Monday, November 29, 2010

Hegemony Or Why I Will Not Talk in Class Anymore

Scene 1
A former graduate student shared that shortly after taking over a class (she's the 4th teacher this year) she reviewed the children's writers' notebooks.  She said she was dismayed to see that a few students had written the following entry:

"I will not talk in class anymore."

Scene 2
Last week a teacher I know discontinued working with a student teacher. She indicated that the student was not ready to teach given her lack of preparation that resulted in significant and consistent errors while teaching. The student teacher was denied a credential and returned to the college.
Scene 3
Some years ago I oversaw the literacy program for a public city school system. A neighboring charter school would hire the city's Reading Recovery teachers to work as after school tutors in order to teach those students who were most at risk for reading difficulties.  The leader of the Charter explained that he could not match the salaries of such senior and well educated teachers, nor could his school pay for the continuing contact and other costs associated with Reading Recovery.  What he could and did do was to pay for after school eduction for children. As he told me then, "Our teachers are too green to know how to do this (prevent reading difficulties).  They can help the Reading Recovery teachers and learn as the students are learning."
Scene 4
Yesterday, I passed by a charter school in an inner city.  It was a beautiful building in a neighborhood of mostly boarded buildings and largely littered sidewalks.  The building was well maintained and attractive with the sidewalks surrounding it, neatly swept. I thought about the number of studies I have read and the plethora of comments from public school advocates I have read all indicating that charter schools are no better or worse than public schools as measured by single test instruments and I wondered if such a measurement makes any difference to the people who send their children to this charter school.

I think of the players (teachers, students, student teacher, administrators) in these minor dramas and wonder about the complex issue that (in)form our understanding of schooling—a topic that ought to be fraught with positions, especially these days. Where one might expect to hear the clamor of different voices chiming, there seems to be just two dominant voices that relentlessly sound and sound again.  Are you pro-public schools or are you pro-charter schools?

Such a query is hegemonic posturing at best.  The current public discourse about teaching and learning is dangerously narrowed in order to position one's perspective and to obfuscate the more challenging realities we fail to discuss:
  1. who has consistent opportunities to access high level curricula in this country and who does not and why is that;
  2. what constitutes high level curricula (for whom?);
  3. how do local values matter;
  4. what are the relationships between poverty and learning and how do we create equitable environments for all;
  5. how do we reconcile differences (who & what gets valued and not).
Instead of substantive conversations that take longer than the end page in a popular press magazine, we are subjected to smoke and mirrors. Consider the recent Newsweek column, A Case of Senioritis, Jonathan Alter penned. Alter writes:
After exhaustive study, the Gates Foundation and other experts have learned that the only in-school factor that fully correlates is quality teaching, which seniority hardly guarantees. It’s a moral issue. Who can defend a system where top teachers are laid off in a budget crunch for no other reason than that they’re young?
I am curious as to what study he is referencing (no citation was included) and take exception (and hope you do as well) with the syllogistic leap in logic that posits "top" teachers as being synonymous with youth.  Is Alter suggesting that youth and inexperience are correlates for fine teaching?  Is there some juried study that shows that?  The faultiness in such thinking is extraordinary, but no longer unusual in these Shoot Out at the O.K. Corral days. 

Lost in such binary advantaging (get rid of senior teachers and keep young teachers) are the necessary conversations about privilege, quality, relevance, context, opportunity, and empowerment we need to be having.  This us vs. them drama distracts and keeps us from addressing our shared responsibilities regarding democracy and schooling.  Recall John Dewey who wrote, “We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos.”  

I can't help but wonder what sense Dewey would make of the repeated calls for action (get rid of tenure, stop health benefits, do not pay for teachers' higher degrees, employ beginning teachers, privilege youth) by bureaucrats and billionaires who seem to make such utterances with mindfulness that makes me wonder to what end our democracy is secure.  Their posturing (employ young teachers, build charter schools) leaves not only public schools in chaos by undermining public trust, but our democractic system as well.  

I will not talk (in class) anymore may well be the first volley in this grand monologue about public schooling, especially as we seem to be running headlong into a two class system populated by those who have and those who serve those who have. Makes me wonder if all this posturing is a prelude to a return to serfdom.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Year of Sundays: November - December 2010

What might a year of Sundays look like? I have been wondering about this for awhile and decided to set myself an assignment. Every Sunday, since the beginning of November,  I have set out early in the morning to make an image of ordinary life.

During the month of November all of the images were made in the early morning and the majority of images were taken in Manhattan, mostly in Harlem. In December images were made in Harlem, midtown Manhattan, Paterson, NJ and Ringwood, NJ.

Salvation & Deliverance. (Harlem, NY). 12.16.10

125th Street (Harlem, NYC) 12.16.10

December's End. (Paterson, NJ). 12.16.10

The Apollo. (Harlem, NY) 12.16.10

After Christmas. (Harlem, NYC) 12.26.10

At Rockefeller Center. (Manhattan, NYC). 12.19.10

Salvation. (Harlem, NYC). 12.19.10

Out Walking II. (Manhattan, NYC). 12.19.10

Rain and Light. (Ringwood, NJ) 12.12.10
Leaving. (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10
Sisyphus. (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10.

Ain't I a Woman? (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10.

God's in the House (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.

Church.  (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.

Out Walking.  (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.
Wall Street. (NYC). 11.21.10
The East River. (NYC). 11.21.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning III. (NYC) 11.14.10

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning. (NYC) 11.14.10
Three at the Beach. (Avon at the Sea, NJ) 11.7.10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Say it, no ideas but in things

At the Station. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ

—Say it, no ideas but in things—
  nothing but the blank faces of the houses
  and cylindrical trees
  bent, forked by preconception and accident—
  split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
  secret—into the body of the light!

From Book I—Paterson, William Carlos Williams

I spent part of Saturday in Paterson, NJ.  I have always been fascinated by William Carlos Williams's concept of no ideas but in things and wanted to speak with few words, but more strongly with image about a moment in the city.

What's Left Behind. November 20, 2010, Paterson, NJ

Late Fall. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ.

Home. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Blog: Scott Klepesch - The Use of Moodle at a High School

After 29 years of working as an educator I have come to work with and know scores of teachers. Without question, one of the most talented educators I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from is this week's guest blogger, Scott Klepesch. Scott  is the supervisor of instruction at Morristown High School where he has served as an administrator for the past two years.  Prior to joining the Morristown staff, Scott was a social studies teacher at Chatham High School and also at West Essex High School. Scott is a product of the New York City public school system where he taught at Manhattan Village Academy in Chelsea.  These diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s views as an educator and his belief that school is a place where all learners can succeed. Scott’s full time job is as the proud parent of three daughters; two second graders and preschooler.  Boys beware!!!

Scott Klepesch can be reached at the following:

Blog- A Teaching Life
Twitter- @shklepesch

How would you answer the following question:

  • What is the role of creativity in education?
I’m confident that a collection of responses to the above question would reveal a wide range of insights into the meaning of creativity and its role in education.  An open-ended question such as the one shared above is powerful in that it has the potential to stimulate critical reflection.  Before offering a response, one has to give considerable pause to confront their own beliefs, consider competing perspectives and prepare to be engaged in a complex debate.

The role of creativity in education came from an online forum discussion.  A teacher at Morristown High School developed the question and posted it in an online forum discussion for students to access.  Considering the demands of the 21st Century and the need for students to think critically and creatively and for teachers to be instructional innovators, dissecting what creativity means is a worthy intellectual pursuit.  However, how can this inquiry, with the potential to generate a heated debate, be contained within a single or even multiple instructional periods?  In short, it cannot. More time is needed and a space privileged to extend meaningful exchanges.  The forum in which the question about creativity was posted generated 80 individual responses from students enrolled in the class. One post by a student elicited 37 replies.  Weeks after the question was posted it still garnered attention from students.  

Students accessed the question through a teacher’s Moodle page.   Teachers at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction have realized the importance of establishing online learning communities for students.   Numerous instructors have turned to Moodle as a platform to virtually extend teaching and learning.  The notion that learning is confined to a scheduled block of time is outdated.  Virtual learning communities such as Moodle ensures that learning can occur at any time and anywhere.

As one of the two educators who oversee our use of Moodle, I am afforded the chance to see how Moodle is being deployed across all academic disciplines.  At first, teachers used Moodle as a place to post assignments and links to resources on the internet.  This current school year, teachers are moving beyond a basic use of Moodle to explore collaborative activities integrated into the open source program.  Teachers have been developing chat sessions, surveys, choice lessons and forum discussions for students to support the delivery of curriculum.  

Collaboratively inspired spaces on Moodle have subtly transformed interactions between classroom stakeholders. By initiating an activity on Moodle, the teacher is no longer the sole purveyor of content. Learners are empowered to assume responsibility for leading class discussions and developing meaningful content.   Activities on Moodle rarely draw a distinction between classroom roles. Participants are viewed as equals and provided with an outlet to voice beliefs and share in the exchange of information.  Through spirited exchanges about creativity, a hero's journey through a work of literature, or the meaning one might make of abstract art—students are active in the development of scholarship.  When teachers engage students in these spaces, a team approach to learning transpires.

It is important to move beyond the hope that students are engaged and instead strive towards creating learning environments where students are empowered.  What students think matters. Providing a platform for students to publicly articulate personal insights is critical and necessary considering the demands of the 21st Century.  The work centered on virtual learning communities and in particular Moodle, has instigated changes to our learning environment. Traditional paradigms governing time, space and scholarship have been questioned and new models for the ways in which class is conducted are forming.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning

On our way to visit a friend in Manhattan last night Rob and I got off the FDR at 155th Street exit and traveled by street to our destination. The sights I saw in the dark interested me and not having a camera nor the time to stop, I decided to revisit this morning.

This series of images I have titled: Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning. I enjoyed the ordinariness of the morning: people on their way to church, talking on cell phones, the loveliness and intensity of urban architecture, the contrast of oranges and blue.  No matter how often I am in Manhattan, it is always eye opening.

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, I. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, II. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, III. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, IV. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, V. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

Spilling. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

A Train. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Guest Blog: Sharon Rosner & Jessica Gallico—Using Storybird in 6th Grade

This week Sharon Rosner and Jessica Galico are guest bloggers.  It is a particular pleasure to welcome both to Between the By-Road and the Main Road. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Sharon five years ago when I was consulting at the middle school where she works.  Sharon is a veteran sixth grade language arts teacher, having taught for 15 years at Frelinghuysen Middle School (FMS) in Morristown, NJ.  Storybird, Sharon said showed her that students are able to create and extend their imaginations with the help of technology. “This is so easy,” joked Sharon. Sharon says that she continues to look for new innovative lessons to motivate her students to achieve greatness.  I only recently met Jessica. She is the new Educational Technology Specialist at FMS and is already contributing greatly to the Morris School District through direct services to teachers and students.  Jessica embodies the spirit of collaboration. She assisted Sharon in the work outlined in this blog post. 
I had the pleasure of reviewing several stories students composed earlier this week when Sharon invited me to class.  What impressed me the most, in addition to the fine work students composed, was the joy evident in making written art.  As students were still engaged in the composing process, I took a moment to look at the class.  Huddled around MacBook laptops, pairs of students were engaged in the work at hand, spread out at multiple tables in the school's media center.  There was that most appropriate hum in the room, interrupted from time to time with laughter--the type of noises that lets you know students are deeply involved and empowered by the work they are doing.
Two of the stories (authored by Shelby and Kathleen, and Lennart and Nick) are featured in this blog. 
You can contact Sharon @

Sharon Writes:
Sharon Rosner
Storybird is a collaborative approach to writing stories. My students were excited and motivated to write using this website. The students chose their theme and the artist and then began the writing process.  Having pictures to inspire them increased their imagination. I used Storybird as a follow up for reading/writing workshop. The students felt confident after learning through mini lessons ways to use dialogue, ways to structure paragraphs, and ways to represent a character's internal and external thoughts. As the students explored the different artists, they learned to think about how they as writers might communicate meaning to their readers--people they more than likely will not meet as their work is now accessible to the public through the website. As the students worked cooperatively they listened to one another.  They shared the tasks and considered each other's perspective. They shared goals and accomplishments. I was and am very impressed with Storybird and enjoyed observing my students as they smiled, laughed and worked together as a team!

The Sandwich Prince  and A Hip Vacation are two examples of sixth grade students' first attempts at collaborative storytelling using Storybird.

Below are the opening three pages to A Hip Vacation.

Page 1 of Shelby and Kathleen's story.

Page 2 of Shelby and Kathleen's story.

How to integrate Storybird into the Classroom: Jessica writes:
Jessica L. Gallico

Storybird is an excellent way to get your students enthusiastically writing. The imaginative artwork will have your students creating stories in no time. Storybird stories are meant to be collaborative between multiple authors, as well as authors and artists. Students can work together in teams to create stories. This type of learning through play reminds me of the “let's pretend” stories that students create on the playground. Students feed off of each other’s ideas, creating finer stories while having the opportunity to learn from one another. Storybird is also a fantastic place to create a classroom story; each student can contribute pages to the story. The final product can be easily shared with families and friends in the online library. Storybird can be used by teachers to make ‘special’ stories for their students. They can include students as characters, emphasize classroom themes or curriculum, and be created for specific reading levels. Encourage your students to create and share their stories on Storybird.

I was so excited when Sharon Rosner came to me with her ideas and lesson for using Storybird with her class. The students created original literature pieces and became authors. It was so rewarding to see how excited the students become about learning and writing. Even struggling writers became inspired and were excited to participate. I was even more thrilled when I saw Sharon overwhelmed with joy when rereading student pieces. By incorporating Storybird into her lesson, Sharon created a more rigorous standard for her students—one her students met. Sharon and her students are a pure example of how technology and 21st century learning can change education from good to great!

Wonderful job Sharon and the 6th grade students! I am eager to see what the future holds as I know this is just the beginning of your technology education journey. Kudos to all.

Tips: StoryBird is currently in an open Beta version. Right now all features on StoryBird are free. Storybird plans to keep story creation, reading, and sharing as free features.

Screen Shots from The Sandwich Prince.


Page 1  by Lennart and Nick.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Schools as Settled Households: Musings about Excellence and Teaching

The Way Home. Ringwood, NJ 11.6.10

When I was a child, I often wondered about the lives of the people who had previously lived in the house where I grew up.   I recall talk of a boy who battled leukemia and how his father worked off the tension and perhaps some of the fear by restoring every piece of wood (all walnut) to its original luster.  At that time, cancer was a much hushed illness, perhaps similar in tone to the previous generation who spoke of someone going to a sanitarium because of tuberculosis.  

By the time I came to America and settled into that house—the boy and his father were long gone. Yet, the stories I heard and now recall some 50 years later continue to inform the way I live and love, the people and understandings I value and trust. Home is often so much more than location—be that time or space.  Recently I have been thinking about home and what it might mean and to whom.  I was traveling the other day, heading towards home, and snapped the photograph that tops this post.  Home to me has often been both a location and a presence of mind. Even when the location was not as solid as it is today, the presence of mind has never been fleeting, shabby, flimsy or forgotten.  Home allows me to recall what I cannot forget: that every human matters, that the course of actions I take and fail to take imprint me in ways I will not be able to distance myself from at some later moment, and that each small moment offers the opportunity to demonstrate the ideals I value and have learned in the company of others.

In the course of my professional work, I recently have been asked to think about the question, "What is excellent teaching?"   I know instinctively this excellence is not housed in the single body of the teacher. I think we spend far too much time wondering about the excellent teacher and not enough time wondering about the conditions that gives rise to "excellence".  This is not to say there are no teachers doing valued and fine work, but rather, all of the fine work I have been involved in has occurred in the context of a more extended group and that "excellence" has been locally determined.  

Wendell Berry offers a description that is helpful.  In an essay I recently had published ("Dressing the Corpse: Professional Development and the Play of Singularities"), I made use of Berry's concept about the differences between the technical farmer and the good farmer.  Earlier in the article I had discussed observing a fairly new primary school teacher (Ms. Sheridan) in an inner city. Ms. Sheridan had been "developed" by the school system to deliver a product, not teach. This professional development was done to her in an effort to make her excellent.  I wrote:

Months after meeting Ms. Sheridan, I have occasion to think of her again. It’s quite late at night and my husband and son are each asleep. In the quiet of the house, I sit at the kitchen table reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. His description of the technical and the good farmer momentarily distracts me and I find I am thinking of Ms. Sheridan again. The technical farmer, Berry says, can be made by training, while the good farmer, “is a cultural product; he is made by a sort of training, certainly in what his time imposes or demands, but also he is made by generations of experience” (1977, p. 45).
Berry explains that the essential experience of the good farmer is “tested, preserved, handed down in settled households, friendships, and communities that are deliberately and carefully native to their own ground” (1977, p. 45).  In what ways, I wonder, might schools become similar to these settled households; places where teachers, like Ms. Sheridan, are able to learn from generations of experience so as to inform, invent, complicate, question, redirect, and revise their work native to their own ground?

Instead of inquiring about the excellent teacher (I think this is a hold over of the same mindset that believes in superheroes) as if some prototype might exist, I want to suggest that we ask how we might engender schools to function as settled households native to their own ground.  Excellence, regardless of the mania about standards, is a socially compose construct and does not exist in some finite,  singularly "truthful" manner. What we name as excellent is connected to who we are and are not. 

I deeply believe that excellence, as defined by people in a common place and time, rests not in a single person, although it may find expression through a single person, but is part of a collective experience that is locally realized. Those who have come before us and those who teach and learn alongside us influence the work we do.  The culture of a place is more important than any single individual.  We would be wise to not mistake the "excellent" teacher from the place(s) s/he has worked and the stories that have (in)formed the culture of that work.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Value is there in Using iPod Touches, iPod Nanos, FlipCameras, and iPads in School? Answering the Bureaucrat

14 months ago I left behind a professorship at a private college in NY and joined a public school PreK-12 system in NJ.  During this time period more than 700 Internet ready devices (iPod touches, laptops, netbooks, iPads) have been added to the high school, all of the district schools have been made wireless, and technology restrictions regarding what technology middle and high school students can bring to school and use (such as smartphones and other Internet ready devices) have been lifted.   These purchases, infrastructure changes, and policy revisions represent a commitment of public funds and public trust.  As such, the reasoning behind these acquisitions ought to be transparent.

I have found that it is not unusual then that I am asked by someone (such as auditors and state government types) to justify the purchases of iPods (Touch and Nano), flip cameras, and now iPads.  These are not mean spirited requests, but rather inquiries asking me to explain the purchases given the volume I have purchased and the funding sources I have used. I always dash off a response to satisfy the request as I am often in the middle of something that feels more pressing.  Tonight though, I have some time and thought a more thorough response might be in order, along with a request to those of you who read  this blog post to add your thoughts.

So how do we make use of iPod touches, iPod Nanos, iPads, e-readers (Kindle, Sony Reader) netbooks, laptops, flipcameras, IPEVO USB document cameras, as well as net-based services such as Web Design, software such as  Mathematica and Read-Write Gold, and many, many apps to name but a few?

We have dynamite administrators/supervisors, librarians/teachers, students, and computer techs/teachers who work collaboratively to try out hardware, apps, and software and then formally and informally teach one another.  Their work helps us to consider which apps we might want to ensure are on all devices (or most) and which ones will be reserved for more idiosyncratic uses. Some common uses of the iPod touch and iPad include serving as Internet ready devices that students use in the course of their learning. These on demand devices allow students to consume information and to use Web 2.0 apps and software to produce work.  They also allow for students to connect with others in the class and beyond the class through iChat, skype, twitter, ning, wiki, and email.

In weeks to come several teachers and supervisors will be guest bloggers and provide a more detail accounting as to the ways they engage learners and the technology they use to do so.   For now, I am going to simply list some of the ways these technologies are used to enhance, deepen, and complicate learning.

Students & Teachers use:
  1. Internet ready devices to connect to others.
  2. iPod touches and MacBooks to make podcasts.
  3. iPod touches, iPads, Sony Readers, and Kindles to read/listen to text and use Read,Write & Gold to create readable texts to hear.
  4. iPod touches in world language class to record dialogues in the target language and share the audio files with peers and their teacher who respond in the target language.
  5. many, many different apps on the iPod touch and the iPad such as: DropBox, Evernote, Star Walk, Tweet Deck, iBooks, Kindle App, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, Google (docs, gmail, calendar, blogger, etc.), Dragon Dictation, Dragon Search, Brushes, SoundHound, Pandora, Civilization Revolution, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Flipbook, Side by Side, The Elements A Visual Exploration, Free Books, You Tube, TED, Good Reader, Google Earth, History: Maps of the World.
  6. netbooks, iPads, and laptops to blog.
  7. laptops (and desktops) to edit film/images, produce weekly television broadcasts, make digital stories and Animoto films & post finished work on the Internet.
  8. any handheld device to access podcasts in order to review and/or strengthen learning.
  9. any handheld device to access how to videos and use jing to make videos.
  10. laptops to access Mathematica.
  11. any Internet ready device to access Web Assign and Moodle.
  12. iMacs to make music.
  13. MacBooks to run business simulations, make slideshows, iMovies, iBooks, run Final Cut Pro for film making.
  14. iPod Nanos to film, listen to music.
  15. Flip Cameras & digital cameras on field trips to record impressions, make walking poems, create art, record sights and sounds, record interviews.
  16. netbooks & laptops to video conference.
  17. Internet ready devices to watch film.
  18. Internet ready devices to check email.
  19. Internet ready devices to surf the web.
  20. Internet ready devices to send and receive tweets.
  21. iPods/iPads to record lectures.
  22. MacBooks to create digital portfolios (upload to iTunes)