Things I Know 221 of 365: My brain’s all stormy

He only earns his freedom and his life Who takes them every day by storm.
– JoHann Wolfgang von Goethe

Up until about four weeks ago, I was keeping a sticky note on my laptop with a running list of post topics I wanted to tackle in this yearlong endeavor to document what I know as I know it now.
About two weeks ago, that list started another life in Evernote as I attempted to design a workflow that would sync across my devices.
A few stray thoughts started piling up in the journal I’ve been keeping for the last few years. Crossing a few pages, they’re tangential verbal doodles on this or that topic about which I’d like to firm up my thinking in some sort of public space.
Early last week, I found myself making a bulleted list of four ideas for TIK on a paper towel in a friend’s kitchen.
Yesterday, I wrote an idea on the back of a receipt.
Today, across three chapters or journal articles I’m reading for classes, I’ve jotted down half a dozen post ideas.
This is all to say, my brain is stormy.
It’s frustrating and wonderful.
A few minutes ago, one of my SLA students who’s now in her freshman year of college asked me if it was weird to be a student instead of a teacher.
I told her not really.
Over the last eight years in the classroom, I worked hard to maintain a reflective practice and to build a habit of learning and information grazing that would continue to push me to think about what it was I thought about teaching and learning and how they relate to education.
This space, this next nine months of my life are going to be a whole other kind of heffalump.
What was a piece of my day sandwiched between unit design and grading has become that which consumes my day.
I am a consumer of information on a scale at which life would not allow over the last few years. There wasn’t space in either my brain or my day to eat as many ideas as I have over the last 48 hours.
While I love it, I’m also realizing the requirements of shift this new new environ of intellect brings about.
As the head of a classroom, the ideas with which I was playing spread out over days or weeks. Expounding on project design for my students meant I was able to speak to it over the entirety of the process. “Here’s my idea,” I could say and follow it up with, “here’s the plan,” then, “here’s how it’s going,” and finally, “here’s what happened and what I would do differently.”
For all of the demands inside and outside of the classroom, I was able to ruminate on ideas to a different extent.
Starting now, I need to switch gears.
The ideas are coming at me at light speed now. If I’m not diligent at marking them and my thoughts on them down as they arise, I’ll miss them.
Not yet in this archiving of my mental stance on ideas has it been so key to keep track of what I know (or what I think I know).
Time to cull the paper towels, receipts, Evernotes, journal entries and the like. I’m sitting at the onset of a perfect storm. It would be a shame not to get pictures for later.


Things I Know 213 of 365: Our reported diversity is…well…diverse

Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.

– Michael Palin

Wednesday included orientation for all new Harvard Ed School students. Rather than commentary, which I’m sure will work its way in here eventually, I thought I’d blast out some of the demographics shared with us by Associate Dean for Enrollment and Student Services Mohan Boodram.

Admissions Committees: 15

New students: 685

New master’s students: 620

Certificate of advanced studies students: 11

Ed.Ld. students: 25

Ed.D. students: 29

U.S. Students: 86%

States represented: 43

Countries represented: 38

Students of color: 31%

Female students: 73%

Avg. work experience: 5 yrs.

Median age: 28

Students who are parents: 9%

Most common male name: Christopher

Most common female name: Jennifer

Those were the pieces formally reported to and compiled by the admissions office.

As part of an introductory seminar on multiculturalism, clickers were handed out and we self-reported on our demos.

Students who studied at public schools: 66%

Students who studied at private religious schools: 10%

Students who studied at private non-religious schools: 23%

(I’m fairly certain those were in reference to our K-12 education.)

We also learned how those number settle across the U.S.:

Public: 89%

Private religious: 9%

Private non-religious: 2%

First in there family to earn a bachelor’s degree: 16%

Across the United States, 27.2% of people have a bachelor’s.

Sexual orientation:

Straight: 90%

Gay/Lesbian: 4%

Bisexual: 2%

Transgendered: 0%

Questioning: 3%

Political make-up:

Very Conservative: 2%

Conservative: 10%

Centrist: 24%

Liberal: 49%

Very Liberal: 16%

Across the country:

Conservative/Very Conservative: 42%

Moderate: 35%

Liberal/Very Liberal: 20%

Charter opinion:

For: 57%

Against: 11%

Undecided: 32%

(I’ve got some thoughts on how this question was asked, and I’ll share those later.)

The whole process was fascinating. I’m still working out what it means (if anything) to be a part of this specific mix of people.

Oh, as an added bonus, we later got the breakdown of students within the Education Policy and Management program:

Average work experience: 4.6 yrs.

Age: 27

Students of color: 34%

International students: 3.1%

States represented: 29

Female students: 64%

Total students: 88

Part-time students: 2

What are the implications of all of this? Does it help me understand anything that’s about to happen in the next 9 months, or does it give me a false sense of understanding the people with whom I’ll be studying?

Things I Know 22 of 365: I need my learning to live

Is anybody alive out there?

– Bruce Springsteen

I had an assignment due for my grad class today – the proposal for an inquiry project.

Life has gotten in the way over the last few weeks, and I haven’t had a chance to give grad school my attention. Today, it got all of my attention. ALL.

I wrote 17 pages.

17 pages.

The directions for the assignment lived in one file, the assignment description lived in another file, the rubric lurked in a separate space altogether.

It’s submitted now.

17 pages,

Gone to the ether of online learning, never to be read by anyone.

Except, I’ve made another space for online learning.

So, I’m posting it here, too.

Read it, don’t read it. I’m posting it here because I know it has at least a chance of living here.

The file’s at the bottom. The annotated list of references I’ve pasted here. If nothing else, it can help jumpstart some thinking about reading instruction.


Brozo, W., & Flynt, E. (2008). Motivating Students to Read in the Content Classroom: Six Evidence-Based Principles. The Reading Teacher62(2), 172-4. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.2.9

The authors again make the case for increasing choice as a means to motivating student reading. Though the article is designed to engender motivation for reading in disciplines outside the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, it’s information stands true. Some pieces act as gentle reminders for common best practices within the ELA classroom, others such as finding ways to connect traditional texts to students’ existing multiliteracies shed new light on possible approaches. The authors argue the need not only for allowing choice, but for providing a rich variety of texts from which to choose. If this project is designed for increasing student readership, then the authors’ point of a diverse, accessible library may prove key. Also suggested is the creation of student-to-student partnerships within the reading process as a key to student motivation. The social experience, the authors argue, can push students to expand their reading horizons. These tactics for motivating readers outside the ELA classroom will likely prove equally helpful and effective within the ELA classroom.

Duncan, S. (2010). Instilling a Lifelong Love of Reading. Kappa Delta Pi Record46(2), 90-3. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Duncan culls several decades’ worth of research to provide her readership with the basic best practices in helping students become lifelong readers. Of particular note are Duncan’s suggestion of providing students choice of reading materials as a way to help them invest in their own reading. She also calls on the practice of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) within the classroom as a way of putting a premium on the act of reading. Duncan also unexpected calls on teachers to read aloud to their students beyond the primary grades as studies show this can build motivation to read within students. This source is helpful in listing research-supported approaches to motivating reluctant readers. It also serves as a nexus for follow-up reading on those approaches needing greater clarification.

Flowerday, T., Schraw, G., & Stevens, J. (2004). The Role of Choice and Interest in Reader Engagement. The Journal of Experimental Education72(2), 93-114. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.72.2.93-114

The work of Flowerday, Schraw and Stevens delves more deeply into the realm of choice than simply suggesting choice can have a positive effect on student engagement and reading. Specifically, the authors findings suggest situation choice built on the qualities of novelty, curiosity and salient informational content. The implications of this research suggest that building a classroom practice around student choice should also include some sort of attempt to excite students about the reading possibilities they encounter. In short, an element of play should be curated. For the purposes of this inquiry project this approach could well improve the excitement of reluctant readers around texts that contain familiar words, but speak to ideas and stories those readers have not yet encountered. Taken with other research, this also implies the need to make certain classroom and school libraries are well stocked with book choices that appeal to a wide swath of interests and appear novel.

Gable, C. (2007). The Freedom to Select. American Libraries38(3), 38. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Gable’s passionate argument for the neutrality of librarians when considering the book selections of their patrons raises important questions for a teacher considering a choice-driven approach to student classroom reading. While many researchers note the importance of students selecting texts that are not too far above or below their assessed reading levels, few speak to the implications of teacher opinion when assisting students with text selection. Mindful of Gable’s argument, I must be careful not to belittle or bruise students’ book choices based on content or authorship. Furthermore, Gable raises an important point when suggesting those who send library patrons the direction of bookstores to find “lesser” titles are ignoring the possible economic limitations would-be readers could face. If moving toward a choice-based system, I must be sure my classroom and the school’s library shelves are stocked with texts representing as diverse a reading profile as possible or risk alienating reluctant readers with the implication the books they’re looking for are not worth reading.

Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2009). It’s All About the Book: Motivating Teens to Read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy52(7), 556-61. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.52.7.1

Lapp and Fisher discuss a classroom setting incredibly similar to the object of the inquiry project. Their use of framing thematic questions provided their students with anchor points to which they could return to examine how what they were reading related to what they were attempting to learn. The authors also present the idea of having students choose from a list of books for independent reading and combining that with texts read in small groups. This idea of choice within a framework points to the idea of creating greater student investment in their reading. Also of note is the idea of teacher read-alouds and think-alouds to model positive reading practices to underdeveloped readers. These tactics could certainly prove useful within my own classroom to help whet the reading appetites of those students most uncertain of how to approach new texts. Most importantly, the authors surmise their students became more willing to read due to peer support, and they believe that support led their students to seek even broader reading options.

Lu Ya-Ling., & Gordon, C. (2008). The Effects of Free Choice on Student Learning: A Study of Summer Reading. School Libraries Worldwide14(1), 38-55. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Though centering on a summer reading program, this study notes the difficulties of engaging low-achieving student in reading. A key element of note was the summer reading program’s voluntary status. Perhaps, these same tactics of choice and project-based learning surrounding student reading would prove more effect during the school year given the structure of a classroom environment. Also of note were the reservations of participating teachers around the idea of both student choice and students reading for pleasure. It points to the need within this project to be aware of how colleagues may react negatively to more creative and progressive strategies for improving the readership of reluctant readers. Though this study was not keenly focused on the subject of this project, some of the findings reflect possible elements to be considered as the inquiry progresses.

Mertzman, T. (2007). Interruptions and Miscues: How Teachers Interrupt During Reading. Journal of Reading Education32(3), 20-7. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Mertzman’s study focused on primary grade reading and writing instruction. Specifically, the study reviewed the types of interruptions made by teachers when students exhibited miscues in their reading and writing. While this is not entirely aligned with the purposes of this inquiry project, one element of Mertzman’s findings is worth noting. In comparing teachers’ professed reasons and beliefs for the outcomes of their lesson plans to the pedagogy underlying their interruptions, Mertzman found the two to be at odds. Frequently, teachers who professed a strong belief in pointing out students’ positive work would interrupt to point out negative aspects of miscues or poorly used reading strategies. In my own practice, I must be certain that my approach aimed at increasing reader engagement do not work at cross purposes with my goals of building stronger proficiency regarding my students’ reading. One possible carryover from Mertzman’s work is the idea of interrupting good reading to recognize and name it. This could prove a strong factor in improving the motivation to read.

Ratcliffe, A. (2009). Reading For Pleasure? What A Concept!. The Education Digest74(6), 23-4. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Ratcliffe’s Reading Round Table approach encourages student choice in the same manner other authors do. One difference within Ratcliffe’s approach is the one-on-one connections between students and reading. While others encourage the literature circle approach with 4 or 5 students interacting, Ratcliffe provides students with the opportunity to have more intimate discussions of their reading. She also opens up the reading prospects by allowing her students to select any book within the library. While others suggest students selecting from a list, Ratcliffe’s approach gives students greater and arguably more authentic choice in their reading. Her estimation of 85% reader engagement falls short of the goals of this project, but still speaks to the program’s effectiveness in moving students to read. One minor point that proved interesting was Ratcliffe’s acknowledgement of the dryness of some opening chapters and her setting the goal of at least 25 pages for her students before they decide whether they will continue with a book.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Tomlinson’s work on the impact and need of differentiation in the classroom relates strongly to the idea of changing strategies to excite and engage all students in reading. Her insights around planning for differentiation will likely prove key if practices are to be changed and greater student choice is to be encouraged. For student choice of texts, Tomlinson’s guide to differentiated assessment will prove particularly helpful in collecting data on student learning from reading varied texts. As a teacher used to facilitating class discussion around a shared text, I will use the author’s notes on the role of the teacher in a differentiated classroom as a guide for changing my conceptions of who I am and what I am to do as a teacher. Additionally, Tomlinson’s descriptions of the operations of a differentiated classroom will prove helpful in visualizing the flow and function of a reader-empowered space.

Trudel, H. (2007). Making Data-Driven Decisions: Silent Reading. The Reading Teacher61(4), 308-15. doi: 10.1598/RT.61.4.3

Trudel continues the theme of the importance of student choice in developing a lifelong attachment to reading. She takes the research a step further, though and looks at the implications of where students read. Specifically, Trudel points to the effects of silent sustained reading on varying aspects of students’ reading profiles. She also points to the need to add structure to the freedom inherent in silent sustained reading. Trudel’s suggestions are of particular value in consideration of the objectives of this project. Her note that students should participate in reflection on their selections is a natural fit with the core values of my school and provides and element of accountability that will help to determine effectiveness of the time spent reading. Trudel’s suggestion of a structured independent reading model seems more in keeping with the needs of my students and accounts for a greater range of collaboration around the texts being encountered.

Worthy, J., Patterson, E., & Salas, R. (2002). “More than just reading”: the human factor in reaching resistant readers. Reading Research and Instruction41(2), 177-201. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Patterson and Salas present an interesting, though not surprising, argument for the importance of personal interaction in the development of reluctant readers. In their research, the authors found the tailoring of reading instruction to the unique needs and interests of each student helped to pull that student into greater connection to reading. When taken with an understanding of the importance of student choice and the research behind silent sustained reading or independent reading, the authors’ work points to the importance of helping students select texts in which they can see themselves and find specific relevance to their own lives. Additionally, any writing or discussion of the texts outside of that reading should include a driven attempt or opportunity for students to make specific detailed connections to their own interests and lives. This research proves extremely relevant to the topic of inquiry being considered.

Wutz, J., & Wedwick, L. (2005). BOOKMATCH: Scaffolding book selection for independent reading. The Reading Teacher59(1), 16-32. doi: 10.1598/RT.59.1.3

Focusing their study on primary classrooms, the authors still encounter and elaborate on ideas of relevance to those teaching reading at the secondary level. While other researchers are looking to the role and importance of student choice in reading engagement, Wutz and Wedwick discuss a systematic framework to matching their students with appropriate and engaging texts. The BOOKMATCH system uses a series of threshold questions to help students select texts that will be positive fits for their abilities and interests. What’s more, the author’s illuminate the idea of posting guidelines for selecting texts in the classroom. This not only frees up teacher time, but it allows students to gain access to assistance without requiring them to open themselves up to feelings of inadequacy when asking for assistance. Furthermore, this approach could be helpful within a secondary classroom by helping students to build their vocabulary around aspects of text they encounter or seek out when selecting new reading materials.


Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Course Design

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program three weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

This is the front page of my current course:

This is the discussion forum:
You’ll note there are multiple threads. That’s because not everyone in the course responds to the weekly discussion questions through reply.
Here’s a classmate’s response post:
Here’s my attempt to preemptively stop all of my classmates from posting their discussions and responses as file attachments:

The “Education Specialist” has a thread about each upcoming assignment, except one that was due last Sunday. On the syllabus, it’s due next Sunday:

On the due date sheet, it was due last Sunday:
In the course dropbox, it was due last Sunday:
In the discussion forum, where we’ve been alerted to how to complete all assignments, not a peep:
My e-mail:

The “Education Specialist’s” response:
The page that has heretofore gone unmentioned in the discussion forum:

Each course at SLA uses moodle as a content delivery system. From time to time, I’ve attempted to use Google Calendar or other means of delivering due dates and course assignments. It hasn’t worked. My learners have looked in one place. If I put it in one place, they know where to look. It makes the actual work easier if they don’t have to search for assignment due dates and descriptions.
The same could be said for this course.
In short, they’re doing it wrong.