Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wake-up the Deadline Monster

Without deadlines the procrastinator will... well, yeah, procrastinate.

This was very insightful of my own behavior, and now to do something about it...

5 months later

I'm thinking of a poem I cannot Google...

I am New Year's Resolution-ing...



One assembly I am getting Teacher of the Month, and the next month I'm loosing my cool and taking some unscheduled time off.

So much gained, so much more to learn.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Remember You Are the Creator

The painful process of remembering the artist buried within

Before the painful experience of failure or negative feedback sours a young child we are all artists and writers and storytellers. There is nothing we fear, nothing we cannot attempt. But those experiences of failure shape how we come to identify ourselves as adults.

Are you an artist? Or have you packed away your colored pencils because you hit a wall in perspective and felt your drawings weren't "good enough". Do you have notebooks full of wonderful adventures and characters you have created but who have not made it to a final draft; did you put away your story because it was too painful to have someone critic your brain child or did you get a couple of rejection letters first?

Have you put enough space and distance between that young novice and your current self that you feel safe examining what happened?

Somewhere buried deep within me is this identity of being a writer, a storyteller who puts their thoughts into words on the page. I moved from a small Colorado prairie community of 500 people to Los Angeles when I was 18 because I wanted to write for the movies. I lived there for four years, shelving books and slinging coffee at the Borders Books and Music store in Valencia.

And then I had to move back "home".

That was one failure, followed by another, and then another. My identity as a writer became so distorted that I eventually felt ashamed to even admit I had once daydreamed of winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Dozens of stories were culled.

But then, well, the library once again saved me.

I went to my local library and asked if I could shoot footage of their sorting machine to make this video. And discovered that somewhere in the process of this class I started to feel like a storyteller again.

Not without its own birthing pains.

Even this post has been a frustration of techie issues. Tried a new program (Storify) and spent long hours trying to upload pictures (first you make the pictures then discover you can't figure out how to upload them, then you try posting them to facebook or twitter) only to discover that for whatever reason it's not saving your progress. (Even now the tab is still open and it appears to be stuck reconnecting) So more time spent copying and pasting over to Blogger, and still even then you lose things like Twitter comments (screenshots of Storify into Powerpoint, crop, save as JPG, upload - doubtless there are faster, smarter ways but I don't know them) because now you can't find them again on your twitter feed.

When do you give up?

Well, that's the thing I've discovered about goal setting. All those wonderful books at the library. The ones about Flow and intrinsic motivation. Setting a goal is more than just declaring it (although you may recall from my earlier posting that declaring your goal and getting a "good for you" can actually prevent you from reaching your goal). New Year's Resolutions often fail because there is no plan of attack, there are just these things like "get out of debt" or "be kind" or "lose 50 pounds". But mostly goals fail because we aren't prepared to overcome setbacks.

My theme for this course was goal setting but as I worked on my assignments I found I needed to remember those aspects of goal setting that help a person keep working even when they experience failure or set backs. The key to really being successful with your goals of course is the level of reflection you do when you have reach a milestone. The end of this course is only a milestone, it is not a finish line. The things I was able to start in these last eight weeks with continue to grow over the years as I continue to evaluate and set new goals. But first, let's talk about what went right, what got better and where it is all taking me from here.

Art For Words - Using Fewer than 140 Characters to Tell a Story

This is where I started, and even though I still use PowerPoint to do my PhotOshopping I feel I can see the progress made. As a writing teacher I know how important it is to have activities in which students actually write but visual messages are amazing (Art is a Univeral Language that Does Not need to be Translated).

And it felt safer for me to explore these themes then straight up writing assignments (more on that in a bit). My identity as a storyteller grew in terms of using Photoshop, and I was most proud of the final few projects.

I don't play it safe when I try something. I always try for something that requires a bit of risk taking on my part, even if that risk is just to expose a little bit more of myself than I might feel comfortable with. The interesting thing with looking back over these projects is to remember how nervous and overwhelming they felt at first. Like at any moment I was going to be found out and discovered as an impostor or fake. I guess that says alot about how I don't feel like I belong but that's probably a discussion for therapy and not necessarily for my final reflection.

I remember seeing this daily create and going through my books to see if inspiration would strike. And it did! I knew the moment I picked up the Patchwork Girl and saw that simple doll on the cover what it would be if it was printed today. The over sexualized messages young women recieve today completely blows me away. Getting the materials together to recreate this cover didn't take very long but teaching myself to use new tools in PowerPoint sure did. I had never removed a background before and it was still too tricky to remove the original image from the cover (her hands can still be seen on the C and K) but I was so very pleased with the final product just the same.

By the time I got to these next few assignments removing a background and flipping images had become more "natural" for me. I was especially proud of the proportions for the FAIRY HARD movie poster and how close my "This is Not a Coffee" resembled Rene Magritte's "This is not a Pipe". Would I say I had become a PhotoShopping Master? No. But I was a PowerPoint PhotoShopping Novice with enough confidence to feel they could take on any project and do well.
My final Photoshop project for this class involved so many elements that I truly felt like a creator and not just a manipulator. Plus who doesn't love a caped Bold B!

Sounds About Right - Auditory Elements are My Achilles Heel

Adding soundtracks to my video project on YouTube proved very frustrating but I'm glad I've discovered SoundCloud. (And Incredibox even though I didn't find time to play on it). I honestly don't know what to do with it but I hope to introduce some students to it and see what they create there. I have a hard time with phoentic awareness activities because of an inner ear issue that makes distenguishing those subtle difference a struggle. A reason I struggle with pronounciation and singing and spelling. And I avoided working on those things because of the deficit which then in turn means those skills weren't developed.

But I love listening to music and again I am willing to look at an assignment and say to hell with it let me try it. So even though I didn't do a lot of Auditory assignments for this class the ones I did do I am extreemly proud of. I don't have plans to change careers anytime soon but I am looking forward to discovering more ways to develop these skills slowly and thoughtfully in the future.

And honestly, students who are gifted in their area should be the ones who are encouraged to meld writing with sound and see what they create. I'm not the writing teacher that gets hung up on spelling and grammer. I teach that those things are increadible important, but we learn them by reading great writing more than with skill and drill activities.

(Sadly, because of my poor techie skills, screenshots have been my method of trying to capture some of our conversations from this class and this one is just really poor quality).

Reading and Writing - My Bread and Butter

Totally excited to have discovered hypothesis. This is a great way to read and discuss material. I don't have enough technology in the classroom to really support using it but maybe for some assignments I can pull in the laptop cart and get kids on it.

The DS 106 Assignment Bank was another rich resource of writing assignments and ideas. The Choose Your Own Adventure stories were a big hit with some of my relunctent readers and I dsicovered Inklewriter which allows students to create their own Choose Your Own Adventure stories (my brain has been brewing how we as a class could all create a story together using this program so I'll let you know how that works out).

As I mentioned my identity as a writer has been damaged by some pretty serious setbacks and failures. And as we humans know it is always easier to remember the failures than the successes. One of the goal setting strategies for reflection requires that you make a list of those things that went right so that you have evidence of all the things that did go right. But it's like getting back on a bike when you have fallen, the pain paralyzes you and you have to learn to trust yourself again.

You may recall my talking about this book earlier. But I think it bares repeating that we are discovering so much about how the brain works because we literally have only been able to observe it working since the 1970s (MRi machines and such). Before that you had those guys with the lab rats and dogs being trained to respond to bells and whisles but I digress. The point is that trauma effects different people differently. Our brains are amazing machines but they can also be fairly simplistic too, the brain doesn't actually know the difference between a real threat and a vivid memory (or imagining) of a threatening situation. It's part of the reason why simulations help train people for the real emergency, but it's also part of the reason why PTSD is such a huge issue. My own, non-life threatening experiences as a failed writer made it harder to try writing again because it carries with it the weight of all those experiences and you think as you write that you will fail before you even begin. Resilience is needed then to come back from failures.

And reflecting on what went right helps replace those feelings of doubt when they do come up. So, in addition to using the DS 106 Assignment Bank with students, I can also use it to build up my confidence again as a writer too. Fun, short activities like the Daily Creates can help struggling writers with short prompts that have them writing before they know what hit them.

 And labeling the assignment "Design" for example can also produce a lot of writing and connection too, while sidestepping emotions connected to writing. I was pleasently surprised to go over my posts and tweets and discover some really good writing gems.

This summer I have also had time to reflect on my journal writing, which is something I use in class to try to inspire students to make writing more personal. This summer I completed my 14th journal and reflected on how that process has really started to take shape. I've been working on them since 2007 but in this last year they have really started to come together. Examples of how longevity and resilience are key ingredients in creating your dreams. Plus, it was nice to get some feedback from total strangers on how they look.

Students learn from doing. They also need modeling to see things done correctly which is one of the things I think I will be stronger doing for them going forward. I've modeled writing for them before but I'm feeling more confident now, and with the different assignments from DS 106 and the other teaching resources online (which I also feel more confident exploring) I think we will have lots to experiement with in the future.

Not to mention the various ways we can incorporate fanfiction into writing assignments too!

So Where Do We Go From Here

There are of course fun "bucket list" goals that once they are completed we move on from but developing those life long learning habits and skills needed to pursue bigger goals can be harder. One of the reasons is because struggle feels so uncomfortable and we'd rather avoid it. But a little willingness to not only Learn, but also Unlearn and Relearn can open up discoveries never dreamed of before. Never before has a class really pushed me to live this.

I also found it interesting to look at some of the statistics that my blogging created. Of course I'm not sure how someone in France even found my blog (or for that matter how to find Mauritius on a map) but this is an example of how the World Wide Web really does connect the world together. A very poient experience of this class was the reading of the Riverbend blog. Our course readings had referenced it as being this powerful connection to the war in Iraq but of course this was over a decade ago so I looked to see if she was still blogging. One post, three years ago, was a stark contrast to the positive message in our course readings. And yet, there too is the power of archieving messages like blogs. Libraries have to make room on their shelves for current materials although there are warehouses for books that are sometimes needed for reference, but for the most part older books are weeded from collections. The internet as far as I've been lead to believe does not have issues with storage so if you never delete it in theory it is available forever. Although I'm not sure how all of this will look and feel to me in the future, it's there perculating in my mind. The thing is that in some fashion affinity spaces will make their way into the classroom. The Global Classroom will become more common, and hopefully in the process we can increase empathy and awareness on a larger scale.

My more immidiate goals and uses for affinity spaces in the classroom will probably focus around fanfiction, blogging and self-publishing but because of this class I will have more direction to offer students who are more adventerous or advanced than myself.

I was also inspired by affinity spaces to try out Donors Choose, and happy to say my first project was fully funded! I'm slowly starting to see how one could use all these different social media sites to connect with strangers who are looking to connect. There is a wealth of sites I have not tapped into because I find this whole Internet thing overwhelming but just like with my Photoshopping, once I actually started setting expectations (goals) for myself I slowly started to feel more comfortable.
I'm still going to move at the speed of a turtle because I'm old enough to understand that fast isn't always better - Haste really does make Waste - but also because as a teacher the one student I have really gotten to know is myself. I may have cried at times during this class, may even have broken down yesterday afternoon in frustration, but I trusted myself to be gentle yet firm. I had a goal. Finish this class. Setbacks and frustrations were going to happen, some of them you could perdict but the ones that really get you are the ones that blindside you. And I've been fortunate enough to have gained the experience of evaluating what has worked, and what hasn't worked, and what to do when the Internet crashes and you find yourself trying to meet a deadline.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Cornelius Selfie Slideshow

This could very well be the last assignment I have to do for class (I'm keeping in mind that maybe I will have to do a little extra work if maybe the professor says so but otherwise this is looking good). And I totally tried out a new program and trouble shot tons of connection issues (hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire one does not have WiFi or cellphone coverage all the time) but here it is and it's pretty good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Week 7 Reading Response

My second video, better and much faster than the first :)

Still room for improvement (a bit choppy) ;)

Getting into the final weeks of this course and what do I want to share in this space I have been creating? I am reminded of a lot of things as I prepare to reflect and present some final ideas. For me goals have played a powerful role in my life. Accidently I stumbled on goals in my life but I've had the good fortune to discover teachers and books that have helped me develop this value skill.

I was recently flipping through my notes on this book and came across the story of Jess Goodell and these wonderful quotes on resilence. One of "those books" that caught my eye.

"I found my salvation in education." She read about war, natue, society. She began to see herself in the larger context of society and history. She began to look outward, for ways to help others. And in taking that positive action, directed at a goal, she could feel a change within herself. A key component in her ability to rebuild was her commitment to deeply pursue education. "Learning is its own reard as far as the brain is concerned. It deeply activates the dopamine reward pathways."

Gonzales does a excellent job of weaving together personal stories with explinations of brain science that make understanding their relationships very easy. For example Pamksepp's "assertive aggression" involves any activity that arises from what he refers to as "a dopamine-fueled" motivation. You might find yourself seeking advancement in your job. You might be in pursuit of a partner in marriage. You might be remodeling your home. All those acts of assertive aggression involve having a plan and carrying it out. Random chaotic neuromuscular storms produced by rage pathway cannot take place while we are making a careful plan and folling it step by step.

When you first learn a skill such as knitting or surgery (or violin or golf) it begins as a volunary, deliberate action that requires conscious thought. It begins in the frontal lobes as an idea. When learning a new skill, you have to think about it consciously. You have to make deliberate use of your body, step by step. It won't be smooth. But as you practice, control migrates out of the frontal lones into the lower parts of the brain and the activity becomes automatic. The basal ganglia become involved and your movements begin to flow. Your cerebellum and parietal lobe (the Where Pathway) begin to monitor what you're doing and correct errors automatically. You know longer have to think about it.
 Stress and cortisol also prevent chemicals such as dopamine from making you feel good. By engaging the seeking pathway with a task that you can achieve, most people can break the cycle of fear, rage, exhaustion, and depression. It also connects with the reward system in the brain. When the basal ganglia can broker a successful action through this pathway, dopamine is released, so the very act of correctly completing a stitch or row of stiches activates the reward and pleasure pathways of the brain. Learning by itself promotes dopamine.

A structure within the basal ganglia is activated during feelings of safety, reward, and simpley feeling great. It's called the striatum and learning a new habit or skill and the performance of organized, patterned activites, perhaps even knitting. Acknowledge fear, rage, sadness, but then use those emotions to move into seeking mode. To achieve that, we need to think, analyze and plan.

I worked at the library from 2008 to 2012 and was fortunate to really find a lot of inspirational books. To me the research and the scientific method being used to understand human development and needs is facinating. But by far the most powerful aspect of these books are the personal stories. The ones that say ordinary people have done this, so can you. I find more inspiration in the story of Jess Goodell then I do in the explination of how the brain works, but both are connected and if I can understand that I can try on my own to repeat that experiment. Not having gone to school created in me a void, some of my siblings filled theirs with relationships or their own pursuit of knowledge (in wonderfully different ways), I filled my with trying to be better today than I was yesterday. I have had a number of setbacks, I have had a number of failures. Getting laid off at the library in 2012 was one of the hardest things because I loved working for the library. I loved holding books and taking them home, I loved passing them around, I loved discovering new ones and old classics. But when I told people where I worked I often heard in response that the last book "they" had read was required reading in school. Heart breaking. It is not a lack of good books but rather an education that has killed the joy of reading with comprehension questions. I decided when I got laid off at the library that this was going to be the chapter in my life that the fates intervened and forced me in the direction of my future. I would take all these things I had been learning and I would apply them to becoming a teacher. I would try to inspire 50 students a year to find their own joy of reading and let their curiosity take over from there.

In my reading wanderings I discovered this little gem. When we look back at the Reading Response for week 6 there is a link to Heather Wolpert-Gawron 's blog about the goals for public education. What I found interesting about her list is that a lot of what we hope education will do is not something a standardized test can tell us, but they are the types of things that Paul Tough is talking about here. Recently I noticed Tough had a new article in the Atlantic. "When teachers are able to create an environment that fosters competence, autonomy, and relatedness, Deci and Ryan say, students are much more likely to feel motivated to do that hard work." Students who feel safe in an environment where they can make mistakes and try things that are outside their normal activities will be more likely to develop those character traits we want a good education to inspire.
Of course the thing that stands in our way is: 
The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less. This diminishes their fragile sense of autonomy. As these students fall behind their peers academically, they feel less and less competent. And if their relationships with their teachers are wary or even contentious, they are less likely to experience the kind of relatedness that Deci and Ryan describe as being so powerfully motivating for young people in the classroom.  
A teacher's interventions in the classroom should be intended to help children learn a different set of skills; controlling their impulses, staying focused on the task at hand, avoiding distractions and mental traps, managing their emotions, organizing their thoughts. Naturally teaching chidlren how to follow rules and regulate impulse. An inclination to persist at a boring and often unrewarding task; the ability to delay gratification; the tendency to follow through on a plan. Which as we discussed earlier can actually make a person feel better. Caregivers who are able to form close, nurtering relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment.

One of the things I think all this has to do with the other is that if we teach ourselves how to learn from each failure, how to stare at our failures with unblinking honesty, and confront exactly why we messed up, I believe we would do it better the next time. 

Want a little more Paul Tough, listen to this interview "They Don't Teach That" ;)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Week 6 Reading Response

The remarkable thing about experience is that you rarely realize it at the moment what you will carry with you for life. I had no idea when I first saw Fredrick Douglass that he would be a driving force in my education, that his words (which I wouldn't study or read in their entirety until college) would build the foundation of my ideas about education. I had no idea at the time my mother, in her attempts to homeschool her children about slavery, would give me the gift of his words that would later become my feelings about the value of an education.

My parents reasons for homeschooling their 10 children had very little to do with a belief in their abilities to teach or provide a better education for their children and more to do with avoiding having to deal with the demands of others. My older sister struggles with an unseen disability that required greater effort to reach long term memory, it was a problem in a small farming community in the mid-1980s where teachers didn't understand that she literal could not remember what was just said to her. The school wanted to put her in a "special" program. My parents often refer to this as the catalyst for why they pulled their kids out of school but as an adult I came to find it also came from the fact that by the mid-1980s my mother, pregnant with her seventh baby, was depressed. The school asked my parents to come to a meeting in which the issues of neglect were brought up. My older siblings were coming to school in the same clothes day after day, homework wasn't being finished, our hair wasn't brushed and we had lice and other issues. My mom felt completely overwhelmed and my dad's solution was to homeschool us so that we wouldn't have to worry about teachers or other people from the school judging their parenting.

I mention this because it's hard to explain the feeling of affinity I had with Fredrick Douglass and others who didn't get to go to school either. It's hard in today's society where generations have been unimpressed with public schools to explain my burning passion to support and improve this institution. It is by going back to the words of educators like Mary Jane McLeod that I start to find the words I would like to use to illustrate why we need public schools and what they are for.

I bring up this foundation and belief of mine because this week's readings again illustrate the areas in which education is falling behind, "current approaches to teaching and learning are out of sync with what is needed to prepare populations for their future lives." Lankshear and Knobel (2011) In a climate that is increasingly exhorting charter school success and condemning public schools for their failures I know I am not the only one demanding that if something is successful than that is what we should be doing in our public schools. Winning the lottery so you can go to a better charter school is bullshit. Sure people with more money should be able to buy a better education but the point of a public education is in fact to secure for the masses and poor and "undeserving" the best possible education. And we already know that doesn't mean rote memorization or passing a standardized test.

Lankshear and Knobel again stated, "Keeping up with institutional change was an important catalyst for the related ideals of lifelong learning, learning how to learn, and transferring knowledge and training." The struggle in education is how do you quantify if a school is being successful, how do you hold educators accountable for creating environments that are safe for students to learn in, how to you meet the individual needs of hundreds or thousands of developing people in an artificial environment like a public school?

Heather Wolpert-Gawron Has a wonderful conversation with another teacher on exactly this topic. What is the point of a public education today. What are the things we are hoping to impart to our modern day students. 

What is the purpose of public education?
1. Teach the skills for passionate advocacy
2. Prep the students for their future participation in our democratic process
3. Educate them with the skills to function in the future world
4. Grant equal opportunity and access to the same high-level of learning
5. Develop the skills to have options in life
6. Teach the love of exploration
7. Teach the awareness and maturity of self to be one’s own advocate later in life
8. Create a civilized population
9. Prepare students to contribute to an ever-evolving society
10. Fill a student with a sense of service and belonging
11. Foster personal responsibility
12. Create critical thinkers
13. Develop the ability and confidence to question
14. Nurture the skills necessary to participate in the exchange of ideas
15. Develop students who function autonomously
16. Teach social skills
17. Give students the skills to compete globally
18. Create lifelong learners
19. Teach students what it takes to achieve their professional goals
20. Teach them reading, writing, and math. 
Angie Peifer, National Connection Consultant for the School Boards Association also asked this question and came up with a very interesting response to the question of what public education was intended for.
Finally Lanshear and Kobel state that, "knowledge is always an outcome of sociocultural practices in which people use mental and material tools, acquire and employ skills, and draw on forms of existing understanding and knowledge and belief, to undertake tasks and pursue particular purposes and goals – including knowledge-specific purposes and goals. The goals and tools they use, and the beliefs, understandings and extant knowledge they draw upon are not individual, private possessions but, rather, are social." 
Individual schools have been successful. Amazing teachers have inspired their students and all these wonderful things we know and understand about human development can and need to be used in our public schools. We need to stop bad mouthing the system because all it does it convince people public schools are not necessary. It sends a message that teachers are ignorate of how to teach, that school is meaningless to our lives, and that we should only be self reliant in educating ourselves. I did teach myself a lot on my own, I was able to follow my curiousity and discover things all on my own outside of the school system. And I still value a good teacher. I still understand that there were things I could not teach myself. And I am dedicating my life to creating those schools that will be these amazing institutions that meet the changing needs of society and create opportunities for every child to learn in.