Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Last year I did the cyber PD on Patrick Allen's book on conferring. And loved it. I loved talking with people from all over the country about some really big ideas. Those people really pushed me as a thinker, teacher, and learner. Not sure, why, then, I hesitated about joining the conversation this year. Maybe because there are several other professional books I need to read. And I'm working on my Spanish. And it just felt like a lot. But then I read everyone's posts last week and couldn't stand not to participate. So I ran and bought the book. And thought I would do an extra post during the week to catch up, but somehow I didn't get it done. And now it's almost 9:00 on Wednesday night and I'm just finishing my post for this week.
I'm finding OPENING MINDS to be really, really rich. It's not long, and it's not hard reading, but the ideas are so big. And I can only digest little chunks at a time before I need to stop and reflect and take notes about how I want to use this information. And then I think I've got it, but every time I reread a chunk, I pick up something new. I'm having a hard time, then, pulling together a coherent post. Tonight I'm thinking about Johnston's information in three different contexts.
First, I'm thinking about this as a teacher. I completed my dissertation, a study of how third graders use portfolios to develop a self-extending system in reading and writing seventeen years ago, and to some degree, I have spent the better part of the last two decades looking at how kids use language to guide their behavior. Some things Johnston talks about then, are not new to me. I never, for instance, say to kids, "I like the way…" I do sometimes say, "If you are not sure what a scholar looks like right now, you could look at ____ because she is (and then I name the behaviors). I'm actually wondering if Johnston would find that too teacher specific. I try to be really clear and specific in my feedback, "When you didn't know that word, I saw you cover the suffix with your thumb, and then go back and reread to see if it was making sense." Last school year, the power of the dynamic learning stance was brought home to me (for about the 700th time) when I taught my fourth graders long division. The day we started the unit, I told my students that we were going to learn one of what I thought might be the hardest math concept we were going to work on all year. I told them that we were going to persevere until everyone had it, and that no one could say, "I can't do this," but that they could say, "I can't do this yet." Amazingly, within about ten days, every single kid, no exceptions, had the hang of long division. The word yet was magical.
This year I am going back into the role of literacy coach. As I am reading OPENING MINDS, I'm continually thinking about how I can share Johnston's work with the teachers I will be coaching. I'd love to do a book study, but my district (like many others) is focusing pretty heavily on Common Core Standards this year; so I'm thinking that if we do a book study, it will probably have something to do with that. At the same time, I'm bound and determined to share this work with my teachers. I think it has huge implications for them in working with kids; but I also wonder whether OPENING MINDS might have has huge implications for me. I wonder, for instance, how I can help my young teachers to to develop procedural narratives about their teaching; and what kinds of questions I might ask to help them be reflective about what worked, and what strategies they used. I think of all of the teachers who have said to me, over the years, "I'm not good at teaching writing," and I wonder how I might help them move from that fixed world view to a more dynamic one, "I'm not good at teaching writing yet." I am also fascinated by Johnston's discussion of dialogic thinking. Most of us who have coached, or done professional development, or sat on school committees, can think of how different people's input affects conversations and/or group dynamics. And I wonder how, as a literacy coach, I can create discussion formats, (I'm thinking of some of the Critical Friends protocols), that really open up conversations, allow a variety of voices to be heard, and invite multiple perspectives.
I also have to admit to one bit of skepticism about Johnston's take on dialogic conversations and the construction of knowledge, especially when it comes to content area reading or professional development. While I truly believe that such conversations can aid in the construction of knowledge and yes, moral development, as Johnston suggests in Chapter 6, I also believe that there are times when people just flat out need a little information from a more knowledgeable source. I think about some graduate classes, where the professor let us construct everything. I loved working with other people in groups, but there were some times when I just wanted to hear what the professor had to say. She already had her masters, and her Ph.D. She clearly knew more than I did. I wanted to hear from her. Not a two hour lecture, but fifteen or twenty minutes that would push my thinking, or add to the material I was using to construct knowledge. I have felt similarly in some of the new teacher inservices I have attended or observed or facilitated. I don't think it's entirely helpful for new teachers to talk JUST to each other about strategies when they really don't have that many strategies in their bag of tricks. Sometimes I think it's equally useful to introduce a new strategy, then let them reflect on how they might use it.
Finally, I'm thinking about Johnston's work from the parent perspective. I wonder how I might use some of this language with my own sons. My boys are not "school kind of kids," at least not yet anyway. I wonder how I can talk to them in ways that will promote a more positive and dynamic stance. How can I help my Son #2, who is brilliant, but hates school, to want to put forth the effort to graduate this year? And how I can help Son #1, living in an apartment and starting junior college, to develop procedural narratives that will help him be more successful in school, and more vocal about his needs as a learner.
OPENING MINDS is giving me lots to think about as a teacher, a literacy coach, and a parent.
Jill is hosting the conversation today at My Primary Passion. Be sure to stop by and see what others are thinking.