Sunday, November 9, 2014

The prescription is not standardization! It's magic!

Magic!  Let me explain.

My husband and I took my dad to a doctor's appointment in New York City.  He flew in from Florida because he was set up by a friend of mine to see a master doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital.  Dr. Fuster is world-renowned in the field of cardiology and celebrated for decades.  One of his specialties, my dad's nemesis, a leaky Mitral valve in his heart. I was interested to see what was so unique about this doctor.  After all, my son was a micropreemie with eleven physicians at one point.  My husband and I are well versed in expert medical care versus good medical care.

Dr. Valentin Fuster with his Muppet Dr. Rooster
There with Dr. Fuster were his right hand man and two students watching and learning.  Mt. Sinai is a teaching hospital, another thing we desire in a doctor/hospital.  Dr. Fuster, so soft-spoken and gentle, talked with my dad about his history while reading his file and probing with further questions.  He listened, probed, listened, and followed-up some more.

Then Dr. Fuster gave him a physical exam.  He listened with his stethoscope to his chest, back, lungs, etc.  He spoke, occasionally asking questions.  Then he asked my dad to take in a deep breath and blow out as hard and long as he could.  While he did this, Dr. Fuster had his ear parallel to his upper chest while watching his lower chest.  His stethoscope was in place and his hands were also working his abdomen.  He tells his students, "See, listen.  Watch this here."  He asks my dad to do it again.  Same positions.  All listening, watching, feeling.

Dr. Fuster, in his lovely Spanish accent, says to his students, "See, you can send out a pulmonary function test and have the results in 4 to 6 weeks.  But you can perform the same test this way in just 4 to 6 seconds.  And this way is more accurate."


Really it's the opposite of magic.  Watch.  Listen.  Feel.  Repeat.  Diagnose.  Treat.  Diagnose.  Repeat as needed.  That's the magic! This personal, hands-on diagnosis is not only imperative, but the antithesis to standardization.

This is the magic we do as teachers every second of every day!  Assessment is ongoing, formative, instinctual, reactive, proactive, and repetitive.  All students have different prescriptions.  That's the whole point.  We cannot standardize education because we cannot standardize children.  We cannot standardize medicine because we cannot standardize patients.

Now, there are some commonalities, thank goodness!  I'm sure cardiologists must all know how to listen to a human heartbeat and know its functions within normal limits and the common/uncommon abnormalities that have been discovered over the years.  Just as similar, educators all need to know how to give information and disseminate it in an effective way that has been proven so over time.  They also need to know how to gather information they need to impart from various sources.

Yet neither the common nor uncommon can account for the individual.  It's that individual prescription that is the magic.  It is what makes a doctor magical. It's what makes a teacher magical.

Individualization while utilizing common essential questions is our best future for our students.  We also need to add in motivation towards finding passion for their goals.  Teachers need to work together as professionals to talk, discuss, listen, try, fail, and try again.  Working together and designing professional development that is also unique to each teacher is the key to getting that prescription right.  It's the art of teaching, and of doctoring!

Standardized testing is the opposite way our country should be going.  If the results of the tests were worthwhile, the teaching toward its goals would be worthwhile.  Because the results tell us so little about our students, the amount of information (or data, as the current buzz word commands) gathered is not enough for this upheaval in education.  We should be going the direction of prescriptive, individualized goals for all of our students.

Big business, politics, and those not in the trenches as educators are deeming the future of education.  Hmmmm.  People are upset because insurance companies and big business drug companies are deeming the future of medicine.  Houston, we may have a problem here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Farewell again sweet girl...

August 10, 2002 - August 26, 2002
Today is the final indulgent day for me to share your name and story with the world. 
It was your 16th day of life 12 years ago today. It was (is) the very worst day any parent can ever have. Nobody should have to go through it, especially because we already have. 
It has changed me forever. Although I learned a lot, nothing is worth being without you.
That ache I have for you first thing every morning and during each day without you will never go away. It is both my nemesis and my fuel.  
So, goodbye, publicly, for another year, Madison Joan. I feel your absence every day. I love you and miss you with all of my heart. 
 Love, Mommy

Sunday, August 10, 2014

In memory, my girl...

These are her actual footprints.  She weighed 1 pound 7 ounces and was 12 inches long.

 Madison Joan Friel 
August 10, 2002 - August 26, 2002.
Happy birthday my extraordinary, valiant daughter. 
12 years ago today, you let us know that even though mommy was upside-down in the hospital trying to keep you there, you decided you were coming anyway! 
I ache for you first thing every morning and innumerable times during each day without you.  It was both an eternity ago and just a moment ago simultaneously.
Today, indulgently, I share your name and story with anyone I can. 
I will love you forever, Mommy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When Politicians Give Educators Lemons, We Make Lemon Meringue Pie

This really made me stop and think!  My title for the chart below would be, The Everything You Ever Needed to Make Change Model! Or, more simply, Lemon Meringue Pie.  If just one ingredient is missing, it falls like a delicate recipe:

Adapted from Knoster, T. (1991) Presentation in TASH Conference. Washington, D.C.
Adapted by Knoster from Enterprise Group, Ltd.

This model intrigues me so!  It is from the 90's but still rings true today, with a few specifics that need including/redefining.  I think that the perfect model (line 1) needs to operationalize some of its terms to make it relevant and current.  For example, the "Vision" needs to be a shared vision amongst the participants.  The "Skills" can always be herded and/or learned.  Also, the "Incentives" must follow the "now that" model rather than the "if then" model (Pink, 2009).  They need not be tangible, should come after the work, and must ring true -- always!  The "Resources" can be harnessed if the vision is clearly sought and the "Action Plan" in place is both lofty and flexible.  I'm not sure if "Success" is the proper term for the final product.  However, if we define success as attaining some form of the vision in a tangible way through flow and the group dynamic, the term may be more accessible.  Success is actually your next "Vision" making this more cyclical than linear.

This is what I feel educators tend to do with whatever "model" is thrown at us.  The current model, The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), are NOT representative here.  However, as usual, some brilliant noneducators have crafted these Standards as to say they are representative of what all children should know and by what grade they should have mastered the concepts.   Educators are only involved post-creation.  We are once again put in the position of being reactionary.  The newest rage seems to say that the Standards are good but the "roll out" of the Standards was bad.  Oh, and that's why the test doesn't work yet.  This, too, is insane.  The house of cards is barely able to maintain one layer!

So let's be the Standards Crafters and apply this chart to, say, win over the masses as they relate to CCSS.  Let's tell them the "Vision" is the actual set of Standards and that all students in any state have the same knowledge at the same time.  The "Skills" would be the understanding of the depth and breadth of the Standards themselves by those who will deliver them.  They say they are so deep?  The "Incentives" would be that the test scores count on teacher evaluations and can affect tenure.  What better way to incentivize our teachers?

Their "Resources" are the best!  Wait until you see this!  There are enough pre-packaged, paid-for materials from select companies that will make teaching like monkey work (red flag).  An actual teacher won't even be necessary soon (red flag, red flag!)!  Oh, and they are sorry.  The "Action Plan" was the only thing that wasn't perfect in this new unfunded mandate.  They didn't roll it out quite right.  So now professional development while we teach it at the same time is the "Action Plan" and test scores won't count against you until two years from now.  Whew!  Finally, "Success".   Now we won't have to test prep.  The test and Standards are so good that they will just be good daily practice.  It's that easy.  I told you it is good.  I told you it is here to stay so get used to it.  This house of cards is using super glue.  Rules or no rules.  The end. meringue

Nooooo!  Standardization is the opposite end of the spectrum of where we should be headed into the next generation of workers.  For they will be the group who work internationally, collaboratively, in all professions and paths of choice.  Personalization is the direction we should be going.  This is happening in other places in the world that are proven successful (Finland, New Zealand, Great Britain, etc.).  This is where creativity abounds and innovation begins!

So, let's bridge the gap.  It will take work and a ton of effort.  But isn't that the whole point?  We ask our students to use a growth mindset.  To take risks, bounce back, try again, and achieve flow.  We must do that as well.  So I yell again, THIS ISN'T HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE!  However, while we counter this business model and advocate for our students and our profession, there is work to be done!

One universal way to help educational change along and use a growth mindset is to use this timeless model of change.  It can help to gain support of fellow educators, parents, administrators, and students to make it happen.  If we can each create our "Vision" anywhere from a small, student-lead, classroom inquiry to as far as blogging and tweeting publicly with knowledge as our ammunition, we will effect change.

Our change may be small and local.  Our change may be grand and global.  It is still up to us.  We can never give up!  It's our responsibility to make the perfect Lemon Meringue Pie!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Metacognition; Teaching For Life-Long Learning!

noun Psychology.
higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.

Student individual writing goals - Grade 3

After much too much time analyzing our writing in different forms, I decided my students (well... more myself!) needed to see things differently.  So we sat around the perimeter of the rug - myself included - and read our last Narrative pieces to our learning partners.  Then we went around and I asked, "What is it you need to work on in your narrative pieces?  Not your neighbor or partner, but you.  What would improve your writing immediately?"

The work that followed was some of the best metacognitive, introspective, realistic work I could've expected from students much more mature that 8 and 9 years old. They literally came up with better thoughts than I could've scratched vigorously in the margins of their papers. 

As this discussion went on, each student thought of a way to do this improvement to his/her work.  I got to add some strategies, show charts, give examples, etc. for some students.  Some other students who did that particular "thing" well (like hooking the reader) would also add suggestions.  Others chimed in with words like, "Oh, that's a great idea!" and, "Cool!  I didn't think of that!"  Student-centered, student-lead, deep thinking conversations.  I watched with both admiration and pride.  For this does not just occur.  We have cultivated this type of learning environment all year.  However, to hear the actual verbiage and reflection appropriately discussed was a moment to savor for me.

This, this is real, life-long, applicable learning!  My students blew me away.  I am constantly amazed at the abilities children possess if we let them have a safe place to fall.  Learning needs to happen from errors and misconceptions prior.  Resilience can only be grown, grit can only be built through that period of some frustration at working hard at a daunting task.  "Flow" as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi through the positive psychology paradigm, is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.  That is the ultimate state of joy in work.  However, the end of that flow is the ultimate frustration leading to the next learning.  That is what changes students from passive to active learners.  That is what I strive for, even in my 9 year olds.  And they never cease to amaze me.

To follow up on the above lesson, we revisited our list after our next writing piece.  Here is what we came up with:

Some students attempted their strategy and it worked therefore moving him/her on to a new goal.  Others did not succeed in their first goal so we discussed another way to try it next time.  And yet others decided their original goal was either not really good enough or not really deep enough to work hard on.  The best surprising part of this conversation came with students saying such statements to each other as, "Hey, you are great at dialogue.  You could help Harry."  Or, "Jenni writes with expensive words.  She would be a great person to talk to."

Again, the actions and words of these students speak for themselves.  This is learning that is throughout all subject areas.  It transcends topic and content.  This metacognition will serve each student in all ways.  That is a gift to themselves!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Give Me Back My Profession!

When I started teaching in the mid 90's, I remember hearing the stories of my more experienced colleagues about their protests and union lines, marches, and even those they knew that went to jail so that we could have the profession as we knew it.  They legitimized one of the most important professions there is. They put their salaries and jobs on the line.  They put their reputations on the line.  Why?  Someone had to stand up for the children.  The profession is about the children.  I "got it" as much as a twenty-something newer teacher could.  I did think it sounded a bit dramatic. 

Ha.  Here I am.  I am screaming as loudly as I can for my students and my profession.  This isn't right.  What's happening in eduction is wrong.  It is bad for children.  It is bad for teachers, facilitators, and leaders.  Common Core State Standards, PARCC, SGO's (be glad if some of these acronyms are foreign to you), Pearson, Common Core kits, data collection -- mostly for the sake of collecting data, etc.  I'm putting my reputation on the line every time I speak or write my feelings about this topic. This is not how to energize, guide, or inspire our future generations.  They are our problem-finders.  They will change the world.  It will not happen through analyzing the data.  This data does not inform our teaching.  This is big business.

Now, when I share some facts, past and present, to the newer career teachers they look at me with that "is she done yet" smile.  Then they see me as the alien older teacher who is fighting what we were told to do.  What we have to do.  No we don't!  That's what I'm trying to tell you.  This is not what teaching looks like.  This is not what teaching sounds like.  This is not how teachers feel about teaching.  Our kids deserve more.  No matter how great the school, its teachers, and its leaders, it will change.  It already is. 

Ask a teacher you know.  Ask them almost anything about teaching.  Used to be, "My kids are so funny this year!"  Or they may jibe, "I've got quite an active group (with a chuckle)."  I bet now your answers, even the positive ones, all begin with a huge sigh.  A sigh of sadness and discontentment.  That alone affects our students. 

This is still one of the most noble of professions.  So hold your head up.  Do the paperwork.  But do your homework, too.  Find out more so you can fight for what your students really need.  You are the only one who will.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Standardize Children - Oxymoron

So, my miraculous one pound, seven ounce baby who is now nine, has to either take the NJASK standardized test for New Jersey or stay home in protest, including the make-up days.  Hmmmm, this sounds fishy.

Our schools and laws allow for all children to a free and appropriate education.  How is this appropriate?  I ask myself over and over again.  Being a teacher myself, prepping and administering this test for many years, I have not found any (that's right, any) good reason for standardized testing.  The word alone implicates the system inherently.  Children cannot be standardized.

I have written much about the problems associated with standardized testing and the Common Core State Standards.  Although both are related, they are two different entities with two different major sets of issues.  This new round of tests are supposed to reflect the Common Core State Standards.  That is where they overlap directly.  Please feel free to read more on my blog regarding this issue.  These tests do not measure even what they themselves claim to measure.

However, this entry illustrates the sheer nonsense of testing as we know it.  No standardization will ever describe the character, perseverance, resilience, or grit of a child.  Nor will it ever measure a teacher's ability to teach or the expertise and value of a public school.  This has never been more true and obvious to me than for my son.  Somewhat indulgently, here is some of his story.
Our second child was an invitro baby. Mason was born at 27 1/2 weeks gestation and weighed one pound seven ounces at birth.  He was 12 inches long.  It was a long, arduous journey to say the very least.  There were O2 sats and lines and brain sparing and TPN and grams and PIC line surgery and caffeine and CPAP and nasal cannula and BPD and brain bleeds and and and...  The endless terms continued.  He came home after 3 1/2 months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) on many medications and monitors.
After a small winter cold weeks after he came home, Mason's lungs needed more support than the steroids we were giving him could.  He went on oxygen. Another "language" and more apparatuses.  At one desperate, sleepless point I frantically drove him to the hospital while he was losing oxygen by the second and turning blue.  He went into full respiratory arrest.
After that, Mason started to refuse to eat, screaming and spitting up.  He was not gaining weight adequately and was officially termed "failure to thrive".  He needed surgery.  It involved a gastrointestinal tube (g-tube) and what they called a Nissen Fundoplication.  This would allow us to tube feed him into his stomach, administer medications, and give any fluids as needed.  The fundoplication made him unable to burp or vomit.  That part was/is permanent.  This surgery was hard and trying.  Using and getting used to the tube on all of our accounts took work and a lot of patience, again, to say the very least.
For his first year of life, Mason was in the hospital every month.  He had multiple episodes of breathing issues, medication issues, g-tube issues.  The details of dealing with this for years are unending.  Another particularly harrowing time, Mason needed surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids.  Now, surgery for him was not regular or normally advised.  It took much thought, many specialists working together, and courage because he was considered adrenally insufficient.  But, it was decided.  In order to breathe properly and therefore grow properly, this surgery was vital.
Because we were already putting him under anesthesia with one doctor, we wanted it all at once.  So one doctor was monitoring his adrenals/cortisol, one surgeon was taking out his tonsils,  and another surgeon agreed to work together on his g-tube revision at the same time.  Getting doctors together in one OR is no small feat!  The doctors here were just incredible, brilliant, and supportive.  We were advised and knew that the g-tube revision could fail and he could need a new one on the opposite side, now or in the near future.
Incredibly, Mason made it through the surgeries well but couldn't stabilize in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).  He spiked a fever.  Mason had aspirated during surgery and developed pneumonia.  On top of the surgery healing and the g-tube revision healing, he had to recover from pneumonia at the same time. 
But yet again this miraculous boy stubborned through.  Of course there are volumes full of stories illustrating his valiant struggles.  These just glean the surface.
Obviously, my husband and I have advocated vehemently for our son since before he was in the womb.  We are not always popular but we are always looking toward what is best for Mason.  We have utilized doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists, receptionists, billing officers, lawyers, hospital administrators, school administrators, secretaries, volunteers, and anyone else we needed to engage to help us care for Mason in the very best way possible.

Over the years, we have successfully gone from gagging at just looking at an empty spoon with a g-tube to now having to limit too many snacks in a day.  We have had a minimum of 8 hours of therapies a week up to 25 hours a week.  We have switched doctors we were uncomfortable with for any reason, even those deemed the best.  We have gotten second, third, fourth, and yes, up to six opinions if we questioned any diagnoses/recommendations.  We have gone from no speech/communication at all - or even pointing - to a slightly speech impaired child who demands to be understood and loves to sing.  We have gone from a bloated, steroid-filled "potato" of a baby to one considered "the mayor" of every single place he goes.

Not only does this miraculous boy read, write, do math, social studies, science, and all other specials and academics.  But even more importantly, our son is empathetic, funny, kind, stubborn, bright, creative, energetic, perseverant, resilient... how many adjectives will you continue to read?  I could go on for a lifetime.  In school they call him the bucket filler.  His future is beaming! He has every opportunity to be a regular kid and grow to live an independent life that benefits himself, his family, and his world around him.  His dad and I could not be more proud or want anything more.

So, what stupid test were you telling us was so important?  And what does it measure again?

It does not measure ANY of the above, academic or otherwise.  It is a shame this amazing boy must grow up in a time of big business running public education.  His dad and I will continue to be by his side.  Always advocating for him, and any others that need.

On the left, my husband's wedding band on our son's ankle in the NICU.  On the right, our son at 9 years old.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Skewed Growth Mindset or the Ultimate One?

So I have been reviewing my blog... not just today, but at least weekly since my last officially published entry in November.  I have 5 drafts waiting to be completed, some close, others not nearly.  I wonder, why haven't I posted anything new in awhile?  Why are my drafts staying just that, drafts?  I decided this should be the post that delves into this conundrum.

I realized most of my feelings and analysis of the Common Core State Standards are so negative that I have been avoiding finishing many of these posts.  But since I have been reading quite a bit about the Common Core State Standards, I decided once again to open my growth mindset.  In that vein, yet again I have learned that these set of standards are unfortunately the same old political set of standards we always get.  That's where the skewed part comes in.

The title refers to the action of yet again opening my mind to the Common Core State Standards but still finding them absolutely flawed to the point of being counterproductive to current educational needs.  Maybe that's why I call it a skewed growth mindset.  Really, though, it is the ultimate one.  By revisiting topics that are uncomfortable or obviously inane, the ultimate growth mindset is consistently being developed and becoming a more automatic way of thinking.

I have found through revisiting this research that still, the Standards are "handed down" to us from those who usually do not spend their days with children or in any classroom setting.  They do not follow any order of child development as we know it through innumerable decades of studies.  Now, to some of you that may not seem very growth minded.  However, this is really the crux of what I want to impart to early career teachers who only know the present testing atmosphere.  It is what I feel may be my most important job in the next decade.  My skewed growth mindset says to them, it doesn't have to be this way.  The feelings of overwhelming pressure, paperwork, and quantification are not real.  You will persist!  Don't give up!  The reasons you became an educator will prevail!

When I started teaching 20 years ago, portfolio, performance, and process were the preferred forms of assessment.  It was the "new" authentic assessment.  I was so lucky to learn that way from the start and was allowed to be the professional I was taught to be by using those practices.  I worked in a district that believed what was educationally sound was not necessarily what we were told to do from the state or federal agencies.  It certainly was not standardized testing of any sort.  It was best practices and current pedagogy and research and development that made our students shine and our staff motivated.

At my interview (my 3rd ever!), the Superintendent asked me how I planned to teach the way I learned (authentic assessment and differentiation) and still have high test scores as our school district population required.  I responded with such clear naivete.  I automatically came out with, "I will do what I do.  And you are my boss.  So I will make sure I have high test scores to back up my students' successes."  It sounded so easy.  It was tough, but always somehow doable.  The test merely got in the way of authentic teaching and teachable moments.  We learned to use the test-taking strategies as a way of incorporating good lessons and life strategies into student learning.

However, the new tests (notice plural), take so much time to prepare for and to give, that instructional time leaves out the student!  Since when do we teach the curriculum or teach to the test?  We teach students, children, people.  Not only are they each unique, but that makes each group, each year unique.  I have never taught the same way twice.  I constantly reflect, seek constructive criticism, and try to always improve but those are merely best practices for all educators.  The other is true differentiation for the special needs of ALL learners.

Our future workforce depends on these creative, out of the box, problem-finders (Pink, 2012).  The tests create the exact opposite kind of learner.  That kind of learner is robotic, out for the score rather than mastering the learning.  All current research and practical research point to this being the exact opposite of what education needs to grow into the next generation.  I have said this before and I will say it again, it is our job to say this is not okay!  It behooves us to show through clear evidence why this does not work and what does.

I recently read a great article called, How Free Play Can Define Kids’ Success by Katrina Schwartz.  She quotes Kenneth Ginsburg’s thesis and the core of his book Building Resilience in Children and Teens.  I found it to be so clearly stated and obviously true:

When kids are allowed free time to play, they learn how to work in groups, negotiate, share, self-advocate, and make decisions... Ginsburg cautions parents that putting too much pressure on children’s academics might have negative effects in the long term...
All the best ideas haven’t been thought of yet. If you have people who are only thinking about fitting in the box, then you aren’t going to get ideas outside the box,” Ginsburg said. Parents and educators shouldn’t be trying to shape children into cogs for an economy that hasn’t figured out what kind of machine it will be in 20 years...
Instead, one of the most important skills a parent can foster in children is resilience, which he says can be fostered through creativity. Ginsburg relies on the “Seven C’s of Resilience” as a road map for helping students to find their inner grit.
The seven "C's" of resilience that he shares are:  competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control.  Yes!  Our children/students are going to face unexpected challenges throughout life.  We need to prepare them to learn to handle these situations,  to build perseverance, resilience, and grit, and teach others using what they have learned from each unique situation.  This will illustrate true perseverance and success.

That is the only way to combat the standardization and the stunting of those brilliant minds we cultivate.  And that is how the ultimate (skewed) growth mindset, autonomous motivation, and true moxie will continue to inspire me to inspire them!