Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chapter 5: Ways with words

I do enjoy reviewing material I was introduced to in school.  Just like my favorite books I read periodically, new information has different meaning every time I read it.  What was most helpful for me in this chapter was the section on the practical considerations of language development.  As Kristen pointed out earlier, a classical education seems to pair nicely with the concepts and developmental stages noted in this chapter.
Language developmental stages:
K-2: rhymes, sound system and decoding
3-5: understand and construct sentences, follow directions, and vary syntax
5th grade: reading to gather new information
Middle School: discourse, memory and language work in perfect harmony
High School: verbal ability is a precision tool for making sense of abstract and technical concepts.
Karen, I was struck by how perfectly the "Write Tools" goes with the ideas presented in this chapter.  For those of you unfamiliar with the "Write Tools" here is a link to the program  I had an opportunity to attend one section of the "Write Tools" training, active reading strategies.  I observed a lesson on summarization at three different grade levels.  At the three grade levels the students were given an article, they read through the article, and then the teacher modeled the two step process of writing a summary.  Two parts of the summary process adeptly blended verbalizing and writing.  Students are asked to "write out loud" and at the end of the process the teacher asks a few students to share their summaries out loud.
The "Write Tools" could be used as an intervention for students.  Many of the students I work with struggle with the writing process, they fail to extract meaningful information from the text they are reading and cannot think critically.  When they are asked to do a free write they can't do it.  I ask the students to summarize; they can't do it.  It would be so powerful for them to be able to have the skills offered by the "write tools" to use in the classroom.  I would really like to integrate more writing into the time I spend with students and can see now how beneficial it would be for the students I work with who have a language based disability.  I am wondering what impact it would have.  What has been your experience with writing in the classroom? 
On a separate note I really love the idea of posing thoughtful questions to students, i.e. Socratic seminar style.  I have started to try and pose thoughtful questions to my children at the dinner table.  It has been interesting to see their responses and it has taken my relationship with my children to a whole other level.  I have found topics they care passionately about are much easier for them to discuss.  Other topics, I need to give quite a bit of background knowledge before we can have a meaningful conversation.      

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Using what we know about memory is one of the most practical ways to immediately improve learning gains in my estimation.  The transfer from short term, into active and then long-term memory is a delicate patterning of rules and procedures.  However, if applied effectively could significantly impact learning.   
What if one whole group intervention we put into place were lesson plans that followed the rules and procedures for efficient memory processing?  What would those lesson plans look like?  How would lesson plans designed to capitalize on transferring information from short-term to long-term memory impact instruction and learning? 
I know personally when I start teaching I quickly get lost in the hustle and bustle of the day.  Some of the best advice I got as a new teacher was "more is less".  Although I would like nothing more than to teach my students the things they need to grow quickly I know from experience it does not work.  I find the more intentional I am and the less I try to "cover" the more students seem to learn.  What has been your experience transferring information from student's short term memory to their long term memory?   

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attention Control-Chapter 3

Thanks Kristen for the blogs first comment!  This is the first blog I have done so I think the only way you can participate is to "comment".  I am not sure how we balance individual needs with the needs of the whole class.  My approach will probably be to use the information and ideas from the book as the year progresses.  Right now I am in the grammar stage with the information I hope to move to the logic stage throughout the year as I plan for the year and encounter new learning needs.

Chapter 3-Attention Control
Everyday I see the delicate balance between the attention controls of our students.  It was extremely helpful for me to see the attention system broken down into three controls: mental energy, intake, and output. 
Attention control categories are helpful because I could use the categories to talk with teachers about how to scaffold and monitor these skills in the classroom.   While all of the areas are extremely important I feel like this is one of the areas we need to get a handle on or students will loose ground quickly.  A student's inability to develop their attention controls will affect their capacity to develop in all other neurological areas. 
 I can already think of some 3rd grade students who would be overwhelmed by the prospect of monitoring all three attention controls, but I think students could be directly taught most of the skills required for attention control.
Mental energy controls consist of four functions, while teachers cannot control one of the functions (sleep) it would seem we can help students with three of the functions.  How do you think teachers can control for alertness, mental effort and consistency in the classroom?  All aspects of Intake control could potentially be taught, even satisfaction control.  As with intake controls, output controls would be directly taught and scaffolded for students.  Can you think of one strategy you could use to teach or monitor one of the sub-functions of mental energy, intake or output control?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

are you ready to forgive?- chapter 1

We all have our own story that describes how we arrived at Imagine Charter School as teachers.  It is this story that makes us the teachers we are today.  I have always been a reflective person, an introvert by nature, had a quirky sense of humor and I have had some powerful learning experiences I draw and reflect upon with each new student I encounter. 
When Mr. Levine posed the question “are you ready to forgive?” it struck me in a way that is hard to describe.  What exactly does he mean by this statement?  Are these the learning experiences I draw upon everyday to help the students I work with?  Can I forgive myself for some of these learning experiences and become a better teacher?
Although I have had many years of education and one might deduce I stayed in school for so long because it was easy and safe, the reality is my brain found the niche it needed to open up the language pathways that had previously gone unopened in school.  I did not stay in school because it was easy and safe rather my experience has been quite the opposite.
Snapshots of my K-12 years would show:
-a young girl getting into trouble for talking too much
-a severely anxious child
-a young girl terrified of public speaking
-someone who struggled with math and in fact failed algebra
-a young woman who found her voice in debates where her emotions were inflamed
-an athlete and musician
-a voracious reader

In college
-a young woman who struggled through algebra again
-a defeated student with red marks all over her writing assignments.  I eventually came to a point where I began to revise papers between 20 and 30 times before I would show anyone my papers.
-a student who dreaded multiple choice tests because no matter how hard I studied I was never able to remember what I needed to remember
-someone who frequently misunderstood assignments/test questions/direct questions

Although my story continues my reflective journey to understand does not require that I lament all of my experiences.  An overview has merely helped me to see that every step along my educational journey was a struggle.  However, I was able to continue and persist because I had a strong emotional tie to the information I was studying, a few teachers who encouraged me and I had a purpose. 
I just had an extremely emotional experience in the Cognitive Coaching class I am took that helped me to further connect my original purpose in school to my current purpose in life.  I am drawn to professions I have a clear purpose.  I have a strong desire to help in immediate and meaningful ways.  I have also come to understand I want to help individuals who have less power to have more power in and over their lives.
I thought I found a profession I could connect all of those pieces (a lawyer for Native American nations), but I now understand I was not ready for that profession.  I needed to grow and take another journey.  There is a pivotal point that sits at the apex of my educational experiences in this story.  It is this experience that changed the course of my life and sent me in a new direction.  When Mel Levine posed the question, “are you ready to forgive?” this is the one experience, of all of my learning experiences which speaks to the power of forgiveness and its potential to inform how I sculpt my interactions with students.
After 21 years of education I sat at a table for an interview with 2 tribal lawyers, members of the Klamath tribal nation and the tribal council.  While I would have worked for any tribe that made an offer, I heavily pursued the Klamath position because the Klamath nation had won what has become known as one of the most influential cases in water rights since the early 1900’s.  While I could go on and on about what this means, I won’t.  My point in telling you this story is the interview was going really well until they saw my transcripts.  I failed a course entitled “Civil Procedure” and had to retake the course.  The second they saw I failed a class my interview was over.
Nine years of higher education, my passion and my self-worth disappeared before my eyes.  Am I ready to forgive?  After eight years, yet another degree, a new profession and a deeper understanding of why I failed and struggled, yes, I am ready to forgive and move on.  What I once viewed as a detriment to my success has become my launching pad into a new career.  A career I have embraced to the fullest extent possible because I have lived it.  I have become the teacher I am today because of the experiences I have had, and it is because of those experiences I will never discount the potential within a child. 
So the question I ask you as we embark on this journey is, “are you ready to forgive?”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A journey through "A Mind at a Time"

Welcome, I am excited to have the opportunity to explore this amazing book with you.  My intention was to devote the summer to reading and processing this book with you, my colleagues.  However, as I slowly make may way through "A Mind at a Time" I have come to realize that this is not going to be a book that I can begin and end this summer. 

As I began to read I realized this book is going to be a journey.  A journey to help me better understand the students I serve.  This book is going to be a very personal journey for me.  Therefore, I will openly admit some of my posts may be tied to my own personal experiences.  While my goal is not to air my own experience it is my goal is to connect with the material Mel Levine offers on a deeper level so I can use the information to make a positive change in the lives of the students we work with.  What I have found is the way I connect with material is through powerful emotional experiences or massively overhauling the information to make it my own.

I plan to post questions/comments about every chapter of the book as I read through the book this summer and I would invite you to do the same.

Read at your leisure, post as the spirit moves you..