Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Calm Before the Calm

 Teaching: Madison Jr. HS, 1964

I'm going to post my memoir somewhere for the world to see. Written during my last sabbatical in 2005, it was intended to be a set of stories at different points of my academic life, that together show my growth as an educator who tried to put equity into everything he did. The unpublished book is titled, "Teaching For Connection: Relationship, Race, and Reciprocity and Keeping It Read." I ran it past a publisher who'd expressed interest in it while I was writing. Upon review, he said I needed to decide who my audience was. It was too "all over the place." Well, I don't know. I was angling for the chapters being seen as a group of stories, really, a narrative of professional encounters.

While I'm deciding, I'm placing a teaser here, the Table of Contents and the Preface to the memoir. The Preface is an expression of what I wanted to accomplish with this text, and why.

Have Fun.
Here Goes

Table of Contents 

C1 Images In My Brain.  Questions From My Heart.  Race Becomes The Window.
C2 First Encounters Of Another Kind.
C3 Another Part of Growing Up.  Meeting Dr. Shame.
C4 Continuing On With Growing Up.  The Up-Side of Dr. Shame.
C5 Urban Teaching.
C6 Urban Education.
C7 The First Real Job.  The GLS Program.
C8 My Intellectual Beginnings of Thinking About Difference.  Conceptual Systems Theory.
C9 Roosevelt Junior High School
C10 Connection Personified.  Carl Rogers.
C11 Multiage Classrooms.  The Power of Mismatched (Vertical) Environments.
C12 APEX. The American Primary Experience Program.
C13 Mathematics and Gender
C14 Reframing My Career.  Once, Twice, Three Times an Educator.
C15 Dottie's Story.  Complex Instruction: Social Justice in Action
C16 Opportunities Everywhere.
C17 Feeling Vulnerable.  What If Nobody Comes To Your Party?



We who are white do not want to talk about our white skin or explore what “whiteness” has to do with all that is going on in our own lives and in the lives of our students.  Now, I believe, more than ever, it is time to talk.  It is time to let our children talk and our colleagues talk.  It is time to study our memories: to explore what it was in our childhood that formed our racial definitions, our prejudices.  It is time to let our students teach us, to look for historians who will tell us the whole truth, to look for activists who can inform us.  It is time to make mistakes and learn from them (Landsman, xii).

This book had its origins in my urge to write about the intersection of my commitment to equity and my life as a teacher.  My personal litmus test as a teacher is that every one of my students learns as much as they can while they are with me, no exceptions, no excuses.  My personal litmus test as a teacher educator is that every one of my student’s public school students learns as much as they can while they are with the people I am teaching, no exceptions, no excuses.  It’s important that they learn a lot, and that they like what they are learning. That’s my definition for what it means to be an equity educator. How to do this has taken me on a number of pedagogical journeys across the years of my teaching: teaching in urban schools and drop-out programs, conducting research on successful multiage classrooms, creating a teacher education program for teachers who wanted to teach in multiage settings, being a teacher of teachers, and now, teaching how to conduct complex instruction, a particularly powerful form of cooperative learning.  I’m taking a chance that these journeys might be an interesting, even instructive read for those of you who might share common interests and even motivations.

I am beginning my thirty-eighth year of teaching.  I began teaching in a school that urged me to connect everything I taught to the lives of my students.  The key to hooking their interest, I was told, was to make it real!  That was in 1964.  Last summer, the summer of 2004, I attended a Faculty Resource Network seminar at New York University entitled Sampling Hip-Hop: Popular Culture As A Pedagogical Tool.  Once again I heard that theme of connection.  I was once again drawn into the pedagogical power of keeping whatever it was I was going to teach, real!  Thirty-eight very different years separated the two messages.  The ingredients for student engagement remained very much the same.

I’ve always tried to keep my teaching real.  What that means has changed from that very first summer school at Croton Elementary School in Syracuse, N.Y. to this past year as a teacher educator at the University of Vermont. This book is my story about trying to  keep it real over my years of public school and university based teaching.  We keep it real by learning to connect with the individuals we teach.  We connect with them as individuals, and we connect with them as members of social groups.  Connection comes in all kinds of ways.  This book explores the connections that have become thematic in my professional life. 

I’ve written these stories as personal narratives of connection.  They all start with me.  Some refer to classroom experiences, others refer to historical events during the years I was growing up, others relate moments in time where I made clear decisions about my path of development. Some are intensely personal recountings of a few demons I had to meet and make amends with so I could get on with the good work of being the best educator I could be.

Three sub-themes thread their way throughout these narratives of connection: relationship, race, and reciprocity. 

Relationship simply means that at the heart of the teaching/learning process is the relationship between and among the people who are engaged in that process; big people, little people, big and little people, big and little people of many shades of color.  This relationship is about connecting with the content of what is being taught and hopefully, learned.  But it is also very much about affective caring and having concern for the “other” who is involved. “Unconditional positive regard” I believe is the way Carl Rogers termed it when he wrote about the facilitation of interpersonal relationships.  I would also include the unconditional positive regard we must have for each other across the groups we affiliate with and relate to in our multicultural nation.

Race simply mirrors my belief that our thoughts about race and racism, stated and unstated,  form the subtext of every teaching/learning endeavor in this country today.  When I consider race, I must consider my “place” in the dynamics of power, privilege, and pigmentation.  I don’t think any, let me say that again, any discussion of what to teach, who to teach, how to teach, how to measure what we’ve taught, and why teach it in the first place should take place without deeply considering the dynamics of power, privilege, and pigmentation that inevitably affect the people involved in the teaching and learning process.  Finally,

• Reciprocity. Reciprocity simply affirms my belief that when I teach, I am in a transactional exchange with my students.  I stand to be changed in some way by the nature of that reciprocity just as I expect them to be changed because of what we do together.  If I am open to that change, then I am more able to keep it real.

Ultimately, this book is about a reformation of my own identity.  The last several years has seen a renaissance of scholarship concerning the social, political, and educational implications of white people coming to know their privilege.  My considerations of my own pigmentation, power, and privilege has re-shaped my identity as a teacher educator, for sure.  The narratives herein surely show how that process is working for me.

Each chapter is written to stand on its own merits.  The narratives also follow the chronology of my life.  As I took time to step back and see my life as one life rather than a collection of separate events occurring in decidedly different times,  I saw clearly for the first time that the soil that nourished and fed the interests I pursue today was tilled in my very early years. 

Part One contains several narratives from these early years. These narratives highlight the impact visual imagery had on how I both thought and felt about the blatant racism of America.  They also show my membership in the community of privilege which refused to see or could not see its collusion in maintaining the racist underpinnings of so much of what goes on in this country.

Part Two refers to events in my learning-to-teach days, 1964 – 1975.  This was a time when each day seemed framed by blockbuster historical events.  These events have become the stuff of nostalgia, their power to inspire action dulled by a new generation’s concern over more material definitions of well being.

Part Three continues with my career as a teacher educator in Vermont and brings my narrative history of learning about the stuff of connecting to its most recent manifestation. 

I have written this book from the vantage point of today, looking back on events that have been important as I’ve thought about the power of connection in the teaching/learning relationship.  It has been impossible to really “get back there” although from time to time, I’ve used journal entries made at the time the events of the narratives were unfolding.  But I want you to understand each story is constructed hindsight.  The conceptual structure I have today is what I’ve used to write the understandings of this book. 

Prologue and postlude narratives bookend the chapters.    Each is part of one story, a story that happened recently; a story that had immediate implications for my classes and my equity challenge.  I have tried to employ them in such a way as to evidence the fact that my past is very much a part of my present, and vice versa.  I leave the connections to be made between the bookends and my stories to you.  

 Presenting the Apex Endowed Scholarship
November 3, 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Students Designing Four Session Plan, With Sticky Notes  November 2017

I should be using this blog more consistently.  (Now that is an understatement!) Anyway, a full year has gone by, I did teach the University Teaching Course once again, and I have some reflections on the ideas of my last entry (Geez!) of what I thought I might do.

Here are the elements I mentioned along with an updating commentary.

Preface:  Well, every group is different.  And this year we used a new text, a book by Sarah Cavanaugh called The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom With the Science of Emotion.  Pairs of students chose parts of successive chapter to present - their choice - and we critiqued the teaching using a new assessment form I created to more closely capture the "good teaching" concepts I planned into the course.  The photo that follows captures a part of the assessment protocol.

Portion of Teaching Asssessment Protocol

1. Correcting crappy objectives.

This year we used a new text, a book by Sarah Cavanaugh called The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom With the Science of Emotion. I changed texts because Lang's On Course wasn't that helpful for here and now analysis of teaching practice.  (His new book Small Teaching: Everyday lessons from the Science of Learning looks pretty good, by title anyway.  I will review this for sure before selecting a text for next year's version of University Teaching).

I usually start my course in pretty traditional fashion, giving an overview to a big picture "model of teaching" that ties together in triangular array, instruction, learning, and content.  I use Bloom to talk about learning and gradually over the next several sessions, teach the distinctions between goals, performances, objectives, and that specificity for the learners in terms of outcomes is both an equity issue as well as an instructional/learning necessity.  I chose the new text because frankly, when it came to the emotional side of the learning process, physiologically speaking, all my students had to go on was my word plus some scans of brain activity that I love to use and I think prove the point of action-based teaching.  Cavanaugh's book deals with emotion and feeling in spades, hence the adoption.  Hence, too, the shift in not dealing with objectives and cognitive taxonomies up front in the course.

Unfortunately, objective writing only arrived on the doorstep of our work at our last class and frankly, that was not the best.  I did see plenty of evidence of action based learning activities in our four session planning matrix assignment, but I also saw plenty of passive learning objectives as well.  

So, we didn't do the "correcting crappy objectives" this time around, I still see the need for it, and in 2018 we will used work that I've prepared but not gotten to that I know works.

2. Communicating with cartoons. 

We did more work with cartoons this time around.  I was impressed with the challenge adding a paragraph or even a few sentences of substantive (research informed) explanation to the cartoons when first I used them in 2016.  I modeled better and stretched cartooning into two adjacent classes.  The students got what I was driving at better and we did the activity as a small group collaboration in poster creation so the assistance worked to enhance the final products.  A portion of one poster follows.

3. Doing small groups with rules and norms, task and resource cards.  Assessing the impact of norms and roles on group processing.

The poster creation project was a huge success.  These PhD students were highly motivated by the option I'd given them and they worked seriously at trying to focus Cavanaugh's sometimes elaborate explanations.  Plus, I used the opportunity of small group work to teach some small group work strategies, especially in structuring the work.  I chose the format of activity cards, advocated in Elizabeth Cohen's form of small group collaborative practices called Complex Instruction.  It did not go unnoticed that giving one activity card to a group of four, and specifically locating the responsibility to make sure all members understood the task with the facilitator, ensured everyone knew what they had to do before setting out to do it.  What follows is the card.

4. Using the feedback sheets to assess their chapter presentations.  Perhaps even having them design their own feedback sheet, all based on substantive research of course.  We could start with critiquing mine.

This year I improved the feedback sheet making it more aligned with what we were actually studying in the course.  See example in preface to this entry.  That's the good news.  The not so good news is that it is too long for serious analytical activity each time we do a presentation, and students are prone to give it a not so serious run through, egged on by the fact that we never had quite enough time in class to give it its due.  I'm convinced it has to be filled out consequent to the presentations for freshness of recall.  I'll continue to work on it.  I like the format.  I may make it more rubric-like in design.  They like the teaching requirement.  To be continued.  

Incidentally, I did "stop and deliver" explanations about my own teaching strategies which helped the class begin to establish a kind of critique mentality for teaching.  I liken this to what teachers of art do when they step back with a class, observed a piece of artwork, and do a structured description and critique.  That's the model in my brain only for an episode of teaching and we'll get closer to it next year.  I promise.

5. Critiquing my syllabus using the chapter on beginnings, and then redesigning the syllabus.

We did this by way of a discussion board entry followed by a class discussion.  It was okay, not great.  Lang actually has a good section in On Course on syllabus preparation and I will use it in some fashion next year.  I like the idea of using my syllabus for critique as one of the first interactive activities in class.  It does present me as "approachable" and it does give me the opportunity to explain why I wrote things the way I did and what I chose not to include and why.  Kind of a window into this professor's reasoning process for how he conceived of a one credit, seven session course on University Teaching.

The Four Session Planning Matrix

In years past, one of the major course assignments has been to plan a fifteen session course.  I'd jump start the process in class.  They model we followed was to build a matrix on chart sized paper using sticky notes.  Along the top of the matrix were the fifteen sessions;  down the side were the elements of planning, suggested by me.  Topics, Subtopics, Student Learning Outcomes, Teaching Activities, Universal Design for Learning Principles and Guidelines, Resources Needed, etc.  The students needed to select at least five.  So, this 5x15 matrix was a major assignment for sure.

This year in preparing for this year's version of the course, I decided this assignment was too big.  They didn't need 15 sessions to have an applied experience in course (not lesson) preparation.  And I didn't need them to do this much work to see whether or not they "got" essential content in the course.

So this year, we did a four session matrix and they constructed it in our last class as a kind of last hurrah to what we had learned over the seven sessions of the course.  I worked really well.  Everyone chose their own course or workshop experience, either one they will have to teach already on the books, or one that was in their head that they would like to teach.  I was worried they wouldn't be able to pull it off in one two hour class session but everyone got a great start and one student actually finished the assignment. One photo I absolutely love is a picture of a student in the midst of planning with a pile of torn sticky notes next to her chart paper.  Those torn sticky notes represented to me what I am so keen to make happen in this course:  cognitive revision - better ideas coming out of the constant prainwork of planning across multiple sessions of teaching.  In my mind this is not a linear process.  As you think of something in the third session, for instance, you will revise the lead up activity for this "something" in sessions one and two, and so on.  This student was revising like mad as she worked out the logic and reality of her four session learning experience and frankly, that was all I could ask for as her teacher.  That she continually have the knowledge, inclination, and skills to improve her valued designs for learning while in the act of creation!

The End. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

NR 386 - The class called University Teaching.  Twelve PhD students who will end up teaching some undergrads in their careers and unlike most doc students, these twelve get to explore the world of university teaching with me.  We think about things they rarely ponder, things that are on the minds of public school teachers all the time - lesson planning, how best to introduce a lesson to get max student participation, how to close out a lesson so students hear what it was they think they may have learned (if they even have an idea!), and so on.

I was frustrated at the end of the class as I always am.  This is not a new thing to me.  After all my years of teaching, I know the best way to get these characters to think differently about how to teach well is to involve them in hands on action with the methods and ideas we talk about.  Mass practice, distributed practice, building relationships, wait time - strategies with proven track records vis-a-vis increasing student learning.  My frustration is I always run out of time in class and either I don't get to do what I'd planned to do, or I do and we have little or no time to process the activity.  Granted, I'm working with the cream of the crop but still, they are young, they are inexperienced, their models may not have been so great, and they don't realize that teaching and learning are actually connected and that they have as much responsibility for ensuring the latter as they do delivering the former.

So I thought I'd use this blog as a repository of 45 minute activities I could do in class that we could process using frameworks (UDL, Bloom) and teaching theory (mastery, inquiry, projects) to get the biggest bang for their buck.  So here goes... .  I'm hoping to do one of these for each class if I have the honor of teaching this course again next Fall.

1. Correcting crappy objectives.

2. Communicating with cartoons.  Above is one of mine, along with substantive comment from text.

3. Doing small groups with rules and norms, task and resource cards.  Assessing the impact of norms and roles on group processing.

4. Using the feedback sheets to assess their chapter presentations.  Perhaps even having them design their own feedback sheet, all based on substantive research of course.  We could start with critiquing mine.

5. Critiquing my syllabus using the chapter on beginnings, and then redesigning the syllabus.

Gotta go.  But this will grow.
Thanks for listening.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fun Pictures with the Moment Macro Lens

I love taking pictures with my iPhone.  For me, the accumulated albums are an authentic and personal statement revealing the life being lived around me.  Few of the pictures are "posed" in the traditional way and many catch unsuspecting moments in the lives of those important to me.  Sometimes I'll put the iPhoto file of my iMac on automatic play just to see if I can remember the details of my life that at one time or another were important to capture with the phone.

So last Christmas, my family gifted me with a Moment Tele lens.  Moment, a company of young millennial photographers produces a wide, tele, and macro lens for the iPhone.  They are quality products - these people have designed products that they desired to enhance their photographic endeavors and clearly, the rest of us are beneficiaries.  Because they are bikers, hikers, world travelers, and self-proclaimed photo nerds, their products are to be taken seriously.

My experiences with the Tele lens were good and I learned a lot about the interface between lens, phone, and my life in terms of what excited me photographically speaking.  I love shooting "interiors," literally and figuratively.  My usual mode of shooting is using a Pentax K-7 with the 18-55mm zoom.  The lens works for me, particularly shooting in the wide angle ranges.  I'm no pro, so most shooting is as much discovery and surprise as it is strategy and plan.  But with my abiding interest in the macro world, my interest in the Moment Macro lens just won't go away.  The iPhone is a great tool for shooting macro already so to be enhanced by its own especially designed Macro lens seems too good to be true.

I was sharing all this with a dear friend a few weeks ago in response one of those questions I prefer to duck, "What are you doing for yourself these days?"  (I can never come up with a comfortable answer as my inner voice whispers to me, "Not much!".)   So I told her about the interiors idea that I continue to explore and she mentioned that her younger son, Alden, has a Macro lens for his iPhone.  When she mentioned to him my interests he offered to share his Macro lens with me, an opportunity I just jumped at.  He also was interested in seeing some pictures that were taken using the lens.  So these are for you, Alden.  I'm posting five pictures and will add a bit of commentary to each one.

Picture One.
Rocky Neck Surface
This closeup is of a small section a painting.  The artist has a studio on Rocky Neck, Gloucester MA.  We try to visit her studio (called Imagine) every summer because there are such good vibes there and she does wonderful things with inks, paints, found objects, driftwood, etc.  This tiny section of photograph is part of her rendering of the word LOVE.  I'm drawn to the etching quality of the photo.  She uses blades of all sorts as well as brushes to put her paint to paper or wood or, well, etc.

Joekai 1.
My youngest grandson is six, almost seven years old.  He's just beginning to make the shift from scribble to concrete representation in his drawings.  I took several pictures of his figures - family members - because they are so darn cute and Happy.  His first picture is a self-portrait and yes, he does have curly hair.  I'm drawn to the joy that pops out at you when you get close to this character!

Joekai 2.
Another smiling fellow.  I was particularly happy to see the detail of pupils in this fellow's eyes, a detail I would never have noticed had it not been for the Macro capacity of the lens.

No, not science/tech/engineering/math;  Pomegranate.  This photo was taken looking down at the cut stem of said fruit.  Wow.  I saw things I'd never seen before.  The Macro function added a dimension to the real almost alive fruit I'd never observed.  Look closely.  It's almost like there are little mushrooms growing in the stem, which there weren't!  And if you'd like to know more about the politics of Pomegranates, read on. Meet The Resnicks (Mother Jones)

Living On The Edge.
I'd just finished slicing some parsley (flat-leafed) for something I was cooking when the phrase "living on the edge" drifted through my mind.  I kind of like living on the edge sometimes, but not all the time, that's for sure.  Sometimes, not so good things can happen to you as is the case for these parsley leaves, now separated from their parents, now fully consumed.  (Note the edge of the knife.  First of all, the Macro lens reveals it; secondly, it has regular marks on it from my sharpening stone.  Not sure that's a good thing.

In terms of favorites, I think "living on the edge" is my least favorite.  I've chosen the other three as favorites: two because of the detail in the smiles, one because of how the paint is arranged, and the other because of the small world (the mushrooms) revealed.

Thanks for asking, Alden.  And thanks for the loan of the lens.  It will be returning soon via your Mom.


Addendum: Picture 6.  Alden, I forgot about this one and it is perhaps my most favorite of all that I've taken with your Macro lens.  When I was a little kid growing up, my Dad had this humidor next to the big easy chair in which he spent many evenings.  On the weekends, he's smoke a cigar from this humidor.  It was always an odd object to me, he never explained where it came from though I asked.  I was always drawn to the little dog on the top of the humidor's substantial cap.  I took a picture of the dog using the lens and I have never, ever seen the detail in this little fellow.  It's pretty amazing craftsmanship given its size.  The origins are Chinese, I do believe.  Here he is.

Addendum, Picture 7.  I was walking Kuma.  It was a fairly cold Winter day - temps in the teens, breeze coming up the hill from the lake.  Not a day to be without gloves for any amount of time for sure.  Walking the usual route, the UVM path that goes under the small memorial arch.  I kiddingly told my Grandson Joekai that I'd met an ancient man with the most distinguished face, one of those faces that held "character".  I'd asked the ancient one if he'd let me take a picture of him and he said "sure" and so I did.  This is the picture, not macro, just real close up.  2-10-18

Monday, April 4, 2016

Nina Simone - I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (with lyrics) - HD

One of my all time favorite jazz singers singing one of my all time favorite jazz compositions.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I was in Boston this past weekend, visiting family.  You've all had an NPR moment, right?  These are the moments Tom Gjelton or Terry Gross or Gwen Ifell make you pull over and stop just to listen to something that's captured your heart and mind; aka "driveway moments".  On the way down, I had one such moment.  Except I kept on driving and discouragingly I drove out of signal range.

I was listening to an "On Point" interview with Renee Graham and Jamilah King, Boston Globe and Mic News correspondents respectively, about the new protest moment we are in.  The conversation was brought about because of the pushback to Beyonce's SuperBowl "Formation" performance and Lamar Kendrick singing in chains at the Grammy's.  I found the podcast and it's worth a listen for sure.

I also want to draw your attention to the comments that have flooded the site since the program aired on Friday last.  There's some great music of the past mentioned and included.  And going back to the days when I was in my twenties, there's a great YouTube of Les McCann and Eddie Harris playing "Compared To What." 

I've remembered that message over all these years.  And, should you really be interested in these recent mainstream connections to BLM, here's an analysis and discussion of Beyonce's SB performance from the NYT.

 As some of you know, I am headed into surgery on March 1st.  An MRI in November 2104 showed I have a small, BENIGN, craniophyringioma on my pituitary gland.  Between then and now, the little bugger was unchanged, and the docs said I could have been carrying this since my early adolescent days.  In January, my 6-month MRI scan showed considerable growth in the tumor. Though I have been symptom free to date, considerable compromise to my vision and hormonal balance could occur with further growth.  Hence, the surgery.  I am well prepared for the surgery while I can't say I'm looking forward to it, I am ready.  If you feel called to do something as a result of reading this news, how about carrying out an outrageous act of kindness on my behalf?  The payback to yourself will be immense.  See you on the other side!