Still Possible

A few days ago I was asked why I am worried about a Trump presidency.  The asker was not an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump but believed that Mr. Trump was a better choice than Clinton.  I am not an ardent Clinton supporter but believe that she would have been a better choice than Mr. Trump.

When I think of the United States, the country where I was born and raised, I think of possibilities.  I believe that it is possible for people of different racial/ ethnic backgrounds, different religions (or no religion), differences of many kinds to come together for the good of the whole.  I believe that it is possible to rise above tribalism to create something better than any of us could create alone, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I believe that the United States of America is possible- that all are created equal.

When I hear Mr. Trump make racist comments I worry about his presidency.  I worry that people who are already on the fringes of society will be further marginalized.  There are many ways to be in this world.  We can celebrate those ways, accept those ways, without saying “my way or the highway.”   Someone’s difference is not a threat to me  (although violence is a threat that needs to end) if I am secure in my identity.  Maybe Trump’s comments were made in order to get elected; if so, those who support him because of those comments worry me.  Do they seek to limit the identity of the United States to those who are like them?  Do they seek to rid the country of difference?

When I hear Mr. Trump make sexist comments I worry about his presidency.  Anyone who knows a woman worries (or should be worried) about this type of violence.  Denigrating anyone is offensive.  Would I want someone saying such things about my mother?  My wife?  My daughter?  Would I want my son or my students at school to learn this behavior? If not, then it is not OK for Mr. Trump to say those things.  Maybe Trump’s more recent comments were made in order to get elected; if so, I worry about those who support him because of those comments.  Referring to people as objects is dehumanizing.  If we are all created equal then let us raise one another up instead of pushing some down.

When I hear Mr. Trump  speak against immigration I worry about his presidency.  Friends of mine have been told that, “Trump will kick you out, send you back.”  These friends are U.S. citizens.  Students have been cornered by groups of other students who shouted, “Build the wall, build the wall.”  The adopted daughter of a friend of mine asked her mom if Trump was really going to send her back to her birth country, a place she has not been since she was a few months old.  Maybe Trump’s anti-immigration comments were made in order to get elected.  Right now they are having an immediate effect on the lives of people who do not look white.  I worry about the people who supported Trump because of these comments.  This country is a country of immigrants (some of whom who added terrible violence to the lives of many of the original inhabitants of this land).  My ancestors came from Ireland.  The whole southwest used to be Mexico until the border crossed the people and included them in the United States after the war.  To suggest that the United States is a white nation is to ignore history.  We can welcome the stranger.

I believe in the possibility of the United States where we define ourselves as all of us.  I believe in the freedoms, rights and responsibilities that belong to everyone in the United States.  I believe in the gray areas, the messy areas, where life is not a dualistic either/ or, open/ shut, us/them.  Together we can navigate the muddy waters of gray, together.  Let us, then, rise above, come together to continue creating a welcoming, bountiful community where all are welcome and all is possible.  Let this be a place where violence and discrimination are shunned in favor cooperation and courageous conversations.

For now, I will wait and see.  I will never completely write off anyone.  Because you asked, though, those are some of the reasons that I am worried about a Trump presidency.

P.S. A self-described single issue voter asked me about abortion and how I could support someone who is pro-abortion.  To begin with, I do not know anyone who is pro-abortion (in the sense that a person believes everyone should go out and get one in the way someone might be pro-chocolate- I am pro-chocolate).  I do know that in countries where abortions are/ were illegal they still happen in very dangerous conditions making a bad situation even worse.  I also know that the number of abortions has been dropping since the early 1990’s and is down to numbers not seen since the early 1970’s.  Perhaps we can continue to improve education and situations so the number of abortions continues to drop.

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Listen, Watch then Teach

When working with my students in language and literacy I am always looking for data.  I don’t, however, rely much on standardized scores and summative assessments.  While helpful in a very small way, those types of assessments give me information more about me, the teacher, than about the student.  I look for data that I can use.

Every time I have a conversation with students I make notes about their learning, sometimes mental notes and sometimes written notes.  I try to keep track of their use of language and their thinking.  Every time I read student writing I make notes about their use of language, their ability to express themselves and their accuracy.  This is the data that I use.

This is the real-time data that shows me what students know and can do right now.  That data is then turned into large group, small group and individual instruction as needed to move all students forward.  I encourage students to make mistakes, use big words, enter into debates and not be afraid.  It is through making mistakes, I tell them, that I can know what the next steps are in their learning.  All done in a supportive environment.

Give it a try; it’s not rocket science.  When we pay attention to the students they will show us what they need.  When we listen and watch, we will know what to teach.

Differentiated Writing Instruction

When teaching writing in elementary and middle school, one of the challenges is how to keep moving forward with the different genre studies (narrative, expository and opinion … and don’t forget poetry!) while giving students the differentiated instruction that they need.  At La Cosecha I learned of a way to do just that.

Using the units proposed by Lucy Calkins or the units created by your district (or by you) the first step is to begin each unit using a simple prompt that will let you complete a pre-assessment to find out what the students already know.  You can assess their writing using the rubric to guide your instruction during the unit.  My experience has been, though, that those first drafts show too many holes to be of much use; the students need instruction in many areas.

pic26633Then, after teaching the unit while referring often to the rubric and publishing a final draft, use the same prompt you used at the beginning of the unit.  This time, it is important to use the rubric to deeply analyze the writing.  The first thing you will most likely notice is a vast improvement over the initial use of the prompt.  However, if you use the rubric and turn the information into numbers (see image to the right) you will see trends including areas that need specific attention.

This is where the differentiation can happen.  Based on the needs you notice, you can form groups of students for differentiated instruction just as you would do during reader’s workshop.  This small group work could happen during the first week of the next unit or you could schedule a week in between each unit for the differentiated instruction.  Use the CCSS to decide which areas are of greatest need.  You might also decide that a change in tier 1 instruction would be most appropriate (e.g. focus on punctuation during morning meeting).  You can let this assessment guide you during the next unit of study.

One more idea that I loved: sketch the story then touch and tell.  Oral rehearsal!

Resources: Lucy Calkins: Writing Pathways, WIDA Writing Rubric

 

Time Spent Reading

From http://www.devstu.org/research-individualized-daily-reading

Have you seen this?  Amazing!  Let’s read more!

“Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) led one of the most extensive studies of independent reading in which they investigated the relationship of reading time to reading achievement. The study found that the amount of time students spent reading independently was the best predictor of vocabulary development and reading achievement gains.

“The research indicates that independent reading is probably the major source of vocabulary acquisition beyond the beginning stages of learning to read. Students who read more can learn the meanings of thousands of new words each year.

“The chart below shows the high impact of independent reading time to word exposure and the percentile of reading achievement.”

Percentile Independent Reading
Minutes per Day
Words Read
per Year
98 65 4,358,000
90 21.1 1,823,000
80 14.2 1,146,000
70 9.6 622,000
60 6.5 423,000
50 4.6 282,000
40 3.2 200,000
30 1.3 106,000
20 0.7 21,000
10 0.1 8,000
2 0 0

Amazing!

New Poverty Data

RPP news in Peru had an interesting article about poverty in Peru.  It is a hopeful article in that the UN believes that Peru can reduce its current poverty rate of 30% to 10% by 2021, when Peru celebrates 200 years.  Unfortunately, many people in Peru do not believe that the poverty rate is only 30%- most believe it to be higher.  But, I will take good news when I can get it.

I looked, then, at the poverty rate in the school district where I work.  Using the ‘free and reduced lunch’ rate, Peru is in better condition than the children in the Saint Paul Public Schools when one looks at poverty.