Is Anything Truly Original?

My Post

For decades, perhaps even earlier as some claim origins dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics, writers, and literary critics have uncovered a finite amount of story plots in fiction. Even the great Kurt Vonnegut argued this theory of story “shapes” in his College thesis that was rejected for its simplistic nature that there were indeed a set of shapes that all writing could be categorized by citing such favorites as Cinderella as a spin-off of the Bible.

What it boils down to is this… there are seven original story plots, Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Rebirth, etc., and that every piece of fiction is actually a spin-off of the original. Beyond those first 7, no piece of fictional writing is truly original. So should new writing be published? Should new stories be shared?

This year marks my 19th in Education. Shorter than some, longer than others. Most of my years have been as a high school English teacher (thus, the connection to the aforementioned example) and for the past few years as a regional support consultant in the state in the areas of literacy, technology, and school improvement; but I digress.

Because of this, I am going to take some liberties… much of education parallels the 7 original story plots. Things are repackaged, renamed, shined up, fine-tuned, and sent back into the education community as “New” or “Innovative”. In fact, I would venture many seasoned teachers out there would agree with me and have seen the circular nature of programs and instructional strategies recycled and the educational wheel spinning and spitting them back out again when their number is called. Very few things that we as Educators use or do in our classrooms are Original.

I will repeat, you, and I for that matter, are not as original as we think we are.

We are spinoffs from the educators before us. And what we do, say, and use in our classrooms are mostly variations of what has been done before.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that is mostly true, teachers have been doing variations of what you and I have done long before it was an idea in our heads. We are not the first… (fill in the blank…)

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had at Flipgrid Live. The first Day consisted of an Edcamp and a social gathering of Educators at Flipgrid HQ.

Day 2 was much the same. A Student Voice Conference with keynotes and breakout sessions and a sharing of personal stories and ideas to spark change. This was followed by a grand reveal of new updates, modifications, acquisitions, celebrations, photos, videos, singing, and on and on and on all focused on empowering student voice and connected classrooms. To many educators, these events are not considered as completely original or new. Even the new releases, ideas, and social media sharing celebrated variations that educators have been using for decades.

This brings me to my second point, or liberty I am going to take,,, Change, passion, meaningful learning does not take place vicariously. I attended this event as a learner, not a presenter, and while many know my story, the majority at this event did not. I have always been a Student Voice Advocate and Connected Educator. I have connected classrooms around the globe, traveled with kids internationally based off of those connections, connected teachers to resources and communities (in fact, many of you reading this could probably attest to the way I have helped connect you) but I am not the first one to do this. Many educators before me have been working towards similar verbs, connecting, student voice, the difference is this… social media and the desire to one-up each other often times brings out the negativity in people, and flipping through my Twitter feed I found these tweets and educators I respect trying to one-up the celebrations taking place at FlipgridLive.

When I became a connected educator and shared my story I met a wonderful educator named Sean Nash. We were prepping for a conference (Bacon Wrapped Lessons) and getting to know the other educators on the team (I was known as the student voice cheerleader). Sharing my classroom stories about amplification and connection was met with support and enthusiasm from the group. I felt proud and I had passion. Come to find out, Nash had been doing this for years- connecting his kids, traveling internationally, amplifying their voice; but not once did he squash my voice or diminish my experience. My story was not interrupted or replaced by his.

Educators, students, humans need to share their story. It may not be an original, but a spin-off, just as many argue what fiction is, but passion and change do not happen through vicarious circumstances. We are all working towards similar verbs, and as hard as it was for me not to interject my stories and past experiences as a connected educator and student voice cheerleader at the Flipgrid Live event I knew it was essential for their story to be told, the excitement be shared, and I, as a seasoned educator stood next to, not in front of, these educators and helped to lift them up just as so many have done for me. I was not there to interrupt, disvalue, or one-up them on social media that I have been doing it for years… every story should be told,,, whether it is one of the originals or a spin-off, each story adds value to our profession and supports the same passions or calls to actions that many of us support.

Embrace Your Vulnerability; Write In Front of Your Students

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”

Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.

Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.

  • Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
  • Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
  • Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
  • Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
  • Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
  • Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
  • Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
  • Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
  • Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.

If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!

Instructional Coaches: A Benefit to Schools

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In the early 1990s, there was a surge of instructional coaches in the area of literacy. From that point forward, Federal and State Initiatives have supported and encouraged schools across the country to implement support to colleagues through the use of coaches. Throughout the years, roles, titles, and job descriptions have morphed into what we have currently but the focus has remained comparatively similar to its inception: How can coaches support colleagues in pursuit of refining their practice to directly impact student achievement.

My current role allows me not only coach teachers in multiple districts, but also allows me the ability to work with and coach the coaches in the districts we serve. Because of these experiences, I believe there are 3 Ways Instructional Coaches Benefit Schools:

  1. Transfer – If you ask any educator to share the initiatives and focus areas in their building the list would be lengthy, filled with three-letter acronyms, and perhaps, attached to a SMART goal. While there are no shortages of initiatives to implement or professional learning for these initiatives, consistency in implementation and transfer into the classroom rarely happen at a systems level. In buildings with instructional coaches, I have witnessed a more systemic transfer of professional learning and initiative implementation into the classroom. Through one to one or small group coaching, educators attest to the support that coaches provide on a continuous cycle long after the initial learning is completed. Effective instructional coaches also use a variety of tools, checklist, or Innovation Configuration Maps to reflect and have conversations with colleagues on what implementation with fidelity may look like. Through these coaching cycles, support is personalized based on self-identified needs.
  2. Personalization – Instructional coaches play a support role to teachers instead of an evaluative role. Relationships and respect are forged and areas identified in which to focus efforts. Modeling and co-teaching, 2 effective strategies coaches use, are often sandwiched between a pre and post conversation. And just as every student in the classroom may have a different learning pathway to the same end goal, so to do teachers. Building Principals may be able to support staff growth on a macro level, individual growth at the micro level is achieved through utilizing instructional coaches. Personalized professional growth for every staff member at a consistent and continuous level is possible with a competent and supported instructional coach.
  3. Leadership – Finally, schools benefit when teachers have leadership roles. From helping to build consensus to identifying student and teacher needs with data, kids win in buildings with instructional coaches. Teachers are the ones doing the work in the classroom. Their actions directly impact students and it is essential to have their voices “at the table” when professional learning is planned or vision and goals are formed. Instructional coaches allow teachers to have a leadership role in buildings without having to be a principal or obtain an additional degree. It is through leadership opportunities like this that help schools retain good teachers and improve the pedagogy of all.

Instructional Coaches are continuing to support teachers and students through consistent, high-quality continuous improvement. Throughout the years we have witnessed educational trends, all in an effort to boost student achievement. Collegial support through coaching helps all schools which impacts the bottom-line, the students!

 

Resource: Denton, Carolyn A, & Hasbrouck, Jan. “A Description of Instructional Coaching and its Relationship to Consultation.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2009.  

Beginning of the Year Laptop Expectations for the Classroom

 

Laptop Expectations for the Classroom.pngAugust signals the return to school for students and educators across the country. The beginning of the year is often filled with reconnecting with friends, building communities in the classroom, and handing out textbooks. But in some schools, students will not only receive textbooks but a new laptop or tablet to support their learning. Maximizing educational use of technology in the classroom is easier said than done. As educators, we want students to not only consume information but also create awesomeness to share with the world. What is frequently forgotten is the proper care and maintenance that accompanies student devices.

Technology is not a silver bullet for student engagement or classroom management. In fact, devices in the hands of all students amplify good teaching and magnify bad teaching. I recommend having a discussion, early in the year, on the proper care and use of student technology in the classroom. These expectations can be individual to each teacher, constructed and agreed upon as a staff or PLC, or co-constructed with the students; whichever way works best in your educational ecosystem.

In my own classroom, I learned the hard way. When my district implemented 1 to 1 in 2009 I just thought students would appreciate the opportunity of ubiquitous technology in the possession and use it with care. Around December, I realized I needed to rethink my initial thoughts and discuss with the students’ expectations of use. Together, we co-created a list that I have used and shared ever since. Feel free to use and adapt to make your own!

  1. Be Prepared – Just like you would bring your writing tool and book to class every day, you must now bring your new tool (laptop) to class each day. Make sure it is fully charged and ready to go. Although we will not use the laptop every day, we will use it frequently. If you know the application being used in class, have it already opened or immediately pull it up when you get into a class, this will help save time.
  2. Power Up – If you use photo or video editing apps the battery will be drained quicker than just typing. Same is true for streaming video or using skype. Dimming the brightness will help to preserve the battery life. Make sure to set your power display to show the percentage, this will give you a more accurate reading. When the percent reaches 5 or lower, plug in your charger to one of the designated places in the room.  Be sure to use your own charger and take it with you when done.
  3. Screens Down – Anytime I (or a classmate) am speaking, screens will be tilted down.  Nothing is more distracting to you or to others around you than someone surfing the web.  Putting the screen down will help bring attention to the task at hand.
  4. Tech-Tips – I suggest that you have a google doc/folder, document, sticky, etc. to curate skills and tips that you will learn throughout the year in all of your classes. You could also include all handouts and tutorials you receive in a specific folder. Curate videos on your YouTube Channel, or create a spreadsheet of shortcuts to remember. This reference will be useful when maximizing all programs available on your new laptop.
  5. Hands Off – If it’s not yours, keep your hands off! This is for any type of contact with another person’s laptop. When demonstrating to someone, make them manipulate the cursor. If you are the one moving the cursor on their computer they miss the hand/brain connection and will be less likely to remember what you demonstrated.
  6. Sound – All laptops will be muted unless permission is granted.  Bring headphones to listen to needed information during work time.  
  7. Camera Use – Your laptop is equipped with both a digital camera and digital video recorder.  With these tools, we will create a multitude of projects from footage and photos you take. There are expectations that the photos and videos taken are appropriate and in good taste. The subject should always be asked before an image is taken of them. Privileges of these two tools will be revoked if used inappropriately. Please refrain from taping video and snapping pictures of people without permission.
  8. Self-Management – If it is not related to the task assigned, you should not be doing it during class.  This includes email, Googling, etc. Self-Management of digital access is a lifelong skill that relates to productivity. You will not always have your mom standing behind you to stay on task, finish your homework, or complete the work assignment. Use your time wisely, take breaks when needed, and save the memes for your free time.
  9.  Power Teams – Everyone will be at different levels of expertise when using the new technology. This classroom will be one of support and understanding.  Use your peers as resources, help each other, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Tips – Location at school should be “in school” and location at home is “out of school.”  If things start acting weird on the computer, the first thing to do is restart it to see if the problem is corrected. Update when prompted to keep systems running smoothly. Double-check to see if you are signed into the correct Google Account.  
  10. Saving – You should be saving your work periodically.  Save each draft as new with a new date.  Save in the appropriate class folder to keep life and work organized.  If you would cry if something was lost, make sure to back up in other places. (gdrive, dropbox, flashdrive, etc.)Plus, if you utilize GSuite, then it is automatically saved without any action on your part.
  11. Transporting – Each time you leave a room make sure your computer is in its bag!  No exceptions! Zip bags. Do not put too much in the front pocket of your bag – it can ruin the disk drive if smashed. Be aware of the weather, do not leave in a vehicle. If you do, allow the computer to reach room temperature before turning on.

This discussion of expectations in the classroom often led to better care of the devices. It also created a platform to then dive into Digital Citizenship, Netiquette, and Copyright. While there were still broken screens throughout the year, having this discussion with students helped to create an environment that supported learning, responsibility, and respect.

Contemporary Literacy Curriculum, #MakeLitREAL

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st-century world? If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

As society and technology change, so does the definition of a literate person. Teaching students to read and write through traditional means, paper and text, is no longer the only skill set needed to be considered literate. Literacy is a foundational curriculum component to every discipline. More than that, literacy is “inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” (NCTE)

The literacy demands of contemporary society require students to be dynamic, multimodal, skeptical, and global.  Few, if any, curriculums address these needs in full. It is up to the knowledgeable educator to provide a curriculum that ‘Makes Lit. REAL”. (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) #MakeLitREAL

When planning units, creating tasks, evaluating curriculum, working with other educators, or coaching PLCs, I continually return to the acronym REAL. This helps to center the conversation, keep students at the forefront of decisions, focuses on the verbs (communicate), not the nouns (tech tool), and provide literacy opportunities that will not only strengthen their skills now but forever more. When you Make Lit REAL, educators see the absurdity of assigning a 7 page, single-spaced, book report and reimagine curriculum and tasks that prepare our students to hone skills needed today, not 20 years ago.

Traditional Contemporary
Consume 2 Dimensional Readers

Unimodal, one way, text on paper. Limited access based on demographics and teacher knowledge/experience

3 Dimensional Readers

Multimodal, multiple ways, interactive text, media literacy, dynamic infographics, and visuals, etc. Ubiquitous access to information, people, and experts. Healthy skeptics and discerners of information

Create Multiple types and purposes but typically done with paper/pencil or word processor Dynamic, interactive, unique, multiple types and purposes but additional modes (posts, video, audio, visual) that provide student choice and voice
Communicate Contained to classroom or school Global, allowing students to cross the geographical divide digitally
Connect Contained, local, never talk to strangers Connecting and building relationships cross-culturally and globally
Curiosity ? Inquiry, design thinking, PBL; developing problem seekers not just problem solvers
Contribute Community-based, volunteering Developing empathy and ethical responsibilities. Pose and solve problems at a global level. Strengthening collaboration and independent thought.

Literacy is not only a foundational part of every curriculum it is a cornerstone to us as humans. The traditional curriculum is falling short in providing contemporary students the skills they need in life. When you Make Literacy REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) and apply this lens to the current curriculum,  a clear picture of our past and where we need to head as educators emerge.