Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Outside the Classroom Walls: The Prom Musical & Why Representation Matters

Did you watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year? If you did, you watched history. For the first time in the history of the parade, there was a same-sex kiss. It happened at the end of the performance from the cast of The Prom and it left me wanting to shout with joy from the rooftops. I went straight to instagram to share my thoughts but realized I have a lot more to say about this moment and this show.

Image result for first kiss on macy's parade

When you work with young people every day, you work to make sure each of them feels loved, valued, and supported. But often times it is not you that they feel the lack of love from, it is our society as a whole. When young people don't see themselves in the culture around them they feel like they don't belong, so that simple kiss at the end of a Broadway musical number on the family-friendly nationally-televised Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade meant something. It was like a giant taffeta and glitter covered billboard saying "YOU BELONG."

As teachers, one of the biggest challenges can be managing diverse classrooms, getting students from various backgrounds engaged and getting them to trust and respect you. Part of how I do this is making sure students know I see them for who they are and I love them for it. But my love only goes so far, it can only do so much for a student if they do not see people like them portrayed positively and realistically in our popular culture.

The Prom is a musical comedy about a girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the high school prom, the PTA finds out and does what they can to intervene and prevent those girls from attending. Their story is picked up by a group of theater people who decide to make it their cause to get these girls their prom. While the show itself is billed as a musical comedy, the heart of the story is two young people trying to find their place in a world that tells them they don't belong.

So many of our students feel that way, and I am not just talking about our LBTQA+ students. The pressure on teens right now is indescribable. They navigate a world of social media that rapidly changes and consistently measures their worth through likes. They are living in a time of great uncertainty and political division. They live under the rule of a President of the United States who has openly spoken negatively about multiple minority groups.

So that kiss, that simple little kiss on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade matters. It matters because for a group of our students it told them that they matter. And an easy way we can continue to be allies to our students is to lift up pop-culture that represents them. You don't have to stand in front of your classroom each day and give an impassioned speech on embracing diversity (but if you have the time then go for it) but you can simply lift up books, movies, comic books, musical artists, and Broadway shows that reflect the students in your classroom. It will take one minute of your time to mention a new book you're interested in that has diverse characters and you don't even have to say "I am interested in it because it has diverse characters!"

Just by mentioning pop culture that includes diverse characters you can help students find where they belong. Is it in the ONLY thing you should do? No. But when the world feels daunting and uncertain and the pressure on teachers to "save" kids is immeasurable this is a simple action you can take tomorrow. Not into Broadway? That's fine! Find something that resonates with you, look for diversity, and lift it up for your students.

So thank you to all the cast, crew, creative team, and producers of The Prom for giving us another story where students can see themselves and know they belong.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

6 Articles to Get You Thinking About Grade Reform

I've spent the past few years reading everything I could about grading practices. I have been so lucky to be supported by my admin team as I have tried new things in my classroom and now that I have a few years under my belt I have even had the chance to start helping others find the best practices for them. 

When I help teachers who are considering new practices, I always start with a list of favorite books but the reality is most of us don't have the time or energy to dive into a book unless we know it is really going to help us. With grading practices that means knowing enough about grade reform practices to know if it is the right time for you to make a change and little of what those changes might look like.  Because of this, I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite articles that might help you determine if it's time to dig deeper and learn more.

Articles on why teachers have changed their practices and how to determine if you are ready to change yours

1. Another article to get you thinking about why some teachers are changing traditional grading practices is this one from Tony Wigner.

2. Carol Ann Tomilinson wrote one of my favorite books on grading but most of us don't have time to read every book out there so this article is a great resource from her for those aren't sure just yet if they are ready to jump in. 

Articles on Grading Practices 

3. Rick Wormeli is one of the most influential voices out there on grade reform and I love his thoughts on redos and retakes. You can read his main article here.

4. He also has a great article on teaching through assessment, if we spend so much time grading student work shouldn't it be a part of the learning process not just an end result?

Articles on Standards-Based Grading 

5. This article from Patricia Scriffny goes over 7 reasons to implement standards-based grading.

6. And finally, here is my own post on my biggest challenges in changing my own grading practices.

You can read all my posts about my grade reform journey here. I'll warn you, it gets messy but this messy work has made teaching more meaningful for me and while I still have a lot to learn I doubt there is anything that could make me ever go back to how I used to do things.

Do you have any favorite articles on grading practices? Share them in the comments!


I tweeted a late night thought this week that I really didn't think anyone would notice. It's a tweet I almost deleted because I ...