Monday, November 24, 2008

October Observations

Power Writing.

Students stagnate; they need fluency. Writing requires the ability to translate thought into written discourse. The writing is not simply talk written down. It flows in the readers mind IF it is organized, vibrant, interesting, and precise. More precisely, according to William Zinsser, "Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity."

How can I move my students into more fluid and fluent writing? Peter Elbow, Writing with Power, says, "Freewriting is the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all-around practice in writing that I know." In his introduction, he explains that "...writing with power also means getting power over yourself and over the writing process; knowing what you are doing as you write; being in charge; having control; not feeling stuck or helpless or intim­idated."

I know Mr. Elbow didn't want a teacher's intrusion into this powerful, free-writing technique, but I need to encourage my students into unintimidating writing -- to guide them into free-flowing thinking transformed into many words on paper. Without the ability to let ideas flow, my students would not ever become good writers.

A former colleague had introduced me to a National Writing Project class activity, "Power Writing." From her description I created word lists and a power writing format for students to follow to develop writing fluency. Here's the process:

Students focus, engage, and write. It's very exciting. An activity this week and next will be creating "Found Poems" from our power writing. Students will find fifteen consecutive words that are interesting or clever to them. We'll read their choices in a performance of a living poem while we listen and admire our fluency power.

With our new power in putting prose on paper, we'll be able to move to manipulating the language into wonderful words, words of brevity, clarity, simplicity, and humanity.

Writing will be power !

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Selection

Writers write well when they know the topic.

This year in this season, students are discussing the hot topic of elections. Who will be the next President? To help students clarify their limited knowledge, we are investigating the issues of the major candidates. Students will read and take notes from Weekly Reader, Scholastic, and other sites that explain the issues. Then they will discuss the issues with their family so they can sort out the issues important to all of them. It's a great opportunity for family discussions.

Finally, we will vote in the Weekly Reader and the National Mock Election.

Our goal is to learn the process of becoming President of the United States and to learn how to make an informed choice in candidates, based on family input from factual discussions.

How informed are you? Do you know enough to write about the issues? Hopefully, our students will. Democracy in action -- kid style.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Knowledge is Power

"Knowledge is power." Sir Francis Bacon

Several phone calls in the evening and in the morning seemed to help allieviate the firewall problem. By 8:50 am today our class sites were up again. How long will it last? I don't know.

This censorship is an issue debated on Twitter, Blogs, and staff rooms across the country.

Safety, yes. But our power is in the ability to recognize value and relevance. How do we teach this if a software filter makes the decisions after a teacher has already deemed the need and relevance? Why is the software the boss? Why does it take the time of an email to list the sites and then the efforts to unbug them from the filter in order to use the knowledge at the site?

I appreciate the quickness with which our IT Department responded to remediate the filter's overzealousness. "Block the Bad; Guard the Good." If Google can find 1,000,000+ sites in .2 seconds, surely a filter could be more responsive to the realities of appropriate sites rather than simply block everything.

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt

Let's opt for more teacher input and "guarding the good." Students deserve the right to learn how to search, how to decide, how to ignore, and how to choose, use, or refuse the information.

"More affluent students will have the privilege of ditching the newly censored school computers for their less restricted ones at home, while the less fortunate will likely be stuck in a frustrating and quite discriminatory situation," said Jess Pinkham, a senior at Stuyvesant High School. "This is a blatant violation of one of the initial intentions of the Internet, to provide accessible information to everyone."

How will we help our students prepare for the 21st Century if we block first?

"Knowledge is power." Sir Francis Bacon

Let's not add to the digital divide or multiply the problems of remoteness by subtracting relevant sites from student access.

Thank goodness our ESD responds quickly. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Filtration Frustration: "Block the Bad; Guard the Good"

Filtration Frustration

I worked two days of my three day weekend designing a wiki-quest for students to research election issues. I arrived at school to a new firewall filter and NONE of my wikis, blogs, lesson plans, or links work -- all blocked by the firewall, including Weekly Reader and Brain Bop! All the science teacher's daily links are blocked. What kind of filter does that, and why? Why is a filter deciding what we can use in the classroom?

I am the teacher, the curriculum designer incorporating technology into my classroom to help students meet 21st Century standards; yet I am constantly defeated by the Technology Department. I just don't understand why ITs decrease access and disregard the teachers moving into the 21st Century. Is it because we are so rural and remote that the ITs who come to our school think we are not 21st Century learners and teachers?

What do other teachers and schools do? What are we who are attempting to move forward supposed to do to convince IT Departments to include teachers in their planning?

Now tonight at home I need to print the information to show overhead, and redo lesson plans because we no longer have access to our sites.

So frustrating to have this filter on legitimate knowledge, especially with absolutely no warning. I don't believe in Pop Quizes. I provide my students with everything they need to be successful-- and then some. Shouldn't teachers be provided the same support? If we all supported each other -- collaborated -- wouldn't that help students even more?

Deep sigh.

My colleagues and I simply want to teach, and be supported in our endeavors to engage students --- who are also wondering why their access is limited at school. Responsible use only comes with the ability to make decisions about the relevance, accuracy, and appropriateness of the sites we choose.

I just had to tell a colleague who phoned to prepare for no internet use; there is no answer at this time.

There is, however, much information on the issues of student safety, censorship, and teaching and learning in the 21st Century:

PEW Internet Safety
PBS: Frontline: Kids Growing Up Online
Student Learning: Center For Applied Research in Educational Technology
Get Net Wise
First Amendment Center
First Amendment
Center for Democracy and Technology
Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Scores

Blog delay. It's two years later. In 2007, 75% of the writing students passed their WASL scores! In 2008, 58% of the students passed, with 43% improving their fourth grade WASL scores.

Statistically, our class sizes are too small (less than 30 -- actually, less than 20 students) to compare. There's not enough data to support trends.

The scores don't reflect improvement of individuals, and the efforts or obstacles employed and overcome over the years.

We are teaching children, not building airplanes. We focus on needs and strengths of children, not input of data into a computer. Anyone who works with children, and any one who has tried to learn something, knows that the components of learning involve more than the teacher, more than the lesson, more than the content, more than the learner. It's all the "more than" that is not shown on tests.

We are more than the tests; and schools must be allowed to continue to nurture and nudge learning, rather than press and punish. Standards are the goals to reach, and each child can achieve given the knowledge and time to grow in his/her style and need.

Why can't we see the human element in education?

Just asking. Just for kids. To succeed with standards, we need equity in resources and time for each child. We can't force kids to learn at the same rate. We can ask all kids to learn each day.

Please visit:

PBS The Whole Child
ASCD The Whole Child
Brain-Based Learning
ASCD The Brain and Learning
WEAC Standardized Testing
Fair Test
Standards-Based Learning