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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

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, 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

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

What's at the Top?

'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

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

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

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

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

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
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