tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
One Wild and Precious Life
I started teaching in September 1983 and my retirement date is December 2022. I’ve worked full-time, have completed a graduate diploma and a Masters degree, taught numerous workshops and courses, and served in various capacities during this time.
I don’t want to be one of those people who coast till retirement or remind everyone weekly when their retirement date is. However, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts lately. It’s this - what the difference between work versus job? It’s not a unique thought but it has given me a new focus and insights. Here’s what I mean.
Our job is what we do for the pay check. We are expected to perform certain tasks to the best of our ability, to upgrade our skills, to put in a certain amount of time and show up on time, and to behave in a professional manner.
But our work can be both in and outside of the job. Our work in the world might be to make it a happier or more peaceful place. It might be to advocate for a cause. It could be to raise children who will become valued, contributing members of your community. Our true work feeds our soul and aligns with our goals and values.
I have three years (give or take) left in my job and now, more than ever, I see the importance of keeping my focus on my work rather than the job. I don’t look at 2022 as the finish line but rather as 2019-2022 as a time of transition - a metamorphosis, a becoming. I ask myself what I will do to design a work life that sustains me emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and professionally and will create opportunities beyond that date.
I’m not concerned anymore about test scores, trying to impress anyone, or fitting in. My focus is on getting others (kids, teachers, family, friends, the community) excited about reading and writing. It might be by sharing poems regularly, giving away books, starting book clubs even if there is a low turn-out; and reading passages aloud and laughing, crying, or being amazed by the beauty and power of words. I intend to encourage others to write a blog or a speech, make time to give feedback to fellow writers, learn more about the craft and develop writing stamina, and use my writing skills to persuade, enlighten, or give pause to reflect.
In my Masters studies, I learned about poetic inquiry and tried to incorporate this in my thesis. Then, during my defense, I was asked by a professor if I lived poetically. I must confess that at the time I didn’t know what he meant and kind of faked an answer.
I’ve pondered that ever since and have finally come to an understanding of living poetically and what it means for my life and my work, especially in these next few years. For me, to live poetically is to:
This blog post is not so much about tinkering with text as tinkering with meaning and tinkering with the elements that make up a satisfying life and our work in the world.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver
Tinkering with Data
I've been teaching for over 30 years now, and I used to find testing, test results, and data analysis quite fascinating. I no longer do and here's why:
1. Test scores only show how a student is performing on a certain day at a certain time, and questions and even whole subtests can be outdated or culturally/socio-economically insensitive (imo), which skew the results.
2. Percentiles are often misinterpreted as percentages, and they are not the same thing. Percentiles mean how the student is performing in relation to their peers. So, while they are not keeping pace with their peers, they are still learning. It can be confusing to see percentiles not improve and even go down.
3. Only anecdotal notes, observations, and qualitative data can show that the children's love of reading, getting "hooked" on a book series or author, developing reading stamina, the ability to discuss literature in a meaningful way (and how books and the discussion of them can be powerful change agents in their lives), and the use of reading strategies (self-monitoring, sense-making, using context clues, etc.) has improved. These are also very important factors in helping children to have success as readers.
4. Seeing a table full of low scores can be very disheartening for everyone involved, including myself (students - whom I would never show these scores to; parents – whom I only show upon request and in person; teachers – who don't always understand how to interpret the scores and may take it personally, eg. "Why didn't they improve after all our hard work?").
5. Education is one of the humanities, not one of the sciences (medical/psychological/social). The root word of humanities is human and I would much rather look at the whole child than reduce their abilities/growth/potential to a number. It's my belief that how we relate our findings about a child should also be conveyed with a human touch.
I hope to continue to experiment with new, empathic, and more accurate ways of showing student growth in my last few years of teaching. Please share your ideas and strategies. I'd love to learn from you.
Vicki Den Ouden is an Elementary Reading Intervention Teacher from BC, Canada. She loves to dream, learn, teach, and create.