#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

Lexile, Move Over

“What’s this book?” the ten-year-old in the bookstore asked me. I told him the title and he looked as me as if I were from Mars. “No,” he said politely. “I mean the Lexile level. I don’t know if I can read it until I know the level and I have to read 10 books this summer.”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “but I know another way to see if you can read it, a secret way.”

“Really?” he asked. “What is it? Can you tell me?”

“I guess,” I said. “But I can only tell you if you promise to use it at least once a week. You can use it more, but you have to use it at least once a week. If you don’t, then the secret isn’t worth sharing.”

“I will! I promise!”

“OK. It’s scientific, so listen carefully. First, you have to take one of your hands and hold all five fingers open. Yes–just like that. Now, open the book to the first page and read it to yourself. As you’re reading it, every time you come to a word that you don’t know, put down a finger. OK. Give it a try.”

So, this little fellow, with book in hand, began reading. At the end of the first page, he had curled three fingers. “Now what?” he asked.

“Well, think about the first page. Is there any part you need to reread or do you understand what’s happening?”

“Oh, I got it! What’s next? Turn the page?”

“Yep. Turn the page. Put up all five fingers and read this page.”

“And put down a finger every time there’s a word I don’t know? Is that right?” he asked.

“It is,” I told him, and he began reading. This time, he put down two fingers. At the end of the page he asked, “What if I put down all five fingers? Does that mean I can’t read it? And do I do this all the way through the book?

“Well, first, just do it for a couple of pages.” I told him. “And if you find that on the first two or three pages you’re putting down all five fingers, it means you ought to ask yourself if it’s making enough sense to you that you want to keep reading. And if you do, then it means you might have to do some rereading. Or, you might need to read some parts aloud. When I don’t understand something that always helps me. Or you might need to look up some words. In other words, the five-finger tests helps you decide how much you might need to struggle to get through the book. But there’s nothing wrong with struggling a little.”

He listened carefully. Nodded. And then exclaimed, “Hey, my baseball coach said that sometimes when we’re behind in a game, we have to work harder, but we can’t give up. That’s like this, isn’t it. You shouldn’t give up just because some of it might be harder.”

I nodded.

He took his book and started to walk off but then turned and said, “Hey lady, this is a better way than knowing the Lexile number to know if you can read a book. It’s like you get to decide, not just some number. You ought to tell some teachers.”

“OK,” I said. . .

Mark Your Calendars July 11, 2012

Mark your calendars!

To all my Greater Houston Area Friends: I’m the invited keynote speaker at the MD Anderson Breast Cancer Support Group “Breast Friends” on Wednesday, July 11, at 7:00 p.m. at St. Luke’s Hospital, The Woodlands (near highway 242 and I-45) in Conference Room 1 which overlooks a beautiful small lake.

Hoping to see all from this area who are dealing with cancer or supporting a friend in her battle. Spread the words to your friends and let’s have an evening of supporting one another. The evening is open to all at no cost to anyone.

Promise laughter and hope there will be some inspiration as well! If you want more info, please leave a comment here and I’ll be happy to respond.

And if you don’t know the area–some FABULOUS restaurants in The Market Street which is very close to the event area. Make an evening of it!

Voting on covers!

 

Bob Probst and I have narrowed our choices of covers for our new book “Notice and Note” to two.  Now we’d love you to weigh in!   Which cover do you like best?  Respond here or on Twitter to @KyleneBeers with Cover 1 (The one with “Notice and Note” on 2 lines) or Cover 2 (The one with “Notice and Note” on 1 line).   All votes due by 9:00 a.m. Thursday, June 14.

So many teachers from across the nation let us into their classrooms or taught the lessons for us as we were developing these strategies that it seemed only natural–and right–to extend the collaboration to this level of the process of moving from idea to book.  Thank you dear teachers for all that you do.

Lifetime Reading and Series Books

Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie, Hardy Boys, Narnia Chronicles—these are a part of my reading history.  My daughter would say The Baby-Sitter Club Books and the Boxcar Children.  My son would say all the Animorph books, Harry Potter, Narnia, and of course all things L’Engle.  And I bet if you’re a reader you can name your series.  Perhaps you were hooked by the Beezus and Ramona books; or was it Encyclopedia Brown?  Dear America books?  Redwall?  Take a look at the series books listed at Goodreads and I bet that somewhere in that list, you’ll find a series that makes you nod your head and say, “I loved those books.”

That seems to be the power of series books:  we love them.  And because we love them, we get lost in them; we turn page after page; we wonder if Nancy will escape from the hidden attic even though the fact that the next 5 Nancy Drew books sit beside the bed is a clue she does.  Perhaps it’s the comfort of knowing the characters that makes them so enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that make us need to stay up for just one more chapter.

If you’re looking for information on the importance of series books in the development of lifetime readers, the go-to source is G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill:  Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1988).  Though this book is hard to find, it’s well worth your time to read.  In it, Carlson and Sherrill show the strong correlation between series books and lifetime readers.  He makes a similar case in Books and the Teenage Reader .

Other sources—some sited below—continue to make the point that no one becomes a lifetime reader without discovering a joy of reading, an intrinsic joy.  Almost always, one step in that joy is the reading of series books.

So whether your series was Harry Potter, the Dark is Rising, Frog and Toad, the Prydain Series, the Madeline books, The 39 Clues, the Ender books, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Borrowers, The Lost Years of Merlin, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Wizard of Oz, Curious George, George and Martha, or…well, you fill in the blank, those books made a difference in your lifetime reading.  As summer comes, here’s hoping many other young readers will find delight in those books that make us want to stay up late and keep reading.

“A Fresh Look at Series Books”

Motivation: Going Beyond Testing to a Lifetime of Reading

The Mystery of Nancy Drew

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, “If They Read Nancy Drew, So What? Series Book Readers Talk Back,” Library and Information Science Research (LISR) vol. 17, 1995, pp. 201–36. This research won the American Library Association’s research award in 1995. A shortened version appeared in School Library Media Quarterly, Spring 1996, pp. 165–71.

1926 American Library Study of over 36,000 students sheds some light on series books and reading. Reported in: Only Connect, Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 41–61.

“Can you hear us, Mr. Duncan?” Some Comments on Assessment

“What are you going to say about assessment in your new book?” the teacher asked Bob Probst and me.
“What do you mean?” we asked her.
“Well, are you going to come out against it? Hope you are. So much of education now is all about teaching to the test that assessment has really ruined teaching for me and ruined learning for a lot of kids. Just hoping that you two might take a stand against it,” she explained.

***********************************************
Well . . . no. We won’t take a stand against assessments in general. We’ll take a stand against ridiculous assessments; against assessments that reduce the complex act of learning to a multiple-choice test; that measure the value of a teacher by the score a student makes on a state-mandated test; that limits what is learned in a classroom to what is checked on a test; that casts students as “pushables” or “slipables” or “bubble children” or “proficient” or “below-level.” We’ll take a stand against assessments that become the whole point of education. We’ll take a stand against linking a teacher’s pay to how well a student performs on a test. We’ll take a stand against the very high-level administrator who told us that “It’s all about the test.” No, it’s not. It’s all about the kids. Any assessment that causes us to forget that is one we’ll stand against.

That said, we do think that teachers have an obligation to know how students are progressing and to share that information in meaningful ways with students and their parents. We think that there are many ways of assessing progress—and some of those ways include teacher-made tests. We also recognize that scores on a high-stakes test give schools some information, but that information doesn’t tell a child or a parent much about the child’s growth as a learner, a contributor, a collaborator, a helper, an evaluator, a creator, a thinker. And, we believe that we don’t have to teach to the test to actually improve performance on the test. We think if we can get students engaged, if we can make learning relevant, if we teach students to consider issues deeply, critically, and thoughtfully, if we can teach students the strategies that help them become highly skilled readers, writers, and speakers, then they’ll do better on the tests. Any tests.

We’ve been saying it often, but perhaps not often enough: Better tests don’t improve learning. Better teaching does. Or perhaps we should say it louder.  Perhaps if we say it all together:  Better tests don’t improve learning. Better teaching does. Can you hear us, Mr. Duncan?