Thursday, November 7, 2013

Your Blog Posts So Far

For eight weeks or so we have been developing, revising, and adding to our blogs.  Many of you have not only completed the required assignments, you have made your blog your own space by posting all sorts of wonderful extras.  You have posted artwork and music, videos and photos, poems and commentary.  And as a result you are enriching our intellectual environment by demonstrating the mission of our class: Learning is what we do in all of life, not just school.

Some, however, have maintained their blog as just a class assignment, a place to store their homework assignments.  Although that was not the intention of this ongoing project, I recognize that for some of you, that is the limit of what you are willing to do.

So how are your blogs going to be evaluated?  Well, first we look at the visual space and we ask if it is visually appealing and engaging?  Does the audience enjoy being in this space?  Second, we look at the quality of the posts and we ask if they are insightful and interesting to read?  Do the posts make the audience think at all?  Third, we look at the number of posts and we ask if all the assigned posts are there?  Are there extra posts that you put on there because you wanted to share ideas and other things you've come across with your intellectual community?  Have you enriched those who visit your blog?  And fourth, have you acquired an audience?  How large is your reach?  If you blog is interesting and engaging, your followers will multiply beyond those you asked to follow you.

As a check in, below you will find the required blog assignments as of 11/7/2013
1. What is courage?
2. What makes you enthusiastic about learning?
3. Write from the perspective of a non-human object.
4. Advertisement for a best friend
5. Reaction to Adora Svitak talk on
6. "A Difficult Conversation"
7. Define "flifferhuzza" using narrative
8. "New Thoughts"  Expand your thoughts on one or more of your daily exposure reactions
9. A representation of love
10. Parent Interview -- at least ten questions.
11. Reaction to Time article, "None is Enough" -- at least 500 words
12. "To Love or Not to Love?  That is the question." -- 500 words on whether or not you should fall in love.
13. Read six peer blog posts on the above and synthesize those perspectives into your own thoughts.

What's ahead?  More, more, more.  More of everything we've been doing but of better quality because how else would we show we are learning if the quality didn't improve? How could we claim to be making progress if second trimester posts look like first trimester posts?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

No Kid Hungry - Letter-Writing Contest - WeAreTeachers

No Kid Hungry - Letter-Writing Contest - WeAreTeachers

Okay, you guys want authentic and meaningful writing assignments, here you go.  Make an argument for ending childhood hunger in a letter to a state or national leader because it is an important world issue.  Enter the contest in order to win a $500 scholarship.  Go to it.  After you are finished writing your letter, send it to my email account:  Make sure your name is clearly on it.  Put "Hunger Contest" in the subject line.  Submission deadline is September 27th.  Follow the link and read the information thoroughly.

Note:  This is purely voluntary.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Please click on the following link to Survey Monkey and answer the nine questions honestly.  Thank you.

Post Writing Sample Survey

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Ingredients of Enthusiasm: An Inquiry

Enthusiasm creates momentum.  But what creates enthusiasm?  Every teacher wants to know the answer to this question because if we have this answer then our days are sheer joy.  No more apathy, no more disinterest, no more glazed looks from twenty-five pairs of eyes that twitch forever in the direction of the clock.  So I pose the question to you all (y'all):  In the past, what has made you enthusiastic about learning?  Do not limit yourself to school time -- you have been learning since you emerged into this world!  In fact, your brains are pre-wired for learning massive amounts of stuff.  So now reflect on when you felt enthusiastic about learning.  What qualities were present in the moment?

Post your replies to this question by clicking the reply link right below.  Feel free to read the replies of your classmates and add, argue, qualify what they have said before you.  Feel free to illustrate your point with personal experience, particularly if your point is abstract.  In other words, don't just answer the question, help me and everyone else understand what you are saying.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Building a Community in the Classroom

Too often education is an experience suffered in isolation.  Sure, we complain with friends, we grumble at the dinner table, we criticize on social media sites, but the majority of our learning occurs in isolation.  Why should this be?  In some ways, it is an easier education because it doesn't require us to re-shape the conversations we are having with our peers.  Who wants to really talk about Huck Finn at the lunch table -- unless you're exchanging homework questions, that is!  And who wants to type out some thought they were having while reading Thoreau for the rest of the class to read and laugh at?  Learning is best suffered in isolation so no one knows how smart you are, how stupid you are, how mediocre you are.  

No one need know that you were actually interested in that discussion during class about population control or that you liked the poem on that site we looked at in class today. No one needs to know The Road really did scare you a bit because you aren't ready for the world to end or that you would trade places with Huck Finn in a moment if you could.  Why should you share your opinion on homelessness when you can't really do anything about it?  Who cares what you think about what it means to be an American anyway?

See, it is easy if we see education as just a mindless movement from class to class, a disinterested desire to graduate from high school because you want to go to a good college -- just don't ask me to learn anything of use while I get there!  But what happens if we challenge this notion?  What happens if we decide that education can be more than a 12 year prison sentence?  What happens if you decide that you want a better education for yourself?  One that engages you, one that you look forward to doing, one that you actually don't mind working hard to achieve?

Well, I think to get that education, you need to be a part of the whole process.  You need to be engaged in shaping what education looks like.  Of course, if your goal is to just make everything easier to get through so it looks like you've learned something useful then that doesn't work, right?  I mean, it would be counterproductive to create an education for yourself that was just an easier waste of your time, wouldn't it? Rolling a pebble up a mountain for six hours only for it to roll down the other side is just as much of a waste of time as rolling a boulder for the same outcome, isn't it?  You still could have been doing something better.

And I suppose that is what education comes down to: what could you be doing that is better?  If we are honest, and we evaluate and decide on what we think is important to know and what we want to know, then can't we create an education that is actually worth your time and effort?

In which case, what does that education look like? Or more specifically, for an English class -- which it is my pleasure to teach -- what would that education include?

How can you possibly answer this? you might be asking yourself.  And truthfully, you can't answer it.  Alone.  but together, in a community, you can answer this question and all questions.  It is in the community that decides to reach a goal that success can be achieved.  But you have to decide to be a part of the community. There is no passivity in being a community member.  You decide to join and you get a say in not only reaching the goal but determining what that goal is.  And how can any opportunity to choose the course of your life be a waste of time?  What could possibly be a better use of your time then deciding how you use your time?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible..."

The power of E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake" is in its ability to make us immediately nostalgic for our own lost summertimes.  For as he pointed out, there is only just so far you can go back in time before you realize you can't. 

To be a teacher is also to be trapped in your own schooldays to a certain extent.  Your year runs September to June and when the school year lets out you dash out of the building skipping and laughing for the two months of freedom that lay blessedly ahead.  Or at least that is how your typical non-teacher imagines the end of the year. 

In truth, I find myself grumpy, short with my kids and wife, restless and dissatisfied with my day when it is finally over.  I go through this every June and it wasn't until this year that I figured out the reason for my doldrums.  Or, to be more truthful, I had the reason explained to me by a close friend and fellow teacher who took one look at me as I stepped out my front door and said, "You're in a grumpy mood."

She was right.  I was.  And I didn't know why.  An  hour later after sitting grumpily on her back deck watching the kids play, she explained that it was the lack of school that made me grrrrr at everyone.  I missed the routine, I missed the daily goals, the daily accomplishments, the activity level.  Seemingly in an instant, my daily existence had lost its compass.  It made so much sense and since then I've reflected on this dual-edged sword known as summer vacation. 

Sure, the break is welcome.  And, yes, the chance to start over with a new bunch of kids is essential.  But two months?  When I was a child, two months seemed forever (except those last few days before school started).  Now, two months seem like the torture of having too much to do and only a limited amount of time to get it done.  Only it's supposed to be a vacation.  To be a teacher is also to be forever a child in this way: it arrives and sixteen years of habit kick back into gear and I expect to have two months off with nothing to do but lie under the maple trees, swim at the pool, take a midnight drive to Long Beach and walk the boardwalk.  I am conditioned to see summer vacation as my time when I was free to stay out all day and into the night when the fireflies vanished before I could catch them and reappeared just over there out of reach.

But it's not my time.  At least how I would choose to spend it.  Partly, it's more my children's time than mine and I can't begrudge them that.  It is time for the family vacations with the cousins (to make memories my sister keeps telling me), trips to the pool, trips to the movies for yet another cliched children's movie.  It is time for bickering and constant fighting and getting on each other's nerves as the humidity settles in and the air conditioners are still not in the windows.  It is time for sunscreen, yet again, to be applied to three pairs of legs, three pairs of arms, three faces (not my lips, Dad!) three necks -- the back and underneath (why there when the sun doesn't go there?!) and three pairs of ears -- two of which still stick out too far.  And why do they keep inching farther away from me causing my shoulders and back to ache when all I'm trying to do is prevent a little skin cancer later in life!

And of course it is also time for those other kids of mine, the ones I've gotten rid of and the ones yet to be named.  Forty recommendations to be written, curriculum to be revised, lessons to be created, materials to be reviewed.  Plus there are those classes I have to take as well as plan, to keep up that certification, to keep my practice up to date, my instruction effective, my brain malleable.

I was reading a purely enjoyable, frivolous fantasy novel, George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  You may have heard of it as HBO just made it into a new series.  The book is seven hundred pages or so and I enjoyed just about every one; yet, I still felt that itch in the back of my mind that told me time was running short and there were so many more necessary things I needed to be doing.  And the more I thought about this, the more I realized that there was not nearly enough time to get everything I had to do done and still have time to enjoy my summer the way I wanted to: under the maple trees with a book in my hand and another by my side.  I think of E.B. White in the little boat with his son, quietly fishing, quietly watching the dragonfly settle, stir and then resettle at the end of the pole.  And I know that can't be the accurate truth.  Where was the incessant talking, the constant questioning, the whining about the food or the heat or the uncomfortable thwart the kid was sitting on for hours?  But the description was only a few lines, and maybe, frankly, unlike what Dillard would have us believe, that was as long as the moment lasted.  The dragonfly flew off and the son let out an exasperated sigh and said, "I'm bored.  When are we going back home?" 

You see, in my childhood, there were lots of those moments being bored, being underfoot, being aggravating.  But I don't remember them so well now.  I just remember the freedom and the fun and those memories haunt me now.  When did summer become work?  You see, summer is work, it's just a different kind of work and I can't seem to explain this to my non-teacher friends who boo-hoo at me for two months off and wave their hands uncomprehendingly at just how difficult it is to be off for summer vacation.

Sometimes I think I'd like to be a farmer instead of a teacher.  Sunrise to sunset and there is always something to do.  Year round.  That is the indelible pattern of life: work.  This whole summer off thing is just an illusion, a dream, a false expectation that leaves you disappointed in so many ways because it is not the summer vacation of childhood.  It is not.  It is a lot of things, but it is hardly a vacation.