Tag Archives: Reflection

Paths Towards Articulation

Do you ever have one of those lessons, where everything goes as you planned? Better yet, things work-out beyond your expectations? Kids leave your room a buzz with excitement and inspiration? You feel you have somehow added to the betterment of humanity, through the enlightenment of the best minds of the next generation?  Today was not one of those lessons.

I had this last minute whimsical idea, but it didn’t really provide much visible fruit. Although, I was disappointed by the product, the process has been ripe for reflection. As always, nuts and bolts first, followed by reflection.

A seed has been planted in my heart, ever since I first saw Caine’s Arcade a few days ago. If you haven’t seen the film yet, take ten minutes to watch it below.

All year, we have been exploring the idea that poetry need not be confined solely to text. We have tinkered with film and photography as methods to capture the poetic experience, so here was a great example of visual poetry. I wanted my students to feel the emotional tug created through Caine’s Arcade. I wanted them to consider the depth of possible themes, and finally I wanted them to write a poem based on their experience with the film.

We discussed the context of East LA, as a low-income area of Los Angels before we watched the film. I asked them to jot down emotional observations as they watched, which we shared after the film. I was impressed by what they shared:


  • Caring
  • Hope
  • Dreaming Big
  • Never Say Never
  • Innocence
  • Joyfulness
  • Determination
  • Passion

They got the film.  This was clear. On a surface level, they connected to emotional baggage being presented. Next,  I asked them to take these themes, unpack them and write a poem based in what they found inside. Yup, I threw them into the deep-end just like that. It was not pretty. There was a lot of staring at blank pages, a lot of empty looks. They were drowning and drowning fast. A few of them were okay, but the majority were overwhelmed by the freedom.  They need more scaffolding. This is a Language A class of some pretty high flyers. I know they are working on an advance level as was evidenced by their great films. I did not want to offer them a pair of “water wings” if they didn’t need them, but at this point they needed something more from me.

Next, we explored some deeper themes and ideas.

  • Odds against you
  • Cardboard/reuse
  • Boredom versus creation

We talked about the idea of the arcade itself being a gamble. It is designed to cheat the player, much like life. They mentioned that it was interesting that this place of hope was created from reused cardboard boxes. I presented the idea that it was important to notice how like the boxes themselves, Caine had been abandon too. That maybe this film was the filmmakers way of reusing him and his story to create hope. We discussed the act of creation and how it stems from boredom. We had some great talks.

They went back to writing. They still struggled. I failed.

Well no! This is my epiphany. So many times we expect perfect little products after we “teach” kids how to do something. I will teach you about poetry (as if that is even possible) and you will write a poem. Here is your A! Isn’t school fun? It is never that easy. Sometimes maybe the struggle is the point. Maybe exposing kids to frustration and forcing them to keep at it is what we should be teaching. Expecting grade seven students to write great poetry is a difficult challenge, but teaching them how to recognize the poetry which surrounds them and offering them paths towards the articulation is a great first step.

We began the journey down this path today. We identified the poetry in a simple short film and allowed it to play with our guts. We examined the results and became frustrated when we couldn’t easily create art from our experience. This is not failure. This is a beginning. This is learning. I won’t be able to assess this or put it on a rubric, but I hope that my students will be the better for it. I hope they will explore their emotions, spend quiet time with their hearts and see what comes pouring out. It will be messy and jumbled and possible incompressible, but it is my job to help them sculpt a poem from it.

I asked them to watch the film again at home and spend more time with it tonight. I asked them to simply write what they think and feel. Forget about poetry. Do not think. Just write. I shared this little nugget:

Poems are not written. They are excavated from pages of notes, scribblings & emotional detritus.  A poem is not written it is sculpted.

Tomorrow I will show them this and see where we go next. I am not exactly sure where we are headed, but that is okay. We are on a journey. We are together. This is enough for now.

During the writing of this post, I received this tweet from Narvin, the creator of the film.

Who knows, maybe he will have some ideas of where we go next…


Wisdom and Debris

I am actually meant to be leading my last cohort session right now, but as an English teacher I felt it best to give us a chance to decompress, relax, and chill out. Do some writing, reflect, and share some ideas. As always, after (during) a conference my mind is rife with ideas and possibilities. Tidbits of wisdom, swirl in my head, competing with debris, junk and broken thoughts. It’s a mess in my head and this has me jazzed.

The problem with this sort of mental cacophony is that it is difficult to articulate any kind of coherent piece of writing. Instead, as I often choose to do I want to grab the debris and the wisdom and see what we can make.

We tell stories as a way to understand the human condition. There are many ways to tell a story and technology allows us different mediums that help us find unique and authentic audiences for the stories we tell. The technological tools help us create in new, mobile, and media rich ways, while the connected, networked nature of our digital lives connect those stories in ways unimaginable in the past. We tell stories as a way to understand the human condition.

I see many of the tools discussed, Google Apps, Blogs, Social Networks like the bed of a garden. We till and tend the soil to create a rich and fertile place for ideas to flower and fruit, but these tools are not the rewards themselves. It is important to teach students and teachers how to create an environment (a garden bed) that allows their ideas to take root and grow. The skills necessary to do this are not complex, just as hoeing and planting are not complex. The difficult part should be, the understanding of how to tend what is plant. We must not spend so much energy on the soil (tools) but the actual act of gardening. (Learning)

Kids do no have enough many physical spaces designed for them to handout. Children have playgrounds and parks, adults have the rest, but where are teen agers meant to hang-out and socialize with out adult supervision? This is an idea that Alec shared. Because they do not have these physical spaces, they gravitate to cyberspace and online socialized spaced. We want young people to understand the need for balance, and the importance of unplugged life, we might want to consider building places for them to be together.


When I Say Jump…

If you do not speak or read techaneese feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph.

Will we find a plug-in that allows students the ability to customize their headers, but not have the ability to change the theme all together? Will we be able to figure out how to aggregate specific tags to post to several blogs? Can we subscribe to specific tags or categories? So teachers can subscribe to student blogs based on tags related to their classes not whole blogs? Will we get all the student Gmail accounts up and running by the end of next week? Will the Google Calendars work seamlessly like we planned. Will our server be able to handle the blogs next week? Will we find all the right plug-ins to make for an easy blogging experience? Will teachers understand what we are trying to do? Appreciate it? Enjoy it?

I am nervous. I am stressed. I am terrified. Two days into my new role at school, and I am realizing that things are different already. When you are a classroom teacher, what you do everyday really only affects you and your students, maybe your department, but as a tech facilitator suddenly your ideas, however brilliant they may have seemed at first, take on a much heavier feel. It becomes suddenly clear that they could crash and burn quite easily. It feels like everyone is looking to you for answers. Answers you may have uncovered minutes before. The pressure is already palpable for me. After two days. There are no students on campus and nothing has even been rolled out. Wow. I need to breathe and regroup.

A little context. I am only teaching three English classes this year and filling the rest of of my timetable as a tech coach (We are still writing the job description and title. I have already had a few people come ask me how to add folders in Mail or how to print. We hope to move away from the day-to-day help desk stuff and start looking at deeper pedagogical conversations that lead to  shifts in teaching and learning. Will keep you posted.) The big initiative right off the bat for us this year is that we are moving away from a confined VLE and moving toward a system that is made up of K-12 WP blogs hosted on our sever, for teachers, students, and admin. We hope these blogs will act as portfolios as well as communication tools, discussion forums and more. We are building the system from scratch and as I mentioned before it is scary. We are also moving toward a Google Campus for access to Google Docs for back of the house curriculum creation and storage, as well as use of Calendars, Reader and Sites for a variety of things: student work, RSS, and document navigation among other things. It is scary.

Now that you have read the context, let’s spend a few lines on reflection:

The best part about learning is the not knowing. The guessing. The exploration. The trial and error. The failure. But suddenly when you are in front of a group of teachers who are looking to you to know what you are doing, learning feels like a waste of time. They need you to know this stuff. You have to know to teach right? What do you mean you don’t know how to do that? Then why are you in charge of teaching me?

What is lost is the sense that learning begins with not knowing. The one idea I  hope to impart on people this year is that technology is not always a smooth path that will make their lives easier. That notion is a myth. It is ironic that we look to technology to make our lives easier, only to spend so much time and energy agonizing about how much of our time it saps. How many times have we watched some poor sap awkwardly stare about room as the very tool he/she was touting as life changing didn’t work? How many times have we been in that spot, “No I swear Google Docs will make this easier.” No one can log in. Tables act weird. Back to the drawing board. So why do we do it? Why do we spend so much time talking about technology and what it can or cannot do? Why have I chosen to try and convince grown professionals that learning about it will make them better teachers? That it will help their learning.

For the last two nights, I have laid awake in bed worrying. Worrying about some of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, but when I wasn’t stressed about Themes and RSS on WP, I was thinking about why we choose to focus on technology when it isn’t always as easy as advertised. This is the analogy I came up with in my tired, sleep deprived brain:

We sell technology as a sprint. It is fast. Efficient. Breathtaking. It makes everything it touches fast, efficient, and breathtaking…but as we all know this is seldom the case. It is often frozen, loading, or crashing. It often feels more like a sprinter who can barely get out of the blocks, let alone finish a race. For me technology is more like a hurdle race. Or maybe a marathon. Or maybe a marathon with hurdles. And motes. With crocodiles. And hot lava. You get the point. Technology is not about ease; it is about obstacles. It is about problems. And understanding that when you have problems you often have solutions. The beauty of technology is overcoming obstacles. Critical thinking. Learning. Clearing hurdles. One after another. One step after the next.

image by studiocurve

I see value in technology for students and teachers because it teachers them, in a perfect world where they are not “trained” or spoon fed tutorials, how to identity problems and solve them. This is what I hope to get across to the teachers with which I work.  Technology will break. It will fail. It is not a sprint. Maybe it won’t make your life easier, but damn it, you will learn some things about yourself. Your ability to be patient. To handle stress. To think critically under pressure. You will learn how to clear the hurdles with poise and precision, so that when it is time to sprint you will be all the more able.

Why may you ask, would any teacher in their right mind, with all their teacherly responsibilities, want to enter a marathon with hurdles and lava? Why do we ask our students to it? Why do we ask them to put themselves in situations that force them to learn?

See you in the comments…

(note: Sometimes technology can be a sprint. Sometimes it can be an amazing flight, but tonight I was mired in stress and I needed this. More posts coming soon, I am sure.)


Thoughts from The Nam (An ADE reflection)

The fact that I don’t like corporations comes as no surprise to anyone who has read my work or talked to me for five minutes. They’re big and scary and faceless and subversive and greedy and dictate too much of how things are done in the world for my taste. Because integrity, honesty, passion and art are so important to me I am constantly disappointment by the concept of selling out. Giving in. Joining the dark-side. I mean, is there anything worse than seeing a song you love, being used to hawk a car or a TV?

I came to the Apple Distinguished Educator’s conference with a heavy heart. Was I selling out? Was this ultimate copulation to the very corporate forces I am constantly deriding? Because while Apple is hip and shiny and sexy on the surface, their main goal is still global domination. Of this there is little doubt. So what would a corporate sponsored educational institute look like exactly? How much of my soul would I have to sell? What was in it for me? There is a running joke surrounding the ADE program, likening it to a cult or saying that once there you drink the Kool-Aide you will be never shut up it again.

This post is random scattering of thoughts and ideas of my experience over the last four days in Vietnam.

Every organization, every conference, every school, every company, every story is about the people. Who they are?  Their beliefs and values, and how they work with others are critical aspects of how they function as a bigger group. And so of course, it was the people that really grabbed my attention. From the talented and inspirational speakers like Rebbeca Stokely and Joseph Linaschke, to all advisory member facilitators and sixty plus ADEs, their was a tangible sense of excitement about the future of not only technology but how these tools can be leveraged to a global shift in how our students learn. The wild card group for me was the ADE educational team from Apple. I was excepting a bunch of disconnected suits from the corporate office, but really the Apple team are a dynamic, diverse group of men and women dedicated to the success of this program.Let me throw a quick thank you to Adrian for his dedication and passion to education.

Which brings me to what I think is an important point. What is the point of the ADE program? Here is my take:

To take innovative educators from within a region, who are already using and excited by the Apple brand, connect them to each other, build a tight-knit (almost cult like) community, so that they can work more closely together, have a wider global audience in hopes that they, (we?) can build a critical mass in the institute with which we work, in order to shift the paradigm. Could the cynic argue, he always does in my mind, that Apple created this program in order to have the sales department move in right after and turn whatever schools these ADEs are working in to Mac schools? Of course. But really, I am not here to write about that. Stop it! I can here murmuring , “sell out” under your breath, but really the truth is that I would choose to go to a Mac school over a PC school with or without the ADE program. What I learned this past week was the dedication this company has shown to this program. Hold on….had another cup of Kool-Aide, but really at the level I am working in now, I am proud to be a part of it. Should it ever change or demand more of me, than of course I will reconsider. For now, I feel a part of a healthy and exciting symbiotic relationship. I feel that I have the opportunity to stay honest, keep my integrity and write openly and honestly about my role as ADE. If at any point my views and theirs should diverge than I am sure we will be happy to end the relationship, but in the mean time I am stoked and excited to have met so many other amazingly talented individuals. Many I already knew through the network, but others who are a bit new. They are doing amazing work in their schools, but needed this platform to join the global conversation.To all the new ADEs I met this week, welcome to the conversation. Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts. This is where the remainder of our work together will be done.

My favorite part of this week was the professional development I saw. We were seldom asked to listen or watch. We were asked to do, to create, to reflect, to share. It made me feel like a student and I loved it. It taught me how to work with others and listen. It taught me that you might learn more if it is not done your way, that another person can add to your ideas and together you can sculpt shared ideas. I really hope to incorporate some of the activities and general ethos of the instiute to in-service days at my school for next year.

And of course it reaffirmed my belief that learning is done in process and cannot be assessed by product. The very experience of creation is important not the creation itself. We all know this, but we often need to be reminded of failure and mediocre products, so we can ease the pressure we put in students. The conversations I had with members of my group during our day on the river, or the emotions I felt while talking with locals being pushed off their land and from their homes in the name of globalization and progress, is impossible to document or assess in a four-minute video. I was left thinking of how much learning from our students is lost or forgotten in the search of a grade. There must be so much they are learning that we never see, because we are asking for such specific proof. This experience made me appreciate the role of reflections and student blogs as places of more holistic learning. A sort of expansive landscape, where if done right students as well as teachers can really design a more accurate picture of learning, one that does not require a rubric or standards, but when experienced as a whole over time reflects the journey of its creator. Much more on this soon.

This institute also gave me a chance to really look at my own current landscape and take inventory. Who am I? Am I spread to thin? What are my values? What do I want to promote and share? Am I on the right track? What does my name mean to others? Does any of it matter? Stay tuned for updates. I am working on re-worked, consolidated brand. I still hate that word. Maybe when I can articulate it, it will have a new name.

In the meantime, I am proud and excited by the work I did, the thoughts I had and the people I met. It is always a shocking experience to be thrown into such a crucible. I am sure the effects will be long lasting. I am looking forward to continuing the conversations we had this past week with everyone who was there, as well as all of you who were not. Not sure if I answered any of the questions I had going in, but I don’t feel like a sell-out and that is good. I feel like I am leading a fast moving train headed to great places. Come on! What are you waiting for. Get on. We have work to do.
Of course I would appreciate all my critical thinking, trouble making friends to tell me I am wrong about all of this, because there is nothing more dangerous to growth and learning as complacency


They Were Poetry

Last week, I began to sketch out the current poetry unit I am teaching in the seventh grade. I am still not ready to share the “paper work.” You now the objectives, essential questions, assessments, and criteria. I have it all planned out, but I don’t feel the need to document that part of the story on my blog just yet. I want the story of this unit to be like the work with my students; we are still trying to pry ourselves away from the literal. English is not their first language you see, so they are having a difficult time allowing language to set them free. They still cling to what they know and write exactly what they see. They cannot see that poetry is the key that will free them from the shackles of language acquisition.

Yesterday, we spent some time playing with metaphor, simile, and personification. We returned to the shared Google .Doc we created last week and began to explore the phrases we found there. I did not teach a lesson on figurative language or literary devices; I didn’t want to confuse them. I simply showed them how to do it and let them practice. I am starting to think this may be a better approach. There is no need to know what a simile is to write one, so why not practice first, get the hang of it and then say, “Oh by the way, what you just did there- comparing two things using the word like is called a simile, or see how you made the sun drink and laugh? That is called personification.”

We played on the document for about forty minutes. “Find a nice spot on the document and carve out your space. Take an idea and give it some life. Describe the flower or give the bee  a personality.” They are getting really mature about using a shared space like Google .Doc. At first there was a lot of giggling and erasing words and what not, but now we are all business. “We are not doing anything with this document for a while. We are not writing poetry. We are just describing the world. Don’t be afraid to take chances and be weird. Weird is good. Write what you think and let it flow out of you. Don’t think so much” I don’t want them to get caught up in the concept of poetry. I just want them to do it.

The next day, I handed out some photographs from a box I have called Poetry Starters. They are provocative sensory rich images, but nothing one couldn’t create from Flickr, and told them to practice what they did yesterday, which was to write freely using sensory language as well as personification, simile and metaphor. Of course, they do not know that is what they are doing. Most struggled. Many of them simply wrote exactly what they saw.  We  work on. I have done this before and know that it is a long haul, but we will slowly take one step at a time.

image by theilr

Next, we started a book called Love That Dog,

Love That Dog is the story of Jack, his dog, his teacher, and words. The story develops through Jack’s responses to his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, over the course of a school year. At first, his responses are short and cranky: “I don’t want to” and “I tried. Can’t do it. Brain’s empty.” But as his teacher feeds him inspiration, Jack finds that he has a lot to say and he finds ways to say it.

We just started it.  There is a a section early on when he is discovering rhythm and rhyme. As we read it lifelessly, I had an idea. A spontaneous revelation hit me,  so I ran with it. “I want this half of the class to read lines 1, 3, 5, 7 and this side to read 2, 4, 6, 8. Ahh come on you can read with more life and energy than that. Can’t you feel that? What is that called? Yes! Right! Rhythm, now feel it and read like you mean it.” We went back and forth, each time reading with more intensity. “Now follow me.” I started tapping out a beat on the table. They followed. “Come on louder! Don’t be shy. Beat that table. Feel that rhythm.” We were groovin’ now. “Good now read the poem and tap. Feel it don’t read it!”

It was awesome. They were smiling, laughing, reading, tapping. They were poetry. I quickly hit record on Garageband and recorded a take. Next class I want them to play on Garageband and experiment with beats, until they can record a nice tight little passage. Next we right a few lines of our own to read, sing, rap over the beat. Poetry is not a skill set to be learned and assessed. It is a lifestyle to be lived. We are on our way…