Archive for January, 2013

Evidence Based Teaching

Wu-Tang Clan: 1993 Teachers of the Year (Image: Ruth Gwily)

Evidence Based Teaching

January 21, 2013  |  Culture, Teaching  |  1 Comment

My respect for The Wu-Tang Clan has been well discussed. Hip hop had me reading Assata Shakur, John Henrik Clarke, and Sun Tzu before any of my teachers ever required it. I remember studying every allusion on Enter the 36 Chambers as if it were an AP History course. All this to say that I owe much of my education to the 9 Brothers from Shaolin, so when called upon to serve schools in Staten Island, I viewed it not just as work, but as repayment to the borough that invested so artfully in me so many years ago.

Dr. John Henrik Clarke: The Master Teacher

Dr. John Henrik Clarke: The Master Teacher

I was at work at I.S. 075 on the south shore last week, and some teachers and I started talking “assessment” and “data” — two words heavy in the discourse right now. I’m sometimes troubled by the reality that when we talk about the student data that informs our teaching, some school leaders and teachers STILL only consider standardized test scores. Thankfully that is not the case at 075.
To combat this, the teachers and I came up with a useful way to think about our collective growth toward more “data informed” (I prefer the term, “evidence based”.) teaching.
We all agree that the best kind of teaching is that which is responsive to the needs of the individual students in our classes. In middle and high school, this has proven to be increasingly complicated because many of us see 90-150 students across a day. Even with those numbers, it is important to note that we cannot lesson plan in a vacuum. Our lessons have to be based on the reality of our classroom communities, not on some imaginary notion of the “normal” or “average student”. So where do we look to find that reality?

I've known how to talk since I was infant. Assata's Story taught me how to speak.

I’ve known how to talk since I was infant. Assata’s Story taught me how to speak.

The Communication Arts teachers and I divided our answer to that question into three categories. To think about how we want to teach we can look at formal data like test or exam scores. We also have the option to consider more everyday performance-based data like student notebooks, homework, or notes. Finally, there is the option to consider more anecdotal data like questions and discussions.
We tried to think about each strand of data as informative in different ways.
  • Obviously formal data, like test and exam results, are periodic. We can count on it, and it is as “objective” an assessment as one can get in a school system designed to educate white men. The largest flaw in using this kind of information to guide our teaching is that it gets old fast. Usually big state assessments are given once a year, so this information is already months old by the time school starts in the fall.
  • Performance based data can be powerfully informative, because it tells us what kids are doing right now. Our teaching can be so much more nimble after a quick read of last night’s homework or this morning’s notes… The hard part about this is finding the time and developing the protocols for an efficient read of all that student work. Immediate feedback and response, I argue, is one of the most powerful things that we can give as educators.
  • Finally, we cannot ignore the “on the run” information that we pull from students by simply being observant. Reading facial expressions, listening to conversations or questions can help our lessons to be beautifully responsive. What makes this work hard, is that here you don’t have the luxury of an orchestrated plan. This work can feel impromptu, and teachers often don’t do their best teaching here.

We hope that this can help when thinking about the insight that can fuel your lessons.


Living the Dream

January 20, 2013  |  Family  |  1 Comment

The Happiest Moments in Life.

Every Monday, I have to leave my little munchkin at 7:30 AM. and I don’t get to return to her until 4PM for the next five days.  I know this is somewhat of a small-fry situation considering our babysitter just got to see her oldest son for the first time in 12 years last month, but the longing to be with my little one at all hours of the day hasn’t left me since I went back to work full time, and that was in September. In a few weeks, my husband will be gone for half a month doing business on the other side of the world, a fact of our lives that is still hard to get used to.

Growing up, I never really considered the modern fantasy  that includes a wedding, a baby, and a fully loaded kitchen. Well, perhaps some consideration was inspired by my fully loaded Fisher Price play kitchen, but that fantasy was diluted by the time I spent my first week in college when I was introduced to an all access cafeteria food card.  No further cooking for myself needed.


Kass and Friends, Kent State University, September, 2000.  Undoubtedly headed off to some dumb frat party.

After a relationship snafu in college, and another one shortly thereafter, I declared myself a Fiercely Independent Woman, and exemplified that position at almost every corner I turned-I played the field during my stint at The University of Chicago, decided that was for the birds. Briefly spent 4 weeks at Mom and Pop’s house to center myself. Then shook my inner universe by taking my two cats on a plane with me to NYC to court the city’s youth in classrooms and went on a quick trip to India during that same summer.  All that by the ripe old age of 23.


Mysore, India. Summer 2006, 4 weeks before I started teaching in NYC.

The day my career began, I met Cornelius.  Four years later, we were married.  Two years later, We had a baby.  And while  I still held my autonomous nature close to my heart, I found that being a partner was more important to me. Recently, through motherhood,  I find a family symbiosis taking place, and it’s simply most incredible.

When I was pregnant, a friend of mine told me there is nothing in the universe comparable to having a child.  At the time, I thought it was a little bogus-I mean, most people have a kid or two and life goes on.  But, here I am.  Here we are.  And life’s biggest blessings lie to my left and right, one  playing Skylanders at the kitchen counter, and one dozing softly in her sweet little crib.


Living the Dream, March 2012

Although I never dreamt of becoming a mother and wife, those roles are heavy with virtue, and I carry them with pride.  I never fancied myself a stay at home mom, or a wife that makes dinner by 5PM every night.  Although those titles don’t bear the same cache of Fiercely Independent Woman, they are what I hold closest to my heart. These days, they are my fantasy.




The Man Right Here

All that needs to be said.

The Man Right Here

January 20, 2013  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  No Comments

There’s not much more that we can say that has not already been said.

Thanks, Dr. King.