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?

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Opening the Floodgates

We are reading Readicide as a department this year, which is something I’ve wanted to do now for two years, ever since Bill Ferriter announced that he was profiling the book on his site and interviewing the author, Kelly Gallagher via Voicethread.

Today was the first meeting of one of the groups within the department, a group of middle school language arts teachers.  We met to discuss the first two chapters of the book, which, if you haven’t read it, delve into the definition of Readicide and the statistics he examined to coin the term.

Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

Gallagher also talked about something I’ve noticed since I have been in elementary buildings and secondary buildings: a gradual decline in curiosity.  Gallagher called it enthusiasm for reading, but today one of the group really summed it up by saying that by the time these students reach the upper grades in a middle school, much of their natural curiosity has been mined from them.  They don’t necessarily hate reading, but they don’t see any purpose behind it if it doesn’t either serve to get them a grade, or is required for something within their class.

My question in response to everything said today was a variation on the protocol What-SoWhat-NowWhat in that I wondered aloud that if we take what we say about our students and their inherent lack of curiosity, or their lack of attention span, or their penchant for reaching for SparkNotes when confronted with an outside reading novel, than what now?  Do we look the parents of these students in the eyes and say, “Well, what we’ve done in the past just isn’t working well here, so, I’ll just keep doing it.”

No.  And that is why I think Gallagher’s book really has legs.  We are only in chapter 2 and we are already seeing glimpses of what he prescribes as the cures to readicide, and what he is offering so far sound less like individual classroom fixes, and more like a school-wide committment to textual immersion.

Which I dig.

More to come as we get deeper into the discussions.

Image Credit: “Overwhelmed,” from Kozumel’s Photostream.

Re-Thinking a Few Things

It’s the end of the year, and with that, we are running into the usual pressures associated with a year of impending change.  For some reason, June gives educators an amazing amount of stress.  I was reviewing some posts from this time last year, and was amazed to find that there were odd similarities between what I was noticing then and what is happening now.

This summer is going to be an incredibly busy one, and an incredibly short one.  It has the feeling already of one that will be fleeting. If that is the case, I’d like to begin by setting a few goals for my own growth this summer:

  1. Read.  Here is the short list that I’ve put together for the summer:
    1. Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher
    2. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
    3. Rethinking Homework, Cathy Vatterott
    4. Write Beside Them, by Penny Kittle
  2. Re-Organize.  A year in which I either ran or helped plan over 10 meetings a month can lead to a lot of paperwork and notes that need both organization and reflection.  Pulling all of that back together will take a good few days.
  3. Re-Focus.  As I indicated in the paragraphs above, the month of June has been crazy, but wit that crazy has come some good dialogue.  I’d like to take part of the summer to craft goals that I have for each of the departments I work with and the elementary schools I am involved in.  I’ve had many meetings this month where it was apparent that I am getting very little buy-in from the departments I work with.  As with everything in education, the factors that go into producing that are only partially controllable by me, but that which is under my control, I’d like to sharpen and hone.  I need to have goals regarding what I’d like to move towards with each of the departments, and then combine those goals with those of the members of the departments I work with.  A shared vision; yes, I think that might work.

There is probably more, but it’s getting light out, and the kids are waking, which brings me to another goal for the summer.  Leave work at work, and make the most of the daylight hours with my family.