Sunday, May 13, 2007

It is not over yet! Keeping on, keeping on....

(Cross published to LeaderTalk)
We are in the last 6 weeks or so of school. There are multiple special events interrupting the school day and the weekends. The 8th grade thinks the year is over. The teachers who are moving on next year are torn between their present and their future. I am trying to juggle all of my normal responsibilities and do interviews, hire teachers for next year, set the calendar and class schedules and keep spirits up. This is the hardest time of year for me to find time to reflect and yet it is the time of year that gives me a great deal of insight into where we are and where we need to be going. In keeping with this kind of disjointed season here are some disjointed ponderings of a K-8 administrator as the year winds down and the level of activity increases.

Classroom walk-throughs: Inspired by the post on Walk –Through Observations by Alan on April 19 and the article Crayola Curriculum I have started my own data collection. It is never too late to get started! I want to make sure we have some good data to reflect on for our August meeting as we set our goals for the year and I want to make sure that all of the teachers also have good insights to reflect on their own practices as they go into the summer holidays. I read a post recently on Classroom 2.0 that said summers are for working and there was some real truth to it. It is the time we do our reflecting and can try new things but we need to have solid information to base that planning on. So I am diligent about doing at least 10 classes a day and I am just collecting basic data what are the students doing, how many are on task , what instructional strategy is in place. I am actually excited about looking at this information right before we break for summer. A side benefit is it reminds us that even in the midst of all the end of the year activity our focus is still on learning.

Hiring and classroom assignments for 07-08:
One conundrum of the hiring season for a school headed toward embracing all things 2.0 is where to find tech savvy teachers? Even recent graduates are just on the edge of the digital age and their grammar schools and high schools were 1.0 schools so that is the style of teaching they know. So what qualities am I looking for? I am looking for self-motivated learners with some understanding and appreciation of things 2.0. But then what about teaching skills and experience? Certainly they are important but for now I am going to weight my decision more on openness to and knowledge of 2.0. Without a vision for digital literacy and the role technology must play across the curriculum our classrooms will remain set in the 1.0 world and our students will be left behind. 63% of our students live at or below the poverty level and the digital divide is a reality in their life. If we do not step up to the plate and give them the skills needed for success and literacy in the Information Age they will be a step behind before they even get started.

Keeping the conversation going:
As I said above vision for and openness to 2.0 is an essential condition is the transformation of teaching and learning. So in our May/June faculty meetings we are returning to our beginning of the year discussions. What does it mean to prepare students for the 21st century? How is that different than preparing them for the 20th century? So last week the question we tackled was to define literacy. It is important for the staff to construct their own meaning and understanding and so here is what happened. They worked in groups of three and had just a few minutes to define literacy. The definitions basically reflected the following: Read, write and communicate effectively; effective written and oral communication; comprehension; and fluency. Next I asked them if historically the definition of literacy has changed overtime. They identified that originally to be literate meant being able to write your name and then over time came to include being able to read and write. Then as a group we discussed the Industrial Age vs. the Information Age and I provided some basic statistics on adult’s connections with technology vs. the 4 to 17 year olds. I then gave them a short handout “Extra! Extra! The World is Different” from NCREL and asked them to reconsider their definitions for literacy. The new definitions included global communication, finding, evaluating and using information, and understanding digital media. I could have given them articles that said all this or summarized it for them but the process was essential for this knowledge and understanding to take root. Internalizing the vision and constructing understanding of what the students need to learn is what motivates us to try new things and confront our need to make changes. It is my hope to continue this conversation until the last day of school to facilitate a summer of self directed learning, a sense of urgency and even more great ideas for next year!

Reading First:
posted a comment and a link to an article from the Oregonian that talked about how advance readers are bored by the scripted reading programs. I have been thinking about this for the last couple of weeks and while I understand the point the article makes I want to try to build some perspective on this whole issue of "scripted" programs. Simply put I have found some real positives in our program and I think sometimes we are too quick to bash these programs without a real understanding of them. Are there downsides? Yes, but since plenty of people seem prepared to point out the negatives I am going to point out positives.

The article says: " These days, Butler's students follow a strict schedule. Two hours of morning reading. An additional 40 minutes for strugglers. Writing practice"

First of all, while this maybe a true statement of the particular program in question, it is not the intent of the programs I have worked with. The 40 minutes are usually referred to as universal access time and they are to be devoted to differentiated instruction in accordance with each child's abilities on any given skill (not to just "struggling” students). This means that teaching to the middle is not enough. The students at both ends of the spectrum should be challenged. In practical terms it may not play out especially in areas that have high stakes testing. However, it is the design of the program and it is a solid concept. One that I wish traversed all classrooms. The problem is that high stakes testing continues to push us to spend all our time on one end of the spectrum and to not truly challenge all students.
I have seen other positive effects of these programs also. Much of what is required of the teachers is sound and re-enforces good instructional habits including on going professional development, coaching, pacing and the use of bulletin board as instructional aides not just pretty pictures. Could these happen without the programs and do many teachers do them anyway ...yes of course... but the programs keep these concepts in the forefront of our thinking and helps to keep us sharp. And so again as the year winds down and we are thinking and planning for next year the Reading First teachers have much to share about differentiated learning and assuring that all students are challenged.

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