Teachers: Our Nation’s Hope Whisperers

Matt said he would never finish high school, but he did.

Katie said she just didn’t understand anything at all about geometry.  But she passed her end-of-year exam with a B-.

Alejandro said he couldn’t read, but his seventh grade teacher told him she’d help him learn.  And he read 22 books his seventh-grade year.

Elisa said she was too clumsy to make the basketball team.  But her coach said she just needed practice and she made sure Elisa had a lot of time on the court and Elisa made the team and then made it off the bench and made the winning points that last game of her junior year.

Marcus said he didn’t have anything to say, so he put down his pen and then put down his head. But one teacher told him every day for twenty days in a row that she thought Marcus had much to say.  And finally Marcus wrote about his dad who “swished through his life like a basketball swishes through a net. Silent but counting just the same.”

Jayson was afraid of recess because he had no one who would play with him. So Ms. Olson wore her tennis shoes and asked him to play tag with her.  Every day.  And on the seventh day, all the kids who had joined them now wanted Jayson to play with them.

Mr. Johnson gives his band kids his phone number “so if you end up needing help at any time and for any reason you can call me.”

Ms. Everett meets kids the night before big unit tests at Starbucks to help anyone who shows up.

Mrs. Allen always keeps a loaf of bread and and a jar of peanut butter in her desk drawer.  Help yourself whenever you’re hungry.  And yes, of course you should take an extra sandwich home.

Darien said school was dumb.  School was boring.  School was really, really stupid.  He said it over and over to anyone and everyone.  Then one day, he yelled at his teacher and said she was dumb and boring and really, really stupid.  And the teacher put her arm around him and said, “Well, what I really need is your help.  Could you help me figure out why this class isn’t working?  Could you help me make it better?”  And he stood there shocked and said, “Aren’t you going to send me to the principal’s office?”   And she said, “Nope.  I want you to stay here and help me.”  And so he stayed.  And little by little Darien shared how scared he was of everything because everything was just so hard.  “I can’t do it,” he kept saying.  “You can’t do it yet,” she would reply.

That’s what teachers do.  They add the word “yet”  giving kids confidence when kids don’t have it—yet.  Teachers are hope whisperers.

Every day, even though kids often don’t show it, they enter our nation’s classrooms full of hope.  Hope that they’ll do better, hope that they’ll be liked, hope that they’ll both stand out and fit in, hope that no one will discover what hurts at home, hope that someone will discover what hurts at home, and underneath it all—the swagger of the senior and the defiance of the eighth grader and the can’t sit still hopping up and down waving my hand for the teacher to call on me second grader—is the hope that my teacher will like me.  It only takes one to whisper hope in an ear.  One teacher.  One gentle reminder that what you can’t do, you simply can’t do yet.

Reading Nonfiction

My colleague Bob Probst and I have been thinking a lot about nonfiction as we work on our next book which for now is titled Notice and Note for Expository Texts, the companion to our book that focused on literary texts:  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.  Part of the research for this new nonfiction book meant each of us ramped up our own volume of nonfiction reading.  As a result, in the past year or so, I’ve learned a great deal about many topics including Sumerians, planets, plagues, early Civil Rights advocates, the dust bowl, volcanoes, the cotton industry, the dung beetle, World War II, photosynthesis, and wine (well, that one was for a different research project…).

For a year, at the end of each week, Bob and I would ask ourselves what we noticed about our reading of nonfiction.  We wanted to focus on what we did while reading nonfiction that we didn’t do while reading fiction.  What struck us both, no matter the topic, was the number of times we said to ourselves, “Really?” or “I didn’t know that.”  For instance, I didn’t know that the Russians landed a probe on Mars years before the USA did.  When I read that, I remember stopping and thinking, “Really?” and then doing more–going to other sites, calling my son and asking if he knew this (“Yes, Mom.  It was the early 70s. Once it landed, though, it didn’t transmit images as they had hoped it would.” I hung up and looked for someone else who, too, was amazed.  Luckily a neighbor’s daughter is only six years old.)

We want students aware of what they are discovering as they read.  We want them to enjoy that feeling of surprise, amazement, and even skepticism.   We want them to say, “Really?”  So, we worked with a group of teachers in Florida and Ohio (thank you Orlando and Akron folks!) and eventually settled on this simple note-taking template that you’ll see below.  You can download this blank template here.

Really template blank jpg from bud

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an example of one completed by an 8th grader:

Really worksheet completed by student

 

When we talked with this student, she reported, “Sometimes I read and just turn the pages to get finished.  When I used this to keep notes, it was like I was really thinking about how what I was reading was telling me stuff I didn’t know.  I really was like, “Really?” and it helped me keep thinking while I was reading.  Now I find myself doing this even without the worksheet.”

 

 

That’s the goal of any good scaffold–to offer support until the support isn’t needed.  If your students have decided that the goal of reading is to finish, then perhaps this  template will help them slow down to focus on what they are learning, on what they’ve discovered that’s new to them.

 

TestingTalk.Org: An Invitation to Join a National Conversation

It’s that time year of again, that time when instruction in our nation’s schools halts.

DSC_0793It’s the time of year when teachers are told to put down their pencils (holding one might suggest cheating) and monitor their students (but don’t clarify confusion students encounter as that certainly is cheating).  It’s that time when students are told to log on or bubble in.

It’s testing season in the USA.

In many places these tests are new, the result of new standards.  Most teachers will say they had no say in the development of these standards, in the decision for their states or districts to accept them; most parents will say the same.

What teachers and parents can have in a say in, though, is how their students/children responded to these tests.  And so a group of us banded together and created a new website, testingtalk.org, a place where educators and parents can be a part of the national conversation about the tests given in our schools this spring.  We know these new tests will shape the education for a generation of young people.  So we believe collecting thoughtful responses from the people closest to the tests is critical.

How can you help?

1) Community offers strength.  Please help spread the word by sharing the testingtalk.org website with your network of colleagues and friends.  Ask them to share it with their friends.  To have a national response, the nation needs to know.

2) Individuals provide wisdom.  Please add your own voice to the conversation by logging on and posting your comments.  This site is our “neighborhood” so we want it to be a safe place.  If you’re more comfortable posting a comment anonymously, then check that box and your name will not be shared.  Don’t break any copyright laws by revealing specific passages or test items.  At the same time, be as specific as possible.   A comment such as “logging on was hard for 2/3rds of my students” is more helpful than “putting the test on computers was a bad idea.”  Tell about what worked with the test, “Students seemed engaged, excited to respond, and challenged but not defeated” and tell us what didn’t work, “By the second day, students were obviously finishing too quickly, checking boxes just to be done.”  In other words, this isn’t a site only for constructive criticism; it’s also a site for positive feedback.  But mostly, it’s a site for you.

Those of us who created this site did so because we believe any conversation about these high-stakes mandated tests ought to be informed by those of you closest to the test.   We hope you agree.

 

 

 

A Preliminary Report on the Teaching of Chapter Books and Novels, grades 4-8

 

A Preliminary Report from the July 2013 Survey

What Teachers Tell Us About the Novels/Chapter Books They Teach

By Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

 

About a week ago we posted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com asking teachers in grades 4-8 to tell us about their teaching of novels and chapter books.  This survey was a slightly modified version of a survey we had first conducted in 2008.  We hoped that the current survey would tell us something about the novels finding their way into classrooms, about the approaches teachers were taking to the instruction, and about the influence of the Common Core State Standards.  What follows is a first-look at some of the data.

How many books are we teaching?

We received 435 responses, mostly from teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience.  Of those 435 teachers, 426 responded to the question that asked how many novels or chapter books were taught during the school year.  Of that number, about 90% reported that they teach at least one novel a year.  About 20% reported teaching four a year.  We were surprised that 10% — 41 teachers – did not teach any novels or chapter books at all and just as surprised that a little over 10% reported teaching more than seven books in one year.

How many books are taught in 1 year?

 

Who chooses the books?

Most of the teachers responding choose the books they will teach, with 60% apparently having great autonomy and another 28% required to choose from a list established by the district or at the school level.  Only 2.2% reported that they had no choice whatsoever.

Who chooses the books you teach?

 

What’s the criteria for choosing books?

We were especially interested in the criteria teachers employed in choosing books for their classes.  To over 50% of respondents, the potential for student enjoyment was the single most important criterion.  Of somewhat lesser significance were the elements or standards the novel would enable them to teach, the literary quality of the books, and the theme.   Only a few—4%—choose a book for the genre it would enable them to study, and only one solitary teacher chooses the novel for author study.

What's the criteria for choosing books?

 

How are books being taught?

We were also interested in how novels/chapter books were being taught.  We offered respondents a variety of scenarios from which to choose.  We found that about 34% of the respondents said that they introduced the book, gave some structure over how much should be read, and then had large or small group discussions about each section.   We found that the same number responded that they introduced the book and then read the book with the class either through read alouds or listening to portions on tape.

How I teach novels

 

What books are being taught?

All of the books we inquired about in our 2008 survey are still being taught.  The Giver is still the most commonly taught of all the young adult novels we listed, and none of the other titles had vanished from the list.  Here is that 2008 list as it appears in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading:

 

Most Commonly Taught Novels 2008 survey

 

What new titles have you added?

There were some new titles, however, to add to our 2008 list.  Some are new books teachers reported they are now teaching, and some are books they’d like to teach.  Among the most popular of the new books now being taught are, listed in order of frequency mentioned:

Wonder            

The Hunger Games

The One and Only Ivan

The Lightning Thief

The Westing Game

Wonder, The Hunger Games, and The One and Only Ivan were also the three most commonly mentioned books teacher would like to teach if given the opportunity.

Other titles that appeared in that list with noticeable frequency were:

Divergent

Out of My Mind

The Book Thief

 

What do we see when we look at data by grade levels?

When we look at data by grade level, we found that “Potential Enjoyment” continued to be the decisive factor in choosing a book.  While we’re still culling data by grade level, here are some first results:

Most commonly taught books from the list provided

4th Grade:  Because of Winn Dixie

5th Grade: Bud, Not Buddy and Number the Stars

6th Grade: The Giver and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963

7th Grade: The Giver and The Outsiders

8th Grade: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Giver, and The Outsiders

 

Mostly commonly taught book that was not on the list provided

4th Grade:  Wonder

5th Grade: Wonder

6th Grade: Wonder

7th Grade: Wonder and Hunger Games

8th Grade: Hunger Games

 

Most common length of time spent teaching one book

4th Grade:  3 weeks

5th Grade:  3 weeks

6th Grade:  4 weeks

7th Grade:  4 weeks

8th Grade:  4-6 weeks

 

How has or will the Common Core State Standards affect your teaching of novels/chapter books?

When we looked at information about the effects of the CCSS, as many teachers reported that it would not affect their teaching of novels/chapter books as reported that it would.  Those who reported teaching 1-3 novels a year thought they would continue teaching that number.  Those who taught more, feared that they would be unable to continue teaching as many.  An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the focus on nonfiction, more than anything else, would change their teaching.

 

Final comments

While there’s more data to be culled, we wanted to share this preliminary if cursory glance at it, and to thank all who participated.  We’ll use this survey as a pilot, do some refining, and put it in the field again in September and we’ll continue to report findings over the next few weeks.  The comment we enjoyed the most, though, must be shared now:  “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.  We’ll read some together, and they’ll read some on their own.  We read novels because novels take us places we’ve never been and let us be people we are not.  That’s why I teach novels.”

 

We agree.

 

 

 

Taking On, Not Giving Up

So today begins Lent, for those who follow a liturgical calendar. In simplest of explanations, children are often taught that during Lent, those forty days before Easter, one should “give up something” so that, when Easter arrives, and that missed item is returned, it is more valued.

I think about this time of giving up something and am reminded of a blog post I saw some time ago from a teacher in North Carolina who gave up his job, resigned. Quit. He was completely fed up with a system that — in his district — was only about teaching kids to pass a test. He gave up something he dearly loved, and was very good at, to make a point.

And I think about the teachers at a 5-12 school in New York City Bob Probst and I worked with two weeks ago who told us they had to give up teaching anything new for the next month as the school was going into “lock down” and would only be reviewing for the upcoming mandated tests. For one month, students would only do test-prep.

And I think about a teacher in Arkansas I visited with a few weeks ago who was giving up a part of her salary each week to help buy clothes for some kids in her classroom who didn’t have homes, much less winter coats, that would keep them warm.

I think about the college seniors I Skyped with yesterday at Carlton college who wondered what we were giving up in our ELA classrooms when we all agreed (and why did we do this, they asked) to set aside any sort of questions that encouraged a personal response to instead embrace only “text-dependent” questions. “What have we given up?” they asked.

Giving up can mean so many different things.

And then I think a bit more about Lent. Only for children is it really only about giving up. Actually, it’s about reflecting. It’s about searching and wondering and being still and listening, but most certainly it is not only about giving up; it’s also about taking on.

This Lent — and it doesn’t matter if you call this time Lent or simply the quiet days before spring blooms in all its brilliance — this Lent, I plan to do more taking on than giving up. I plan to take on the naysayers of education, reminding them of all the good that our nation’s teachers do each day. Dear teachers, don’t you lose sight of the opportunity you have each day to make a difference in each child’s life.

I plan to take on the assumption that text-dependent questions create the self-reliant, lifetime readers we want more than any other type of question might do. Where is the research that supports this? I plan to take on the assumed authority of the Publishers’ Criteria and ask upon what research it is based.

I want to take on reminding policy makers that a test score is simply that: a test score. I want to take on reminding them that the goal of education is bigger than making someone college or career ready. Education is about teaching children so that they can become all they can be. It’s about teaching children so that they will someday become the active successful participants this democracy desperately needs them to be; so that they might become the creative, compassionate, caring contributors this society hopes they will be.

This Lent, I want to give up pessimism and take on optimism; I want to give up fear and take on hope. I want to look at each child in each class I teach as that kid who wants to be his best but just might be too hungry or too scared or too beaten by life to know how to get there and see not a sullen face, but one that if I can teach him to take on, rather than give up, will find that spring is full of hope, indeed.

#noticeandnote Jan 31 Chat Preview

As we — Bob Probst and I — get ready for tonight’s chat (Thursday, Jan 31, 8 EST), we thought we’d take some space we have here but wouldn’t have on Twitter, to talk a little about our goals for tonight.

We’re excited to have a conversation tonight about close reading, about the role of fiction in a time when many encourage more and more NF, about what it means to foster engagement, and what rigor in a classroom is all about.  These are all things the two of us thought a lot about as we wrote our new book, Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.

Now we want to hear from you about those topics.  And, we’re happy to answer questions you might have about any of the new strategies we present in the book.

If you’re new to Twitter chats (as is Bob.  I’ve been explaining today — see the photo — that he really doesn’t need his microphone), then give this new way to be a part of a national conversation a try.  Go to Tweetchat.com and in the search box at the top of the page, enter noticeandnote.  Normally you’d need to enter the hashtag (#) first, but at this site, it’s already there for you. If you don’t have a Twitter account, this will still let you read what others are saying.  If you want to join in (and we hope you do!) then you’ll need to sign in at Tweetchat.com with your account to participate.  And you can of course join in from your own Twitter page, just be sure and use the hashtag (#) before the name of the chat: #noticeandnote.  Everything will begin promptly at 8 pm EST.

So, thanks to Vicki Boyd at Heinemann for moderating tonight. And more importantly, thanks to you, for thinking carefully about how we help all our students become close readers and then sharing your thoughts with us this evening.

On Monday

“Mom, help me review my words because my teacher says spelling still counts.”

That’s what Baker – now a senior in college – said to me as he ran into our kitchen one day after school when he was in fifth grade.

He was pulling me out of a three-day television-aided trance I had been in since the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  Oh, I got up each day, got each child off to school, did most of the work I was supposed to be doing, but then rushed back to CNN to watch again and again what had happened, to try, again and again, to make sense of what this meant our world – my family’s world – would now be.

I’m doing the same thing again.  Since yesterday.  Since Sandy Hook Elementary School locked down and we redefined tragedy.  Again.  I’m listening intently to all the reports, reading closely all the articles, looking for anything that makes this make sense.  But of course nothing will because one can’t apply logic to what was done illogically; one can’t apply reason to what was done without reason.

And I keep remembering Baker’s fifth-grade language arts teacher who each day after the 9/11 attacks didn’t sit home staring at a screen, but instead walked into her classroom to help twenty-two youngsters through the day.  On Thursday of that week, she sent her students home reminding them to study because “spelling still counts.”  I loved her for giving those students (and me) that nudge toward normalcy.  All of the teachers in that school – in schools across this nation – during those first long weeks after 9/11 gave our nation’s children something far more important than what could ever be bubbled in on a state-mandated test.  They gave them security; they gave them time; they gave them ways to process all that had happened; and they helped them learn that each of us has the ability to get through tragic moments even when we doubt we will ever get over them.

That’s what you’ll do again.  On Monday.  And on Tuesday. And on all the rest of the days next week and the rest of this school year.  Parents will hold on to children – of all ages –  tighter, and you will, with firm resolve, assure them you are a professional who knows what to do when tragedy strikes.  Some children will cry and you will dry tears.  Some will lash out in anger and you will know that is fear rearing its head another way.  You will worry and fret and wonder what else you should do.  You will talk with other teachers and principals – who will be doing all the same things you are doing – and together you will decide what is the right plan for your school as you help your students through what will, for some, be terribly difficult days.

Yes, on Monday and for all the days that follow,  you will  prepare lessons, watch for that student who doesn’t quite grasp the point, encourage the student who hesitantly offers an idea, help the shy one make a friend, remind the bossy one to listen more.  And you’ll do what no university class ever prepared you to do:  you will show students that when tragedy strikes, hope lives and goodness can always be found. You will help students recognize that their grief shows their humanity.  You will show them that we all go on, in spite of fear, or perhaps more importantly, to spite fear. And you will, as you nudge them toward normalcy, even remind them that spelling still counts.  You will be in our nation’s classrooms, teaching our nation’s children, and for this we are a grateful nation.

Thank you.  Thank you.  And, again, thank you.

 

 

Why I Hated Meredith’s First Grade Teacher: An Open Letter to America’s Teachers

When my first born headed off to first grade, 21 years ago, she held my hand as we walked down the hallway of Will Rogers Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District. We walked into Ms. Miner’s room and Meredith’s steps grew more hesitant. This wasn’t the University of Houston Child Care Center, the place she had gone for years while I was a doctoral student at UH. This place looked different – bigger, more official. There were big-kid desks pushed together in clusters. And though there were centers, they were not the dress-up center or the cooking center or nap center or water play center of the Child Care Center.

The room was filled with children she did not yet know, with books she had not yet read, with a math center that had lost-teeth and birthday charts, and with a big poster by the door labeled, “Our Classroom Rules” that was still blank. “I don’t want to stay,” she said.  I didn’t want her to, either. I wanted her still with me, only me. I didn’t want to give up those first six years of childhood just yet, those years when her world mostly revolved around her parents and new baby brother and a silly dog with big ears and afternoons spent in our local library reading book after book after book or playing in our neighborhood park, sometimes just sitting on the grass, watching the ants march by. With every ounce of courage, I said, “Oh, you will love first grade. It was my favorite year in school. I loved my first grade teacher, Mrs. Allen, and I bet you are going to love Ms. Miner, too.” Meredith looked doubtful and so very small. And then Ms. Miner, long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, saw us, came over, and bent down to Meredith’s level.  A first year teacher – the one I had told the principal that if he was willing to listen to requests I wanted – Ms. Miner was full of energy and excitement. She loved books, wanted to be a great teacher, and had obviously spent weeks making her room look inviting to these 22 six-year-olds.

“Oh, you’re Meredith! I recognized you from your picture! Come here and let me introduce you to some others. And let me show you all around the room. And, hey, you brought Corduroy as your favorite book and that’s one of my favorite books, too!”

And then, somehow, without me even realizing, Meredith’s small hand moved from mine to Ms. Miner’s and she was gone. She was swallowed up by the sheer joy this other woman brought into her classroom, into learning, and into my child’s life. “I guess I’ll be going now,” I said to Meredith who was busy putting school supplies away in her desk. “So, I’ll be just around the corner at our house,” I said blinking hard to keep away the tears.” I think she nodded. Perhaps she even paused to wave. My feet couldn’t move and Ms. Miner gently helped me and a few other moms out of the classroom. “She’s really shy,” I said to Ms. Miner just as Meredith sped by holding a new friend’s hand showing her “all these hooks where we can hang our backpacks.”

Meredith was breathless with excitement at the end of that day – every day – and by the end of the first week, our family had a new member: Ms. Miner. Each afternoon and for long into the evening, I had to listen to “Ms. Miner said . . .” and “Ms. Miner thinks . . .” and “Ms. Miner showed us . . .” and “Ms. Miner suggested . . .” and when I slipped and said, “Oh damn” at dinner burned in the oven, I was reminded that “Mom, Ms. Miner would never say . . .  .”  Right, I smiled through gritted teeth.  ”Ms. Miner says that manners are important,” Meredith said as she explained why we must always put our napkins in our laps, something that I swear I had mentioned a million times.

For the entire year I watched my child fall in love with school, with learning, with figuring out, and most importantly, with her first grade teacher, Ms. Miner. Meredith, who had once hated ponytails, now only wanted to wear ponytails. And blue skirts, “just like Ms. Miner’s.” “And Mom, my name starts with an M and Ms. Miner starts with an M. Isn’t that great!! We match!” Yes, Meredith, just great. Really great. Oh damn.

Though I had been a teacher for years before having Meredith, before sending her off to first grade, I had never truly understood the power of a teacher in a child’s life. We give our most precious and priceless to you – dear teachers – each year, knowing you will teach them, but also hoping you will care for them, help them discover how very much they matter, watching over them, and being there when they have been hurt by the ones who won’t let them sit at the “popular” table – and then you do just that and they fall in love with you. It shows up in different ways, as they grow older. But it’s still there, this deep affection and respect. And, certainly, it’s harder to forge those bonds when there are 150 students instead of 22, when the day is fragmented into 45 minute segments, when education seems to be more about the test than the child. But I promise, underneath that bravado of the seventh grader or swagger of the tenth grader you will find that small first grader who wonders, “Will my teacher like me?” And when that child – that teen – knows that you believe he or she matters, then that student will do most anything for you.

To this day, Meredith remembers you, Ms. Miner, and to this day, I so hated how much she loved you that year. And, simultaneously, I am so grateful that she did.

And so, teachers, across this country during the next two weeks, most of you will be opening your classroom doors in a first-day welcoming for your students.  As a teacher I am proud to stand beside you in all that you do. But as a parent, well, as a parent I stand in awe of all that you do.  And to Ms. Miner, thank you.

We Can Be Better

On Facebook, I just saw a photo that someone else posted which I will not repost that was a shot of a sign outside of a McDonald’s in some location that says “We support Chick-Fil-A. Now Boycott Us.”  While I’m not positive of the exact location of this one McDonald’s, since I know who posted the photo, I suspect it was from a small town in east Texas.  On my way to the Houston airport today, I passed two McDonald’s that did NOT have this sign posted.But people are “liking” this photo that was posted, and all I could do was look at it and feel so very sad. Not sad that I’ll indeed be boycotting McDonald’s (haven’t had their high-fat, high-calorie food in a long time, so in all honestly that wasn’t a hard decision); but sad that THIS was the message they felt needed sharing.I saw two parents crying in an airport today because their flight to Germany was delayed and their adult child who is there is now dying of cancer. This McDonald’s could have put up a sign saying we donate part of our income one day a month to cancer research. That would have sent me through their drive-through window.  (I know the Ronald McDonald’s House does much to support families dealing with cancer and I bet if we check United Way giving McDonald’s does well in that area, too.  But that help does not undo this wrong.)

In a school in Georgia two weeks ago, a teacher came to me at then end of the day and thanked me for all the words of encouragement for what will be — in this time of more kids in classrooms with fewer materials — a hard year and said her husband — a preacher of a small church — had just left her for another woman (those good Christian values there) and she was now trying to support her two children and herself on her teacher’s salary and she wanted to get books for her classroom because she knew her students were coming from homes where books weren’t valued nearly as much as football. “But times are a little tough for me right now. Do you know of grants I might apply for?” She wasn’t judging. She wasn’t angry. She was putting the needs of others first. Seems that as school begins, this McDonald’s might have opted to put up a sign about how they will be supporting local teachers by providing in-class libraries of 500 children’s books to go into each English/language arts classroom of the schools in their community. That would have certainly gotten me into a McDonald’s to find something there that at least looks healthy.

Ten miles from my house, a little over a year ago, a fourteen-year-old hung himself one day because he could no longer take the daily bullying he faced each day at his school. His suicide was not singular. The daily roll call of gay teens who are bullied to death is beyond shameful. Bullied by straight kids. Straight kids who think they have a right to be hurtful and mean. Straight kids who call gay kids terrible names and tell others to not sit with them. Straight kids who tell them they are wrong for being who they are. For simply being who they are. Of course, that mindset is learned . . . somewhere.

Sure would have been nice if this McDonald’s — perhaps all — had put up a sign that said, “At this establishment, you’ll find that we respect ALL people. We value ALL people. Chick-Fil-A can choose to hurt others, but here at McDonald’s, we choose to be better than that.” I’d be there daily, probably falling in love with that fish sandwich.

Does this one sign represent all McDonald’s?  I highly doubt it.  Actually, I can’t believe it does.  I suspect that whoever is in charge of all things McDonald’s has no idea what this franchise owner put on this sign.  I’d like to know, though, that if those in the corporate headquarters did know, what their response would be.  I suppose they could say something about that being the sentiments of one franchise owner.  I’d hope they’d say that this hurtful statement does not represent the company and that McDonald’s does not discriminate.  That’s what I hope.I hope that because in a world in which we could accomplish so much, so very very much, if we told each person “You Matter,” if we helped each person believe they are valued and respected, if we could convince others that loving is always better than hating and that supporting is better than condemning, we might become the country our Founding Fathers had in mind when they penned “All men are created equal.”We can be so much better than we are. And it can start with how we react to signs that appear in our own communities, with hateful words we hear and do not stop, with “that’s so gay” language we let slip by.  We can be better.

It’s Rigor, Not Rigor Mortis

It’s Rigor, Not Rigor Mortis by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

[It seems that the way to solve problems in education, make everyone college and career ready, and probably stop the melting of the polar ice caps is to make sure we have enough rigor in our classrooms. But far too often the synonym for rigor is hard. Below, I share a few thoughts about rigor from our forthcoming book  (co-author Bob Probst), Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Heinemann, in press).]

“The essential element in rigor is engagement. The rigor has to be achieved by engaging the readers in a process that is sufficiently interesting or rewarding that they’ll invest energy in the work. If they are to read rigorously, students must to be committed to understanding some intriguing character, to solving some problem, to figuring out what a writer believes or values and how those thoughts compare with their own or to understanding how other readers have made sense of a text.

Granted, students should learn over time to cope with more and more difficult texts. We know of no teachers who do not want students to be able to read increasingly complex texts as the year progresses. But students are more likely to do that if they are invited to read texts with which they can become engaged and are lured into the sort of thinking that might be both challenging and enjoyable.

Rigor, in other words, lies in the transaction between the reader and the text, and then among readers. The essence of rigor is engagement and commitment. A classroom that respects what the students bring to it, what they are capable of and interested in, and that welcomes them into an active intellectual community is more likely to achieve that rigor.”

–From Notice and Note, by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst