Sunday, August 22, 2010

Setting Goals

At the beginning of the summer, I set a goal for myself of running 8 miles on Labor Day.  I realize that none of you know that because I wasn't blogging back then, you will just have to trust me.  As part of the training for that, I went out and ran 7 miles this morning, which is further than I have ever run before.  While the running part is not necessarily "post" worthy, the setting of a goal and working hard to achieve it is.  I had already planned to have my students make their first blog post their three goals for the year and include what they were willing to do to meet those goals.  But as I thought about it as I was finishing my run today, I am going to need for them to check in throughout the year (quarterly?) and reflect on what their goals are/were, have they taken the steps that they felt they needed to in order to reach their goals, if they have achieved their goals, what new goals do they have for themselves and if they haven't achieved their goals,  what do they need to do differently to attain them. 

I don't know if I am going to finish my 8 miles on Labor Day, but I do know that setting goals for myself and being willing to sacrifice (such as leaving the house at 6:15 on a Sunday morning) has been a worthwhile enterprise for myself.  I will be posting my goals for the year sometime next week and following the same manner of reflection on them as my students as we finish each quarter.

Perhaps more importantly than reaching my goals, I guess I had a bit of an epiphany as I was "cooling down" from my run.  As I walked by my neighbor's house, my neighbor who is off to a prestigious Ivy League institution so that she can run cross-country, I realized that my seven miles was probably just a training run for her.  I thought about the fact that it took me somewhere around 55 minutes (I am not really sure as my watch was "missing" when I went to look for it this morning), and would probably take her around 45.  Did this take anything away from my finishing?  Does it matter that I, at 41, can probably not keep up with a  just-graduated from high school runner over the course of 7 miles?  Should I even be thinking about what kind of time she is running and just focus on my own run, at my own pace, knowing that I have put in the work and will be ready to cross the finish line at some point?

I am sure that you already know where this is going.  Maybe we should be less concerned about the pace at which our students learn and be more concerned with the learning process.  Maybe teaching them to learn, and more importantly to think, should be the end in itself.  Grades and test scores are currently being used as a measuring stick for the success and failure of not only students, but also schools and teachers.  Does this make sense?  Just as I am not starting at the same point as my neighbor on our running schedule, does that mean that my ability to finish is any less important or significant?  Not all of my students are starting from the same point academically, socially, emotionally, financially, etc., so does it make sense for me to expect them to all reach the finish line at exactly the same time with exactly the same level of proficiency?  I can certainly expect them to grow, develop, and work at a consistent pace.  I can certainly expect them to practice the skills that I am working to give them and, therefore, become more proficient with them.  But how do I "grade" that achievement?  How do I assess that "consistent pace"?  These will be questions that I will have to continue to explore as the summer ends and school begins.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lies and Statistics

As I am preparing of the start of another school year, one filled with a number of substantive changes for me as a teacher, I followed Will Richardson's tweet (@willrich45) to an article about technology and its supposedly negative effects on us as a society.  The Internet and technology are tools that we should be using to our advantage.  If this is not happening, is that technology's fault?  Is it the Internet's fault that, as the critics suggest, that student's spend less time to doing homework after the computer is introduced into a home?  We all need to look into the mirror about what the Internet and technology mean to us.  Technology is not evil and should not be faulted for society's ills.  Tools are rarely the problem.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who is Minding the Store

Once again another example of good intentions by the federal government getting in the way.  Just as NCLB might have hoped to help students across the country, there is plenty of evidence that the "achievement gap" between haves and have-nots has changed very little, if not gotten worse.  Now, by creating national standards and producing $3.5 billion for "school turnarounds," any Tom, Dick, or Harry can position themselves as "school reformers" and have access to all sorts of federal dollars that may or may not mean true student improvement across the board.  Even more evidence that decisions about education and education spending are best left on the state or, even better, local level.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on

Building on today's earlier post about the opening of school, this blog ( post asked the question of "Why?". It is a great question and sent me to this TED video, which has nothing to do with education specifically, but about what it takes to inspire people to follow what you are trying to do.

As I think about my classes this year and I think about the integration of the kinds of technology that I want my students to use, whether it is a blog, VoiceThread, Timetoast, etc., and THE QUESTION I believe I have to be able to answer for them is "Why?". I can show them all of the greatest Web 2.0 tools that are available to them, and no doubt they can introduce me to even more. But, if I can't explain why I want them to use the technology then all it will be is another assignment to complete. If I can tell them WHY this individual piece of technology will help them not just with the assignment I am giving them, but beyond that, then I will have helped them to make a connection that will, hopefully, inspire them to do more then just the assignment.

This, then, has to be WHY I teach.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action Video on

Which One Are You?

With exactly three weeks to go before our first day of school, I thought this piece hit home.  We are constantly talking about doing this for this kids.  That it isn't about what we are getting paid and the hours that we actually spend preparing for our students to arrive that first day and for all of the days that follow.  But how many of us truly mean it?  How many of us truly dread the fact that the calendar has turned to August and we will be back at work before the calendar page turns again?  Shouldn't we be excited about what we do?  Shouldn't we look forward to the fact that whatever happened last year is in the past and that we now have a chance to start over again?  We can learn from the things that perhaps didn't go as we had planned them in the bright sun-shiny days of July and August and figure out how to make them better.  We can take the successes that we had in the previous school year (and there were far more of them then we probably care to admit to ourselves) and figure out a way to use them again and maybe even make those better.  If we truly mean what we say, that it is about the kids, then we can call ourselves teachers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Never Disappointing

Will Richardson never fails to disappoint in giving us something to think about. 

Not Just for English Anymore

We am I going to ask my students to blog all year, create unique works on VoiceThread  and Timetoast, and come up with any other activity that I can to make them write and think about what they are doing.  Here is a recent blog post as to why I am doing this.

What a World! What a World!

What a world it would be if people who think they know something about education actually let the people who do make decisions on standards, curriculum, etc.  We might be surprised by what our students can accomplish.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Potential Reading

I just finished reading A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce in an effort to find some historical fiction for my CP students to read as part of their layered curriculum.  It was the 2009 William C. Morris award winner as presented by the ALA.  In short, it is a story about a young woman who inherits a small textile mill from her father and proceeds to deal with the "curse" that seemingly dooms the mill and all those who work in it to a never-ending series of problems/disasters.  (You can read a fuller synopsis by clicking on the blog title above.)

I had read it based on the idea that it might be a good book for the early industrial revolution in the United States, and while the author claims that it would work for that purpose, I think that it fits much better in European history context and with a middle school audience.  It was very readable and well written/researched.  It also exposes students to some old-school fairy tales that perhaps they have not heard before.  Overall, I would recommend the book, although it is close to 400 pages and the second half of the book leaves the realities of the weaving process behind and moves on with the story of the people.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's Not the Tool, It's How You Use It

A great presentation about why we should be using technology in the classroom. This is from the reform symposium ( held at the end of August. These are only the slides to the presentation, the audio/video is available at (click on the title above for the link).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

King George III - Voice Thread Example

This is my effort at using VoiceThread and embedding it in my blog. It deals with King George III of England and whether or not it was his fault that the American colonies broke away.