What It Is
More: Last Friday, about 6:15 in the a.m., I click on this blog because even though you know websense won't let you in, you click anyway. Thirty-six hours after writing that I'm bummed I can't type things at work before the sun rises, all of a sudden, I can. For some reason, websense is no longer keeping me out, almost as if someone read this and then... Naw, really?
In the event this new occurrence is somehow not accidental, let me also state for the record that all middle school athletic department budgets are underfunded to the tune of $7000 to $1200 per school. Transportation costs are up, officiating costs are up, it's unfair to expect schools to rely on parents to take kids to games during standard working hours, and extensive bureaucratic roadblocks stand in the way of fundraising. So, um, I'll be checking my budget print-out in about thirty-six hours.
I'm real big on speak-in-complete-sentence-time. I plug in some newly purchased lights and, all thematic disconnects between Peter Griffin and then complete sentence notwithstanding, it's on. You better believe I want subject-predicate-punctuation, and you better believe I can hear, literally hear when you didn't capitalize the first letter in that sentence.
Girls basketball started. I've got two tall girls with long arms who'll stand under the basket, a little quickness, and an almost point-guard. I don't know how we'll score, but who knows. If only I can navigate the winding road of game scheduling and rescheduling, making nicey-nice with the youth center folks, and not getting too down when the losses pile up, things will be good.
Everything's about tweaking. You used to read the AR Goal Updates outloud? Nah. Make a schedule and have kids take turns updating while you review homework, starters, and so on. You used to haphazardly wander through the REWARDS program? Save it. Make a 14-page user's manual for the middle school teacher, and work with consistency of forethought. You used to give kids mild guidance on binder maintenance, but remained hands off? Forget that. Make a sample binder available for student access, post a table of binder contents, and hold binder detention for the fools (which are well attended). You used to endlessly staple new quizzes on top of the old ones they needed to retake? Please. You hole punch everything and place them in nifty three-pronged folders, and dig it: They're ain't nothing classier than working out of a quiz binder. You used to wait until December to break out the consciously unself-conscious hand-ball playing as relationship building? Nope. Do it now, and often.
Back in the day, [Eisenstadt] and I pioneered the Flatbook, a diary/essay/portfolio designed to engage kids in writing, practice general writing structures, build writing tolerance and gumption, and apply all those nifty grammar skills you've been practicing. Kids took to it, mostly, like ducks to water, finding outlets for Raiders stickers, ticket stubs, and all those gross pictures they take of each other at the mall. The thing is, grading those things sucked. I had to carry the notebooks home in at least two, but sometimes as many as three androgynous teacher bags, and sometimes there just weren't any more comments you could write about another poorly penned essay on the merits of Chivas.
But I'm getting back on the horse, committed to using Flatbooks as the authentic assessment portion of my English Experts Program (for which I created a tremendous rubber stamp at Office Depot). Okay kid, you achieved Masters status for NOUNS [pronouns] on my quizzes, now let's see you produce some writing that demonstrates pronoun knowledge without being prompted to do so. You can do that, you earn Ph.D status for that skill. Big time.
Two wicked smart guys, with no previous connection to each other, have been whispering in my ear about the level of explicitness in education, especially teaching, especially in those places where folks are finding success where others have failed.
See, nothing in teaching is explicit, expect all that stuff that you don't want to be so, like Saxon Math, Open Court, and the introduction to High Point thematic units. Instead, all those so-called best practices exist in the gross, murky realm of the personal. These strategies are always somebody's, whether we're talking about big names who charge big dollars for appearances, or that guy who did a workshop you thought was pretty cool. No one will leave my workshop talking about an objective-based, mastery-driven approach to grammar instruction, with required retest and student driven assessment tracking, but they will say I want to use some of [TMAO's] stuff.
It's not a small problem, because we're all so dependent on human capital to function as the human caulking solution in our broken and inefficient systems. Those individuals perform in ways that exist outside of, and in many ways contrary to, prevailing norms. They also tend not to make 30-year careers out of this never-ending entry-level position*. And when they go, their knowledge goes with. And then we start over again.
All of which is a preamble to my new project of making my program explicit. I created a graphic organizer, type into it and embed my documents, and the resulting product is an explicit rendering of what I did with the kids. While there's not a lot here for the all-important how of instruction (like, at 10:47, I made a goofy-ass face that broke the tension of non-understanding and got us going again), but it hits pretty hard at the what. And that's big. Not in the sense of what were the big topics or main points -- those I've got down -- but I'm laying out all the instructional spirals, implicit reviews, explicit front-loadings that make the difference between gap closing and gap extending.