Increasingly dangerous links to click in public

•June 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After this post, I am going to go to sleep, because I have been awake for 22 hours.  This is unacceptable.

What you’ll find far more acceptable are three links I’d like to share before I vanish into–crap, I can already hear birds chirping outside.  That’s how you know you’ve been up too long.

First link!  Free Technology for Teachers!

This blog is a delightful collection of almost-universally useful technology that, as it says on the label, is free.  Possibly mentioned by my instructor or linked otherwise, I link it here because it’s been positively enlightening.  I found the opportunity to launch my grinning visage into the starry void on NASA’s time.  I can’t see how any kid with a drop of interest in science or space travel would leap for the chance to do this.

Second link!  http://grinding.be/ is a blog I’ve been reading for a while, but updates on the state of technology with excellent writing and style never hurt.  Do not link this to students or parents who are not okay with a mature use of swearing.  The blog has a sizable collection of posts on education, too.

Finally!  FINALLY!  One of my favorite authors and hackle-raising Englishmen is Warren Ellis.  Warnings of appropriateness for grinding.be go double-triple for Mr. Ellis, but you’ll not find a better source for fascinating art, commentary on comics (he writes a lot of very good ones), music, and culture.  Also, he will happily sell you a mug emblazoned with the phrase SPACE BASTARD.

Where do you get your New Stuff?  Your information and inspiration?  I’m tired of reading about websites devoted to lesson plans and such.  That’s a destination, the end of the line.  I want to know what you’ve seen along the way.  Show me something fun and relevant to teaching in the comments.

Afrofuturism

•June 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Watching Lady Gaga’s new video Alejandro, reminded of Janelle Monáe’s “Many Moons”, Deltron 3030 and Afrofuturism in general.

While I would love to write an exhaustive examination of Afrofuturism as a whole genre, I’ve been having some problems with scope lately in the projects I take on, so I’m going to force myself to reel it in.  I just completed a sample unit plan involving science fiction, and I wish I’d been able to include things like what I’ve linked above.  In my experiences in high school and college with science fiction, I was never even once exposed to the idea of a culturally non-white science fiction.

What Lady Gaga’s video does is involve gay culture rather forcefully in mainstream media, something I think an Afrofuturist author might have been trying to do for years.  Does it take a white twenty-something to make The Other hip?  What kind of message does that send to minority artists, authors, and creators?  I’m uncomfortable with the idea that there’s a whole lot of shutting-out going on.  Not because I feel guilty that I’m a Rich White Male, but because this is an aspect of my most hated foe: the Breakdown of Communication.

Anything that degrades the transfer of information and ideas is terrible.  It’s why I oppose certain rhetorical tactics and really why this bothers me so much.  How would you go about integrating alternative cultural aspects of established genres in your classroom?  Would you even do it at all?

Branching out

•June 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have been shown an interesting post on a blog I would not normally have read in the pursuit of teaching commentary.  My statistically significant other sent me the link, and I was surprised to see a commentary on teaching on a blog about statistics.

As in the mathematical field.

The article is short (and perhaps a little bitter), but it bears mentioning that we ought to look outside the standard NING/NCTE/NWP circles for relevant Web 2.0 communication.  Education affects everyone.  It’s not so surprising, then, that far-flung blogs might have interesting opinions on our field.

If you’re interested, here are some other related posts from the same blog.

Social norming and studies done on teenagers

Charter schools, norming, and zero-sum games

Finally, I will happily link anything that educates in a unique and engaging way.

Concerns about trust and job security.

•June 9, 2010 • 3 Comments

Honestly, I’m scared.

The cooperation or conflict with an administrator can make or break not only my experience as an educator, but my career—the course of my life!  This tenuous thread is going to concern me, it seems, for the duration of my participation in the American education system. A friend with experience in the field described to me how one of their colleagues was accused of impropriety with a student. Without inquiry, investigation, or even being asked about the event, the colleague was excused from his position as a teacher. He will never return to the field. Every effort he put into his career is not only negated, but now to be questioned as a possible means to an end of gaining proximity to children due to unsavory motivations. The student, so my friend informs me, invented the accusation as a way to harm the teacher, whom the student disliked. In the state where this occurred, the law demands the immediate dismissal of the teacher when any accusation is leveled for any reason.

I am meant to place my faith in system like this?

I refuse to accept the idea that “if you do nothing wrong, you won’t need to worry” because I know how cruel children can be. The rhetorical power of a “think of the children” argument will guarantee that laws like this remain in place, as arguing against them—even from sound, cautious, logical footing—is often positioned as antithetical to child safety. This is a false dichotomy. The binary is not “you’re either for child safety or you support endangering children.”

When I’ve discussed this story with peers and friends, I’ve been told that the union should have defended this teacher. I am early in my teaching education, so I feel little shame in saying that I have no baseline expectations yet for what a union should do at all, let alone in a case like this. I avoided pursuing my PhD in English because of the lack of job security involved in years as an adjunct professor.

I am looking for understanding and, ultimately, reassurance that this is a rare, nightmare scenario where the bonds of trust had completely disintegrated in the teacher/administration/student relationship.  If reassurance is impossible, and this is a serious and commonplace issue, then it is better to know my occupational hazards ahead of time.

All insight and experience is welcome.  I may not have presented my concern in the most elegant way possible, but I’m running on four hours of sleep, and I’m quite worried.

Giving the benefit of the doubt.

•June 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days thinking about what my eventual classroom practice is going to be like.  A few conclusions I’ve reached are:

  • No worksheets (better to do a custom-tailored writing assignment)
  • All assessment should involve synthesis of ideas on the part of the student (rather than something summative)
  • Find a way to make school worth the students’ time.

That last one is giving me the most trouble (in the best way).  I caught an article on Wired discussing aspects of intrinsic motivation and reward and a quotation jumped out at me.

“When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time.”

A big concern I have is student buy-in.  If I can’t convey the importance and relevance of the material to my students as well as my enthusiasm for the content, how can I even begin to teach?  The material for my classes constantly reiterates that assessment needs to be authentic and the student needs to be engaged, but offers little advice on specific techniques.  After reading the above article, I feel I now need to be cautious about over-sweetening the deal for my students.  I think, rather than constantly rewarding them for participation, I should find a way to intrinsically motivate them.  It’s a lot easier to steer when you’re not pushing the car, right?

Following this logic, the ideal situation would be one where each student was internally motivated to learn and complete their work.  It would seem that  rewarding or punishing the students with a grade is detrimental to creating a momentum of learning.  Therefore, a teacher would need to find a way to assess without making the grade either a reward or a punishment.

Yet if I step back for a moment and reread that, it looks like a load of crap.  How am I supposed to assess the student while neither rewarding nor punishing with a grade?  Deny the student access to their own grades?  Abandon the use of grades entirely?  The first smells like a violation of rights, and the second seems dangerously close to “What kind of tree would you be” territory.  And worst yet, what if the student simply doesn’t care about the material?  I might say that there’s a way to make any material relevant to any student, but that doesn’t sound solid enough a platform on which I can found a teaching philosophy.

The Wired interview offers some small respite from these questions:  “If you assume bad faith from the average participant, you’ll probably get it.” This suggests that students (or in this case, study participants) will take to the material if you treat them like they will.  Studies have shown that students who are treated as if they are academically talented rise to expectations, whereas students who are treated as if they are sub-par will fall to the expected level.  Perhaps this concept resonates with engagement as well as performance.

I invite your thoughts on the matter.

Thoughts on backgrounds, Personal Learning Networks, and why we learn

•May 26, 2010 • 2 Comments

I’ve started this blog post over four times, so I should just put something down and perhaps come back later.  I intend to use this blog as a sounding board for my experience learning to be a secondary English educator.  I might swear a little.

So far, it’s been a bit rough going, though tolerable–enjoyable, even.  My current course load has me in class from 8am 3pm.  It’s a bit like drinking from the fire hose.  The RSS feed from the English Companion Ning gets something like 150 updates per day.  It seems useful, but I’m occasionally overwhelmed by just how much material there is to absorb.  I almost wrote “consume”, but I am reminded by the excretory connotations of the word that there are no synonyms.  I’m not just digesting this material–I am meant to internalize it!  Instantly, if possible.  I believe I have a different background regarding education than most of my cohort members.  I graduated with a BA in English in May 2009, and these are my first classes that directly discuss education and pedagogy.  I often (as much as about one full week of classes can contain “often”) feel like they understand more than I do because they have more of a background than me in educational theory or practice.  Comments affirming or disproving this belief are welcome, if any of you read this.  I am incredibly, unspeakably eager to begin what I hope will be my life’s work, but I sometimes these first steps feel very intimidating.  Commiserate or castigate, but more data is good data.

I spoke to Jason Whitney today, my instructor for LL ED 420 (Adolescent Literature and Literacy), about how our Personal Learning Network is low-value/high maintenance to begin, but those ratios fairly quickly reverse.  He later lamented to the class that our 4 week summer curriculum isn’t really enough time to get a healthy PLN up and running (my words, not his).  I’ve been thinking on the utility of technology-based teaching tools (and, apparently, alliteration).  On one hand, I want to be able to meaningfully participate in the whole hive of buzzwords surrounding Web 2.0.  On the other, I question the legitimacy of such a multitude of intellectual tribes.  I can only ever speak for myself, but the idea of checking four or five different message boards for ideas and practices doesn’t resonate comfortably with me.  Why are there so many places to look?  Does it reflect a lack of consensus?  If so, how do I make an informed decision as to which source I choose to follow?  Is a lack of consensus even a bad thing?

Let us assume that a lack of consensus is not a bad thing, and in fact represents a living, scholarly community of well-meaning professionals engaged in meaningful discourse.  Where the hell do you start? I might answer my own question with “wherever you click first”, but that’s not very satisfying.  Underneath this line of questioning, a critical reader (dear reader: find something more worthwhile to read closely) may find a desire to “get it right”.  I’ll admit to that.  I should probably embrace this opportunity to take chances and make mistakes, but it’s going to take a bit of practice.  My previous classes have been very much transmission pedagogy-based, where the best answer could only be the correct one.  Honestly, I was okay with that.  I occasionally have a very utilitarian view of life, and knowing that a commonly accepted interpretation of a text existed made my life–well, I was about to write “more fulfilling”, but I find now I want to write “easier”.  That’s a little upsetting.

Self-discovery through revelatory blogging.

Where does that leave me?  Reaffirming my beliefs regarding education might be a good place to start.  Learning shouldn’t be easy.  It should be a brutal, bone-scraping journey which you are stronger for surviving and tremendously glad for having survived.  Anything less isn’t worth anyone’s time.

At least, that’s what I believe today.