Just Read, Dammit.

A couple of small things intersected in a timely fashion in my Twitter feeds yesterday.1

The first was this piece in the Washington Post about a district administrator in Florida who has banned all homework in elementary school – save for reading twenty minutes a night:

Elementary school students in one Florida school district are going to find a welcome new — but controversial — policy when they return to school for the 2017-2018 school year next month: no traditional homework.

They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.

Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of the 42,000-student Marion County public school district in Florida, said in an interview that she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.

What a wonderful reminder of the power of reading AND the importance of taking a break from school. And, for that matter, the importance of actually incorporating data into teaching and learning. And, heck, while we’re at it – the significant power in NOT doing something. Not doing the wrong thing is a wonderful way to get better. It gives you room to try something else.

The second item was a collection of tweets I saw in passing during an EdSurge2 twitter chat. The gist of my noticing is summed up here:

If teachers don’t understand the the value in reading is less about WHAT gets read than the fact that READING BECOMES A HABIT for a learner, then there’s work for us to do.

Reading3 is essential to lifelong learning. It’s worth doing and it’s worth doing promisciuously, at least some times.  It’s also more important that most of what’s ever been foisted on children as “further practice” or “homework.”

While you’re reading big and broad this summer, you might want to pick up a copy of Daniel Pennac’s Better than Life, a delightful meditation on what it means to read and be a reader. Be sure to pay special attention to his Reader’s Bill of Rights, and consider how you’ll make the shift towards allowing those rights to be present in the reading lives of your students.

In the meantime, as you’re out and about this summer, please grab a text, be it an old favorite novel, or a trashy magazine, or a vampire romance, or a graphic novel, or the newest mystery, or a scholarly chapter, or back issues of your favorite newspaper, and please do me this:

Just read, dammit. And help others do the same.

  1. I’m learning again to watch for these, the moments when my writer sense tingles. []
  2. The fact that EdSurge itself is an infomercial is irrelevant to this particular post, but probably worth talking about at some future point. If EdSurge is your go to source for information on Ed Tech/edtech/edutech, you’re definitely doing it wrong. []
  3. In multiple modes, yes. Audiobooks count. []

“Print” Sources in the 21st Century

2009 3962573662 card catalog

I was helping a teammate at the library today think through how to help a student. The student, a middle schooler, was doing a report on illness and needed some sources for their “research report.”

The student rejected my teammate’s help out of hand because the student needed a “print source,” and my teammate pointed the student to some of our online databases.

The thing is, those databases? They’re electronic versions of stuff that was originally on paper. And they offer full text. That one could print out. Back onto paper. If one wanted to. You know – because rules.

So, I ask again, several years since the last time I asked it:

What’s print? Why does that matter? Why are we still perpetuating the paper/digital false dichotomy of information?



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. []

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?


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. []

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? []

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


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?


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


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