to speak out against bullying behavior, or what I am sure some parents think of as "boys will be boys" that got a little out of hand.  I think standing up to a group of ten boys you don't see often or know well is a bit much to ask of an 8 & a 10 year old.  Right now though, I am just happy they came out unharmed and a little wiser.


Like Riding a Bike

It has been so long since I posted, I feel like I fell off my bike and am afraid to get back on.  In response to that feeling I am just going to start typing here directly in this blog, (no draft 1, draft 2, final draft), hit publish and hope for the best!!  I feel like I need to just dive in, the way I have had to since summer vacation began just one week ago.  It never occured to me, when I went back to work this school year, that I would feel like  I had fallen off the parenting bike once summer came along plopping at home once again with all three of my children.  That sounds a bit drastic perhaps, because I didn't really crash at parenting during the school year, but now that summer is here I definitely have had to rediscover my balance with new summer routines.

We are all adjusting to less structured time and renegotiating our boundaries.  With the school behind them for two months or so, home, library and the world are now our classrooms (says Teacher Mom).  Social emotional goals for my kids are being reestablished within the framework of family.  Limits on computer and tablet time were first on my list for boundary setting.  After a daylong 'cleanse' (no tech devices for the day), which began with half a day of whining and pleading, my boys finally got together and actually started playing, inventing, and creating like the good ol days.  Yesterday, they even worked together on a story, (should I mention it is called "A Time to Kill"  and is about the Blue team and Red team kicking each other in the "nuts". . .  It's early in the summer yet, give me a little time. . .)

Of course the thing that I struggle with the most is how to balance my own time.  Do I sit and enjoy coffee and read blog posts in the morning? do Yoga?  do Dishes?  Do I fold laundry or play hide and seek?  Do I only go in the pool for the soul purpose of providing a hanging post for my 4 year old or do I establish "float time"?  (4 year old swims in her floaty while mom floats on the tube in the warm sun)  Do I let the boys bring their tech devices to the library while the 4 year old and I participate in preschool storytime so all hell doesn't break loose and I have to haul all their sorry butts out of there. . . again.  Heck YES!!!  But then I insist they find new reading material for the week when I can supervise.

So here I am starting out week 2 of summer vaca and restoring balance to my family bicycle.  I am establishing little routines for my family for the summer like squeaking yoga in during "Daniel Tiger", swimming in the morning, and reading time in the afternoon, an art project here and there.  We are again talking about the "Golden Rule" and that it is about stopping the bird poop instead of spreading it.  (If a bird poops on our head (someone hurts us or makes us upset) we have a choice of being nasty to that person or others because we are upset (essentially spreading the poop).  Or we can choose to stop the poop in it's tracks and only pass along goodness, friendliness, and love.  Not the most pretty analogy, but I think my boys understood the Golden Rule for the first time ever, or at least laughed trying. . .

Just as an endnote, I wanted to pass along this tidbit for those of you helping your kids establish summer routines.  A Reading Specialist I met this year told her students (so I am telling you) to read over the summer in an intersting way.  She said, "If you want to stay at your present reading level, Read 6 books over the summer.  For every book after that you can increase your reading level for the Fall."  Even at one book a week that sounds pretty good and gives your kids and you a tangible goal for the summer.