Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Habits of Learning in Middle School

After at least 35 years of working in the fields and factories, Ms. Liter Matson spent an additional 17 years teaching middle school, for a combined work-life of 52 years.  Not only is this impressive, it is real, which makes her first year of RETIREMENT suh-weet!  Here she describes habits that guide middle school students towards being lifelong learners.  What a treat to have one of my closest friends and former colleagues share her practical views of what it takes to be an effective middle school student.  Read on and enjoy! 

Middle school is that place in our lives when students have acquired and developed school skills which now needs to be organized into the mind and body of the person that will emerge from middle school to a budding young adult.  In my experience at Sherman Middle School,  students are taught the five habits of learning:  Communication, Imagination, Determination, Analysis, and Point of view.  Most of my discussion with students revolved around these habits.  I noticed that when students adjust to using these habits, they become better learners and increase their chances of turning into productive citizens as well.

Let's start with Communication. First students learn that communication is the key to success. And that’s not an understatement or a cliche.  Being able to understand and be understood is important in any relationship. Whether it be school, work, family, friends, strangers...etc., we must know how to relay what we want or need clearly. Opposite, we must clearly understand what they want or need from us.  This is integral to a subject area such as literacy, because we know that the more we read, the more literate we become and the better we can communicate.  

Imagination is something that is innate to most children and increases with learning.  Imagination takes us beyond what we can see into a realm of possibilities. Imagination teaches empathy. While someone may not have your same experiences or feelings, imagination helps them think about how it may possibly feel or be.  It’s interesting that imagination and empathy seem to go hand in hand, as both appear to be very important to building character and values when as a young person, and ultimately into adulthood.

Analysis is the  cornerstone of an insatiable curiosity that can only be cured by taking something apart and putting all the pieces together again. Even then, as we have learned through science and math, the question still may not be answered, but it opens up a new wave of curiosity and begins yet another adventure. As students began to analyze to look closely at people, situations or objects, and learn to ask questions before making decisions, they tend to make better choices in studying, making friends and choosing significant others.

Point of View is critical in middle school. Without being able to state your point of view or form your own opinion, you may easily become a follower, and followers are usually bullied or bystanders.  Being able to state how you feel or think enables you also to be an advocate for yourself and others.  One thing students must understand is that not everyone's point of view is the same as yours and this needs to be experienced and respected.  Giving and getting respect is a huge part of point of view. You have to learn to agree to disagree for your opinion to be valid. This is a difficult concept in sixth grade, but by eighth grade, students have a better grasp of it.

The final habit, Determination, is a little harder for some students because it means maintaining hope, being optimistic, and most importantly, believing in yourself.  Determination is that skill that makes you finish that book report, create that science fair project, pass that math test and finish whatever it takes to reach your goals.

When taught in a caring, safe environment by knowledgeable staff and supportive parents and guardians, these five Habits of Learning can really assist a child throughout middle school, especially into their teen years and beyond.

Ms. Matson is a mother, grandmother, and recently a great-grandmother.  Ask any of her former students what she taught them, and most everyone will say, "LIFE."   She enjoys reading, spending time with her grand-kids, and playing BINGO. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Drinking and Designs

When I first taught with Erica years ago, she introduced herself to the 6th graders as, "I'm Ms. Gotts-chalk. Just think of me as your teacher who 'gotts chalk'." Clever, clever. I recently ran into a former student of ours from Cherokee Heights in MMSD who said, "I still remember my first day and still have that social studies notebook from 6th grade!" Enduring and endearing, Erica writes about her summer learning experience and the importance of classroom climate. Read on for her insight!

If you look on FB it appears as though I've spent my summer playing video games and taking care of my dog. I did do that but I also took a class that really changed my perspective on teaching and got me excited about starting the year. I also had some awesome late night discussions with my husband that made me think about myself as an educator and my curriculum.

The class I took was an introduction to Developmental Designs. The developmental refers to children's psychological development and reminds us that students - all people really - have 4 primary needs: autonomy, competence, relationship and fun. (If you think about this for all people - family, friends - it may be a way to improve our relationships with them.)

So what was so great about it? I already focus on community building and have been using the TRIBES curriculum for many years. This training helped me think about how important it is to build a classroom climate that is focused on:

1) Acknowledging the social contract. When kids do something that breaks the rules they are really breaking our social contract - or what it takes for all of us to meet those needs. This way of "discipline" focuses on increasing students' self awareness and seems smart and respectful. I mean I have never really told the kids what will happen if they are sent out of class and how it will be when they return. Or I've never told them that sometimes I might use nonverbal cues to help them stay focused or whatever. I mean...Duh. Why haven't I ever done this? I just thought they'd figure it out? I assumed no one would ever go?

2) FUN! When things aren't going well - kids are tense with each other - whatever - perhaps it is a time to have more fun. These shared positive experiences relieve tension, build respect and I believe actually help you learn. I took a math seminar this spring that focused on laughter. The guy taught statistics in a community college. He firmly believe that if you could get them to laugh, you could get them to learn. Laughter releases anxiety and improves blood flow to the brain. (Ok, maybe that last bit isn't quite true, but oh well.)

I also spent time talking to my Brad, the love of my life, late at night. These discussions often involved wine, but some were quite insightful. He reminded me on a personal level that I need to let go of the things at school and on the district and national level that make me so upset. He suggested that my ego might be part of my problem. (ok, that made me mad at first.) But you know, I suffer from the need to be right or perhaps it's the need to have everyone else believe I'm right. He always makes me think.

We also had a good discussion about procedural knowledge and conceptual knowledge. Often times we consider conceptual knowledge to be more important - higher thinking. But procedural knowledge is what allows us to conduct our daily lives - how to write, drive, whatever. Math education is constantly about pitting the procedural (old school - "I learned my times facts in 3rd grade" - "kids need to know how to do long division without a calculator") with conceptual knowledge (new math - kids need to discover the Pythagoreum theorem and reinvent the math not just memorize a formula.) I expect this idea will percolate this year.

I'm also signed up to take the Courage to Teach seminar this year. I'm looking forward to it.

I teach middle school math and science at Cherokee Heights and am a firm believer in the power of public education.  I've been doing this for 20 years now.  I'm a bit disheartened as I look at my colleagues and see I'm the "old one" in the room.  I feel like I've got a lot to figure out yet.  I'm married to Brad who draws comics and we have 2 boys.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

All Aboard the Lake Guardian

Ms. Jess Henze, a self-identified professional development addict, contributed this piece that summarizes her summer learning experiences.  Straightforward and forward-thinking, Jess makes purposeful connections to science emphasizing water - our most valuable and critical resource.  Read on and enjoy!  

When the final bell rang for the school year, many teachers breathe a sigh of relief as it is now time for us to recharge our batteries. My sigh didn't come until the beginning of July as I had scheduled myself for 3 different professional learning opportunities in the first three weeks of summer. The first, AVID critical reading training. The second, 3 days to collaborate with fellow teachers on science curriculum. But the first day was all about making a traditional science lab into an inquiry based lab. Definitely something to keep in mind as I head into the new school year, a new team, and new curriculum. Each summer I take two science courses that have been designed by West Ed. This summer's courses included Understanding Energy, and Understanding Matter. The Matter course gave me a much needed refresher of chemistry topics, and I've thought long and hard about how to make Energy an overarching idea throughout the year, since it is really found in ALL sciences.

However, the professional learning opportunity that left me yearning for more was a week-long workshop aboard the Research Vessel Lake Guardian. The Lake Guardian is a 180 foot EPA vessel that monitors biological, chemical, and geological characteristics of the Great Lakes. Each year, the Shipboard workshop is on a different Great Lake, this year, we were on Lake Huron.

You might be thinking to yourself... “How does being on a ship make the best professional development?” Well, it is really three-fold.

  1. Connections: In 7 days, I have made life-long friends with the other educators and we frequently communicate about the things we are doing via Facebook, email, and Twitter. Some have already made plans to meet in November to attend a conference together, and we are really there for each other, understanding exactly what we are all going through. It is a great way to bounce ideas off of each other, as well as finding ways for our students to collaborate with one of more classes. For example, we are interested in comparing water quality data of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Mendota, to see what we can find.

  2. Scientists: It isn't every day that you get to work side by side scientists that are conducting research in the field. While we were on the Lake Guardian, we worked with Eric, a chemist that is in charge of the water quality samples, Dave who was a leading researcher in understanding the invasive species called the Round Goby, and Jim, who was a recently retired Limnologist. (A limnologist is like a marine biologist, but they focus on fresh water ecosystems.) All of these scientists exhibited extreme patience and definitely reminded me what it feels like to be a student. We had hours of lectures going well into the night a few days, and we still didn't get to all of the information! I also left with a new appreciation of working with young people and sharing the gift of science. Being on the ship and helping with Mysis tows, fish larval tows, benthos samples and other cool ways to collect data was an awesome experience, but it isn't something I would want to do every day.

  3. Data: Scientists use data. One thing that we have found over the course of years of analyzing standardized tests is that our students don't seem to have enough experience with analyzing data and coming up with conclusions based on it. Before departing from the Lake Guardian, the facilitators and the scientists shared websites and emails so that we can access all of the data that we collected, as well as being able to access data that the Lake Guardian continues to collect on the biannual tours of the Great Lakes in spring and summer. Since the Lake Guardian is out on the lakes for 7 months out of the year, there is more data than we would know what to do with, but giving students access to real data, and tools to collect real data (using the Hydrolab that the EPA will graciously loan teachers to use with students), will be authentic science at its best.
It seems like it was years ago since the 14 educators departed from the port to experience Lake Huron in its glory, but the memories will remain.

In addition to the Lake Guardian workshop, one of my shipmates sent me information about teacher fellowships through EarthWatch. She had done 14 days with a scientist in the Arctic Circle and learned all about global climate change... since it was so highly recommended, I will definitely be looking into this for next summer.

Ms. Jess Henze is a parent, a middle school teacher,  softball player, and outdoors woman.  In fact, she is more comfortable out-of-doors, than in-doors.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Seed Critical Professional Development

Introducing Ms. Kate Jorgensen, my teaching partner for several years, but more importantly, a close and dedicated friend.   Here, she offers a reflective account of a summer professional development experience - one that unexpectedly turned out to be challenging and transformative.  When I read Kate's piece, I thought I caught lightning in a bottle - such a wonder-filled surprise! 

Several colleagues boldly told me that the Greater Madison Writing Project (GMWP) is “the best professional development” teachers could ever experience. Although these remarkable statements came from people I deeply respect, I found myself laughing and questioning these profound claims that the GMWP is professionally empowering. I was skeptical, at best. However critical I might be, I always continue to yearn for new experiences that confront and alter my intellect and disposition. And so I applied for the GMWP Summer Institute (2012). Luckily, I was accepted and attended the Summer Institute at Olbrich Gardens.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about my negative assumptions. The GMWP is, by far, the best professional development I have ever experienced. So what makes it special and what did I learn?

  1. Attitude. The GMWP is part of the National Writing Project. The NWP is a network of sites, anchored at colleges and universities, and aims at a future of high-quality education through engaged writers and learners. The NWP believes in the knowledge and expertise of educators and considers teachers at the core of professional development. At the center of their philosophy are “teacher-leaders” --- those “who are well informed and effective in their practice.” In turn, these teachers can be the greatest resource for educational reform and research and professional development. This approach to professional development honors teachers at the center (Jim Gray, 2000). Of course, this requires an attitudinal and paradigm shift from the top-down model to teacher-as-leader model. Teachers don’t need to be “fixed” by top-down administrative decision making or trendy and expensive programs. (To be clear, I am not blaming my leader here for the low-quality professional development. I recognize principals and administrators have their constraints and are also at the mercy from those above.) What we need is to take ownership of the professional development process and our teaching.
  2. Structure. This model not only begs for an attitudinal shift but also demands a structural shift in professional development. Instead of sit-and-get lectures, the GMWP Summer Institute asks teacher-leaders to engage in reflective writing and inquiry-based learning. While there are many parts of the GMWP Summer Institute I found stimulating, my favorite are the Teachers Workshops (TWs). A T.W. gives teachers a chance to explore a topic or area of interest of their own choosing related to writing instruction in their classroom. Teachers design a workshop based on an authentic question they have about their instruction and their students writing practices. They also present their plan for addressing and exploring the question. This presentation requires a literature review and relevant research, as well as a reflection piece following the T.W. By participating in others’ T.W.s teachers gain an appreciation for colleagues’ expertise, experience, and knowledge. Better yet, these same people offer feedback on your T.W. inquiry.
  3. What I Learned. My T.W. highlighted the writing, thinking, discussing process. The curricular theme was politics, the Election, and the question of compulsory voting.I offered examples of writing prompts and how to analyze competing texts as a way to prepare students for discussion. I also presented how to use discussion as a way to promote deeper thinking and clearer writing through position papers. The questions I asked myself and my collegial audience were:
    1. How can writing encourage, and prepare for, participation in a four-corner discussion?
    2. In what ways can a four-corner discussion encourage writing and therefore deep thinking?
    3. Is this process valuable and meaningful?
    4. In what ways can it be modified to be more effective?

The most valuable answers came from the last two questions, because really I was asking others “how can I make my teaching and therefore my students’ learning more effective and powerful?” Just the act of listening to my peers question parts of my practice and offer ideas and suggest resources would have been uncomfortable in years past. But because all the participants in the GMWP Summer Institute value teacher-at-the-center professional development, I could digest their feedback. It was genuine, authentic, and non-judgmental. Of course I recognize this type of professional development takes trust and respect. I am hopeful that one day this experience will repeat itself and the experts will speak and people will listen.  Only in this dream the experts are the teachers

Kate Jorgensen - Lover of family (especially her nieces), friends, running, outdoors, music, educating middle school students. and all things social and political. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sensitive to Rage

With Emma's encouragement for a date night, Brad and I went to see the Dark Knight Rises.  Even though Brad had already seen it, he was game to see it again, and after hearing the interview on NPR with director Christopher Nolan, I was intrigued.  It was number one on my summer movie list.   From that interview, I learned that the trilogy would be coming to an end which signaled a conclusion to a classic super-hero story.  A story I grew up with, and one I could reference.  Nolan characterized the movie as a heightened "opera" of a sort, and at the time, I didn't interpret that to mean the excitement one finds in visual violence.

I should have known better.  I should have known myself better, to be exact.  Me who rarely watched television growing up.  Me leaving home at 18 and voluntarily killing my television for 15 years.  Me who was so sensitive to action on the screen - action like Dukes of Hazard action, that my dreams were memorable afterwards.   I should not have gone, and then I would not have had to walk out.

Driving away from the theater, all I really wanted was to smoke a cigarette.  I don't even smoke.  And it took some inner gumption to resist asking Brad to just take me to the Hookah lounge.  Damn.  I really wanted a smoke.  Damn.  I really wanted to like the movie!

But the long awaited blockbuster presented such a bleak world view that my initial reaction was that it was not a bit redemptive.   Others I know and reviewers I've read all used the word "redemptive" when describing the movie.  And perhaps that is why I was initially drawn to it.  It's a fascinating way to view movies through those lens.  But the redemptive qualities of the movie or the  characters in it, were not at all like my favorite redemptive movies: "The Spitfire Grill," and "Dead Man Walking."  And I know those are very different movies altoghter, so it's hardly worth comparing.  But I admit that initially I had trouble understanding The Dark Knight Rises through those lens. 

While I agree that Batman is not a redemptive story for Batman himself, or for the psychopathic Bane, I've heard and read there is a strong message of redemption during the movie.  Had I stayed for the entire movie, I might have gotten something more from it.  But as it was, the rage, gore, noise, sadistic  chaos was too much, and too close to the truth of whole communities and people worldwide. 

What I remember from the comic books and cartoons is that Batman was always a story about morality.  That, the good strive to do better even against hopeless odds, and there are complexities in all of us that make us want to do good in the world.  For me though, I'm good with the story on paper without visual effects and the reminders that there are real people who purge their rage on whole cities.

In the end, it made me happy to be on a date with Brad, and as always, he was a fine sport about succumbing to my needs as we walked out of the movie before the resolution.   And as always, spontaneous time together is just plain fun! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reading Racist Books

My closest friends and family know of the often uncomfortable interactions I've had with others regarding "Where I'm From" and for some, have walked the path with me as I seek advice and insight and an ear to bend.  Assumptions and innocent curiosities get the best of people who impulsively catch me off guard (still) when wanting to know my race and ethnicity, and not surprisingly, that of Misa and John-Pio's too.  

Living who I am as a Micronesian (my race) and Chamorro (my ethnicity) should not be this great of a challenge.  

But it is.  And I think about it more than some might think. 

So last night Misa was reading one of the Little House series.   At one point, she asked why Laura's father - a good man - participates in a kind of talent show displaying racial caricatures, and then comments with confusion that Laura - her favorite character - calls the performers "darkies."  I can barely keep up with the ambush of racist imagery when reading classic children’s books, but it is my unavoidable responsibility to explain this along with the multitude of other cultural generalizations.  It challenges my intellectual, social, and emotional self all the time. 

I can barely explain it, really. 

But reading classic children’s books cannot be ignored or avoided, especially when I feel an affinity myself to titles such as The Story of Little Black Sambo and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to name a few.  In the Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder is a product of a time and a place, and when reading them across a span of time, it makes the stories difficult to connect to – strange, in fact.  Portrayals of African and Native Americans seem bluntly stereotypical, yet at the same time, it is part of the value of reading old, classic stories.  I can help Misa discover how people of past times lived and saw the world, taking the good with the bad. 

But even with that reality, there is still the question I intuitively navigate when it comes to encountering obsolete racial attitudes and stereotypes that, if internalized, could hurt or confuse a young person’s ability to navigate our multi-racial world, causing hurt and shame, especially for kids of color.

In my own messy and imperfect parenting role, here is just one of three pieces of advice for myself and others when reading classic children’s books: 

Race and racism exists - talk about it.  Let's face it, colorblindess doesn't work so don't even say it.  In fact, I am my own data point when I say that race is one of the first things I perceive about a person.  Kids don't fake it when they see differences in eye shape, skin color and hair texture so when adults pretend, it confuses them.  Likewise, omitting racist language and imagery ignores my belief and the fact that kids are deeper than we think they are, and understand more than we think they do.  

Does admitting that I have these perceptions make me a racist?  No.  In fact, I believe that for all those people in my past and in my future who have confronted me about my race and ethnicity - that if they were raised or included or could talk about multiracial environment and people - that they would be more conscientious about their kneejerk questions and responses, and have some impulse control.  

We've always had books on our shelves that show the history of people of color - the history of Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American and how they were treated at different times in American history.  If you have books like Si, Se Puede, Pie Biter and even the Magic Tree House series - all do a pretty good job dealing with race and racism in historical context.  These point to the realities but also give kids heroes, people who have struggled and fought against prejudices.  

Kids need to exercise who they are intuitively.  That is, I believe kids are born with compassion, empathy and fairness, and need messages in their social and personal environments that help foster their true nature.  Be explicit - I think that is one active way we can overcome racism - talk about it, don't ignore it.  

Monday, August 13, 2012


With my Birthday Challenge behind me, my focus now will be on fall climbing, racking up some running miles, and hot yoga - my newly discovered and now favorite release activity.  Soon school will start and so will a life of routines and schedules.  I'm going to have a challenging year, I can tell.  And I mean that in a good way.  Plus, I have the mental piece of my Birthday Challenge which is to document 48 posts of something new I learned so I have that to focus on too.  I'm learning all the time so that isn't the challenge.  It's getting it down on paper before or after or during or whenever I find that spare moment. 

So after a full day of rest, my body is still recovering.   Legs got a good enough workout and so did my cardio.  Really, I trained for a half marathon which is a comfortable distance for me.  It was the extra two miles that got to my head.  I was reminded to smile :) when I hit a hard spot, so that's what I did.  Thank you Lupe Fiasco - you turned me on and powered me up on that final leg of the 24k.  Quads were more sore yesterday than they are today - holding a slosh pipe while doing squats is not fun and that's what burned the most in my legs, but yesterday was worse than today and today isn't even that bad.  Shoulders and upper back feel worked but that is subsiding.  Rest is such an important part of recovery, and tomorrow's scheduled massage will feel sooooo good.  Thanks Brad!  

Big love to all my support company near and far, but especially Brad (my most loving and biggest fan), my kids, friends like Annie, Tom, Lily, and Jack, and a few spirited Boulders employees.  Those pillar laps were hard but attainable with your sympathy! It was a great celebration afterwards with Lisa, Molly and kids, Peter and Ruth, and Wendy, Mark, and their girls. I didn't drink 4.8 Sangrias but thanks to my family and friends, the vice was certainly met in solidarity.

Here are a few other pictures to share of the days leading up to my Birthday Challenge, and here's to another year of fitness and personal goals with family and friends.

Bouldering on my birthday at Devils Lake

My awesome sweet nephew, Bryon, here visiting last week. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Birthday Challenge!

Getting ready for my Birthday Challenge where I get to suffer for fun!  I'll be 48, so here's what's on the list:

  • 24k run (half of 48k cause good golly, that distance is for people like the Lottridges . . . ), so a 15 mile run with Brad as my support. 
  • 48 routes to climb at Boulders. 
  • 48 times traversing around the pillar at Boulders. 
  • 4.8 minute plank hold. 
  • 48 push ups. 
  • 48 pull ups. 
  • 48 squats with the slosh pipe. 
  • Hold slosh pipe for 4.8 minutes. 
  • Blog for 48 days about something new I learned. 
  • Drink 4.8 white Sangrias. 

Last night as I watched the Olympic decathlon event, I was reminded of the time around early 2000 when I read about Alison Dunlap, at the time the worlds best female mountain biker.  Outside magazine published a picture of her after a major race labeling in detail all the bruises, aches, scrapes, and pain she experienced - mostly visible scars and serious owies.  I filed that image away because at the time, I had my first bout of long term elbow tendonitis from rock climbing.  I reluctantly took six months off from climbing, and I felt like that injury was completely debilitating.

That article about Alison and her wrecked body put me in check.   I could no longer describe my elbow pain as debilitating or even "painful" for that matter.  Instead, I took stock of my body and the fact that 99% of it was clearly working well, took one last look at Alison's featured owies, and decided that my capacity to be a bad-ass was within reach in spite of a hurt elbow.  I recovered well from the tendonitis and can't really recall an injury since then that has kept me from climbing or running or training for significant periods of time. 

So when I was watching the athletes compete in the decathlon, I considered the training and kinds of potential injuries those athletes might get and basically told my future self to suck it up.  I'm not injured now - admittedly a little under-motivated, but 100% healthy.  And not that I am anticipating or wishing my body into pain or debilitation from any of my athletic pursuits - I'm just sayin' that in my pursuit of fitness, there are so many athletes to look to for inspiration and strength during my low periods.

As I prepare mentally (just two days away - yikes!) for my annual Birthday Challenge, I'm relying on what I've been coached on, and practiced since I was a kid, then teen, then adult.  That is,

My body can do more than I think it can. 

My mind can push my body to its limit, and

What I can't train for today, I can do tomorrow.  

In my mind, I look at my Birthday Challenge as a microthlon - a mini variation of the decathlon I watched intently, topped off by the many athletes I know of, as friends and in the public world who inspire me to get out there and get it done.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"This is what it's like to climb with women . . . "

Posting mobile - pardon typos and haphazard pictures and videos . . . We went climbing today - hung around Dog Walk boulder until Kevin sent and until Sam decided she was done, even though she could have sent too. Justin woke up after downing his coffee drink and had some great links for only his second time bouldering at Devils Lake. Maybe he'll fall in love with that pink-purply quartzite. Katie handed out beta because she's already done the problems 174 times, and because she's awesome.

I'd say the real story of today was the verbal sparring and exchanges between the group - uh, between Katie and Sam, I mean.  Thoroughly entertaining, I captured some of their shenanigans on film which you can scroll down if you're eager to witness what it's like to climb with women - particularly, these two women!  Good times today - we went to Dog Walk and up to Jenga and Hungry Hippos.

Justin on Magnum P.I.
Baker on Jenga
Sam climbing square
Great work on Magnum P.I., Kevin!

If it's not breasts or booty's, it's something else.  

FUN day!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No More Thorns

Professional development has always been a thorn in my side - not because I don't want to participate, or because there aren't any good ones out there - because there are, but because the cycle deceives me in the same way, all the time.  First, I'll hear about a course and get psyched.  I write it on my calendar admittedly with a squint and silent under-commitment, and then plan the rest of my day-to-day with some long range events and trips intermittently scheduled.  Then the week before the actual class I start to feel anguish and the uncertainty of my commitment gets the best of me and I begrudge myself for signing up in the first place.  And then I get there and it's either as good as it gets or as good as I make it or really not all that interesting, and my personal reality of this cycle is affirmed.

And so it goes with professional development.  That, and well, there's the adolescent and two little kids and my husband.  And there's climbing.  All significant priorities and all satisfactory reasons to lay off the development of my professional self.

This summer was different, though.  This time in April, I took notice.  As professional development opportunities came across my desktop, I mindfully looked them over and actually chose to break the cycle.  The courses were interesting and timely, and well . . . I willingly wanted to learn some new ideas and soak in what others had to say.

I didn't feel that same uncertainty I described or experience that familiar cycle, and I think, "When the student is ready the teacher will appear."  Here are the top three things I want to apply from my first class - AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.  This class focused on critical reading and deep reading strategies for expository texts.

1)  Since my students have difficulty summarizing both orally and in writing, there's a need to isolate synthesizing as a skill.  I need to do this with more intention if I am going to guide them into considering more than what the text is about.  Marking the text is one strategy that includes a) numbering paragraphs, b) circling key terms, and c) underlining information relevant to the reading purpose.

2) Charting the text helps organize students thinking so that there is a distinction between what the author of the article is saying and what the author is doing.  For instance, to determine what the author is saying, questions to ask as a reader are: What is this section about? What is the content? What did I learn from this?  Making this intentional as a reader could increase and improve focus and comprehension.  The other question, What is the author doing? means the reader determine if the author is giving an example, interpreting data, sharing a story, summarizing information, or reflecting on a process.  Finally, the reader asks what does the author mean, which ultimately gets after the significance of the message or why the content is important to us today.

3) Socratic Seminar was my favorite idea, mostly because I know my students like to engage in "arguments" or in the opportunity to say what is on their mind.  I've structured learning and performance assessments like this and called it a Panel Discussion, but I like this format for different reasons.  First, there is an inner and outer circle, where the students in the inner circle are part of the discussion - free flowing, yet students must be accountable for staying on topic and citing evidence of their argument or thought, as well as asking questions to the group.  Second, the outer circle are listeners, which is important for active engagement.  I've perused websites about this format and like this one best: Socratic Seminar

That's it - the top three ideas I believe I can and will directly apply as I begin this next school year.  So thankful to have the opportunity to learn some useful practices and even more thankful I broke away from my funk - no more thorns!