Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

preparing for the 21st century classroom

Tools and Beliefs

another conversation about CyberEnglish(CE) from a list of english teachers.

i agree with both ryan and chris.

ryan: "the tools aren't the point -- it is the values and beliefs held true. That is why CE will be able to evolve"

chris: "My point is that the tool and the belief have a symbiotic relationship. They feed off each other; they inspire each other. They co-exist. So, while the tools are not the end all be all, neither are the beliefs. They both promote progress; they both help the other evolve."

this reminds me about a conversation i had with a former colleague who is now a principal of a high school in philadelphia. we were both teachers in nyc public schools messing with CE. we had these conversations and tried to resolve if it was about the tool or about the belief as you two have come to. we created a wiki called "practical theory" in 1997. the tool was cool. we tried to see how it would work for us in our respective classes. much like the school in the washington post article, we failed. the tool was beyond us. we weren't ready. see that early wiki from i believe the creator of wiki . anyway we abandoned that tool for the time being and stuck to the web. eventually we both evolved into it. so yes, it is symbiotic, neither matters on its own, but together the dynamics are incredible. it is like walking: left right left right left right....

then chris asked:
"Unless of course by CE we simply mean student-generated work on the Internet (or is it just about a wider audience, not even the Internet?). Is that what we mean?"

now chris has hit the mark here for me. CE was a response to pre-computer days when selected work was published in yearbooks or literary magazines. not all scholars were represented. it was also a step for me to scholarship, which IMHO, had been lost somehow in schools. for me there was a huge amount of loss in that too many students were invisible. so before 1993, i was using the technology to share work within the class with these neat buttons that allow us to control computers in a lab. i loved it. you see before that i'd have to use a copy machine to take student work and make acetate copies to display or to use the seldom found projector that would let me project student work on a screen. talk about labor intensive. work also went up on the wall, like martin luther, but rarely read. publishing was the key, but how. well when the www came along in 1993, WOW. so here the theory precedes the practice. it wasnt until the www could i realize the theory. then as the technology changed, then CE evolved. a new tool added dimension, but did it create new theory or merely a way to realize theory? have the the tools of web 2.0 really changed practice or has it provided another way to practice our theory? i think that we select a tool that will allow us to practice our theory and not the other way around. that is why a school like TC Williams in alexandria failed. the teachers dont have a technology theory before being given all the toys. it becomes about teacher theory and having some ideas about how the technology will work and then trying it out. i dont think the old adage of teaching theory "sink or swim" works in a school with technology without training. when that adage worked teachers were able to rely on how they were taught to become teachers. now teachers who want to and need to and have to use technology were not, i repeat, WERE NOT taught by teachers using technology and that is a huge difference in the evolution of CE. we dont have a history yet.

what paul speaks about and what dawn speaks about is where we are now: fear from the administration level and the high stakes tests of NCLB. what dawn has just done when she spoke to the wisconsin group and what paul is about to do when he speaks in arlington is what needs to be done over and over again.

then ryan asks: The question: is the learning environment really different?

for me the answer is a resounding NO! and that makes me very very sad, cause we still have too many classrooms that resemble teaching from the the last 2 centuries. we still teach the way we were taught and when we try to do it differently we are judged by the wrong criteria and in the wrong way. we continue to be hindered by the wrong politics of fear and ignorance. schools are still not for the scholars, they are still for the adults and until that changes, nothing will change for the advancement of learning in the schools of the US in the 21st century.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

on reading

"For this she had to thank her English teacher, Mrs Chilcroft. Mrs. Chilcroft, facing her class of recalcitrant eleven-year-olds, had said: "You are going to learn to write your own language simply, accurately and with some elegance, and to speak it so that you aren't disadvantaged the moment you open your mouths. If any of you has ambitions above marrying at sixteen and rearing children in a council flat you'll need language. If you've no ambitions beyond being supported by a man or the state you'll need it even more, if only to get the better of the local-authority Social Services department and the DSS. But learn it you will."
from p d james' original sin.
when i read Staying Awake by Ursala K Le Guin in the feb 2008 issue of harper's i was elated and dismayed. elated because she masterfully hit on the finer points of books and reading. dismayed that she restricted herself to one genre.

as i read, i was reminded about how books were read to me to help me sleep. i dont really believe they were used to teach me language or the appreciation of anything. they were used to get me to sleep. i believe i did this my children too. as i grew older, i used a good book to help me sleep. if i woke in the middle of the night, i would grab the bedside book, collect a warm glass of milk and very soon i was asleep. often i would be found with that book covering my chest like a warm blanket. even on the beach, or in an easy chair, the same thing would happen, the z's would catch up to me before i could turn the page. on the other hand, i would find time to read the book without falling asleep. in fact, i am still amazed how many people use the book as a weapon against intrusion when on public transportation, in public places, or even in private. my mom was notorious for not allowing any of her children from disturbing her when she was in the middle of reading. it was her way of escaping us. books have always held a great fascination for us as a people from the early scribes to the mass book publishers. books in fact were important for my own children's education. i inherited some great tomes from my grandparents and converted them into cash that served as the foundation for investments that eventually paid for their education and the ability to buy more books.

le guin laments the book, but the book is fiction. for me, i buy more books a year then i did in my youth because i can now afford them and now i have a reason to buy them. but they are not always books of fiction, because my favorite authors can not churn them out as fast as i read them. i find nonfiction great reads, too. biographies, political tomes, travel books, books on food and the like interest me as much as a good work of fiction. i'm luckier than most because i use public transportation to get around so i can read more than the average person who uses a car to get from here to there and hopefully is not reading. however, that person may be listening to the book on tape. i think the electronic world has increased the reading of the average citizen. as an english teacher, i know it is not what we read as much as that we read. so when i see young scholars online reading webpages for information, i know this is good and see that it is good when we are in the english class. i'm just not that much of a snob, that i am that concerned with what is read. i know as a father of a child who had trouble reading when young. he used the sports pages and sports books to learn to read and now is a fabulous reader.

i love her concern with the demise of reading as the fault of the publisher. i concur. that is why i have embraced the web. i am now my own publisher just as anyone else who owns a webpage is. martin luther taught us this, thomas paine taught us this, the scholars in tiananmen square taught us this. there is always a price to publishing. i buy books, i sell books. i read on the web, i write on the web. reading is reading is reading.

just a mrs chilcroft instructed her charges, le guin seems to be on the same page in the end. it is all about learning and for me in my practice, i concur and merely say, let the learning begin.

my version.