The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.
I remember a painful visit I made to a classroom some years ago. The first-grade teacher was in almost all respects remarkable. Her workshop was lively, fun, and focused. With one exception. The workshop was preceded by a 30-minute morning meeting, where the children squirmed, wiggled, and groaned in boredom through a way-too-long exercise of noting the date on a calendar, reading a morning message, and breaking apart every word on that message for sound and symbol lessons. Every. Single. Word.
After the students left for outdoor recess, we chatted about the learning I’d observed over three hours of reading and writing workshops. Eventually I tried to bring up the morning meeting.
I hesitantly said, “I did notice it was 30 minutes long . . .”
Her response: “I know! Isn’t it amazing how much we packed into that time?”
I tried again, “But the children seemed to get awfully wiggly.”
Her response: “That’s normal for this age. I don’t let it distract me.”
I’d found a blind spot in that teacher’s instruction. And frankly, there was nothing I could do about it, so we moved on to more pleasant topics in the conversation.
Blind spots are physical realities. In vision, they are found at the point of entry of the optic nerve on the retina, where your eye is insensitive to light. There’s no light detected, so nothing is seen.
We all have blind spots — both physical and mental. My car has a sensor I love — when a car is in the driver’s blind spot, an orange icon lights up in the rearview mirror on whatever side the unseen car is. The flashing icon allows the driver to know what’s there when she can’t see it herself.
So how do we help ourselves see what we can’t see in our classrooms, those unseen hazards to the learning community? In retrospect I know why I couldn’t be the one to point out an obstacle in that classroom. As a rare visitor, I couldn’t nudge that teacher to take a closer look at a practice that wasn’t working. She wouldn’t trust a blinking warning light that came from me.
What does help teachers with their blind spots in many schools is a literacy coach. She or he rolls up his or her sleeves, asks the teacher what she wants to know more about, and then carefully works with the teacher to collect data on what students are doing. When someone else is poring over notes from an observation with you, or seeking clues from student work, you can’t help but see things that weren’t in your field of vision before.
That teacher wouldn’t have to ask for help with her morning meeting. It was in her blind spot, after all — she couldn’t even see much of what was going on. But if she asked for help with student engagement, or time management, or getting more time for conferences in writing workshops, the excessive time spent in morning meeting would probably come up in a discussion. You can’t look at improving one small piece of practice without eventually looking at everything that goes into making literacy workshops thrive.
This week we rethink rubrics. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Melanie Meehan explains why a baseline assessment at the start of any writing unit is well worth the time:
How can you lead a discussion among teachers about assessment without getting bogged down in minutiae? Andie Cunningham shares a protocol that sparks participation without the drawback of one or two people (or assessment tools) dominating the conversation:
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan wondered how the use of a checklist or rubric would change if you just had students discuss among themselves what they noticed or wondered about the tool, and teachers listened in. Here is what they discovered:
Is your rubric a hot mess? Jennifer Gonzalez explains why single-point rubrics are a useful alternative to text-dense grids:
Grades are a reality in most schools. Pernille Ripp explains how we can at least change the conversation to be more thoughtful and include students in the process:
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Christy Rush-Levine considers how her rubrics do not acknowledge different levels of support some students need to accomplish tasks. She rethinks her rubric design to include support, and in the process fosters more independence and reflection in students:
Matt Renwick explains why sometimes the best way to grow reading abilities in students is to resist rubrics:
Mark Levine always has a few students each year in his middle school classroom who are stunned by their poor grades, even when they clearly aren’t meeting expectations. He develops a rubric to enable students to monitor and reflect on their learning behaviors daily:
New PD2Go: Leslie Lloyd preserves instructional time by having her third-grade students share their Post It Prove It sell-assessment notes on a bulletin board throughout the reading workshop:
This video and workshop guide fulfills Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy.RL.3.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
In an encore video, Clare Landrigan meets with a group of fifth graders to talk about what’s going well in literacy workshops, and to set individual goals. Stamina is an issue many of the students are dealing with, so many of the goals involve strategies for staying focused while reading and writing:
That’s all for this week!