Showing posts from 2015

When CS Meets Theatre Arts or That Time I was In The New Yorker

Earlier in November I was interviewed by the talented writer Betsy Morais, a member of the editorial staff at The New Yorker Magazine.  She was doing a piece for the Talk of the Town section of the historic magazine about Mayor Bill de Blasio announcement that computer science education would be in all schools, at every grade level, within the next 10 years. We spent a few hours together at a CSNYC Meetup, coordinated by Sean Stern, my colleague at AFSE. I was able to tell her a little bit about the project I was working on that resulted in the following piece:  "Can an English Teacher Learn to Code?"  The answer is: YES!  Not very well yet, but I am learning to use Scratch.  It was such an honor to be in The New Yorker and I think she captured me well.  Funny thing was, the day of the interview, it was the first day of the flu that plagued me for a week.  I was just happy I came across slightly coherent.

The interesting thing is- the unit I am in the process of designing and…

Can You Hear Me? Thinking About Women and Rhetoric

I was on Facebook this morning and I teacher friend of mine had posted the following image from Hillary Clinton's Facebook page:

It made me laugh because yesterday had been, as it is each Friday, discussion day in AP Language and Composition.  It is a day I always look forward to and the 11th graders challenge me, make me mad, and engage in amazing conversations about a multitude of topics and readings.  This week they had read and analyzed The Declaration of Independence (you might have heard of it) and a lesser known document known as The Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Seneca Falls Keynote Address was given July 19, 1848 more than 60 years before women's suffrage would finally achieve one of his greatest goals in getting the 19th amendment to the constitution passed and guaranteeing women the right to vote.   It includes lines like this:

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having …

Week 3: Navigating The "Grade Book" When There Are No Grades

Two weeks in...

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the third week of school here in NYC.  It has been a funky couple weeks with only three days of school each week because of holidays.  This upcoming week is the same, two more holidays on Wednesday and Thursday- it has made the establishing of norms, front-loading and developing routine challenging, but like any good school we trudge forward and do the best we can.

Two weeks ago I told AP that they would not be receiving any numeric or alpha numeric grades on the daily work or projects.  That twice a year- during what will look more like an intersession you would see in college (January and June) students will have to do a Defense of Learning that is in the process of being developed.  I am a huge proponent of portfolios and of students having to speak as to WHY they have earned the score they did for the semester or year.  Now that it is connected to Mastery Based Learning, my hope is that this will provide students with especially useful…

Diving Into The Deep End: Goodbye Grades, Hello Mastery Learning!

Last year my school began the shift towards Mastery Learning.  I was keen on the idea of mastering skills or content rather that simply working from assignment to assignment- seeing how a kid did and moving forward with out revision or truly looking at the why of the learning.  I had some frank conversations with my AP Lang students last spring about what they thought class would be like for them if they didn't have the pressure of grades.  Their thinking was insightful and eye opening, confirming much of my own thinking about student learning.  When they are not working for a grade, but on a skill, they will invest in a different way, working to improve the skill.  Students don't work to improve grades on individual assignments in traditional classrooms.  They look at the grade on the paper, cheer or cry, and move onto the next assignment with the hope of improving the overall grade for the course by bringing the average up.

Mastery in motion: Theatre Arts

I also teach theatre…

How to Make A Disability Into Ability In The Classroom! But What About When It's YOU?

This last week I traveled to my hometown of Seattle.  It was the first trip home since beating thyroid cancer this year.  Most of my close friends and nearly all of my relatives still live in the area and I know that being 3000 miles away from people you care about and who care about you is difficult when you are sick.  There is a powerlessness that goes with it.  My mom had flown out to support me and my husband and we were thankful to have her here for that time.

So on this trip home, I got to see many people.  One of the frequent comments was about my voice.  As some of you may already know, I have vocal cord paralysis of my right cord- a byproduct of my treatment as well as the fist size tumor I had in my neck (You can hear me in May and July).  People who have known me all my life commented on the new sound- "It sounds like you, just softer." or "Wow, your voice is so sultry." They are right, there is a new quality to my voice and it is changing how I teach.


Teachers On The Front Lines: Respect and Compassion, Caitlyn Jenner and Dignity For All Students Act

Last night, like many, I watched much of the ESPY Awards.  There were a few moments I was looking forward to, but the highlight for me was Caitlyn Jenner's acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Bruce Jenner was always part of my American landscape.  I was born a year after the triumphant Olympic showing.  Bruce was a symbol of athleticism and pop culture, even throughout the 80's always showing up on TV.  When "Keeping Up with The Kardashians" came to E! TV, new generations met Jenner.  I remember feeling bad for him, the batterebyd sidekick to a flock of women who bullied and belittled under the guise of love.

This spring, in the midst of a unit on Language and Gender for AP Language and Comp, we talked at length about gender, respect and language used to talk about gender and oppression.  At the time, Jenner was still being harassed relentlessly by the paparazzi, targeted on a daily basis, photos being published in places like People Magazine.  Tha…

The Struggle With Staying Inside The Lines

Yesterday an article titled "Why Adults are Buying Colong Books (for Themselves)" by Adrienne Raphel in the New Yorker examined the phenomena of adults diving back into the coloring book market.  I am one of the many who are coloring for pleasure.  My first purchases were from Amazon,  My favorite: Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns as well as a mandala coloring book (which I don't like as much) and one marketed for "stress-relief". They are time consuming and require focus, the idea being that you turn everything else off: no phone, TV, kids, spouses.  Just you and your coloring to zone out and see where the time takes you.  Unfortunately, my brain is not one that works that way and I like to do multiple things at once- usually one taking the majority of my focus (a gift and a curse) not unlike many of our students.  So in the evening, after dinner when we are catching up on the backlogged DVR, I color while we watch Mr. Robot.

Last Friday I was v…

25. Inspiration and Humility

When I started blogging about teaching in April I saw it an exercise to challenge me professionally, to think more critically about my work and to hopefully connect with other teachers.  Thanks to Chris Crouch, teacher leader, blogger and advocate who started the April Blog A Day Challenge.  It took my work to a new place. The writing in April also provided an opportunity for me to discover what is out there for teachers.  There was this community that I had been blind to, only because I was so focused on what was happening in my own classroom and school that I didn't make room to see and hear teacher's voices that would ultimately bring something new to my own work as educator and teacher leader in my community. 
When I started talking about the writing I was doing, the conversations I was having with teachers from around the country it was clear that this needed to be a permanent part of my professional work.  I was inspired by the work and thinking teachers and education pr…

24. Revision and Feedback

It is day 2 of summer vacation and I am ready to dig back in.  I know I am crazy.  I know this about myself though.

I have taken myself to my favorite coffee shop around the corner from my house, I have a brand new pad of paper, a fresh charge on my laptop and a large iced coffee.

At the end of the school year I did an Exit Survey with AP Lang to get some much needed feedback on how they felt things went this year.  Most of the questions were on a 1 to 5 scale with just a few open ended.  They pushed students metacognitively, challenging them to think about their thinking.

Here are a few examples: 

As well as three open ended questions: 
(Starred questions are required.)

In the end, I got 26 of 31 students to submit feedback.  I was able to share the feedback with my Admins and it proved to be a great place to open a dialogue for end of the year evaluation/conferences.

I have always done some level of student self-assessment, but this was by far the most effective feedback I have re…

23. When Is The Right Time To Tell Our Own Stories?

I read a great article on The Players' Tribune by elite soccer athlete Christie Rampone called "This Is 40".  She raises great points about growing older, being a mom and wife as well as a leader to other women.  While I am not an athlete, nor a mom, I am turning 38 this year and I am a leader in my work community.  I forwarded the article on to one of my Juniors who plays four varsity sports, has had numerous internships in the tech industry over the last three years and maintains an extremely high GPA.  In the subject line line of the email I simply put: "Great Article".  About 3 hours later I got a reply: "Yes. It is." I know that sharing stories of strong women who are exemplars for new generations is an important part of being an educator.   I began a class two weeks ago on memoir writing.  I had immersed myself this past year in the creation of a curriculum for Advance Placement Language and Composition, a College Board approved course that I tau…

22. What happens when the routine is what holds it all together?

It has begun.  The end of the year Facebook rants from teachers, myself included, about needing the year to be over.  Here in New York City we always work until the end of June, I think for the most part because we have more religious holidays in our school calendar than many other parts of the country most recently, the long awaited addition of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.  For high school teachers, the last two weeks of school are the administration of NY State Regents Exams, content specific tests that all students must pass a minimum to graduate.  For the K-8 crowd, it is a different story and I am sure in many ways even more exhausting than for HS teachers.  
While I don't mind being busy, I find that I depend on the routine and the business of the calendar.  This is my light week:
The longer I teach, the more I know I thrive in the routine.  I wake up at 5:30 AM, take my pill, shower, get ready, make lunch, walk to train (I have 2 routes I always take- there is no variation), …

21. When Do You Feel Most Like You Work On A Team? Reflection on what makes a successful department. #edblogaday

You have all heard it, "There is no I in TEAM."  I always tell my kids that cliches are cliches for a reason.  I have had some amazing team work experiences.  They seem to empower all the players, celebrate each person's strengths, and showcase what working together and hard can produce.  I have had experienced this trifecta of teamwork most frequently when I worked in professional theatre.  I think it is in part because each member of the team has a speciality and focus, something unique that they bring to the table and that is celebrated and capitalized on for the betterment of the production.

In schools it is the same, yet different.  Yesterday at our spring day long professional development we began the day with an exercise I have done at least three times now.  The Leadership Compass Self-Assessment (from Be The Change Consulting) You go through the list of traits for each of the compass points and then determine which direction represents you the most.  We were then…

20. Growth Mindset- Holding On To What Is Important.

When I started teaching, I had the dream of being in the same school for the duration of my career.  I had teachers in high school who had always taught at Roosevelt High- Mr. Brink, Ms. Ryles, VK. My father's best friend had been a student of Mr. Brink in the 1960's for history and I took his class in the mid 90's.  It was in Brink's class that I really leaned to take notes- good notes.  The note taking skills that would serve me through college.  He was a legend and had a legacy.  Ruben Van Kempen, affectionately known by his students as VK has just retired this year after 37 years. Ms. Ryles taught sewing and textiles for 30+ years as well, truly a dying art form.  I loved those teachers and those classes.  They were tied up in the romanticism of teaching for me as I went through graduate school.  This is what teaching was going to be like.

I was wrong.  I will say this- there is a HUGE difference between my affluent, super white, privileged high school where someth…

19. Getting Lost In The Exhauastion

I hit the overtired place but there is no room for slowing down for a few more weeks.  I am thankful for tomorrow and the brief respite from classes with the day of early Regents exams and then all day PD on Thursday.  In the mean time we had interviews last week and two more today.  It's a process thinking about who and why and where they would fit in and what they would bring to the dynamic of an already strong team.

There is also the larger piece- thinking longer term- beyond the next year.  What do we as a team need in the next 3, 4 and 5 years.  Where will I fit into this dynamic? Who will still be with us?  Who will have moved on, moved forward.  I suspect this will be a school that people stay with for a long time (provided the school culture does not dramatically change).  So what is the compliment.  An argument can be made for many of the amazing people we have met.  Only time will tell.

I donated the remaining three weeks before Regents exams to the Living Environment dep…

18. The Reflective Practitioner and Calculated Risks #edblogaday

At the end of each of our lesson plans and unit plans is space to reflect on how it went and attach student work (digitally).  Admittedly, I seldom take the time to reflect on the lessons this way.  It has never felt authentic but rather forced.  When I began blogging for this project at the beginning of April, it didn't feel forced.  My thinking felt authentic, honest and it was true to me.  While I know blogging is the long form of reflection, what is the happy medium between nothing and blogging that still gives me time to think about my teaching in a brief yet authentic way that really does serve a purpose?

I have found of late that my reflection has centered around many WHY questions as I work to dig through the much of my craft.  As I was walking out last night, I walked along side my Principal and I was sharing with him that a teaching colleague, who had applied to another admin training program (one I applied to but did not get into) had been accepted.  It will be an intens…

17. Laughter and Electricity: The Solution to Exhaustion #edblogaday

Today was  along day.  An epic day at the end of an epic week.  I am tired.  I can feel myself starting to hit the wall of the school year.  I know that it has been a Herculean feat just for me to get through this year.  It's ok that I am exhausted.  Last night I got to go see Fiasco Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.  I got all dressed up and my wonderful friend Primo came with me.  We laughed and schmmozed and drank wine.  It felt good to laugh and relax and escape into the theatre for a few hours.

If you are in NYC you can see this show through June 20th!
Today was long.  Up at 5.  Out the door by 6:30.  Heavy teaching day, lots of student conferences, quick coffee after school, back for meeting at 3:45 to prep for interview session from 4-6, run interviews for group of 17, chat with applicants after, debrief with Admin, pack up, answer phone messages, out the door by 7:15, on the rain by 7:30, home by 815.   I don't have much left.…

16. Appreciation and Expectations- My Journey Through Heartbreak #Edblogaday

A friend of mine posted the above image on Facebook last week and I set it aside, knowing that it would become a blog post.  I suppose it would have made a great Teacher Appreciation Week post, but after participating in the #NYEdChat last night on Twitter, it is clear to me, now more than ever, that teachers thrive in positivity.  This does not mean that we need to inflate each others egos or provide untruths.  It means that teachers should speak up and speak out about what IS working.  This is why writing about appreciation, not just for a week in May is integral to growth, development and cultivation of community.

I, like many of us, have already had many jobs in my short 38 years. I have had great employers and I have had horrible ones.  When I saw this image, the first thought into my head was, of course I do! I want to work hard when the hard work is recognized.  I have always thought of myself as someone who does work hard.  My parents let me get my first job when I was 10, as…

15. Supporting Parents- The Conversations To Be Had #Edblogaday

I have never felt like this was something I was especially good at. I am not that great advisor that is in constant contact with my students. I also have a number of parents, who after two years have still never met and to my best knowledge have not ever come into school.
I have three families who I text, call, email pretty consistently, there are a couple more who are in between lots of communication and none at all. When there is none, it's because I never get a response and their kid is not failing, so I have let it slide. There are bigger advisory fish to fry.
The Chancellor built in, with our new contract, time for parent outreach. It's the time for midday phone calls that often are bad news. It sucks and doesn't really feel constructive. I often wonder what it's like for K-8 teachers who have 32 families they have to keep abreast of everything and not just 10 to 15.   While I think parent outreach is a great idea, the current structures don't work that wel…

14. The Hiring Season: Department Accountability #Edblogaday

I love this time of year.  I love it because it warms up, people smile at each other more, and I can wear sandals.  This is also the time of year that I start thinking towards next year.  I don't know if all teachers do this but it seems to be my pattern. I start reflecting on all the things that I want to do differently, tweak and retool for next year.

Now, I have to be 100% honest here.  I have NEVER taught the same curriculum two years in a row.  My first 5 years of teaching I was in an alternative HS with 12 week trimesters so over 5 years I wrote roughly 30 different courses. It was quick and dirty planning and the style I developed meant that on paper I didn't necessarily write down every step I was going to make through the lesson.  I also didn't need to. My years of theatre training have served me well as a teacher.

Last year, I co planned with three other teachers to build the new 10th grade Global Lit curriculum.  I struggled with this kind of co planning.  My …