To Be of Use

I heard this poem the other day and it has really resonated with me. It made me think about a past blog post I  wrote about Growing Your Own Practice.

I love the first line, it sets the tone for the whole poem.

The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows……

The only element I would add is the need to think and reflect before jumping in.  An enormous part of our job is to think and reflect because we are the decision makers in our schools, and classrooms.

I think the writer describes our natural instincts that we develop with experience as educators and leaders with the line:

They seem to become natives of that element,

I think this is what leaders do! We jump in, but not without thought or purpose. We plan with the end goal in mind, planning backwards! Teaching becomes very instinctual! Leaders can voice why are how those instincts have come about.

These are the people I love the best in my profession:

People who: 

experience empathy,

feel a desire to pause, ponder and dwell with a mindset to solve problems,

generate new ideas,

imagine new possibilities,

advocate and evaluate,

are engaged,

want to act  based on what they have read or learned and experienced,

show a willingness to struggle,

can describe their own progress,

can define and describe how their thinking has changed,

pursue compelling questions,

experience moments of insight or clarity.

It really made me think about the people I want to surround myself with. Thinking from an administrators perspective who would I want on my staff, from a parents perspective who do I want in my child’s classroom, or from a teammate perspective. As an educator within my school, my district and profession as a whole; who do I want others to see me as, and who do I want to be!

We could dissect it line by line, but think about growing your own practice and leadership in education as you read it. Let me know your thoughts.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.
Troy

Goal Setting, Habits, and Motivation

In 2017 I conducted an action research study over motivation and student goal setting with a colleague.  As I started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear this week, it made me want to revisit this research and reflect on it again.

We looked at different types of goals students were being asked to set. We looked at performance-oriented goals and task-oriented goals. We thought about how a goals focus can impact a student’s commitment to the goal. Schunk & Zimmerman (2008), say according to most goal orientation theorists (e.g., Ames, Dweck, Elliot, & Markiewicz; Midgley and colleagues), the purpose of a performance goal is to gain positive judgements of personal competence, whereas the purpose of learning or task-oriented goal is to actually increase one’s competence. Performance goals are often driven by outside influences and how things appear to be. They go on to say that performance goals work better for already confident learners. Learning goals, or as we chose to call them, task-oriented goals will motivate both confident and unconfident learners. Task oriented goals are more inclined to support intrinsic motivation, which can still be influenced from  forces outside of ourselves but are more geared towards helping students become truly engaged for themselves and absorbed in what they are learning or reading about.

In our research we found that the task-oriented goals our students made did have a positive impact on their motivation to read.  We believe this ultimately impacted student independent reading stamina and overall reading performance.  The data revealed that 14 out of the 15 students who participated grew at least one or more reading level. Most increased multiple levels. Teachers ask students to set reading level goals all the time in educations.  We wanted to steer the focus away from the performance goals related to reading levels and focus more on smaller task-oriented goals. We helped students form goals related to the content of their reading and reading choices. They also created goals dealing time spent reading.

I was starting to understand and now more fully understand how we needed to be focusing on goals dealing with the processes of thinking someone must sustain to be a reader. Goals to form habits of thinking based on reading for meaning.

This brings me to  Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning by Ellin Oliver Keene.

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She states, “there is evidence that motivation to read in the elementary and middle school years is related to reading achievement, with more proficient readers being more motivated and less proficient readers being less motivated. I bring this up because that is a factor that influenced our research. I agree with this statement when thinking about how students’ progress through these years of school. When it comes to reading, they are often motivated by the habits their parents helped them form. Habits of enjoying a good story and learning from a good book.  Students motivation to read is linked to success because of learned reading behaviors they are introduced to at school. Behaviors that focus students’ goals to be centered around speed and quantity are often stressed over reading to gain knowledge and enjoy a good story while learning something about people and life. Or being able to read a book at a certain level.

These external and internal motivation as Keene describes it is linked to an outside factor. It is often a person you want to be like or a person you want to impress.  Both Keene and Clear talk about how engagement or continual meeting of goals will not happen or be sustained with motivation alone. Engagement as Keene talks about and identity work as Clear talks about help drive sustained success or learning.

I came out of our research really thinking about goals and what a student has to be willing to do to make chose goals happen. Setting a goal is the easy part. You simply have to voice it, publicly or not. Then comes the hard part, putting steps into motion to help yourself achieve the goal. Identifying and completing these steps is what trips up children and adults.

In his book James Clear talks about goals and systems. He states that he learned the distinction between goals and systems from Scott Adams. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results.” This shares the beliefs of the researchers mentioned above. He talks about how you have to have the right systems or as I say processes in place for habits to be formed and to continuously keep meeting goals.

After the research was completed, we noticed that even when the students voiced their desire to continue setting task-oriented goals for themselves they were not able to. Goal setting did not become a habit for these students even when they saw some success with it.

In our research we did not help our students internalize the system they needed to continually achieve their goals. The system was not in place long enough for students to grasp the processes of what helping them meet their goals.  The system may have been conflicting the system their classroom teachers were putting in place. Also the habits did not have time to form, before we concluded our research. I think when too much emphasize is placed on the goal itself, students do not consciously become aware of the system or processes they went through to achieve their goals or when they do not meet it  they become discouraged instead of thinking about what adjustments need to be made. If we are not aware of the processes, then we cannot repeat them to keep the cycle going.

You may meet some goals by pure desire, but those goals are not something you continue to meet without the right system in place. When you think about winning sports organizations it is the systems, they have in place that help them have continued success, not simply setting the goals to win. The term the “Patriot Way” was coined because of the continued winning the New England Patriots team has done over the last almost two decades.  It was not used to describe their goal setting savvy ( or cheating ways), but the systems and process their players had to buy into and to describe the identity players who came to the organization adopted. The systems that most legendary coaches put into place include goals, but they will tell you success is driven by habits they instill in players and identities their players take on.  I feel that along with achieving mastery over the processes and building a winning system that lead to a cycle of success you have to make adjustments as you go. Winning teams and coaches know how to make with-in the game adjustments as well as out-of-game adjustments. Clear talks about this also when he addresses “bad” habits. I like to think of them as habits you need to shift and adapt to your current situation or students.

I feel we can learn and apply a lot of what Clear says to education. Keene and Clear are on the same wavelength with their thinking. Helping students form habits that set them up to engage in learning are critical.

I want my students to form the habits that lead them to be successful readers and to be successful in life.

My colleague and I were on the right track with our research into motivation. We wanted to help students form reading habits that would help them continue to set and meet reading goals focused on learning, not speed, level and quantity of reading. We knew they needed to be reading to explore the many experiences they may not get the chance to experience outside of a book until they become adults if ever. We want them to be able to learn about life through their reading. The performance-oriented goals will take care of themselves when students master the processes readers go through.

Right now my mind is absorbed with thoughts on how I can adjust my teaching to help my students form habits that set them up for engagement and sustained success by reading for meaning.  As a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy I see parallels with the National Board’s Five Core Propositions and Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and forming habits, motivation, and goal setting.

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  National Board-Certified Teachers are teachers who go through the process or system above continuously, creating habits of accomplished teaching. Habits all accomplished teachers share. Anyone who has attempted to achieve National Board Certification or achieved understands that the process you go through changes you as a teacher. It build habits that over time lead to the success of your students. You have to understand and commit to the processes of accomplished teaching to achieve National Board Certification. You are asked to renew your certification every five years to make sure that the process has become a habit. At least that is the way I think we have to look at it.

We have to choose the right identity as Clear puts it. We have to view ourselves as an accomplished teacher and understand what the process of accomplished teaching looks like and set goals that fit into that process. Clear states mastery requires patients and that what seems like overnight success is a really the result of lots of hard work and building of habits that merge together to finally break through into some success.

I want to continue to improve my teaching practice and make changes to improve my life.  I will try to share some of the adjustments and habits as I work towards improving instruction.

Troy

My Thoughts on Transfer

Goldfish jumping.

I was listening to a Heinemann Podcast tonight while on the treadmill. This podcast featured Cornelius Minor discussing his new book: We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to be who our students need us to be.

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He starts talking about transferable skills. He wants to make sure kids know that the skills they are learning in the classroom can be used outside of the classroom and must be used outside of the classroom. Teachers need to make sure this happens. I think when we do this we might get kids to engage themselves more in our lessons.  For example students need to know that the skills they are learning while writing an argumentative essay can be used when they need to articulately stand up for themselves outside of our classrooms.

I started thinking about this notion and how I can apply it to teaching younger students to transfer the reading strategies and skills. When we model  strategies in controlled practice situations in our classrooms we need to moved to less controlled academic situations. We need to be teaching for when we are not there beside them.  So bear with me as I write my thinking down. This thinking might be unchartered territory.  These are ideas I look forward to growing, and refining.

I have seen reading instruction over the last several years be broken down into easier taught parts that we can model and have students practice in a very dictated fashion.  I have started wondering if this has been more beneficial for teachers and administrators or students. It allows for a quicker snapshot of learning and can be easily assessed. I feel for a lot of striving readers it causes them to view the reading process as something disjointed and full of isolated steps, where reading for meaning has been pushed aside.

Transfer happens when students take ownership of the strategies and can figure out for themselves what strategy will work best.  They have to do the thinking and be aware of the connections. We need to support that not teach in isolated chunks.

I think when kids transfer skills and strategies into their own reading and lives outside of school that it will not look exactly like how we modeled it. It will not be as neat  as when the kids practiced it in books we chose specifically for the strategy taught. It will be a very messy altered version of the strategy applied to the written text, movie, TV show, podcast, video game or real life situation.

messy

Messy with a purpose and crafted from the foundation we provide so we can help them strengthen their thinking into something articulate,  and meaningful.

When we model strategies we need to put the focus on making meaning and being able to transfer them across many forms of texts. We cannot just teach students to do strategies, we have to teach them the thinking processes they have to be able to go through when meaning breaks down to choose the right one or multiple ones that will work in the situation.

As Cornelius stated in his podcast we have to give students a reason or need to value and want to apply the strategies. For example students have to learn to infer in many different ways and situations academically and outside of school. We need to show kids how the strategies we teach can apply across many texts and situations by crafting them to focus on understanding and thinking about what they can do to help themselves understand, in addition to teaching the strategy itself. We cannot teach all the parts without showing them how the parts fit together and make sense. Transfer happens when things make sense. Some of our kids can put the pieces together, but a lot cannot.

Do we need to see exact replications of what we modeled all the time. No! Do the assessments we give require that? No.  Texts vary and the knowledge students bring to a text varies, so how students apply strategies will vary. They may mix several strategies and skills together using pieces of some of them. When we see them using different pieces of strategies, we can say to them for example, you just used part of the Thieves strategy. You took the step of using the table of contents to help you start thinking like the author may want readers too. Then you moved to the glossary where you checked the meaning of a few words. Then you applied what you read to what you happened when you played the video game. You just used 2 different strategies to help yourself understand.

We can still notice and name different strategies that students mix together in messy ways to help them become aware of what they did, so they can apply them in similar ways to other texts and situations. I think we may need to model this type of strategy use ourselves so students can see it and understand that it is not always going to be easy, but a messy struggle sometimes.  We can still nudge students into using one strategy or another that is more efficient. During a conferring session something like this may occur.

Teacher: “I noticed when we were talking about this part in your book (pointing to the paragraph) that you seemed confused. What can you do to help yourself understand this part? Do you remember when I was reading Fly Away Home to the class and how I had to stop because the part where the boy was saying he felt like the bird in the airport confused me?  What are some of the strategies I used to help myself understand that part? Could you try something similar to what I did to help you understand this part?  Even though you are only seeing one side of the conversation you are seeing that the student is being held accountable for choosing a strategy, not being told what one to use.

Note that this is a very different process from modeling a strategy and then assigning students to replicate it within similar books that you may have specifically selected or limited their choice to choose from. Transfer does not happen when we teach for replication and students cannot be expected to replicate perfectly the use of strategies in the texts of their own choosing without messing them up and trying it out in different ways to make it work for the particular text with the knowledge they have at that particular time. To do this they have to be reading for meaning and trying find answers to their questions, or figure out what the author may be saying about life that they can take and apply to their own life. The strategies they use help them make meaning and understand deeper, they do not become what they are reading to do or tools to help them understand what the writer is saying. To help them think about why the writer chose to say that and what the writer wants readers to think and feel.  We have to put meaning back into our reading instruction. If students are reading to do a strategy then transfer will not happen because they have not been taught to figure out how to try out different strategies until they find one that works in their current situation. They have to be able to take ownership of the strategies and apply them when needed, not simply practice it when told to, without figuring out for themselves what they need to do.

I am very interested to read Cornelius’s book and to continue to think of ways I can can use some of his ideas and apply them for my students and their unique situations and for myself as a reading teacher.  I talk about growing your own practice in a past blog.  Grow Your Own Practice

I think this is a perfect example of trying to grow your own practice. Taking something and making it work for you! That is what we need students to do with transferable reading strategies after we model for them, giving them a foundation to start from and releasing them to try out the strategies as needed in their own reading and lives outside of school and helping them make the connections back to the strategy itself after meaning was made. I think you have to be more flexible when letting students read their own books. We cannot always be asking them to replicate the strategy we just modeled bringing our own texts. This is not teaching for transfer but replication, this is not giving them a chance to try out strategies for themselves, figuring out what works best to help them make meaning of what they are reading, not repeat a strategy they watched you do. Copying a strategy someone else did in a text you didn’t choose or where your choice was limited in choosing a text is very different from figuring out what strategy to use when you notice that you don’t understand something in texts of your own choosing.  

Note these are my current thoughts and I am always reflecting. They will grow and change as I dig deeper in to this! 

Let me know your thoughts!

Troy

Reflections for the New Year

I am looking forward to a healthy, successful 2019. I have seen many posts on blogs and tweets on twitter sharing everyones ideas and thoughts about the new year and how to make it succeful for educators and students personaly and professionaly. I myself seek the continued growth of my own practice and continued growth for my students.

Today I read two blogs that sparked my thinking about growth. One of them was by Vicki Vinton: A New Year with my old friend: some thoughts on my one little word.

In this post she reflects on her choice for her one little word. She like myself chose to keep her word from last year. Her word is “seek.” My word is “reflect.”

Vicki pointed out many ways it resonated with her that I can say, I feel the same about. She talks about seeking out the right images, words and topics for her blog posts, or seeking out the right books for herself and students.

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Seek called out to me for those reasons and many more. So much so, I thought about changing my word from reflect to seek. Hmmm?

For two years now as a staff, we have chosen a word for the school year. It can be a daunting task if taken seriously.  🙂

As I stated at the beginning of this post I am going to be seeking out ways to grow my own practice. I am also seeking out ways to be more efficient with my time and seeking ways to eat more healthy, get back on a workout plan. Seeking to spend more quality time with my kids and wife seem like a priorty also. I  plan to seek out time to pick up my camera and explore the word through my different lenses.  I also plan to seek out and take advantage of any opportunities I can create for myself after achieiving National Board Certification.

I am seeking out ways to help the students in my building increase their reading scores on district and state assessments and grow their desire to seek out the answers to their wonderings, questions and thinking as they read.

Vicki said, “I also seek for other reasons. I seek to understand what’s going on in students’ heads as they read—and in the head’s of the teachers I coach. And I sometimes seek without a goal in mind. That is, I seek for the sheer fun of seeking.”

I want know what’s going on in my students heads and I want them to seek things out in their reading and in life for the joy of it, for the desire to know know more, but possibly with goals in mind. Goals to grow their knowledge about life, or a specific topic and to practice reading for meaning and understanding. I do not want them reading for the single purpose of practicing a strategy. I want to help them learn to choose to engage with books and all of their learning and to seek out knowledge. I am reading Ellin Keene’s new book about engagement. It is on my mind a lot lately.

I think students may be bogged down with too many things on their brains to slow down enough, to seek out meaning and understanding beyond the surface level while reding. I am seeking and reflecting on ways to help students read deeper.

Wow! I am seeking a lot of things.

You do not really know what you are driven to seek out for yourself and others unless you do some true reflection however, and set goals and makes some plans. So maybe I should stick with reflect.

The other blog post that got my attention was Colby Sharps: Winning the Day

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He talks about how he used that phrase to help him stay focused each day, and how winning many days in a row builds up a winning life. He got the idea from a football team winning each day at practice and then in games. I think this is something we can choose to do as teachers: win each day. You can’t just say you are going to do this and try to stay positive however. You have to know and understand how you are going to go about winning each day. You have to do some reflecting, goal setting and planning.  Reflecting keeps coming up!

I found this graphic on a webpage about how to win each day. I would change; review, to Review & Reflect. 

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So I think I will keep reflect as my word for the rest of this school year.  I will use my reflections to help me seek opportunities for myself, my students and others to help them grow and also try to win each day using small goals and planning to help me do so through my continuous reflection.

Ha! Does that still count? I think so. The purpose of your one word is to help you be focused on something to improve yourself, right? So it works!

Please do read all the way through Vicki’s and Colby’s posts. I think you will gain something from them to reflect on and use for yourself!

 

Troy

Grow Your Own Practice

I recently read an article by Cornelius Minor put out by Heinemann. The article was adapted from Mr. Minor’s new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us To Be (Heinemann, 2018)

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The article really hit home with me. It made me think about the National Board Teacher certification process and growing your own practice which are really dual paths.

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When thinking about the career continuum above you have to be doing the thinking and curriculum blending/bending Mr. Minor talks about to move towards becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.

Take a look at the National Board Certified Teacher(NBCT), Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and think about Mr. Minor’s ideas shared in the article.

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These are things all accomplished teachers have to be doing as they reflect and help build and bend curriculum and programs to meet the needs of their students. To be a NBCT you cannot simply follow scripted programs or curriculum that keep you from growing your practice.

“Growing your own practice” is something I heard Sunday Cummins said once in a PD session.  To me this means take what you are being given, and improve upon it for your students needs and your own. Turn, it, twist it and reflect on how it can be applied with your own students. Figure out what is working for your students and what is not. Grow and build upon what you are being given. NBCT’s and teachers who grow their own practice don’t simply criticize and complain. They know and understand the vision of their school and district and meet those visions and along with student needs by bending curriculum, not breaking it. They also move beyond mimicking. It is not enough for your own students or yourself not to thinking and reflect and grow. You have to take the information you are being given and use it to build upon and improve your own instruction, not mimic someones else. Now to be fair you may start out as a mimic but you will never continue to grow if you stay there.

I looked up the word practitioner and the definition is: a person engaged in the practice of a profession, occupation, ect.  I feel it has become kind of a buzz word these days, and I feel to grow your own practice, you have to be a practitioner of literacy or mathematics and so on. I feel the word engaged is a key word to remember in that definition.  Mimics I feel are only partly engaged. You are not completely engaged when you are just copying another. True engagement requires more in-depth thinking then that.

I think the same should be said about curriculum. Mr. Minor states several things in the article that hold true to growing your own practice when it comes teaching a curriculum or program. As he points out “any curriculum or “program”that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us.”  We have to take that grow your own practice approach with programs and curriculum. Take what is given and build on it. Mr. Minor goes on to say that “my job as a teacher …is to seek to understand my kids as completely as possible so that I can purposefully bend curriculum to meet them.”

He talks about how programs and curriculum that are any good, must be flexible and allow you to bend it some. The curriculum must also help teachers continue to grow. You cannot grow with rigid programs that leave out the teacher decision-making processes, which probably leaves out opportunities for kids to make decisions for themselves as well. He really focuses in on getting to know your students needs and backgrounds and using that to help you bend the curriculum to fit them. I hope that in your schools, you are allowed to bend the curriculum for your students. Use what you are given, understand it, try it out, and shift what you need to as you continue to grow your own practice, be your own practitioner. Don’t expect your district to be your practitioner! On the same note remember programs and curriculum are written to help us, and are full of some great things! We do not have time to build our own from scratch. Use the solid foundation they create for you and that you are expected too, but bend and build as you need to, for your students.

Check out the article and let me know your own thought!

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I will have a part 2 to this post coming soon, applying this specifically to literacy instruction.

Thanks Troy