Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 76- Digital Literacy the Weird Way

Being digitally literate is fine and great. We should know how to navigate the digital waters using all the tools at our disposal. But I don't think we really do. I think sometimes we are floating along in our little boat and when we reach and unfamiliar shore we'll find we don't really speak the language.

Know why?

Because we're old. And lame. And old.

Huge swaths of the internet are the realm of the young. And the young want to confuse the old and feeble. The young are constantly growing and evolving and trying to destroy us. We did it when we were young. We had words old people didn't understand and we laughed at them for not understanding. Our music, our social clubs, out slang was all code. The difference is now the code of youth culture is actually in code.*

We live on the internet. We're #connctdeucatrs. But do we speak the lingo? If we're encouraging our students to be more involved online are we as prepared to converse with them about what they find as we think we are?

That's what this chat is about. It's basically a vocabulary test. I'll throw out internet memes, phrases, places, and things, things we ought to know because our kids do know them, and we'll talk about what they are and what they do. Why they are important. What place they have in our culture and youth culture.

I'm not giving you any answers. Welcome to my classroom. There will be lots of scuttling off to Google to investigate and report back. There will hopefully be questions, clarifying questions, wrong answers, and a few people who know some of these things.

Here's the thing- I'm going to miss a ton of stuff. Just researching the chat brought up how behind the times I am. I'm almost at that age where new things are interesting and I want to know, but I'm not going to be trying to play catch up with the Kids Of Today. I need to know enough to converse.

So be ready for questions about things you might not have heard of, but things your kids do know, will know, or want to know.

*that's so waiting to be memed

Monday, September 28, 2015

When Inclusion of One Excludes All (a guest post by A Non Mouse)

In the interest of being an open conversation this blog will occasionally host guest writers. In some cases those authors will wish to remain anonymous, and in those cases the post will be published under the A Non Mouse label. The content of guest posts is not necessarily endorsed by me, but agreement is not the same as worth being read. This is one such post.

Most educators are familiar with the concept of inclusion. It is the notion that all students are welcome and included in general education classes. Naturally there are some exceptions to this but the inclusion movement has pushed many students who were previously not involved into general education classes. To be clear, I think this move has largely been a positive impact for a majority of students. However, I wonder if at times inclusion in fact creates exclusion.

Before I get too far into this potentially offensive post, I want to give a little bit of background as to where I am coming from. I have been a classroom teacher for 13 years and have seen all sorts of students with all manner of physical and mental abilities. My wife is also an educator and has experienced many of the same types of students and families that I have worked with. I also am the father of two sons who go to public elementary schools where they also have experienced students with a wide range of physical and mental abilities. Finally, I have the perspective of having family members who also possess varying abilities both mentally and physically. Some these individuals would not have been included in general education classrooms just a few years ago.

Having said that, what I often struggle with is how we implement an inclusion model without creating exclusion. There are times where students are placed in a classroom where they simply cannot function in any way at the level of their peers. To be clear I'm talking about students who physically cannot stay in the classroom or participate in the activities due to a potential range of concerns or obstacles. There are students who are constantly pulled in and out of a classroom due to various specialist or therapy sessions they need to attend. There are times were students throw temper tantrums as my sons have witnessed on numerous occasions in their classes over the years. There are students who cannot communicate in any way shape or form and yet parents desire a normal school experience for them. As teachers we have experienced students that caused us anxiety and stress because we don't know what they will do next. Or worse, we know what they are capable of doing and do not feel adequately equipped to support and teach them.

Now I'm not going to be the judge of who belongs in what classroom because that's not the intent of this post. What I struggle with is it at what level does a student placement under the model of inclusion infringe on the learning of the other students in the room? When a child such as my own cannot do their math because their neighbor is screaming or flailing or having a temper tantrum, is that the best environment for that student or for my son? At what point do we consider it neglect of the other students in the room when a students needs are monopolizing the attention of the adults in the room? I'm not sure I have the answer, but as a teacher and as a parent I often struggle with this balance. While I believe every child has the ability to learn at some level, I wonder if it times inclusion creates a system of exclusion.

What is lost by having a student with high needs in your classroom or with your children's class? High needs can mean a range of things from behavior to learning to physical needs. I wonder if it times were so worried about having every child feel the same that in the process none of them feel valued. If we put all of our resources and all of our time and all of our energy into the neediest students and parents, what is left for the students in the middle? What are we doing for the rest of the students in the class?

While I recognize many will read those final statements and reply with, we need to support and teach all children. I wholeheartedly agree, I just wonder at what point through inclusion and the pouring of resources and staff into one student does it create a system or a scenario of exclusion of the other students in the room?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 75- Mentoring Army Style

#WeirdEd has a special guest co-moderator tonight. His name is Ray Kimball and he's the author of The Army Officer's Guide to Mentoring. Ray and I were linked up by Art LaFlamme, and I think Ray's outlook on mentoring for the Army dovetails nicely with how we should be thinking about mentoring students and other teachers. We should constantly be looking outside the education space to find ideas to use in education, and Ray is an excellent example of that. The blog below was written by Ray and is an excellent overview of what he thinks and what we can expect from the chat.

I recently completed an in-depth study of mentoring practices for Army officers. It was an amazing experience: it confirmed some of my long-standing beliefs and challenged some of my assumptions at the same time. I acknowledge that there are challenges in taking observations from one profession and transporting them to another. However, based on the broader literature that exists on workplace mentoring*, I've listed some insights below that are worth discussing in a teaching context. I look forward to discussing all of these during our chat!

Mentoring vs. coaching: I find that many, many fields misuse these two terms, and often say "mentoring" when they really mean "coaching." Coaching is a short-term relationship intended to build a discrete capability or specific skill. Mentoring, in the professional context, is a voluntary and mutual relationship that is intended to last for a significant period of time to build someone's overall professional and personal capacity. Sometimes, I think people get scared off by the commitment involved in mentoring, but would be fine with a coaching effort; conversely, others eschew coaching as being shallow but really like the engagement involved in mentoring.

Benefits of mentoring: We have this vision that the benefits of mentoring only accrue to the protege. One dead giveaway of this approach is the use of the term "mentee" instead of "protege": the former implies that the junior member is in receive mode only, while the latter puts an emphasis on mutual engagement. My work supports the idea that the mentor benefits as well, both from the reflective practice of discussions as well as insights from the protege.

Cross-gender mentoring: My work identified some real issues here for the Army. Concerns about cross-gender mentoring relationships being perceived as romantic ones; female proteges complaining that male mentors couldn't help with some deeply personal aspects of life; even spouses being jealous about the mentor-protege relationship. I personally am really interested in if and how similar issues manifest in teaching.

Peer mentoring: In theory, peer mentoring should absolutely exist, as the only criteria for a mentoring relationship is for the mentor to have greater experience than the protege. You can and do have two peers (in terms of position) who have vastly different experience in terms of work areas. In these relationships, the mentor-protege role often flips, with one being the mentor for one topic and the other being a mentor for another topic; the scholarly term for this is mutuality. What seems to impair peer mentoring for the Army is the fact that we make officer peers compete against one another for everything. I'd be interested in a discussion on if and how peer teachers form mentoring pairs.

E-mentoring: I use "e-mentoring" as a shorthand term for any mentoring not done face to face (via phone, email, social media, chat, etc). My studies found no purely e-mentoring relationships, but showed that e-mentoring could either help facilitate an initial introduction that caused a relationship to blossom or could sustain a relationship when F2F was no longer possible. A lot of the need for this is driven by the constant moving of people that the Army does; so do teachers have a need for e-mentoring?

Let's have a great (and weird) chat!

* In this post, "mentoring" refers to workplace mentoring, which is driven by a professional identity. That stands apart from youth mentoring in the classroom, where teachers act as mentors to students. The two fields use different terms and have different approaches.

Ray Kimball is the author of the forthcoming book The Army Officer's Guide to Mentoring. His views are his own and are not necessarily reflective of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 74- Make a Thing Pt 2 (Plus Announcement)

Back with some small changes comes the earlier timezone #WeirdEd, this time called #WeirdEdC! That's right, over the summer attendance to #WeirdEdE had dwindled to nearly nothing but I've been getting requests for an earlier one to accommodate our friends on the wrong side of the country and you've broken me. I'm giving in. 
#WeirdEdC starts this week at 7cst, moderated by Shawna Briseno and Lauren Taylor. If 7pst is too late for you to stay up but you want to get your Weird on, here's your chance. 

Way back in Week 42 I tried an experiment. Rather than do a traditional chat, I created a blank Doc and said, "Make a thing together. Ready...GO!"

The response was incredible. Everyone loved the idea. So we're bringing it back! Again the chat isn't a chat, but a jumping off point to two Docs (one for each chat), where you will work with the most brilliant teachers on twitter on one Doc to create the projects and assignments you've always wanted to make. Pick each others brains without character limits. Break up and start different groups. Share ideas that you love. Ask for help teaching a subject/topic/idea. Then together on one Doc break that problem and build something you can take back to your classroom tomorrow.

I'm putting the links here (please don't use them until Weds at the right time, I know it's tempting but it's cool to come to a fresh Doc with a group and own it together) and they'll be tweeted out repeatedly during the chat.



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 73- Scheduling

I am at a new school this year. New school, new district, new grade. This being my tenth year I'm less worried about things like classroom management and planning than I used to be (though I still think about them a lot), and I'm more worried about newer things like how can I constructively integrate technology and in what ways is my classroom an equitable learning environment?

There are two things I worry about now that I worry about every time I'm in a new school or a new place. 1) Where's the bathroom and how long do I have? 2) How complicated is the schedule and how often am I going to screw it up?

Number one, while perhaps suited for #WeirdEd (I bet there are DM conversations amongst stuffy teachers to that effect, no this isn't a subtweet, just a guess), is not the topic this week. Number two is. Let's talk scheduling.

Every school is different and every year making the schedule sounds like an utter nightmare. I have no idea the contortions that must happen to make however many classrooms fit into time blocks that allow everyone to go to recess, eat lunch, stick to the contract, have whatever specials your school gets, and do 90 minutes of literacy and 60 minutes of math. I'm dizzy just thinking about making that plan.

Following it, when you're new, is no easier. Sure, it seems easy if you've been there for a while. "No, this is an A week and on A weeks at this time you go to Music. If this were a B week or a Wednesday you'd go to either PE or computer lab. Unless there's a full moon or only 29 days in the month. In that case locusts. Oh wait no, that's the schedule we sent out last week. We had to fix that, don't you have the new one?"

I want to be clear here that I love my new school and it's not at all the giant pain in the ass this blog post makes it seem. Hyperbole is funny, kids. *waves to anyone I work with who might be reading this*

So we're going to talk scheduling this week. Which means I get to do something most other chats do (I hear) and I've never done*. I'm going to schedule my tweets. Every single tweet that comes from my account between 7 and 8pst will be scheduled. I will not be live at all in the least. This serves two purposes-

One- It works with the theme. And I love it when a theme comes together.

Two- I just moved into a new house and it sounds like we aren't going to get internet for approximately seven years, according to the internet provider, if that name can be properly applied to them. Moderating #WeirdEd from my phone sounds like a nightmare. So I'll be there but I won't be there.

*I don't schedule tweets because #WeirdEd is too lively and creative to do that. I don't want us to be locked in to one timing in case something pops unexpectedly. Not cutting on moderators who schedule, but it's not how our chat works.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 72- Knitting

Photo credit- http://fashionablygeek.com/tattoos/knit-fast-die-warm-tattoo/

Knitting* can be repetitive work. There's counting, recounting, cursing, frogging, and finally finishing with something from almost nothing. You take a piece of yarn and using two sticks you create a work of art. It's a miracle of creation. Watch someone knit something some time. It's magic. By artfully twisting, knotting, and looping a single strand of fiber something new is born.

Knitters can make anything. I'm convinced. I've been around them enough to know that they are funny, artistic, and as involved in their work as you've ever been. There is a yarn stash in my house that will never go away. My wife has knitting projects that have been planned years ago which still aren't started. Yarn from New Zealand sits, waiting in a tub, for her to find the time to make me that sweater she promised years ago.

Knitters are bawdy. I used to go to knitting group with my wife. A group of women (and maybe a guy) would gather at a coffee shop Thursday nights and for two or two and a half hours they would knit and tell the dirtiest jokes. No, I never learned. It doesn't look fun to me. I got to be part of the group because I'd stay on the edges and write, assuming the cafe had wifi. Eventually I would get caught up in the conversation and inch over. We became very close friends with many of the women and their families. One of the knitters from that group, Dorothy Dean, designed the covers of both of my books.

Knitters are vandals too. Check out yarnbombing some time. You've seen it around and didn't know it. It's the most fun type of physical graffiti outside of a Led Zepplin album. Knitters also can't sit still. We choose movies at my house based on how easy they are to knit during (assuming the Weirdlings will allow knitting, which is rare).

#WeirdEd moderator Shawna Briseno (@nolagirlfromtx) is also a fiber artist. Since she's moderating tonight, I have Open House, I thought it would be fun for her to link one of her passions to another.

How is knitting like teaching? Do we take something and create something else? Are there patterns and rules we need to learn? Can we follow a pattern? At what point do we start making our own patterns? Are these rhetorical questions or will they end up in the chat?

Bring your biggest needles and come find out.

*I'm probably going to use knitting, crocheting, quilting, and sewing terms interchangeably here. Sorry fiber-nerds. Feel free to correct me in the comments.