Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category


Ten Reasons To Consider Writing A Teaching And Learning Blog (Reason Zero: You Can List The Main Points Of Your Presentation In An Easily Accessible Format That Also Illustrates Your Topic)

April 22, 2011

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether people do. • B.F. Skinner (1969), Contingencies of Reinforcement

I am presenting at an educational technology summit today and although I have a handout with examples, I also wanted to illustrate the use of a blog in some related way. As I was working on something else, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was write a post that listed the main points I’ll be covering. I’ll have something to show and I’ll also be creating an outline for the presentation (and yet another reason to “consider writing a teaching and learning blog”). Ain’t life grand?

Here are my ten reasons to consider writing a teaching and learning blog:

1. You Can Embed Class Assignments In Your Posts

2. You Can Address Concerns Without Singling Out Offenders

3. You Can Model Civility Through Your Digital Fingerprints

4. You Can Create Content Collaboratively

5. You Can Provide Easily Accessible Assessment Help And Hints

6. You Can Reference Research You’d Like Students To Think About

6. You Can Encourage Reflective Journaling And Metacognition

7. You Can Connect With Colleagues Who Face Mutual Challenges

8. You Can Provide Food For Thought About Important Issues In And Out Of The Classroom

9. You Can Learn To Write Brief—Or Relatively Brief—Pieces Quickly

10. You Can Learn About Yourself As A Writer, Teacher, Learner, And Otherwise Creative Person, Even If You Don’t Intend To!

I can think of other reasons, but I’m not planning to talk about them today, so, well, never mind! Here’s some home•work for you:

If you were beginning a blog—or starting a new one if you’re already a blogger—what would you write about first? What would you call your blog? Why? What advice would you give yourself—or any other blogger—related to carefully crafting a public persona?

This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man—if man is not enslaved by it. [Women too.] • Jonas Salk




Education Is Homeland Security

July 23, 2010

For July 19, 2010

The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
 By the Imagination.
• Emily Dickinson

I’m a no-nonsense kind of gal. I don’t coo over babies and long to have another tiny one around the house, although, note to my children, I really enjoyed them when they were tiny. I don’t like tearjerkers. I wear comfortable shoes. I visit a hair stylist only to have a couple of inches chopped off the parts of my hair that have grown irritatingly long. I cut my own bangs. I spend less than ten dollars a year on makeup. My girly side never fully developed, although I do love shiny stuff like rhinestones.

While other little girls were sugar and spicing it, I preferred reading revolting stuff, grubbing in the trash, and taking my fashion cues from movie gangsters, my grandpa, and Fred Astaire. I’ll take snips and snails and puppy dog tails over pink frou-frouish delectables any day. And about that shiny stuff, crows like it too.

I usually eschew the touchy and feely, but sometimes in the business of teaching, I need it. I need to be reminded why I do this job that can often feel thankless. Teachers are blamed for many things that are beyond their control. We are easy targets for cultural disappointment.

We can design meaningful lessons and we can provide classroom opportunities that are differentiated to address our students’ multiple learning preferences and abilities, but, in the end, we cannot force anyone to learn. Still, we need to believe that it’s possible that all of our students will learn. I think often about what’s possible in the classroom, and sometimes I ask my students to think about it too.

I’ve been working for years on a collaborative found poem taken from responses to the question, “What is possible in your classroom?” This year, some of the responses are from students finishing a teacher licensure program. The ongoing poem is entitled “Education Is Homeland Security,” and here are a few of this year’s responses. I’ll add them to the others to remind me that regardless of how bleak things may seem, what teachers do matters and continues to make a difference in people’s lives:

It is possible to inspire, love, challenge, intrigue, respect, cherish, and give one hundred percent to your students. It is possible to share yourself and stay true to who you are. It is possible to be someone’s favorite teacher.

It is possible to create a space that celebrates students as individuals and as impassioned collectives. It is possible for students to change their communities. It is possible for education to be an adventure we as a class embark upon every day.

It is possible for students who don’t want to discover anything to change everything.

It is possible that each day as students leave our room, they will know that they are loved .No matter what type of home students come from, they have a safe haven where people believe in them. Connection.

It is possible for me to choose to love and care about each student who comes into my classroom.

In my classroom, it is possible for students to learn valuable life skills, no matter their academic skill level. I want to make a difference in all of my students’ lives. In my classroom, it is possible to be successful. Hopefully, it is also possible to dream.

You’ll see more of these later. As a funsultant, I am inspired by these possibilities and by the opportunities for learning that are orchestrated in classrooms around the world. What is possible is unlimited.

If a teacher has ever made a difference in your life or challenged your thinking or helped you in any way, I hope you’ll let her or him know. S/he needs your encouragement in order to live in the possibilities.

We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize. • Thich Nhat Hanh


Becoming A Thaumaturgist*

July 15, 2010

We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams. • Willie Wonka

It’s my last day of teaching until fall. I’ve been teaching six days a week and traveling on the seventh and I’m ready for a break. It’s not that I mind teaching. I’m grateful both for the interactions with students and for the opportunities to keep learning.

There’s no way to teach with passion without continuing to learn. When you teach, you look at the world differently. You listen to the radio with teacher ears, watch television and movies with teacher eyes, and scrutinize just about everything you see for its usefulness in the classroom. You read books and magazines and newspapers and websites differently. Your walks through the neighborhood or through the mall or on the beach or in the woods become ideafests.

You think once, twice, three times before tossing away an empty box or a paper sack or leftover yarn or other bits and pieces and scraps. Lots of it you get rid of because you know there’s no way you can store it all (although I try), but you become a hoarder of ideas, an imaginer of possibilities, a magician of what ifs, taking this and turning it into that for the delight of your students.

I teach experienced teachers as well as those who will just be getting their first classroom in the fall and if I could give each of them a single gift, it would be the gift of boundless enthusiasm for their job. I am tired, but I am not tired of teaching.

It isn’t just teachers who function as thamaturgists in the world. How can you bring delight into someone’s life today, this week, this year?

Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be. • Dennis Gunton

* A thaumaturgist is a magician, a worker of wonders and miracles.

Note: I will be presenting at a conference next week, so will be on the road and sporadically connected as I’m able to be. I’ll be posting when I can.


If They Give You Lined Paper, Write The Other Way *

July 11, 2010

A box of new crayons!  Now they’re all pointy, lined up in order, bright and perfect.  Soon they’ll be a bunch of ground down, rounded, indistinguishable stumps, missing their wrappers and smudged with other colors.  Sometimes life seems unbearably tragic. • Bill Watterson

In my imagined memories I assert myself, tell my teachers no, refuse to do more of the same-old-thing, confess my ignorance, celebrate my strengths. In reality, I did none of these things. I was physically visible in my beautiful-to-me outfits, but I was intellectually invisible. What good were brains?

I hated school. Even to this day when I see a school bus it’s just depressing to me. The poor little kids. • Dolly Parton

Ranting digression: The start of school is on my mind because stores are getting ready for day one before I’ve even finished my final day. I’m still teaching. June is too early to start getting the shelves full of school supplies, but they were already appearing. July arrived and red-white-blue was quickly replaced by the colors of back-to-school. This happens every year, and while I can live with turkeys in August and Santa in September, there’s something about pencils and crayons and rulers and lined paper and bottles of glue and all the rest of it lining July shelves that irks me.

Certain peer pressures encourage little fingers to learn how to hold a football instead of a crayon.  Rumors circulate around the schoolyard:  kids who draw or wear white socks and bring violins to school on Wednesdays might have cooties.  I confess to having yielded to these pressures.  • Chris Van Allsburg

Thinking and asking questions only got me in trouble in school and at home. I learned my lessons well just like thousands of other children will learn or have confirmed this year when school starts again. They’ll comply, think convergently, take tests, raise their hands before talking, line up quietly, follow the rules, and learn to play all the games that adults believe good little girls and boys need to know in order to make it through life.

But I hope that they’ll also learn other things. How to think for themselves. How to have ideas. How to question accepted truth. How to ferret out lies. How to create, whether it’s with words or music or movement or with all the marvelous hands-on stuff the world is full of. How to appreciate themselves and how to appreciate others. How to find joy in little things. How to be optimistic and realistic at the same time. How to be themselves and revel in it.

Actually, all education is self-education.  A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education.  What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book.  You must fill in the colors yourself. • Louis L’Amour

What do you hope children will learn in school this fall?

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him [or her] to learn by creating curiosity, s/he will continue the learning process as long as s/he lives.• Clay P. Bedford

* This quotation is attributed to both Juan Ramon Ramirez and William Carlos Williams, so I provide both.


All I Can Do Is All I Can Do And That Has To Be Enough For Me

July 11, 2010

For Friday, July 9, 2010

Note: I am in a motel once again—out of town teaching, and, as usual, connectivity is not all that I might wish!

Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects. Pessimism is a waste of time. • Norman Cousins

In December 1969, a Gallup Poll asked people in the United States this question: For people like yourself, do you think the world will be a better place to live in ten years from now?

Of those who responded to the poll, thirty-nine percent felt it would be better. Eighteen percent thought it would stay the same, twenty-seven percent didn’t think it would be as good, and six percent had no opinion.

Criticism and pessimism destroy families, undermine institutions of all kinds, defeat nearly everyone, and spread a shroud of gloom over entire nations. • Gordon B. Hinckley

I was reminded of this poll by a student presentation that focused on class size. What I appreciated most was the group’s commitment to providing us with inspiring ideas about what teachers can do regardless of the size of their classes. As a relentless optimist, I am not unaware of life’s realities, but I am determined to try to maintain a positive outlook, particularly when it comes to education.

Pessimism is a very easy way out when you’re considering what life really is, because pessimism is a short view of life. If you take a long view, I do not see how you can be pessimistic about the future of the man or the future of the world. • Robertson Davies

Hope is one of the things I’m selling as an educator. If teachers aren’t optimists, what’s the point of our profession? Why bother teaching anyone anything? I have to believe that my work with students will make a difference for them and that they will make a difference for others. I have to believe that I can do this regardless of the size of the class or the equipment or materials I have. I have to believe in the power of my ingenuity and intention. This doesn’t mean that I think I can change the world. But I can affect small bits of it and my efforts, combined with those of others like me, matter.

The world may end tomorrow. But it may not, and if it doesn’t, people will need to know how to live in it.

Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. • Martin Luther King Jr.

So, what do you think? For people like yourself, do you think the world will be a better place to live in ten years from now?

Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A word of optimism and hope. And you can do it when things are tough. • Richard M. Devos


If I Were Queen Of Education, There Would Be Only Two Grades: Cares Or Doesn’t Care

July 1, 2010

There is, in the act of preparing, the moment when you start caring. • Winston Churchill

Whether you are a student or a teacher or an employee or a parent or a partner or any one of thousand other roles that each of us plays daily, you have to care about what you do if you want to produce good work. You have to love your work—not in the sense that every moment of your engagement with whatever it is that you have to do will bring you unbridled joy—but with an acceptance and a level of involvement that acknowledge its importance in your life.

I’m a teacher. I can tell when students hand in done-on-the-bus work, the kind of stuff that’s cobbled together at the last minute with little thought given to its creation. I’ve written about this before. It brings me no joy to receive this kind of work and even less joy to assess it. Sometimes this worth•less work even meets all the requirements and thus, my assessment can’t be too harsh. The work is likely to pass. But it still makes me sad.

I understand that there is meaning•less work distributed in classrooms all over the world. I understand that students don’t see the point of many things that they are asked to do. Sometimes there are assignments that don’t seem to have much of a point, although if you asked the teacher, there may well be a rationale. As a student, I’ve been asked to do some things that I consider hoopjumping, but I’ve also turned many of those hoops into opportunities to expand the possibilities of exploration in ways that please me and that make what might seem to be an empty exercise into something I cared about and was proud of when I finished.

You can do this too. School or work or parenting or whatever it is that you must do in life is always offering you the opportunity for authentic and enthusiastic engagement. Most teachers won’t tell you this explicitly, but they’re hoping you’ll get it. It’s the secret at the heart of lifelong learning. So your teachers create activities and assignments, design scoring guides, and try to provide helpful guidelines, but they’re also imagining that at least some of you will see beyond these things into the real purpose of education: making your life better, richer, more meaningful.

I’m teaching summer courses and in my on-campus courses everyone is completing a complex yet useful assignment as a major part of the requirements, a plan for their first five days of school. The class includes students who’ve had courses with me before and those who haven’t. Those who haven’t are nervous. What do I want? What will please me? One of the students who’s had other courses with me articulated my philosophy better than I could have. Here’s the essence of Jim Janousek’s comments to the class:

Read the assignment, get the gist of it (what’s the purpose of what you’re being asked to do?), and then produce something that you can use in your classroom (I am teaching teachers right now, but this applies to other student experiences as well—I’ve used much of my undergraduate work as the basis for my professional work). I stress: do something that you can use!

This takes away the anxiety of the assignment and makes it more fun when you’re thinking about implementing those ideas in your own classroom. (There are times when I have very specific goals for students and I am explicit about them, but often the guidelines I provide are simply meant to be helpful for those who don’t have ideas yet about how they want to proceed. I always welcome thoughtful alternatives and suggestions from students.)

What works for you, works for Zinn! (If your intentionality shines through, it’s likely that I will be delighted.)

As long as you put thought and time into your assignment, remember Zinn’s grading scale is cares or doesn’t care. (You got it, Jim!)

What do you need to care about?

We are all functioning at a small fraction of our capacity to live fully in its total meaning of loving, caring, creting, and adventuring. Consequently, the actualizing of our potential can become the most exciting adventure of our lifetime. • Herbert A. Otto


My Head Is Too Full Of Ideas Right Now, Many Of Them Unrelated To Things I Absolutely Must Finish Immediately; It’s Impossible To Bring Coherence To Anything But The Necessary And That Requires Ruthless Dedication, Leaving Little Time For Frivolous Frittering (Although There’s Always Time For Allitering)!

June 17, 2010

For Wednesday, June 15, 2010

Dream small dreams. If you make them too big, you get overwhelmed and you don’t do anything. If you make small goals and accomplish them, it gives you the confidence to go on to higher goals. • John H. Johnson

Is a blog a confessional? Sometimes it seems to be. It’s tempting to talk to the screen and confess your sins to the silent and quickly erasable electronic page. No judgment from the computer. It just sits there, no matter what you write. This is comforting. It’s also frightening because it’s so easy to blurt your woes and weaknesses to an invisible audience.

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. • George Orwell

I am, however, wary. I confess cautiously. Today I am in the midst of a mess. The syllabus I’m working on is the equivalent of the closet you’ve been meaning to clean out for ages and when you finally get to it and get everything pulled off of shelves and racks and sorted into piles you aren’t sure what to do with—well, you wish you’d never begun. I’m teaching a course I didn’t plan to teach again until summer 2011, and I’d hoped to organize the syllabus into a syllabook that could be printed to use as the text before I taught it again. I’ve been adding materials to the files for two years.

Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness.  We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways. • Samuel McChord Crothers

Alas. It is still a syllabook, but despite a prodigious wrestling match that took all day, it remains a work in progress. A 57,692 word work in progress. I have had to accept defeat. I must quit when I am not ready to. I do not like this at all, but I tell myself that it is good for me. I have other courses that begin on Friday that need work too. And many miles to go before I sleep.

A man [or a woman] would do nothing if s/he waited until s/he could do it so well that no one could find fault. • John Henry Newman

Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Perhaps if I write this enough, I will believe it.

Always live up to your standards—by lowering them, if necessary.• Mignon McLaughlin (1966), The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

What do you have to let go of because there just isn’t time?

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.  • Harriet Braiker