Friday, July 30, 2010

Lori vs. Stick Shift

If my life were a TV show, I'd like it to be an uplifting and inspiring series entitled something like, "Life with Lori". Truth is, it more closely resembles "I Love Lucy". I'll skip the story about how I discovered I'd worn my dress backwards to church last Sunday and get right to today's episode; Lori vs. Stick Shift.

I am home alone for a few days, stuck with my husband's car. Most of you, when you hear that it is a Nissan 350z convertible, will hardly be thinking, "Oh, poor Lori." However, when you realize that I haven't driven a stick shift for 35 years, you may sense the comedy that is about to ensue.

I entered the vehicle in our driveway this morning with an inspiring little pep talk to myself…."I can totally do this. It's just like riding a bike. There isn't a single hill between here and my meeting…etc." I stepped on the brake, pushed in the clutch, and slid the gearshift over and back. After carefully releasing the clutch and providing enough gas to get the rig going, I was greatly surprised by forward motion. "Hmm. That must not have been reverse." I tried again, and was propelled 3 inches forward instead of backward. Following one more of these little gallops, I now found myself about one inch away from the garage door. Refusing to let the little bucket of bolts beat me, but knowing I was endangering our home, I opened the garage door and tried again. Same result. I got back out of the car, moved an old toilet, bookshelf and lawn mower out of harms way and tried again- nope, moving forward.

I was completely stupefied. The position of the stick shift was CLEARLY on the R for reverse, yet I was not travelling that way. The car was now halfway in and halfway out of the garage. I called my friend Joan because she has the tremendous ability of laughing with me and at me without thinking less of me. However, instead of just enjoying the folly of my predicament, she said, "Have you tried pushing down?" "What!?" "Try pushing down on the head of the stickshift when you move it over to reverse."

Oh my gosh! Newfound hope burst forth in my breast! Perhaps I wouldn't have to live like this, garage door up, for the next three days, exposing myself to burglars, killers and neighborhood questions and ridicule.

I tried the suggested idea and was elated to find myself BACKING UP! I blessed the sod Joan walks on and made it to my meeting in one piece.

It occurred to me later, how significantly my experience mirrors what happens sometimes in education. How often do we continue to try the same thing over and over while expecting different results? It seems so silly, yet in the throes of the experience, we just can't believe that what we are trying isn't working, so we do it again and again and again. We work really hard. We do everything we know to do. The result? Folly, frustration and failure to meet our goals. I'm not a bad driver. I'm actually a really good driver. But my knowledge base didn't match the vehicles need. Likewise, I am a good teacher. I work really hard. But if I am met with a child that my technique isn't working for, I can't continue to try the same thing over and over. I have to try something different. The good news is that something different might not even be difficult. We just have to reach outside the confines of our classrooms, confer with colleagues, and get back in there.

cross posted at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Right

I don't like the word fat. It's a little negative. I prefer to think of myself as a pudgy princess. However, two things have precipitated my getting serious about getting healthy. First…my daughter is pregnant. And while I am not yet happy with the term grand….grandm….I can't say it, let's just call it the "g" word, I do want to be around for a long time to love on this new life and any who may follow him. Secondly...this year's class picture...I was a little shocked by my photographic representation. In my mind's eye, I am both younger and thinner, not to mention better looking. While I am a tiny bit suspicious that there has been foul photoshop play, I doubt the company has the time or motivation to misrepresent me.

So, for a little over two weeks now I have been eating smart and exercising every day, reacquainting myself with our long neglected treadmill. I have set the speed at 3.0 mph and walked up and down virtual hills faithfully for 30-40 minutes a day. Yesterday, I realized 3.0 was no longer a satisfying pace, so bumped it up to 3.2 mph. This minor adjustment now felt just right.

As I continued to walk, it occurred to me that I'd stumbled upon a beautifully clear analogy for the parents who insist that I challenge their child with difficult books. Had I begun my new walking regime at a 4.0 or higher, I would not have had the strength or stamina to stay with it for very long. I would certainly not have enjoyed it and may have even injured myself. Parents who insist their child spend time in difficult books are risking the same results. Instead of being afraid that their son or daughter will apathetically linger in easy books for the rest of their lives, they can rest assured that their young reader will be highly engaged, successful, and will continue to grow in appropriately challenging increments. We can encourage them to embrace the concept of 'good fit' books since research proves, and our experience confirms, that it's the best way to maintain the growth and momentum already established, as well as create lifelong lovers of literature.

cross posted at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let's Be Clear

Last time I was at the chiropractor, the receptionist gave me a preliminary screening before leading me into the exam room. After lying down on a table, she punched a few things into a laptop, then held a device to various places on my body and asked me to provide resistance. It took less than two minutes, after which she led me to the small room to wait for the doctor. After he bent, folded and manipulated me into alignment, he looked at the printout from the previously mentioned procedure and said, "Wow, you are weak! These numbers are really low."

I was dumbstruck and embarrassed, too stunned to defend myself. Here's what raced through my head as I walked mutely from the room. "I didn't know it was a strength test....had I known it was a strength test, I would have pushed a lot harder, but of course it was a strength test...what else would it have been...I certainly should have inferred that, but I didn't....and why didn't she tell me what she was measuring...." The silent diatribe continued all the way home, and to be honest, I have been mad ever since. Looking back, the purpose seems obvious, but had she said, "Push as hard as you can," I'm sure the results would have been considerably more favorable.

This frustrating experience led me to wonder if I have ever been guilty of assuming that my students know what I am measuring on various assessments. If it's a reading test, do I assume, perhaps incorrectly, they will read the passage the best they can? I decided to be explicitly clear when we encountered various end of year tests. For instance, our district requires we submit correct words per minute rates on a grade level text. When my darling little readers stop to read a picture, look up to chat about a connection they just made, or pause to remark in any way about the text, their rate decreases and it makes it look (according to this measure) like they are not proficient readers. So this year, as they sat down, I was very clear. "Patsy, on this reading test, I really want to see how smoothly and fluently you are reading. So I want you to do your best to keep going. We won't stop to talk about it until the end. Ok? Do your best."

The set up was brief. Most of my kids performed exactly as I anticipated, but a few surprised me with their achievement. I can't help but wonder if it's because the purpose of the test and their role in it were clearly articulated. I might get a chance to redeem myself next time I go to the chiropractor, but our students don't get a chance to retake district and state assessments. If we want to be assured that they are truly giving us all they can, let's be clear about what we are measuring and how they can best succeed. They deserve it.

cross posted at

Friday, July 16, 2010

"The Teacher" or "My Teacher"

I recently had an experience as a learner that made me carefully consider how thoughtful, targeted and intentional my own teaching is. I was attending four days of training where the content was outstanding and the presenters were charming and above average. So….what was the problem? Well….I love good professional development, but I wasn't learning very much. I realize upon reflection that the presenter was "the" teacher, but she wasn't "my" teacher. She had a set agenda and carefully prepared and researched curriculum which she ticked through in a precise and efficient manner. She did not evaluate or assess where I or other participants were in terms of the content. So at the end of day two I thought to myself, "It doesn't really matter how outstanding the content or presentation is; if it does not meet the needs of the learner, there can't be growth."

Then I began to wonder if I am ever guilty of the same thing. Do I ever follow the curriculum I've been given, plowing from lesson one through lesson whatever without regard for whether or not my students are ready for it or already know it? Do I want to be "the" teacher…..or "their" teacher? If I want to be their teacher, I have to know what they need. I have to let assessments drive the instruction for every boy and girl in the room and I am determined to do just that. I want to be assured that how I felt for four days as a learner is not how a child in my room will feel for 180. I want to be confident that should a guest visit our room, a child will point to me and instead of hearing, "That's the teacher" I'll hear, "That's my teacher."

cross posted at