In Progress: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

I began reading Alexandra Robbins’s new book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. I am only a little over 20 pages into the book, and I can already tell this is a book that teachers and parents need to pay attention to. I may journal my thoughts as I read here at this blog as I have with other professional reading in the past. I haven’t read any of Robbins’s other books, but I have heard that The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids is also good.

As a child who had difficulty socially in school and who never was popular, I can relate the book’s message.

So… anyone want to read this one with me? I know that Gary Anderson is already reading it. Summer book club anyone?

Full disclosure: the publisher sent me a free copy of this book (not that it will impact any future reviews).

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Thinking Like an English Teacher

Moleskineh

I’m packing up my classroom this week. I won’t have my own classroom next year as I will only be teaching two classes. I am not weepy over losing my classroom. I don’t view it as home or anything like that. I have accumulated a lot of stuff over thirteen years of teaching English. I have been throwing a lot of stuff out. Not in the crazy way I did in 2001 when I swore I was leaving teaching for good and never turning back (I still lament some of the things I lost then). I think I might teach English again some time, but I’m not sure when. For the record, I am teaching a writing class and newspaper next year.

The weirdest thing is trying to turn off the English teacher in me. For instance, just now, I was reading Holly Tucker’s Wonders and Marvels blog, and she is giving away three copies of Mary Chesnut’s diary. I thought first that I could use that for my classroom library. What a great primary resource for the Civil War era if I teach American literature. But then, I reminded myself, I won’t be teaching American literature any time soon, and where would I put it if I just wanted it for some time in the distant future (just in case, you know)? This incident is not the first of its kind, nor do I think it will be the last. In some ways, it makes me a little sad. I am an English teacher, and it’s hard to switch gears and think of myself differently. I think in some way, I will always be an English teacher, even if I never teach English again (which I don’t believe will happen). Some things happened as I began the transition to Technology Integration Specialist that have left a sour taste in my mouth, and they have contributed to my mixed feelings—I won’t get into them here.

I am excited. I love working with teachers, which is something that presenting at conferences has taught me. I also love technology. Indeed, I have a passion for technology integration. I have a lot of ideas that I couldn’t necessarily implement in my classroom, but that I would love to help others implement. I have always been interested in other subjects besides English, and working with teachers will enable me to explore these interests alongside them. I will need to think more broadly about an educator. Instead of keeping my eyes open for interesting English ideas, I need to look for ideas of interest to teachers in all subjects. I think I will find the new role challenging and interesting.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Amir Kuckovic

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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).
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ozyman

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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?

Creative Commons License photo credit: George Eastman House

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What I’ve “Drawn” Up

CreativityIn a previous post, I discussed some trouble I had teaching a lesson, and basically, it all hinged on the vocabulary my students had. One mistake I made, I think, was assuming I needed to get in the middle of the learning. When my other class reads “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” today, they are going to use a remixed version of Joe Scotese’s group work lesson on the poem. Changes I made to the lesson:

  • I took out references to the Milton poem and “The Rape of the Lock.” (Essentially removed questions 1-3 on Joe’s lesson).
  • I tweaked the other questions
    • I removed references to Uncle Remus, Song of the South, etc. from question 4.4.
    • I added the word “pastoral” to terms to look up and discuss along with the image of The Shepherdess by Jean Honoré Fragonard (which I put on the back of my revised questions).
    • I removed question 4.9 because I removed the Pope excerpt.
    • I altered question 4.17 to remove reference to Uncle Remus.

Joe’s work is copyrighted, rather than licensed under a Creative Commons license, but you are free to join his site and download the lesson. I am not able to publish my altered version because I respect Joe’s wishes regarding the publication of his work.

One critical component of Joe’s work is that in the groups, students read the poem and do not go on until they understand what is being said. I think students might need to read with dictionaries in hand, and I will be able to facilitate as they discuss in groups, but putting more of the work on them and making them more active is a positive change. I’ll leave a comment here after the lesson and let you know how it went.

I have also recently come upon Dawn Hogue’s text for Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (PDF). Dawn has created a great text that invites students to annotate and think about the story. A lot of the fat literature anthologies don’t include this story, and I like it better than some of the more commonly anthologized stories, so I am grateful to Dawn for sharing.

I was also pleased to discover Romantic Circles as I prepare to teach Romanticism in British Lit. and Comp. Romantic circles has electronic texts, audio, literary criticism, and teaching ideas.

On an unrelated note, I discovered that my Diigo account wasn’t updating with a links post each Sunday, and I have fixed the problem. My Diigo links should now publish each Sunday for those of you who follow the RSS feed and don’t see them in the sidebar to the left.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mark van Laere

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Back to the Drawing Board

Tapping a PencilMy lesson on Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” bombed pretty spectacularly today. Well, that might be a bit hyperbolic. Surely the time of day, and few classroom irregularities also bear some blame.

I began the lesson by telling students I was going to tell them a story. In Rebecca Fraser’s The Story of Britain, there is a fantastic story about General James Wolfe’s capture of Quebec in the French and Indian War. Things were going badly for the English and Americans. The French wouldn’t budge out of Montreal, and the only way to get to them was up a steep cliff. To top it off, Wolfe had consumption and was so sick at one point he could barely lift his head. He tried to give orders, but all the English attempts to engage the French were failures. Summer was passing quickly, and before long, fall would come, freezing over the St. Lawrence, and making an attack unfeasible until the spring thaw. Suddenly Wolfe’s consumption went into remission, and he hatched a crazy plan. He had seen a little inlet and wondered if he could get his troops up the cliff. From the text:

At dead of night, Wolfe led the the 5,000 British and American soldiers with blackened faces silently downriver in rowing boats till they were opposite the Heights of Abraham. As he was borne along the treacherous river whose rocks and shoals made it a hazard to all but Quebeçois, Wolfe softly read out his favourite poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray, published only a few years before, a copy of which his fiancée had just sent out to him from England. His thin face, touched by moonlight, seemed to wear a beatific expression as he murmured the sonorous words whose Romantic, melancholic spirit echoed his own. As the mysterious cliffs loomed up ahead and the men rested on their muffled oars, Wolfe closed the book. ‘Well, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I had rather have written that poem than take Quebec.’ But then he leaped overboard, into the swirling St Lawrence, and ran ahead of them until his was only one of the many tiny figures on the vast cliff face pulling themselves up by ropes.

When dawn rose over Quebec Montcalm [the French commander] awoke to see on the plain behind him, above the cliffs said to be unclimbable, row after row of British redcoats. They were in battle array and far outnumbered the French, whose sentries’ mangled bodies bestrewed the cliffs or floated in the river below. It was a breathtaking, almost impossible, feat, to have put thousands of men on top of a cliff overnight, but Wolfe had done it.

Wolfe died of wounds received in the battle, but his attack was successful, and the English captured Quebec. And yet he says he would rather have written Gray’s poem. After telling my students this story, I asked them to close their eyes and try to picture the images as I read the poem. That was a mistake. It’s about 128 lines long, which is bearable, but longer than their attention spans for sure. Second, they did not have the vocabulary to picture the images in the poem. After I read the poem, the students journaled, and that was where I lost them. They didn’t know what to write, and they knew they had trouble comprehending the language, so they felt a little lost. That was when I realized my mistake. We read it a second time, and I redeemed myself a bit. If I were to do the activity again, I wouldn’t read the poem aloud. Instead, we would read it together or I would split them in groups to read and annotate. I might even have had them read the poem for homework and define all the words they didn’t understand as they read.

My thinking with the read-aloud is that the poem has such strong imagery that I thought listening would lead my students to a stronger understanding of the images used in the poem. I had always intended to read the poem twice, but the first time through was a bit of a waste of our time.

Back to the drawing board!

Do you teach this poem in your class? How do you tackle the vocabulary?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Rennett Stowe

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Mubarak Resigned

Protestors“Mrs. Huff, Mubarak resigned!” Jacob said.

“What?” I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly.

“Mubarak resigned. Egypt.”

“Really? No way.”

In moments, my Newspaper students were attempting to find the best coverage. We pulled up Twitter to see what people were saying. We read the Wikipedia article just updated. One student was shocked to learn there was an entire article devoted to the current events in Egypt. I said it might be merged into the larger Egypt article once the crisis died down. Jacob complained about the coverage in The New York Times. I said to check The Guardian—they usually had pretty good world news coverage. I pulled out my iPhone and opened my Guardian app. Sure enough, updates every few minutes or so. I read some of them to the students.

“He was president for 30 years, wasn’t he?”

“I think so.”

“Egypt is free,” Jacob said.

I have to say it was a really cool moment to be teaching Newspaper.

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2010

The Road to Tomorrow (and Happy 2009!)

I have never been much of a fan of New Year’s Eve. I think it’s the grandmother of all parties, and I just don’t like parties. I know that makes me weird. I don’t like going out on New Year’s Eve, and I never have understood why it’s such a big celebration.

Reflection, on the other hand, I understand.

I had a pretty good 2010. I earned my master’s in Instructional Technology from Virginia Tech. I presented at a national conference for the first time and was asked to present again next year. I was named GCTE Secondary Teacher of the Year and NCTE Teacher of Excellence. Professionally, I accomplished more this year than I have any other year. I also read more books than I have in any other year. I went on a trip to Salem, MA. I made some new friends. My friendships with others deepened. I’m looking forward to doing more this year, and I hope it will be a good one. I do have some dreams and goals that remain unaccomplished, and this year feels like a good one to get rolling on them. After all, I’ll be turning 40 in September, and one thing I won’t have is more time.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stuck in Customs

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The Kids are All Right

I just came across this tweet by Jim Burke:

Jim Burke's tweetI feel the same way. I love to hear from students, both current and former about the great things they’re doing out there in the world. Jeremy came by the school to visit last week and told me about his work with the Wilderness Society. He’s been blogging with them at WildernessU-Georgia. You can learn more about him by clicking on their About page. They don’t have posts tagged by author, but if scroll a bit, you can find some of his posts. Here are a few recent ones:

As his former English teacher, I’m thrilled he’s writing. He graduates from college this year, and I’m proud of him.

I shared Jake’s blog and wonderful photography with you recently, but here it is again, in case you missed it: Life of Jake. Jake is a gifted artist with that camera—something I didn’t know about him when he was my student, but I’ve been happy to discover it since then. He’s also an excellent writer and thinker.

Julian is really busy with college, but he blogs about GTD, organization, and productivity at 2WheeledLife. He has some helpful tips, and I have enjoyed discovering all he’s learned.

They are just beginning to go out into the world and do great things, but I’m really proud of them, and I will be interested to see what they do in the future. And I don’t worry too much about the future, because in the inimitable words of Who, “the kids are all right.” [Sorry for the paraphrase—I teach grammar and can’t write alright. See? Although I will voice my radical opinion that it should be standard when its cousins altogether and already are. Just saying.]

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Edublog Awards

Nominated Teacher BlogThis blog has been nominated for an Edublog award in the category of Best Teacher Blog. If you feel this blog has earned this distinction, you can vote for it here.

I mentioned on Twitter tonight that I have some mixed feelings about these kinds of awards. I think often this particular awards competition turns into a popularity contest. As far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever been shortlisted for any sort of Edublog award, but I see a lot of the same names appear on these award shortlists over and over. Also, I don’t know about a Lifetime Achievement Award. Education blogging has only been around about ten years or so, and Lifetime Achievement doesn’t seem like the best language to use. I also don’t really think these awards are necessarily about good or helpful writing or tweeting.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m honored that any readers enjoyed this blog enough to feel it deserved to be nominated for the award. As far as I’m concerned, if I was that helpful to anyone, then I won.

I think Edublogs does good work, and I think it’s nice that they recognize the hard work of other bloggers, even bloggers that don’t use their service, but I also don’t like the idea of “competition” for this sort of thing. I like to see blogging, tweeting, and wikis as collaborative, as conversations. I like to reflect here, to share resources. If there were any awards for blogging when I started doing it five and a half years ago, then I didn’t know about them. I would hate to think anyone was motivated by these awards (and I actually don’t believe that). Who knows? Maybe it bothers me that this blog has never been recognized until now—I fully admit my ambivalent feelings about blog awards could be tied to the fact that I haven’t won one. If I had, perhaps I might value them more highly.

I think this kind of thing is different from teaching awards, such as teacher of the year. The process for selection is so different. As far as I know, the process is blind in that judges evaluate the parts of a TOY application without knowing the nominees or perhaps even knowing the names of the nominees. The application package I submitted included a description of a typical day in my classroom, two letters of recommendation (one from a student and one from my headmaster), my philosophy of education, and descriptions of two sample lessons. I have no idea how many people were in the running for the award. I can tell you that I tied for GCTE’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. The reason GCTE selected me for the NCTE Secondary Section Teacher of Excellent Award is that they could not recognize both of their winners for the ToE award, so they took a revote, and I was selected. That award means a lot to me because I was selected by other English teachers—my peers.

While Edublogs awards work in a similar fashion, I think it is dominated (and understandably so) by “tech” folks—instructional technologists, technology educators, and ISTE folks. They would, after all, be the most comfortable with blogging, at least early on. Older blogs have an edge in this competition, and most of those older blogs are owned by tech folks. But tech folks aren’t the only ones with great ideas and knowledge to share, and I think in recognizing these same people over and over, we are missing out on some great new voices or even some older voices who for whatever reason are not nominated.

One of the reasons this blog has a high page rank in Google is that it’s been around for five years, so lots of people have linked to it (and thank you!). If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure it is the best teacher’s blog out there, or even the best English teacher’s blog—it is, however, one of the oldest. I’ve been very absent from writing here as I attended graduate school. I have felt uninspired with regards to this blog, too. As a result, I haven’t posted a whole lot on this blog in the last year or two. I do feel that may have changed in the last week, but the year as a whole has not been a stellar blogging year for me, at least not here (my book blog is quite another story, and frankly, I think the nomination and shortlisting process for Book Blogger Appreciation Week is much more sound and thorough—and no, that blog wasn’t nominated for a Book Blogger Award because I didn’t submit my blog for one). Actually, I think Silvia Tolisano’s Langwitches blog has probably been the most influential teacher’s blog I’ve read in the last year. Plus the witches are extremely cute. It has a great design and great writing. And she updates frequently.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for nominating me.

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