Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We don't live here anymore!

Hi folks,

As promised (threatened), we have moved to a more permanent home. You can now find the papergraders at

Where will will continue our occasionally sputtering stream of thoughts, large and small, on education.

We will keep this here for historical purposes, so that when we are rich and famous you can say, "hey, I know about them when they were just on blogspot!" However, all our posts have migrated with us, and can be found on the new site as well.

Hope to see you in our new house,

M. Shelly (Doc Z) and F. Scott (Mister S)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New School Year...

And change is a-comin'

We are working on a new website with our very own domain. That sounds all fancy doesn't it. It isn't, but I like that it might sound that way. When we make the switch all our old content will migrate with us- so none of our ramblings, musings or inter-office banter will be lost. Also, it will be easier to to a lot of things we can't do right now. And we will have sweet mobile apps to keep us posting more regularly.

We are also taking the Papergraders on the road this fall. We will be speaking/presenting at two conferences before the end of the year. Stay tuned for more info when we move.

In the meantime, lots of teaching/learning/thinking going on around here. We are excited to be sharing some ideas with the world.


The Papergraders

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another view of Finland

I recently had a conversation with a teacher from Holland and a teacher from Kansas City.

We were talking together about education and the big issues that seem to be at the forefront of the conversations about it in the US vs. Holland. The teacher from Holland indicated that his country discusses the same issues we do--assessment, standards, funding.

I made some crack like, "well, we can't all be Finland, can we?"

He smiled. He acknowledged the view that from the outside that people have of Finland, how people hold it up as THE model for how to do education. F. Scott and I have spent a lot of time actually talking about Finland--the standards are dare I say beautiful and child-centered and exactly what I want for my own kid. The structures in place to train, mentor, and support new teachers are dreamy compared to the anti-teacher rhetoric currently taking over our country.

And then this teacher from Holland told me a few things that started to burst that little halo of perfection I had maintained in my mind around the topic of Education in Finland. The teachers, he explained, are VERY traditional. Though the standards may appear child-centered, the classrooms often are not. The teachers do not innovate or try anything new or out of the ordinary. School is what school has been for years. Also, school there tends to appeal more to the ways that female students learn and think--school in Finland is not working actually for scores of young Finnish males and they drop out, thus complicating this view of how successful their schools are (not as successful as I thought they were if they're not meeting the needs of a huge portion of their students and unwilling to innovate in order to do so).

So what do we do? Of course there are things that Finland is getting right that we aren't, and there are things that we're getting right that Finland isn't. But is there anywhere that's getting it all right? Anywhere we can hold up as THE example?

No. There's not.

We just have to figure out what works for our students in our communities, and we need to cultivate space to learn from each other, from each other's successes and failures across schools, districts, and wider communities (yes, even across the globe).

There is no ONE way to do this. There is no certainty in good education. Test scores are not the ultimate measure of success either. It's all murky and complicated and complex and confusing (because learning is too) (and so is our world)--and if teaching is anything else, we're not doing it right.

M. Shelley

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What would trust look like?

There is a great article in the NY Times from June 5 about the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland (thanks to Schools Matter). They have developed a teacher evaluation model based on peer review. I guess the thing that struck me about the article (other than the fact that the superintendant is turning down RTT money because it would obligate them to give up an evaluation method that actually works) is the level of trust that must exist in that district (which was emphasized in the article).

What would it be like to work in a district where a panel of teachers and principals could work together to make recommendations and evaluations? Sadly, I don't know what that would be like. I am pretty sure we could do it in my building, maybe. But in my district? Don't know.

The superintendent, Jerry Weast, pointed out that it took five years to develop this system. Five years is a very long term commitment in the world of education policy. Ultimately the article left me with mixed feelings. It has been clear for a while that peer review systems are a really effective way to maintain teacher quality (and accountability) while keeping a clear sense of the complexity of teaching and learning. And, if accountability is your main concern, generally peer review does a more effective job (anecdotally borne out by the article) of removing problematic teachers.

The truth is that as well intentioned as most administrators are (an in my experience they are), they are neither trained nor given the resources to do proper teacher evaluations. So the evaluation process, such as it is, becomes shallow and more concerned with making sure people aren't committing the most grievous offenses. But there isn't much support or in-depth analysis in the process. A good evaluation system should be as helpful to the good teachers as it is unflinching about teachers who are struggling. That would go a long way to making any system seem less punitive.

But the level of trust and long term commitment it would take to get there seems overwhelming. How does one build that? How do we develop leaders in all parts of the system that can take us there? What can I do to move us in that direction? And, WHY is federal education policy so completely opposed to doing this? (Duncan is reported in this article to have said to Weast "Jerry, you're going where the country needs to go." The article leaved unasked the question of why Duncan's policies are pushing the country in the opposite direction).

As always, many more questions than answers. Even in the summer.

-F. Scott

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Words from Linda Rief

Just a tidbit from my reading today. It articulates well the problem with the runaway train of our educational policy today. But how do we fix the problem? Still trying to figure that one out...

“While we see our students as individuals, and while we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each one, policy mandates often seem to view students through the same myopic lens, treating all students as if they were the same. Yet we know that their differences are their strengths. We know how and when to differentiate our instruction based on the variety of learning styles each student brings to our classroom. We know how to take students from where they are to all they can be. We have to trust ourselves as professionals, hired because we know books, know reading, know writing, know the conventions of language, and know what to do to help each student grow as an individual based on his strengths and needs. We have to continue to work as a professional community to show others what works to keep students learning. Scripted lessons mandating Tuesday’s writing to be the same for each student in every school are guaranteeing mediocrity. We have to continue to learn and grow as professionals who use our voices to speak out against the standardization of all learning” (p. 204).

From Rief, Linda. (2007) “Writing: Commonsense Matters.” Adolescent Literacy: Turning promise into Practice. Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief (eds.). Portsmouth: Heinemann, pgs. 191-208.

Signing off,
M. Shelley

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Story time with TeacherSabrina

We talk a lot in this office about how to get the message out. We talk about constructing narrative, and how the 'school reform' movement has done a good job of constructing a narrative that is simple and clear (wrong, but simple and clear). And we think, "in what ways might WE work on constructing narratives that are effective in telling our story as educators, that can convey to the public a clear message about the 'school reform' movement and its dangers, pitfalls, and problems."

Then TeacherSabrina just goes ahead and does it.

Papergraders loves you teachersabrina. You rock!

Teachersabrina is at FailingSchools

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Story map homework breakdown 2.0

I wrote a while back about my daughter's frustrations with the story map homework she had been given from her second grade teacher. I wondered why she was so paralyzed and unable to complete the story map that simply asked for her to list the characters, setting, problem, solution, and mail plot events of a book off of her shelves at home. I did what I could to help her work through it. I tried to convince her that it was okay to have a different idea about a story than her teacher might have. And I was relieved that she got the assignment done.

But I got home last evening and there she sat at the dining room table with a blank story map sitting in front of her. She sat slumped over in frustration; my husband sat next to her at the table looking completely exasperated and frustrated.

Here we go again.

Seeing she was clearly stuck, I invited her to take the dog on a walk with me. As we walked up the hill on the trail behind our house, watching the dog frolic happily along side us, I took her through the same conversation we had last time she got so frustrated by the story map homework. I asked her if she remembered my story as a reader and what happened to my love of reading at school. She told it all back to me--about how I used to love to read when I was younger but grew to not enjoy it anymore by high school. She told me about how a teacher of mine told me I was flat out wrong when I disagreed with her interpretation of a book in AP English. I told her about how this shut me down as a reader for several years. I reminded her that I didn't want this to happen to her.

As we hiked along, I explained how I had thought last time about discussing this all with her teacher but decided against it. This will not be the first time that a teacher suggests there are right answers about a story in her life in school, and I do not want to rush in every year and try to fix it for my kid. Instead, I want to help my kid develop survival skills so she can still do the work asked of her with stories in school AND remain the engaged reader that she has become.

I do not blame my daughter's teacher. The problem is so much bigger--it's more in the unchecked assumptions we all carry with us about what we are supposed to do with stories in school.

So here's what we did. As we hiked, we composed a mantra for my daughter to remember when she did her homework. When we got home, the first thing she wanted to do was write it down--so we did. I wrote one word, she wrote the next and so on until we had written out the following:

"It is okay for me to have a different idea about a story than my teacher does as long as I can explain what I think and why I think it."

We both signed and dated it. And then we came up with a process for her to complete a story map "with very little stress." This we also wrote down, on the reverse of the page that held the mantra:

1) Read the story aloud together and pause whenever it seems a problem comes up in the story. Write the problems down and choose the one that seems to be the most important one.

2) Daughter writes in the characters, setting, main problem, and solution on the story map.

3) Daughter takes a break on the couch. During the break, she explains aloud what happens in the story and Mom or Dad writes down her words. This becomes daughter's rough draft.

4) Daughter uses this rough draft to select the plot events she wants to include in the story map and writes them on the story map.

5) We celebrate: "yay yay yay yippee yippee yippee!"

I wonder what this process will look like when she's in high school and writing literary analysis papers. I wonder how much help she'll still need at that point.

Signing off,
M. Shelley