Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some Job Networking

I doubt the few of you that read this will be able to do much, but I firmly believe that half of finding work is through networking.

I'm doing some tutoring in Fort Collins, if anyone out there is interested or knows someone who is interested.

In other news, I've just applied for a job at Lincoln Junior High School teaching (I think) remedial reading (my dream job at my dream school). Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Whales Use Grammar

While this may not have a whole lot to do with teaching, I thought it was too cool. I've been convinced for a while that whales are way smarter than we realize.
To the casual human listener, the love song of a humpback whale sounds magnificently free-flowing and improvised.

But fresh mathematical analysis of the song shows there are complex grammatical rules. Using syntax, the whales combine sounds into phrases, which they further weave into hours-long melodies packed with information.

Full story

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Time: How to Bring Our Schools Into the 20th Century

The swinging pendulum has manifested itself in the Time cover story this week:
American schools aren't exactly frozen in time, but considering the pace of change in other areas of life, our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks. Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed. A yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) separates the world inside the schoolhouse from the world outside.
No wonder student would rather text message on their cell phones than listen to us.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Thinking and Rethinking

I've been rethinking a lot recently about the thinking I did over the summer about my semester of student teaching last spring. I'm really beginning to see this fall semester when I had to go back and retake one class for my degree as a blessing in disguise. I've been able to take some more time to assess my teaching before getting in my own classroom.

I've thought and rethought so much about my teaching that I can see where I've gone wrong and so many things that I'll never let happen again - like teaching without thinking. I never really looked back to assess my own teaching during my student teaching. My excuse was I was too tired. But how hard would it have been to type up a few paragraphs on the blog after school each day. It might not have been deep reflection, but I could have reached that reflection later, after going back and looking at my initial reactions.

And thanks to Google Reader (man, technology is just so cool! I just never got into any of the other readers, but with this as my homepage, I'm reading like crazy) I've been reading a lot more of other blogs than I was before - get ready to watch the aggregator grow. Here's a post from Donna that got me thinking about my rethinking my thinking.

What's the Motivation Behind Writing Workshop?

I sure hope this happens to other people besides me: when you think of something after a lesson that you should have thought of before - only in this paticular case, replace lesson with unit.

Maybe someone out in the blogosphere will have an answer to this question. I was pondering my student teaching this morning, as I do from time to time when my mind drifts, and about writing workshop. What is the motivation for a student to put together a portfolio in an average English class? Theoretically, if one comes up with some really good writing prompts, students will want to write. But what if you have a student or students who just really hate writing. It would seem they should have to learn to write at a functional level, but why should they be happy about writing poetry or short stories or anything other than the essay they might have to write in college, depending on their major, and the reports they might have to write depending on their job. Usually, we can convince students that writing has some factor of coolness associated with it, but what if we can't?

So then one thinks they're being a really cool teacher encouraging students to write poetry and stories and multigenre projects in addition to the essays required by standards. But then students end up disgruntled for making them write so much.

The limited stuff I've read on writing workshops comes from three books: In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, Room 109 by Richard Kent, and A Community of Writiers by Steven Zimmerman and Harvey Daniels. Atwell works at a private school for highly motivated, gifted students. Kent teaches an elective writing course. Zimmerman and Daniels encourage workshops as well, and for all I know are pretty well rounded teachers.

So maybe writing workshop shouldn't happen in required English courses. It seems like the students who would benefit from it would lose out, but what do you do with the students who hate to write if you can't get them to love or like or endure writing? Fail them?

In my naivity I think I'm missing something? Can someone help? Maybe this never happens, maybe all students find motivation to write if they're asked the right questions - I don't know.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Correcting Writing Errors

I read an interesting post today by Dana concerning marking errors in student papers:
Exactly which method of writing instruction works best?
  • Explicitly marking each error in a student’s paper.
  • Marking a line, indicating an error, but leaving it for the student to identify what the error is.

Which method do you use? Which method do you think would help students learn errors and how to correct them?

I've posted on this subject very briefly before, although in a different context. In a class I took a year ago (Teaching Reading was the title), we read Breaking the Rules by Edgar Schuster. One of the book's premises (if I remember right, I can't find it on the bookshelf) was that students don't need to know the rules of grammar before they write. They can learn them along the way with minilessions and by trial and error.

Nina's comment to Dana's post was pretty much along the same lines of Schuster's and my thinking:
I would generally put a check to the right of a line and write down the section of Hacker that addressed the error. They were required to look up the info for a homework grade and correct the errors. Usually I tried to focus primarily on those aspects we’d covered in class. If a particular type of error occurred more than once, I’d make a note of it in my comments at the end of the paper.
The only thing I would add (and this isn't really adding, but elaborating, I guess; I just like listening to myself talk) is that errors in grammar and capitalization or any other aspect of "Standardized American English" can be a progressive thing throughout the year. Start with minilessons at the beginning of the year and in the first paper, only mark those errors that were taught in class. Before the next paper, do another minilesson or two and then add those to the list one marks in papers.

And while I'm thinking about it, here's another interesting tidbit I learned from Marty Marsh at Lesher Junior High, though I don't know the original source. If you use a pen when you correct papers, a study found students feel worse when the marks are made in red than in another color. Woah, Twilight Zoney . . .

Monday, December 4, 2006

This I Believe

Anne, a teacher working with Karl Fisch, is having her students podcast "This I Believe" essays. What a cool idea.

I wonder how many of her students are familiar with the NPR series, and if there's something similar in the younger culture that one could also do this with. Doesn't MTV or VH1 have some sort of poetry jam thing?

Saturday, December 2, 2006


I'm not convinced this has practical applications, but I'm going to try it out after my post on vocabulary instruction. Wordie describes itself as "like Flickr, but without the photos." It seems like students could create a network of words this way, but they'd have to go about it right . . . maybe the most useful thing is the ability to discuss words and leave comments. It might be cool for word awareness, if nothing else.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Rethinking Vocabulary Instruction

So, I just turned in the last research paper of my undergraduate career (I hope). I'm one of those sick people who like writing papers about things. This particular paper was for linguistics and was about vocabulary instruction.

I don't know what it is about me and teaching vocabulary, but I'm really psyched about it. I think part of it may have been that I was forced to copy definitions from dictionaries, and now that I know there are better ways to do it, I'm so ready to stick it to the man! Not that there's anything wrong with dictionaries - they're a great tool for the right jobs, but learning vocabulary isn't one of them.

At least, that's what I argue, and what the limited research I've read says. The studies I looked at basically tested three different types of vocabulary instruction:

1. Definition-based instruction. Usually consists of a list of words that students look up and write down the definitions to on Monday. For homework they study them. On Friday, they take a test.

2. Using context as a clue. Students read sentences and paragraphs that contain a target word and infer the meaning from what they can figure out from the surrounding material.

3. Semantic mapping methods. New words are linked with simpler words already in a student's mental lexicon. Psycholinguistic find that words are connected in a giant mental web in four ways - groups of words on the same level (like salt, pepper, mustard, antonyms fall in this category as well); words that often go together (like salt and water, butterfly and net); words that are part of a group signified by another word (like salt and spices, or robin and bird); and finally synonyms (like hungry and starving). These four have big complicated titles, but who really wants to know those, anyway?

So basically, the research shows that definition-based instruction doesn't work well in the short run, and there's definitely little to none retention. Context works when students are really, really great readers, what Kylene Beers called "independent readers." Otherwise, it's not so hot. But semantic mapping methods seem to work really well.

Now, I would argue, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach students how to use dictionaries and how to figure out unknown words from context clues. That is what will bring them independence after all, and context is how students pick up on the 2,000 to 3,000 words they learn each year.

But, I would suggest, that when we do teach vocabulary, we should teach either subject specific vocabulary, or we should be focusing on one book that has particularly hard vocabulary, and not just words we think students might use someday. And when we teach it, we should link it in some way to words they're already familiar with. Then the words will get assimilated into the mental lexicon, and students will actually, possibly, start to use them in their speaking and writing.

Here comes the twister - are you ready (if you read this far into this post, I'm really impressed. Everyone else fell asleep.) Students who choose their own vocabulary words from their reading (keeping some sort of reading journal or "new words" chart) also learn vocabulary better. It's the old "invested in learning" trickero. So if we had students who used word charts AND used semantic mapping, imagine the possibilities!

So now I need to integrate this into what I did in my student teaching last semester. I did have students use a vocabulary chart where they picked up new words each week. Then I ruined everything by having them put it into a wiki that was organized by letter. What was I thinking? I wasn't. I know, it's heartbreaking. Silly Ben.

And I was thinking today, maybe it could be organized like a web, so that it would be a collective mental lexicon of the classes. That sounds cool, but I don't know what purpose it would fulfill. I mean, maybe if the students could start linking all these different words together, it would be like a semantic mapping method, but it also might just be a model of semantic mapping, and students might not get anything from it.

But, my hunches tell me there's some way to use a wiki along with this. I'm going to do some thinking about this, and if any of you have some ideas, please leave a comment.

How Does This Work?

Here's a post by Camdaram that made me think of Cindy's post yesterday. I would argue that Cam's activity "worked." How do we define things that "work" in the classroom?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What a conundrum

Teachers with more experience might not feel the same way, but Cindy's post, "What Does It Mean to Say Something Works" blew my mind. You'd think all us educators would have a good answer to that question, but after reading her post I was hemming and hawing trying to piece together something that made sense.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Too Much Writing?

In my last podcast, I talked about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my participation in it. The good news (actually, it's bad news, but my younger, more spite-filled self wouldn't think so) is that my brother won't be able to finish his book this year. The bad news is, I doubt I'll be able to either.

I am so tired of writing right now. But I'm glad I tried this out before doing it with my future students. That's a new rule for me, that should be common sense, but it wasn't when I was doing my student teaching: try something yourself before you ask your students to do it. That goes right in line with another rule: don't assign homework thinking you're the only teacher the students have.

What is really cool about NaNoWriMo, however, is that it is basically a really long free write. The novel I thought I would be writing has taken on a life of it's own and headed in a different direction. The message is the same, but the plot and cast of characters is very different from what I originally planned. And I feel good about how much I've written, the 12,000 plus words.

On the flip side, I'm not sure that writing should be so strongly associated with a number - the 50,000 words you have to reach to be a NaNoWriMo "Winner." I agree that finishing a draft is a good idea before revising and rewriting. But a length requirement, I don't think, is the best idea.

But any way, long post short, I am very tired of writing, and even though I know where to go next in the novel, I don't want to write any more.

What Makes Blogging Important

Cindy has an awesome post about why blogging is important to education.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Podcast Episode 5

It's been a while since my last podcast (there goes my brilliant plan of one a week over the summer, huh?) Episode 5 is supposed to get me back in the groove. Some notes on Google Reader, blogs I recommend, and substitute teaching.

And if anyone has noticed, I mixed up my Pedagogy in Practice Podcast feed file with the one for the ONE Campaign in Fort Collins. It's fixed now, sorry about that.

Show notes: - National Novel Writing Month - Professor Cindy OA's new blog - on demand publishing - Google Reader (revamped!)

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Last year, much to my jealousy and . . . other adverbs, my younger brother particiapated in National Novel Writing Month. He wrote an over 50,000 word novel.

As an English major, I was not very happy being shown up by some punk high school senior. But I was.

And many are. NaNoWriMo has a student novel writing program, if you're wondering what to do in class next month. I know I'd feel pretty cool writing a novel in middle or high school.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Day of School

Tomorrow is the first day of school for Poudre School District and CSU, here in Fort Collins.

I'm jealous of my peers who will begin new semesters tomorrow, who have developed lesson plans and are ready to meet their new students. I'm having my own little pity party, wishing I had another chance to teach in a classroom, even student teach again.

Instead, I'll be returning to school tomorrow to take a linguistics/grammar class that was so boring last year that I skipped class. Numerous times. So, granted, it is my fault I'm where I'm at. But if I understand the material, should I have to go a listen to a professor read the chapter we read for homework? As an educator, isn't part of my job to make my students want to come to class? Shouldn't I want to make my class an enthralling and exciting place?

So I'm stuck putting off my career for another year, and working as a marketing assistant for a travel company. Yuck.

I can critique my college professors all I want. But, I have no one to blame but myself.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Summer Reading

I doubt I need to argue that good teachers keep up with what their students enjoy reading. Tim Fredrick has done some of the work for us by reviewing three pieces of YA literature. One of the books, Cut, was a hot comodity among my female students last semester, and it definitely addresses some major issues teenage girls are going through. You should consider checking it out (I still need to!)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

What I Do Now

I don't usually write about my life outside of education in this blog. But then, I haven't had much of a life outside of student teaching until this summer. I had hoped to keep up with my education by doing a podcast each week, but as you can see that didn't make it very far.

I just started a new job as a marketing assistant for Exito Travel. Definitely not something I ever thought I'd be doing. But it's a good job for the next year since I have to go back for one more class in the fall before Jennie (my spouse) and I head off to Africa with the Peace Corps next May. I've also been doing a lot of work with some friends starting a local chapter for the ONE Campaign.

Since finishing up student teaching I've had some time to think about the semester and what I learned a little more in depth. The majority of my students really didn't like me very much at all. I left Boltz with some nasty notes in the giant all class thank you cards. I did have one student who I had worked some with who said she had never gotten an A in English before my class. That made up for all the other notes.

Nancy Beauprez is an amazing teacher. Seriously, she is incredible. Watching her during my last week I was able to see all the things she was doing with the students and all the dynamics and how she dealt with them. A big part of me wishes I hadn't been so gun-ho! at the beginning and could have watched her for a while before I started teaching, but I also realize that I wouldn't have gotten to know the students and wouldn't have noticed the way she dealt with all the dynamics.

I also think maybe I wasn't true to the kind of teacher I am, even though that is still developing. It's interesting, I am a totally different teacher when the "real" teacher is in the classroom and when I'm "in charge." It's like I think I have to completely change my persona when I'm alone with the students. I think maybe the discipline scares me or something, or maybe I'm just trying too hard to be the kind of teachers I've had in the past. But it's definitely something I have to be mindful of in the future.

I think a lot of us student teachers, or at least me, get real psyched about getting into the field and we've been in school for four years and we think we know all our pedagogy and all this awesome theory and we're going to go out there and take out the trash. And then we do get out there and reality hits and we really don't know hardly as much as we thought. It's kind of heartbreaking in a way. A real innocence to experience archetype.

But here's a thought. Instead of Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, maybe a network should make a show about student teachers. It's pretty much the same thing, students practicing in the field. Just without the extra 8 years of school and all the drama of hospitals (but I've been in hospitals, and personally, I think the classroom has way more drama).

Friday, June 9, 2006

Is Video Getting Bigger than Big?

Earlier this week, Mark Gura on Podcast for Teachers discussed what he saw as a video revolution, video becoming mainstream. His thoughts were sparked by this article in Wired magazine.

Mark felt like he didn't see enough educators doing online video. Bud the Teacher is though. Students in his English and Journalism classes did some awesome digital videos last semester, check them out.

Last week, I messed around with some video in my fourth podcast.

Then last night I heard this story on NPR that pertains a great deal to online videos and bandwidth.

Will video kill the audio podcasting star?

Friday, June 2, 2006

Episode 4 - Graphic Novels

This podcasts begins to examine graphic novels. I interview a young artist who is creating a graphic novel and give a book talk on Persepolis, a young adult graphic novel.

Dowload the video here. You can also get the audio version here. For those of you using the podcast feed, both the video and audio are on there, so check the file sizes before downloading.

Works Cited

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

Miller, Frank et al. The Dark Knight Returns. New York: DC Comics, 1996.

Moore, Alan, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1986.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2003.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Pantheon, 1973.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Episode 3 (I think)

Alright, so in theory, all the bugs are ironed out. This is what some might call a "teachable moment:" make sure you can download your podcast before you assume others can.

This week's podcast features me rambling about what I learned trying to make writing workshop work at Boltz Junior High while student teaching. I also talk about my improvements in podcasting, and announce the new Pedagogy in Practice wiki.

Also, if you've subscribed to the podcast using iTunes, you may want to use the new podcast subscribe link to the right, or check for a new listing in the iTunes music store (this one really does work, I promise).


So, as many of you have probably noticed, podcast downloading isn't working so well. Now that my internet's back up, I'm going to try to see what I can do.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Episode 3

Let's try this link again.

This week's podcast features me rambling about what I learned trying to make writing workshop work at Boltz Junior High while student teaching. I also talk about my improvements in podcasting, and announce the new Pedagogy in Practice wiki.

Also, if you've subscribed to the podcast using iTunes, you may want to use the new podcast subscribe link to the right, or check for a new listing in the iTunes music store.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Speaking of Garrison Keillor . . .

This gave me a little ego boost as a teacher (not that I need any more). Another point for the theory of Writer's Notebooks.

Just a Thought . . .

Did you know that American Public Media's The Writer's Almanac, a five minute segment on writers, writing, and poetry hosted by Garrison Keillor, is availble in podcast form?

Maybe, at higher level grades and high level students, they could listen to that at the beginning of class as a writing prompt. Maybe.

I can't wait until I can work at a school with a block schedule.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Giving Feedback

Today, three weeks after my last day of teaching, I'm finally finishing up on grading the portfolios for writing workshop. I'm lucky to be done with the actual teaching, or else I wouldn't have been able to do it.

It's made me think a little about how we give students feedback. To many students, our opinion can be so important - or damaging - to them. I have (or had) one student who wants to be a writer when she grows up. All my criticism better be constructive, and I have to be clear in my comments.

For these portfolios, I stole an idea from my wife's sister-in-law's mother (maybe I'll post the geneology chart later) Shirley Whaley, who teaches at Pomona High School in Arvada, CO. When my wife was her student, she had students bring tapes and she read their essays aloud and interjected comments when she felt compelled. The result is a look inside an audience member's mind.

I feared it would take too much time when I started doing it for my classes, but instead it really helped me move faster. I was able to formulate my thoughts and the assessment much better reading the piece out loud, and since students can hear my inflection and thoughts, they don't get confused by comments scralled in the corner. In fact, I don't mark on their papers at all, which is a nice way to get a finished piece of work back, without anything that could be percieved as a defacement.

Of course, I had to record on the computer and burn to CD, and in coming years I bet I'll be posting the files online with access through some sort of password so students can sync the audio to their iPods.

But it's worked for me. I'd definitely recommend it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Skype Offers Free Land-line Calls

Skype, a pseudo VoIP / Instant Messaging provider has offered free calling between computers that have Skype, while calls to or from land lines and mobiles could be bought as credits.

But Skype has now made calling from a computer to a land-line or mobile phone free. They're betting on customers using additional services like SkypeIn and buying ringtones and such.

This could really increase the number of interviews we hear in podcasts.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Gaming a "New Media"

On NPR today, Michelle Norris interviewed University of Southern California graduate student Susana Ruiz. She's created an online "game" for her thesis that educates people about the crisis in Darfur. In the interview, she suggested that online gaming, or interactive learning, or whatever you want to call it, is a new medium to send information, just like Art Spiegelman used graphic literature (she called it a comic book - gasp!) to tell a story about the Holocaust.

I played the game yesterday, it's pretty cool. And it encourages people to take action in the Darfur crisis.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Learning More About Podcasting

I just finished reading Podcasting for Dummies. A lot of it was both interesting and helpful. I've just reedited (or, if you prefer, digitally remastered) my first two podcasts and posted them to a free account at PodOMatic. OurMedia is sometimes a little unreliable when I try to upload, and I'm not sure how much bandwidth they offer. However, PodOMatic messes with the ID3 tags when I upload, so we'll see how long my patience lasts with them (I know, I just want it all, huh?).

I've finished student teaching and plan on podcasting sometime this week, so keep your ears open for episode 3.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Another Longer Rant

There's been a lot of buzz recently in the blogosphere pertaining to and a block by Texas school districts - not just the site, but any site containing the word. Bud has linked to a number of posts and has a podcast of his own on the topic.

So I ended up addressing censorship in my column this week. Feel free to take a look.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Podcasting Expo

I've spent some time this weekend at the International Podcasting Expo happening online. I was lucky enough to win tickets from Podcast for Teachers. Unfortunetly, Podcast for Teachers was the only educational group signed up for a booth. It is interesting that podcasting could be on the way to making money - many of the booths and seminars were based in the premise that podcasting can make money through advertising.

There were some seminars I missed because I was at a wedding on Saturday, but they've archived these so I'm looking forward to checking some of those out for my own podcasting.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Some More Thoughts on Writing Workshop and Book Clubs

I realized yesterday that my book clubs had finally started to work. Students were taking about the book, about what happened, about their predictions, and even what they liked and disliked about it. That last one, I think, is the biggest success, because that's what adults do a lot of in their book clubs.

Half of the class, unfortunetly, was still on the other side of the room finishing up the double-entry journals they were supposed to do for homework and are a prerequisite for book clubs.

So I've been thinking a lot about how to make book clubs / literature circles and writing workshop work in the mixed and remedial classroom. I think the empowerment that chioce gives is essential to creating life long readers and writers.

If you listened to my last podcast, you'll know that I'm thinking intense formulaic writing of numerous genres in the first semester could slowly stem into a more open writing workshop. I think for book clubs, perhaps if students get a choice in book first, (so that every student is reading exactly what they want) then the educator could work on building the groundwork of throughtful reading with talk alouds, retellings, and other comprehension building strategies individually.

This would require a well read instructor, but I think once the base is there, the class could move to short stories as a whole, then novels together, and finally literature circles in the second semester. A thought.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Longer Rant . . .

I'm still a student at CSU and work for the student paper as a columnist. Recently, I've had the urge to write fewer politically minded pieces and focus more on education (though the two can go hand-in-hand). If you're interested in something timely that's a bit longer than my posts (or as I like to think, you just can't get enough of Ben Bleckley: the Man, the Myth, the Legend), here's my naive column on bringing equality between urban and suburban schools that ran today in the Collegain: Three Steps Toward Equal Schools.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I Admit It . . . I Watch Oprah

Depending on the episode, she can be such a great journalist.

In fact, just this week, Oprah Winfrey did a two-show special report on American schools.

Her thesis, along with Bill and Melinda Gates and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, among others, is that our schools are in a state a crisis. Time magazine this week is running a cover story, "Dropout Nation." While suburban schools are largely succeeding, urban and rural schools are by and large failing.

The show looks at some interesting new ideas in schooling (although I'm surprised blogging and podcasting didn't make the cut). You might want to check it out.

Also, take a look at the grassroots campaign to reform education.

The Long Anticipated Episode Two

Since I haven't posted in over a month, I figure I'd better make it up to my loyal readers . . . all two of you. The long awaited Pedagogy in Practice Podcast - Episode Two.

Monday, March 6, 2006


Thanks to a recent post from Bud Hunt, I've been experimenting with wikis in my classroom over the past week and a half.

My students have been creating their own vocabulary lists from in and out of classroom reading. I ask them to make some predictions about what the word means before looking it up.

Using the wiki, they're now sharing these words with each other. There is some overlap; since we're reading Night in class, a few students are finding the same words, but able to add to each other's definitions and use.

Once we all have our first week of words posted, I'm going to ask students to find five words they think they could use more frequently in their writing and speaking. Instead of a test, I'll ask them to try to use the words in their Writer's Notebooks and maybe some sort of form their parents can sign when they use the word in conversations at home . . . I don't know, it's still under development . . .

Anyway, here's my first attempt at a classroom wiki.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Text Messaging in the Classroom?

I spoke with a parent yesterday afternoon who has discontinued her child's cell phone service after her grades dropped.

My first reaction was "thank goodness!" This student is a chronic text messager, and to many of my students text messaging is the ultimate form of note passing: digital, so there's no detection (so they assume).

But I think back to a lesson I taught last week where I let them write and pass notes to their friends to show differences in audience. Everyone had a lot of fun, and I think everyone "got it."

I was speaking to a group of teachers a few weeks ago, and many of them wished for the day when parents could control the hours of the day text messaging services are available.

But is there someway this new technology could be integrated in our instruction? One thought is that AOL Instant Messanger allows students to send messages between computers and cell phones without any additional software needed on the phones, allowing students without cell phones or text messaging to still participate. A downside is making sure the class sanctioned messaging won't rack up parents' bills.

Any ideas?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

WebQuests Are So Cool!

It's been almost a year since Terry Deniston, one of the coolest educators I will ever know, told our class how great WebQuests were.

I tried them once in my 450 High School practicum, but with little success. Many of my links were a little lame, and some of the essays I sent them too were a little more advanced than what they were prepaired for.

Friday, I finally understood what Terry was trying to tell us.

My students are starting on Night by Elie Weisel. Surprisingly, many of them don't know about the holocaust (world history is next year). So I put together a WebQuest, or page of previewed links, so that students can spend one quick period on research rather than sifting through the credible and uncredible information on Google.

Going in on Friday morning I was contemplating how I was going to keep my eyes on the screens of the whole class when half my desks face the other half. I was sure partners would have trouble staying on task.

Instead, I hardly did any classroom management. In what is normally my craziest class, the students who normally do nothing were finishing their worksheet before some of my brightest students.

I knew technology increased student interest and introduced relevancy. But I hadn't truely seen it in action until this week. It was amazing. I wish I had a video camera.

Oh my . . .

It was this Friday that I realized I've been at Boltz for seven and a half weeks.

And it was just now that I realized while I've been doing a lot of reading on other teacher's blogs, I've posted three times to mine since this whole thing began.

So here's a recap of the last six weeks:

We began with some classroom community building. At the end of the fall semester, student services juggled students around so the classes were a little more even, which was great since it would have meant a 30+ student period and an 14 student period on either end of the extremes. I wish now I had gone all out on community building and spent the first two and a half weeks on it instead of the first three days. Group work remains shaky on many fronts and there's plenty of unfriendly ridicule to go around some periods.

Book clubs are ever so slowly improving. My original plan was to practice book clubs with The Pearl and Night, then move to a real book club unit where students get to choose the books. However, there is a major lack of motivation factor when you hate the book, as I posted earlier. The other problem that has arisen is that I have eight weeks left at Boltz and just started Night. I don't see myself completing two units in that much time, especially when we only have enough copies of the book for one period to use.

I've just revised Writing Workshop for the second set of portfolios. The first set had some really great stuff, but a great deal of procrastination was involved. Some students didn't turn in all three pieces and others threw something together and didn't get it revised. I ended up giving a completion grade just so my rubric grading wouldn't burn half the students who turned it in.

My biggest fault in Writing Workshop was that I expected myself and my students to get all writing instruction one-on-one. Duh, impossible. So this week I started minilessons on Writing Workshop days and upped the ante - 5 writing projects and a draft is due every Thursday. I hope I'm not setting myself up for failure, but I can always bring the requirement down, much harder to increase it.

So that's the first half of my student teaching in a nutshell. I've learned a lot about two methods I plan on implementing for years to come and I think it will help my first year go smoothly.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

A Beginner's Book Club Observations

I decided to experiment with book club a little bit this semester during my student teaching. One of the big ideas behind book clubs is that they are what adults do: choose a book they want to read, talk about it together, and figure out what it means together.

I decided to see what would happen if that first piece wasn't there. I like the idea of students coming to their own conclusions, and a small group that requires more than a select few students to speak.

To allow some flexibility in the subjects they hit on during discussion while still attempting to get them deeper into the book, I used these book club discussion sheets, which are similar in design to those we used at the university in our own book clubs.

To my dismay, book clubs have not been that effective yet. The motivation does not exist.

I'm not so arrogant as to think that none of this is my fault. I'm sure with practice I might be able to construct leads, work with groups one on one, and teach minilessons that create the desired results. However, for a district to require 8th grade students to read The Pearl is a little misguided in my opinion.

There is a very large Young Adult genre. Why don't we use it more? Students are not going to relate to a native Mexican from the colonial era as easily as a character their own age. Building relevancy is important, but it's an uphill battle if the students don't see any relationship to begin with.

Through Bud Hunt's blog I cam across this discussion on canonical books at Tim Fredrick's blog. It's made me think about choosing books for our students to read (and you can read my initial response there. My response hasn't changed much, though it might be expressed more mildly).

So in a little over a week we start Night. Again, required by district curriculum. I want to continue trying to make book clubs work. Are they tools just for books that students choose, or are they adaptable to required reading as well?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Second Week: Writing Workshops

In the second week of the semester, I began to practice with some of the classroom policies I wanted to implement throughout the semester. Writing Workshop was one of those.

I actually did less redirection than I thought I would have to. Some of the worst behaved students were working on some of the coolest pieces. It's amazing what they'll produce when they aren't pushed into writing an essay. (On the horizon though is the one essay I require them to write for each portfolio so that I meet state standards. That encounter could be what I need to fear).

Some decisions I've made after the first week:

Nancy Beauprez (my mentor teacher) pointed this out and I agree. In first and second period, students weren't allowed to move around the room. Fourth and fifth (for whatever odd reason in my head) were allowed to. This encouraged more discussion and less writing. Today, students will be expected to remain in their seats.

One on one conferences are a huge part of writing workshops, especially when you're getting started with a population that hasn't worked in them before. Last week I had a sign-up sheet, but I think today and Thursday, once things settle down, I just going to start calling people up for conferencing on their pieces.

We'll see how today goes.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

First Week

I just finished my first week (really just three days) of teaching.

I loved it.

Junior high hasn't changed much. It seems pretty similar to what I remember. I've been paired with an excellent teacher, Nancy Beauprez, who has given me plenty of rein, but doesn't just abandon me alone in the classroom (like some student teacher horror stories foretell). My class website is also up and linked to Boltz.

I have two big thought to recap this week with.

The first has to deal with discipline. So far, when there's talking in class, I've just waited for it to quiet down. I'm hoping this will continue to work. Nancy believes it will and that I need to just stick to my guns. A part of me feels the need to put the fear of God in the students for just one day, and everything will be fine after that. If I wait for my students to be quiet, but then don't get as far with them, am I doing my job? Since they are minors, shouldn't I attempt to educate every student to the same extent as every other? I don't know. And if I should put the fear of God into them, how the heck do I do it? I have no idea.

For those of you who have listened to my podcast, discipline has been no where near the problem I thought it would be. I got a lot of really great kids, for one. I think my formal dress has probably helped (the heels are killing my feet though). [Formal dress as in a tie, not a literal dress. See, I made a little joke there. You may laugh.] I also think I got a lot of practice, thanks to Rebecca Fox at Fort Collins High School.

The second thought is on homework. I give a lot, and I don't know how I feel about that. On one hand, I think the students will learn a lot and it's not just busy work. On the other hand, they do have other things going on in their lives besides English class (as sad as that is) [you may laugh]. This weekend I asked them to write two single spaced pages on a biography of their life. After listening to students tell me how cruel I was, I came home and told my wife the assignment - and got the same response. Ouch.

Next week they have a five work vocab quiz on Friday that they need to do a word scroll on each word for homework, they need to read a poem, do one writing notebook entry at home, and read to pg 20 of The Pearl by the following Wednesday. What do you think? Is this too much?

So there's the first week. Hope it's gone well for those of you heading back to school as well.