Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another reason we can't pretend the outside world doesn't affect our students

This well-written essay by Latoya Peterson at Racialicious points out the reason our society has been unable to eliminate rape: the legal definitions of rape leave out "not-rape," the situations that would be hard to prosecute, even if girls felt they could report.

This phenomena is not particular to girls and women; there are boys and men who are victimized as well. If it's not about sex, then what is it?

As anyone who has sat through health class or a student safety inservice can tell you, the issue is power.

Our society continues to center power on people who abuse it. Companies that waste investor money, adults who take advantage of children, and politicians who pander to special interest groups teach our students that they don't have power and no one cares what happens to them.

What will we, as educators, do to change this? It's not our job alone, but we can't ignore the fact that the children who will lead the country tomorrow feel powerless today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fair Use Must Include Addressing Bias

I had planned to do some blogging tonight, but did not find myself inspired, so I thought maybe tonight would be (yet another) night with no entry.

Then I read this post, from Joel's So You Want to Teach:
If nothing else, this is a thought-provoking video. Perhaps a bit off-topic, in fact, I’m not even posting this to raise a political conversation. However, I would be interested in hearing from some of the social studies teachers out there. What kinds of things have you done to help your students overcome the ignorance of facts that these twelve interviewees demonstrate?

I worked hard to control my temper in my response:

Yes, as an English teacher I push kids to look at both sides of issues and consider the source of the information they view as fact.

My question for you is if you did the same before posting this video, which was funded by the RNC (not an unbiased source).

I had trouble controlling my knee-jerk reaction to this post–I was offended by the implication in the video (not addressed in your post) that Obama voters, in general, are ignorant.

Instead of writing a plain-old angry response, I did a little research online. The sample wasn’t of an appropriate size to truly address the question, the data is clearly biased (not addressing McCain voters with any of the same questions), and does not, necessarily address issues for voters at the polls (http://www.howobamagotelected.com/). The people voting weren’t voting for Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank, and the questions themselves were clearly biased.

Though the Wikipedia entry on John Ziegler is also clearly biased, it raises some important questions about his work, which seems biased even before getting facts on the matter.

I’m sorry to rant. My hope is that your question wasn’t meant to be as biased as I read it to be.

Thoughts and responses? I don't think I'm alone on this, but I welcome respectful dissention.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From the Land of Duh

Call me odd, but these headlines made me say, "DUH!"
Hat tip to the NCTE newsletter.

Fair Use Link Dump

This document, The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, is a long trip through some boringly written waters, but important.

Open source multimedia material is available at Wikimedia. I haven't been able to look at a lot of things, but it looks pretty wicked cool so far.

Cool Cat Teacher urges, "
Let's get kids out of Google Images and into Good, Free, Legal Photos."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The end of the term, for me, usually comes with a feeling of closure. Quarter 1 ended on Thursday.

Grades were due at 4pm yesterday.

I was at school grading, with help from amazing friends, until 6:30pm.

I don't feel closure, I feel exhausted.

Like my friend, and Dan, I'm having trouble finding the meaning. The last essay test I graded last night was plagiarized. Made me feel like an idiot for allowing the kids to prepare outlines before the tests.

On an up note, today third hour chose their novels for the novel unit. Even though there were three choices, the kids were pretty evenly split between two: Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye. This is the first time I've given kids choice on their big novel for the quarter, because I needed a change. I've taught A Separate Peace, a book I love, every year since I started at my school. It became stale. I wasn't having fun teaching it.

All this leads to a plea: if you have any ideas for teaching lit circle-style at the high school level, please leave me a note. I'm excited for the change, but also nervous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

History and Hope

I'm so overcome, I can only share ideas from others:

Will Richardson:

Doesn’t matter who you voted for, history was made last night. I, for one, am happy for my kids.

No matter how the impact of paper newspapers is declining, at moments like these, there’s still nothing like the front page of the paper, not the website, that gives me goosebumps. And in that vein, I’m cruising through the hundreds of covers from around the world at Newseum. Amazing.

Cristina Pippa at Crucial Minutiae:
There’s a 180-pound dog lurking upstairs, terrifying our 180-pound dog. He doesn’t eat as much or slobber on my books or even spill lattes on my computer, but Porter is convinced that he’s the scariest dog in town. Maybe that’s because he’s the biggest he’s ever seen. When he approaches this beast, Porter’s bony legs quake and yipes of fright escape his underbite. Why would I keep this monster around? Because I can’t catch him.

The phantom lab/mastiff lives in a full-length mirror in the hallway.

Why tell you about a dog’s neuroses? Because I wonder how we all might react when suddenly confronted with our own greatness. Our country stands before a mirror tomorrow. Late tomorrow night, we’ll see what we look like and what we’re capable of.

Follow the link to see the puppeh in question.

Epiphany in Baltimore:
She smiled. Then she said, "Well, you know what? I'm just so proud of white people. Cuz, you know, when Jesse Jackson was running a while back, I just voted for him because he was black. I admit it. Now I hear the crazy things he says and can't believe I'd vote for someone because of that. But you white people, you're not like that. You didn't vote for McCain just because he was white. I'm so proud of you! All you white people!"

"I'm proud of all of us," I said, grabbed my wine and headed back out into the drizzle while chuckling at the goofy, but happy, moment that had jut happened. I waited 2.5 hours to vote today, more than two hours longer than I ever have waited before, and sometimes in spitting rain. It felt good, though. Felt like I was making history. Felt part of a movement, which is one of the greatest feelings a person can have.

Ohio just went for Obama. Never before have I actually voted for someone with so little cynicism. Obama isn't perfect, but he's the leader we need right now.

Oh, Epiphany, Hallelujah! A friend told me about long lines, where they warned people how long they would wait, and they stayed in line. Church groups were meeting at the polls and and hugging and voting together. God bless this country and all the people who stood in line, sat in wheelchairs, strolled in and VOTED. As Will said, it doesn't matter which way they voted. It matters that they cared enough about the future to do something about it. And Cristina, I am so proud of what I saw in the mirror yesterday, and I can't see what's the horizon, but I think it's going to be good.

Finally, Dina shares more hopeful ideas, and quotes my hero, as well:
  • Every vote in New York is checked six times by equal numbers of unpaid members of the majority and minority parties.
  • Republican and Democratic commissioner alike for my county had hilariously snooty scorn to heap upon voting procedures in Florida. “None of that around here,” they sniffed. “You’re in line at 9 PM, you vote. Period.”
  • As a pollworker one can, in fact, accept orange juice and doughnuts bought by a bipartisan slush fund without compromising one’s integrity.
  • Write-in candidates for office in New York have more often included Mickey Mouse than Charlton Heston.[....]
  • Obama won.
  • The horizon leans forward,
    Offering you space to place new steps of change.
    Here, on the pulse of this fine day
    You may have the courage
    To look up and out upon me, the
    Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
    No less to Midas than the mendicant.
    No less to you now than the mastodon then.

    Here on the pulse of this new day
    You may have the grace to look up and out
    And into your sister’s eyes, into
    Your brother’s face, your country
    And say simply
    Very simply
    With hope
    Good morning

    ~ Maya Angelou

Le happy sigh. Don't miss xkcd's take on post-election let-down.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October Update

It seems that the month of October got away from me completely. I’ve been keeping up with reading my blog feed, but haven’t been blogging myself, which is a little frustrating to me.
October has been a pretty busy month. I think there’s been some sort of event happening every weekend. Even when those things are fun, like meeting with friends, they still take a lot out of me.

School has been pretty good. I’ve been procrastinating on my grading, but still getting things back to kids in a reasonable amount of time. Yesterday was a little tough: I collected research papers from the Regular 10 kids on Wednesday, but tripped and fell in the parking lot (ripped my work pants and my knee), so skipped grading that night for an early bedtime. Thursday night I only finished six after my visit with Erica Stephanie. Problem was, I was collecting two sets of research papers from Honors 10 kids on Friday. This Thursday is the end of the term, so time is of the essence. I managed to finish all the regular papers by the end of the day (maybe not as well as I would like), and a couple of kids stopped by after school to pick them up so they could rewrite over the weekend.

Today I’m going to try for the better part of one class set. Wish me luck.

In January, I’ll be going to LA with my buddy for IB training. I’m excited about learning more and becoming a better teacher, but a little scared about the amount of work being an IB teacher entails. I didn’t get to go on any of the school visits last year, so I’m feeling a little late to the party about knowing what really goes on in IB schools, as opposed to what the official line is.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Breakthrough

Yesterday in my 1st hour class, a majority of students aid they didn't think hate speech was a very big deal, and that "people just overreact." I was looking for a way to bring some of the ideas home to them, hopefully without bashing them over the head and turning them off completely. I started by asking them to think about the truth of the old adage about sticks and stones, then asked them to write about a time they felt picked on--something that stuck with them. The we walked through the images in the powerpoint.
I'm feeling much better after today's discussion, and thought some of you might find it valuable as well.
I'd love to talk about this with anyone if they would like. Please feel free to use it with your classes (Creative Commons license). Hate Speech Racism

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Hero's Story from 9/11

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Stephen Siller, a fireman from the Bronx, tried to cross into New York. When he reached the Battery Tunnel, he found it closed to auto traffic.
Stephen Siller loaded his firefighting gear onto his back and ran over a mile to the Twin Towers. He died there.
Yesterday, for the seventh year in a row, people (some from as far away as London) retraced his steps in the annual Tunnel to Towers Run. Firemen ran in their gear and people wore weighted backpacks. Proceeds from the run are given to charities for burn victims.

I sat in the car listening to the NPR story about Siller and crying. I can't fathom the depth of his call to do his duty. He left five children and a wife behind, which is heartbreaking. He also left his memory as an inspiration for what it means to care about people.

I spend a lot of time discussing the news with my students, talking about truth and analyzing sources. I give them articles about things they may not have considered, or possibly heard about before. We discuss hate speech and the genocide in Darfur. We discuss fallacies in political ads.

I think stories like Stephen Siller's are the most important, but I don't know how to teach them. Siller is the kind of person I want my students to grow into, the kind of person I would like to be. Sometimes I feel like the kids don't connect with these stories, or they blow them off. I'm stuck.

Friday, September 26, 2008

F is for Friday

Today was one of those days where I was on autopilot. The honors kids got the happy surprise that they would be practicing rather than presenting their speeches today. The got feedback from their critical friends on the text and then the presentation of their speech.
In regular, I've fallen sadly to the siren song of the textbook. It sings of specifically targeted vocabulary and nonfiction criticism and I cannot resist.
My fish Pete has been making the rounds as a kind of talking stick, and I'm still assessing the results. It seems a friendlier take than simply having the kids choose the next person to share their answers, plus they get a chance to throw something.
I finally finished all the bigger assignments the kids turned in this week, so I can catch up on some of the smaller things I've been carrying back and forth. I want to make sure the kids get feedback, even if it is late.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diving back into the conversation.

I was left slightly slack-jawed in admiration for Todd when he said he had allowed another teacher to tape his class and use it in a new teacher workshop.
As planned, the camera recorded the first 10 minutes of my Support class yesterday. My good-twin Laurie used it to great effect in her presentation on classroom management. I feel that I have very little during that period and so it would be a good thing for teachers-in-training to see. The critique would be valuable to me because I could try a few things out. A few ideas came of it and I put some to use today and things worked a little better.
That, my friends, is the kind of chutzpah that makes better teachers. The viewers, discussers, and participants all learned something because Todd was willing to put himself on the line.
Of course, it sounds like Todd was tougher on himself than those who saw the video. That's probably the mark of a good teacher: the need to push, to look for places to improve, to not settle.
But Todd, take the props, listen to them, and save them for a rainy day. Knowing you can improve doesn't mean you aren't already pretty excellent.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Blahs

The title might go a long way to explain my tone in this post. Consider yourself warned.
I feel like I've been working and working and I'm still behind. I can relate to Teach Baltimore's grading stash. I've got a pile of little things, plus today I collected kid's outlines for the Great Speech assignment, which they want back tomorrow. Interestingly, one of them actually said, "That's a really fast turn around" if they didn't get them back until Thursday to give the speeches on Friday. In case you were wondering, no, that does not mean it might be a fast turn around for me with 70 to look at.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Welcome back, friends.

I had a fabulous time with my third hour today. Truly glorious. We started out discussion prefixes--not always the most scintillating subject, but it segued into a discussion about Minnesotan dialect and dialects in general. Totally delicious, since this is the class that I've been trying to dance harder for since the first day.

On the other end of the spectrum is the meeting after school with one of the big dogs from Downtown. It was meant to be a discussion about moving to a 3x6 schedule for next year. The example schedule had kids down to only two trimesters of science and social by their junior year, and only two trimesters of world language.

Big dog wasn't very helpful. Questions from staff like, "have you asked students who have been through schedule changes how prepared the felt for college?" were dismissed. Even though the district mission is to be in the top 10% of schools and be exceptional, the big dog said he had long resented the NCAA's influence on education and made a comment along the lines of, 'and how many NCAA athletes come from here, anyway?'

So, not feeling respected or understood by downtown. In fact, feeling steamrolled and mistreated. Boo.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Persuasion and Magic Assignments

Today I had one of those "well, duh" flashes for an assignment that tied some reading the kids have done forever into the unit as a whole far more closely than before.

In honors Nonfiction, we've been working on persuasion, specifically the three types. We identified logos, pathos, and ethos in the Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail. They annotated the text as homework over the weekend and today they looked at the arguments in groups and picked what they believed where the top three arguments in the text, then identified and supported their top pick to the class. I love the buzz as they discuss the different examples and really pick them apart.

Following that, for the past couple of years I've had the kids read "Running for His Life" by Michael Hall and then we've discussed purpose afterward. I've been way off on my planning, timing-wise, so far this year and I thought we might have time to fit in reading and discussing the essay, but I was way off. I sent them off with the task to write up a paragraph analysis of persuasion and Hall's purpose, due tomorrow. DUH! Now they'll be prepared and accountable in the discussion tomorrow. Hooray!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Week 1

This week felt pretty good. I'm getting more smiles instead of just stares, and kids at the open house last night said that they are enjoying Of Beetles and Angels, which is a good way to start the term for them and me.

I'm so tired. Late nights waiting for my husband to get home from work have kept me from getting my eight. By the time I've danced through first and third hour as hard as I can, there's not much left by three o'clock, and I still have so much planning to do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Day Uno

I will admit that I did not start the day as my best self. I was sweating as I ran around chasing 10th graders to and from their orientation (couldn't be held until today because of the construction), sweating as I threw my seventh row into the other six (because I realized in the middle of last night that seven rows would mess up my plans for critical friends) as the newly orientated kids poured into first hour (after admin told us the kids wouldn't come to second hour), sweating as I tried to figure out what I was going to do with myself and the kids, sweating as I said bad words during my prep because my computer and phone were still out and my SMARTBoard was nowhere to be found.

My third hour stared at me. A lot. The first question was, "When is this class over?" As my friend-friend says, I danced harder, with little effect. We were all so hot it was hard to even think.

HOWEVER, my fourth hour was a hoot. I love having them ask me questions on the first day, and we had fun with it. They were a kick in the pants and left me smiling.

AND, the nice guy who tease-said he was setting up my room last week ACTUALLY came and set up my room today! Get my network connection working and I'll be in business!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I couldn't help myself.

more cat pictures

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Salary Discussion

I've heard the argument about teacher's salaries before. I know the camp that says teachers are underpaid no matter how much they make and I have a colleague who says you will never hear him complain about his salary because he makes $70,000 a year working only nine months a year. I also know my mom makes a little more than that working four day weeks eight and a half months a year--the corporate world has many perks.
I've been listening to the conversations about changes in teacher salaries, and releasing the step and lane system, and Dan's comments about Michelle Rhee make me feel nervous. I understand that there is a lot to gain when you look at the system one way--there's no doubt that a six digit salary is something to crow about. However, as a young teacher, I am extremely wary of cutting unions out of the process.
I like where I work, and I work there because I consciously chose the type of school. I wasn't built for urban schools, or for the country.
Where will this money come from over time? Is it possible that moving teachers around will leave successful schools with bald spots?
Part of what makes me successful is the people I work with. We collaborate, we discuss, and we make each other laugh. Without my support system, I might lose some of my oomph.
I want to know more, and like some of Dan's commenters, I'm just glad I can watch from afar for awhile.
There are problems with the current system, but I'd like to see more different ideas across the board before we embrace one idea.

Everywhere I look

I started off noodling about a bit, I will admit it. I've been commenting on edublogs, reading edublogs, looking at wedding photos, reading trash and not so trash (if you haven't read Carl Hiassen, get on it.), but studiously avoiding:
So, what's a girl to do?

Get wicked distracted by the goodness a friend of hers has cooked up. One of the 23 Things is Del.icio.us, and then I read Todd Seal's post about noting with Google Reader, quickly followed by another post on Del.icio.us! Oh my! Clearly the only answer is to spend too much time puttering with my tags.

Then I read Scott McLeod's post about Moving Forward's wiki page needing a boost. Oh, my goodness. The wikis listed there are so awesome that I've been up all night getting mine more in line with what I want, which I can see more clearly because I've seen some good examples of what is possible (hmm, classroom application to assessment much?).

Excitement afoot.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Not so fully formed

Thanks to Scott McLeod for this metaphor:
Most schools currently expect students to somehow (maybe magically?) be responsible, successful digital citizens upon graduation from high school - able to navigate all of the intricacies of a digital, global world - despite having little to no opportunity to learn or meaningfully practice what that means during their 12+ years of schooling. Continuing my analogy from my previous post, we have to stop pretending that students are like Athena, able to burst forth fully-formed from the head of Zeus (or the cocoon of schools), ready to successfully function in a complex adult world without prior practice or experience.
I think it's easy to fall into this trap, especially at the high school level. We think (and sometimes say), "You should have learned this in junior high," and we're put out about having to re-teach/teach something we feel should have already been been taught to mastery. This isn't what's best for kids, it's not research based, but we get so tied to the idea of staying on schedule (especially on the four period day) that we become blinded to that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Getting Ready

Vicki Davis has started her school year off with a bang, teaching kids how to use iGoogle, Jott, Google Calendar and Remember the Milk to keep themselves organized and take control of what they have to do. I love this idea, and I'm wondering how I can best do this for my kids when I usually have at least one in any given class without home internet access.
Vicki is also teaching the kids how to use their cell phones as a tool to help them keep track of their work. I'm not sure about this for myself. Our policy is very strict and I know from a friend's experience that even asking to go around rules leads to unpleasant response from administration.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.

I decided that Rabbi Hillel's quote, which I try to remember when I'm having trouble smiling at my kids, is appropriate as I try to process what happens in my classroom and what I'm thinking about.

You can check out previous posts here.