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Wednesday
Feb202019

New appreciation for the EL learner's challenges

What if English Were Phonetically Consistent? 

I've always liked this old riddle:

  • What do you call someone who can speak many languages: Multilingual
  • What do you call someone who can speak two languages? Bilingual
  • What do you call someone who can only speak one language? An American

Despite having had a couple years of Spanish in high school and a week every couple years to practice Spanish when traveling, I really can't consider myself truly bilingual.* So I truly admire those children in our schools and immigrants to our country who are learning English.

Although it makes few lists of "world's most difficult languages," English is tricky to read, even for those who grow up speaking it. The inconsistencies demonstrated by the clever video above are just the beginning of trying to decipher a language that seems to have as many exceptions to rules as it has rules -both in pronunciation and spelling.

One of the reasons I'm excited about ebooks is that many come with a read-aloud feature. Students of any age can follow the printed text while that text is read to them. While such an experience pales in comparison to learning to read while sitting on a parent's lap with a beloved picture book, it certainly can be effective. I'm proud to have helped establish in our district collections of ebooks (MyOnReader, Macking Via, Tumblebooks, etc.) that can be accessed from students' homes and classrooms.

We can, of course, always do more in helping parents and teachers be aware that these resources exist. (I've always said that an e-book no more jumps onto a kid's computer screen than a print book jumps off a shelf into a kid's hands.) This role of the librarian is absolutely critical, especially if we want to genuinely serve our immigrant families in which every member may be undertaking the daunting task of mastering English. The resources without the teaching and promotion and reminding are pretty much a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Next time you see an English Language Learner, think of the little video above. And respect the challenge she faces.

*Last time I ordered my meal in Spanish at a local Mexican restaurant, I was kindly asked to "just speak English."

Monday
Feb182019

Why every tech director should have once been a classroom teacher

There's been a conversation this past week on our state tech directors' listserv about how tech departments deal with damaged staff computers. Do we forgive? Do we charge? The "teachers should pay" and the "district should pay" policies for broken screens, sodden keyboards, and missing chargers seems pretty evenly divided.

I fall firmly in the "just fix the damn things out of the district repair budget" camp. The $100 screen replacement is not worth the $1000 of enmity that making the teacher pay would incur. Now were this the 3rd screen in as many months, I might change my opinion, but in my experience, seriously careless teachers are about as common as chickens needing braces. Required tools used in the commission of one's job should be expected to need repair and it should be up to the district to make those repairs - not the user.

My stand on this and a good many policy-type questions is guided by my own, now ancient, experiences as a classroom teacher. I taught English, drama, speech, reading, and journalism for seven years from 1976-1984. During my first two years, I generally had 6 different preps for 7 classes. I also sponsored the yearbook, the newspaper, class plays, and speech contest. Oh, and I had a part time job at a gas station on the weekends to make ends meet. I slacked off the other five years as a half time librarian and half time reading/language arts teacher. Not so many extra-curriculars, but I did work the night shift at a local motel to supplement my income.

From what I remember of those days when I had far more energy and optimism than I do now:

  • I would rather correct papers and plan lessons at the kitchen table than at my desk in the classroom. I was tired at the end of the day and papers seemed more interesting after a couple beers. As teacher work has become digital, I understand the need/desire for taking a laptop home - and the associated risk of damage in transport.
  • I was always poor. I drove old cars. I took very modest trips. I was paying off student debt. I lived in old farmhouses that were drafty. Had I needed to pay for a repair to a computer, it would have hurt.
  • I was always busy to point of being overwhelmed. I don't remember being physically tired as much as mentally exhausted each and every day. After my first two years of teaching, my biggest desire was for a job that required no thinking at all. (I got one working in a hospital while in grad school.) While this does not speak to computer damage, it has framed how I think about asking teachers to take on new tasks, learn new skills. They had better be worth it. Period.

Good technology decision-makers cannot look solely through the lens of technology. Whether through experience or other mean, need for a direct connection to the realities of working in the classroom cannot be over-valued.

Saturday
Feb162019

BFTP: 7 ways to sell a creative idea

It’s ironic that even as children are taught the accomplishments of the world’s most innovative minds, their own creativity is being squelched. Jessica Olien, Inside the Box: People Don't Actually Like Creativity, Slate, December 2013.

People don't like creativity - I KNEW it!

In my article, "Developing Creativity in Every Learner" (LMC October 2012), I listed as a Myth 7: 

Everyone wants creative students. Creative people have a long history of making others nervous or upset. From Elvis’s gyrations, Monet’s abstractions, Job’s technologies, to Gandhi’s resistance - innovation is met with resistance. Our students (and teachers) who are truly creative just might rattle our preconceptions and our sense of taste. Genuinely new products just may take some getting used to. Recognize this and remember that not all people celebrate the creative spirit.

Creativity means doing something differently, looking at the world differently, potentially creating winners from losers and losers from winners. Any wonder human nature is a little suspicious. (Gee, we had a 17.5% success rate of killing mammoths using the atal method. Might this new fangled bow and arrow be worse? What do we do about Phlem who is headman because of his atal chucking prowess?)

So how do you get your creative ideas accepted when it seems humans are naturally inclined to LIKE staying securely in their boxes?

1. Call it innovative, not creative. To innovate means "make changes in something established, esp. by introducing new methods, ideas, or products." Create means "bring something into existence." Vgotsky's proximal theory says to learn something new we have to have a connection with the known. Can your creative idea be implemented in baby steps - an extension of the established rather than a whole new deal?

2. Make your supervisor think it is his/her idea. "I think you were mentioning the other day about changing the process we use to ______________." Have you given this any more thought? I personally think it's a good idea and here's a way we might tweak it...." 

3. Stress the functionality, not the newness. Too often we forget the second half of what makes something creative - that it is both original and effective. When pitching the creative solution, stress the problem that will be solved, not the originality.

4. Suggest a trial run and evaluation. Run a pilot of the new method. Get a volunteer. Select a time frame. Then assess. 

5. Build trusting relationships and a track record.* The old adage that the best predictor of future performance is past performance holds true in leading innovative and creative approaches to solving problems. When suggesting your idea, it wouldn't hurt to mention how your similar approaches to problem solving worked before. And if you don't have a track record of success, should people be nervous about your ideas?

6. Seek recognition. Many leaders like recognition for their programs, schools, or districts. If an innovative program might lead to a state or national award, use that to sell it. This seems the least genuine reason to do anything creative. I'd hope most of us in education try new things for the sake of improving kids' educational experiences, not for personal glory.

7. Be subversive. Just do it. Ask forgiveness later if needed.

How do you sell a new approach when it means upsetting somebody's routine? 

Original post 12/11/13 

For more about creativity, get my book: Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner