Math and Kids

I love math. I loved it in elementary school and then lost that love for a while during middle school, high school, and college. I found my love of math again when I began teaching elementary school students. I love thinking about why things work in math. I love trying different strategies. I love looking at a problem from a different perspective. I love the puzzle that is math.

For many years now, ever since a math consultant talked about it, I’ve added the digits on license plates. My daughters know I do this and the ten year old frequently does it to. She’ll suddenly just pipe up from the backseat with, “24!” Then she and I have a conversation about how we each got to that number. Frequently our paths are not the same. It makes for some fun math talk.

We take our state math test next week. By we I mean my students. I worried that this would be the time I would hate math. That prepping for the test would kill the joy. That hasn’t happened. We’ve looked at problems and tried to figure out why someone would pick the wrong answers. The kids love trying to figure out the errors. I knew I would love that but I didn’t realize they would love it too.

Yesterday we broke our math time into 20-30 minute chunks and worked on different ideas. We started all together for a few minutes and then went off on our own. Part of the time we worked on number stories (word problems). I worked with kids who wanted help. One little girl practically knocked me over. (Actually, I accidentally knocked her over because I was so impressed with her I high fived her and she fell off her stool.) She arrived in this country over the summer to join her mom and older brother. An uncle brought her and they were detained at an ICE facility in Texas for more than a month. She was eventually sent up here and her uncle remained there (I’m not sure what happened to him). She spent a lot of this year in the silent period that many students do when they’re learning another language. But she’s always rocked in math. She didn’t need my help with math so I think she sat with me to help with the language in the number stories.

In the first problem she worked on she had, as one step, to add 99 and 94. She quickly did, accurately. Then explained to me that she took one from the 94 and added it to the 99 so that she had 100. So she knew it was 193.

She went on to this problem, adding 2,381 and 3,077. She added the ones. Then the tens, but she took two tens from the 7 on the bottom to make 100 with the 8 on top. So she knew she had 4 hundreds with 5 tens left over. Then she added the thousands. I love the way she notated it. The way she broke the 7 and wrote the 2 and 5. And especially the 100 at the top with the line going all the way around.

I love this. I love math. I love watching kids figure things out and grow their flexibility with numbers. This is small, all things considered. But it was huge in my day. Her confidence. Her knowledge that she had this totally under control. Her explanation to me in English. It was absolutely beautiful. Math and kids. Life couldn’t be better.

Striving for Better

For the past few weeks I have been unhappy with myself as a teacher. I’ve been chastising students for doing things that nine year olds should do. I’ve been yelling at kids (not raising my voice but yelling in tone). I’ve been controlling things. I’ve been a teacher I dislike. And I have been unable to change it.

I’ve known this for a few weeks. It’s not a surprise. Every day I go in with good intentions. Every day I fail. I do not want to end the year like this. We’ve got about a month left together. I want it to be our best month all year. Right now I’m afraid it will be the worst.

This morning continued in that fashion. It’s not that I didn’t have some great interactions with kids. It’s that the big picture, the overall way I’m responding to them, is not positive.

But then we got to writing. We’ve been reading Adventures in Cartooning. Today we took the ideas about how authors create cartoons/comics/graphic novels and made a list (panels, thought balloons, speech balloons, sound effects). We talked with a partner about ideas we might have for writing in this way. They talked about writing about their family and friends (like Cece Bell and Raina Telgemeier do). They talked about writing about talking animals being captured or folks going to outer space (like Ben Hatke does). They went off and wrote and wrote and wrote. They asked if they could take their writing home to continue working on it and if they could have more pages.

I have no idea why they get clipboards and then work at a table.

After recess today we spent the rest of our afternoon on math (we take the state test next week). I broke the afternoon into smaller chunks, spending a few minutes all together looking at an idea and then sending them off to do some independent or partner work around that idea. Each time I sent them off I sat at one table and allowed anyone who wanted or felt they needed help to join me. We’d work for 20 minutes or so and then return to the carpet for a new idea. It was the best time we’ve had together in weeks.

I offered them choices in writing that excited them. I gave them time to talk through their ideas and time to work on them. I walked around and asked them questions and shared what I was noticing them doing.

I had a vision for the work we’d do with math. I worked one on one with lots of different kids. I watched them struggle and then get it (at least sometimes). I was completely focused and present with them and thinking about what they were doing and understanding and how to help them take that and build on it.

I was, for a few hours, the teacher I want to be.

Tomorrow is a short day. They go home after lunch. I’m thinking through my vision and plan for our few hours together. Then I’ve got a three day weekend to think about how to keep this going.

Kids Are People, Too

It is so easy to do things the way they’ve always been done. I believe this is true for a couple of reasons. For one, the way things have always been done is comfortable and known. Doing things differently requires questioning the way they’ve always been done. It requires extra steps of thought and planning. Secondly, doing things the way they’ve always been done is habit. Most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re doing things the way they’ve always been done. (Which is clearly related to the first reason.)

If a kid can sleep in my room, they must be tired! So sleep is the most important thing right then. (This one is faking for the camera but it happens every year.)

I tend to pride myself of not doing things the way they’ve always been done. Quite possibly I pride myself a bit more than I deserve. The area in which I think this is the greatest challenge for me is in dealing with student behavior (actually, it’s a challenge for me as a teacher and as a parent). It’s both reassuring to know I’m not alone and painful to realize how many of us teachers are doing what has always been done in responding to students.

Yet even though today’s teachers are trained to be sensitive to “social-emotional development” and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

I haven’t used red-yellow-green cards in fifteen years and behavior charts are a rarity for me. I also don’t do prizes. So I guess it could be worse.

Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

That’s what I think I do. I respond in the moment, too quickly, aiming for ‘momentary peace in the classroom’ rather than for what is best for the child. The piece I’m quoting here is from Mother Jones, What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? It goes on to discuss the idea that we should be helping students learn self-control rather than imposing our control on them. That’s where I fail far too often.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That fits my beliefs. Children will make choices that don’t show kindness, respect, or safety at times. They are human. Adults do the same. But sometimes, too often, we as schools and teachers are asking students to behave in ways that are completely inappropriate or even impossible for them, at least at that moment. Punishing them for that is unreasonable.

The article continues on to discuss the work of Ross Greene (I just checked out a couple of his books to learn more). The biggest idea is to talk with students when they are not behaving in respectful, kind, safe ways. Ask them why. Figure out what is going on with them. Making assumptions about a child’s behavior and choices will almost always lead us down the wrong road. Listening to a child can take time (which is one reason I think it doesn’t happen enough) but will give us invaluable insight.

The CPS (collaborative and proactive solutions) method hinges on training school (or prison or psych clinic) staff to nurture strong relationships—especially with the most disruptive kids—and to give kids a central role in solving their own problems. For instance, a teacher might see a challenging child dawdling on a worksheet and assume he’s being defiant, when in fact the kid is just hungry. A snack solves the problem. Before CPS, “we spent a lot of time trying to diagnose children by talking to each other,” D’Aran says. “Now we’re talking to the child and really believing the child when they say what the problems are.”

Three of the students in my classroom that have the greatest challenges at school when it comes to behavior rarely have those problems with me. I realized in the first few days of the year that they would face such challenges and worked hard then to build strong relationships with them. It has done wonders. All three are awesome kids but I’m not sure folks in the cafeteria or specials can always see that. I have one other student I didn’t identify immediately and didn’t spend the same time and effort on relationship building. I regret it daily.

Like the Long creek guards, staffers at Central were skeptical at first. When an enraged second-grader threw a chair at educational technician Susan Forsley one day, her first instinct was to not let him “get away with it.” But she swallowed her pride and left the room until the boy calmed down. Later, she sat down with him and Principal D’Aran, and they resolved that if he felt himself getting angry like that again, he would head for the guidance office, where he’d sit with stuffed animals or a favorite book to calm down. Forsley eventually learned to read his emotions and head off problems by suggesting he take a break. “Is giving him a consequence—suspending him, calling his grandparents—is that going to teach him not to throw chairs?” she asks. “When you start doing all these consequences, they’re going to dig their heels in even deeper, and nobody is going to win.”

Children are smaller than we are but they are not nearly as different from us as we like to think. Treating them as human beings rather than as something unrelated to us makes quite a difference. I think that’s really all it is. Take a moment to think about how you would like to be treated in a situation. Would it help if your boss yelled at you when you messed up? Would it help if you were removed from your peers? Would it help if you had a visible-to-all sign of how you were doing at work (the way red-yellow-green cards do)? if you stop to think about it you will likely decide it’s a bit too humiliating. Don’t do that to children either. I promise to keep trying to treat my students with respect. I expect to fail some, but I’ll keep setting that goal every day with every kid.

Walking the Testing Tightrope

For the past eight years I’ve taught first graders and kindergartners. This year I’m spending my days with third graders. I love third graders. They’re genuine, excited about everything, capable of tying their own shoes, and full of drama. Spending my days with them is pretty awesome.

Until now. Now we’re in testing season. High stakes testing season. Right now it’s too easy for me to lose sight of the trees that are my kids in the forest of testing business.

The greatest challenge, in my mind, is that my students have to take this test. So I want them to be prepared without being stressed. They’re taking these tests for the first time so there’s a lot of unknown involved, which is frequently stressful. I want to give them experiences that help them feel prepared, as they hear a lot about the tests from peers, other adults, family members, and such. But I don’t want the experiences I offer them to add any stress. Quite a tightrope we’re all walking together.

I try to frame our talk about testing through the lens of my own daughters. We talked about the kinds of problems we might face with the test and how to cope with those challenges. I explained that the first challenge here is one my oldest faces often. The middle challenge is one both my girls face sometimes. And the final one is a challenge my youngest has to face. Putting my girls’ faces on this makes it easier to take, I hope. It makes it feel normal.

(The bright spot in our week, for me at least, has been watching 19 third graders roll their shoulders in various ways after we talked about how we can roll forward or backward and both shoulders together or separate. Super cute and fun.)

We’ve looked at questions and explored the testing software. The kids are finding lots of it tricky. I don’t want them to see the test takers as out to get them. For those that are anxious I think that will increase the anxiety.

So I decided to try an analogy. Most of my kiddos are soccer folks. Even if they don’t play it often, they know it and love it. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what it takes to prepare for a soccer game. We’ll look at pictures of soccer fields with a soccer ball and a goal and nothing else and discuss how easy that goal would be to make. We’ll talk about the drills and practices soccer players do all the time to prepare for games because it’s never just the soccer ball and the goal on the field. We’ll talk about how soccer players are working to be successful in soccer games. That’s the end goal. Our goal is to be successful as readers and mathematicians. The test is like soccer drills. It has tricky parts but those are there to help us be ready to do this for real. Ready to be lifelong readers and mathematicians.

I’m not thrilled by this. I don’t like where I feel we’ve all been placed. Nothing I do will keep my students from taking this test. I’m doing all I can to keep myself balanced on that tightrope without accidentally knocking any of my kiddos off.

Family Writing Night

For a number of years my school, like many, has done a literacy night. It’s typically all about how to help families help their children as readers. This year, thanks to one of my brilliant colleagues, we decided to try something new. We hosted a Family Writing Night for Head Start through 3rd graders.

In case you don’t know anything about my school, we’re in the DC suburbs and we serve mostly families and students who have immigrated from El Salvador or Honduras. We have students from other areas as well, but the overwhelming majority of our kiddos and families come from those two countries. Many of our students made the journey but others are second-generation immigrants. Our school boundaries are pretty close to our school, with many of our students living in two apartment complexes basically a stone’s throw from our building. We have wonderful parent liaisons and secretaries who ensure that families feel welcome so we have a strong community within and outside of the building.

For our Family Writing Night our big goals were to offer families ideas for writing together and give them some time to try them out. As families arrived they were all given a copy of a picture book (King Kenrick’s Splinter, thanks to Never Counted Out). We had set up in our cafeteria and covered all the tables with bright butcher paper, which meant people could write or draw on them. We had bookmarks on the tables for kids to decorate as they waited for everyone to arrive.

To get started, we wanted to offer families some ideas without talking at them for too long. Everything was to be said in both English and Spanish so keeping the talking to a minimum was extra important and challenging. We began with Georgia Heard’s ideas from Heart Maps. We had hearts for families so they could collect ideas for writing: people, places, things that make them happy, memories, whatever. We talked about how those could be in any language, including drawings and they could hang them on the fridge at home to add to or reference in the future.

We talked some about wordless picture books (we had different ones on every table for families to use) and other books as places to get ideas as well as photographs. We shared the idea of skimming through the photos on your phone for ideas. Finally, my youngest daughter and I spent a few minutes modeling some writing together. We kept reinforcing the idea of talking, drawing, and writing. For the next half hour, families talked, drew, and wrote together. We all walked around and listened, answered questions, and encouraged. It was amazing.

At the end we did a quick wrap up and then had door prizes. Our book fair was going on (it was open the hour before and the hour after this event) so we had gift certificates for it. We also had baskets full of writing supplies: markers, colored pencils, notebooks, white boards, etc. We had one gift certificate and two baskets for each grade level so 15 families went home with an extra treat. We gave families this handout to take home as well.

I don’t know for sure how the families felt when they left, but I know I left feeling energized and excited. We did have some older siblings who were there with families who wanted to know why we hadn’t included 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. A totally reasonable question and something for us to consider in the future.

Kids Notice

These are kinders. Apparently I took far more pictures of them during recess than I do 3rd graders.

Last week, in the final quarter of the year, one of my 3rd graders caught me eating a few chips. (I was trying not to be noticed as it was about 20 minutes before lunch). She came over and said to me, “Do you know what you remind me of?” Holding my breath slightly I answered that no, I didn’t know. 3rd graders don’t do a lot of filtering, they can be quite bluntly honest and I wasn’t sure I was prepared for whatever she might have to tell me.

She said, “You remind me of the beginning of the year when I got hurt at recess. You told me to sit beside you and you gave me chips.”

This happened months ago, pretty much as she’s described it. She got hurt at recess. She was quite upset. I didn’t think she was hurt too badly and I prefer not to send kids to the clinic if they don’t really need something. So I often have kids sit with me and take a little break. I give them some attention and love and usually that’s enough to heal the hurt.

This one, at least in my estimation early on, was one who can be a tad dramatic. A bit like I was at her age and a bit like my own daughters can be. I thought she might need a little more than the standard care. I had chips with me as I had rushed through lunch so I shared them with her. I don’t usually have chips so I didn’t figure I was setting too big a precedent (I don’t like to share my chips, they are a great treat).

It was astounding to me that she remembers this from at least six months ago. I wouldn’t have recalled it without her prompting. It was a reminder to me of how much the small things we do make such a difference. Those small things might be kindnesses or they might be slights. Either way, they are impacting kids.

We need to be far more aware than we normally are about the language we choose, the tone we use, and our body language. Typically we aren’t hyper aware of these things and it works out fine. But with the children in our care we must be. They are. They notice what we say. They notice how we say it. They notice so much of what we are telling them that we miss. We need to be aware. We need to be thoughtful. We need to sure that ALL the messages we send children say that we care for them, that we believe in them, and that they mater.

Books By Women

On International Women’s Day Lee posted a challenge. List 95 books by women and non-binary individuals. 95 books you’ve read.

That seemed intimidating but intriguing. So I started thinking. And it wasn’t as tough as I thought to come up with 95 authors for that list. For some of these women I’ve read multiple books by them. I’ve tried to link to as many as possible (which is why this is showing up so far after International Women’s Day). Making this list was a joy, surprisingly, because I remembered authors I want to read more of now.

  1. Roxane Gay: Bad Feminist
  2. Louise Penny: Inspector Gamache series
  3. Jacqueline Winspear: Maise Dobbs series
  4. Laurie King: Mary Russell series and Kate Martinelli series
  5. Chimimanda Ngozi Adichi: Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists and The Thing Around Your Neck
  6. Caitlin Moran: How to Be a Woman
  7. Jan Burkis & Kim Yaris: Who’s Doing the Work?: How To Say Less So Readers Can Do More
  8. Kate Atkinson: Case Histories
  9. Artis Henderson: Unremarried Widow
  10. Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half
  11. Karin Slaughter: The Kept Woman (I want to read more of these books!)
  12. Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Jinni
  13. Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper
  14. Margaret Atwood: Stone Matress: Nine Wicked Tales
  15. Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
  16. Kate Schatz: Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide
  17. Carole Boston Weatherford: You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen and Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hammer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement among others
  18. Jacqueline Woodson: Each Kindness and The Other Side among others
  19. Eileen Spinelli: Where I Live and While You Are Away
  20. Kate DiCamillo: Flora and Ulysses and Tale of Desperaux and the Mercy Watson series and the Bink and Gollie series
  21. Blue Balliett: Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 and Hold Fast among others
  22. Kirby Larson: Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After
  23. Malala Yousafzi: I Am Malala
  24. Laurie Halse Anderson: Fever 1793
  25. Marilyn Nelson: How I Discovered Poetry and My Seneca Village and American Ace
  26. A.S. King: Ask the Passengers
  27. Rachel Hartman: Seraphina
  28. Elizabeth Wein: Code Name Verity
  29. Jessica Day George: Tuesdays at the Castle series
  30. Sharon Creech: Love That Dog and Hate That Cat and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup
  31. Jessica Herthel: I Am Jazz
  32. Tamora Pierce: First Test and the following books in the series
  33. Ann Patchett: State of Wonder – not kids
  34. Monica Brown: Side by Side Lado a Lado and Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People
  35. E.L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place and others
  36. Kelly DiPucchio: Grace for President and Zombie in Love
  37. Susan Taylor Brown: Hugging the Rock
  38. Helen Frost: Diamond Willow and Hidden
  39. Thanhha Lai: Inside Out and Back Again
  40. Margi Preus: Heart of the Samurai 
  41. Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis and Persepolis 2
  42. Judith Viorst: So many! But I love Lulu and the Brontosaurus and If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries
  43. Linda Tirado: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America – not kids
  44. Jennifer Holm: Sunny Side Up and Turtle in Paradise and so many more
  45. Cynthia Rylant: The Relatives Came and God Got a Dog and countless more (truly, I don’t think I could count them all)
  46. J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter series (of course) and The Casual Vacancy and the Cormoran Strike series
  47. Jessica Spotswood: A Tyranny of Petticoats (she actually edited this collection but it’s fabulous and I can’t skip it)
  48. Kekla Magoon: Shadows of Sherwood (and she has a short story in the above collection)
  49. Kathy Collins: I Am Reading: Nurturing Young Children’s Meaning Making and Joyful Engagement with Any Book – not kids
  50. Donalyn Miller: The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child – not kids
  51. Lois Lowry: The Giver and Number the Stars and so mnay more
  52. Lauren Child: The New Small Person
  53. Cornelia Funke: The Thief Lord and the Inkheart trilogy
  54. Shannon Hale: Princess in Black series and The Goose Girl
  55. Eve Bunting: How Many Days to America and The Pirate Captain’s Daughter and many, many more
  56. Pam Munoz Ryan: When Marian Sang and others
  57. Gennifer Choldenko: Al Capone Does My Shirts
  58. Mara Rockliff: Me and Momma and Big John
  59. Katie Kennedy: Learning to Swear in America
  60. Salina Yoon: Penguin books
  61. Kate Hannigan: The Detective’s Assistant
  62. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility – not kids
  63. Zetta Elliott: Bird
  64. Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking
  65. Dana Simpson: Phoebe and Her Unicorn and at least one of the sequels
  66. Nancy Springer: Enola Holmes series
  67. Ursula Vernon: Castle Hangnail
  68. Victoria Jamieson: Roller Girl
  69. Cassie Beasley: Circus Mirandus
  70. Erin Morganstern: The Night Circus – not kidding
  71. Judy Blume: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Are You There God It’s Me Margaret and more and more
  72. Rukhsana Khan: Big Red Lollipop
  73. Natalie Babbitt: Tuck Everlasting
  74. Holly Black: Zombies vs. Unicorns (again, she was an editor as this is a collection of fabulous short stories)
  75. Maryrose Wood: The Incorrigable Children of Ashton Place series
  76. Jennifer Fisher Bryant: Pieces of Georgia
  77. Lindsay Mattick: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
  78. Barbara Robinson: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and others
  79. Sarah Miller: The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century
  80. Rachel Renee Russel: at least one of the Dork Diaries books
  81. Ellen Oh: Prophecy
  82. Julia Otsuka: When the Emperor was Divine – not kids
  83. Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park
  84. Maria Semple: Where’d You Go, Bernadette 0 not kids
  85. Lissa Evans: Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure
  86. Victoria Thompson: Murder in the Bowery (I need to read more books in the series!) – not kids
  87. Leslea Newman: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard
  88. Lynn Povich: The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace – not kids
  89. Tracey Hecht: The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions
  90. Lauren McLaughlin: Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in What’s That Smell
  91. Ursula K. LeGuin: The Left-Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Earthsea
  92. Linda Ashman: Rain! (this is one of my favorite picture books)
  93. Cathy O’Neil: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy 
  94. Jo Baker: Longbourn
  95. Ann Leckie: Ancillary Mercy

Thoughts on Diversity in Classroom Libraries

For the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of the lack of diversity in children’s literature. As a straight, white, middle class female who grew up with a mom, a dad, and one sibling (and is now in a family that is exactly the same), I had no trouble seeing myself in literature. I have trouble naming books that showed me people different from me during my childhood. Aside from boys. There were plenty of boys in books I read.

I teach a graduate class in elementary literacy. Tonight, instead of meeting on campus, we met in my classroom. The main goal for class tonight was to spend some time analyzing my classroom library.

We focused on race, gender roles for kids, gender roles for adults, and family structure. There are so many other things we could have examined, but time is finite. Quickly these graduate students noticed how rare it is to see a person of color in children’s literature, how traditional gender roles for both children and adults are pervasive, and how stereotypical family structures are overwhelmingly the norm. They were wise enough to note that this is true in a classroom library they know has had significant effort made to be diverse.

We had some great conversations. My goal was simply to raise their awareness of the lack of diversity in children’s literature and the need to have far more of it. These are students who want to be literacy specialists in schools. They will likely have some say in purchasing decisions when it comes to books for their buildings. I want this to be in their heads.

I shared with them two stories about Rick Riordan. The first was about the cover of the various titles in his Kane Chronicles series. One of the main characters is very clearly Black in the books. Very clearly. And yet, in many editions of the book in other countries, he was being portrayed as white on the covers. To my understanding, authors often have very little control over the art in their books. Riordan has fought and managed to get some covers changed. (The editions of the Kane Chronicles that I have in my classroom have the main characters somewhat in shadow or silhouette, making race hard to determine. That’s certainly one option for publishers. Not a good one, in my mind.)

The second Riordan story is about his new Gods of Asgard series (Norse gods). The title character, Magnus Chase, is rescued (for lack of a better word) by Samirah, a Muslim teenage girl. In the second book, a new character is introduced who is gender fluid. I don’t know that Riordan is doing this perfectly. I’m sure there are ways in which he is screwing up writing about people so different from him. But he appears to be making a darn good effort to get it right. And he’s using his level of fame to make things happen in middle grade novels that might otherwise get squelched.

My one regret about class tonight is that we didn’t talk about diversity in authors. I know if I tallied up the books in my classroom library a significant percentage would be written by white men. Just one more thing I’m working on as I continually expand my collection.

Accountability Excessiveness

I haven’t written in a while because I’m having trouble prioritizing this. I think one of my challenges is that I don’t want to write junk but I know how much time it would take to write what I want to write. So I just put it off.

This isn’t going to be what I want to write. But at least it will be getting some of my thoughts out of my head and here instead.

from Gwydion M Williams’s flickr

I spent an hour and a half yesterday in training for our state standardized tests. I am now aware of how much time my students and I are going to need to spend exploring and understanding how to use the online testing program. There are so many tools and things for them to know before the tests in a month. So instead of spending time exploring books or nature or magnets or building blocks or something else, we’ll spend time exploring an online testing program. A program that likely costs my state a large amount of money.

I spent all day today in training to score binders for a state alternate assessment. In two weeks I’ll spend two days scoring. There were about 100 of us in training today. More folks will be trained tomorrow and Thursday. These alternate assessments are in binders (about 20,000 of them for our district) with many, many pages in each.

The time, energy, and money spent on accountability measures is horrifying to me. I’m not anti-accountability, but I’m anti-the-way-we’re-doing-it-now.

Parent Engagement Isn’t A One-Way Street

from tacit requiem’s flickr      

 

Why is parent engagement always looked at from the lens of wanting parents to come to school so we educators can tell them how to be better parents? The only other option that seems to be common is parents coming in to serve the school by volunteering in different ways. (And just as a slightly-irrelevant aside, why is it parent engagement? Given that we know many children are living with other family members as well as or instead of their parents, why don’t we talk about family engagement?)

An article, Goodbye parent-teacher conferences, hello poetry workshops: How New York City is redefining engagement, is what set off my current rant. It’s about Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT):

the approach focuses on teaching groups of parents to engage their children academically, and encourages them to talk about how their students are performing as a group — not just individually.

The idea isn’t terrible, but it has some serious flaws. Each of the sessions is designed to teach parents something about what and how their children are learning and how they can help. I have some issues there. But, in addition, during each session parents have time to talk to each other.

Hannah Yeats, a teacher at West Prep who co-facilitated the APTT session, shuttled around the room, occasionally encouraging some of the more timid parents to speak up or exchange phone numbers.

In the past, “parents had each other’s numbers — and that’s kind of faded,” Yeats said. “We need to create community. There aren’t structures in place to encourage that support system to be built.”

I will admit to having very few phone numbers (or email addresses) for any of my daughters’ friends’ families. I do wish our communities were tighter. (Not that I’m doing a dang thing to change that.) Families getting to know each other, if they don’t already, is helpful for their children, I believe. Communities and connections are healthy for us humans.

from Aaron & Jennie’s flickr

But, I think there are issues:

Parents were invited to three separate 75-minute sessions evenly spaced throughout the school year, typically led by one or more of their student’s teachers. They are given a chance to get to know each other, learn specific methods for talking with their children about schoolwork, and review their children’s progress on math and reading tests together.

Between sessions, parents are expected to bring the strategies developed at the APTT meetings home: Something as simple as asking probing questions about what a child is reading, or playing a game that requires using math concepts like factors and products.

So, teachers teach the parents what to do with their children and they review test scores together. Ugh. This is not a partnership in any way. This is the school wanting the parents to ‘partner’ with them in order to increase student achievement. But the view of partnering is that parents should do exactly what the school asks of them exactly as they ask them to do it.

There is no sense in this structure that parents have anything to offer the school or the teachers beyond following their directions. This is absurd. Parents know their children better than anyone else possibly could. We educators could do so much more for children if we viewed their families as true partners. As partners who have something to offer us, to teach us. If we viewed family engagement as a two-way street all groups (teachers, parents, and students) would benefit.

Also, don’t even get me started on this piece from the principal:

“In a school with low-performing students, and students who come in from low-income situations, we don’t get a lot of parent participation,” Washington said, pointing out that many students have parents who work multiple jobs or have been incarcerated.

Apparently this sort of program rather than parent-teacher conferences (although, those are still happening at this school alongside this program) is needed because this school has many low-income students. Blergh.

Parents, overwhelmingly are engaged with their children, whether they are low-income parents or wealthy ones. In general, the great majority of parents are working hard to do the right thing for their children. If we really want to engage families and schools together, one option would be to include the children. Don’t take away the most critical part of the equation. Bring families in together. Allow children to teach their families about what they’re doing in school. And good gracious, keep the test scores out of it!