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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Technology is still an Anomaly

Folks who come in to evaluate a school visit classrooms, speak to our scholars and to us if we are lucky. The problem is that these evaluators do not understand how technology is used in the classroom. Everything I do is online. One recent evaluator wanted to have my lesson plan on a single piece of paper, because this is how she understands the lesson in her two dimensional print way. I explained that it would take quite a few pages to print it because the lesson plan had links to other pages. She insisted and I ended up printing 20 pages. In addition I had another page that explained my expectations and of course I had links to multi page documents. On the page that explains how I assess the scholars, again we were looking at a multi page print job. Now she had a ream of paper. Then we got to the work of the scholars. Since they are building webpages and they are always under construction, she was flummoxed by the number of pages for each scholar. When she asked for the exit ticket assignment, we went to the scholar's folders which were thick and well used. I use View source when I view the scholar's webpages, copy the code and paste it in a word processing program. I strip out superfluous code so all I have left is the scholar's essay. I format it with double spacing, date it, and print this essay for corrections. I do this everyday. This shows progress and how I prepare to conference with each scholar in the next class. I accessed the box I use to hold each day's attendance sign in sheet and my notes on each scholar that I use to conference and direct the day's work for that scholar.

It must have taken her the evening to ingest all of this, because she came back the next day to watch the process all over again. I think she got it as she watched the scholars sign in, collect my corrections, log in and begin their work. They chatted with me quickly, with their neighbor briefly as the computer boot up and their log ins processed. Within minutes the scholars were off on their merry way, following their path, and interacting with me as needed. She walked around to see what the scholars were doing chatted with a few, thanked us and left.

On the third day, the principal visited and told the class how the evaluator was impressed with them and that she had had quite the educational experience. The wowed the evaluator and the principal just wanted them to know.

We still have so far to go before technology is ubiquitous and understood in our classrooms. Changing how people view a classroom is still so 19th Century.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Teachers aren't babysitters

In one of my graduate classes, the professor asked the class, "What is the purpose of teachers in our society?" The grandiose responses from each class member was laudable. The professor was impressed with our responses and dismissed them all by stating that we were babysitters. Consider who the parents call when there is no school day. Do they call a teacher? No, they call a babysitter. Schools are necessary to watch over the children while the parents work. This of course was a cynical way to start a graduate class at Teachers College.

Of course we know teachers are more than babysitters. We are highly trained individuals who complete many years of education and continue in professional learning throughout our careers. We are constantly adjusting our practice based on the newest or revised pedagogical practices spit out by researchers at our many colleges and universities and of course as proclaimed from the newest elected politicians and their minions. We are a more regulated profession than any other and we are everyone's political football. Were some other professionals as regulated we would be the ideal society.

What exactly is it that teachers do? Let me relate my experience. When I first started teaching, I probably spent ten hours of preparation for each one hour I taught. The amount of time I prepare for each class is immense and it of course lessened as I gained more experience and understood my own pedagogy, whether I taught the same material or not. When I prepared a class, I'd read the material be it a poem, short story, novel, essay or play many times. I'd read secondary material to bolster my own ideas. I would cobble the lesson and refine it constantly. A lesson is always under construction. Now that I use technology, the cobbling is more fun and constant. I trim, add, and modify each lesson constantly. Because I use the internet, adding recent essays and events to augment the lesson add authenticity to the projects the scholars do.

Once the lesson has been done, we then engage in the assessment process. The National Council of Teachers of English suggested that each essay should receive about 15-20 minutes. In my early days, I had five classes of 32 students per class. That meant I would have 160 essays per week to assess. That translates into 24 to 32 hours needed for assessment. Now this is just for one essay per week. Consider the collection of homework, assessing a quiz or two, and assessing other work done in just one week.

I found that I spent the first two or three days of a vacation in bed sleeping. I was worn out, spent. Then I would use much of that time reading material I would use in class after the vacation. Summer time was used to take more classes to earn more graduate credits, which was required by NYC so I could keep my teaching license. It is always easy to identify an English teacher when I ride public transportation, they are the one correcting papers.

I have friends who are lawyers and they, too, work as long as I do preparing briefs and for cases, but they are paid for that time. I'm paid only for the time I'm in the classroom and not the time I spend out of the classroom preparing for my time in the classroom. Teachers were work at home employees long before other businesses added that option to their business. And yes, it is about the money, otherwise politicians wouldn't be so quick to steal our money. I have bills to pay just like everyone else and I should be paid accordingly.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Teachers are not the Problem

The trash talk from governors, chancellors, mayors, and other insignificant political officials in the past few weeks has been disparaging. Teachers are easier targets than bankers or politicians. Ask any tyrant. Teachers shouldn't be the scapegoat when bankers and politicians are the real culprits in our problems. Let's not get distracted, folks. Follow the money.

Teachers are the good guys. We have always worked for peanuts and done yeoman's work. When times are good, we are invisible. But when times are tough we become the easy target. I am always reminded about how in tyrannical countries the teachers have their heads chopped off and staked or their tongues cut out. In too many undeveloped countries the teachers are the main target of the leadership as the source of the troubles of the country. Who can forget the sacrifice of Socrates? Teachers are the true champions of democracy and that is why they are the targets of all governments that are not democracies. America is not a democracy, it is a plutocracy. Bankers, not the people control our politicians. We are a plutocracy. This is why the teachers are now being attacked in the way they are being attacked. The mayor of NYC is a one of the richest men in the country. Look at how he is behaving. Cutting any part of an education budget is not the answer to any fiscal crisis.

When I hear the new governor of New Jersey compare teachers to drug dealers on the eve of the April 20 school board elections, I know teachers are being used as the scapegoats, because they are easy targets. Here is a perfect example of simply "considering the source" of the slanderous remark. Sure the economy is bad, but are we sure we want to blame the teachers and take it out on them. Teachers didn't make the bad mortgage deals. In New York City, Klein, the classic user of "divide and conquer" has decided to go after seniority in the teacher union. We all know that principals will choose the newer teachers because the budget cuts will demand it. Just as he destroyed the administration union with his antics, he now has younger teachers organizing and creating a group challenging the teacher union. Research shows these new teachers are not the answer. If BloomKlein win this battle, the fate of education in NYC is doomed and will not recover. Here is an example of how not to conduct business in education. Education has not improved during Klein's tenure and it is only getting worse. If NYC is the microcosm of American education run by Joel Klein, then the macrocosm failure of American Education is seen with Arne Duncan's poorer leadership. Obama's greatest failure will be his educational choices and his ignorance of educational ideas and leadership.

The current witch hunt on teachers is not how we fix education in America. We fix education by actually talking to teachers and listening to them. We put too much stock in college professors who know nothing about k-12 education, schools of education that know nothing about k-12 education, publishers who know nothing about k-12 education, and politicians who know nothing about anything especially education. When we get politics out of schools, schools will do what they know what to do.

As a parent, I have not been very happy with the new teachers my own children have had. I have supported them, but I have not been happy with them. They lack experience and that is key. Consider how we select services in our life. We look to experience in the operating room, in the courtroom, in the kitchen, in all aspects of our life. Whenever we watch sports, it may be the young players who bring the excitement but when the game is on the line, we always see the veteran players rising to the occasion. So why would we want to sacrifice experience in our children's classroom? From whom have any of us gained the most insight about ourselves? Who has been the person who has provided us the way to our success? When we look at our success in life, who is it we thank?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr Shakespeare

Four hundred and forty six years ago, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and fifty two years later he died in 1616. His work changed my life and has helped define me as a teacher.

I don't remember ever studying Shakespeare in high school. I was first acquainted with his work when I was serving in Vietnam. I strolled into the USO and was searching for a book to read from its library. I was drawn to a slim book and pulled it from the shelf. It was Troilus and Cressida. I loved the books and it was so appropriate for my current condition. That play became a major focus for me in college. I wrote three major papers on that play. I studied as much Shakespeare as I could. The first performance I saw was Henry IV, part 1. When I became a teacher I concentrated on using the comedies because they have happy endings, involve first loves, have teachers, and had young people in conflict with their parents. I resisted using the classic high school canon of tragic plays: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth. I have always been confused as to why these plays are high school fare. I far prefer Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, and Tempest.

I taught a Shakespeare class to seniors. We read four comedies and then performed one of the them. The key for me was Shakespeare had to be seen, performed, not just read. The students and the school loved it. Juniors who became seniors asked about being in the class each year. In 1986, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to study Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. That entire experience was mind blowing. I saw Troilus and Cressida at the Barbicon in London as well as The first performance of Two Noble Kinsmen in Stratford. I also saw Jeremy Irons in Winter's Tale and Romeo and Juliet. I read all of his plauys and sonnets that summer. I earned the title of Shakespeare Scholar.

As I did more with technology, Shakespeare instruction faded, but never left me. I have used Tempest as a crucial play of transition to the "brave new world" of technology in the classroom. I always wake up real early on a beautiful summer day, ride my bike to Central Park and join a line for free tickets to see the current Shakespeare play being offered by Papp's Public Theater. Whenever a play is shown in New York or in London during our annual Christmas Trip, we see it.

This summer I am spending two weeks in London and returning to Stratford after 24 years, to see the Shakespeare at the Globe and at the temporary theater in Stratford. Next year should be special when the newest Shakespeare play, Double Falsehood, will open the new Swan.

In tribute to the effect Shakespeare has had on me, I pierced my left ear and put a small gold hoop in to honor the man for his work and his life and its effect on me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day

Every day is Earth Day for those of us who are more digitally oriented than atom oriented. I am so dismayed as I watch teachers over print for handouts, who overuse the copy machine for classroom handouts, and redo this process especially when they make a mistake. Perhaps one of the things we teachers can do in practice and as models is to become more digitally oriented when we want to provide material to our scholars. One method I use and teach is to copy text found on the Internet into a word processing program. Including URL and other pertinent information for attribution is also taught. This cuts down on the printing of unnecessary pages and provides digital notes for future use, especially when offline. Since OCR software has become so much better, scanning printed material not digitized is another tool we teachers can use instead of photocopying printed text. Once scanned it can be digitized for better distribution. Most everything we use in the classroom can be digitized and slowly turns our classrooms into more environmentally friendly classes.

I find some colleagues resistant to the use of recycled paper, that is paper printed only on one side. I'm even amazed at how challenging it is to ask colleagues to print on both sides.

Schools should be the center of recycling efforts in all communities because we are the educational centers of all communities. In too many cases our practices are so opposite the message of being green. Schools are not as conscious of recycling as the building in which we live. The plastic bags in our classroom garbage bags are a source of how not to be green. What goes into those classroom garbage bags is not separated. We don't see massive recycling efforts on a school district platform is this is just wrong and bad from an economic point of view. Perhaps one of the places schools districts should examine to save money is in our recycling efforts. This is particularly troubling when NYC is so involved in promoting recycling in the city by distributing material to schools and yet not practiced in our schools.

Another very poor area of recycling is in the area of our disposed technology. How many old technology like televisions, computers and monitors, copy machines are simply put into the daily garbage and not recycled correctly.

Schools should be more the model of correct behavior and not of bad behavior when it comes to being more green. We need to adopt a "doing my 10%" attitude. In fact I have yet to see any American newspaper do what the Guardian does in UK for the Environment.

I wonder if the series of natural events of earthquakes and such around the world in the last couple of years is the earth sending us a message.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr

The proposed site for the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial is ironically placed between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. It is long overdue. I'm not sure why this memorial hasn't been built. It is about time and I hope it is completed soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

We are in Deep Yogurt

The fate of older teachers in NYC is looking bad if the mayor and chancellor of NYC get their way. They have asked the legislators to rewrite the seniority rules. One of the reasons we have a Union is to protect the employees from the whims, arbitrariness, and unhealthy wrath of the employer. In these current tough economic times, schools are looking to cut budgets and eliminating the older teacher is an easy and quick way to meet the budget crunch times and demands. We all know how disastrous this move would be because it will be abused and bad for the children. I understand the need and desire to save young teachers, but the sacrifice of the older teacher will be more economically damaging. There would be a huge ripple effect. Consider the fact that the older teachers are still functional, they have lots more expenses in their lives with mortgages, college tuition of their own children, and the threat of no pensions or weak pensions to support these newly non working adults. The shortsighted plan of the current NYC administration does not consider the financial burden it will have on the city to perhaps solve an immediate financial dilemma. In the long run will these teachers they save stick with the schools. I have found the attrition rate of young teachers pretty high, especially when a teacher gets pregnant. The percentage of women who return from pregnancy is much smaller than I would have thought. Many young married teachers move to other parts of the country to accommodate a better job for the partner. In my experience teachers of age tend to stay in the city and provide stability for the schools and their students. I hope the legislature does not reverse the seniority rule because it is a bad idea that will be used badly.

Another matter of interest and concern on this topic is the health of our pensions. Researchers have determined that the pension funds are in trouble because of the low market. Many of the older teachers who would be let go, might in fact be the parents of younger citizens who need to rely on their parents for survival. Discarding of the older worker is a bad move because it shows disrespect for the service of the seasoned employee at a cost that is yet to be determined for the long haul. There is an ethical duty to the employee who has provided valued service for many years and now hir job and pension is at stake. More consideration to the older worker should be considered over the position of an untried younger worker.

Discarding the elderly may be premature as we learn more about the middle aged brain. We have seen many brain studies for our teenagers as aides for us in the classroom. I did two blogs on the topic of the Left Brain Right Brian and The Teenage Brain. Barbara Strauch has written The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain which explains the power of the adult brain and how it actually grows over time. This very encouraging book suggests that we aren't done when others suggest it is time for us to retire.

In these harrowing economic times we may need older brains making more rational decisions. We may need to rethink about the ramifications for the future is we prematurely retire older teachers for the fiscal burden it will put on society because of the commitments they have to mortgages and college tuition and to the loss of that experience in the classroom. I'm reminded about this lack of experience when I go to a computer education conference or workshop in NYC run by young adults who are unaware of the history of technology use in our schools in NYC. I'm always amused about how they believe they are introducing something to us that we have known about or are in fact using.

The silver lining in all of this in NYC is the important step to close the notorious "rubber rooms." "Rubber rooms" are the places where teachers taken out of the classroom for any number of disciplinary reason sit and do nothing for the school day while they wait for a decision about their situation and they collect pull pay and maintain benefits. They have always been controversy for the time it takes to resolve each case and the fact that nothing is done during this time by the teacher except read and drink coffee and socialize. Now they will be assigned to do important tasks in school offices. Settling these cases sooner rather than later and having these teachers doing work are cost saving efforts that shows intelligent thinking. It is an important collaborative and compromising effort that should serve as a model for future conversations.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hypertext Poetry

Hypertext poetry is how I have my scholars deconstruct poems. The scholars copy a chosen poem to a webpage and then they proceed to go through the poem line by line and create links for the words, phrases, or images they imagine from the reading. These links can be graphics that serve as illustration; links to webpages that provide further explanation; or links to files they create to explicate the line. This method of deconstruction provides time for the scholars to become intimate with the poem.

Currently my scholars are working with two poems, "A Father To His Son" by Carl Sandburg and "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. When we look at Sandburg's poem, immediately we see quite a few words the scholars may not know. I instruct them to make links to any online dictionary from those unknown words. After many of them made a link to "lucre," I heard them use that word. By attacking the vocabulary in this way, they had better access to the poem. Another serendipitous event occurred when one scholar made a link on the first metaphor, "'Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.'" The scholar linked on "be a rock" to a webpage, "How to be a rock in a chaotic world." The link was perfect for the poem and helped him make a connection to what the father was suggesting with the metaphor. A simple search for "guide him" provides wonderful links to movies and videos about how an adult, a mother, a father, or a mentor is either there or not there to guide. The power of these words in this line are made more powerful after the results of a simple Google search.

The links that the scholars choose provided them with further insight into the poem. What the scholars discovered was that each link had to make sense to the poem and help defend their interpretation. Besides defining words, they learned about some people.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
This is a great way for the scholars to learn, by roaming different results in a search. It teaches them about using multiple resources as they need to visit a number of them to find what they want. I could never provide this presentation in a class without computers because they have to find the links and discover about these people.

What I find the scholars doing is wandering about the Internet. They will take a word phrase and do a Google search. What they discover engages them. They learn new things, see links to the poem, and links to other pages that provide a valid or not so valid connection to the poem. I love watching them decide what the links should be from all the links they find to help them make sense of the poem. Serendipity is the word that comes to mind as I watch my scholars wander and discover.

Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son" is a very simple poem to hypertext. The great metaphor of the poem, the "crystal stair" is so often illustrated. Searching for "ain't" and "I'se" provides the scholars with better insight into language. Doing these types of exercises and spending time in the very mundane chore of deconstruction provides the scholars with a greater appreciation of deconstructing a poem so they get a better understanding when they explicate the poem in their essay.

This method of play by using hypertext links to deconstruct the poems is a very thorough way to help each scholar find the theme of the poem and express that knowledge in a creative and personal way.

Some examples:
Arnold, Brengi, Dariles, Illyanna, Jonathan, Justin, Kenrich, Seneya, Stephanie are just a few to view.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nobel Prize in Literature

During my recent visit to Stockholm, I spent an afternoon in the Nobel Museum. This was a delightful day and I learned so much and saw so much. During one of my breaks, I sat at a computer that introduced be to the Nobel website. The five prizes are in areas of interest to Alfred Nobel. In Chemistry & Physics because this was how he made his massive fortune that became the foundation for his awards. In Medicine because he was a sickly man and required constant medical attention. In Literature because he fancied himself a poet. In his will he stipulated that these four awards would be given in Stockholm. The fifth prize was awarded in Oslo, because in his time, Oslo hosted many of the world's peace conferences. He chose one in peace ironically because his use of dynamite and was convinced a strong army and weapons promoted peace and guaranteed that peace could be achieved. His will went through a couple of drafts before he finally came to the final one. One other very unique stipulation was that all of these awards would be awarded to a pool of international choices. This was unique because this was the first time awards of this nature and stature were international rather than national or local.

As I was roaming the website, especially the awards in literature, I realized how great a website this was to serve as a foundation for an online project for my scholars. They would spend time roaming the literature prizes and select one of the authors and select a couple of pieces of literature of the author and do a research paper on the author while reviewing some of hir work. Included is the Nobel lecture as well as the acceptance speech. The entries for each author is extensive with biographical information as well as a comprehensive bibliography. When available pictures and even audio or video is available. In the games section there is a neat Lord of the Flies game. This website provides hours of delight for everyone and great ideas for projects in our English classes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Poetry Month

"Poetry through the Ages" is a phenomenal resource for teachers and scholars. "Poetry through the Ages" is one of the "exhibits" sponsored by WebExhibits. The connections and how this site operates is explained on the "about" page.

"Poetry through the Ages" is very comprehensive. The opening page provides two ways to navigate the website. One can follow a hypertext model via the "nodes" or a more linear path that the user finds on the left. Perhaps the teacher may want to visit the "About" link to gain access to the "Teacher Guides." Exploring the nodes path or the linear path is inspiring and great food for thought as teachers consider what they want to do with poetry in April or any other month. This is a fabulous site to use as a base for a poetry project/research paper for our scholars. They have choice and good resources to complete a very comprehensive poetry project. Be prepared to spend a good deal of time wandering about and learning.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Make your own Textbook

How many teachers would like to make their own textbook for their class? I think I’d see every hand go up in a room of teachers were I to ask this question. There have been publishers in the past who would print textbooks for teachers, but they have disappeared. Textbooks have always provided some controversy, but the topic has reawakened with a renewed vengeance as the national curriculum noise is getting louder and the din of textbook selections that always begin in Texas move to other states and more prevalence.

I have always found collecting different texts from publishers or even second hand texts from the street vendors have served me well. In the days when I went to conferences, the last day was spent going from publisher to publisher picking up those textbooks I had noticed and asked for a copy, which they gave me gladly instead of having to cart them back with them. It also suggested a possible sale. I would use my Fair Use credentials as I’d copy selected pages for use in class. I used many texts, newspapers, and magazine selections in my class to provide the texts for the lessons. No textbook company of any size could provide me this service.

Now as the technology entered my classroom, I used the digits to provide me my texts, not the atoms. I’d have the scholars spend a day typing in the digits from the atoms and then I’d reassemble those packets of digits into presentable lessons of text, questions, responses, and comments. That was in the mid 80’s with my CAI software. Slowly over those years, before the WWW, I’d convert my atoms to digits and begin to assemble my own digital textbook, I still use today. That software delivered the readings I wanted, it would provide the interaction of question and answer, administer a quiz and then lead to an essay done in a word processing program. As the technology advanced, I was able to scan in text that I couldn’t find on the Internet in a public domain library. Then the WWW became and the days of the textbook were not only numbered but gone. They didn’t know it then, but I think they do now.

Teachers don’t need textbooks made of atoms anymore. They just cling to them out of habit and deferment to others. Teachers have been taught to doubt themselves. We have been told that we are not worthy, capable, or smart enough to devise our own lessons. We must acquiesce to the higher authority of the textbook company. As we watch the Internet grow and as we become more accustomed to it, and as the older atom reliant teachers retire and the digital teachers emerge, we will see a new age of textbook creation. We are already seeing hints of it from web quests to online syllawebs.

Textbook companies can’t possibly provide me the textbook I need for my class. My textbook is multimedia. I assemble much of it. I cobble it together from bits and pieces I collect from the Internet. My lessons are based on a theme like a literary term, metaphor, satire, irony, and so on. I may latch on to a theme of civil rights, choice, or friendship. My lessons are projects that use many genres like short stories, poems, essays, articles, or a video. These lessons are differentiated as I present them as text with an audio or video clip to accompany them. All of this is digitized and collected in my online textbook and presented in my syllaweb. The beauty of this digitized textbook is that I can constantly tweak it, add to it, and adjust it as needed from class to class, year to year. If I see a mistake, I can fix it and merely have the scholars refresh their page. During the lesson, I may discover another resource from current events and add it to the lesson to provide even more relevance to the lesson. I particularly like it when a speech is made or a timely article appears in print so I can add a link to those digits from my syllaweb. I’m using the current events to help me link back to the past as represented by the classic literature available online in digital form rather than in the atoms of a bulky and costly textbook. Over the years I have found it is useful to use a current text to segue back to a past text. The past has little connection to my scholars. They need a way back, a connection; otherwise it is an untethered piece of information. I want them to make the text to self connection on their own, then it sticks; rather than one made by me, which won’t stick.

I know many online teachers who have made wonderful lessons or resources. I am constantly borrowing their lessons or resource to augment my own just as mine are borrowed. Education is a community oriented and driven enterprise, not a textbook driven environment. I’m sorry to see that educational reform is still missing the mark as it relies on textbook companies and their lobbying money to drive educational policy and as the politicians continue to rely on them for advice. I’m also not sure about the heavy reliance on college professors who bamboozle us with their voodoo research. They after all must publish or perish. Are they really concerned with us or more with their own careers? In one book they advocate the current political educational policy and then in the next another one to reflect current trends. They are mouthpieces. I find roaming the Internet in search of lessons and material for my own class, I find more reliable and honest resources form other teachers who are in the classroom and testing the material they create and use. When I can find the work of the scholars to accompany those lessons, I know I have found a treasure trove because now I have the product of the lesson to test its veracity. This is how education should work.

In some countries teachers’ heads are cut off, tongues are ripped out, or simply killed for teaching the youth things the government does not want taught. Socrates is always a good example. Tyrannical leaders in our time are other good examples. In America we are simply ignored until it is time to blame someone for our educational woes. Personally I ignore them and forge on in my own digital way as the master of my own classroom. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Make your own textbook online.