There is always talk about preparing students for college and career readiness (CCR), but the recent simultaneous and collaborative news release of the Panama Papers by newspapers around the globe is an example of how preparing students using technology in the classroom can be taught as an authentic application.

The Panama Papers Collaboration panama-papers-820

Under the headline OFFSHORE LINKS OF MORE THAN 140 POLITICIANS AND OFFICIALS EXPOSED, the The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more than 100 other news organizations around the globe, “revealed the offshore links of some of the world’s most prominent people.”

“In terms of size, the Panama Papers is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history – more than 11.5 million documents – and it is equally likely to be one of the most explosive in the nature of its revelations.”

 The article in the NYTimesWorld|Here’s What We Know About the ‘Panama Papers’ explained the significance of the documents that were part of a cooperative global pact of reporting:

“The papers — millions of leaked confidential documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama — identify international politicians, business leaders and celebrities involved in webs of suspicious financial transactions. The revelations have raised questions about secrecy and corruption in the global financial system.”

How did the ICIJ accomplish this simultaneous and collaborative news scoop? They used collaborative writing platforms.

Collaboration is the Key

In an interview with National Public Radio’s (NPR) Ari Shaprio, titled Panama Papers Leak Is The Result Of Unprecedented Media Collaboration the director of ICIJ, Gerard Ryle explained how the 100 media organizations around the world to were able to read and analyze the 11.5 million files from the Panama Papers leak. Ryle explained,

“We would never be able to do this kind of collaboration even five, six years ago. But technology has advanced so much that we can make all of these documents available over the Internet and pipe them right into all the newsrooms so that, I mean, we can have 10 reporters working in one newsroom. We can have 20 in another. We can have five in another. And they can all see the same documents, and we basically host all of the documents on servers and pipe them down over the Internet.”

The ICIJ was able to use digital platforms where documents could be shared in asynchronous collaborations, where news organizations could partner to connect, to share and to respond across time zones.

These same digital platforms are available in many classrooms today, where students can work in class synchronously or asynchronous with classmates as well.

A key difference between journalists’ practices and students, is that students are trained to be more cooperative and collaborative. Ryle describes how unusual the sharing of information is in the journalism profession:

” I had to unlearn everything I had learned as a journalist to do this kind of work. I mean, most of our careers, we basically don’t even tell our editors what we’re working on.”

In contrast, students today who understand the power of collaboration will not have to “unlearn” to be effective journalists.

Common Core Connections

Educators, especially those at the middle and high school grade levels, have been using these digital platforms to meet the key shifts in College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) as part of the Common Core:

“These standards require students to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and non-print texts in media forms old and new. The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum.”

Screenshot 2016-04-10 08.56.23

Word sift of common words in College and Career Readiness Standards

Within the Frameworks of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) there is also a specific anchor standard for writing for all students:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Today’s technology allows students to mirror the same approach using same skills-as seen in word sift-(reading, writing, evidence, informational texts, answers ) that the international journalists in the ICIJ did in breaking this important news story. Students who use digital platforms are refining the same skills used by ICIJ -“The World’s Best Cross-Border Investigative Team.”

Multiple Platforms Available

Perhaps the best known platforms used in schools for teacher to student or student to student collaborations are on the sites such as Edmodo, WikispacesWordPress (and its companion Edublogs). A quick search on the Internet, however, will produce a multitude of additional options. For example, posts like 102Free (or Free to Try) Online Collaborative Learning Tools for Teachers (updated 2/2016) list the myriad of choices that educators can use to increase collaborations in the classroom. There are so many that, for example, the behemoth Google Drive is listed at #51:

Once known as Google Docs, Google Drive offers a comprehensive suite of collaborative, online tools: word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms or drawing files.

Celebrating Global Collaboration in Education

Moreover, just like the journalists who broke the Panama Papers stories, educators are experimenting with virtual collaborative experiences on a global level. There is a Global Collaboration Day (GCD) (celebrated the 2nd week in September) where the focus is on cooperation and collaboration to enhance global understanding so that students will have practice in both solving problems across borders when they enter the workforce and an appreciation for bringing global ideas to their own local experiences.

The GCD website describes how students can participate in authentic collaborations that are either short-term or long-term using blogs, wikis, or social media tools such as Twitter and Skype.

Next Generation

The next generation of journalists is being groomed in classrooms today, but for now, students and educators are increasing their proficiency with the same methods as the professionals in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The final project known as the Panama Papers has met the Common Core State Standards for College and Career Readiness…they might even get an A+.

There is a comedian whose improvisation routine includes asking “What if?” questions using Google search engine. Audience members call out a letter, the comedian enters “What if+ letter” in the search bar, he reads the first topic(s) that pop up, and then he jokes about that topic.

In honor of Shakespeare’s 400th, here is a try at the same routine (without the jokes) taken on (4/9/16)

Top 5 Google Search Results:

“What if Shakespeare…?”

#1. Shakespearean What-Ifs — Good Tickle Brain

 This first entry to pop-up features the mini-comics of  Mya, artist and librarian who was introduced to Shakespeare at  eight or nine years old, and has been addicted ever since. She drew the first Shakespearean What-If in five hours for Mini-Comics Day at the University of Michigan Art, Architecture and Engineering Library.Screenshot 2016-04-09 08.47.35

Her “What ifs…” feature alternate Shakespearean timelines that “…hinge on a single moment when Tragedies could so easily become comedies, and comedies could so easily end in tears.”
Here’s a look at some alternate Shakespearean timelines that she offers for print:

If you are so inclined, feel free to download the Hamlet PDF and print them out full size (no scaling to fit page, thank you) Also Julius Caesar and Macbeth.


#2. Quote by Gayle Forman: “But what if Shakespeare― 

 “But what if Shakespeare― and Hamlet― were asking the wrong question? What if the real question is not whether to be, but how to be?” (1).Just one day

The second pop-up was a quote by Gayle Forman who is also writer, a writer that does not have to be assigned to read in high school. Young adults made her novel If I Stay a best-seller. She also wrote the novel Just One Day, in which the protagonist Allyson Healey’s post-graduation trip to Europe changes her life, She makes an uncharacteristically unpredictable decision to stay with Willem, a Shakespearean actor. The quote above opens the novel.

Forman’s bio on her website lists 13 interesting facts; here are three:
  • When I was little I wanted to grow up to be the sun. I was devastated to learn this was not a career option.
  • I bombed my SATs. I still did okay in life.
  • As a teen, I was so obsessed with Molly Ringwald that I started biting my lip like she did and now I have a permanent scar. And this is why I am a YA author.

 


#3. If Shakespeare Had a Sister

To be honest, Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, one that centered on how Shakespeare’s gender allowed him to become the great dramatist, occupied both #3 and #4 positions in the “What if Shakespeare?” search.
Woolf ‘s essay suggests that if Shakespeare had a sister, one who also was brilliant playwright, she would not have had the same opportunities to write and to stage plays,. Furthermore, she would be driven mad and would have died in obscurity. Woolf imagines this sister-Judith- who as a child,
“…picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.”
Rather than marry, young Judith would run away from home, seeking drama,like her brother William, to express her genius:
“She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face.”
Judith would meet a far different fate than her brother. Woolf suggests,
“that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”

In her essay Woolf’s mourns not only the fictional Judith, but also the unheard voices of real women writers throughout history who suffered similar fates.

 


#4. What if… we didn’t have Shakespeare – Prospect Magazine

The subtitle of this article by Justina Crabtree Could Christopher Marlowe have equalled Shakespeare’s achievement? is a commentary on the budding genius of playwright Marlowe before his untimely end in a knife fight in a bar. Crabtree poses the question as to whether Marlowe might have had the same impact on language as Shakespeare did:

“Without [Shakespeare] him, nobody would “melt into thin air” (The Tempest), nor would there be “method in our madness” (Hamlet). We’d never be “in a pickle” (The Tempest), nor would we ever be a “laughing stock” (The Merry Wives of Windsor). Things would never go “full circle” (King Lear), or be achieved in “one fell swoop” (Macbeth).”

Furthermore, Crabtree ponders if Marlowe had the potential to match Shakespeare’s characters, those “truly rich, three-dimensional characters” which were a “progression away from the Medieval morality tradition.”

 


anonymousThis   or response –not a review- by Stephen Marche on Roland Emmerich’s film, Anonymous (2011) laments how the central question in the film, “Was Shakespeare a fraud?” was so poorly presented. As a professor who had taught Shakespeare in the past, Marche admitted that he is no film critic, but he is a critic of the flawed position that credited Edward de Vere as the real author of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, etc:
“And if you take “Anonymous” as just a movie, it may not even be that bad. I couldn’t possibly judge, because I was apoplectically stuttering about the inconsistencies…”
Marche is convinced that Emmerich’s film will drive students to challenge Shakespeare’s authenticity and sympathizes with the Shakespeare scholars who will be driven crazy with ridiculous speculations. As for Marche? He has no doubt about Shakespeare:
“So, enough. It is impossible that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare. Notice that I am not saying improbable; it is impossible.”

While I had thought five entries would be enough, the #6 entry is too good not to share

#6. What if Shakespeare wrote Star Wars? “Alas, poor … 

 What if William Shakespeare took a crack at Star Wars? Just imagine the classic Wookie and R2-D2 chess scene re-written as a Greek chorus.
Well, you do not have to imagine, because there is stirring in the Force, a new series of the Star Wars trilogies by Ian Doescher. An example?

Star Wars HamletLUKE Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not,
Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life
From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?
A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?
A man with helpmate and with children too? 5
A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride?
A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace?
Whate’er thou wert, good man, thy pardon grant
Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.

The tagline? Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Screenshot 2016-03-29 10.37.46In a previous post, I discussed how the “Chicken or Egg?” conundrum is a way to view which agency-  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – is responsible for the recommendations for fiction vs. non-fiction in a student’s reading diet.

In 2015, the NAEP the “largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas” provided a voluntary survey on which teachers could select the literary genre they emphasized in class “to a great extent.” NAEP noted that over the past six years, there has been a steady increase in nonfiction in grade 4 and 8, a phenomena that coincides with the adoption of the CCSS and the revisions to the NAEP reading content. As the primary reason or as a result, the CCSS has promoted expectations that a student’s reading diet reflect a ratio  30% fiction and 70% nonfiction across the content areas by the time he or she graduates from high school.

Creative

The Evolution of Creative Nonfiction

Complicating the question of which came first, the CCSS recommendations or the NAEP, another genre has been evolving and gaining popularity with students at all grade levels, the genre of creative nonfiction. Creative non-fiction or the narrative non-fiction genre features the same techniques that fiction writers, playwrights, and poets use in order to present real people and events as stories while still using factually accurate prose. The goal of the creative non-fiction writer is to make nonfiction stories as exhilarating, arresting, vivid, or dramatic as anything in the fictional story.

In meeting that goal, consider how the Newbery Award winning children’s nonfiction author Russell Freedman (author of Children of the Wild WestLincoln: A PhotobiographyWashington at Valley Forge) has dipped into the fiction trademark, the story, by saying:

“A nonfiction writer is a storyteller who has sworn an oath to tell the truth.”

That desire to imitate a storyteller has been generated by a primitive need to communicate and to remember. The story, as author and consultant Lisa Cron explains in her book Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, allows humans to be human. She writes:

“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 9.46.08 PMSimilarly, Thomas Newkirk, a faculty member of the University of New Hampshire, has argued that that we are hard-wired for the story format in his brilliant book Minds Made for StoriesHow We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts. He writes that, “…as humans, as time-bound mortals, we must tell stories” as though the need to tell stories is instinctive as embedded in all humans as is our DNA. Newkirk explains:

“We rely on stories not merely for entertainment, but for explanation, meaning, self-understanding. We instinctively make connections of cause and effect, and always have. To deny the centrality of narrative is to deny our own nature” (146).

Examples of Creative Nonfiction by Grade Level

Consider the following examples of great openings that use the poetry, humor, or suspense, associated with fiction in different kinds of non-fiction.

The first is the short opening of the picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate:

“In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla’s life begins.”

The poetic combination of “leafy calm” and “gentle arms” sets a peaceful tone that is soon disrupted when the infant gorilla is kidnapped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and brought to Tacoma, Washington, to live his real life in a mall.

Or read the opening from the Ludwig Von Beethoven chapter, one of 19 truncated biographies collected for How they Croaked:The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg. Bragg knows her teen audience and keeps the pace moving quickly and informally:

“Beethoven’s dad forced him to practice the piano, like dads have done since the dawn of music. We don’t know what tunes Beethoven practiced, but today, kids are forced to play Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata, melodies that Beethoven wrote. Practice paid off for Beethoven and he became a musical genius. He played his first gig when he was eight years old. He performed for kings, he did concert tours, and he had a lot of fans. And he had long hair just like a rock star. It turns out Beethoven’s hair helped uncover how he died.”

Yes, this does follow a standard biographical timeline, starting in Beethoven’s youth, and, yes, there is the gratuitous connection to rock stars and “gigs”. This entry-and all of the others in the book- capitalize on a multitude gory details in describing how famous real people in history “croaked.”

The last example is from the  opening of the 2013 multi-media Pulitzer Prize winning article in the NY Times  Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch. This digital form of storytelling is an excellent piece for secondary students. It begins in medias res (middle of action):

“The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: ‘Avalanche! Elyse!’

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.”

Accompanying the text are snowfall loops of digital GIFs embedded with video, audio interviews, graphics, and other interactive features. I have written before that the text of “Snowfall” marks a new step in storytelling, a mentor text that models how to create a story where all forms of media support an author’s purpose. Real stories are breaking the 3rd wall in storytelling.

Preference for Narrative Nonfiction

In their books, both Lisa Cron and Thomas Newkirck have identified how our brains have preference for reading and writing the narrative. That preference is advancing genre adaptations that may render recommendations for reading diet ratios unnecessary, whether they come from the NAEP, the CCSS, or some other agency.

Because we are human, and because our brains want stories, the evolving genre of creative non-fiction is rapidly becoming another egg in the reader’s basket.

 

What came first…the NAEP Chicken or the CCSS Egg?

Screenshot 2016-03-29 10.37.46First, let’s define terms:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the “largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are “a set of goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level.”

Back in 1992 and through 2007, the test reading framework for the NAEP centered on three broadly defined genres for assessment content: literary, informational, and document. By 2009, however, the NAEP was revised to offer eight defined genres of assessment content, part of a larger shift to separate reading content into distinct categories.  Of the eight genres in the 2009 reading frameworks, reading content was categorized into more specific forms of nonfiction: literary nonfiction; informational text; exposition; argumentation and persuasive text; and procedural text and documents. There was fiction included on the 2009 test along with selections of poetry, some of which could also be categorized as fiction.

Before 2009, a nonfiction selection might fall into any one of the broadly defined genre categories. After 2009, 5/8 of the NAEP or 63% of the reading frameworks on the NAEP test were in well defined sub-sets of nonfiction.

Now consider, while the NAEP was being revised, in 2009 the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were in development. The CCSS designers for literacy placed an emphasis on complex informational texts (nonfiction) stating:

“Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content; postsecondary education programs typically provide students with both a higher volume of such reading than is generally required in K-12 schools and comparatively little scaffolding.”

These designers were pushing to expand reading beyond the fiction and literary analysis that traditionally dominated the ELA classes, particularly at the high school level. This was an effort to include reading in other content areas as necessary for the post-secondary experience. As a result, there were standards developed for literacy in grades 6-12 in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects

By 2010, 42 states had adopted the Common Core standards  and began revising curriculum to align with  the The Key Shifts of the CCSS and reducing fiction from being 50% of a student’s reading diet in 4th grade to 30% of the reading diet of a graduating senior.

The connection between NAEP and the CCSS was evident, and the recommendations in the literacy standards of the Common Core called attention to this connection:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.51.04 PM

Six Years Later: The Rise of NonFiction

Not surprisingly, six years later, one of the anecdotal findings released from the 2015 NAEP is the increase in nonfiction assigned by teachers in both grades 4 & 8 . This  information came from a voluntary survey where teachers could select the genre they emphasized in class “to a great extent.”

In 2015, fourth grade teachers who had previously created a 25% point gap favoring fiction over nonfiction in 2011, led the reduction of fiction to 15%  in 2013 and to single digit 8% in 2015.

Similarly, in eighth grade, the 34% preference for emphasizing fiction declined to 24% in 2013, and to 16% in 2015.

Screenshot 2016-03-25 17.06.47

The Egg Hatches…and It Looks a Little Different

The truth is, all the emphasis on increasing nonfiction in schools at the expense of fiction has had an positive impact on the genre. An article in the October issue Publisher’s Weekly Moment of Truth: Trends in Nonfiction for Young Readers by Sophie McNeill offered comments from bookstore owners and librarians about the increased interest in factual prose:

Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, New York who says,

“Common Core has raised awareness of kids’ nonfiction. We are seeing parents and teachers talking about it differently in home and at school.”

Sharon Grover, head of youth services at Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin, adds:

“Nonfiction has really improved in recent years. Books are more readable, with more pictures and less straight recitation of facts. Kids really appreciate that, since they have become used to reading websites and apps.”

The article also referred to the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference (2014) which advertised its aim “to display the verve and capabilities of nonfiction, and to show that it can be just as creative as fiction.”

Creative?
Verve?

All this added attention to increasing nonfiction appears having an impact on the genre itself, not only in the in quantity produced but also in the characteristics of nonfiction itself. While the nonfiction genre is generally understood to be based on real events, a statement by the Newbery Award winning children’s nonfiction author Russell Freedman seems to blur those clear lines that the NAEP and Common Core have tried to separate as distinct. Freedman has stated:

“A nonfiction writer is a storyteller who has sworn an oath to tell the truth.”

Note the word storyteller?
Can truth be that objective?

Sounds a little like non-fiction is borrowing a little from the fiction genre playbook.

Eggs and Evolution

Whether it began with the the NAEP Chicken or the CCSS egg, the pressure to emphasize nonfiction is like any other evolutionary force in nature. While the Common Core has fallen out of favor with many states, with at least 12 states introducing legislation to repeal the CCSS standards outright, the nonfiction genre is growing and responding and adapting under the current favorable conditions.

The reduction of fiction in favor of more readable nonfiction in grades 4 & 8, as evidenced by the NAEP survey, continues. The evolution of the nonfiction genre may increase readership as well, especially if engaging texts increase interest in reading in the content areas of history, social studies, science and the technical subject areas.

Today’s educators may break a few more fictional eggs, but the end result could be a better omelet.

This Sunday’s end paper for the New York Times Magazine on 2/28/16 presented the latest in the millennial generation’s dream jobs list. The results were aggregated from a 2015 survey organized by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).

The article, The New Dream Jobs was organized by  by Jenna Wortham and subtitled “What a survey of millennials might tell us about the workplaces of the future.” The survey results were described as a “scattershot” that “offer a glimpse into the ambitions of the millennial generation.”

The 18,000 participants (high school students, college students, and young professionals) ages 15-29, parsed through a list of more than 200 companies before selecting Google as their top choice. The Walt Disney Company (with an appropriate song lyric, “a dream is a wish your heart makes”) came in second, and St Jude’s Hospital that pioneers research and treatments for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases came in third.

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs; Illustration by JAMES GRAHAM

The factors that were important to students included employee welfare, flexible scheduling, and a sense of purpose. 89% of the respondents indicated that their dream jobs could be an opportunity to gain job skills. They also expressed their highest interest in medicine and health related and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused fields (40%), technology/engineering (21%), science (28%), and arts/entertainment/media (20%).

The exceptionally high level of interest in the sciences may be in part due to efforts over the past several years to engage female students in STEM related activities, noting that there was a disproportionate number (75%) of the respondents were female students. The was, however, a greater diversity in respondent ethnicity: Caucasian 38%, Latino 18%, African-American 21%, Asian 12%.

While there were 200 companies offered in the survey for selection, there were also some (traditional) hometown favorites. Respondents selected Local Hospital at #6, Local Police Department at #53, and Local Fire Department at #90.

What about Education as a Choice?

What is surprising is that the field of education did not have a Local Public School as an option for respondents. Respondents could choose to be a doctor, fireman, police officer….but not a teacher? Instead, what was offered for the education option was the organization Teach for America.  While many public school systems require educational degrees, the Teach for America promotion on its website states:

“A degree in education isn’t a prerequisite for you to apply to the corps. However, nearly all corps members must receive a state-issued teaching credential, certificate, license, or permit to be hired by a school and must be considered “highly qualified” under federal law.”

What do students who have attended or plan to attend a four year college for education, understand about Teach for America as a career choice? “Highly qualified” for Teach for America can be the “rigorous summer training program and extensive coaching”, a very different training than college coursework (undergraduate or graduate) in instruction.  When the NSHSS  offers Teach for America on a list of 200 companies, they communicate that an education is associated with a “company” rather than a profession. Based on the data, it should be noted that Teach for America  fallen in popularity from #26 on the Dream Job list in 2014 to #34 this year.

Irony in Dream Job List

The irony is, that without the choice of education as a Dream Job, many of the dream jobs on the list would be unattainable. If education as a profession is not a choice represented on this list (as police, firemen careers are represented) a problem is created for all future lists.

For example, without recruiting best and brightest of scientists to the Dream Job of science teachers, students will not be ready for the medicine and health related careers that they want as Dream Jobs. Similarly, learning to communicate effectively in media jobs comes from attracting excellent English Language Arts teachers, while artistic talents are honed by bringing the finest in fine arts teachers (music, art, drama, etc) to classrooms K-12. In short, this year’s interest in STEM comes from teachers who have communicated a passion for these subject so much, that their students want to continue in that particular field as a Dream Job.

Finally, if one of the qualities that millennials are looking for in a career is the ability to work on a team (40%), then a choice for education is a choice for a Dream Job. Educators know how to work collaboratively as a team: in a district, in a school, in a class. And, of course, educators are the ones who train students to work as a team as well.

On the NSHSS 2015 survey on Dream Jobs, a choice of the F.B.I. (#5)  beat out the choice of the National Security Administration (#19). According to the survey, students would rather build up the military by selecting the Army (#42) as a career over Building a Bear (#50)…but note, without educators, building the skills for a Dream Job would be only a dream.

My life-long admiration for George Washington has been increasing exponentially.GW speech

This past summer, I finished the book The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789  by Joseph Ellis. His narrative centers on the four individuals brought the confederation of states together into a nation during the 1787 Constitutional Convention:  Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison and, most important, George Washington.

In recounting how Hamilton and Madison prepared the groundwork for the Constitutional Convention, Ellis details how they strategized and recruited Washington to preside over the Convention.  Both knew that Washington’s reputation and his relationship with the delegates to the Convention was critical to its success. They knew that of the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention, at least 29 had served in the Continental forces, most of them in positions of command. In The Quartet, Ellis acknowledges that Washington’s military leadership had been proven during the American Revolution, but he also provides another example of Washington’s deft touch at command off the battlefield.

What I Did Not Know About the Newburgh Conspiracy:

This amazing event Ellis relates deals with an uprising in Newburgh, New York, in March of 1783 led by Continental Army officers, that nearly brought the newly liberated country to a halt. This incident, known as the Newburgh Conspiracy, developed when the unpaid officers circulated an anonymous letter that suggested officers should riot in New York City, a dangerous challenge to the authority of the Confederation Congress. When Washington learned about the letter, he expressed his objections to the “disorderly” and “irregular” nature of the officers’ meeting. He sent word that he would meet with them on 15th.

Once he arrived in Newburgh, Washington delivered a speech  during which he declared his convictions that the entire war had been about a fundamental principle. He asked the officers in attendance about the letter being circulated::

“My God! What can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures? Can he be a friend to the Army? Can he be a friend to this Country? Rather, is he not an insidious Foe? Some Emissary, perhaps from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord and separation between the Civil and Military powers of the Continent?”

800px-Newburgh_AddressIn his speech, Washington recognized their frustration, but he also expressed his belief that Congress would do the army “complete justice” and eventually pay the soldiers:

“But, like all other large Bodies, where there is a variety of different Interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow.”

The officers in attendance respected Washington. They had counted on his sympathies, and they were quickly humbled by his unwavering commitment to the nation.

But then came that moment…. That moment when Washington changed the course of events. After reading his own speech, Washington then attempted to tried to read a letter from a Congressman from Virginia that supported the officers’ demands. According to Ellis, Washington fumbled a little in reading the opening words of this letter.

He took out a pair of spectacles.

He wiped those spectacles, and stated:

Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.”

Ellis notes that at Washington’s  words, many of his officers openly wept, “…they remembered how much Washington had endured alongside them.”

With this simple gesture, the wiping of a pair of spectacles, and his own pledge of dedication to the fledgling nation, Washington ended the Newburgh Conspiracy. In that moment he demonstrated both the strength of a Founding Father, and the psychological wiles of a Founding Mother…guilt included.

In The Quartet, Ellis confirms Washington’s civic virtue, his lack of personal ambition, and his modesty. He portrays Washington as without peer. Four years after the Newburgh incident, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention. When he was elected president, he received the support of each of the 69 participating electors.

Ellis reminds us that Washington is a true Founding Father…and a parent who know that guilt works, especially with unruly children!

 

George Washington… poet.

Poet?

Yes, I know.

The descriptor that follows George Washington is usually something like:

….statesman.
….leader.
….patriot.
….father of our country.

While poet is not a word usually used to describe Washington, a visit to an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, suggests Washington was gifted in expressing his romantic sentiments through verse.

The exhibit titled Sound & Sense: Poetic Musings in American Art (November 14, 2015 – April 17, 2016). The installation

“…explores the connections between American poetry and painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. The exhibition presents a diverse landscape of masterpieces from the museum’s collection that incorporate poetic inscriptions in their composition or have direct relationships to America’s rich poetic traditions….”

In the exhibition, a painting by Rockwell Kent and sculpture by Daniel Chester French are paired (predictably) with verses by Robert Frost and Walt Whitman. The walls are painted a soft grey with generous space allotted between each object and its curated verse. The space allows the viewer to appreciate each new composition of word and art.

On one wall, the portraits of Martha (left) and George Washington (right) are placed so they appear to be gazing at each other. Moreover, at first glance, the poem appears to be a a expression of George’s love for Martha. However, the note above Washington’s verse explains the sentiment was taken from a personal letter 1749-50, nine years before he married Martha. IMG_0028

 

The verse placed on the wall reads:

From your sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays you have, more powerful than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array

The text next to the portraits -painted by James Sharples (1798)- explains that at the time the letter was written, Washington was a “lovesick teenager” who “penned a passionate sentimental verse to an unknown maiden” before he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.

Historians suggest that young Washington had crushed on several young women including Sally Fairfax, the wife of a friend. Regardless, the evidence that Washington had dabbled in romantic poetry in addition to the genres of letter-writing and speeches, speaks to his early comfort with expressing himself with the written word.

Granted, the comparison of the maiden in question with the sun is not terribly original. Shakespeare used the comparison in a more surprising manner when he began Sonnet 130 with the line

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

But Washington’s conceit, or extended metaphor, does reveal his sophistication in convincing the maiden the depth and sincerity of his affections.

IMG_0026

Pastels on paper; James Sharples (1798) bequest of Daniel Wadsworth; property of Wadsworth Atheneum

On January 6, 1759, Washington, age 27, married the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis, age 28 years old. According to historians, their marriage was successful, and the union increased Washington’s property holdings and social standing. He acquired a portion of the Custis estate upon his marriage, worth about $100,000 at the time. Although he and Martha never had children of their own, he cared for Martha’s two children from her previous marriage.

On this extended weekend (2/13-2/15/16) , one that combines Valentine’s Day with President’s Day, we have yet one more reason to celebrate George Washington, our first President, and our first Poet-in-Chief.

The NY Times Sports Sunday Preview  by Joe Ward on 2/7/16 for Super Bowl 50 was part rebus, part infographic and wholly adaptable for a model lesson on annotating text for students in middle or high school. The article charted the growth of the Super Bowl from different elements: tickets, football players, and attendance. Cultural icons from the entertainment industry associated with this sports cultural icon are included. Here is the model for a lesson to increase a student’s background knowledge on a topic (preferably chosen and not assigned).

NYTimes Sports Sunday

Illustration by Sam Manchester; Photographs by: Bill Ray/The LIFE Premium Collection, via Getty Images (Dawson and ladle); Pro Football Hall of Fame, via Associated Press (footballs); Ed Andrieski/Associated Press (water bottle)

 

There is the cryptic title, Size I to Size L, that requires that students understand Roman Numerals.

There is the quarterback Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs smoking a cigarette during half-time in the locker room, a picture that requires understanding what was acceptable before the  the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, banned the advertising of cigarettes January 2, 1971.

There are the references that can drive student research into the Bell Rocket Air Men, the dog Lassie star of film and TV, and the changes in size of the American football (inflated or deflated arguments, notwithstanding).

The page dedicated to Super Bowl 50 is a model for students to take any informational text and “annotate” by adding pictures, just as the editors added the picture of the 1st Super Bowl ticket ($12.00).

There can be cross-disciplinary links by having students use calculations as charts, just as the editors calculated the price increases in ticket sales and in advertisements, and the increase in player weight.

Students could also embed links within the text (as I have done) to their research as part of the Common Core Writing Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Finally, teachers can teach a lesson or two on how to correctly cite evidence used in their research, or how to use a citation generator:

Ward, Joe. “Size I to Size L.” New York Times. 7 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

Teachers can use the page as a model for other topics of inquiry.

Need suggestions? Here are some “starters” to try with students:

Students could use different forms of software to create their informational text graphic; the Google suite of software (Docs, Drawing, etc.) is easy to use to create a PDF document. Students can experiment with different fonts to mimic the NYTimes fonts on the model front page. (FYI: NYTimes fonts changed changed to Georgia, as many people find easier to read wide print. They  use Arial as the sans serif font.)

Finally, engaging students in authentic writing prompts like this one from the NYTimes is inquiry based learning that is student-directed and can be linked to John Dewey’s philosophy that education begins with the curiosity of the learner with many of these characteristics:

  • Student voice and choice
  • Strategic thinking
  • Authentic investigations
  • Student responsibility
  • Student as knowledge creator
  • Cross-disciplinary studies
  • Multiple resources
  • Multimodal learning
  • Engaging in a discipline
  • Real purpose and audience
  • Authentic model

A model lesson, ripped (quite literally) from the front page!

Wednesday night, January 13. 82nd Street branch of Barnes and Noble Booksellers, NYC:

After a full morning of delivering professional development to the K-12 grade literacy team combined with an afternoon working with 6th grade teachers, I was getting my literary reward. I was sitting in the second row at an author event, listening to the writer Colum McCann (Thirteen Ways of Looking, Let the Great World Spin) interview the writer Elizabeth Strout (Abide with Me, Amy and Isabelle).

"There are writers that leave porous holes [in their works] with air pockets for the reader," said Colum McCann, introducing Elizabeth Strout, whose novel I am Lucy Barton was recently released. "She whispers, 'trust me I m going to take you somewhere' and when we get there..she has told me secrets."

“There are writers that leave porous holes [in their works] with air pockets for the reader,” said Colum McCann, introducing Elizabeth Strout, whose novel I am Lucy Barton was recently released. “She whispers, ‘trust me I m going to take you somewhere’ and when we get there..she has told me secrets.”

McCann was interviewing Strout about her latest novel I am Lucy Barton and it was obvious that they both were happy to be having this intimate conversation in a room packed with their fan base.

I slid into a seat saved by my loyal friend Catherine-traveling  2 hours and 40 minutes after the aforementioned teacher PD- to hear McCann begin the interview with the question:

“Elizabeth, are you happy?”

“Yes,” replied Strout, and for a brief and worrisome moment it seemed as if the interview would end with that response, but McCann pushed a little more on the relationship writers have with their readers….and proved to be charmingly deft at teasing out ideas:

  • On writing a narrative: (McCann)“There is a agreement that the writer will tell you some thing you sort of knew… you knew that you sort of knew, but now you know it.”

  • On telling secrets:( McCann) “Any good story teller is saying to the reader come with me, and I’ll tell you something….an intimacy.”

  • On writing about a writer: (Strout) “I don’t know how I do what I do, that’s why writers are boring…”

  • On the process of writing: (Strout) “We just don’t know what we are doing…but I know who is charge.”

  • On how we know we are writers: (McCann) “I don’t think what we know what we are going to do…until we do it it’s only when people tell us what we’ve done that we know what we have done.”

As I listened, I thought of how all the effort I had expended that afternoon (from train, to shuttle, to subway, and run) had been worth it. So many of these statements by contemporary authors might seem oddly disconcerting for middle and high school students, and I began to wonder what was the best way to share what they were saying.

Teachers know that many students are convinced that novels spring, “Athena-like”, fully-formed from the mind of the author.
There is little regard for craft. The idea that authors say that they “don’t know,”and are waiting to hear from readers to know what their writing means strains credulity.

Paradoxically, many of these same students also believe that some readers -or at least all English teachers-make too much of what the author meant: too much of the symbols and motifs and themes in literature. They are quick to contend that maybe the author “did not know” and just wrote without a plan. They reject the notion of craft.

The conversation I was hearing suggested that that the relationship between a writer and the student does not need the English Teacher filter…and that teachers need to get out of the way. Whether or not students will find it…author’s craft is there.

But, I digress…and so did they.

Strout spoke of the experience of having her book Olive Kitteridge turned into a film:

McCann: “Directors come and actors come….and they put a language on what you have done…is that odd…? Do you think, Like T.S. Eliot That’s not what I meant at all?”

Strout: “No…they did a wonderful job. When I saw the character Henry, I thought,’I know that Henry…I made that Henry…'”

McCann: “And are there Lucy Barton’s walking about?”

Strout: “Sweetie…She’s fictional.”

Fiction aside, Strout commented on how she intentionally writes about people struggling with an real obstacle…and one real obstacle she includes is class.

“How do people fit into the world?” she asked. “I like to write about class…The poverty that does not let people belong to a community. They exist more now; They are hungry. So much of our literature does not want to talk about poverty.”

Her sentiment, I suspect, is what initially frustrates students when they complain about the steady diet of what they consider “depressing literature.”

Both Strout and Mcann saw the issue of class differently, and spoke about the power of literature in developing empathy.
“We know what it like in a world without it,” Strout responded to an audience member’s question, “Literature can make us understand briefly for a moment what it is like to be another…. than that would be a wonderful wonderful thing.”

The audience murmured their agreement, and Mccann echoed his opening question:

“So, Elizabeth, are you happy?”

“I am,” she responded.

We all were.

“Diametrically”

“Diametrically…May I have a definition, please?”

“completely; utterly”

“Diametrically…May I hear it in a sentence, please?”

“The debaters held diametrically opposed viewpoints.”

“Diametrically….D-I-A-M-E-T-R-T-R-I-C-A-L-L-Y…Diametrically.”

“That is correct.”

BeeThis past week, two 5th grade students from Carrigan Intermediate School went 24 rounds participating in the West Haven Public School District’s 35th annual Spelling Bee. In 20 minutes, they had defeated a series of challengers going head to head, word for word. Some of these words posed a challenge for anyone, regardless of grade:

“Hubris: H-u-b-r-i-s ”
“That is correct.”
“Infrastructure: I-n-f-r-a-s-t-r-u-c-t-u-r-e”
“That is correct.”
“Resilience: R-e-s-i-l-i-e-n-c-e”
      “That is correct.”

I am not sure who was more nervous….Me? (My first year coordinating this event at the district level) The parents ? The teachers? the  Board of Education members in attendance?


“Arboreal: A-r-b-o-r-e-a-l”
      “That is correct.”
“Commodious: C-o-m-m-o-d-i-o-u-s”
      “That is correct.”

There were eight students who qualified for this district final. They had been bussed to the City Hall that morning, and they sat in office chairs reserved for members of the Board of Education. These chairs had never swiveled so nervously.

The Superintendent of Schools, Neil C. Cavallaro, was the moderator. After congratulating the students on reaching this final round, he began to read from the list of the words organized on the Scripps National Spelling Bee website.

West Haven Spelling Bee 2016

Six of the eight contestants waiting to spell in the West Haven Spelling Bee 2016

The tradition of qualifying for the National Spelling Bee began in 1925. The E.W. Scripps, a broadcasting company, took over sponsorship of the National Spelling Bee in 1941. The purpose:

Our purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

The sponsor for this year’s event for our school district is Quinnipiac University, a new sponsor for our region. They will be hosting the 2016 regional finals and sending a champion to the national finals held May 1-2. Our local spelling bee was set up to determine that champion who would go to the regional challenge. and the grade level winners received $25 gift certificates to Barnes and Noble from the schools’ PTA.

The final two challengers-two 5th graders -were a study in contrasts: Ayannah, calm and collected, facing off against Arin, confidently enthusiastic. The adults in the audience watching the contest sat mentally spelling each of the words or mouthing the spelling: “languish”, “germane”, “ostensibly”. The only sound coming from their area were the audible sighs of relief after each “That is correct” from the moderator.

The word “acoustics” proved to be too tricky for Ayannah. There was hush…and the audience sat riveted as Arin mastered “acoustics” and then spelled “molasses” correctly for the win. Cheers and applause erupted with the last “That is correct!” 5th grade Arin will move onto the regionals, and (hopefully) the national round.  He will be a great representative for the West Haven School District.

Watching our small event was akin to watching a sporting match, so it is no wonder that the National Spelling Bee is broadcast live on ESPN channels. Want to know how exciting a spelling be can be? Watch the final moments of last year’s Scripps National 2015 Spelling Bee, and try not to have your heart race:

“Tachycardia”
“May I have a definition, please?”
“an abnormally rapid heart rate”