Some quick thoughts on reading

I’m at a session sponsored by the American Reading Company, and in the course of their presentation, we’ve stumbled upon some interesting discussions.  The presenter is moving through three of the shifts that the Common Core brings about:

  • Shift I: 80% of our reading is spent on fiction and stories, we need to shift that to 50% non-fiction or informational text and 50% fiction.
  • Shift II: Reading and Writing grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  • Shift III: Regular practice with complex text and it’s academic language

At various junctures, he asks us to think about the changes that each of these shifts bring about for students, for teachers, and for school and district leaders.  The audience, consisting of supervisors of Language Arts, some Principals and Vice Principals as well as some teachers, has hit on the fact that we need more “text” in classes, and by that they have taken to mean that we need more books.  I’m struggling with this a bit.  Here’s why.

When we first got into the room, the presenter asked to list all of what we read in the past twenty-four hours, his point being to prove that the majority of what we read these days is informational text or non-fiction text.  However, as we dove into discussions about these shifts, and heard from folks saying that they see the need for more “texts” for students, it dawned on me to ask the group how much of what you read in those twenty-four hours was on paper?  How much was on a screen?

That’s significant.  The way we access text is different when we access it on a device.  Even a device as basic as a Kindle or a Nook, there are features that change the way we read and how we access text.

Are we thinking about that?

Plus, before we begin pushing more text into the classroom, much thought has to be given to what those texts are.  Looking at the books in the baskets in the front of the room, I see many books that are tradebooks or basals.  I’m not so sure that our diet as readers should consist of all that form.  Personally, I would have gone nuts.  I cut my reading teeth on long-form magazine writing.  Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and even those wonky J.Peterman catalogs totally saved me from the doldrums of classroom reading.

Additionally (and now this is bordering on rant) one of the issues many districts have in changing the complexity of text (Shift III) is that they rarely have an exact picture of where there students are reading.  Part of the pitch today is the ARC’s IRLA system, which is analogous to DRA2, Guided Reading Level, Lexile, or SRI.  Whichever flavor your school or district uses, having an understanding of where your students can read is so paramount to beginning the work required by the Common Core.  How many of our schools have teachers that have and use this information?  It’s incumbent upon school leaders to make sure this is happening.

Insert Transformative Practices Here.

Consider this a fact-finding mission.

Here’s some context:  I am new to the district I work in, meaning I just started here in July.  I was hired to come in and supervise three departments, three departments that had not been supervised (in the traditional sense–whatever that is–) before.  Curriculum had been looked at, but a group effort to make it flow from K-12 hadn’t been attempted.

In New Jersey, schools are grouped according to something called a District Factor Group, which is a value consisting of wealth components and educational levels of the residents taken from the most recent census data.  The group we belong to is very close to the highest (on and scale that rates them A-J with A being the lowest, we are an “I”).  The top two socio-economic levels usually comprise most of the top performing schools within the state.  Withing that group, we rank near the bottom in most of the measurables society uses to gauge us.

Are the two items related?  I’m sure there is something to the fact that there hasn’t been an earnest evaluation of what we do in quite a while, and going through such a process is often painful the first time, but it must be done.

I’ve talked to the teachers, specifically in the English Department at the high school, and outlined a plan to change the sequence of the courses offered.  None of them liked it, and, in fact, most were opposed.  That plan is now being debated in public.  It’s equal parts structural/course sequence change and curriculum change.

But what I am finding I really need is more input.  Input from the teachers and students.  Input from the network out here.  How do re-arrange situations in which students don’t view their learning in certain “levels” with any seriousness?

I need models.  I need ways to help kids who don’t like to read and engage in “literary things” find value and meaning in what they do in their academic classes.  I need ways to make it come alive for them.

I also need ways to do this so that teaching these kids in this new way does not drive my teachers insane.

There are models I’ve looked at that I love.  I’ve read Readicide and am mining that for ideas and inspiration.  What else should I read?  Who else should I talk to?  What are you doing that is making this type of difference?

The Questions They Won’t Ask

In talking to Shelley Blake-Plock today, I continued my habit of ripping quotes from people and saving them for later.  From Shelley, I got this gem today:

We are probably the last generation that will make the distinction between being online and not being online

This was stated in response to a question I asked that I felt obligated to ask given the company in the room and their relative knowledge levels of social media and its use in the classrooms.  My question was as follows:

Considering the amount of time you now require your students be online, and considering some of the writing that’s been done (a la Nick Carr’s Google=Stupid work), do you feel that you are asking your students to spend too much time “online?” and do you get any pushback from teachers or students?

His response fits well, but, still, are we old-fashioned for asking questions like that, or better yet, do those questions need to be asked?

Just wondering…

Anonymously Dropped Off

Yesterday, upon returning to my desk after being out on Friday and in meetings all morning on Monday, I found an envelope on my desk that was sent via inter-office mail.  Inside of the oft-recycled envelope were a series of desk calendar dates, each with a particular saying on them.  Here is a sample of the Monday, December 7th entry:

Technology can become detrimental to your quality of life when you use the time it saved to get more work done.

The ideas contained in the desk calendar philosophy are not the issue I have; there isn’t one of them that I don’t agree with.  (Even this one: Don’t allow yourself to become a slave to the devices that are meant to be a convenience for you.)  Rather, why not present these to me in a manner that opens dialogue about what you are feeling regarding technology and its role in your occupation?

If I’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, it’s that there will be things that come into your sphere that you embrace quickly and then let go just as quickly.  There are many additive technologies, but what truly makes a difference in our lives, especially the quality of our lives, is the types of technology that are truly transformative.  Another interesting piece is how individualized it all is.  What is revolutionary for me, is drivel and chore for someone else.  However, we all need to strive to find the balance between that which is adding to our workload, and that which transforms it and makes it more efficient.

Right now, someone in my district is striving to find that balance, and letting me know about it too.

Deaf Ears

I went to a conference two weeks ago, and I am still sitting on my “what I learned at (insert conference name here)” post.  It’s not that I didn’t take anything away that is worth squawking about, nor that I haven’t the time to write about it, because, let’s face it, so few of us do anymore.  It’s rather that I’ve been trying to find the way to say it without ruffling the feathers of those who put on conferences all over.

There shouldn’t be any educational technology conferences anymore.

Oh great.  Now it’s out there.  There goes any chance I ever had at presenting at ISTE (or NECC, or whatever it’s next iteration will be).

While I truly love the conference I am speaking of, being that the first time I attended was one of the biggest eye-opening events of my career a few years back, something has changed around the world of education and educational conferences.   What’s changed is not the technology–that’s a given.  What’s changed is that we now ask different questions than we did before. The more “Ed Tech” conferences I attend, the  more I see people there who don’t need to be there.  If we are talking about real change in education, the kind that makes nervous people of those with big jobs in big companies that depend on education as a market, than we’ve got to get different people here.

Instead of the word technology or educational technology being mentioned anywhere in the nomenclature of the conference, why don’t we focus on student learning.

If you can’t show me (preferably with live students) how what you are talking about is credible, gets kids excited to learn, and allows them to share their learning with whomever wants to be a part of it, I don’t know if I am interested.

I know this has been said before, and many times here in this space, but it’s not teaching with technology, or learning with technology, or educational technology.  It’s just teaching, just learning, and just education.  It’s here, it’s your computer connected to the world, and it makes your job easier.  And if  the educational technologist in your district would just let you know about these conferences, it might just become very clear to you.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that these conferences need to recognize the fact that we moved beyond just inviting directors of technology, technology coordinators, or higher-level administrators, but rather classroom teachers, students, and even community stakeholders.

And Sometimes We Feel Like This…

I have not been a contributor to any of those whom I rely on for inspiration in quite some time.  This space, twitter, any of the Ning’s I belong to–all of them have been foreign to me.  While a good many of the teachers who find it difficult to contribute during the year have truly blossomed (I have been reading) in their comments and reflections during these summer months, there hasn’t been much for me to say.  Or, I haven’t had the motivation or the open thinking space in my days to make the effort.

See, I’ve reached a saturation point of sorts that I have been ignoring for a few weeks.  My influx of information is at an all-time high; more resources, conversations, and ideas come at me on a daily basis than I ever thought possible when I started down this road a few years back, but my ability to handle them has not kept up.  I need some pruning, and, actually, I need some tips on how to handle this overload.

Gasp.

A short time ago, I would have scoffed at the notion that I needed to figure out a way to handle all of the information coming my way.  RSS, Diigo, social networks, etc. was a rush.  Every day, sometimes multiple times a day I would gather the newest round of articles, links, quotes, or whatever my manual trolling brought in.  Not so any more.  I’ll admit it, I can’t keep up.  There are too many of you now that have great ideas.

So I ask, what is the next level?  I feel like I’ve just worked so hard to attain access to the Dragon Scroll, yet I don’t have enough inner knowledge to understand its message.  Can anyone point me to resources that attack this next level of information mastery?  Who has great systems in place for being discretionary about information?