Kids Deserve It: Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking

I have not read an education book I loved this much in a long time. Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) and Adam Welcome (@awelcome) are definitely striking a chord with a lot of educators. As a teacher leader, I see this need for change they describe as well. Not only the content, but also the format of the book make it easy to digest. The chapters are short and broken up with eye catching headings. The chapters also end with thought provoking "Things to Consider and Tweet".

When reflecting on a lesson, Todd Nesloney says, "I could have been too scared to try something new. I could have made excuses about why it wouldn't work, how my students couldn't handle it, why my principal wouldn't allow it, or why I didn't have time for it. But I pushed the excuses aside, stepped out of my comfort zone, and ran with an idea. And I couldn't be happier. This experience truly transformed me as an educator" (16).

This is motivating to me. I have made excuses, and I am done. Kids deserve better. I know sometimes it will not work out. I know sometimes I will fail. However, wouldn't it be awesome for the students to see me, their teacher, keep trying, not giving up, and working hard for them. 

Another chapter I liked was "Don't Live on an Island". This is so true. If you think about it, most struggling educators live on an island, meaning they are isolated. When Nesloney got off his island, he says, "It allowed me to grow as a person and as an educator, and my students reaped the benefits" (21). Personally, I can see the benefits of this as well. I have tried to connect to more educators through Twitter and other social media. I have participated in online chats and reap tons of benefits from talking/reading/viewing with other educators. 

Lastly, I will touch on the chapter entitled "Relationships Matter Most". I don't want to give too much away. You have to get the book. Nesloney and Welcome write, "Relationships have always been, and will always be, of the utmost importance in our schools. They are the catalyst of our work. We've all seen kids who will move heaven and earth for a teacher they like. Students will reach new heights when they're relaxed and know you care. So we must make all kids feel special, valued, and important" (117). They go on to list different ways educators can build relationships with students. For the most part, it is about building trust and being a servant leader, which most educators tend to be. When those types of relationships are built, "It's in those moments that someone feels like they're really cared about. It's in those moments you change lives" (120).

Get this book and push boundaries, challenge thinking, leave your island and most importantly CHANGE LIVES. Kids deserve it!

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It

Kelly Gallagher offers a definition for what he calls Readicide: “noun, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” (2).

Gallagher admits that this definition may be offensive to some, but it definitely did not offend me. As soon as I saw the title of this book, I had to read it. It resonated with me, as I see the death of reading everyday. I see the students being forced to read only from the classic cannon they loathe with a passion.

Gallagher discusses the contributing factors to readicide. Among them is a lack of relevant, high interest reading materials and a lack of time in which students actually read during school hours.

Gallagher offers support for SSR (sustained silent reading) by citing research in favor of SSR as “a valuable investment in test preparation” and “necessary to allow students an opportunity to build their prior knowledge and background” (42-43). This is said to refute the fact that many schools are cutting reading time for test preparation. 

I used to be one of those teachers who did not like to have SSR during class. For some reason, I thought that reading should be assigned as homework, and it was a waste of time to read in class. We will just call that thinking naiveté.

However, as Gallagher points out, having the time and a place to read during school is part of the formula to growing a reader.

The book is short (less than 150-including the references and appendixes) and offers ways in which teachers can combat or prevent readicide. Check out Gallagher’s use of The Article of the Week and the One Pagers. I have successfully used The Article of the Week idea with both my 7th and 10th grade students. 

I will leave you, hoping you never follow the recipe below, but you do check out Gallagher’s book.

The Kill-a-Reader Casserole

Take one large novel. Dice it into as many pieces as possible.

Douse with sticky notes.

Remove book from oven every five minutes and insert worksheets.

Add more sticky notes.

Baste until novel is unrecognizable, far beyond well done.

Serve in choppy, bite-size chunks (73).

Most Likely to Succeed

This book by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith really has me thinking. There are so many challenging points made and I’ll admit that I’m still mentally fighting a few. However, the take aways that are really “speaking to me” are so entrenched in the institution of education that it feels overwhelming to tackle them.

            #1       The authors write, “Remember, any solution that can be accurately evaluated by a computer is invariably tied to a skill that can be handled by a computer – better than the best human.” In my reflection, this creates a question of content over skills as an emphasis in academia. Perhaps more interesting, it also pulls into question the culture of schools. For example, cell phones in the classroom and the students’ ability to pass questions onto later in the day test takers.  But let’s  re-frame that problem – can we acknowledge that when we are asking high-level thinking questions – this type of “cheating” becomes nearly impossible? We are also asking our students to take over where computers leave off – at the point of analysis, problem solving, and creativity.

            #2       Later in the book, the authors suggest that the American education system is a nightmare that, “saps the joy of learning from every child and teacher.” OUCH! But students who would identify with idea that they are “jumping though endless hoops that have nothing to do with life skills” surround me. Are they board – as the authors suggest – or do they feel that to be successful has more to do with luck than effort?

            #3       The third big - “Oh Wow” – is this observation:

“If we’re committed to meaningful student progress, we need to accept that an entirely different assessment model is required – one that is more qualitative than quantitative, and one that gives up on rank-ordering millions of kids to the nearest tenth of a percentile… We can focus classrooms on either what is easy to measure or on what’s important to learn. But we can’t do both well.”

 

Yet we try to because we don’t want to screw this up for any student. We want to know where they are, what they know, and what they need next. Does the process of figuring that out, at least when the process depends on a standardized test, create a greater problem? Clearly, there are no easy answers.

            That’s perhaps why I am so grateful for the section titled, “If All Else Fails,” where they list suggestions for teachers. These are good things that, while I sort out the above challenges, I can get my students and myself jazzed about. Here’s my spin on what I read…

·      Focus on the developing critical thinking skills

·      Be able to answer, “how am a growing passionate learners today.”

·      Don’t micromanage their every minute

·      Get them engaged and the rest will – hopefully -  come

Okay, so none of the above is easy to do, but it does provide a positive place to focus. In fact, dare I state the obvious – that none of the problems in education are easy to resolve. If they were, I’m sure the collective “we” would have checked it off the “must do list.” Lacking a magic wand, this will be an ongoing conversation. The authors contribute a voice to the conversation and if you’re ready for the challenge – I’d suggest you give it a read.

Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners

Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond

By Larry Ferlazzo 

My top five takeaways: 

1. Ferlazzo focuses on building relationships with students as a way to curb classroom management issues.  

“Building relationships with students is a cornerstone of effective teaching, including classroom management (Ferlazzo, 2011, p. 6). By emphasizing this practice, educators can, at the same time, model that behavior for their students and demonstrate that relationship-building is also a critical skill for learning” (63).

Ferlazzo goes on to offer mini-lessons to “set the stage” for building these relationships. He has lessons on Boredom, Gratitude, Fighting, and Poverty and the Adolescent Brain.  

2. The transfer of learning is another area of Ferlazzo’s book that really resonated with me.

“Transfer is a, if not the, primary purpose of schooling. We want our students to be able to apply the knowledge and skills they learn with us to other challenges inside and outside of school-the goal of our English class is not to have students pass the exam, but to be competent critical life-long writers and readers; the goal of studying history is not to memorize the dates of major battles, but to develop a broad historical perspective that they can apply to understanding the world around them today and in the future” (123). 

I think this gives some traditional and not so traditional educators something to think about. Sometimes we lose sight of our ultimate goal: making students life-long learners and forward thinkers.

3. Ferlazzo gives an assignment that I am definitely going to institute in my classroom. He assigns homework for students to use a strategy they learned in one class and apply it in another class. As an ELA teacher, I am ecstatic, especially with the current focus on literacy across the curriculum. This assignment teaches students to reach beyond a single classroom.

4. Ferlazzo also reminds educators of some best practices that might have been pushed out of the way by the craze of test prep and performance.

“Praising effort and the specific work of students instead of their intelligence will help them lose their fear of making mistakes . . .” (6).

We want our students to be okay with making mistakes, with failing, because they know they can redo and do better with our help. 

5. This is probably a more controversial topic, but Ferlazzo is a proponent of choice and voice in the classroom and suggests giving students 20 percent of the time to work on something of their choice. I can hear the "gasps" and the "whats" now. However, I think this can work if done correctly. 

“Try implementing 20 percent time in your classroom. This classroom learning activity has been inspired by a number of business initiatives, particularly Google’s history of giving its employees 20 percent of their time to work on a project of their choosing. A growing number of educators are applying this to the classroom-whether as a literal 20 percent time project one day each week or as an occasional lesson” (19).

Overall, there is a lot of applicable information in this book. There are detailed lesson plans and resources. Check it out.