Vantage Point or Confessions of a 21st Century Teacher

Last week I was called by one of my son’s teachers because she felt disrespected by him. Later that evening as he and I discussed the situation, in all of his 16-year old self-focused wisdom, he could not understand how simply expressing himself was him being disrespectful. Rather than beat him down into submission with my words, I stopped, took a deep breath and silently asked myself “how can I get him to see someone else’s point of view?” And then the answer came to me.

I asked him, “Did you ever see the movie Vantage Point?” He opened his mouth to respond, became silent instead, then laughed. I asked, “Why are you laughing?” He replied, “Because I know what you are going to say.” I continued, “So do you understand your teacher’s point of view?” After a brief “lessons learned” discussion, he empathized with his teacher and indicated that he would apologize to her the next day.

Life’s experiences always prepares us for the next opportunity to learn. The next day I was reminded of Vantage Point.

In preparation for an upcoming book, I was gathering qualitative data from a teacher about her classroom practices on close reading. A few minutes into our time together, it became apparent that she needed to clear her mental space in order to be fully present with me. We agreed to 10 minutes of “clearing.” Her venting created a number of insights for me, one being, I wonder how her administrators view this scenario?

With her permission, I’m sharing a Part 1 of her “space clearing” today and Part 2 next week because I want all of us to have the opportunity to reflect on a number of points she implied. As such, I challenge you to reflect with these questions after you read:

  1. Is there such an undercurrent at my school?
  2. If I say no, how can I be sure?
  3. If I say yes, what can I do about it?

As you read her thoughts, please note that she is an effective teacher who demonstrates consistent growth annually, and exceeds her targets. She’s skilled at engaging traditionally low performing students in critical thinking, and has the ability to excite students about learning. I note this because some of her comments are normally attributed to “excuse makers.” This teacher works until 9PM weekday evenings and on Sundays to prepare for her students. She is no excuse maker.

Now that we are clear about her work ethics, here are the confessions of a 21st century teacher.

“So we had this PD the other day and in this PD I was listening to these teachers talk about this new program we’re using.” She held up a teacher’s manual to show what the PD was about and continued. “That’s the book we’re using. So it’s a nice simple book, right? It doesn’t seem like too much; however, there’s another book we have to use with this.”

“With that being said, I’m listening to these teachers in the PD because they went to the workshop to get the,” using air quotes and a hint of sarcasm, “training.”  “And they’re like,

Oh, I was “trained,” again she emphasized with air quotes.

“You weren’t trained. What you got was an overview. You weren’t really “trained” [air quotes again] because I don’t know how people can go to a one-day training and now ‘I know it.’ No. You have an overview. See and that speaks volumes about these products that people are selling and pushing because” and she leaned in toward me, “if you spent X amount of time developing this  product how can a person can come into your PD and do it in a couple of hours?” She fanned the idea off and leaned back in her chair with her head turned to the side.

Then looking directly at me she exclaimed, “It’s a scam. It’s a scam!”

The teacher took a breath to continue. “Okay so with all of that being said, with [vendor product name deleted] like many other products they give you so much material  and that’s great. But these teachers were talking about,” as she transformed her voice to sound nasally to imitate her colleagues while enumerating on her fingers,

I um…well first I scaffold my lesson, then I give a question, and then the question I put it in a separate time of the day and later after lunch we come back to the question because that means we’re still talking about the book and then I give them a question at home. So that means even when they’re home, they’re still talking about the book. They’re very…”

Ms. 21st Century Teacher returned to her own voice saying, “I’m listening to all this talk and I’m like they are not doing all of this. There is no way in the world they are doing all of this with their kids. They are lying. Then I looked around and realized that both APs (Assistant Principals) were in the room.”  

She looked up seemingly re-enacting her Aha-moment for me and said, “Yep! They are putting on a show. Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

“Because I’m like at the end of the day, when do we do all this?  You pull them out of this group, and you pull them out for that group.” She characterized the pulling of students with her hands as she moved her body from side to side. “And you pull them out of this group and make them do this, and then you pull them out of that group and make them do that and you do this activity and you do that activity and then you do this activity and then you do this group activity.” She opened her arms as if to emphasize a whole group activity. “Then you do—you’re doing this every single day? Every single day? And when they [the students] do that state exam, they [the leaders] want to know can I ask your kid a question and that kid  responds to the question in a complete set of sentences? If not, you wasted time with all these other THINGS” [things emphasized].

“In my head I’m thinking why are they…but then another teacher and I were both like, ‘Im not doing all that’,” she remarked as she shook her head and slightly glided her eyes toward the top right-hand corner of her eyelids. “No one cares. No one cares when you are doing all these great things.”

“I’m just venting right now,” Ms. 21st Century Teacher sighed.

But as quickly as she took her break to indicate she was venting, she rolled out the accompanying thought with as much exacerbation as before her sigh asserting, “And the evidence and the proof of that is…” now imitating an administrator on her classroom intercom, …”Ms. 21st Century Teacher will you please come into my office?”

“Beep,” the teacher imitated the intercom in her room. “Okay, I’m coming to your office.” She replied in a pollyannaish manner.

She shuffled then gathered a host of loose papers on a student’s desk where she sat and began to point to them while looking over her glasses as if she were the administrator and I was the teacher. She continued with her issue. “And then when you get to the office,” again imitating an administrator she declared, “Your scores for your students on the state exam are…” Ms. 21st Century Teacher paused as if to imply that the scores were all that was cared about. Then she tossed the papers to the side.

“No one talks to you about what you have them doing. No one talks to you about whether or not you’re doing a think-pair-share. No one talks to me about the fact that I have them using creative transitional words, that I have them learning how to do a grabber sentence, that I’m putting them…um…having them do a 5 paragraph essay in the third grade. Nobody cares about that.” She leaned over to the side, slammed her hands on the desk, grabbed the pieces of paper she previously threw down and asked while being back in character as the administrator, “What’s your state exam results?”  

The papers landed once more on the desk scattered by her frustration.

The venting progressed. “Nobody cares what I’m doing with my kids in Social Studies, nobody cares that my kids can say ‘I know who the prime minister of England is. I know how many countries there are in Africa. I know Africa is the second largest…’ They don’t care that the kids have this new body of knowledge. No one cares!”

“I’m saying all of that to say this. When you have teachers saying all of this bull@*%# about ‘I do this with my students…’ [breath.] Uhg!”

She paused as if she were complete. Then she continued.

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Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?

With so much talk about close reading and complex texts, there are many misunderstood ideas. This week I’m choosing to share a thoughtful post on Teacher as Mediator of Complex Text. Consider its content and ask, “what am I doing to enhance the mediation of complex texts?”

via Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?.

Close Reading In the Parking Lot

Parking lot questions–those stuck on a Post-it® off to the side of the room–are just as important as those answered during a session, but unfortunately, time does not always allow for them to be addressed. Because of this, my promise to educators I serve through facilitating a professional learning session is to extend my personal one-on-one time with them by answering their questions that weren’t addressed during our face-to-face time together. That was the case recently in one of my Designing for Close Reading sessions. As I reflected on their questions, it occurred to me that many of the principals and teachers I have served tend to ask the same questions or variations of the same. That led me to think, “perhaps there are more educators with the same questions,” and so, this week I’m sharing the most recent Q&A  I created for administrators and teachers below.

If you’d like a pdf of this document, just let me know. If you’d like to schedule a session for your administrators and/or teachers, let me know that also. I have a few slots open for November and January, but they are filling up quickly, so contact me now.

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Close Reading Deep Dive: Professional Learning Action Steps

It’s time.

If your teachers haven’t returned yet, I’m sure they’ll return in a few days.  Shortly thereafter, school will begin again. You are in preparation mode.

A recent conversation with a State level leader caused me to reflect on a challenge: how will instructional leaders support teachers as they mediate complex texts?

A few months ago I delivered a series on designing lessons that employ the close reading approach. Now, as teachers return, is a great time to take a deep dive into understanding close reading. Simply talking about it, or giving steps to it, or buying someone’s kit is not enough. If you want to develop professional mastery, analysis of the approach is necessary.

Below are three sample lessons designed for students to use the close reading approach to engage with complex text. They are all linked to the posts from which they originate. Reading each post will provide the background knowledge necessary to understand the logic of the lesson. Review the posts then consider the professional learning action steps that follow.

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Professional Learning Action Steps

  1. Read or present What is Close Reading and the posts associated with the lessons above (everyone)
  2. Distribute the  lesson designs by assigning to groups (1 lesson per group)
  3. Read the lesson design process and the lesson itself
  4. Make the connections between the process and the lesson
  5. Facilitate discussion on how the teacher mediates the text in the lesson (here’s support)
  6. Use the lesson as a model to plan your own
  7. Peer review and rotate

Complex texts must be used in instruction and teachers must be mediators of the text, therefore educators must master the close reading approach.

It’s time.

Close Reading the Common Core: Professional Learning Action Steps

I tend to keep my voice out of the “to be or not to be a Common Core proponent” debate. I have made this choice because, in my opinion, that is not the critical argument. Regardless of whether the standards are embraced, we–educators–still need to get clear. We must get clear on topics such as how do we define critical thinking; how do we decide on the appropriate learning process in relation to the purpose for learning; how do we interpret the language of the standards; how do we coach for performance excellence and my list can go on.

Earlier today I read an article written against the CCSS that gave me pause. I won’t cite the source because it is not my intention to incite a negative disposition. On the contrary, my desire is to encourage insightful dialogue. In the article the author stated,

According to the […] Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice,” first-graders are expected to “decontextualize — to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents — and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved.” I’m sorry, but that is further out there than Pluto, and I have no idea what that means. Neither will 7-year-olds and their hapless teachers.

This gave me pause because of the suggestion that  a 7-year-old nor their unlucky teacher would be able to interpret the supporting language of the standards. My immediate thinking-outloud thought was, “I do not believe the CCSS’ authors intended for 7-year-olds to read that; however, they most likely intended for professionals who should be knowledgeable about pedagogy and their discipline to be able to interpret the language–even if it required several attempts.”

My response reminded me of a professional learning session I delivered to school leaders two years ago. In the session they were required to engage in close reading in order to understand and reflect on it so that they could improve their ability to lead literacy.

Let me be clear: close reading can be challenging.

That being said, the majority of school leaders (instructional leaders) balked at the process indicating that there was no need for them to learn the “how” or “why” of close reading in order to evaluate and support teachers. (Please note that there was a silent minority who disagreed with this position.) The questions I asked and continue to ask are these: If you’ve never done it before and aren’t familiar with close reading, how can you evaluate and support others in their delivery of the process? Furthermore, how much value do you believe your teachers will ascribe to your feedback and how might their attitudes contribute to your culture of adult learning in the short and long run? Finally, how might the impact on your adult learning culture influence student learning?

Now as I remove myself from the “to be or not to be” debate, I leave you with a practical recommendation: Close Reading the Common Core – Professional Learning Action Steps.

  • Step 1: Select the language of focus from the CCSS (not an actual standard, but the language about the intentions of the standards)
  • Step 2: Apply Level 1 of close reading to the language
  • Step 3: Share the results of Level 1 with peers
  • Step 4: Apply Level 2 of close reading to the language
  • Step 5: Share the results of Level 2 with peers
  • Step 6: Apply Level 3 of close reading to the language
  • Step 7: Share the results of Level 3 and arrive at a consensus

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Note: To push further, apply Levels 4 and 5. If you embrace any portion of this challenge, please share your results with me as I would love to hear about your learning. Or if you’d like me to do it, drop me a line.

If we are going to move forward with the standards, whether in agreement or disagreement, we must first get in the minds of the CCSS’ authors (Level 5 of close reading.) We must get clear.

The Core Deconstructed can help you with that and will be available for all mobile devices later this month. If you’d like more information, simply drop me a line.

What do Close Reading and Math Have in Common?

Today I supported  two math coaches on an assessment project. They were identifying anchor papers. Throughout the 6-hour session I heard them say repeatedly, “I wouldn’t give this student that score because (fill in the blank with your personal preference.)” I also heard the typical discussion about computation and whether or not the students drew straight lines to make four quarters. What I did not hear was anything about literacy. The reality that Common Core places before us is that mathematically proficient students (MPS) must, among other things, close read well.

Below are two graphics: The Close Reading Reader and Mathematical Practice Standard 3. The two have much in common. After careful examination, what similarities do you see?

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To be clear, MPS reason through problems to determine their entry point(s) and create a plan for solving the problem. Doing so requires skills similar to those used in close reading. MPS do the following:

  1. Seek to understand the overall problem
  2. Ascribe deeper meaning to the problem
  3. Analyze the problem by determining assumptions, concepts, etc.
  4. Determine sound reasoning in theirs, their peers, or a third party’s work
  5. Communicate and justify their conclusions, arguments, decisions, etc. based on the facts presented

Again, reference The Close Reading Reader and the third math practice standard above while considering these 5 points. There are other examples  that demonstrate the strong connections between close reading and math. Should you study all of the actions of MPS along with close reading, you will be sure to discover them.

As you prepare for your summer learning and planning, consider 3 things:

  1. How will we move away from teaching our personal preferences and move students toward the actual learning that should be occurring?
  2. How will we move away from teaching students to “do” math and move them toward thinking mathematically (or disciplinary literacy)?
  3. How will math and ELA teachers  collaborate to identify the similarities between their disciplines in order to streamline planning and learning?

What is Close Reading?

Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on this post. It’s been one of the more popular ones, and so, back by popular demand I present What is Close Reading?