So Let’s Start An #eduhistory Book Club, Then?

For a long time now, I’ve tried to hold a few hunches at the forefront of my brain when I’m reading and writing:

  1. The world of today isn’t as different from the world of yesterday as we think it is.
  2. The messes we find ourselves in right now are better addressed when we consider that they’re not necessarily new messes.
  3. We keep making the same mistakes because we don’t know our history.

You get the idea.

I was working on an article with some colleagues about a year ago when I realized that my hunches were more than hunches.  They were certainly true for my own disciplines of language arts and technology.

The more I dig back, too, into history, or, at least, the stuff that was written in the past on many of the issues facing us as educators right now, the more I’m certain that time spent reading the work of before is worth doing.  And every twenty minutes, someone publishes a “revolutionary” look at the world and how to fix it that completely ignores history.  We don’t know our history.  And it’s killing us.

I’m thinking it’s time to start a book club.  Well, at least a reading club.  Lots of what I suspect we’d read aren’t complete books.

So I’m pretty sure that my main objectives for a project like this would be basically encouraging educators and folks who impact education to better understand their history.  In my reading and writing and thinking, I’ve come to discover that people1 are pretty much ignorant of anything educationally relevant that happened more than ten or twenty minutes ago.  And we keep having the same conversations.  And forgetting the outcomes.  Then doing it again.

So to that end, I think it’d be interesting to start with texts that are from at least twenty years or so ago – that seems to be a magical, and completely arbitrary, number, but one that’s at least an interesting place to start.  Texts like these:

I’ve got more, and there’re plenty of places to draw these texts from, but you get the idea, I think.  The Web is littered with our predecessors’ work.  Somebody should dust it off and take a peek every once in a while.

The logistical questions are basically, what and how and when?  I think it’d be valuable to set some reading tasks, some deadlines, and offer a place or way to talk – might be a Twitterchat, or a Google Hangout discussion forum, some blog posts with comments or common tags – but just basically try to build a small group of folks who wanted to read these things together and talk about them.  Might be interesting to bring some “experts” in modern stuff to talk about their reactions to the texts as guests, too.  We’ll see how that shapes up.

So.  There’s the basic skeleton of what I’d like to do.  I’d want book club participants to read with questions like these in mind:

  • What are the lessons from yesterday?  Did we apply them?  What did we lose or forget along the way from the text’s time to now?
  • What parallels can we draw to now?  What’re the essential bits of importantness that we should return to the world by blogging/writing/tdalking about them?
  • Can yesterday’s lessons help us call “bologna”2 on some of the reformy stuff happening right now?

Audrey Watters has graciously agreed to co-host a Hangout or two as we figure out what this might look like.

If you’d like to play along, here are two things you can do:

  1. Grab a copy of the Committee of Ten Report.  That’ll be our first text.  Start reading and annotating and taking notes. If the whole thing’s too much for you, I’d encourage you to start with the opening overview and then pick the report from the discipline that you’re most interested in.
  2. In the comments, please let me know if you’re interested, and share any suggestions that you might have for texts or topics or logistical details.  I’d humbly suggest we tag anything related to this book club idea as #eduhistory.  But you might have a better idea.

Audrey and I are comparing calendars for a Google Hangout for our first live discussion.  Look for an update once we have that nailed down.  I hope you’ll consider reading and writing and thinking with us.

  1. Myself included. []
  2. Or baloney.  Or something stronger, if you’d like. []
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In Good Hands

One of the honors and privileges of my current position is that I get to work with some really smart people.  I mean wise folks.  The folks I want my children to learn with and from.

And I get the opportunity, from time to time, to see these smart folks in action. This year, on the first day of school, MIchelle and Kyle and I took a lap around the district and happened to wander by Kevin’s classroom a few minutes into his year.

And, boy, was he in the zone.  Already.  Inside a few minutes.

He was  introducing reading notebooks to his students when we happened by.  We were approaching the classroom, no appointment, just saying hi, when we heard him say this:

We are going to have thoughts as we read, and it’ll be good for us to write those down so we don’t forget them.

And so we turned around and kept right on walking. Kevin’s students didn’t need us to interfere with some very serious exploration of what it means to be a reader, writer and thinker.  Nope.  Anything we might’ve done in that situation would’ve been an interruption. They were in quite capable hands.

Of course, the more I think about that one sentence, the more I think it sums up so much of what I think school should be – people exploring thoughtfulness. Thoughtfully.

And I am grateful for folks like Kevin, who works with 4th graders, because I know that they are well served because he is there exploring their thinking with them.

If your school year’s just getting going, I sure hope that you are reading something interesting, and asking your students to, and that you’re all pausing from time to time to write something that you’re thinking about down.

And if you’re not – why aren’t you?

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Patri: What we needed as children, children still need.

Rediscovered these lines from Angelo Patri while in a conversation today.  Good to see them again:

What we needed as children was someone to show the way.  Someone who knew us and valued us.  Someone who would live with us and for us.

What we needed as children, children still need.

The teachers and I, conscious of the dangers that come to an active child from a random seeking to satisfy his desires, tried to make the people whose children were about us realize their responsibility while we ourselves did our share.  We knew the children needed the older folk. We knew that we had only limited means of gathering and holding these young people together.  All we had was the school and we were fast losing that except as a drill machine running eight hours a day during which time two schools1 in turn tried to master the prescribed book facts.

Slightly later in that section:

The school, after all, narrowing down to routine, was such a faraway place, far away from the actual lives of people.  How could we get close, so close to each other that we would be part of the people and they a part of us, and be “folksy” together?2

Our schools are communities.  Or should be.  Rich and vibrant and healthy ones.  It’s a really good and useful book, as I’ve noted before.  Might be time for a reread.

  1. Patri’s school at the time shared its facility with another. []
  2. Both quotes from pages 80-81. []
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Still Nothing New Under the Sun. We Pretend Otherwise.

It’s funny.1

I’ve been working with some folks to write about the centennial of English Journal, which is this year.  One hundred years of writing about teaching and learning language arts.  We’ve been focusing on the way that technology has been addressed in past issues of EJ, looking back at articles from the last one hundred years and exploring past brushes of technology and pedagogy.  It’s been a fascinating trip back in time.

My hunch going into this work is that we would find many, many similarities between the issues of yesterday and today.  I expected that we would always see that the transformational technology was right around the corner, and that things would be better if only we would adopt it. 2

What I also expected, but have been both inspired and disappointed by, is that so many wise teachers from our past saw what we really needed to focus on.  They saw that it wasn’t the technology, but the purposes that we put it to, that were what count and what matters in teaching and learning.  And their words were praised.

And then forgotten.

And now many of my contemporaries make the same great arguments.  Arguments that have been made before.  Here’s one:

The tragic lack, as I see the present social order, is that of understanding and intelligent sympathy. Our ignorance makes us indifferent and cruel. We are preoccupied with ourselves.

Sounds like a critique of today, doesn’t it?  But it’s not.  These words are 78 years old.

Further on in the same piece:

If English instruction can help in the substitution of creative effort for scheming greed, if it can substitute social co-operation for selfish individualism, if it can help in the development of men and women sensitive to human suffering and bent on furthering human happiness – in a word, if it can make beauty a dominant factor in contemporary life – the aim not only of English instruction but of all education will have been accomplished.3

Right then, and right now.

As I think about the challenges of today, and the arguments that are and aren’t occurring in schools and about schooling in these United States, I wonder why we forget these voices that have come before.  I worry that they may have figured out much of what we needed to know then and need to do now.  But we moved on4 without them.

So why aren’t we doing it?  What’s holding us back?  Will we do things differently, or will someone stumble across our words a hundred years down the road and wonder similar things?

It’s enough to make me mad.5

 

  1. Or kind of sad. []
  2. Be it microfiche, radio, television, word processors, computers, or even typewriters.  All are represented as the next great thing in the articles I’ve read. []
  3. Stella S. Center, Past-President, National Council of Teachers of English, from her Presidential Address, “The Responsibility of Teachers of English in Contemporary American Life.” November 24th, 1932.  Published in The English Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, February, 1933. (pp.97-108) []
  4. Perhaps not forward, but on. []
  5. But we know what to do with the mad that we feel, don’t we? []
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Quite Right

“For me the classroom is a place of paradox, grace, and vulnerability. My experiences in the classroom lead me to more fully live into the person I imagine I am becoming. Teaching and learning along with students who are discovering who they are have given me the opportunity to consider how my vulnerabilities affect who I am as a teacher and a person.”

Meredith Stewart, “Double Vulnerable: The Paradox of Disability and Teaching,” English Journal 100.2 (2010): 27-30

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Well Isn’t It?

I’m listening to Donalyn Miller right now speaking about reading and writing and teaching at the NWP Annual Meeting in Orlando.

She just mentioned a conversation that I wanted to get down before I forgot it.

Donalyn was asked about her students’ reading. “Your students,” the inquirer asked, “read fifty books a year without any rewards or incentives?”

Donalyn replied, “Isn’t reading its own reward?”

Yes. It is. The reading of the book, the mastering of the text, the enjoyment of the story.

That’s the reward. That’s the prize. That’s the incentive. That’s what gets folks to put down one book, and pick up the next one.

We don’t need stickers, or points, or prizes. Just good books, thoughtful people who know their students to read and recommend to them, and students willing to explore the world through writing.

So let’s spend less time with systems that add to the mess, and distract from the books. Okay?

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The Podcast: ISTE 2010 Monday Brain Dump

In this podcast, recorded on my way in to the ISTE 2010 conference this morning, I talk through my conference experience so far.  I mention the Leadership Bootcamp, some of Chris’s thoughts about events like those, a conversation I’m having with Dean about digital writing, and some other highlights, as well as a concern I have about how we (don’t) read so well, perhaps.

Direct Link to Audio

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It’s Alive. And I Like It.

Anne Collier‘s sharing a new report on online safety and technology, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.” I wasn’t eager to see yet another report, as I’ve read a few – but as I skimmed the first several pages, I understood why she was excited by the work.  She was the co-chair of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group, the folks that produced the review, and there’s plenty of thoughtfulness baked in.  I’d encourage you to take a close look.  It’s indicative of a shift in thinking about how the Internet should be viewed and used by kids, teachers, parents and schools. (Notice – How.  Not if.)

In particular, I found the frank discussion of youth risks, while not new, to be refreshingly written.  Here’s a taste:

So, based on the research and the opinions of several experts, one of the biggest risks to children may be adults who try to shut down the informal learning involved in their use of Internet technologies at home or school. (p. 18)

Quite right.

There’s lots to like here.  I hope someone in a position to do something about the working group’s recommendations is taking good notes as they review the report. Anne’s got a full wrap up of coverage on her site.  The report’s below.

Online Safety and Technology Working Group Final Report

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What I’d Like To Be Reading

I’m fiddling with the idea of pushing ePUB via RSS to iTunes, which probably won’t work.  But to get there, I’m going to need to have some ePUB in an RSS feed or two, so as a bonus for you, dear reader, I’m posting a copy of my Instapaper export for this week.  I’m a bit behind on my reading, but you’re welcome to skim through this collection of articles I snagged in my wanderings and was hoping to read later.

Do you know of anyone pushing ePUB via RSS?  A good ol’ podcast of ereadable books?  Please share links in the comments.

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Forks Make Us Fatter! (No, wait. It’s something else.)

Twice today I’ve seen stories in the media, passed around by educators, that gave me pause. In both cases, the articles, headlines, and/or authors and sharers of the article passed along the notion that “Technology X enables skill Y.” I was a wee bit disappointed, not just because of the enthusiasm I saw in the sharing1, but because both of the articles got the technology that makes a difference wrong.

Let me show you:

Example 1 – “Texting poetry inspires students to learn

From the article:

Chester Middle School Principal Ernie Jackson, for instance, challenged reading and social studies teacher Mel Wesenberg to find ways to use text messaging to teach poetry.

The results were surprising: Kids who used their cell phones to boil down the main points of the stanzas got 80 percent of the questions about a poem correct on a state test.

Kids taught the same poem in the traditional way – reading, reciting and discussing – got only 40 percent of the questions right.

“That’s a big jump,” Jackson said during a recent demonstration of the experiment with a sixth-grade class.

Well, yeah. When you write about something, or summarize it, then you do learn it. Writing forces the concepts into your brain in a way that discussion doesn’t. And summarizing something is a fine way to deepen your understanding of it. I suspect the student referenced in the article who didn’t have a cell phone would’ve had as much success with passing notes about the poems to her friends as they did sending texts back and forth.
Example 2 – “Teaching literacy using a Kindle2

From the article:

She gave examples of an elementary child’s note about a character in the book she was reading: “If I were him, I’d say no way!” Such comments indicate a child is unknowingly focusing in on the author’s character development, something college students struggle with in their literature classes. Another child summarized the plot – a simple electronic form of the dreaded book report – which reinforces their understanding of the book.

I need to read Larson’s original work, which is behind an IRA paywall, but again, seems to me that the focus of the improvement wasn’t the Kindle – it was annotating and summarizing the text. Writing about what you’re reading, as well as connecting your notes to the text itself, helps readers become better readers.

The Kindle isn’t the important bit.3

Turns out, in both of these cases, the technology that helps the students to read and to understand better was a very old and familiar technology:

Writing.4

It’s exciting to bring new gadgets and gizmos into the classroom, to see what they can help us to do. But we can all too easily get caught up in the shiny object and forget that the basic toolset of teaching and learning, of reading, writing and thinking, is still the basic toolset. Reading and writing, meaningful reading and writing, are important5.

Try to write and fiddle with words regularly, be it on a Kindle, a nook, an iPad, a cell phone, or any other device you might happen to have. Teachers should be active readers, writers and thinkers, no matter their subject area. We should be reading and writing with students regularly, whatever the medium. All that practice will help you read better, and then you, too, will be less likely to fall victim to a technology du jour switcharoo scam.

Promise.6

  1. Look! Aha! It’s true! Texting makes for smarter kids! Kindles change everything! []
  2. Not, I’d admit, the most useful headline. “Teaching literacy?” You mean “reading?” []
  3. That said, Will wrote an interesting post over the weekend on why you might use a Kindle as your annotation tool, but I’m thinking that his strategy isn’t practical for 2nd graders. []
  4. But we already knew that writing supports reading, didn’t we? []
  5. Ira’s post complicates this, but in a good way. []
  6. Yes, I know that “fatter” isn’t “really” a word. But it seemed like the right word. Please, no red pens here. []
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