Monday, March 28, 2011

Aligning (myself) to the standards

UPDATE: Fixed the Kohn link.

Here's yet another "grad-school-response-turned-blog-post":

Here is the assignment:
Classroom Activity:  With your students, identify a state standard the class needs to achieve within the year.  Next, identify what the smaller goals (or benchmarks) the students will need to be able to achieve in order to meet the standard.  As a group, brainstorm ways that the class is addressing this through classroom activities, assessments and student performance. Finally, make a plus delta chart and group the brainstormed ideas according to their effectiveness, in two separate vertical columns. The Plus/Delta chart gives students the opportunity to share what they thought was good about an activity (plus) and what they would change in order to improve the activity (delta). 
Writing Activity: Write an informal one-half page reflection on the classroom activity assignment by answering these three questions (cut and paste the questions and answers into the body of an e-mail and send to your instructor).

  1. What did I realize that I am doing well regarding curriculum alignment and assessment?
  2. What could I do more effectively based upon the students’ responses?
  3. How would utilizing the “backward design” approach align lesson plans and assessments?

Include in your reflection, any new ideas and/ or significant insights you gained from the modules and websites.
To be honest, I did not do this activity with my students. The main reason? I am currently caught up in pushing my juniors to excel on the Regents, the NY state ELA assessment in high school. I don’t have the time to sit them down and ask how they feel about the standards, etc. I can predict their answer: A) whatever, we don’t care or B) what are standards?

I found Alfie Kohn’s article to be the most interesting, informative, and thought-provoking, and that is the one Must See site that goes against all the others...he argues for the vaguest possible standards, and I tend to agree. While I respect the need to ensure that as many children as possible receive an equitable education, I do not like the rigid conformity being imposed upon us as teachers. So far, no has told me which book to teach and which not to. If I “miss” a book one year (i.e. The Great Gatsby last year), no one slaps my wrist. I consider myself lucky.

The current NY state standards are quite vague (at the top level). They focus on listening, reading, writing and speaking for a variety of purposes (there are 4 total). Of course, each one has A LOT of “sub-standards” (the irony in the pun is too good to pass up). But, on that top level, I can say that I “align” myself with those standards. For instance, during a structured group work activity, students ARE, in fact, speaking and listening for social interaction. And, by writing a compare/contrast essay, students ARE, in fact, reading and writing for critical analysis and evaluation.

But how do you “assess” speaking for social interaction? I mean, it’s part of my job, but no one tests the students on how well they communicate with their peers.

I’m only partially serious here - I don’t expect to have to grade student conversations - in fact, if I had to, I might just vomit. But the case do you assess these standards? Let’s look ahead to next year: the Common Core College and Career Readiness standards (the alliteration is SO c-c-c-cool). We are being told that we have to start modifying our curricula to meet this new set of “national” standards (not all states have climbed aboard this crazy train yet). And the best part? No one knows what the test looks like yet.

Now, the standardized test purist may argue that is a good thing - your job is to ensure the student meets a particular benchmark at a particular time in his or her life - and you don’t need a test to do that. Sure. Of course not. Thank you, Bill Gates.

Let’s jump back to the Regents exam - the main essay (and now the only one) is called the Critical Lens essay. Students are given a quote which they must interpret, choose two works they have read (not necessarily in school), and discuss how each work fits with their interpretation of the quotes. Oh, and did I mention the need to focus on the use and effect of literary techniques?

The essay is tough, but I’m not sure it’s good. First: there is little interaction between the texts - most students write a 4 paragraph essay (intro, body, body, conclusion). Second: when will students ever write this essay again? I have a BA and an MA in English, and I have NEVER had to write that sort of essay, asking to focus on that type of detail, without supporting materials (the primary or secondary texts, at a minimum).

And, dare I ask: how is a standard maintained when each student can choose different texts? How do you objectively assess that? The simple answer is you don’t. A previous administrator once informed us we should not be spending more than 1 minute per essay, as they had only allotted us 3 hours to grade 800 essays. Yeah. THAT sounds objective.

So, back to the question of HOW I “align” myself - I do my damndest to ensure my students have the skills they will need to pass the test. We do the sample essays, peer reviews (with them using the scoring booklets), format reviews, etc. But I also want them to learn beyond the test. So I do a lot of creative work, different types of essays, etc. I cannot justify teaching ONE type of essay, for I do not have ONE type of student.

Now, I CAN see using this sort of activity in the beginning of the school year. It makes sense to me to introduce the standards at that point and create a class “checklist” of sorts to keep track of class progress. That would be helpful in getting students involved and would be great to keep referring back (and/or adjusting) as the year passes by. That is something I could see myself utilizing next September, especially as we embrace (lovingly?) the Common Core standards - at a minimum, I will be able to remind myself of what the standards are.

And, for backwards design - I have already started purchasing books on that topic. I plan to use part of my summer to see if I can re-invigorate my lesson planning (it is a bit stale right now) and take advantage of that research. It makes sense to me in the abstract, but I need to make it real. I need to rethink a lesson and see what I really want, and what I am really asking.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Increasing writing skills in students

Hey's been a while since I've blogged, but life's been hectic here lately. I have a number of posts planned (all on my SpringPad notes), and I hope to get them out to you soon.

In the meantime, I just typed an assignment for one (of my three) grad classes I am currently taking, and figured it would work here as well. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, etc.

I did not select ONE particular student, as I can really pick ANY of my students’ pieces and discuss strengths and weaknesses (one of the “perks” of being an English teacher, I guess). In general, I find that my students can usually respond to a specific task well, but they have a hard time when I remove those supports. Students are pretty good at plot events, but not so good with the higher analysis of literary elements and effects (combining reading and writing skills). Students are pretty decent about getting an idea across, but struggle with the syntax (i.e. “good ideas, bad execution”).

After reviewing the pages in the book and reading some of the websites, I started thinking about things I could do NEXT year to help improve student writing across ALL my classes. These are the two I plan to implement: portfolios and creative writing (something that wasn’t in the text). I also picked up on an interesting grading strategy: “Mondays for comments.” I currently teach juniors and seniors.

For the portfolios: Some context is needed here. My department chair instituted writing folders for all English students a few years back. The purpose of these folders is to collect student writing over the course of their high school career, and the folders follow the students each year to their new class. I have always struggled with finding a way to use (or make use of) these folders as part of my teaching. One big reason is that I have not made them part of my “routine” yet.

This past summer, I planned to use them full-force. I created ideas (note the abstraction) upon ideas about reflection sheets and processes, etc. And etc. And etc. These ideas were just that - ideas. They never made it past the proverbial drawing board, and never say light of day in my classroom. The folders gather dust in the back of the room.

Next, year, year, I plan to actually use them. After reading the section on portfolio assessment and having recent success with a new activity in class that required a lot of personal reflection on their part, I have decided to do it. Here’s my basic plan:

  • First few days of school: gather all the folders and devote a period to letting the students peruse their previous work. I will create a “note-taking” sheet that allows them to gather their thoughts, etc., about their work, and the first writing piece of the year will be a reflection that looks to the past AND the future (i.e. here’s what I’ve done, here’s what I want to do).
  • ALL student writing will be placed into the writing folder throughout the year
  • EACH QUARTER students will have a “quarterly” reflection on the status of their writing. They will have class time to thin out their folders, select the work they are most impressed with, and write about it.

I believe that writing about their personal process will help them understand that writing is just that - a process. And a major part of the process is to look backward before looking forward - you need to review and revisit what you’ve already done in order to proceed and progress on new work.

For the creative writing: I’ve recently been inspired by high student-interest in a creative assessment I developed (with help from others, of course) for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Students have just finished reading the novel and are currently watching The Breakfast Club in class. They will write an analytical essay comparing and contrasting the two works in class (the “Critical Lens” for those NY folk), but I didn’t want to just leave it there. I did some brainstorming with my colleagues and came up with this creative assignment. Not everything is written, to take advantage of multiple learning styles, but a written component is required for at least half of the work.

The reason I bring this up is two-fold: first, when I reviewed the assignment yesterday in class, students seemed genuinely excited, something I have not seen for a long time. The questions that bubbled up turned this into a 30 minute discussion of HOW they could do the work, something I did not expect, but did welcome. Second, I was reminded on something I already knew - creativity is interesting. It emboldens the writer and facilitates flexibility in both ideas and words. I strongly believe that increasing the number of “creative” works will increase the level of interest and skill in a struggling writer. Finding success in a “different” form of writing will, hopefully, carry over into their “normal” writing. Confidence can be a powerful motivator.

The final idea I got from the text is more for me, as teaching writing (i.e. grading writing) is difficult for me, and attempting to do it well take A LOT of time (and, to be honest, I am not sure how well I am doing it). The concept of “Mondays for comments” is intriguing to me. Here’s the basic idea: (assuming the assignment is due on Monday) any paper handed in on Monday will get comments written on it; late papers will only get a number grade (again, I reference Tom Schimmer's post on eliminating late penalties - perhaps this is the "balance" I was looking for). I can see how this has the potential to speed up the grading (and returning) of papers, as I think we all find ourselves in the quagmire of being burdened with too much grading. The problem, of course, is getting the proper feedback to the students in a timely manner. To extend this system, I might develop a “code” that a student could write on his/her paper if they WANT to receive comments - that way the interested and motivated become part of the process; for the others who do not want comments (these are the students who receive a paper back, with my comments, and time, all over, and simply throw it in the recycling bin). With this sort of system, my time is freed up, the students who WANT the extra feedback get it, and anyone else is free to attend extra help to discuss their grade.  (To the readers: is this educationally sound?)

I feel that these are things I can institute next year with a modicum of planning and preparation on my part - it is more about forming a habit for myself. If I can make it routine, I believe the students will benefit.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stumbling Into Project-Based Learning (Guest Post)

UPDATE: The link asks for a login - I asked Susan to modify the permissions and will update again once it is open to everyone.

UPDATE: Susan's post has been copied and pasted below...

My colleague, Susan Phalen, asked if she could use this space to broadcast her recent experience with Project-Based Learning in her AP Lang class. The project focuses on attempting to persuade the school administration to institute homework-free periods throughout the school year (as inspired by Race to Nowhere). FYI, Susan and I sat next to each other at the RTN viewing last month, and were equally inspired, I think (that was one of my initial posts...).

So, fellow educators, please read Susan's guest post. You may leave comments here or DM her @msphalen.


{Begin Guest Post: "Stumbling into Project-Based Learning, by Susan Phalen}

Every year in my AP Language & Comp class we read Emerson and Prose on education.  We talk about John Holt's “How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading.”  This year, we went together to see Waiting for Superman and, a few months later, Race to Nowhere.  My students were galvanized by seeing their L.A. counterparts onscreen suffering from the same overload and stress that they deal with every day.  “It doesn't exaggerate one bit!” they told me.  “We never get enough sleep, we're always behind, and we're exhausted.  We make ourselves sick—but we won't take off from school.”  I'd overheard enough student conversations to know that this was no more than the truth.

Back to the classroom, where I prepared to move on to the next unit of study.  They, however, could not stop talking about what they saw as a change whose time had come.  “We should write a letter to the principal,” they said.  “Ask him for a homework-free weekend once a month.”  Aha!  I thought.  A writing opportunity with a real-world application.  “Sure,” I said.  And we were off.  They paired up a few weeks ago and I had each pair propose our idea in one paragraph using a different rhetorical mode:  definition, exemplification, narration, cause/effect, process analysis, and so on.  We figured that we would combine the best parts of all of them and see how it worked.

I had not reckoned with the the sheer energy and drive this group would bring to the table: “We should survey the student body so the principal doesn't think it's one little group of AP students complaining,” Shelby said.  “Use Survey Monkey, it's free,” Elyse advised.  “And get the word out on FaceBook,” Nikki agreed.  “Hey, Ms. Phalen, can we have some class time to write survey questions?”  Startled by the speed with which this letter was gaining momentum, I said “OK.”

Realizing that they were now designing a presentation, they thought about next steps.  After all, if Ms. Phalen was letting them use class time, they were clearly in charge on this one.  What would persuade more people of the validity of their idea?  Shelby had, in another class, successfully lobbied our school board by showing up en masse at a board meeting.  It was natural that she would suggest we present our proposal to the board in, say, three weeks?   “Dress up, everyone!” she ordered.  Madhuri, the senior editor of the school newspaper, decided that our proposal would form the center story of this month's issue.  “Ms. Phalen, we definitely need some more class time.”  Alarmed, I started revising my lesson plans for the week.  “Uh, guys?”  I said.  “I still need you to take that test soon, OK?  How is—uh, how is Monday for everyone?”

They took the test Monday, then on Tuesday got back down to business.  They realized that their case would be stronger for some data (“Logos, everybody!”), so they did some Internet research on homework and spent another day sorting and evaluating it.  The survey results started to come in and they realized that seniors were over-represented.  Monica, alarmed, said “We need more sophomores, you guys!  Who knows some sophomores?”  Finally we were ready to combine everything we had into one Google doc that we could edit together in real time in our Writer's Lab.

I could not imagine how this next step would work.  I pictured mass confusion and no accountability, with (by conservative estimate) half the class checking out to chat about the upcoming weekend.  So I asked a few questions before we left the room:  1. What will be our main organizing mode?  2.  Can we please diagram our claim and list our reasons (support)?  3.  What tone and register will be most effective?

These questions led us to list the modes we needed to accomplish the various tasks of the proposal:

At that point they were ready  to pair up and take on specific pieces of the project.  Mahsa, Rebecca, and  Emily  immediately took on the organizing of the whole; Elyse and Shelby decided that since the survey was their baby, they would analyze the findings and figure out where and how to insert them.  Monica said that she would write up the objections our proposal was sure to encounter so that we could preemptively address them.  Sophia and Caroline, who didn't know right away what task they should do, looked at me for directions.  I looked back and (for once!) realized that I should NOT be the Answer Lady on this one.  I asked “What task can you see that we still need to do?”  They looked blank.  Alexandra said, “Sophie, you could write the narrative that's supposed to open the piece.”  Sophia's face lit up.  “I can do that!” she beamed.  Caroline said “I can help Madhuri write the exit poll questions for the teachers who are going to see the film next week.”  One by one, they had figured out what parts they wanted to own.

That was Friday.  Once we got upstairs to the Writing Center, they spent the period working intently, more deeply engaged than than I had seen them in a long time.  They came to me only when they hit a snag.  Elyse announced, dramatically, “We have a problem.”  Turned out that they needed to buy a membership to Survey Monkey so that they could get all 200 survey responses analyzed (I put the $25 on my credit card rather than hold up the project; they immediately passed a hat around and handed me $17) and once the organizing crew wanted my feedback.  Mahsa said worriedly “Does this look right to you?”  I looked at their diagrammed proposal and said, “Yes, it looks fine to me but, honestly, we just won't know if it works until we read it in draft.  We can always change it if it's not right.”  That's all they needed from me: reassurance and permission to proceed while still unsure of the outcome.

At this point I'm clear about only a few things:  I didn't plan this into being—I did support it with structure and class time and then successfully stayed out of its  way.  They probably won't be this single-minded every day, even on a project of their own choosing.  And, finally, I don't know how to repeat this process with my other classes.  Given that time-management skills are my current Waterloo, repeating this may not even be what I do next.  But I do know that I want more of this, please.  I'm still orbiting the planet with how cool it felt to be in a room with other engaged workers instead of with obedient and dutiful students.

I see too that project-based learning cannot be one size fits all.  This project is working for this group, this year; I will not expect next year's class to get hooked by the same thing.  Part of what energized them this year was the element of kairos—the right word at the right time.  The newly-released documentary we saw was the catalyst for them.  I can't know now what will hook the next group.  However, I can let the next class know that a group project is an option for them too.  I can stay alert to the signs of excitement when they show up.  I've had beginner's luck, but if I start now to research what other teachers and schools do with project-based learning, I will have a few more strings to my bow ready for the next opportunity.

This is an interim report.  In a few weeks, I hope to write about the presentation and publication of our class's proposal and to reflect on the incredible energy that becomes available when students sense that they can affect our big, frustrating, illogical adult world where—let's face it—everything real gets done.

Note to self:  This, this is why kids love the sci-fi novel Ender's Game.  Not because it's a real-life version of a video game but because in it, smart kids design and execute brilliant strategies that SAVE THE WORLD.  That's what our students want to do too.  They know—as we know—that it needs saving.  And that adults aren't doing it very well by themselves.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blogging in the classroom

I've started a GDoc with some colleagues regarding some ideas about how to begin using a blog with students (juniors and seniors, in this case). The link should allow anyone with the link to edit, so feel free to  leave your thoughts there, or just comment below.

Thanks in advance!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Totally infowhelmed - TeachMeetNJ 2011 rocked!

(even though I only got a half-day...had an afternoon engagement to get home for)

This is a decompression post: Pete (@pete_rodrigues) and I spent the morning at TeachMeetNJ, 2011 (#tmnj11). It was my very first "un-conference," and I was blown away. I met and spoke to a number of educators I follow on Twitter (@tomwhitby) and met a whole lot more (@andycinek, @butwhat, @kdwashburn). The concept of the PLN blending back and forth between the Twitterverse and reality was great (interesting moment when I realized I knew the virtual person but did not realize that I sat close to him for an hour in the previous session...).

There is no rhyme or reason to this, just the mandatory brain dump. If I don't do this, I will lose it all...

First session: Designing Teaching & Constructing Learning, by Kevin D. Washburn (@kdwashburn). Focused on the "learning brain," and was inspiring. (Here is the handout he used.)

  • He took us through the core processes of learning: new data, labeling/sorting, attaching to prior knowledge, and application.
  • Discussed the brain's downtime (formula is +/- 2 added to the child's age; i.e. a 16 year old's brain has a 14-18 min window before it literally "turns off" for necessary downtime). For more info he suggested reading How The Brain Learns, by David Sousa
Student brains will take downtime if you plan for it or not. If you plan for it, you can use it to your advantage.

  • Kevin has a book out, The Architecture of Learning, which I received a free copy of. I am really excited to read it, and will devote future posts to what I find. 
  • Old School Tool: index cards. By having students write info on index cards, they can literally sort (and resort) the information. This aids retention. For instance, I could have students list conflicts as they rise and fall throughout a novel. One day, we can sort by plot order (when the conflict occurred in the story). The next day, we can sort by importance, using the same information. I was thinking of extending this into a group setting, where each group is responsible for one type of info (i.e. symbols, etc.), and the groups would have to continually reshuffle the info as we progress through the book. This can be displayed on some sort of wall chart etc. (still using the index cards).
  • When we prepare lessons, we do the brain learning we will ask our students to do when we teach the lesson. By the time we teach it, it makes sense, because we have found the data, classified and organized it, considered its value, etc. This is a nice perspective for me to latch on to when I am frustrated - of course it makes sense to me...I made it! Also opens my mind to considering further steps I might need to take to help my students make their own connections.
  • A lot of what we do in the classroom is verbally based - utilize non-verbal forms to challenge and engage them (the non-verbal/spatial part of the brain may be under utilized in certain content areas).
  • Practice without feedback is not helpful. Kevin said that this was the one thing we should all do more often and more consciously - using constant formative assessment to guide students to "proper" learning.
  • Summarizing is a powerful tool. Here's an idea for a daily closure, written in a student's notebook.
Ask them to "fill out" this form: 
List three things you remember/did/liked/didn't like (insert verb here);   
"I learned"; 
"I think"; 
"I plan to" 
I discussed this with Pete on the ride home, about how we can improve students' metacognitive abilities. This might be one easy way.
  • I believe Kevin referenced Gloria Houston (sp?) as having done some excellent work on summarizing
  • You need to "own the downtime"

Second session, "Ways to Grow Professionally"
An excellent conversation about what we as educators have to do (not "can do"). We no longer have a choice, as the tech is there, the kids are there, and we need to be there. That, or be left behind. (FYI: notes and quotes from this one are on my twitter feed.) We also made a Google Doc that captured most of what was discussed.

Andy Marcinek's talk of the "back channel" opened my eyes up as well. The literally idea was using something like Twitter that can capture what is happening during a lecture that you, as the teacher, may not be aware of. For instance, while we were in our round-table, Any projected the stream from the conference (#tmnj11) using Monitter. As we were talking, we could see thoughts and ideas from the rest of the sessions. Some of them made their way into our own conversation. That is fairly powerful collaboration, even if it is/was unintended.

On a more philosophical note, the concept of the back channel happening in our students' brains as we talk away is what grabbed me. I can "visualize" what a Twitter stream of my students' brains might look like: I am pretty sure it would fly by super fast, and I'm pretty sure my "Teacher Tweets" would be few and far between (and certainly not trending). Of all the things a student thinks about, I am pretty sure my teaching is not the most pressing.

So, my question is simple: how do we tap into that back channel? How do we utilize what is there and blend it with the content and skills we need to teach? How do we make our "Teacher Tweets" stay at the top of the list, and not get lost in the Twitterverse?

There is SO much more spinning around my head right now...great conference, great experience, and great people.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Differentiating my classroom

Hello fellow educators. I face a dilemma, and would like to use some info that is new to me to address it. I would also like some feedback (hopefully) before implementing (which could be as early as Monday).

Here is the situation: I teach a semester Senior English class, Struggles of Humanity (the running joke is the  class should be called Struggles of's only half-funny). I don't have a set curriculum, and my dept. chair gave the freedom to "do what I want, as long as they learn." Both a blessing and a curse, cast down on me (borrowing the line from The Gaslight Anthem song, "Red at Night." I know, shameless plug).

I have no state exam to worry about (NY Regents is taken in junior year), and I have the freedom to tackle any concept in literature that deals with a struggle that humankind has faced. That translates to, well, anything.

On the flipside, we don't necessarily track our students in senior year, so the range of abilities is immense. Last semester, I had a number of students above the 100% mark (they went beyond every assignment I brought to them) and I had 4 students fail below the 30% mark (lowest mark in one quarter ...7%). It is both a dumping ground and a melting pot.

Now, to my newest group of students. We are 1 month into the semester, and I don't know my students. Oh sure, I have their names down and I taught a few of them last year, but of the 25 students staring back at me, I don't know who they are and where they are (in life, etc.). And, it's not from a lack of me trying. Or, more reflectively, it IS from a lack of me trying - because I'm not trying the right way.

They are simply (or not so simply) apathetic. When I say they are silent, I mean it. I have a had a few courtesy giggles in a given period. That's it. I was discussing this with a veteran colleague yesterday, and his reply was "quiet, just the way I like 'em." He was only half-joking.

I don't want quiet. I don't want status quo. I sure as hell don't want apathy. (Even my horrible pun, which I repeat every year and still giggle at, didn't elicit a response: "Give me apathy! Or give me something else." Attribution, anyone?)

Most of the class needs to pass the class to graduate. I have concerns about some already, who have been late with assignments (@TomSchimmer - I'm still the "10% per day" guy, though I haven't stopped thinking about your "Lose the 0" post a few weeks back).

Last week, our PDT presented a short video about Differentiated Instruction (see my post about teacher reactions). In the video, the teacher had three different levels of assignments: straight ahead, uphill, and mountainous (a loose paraphrase would be easy, medium, hard, I guess). I have been thinking about how to utilize this thinking in my classroom. When I looked at my seniors, thought of the differentiation, the two seemed to meld.

Here's my plan:

  • Divide the class into two possible groups: straight ahead and mountainous (I will modify the names later)
  • When each student arrives, he/she needs to choose what they feel like doing that day...they get to choose how their learning will be structured.
  • If a student chooses the "easy" task, he/she will go to the back of the room and will be asked to do individual seat work. He/she may not participate in the day's lesson, unless he/she switches to the "challenging" task - then he/she may join the conversation.
  • For assessment, here's my thought: I will create a checklist of required work for the quarter, and each student must hit the minimum requirements. If a student consistently choose the "easy" assignments, he/she will be turning in MORE assignments of STANDARD quality work. On the flipside, the students who choose the "challenging" assignment would hand in FEWER assignments of a MORE CHALLENGING quality. 
Here is my big question: Is this educationally sound? 

The vision I have is that a small number of students who want to participate will sit near the front initially, and we will have conversations, etc. This will allow me to "teach" those who "want" to be taught. And, hopefully, the numbers will shift based on what the "easy" students see the "challenging" students doing. 

I am asking students to complete this survey over the weekend so I can get their feedback on this type of system. I doing this for them, or for me? Is this an attempt to fix a problem using the wrong tool? Since DI is such a new concept to me (as a practical resource), I want to make sure I do not misuse it. I also hope to bring this up at the Teach Meet NJ conference tomorrow morning (#tmnj11).

I would truly appreciate any feedback. And I know it's a long post, so thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Ills of Social Networking

I might have faux-pax'd - I engaged enraged Britney Spears fans in a contest of wits on Twitter...and might have lost.

As I sit here, decompressing from this afternoon's Teamsters' Local 455 Rally, I looked through my hundreds of tweets and saw a trending tag: #tilltheworldends. Out of curiosity, I clicked.

And immediately saw my mistake.

The battle scene I stumbled upon is tough to describe. Smoke filled the air. The screams and anguish of the wounded were a constant hum in my ears. And the fallen. Oh, the fallen.

The war waged on, intensifying with each Twitter Tweet update. 3, maybe 4 second go by, and there are 20 new Tweet soldiers ready to fight to the death.

This is no ordinary war, though. It is a multi-front extravaganza. We have the die hard Britney fans, who keep sending reinforcements to prove that #TillTheWorldEnds in not a fill in the blank thingy, but is, in fact, her new album. (As if that improves anything?)

Then we have the Bieber-fans. It seems we are gearing up for a Britney-Bieber show off, the pop-queen-that-was and the pop-queen-that-is, until the stoners enter the battle (somewhat confused). Their attack is one-sided, consistent, and constant, as if the only thing the stoners can do is click "retweet." Their battle cry (dry-throated-cough?):

"Ima smoke WEED #tilltheworldends."

And the battle rages on....

(oh crap, 156 new tweets...)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Can you insert a table in a blog post?

Col 1 test Col 2 test
row 2 test

If you handcode it...yes!

An interesting intersection...

Three things happened today that gave me pause. Three things that are disparate in nature, yet somehow linked in my mind. Three things I have not been able to let go of...

The first moment happened in my classroom (twice) earlier in the day. In the midst of trying a whole lot of new ideas and methods of teaching for my juniors (which they are actually excited about), my senior classes tanked. I stopped mid-class to ask the class "Do you care about this topic?" Both times, the honest answer was "no." I stopped the lesson and tried to move to something of more interest (something I would not have considered two weeks ago).

We had our monthly faculty meeting this afternoon. Our senior building rep asked for a few minutes at the start of the meeting to address the membership on two points: unions are under attack, and we all need to get involved. Now. The second most-senior rep stood and addressed the younger teachers with a heart-felt plea: get involved in the conversation or get left behind. As a building rep, I was pleased to hear these words spoken to all, as we do not have enough unity in our building.

Moving on, we had a quick video presentation by our Professional Development Team (PDT), and we then broke into small groups for discussion. Our PDT team is an effort for teachers, by teachers. An effort to share our knowledge with our colleagues in the hopes of rising the bar for all. In this age of budget cuts, we turn to our own for help. We turn to our own to get by and to get better.

In these small groups (about 10-15 teachers), the question was posed: how can we utilize differentiated instruction in our classrooms, and does it seem to be a valuable technique? (I paraphrase here.) And the teachers were not impressed. Their reactions sank to the negative:

  • Why should we try to change?
  • I just don't see how this can work
  • How does admin expect us to do something they want while making our jobs more difficult?
  • I can barely cover the curriculum can they expect more from me?
  • They talked about this 10 years ago...where did it get us then.

Now, the climate in our building is not an overly positive one, and many teachers just "shut the door and teach." Dare I say, the climate in America right now is not favorable to public education in general. Their reactions were understandable. But not, I feel, justifiable.

This is not an admin manifest: differentiate or feel the wrath of the system! The PDT (started by teachers, run by teachers...NOT admin) chose the topic of differentiation based on teacher feedback (a quick, online survey). This is teachers helping teachers. An attempt, grass-roots style, at unity. A few brave teachers willing to stand up and say, "Yes, I can help."

I brought up these ideas to my group (I was trying to further the cause of PDT, not undermine it). My colleague, Pete Rodrigues, has taken me under his wing on my quest to develop my own PLN, and the links between what I have discovered in the last two weeks and the negative reactions I observed today are crystal clear.

If teaching has taught me anything, it is that stasis equals death. The stagnant teacher is not an effective one. The cloudy mirror of habit does not improve our lot (speaking as one who is, uh, trying to "polish" the glass...). I have made it a personal and professional goal to be reflective in all that I do. I have attempted to squash the ego. I am comfortable making mistakes, for that is where learning happens (a philosophy I hope to develop in my students).

Sure, there is a ton wrong with education today. But what is each one of us doing about it? I can't think ten years ago...I can only think tomorrow. What can I do tomorrow to improve? Can I change a thought? A reaction? A belief? A student? A future?

Be the change you wish to see. Get involved. Stay connected. We must be unified in the conversation that is about to occur, or we will all be left mute and hand-tied in the darkness.