Things I Know 151 of 365: Should and could are different

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

– Anonymous (though I first heard it from my high school principal)

A difference exists between the things we can do and the things we should do.

Mostly, I think about the things we should do.

The things we can do are infinite. It just seems more beneficial to focus on those things.

Today, though, I did one of the things we can do, and it struck me that, perhaps, we should be doing it more.

Tomorrow is the end of the term for SLA seniors. For my class, this means their final projects are due tonight by midnight.

Those final projects consist of a close reading of a text of their choice through a literary lens of their choice.

We’ve been working all quarter on close reading and literary lenses, so one would hope these will be strong essays.

The first act of the semester was to have them write the kids write their rough drafts of their essays and turn them in on google docs. They thought of it as an assignment while I thought of it as the collection of baseline data.

I learned where we needed to focus and what pieces of the puzzle were missing.

The closing act of the semester was to revise and finalize that same essay – to fill in the gaps of the rough draft with what they learned in the quarter.

If English teachers are constantly telling their students to take time between drafts to let them breath, these drafts were the equivalent of a fine wine in a decanter.

The problem today in class was my inability to read every document while students were synchronously reading them in google docs. While I did a fair amount of commenting and conferencing, many of the docs missed out.

I had to take my work home with me.

At the same time, my students needed to be working.

When I checked my e-mail this afternoon, I had a message from a student asking for an edit.

She was one of the students I’d missed during class, so I felt even worse.

I logged in to the google doc ready to edit.

I suppose I could have typed my comments and suggestions to this student. I could have.

But they were complex comments about global revision that required some pretty intense explanation.

I decided to take advantage of what I could do.

I e-mailed the student asking for her phone number.

She sent it in her reply.

I called through google voice.

We talked for just under 10 minutes.

“Here is where I think you could really sharpen your analysis,” I said as I moved my cursor to particular place in the document, “Do you see where I’m talking about?”

“I do,” she said.

We went on like that.

“Now, look at the evidence you bring in here,” I said, “Is that necessary to the thesis?”

It wasn’t, and she knew it.

By the end of our conversation, my student had a clear understanding of what was necessary for the strengthening of the argument and for the completion of the project. She got it.

I ended it knowing I was going to get a produce submitted that was much stronger than I would have otherwise.

Those ten minutes improved the learning of my class, though they had no connection to the classroom.

I realize I broke several unspoken rules of teaching.

I talked with a student outside of school.

I talked with a student on the phone – well, google phone.

I gave up free time for teaching.

I brought my work home with me.

I did more than other teachers would have done.

Somewhere along the way, I worked outside of contract or expectation. In the middle of it, I thought to myself, “This is something my English teachers never could have done – even if they wanted to.”

And that’s the key. That’s the thing that must transform our craft and practice as teachers. It’s the thing traditional teaching contracts and pedagogy haven’t caught up to. If I can teacher anytime and anywhere, I should be.

If I can be positively impacting a student’s learning outside of the school day, I should be.

If I can be thinking about the school day in completely different terms, I should be.

Tonight I used about four different technologies to teach a lesson more completely and impactfully than I could have in my classroom during the regular day.

After that, I ran smack into the fact that our thinking about education hasn’t caught up with the opening gambit of what’s possible.

We should work on that.

Things I Know 136 of 365: Forget Facebook; I’m keeping me real

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman

Steve Cheney recently posted on Facebook’s effects on personal authenticity. Because Facebook is everywhere, despite check-ins and the like, those on Facebook are essentially nowhere. Not the real people.

I read the article with one of my G11 classes. The responses were mixed.

One student commented he wasn’t worried about Facebook hindering his sense of self, “My Facebook page says I like naked skydiving, Satan worship and smoking crack.” Certainly, this student and the one student in the class who admitted to not having a Facebook page are safe from what Cheney points out as Facebook’s attempt to tie people to one identity across the web.

Another student commented on the trouble of his Facebook status interrupting his real life. In a moment of impulse he posted some misogynistic lyrics to a song he was listening to as his status without citing them.

Moments later, his aunt started commenting and criticizing what he was saying about women. Not long after, his aunt told the student’s mother and she jumped in to the commenting fray. Three-quarters of the way into the story, I yelled, “Oh, yeah!”

The student shot me a questioning look. “I remember watching that happen on my feed,” I explained.

I had, in fact, seen the initial status update. I was ready to comment when I saw his aunt’s reply. From there, I sat back and watched as this student’s teachable moment played out very publicly online.

While the whole thing was no more than a virtual version of eavesdropping as a child is disciplined in a department store, I’m troubled by something else dressed up as innocuous but is potentially more menacing.

Considering the online purchase of a sweatshirt a few weeks ago, I noticed the option to “Like” the sweatshirt at the bottom of the picture along with an encouraging, “Be the first of your friends to like this.”

Facebook was open in none of my browser tabs, but there it was, lurking as I shopped, collecting more and more data on where I’ve been looking around the Internet.

Thing is, if I like that sweatshirt, I’ll send the link to a friend or two with the message, “What do you think?” That’s it.

Facebook wants me to like it in front of 807 of my closest and most tacitly connected friends.

It’s a hoodie.

No one should be subjected to that kind of information about my life.

Not only does Facebook want to spread my business, it wants to use me as a tool of the man. If any of my friends should happen upon this same hoodie in their own browsing, Facebook also wants to use my “Like” as peer pressure to encourage any of those 807 a little closer to buying the shirt as well.

Cheney remains optimistic on the chances of our humanity winning out over the full adoption of Facebook-rooted inauthentic identities:

People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people. This is because humans are born with an instinctual desire to understand the broader context of their surroundings and build rapport, a social awareness often called emotional intelligence.

While there are moments my online spaces have allotted me the capabilities to make smaller, stylized connections to various groups, Facebook and its ilk are not the spaces in which to do that. They never were.

If I wouldn’t reveal it to a stranger at a dinner party, it’s not meant for Facebook.

Things I Know 60 of 365: Online me is better than me

There’s this large trend – I think the next trend in the Web, sort of Web 2.0 – which is to have users really express, offer, and market their own content, their own persona, their identity.

– John Doerr

I started wondering today if I would know online me if I ran into him.

My G11 kids and I were discussing this piece by Dan Schwabel at Forbes arguing the usurpation of the resumé by a person’s online presence in the next 10 years.

While I’m hesitant to venture any guesses of what my world will look like in 10 years, something Schwabel wrote got me thinking:

Employers are reviewing your profiles to see what kind of person you are outside of work, who you’re connected to, and how you present yourself. Each gives clues to how well you can fit into the corporate culture. When employees don’t fit in the culture, there is turnover, and it costs the organization thousands of dollars.

I get that this fits with the big, scary warning that whatever is posted on the Internet stays on the Internet. Today, I started thinking about it in reverse.

I pay so much attention to keeping the spaces of my life online professional, I worry the persona I’ve created might have become better than the person I am.

The person online spaces allow me to be doesn’t get cranky midday if he forgets to eat.

A friend asked me to take care of something time sensitive today. It was probably the fourth time she’s asked me to take care of it, but for about a billion subconscious reasons, I’d put it off until the last minute.

Online me would never pull that crap.

Right now, at this very moment, online me could get ahold of people I’ve never met across multiple countries, set up appointments with them and collaborate on projects that will make my classroom a better place.

I, on the other hand, can get ahold of my dog right now as I sit watching episodes of Eureka on Netflix Watch Instantly (a service online me set up).

Online me hasn’t been purposely constructed with an eye toward besting me in a side-by-side comparison. He’s just had the benefit of being more thoughtfully constructed.

My friends know that online me is constantly connected to his students, so some of the more off-color jokes or embarrassing moments from my life don’t make it onto online me’s Facebook wall. Online me shrugs at my deepest moments of anger, hurt and self-doubt. Unbothered by the possibility of a future, online me never struggles with the question of “What next?” The man is saintly contented.

He sort of makes me sick.

Born of the knowledge that whatever is posted to the Internet stays on the Internet, my online persona is more a reflection of who I want to be in the world than who I am. This is great news for employment opportunities, but more than a little disconcerting for me.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Grading

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

I’m a pretty decent student.


I like to think. I like to participate. I love to learn.

Oh, and I get good grades.

One quarter in high school I got straight A’s. Otherwise, it was A’s and B’s. Still, not too shabby.

It’s been a while since I’ve been graded.

Turns out I’m perfect.

I really shouldn’t be.

Assignment #1, Parts 1-2-3 was my first attempt at the use of APA style. I’m pretty sure I got it wrong. At least I think I got it wrong a couple of places. I’m not entirely sure.

Here’s what Education Specialist had to say:

ES hit on each of the areas of the rubric. And…well, that’s it.

My favorite comment? “APA was used.”

You bet your sweet bippy it was. Used correctly? Who’s to say?

Well, at least I know how to improve it.

You see that place where ES questions my thinking and points me to places where I can improve in the future?

Yeah, me neither.

Probably just ran out of time.

Let’s take a look at another one. My Philosophy of Teaching. I worked quite thoughtfully on this one. It’s my statement of what I believe as a teacher. I edited it publicly as a google doc and revised more than most anything I’ve written lately.

ES says:

Ok. Note my ability to connect my philosophy of teaching to my learning is worth as much in the assignment as my ability to properly utilize writing conventions. Sure, those are the same things.

Again, no direct questioning or push back. That’s fine, because the assignment was shared with my peers in the course for discussion. Wait. No.

I’m torn on how I feel about the fact that two assignments sit turned in but ungraded.

I teach. I teach in a classroom with 32 learners in each section.

I get that grading in a timely manner can be a bear to say the least.

If the feedback were richer, though, I’d be more forgiving.

If the feedback pushed my learning, I’d be more forgiving.

Neither of those things is happening.

When I saw the score on Assignment #1, I shared it with the rest of the team in South Africa. “That’s great. Congratulations,” was the general sentiment.

While I’m not saying I’d like to have failed, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the 53/53.

I worked a long time on that assignment. I didn’t learn much of anything, save for APA style (I think).

In Making Learning Whole, David Perkins provides three types of feedback:

  • corrective: announces what’s wrong “Yes, but…”/”Good, but…”

  • conciliatory: vague, uninformative positive feedback

  • communicative: structured to ensure good communication 1) clarification, 2) appreciation, 3) concerns and suggestions

As a teacher, I’m going to be striving to live more in the world of communicative feedback this year.

I wish ES was doing the same.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

“The Whole Story” behind “The Gist”

The Gist:

  • A few months ago I changed the way I format posts.
  • This article influenced that decision.
  • The resulting format is a blend of writerly intent and an attempt to help readers.

The Whole Story:

Just before winter break, I started a project with my G11 students that asked them to research and blog about their findings. It was the first phase of three in this project. Their work is here and here. You’re welcome to read and comment (but this isn’t one of those posts).

In prep for the project, I did some research about reading and writing online. That led me to this Slate article by Michael Agger. It’s a great read.

I learned a lot.

When I showed it to the classes, we walked through it in a “I noticed. I wonder. What if?” sort of way.

From their the blogging commenced.

Before all of this, in the prepping phase, the article influenced my own online writing.

I get what Agger says, I definitely do. Anyone who’s had a conversation with me or seen me teach knows my brain likes shiny – ideas, objects, etc.

Still, when I write here, it’s partially for me and it’s partially for whoever happens by.

You’ll note, I don’t follow all of the rules / guidelines Agger presents.

I don’t want to.

It did, however, force me to examine, once again, my intent as a writer. I process here. I refine here, I spitball here. Later, I come back and see where my thinking was a week, a month, a year ago.

As for those who happen by, my intent is to spark some sort of thinking. I’m fairly certain that’s my intent in life.

I don’t know who subscribes to this space. I don’t know whose feed readers I’m in. I don’t want to know. To know would be to subvert the thinking process.

Conversation is great. Comments are superb. They make me think more.

“The Gist” lets you know whether or not you want to move on. “The Whole Story” makes certain I do not.