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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Yes, but

How often have you heard or read these two words, "Yes, but"? How do you feel when you hear or see them? Why do you use them?

Think about some of your conversations and written communications. How often has "yes, but" been used?

Keep count of the times you hear or read "yes, but," in an hour, a day at work or online. Pay attention to the use of "yes, but" and to what effect those words have on the conversation.

"'Yes," I agree with your ideas, "but" mine are better,' is what "yes, but" does.

I have found the use of "yes, but" is too common a combination of words when ideas about education are exchanged. Those words could be used between colleagues, in a class, at a meeting, or in a conversation. They could be used by an administrator to a teacher. What these two words, "yes, but" tell me is the person who speaks them isn't listening. The "yes" suggests the speaker hears what is said and then too quickly uses "but" to show contrary ideas or thoughts. Instead of figuring out how to incorporate a new idea or even opposing idea, the speaker of "yes, but" is too quick to dismiss the other and espouse hir own ideas. "Yes, but" tells me the speaker has not heard what the other person said, has not considered the ideas or words, and maybe incapable oif fully comprehending, so instead pushes hir own agenda or ideas. "Yes, but" tells me the speaker is only interested in what s/he has to say and is not listening. "Yes, but" is a cop out from thinking and negotiating in a true scholarly exchange of ideas. "Yes, but" tells me the other person isn't thinking about new ideas.

Think about the last time you were excited about an idea and you were sharing that idea, only to hear, "yes, but." Think about the last time someone else shared an idea with you and you used the two words, "yes, but." Think about the the feelings you felt when you heard the words used towards your idea. Think about the last time you used "yes, but."

"Yes, but" are two very debilitating words in any conversation. Pay attention to how often you hear or read these two words, "yes, but." What do these two words do?

Try this experiment. Whenever you find yourself about to say, "yes, but" rephrase your response and see how the conversation actually continues instead of being shut down.

Just say no to "yes, but."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday in NYC

Ya Gotta Love NYC!!

After spending a lovely late morning at MOMA celebrating Dali, we walked out into the streets to the glorious Gay Pride Parade floats assembling for today's gay pride celebration. We came upon the Stonewall Inn float and the float of the Hetrick-Martin Institute home of the Harvey Milk High School. Great lesson on surrealism.

Returned home to watch the final match of Euro 2008.

¡Viva España!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Summer Vacation

Today is the first day of summer vacation for me. (Background Music). I'll be busy. I'm going to MOMA to see the new installation of the work of Salvador Dali. In the afternoon, I'll take my son to Yankee Stadium to see the Yanks play the Mets. It is a makeup game from an earlier rain postponed game. What a way to start summer vacation.

Summer vacation is long. Essentially it is the last week of June, all of July and August, and the first week of September. Personally I'd like a redesigned school year, similar to one I've heard about in Fairfax County, Virginia. I'll address this idea later, for now I'm most concerned with loss. Loss of what was learned this past year and will need to be relearned starting in September. I'm not speaking about the scholars' loss, I'm concerned with the teachers' loss. The scholars will be fine as they use the social networks all summer long. They will be learning new things, while the teachers are probably not. The technology gap will get wider between the scholar and the teacher this summer.

What are schools doing to bridge this technology gap? The social network scene has been very active for our scholars. Education Week has reported on the social network bonanza. While the scholars are advancing their skills, some rather unfortunate occurrences will happen as these scholars post the wrong pictures of themselves or engage in cyberbullying. When we return to school in the fall, so much will have happened over the summer and teachers will be out of the loop.I doubt very much that curricula will be written that incorporates the good use of the social network tools. I doubt the schools will be prepared for the technological onslaught we will encounter from these more tech savvy scholars as these social networks grow via cellphones and other hand held devices our scholars acquire. They are getting so far ahead of us and away from us in this areas, it is a wonder school seems relevant to them. We are not preparing them for the 21st Century with our outmoded schools and teaching methods and tools. They are learning more outside of school, it won't be long until they may just not come to school.

What I'd like to see is more access in schools to these tools so teachers can use them. I'd like to see more teachers trained in their graduate and undergraduate education courses in how to use these tools in the classroom. I'd like to see more professional development and mentoring in the schools with technology. We have moved away from technology because of the fear of technology and NCLB and the tests associated with this law. Even the presidential candidates aren't that concerned with education.

I'm working in the summer school, so I'll have some time to work with the scholars and social networks. I'll be involved with CyberSchool, too. Sure summer vacation may have begun today, but we all know it will be over before we know it. I hope teachers take some time to do some social networking.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Dedicated to Chris Cruz.

The Graduates

It is over. It has been an amazing year for many reasons. Congratulations to Class of 2008.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day Before Graduation

This is probably the worst day of the year. It is chaotic and too many panicked students scrambling to clean up last minute credits. The phrase: "Your poor planning is not my emergency" is most appropriate. "Decisions" about who graduates tomorrow and who goes to summer school and graduates in August is the word of the day.

The tragic death of a graduating student has added even more weight to this day. So much is happening here today, it is surreal.

We received our Quality Review Report and earned an "outstanding" for student related services like counseling and drop out prevention programs, like CyberSchool. Today we are testing our "outstanding" qualities.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When We Lose a Student

I woke today listening to the moms of Section 60 talking about the loss of their sons in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on NPR. It made me pause and reflect. I sat there thinking about the students we have lost in this war, a half dozen. And then I thought as a father and got a cold chill.

When I arrived at school, I learned we lost a student last night. A knife punctured his heart in a domestic dispute at home. He was supposed to graduate Thursday, the day after tomorrow. The cold chill returned.

Monday, June 23, 2008

And the Research says

Educational Benefits Of Social Networking Sites Uncovered

I've been in a conversation about the importance or not of research as opposed to anecdotal evidence. It is always a tough conversation. As educators we live by anecdotal evidence and understand it so well. Yet it doesn't convince the policy makers one iota. They want research and that of course takes time, valuable time away from us and from those we serve, our scholars. While the research is being conducted too many scholars have to wait for the results to come in before it benefits them.

I have just come across a piece of research that proves what many of us who use technology or not already knew from our anecdotal evidence. In a study about social networking programs like MySpace and FaceBook, "The study found that low-income students are in many ways just as technologically proficient as their counterparts, going against what results from previous studies have suggested."

Now when I read this most recent research on the value of social networks and that it was classless, I responded with a big DUH!!

Gosh I wish I were more research oriented sometimes. When I started using technology in 1983, I was saying things and telling people things about the effects of technology that I observed. Their response in too many cases was "that would be a good research project, Ted." Over the years, many of the things I had observed eventually were researched and the anecdotal evidence I had written about was found to be valid. It is very frustrating for too many teachers who have tons of anecdotal evidence to support their practice to be ignored. Teachers have choices, either work the classroom or do research. I don't know too many who can do both. I'm not sure I need a researcher to tell me how these scholars are using the social networks in my school. First they find a proxy buster and get to their social network, which a teacher cannot get to because of the filter. That is the first lesson I learned. We have filters and these students get around them without any problem. They get to sites teachers can't get to to use in the classroom. They are ready for the 21st Century and their teachers are not. I don't need a researcher to tell me this. I then observe what they do on these sites. Oh I wish I could use these sites in my classroom to teach English, but I can't they are blocked to me, but not to my scholars. I could go on, but I won't it is too depressing.

When we want to do something, we are told we need to do the research. And when we do or get the research, we don't see the necessary change occur. So let's see what happens in schools with this first of a kind research on the positive affects of social networking.
I appreciate what these researchers have done, because now I can take this research to some of the people in charge of our network and hopefully get the filter lifted on some of these sites so we can use them in the classroom. I appreciate the researchers because they did for the first time, prove that social network sites actually have a beneficial affect on students. Of course, not to sound ungrateful, there are many of us who have used technology for years and many more who have been using technology for a short period who discovered this knowledge on their own and without formal research. It is what they observed in their classrooms and then shared on a social network with colleagues who verified that they, too, had observed and discovered this phenomenon. Maybe social networks will become the new platform for research. Since this is the first of the research projects on the positive affects of social networks in teaching, I'm still stunned and disingenuous as to its effect on our educational system and policy. I'm ecstatic about this research because it is a major breakthrough for technology use in the classroom. Thank you, Christine Greenhow and the University of Minnesota team of researchers for this ground breaking research.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tom Graduates

Next Stop is Baruch College Campus High School

Congratulations Tommy.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I am finishing the second year of CyberSchool (CS) at my school. I am very happy with how it is going. CS is a drop out preventative program. CS is a initiation for new students. CS provides students a way to earn partial credits. CS helps students graduate sooner. CS is an innovative way to solve unique academic problems that don't fit into the normal operating procedures of a school. CS is anytime, anything learning in the school.

Our school is a transfer school. That means we get new students on a daily basis right up to the end of school. They may be returning from having dropped out earlier. They come to our school if they can't stay in other schools. Our students may have just been released from jail or coming back after giving birth. Many of our students don't even live at home with their parents or have parents in their lives either because they are dead, in jail, or in another country. We are a last chance school for our students. The one thing all of our students have in common is that they know this is their last chance, so they make the best of it.

This is the safest school I have been in. We never have fights. It is the cleanest school I have ever been in. The staff is phenomenal, the leadership is superb, and the students are wonderful. CyberSchool is necessary because these students come to us with some credit and need partial credit to complete their transcript. They are the square peg trying to be fit in the round holes of the school system.

CyberSchool adjusts the peg and the hole so that we achieve success and satisfy the needs of both the school system and of the student. CS serves those students who join our school after a cycle has begun. We have four cycles a year. Rather than put a student into a class mid cycle and cause academic problems, that new student takes CS till the cycle ends and picks up credit in courses where credit is needed. Other students use CyberSchool to complete credits if they don't have classes or after school. There are always students in my class completing some work for credit.

The work they do is all on the Internet. I have found webquests and use The New York Times Learning Network for lessons. I also use much of my CyberEnglish as well. Students spend their time working on projects. I interact with them often and guide them, answer questions, ask questions, and support their efforts. I find they are responsible, stay on task, don't need to be monitored, and do superb work. I have always believed and seen in my classes that when students are engaged and have some choice in the projects they do, they learn and they enjoy the process. Today, one young lady decided she wanted to do a webquest on mythology because she didn't know much about it. After a morning of reading and writing about myths, she was excited to share her new knowledge withs some classmates. As I watched I knew this was what education was all about.

CyberSchool is a good bridge program for schools that want to investigate how technology can benefit the scholars, meet their needs, and help solve some of those tricky problems all schools encounter when it comes to credit and transitional practices for new students. CyberSchool does require a tech savvy teacher or two to administer it. A comfortable knowledge of computers, both PC and Mac is a help, knowledge of online sources for webquests, online lessons, and their creation is important. Being versed enough in other disciplines is also helpful as students will need credit in all of the disciplines. I call myself a Cybrarian because I oversee all things cyber in my school and classroom, just as the librarian oversees all book things in the school and in hir library. I have finally found my niche in education after searching since I began teaching in 1974.

CyberSchool graphic courtesy of and

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Your Fantasy

Imagine that next year you will be teaching in a lab with modern computers and a fast internet connection the standard applications and access to web 2.0 programs. Imagine that there are no Regent or AP exams. Imagine that you had the full support of administration.

What would you choose to teach?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's my grade?

"Grades are due before you leave today" was the final announcement during morning meeting.

The dirtiest word in education is "grades." I say dirtiest because it is the messiest part of teaching. Do we give grades or are grades earned. That depends. This morning an angry teacher and angry student were in my room discussing that student's need to do CyberSchool because the grade the teacher gave the student was a 64% The student needs a 65% to pass. This teacher then went over to another student, also in CyberSchool, and commented on the grade the student was earning in hir class. Grading depends on so many variables that they can't be valid for anything. I am lucky to say, I don't do grades anymore. Well not the way they are still done.

Teachers need to submit a piece of paper at the end of semesters and school years to their schools that contain numbers/letters assigned to each student that represents some form of assessment of that student in that class for that given period of time. This is where it gets real messy. In many cases the grades are no surprise as many teachers conference with their scholars on a regular basis. But still, there is still something about this ritual that is such an unnatural act to what has preceded this ritual. It is the worst time of the year when it should be the grandest as we celebrate the accomplishments of our scholars.

I wanted to speak about something I tried a number of years ago with a ninth grade class and liked the results. In my first NYC school, the English Advanced Placement teacher selected scholars for the class based on the GPA of 88 or higher. All scholars were guaranteed no grade lower than their GPA for the course. They could earn a higher grade, of course. This encouraged the scholars to take the class. Immediately, I saw this took the fear of failure away from the scholars. I discovered this allowed them the freedom to take chances and to actually engage in scholarship. I wondered if this would work in a non AP class? I had been including the scholars in the grade process already. I was asking them to email me what grade they believed they deserved and why they deserved that grade. 95% of the time the grade they felt they deserved was a grade, I too had arrived at. In the other 5%, we had useful conversations.

At the end of the school year, I was given The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander with the suggestion to read Chapter Three. In this chapter, Benjamin Zander is relating the crisis we teachers face when grades step in to muddle our scholars' thinking. He was teaching a graduate music class of excellent musicians, but the problem was their fear of hurting their GPA by taking chances and possibly failing. He decided to guarantee everyone an A. The results were similar to what my AP English colleague had found. They took chances, they discovered something about themselves, and they all did more than the A.

I was now involved with the creation of a new school in NYC. I was convinced I could do this with my ninth grade class, the first class in a new school. We wanted to establish a culture of scholarship, not one of the pursuit of the grade, so I decided to guarantee all of my scholars a 90 as an experiment. Only one student out of nearly 100, did nothing. He spent the next three years trying to make up for that loss and admitted he had made a mistake in not taking on the challenge. Other teachers have adopted parts of the idea.

I'm no longer teaching in a traditional classroom. I administer the CyberSchool in my third school in NYC now. Our school is a transfer school. That means our students come from other schools where they have not made it. Other students may be returning from previously dropping out, maternity leave, recently released from jail, and any number of reasons for not being in a school. Too many of our students do not live at home with their parents, they live on their own or even in shelters. Our school is a last chance school. They choose to return and complete what little of high school they have left. Many scholars in this school need partial credits in any number of the disciplines. I give the credit for the time they spend in my computer lab completing projects. I review their work and I am impressed with what they produce. When their teachers come to review the folders, they too express admiration. In CyberSchool they have some choice, they produce products, and they know they will pass. They take chances, they explore the material, they ask "can I do this" and "can I do that?" "Of course." I respond in the affirmative.

Grades are an unnecessary roadblock in scholarship. I think they send the wrong message and create a negative culture. I have seen the highly competitive schools and have seen situations revolving around grades that is ugly. I've read stories about how parents get too involved with grades that some schools have eliminated the Valedictorian. The question is how do we satisfy the needs of administrators, government officials, and others that the scholars are producing in the schools. The word "accountability" is bandied about too much by politicians. It is a word used by accountants, not educators. It's the wrong word. "Assessment" is the word most appropriate for educators. We have many good methods using technology to demonstrate scholarly learning on the part of our scholars in our schools. CyberEnglish was such a model and CyberSchool is another. We are seeing a successful use of web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis too, to display the scholars' products. I think the publishing corporations have the ear and pockets of the politicians, so we have the NCLB tests as the tool of accountability in America instead of common sense tools of assessment.

I had planned on writing this entry today, because grades are due in our school today and was reminded about it on another blog, Beyond School, where I'm involved in that conversation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Time vs On Time

When anyone joins a Karate class, s/he is automatically a white belt. It doesn't matter how old s/he is or even hir prior abilities. In a karate class students progress based on skills acquired and are tested frequently using formative assessment routines. Students who should advance, advance according to skills acquired. So when one sees a father and son join a karate class, usually the father accelerates more quickly and finds a level sooner than the son, who in time usually passes the father to go into the black belt stratosphere. Why doesn't education follow this model?

It is that time of year when I read about students not matriculating from one grade to the next "on time." There seems to be a great concern that high schoolers graduate in four years. There is a concern that students stay at age level with appropriate grade. I've always been fascinated with the age at which a child should start kindergarten and at what age a student should graduate from high school. Where does that come from? We seem more concerned with students who are older than their classmates than those who are younger. Why?

As a teacher we know we receive students into our schools who have come from other schools without the skills to do the work in our school. We place students more often by age and not by ability. By forcing students into classes in which we know they will fail, we are creating a future drop out. We have changed our school population drastically in the past century. In my mind, it appears as if we are more interested in having students graduate according to an age chart than to an abilities chart. What is wrong with a student taking five years to graduate from high school rather than the traditional four years?

Not all students in a 10th grade math class are at the 10th grade math level. They are there because of their age and sequence. Why not place a student in the grade appropriate class, so we can assure success and correct advancement and eliminate the fear of failing and creating a potential drop out. Why can't a student with 4th grade reading and writing skills in English be in a 4th grade class and also be in a 10th grade math class? I am sure with more frequent formative and summative assessment tools, similar to those in Karate, we'd move students along quickly and according to their skills. This would keep them interested and in school, because they are moving along in their own time and not on someone else's time. In addition, with more creative use of the technology we could be more efficient and successful in this area.

We are seeing lots of articles and books about student learning based on the brain, on technology and student centered instruction. It seems to me that when it comes to how we place students we are not paying attention to the research about how students learn. We seem to be more interested in herding our students according to age and not according to abilities and capabilities. We are more interested in our students matriculating on time than in their own time.

No wonder schools are in trouble, our drop out rate is increasing, and school is boring to too many scholars. Are we trying to push a square peg through a round hole when it comes to education?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Students 2.0

It was bound to happen. Students 2.0 was inevitable. It happened in December 2007. Some students from around the world joined forces and created Students 2.0. This is a fabulous site and a great idea. It is intelligent, it is grassroots, it is constructive, it is coming to a school near you.

These students are right/write on. I have always argued that schools are the last place one will see change happen and the last place in which change does happen. I have written that a teacher from 1898 could walk into the majority of schools in this country today and teach. The tools and the methodology are pretty much the same. The students on this blog are correct and are making their voice be heard, with a little bit of help from some selected teachers, who no doubt get it and support it.

Right away, I'm reading, "Nothing's Important." Beautiful. I love it. "Nihil" is an important word for me as it is the first word on my VETY list. I can identify. We must always start from "nothing." I have arrived. "Nothing" is of course the classic response to most questions asked by parents of their children about what happened in school today. Me, too, Arthus, I love doing nothing, sometimes. There's nothing wrong with doing nothing. Heck even when some people think they are doing something they are actually doing nothing. A thoughtful entry.

I absolutely loved Lindsea's questioning of teachers not being punk and not including those voices in EduPunk classroom conversations. This is very relevant as we teachers too often don't legitimatize voices, but we speak about them and may even be condescending. I like the matter of hypocrisy being raised here by Lindsea.

Anthony succinctly expresses Dewey's pedagogical idea of "learning by doing" in his entry, "Experiential Learning: The Day of Silence." He taped his mouth so he couldn't speak and learned how difficult it was not to speak, not to have a voice. The cause was worthy, stopping the hate speech on GLSEN's Day of Silence. It was educational for him and he expressed this: "I learned something intimate about my relationship with the world around me." In his conclusion he hit the nail: "We should always be on the lookout for opportunities where students can learn by experiencing: not only by doing, but by feeling."

Students talking about their education as these students have done is what we want our students to do. This is an excellent example of student inquiry.

And this pedagogical conversati0n continued as Arthus blogged about how the D student Cassius Clay demonstrated his other skills with word play and subtleties not thought to be present in a D student. This is a great example of differentiated instruction, of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, long before these ideas about education existed. Muhammad Ali was most certainly ahead of his time in so many ways and Arthus captured this beautifully in his blog entry.

Anthony's "Three Lessons from High School" is a brilliant video presentation of how he became successful in high school. The responses are valuable and demonstrate the power of this site. We must do, value relationships (social networking), listen and respect others, appreciate our community. He adds we must take pride in what we do and do your best. It is about doing. I learned much from Anthony's video. I loved his celebration of himself as an example for others.

These students use words, hyperlinks, graphics, and videos to express themselves in a way that some will see as very dangerous. Giving students voice, allowing them to express themselves about school is subversive. What will become of schools if we let more and more students have this voice? I think they will get better and that teachers will want to use web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis to better engage the genius of their scholars.

I love this site and hope more and more teachers visit it on a regular basis and signup for email alerts when new posts appear. Since we have said our children are our future, then this site is representative of the future. Pay attention teachers. These students are learning by doing, and they are reflecting about what they are doing. This is how education should be. I've been waiting for a site like this. Thank you.

This site reminds me of the classic Garfield anecdote at the Williams College alumni dinner:
In 1871 an obscure politician named James A. Garfield remarked at a Williams College alumni banquet that "the ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other." Mark Hopkins was a former president of Williams College and Garfield's favorite teacher." What this quote says to me is that we must give the scholar voice and what Students 2.0 does is give scholars voice. This is important, Plato and Socrates showed us and we are still seeking that end in our teaching, student voice.

My only suggestion would be to change the word "decades" on the about page, to "centuries."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

My children: Emily, Caitlin, & Thomas

Great photo by Heather

Friday, June 13, 2008

Politics & Education

So what will happen to NCLB?

Probably not much will happen to NCLB, since the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Teddy Kennedy is very ill, not much is planned for 2008. Not much is expected to be done with NCLB, until 2009. But we shouldn't expect much either way as he and other critics caved in last year when Secretary Spellings successfully lobbied her ideas and has done little to alter this law on his watch.

Our two presidential candidates also don't seem to have education high on their agendas. They don't seem that far apart in principal about NCLB. They both support it. There is a mutual agreement to push technology, which is fine, but what about the filters? We have to look at the little nuances of each candidate to get a better picture. But again public school is not part of their lives, so they are not familiar with it or involved with it on a personal level.

Education was not prominent, heck it was barely mentioned, by either candidate during the primaries. When Obama did mention it, I could determine what his policy was from one speech to the next. He has a chameleon educational policy McCain is speechless. What hope do we have that it will get much attention beyond lip service as we get closer to November?

They both support NCLB. They both speak of technology, teacher training, and better assessment tools. So where exactly is the big change? Seems as if both candidates are beginning to drift the middle as expected. We are seeing the beginning of business as usual. Obama is a quick study and he hasn't shown us he makes wise choices about his aides.

A little bit of HOPE just faded away.

Neither man will be known for his policy on education I fear. Who will be his choice for Secretary of Education?

Once again we will see the politics of education help the politicians, the businessmen, and the publishers and not help the children, the teachers, and the schools.

We voted for change in the 2006 election cycle and got no change. We are promised change, once again and so far I don't see or hear much about change. The only change we will see is what we find in our pockets after payday, very little.

When I wanted to see where Bob Barr stood on education, I was amazed that I didn't find it as an issue or on the platform.

Bob Wise suggests in his article, "High Schools at the Tipping Point," in Educational Leadership, that we "should work closely with elected officials to inform legislative deliberations. Education is no different from any other endeavor; ultimately, every important decision affecting it will be made or ratified by an elected body, whether a school board or the U.S. Congress. We must therefore build the public will to demand action from elected officials." This made me laugh. We have seen from the past that elected officials only listen to those who support their ideas and purses. If educators and researchers were involved in NCLB legislation, much of it wouldn't exist. Consider the place of educators during the three Governor's conferences on education. They were not present nor invited.

That hasn't stopped interested parties from positioning themselves in the educational political horse race. Already the jockeying about education has begun in both political camps and will no doubt continue right up to the national elections. The current Secretary of Education Spellings is on the road supporting NCLB, while Democrats are already at it in the usual divided way. Note that the current NYC schools chancellor, Joel Klein is on one side while a former NYC schools chancellor, Rudy Crew, is on the other side. Politics as usual and education is the punching bag. David Brooks asks the question of where Obama stands on the education issues in his editorial today.

Education is in the hands of the politicians, NOT the educators. Follow the Education Week Campaign K-12 Blog during the presidential campaign to stay informed about educational policy from the two candidates.

Another Resource.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Google and the Rhizome

The viral quality of knowledge, its acquisition, and its existence is the crux of two very scholarly and timely documents by Nicolas Carr and Dave Cormier. They speak about the effects of knowledge acquisition on our brain development and on education.

If "we are what we eat" as some have purported in the past and as Gillian McKeith suggests today, then Nicolas Carr is suggesting our brain is the product of how we read, in his article, "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" in the July/August, 2008 issue of The Atlantic. The title of the article is a provocative and sensationalistic statement about the knowledge society. The article provides an image of the humanistic HAL being shut down by the human automatons in Kubrick's 2001 "I feel it, I'm scared" as a bizarre irony and useful metaphor for this article. Carr does, remind me of Cliff Stoll. He reaches back appropriately to initial reactions by Socrates to writing and to the critics of Gutenberg and the printing press, only to realize these worries were unfounded because Man is incapable of imagining what will happen. It is like inattentional blindness, as spoken about in "Distracting Miss Daisy." I'm not sure I agree with Carr's assessment of deteriorating reading skills as he explains them, using friends and a rather interesting University College London scholarly study of research. My problem with the research study is that we don't have a similar study done pre computer logs. I know when I did research, I collected lots of books and journals and skimmed them quickly and accepted or rejected them. Secondly, when I'm reading online, sometimes I follow the hyperlinks in a page I'm reading. I follow links for information I have no knowledge and need that knowledge to continue reading the original page. Sometimes I go to a hyperlink for a small piece of info and don't stay long since I find and get what I need. Other times I merely go to a site and realize I know this information and leave. So in many cases these quick hits and quick exits may be what the research shows but have misinterpreted them. Then too, someone could be on a site, and then use open another tab feature, so while on another site the original site remains open. Another scenario is that the user gets a phone call or someone rings the doorbell and the site stays open while the user is doing something else. Computer logs can be flawed. In addition, in the same issue, the article Mr. Murdoch Goes to War by Mark Bowden, makes a reference to reading:
In interviews before and after he bought Dow Jones, Murdoch complained about the length of Journal articles, and said he was not enamored of its a-heds and leders. Robert Thomson reiterated those points in his initial conference calls and meetings with the newspaper’s far-flung staff, insisting that the fierce competition for these page-one slots would no longer be the only mark of excellence at the paper. He has echoed his boss’s call for shorter stories and a more aggressively competitive approach, even as he has reassured staffers that he and Murdoch both respect and admire The Journal’s traditions—positions that appear contradictory.
Finally, consider that the piece being read is of no interest, doesn't grab the reader, is boring. How many books, articles, stories, have I begun that I didn't finish probably numbers more than those I did begin and finish. That's not a deteriorating reading habit, it may be a selective reading habit.

I'm also suspect of the neat Nietzsche example.
“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”
Couldn't this simply be that Nietzsche grew as a writer? We do see writer's style changing over a lifetime whether tools are changed or remain the same.

What I did find most fascinating was what Carr said about reading not being an instinctive skill or etched in our genes. This is an important point. He also explored the differences in the Chinese ideograms and the Arabic alphabet. This is important. He reports that the brain is mallable according to: "James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.” Reading is a learned skill and the brain continues to learn over our life. This is crucial information for mus as teachers and learners.It may help dispel that old adage, "old can't learn new tricks." Teachers can learn the new technology.

The key element in this article for me was the concept of knowledge acquisition by us. Google is studying this brain function in a typical mathematical way, algorithms. What some would call the efficiency of the brain or of the individual, Google has made a science out of it. I know that when I do searches, I am always amazed at the stuff I didn't expect to find. Sure, I expect to find the answer to my search and that satiates me, but what I didn't expect can't be anticipated nor put into any algorithm, that really stuns and impresses me.

I know I'm not as worried about Google and the Internet as Carr seems to be and as Stoll was about the Internet in schools in the 90's. I'm thinking more along the lines with Dave Cormier in his article, Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum in Innovate that provides a thoughtful analysis of knowledge acquisti0n using a rhizome metaphor. Knowledge has become a negotiation, according to Cormier, as a result of the ephemeral nature of the web as contrasted with the expert-centered pedagogical practices that are static and prescribed. Cormier suggests that the rhizome is a better metaphor in explaining the actual collection of knowledge in this new educational environment of web 2.0. Knowledge is fluid. We learn something and then later on discover something else and bam, prior knowledge is supplanted or augmented.

I'm reminded of a scene in MIB when K asks J:
1500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was the center of the Universe.
500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was flat.
15 minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet.
Imagine what you will know tomorrow.
I love this quote because it is so relevant and obvious. It speaks to us all of the time, and especially applies to the Carr essay as he contemplates the new reading observations.

The Internet has changed how information becomes knowledge. The peer review process has been turned on its head and knowledge is very mallable and democratic. The rhizome metaphor is apt because in the new learning community, learners are actually involved in the construction of knowledge. The learning community is the rhizomic web Cormier suggests. We see this in Wikipedia, blogs, wikis, and other web 2.0 applications. The shift in knowledge expert is shifting. Knowledge is becoming organic.

This is all very significant in education. Considering the concept of Pedagogy 2.0 from yesterday's blog and how teachers must become more tech savvy to the actual transformation of how information becomes knowledge. We are indeed in for some sweeping changes in education. Knowledge is ever changing as new information is presented and it is negotiated, Wikipedia is a great example of this negotiation process , not by a few scholars, but by the many engaged scholars, the learners. Knowledge acquisition isn't vertical anymore, it is now horizontal. Knowledge is no longer the property of a few, but is now the property of everyone and created by everyone. It may be scary, as HAL, expresses and it may be chaotic as Cormier's rhizome metaphor suggests, but since it is of the people by the people it is now democratic and universal. Education is adapting as it should, now it is our turn to adapt.

Another exploration will be of Student 2.0 which is already here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pedagogy 2.0

While reading Future Learning Landscapes: Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software by Catherine McLoughlin and Mark J. W. Lee on Innovate, I was struck by the use of Pedagogy 2.0. I had never heard this term and certainly was intrigued by its use. I did a quick Google search and discovered a delightful presentation by Gabriela Grosseck from Romania speaking about Pedagogy 2.0. In her presentation, she speaks about the potential of meeting the needs of today's students and their ability to customize their own education. She suggests students should be asking what kind of education they want, does web 2.0 represent a major conceptual or paradigm shift, and will web 2.0 improve our pedagogy.

I find this absolutely fascinating as they were the same questions we were asking in the early 90's with web 1.0. With web 2.0, just as with web 1.0 and pre web 1.0, we needed to have the students be responsible for their own education, Dewey's mantra "learn by doing." Now that I have dabbled with technology for some time, I am finding that what I do with my CyberSchool scholars is a sort of web 2.0. It is different from CyberEnglish, web 1.0, in that I was still around and guiding. In the new environment of CyberSchool, I am not hovering as much and the responsibility of education is more learner centered. I am also finding they are producing much more complex documents and they are certainly more user friendly in that they are relevant to the learner, who has more choices to make. Grosseck states about our "new" pedagogy, which is what she calls Pedagogy 2.0: we must assume a new attitude, we must support new ideas, and we must use the new technologies. I agree wholeheartedly with her on this. It is the same as when we developed web 1.0 and paradigm shift was a huge concept. Web 2.0 uses different tools, but still pedagogy is pedagogy is pedagogy. This is a delightful presentation by Grosseck and a must see, enjoy.

McLoughlin and Lee have presented a comprehensive study of teaching and learning in the web 2.0 era. They speak about the proliferation of web applications and their relevances to learning and to learners' style of learning. This is the crucial part of web 2.0 for me, differentiated instruction via the web 2.0 tools. I want to see how the tools will let me and others realize our pedagogy and not the other way around. This is the crux of the authors research and for Grosseck as well. The pedagogy directs how the technology should be used instead of the technology driving the pedagogy. It is a matter of the teachers keeping up and getting on board or being their own worst roadblocks.

How do we manage technology in this knowledge society? In examining our pedagogies, relevancy is taking on a whole new look and approach. When we spoke of relevancy before we had courses like Social Justice, Cultural Studies, Participation in Government. Today with the new social networking tools of web 2.0, we see that relevancy becoming Connectivism. It is the links of minds and ideas via the tools of web 2.0. As such our pedagogy must make another shift utilizing the technologies of web 2.0. Pedagogy 2.0 moves us even closer to the learner centered environment. The authors do well to explain the need and to provide some examples of such sightings of pedagogy 2.0.

There are caveats, of course, and they can easily be discerned. Learner generated content alone creates so many questions of legitimacy, reliability, and scholarship. Teachers ability to adapt to the web 2.0 tools will bridge the divide between the learner and the instructor in terms of technology. A host of issues are raised by the authors. Not much different from web 1.0 days. But for me it really comes down to the teachers using the technology.

I found both the slideshow of Grosseck and the article by McLoughlin and Mark J. W. Lee fascinating, reminiscent of earlier days and very refreshing. By only concern is just as pedagogy 2.0 and web 2.0 are seemingly new, I hear about web 3.0 and second life. Is web 2.0 going to get a chance to take hold?

Now if this isn't enough, tomorrow I will be discussing the article that follows McLoughlin and Mark J. W. Lee in Innovate: Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum by Dave Cormier. He takes Pedagogy 2.0 to a pedagogical level and the July/August cover story of The Atlantic, "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Backward Design

When I was about 10, My parents bought me my a new bicycle from the local Western Auto. When I got it home I took it into the garage and proceeded to take the bike apart with a screwdriver and wrench. I laid all the pieces out on tarp we used to collect leaves. In those days we still burned the fall leaves in the street. I had all the pieces spread out. they were new and shiny and I examined them. Slowly, I reassembled the bike. I guess I just wanted to know how the bike worked, what each part did and how. I never became an engineer, I was just curious.

A few years later, my dad was planning to call a carpenter to replaced the rotting front steps to the house. During a weekend when my parents went away, I took the old stairs apart, examined how they were constructed, purchased the materials and rebuilt the front steps. When I was in the military, I learned how to break down my weapon, clean it, and put it back together again with my eyes blindfolded. This was a life and death kind of application. After my first year of teaching in 1974, when I apparently made every mistake a first year teacher could make and even created some new ones, so my supervisor informed me, I used the notes and lessons from that first year to begin construction of the next year.

Eventually, after a number of years of teaching I was introduced to a concept called Backward Design. I loved it, it was a piece of cake to me and something a I had been doing all of my life. What this new idea did for me was to confirm my instincts as a teacher. Backward Design (BD) is a simple approach to curriculum design, to teaching, and to pedagogy. BD is a three step process. We are once again using it in my current school.

Step one asks that we consider what the goals of the class will be. We must determine what we want the scholars to learn and to understand at the end of the course. We determine what expectations we want of the scholars. We need to ask provocative questions in this step so as to tease out the essential goals of the course. We list the skills and knowledge criteria we need to have absorbed by all by the end of the course. We must consider summative assessment tools at this point.

Step two asks that we address how we plan on understanding how the scholars learn. We need to create formative assessment tools like quizzes and conferences to help us determine what is being learned, how it is being learned and if it is being learned by the scholars. We need to ascertain what data will be collected that demonstrates scholarly learning in the class. Data collection is crucial and ongoing.

Step three is the most extensive step as here we plan projects and daily lesson plans. Now that we know the goals and how we will assess, we need to select the material we will teach in our class to reach our goal.

CyberEnglish was designed as I have said during my college days. Maybe it was conceived when I was deconstructing that bicycle as a ten year old. And all through my life I had different "epiphanies" and experiences that helped shape what happened in 1993 when I actually taught a course called CyberEnglish. It was and is built on the Backward Design concept. even as I speak to other teachers who have a variation of CyberEnglish, Backward Design is a crucial part of the development. The final product for each scholar is hir webfolio. Similar to a portfolio, except it includes all of hir work. The final month of the year is spent reviewing the work, commenting on the process of doing the work, engaging in peer review, and so much more. Webfolios are living documents in that since they are public, the scholars are always receiving email about their work.

One of the advantages I have found with CyberEnglish from the early years of my career, is that I find myself adapting more quickly. During a class, I may find some aspect of the course good or bad and want to tweak or change something. I do that now, not later. The result is that the next class gets the change and I can immediately study the affect of the change and thereby adjust my own pedagogy on the fly, instantly, in a nanosecond. I understand how each of us is in a different stage of Backward Design and because of CyberEnglish I find I am approaching Instantaneous Design.

Monday, June 9, 2008


The June 9 & 16, 2008 New Yorker is filled with stories that are illustrated by epiphanies. Uwem Akpan's epiphany in that church at the edge of the Kibera slums in Nairobi. Buckminster Fuller's epiphany the morning he commune with Universe about being instead of not being. Tobias Wolff's friend's epiphany while watching Bergman's Winter Light and his own while reading "Little Gidding." Haruki Murakami's epiphany to write a novel when an American baseball player hit a double during a Japanese baseball game. Allegra Goodman didn't have a sudden epiphany, but a long, slow accumulations of Sabbaths. George Saunders' epiphany came as he saw Father X and Sister Y, kissing. And there are more.

I have been to many presentations given by teachers who speak about the epiphanies they have had as teachers and that have changed their pedagogy and practice. We speak about the scholars and their "a ha" moments. Teacher have epiphanies. I know when I started using technology in my new computer classroom in 1983, it seemed as if I had epiphanies on a daily basis.

I have spoken about one such epiphany earlier when I wrote about Groups. CyberEnglish was certainly an epiphany. But it was a work in progress always under the surface until the technologies fell into place. As a teacher, I found epiphanies were key to the changes that happened in my pedagogy and in developing CyberEnglish.

What are the epiphanies you have had that have informed your practice and have changed your teaching practices?

Since writing this blog, I have come across another great article in the July 28, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, "The Eureka Hunt" by Jonah Lehrer. It is a fascinating article about how a scientist is trying to determine the conditions under which we have those epiphanies. When we are half asleep, in a warm shower, relaxed, and not thinking of the problem are just some of the conditions be forwarded.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

1968's 40th HS Reunion

June 6 marked the beginning of my 40th high school reunion. I graduated the day RFK died. The night before graduation we watched RFK win California and South Dakata, the most populous and the most rural states, primaries. Then he was shot right in front of us. Our graduation was marred, but it happened outside on a very hot day by the Victory bell in front of Ford Hall, June 6, 1968.

This weekend was glorious, take a look.

Video of us raising the '68 flag. Yes you may have to turn your head in the beginning.

Those attending:

Chris McWilliams
Duke Duquenne
Don Klock
Doug Fuller
Emil George
Jim Cain
John Kawie
Mole Haberle
Marc Griggs
Paul Wainwright
Peter Homans
Richie Halpern
Chip Keeney
Ted Nellen
John Robinson
Fred Ruder

Paul Wainwright writes:

The high point was seeing my classmates -- especially John Kawie. John has had an amazing recovery from a stroke about 10 years ago, and put on a riveting monolog about his experience on Friday night. His story is something I will always remember. Also, on a lighter point, John settled an old debt with me -- 40+ years ago, John and Beau Evans were running a little business that required little "mug shot" photographs of classmates. Something to do with making little ID cards or something. During dinner on Saturday, Fred Ruder, who is now a wiz with money, pointed out that the actual value of my "product" was considerably more than the $1 that I recall charging for my services. He used the term "delayed payment" to describe my situation, and with that information I marched off, found Kawie, and demanded payment. With his one good arm, John reached in his pocket, fished out a dollar bill, and paid up. That dollar is now hung on my darkroom wall. I will never forget it, or John and Beau, and all of the classmates my photographic services helped. When I next see Beau Evans, I'll collect payment from him too.

Another person I haven't seen in 40 years is Peter Homans. For those of you not at reunion, you would never recognize him. Peter had his growth spurt after leaving Williston, and looks like someone I wouldn't want to pick a fight with, not that I would want to. He has taken his musical talents, gotten 2 degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, had a successful "day job" as an investment advisor (he started his own company), and is now able to pursue musical composition full time.

Another amazing "after Williston" story is Ted Nellen, who taught English at Williston for a year quite a while ago, and is now teaching -- in fact I think he has founded a school -- in New York City. The many gin & tonics on Saturday night have made this part of my memory a little fuzzy.

Yet another "after Williston" story: Duke Duquenne now runs a smoking cessation clinic. Whoda thunkit.

The Class of 1968 flag made an appearance (actually I had forgotten about it). It was made by Mole Haberle, with the help of Ruth Stevens, and 40 years ago it was hoisted up the flag pole early in the morning after one of our pranks. Mole brought it back, and while in the process of hoisting it at 5 in the morning was stopped by Campus Security, which seems to be much more elaborate than the single night watchman we had during our time there. After an explanation, he was allowed to proceed. It was prominently displayed in our class photo that was taken for the Bulletin.

The Saturday dinner was quite an affair -- much more elaborate than the typical Reunion Dinner because it was also the celebration of the successful end of the Capital Campaign. Wow, what a party!

Our few meals in the dining hall were consumed next to the Jeff Roberts Memorial Stairwell. Maybe I should drop the word "memorial" because Jeff is not dead yet, but he was sorely missed at reunion. Jeff -- where are you?

Letters to Paul from our classmates:

Hi Paul,

It would be nice to go back for the 40th. I attended the 30th for 3 hours, as there was another reunion at the Clarke School in Northampton on the same day. I think there were just 30 of '68ers who showed up. My wife was wondering how I managed to be able to follow all these conversations without using a sign language interpreter, to which I replied that these friends knew how to talk to me. I will not need to worry about the 50th as all of us probably will be wearing hearing aids, so the playing field will be relatively level. I do have new cochlear implants in both of my ears and I'm hearing much more than I've ever heard, but I need to figure how to comprehend speech, heh?
It so happens that I was unable to switch my working weekends, so I have to work June 7th and 8th. I was hoping to see John Kawie's show with an interpreter...perhaps next time.

I'll be there at the next reunion as I will have been retired by then and I look forward to reading about the reunion in the next Bulletin.
Jarlath Crowe

Dear Paul,

Thanks so much for your recent messages. I truly regret that I^Òm not able to join you and our classmates for this weekend^Òs reunion. I would have loved to be there with my wife but I'm tied in numerous things this week and the next and couldn't make the arrangements.
June 6 brings to my mind lots of memories. There's no question that many of my best days were spent at Williston, sharing wonderful times with fellow students and teachers.

If you see this message on time, please extend my warmest thoughts to everyone present at the reunion, particularly to yourself, John Kawie, Rabbi, Dave Duquenne, Ted Nellen, Chip Keeney.

I'm truly sorry to miss this occasion after 40 years.
All the best,
Carlos Urrutia Valenzuela.
Oficinas / Offices: Carrera 7 # 71-21 Torre B - Piso 4
Correspondencia / Mailing Address: Calle 70 # 4-60
Bogotá D.C. -
Tels. (571) 346 2011 / 540 5433 ext. 222
Fax. (571) 310 0586 / 310 0609

Hi, Paul.

Great to hear from you and recently from the Mole. I'm sure you guys will have a great time at the reunion. Extend my best wishes to all. I was recently telling a friend of the many pranks/events of our senior year. It brought back fond memories. If you see John Robinson, have him drop me an e-mail. The e-mail address he had at Raytheon hasn't worked for a number of years.

Occasionally, over the years, I have exchanged e-mails with Bill Maid, who has worked in southern Japan for FedEx (formerly Flying Tiger) for most of his career - partially a result of my sending him letters from Japan while travelling there during the summer after I graduated from Union.

During the '90's I was living up in and I still take one or two short business/pleasure trips up to the Lakes Region each year. I'll be up in in late June and again in early July and a third trip in a month just wasn't in the cards. I've also been traveling a lot for pleasure this year and, occasionally, I've got to do a little work. I'll look forward to the 50th. My hiking and travel legs should be on the decline by then.
Well, I've gotta get to work.

Best regards,
Larry 'Rabbit' Shapiro, member of the Great Class of '68

Hi Paul,

I'll be with you in my thoughts. I also think I do have some Super-8 (or possibly Normal 8) movie film material taken during my school year. I should make an effort to have that converted to a DVD. Reserve that for the 50th reunion!

.. the hot topic is reunion 2008 and unfortunately I won't be able to make it. For one thing I have a seminar sheduled for Friday with five students giving their presentations. Secondly, and more severe, I am pretty broke with having to finance three kids through University. My daughter just finished her Master in Economics and is looking for a job, the boys are still in the middle of their Bachelor - at age 28 resp. 24!! Ah well ...

So you guys, have a good time, I'll be thinking of you and let the pictures flow!

Lutz Wegner
P.S. I'll make a small donation to keep our giving record up. Unfortunately, these donations are
not tax deductable in Germany ;-(


I'm not quite sure where the time went to but at least I can still remember everything. Who knows how long that will last. Although I won't be at the reunion physically, do know that I will be there with fond thoughts in spirit with all you guys. And of course Heppy Spence Baker and Phil. And Mr. Lassone too.

Best regards from the west coast,
Andrew Wenick

Hi Paul,
I had hoped to come to our 40th reunion; however, it is just not going to be possible. We are planning on going to London (and perhaps) Paris this summer so that William, who is now 15 years old, can get exposed to culture and the weak dollar. To that later point, I am consuming all our frequent flyer miles. Then there is work, and not enough vacation time.

Thanks for the photo. It brings back great memories. We truly got a great education and great schooling at Williston, which is something I mention to William (through the Mark Twain quote: never let your schooling interfere with your education) often. Of course he then uses it back at me to argue about doing something other than his homework.
William is going to a local private school, where the latest controversy is about the Headmaster committing to replace their darkroom (needed renovation and relocation). The school then switched to creating a state of the art digital photo room. The students started calling him a liar, and other things (but not the Pin). What is a state of the art digital photo lab anyway but other than a good Mac and a big laser printer? Give me smelly chemicals any day.

Take care,
Russell Creighton

I would love to be there but I have a Diocesan Convention the same days.

Ted Babcock

Friday, June 6, 2008

Student Led Presentations

Validus Preparatory Academy

I tell people I'm a teacher because it is in my genes. My parents were teachers, my two younger sisters are teachers, four of my six cousins are teachers, and my two daughters are teachers. My 14 year old son plans on being a professional baseball player, not a teacher. I went to visit the younger of my two daughters who is ending her first year as a high school social studies teacher at Validus Preparatory Academy a NYC public high school in The Bronx. The school is gorgeous. It is two years old. The staff is dedicated, supportive of each other and led by an active and involved principal. It is a great community and environment. Her school was doing the exit portfolios for the scholars and she had asked me if I wanted to be there for her scholars. Of course, I did. I was honored and proud.

Caitlin in her classroom

Her scholars were making presentations about work they have done this past semester. The scholars could bring parents or friends and teachers and invited guests were also invited. The school had created a rubric for all visitors to use. The template of the presentations included an introductory page, a presentation on Most Rewarding project, Most Challenging project, an additional project, a character trait metaphor, goals for grade 11, and a resume. I was there for six presentations.

Preparing a presentation

In each presentation the scholars spoke eloquently about a project on two levels. The first level was about their learning targets. They discussed what they expected to learn about their learning from this project. The second level was about how they achieved their learning targets. They did this for the three projects: the Most Rewarding, the Most Challenging, and the Additional project. Lots of engaged learning going on with these scholars.

The scholars were articulate and were well prepared. I was impressed with their use of technology. They used PowerPoint for the presentation and had links to websites like Picassa, Shutterfly, and webpages that contained more scholar created documents to support their PowerPoint. The outside links were photos of projects, webpages of text documents and more. As they presented their work, they had their backs to the screen we could see and spoke to us, looking back to get a clue for the next steps. They were eloquent. The templates I saw became unique for each scholar and the stories they told were phenomenal.

Getting ready for another presentation

The most gratifying aspect of this for me as Caitlin's dad was how each of the scholars had thanked her for help, advice, and patience. She entered this school halfway through the year, taking over a class as the sixth teacher. The first month was very difficult. To see how her scholars behaved and performed was amazing after hearing her cry so many nights during her first month there. I am so proud of what she has done in her first year of teaching. It was not easy being in two schools and having such a tough environment.

I loved being at her school. I found her colleagues fantastic and so dedicated. I loved her scholars. They were polite and found it a treat that their teacher's father was there for their presentations. She is in a good school and is beginning to make her mark. I am very proud of her. She is a teacher because it is in her gene.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Habits of Mind

The sixteen Habits of Mind, just about cover it all for teachers. They serve as a great preface to any school year as they set the standards for the "intelligent" approach to problem solving and being scholars. The Habits have been a cornerstone for the Coalition of Essential Schools and many schools in NYC.

When I read about the Habits, I'm impressed with the sources the author, Costa, uses: Senge, Sternberg, Coleman, Gardner, Piaget, and many others. They are grounded in good pedagogy. When we speak with our scholars, we should be using the Habits as a focal point of our conversation and guidance. In helping our scholars become what they want to be and to achieve their dreams, they need good habits of mind to achieve these ends. Asking them to address each of the Habits and to examine their relevance to the scholar's life is a very useful exercise. Those assessments can become contracts they have with themselves. "How am I persistent in my studies?" they may ask. This is an ongoing question and a reminder we must always apply to ourselves. "What do I already know?" is another worthy question we must always ask as we venture into new areas of knowledge and realize we have some knowledge about this already. It helps us organize ourselves and to work in groups. "How do I gather information?" demands we use all of our senses and tools to collect data. One of my favorites is asking the scholars to take risks. This can be tricky as scholars may not want to jeopardize a high grade. I have told the scholars that they are guaranteed an "A" on an assignment. That frees them up to take that risk. In one school, the AP teacher guaranteed the students would not get a grade lower then their English average. This let them take risks, knowing that "A" they already had was not in jeopardy. If we demand our scholars be creative, one of the habits, then so should we. It is called modeling or being creative in an approach. Use different technologies to produce a document showing what has been learned. A printed essay is standard, how about a PowerPoint or a webpage or a blog or a flash or something new? The habits provide good points of departure in the realm of learning.

Developing good Habits of Mind as a scholar will make the scholar a better scholar and a better citizen, parent, human. Using them from the start of school, making posters for the wall, and referring to them constantly throughout the year will make these end days all the more fruitful and effective in the learningan assessing process. Scholars will "remain open to continuous learning" after a successful year. If we have good Habits, then our scholars will see that and develop their own good Habits of Mind, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


It is that time of the year when we start assessing our scholars' work and assigning final grades for the year. In too many cases it may be a time of panic. Are we prepared as teachers and students to go through the assessment process in a meaningful and FAIR way? If we have begun the year or semester talking about assessment, then we should have little trouble. In fact, it should not cause any panic and have already been built in so the transition is either invisible or transparent.

Here we are in June and how well are we prepared to assess our scholars? What have we done since September to make assessment meaningful and accurate? As we explore what we are doing in June, the conversation has to have begun in September in our classes. So let's talk about what we can do next September, now as we evaluate what we are doing now and what we can do better.

A source for assessing comes from Robert J. Sternberg's article "Assessing What Matters" from Educational Leadership, December 2007/January 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 4 Informative Assessment Pages 20-26. Sternberg lays out a comprehensive methodology for assessing scholars' work.

Assessment should be occurring on a daily basis. We should be using both formative assessment and summative assessment. When students can explain to others what is being done, can teach others what is going on in the classroom, formative assessment is happening. It can be informal and done in teacher conferences or in font of the class. Self assessment is a big part of formative assessment for me. Having the scholars write in a journal explaining and assessing their own performance on a daily, weekly, monthly, semester, yearly basis is crucial in the formative stage. Summative assessment oftentimes has a bad connotation and is too often associated with tests, especially the Regents or standardized tests. Summative is as the name implies a summing up of what has been done over a period of time. I have used webfolios for this much of my teaching time. Scholars reflect on what they have done in a semester or in the year. It is important to incorporate both formative and summative assessment in our classroom practices.

To make assessment fruitful and part of informing our instruction, we need to be sure the scholars are well aware of how they are being assessed. They must be part of the process, which is why we need to be talking about our forms of assessment with the scholars from the beginning. On my class webpages, ToDay's MeNu, I have a link to assessment and we begin discussing it from the first day and continue that conversation on a daily basis and especially in our fortnightly teacher conferences. Essentially we need to establish patterns of assessment, rituals and routines is a popular phrase for this practice.

So what are rituals and routines? They should exhibit a variety of evidence to meet the standards. They are practices begun on the first day and incorporated every day throughout the year. What is it you want to do and how do you want to assess? What can you do from the first day of school to begin that process? Establishing a successful assessment procedure starts from the first day of school and is reinforced everyday of the school year.

Star now to plan for next year, based on what is happening now in June. Take notes, ask questions, and organize next year based on what you observe now in June. What are the successes, the failures, the missing pieces?