Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What’s wrong with the math standards?

I know I promised I was going to blog through the TEKS and the Common Core. And then I lost steam. (I mean, really, it is like twelve more years of the same exact thing. You guys get the idea). I thought everyone might be more interested in what the big deal is. I mean everyone seems really worked up about the new math standards. Whether you live in a Common Core state or in Texas (because, as I pointed out, the Common Core is illegal here and yet our standards are remarkably similar), chances are you have expressed frustration with your state's math standards

First and foremost, let me clear up what the math standards are NOT.
  • Poorly written textbooks, worksheets, and resources.
  • Assessments that drive instruction, take over schools, and are inappropriate (for a number of reasons).
These are related issues, but they are separate from the standards. I’ll explain how they are related, but it is important to understand that standards
  • are not a curriculum,
  • cannot (or at least, should not) tell a teacher HOW to teach, and
  • are created separately from assessments and assessment decisions.
But here is what is important. And, in my humble opinion, where everything goes wrong. 

Implementation: Gaps, Gaps, and did I mention Gigantic Gaping Gaps in Instruction?

Here is the deal, these new standards, from what I can tell seem to have this, “DO EVERYTHING ONE YEAR EARLIER!!” concept of rigor or something. A lot of concepts are a grade earlier now, it seems. I’ll talk more about how that happened later. But for now, I’m going to talk about what that means for the kids. For example, a third graders who goes to fourth grade suddenly needs to learn formerly fifth grade material. So, what about the formerly fourth grade material? When and how does the kid learn that? Great question!

You could just pretend that material or those students and their needs don’t exist and just move right along. Nothing to see here folks. No way this can cause any stress, frustration, parental concern, or plunging  assessment scores.

Could they not find a stair step way to implement standards in a more methodical student-centered way? Instead of just a legislative or whoever-centered way that is focused on keeping the assessments rolling along, per NCLB? And oh, by the way, those assessments are going to suck because of the way you just rolled this whole thing out.

Which brings me to: Assessments. 

First of all, there are a million problems with a lot of state assessments. They tend to do a better job of measuring things like socioeconomic status than classroom learning. Plus, they drain state tax dollars away from really meaningful things and redirect those dollars into vendors like Pearson. (I get that accountability is important, and I don’t want failing schools getting away with not even trying to educate students and meet their needs. But. That isn’t really the point of this blog post.)

Anyway, kids get stressed out about assessments that are now going to cover this new material, plus the gap material that they were never taught. Parents are going to get upset, and rightly so. Teachers are probably going to get unfairly blamed. And really, this isn’t the fault of the standards. This is the fault of the way they were implemented. But, the assessment results for the first *many* years will be bad. (new tests are often bad until kids/teachers learn the test and how to teach to it, ugh.)  The elementary kids will be missing foundational information that could hurt them for the long term. AND because we use assessments in a summative way (as in, the end, sorry your kid didn’t learn it) rather than a formative way (as in, hey, here is some diagnostic information, let’s use it to inform our instructional practices and provide your student with some targeted interventions) we generally penalize the kid for our crappy implementation of the standards, rather than help meet the kid’s needs. Many times, by threatening to hold them back (hello, high-stakes tests), but ultimately finding some magic loop hole where we pass them along without providing them the necessary interventions. Only to rinse and repeat in the next high-stake testing year.

Texas does give students a break from the high-stakes that goes with testing during roll out, which is smart; but if we could just take a break from testing, altogether, that would probably make rolling everything out SO MUCH EASIER. There wouldn't be this frenetic “do it now, no matter how dumb it is” energy. But that would take a federal waiver that will never happen. Thanks, Obama (just kidding).

Rigor What?

I can’t speak to the Common Core standards. But I know in Texas, the standards are created with a lot of teacher input. However, I do worry that the elementary teacher voice is not heard as much as it should be. First, they are, by and large, certified generalists. So they are often not, for example, math majors, which puts them at a disadvantage for getting on the TEKS revision committee (although, I haven’t done a public information request on the breakdown of the committee to back this up; I would hope they seek a balance of grade levels.) I imagine that is probably also true for the CCSS, but again, just speculating like a jerk here. On top of that, when elementary school teachers submit comments during the public comment period saying that the standards aren’t developmentally appropriate for the K-5 students, I feel like their voice is more likely to be ignored. Those concerns are generally brushed off and dismissed; they might as well have said “oh my poor babies” and “these are too HAWD!”

I’ve said it before, we need an developmental psychologist reviewing some of these standards and validating these concerns, because I don’t think the lower grade levels are adequately respected, nor are the educators who teach them. When elementary school teachers say something isn’t developmentally appropriate they are talking about the way the brain develops and concepts (e.g., concrete versus abstract) are understood in normal growth patterns. (I mean, maybe if certain education leaders don’t have children, and don’t work with young children, and don’t know anything about young children, then maybe they shouldn't dismiss the voice of everyone else who does....) 

Here is what doesn’t help: Bad Textbooks, etc.

Every time we adopt new standards, schools buy new textbooks. The books and resources are supposed to address all the new standards. (although from what I’ve seen, we could probably just pass the fourth grade textbooks down a grade level, etc. and call it a day.) Sometimes, textbook companies that think new standards means they need to shake things up and offer totally new math strategies. I mean, some of these strategies could be TOTALLY AWESOME. But if the teacher doesn’t understand them, like them, and/or can’t teach them well, and the kid brings them home with a blank look on their face, then suddenly, the terrible worksheet or strategy or whatever becomes associated with the standards. (when really? Blame the publishers!! Yes, they pander to our sometimes GOD AWFUL standards, but still.)

Bottom line, school districts (in Texas) have total control to choose any textbook they want. Even if it addresses none of the standards. And those worksheets? They choose those too. There is nothing in the standards that say, use some weirdo new strategy. That is all on your school. In fact, I remember some state board members trying to explicitly force teachers to teach the old school algorithm method they learned (because if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for Texas kids, darn it! (or at least the ones that are educated in Texas public schools, which might not include their own children...and omg, that article and Mr. Bradley’s use of the R-word, what an embarrassment.) And also, get off their lawn!) I don’t remember how it turned out, because I lose interest. or faith in humanity. it’s generally one or the other.

But this website does a GREAT JOB of breaking down a viral worksheet/standard debate.

And regarding some of the weirder Common Core-specific myths, you can read their FAQ.

In conclusion. I am big supporter of public schools and believe very strongly that we really NEED them to work and be the best they can be. And it is important to be involved and blablabla. But sometimes I’m glad my girls aren’t in school yet. :-/ People that are stressed out, I feel ya.


Sunday, October 5, 2014


So fall is pretty much my favorite. Even though the Texas version of fall is basically weak sauce. But I promise, our leaves will change colors and fall off by Christmas or something. But it doesn’t even matter. Because PUMPKINS! (and my birthday, and thanksgiving, and it is all part of this seasonal crescendo that culminates in Christmas. And it is filled with decorations and family and seasonal drinks and what is not to love?!)

I pretty much start decorating for fall September first. But I ease into it. Like I don’t get the Halloween stuff out until October. That sort of thing. And you can't buy too many pumpkins on 9/1 or they will be super rotten by Thanksgiving. Take it from me.

Hannah didn’t want to go to Target and Starbucks with me, just Maggie.
It is like, I’m not even sure how to tell if Hannah is even related to me.

Anyway, I also hold off on the pumpkin spice latte until the air gets a little crisp. Because who wants to Instagram their PSL when it is 100 degrees out? It just feels weird, am I right?
And we went to our first pumpkin patch. The first because, I love pumpkin patches. And also because Cork was working and who wants to miss out on this kind of cuteness? NO ONE. That is who. So there will be more pumpkins. Oh yes. There will be more pumpkins.
Maggie is totally going to pick up this pumpkin by herself

When did Hannah get so big?!?!?!

here is a shot the Austin American Statesman got of Maggie 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Communicating and invincibility

So I read a bunch of books about corporate communication (although, they really apply to communication in any situation/context). And then, you know that Hyperbole and a Half post about depression where she comes out of the depression by no longer giving a f*** about anything and deciding she was invincible? 
I've always wanted to not give a fuck. While crying helplessly into my pillow for no good reason, I would often fantasize that maybe someday I could be one of those stoic badasses whose emotions are mostly comprised of rock music and not being afraid of things. And finally - finally - after a lifetime of feelings and anxiety and more feelings, I didn't have any feelings left. I had spent my last feeling being disappointed that I couldn't rent Jumanji. (you really have to read the whole thing)
via Allie Brosh Hyperbole and a Half
These two things are related because I originally read these communications books because I was sort of frustrated by some things and I thought these books would help. But then things got so frustrating that I got to that place where I was like Allie in Hyperbole and Half. I had my own personal Jumanji moment and I was like, that is it. I’ve gone over the edge. I’ve run out of f***s to give. And suddenly I felt nothing, and I was like, “Judge me all you want, stupid face, I have no feelings left...maybe I’ll go touch a spider later.”

Soooo, in an effort to reign myself in, I’m re-reading the books. And blogging about them, which really helps me more than anyone. Because I’m not doing myself any favors thinking I’m invincible. Especially with new research out that women are WAY more likely to get tone policed in their evaluations than men and criticized for perceived personality flaws rather than for failure to exhibit or develop certain skills.

Crucial Conversations

  1. Start by asking yourself what you really want out of this conversation. Is it realistic and necessary? You can tell it is necessary because it would eat away at you otherwise. And asking yourself a question can put yourself in a more logical less fight/flight part of your brain, which can help reign your that crazy zero f***s left to give place.
  2. Start by looking for common ground. There is always plenty of it, no matter how far apart you may feel from someone else. Helpful hint: if you are nit picking someone’s point, quibbling over details, or making a big deal over tiny flaws, then you aren’t looking for common ground.
  3. Ask permission. Before you start the story, before you pursue the argument.  This shows respect to the other person and where they are (emotionally and in their day).
  4. Be curious, and open to being influenced by their story, ideas, etc.
  5. Show that you are listening and communicate respectfully:
  • Agree: let them know where you have points of agreement 
  • Build: where you have information that has been left out, build on their story
  • Compare: “I think I see things differently here"
  • Ask: express an interest in their views
  • Mirror: acknowledge their emotions
  • Paraphrase: restate their important points, but not verbatim, because that sounds patronizing
  • Prime: if they seem reticent, then make a guess (CAREFULLY) at their views to get them talking
Some example statements include the following:
  • I think it is important to deal with this before it gets out of hand
  • I’d like to talk about something that is getting in the way of my working with you, it is a touch issue to bring up, but I think it’ll make us better teammates if I do. Is that okay?

Crucial Confrontation

Now it is called Crucial Accountability. I got the cheapest one I could, because I’m cheap. You know they are exactly the same anyway. Speaking of exactly the same, this book covers almost all the stuff in Crucial Conversations but with extra stuff; so if you’re only gonna get one book, get this one. (btw, there is more to this book than this stuff, and I’ll probably get to it in another post because Lord knows this one is already too long.)

  • The first few seconds of a conversation set in place the ground work for the overall outcome. 
  • It is very important than in this time you communicate that this conversation will be safe for the other person (you respect them, their view). 
  • Most communication is non-verbal: facial expression, body language, tone,
  1. Ask for permission to discuss a delicate topic
  2. Speak in private
  3. Contrast (I don’t think you {anticipate their worst assumption about what you are saying/will say}. In fact, I think {something complimentary that illustrates the opposite}.)
  4. Establish a mutual purpose. Show how much you have in common, in terms of what you both want out of this situation.
  5. State the issue. What is the gap between what your expectations were, or what was appropriate, and what happened. This should be succinct, objective/fact-based, and respectful. 
  6. Be curious. I’m beginning to wonder if x? (leave room open to be wrong. You’re not outright accusing them of being incompetent, or whatever you’re pretty sure that they are.)
  7. End with a question. “Do I have this right? Am I missing something?”
Some example statements include the following:

  • I don’t want you to think I’m unhappy with your management of this department. Overall I’m very satisfied. I just want to talk about how we handle X. 
  • I’m not saying it was wrong for you to say X. It is important for me to get feedback from you. It is just that I heard your tone and words as demeaning. 
  • I didn’t mean to imply that you were doing it on purpose. I believe you were unaware of the impact you were having. That’s why I wanted to bring it up in the first place. 
  • I’m not saying you have to treat me in any special way. All I’m asking for is that you treat me in a way that communicates respect and doesn’t sound like you think I’m incompetent.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Weekend

We didn’t really do anything special for Labor Day weekend. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that, living with preschoolers. They tend to think that it is pretty special just getting an extra stay-home day, and that getting snow cones deserves its own special song, and that going to a park (that isn’t our neighborhood park or the Y playground) is a pretty big deal (that merits never, EVER leaving). Their enthusiasm is pretty admirable. I mean, do you see the joy Maggie gets from our automatic sprinkler system? I could use a little (er, a lot) more of that kind of joy in my life.

And the snow cones. (lyrics to the song, not included, unfortunately)

And some puppy and preschoolers at the park:


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hair cuts and heart break

I took the girls to get their first haircuts yesterday. I drove all the way to Cedar Park (30 minutes away, okay, I guess it's not that big of a deal) to someone who specializes in curly hair. Turns out Hannah doesn't even have curly hair anymore. WHAT?! True story. It'll probably get wavier when she gets in high school, but her baby curls are gone. GONE.

she looks like an adult. I mean, really.

This was her a year ago, I mean, seriously, curls just disappear? that is a thing?

Maggie, is another story. She still has her cute little waves and ringlets. And she is none too pleased. I wasn't even allowed to take her picture. She wants to go back tomorrow and get them all cut off. (?!) And it broke my heart. She was putting on her shoes this morning and told me, "I hate my hair! I don't want my curls! they are crazy!" She is three, you guys! Ugh. Break my heart.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nap Buddies

Ever since we first got Tybalt, he has been moving in on my territory as Maggie’s nap buddy. If there is one thing I love, it is taking naps. In fact, sometimes I try to convince Maggie to go take a nap by laying down with her; then I will fall asleep, and she’ll get out of bed. So of course, Cork will go upstairs and find the girls are playing in the play room while I’m taking a nap. And let’s just say he doesn’t nominate me for parent of the year

It’s okay though. I’ll forgive Tybalt for taking my favorite job from me. They make pretty cute nap buddies. And while he is asleep, he can’t chew on my shoes (in his defense, he hasn’t done that in a long time).

One of the major reasons we got a bigger dog was because we felt like Maggie just needed something her own size. You know, something a little too big to try to ride like a pony. (Poor Junebug)

I think we made a good choice.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From the playground to the boardroom, 3 ways labels RUIN EVERYTHING {sort of}

When I first started to get really interested in mindfulness, I’d hear a lot about how important it is to observe, describe, and participate in what you are doing. But don’t label the experience. Never label. This always seemed like splitting hairs to me. I could barely see the difference between describing and labeling; it all seemed like a matter of semantics. Describing, labeling. TomAyto, tomAHto. Amiright?

The deal is, labels often carry judgement. And sometimes (most of the time?) the source of our stress isn’t necessarily from the actual situation, but from our reactions to, and judgements of, the situation. 

True story.

Labels and Kids

First with kids. In a few books I’ve read (Siblings without Rivalry, How to Talk, and If I Have to Tell You One More Time, to name a few) it has mentioned how it isn’t a good idea to label your kids. Even if it is a positive label (she’s the athletic one), it’s not a great idea. It can set up sibling rivalries, uncomfortable expectations, limitations, and it can make your kids feel like they are some sort of two-dimensional caricature of themselves to you. And that is just the positive labels! That doesn’t even address the impacts of negative labels (sloppy, lazy, the-not-athletic one).

via Amazon

Feedback and Labels

Making Feedback Work, by Elaine Holland is written for managers in the workplace, but it has little gems that are applicable for both parents and CEOs. Anybody who has read Gottman’s marriage work knows that feedback should be given in a ratio of five positive statements for every one negative statements. This is actually true in the workplace as well. GO FIGURE.

Effective feedback is given in the form of observable statements. I.e., NOT descriptive labels. Therefore, statements like, “be more professional/less emotional/more of a team player” are crap. And of course they are! Those statements could mean one thing to the person giving the feedback and another thing entirely to the person receiving it. So you could think you have made HUGE strides in your “emotional” problems (read: you’re a woman, right? How’d I guess. #sexism), meanwhile your supervisor still thinks it is a massive issue and that’s why you’re going nowhere fast in the organization. 

Instead feedback should be given using these three steps:
  1. Describe (don’t label!) the behavior (this shouldn’t be vague or subjective)
  2. Describe its impact (why is the behavior good or bad)
  3. Describe the desired future behavior (this should be the focus of the conversation if it was a negative behavior you want to change; if you spend too much time harping on the bad behavior it will sound like you’re about to fire the person. If it is your child receiving the feedback, the negative behavior will be the salient part of the conversation and what they are more likely to remember if that is what you ramble on and on about.)

This might sound familiar because it is a lot like some of the advice in the How to Praise a Child Round Up. Once again, if you know how to raise and/or teach a child, you should know how to get a corner office. Not that that’s how our society works. But you know. Just sayin’. 

And the amazing thing is, you can tell people almost anything when you state it in the form of a fact rather than a judgement. People can argue with your opinion or judgement. Nobody (reasonable) can argue with facts. You have a sleazy boss? It is hard to say, I’ve been meaning to tell you, you’re kind of sleazy. Because that is a label, and it is a kind of harsh one. And maybe his behavior is too subtle to really go to HR and say, "he’s gross, do something, maybe?" But you can say, “I’ve noticed you look me up and down a lot and touch me more than any other of my other coworkers. (Describe the behavior) It makes me uncomfortable. (Describe the impact) I’d appreciate it if you could just look me in the eyes and give me some more personal space. That’d be great."

FYI: If by chance, you are on the receiving end of some useless, label-filled feedback {because your boss was never an awesome parent or teacher like you, natch. or like many bosses, your’s wasn’t hired for his people/management skills.} here are three questions you should ask: 
  1. What do you want to see me start doing?
  2. What do you want to see me stop doing?
  3. What do you want to see me keep doing?

Overreacting and Labels

The authors of Crucial Conversations make an important point. When you say, “That made me so angry!” what you really mean is, “That thing happened, and I immediately, without even realizing it, created a story to explain why it happened (what everyone’s role and motives were, etc.) and that story made me so angry!” 

For example, your boss was late to a meeting you organized (that was the thing that happened). Your story was, your boss doesn’t respect you or think what you have to say is important. He blew off you and your meeting and walked in late to show everyone how unimportant he thinks you are, and how useless what you have to say is. And that story, not so much the event, is what made you angry.

Your story is really like a complicated label. At the very least, you are labeling the other characters in your story. Often times these stories are what the authors’ consider “clever” because they essentially let us off the hook. There is a victim (you), a villain (the other guy), and/or a helpless character (you also). These labels often allow us to underplay our own role in the problem or mistakes we might have made, and exaggerate the role or cruel motives of others.

If we step back and look simply at the facts of the case and remove these labels, we are sometimes able to consider other possibilities. It leaves us some room for a little more empathy, or at least a little more room to consider other perspectives. For example, maybe your boss was one his way to your meeting and got sick. He would have gone home, but he didn’t wan to miss your presentation. He got there as soon as he could, and sat through the whole thing feeling unwell, because he knew it was important to you and he wanted to support you. If you stopped to consider other reasons your boss could have been late, you could have labeled him as something other than the villain and then you wouldn’t have been angry.

It is the same with our kids. A lot of times when kids misbehave or do something bad, we sometimes think they are doing it just to disrespect us. We forget they are just kids and they actually are really motivated to please us. But they are kids! They are exploring their world, testing their boundaries, learning new things. They have short attention spans, a limited understanding of the world and sometimes we haven’t clearly explained how things work or what we expect in some circumstances. And a lot of times we’ve done a really crummy job considering things from their perspective.

That’s why it is really important to step back, take a deep breath, and carefully observe before we jump in and label and flip out. That space we create gives a little more room for empathy, clarity, and perspective. All good things.