Monday, August 31, 2009

PDTR-OCP

Tomorrow I'm facilitating the first session of the Professional Learning Community that I mentioned earlier in the summer (twice, actually, here and then here). I'm a little anxious, I confess, but the ELA Department ordered a book I recommended, I've been reading a lot of articles in search of the best material for our group, and I think I've found an angle worth pursuing. The book calls it "professional development through reflection-oriented communities of practice." Kind of a mouthful, no? Basically it involves writing about what goes on in our classroom, sharing it with others to get their input, all the while reflecting upon it ourselves. It's kind of like "write to learn" for teachers, but the best thing about it to me is that it includes key elements of the Writing Project, of which this PLC is supposed to be a continuation: teachers as writers, sharing practice, writing groups, and self-directed professional development.

We're going to hammer out the details when we meet, but I wanted to get the idea in written form, because that is the idea. (And, I'll let you how it goes tomorrow, because that is also part of the concept.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What They're Reading in Edgecomb

Who could miss the big article on the front page of the NY Times this morning about reading workshop? The piece profiles a teacher from Georgia who spends a week with Nancie Atwell at her school in Maine. (Full disclosure: I did that too!) Afterwards, she goes back home and reorganizes her reading program, basing it on student-selected texts. The reporter, Motoko Rich, summarizes the rationale behind the reading workshop, and she gives a round-up of several schools and systems that are using it, either in whole or in part, in order to motivate their students to read more and more thoughtfully.

I use a reading workshop in my sixth grade English class, and I have since I started teaching in 1993. Atwell's In the Middle was a required text in my graduate program, and her argument for engaging student agency resonated with me from the first. I wanted my class to be like hers: a place where kids really cared about what they were reading and writing and actively worked to improve their literacy skills and knowledge because it was important to them. Choice and accountability within a predictable structure are the keys to creating such a dynamic climate. Sixteen years later, I find it's still an ongoing process, which only makes sense, right?

Anyway. Like the Memphis article I posted about a few days ago, the comments on this one are fascinating to read, especially those written by non-educators. Many people are against such an approach on the grounds that we can't trust kids to choose quality literature. In their minds, it is the teacher's job to coerce and motivate kids to read texts of value. I must say I appreciate Ms. Rich's thoughtful and well-reasoned responses to several of these comments. She does an excellent job clarifying and extending the discussion while addressing the questions and concerns raised.

AND it's kind of cool that this conversation is happening in such a high profile place.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heroes v. Humans

"What are these two coming over tonight- are they Republicans or Democrats?" So asked my friend's 86-year-old dad before we arrived for dinner this evening.

"They're Independents, Dad," my friend replied, and that seemed to mollify him. Seems they had been watching Edward Kennedy's funeral all day, and he was in a bit of a lather about it. He suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and so day to day, even minute to minute, working memory is a challenge for him, but, believe me, he knows he despises Ted Kennedy. A retired USAF general, he told us several times tonight about an altercation he had with Senator Kennedy in a washroom in the capitol over thirty-five years ago. Harsh words echoed off tiled walls as the two men disagreed.

I am nowhere close to an Independent, but the older I get, the more interested I am in the opinions of people who disagree with me, especially in a safe situation like this evening. There was no chance of a confrontation; we were content to listen to an old man rant. "What really gets me," he told us more than once, "is that I've known a lot of people who have given as much or more to this country as he has." He tilted his chin toward the television where the funeral procession was crossing Memorial Bridge on its way into Arlington Cemetery. "I was there at the end for them, and they got nothing near all this." He waved at the TV in exasperation. "I'm sorry he's dead, but the guy was a son of a bi..." Here he lowered his voice and looked at us meaningfully. "Pardon my language, but he was. I knew him, you know." We nodded politely.

I thought about it, and I wondered if maybe it wasn't the memorial events themselves that he objected to, but rather their broadcast on TV. People die, funerals happen, but sometimes the press coverage makes it seem that some deaths are more important than others. The corollary, of course, is that some lives are more valuable than others, which seems counter to democracy. How glaring that discrepancy must be to one who lost respect for the fallen in, of all places, a restroom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

21st Century Buzz

We met with our financial advisor the other day. The guy is a stitch. Originally from Australia, he found his way to financial planning via a career in the Air Force. A retired colonel, he's not yet 50. All of these elements combine to create quite a character. For example, the guy is big on empirical data. He takes his observations and spins them around in that hopper of a brain of his and then presents them, shiny, but undeniably a tad dizzy. He carries a yellow legal pad and is perfectly willing to diagram and chart his theories.

These ideas of his are not limited to investment, oh no, and that accent will charm you and carry you right along with him. I especially appreciated his skepticism about the rise of the multi-tasker. He reckons it's impossible for so many to be so proficient at several simultaneous pursuits. He bases this on his own experience. According to him, he is a good multi-tasker, but this simply must be a rare talent, because he is of above average intelligence and very hard-working, and he knows how tough it is for him to juggle so many considerations at once.

I thought of him yesterday, when we kicked off our first big meeting of the school year with a couple of YouTube videos describing the world our students are growing up in, contrasting it not only to the one in which many of us came of age, but also to the way things were just five years ago. Information and technology are growing exponentially. (Hello? We watched YouTube in a staff meeting...)

I'm guessing my money guy would make an argument for adaptation without disregarding the value of the basics-- those things that do not change or lose value; he is definitely a pragmatist. But in such a fast-paced climate, how do we determine what those are? To me, the take away was that we must prepare our students for the world that they will live in in the future, not the world we grew up in, or even the world today. Multi-tasking is the least of it. We have to think beyond our personal experience, and (now I'm doing my own empirical thing) that's really hard.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Home-School Communication: Can We Talk?

I read an article about a change in the grading system in Memphis Public Schools. Basically, they've decided not to retain any kids in kindergarten through 4th grade, and they're replacing letter grades for the same group with spreadsheets for each student indicating mastery of content knowledge and skills. This checklist will follow the student from grade to grade. In addition, students who are not meeting grade-level benchmarks will receive targeted support.

To me, a teacher, this does not seem like such a radical plan, and to be honest I was a little disappointed that it wasn't more innovative. When I finished the main article, though, my eye fell upon the comments. There were over 300! I skimmed through the first few and then slowed down. I couldn't believe the outpouring of emotion from the citizens of Memphis. This comment sums up the general feeling:

This is absolutely, positively, ridiculously, bar-none the STUPIDEST God blessed thing I have ever heard of.

Let's not worry about fixing the problem, no! Let's just continue to lower standards and worry about children's "self esteem" rather than educating them to be able to function in the real world. We have employers who talk about how this generation of employees have the worst case of "gimme" they have ever seen, and we wonder why?? PATHETIC


I was shocked. Reading through several of the subsequent remarks showed me how little average citizens know about what happens at school and what an overall negative opinion they have of education in Memphis and in the U.S.

Gosh. Maybe I ought to rethink my Back-to-School-Night presentation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yay! Meetings

There's nothing like an all day meeting to really get you in the mood for a new school year. It may sound like I'm being sarcastic, but I assure you, I am not. Although I can't say I'm looking forward to those six hours or so tomorrow, I know it will get my head back in the game, and I do love the game.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Clean Start

How are you going to spend your last days of summer? Do you have any special plans? These are the considerate questions of those who know that I am a teacher and that school is starting soon.

As it turns out, I do have something going on these final days of vacation. I plan to wrap up the summer with a colon that is as clean as a whistle. Because of family health history, I have had a colonoscopy every three years for the last twelve, and this is the magic year. Perhaps you have heard from those you know who have had this experience that it's not the procedure, it's the preparation. What they mean is this: twenty invasive minutes is minimal compared to the 36 hours one must spend ensuring that the scope will have a clear view of your lower digestive system. Solid food is prohibited, and laxatives and their consequences are the order of the day.

Each time I have had a different attitude. At first, I just wanted to do it right; I followed the directions exactly and continued through the whole experience with wide eyes. The next couple of times, I was full of ideas and all sorts of creative interpretations of "clear liquid diet," but this time I'm simply resigned to a day and a half of mild discomfort. A couple of hours at the hospital tomorrow, and then me and my clean colon will be on our way home to get ready for the first big meeting of the school year on Thursday. Nice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ready to Roll

Probably my most common anxiety dream is that I'm at the airport, ready to go on a trip, and I've forgotten my passport at home. I can't count the variations I've had of this nightmare. I'm forever desperately trying to retrieve my passport and meet my party before the plane departs. There are always parking garages, taxis, escalators, and security people that are either helping me or hindering me, and my father is always there, somewhere, waiting for me to get my shit together and make the flight. I always wake up before the final act, so I never know what happens.

Today I got my new passport in the mail. When my old passport expired in January, it was the first time since 1975 that I was without the credentials to leave the country. To be honest, I've only traveled abroad 3-4 times in the last ten years, and all but one of those trips was just across the border to Canada. My life is a lot different now than it was in the days when my family lived overseas and we all had airline passes that allowed us to standby for any open seat on any flight. I do miss the international travel, but on a teacher's salary the cost is prohibitive, and like many people, I get caught up in the details of leaving home-- who will care for my pets, water my plants, teach my students?

Even so, I was uneasy without a valid passport, and flipping through the blank pages of my brand new booklet today I felt optimistic, looking forward to all the trips I might take between now and August 18, 2019. I was also glad to be prepared to go almost anywhere, should I have the need or the desire to do so, assuming I remember to bring the darn thing along.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Ninth Month

The cicadas were screaming tonight as we pedaled the last leg of our bike ride. It was just after sunset, and there was the thinnest claw of a moon in the porcelain berry sky. It reminded me that the lunar month of Ramadan started yesterday, and I thought about how long these end-of-summer days will be for those who fast around here. When we lived in Saudi Arabia, the prevailing culture was Islamic, and so the pace of life there changed to accommodate Ramadan. As with most religious holidays, there are customs and traditions that mark the season, and at its heart, it is meant to be a month of celebration rather than self-deprivation.

Here in the U.S., my sixth grade students who are Muslim are on the cusp when it comes to observing this month of fasting. At their age fasting is not required, but for many of them it is a rite of passage just to attempt to abstain from eating and drinking from daybreak until dusk. Unlike the faithful who live in Islamic countries, these kids try to keep their fast among peers and teachers who may not be aware of, much less understand, their devotion, and so the temptations can be many. On the other hand, I've seen what a positive impact it can have simply to acknowledge Ramadan and encourage any students who are fasting.

Usually, the more significant the situation, the harder it is to be in the minority, and the actions of those in the majority can make all the difference. How we behave as a member of the dominant group is a good measure of any of us.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Splat

Today was the first real rainy day of the summer around here, and so we divided our Saturday between killing time and canning tomatoes. Somehow, the National Geographic Channel ended up on continuous loop in the living room, while thirty pounds of tomatoes were being processed in the kitchen. Turns out The Exploding Whale and that bushel of tomatoes were quite the gory duo-- hematically linked by the sanguine puddles they left dripping at the scene.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Preservation

About twelve years ago, I had a little bit of a health scare. It turned out to be nothing, but for a few weeks I had the chance to do some serious thinking about my own mortality. When it was all over with, I didn't go sky diving or change careers or anything, but for a while I was really glad to be healthy.

Today I sat in a doctor's office with someone I love and heard the worst possible news: ...is back ...aggressive ...hospice ...make you comfortable. I was stunned, but not surprised; it had been a four year battle and clearly something was taking its toll on her. She accepted the information with grace and dignity. We asked a few questions and then headed home.

When I opened the rear hatch of the car to put her walker in, she spied the case of empty mason jars in the back. "Are you going to do some canning?" she asked, and for a moment her voice was a little stronger than before. I told her about my plans to put up tomatoes and peaches, but it was hard to look forward with much enthusiasm.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rules of the Road

The other day I came across an op/ed article about whether or not we should try to globalize traffic rules, particularly which side of the road we drive on. I read the piece with mild interest; the author did a quick, but fascinating, historical overview of why some nations chose to drive either on the right or the left, and he also ran down the details of some tragic accidents that occurred as the result of tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.

I remember years ago renting a car in England. The agent at the counter handed over the keys to this Yank with only the slightest of hesitation. "Mind the round abouts, and don't curb the tires," were her sensible parting words to me. I found that driving on the opposite side of the road than the one I was used to was not really that difficult. It was like looking at one of those optical illusion posters where there are two images: there was a switch in my brain, and once I saw the other perspective, I couldn't not see it. I was amazed by how easy it was; I drove all the way from London to Stonehenge and back, and I only curbed the tires twice.

That rental agent was right about another thing, too-- going to the left on the traffic circles was really hard. In navigating them, I found that it never hurts to consciously check to see that we are going the right way, keeping in mind that it's all about context and perspective. Of course there's a larger lesson here: when confronted with predicaments, that switch in my brain doesn't always work the way I want it to, and it's always sound to mind the roundabouts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ETA

There's a park called Gravelly Point on the Potomac River at the north end of the airport where, depending on the wind direction, you can watch the planes either take off or land. It's probably no farther than a hundred yards from the boundary fence to the end of the runway, so the planes are really close. The Mount Vernon Bike Trail, which runs 18 miles from Roosevelt Island to, you guessed it, Mount Vernon, goes through Gravelly Point, too, and for us, that's probably the easiest way to get there.

When the wind is from the south, which it usually is in the summer, the planes fly down the river and over your head as you stand there, and you never have to wait very long to see a lot of planes. From far away, they seem to be going so slowly, almost floating, until all of a sudden that whine becomes a deafening roar, and a hundred thousand pounds or more of shiny curved aluminum and rivets are impossibly suspended just a hundred a feet above you, and then they speed past, touch down with a slight skid and a little puff of smoke, reverse their engines, and slow down. Meanwhile, you can hear the air whistle and eddy above you, still spinning from the turbines. There's only the one runway, so they have to turn off right away, either because another plane is approaching or one is waiting to take off. Sometimes you can spot the next incoming flight while the next outgoing plane is still taxiing, and it seems like there couldn't possibly be enough time between them, but there always is.

When I watch the planes, I never imagine myself either coming or going, nor, as close as they are, do I ever see the people in them. Even so, had I nothing else to do, I could stand astride my bike and watch them land for hours, turning my head from north to south, following one after another, a witness to each as it safely reaches its final destination.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Freedom of the Press

We rode our bikes to the Newseum yesterday. This was the first time that I had been inside their new building, and it was very cool-- six levels of exhibits dedicated to journalism and the first amendment, with lots of really fascinating stuff.

Years ago, when the Freedom Forum opened the first version of their museum across the river from where they are so prominently located now, the principal of my school called me to his office. It was my second or third year teaching, and he had an opportunity for me. Seems there was this new thing called the Internet, and the ABC/Disney people were trying to set up a website with news content for kids, by kids. Their idea was to find kids to cover local newsworthy events and then to have them write them up and submit them to be published on their online news page.

We were one of the first schools in the area with a webpage of our own, and they contacted us to see if we had any students willing to cover the dedication of the Newseum. The international exposure that they were offering to our young writers was unprecedented at the time, and it was with genuine excitement that three students and I picked up our press credentials on the morning of the ceremony. Vice President Gore was the keynote speaker, and we were in the third row for his speech, although, as news of the day, it was being projected on all the huge video screens throughout the museum, too. Afterward, we were invited to a reception and then escorted on a tour of the whole place. The Möbius nature of being the press that covered the opening of a museum dedicated to the press was completely lost on the kids I was with-- but who could blame them? They were on deadline.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Incontinuity

A few weeks ago, I posted about the professional learning community I was tapped to facilitate for the coming school year. It is supposed to be a continuity group for teachers who have taken either the Writing Project Summer Institute, or the 3 credit hour course offered during the year. I was heartened by the fact that our county ELA department recognized how valuable exposure to the NWP can be AND how important it is to support teachers afterward. As part of the planning for our first meeting in September, I sent links to a couple of articles that I thought would be really good places to start our conversation about how to keep that writing project magic alive. One was called Teaching After the Summer Institute by Nick Maneno. It is by no means a radical manifesto, and I encourage you to follow the link and read it for yourselves, but I'll cite a brief excerpt here:

Teachers who have had experiences like the summer institute often find themselves explaining the benefits of student-constructed knowledge over teacher-directed practice, word study over traditional spelling lists, cooperative work over isolated practice.

But when I talk about writing practices with my teaching team, administration, and most teachers, they are often not able to transcend rubrics, writing prompts, and the mechanics of writing.

Today, five weeks after I sent the link to our central department, I got this response to my proposal that we use this article in our initial meeting:

I understand the teacher's frustration in "Teaching after the Summer Institute," (and I think this is evident in our office's support of the NVWP course and summer institute) but I don't think the article says enough about how there has to be a balance between form and creativity. It would definitely make a good conversation piece, but we don't want teachers to think we're saying it's ok to toss rubrics, domains, etc., out the window.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Don't Forget to Floss

We were invited to a birthday party for one of our neighbor's three-year-old daughter today. The party was at the home of a friend of theirs from church, "Grandma Lois," and the guests seemed to be a mixture of friends, neighbors, church friends, and preschool friends. It was an amiable group who gathered in the backyard, but as in most cases, the sub-groups sort of stuck to themselves. At one point, the birthday girl, in an impressive show of social skills, made her way through the guests with her mom.

The five of us 30- or 40-something women who made up the neighbor group found our attention drawn to a conversation with a couple of people from the church group. It seems that the assistant pastor was telling the Sunday school kids that every time they brushed their teeth they should say a little prayer-- why not kill two birds with one stone? Clean teeth, clean soul, right? The neighbor to my left raised her hand to her mouth, exhaled sharply, sniffed, and grimaced. "Damn!" she muttered. "It's the devil again." She met my eye and shook her head. "That's what he does, you know. He sneaks up on you like tartar."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Staycation

I sat on my stoop this evening grilling a couple of steaks for our dinner. How quiet it was for a Saturday night. None of the neighbors were around; no cars drove by. My unit is at the far end of the complex, and there is a small copse of woods just across the parking lot. Sometimes it offers the illusion of a much less populated residence. I looked up through the crab apple boughs that shade my front porch at the much taller trees in the woods and then beyond them to the sky. A chickadee buzzed twice in the branches over my head and then flew away fast, like he was late for dinner.

I'm a little out of sorts the last couple of days, because my annual summer trip to Maine ain't gonna happen. There are a number of reasons, but they're not really important. As I sat there tonight, I was focused on my dissatisfaction. I considered and rejected the logistics of an improbable October trip Down East to see it in its fall glory. I sighed and imagined myself on the back porch of the house we usually rent, looking out over the Eastern Narrows to Sargent Mountain in the distance. A breeze stirred in the trees and brought me back to this place, my home. I flipped the steaks and took a sip of wine. I adjusted my position on the top step, and realized my bum was a little sore from the eighteen mile bike ride we took this afternoon. August continues to astound us with its lovely weather; today was 83 with very low humidity. The evening, too, was perfectly pleasant... Truly? It wanted for nothing but my appreciation, and so I vowed to oblige.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Slow News Day

For the second time this summer, I had a showdown with a toaster, and this time, the toaster beat me. My problem has to do with thin slices of toast slipping down under the slot, but not far enough to come out with the crumb tray. What is one supposed to do in such a situation? Toaster tongs are ineffective in removing the errant slice, as is a fork or a knife. Trying to pull it back up is like hitting reverse once you're in the rental car return lot-- damage will occur, and you'll never make it out anyway.

The first time, I ended up literally shredding the piece of toast with a steak knife until the pieces were finally small enough to shake out the top or to slide out the bottom. They and several years worth of crumbs from the toaster at the beach rental house scattered all over the kitchen one morning during our vacation. That was a treat to clean up. This morning, it was my own toaster that turned on me: a little piece of toasted rosemary bread twisted just wrong when it popped up and then slid irretrievably into the nether regions of the toaster, where it remains despite my best efforts, a victim of poor design. I demand a rematch.

How 'bout it toaster? Best two out of three?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No Adult Left Behind

I had a meeting at school today. Two and a half weeks out from our report day, this was just me, the other sixth grade team leader, and our director of guidance. At 11 AM, there were probably 4 other people working full time in all the building, and that summer ghost town vibe was still going strong. We decided to sit at a table in the library, and it took a few minutes to actually locate a few chairs to pull up to one of the tables. With only half of the lights turned on and a dozen or more overhead projectors staring at us from in between the stacks like so many cyclops, it still felt good to look decisively forward to next year. Kids names, test scores, and placements felt real and immediate. Information about the master schedule, pre-service week and colleagues? All very relevant.

Our conversation wandered a bit, as summer talks have the luxury of doing, and we touched a little on the challenges of building a cohesive staff with a common vision from 85 disparate individuals and the subsequent impact such attempts have on overall morale. It has long been my opinion that, as educators, we must expect no more and no less of the adults we try to reach than we do of our own students. It is hypocrisy to criticize teachers for giving up on hard-to-engage students, when we dismiss them as burnouts in the next breath. "High expectations for all" is a credo that might best be extended to colleagues as well as kids, and don't even get me started on parents.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crisis Identified

I finally finished my piece of the adolescent development project. Yay. After all is said and done, I'm more pleased than displeased with my work, but that could just be a loss of perspective. One unexpected outcome of this project is that it is forcing our central office to at least consider sexual minority students. As I compiled my research on identity formation, it was my job to look at the impact that ethnicity, race and gender had on identity, but sexuality was an issue as well.

I sensed a little surprise and a little pushback when I got the first feedback on the draft of my powerpoint. In the last three years, our school system has committed to "courageous conversations" about "cultural competency," primarily in order to address the achievement gap. Sexual minorty is usually a neglected component of these conversations.

I teach in a middle school, and many people feel that kids who are only 11-14 years old are too young to be concerned about, much less engaged in any conversations about, sexuality. But the truth is, at that age, most kids who are gay, know it, and refusing to talk about it only reinforces their feeling of isolation. Unlike other minorities, gay kids don't usually come from gay families, and often they are afraid that not only will their families not understand and/or support them, but may even reject them because they're gay. Their peers use "gay" as a derogatory term, and in a time when fitting in is vital, their feelings about being gay are nothing they want to share with their friends. In many cases, gay middle school kids have no support at all during this crucial developmental period.

I think our school system should acknowledge that and do something about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cat Walk

There is a guy in my neighborhood who walks his cat. I'm not sure why this is so odd to me, but it is. The cat doesn't have a leash or anything; he just skulks along behind her like the secret service or something as she sniffs her way through the parking lot. Honestly? It could be the Hawaiian shirt and flip flops that he wears well into December, but more likely it is the suspicious look he gives me when I step out my own front door with my... gasp... dog! (Hey-- she's gotta go out sometimes. I'm sorry-- I didn't expect you and your cat to be hanging out on my stoop.) That look is nothing compared to the alarm and downright horror on his face should I drive my car through the complex at cat-walkin time. Buddy! Relax-- I see your cat.

Listen, I'm all for keeping your pets safe. I would never allow my dog to roam about unleashed, and after witnessing a beloved cat of mine struck by a car, I will never have an outdoor cat again. I believe that the needs of a cat can be met indoors with love and proper attention. It's too dangerous for them outside-- no matter the setting. One of my best friend's cats was killed by coyotes on their property in Maine. Maybe that's why the catwalker bugs me so much. Dude-- you can't keep her safe outside, and I don't want to share your anxiety.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is That You?

We went over to the National Portrait Gallery today. I'm beginning to love these hot August days in D.C.-- nobody's around, so not only did we get a parking spot right in front, but we had the whole third floor to ourselves, just us and the 20th Century Americans. I've decided that I like a good bust. (Minds out of the gutter, people-- I mean a marble or bronze head.) In fact, if anyone should ever choose to immortalize my visage for any reason, I want it to be a bust. (That sounds kind of amusing, too. Ha ha. Let's just get it all out... Bust, bust! bust, bust. Ready to continue? OK.) Here's why: my features will be, by definition, chiseled, and my hair? Why, my hair will look great! Marble and bronze hair always looks fabulous. For that hair, I could put up with those creepy blank eyes. So make it a bust, friends, unless I live to be over 80, and then I'd like a nude portrait like Alice Neel's. (I especially love the toes on her right foot.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ha! I Knew It.

Back to the Adolescent Development thing. I had hoped that the title of this post would be Identity Crisis Resolved, and it almost is, but not quite. So, instead, I'll share just a tiny fraction of the research that I've been trying to synthesize:

The following is an excerpt from a report entitled Child and Adolescent Development Research and Teacher Education: Evidence-based Pedagogy, Policy, and Practice which was published in 2005 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES and National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE):

The field of child and adolescent development lacks mechanisms for disseminating research findings and information to sources readily available to teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. Scholarly articles are often difficult for non-scientists to follow and require translation into language that pre-service teachers find meaningful, and that practicing teachers and administrators can put into action. Policy makers, parents, and other lay stakeholders need objective and informative overviews of current research in child and adolescent development and appropriate application in classrooms with clear rationales for those applications.

Yeah, NFK. Give me a call when you get around to providing that.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Details, Details

I reconnected with a childhood friend on facebook last night. She and her husband still live in the house next door to the one we lived in when I was in middle school. We chatted a bit online, posting back and forth on each other's walls and filling in the largest of the gaps of the last thirty-three years. Somewhere in the conversation, it occurred to me that today was her younger brother's birthday, so I asked her about it, and she confirmed my memory.

I was telling my mom about it this morning, and she wondered whether our former neighbor had been surprised about such a remarkable recollection. "She didn't seem to be," I reported and then laughed. "Do you know how I remember that?" I asked my mom. "Because the day that Nixon resigned was his eighth birthday. That made a big impression on me at age twelve."

"Didn't we go to Great Adventure that day?" my mom responded.

"Yep, and out to dinner for Chinese food," I added. "Remember? Granddaddy was there, but he didn't go with us. He paid for everything, though. And then the president resigned."

So, Happy Birthday, Bobby.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Brushes with Fame and History

I went to the National Gallery of Art yesterday. It wasn't a planned visit-- Josh and I wanted to try the hamburgers at Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn's place, Good Stuff, on Capitol Hill, because we'd seen him on TV the night before. After a pretty good lunch, (during which we watched the Senate vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice on one of the several flat screens in the upstairs dining area, AND I spotted my neighbor, who works for the Senate, standing right next to Al Franken) we headed to the National Mall, agreeing that we would go to the museum closest to any parking space we found. As luck would have it, we found a space right away outside the East Building, so in we went.

We liked all the Calders, especially the wire sculpture of the head, and there was lively discussion about Presidency I–V Photographs by Thomas Demand as well as Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross. It was after we took the moving sidewalk through Leo Villareal's light sculpture and past the fountain cascade that we found our way to the exhibition called The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain.

Honestly? It was awesome, in that European museum way. (I only wish I'd gotten the audiotour, but maybe next time.) There was all sorts of armor, and historical information about the Spanish dudes who owned it, and old paintings of them wearing it. Seeing the actual armor in front of me that was also in that 350-year-old painting on the wall was really cool-- it made such a concrete connection to the past for me. The guy was dead, but his armor was right there. Wild. (I also appreciated the Spanish history refresher... I hadn't thought of Phillipe Guapo and Juana la Loca in the over twenty years since we visited their tomb in Granada.)

Later, we went for ice cream in Delrey. We were on our way out of the store when Josh noticed that one of the chairs was stenciled on the seat: President Barak Obama sat here on June 20, 2009. Of course he sat right down.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's the Offense?

Yesterday I learned that a friend of ours does not like the Life is Good brand. Now, we are all about Life is Good around here. Not only do we own several t-shirts each, but we frequently give them as gifts, and we own plenty of other Life merch as well. For those who may not be familiar, the signature LiG character is Jake, a jaunty little stick figure who really knows how to live. Jake is drawn with a black body and white face. It's not too much of a stretch to connect Jake to images of minstrel show actors in white face, and that offends our friend, who happens to be African American. I'm not sure if it offends me too, but my consciousness is raised.

Which is why I had to scratch my head this morning, reading a lengthy piece in the Washington Post about some posters of President Obama that have been turning up in LA. In them, he's got on the smeary facial make-up that Heath Ledger wore as the Joker in The Dark Knight with the caption of "socialism" beneath. The writer of the article made a rather far-fetched argument about the underlying racism of the image. He went way around the barn to connect the urban anarchy in Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker to a mainstream subconscious association of such anarchy and violence with African American people. I guess the depiction of the president as a psychotic comic-book villain, not to mention a black man in white face, just isn't offensive enough?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Prodigal Consumer

I never understood the parable of the prodigal son. My sympathy was always with the son who stayed faithful to his father all along; to me his resentment was valid. As a teacher, I sort of get it... maybe I do celebrate the kids who turn it around a little more than those who have had it all along, but I also try to be pretty sensitive to any offense the others might take-- it always seems kind of justified.

The last couple of days, I've been thinking about the cash for clunkers program. (Forgive me, I live inside the Beltway.) I read somewhere that it would take, on average, 5-6 years of driving the new, more fuel-efficient cars in order to offset the carbon footprint of manufacturing them and transporting them to their point-of-sale. So, in many cases, owners would better serve the environment by keeping their old cars longer. I also heard the opinion expressed that the people who purchased these so-called clunkers did so with full knowledge of the harm they would do. Others, who bought more fuel-efficient cars at the same time, are not eligible for the rebate, and so, in an oh-so-prodigal-son approach, the policy effectively rewards those who ignored the environment when they bought their last car, while offering nothing for the environmentally faithful. I guess we should just be content with driving our cars for the next five or six years to be sure we cancel out that new car footprint.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Had a Great Idea

for this post. It was around 4:30, I had spent some time in my classroom (in the summer it reminds me of the interior of those haunted houses in movies, all dusty and covered up) working on the Adolescent Identity thing, but I was on my way to the grocery store. Zipping along on a pretty busy stretch of road, (what happened to the merge lane?!!) it hit me, a great title and all. I wondered if I should drive one handed and fish around for a pencil and notebook, but the concept seemed so clear to me that it was almost haloed in golden light in my mind's eye. I opted to operate my vehicle in accordance with state and local ordinance. Got to the store, concept still there, parked, picked up a cart, started checking the origin of the produce-- Is it organic? Is it local? Impressed by the price of peanut butter, I bought two, as I did with the dishwasher tabs that were on sale, too. Over at the wine aisle, I was completely engaged in choosing one that paired with our dinner and a couple others that I liked having on hand. And on I went through the grocery store, leaving well satisfied with my active shopping. I have since cooked that dinner and enjoyed some of the wine, and all along I've been racking my brain for that perfect idea I had, but I can not recall it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Identifiable Crisis

Okay, so let's say you're conversant with Erikson and Marcia's models of identity formation. What'll that get you? Imagine you are a teacher participating in a conference for a student who isn't performing academically. Perhaps you recognize that this child, formerly foreclosed and 100% on board with her parents' values of hard work, organization, and academic success is now quite obviously diffused or perhaps in moratorium. What's your approach?

My friend and I kicked this question around a bit this morning (and glad I was to have the chance to do so, because talking to her about school always helps). We agreed that the obvious implications of identity formation models are in forming personal relationships with students and establishing a safe and caring classroom climate. Certainly both of those things are easier to do with the empathy that results from an understanding of the flux and turmoil that kids must face as a matter of development. She also reminded me that this knowledge should rightfully shape our expectations in terms of student behavior and what attitude an 11, 12, 13 or 14 year old is actually capable of sustaining. Let's face it, "Because I said so," is no longer a compelling reason, but a sensible alternative can sometimes be a stretch.

But I feel that in order to fully convince teachers of the value of this information there must be an application beyond classroom management. What about our instructional practices and student acievement?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Identity Crisis

I'm taking myself out of the expert category of adolescent identity formation. I'm still having a hard time pulling all my research together. Here's what I know so far:

Most identity formation theories are based on Erikson's model of human development. According to him, we go through eight stages, each of which roughly corresponds to a certain age range. The primary task of adolescents, age 12-18, is to determine who they are and who they will be. In pursuing this self-concept, kids have three things to contend with: sexual maturity, occupational skills and talents, and their social context.

James Marcia further refined the model by identifying two key processes that adolescents use in forming their personalities: actively exploring their options and making deliberate choices about those options. The use of these two tools, either separately, in combination, or not at all, describes four phases of identity development. The adolescent who has adopted his or her opinions on sex, a career, and society from a parent or institution without conscious exploration or choice is foreclosed. The teen who is neither exploring nor choosing, but rather living day to day without consideration of the future is diffused. A kid who is actively struggling with these issues is in moratorium, and one who has resolved them has achieved identity. The process is recursive: people can cycle through all the phases several times. A stable identity is not necessarily unchanging; it is however continuous over time.

What does all of this mean to the classroom teacher? Good question.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Platinum

I have a Wii, and I'm not afraid to use it. I like all the games, but I especially like American Idol Karaoke. For some reason, I find it extremely relaxing to grab that mic and belt out a few songs-- the tension just melts away. I'm no slouch at it either; I consistently score above 95%, even on advanced difficulty. That's actually kind of funny to me, because I really can't sing. I feel sorry for anyone within earshot of my "performances", but still the platinum records pile up. A little while ago, as I was delivering a particularly shattering rendition of My Heart Will Go On (think of the extra cheesy emotion and those looooong high notes in that one, and you'll be glad that you are there and I am here), I wondered about the electronic scoring, and it reminded me of an article I read recently about how diligently ETS is working to write a computer program that will be able to score expository essays. I had to laugh; I really can't imagine any substitute for human evaluation. Say what you will about Paula, Randy, and Simon, but they would never let me through.