Catching Standards

I had a talk with my 4th graders about tossing and catching. We were also talking about grading and report cards and what those things mean.

Yesterday when I presented them with an obstacle course which included some benches, speed ladders (the flexible kind you put on the floor), a couple of mat spaces, a few micro hurdles and a low Swedish box, I didn’t instruct them on how to travel. They made it up as they went and showed both creativity as well as control. One or two students asked me: Is this going to be on the report card? I frowned-smiled and shook my head, “no” wondering where on earth that question had come from.

Today I took the opportunity to ask them.

Me: How could I put an obstacle course on the report card?

You could write it in.

Me: And then say what?

If we were good or bad.

You could say if a person could do the moves.

Me: Aha, so being able to do the moves would be good and not being able to do the moves would be bad?

But maybe someone could practice and learn how to do the moves.

Me: Practice sounds like a good idea.

Me: Well, what about catching today? I notice that everyone is working with a partner, there’s lots of tossing and catching but I don’t see very many orange tickets yet. (Students put in orange tickets for doing 30 catches in a row with a partner.) Why is that?

*A brief hush and several looks over to the white board where this is written down.*

Me: I believe that you are all capable of doing 30 catches with a partner and there are lots of ways you could do it. You can decide how far apart you want to stand, you can decide which kind of thing you want to toss – a beanbag, a ragball (like a small soft football) or a letter ball (volleyball sized foam dodecahedron (12 sides)). But this is also a chance for me to see how you will challenge yourself. Are you going to stand super close to each other like playing hot potato? Or what if you stand way across the room from each other, how long do you think it might take you to get to 30 catches?

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Catches were made, orange tickets added. (c)edifiedlistener

The conversation was illuminating. I see that my students have a lot on their minds in the gym. And I’m pretty sure that grades and skill performance are not their first priorities upon arrival. At the same time, after they’ve found a friend to work with and determined which part of the lesson they are psyched about, they do care about succeeding. They want to be seen as “good” at something. They try to avoid looking “bad.” They want to have a good time and experience some level of satisfaction. How each child goes about achieving this can look wildly different, even within the same assigned task. This is what makes teaching and learning in groups, in classes, in schools unbelievably complex and ultimately difficult.

I tell my kids I am focusing on catching. That’s what I am planning on assessing. But there’s so much else going on: long haul throws that overshoot the mark, extremely creative attempts to change things up – by twirling, bending over, tossing under a leg; there are a couple of students who need half the time to locate a new partner and then to get restarted; equipment gets lost in the rafters and student lose a couple more pieces trying to knock the first piece down. They are catching and tossing and throwing and missing, dropping and pitching. My students are showing me a host of behaviors, affinities, capabilities, weak points. And I’m trying to focus on catching.

I repeat this exercise over several lessons. I’ve taught the major skill points. We know that catching involves more than just trapping an object between our hands. The point is, that students, as young humans, inevitably are going to show me more than the skill itself. They will demonstrate the art of the catch. Their art of the catch. And over the years, this is the part that I seem to be able to see better and often more clearly than the catching itself.

According to the standards, most of my students meet the grade level expectation for catching. Some students also exceed the grade level expectation for catching, while others are approaching the grade level expectation.

Thankfully for my students and me, we can have space and appreciation for all the things that are going on in class that do not belong to assessments or grading. Sometimes we’re  practicing. Sometimes we’re experimenting and trying out our ideas. We’re trying to be nice to each other. We play old games and make up new rules. We lose track of time. We talk to each other. Many of us believe running and screaming are inseparable. We are in a hurry and some of us have all the time in the world. We’re getting stronger and more flexible. We’re singing and dancing because we know these songs. We freeze when the music stops. Or not.

It’s all happening. These moments of happenings make up the fabric of my teaching days. Altogether it’s far too much to register, note, document. But the impressions they leave are real and substantial over days, weeks, months, years.

I rarely remember what a student got on their PE part of the report card years after I have had them as a student. I can usually recall, however, what she liked, where he struggled and what we discovered in our time together.

 

New Territory: Digital Literacies Lab

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I had an idea. I talked about it with an administrator. I announced it to our whole staff. Next Monday I will convene the first gathering.

I am not the expert. I am an interested party. I am a reader and sometimes writer on the topics we plan to investigate. My goal is to build knowledge and gain some experience along with my colleagues and friends.

So I have called folks together; asked people to join me as we try to learn some stuff. Together. With each other. And we’ll have snacks.

I am not the teacher, nor will I be teaching. We are all learners. I am the convener.

I’m opening a Digital Literacies Lab at my school for a few Monday afternoons over the next several weeks. I’ve planned 5 sessions and just about everyone is invited: faculty, support staff, and high school students. It’s set up to be catch-as-catch-can, meaning that folks should come when they can and not worry about the rest.

I’ve invited my co-presenters for our upcoming NAIS People of Color Conference Seminar (p.16), Chris Gilliard and Bill Fitzgerald, to each skype in for a some Q and A around digital rules of engagement, i.e. Terms of service (Chris) and Data Hygiene (Bill). We will start out with those topics but our conversations may end up somewhere else entirely.

To convene for learning means creating and opening up space for engagement. Yes, there will be rough agendas and some resources to support us but I anticipate much feeling-as-we-go. What are the needs and major questions of the folks in the room? What kinds of resources and expertise might we have in the room to respond to and think about some of those questions more deeply? Rather than sit-and-get, these sessions will be, I hope, come-and-share-and ask-and-respond.

I envision movement. I imagine us spreading out in the room, poking and prodding our devices and each other to discover what we might be missing or have so far perhaps failed to realize. I anticipate aha moments, and slow dawnings; lightning strikes and blank stares. There must be room for all of this and more. Because learning is on the agenda.

And the rough agenda looks something like this: (from the e-mail invitation)

Oct. 2nd

What are digital literacies? What are we talking about when we use that term?

What are some skills you’d like to learn that might fall under this broad heading?

Oct. 9th

Considering the rules of engagement

How to read Terms of Service and figure out what we potentially risk when we sign on to apps and other digital service arenas

Guest speaker: Chris Gilliard, Professor of English, Macomb Community College

Oct. 16th

What is data hygiene?

How do we protect and safeguard our data across multiple devices and services?

Guest speaker: Bill Fitzgerald, Privacy Initiative Common Sense Media

Nov. 6th

Thinking about information filters

Exploring fact checking skills  (i.e., Reverse image search, tracking the source of viral content)

Nov. 20th

Data and Society (big, right?)

I have ideas but I also want to see what emerges from the previous labs before determining a specific agenda.

Now, it wouldn’t be very digital literacy-like if I didn’t welcome input from so many of you who have joined me on my journey up to this moment. Which resources – posts, articles, authors and activities would you recommend to a group of relative beginners starting out in traversing this territory?

How might you like to join us on this little trek in the information wilderness? Here’s a hashtag possibility for Twitter: #DigLitLab (unclaimed until now – just checked!).

I’m excited about being the convener and not the expert. I’m excited about learning and making space and time for learning with others. I’m excited about starting and following through. I’m excited about knowing that I don’t know how it will all turn out and doing it anyway.

 

image CC0 via Pixabay.com

 

Look busy

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I am harried.

I run through the halls then walk right back,

a line of semi-boisterous children in tow.

Let’s go, I tell them.

We’re losing our PE time.

 

We always make it to our destination

sooner or later.

 

I am frazzled

because the tech won’t work

the way I need it to

right this moment.

I am in a hurry and

have no time for this nonsense,

GoogleYoutubeAppleTVLogin.

Why won’t this work??

 

And I am blind to the simplest solution:

to press home, pull up the bottom menu

Mirror air-play go

All there.

It’s fine

but I am not.

 

Because I had to ask a stupid question

to get a simple answer

and felt silly and helpless and dependent

and I hated that part.

But the tech works now

so there’s that.

 

In my other cognitive life

the writing that remains undone

keeps poking me at night

annoyed that so little of what appeared to be

so much

has materialized on a page of some sort.

There are plans and ideas and publications

all lying fallow

while I sweep, drag or push myself forward

and back and over.

 

At some point I fall asleep and pass on the dream option.

 

As I rush to and fro

from one engagement to the next

My attention remains divided

and scattered yet functional enough

to manage a day to day

that suggests logic and planning

of one kind or another.

 

While I hold up this appearance

I talk to students,

chat with colleagues,

return calls.

I look busy.

 

I’m pretty good

at looking busy.

 

I could be better

at doing less

at slowing down

at breathing deeply

at being human.

 

Seems

worth

a

try.

 

 

 

Nobody’s Version of Dumb

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Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh CC0

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I follow more people than I can actually keep up with and miraculously a bunch more follow me and I apologize that I can’t just follow right back. I’m overwhelmed. I lose threads and also get lost in reading. I miss a lot and what I catch can probably be attributed to Twitter’s algorithmic sorting which keeps the folks I most interact with close to the top of the tweets I will see. It’s an imperfect system. My interests and responses are being guided, steered, nudged to achieve the golden data outcome of ‘maximum engagement.’ As long as I keep clicking around on the platform and rewarding the algorithm that delivers those precious “In case you missed it” messages, I am holding up my end of the user-platform bargain. Twitter stays in business and I cultivate my little networked worlds almost as intricately as my 9 year-old’s Minecraft creations.

Then along comes a short thread like this:

There’s more but that’s the core.

I know this lamentation. It is familiar and well worn and different figures deploy it at different junctures. Of course, @gsiemens is not just anybody. He’s a public intellectual, well recognized in the tech and higher ed circles I frequent. So I also hesitate to publicly push back on this particular take. But, alas. I get tired of authority type voices telling me and others that Twitter is making us dumb.

Speak for yourself, I say. Rain on your own parade, not mine.

Look. Not everyone who comes to social media is looking for a fight. We have not arrived here to recreate Greek forms of debate. We are not showing up so that we can rattle our intellectual sabres. We are not turning up to punch each others’ academic lights out, argument for carefully crafted argument.

I, for one, came because I was looking for others who could help me grow. I was in the market for good writing and good people and I found them. The longer I stayed and the more I engaged, good people found me. Good writing – I mean, strong, critical, robust and also sensitive writing walked right up to me and said, “Hi!” I got involved. I created adjoining spaces and fashioned a new home to welcome some of that rich writing. And I found art, humor, compassion, support, care, and (*praise hands*) Black Twitter. My life has been tremendously enlivened and broadened through my social media connections. I am a smart person who is more open, more aware, more vocal and more critical due to my connections via social media.

You will rarely find me putting up my verbal dukes on Twitter but I will support those who do it well. When authority type voices trot out these blanket statements about our shared intellectual demise, they offer a point of view that can be as narrow and constrained as those they accuse of the same offense. And often such voices enjoy the comfort and yes, privilege, of established recognition through institutions, publications, speaking invitations and considerable social media reach. These statements seem to come when these, usually male, individuals no longer feel “challenged” – when their membership in the social media ‘Gifted and Talented’ program is losing clout.

When I first ran across this thread, I wanted to ignore it. Give it the ‘ho, hum, somebody’s bored’ non-response. But the annoyance stayed with me because I felt in those few tweets that my experience and the experience of too many others were being denied. And thoughtlessly so.

Some of us are here for community; to gather and confer with the like minded. To remind each other that our presence matters. For someone with a particular kind of status, this aspect might easily be overlooked. Not for me. I come to Twitter to prove to myself again and again that I have a voice and know how to use it. In other circles, my voice, my presence runs the very real risk being inaudible, invisible. But for an authority voice type, this instance may not occur or even register.

Formulating this kind of push back takes energy. It takes energy away from some things I’d rather read and write about. And I don’t wish to expend more energy delving into the right-left Twitter divide article which prompted these tweets. When George Siemens claims that his network is fairly homogeneous, that is something that he can fix if it’s a priority. But to drag us all down into a space that he in a later tweet describes as “closed, intolerant, narrow minded, and short sighted” is decidedly unfair and unnecessary and I refuse to be placed there by proclamation from on high.

Maybe this is precisely how and why I persist on social media: Refusing to be placed somewhere by someone who is not me. I place and position myself. I speak my own mind. I pick my own battles. I am nobody’s version of dumb.

 

Note: The image is from the The Met collection of Public Domain images which is well worth a visit.

(Un)Prepared.

Nine contact days in and I’m ok. The kids are great, my colleagues are helpful, our schedule is more or less settled, the year is truly underway. I’ve done this ritual at least 20 times before: started a school year of teaching elementary physical education. At this same school. I have experience. One might even say I’m a seasoned faculty member.

And yet.

My plans are rough. Not vague, but rough although we have a fairly detailed curriculum map with plenty of supporting documents and resources. The google doc planning sheet that I share with my team colleague is prepared week for week. Every class, I write my agenda on the board for students to read and work with. I prepare.

And yet.

It seems no matter how long I work at this, how many students I shepherd through a school year’s worth of physical education, I never, ever feel well prepared. Into every class, each section, in contact with each student, there’s a portion of doubt that stays in attendance. Like a spying question mark that sits heavily on my shoulder, at times whispering: “Was that really necessary?” “What makes you think that idea will work?” or “That’s your best solution?”

This heap of doubt I carry around lives to judge and dissemble.

I have thousands of class periods under my belt; by now also hundreds of students whom I’ve taught for multiple years. I know some stuff and I’m constantly learning and evolving. Every group is different, each child so wonderfully unique, and I of course have changed, too. In this way I have dedicated a significant portion of my life and livelihood to coping with and courting change; to making the most of and coming to terms with development.

My little heap of doubt is resilient, reliable and robust. Teaspoon sized today, boulder heavy the next, my heap can grow or shrink as the context and my reactions warrant.

So I plan and envision. I record and document. Confer and rehash. I also improvise on the spot. Change my mind in the moment. I decide to run the risk of failing miserably, succeeding wildly or both. I watch what happens. I encounter the unexpected along with the strongly probable and respond to the best of my ability. At the end of the day, we all emerge on the other side: the experience behind us and our options for reflection before us. We choose. (And even when we don’t choose we’re making a choice.)

I believe my students are going to be all right. Some of them, no, many of them will be fabulous. We are going to make some discoveries this year. We’ll run into some surprises. We’ll reach an impasse or two and get beyond it. I’ll make some mistakes right before their very eyes. Some of the mistakes they’ll notice and others they won’t.

The year won’t be perfect. It will be full of learning and growth and doubt for me and my students. It will be entirely our year. We are prepared and we’re not. It’s on, ready or not.

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Learning involves stretching…still, again.

image:  (c) @edifiedlistener Sherri Spelic

Pay Dirt in Advance

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I don’t know how you start off your school year but I’m just realizing that my colleague and I manage a small miracle with our first few classes. Let me explain.

I teach in an international school where elementary students enjoy the benefit of several specialists. In our schedule Physical Education is taught opposite German language and English as an Additional Language (EAL) classes. Strings classes also enter the scheduling mix for all 2nd graders and some 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. We see most of our students 4 days out of a six day cycle (which is to say frequently) and on some days with strings classes, my colleague and I will collapse two sections into one.

The schedule is complex and confusing, has lots of moving parts and amazingly it works pretty well for kids.

At the start of the year, as a team of specialists, the EAL and German teachers only have partial information about new students so that they need a couple of days in the first week to screen and place students into the correct levels. What this means is that in the 2-3 days of the school year, my colleague and I welcome a whole grade level  (45-60+ students) into the gym for 60 minutes while our three German-speaking colleagues work with small groups in a nearby room. This is a process we adopted some years ago and it has a some real advantages.

Right now I want to focus on that miracle I mentioned: 45-60 kids in a gym with 2 teachers for 1 hour on the first and/or second day of school. We introduce ourselves as the PE teachers, clarify a few essential cues they will need to participate successfully (start, stop & ‘come in’ signals; toilet locations) and slowly we get started. We practice finding a space, checking it at different levels, moving safely without bumping. We play stop and go with the music signal and have them try different locomotor movements. We do a round of whole group stretching and then practice making groups of different sizes. In a nutshell my colleague and I run an introductory class almost as if we were on our own with a group of 12-18 students (normal ratio).

The miracle is that this is possible. Not once, not twice, but every time, with every grade level. On their first day in the gym.

It’s possible because…

  • the majority of the students are returning and entirely familiar with our protocols.
  • new students take their cues from veterans and see among their peers that PE is something to look forward to and celebrate.
  • new students find a culture of inclusion where they find partners and groups who are welcoming and kind.
  • there is consistency from teacher to teacher. Whether returning students had me or my colleague the year before, the general expectations are the same so kids can feel confident in their anticipation of how things will work.
  • My colleague and I are comfortable sharing the planning, the “mic”, the follow-up work.
  • My colleague and I share an appreciation for what kids need during the lesson (i.e. time to talk and have fun with their friends and make new ones; more action and less talk).
  • We’ve built this program over several years and while my current colleague and I are only on our 2nd year of direct collaboration, the pattern of team teaching and shared planning has been in place for almost a decade.
  • My colleague and I like our jobs, enjoy kids, understand fun and build on each others’ strengths.

The results are actually amazing and worth highlighting. They are not accidental; rather they provide clear evidence that sustained teacher collaboration and team consistency are fruitful endeavors that benefit students and teachers.

In another day we will separate big groups into class sections and assign ourselves as teachers. Students will know who their teacher is and the school year will proceed as planned (more or less). They will also be happy and able to combine into big groups again from time to time. We’ll stride ahead knowing that they and we can handle both kinds of classes.

Beginning the year with this generous show of student trust, enthusiasm and relative clarity about what we are about in PE bolsters my confidence and stokes my desire to deliver on the promise we’ve already laid out. Pay Dirt in advance – may not happen often in our teaching lives but when it does, it is glorious.

 

image via Pixabay CC0

Too Real

Tomorrow marks the return: Return to school schedules, to the fellowship of colleagues, to the routines we teachers use to prepare the path we will travel with our students.

I look forward to the mass reunion, to the hugs, smiles, waves and quick catch-up conversations that remind us of where we left off. I’m prepared for the variety of meetings, large and small, in which my colleagues and I question, clarify and plan our first steps into a new school year. I have participated in this ritual over twenty times – always with variations – but in its essence it remains a kind of constant. At this stage of my career, this offers a certain degree of comfort, a sense of orientation. I know where things are. I am familiar with how things begin and how they are likely to proceed. I am a veteran. I belong here.

On the other hand, …

I fear the crush of speed chatting, the sense of overwhelm in the face of sudden exposure to too many elements at once. I worry about not being able to respond adequately, that my smiles may run out; that I’ll freeze up and wish I could run away and start again on another day. I know there will be meetings with too much information and not enough time to digest it so that my questions 2 days later will seem like stupid ones. In those meetings I will either talk for too long or not at all and it will never feel like I said the right thing. I will go home drained and nervous because maybe, after all, I don’t belong here.

These are feelings. They are mine. They are real and they are all over the place; never static.

At the beginning of his keynote at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute, Chris Gilliard took some time to address a topic that had been on many participants’ minds during the week-long event. To a musical backdrop, he read a series of statements which were impactful and emotive even if you lacked the specific context they were generated to address. Particularly his first statement gives me pause.

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“being too real”

This is truly something to fear. And the more often I read the statement and listen to Chris speak it, the more deeply it reveals itself to me; where it fits in my story, how it relates to my yesterday, my now and my tomorrow.

“Being real” is something I can do quite well in my classroom with my kids. In the course of the school year my students will know me serious, silly, annoyed, patient, harried, calm, forgetful and attentive. They will see me perform miracles and manage epic fails. They will see all of my hairstyles and comment on them. They will ask me questions and figure out if I will respond with a question of my own, answer directly, tell them to ask a friend or just look at them and wait. By the end of the school year my students will have a strong sense of knowing me because I will have been real with them all along.

Being too real is more of an adult-adult conundrum. How I show up with and for my colleagues will have a lot of contextual dependencies. While I can and strive to be respectful and kind to everyone in our community, being real means that I can also be honest when things aren’t going so well, that I trust you enough to listen in a helpful way. Being real means that I can tell you what’s really on my mind with regard to a given topic and not fear your judgment. Being real means that I can tell you what it means to belong and not belong at the same time over decades in the same institution.

Yes, Chris, there are a lot of spaces in which I fear being too real. Overcoming that fear every day is my personal and professional development project for life. Thankfully I work with children who mirror that struggle in myriad ways and together we practice being real with each other day after day. Over time, they and I get better at it.