Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Portfolios and Confidence

I've just finished skimming/reading Richard Kent's book, Room 109. The book is about portfolio assessed, student centered classrooms. He has an amazing format set up, supervises a high school Writing Center, and allows his students a lot of freedom, but comes across much more humble and honest than most education authors. I would definitely recommend the book.

I read Room 109 because I want to assess students using portfolios while student teaching next semester. Over the past week and a half, I've experienced varying degrees of confidence and concern. Yesterday I couldn't remember learning one thing about how to teach the same book to an entire class, all I could remember was book clubs. Pulling When Students Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers refreshed my memory, but how could I forget tools like anticipation guides so quickly?

I've been over confident too. If you checked the blog a few days ago, you'd find a rant about how I think vocabulary should be taught in schools and how not to teach it. My naive complaining made me so sick I deleted the post before too many readers could judge me by it.

Despite by three and a half years of college education and three semesters in smaller student teaching roles, I feel now as if I still don't know what I'm doing. But I also have all these ideas I want to bring into the classroom. It's hard to describe - I have the theory, but not the practice.

Professor Chance Lewis had two phrases last semester: "Never think you're good, 'cause that's when you're not," and have confidence in front of your students or they'll eat you alive.

Where's the line that I need to walk?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pilot Podcast

Well, the first podcast is here. In this first one, I interview a fellow student teacher, Cherie Hanavan, who's moving to the inner city of Minneapolis to do her semester of student teaching. I also reflect a little bit on my hopes and fears. The volume is a little piecemeal on this one, you may be playing with your speaker volume a little bit throughout, just to warn you. Hope you enjoy it and please feel free to drop any comments or suggestions.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Teacher Webpages

Here's a question for discussion:

In a school where there is a percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, who probably don't have a computer at home, is it fair to have a teacher webpage for students with computers to download assignments they forgot at home IF the teacher doesn't hold students accountable for retriving information from the webpage? Does it just offer an additional resource, or does it give more affluent students an advantage?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Book Club / Literature Cirlces

One more post, then I need to go pack my wife's lunch so she can go to work:

I had this idea a couple weeks ago that maybe if students had to read a required text, they could still use book clubs but analyze the book using different literary theories or different approaches. One group could approach the book from a predominately topical standpoint. Another group from a cultural, another from social.

1. Would this work?
2. Does this preserve any of the advantages of book clubs? Students would still have some choice in their study, and they would be working in groups . . . the real question is would this kind of book club benefit the student, or am I just trying to do book clubs for the sake of doing them?

Reply E-mail

I was almost done with the last post when I got a reply from my mentor teacher, saying that Night is required reading for all eighth graders - which is totally cool and something I partially expected.

I bombarded her with another three questions in my reply (I hope I'm not coming across as too much of a boat rocker).

In Cindy O'Donnell-Allen's Methods for Teaching Language Arts we discussed a study she did while working on her doctorate (I think?) where they trained educators and then met up with them again after one year. The majority of the teachers implimented traditional pedagogies in their classrooms instead of new strategies they had been taught in college. I don't want to lose what I've been taught.

At the same time, in his book Teaching English through Principled Practice (the main text for the same class), Peter Smagorinsky talks about how many teachers lose their jobs after their first year because they go into schools and alienate themselves from the other teachers by trying to impliment entirely different teaching methods - and are very vocal about it.

I know I have a lot to learn. I know that many of the teachers I'll be working with next semester can teach me a great deal. I also think that because I've just spent four years reading about all the "radical" new pedagogies that maybe I can show them a trick or two as well.

So how fine is the line that I need to walk? Or is it really three lanes wide and I'm just freaking out?

Student Teaching Experience

This week I met with my mentor teacher at Boltz Junior High here in Fort Collins. I was able to convince her to let me start teaching four sections of her 8th grade English and a 7th grade Study Skills class. Needless to say, I'm very excited and at the same time scared out of my skin.

I'm already running into questions within myself as to how much I should try to impliment the sometimes radical pedagogies I've learned at CSU. Even while being diplomatic, I don't want to stick my neck out there as someone who doesn't think the way things are being done now are good enough.

Maybe I should give an example:

I am a huge supporter of book clubs; I think they're the best thing in the world. Students who get to choose what they read are going to read the book. If a teacher assigns one book and has students read it, how many will read it, and how many will really read it and enjoy it and see some need to read it beyond the test? (I don't know the answers to these questions, but my opinion is that there is some percentage of the average class at each end of this field). Book clubs are the closest things that I've found that come near Daniel Pennac's Bill of Reader's Rights (there's another thing, I always wanted to put those on a big poster up on the wall in my room - can I do that here if I get permission to change the room? Where's the line?)

So right now I'm asking my mentor teacher if Night by Elie Wesel is required reading for all eighth graders, or if I could let groups choose from 6 different books about the holocaust like The Diary of Anne Frank or Maus. When do my questions stop being ways for me to make my teaching my own and start interfearing with the way the department and school want to teach their curriculum?

Friday, December 2, 2005

Podcast Cometh

I have gotten Our Media to work and will be posting the first podcast by the end of December, at the latest.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Teaching Grammar

It's been a while since my last post; we're in the final weeks of the semester at CSU, and I'm finishing up projects (mostly starting and finishing) for all my classes. Busy days and nights here.

We did have an amazing discussion in Teaching Composition Wednesday though. Check out these two excerpts from a student paper:

"I couldn't go to the party last Friday. Which really was too bad since everyone I knew was going to be there."


"I think the Beatles had it right when they said there is a time for everything. A time to laugh. A time to cry. So true."

As English teachers, which do we mark wrong. If both, what message do we send to students about playing with language and the stylistic use of sentence fragments? If neither, do we do them a disservice in that they will continue to use sentences like the first example? If the first and not the second, how do we explain to them the difference?

Futhermore, how do we as educators explain to our students the varying expectations English teachers hold to their students? I may let my students experiment with sentence fragments, but I know there are teacher who would not approve. Aren't we telling our students that they need to judge the grammar they use for every audience they ever write for? And should our stuents think that they'll know wider audiences as intimately as their English teachers?

Our class, I believe, reached a concensus. We do need to mark sentence fragments, at least in the first case, but not fix them for the student. A margin note (in pencil, or at least a different color pen than red) asking "These ideas seem disjointed, can you phrase this differently?" (I don't know if disjointed is a word, but that's why I am a descriptive grammarist.)

This begins to raise some other questions I have regarding grammar and grammar instruction. Reserach shows that traditional grammar instruction, like in workbooks and sentence diagraming, is not only ineffective, but damaging to students.

So, should I teach prescriptive grammar to my students so that they know, for example, what a sentence fragment is? Is this important? Does it help the students? Or is this more subvert approach the best and only tool I should use?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

An Online Writing Center

In his book Room 109, Richard Kent sets up a collegesque writing center in his high school and starts a by-invitation class for skilled student writers to tutor stuggling ones.

Our composition class at the college pairs with students in Fleming, New York, and Fort Collins to offer students feedback on their writing.

Could these two ideas be melded? Is there research showing benefit for an Advanced Composition class helping students in Basic Composition edit their work? Is an online writing center as effective as one that helps students face-to-face? Which are students more likely to use?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Arrrg . . . so far no luck

My test podcast file didn't upload properly, so they're trying to figure out what happened. We'll see how things go . . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


It's been a long time since my last post. I've been looking the past week into doing some podcasting, and I'm starting to line up some "guests" for the first few casts (is that what you call them? Casts?).

There are some great programs for those who are looking for free production and hosting. Audiacity is a free licensed program I found last year while trying to make a CD of a band I played in. We never made the CD, but using this program along with a .wav to .mp3 file converter works great. The reviews for this one aren't great, but I haven't experienced any problems with it over the past two years. It checked out for no adware/spyware as well. You can run multiple tracks and use numerous input devices.

The hosting took a little bit longer to find, but I just tested OurMedia and Internet Archive in the hopes that they'll work out. They've also teamed up with Creative Commons for copyrighting and ccPublisher for uploading (although the uploader experienced some error when I tried it.)

So I haven't completed the process yet, but in theory the production and posting will remain free all the way.

Monday, November 7, 2005

IEPs for Every Student

So my student teaching application got declined from Preston Jr. High School. It's a bummer, but I'm attributing it to my good looks: I was just too handsome.

I did write a fairly lame philosophy of teaching, in one part saying that every student should have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).

I hope this wasn't interpreted in the wrong way. I'm just saying that every student should have a chance to tell everyone what works best for him/her, and if he/she doesn't know, then the parents, coaches, friends, and other teachers can be there.

I think I got this idea from Terry Deniston, who I think suggested this very thing.

The time such as process would take, even if informally set up by the teacher, is enormous. But wouldn't that be cool, if every student could have some things that work out well for them implimented in the classroom. Some teachers already do it informally, but why not put it on paper so all the students' teachers can access it? Something to think about.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

On Demand Publishing

With a little bit of money, maybe from parents or a grant, this might be possible.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Multigenre Graphic Blogging

Instead of working on my assignment for class, I was poking around on Blogger and found this site. With all the pictures, I had the idea that maybe students could use Picasa to do some sort of multigenre project to publish online. Just a thought.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Publishing in our Classrooms

I've been thinking a lot recently about publishing and education. It started in E 402 - Teaching Compostion as we were talking about the writing process. I was curious about how publishing could work in classrooms without spending large amounts of money but still fulfill the purpose of lending importance and professionalism to students' work, something that they could look back on and be proud of.

My stream of thought continued when Bud Hunt, a teacher at Olde Columbine High School in Loveland, CO, spoke to my teaching methods class. Bud has a great deal of experience utilizing technology in his English classrooms, and he is a member of the Colorado State University Writing Project. The possiblity of publishing with blogs and podcasts intrigued me.

I'm still processing all this while working with Rebecca Fox, another member of the CSU Writing Project and an amazing teacher at Fort Collins High School. She teaches composition and advanced composition and has been kind enough to let me teach some lessons.

So I decided I'd give blogging and podcasting a try.

How do you promote publishing in your classrooms while maintaining a tight budget?

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About Pedagogy in Practice

My name is Ben Bleckley and I am a teacher. I have a spouse of 12 years, Jennie, a four year old, Fletcher, and a one year old, Alder.

I started this blog as an English education student at Colorado State University in 2005. My initial goals were to learn more about educational technology and its use in the classroom. It has evolved to become my own form of professional development; writing and reading education blogs makes me a better teacher. My purpose on this blog is to write about the science of teaching English language arts.

In spring 2006 I taught eighth grade English and seventh grade study skills at Boltz Junior High School in Fort Collins, Colorado as a student teacher. I returned to school in the fall to complete a linguistics class. In spring 2007 I was a substitute teacher in grades K-12 for Poudre School District.

In July 2007 I departed for South Africa where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Schools and Community Resources Project. I helped teachers implement the government's Outcomes Based Education and Revised National Curriculum Statement, improve classroom management and instruction, and share American culture with South Africans.  In other words, I played soccer, ultimate, or blob tag [pictured] with a bunch of kids every Saturday.  You can read more about the projects Jennie and I completed at our Peace Corps blog, Jennie and Ben's Excellent Adventure.

During the 2008-2009 school year I was a temporary language arts teacher at St. Helens High School in St. Helens, Oregon, about 30 miles north of Portland along the Columbia River. I taught 9th grade language arts and 11th grade American literature half-time and continued to substitute in Portland area districts for all subjects and grade levels.

In the 2009-2010 school year I taught a literacy workshop course at St. Helens High School to incoming freshmen for three periods each morning and began my graduate degree in education and reading at Portland State University.  I taught for six years total in St. Helens School District, with brief stints at Health and Science School in Beaverton, Oregon and Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon.  While I've taught language arts in all of these schools, I have also taught reading intervention in many.

To be closer to family, we moved to Colorado in the summer of 2016 and I worked for a year at Lake International School in Denver.  For the 2017-2018 school year I am working as a language arts and reading teacher at Lakewood High School.

Thank you for visiting Pedagogy in Practice. I appreciate your readership and your comments. Feel free to send me an e-mail at benbleckley [at] gmail.com, follow me on Twitter, or be my friend on Facebook or Plurk.

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