Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tooling Around #11

Animoto and Prezi continue to be my favorites. That kids can collaborate on powerpoints through GoogleDocs is great. Animoto's shortcoming for an English class is the few characters you can use in each "tile" I'm going to have my seniors do their farewell "speeches" on animoto because it would be a great emotional, photo heavy project. Likely I'll repeat a Fitzgerald language class animoto where they pair images with text they've selected from The Great Gatsby - "her voice was full of money" or "the hot struggles of the poor." They love watching what the class project ends up looking like and want to see the animotos from the other classes. Prezi seems to be the most thoughtful - you can embed anything, and the student's organizational strategy is so profoundly obvious (or not). I'll continue to have the kids present their work that way.

Google Forms, todaysmeet - some of these are only as good as you can get them all online quickly, efficiently, and this I find doesn't happen. They don't all have phones, ATT&T service isn't available most of the time on campus and kids had to go to the parking lot to register their votes for pollseverywhere. If I depend on an email, I have to have a working email and assume they will check their email and find mine among the gazillion they wade through. The collaborative programs will be most helpful. I frankly just can't see the ipads working well as stations, but I will keep an open mind. I'm enjoying the heck out of it. As much as I want to transform myself, reading books electronically is still a big step. I do hope to find a way to skype some interesting people. So far my efforts to contact an author this year has failed, and I haven't had the time to look for skype penpals in international schools. Maybe now that I've finished 11 tools....

The main unexpected outcome is that I discovered how many lessons are already out there - on educreation, flashcards. Handwriting on a white board isn't going to be particularly helpful in AP English, but I saw one that looked like a power point with the teacher's voice over, and I can see that being helpful. But I frankly can't see that happening on an ipad. I can teach it in class. Maybe I can capture a passage and then annotate and talk over it? Hmmm....just when I thought I was finished.

By the way, the time stamps on my posts are off. I just published this and saw that it says 1:52 PM when in fact it is 7:40 PM. I wish they were accurate so you could see how this task has occupied my evenings. I promise none of these posts were done during teaching hours; that's when I teach.

Fellow teachers recently passed around the following pasted article scanned from the Houston Chronicle about what being an English teacher and student used to be like before standardized tests. I think we could also say it was before technology. I am adding this to my last Tool, embedding this brazenly, having just received the scanned article, to remind us of what the classroom used to look like before today when I am embarrassed to say I allowed my senior English IV DC student to read Frankenstein to herself on her phone because the TAKS testing schedule doesn't allow me to meet with all my classes and they are catching up on their "reading." I would have to position myself over her shoulder to confirm she is not answering her email or checking facebook in between Elizabeth's murder and Victor Frankenstein's lingering death.

A time when teaching wasn't standardized. Today's school culture is about testing

Only once, in college,had I ever weighed in on a radio discussion. But last week, listening to a public radio show on the book Ethan Frame, I couldn't keep silent.Several people had called in or written to Diane Rehm's Reader's Review, saying that Edith Wharton's tragic, bleak, "depressing" 1911 novel, about a poor New England farmer's forbidden love for a young woman who comes to care for his ailing wife, isn't appropriate for high school-aged readers. One listener suggested people needed to live several decades to grasp the subject matter, the themes of poverty, isolation and repression, and the torturous ending that deprives
the reader of comfortable resolution. I kept waiting for some listener to speak up for the book, for young readers, for high school education in general. No one did. So, with only a few minutes left in the show, I dashed off an email to Rehm, describing my own experience with the book. Rehm read it aloud as the final piece of feedback. In the email, I explained that my sophomore English teacher at Seguin High, David Fleming, not only assigned the book in his class, but he read every word aloud, Allowing us to savor the
language, mull its meaning, and soak up the other lessons of imagery, character development, pacing, plot.
I can still hear Mr. Fleming's screeching interpretation of the voice of Ethan's wife, Zeena. I can feel the tension of the scene when Ethan touches a cloth Mattie is sewing, an intimate moment even though the two
never really touch. I remember the hopelessness I felt at the end, and the way in which our teacher helped us deal with it. He assigned us to write our own alternate endings. Drill and kill The radio show left me reflecting on Mr. Fleming's methods of teaching, and how rare they seem today in this drill-and-kill culture where performance on the Almighty Test sets the standard for everything from good instruction to teachers' salaries to housing prices in local real estate markets. Mr. Fleming retired a couple of years ago, but I can't imagine him in this era where every second in the classroom is planned and measured, dissected and squeezed. I don't remember feeling pressure in his classroom of towering shelves of books and sunlight. Only inspiration. With his gray beard, penetrating eyes and blue jeans, he resembled a kind of countrified M.C. Escher. He called every kid "son," regardless of gender. He introduced me to Baudelaire and Verlaine, and trusted me with an early edition of Tarzan of the Apes that he kept in a glass bookcase. He fed my obsession with language, and with writing. He'd stay after school to edit my latest dispatch of flabby poetry, waiting until I was safely
down the hall to unfold the pieces of notebook paper I couldn't bear to watch him read. Mr. Fleming knew how to make his students feel like we mattered. When I asked him once if he remembered my sister whom he had taught six years earlier, he reached in a filing cabinet and pulled out an essay she'd penned on her love of October. He treasured us as we treasured him. They're getting scarcer Mr. Fleming wouldn't fit in this prefab box public education has become. I'm sure his quirks, his pace and his creativity would displease the peddlers of the multipleguess machines. I'm not saying teachers like Mr. Fleming don't exist anymore. But they're becoming scarcer as their efforts become.devalued, their passions drown in paperwork, their methods are deemed helplessly old-fashioned against the latest reformist fad. Accountability has its place, but we've come to mistake testing for real learning. No test-prep session, no bench mark quiz, no worksheet drill can stay with you, teach you, touch you, push you, in quite the same way as those few simple afternoons nearly 20 years ago, reading aloud from Ethan Frome.

Ta dah!

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