Sixteen years ago today, I started this blog. My hope was that I could share my thinking about educational issues and perhaps share some of the curricular and teaching resources I created. I haven’t done much writing about either of these topics in some time, but I long ago decided that rather than feel pressured to blog consistently that I would blog when I was moved to blog.
I have some recent good news to share with anyone who might not follow me on social media. I’m now Dr. Huff.
I successfully defended my dissertation on June 1. My topic is assessment, which will probably surprise no one who has been following this blog for a long time. In fact, I concluded my dissertation with reflections on how much my exchange with a student changed my thinking about assessment and grading.
I’m excited to see what is next for both me and this blog. Thanks to those of you who have stuck around over the years.
Back in the day, I sometimes reflected on professional reading on this blog, and sometimes, book clubs resulted. Blogging has fallen by the wayside in favor of Twitter, which makes me sad because sometimes the long-form reflection is better than a tweet thread. The UbD Educators wiki grew out of the reflection I did, and until Wikispaces went defunct, it was a promising project, though I confided to Grant Wiggins that it was hard to find teachers to commit to adding to the wiki. He wasn’t surprised because lack of time makes it difficult. I always say that we make time for the things that are important to us, and this blog is pretty important to me, but I hadn’t made a lot of time for it for some years. I’m going to try to change that, and one thing I want to do is document my thinking as I read Joe Feldman’s Grading for Equity. I joked to a couple of colleagues that I am finally making time to actually read this book, which has been on my radar for a long time, and I realize I should have made the time to read it as soon as it was released because Feldman is citing much of the same research as I am citing in my dissertation. I could have saved myself a lot of searching through the library database!
First of all, I encourage educators to take the quiz How Equitable is Your Grading? on Feldman’s website. If, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, you are examining your curriculum’s diversity, equity, and inclusion, I think that’s great. I think it’s great if you are engaged in movements to #DisruptTexts and #TeachLivingPoets. You also need to take a hard look at your grading practices, too. If, as Feldman says, you are implementing some equitable practices, such as “responsive classrooms, alternative disciplinary measures, diverse curriculum—but meanwhile preserve inequitable grading,” you are perpetuating inequity in schools.
I’m going to start by using Feldman’s “Questions to Consider” at the end of chapter 1. I’ll just answer the first two and update tomorrow with responses to the remaining three questions. Otherwise, this post will be way too long. Maybe it already is!
What are some deep beliefs you have about teenagers? What motivates and demotivates them? Are they more concerned with learning or their grade?
After over 20 years of teaching mostly teenagers, I have concluded that a lot of adults expect them to be more “adult” because they tend to look more adult. What I mean is they expect teenagers have developed an internal locus of control. Not even all adults have an internal locus of control. Teenagers tend to still mostly have an external locus of control, which means they are more likely to attribute a poor grade to a teacher’s lack of regard for them instead of a lack of proficiency on their part. I think we need to remember that when we are grading. As such, they might be motivated to earn good grades (carrot) or avoid bad ones (stick), but grades in an of themselves don’t motivate them to learn. I think they do help give students some kind of yardstick they can use to judge their performance, but I didn’t think grades had even this utility until I started doing research. Grades might not communicate what we think or wish they would, but they communicate something. I think students are much more concerned with grades rather than learning when they are in classes in which all high-stakes assessments result in grades that cannot be improved through revision and in which all earned grades are averaged together. If, however, they are in a classroom that encourages revision and focuses on proficiency, they focus a lot more on learning. Teenagers actually love to learn things, but the trick is that teachers need to communicate the relevance, and the wrong answer is “I’m the adult, so I say it’s relevant.” And if what you are teaching isn’t relevant, you need to figure out how to Marie Kondo the curriculum.
What is your vision for grading? What do you wish grading could be for students, particularly the most vulnerable populations? What do you wish grading could be for you? In which ways do current grading practices meet those expectations, and in which ways do they not?
Before I started my research, I wanted to eliminate grades a measure of student learning. There is a movement to do just that, and many schools successfully use other methods for reporting learning, and yes, their students still get into college. I no longer think grades are entirely useless. I think we have just perpetuated inequitable grading for so long that I couldn’t figure out another way aside from burning the whole system down. Now I advocate for proficiency-based grading, and that means that students might revise their work, sometimes several times, in order to reach a level of proficiency in learning content and skills. In almost any aspect of life, we have chances to practice a skill until we master it, and no one says it is unfair. There was a time when every musician we know didn’t know how to play their instrument, when every athlete didn’t know how to play their sport. But we don’t judge their current competence by where they started. I think grading based on reaching proficiency, whenever it happens or however it happens, is much more equitable.
My dissertation is a dissertation in practice, meaning I need to take an action step and evaluate its success. My action step is to create a proficiency-based grading and authentic assessment guide for a pilot group of faculty, to implement the practices therein (along with a focus group), to evaluate the guide’s success and revise it accordingly, and to present the findings to my colleagues. Feldman’s ideas will be invaluable in framing the guide, grounded also in my own research. I am hoping implementing this action step will make grading less of a chore for me, too—I related so much to Feldman’s argument that teachers don’t like grading (p. 5).
What I need to do is figure out a system that is more mathematically sound and use it. I am doing fairly well on most equitable grading practices according to Feldman’s quiz, with the exception of that one. For example, I already:
Don’t weigh homework much. Homework is preparation for class, such as reading and writing. I don’t even really use the homework category in my online grade book for graded work.
Don’t calculate behavior and executive function skills in my grade.
Allow students to revise their work and replace the grade entirely with the new grade.
Don’t subscribe to the idea that grades need to fall on a bell curve or that I need a certain distribution of grades.
Don’t count participation as a grade category. It is part of the rubric in a Socratic seminar.
I do not have students asking me to create homework assignments, and they mostly do the preparation I ask them to do. Students sometimes turn work in late for me, but it doesn’t bother me. Other than that, I don’t feel I miss anything by excluding executive function skills. Students actually work harder knowing the grade can entirely be replaced if the work improves. I don’t subscribe to fears about grade inflation or worries that students have too many high grades, and I find conversations with others who are still hung up here to be maddeningly frustrating. I have long felt participation was too slippery to calculate, and sometimes students are super engaged but don’t say as much. I still get excellent participation from students without grading it.
More tomorrow on the first chapter reflection questions. Let me know if you want to “book group” this book.
I have taught books by White writers that include the n-word in their books in the past, specifically To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both of which I mistakenly believed were antiracist. However, what both books have in common is that the Black characters serve as plot devices for White characters to learn about racism and injustice. Both of these books were in the curriculum I taught. I wasn’t made to teach either book and had the power to remove both of them and chose not to. I really regret those choices. I could have been teaching actual antiracist texts.
Another choice I regret is how I handled the language in both books. Some time back, my argument wouldn’t have been too much different from the argument cited here by Cait Hutsell, although, to be fair to my former self, I would have justified it by its inclusion in the text rather than some idea that I was “ban[ning] words from human discourse”:
Cait is right, of course. It was Cait’s tweet that prompted me to sit and think about my actions. Cait’s tweet was retweeted by several other people I follow who added their thoughts to the tweet, and they helped me figure out what I needed to do. Mary Worrell’s tweet in response to a thread by shea martin on failed allyship of another kind helped me figure out what I needed to do.
Public harm (any harm really) requires public acknowledgement and recognition of the harm done. If you only want to encourage privately, you’re not genuine in your support. If you ask how to help and the person tells you, be prepared to do that. Otherwise don’t ask. https://t.co/sHRycbHEhF
So, I am here to acknowledge publicly that I believe my actions in how I taught these novels were harmful. I explained to students that the word would appear in the novel. In my early years, I justified reading the word aloud because it was in the text. Later on, I confronted the word head-on at the beginning of our text study. We read the poem “Incident” by Countee Cullen and Gloria Naylor’s essay “The Meaning of a Word.” We also watched news clips about Huckleberry Finn‘s place in the curriculum. While this frontloading centered the voices of Black writers and their experience with the word, my next step was in the wrong direction. I asked the students how they wanted to handle the word when we read passages aloud. It’s wrong to put that on students, and it’s something I recognized because, in more recent years, I have simply said we are not going to say the word—I don’t care if it’s in the text.
I wish I could say I reached this understanding many years ago, but I didn’t, and my ignorance caused harm. Even if it’s true that I have not used that word outside of reading it in a text, I shouldn’t have even done that. I apologize to my former students. I’m sorry that my Black students experienced the racial trauma of hearing the word. I’m sorry that my White students took away from my lessons that using that word as long as it was in a text was okay.
I want to thank all the Twitter educators for making me reflect seriously on this harmful practice. You have my promise that I have changed my approach to texts entirely—actually to the point that I will no longer teach White writers who use that word in their writing (we can have arguments about realism all you want; you know why they used it).
I would urge my fellow White teachers to contemplate their practice on reading this word aloud, too. If you’re doing it, stop.
As a side note, on Thursday, this blog turned 15 years old, and I let the day pass by without remarking on it. Thanks to those of you who choose to read and engage.
As of today, this blog is a teenager. Thirteen years ago today, January 25, 2005, I started blogging at huffenglish.com. I always post on my blog anniversary, and usually, I share some statistics, but I’m not going to do that today.
Instead, I’m going to ask for your help. If you have found this blog useful, and you want to pay it forward, I support these organizations and would be happy if you would support them, too.
Today this blog is twelve years old. I originally envisioned this blog as a place where I could write about what I was thinking and where I could share my teaching ideas. It hasn’t changed a lot from that vision over the years, though posting has grown less frequent. I have been looking over some of the posts I wrote years ago, and it makes me wish I had a little more time to write—aside from summer, when I seem finally to be able to catch up and write.
I just finished my twentieth year of teaching, and such an important milestone has made me a bit reflective. It’s hard to believe I have been blogging here for more than half of my career now. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I was a teacher before this blog. Perhaps because I wasn’t reflecting or journaling about teaching much until this blog, my memories of my teaching career up until this blog are fuzzier. It’s hard for me to articulate what this space has meant to me over the years. I have said it many times, but I’m not even sure I’d still be teaching if not for this blog because I no longer felt alone, and I was able to share what I was thinking with an audience who cared. Two years ago, when I wrote my tenth anniversary post, I thanked many supportive friends who helped me early on. I’m not sure what more I can add. Thanks to those of you who have been readers, whether for many years or a few days.
For the curious, here are some weird stats:
I have written 1,086 posts on this blog. That works out to 90.5 posts a year or 7.5 posts a month.
I have received 3,989 comments. That’s about 332 comments a year, almost one per day.
I only have statistics for the last five years, but it looks like my best day for visitors was October 1, 2012. I can’t figure out how to drill down into the statistics and find out how many viewers that was.
Most of my visitors today were from the United States, although I checked my stats for all time, and it looks like I have had at least one visitor from, well, almost everywhere. See below.
The average number of views ranges from a low of 206 per day for this month of June 2017 up to over 1,000 per day in September 2012. I don’t have statistics older than 2012, but five years is long enough to have a fairly good range. I’m not sure if at one time, I had more views than 1,000 per day, but it boggles my mind that so many people were checking into this blog. Thank you!
My blog gets the most traffic on Mondays.
I have a combined total of 3,145 subscribers from WordPress and email. Thanks, and I hope I made subscribing worth your while. Since Google shut down Google Reader, I haven’t found an RSS reader I like much, despite trying a few, so I am afraid my own blog reading is really haphazard. I used to be so much better at checking other blogs.
I was going through blog posts I wrote almost ten years ago, and I noticed something interesting. Back then, blog posts—and I don’t think just mine, either—tended to generate comments. It was typical for my average blog post to receive at least two or three comments back then.
I know one issue is that I don’t write often, so perhaps newer posts are not being seen. Then again, there are over 3,000 people who subscribe to this blog via email updates. I have often had someone leave a comment that mentions they have been “lurking” for years but never commented.
I’m not bothered by the lack of comments, but I am curious as to why commenting happens less frequently now. It it just being too busy? Do people really still read blogs anymore? Despite predictions to the contrary, blogging seems to be thriving again, though it looks different now than it did when I started nearly twelve years ago now. The lower number of comments is something I am seeing not just here but also on other blogs I read.
I am also seeing a trend I don’t really care for on social media, both on Twitter and Facebook, to made threads or longform updates. I suppose it’s your social media account, and you can do what you like, but I see Twitter and Facebook to be most useful for quick updates.
Without this blog, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today. I made so many friends through this blog. I learned so much and thought so much about teaching in this space. I was not as reflective as a teacher until I started blogging. Now I find I don’t even need to blog to reflect, which may be why I don’t blog as much as I want to.
Back in the days when my boss was a bully, and I was contending with feeling like a failure as an educator, this space saved my self-esteem. I was validated by commenters agreeing with my ideas and challenged by those who didn’t. I needed this space to think through what I believed.
I suppose I’m just curious about reading habits. Do people still read blogs? Why? What do you think is behind the lower numbers of comments on blogs?
This month I finished my 20th year as a teacher. A few years into my career, I almost left it behind. I had finished my fourth year, and it was particularly bad for both professional and personal reasons. I had a really hard time finding a job. I finally found one about October—teaching preschool. The kids I taught that year are in college now, but I think of them often because they brought me back into the profession. Teaching them somehow rejuvenated me and helped me figure out why I do this job. For a while, I thought perhaps I had chosen the wrong age group and considered teaching younger children. I taught two years of middle school after that and went back to high school, this time in private school, and I never looked back. I have now spent 13 years teaching in private schools.
I saw the above teacher stats meme going around, and I had to do some estimating, but the only figure I’m not really sure about is the number of students. I would estimate I’ve taught anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 students. Some years in public school, I taught five sections and most of them had 20+ students, but I have now spent the bulk of my career teaching 4 or 5 sections with fewer than 18 students in each section (also an estimate, as sometimes the number is higher, and sometimes it’s lower… by a lot). As a ballpark, it’s not bad. Those faces come swimming back years later, even after I have forgotten the names. I wonder about many of those faces. Some have kept in touch with me.
I was feeling quite frustrated a few weeks ago. You know how it is at the end of the year. Everyone’s nerves are frazzled, and we forget to be as kind and thoughtful as we should be. I include myself. I had a particularly draining experience toward the end as well, and I have to really thank my colleagues for their moral support at that time. It’s remarkable what difference some time, perspective, and rest can make. The ending of the year was particularly good for me, as my colleagues nominated me for a prestigious teaching award at my school, which in itself was a huge honor. My colleagues then voted among the nominees, and I was selected for the award. I can’t articulate what it means to me that my colleagues recognized me for my teaching, especially after I had been feeling so down on myself as a teacher. For those colleagues of mine who read this blog (and I know there are a few), thank you very much for such a tremendous honor. You really made my year.
I wrote about ditching chronology for thematic design in teaching American literature, and I get emails about how it has gone, as the post is now old enough that comments on it are close. It has gone very well. I plan to write an update.
One of the most enriching experiences of my career has been a collaboration with my fellow 9th grade World Literature I teachers and 9th grade World Civilizations I teachers (history). I want to reflect on that collaboration and share how we planned and what the year looked like.
I brought home several professional books to read, and I will write reviews here once I’ve finished with them.
I have now taught AP Literature and Composition for two years. I always contend it feels like year three is the year when things start to feel really good, whether it’s working at a school, teaching a course, or whatever else might be new and different. I have lots of thoughts about how this year went (much better!) and ideas for next year.
I went to some excellent professional development at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education with three of my colleagues, and I haven’t written a thing about it on my blog.
I am also becoming more involved with my local NCTE affiliate, the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE), and even though it’s early days, it has been great establishing local connections like I had in Georgia with GCTE.
My students have done some great work this year, and I haven’t shared it.
As E. T. Bell says, “Time makes fools of us all.” Months have gone by, and I haven’t written anything on this blog, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I have actually taken up letter-writing again, and I have been trying to send letters somewhat regularly to my grandfather, who just turned 92 this last week, as well as two friends from school. I have been journaling. I published an article inEnglish Journal back in January. While I haven’t been doing as much creative writing, I have been doing some reflective writing or other writing about teaching practice.
I’m a firm believer that we make time for things that are important to us, and for one reason and another, it looks on the surface like this blog’s importance has diminished. After all, if it were more important (I reason to myself), I would post more. I’m forced to consider also, however, that despite much of the writing I’ve been doing offline, I’ve got writer’s block where this blog is concerned. I have often logged into my blogging platform, started a new post, and stared at the blinking cursor. Other times, something will happen in the course of a regular teaching day, and I will make a mental note to blog about it. But I don’t.
Why not? By the time I find I have an hour or two to set aside to write about a topic, my own brain has moved on from thinking it over. I have a little notebook with a few ideas jotted down, but I find when I pull it out and look over them, thinking about what to write, nothing is grabbing my attention. In theory, the little notebook is a great idea.
It’s the end of another school year, my twentieth, and I feel wrung out in a lot of ways. I am doing more presentations, including presenting at the NEATE conference earlier this year. I’m also presenting at NCTE in November. Running my department can be exhausting. I have three preps, which is doable, but involves a lot of planning. I am falling behind grading. And, and, and…
And yet, this blog, I know, is important to me. When I was recently at the Harvard Graduate School of Education participating in the Transformative Power of Teacher Teams, a professional development course for teachers aimed at making teacher teamwork more powerful, rewarding, and productive, I was asked to share what I was proud of in my career, and this blog was high on my list of accomplishments. I have been writing and reflecting (sporadically, yes) in this space for nearly twelve years. When my former host shut me down last year because they claimed my site was not optimized (and wouldn’t help me optimize it without my plunking down several hundred dollars, despite my having been a paying customer for a decade), I was not so much worried that all of my work would be lost, as I know how to back up my files, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to figure out an affordable solution and that I would be offline for weeks. And in spite of not having updated, I didn’t want to be offline for that long.
I know I need to make more time to be reflective here. This blog saved me when I felt alone, and I found others who shared their ideas and practices with me and who agreed with me. I didn’t feel so lonely anymore. It made me think about what I was doing and why. I am not sure I would have done presentations at conferences or written any articles for publication if I hadn’t had this blog first. This blog gave me some sorely needed confidence.
It doesn’t work for me to schedule time, say, once a week to be reflective here (although it would be good for me if it did work) because I feel pressure, and I just get frustrated with myself if I can’t do it. I have always had to post when I can, when I’m inspired. I just wish that were more often.
Those of you who blog, how do you keep your momentum going over time? How do you encourage yourself to keep writing? What do you do when the cursor is blinking at you? How do you start again?
I’ve let the cobwebs collect around here again! All I can say is the same old thing everyone says: time. I always say people make time for things they feel are important, so for one reason or another, blogging has had to retreat to the background for me. I am always thinking about things I want to write about, but making time to do it has been a challenge. That’s not to say that I don’t feel the urge. Obviously, if I’m writing at the moment, I feel like I need to be writing.
I have several things on my mind, any number of which might make an interesting blog post:
I discovered in August that I have an underactive thyroid. I’ve been on medication for it, and I feel almost like a different person.
I have my first New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) conference coming up in a couple of weeks. I am actually presenting at my first one—on my digital storytelling project. Speaking of which, I have an article in English Journal coming out in January on the same subject.
I am visiting Atlanta for the first time in over four years, when I moved from Georgia to Massachusetts, when I go to NCTE. I’m really, really excited.
But I’m also concerned about NCTE. It’s becoming an echo chamber, and, honestly, cliquish. I don’t like to see it.
I am having a blast with my AP Literature class, and I’m doing a much better job the second time around. Plus, I have some cool tools to share. I haven’t participated in #aplitchat in some time. I need to make time for that.
I’m teaching 9th grade for the first time in a while, and it’s been interesting in some ways. My freshmen are a lot of fun. I also have a new advisory group of freshmen as well, so I feel like a part of that class.
I have an office. This is a very interesting development. My previous school gave me an office, but I elected to use the common desk space in the computer lab with my colleagues instead because I felt lonely. My new office is not cut off from the rest of the people in my building, so I don’t feel lonely. Plus I am super-productive. I can’t even compare the difference. Part of is a new organization scheme (plus a place of my own to put things).
I went to Know your School Night, and just about all of my daughter’s classes have 30-ish students. That’s too many, but it’s not just her school. It’s the norm. That’s wrong when we know what we know about class sizes and effective instruction. I heard over and over (listening between the lines) about classroom management challenges my daughter’s teachers face because of the size of their classes.
Also, I am noticing another issue with my daughter’s school that I have encountered before: grading behaviors instead of student work. That’s a whole blog post, for sure, but folks, we can’t hand out a list of rules and give a quiz over the rules. It shows students right off the bat that what you value is compliance and not learning. Come on. Do better.
All of these thoughts probably merit a post on their own. If you want to have some fun, you can vote below. Which one do you want to read about the most? The poll will stay open until midnight on October 9, 2016.
What do you want to read about first?
How much better I feel (25%)
My concerns about NCTE (25%)
AP Lit (25%)
Class size concerns (25%)
My NEATE presentation (0%)
Returning to 9th grade (0%)
My office and new organization scheme (0%)
Concerns about grading behavior instead of work (0%)
Total Votes: 4
Fun fact: I have tried to spell “behavior” the British way twice while writing this post, and I have no idea why my brain did that.
During the month of March, I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. If you have been reading for a little while, you may have noticed that I try to participate in the Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge, which involves writing a post on Tuesdays. The March Challenge kicks it up a notch. Instead of writing on Tuesdays only, the goal is to write every day. I am not sure if I’m up to this, but I want to give it a try and see what happens. In any case, I am not going to beat myself up or pressure myself. Life happens sometimes. However, the goal is to try to post each day. I’ll see you tomorrow for the first post.
Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.