Confessions of a 21st Century Teacher – Part 2

I’m saying all of that to say this. When you have teachers saying all of this bull@#*& about “I do…uhg!”

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

Remember last week? That’s where we left of with Ms. 21st Century Teacher. She was in the middle of reflecting on her frustrating professional development experience. This week we continue with her thoughts as promised.

A reminder from last week: this teacher is an effective one. She’s skilled at engaging traditionally low performing students in critical thinking, and has the ability to excite students about learning. Ms. 21st Century Teacher works until 9PM weekday evenings and on Sundays to prepare for her students. She is no excuse maker. I mention her work ethic so that potential questions do not interfere with your empathy toward her. And so with that, here is the continuation of Confessions of a 21st Century Teacher.

“Yes. I know I’m rambling, but I just need to say it. I just need to say it because I can’t say it here because I don’t know who will go back and say something to the principal. But what I’m saying is this: at the end of the day if you have kids…” She breathed deeply to collect her thoughts, then explained, “Okay you know in third grade you have kids who should be around L, M, N, O, that’s where they should be. I have kids in my class who really truthfully and honestly are reading at a Level D. They are no place close to an L or an M. Then I have kids that are reading on Level R—maybe four of them. And then I have a good chunk of them that are at an L…like bordering third grade reading level. How am I doing all of these other things?”

“How?” Now she escalated to a soft yell—the whisper yelling you do when you don’t want to be heard.

“And this is not exclusive to me. There are other classes that have this too. So how? How are they doing all these other activities and these skills?” Ms. 21st Century Teacher leaned in toward me, clenched her hands and  raised her shoulders as she heightened her intensity. “They can’t really grasp a third grade sentence, but you’re doing all of this stuff with them? She took a deep breath then exhaled. “No you’re not. You’re lying!”

As if in mid-thought she calmly asserted, “Because you really have to spend time breaking s@#t down and getting them to understand the fundamentals. And my top group? I take them to the next level with it.”

She began imitating herself as if she were processing with her students saying, “Okay now you know how to answer a question and you do it in a very exquisite manner. Now I want you to start quoting where you get your information from and I want you to say ‘In the text…my evidence in shown in the text in paragraph 2, sentence 1.’ That’s where I’m taking my upper level group. My middle group? I have to get you to answer the question properly. My lower level group? I just got to get you to answer it. I can’t [ask you yet to] restate the question, answer, and give me a supporting detail. I’m just getting you to answer it. Just to find the answer. Then later on I’m going to start moving you to that next level.

She returned to the boasts of her colleagues. “These other teachers, they’re lying. They’re lying. They’re not doing all of that.”

“And I’m looking around and they are always posting s@#t–putting up, putting up, putting up.” At this point she began imitating a frantic teacher putting up student work around the room.

And then she remembered. “Plus you know what? Every time a student does work, we have a thing where you…okay say the student does a drawing and you put up the drawing, you have to have a rubric for the drawing. “You’ve gotta have a task, the rubric, the standard and then every single drawing has to have a Post-it—she leaned forward to enumerate with her fingers for emphasis.—what they did right, what’s the next step. That’s art.”

She listed even more with her fingers, “Social studies, math, science, ELA. Your’re talking about 5 subjects and 30 kids—I’m lucky I got 28 this year—but 30 kids in your class and every single thing they do you have to do that. Every single thing they’re doing?”

She rested in her chair and exhaled. “These teachers are in here lying.”

“Can you imagine that?” The teacher moved her hands feverishly to imitate the gesture of dispensing materials as she exclaimed, “Post-it! They just did the math. Post-it! Post-it! Okay. Post! Okay. Here’s the rubric.”

“Can you imagine that?” She continued. “Not to mention, you have the new [vendor name deleted] system—which calls you to break up into table groups, then you have the guided reading –which calls you to break up into groups and take notes on that, oh and take notes on your [vendor name deleted], then you have your RTIs—take notes on them and put them into groups, then you have your math groups—break them up and you write notes on them, then you have your RTI math groups and you take notes on them. All these groups and you take notes, plus….”

She paused then leaned in, exhaled again and continued “They’re lying. They’re not doing all of this.”

“And whoever thought ‘Wow! They don’t have enough to do. Let’s make them take notes on every single thing they are doing,’—she said sarcastically –“they’ve never been in the classroom. And what they have contributed to is a bunch of manipulative, conniving, deceitful, wretched teachers.

“I know. I went off on a tangent. I just had to release that.”

After allowing the teacher to vent, I reflected and I wondered about the instructional culture at her school as her principal views it. Then I wondered what other leaders had this teacher at their school—effective and fed up.

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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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Common Confusion: How to Avoid it and Organize for Student Success

Language precision.

This is something that  good educators like yourself require from students because you know it is essential to your students’ success. This is the case in all disciplines. Without precise use of language you know that students may miscommunicate meaning, cause unintended confusion or access inadequate information. Have you seen this happen before? I’ve seen this happen, but not only with students. I have also seen this with well-intended educators.

The first notable time I recognized  the need for using precise language among educators was in a professional learning session with middle and high school teachers. They debated with me at length–conversations and emails spanning a week to be exact–about the meaning of a cognitive process. As math teachers, they argued that evaluate meant to solve a problem and that evaluate held a different meaning for math than for other subjects.  I wrote about it in 2012. You can see my response here.

The second notable time the need for using language precisely was highlighted was during a classroom visit. I noticed the objective read, “Students will analyze their answers and correct their errors,” but after a few minutes of observing students I saw that they were simply redoing the problems that were done incorrectly on a test. There was no process of breaking down the whole into its constituent parts to determine the interconnections and surface their faulty reasoning. Students simply redid their wrong answers.

The third notable time I recognized the need for precise language was during a professional learning session where a school administrator asked, “Doc, what’s the difference between analyze and evaluate?”

It became strikingly apparent that while we may use common terms, we do not hold common understandings and that our imprecision with how we define cognitive processes can interfere with our students’ learning. This sentiment was echoed recently by an educator during a Core Deconstructed workshop. After an activity that focused on gaining common understanding of common terms she reflected saying,

This was good for me because I see how we use these terms all of the time, but we ourselves had difficulty clarifying them. It made me think that if we have difficulty clarifying them, then somehow it’s impacting the way we teach and impacting what our students learn […] and this is particularly important for the population of students I serve. I have to be precise with my language.

Given her statement I ask, when you are collaborating with your peers, providing support to your colleagues or leading your staff particularly when the topic of transformation and new standards are involved, are you sure there is no miscommunication due to language imprecision? If your answer is an emphatic, “Yes! I am sure!” then great. But if you are not absolutely sure, here are three steps you can take to be sure.

  1. Agree to agree on gaining common understanding while maintaining individual creativity
  2. Agree to access The Core Deconstructed® as a tool for fostering common understanding and individual creativity
  3. Agree to collaborate on working through the process together to ensure common understanding and individual creativity

Whether you use this process or another, one thing remains true: the use of imprecise language when organizing for student success will most certainly lead to miscommunicated meaning, unintended confusion and inadequate information.

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Persepolis, House of Spirits & the Common Core

The Situation

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to her teacher delivering instruction on CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

“The Islamic Revolution affected Marjane as a female in Iran. In the book Persepolis on page 3 panel 4 it shows Marjane at a young age where she was forced to wear a veil. It affected her as a girl because the veil had to be worn by women all ages, whether they wanted or not. Marjane was forced to wear something she did not want to wear at a young age.”

Student A was a ninth grade female English Language Learner whose school population was almost 70% Latino. This student is NOT fictional.

The Task

Her teacher took on the task of deconstructing the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

The Action

Student A’s teacher explains her actions here. Specifically, a few highlights of her actions in her own words were the following:

  1. I modeled my table after a few from Dr. Brown’s book.
  2. I numbered each cell in the matrix with the idea that this would make targeted instruction for small groups easier to illustrate in my lesson plans.
  3. I tracked students’ progress towards mastery of this standard over the course of a unit.

The Result

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to the same standard mentioned above after her teacher deconstructed the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

“The government has control over individuals, but it’s not strong enough to determine your destiny. Many people think that the government controls them but in reality, they make their own decisions without them realizing. For example, in The House of the Spirits,  Pedro Tercero always made his own decision by choosing his way instead of the governments’. In page 154 it says, “And so it was the one day Esteban Treuba, who was resting on the terrace after lunch, heard the boy singing about a bunch of hens who had organized to defeat the fox.” This story, the fox and the hens, represent those people who decided to make their own decisions and go against the government, these people don’t depend on the government at all and it doesn’t influence their decisions or destiny.”

Please note that Student A’s work is unedited for the purpose of emphasizing her improvements.

As the teacher reflected on her actions and student outcomes, she noted that,

  1. I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them
  2. I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.
  3. Students were able to see their need to master one objective before they could master the next objective
  4. I was able to pinpoint exactly where students were struggling in the process of mastering a standard which is essential not only for a data-driven school, but also for students.
  5. Teaching with the deconstructed standard led to great reflective discussions in teacher-student conferences, as students were able to see their progress and reflect on exactly where they were struggling.

Finally, the teacher stated, “The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.”

Have you deconstructed the core? If not, I challenge you-as I did the teacher of Student A-to start now.

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7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®

“My goal is to see 1,000,000 empowered educators who know the standards intimately, collaborating across the country to yield the true success for students we all know is possible by 2015. This goal can only be accomplished with you.

Last week I had a mixed group. I facilitated the professional learning of a mixed group of educators that included college professors, K-12 teachers and principals on The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) in Washington, DC. As a proponent of reflective practice, I asked them to share their insights on the process in relation to their return to their respective work sites. Their diverse roles allowed for multiple perspectives on ways to use the TCD. Since this is the place where I share, reflect and inspire and because of my goal stated above, I thought to share 7 ways that you could use the TCD based on theirs and others’ insights.

So here they are: 7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®:

  1. Create pre-unit assessments: a third year teacher admitted that she did not see the value of pre-unit assessments, but later recognized that using the TCD to create them would help her with creating standards-based flexible groups
  2. Modify instruction for diverse populations: a special education and ELL educator indicated that the TCD allowed them to quickly identify how to modify learning objectives for their students while ensuring that they mastered the standard
  3. Advance the learning of students with special needs: a special education professional  shared that she was able to see how to not only expose her students to grade level standards, but help them be successful with the standards as well
  4. Write performance tasks and unit plans: a full-time university professor shared that she planned on making the TCD practice journal be the foundation of her course on secondary literacy instruction and that after deconstructing the standards she would have her learners use them to generate performance tasks and unit plans
  5. Decide on learning station activities regularly: after deconstructing a standard, an elementary educator immediately saw how to use her matrix to create learning stations for her flexible groups
  6. Support classroom planning and instruction: a director of literacy shared that within grade-level teachers could share the responsibility of deconstructing standards and that the process would strengthen their collaboration and instruction
  7. Improve leader and teacher effectiveness: a principal said that she definitely needed to know how to deconstruct the standards so that she would know how best to support her teachers’ growth

The principal concluded her reflection with, “It was truly worth the time.”

One thing I make clear at the start of a professional learning session is that, “deconstructing the standards to extract their essential details and hidden assumptions will take work, but the work is certainly worth it for you as the professional and most importantly your students.”

I asked them and now I ask you: are you up for the work?

Well if you are, use The Core Deconstructed® process then consider sharing your insights here to help others reflect. In the meantime, check out the slideshare below to read a middle school teacher’s insights and success tips with the Common Core after using the TCD process.

Common Core: Seeing the Big Picture

Overall, I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them if an objective were not met in by the end of a class.

Since my deconstruction matrix  is now a soft copy, over time I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.

The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.

These are the words of a middle school ELA/Literacy teacher who engaged in The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) process last school year. She shared deeper insights and tips that you can download and read here. She also shared her reflection below.

Heather's Thank You Email

The Core Deconstructed® Practice Journals became available to all on Friday. The journal is loaded with grade level examples, sample lessons and other resources to help you master teaching the standards. Use the TCD® Practice Journal to analyze standards and determine how to accomplish the following: create pre- and post-unit assessments; write lessons that allow for teaching multiple standards at a time; design tiered lessons for special needs, struggling and advanced learners; pinpoint exactly where students are struggling in the process of mastering a standard and much more.

Now’s the time for you to deconstruct! See the big picture for the entire school year and experience the success that Heather did.

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.