“Doing” Justice: More than just forms

Donalyn Miller recently tweeted about a recording sheet she uses for the 40 Book Challenge she not only “invented” but practices with her students in her classroom.  As I’ve recently added her book “The Book Whisperer” to the book study portion of a course I’ve developed, Donalyn’s tweet caught my attention:

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My curiosity over why Donalyn Miller would feel compelled to tweet an endorsement of  Debbie Ohi’s collection of forms led me to read this post from August 2014:  The 40 book Challenge Revisited.

Her point this:

… the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve frequently heard fellow educators reference that they are “doing” the Daily Five or the Daily CAFE. However, digging in a little deeper, misinformed yet well-intentioned educator’s idea of the “doing” is more likely to be incorporating some of the “centers” (sorry Gail and Joan, I know that’s not what you intended) or using some printable for students downloaded from one of the educator enterprise sites.

The Daily Five practice is based on developing a trusting relationship between learners and teacher. The development of this trusting relationship is every bit as important as the student activities.  A gradual release of responsibility leads to developing students independence and accountability.  Joan and Gail’s commitment to research and development of their own practice is the powerful glue that, in my opinion, holds the Daily Five and CAFE together. This becomes the basis for educator changes that lead to best practice.

Shiny new ideas are terrific, of course. That is the basis of being “green and growing”, as one of my former administrators used to say.  However, without fully understanding a method for management of teacher, the practice become so simplified that it often becomes just another tedious fill-in-the-blank task to keep students occupied.


And that, is not a best practice of any kind.


Bulletin Boards

When I first started teaching, I changed bulletin boards monthly – always with, what I perceived was a “cute” theme.  Laminated cutouts, tracings from an overhead projector…. I diligently changed the boards in my classroom to reflect seasons and my own idea of what would make the classroom seem cute or homey.

Oh boy, have things changed! Next Tuesday, when my students enter our shared space for the first time since last June, those cute, decorative, perfect bulletin boards will be missing in action.

Why? Several reasons. Over time, I’ve recognized that the perfect, teacher-created bulletin boards can create a dizzying space. While I don’t want the walls to be institutionally devoid of anything, there is a balance needed. Kids don’t need to have more stuff to distract them. So, mainly anything I put on the walls is necessary as a reminder (example: Daily Five I-Charts) and mostly co-created with my kids.

Now I use one color for a background throughout the classroom. Following Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s lead (the “2 Sisters“), I use a very light pink which is easy on the eyes and not a distraction from what will end up on those boards. IMG_0008_2

Putting up backgrounds is tedious, measuring, pulling the material taut and stapling it to the ugly grey material of the board takes lots of time. When I used to use construction paper, it would fade very quickly. So for the last several years, I’ve “invested” in plastic table cloths from our local party store. This material doesn’t fade, stays up, and staple/pin holes are pretty minimal. And they are inexpensive. Sweet!

Similarly, I use a border that stays in the background, but ties all of the display areas together cohesively.  The black border that I have chosen is a simple, corrugated, plain border which just happens to be reasonably inexpensive.

As you can see, outside of the bare bones of what will become our CAFE board and an alphabet strip, the boards are bare and ready for the students and me to begin creating essential reminders of what we are learning or student work.

We are (almost) ready for the first day.

A Common Thread

If you don’t subscribe to the weekly Tip of the Week newsletter from the Sisters – Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, you are missing out on something really special.

This week’s front page essay was written by Joan and it really struck a chord with me. Teachers in current education practice are often stuck between a rock and a hard place: we often are charged with a mandate that we, as teachers, as professionals, know is not in the best interest of our students. What do we do – beside the obvious choice of continually attempting to change thinking? Joan – and Gail – raise an issue that, in my opinion, makes education a different kind of career.

Or does it? When an employee in the private sector – an employee at a large corporation – encounters a mandate that just doesn’t make sense is there ever any pushback? When the directive is one that impedes or prevents the employee from accomplishing a goal, do employees abandon their own thought and analysis to blindly follow a directive “just because”?

My sense, which is anecdotal of course,  is that they do not. Maybe educators need to be more forceful advocates for what benefits our students when we get a mandate that clearly won’t be helpful.

Which brings up another blog entry that was recommended to me this week: The Real Mr. Fitz. In his “Letter to Mr. Obama”, David Lee Finkle points out the irony of some of the more head-scratching initiatives that have impacted education in recent memory. Need I mention it is statistically improbable – if not impossible – that 100% of all students will read on grade level by 2015.

As David Lee Finkle says

…reformers are saying we should put students first. That is what I try to do every single day in my classroom. But I feel the reformers are putting everything but students first: test scores, data, common standards and assessments, value-added models, and standardized curricula are all coming first. Real, flesh and blood students with real problems, hopes and dreams are the last thing on the reformer’s agenda.

Two blog postings connecting with a common theme: teachers DO know what they are doing, we are here for the kids.