Slice of Life: A Time-Warped Weekend

This 24-hour slice included over 300 miles of driving (one way), but the important middle, 10 hours worth was slow and easy, an on foot existence. Join us here at Two Writing Teachers each week and write your slice.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWe left at 5 am Saturday morning. Darkness surrounded us as we drove through Los Angeles.  Sunlight hit as we entered green open land. It was like LA didn’t exist.

We got to the Grapevine, a long uphill climb that lifts you out of Southern California into the central part of the state, in less than two hours. I always felt like north should be uphill. In this case it is.

Descending into the Central Valley you see nothing but vast, continuous acreage.  I couldn’t help but think of the water shortage, water politics and the amount of produce this place generates.

After endless land, the GPS led us off highway 5 onto strange routes that cut through little towns, strawberry fields, and green rolling hills over to the Santa Cruz mountains.

Fog and cooler temps met us as we wound up to the pine-decorated northern California coastal town of Santa Cruz: a town of college students, older hippies, surfers, homeless and a few affluent folks. Average California town?  Just one of the many archetypes that exist in this diverse state.

We pulled up to our 23-year old’s place and it looked good, clean and put together, as did he. When your kids go away, you don’t know what to expect. Knowing the kid I knew at home, this was a surprise..

We spent the day, with our first born, our oldest, eating, talking about politics, his studies, his work, reading, Shakespeare. We walked around town. Spent and inordinate amount of time in a used book store.  Stopped for another cup of coffee. Purchased some shoes, for him for me, socks for Dad. Walked some more. Hmm. Time for dinner? Had an amazing meal featuring fantastic pesto sauce at a very hip place showing a continuous loop of Coffee and Cigarettes, a bizarre but at the same time fascinating movie, as we ate.  After dinner we talked and walked some more. Got some ice cream. Finally, time to call it a night.

Dropped him off with a promise to get him for coffee at 6 am. Amazingly he calmly agreed. Next morning we pick him up for coffee and pastry and then after a hug and goodbyes, start the drive home.

Even though the drive was crazy fast, it seemed to be a leisurely time-warp like experience. Just being together for about ten hours. Enjoying each other’s company. These moments will stick with me — just like photographs that line our walls, tables and desks of them when they were little ones, bigger ones and graduates. Unbelievable. Exhausting. But good.

So good to see him.

Assessment: Letting the Students Drive the Data

After reading Jennifer Brittin’s great post on the NCTE’s position paper on formative assessment and her struggles with data, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and fess up: I am drowning in data. Post its trail me. I find them in bags and books. Notebooks are filled with data creation, collection and interpretation that leads hopefully to next steps for nearly 60 students. Frankly even when I analyze and categorize the data, then group students, feedback seems no where near what John Hattie calls “timely.”  Superhuman powers seem necessary. An all-knowing great and powerful Oz of a teacher…or is that just that man behind the curtain?

Due to my lack of super powers, I am looking to students to learn what they need to do and then approximate their success along the way. Their approximations of success may be slightly off, but their misinterpretations of the expectation is easier for me to lean into than me  letting them know “where they stand.” It is a work in progress, but so far this is how reading is looking. I have based these “ladders” on Jennifer Serravallo’s work with an eye toward growing student thinking and writing about reading in the areas of setting, plot and character.

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Setting: Writing about Reading Using Ladder to Grow Thinking
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Plot – Writing About Reading Addressing Character’s Problems
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Character: Writing About Reading Using a Post it Ladder

I have students use their self-selected club books and write about their reading (click here for sheet)  weekly using the ladders to assess their thinking. They work independently, then go to their groups to revise and hopefully refine/upgrade their thinking during club talk. Each week I look at their assessment of their work. and then group for instruction the following week. Needs fluctuate based on the type and level book.

A group of readers who tested out as “T/U” did exceptional work in Tale of Desperaux a “Q” level book that had been read aloud to them in third grade. It was some of the best work I’d seen. They got it!  And more importantly, they know how it feels to get it. As they move on, they should have a model of success to work from.  

I’ve also seen the opposite. Students not being able to do the work, and more importantly they are starting to see where they are. I’m hearing more, “Ohhh that’s what that means,” versus, me saying this is what it means. Shockingly some are still discovering that setting refers to a place and or time not a character’s clothing. Shocking that I thought they knew what setting was, after all, hadn’t I told them many times.

I’m so thankful for the voices such as those in the NCTE twitter chat on Sunday night (read the Storify here) that are solidly behind the work of goal-oriented, student-driven assessment or as Kristi Mraz (@mrazkristine)  termed “successment!”  Here’s to a lot more of doing that work together.