Category Archives: Teaching Today

Education Evolutions #78

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

As I reviewed my reading from the past week, there were so much good work that had crossed my musings across the internets. There was no shortage of articles that I had to choose from. In fact, the haul from this week may be sprinkled through weeks to come, as I try to limit each week to a few and maybe an extra or two.

This week may seem like it is loaded with long reads but do not be deceived. Only the smartphone article is truly a long one. It is completely worth the time, of course, but the read times might be a little misleading this time more than others.

Thus, this week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It kind of comes on the heels of the Jason Reynolds piece from last week. I think all the articles I include are all worth reading, obviously, but that Times piece is about as much a must-read as I have ever included. Even if you only admire the photographs and jump around the whole piece, don’t be surprised if you get sucked in completely. Plus, it continues the kind of message I suggested last week educators cannot hear enough. The youth we teachers get to teach, they kind have something going on.

Hope you enjoyed autumn in New England. With those 60 mile-an-hour winds this weekend, there are not a whole lot of leaves left on the trees.

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

36 Teenagers Show Us Their Generation – The New York Times –  Katherine Schulten (19-minute read)

If you have not seen this piece from The New York Times and work with teenagers, stop what you are doing and scroll through it right now. Do not let the 19-minute read time prevent you from even just jumping around and maybe only reading the bits below the photos that you find most arresting. It is insightful, interesting, and inspiring. The photography is pretty impressive too.

As I have mentioned before, it is awfully easy to let the day-to-day frustrations and build up of aggravation taint how we view young people. Of course, they do things that are annoying, foolish, or rebellious. They are after all just kids. Yet, there is something awesome and powerful in today’s youth. I wonder if every generation takes the time to look at those coming of age with fondness. As Jason Reynolds said in the piece I shared last week, they are the antidote for hopelessness.

A Sociology of the Smartphone – Longreads –  Adam Greenfield (27-minute read)

While the Times may have identified the smartphone theme through youth culture today, it is far from just the kids that find themselves hooked. This piece is an excerpt from a book but it is one of the best examinations of the complex and complicated relationship we have with the now ubiquitous devices. In fact, it is a topic that demands a much longer read.

What I appreciate most about this how deep it goes in exploring the way the devices work and all that deep dive entails. I suspect that Greenfield is right about just how much the consequences wrought by the mass adoption of this technology have faded from our concerns, which may not necessarily be the best thing, as much as it might benefit Apple or Google. The concerns he raises alone are well worth the read, let alone the bargains we enter in owning one or the darker, hidden ways in which it is ultimately delivered to the palm of our hands.

Op-Ed: Are we Teaching our Kids to Write Like This? – The El Paso Herald –  Tim Holt (3-minute read)

I don’t even remember how I came across this op-ed but it didn’t take long for me to silently shout, “Amen.” I am not sure that I could be more aligned with the argument that Holt makes in this article. It is an argument I have endeavored to make most of my teaching career in fact, inspiring me to change positions in an effort to deepen my understanding. I think this kind of thing is that important.

If anything, I would depart from Holt in his characterizing any of this as digital storytelling, because I think that term is living and has outlived its usefulness. This is way beyond digital or storytelling. Simply put, this is what we mean by the word literacy in today’s world. Now that I am back in the English classroom, I am more convinced than ever that it is the context and place to gain the most traction in the effort to get students writing the way Holt suggests. In fact, the National Council of Teachers of English concurs for the most part as well. With the changes that have been witnessed in the last 10 years, it seems to me it would be complete malpractice to not face what now is a new reality. And I do not write those words lightly.


Education Evolutions #77

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Well, the cold is certainly descending on New England. A wet weekend storm that seems like it might want to hang around for the start of the week, is starting to feel a little like a no longer welcome houseguest. This can be a dark period for educators, as the middle of term rushes past and student assignments pile up, the weather changes and the pressure and weight of the upcoming holidays starts to come into view. In that spirit, here are a few items hopefully worth your attention and might even help a little.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Jason Reynolds is one of those rare rock-star writers that just happens to write specifically for young audiences. This segment that comes from a PBS show, Articulate, is a profile with a pretty powerful message, “The antidote to hopelessness is young people,” Reynolds believes. And it is a message that educators cannot hear enough, in my opinion. You can read the transcript from the segment or watch the video. Take the seven minutes and watch the video.

Stay dry and warm. it makes you happy. Read the second piece for more details.

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

The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world – The Guardian –  Harriet Griffey (12-minute read)

While there is a lot of information in this piece that is not exactly new, it is well-composed and more importantly includes some methods to combat concentration loss. Even more interesting to me is the reminder that so much of this is about habit and behavior. So this thought may be the most important one in the whole article for me, “The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.” I am not sure that we can be prompted with that enough.

There are some really good suggestions on how to wrestle back some level of concentration. In fact, I would argue that this might be one of the most powerful moments for advocating mindfulness. Sure meditation has its benefits but reconnecting to your own ability to concentrate forces a sensitivity and self-awareness that is necessary for mindfulness. Those elements of sensitivity and self-awareness seem fundamental to regaining control of our own behavior and health.

2011 : What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit? – Edge –  Adam Alter (3-minute read)

Sticking with a theme that includes some mindfulness, this older but short article is a fascinating discussion of stimuli that impact us without our necessarily being aware. I think simply acknowledging the complexity of the human brain is a major step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there is a lot of press with considerable oversimplification when it comes to the brain, especially in education media.

I often wonder how much things like color and symbols or imagery are considered in the construction of public buildings like schools. It seems more often than not, attention to them is conspicuously absent. It just lends a new wrinkle and even more credence to that old adage that a new coat of paint can make everything seem new. The weather seems like something that we would all be a bit more conscious of having an impact, while the temperature was an interesting commentary in the piece. Either way, increasing awareness of these smaller details can make a much bigger difference than we might otherwise consider.

The Antidote to Hopelessness – Articulate –  Jim Cotter (5-minute read | 7-minute video)

For anyone that has not read a book by Jason Reynolds, you really should take a few minutes and at least watch this video. Then consider going to the library and having a read of one of his already considerable output. He is one of the better writers for young audiences working today. I have read a few of his books. He is the real deal, not just some commercially hyped next big thing.

At a time where it is far too easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe desire to just check out, this is a pretty timely message of a way to instill some hope. And at the risk of sounding trite, working with young people is remarkably restorative when it comes to retaining hope. No matter how annoyed or frustrated we educators can become, always remember this line, “we don’t want to live in a world where young people are not irreverent.” That is a powerful truth. For anyone that works in a school, it should serve as a powerful maxim.

Education Evolutions #76

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This week is a little late and a little bit of a mixed bag, as well. After a moment of self-congratulation at last week’s 75th edition, the recent weekend got away from me a bit. The return to full-time teaching presents some time management challenges that force me to continually keep readjusting. It is a process, I keep reminding myself.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one. If you are not familiar with Watters, find a way to follow her work. She is one of the best education journalists out there. She is not always entirely impartial but she is an amazingly straight shooter and impressively smart observer. This is a short piece of hers in an what I thought was a slightly unlikely publication. Still, she pretty well nails it when it comes to the demystifying a myth that continues to move zombie-like through the world of education journalism, advanced by no less than the federal education secretary.

The cold snap has finally begun on the East Coast.

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

How Racism and Patriarchy Is Taught at School – Harper’s Bazaar –  Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (9-minute read)

This article is a good reminder that whatever is happening in our current day, things are not exactly as unprecedented as we might think. There is a natural tendency to overestimate the near term. Despite our current moment being embroiled in a culture war, it is important to recognize that the current moment is heavily influenced by those that came before it.

So many of the flawed beliefs that we find around us can be traced to perpetuating myths that encourage them. Still, what Cargle does so poignantly is to prompt the recognition that culture wars are not really new at all. They have been going on for quite some time, maybe as long as our republic. Many might contest this view but as they say, history is always written by the winners.

The History of the Future of High School – Vice –  Audrey Watters (5-minute read)

For anyone interested in the current state of education, especially regarding technology, Audrey Watters should be required reading. She is a well-researched, highly thoughtful, and a gifted writer. She is often referred to as the edtech Cassandra and for good reason. She asks precisely the kinds of questions that benefit everyone more than simply the few that have the most to gain.

In this piece, she highlights some well-trodden ground. It is hard to go a day without hearing about just how broken American schools are. It is the most common narrative about education in the media, followed only by the “factory model” myth. For anyone that has spent any time in a school for a duration of longer than a few hours, it would be impossible to suggest that schools are the same as they were 100 years ago. Yet some myths are much harder to dispell than others, particularly if it is in the interest of the people with the loudest platforms to continue peddling such nonsense. I look at the changes even in my own career of 15 years and there have been some profound changes and other things that have become more entrenched than ever. It is never quite simple.

Not Just a Buzzword – National Association of Elementary Principals –  Tim Hodges (7-minute read)

This piece focuses on the concept of engagement, which the title claims is not just a buzzword. However, for many in education, it has descended into little more than that. It need not be that way, as Hodges attempts to explain with some success. The best thing about this article is that it takes time to address the notion of teacher engagement, not just that of students.

There may be some level of superficiality in this, considering how little is offered in the way of explanation or potential ways to try and address the problem raised, but there are some interesting takeaways. The trend of students slow declining engagement after elementary school is not a surprise to anyone working at the secondary level but there is some hard data to clarify the falloff. However, the low level of self-reported teacher engagement may be the single biggest issue suggested by the data.

As teachers have come under increasing scrutiny and assault by policies and public perception, the profession has taken a beating. Yet, it is almost directly linked to students engagement, if one reads closely. Schools may be primarily about their students but they are complex institutions that actually serve a number of important members. Were schools to make a more concerted effort to support and promote the good work of their teaching staff there would be a shift in teacher engagement, which looks pretty well positioned to positively transfer to students. It is not a given but it would likely go a lot further than many of the same tired efforts that routinely get driven from the top down.