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

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Aussies are Coming

Actually they are here. The Aussies have been involved with Professional Development in New York City schools for a decade. I have worked with some fine individuals over the years in some of the schools I have worked in. Last year we were introduced to a book innovative teachers' companion. This book is a very useful spiral publication that serves as a teacher planner, resource book, and professional learning tool.

The design is brilliant. A clear plastic cover front and back protects the book. The spiral makes it easy to fold over the pages. Useful pages in the beginning for lists, calendars, and planning. We first have a yearly planner, followed by a monthly planner. A few pages of important charts like weights and measures and temperature conversion charts. Differentiated charts precede the weekly planner. The weekly planner has a topic of pedagogical import that is practiced for a few weeks. Then another neat pedagogical strategy is presented and so on throughout the year. The importance of this we have found is that those topics become the basis of our own in house professional learning sessions. Since all teachers are using the planner, we are all seeing the weekly topics and are employing them and seeing how we already use them. As we gather the data, we now have substance for our own professional learning as a school.

The first strategy is "Classroom Management." The first page provides a process and then each of days that follow have an variation or asks a question to reinforce the initial strategy. After the first week another strategy is introduced and so on throughout the year.

By viewing the Table of Contents, we find that Bloom is used, several types of maps and charts are introduced, the Habits of Mind, Gardner, and brain resources are all topics throughout the year.

One of our English teachers gave us a short presentation on "Brain Compatible Learning: Emotional Rooms." She first explained about how she uses the room designations of Red, Blue, Orange, and Green to help define certain behaviors in class. When the scholars are aware of the mood of the room, they can be more effective in achieving the desired effect. We spent lots of time last year on brain research, so this application was perfect and fit right in seamlessly.

In the back of the book, lots and lots of various types of forms and charts exist. This is a great tool for all teachers of all grade levels and at all levels. It has helped our staff find a central point around which to engage ourselves as teachers during professional development because we all bring something to the table.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

In either 1974, 75, or 76, I was fortunate to see Paul Newman race his 33car at Limerock, Connecticut. Here are some pictures of that event. Thank you Paul for what you have given us.

I love the above picture with all the images of the Newman lifestyle.

Giving someone hell I'm sure.

Can you hear him laughing? I can.

His crew.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I have recently been introduced to a cool tool called Wordle. This is a great tool for teachers. What the program does is to accept text we put into it and the program represents it in a graphical way with the key words bigger than the others. It is a word diagram that let's us see the submitted text in a different way. The key words or the most used words are bigger than others. What this does is to provide the reader with a new perspective on the work.

For example I submitted "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. The result was amazing and very telling.

I took an Op-ed by David Brooks and submitted it. Once you look at it you will immediately know the main points of the Op-ed.

Teachers have taken scholar work and submitted it with phenomenal results. The visual presentation of text usually presented in paragraph form provides the writer and reader with another perspective. As teachers we want our scholars to discover the main ideas or keywords of a passage and now a tool like Wordle helps us.

When introducing a text, perhaps a Wordle presentation may be a good way to present the text before we present it in its traditional way. The scholars will see the key words and have some clues about the text before they actually read it.

Take a passage from Shakespeare and see what happens. This tool will help you in class, try it.

What about a politcal speech?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why I like HTML

It's all in the details.
Pay attention.

I've heard many teachers exclaim these two adages. I have been fortunate to discover that when I had scholars create their webpages, they write using the HTML code. This year I am once again teaching a class that will use HTML. I teach in an urban alternative transfer school. Our scholars are in their last high school. Our school is the only one they can go to now. I am still doing CyberSchool and added this class to my schedule.

The scholars I have now are easily frustrated, flustered, and very impatient. Success is not something they know, so they have that expected attitude of failure. The trick is to have them achieve and eventually smile. I saw a great big, huge smile, all teeth from a scholar who has never smiled or had a good attitude. He has been late, confrontational, and just plain ornery and angry. Today after he succeeded with adding a link on his new webpage, he was overjoyed and he actually smiled and showed his teeth. Success is a beautiful thing. I have always had that joy when I teach HTML. As the bell rang, he was more jovial and even said goodbye and added that he will see me tomorrow. I asked, "on time?" I heard an affirmative response as he turned the corner into the hallway.

During class, some scholars were talking about working on their page at home. Another asked, "We can work on these at home?" When she learned she could, she was excited.

During lunch, a couple of scholars came in and worked on their page. They are engaged and excited.

The key to using HTML is that the scholar is in control of hir own webpage, not some template or restrictions from a web provider. It is home made and it is personal. This is very important when we want the scholars to produce something and to be excited about it.

As an English teacher the benefits of using HTML to build webpages is that it supports my desire for them to be better editors of their own work. The problem most of us have when we try to edit our own work is that the 'missing' words on the paper are sometimes seen in our mind's eye. We don't see many of our mistakes, unless we put the piece away for some time and revisit it. Then we are shocked by the mistakes we find. HTML code is a good tool to help develop good editing skills or a good eye for details and seeing the smallest of mistakes. HTML makes us pay attention. HTML is unforgiving and does not allow for the slightest error. The user of HTML code must be precise and must be a good editor to find the reasons some effect is not working or some link doesn't link. Editing skills improve with those who write in HTML code. I think math teachers may agree with me as this may be analogous to the use of the calculator. HTML is a similar foundational tool as are Latin and Greek are.

What I love most about being back in a CyberEnglish class is the chaos and what it does to drive the scholars to find order.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Charles Handy

'Instead of a national curriculum for education, what is really needed is an individual curriculum for every child.'

'Home is the first school for us all, a school with no fixed curriculum, no quality control, no examinations, no teacher training'
Charles Handy

Recently I have been seeing Charles Handy's name pop up in various parts of my life. Who is this guy? Why am I all of a sudden seeing his name? So over the weekend with the final occurrence, I decided to investigate this man. I discovered some interesting things about him. He coined a phrase "portfolio worker" that may be a precursor to the academic portfolio that became the webfolio. The importance is that he as a business man was interested in the collection of work by each worker. In his work he dealt and wrote about business management. Many of Handy's quotes are about education and are from a business management perspective.

The above quotes struck me because of how they applied to CyberEnglish. CyberEnglish is a personal curriculum for each child. The second one also struck me because it reflects on a major problem we are having in education, since the home has become so chaotic, so school must be more orderly. This is where CyberEnglish is a way to accomplish an orderly home for the scholar to succeed. The new home is the scholar's Home Page and it is an individual curriculum. This is how Charles Handy has been affecting me these past couple of months. I have been able to refocus my efforts in CyberEnglish this year, so maybe that is why these quotes came at me recently.

These two quotes remind me of where and how the educational question should be discussed and supported. We need to provide resources for the Home to succeed as a nurturing place for all citizens and places to prepare them for school. We need to provide resources to all schools so they can provide proper individual instruction for all of the students. It isn't difficult, it is merely a matter of resolve. We know what this country can do when it puts its mind, resources, and energy towards a project. Children are our greatest resource for the future, so I hope our new government is more proactive towards education and not reactive as it is in so many of our other aspects of life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two out of three ain't bad

I've heard it said, "things happen in three's." This week I have encountered three new upgrades of older programs. Two were great and one was a dud. The two great new upgrades were version 10 of SmartBoard and version 3.0 of Firefox. The dud was Google's Sites as it replaces Pages.

As the scholars kept logging in and firing up Firefox, they kept getting that pop up message that announced an upgrade was available. We ignored it for awhile, but after awhile it became annoying, so we upgraded. We are happy, nothing really new except its look and a few features. The big change was that annoying pop up announcing an upgrade stopped. I haven't noticed any real changes, so we wondered what improvements they had made except the look. Was this something Firefox did in response to Google's new browser, Chrome? Chrome is okay, but not ready for prime time as I have said before. It needs to let the user stop the underline feature and to be able use Delicious. I do like the TAB feature of Chrome. I'm sure Chrome will be upgrading itself, too.

The second positive new upgrade I encountered this week was version 10 of Smart board. After obtaining a product key from Smart board, I downloaded version 10. On a PC, the new 10 overwrites all other versions. On the Mac I had to delete all previous versions, before installing the new version. After loading it on some computers, I played with it. WOW, what a great new upgrade. This version is so much better than the old 9.7 version we were using. Importing for one thing is great. I can now import my PowerPoint and Promethean files to use in Smart board. Importing web pages, graphics into the new version is now just a click away and suddenly all resources are part of Notebook and all ink I use on these pages are saved. This is a much more intuitive version that Smart board has created. I am excited about using the Smart board again. Before it was just so cumbersome, now it is so much more streamlined.

The dud this week was from Google. I have been using a tool called Pages. I liked it and wanted to use it with my scholars to have them create their own web pages. When I went to find it for my scholars it was gone and Sites was in its place. Okay, I say and we use Sites. Yikes, this is not very good. The program does weird stuff to our raw HTML code and then I discover the scholars can't write code for messing with the page like body color and even java script. Oh well. I then went back to an old reliable program: Geocities. In one period we were able to create a Geocities site and make our web page using raw HTML code. Now some may wonder why I want to use raw HTML code. It is the basic language of the Internet and by knowing HTML, the user becomes a producer, not just a consumer on the Internet. I don't subscribe to the web pages that use templates. We need to be able to tinker with the text. By knowing HTML the scholars have the power to manipulate the text and the configuration of the web page as s/he sees fit and as s/he needs to accomplish and produce a product. It makes what follows more powerful as the scholar delves into hir own genius. It is about control and power in the writing process. Ironically, Geocities is a tool I used in the late 90's when scholars needed to make web pages. And the tool still looked like it did then and it works just fine for our needs. We can write the raw HTML code and not have it altered or modified and we can use a web page generator. Our choice and that is important.

I guess not all change is good or successful. So it has been a good week because two out of three ain't bad.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jefferson wouldn't be Happy

To whom it may concern:

We don't write letters anymore in schools,
letter writing is not on the test,
should we
teach letter writing:
i want...?
we dont.!
have we replaced letter writing with the current standard for text communication?
no! email is blocked!
and we haven't fallen back to letter writing.

letter writers are producers and consumers, writers and readers. it is a democratic communication tool.

jefferson would not be happy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Eportfolio

Recently a colleague gave me a heads up about a neat course: Networks for Learning. It is taught by Tony Hursh one of the teachers in an online masters program for teachers in The College of Education at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Online Masters of Education program, Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform (CTER), promotes the integration of technology into the classroom. I followed links to what his scholars were producing in their Eportfolios.

The course outline is fabulous. It is exactly what I want to do with my scholars. I've started them getting a Google account so we can use all the tools. I want to add a wiki, twitter, delicious and some more web 2.0 tools. I want to use the capacity of my imacs to make podcasts and videos using GarageBand and HD movie respectively. Now his scholars are teachers and trainers whereas mine are high schoolers. We've seen success at this level for years. I love the project expectation. This looks like a cool course.

When I start reviewing the projects these teachers created, I was impressed and inspired. They are making magnificent multimedia projects for their scholars. I loved the use of the video, of the hypertext links, and the look of the pages. All the pedagogical concepts we have learned in education have been beautifully interwoven from Dewey to Gardner, from Mann to Papert while all the time Bloom is lurking in the background. Of course Vygotsky and Freire are hovering above cheering them on. The use of all the intelligences, the appeal to all the senses is very Zen.

So many connections and interweaving of past and present occur. Take the Mythology project by Michael Geraghty. The hero's journey is explored. He uses the usual suspects and adds the modern myth to the mix from Urban Legends to the classic American myth of Superman. This project will be inhaled by his scholars.

Going to a Parts of Speech project this greeting welcomes me.
In this Parts of Speech unit, you will watch videos, read articles, look at pictures, and complete activities to review what you already know and increase your knowledge about the eight parts of speech.
All the lessons follows this template of videos, text, and graphics. This is very appealing and effective with our scholars.

Hursh is very adept at using the technology and driving his scholars to also use it, too. This is a very inspiring course and website for us to roam around and be inspired. It is a good model for those of us looking for examples of how web 2.0 is being used in the class and is being used to prepare teachers to use technology in the classroom.

I was not surprised to see Hursh use one of my favorite videos The Machine is Us/ing Us - by Michael Wesch.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Correcting essays is one of the most odious tasks English teachers have. The pedagogy of the task is correct, it is the doing of it, the manual part that is the hard part. I have used the guidelines I picked up from NCTE many many years ago which was we should spend about 15-20 minutes per essay. If I consider one class of 30 scholars that could be 7.5 hours to 10 hours per class. This seemed like an impossible task to me, so I wanted to figure out how I could do the writing assessment more efficiently and quicker.

I had to refine what I expected to assess in each writing assignment and how often I was going to interact with the writer. I decided as the weeks went on, I would select a couple of new things to concentrate on each week. We developed a rubric of what was expected in our writing. This way, each scholar would have a checklist to consult before moving on to the next step of assessment which was peer review. During the writing process, I would move among the scholars and read over their shoulders. I was able to nip things in the bud during these strolls. I would discover universal mistakes or mistakes common among many scholars. At this point I would quickly get the classes attention and do a quick grammar or writing lesson of three to five minutes. The effectiveness of this tactic was that the scholars were at a place in their learning when this knowledge would be relevant and be learned. Now I was finding I was doing informal conferencing and using the writer's work for lessons. When it came to do final assessment, I discovered because of this early work, I cut down the assessment time to more than half for each paper. I was able to work on the next steps for each scholar, write these ideas and notes on their papers and then use these notes when I conferenced with each scholar. I was slowly discovering I was getting more and more good writing from each scholar and doing less major correcting of papers because I was using class time to work with them as they were writing.

The concept of keeping it simple worked very well. I isolated lessons so as to concentrate on a few things instead of many things. I worked with the scholars through the writing process to catch the mistakes early before they repeated themselves. I had the scholars print what they had each day so I could review it again to catch things before they became habits. It may seem like it would be lots of work, but over time I discovered it saved me and the scholars time and they became much better and proficient writers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Click on the picture to see how we remember today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When it rains it pours

I always forget how hectic it can be the first couple of days of school, perhaps weeks in a computer room. Forgotten passwords, outdated software, and unique situations every minute. I have both macs and PC's in my room so I'm troubleshooting in two languages. I only use Firefox, so that makes that part easy. Today we decided to update Firefox to 3.0. On the Mac the scholars couldn't do it because of a permissions issue. On the PC's I have it so the scholars can do stuff like this. I have new scholars in the school, so I have to make accounts for them. Other scholars forgot their passwords, so I had to reset those. Some scholars are working in a word processor, others are on the web reading the text, others are just getting started. Three ring circus comes to mind. This is why I love the computer technology. They can teach each other and do some of the tech support I need.

It is like riding a bicycle.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Re-examining HTML

I figured my scholars would know more about the technology than they actually do. Sure they laugh at my antique cell phone and at the dinosaur of a computer I have on my desk. I am impressed at how they have mastered certain tools like proxies and their small hand held tools. When it comes to double spacing a document in a word processor or using the right mouse feature on a Mac, I am stunned at their ineptitude. They don't seem to know their way around the useful tools of a computer and I have been discovering each day is filled with epiphanies about the better use of the computer technology in our classroom.

The problem seems to be that we still spend so much time teaching them in a linear way about the technology. I heard a radio commercial this morning involving a woman probably about my age exclaiming in spite of her inability to use any technology she has finally embraced online banking. We still celebrate our technology ineptitude with a laugh.

So as we begin a new school year with those rousing speeches from our administration, those first gatherings in the computer rooms to establish or re-establish our email link to the BOE system, login to our attendance and grade keeping tool, and to reacquaint ourselves with these silicon tools; I am reminded about how much we, like our young scholars, lose over the summer. Lots of time is resetting forgotten passwords and even login names. I guess it is a good thing that we come back two days before the scholars so we can use that preseason time as the athletes do to get the kinks out and to reestablish our footing in the classroom.

I think I will have to go back to HTML. One step at a time.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Going Green

On July 17, Al Gore gave a speech. He challenged us to be "green" within ten years. During my summer school class, I had the scholars listen to the speech and then write a blog about it. Later we considered the alternative energies available. Soon after that we became aware of Green Colleges and a Green conference in Israel. In a very short period we were more aware and practicing a new lifestyle.

Now, the school is becoming more conscious. We have a paper recycle squad. They took those boxes paper is delivered in and painted them green. They cut slots in the tops and put a green recycle paper box in every classroom and next to all copy machines and printers. Two or three times a week they collect the paper. We bought printers and copiers that use both sides of the paper.

We passed out reusable water bottles to all the staff and to as many students as we had bottles. We want to break the water bottle habit. On each floor in the school we have cardboard bins for recycling plastic bottles. A goal is to cut down on water bottle usage.

We purchased small canvas bags that fold up real small and fit in a pants pocket or purse. I use mine whenever I go to the store for my lunch. I have a larger bag in my book bag for when I get groceries after school. I've had other shoppers exclaim they should get one too. I have given demonstrations of how compact my bag is and fits comfortably in my back pocket. When I unfold it I show them how much it can hold. They are impressed. Then I show them the big one I have in my book bag. I have a plastic bag hanging from a closet handle I use to collect other plastic bags, so I can take them to the local store for recycling.

The students have become more conscious. During summer school three students who always had a water bottle with them, purchased more formidable water bottles they could use over and over again. They proudly displayed them. Now we need more of those stories until it just becomes.

If we can get our scholars to use fewer plastic bags and fewer plastic bottles and to be more conscious of going green we will make an impact on the environment. This change is going to take some time but it is very doable. Schools are doing the best they can. Education can help us realize the challenge offered up by Al Gore.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Teaching is in My Blood

Today is my first day of school.

The history of the profession of Education is ironic to me. On the one hand, it is so crucial for the future; and yet on the other hand, it is so steeped in the past. Each generation laments the next and the battle cry of “Back to Basics” is too often heard. We are in such a hurry for change, that when it comes we reject it, shun it, and end up where we started. Or do we? Is it a circle or a spiral? I think it is a spiral.

My grandfather with my grandmother and my mother.

When I was in elementary school, my grandfather sent my letters back to me corrected and with comments about my penmanship. Our correspondence took place after he had retired, so I became his project and he complained bitterly about how education had slipped as my letters to him symbolized the demise of education as he knew and loved it. When I was in junior high and had a day off from school, I would go with my mom to her school and help her by running the mimeograph machine. She’d type up tests, quizzes, lessons on a manual typewriter onto a purple backed mimeograph stencil. While she was conferencing with her scholars, I would take each stencil and attach it to the drum of the mimeograph without getting my fingers caught in the jaws, add some intoxicating fluid to the reservoir, add paper to the feeder, and begin cranking the handle that activated the paper feeder that turned the drum to the melodious drone of the machine spitting out damp copies at the other end. I was a mess at the end of the process and probably a little bit high from the fumes of the fluid used to make the copies. My mom sounded like my grandfather when she drove us home.

Later after my first decade of teaching and just beginning to use computers in my classroom, I was doing my Masters work at the college where my dad taught. I was able to use his office as mine when I went over to school. He only had an electronic typewriter and access to a copy machine to make copies for his students. He also had boxes of Blue books in the corner, the standard form of recording student work in college. Students were always sitting in chairs outside my dad’s office waiting his arrival, which usually happened when I left for class. When I returned to fetch my dad for dinner, I would have to wait for a conference to end. During dinner my father oftentimes sounded my grandfather’s lament.

My second daughter with my father.

A little more than twenty years later, I was able to join my second daughter, at the end of her first year of teaching in her classroom as she was doing digital portfolio assessment with her scholars. When I entered her classroom, she had a projector and laptop set up and chairs arranged for the audience. The scholars came in, logged into their account and started their presentation which thematically showed their work, had links to their digital work, written commentary on their work, a video they had created, an occasional podcast, and a plethora of digital work including the email correspondence with their teacher. It was a multimedia extravaganza and the scholars were superb. They engaged the audience, answered the questions the audience posed about the work, and otherwise displayed great mastery of their own learning. When my daughter speaks of her scholars to me during the year, she sounds like my grandfather.

What I love about being a teacher is that we are never satisfied; we always want more from our scholars. We want them to be more than they think they can be and we do everything we are capable of doing to help them make this happen. The technology may have changed, but our passion as educators has not. I know I sound like my grandfather to my fourteen year old son when I correct his email or text messages to me.

Me with my first daughter the year I started teaching.

Four generations of teachers. We are interchangeable parts. Any one of us from any of the generations could step into the classroom of the other generation and function, except for the technology. What does that say about the profession of education? What does that say about our expectations for our educators?

As educators we are improving and growing. The common denominator is all of us is our passion. My grandfather had the same passion my daughters have. My daughters have grown to incorporate a new technology into their pedagogy, just as the generations before them had to do. Other differences have also emerged over these four generations. My daughters are more conscious of their pedagogy than my grandfather. For my daughters it is more of a profession than an avocation as it was for my grandfather. My daughters are aware of the multiple ways we learn, whereas for my grandfather there was really only one way to learn and teach. We aren’t returning to where we started as if in completing a circle, we are improving as in the image of creating a spiral that may even resemble the DNA strand.

As I prepare for the new school year, I am conscious of what I want to do and why I want to do it. I will review how I have done it before, what I have learned from others, and how I might do it better. I know I still have the passion to teach and I know when that goes so should I. I am reminded that even Socrates lamented the capabilities of the youth in his time and look how far we have come, but he never lost his passion to teach.

Teachers: My first born, me, my second born and the high schooler (renegade).