Archive for January, 2013

I Believe the Children are Our Future...

...teach them well, and let them lead the way.

I Believe the Children are Our Future…

January 16, 2013  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  No Comments

“The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston Randy Watson featuring Sexual Chocolate is one hell of a song. If you went to a church service in the 80s or 90s, some lady in your gospel choir (your mama?) probably sang it… The first two lines of the song are a plainly stated call to action, and they burned themselves onto my consciousness off the sheer repetitive strength of the black church.

The classiest.

The classiest.

“I believe the children are our future/Teach them well and let them lead the way…”

Whitney’s classy version

They sang that song so much, I thought it was a Bible verse. Damn, (Saint?) Whitney.

Eddie Murphy brilliantly brought the song to the masses in his movie, Coming to America. I don’t know how Randy Watson and his Band, Sexual Chocolate, became the torchbearers, but whenever I think about my professed obligation to the youth, I do so in Randy Watson’s voice (either his or Ol’Dirty’s — “Wu-Tang for the children”).

Randy Watson’s Bootleg (literally) version

There are also those who look out for young people in ways that are more aurally agreeable, and that, really, is the subject of today’s post.

My work takes me all over the world. I’m blessed to spend each day with educators and their students, and though there is a lot that still bothers me about what we, as a society, choose to do for our young, each day I am left awestruck by what goes on in classrooms from California to New York to Singapore.

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Randy Watson: The Ashiest

When it comes to teacher heroics, we often hear the big stories — time invested, money spent, conversations held, programs instituted… All this hero-discource creates an artificial binary between those we perceive to be “good teachers” and the rest of us. People feel left out of that narrative, simply because they gracefully and dutifully perform their jobs.

I argue that “simply” performing our jobs is pretty damn miraculous. I am further convinced that what matters most in the lives of young people are not the heroics, but who we are. Essentially, the regular things that we do in our classrooms and in our lives consistently over time.

There are lots of educators that I admire deeply. Among them there are two teachers in Seattle that I’ve been trying to emulate recently — Mr. Marcus and Mr. H.

What I’ve come to love most about these two gentlemen is that they both have high expectations that they wear on their sleeves. So many times the intellectual work of school is guessing what the teacher wants. What kids end up learning is how to game the system. As I’ve followed their work, I’ve seen them take the “gaminess” out of the system by constantly reminding kids about specific expectations, and helping them to set interim goals. These gentlemen reward progress, and in a society obsessed with big triumph and wild success, it has been powerful to watch their students track and appreciate incremental growth toward eventual mastery — in all things, academic and beyond.

In my recent work, I’ve taken a page from the Mr. H/Mr. Marcus playbook. Thinking about what I want from students in terms of skills practiced and growth achieved can be insanely powerful. The work of naming expectations that are not tied to trivial details like ink color or where to put the date, but to larger, transferable skill-based goals holds huge implications for the lives that our students will eventually lead. That’s why we teach, right? Randy told y’all that the children are the future…

– Corn

Things That Nerds Tell Their Partners (A Downtown Science Adventure)

What I do.

Things That Nerds Tell Their Partners (A Downtown Science Adventure)

January 15, 2013  |  Teaching  |  No Comments

I got game… Shout out to my lovely partner, Kass. Science nerds 4 life!

Today I was at Salk School of Science in lower Manhattan. Though it’s a bit of an odyssey to get there from Brooklyn, I love the teachers there — especially the science teachers. They are a dream to work with. We have been studying how to use sets of authentic texts to strengthen the reading and writing that kids do in science class.

Today we looked at a few powerfully simple concepts that work in any class, really — the idea that kids can rehearse their writing by talking it over with a partner before committing it to the page. Here are a few notes from that experience.

  • Moving kids away from the idea that as readers of scientific information, their job is simply to memorize facts. We learned that when kids view texts as arguments that are presenting a specific scientific point of view, they can do really good critical reading work. Their work then becomes a bit more nuanced as they are thinking: “What are the central ideas that this author seems to be putting forward?” and “What evidence is the author offering to support those ideas?”
  • We were able to practice this work by using short video clips that I ripped from YouTube using (I tried to choose news clips that featured some aspect of consumer science. Just search the archives of your favorite network. CNN has some accessible stuff out there.) We would watch each video in 30-second segments, pausing to think about the central ideas and supporting details. After two rounds of practice with this, I had kids, “write essays in the air” by using the information from our video “texts” to support their own arguments. They spent time rehearsing this work with partners.
  • It became very easy for us to coach in to the rhetorical moves that they needed to make in their “essays” because we could hear them. We encouraged students to enumerate their evidence, use powerful transitions, and save their most compelling reasons or evidence for last… What fun!
  • After the practice with video texts, we did some of the exact same work with scientific articles and trade texts. We paused our reading periodically to do some thinking and some aggressive interrogation of the texts in search of central ideas and supporting details, and then we rehearsed possible essays with our partners. We looked at a few different texts on fracking. (As a Battlestar Galactica fan, try keeping a straight face while talking fracking with middle school students.) Kids worked to orally strengthen their essays as we moved through the texts. The teachers and I made sure that they pointed at evidence in the text as the went.
  • We orchestrated two rounds of rehearsal before we had the students start to commit their ideas to paper. When it was time to write, kids had already practiced these ideas several times, so we set the timer to two minutes and tried to write as much as we can as fast as we can. The teachers and I were all impressed with the volume and the quality of the writing…

I just wanted to pass that on because I know that a lot of content area teachers are grappling with ways to incorporate more authentic texts and writing into their classes. Drop us a note and let us know what you are thinking.

– Cornelius

Argumentative Writing is the Shiznit.

January 13, 2013  |  Teaching  |  3 Comments
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Educational Takeover, Dolores Umbridge, Headmistress of Hogwarts. Sound familiar?

Back in the day, I was a high school teacher at a rough and tumbly school near downtown Brooklyn.  The school was stereotypically Brooklyn in so many ways, and had the tragic recipe for failure-a principal who goes defunct, a staff who becomes disheartened, and a student body who grows angry.  Despite the emergence of doom, the school is still open.  I award that credit not to the educational reform that is taking place at Tweed a la Dolores Umbridge, Hogwarts style. Rather, I think the credit is most deserved by that spirited student body.

Why should the angry teenagers get credit for surging through the academic apocolypse? Because they can identify a claim, take a stance, research the bejeezus out of the internet, and support whatever it is they have to say, and for that, we owe them.  Adults may have been one of  the driving forces behind their inertia, but as I look back, I think it was more of their spirit, their spunk-the City that moved them through an argumentative presentation. The kids at my old school learned to do this through what was at first a high stakes alternative assessment project,  but was at second one of the few ways they were given opportunities to show off  their academic savvy, argumentatively, in the harrowing climate of a failing school .

Argumentative writing is the shiznit.  The writing in itself, and all that research that goes along with it,  enables a mind that was once trained to acquiesce to the citizenry of society to pursue a different path of thought, or one that may not be so agreeable.  It’s empowering, and emboldening. Now, kids as young as 9 get to join in the fun.

Last week, my colleagues and I put the period on the end of the sentence on our 4th Grade Research and Argumentative Writing Units.  Planning, executing, and participating in taking a stance with my co teachers and kids in that unit filled my heart with glee.  Although our topic (World Food Shortage) was certainly not as juicy as the High School topics of my yesteryear, I cannot tell you how awesome it was to see little ones advocating to eat insects because bugs take less resources to harvest than meat or vegetables.

And while I have faith that the kiddos of today have just as much spirit and spunk as their older academic counterparts, I am relieved that they will be armed with a different set of academic weaponry to navigate the world .