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Why Narrative Writing is Crucial For Students: A Warning for Common Core Implementation

Narrative within professional development nonfiction: Readers kept going past midnight, telling me, "I had to find out what happened to Josh!"

Narrative within professional development nonfiction: Readers kept going past midnight, telling me, “I had to find out what happened to Josh!”

As 46 states implement using the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one big change is from the traditional amount of narrative writing students do to far more analytical and argumentative writing. As someone who knows and uses the power of narrative techniques in a considerable amount of business writing, this has me worried.

Susan Pimental, one of the primary authors of the standards, explained that the reason for the switch is

to reduce writing “opinion untethered to evidence” and “decontextualized” writing—writing not based on the reading of a text—in favor of writing that requires students to read, comprehend, and respond to text, grounding their interpretations in evidence found there. That shift reflects what young people can expect in college and work, she said. “In faculty and employer surveys, the kinds of skills that score high are the argument and evidence-related skills, developing ideas with relevant details and reasons,” Ms. Pimentel said. “Telling stories scores very low” (Gewertz, S11).

Really? Really? I can only guess that these employers and professors equate narrative writing with “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essays. REAL narrative writing is every bit as complex and every bit as crucial to businesses as “argument and evidence-related skills.” I’m not saying instead of. I’m saying both narrative AND evidence-related writing.

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Intellectual Persistence? Let’s Model It!

Yesterday, I completed a whopping one page in my newest book project (more on that later). Today I wrote an entire chapter. Same amount of time, different results. What happened?

Well for one thing, I wasn’t preoccupied with national elections. More importantly, though, I made myself plan for being as engaged and productive as I knew how to be. For writing, that means removing myself from the temptation of organizing my office or doing laundry (far more attractive than deep thought on a complex issue!), getting a good dose of exercise, and enhancing my environment with motivating music or other sensory touches.

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Differentiated Cycling AND Coaching

Have you noticed that “who you are is how you teach”? Colleagues who are a bit more reserved tend to run quieter classrooms. Teachers who love to read (in what little spare time teachers have!) share that love with students. Our classrooms mirror our strengths and interests in countless ways. (You can download Chapter 2: Who You Are is How You Teach from one of my books which explains a framework for working with normal differences among teachers–and students)

Who We Are is How We Bike–And Teach

I recently realized that who I am is also how I bike. As I did some thorough self-coaching to master new equipment, I found I was taking myself through the same process I use with teachers. Hopefully, my biking experience will help provide an image of key strategies that can help new teachers use their strengths to master their biggest needs in the classroom.!<

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Differentiated Professional Development

Besides telling me, “That was practical,” attendees at my daylong workshops also comment, “You kept us awake all day. What did you do?” Well, I differentiated.

I do my best to model what I hope teachers will do for students: “teach around” the learning styles so that the day’s activities are varied and everyone’s needs are met at least some of the time. You can learn more about how these styles apply to students in my Educational Leadership article, “Let Me Learn My Own Way”, but the styles also apply to teachers. Try planning your next professional development session with something for each style.

  • “Let me master it!” Teachers with this learning style often appreciate receiving detailed instructions for new strategies or lessons. Provide time for reading those instructions and asking detailed questions. Give a demonstration or show a film clip of a teacher using the new strategy.
  • “Let me do something!” These teachers do not want to sit still all day!
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A Window Into Effective Problem-Solving

True story:

A school board decided that middle school students weren’t paying attention in class because they were looking out the windows. Their solution? Build a windowless school. Honest. They did just that. Four wings with white walls. Students couldn’t tell where they were so they added grey, brown, and other neutral-colored panels to identify the wings. Sounds more like a prison than a school, doesn’t it?

Of course, this design failed to rivet student attention to teacher instruction. Why? Students were gazing out windows because they were bored with what and how they were being taught–instruction, not construction, was the root cause of the problem!

Each time we solve problems without identifying the root cause, we risk spending millions, as did this school district, on something that won’t further student learning.

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Coaching for the World Cup of Life

[From a keynote address to the New Zealand Association for Psychological Type, July 2, 2011]

Some rights reserved by Kiwi Flickr

My favorite definition of coaching comes from the origin of the word “coach”: a vehicle for taking valuable people from where they are to where they want to go. Using personality type in my coaching practice improves my ability to show those I coach that I value each client, their time, their goals and aspirations, and their unique way of being.

Chances are, if you use type you’re coaching someone. A child? A friend? Clients during teambuilding or conflict resolution? Life coaching clients who are trying to balance priorities or find meaning? All of these are legitimate coaching vehicles for helping valuable people head in a direction that is right for them. To me, that’s coaching for life’s “World Cup.”

World Cup Coaching

Of course, the most common usage of the word “coach” refers to sports. As I prepared this talk, I ran across an article called “Rugby High-Performance Coaching” by Ben Pierce, which described the five key goals that the All-Black coaches have for each player. And, I’d say these are my top goals for every client I coach!

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