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Monday, December 18, 2006

Episode 4

"Cover Your behind"


EXT. – DAY Briarpatch

Eddie is ducking a brushing his way through the thorny plants. Cuts and welts appearing on his arms as if by magic. He stops suddenly when he sees a rabbit kicked back against a rock smoking a pipe and drinking sweet water from a jug.

Br’er rabbit
Nice to meet ya. Br’er Rabbit’s the name. Born and raised in the briar patch.

Nice to meet you Mr. Rabbit.

Br’er Rabbit

Excuse Me?

Br’er Rabbit
Br’er. The names Br’er Rabbit. You said mister.


Br’er Rabbit
Just don’t let it happen again. Now, you’se obviously not from round here. Why you strollin’ through my patch?

Eddie produces the pamphlet he had received from Jack and Jill.

I’m looking for this cult.

Br’Er Rabbit
Let me see that

He snatches the pamphlet

Ah, the Cult of NCLB. Crazy bunch. I had run in with dem a few months back. Woulda been rabbit stew if I hadn’ convinced dem that dey should throw me into the briar patch.

How’d you do that?

Br’er rabbit
I reversed the psychology on dem. Dey a few carats short of the gold standard if you catch my meaning. Seriously, they kept on trying to make me take these tests.

What kind of test?

Br’er Rabbit
I’m not sure. They kept on talking about annual yearly progress and I’se says to them ain’t annual and yearly synonyms?

Flashback of Br’er Rabbit pointing to words in the dictionary

Well that made dem all fired up so dey says dey was gonna double dip me.

Flashback to teacher holding rabbit by ears and dipping him into boiling cauldron

I tried to tell dem that double dippin’ is unsanitary den all alarms started goin’ off cuz I fell to far behind. I says fine but whatever you do don’t you throw me in dat ol’ briar patch. And you know what dey did?

Let me guess. They threw you into the briar patch.

Br’er Rabbit
They threw me right into dat briar patch. Dey said it was another test. If I could find my way outta here then I would be demonstatin’ proficiency. But, I said to mahself I ain’t gonna pass dis test. And all dese thorns gonna keep them from comin’ in after me.

I know that you don’t like them, but do you think that they can help me get back home?

Br’er Rabbit
They kept sayin’ dat dey had a whole mess a HQTs. If anyone could help ya it’d be dem.

What is an HQT?

Br’er Rabbit
A highly qualified teacher.

Aren’t you either qualified or not?

Br’er Rabbit
I tried pointin’ that out to’em but dey jus got mad ‘gain. Dey say I was either wid’em or agin’em, and you can see where I ended up. Whatever, de case I knowse dey was talkin’ bout der bein’ a road map for implementation. Maybe dat map can show you the way out.

Thanks for the help.

Br’er Rabbit
No sweat. Good luck br’er Eddie.

Eddie continues his journey to find the NCLB cult, brushing and ducking his way through the briar patch.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

David Brook's "Teaching The Elephant"

We take a quick break from my riveting satire of the educational system to discuss a column by David Brooks.

Mr. Brooks has been reading a lot of books including "The Happiness Hypothesis" and "Blink." Now I will admit that I have not read these books and am familiar with them only from accounts in the media.

For the most part I accept that there is a split between the concious and subconcious. It is this split that subliminal advertising attempts to exploits. However, studies have not shown any significant change in concious behavior caused by subconcious stimuli. I also believe that you can train the mind like any muscle. Even though the heart is not conciously controlled by us we can condition it to be more effective.

My problem with Mr. Brooks' column comes from the example that he chooses to use. It was obviously chosen to attack the "gods" of education and their assumption that creativity, freedom of thought, and novel approaches to problem solving were a part of academic rigor. Apparently if we drill middle-class skills into the impoverished (black) students of our urban centers then they will be smarter. If we can only get them to sit up straight and and nod their heads in agreement, then achievement scores will go up.

The problem with many schools that teach urban youth is that they are too concerned with teaching the affectations of education or going back to basics. Mr. Brooks wants the schools to drive the elephant instead of teaching the students to control it themselves. Every student requires different environments in order to best condition their minds. A school should do its best to provide as many of those environments as possible. A faculty with a wide variety of teaching styles is ideal for a successful school. Students should sample many styles and find the ones that work for them, and adapt to the ones that don't.

Too much time is spent on teaching working-class students how to behave, follow the rules, and act docile. If they would only act more like us then everything would be fine.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Episode 3

Episode 3

EXT. – DAY Glade
Sitting in the middle of lush green grass is a phone booth type kiosk. A placard to one side reads, “Ilearn is the Eway to get back to homeroom.” A picture of kids in a classroom wearing headphones and smiling at the teacher.

Previously on “Through the Cracks” Eddie our intrepid hero decided to think outside the boxcar and disembark the train of educational clichés. We join him in a wooded glade.

Eddie walks cautiously to the kiosk and open the door. Directly in front of him is a computer monitor and keyboard. A pair of headphones rest on a hook next to a palm print shaped piece of glass. Eddie approaches and places his right hand on the cold piece of glass. A soothing voice intones. ..

Name Edward Ungarth Kashun, through the cracks on 11 Nov. 2006. Grade Point Average 1.17. Attendance 72%. Age 16. Estimated time of completion 3.5 years. Go class of ’10.

Eddie pulls his hand back suddenly as if he had been shocked.

Please put on the headphones your individualized, computerized, back-to-basics lesson is about to begin. Please read all of the questions carefully and answer to the best of your ability. Your scores will automatically be tabulated and aggregated. We will then generated an electronic data sheet for your teacher so that she may make sure that you are on the right e-pathway. You may begin.

Eddie grabs the headphones.

The following selection was design so as to not offend anyone.

“The Age of the Dinosaur” flashes on the screen, and Eddie scrolls through text that is occasionally highlighted with illustrations of veloci-raptors. He answers a few questions such as “Which of the following would best describe the theme of this passage.”

Congratulations! You have completed level one. While the teacher exams the e-data you will be rewarded with a short educational game. During this simulation you must curtail human activity so as to prevent the reoccurrence of the ice age that led to the mass extinction of many animals. While doing so you must shoot any asteroids that may crash into the earth causing catastrophic climate change.

Eddie decides to not only shoot any asteroids that may enter the atmosphere, but he also takes a few shots at big industry polluters and some guy who refuses to take public transportation.

It has been determined that you must repeat level one. You missed question 2,5,6,9, and 15. Please review your answers and try again.

Eddie rapidly answers the questions in random fashion and resumes shooting asteroids. Suddenly he hears a pounding on the door. Peering outside he sees a dirt water blonde kid with drooping eyes and a slight acne problem.

Hey man, it’s my turn.

Who are you?

I’m Lex, level 3 Super Reader, and it is my turn.

How did you get to level 3? This stupid machine is forcing me to repeat level one.

I don’t know. I think it has something to do with destroying asteroids.

I thought it was about reading?

It is but if you take it enough you eventually figure out the right answer and you get to shoot more asteroids.

I thought if I passed level one then I could go back to my homeroom.

It all depends on where you start. If you are only one grade level behind then you only have to pass level 1, but the farther behind you are the more time you have to spend here.

But the reading is so boring.

That’s because they think you are so dumb. If you want you can look at some of the other programs over there.

Lex points at a pile of 5-¼ inch floppy discs, brightly colored file boxes, CD ROMs, and even a reel-to-reel tape machine. At the bottom of the heap were a boy and a girl. The boy had a deep cut on his head.

Who are they?

Oh them? That’s Jack and Jill. You can go talk to them. I need to keep blasting away at my reading levels.

Eddie ambles over to the to crumpled children.

What happened to you guys?

I fell down and broke my crown.

And, I came tumbling after.

What were you doing at the top of the hill?

I was seeking knowledge. I was going to put it in this pail.

I tried to tell him that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Yeah that is what the conductor said, but I didn’t buy it. That guy was crazy.

Eddie had stopped paying attention. Under a pile of abandoned reading assessments he had found a pamphlet entitled “No Child Left Behind.”

Don’t worry about that pamphlet.

Huh? What?

That pamphlet. It is just a bunch of silly nonsense. There is a cult down here that thinks that if we just believe deeply enough that we will all magically ascend in the year 2014.

Why would they think that?

I don’t know. Something about a burning bush told them.

Where can I find this cult?

Most of them hang out to the east in a village surrounding The Ivory Tower.

Jill points the way through a briar patch, and Eddie heads off in that direction.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Episode 2

"This Train is bound for Nowhere"
ext. Desert. day.
Isolated wesern train depot in the distance. Train pulls in trailing steam and dust. Eddie has been traveling for a long time. He is hungry and thirsty.
As he nears the train he sees that it consists of several types of cars. Coal cars, box cars, dining cars, passenger cars, etc.
A conductor is taking tickets from a line of children boarding one of the passenger cars.

(coughing)Excuse me. Where is this train going?

This here is the Train of Thought. It goes straight through The Cracks with stops at every level of education.

Where can I get a ticket?

Choice is your ticket to education. You must choose to succeed.

Alright fine. I Choose to board this Train of Thought.

Now you’re on the right track

Int. passenger car- DAY
Eddie cautiously steps into the first passenger car he sees. The view out the windows is decidedly different than the desert scene he had just left. Each window depicts a serene natural local. In one there is a multi-hued sunset. In another is a steep snow covered mountain. Another depicts a field of blooming flowers. Eddie is particularly intrigued by the last window in which he could see a beautiful spiraling galaxy.

Isn’t it beautiful? You know, Imagination is more important than knowledge.


Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Uh huh.

Eddie moves to an empty seat near the end of the train. Across the aisle is a cat hanging from the curtain rod.

Hang in there.

Okay, I’ll do that.

Eddie looks down trying to avoid eye contact.

Tickets please; thank you; Tickets please.

I thought you said all I had to do was choose to board the train.

Only the educated are free.

It’s not my fault. I fell through the cracks. How am I suppose to get educated if I can’t get back?

Like umbrellas, minds only function when opened.

My mind is opened; now fill it.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Then light the fire. Get this thing going.

Let your flame light the fire in all people. Knowledge is power.

Can we get this train moving?

Think outside the box.

I’m not in a box; I am on a train. Sam I Am.

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.

I don’t need to find myself. I need to find my way home.

You can’t change the tide, but you can learn to swim.

Learn to swim? We are in the middle of the freakin’ desert. Where am I going to swim?

You don’t fail until you quit.

Quit? We haven’t even started. I’m going to get out of here.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

You guys are all wrong. You said that this Train of Thought could get me out of here, but you’ve offered nothing but trite sayings.

It is never right to do wrong, and never wrong to do right; It is always right to do right and always wrong to do wrong.

Does that even make sense?

Everyone is special in their own way.

Eddie stands ready to leave.

Here have this bookmark.

It is a picture a giant question mark floating on a stellar background. It states “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
Eddie begins to run. Slipping on piles of laminated posters, bookmarks and book covers. Leaping from the train he lands face down. Looking up with a beard of sand he sees the same cat from the train.

Hang in there, Eddie

Fade Out

Monday, October 30, 2006

Falling Through the Cracks (episode 1)

911 Operator: State the nature of your emergency.

Caller: Yeah. I’m a teacher at Brown Middle School and one of my students…. Oh my god. . .Oh my god!

911 Operator: Calm down sir. I need to know what is happening.

Caller: Okay, I’m okay, but one of my students, he, he, fell through the cracks.

911 Operator: What kind of crack sir?

Caller: You know. The cracks. THE CRACKS

911 Operator: Do you have a safety net sir?

Caller: Yes several of them, but he, he missed them all. Every single one of them. I mean we did everything we could.

911 Operator: Where is the student now?

Caller: In the crack. Haven’t you been listening. He is in the crack. I can hear him yelling for help, but I can’t see him. Oh my god! What am I going to do.

911 Operator: Sir I’ve dispatched an emergency team. They have a battery of standardized tests. It is pretty high stakes, but I think we can handle this.

Caller: I gotta go. You think I pushed him, don’t you? You’re going to test him, and blame me.

911 Operator: Sir come back sir. Sir? Hello?

Through the Crack
Episode 1
Crack an Egg

Theme Song sung to the tune of Gilligan’s Island

Eddie was late to school that day.
He never was on time.
He’d rather skip school and play,
than waste the taxpayer’s dime

The hallway started to rock and shake.
The fluorescent lights did dim.
He knew he had a test to take,
But he was even failing gym.

The corrider cracked open wide,
and Eddie teetered and tripped
Many teachers tried and tried,
but he finally slipped.

Down through the crack Eddie fell
to a world devoid of joy.
A minimum wage living hell
Where no one was employed.

This is the story of his journey back
through the crazy land he roamed.
He tries to climb out the crack,
and find his way back home.
and find his way back home.

"Crack an egg"

EXT. day

Eddie falls from the sky, landing on his back next to a stone wall. A middle-aged man is sitting a few feet away. He has a pronounced crack in his head. Eddie sits up. He appears to be unharmed.

Egg head man
Hey dude. What’s happenin’?
I’m not sure. I was just walkin’ down the hall and a crack in the floor opened up. I must have fallen in.
egg head
Yeah man. It hurts don’t it?
It smarts a little.
Egg head
Ain’t nothin’ smart around hear.
Where am I?
Egg head
Your in the Land Through The Crack man.
What crack?
Egg head
You know the THE crack! The one that all the teachers say you’re going to slip through. You’ve slipped through the cracks, man.
How did you get here?
Egg head
Man, I was watchin’ this commercial on t.v. about some egg on drugs. I was laughin’ because who ever heard of an egg takin’ drugs. I mean I smoke a little, but there ain’t no egg on drugs. Next thing I know they crack the egg, and I wind up here with a splitting headache.
cut to:
Close up of the crack in EGG HEAD’S head.
I got to find a way outta here.
Egg head
Ain’t know way outta here.
How do you know? Have you looked?
Egg Head
Nah. I haven’t moved since I got here. All the schools teachers and all the schools counselors tried to put me back together and again, but they couldn’t. So I’m just chillin’
What about that guy over there?
cut to:
Another middle aged guy rocking back and forth mumbling to himself.
Egg head
Him? All he say is no. He used to say yes, but now, now he just says no.
Yo Humpty, I can’t just hang here. I gotta do something.
Egg head
Good luck man.
Eddie gets up and starts walking aimlessly. He finally settles on what he believes is East and begins his journey.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Teachers and Students Should Blog

For the purposes of the following suggestions electronic publishing includes but is not limited to blogs, podcasts, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and message boards.

“The process of teacher evaluation and professional growth should allow for
teacher reflection, teacher collaboration, and staff contribution to the learning
community.” pg. 3

The above is listed as a guiding principle of teacher evaluation in the state of Missouri. In all professions it is important to constantly evaluate practices and share those that are effective. Blogging, or on line journaling, is an effective tool to reach this end.

Teacher On-line Posting
· Reflection is required by the evaluation process and is integral to professional development.
· Collaboration and the sharing of best practices are vital to quality education.
· In order to be a world class school district we need to present our ideas on the world stage.
· The Internet is an effective means for communicating with parents and the community.

Rules & Regulations
· All postings should pertain to educational or content area topics only.
· Confidential or privileged information should never be posted.
· There should be no relationship, implied or otherwise, between the opinions expressed in the blog and the School District.
· On line posting should be non-commercial.
· Internet postings should not be disruptive to the School District.
· All rules of plagiarism and libel apply.

Effective teaching is a process cycling between practice and reflection. Constant questioning, not only of what worked and what did not, but why it did or did not work is vital to providing effective instruction. When focusing on data driven decision making we often neglect the decision part for an over emphasis on the data. The quiz scores were low; the information needs to be re-taught, but why and how? The answers to these questions can often be found upon reflection, but making these reflections public also permits answers to come from our colleagues around the world.

Part of being world class is inviting the world into our classroom. The world starts with parents and the local community, but the power of the internet lies in its ability to instantly reach a massive world wide audience. If we are worried about our test scores lagging behind those of students in other districts, why not solicit opinions and suggestion from those districts. Why stop at the borders of our state or country? If a teacher in Australia has an effective technique for teaching, then I want to know about it. Conversely, a brilliant strategy developed in our district needs to be shared with other so that we may be an exemplar.

There are inherent pitfalls to instant publication so certain precautions should be taken, but these precautions are no different than when we are communicating with the public by more traditional means. Confidential information should never be given out, public discourse should never disrupt the normal functioning of the district, and district resources should not be used for personal financial benefit. These restrictions are no different than those placed on teachers when talking to the press or parents.


Students in Missouri public schools will acquire the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively within and beyond the classroom.

Goal #2 Show-Me Performance Standards

This goal goes on to specify that students “use technological tools to exchange information and ideas.”

Student On-line Posting
· Reflective and meta-cognitive writing are vital to a quality education.
· An authentic audience for these writings enhances the experience, improves writing skills, and provides an opportunity for feedback.
· Student on-line postings will provide parents with a deeper insight into the classroom.
· Electronic publishing is a basic communication skill that will be required of those wanting access to power in our society.

Rules and Responsibilities
· The blog is a cyber-extension of the classroom, therefore all rules of speech and conduct outlined in the discipline handbook apply.
· Though all classroom writing is public, the instant publishing allowed by the Internet requires that students constantly keep in mind their world wide audience.
· Students are responsible for managing all responses and comments to their blog.
· Students are responsible for the content of websites that they link to in their postings.
· All rules regarding plagiarism apply.

Journaling and reflection are proven learning strategies. Blogs not only motivate the students to write, but the authentic audience created by electronic publication adds a realistic dimension to the writing that merely addressing the teacher does not provide.

Blogs would allow an unprecedented window into the classroom. It would provide an answer to the age old parental question, “ What did you do in school today?”

The ability and desire to use Web 2.0 applications is vital for students to have access to powerful literacy. Traditional avenues of access are narrowing. Though students are becoming adept at filling out on line job applications for Best Buy, to be truly powerful they must create their own opportunities.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Our district has begun to address concerns about literacy amongst our students. Literacy of course is a tricky term. A majority of people applies the word illiterate to only those people who struggle with the written word. And though we frequently mention computer literacy and media literacy it is rarely touched upon in practice. An even more intriguing way of seeing literacy is to look at how the word “read” is used colloquially. We can read facial expressions and body language, a situation, or the lay of the land. We can read into a situation which one can assume is an in depth analysis. We can even take readings, which describes the process of gathering hard data. The word “read” is used metaphorically to describe almost any cognitive process in which we are required to decipher meaning.

If we are to look at read as the ability to decode, interpret, analyze, and synthesize data, then literacy is the primary building block of human intelligence and the within the purview of all educators. Since reading is like any other cognitive process we can apply the scientific method. When approaching a text, or any other set of data we must first name the problem or question, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, check and interpret results, and report the results. Of course if the results don’t match the hypothesis, revise and repeat.

Reading is a mental process, not a magical formula, and as such needs to be developed not by rote memorization, but with new and increasingly difficult applications. Failure is an integral part of discovery; yet repeating that failure with remediation only compounds the disappointment. Like an athlete always looking for worthy competition, students need an every increasing variety of opponents to augment their repertory of literacy skills.

It is imperative that we look at the bag of tricks that the students already possess, such as the ability to read a game, song, or reality television show and demonstrate how those skills can be applied in a classroom. Can the skills used to recognize the pattern of zombie movement in a video game be used to analyze the formula of a murder mystery? Isn’t knowing that a contestant on a really game show is lying the same skill used to interpret character? Isn’t knowing that when the music swells and a character has their back to the screen, that the monster is about to pop out the same predictive skills that you use in science?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Good News

Good News! After the last blog you may have thought that things were looking awfully bleak. But, the news of my students’ demise was premature. Many of the students improved their scores on the vocabulary quiz, and some of those actually scored a 100%.
Whether this was due to actual knowledge of the words or increased neuron firing during the testing period is irrelevant. Both knowledge and Gatling gun neurons are desirable outcomes of this first foray into the lexical depths.

The students also brought out their street sweepers for the second draft of their essays. After mini-lessons concerning transitions and conclusion I was pleased to see improvement on both fronts when students revised their papers. They are successfully moving past middle school transitions like first, second, lastly, etc. The conclusion took a few steps toward synthesizing instead of summarizing. At least none of the conclusions started by saying, “in conclusion.”

In conclusion, I guess what I have been saying is that in short, my students can and will be successful this year. They are interested in more than just graduating. They want to improve themselves.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Credit Junkies

I am tired of being viewed as a credit-spewing machine. We have created a system in which students are only interested in points, credit, and grades. And though I do not believe that the human mind is equivalent to poultry, I do fear that this system will only churn out pecking hens that as soon as the food pellets stop appearing become quite somnambulant in nature.

The concrete cause of my frustration is a recent vocabulary quiz. Nearly ninety percent of the students failed. The words were drawn from the text that we are currently reading in class, the students were given to 45 minute class periods to fill out a sheet of notes on the words, and we had a Jeopardy style review (using a Smartboard) the day before the quiz. The words were no more difficult than you would find in a daily newspaper.

I decided to give the quiz again. It was as if that day had never happened. Made aware of the fact that they were functionally illiterate, I assumed that the students would study during the intervening 48 hours. Though some of the students responded admirably, a number of them requested to see the old quiz so that they could only study the words that they missed. Yet others were concerned that the score on the second quiz would be lower than the first, and it would only be fair if I were to take the highest score. The disturbing part about this is that the right answers on the quiz were conjured from luck rather than knowledge.

I acknowledge that educators have a different perspective on learning, but is it too much to ask that students, people, should want to become smarter. It is a wasted day in which I learn nothing. Often people will say to me that there are so few surprises in the world today as if the ability to predict likely outcomes is a bad thing. Not only is predictive ability a valuable skill, but anyone that actually lives life would know that it is fallible and that surprises lurk around every corner. Since we have all become credit junkies and live our lives according to the rut of least resistance the only surprise most people experience is when there precious cheese is moved.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Find Them Guilty

I have read many articles recently dealing with the issue of submitting teens to constant invasive surveillance. People are screaming about phone taps of international phone calls to terrorists and a government maintained list of our library books, while at the same time invoking the name of safety to spy on our own kids.

The most obvious of these violations is mandatory drug testing. Private schools, because they don’t have to deal with a pesky Constitution, are requiring drug tests of all students. The assumption of guilt is supposedly anathema to the ideals of the American people, yet this is exactly what we are doing. Even public schools do an end run around The Constitution by only giving drug test to students in extracurricular activities. It’s a little embarrassing for them because they have to test the National Honor Society even though we all know that it is the athlete’s that have the drug problem. It has now gotten to the point that some teachers are willingly submitting to drug test to show solidarity with the students.

Even parents are getting into the act with over the counter drug tests. Before everyone sits down to the dinner table we need all of the teens to please pee into this cup. Hopefully, the fit of laughter caused by the mention of family dinner didn’t distract you from the last half of that sentence. What kind of trust relationship can you have with a child if you are carrying around a cup of their pee? Of course you could just surreptitiously extract hairs from their combs and brushes and maintain the façade of trust.

The façade could be shattered like the windshield of a car if a parent decides to create a GPS link with their child while they are in his or her car. A prying patriarch can log on to a website and track the location and speed of the car. I’m assuming that these computer chips can also tell if the window defogger has been activated. This would of course circumstantially prove that the driver and any passengers might have been involved in some heavy breathing. The technology also exists to turn that car off. Now I will admit that I did not always drive to the agreed upon locations when I was an adolescent, but at least my parents had to have an inkling, if not suspicion, before they would go out and check the odometer or gas gauge.

In the classroom the presumption of misdeeds has led to the increase in the use of services such as those offered by Turnitin. For a small subscription fee these company's will check student writing against an enormous database to fish out any plagiarism. In some districts all student papers are submitted to process. Should we be working under an umbrella understanding that forestalls accussations of copying until the teacher has at least read the paper? A good teacher, or parent for that matter, should have a good enough relationship with the student to be able to spy text of questionable origin without relying on such an impersonal system. Students cheat because they feel like they can't do the work. We should be building confidence not flunking transgressors.

Parenting and teaching involve monitoring the tension between freedom and responsibility. If children grow up in a world where freedoms and privacy are only vague intangible ideas, then they will think nothing of giving up those freedoms when the government decides that it is necessary. There should be a difference between the student roster and the terrorist watch list. Students need independence in order to think independently. With that said I think I’ll head on down the “humane” society and have my three year old neutered and micro-chipped.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

B(f)logging In The Classroom

This is an update on the blogging experience with my students.

First the frustrations. A large number of my students have no experience remember usernames and passwords. Some students still haven’t logged into the computer after the first 10 minutes of class because I have to spend so much time retrieving network logins. Of those that get on the network successfully approximately 1/3 have forgotten the username and password for Some of those students created an account using a fake email address because they don’t have a real one, and hence cannot retrieve their account information. These issues, however, only reinforce the notion that the students need to blog. Lacking the ability to fill out simple registration forms and to remember login information proves that most of these students are passive recipients of information and rarely create or publicize their own work.

(Interestingly, a number of students have stored their passwords on their phones. Security issues aside, this would seem to be a perfectly acceptable use of a mobile phone in school.)

Ineptness in filling out the forms has even caused the spam detection software to erringly label some of my students as spambots. Apparently, impatience with site forced some them to repeatedly click the “CREATE” button. Some of them also had problems reading the cryptic letters meant to block spamming. Like a computer the students have a hard time recognizing non-standard fonts.
Not all has been bad. I am excited that some of the students have already accessed the blog from places other than school. The next step is to get some quality posts and to make the blog URLs available to parents and other staff members.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I recently read an article by Alfie Kohn regarding homework (available here). Finally someone is saying what I have been saying for years. Whenever my students ask if there is homework in my class I emphatically reply NO. I am not particularly fond of working at home so why would I force it on someone else. With that said, I don't want to imply that the students never work outside of class, but any work that they have usually involves putting the finishing touches on a project that we started on in class. Drafting a paper that we thoroughly pre-wrote in class. Editing a piece of writing that was conferenced earlier that day. I would never dream of sending a student home to identify the nouns in a sentence or some other type of grammatical fill-in-the- blank.

This type of work has its place, and that place is during 10-15 min. mini-lessons during class, not during time that they should be spending with their family or friends. I would rather them go home and watch a well written TV show (Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Lost) than waste time faking their way through some mindless assignment.

As a teacher I have never been too concerned about this. If homework was required I would just assigned something easy. My favorite thing to do was to tell students to go home and discuss a topic for a paper with their parents. Often after asking the students to brainstorm a list of fifty possible writing topics a student would say they couldn't come of with fifty. I would would respond by saying, "then your assignment is to go home tonight and get a life."

As a parent of a three year old I am afraid that as he progresses through school that homework will begin to eat into his life. My wife and I (mainly my wife) make sure that our son has a very enriching and entertaining life. We visit museum, attend concerts, make monthly forays into the zoo, play sports, and create art, and occasionally even eat dinner. If that time is eroded by the mundane grunt work of work sheets and repetitive problems, then I will become extremely depressed.

Homework is seen as a tangible measure of hardwork and worse than standardized tests it measure absolutely nothing. Mental growth can't be measured on an Albert Pujols growth poster. Maybe someday we will come up with accurate diagnostic test, but until then we should not substitute the weight of a text book or the height of a stack of homework.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Montage Matriculation

I have a new item for my teacher wish list. I would like to have a full array of educational movie clichés including a montage maker, a nemesis, and a debilitating/potential fatal disease.

The most powerful of these tools is the matriculation montage maker. It is a basic concept really. Edit out all of the hard work, splice together a series of iconic images, and set the entire thing to Peter Gabriel’s Solisbury Hill.

CUT TO: Teacher and student struggling through a basic text together.
CUT TO: Student reading on his own.
CUT TO: Student leaving library with a ridiculously tall stack of books.
CUT TO: Student studying at desk PAN TO window with other kids playing outside.
CUT TO: Slamming book down on desk and pounding fist in frustration
CUT TO: Carnival, teacher winning a large stuffed bear for student
(Editor’s note: Accidentally activated the matrimony montage maker.)
CUT TO: Teacher underlining “MONTAGE” on the chalkboard.
CUT TO: Student collapsing on bed amongst a bevy of books. A look of satisfaction on his face.
CUT TO: Student waking up the morning of the test/graduation/spelling bee with montage induced migraine.

Of course the montage does not eliminate all of the student’s problems. Through the course of his studies the student may lack motivation. At this point the teacher may want consider finally succumbing to a pre-existing heart condition, contracting pneumonia, or risking near death and lawsuits by visiting the child at his home in a less than desirable neighborhood. It will be this act of bravery that finally convinces the student that the teacher cares. Honestly, nothing else works. Not mind numbing hours of repeating the same problems. Not overwhelming patience of the teacher when the student insists on giving up on himself. Not the perseverance despite lack of recognition. Not the long hours for low pay. None of these will work unless the teacher stares down death to teach the child.

None of this would carry the deep sense of satisfaction unless there is an authoritarian nemesis. This is particularly true for the ethnically diverse (read not white) students. If the students are white then they are most likely enrolled in an austere private boarding school. No matter where or who the students are the benefits of having an arch enemy who will pop at pivotal plot points and say, “Mr. Jones Bobby/Jamal/Alice/Esperanza just isn’t capable of doing this work,” is incalculable. After reaching the pinnacle of success the evil ogre of an administrator will appear to make accusations of cheating. At this time the teacher, or even better a deeply affected student, can deliver the theme with all of the eloquence that can be mustered by the screenwriter.

After the teacher has done all of this they can, “continue teaching at the same under funded school in which he had one year of success. With the profits the teacher made from selling his story, he was able to purchase much needed supplies, books, and tissue for the class.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Evaluations

Here is what some of my students said about the class and links to their summer school blogs.

The things that i like about Mr.Holden is when he be tryna jone back it be hella funny. Also i like that his down to earth and his a cool person to talk to. The thing i like least about him is when he he be kicking our table when we be having our head down that pisses me off. And i do not like when he say we cant do somethings and i hate when he ignore us. Though so far this class has been a good experience and a fun class.

Overall I think this class was benficial. I learned many things over the past weeks. I manly learnedhow to think in more depth.The reason for that i because at the beginning of class each day we didi a riddle of some sort which enquired us to think in differently. Mr. Holden is a good teacher without a doubt. Honestly he's more educated and intrested in making sure his students learn more than making a dollar. evewn though he claims thats all hes here for but u know how that goes. Overall I can say this summer school experience was benficial to the fullest.

I learned how to write a essay better then I could also got a good and better chance to read,and how to write some good poems. The things that I learned in this that I need to know is so that I can use them in the future also once I go to college.

About Mr. Holden...The one thing I didn't like was he would always kick the table when I put my head down on the desk. The things I liked were that we actually had to work in summer school. Last year you just showed up and passed. Plus, he keeps it real, and doesn't lie. The way he teaches makes it easy to learn.If somebody were to have to take a language arts class for summer school, I would reccomend Mr. Holden's class. My other teacher was just as good, but he's not here during the summer. I would reccomned Mr. Holden because of what I mentioned in the previous question.

What do you like and dislike about Mr.Holden:
Mr . Holden was a very interesting teacher . He had some wierd teaching method but they always stick. I like the fact that he lets us be who we want to be he dont try to hide are real self with education. He let us speak are mind and he speaks his. the least thing I like about him is the way he dress. he need to take a class in colors and which ones match. Just kidding, Mr.Holden was a wonderful teacher

Well I learned how to write proper essays, how to look for connections from the text and look for the possible hidden meanings in names and words. Over and over we wrote essays and it was annoying but that was effective because I am now better at writing than I was before. I think I am adept at writing poetry because now I get good grades on my poems and I have to write less and less drafts.

I liked Mr. Holden's frankness. He tells like it is and that is admirable. He tries to keep his students on track when they start to slip in their grades. Also he tries to get our POV in the class discussions.

Mr. Holden is a great teacher his style is unique and he’s funny at the same time,He knows when to joke around and when to get serious. I had Mr. Holden for a teacher twice this summer and each time I’ve realized that he is a better teacher than I thought. I never thought I’d be saying this but overall my experience of being taught by Mr. Holden was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It may not appear but I’ve learned a lot from him. Even thought I get on his nerves I still like him. (NO HOMO!). But really I what to leave today on a positive note so with no further a due I’d like to thank Mr. Holden for what he’s done, it may not seem like he’s done much for me but he has.THANK YOU

One of the things I liked about Mr. Holden was his since of humor. He knows how to keep a student interested. He is also easy to talk to. The least thing I liked about Mr. Holden was when he made us write essays. I don't like writing essays. But, in my opinion Mr. Holden is a very cool teacher. I would like it if Mr. Holden was my teacher next year. I like the way he keeps the class involved.I would recommend this class to the freshman coming in. I would do this because I think it is a good class. While in this class you learn a lot. At the end you will realize that you have gained more knowledge from when you walked in to when you walk out at the end of the day. I would also recommend them to have Mr. Holden as there teacher also.

As far as Mr Holden, he was cool. He had nice comments to say about people and comebacks. The topics he brought up in the disscussions were cool. Other then that I could careless. But I wonder why it seems like all the cool teachers teach at the alternative school.

Overall the class was a great experience to go through.I learned alot and I tried my hardest to get the best grade that I could.I learned that sometimes you have to read things that you don't want to in life.I really like doing the blogs,it was something different that helped me evaluate the work that I did.The things that I liked the most was the morning mysteries.I never have been a big fan of mysteries,but when we satrted doing the morning mysteries I got into it.They are exciting and fun to figure out.I like the Law and Oreder episodes that we watched and I never watched them at home.I really liked the mystery about Sadie,it made my my mind wander.I really like this class.

What I liked most about Mr. Holden is that he actually taught us something. Some teachers doesn't care what you do, but Mr. Holden did. He tried to get us to write as much as we could. I enjoyed that because I enjoy writing. Sometimes I didn't feel like doing it but I did anyway because this teacher would always make sense no matter what. He tried to get us to look at things a certain way or argue to get a reasonable point through. He'd say things like Matin Luther King was nobody. He knew who Martin was but he wanted us to explain what we knew about him in as much detail as possible. Not just that he was apart of the civil rights movement. He'd always say explain!!

What i liked tha least abotu mr. holden... there was nothing i didn't like about Mr. Holden he was a very helpful teacher throughout this whole summer school session. I appreciated his help and support. Yes i would recommend this class to anyone because i know if i learned alot from this class then everyone else can too.

My evaluation about this class is ok. This class has taught me a lot about myself, how I really shouldn't have been here because it was just a lesson for me to stay organized. Thats why I was here in the beginning because I didnt turn my work in on time or completed. I learned a lot more in this summer class about how others write and what many stories are really about. I got a chance to really understand the stories. This class was a cool learning experience because I learned a lot about culture, families, mysteries and other forms of stories. This was a good, fast class. This was my first and last time in summer school. Especially for LIT. And COMP 2!

This class has been great. I think we had a lot more fun than first semester cause we did a lot more fun things. The reading wasen't fun but watching LAW&ORDER and CSI was cool. At first the class was wack cause nobody wanted to talk cause they thought they would stupid. Then the loudness came out in Edward and now everyboby talks way to much sometimes. As the class livened up so did MR.Holdon. At first he was mad cause nobody wanted to debate with him. Now he can't get us to stop. The best things we did in this class was watching cold case. I had never watched that befor and when it first came on I thought it was going to be wack but it turned out to be preety good. In the end this class turned out to be alright and now we have to leave.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Second Session Summary

Overall the second session went fairly well. The students started to open up and speak their minds. Readings of the The Pit and The Pendulum and Isabelle Allende's Of Clay We are Made went particularly well. Using Law and Order and other current detective shows to teach 3rd person limited point of view was also very successful.

A couple of things I will have to do to make the blogging more successful is to one publish a list of URLs, and two encourage students, staff and parents to comment on what the students have to say. I think that if students start to get feedback on what they are writing it will encourage them to write more.

In a discussion yesterday some of the students question blogging and its benefits over traditional journaling. My response was the immediacy of blogging, but it is really hard for students to understand when their words are be lost in the vastness of the web. The key to this working is adult involvement and commitment. I will admit that this summer I have been kind of lax in responding to the students, but I also think that they would like to hear from other people besides me.

Most of my students said that their parents still ask them what they learned that day at school and the students still respond by saying, "nothing." If parents visit the blogs I think they would get a much more satisfactory answer.
Washington D.C.

Moved by fears of corporeal predators congress voted unanimously to dismantle all playgrounds and public pools. Children’s museums, science centers, zoos, and cultural institutions catering to minors will have to close their doors. Congress John Smith (R-Missouri) said, "We have to keep petting zoos free of pedophiles, and if that means shutting them down, then so be it."

The Senate version of the bill, which includes a provision to de-list all phone numbers of homes with minors in residence, is expected to pass later this week.

I am tired of predator parnoia. It reminds me of the scare in the eighties about psychos sticking razor blades in candied apples or using syringes to poison Snickers bars. Armies of costumed children invaded the local malls because well all know that sickos and perverts live alone in houses and don't have jobs.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Technical Difficulties

I encountered the first technical difficulties with blogging our last time here. was down and not accepting posts. It was relatively easy to resolve. Most of the students merely copied and pasted their entry into Word and saved it to the server.

I am also still having some students forget their login and password. During the regular school year I will most likely have to create a directory of not only the URL for each student's blog, but also a seperate one for logins and passwords. When we first signed up I asked the students to use the same login and password that they use to get into the server, but of course this request was ignored.

I also asked the the URL they use was the same as their login, in this case the first three letters of their first name and their last name. Again with this edict in place I still got blogs at and Oh well.


In the last few days we have been talking about point of view. Mostly first person and third person limited. We focussed mainly on mysteries. We read Agatha Christies Witness for the Prosecution in which our trust of the barrister narrator. By creating the trusted narrator Christie lulls the reader into a false sense of security. This security causes us to gloss over minor incrongruities. Modern television detective dramas do the same thing. Law & Order, Cold Case, and CSI all create relatively two dimensional characters for the detectives yet we trust their knowledge and skill. In constast Frank, the lawyer in Sidney Lumet's Verdict, is a down on his luck alchoholic and we can't trust his judgement. In fact it is this lack of good judgement that leads him to being betrayed. Without the limited narrator plot twists would be impossible.

In Poe's Pit and the Pendulum we are dealing with a first person narrator. Anytime a story is told in first person the reliability of the narrator should be drawn into question. In the case of TPATP the narrator is most likely swooned into a delerium. There is even some question that the narrator is still alive.

So as for the blogs I hope that some of them turn out like what I have written above. If the students show any understanding of how POV can aid in their understanding of the plot and hence the theme I will be happy.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Apathy has a overcome my students like the blob. I don't even have any Steve McQueens to save the town. I strongly suspect that today's blogs will overwhelmingly support my theory. I have ask the students what they have learned thus far and I strongly suspect that many of them will say nothing. I think that some of this may come from the fact that we are focusing more on reading skills than story content, but it could be that they just haven't learned anything.

We have been doing some 30 second mysteries to start off class. They are kind of ironically named because it usually take the class about 15 min. to finish them. The mysteries are usually about a paragraph long and involve deliberately misleading word choices. It plays on improper schema activation. The key to solving them is to eleminate the instinctual choice and go with a second or third guess. After solving the mystery we discuss which words activated the wrong schema. For example the mystery today used the phrase "downed seven drinks in three hours." This would lead most readers to believe that the person in question was imbibing alcohol. At the end of the paragraph we find out that his blood alcohol level was zero. Some students thought that the test was innacurate, but after a couple of clues we realize that the driver wrecked the care because he was under age not because he was intoxicated.

I'm hoping that learning is going on even if they don't realize it.

We have also been discussing how setting affects character. I am hoping that someone at least mentions that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Second Session

I have a new and smaller group of kids this session. Hopefully, I have enough to keep the class going. They are definitely a less talkative bunch. Some people might see this as a good thing, but I find it relatively boring. They don't have any opinions. My teaching style is base on challenging preconcieved notions, but if student doesn't have any this is rather difficult. I am always leary of creating the notions because I do not want to create intellectual clones of myself. Though this would insure them of great success and popularity I feel it would ultimately be detrimental to their cognitive growth.

I have been giving them questions to answer on the blog in hopes of stimulating a decent response. This week I have them analyzing the difference between boring and fun text. Why are some works easy to read and others are not. I am hoping that they talk about vocabulary, sentence structure, interest, and prior knowledge (schema). I also ask them to make these same connections with other media. We can then springboard into how to be "media literate." This afternoon we will be watching Whale Rider. I will attempt to teach them how to read a movie covering the basic such as establishing shot, and camera angles.

As for the blogs, I have decided that when I do this during the regular school year I will make a directory of the blogs so that students, teachers, and parents can access the students' comments and reply to them. My dream of a Utopian educational community is surfacing again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Last Day of First Session

The blogs have gotten weaker as the session has gone on. Student apathy sets in quickly. Early signs of the disease include three sentence paragraphs, one or more skipped short answer questions, and forgetting essential school supplies. It rapidly progresses to entire missing paragraphs, lost homework, and sporadic napping. In its final stages mental faculties are severely diminished to the point that they create false memories of turning in work or have paranoid delusions that teachers intentionally lose their work. For now there is no known cure. The disease can be managed with innovative lessons, occasional movies, and a Snicker bar.

With the limited resources of summer school I am not having a lot of luck in stemming the tide. The novelty of blog writing isn't enough in and of itself. Some of the students have been derisively referring to it as the "blogger" either from a misinterpretation of the website or ridicule.

Today I provided them with a list of questions to guide their comments. I need to do some research into how to stimulate metacognition. I think cognition is pretty good. I was pleased with the results when they blogged from the point of view of one of the characters in Fences, but am still looking for that big breakthough in insight into and analyses of their own thoughts.

We will see what we get today.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Reviews Are In

I am still dissappointed in the quality of the blogs. Most of them still seem to be a list of what happened in the class. I probably need to create a model, though this is difficult given the time constraints of summer school. I should definitely have one when I start the regular school year.

Some of the blogs are offer a little more in depth analysis of the assignments and my teaching style. Overall the reviews have been good. Other than a couple of "hella dumbs" most of the students have been saying that the class is sufficiently challenging and the assignments are interesting.

I feel frustrated because I don't have all of my resources. Though I have access to the internet I don't have a printer or easy access to copies. I don't have my usual stack of print resources either. I am a spontaneous teacher, but ironically this requires a lot of preparaton and resources. The class has become too much of a routine. READ DISCUSS WRITE READ DISCUSS WRITE READ DISCUSS WRITE.

Yesterday we were talking about parenting and the differences between love, like, like and responsible. Fortiutously, a parent came by at that time to check on a students grade. I invited her in to discuss parenting. Luckily, she supported everything that I had said to the students earlier. Though I think her child was slightly embarrassed, I think the experiment went well.

Today I am having the students blog from the point of view of a character in fences. I am excited to read them.

I would like to take this time to apologize for the stream of concious nature of this blog. I have to constantly get up on monitor the progress of the students, which does not allow time for me to compose and organize my thoughts.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Confession

I must admit that I have fallen behind. Five hours of class with only a half hour break for lunch has a tendency to create a lot of paper. I haven't had a chance to look at the newest entries for the students blogs. I don't want to turn my back on the students during class and there always seems to be something else to do during lunch, like eat.

I guess I could actually work at home, but that would be setting a bad precident. I already had to do some planning at home and almost broke out in hives. I could at this point use my three year old son as an excuse, but the truth is there are about 50 million things I would rather be doing than working at home. Most of the them do involve my family. I could also at this point complain and say that they don't pay enough for me to spend extra hours doing work, but again I'm pretty sure that if they paid be like a doctor I still wouldn't do open heart surgery on the dining room table.

I think that if I don't take care of myself first then I will start to resent the kids. My life is devoted to educating myself. So though I don't take papers home to grade very often, I do spend time in theaters, galleries and libraries. Even watching television helps me become a better teacher.

Now that the confession and excuses have run out I would like to comment on the quality of work I have looked at. We have spent the last week working on poetry and on the whole I have been very impressed with the quality of work. Even when the poems aren't that great the amount of effort has been remarkable. Some of the greats are starting to drop and I am wondering how many of the students would be able to keep this up over the whole school year. When I first heard about the three week sessions with five hour classes I thought it was insane, but after work with the kids for eight days I think the shorter sessions help the students stay focused. Not only do they not have to sustain concentration beyond 3 weeks, but they only have to focus on one class and teacher.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The first Blogs

The first set of Blogs that I read were relatively boring. Most of them just listed what we did in class. There was no in depth ananlysis. I'm hoping for better results today. If they don't get any better I may have to create a sample to help them understand exactly what I am looking for.

Hopefully, we get some metacognitive commentary going on. I want to know more about what is going on in their brains than in the class. Next time I will share some quotes from the students writing.

As for the class I am happy with the intellectual level at which the class is working. The amount of prior knowledge and inquisitiveness far exceeds that of the students that I deal with during the regular school year at the Alternative Program. Teaching is so much easier when the students help drive the content and curriculum. My timing has been slightly off because things that normally take 45 min. are completed in 15, but the students keep me on my toes instead of chop blocking my every move.

Overall, it has been a pleasant experience.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The First Day

Today is the first day that I am having the students blog. With the exception of a couple of students everyone seems to be getting the hang of it. So far there has only been one mildly inappropriate user name.

I am anxious to see what they have to say about the class. Hopefully, these will work as a reflection on the learning that has gone on.

In the last two days we have read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut and There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury. Class discussion has range from the meaning of equality to the role of technology in our lives. I admitted to the class that I love the internet. Of course, as Bradbury points out, the internet probably does not have the same feelings for me. I freaked out the first day I walked into my summer school class and discovered that there was no computer. It is moments like this that remind me how much I rely on having the world at my fingertips.

Having the internet in the classroom has allowed me to become a much better teacher, but I rely on it so extensively I fear that on days that the server is down I may have to resort to students taking notes with a stylus and a clay tablet. Maybe some day all students will have there on tablet PC to alleviate this problem.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Coming Soon

Summer school meeting officially started today. Classes will begin on Mon. I am still waiting on texts books. Apparently I am teaching Lit. and Comp. II. I hoping this means that they have passes Lit. and Comp. I. Though I don't know what that actually means. Teaching at the Alternative Program leads to a disconnect with the H.S. curriculum at times.

I have made a career, quite by accident, of teaching students who have fallen behind. If this were a track analogy I would be the one that picks up the kids who have collapsed during the race, due to being out of shape or to much smoking, and drag them across the finish line. Not only do I teach at the Alternative Program and summer school, but last year I worked in the Earn Your Way Back program which caters to students on long term suspension. I'll admit that the extra money is a definite motivator to taking these extra assignments, but It is nice to think that some of these kids succeed because of me.

Every once in a while one the kids that I pick up along the way does manage to stand up and stagger across the finish line on their own.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How can blogs help me teach

I will attempt to use blogs this summer to help my students reflect on their learning. Hopefully if it is successful then I can use it next year for my regular classess.

Journaling is an important part of education, and allowing others to comment on your thoughts can be very exhilirating. It can confirm something that you already believe, or it can cause you to question previously held beliefs. Whatever the case may be, it will allow students to get opinions from someone other than the classroom teacher.

Wish me luck on this summer experiment.