Monday, October 31, 2011



I apologize for the lack of content and updates, but this month has been quite overwhelming in work and in thought.

Before I continue, here’s tonight’s video:

I hit 500 hours total a week before quarter two, and 500 classroom hours the week after quarter two began, meaning I’m either just ahead or slightly behind my goal, depending if you personally count my continuing education through graduate school or professional conferences. It looks like I’m going to come close to 1,000 before winter break!

And speaking of, professional development and collaboration really proved its worth this month. As I speak to in the video meeting with hundreds of other Speech Coaches or English teachers does a lot of good for my classroom.

Speech Conference & Cloud Computing

The biggest thing I took away from this year’s IHSSA conference was the importance and potential of cloud computing in a classroom. In a breakout session that prepared schools to host contests the importance of a contest website was stressed, and several tools were shown to help the process.

In researching ways to share information online, such as blogs, QR codes, and google docs, I began to apply these to my students. I was familiar with all of these tools, but hadn’t thought of many ways to apply them to my classroom or coaching experience yet.

Through google docs I was able to write a form that allows students to apply for speech club online. Not only does it cut down on the paper load and does a lot of the work for us, but it reaches the students on a medium they’re familiar and comfortable with.

ICTE Conference and Skills Based Learning

Teaching, unfortunately, can be a very isolating career. Between blinders of grading and planning there can be little energy or time to collaborate professionally. Something as simple (yet important) as checking progress of a multi-section class can be draining and low on the priority list. One’s successes are their own, but so are their self-doubts and failures.  Collaboration, professional development, and conferences at their worst become a meeting where nothing is accomplished and grievances are aired just to be heard. At their best they rejuvenate the spirit and teachers are able to share the best of themselves, celebrating successes and new tools.

There were many great ideas and applications that I heard at the conference, from podcasting small group discussions to analysis of The Finland Phenomenon. The most important revelation came from Michael W. Smith’s keynote, which encouraged many of us to let go of the canon and seek out works that spoke to the same skills and content of the greats, but were more accessible and interesting to our students today.  When you spend 95% of your time and energy getting students to read and comprehend “Huck Finn,” then there is nothing left for analysis. Understand that I’m not arguing for easier texts, just a varied selection that are more modern, come from more backgrounds (.e.g. ethnicity, class, gender), and from different mediums. Students need to read the internet or video games just as critically as “Literature.”

In that vein I’m seeking to replace Huck with the works of the 20th century Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve loved his works for years and I’m looking forward to being able to bring it to the students.

I also love zombie fiction, as I think its one of the best allegories to come out of the last few centuries. The strength comes in the flexibility of its application, whether being applied to consumerism, witch-hunts, or general conformity. Max Brooks wrote a brilliant “non-fiction” fiction piece years ago called World War Z. The book chronicles a zombie apocalypse in the style of Studs Terkel. The vignettes speak to issues brought up by Twain, such as race, class, and space. My copy of the book was stolen from my room, so I’m guessing it has high student interest.

In essence, what we’re trying to do is identify the skills that the students need in order to succeed, to be critical thinkers. If I had to choose between students remembering how much Jim sold for or to be able to analyze and compose satire it’s not even really a choice. Skills come first, content is second. As a man with literature and history degrees sacrificing the classics hurt!

Future Topics

I’ve taken a lot of time and energy here, but I’d like to briefly summarize some things I’d like to focus on soon.

Application of my graduate studies
Highlighting similar projects
New books and new reading
Critical reviews of Education Reform films (e.g. “Superman,” “Finland”

and lastly…

Brightening the curriculum! How I’m trying to avoid the doom and gloom of modern literature while maintaining a critical eye towards reality. I’ll be focusing on the Hunger Games trilogy amongst other works.

Shameless Plug

I was interviewed by the kind folks at Tightwad Teacher a few weeks ago. They’ve since posted the podcast, which can be found here Thanks for the support John & Shawn!

Enjoy the candy everyone!


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