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I am good at one thing in life

favicon Typing!

A few months ago, I found a great Google extension that keeps track of my typing speed. It’s called Typing Speed Monitor.

The tracker has been tracking my typing for the past 70+ hours. Here are my results:

Typing Speed

Sure, I’m no Sean Wrona (see below), but I can hold my own!

Want to challenge me to a little typing challenge? Get the extension and let me know how you do! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Peter Myers, #2

School reformers, let the real officials call the shots.

Peter Myers 3Ed. Note: Peter Myers is a teacher in Portland, Oregon. He began teaching in the Bay Area in 2002 and spent two years in South Africa with African Leadership Academy before returning to his Pacific Northwest roots in 2010. Peter is currently teaching 9th grade Global Studies, as well as 12th grade Health. 

favicon Did you know there is no such thing in the game of basketball as a foul called “over the back?”

Similarly, a competent basketball official would never blow his or her whistle and say, “Blue, #42, reach.” Over the back and reach are not fouls in the game of basketball because they don’t exist.

But if you go to a basketball game and sit in the bleachers, what do you hear even the most learned fan yelling down to the refs? “Hey ref! Over the back!” “Hey ref! She’s reaching in!”

Of course, there are fouls in basketball that most fans mistake for these two erroneous calls: “Over the back” is either a push or illegal use of hands, and “reach” is most often a hand check. Push, illegal use of hands, and hand check are the correct officiating language, and each has its own mechanic when reporting to the score table.

So why do fans continue to yell incorrect calls at the refs? Put simply, they think they know better.

During the high school basketball season, I moonlight as a referee. The first three years of my membership with the Portland Basketball Officials Association (PBOA), I was classified as a probationary member, and from October through February, I was required to attend weekly classes that covered the rules of officiating. After class, there were whole-association meetings that were mandatory for all regular members of the PBOA. The last hour of those meetings were spent in the gym with live demonstrations and scenarios in order to ensure that all basketball officials—beginners to veterans—were knowledgeable of the rules and consistent in our calls. A probationary member is eligible to apply for regular membership after three years provided that he or she has met all of the requirements, which include a minimum of 10 evaluations from varsity officials, among others.

I applied after my three years and was approved.

Can you guess where I’m going with this?

This is Year 13 for me in the classroom, and those same misguided and ill-informed voices of the fans translate into non-educators getting to call the shots in education. I don’t know many other professions where everyone has an opinion about what works, what doesn’t, what’s right, what’s not, what should be happening, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Even worse, those voices are not only allowed, but in many instances, they find their way into the ears of policymakers and become policy. Am I saying that these voices aren’t important? Of course not. Like the basketball fan in the stands yelling at me to watch the reach, the non-educators have a role to play, even if it is misguided.

I came across an article recently in The Washington Post by Ian Altman titled “Seven Things Teachers Are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers,” and I wish I had written it.

Please take a moment to read it. Even though it addresses school reformers, I would extend the spirit of the article to anyone who has an opinion about education and is not an educator.

If you attend a basketball game this season, enjoy the talents of the athletes and support their efforts. Enjoy the atmosphere of the gym and the fans cheering on their teams. Take a moment to appreciate the referees and the skills they exhibit to maintain the flow of the game. And please, let them make the calls. favicon

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This just in…

Go ahead, follow me on Twitter! Or contribute to the Kindle Classroom Project! favicon

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2 more reasons that e-books are better than physical books for classroom libraries

favicon I continue to fight with myself about whether I should advocate more strongly for e-books (over physical books) in classroom libraries. I want to, but my official position is still this: Both are good.

I know that sounds wishy-washy, so let me explain. If there’s a lot of money, then it’s best to get a lot of physical books and a lot of e-books and let the students choose which format they prefer.

But here’s the reality: There is just not enough money. In most public urban schools, there’s barely any. Teachers who want to build classroom libraries have to spend tons of time looking for cheap books, begging their friends for donations, and hoping that they win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.

(I hope I win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.)

So that’s why I believe strongly in e-books and Kindles.

This picture — which I took yesterday at Envision Academy’s student-run library in Oakland, offers two more reasons I prefer e-books. Take a look:

Sharon Draper Books

Do you see what I see?

#1: Look at all that wear and tear!
(The books are less than two years old.) It’s great that students have loved reading them — Sharon Draper writes extremely popular books for young people — but these physical books need replacing soon. (E-books don’t need to be replaced.)

#2: These books didn’t use to be there.
Last year, you couldn’t find a copy of a Sharon Draper book on the library’s bookshelves. Students were always reading Ms. Draper (see #1 above). But now, a year later, those six copies of Forged By Fire are just sitting there, not being read. With physical books, multiple copies have to be bought (expensive) when a title is popular. But when the trend ends, you wish you had spent some of your money on this year’s popular titles. (E-books can be read by six students at a time, all for the price of one.)

So it’s pretty clear to me that it’s best practice to encourage teachers and students to make the move toward Kindles.

But the problem is that there are a lot of people — including me — who like the idea of physical books. I love my Kindle, but it’s a bit harder to curl up with one.

Do students feel the same way? I haven’t done a formal study, but a recent lunch meeting with students in Hayward suggests no.

I asked them, “Do you prefer reading physical books?” Only one student said yes. Most were neutral or preferred reading on their Kindle.

Then I asked them, “There are a lot of people who think that a book is better when you’re reading the physical version. What do you think of that?”

Two students agreed with that notion and said that flipping pages makes the experience more tactile. But again, the vast majority said that the format doesn’t matter — it’s the story that counts.

I’m going to continue talking with students. Even though I believe strongly in the Kindle Classroom Project, it’s important to uncover what teachers and students want.

One thing is clear: What’s currently happening in public urban schools — a scarcity of books, resources, and reading — cannot continue. There needs to major shift in reading culture!

Please let me know your thoughts on this one! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #2

Teaching as Stalking

TrevorGardnerEd. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition. This is his second post for TEACHER VOICES.

favicon Over the past four years at Envision Academy, I have had the unique opportunity to follow, or “loop,” with my current students through every grade level, ninth through 12th.

Facilitated in part by coincidence (I have both English and social studies credentials and have been willing to teach whichever course the school has needed) and in part by design (after looping with them for three years, I requested the position as their 12th grade World Literature teacher), I have grown with them for their entire high school careers.

One of their favorite jokes usually comes after I make a reference to something from the olden days of ninth or 10th grade, and it goes something like, “Trevor, I can’t believe you have been our teacher for all four years. Why are you stalking us? Are you going to follow us when we go away to college?”

Though their words arrive in jest, they reveal a connection that has been built over multiple years of learning together, a connection that could only have been built over several years, through struggle and triumph and more struggle. Over time.

I have been teaching high school in the Bay for sixteen years now. I have been privileged to develop deep and lasting relationships with my students; have laughed and cried and gritted my teeth with them; have backpacked along the Point Reyes coast with them; have farmed at co-ops in Venezuela with them; have co-presented workshops on restorative justice at educational conferences with them; have analyzed The Kite Runner using the feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalytic lenses with them.

The last time I taught 12th graders, I nearly pulled an all-nighter with several of them as they were preparing for their final Graduation Portfolio Defenses. But my current class of 12th grade youngStars is by far the group with whom I feel the deepest connection – and of whom I hold the greatest knowledge.

The reason is simple: time. One hour per day, five days per week, 36 weeks in a school year, three and one-third school years has taught me worlds about my incredible students (not to mention about myself – but that is another piece entirely).

I know that Raymond leans on his charisma and charm and will just get by unless he is held to high expectations and cajoled to push himself to do his best work.

I know that Dominique works harder and studies more than any student in the schools and sometimes still struggles to earn Bs and Cs.

I know that Jose’s creativity and imagination can take you on incredible journeys when in conversation with him but his pen falls silent when sitting in front of a blank page.

I know that when I pay attention to Gianni for his intelligence and knowledge of history and politics, he never uses negative behavior to seek that attention.

I know that Anthony works two jobs on the weekend and almost always still finds a way to complete his projects and essays on time – and that when he does not, he nearly kills himself trying.

I could keep going and make a list of similar comments for each of the 72 students in the class or 2015. The point is this: relationships are paramount. Trust, care, and commitment are the foundation for strong teaching and learning.

It was largely chance and circumstance that gave me the opportunity to loop with my students for the past for years, but now that I have, I would advocate for this kind of “stalking” to become a model and best practice for schools everywhere.

The only downfall is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Tony Johnston, #1

“Good Education”

Tony JohnstonEd. note: I had the tremendous fortune to teach and share a classroom with Tony Johnston at Leadership High School in San Francisco. In addition to always having my back, Tony pushes me to think about big ideas: Why do we do what we do? What’s the best way, and why? Now a professor at a college in Connecticut, Tony continues thinking about the good stuff with his students as they prepare to become the next generation of English teachers.

favicon Lately, I’ve wrestled with the complicated and contradictory terrain encompassing what is meant by the term, “good education.”

After a doctorate in education and 265 years of schooling, I’d like to have a sense of what this term should indicate.

But maybe that’s just the trouble. As a parent of two school-going children, a former high school teacher, a teacher of future teachers, an administrator seeking accreditation for a department, and an academic — I’m left weary and confused by the competing agendas and ideologies around this term.

In the name of providing a “good education,” I am working to gain accreditation for the program I direct at my school of education. I’ll spare you the details. But I will offer that this work is both at odds, and seemingly irrelevant, with the work I will do in my classes that evening. My aspiring secondary school teachers are asked to interrogate entrenched notions of teaching as the administering of tests, handing-out of worksheets, and management of classrooms.

The following day, in a faculty meeting, someone raises the point that school reform efforts have clouded what the work of teaching entails, while another optimistically chimes in, “But unlike current teachers who resist these efforts, our new teachers won’t know any better.”

As I head back to my office for an afternoon of reviewing the Common Core State Standards and aligning our syllabi to the standards, I wonder, “Shouldn’t our work be to teach them to know better?”

After we recently moved East, my children enrolled in “good” schools. I know the schools are good because the website GreatSchools.org tells me so. So do the fellow parents that nod knowingly to one another in the halls as we scramble from room to room during the frenetic open-house event, where the well-oiled machine of my son’s middle school churns impressively.

Veteran teachers wear matching shirts and matching smiling faces, classrooms are equipped with computers and Smart Boards, signs in the halls signal to me that “character counts” and remind me to “walk on the right side of the hall.” Structures, routines, practices and traditions that have produced strong students for decades dazzle. After the chaotic and unstable realities of his elementary school, I am heartened by the security this school will offer.

Yet my son does tedious homework assignments that take him hours, and he expresses little genuine interest in any of the courses he takes. He feels the teachers do not know him and that he is not allowed to ask for help.

I broach his early sense of alienation and struggles with adjustments to both middle school and being in a new state with the vice-principal — hoping he will reach out to the teachers and maybe to my son. He tells me, “Yes, I can see he is struggling because he has two Cs.” I fight the urge to tell him that my son is not a report card.

In one of the courses I teach, I shared with my students something I learned when I studied the works of Lev Vygotsky. The Russian language uses a word, obuchenie, for which English has no real equivalent. My limited understanding of this term is that it captures the dialectical relationship between teaching and learning – not as two separate acts, but rather as a joint activity. Implications for this vision of teaching/learning intrigue me. If teaching has occurred, and students have not learned, did teaching ever take place?

If students experience a “good education” after which their minds are full but their hearts are empty – was this education a “good” one? After a brief but provocative discussion of how this term could benefit education in America, an especially “good” student asks, “Will we be tested on this?” favicon

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Kindle donations are getting super stylish

favicon The Kindle Classroom Project brings me a ton of joy.

The best part, of course, is hanging out with students and witnessing how Kindles help them love reading again.

The second best part is receiving Kindle donations in the mail. From all across the country, usually from people I have never met, Kindles arrive magically on my porch. They’re always packed safely in tidy boxes, complete with bubble wrap or tons of newspaper. It’s clear how committed people are to giving students the gift of reading.

Lately, Kindle donations have become very stylish. Here are a few examples:

IMG_20141101_203803241

That snappy Kindle is from Lori (Woodbridge, VA). Nice skin, don’t you think? A lucky ninth grader from Oakland gets this Kindle next week. Here’s the back:

IMG_20141101_203811192

Who wouldn’t want to read on that Kindle? (Thanks, Lori!)

I also want to thank Sam (North Potomac, MD) for continuing the charge of another recent trend —  donations of Kindle Paperwhites. What’s great about the Paperwhite is that students can read at all hours of the night. Here’s the one that Sam donated:

IMG_20141101_203848154

The case is top-of-the-line, too. The Oakland ninth grader who gets this Kindle is also extremely lucky!

It’s November, so the holiday season is coming up, which means I predict that more generous donors will send me their Kindles. It’s not a long shot to to think that we might have 200+ Kindles by the end of the year.

Thank you to Lori and Sam and all KCP donors! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #3

“They don’t want to stop reading!”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks, her third contribution to TEACHER VOICES. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

favicon Wednesday, 10/8 – 10:55 am
The first cross-advisory meeting, where every junior is grouped with juniors from other advisories. They are to discuss their individual passions and then look for intersections. Many of them find this difficult; they have never been asked to think about what makes them fired up, excited, angry. Most respond with generalizations: “Music feeds my soul,” or “I enjoy spending time with my family.” Between now and May, it is my work to help them find an issue they feel strongly about, so they can work toward affecting change. It is a high-stakes project. There is much to do.

Friday, 10/10 – 11:15 am
Ms. M, with whom I share a classroom, tells me, “Some students were looking for you.” Really? Because my advisees don’t seem to have much interest in anything but my granola bars, at this point. Turns out they were looking for “the book lady.” They wanted to put in a book request. I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Tuesday, 10/14 – 3:45 pm
Ms. P, senior adviser, stops by after school, a tall boy in tow. “Ms. Godwin, I want you to meet R. He has never read a book the whole way through until this year – until now. He’d like to make a request.” R. smiles nervously and asks, “Can you get the sequel to The Maze Runner?” I want to say, “Are you kidding me? You’re my dream come true! Of course I’ll get that book for you! I’d do whatever it takes to get that book for you! I’d got through a maze myself to get that book for you!” — all while jumping up and down and whooping and hollering. I don’t, though, because I can imagine how disturbing that could be for this shy boy. “Sure!” I say, and send him on his way.

Wednesday, 10/15 – 10:15 am
Independent reading time in advisory. It takes a while to get students settled down and reading, but, once they’re there, they love it. One student is reading The Divine Comedy, another is reading essays from The Best American Sports Writing 2014, another is reading as many articles as he can find about Ebola. When I tell them, “Time’s up. We have to move on,” they groan. They don’t want to stop reading!

Wednesday, 10/22, 11:00 am
Giants fever is in the air. A few of my students request books about baseball, which are surprisingly hard to find, but I manage to get a few, including a book about Derek Jeter. It feels like blasphemy, but my student doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he finishes it in a day and asks for more. I need more sports books!

Friday, 10/24 – 2:10 pm
In the hallway, I see a boy with whom I have not had pleasant interactions. I stop him and ask, “Have you read this?” It’s Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. I have heard this boy use the words “hegemony” and “dominance” before, and I know he reads at a college level. I tell him, “It’s super advanced, but I hear you can handle it.” He reads the back and says, “Yeah. I’ll give it a try.” He walks away, but turns back and says, “Thanks.” I do NOT jump up and click my heels.

Thursday, 10/30 – 9:15
The Giants have won the World Series, and our students are over the moon. The building is humming with energy, everyone recounting their favorite moments from the game, arguing about who should have been MVP (Bumgarner. Duh.). I wonder about the books that will be written about our team. And will future librarians have to ask for donations to get those books? Will they worry about how to raise $60,000 to fill a beautiful new library space, or will books be obsolete by then, libraries reduced to nothing more than charging stations? I shudder to think about it.

So I will stick with being in the present, enjoying today and the pride that unites the entire city, and the excitement our students experience as they are reminded that amazing and triumphant things can happen, and that, indeed, together, we are giant. favicon