Tuesday, March 25, 2014

TCRWP 86th Saturday Reunion Part 1: Ideas and Quotes Worth Mulling Over

The TCRWP's Saturday Reunion began with education historian, Diane Ravitch, as the featured speaker. Titled, Rescuing Education, her presentation focused on the issues in education from teacher ratings to the constant reforms.

While Ravitch shared insightful information about the abysmal state of education in the United States, her speech came across as sometimes harsh and unyielding. She made strong comments about Teach for America and first year students that instinctively put my back up. Though her conclusions were based on research, she didn't follow up with the positive sides, leaving both populations potentially offended.

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you're listening to a speaker denounce TFA and you're considering accepting their offer.

#ThatSecondAwkwardMoment when the speaker claims that (according to research), first year teachers are so poorly trained that they actually harm students and you've only been certified for 45 days.

Nuggets of Enlightenment from Ravitch:
  • The common core violates the requirements for writing standards as laid down by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Read more about Ravitch's ideas on this here.
  • Reformers are trying to create a universal outlet for learning, but "students are not appliances to be plugged in and teaching cannot be standardized. Just let us teach!"
  • Standardized tests have no diagnostic value as they only measure the achievement gap, instead of actually close it.
Ravitch suggests that:
  1. Teacher-made exams replace standardized tests to increase diagnostic value.
  2. Standards be made more user/student/teacher friendly and are constantly reviewed and revised as necessary.
  3. Teachers should teach what they love. The choice should lie with the teachers, not "them."
  4. Create authentic assessments that test real-world skills.
After the opening presentation, hundreds of teachers made a mad dash for the Session I workshop of their choice. A full workshop meant another dash to your next choice. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

I strategically chose Mary Ehrenworth's workshop, The Project's Latest Thinking on Essay Writing, as it was in the same room as Ravitch's. Ehrenworth began with defining the illustrious essay. Back in the day, the essay was a space for writers to come to new understanding about a topic. As such, the thesis was often towards the end or even only implied. However, our concept of the essay has changed. Now, essays are meant to inform express opinion, persuade, or present an argument.

It's clear that there is a need for strengthening student writing, especially when it comes to essay writing. In her workshop, Ehrenworth shares a few strategies for raising the level of essay writing in schools.

See the Strategies part of this TCRWP series here.

For Session II, I found myself in another writing workshop with Ms. Ehrenworth. In Increasing Cohesion or Transference, the focus was ensuring the skills/knowledge from previous grades are enforced and strengthened in the next. Click the link above to see the strategies for this workshop as well.

Espana, Center.
I was especially excited for session III, as I looked forward to Carla Espana's Ten Culturally Relevant Read Alouds. This workshop was mostly a list of resources and suggestions for how to use them in the classroom. See the Resources part of this TCRWP series for a list of books here.

However, Espana began with presenting the positives of using culturally relevant texts in the classroom:
  • increase reading proficiency
  • increase engagement
  • connection to students' cultural background knowledge/schemas
  • actively moving beyond tolerance to affirmation, solidarity, and critique of diverse cultures
I burned more calories trying to get to Gerrit Jones-Rooy's workshop on Engaging the Disengaged than to the previous three workshops combined. I was able to easily find the right building, but I could not find the stairway that would take me up to the second floor! When I did eventually find it, it was purely accidental and I thanked my lucky stars.

So, this workshop presented some great strategies for getting students engaged with reading. Nothing breaks a Book Nerd's heart into tiny pieces faster than a child saying, "I hate reading." *clenches chest* Just. typing. those. words. . . . so painful.

According to Jones-Rooy, the issues that need to be tacked are:
  1. Readers' understanding of what reading actually is and the distinction between dormant and resistant readers.
  2. Fostering a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset.
In addition, what we must believe and understand are that:
  • "Reading is boring" actually means "I need help with this."
  • Engaging students in lessons, read alouds, and fluency should be the #1 priority.
  • Middle school students (and high school as well) care more about what their friends think than what their teachers think. (Use to your advantage, baby!)
  • Textual lineages allow students to be hooked into reading by their interests. As Ehrenworth mentioned in her Increasing Cohesion and Transference workshop, "all children are secret geeks about something."
See strategies for how to present reading and books in a positive light from Day 1 here.

 The closing for the TCRWP Saturday Reunion was presented by the hilarious Kathy Collins, who Some Musings About What Matters Most When Most Everything is High Priority.

The Musings:
  • Refer to students as the children (or teenagers) that they are. This keeps teaching personal as "we may do things to students that we wouldn't do to children."
  • The DOE broke up with us. What do you do when someone breaks up with you? You cry, scream, or eat ice cream, but then you start working past it, remembering what's important. Teachers need to move pass each reform/change and remember what's important--the children.
  • It's "easy to feel bad and inferior," but focus on the simplicities of teaching.
  • Simple Dreams for Children:
    • Children will be strong readers who love to, choose to, and share reading.
    • Children will have wide-ranging reading appetites and highly functional reading habits.
    • Children will believe that when they give something to a text, they get something back. "Let the text inspire you to say, think, feel something you never said, thought, felt before."
The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project's 86th Saturday Reunion was an amazing experiencing and I learned so much. I'm looking forward to the 87th reunion next Fall.

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of this series for strategies and resources.

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