Educational Reading Reflection

I enjoyed the readings I chose during the writing project. I only ready two books, but I read them from cover to cover. Too large a part of me is old school and needs to read the whole book. The inquiry book by Jeffery Wilhelm inspired me to create better curriculum and questions in my classroom. I’m glad I purchased the book, so I’ll be able to refer back to the places I highlighted and made notes. It will continue to be a part of my lesson planning throughout the year.

Readicide was a bit of a disappointment. It was nice to read a Gallagher book and become familiar with who people are talking about. I’ve heard from other colleagues that Write Like This contains more teaching strategies and less of the complaining about current teaching practices. I’m looking forward to picking it up this summer.

Overall, the educational reading reaffirmed my belief that studying and discussing books on education is a tremendously valuable and rewarding practice. I will definitely continue to read on my own and hopefully will find a couple colleagues to join me.


Holistic Reflection on the LMWP Invitational Summer Institute

“It’s sacred writing time.” I struggled to write the first time I heard these words. Writing without a prompt, with full personal choice? I never knew what that was like. Sure I had the opportunity every day of my educated life, but I never took advantage of it until now. In reality I need extra motivation to do something. If left to my own devises, I’d have spent my summer writing curriculum, or teaching summer school, they pay better. Problem is I’d done both of those things more than once. I’d be bored. Besides, I don’t like the new curriculum people, and the thought of sitting in a room all summer with people can’t stand sounded horrible for my psyche. The writing project filled a need for me. It filled the need for something to do this summer. It filled the need for a little extra money. It over-filled the need for me to grow and learn as a teacher. I’m really quite thankful for that. I learned way more than I thought I would. I am so grateful for all the fellows at the Lake Michigan Writing Project. They taught and inspired me for four weeks. The writing project also filled my need to become a better writer. I was wavering between a second masters in writing or administration. Writing would be more fun, and administration would advance my career, so naturally I jumped at the chance to take this class. I grew to look forward to “sacred writing time.” My writing improved. Hopefully my teaching of writing will improve, so I’ll be a better teacher, be able to get the admin degree, and further my career. Lastly the writing project helped me meet new colleagues and maybe make new friends. I don’t make friends easy. I’m too opinionated, liberal, outspoken, and atheist for most people in West Michigan, but I think I managed not to scare all of them away.

I was shocked at my fellowship colleagues’ knowledge of technology and how they use it in their classrooms. Presi, Twitter, Wevideo, Wordle, WordPress and several more I’m sure I’m forgetting, wow. I feel over-exposed. I learned how to use WordPress and Wevideo on their most basic levels this summer. I now know that I need to find and seek out more technology instruction so after the next ten years I don’t find myself even further behind.

My reading group was good, but I think we struggled to mesh together. We were reading different books, seemed to have some different perspectives, and I was much to vocal. Looking back on how I acted in our reading group, if I had to do it all over again I would act differently. I would talk less, be less opinionated, and be more supportive. I feel bad and responsible for us not coming together as a group.

On the other hand, I loved my writing group. We came together, shared our stories, and supported each other well. David inspired me to find my own unique voice and create my own digital story, Rachel demonstrated what a good novelist sounds like, Tracy reminded all of us what it’s like to be a young neophyte teacher, and Lindsay both affirmed and challenged us as writers with a grace that’s all her own. I’ll miss their feedback the next time I take up the pen.

Practices I know I’ll change will most surely be the integration of technology in my classroom. Blogs, Wevideo, Wordle, I will be making an extra effort to become even more familiar with them, so they can become part of my classroom. I just hope my administrators allow me the freedom I’ll need to be most effective.

My advice to any teacher, who wants to become a better teacher and a better teacher of writing, is to attend a writing project institute. Take advantage of the offer. Learn from others. Share your knowledge. Grow as both a teacher and a person. As for the leaders that run the Lake Michigan Writing Project: first read my earlier post about the name, second I do think the fellows could use a little more support making their presentations more interactive, many of the presentations were too much of them talking and us listening, lastly, overall, keep up the good work. It was a real growing experience.

Lake Michigan Writing Project, What’s in the Name?

Lake Michigan? We met in Grand Rapids, 45 minutes from the lake. I never remember meeting at the lake. I never even get my feet wet, let alone a tan. I want a refund. Wait, I didn’t pay for the class. I got paid to show up. Never mind.

Writing project? What’s the difference between old fashioned writing and a writing project? I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, so when I hear project, I think poster board and diorama. We didn’t create one single poster board or make any dioramas. All we did was read, write, talk, and update our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

I think they should rename it Grand Rapids Reading and Writing Club. We’ll just forget about all the Facebook and Twitter stuff and pretend they never happened, just like we do in our own classes. Grand Rapids Reading and Writing Club or maybe Grand Rapids Writing and Reading Club. Yeah that sounds better, writing before reading because after all we’re writers and we’ve never shared this stuff before. Grand Rapids instead of Lake Michigan, that’s easy. Get the location right so people aren’t confused. Club instead of project because: 1) there are no dioramas, 2) you have to apply, interview, and get accepted before you are allowed in, and 3) it’s a lifetime thing. If you want to understand what it’s like to have been here, you’ll have to go. We’d go home and our loved ones would ask, “How was your writing class today?,” and we didn’t know what to say. So much happened, we learned and grew in ways we never thought possible. We can’t share that. What happens at the Grand Rapids Writing and Reading Club can’t be explicitly told. Yes I know we’re writers and that’s what we do, we can try, but nothing we write or say can truly capture the magic of what happens inside the club. New teaching strategies are learned, personal stories are shared, friendships and bonds are formed, homemade snacks are devoured, and lives are changed forever. The Life Altering Summer Writing and Reading Club Experience in Grand Rapids for Teachers, that’s the most fitting name. Too bad it won’t fit on the t-shirt.

Annotated Bibliography

Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide. Stenhouse: Portland.

This book is based on the concept that standardized testing and schools are killing reading. It also contains a fair amount of information on how to prevent “readicide.” Gallagher defines readicide as: “noun, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.”(2) He suggests several reasons why the love of reading is being killed in schools: to many standardized multiple choice tests and all the test practice that goes along with it, the over-teaching of books, the lack of reading time in schools, the lack of emphasis and time for free reading for children.

Reading this book in 2013 just before the Common Core is about to be fully implemented, I feel as if several of the major points are a bit out-dated. He suggests that because of the wide range of content driven standards teachers aren’t able to teach in-depth thinking. However, the standards have changed from content based to in-depth thinking based, so his argument lacks the strength it had four years ago. I also felt while reading this book that some of his arguments are so specific that it’s difficult to relate to some of the crazy things other teachers do to kill the love of reading.

On the other hand, Readicide did offer many useful suggestions on how to teach not only reading but the love of reading. The book serves as a reminder that as teacher we are not only responsible for making sure students understand the book, but responsible for making sure they continue reading when they leave class. He explains in detail how to teach his suggested strategies and their importance: “articles of the week,” “one-pager” free reading responses, frame the book before hand, start with the guided tour and end with the budget tour to avoid over-teaching, reread chunks for a greater understanding of the whole, and the 50/50 approach to teaching reading, where 50% of the reading students do is academic and 50% is recreational.

Overall I would recommend this book to someone who wanted to learn about how to instill the love of reading into their students, but not to someone who was looking to read up on the latest opinion on reading standards.

Advice Column for 1st time Blissfest Music Festival Attendees

During my first Blissfest this year I learned so many things about how to enjoy the festival that I wanted to pass along the information to anyone who is thinking about going, or has a first-time ticket in hand and doesn’t know what to expect:
When the veterans greet you by saying, “Happy Bliss,” it means Have a wonderful, happy, easy going, care-free, relaxing day. If you want to camp in the woods, arrive on Thursday night, or collaborate with some friends who will. Otherwise bring a small tent that can be crammed between the trees on an incline. Also when camping in the woods, bring earplugs if you plan to fall asleep before 3:00 am. Leave Monday morning. Continuing the bliss trumps work. If the band on one stage doesn’t speak to your soul try another one. There’s always more than one band playing. Afternoon “naptime” with your special someone completes the blissful bonding experience. Be sure to dance under the sprinkler on a hot day to release all your troubles. Make your way to the Club Bliss cabin or The Song Tree for an acoustic show. You’ll hear every word and every note as if they were playing live in your living room. Forget showering; everyone’s dirty. Stop by the Drum Kiva to get in touch with your tribal self. Dancing around the fire while the drum beats vibrate through you, delves into your body and draws out all the native energy our modern society has locked away. Most importantly, attend Blissfest with someone special. Bliss is meant to be shared.

Segmented Skill Reading, the Next Thing or the New Manace?

The Common Core, No Child Left Behind, school of choice, online classes, John Dewey, who or what hasn’t tried to reform and transform education the past 100 years? It seems the more things change in education, the more things stay the same. Don’t be confused. Change isn’t bad. Do we really want to go back to the days of one room school houses, chalkboards, and big wooden rulers that weren’t meant for measuring? Despite all the changes, there has been one indestructible constant in education that has endured. Books. Books, the printed word, where would we be in education without books? It seems we’re about to find out. Many longtime educators are starting to question whether or not children need to read books in school in order to learn. No I’m not kidding. Wish I was. Leading educational reformers are running around the country telling teachers they don’t need to teach whole works of literature anymore, “Children only need the important information, not the whole thing. Children get bored reading novels.” Someway, somehow these words make their way into teachers’ ears and stay in their heads!  Teachers need help. Students need books. Adults need books. Great works of literature create deep thinking, provide windows to another culture, bring about deep discussion, and change their reader’s very ways of being.

Skills, that’s what the reformers say the “new” educational focus is. Okay, I can buy the fact that our children need skills to succeed in life. Thinking skills! Reading a couple passages from To Kill a Mocking Bird and reading the whole book, take the same decoding skills. However, the thinking skills that come from reading a couple passages and the thinking skills that develop from reading the whole book are completely different. Segmented reading creates segmented thinking. A whole reading of a deep rich text such as To Kill a Mocking Bird creates deep rich thinking about race, gender roles, class, and provides readers with a perspective of the deep south in the 1930s. It’s absolutely impossible to create deep thinking about real human issues if great novels are taught in segments. Skills are useless without thinking to put them into action.

Culture, different cultures encompass and fill our world with unique ways of living. No one person has the ability to live in and experience all the different cultures in the world, yet we can read about them, and I don’t mean National Geographic, or some other informational text. The only way to truly begin to understand another culture is to either experience it first hand or read about it from the life of someone who lived in it. Novels are the vehicle in which people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, ages,  genders, and time periods are able to experience life from someone else’s point of view. No segment, passage, or even short story can encompass the human experience the way a great novel can. School aged children are at the most impressionable, fragile, and open-minded stage they will ever be in their lives. Most of them won’t pick up a book from another time period or about a culture they’re not familiar with, and that’s precisely why teachers should do it for them. Students need to step into worlds they’ve experienced. They need to develop empathy. They need to see and feel what others who are different from them feel. Otherwise they’ll grow up narrow-minded, shallow-thinking, and ignorant of other lives different from their own. Skill centered segmented reading of novels falls short in teaching children what they need most: the ability to think, live, empathize, and grow in a global world.

I can see it now, teachers everywhere saying: “Class let’s read this passage from Night and examine the author’s purpose.” “Class today we’re going to read a section of The Glass Castle and search for themes.” “Class today you’re going to be learning about situational irony and reading a section of My Brother Sam is Dead.” I’m not saying those aren’t worthwhile activities or that they should never happen in the classroom. Imagine having discussions around those very activities, one after reading the whole book verses the other just a couple passages. Which one would influence your life more? Which one would help change you as a person? Which one would help you understand what it must be like to be an imprisoned Jew during WWII, the daughter of emotionally impaired irresponsible parents, or to be a child caught in the middle of The American Revolution and caught between his brother’s and father’s allegiances at the same time? My guess is a majority of us can agree on the answer.

Thinking, culture, rich discussions about other peoples’ lives, readers internalize it all when they immerse themselves in a whole novel. I know this isn’t scientific evidence based, but think of someone you’ve known for many years. Are they a reader? If they are, my guess is they’ve changed over the years. Grown up, become more mature, more sophisticated in their thinking about life and the world. Now think of someone you’ve known for many years that’s not a reader. Have they changed? Are they still the same person you knew many years ago? Still stuck in their old ways of thinking? Of course there are outliers, exceptions, but over the course of human evolution, we grew smarter each time the printed word became easier to get. The more we read about others and their experiences the more we think about ourselves, and how we can become better people.

Novels, books, stories, almost every reader I know can point to at least one book that changed them. One book, one story they read cover to cover, never skipping one word. Part of me dies inside when I hear educators, the people I admire the most in life, talk of not teaching whole novels in classrooms in favor of segmented skill teaching. The reading skills may get taught that way, but the life skills, thinking skills, cultural awareness, and the life-long love of reading habits our young people so desperately need is lost. So even if you’re not an educator and don’t have an active stake in the education of our children, speak out, don’t let the novel die. Read, learn, think, and if you can or if you want to, get on your own soap box and stand up for America’s youth.