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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NYC has it all wrong, again

Publishing a teacher's name without correct data is plain wrong. And NYC has it all wrong with its latest assault on teachers and the teacher union. We saw what is happening to Walker in Wisconsin with this tactic. It's the wrong battle. Tweed speaks about Professional Development, but that does not exist, but more on that another time.

A point that keeps getting missed in this formula are those high stakes multiple choice tests. These tests are being made by a company that is not associated with schools or teaching. They are made by publishing companies interested in profits and not in education. This is how it works. The tests are made without teacher or school input. That means teachers create a curriculum map and syllabus and lesson plans for their classes. The test company is not aware or consulting these laborious tasks by the teacher when they construct the test that will evaluate the teacher's classes. During my early years of teaching the teachers collectively constructed assessment tools that would be used at the end of the semester to evaluate the learning of their students. We were aware of what we wanted to teach and we assessed that which was taught. We are finding a disconnect between the class and the test now. Imagine you are having work done on your house. You have an idea of what you want done and your contractor has another idea. Obviously this won't work. It doesn't work in schools either. After the teachers administer these tests, the tests are sent back to the company which then grades them and sends reports back to the school. These tests are then destroyed because they are proprietary. When a question of the test contents or results are raised, it goes unanswered because the tests have been destroyed. In the past we have taken the tests and boxed them for storage in school vaults for access when needed. After seven years they are destroyed. I have kept student folders till after graduation and my scholars webpages from 1993 still exist publicly on the web. The question is why do these companies insist on such quick destruction of important student documents that determine so many things and need to be reviewed often for class placement and even college admission. These companies claim they own the rights of the content and don't want competitors to get access. Yet, the NYC DOE doesn't find any problem in publishing a teacher's name based on this data which is no longer available and is either old or incorrect. The teacher has no way of contesting these tests since they are dust in the wind. Sounds like a witch hunt and is. This is the mindset as witnessed when I heard a retired principal state that she finds these reports inroads into the Union. That is what this is all about, Union busting and not the education of our students.

Once again NYC doesn't get it and continues down the wrong path in our schools.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not falling through the cracks

While speaking to a friend, he asked, "What if a student doesn't buy into the idea of his own workspace and working on a project?" Good question. Getting the students to buy in is crucial. It has always amazed me that school works at all. To answer his question in light of my idea, I pointed out that the students would be working in groups as well as producing individual projects. I explained that when I graded group work, I gave the group a grade and then they, usually 5, would determine who gets what grade with these conditions: no two students get the same grade and all the grades have to average the group grade. This would account for the student who did more and the student who did less. Using programs like wiki, moodle, docs, and others, we would have a tech trail of participation as well as a final product as a webpage. Another reason a student wouldn't fall through the cracks was that we would have more than one teacher working with each group. So if a student has a problem with a teacher, another teacher or two could pick it up and help the student. The key is that we don't isolate anyone, student or teacher. Finally as we are seeing more and more use of technology in schools for parents who have more access to the daily doings like attendance, grades, comments, and homework assignments. Now when the student comes home, informed parents aren't asking "How was school dear?" They are addressing attendance or comments made by teachers or ready to talk about tonight's homework. The point is that the correct use of technology and rethinking schools, means no student falls through the cracks. My friend was assuaged.

Monday, February 20, 2012


David Snodin has written a whimsical tale about what might have happened to Iago after the play ends. Iago is on the run and being hunted down. He is fighting back and befriends an unlikely young man. Snodin runs us around Venice and surrounding vistas. He includes the Venetian Inquisitors, feuding families, war, love, and salvation in the depths of a prison. The unlikeliest of young men becomes a pupil of Iago's in matters of sword play, love, and more. Snodin's Iago is a well written and suspense filled novel that probes the evil of Iago further, adds humanist thinking from a tutor, provides a glimpse of the Inquisition, and grand family dynamics of aristocratic Venice. I enjoyed John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius so much it made me rethink and enjoy Hamlet. Snodin's novel is the same sort of adventure that spins from Shakespeare. It is a fun and good read.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why Teachers need a Strong Union

From: Michael Mulgrew

Subject: Today's agreement on evaluation appeals process in Albany

Dear colleagues,

Today, thanks to Governor Cuomo’s intervention, we reached a groundbreaking agreement with the city on an appeals process for New York City teacher ratings that includes the third-party, independent validation of teacher ratings that we insisted upon to ensure fairness. We do not, however, have a systemwide teacher evaluation agreement in place for New York City.

We asked the governor to get involved a month ago because it was clear that we would never get to an agreement on the appeals process with the Department of Education. We would not have this agreement today if not for the governor’s intervention.

Despite the fact that the mayor said he would never agree to a third-party appeals process, we have that in this agreement. And despite the fact that the mayor said he would never agree to an independent validator with the discretion to agree or disagree on principal’s decisions, this agreement provides for that, too.

The appeals process will not go into effect unless and until Mayor Bloomberg negotiates agreements with the UFT for an overall teacher evaluation deal or for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants.

Even though today’s agreement removes the major sticking point that the mayor identified in our negotiations on the evaluation process for the restart and transformation schools, we still do not have an agreement on these 33 schools.

Here are the highlights of today‘s agreement:

* For the first time, we have an independent panel to review teacher ratings that we believe are based on principal harassment, not job performance.
* There will now be an independent validator to observe and work with all teachers who are rated ineffective.
* Each teacher rated ineffective will have a teacher improvement plan designed to specifically pinpoint that teacher’s deficiencies and how they will be helped to overcome their weaknesses.

For the past 10 years under this administration, 99.6 percent of all teacher ratings have been sustained by the chancellor. This agreement on the appeals process certifies that we will have a much fairer evaluation and appeals system for teachers if we ever get to an overall agreement. We hope that we will be able to negotiate an evaluation system that is designed first and foremost to help teachers get better throughout their careers, applies targeted support for those who are struggling, identifies teachers who cannot be effective to do the tough job of teaching in New York City and does all of this fairly. The agreement today ensures that the overall agreement will be fair. Here are the details of the new evaluation appeals process:

* A teacher who receives a first ineffective rating has a right to appeal that rating to the chancellor, who will have the final say, unless the rating is chosen by the union and designated for the independent panel appeal.

+The union can identify up to 13 percent of all ineffective ratings each year to challenge on grounds of harassment or other matters not related to performance.
+These appeals will each be heard by a panel made up of one person chosen by the UFT, one chosen by the DOE, and a third independent person who will be the chair of the panel.
# If the panel disagrees with the principal‘s rating, then the teacher will no longer have an ineffective rating.
# If the panel agrees with the principal’s rating, the ineffective rating stands.
* A teacher who has an ineffective rating the following year will receive an independent validator. (The person is chosen through a joint process and will not be a UFT or DOE employee.) The independent evaluator will observe the teacher at least three times during the school year and issue a report with his or her rating of the teacher.

* If the independent validator does not agree that the teacher is ineffective, then the DOE may bring 3020a charges but it will have to bear the burden of proving its case and the validator’s report will be part of the evidence.

* If the validator agrees with the rating of the principal, then the DOE will have a right to start 3020a proceedings where the burden of proof now falls on the teacher to prove that he or she is not ineffective.

Once again the UFT is proving that it is willing to work to make the teaching process better. The mayor still doesn’t get it that to achieve real education reform, it’s about helping schools get better, not closing them, and it’s about helping teachers improve, not getting rid of them.
Thank you for your steadfast dedication to the children of our city.

Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers * A Union of Professionals
52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 * 212.777.7500 *

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Team Teaching

"Hey Mister, this is math class not English, why do I have to spell words correctly? "

All day long, week after week, as semester follows into school year, teachers of all disciplines hear this noise from students who complain when a teacher demands the disciplines of another class be adapted in the current class. This is a problem fostered because our current school system. It is a system that is entrenched in a mode that is centuries old and seems unwilling and unable to be changed or change. Students have been programmed to live in the delusion that what they learn in one class does not transfer to another class. They have been trained that what happens in one hour does not continue into another class. Their schedule says math, not English. Schools are about walls and education is about tearing those walls down.

We know that when we are completing a task in the real world we are tapping into our prior knowledge that includes things we have learned in our different classes. Problem solving for our students also involves knowledge learned in other classes. One of the reasons we put our students in groups is to allow for those who know to help those who don't know. We use students in our classes as tutors. This is exactly why we need more team teaching.

In our schools we have teachers who know technology and use it and those who do not know technology and don't use it. There are degrees of use and knowledge in each group and the divide between the two is widening. This gap is the major reason technology is not being used in our schools. Traditional after school Professional Development doesn't work because we don't have enough of it nor are we using it the next day in our schools. Teachers will learn the technology and will use it when they are immersed into it slowly and gently. I found great success many years ago when teachers visited my class and saw technology used and working. Then I was able to teach them about some tools, help them develop their own webpage, and then most importantly go into their classroom and team teach. It would take one week to get them so comfortable, that I could leave them alone and revisit as needed. Once teachers become comfortable they can then teach another and so on until the entire staff is comfortable and competent. The key was team teaching.

Now if we take this idea and expand it to a regular practice, we will eventually use technology correctly and create more effective schools. We wouldn't need subs since we have now hired those teachers to have a larger staff to create these teams. All that planned merit pay can be used because we won't need it since we will not know which teacher is responsible for our students' success since it is a team effort. Merit pay is a classic form of divide and conquer from the US government. I'm not only stunned with Obama on this topic but very very disappointed. He doesn't get it and doesn't have a clue. This is why the feds should not be involved in education because they can't and shouldn't micro manage education. Education happens in the class and should be done by trained professionals. This is why teachers should be advocating for more team teaching. Safety in numbers and "it takes a village."

“We need to change society’s views of teaching from the factory model of yesterday to the professional model of tomorrow, where teachers are revered as thinkers, leaders and nation-builders,” Mr. Duncan said. “No other profession carries a greater burden for securing our economic future.” Tell us something we don't know Mr Secretary. So why are we still supporting the factory model and not rethinking schools? Quite obviously our secretary doesn't have a clue.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide isn't just about students who have or don't have access, it is also about teachers. Across the country we are seeing and hearing about Bring Your Own Technology programs in schools which is great and good thinking. The problem happens in schools with their limitations in access, obtuse rules and filters, and most importantly overwhelmed teachers who have to juggle all these platforms and technologies and then somehow incorporate and integrate all these technologies and personalities in one class. And that is the rub, ONE TEACHER ONE CLASSROOM. That's the real digital divide.

Another common story is about a teacher in a school who is doing wonderful things, wins awards, is named a Teacher of the Year, and in the end wilts away, retires, or moves on. The problem of course it is always about one teacher in one school. The reason for this is that we have a terrible digit divide with teachers. PD in schools stinks and teacher training in colleges is worse. Walk into any school and we will find the majority not using technology and even worse too many not interested. The main problem is that we teach the way we were taught.

We need to rethink our schools before we implement any genius plan or copy any Teacher of the Year in our limited Model Schools. Schools are all wrong. Our students walk into school and have one teacher per class per hour. They spend too much time moving from room to room, setting up, and packing up. Each class is a different discipline like English, math, science, history and so on. One teacher and one discipline. Add technology to this mix and well you will get chaos, failure, and frustration. This has to change. Instead let's incorporate a real paradigm shift and actually think out of the box. Reconfigure that box. The students have a desk with technology that is their workplace, like an office worker. Redesign existing rooms with cubicles, knock down walls where possible to make larger spaces. In these new learning spaces, students work in groups and the teachers come to them. Teachers work in teams. These teams would be made up of a tech expert and a content expert. In cases where students are working on projects that demand different skills, a group of teachers move together. For example let's say the students are working on a project about the bicycle. The end product should be a webpage that incorporates wikis, blogs, flash and other technology. To help the students they will need a math teacher, a science teacher, a history teacher, a business teacher, a gym teacher and others to help them deconstruct the bicycle from different perspectives and then reconstruct the bicycle on a webpage for our global community. The students work in groups, provide presentations, and individual products. Schools design and create project ideas that involve their entire faculty. Of course the Internet becomes their resource and place to work. The students will go to lunch, go to gym, go to science labs, but they will work from their workspace and teachers will move among selected groups as a team. Redesign the school day to address education and the digital divide. This way the existing technology can be used better and the digital divide that exists with teachers will disappear. This will be part of better professional development in addition to more aggressive after school PD for all teachers. PD works only when what is learned is relevant, current, immediately used the next day. Teachers should stop working alone.

We shouldn't just be considering the student when it comes to the digit divide, we must also consider the teacher, and the school. Rethinking schools, reconfiguring schools is another way to fix and improve education in this country so that we DON'T continue to teach the way we were taught and keep getting the same discouraging results. Instead we must teach for the future by being the future. The paradigm shift I call for is huge and will require a great deal of work and readjusting as well as tearing down some walls, but that is thinking out of the box and really addressing the Digital Divide.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Another F for Duncan

Feb 1 was Digital Learning Day. How many of us knew that? Exactly what was this day all about anyway? Out to lunch Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced, celebrated, and proclaimed Feb 1, 2012 Digital Learning Day. Does this mean that this administration has finally got it about technology? All they need do is do some homework and see what was happening when Riley was Secretary of Education. This is embarrassing and insulting to educators. But that has always been Duncan’s MO. This is just another shot in the dark kind of educational incentive clueless leaders proclaim, like his other forgetful programs such as Race to the Top.

Further reading of this block buster event finds schools in Modesto using technology to take attendance. They finally recognize that the web will expand the four walls of the classroom, but they have yet to think outside that box because they still have filters, which is up for discussion (nice concession), and they still have the traditional walled classrooms. So much for the celebratory Digital Learning Day epiphanies. The celebration is over moderated Facebook pages. Is this what we have come to celebrate as technology in the classroom. In the 90’s our scholars were constructing webpages using Flash. We have not used the lessons of the past to inform our present, forget about our future. This is what we get when we elect inexperienced people who appoint even less experienced people to an important position like Secretary of Education. The feds should get out of education because they don’t have a clue. This is not just in Washington, it is happening in NYC, too. That’s trickle down for you.

This is today’s vision from our current Department of Education in Washington DC.

Use the buzzwords and explain how the current trends in society are being transferred to the classroom and you will get someone’s attention. For instance: “Social media isn’t just a social activity anymore. Local schools and colleges are now not only instructing students on how to use it safely and responsibly, but using it as a teaching tool as well.” This article goes on to explain how a middle school has adapted a program called Bravebook that will simulate a social network that the students will explore and use without it being public for all. It is a training ground, a practice field so that the school can responsibly teach the students about ethics and correct use so that when they leave the school the hope is they will transfer these skills to the real world.

In another scenario, Twitter became an important tool for an infirmed professor to communicate with her class. I remember when we used programs like Blackboard to conduct class. Now we celebrate Twitter, Yikes!

Certainly one of the obstacles to correct and effective use of technology use in the classroom has been the filter, so bravo Chicago for lifting the ban on YouTube. YouTube clips have been vital for me in my instruction and I have had to use Zamzar to convert a YouTube video to a file I could then embed in my lessons. We all know multimedia presentations by the teacher and by the student are far superior to the mundane and droll word processed paper.

Hearing something we already know from a leaned colleague at an important conference helps make the point. So when an esteem journal pronounces, based on research, that that students want more from the technology in education, we should listen. “According to Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans, "Today's students have their own 'student vision' for how they want to use technology for learning. That vision," she said, "is really a statement of how students want to learn in general." From the points made in this speech we only need to look to YouTube to see the kinds of things students are doing from reviewing movies to commenting on events around the world. The students already use these tools, it is now our responsibility to provide them with educational opportunities in the classroom to broaden their expertise. We see the students using their web based hand held tools to access the web in class, in the street, at home and yet we have provided too little access in school and way too few classes that actually use the web to instruct and inform our young scholars.

And finally a gem about writing a 25 word story. Yikes has this become our limit? I appreciate the idea, but it is lame. That is why we have poetry, especially the haiku. A short story needs more than 25 words. This 25 word ditty would be great after the colon that follows the title of a short story or novella, but surely can’t be the final product.

The ideas about education and the use of technology has been compromised by the nano second conversation, the 125 word tweet, the flash of Facebook and the limited vision of a secretary of education. Our scholars need more, our teachers should be given control back to them, and our nation deserves a lot better than what we have seen from this current lame, leaderless Department of Education. Maybe it is time the feds think outside the box and fire the Secretary of Education because he just keeps on flunking.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My New Exhilaraton

My blood pressure has stabilized to a comfortable and acceptable level in the past two weeks since I have retired.

My reading habits have changed. As an English teacher, my reading was primarily the redundant papers of my scholars and the readings they had to read to accomplish their tasks. It was not rewarding nor stimulating. When I did read what I wanted to, I would not have the stamina to read for a long time. Now, I'm finishing books sooner and reading more of all genre. I'm getting to those tomes I have let pile up and to those that catch my fancy. This is one of the first joys of retirement I was anticipating and waiting for.

I find I am more patient when I am working on a project. Before I had a time limit, now I don't. I had been wanting to build a simple little shelf in the bathroom to alleviate the bulging medicine cabinet. It was a simple little three shelf two foot by one foot project. One day I went to the lumber yard after dropping off some stuff at the Salvation Army and picked up the piece of lumber I needed for the project. I put it in my wood shop in the cellar. I waited for a day that wasn't a bike ride day to do the project. Three days later that day arrived and I dressed for the project. I put the radio on and slowly and steadily spent the next four hours hand cutting the wood, sanding and planing the wood, carefully constructing the shelf, filling the set nail holes with putty, more sanding and refining of the wood and checking to be sure it fit into the place for which it was being prepared. It fit perfectly and looked great. I painted it and then gave it the second coat and left it for installation the next day. I liked the end product and was very pleased with the process. That was new.

Another project spread over three days involved me cataloging books and creating a webpage of books I plan to sell. Again this project would have been done in a more rushed manner and would have caused anxiety and exhaustion. I took my time. I enjoyed the process as I perused the tomes and rearranged the books on their shelves. I was relaxed, did it without mistakes, no do overs, and was not exhausted. Instead I felt an exhilaration in the process and project.

That is it: Exhilaration. I am feeling exhilaration in my retirement. As I read a book and then return it to the library and pick up another book, I am experiencing a new exhilaration. The paths I choose to get from here to there are not the same nor are they the most expedient, they are leisurely and exploratory as if I were in another city discovering new venues and sights.

I snack on more healthy foods, I prepare more meals, and I eat slowly. When I feel I need a nap, I take one. And most importantly, when I need to go to the bathroom, I do. Now that's exhilaration.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Everything is upside down

A friend forwarded me a post from the owner of a listserve for English teachers. The post was from February 1998 on the topic of computers in the classroom with this query for today's audience: Are teachers still scrounging for computers, or are computers plentiful and cheap? Do classes still use computers or are we on to other tools?

So much has changed these past 14 years. In 1998 we were on the middle of some very wonderful things using technology in our classrooms. Students were producing webpages, hypertext webpages that were the next and natural iteration of the codex that superseded scrolled text. The advancement of learning and shared information was huge when the scroll made way for the codex with its indexing and multiple pages filled with data and more accessible. We know what happened to the scrolls especially in the libraries of Alexandria and Pompeii. Today The Vatican, Oxford, The Library of Congress as well as many other locations house the tomes of the ancient modern world. Now Bartleby, Project Gutenberg, The Internet Public Library, Google Books, Librivox, and others have taken the time to digitize these classic codex tomes and remaining scrolls. When I taught, my scholars used these online sites to access the texts I could not have in my class or school library in addition to the burgeoning collection of online newspapers and magazines. We were reveling in the democracy of the Internet and in education as inspired by our giants like Jefferson, Dewey, and Freire. The webpage is a natural transition from the codex because it starts with an index page that has hypertext links to further pages that contain more text. The text my scholars made were their multi media webpages that were essays written in their English Class. I was lucky to continue this practice from 1993 until 2012.

Today, I am retired. I left with my scholars still making webpages. When we once had a plethora of places to construct free webpages, we now have few and with too many limitations. Fewer provide sites where the user can write their own HTML. Now they are basically wizards. That's not making webpages. Because of the limitations of the current webpage building process, I was forced to resort to the lesser medium, The Blog. For me the blog was a step back to the days of the scroll. The blog scrolls like ancient times or like toilet paper.

Another hindrance to the advancement of technology in education has been the filter. The leaders of today, like the leaders during the Inquisition, are convinced they know better and enforce their misguided mores on the rest of us. Ironically the very things that they filter are blocked from teachers but not from the students. Teachers have had very useful sites blocked for the wrong reasons while our scholars are accessing and updating their Facebook accounts which are not blocked successfully.

We have plenty of computers in our schools, but they are not being used very well. Sites like Wikipedia are feared and bad mouthed and yet encyclopedias and texts edited with bias from publishing houses that are more interested in profits than in truth are pushed on us. The mistakes of printed texts will always exist as long as those books exist in our schools and are past on from affluent schools to less affluent schools as the former upgrade. This is a situation when we should burn books. On the other hand, web based texts upgrade immediately, correct mistakes, and even in some cases archive these changes so future scholars can watch the evolution much like how the OED operates. Teachers are more comfortable using prepared sites from those publishers for a price rather than doing their own research online. We are getting lazier and have missed a great opportunity to create our own curriculum from the Internet.

What is happening is that our scholars are now using handheld devices because all they need is to produce 128 character tweets or Facebook entries. The sad irony is that Facebook is about to go public for billions of dollars and that represents the dumbing down of America. Just the other day I heard about the editing of Scott's novels, because they are too long. Today is Dickens' 200th birthday and I wonder what his or Twain's reaction would be to the state of writing in our social networking society. These are writers who used the serial to develop tomes. Now we are going backwards to a limit of 128 characters. That's characters, not words. Words left us awhile ago for letters and word parts. We have not used the technology well in our schools and we are suffering. The result is the proliferation of Facebook and tweets. This does not bode well for literacy or humanity.

And then on the other hand literacy and perhaps democracy are blossoming in China and Egypt. While reading an interesting article in New Yorker called "Working Title" Leslie T Chang, stories that were started on the Internet became best selling novels but without sex. They were Horatio Alger type books aimed at the growing middle class working society of China. In Egypt, what were once democracy creating tweets and Facebook entries, a former Google employee, Wael Ghonim, used a Facebook page to communicate has now written, Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir.

However this and the fate of technology in our schools reminded me of Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron." Facebook is our new Handicapper General.
Once upon a time computers provided us the opportunity to be producers and to evolve from codex to hypertext. Instead we have regressed to the scroll and 128 character limitations. The opposite democratic effect is happening in American schools where we are now tracked, monitored, and bombarded with targeted ads. Social networking is not freedom, it is the opposite. It portends the fears of 20th Century SciFi that are now a reality.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today was my first day of retirement. I slept late, got my son off to school, did some chores, took a 4 hour afternoon nap, watched some English football, and had a great dinner at Craft. All in all I highly recommend retirement.