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I make a mean peach pie.

So I’ve been thinking about hobbies for a while. Even though as an administrator I am a 12-month employee, summer is still different and a time for more hobbies. One of my summer hobbies is making peach pie. I only do this during peach season and prefer to make the pie in the evening and then eat it in the morning for breakfast with bacon or sausages. I see you shaking your head. Have you tried it? Unless you have something against breakfast meats (or meat substitutes) there is no way around the fact that it is a perfect breakfast, just add your favorite breakfast beverage; I prefer very milky tea.

Anyway, I really got thinking about the idea of hobbies last year after reading a post by Austin Kleon from his weekly newsletter. I followed the link to Austin’s earlier post about hobbies and read Ann Friedman’s post about them that he wished he had written. Feel free to read each post yourself, none of them is long. You will be glad you did.

Ok. You’re back. What did you think? I had and continue to have many thoughts.

Here are my a few of them:

  • We would we all be a little better off if everyone had a hobby, other than trying to take away the rights of people who don’t look like they do.
  • I reserve the right to have very odd hobbies that no one else likes and to not like the hobbies of my nearest and dearest friends and family.
    • Sub-point 1–I love that they have their own weird hobbies and interests.
    • Sub-point 2–I love that they know and appreciate my love for my hobbies that do not actually interest them.
  • I know people better when I know their hobbies. 
  • I can see that my personal kids also know me better through my hobbies, especially the ones they do not share.
  • Again, yay for general craftiness. I would appreciate more of that. I am baffled when a house/apartment/family doesn’t have a hot glue gun. (I mean this is America and the word gun is involved.)
  • Hobbies are also a privilege as they require some amount of time and freedom. 
  • Hobbies are meditative too. 

In the past two years, I have carved out more time for my hobbies and interests. I haven’t slacked off at work; I don’t ignore my family. I do spend more time doing some activities that are appealing to me, make me lose track of time, give me satisfaction, make me feel better for having done them. Since I don’t have an unlimited amount of time, I have had to make some trades. Some of these trades are win-win; the thing I was spending my time on before wasn’t worth doing, and now I have a better option. Some of my trades have been more about priorities at the moment. My blogging definitely took a hit. However, for the most part, I’m comfortable with my choices.

I recognize that in some ways this is a luxury to have time. When my kids were smaller, I didn’t find much of this time during daylight hours, which, it turns out, is when I prefer for my hobbies and interests to take place. And, I also developed some bad habits of wandering the interwebs unnecessarily. That’s a quick way to have no time for other activities.

I also sometimes find myself in a place where everything needs to be very purposeful, but I don’t really believe that. Only my “I have to be busy” self belives that, and she is no fun so I don’t talk to her much. My current hobbies are not that purposeful to anyone else. They neither make the world a better place, nor contribute to counteracting climate change. And, my family surely at times shake their collective head and say, “you and your hobbies…” I just shake my head right back.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about modeling thought and making it visible. I’ve always been a big fan of the mindmap, web, chart, whatever you want to call it. The less linear the better. My brain does not like a straight line (unless it’s the edge of a picture frame on the wall, and then I will make that things straight). But in thinking, straight lines are boring to me and lonely, nothing connected to it, all organized and cut off from other ideas.

And, I am ALWAYS trying to get my students to do the hard work of thinking about something before they write about it. Seems obvious that this would be a good idea, but it’s a tough sell in some situations. 

This past spring I decided to demonstrate, again, how I do this. My YA fiction class had finished the first unit of three books. I chose the books because they have things in common, talked specifically about those things in class, and was prepping everyone for writing a paper on that topic. However, students had the option to come up with their own topic.

Writing about multiple texts is not something we do a lot. It’s hard, and I think it’s not only worth doing but also more realistic in terms of mirroring the way people usually think about books. Whenever I ask students about a particular book, invariably a second or third book enters the conversation by way of comparison. So, I think it’s really important that we practice serious thinking and writing about that. It may not surprise you to know that there was some whining about this. In particular there was a lot of talk about how there wasn’t enough to say.  I kept encouraging more thinking rather than starting writing and continued to meet with some resistance.

I went home and decided to do what I was encouraging the students to do. I sat down and  started thinking about these three books and things that stood out to me. I didn’t want to plan an essay about a topic a student had already chosen, so I came up with something else that I actually had noticed as I we were talking about the books in class, but that we hadn’t been able to focus on much. I started one web what you see in the diagram in purple. (Follow along in the order with the gray numbers) I moved on to the second book and took more notes about the general topic. As I was thinking about it I realized there was a connection to the third book. Great! I jotted down some more notes. Finally on that diagram I added a question that I had that applied to all the texts. I kept going. Made a pretty straightforward list of commonalities, transferred that to more of a few sentences that began to form an idea. The last step was a draft of what might be able to be worked into a thesis statement. I spend maybe 20-30 minutes on this.

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I brought all of this to class the next day and showed it to my students piece by piece. I tried to recreate my thinking in words to go with the diagrams to model how the ideas evolved and grew. I wanted to show them that I didn’t have all these ideas before I start thinking; I came to the ideas through thinking. There was some silence and looking at the web and then one person said, “you made that look so easy.”

I’m so glad she said that because that was certainly not my intention. I wanted to make it look doable, I wanted to make it look productive, I wanted to make it look like the result of effort. My student’s comment gave me the opportunity to say yes I did put in time, but I didn’t spend a long time doing this,  and I think it will be so valuable and speed up the writing process because it gives me a road map of exactly where I am going. I tried to reiterate the fact that it’s not easy so much as it is the inevitable result putting in thinking time. 

I was also trying to show was that my ideas changed, that a bunch of stuff was going to get left on the cutting room floor, and that I got somewhere that was interesting to me. I could totally write about that! 

I’m not sure why my initial demonstration missed the mark, or even if it totally did. Certainly for some, the webbing is just too disorganized, which I can respect even if I don’t think that way. I will definitely do something similar again, maybe frame it a little differently. Any suggestions?

Image by Shad0wfall from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about new teachers. My school participates in a multi-school, university-based new teacher fellows program, and I teach in the program and work with the teaching fellows at my school. It’s amazing to watch the kids fellows become teachers right in front of my eyes.

I have a lot to say to the fellows; some of it may even be useful. Since I’m not in their classrooms observing as often as their individual mentors, I notice their incremental progress. One of the things I can do is share that progress with the fellows. About a million years ago my school had an end of year PD training with Dr. Judy Willis and, one of the key ideas I took away from it was the power of learners noticing their own incremental progress. It’s incredibly motivational, for some brain science reasons I will not try to describe here. I have used this as part of the rationale for our use of digital portfolios for students. But, it also applies to the teachers at school. Who doesn’t feel more motivated when they see their students improving and doing whatever the work of class is better. I know I come home and am all excited. Tell everyone about it. Tell them again. Have extra dessert, whatever. 

Anyway, towards the end of the year, I had a perfect opportunity to notice change and reflect it back to one of our teaching fellows. 

He was telling me about a day when his students came in to class totally wound up about something that happened earlier. He was able to recognize this, tell students that he recognized their need to chat a bit, explain the arc of class and when they might have a few minutes to do that chatting, not get drawn into the drama in an unprofessional way, and get some teaching and learning accomplished while not being super worried about needing to lay down the law right away.

After he described this, I asked if he recognized how much this example demonstrated that he knows he can call the group to order and deal with some drama without having to rule with an iron fist. I asked if he could imagine how this would have gone in the first semester? I pointed out what an aha moment this really was. He was confident and capable enough to let the talking go as students entered, assess the situation, make a plan, and carry it out. And, it was not cause for alarm either. I was so excited for him.

You know you are becoming a teacher for real when those moments happen and you don’t get rattled, or even think of the moment as one that might be rattle-inducing. But, without someone else pointing it out, you might miss the chance to bask in the “I’m getting it” glory. Maybe not everyone needs that, but I know I have appreciated it when others have noticed a positive change in how I do various parts of my job, especially subtle things that signal growing confidence or attitudinal shifts. Those are harder to see and identify, for me, from the inside.

Before this coming school year starts, I’m going to try to make some notes (in a place I can find them again) about what some of those turning points might be so that I can help these new teachers notice that incremental progress, get that reinforcement, and then be inspired to keep going and getting better at their craft. It’s easy to say ‘oh that class went well’ or something vague, but markers of change are what I want to highlight and share.

Any suggestions?

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about new teachers, and I’ve been watching the World Cup. I may have showed up at a recent Central Administrative Team meeting wearing my own very home-made fan outfit–masking tape has many uses and among other things can be used to turn a plain blue shirt dress into respectable Rapinoe-fan attire, complete with #15 and USA on the front, back, and sleeve. 

Anyway, I’ve decided that the link here between teaching and world cup soccer is the referee. Last year, watching the men, the refs were particularly entertaining. There’s so much more flopping and drama than with the women that the refs have a lot to manage. Then this year, as I watched the refs in the women’s games, I saw how they were always in just the right spot, but rarely in the way. I think watching referees manage games might be instructive for new teachers.

I did not start watching the World Cup games for the refereeing. However, at some point during the elimination round last year, we at my house started looking up who the referees were and what country they were from. It was fun to watch how each man had a set of hand gestures that conveyed all sorts of things from the basics of who was in trouble for what to the more complex “I’m done listening to your nonsense.” 

One of the things that I think is hard for new teachers is to find that balance between, on the one hand, hearing a kid out and using a lot of words to carefully address all potential issues and, on the other, the need to respond quickly and efficiently and get back to whatever is supposed to be going on. One of the things I sometimes hear from teachers of all experience levels is a frustration that kids say silly things, ask the ridiculous question, keep pushing, etc. You know; you’ve heard and said the same things. We all have. Yet, when I am being my best self, I know that for the most part kids are doing regular kid stuff that isn’t actually meant to be obnoxious or threatening or any of those things. (This does assume that there is generally a good amount of control in the classroom and the kids have not gotten the impression that they can hijack everything with with the ridiculous.)

Back to the referees. I started watching the player-ref interactions and noticed that frequently they played out in has a very predictable way. Here’s what happens:

  • The ref makes the call. 
  • The player is horrified at the injustice. 
  • There is some brief discussion (perhaps a review of the offence, some alternative presentation of the circumstances). 
  • The ref does his particular signature hand gesture indicating that the discussion is settled. 
  • The player continues with another moment of moaning or drama. 
  • Play resumes.

 All of this is usually over in a minute or two. (I certainly watched enough to see that there are other ways this works, but I’m talking about the everyday stuff here.) I think what’s important in this mini drama is that in a few minutes play resumes. No one is offended, really. 

Similarly, whenever there is some sort of minor infraction or issue in class, the goal in my mind is for class to resume. If this is a big deal situation then we’re having another discussion, but if someone is talking/wandering around/not paying attention/bothering someone else/insert a million other things here, the goal is to return to the business at hand not to debate the ins-and-outs of whether you were talking to yourself or someone else/texting your friends or just checking your phone for one thing. As I talk with the new teachers that I work with, I am going to share this tidbit. Could they have set scripts, like the refs? Then, everyone knows how this story goes, we play it out, briefly, and move on. It’s a set piece. Once they get this return-to-class-habit down, then we can think about whether some of these habits are worth breaking, or if they are not worth the effort.

As I think about ways that the refs in the women’s World Cup soccer games could be like a teacher in the classroom, I think that idea that play continues all around her, but she is not participating in the action is worth noticing. I noticed that a lot with the women’s games this year. The refs were so close to the action, knew what was going on, but got out of the player’s way.

Isn’t that what we want to do as teachers? We want to be there, do some guiding, remind people about some rules, set up some norms, and lead our students towards independence. We do not want to have our feet on the ball all the time. The students aren’t doing the thinking and the learning if I’m doing all the work. It’s so tempting to do the work for students; you don’t even realize you are doing it.

I’m a big planner (My motto: plan, plan, plan. Then go with the flow.), and I encourage new teachers to plan thoroughly as well. Maybe it’s important to remember to plan how I will, or any teacher will, get out of the way. At what point will I step back or to the side? What will this class/lesson/unit look like when students are gaining independence? Even though I am not a big soccer watcher all the time, I know what a mess it is when the ref gets in the way. It’s jarring; flow is interrupted. This analogy is far from perfect since there is plenty of time when teachers will be directing and modeling a lot. But, if our goal is for the learners to learn, the learners have to do the work.

If I can help new teachers remember that the goal is always for play (learning and thinking by the students) to resume and for the learners to learn, I can’t imagine it won’t be helpful.

And I’m back. I’m not sure why I needed an entire year-long break. I will try not to do that again.

So, I’ve been thinking about thinking. I just finished rereading Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison from Project Zero. Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Project Zero, their work, and the really thoughtful way I think they integrate research and actual teaching by actual teachers.

Here are some of my take-aways, this time.  

First of all, I really like the idea of thinking moves. For a number of years, I’ve been using the language of moves when I talk about writing in class. In particular, I’ve found this language to be helpful when we are using a piece of fiction as a mentor text for our own writing. I encourage students to consider the writer moves in our text and ask them to consider which of those moves they will try. Students consider and name the writer moves that our model author makes and then make deliberate choices about which of those writer moves to try to imitate–setting a goal. And, as students describe the moves they see, it gives me access their thinking. Then, when I read their own work, I know what they were trying to do and can give them feedback on how well they achieved their goals. 

Okay, on to thinking moves. 

As a former elementary school teacher, I’m familiar with and a fan of classroom routines. I saw firsthand, over and over again, how practicing a particular routine, not about lining up at the door or going to in from recess, but about the work we were doing as an intellectual community, lead to learning that I could see. 

Routines become part of the fabric of the classroom thought their repeated use. Effective teachers of thinking address the development of students’ thinking in this way, by developing a set of routines that they and their students can use again and again (Ritchhart, 2002). Since the routines are “shared scripts,” students are able to use them with increasing independence. (48)

One of the most important ideas for me in that little quote is that students are able to use these routines with increasing independence. That’s the goal. I love to see students taking a particular way to engage with the material (a routine) that we’ve used in class and using it in their small group. I don’t just love it because it’s proof that they were listening, which is still good; I love it because then I know that the routine has given them a productive way to think and engage with the material. And, because it’s usually a situation where something gets written down or created, their thinking becomes visible. Once I can see it, I can engage with the students about it. 

Win, win, win.

It’s so much more interesting to consider routines for thinking rather than behavior. The authors note that frequently the idea of establishing classroom routines focuses exclusively on routines about behavior and compliance. And while having norms for those sorts of things is appropriate and one of those things that establishes the setting for learning, there’s no reason to stop thinking about routines when we get to lesson and unit planning. As the authors state, “learning needs a focus, and learners need direction for channeling their mental energies.” (204)

Another thing that stood out as I reread was the repeated reminder that the content being used must be rich enough to sustain this kind of careful, intensive investigation. It may sound obvious, but without high quality texts and material, there’s no point in asking students to do this level of thinking. It’s a reminder to me to make sure to put in the time to find excellent material, not just good-enough material.

Of course, I also am looking forward to using several of the specific routines for particular parts of my courses. I can already tell that a few of them are going to fit really well. It’s funny that some of them don’t even sound familiar from last time I read the book, but now they seem like the most obvious choices. Ah, change.

Wearing my administrator hat this time, I was really drawn to one of the final case studies (229-234) which describes the way a teacher integrated several routines into ongoing professional learning groups. The routines for this group of teachers created a “shared script” that allowed them to gain independence in their groups. They did not need the teacher leader to guide their every move; they were able to make excellent use of their all too brief professional learning time. This is a topic I am thinking a lot about right about now. So, a lot of ideas are rolling around in my head about this.

I’m so glad I pulled this book off my self for a revisit. I may go and reread some other books that are sitting there, staring at my every day. What books about teaching have you reread and found rewarding each time?

 

CCO Creative Commons image from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about my summer reading, making, and seeing plan. I have a tendency to imagine that there will be approximately 75 times as many hours in my day during any non-teaching days AND that I will also be 75 times more time-efficient, all while not taking into account my usual, extensive lounging time.

My reading plan

I have already reread most of the books I will be teaching in the fall. So, besides rereading a graphic novel and investigating some Neil Gaiman short stories, if I’m so inclined, I’m in good shape there. Here are a few titles I plan to read, or at least sit next to, over the next weeks.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Dandicot.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I have seen this mentioned in all sorts of “you must read this” articles and whatnot. My son inhaled it in two days.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I loved Everything I Never Told You and don’t know why I have not already read this book.

We Were Eight Year in Power by Ta-Nahisi Coates. I have read some of these pieces, but want to read them together.

The Glitch by Elizabeth Cohen. I know the author and am so excited for her.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. I know nothing about this book, but was taken with it at the bookstore the other day and we were already buying something so…

The Atheist in the Attic by Samuel R. Delany. Also saw this at a local bookstore, read the back, and added it to the pile.

I would like to finish The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and perhaps skim through a few other education books.

 

My Making Plan

I also plan to make things. I have recently been back to sewing in addition to my other crafty making. I’ve got a few projects in the works, no surprise there, and a few on the agenda. I have two sewing projects that are already cut out and just need sewing. However, my machine and I are currently not on good terms, perhaps I need a new needle, maybe we just need a break from each other. Also, I have a mostly finished project that just needs a little attention. I would love to finish those and one other.

I have two sets of taxonomy projects that are in process. Those can definitely get finished and posted on the blog. I’m sure I’ll get to another set as well. I have some partial ideas that just need a little more time to marinate.

I would also like to get to some e-textile or soft circuitry projects. I have one makespace type project in the works, although it does not incorporate any circuitry. And, I have a project I started a long time ago that I might finally be ready to tackle. It would mean I would really have to force myself to get a little better with both coding and circuitry– goals of mine for several years now. With the makerspace just sitting there in the summer, calling my name, it seems a shame not to answer.

 

My Seeing Plan

I also like to get out and about and see things. Sometimes I just need to fill up my visual library.

Rodeo–we haven’t been to the Cowtown Rodeo in a few summers. Time for a trip.

MASS MoCA. I love this place and hope we can find some way to make it part of a driving adventure. It’s fun to see images from exhibits I’ve seen there in the past on their Instagram.

Storm King Art Center. I can’t believe I have not been there yet, but it will happen this summer. They also have a great Instagram.

Also, I’m sure I will drag my family to other exhibits or festivals, or outdoor happenings here and there.

Ultimately, I will probably, read, make, and see all kinds of things that may or may not have anything to do with this list. However, I do love to make a list.

A very ambitious plan for an art experience based on Invisible Cities

So, I’ve been thinking about the installation art proposal project that I assigned for a last assessment in my senior English class. I wrote about how excited I was as the students got to work. (Check out the details of the assignment and whatnot). As I said before, I was nervous about the final projects. We are talking about second-semester senior year, last assignment, out of the box project that I thought was super cool. Sometimes I forget that not only am I still uncool, but I am also old now, and therefore what I think is a cool assignment does not always translate that way to my students. Sometimes my enthusiasm can bridge the gap, but not always.

Well, I am happy to report that the entire enterprise was a success. And not even just an end-of-the-year-they-turned-something-in success. It would be a success at any time of the year.

First, the students engaged in the kind of thinking I wanted them to do. In creating their proposals, they had to review some of the key thematic ideas of the course and one of the texts in particular. In addition, they had to consider how to transform ideas from one medium into another while thinking about what would make for an engaging and thoughtful art installation (thanks to @oneissilva I know this is called transmediation). As I walked around the room during the several class periods of work time, I loved what I heard. And, I wished that I had a group to work with too.

On the day of the presentations, we had some guests–two other teachers who are also department chairs. I like to have visitors for a couple of reasons. First, the students usually do better with an audience (the audience effect is real). I like to make the presentation a bit more of an event and visitors do that. Also, visitors keep me honest. I can get a little carried away when I think things are going well. I get too excited and think everything is awesome (is everyone singing the LEGO movie theme song now? Just me?) So, being able to check in later with another colleague who was a witness to the event is a good dose of reality. I take advantage of their feedback when I give final grades for the work too.

The actual proposals and posters worked in a lot of ways. First, the format allowed the students to focus on the idea and concept rather than the actual creation of an art piece, but at the same time, it was easy to imagine the exhibit. The structure and outline of the types of information that were required meant that if the group did each part, the audience had a good sense of the ideas and concept.

A note on grading. I considered this project a complete success and the grades ranged from B- to A. Every group tackled the work thoughtfully. Some groups ultimately were missing a few bits or had more straightforward ideas, but I consider every project to be a success. There were 6 proposals and each book that we read was chosen by some group.

Here are a few details from some of the proposals. Note: since this is a fantasy book class, so I did say that they could plan to have some things happen “automagically” in their exhibits.

One group planned a multi-room experience inspired by Bailey, from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

 

The exhibit itself is designed to have viewers initially interact with a series of touch screens arranged in a circle, like a clock (the clock is important in the book and the group made a strong case for the clock’s connection to Bailey). Then viewers go through another room with many varied settings to wander through and finally end up in a space where each person sees a personalized video that is created based on what the person did on the screens in the first room and where they wandered in the second space. The idea was that viewers would get insight into their own dreams and desires and therefore be more able to take action to make them real, like Bailey. (I am not doing their ideas justice here, by the way.) The group also described the experience of walking through their space in the style of a particular part of the book (the interludes that describe how “you” experience the circus, for those who have read the book).

This group also commented on the way their ideas changed over the course of their brainstorming. I love seeing this, and the success I have had this year in asking for some amount of process commentary on assignments has totally convinced me to include this type of commentary on pretty much everything next year.

 

Another group planned a heart exhibit for the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As they were planning, I was concerned that their idea was quite literal. Oh, how wrong I was. Visitors move through 4 metal rooms (the chambers of the heart) while wearing a heart monitor that allows sounds and lights to match the heart rate of the viewer, among other things. It is a dark, conceptual plan.

Below is their description of what happens in the first chamber of the heart. They were super serious about their idea, even though they had a grand time in the planning.

Two groups planned exhibits based in some way on Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. One dealt with the journey aspect of the book and tried to tackle each type of city, creating something more concrete from the very abstract ideas of the book. They were an idea factory! (The image at the beginning of the post is their plan.) My favorite part of this plan was the fact that on the way out visitors walked a kind of ring road that circumnavigated all the previous rooms and allowed them to look back in on the other spaces and reflect. Here is some of what this group said about their work:

Artist Statement: We want the audience to go through our installation and get a view into the mind of Marco Polo, while making their own connections and redefining what it means to know a place. Marco Polo stated he connected every city he visited to his own, Venice, which is why each room, or set of rooms in the case of hidden cities and cities and the dead, is accessible only through Venice. As each room represents a grouping of cities from Hidden Cities, we also want the audience to see that each grouping is applicable to all cities, though in different ways.
Process Commentary: The eyes room was inspired by Ai Weiwei’s installation piece entitled “Hansel and Gretel,” in which the audience is tracked by cameras in the first space, then is later able to find themselves in past footage and pictures in a second space using face recognition. We originally thought we would have one room with maps of different cities everywhere and strings connecting each one to Venice and the other cities in its category, but we ended up deciding individual rooms all leading back to Venice would work nicely. As we did not want to lose the connection between cities, we made continuous cities a loop where each person can look into the rooms previously visited, and reflect on how everything comes together. We also made some interesting new connections from the book, and after the floor plan poster idea was set started trying to figure out the big picture of each grouping. During brainstorming, we decided cities and the sky, cities of the dead, and hidden cities could all be in one close to one another, with hidden cities literally being embedded in the city of the dead.

The other took a more conceptual approach to the same text and proposed a two-room installation that spoke to the idea that even those far away from a city can have power over it and impact how it changes. Visitors in the first room interact with a seemingly random group of objects. As they do this, a city changes in the next room. When the visitors enter the next room, they see the city but also two side by side videos of their actions in the earlier room and what happened in the city room.

Each group had some sort of visual, but it was secondary, as was planned. The driving force was the idea.

I really cannot wait to use this project idea again.