Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bloom and Maslow

I woke up this morning and checked Facebook. One of my favorite people (I love you, Julie Frame!) posted this picture/quote. And I love it. It is such a good reminder that I want to shout it from the rooftops. While kids all over the country are taking hours and hours and hours of assessments, while balancing lots of homework, projects, extracurriculars and all of the other things kids are busy with in these last weeks of school...there are some basic realities that we have to remember. For teachers it may have been a while since you talked or read about Bloom and Maslow...but it is well worth being reminded. We get so caught up in getting as much curriculum in by the end of the year, because we are told we must get those scores UP. BUT...jamming in months worth of curriculum just to say you finished it is not worth the stress it causes the teacher and certainly isn't worth the stress it causes kids. 

The Bloom's Stuff is all the learning. The more we learn, the higher  level thoughts we have. At the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy is the basic understanding and ability to recall facts. As teachers, we are trained to understand these theories (in college mostly...unfortunately I haven't heard anyone refer to Bloom or Maslow in a while). As you move up the taxonomy the skills get harder. The thinking becomes more intense and learners start to make decisions about information they have attained at the lower levels of the taxonomy. We should be striving for students to reach that top level. I contend that we have lost that ability with the inundation of educational reforms and the lack of skills related to those making decisions about teaching and learning. If you are in a race to teach your standards...your students are likely to remain at the bottom of the hierarchy....just jamming facts into their they can perform on an assessment.

We probably all want to be able to say our kids are able to analyze, evaluate and create. But they sometimes can't make it past the first level of basic fact recalling. I think this is our fault. Well...I know it is. We haven't done much to address the thing we REALLY have to address in order to make the learning stuff work. And educational reformers and those writing laws about public education have no idea what they're talking about and never require us to figure out how to help a kid in crisis. Enter Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.

Maslow said that human needs are levels of a pyramid. He believed that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that we are innately motivated to achieve the next level of human need once a level is fulfilled. The very bottom and most basic of needs are food, water, warmth and rest. These ARE our basic needs. You can't move to the next level until you are not fighting to have your basic needs met. A hungry kid is never going to reach self-actualization when their focus is the basic need of food. And all of Maslow's stuff has to be in place in order to deal at all with Bloom's stuff.

What does this all mean? Before you can teach kids about geometry, to write literary essays or physics...they need to be fed, feel safe, have a sense of belonging, feel confident and know themselves as learners and people. We can continue to deliver instruction and then test kids all day every day...if we don't take care of them and their needs, we can forget about achieving top levels of Bloom's taxonomy.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dear White People...

The African-American kids need YOU to start speaking UP and speaking OUT. We've been talking about the "achievement gap" in this country for long over a decade and it only grows. It grows because it is not an achievement gap. It's far more than that. Our African American children (especially the boys) are not getting a fair shake at school and we all know it. The curriculum is designed to cater to white learners. The texts are not culturally relevant, and we are all so focused on our curriculum and assessments that we have neglected to build strong relationships with the kids. And let's all stop pretending that white children and black children are following the same set of rules. They aren't. And WE are the only ones that can make a change for kids that deserve better. If we don't, the disparities will continue to grow. It's not easy to stand up to the dominant power structure that exists in our world, but it is absolutely necessary. This is a serious crisis and it's OUR voices that have to be heard. Silence isn't working.

REMINDER: If YOU have the power to change something you know is wrong, and you CHOOSE not to, you are complicit in perpetuating injustice. 

I am fully aware that this blog post is gonna make some people really uncomfortable.  I'm ok with that...I've been making people uncomfortable for quite some time.  In all likelihood, I am going to continue to make people uncomfortable with all my talk about equity and differentiation, and the issues that arise when we build racist structures in our public school systems. It isn't my intent to make people feel uncomfortable, but I am hard wired to advocate for those at a disadvantage...even when there are consequences for me. (We will get into what that is like at a later date...)

I am nearing my 20th year as a teacher. There is one thing that has remained constant during my career: the disparity between what is provided to white children and children of color. I started my teaching career in the inner-city. I didn't have a single white child during my time there. We also didn't have a library, a gym, transportation, or adequate resources. It was the best four years of my career, and where I learned to teach. I've also worked in a low income district, a district with almost no children of color, and an affluent district with more diversity than you could ever ask for. My own schooling was in a place where I was one of the brownest kids I knew. I had everything I could have ever needed: amazing teachers/principals, well-equipped facilities, safe transportation and updated resources. I know what my world of white privilege has afforded me. It's only recently that I found out that my own privilege is limited. My sister and I talk about our "not-quite-white" status. Most of my life I have lived in the throes of white privilege, but learned recently that it is limited, based on what I can only assume is my status as a brown girl. 

Teaching is my passion and I intend to make educational equity my life's work. I have been to two separate events in the recent past regarding the education of African-American children and closing what we call the "achievement gap." One was hosted by African-American kids and the other by African-American parents. BOTH times I was one of maybe three white people in the room. And BOTH times the conversation took a turn to a discussion about what KIDS and PARENTS of color should do differently to get better results for their children in our public schools. And both times I spoke up about who should be doing something differently, and the answer is: EDUCATORS...especially white educators. It's time to flex our white-privileged muscles and make a real difference.  If you think there is no such thing as white privilege, get your head out of the proverbial sand. And do it now. 

The event hosted by African-American parents was advertised as a "STATE OF EMERGENCY" and yet the room was relatively bare compared to other community events. I was there. I didn't even know it was happening. My BFF called me a week prior. She is a white mother to three white children, but knows it is our COLLECTIVE responsibility to teach all kids and teach them well. She was the only white parent in the room that didn't have black children. There were only two school administrators present, both African-American women. The only classroom teacher in the room was me. This is simply UNACCEPTABLE. 

Here are some facts that may help you to decide to get loud about equity:
  1. U.S News reports that the U.S. Education is still separate and UNEQUAL, even 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in schools. 
  2. Because of societal disparities, Black children are more likely to start school already behind their white counterparts. They have a different starting line. 
  3. Characters in children's books are overwhelmingly white. 
  4. Black children are retained at far higher rates than white children.
  5. The school-to-prison-pipeline is a REAL THING. 
  6. Black children in American schools are disciplined (suspended and expelled) at THREE TIMES the rate of white students. 
  7. Schools serving primarily children of color have less money, more inexperienced teachers, and fewer educational opportunities including STEM, the arts, and other important course offerings 
  8. 94% of public school teachers at the high school level are white. 
  9. Black children are more likely to experience trauma or be the victims of violent crimes.
  10. Poverty and hunger continue to plague the lives of African-American children in the United States
This is my call to action for other white educators to speak out and be loud about changing a system designed for only a segment of the population. Black educators have been speaking out for a long time, and nobody listens. It is OUR turn. We can do this. We must. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Why you can't understand Spring Break unless you're a teacher.

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Vero Beach this morning...because I am on Spring Break! Woohoo! We made it to Friday...I made it to Florida...and the first thing I can think to do is?!? Blog about teaching.

How many times have you heard someone say that teachers have too many breaks, or that we only work nine months out of the year? I can say with 100% CERTAINTY...they have never been in charge of a classroom full of kids for any length of time. Spring Break is not a gift. It is an absolute necessity. When the countdown to spring break begins, it is a little bit like holding your breath. The week prior you just hold on for dear life and hope for the best...

Once you make it to the last day before break, there is nothing like it. There is a buzz all around you all day long, as kids and teachers watch the clock, waiting for the freedom that comes with this much needed break from school. When the bell rings for the day...and the kids have been sent safely on their way, you might see something like this:

It doesn't hit you right away. Whether you are leaving for a warm destination (like me!), or having a relaxing stay-cation, it doesn't always hit you right away that you have a full week to recover and regroup. But on the very first morning...the reality of spring break crystalizes. There is no feeling like it.

People that work in the "real world" have no clue what a break means to a teacher. You can eat when you are hungry. You can go to the bathroom whenever you need to. You can think about something other than school. You realize that your brain is about to get a minute to recalibrate, and you won't answer the following questions 478 times per hour: "Can I use the bathroom? Can I get a drink? Can I have a pencil? Can I call my mom? Where is the tissue? Where is the stapler? Can I switch seats? What do I do when I am done? Where do I turn this in? Is there any homework? Why can't I sit by my friends? When is lunch?" People with regular jobs in offices can not understand, would never survive, and should NEVER judge us.

Spring break is about to fly right by. I know this. I am prepared for it. When it is time, I will be right back in my classroom...answering the 478 questions per hour. Even though the answers are always the same. It's what we do. But if I didn't have this break...I might BREAK when answering "Where should I put my work?" because the answer the same spot you ALWAYS put your work. The BIG BUCKET with the number for YOUR HOUR labeled with a BIG NUMBER. And in the SAME SPOT it has been for 8 months.

So what is the point of my blog post today??? To remind you that next time you talk to a teacher on vacation and feel just a little resentful that we have a week off...or two...or ten...remember that if we didn't have that time, the wheels would fall off of the proverbial wagon. Teaching is exhausting. It's the best kind of exhausting, and is not meant for the faint of heart, but exhausting nonetheless. I have seven more days in paradise before I get back to the grind. I will be ready for the final miles of the marathon. But there is only one reason I will successfully survive the last two months of school: SPRING BREAK.

Thank a teacher today. 

Meanwhile....if anyone needs me....I'll be in my office:

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Day Without Heat & Light

Earlier this week...the high winds took out electricity for almost a million homes in southeast Michigan. Including mine. This is just plain awful. My days have been so crazy and I haven't been able to function without power. I slept in my house on the first night, and woke up to go to work when it was around 58 degrees in my bedroom. I had no hot water. All of the food had been compromised in the fridge (let's be honest...there was nothing in there). I was frozen to the core and couldn't even take a one-minute shower without fear of turning into an icicle. For the first time in probably 30 years, I left without showering and headed to school.

Every hour I started my classes by asking my kids who was "electricity-challenged" to raise their hands. I could already tell who they were...just by looking at them. I recognized that "deer-in-headlights" look that I was also feeling. We told our stories of our triumphs and our disappointments as we worked to survive in our powerless world. We all connected around how much we miss our wifi and our TVs. It was like a mini-support group for the light-less.

By the end of the day...I was weathered. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gasped. My hair looked a little like Kramer's (OK...a lot like Kramer's). My eyes had dark circles under them. I was decidedly disheveled. I was as grateful as a person could be that I had a personal day coming up because I didn't think I could manage another day of getting ready for work without heat and light.

Today my kids are all at school. I am sitting in Starbucks (SHOCKER) writing...because I have an appointment later that I just can't miss. If I didn't...I never would have taken this day off. Never. Because my kids and I were ALL a hot mess yesterday. I feel like I should be there to hear their woes. But alas...I didn't have to get up and brave the day without a shower.

I was laying in my cold bed last night congratulating myself for surviving two days without heat and light. I thought of all the things I couldn't manage because I didn't have my basic needs met. And then I remembered...

Lots of kids show up in our classrooms EVERY DAY having none of their basic needs met. We expect kids to manage seven different teachers a day. Seven different assignments. We expect them to take a big test...or present a big project. And what I remembered is that some of my kids (and yours!) feel like I feel today all the time. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

They may not always be without electricity or heat, but they are without so many things that we take for granted. They feel like THIS all the time. And I think too many of us forget THAT too much of the time. Teachers can get so caught up with teaching curriculum and getting through their standards, that kids, especially the most vulnerable kids we serve, get left in the dust.

I am no good to anyone today. I am freezing. I haven't had a hot shower. I had to dig for clothes in the dark. I am totally and completely discombobulated. Some of our kids feel like this all the time. The last couple of days was a good reminder for me about the basics. And just how hard it is to function when you're worried about the basics. Electricity. Heat. Food. Water. Clean and dry clothes.

And often the kids that ARE worried about these things...have the hardest time trying to keep it together in school. I did...just yesterday. And I only had to endure a couple of days in the dark. And I really didn't have to endure...I could have easily just stayed with my sister. Not everyone has that luxury when they are cold and hungry. And understandably, they act out. Or shut down. Or fall asleep.

I'm still freezing as I sit here drinking my $7 latte. I  may even still whine later to my sister. And get her to feel sorry for me so that she will cook me a nice warm dinner while I use her hot shower and heat and cope with my "situation" by using her wifi and watching her cable. But I will try to remember how miserable this made me so I can help a kid to feel less miserable when they are sitting in my classroom. And I will do whatever I can to meet some of their basic needs so they can enjoy school. Even if it's just a little bit. 

My days without heat and light have not been for nothing. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

It's a W.R.A.P!

It's a W.R.A.P has been my labor of love for the past three years...well one of them. During my journey to learn the ELA standards...I  created so many different things. But I started with an assessment system. I had no way to formatively assess specific skills, and no texts with which to assess them in an interesting way. During the summer of 2014...I started writing and creating. I started with sixth grade, since I was a sixth grade teacher. I have since gone on to develop the system for grades 4-8 and they cover ALL reading literature standards, ALL Informational standards and ALL writing standards. The very best part of doing all of this work is the feedback I have received from teachers all over the country that are using my materials in their classrooms.

I'm not in love with all things Common Core. I fully realize that the standards were not created by teachers. But it doesn't matter. This is what we have to do right now. And there are some awesome things in the Common Core standards. Understanding them is the first battle. I live with the ELA standards every day (even though I no longer teach ELA). I want to do the work that other teachers don't have time for because I love it. A few years ago, when I was working in the most innovative environment I had ever worked, my teacher friends and I had an understanding. Most of my colleagues had little kids at home. I didn't. We used to discuss it. One of my teaching partners and I were ALWAYS willing to do the work that needed to be done for teachers. We wrote assessments and shared them. We collected data to report out. We designed materials for teachers so they wouldn't have to. We did all of that because we could. We could work until all hours, and would prefer that our colleagues spend their evenings with their small children. (It didn't hurt that we loved doing it...) That was the deal. And we were always happy to do it.

The result of that mindset is a plethora of materials that teachers can use in an instant. You will not find any dense narratives in my materials. You won't have to spend six hours reading to prepare for one lesson. It's a W.R.A.P. is the first piece of my ELA puzzle.

I had to study hard in my doctoral program. My degree is in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction. Statistics and assessment strategies were obviously a major focus. I learned that assessments should always be developed BEFORE anything else. Building an assessment is like creating a road map. You need to know where you are headed before you leave. I actually don't think teachers should all be expected to have the skill set to develop assessments and write curriculum. I think people like me should do it. I love it. I have the training to do it. This is one thing that can be taken off of the plates of teachers in order for them to focus on their kids.

I hope that with this blog post I can show teachers what my formative/summative assessment does, and provide an opportunity for me to get feedback so that I can continuously improve it. It's a WRAP is a fluid document that changes with new information or ideas. I WANT to hear from teachers that use it. I want to know how to make it better for them.

It's a W.R.A.P. (Writing and Reading Assessment Program) covers the Common Core Standards for reading and writing. There are three categories for the CCSS: Reading Literature, Reading Informational, and Writing. (Language standards are covered in a separate document...) I created four different assessments for each category. The assessments are not just tests...they can be used as reading activities, they can guide instruction on any of the CCSS, and they are appropriate for use as formative and/or summative assessments.

It's a WRAP includes:

4 assessments for reading literature
4 assessments for reading informational text
4 assessments for writing

(They are also available category...see above!)

12 total assessments + Bonus assessments to use with student choice texts.

Each assessment/activity has the same components.

1) They are based on original (and hopefully interesting!) texts. The following is part of the assessment for narrative writing. It's a true story about one of my favorite days ever. My nephew has been dealing with the fact that LOTS of my stories are inspired by him.

Narrative writing example

2) Standard tracker for students - Each assessment begins with this standard tracker. The numbers let the student and teacher know which standard(s) each question is measuring. They are divided into three different depths of knowledge. I tried to include questions that begin with basic knowledge, but also questions that show a deeper understanding and ability to apply knowledge. And finally, the higher-level questions that show a student has mastered a concept thoroughly. When students get a question correct, they can shade in the appropriate box on the chart. They will see their own growth as they master each concept, and also see which skills they need to sharpen and practice. When I used this in my classroom, I had students check their own quite often, so that they could discuss and learn as we go.

Student Standard Tracker
 3) Assessment questions aligned to the CCSS. Each assessment (or activity, however you choose to use it) combines different types of questions including multiple choice, short answer, and constructed response. This can be used for test prep too!
Multiple choice questions aligned to the CCSS

Constructed response questions

4) A series of activities/assessments that are standard specific and can be used with student or teacher selected texts. These can also be used with any of the texts provided. Some grade levels include this portion as the 4th assessment (in reading). In sixth grade it is the "bonus" section. 
Each document is aligned to ONE of the standards and can be used with any text

This is an example of the generic portion of this assessment. Students can search for opportunities to make inferences and find evidence from the text. 

Example #2: Analyzing "plot" and can be used with any narrative text
 5) Answer keys! Every assessment comes with an answer key, when possible. Answers will vary depending on the type of questions asked.
Answer keys are provided wherever possible

I created It's a W.R.A.P. to help teachers teach and to help students learn. It is available for 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. Yes, this is what I do for fun. I am a nerd...a CURRICULUM NERD! If you have used it, please comment and let me know what you think! It is so cool getting emails from teachers all over the country that use my curricular materials and assessments. I love it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My first official blog from MY 4th/5th grade teacher!!!

I started 4th grade in 1981. I went to the most amazing elementary school in Canton, Michigan. Field elementary is where I started my educational journey. We had the coolest school song.

I'm in right out right down right down right up
right happy all the day
Since I came to Field Schooooool
I'm HAPPY all day
I'm in right out right down right up
Right happy ALL THE DAY! HEY!

I had the BEST elementary experience. My teachers were amazing. Maybe not my third grade teacher...she was kind of mean. She loved that I had a huge retainer in my mouth because she said then I couldn't talk too much. (Believe it or not...I wasn't a talker then)

My elementary years were amazing. Absolutely incredible. I don't remember exactly what topics we studied, or which vocabulary words I defined, but I remember the adults that treated me like I was their own. Mrs. Bastion ran the cafeteria. She fed us all. Kids helped to run the cafeteria on "service squad." And Mrs. Bastion always knew what we needed. She was among the first to read my blog and tell me she was proud of me.

I've received exactly ONE comment since I sent my post about Betsy Devos out on my Facebook page. It was from Mr. Farquharson. He was my teacher in 4th and 5th grade. And we are still in touch today...35 years later. He remains my hero! He commented on the first post I shared, and said I articulated my point well, and that I was setting a good example for what people can do when they want to make change.

Why is this a big deal??? Because he was my teacher a loooooong time ago. And he set the bar high. And what made him such an amazing teacher? The list is long, but it all comes down to this: He really cared about his students. Every year on my birthday he posts a picture of me (he does this for all of his former kids) on Facebook with a Happy B-day message. He never misses it. And always has a new picture!

I think sometimes we forget the simple things that teachers do that really work. Mr. F differentiated instruction. He did what WE needed. Each one of us mattered to him. And THAT is why we were successful. It's simple.

I'm 44-years-old...and I LOVED getting that comment from him. In this new world of assessments and interventions and data tracking...we sometimes lose sight of the things that really matter.

Kids. And making sure they know you care about them.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

If I wanted to read a script...I would have been an actor!

I love teachers. I really love them. When we go to college to become teachers, we know we will never be rich. We know we won't have the luxury of going to the bathroom whenever we need to, and we are clear that we will be buying pencils for our kids. It's part of the deal. And we get it! But...we also thought that we could be creative every day and make decisions that help our students to become contributing members of society.

When I first started teaching...there weren't "canned programs" handed to me. I got a list of standards that I was responsible for teaching and was sent on my way. And TEACH I did. Yesterday I was talking to a couple of my colleagues after a hard day's work and a teacher I value said to me, "I don't want to read a script.

I've said it before and I will say it again...if I wanted to follow a script...I WOULD HAVE BEEN A ACTOR. I am not like other teachers I know. I challenge the rules. I literally cannot follow the "scripts" provided by people that haven't been in a classroom in decades...IF EVER.

Some days it seems like the battle to actually teach again will never be won. My conversation with that awesome teacher I mentioned earlier made me feel pretty good about how I spend my free time. I create things to HELP teachers and kids. I write assessments and develop curriculum that requires NO SCRIPT. Because I know that doesn't work. I want a teacher to be able to download something I created and use it instantly. They say you can sell lots more stuff if you blog about it...or explain how to use it. I don't need to blog about HOW to use my materials...they are all meant to be self-explanatory and Student/Teacher friendly. When I created this argument was for MY KIDS. And they were all at different places in their writing journey. My intent was to create anything that someone might need to find success. I didn't use all of the parts. I used the pieces my kids need! But I knew I was teaching the standards because I aligned it to the Common Core...and then some. 

This is how I help kids and teachers now. There is no canned program. I certainly didn't create another one. I create things teachers can use easily and have everything at their fingertips that would support their kids. It's not rocket science...

Teaching is an art...but the canvas has been hijacked by people that think they can control what we do in our classrooms each day. I'm looking forward to the day the pendulum swings back in the direction of allowing teachers to create and make their own decisions...for their kids. 

In the meantime...I'll be in my classroom. Going OFF-SCRIPT.