Keyboards? Who Needs Keyboards?

For quite a while now, I’ve been concerned that not enough writing is going on in our classrooms1. It seems as though we really want our students to write, but we never seem to give them time or models of writing.

Now that devices are going into our classrooms, I regularly see concerns raised that without keyboards on those devices, our students will never be able to write either fast enough, or correctly, or in the same way that they’ll be expected to in an assessment. So they never write.

Might it be that we are stuck on the notion that writing happens when keys are touched and that the only way words go into computers is via keyboards?

What did we do before keyboards, and is it possible for the first time we are in a world where we can think about what will do after them?

It might be a little premature to think about a post-keyboard world, but I sure think we’re getting close.2

  1. That’s not just me – the National Commission on Writing wanted time spent on writing in classrooms to double.  I suspect that didn’t happen. []
  2. How, where, and when are you working with dictation and input tools that aren’t keyboards? []
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Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom

Screen Shot 2014 03 15 at 5 40 11 PMRecently, a project I spent some time on last spring and summer came to life. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom is now available for free download as a PDF or a 99 cent eBook via the Amazon Kindle store.  I’m biased, but I think you should take a peek.

The goal of the project was to put a face of specific examples from real classrooms on the Connected Learning principles.  Again, I’m biased, but I think if you read the text, and follow the links to the projects from Digital Is we focused on, I think you’ll get a sense that real, live teachers and students are engaging in some very dynamic work in classrooms right now.  They’re not waiting for someone to show the way.  I was particularly pleased to see so many examples of “teacher” and “student” shown in the text.  We all take turns with both of these roles.  That’s important to remember.  Gail, Mike, Adam, and Jenny, the teachers who wrote the examples I showcase in the chapter I worked on, were all my teachers on this project and I’m grateful for their contributions to my learning and this text. You will be, too.  So take a look already.

But other teachers, as well as plenty of non-teachers who make big pronouncements about schools and schooling, would benefit, too, from a glimpse of the work we reference. So share this with them, would you?

Last week, several of the other project editors visited for a webinar at Educator Innovator. That webinar is below.  Give it a listen.

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A Little Bit of Modeling. A Whole Lot of Love.

I taught a class tonight and made it home just in time for bedtime.  I’d been looking forward to stories – and expected my daughters to be on their way up to bed.  But what I found instead was that Ani was already in bed and tucked in.  She wasn’t feeling super well and had retired early.  

Without packing her lunch.  Which meant it was going to be my job.  

But I found out that the lunch wasn’t made because I caught Teagan, her younger sister, already in the process of packing two lunches.  Without any prompting or complaining, she was helping out.  Just to be nice.

That, though, wasn’t what floored me.  I watched Teagan grab a Sharpie and begin to mark up the sandwich bag she had just filled full of sliced peppers, a staple vegetable in our school lunches.  Immediately, I told her that she needed to show her mother what she had done.  

She did this1:

Teagan Loves Ani

 

I can’t tell you how proud I was.  But I can tell you that I never told her, explicitly, that the way you help someone feel better is to write them a note.  That was something we modeled for her by slipping notes her way from time to time.  

You can’t teach love, so much, by way of demanding it or requiring it or lecturing on its finer points.  You’ve got to model it.  You’ve got to live it, or at least try to, and let the lesson come through a little bit on its own, as we trust that our children, or students, or colleagues, pay attention.  

Tonight’s scribbled notes2 were a fine reminder that, even when an example isn’t perfect, plenty of times the message still gets across.  

And I wonder where and how I could be modeling love better, myself.3  

  1. It’s maybe a bit hard to read – but it says “I love yuo (sic) Ani! (Heart) Teagan”. []
  2. She wrote a similar message on the pizza in another sandwich bag, too. []
  3. Later, Teagan chose Peter Reynolds’ The Dot as her story for the night.  Love notes to sisters and that book were the one-two punch of love for me tonight.  If you haven’t read that book, oh, you really should. []
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The Paradox of Possibilities

Time.  Counting down.

2014 begins with me, as I do every year, reevaluating a bit of what I’ve been up to, a bit of what I’m planning to do, and a bit of what I’d like to do.  And I’m a lucky guy, as I’ve never had a longer list of all three types of things when I sat down to start a year.

As I write my way into 2014, I’m stuck by all the things I could choose to do.  How will I spend the minutes of this year?  My brain of late is rushing with all the different things that I could be doing.  Here, in no particular order, is what flashed through my mind just now:

  • Explore the possibilities available in Longmont and the surrounding area for partnering with Spanish speakers to offer additional family-focused technical assistance in our new 1:1 initiative.
  • Wondering about and thinking through how our 1:1 initiative is also a family digital literacy initiative, to some degree, and wondering about how to support student learning through the lens of family learning1
  • Declutter and rethink my home office.
  • Explore the possibilities of moving from physical book collections in our secondary schools and building digital libraries for students and staff to access via our iPad 1:1.
  • Date my wife more.
  • Helping schools to think through how to repurpose no longer necessary lab spaces by rethinking the use of space in those rooms.  This might be looking at the Third Teacher and similar resources to create learning commons, or collaboration spaces.  It might mean building “iPad writing labs” by purchasing some wired keyboards.  It might look like something I haven’t imagined.
  • Build robots with my children.
  • Rethinking how we do professional development in my school district as the district has decided that we should not be utilizing substitutes to free teachers up during the school day, but rather that we should fit professional learning for adults into nights, weekends, and summers.
  • Play more music.  Maybe even write and record some.
  • Redeveloping and redefining my digital and paper workflows – collections of notes, active projects, and lengthy lists of to dos – in order to improve my efficiency and focus on any and all of these tasks.
  • Finally replace those shrubs in the front yard.  Determine if they are, indeed, dead, or just resting.
  • Wondering about my long-term career goals and whether or not I’m working towards them in my current work.
  • Diving deeply into how my children interact with technology, each other, and the world.
  • Helping teachers to rethink analog habits at a time of digital change and the eventual 1:1 move.  Wondering about how to help teachers both bring along the practices that they value and abandon the practices that they do not, either analog, digital, or some combination thereof.
  • Train for longer races as a runner who’s certainly 10K capable, but somewhat intimidated by half-marathons.
  • Thinking about family history, family archives, and the long term digital legacies I’d like to create, manage, and leave behind.

Again, these are just a few of the many things I’m wondering about wondering about as the year begins.  And the more I think about it, this is only a small fraction of a very large list.  I know that I can’t do all of these things, or at least do them all well.  I know that I am a very lucky person, as I have the opportunity to have my thumb in all sorts of projects and wonderings and dreaming about these and other things.  But I’m also struck by, when I take the time to map some of these ideas out, the idea that sometimes, it’s easy to see all of the things I could do and get stuck by the sheer “bigness” of it all.  I can get paralyzed by all of the possibilities and avoid moving in any one direction as I know that movement one way certainly closes doors on the other ways I could’ve gone.

One of the big takeaways of my freshman year of college was the phrase “opportunity cost,” one I picked up in an economics survey class.  Wikipedia provides a clear definition:

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the “cost” incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would be had by taking the second best choice available.

I get stuck too often in wondering which thing to do at the cost of not getting anything done.  So If I’m making a resolution this year, and, hey, it’s never too late, or a bad time of year, for a resolution, it’s this:  I pledge to recognize that I can’t do everything I’d like to do, but I’ve got to pick some things to focus on, otherwise, I’ll never get anything accomplished. As I age, I discover that I have less and less time available, and saying no to some things is the only way to say yes to others.

Deep breath.  Let’s dig in.

  1. Is a school district responsible for students only, or do we have a larger mission to support learning of all types for all folks? []
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On Coaching and Choice

We’re reading Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight together as a large team at work.  This is the third post in my series on that reading and reflection.

This month’s chapter is on coaching, both the role of the coach and the practices and habits an instructional coach can use to make a difference in his or her work.   As someone who’s often in a coaching role, I found the broad strokes of the chapter useful, both as reminder and as a bit of a challenge for thinking through.  

What are instructional coaches, according to Knight?  Well, they’re folks who “partner with teachers to help them incorporate research-based practices into their teaching.” Also, the “partner with teachers to help them incorporate instructional practices into their teaching.” (Kindle location 1837)

The thread of choice was woven through the chapter for me, too.  Here’re some choice1 quotes: 

If a coach and teacher come together as equal partners, the teacher must have choices.  Partners don’t do the choosing for each other.  In coaching, this means, most fundamentally, that teachers have a choice about whether or not they want to work with a coach. . . . choice does not mean that teachers can choose to not participate in professional meaning.  No professional can choose to be unprofessional. (1872)

When professionals are told what to do and when and how to do it, with no room for their individual thoughts, that is a spiritual death experience.(1900)

And this, though not directly about choice, seems particularly relevant to my thinking about coaching and the choices that coaches should make:

When coaches focus on capacity building, there are tasks they do not do.  Usually coaches do not sub when teachers are away, do administrivia, or work directly with students except in the service of the larger goal of promoting teacher growth.  Certainly, there are occasions when these general guidelines are ignored.  Just as a principal may be forced to sub if there in no other alternative, so might a coach.  However, this should occur very rarely. (1978)

A little later in the chapter, Knight points to some data that suggests that the coaches he has studied often report that they spend only between 10 and 25 percent of their time as “coaches” instead of the fill in tasks he describes above.  That’s troubling to me because either instructional coaches are making pretty terrible choices about how to spend their time, or (and I think this is much more likely) they are not in the place to choose how to spend that time to begin with.  While they should be advocates for choice for the teachers they work with, their own choices are quite limited.  

That leads me to my larger reflection on this chapter, which is that I find that the role of an instructional coach and the role of a classroom teacher are really quite similar, or should be.  The job of a teacher shouldn’t be to force change on a student, nor a coach to force change on a teacher.  It’s a partnership.  The whole endeavor of learning, as I see it, should be the development of agency in the individual.  And perhaps the problem of instructional leaders choosing to put their coaches in places of fill in is one of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a teacher/coach.  And that fundamental misunderstanding isn’t simply a misunderstanding in the mind of the leader – it’s a deeply cultural mess that we’re in because what we think “teaching” looks like isn’t really what good teaching looks like.

When a teacher is “teaching,”2 what is happening?  Does “teaching” mean the teacher is speaking?  I bet for most of us, that’s the first thought that pops into our heads.  But it shouldn’t be.  What about when a teacher is “listening?” Or “pausing?”  Or waiting patiently while monitoring a classroom writing assignment3?  I think much of what we consider “best practice” in teaching and what we think of when we think of a teacher “teaching” just don’t line up in our heads and hearts as they should.  

And so sometimes we make serious errors in judgment about what a teacher is or isn’t doing.  

I think about all of my friends and colleagues who are wicked nervous about new evaluations in Colorado and other places, and I understand some of their dilemma.  Whenever a principal came into my room to observe, I wanted to be doing something awesome so that they “saw me teaching.”   The problem is, no one learns much in a room when I’m doing all the talking.  The real learning happens when I turn students loose on a concept or problem or task.  But me monitoring a roomful of excited and engaged students isn’t what I wanted my principal to see – because it wasn’t “awesome teaching.”  Except that it was. 

Other teachers I know reschedule their thoughtfully planned lessons and timelines around evaluations so that the principal sees them “in action.”  That’s a problem, because the thoughtful planning and scheduling was done intentionally, for good reason.  And the change is for a crummy, “observing a thing changes it” sort of reason.  

This is a ramble, and only a little bit about coaching now, but that said, let me return to my role as an instructional coach for a second.  Sometimes, the best way I can be helpful to a teacher is to say nothing.  To do nothing.  To sit very quietly and let the words that just were spoken roll back over the speaker. Choosing to respond is a choice.  It’s often what “good teaching” looks like.  But choosing not to respond is also a choice, and should be honored more often.  

Because that’s better teaching, and better coaching, too. 

 

 

  1. Ahem. []
  2. Or a coach “coaching.” I’ll be using these terms interchangeably for the rest of this post. []
  3. Better still would be writing alongside the writing students. []
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Would You Please Say Something Nice?

After the announcement last week, and carrying on into today, I’ve gotten such nice messages from people, many I know, several I do not, saying the nicest things about me. It’s been pretty nice.  Really nice.  Wonderfully . . . you get the idea.

I wonder why we don’t always take the time to say nice things to other folks whenever we feel them, rather than waiting for a social cue like a big announcement or award or life event.

And then I saw this video, and realized that he said what I want to say pretty well:

It’s Thanksgiving Eve here in these United States.  Thanksgiving is certainly a time for being grateful and remembering to honor the people we are thankful for.  So would you do something for me this weekend?  Won’t take but five minutes, tops.  Take a second to think about someone for whom you are thankful, or proud of, or excited to know, and write them a short note, email, tweet, status update, or any other message, and let them know.  Be sincere, and be specific, but take the moment.

It’s so worth doing.  And so easy to forget to do.  Go ahead.  I’ll save this corn dog for you for when you get done.

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It’s Pretty Much Never About Facebook

I was asked yesterday by a teacher in the school district where I work why it is that we don’t block Facebook.  She was concerned that students were making some bad choices, and wouldn’t it be helpful if we could save them the trouble?  Honest question.  And not the first time I’d been asked.

My answer was that it’s not really about Facebook.  We block Facebook, then it’s about the next distraction.  We block that, then the next.  It’s a Web filter arms race that no one will actually win, but will take a lot of time.

Better to help students make choices by being present and in conversation with them when they make ones with which we might disagree.  More difficult sometimes, but better.

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Guitar Lessons. But What’s A Lesson?

I love the guitar.  And James Taylor is masterful with one.  But his new “guitar lessons” are a good reminder of a few things:

1.  They might not be “teaching.”  He’s showing what he does.  Modeling of a sort.  But you can’t find the value in something like that until you have some knowledge of what and why he’s doing what he’s doing.  So beginners, don’t apply to the James Taylor School of Guitar – not because it’s not fascinating, but because you’ll have to be an advanced player to see what it is he’s up to.

2.  If you’re teaching somebody something, you’re not really teaching it to them unless they can follow you.  So be thoughtful about where your students are coming from before they got to you – and what you need to send them off with so they can make sense of the next class.

3.  Sometimes, a master doing his thing can be wonderfully and usefully illustrative.  The camera angles on his videos – designed to give us a really, really good view of what he’s up to with his fingers – are handy.  Just look at that picture up at the top of this post – plenty of angles there.  But I’ve been playing guitar for 20 years.  His modeling is, for me, a useful teaching tool, because I know most of the stuff I need to know in order to make sense of what he’s doing.  Your mileage may vary.

4.  He’s teaching.  But is anyone learning?1  Does that matter?

  1. But how do you know?  Are you assessing the learning in any way?  Are there tests?  Performance assessments?  Is it enough to watch and say “huh” or “wow” or “hot dawg?” I think, plenty of times, those noises of adulation or delight or wonder are perfectly fine summative assessments.  In this case, acknowledge, and move on. []
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September 12th, 2001. A Wednesday.

September 12th.  That’s the day everything changed.1

A few weeks previously, I had begun my teaching career as a graduate student teaching freshman composition in room 110 of the Natural Resources Building at Colorado State University.  I remember room 110 very well because it was where, six years previously, I took my first English class as an undergraduate at the school.  Introduction to Literature. 2

As an undergraduate, it was my job, I thought, to unpack the secrets of the stories and novels and plays that we read together.  And I wrote.  Lots.  Every week, I produced two typed pages of thinking and reflection and wondering about what I was reading and why it mattered.  This was college.  It was important.

And back in room 110, with my class of college freshfolk, I was in charge of helping them to unlock the mysteries of the College Essay, the texts that they were expected to produce early and often in their college careers.  These 18 and 19 year olds were looking to me, a 23 year old grad student, to provide them with the keys to college literacy.  Or, they had to take the class, and I was in their way.  Either way, there we were, from 10:00 to 10:50 every MWF.

September 11th was a Tuesday.  I remember because that made September 12th a Wednesday.  At 10:00am, I was supposed to “teach.” And no one said otherwise.

I made one of the most important discoveries of my teaching career that day3, when I decided that class would be optional.  It made sense to go.  People, I thought, were counting on me to make sense of this.  And that couldn’t be done.

But there was something I could do.

I emailed the class that no one had to be there, but that I would be there.  Attendance, for a change, would not be taken.

I didn’t expect anyone to show up.  But they came.  Not all, but most.

And I started class.  Sitting on a table in the front of the room, I reminded folks that no one had to stay that morning.  I would not advance the syllabus.  Instead, we were together, and something monumental had happened.  What, I wondered, did folks want to talk about?

And I don’t actually remember the specifics.  I remember that there was lots of misinformation and rumor in the air that morning, and that mostly, as someone who had read several articles, watched some CNN, and had spent the previous afternoon in the newsroom of the student paper, where I had worked as an undergraduate, and would work again that Spring, and pulled everything I could off the AP wire as it was released, I was likely the “expert” in the room.

Like that makes any sense.

But I dispelled rumor where I could, suggested sources for folks to explore if they wanted to know more.  I mentioned the school’s counseling program for students.  And it was quiet.  Not silent, but much quieter than a usual day of argument and conversation.  We were together, but we weren’t really talking all that much.

I guess it was just normal, or whatever on September 12th could approximate normalcy in the wake of the events of the day before, and normal, on September 12th, 2001, felt pretty good.  It was enough.

On Friday, September 14th, we resumed talk of what makes good summary, and how to use others’ ideas in the services of our own, and all the things that you talk about in a college writing class.

We kept going.

And now, as we look back and consider all that’s happened in the world in the last ten years, and how that day changed this country, and me, and most other folks I know in some way, I get the feeling that keeping going is a pretty good way to honor that day.

By all means, take a deep breath and a look back.  Think about what happened and what that changed or what that didn’t change.  Reach out if you need or want an ear.  Look after yourself.  Consider what’s worth doing and what’s worth remembering and what’s worth working to restore.  But then, one last deep breath.

There’s much to do.

Let’s keep going.

  1. Sure.  September 11th.  I woke to the phone ringing and was told to turn on the news.  I’d been married for all of three months and what I saw on TV didn’t make sense.  Still doesn’t sometimes. []
  2. I sat next to What’s Her Name, who took good notes and who, three years later, I would date.  Once.  And screw that up royally by inviting a friend over to watch television with us.  As I drove her home, I backed into a car in the street behind my apartment.  It did not go well.  A second date was dodged.  By her. Repeatedly.  I didn’t understand what happened there, either, until much later. []
  3. The discovery, for me, was in two parts – first, that the world doesn’t stop when you start your class.  Be of the world and in the world as often as you’re about and/or removed from the world. The second part is about modeling and how teachers, in some sense, are always on.  We are always being seen as teachers.  So might was well act like one, even if, at 23 then, and 33 now, I don’t always have a clue as to what that means or should look like.  “What would a teacher do?” is a question I approach as I prepare for any class or learning experience.  And it’s one I’ll always struggle with.  But in this case, a teacher would dig in.  Check facts.  Explore sources.  A teacher would seek to be sure his students were okay.  A teacher would pause and reflect.  So that’s what we did. []
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A Year of Learning

Tonight, we kicked off the first team leader meeting of the year for the new cohort of the Digital Learning Collaborative.

The DLC, if you didn’t know, is a two-year professional development program we’re in our third year of developing.  Year one is a year for personal and professional learning.  Year two, which we’ll kickoff later this month for a different cohort, is a year of teacher inquiry into what happens for students when we use technology in the classroom.

Last night, we attempted, with our teacher team leaders, to set the culture for what it means to learn as teachers in community.  We reviewed some of our habits – making sure we have a plan for all of our monthly team meetings, how we use Google Docs to share those plans and to share notes we take when and as we meet, and making sure that we’re separating time for learning1 from time for collaboration and sharing.   And, yes, that’s messy.  Messy is okay.

But we spent the bulk of our time last night reading and thinking and talking to each other about a couple of pieces, written by Will Richardson, that explore connected and passion-based learning not just for students, but for teachers, too.

That led to some good conversation.  I heard Kelly, a first grade teacher, when she asked about how we help connect students to passions that they might not realize they have, and how we can encourage students to explore areas of themselves and the world when they might not have any knowledge about, well, much of anything.  I heard Rebekah, a high school math teacher, when she said that somewhere, students have learned that it’s cool to not like math.

I hope that folks heard me when I invoked Mr. Rogers, and his definition of teaching, the idea that what teachers do is that they love something, and they love it in front of their students.  Passion, indeed.

I heard Mollie when she said that it was important for teachers and students to follow their passions, and that, in a time of scripts and pacing, we’d do well to make sure that we’re injecting student interests and differences into our work.

I heard others, too.  It was a fine culture setting conversation.

We also talked about the power of reflective writing, and took some time to write together, as we will do during all of our meetings.  While I cannot share their writing with you just now, know that we’ll be hearing more from these teacher leaders and their teams as they begin to dig into their learning this year.

It was a fine start.

  1. Sometimes, this is training.  Other times, it’s time for reading and conversation.  There are other things this learning might look like, too.  Learning is complicated. []
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