I just completed attending the ICT Language Learning Conference for Learning Language where ICT stands for “information communication technologies,” a term that encompasses both methods and technology resources. Here in the United States, the most appropriate synonym would be what we refer to as”IT” or information technology. (So, if you are in the US and see “ICT”, please read “IT”)

Florence side 3

The winding streets of Florence, Italy

This international conference was held in Florence, Italy, a city of amazing architecture, museums crammed with magnificent art, winding streets and incredibly narrow sidewalks. Finding the right path through the city maze was challenging.

While I was at the conference, I had an opportunity to compare my understanding of the education systems in the United States with several educational systems in other 54 countries. I was fortunate to share a presentation created with fellow educator Amy Nocton, a world language teacher at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut. Our session (Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate)  highlighted how we use blogging in our instruction in grades 6-12.

Because of my own interests, I attended sessions that featured integrating technology in instruction. After a dozen sessions, I came to three important takeaways:

1. Students at every grade level are more motivated when content is integrated with ICTs;

2. Measuring the effectiveness of ICTs poses a challenge for all stakeholders;

3. Educators have limitations in integrating ICTs.

The issues in these three takeaways are the same issues that I see in the education systems in the United States. We educators know that the students enjoy using technology as a learning tool, but we are not sure which of these tools are the most effective in meeting the needs of students while delivering instruction. The concern of educators worldwide in accessing or “grading” students when they use ICTs is a major roadblock, a concern aggravated by individual comfort levels for educators using ICT. An individual educator’s aggravation may increase exponentially  against a rapidly changing technology landscape where platforms and devices change but educational systems and their filters and limitations appear to crawl towards the end of the 20th Century.

In short, we educators are never going to learn all this stuff.

I suppose it is comforting to see the same problems that American educators experience are playing out on a global scale. At the least, we are not alone.

On the other hand, it is frustrating to see that there are educators from other countries perseverating on the same problems. Everyone seems to recognize the excitement generated when ICTs are used in class, but there are choruses (and in many different languages at this conference), of “We still do not have access!” or “Are these ICTs really working?” or even “Many teachers do not know how to use the ICTs!”

Florence 4

When on this narrow path….

After several presentations, I also grew concerned that ICTs perceived as limited to assessment measurement.  A few presenters offered their research with highly scripted programs where students could be “interactive” by answering predictably scripted responses. While these scripted programs are a step more engaging than a curriculum prescribed textbook, they are only a small digital step above the pencil and (scantron) form type of response. Such controlled platforms are on the same path as the testing programs (SBAC, PARCC) being developed back in the United States to address the need, or the mandates, in measuring student understanding. Even at this conference, the message about the ability of ICTs to assess and grade may be drowning out the more creative possibilities that ICTs offer.

In contrast, I did hear a reference to student choice where a presenter, Feyza Nur Ekizer of Giza University, offered her students a chance to develop “knowledge envelopes” or portfolios to gather as much information on a topic so they would be prepared to answer with a written response on that topic. She gave her students choice in what they found on a broad topic (ex: love), and reported (not surprisingly) that the students wrote longer and more detailed responses than they ever had before in a response weeks later. Her use of technology was minimal, but the students had control over their paths of inquiry in gathering information for their “knowledge envelopes.”

Florence side 2

…or on this narrow path…

At this time in digital history, there are many platforms available for student to choose how and what to gather for information in authentic inquiry research.The presenters at this conference had done a great deal of work, and they shared their learning on the platforms they had chosen for their own inquiry. We were, as are our students, the passive recipients of information; we were on each presenter’s narrowed path.

Worldwide, our students (K-12) are far more comfortable working across platforms in gathering information (from websites, social media, blogs, and other visual/audio media) than their educators. Why would we want them to step backwards and use only what we require to prove their understanding? We should not limit the use of ICTs to assessment delivery systems when students can use ICT to create their own multi-media texts individually and collaboratively if they are given the opportunity.

...there may be little choice.

…there may be little choice.

In addition, students (worldwide!) should not have to wait for educators to become experts with ICTs when platforms are growing exponentially. Instead of trying to master the expanding field of ICTs, educators must see how the expertise they already have in a content area should be used to guide students through choice.

The role of teacher should shift to guiding students in developing content and understanding. Teachers who are skilled in a discipline’s content can help students determine the accuracy, relevancy, and legitimacy of information in developing student inquiry on topics.

ICTs must not be the exclusive means of measuring understanding, instead ICTs should be included in how students develop their understanding of content.

For students, there are many different paths (or platforms) to choose in learning content and there are certainly more paths to come. ICT should not be used exclusively to restrict students to the narrow paths of measurement alone. Based on my discussions with other attendees, there may be other educators from the conference who recognize how much this ICT path of student choice and inquiry may be narrowing unless we act to change it.

The amazing city of Florence, Italy!

The amazing city of Florence, Italy!

Students will encounter challenges in choosing ways to use ICTs as I did walking the narrow pathways on city streets of Florence witnessing amazing and magnificent sites. Through student choice in ICTs coupled with teacher guidance, students will also gain the freedom to explore those amazing and magnificent topics that interest them.

Not sure how November became so loaded with conventions, but Thanksgiving holiday plans have taken a side seat to presentations. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to present at International Conference ICT for Language Learning in Florence, Italy, (11/9-14) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) section (11/23-25) of the National Conference of English Teachers in Washington, D.C.

These opportunities to present nationally and internationally have come as a result of this blog and connections I have made with other educators who use social media to connect and to collaborate. So, it is not surprising that the first session I will be presenting in Florence with world languages teacher Amy Nocton is titled “Blogging to Share, Exchange and Collaborate”. I met Amy through her husband, Jason Courtmanche Director of Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. She is a world language teacher (Spanish and Italian) at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut, and she needed help setting up her classroom blog, Perdidos en sus pensamientos. Her success with this technology in offering students an opportunity to choose topics as part of  is best summed up by the sentiments of one of her students who began posting more than a year ago. Her student Annie Maclachlan noted:

Screenshot 2014-11-12 04.44.15

Presenting on 11/13/14 “Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate”; student quote from the  on the right

“Instead of writing to a rubric, I wrote what I wanted, how I wanted. I wrote about what interested me, because I firmly believed that whoever took the time to go on the blog would love hearing what I had to say. And this was a good feeling. It was a feeling of complete intellectual freedom, a feeling that I believe everyone should experience at least once.”

Like Amy’s student, my students also enjoyed the freedom to explore a topic and publish for a world audience. Sharing how our students can connect with readers from all over the globe at a conference with teachers from all over the globe has an internal reverberation. We have the chance to see how others are guiding students so we can better prepare them to share their ideas and understandings with local and global audiences.

This opportunity has also given me the chance to visit the city of Florence with its amazing architecture and even more wonderful art collections.  To say that my jaw has dropped on more than one occasion is an understatement.

After this cultural saturation, I return home only to head out to the National Conference of English Teachers Conference in D.C. There I will be presenting “It’s Not the Math in the Literacy Standards; It’s the Literacy in the Math Standards” at the Council for English Leadership section of the program. I will be presenting with my former colleague Stephanie Pixley, from Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

I have already written about the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards (English/Language Arts Can Persevere with Math Practice Standard #1and Author’s Craft Revealed Through Mathematical Practice Standard #7 ) on this blog, and this presentation will feature many of the ideas I outlined in these posts.

Screenshot 2014-11-13 01.57.03The NCTE Conference is usually so jammed packed full of sessions that my heads spins. I do not think I will be afforded any museum time there as I want to see many of the sessions. I especially want to see sessions offered by other bloggers who I have met socially and virtually, including one offered by Fran McVeigh, Vicki Vinton, and Mary Lee Hahn“It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiosity, Openness, Creativity and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading.”

Needless to say, I have not thought about turkey, stuffing, or any other side dish, but I am confident after these next two weeks that I will have plenty of photos to share and things to talk about and add to the conversation at the holiday table.

On the 87th Saturday Reunion at Teacher’s College, the author David Booth stood at the podium of NYC’s  Riverside Church admiring the mosaic of teacher faces staring back at him. It was 9:00 in the morning, and we numbered in the thousands.

David Booth“Look at you,” he softly intoned.
We quieted down.
“You look wonderful!” he continued.
We leaned in.
“I have a story to share,” his voice growing more audible as we settled in the echoing cathedral.
We leaned in closer, and his voice became clearer.
“I want to share a story that generated a thousand responses….the story of the Selkie.”

His Keynote Address was titled, “How One Story Can Generate One Thousand Responses” and on this Saturday morning, Booth was recounting to thousands of teachers how he had shared multiple versions of the Selkie with thousands of students in different countries from Kindergarten to grade 12.

Selkies are mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea, but who shed their skin to become human on land.  They are found in in Scottish, Irish folklore, and some Icelandic traditions.

Selkies can also be found in classrooms, according to Booth, who described the teacher who cheerfully greeted him in a “sealskin” of paper, replete with flippers.
“Imagine having her for a teacher,” he marveled, “just imagine,” and he paused allowing us to picture the kind of teacher who would greet an author in a seal suit fashioned after the picture book Selkie woman who shed her skin in order to love a fisherman.

The legend of the Selkie offered multiple versions that Booth could share with different grades over the course of a year:  a woman whose seal skin was held hostage by smitten fishermen, seal children adopted by lonely couples, or women cry seven tears into the sea for their seal men.

“When we read each humble folk tale,” he continued, “all of us, in the same room, reading the same event, we all had different responses.” He paused again, “We were making our own stories.”

Booth shared many of these different responses, beginning with the letters imagined by 1st grade Phoebe from the fisherman husband, James, to the wife, Emily.  “My darling, I love you. Take care of of our seal-son. I love, love, you.” Booth paused before asking, “How does a 7 year old know about such love?”

He told us of the 9th grader who sat, morose and silent, throughout a discussion about the meaning of the Selkie legend before finally contributing, “It’s about forbidden love.”

Booth shared the responses of students who had the chance to answer questions about the Selkie by posting their ideas on three wall charts labeled:

  • Our fierce wonderings…
  • Our answers to our fierce wondering answered and researched…
  • Further wonderings…

And he shared the a haiku penned by a middle schooler in a response to the legend of the Selkie:

“Never marry the
first naked lady you see;
she’ll swim away.”

“We share the need to be heard; the need to be a part need to be in the circle,” he said, and he paused long enough for us to consider how much we share in storytelling in our classrooms.

“Do you have enough courage to give the time to have the children grow and change?” he said, he paused again long enough for us to appreciate his modeling of “wait time” in teaching.

“It takes a lot of slow to grow,” he noted. “Have the faith to wait and not give them the answer.”

The paused for the last time before concluding, “Weave your blanket of words to cover your children. Hurray for story! Return to your children with word blankets.”

We stopped leaning.
We stopped being quiet.
Our thousands of hands clapped for the thousand responses  for David Booth and the Selkie legend.

“So….what problems do your students have in writing?” I ask middle school teachers.
“The thesis statement.”

“So….what problems do your students have writing?” I ask high school teachers.
“The thesis statement.”

One might conclude that students in grades 7-12 have a thesis statement problem…or maybe not.

Maybe the problem of writing a thesis statement is that so many teachers in middle and high school expect that students must have a well-written thesis statement before they can write an essay.

Maybe the emphasis on a well-developed thesis as the start to the essay is misplaced.

After all, according to Webster’s Online Dictionary, an essay (noun) has another meaning beyond “a short piece of writing that tells a person’s thoughts or opinions about a subject”. The word essay also means a “trial, test; an effort, attempt.” An essay is literally “an initial tentative effort; the result or product of an attempt” and a thesis statement is a student’s position in such an effort or attempt….a “test drive” of sorts.

Instead of expecting well-developed thesis statements, teachers could have student test drive a thesis statement by using one of several online tools known as “thesis generators.” These online tools are free and allow students the opportunity to practice with different ideas as they prepare to write an essay.

My favorite, and easiest to use, is the Tom March Thesis Builder 

Screenshot 2014-09-23 21.12.56This site asks students to respond to a series of questions:

  • What’s the topic you want to write about?
  • What’s your main opinion on this topic?
  • What’s the strongest argument supporting your opinion?
  • What’s a second good argument that supports your opinion?
  • What’s the main argument against your opinion?

As they use this thesis generator, students are instructed to:

  1. Answer questions in short phrases (not full sentences).
  2. Do not use periods / full stops (.) at the end or capital letters at the beginning of the phrases you write.
  3. Click the “Build a Thesis” button when you’re finished.
  4. A window will pop open with your Built Thesis.
  5. Go back and adjust your answers to smooth out the thesis until it makes sense and expresses your beliefs. Clicking on the “Build a Thesis” button again will update your thesis to show your changes.
  6. Once you’ve got a thesis statement, use the Make an Online Outline button to generate the framework for your essay.

Once students use a generator, such as the Tom March thesis generator,  they may recognize a sentence “pattern” used in creating a thesis that acknowledges a counter argument. These sentence patterns might start with a qualifier such as “even though”, “because”, “despite”.

Acknowledging the counter arguments is specifically addressed in the thesis builder on John Garvey’s Thesis Builder site. The generator on this site asks students:

  • Is what you say always true always?
  • Are there exceptions?
  • Are there good reasons why your position may have a down side?
  • How can you make your position have a reality check?
  • What general reasons why your position may have problems can you admit up front? To make absolute statements usually causes your essay’s thesis to seem foolishly simplistic.  Get real!.
  • Here’s a trick: begin your qualification with a word like “although” or “It is true that. . .” Don’t worry if it’s not a complete sentence.

Finally, the thesis builder on the Ashford University website  provides different levels of complexity as a student creates a thesis. Once a student enters information into this generator, a series of different thesis statement models on the same idea is offered for students to choose:
Model #1: Thesis Statement
Model #2: Thesis with Concession
Model #3: Thesis with Reasons
Model #4: Thesis with Concession and Reasons

There is also an outline generated on this site that can be used by students in writing the essay.

If teachers and students use these thesis generators, the emphasis on the thesis statement as a starting point might be shifted to another, often overlooked, important part of the essay…the conclusion. The conclusion is where the student’s “test drive” ends, and where the student ends up should matter even more than where the student started.

The advertisement on Book Sale Finder for the Wilton Public Library Book Sale  in Wilton, CT, read,All books on sale for this sale… not just Children and Teens.”

The reason for the clarification? This annual end of summer book sale usually offers the best selections of donated books for children and teens in the area.

This past weekend’s sale  (9/19-21) did not disappoint.

In the space of an hour, I collected over 200 books suited for students in grades 5-10. High interest titles such as Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging for the older students, selections from the Lunch Lady graphic novel series (“serving justice, and serving…..lunch!”) for the younger students. My shopping spree was fueled by the knowledge that Sunday was the 1/2 price day. Hardcovers were $1.50; paperbacks were as little as $.25. At these prices, who could resist picking up multiple copies of Chicken Soup for the Teenaged Soul or duplicate selections from Margaret Peterson’s Haddix series?

All books are headed to the independent reading classroom libraries in the intermediate, middle, and high schools in West Haven. In particular, the SSR (silent sustained reading) in grades 7 & 8 is a reading initiative that is now possible because of the new 90 minute block schedule. Teachers explained the SSR program to parents during the Open House last week and encouraged attending parents to discuss reading for fun with their children.

My industrious selecting caught the attention of several of the volunteers who provided the extra bags and boxes I needed. These Friends of the Wilton Library were genuinely delighted that I was removing a large portion of their inventory.
“These books will be enjoyed again,” from one.
“You are exactly who we want to come to these sales,” from another, “these will be books for classrooms!”
“You got so many of the better titles,” from a third who seemed to know YA literature as she perused my selections.

Like good professional salespeople, they continued to affirm the choices I made as they counted….and counted, and counted. The sum total? $150.00!

This event was advertised as an “Awesome Autumn Book Sale” and yes, it was awesome! This is the first day of autumn, and this autumn I can confidently predict there will be a multiple floods…multiple classroom book floods!

Thank you, Friends of the Wilton Public Library!

The 7th and 8th grade teachers who administered our own  “How I Feel about Reading Survey” to teams of students have collected some contradictory data. The survey is based on questions suggested by Kelly Gallagher in his book Readicide. In this book, Gallagher uses the term “readicide” to define “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.”

The student body is divided into four teams at each grade level, and each team has taken the survey these first few days of school. Each team’s survey provides a snapshot for  a group of students and their attitude towards reading.

The results are contradictory. Take for example the results on 8th grade team in student responses to two prompts: I think being a good reader is important for success in life juxtaposed with the results from I read everyday and look forward to my reading time.

Screenshot 2014-09-04 22.19.16

Yes, students agree that reading is important, but the data shows they do not feel that the practice is important enough to do every day. Moreover, most students do not think reading if pleasurable with over 50% voting they “rarely” look forward to reading. This results from these questions were repeated throughout the grades 7 & 8, team by team.

This data suggests Gallagher’s diagnosis that students could be suffering from “readicide”, an unfortunate consequence of education’s current culture of assessment. The requirements to assess student learning often means employing reading practices that include worksheets, quizzes, or tests; none of these are “fun.”

To counter this, teachers at the middle school are implementing an ambitious independent reading program- 20 minutes a day in a block period- where students are encouraged to read whatever they want from classroom libraries. There are no quizzes. There are no tests. There are no worksheets.  The students will have time built into their day to read, but most important, the students get to choose what they want to read. They can choose from the school book collections or bring in their own book. They will talk about their books with each other, and teachers will visit and conference with them to listen about the books they choose.

In fighting the toxic effects of “readicide”, teachers already have the data that gives them an ace up their collective sleeves…most students have admitted that reading is important for success in life. Guaranteeing that success will be the goal of the 7th and 8th grade teachers who will be working this year to change that high percentage of students who are “rarely” looking forward to reading to a higher percentage of students who “usually” looking forward to reading. Hopefully, teachers can add an “always looking forward to reading” survey choice as well.

I’m moving.moving_van

This blog is moving with me.

This Used Books in Class blog will now be headquartered in West Haven, Connecticut, as I have taken a position as the Language Arts, Social Studies, Library Media and Testing Coordinator for their public school system. West Haven is a shoreline community with six elementary schools, one intermediate school, one middle school, and a high school that houses a student population four times my previous school.

I am very excited about this opportunity.

One of my first responsibilities will be helping teachers at the middle school (grades 7 & 8)  develop an independent reading program for their extended English/Language Arts period. To make the reading program a success, the teachers plan to offer student choice in reading and that means the classroom libraries need to be expanded.

photo 3

Six bags full for $180 !

Building or expanding a classroom library can be expensive, but by seeking out gently used books, the expense can be minimized to as little as $.50/book. One simply needs to know where to look….and the best place to look for gently used quality books for any age is at the Grandmother of all Connecticut Book Sales, the Labor Day Book Sale that benefits the Mark Twain Public Library in Redding, Connecticut.

photo 1Some library book sales in Connecticut have a few tables or sections of a room devoted to books for children or teen readers. In contrast, the Mark Twain Library Book Fair has an entire room with literary treasures galore for young readers. I had hardly scanned the first tables when the neatly arranged copies of Rick Riordan books caught my eye. All three copies of the Red Pyramid filled the bottom of my bag, followed by novels from his Percy Jackson series, including the elusive The Last Olympian. I turned around to find a variety of titles from John A. Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, selections from Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, selections from Margaret Peterson’s Haddix series as well as copies from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy.

photo 2

Boxes of Young Adult (YA) novels & non-fiction from the Mark Twain Library Book Sale; $.50-3.50 each!

Once I collected books from YA series, I looked for individual titles by writers who are always popular: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Brian’s Winter, Mike Lupica’s Heat and Travel Team; Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Mcgee, Milkweed, Stargirl; and a plethora of princess stories from Meg Cabot. If there was a book that was a hit with middle school readers, this book sale had it…in triplicate. Finding multiple copies was helpful, since multiple classrooms will be accessing these books during the same independent reading periods. For this reason, I had no problem justifying the purchase of seven copies of Louis Sacher’s Holes or Wendelin Van Draanen’s Flipped.

There were several student volunteers tabulating my haul, and I would ask them every now and then, “Did you ever read that book?” or “Do you think a student would like to read this book?” They would nod enthusiastically. Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul got a soulful look from one of the tabulators, who explained, “Some stories in this are just so…sad. I felt better reading them.” They approved of my selections.

I was soon packed up with six bags full of young adult novels and non-fiction for $180, and I was helped to my car by a boy scout (literally…he was in uniform!).

Tomorrow, I plan deliver this first load of books to the teachers, creating the “book flood” in their classrooms. The Mark Twain Library Book volunteers who so capably load the tables, organize the donations, and make the whole experience a “destination” for readers of all ages must be credited with helping more than their own library. Their hard work has made an expansion of classroom libraries possible. A wonderful effort from a library named for the American writer who once said that, “out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

Now, let us see how these expanded classroom libraries help grow the students of West Haven!

My seven-year-old nephew hosts his Lego creations on shelves all over his room as though he is curating a museum show. Look, but do not touch.  My three year-old great niece sings the refrain, “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie (NOTE: the tune is a maddening “songworm”)

My two sons were adamant that I should not give away their Legos when they went to college.

Those tiny, multi-colored plastic building bits have a dedicated, even obsessive, fan base. Such fanaticism is the  reason why I thought the following story I recently heard on National Public Radio (NPR) would make for a great informational text that blends visual, print, and audio with social media for a wide range of readers.

The story was titled,  Lost At Sea, Legos Reunite On Beaches And Facebook and the audio was broadcast on 7/26/2014.

The text for audio link reads:

Nearly two decades ago, a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship that had nearly 5 million Legos onboard. The colorful toy building blocks poured into the ocean. Today, they are still washing up on shores in England.

The NPR page contains a link to the Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/LegoLostAtSea) where beachcombers have been uploading photos of their findings:

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Each photo on Facebook is accompanied by a few words by the person who posted the photo- a little story to share.

What makes this story of the missing Legos so wonderful is that there are a multitude of stories in other media. Each has a different take on the lost cargo of Legos which were swept off the container ship 17 years ago.

South Florida’s Sun Sentinel ran the article Sea Hunt a year after the loss. The story by Margo Harakas (May 26, 1998) featured interviews with oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and beachcomber Cathie Katz. Ebbesmeyer provided his estimate that in excess of 1,000 containers a year slip their moorings saying, “That’s not much considering the 40 million or more containers transported across the oceans annually.”  Katz and Ebbesmeyer  both found a delicious irony in the kind of Lego toys that was lost at sea…that particular Lego container contained aquatic-themed toys.

The Atlantic offered specifics on the kinds of aquatic-themed toys in the story Why Are All These Legos Washing Up on the Beach? in an article by Megan Garber that ran 7/26/2014:

 There were toy kits that included plastic aquanauts. And spear guns (13,000 of them). And life preservers (26,600). And scuba tanks (97,500). And octopi (4,200).

For the older students, there is an article by Joseph Gallivan (8/9/2014) in The Independent, Life’s a Beach to Comb, that discusses the technical details of the Lego spill:

A container ship, the Tokio Express, en route from Rotterdam to New York on 13 February 1997, was hit by a rogue wave about 20 miles off Land’s End. She tilted 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back, and lost 62 HGV-sized containers overboard.

The article goes on to discuss the contents of other famous cargo spills including one that released chocolate: Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, Reisen dark German chocolates, and Werther’s hard butterscotch candies. Another spill involved 500,000 cans of beer, and yet another spilled out a container of yellow ducks. There is even a mention of a few dead bodies found floating in the ocean’s currents…all lost at sea.

The variety of these informational texts about these lost Legos can serve as a springboard for other research students can do on topics ranging from ocean currents to degrading plastics to the cultural fascination with the Legos themselves.

For those fortunate to live near a beach, there is even an invitation to share their beachcombing findings. The oceanographer Ebbesmeyer has provided his address with directions on how to share:

…findings can be shared with Curtis C Ebbesmeyer, 6306 21st Ave NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA. Please include photos of yourself and drifters, written accounts, locations and dates. Factual descriptions, concerning the drift of the water body fronting your shore, are welcome.

So, I guess it is true. When it comes to tracking Legos, “everyone is cool when you’re part of a team.”

“Ancora imparo. [I am still learning.]“

― Michelangelo, at age 87 in 1562

In the United States, students will spend 96 weeks or collectively about two years of their academic life in summer vacation days. Our 183 day (in Connecticut) school year became standardized not because of farming, but as a result of an industrial society that opted to let urban students out of the sweltering cities during the summer months.

Kenneth Gold, a professor of education at the College of Staten Island, debunked the myth of an agrarian school year in his book School’s In: The History of Summer Education in American Public Schools. He noted that if schools were following a true agrarian school year, students would be more available during the summer months while crops were growing but unavailable during planting (late spring) and harvesting (early fall).  His research demonstrated that before the standardized school year, there were concerns that too much school was bad for the health of students and teachers:

“There was a whole medical theory that [people would get sick] from too much schooling and teaching” (Gold)

Summer vacation was the solution to these medical concerns during the mid-19th Century. The result was a standardization of education has led to our present “summer leisure economy.” The 21st Century emphasis on  academic skills  necessary for success in life now contrasts with the mid-19th Century’s standards. There is a growing body of research on the adverse impact of summer vacation on learning.

A meta-analysis of 138 influences or “what works in education” was published (2009) in Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement by John Hattie and Greg Yates. Their  results are posted on the Visible Learning website.  They ranked the effects of completed studies (international), and using data from these studies they demonstrated that an influence greater than .04 was a contribution to student achievement.

For their finding on summer vacation,  39 studies were used to rank the effect of summer vacation on student achievement. The findings using this data revealed summer vacation as having a negative effect ( -.09 effect) on education. They ranked summer vacation at the bottom of what works in education, a dismal 134 out of 138. Many researchers refer to the achievement damage done as the “summer slide.”

So what do some teachers do to counter this effect?

At the beginning of summer, students are sent home with work packets, reading lists, and other materials to counter the effects of what is commonly known as the “summer slide.” My school (grades 7-12) is no exception, and the objective for assigning this work is to provide students the practice in reading, writing, or math they need to maintain the skills they have developed during the school year.

The reality is that by mid-August, students and parents recognize they are in “crunch time,” and the summer work assigned as academic practice morphs into a contentious activity that looms large on the calendar. Parents remind/force/argue students to complete the work. Students may wait until the last possible moment to do schoolwork. Both parents and students see the work as an incursion into their summer break from school.

Meanwhile, on the teacher side, the knowledge that all those packets and reading responses will be submitted for assessment the first weeks back at school is daunting as well.

I believe I can safely say that no one-teachers, parents, students- likes summer work.

As an example, I recently received a note from a parent whose child is in enrolled in an honors level. This level is assigned more work to do, and she offered an impassioned plea that her children work hard to juggle their academics, athletics, jobs, etc. “They need a break,” she begged stating that they already can read and write well. “Why must we do this to students every summer?” she asked.

Must we? Do students who read and write well really need more practice? Do students need a break?

I wish I could make all stakeholders, including this one, happy by declaring that summer vacation should be an “academic-free zone”, but in my educator’s heart, I do not believe that students need a “break” especially when it comes to learning. I believe learning is ongoing, and those work packets and reading lists are designed at a minimum to keep students’ minds active. Granted, some of the assignments may be poorly designed, but they are based on a philosophy of maintaining skill sets.

While many students are fortunate to have the means to travel during summer vacation or indulge in firsthand experiences that benefit them academically, there are other students in their classes who do not. The work packets and summer reading equalize academic practice for all students during summer vacation.

Furthermore, learning individual responsibility to complete work assigned is another lesson at all grade levels. Students who choose other endeavors, namely athletics or jobs, must learn to be organized. In my experience as a teacher, the students who are the most successful are those who participate in multiple activities and learn to balance their academic responsibilities. How a student completes his or her summer work is also life lesson.

Consider again the 96 weeks that students have off for summer vacation during their academic career (K-12) because of a decision made in the mid-19th Century. Yes, I want students to have time to play and to travel and to relax, but why not have some assigned academic practice during their collective two years in the 21st Century that are afforded for summer vacation?learning never stops

I am happy to concede that the summer work packets and reading lists are a poor substitute for authentic learning, and I will continue to look for ways to encourage student minds throughout the entire year, not just from September to June. In considering the note from that parent, I am thinking that interdisciplinary summer work might prove successful in reducing the amount for students and in sharing the grading workload for teachers.

Summer vacation, however,  should not be an excuse to stop learning. The artist Michelangelo explained that he was “still learning” at the age of 87. Our job as educators is to encourage students to recognize they are always learning, year round. Whether there are work packets, reading lists, or other assignments, there is no summer break from learning.

A student’s mind should not be on vacation.

15% of the 21st Century is almost over and the headline Before Buying Classroom Technology, Asking ‘Why?’  by Ross Brenneman is in Education Week.

This is one of the most popular stories of the week, July 18, 2014.

Why?

Not why is this story popular, but why is there even a question as to question why schools should buy technology?

Certainly, the headline is never the whole story, but the why in the question posed is misleading or frustrating.

Any educational purchase, capital or operating, should always begin with the question “why?”, yet the impression the article makes is that there are administrators who, in an attempt to personalize learning for students, are purchasing technology without having a plan or vision.

Consider first that the word in question-technology- is defined as:

the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area;  capability given by the practical application of knowledge of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems” (Merriam-Webster).

Ironic, then, that the impression the article makes is that technology is causing administrators more problems than solving them.

The article cites Allison Powell, vice president for new learning models at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, who recounts that some administrators are saying, ‘I bought all this technology, now what?’:

“They’re buying the technology without thinking through what their specific learning goals and outcomes are, and technology might not be the right tool for that.”(Powell)

Such characterizations do not inspire confidence in leadership for learning in the 21st Century.  A look at the comment section that followed the article echoes similar frustrations :

Good grief!!! I have been involved with instructional technology as a teacher, a librarian, an administrator, and in higher education since the early 1990s – and there STILL has to be an article/debate/controversy how to best integrate technological advances in our nation’s classrooms?!ALlen Educator

“Why?” is a good question. However, there’s also “What?”, “Who?”, and “How?” (Assuming “where” is your school and “when” is ASAP.)-Tad Douce

This general portrayal of hapless administrators is not helpful to education, especially when just a few reasons to incorporate technology are obvious:

-standardized testing is now done, or will be done, digitally;
-data and data analysis to improve instruction uses technology;
-achieving college readiness (research) means students will use technology;
-career readiness (business) means students will use technology;
-communicating (in real time) with all stakeholders is education requires technology.

There are more, but these obvious reasons are just a few that could guide administrators to shape a vision as they invest in technology as they would any other educational purchase to prepare students for the future. The answers to the question “why” therefore, are generally understood.  Instead, the question “how will this technology be used” should be foremost in any administrator’s design for the future.Screenshot 2014-07-23 22.51.36

Furthermore, how will any administrator’s vision or design for the future be shaped and reshaped depends on developments in technology; technology is not a one time purchase. There will be many iterations of technology, hardware and software, used in classrooms tomorrow (…. and tomorrow and tomorrow). Above all, in meeting these iterations, an administrator’s vision or design must include ongoing training for educators.

To be fair, Education Week’s article centered on the use of technology in the delivery of personalized learning. In the end, Brennerman points out that the 21st Century is no different than any other century, that “personalized learning can be implemented without technology.” Yet, the headline says nothing about this message. Rather, the impression left is that there are many visionless administrators asking “why?”as if technology is a fad.

Administrators must work to correct the general impression made by the “why” in this headline.  With 85% of the 21st Century ahead, the question should be  “how will” their vision continue to shape the role of technology in education’s future.