Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson rocks the animation

The inimitable Sir Ken Robinson doing what he does best--blowing holes in the education world.

Hat tip Open Culture.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

More books I want

Doing Literary Criticism by Tim Gillespie.  In my "Teaching Reading" class in college, we had a mini-unit on using literary theory to give readers a purpose for reading.  I found it to be mind-bogglingly useful in that and subsequent classes.  Picking a literary theory provides students with a way to pick out key information.  This is useful as students learn to read an entire text, and also when (as often) they're required to read a book they don't want to, or are stuck on.

Stenhouse Publishers here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

To my students: Thinking vs. knowing


The difference between when I ask you a question and when you ask me a question.

It's a common enough scenario in our class: I ask you a huge question, give you no guidance or background information, and demand that you analyze, choose and defend a position on it in three minutes.  I imagine that this is frustrating for you sometimes, especially since my skills at communicating my goals are not great.

This happened on Friday, and instead of just answering the question, one of your classmates responded, and then said, "What do you think about this topic, Mr. Cosby?"

I didn't exactly deflect the question, but I didn't exactly answer it right away, either.  I think I said something about not wanting to presume to know everything, to which somebody said, "Well, you expected us to know the answer." 

It reminded me of a few days earlier, when I asked you about a camera angle in To Kill a Mockingbird.  "Why put the camera there for this scene, and why not somewhere else?"  One of your classmates asked, "Does this have a correct answer?  I like things that have correct answers."  My response to that was similar: There may well be a correct answer, the director made that decision for a reason.  I can only guess at what it was.  The better I am at the language of film, the more likely my guess is to be close to correct.

The common theme to these two scenarios, dear readers, and the theme that connects a thousand others just like them, is this:  When I ask you a question like that, it's because I want you thinking about the answers.  I want you to come up with what you think the best answer is, and I want you to defend it.  When presented with new evidence, I want you either to explain how the new evidence fits into your position, or I want you to change your position to accommodate it.  I do this because I think that this is the most reliable way for people to learn.  There's something pretty Socratic about it, and I'm not sure how I feel about that, but there you go.  That's pedagogy for you.  I don't expect you to have the right answer every time, the first time.  You often get the right answer, or at least a right answer, because you're smart.  And even when you're off-base, you quickly come to a right answer.  But for our purposes, that's sort of the cherry on the sundae.  I want you to think in as many different ways as possible, and I want you--and this is the kicker--to be aware of your thinking as you do it.

When you ask me my own questions back, there's a different dynamic.  Based on past experiences, you imagine that I have answers to all the questions I ask.  Maybe you visualize a Teacher's Annotated Edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, which gives me questions to ask and themes to present.  Such things exist, and I use them when my own thinking is unclear or incomplete, or honestly, when I'm in a hurry.  So I feel like when you ask me a question, it's because you want to know the answer, and you want me to give it to you.  Your motivations are your own--I like to think you're checking your own thinking process against that of a respected local authority.  You may simply be tired of thinking.  But the point is this: When you ask me a question, it's because you want the answer.

The problem with that is the nature of the questions I ask: "What are the qualities of leadership?  What does a society owe its people, and what do leaders owe to unwilling members of a society?  How do stories and leadership relate?"  These questions have no one answer.  My objective is not for you to know how to answer them, it's for you to know how to ask them.

So, just keep thinking.  A lot of good will come of that, far beyond the limits of school.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

To my students: On being and becoming teachers.


A few weeks ago I told some of you that I was inspired to teach Spanish by my high school Spanish teacher, and that I hoped to be able to do the same for some of you.  I said that the mark of an excellent teacher is not how many students he has, but how many teachers he creates.  This is as close to a religious belief as you will ever hear from me.  However, something didn't feel right about the way that conversation ended.

I said that I wanted for you to become Spanish teachers.  That wasn't quite right.  I want you to live happy, good, full, productive lives; I'm teaching you because I think that what you learn from me will help you do that.  Communicating in Spanish will open doors for you that have previously been closed.  These doors are not just in the Spanish-speaking world.  These skills that I hope you're learning in my class will open doors inside your own head.  In some cases, they'll build whole new wings on the mansions of your mind.  (Or the airplane of your mind.  Pick your metaphor.  You build wings on both.)

I want you to love Spanish.   I want you to love speaking Spanish, and I want you to be fascinated by the myriad cultures that use Spanish as their primary language.  I want to have a part in bringing that to you. People who feel this way sometimes become Spanish teachers, because it lets us work with the future of our world AND speak Spanish.  But many other people who love Spanish just as much as I do, decide not to become teachers.  They become business people.  They become doctors or lawyers.  They become farmers.  They become stage magicians.  They re-mix YouTube videos for fun and profit.

I don't want you to become teachers for my sake, which is what I said if you were listening carefully.  I hope you like Spanish class.  I hope that you look forward to coming.  I hope that you like the way I teach.  But what I want for you, what I really want for you, is for you to find what you love and spend the rest of your life doing it. 

That's what I'm doing.


Señor Cosby

Sunday, November 14, 2010

True dat.

From Education Week:

Comment of the Day:
"We are asking teachers to be doctors, lawyers, artists, scientistsn and sociologists but paying them as though they were the manager at a Wendy's. "
— greeney

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How dare teachers want to retire someday?

More to the point, how dare teachers expect their contracts to be fulfilled

This kind of thing always makes me angry.  The author may well have a point that we have been promised more than the states can actually afford.  However, the implication is that teachers are a luxury that society cannot afford.  The whole tone of the article, from the first sentence to the very last self-righteous "Don't say you weren't warned", is one of dire warning and dismissiveness of negotiated contracts.  He even takes the requisite left hook at teachers' unions. 

There are three reasons this makes me angry.  One of them is entirely visceral and gut-driven, and I think the other two probably are as well, but they feel more rational.  The visceral reaction is, of course, that my team is being attacked.  Nobody likes being referred to as the cause of the next savings-and-loan crisis.  And I don't think we're being given anything we haven't earned.  Traditionally in this country, civil servants tolerate a comparatively low salary and a heavy work load in exchange for a not miserably poor retirement after many years of dedicated service.  Teachers qualify as civil servants.

There.  The good news is, I feel better.  The bad news is, I've spent so long trying to express emotion without being vituperative that I don't remember what my two actual points were.  Well, maybe I'll remember them later, write another blog post.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More stealing toys

Editing edition

I'm going to link to Larry Ferlazzo's post about photo editing tools.  He talks about Wylio and ImgOps.

While I'm at it, a user review of another website I stole from Mr. Ferlazzo.  I've mentioned the website CutMP3 before as a potentially interesting piece of software.  I haven't had a chance to play with it, but one of my students (at my recommendation) used it in a "book soundtrack" presentation.  He said that it was easy, took him not much longer to do than just assembling the playlist would have, and played back perfectly in Windows Media Player.  No word yet on whether it plays in iTunes, but my student gave me all of his source files.  Mac tests are forthcoming.

Incidentally, Mr. Ferlazzo cites TechCrunch as his original source for the picture-editing software.  I think I'll try following them for a little while, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What next?

The elections yesterday brought sweeping changes to the party in power in Michigan. The governor is now a Republican, the Senate was already Republican and is more so now, and the House is probably Republican now, as well. The two newest members of the state school board are Republicans.

I have one education policy question, and one selfish-but-can't-survive-doing-this-job-otherwise question for our new policymakers. 1.) Are you going to leave the Michigan Merit Curriculum more or less intact? 2.) Is my job part of the "wasteful spending" you expect to be able to eliminate? 'Cos I've got to tell you--after something like 6 consecutive years of more-than-billion-dollar budget deficits, I don't see a whole lot of waste left.