Let’s Break Down Those Barriers

I think that most people in the field of education have heard the word “equity” in their daily practice. While many have heard it, many still do not understand it.

This picture is one that many have seen. It brings to light what equity stands for day-in and day-out in our profession. Providing supports for those that need that extra help in order to “see the game.” Taking a stance of equality does nothing for anybody. It pushes those that are already ahead, further, and those that are behind, still does not get them to “see the game.”

All would agree that equity is what education should be.  The problem is, that while equity helps get everybody to the same finish, some feel like they are missing out on something.  The fence in this picture is in the way and it is in the way for all students.  While they all get the “see the game” none of them are actually getting to “experience the game.”

Liberation helps eliminate the barrier that is preventing all students from truly “experiencing the game.”  This allows those that do not need additional supports from feeling like they are missing out on their education because we focus on those that do need those supports all the while providing all students with a rigorous and relevant education.

Inclusion takes this liberation lens a step further.  It puts the kids in uniforms and gets them “ready for the game.”  This is truly our focus with all of our students.

What I notice about this picture is that all the barriers are broken down for all students, all students are in uniforms ready for the game, but the student on the far right is missing a mitt.  While this last picture is not the end, what does the next picture look like?

There is no more important skill than reading!

So I was reading this morning and came across this article.  Literacy is important for all students.  It opens doors for children and it opens them wide.  We are teachers who teach kids.  We DO NOT teach subjects.  “I am a band teacher!”  WRONG!  You are a teacher of children, not a teacher of a subject.  We are all charged with giving kids skills to take action in the 21st-century global community and in order to do just that, they need literacy skills.
If you want kids to get good at writing, have them write.  If you want kids to get better at reading, have them read.  But have them read and write about things they are interested in.  Yes, Hamlet is important, but so are things students are interested in.
  • The Most Important Lesson Schools Can Teach Kids About Reading: It’s Fun – Jeffrey Wilhelm & Michael Smith – The AtlanticReading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers.

    tags: reading literacy education

    • “The kind of literacy necessary for 21st-century employment requires detailed understanding and complex comprehension.”
    • “If America’s students are to remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy, our public schools must greatly accelerate the rate of progress of the last four years and do more to narrow America’s large achievement gaps. It is an urgent moral and economic imperative that our schools do a better job of preparing students for today’s globally-competitive world.”
    • Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers.
    • In our study of the out-of-school reading lives of 14 eighth graders who were avid readers of texts often marginalized in schools
    • We found that our participants were remarkably articulate about why they read what they read.  Here’s what they taught us.
    • One reason our participants read was to experience the pleasure of entering a story world.
    • Perhaps our most striking finding is that our participants drew pleasure from using their reading to help them become the kind of people they wanted to become, a kind of pleasure we termed “inner work.”
    • “[Reading’s] like being a detective almost. It’s taking the evidence and the information and everything that’s happened, taking all that and putting it together. Processing through it and seeing what ends connect, and then finding, once all those ends connect, what that last piece is.”
    • We’ve come away from our study thinking that teachers of reading and literature need to make pleasure more central to our practice.
    • instructors should be mindful of the variety of pleasures that readers experience and not privilege intellectual pleasures, the characteristic province of school.
    • If we want students to embrace reading now and always, then we need to keep at the forefront of our attention the rich, complex, and profound pleasures of reading

Starting Proficiency in the Classroom

Ten years in the classroom is now approaching.  Last year I got adventurous with my professional goals and decided to link using Facebook as one of my goals.  At first, I was scared about going down that road and so were many others, but it worked out just fine.  This year I may have gone overboard….

Back in March, I had a reflection time that took me to a place that I felt was being a responsible educator, I examined how students were truly doing in my classes.  From the first look it would appear they were doing great, and for the most part, they were.  But there were some that were not performing at the level that their grade said they were.

At this time I decided to get even more adventurous.  The State of Oregon recently adopted HB 2220 which defines proficiency and lays out the groundwork for schools districts to start implementing in the coming years.  While our district is not based on proficiency, I took it upon myself to implement a full proficiency-based system in the classroom.

As the year progresses, I will be posting my trials and tribulations on this blog to share with all of you.

Creating Rubrics: Tools & Guidelines

Some teachers say they use rubrics for everything and they do.  Some of those rubrics that I have seen that they use are horrible and just thrown together without taking the learner into consideration nor do they even define the proficient level for each student.

Here is a post from ASCD about creating rubrics and online tools you can use to create yours.

Education Update:Planning for Processing Time Yields Deeper Learning:Guidelines for Creating Rubrics:

Identify the proficient level first. In a four-tier rubric, we recommend that teachers identify level 3 of the rubric first. This level is an acceptable score and shows proficiency at performing the task or understanding the content.

Build the rest of the rubric around proficiency. From this point, building the remainder of the rubric is fairly easy: a 1 shows minimal understanding or performance; a 2 shows some understanding/performance but with significant gaps; and a 4 shows an advanced level of understanding or performance.

Focus on growth. Finally, we recommend that if you use a 0 at all, it should state “Not enough evidence at this point to assess understanding.” This way, even scoring at the lowest level of the rubric sends students the message that their level of performance can be improved.

The Best 1:1 Device is a Good Teacher

Self-Paced Professional Development

Here are some options for self-paced, learn-when-you-can professional development. Your district will not hand you these options, but I encourage you to seek them out.


iTunesU is an iPad-based repository of courses, lectures, and resources for teachers and students. The content can be accessed exclusively on the iPad, and the material is all vetted for accuracy and copyright. Courses can be accessed or created by individuals or teachers through iTunesU Course Manager. Course manager is only available on the Apple platform and when using the Safari browser.
Coursera is a free online course catalog that allows anyone in the world to take courses from some of the best instructors on the planet. Coursera does not offer accreditation for teachers yet, but they are advocating for this issue. Regardless, this site is chock full of courses that anyone can take at any time.
Google+ is emerging as a credible venue for professional development and anytime learning. It’s a free platform, and if you work in an organization that employs Google Apps for Education, you already have an account. Google+ offers Google “Hangouts” as the venue for presenting professional development sessions. The best part about this option is that Hangouts are archived on the YouTube account of the author or group.
Everyone in education loves Twitter. Twitter can be a great venue for learning if you organize it and filter it (I recommend TweetDeck). Jumping headfirst into something like #edchat will only confuse and overwhelm you. My recommendation is to use Twitter sparsely at first. Find a few educators to follow, and spend a good amount of time listening, reading and processing. Follow Steve Anderson, Kristen Swanson, Alec Couros, John Spencer, Lyn Hilt, Rich Kiker, Dean Shareski, Joyce Valenza, Kyle Pace and Edutopia — to start. But start simple and listen to what the aforementioned educators have to say.
EdCamp is the standard professional development for education. I’ve attended and organized several EdCamps and find them to be the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had in education. I’ve made great connections and friends as a result of this format, and it is a professional development that allows everyone to participate and have a voice.

Failure is NOT an option! Or is it?

We put a great deal of emphasis on that our schools are failing and that our kids are not learning in schools today. It is true, the American education system is in a triage situation and needs to have attention placed the critical needs. Many parents and teachers are concerned with the fact that students are failing classes, even I am. But take a moment and look at what failing truly is. Does a child learn something by failing? In my opinion, they do. They learn how not to accomplish something. Failing does not mean unsuccessful, but we place great emphasis on the fact that failing is unacceptable. Let’s take a look at some famous failures.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Failure!

At 30 years old, Steve Jobs was forced to leave the company he build from the ground up. Failure!

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked “imagination” and “original ideas”. Failure!

Oprah Winfery was demoted from being a news anchor because she was “not fit enough for television”. Failure!

Albert Einstein could not speak until the age of 4 and teachers told him that he would not amount to much in life. Failure!

It is important for us as educators to let every student know that failure is just a rehearsal for success.  Kids are worried about failing, and they should be, but when they do, and they will, they need to know that they are not failures as a person.

Traditional testing has become very degrading to those students who see a number that is not considered passing.  But those same students could go out and fix my truck without much hesitation and go to work as a mechanic and make twice what I do.  So which one is the failure, the student who has volumes more knowledge than I about mechanics of machines or me, the guys with two college degrees, two masters degrees, and an almost completed Ed.S?

This reminds me of a Big Bang Theory episode where all four guys were driving and something happened to Leonard’s car.  He asked, ” Does anyone here know anything about the internal combustion engine?”  Every one of them said, “Yes, tons.”  “Does anyone here know how to work on the internal combustion engine?”  Their reply, “Absolutely not!”  That was three guys who all had terminal degrees and Wolowitz of course (BBT fans will know why that is funny) who had immense knowledge of many things in this world but could not even fix their car.  Are they failures?  I would say at that moment for that circumstance they were.  Again, being a failure at some things is not bad.  Failure is just a rehearsal for success.  I fail regularly at taking out the trash and helping with the laundry, just ask my wife.

What do you teach in school?

When I attend conferences, I often find myself asking the question of other educators “What do you teach?” Now when I ask this question I am never really looking for a particular answer and to be quite honest I should rephrase the question. For me personally, when I am asked this question I always respond in the same way, “I teach kids, but the vehicle I drive is science.”

So what do we really teach in schools, subjects or kids? I believe that there are a lot of teachers out there in schools today that have that mindset that they are there to teach kids and they use particular subjects in order to do so, but they never answer my question that way. That does not mean that they are not student-centered by any means. Even I have caught myself a time or two. We all just get wrapped up in the question and we know what the person is really asking. If they are not really wanting to know what subject or content we teach and want to know that we actually teach “kids”, the question is loaded, but loaded in the correct way.

The question is not meant to trip anybody and set them up for failure. It is meant as a way to see where their heart truly lies. Does it lie with the students or the subject? While I love teaching science and there is no other subject that I would rather teach, I love witnessing kids come out of my classroom having a more solid foundation in their reading and writing skills. Nothing makes me more excited that I did my job correctly and that they could read and write better than they did when they entered in September.

Like I have said, I teach kids, but the vehicle I drive is science. How do I use that vehicle? Simple. I am concerned that students need to learn the various objectives in science like cell division and states of matter, but I am more concerned that they can read and write about them. Like Glenn Holland said in Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”  I use science to reinforce reading and writing. I have them constantly read and write about various topics linked to objectives that are mapped to the science standards.  Is it more important for a student to be able to explain what the three states of matter are or if they can read and write?  I say both are equal.  While state officials and educational leaders would say that reading and writing are the most important subject in ALL schools, there must be topics to read and write about.

I believe that it is important for students to learn about history and science just as much as reading and writing, but my main goal as an educator is to educate students.  I take great care to reinforce what students are learning in language arts and in math by integrating those skills into science.  Science is a captivating subject.  I love being able to use a subject like science or even history to gets students excited while learning reading and writing.

Flipping the Classroom Requires More Than Video

Flipping the classroom has become a large passion of mine. It is one of my ongoing professional goals to implement next year.

I have to agree with these four bullet points. Poor video lectures are worse than the live version of the same lecture. They need to be engaging.