In the next week or so, my incoming sophomores will receive a short postcard from a colleague and I. During the University of Illinois Writing Project (UIWP), I started a conversation about personal writing and the "You will write every day" attitude necessary to build a solid classroom writing community. From that discussion, the idea for sending home postcards to students was born.
Each student of mine will be receiving a postcard to welcome them to our New Tech house and invite them to watch a YouTube video. With the hard work and insight from a colleague, we managed to write, edit and revise a pretty good script for a video that tells students a little about us, the pillars of our house, and our goals with project-based learning. Check it out below... hopefully my students will, too!
Without being able to publish authentic student voices (per district policies), we had to do our best to make sure we set expectations that would still be relatable. Writing for YouTube and the web is tricky business, but now that I have a few workable samples, I may begin to use my own videos, scripts and storyboards as mentor texts (inspiration from some work by UIWP leaders, actually). After producing this video, I am really beginning to realize the importance of a background music track. Thankfully, Vimeo has really set up a music store with an ever-building archive of Creative Commons media to buy or borrow at really low cost!
Seventy-five percent: it's hard to think that I am three-quarters of the way done with the 2012 University of Illinois Writing Project summer institute. In the past week, I have really been able to narrow my focus on what I want to present in my second video and in my eventual teaching demonstration. I've been reading and reflecting a lot on assessment. I have gotten my hands on so much that I have a hard time finding time to absorb all of the book smarts, let alone all of the wisdom that is being shared with me through other teachers' demos.
As I look back on the last three weeks, I can only conclude that I have rediscovered what some refer to as achieving flow -- that perfect blend of challenge and interest that keeps you motivated and inquisitive. I wish, someday, that I can see that sense of flow from some of my students as they write -- and probably not write something that is so research-intensive, though that would please my 21st century mindset. I look forward to bringing more Echo literacy tasks to my classroom this year, because I think I am finally figuring out how to use them for growth, and more importantly, student interest.
I sure hope I can finish out what I've started. And, well, without using the Fourth of July as my study day.
I will likely have a book review coming out soon. Based on recommendations from the English Companion Ning, I ordered and started reading a copy of Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach. The book is a collection of essays from educators who consider the tests of their personal constitution when it comes to teaching. (I figured that it's November now, and I better start bulking up on wisdom before the Midwest weather and time change bogs me down too much.)
I truly believe I have had guided many strides toward facilitating better learning this year. There is no doubt, however, that some of my struggles this year have backed me into a corner and faced me up against the question: How do I make light of that? Last week, after dealing with one situation, a student (who struggles and is now finally not shutting down in environments that frustrate her) quietly gave me a verbal nudge by saying, "Don't let these kids and that stupid comment get to you, Mr. Babocck. It's not worth it." The therapeutic advice (from a teenager) made it into my positives journal; that's for sure. I look forward to sharing it at my school's five-minute, "Positive Friday" meeting (a meeting I do genuinely look forward to otherwise).
This weekend, NCTE 2011 brought a few new ideas for projects and peaked my interest in some efforts around the country (the National Writing Project, for example). But I had hoped the conference would light fire of passion in me and focus on my path for the rest of the year. My travel approval came late, and I was only able to attend Saturday and part of Sunday before returning to work today. I rushed into the middle of the conference and tried my best to focus on getting the most out of it. However, the more I got into the conference, the more I realized there is an ever-looming cloud of doubt surrounding many teachers I ran into and reconnected with or met for the first time.
In the first chapter of Burned In, I read last night about Jim Burke's worst year. Mind you, Burke wrote many of the texts I use to guide my practice. His worst year is the one he's facing now and he illustrates it frighteningly clearly. What's even more troubling for me is that he suspects that his 20 years of teaching have not granted him the experience, wisdom or magic touch that makes this year or his job easier. Yet, his perseverance re-focuses his attention on a bigger goal than what the day-to-day grind appears to be: "Our goal is the learning, not the teaching, and our ultimate prize is when we see our students standing confident and independent and free, doing it all without any more help from us." It's true, we don't show up to "just teach", yet we are continually interrupted by outside forces beyond our control that distract us away from student learning.
As I read this book (that I'm now dedicated to carrying with me until I finish it), I'm left knowing I experience many of the same obstacles, frustrations and feelings of wandering now that even the elders face, too. That is comforting in some ways, but knowing that NCTE also did not rekindle the spark and interest for us is something that I have a hard time digesting. So, does the rest of NCTE carry Burned In, too?
As no critique of the format or the execution, I am left wondering (and frighteningly so) how many of the great, noble minds on stage presenting at NCTE are also in similar fogs as I am reading about now. (I thought it was just young/new teacher blues.) Are we celebrating what we want to celebrate? And I ask that question especially when the texts receiving quite a bit of attention and promotion this year in English teaching have to do with burnout (Burned In) or with re-connecting our heart to the profession (Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom).
Burned In is a book I am fascinated by and one that I will reflect a lot on in order to guide what might be called my "tombstone priorities" (in other words, what we want to be remembered by). In the meantime, I hope that my experience at NCTE 2011 does not reflect that of many other colleagues. In the meantime, I know where to look first for my drive, and that's in my students' learning.
Today was a good teaching day. I felt particularly proud of my school's student body when they were the ones leading the standing ovations (not the staff) during an all-school presentation by a Holocaust survivor. There was an air of productivity and perspective that permeated throughout the rest of the day.
I was very happy to have jumped on the opportunity to throw in a writing prompt on the presentation. Though most students had not finished, I was impressed with the connections they had made. Some students spoke about their 9/11 experiences and reactions. (I realized most of them were only five or six years old when the towers fell.)
I also had a geeky moment when I was sprinting around PowerPoint, adding to and tweaking graphic organizer that just wasn't coming together. As I was recording some notes, I had two kids stop me and bewilderedly say, "How are you doing all of that so fast?!" We had a talk about my gradwork, my goals and my education background. We got back to brainstorming/prewriting our essay ideas, but I heard whispers of, "Woah, did you see that? None of the other teachers can do that that fast..." </GeekPride>
I was in a recent Elluminate webinar about opensource software (http://www.learncentral.org/event/60486) when someone threw out the idea into chat:
We started with students, they are more open to change.
There had been quite a long discussion in the chat window about how to transition or implement open source software when students and staff had already become so accustomed to M$ (Microsoft) environments in their personal domains. As the discussion continued, I began to consider how open source can truly change the way the internet is seen in America's eyes...
America is still so strapped to the massive media conglomerates controlling their internet/data/information access. <great episode suggestion> "Don Geiss, America & Hope" episode aired on 3/18/2010 </great episode suggestion> America does digital access so poorly compared to countries like Japan, it's no wonder that those who know a few things about technology have to keep the freedoms it provides. There is so much untapped economical and creative potential in being more connected and more adventuresome that common users just don't realize. In just a single Elluminate session, I tagged at least 15 new webpages to my Delicious links that I saw myself using in my (future) own classroom(s) or as I pursue more technology-involved positions in the future. I can't imagine the over-spending that households now have to budget on being up-to-date with the latest M$ Office software when there are so many free tools that provide the same functionalites they actually use. The idea is almost earth-shattering when you put perspective on the situation: did our parents ever have to buy anything "for school" beyond pencils, pens and composition books? Equal education also works into the considerations for what software to use, because the fewer expenses in tech you can encourage, the more exposure low-income kids are likely to have.
Anyway, other things I picked up:
- Deploying open source software requires a lot of research on forums, etc. to find out what bugs might pop up, because the code is never perfect and is in constant revision.
- "Einstein labs" (a play & tinker area for teachers or students) is a great way to get new users to consider new software applications.
- Being a tech support person in your building means that you should probably have cell line that everyone can reach you at(?).
- Opensource side-by-side with M$ does not provide an equal level of support for each application system. Going opensource means going to a system that requires more individual support expertise, because there is not a large support population that can compete with M$ support.
Does anyone else see a problem with your public library not providing enough bandwidth to load GMail or GoogleDocs?
I just finished crafting a very formal email of complaint to my local library for not meeting the needs of patrons today with adequate WiFi. I am currently enrolled in two hybrid (face-to-face + online) graduate courses in Instructional Technology (a field very closely related to Library-Information Sciences. I came to my public library today to get away from the enticing (yet costly) aromas, distractions and bustle of the local coffeeshops only to find that my public library can't support a WiFi network with enough bandwidth for me to study, write or even collaborate with online tools.
Schools today struggle with security policies and other user-related issues when considering opening wireless access to students. Students are in the school building for close to eight hours; closing off something like the wireless access password just makes a challenging game of sorts for many students. Of course they will find sites that are not "educational" either way.
However, when the traditional domain for research and study (a public library where people must voluntarily venture to seek information, etc.) cannot even provide the access to do just that, well, then, patrons (in the all-inclusive manner of the term -- students, parents of students, seniors, enthusiastic readers) should be questioning what held back their library from evolving. Today, I ask just that, and especially from as prestigious a library district to which I belong.
One of my grad school classes started up today, and I feel I need to label the experience as one of the more depressing beginnings to a new semester.
We talked at length about a book called A Whole New Mind. Excerpts were read and discussed; the overall gist was that America has gone through four major phases in our economic history (we all know of the Industrial and then the Information). According to the author, what we are now wandering into is the "Conceptual Age", where basically, the most valuable commodity traded is the concepts and designs for products. We apparently need to harvest creativity rather than our production capacity or skills to get us through the next economic phase. Why? Well, because all of the other countries have stolen (by making cheaper, etc.) our production of anything else -- even information! (Yeah, that's right, many of the programs that we use are now coded overseas, too! Woohoo!) What a dismally different start to a semester course.
I sat there with a panicked mind: then, how am I going to teach my kids? How can I turn the currently accepted skills-based approach to education into something that creates designers? How many kids coming through high school will have enough creativity or enough higher-order thinking to take the self out of creation? How many can actually teach someone for that kind of economic situation? Can America survive on something as abstract as conceptualization? Is there even a skill related to that? I do not seem to have a problem with the diagnosis, but I certainly am concerned over the ramifications for the kids I am supposed to be preparing for the real world... can we even prepare them for something so abstract?
Where will America go?
I will nevertheless now pick the book up. Hopefully, I took the excerpted messages too harshly.