Malaise

???This blog is in the doldrums, and I’m not sure how to pull it out yet. I always hate those posts in which people say they’re going to take a break from blogging, and I don’t really want to take a break, but I do want everyone to be aware I know I’m not writing much and what I’m doing feels more forced. Comments are by and large still kind, but more often I notice the odd cranky comment. It feels like crankiness is just sort of in the air.

It’s also March, and that’s a tough time of year. It’s hard this time of year. I often feel uninspired and really tired this time of year, and I think that’s normal for teachers.

All of the anti-educator rhetoric in the air is depressing. There is so much anger and uncertainty in the air.

I will work on it.

Meanwhile, I did hear that the NCTE conference proposal put together by Paul Hankins, Glenda Funk, Ami Szerencse, and me on the hero’s journey was accepted. Unfortunately, I will not be able to present with the Folger folks because the sessions were scheduled for the same time, but I am very excited about this presentation, and I hope to see you there. And that right there is a good reason to get out this malaise.

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Diigo Links (weekly)

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Academic Freedom

Free School Child's Hands Choosing Colored Pencils (unedited) Creative Commons

How much academic freedom do you have at your school?

In most places where I have worked, I have had some, but nowhere have I had as much as I do at the Weber School. In most places, if I wanted to teach a book that was not in the curriculum, a process was in place to evaluate the book, and in the end, I may or may not be able to teach it. In my first teaching position, I had a great deal of freedom because the school was in a state of disarray. I ordered a set of To Kill a Mockingbird books, and the purchase order was signed without question. In the second position, I needed to use the books I already had in my classroom for my Honors students, and I needed to use what we had in the book room for the others. In most places that meant I had some choice. I did not have to teach book X during time slot Y, but there were certain non-negotiables. I couldn’t choose to skip Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade, for instance, but my novel selection might be The Pigman or it might be something else.

While it’s still true that there are certain non-negotiables regarding works such as Romeo and JulietThe Odyssey, and the like, I have more choice in my current position. If I wanted to introduce a new book in my course, I could order it for the following year, and there would be no real process aside from ordering it. Our school orders paperback copies of novels and other consumable texts so that students may annotate. I am hoping down the road we can do more with Kindles, which would be cheaper to order for each student than copies of the texts we use.

I have, however, heard of some schools in which teachers follow what amounts to a scripted curriculum and need to be on a certain page on a certain day and have no choice regarding texts they teach. While such a curriculum ensures that students will be exposed to certain things on a defined timetable, it takes away creativity and doesn’t play to a teacher’s passions. I couldn’t teach like that.
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The Differentiator

Free Giant Macro Pencil and Pink Eraser Creative Commons

The Differentiator sounds like a professional wrestler’s stage name. It’s a cool tool, though. When I took Instructional Design as part of my Instructional Technology master’s, one point that the instructor and my text both emphasized was that objectives needed to be clear and measurable. One of my favorite methods for constructing objectives was the ABCD method advocated by Smaldino, Lowther, and Russell in Instructional Technology and Media for Learning, which was my textbook for Instructional Media (my favorite text). The ABCD model for writing objectives considers 1) audience—the learners; 2) behavior—what you want your audience to know or be able to do; 3) conditions—under what conditions (environment and materials) the objective will be assessed; and 4) degree—what will constitute an acceptable performance or demonstration of learning. The key with the “behavior” or verb in the objective is that it must be measurable.

Mager criticizes use of verbs that are not measurable in Preparing Instructional Objectives, a suggested text for Instructional Design. For instance, how would you measure whether students “appreciate” something or even whether they “learn” it? Smaldino, Lowther, and Russell say “[v]ague terms such as know, understand, and appreciate do not communicate your aim clearly. Better words include define, categorize, and demonstrate, which denote observable performance” (p. 93). A table on p. 93 of Instructional Technology and Media for Learning entitled “The Helpful Hundred” includes a great list of verbs for writing objectives. Of course, these types of charts are available everywhere, and maybe you even have a good one that you use. What I liked about the Differentiator is that you can use verbs organized via Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy to build objectives. The list is somewhat limited, but it’s a good start. Most of the verbs are measurable, too (I’m not sure how you would measure whether students “value” something, but that’s the only verb that struck me as difficult to measure and unclear to students). Using this model, you might write an objective like “Using a computer with word processing software, ninth grade students will write an essay with a score of 4 on a 5-point rubric where 5 = exceeds expectations.” (A similar example can be found on p. 94 of Smaldino, Lowther, and Russell.)

Mager’s model for writing objectives includes three major parts: 1) performance—what you want students to be able to do; 2) conditions—tools students can use and circumstances under which the performance will take place; and 3) criterion—the description for criteria for an acceptable performance. Using this model, you might, for instance, write an objective that reads “Given a computer with word processing software, students will write an essay with a score of 4 on a 5-point rubric where 5 = exceeds expectations.” The conditions are the computer and word processing software. The performance is writing the essay. The criterion is that the essay is at least meets expectations, earning an overall score of four.

A poor example of an objective with a similar goal might be “Students will know how to write an essay.” Using either model I’ve described will help you determine whether or not students know how to write an essay; they will also allow you to determine the degree of success and under what conditions you expect that performance to take place.

The Differentiator can help you write objectives similar to both of these models. I do think the content part of process is somewhat confusing and maybe unnecessary. For instance, I used the Differentiator to write “Students will construct a model of the solar system.” The missing piece is the criteria for an acceptable performance, but you get the idea. At any rate, it’s fun to play with and see what happens. I think it has potential to help teachers write higher order objectives more easily and perhaps help teachers remember to ask deeper questions.

It might seem somewhat cold or clinical to think about teaching this way, but it has made me think about what I what students to know or be able to do with much more clarity, and it has also made me think about how I will know students have learned something.

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Teaching Literature

remember to thank all the books you haven't read over the past three years

I love teaching literature. I’m not second-guessing my decision to move into technology. I really love working with technology, and I am excited that I’ll be able to do more of it. I’m also excited to be able to help my colleagues integrate technology or learn about technology. I will also still be teaching a British literature course and a writing course. However, as I teach British Romanticism, I have been thinking about how much I enjoy the material, and one thing I fear is that down the road, my school will decide not to let me teach it anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure I could let it go. I’m certainly not ready to let it go yet. I think it would be good for me to remain in the classroom, even in a diminished capacity, because it will keep me fresh for some of the ideas I want to help my colleagues implement. I am also happy at my school. I know that I can possibly team-teach some material with English teachers, but I must admit that if they remove me entirely from the English classroom, I will not know what to do with myself. At my core, I am a British literature teacher. It feeds my soul. Time will tell how it will work out, but I know I am not done teaching English.
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Shutting Down Class Discussion

Dana Huff Teaching

I know I said I would talk about tools on Wednesdays, but something came up. A student left a comment on my book blog post “Do You Hate Holden Caulfield?” It seems he had a rather negative (or I should say perceived it was negative) experience. If I understand his comment correctly, he felt silenced in the class discussion because he did not agree with his teacher’s opinion, and he had previously seen his teacher shut one of his peers down for voicing a contrary opinion.

Obviously I was not a member of the class, and I don’t know what was said. I told the student that what I thought had happened was the teacher really enjoys this book and wants students to enjoy it, too. It can be hard when students don’t love the books we love. But we shouldn’t dismiss opinions because they are different from our own. Students do not have the learning and the background with our subjects that we have, and they can make judgments based on much less information than we have. I think it’s our job to challenge students to explain why they make those judgments rather than attacking them for being “wrong.” I think they learn better from us if they feel listened to. I want to emphasize that I don’t know what happened in that classroom, but it sounded to me as if the student was describing a classroom in which he didn’t feel free to share his own conclusions. What he asked me was whether it was OK or right to hate Holden. I gave him my permission, for whatever it’s worth, and I shared my own journey with that character.

I will never forget sharing in an English Education assignment that I didn’t particularly like T.S. Eliot. I guess I hit a nerve because my professor treated me to an embarrassing public lecture on why I was wrong. I still don’t particularly like Eliot, but I understand his importance, and when he comes up in my curriculum, I teach my students to appreciate his work. But all that lecture did is make me dislike Eliot more, and it’s not poor Eliot’s fault.

So how can we share books we love with students and give them permission NOT to love them? How can we challenge them to justify their judgments? I think you should start by being honest with your students about your feelings for a book. They are surprisingly gentle (or at least, my own students have been—your mileage may vary considerably). I think the last message we want to send our students, however uninformed or incorrect we feel they may be, is that their opinions really don’t matter.

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Book Blogging

Tome Reader

First things first, a few questions. How many books do you estimate you read in a year? How do you know how many you read (do you have a system for keeping track, if so, what)? What kind of books do you like to read?

Do you blog about your reading?

Some years ago, I started a blog. It’s a bit older than this one, but it didn’t find a real focus until after this blog had already been established. The focus became books. At my book blog, I write about books and reading, I review every book I read, and I participate in reading challenges and memes. It has revolutionized the way I read.

First, I know that my blog has an audience, however small and perhaps irregular it might be, and I feel some compulsion to update with new material. I am reading more now than I ever have. The first year I blogged regularly about books, I think I read only 12 or 14 books that year. Last year, for the first time, I read 40. It might not seem like a lot to those of you who read 100+ or regularly devour over 50 books a year, but it was a milestone for me. I don’t mean to imply that it’s all about quantity instead of quality (if it were, I would read only skinny books instead of some of gigantic ones I’ve picked up over the last couple of months). However, I find that the more I read, the more quickly and more deeply I seem to read.

Reviewing each of my books gives me a record of what I read and what I thought about it right after I finished it. I can turn back and read my initial impressions on finishing each book I’ve read over the last three years or so. I am enjoying this record of my reading life.

I have also begun trying different ways to read. I have a Kindle, and began subscribing to DailyLit books some years ago (first read was Moby Dick, and I’m not sure I’d have read it otherwise, but I truly enjoyed it; my review is here). One thing I decided to try after some serious book blogging is audio books. Now I often have a book going in the car on my commutes, one in DailyLit, one paper book, and one e-book. I never used to juggle more than one book at a time, but I find that I can do so much more easily now than I used to be able to.

Another fun part of book blogging for me is the reading challenges. They vary in subject and theme. I decided to host my first reading challenge this year, and I am participating in many others. I find that they honestly remind me to try reading different things (although at the moment I’m on a huge historical fiction kick—always a favorite with me).

If Goodreads or Shelfari had existed when I started my book blog, would I have started one at all, or would I have used those networks to share reviews? I don’t know. I do have more freedom to completely customize my blog in ways that I can’t customize Shelfari or Goodreads, though I use both networks.

Ultimately, as this blog has made me more reflective of my teaching practices, my book blog has made me more reflective of my reading, which can only be a good thing—at least in my book (sorry; couldn’t resist).
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Your Favorite Teacher

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at deskTell me about your favorite teacher.

What role did your favorite teacher have in your own decision to become a teacher? In choosing the grade level or subject matter you teach?

What made your favorite teacher special? Why was he/she your favorite?

In what ways are you like or do you try to be like your favorite teacher?

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