Thursday, July 12, 2012

Opening MInds - #cyberPD 1

From Peter Johnston's very first quote, "Children seldom misquote you.  They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said," I was hooked.  My self-reflection with Johnston as my guide had begun.  That quote made me think about all the times I had started a conversation with a student, only to have it fall apart because of something I said, wishing I could take it back.  Johnston couldn't have set the stage more perfectly for me.

He gave words to things I do, and things I wish I did more often.  One of those was the idea of rehearsing agentive narratives with students.  To use Johnston's words, "Errors usually happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are stretching into new territory - when we are learning."  This rehearsal happens often in my class, especially in the beginning of the year, as we're establishing community in our class.  I want students to see how I work through issues when things get difficult, and then I want to identify the same actions when students work through something as well.  But I found myself wondering why, at certain times of the year, I forget these important lessons.  Why in January, when I'm reflecting on what learning paths we still need to travel, do I get anxious, and start pressing a little more, giving less time for these important rehearsals?

So, when Johnston went on to say that, "Teaching is planned opportunism.  Teaching requires constant improvisation.  It is jazz," I realized what a perfect analogy that was.  To keep me mindful of the jazz and improvisation that needs to occur, I am considering actually putting jazz music into our classroom - having it be the opening of our day, possibly play it during transitions, and see how it works to have jazz as a backdrop for writing workshop.  I think the auditory reminder of the improvisations that always occur in jazz will help me be more mindful of the improvisations that need to happen in our classroom as well.

This particular reflection was a perfect introduction into the powerful Chapter 2 where Johnston so carefully builds our background knowledge about the difference between "fixed performance frame" and "dynamic performance frame." Understanding the theories behind these performance frames was a powerful learning for me, and a humbling one as well.  The further I read in chapter 2, the more I found myself really sitting up and paying attention.  First of all, as a former special education teacher, I realized what a catch-22 being identified as someone needing more assistance really is.  While it is a good thing the student is getting more help, Johnston is correct in saying that those students are always working on their identified deficits.  How vitally important it will be for me to celebrate with ALL students their successes as they work through something in reading workshop, writing workshop, or word study.  I want all those successes in their learning process to help them want to tackle more and more, and feel confident about it.

Another eye-opener for me was, "Children who adopt a fixed-performance frame tend to become helpless when they run into trouble.  They cease being strategic."  It's that learned helplessness that I've seen time and time again in students.  Getting them to break free and take risks is an important goal.  But, like with Johnston's Choice Words, I realized that these concepts apply outside the classroom as well.  How frequently have I heard adults/colleagues say they just can't get something?  Actually, I'll use myself as an example.  For well over a year, I've wanted to learn VoiceThread, but I just heard myself say the other night to a colleague for the 100th time (she must be getting tired of hearing it), "I really need you to help me.  I just don't get VoiceThread."  While I always do better in learning something when I have a visual model first, when did I become so dependent?  I'm a pretty good problem solver normally.  A lot of self-reflection on this one!

"Within a fixed performance perspective, people can be judged quite quickly."  Later in the same chapter, "If we judge quickly and stereotype people, it will limit our likely relationships with them."  Once again, my reflections on both of these statements fell in the classroom setting as well as the personal arena. With a few students I've had in recent years, I definitely type-casted them after awhile, and once that's done, it's hard to reverse.  That will be another goal for me as a teacher this year.  As a person,  these statements really made me think.  I find that with children I can be encouraging and patient most times, but with adults I don't always exhibit the same care.  This was a huge reflection, and one I will need to ponder for quite some time.

Chapter 3 was a great chapter of hope for me.  After being quite hard on myself as I reflected on the first two chapters, chapter 3 opened the window for ways in which I can develop; can change the "learning narratives."  But as well as hope, it presents a challenge as well.  I want to adopt a more dynamic learning performance frame for myself, which will hopefully result in a change in my narratives with students, peers, family, and friends.  That's a lot of narrative!!!

As a language arts teacher, I really loved what Johnston had to say about not assigning character traits to people.  If that shouldn't be the goal (and it shouldn't), then we do have to be careful about talking about characters in literature.  To use Johnston's words, I will be talking with students about characters "in terms of internal states, feelings, intentions, contexts, and change."  In fact, because of that, I will be choosing read alouds for beginning of year with that in mind.

Finally, "yet" will be my new go-to word this year.  As Johnston states, that one little word can really change the dynamics of a statement or a thought.  I haven't learned VoiceThread... yet.  But I will.

For more of the great #cyberPD reflections, head over to Cathy's Reflect and Refine Blog.  Thanks so much for hosting us today, Cathy!


  1. Although vacation plans prevented me from joining you, Karen, I am trying to read Cathy's posts, & now I will yours since you are in the group, too. This book sounds so good & supportive for both reflection and action. Thanks for the explanation of the chapters & your response.

  2. Karen,
    I felt humbled too by the discussion about fixed and dynamic theories. Very eye opening chapter! Loved your idea about selecting read alouds to talk more deeply about characters and being wary of how we use trait language. Agree this is a good book for our professional as well as personal lives.

  3. I was moved by your honesty in your post, Karen! It really prompted me to think more deeply about my own teaching.

    I'm reading Ellin Keene's Talk About Understanding, and she also explains the importance of rehearsing our words. She also confirms what Johnston says about choosing our words carefully, but goes further to say that sometimes, we need to take a moment of silence to make sure we've done just that.

    I'd agree that "yet" will be my go-to word this year. So happy you joined in the conversation, Karen!

  4. Karen,
    I'm glad you took the time to write your post. I loved it! I enjoyed the way you wove Johnston's quotes and points with small narratives about your classroom. I had to smile at your VoiceThread comments. I have been saying the same thing, but slowly I am getting better. I can do more today with VT than I could last year at this time.

    I loved the idea of using jazz transitions as reminders to be ready for those opportunities children give us each day.


  5. Karen,

    Very thoughtful reflections in this post. The part that struck me the most was when you talked about Special Ed students. I often wonder about how that process might affect a student's thinking. This book makes me ponder that even more. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Karen,

    I love how you are tying in talking about characters from literature in a way that will guide students to think in a more dynamic manner. I would love to hear what titles you come up with for your read alouds!

    Thank you for your very thoughtful reflection.


  7. Karen,
    I love the way you summarized each chapter and what you took away from them. I think this book is going to help all of us in terms of "classroom talk" and how we interact with our students. I like your idea about playing jazz music. Like you, I want to remember that teaching is "a jazz". I also will be using the word "yet" in my vocabulary a lot more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Your words... "I find that with children I can be encouraging and patient most times, but with adults I don't always exhibit the same care. This was a huge reflection, and one I will need to ponder for quite some time." ring very true for me as well. Thanks for your honesty and for helping me to reflect as well - just as you always do!