It's my observation that, in the way that no good deeds go unpunished, no good ideas go un-ruined, especially in education. There seems to be a process wherein the greater degree of acceptance an idea receives, the more it loses its critical nuances, details that require more than the one- or two-sentence version that "goes viral," to comprehend. Sometimes this dumbing down renders the original idea useless, other times actually counterproductive.
The omnipresence of technology in our world has changed the way students and educators function in schools. Due to the omnipresence of tech in our lives, and the seeming unstoppable development of said tech, the once local and national economies have become truly, genuinely, and unflinchingly global. This means American students are competing with a much larger and more competitive subsection of workers. It is no mystery, that for American students to be competitive in the global market, our schools must be updated, imbued with 21st century skills. We educators have been screaming for this change for decades.
By Joseph Pazar
This is commentary on a NYTs story authored by Jacey Fortin
Back on July 4th, the New York Times Education section reported the decision of a Federal District Court Judge regarding a case brought by students and families attending schools in Detroit. These schools reportedly lack those aspects of schooling most students can take for granted, such as functioning heating and cooling systems and access to books and teachers. Reporter Jacey Fortin cites the judge as explaining “the lawsuit had failed to show that the state had practiced overt racial discrimination” (article embedded below). Hence, the class action lawsuit was lost, leaving the victims of educational malpractice without federal redress.
In case you are unaware, GT stands for Gifted and Talented and is a label often prescribed to students scoring in the top 2% or so on nationally normed intelligence tests. Students identified as GT are from the upper tail of a normal distribution or bell curve of intelligence, often measured with a full IQ test or screener of some kind. To be fair, many school districts consider academic achievement and varied demographic factors in the identification process. That is, performance on an IQ test may not be the only factor considered.
Being identified as GT is no small matter. In some cases it propels a student towards programs with smaller class sizes, greater access to technology, and increasingly rigorous curriculum.
Consider the bell curve below.
When fellow writers discover that I’ve published over twenty books — and that I’m a full-time middle school teacher — the first thing out of their mouths is, invariably, “Do you ever sleep?” I do. Pretty much the normal amount. So let’s rule out sleep deprivation as a protip for writers. To be honest, I’ve stumbled through my writing career without pre-determined strategies in any area, but in many ways that was fortunate because, if there’s one thing looking back on what worked and what didn’t teaches me, it’s that one-size-fits-all advice, no matter how confidently proffered, is bullocks. You can easily find tips for maximizing writing time on the Interwebs, so here I will balance the such well-worn advice with a dose of Dms.
On June 11, 2018, 11 students and parents crashed the Washoe County School Board Meeting to make them listen to several chapters of We're Doing It Wrong. Amazing!
This is the compelling commencement speech given by teacher, Patrick Griffin, to the graduates of Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon 6/10/18.
Most Beloved Class of 2018!
The world is a rather interesting place right now, isn’t it? From Syria to Korea; from racism to sexism; from pollution of the earth to pollution of the mind; from refugees to xenophobia; throw in fake news and politicians today and, well, welcome to the real world.
You all are so not ready. What you are going to have to fight has plagued humanity for so long that it is all but impossible to not see it as part of human nature. Even if you could, somehow, in a fit of enlightenment, make yourself ready to challenge those established orders, you are just one person; what could you even do?
At least, that is what you will all hear, from yourself and others, in those moments when you look at the lake’s surface and see both your reflection and the depths beyond; when you question your own response to the grief and think that, perhaps, you should just focus on your own short and rare gift of life.
So, you are not ready.
Hudson ‘Fresh-Starts’ Credit Program
A Proven Middle School Promotion Model
Developed by the Staff of Hudson J.H.S., Hudson, New York
Imagine a junior high school where:
• Credit conversations are a commonplace occurrence among 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
• All classes count for credit and students eagerly monitor credit totals at the end of each marking period.
• Promotion requirements are so demanding that those same students must earn a minimum of 74% of available credits in order to move on to the next grade.
• Academic success is rewarded at 10 week intervals instead of the traditional 10 month waiting period.
• A policy provides struggling students with a clean slate and a fresh academic start — every credit period.
• Consistent, year-round student effort develops the work habits needed for high school success.
You don’t have to imagine it — It’s happening right now in the Hudson City School District, located in Columbia County, New York.
My picture books are nearly all the product of a love affair with words. I listen and they bring me ideas: THE RING BEAR was born when my sister told me that her five year-old caused a ruckus at a wedding after she whispered to him that the ring bearer was about to come out. He heard it wrong. And panicked.
CHEESE LOUISE! was born after I heard someone say that “everyone has holes,” meaning “no one’s perfect.” Which lead me to wonder whether Swiss Cheeses mind having lots of problems.
NED LOSES HIS HEAD is about a boy who…loses his head. (Mom told me I’d lose mine if it wasn’t attached.)
7 ATE 9 was born after my five year-old told me the old joke: “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9!” And I had to ask why. (It’s just a joke, Dad!)
THE SHARPEST TOOL IN THE SHED is about a saw who isn’t, well, the sharpest tool in the shed. Until he is.
But idioms, misunderstandings, jokes, and silly expressions generate ideas, not stories. How do we get from one to the other? A great idea, while exciting, can actually be paralyzing, so it’s helpful to understand the distinction between a simple and a fertile premise.
Let’s pause for a moment to discuss structure. I believe that understanding traditional story structure is wise. And so does screenwriting guru, Robert McKee:
And so remember this from school?
You know: set up/complications/climax/resolution. It helps. A lot. But this helps even more…
And watch this…
Linking (one way or another) the incident that sets your protagonist off on his/her quest for change to the climax of the story creates a powerful effect. Ideally, this effect:
So back to this:
Now let’s adjust.
A fertile premise requires an Inciting Incident, which means we need to determine what causes our cheese to dislike her holes. There are many possibilities of course, but the choices are manageable. (Decision: she gets teased.) And our knowledge of structure tells us that, one way or another, in the climax, she must use her holes to “save the day.” (Decision: she uses them to outwit the one-eyed cat in the kitchen.)
The traditional structure imposed limits that guided these choices, but these limits were helpful:
If this feels formulaic during your drafting…hang in there. You are yet to internalize the traditional structure. Once it’s instinctual this isn’t something you consciously consider as you write. Yet it’s nearly always detectible in the final product, even if it has been creatively altered. (For example, Cheese Louise! employs two superimposed story arcs.) Keep in mind that the subject matter of your story is not original (sorry). What should be original is the specific way you package and present it. Here is Mr. McKee to the rescue one more time:
I’m hoping that the story of coming to believe one’s flaws can be one’s strengths has never been told in the context of refrigerator life. Similarly, that blending families can be fraught with misunderstandings has never been conveyed via a story about a boy who intentionally turns himself into a bear to wreck his mother’s wedding. Can one reject traditional story structure entirely and still produce a successful story? Of course, though in my opinion doing so pretty much guarantees a limited audience. Unless you hold the trump card.
Not that one. This one:
If you are hilarious, no one cares what happens in your story. But guess what the hardest thing to do in writing is? You never know which one will be the one that blooms. Good luck!
David Michael Slater is an acclaimed author of over twenty books of fiction and nonfiction for children, teens, and adults. He is the co-curator of the weredoingitwrong blog and podcast.