Monthly Archives: August 2014

My (modest) goals for the year

viva la #edtech revolucion!

Monday marks the first day of my sixteenth year as a full-time teacher. At age 40, I’m thoroughly mid-career, and really, what have I got to prove anymore? In recent years I’ve set four or five goals for myself on Labor Day weekend, but I’m pretty exhausted right now, so I’ll just settle for one, modest, goal this year.

Goal: To be the most innovative teacher at George School.

Okay, okay, I was sandbagging. In truth I enter this year with more energy, enthusiasm, and optimism than ever before. The influence and inspiration of the multitude of Connected Educators keeps me from standing still. This will be a year in which my teaching evolves drastically, and I’m not planning to play it safe. How will I innovate?

  • More backchanneling. I’ve got my class hashtags posted to my LMS pages and on the wall of my classroom. I’m asking all of my students to participate via Twitter, so I’ve had to write up clear expectations and guidelines. I’m looking forward to expanding my use of this powerful tool.
  • Elephants never forget! (And they have excellent executive function.) I’m rolling out Evernote for resource-sharing to all of my students in all four sections. I’ve already created the class Notebooks and invited the students. It will be aggravating for a couple of days as students move in and out of sections, but once it all settles down, this looks like it will be easy to manage. I’m especially excited to use the shared Notebook with my AP English Language and Composition students since they’ll be reading a lot of nonfiction articles and essays in Term 2. On my iPad I can save articles I like to Pocket and then move them over to Evernote. The formatting looks great, my students will always have access to them, and we can save trees.
  • New BYOT mindset and policies. I rewrote my class policy on handheld devices. Students may assume that cellphone use in class is permitted (quizzes and tests are an exception). I’ve laminated some yellow and red warning cards to use in a new classroom management system I’ve cooked up to keep students’ use of technology on track. I mentioned my new policy to my comrades in the English department at our first meeting, and I already have a colleague who is going to join with me in this new approach.
  • I love Roland Barthes’ book S/Z (pronounced “Ess Zed”), so I’m using “L/Z” as my abbreviation for “lecture zero.” I barely lecture at all as it is, but this year I’ll replace the tiny amount of lecturing that I used to do with online video. I’m using Adobe Voice to create movies to replace shorter lectures and Doodlecast Pro to convert more complex PowerPoints into online video. The links to the videos get posted to the class LMS pages directly, so I probably won’t even need to use my YouTube channel.
  • My sophomores already have blogs due to the big Summer Blogging Project I led. Their blog URLs are posted to our class LMS page now, and they’ll have weekly blogging assignments from me all year. The freshmen will remain blog free until Term 3 (after Spring Break), but I may have them contribute posts to this blog. (Perhaps I need to add a page specifically for that purpose. Hmm.)

Obviously innovation isn’t just about technology, and I want to use the once-a-week lab periods (block periods, for non-GS readers) more creatively. I wavered back-and-forth in recent weeks about whether or not to do Twenty Percent Time with my students this year (a.k.a. Genius Hour), but I’m just not well enough versed in the movement to make it fly this year. I don’t yet know how well it works in an AP setting; external exams are a heavy onus. Instead of using 40 out of 75 minutes of class for Twenty Percent Time, I’ll try to program creative lessons that have students working on their own or in small groups to produce something that speaks to the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Creating). When I’m not tough on myself, I often revert to lesson plans that I’ve been using for years, so this year I need to force myself to generate new plans for these lab periods.

I realize that if one of my colleagues at GS is reading this post, they might say, “Hey! I’m going to be the most innovative teacher this year! Who do you think you are, anyway, punk?” And that’s fine by me. If half-a-dozen other teachers set this same goal, and I turn out to be only the seventh most innovative teacher at the school this year, that’s a win for the students. Bring it on!

Class hashtag poster on the wall of my classroom. Courtesy of Canva.

Double-sided yellow and red cards to remind students to check their cellphone use (first warning), or put it away (second warning).


They weren’t even alive

This past week was the last week in which I posted new prompts for the Sophomore Summer Blogging assignment. I needed to come up with a poetry prompt that drew on poems from the latter pages of our anthology, so I found three I liked and built a prompt around them. The poems were by Yusef Komunyakaa, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Gary Soto.

As I was reading some students’ responses, I was reminded of how much I love the poem I assigned them by Soto, “Mexicans Begin Jogging.” I fell in love with Soto’s work when I heard him read in NYC while I was still in college. He was a nominee for the National Book Award, and all of the nominees did a reading together. One of the authors for whom my mother was a literary agent, Dennis Covington, was nominated that year, so my mom had a spare ticket and invited me to the reading. I told her afterwards how much I enjoyed Soto’s poetry, and she got me a signed copy of the book at an event later that night (or maybe it was the next day). I haven’t looked at the book in a while, and when I pulled it off my shelf, I discovered that Soto wrote me a personalized birthday greeting (clearly at my mother’s request). I’m sure I was deeply appreciative at the time, but over the intervening 18 years, I had forgotten that the inscription was so kind. I turned 22 in 1995, so that would have been my senior year at Columbia. I imagine that most of the students in the Class of 2017 who are doing this summer blogging assignment were born in 1999 or 2000. Still, here we all are; enjoying a poem from all of our different work-spaces scattered around the globe, about to get back together for the start of the school year in one week.

To my students: Be cool!

To anyone else reading this post: Check out some of the strong responses to this week’s poetry prompt by Michael P. and Anna C.


Sophomore Summer Blogging Prompts — Week 9

These are the last synchronous path prompts of the summer, folks! Next week I’ll post some “post season” prompts for you.

Poetry Prompt: Read the following three poems: Yusef Komunyakaa, “Facing It” (p. 252); Naomi Shihab Nye “The Small Vases From Hebron” (p. 271-272); and Gary Soto “Mexicans Begin Jogging” (p.277-8). What do these poems have in common? In what ways are they different? You might read the bios of the poets in the back of the book for some context on who these writers are and what they like to write about.

Novel Prompt: Pick one of the characters in the novel you read and write a first-person narrative from their point of view. The narrative should take place after the end of the plot of the novel. Try to be true to that character’s voice and to the author of your book’s writing style. You have artistic freedom to go in any direction with this piece, but aim to write at least 250 words.

Bonus Prompt: Write about something in the news. Were you affected by the death of Robin Williams? Have you been following the events in Ferguson, MO? What’s in the news that you want to react to? This is your blog and a mirror of your thoughts, but remember that you have a wide potential audience, so show sensitivity.

Response to Kirp’s “Teaching Is Not a Business”

David L. Kirp’s “Teaching Is Not a Business” from today’s NYTimes makes common-sense arguments that we’ve all heard before about the ways in which business strategies have failed to improve America’s ailing education system. He doesn’t like market-driven solutions (merit pay, closing failing schools) nor does he like online or technology-driven solutions. Basically, he argues for more teacher training and more nurturing schools that support the whole child.

I’m a teacher, so I’m supposed to applaud this point of view, but I can’t give Kirp a full-throated cheer. He wants to keep teachers in classrooms and build their skills and experience, but he is against merit pay. To Kirp paying high performers more is too much like bonuses paid out in the for-profit business world, and he doesn’t think teaching equals business. Very well, but I’ve seen talented young teachers leave the profession because they could earn a lot more if they changed fields, and they didn’t feel well rewarded in a system that pays veteran teachers more simply because they are older. Human capital will go where it is rewarded, and although my fellow teachers are idealists who aren’t in education to get rich, they can only watch low-performing colleagues get paid more than them for so long.

Kirp begins his last paragraph with, “While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead.” What if the teachers are the futurists? In the Connected Educator movement, it is the classroom teachers who are eager to adopt new technology, and they eagerly envision a future in which tech helps us all achieve better outcomes. How does Kirp suppose that teachers will lead technological change if they are not “futurists”? Teachers are all futurists: we are in the human potential business.

I suppose I’m always irritated by ed-reform articles that make business the bad guy. We spend billions of dollars a year on education. Schools have budgets, employees, bosses, etc. These things sure look like the elements of a business to me. Deciding that some aspects of business are okay for schools (the kind of continuous improvement strategies that Kirp embraces) and others are not (merit pay) is arbitrary. Since his opinion piece presents little data, it is just another subjective screed. It succeeded in getting my mind working on a Sunday morning, but I don’t think it has advanced the discussion.

Sophomore Summer Blogging Prompts — Week 8

I can’t believe it is already Week 8! We’ll wrap up the synchronous path prompts next week.

Poetry Prompt: Read “What Work Is” by Philip Levine (p. 188-9). What are the themes of ths poem? What is it really about? Levine weaves together several themes, so make sure to identify at least two in your response. As always, a close examination of the language of the poem may help in your analysis.

Novel Prompt: Describe an example of symbolism from the novel you read/are reading. It could be an object that a character owns, something they wear, something they look at and think about during the course of the novel, etc. Explain what this object is and how it functions symbolically. What does it symbolize, and how does it come to have that symbolism? Are the characters in the book aware of the symbolism, or just the reader?

Bonus Prompt: Read this article from Bloomberg News about college athletes winning a lawsuit that will now allow them to get paid for playing sports for the first time. What do you think about this landmark decision? Should college athletes receive compensation beyond the scholarships they have traditionally earned?

Don’t be afraid to promote your writing by tweeting out a link to a post you are proud of, or posting it to Facebook, or emailing a link to someone, etc.