Tag Archives: Common Core

Jamming, Hacking, and Connecting at #NCTE14

It’s been a whirlwind at #ncte14, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far. Here’s a rundown of a few of my favorite moments:

(1) Going for a river run with my former HS teacher / forever career mentor / PaperGrader blogger extraordinaire / generally awesome person, Sarah Zerwin (aka Doc Z).

me n' doc z

me n’ doc z

(2) Lunch with former methods instructor / another forever career mentor / joyous human and great friend, Kim Parker and the amazing Elliott True (#ETatNCTE!)

(3) Beverages and long conversations about surviving graduate school with JPEE compatriots Christie Toth and Bonnie Tucker, featuring reflections on how finishing a PhD changes both everything and absolutely nothing at all (but mostly nothing at all).


#ETatNCTE! this is the happiest kid in the universe, ppl.

(4) Presentation with incredible teachers and friends Dawn Reed, Aram Kabodian, and Jeremy Hyler, chaired by our co-digital-thinker Troy Hicks, where I met a couple Boston teachers who made it to NCTE and added a few dozen more tasks to the to-do list.

(5) Late night conversations (sometimes featuring being locked out of our hotel room) with NCTE roommate / NWP and MSU PhD genius / Social Network buddy Andrea Zellner, who led the coolest Hack Jam session this morning. Sarah, Dawn, and I hacked the convention hall and thought deep thoughts about how hacking helps us reimagine spaces (a few deep thoughts below).


#ncte #hackjam fun

This is my fifth NCTE, and every year I’m reminded why this conference is a non-negotiable one for me; not only do I have the opportunity to reconnect with incredible people who have shaped my career, but I get to brainstorm, collaborate, co-create, and generally challenge my own thinking and writing. In the hackjam session, for example, I was reminded how powerful “hacking” can be, and was inspired to bring some hacking ideas back to Boston with me. We had a few minutes to freewrite after we hacked. Here are a few of my in-the-moment thoughts:

I’ve avoided the exhibit hall always. It’s a scary place where ppl try to sell you stuff, where the “Common Core” is written on everything, where test scores drive sales and agendas, where PEARSON lives. Ick.

Tasked with getting “all the free stuff,” it felt fitting – HAHA! I will go to this place I detest and jack them of all the free crap they give you so that you’ll buy stuff, and then I’ll remix it. What followed, I did not expect.

I talked to those sitting around me about how hacking helped us reimagine the space of the vendor-thick exhibition hall; suddenly, I was looking for things I could repurpose, reimagine, and recreate, and the general malaise I always felt about the exhibit hall was lifted. I was searching for colorful things, things I could rip up, cut up, tape together, or stick to other things. When we returned to the session, we (in collaboration with others who had also hacked the exhibition hall) created a banner (pictured above) with all the free stuff we had gathered. The banner invites participants to create their own story, with bins for “characters,” “settings,” and “conflicts.” Presenters shared other resources for hacking in the classroom, like X-Ray Goggles, which lets you “hack” websites (thereby teaching you, or your students, some basic web authorship and coding).

The session challenged me to think about the skills students need for the 21st century — is one of these skills the ability to hack — to look at a space, a tool, a thing, and reimagine it? This is at the heart of innovation.

How can teachers help students learn how to do this? How are digital tools part of this learning? What kind of classroom supports this kind of thinking, learning, making? The mind boggles.

Also I’m going to write a book with Jeremy Hyler on interdisciplinary collaboration and digital literacies. IT’S HAPPENING. Along with about a thousand other projects I’ve saddled myself with in the last few days. Because that’s what these conferences are for, yo. More reflections to come, I’m sure.

I Knew It! Or, Why Stories are Awesome

Did you know that our brains are wired to listen to stories and get all lit up and excited like those MRI scans you see of people listening to some concerto? Well, I did. But here’s an awesome article that discusses this phenomenon far more articulately: “What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains.”

This comes to me via The Paper Graders who got it via a Penny Kittle Tweet. The Internet is almost as awesome as stories.

I’m going to veer off now, but I swear I’ll come back. I love my partner-in-crime, spouse-extraordinaire, and fellow amateur chef to death, but there is one area in which we differ drastically: he does not read novels. I do. I love novels. I read novels regularly and tell myself it’s because I have to do it for work, but that’s a total lie. I’m currently catching up with the rest of the universe and reading Life of Pi, which is amazing. He, on the other hand, is perfectly capable of reading a good novel (he did over vacation, as a matter of fact), but when it comes right down to it, his storytelling, storyreading, and storylistening preferences are simply different from mine.

All of that said, our relationship revolves around stories. We spend our evenings telling each other stories. Stories about our day. Stories about our lives. Stories we’ve really told each other over and over again but that don’t ever get old, because we love them so much. Stories about who we are. Stories about who we want to be. Stories about who we will someday be, and who all the people in our lives will someday be with us.

Ever met a 5 year old kid? (if your answer is no, crawl out from under your rock.) They’re the same way — only they’re obsessed with that one picture book you swear you never want to see again or that one story about Uncle Joe that you swear isn’t funny but they swear really, really is.

In other words, just because my husband doesn’t read stories in novel form doesn’t mean he doesn’t love stories. He talks all the time about whether or not he can “tell a story” with his science. I don’t really understand his science, so I don’t really know what that means, but I’m pretty sure if he “had no story,” none of the other scientists in scientistland would care at all about his science. The story gives it life, gives it a purpose. Right down to the most “objective” thinkers, we all love stories.

I do the research I do because I love listening to people’s stories and then weaving them together to tell another story, incorporating them into my own stories, and reimagining my work around their stories.

Allow me to quote Mr. S over at TPG:

Humans are fundamentally narrative creating machines. It is how we grapple with the world around us, our experiences, that which we generally call reality, pretty much everything. We process the world in the form of stories. Stories that we make up to make sense of our own lives, stories we make up to make sense of other’s lives, stories we make up to share our ideas. To the extent that a particular human gets good at the skill of constructing narrative he or she gets good at operating in community with other humans. And becomes good at dealing with him or herself.

So why is the story-ness being sucked out of education? David Coleman and other CCSS advocates argue that we need to take all those useless stories out of our classrooms and replace them with good, hard, expository texts. That writing narratives gets kids nowhere. That reading them gets them even more nowhere (or something like that).

It depresses me, but I see this shift happening in my own teaching and tutoring — one of my students came to me with a narrative assignment that got her so excited, we spent two sessions staring at it, revising it, and reimagining it together. I’ve never seen this kid revise like she did in those two sessions. I’ve never seen her so excited about writing. The experience made me realize how little creative energy students are getting at school — and, apparently, from me during tutoring. Shame on me. With this drive to be more able to “argue academically,” we’ve (I’ve) apparently forgotten that good argumentation relies on stories. I knew it… once. Did I really forget it? Forget what an integral part of education storytelling, storymaking, and storyreading is? That many stories, in fact, are making an argument. Carol Jago says on commoncore.org:

Across the nation, teachers say “I don’t have time to teach literature and literary nonfiction anymore” Why? Because the focus turns to the behaviors that students need to perform on assessments. What’s wrongheaded about this is that, with every fiber of my body, I know that the best prep for any kind of assessment in reading is to read and that students who read 20, 30, 40 books a year are probably going to have a pretty good vocabulary, understand complex syntax, and know what to do when they meet challenges in text.

The real heart breaking part of this though, is that the students who find themselves most often in the classes that are literature lite [and] reading lite, are those students who are most disengaged from school. So what are they experiencing? They experience a content-free curriculum. And the result is that instead of what we hope is a meaningful day in education, it’s meaning-less. And so it reaffirms these students’ belief that school is about nothing. English– that’s about commas and stuff– and that is the opposite of what those of us who love literature, love teaching students about literature, and love engendering those rich conversations about literature, would love to happen.

If we suck the stories out of classrooms — just like if my husband were to suck the stories out of one of his papers about proteins and stuff — nobody’s gonna care, least of all a roomful of teenagers. It’s time to make sure that we’re spending our time thinking about the stories we tell, where they take us, and where they come from. This doesn’t mean we need to read more novels. That decidedly would not have worked for my husband, who hated Beloved as a kid (but didn’t hate 1984, from what I can tell) and finds stories in other places. But it does mean we need to make sure that schooling doesn’t lose its creative edge. Even science tells a story.

I’m going to start with my own teaching, and go from there.

(One More) NCTE Thought: the common core

I didn’t capitalize the second half of the title out of solidarity. As Mr. S from TPG points out, the common core don’t deserve the status nod of capital letters.

In the days since the convention, I’ve been desperately trying to catch up with my life, which left me behind for two weeks as I first went to NCTE and then came home to a turkey, stuffing, and a couple much-needed days off. Because I’ve been trying to grade unit calendars that my pre-service teachers just turned in, and because I need… need… NEED! to finish this memo so that I can be done with the prospectus, I haven’t been following my feeds or blogs besides an occasional check here and there to see what’s new. But today, it’s back to the normal routine, which means Monday lunch at home in front of my RSS feeds, which usually means a blog post. What I’m noticing today? A lot of frustration with the common core standards. If you don’t know about them… you should. Click here.

Note: as I’m writing this, an email came into my inbox from the NCTE teaching and learning forum entitled “Deadline for Commentaries on the Common Core Extended…” I can’t seem to escape these standards this week.

Mitch Nobis’s post on the ccss and their prevalence at the conference caught my attention, along with Mr. S’s post above. Mr. S came away with a slightly more upbeat take on the standards rhetoric from the conference, but I have to say, like Nobis, I was pretty startled by the prevalence of talk about the common core and the degree to which common core rhetoric is becoming so prevalent in conversations about English teaching. Nearly every third session at NCTE this year was about the common core. What is going on here, folks?

But, on the other hand, it sort of makes sense. This is what teachers are doing in their classrooms and departments right now, and those are the voices we hear at NCTE. And I regret to admit I’m part of the problem. I participated in a group here at UM that put together a common core book series, Supporting Students, with NCTE. I’ve given presentations at CEE and NCTE on working within and beyond the common core in the ELA classroom. When I struggle with my own demons, I usually end up concluding that things like standards and tests are (or at least appear to be) here to stay, so what else can I do but figure out how to work with (around?) them?

As soon as I think that (or worse — as soon as it come out of my mouth), I get angry. Nobis voiced his frustration with the thousands of people who keep saying “I know they’re standards, but they’re not that bad.” I’ve said that, and the fact that I’ve said it makes me mad. At myself. At textbook companies and corporate lobbyists who convinced the federal government that tying these standards to important funding was an ethical thing to do (see post from last week). At myself again. Because isn’t it my job to draw on research and what we know about teaching and learning in my work — not on the common core? Isn’t it my job to push the frontiers of education forward… isn’t that what research is for? By the time it’s all said and done, I’m just mad at everything. I sort of want to scream “WHY ISN’T ANYONE LISTENING TO US?”

So that’s where I am with things this Monday. Now on to this memo, which I really, really, REALLY! need to finish.

AFT Supports Common Core with Money, Resolution

This comes to my attention this morning as I steel my knees for what will likely be another gruelling session of physical therapy…

Schools Matter posted about the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) proposed resolution to support the Common Core State Standards, which go into effect in some schools this fall. AFT is not only supporting the standards in words, however. They are also spending millions on resources for teachers who will need to teach to the CCSS and reorient their curricula towards these new standards.

I haven’t seen what AFT has or will come up with, but I have to say — this concerns me for a few reasons. First of all, a major teacher’s union/representation group is throwing their weight behind an administrative movement that also strips teachers of their bargaining rights and threatens to publish students’ test scores publicly (see recent events in NYC). I also know nothing about who AFT is getting to help them design these resources and can only hope they are looking to professionals in the field — teachers themselves and education scholars — instead of textbook companies, who have promised to “align” their texts to the CCSS since the standards were conceived and stand to make a lot of money in the process.

It is my hope that teachers turn to their own professional organizations — NCTE, MCTE… there’s another one for science, one for history teachers, and others around the country — for resources related to teaching in their disciplines and in response to the CCSS. These organizations’ primary goal is ALWAYS to support teachers as professionals, which it unfortunately seems is not the primary goal of AFT.