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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Teacher uses her own Student Work

During the recent holiday, one of my former students and I got together. After initial catching up, we got down to the main issue. She wanted to access the work she did when she was in my CyberEnglish class, but couldn't. She repeatedly got "Not Found" messages when she tried. I explained that the server had died, but all the work was not lost. I showed her. I went to our old page and clicked on her name and soon the Not Found message appeared. I copied the URL of her page and then went to The WayBack Machine and pasted her URL into the space provided for such information and pressed "Take Me Back" and soon we had a listing of dates. I selected the last one since it would be her last iteration of her page and was a date that was after she had graduated. Soon her former page came into focus and she started to giggle with delight as something she had thought lost forever was found. She started clicking on the links to her work and instantly it was all coming back. All of her work, with the exception of some graphics, were all recovered.

After those moments of euphoria settled, the next and obvious questions began to come up. "How can I get all of this on my own page again?" she asked. Since she still knew HTML, I showed her via View Source to copy the code, then to strip out "The WayBack Machine" code from it in Notepad, and then paste it into the new webpage. She would either use Geocities to reconstruct her former home or buy some space and rebuild her home. Either way she would have her work for her new work. Her new work was to prepare to be a teacher. In her Masters program, she wanted to use her former work in her new work as a new English teacher. She was going to assess her former work in her Masters classes as examples since she didn't have her own scholars yet. I thought this was brilliant.

Of course this is an exercise only scholars who have had a webfolio could undertake. Portfolios might not be available or complete, whereas the webfolio can be and is more accessible even when the original server has died. This another reason why all scholars in all schools should be building webfolios of their work. As Arne Duncan begins his new appointment, I hope that he considers the use of webfolios for all scholars.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Academic English

I thought I knew what "Academic English" was. Recently I discovered this question raised on another Blog.

I was taught that there should be a comma preceding the "and" in a series. During my early teaching days, that comma, commonly called the Harvard comma disappeared from newspapers. I discovered it was economic, yes, economic. That comma represented the savings of hundred if not thousands of dollars every day. That comma took time to place in the old typesetting days, to create into lead, to melt down after a run. How many of these commas were eliminated in a daily paper like the New York Times? So was this an academic decision or an economic one? As a teacher I had to accept both and that becomes confusing for the scholars. It also becomes a method of sifting through people. I remember submitting a document to a publisher and I used the comma. It was noticed by the editor and commented on favorably. My piece was published with it. Now if I had not used the comma would my piece have been published or edited. When I submitted a piece later on, I purposely omitted the comma. Though it was published the omitted comma appeared. I reviewed grammar books for our department and a new grammar book was submitted with an amended comma rule about series said both including the comma or not was acceptable. Consistency was emphasized. Now we have a new criteria, "consistency."

Another change that seemed to evolve from the people was that tricky pronoun antecedent rule of using a singular pronoun with a singular noun. In a sentence, "Everyone be sure to take his umbrella with him." became "Everyone be sure to take their umbrella with them." Quite clearly the second sentence is grammatically incorrect, but it is "politically correct." That was why I started using "hir" a portmanteau of "his and her" because I found "Everyone be sure to take his/her umbrella with him/her." very cumbersome and so awkward.

During my early years of teaching, I used the classic Winston cigarette commercial as a grammar mistake. "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should" was a very popular saying when I was growing up and cigarette commercials flourished. Of course it should be, "Winston tastes good, as a cigarette should." Serendipity found me as one of my student's father wrote that line and he explained that it was a class thing. He wrote the line correctly. The company changed it to be more "blue collar." It was a class issue and this made sense as we learned later cigarette companies did this kind of targeting of class, race, and sex. In taht same school, I mentioned the road sign "Drive Slow" as being incorrect. Within the month I noticed an "ly" added to the "Slow" on these road signs near school.

I love our spelling rules. Consider the first rule: "I before E." is a fine rule. The problem is the rest of it. Immediately we have an exception, "Except after C." Why this exception? Then we have a second exception, "or when sounding like 'ay' as in neighbor or weigh." So now we have a good rule with two exceptions built into the rule. So how do words like, " their, weird and either, foreign, seize and neither, leisure, forfeit and height" work into this rule? This is absolutely crazy. "Academic English" is a problem. Consider another one of my favorite spelling rules. Why do we have three ways of spelling "cede, ceed, sede"? One uses "sede," 'supersede. Three use "ceed," "proceed, succeed, exceed." All the rest use "cede." So why are these four spelled differently? Why not simply have all of them use "cede"?

I loved what happened in 1996 with Ebonics. This issue raised some important questions about language and how it relates to class, race, and even sex. Language is ever evolving. We constantly add words. Recently I wrote about the possible demise of 24 words for lack of use. In the same time period, 200 words were added. Now with the rapid growth of technology and the globalization of us has made the concept of "Academic English" an issue of elitism perhaps.

So who determines "Academic English"? Do we the people determine it? Do our businesses determine it? Do college professors determine it? Do publishers determine it? Noah Webster did this with the publication of the Blue Back Speller. What is "Academic English" and who determines it?

Monday, January 5, 2009


What do we use when we choose to invest our money in a company or to buy stocks? When an art student goes on an interview what is it that we see that person carrying? In both cases it is a "portfolio."

Last October I read an article about how difficult it is in some cases for some college admissions offices to choose one candidate over another. The difficulty lay in the fact that the college did not have a portfolio of each candidate and had to rely on tests. I have oftentimes suggested the portfolio/webfolio as a method of assessment and a method all scholars use to show what they can do. These folios would provide important information for all teachers who gets that scholar year after year. The folio would help inform instruction from grade to grade for each scholar and save time for teachers and provide continuity to the scholar. In addition, this folio would be instrumental in the college admissions process or in securing a job. I have always been amazed at how we seem to abandon the real work of each scholar for some test that is really irrelevant to what the scholar has done. The folio also provides us benchmarks over a period of time to show growth or not. The folio is a far better assessment tool than any random test we give. Another major problem is that we constantly assess our scholars one way, the tests, and rarely use another form of assessment. If the youth is so important to our future why don't we use a variety of assessment tools for them as we do for other aspects of our life?

Then as the year was ending I read another article that explained the same problem a different way. The solution was the same, the portfolio/webfolio. The new stupid is continued misuse of data collection and the way in which it is gathered. It still amazes me how the leaders have just not gotten it. Where should we look to find the data? From the scholars themselves, not from test makers and continued stupidity of the wrong tests. When we look to make choices as citizens from contractors to stocks, we always look at a body of work at the portfolio of the service we seek. So why wouldn't teachers want to see what the scholars in their class have done in previous classes? Why wouldn't college admissions offices want to see what these scholars have done in the classroom instead of on some test, neither designed nor graded by the person making the inquiry? Talk about stupid.

In an email correspondence with an educational leader about the plans for assessment for the year, the response, "Lots in flux, looking at standards and assessments broadly. Too early to tell where it shakes out. " This is really not encouraging. We keep hearing about the need to assess and the costs and problems inherent with the current system, the need to rewrite NCLB, and ways to cut costs. Tests that we use cost a lot of money. A portfolio system will not cost a great deal and the return on the investment will be tremendous. We already know what has happened with our poor investments. Portfolios are a good investment in our future.