In my last post I explored some ways that blogging has helped me to grow as a teacher. This time I’m focusing on themes that emerged from my blog posts. After seven months, what has this blog become? As I look back over my first year of posts, three general areas of interest emerge. I’m going to highlight some of the posts that I think illustrate how blogging has helped me grow.
This blog started as a way to open up what I am doing “inside the dog” of my classroom where, indeed, it is sometimes too “dark” to think clearly. I hoped to turn on the lights and open the doors. I think some of my best posts emerged from trying to observe closely and think deeply about what the heck was happening around me.
- A trio of posts culminated in one of my favorite posts about two students who re-read the first chapter of a book they had finished in order to discover how the author, intentionally or not, chose details to help the reader understand an early chapter book. Re-reading was very empowering for them; it became one of those events that served as a touchstone for the rest of the year.
- In another post I talked about how a science exploration of water allowed us to read photographs and short informational text closely. I liked this post partly because it turned out so elegantly well (not all lessons do), but partly because it was a simple change up of a lesson structure that I would have used in the past to a structure that plunged right into a mysterious event that we closely observed and wondered about. (Here, I’ve benefited from the work of writer/consultant, Vicki Vinton, the writing and consulting team of Burkins and Yaris, as well as some of the work on question-first lesson design put forth by Dan Meyer in math.)
- An early post about a read aloud explored some ideas about how readers interact with text in order to find meaning. In future posts, I want to open up some space in this blog for more short, classroom audio/video links like that.
- Finally, a wonderful post by Paul Freedman at the Coop Catalyst spurred me to think more about how a student helped me learn to ask Paul’s big question: What does this child need from me?
A second category of posts revolved around teaching as a profession, the pressures teachers and students face due to standardized testing, what good teaching and learning look like, and how the teaching profession is being “deskilled” by politicians and corporations through packaged learning programs designed to make a lot of money for publishers by promising to address the pressures imposed by standardized testing. While not as personally satisfying as the posts that came from inside the classroom, posts from this category helped me understand more about the problems in my profession. Rather than just complain, though, my writing helped me to be a more articulate advocate for learning-centered teaching in our school district, and a more effective advocate for this kind of learning as I interact with government officials through letters and conversations.
- In one post I think about how using standardized test data to evaluate teachers will not just yield poor results, but will lead us away from better student learning. As a corollary, a different post expanded on the theme of how building the capacity of teachers to do the best teaching possible is much preferable to an external accountability model for school change.
- This post speculated on how we might think about monitoring “leading” rather than “lagging” indicators, how empowering a change like that might be for teachers and for students. I brought up these ideas at our District Leadership team meeting and hope to expand what we imagine “data” to mean. I’ll also be planning my own leading indicators to monitor as I start with a new crop of children next school year.
- Another post began to explore one way I tried, ever so slightly, to document student thinking, and how students might be able to be more conscious of the habits of mind that learners develop.
Finally, part of this blog has been devoted to poetry, which seems odd given the other two learning and teaching centered foci. I’m still trying to figure out what this third focus means, exactly. Should I keep the poetry as one of the things this blog does, or should I let it go? I’m still on the fence about that one. What I do know is that I like to write poetry and have really enjoyed the people I’ve met in that online community. So, there’s that. The discipline of writing regularly has helped me develop not just as a writer, but also as an observer of the world around me. To the extent that this blog is about literacy (writing teachers need to write) and teaching is about seeing and noticing (and my poetry is also) then I can see a place for it here. I’m still torn, though, as there really are two different audiences for these kinds of writing and my blog is struggling to figure itself out. I’ll be thinking about this conundrum as the summer progresses. At any rate, here are some of my favorites.
- Most of my poetry seems to explore the significance of chance events or the moment when barely understood things reveal themselves. This poem wondered about the events that eventually lead to a cancer diagnosis. While outwardly about my father’s melanoma, it drew heavily on the experience of waiting at the hospital for my mother’s breast cancer surgery to end.
- This poem imagined the lives that gathered early in the morning at Dottie’s Cafe in gritty downtown Dubuque, IA, amongst the window factories and near the shuttered meat packing plant.
- On a little lighter note, this ode to my axe talked about the joy I feel when I am doing physical work outside, particularly getting wood ready for the wood stove.
Whatever the new year brings, I’m looking forward to using this blog to think through them. Thanks for reading, and also for your support.