Friday, November 8, 2013

Article on e-books published in English Journal!

This week my article "Rekindling Reading: On the Use of E-readers in the English Classroom" was published in English Journal, published by the National Council for Teacher's of English.

This was a year in the making, with about 6 drafts and even a Google Hangouts editing session with the column's editor.  I am really proud of the work I did and it is really exciting to see my name in print. 

The final draft was submitted in March, so it is odd that it is just coming out now.  The upside is that I now feel a renewed energy for e-books in the classroom, and I thought it would be worth checking in to tell you how it is going. 

This year I have 3 sophomores in one section reading all of the class texts on e-book. 

We just started reading Oedipus and Antigone in English II and I have lead my two sections through the process of downloading the Kindle app and the free e-book of Oedipus and Antigone.  I gave them all the basics in defining words, making highlights and notes, searching, and customizing their views.  This will be my first text where all of the students are using e-books. 

I will chart this whole class e-book adventure here and let you know what I find.  I am experimenting and encouraging the students to tell me what they think of the experience.  I hope I get a range of experiences and encounter lots of hurdles that we can brainstorm as a class. 

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Parents' Night 2013

Last night was Parents' Night here at Harpeth Hall.  The parents meet with their daughter's advisor and then go to each of her classes for 8 minutes.  It isn't a lot of time, but it allows me to give an overview of the course. 

Despite being in front of people all day, being in front of adults is more scary than my normal routine.  This was my favorite Parents' Night yet.  The parents were all very kind and positive and it was a very affirming experience. 

Below is the PowerPoint I showed them to give an overview of my course. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Foreign Language E-books

You may not know this about me, but I grew up overseas.  I moved to Mexico City when I was 10, and then to Caracas, Venezuela when I was 12.  I graduated from high school in Caracas and then returned to the US for college.  In college I majored in Spanish and I still miss taking half of my classes in Spanish.

Within the last year I have stopped by the Kindle book page at Amazon trying to find an easy way to find books in Spanish.  And not just the latest Dan Brown thriller translated to Spanish.  I wanted literature, contemporary stuff written by Latin American authors.  The selection was small and tricky to find.  There was no easy way to search all books in Spanish.

That has changed!  Amazon now has a page for foreign language e-books!  I was ecstatic to see all of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books, the newest Isabel Allende among others.  I went ahead and bought a title that was on sale for $1.99.

You can select your language and see all of the titles available, most of which are texts written and published in that language.

The next question is, does the Nashville Public Library have e-books available to borrow in Spanish?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to school...and ebooks!

We have had a full 5 days of classes now, so I feel like we're back!  The year is off to a whiz-bang start leading to an overall good feeling.

So, what's new?  I have more students using e-books for their class texts.  I have two students as sophomores that I taught last year as freshmen and they knew of my love of e-books, and since they own Kindles they decided to give it a shot.

To start, they came to my room during break today and I made sure to install the Kindle for PC app.  I've said it before, but I find the Kindle for PC app the most useful for class discussions.  It's easy to navigate between pages, make highlights, and add comments.

(I've written a bunch of posts on using the Kindle reading apps.)

That makes three Kindle readers in one of my sophomore section.  It's going to be a new adventure and I'm looking forward to everything I will learn from it.  I will try to get them to guest blog here so you can hear how it's going from them.

In case you were wondering what we're working on right now, the Freshmen read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for summer reading and are doing some creative writing and a group essay.  The sophomores read a book of their choosing from a list in addition to all reading Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey.  We're discussing the essential questions that all who take a journey must grapple with.  This will lead us to a large creative non-fiction piece in the style of Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Building a chicken coop

What I did during summer vacation...

Step 1: Get a bunch of free wood from a Craig's List ad.  5 2x6s, 3 2x4s and some other scraps scavenged from the alley by your house.

I also got a pallet from a guy whose cabinets were delivered on pallets.

Step 2: Rip all the boards in half (2x6s and 2x4s become 2x3s and 2x2s).  Watch a bunch of YouTube videos and don't be scared.  Use the guiding attachment on the circular saw.  It isn't as hard as it looks.

Be safe!  Wear goggles, a mask and ear buds if you don't have ear plugs like me.  That saw is loud.

Note: Make sure you know the correct direction to put the blade on (we had it on backwards at first.)  Also, get a good blade that matches the wood you have.  The school had a hardwood blade that was very good.

Step 3: Build the base.  2 8 foot pieces and 2 4 foot pieces made from cutting an 8 foot piece in half.  See?  Simple.  Use 3.5 inch exterior screws and use two at each joint for stability.   Drill pilot holes and then use a drill to drive the screws in.  (Don't be me and use a screw driver.  Use your drill's clutch or speed settings.)

Step 4: After many a false start, get your frame together.  I recommend attaching the uprights to the base and then screw in the top frame.  It's a little tricky, but not impossible.  The center verticals are 5 feet from the front.  The front uprights are 5 ft tall and the back ones are 4 feet. This creates a slope so that rain runs off the hen house.

Step 5: Between the back and middle verticals, attach a cross beam with screws.  The two boards along the sides happened to already have 2x4 notches cut out.

Step 6: Take the old Ikea Billy bookshelf out of the basement and dismantle it ungracefully and cut it into piece to use as the floor of the henhouse.

Nail down the Billy parts with galvanized nails.  

Step 7: Build a door half the size of the front.  As you can see from the picture above, I put a beam down the middle of the front for the door to latch to.  I used corner braces on the back of the door to keep it stable.  I would recommend not screwing in the upright next to the door until you have hung the door and gotten everything in place.  Things tend to shift slightly, as I learned. I screwed the middle upright into the top beam and put a mending brace on the back of the bottom for support.  

Attach the door with two hinges and secure it with a barrel bolt.  

Calvin had come home from day care at this point and was "helping,"  hence the abandoned sippy cup.
Step 8: Take an 8x4 panel of siding for the walls of the hen house.  Lowe's sells this one for under $20 and is made to look like a "knotty barn."  The henhouse is only 3 feet deep so I shaved a foot or so off of the side pieces and nailed those on.  On the front piece I cut out a 12 inch square door.  On the back, I sawed it in half and hinged the bottom part.  We will open this and collect eggs from the nesting boxes once they are laying.  I added 2 hook and eye latches and a barrel bolt for safety.

Step 9: Build nesting boxes and roosting bar.

Nesting boxes: I used a 2x2 in front and two of the Billy bookshelf pieces for uprights.  You only need 1 nesting box for every 3 laying hens, and we won't have more than six, but I had the space and the materials, so I made three.  I saw a recommendation to put a slanted roof over the nesting boxes to keep the birds from roosting on it.  I cut a slant out of the upright pieces and used pieces of pallet (which happened to be the perfect size) as the roof panels.  The nesting boxes are about 13 x13 x13

This is how we will access the nesting boxes.  I think we made need to put some hardware cloth on the back to keep the bedding from falling out when we open the back door.

Roosting bar: The wild ancestor of chickens (Wild Red Junglefowl) used to perch up in trees for safety at night.  Domesticated chickens still like to get up high and go to sleep.  I put a 2x2 on 2 risers about 8-10 inches high in the hen house.  (This was my roosting bar 2.0.  At first I just put a 2x2 on the bedding.  Some people online said that would work fine.  Well, on the first night, the hens roosted up on top of the nesting boxes.  Because the roof wasn't smooth, they could grab onto the pieces.  Since they aren't laying yet, I just took the nesting box out and raised up the roosting bar and voila!  They roosted on the roosting bar.  When they start laying, I will put the nesting boxes back in.)  

Step 10: Put hardware cloth on the bottom half of the coop and run.  Hardware cloth is actually metal mesh.  I used 1/2 inch openings.  The hardware cloth was 36 inches wide and I used 25 feet of it to go all around the bottom. 

We attached it with galvanized poultry staples, which are really just a U shaped two pointed nail.  It takes a hammer and was sort of a pain, but much more secure than our light duty staple gun.

Step 11: Attach hex chicken wire to the top of the coop.  I went up and over with three strips, rather than around.

I attached the chicken wire with a staple gun.  More safety on the bottom to protect from snakes, raccoons and other dangerous predators.  The top is less vulnerable, so you can be slightly lazier.  Once it was all attached, I "sewed" the chicken wire strips to each other and the hardware cloth below.  I used 19 gauge wire and I stood inside David and I threaded the wire through every few holes and wound it tight on the ends.  

Step 12: Take a 8 ft by 26 in panel of corrugated PVC roofing and cut it in half.

Then attach it to the top of the hen house, on top of the chicken wire.  They recommend drilling a bigger pilot hole than your screw in the roof material.  This allows the material to expand and contract without cracking.  I made mine about 50% bigger than the screw shaft.  Make sure the roofing extends past the house so that rain doesn't drain into the hen house.  I sprayed the hose on the roof and watched the water slide off before I screwed it in.  

We may put translucent roofing panels over the rest of the coop come winter, but we'll see.  

Step 13: Build a ladder to the henhouse.  I took a piece of the pallet (uncut) and then cut another piece of the pallet into 1 inch wide strips.  I glued the strips on every 3-4 inches.  

I just leaned the ladder up to the house, I didn't attach it. 

Calvin watched me make the ladder and about an hour later, with no prompting, he started to pretend to make his own.

Step 14: Feeder, fount and bedding.  We hung the feeder as you can see.  This keeps the chickens from scratching in the food and wasting it and getting poop in it.  The fount is up on two layers of bricks to keep the poop and debris out.  We bought a big bale of pine shavings and put a 2 inch layer in the hen house.  That big thing of pine shavings is from a local company and was only $5. We are going to do the deep litter method (rather than cleaning out the litter completely, you just add more on top and the bottom composts.  More on that to come!)

And voila!  The chickens like it!

I tallied up all the expenses associated with my DIY chicken coop and it came to $142.08.  From my research, a coop with 32 square feet will cost you between $350 and $500 new.  You may be able to get a used coop for less, but the 8x3 used coop I found was $250.  This was lots of fun and totally worth the work!  I worked on this for a half day on Wednesday, all day Thursday and Friday and then a half day on Saturday--a total of 3 days.  David helped on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, so if you are working alone, it would probably take 4 days.  

Is anything left?  Well, this is a tractor coop, meaning it can be moved around the yard.  It is pretty heavy, though, so we need to attach some axles so that we can add wheels on when we want to move it.  For now, we are fine lifting it and carrying it.  We will probably only move it 4 feet to the side anyways.  I am going to paint the hen house with some left over paint from the shed and stain the wood--what I can at least.  I probably should have stained it before the hardware cloth and chicken wire went on, but oh well.  Perhaps one day this week we can let the chickens roam and I will stain the coop.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Letter of Introduction 2013-2014

Every year I write my students a letter and I read it to them on the first day of classes.  For homework that night they write me one back.  It is maybe my favorite thing of the whole year.  This year, I am posting the letter on my blog and adding photos!  Enjoy!

August 14, 2013
Dear Students,
            Are you excited?  Nervous?  Afraid?  Intimidated?  Distracted?  You may think that I have been through enough first days of school that I am cool and collected and I don’t feel any of those things.  In fact I feel them all.  Some come for a few minutes, and some sit down with me for a whole day.  Perhaps that is why I love teaching so much.  In many professions you don’t get a fresh start every year.  Even though it’s scary and I have alternating high hopes and dire fears, I am glad for this new start. 
            My ritual every year is to write my students a letter where I introduce myself.  I like that I have a chance to take inventory of my life and my heart and articulate who I am today.  I didn’t make this up—my 11th grade English teacher did it and I still have her letter.  Even though you probably won’t remember most of the things from this letter (in April someone will say, “You lived in Mexico City?  I didn’t know that!”  It’s okay, it happens every year) but I think it’s a nice way to start the year. 
            Odds are you have already sized me up quite a bit.  Maybe you asked friends or classmates who have had me before.  You looked up on my bulletin board for clues about me; you are scrutinizing my clothes to see what they say.  Those things say a lot about me, but there is a lot that is not visible.  In The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, a fox tells the Prince, “The essential is invisible to the eye.”  I have always found this to be true. 
            For example, you probably can’t tell that I grew up outside of the United States, that I moved from Ohio to Mexico City when I was 10 and then to Caracas, Venezuela when I was 12.  I graduated from an international high school and came back to the States for college.  You can probably guess I speak Spanish, but not that I also speak enough Portuguese to live in Brazil for 3 weeks on my own, which I did after I graduated from college. 
            You may notice I have a loud voice, an energetic personality and a dramatic style, but would you guess that I was a theater major and then got my masters in educational theater?  You probably can’t tell from my accent but before I lived in Nashville I lived in New York City for 6 years.  In that whole time, I never owned a car, I taught students from all over the world in public and charter schools and I dreamed of moving to Nashville. 
            By now you’ve probably put it together that I am relatively young, and hopefully you think I am a little bit cool, and maybe you have even started to wonder if I live in East Nashville.  You’d be right!  I live in a house built in 1935 close to The Pharmacy, Mas Tacos and just down the way from Jeni’s Ice Cream.  To go along with this, I of course have a mutt dog that I adopted from a shelter with a cool name.  His name is Django, after the famous jazz guitarist with only 3 fingers.  And yes, we grow our own vegetables and we have chickens.  I don’t have any ironic tattoos, and I don’t own a lot of vintage clothes.  I missed a few requirements for hipster membership, but I’m close. 
            The chickens are a recent addition to our family, and let me answer all your questions at once.  No, we don’t have a rooster, and yes they still lay eggs even without one.  We have three Black Copper Marans and three Buff Orpingtons.  The coolest part is that I built their coop by myself with free wood from Craig’s List.  I only had to pay for the hardware (hinges, latches, screws, etc.)  It took me three full days and a lot of blisters.  I had never used a circular saw before, but in YouTube I trust.  I learned as I went and still have all my fingers!  Win!

Safety First!

The basic frame

Sawhorses and saw
The finished product!

            Because my husband also teaches here at Harpeth Hall, that cat is probably out of the bag.  Mr. Griswold teaches middle school science and many of you may have had him as a teacher.  We have one son, Calvin, who is 19 months old.  Many of you may even remember me pregnant two years ago!  Calvin spends his days at a day care near 12 South.  He likes to play in his sand box, chase the chickens and build with Legos.  He is starting to talk a lot and he babbles all kinds of nonsense, too. 
            The small stuff you will probably learn as we go along.  I wrote a novel last November and I am in the process of editing it.  Everyone thinks writing the novel is the hardest part, but actually, editing is much harder.  My goal is to finish editing it, send it out to be read by some trusted friends, edit some more, and then try to get a literary agent.  The agent will then try to get it published on my behalf.  No, you can’t read my novel yet, but that day may come soon.  It isn’t written for teens, and there may be some content that your parents might object to, so let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  I may share excerpts of it to help me teach about grammar and writing. 
            I love reading fantasy.  I’m not even going to pretend like I always read highfalutin books.  I like those too, but you will often see me reading something that involves demons, warlocks, space travel, parallel universes and epic journeys.  On a side note, despite loving to read those genres, that is not the genre of the novel I wrote.  My novel is literary fiction, which means it is realistic and I tried to write it with some beauty and style.  I’m a sucker for love plots, and in some ways, my novel is a love story (with a lot of heartbreak and strife in the middle.) 
           I ran a triathlon in May.  I chose theater over sports in high school, so this was no easy task.  I had thyroid cancer in late 2012 and my thyroid was removed last December.  After that, any excuses I had about not going to the gym just seemed really trivial.  Training for 5 months and completing a triathlon was possible because I had a brush with my own mortality.  After cancer, who cares if your legs hurt or you’re tired?  The triathlon was in the Cedars of Lebanon Park and I swam 200 meters, biked 10 miles and then ran 2 miles.  I did it in 1 hour and 13 minutes.  I didn’t win anything, but I finished and I ran the entire 2 miles without walking, even though the last mile was uphill and I was really tired.  I hope to be able to do another triathlon in the future. 

            I haven’t really talked about myself as a teacher and what I value in students.  I guess it is a lot like who I am as a person: I love taking risks and trying new things.  I like figuring things out as I go.  I like diving into challenges.  I like authenticity and realness.  I believe all good writing is related to TMIs, because only when too much is shared do we realize that we are not alone.  I am a passionate person and when I am not passionate I try to find the hidden joy in the task.  I strive for originality, but I take as much advice as I can.  I hope that you are willing to meet me with some passion and fearlessness of your own.  I have never regretted taking on a single challenge, even the ones that made me fall on my face.  It is only when we test ourselves that we see what we are truly made of. 


Meg Griswold

Monday, July 29, 2013

Infographic about silly grammar mistakes

I love this infographic I just found.  This boils it down quite nicely.  I might start the school year with this.


15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

CIE Workshop Activity: Reading and Annotating, Discussing, Writing Analytically.

One important way to learn is to go through the experience that I have found works when reading an e-book using the Kindle devices and apps.

Here are the rough steps:

1.  Download and read a text independently on your Kindle device, ideally, or perhaps on an iPad or phone.

2.  Customize the reading experience.  Change the font style, size, and color.  Adjust the margin width, or even the orientation.  Try a bunch of different settings until you get comfortable.

3.  Practice active reading on that device.  Touch and hold a word to look up its definition.  Highlight  word or phrase and translate it or look it up on wikipedia.  Highlight, make notes, and then share those on social networks (Facebook and Twitter and the only ones supported right now.)

4.  Convene as a class.  Use your Kindle for PC or Mac app to discuss the text.  The "teacher" (me) will check your notes and marks.  You will use your notes and marks to propel the discussion and provide evidence to back up your points.

5.  The teacher will project the text onto the board and use it to project the text the class is discussing.

6.  Students and teacher will practice navigating through the e-book.  The page number can be used, or a specific word or phrase can be searched and then the resulting link(s) can be used to locate that place in the text.

7.  Miscelaneous things: Use the search function to search for multiple occurrences of a word or phrase.  Play with the X-Ray feature on the Kindle device.

8.  Write analysis on an ebook by using your notes and marks and searching the text for relevant evidence to support your argument.  Highlight, copy and paste the quote you would like to use into your outline or writing.  Cite the page number, if it is available on the ebook you are reading, and add an entry to your Works Cited.  The MLA style should look like this:

Author Lastname, Author Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Kindle AZW file.

CIE Workshop Getting Started Links

I am teaching a course on teaching with Kindles tomorrow at Harpeth Hall as part of the Center for Innovative Educators.  Here is the description:

E-books in the Classroom
E-books are expanding from the consumer market and into classrooms. Reading e-books on an e-reader or on a laptop/tablet offers some unique opportunities for accessibility, literary analysis, and social networking in the classroom. In this workshop, you will learn about using e-books from a teacher who is using her Kindle and her laptop to teach using e-books and welcomes them as a reading option for students. Learn about using the Kindle device's features that support differentiated learning, active reading, literary analysis, and social networking "discussions" of a text. Participants will also learn about how to use the Kindle reading app for PC, Mac, iPad and mobile devices. In addition, we will discuss free e-books in the public domain, borrowing e-books from the public library, and the use of Amazon Whispercast to manage a class set of Kindles. All of the activities in this workshop will be centered on practical e-book use in the classroom and techniques and strategies that teachers and students can use to optimize the e-book experience.

So, to get started, I am compiling the important links and notes for the participants below, but I hope that it may serve the larger world out there!

1.  First, I recommend using the Google Chrome browser.  Not only do I find it superior, but it has a very Send to Kindle extension that is built in.

Click here to download Google Chrome

Click here to download the Send to Kindle Chrome extension

Click here to download the Send to Kindle extension for Firefox

2.  Next, you need to download the free Kindle Reading App for your laptop or computer.

Click here to download Kindle Reading Apps by clicking on the specific type of tablet, laptop, or phone you are using.

3.  You may need to do some managing of your settings, and also you should look up and/or edit the email address associated with your devices.  Each Kindle device (except for the PC and Mac apps) has an email address.  So, I could send a document to that email address with the subject "convert" and it will display on that device.  You can find that address by going to the Manage Your Kindle section of the Amazon site.

Click here to Manage Your Kindle.

4.  The best way to learn how to use your Kindle and your reading apps is to get your feet wet!  Please follow this link to download a free collection of O. Henry stories titled The Four Million.

Click here to download The Four Million.

5.  I highly recommend linking your Twitter account to your Kindle.  You can tweet you highlights and notes for your followers.  If you have a Twitter account, you can use the Manage Your Kindle portal on Amazon, or the Settings on your Kindle device to link your account.  Don't have a Twitter account?  You should start one!  Click here to create a Twitter account.

6.  Familiarize yourself with the Kindle Cloud Reader.  There is some feeling that perhaps the Cloud Reader will phase out the Reading Apps.  I am not sure, but either way, it is useful.  Also, it downloads the books you are reading so that you can continue to use it offline.

Click here to go the Amazon Cloud Reader.

Next, I will create a post with some of the activities we will do in the session!

Friday, May 10, 2013

MindShift article about e-reading

A colleague sent me a link today to an blog post about e-reading (with a focus on iPads).  KQED, an NPR station in California has a page called "MindShift" that is subtitled: "How We Will Learn."  I like that.  It is about looking to the horizon and starting to anticipate some of the hurdles we will face.

I presented on using Kindles in the classroom at the TAIS Tech conference back in April.  I had 12 participants.  11 of them were excited about e-readers in classrooms and drawn to the possibilities.  They had questions and ideas.  1 participant was there out of anger.  She had been told by her administrators that all students would be using e-books on their iPads for reading.  She wasn't given a choice or voice in the matter and she was understandably upset (I bet a lot of our students would understand that feeling.)  This particular teacher is also a parent.  I only mention that because she represents an interesting demographic that I have encountered frequently.  Often when educators are discussing new ideas, a special insight is brought to the table by teachers who are also parents.  They blend those boundaries and can see more than one perspective on the issue.

BUT.  Every kid is different.  I know that as a mom with a toddler, I am often shocked when someone else's toddler has a different personality.  I assumed they were all like mine!  They aren't.  

This one participant in my session jumped in early on and said, "I have a teenager and if I give him an iPad to read, he isn't going to read.  He is going to be on social media the whole time."

I acknowledged that she is raising a real concern.  But, she was transferring the tendencies of some to the masses.  Perhaps she was arguing that I have it backwards--the masses were going to Google venereal diseases rather than read Jane Eyre.  This is not the first parent-teacher who has made that same comment.

I also realized that her anger was not my fault, nor was it my burden.  She was going to be pissed no matter what I said or did and she came to my session out of spite.  Well, as a teacher there is nothing knew in that feeling.

Why don't I agree with her?  Why am I not resisting the erosion of paper books?  Why am I advocating giving students a choice to read on paper or Kindle?

First, because I was a naughty non-reader in early high school, specifically in 9th grade.  We were given paper books and I just chose not to read them.  I am pretty sure I failed every quiz on Sophie's World because I never finished the nightly reading (often because I never started.)  I resented being told what to read, even more so if I didn't personally like the book, so I did the very mature thing: I refused to read to spite the teacher.  I don't think avoiding reading is new or unique to e-books.  Kids looking for distractions from their assigned reading don't lack them even if you put them in a cardboard box.  (Mark Isero has an interesting post about the "Big Brother" software that can track what you do on an e-reader on his blog Iserotope.)

More importantly, I don't think things will stay the same.  When cars were first invented, people resisted those too.  People were killed in this new scary way: hit by a car.  There were not many paved roads, no signs, laws, rules, or customs for driving.  It was a time of chaos.  But we as a car culture didn't stop there.  We developed systems and whole institutions around driving and cars.  Early periods of any new development are often like the Wild West.  I see a restoration of balance on the horizon.

That is what the article was talking about.  It didn't say that we should reject e-books because they are different and present some challenges.  Rather, we need to teach our students new ways to meet these new challenges.

Justin Reich, the author, points out two main types of reading: focused and connected.  (Louise Rosenblatt, a very influential researcher and professor of reading, had two types also: aesthetic and efferent.  Aesthetic is reading for joy, for it's own sake; efferent is reading to learn.)  For Reich, the focused reading is the reading of deep engagement and thinking.  Connected reading is about synthesizing information, making connections, drawing lines of interconnectivity.  He feels that e-texts are well suited for connected reading but perhaps present challenges for focused reading when apps and the internet just a swipe away.

So, what do we do?  Reich argues that we need to teach them to "clear the desk" for e-reading.  Just as we may teach a student to turn off the TV, clear the magazines and the other books off of their physical desk before they begin to do focused reading in a paper book, we need to teach them to do that digitally.  There are a variety of apps that can "lock" you into an app.  It makes it not impossible to stray, but more difficult, giving you more time to exercise some self control.  I guess that to me sounds like "locking it down" rather than "correcting the behavior" in the words of Richard Byrne, who spoke at TAIS Tech.  If you make something or someone else police you, you never learn self-restraint.  But I do think that the new mindset is a necessary one.  We need to teach our students to avoid and drown out the "noise" that is all the epic stuff happening on the internet.  (There is, in fact, a Facebook page called "I Cannot Go To Bed - There is Epic Stuff* Happening on the Internet.)

Some might think that teaching students to focus on a text and read deeply and with maximum engagement with an e-text is an impossible task.  I guess I am just a little more hopeful.  I do really believe that it is possible and that we can do it.  I think that if we put that effort in, the doors that are opened with e-books are of immense value.  

I feel like I am giving a lot of hope and no solutions.  The article focuses on the "Someday/Monday dichotomy," which balances what we stargazers see and what really needs to happen in a real class on Monday.  I guess I am willing to muddle through it and learn with my students.  As a teacher who uses an e-reader herself in class, I am learning as I go.  I don't have the answers, because I don't even know what some of the questions are.  I hope that my students will come up with as many of the answers as I will.

*That isn't the real word.  You know which one I mean.  I'm also not linking you to the page.  Not just because of the bad word, but because most of the stuff posted on there is pretty asinine.  Which just reinforces my point, I guess.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An article about a new Paperwhite user

I am on a roll today, I know.  Since I can't get off the couch (strep throat), I am blogging to keep the cabin fever at bay.

I read a great article today from Telereads about an avid e-book reader who finally broke down and bought a Kindle Paperwhite.  He does a good job of describing why I read almost entirely from my KindleTouch, and only use my phone and PC apps while I am teaching.

This isn't news to anyone who has a Kindle, but it may be new to those of you who are new to e-readers.

The biggest thing is E ink.  The Kindle does not glow*.  It is not like a tablet or a phone.  You can see your phone screen in the dark.  You cannot see a Kindle** in the dark.  The Kindle screen is made up of tiny balls of magnetic ink that are oriented to display the page.  Think of it like a fancy etch-a-sketch.  Here is a video that looks like it walked out of a 90's science class:

I will tell you that I address the "If students read an e-book they will get headaches and eye strain" argument at least once a week. 

Hear ye, hear ye.  If the student is reading on an Eink device, they will NOT get eye strain. 

*The Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle's only touch sensitive device, has a light built in that can be turned on or off.  It is basically a fine mesh of lights, from what I understand, that is spread across the screen. 

**If you read with the Paperwhite's light turned on, you will have light and you can read in the dark.  In that case, you may experience some eye strain, although it is not a glowing LED screen, so it may not be as severe. 

"Slow Education"--Inspiring blog from England

I stumbled upon a British blog called "Slow Education" a few months ago and everything I see or read there has inspired me.  The most recent post written by Maurice Holt was especially powerful.  I am not sure why it is so heartening that England is also struggling with the same questions and issues the United States is, but I appreciate the commiseration.

One benefit of teaching at an independent school, is that we do not have the shadow of state standardized tests hanging over us.  Our supreme goal is a student's future success in both college, but ultimately in a satisfying career. 

Despite the ability to shrug off the assembly line model of right answers and multiple choice over critical thinking and reasoning, these modes of education are hard to avoid completely.

I like his description of the problem:

"The government is forever telling us that the task for schools is Driving Up Standards. This mantra emerged under New Labour and continues under the Coalition. What does it mean? How are the standards defined, and how are they driven up? The idea of “driving up” evokes the image of force and power, of pushing and shoving until students deliver the goods. The government tests often use multiple-choice formats, which are cheap and easy to mark – but they are unreliable, and diminish teaching. Yet those test scores have to be “driven up” – so the result is grade inflation, and an emphasis on right answers rather than reasoned argument. First-year undergraduates now need special courses to teach them material that was once part of A-level, but is now too difficult."

 Professor Holt offered a very good description of the alternative that "slow education" offers. 

"The idea that education is all about delivering right answers is clearly misconceived. Yet it’s the inevitable consequence of this mistaken approach. Students learn, but they do not understand. And working backwards from outcomes – to deliver the required answers – is a recipe for dumbing down. Standards-driven education isn’t very different from a fast-food outlet, where packages of test-shaped knowledge are swallowed, but never properly digested. Slow food, on the other hand, starts with sound ingredients and creates a satisfying experience. So does the slow school."

As a gardener and proponent of eating "slow food," I appreciate the comparison.

Reading this post was a reminder to me that as a teacher at an independent school, I need to put my money where my mouth is with slow education.  I can, so I should try.   Many teachers out there dream of teaching a class without a mindless multiple choice test in May.  It is my duty to continue to inspire real learning, encourage critical thinking and group work, to be open to new ideas and interpretation, and to challenge students to think about the process and not always the product. 

If you need some inspiration, watch these videos of interviews with students answering the question, "If you had a whole month of school time what would you choose to learn about?"

Income Gap and Achievement Gap

All of my teacher friends are sharing a recent New York Times Article titled "No Rich Child Left Behind."

This article finally got me to write a post about my shift from public to private school, something I have been thinking about for a while.  (That, and I am home sick with strep throat.) 

First, let me give you the extremely brief summary of the article: rich kids do better in school.  Reason?  Rich families invest more in early childhood enrichment.  No surprise there.  Geoffrey Canada, creator of the school and community outreach project The Harlem Children's Zone, talked about his ideas for creating the school.  He said, basically, that he wanted to teach the parents of Harlem to do for their kids what parents in the suburbs do ("suburbs" read: wealthier parents.)  Paul Tough wrote a book about The Harlem Children's Zone, Whatever It Takes, where he described the institutional structure of the organization that is "designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle-class and upper-middle-class kids through their childhoods."  I appreciate that Canada recognized this and has made a huge effort to reach out to parents and children as soon as they are born.

The Times article extends the analysis of the data to schools.  If those early childhood enrichment experiences are what is making the difference in children, then what responsibility (read: blame) should the school receive for failing students?  Aha, here we are.  It is much easier to blame teachers for failing students.  Because we are a nation of privacy and we don't tell parents how to do their jobs.  Teachers are public employees, and therefore much easier to reprimand. 

I used to have this elaborate fantasy of a thug posse of teachers.  We would roam the city dressed like mafiosos.  We would roll up to a house in a big boat of a car.  We'd step out in velour track suits with baseball bats and big gold necklaces.  A knock on the door reveals a quivering parent.  The lead thug says, "How come Sierra has been late at school all week?"

"She's--she's been walking her little sister to school."

"Excuse me?  Did I hear you right?  Sierra is 11.  She is the kid and she's late to school.  You are the parent.  You need to find a way to get Sierra to school on time," says Lead Thug as she slaps the baseball bat into her hand, menacingly. 

"Yes!  Of course.  I will walk her to school from now on.  Sierra will be on time."

"What about her homework?" asks the thug.

"What about it?"

"She hasn't done it for 2 weeks."

Okay, you get the idea.  I could go on and on.  Where does this fantasy come from?  I felt accountable for my students' progress and test scores, when I only saw them for an hour each day.  Schools' attendance rates are published each year and factor into the schools' ratings.  It felt like sometimes the parents or the inherent disadvantages the student was facing were undoing all of my hard work.  I found that no matter how hard I worked, how many extra hours I put in, I could not bring on that much change.  It sounds obvious, but it isn't a part of conventional school wisdom.  A teacher can only affect one hour of a student's life.  I can't make them come to school on time and with all supplies and homework completed. 

The first two years of my teaching, I was at a public school in Brooklyn.  It was a new, small public school that was all-girls.  Yes, those exist.  After teaching there, I taught at a charter school in Manhattan.  Charter schools are funded by public money and are run by the state, therefore they qualify as public schools.  When we moved to Nashville two years ago, I started working at an all-girls, independent school.  "Independent" and "private" are synonymous for all intents and purposes.  We refer to ourselves as independent because "private" implies a certain image of exclusivity that has a negative connotation.  Cynicism aside, independent schools' raison d'etre is to do things their own way--whatever way that may be. 

I have now taught full time at 3 of the 4 major types of school.  Parochial schools are the only type I am missing, but I did do some tutoring during grad school at a Catholic nativity school in the East Village while I was at NYU. 

I didn't think that I would be teaching at an independent school 6 years after getting my teaching degree.  At NYU, I was instilled with a passion and commitment to public education.  I felt strongly drawn to schools that served students who needed me. 

But after 4 years I was becoming the sad statistic.  50% of teachers quit the profession entirely in the first 5 years.  I swore left and right that that wouldn't be me.  I was top in my class, I had an excellent teacher education program and I had the commitment.  And yet, after 4 years, I made the decision that if I couldn't get a job in a private school, I was going to quit teaching. 

Judge away!  I know that I felt immense guilt.  But, I decided that teaching was still my passion and calling, and I had to do it in a way that I could sustain. 

Okay, I am taking forever to get to the point I want to make.  So, let me cut to the chase.  When you judge teachers by their test scores, you are not really judging their quality as teachers.  Here is how I know: on paper, using the measuring stick that state and local governments use to judge teachers and schools, I was a terrible teacher and then I was awesome.  None of this actually has anything to do with me. 

Exhibit A: My 3rd year of teaching I taught 8th grade English at a charter school.  Only 22% of my students were judged as "proficient" by the state English exam.  (Let's, for the moment, not argue about the validity of test scores.  Let's operate on the assumption that the state tests tell us what they claim to.)  I know that we can't only look at that number, we have to also compare that to those students' scores from the previous year to see how much improvement they had from the previous year (called "value added.")  If only 2% of those students were proficient the year before, then I am awesome!  I rock!  But guess what, there wasn't a huge amount of growth.  Those students will be seniors next year, and I could potentially find out how many of them enroll in college, and in 5 years I could check on graduation rates.  As of now, I don't have that data. 

But, let's say that based on that 22% proficient rate, we can call me a crap teacher.  I was sleeping on the job.  I was undereducated in my content area.  I was what was wrong with the system.  (Let's be a cliched extreme for a moment.)

Then I moved to Nashville and started teaching at an independent school.  The juniors I taught last year are college bound next year.  I don't have their SAT data, but that would be a good substitute for state tests (independent schools do not give state tests.)  But, let's take their college enrollment as a point of judgment.  One is going to UNC Chapel Hill on a volleyball scholarship.  Of the students who have decided on a college, they are going to Belmont, Kenyon, Howard, Denison, Centre College, UT Chattanooga, and Loyola Chicago.  Those schools are all highly selective, or ranked in the top 50 for the type of school they are.  I rock!  I am awesome!  I am the best teacher ever!  I have 100% college enrollment.  Clearly it is all due to my dedication and skill as an educator.  I am the solution.

What happened?  How did I suddenly strike teaching gold between my 4th and 5th year?  How did I magically become better?  I didn't.  My students changed.  They are naturally more gifted, they have a network of support (financial, emotional, and otherwise), and they have ambition.  Not all of them are rich, mind you.  (I can see you scoffing.)  No, really.  Of that list of universities, I know of 4 students who received partial or full financial aid to attend my school.  (I only know this of students who have volunteered this information.) 

I know that the New York Times article is right because I have lived it.  When I talk to non-educators, I always try to explain this phenomenon.  I try to emphasize this to fellow parents, especially.  They are all really worried about the quality of schools their children will attend.  They keep talking about the school as if it is the only factor in their child's success.  I remind them that they are the most important factor.  And their child will be fine.  Why?  Because they get fed, clothed, read to, loved and taken to quality medical care when they are sick.  Sound basic?  It isn't.  I could tell you so many stories of children without winter coats, with empty tummies, with untreated tooth aches, with broken homes, with parents in prison.  As a middle or upper class parent, we can find a million reasons to feel guilty, to feel that we haven't done enough.  But, hopefully hearing the struggles of low-income parents puts that in perspective. 

What makes a school "good" these days is the quality of the parenting the majority of children receive.  The method that we currently have to quantify that these days is percent of students who qualify for free lunch.  It feels like a giant euphemistic oversimplification, but sadly, it's the most indicative number I have found based on my experience.  94-97% of students in my public and charter school days received free lunch.  That means that their families basically lived below the poverty line.  That means they may be displaced from their homes, may have limited access to food and health care, probably do not own books, may have to use inferior child care in early childhood, and are possibly being raised by a single parent, or have only one (under)employed parent.  How well is a student going to do in school under those conditions?  I would like you to imagine how you might learn and behave at school if you had woken up in those conditions every day.  (If my coffee isn't brewed right, I'm fussy all day.)

Now, I am not saying teachers don't matter.  I do think that teachers who are smart, hardworking, and committed are a must.  But they are not the only factor that matters.  We have to stop this culture of blame.  How about a culture of responsibility?  How about a culture that looks at the numbers and comes up with creative ways to address them, even if they aren't what "we have always done."   How about we start talking more about parenting?  How about we admit that it isn't easy to fix? 

Friday, April 12, 2013

TAIS Tech conference: Richard Byrne's Keynote Speech

The Tennessee Association of Independent Schools (TAIS) had a technology conference yesterday here in Nashville and I presented on "Kindles in the Classroom."  (Here is an outline of my presentation.)  I didn't really know what to expect of the day, but I had a great time, met some great people, and learned a lot of cool stuff.

First off, the conference was held on the very lovely campus of Christ Presbyterian Academy.  They were very gracious hosts and it was a great setting.

Richard Byrne was the keynote speaker.  He is a teacher and runs a website with free (or cheap) web-based technology for teachers.  I love it when teachers are the speakers because I appreciate the silly jokes, the visual aids, the stories from real classrooms and the friendly and open demeanor of teachers.  Looking around the room I knew I was among my people.  There is something foreign and off-putting when a doctor or a lawyer or a businessperson gets up to talk to teachers.

I want to take a minute to outline his speech and give you the ideas that grabbed me enough to make it into my notes.

The theme was the 10 challenges teachers face when using technology in the classroom.

1.  Access.  Richard told a great story about his newly adopted dog, Max, who has been getting into the garbage.  He faced a dilemma: lock the garbage down or correct the behavior?  This challenge awaits any teacher using technology in the classroom.  There are ways that students could be distracted to do naughty things when we give them technology.  Does that mean we should lock it down and build all sorts of contraptions to keep students out, or should we teach them responsible use?  You have probably guessed that I wrote a giant "YES" and triple underlined "Correct the behavior."  We keep talking about these students like they are playing with matches while sitting on top of a pile of gunpowder. We also seem to forget that we are all competent adults who use laptops every day and have found a way to resist the temptation of the internet and get our work done.  That is what they will become someday: responsible adults who learn how to focus and filter.  It is our job to guide them to that place.  They will never learn how to resist the temptation if it always locked away from them.  Let's stop treating them like hopeless delinquents who can never be trusted.

I said this many times yesterday, but within 4 years of having me as a teacher they will be at college with a laptop in front of them for 18 hours a day.  There will be no one circulating, asking them to turn off their internet or monitoring their usage.  What then?  Steak knives are dangerous too.  They have learned how to use them without inflicting bodily harm.  Devices with internet access will be the same way.

2.  Finding appropriate tech tools.  Richard had a great rule of thumb: if it takes him more than 7-15 minutes to learn a new tech tool, he won't use it.  That is a good way to prevent the rabbit hole syndrome where at 4 pm you go looking for a cool blogging site and at 9 pm you emerge with nothing to show.

3.  Differentiation.  I learned some cool tricks for Google searches!  You can narrow down what type of domain Google will search or the language level.

In general, differentiation is an area where Kindles have opened a lot of doors for my students. Richard is a history teacher, so research is his particular focus.  For me, the Kindle offers so many ways to change the look of a text to help a student read in the way that suits them.

4.  Help students become better researchers.  Lots of good sites to help students generate search terms.  Again, this is of particular importance for Social Studies teachers, but we do research in English as well.

5.  Give students a voice.  This was a really exciting part of the presentation.  Richard had some really cool tools to help give students a platform.  Padlet is like a digital bulletin board where students can add notes or posts more akin to blog posts!  That is right up my alley. Todaysmeet is a great way to create a chatroom and message board that can be used during or perhaps as a chatroom for students to discuss the reading from home.  Socrative is a really cool survey and questioning tool.  I can't wait to play around with these.

6.  Cell phones.  You can bemoan them, but I think they are driving the future.  What I liked were Richard's ideas about having kids use their phones to blog, shoot videos, and take photos.  He suggested having them do that on field trips, but since we don't take as many field trips in English class, I could think of having them do something like this for a project.

7.  Multiple learning styles.  Again, allowing e-books in the classroom is about opening up the options.  Richard likes Animoto, an online video editing tool.  This is great for us at a PC school.  The video editing software available is not awesome, so a web-based tool really appeals to me.  Make Beliefs Comix, allows students to create their own cartoons, something I have been considering for vocabulary practice.  Soundcloud helps students make and share podcasts, which is perfect for a project we do for Twelfth Night.  Simplebooklet allows students to create multi-media books online.  I love this idea!  This would be awesome for the Civil Rights project and the poetry project.

8.  Communication with parents.  Richard gave a really interesting statistic about emails and text messages.  95% of text messages are opened in 5 minutes, whereas 50% of emails are never opened.  I can see how that is true, but whoa.  One interesting idea he had was to use Voicethread to allow family to see and comment on the student's work.  What a nice way to build that bridge and give the student real feedback from people that matter to them.

9.  Professional Development.  There is a thing called Edcamp which are non-conferences for teachers.  Basically, they sound like meet ups for educators with no agenda, just ideas that come from the participants.  That sounds totally awesome to me.  I made some cool friends yesterday and I think we might be on our way to starting something like an Edcamp for independent school English teachers!

10.  I didn't write this one down.  Oops.  I am sure that Richard posted his notes on his blog, but I guess I was already thinking about my presentation following his key note.

Stay tuned for a recap of my session and reflection on how that went!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

TAIS Tech Conference 2013

Here are my conference notes for those of you interested in skipping the paper!

TAIS Tech Conference 2013
“Kindles in the Classroom”
Meg Griswold
Upper School English Teacher
Harpeth Hall School

·         Kindle Device and Kindle for PC or Mac app: Two elements working together
o   Kindle device at home
o   Reading App in class
·         Active Reading
o   Highlight
o   Make notes
·         Money
o   Price comparison (on Amazon, as of 8 am this morning)

Fahrenheit 451
The Secret Life of Bees
$11.97 or $13.72
The House on Mango Street
The Kite Runner
Jane Eyre
A Separate Peace

o   Public Domain (Free ebooks Project Gutenberg 
·         From the teacher’s perspective:
o   Projecting text onto a screen or board
o   Close readings
o   Assessing and monitoring student active reading
·         The next frontier
o   Social media: tweeting notes and marks
o   “Following” a reader’s notes and marks
o   Whispercast