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The Big Fresh August 20, 2016 Armchair Experts

Brenda Power

When we are judging everything, we are learning nothing.
                                                                                       Steve Maraboli

My husband and I are watching the Olympic diving competition. It isn’t long before we are yelling out scores as soon as each diver hits the water. “He was a little over – can’t be more than a 7.5.” “That’s a 9 for sure – look how tight that flip was.” Sometimes the scores we guess are right, and sometimes they are way off. After a few minutes of this, we are laughing about how absurd the whole thing is. This is a sport we watch once (maybe) every four years, and within minutes we have deemed ourselves experts, thinking we can instantly judge something that has precise rules and standards. Of course we can’t, but that doesn’t stop us from piping up with judgments.  The problem is that it looks so easy to score, based on either a clean entry or something resembling a splat when the diver hits the water. The truth is that the real experts are looking at far more than one thing at a time.
You know where I’m going with this – everyone’s an armchair expert when it comes to education. The problem is that most of us only get to see the scores, and not all the work or even the materials used to produce those scores. But it’s the people behind the scores who give you the truth about whether there’s any learning going on or not, or whether a good score was even possible on a test with a lousy design or in a school where there are extreme issues of poverty and migration. No one would watch the Olympics if we only got to see the scores, with no performances. And the people who pay billions for the rights to broadcast the Olympics have learned that the ratings success formula isn’t to show performance + score. It’s life story + performance + score. Once you know the person behind the performance, you’re sometimes not even worried if they make it to the podium or not. You’re just thrilled to be watching someone on the world stage who beat all the odds to even get there.
Knowing this, it still won’t stop me from yelling out scores before they are posted. But at least I can laugh at the absurdity of it. I wish the same was true for everyone who thinks they know how to fix schools based on some numbers on a page.

This week we look at mentors and mentor texts. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power

Founder, Choice Literacy


Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChoiceLiteracy or Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/choiceliteracy/]

One goal of many primary teachers is to help students finish their drafts with an ending other than "The End" (or "they lived happily ever after"). Katie DiCesare shows her first graders many alternative examples, and she begins early in the year with powerful mentor texts:


Mandy Robek shares a delightful list of mentor texts that help students reflect upon and monitor their behavior in the classroom:


In this video, Ruth Ayres opens up her writer's notebook and mentors students on the many possibilities for filling the pages in their own notebooks:


Join Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan for the online course Making Assessments Work for You starting September 23. This course includes the book Assessment in Perspective, a DVD, three webcasts, and personal responses from Clare and Tammy to all your questions:



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Tara Barnett and Kate Mills carefully select the first mentor text for crafting leads in their fourth-grade classroom:


Katie DiCesare uses technology in her first-grade classroom so that students can see the lives of the authors who create the texts they love


In this week's video, Melanie Meehan talks with a third-grade teacher about how she helps students focus on craft elements in nonfiction mentor texts


Ruth Ayres shares some of her favorite mentors and mentor texts for developing good writing processes and habits:


In an encore video, Aimee Buckner explains how she selects mentor texts for writing, as well as the importance of using writing by students and teachers in lessons:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.