Category Archives: Learning

Education Evolutions #36


IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Apologies for the delayed delivery this week. A combination other deadlines, more youth soccer than usual, and feeling a little under the weather all conspired to delay me a day.

Similar to last week’s mindfulness theme, this week must be more explicitly about race and class. Perhaps I am just responding to the popular zeitgeist or maybe I am just more ready to think and discuss those issues more lately. Neither issue ever gets enough attention, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, many of us conveniently brush away those elements of our society that may reveal its greatest ugliness. They are often too unpleasant to discuss in polite company. Yet they are far too real to deny, even if we have found ways, by and large, to insulate ourselves from them, both consciously or unconsciously.

So, this trio of articles show bravery and dig into some discomfort. The only way to have any chance of dealing with any challenge is by facing it directly and reflecting. I suppose that whole “unexamined life” tip from the ancient Greeks has been turning over in mind as well.

I have been repeating this part but I hope people like the new format and delivery. Also, I love the feedback and exchange of comments. That makes the effort even more worthwhile. If anyone comes across an article or even has a topic or theme they’d like to see shared let me know.


Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

James Baldwin’s Lesson for Teachers in a Time of Turmoil – The New Yorker – Clint Smith (10-minute read)
Over the summer I finally got the chance to watch to watch the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which I highly recommend. It rekindled my interest in Baldwin’s work. There is a reason why he is resurfacing as a cultural agent at the minute. His courage and eloquence are unmistakable but his penetrating insights make him a formidable American intellectual that should be more widely read.

In this piece, Smith shares the poignancy of his annual experience of rereading Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers,” an additional item more than worth a look. Smith’s personal wrestling with introducing political discourse into his lessons is interesting enough. More interesting is how doing so is presented as a kind of subversive act which is telling.

It would be naive to ignore that at least a part of the standards movement reinforces an order, also keeping people in their place. While not entirely explicit, Smith’s recognition and reading of Baldwin “that the world was molded by people who came before, and that it can be remolded into something new” strikes a recognition of this consequence. Plus, I could not agree more that a teacher must help students confront not only the problems shaping the world but also challenge them to examine their own place in it.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

The Very Seriously Humorless Education of Students – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (4-minute read)
I am a frequent reader of PL Thomas and have featured him in previous issues of this newsletter. In this blogpost, his personal confession highlights something that is perhaps more common than we teachers can sometimes realize, a whole lot of students, and a fair number of adults, completely miss humor when reading. Part of this is humor can be difficult to identify on the page. However, a much bigger factor is the lack of preparation and even exposure to humor in text form.

Exposing students to a wide range of authors and texts is an absolute necessity to preparing readers of any sophistication. Yet, one of the well-known consequences of the standards reform is a narrowing of curriculum to serve the demands of accountability. Again, accountability regimes are excellent mechanisms establishing or preserving a social order.

Sadly, any student that struggles with reading is typically served up a heaping dose of humorless, text-prep texts. As if the remedy is more drill-and-kill readings that commit readicide against students, instead of embracing the struggle and guiding them through the hardest yards any reader sometimes face. It does not have to be that way but it often is. “Oh, but we do a satire unit, so we are all set.”

Second Guessing My Kids of Color? – The Tempered Radical blog – Bill Ferriter (8-minute read)
Another teacher brave enough to expose themselves a little in critical reflection, Ferriter’s admission is both heartfelt and instructive. His challenge in the opening note is probably even more so. Taking a hard look at himself and the subtle aspects of his interactions with students of color is an examination I hope would be a cause for pause and heightened awareness.

It is far too easy to put on blinders or even become defensive when confronted with the kind of uncomfortable situations presented by Ferriter. That is what is refreshing and brave about his admission. No one is perfect and conversations that involve race or even class need not be a zero-sum game. We are all human and make mistakes. Yet we can all benefit from remembering that being a good kind person is never a fixed state. It is a practice, in the truest sense of the word.

Ferriter’s willingness to throw caution to the wind and take a step forward in an effort to be better is admirable. His razor-sharp recognition, “imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color” is enough to make this post worth the read. If you are interested in exploring conversations about race a little more, give this Jay Smooth TedTalk a look. It is one of the best takes on the topic I have ever encountered.

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Reflections on Unit 4: Looking, Seeing, and Visual Literacy

Image: Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Periodic Table of Visualization Methods fromVisual-Literacy.org

Note: This post is an extended reflection from the EdTech Team’s Teacher Leader Certification Program. I am participating in the initial cohort.

Having graduated high school and beginning my university studies as an art major only to eventually graduate with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre, visual literacy is an area that has been something on my radar for a long time.

Once I entered the field of education, I quickly surmised teachers who understand elements of design  are at a distinct advantage. Educators create and generate an enormous amount of media for their curriculum and students. Given that all media is constructed, good design is one of the primary factors in determining the quality and success of media generated.

Importance of Visually Literacy

Quite simply, we see before we speak. We see even before we reason. We see long before we learn to read.

Visuals can be universal and a way that we communicate when our language breaks down. For that reason alone visual literacy is necessary, especially in an ever increasing global community.

Perhaps it is the immediacy and utility of sight that fools us. Initially, we tend to think that everyone sees what we see. In the most simplistic terms, this may be true but intuitively we know it is not quite accurate. It takes considerable time to fully realize everyone does not see what we individually see, that it is far more complicated than all that. Gaining visual literacy aids in this understanding.

I tend to agree with Brian Kennedy in the idea that everything is an image. Yet I also advocate that we need to expand our notion of text.

I think this is because the principle way we interact with visuals is to see, whereas the principal way we interact with text is to read but we must get to the reading action in visuals to become literate. That is where the work is to be done.

I like the idea that the single word literacy be all-encompassing, much like the New London Group’s concept of “multiliteracies.” In my mind, “multiliteracies” should de facto mean literacy.

Design Principal Teach to Students

For me, the first principle I share with students is a meta one that all media is constructed. Regardless of format, genre, whatever, all media is designed and constructed to communicate and on some level influence. I start from there. Everything else follows.

Consequently, I try to have students zero in on how they feel about something as a precursor to what they think. I have often believed that feelings are not given nearly enough attention in school as a gateway to thinking. Once students can identify how they feel in response to an image, text, music, or whatever, we can begin to ask why and how.

Deconstructing communication in a way to reveal how and why it works and makes us feel what we feel is a pretty powerful way to begin.

From there, I zero in on the mother of all design principles ‑ composition. For me, it is the one that has the most crossover with creative efforts of all kinds. How and why all the other elements and principles are combined and put together. So whether we are looking at images, text, video, or music we have a common language to begin our investigation.

I have often begun the discussion of composition after screening the video below. It is one of the better introductions that I have found that has broad reach and application.

Reflections on Unit 1: Projects, Collaboration, and Community

Image: Title Slide for Giving Credit Where Credit is Due Slide Presentation

Link to presentation slides Giving Credit Wher Credit is Due for Global Collaboration and Community Project

Note: This post is an extended reflection from the EdTech Team’s Teacher Leader Certification Program. I am participating in the initial cohort.

Looking back on the opening two weeks of the course, I find myself increasingly returning to the perspective of a student. Of course, I am a perpetual student, in truth.

Since this is a new class and it is entirely online, so there is always an adjustment period. This opening two weeks essentially was just that.

There were a lot of adjustments, from the urgent desire to figure out how to manage the deluge of emails that began from the activity in the Google Group or notifications from the Google+ Community that threatened to swamp every other message in my Inbox. I can only imagine what someone unfamiliar with some of the tools.

I have to admit that I struggled to keep track of all the work that as supposed to be completed and even misunderstood some directions. I still can’t help feeling like I might have forgotten something.

As for the project, after some initial uncertainty about what exactly I was supposed to deliver, whether or not I needed to work with others, and how global or collaborative things needed to be, I just got to it. I reached out to someone familiar and someone not so familiar.

At first, we had to gain some clarity between ourselves over the scope of the project, agreeing that the directions were really asking for a single lesson with multiple supportive elements.

I am not entirely sure that what my team accomplished ticks all boxes, although I am not sure what all the boxes would be anyway. Still, I know it is good work, especially for an initial effort.

flickr photo by mikeyb.0101
https://flickr.com/photos/mikeyb0101/24070265943
shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

We collaborated, divided labor, and all pulled in the same direction. It did require someone to kind of take the lead and drop the needle, but once that happened we were in a groove. The distance never became a factor. We were able to work asynchronously without any real problems.

More than anything, it was an interesting problem to tackle. Also, the uncertainty was not all bad, in retrospect. It forced some decisiveness and created a sense of urgency, as well. Each member of our trio jumped right into a task and was able to develop something based on the initial document.

It has been a good reminder of what it is like from a student’s perspective.

All that being said, I think the spectre of the graduate credits and grades kind of taints things a bit for me. I am all for exploring, taking risks, and experimenting. However, again like a student, the grade remains lurking in the background. Alright, maybe that is not quite like a student. It is much more in the foreground for many of them.

On a fundamental level. I don’t care much for grades. I often remark that I spent more than 10 years trying to make grades irrelevant in my classroom. However, I certainly need to do well in order to meet requirements of my employer for reimbursement and credentialing. While there were some general examples, I was not completely clear as to what all this project was supposed to look like upon completion.

It was another reminder of how much trust can play a role in learning. Since this is the first real work to be submitted for a newly developed class, there is a lot of ambiguity. This is completely understandable but it causes the specter of grades to loom much larger than it otherwise might.

I am fairly sure this will prove less and less of a concern. Still, another reminder of how much work we may need to do to ensure the climate and culture we desire with our students.