An update in September

Every year, my goal is to formalize my inquiry process – and every year, I end up getting off-track somehow. This year, I’ve done an awful lot of work, good work, but I haven’t gotten my inquiry together in a formal style. So instead of stressing over that, I’m just going to proceed informally. Here is what I’ve done so far this year in my classroom:

  • Writing workshop – we have begun writing every day except for Late Start/shortened periods. We start the period with writing and add a minute to the writing time each day. (As of today, September 19, we are at 19 minutes.) I’ve taught some mini-lessons on process/procedure and have just introduced writing conferences. So far, student feedback has been positive: students have written that they appreciate having a chance to write about topics that they choose instead of only assignments that the teacher assigns.
  • In U.S. History, I’ve tried to teach with a workshop format with limited progress. That is to say, I find it harder to set up workshop structure in USH because there’s so much I feel I need to model. In English, I am more confident at giving kids time to think and struggle with new ideas – it’s harder for me to give up that space in USH. It’s not that the kids are less trustworthy; just that I trust myself less. It makes sense: this is my 17th year teaching English, and only my 3rd year teaching USH. It’s natural that I have less confidence in the latter subject. But I want to keep improving at this: less teacher talk, more time for students to practice with difficult texts and writing.
  • I’ve done good work in my role as a teacher-leader. We have gotten the structured collaboration underway in departments. Jennifer and I haven’t debriefed yet on the work that departments did on September 11, but I think we’re on the right track there. We also have a meeting to address the D/F plan’s 4 “remaining” prongs, scheduled on September 21. We’re moving the ship forward.

My next steps would be to continue to write with my students during writing workshop and to explore how workshop can be a “base” from which to launch explorations and inquiries. I also want to keep working on “workshop-ifying” my U.S. History instruction. (Today, for example, in period 1, I modeled an assignment for 10 minutes, and gave the class the rest of the period to work. The only part missing was a reflection at the end, which I’ll do with the class on Wednesday.)
I also have a phone meeting scheduled with Brenda on Thursday; we are going to talk about how her class in Oakland might collaborate with my kids in El Monte.


My vision: part 1

In my post on political involvement, I wrote about an in-progress draft of my vision for education. I went back to my notes in Evernote & Scapple, and found that I had drafted about one-tenth of that vision; the rest was in the form of a rough outline.

A year and a half ago, I encountered the idea “working out loud” on Tanya Lau’s blog . I’d like to work out loud more often in 2017, so I’m going to post my vision in installments instead of waiting till I finish the entire piece.


At the moment, I have five elements in my vision of an effective school.

  • Meaningful learning for all students
  • Accountability to community
  • Culture of care
  • Access to resources for all students and family
  • Sustainable facility

1.Meaningful Learning for All Students

Meaningful instruction is not limited to “career readiness” or preparing for state assessments. In my opinion, meaningful instruction begins with student choice.

While it is reasonable for the state to exert some influence in the determination of expected student outcomes, the state’s current influence is shockingly disproportionate to the influence of the school community. Teachers and administration should have a say in student outcomes, but more importantly, students and their families should have at least equal influence – and probably more influence – in determining what these outcomes should be.

Educators and communities should be wary of statements such as “Students need x to be prepared for y” and particularly wary of uncritical definitions of “student success.” We must always ask, “Whose definition of success?” We must also ask, “Whose interests are served by this definition of success?”

We need to re-evaluate the word “success” and create a much more inclusive, much broader definition for this word.

To be continued!

Inquiry Update

My effort to establish routines has been of mixed success. I have been able to establish certain routines, such as the weekly check-in I describe below, as well as the “research workshop” on Fridays. On the other hand, I have not written as regularly as I would like – at least not publicly.

My classes have made some progress with the research workshop; it is more clearly structured than last year. I also believe that our Class Constitutions are working better this year than they have in years past. One reason for this: I’ve done a weekly check-in on Mondays (or Tuesdays, due to our block schedule), where students quickwrite about how things are going. Students then have the opportunity to share concerns or positive feedback. In one class, students shared that they enjoyed our biweekly visit to the library and that they enjoyed working on Letters to the Next President.

This week, in place of the quickwrite, I conducted a survey in three of my four classes (I’ll conduct the survey with the fourth class on Friday). I’ll write more about that later this week.

Starting this week, I would like to re-focus on my goal: to write at least weekly, in a public space, about my inquiry. I also want to set aside time, each day, to write in my teaching journal – in sentences! – about my progress and my practice. As my fortieth birthday rapidly approaches, I need to put these routines in place.

Research Brief: 2016-17

When I sat down to write my research plan for the upcoming school year, I began my re-reading my brief from last year. I realized that much of last year’s brief still applied; I also realized with some embarrassment that I had written some sections last year and then completely failed to follow through with them.

So, rather than write a new brief, I’ve updated last year’s brief:

The text in italics is new.

The text in blue indicates plans from last year’s brief that I failed to complete last year but want to pursue this year.

Dates are updated to reflect this year’s calendar.


How can I involve students in setting their own learning outcomes and meaningfully pursuing these outcomes?


How do the power relationships at my school affect (or even constrain) efforts to create democratic spaces?

Can teaching practice that is non-coercive or non-deficit influence student motivation positively?

If students are involved in co-designing curriculum with teachers, will students have more meaningful learning experiences?

What is a meaningful learning experience?  How can teachers collaborate with students and families to determine what a meaningful learning experience is in their context?

What scaffolding or support is needed for students to design and pursue self-determined outcomes?


I am hoping to discover and describe practical ways to empower students and create a learning space that is more democratic. I am also hoping to include families in an authentic (non-coercive, non-deficit) manner.

Literature Review 

As I conduct the inquiry, I will conduct a limited research review by blogging about relevant research.  (I did not do this last year. It would be fun to do a monthly “research corner” post.)


We will use James Beane’s Curriculum Integration model as a starting point for inquiry.  In particular, we will use the approach described in Chapter 4.  I will blog about this model at greater length in future posts.

I am going to modify this somewhat, in part due to this year’s special circumstances.

In the spring, our district and teachers’ union agreed to end the Fall 2016 semester at Christmas – an excellent idea, in my opinion, given that our previous model had two weeks of class plus finals after winter break before the change of semesters, which made January seem rushed and disconnected from what came before break. However, because an earlier start to the year was deemed too disruptive, we will have an 81-day fall semester with a 99-day spring semester. 

Another special circumstance is the presidential election, which has ramifications for all of my classes but especially, I think, for U.S. History.
As a result, I plan to use the following modifications this year:

  •  In the fall, seniors (English) will work in groups complete a project that is smaller and less student-directed than I would ideally like. I will structure our workshop time more carefully and spend more time up front helping the students think about time management and outcomes
  • In the spring, seniors will work more independently to pursue a project that is closer to the ideal described in Beane’s work.
  • In the fall, juniors (U.S. History) will deepen their research skills by writing Letters to the Next President.
  • In the spring, juniors will complete a Common Core Project, as described by Peter Paccone of San Marino High School. I will blog about this project later in the year.

We will create a Class Constitution and attempt to build a collaborative, non-coercive classroom culture that is based on honoring our agreements to each other.  We will also have brief but regular “check-ins” to discuss how well our Constitution is working for us. Check-ins will take place on Mondays/Tuesdays (i.e., the first meeting of the week in our block schedule).
I will use surveys, interviews, and perhaps sociograms to gather data from students on their perceptions in October, January & May.  I did surveys last year but not interviews or sociograms. 

Data collection 

  • Field notes
  • Teacher blog posts
  • Student questionnaires/interviews/sociograms re perceptions of power
  • Student work
  • Student blog posts

Data analysis  
I will analyze my field notes daily using a version of Shagoury & Power’s method of “cooking” notes, or reflecting on notes shortly after you take them (page 45-50).

I will reflect in writing in my inquiry journal regularly – daily, if possible; otherwise at least three times weekly.

I will blog weekly about the inquiry’s progress.

I will meet twice monthly, or weekly if possible, with our instructional coach, Jennifer Yoo-Brannon, and/or my lesson study group, to reflect on the data collected.


August 22 – publish research brief on my blog
August 23 – September 2 – obtain permissions from students, revise research brief as needed
September 5 – September 23 – initial data collection (student perceptions of power); implement strategies; begin field notes
September 26 – December – implement strategies, collect data, analyze data, blog, meet with Jennifer and/or lesson study group
December, end of semester – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
January, February, March, April, May – continue to collect & analyze data, implement strategies, blog, meet with Jennifer and/or lesson study group
May – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
May/June – final data analysis
June/July – draft report


I will publish the report on my research on my blog & at Digital Is by the end of August 2017.

Reflection before beginning
I learned a lot last year, but I failed to make the inquiry systematic and organic. That’s my goal for this year: to establish inquiry – and especially writing in public about my inquiry – as a part of my professional routine.