Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brick by Brick, Bird by Bird, Step by Step

I saw this post today and reposted it through my Writing Matters account. The post is about a word wall and how a teacher improvised and adapted the use of a word wall and the surprising results.

The post reminded me of one of my favorite books about writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In the book she tells of the incident which gives the book its title.

Front CoverThirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird."
I used that, among other things, in my freshman writing classes. Too often we are "immobilized by the hugeness of the task." Some tasks are truly huge, and other just seem huge. For freshman writing students, sometimes just writing was huge. . .procrastination aside. The blank page, the blank screen, taunting them.

I know a lot of folks think teaching is easy. After all, teachers have short days and work only 9  months a year. Right? Not so much. Those who really know teachers are quite aware that their days begin early and end late, continuing after the family is fed and the kids abed.

I know a lot of folks think education needs a complete overall, and I'm inclined to agree with them. But so does our tax system, our medical and health care system, and a bunch more. Whether in the camp of those who want radical changes or those who see the need for incremental changes, the fact is that we cannot institute change overnight.

I get to talk to administrators and teachers around the country. I learn so much from them!! But when I asked a group of administrators about priorities, one sighed and blurted out, "Even my priorities have priorities."

And so I swung into gear with my "Choose just one!" mantra. Just one thing. Choose just one thing you want to get done this week. Just one. Choose just one thing you want to get done this month. Just one. Choose just one thing you want your teachers to know or do before the end of the school year. Just one. Choose just one thing you want your teachers to know or do before school starts next year. Just one.

Everything is important but you can do only one thing at a time.

Just one.

Bird by bird.

Brick by brick.

Priority by priority.

Just make sure that each priority, each thing, each activity gets you and your teachers closer to achieving the vision as articulated by your plan. And if you don't have a vision for where you want to be or a plan for how to get there, little of what you do will accomplish much. So if you don't have a vision and you don't have a plan, that's the one thing, the only thing you work on. Right now, for now.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The misinformation deluge continues

I was trying to think of a suitable analogy for trying to counter the flood of misinformation about Common Core. Flood works. So does Whack-a-Mole.

A recent opinion piece in a St. Augustine, FL newspaper reads, in part:
The commissioner also failed to share that the major financial contributors to this political movement are Microsoft, Pearson Education, and the U.S. Department of Education. Microsoft will be selling the computers and software, and Pearson Education will be developing the curriculum in any new national education program. The Obama funds ($175 million) are helping to define the assessments in math and reading. These three organizations will totally control the curriculum, the delivery, and assessment of any Common Core.
The commissioner also failed to mention that Florida has already committed to no textbooks after 2015. The general plan of the Common Core is to deliver and assess student progress on-line using yet-to-be acquired computers.
 Where to start? Well, this sentence: "These three organizations will totally control the curriculum, the delivery, and assessment of any Common Core."

No, no, and no. The organizations will NOT control the delivery of Common Core because Common Core is about instructional practice.

Guess who controls delivery? Yep, classroom teachers.

And guess who has some modicum of control over assessment? All that formative assessment teachers do numerous times every day? Yep, classroom teachers.

So what that Florida isn't adopting new textbooks. I wonder if Jon Wiles uses textbooks in his job. I bet not. I bet he has other ways to find the information he needs. I bet he's even learned some research skills so he can be sure that what he finds is a legitimate resource so he doesn't risk spouting some nonsense that can't be supported by any evidence. Well, maybe not that last part.

The reality is that good teachers don't really need textbooks. There are so many resources available in schools, through existing textbooks, and in the library and elsewhere. Information that is likely more current than what's in textbooks. Information that can be gathered from primary and secondary sources that can be compared and corroborated. That's the stuff of college readiness and career readiness.

Yes, many states need to get ahead of the technology demands, figuring out infrastructure, bandwidth, and resource requirements. And they need to do that now. But they should do that anyway to make sure students are more competitive in this global society.

Of course, it should be noted that Dr. Wiles has published the 9th edition of his book on curriculum development, so perhaps he's concerned no one will buy his book and no one will be interested in developing curriculum. He's so wrong.

I've not read his book, but if he knows what he's talking about and he emphasizes the importance of instructional practice to make sure the developed curriculum helps students achieve their learning objectives, he could probably sell even more books. Just an observation.