Let's Change Education

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Month: April 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Morning Moment: April 30, 2016

A moment…

Dear Super Syrie,

Today I heard about your plan to give all A’s, and I was angry. It was just after first period and the haze of anger about this plan clouded my mind, and I couldn’t even attempt to see your view. But one thought kept going through my mind, albeit annoyingly at first, that this plan was an amazing idea! I continued to think about it through math, band, LA, foreign language, and science today, and now at eleven at night, I think I finally have the words to say what I personally see in your plan.

First off, I don’t want to sound petty, childish, or easily swayed. These are my honest opinions and not teacher-pleasers. This year in LA has been one of my personal favorites, usually LA is class I hate and prioritize least of all and will do anything to get out of. Not this year, in fact yours is one of the few classes I don’t dread going to. With your combination of treating students like intelligent human beings and giving us opportunities like independent learning projects, I feel like I have actually enjoyed learning like when I was little and wouldn’t stop asking questions. And I have put more time and effort into your class, even though it is one of the easiest to pass. Heck, this isn’t even an assignment, I just wanted to share what I thought about your plan with you. I personally think the only reason people are getting upset, livid, or foaming at the mouth about this plan is that they don’t get the chance to participate. I would have loved it, anyone would. and why not? A zone with a skilled and driven teacher and students who want to learn sounds amazing.

Secondly, thank you for caring so much about so many students. Not many teachers can say that they would be willing or capable of handling the ordeal you are getting yourself into. My only worry is that, in making education better for students for the next two years, you might burn out, so make sure you take care of yourself. Once or twice this year you got sick, and from the way you acted in class about being gone, you saw it all as your fault, and that you were letting us down. While we do love it when you are here, we like to know you are feeling good, too. So, in short, be careful of the stress of this plan. You may have every eventuality planned for, but the hardest obstacles are the ones we don’t see ahead on the road.

Finally, don’t underestimate self-doubt. It never goes away. It never stops talking. It only waits for you to weaken. So, in your plan, which I find heartwarming that a teacher would care so much for his students, be ready for the only true thing to fear–fear itself.

Once again, thank you for caring; it makes my day.

–Ben, Sophomore CHS

Ben handed this to me at the end of the day yesterday. Tears near as I read it. Thank you, Ben. I am glad that my class was one of the least dreadful for you this year. Truly sorry that you will not get to participate next year. Glad, too, that your anger gave way to clarity and you found some sense in my plan.

Another moment…

Nathaniel is one of my senior TA’s this year. He joins me every day during third period, and with the exception of handing out a few papers on occasion, he generally reads or works on homework as we do our thing. As such, I never really know how much he or any of my TA’s pay attention to what’s going on around them. After all, my jokes haven’t changed much since they were in my class two years ago. So I assume they tune me out. Apparently, every once in a while, though, they tune in. Nathaniel had tuned in the day before during our discussion about my plan and self-doubt. This is what he shared with me at the end of third yesterday.

“Hey, Syrie. Yesterday, when you were talking about self-doubt and failure, I was reminded of a Superman comic I once saw where he couldn’t save everyone, and so someone asked why he should save anyone, and he said, ‘Even if I save only one person, that’s one person’s life I have saved, one person for whom I have made a difference.’ So, Syrie, think about that next year. Don’t worry about failing. You can’t fail. You will save someone, and that means you will have made a difference. As long as you are making a difference failure cannot succeed. Remember that.”

–Nathaniel, Senior CHS

Thank you, Nathaniel, I will add your wise words to my log, and as I move forward next year, I will revisit them when I am in danger of losing my way, reminding me of my purpose and my resolve.

Moments. I love moments. Happy Saturday, faithful few. Have a great weekend.


The Rest of the Story: Morning Minutes, April 29, 2016

There’s more to the story. Some, I suspect, wonder what happened two days ago that prompted yesterday’s post. Well, at the end of second period on Wednesday, as things were wrapping up, my giving an A plan came up, and the kids started asking questions and making comments. Though some kids had reasoned out that I was going to actually proceed with the plan next year, for many it was the first time that reality dawned and their responses ranged from incredulity to intrigue. One kid was particularly incredulous, staying after to express both her dismay and concern over my plan. “Sy, I am worried about you. Are you okay? You do know this is crazy, right? You know that this won’t work? You know kids won’t do anything next year? Do you really want to do this?” Time short, I couldn’t adequately respond to Stephanie’s question flood, and we parted with her telling me, warning me that she would be posting on my blog, addressing this madness. Moments later, on my way to the restroom, self-doubt settled on my shoulder, and the whispers began.

Then, yesterday morning, I wrote the post. But at the time, I did not know that Steph had made good on her promise, and waiting in my SPAM folder was her post. Below is what she wrote.


What are you hoping to accomplish with this study? What is it you’re trying to change in the grand scheme of things and to what degree? As a student who works sometimes past midnight trying to finish assignments and study for tests to maintain an A, the thought of that kind of stress being lifted is admittedly appealing. But for me, my drive is to get the A. I’ve talked to many of my fellow students and that’s what drives them too. You said you want us to focus on the learning. and before I would have completely agreed. The learning is what we should be there for. But it’s not for most of us anymore once we get to this degree in our schooling. We lost a passion for learning that I don’t think is realistic to try to revive this late. Granted I’m only a sophomore, but I’m sure if you speak to other students, you may discover that the will to learn for the sake of learning and knowledge is almost not feasible. Which is why I wonder what you want to accomplish with this, how far do you want this to go? Do you want it to spread? I can’t help but see this as giving participation ribbons to kids in a soccer game whether they lose or win. I don’t mean to sound pompous by saying that, but I always thought that while the grading system could use improvement, it was meant to be a ” you-get-out-what-you-put-in” thing.

–Stephanie, Sophomore, CHS

My Response

Ah, Steph. It is you who exposed the chink in my armor yesterday. How far do I want to go? Far, young friend, far. I aim to change the world, a world that would cause our young to lose “a passion for learning.” I cannot live in that world, so I would see it change. I shed my armor, then, for it is weak, and I will face the foe as I am. It is all I need. I will put your post on my wall next year,as a reminder that I do this for you and all you represent–the young to whom I would give the world. A gift that begins with an A, a symbol to represent that which was once pure: a love of learning.

There’s more. The story continued yesterday, as of course, I had to engage Steph about the events that had transpired in the previous twenty-four hours. The other kids, witness to our discussion, asked to see/hear our interaction on my blog, so I shared–first my post, then Steph’s post and my reaction. As luck would have it, for I did not plan it, our focus for the day included a look at the real-world writing purpose of expression and reflection, so it fit perfectly to have a genuine express-and-reflect model to share with the kids. Even more, Steph by posting to my blog satisfied one of the real-world writing project requirements, employing the purpose of evaluate and judge. From there, the lesson plan changed for the day, and I continued to share what happened between Steph and me in the rest of my classes, showing our real-world interactions on my blog.

Of course, this invited discussion about my plan for next year, and I have to say, it may well be that it was one of the very best class discussions I have participated in during my twenty years in teaching. We engaged in an honest, open, real discussion about teaching and learning and this critter we call education, a critter about which our kids have a lot to say, in ways that belie their young age. Kids know more than we give them credit for. I just think we don’t give them the right opportunities to share and shine. For me it was magical, an oh-my-gosh-why-don’t-I-have-this-on-tape moment. Thanks, Steph. You saved me. You cast me adrift one day, only to throw me a lifeline the next, a buoy in my mad sea. But before you saved me, you made me swim. Thank you for making me tread through my troubles. And, please know, that your post will be on my classroom wall next year and all those to come, my reminder that there are those for whom I must swim, even when the waters are rough.

Happy Friday, all. Have a splendid weekend.



A Chink in the Armor: Morning Minutes, April 28, 2016

There is a terror in the night. A thing that will have our slumber. A thing that haunts us, seeks us, hunts us. And by the the time it finally finds us, it’s usually too late, and we’re in its grips, awake at 2:00 AM, awash in a sea without harbor, an abyss without bottom, a tempest without refuge.

Oh, it begins simply enough. Someone makes a comment at 9:00 AM. We respond. Time moves. People come. People go. We press rewind and replay. We analyze the scene. And the wind whispers. You will fail. It warns of a storm. But we move on, sure we misheard. But the storm is coming. And as the clouds collect, we seek the sun, sure it will clear, promising tomorrow, a new day. But the sun sets, hiding clouds that never fully cleared. And as darkness descends, a whisper on the wind. You will fail. But we ignore it, believing we can escape it as we fade from our day, finding peace in our sleep. But we are fooled. And it comes, screaming now, YOU WILL FAIL. And we are caught, held firmly in the death grip of doubt.

Though I thought I had carefully anticipated all the obstacles and challenges I might encounter in my journey, I forgot one, a dangerous foe, a dasher of dreams: self-doubt. Yesterday, he found me. And though challenges were faced and met successfully, as the day wore on, I reflected on my interactions and conversations around my plan, and I let it seep in; I began to doubt. And the wind whispered. Am I doing the right thing? Do I have the strength and skill to succeed? Am I crazy? Are they right? Will I fail? Finally, the whispers gave way to screams, forcing me out of bed at 2:00 AM, forcing me to fight or flee. I chose to fight…to write, in order to fend off and send away he who discovered the vulnerability in my armor. But as the sun now peeks, I stand firm, a vanquisher of a foe not unfamiliar, a foe who will no doubt return as the war is not won. But, today, the battle is mine. A battle won not alone, for my strength comes from those who follow, those I will not fail. Thank you, all, for your support. You helped get me through the night. It won’t be the last time I call on you for strength. When we make our dreams public, we make them real. And when things become real, they become scary. Thank goodness doubt, then, is only an illusion. I will not fail.

Happy Thursday. Sorry for the odd post this morning.




Back to Biz: Morning Minutes, April 27, 2016

Well, finally, back to business in 219 today. Seven days seemed an eternity, and now, the thirty or so remaining will seem a blink as we try to fit in all that I’d like to get done before year’s end. Here’s the plan.

Sentence Study. Phrases and sentence types in the bag, we will finish up with adjective and adverb clauses and common sentence errors (fragments, run-ons, and comma splices). The goal here has been not only to have the kids identify and distinguish among these various elements but also use them correctly and effectively in their own writing. We will have a comprehensive final to wrap this up.

Real-World Writing Project. Most of our writing this year has been academic, culminating with the argumentative writing the kids just completed on the state test. Now, that out of the way, we will focus on writing that better reflects the actual kind of writing that people do in the “real world.” Here is the content of the handout that I will give the kids today.

Real-World Writing Project

Learning Questions

How does purpose affect how we write?

How does audience impact how we communicate?

How does the correctness (convention) of my writing affect audience response?


Recently, on the state test, you carefully considered the role of new media in our society, judging it in varying ways and degrees against old media. Regardless your position, there is one thing that I hope we could all agree on, new media are here to stay and will continue to evolve in ways that we cannot always predict. That said, when we take communication outside the context of academics, communicating in the real world is now more different than it’s ever been, and so, kids need experiences writing in ways that go beyond traditional school writing. Don’t get me wrong, traditional academic writing still has a place–in education, but I think we have arrived at a time where we should no longer pretend that you will write in the real world as you write in school. You won’t. After school, it is highly unlikely that you will ever write a literary analysis essay or a traditional research report.

With this in mind, we will seek to explore some different and maybe not-so-radically-different ways of writing to better help you prepare for writing in the real-world. Fortunately, we don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel because, after all, we are simply talking about effective communication, which rests on the perennial pillars of audience and purpose. Old or new, all forms of communication will always require us to consider why we are writing and to whom we are writing. Let’s write.


There are three products that I have in mind for this project.

Post on a website satisfying at least one or more of the following real-world writing purposes (RWP): Evaluate and Judge, Inquire and Explore, or Analyze and Interpret.

Mock Blog. Using your Independent Learning topic, you will create a fake blog that satisfies, at minimum, the Inform and Explain RWP.

Anthology of student writing with submissions from each student (probably two, one Express and Reflect and one Inform and Explain). This will be a collection that we will pass on to next year’s classes to create an authentic audience for you and provide mentor texts for them.



Real-World Writing Purposes (handout)

RADaR Revision (handout)

Elaborative Techniques (handout)

Mentor Texts (various handouts)

Independent Learning Project #4. This will be our final ILP of the year. Back to student choice for this one. Their mock blogs will be connected to this. Kids will present these the last week in May.

Injustice Speeches. Finally. This will be the capstone for the year. We will now focus on revising, polishing, and practicing for each kid’s moment. Additionally, and I haven’t run this by the kids yet, I would like to include a video element to this where each kid selects and shares a key passage from his/her speech, creating a highlight video of sorts to not only capture the magic but also create an “advertisement,” if you will, for next year’s group. Not sure we’ll have time for this. I’ll have to talk to my kids who are my video experts. Hope we can make it work. We will round out the year by delivering our speeches in June.

Happy Wednesday. Sorry for the long post this morning. We’ll get back to Operation Status Quo tomorrow.


Enough: Morning Minutes, April 26, 2016

Okay. So, I have tried to project and maintain a positive attitude towards our state testing this year, but my resolve is beginning to wane, and enough has become enough. Yesterday, by the end of the day, it had become clear to Ms. Tamura and me that we needed to tack on another day of testing with over half of our kids still not done, so today will mark our seventh consecutive day of state testing. And while this is the certainly the right–thus, easy–accommodation to make for our kids, it comes at a cost: seven days of instruction that we will never get back, days that could have been put to far better use. Of course the greater cost is perhaps the toll it is taking on the kids. And yeah, I know, I spoke of their resiliency last Saturday, but they, too, resilient or not, can only bend so far. Oh, they’ll be fine–they are resilient–but I worry about the deeply-seated disillusions they already possess sinking them even further into their disenfranchised views of this thing we call education. It seems we could do so much more right. I dream of a day when education becomes a cherished, invaluable experience for our kids, a day when they come to love it more with each passing year, instead of hating it more as they make their way down our not-always-so-hallowed halls. Yeah, I know–me and my pipe dreams.

Anyway, today is it. Tamura and I can no longer forfeit any more class time, so I will put on a happy face and cheer the kids on, thanking them for their diligence and dedication as they prepare to summit Mount SBA today. Crazily enough, not all will reach the peak and will have to continue testing tomorrow and beyond, but now it will be outside their LA classrooms, taking them out of other classrooms, away from learning. Enough.

On a brighter note, having read my post yesterday morning about my needs to make the “ideal real” next year, one of my students Kiersten, offered me her video camera. She discussed it with her parents, and they all agreed it would be for a good cause. Some readers may remember Kiersten’s “Why Do We Procrastinate?” video from Independent Learning Project #1. Regardless, this young lady understands movie making, and her very generous offer of both equipment and help comes as a warmly welcomed and much appreciated support for my journey next year. Thank you, Kiersten. I am so excited to learn from you.

Happy Tuesday, all.



The Big Picture: Morning Minutes, April 25, 2016

Things are in motion. My making my plan public has set the wheels to turnin’, and while that is exciting, it is also daunting, for with things now moving, there’s no turning back. And unless something completely unanticipated presents itself to prevent my plan, it’s a go, which means I have work to do, a lot of work to do before September. Though there are still numerous details to work through, I wanted to share my big-picture plan with you this morning.

Operation Status Quo

By now, I hope I have made clear how I feel about the status quo in education and how those irrepressible feelings are the driving force behind my journey. It is something that I have wanted to do for years, and now, at this twenty-year milestone in my career, I feel that I am finally ready to tackle that I which I believe must change in public education. Thus, I look to challenge conventional, traditional thinking around grading and learning, hoping to discover and promote a better approach for serving our students. I will share what I have learned not only at the end but also every day, a 360- day chronicle that will flip convention upside down and then back over again, arriving full circle–arriving hopefully at a better place, a place from which I can inspire and inform change beyond my own classroom.

Project 180

Year one. A school year is 180 days long. To flip something upside down, it needs to be turned 180 degrees. So, in year one, I will chronicle the “flip” every day in my blog, allowing the outside in, a daily view of the journey. Still working through some thinking on this, but my goal is to include my voice, my students’ voices, and parents’ voices in the narrative, sharing both struggles and successes. My goal is to then use the blog to write and publish a book in two volumes, Project 180 being volume one.

Project 360

Year two. The end of year two will bring us back full circle, another 180 days, getting us to 360. It is from here–the end where we began–that I hope to share an outcome that can help us make some significant changes in education. Of course, it may well turn out an epic fail, but I won’t know until then. I can’t succeed if I am afraid to fail, so I am prepared to fail in order to succeed. This year, chronicled the same as year one, will result in volume two.

Ideal to Reality

So, not sure how I feel about this next part, but it has begun to occur to me that I am going to need some help to make things a go for the next two years, and while I wish I could suggest that the resources are readily available and at my immediate disposal, I cannot, and I would humbly and soberly remind folks that I work in public education and that resources are scarce, so I am considering a few financial possibilities to aid my way. But this is not easy for me. One I hate to ask for help. Two, I don’t want to lose any support by turning people off. So, please know, that my thinking here is meant to help my journey, otherwise, I wouldn’t do it.

Among a number of things that I would like to have in place, to secure for the trip is technology that will help show and share the journey. I want video equipment and my own set of Chrome Books for my classroom, so I can let the world in. Two possibilities that I am contemplating include a GoFundMe and advertising for my blog. Both are far out my comfort zone, but they are avenues that could help me secure some resources that could be vital for this experience. Of course, I can and will do it without, but the ideal would be more real if they were at my disposal. Please give me some feedback here. Truly struggling with this part of it.

Happy Monday, all.


Just Dance: Morning Moment: April 23, 2016

“kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.”

–from “Keepsakes,” William Stafford

Wanted to take a moment this morning and give a huge shout out to the sophomores at CHS. They endured a long week of state testing, and they did so with grit and determination, hanging in there–despite their misgivings about the real purpose or benefit of this first chapter of their standardized story this spring–with chapters still to follow in both math and science. And the first chapter is still not done! With the majority of our kids still not done after 5 days of testing, Ms. Tamura and I decided to tack on an additional day, giving up our class time on Monday, so kids can have one more day of in-class testing, without disrupting their schedules beyond our classes.

On one hand, this is a good thing. Kids are working really hard, which we hope results in good scores. But on the other hand, it is a troubling thing. Kids are slowly having the life source sucked out of them, curbing any and all enthusiasm for learning the rest of year, especially with more tests to come. Oh, they’ll bounce back; after all, kids are resilient, but that doesn’t make me feel much better for them, and as I thank them for their hard work after each session, I also apologize for making them do this, which is especially tough for me, as I feel a hypocrite, because I have been trying to instill in them that education is something that we do for them, not to them. At the moment, it feels like the latter. Sorry, kiddos. Sorry that you have to learn that not everything is music. Thank you for dancing anyway. Proud of you all.

Happy Saturday, everyone.


Prepared to be wrong…


It All Works Out in the End: Morning Minutes, April 22, 2016

Morning, all. So, one of the objections that I anticipated has already been raised by Megahn in her response to my proposed approach for next year. So, since it’s out on the table, I would like to address it, for I imagine it is not Megahn’s concern alone.

Anticipated Objection #4: It is not fair to give all kids the same grade. If one kid works really hard and another kid does nothing, and they both get the same grade, then that is not fair. There have to be consequences for actions.

Reasoned Response #4: I understand this line of thinking. I have lived it–more or less–for the nearly forty years that I have been in the public-school system as either a student or a teacher. When I was Megahn’s age, I would have written her letter; she echos what would have been my sentiment at the time. I was Megahn. Even as recently as seven years ago, when I was completing my master’s degree, I recall being annoyed that essentially everyone in the grad program received A’s . One particular moment comes to mind when I had spent 40+ hours on my leadership-platform paper, and a peer had spent only 2 hours on it the night before, and we both received a 4.0. I was incredulous, miffed at the unfairness of it all. How could he get the same grade? It was unfair. It was…I get it. I get it, Megahn, trust me, I get it. It is unfair. But.

But, I see things differently now. I have to. Disappointed and disillusioned by the current realities in school, with kids disengaged and unmotivated, with learning on life support, I decided–as you all know by now–to approach things differently to help restore and revitalize the true purpose of education: learning. And that requires new thinking, a step away from tradition, a step that will challenge conventional wisdom, which includes that which we have always thought fair and just: hard work pays off, and choices have consequences.

For the next two years, kids will make choices, as they always have, but now their choices will be based on their commitment to their learning, not their compliance to the system. You see the A is a gift but it is not the reward. It is a shiny trinket meant to please in the moment. The reward is learning. And as I suggested earlier this week, I can give grades but I cannot give learning. Yes, every kid will be given an A next year, but every kid will not reach the same learning end next year. The A is of no real consequence in the end. In the end, what matters is the learning, and that learning will carry consequences far into the future. Sadly some kids will not “live into” their A’s next year, and for the moment it will seem a victory as that A appears on their transcripts, but it will be a shallow victory that will catch up with them at some point–it always does. So, for my Megahns out there, I would counsel that you not worry about others’ paths. Let them be. They, as you, will make choices. And they, as you, will face consequences. What they receive as a grade, has no bearing on what really matters in the end: your learning.

And that is the mind shift that I want my approach to carry: kids concerned first and kids concerned most about their learning. Not this person’s. Not that person’s. Their own. And not for mom. And not for dad. And certainly not for me. For themselves. For it is they alone who will reap the rewards. Or not. Actions will have consequences. They always do.

Happy Friday, all. Thank you for the feedback and support this week. Have a great weekend.



“A” Stands for Accountability: Morning Minutes, April 21, 2016

“…since they own the A, they will assume responsibility for it; they will own it; and here–finally–is the catch, they will sign for it.”

Yesterday, I suggested that questions need answers. I also suggested that questions are crucial, an absolutely necessary part of the process. Well, my mom, doing what moms do, grilled me yesterday on “How the heck are you going to determine the A at the end?” I suspect at this point my mom is not the only one wondering about accountability once everyone has an A, so I think it’s time to share my tentative, still-lots-to-consider-and work-through plan to create accountability in 219 next year.

First, I will have given the kids A’s, so there will be no traditional, did-you-earn-the-A step at the end of the semester. The kids from day one will own their A. It’s theirs. However, ownership requires responsibility. It is theirs to take care of, it is theirs to “live into.” They must own it. Feed it. Nurture it. Sustain it. And not for me. For themselves. I no longer own it. I gave it–a gift “to live into.”

Last week I talked about motivation and one of the critical elements in this approach is that kids–and parents–must own it. That is where true motivation begins and ends. As such, since they own the A, they will assume responsibility for it; they will own it; and here–finally–is the catch, they will sign for it. I’ll explain below.

Accountability Plan 1.0 (Fall Semester 2016)

  1. Learning Logs (final name TBD). Set on a two-week cycle, kids will log their learning, which will include but not be limited to: learning goals, daily reflection, record of practice, analysis of teacher feedback and performance data with evidence for meeting standard or explanation for why standard is not yet met, self-assessment, etc. Every other Friday will be devoted to final compilation, completion of learning logs, which will then be taken home and shared with parents. There will also be a community circle forum, where we discuss and evaluate as a class how things are going and what we can do to improve the learning in 219. I will collect the learning logs on Monday–if it has both a student and parent signature. It may otherwise be blank, but I will not accept it without the signatures. Kids and parents will have to own it. If they don’t, then they will lose the A, and end up owning an “S” at the end of the semester. A mark on the final report card that gives credit but has no bearing on a student’s GPA. So, there is a small price to pay for the A. This will happen nine times a semester. The final log will be comprehensive.
  2. Learning Reports. Every six weeks I will complete and send home a learning report for each kid, reporting not only on his/her academic progress but also his/her work and behavior habits. Parents and kids must sign these, too. Kids will always have an opportunity to challenge my evaluation, but they must offer up evidence against my judgment. This will happen three times a semester. The final report will be comprehensive.
  3. Student-led Learning Conferences. At the end of the semester, students will lead a comprehensive learning conference with their parents. This can either be done on a scheduled evening at school or at home. Signatures required.
  4. Skyward. I will still utilize Skyward to report on practice and performance. This way parents can take a look between learning logs and reports to see what practice kids are completing and see how they are performing on the assessments. All entries in Skyward will be no count, but parents will have a window into what’s happening day to day.

So, that’s the plan for now. It will no doubt change as we move forward and learn along the way, but I want folks to know that I have thought about this. I am not setting kids adrift, left to list on their own in the ocean of learning. I am merely forcing some freedom, pushing some ownership. I am not going anywhere. The learning guard is on duty, ready to throw kids a lifeline when necessary, but they are going to have to swim.

Happy Thursday, all. Thanks mom for doing what moms do. Love you.



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