"Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others." CCR.W.6
Last week, I had the honor of visiting Molly Koelle’s classroom. Molly is a teacher at Roy B. Kelley Elementary School in Lockport, New York. I’ve been supporting teachers and administrators there for several years now, and when Molly invited me to drop in and observe her in action during her literacy block, I knew I would learn a lot.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Molly’s students were buzzing with purpose the moment I entered the door. Multi-modal centers were in full swing, Molly was working with a small group of readers, and my attention was drawn to the iPad cart at the front of the room, which was empty. It took me a minute to locate them, and when I did, a bunch of questions began to play upon my lips.
“Can you tell me what you’re creating?” I whispered, dropping low, in order to be heard. Six writers were clustered around a table, hard at work with their words.
“We’re writing about the things we treasure,” a young writer named Kyle told me. “I wrote this way first,” he explained, sliding a draft across the table and encouraging me to take a peek. “Then, I used what I wrote to get ideas for my StoryKit story. I’ll show you what I mean,” he assured me, launching a series of slides and audio as his fingers glided across his iPad.
“How does writing this way change your process?” I asked him, curious to know if he could answer that question.
“When I started making my StoryKit story, I noticed where I made some mistakes in my first copy. I also picked some better words.”
“So writing this way helps you correct errors and choose words that are more interesting?”
“Well, yeah. And I got some better ideas when I had to draw the pictures to go with my story. I switched some things around. Also, when I read my story aloud to record my voice, I can hear what my story sounds like. This made me make some changes too.”
I was impressed by Kyle’s ability to reflect on the spot, and I’m wondering how conversations like these might inspire deeper or at least, more purposeful revision. I’m also wondering how connecting to an audience beyond the classroom or the school or even the state might enable the same.
So this is how my conversations with Molly about aligning to the Common Core began: with the work of her students inside of her classroom. When she drifted over, I pointed to the initial draft: pencil and paper and words inside a tight container.
“It seems that this kind of work is where we came from,” I suggested, and Molly agreed. After all, she was already helping her students embrace new possibilities. “This is where we began as teachers. It’s where many kids used to begin and end as writers, but that’s not the case anymore.”
This is where bubbles of potential began float and pop in front of us…leaving a whole lot of questions behind.
Are the CCSS about using the iPad or any other tool to simply create and publish stuff, or does the potential to do even more than that mean that the expectations are even larger than that?
What if the tools aren’t merely about content creation and publication? What if the CCSS aren’t either?
What would happen if kids used these tools to share their thinking and their work with the world? What could they learn from others that might help them revise their thinking and their work? What could they give of themselves that might inspire the same?
Most importantly, how do we build each kid’s capacity to accomplish those things rather than focusing exclusively on content development and the navigation of tools?
What do we need to teach? What do we need to learn?
These are some of the questions I’ve begun pursuing with teachers like Molly over the last year, and that work will continue. There are other questions I’d like to pursue with fellow coaches and other pd facilitators, though.
For instance, I know from experience that coaching teachers to help kids produce and publish authentic work for real audiences can be challenging in and of itself. Having them do so in order to help writers learn something genuinely meaningful from this audience? Something that will inspire deep revision of thought and work? I’m thinking that’s an entirely different endeavor, and it requires an entirely different skill set not only for teachers, but for coaches and facilitators as well. How do our approaches need to shift in response? What do we need to be learning?
Over the last year, four big ideas kept presenting themselves to me.
My visit with Molly brought all of them back around again. They remain fundamental to my work with Common Core:
- Behavior and action must align with vision, not just the standards.
- Reflection is critical, and reflecting on unintended consequences is even more so.
- Learning isn’t simply about gathering and producing and publishing. It’s about connecting, questioning, challenging, and most of all, revision.
- We must be critical consumers of the information and ideas that are so plentiful now.
What have you been learning from your experiences on the ground lately? What are the big ideas that circle around your professional life?