Back to the Beginning

I tried to live within the confines, but it turns out I have gotten used to having more control over my site. As such, I’ve returned to hosting this blog on my own.

Easiest way to find it?

This will be the last move.


The IRL Fetish – The New Inquiry

Nathan Jurgensen:

Twitter lips and Instagram eyes: Social media is part of ourselves; the Facebook source code becomes our own code…

Many of us, indeed, have always been quite happy to occasionally log off and appreciate stretches of boredom or ponder printed books — even though books themselves were regarded as a deleterious distraction as they became more prevalent. But our immense self-satisfaction in disconnection is new. How proud of ourselves we are for fighting against the long reach of mobile and social technologies! One of our new hobbies is patting ourselves on the back by demonstrating how much we don’t go on Facebook. People boast about not having a profile. We have started to congratulate ourselves for keeping our phones in our pockets and fetishizing the offline as something more real to be nostalgic for. While the offline is said to be increasingly difficult to access, it is simultaneously easily obtained — if, of course, you are the “right” type of person.

via The IRL Fetish – The New Inquiry.

Learning Grounds Episode 002: In which Anesha discusses her learning around school choice and cultural competency

For this week’s episode of Learning Grounds, we sat down with Education Policy and Management candidate, Anesha, to discuss what she’s learning about ideas of school choice and policy’s role in creating equity in the opportunities facing kids today. We also had time to talk about the role of schools in cultural competency.

Episode 002

Things I Know 364 of 365: This is my 14th post of the day

Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

– Pres. Woodrow Wilson, “Fourteen Point Speech,” Point 1

This is the fourteenth post I’ve written today. It is the penultimate post of the series. Tomorrow’s post will be all, “Here’s what I’ve learned by looking at what I think I know.” Today was clearing out the closet of ideas I’ve been stowing in the corners of my computer and my brain this year. And I’ll happily admit feeling some strange, nerdy camaraderie with Wilson’s 14 Points as I wrote.

I’m a little surprised I’m still up writing, that I didn’t head to bed half a dozen posts ago and decide to finish the rest of the bunch tomorrow.

It became clear to me around today’s 4th post that I would be writing all 14 today. I needed to wake up tomorrow knowing the 365th day of this endeavor meant I needed only to write the 365th post. I needed the last post to have its own day, the way it all began.

For anyone following along this year, or simply by looking at the title of the series, it would seem as though I would only need to write one post each day anyway.

That would be true, had life not gotten in the way. The changes and moves of this year (stuff I’ll write about tomorrow) meant some days (quite a few, in the end) didn’t include blogging as a priority.

That is fine with me. I sad a hundred days ago or so, that I’d come to the realization that the rules of this enterprise were my own and that breaking those rules wasn’t cheating, but adapting.

So, as the Postal Service’s “Sleeping In,” plays on iTunes, that’s what I plan to do tomorrow, knowing today I handled the heavy lifting of holding myself accountable for meeting a goal I set for myself almost a year ago.

Today was a goal in itself – Find 14 ideas worth sharing and keep the writing cogent. I hope I’ve succeeded. I think I have.

Things I Know 316 of 365: It’s best to teach two types of writing

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

– Benjamin Franklin

Yesterday, I was listening to and interview of one of my favorite television writers, Steven Moffat. He’s the head writer and executive producer of Dr. Who and Sherlock and one of the screenwriters of The Adventures of Tintin.

Moffat has been a fan of Dr. Who since he was a boy and was asked when he wrote his first script for the show.

I expected mid-20s.

Moffat answered 10 or 12. He and a friend scripted a 4-part series of the show on their own, in their free time.

My mind immediately went to how that interest could have been leveraged in school. The voice in my head sounded something like, “I’m sure they didn’t, but Moffat’s school should have had a program for script writing. He could have latched on to his passion much earlier.”

Thinking it over, I’m glad they didn’t. We might have ruined him. This was a boy so enamored and passionate about writing – this kind of writing – that he spent his free time playing with the form and structure.

While school could certainly have been the place for the development of his talent, it seems unlikely they would have given it room to breathe and time to develop.

I’m so tempted to argue that we should be teaching more forms and genres of writing in school aside from the expository and persuasive essays required by standardized tests. In the current curricular climate, though, we would teach those things in pieces with restrictions and a tone of teaching that says, “This is the way you do it.”

What I love about Moffat’s writing is how far he strays from the expected and how often he breaks the rules. It makes for interesting storytelling.

When I started my students on story slams, my guidelines were purposefully vague – tell a story, make it interesting. The judges in the audience were given two measures – content and presentation. We never stopped to define what a top score in either of those categories would look like. Rather than looking for certain characteristics, I relied on the idea they would know quality when they saw it.

If we could teach writing like this – if we could say, “Work until you think you’ve gotten to quality” – then I’d say we should carve out space in classrooms for our future-Moffat’s. Until then, their curation of their passions is safer in their free time.

Things I Know 311 of 365: Schools need question portfolios

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.

– e.e. cummings

I stood in the snack food aisle today, in awe of what we can do to a potato. Beyond ridges or smooth, the modern potato chip can look like pretty much anything we want it to look like and taste like pretty much anything we want it to taste like.

Humankind has mastered the potato.

Take that, blight!

After the awe, I started to wonder. How do we do it? How do we make this batch of potato chips taste like dill pickles and that batch taste like prawns? When I buy ketchup-flavored potato chips, is it because they used ketchup or they found the chemicals necessary to make potatoes taste like ketchup? I had to start looking for the dishwashing liquid because the potato chips were too interesting.

On the drive home, I started thinking about potato chips and how we keep track of students’ learning.

Portfolio assessment has been around for a while and more resources have been devoted to its use and misuse than I care to plumb. What if we’re doing it wrong?

What if, instead of or in addition to student work, we were to keep a portfolio of the questions students asked?

Imagine a question portfolio that followed students throughout their time in school that reminded them and their teachers of the questions with which they’d wrestled as they learned. What would it look like if, attached to each question, was the latest iteration or the lineage of answers the student had crafted for that question?

What difference would it mean to create a culture of learning where parents were encouraged to ask their children, “What questions did you ask today in school?”

I have a suspicion that in valuing questions, we’d have no other choice but to make school into places where students had the space to answer the questions they thought most intriguing. It also seems likely to me that a student who has been taught the value of a good question and been given the support, resources, and space to seek answers will have no trouble learning anything that’s necessary throughout her life.

We do a decent job of telling kids there are no stupid questions, but a horrible job at showing them that the act of questioning isn’t stupid.

Once I got home, I remembered I’d read a passage about the science of potato chips in David Bodanis’s The Secret House. I found it on my shelf and started searching for answers to my grocery store questions.

What questions did you ask today?

Things I Know 306 of 375: We know who we are by what happens when things go wrong

An apology is the superglue of life.  It can repair just about anything.

– Lynn Johnston

“I just wanted to apologize for what I said up here. This is a space for coming together, and talk like that isn’t what this is about. I’m sorry.”

Then there were applause and shouts of “It’s okay” as the young man walked back to his seat.

From the other side of the auditorium, I watched as those seated around him patted the student on the back.

I’d been there to see the moment he was apologizing for. As part of a student sketch at Codman Academy’s Community Circle, the student had decided to ad lib one of his lines when describing the character played by one of Codman’s teachers. He’d said the character was a “douche.” A visitor to the school, I could still tell the student had gone off book.

Several things were remarkable to me about the episode. The least of these was what the student said.

Put an adolescent student in front of his peers with a microphone and you are asking him to play with power, to experiment with voice and discover where the line of what he can and cannot get away with lies. In the most fitting and least academic terms, he was feelin’ himself, and the school had invited it.

More interesting was the school’s reaction. The collective inhale after the line was uttered told me everyone else in the room recognized we’d left the script behind for a moment. But there was no outburst. No yells of agreement or signs students in the audience agreed with the statement. And that’s the thing, I know those students existed. At some point in time, this teacher had to have made a comment or taken an action that put him on the other side of at least one student’s good graces. If ever there were a moment for that student to give voice to his frustration anonymously, this was it. No one did.

And that’s culture. No one yelled assent because everyone understood the norms of the space. It was the message I attempted to convey when I would respond to student cursing in my classroom with, “We don’t use those words here.”

Whatever their differences, the assembled students knew they did not use those words here.

I should point out there was a space of about 20 minutes between the ad lib and the apology. Other business had been attended to, and I’d almost forgotten what had happened. Somewhere in that 20 minutes, someone had reached out to the student. Someone had removed the act from the moment and worked to process how what had been said fit with the definition of what it means to be a positive member of the community. I have no proof for this, but years of experience working with teenagers tell me I’m probably correct here. Naturally non-reflective, teens need intervention to help process actions and events. Some adult had likely intervened, and it is to their credit.

In many schools, the student would have been pulled from the circle, yelled at, and assigned a punishment with no mention of apology or what it means to be a community member.

That wasn’t what happened. Someone in the audience, I’m guessing the student’s advisor, had the clarity of thought and purpose to ask what they could do in that moment to help the student understand and learn from the verbal gaff. They’d responded as a teacher.

More than anything else, I was impressed by the student. Public speaking is more terrifying to the masses than anything else, and he stood alone in front of his peers to speak. Not only that, what he had to say was an apology. Few teenagers want to stand in front of their entire school. None wants to stand before the assembled masses and say they were wrong. Somewhere within this young man was a strength of character and commitment to community that allowed him to learn the power of saying “I’m sorry.” It did not excuse what he’d said. The words were out there. Saying he was sorry did work to make amends, to show that he valued the space and the people enough to ask for a chance to earn their trust again.

Many schools have Community Circle or some version thereof. Many schools get the circle part of it right. Few schools get right or focus resources on the community part. Codman does. At SLA and Phoenix, I knew we’d gotten it right when I saw how we reacted when someone went wrong. If anything, that’s the measure of a community.