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Let it Snow!
Like many teachers and students in the Mid-Atlantic States, I've been experiencing a week of snow days. After quickly reminding my envious friends that I must make these days up on fairer days, I settle in to catching up on grading papers, replying to student blogs, and prepping for next week's classes.  Then calm.

A chance to think, to mull, to surf, and to read unlike what I had been accustomed to save my salad days of grad school or dog days of summer. Being unable to get out of the house, with two feet of fluff on the ground and a few more inches falling, I'm granted that rarest of commodities--time unscheduled.

Time to be reflective, creative, thoughtful, intellectual, sentimental, and focused.  I'm catching up with the September issue of Educational Leadership and the November issue of English Journal. I'm chairing a curriculum committee on 21st Century Learning Standards and both have periodical have offerings on the topic.

In EL, Terrence Clark's article "21st Century Scholars" tell of a program inspired by the curriculum framework of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. "The district's high school developed a program that gives students the opportunity to build an impressive electronic portfolio documenting an array of mind-stretching experiences, which take place outside of regular school hours in the afternoon, evening, on weekends, or during vacations."

In EJ, Jim Burke's piece for the English Journal's "From the Secondary Section" column, presents "Reimagining English: The Seven Personae of the Future."  He gives Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future an English teacher's perspective and profiles a lucky seven archetypes for the Millennials in our English courses.  These personae have one common denominator: imagination.  Burke lists:
storyteller, philosopher, historian, anthropollogist, reporter, critic, designer
It may seem that some of these are far afield from how we English teachers have thought of our craft. Burke argues:
This is the future we must imagine, the one in which our students will live. These are the personae they will adopt and adapt as society and the workplace evolve. Some will wonder where literature is, where culture can be found in this model. Yet I see our rich tradition of literature and language, rhetoric and composition, prose and poetry already existent in all these roles. It is simply time to reimagine how our discipline might be reenvisioned.  
Even without these personae in mind, many English teachers know that their work has helped students who have gone on to create, innovate, and cope with cultural change.  Now to remain relevant our cultural change Burke joins the chorus of Daniel Pink and Ken Robinson (and many others)  in calling us to make imaginarion, creativity, and collaboration the brain, heart, and soul of our courses.  More on the challenge of this in a future post.

Right now I have some shoveling to do.

Author : ceyo

Anti-Social Behavior of a Social Network
Or ways to unfriend everyone at once and lose bragging rights to the Web.

Facebook, once the promise of clean, fun social networking, lately has taken one move after another out of the Orwell playbook.

It is now one of the most cluttered and confusing websites since Yahoo.  What was once a relatively sharp, bright interface and simple concept has grown into a complex, non-intuitive, morass of functions that tend to complicate rather than ease contact with others. Perhaps confusion is by design. Months ago Facebook redesigned their simple menus and lately they've been trying to link user's profiles to a host of other third parties.  It's privacy policy has become a blank check.  Going from annoying to creepy, akin to some psychological horror movie, the site represents your associations and you get the sense from strangers that the call is coming from inside the house.

For example, when one signs in to see "what's on the mind" of his contacts, he wants to see the News Feed of what his friends have posted; rather he's faced with a splash of ways to do something else, often without a "no thanks" button. It's like a childhood bully blocking your way to your locker. Today, I was presented the option to link to pages that were "suggested" by the information I put in my profile. I was prompted as to whether I wanted to link my profile to them. When I deselected the fifteen items, I was in effect (as I soon learned), erasing them from my profile. Back to my hallway bully analogy, I just got "bookchecked."  So I can't tell you what I do for a living or my favorite film without linking to some other page, because now I have no profile.

For more than a year, I have not used any of the fun applications or websites, because Facebook shares my information with these outside developers. So no fun, just news from my friends.

With the new design came some wonky, non-intuitiveness. For intance, when I click on "Photos," I expect to see my own.  No go. I see everyone's except my own.  Once I find my own albums, it's very difficult to find profile photos. I can't tell you how; I just keep clicking about the site till I stumble across a link.

If I want to send an email, it isn't called that. Facebook changed the name to "Messages," arguably a more general term that doesn't distinguish from postings and instant messages, two other things one might do on the site.

Okay, so for the past year the site was again and again going against the grain of user-friendly.  It was breaking down social mores as it was touting social-networking. (Hmmmmm.  Oedipus, Macbeth, and other tragic heroes and fatal ironies come to mind.)

With 400 million registered users, more than Google users, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to be for the 2010s what America Online was for the 1990s" and dominate the Web. (A-hmm, is that a good business model? to plan to be ignored in a decade?)  In any case, it seems we have a good bit of classical hubris, Me-generation myopia, and a whole lot of greed for information and the money they can make for third-parties connecting to it.

But now, this past week, came an outcry over privacy and Facebook's do-first-ask-later practice of sharing the 50 billlion items of personal information with third parties.

What started out as a lively way to keep in touch with friends and family, has turned into an abuse of trust and privacy. Is that what social networks will become?  Zuckerberg phrases Facebook's sharing of information as "social experiences."  Count me as unsocial, then. Facebook is a popular, but awkard site today, with a clever and untrustworthy leadership.

Zuckerber is 26 (yes, Orwell, born in 1984), and 31 is the average age of FB employees, and I can recall how ready I was at that age to run an international company with 400 million customers.

Ultimately, I figure it's Facebook's site, Zuckerberg and his thirtysomethings  can do what they want.  But if they take over the world, I'm ready to move planets. Hurt and dissappointed by Facebook, I look forward to the promise of other social networks such as Diaspora (see below), not threat of Big Brother. Orwell, move over, you're getting company.

Image: The "F" design is a trademark of Facebook, used here inverted for commentary.


Author : ceyo

Education Put to the Test, Students Be Damned

Here's a story problem for you:  "If the federal government establishes a 500-point system and awards 138 points to states that increase a measure of teacher effectiveness by using student performance as the criteria and pay-incentive, how long will it take teachers to teach the test and not the student?"

My guess is not long. Speaking about the $4 billion "Race to Top" deal U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan puts it crassly."All of this money is voluntary," he says. "If states don't want to apply or compete they have every right not to do that. But I will tell you that when we put billions of dollars on the table, you'll see people more than step up" (National Public Radio, 1/19/10, bold mine).

It would be laughable if it weren't so damnable to quality in our schools, damnable to the educators in their halls, and damnable to the students most of all.  Oh, don't get me wrong. Scores will increase; that much is all but certain. Learning--except how to whiz the test--will not. It will be reduced to skills and facts delivered by clerks and online programs, not educators. In fact, I predict a lot will be lost. If not school systems altogether, then we will lose the following:  Creativity,  productivity, industry, innovation, performance in the arts, entertainment, and sports arenas, and curiosity in the maths and sciences.

Teachers can inspire those talents in students . . . but not with standardized tests.  These are the attributes of America's success and prosperity.  And they are not standardizable--they are as revolutionary as the spirit of 1776. Standardized tests by their very essence are antithetical to the creativity, productivity, industry, artistic performance, entertainment, and sports, and curiousity in the mathematics and sciences. Our citizens have led the world in these pursuits for the past century--despite the fact that our standardized scores have lagged.

As more an more standarized tests are added to the school year, students learn less and less that will be meaningful to their lives, liberty, or happiness, much less to our country's success.  Before a student is graduated from high school, he will have spent more than 180 days devoted to standardized testing; that is, more than a whole year--gone. A year of teachable moments that might have expanded his world with hope and curiosity.  How can we forfeit so much for these tests, now promised in multifolds, and bearing such damage?

According to the bibliographic information giant Bowker, who tracks reading trends, a quarter of our population did not read a book in 2008. And less than half did not read more than one. Do we imagine that standardized tests with their overworked passages and hackneyed, insipid prompts will inspire a love rather a fear and dread of reading and writng? Last year's statistics will seem halcyon when viewed from 2022.

Why do our legislators yearn to standardize and hold our students and teachers accountable to international systems that are arguably inferior to ours?  Ease. Scores are easy. Not terribly meaningful, but easy.  You can publish the results and say "there."  The politician says, "See, now relect me." Though low on meaning, they are high on stakes. If you don't believe it, we'll bribe you. That's another easy answer. Confuse the issue with funding.

Pay teachers more for so-called effectiveness of so-called student achievement and you provide the meanest incentive to the basest gain. Funding for scores that are so limited in their meaningfulnes--that is, save the injury of demeaning communities which don't make the grade and then the insult of not funding them so they go defunct--insults the very professionalism of the discipline. 

As for me personally, I see that, as I head toward retirement pensions based on my salary, I could fatten my wallet by teaching less.  Rather than teaching students, I could teach the test. Rather than working on concepts and skills that will prepare students for their futures yet unimagined, I can work to the bubble test defined for the here and now.  Rather than a career professional who has strived for decades to appeal to the hearts and minds of the next generation, I'll become a clerk and time-keeper. The whole deal is one to be made with the devil.

States are signing on to "Race to the Top" with Faustian panic and expectation. It's a race afterall, not a thoughtful, meaningful process of learning. Governors seek funding in exchange for doing the devil's work. Signing on the dotted line of a moral blank check with the testing companies (and their lobbyists) playing banker. Districts be shamed. Teachers be pressed. Students be damned.

Image:  "Test: Arne Duncan." Created with Obamaconme.
Author : ceyo

A Note Pinned to Your Underpants Suffice?

In the past month I've had the experience of students not turning in project work and having the excuse that they weren't here the day it was assigned. "I wasn't here the day you gave the assignment."  I think this is akin to a toddler who closes his eyes and thinks you can't see him. Invisibility by experience."I see nothing, ergo nothing sees me."

"How could you miss it?" I state in the course syllabus that "students are responsible for missed classes," parroting the school's policy on the matter.  And a project assignment is given at least one week advance notice. These students were in class since "that day." It's an honors class for the college bound senior.

Furthermore to defend my amazement let me say that I distribute all project assignments in writing, mark the deadline on a dry erase board in the classroom, post the same on our class wiki, provide handouts on the class website, and add reminders on Twitter. So I'm a bit snarky in responding to "I wasn't there the day you assigned this."

What about some individual responsibility?  How do you cope? How do we serve students without enabling poor behaviors?

Image: "I See Nothing, Nothing Sees Me." By Lindasslund. 17 Nov. 2008. Flickr. Used by permission of Creative Commons License.
Author : ceyo

Summer Reading: Techniques & Strategies
After appreciating the breadth and clarity of Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I have devoted some of my summer reading to practical matters of technique with two books for K-12 teachers.

First up is Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. His book describes 49 techniques that teachers can use to shore up their repertoire's effectiveness.  Speaking from his vantage as an administrator of Uncommon Schools, Lemov goes into great detail with each strategy from the fundamental to the ingenius.  As a teacher with 18 years in the classroom, I marveled at his ability to fill pages with the simplest strategy, but in that sort of detail he makes plain what might be otherwise be missed by the uninitiated.  The book is chock-full of great tips, and I'm surprised he didn't have at least one more idea to make it an even 50. The publisher Jossey-Bass markets the book as germane to K-12 and indeed the ideas in this book fit all grades in that range and some beyond.

No doubt teachers will find a few techniques that are already part and parcel of their practice.  But I must admit that this old dog learned a few new tricks. Lemov starts off with No. 1, for example, "No Opt Out." This is the idea addresses the scenario of a student unable or unwilling to answer a question and ends with the student answering that question as often as possible. Lemove offers at least four formats to make this technique sequence a successful one. Another technique, No. 3, "Stretch It," entails a sequence of learning that does not end with a right answer; rather, an on-target answer is rewarded with follow-up questions that extend knowledge and test for reliability.

Adding to Lemov's clear descriptions, rationales, and transcripted examples from real classrooms, the book comes with a DVD of clips showing great teachers using the techniques on the fly.  You can see some of these at The New York Times feature on "Building a Better Teacher,"which Lemov narrates.  The DVD confirms the feasibility when they return to the classroom this fall.

Akin to Lemov's book is Richard Howell Allen's High-Impact Teaching Strategies for the 'XYZ' Era of Education.  The title is not only giving props to the Generations teachers are serving but also to the ABC organization of the book's contents.  Allen has a strategy for every letter of the alphabet from "Acknowledgement" to "Zones of Instruction."  Allen's ideas might be a bit more basic, but no less essential than Lemov's.  One is strategies and one is techniques, and though there is overlap with these, a difference becomes distinct. 

My summer reading of both will no doubt tighten up my practice and make me more effective. They should be required reading in pre-service education courses and handy to the veteran. If Ravitch's book is a must read backgrounder for the systemic challenges we face, these two books are gotta-have manuals for the first-year and the fortieth-year practitioners on the front lines.

Image credit:  "Oil Lamp." By Jason Pearce. 1 June 2006. Flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons Licensing.
Author : ceyo

On the Job 24/7 with Social Networking
Interview question:  "Let’s say an employer asks to 'friend' you on Facebook. How do you handle that?" The response should tell an employer much about the applicant, right. (Imagine the education version:  "Let's say a student asks to 'friend' you on Facebook. How do you handle that?)

In either case the National Association of Colleges and Employers notes in a recent post that managers and administrators are looking for new-hires with social networking expertise.  I have a hunch they are not looking just at texts-per-minute speeds.  Some jobs, a NACE article points out, may go to those job-seekers with higher contact counts. Knowing how to use social media effectively and safely is becoming a sought after skill.  You need to know how increase sales and decrease scandals.

As social media becomes a normal part of our dealings in all spheres of our lives, the circles we in which we swim become mixed: professional and personal. The many versions of our selves--professional and personal, civic-minded and family-centered--tend to intersect on social networks. Don't we share a side of ourselves with our family that we reserve from our co-workers? How do live authentically on a social network? We needn't fear Big Brother to censor ourselves as much as the fella in the next cubicle as we keep our personal brand up to snuff.

Maybe this is nothing new in the long view. Puritans in colonial towns knew each other's business. Then again, they hanged each other as witches, too.

As teachers, long held to higher standards of civil behavior, we understand personal branding perhaps better than folks whose personal life is more, well, personal.

I have friends, past romances, family, business associates, fellow teachers, former students, and parents of current students among my Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts. I'm figuring how to be diplomatic among disparate groups. So if this teaching thing, doesn't work out, I might at least be up on my social networking skills.

I've got a way to go, though, apparently.  The illustration shows my Friend Wheel, a representation of how and my friends interact on Facebook (on the left), in contrast to another user whose wheel I found proudly posted as on Flickr.

With regard to social networking in the classroom, currently it's difficult to teach our students these skills, especially if schools don't allow mobile phones in class and the school filters knock out social networking sites.  Texting in the restrooms, not smoking, is le crime du jour. Still we ought to discuss these issues.  How to be our best selves and put our best foot forward has always in our purview.  Social networking makes it a skill to be practiced 24/7.

Image credit:  Wheel on the right posted to Flickr by kk+ on 9 July 2007.
Author : ceyo

Planning for Less and More
"Less is more," an aphorism from 20th century architecture may be watchwords for structuring education in the 21st.  Partnership for 21st Century Skills co-chairs, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel present this as a likely principle for curriculum design in their recently published manifesto, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times.

"A reasonable goal for most education systems moving from a 20th century model to a 21st century one might be 50 percent time for inquiry, design, and collaborative project learning and 50 percent for more traditional and direct methods of instruction."

"It's like déjà vu all over again" Midway in my teaching career, I sense being back to my first years of teaching. Back then praise came for using process-drama units, project-based assignments, and cooperative learning. Nearly 20 years later, I'm wondering if the novice me was so smart or not. Critics of P21 are wondering, too, including

Less maybe more, but the experienced me knows it is also less. I've spent the past 10 years working with colleagues to teach more in cohesive year-long plans. But as digital technology has come of age, the seams are starting to pull again. (Remember our generation never learned about the Vietnam War because our teachers never go to the end of the book; but boy, those Federalist Papers!) E.D. Hirsch would want me to know both, right?

That was 1977. Likewise, this year's curriculum planning is awash. As my income tax goes into the mail, graduation participation forms and summer reading letters are harolding the tide is going out: do what I can and can the rest is the best I can do. My 12th graders have senioritis, the research paper is due this week, our school is mired in state tests, and teachers are on edge about next year's duties (and a lack of collective bargaining).  The curriculum cutting board will be the business of summer. What to cut?


It's not that it's all gold. Or is it?  Seems like even if I taught all if it, muchgood is still missed. The 50% of keepers must not only be essential, but it ideally would bring out the essentials of 50 percent left out. Can we handle that?
Before answering, consider this. While calling for less beadth and more depth, Trilling and Fadel, also want us to enrich the core subjects with what they call "21st century themes." Global awareness, civic literacy, financial literacies, and health awareness are to be woven into the core subjects, while information, media, and ICT literacy are to be part and parcel of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and contextual learning, plus a slew of nine life and career skills, including ethics, self-direction, and social responsibility. That's a tall order.  Nonetheless who better to rise to the occassion but teachers.  But it sounds like more of more as well as less of less.

Teaching in Pennsylvania, I'm not in a P21 state, but I can see the stars, and someday the standards, lining up.  As states develop standards-aligned systems and the governors come closer on the Common Core, it makes sense that  educators "school thyselves" on this stuff.  Whether you like to think of it as the latest fad, or as the authors and supporters suggest, as "nothing new" if you think of teachers teaching what students need to know to be successful.

So this summer I plan to plan with 50/50% in mind.  Fifty-percent of the traditional, fifty-percent of the inquiry-, performance-, team-, creativity-, project-based learning that are infused with 21st century themes, skills, and digital literacies.Think of it as a mid-summer's road trip, with Trilling and Fadel suggest the model and roadmap, Hirsch making up the sights list and packing a lunch, Ravitch riding in the "been there, done that" back seat, and Richarsdon waving as we pass by a smiling Ken Robinson and the grave of John Dewey. I might end up with 150%.  I'll smile back: "Less is more."

Image credit: Remix of "Fifty Fifty Two." By Jeremy Brooks. 17 June 2009. Flickr.
Author : ceyo

Wallisher: Student Response in a Jiffy
Although it seems to have been around for a few years, I just discovered Wallwisher.com this past week and put it to the test in my English classroom with happy results.

Wallwisher allows you to create a wall (a.k.a. webpage that takes stickynotes by the click of a mouse). Students need not register or login, so you can do this on the fly. Set up your wall with a title, subtitle (maybe a special instruction or focus prompt), graphic, and pick a color design. Name its URL extension and you are ready to have your students point their browsers to it. You may also designate whether comments will be moderated or not (recommended).

It's soooo easy! No need to register students or fuss with passwords.

Since students don't register, they need to type in their names (we use first names and last initials only). Of course, their might be some unwanted guests and students could pose as each other, so I moderated comments. They still have the thrill of seeing their posts immediately, but no one else does until you approve. In addition to 160 character text posts, the stickies will also host images from the web, video, audio, and other media, making this an exciting way for students to collaborate, research, and share information. Conversely, you may embed your wall into a class website, wiki, or Facebook page.

My first go at it was as an asynchronous dialogue of questions and answers related to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Take a peek here.

I look forward to trying it out when the students have each have a laptop and we can have in class responses to questions as a discussion starter.

After posting the above blog on the English Companion Ning I got plenty of other great tips from colleagues, such as:
  • Brainstorming
  • Student response
  • Polling
  • Reflection
  • Feedback
  • Presentation notes (only 160 characters!)
  • Play scripting/Improvisation
The response from the English teachers has been enthusiastic. If you figure out other ways to use it, I'd be happy to hear.


Author : ceyo

A Verb That Got Me Worry
Get worried? I recall my grade school teachers admonishing my peers and me if we used "got" in our papers.  "It's dull writing!" the elders decried, and we fledglings were most likely using it incorrectly: She got worried about it.

Every generation has its own scruples. My teachers were looking for correctness and variety.

I don't mind got if it is used to mean acquired. But more and more I'm seeing its being used as an auxilary for some other verb.  I know I'm no linguist, and not arbitrator of usage.  With regard to cheerleaders' "c'mon get psyched" to advertisers' "get amazed," I can have no sway.  I've given up hope on in-the-field, off-the-cuff journalist speech, but please allow me to cringe when it's in a written and obstensibly edited article in an educational journal, such as this month's issue of Educational Leadership.  One writer suggested that readers "Get familiar with asynchronous tools" of digital learning.  I simply ask, whatever happened to "be," as in "Become familiar with asynchronous tools."  Get needs a noun, not a verb.  Now my working grammar is not above reproach, but I expect more from edited texts.

Is it too much to ask? I don't expect folks to suddenly add nouns. "Get familiarization," "get amazement," "get readiness," or "get richness" don't roll off the tongue.  I imagine the battle of using adverbs rather than adjectives would be won first. Recall Apple Computer's ubiquitous slogan of the 1990s:  "Think different."  It still bothers me. Language evolves, I know, still it seems a loss, especially when adding -ly to form adverbs or using be or have instead of get is so easy.

Nowadays, I crusade with my students to think of "to get" as "to acquire," and "got" as "acquired."  If you can fit acquired into your sentence, then you may use got (sorry, gained, garnered, partook, copped, collected, obtained, and snagged!)  I got

What about when got is the main verb? "You've got mail," much groaned over, is fine by me.  In this case, Have is the auxilary to the past tense of get. Read as "You have acquired mail." (Remember those halcyon pre-spam days when that was a great thing to hear!)

So get with it! Acquire a new understanding of got.  Don't worry. Be amazed. Be psyched. Think differently.

Image credit: "Worried 62/365." By Roberto Bouza. 1 Dec. 2009. Flickr.
Author : ceyo

Getting Wiki With Research Paper Drafting
This year I'm having my students draft their research papers on our class wiki on PBWorks. And I'm loving it.

First, it solves the transfer problem of having to save files at home or at school. It's all online. Students can write in class, in the writing center, in the media center, at home, at the public library, and at Starbucks.

Since we have a campus license, I can set page-level access, so that everyone's draft is private. While all the tentative processes of rough composition take place writers can have their privacy (yet be visible to me for assessing their progress). When the first full rough cut is ready, I can open their pages to one peer mutually.

Moreover, I'm not collecting a variety of handwritten or typed drafts of intro paragraphs, counterarguments, supports and conclusions. All of their progress is not only visible but also documented as to when it was saved, thanks to a page history feature.  I can see everyone's progress as soon as he or she clicks save.  I can also gage each student's progress (or lack thereof) and add encouragement or warnings along the way.

Students report a few downsides.  If they don't save frequently, they leave themselves open to power failures and lost keystrokes (PB Works has a save-and-continue feature in their Beta editor, coming).  And they must have Internet access--not such a problem in this digital age, but still a factor for some that share their computers with family, or the power goes off (which did happen this year due some bad weather).

Still, the ability to work at school and at home in a common online medium has more pluses than minuses. Haven't we all heard the refrain "I can't write in class"? Indeed, some students are more productive at home, when they are alone and not hopping from one bell to the next. They can spread out their notes, sip coffee, and hunker down for some quality drafting. For instance, this year, in the week students were working our their first drafts, we had several snow days, and students could keep working away from school.  And from home, I could watch their progress during our time away from school and offer coaching in the comment fields. The connectivity seemed to motivate both student and teacher, while helping everyone to beat cabin fever during the blizzard.

As students finish their papers they upload their Word files to the wiki for peer editing thanks to Word's review and comment feautures. Then it's on to the next draft and submit to teacher in Word.  Having the papers in electronic form facilitates plagiarism checking; I can simply pass along the paper to a checking service if it looks too good to be true. 

Next, I use Word to add my comments and mark the papers, send the amended file back through the wiki, and wait for the third and final draft.
Author : ceyo

The Magic of Saving PowerPoints as JPEGs for Collage
One of the greatest challenges with the incorporation of digital technology into the 21st century classroom is how much time it can take to do so. The exploratory, experimental, and collaborative nature or simply the learning curve students need to climb to use tech in an English language arts classroom can be a real threat to delivery and mastery of content. That's why I'm always looking for ways that tech can either save time, deepen learning, or at least come out even with traditional ways of teaching and learning.

One of my best successes in this regard is using PowerPoint for collage.  Especially the 2007 (2008 for Mac) version, PowerPoint can be "a poor man's PhotoShop." The application's editing ribbon boasts oodles of options to reformat text, shapes, and images.  With transparency, reflection, rotation, size, and color you can combine images in ways to create meaningful and poignant ways.  It takes students a class period to play once they find their images, which brings me to the time-saving aspect of PowerPoint for collage.

For such project I ask the students for one slide to be saved not as a PowerPoint, but as a JPEG. (Yes, you can do that!--just click the format option when you Save As, and the application will let you make every slide a separate image.)  To garner copyright-friendly images, they visit Creative Commons Search or Compfight and mark "non-commercial use."  Since both sites offer search engines, they find what they are looking for with method rather than madness.  Instead of searching blindly through magazines for an image that might do, they consider how what they are looking for might be tagged. My 12th graders found the one, two, or three images they needed in the first class period.  A few students did some further searching as homework to find just what they needed.

The particular project for which I used PowerPoint collage last month asked students to identify an instance of magical realism in Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate.  The fantastical, archetypal, and mythical aspects of magical realism called for images that were more likely "created" by collage and combination of images, rather than a singular one simply "found." Students were assigned to quote the line, and represent the instance with image (collage encouraged but not required), and of course, credit the source(s) of images.  Students spent three class periods in total on the project before submitting their JPEGs to me via our class wiki. (A color printer would work for a classroom display, or you could collect them on a flashdrive, but that might take another period.)

Once I had each JPEG file, I spent an evening casting them into one single PowerPoint and then posting to Slideshare. The next day students could view their individual work amid that of their peers to see the combined effect of the many instances of magical realism in the novel. You can see the results here.


Glad that the project showed students a new way to use a familiar technology, I accomplished both some digital as well as traditional literacy lessons in a timely manner. That's real magic!
Author : ceyo

Sleep Starved
When I was an elementary school student, my bedtime was 7:30 p.m., into my PJs and after a bedtime story, and off to the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. (Sunday was an exception, when I would have a bath and be ready for bed in time to stay up for The Wonderful World of Disney. But as soon as Tinkerbell blinked into the credits, off I would go.) Over time, my bedtime became later and later. By high school, though I was usually hitting the hay by 10 or 10:30 p.m. Staying up later than 11 p.m. on a school night, maybe to finish up a school project, was a rare occasion.

Nowadays that's when some of my students are just getting off work. They left school at 2:30 p.m. and punched the time clock until this late hour. How much homework can they get done, returning home at eleven o'clock? Worse yet, they drag themselves through the next day, and the next, till they take a day off school to catch up. More interested in making a buck to support fashion, cars, and college funds, school becomes a drag, an interruptive burden in their busy lives. Afterall, when do they have time to catch up on Facebook and Twitter?

A few parents have bemoaned to me that social networking sites are the ruination of their kids' study habits. Students tell me they are up till 2 or 3 a.m. on these sites.

On June 7, 2010, NPR reported on some of the latest sleep research that (again) suggests that we all, but especially children, preschool to college, need more sleep. These reports say that ten hours a night would be beneficial to cognitive development. It likely would make us smarter as well as healthier. I wish I could get that much during the school year myself.

Last night, after my last day of school for the term, I eked out a luxurious eight. I have to admit, I like the recommended ten. Still, most school nights I am lucky to get five or six, but I do try to sneak in a one-to-two-hour nap in the late afternoon, before a few more hours of grading and prep for the next day. I clock at least thirty hours per week of school work in addition to the regular duty, so weekend sleep is key to an exhausting routine for ten months out of the year.

I'm glad that my parents set a strict bedtime when I was young. Getting me off to bed at 7:30 p.m. no doubt gave them some much needed time for their lives as well as providing my brain and body needed rest. As I grew older my parents stressed my trying to get my homework done before dinner. This gave me time to relax, watch television, or play in the neighborhood before a reasonable 9 or 10 o'clock bedtime. Or, on busy homework nights, time to finish up before the parental curfew.

Ah, those halcyon days.  As I teach seniors Macbeth, Shakespeare describes slumber so well:

     Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
     The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
     Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
     Chief nourisher in life's feast--

"Life feast"--of which most of my students are showing signs of starvation.
Image credit: "Asleep at the Wheel." By Aaron Jacobs. 17 Nov. 2005. Flickr.
Used by permission via Creative Commons: BY-SA.
Author : ceyo

When Did "Get" Become "Be"?
Recently I was on website devoted to education, where the author suggested that teachers "Get creative."  I bristled. Not at the idea, but the phrasing.

When did "get" become "be"?

Somewhere between the 1980s "Get psyched" and the 1990s "Get amazed."  Or do we need to go back to the early 1970s and the Partridge Family's "Come On, Get Happy." Or even further to the depression era tune by Arlen and Koehler, simply "Get Happy."

In all of these phrases, "get" is a verb that should mean "acquire," and therefore, I expect a noun not an adjective to follow. As in:
"Get creativity."
"Get excitement." (I'm guessing at a rather homophonic aural morph from "excited" to "psyched")
"Get amazement."
"Get happiness."
Okay, so these phrases are not the stuff that advertisers or cheerleaders are going to bark any time soon.

The problem is not really with the adjectives, it's with the verb. "Get" has taken over "be."

How does this happen? Perhaps there is something existential going on here.  After all "get" is much more aggressive than "be."  "Get is active, and "be," well, being intransitive, it just is.  The zen of be first, do second, and have third, comes to mind. "Get" puts us in reverse.

I fear, though, in this acquisitive consumerist culture, I'm on a loser.  But maybe we can "be creative" and discover something we can do to save "be," and save "get" for those things to be had. 

For certain, I would  be excited, be amazed and be happy if we could.
Author : ceyo

Let Common Sense Be Your Guide . . .to the Movies and More
The folks at Common Sense Media recently released their 2010 Summer Movie Guide to help parents judge what's appropriate for their kids at the cinema. The guide is handily divided into the three summer months--June, July, August--and release dates are given along with a brief synopsis. 

The best feature of the Summer Movie Guide is the easy to follow content guides, provided with the simple icons shown here.  Bear in mind all must be taken with a grain of salt.  You'll note they point out  Toy Story 3 "might contain consumerism."  What's more American than Disney! Yes, maybe consumerism, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference here in the U.S.  Despite this warning, Common Sense Media calls Toy Story 3 a "perfect pick" for all ages.

Movies aren't the only things Common Sense Media monitors.  See ratings for games, mobile apps, websites, television, books, and music. So if your are a parent or a teacher considering any of these media, CommonSenseMedia.org is a great starting point.

Author : ceyo

Blended Schools: A Topsy-Turvy Mix of Real and Virtual
This year I am using blogs and wikis more and more not only for student interaction, but also for instructional delivery and presentation of assignments and activities.  As I look toward a blended schools model, I envision that much of what has been traditional homework may become classwork and vice versa.  Here's what I mean.
Where now I might present a slideshow in PowerPoint in class, soon students may view it on SlideShare as homework.  Where now I might assign a chapter of a novel to read as homework (with dwindling responses), I may require 40 minutes sustained silent reading in class and post a discussion in response to the reading on a blog for homework.
It sounds a bit topsy-turvy, but it will be based on students' needs.

I'm reflecting on recent studies by researchers at Stanford University, and anecdotal reports in the PBS Frontline documentary Digital Nation, that point out the needs of 21st century learners to not only work with technology, but also to abstain from it.  In a Digital Nation interview clip, Todd Oppeheimer, author of The Flickering Mind, (click here for a review) reminds us that the school is a sort of sanctuary from the busi-ness of the world and instant gratification of popular culture; rather the academy has always been  "a place of  discipline and perserverance," where holding a thought, not just scanning data is a valuable activity.

This past summer I studied at the University of Ghana at Legon. Although much more verdant and necessarily tropical in contrast to my other graduate school haunts of NYU's Washington Square or Oxford's Trinity College, I instantly felt that sense of the academy--that sense that I was in the company of scholars, walking about in converstations, hushed or exhuberant, on topics of intellectual importance.

Despite the arrival of cyber schooling, I believe for most students that a real, in-world place called school will have a vital role to play in learning, creating, and demonstrating a world of ideas long into the future. Although I know my students and I will be collaborating more and more in virtual spaces--and what's thought of as homework and classwork might get topsy-turvy, I also know  what schools can offer offline is irreplaceable.  Schools that genuinely blending the virtual, digital technology with thoughtful purpose will be able to offer that real, traditional sense of  belonging, focus, calm, and rigor that can only come at the discipline of school.

Image credit:  "Home Row." Detail. By Matt Hurst. 14 Oct. 2008. Uploaded 15 Mar. 2009. Flickr. Web. 3 Mar. 2010. Used by permission via Creative Commons Licensing.
Author : ceyo

What's Old and New and 21?
Twenty-first Century teaching and learning means 90% of what and how master teachers have been teaching all along and 10% explicit instruction and practice with digital technology. The 21st Century themes as indentified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as environment, finance, health, civil and global literacies may have lost some prominence in recent years as reading "content" gave way to "skills." This is a reminder that the what is as important as the how and vice versa. In noticing what is different (the 10%) about 21st Century learning we might miss the core. As ever, what is being read and written (i.e. consumed and produced in a variety of media) is as important as how. If we bear this in mind we need not lose time playing with the toys of technology but use them as tools to literacy.

I  believe 21st Century education is a blend of traditional themes and novel technology in service to the enduring and essential questions. It's as much about our common humanity as ever because technology is shrinking the globe. Our students not only are going to have to deal with keeping their batteries charged but also working with or competing agains their peers half a world away.  Ethics, civics, and just good ole common sense are values for the post-Me generations.  The relationships and relevancy that engage learners are perhaps heightened nowadays, but everpresent in good teaching of yore.

Twenty-first century learning, in toto, may be a reminder of what great English language arts teaching has always been (and a call to realign our practice), as well as a call to work with ICT and audio-visual media with new emphasis.

Image created on "NGA Kids ARTZONE Collage Machine II." National Gallery of Art. Web.
Author : ceyo

Grammar in Advertising: Hanes Gets Their Gaffe
You can get away with saying just about anything if you say it with a smile.  Even bad grammar.

Hanes' recent advertising campaign for their "lay flat collar tee shirt" is so hilarious that I may have to forgive them for not calling it the "lie-flat collar."  I would call Hanes' attention to not only the verb tense but also the adjectival hyphen, except for the fact that they already know about their gaffe. In one of more than a dozen short commercial spots the grammar problem is brought up by a "bacon neck," and dismissed. So Hanes knows the grammar rules. As I tell my students, once you know the rules, you can break 'em if you can score.



And as a former ad exec, I understand lay-flat's appeal. Still, in the smaller copy text they could use the verb lie when referring to what the "lay flat collar" does. I'm afraid of their success, not of selling shirts (they've sold me) but of selling Americans on the use of lay as an intransitive verb in the present tense.

I'm on a loser I know.  I still blame Apple every time someone says "think different" or "any verb different." Recently the poster for the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with its comma-spliced tag line "It's not a diary, it's a movie" had me chaffing. Guess I need the comfort of Hanes.

Even as Hanes breaks the rules it scores big on the laugh meter with these spots.  Hanes has a comedy of manners in an airplane coach, starring basketball legend Michael Jordan, who plays himself and comedic actor Michael Torpey, who plays Rick, a carpet salesman that has read Me 2.0 a few too many times. (Believe me, reading it once is too many times, but I digress.)  When Rick finds himself seated next MJ and that they both are wearing Hanes, he figures it kismet.  The laughs come from both fellas playing their lines straight as Rick sidles up to Jordan in efforts to ingratiate himself to the basketball great. It's obvious this 15-hour flight just got longer for MJ. It's a sort of humor akin to The Office caused by awkward moments where strangers are forced to deal with each other.

Here's the "Grammar" spot.



You can catch all of Hanes Flight #23 series videos at Hanes "Comfort Air" site.  After a brief (no pun intended) introduction by a attendant that seems to be channeling a certain former Alaskan governor, you'll want to select "In-Flight Movies."

The "reality" of series is backed up by layers of simulacra. In the spots Rick mentions his blog, That's So Rick, which is actually up and running here. Read the blog  which boast Rick's adventures and insights as a carpet salesman, and the parody continues. On one post you'll find a link to sales of a items that the fictional character is hawking on Cafepress.com, such as a coffee mug with a mobile phone photo of MJ and Rick and tee-shirts with Rick's sales tips.

But what about Rick's carpet samples? Or is that all a lay? Smile.
Author : ceyo

The Marvel of a Hand-Held Gadget
With the iPad introduced this week, I'm urged to publish about a strong competitor in the hand-held device market.

I'm in love with my alternative. Having an amazing ability to store and index information, it is not only user-friendly for reading but also great at catching my thoughts for when I want to jot and save short short notes, questions, musings and other marginalia. It also will store nicely small add-ins like sticky notes. I've tabbed the most commonly used information for future reference. One feature I really like is random access; I can bring up any topic, literally at my fingertips.

Green devices like this are all the rage these days. It's not great in the dark, but it's reading surface actually uses available light or solar to make text and visuals pop out in full color, so it never needs to be recharged. There are no cords to get tangled or that need to be toted about with it.

My model comes in a durable shell and I've found (by accident) it can withstand dropping from heights from as great at ten feet or more without damage to its core data. In fact, I think the data is likely to last for years and years . The information stays organized and never requires defragging.

Snazzy skins are available from the manufacturer, or you can make your own to personalize and for some added protection and style. Currently there are no known viruses and only some extremely rare worms that trouble the hardware, so I'm don't waste money on expensive security subscriptions.

These gadgets come in so many versions. There's one for just about every need. And the omnivore can also find ones that are have encyclopedic data. While such versions are bundled with a variety of data, most come customized to fulfill a particular need, so you needn't carry along a bunch of important data that you don't need.

Perhaps the greatest thing compared to similar data technologies is the price. I like it so much I've got shelves of them. Yes, there's nothing like a good book.

Image:  "The Sun in My Hand 1." By Whatever. 29 Jan. 2009. Flickr.  Used by permission via Creative Commons License: BY, NC, SA.
Author : ceyo

Macbeth Unfriends Duncan

Above is the invitational video to my recent presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention, "Macbeth Unfriends Duncan: Students Creating an Online Social Network for the 'Scottish Play.'"

If you are interested in the idea of creating a parody social network online for Macbeth, any of Shakespeare's plays, or any literary work that has a cast of inter-twining characters, then you may like to check out the online version of my 20-minute presentation here.  


At this link, you'll find resources and materials to replicate the project with your students.

Author : ceyo

Macbeth Unfriends Duncan


Looking forward to presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2010 in Orlando this November. My presentation is part of a panel session to share my Macbethbook project, a parody social network students build in a wiki that is a mashup of Shakespeare's Scottish play and Facebook.

Shakespeare’s theme of versions of reality (appearance versus reality) comes to the fore as students consider versions of self that a social network user puts online. They imagine what "versions" of characters are known among the dramatis personae of "Macbeth."

Using a wiki as the platform for this collaborative project, provides verisimilitude to the look and function of an actual site. In role, students post online journal entries, photos, videos, links, and email among characters from the play that demonstrate their understanding of characters, relationships, action, dialogue, and language. As they examine the thematic implications of appearance v. reality, they realize how social networking fosters varied representations of self in virtual and real lives today.

As recently as December 2009, researchers have noted that 93% of American teens use the Internet and of that number 73% use social networking (Lee Rainie, “Networked Learners,” Pew Internet & American Life Report, 2 Dec. 2009. Web.)

In creating a mock social network for the characters of "Macbeth," students analyze how social networks function: who sees what, what may be shared, hidden, revealed, invented, honest or hypocritical. Traditional literacy skills serve new literacies of working with digital media is a requirement as students construct a social network from the ground up, composing writing, taking photos, making videos, and uploading these to the site, and then linking to “friends” for viewing.

Session participants will be given the opportunity to imagine the social network of "Macbeth" from character points-of-view to add interaction and illustrate the students' learning process of this inquiry-based approach.

Out of a complex intersection of classic literature and contemporary technology come practical lessons of living literate lives. One lesson is the imperative that students come to understand the social relationships and multiplicities of persona in Shakespeare’s play. Next comes the lesson of how we tend to segment our “selves” among our social relationships, yet ultimately must reconcile these selves in one whole human being. Third, there is a recognition that social networks function at once virtually and in reality. And finally, students’ discover that their versions of themselves on offer to others—virtually or in reality—need to be critically selected with agency and be consistent with how they identify themselves—each as a one whole human being.

"Macbeth" is tragedy of a man and woman becoming monsters caused in part by a each separating his or her “self” until he or she became less than human. Thus, this project underscores how teachers and students may live literate and whole lives together, particularly when it comes to representing ourselves in social media.

If you are headed for NCTE 2010 in Orlando this November, look for Session I.25 at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 20.
Author : ceyo

Save the Words - Adopt!
There are needy words out there. Ones looking to be adopted lest they become extinct and end up in one of those esoteric dictionaries sold for half-price at used book stores.  You'll see what I mean when you visit Oxford Dictionary's website Save the Words.org. Words like

riviation
primifluous
latibule

Words such as these are literally screaming to be picked up and used in everyday conversation, business meetings, emails and even text messages. Try the site and you'll see what I mean (and that I used literally correctly in the previous sentence).

In my classroom, I often have a word wall composed of words from a source such as American Heritage Dictionary Editors' 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. This is an informal addition to the words my students are required to learn from the textbooks my school uses. For correctly using the words from the wall in assignments and discussion, students earn extra credit or a small treat from "the treasure box" (a topic I should post on in the future).

I think this could be a fun site for students to visit when we are in the writing center lab or have a few extra minutes in class.  Maybe we could adopt an obsolete word each week to augment our word studies.  Even if students don't have 1:1 computer-to-student ratios, this could be an engaging activity on one class computer, especially if you have an XGA projector. Each we a student could select a word for the class, we could note etymology (unfortunately not provided by Oxford, but I recommend the Online Etymology Dictionary.), and pay attention to roots, suffixes, and prefixes.

Once you and your students go to the site and the words start calling out to you, it will be much like going to the animal shelter.  You'll want to adopt and take that cute little one in the window one home.

If you find a fun and effective way to incorporate SavetheWords into your classes, please share in the comments below.
Author : ceyo

What's at the Top?
THE ONE NEEDFUL THING

'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,-nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,-all helped the emphasis.

'In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!'

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

--Chapter 1, Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Image: "Secretary Duncan as Mr. Gradgrind."
Author : ceyo

On the Edge?
What follows is my response to a teacher named Paul, who posted on the English Companion Ning, and expressed the feelings that he was "losing his edge" to teaching with technology, to students learning with technology.  As becomes obvious, he strikes with me a chord, a kindred sense of handling the need for clarity in what makes "21st century learning" relevant. Perhaps you, too, feel as if you are losing your edge, a bit out of touch, as Flip cams, document cams, PowerPoints and Prezis, blogs and wikis, netbooks and iPads join our worlds. If so, take heart.


You are not alone. And you're not out of touch. Just the reverse. You're ahead of the pack with regard to sensing the urgency of finding the right balance. Yes, education is embracing technology, at a somewhat slower pace than general culture even, and we need address the whole host of 21st century learning skills and knowledge (by which I mean 90% of what we've known education to be for past twenty centuries).

Keep those strategies of working with words on paper as well as texting on iPads, of looking into students eyes sans webcams, of asking students to talk with note cards as well as with a slide show, of reciting a poem with emotion and meaning in a circle, of improvising a scene of process drama to find out how people might get on in a real-world situation instead of a virtual gaming scenario, of drawing a map or illustrating a episode with paints as well as with video cams, of reading aloud and reading silently, sustained, and deeply, besides browsing a search and clicking through a web reference.

I try technology in my teaching as quickly as the next teacher. I'm chairing the "21st Century Learning Committee" in our K-12 district. I know I'm "perpetual beta." But, I as we move forward with technology, our students will be served with our humanity. Indeed, English class may be one of its last (and first!) reserves. In any case it never becomes irrelevant.

Perhaps you not losing your last edge as much as finding your next groove.

Image credit: "The Edge of My World." By Eye of Einstein. 21 Feb. 2008. Flickr.
Author : ceyo

Simple Text Reader
If you're not a native speaker and would like a general audio clue as to how a word might be pronounced in English you can easily make an application for your PC to read text to you.

1. Open Notepad
2. Copy this code:

Dim msg, sapi
msg=InputBox("Enter your text","Message Box")
Set sapi=CreateObject("sapi.spvoice")
sapi.Speak msg
3. Paste it in Notepad.
4. Save the file with any name and the extentions ".vbs"
5. Thus, if you name it "Textspeak,"  then the filename would be "Textspeak.vbs"

Now, open the file. A dialogue box appears for you to type any text into it.
Click OK and you'll hear the text spoken in English.

Unfortunately, it will only take one short paragraph at a time. You may copy-n-paste a sentence or so to see how it basically would be pronounced in English.
Author : ceyo

It's the End of the School Year . . . Hum Loudly
"Summertime and the living is easy." 

I've been humming this frequently lately.  Not because I'm out of school session yet, but because I'm still in session.  Humming this phase is a coping strategy.  It keeps my cool as times get crazy.  I remember my college supervisor warning me that "In education, insanity reins supreme."  Agreed, and at this time of the year the sublime and the ridiculous are one.

I find that at this time of year, I am reminding myself more and more:  "it's only 10, 9, 8, 7 . . . more days. I can do anything for that long." Grin and bear it. I hum louder.

This Memorial Day Weekend, after grading 75 essays, I picked up Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.  I'm just a few chapters in to it.  So far I'm in agreement with implication of  the title, and Ravitch as education historian has concisely and clearly reviewed U.S. edcuational policy from A Nation at Risk (1983) until today.  Having graduated with my education degree two year's later, just as Risk was being digested, and having lived through the fog of policies Ravitch now reviews, I feel something that might be summed up with "okay, so I wasn't crazy--this really was happening."  Ravitch tells why.

This is a must read for any American educator, whether you've lived this or are just starting out, and have been reared in a culture of standards and testing. Ravitch helps one find center out of the thirty-year malaise of failing policies. Not only does she bring us up-to-date on what many of us have lived, but also she takes us back to what really matters--not choice and testing, not even standards and accountability--but curriculum. What students should know and know how to do, or again, in a word curriculum, is where true reform is to come.  A Nation at Risk recommended this in 1983 and now after going around the mulberry bush with outcomes, standards, vouchers, and test, we had best get back to it.

As I say, I'm only two or three chapters deep into this book.Thus, I am earger to read not only her postmortem on the Great American School System, but also her ideas for new life for education in the 21st century, which is still ravaged by the market-driven business models.  Just having Ravitch diagnose the problems has made me feel a bit better already. 

Insanity, as misery, loves company, I guess.

Image credit:  "One Room Schoolhouse on the Prairie." By Kansasexplorer 3124. 26 Apr. 2006. Flickr.  
Author : ceyo
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