Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knowledge and Experience have the power…don’t they?

The Huffington Post article, “These 11 Leaders Are Running Education But Have Never Taught,”, has grabbed hold of my brain and won’t let go.  For two weeks, the material in this piece has made a home in my subconscious jabbing it a few times a day for kicks and giggles, and invading my dreams during the night just to be perverse.

Although, like Elvis, I have left the school building, any insight or activity that benefits teachers teaching and students learning will always fuel my passion.  The downside of the coin-and everything positive has a flip side, are people who become involved in the world of education for political or monetary gain, or who are on power trips. Any policy that keeps young people from becoming lifelong learners or that doesn’t support the teaching profession just fuels my ire.  The problem with this article is- it does both.

I have an issue with people who have never, ever spent a day trying to motivate, inspire, cajole, manage and discipline a room full of children to jump off the curb and join their teachers on the Learning Path pushing their policies on those who have walked the walk and talked the talk.

About a week into my first teaching job after college, I realized that my professors did an A+ job preparing me in my subject area and in how to plan and create lesson plans, but a C- job in showing me the realities of the classroom.  Why? They had probably never taught below the college level and were theory-smart but reality-lacking.

The eleven headliners mentioned in this article experience the same Ivy Tower vs. Classroom Reality complexity. Most of them hold post-high school degrees, although not in any areas touching on education. All of them are politically savvy, and some of them reside in the financial stratosphere. Like the majority of people in this country, they care about the education of our children-our future. That’s laudable. Education needs all of the support and all of the sincere concern that it can get. Any concepts, perceptions and perspectives that will support teachers, teaching and learning should be considered if children are to succeed academically.

But…but… these directives should not be adopted and pushed on school districts just because their originators and compatriots are a part of the Who I Know Club instead of the What I Know League.
My parents raised me with the understanding that What I Know would prevail.  Even when a comment by the president and CEO of a coal company, the father of one of my best friends, stomach-punched me with the comment, “Oh, Connie, this is a Who you Know world. What you know is secondary-at best,” I refused to bury my belief. Call me naïve, but I have always let knowledge be my guide.

During my career in education, I never strayed from teaching the components of secondary English: literature comprehension, all types of writing, grammar, vocabulary and oral speaking. Did I try to teach history because I have spent years talking with my M.A. in History husband about historical issues? No.  Did I try to teach any area of math? Now that would have been an audacious joke since Math and I have never understood each other.  

The House of Comprehension cover
My writing successes have stemmed from What I Know as well as the hours, days and years that I have spent transposing my thoughts to paper.  Well, this is slightly untrue.  A Virginia politician and a former student’s media-connected sister and her friend have aimed a spotlight at my book, The House of Comprehension, but only after they expressed their beliefs that it had merit.  Now, though, I need to develop an understanding of marketing techniques, if I want that light to shine. Once again, the What I Know, or in this case, what I don’t know but have to learn, comes into play.

Why, then, can people whose college majors, and whose professional lives, though brilliant in many capacities, but who haven’t sat in a classroom since high school be allowed to impact teachers and students so strongly? Why should those who, if at all, have only experienced teaching realities through the work of parents or spouses hold such sway over the careers of those on both sides of the desk? Does their concern about education give them the power to dictate what teachers should teach, as well as how and when they should communicate the material? Shouldn’t the thoughts and opinions of those who have been successful in the classroom trenches year after year after year have more value?

If an interest is all that it takes to be influential, than I should be a surgeon because I love learning about the body, what ails it and what fixes it, and as a child, I spent many a happy hour studying the body and all of the overlays (skeletal, muscular, etc.) in my parents’ encyclopedias. Or, I could be a Supreme Court Judge because I have strong opinions about many subjects that are based in constitutional laws.  Why shouldn’t I start at the top instead of grabbing onto the lowliest rung of the Influencing the Lives of Millions of People ladder as these eleven have done with educational matters?

Why not? Because I would be undermining  the grueling hours of learning to earn the degrees necessary to become a doctor, a judge, a teacher, or anyone whose career depends on the knowledge and understanding of specific material. Mere interest and opinions that could be detrimental instead of beneficial to others should not wield more power. 

Why not? Because I believe that book knowledge + on the job experience are crucial criteria if one’s policies are to affect millions of people.

Why not?  Because I will always stand on the principle that What People Know should always trump Who People Know in decision-making situations.

Is this naïve of me? Yes.

Would I rather the doctor I trust to diagnose my symptoms or the judge passing laws that affect my life have the knowledge, understanding and experience to walk the walk and talk the talk? Yes.

Do I believe that these views that I hold are the realities that we live?

No. And that bothers me.

Until next week,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Literature Review: Tying it All Together

Tying it All Together cover
How can we teachers assess our students' understanding of a work of fiction before an assessment?

How can we teachers prepare our students to confidently analyze an excerpt from a literary work during a standards of learning exam?

How can we teachers empower our students to build durable comprehension homes that will last them for a lifetime? 

We can make sure that we use the building blocks of any short story or novel: the elements of literature.

If they are to withstand the test of time, stories must build durable structures, be they short pieces or novels.To do so, authors use the elements of literature for the framing, the finish work and the decorations. Each student's level of knowledge forms his/her understanding and creates this person's own house of comprehension.

Understanding how the elements of literature create resilient structures empowers students to
Tying it All Together-Character
build sturdy academic homes. I use this principle as the foundation for all of my unit plans and individual literature-based lesson plans.  In fact, I feel that its importance is so crucial to students' learning that I used it for a teaching program that I developed in my book, The House of Comprehension (  

This FREE 10-page activity is no exception. It offers teachers 8 activities: one each for Character, Plot, Conflict, Setting, Theme, Symbols, Point of View and Closure. Each activity supports Common Core Standards. Depending on each student's skill, ability and understanding level, teachers may choose to have their charges complete one, some, or all of the activities. When all are completed, students will advance their understanding of each aspect of Bloom's Taxonomy: Remember/Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create. This enables them to develop their higher level thinking skills, a crucial aspect of learning.

Tying it All Together-Symbols
Because the activities are open-ended, teachers can have students who need reinforcement in any of the areas complete any of them after the assessment, or in future literature studies.

Download this FREEBIE from my Teachers pay Teachers store: and help your students to add some bricks to their academic homes.

How do you promote reading comprehension in your lessons? I would love to hear your ideas. Please share them in the Comment section with links.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lesson Up Express: A Cornucopia of November Narratives

November Narratives
November is a short month, and one that calls for a variety of activities since it includes a highly anticipated vacation. Sometimes I feel like I have just changed the calendar to this, the 11th month, and suddenly, December is upon us. 

This 8-page FREE product offers two detailed lessons and two alternative outlined lesson ideas. Any or all will keep students engaged and motivated, giving teachers breathing room.

Lesson 1: Visualize This: Creating Word Pictures has students creating original names that reveal traits about the people, places, objects and
Visualize This- Creating Word Pictures
ideas that they select. After they finish this, they choose from seven different projects to complete. Time Frame-a few days to a month, depending on how much class time teachers give the students, and whether they will assign lighter homework loads.

A Dinner to Remember
Lesson 2: A Dinner to Remember asks students to choose a quartet of characters from stories that they have studied this school year to join together for dinner. Each guest must bring a food that is representative of some aspect of his/her story. The Host must prepare the entree and two side dishes. After they eat, each character finishes the sentence, "I am thankful for ______.  For a really enticing Presentation Day to accompany this lesson, have each student bring in one of the dishes his/her Host or Guest would bring. After students share their answers, everyone can eat. Time Frame- Students can finish this in 30-40 minutes, leaving time for class discussions.

Lesson 3: Since November is National Novel Writing Month, I offer information and links for this writing project. As most students will not be able to complete the 50,000 word challenge, I suggest alternative word amounts. You can use daily warm-ups or closure time to help students meet the writing goal that you set according to your students' skills and abilities. The link for educators presents excellent help to incorporate this into their classes. Time Frame: one month

Lesson 4: I already offer this activity in my Freebies category: Activity: In Honor of Soldiers-
Veteran's Day Activity
Every One: A Veteran's or Memorial Day Project ( I include it here to remind teachers that this is a project for May and November. Time Frame- have students choose their book to read by Veteran's Day, but give them until the week before winter break or right after the new year to complete the reading and projects.  You could integrate this reading with the December literature you will be studying if it can have a war/military theme, also. This creates comprehension connections for the students.

Every student has a story to tell. The Lesson Up Express November Narratives give students a chance to do just that. Download this FREE product from

Happy Teaching,