Archive for the ‘thinking out loud’ Category

I will start this review sounding like the slightly-over-the-hill woman that I am. Don’t they write books like Anne of Green Gables anymore? I suppose it would be too tame in this day of dystopian, paranormal fantasies, where children are manipulated at the hands of evil adults. It is, as they say, a different world, perhaps especially for young women.

That being said, I loved Mind Games. From the opening sentences, we are thrown into a fast-paced, well-crafted narrative in which we encounter events in much the same way as the characters, trying to figure out what is really going on, which is the right path, and who can be trusted. And, by the end, we’re still not sure.

What we are sure of is that Fia and Annie are finally taking control of their own lives and making their choices out of their love for themselves and each other, rather than out of anger and fear. Underlying the almost breathless plot is a rich story of two sisters, and as much as I wanted to find out what happened, I forced myself to slow down and understand and savor the relationship between the girls. Their shared guilt over the death of their parents, their moments of enlightenment when they see how their spiritual blindness has led them down wrong paths and their realization that what we think we see is not always what is true: these are the intertwining themes that take Mind Games above the horror and violence and provide the reader with a sense of something greater. We see two young women coming into their own and that’s a great story in itself.

White’s narrative weaves in and out between past and present and between the sisters. The resulting pattern is both intricate and intriguing. While the main story seems to be Fia’s, without Annie’s voice we would not truly understand Fia. And seeing both past and present unfold at the same time makes the narrative more compelling than if the story were told in chronological order. There is writerly craft here from the “deaths” that bookend the story and the many ways that White plays with notions of seeing and reading and feeling. 

As I finished and reflected, I found much to like and much that could be discussed with teens about choices and control. Plus, I’m glad I read it close to the release of the sequel since there is much still to discover.

Perhaps, in the mean time, I’ll start working on Anne of Green Gables and Zombies 😉

Just a reminder that this blog has moved to  I’ve just posted a new entry entitled Digital Literacy: Reading the Paper Online.

You can read my post, “Learning Welsh,” over at the new home of In Another Place:  Please update your aggregators!

Greetings, all! In an effort to consolidate my online life, I am moving this blog to my professional website at Ivy Run. You can read new posts by visiting

State report shows many students are not ready for college –

From today’s ASCD SmartBrief, a report that while some 80% of Massachusetts high school grads go on to college, 37% of them are ill prepared and require remediation.  The article quotes a higher ed official and a NJ department of ed official about the report:

“This reports what we’ve known anecdotally for some time, and that is there are certain groups of students that, despite our best efforts, are still not graduating from high school ready to pursue college-level work immediately,” said Eileen O’Connor, spokeswoman for the Board of Higher Education.

Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education Jeffrey Nellhaus said: “We hope that the data in this report serves as a catalyst for steps to be taken statewide to improve the academic preparation and performance of the Commonwealth’s public school students.”

Or, maybe now is the moment for us to realize that children and young people and even oldsters like me learn and mature at different rates and are ready for different learning experiences at different times.  I taught one of those remediation writing courses at a public university, where students had three semesters to pass in order to gain admission.  Sadly, some of them took the course three times and still failed.  Some failed because their skills were still weak, but many because they just didn’t want to be there.  I couldn’t help but thinking that we were really wasting their time, time they could have been using to move into the world and learn more about themselves rather than academic writing styles.

I wasn’t ready for my own first experience with graduate school.  I graduated with honors from William and Mary but didn’t really have the necessary passion to be a literature professor nor the discipline to be a full-time writer.  In addition, my personal life intervened, making school difficult.  I dropped out after taking much of the course work and discovering a love for rhetoric and African American writers that I carry with me to this day.   I know what it feels like to fail educationally.  I just wasn’t ready.  I certainly don’t blame WM.   And that doesn’t mean I gave up.  I just had to wait for the right time and the right program.  Later, I found the perfect MA program, designed for writing teachers rather than English professors.  I loved it, and my thesis on literacy continues to inform the way I think about new media.

I finished that degree in 1991; now, 25 years after completing my BA in English at the same school, I’m moving towards completing my PhD.  In those 25 years, I did public relations for an art museum, taught high school and middle school, learned about technology, got pretty passionate about educational technology, and, voila, the perfect PhD program seemed to materialize in front of my eyes.  I was ready, and the education was there.  While I admire young professors who found their passions early on, I’m happy that I waited this time.

OK, I think I’m starting to sound a little mystical here and getting away from the original point:  students are very much individuals, and as much as we would like it if we could somehow guarantee that each one has identical skills and knowledge when they pick up that high school diploma, that simply isn’t going to happen because each person brings her own dispositions, her own passions, her own concerns, her own learning styles to those skills and knowledge.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my vision of education.  I tend to be a pragmatist who tries to work with people where they are, but in my heart, I have a sense that if we really were willing to change everything, school could be this amazing experience, rather than something that kids get through.

So, part of my vision of edutopia includes multi-age classrooms where each child gets the time they need to learn, but more importantly, the room they need to find their passions.  One of the hallmarks of a leader according to Warren Bennis is passion.  I think this is easier to envision at the elementary school level because I think there’s a sense that, at some point if we do it right, all students should be at the same place at least when they hit high school.  At the secondary level, edutopia means that we start redefining “college” and finding ways to blur high school and college experiences.  Helping kids make a plan for the future that makes sense to them and supports them beyond their walk across the high school gym stage.

I keep several blogs in addition to this one.  One of them serves as the reflexive journal for my research project.  Since I wanted choices about privacy and sharing, I went with Live Journal.  I have been using it for the past year and am happy with it.  My only friend is my advisor because I started the journal as a class assignment so she needed access.  But, now my posts are completely private.

I had not posted for awhile but now that the proposal process is heating up, I wanted to record some thoughts and questions.  When I logged in, my LJ homepage informed me that I “only” have one friend.  And then helpfully provided a link to organizations where I presumably could find friends.  It was like having your mother appear at the door of room, urging you to get out and meet some people, maybe join a club or something.

But, I have LOTS of friends, I wanted to say to LJ.  And, if I don’t, it’s because I’m happy with it that way.  I don’t want to discuss model rockets or the best recipes for meatloaf…at least not here.  I actually do that other places but LJ is where I just want to tuck myself in the corner, shielding my paper from others’ views and write.  In an increasingly public world, we may need to carve out space for private thoughts in the network.  That’s what I’ve done in LJ; I just didn’t expect to be judged wanting because of that desire for privacy.

I am doing a presentation on this topic at EdTech 2008. I’ve spent a lot of time considering 21st century skills but haven’t ever formally organized on the topic. So here’s some stream of conscious thinking: sort of what popped into my mind first.

Defining The Subject

I got it wrong (as usual). I was thinking I would be talking about how to integrate 21st century assessments in the classroom. Alternatives to writing another report, which we learned in Frontline’s Growing Up Online, is probably plagiarized. But, at the Partnership for 21st Century Skills website, it’s more about how to assess 21st century skills. They tend to point towards tests. But I’m wondering if the two ways of coming at assessment could work together: the way to assess 21st century skills is by incorporating 21st century assessments.

So, what’s a 21st century assessments? (Don’t you like how I managed to justify talking about what I wanted to talk about?) Here’s Tuttle’s (2007) suggestion:

Effective 21st century assessment reaches beyond traditional testing to look at the broader accomplishments of learners. Assembling an e-portfolio, or electronic portfolio, is an excellent method for assessing students’ progress toward school, state, or national academic standards, as well as 21st century skills. An electronic portfolio is a purposefully limited collection of student selected work over time that documents progress toward meeting the standards. Work may be collected over a semester, a year, or even several years, passing from one grade level and teacher to the next. E-portfolios reflect more in-depth, more comprehensive, and better thought-out evidence of student learning than on-demand tests. For instance, a student’s three-hour state benchmark essay offers the feedback of a 5/6 score, while an e-portfolio allows students to document the many aspects of their essay writing improvement over the course of a year.

Excellent: eportfolios cover a whole host of the 21st century skills. Of course, portfolios were available in the 20th century, too; my high school collected student work over the course of middle school and high school. But it was haphazard to say the least, boxes of folders that had to be divided each year, with no way to get them to kids who left over the summer, etc. Digital is definitely better, pushing this into the 21st century category. Plus, if we’re incorporating the ICT skills, our kids should be creating digital artifacts that will fit nicely into those portfolios. (Although I’d like to put in a plug for having kids make “real” things out of shoe boxes or cereal cartons at least every now and then. I still remember fondly the model of the train from The Great Train Robbery that I made in 9th grade. Then, I could create the digital tour of my train to post to my portfolio. Aaah…now, I think I’m getting the hang of developing 21st century assessments.)

So, we’ve covered the core content, ICT, as well as things like self-reflection and taking ownership. Maybe even creativity and communication.

20th Century Skills

There are a few skills that were definitely 20th century expectations, too. Things like punctuality and personal responsibility. My K-12 career happened during the 20th century, and I often sat with mothers of middle schoolers scheming about how to help them develop more initiative, self direction, productivity and personal accountability, to use their 21st century names. In fact, if you looked at my grading system, some of it at least was an attempt to encourage these skills: I gave a homework grade. I gave a notebook grade. I took off points when you failed to meet a project deadline. If you looked at my plan book, some of it was an attempt to encourage these skills: built in check points for students to engage in self reflection about their work, explicit instruction in notetaking and organization, and, right at the end of my classroom time, using technology to communicate.

Leadership Skills

I am most intrigued by the Life and Career Skills. As I mentioned, a lot of them were 20th century expectations that seem to have taken on an urgency as we move into the 21st century. Others seem to be more about the kinds of skills kids develop when they participate in after school activities. Taken together, I think they represen a roadmap for leadership. And, the question in K-12 becomes the same question in graduate school: can we teach people to be leaders?

The Easy Ones

I think the 21st century skills we have at least started to figure out are the Information, Media and Technology skills. Why? Because they have 20th century counterparts. And they can be taught in isolation. The librarian, now the media specialist, has always taught information skills. Media literacy has often been a part of the language arts curriculum. Even technology. It overlaps a lot with information literacy; it’s about accessing information, so in my day the technology was the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.

And, it’s about using technology to organize knowledge and information. I think that’s the biggie here. We didn’t have so many choices for organizing our knowledge: write a report, make a poster, maybe do something creative like a song or poem. I can still do all those things but add the collaborative, network-based component as well as the access to materials and easy publishing for sharing that knowledge and we’re into the realm of the 21st century.

Found a link to this video in my delicious account:

I don’t really disagree with any of the sentiments expressed. After all, it simply asks questions, encouraging educators to think about their practice. But I do think there is an implied criticism, perhaps. One question asks, “What do your students create?” Well, when I was still teaching my kids created a lot of stuff; some of it was digital but lots of it was physical. They made book covers, dioramas, mobiles and posters. If I were still in the classroom, I suppose I would be doing more digital creation, but I would still want my students to make physical things, too.

But there are a couple issues. One is the text-based nature of the video. Why not save the bandwidth and just turn this into a webpage? I guess videos are preferable because they can be shown in workshops and as part of presentations, but seven minutes of text on the screen is too much. Is that because the creator is considering the audience and assuming that because they are old teachers, they would prefer reading? Personally, as an old teacher, I would like some graphics.

Here’s my main issue, though: where are the teacher voices? Don’t they get any kind of say in this whole thing? Do students have no responsibility for learning?

And, then, there’s that statement: perhaps they wouldn’t hate school if they could use their iPods in class. Perhaps…but I think the abysmal drop out rate in our country is a bit more complicated than that. And, let’s just consider a couple assumptions here: every student has an iPod, schools have the resources to give students an iPod, teachers have received the training and support they need to integrate iPods effectively and efficiently in their classrooms. Lots of questions that don’t get considered.

And, maybe, that’s the ultimate point of the video: get people discussing the role of technology in education. Thanks to jsd4 for prompting that conversation.

Just got my afternoon update from the Chronicle of Higher Education. It referenced this article from The Birmingham News.  A fight has been going on over two-year colleges.  Joe Reed, the number 2 man at the Alabama Education Association, wrote a scathing letter to the chancellor of the two-year college system in which he compares him to Adolph Hitler.  I guess Reed has never heard of Godwin’s Law.  While this law usually refers to online discussion forums, I believe it applies in this case.  It says, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”  In addition, according to Wikipedia, “There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically “lost” whatever debate was in progress.”  Guess Reed loses…

I managed to contract bronchitis, and the doctor mentioned pre-pneumonia, which was enough to scare me into bed. Actually, I couldn’t really do much else anyway…too wiped out. The meds are starting to help me and I’m on the road to recovery, but my husband reminds me that I don’t want to take a detour, so I’m spending yet another day on the couch. Thought it was a good chance to catch up a bit on this blog. So, media-wise, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about:

Paris Hilton: OK, so I never thought I would blog about Paris Hilton, but I’ve been watching a lot of television for the past few days and got caught up in the story of her impending jail sentence. Actually, this article from YahooNews gives lots of interesting details about her unwillingness to take responsibility for herself along with insight into the parenting skills that have led to this situation. (Her mother called prosecutors “pathetic,” an epithet she might well turn on herself at least in the mothering department, especially considering the fact that the reason her daughter is in the situation in the first place is for a drunk driving violation. She was over the legal limit and never attended the alcohol classes that were required. Where were her parents then??) But the saddest part is where the media commentary comes in. This, according to several sources, will actually help her, not because she will learn that she is accountable just like everyone else but because it will simply add to her mystique as a celebrity. EEK! She is already making the most of it: using her myspace page to appeal to her fan base to petition California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is, IMHO, wisely staying out of it. We live in a really screwed up time when going to jail can actually be good for your career. Maybe I’ll organize the Paris Hilton boycott.

Speaking of television…we do not have very good cable access, mostly use it to get internet access so choices are very limited for me or, maybe it is just limited in general. My recurring headache makes it tough to read so I’ve been surfing the channels. First, I’m wondering if I can market my own new weight-loss plan: the bronchial pneumonia cure. Just get really sick so all you can imbibe is orange juice. Do that for a week and voila, lose 10 pounds! Then, there was the Jerry Springer show that I only saw for a few minutes…a woman in a bikini painting a half-naked man then rolling with him on the floor. Please tell me why this is allowed at a time when kids are watching TV? It is clearly pornography. We filter the Internet like there is no tomorrow, but this kind of garbage seems to get no comment. Mostly, I end up at Food TV; I can always watch someone cook. Sorry…didn’t mean this to be a rant, actually, but I’ve been through all my Netflix movies.

I’m going to escape it all by taking a nap…

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