Thursday, February 20, 2014

And Somehow, Despite Educational (De)form, Excellence Continues at the Occasional School #JoelBarlow

For the third year in a row I was invited to spend time at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut to serve on their portfolio scoring team who is assigned to assess 200+ junior writing portfolios. Each and every year I participate in this event, I feel spirits rejuvenated. Best practices in learning to write DO exist in the northeast. Yes, I agree, they triumph despite a lack of professional development provided but the state, the push of corporate (d)eformers into schools, the counter-composing norms of state assessments (on demand) over writing taken through multiple composing processes, and the defunding of support for public school teachers.

For students at Barlow, writing is nurtured through a writing center, portfolio expectations, district-wide support, a superintendent who invested in writing, and a well-established, calibrated scoring system that initiates rich conversation amongst teachers and with students. The anchor papers they use elicit dialogue about writing - instructional conversations I witness as totally absent from the majority of schools I visit. The young people - by virtue of the junior expectations - are required to think deeply about their talents as writers and to highlight areas where they need to improve.  They do this through submitting letters to the reviewer, personal pieces, creative pieces, and analytical pieces. The school has set a particular bar each student must reach  in order to graduate. I love the ownership they have for strong writing and feel they continue to be an example of excellence.

A short time, the entire state of Kentucky encouraged such processes, but as (de)form movements have it, poor choices are often placed on teachers to ignored what they know is best in the name of politics, assessment, and worst practices. Alas, we are systems that work within other systems.

Still, perseverance, dedication, devotion, and tenacity can triumph in an age of pathetic anti-teacher/students moves by policy makers in the United States. At Barlow, students are held to writing standards that place them ahead of other adolescent writers simply because the school cares enough to prepare them for real college and career readiness beyond state assessments. The students write analytically, creatively, reflectively, and narratively with purposes that matter to them and for audiences beyond the teacher. THIS MAKES A TREMENDOUS DIFFERENCE.

Thumbs Up, Barlow! I remain a fan.

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