Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Legends of the Fall

Fall is upon us. So many great things are going on this time of year; the Bears are undefeated, the Red Sox are planning another playoff run, kids are smiling at school and my Saturdays are spent at football games watching my daughters cheer. (You know you're a dad of cheerleaders when you walk through your middle school cheer practice and you know all the cheers by heart. Some guys are busy this fall building things, or working on cars, or taking motorcycle rides. Me? Just doin' a few cheers in my head. I actually own my own pom poms. I own my own pom poms! I've really got to re-evaluate this whole "support your kids in all they do" notion.)

Ok, so maybe not everything about the fall is great, but's just an exciting time of year. By the way, Legends of the Fall is ranked number 8 on my all-time favorite movies list. Along with Roadhouse and Shawshank Redemption, it's one of the few movies I'll watch every single time it's on. article review for all you crazy kids out there:

In the Classroom with Deirdra Grode

ASCD, Sept 2009
Education Update, Volume 51, No. 9.

Formative Assessments can create great opportunities for kids to reach high levels of achievement. Additionally, it's a great way to improve instruction. Benefits, according to Deirdra Grode:
  • Frequent evaluation lets the teacher know when re-teaching is necessary.
  • Frequent evaluation also projects areas of instruction that should be improved to increase student learning. This gives teachers immediate feedback as to what can be done differently next time.
  • Surveys make for an excellent tool to gauge the needs and understanding of students. (Google docs!)
  • Examples of formative assessment that can be used in the classroom: Ongoing testing, multiple draft submissions, student conferences, quick surveys, using individual white boards and writing workshops.
It's occurred to me recently how truly test-oriented we really are. And when I say we, I mean we. When my kids at home have a test, we make sure they study for it. We review with them before bed and the next morning over breakfast. But if they have a project that involves creating something? They are on their own and mommy and daddy take the night off. This is twisted, right? On this subject.....

Will Richardson weighs in during an August blog entry on the focus of schools. For instance, instead of asking our kids how their spelling test went when they get home (or kids in your class), consider asking your kids some of these questions:
  • What did you make today that was meaningful?
  • What did you learn about the world?
  • Who are you working with?
  • What surprised you?
  • What did your teachers make with you?
  • What did you teach others?
  • What unanswered questions are you struggling with?
  • How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?
  • What’s something your teachers learned today?
  • What did you share with the world?
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • What did you love about today?
  • What made you laugh?
These are great questions to ask our kids. The last two may very well be the most important questions you can ask your kids or students. After all, harvesting passion and joy will lead our kids to happy lives.

Finally, the subject of social media and it's place in the world has been a hot topic of conversation. As stated many times in this blog, I have found social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to be extremely useful when used properly. Whatever the possibilities are, its tough to ignore the influence of social media on our kids. The video below goes so far as to call our current era a revolution. Maybe John Lennon was right after all...

The Red Sox are holding steady at 3 games up in the wild card. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games. I'm still very concerned, for a team that had a ton of pitching depth, we are down to basically 3 starters. But hey, Billy Wagner can pitch every 3rd day for 1 inning, so we got that going for us, which is nice. Can't wait to see the Bears and Jay Cutler on the 13th.

Tunes worthy of your exploration: Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band, California Stars, Wilco and one of my all-time favorites, Flowers on the Wall, The Statler Brothers. If you haven't heard this one in a while, call it up on youtube and enjoy.


  1. Hey Bart!
    I am also concerned about the Sox. I would like to thank the stupid World Baseball Classic for robbing us of our 3rd best starter for basically the entire season.

    Regarding social media. It is here to stay, but I am not sure that means that educators should embrace it. Perhaps failing to embrace it makes one "out of touch", but I don't see that being "in-touch" is a necessary condition for being an excellent teacher.
    I am, of course, speaking from the college teaching environment. There might be sufficient differences between high school and college such that my comments do not apply to high school applications of social media. All the same, I will share my two cents. My (largely anecdotal) feeling about the explosion of social media is that it has principally lead to these effects in my students:

    a) It is much easier for students to cheat

    b) The anonymity (lack of face to face, intimate human conversation) of the blogosphere has increased the shrill tone of most debates and engagements with others. I know I sound like an old geezer here, but the explosion of social media has led to the death of decorum. I get email complaints about grades that make me blush. In college - when I had to complain face to face in a prof's office hours - I would have NEVER been so disrespectful.

    c) The immediacy of social media "communication" encourages entitlement among students. Since everything else in their technology-driven lives is marked foremost by immediacy, students come to expect immediacy in all pursuits. Missed class? I'll email the prof and expect him to immediately fill me in on what I missed. Too lazy/hung over to make it to class? I expect my prof to podcast his lectures so I can listen to them on my time (of course, there is little respect for the teacher's time).

    d) A notable decline in students' capacity to write English sentences and spell English words. A paper was turned in (by a senior in a mid-level college course!) that contained the "word" 'cuz'.

    e) Connected to point (d), students seem less and less capable of sustaining investigation (or even interest) in a topic. Their world is marked by quick blurbs ("twitters"). Sustained reflection on a topic - something that by definition takes patience and time, is foreign to their world.

    f) Twittering and blogging about our every feeling encourages narcissism.

    Now I know I must sound like a crank here. And I'll be honest - I blog some on our department "blog" (in hopes that, despite its limitations, it will spark interest in our students). I even have a website where I post the syllabus and assignment material. So there are some advantages, but I think, on balance, it has been a net loss.

    One last point: I am teaching an online Business Ethics class this term. I was told by the IT people here that online students "will not watch or listen to anything that lasts longer than 15 minutes". I ignored that advice and refused to "sound-bite" my class to death. So I set up a video camera in my office and basically lectured (I think I am, setting humility aside for a moment, a reasonably engaging lecturer). I did that for each week of the semester, posting 50-75 minute long lectures online. Over and against the prediction of the IT folk, students have responded very positively, remarking that "this is my only online class where I actually get a real classroom feel." In other words, I think students are actually thirsting for REAL contact with other people, teachers included. The mere fact that a method (or a technology) is newer does not entail that it is better. In fact, I am inclined to think the newer is worse (obviously there are exceptions to that rule, but I am a "conservative" in this sense when it comes to teaching).
    So bust out the old chalkboard and go old school!

  2. Some very interesting points Professor Kleiner. Allow me to retort, for the sake of discussion.

    a) I have news for you on the cheating issue. If a kid wants to cheat badly enough, he/she will. And they don't need twitter to do it. That's why a technology code of ethics is so vital in schools today.

    b) I will agree that people can say far more aggressive/disrespectful things when they are not face to face. I guess another side of your point here would be that people like you and I couldn't communicate nearly as often without these tools. As far as blogs go, I really think they are top of the line as a reflective tool.

    c) I can't argue too much on this one, we do live in a me-first right now-type society. Although, I actually think a podcast of a class could be a very useful tool for students to go back and review certain portions of your lecture.

    d) Again, not much to argue here on. Occasionally I catch myself using text lingo when I write. Not good. We just have to continue to hold kids to high expectations for this. I can promise you that schools still take academic writing very seriously.

    e) I would argue that there are tools (not twitter) that we don't use in schools that would make our students more investigative; more inquiry driven. But often we ask them to just sit, listen and ponder.

    f) As I say in the blog, social media outlets are great when used properly. If we use them to update our night on the town, or what we are shopping for, then your point is valid. If we use them to grow professionally or academically, then they can be great tools.

    On your last point, we are in different arenas obviously (I work at a middle school), but there is a mass sum of research out there that supports students learn best in 15-20 minute increments. However, I do agree that losing the personal touch of a classroom and a teacher would be counter-productive. (I took an online course this summer and did not enjoy it.)

    These tools can be effective when used properly. And, a creative and intelligent person such as yourself can find the perfect niche for them in your class. Our strong educational leaders need to manipulate these tools and find effective uses. You can do it!

    If you find the time, check out teachpaperless at He covers cheating in social media, effective uses of twitter and a variety of other things.

    Good talk. Go Sox!