I spent one whole day of my Spring Break 2020 in my yard. I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of my grass, trees, and garden. It’s not perfect but I enjoy the process. I like making things look nice. There is something about preparing, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting in your own yard. It takes work, research, and action, and the result can be amazing. One of my favorite rewards for all of this work is pickling cucumbers.

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Pickling cucumbers are different from slicing cucumbers.

I also enjoy mowing the lawn. For me, it is a mindless task that provides me time to think or listen to an audiobook or podcast. The end product is almost always awesome too! It looks so great after it is freshly cut. However, my lawn is far from perfect. I know I have patches of orchard grass and crabgrass. It is frustrating because these different types of grass grow at different rates. The yard gets ugly really quickly. I try to remember to fertilize, pull noxious weeds, and not use too much water. It is a lot of work throughout the year. It’s a big task, mostly because of how much lawn I have.

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First mow of 2020.

Procrastination

Let’s get to the procrastination part. I have seen some pretty epic lawns in the neighborhoods that I have lived in. There are people who take a significant part of their week to fertilize, spot water, and do other things to grow a uniform, level, green lawn. If I were to expect that kind of work from myself the first summer that I moved into a new house I would be very overwhelmed. I wouldn’t know where to start. I would worry about things that I don’t know how to do. I would be afraid of making the lawn worse.

Students People are the same way. If we were in my high school English class, and I want students to write an argument essay, I will have a percentage of students not start. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t know how to write. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t have an opinion about the topic. They are hesitant to start because they are afraid of forgetting important parts. Maybe they aren’t confident with providing textual evidence. Maybe they don’t know how to add transition phrases. They don’t feel like they have mastered the process.

This is where students and others freeze. They see others being successful. They see other students writing with no hesitation, no problem. They see beautiful green lawns from a distance. They assume that if they can’t produce perfectly right off, they shouldn’t even try. For them, it isn’t worth the stress and thinking that is expected. Their thinking produces anxiety and they freeze.

My lawn has issues. There are bald patches because high points are cut too close by my mower blade. There are dying patches because of rodents. I can’t stop taking care of my lawn because of those deterrents. I need to focus on what is possible. My lawn will not get better if I hesitate. It needs to be mowed. It needs to be watered and fed. I can take baby steps and see progress.

Imperfect Action

I was in a virtual meeting the other day with a professional speakers group in the mountain west. The focus of the meeting was to address the issue of the global pandemic and what we can do to share our messages when we can’t present in public. One of the panelists, Tiffany Peterson, talked about imperfect action.

Imperfect action is starting without knowing how things are going to turn out. It is believing that you can achieve your end result without knowing exactly how it will happen.

In so many ways, whether participating in personal hobbies, new business ventures, pursuing more education or participating in online distance education like students today, people are hesitant to take action.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be perfect action. We learn by doing. We make corrections as we learn.  We adjust our process, collect more information, try new strategies, talk to people, all in hope of a better end product.

Imperfect action is better than no action. Starting with an idea is better than just sitting there. Complaining doesn’t do anything for anyone.

Identify the baby steps that you are capable of doing. Start somewhere. Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the project. Pick something that you can do today.

Start today and keep trying

-Dave

I have a routine. I like breakfast by myself. I like to think about things as the morning slowly unfolds. I enjoy the drive to work, a part of the community waking up with increasing energy.

Well, I still have my morning routine up to the point of leaving my house.

Do your kids have a routine?

Do you?

Routine is a big deal for productivity. If you know that you have a dedicated space to work in, you will find doing that work easier. Kids are the same way but they don’t have the discipline to stick to it.

It has been my experience that kids want to learn how to do difficult things. They can be nervous about the unknown. They can be nervous about doing things correctly. They can be worried about how long it will take. Regardless of all of those potential delays, kids can do what they need to with a little help.

Create a quiet space where everyone can work. It can be at the dinner table, at the coffee table, or sitting on the couch. If you have something to read or work on, you are demonstrating the process simply by sitting there next to your child. You can’t be on your phone or your student will think it is okay to be on his or her phone. If you’re reading a book, that demonstrates that it is possible to sit down and focus. If you have something to write, it demonstrates to your student that they can sit down to write.

How long should you sit and work? As long as you can or need to. One thing I know for sure, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

There is another side to being productive and working. It is just as important to take breaks and have fun. Take turns playing fun music. Spend some time singing and dancing. Have Alexa tell you some jokes.

Hard things take practice. If you get out of practice, you can get back into it.

What an adventurous time we live in. We get a second chance at building relationships with our kids. We get a short amount of time to help them develop lifelong skills and processes.

Our students will get to go back to school sometime in the future, more ready for school than they ever have been.

Hang in there! Life is good because it’s what we make of it.

-Dave

I left my classroom today, shortly after an earthquake aftershock and possibly for the last time for weeks (nope, just got word that I go in tomorrow). I haven’t seen my students for 5 days. I don’t know how they’re dealing with all of the things that are happening around us. I hope they understand my assignments. I hope they see my video and can feel how much I care.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spurred the need to send everyone home and continue the education experience over the internet.  I know that many school districts, schools, and teachers around the world aren’t ready to teach their students remotely. Many classes are nearly impossible to teach from across the city. Fortunately, at least I think so, I have been teaching students to read and write in small chunks. I have a system set up on Canvas, a multi-user learning management tool. Students know how to write responses to prompts, and have been reading almost daily from the beginning of the school year.

The problem I am worried about, with my students specifically, is whether they are doing it. I can’t be there to talk them through what they are thinking. Should I be? Would that help? Shouldn’t they be able to take the experiences and understanding that they have acquired, and apply that to today’s assignments?

Here is some context to the dilemma of teaching, both online, and in person. I was watching a documentary about Mr. Rogers. It is a very personal and insightful look into who Fred Rogers was, and what he believed about people. Mr. Rogers has been quoted as saying, “Deep and simple is far better than shallow and complex”.

Today I realized that I generally follow that philosophy. Obviously, teachers are not universally the same in any way. We have preferences, systems, strengths, and weaknesses that shape who we are and how we teach. Education shouldn’t be confusing. Learning should be challenging, but manageable. Students should express some resistance because they don’t know if they can manage what is expected of them. That is why I teach. They can do difficult things. Students can improve their reading skills. Students can improve their writing skills. Students are critical thinkers and can get better at problem-solving.

This particular quarantine situation is the perfect time for teachers to take some time and get familiar with programs and websites like YouTube, Zoom, and Skype.

I know that parents feel overwhelmed with what all of the different teachers are planning and expect from their students. Kids should know what their teachers do. For the most part, schoolwork or homework shouldn’t be any different than what has happened in the school. Systems should basically be in place. Of course, I’m thinking of high school and junior high/middle school. I can’t imagine trying to create work that elementary students can learn from.

Therefore, teachers should consider video messages of encouragement, understanding, and homework explanation. Teachers should do their best to use systems that students are familiar with. Avoid the temptation to create something new just because we have to communicate online. Pick a process and stick with it.

I know that students are going to do what they do when it comes to schoolwork. What does that mean? Some will, some won’t. Some care, some don’t. Some are dealing with things at home that they don’t have control over.

Long story short, we need teachers. We need in-person education. Some will learn just fine online. Most, however, most need to be in a room with a caring and educated adult, guiding them through their assignments (with objectives and outcomes). Teachers are more than education. Teachers are examples of behavior. Teachers are examples of problem-solvers. Teachers are examples of tenacity and courage.

Especially in the face of being asked to do more than stated in a contract, with no model to follow.

Hang in there. We got this! #itsonlyafewweeks

 

My oldest child is in grade 9, and is generally a pretty good reader. He has read several things by the age of 16 that I never did. He was struggling with an assignment recently, which I thought was kind of simple for what he is capable of reading. It is a humbling reminder that we can’t always see students’ skills.

There are several ideas and skills to juggle when reading. One that is often practiced in school is character development. This process is easier than may initially appear, because it is a powerful part of what we enjoy most in the movies and stories we love.

The Beginning

In the beginning of any story we learn about the main character or characters. Quickly, we learn about their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, and problems. We know what they’re lacking, and we have a general, and sometimes specific idea of what they hope to accomplish or acquire by the end of the story. We have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to go, and are surprised when things don’t end up exactly how we imagined. In the movie Wall-E, the main character is alone, but ever persistent in his task. Does he want anything? Does he need anything? What does he discover he needs? If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s pretty good. I won’t spoil it for you. See if you can predict what he wants, and whether he’ll get it, or not.

The Middle

The main character has decisions to make throughout the story. Sometimes they’re insignificant and simply move the story along. Other decisions require some hope or faith, and a bit of luck to turn out the way the character wants. These conflicts help us to understand the main character on a deeper level. We understand a little bit more about the weakness, and desire that they are experiencing. We feel sympathy, and sometimes empathy for the dilemmas they find themselves in. Sometimes we even wonder what we would do if we were in their shoes.

The Conclusion

There are many possible outcomes to the conflict/resolution in a story. The main character could get what they want, or it could be a terrible ending. There are often twists and turns, and the story goes in an unpredicted direction. However the story ends, the main character has changed, and hopefully satisfactorily grown into someone bigger and better than they were before. Maybe they have found the love that they were after. Maybe they found out who they are, or where they are from. Maybe they became the hero everyone else knew they were. There are so many ways for a character to grow. The difficult part of the process is being able to identify what actually happened in the story.

One trick, (if you own the book) is to annotate in the book. Note where things happened that seem to be significant. Mark where you predict something will happen. Skilled readers do this mentally. Somehow they figure out how to bookmark specific events in the story. This means that it is a skill that can be learned and improved.
If you don’t own the copy of the book, you can keep a notebook, or a piece of paper that acts as a bookmark. Make little notes about what happened and where you found it on the page. Jot down the page number too. It seems like a simple, and maybe even unnecessary skill, but it helps to understand other elements of literature. The themes of the story will become more evident, the authors intent will be a little more clear.

For me, best of all, I love to make comparisons between characters and myself. I can relate to characters who desire change, or have an internal conflict that they aren’t sure how to overcome. Character development in books and stories helps me to see that I’m not a static never changing person, but hopefully one who is growing and learning from my mistakes.

Hope this helps! Let me know what you think!

Read on!

-Dave

Ashamed

I’ll admit, embarrassed and somewhat hesitantly, that I wasn’t totally excited to go to English Quest. I love to be involved at school. I love professional development conferences like the Utah Conference for Teachers of English(UCTE), and Utah’s Coalition for Educational Technology (UCET). However, every time English Quest has been announced, there wasn’t a very good response from other teachers. It’s like nobody understands what it is really about.

Why?

English Quest seemed to be half-heartedly advertised. Sort of like the announcer wasn’t sure how to describe the events that make up English Quest. This isn’t really a criticism as much as it is an observation. There are many aspects to English Quest so it has to be hard to explain it to teachers who hear all about new programs and new trainings. There has to be a better way to explain what it is. There are five books that students can read, and there is so much more. But why? What’s the point? What activities take students out of school for a full day? What benefit do students get from this? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it!

Apprehension and Aha!

Somehow, I got invited and assigned to be our schools new English Quest advisor. At the beginning of the school year I thought, “Sure, I can do that. What do I have to do?” It was far enough away, that I thought for sure I’d figure it all out by the time the day arrived.

I have amazing help from administration and other teachers at my school. I had never been an advisor for any kind of activity so I didn’t know what to expect. We had a small group of good students who knew what they were good at, and what they wanted to do. By then I had figured out what the events are, and how English Quest works.

English Quest at Weber State 2019

English Quest is a day full of English Language Arts appreciation through reading, writing, spelling, art, Shakespeare performance, spoken poetry, and spoken story. It’s for students in high school (9th through 12th grade). Students can sign up for three events, but most do just one or two. Some of the events require writing and reading in advance while others are perform-on-the-day events. It takes a lot of practice and bravery for students to perform in front of other students from around the state. The bonus to me is that students can take what they have been learning throughout the year and show off what they have learned, internalized, and produced.

Poetry Slam

My favorite unit as a teacher has to be poetry. I love seeing kids struggle with older writing, and showing them how words form ideas and emotions. They realize that they sometimes feel like the poet, but that the poet is using words unfamiliar to them. We shift from poetry to slam poetry and they light up. They connect to the rhythm of the phrases and the emotion of the message. We address all kinds of topics from love to loss. I show them examples, and read some of my own writing and sometimes I get emotional and cry. And (hopefully) that gives them permission to reach deep and write about what they love and what they hate and what they wish they could say to people but they don’t dare.

And then we slam in class. We share. We laugh at the silly ones. And nod and snap in understanding to pain and loneliness. Some cry, and some support with hugs and pats on the back. Boundaries crumble as students realize that though they are different, they are dealing with the same feelings. They are not alone.

English Quest Is

English Quest is a place where students can compete with the best students from schools around the state. English Quest challenges students to read deeper, memorize more, write more, try new angles, explore new themes, and not be afraid to try.

And there is recognition. Students are judged and awarded. Medals are given to the best interpretations of Shakespeare, the best spellers, the best slam poems, the best story tellers, the best writers of argument and narrative. It’s a blast to see so many kids alive with support for each other.

English Quest Is Amazing!

Write On,
Read On,
Poem On,
Shakespeare On,
English Quest On!

-Dave