Monday, June 27, 2011

About Sam

Sam's being even bolder than usual and doing a video analysis. And because I was the lucky person who happened to be online AND because I finally get to be on a summer schedule I got to play too.

Yeah, I got invited to see Sam teach. Nanananbooboo. 

Ignore what he says, dude has got all sorts of awesomeness, not all of which come across on his blog. A lot of my favorite parts were things that blogs just don't capture.You don't write about your hand motions. Like his "I need silence now" pose and his "Okay go" action. You don't convey the different intonations and vocal expressions. His "secret preview of college life whisper" or his "Let's talk about these easy problems and then those other ones." I know I'm not enough of the author to convey those details. And bet that everyone who reads the words will come up with a slightly different way to imagine Sam saying them. (Even among the people who know him.)

Sam wanted feedback, so I took notes in a table with three columns: +, Δ, and ?. Skimming back through, it's likely that half of the positives won't be as helpful as they should be (which awesome hand motion am I talking about) and too many in the positive column ended up being half positive and half deltas. I was surprised by how many suggestions I had. A lot of it could be different teaching styles, so I'll be curious what turns out to be meaningful for him.

I didn't feel like I was taking that many notes, but when I look back, my form filled about 3 pages. (And even though not every column was filled in all the way, that's a respectable amount of writing from me.) I'm really hopeful that my feedback will be useful PD for him.

Meanwhile, it's also useful PD for me. Watching other teachers is like the blogging PD on steroids. Partly for the things I should steal, like those hand motions. Partly for the bits of myself that I recognize and should change. Like pacing so much it becomes distracting.

And while observing anyone is helpful, it was super-duper-cool to be observing SAM. I mean, we started teaching and blogging at the same time. I've followed his classroom for years. Because of that I could hear comments the students said and know they were Shah-isms and what they were talking about. That made it better than a video-library where I don't have a relationship with the teacher. But it's also cool because Sam and I have never met. With teacher-friends who I know in real life, I'll know what sort of mannerisms to expect, so I won't pay as much attention to them. Totally didn't know those about Sam, which is probably why I was so excited to see them. I think the community we have gives a unique insight to observations that's near impossible to build elsewhere.

I'm not teaching much now. Awesome funding means I'm not even TAing that frequently. But when I'm back in the classroom again, I'll challenge myself to the unique form of torture feedback. Sam, we'll switch roles.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Never gonna give you up

Much obliged to Dina for prodding me to write again. There's a guest post on her blog and a new one for you here too. Here's hoping it's not a one-hit wonder and that I'll actually post some of the things I've got in the back burners.


When I left, I told my students (and myself) that if they invited me, I’d find a way to come to  graduation.  It wasn’t a surprise when a current sophomore asked at the beginning of April if I was still planning on coming. I told her I would if a senior invited me. Bought my plane ticket when one of them sent me a message through Bebo.* Close enough.**

This post isn't about graduation though. It's about a conversation I had with my girl, the sophomore who pestered me into coming. We were waiting for the the ceremony to begin, when she asked, "Cannon, do you think any of the TFAs will still be here when I graduate?"

I don’t know. The people currently teaching through TFA may leave next year. "Is there anyone you think might stay?"

She named a couple of teachers. One's new, so I had no sense. The other taught with me. She's staying for a third year, but she's floated the idea of applying to grad school. I tell my student as much, encouraging her to tell the teachers that she wants them to stay. My students started trying to convince me to stay after the decision had been made. Maybe their guilt trips can be better timed.

"It sucks that you are just getting to know people when they leave."

Yeah. Sorry about that.

"You know what you can do to change that. You can become a teacher. Come back here and don’t leave."

She doesn't want to do that. My girl likes her science. We talk majors and possible careers. She wants to follow her sister's path and be pre-med. And then she comes back with, "I might do TFA though."

I try to cover my surprise. Hadn't we just talked about the downside of TFA? Critics talking about the TFA turnover is one thing, but my girl has lived it at least since she hit middle school. Teachers who she could have for multiple years leave on her time and again. And it's pretty clear that she wouldn't be joining for a life-long career.

"Really? Would you come back here?"


"Where would you want to go?"

"I don’t know. Maybe Kansas."

I’m not the biggest TFA proponent.*** But you better believe that in 4 to 6 years, I'll be telling recruiters to check in on my girl. In the mean time, TFA, you want to work on opening a region in Kansas? Or should we hope that Kansas City, MO is close enough?


*It's like Facebook, only it's the one that my students were on last year.
**Plus, it was my last chance to visit Anne in SoDak.
***Though I hope I'm not a big opponent either.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quick question

I keep reading that a teacher's effectiveness is the most important factor in improving student achievement.

Isn't teacher effectiveness the only "factor" that's measured by improvements in student achievement?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Required Reading: Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap

There's research on a 15 minute intervention that reduces the racial achievement gap. Seriously. 

Helps African American students but doesn't hurt European American students. Lower achieving students get more of a boost than higher achieving students.

Works across content areas. The research is an experimental study, so it is causation not just correlation. From a short activity that fits into the first week of school mayhem.

And I hadn't heard of it until I read it for class this week.

Frequently, class discussions ask what's being done to implement the research we read. This week we asked why this article, which sounds like it should have gotten full-on media buzz, was new to everyone. (Including the Journalism professor.)

The original article was published in Science in 2006. A two-year follow up was published this April. (My professor says Science has a 98% rejection rate for social science articles. Multiple review levels. You don't get in without really good material.)

The intervention is simple. Give students a list of values and have them write about their two or three most important values.

That's it.

The theory is that this intervention breaks a negative cycle. That some students feel like school doesn't care about me so I'll perform poorly making school cares less about me and I'll do worse...

Breaking that cycle can actually begin an opposite cycle. "Oh, maybe they do care. I can do better. They like me more, I'll do even better..."

I am oversimplifying. And the news article I found does caution, "This is not a silver bullet. The improvements came from the psychological interventions paired with good resources and good teachers."

But still, 15 minutes of class time. Less than the interruption that my old school is having for today's Halloween festivities. Potential for real change. (Low achieving African Americans had  raised their GPA, on average, .41 points over two years where they repeated this activity a few times.)  Why wasn't I doing this?

Why aren't you?

The inner math teacher has to come out somedays

If you followed my move from the old blog to here, chances are good that you've already seen this picture floating around the interwebs.

Pretty cool map, yeah? If you're not familiar with it, read the original article. Now. The rest of this post depends on it. (And not just because I can pick out the McDonald's where the tenth grade English teacher at my old school works on weekends.)

When this was going around Twitter originally, people kept wanting to use it as a WCWDWT lesson. Teachers are fascinated by the map, let's have students play with it!

Problem is, there's not a motivating question. I mean, I have fun trying to see how closely I can identify different towns I've lived in, but that's not going to entertain anyone else.

Then today, I visited to find this.

Zoomed in.

"You Will Never Find a McDonald's More than 107 Miles From Another McDonald's"

Wait. I don't think that's what they found. Checked the Slate article. Actual headline, "Furthest Distance From a McDonald's: 107 miles."

So how far apart can McDonald's locations be?

Not sure how much of this one is just a rewritten textbook question and how much it can scan as WCWDWT. As always it depends on how it's presented to students. I'd show the map and the headlines.  Go all English teacher, "These headlines say different things." Pop the question. Puzzle it out.

If the class asks, take a look at the map of the "McFarthest spot" (go back to that original post, it's good). if they don't ask, shrug, comes too close to revealing the answer anyway.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can you help me with this?

First an introduction. Friends, this is Shannon.

I met Shannon two years ago. She's a ball of energy and I'm always excited when my weekend plans include seeing her. (Not at all related to the fact that weekend plans with Shannon usually involved skiing, camping, or otherwise getting out of classroom mode. ;-)

Actually, that aside is only partly true. Even when we're out of the classroom, Shannon continues to think about her students and ask about yours. Kinda typical of the the teachers I've met online.

Like a lot of teachers online, Shannon uses Donors Choose. She sent an e-mail today, that I wanted to share. I'll let her take it from here.


Hello Friends,

As you (probably) know, I teach at Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  My students live in one of the poorest counties in the country and very few have access to books in their homes.  Below, you see a picture of T---, second grader.  This is my hope for all of my students: that they become proficient life-long readers.  In order for this to be a reality, the school library must have books that appeal to their interests.

Here's what you might not know: I'm part of the teacher community, where teachers post projects for the resources that would make the biggest difference in our classrooms.  I currently have several projects posted for books.  If teachers collectively get 5,000 people to give to classroom projects by October 31st, $100,000 in additional funding will be released.

Here’s the catch.  It won’t even cost you anything besides about 10 minutes of your time.  Yahoo! is inviting everyone to share their creative singing voices by customizing and uploading their Yahoo! Yodel (you know, the catchy part-song, part-celebration shout trademark Yaaahooo!).  In return for submitting your own Yodel by October 31st, Yahoo! will immediately provide you with a $10 electronic Giving Card code to help fund the classroom project of your choice on  Hopefully, of course, that would be one of my projects, but it’s up to you!

Here’s what to do:
1.     Go to the Yahoo! Yodel Studio and make a yodel.  It doesn’t have to be good.  Here’s mine.  Any submission counts. 
2.     After you’ve submitted your yodel and Yahoo! Has emailed you your gift card, use this link to go to Donorschoose:
3.     Support any classroom project.  My projects can be most easily found by searching under location -- > State: SD.  County: Shannon.
4.     Please also forward this email to spread the word.

Please note that the last day to use your code is Halloween.  Thanks in advance for making it the best trick-or-treat I’ve ever had.  


Monday, September 28, 2009

Background bias

“Is it your passion or something you just fell into?” he asked.

I’d met him in the past half hour. We were hiking at the same pace and quickly fell into conversation. It was the type of conversation that you have with a friendly stranger. Openly sharing details of your biographies without exchanging basics. He didn’t know my name, but was asking about my motivation for starting graduate school.

“How about a passion that I’ve fallen into?”

We laughed, but it’s as good of an answer as I can come up with. 

I don’t remember when I first heard the terms “educational inequality” and “achievement gap,” but I have been learning about them all my life. Growing up in the small-town South, I attended schools on both sides of the divide. From an elementary school in a condemned building to another school in brand new building with computers in every classroom. From reading The Best School Year Ever in my eighth grade Advanced Reading class to studying different theories of literary analysis when reading Hawthorne and Fitzgerald two years later. 

A generation after Brown v. Board finally took effect (my dad was integrated during high school), I knew that the downtown school where I started my elementary education had been the white school and that the school on the far side of town had been the black school. Even though integration meant that the schools were divided by age, the neighborhoods surrounding them continued to fit the racial categories. Further, though my schools were integrated, my tracked classes were disproportionately white. 

It’s a passion that grew out of those experiences. It’s something that I’ve fallen into again and again.