Saturday, November 27, 2010

Macbeth Unfriends Duncan


Above is the invitational video to my recent presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention, "Macbeth Unfriends Duncan: Students Creating an Online Social Network for the 'Scottish Play.'"

If you are interested in the idea of creating a parody social network online for Macbeth, any of Shakespeare's plays, or any literary work that has a cast of inter-twining characters, then you may like to check out the online version of my 20-minute presentation here.  


At this link, you'll find resources and materials to replicate the project with your students.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Save the Words - Adopt!

There are needy words out there. Ones looking to be adopted lest they become extinct and end up in one of those esoteric dictionaries sold for half-price at used book stores.  You'll see what I mean when you visit Oxford Dictionary's website Save the Words.org. Words like

riviation
primifluous
latibule

Words such as these are literally screaming to be picked up and used in everyday conversation, business meetings, emails and even text messages. Try the site and you'll see what I mean (and that I used literally correctly in the previous sentence).

In my classroom, I often have a word wall composed of words from a source such as American Heritage Dictionary Editors' 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. This is an informal addition to the words my students are required to learn from the textbooks my school uses. For correctly using the words from the wall in assignments and discussion, students earn extra credit or a small treat from "the treasure box" (a topic I should post on in the future).

I think this could be a fun site for students to visit when we are in the writing center lab or have a few extra minutes in class.  Maybe we could adopt an obsolete word each week to augment our word studies.  Even if students don't have 1:1 computer-to-student ratios, this could be an engaging activity on one class computer, especially if you have an XGA projector. Each we a student could select a word for the class, we could note etymology (unfortunately not provided by Oxford, but I recommend the Online Etymology Dictionary.), and pay attention to roots, suffixes, and prefixes.

Once you and your students go to the site and the words start calling out to you, it will be much like going to the animal shelter.  You'll want to adopt and take that cute little one in the window one home.

If you find a fun and effective way to incorporate SavetheWords into your classes, please share in the comments below.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Macbeth Unfriends Duncan



Looking forward to presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2010 in Orlando this November. My presentation is part of a panel session to share my Macbethbook project, a parody social network students build in a wiki that is a mashup of Shakespeare's Scottish play and Facebook.

Shakespeare’s theme of versions of reality (appearance versus reality) comes to the fore as students consider versions of self that a social network user puts online. They imagine what "versions" of characters are known among the dramatis personae of "Macbeth."

Using a wiki as the platform for this collaborative project, provides verisimilitude to the look and function of an actual site. In role, students post online journal entries, photos, videos, links, and email among characters from the play that demonstrate their understanding of characters, relationships, action, dialogue, and language. As they examine the thematic implications of appearance v. reality, they realize how social networking fosters varied representations of self in virtual and real lives today.

As recently as December 2009, researchers have noted that 93% of American teens use the Internet and of that number 73% use social networking (Lee Rainie, “Networked Learners,” Pew Internet & American Life Report, 2 Dec. 2009. Web.)

In creating a mock social network for the characters of "Macbeth," students analyze how social networks function: who sees what, what may be shared, hidden, revealed, invented, honest or hypocritical. Traditional literacy skills serve new literacies of working with digital media is a requirement as students construct a social network from the ground up, composing writing, taking photos, making videos, and uploading these to the site, and then linking to “friends” for viewing.

Session participants will be given the opportunity to imagine the social network of "Macbeth" from character points-of-view to add interaction and illustrate the students' learning process of this inquiry-based approach.

Out of a complex intersection of classic literature and contemporary technology come practical lessons of living literate lives. One lesson is the imperative that students come to understand the social relationships and multiplicities of persona in Shakespeare’s play. Next comes the lesson of how we tend to segment our “selves” among our social relationships, yet ultimately must reconcile these selves in one whole human being. Third, there is a recognition that social networks function at once virtually and in reality. And finally, students’ discover that their versions of themselves on offer to others—virtually or in reality—need to be critically selected with agency and be consistent with how they identify themselves—each as a one whole human being.

"Macbeth" is tragedy of a man and woman becoming monsters caused in part by a each separating his or her “self” until he or she became less than human. Thus, this project underscores how teachers and students may live literate and whole lives together, particularly when it comes to representing ourselves in social media.

If you are headed for NCTE 2010 in Orlando this November, look for Session I.25 at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 20.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Did "Get" Become "Be"?

Recently I was on website devoted to education, where the author suggested that teachers "Get creative."  I bristled. Not at the idea, but the phrasing.

When did "get" become "be"?

Somewhere between the 1980s "Get psyched" and the 1990s "Get amazed."  Or do we need to go back to the early 1970s and the Partridge Family's "Come On, Get Happy." Or even further to the depression era tune by Arlen and Koehler, simply "Get Happy."

In all of these phrases, "get" is a verb that should mean "acquire," and therefore, I expect a noun not an adjective to follow. As in:
"Get creativity."
"Get excitement." (I'm guessing at a rather homophonic aural morph from "excited" to "psyched")
"Get amazement."
"Get happiness."
Okay, so these phrases are not the stuff that advertisers or cheerleaders are going to bark any time soon.

The problem is not really with the adjectives, it's with the verb. "Get" has taken over "be."

How does this happen? Perhaps there is something existential going on here.  After all "get" is much more aggressive than "be."  "Get is active, and "be," well, being intransitive, it just is.  The zen of be first, do second, and have third, comes to mind. "Get" puts us in reverse.

I fear, though, in this acquisitive consumerist culture, I'm on a loser.  But maybe we can "be creative" and discover something we can do to save "be," and save "get" for those things to be had. 

For certain, I would  be excited, be amazed and be happy if we could.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What's Old and New and 21?

Twenty-first Century teaching and learning means 90% of what and how master teachers have been teaching all along and 10% explicit instruction and practice with digital technology. The 21st Century themes as indentified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as environment, finance, health, civil and global literacies may have lost some prominence in recent years as reading "content" gave way to "skills." This is a reminder that the what is as important as the how and vice versa. In noticing what is different (the 10%) about 21st Century learning we might miss the core. As ever, what is being read and written (i.e. consumed and produced in a variety of media) is as important as how. If we bear this in mind we need not lose time playing with the toys of technology but use them as tools to literacy.

I  believe 21st Century education is a blend of traditional themes and novel technology in service to the enduring and essential questions. It's as much about our common humanity as ever because technology is shrinking the globe. Our students not only are going to have to deal with keeping their batteries charged but also working with or competing agains their peers half a world away.  Ethics, civics, and just good ole common sense are values for the post-Me generations.  The relationships and relevancy that engage learners are perhaps heightened nowadays, but everpresent in good teaching of yore.

Twenty-first century learning, in toto, may be a reminder of what great English language arts teaching has always been (and a call to realign our practice), as well as a call to work with ICT and audio-visual media with new emphasis.

Image created on "NGA Kids ARTZONE Collage Machine II." National Gallery of Art. Web.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Reading: Techniques & Strategies

After appreciating the breadth and clarity of Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I have devoted some of my summer reading to practical matters of technique with two books for K-12 teachers.

First up is Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. His book describes 49 techniques that teachers can use to shore up their repertoire's effectiveness.  Speaking from his vantage as an administrator of Uncommon Schools, Lemov goes into great detail with each strategy from the fundamental to the ingenius.  As a teacher with 18 years in the classroom, I marveled at his ability to fill pages with the simplest strategy, but in that sort of detail he makes plain what might be otherwise be missed by the uninitiated.  The book is chock-full of great tips, and I'm surprised he didn't have at least one more idea to make it an even 50. The publisher Jossey-Bass markets the book as germane to K-12 and indeed the ideas in this book fit all grades in that range and some beyond.

No doubt teachers will find a few techniques that are already part and parcel of their practice.  But I must admit that this old dog learned a few new tricks. Lemov starts off with No. 1, for example, "No Opt Out." This is the idea addresses the scenario of a student unable or unwilling to answer a question and ends with the student answering that question as often as possible. Lemove offers at least four formats to make this technique sequence a successful one. Another technique, No. 3, "Stretch It," entails a sequence of learning that does not end with a right answer; rather, an on-target answer is rewarded with follow-up questions that extend knowledge and test for reliability.

Adding to Lemov's clear descriptions, rationales, and transcripted examples from real classrooms, the book comes with a DVD of clips showing great teachers using the techniques on the fly.  You can see some of these at The New York Times feature on "Building a Better Teacher,"which Lemov narrates.  The DVD confirms the feasibility when they return to the classroom this fall.

Akin to Lemov's book is Richard Howell Allen's High-Impact Teaching Strategies for the 'XYZ' Era of Education.  The title is not only giving props to the Generations teachers are serving but also to the ABC organization of the book's contents.  Allen has a strategy for every letter of the alphabet from "Acknowledgement" to "Zones of Instruction."  Allen's ideas might be a bit more basic, but no less essential than Lemov's.  One is strategies and one is techniques, and though there is overlap with these, a difference becomes distinct. 

My summer reading of both will no doubt tighten up my practice and make me more effective. They should be required reading in pre-service education courses and handy to the veteran. If Ravitch's book is a must read backgrounder for the systemic challenges we face, these two books are gotta-have manuals for the first-year and the fortieth-year practitioners on the front lines.

Image credit:  "Oil Lamp." By Jason Pearce. 1 June 2006. Flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons Licensing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grammar in Advertising: Hanes Gets Their Gaffe

You can get away with saying just about anything if you say it with a smile.  Even bad grammar.

Hanes' recent advertising campaign for their "lay flat collar tee shirt" is so hilarious that I may have to forgive them for not calling it the "lie-flat collar."  I would call Hanes' attention to not only the verb tense but also the adjectival hyphen, except for the fact that they already know about their gaffe. In one of more than a dozen short commercial spots the grammar problem is brought up by a "bacon neck," and dismissed. So Hanes knows the grammar rules. As I tell my students, once you know the rules, you can break 'em if you can score.



And as a former ad exec, I understand lay-flat's appeal. Still, in the smaller copy text they could use the verb lie when referring to what the "lay flat collar" does. I'm afraid of their success, not of selling shirts (they've sold me) but of selling Americans on the use of lay as an intransitive verb in the present tense.

I'm on a loser I know.  I still blame Apple every time someone says "think different" or "any verb different." Recently the poster for the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with its comma-spliced tag line "It's not a diary, it's a movie" had me chaffing. Guess I need the comfort of Hanes.

Even as Hanes breaks the rules it scores big on the laugh meter with these spots.  Hanes has a comedy of manners in an airplane coach, starring basketball legend Michael Jordan, who plays himself and comedic actor Michael Torpey, who plays Rick, a carpet salesman that has read Me 2.0 a few too many times. (Believe me, reading it once is too many times, but I digress.)  When Rick finds himself seated next MJ and that they both are wearing Hanes, he figures it kismet.  The laughs come from both fellas playing their lines straight as Rick sidles up to Jordan in efforts to ingratiate himself to the basketball great. It's obvious this 15-hour flight just got longer for MJ. It's a sort of humor akin to The Office caused by awkward moments where strangers are forced to deal with each other.

Here's the "Grammar" spot.



You can catch all of Hanes Flight #23 series videos at Hanes "Comfort Air" site.  After a brief (no pun intended) introduction by a attendant that seems to be channeling a certain former Alaskan governor, you'll want to select "In-Flight Movies."

The "reality" of series is backed up by layers of simulacra. In the spots Rick mentions his blog, That's So Rick, which is actually up and running here. Read the blog  which boast Rick's adventures and insights as a carpet salesman, and the parody continues. On one post you'll find a link to sales of a items that the fictional character is hawking on Cafepress.com, such as a coffee mug with a mobile phone photo of MJ and Rick and tee-shirts with Rick's sales tips.

But what about Rick's carpet samples? Or is that all a lay? Smile.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let Common Sense Be Your Guide . . .to the Movies and More

The folks at Common Sense Media recently released their 2010 Summer Movie Guide to help parents judge what's appropriate for their kids at the cinema. The guide is handily divided into the three summer months--June, July, August--and release dates are given along with a brief synopsis. 

The best feature of the Summer Movie Guide is the easy to follow content guides, provided with the simple icons shown here.  Bear in mind all must be taken with a grain of salt.  You'll note they point out  Toy Story 3 "might contain consumerism."  What's more American than Disney! Yes, maybe consumerism, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference here in the U.S.  Despite this warning, Common Sense Media calls Toy Story 3 a "perfect pick" for all ages.

Movies aren't the only things Common Sense Media monitors.  See ratings for games, mobile apps, websites, television, books, and music. So if your are a parent or a teacher considering any of these media, CommonSenseMedia.org is a great starting point.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Magic of Saving PowerPoints as JPEGs for Collage

One of the greatest challenges with the incorporation of digital technology into the 21st century classroom is how much time it can take to do so. The exploratory, experimental, and collaborative nature or simply the learning curve students need to climb to use tech in an English language arts classroom can be a real threat to delivery and mastery of content. That's why I'm always looking for ways that tech can either save time, deepen learning, or at least come out even with traditional ways of teaching and learning.

One of my best successes in this regard is using PowerPoint for collage.  Especially the 2007 (2008 for Mac) version, PowerPoint can be "a poor man's PhotoShop." The application's editing ribbon boasts oodles of options to reformat text, shapes, and images.  With transparency, reflection, rotation, size, and color you can combine images in ways to create meaningful and poignant ways.  It takes students a class period to play once they find their images, which brings me to the time-saving aspect of PowerPoint for collage.

For such project I ask the students for one slide to be saved not as a PowerPoint, but as a JPEG. (Yes, you can do that!--just click the format option when you Save As, and the application will let you make every slide a separate image.)  To garner copyright-friendly images, they visit Creative Commons Search or Compfight and mark "non-commercial use."  Since both sites offer search engines, they find what they are looking for with method rather than madness.  Instead of searching blindly through magazines for an image that might do, they consider how what they are looking for might be tagged. My 12th graders found the one, two, or three images they needed in the first class period.  A few students did some further searching as homework to find just what they needed.

The particular project for which I used PowerPoint collage last month asked students to identify an instance of magical realism in Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate.  The fantastical, archetypal, and mythical aspects of magical realism called for images that were more likely "created" by collage and combination of images, rather than a singular one simply "found." Students were assigned to quote the line, and represent the instance with image (collage encouraged but not required), and of course, credit the source(s) of images.  Students spent three class periods in total on the project before submitting their JPEGs to me via our class wiki. (A color printer would work for a classroom display, or you could collect them on a flashdrive, but that might take another period.)

Once I had each JPEG file, I spent an evening casting them into one single PowerPoint and then posting to Slideshare. The next day students could view their individual work amid that of their peers to see the combined effect of the many instances of magical realism in the novel. You can see the results here.


Glad that the project showed students a new way to use a familiar technology, I accomplished both some digital as well as traditional literacy lessons in a timely manner. That's real magic!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sleep Starved

When I was an elementary school student, my bedtime was 7:30 p.m., into my PJs and after a bedtime story, and off to the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. (Sunday was an exception, when I would have a bath and be ready for bed in time to stay up for The Wonderful World of Disney. But as soon as Tinkerbell blinked into the credits, off I would go.) Over time, my bedtime became later and later. By high school, though I was usually hitting the hay by 10 or 10:30 p.m. Staying up later than 11 p.m. on a school night, maybe to finish up a school project, was a rare occasion.

Nowadays that's when some of my students are just getting off work. They left school at 2:30 p.m. and punched the time clock until this late hour. How much homework can they get done, returning home at eleven o'clock? Worse yet, they drag themselves through the next day, and the next, till they take a day off school to catch up. More interested in making a buck to support fashion, cars, and college funds, school becomes a drag, an interruptive burden in their busy lives. Afterall, when do they have time to catch up on Facebook and Twitter?

A few parents have bemoaned to me that social networking sites are the ruination of their kids' study habits. Students tell me they are up till 2 or 3 a.m. on these sites.

On June 7, 2010, NPR reported on some of the latest sleep research that (again) suggests that we all, but especially children, preschool to college, need more sleep. These reports say that ten hours a night would be beneficial to cognitive development. It likely would make us smarter as well as healthier. I wish I could get that much during the school year myself.

Last night, after my last day of school for the term, I eked out a luxurious eight. I have to admit, I like the recommended ten. Still, most school nights I am lucky to get five or six, but I do try to sneak in a one-to-two-hour nap in the late afternoon, before a few more hours of grading and prep for the next day. I clock at least thirty hours per week of school work in addition to the regular duty, so weekend sleep is key to an exhausting routine for ten months out of the year.

I'm glad that my parents set a strict bedtime when I was young. Getting me off to bed at 7:30 p.m. no doubt gave them some much needed time for their lives as well as providing my brain and body needed rest. As I grew older my parents stressed my trying to get my homework done before dinner. This gave me time to relax, watch television, or play in the neighborhood before a reasonable 9 or 10 o'clock bedtime. Or, on busy homework nights, time to finish up before the parental curfew.

Ah, those halcyon days.  As I teach seniors Macbeth, Shakespeare describes slumber so well:

     Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
     The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
     Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
     Chief nourisher in life's feast--

"Life feast"--of which most of my students are showing signs of starvation.
Image credit: "Asleep at the Wheel." By Aaron Jacobs. 17 Nov. 2005. Flickr.
Used by permission via Creative Commons: BY-SA.