Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Results Are In

It will come as no surprise that I'm not the world's biggest NCLB supporter. I'm as big a fan of unfunded mandates as the next guy. For some reason, though, this one just doesn't engender my full-throated support. It does seem to engender my use of sarcasm. (Six of one half-dozen of the other?)

Like it or not, standardized, high-stakes, one-shot, the pressure's on, don't screw this one up, for all the marbles testing is thriving in Florida. We're thinking of ditching "The Sunshine State" and adopting "#2 Pencil Only State" as our motto. And so, when Phoenix Academy's writing results came in yesterday, I held my breath.

Principal Cantees rounded up my team leader and I and announced the news. I say this in all sincerity, I jumped up and down like a little, tiny girl and screamed like one too. Let me explain...

The test is 45 minutes and students are given one of two possible prompts - expository or persuasive. They are to plan, write and revise during that time. Accomodations are made according to IEP and 504 documentation. The test is scored by two people and assessed on a scale of U (unscorable) to 6.0. Each scorer assigns a value to the essay and the two scores are compared. If Scorer A gave an essay a 3 and Scorer B did as well, then the essay rates a 3. If there is a difference of one point (Scorer A rates an essay 3 and B rates it a 4) then the essay earns a score of 3.5. If the difference is any larger than one point, a third scorer is called in and the whole thing begins anew.

Right, so "proficient" essays are those scoring a 3.5 or higher. Anything better than a 3.5 is good. The difficult piece here is students are only tested on their writing in grades 4, 8 and 10. I'm finding my students have had little to no writing instruction since 4th grade. I think that's as good an explanation as I can muster.

Here's the breakdown:

49% proficient

Mean score: 3.7
3.5 or higher: 71%
4.0 or higher: 45%
5.0: 4 students

Mean score: 4.0
3.5 or higher: 82%
4.0 or higher: 75%
5.0: 7 students
5.5: 2 students

Today was a day I enjoy. I got to call each of my students back to my desk one-by-one and hand them a Post-It note with his or her individual score on it. The thing is, I was proud of each and every student. Even my students earning a 2.5 or 3.0 made my heart swell. These were the students who would have earned a U at the beginning of the year. Though they may not be "proficient," they are growing, finding their voice and realizing the power of the written word.

The challenge now is not only to do the whole thing over with next year's 8th graders, but also to build a 9th and possibly 10th grade program that includes writing instruction as a key component. I say this not because of the lurking test, but because of the lurking future for which we are charged with preparing these students. If they cannot write, if they do not write, then we have failed them. We cannot afford to fail.

More later.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Moving Movies

I'm not entirely sure how much of this I've written about and how much I've just thought about writing about. Thusly, here goes.

Sometime early last summer, I was hanging at my local haunt Metro Coffee & Wine. They were going to have an event to introduce a new menu section and wanted to incorporate a fundraiser. Ever on the lookout to hook people up with Phoenix, I began the sell. They bit and that was that.


One day, again at Metro, I was talking with my friend Debbie who works there and is also a filmmaker. I ws talking to Debbie about how grea it would be for my kids to be able to get involved in telling their stories and experiencing writing in an authentic way.

We were off to the races. Debbie spoke to some people she knew at the Sarasota Film Festival, we had a series of meetings and the pilot of the Young Screenwriters Program was built. For three months, six of my students met twice a week after school to create screenplays of their own. It was an amazing thing to watch more than any assignment I have ever given, these screenplays pulled in my students.

Last week, in conjunction with the festival, there was an event to honor my students. We included a staged reading of their screenplays as well as a Q&A portion. The place was packed. Each of the students came and all but one brought their families and extended families (that's pretty big for my kids).

The video below is a taste of what happened. The entire process was amazing. The story was picked up by this local paper, this local paper and this local paper. It was awesome.

The idea is that, somehow, we'll be able to actually raise money so that we can purchase some minor film equipment in order that our students can take their concepts all the way from the page to the screen.

Here's hoping.

More later.

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Waiting for the Red Eye

This won't get posted until I'm safe at home, but I'll look past that for the moment. I can't fathom why LAX doesn't have free wireless, but that's neither here nor there.

This was an amazing weekend. It had the possibility in the beginning, but it's still nice to see plan come together.

Aboce all was the blending of the two groups of pilot Freedom Teachers. We were two familes, now we're married. If anything, I know I didn't get enough time to meet with Mike from Philly or Robert from Atlanta or Gail from Cali.

The same feel of being recharged and repaired after spending quality time discussing what my life centers around has settled on me. Over and over this weekend we have spoken of the worth of finding and connecting with other teachers who "get it." I'm feeling as though that's going to need to be a post allon its own.

This weekend was about bonding, but was about building as well. Ours were valued voices in how to build the Freedom Teacher program and how to tweak what's already in existence. We've also been given the opportunity to help edit and contribute to the forthcoming teacher's guide to The Freedom Writers Diary.

It feels good to be a part of something.

And so I sit. Here. Purple yarn tied around my left hand as a reminder of ties strengthened and ties created. My mind is processsing and planning and exhausted.

I'll step off my plane tomorrow morning at 6 am, wait an excrutiating amount of time for my baggage and then drive the 70 miles home. I might get a short nap before heading to school to teach at 9 am.

Coffee? I think yes.

More later.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Freedom Writers Weekend Take 2

What a day.
I'm not entirely sure where to begin. I'm successfully in Long Beach, CA. I got in two nights ago and haven't stopped moving yet. Yesterday was spent mainly catching up with Freedom Writers Teachers I met when I was here in October. Each has such exciting stories to tell about his or her students.
I also spent a sizeable portion of yesterday in iMovie cutting and pasting a short video from last Monday night when my six students who participated in the Young Screenwriters Program through the Sarasota Film Festival were honored and got to watch a staged reading of their screenplays.
How fitting that last night's event here in Cali. was to go to Paramount Pictures for a private screening of Freedom Writers.
We also ate dinner in the studio cafeteria where the famous Taco Cart from the last Freedom Writers Weekend made a triumphant return.
What was best about the screening, though, was having a chance to watch the movie with an actual Freedom Writer on my left and one of the guidance counselors from Wilson High School who worked with the FW on my right. This was their truth, told on film and I got to share in experiencing it with them. Brilliant.
Today, we'll be on the Cal State, Long Beach campus workshopping how to teach the film with the book and getting our hands dirty helping to revise the teacher's guide due out this fall.
I cannot wait to collaborate with this dynamic group of teachers once again.
This trip is different because groups 1 and 2 of the pilot FWT are here.
Before meeting the members of Group 1, some of the other Group 2 members and I discussed our wonder at how the two would mesh. Ours was such a tight group that achieved cohesiveness so quickly, what if we didn't have the same chemistry with this other group?
I'm due to meet some of them in a few minutes for breakfast if that answers any questions.
I'll be sure to post again tonight with a more thoughtful reflection.
I'll also be starting a Flickr feed with the tag FWW0407 along with posting the screenwriters movie to Revver.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

From TPA to LAX

You can imagine my surprise at the coincidence that took place this morning when my Google Reader feed displayed the following from Frank Lloyd Wright as one of my quotes of the day:

Turn the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.

I'm sitting in the Tampa International Airport waiting to depart for Los Angeles. I take off at 6:55 and get in at 9:17. With the time difference, that's what, a 9-hour flight?

I'm off to Long Beach, CA again for a meet up with my fellow Freedom Writers Teachers. I know I went almost 26 years without meeting many of these people. Still, waiting from October until now to see everyone again seems like much too long. I can't wiat to hear what everyone has been doing with their students this year. The successes will be amazing, I'm sure.

What's interesting to contemplate is the difference in my mood this go 'round. My first trip was filled with excitement about meeting Erin and the Freedom Writers. While I'm still incredibly excited this time. I think that excitement is incredibly rivaled by the anticipation of seeing friends.

All right, the lady is starting the boarding process. I suppose I should post and get ready to take off.

I wonder what the movie will be.

More later.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

1 of 12

This past weekend was an interesting one.
My little sister Rachel was in town for her spring break. Always trying to be the cool big brother, I was able to get tickets to the Opening Night Gala for the Sarasota Film Festival. As parties, nay, events go in Sarasota, this one's a biggie.
One might imagine that, for a young lady of 17, the food, the people, the music, the fancy clothes would all be the memorable parts of the evening. Not so.
In fact, they were not the memorable parts of the evening for me either.
One unassuming man in a full tuxedo made the night.
His name is Edgar Mitchell. Sadly, it was not a name I knew before Friday night.
He is one of 12 men in the history of our planet to walk on the surface of the moon. 1 of 12!
For those of you familiar with film or photos of an astronaut throwing a javelin on the surface of the moon, that was Mitchell.
Now, here's the thing, the thing that really stuck - he gets it.
Listening to Mitchell speak to some VIPs at the party, I heard him mention the need to improve education in America. The mention of such a topic by anyone will catch my ear, much to my friends' chagrin.
When the VIPs moved on, I leaned in to Mitchell and said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question that doesn't have to do with the moon?"
"Not at all," he replied.
"I heard you say you thought more needed to be done with education. Can you explain that a little?"
Well, we were off. He gets it. He really does. Not often do I meet anyone outside of education who truly understands the need to change the way we do business. Mitchell did. "What we're doing, the way we're teaching these kids, it's criminal. And you know I'm right."
He is right.
Our time together was Swiss cheesy due to Mitchell's frequent calls to be interviewed or meet VIPs, but here's the short list of where we need to be looking:
  • creativity
  • problem solving
  • throwing away the old model
  • science
I made sure to get his card and will certainly be following up on our discussion in hopes of having this actual American pioneer come and share his experiences and thoughts with our teachers and students.
Let's hope it doesn't take the same kind of perspective to which Mitchell was privy before other outsiders start to see what's important in education.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One bite at a time

My weekly e-blast from the National Council of Teachers of English included this link to a story appearing in the Sacramento Bee detailing the use of technologies in high school English classrooms.

Dylon Holcomb, the teacher on whom the article centers is what Doug Reeves would call a "node" perhaps a "super node." He's a go-to guy in his district because it sounds as though he's learning these technologies as he goes and collecting the ones he needs most.

Again, this is an open source approach to education. Holcomb is using the tools he needs to augment learning in his classroom and make material more accessible.

...[U]sing the Internet in the classroom should be done in moderation and not replace traditional reading from books or writing short essays by hand, Holcomb said.

"It's a double-edged sword because I believe in the old-fashioned way, too," he said.

This is where Holcomb and I diverge slightly. While I'm nowhere near the point where I feel comfortable throwing out all printed literature, I do look forward to the day when all of my students' writing is electronic. The fact that my classroom and Holcomb's classroom are not in complete pedagogical syncopation does not mean that his or mine is any the lesser for it.

This is an initial frustration when introducing educators to new collaborative tools and Web 2.0. Many teachers, veteran or not, are apprehensive toward adopting an entire Web 2.0 cadre of tools. In talking with Mr. Francis and Ms. Holliman about adopting some new resources for their classroom, I was met with initial resistance. They thought they would have to eat the entire elephant in one bite.

That's not how you eat an elephant.

Once we moved past the idea that the way they use these new tools and tactics in their classrooms had to be the same as the way I use them in my classroom, comfort began to set in.

I return to my argument for open source education. The mindset cannot be one of adopting a tool and doing what someone else did with it only in a different way. To truly utilize these resources, teachers have to acknowledge what came before and then realize the ownership involved.

We're not talking about a 2.0 version of a textbook. We're talking about a blank book in which information, communication and collaboration can be adapted, adopted and adjusted as learning progresses.

If we're trying to push learning in a new direction and toward a new platform (and I truly feel that we are) we've got to leave old ways of thinking  behind.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Open Source Classroom

School is full of frantic energy as of late. My brain's certainly moving in every direction at once.

To top that all off, I've been keeping up with my feeds fairly fiendishly. This does not do much to calm the multi-directional thinking. One post from Dean Shareski that stuck in my head was actually about another post on Will Richardson's blog.

Dean picked up on a phrase I've noticed Will using a few times since I began reading his blog "pushed me to think." It's a phrase, ironically, I hadn't consciously used before picking it up from Will. The past two years, though, I've caught myself using the phrase in discussions with colleagues, when encouraging my students to find a new way around a problem and even when talking to my dad about the craziness intertwined in parenting my little brother.

Now, I've been pushing and pushed to think for as long as I can remember, but I cannot think of a time when I was as aware of my thinking, as reflective on my thinking as I am when interacting with texts and video and resources afforded me through web 2.0.

I say this all because I'll be starting my Master's work this June. It's my first real formal return to studenthood since graduating.

This year, I've been learning in the manner I want my students to learn - I've been exploring, problem solving, information sharing, researching, and discussing. The worry is that entering an atmosphere where my learning is directed by a teacher, where I am not directing my field of inquiry will prove a frustrating task.

I did well in my first 18-year run at studenthood. A game existed in the traditional classroom which I was well-suited to play. I cannot say I learned as much as I should have, but I can definitely attest to succeeding in school. Success and learning were not necessarily closely linked. Success and completion, certainly.

My performance was aligned with expectations and that led to increased opportunities. I was rarely truly engaged, my studies rarely as rigorous as I could handle.

Since then, this past year especially, I've been directing my learning in the direction directions most interesting and important to me. I've been creating my own classroom 2.0. I worry that I won't be able to revert to the earlier version. Imagine running Windows 3.1 after you've been working on XP.

Maybe, though, my resistence isn't toward moving backwards, but to moving to any set structure. The learning I practice online, in Web 2.0 isn't really XP, it's open source. Through blogging and podcasting and the like the thoughts of people like David Warlick, Karl Fisch, and Paul Wikinson are open to me. I can pull from them the pieces that most motivate and intrigue me and then add my own pieces while crediting their sources.

I find the patches I need to bring continuity to my thinking and help my pedagogy run more smoothly.

This is the resistance I've felt to what is symbolized by the monikers of Web 2.0, School 2.0 and Classroom 2.0. My learning - the learning I want to engender in my students - is learning that is meshed together from what they need and seek and offer up.

The classroom in which I want to learn and teach is one undergoing constant upgrades and bound by no particular version. No proprietary rights exist to its content, but all educators are fairly acknowledged and credited for their contributions.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Charlotte (redux)

So, this trip has been a smathering of firsts where travel is concerned. For the first time, my luggage was lost and for the first time, I missed my flight.

It was an honest mistake, really. All week, I've been thinking that my first flight out of Springfield left around "noonish" (it's a time). Turns out, that flight left around 8:19. I woke up and checked my itinerary around 7:50. My entire day's been a game of catch up.

Luckily, I'm well into Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. The book appeals to me because it picks up where Convergence Culture left off, delving more deeply into the what Youtube and Myspace and Flickr and RSS and Wikipedia and and and...all mean.

I read the first chapter with this post from David Warlick in mind. I commented on the post and am coming to realize I've got more to say. I have to collect my thoughts first. I've had a nasty headache since Chicago, so thinking's not going so well.

You'd think that would stop me from reading. Turns out it's the falling asleep that stops me.

More later.

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