David Cooper Moore

Teacher, filmmaker, media literacy educator

Recent Blog Entries

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  • Farewell to the limbo stick
    Media educators (and other educators too) have dealt with media intrusions for a long time – from passing notes to students bringing portable radios into class to texting or taking phone calls on a flip phone. But smart phones are different. We have conversation after conversation among teachers and administration at my school about our cell phone policies. Many schools simply forbid them, collecting phones at the beginning of the day and giving them back at dismissal. We don’t do that, but we don’t really have anything concrete in its place. Some teachers will consider cell phone use a classroom disruption; others are more ambivalent about it (I’m usually in the latter category, with some exceptions). I’ve read plenty of “progressive” ideas for integrating cell phones into learning environments, from disciplinary strategies (positive reinforcement, a no-fault “turn in your phone for the period” policy, a demerit system, etc. etc. etc.) to engaging classroom activities. I have my students use cell phones for academic reasons all the time, for what it’s worth. And I’m not prepared to say “none of these strategies work,” because I’m still too new at it and my own classroom management is not particularly enviable, though it’s gotten a little better. But…so far, I’m not convinced that any of these strategies DO actually work. I think there’s a more important issue than the disruptive potential of cell phone use in the classroom, though. It seems to me that the nature of cell phones (of the smart phone variety) at school makes their presence a unique and possibly intractable problem for teachers who view cell phones as “distractions.” One thing that every student tells me when I ask about cell phones is that they usually go on their phones because they are bored. Yes, students use their cell phones when they are bored. Revelatory! I know that sounds obvious. But we often think about cell phone use as a one-way problem –- from the preventive side, how do we train students not to have to use the cell phones in “inappropriate situations”? From the proactive side, how do we give them incentives to want to use cell phones in a more productive way? But we rarely ask the quesiton in the other direction: why are students so bored that they hop on their phones? And the answer I have to this question now is not the one that I entertained prior to being a teacher, which was something like: school just isn’t interesting or engaging enough and if it were, then students wouldn’t need so many distractions (literally one second’s reflection on my own high school experiences would have dispelled this, of course). Don’t get me wrong, school often is unnecesarily, and sometimes crushingly, boring. But students often opt for the phones anyway. Even in really engaging classrooms, where the students tell you they like the lesson and are engaged, cell phones still pop up like a game of whack-a-mole. One thing that smart phones have changed, I think categorically, and not just for students, is the threshold of boredom that it now requires to turn to your phone instead of engaging in the moment. There are so many things to do with a cell phone, so many ways to re-engage with your out-of-school life (this is what smart phones do, in ways far more immersive than flip phones, say, could ever do), that the cost-benefit analysis changes from “am I so bored that I would do anything rather than sit here right now?” to “would I like to check in on literally anything else going on in my life right now?” That is a much lower threshold. It’s the difference between going under a limbo stick and walking through a doorway. It’s right there. A key insight from my students here is that it’s not just them. It’s not just my students, or their generation, that are asking this question. It’s all of us. I have never (never!) been in a business meeting, conference, or, hell, even a dinner with more than a few people – most of whom have established adult careers that they are in no danger of losing due to cell phone overuse – in which someone didn’t check their cell phone. Smart phones are one place where the needle hasn’t just moved at the student level, as might have been true with other forms of media distraction in classrooms. Most professionals aren’t so bored in meetings, say, that they would do anything besides just pay attention to where they currently are – listening to a radio broadcast in a staff meeting or passing notes (though even that happens occasionally still). In every meeting I have ever attended with more than five people or so, someone has at some point decided they need to check in with the rest of their life outside of this meeting, glancing at their phone for texts or missed calls or checking their email or their Facebook or something, just for one second, rather than give their full attention to the meeting. I would say something like “we need to decide as a society whether this is the example we want to set for our students” but beyond seeming too preachy, it’s just too late for that. To understand cell phone use among students, teachers need to reframe the way they think about media as a “distraction.” We are connected to our full, messy, complicated, real lives 100% of the time, and these connections are both immediately accessible and relatively discreet (you can check under the table if you’re sneaky). Nearly every adult I’ve engaged with in a professional capacity has done the cost-benefit analysis that my students do every hour of the day – “does literally anything else that might be happening in my life trump what’s happening in this room right now?” That is a fundamentally different question, and it’s not a “distraction” in the sense that we tend to use that word as teachers. It’s a total shift in mindset that has affected everyone. If pre-smart-phone distractions were a limbo stick and smart phones are a doorway, it’s the difference between choosing to do something intentionally versus drifting into doing something, perhaps only somewhat consciously, or even accidentally. (Which, I should add, is exactly what a lot of cell phone use in my classroom looks like – semi-conscious, or even unconscious, slipping through the doorway. In the lexicon of classic classroom distractions, it’s much closer to doodling than it is to passing notes.) I don’t have any solutions here; but I do know that thinking of it this way has eased my irritation at the presence of cell phones in my classroom. First, I don’t take distractedness so personally, any more than I take students doodling personally. (In some cases doodling improves memory retention, such as during note-taking. I’m not aware of a corresponding cell phone benefit, though.) When I’m honest, I concede that I would probably make the same decision myself, even in situations that were genuinely engaging. I do have one idea, but it’s not an attractive one -– have no restrictions on cell phone use during class at all, but instead set rules about discretion. Legal as long as you don’t get caught – it’s a “text under the table rule.” Send your text and then re-focus. Glance and then re-focus. Beyond being skeptical that this would work (people, not just students in a classroom, are far more distracted by cell phone use than they think they are; studies have shown that glancing at your phone to text while driving, for instance, distracts you for a full ten seconds AFTER you’ve put your eyes back on the road), it just doesn’t feel like the right message to send to students. But this idea is related to another idea I’ve been having: trying to be more transparent when I’m asking students to code-switch. A lot of “code-switching” we ask students to do at our school is one-sided – that is, we want them to switch into some other mode of academic or professional engagement, but we never really let them switch back, nor do we explain that we are asking them to do something that will probably feel uncomfortable and is not, and may never be, natural for them, or even fair to them. Transparency in code-switching requires not just the switching, but a deconstruction of the codes themselves, pointing out when certain academic or professional expectations are culturally insensitive, actively uncomfortable, or even the direct product of racism. A code-switch framework for cell phone use may be less specifically cultural, and would probably apply to teachers in almost exactly the same way – teachers would give up their phones in a way that is actively uncomfortable and then reflect on the experience. Have teachers “turn in their phones” before meetings. Do workshops specifically about our relationships to mobile devices to figure out how they help us and how they hurt us, from a personal perspective, not just the blanket statement that they’re distracting. (It’s really hard to convince a distracted student who doesn’t feel distracted that they are, in fact, distracted, just as if you’ve ever texted while driving you probably didn’t think you were distracted after your eyes were back on the road.) Along those lines, I’ve had a lot of conversations about cell phone use, lots of parsing of why students use their phones and when. I’ll pause class for a day and just talk about it with my students for a half-hour every now and then. What I’ve noticed is that only a minority of my students have what they describe in their own words as a “cell phone addiction.” A subset of these “phone addiction” students will willingly give their phones over sometimes, given the opportunity, knowing they can’t help themselves from looking at their phone during class. As for the rest of my students, when I’m charitable to them, I notice that the ones without a specific “phone issue” don’t really check their phones that much, and when they do, it’s also likely that they’ve finished their work or a lesson is floundering. That is, for the majority of my students, cell phone use is a symptom of a problem (in the classroom, anyway) rather than the cause of one. A lot of cell phone problems, from the perspective of teachers anyway, are a visiblity problem, not a distraction problem. It’s the teacher who is distracted, not the students –- I notice that sometimes I tend not to discriminate between students using their phones and therefore I’m not actually tracking who is using their phone occasionally but staying relatively on task (i.e. is using the level of discretion my co-workers and I use in meetings) and who is a chronic user or using the phone to escape the lesson. “Cell phones are out” can become a binary variable, but I imagine there are more complicated patterns happening in any given classroom along three variables –- what’s happening in the classroom, who has a specific “cell phone problem,” and who has reached their low boredom threshold but, given another activity, would still re-focus and be on task. Anyway, I have no actual answers here, just observing that this is a problem that really is unique to teaching right now because it’s unique to society as a whole right now. Comparisons to other distractions and ways of disengaging just don’t work, because those other distractions aren’t mirrored so exactly in the adult world that we’re supposedly modeling for our students. Cell phone use has transformed into something like doodling on the margins of notes, daydreaming, or thinking about something else. But unlike those things, it’s plain to see. It’s "daydreaming” that accidentally buzzes or beeps or plays a Beyonce song sometimes. I can’t tell my students with a straight face that I would never glance at my phone in a professional context given even the slightest opportunity or reason to do so. So why should I expect them to feel any differently?
  • Hamburg (Reflections on my first year teaching)
    I’m exhausted. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what kinds of things have changed the most in the first year of full-time teaching. As I began this work, I could sense a shift in my sense of priorities and maybe even philosophies around teaching media education. But then as I look back over old posts, I see that actually I am for the most part putting a lot of beliefs and norms into action that I’ve internalized reading about and writing about and thinking about and doing media education for almost ten years. I’ve tinkered at the edges of some of these beliefs, but nothing has been shaken, really. The biggest difference between teaching in an enrichment or college environment and teaching high school is almost entirely physical. I teach five days a week, five periods a day, and teach two classes during the summer. We work in short 9-week “cycles” that more or less correspond to a marking period (quarter or semester). I quickly realized that teaching is marathon, not sprint, and that most of my methods and techniques for teaching developed for enrichment and college (which, as it’s turning out, are far closer in structure than either is to day-to-day high school teaching) just plain don’t work over a long haul. The metaphor I’ve been returning to is the “Hamburg period” of the Beatles mythology – the short story is that the Beatles were basically a local group of no particular significance, then got an odd and grueling gig in Hamburg playing for hours and hours and hours, over the course of a few years. (Don’t worry if you don’t know or don’t like the Beatles – you could fill in any number of examples to approximate that “marathon/sprint” style dichotomy, but the running metaphor wasn’t working for me.) To me, the key difference between teaching high school and teaching in less intensive environments is basically the difference between Hamburg and what might be considered a lighter, or at least more sporadic, mode of engagement. Here are some of the key differences: YOU CAN’T PERFORM ORIGINALS ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT. The Beatles didn’t have a back catalog when they played Hamburg, but even if they somehow had literally their entire songbook at their disposal, they wouldn’t be able to fill even a fraction of the time they had on stage. This has been perhaps the biggest “aha” moment for me, especially as someone who has some experience designing curriculum and enrichment activities. I was reminded of the difference this past week when I had an opportunity to teach a 30-minute stand-alone mini-lesson on stereotypes to students outside of my regular classes. It went really well! But it was the kind of structured, contained lesson that doesn’t work in a sustained Hamburg engagement. First, it’s just not long enough. My lesson fit into 30 minutes perfectly, could have stretched to 45 or 50, and could have expanded the creative element to do maybe a two-day lesson. But that’s less than half of a weekly structure, and there was nowhere to go after it was finished. Second, the Hamburg audiences had a lot of overlap, and if you play the same set every night, things start to get tedious. I’ve already started to figure out which of my standard activities can withstand lots of recycling (online research templates, storyboards and outlines) and which don’t work more than once (nearly all content-specific worksheets, many novel project ideas). YOU NEED COVERS – LOTS OF THEM. Before I taught full-time, I had a mild disdain for the whole basic idea of a pre-written curriculum. At its worst, I’ve seen teachers literally read scripts in a wooden monotone while asking students about things like their interpretations and opinions of a story. But it turns out that’s merely a perversion of a necessary component of long haul teaching – I never appreciated how the structure of the job demands cover versions and a radically omnivorous approach to curriculum development. Again Hamburg was a guidepost: sometimes you make covers your own, but more often you incorporate others’ ideas and work into something more like your house style. You don’t rework so much as filter through your own lens. Extensive reworking is often impossible under time and other restraints, so you need to work in whatever materials you can find to your environment without feeling the pressure to rip it up and start it over. And you need a LOT of material. By the end of my first year, I’m feeling practically empty, and I often look to like-minded educators for new foundations to build on. Curriculum from media literacy and media education simply isn’t enough, either – when the Beatles ran out of rock ‘n’ roll, they grabbed showtunes, music hall, pretty much anything that could fill another five minutes. YOU NEED STAMINA. Here’s an underrated component of teaching that I’m not sure I’ve seen discussed well except for one book on the subject, Inside Teaching by Mary Kennedy. In that book, Kennedy discusses a lot of the structural factors that keep teachers doing what they do – things that, from the outside, may look like inefficient or even counter-productive behaviors for quality learning in a classroom. One of them that I was fascinated by at the time, and have returned to repeatedly this year, is her concept of tranquility as a bedrock psychological requirement for teachers in their learning environments. She argues that disruptions to tranquility often lead teachers to overcompensate to essentially preserve what tranquility they can. I’ve noticed that often my own needs for tranquility are in total opposition to the natural energy of a media classroom. These needs aren’t as obvious in shorter-form learning environments, because stamina isn’t a key attribute. But in a regular high school environment, that need for tranquility starts to crowd to front and center very forcefully, and on a daily basis. My own strange rituals have been a surprise to me, as I haven’t needed them before. I could be “on” for an hour, then off for three. But I can’t be “on” for five hours. Ever. And so I need to take stock of how I cultivate tranquility for myself and adapt or prioritize those needs based on how well they complement learning. That said, there are times where my tranquility trumps learning, period – it’s just a matter of physical necessity. That’s something I haven’t yet experienced as an educator. YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE ON THE JOB. One reason teaching full-time is so physically difficult is that you really don’t have any “off” time to speak of. Professional development, even when it’s available, doesn’t really tend to deal in the day to day management of the classroom, which by its nature is pretty ad hoc. What that means is that aside from prep periods and personal time – neither of which are totally sufficient to prepare new material or master new concepts as a teacher – the only time you have to reflect, adapt, and shift your strategies is while you’re in the classroom. In some ways, this is actually an ideal way to work out new material with your class, but when it’s the only way to work out new material, it also means that your failures are “live” in a way that they aren’t when you have more of a break between teaching sessions. The structure of the school day is interesting in that, like a live set, if you teach a lesson multiple times through the day, you can experiment with what works in real-time, adapting as you go along. But the flipside of that is that when things go well the first time, the likelihood of pulling it off at the same level of quality three more times on the same day is basically nil. The cumulative impact of this is that teaching becomes an extended period of something between practice and performance (in a music metaphor – not entirely comfortable with thinking of teaching purely as an act of “performance” though obviously there’s a big element of it). There is both flexibility and stress in knowing that nothing that you’re doing is ever entirely baked – this is something that is true to all teaching, in a certain way (the missing ingredients, as it were, are the actual students you’re working with), but full-time teaching is a little different in that you’re never totally “started” or “stopped” – sorry to mix so many metaphors (did I mention I’m exhausted?) – but if in discontinuous and part-time teaching you have different results from your oven to reflect on, in full-time teaching the oven never really turns off, you just keep making batch after batch on the fly, and by the time you can actually stop you simply have too much product (too many practice sessions, too many performances) to do anything but take a more holistic view of the whole thing. Which leads me to… YOU SUCCEED AND FAIL CONSTANTLY, AND IT’S REALLY HARD TO DO A “SPOT CHECK” REFLECTION ON HOW YOU’RE DOING. By the end of their Hamburg stints, the Beatles were a formidable touring band, even though by all accounts they were amateurish when they started. When you look at the big picture, you can see how they evolved after the end of a year or two years, but on any given night what you get is, essentially, noise. I also think about the Ramones, who after years of grueling tours shaved seconds here and there from their set lists until they could play everything at nearly double speed in thirty minutes. But tracking that in the day to day would be pointless – like tracking hair growth or aging (I’ve sprouted some gray at the temples, for what it’s worth). You only notice the changes down the line cumulatively. The great drawback of this approach to change in teaching, of course, is that it’s really important to have useful feedback when you feel like you’ve failed or succeeded. But you rack up failures and successes so rapidly that those kinds of check-ins feel fruitless in the moment, but become unwieldy down the road. I have a mass of student produced videos, well-intentioned (but ultimately useless) worksheets, writing, journals, Powerpoint slides, audio snippets, survey data, conversations both remembered and recorded. Piles and piles of it. But I don’t have nearly the bandwidth to process it all, along with my own observations or those of my students, and much of it was glossed over or not given the attention it deserved when it was created. In the aggregate, I have some big take-aways of what works and what doesn’t, but at that granular everyday level, I just don’t really know what works or what doesn’t work outside of a few obvious exemplars (which, to go back to point one, doesn’t begin to cover the amount of class time I have to prepare for). I can assume that shifting my big picture outlook will shift the everyday stuff, too – once you’ve shaved off twenty minutes of set time, your new material will be incorporated differently than it would have been before – but once the grind starts back up, it will be difficult to determine what’s working and why. In my next post, I’ll try to list some of the things I’ve learned and observed in my first year.
  • isabelthespy: I was talking with a friend a while ago about how like the problem with Teaching...
    isabelthespy: I was talking with a friend a while ago about how like the problem with Teaching Critical Thinking is that you actually can’t think critically about anything without some kind of fact-based framework about it and she was like “yeah, I think that’s why students learn a lot of it through English classes, because you can have all the information of a text” and at the time I was like “oh true” but actually I have thought about it since and I am starting to feel like maybe that is a lie perpetuated by mediocre English teachers! Been looking for a way to expand a little on one of my previous posts and this post sparked something… I had a fascinating debate with my wife about something like this – she was responding to my preliminary thoughts on “credibility” that I wrote about here. She basically argued that you can’t understand texts without understanding a bunch of other stuff, and that this process is actually especially difficult in the context of something like an English class, where what you need to know in terms of context can stretch out to infinity. (The idea that everything is “there in the text” is probably just an artifact of there being such a huge number of possibilities of how to read a text – a way of looking right through the air and assuming there’s “nothing” in front of you. I actually think ALL subjects work this way, but it’s especially unavoidable in literature settings – the fiction of “right and wrong” isn’t really in the teacher’s toolbox in the same way it is in math class.) I was reminded a little of Lisa Delpit’s critique of the trend of “developing voice” in ELA, especially among black students, indigenous students, and students of color – reductively (and from memory, so I may be a little off here – this was just my takeaway of her position), she argues that kids HAVE voice already; the problem isn’t with whether or not students have a voice, but whether anyone respects or “hears” their voice, and whether they can communicate it in ways that are, usually unfairly, outside of their experience or culture. What students don’t necessarily have is a base of particular (usually culturally-specific) knowledge and skills that they will need to be better understood to people who don’t really value the voice they already have. One issue here, I think, is that (in my experience, at least) the more background knowledge you build on a given issue, the less strongly-voiced and obvious your “criticality” tends to get. There’s a kind of uncanny valley of “critical voice.” Actually, it’s more of an uncanny moiuntain – quiet on both ends and loud in the middle. On one end, you have relative ignorance, which leads to (most often) a lack of opinion or interest in a topic. This side of the valley is where the vast majority of students spend the vast majority of their time in school – not really knowing and not really caring. (There’s a version of this “know-little” side of the valley that may lead to something like strongly-held but misinformed opinions – though actually many of these kinds of strongly-held, seemingly “wrong” opinions usually ARE built on some kind of background knowledge, just not of a variety that teachers are comfortable with or respect. That is, they actually fall in the middle of the mountain, but we pretend that they’re the result of ignorance, because it’s easier to “fix” ignorance than it is to change the heart or mind of someone who is profoundly different from you.) On the other side of the mountain, you have something like expertise – a subtle and extensive set of knowledge about a particular topic that allows for a variety of different perspectives and constant updating. It is exhausting, and usually forces one to begin any discussion of an issue in prefaces and caveats and multiple options for how to engage. (I.e., you end up answering most questions with “It depends.”) This isn’t to say that you have nothing to say, but that you paradoxically have so MUCH to say that it doesn’t necessarily code as “critical voice” even though it is. But in the middle, we have what I think a lot of people, and certainly a lot of teachers, see as “critical” – a small base of knowledge and some meaningful if limited set of skills to learn enough about any given topic to Have Something Informed to Say about it. In practice, I find a lot of these kinds of responses from students to be extremely shallow and often counter-productive to complicating an issue. Or, more problematically, their learning process uproots a meaningful opinion or idea they had from intuition or experience – on the other side of the mountain – that they can’t really support with the available evidence but is valuable nonetheless. When I started consciously learning more about music and becoming a “music critic” in my own mind, I actually erased a huge swathe of important ideas and experiences from my thinking and writing all in the name of having a more informed opinion. (It took me about 10 years to reclaim it.) One example I’ve been thinking about lately: many of my students have a blanket distrust of government sources of information, based on life experiences that haven’t really proven to them that major institutions have their best interests at heart. But when doing science research, it’s important in the short term for them to trust, say, the NIH or CDC over Yahoo Answers. And yet on the farther side of the critical uncanney valley, they would be able to critique even the most seemingly authoritative sources for inadequacy, differing points of view (e.g. using data to make one argument instead of another). They would go from being instinctively cynical about everything to instinctively skeptical about everything. And it’s a very slim difference from outside appearances (from totally not trusting to generally not trusting), with thousands of hours of analysis making up the actual difference in mindset. By privileging the CDC over Yahoo, I’m doing a short-term service to their “critical thinking,” maybe, but at some foundational level I’m doing a long-term disservice, I think, to the whole point of trusting the CDC over Yahoo, which is that actually you don’t start out “trusting” anything, but you also know enough to figure out how to trust something more than something else. I often think that I underestimate just how much stuff you need to know to develop that newfound critical understanding of information, and how constant a process it is in updating your information and revising how you feel about something. But it’s also difficult to think back along that process and remember what it was like to be on the far end of the Critical Thinking uncanny valley. One way to do it is to constantly force yourself onto the “know-little” side of a given issue. I like to believe that this is something that teachers can do in class – it involves finding areas of expertise your students already have, and then learning from them, casting them as the experts to begin with. But that’s easier said than done. The crux of my wife’s argument was that it would be misleading in many classes and subjects to claim that students have meaningful expertise that is relevant to what they’re supposed to be learning.
  • Why are you always trying to make us learn something?
    I found a weird echo of an idea I’ve beeng thinking about lately in Strangers Drowning, a book about “hyper-idealists.” The book itself is merely provocative, a patchwork of well-told yarns about the idealists themselves, and falters on the analysis, which seems shallow. For instance, the quote that resonated with me is, I suspect, at least a simplification, if not a straw man argument, about utilitarianism as philosophical school of thought: “[U]tilitarianism claims that you should act so as to bring about the most well-being possible in the world. Taken literally, this means that every single thing you do, at every moment of your life, should be motivated by that goal. Which is to say that there is no point at which you can say, I have done my duty, I have followed the rules, and I am now free to do what I want.” What struck me about the quote was not its merit according to its actual subject (frankly, I don’t really care, not being anything near a “hyper-idealist” myself and finding most of these subjects irritating going on creepy) but the way it bounced off a question I find myself asking a lot in teaching lately: Why can’t my students just take a break? I don’t mean “down time” for a few minutes at the end of a lesson or an alternative activity that’s tenuously connected to the ostensible subject for the day. What I mean is, why isn’t OK for my students to just kind of check out for a day? Why do they have to be in learning mode every minute they’re in my room? This isn’t some principled stance against “bell to bell” learning, mind. I’m actually grappling with my own sense that teachers owe it to their students to provide learning – even if only spaces for learning or opportunities for learning – while they’re in school. The most common complaint I get from students, whether it’s around cell phone use (allowed in our school, but not particularly warmly welcomed within the school culture, not because we’re opposed to it but because we don’t really know how to deal with the radical disruption of it – more on that later) or assignments that fall short of the bell or just not “feeling it” on a particular day is that they can’t opt out, especially when they’ve ostensibly finished their work for the day. I tend to frustrate some of my students because my “work for the day” can always be stretched past an initial goal. This might be something as simple as revising something they’ve written before the bell, or as complicated as turning something they figured was a final copy into the first part of a new phase of a project. But at some level, I take their question seriously. If they’re done, why can’t they just be done? And actually I’d go further than that. If they’re not feeling it today – that is, if they didn’t even get close to “done” – why can’t they just sit out, take a break, and come back? My sense so far is that teachers tend to be suspicious, sometimes outright dismissive, of students’ assessment of their own efficacy. Surely students who think they’re “done” simply haven’t worked hard enough (say), or haven’t done as much as they could do if pushed to deepen their engagement (or something). But when I’m honest with myself, usually when students finish my assignments early, it’s because I misjudged how complex the assignment would be, or how committed my students would be to go beyond the bare minimum required to (genuinely) complete the assignment – which, again, is usually a reflection on the assignment, not my students. That is, when they say they’re done, they’re very often really done. So why can’t they just tune out? And when it comes to “not feeling it,” forcing a student into work mode usually results in them disengaging completely or even finding ways to escape the classroom altogether, only to return when they are “feeling it.” For plenty of students, this amounts to a bad day. For others, what they’re “not feeling” is just the “resting” mildly oppressive environment of school. I remember feeling mildly oppressed in school, too. Not a big deal, just a kind of low-frequency hum of boredom and irritation. I get it. What I settle on is kind of punting on the “on and off” question. I try to offer corrollaries to things students do in their down time, like keeping track of the videos they’re watching on YouTube, say, or listening to music while doing some free writing or research for a bigger project. But these kinds of compromises, beyond being obviously ineffective (i.e., it’s easy to pretend to “free write” or “research” without really doing anything), seem kind of…wrong. Not really wrong. Just kind of “off.” I sympathize with my students’ impulse to just not care about school all the time, or even most of the time. To want to do what they need to do and no more. To, in the utilitarian framework above, follow the rules and then be free to do what they want. I wonder if students need much more time in school to not demonstrably “learn” anything. (Of course it’s possible that we learn things – important things – while goofing off, but my point is that we shouldn’t have to. I’m not talking about “informal learning.” I’m talking about not having to do anything.) I also think they generally need more time in school, period, but that there should be some not-insignifcant portion of this time devoted to not “being in school.” And I think part of this should be in the form of a kind of informal agreement in classrooms themselves. I imagine things like nap rooms and mindfulness breaks and “opt out” opportunities. The alternative – the status quo – seems to pathologize classrooms as a place where students perform, mostly punishing those who suffer the most from performance anxiety or, conversely, just don’t like performing. As someone who falls into both categories but who nonetheless thrived in school (which isn’t to say I “liked” it, per se, just that I was good at it), I can’t help but imagine what school would look like when students feel comfortable opting out and opting in, in their own time and at their own rhythm, which I’m sure wouldn’t really match the rhythm of a bell schedule. (And a final parenthetical here to remind folks reading that in this series if I seem to end up shadowboxing it’s squarely with myself. I’m not trying to turn other people’s school philosophies into straw men – even realistic ones. If I’m strawmanning, it’s gotta be my own ideas, at least.)
  • It takes two to be credible
    NOTE: I’ve been writing up some notes I’ve been taking as a new high school teacher, and I’ll hopefully be posting more of these in the coming few days or weeks. These are mostly “first drafts” of my thoughts so far based on what’s worked or not worked. I’ve been struggling as a new media teacher with the best way to tackle the issue of credibility in my classes. I find that a lot of standard ways of teaching, e.g., journalistic credibility (in the realm of news literacy) or source credibility are a harder slog without arbitrarily deciding beforehand which sources “count” as credible. But I don’t want my students trusting, say, the New York Times just because I said so. For one thing, this denies the reality that any given author, subject, or section differs in its level of credibility, and that even in a generally “credible” source there can be untrustworthy information. This presents a bit of a challenge, as I can’t predict with any real accuracy what my students already trust or why they trust it, and what they do wind up trusting often leaves me in a world of little-known networks and sources of information. To put it another way, I feel about the sources that they tend to trust – from websites, social media, YouTube, and other places – the same way they feel about my left-of-center semi-mainstream journalism diet. And it’s in this admission, that I don’t know whether or not I can trust their sources – which is very different from assuming I can’t trust them – that’s led me to what I think is a more productive way of thinking about “teaching credibility”: credibility isn’t just an attribute that you apply to a person or a source; it’s a relationship you have with a person or source. The way I’ve been breaking it down this cycle is a four-part determination that includes BOTH the source of information my students have and their own knowledge. That way they can chart not only the qualities of what they’re reading, but also note where they may have a difference of opinion or experience, or a lack of sufficient background knowledge to even determine credibility. The four that I’ve been working on, though I’m not really happy with them just yet, are: Point of view: the general position or outlook one has as it relates to what’s being said. Experience: Relevant experiences one has had in the subject area or with an event or topic. Interests: The reasons, especially those having to do with status, money, or other beneficial self-interest, people may have for saying or arguing something Sources: The other sources one defers to for authority. What I like about these four attributes is that they fit into a chart that students can fill out about both their source and their own background knowledge, i.e.: MY POV / THEIR POV; MY EXPERIENCE / THEIR EXPERIENCE; MY INTEREST / THEIR INTEREST; MY SOURCES / THEIR SOURCES. (The word “interests” can be a little confusing, since if I ask a student “what’s your interest in this,” I’ll often get a response like “I’m not that interested.” I usually define it as “what’s in it for me,” something like that.) One really useful starting point for many of my students, for instance, is to look at local news from their neighborhoods for incidents that may have involved people they know directly or indirectly. (These usually come up unprompted when I ask a simple question like “what’s going on in the world”; I wouldn’t force a student to talk about an incident they knew about if they didn’t offer it.) In these cases, the local news coverage nearly always misses details (minimal experience in the neighborhood), spins the event in a particular way in its tone (a particular way of thinking about and presenting crime stories), betrays a need to attract eyeballs without digging deeper or returning to the story (financial and programming interests), and relies on police and often tenuously related bystander sources. So in this exercise, my students start off knowing MORE than the “official” reports do, and have a means of charting that knowledge – their point of view as a resident, their experiences with both crime and news coverage of crime, their interest in knowing the truth about the event for their own curiosity or sometimes their own safety, and sources that news media tend not to cultivate (neighborhood networks connected to the event). I don’t have to throw them into the deep end of a news landscape that they may or may not know. Rather than just say that the news story is or is not credible (my students will more or less tell me that local news stories are generally credible, just sensationalistic), it establishes a comparison between author and audience. In a story about a cure for a little-known disease, by contrast, students may genuinely have little “skin in the game” in terms of their point of view, experience, or interest. (Usually their self-interest in thinking about a story like this is that they have to for class, which is a powerful interest, mind, but a little…boring? But boring works sometimes, more on that later, maybe.) They may need to rely primarily on the sources that the story uses and other information they can glean about the author (is this someone who writes about science all the time? A medical professional? A drug company representative? What’s their track record?). This also somewhat solves the “Wikipedia problem,” where students immediately discount the credibility of a Wikipedia article (or any source without clear authorship, like something an aggregator spits out) mostly because of their former teachers’ distrust. Instead, they can, without delving too much into the POV, experience, or interests of Wikipedia and Wikipedia editors (which certainly exist, but aren’t really my primary target for teaching about thoughtful Wikipedia use for research), they can go straight to the secondary sources, where the questions are usually a bit easier to figure out. That is to say that a good Wikipedia article already satisfies one out of four of the categories needed to assess credibility, meaning that any Wikipedia article is potentially “credible,” depending on where the editors get their information, which then goes back into the process. The bigger point, though, is that how credible something is depends largely on what you bring to the table – your own ability to understand the context in which the thing was created and compare it to what you know (or can find out). That credibility is relative isn’t meant to pathologically destroy the idea of credibility altogether – it would be stupid to say that one source can’t be more or less trustworthy (or, frankly, more or less right) than another. It’s just that the relativity of credibility requires us to understand where we stand in relation to something else. It isn’t an attribute that can just be bestowed upon a source; if we don’t actually know where we sit in relation to that source, it’s not really “assessing credibility” to use some other set of criteria alone – scanning for education credentials, news legacy, production value, strong byline, etc. – to figure out whether what’s being said is something we should trust to be true. The model I’m moving toward, I hope, puts my students and what they know at the center of the process. But it’s too soon to know whether this is any more effective at getting students to actually research well than just saying, in effect, “you can trust this…trust me.” In fact I know the latter is easier, and achieves the result of students putting together source lists that I (from my own position) would call “credible.” But I don’t know if it’s worth the cost to how they view research – as a process orchestrated by some other authority whom you’ve assigned credibility. The whole point is to learn enough to become authority enough to decide who to trust.
    HERE IS AN ALTERNATE LINK WHILE THE AUDIO IS DOWN AT YOUTUBE. On the ten-year anniversary of Kanye West’s statement on national television that “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” I thought I’d listen again to Legendary K.O.’s “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People.” But as you’ll see, the audio has been muted, which is partiuclarly egregious timing (and probably not coincidental), as others I’m sure have had the same idea. I was fortunate enough to play for my remix class a little over one week ago from this very link. The audio was working just fine. This is a nice case study for my class, who just started their journey thinking about the relationship between remix, copyright, and fair use. There is pretty much zero hard legal precedent for Legendary K.O.’s remix as fair use, but there is a culture and community of remixers that nonetheless uses fair use as cornerstone. If the issue isn’t resolved with a counter-claim, I’ll put up my own copy of the song with excerpts of my class’s discussion, which was both incisive and a nice start to the year. I’m teaching students at an accelerated high school designed for people who have left the public school system for a lot of different reasons, and their commentary ten years later was both inspiring (it had the traction of formative political memories that 9/11 no longer has for students who were too young to understand it on the day it happened), and a good way to energize the class on a topic that can be a little ambiguous. (A few students struggled with the ambiguity of fair use this week, too, but when they created their own remixes in class today, there were a lot of “aha” moments.) From what my class already knows about fair use, I think most would characterize “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” as an obvious example of fair use. They identified its purpose as different even before thinking about “four factors” just through basic discussion of difference between the remix and the original. The song couldn’t be mistaken for a market substitute. It has obvious social value even in the wake of at least one court decision that made the issue of “social value” more ambiguous than ever. But there is no clear community of practice for claiming fair use in music remix (remix artists/DJs and fiction filmmakers are two communities I continue to watch and wait for on the issue), and this is clearly going to be a big ethical (and maybe legal) issue for me moving forward as a teacher – my students aren’t just students. They produce, record, and distribute music whose production I’ve started to facilitate. Their “student remixes” aren’t just parodies of popular songs with course content or school pride replacing original lyrics (even outside of educational considerations for fair use, these kinds of parodies are widely protected). In a conversation with other educators using fair use in their classrooms, there was general confusion around music’s “OK-ness” in media production and media education. Youth media video producers in schools generally don’t use copyrighted music, opting for (frankly, usually terrible) license-free background music or student-produced music when possible. And music production in schools that I’m aware of rarely blurs the lines between amateur and professional sample-based work the way my studnets already do – the kinds of unlicensed remix my students take for granted in mixtape and DJ culture take on new issues when they aren’t being released as mixtapes and DJ sets, but in the context of a classroom with a teacher who wants them to flex their actual fair use reasoning muscles and not feel like they’re circumventing or ignoring copyright law. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I hope that for now at least a few others will re-post and then challenge the takedown of the Legendary K.O. song soon. I can say from experience that it is an essential remix text on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and if you’re able to, you should have your students listen to it and talk about it.
  • United States Supreme Court Rules Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive
    United States Supreme Court Rules Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive: Not a lawyer and haven’t looked through this at all (it was a FB share) but it seems like pretty good news. (I’ve been off this account for a while but would like to try to jumpstart it again…)
  • Race and Discipline in Spotlight After South Carolina Officer Drags Student
    Race and Discipline in Spotlight After South Carolina Officer Drags Student: I’ve been thinking about this story a lot, obviously, but the big takeaway for me – since I have been under no delusion that many black students are subject to degrading treatment by school security that’s been outsourced to police – is the role of teachers to educate students about video documentation as a form of civic engagement and political resistance. Obviously I can’t be certain, but I suspect that the video is the only reason anyone has noticed this story at all. Incidents like this – aggressive police action used to stand in for other disciplinary measures – happen daily in high schools around the country. I’ve already found in my very brief stint so far as a media teacher that giving students the frameworks and skills to understand and use their phones as powerful computing and documentation tools, especially when they have no or unreliable home internet access (which is over half of my students), has quickly become an essential component of media education, one that grows more important every year. But with that power comes new, uncomfortable questions. How should we as teachers approach issues like documentation of police encounters? I personally believe my students have not only the right but the responsibility to understand how to document and share incidents that contribute to issues like police accountability when it is safe and legal for them to do so. But I also know that in teaching them how to document and share, often against the wishes and even against the (incorrect) knowledge of authority figures, puts them in real danger – teachers can’t predict when using these skills will be unsafe. The classmate who documented and shared this footage should be applauded for courage. But the decision put this classmate in a dangerous situation and had unfair and terrifying consequences. My sense is that a careful understanding of civic context, tools, and a kind of mental “flow chart” of possibilities (including real dangers), especially informed by the incidents that we do have knowledge of from current events, is within my bounds as a media teacher. But the extra activist proposition of actually encouraging my students to use these tools to resist and reveal injustice seems a lot less sound because of the real dangers that taking action poses. But is “providing the tools” for activism and then backing away from an explicitly activist action step categorically different from sparking a kind of activism that may put students in danger? There might be an analogue in the “safer” realm of other aspects of civic education and current events analysis, where foundations are shaped by and gesture toward, but often stop just short of explicitly endorsing, a clear political agenda. Current events, like popular culture texts, can provide a kind of screen with which students don’t necessarily have to see themselves at the center of ethical, moral, and institutional issues, even though they may and often do choose to center themselves there. One can learn about the Bill of Rights, even in the context of a clearly progressive or social justice-oriented agenda, without then being asked directly to go out and exercise those rights (e.g., teach about protest, but don’t make protesting mandatory). Still, the considerations for teaching still seem fraught, because when the new knowledge and skills do meet reality – and when decisions to resist, as in the video documentation in South Carolina, do actually happen – the fact is that my students are putting themselves at risk with tools that I have consciously made part of their education. But these kinds of concerns also start to diminish somewhat when I remember how important it is to understand context in incidents like this – especially ones that happen with some control from school authority figures (adults accompanying students to a protest, say, or an altercation happening on school grounds). I wonder what this incident would have looked like if the teacher had been on the side of the student. It’s naive to think that there will never be an incident that may require a school administrator to intervene, and in schools where officers aid administrators, police may be called in as a matter of course, whether a teacher is comfortable with it or not (this is, of course, ignoring the wildly inappropriate overuse of police in schools in the first place, which is hopefully a national conversation that will be sparked by this incident). But what a teacher does when the administrator, police officer, or other authority enters is not open and shut. Teachers don’t relinquish authority or responsibility when an administrator enters the room. And so in this particular incident, I wind up thinking that as much as we rightfully focus on the officer in this case, the teacher in that classroom had a direct responsibility to speak up and do anything possible to resist. The teacher could have been the one with a phone out, recording the altercation, spreading the word about what happened, alongside the students (South Carolina is a one-party consent state where the legality of filming police altercations is less ambiguous than in Pennsylvania, for instance). [EDIT: There seems to be a growing legal consensus that filming police officers in the line of duty is not applicable to conset laws, but these are the kinds of things I would want to be far more knowledgable about before even thinking about bringing it into the classroom.] That’s a lot to ask, but it’s far less than we’re asking of the students who experience or are haunted by the real possibility of harrassment and brutality.
  • What changes can public school systems make to improve learning outcomes assuming they're not getting any new funding whatsoever to do so?
    oh, yikes. i am having a really hard time thinking of anything with zero dollar impact. here’s some relatively low cost ones: mentoring for new teachers. the lowest cost way to do this is by using retired teachers, rather than reassigning current teachers. this should consist of mentoring in areas like classroom management, curriculum and lesson development, school and district policies and procedures, and, frankly, just listening while the new teacher freaks out. this has been shown to significantly impact teacher retention, and experienced teachers are much more effective, so over time, the teacher corps at a school would be overall more experienced and more effective. curriculum standards. they are controversial. i like them! i think there are a lot of teachers who can benefit from clear guidance about semester and year-long content goals, as well as subcomponent skills and how to build up to those larger goals. i also think having some standardization of content and expectations helps kids overall - within a state, district, and even a school - to make sure expectations are consistent and there’s a clear way to gauge whether kids are being left behind. this isn’t no cost because teachers need materials, training, monitoring, etc, in order to reasonably implement standards. in-school health clinics. ok, this is a little tricky, because it’s nowhere near zero cost, but a lot of the cost can come from medicaid and other health program reimbursement, rather than from the schools themselves. (aside from dedicating the space.) these in-school clinics would treat both students and their parents. treating students in-school, rather than requiring them to leave school for treatment, can lead to earlier intervention in health problems and dramatically reduce the amount of time spent out of the classroom. for example, if a student with an impending asthma attack can be treated in the school building, that’s half a day out of the classroom. if she has to go to the ER for treatment, that could be 2 days out of the classroom. tons of student health issues are directly related to achievement and better prevention and management of these health issues would lead to far lower absentee rates and improved student achievement.
  • "Whether they are solidly middle- or upper-income or poor, neither group of blacks controls the..."
    “Whether they are solidly middle- or upper-income or poor, neither group of blacks controls the critical economic levers shaping school reform. And, this is because urban school reform is not about schools or reform. It is about land development.” - An essential post from dean of the Howard University Ed School that doesn’t just stop at an attack on TFA and charterization as phenomena, but explicitly links bad options for black families across the SES spectrum with economic policies and land development deals largely negotiated without their input. I grew up in Prince George’s County, MD, and benefited from just one of many tools contributing to de facto segregation (magnet programs) that ultimately drained resources, and high-performing students, from local schools and placed them in less-diverse programs that received special funding and privileges. But even those programs seem positively egalitarian compared to how the trend has accelerated. Now, in Philadelphia, I see the same patterns enacted at arguably an even bigger scale, as (e.g.) outrageous tax incentives for charters lead to multimillion dollar property contracts that are only possible with public subsidies – see this eye-opening report from Philly.com for more information.
  • "A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say,..."
    “A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly: “Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?” The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: “My dad’s an alcoholic. He’s promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises.” The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: “I shouldn’t have blown up at the teacher.” Whoa.” - Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85% (via mchotdog) what a radical idea yo (via matthewdgold) Bam. Kids “misbehave” for actual, real, valid reasons. And have feelings. (via amydentata) For fuck’s sake, it takes the people in charge so long to figure shit like this out! Good for Lincoln High! (via psychetimelapse) This needs to be the policy EVERYWHERE… (via 3dela) Preach. (via butchdragon) This is also why teachers need more resources, smaller class sizes, more adults in the classroom. Something like this happened when I was student teaching in a third grade classroom. During a writing assignment, a boy was not working, muttering swear words at his desk, banging things. Instead of telling him to stop being disruptive or putting his name on the board, I came close and crouched down and said I could see he was feeling upset and asked what was wrong. It turned out he had forgotten his rough draft (they were supposed to be copying their edited rough drafts into a final draft) and he didn’t know what to do now and he figured he was going to get a zero and fail the assignment and be in trouble. I suggested he could do his best to rewrite his one-page story from memory. Just write as much as you can, give me your best effort and I’ll accept it as your assignment. Well, he was SO HAPPY that he wasn’t just going to straight-up fail that he actually did a great job remembering what his story had been about and rewriting it as best he could. I know this isn’t as big an issue as the alcoholic father, but it’s still a case of finding the cause of the problem vs. punishing the symptom. But here’s the thing: I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been a student teacher in that room, if the regular teacher hadn’t been there to keep the rest of the class on task and quiet. One teacher in a room of thirty kids isn’t always *able* to give that kind of individual attention.  Teachers get so much crap for what they do and don’t do, for the choices they make with the resources they have. Criticism is always necessary, but it needs to be followed up with support.  (via vixyish) Ross Greene’s Lost at School and the collaborative problem solving model offer a great set of resources to help incorporate these strategies into classrooms. Resources available here.
  • Tips for the Top 5 Problem Players
    Tips for the Top 5 Problem Players: kierongillen: This was kinda inspirational. Not quite what you’d expect. I just started a new job at a high school in Philadelphia as a media instructor – and then, in my second week, was hit by a car, giving me a lot of time to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t in the one week of rubber hitting the road I actually had before, er, rubber hit me. (I’m doing OK.) This video was an unexpected summary of some of what I’ve gone through so far. I love finding echoes of issues in teaching in unexpected places, and certainly game nights can pose challening issues of negotiation between different types of people, all of whom have different motivations and interest levels. Teaching always requires what is crudely called “classroom management”; no matter how anti-CM your teaching philosophy is, there is the basic reality that you are negotiating 20 different people in one space, which means that behavioral considerations are going to come into play whether “behavioralism” gives you hives or not. That particular issue of mine – the aversion to behavioral approaches designed to gain classroom authority – is something I left behind years ago in various teaching positions. But the issue has flared up again as my need for good strategies that move the class forward together became much more urgent in the new setting. So this video was a bit of a tonic; it’s a reminder that part of the question of “what’s wrong with my classroom” has to be “what’s wrong with me” – not as self-deprecation, but as self-reflection. At its worst, classroom management becomes an end unto itself, a kind of technical exercise that puts control first and learning second. Though it’s true that there’s no learning without some control, it’s also true that you don’t need constant, totalizing control, either. After getting to know my students a bit, I realized that a lot of gimmicks I’d brainstormed to keep the classroom respectful and engaged were more trouble than they were worth, and I quickly jettisoned them. I also realized that dealing with specific disruptions in the classroom wouldn’t be possible before I knew who my students were. If two people are talking in the back and I don’t know their names or their relationship to each other yet, all I have are my “strategies.” Those may work in the short-term, but the cost is high. Anonymous, dispassionate discipline – treating students interchangeably and holding them to standards that I may or may not expect of myself – is disrespectful, even when it works. To give one example: I teach the same course four times a day during this semester. Each lesson is new to me and new to the students. I also have a larger class in the morning than I have at any other time of the day. So every day, almost without exception, my lesson just barely “fits” within the time allotted for my first period. By seecond period, we have a five-minute chunk at the end of the period for wrap-up. But by the third and fourth period, that time expands to 10 or even 15 minutes, meaning I need an additional component of the lesson to stretch out the timing – but it can’t be a component that fundamentally changes the pace of learning or introduces a new concept. The question that has really bugged me (along the lines of the video) is: do I really care if we don’t have anything to do for five minutes at the end of class? Or: “The fastest way to fix a problem player is to change the contract between yourself and them, so that their behavior isn’t a problem anymore.” The classroom manager in me is disgusted that I would even suggest changing the expectations instead of changing the behavior. (Of course, the biggest problem with the “classroom manager” is that all of his expectations deal with classroom management.) But the ME in me knows that if we got through the lesson, we got through the lesson. If I build “down time” into lessons that end 5 minutes early (and remember, this is only applicable to one or maybe two of my periods out of four – if it were all periods, I’d need to redesign the lessons!), I, the non-classroom-manager, think free play within boundaries is a better use of students’ time than tacking superficial learning (“learniness”) onto the end. What I’d started to do, before getting derailed for the semester with the accident, was to work out classroom agreements (contracts) with each of my sections. Each agreement looks a little different for each section. All “rules” come only from students; their ideas in their language. I express a need I have, then they suggest a solution, then I write down what they say, end of story. We start with one or two and add ones as needed. One student asked if we should have rules for food and drink, and I told the class that I didn’t think food or drink was a problem yet, and when it was a problem, we’d deal with it. We were approaching the need in one or two of my periods to add a line to the contract to define “down time” – how to deal with a spare five minutes, especially in the last period of the day – because this is something I didn’t anticipate before starting. (None of the expectations on my syllabus have anything to do with “classroom management,” because I assume that the biggest challenges to a supportive classroom environment will almost necessarily be unpredictable and unique.) When I can finally return to work, I’ll let you know how it goes. Our school creed includes the line, “Every challenge is an opportunity; every opportunity is a gift.” So I’ll use my challenge here as an opportunity to be better-armed for “classroom management” when I return by figuring out how to tame my “touch of the control freak.”
  • State Supreme Court: Charter schools are unconstitutional
    State Supreme Court: Charter schools are unconstitutional: The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 that charter schools are unconstitutional because “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.” I’m not really up to date with my Washington state constitution, but I’m curious about how their rationale – that charters are not “common schools” because they have appointed rather than elected boards – and definition of “common schools” translates to other states.
  • The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels
    The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels: Rather than excerpt hundreds of words worth of things I tagged to share, I’ll just direct you to this Elena Ferrante interview in its entirety (part 2 here).
  • Nix the Tricks
    Nix the Tricks: A great site and free ebook to help clear out all of the “trick” gobbledy-gook that ultimately makes math much harder. I was really surprised at how many of these are still stuck to the sides of my brain. (I was lucky never to encounter the “turtle” in multiplication.)
  • "The problem with sweeping, generic claims about the power of attitudes or beliefs isn’t just a risk..."
    “The problem with sweeping, generic claims about the power of attitudes or beliefs isn’t just a risk of overstating the benefits but also a tendency to divert attention from the nature of the tasks themselves: How valuable are they, and who gets to decide whether they must be done? Dweck is a research psychologist, not an educator, so her inattention to the particulars of classroom assignments is understandable. Unfortunately, even some people who are educators would rather convince students they need to adopt a more positive attitude than address the quality of the curriculum (what the students are being taught) or the pedagogy (how they’re being taught it).” - From Alfie Kohn’s recent Salon piece, “The perils of ‘Growth Mindset’ education.” I have a new job starting tomorrow (public details to follow) but one thing I noticed at the tail end of my part-time work, which consisted of consulting for media education curriculum initiatives and adjuncting for communication courses, was that as I became more comfortable with what I was teaching, my teaching quality decreased. This was both a nagging sense that I had upon self-reflection of my teaching and, finally, suggested in a more quantifiable way with the worst (not to say bad) teaching evaluations I ever received, for the course I’d taught the same way about four or five times. Renee Hobbs is a proponent of the following teaching cycle. Your first time teaching a course, you mess it all up. The second time you teach it, you work out the kinks. The third time you teach it, you’ve mastered it. The fourth time you teach it, it should be a completely different course (i.e., there should be no “fourth time”). The big takeaway I’ve had from the volatile adjuncting laboratory – because, with its flexibility and maddening contingencies, you DON’T treat it like a particularly volatile laboratory at your own peril – is not only that the third time’s the charm, but that the fourth time is the curse. Anyway, this is a somewhat circuitous route back to the quote here, and the article, which make necessary critiques of the application of the psychological foundations of “growth mindset” to education. (The author makes a similar argument, I think, not having read his other piece, about “grit,” which was distorted in a way that I don’t think “growth mindset” has been.) I was really unimpressed with Dweck’s book, which seemed to get a fairly simple idea through in the introduction without convincing me that its application to learning was anything more than speculative, but I didn’t give it the attention it deserved given its prominence. Rather than beat up on normative curriculum and pedagogy practices, which is too whack-a-mole and, frankly, too easy from where I’m sitting for exactly twelve more hours, I’d just say that stasis is often the enemy of growth (which seems kind of obvious?), whether you have the “mindset” for it or not. But that means reconsidering the value of what you know (and how you convey that “what” and “so what” to others) on a regular basis, which is necessary and, probably not coincidentally, pretty scary! So while I’m instinctively pumping my fist at quotes like this, upon a moment’s reflection I’m also wincing in recognition of the sometimes wrenching difficulty of “addressing the quality of the curriculum” and its pedagogy. This piece certainly moves focus away from an individualist understanding of “growth,” but at the same time the switch over to the structural leaves out the important middle perspective of the individuals and groups who make up those structures – i.e., the teachers whose curricula and pedagogies need to do the changing. And, ironically, perhaps it’s the teachers who have the most to gain from the growth mindset.
  • How do Americans use Twitter for news?
    How do Americans use Twitter for news?: Mike Barthel (barthel) has been doing fantastic work at Pew, and this one is really interesting – based on a major survey about the use of Twitter and Facebook and its effects on news consumption and sharing, they dug down on a small, representative sample of actual Twitter users. (Those numbers alone are interesting – only 486 of 3,212 respondents used Twitter at all, and of the 486, 176 both volunteered to be tracked and had an account that was trackable, i.e. wasn’t private.)Some cool tidbit info (you should check out the infographics they produced):Most Twitter users post little to nothing at all. Of those who post anything, a plurality of news-related tweets are retweets of other information, as opposed to all (including non-news) tweets, where original tweets make up a majority of all posting. People who tweet about news are both followed by and follow more users than people who do not tweet about news. Among people who tweet about news, 53% of tweets are about entertainment and sports news. 39% of news-related tweets include the author’s opinion. The ratio of general interest (and in most cases mass media) news content to the content of friends and family (i.e. non-public tweets) is inversely proportional to how many users from each category someone follows. Most people follow way more friends and family than general news outlets (23% vs. 8%), but their feeds consist of way less friend-and-family tweets than news content (9% vs. 23%). But again, most people follow and receive news about entertainment, sports, and “lifestyle.” (At about 30-35% of all users followed and content on Twitter feeds.) I have a few thoughts and questions after reading, assuming the sample is truly representative:Should we “count” entertainment, sports, and lifestyle news engagement as “news engagement” among, e.g., younger students? My gut says yes; the processes through which we understand and share this news aren’t categorically different from civic understanding. But at the same time, there may not be a natural transition between news-y engagement and political action. That link is the basis of a lot of Joseph Kahne’s research, but frankly I’m not as optimistic about the leap from civic-like engagement to unambiguous civic engagement.To what extent does the glut of content from general interest news sites distort our understanding of the news, and in what ways is this actually all that different from more “obvious” mass media models of news consumption (e.g., from television news)?Is encouraging original tweets that must synthesize information about news a more meaningful exercise for students than encouraging any Twitter activity (i.e., counting retweeting as content)? If so, then a lot of news literacy will still require parsing the codes and conventions of news itself, which is very different from fostering a sense of participation. And again, I’m not convinced that that form of participation necessarily leads naturally to the kind of synthesis required to craft a tweet (with or without an opinon) about news.
  • "There’s an urgent need for editors, journalists, and schools to develop far more skeptical attitudes..."
    “There’s an urgent need for editors, journalists, and schools to develop far more skeptical attitudes toward claims made about sex differences in the brain. It is appalling to me that one can, apparently, say whatever drivel one likes about the male and female brain, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing it published in a reputable newspaper, changing a school’s educational policy, or becoming a best seller. Scientists [must] help here.” - Cordelia Fine, ‘Delusions of Gender’ (via scientificphilosopher) After I read Fine’s book, I read the more comprehensive _Brain Storm_ by Rebecca Jordan-Young, which not only methodically (and persuasively) lays out the serious methodological flaws in this line of research, but serves as a good primer especially for science journalists and others who try to adapt these studies to make broader social points or policy recommendations. Here’s a paraphrase of a set of three questions to ask about any study claiming (or being used to claim) essential “hard wired” gender differences (the text is from pg. 60-61): 1.Do studies have measures that match what they say they’re studying?2. Do different studies use the same constructs, i.e. do they agree that they’re studying the same phenomenon?3. Do the study’s constructs match how these constructs are used in the world? Much of the book that I remember (I need to reread it; it’s pretty daunting, but very accessibly written, just one of those you need to take some time with) is devoted to arguing that it’s very hard to do any one of these things in the realm of neuroscientific research on gender and the brain, and that it’s pretty much impossible to do all three. (3) in particular is a huge stumbling block because so little of the research translates very well out of laboratory settings. Of course these questions, and the above issues, apply to lots of other research, but it’s particularly egregious in different literatures (especially from brain imaging and other means of gauging “hard wired” brain characteristics) about “essential sex difference.”
  • netflixia: Hit Record on TV with Joseph Gordon-Levitt(2014)...
    netflixia: Hit Record on TV with Joseph Gordon-Levitt(2014) TV-14 [1 season]Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s crowdsourced variety show features short films, animation, music and more, with each episode organized around a theme.View trailer || Add/Watch on Netflix Media Literate Media on Netflix!
  • America’s Unwritten Constitution
    Really enjoyed digging in to Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Unwritten Constitution, which traces the many ways in which context and precedent, in concert with textual analysis, form America’s “Constitution,” which, he persuasively argues, is not just one text, but one text as understood in its unwritten subtext, its enactment into law, and the history of its people and institutions. The biggest revelation was a de-prioritization of what’s now called the Bill of Rights as a singularly crucial component of the Constitution (with a particular emphasis not on the ones we focus on most in civics, but the 9th amendment, which clarifies that many rights exist or may come to exist that remain unwritten) and mega-prioritization of the significance of the 14th Amendment. In Amar’s analysis, the 14th amendment, which was used after Reconstruction as the basis of nearly all civil rights legislation and accompanying judicial review, is even more important than these cases suggest. He believes that the truly important part of the 14th amendment is the “privileges and immunities” that are spelled out, but rarely invoked (in favor of the next clause in the amendment, about the “right to liberty”). In Amar’s telling, these privileges and immunities are wide-ranging, and imply social equality that went unaddressed in the initial enactment of the constitution – its first century, more or less. He also has some interesting points about the 15th amendment, which deal specifically with voting rights. He beleives that cases that invoke the 14th amendment in regard to, e.g., jury service, need to be seen through the prism of voting rights, which are not specifically included in the “privileges and immunities” of the 14th amendment. (Short clarification here: he argues that “privileges and immunities” apply to all people in the US, whereas voting rights can and are regularly withheld from non-citizens and citizens with special status, like felons.) His reading of jury service and the 15th amendment was particularly revelatory after my experience on my first jury, where I sensed a few different, related areas of basic injustice. First, the selection process, which systematically removed people with principled stances against, e.g., gun violence, seemed to favor a privileged class of jurors. Amar argues that the complex dismissal process is, in fact, a perversion of constitutional establishment of the jury system. He also argues that though there is ample precedent for 12-person juries, he sees no reason why juries must be unanimous. (Indeed, his commentary on the primacy of majority rule, including a lenghty dissection of the bankruptcy of current Senate filibuster rules, is enlightening. In his telling, the only “supermajority” requirements are to overturn presidential veto and, at the enactment of the Constitution, to ratify it in the first place. However, he shows that every individual state of that supermajority, i.e. all 9 of 13, used majority rule to ratify the constitution, even with razor-thin margins of victory.) Second, I was very uncomfortable not taking the nature of possible punishment into consideration when weighing a guilty or not-guilty verdict. Amar argues that actually, dissent about the nature of punishment is not only legal, but crucial to jury deliberations, and that instructions to “disregard” what happens to a defendant after conviction are not only wrong, but unconstitutional. Though judges should not be expected to act according to their disagreement with existing lawful punishment if necessary, the whole point of juries is to vote – according to one’s conscience and sound judgment. It strikes me that a holistic constitutional understanding that Amar argues for makes the same basic sense as my work in the field of copyright and fair use, where understanding of the law as it exists provides greater opportunities for fair and democratic civic action. His key point – his thesis, more or less – is that understanding constitutional text in a vacuum, on the one hand, or identifying some extra-textual “spirit” of the constitution at the direct expense of the actual text, is wrongheaded. The balance between use and text can neither wish away use nor ignore text. (This seems like a sound way to approach lots of fields beyond law, too.)

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