Monthly Archives: November 2012

Wu-Tang Clanguage Arts

New pedagogical practices in the field of science are detailed in John Leland’s article “A Hip-Hop Experiment.”  According to the article, GZA from the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan is joining forces with Dr. Christopher Emdin of Columbia University’s Teachers College to promote a hip-hop based pilot program for science education in ten public high schools in New York.  The program fuses rap music with the curriculum by having students create rhymes using the science concepts they are learning in the classroom.  The goal of the project is to make the subject of science more engaging to African-American and Latino students, “who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body.”

 In 2010, Dr. Emdin published his book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, hoping “…to change the way city teachers relate to minority students, drawing not just on hip-hop’s rhymes, but also on its social practices and values.”  The experimental movement away from a more traditional method of science education is a response to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress which reported that, “Only 4 percent of African-American seniors nationally were proficient in sciences, compared with 27 percent of whites.”  GZA, who dropped out of the New York public school system in 10th grade, always retained an interest in science and is currently intellectually exploring the physical world in songs he is writing for his next album ‘Dark Matter.’  He provides a role-model for students in the program that Dr. Emdin believes “will undercut the students’ fear of science, or the stereotype that scientists are all white people.”

 Dr. Emdin describes the structure of the sharing environment as that of a “hip-hop ‘cypher'” in which “…someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up…There’s equal turns at talking.”  This sounds very much like the ideals of the Socratic Seminar, which requires speaking and listening skills as well as emphasizing a supportive, interactive and exciting student-centered academic community.  This forum also provides an opportunity for students to take risks with language and tap into their creativity in a way that formal writing assignments may hinder.

 I am curious to hear the feedback from this program.  It seems like it could be a very successful technique for helping students understand and make connections to the physical world.  Additionally, writing the rhymes will undoubtedly improve English Literacy skills and encourage linguistic experimentation.  Science teachers could even collaborate with English teachers, who could incorporate discussions on poetic rhythm, metaphor, form, meter, etc. in conjunction with the students’ writing.  The pilot program also relies on having an authentic audience with whom to share the work. This aspect furthers the motivation and engagement of the students with the material, which will become less stagnant and more  malleable, relevant and meaningful.



Filed under Uncategorized

The Internet as a teaching tool, not to be overdone!

In the article I read titled, “Teachers Using the Internet” on, the author is not listed, how the internet can be a valuable resource for teachers at all levels and across all the subjects is discussed. The article states that it is a great places for teachers to find fun activities and, for teachers to be able to communicate with students and parents. Almost immediately the author warns us that as teachers we should be aware of what the internet should and shouldn’t be used for, what its limitations are. The author writes that teachers most commonly use the internet for help finding lesson plans, and warns that the internet is a teaching tool not a replacement for good teaching.

Although it is a great resource it should not be relied on heavily, it should be a resource that is used sporadically.  The author writes, “you cannot be an effective teacher if you are getting your daily lesson plans from the internet”. Another reason teachers use the internet is to find worksheets, because they are free, downloadable, and printable; however we are warned to not go looking for worksheets because, “your classroom should actually be for the most part, work-sheet free”.  Further explaining that many teachers are not aware of this. The author explains that worksheets “can be a lazy way of teaching. However, worksheets are terrific for drilling on basic skills like math and language arts”.  Even though we are warned to stay away from the practice of worksheets, we are told to save any good ones we do come across.

Another use that is given is creating classroom websites, which I my pre-practicum one teacher does utilize to great success.  It really works for her, students know that homework is always up and they can also submit work via their website.  The only caveat given for using websites is privacy issues.

Next email is touched upon, it is recommended that teachers have a parent email list for their students, because this is a way to keep in touch and keep them informed.  Parents can recieve updates, assignments, and any concerns can be addressed quickly. Finally, the author discusses the use of internet to, “do some educational research. If you are having problems in class, do an online search. See if other teachers have the same problem and have solved it”.  Although, this article wasn’t long it was an insightful read.  Some of the stuff in common sense, but in an age where we “Google” everything, it was a helpful reminder that in order to really succeed as a teacher we should never overuse any teaching tool.

With that being said this website (, ironically, has a banner across the top that says, “Free teachers resources, lesson plans, worksheets, & teacher articles”.  



Filed under Uncategorized

Of Times, Teens, and Books

            While reading Teri S. Lesesne’s article “Of Times, Teens, and Books”, I was able to really connect with the text and think back to when I was in High School, the ways our teachers incorporated free writing, and free writing I do today. It’s funny because so many of what we are learning in class I haven’t even thought of, but once we discuss issues in class and they are on my radar…I can the role they played throughout my education. Lesesne talk about the way the Core Academic Standard for K-12 English prevent educators from teaching their students to learn, cultivate, and revel in the surprise and discovery that accompanies working with words. The curriculum is so confined because of the standards that students end up missing out on the joy and creative process of free writing. I personally can’t even remember ANY time in my high school experience where I was able to write about whatever I wanted. Because of this, I rarely even think to do it later in life. It has been drilled into our minds from day one of our education that the writing process has a strict path that must be followed in order to compose the best possible piece of writing. However, Lesesne explains that a low of writing just happens with no plan at all. In her words, “writers plunge ahead with faith and fearlessness, keeping on their semantic toes – writers learn what they want to while they are writing.” I think this is beyond true, and it saddens me that because of the strict regulations and academic standards, I missed out on learning this myself. I personally love the creative process of working in my own head, starting with a simple idea or image, and building off of that. The way Lesesne describes the writing process as, “a sense of adventure – the willingness and longing to encounter the unexpected,” only heightens my excitement to enjoy this writing process myself.  We do need to let go and let language do what it does best – which is think. If we do this, writing will become second nature to our students and to us as educators. Instead of dreading the writing process because of its traditional shackles, students will take pleasure in the shaping of writing.

            It kind of saddens me to think that I haven’t been enjoying this process for the past 20 + years…and it makes me wonder, does the confinement and strict structure of the teaching of English hinder students’ imaginations? I think that if I was free to write this way before, and let the ideas come to me throughout the writing process, I would be much more comfortable in letting my imagination run wild. Unfortunately, I think my imagination has been on mute for so many years it may be hard to get back in the swing of things working with it. But, I’m really glad we read this article. It may sound corny again, but it made me excited about writing again – and I haven’t been excited to write in a very long time.


Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching the Test

One of my primary concerns about my future as teacher of English in the High School Public context is High Stakes testing. My concern is two fold: political and professional, altough these two concerns tie into each other.

The political concern is this: Testing is often a mandatory part of a curriculum, since the school is judged by its test results. The students themselves are likewise judged. Their odds of getting into college are lower if they are placed in “remedial” classrooms far away from the kind of rich reading and writing that would prepare them for such an experience. So, it is necessary for me to help them navigate the testing they will undergo. How can I do this and remain true to the kind of teaching I want to teach? What am I teaching them if I “teach to the test?” What vision of society, literacy, and their place in life am I enacting?

The second, professional concern, is quite simply, this, if I don’t have my students get “good test scores”, what professional effect will this have on me? Is the kind of classsroom practice I want to enact actually conducive to “good” test scores? 

In many ways, Pencils Down: Rethinking high-stakes testing and accountability in public schools (PDF), seeks to answer both of these concerns.

In the free chapter of this book that Rethinking Schools had made available online, Linda Christensen describes a pedagogical approach towards high stakes tests that attempts to address this issues which an be summarized thus: teach the test. Not “to the test”, but rather the test itself as an artifact, the way you would any other “text” by asking questions and problem posing: where did this test come from? Who made it? What assumptions did they have when they made this test? What are they measuring? Is that what they are supposed to measure?

Throughout, she lays out what a critical pedagogy approach to high stakes testing might look like and how it can be enacted, and how it might serve as an effectiveness means to achieve the desired test results while also teaching the social and political problems in the test in such a way that the students do not internalize the language and values of the test.

This, as with all other aspects of how to enact critical pedagogy under the constraints of the “real” world (by which I mean the world of education as defined and limited by policy makers) shows the final and most important lesson from the article. Whatever one is attempting to do as regards enacting a critical educational standpoint, one should not attempt to do so alone, but rather in solidarity with one’s fellow educators.


Filed under Uncategorized

Back Up the Mountain

Finally something positive about education, well sort of. The article titled, “Record Number of Young Americans Earn Bachelor’s Degree” focuses on the history of high school and college graduates in the U.S. both past and present. Sadly, America used to be number 1 in education attainment in the world, until 1992 when foreign and European countries took over. Currently the U.S. is fourth in education attainment behind Japan who is number three, Israel number two, and dun dunna- Canada at number one. According to the Pew Research Center Analysis, for the first time a third of the nation’s 25-29 year olds have earned at least a bachelors degree, this number has greatly improved since the 70’s when only one-fifth of young adults had earned a bachelors and only 78% were high school graduates compared to 90% now.  This is an astonishing increase in people graduating in a small amount of time and definitely something to cheer about, Hooray!! The study attributes this return to education and graduation to the recession and slow job recovery leading young people in the direction of education to secure better and higher paying jobs, BUT where are those jobs? Being an almost-educator myself I obviously believe in education for all, at least at the high school level but I fear the number of college graduates with mounting college debt and no guarantee for better or higher paying jobs, or really any job at all. But back to the good stuff- if you are lucky enough to get a job after graduation the wage premium is up 40% since 1983! Another hooray! Let the debt mount and the jobs recess, at least we’ll be educated! And perhaps we can climb back to that top spot soon enough. 

I suppose the moral to this story is apply, apply, apply (to jobs and to college) and stand out! As I work at my pre-practicum at Newton North I am pleased to see how hard the students and teachers work in the college prep classes. They are working diligently to make their application letters as appealing  and representative of themselves as possible. Students are dedicating a large amount of time to this process and most are applying early. It is encouraging that teachers get to act as mentors, in this sense, as some students may not receive this kind of support or encouragement at home. It an exciting time for these hopeful young people and I look forward to being a part of this very soon.

The article mentions a “education reversal” which took place over the last few years in which there were less young educated people than older ones, for example, “in 2007, the share of adults aged 45 to 64 who had graduated or earned a bachelor’s degree was slightly higher than among 25 -to 29- year olds”. This is a strange idea but one that makes sense. I feel like America took a little break from caring about educationm especially with such a large concentration on a crumbling economy. Kids were being left behind and school systems were being bled dry with no money left in the pot. But we’re back! The curse has been reversed! The “reversal”, that arose in the first decade of 2000s is being reversed yet again. Young people, perhaps due to awesome college prep courses in high school, are graduating from college and young people have taken over once again. This is good news for the future of our country and hopefully for the economy as well.  Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

theories on the value of literature




These two articles talk about how the “Shifts in ELA/Litearcy” initiated by the Common Core Standards will require that teachers spend less time on “esoteric literary terms” and more time on “pivotal and commonly found words … such as “discourse,” “generation,” “theory,” and “principles.” As we discussed in class when we were learning the standards of the Massachusetts framework for English/Language Arts curriculum, the new standards call for more “informational texts” (70% of the curriculum) rather than fictional texts. In other words, the new standards are discouraging the teaching of literature, the love of which, ironically, is what inspired many English teachers to choose their profession in the first place. 

 I think this article is interesting in light of what we have been reading in Peter Elbow’s book “What is English?” about theory. While these articles don’t mention literary theory, the new standards do endorse a explicit educational theory that literature is not of very high value and is not worth studying. Presumably, this is because the study of literature does not teach students skills that are directly translated to real life or the work force. However, both articles were written by teachers who express dismay at these new “rules.”
 As we are starting our first day of reading Hunger Games, I’m starting to see why incorporating texts such as these might be important in English classrooms. If we can’t teach literature in the classroom, then we need to focus on making our students enjoy fictional literature on their own. Twilight…oops, I mean, Hunger Games … as a highly engrossing piece of popular literature, is perfect for this aim.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Five Tips for Supporting iPads in the Classroom

The article that I read was written by Jennie Magiera, the digital learning coordinator for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a network of 25 Chicago Public Schools.  In it, she discusses the use of iPads in classrooms (something which has been mentioned more than once in our own class, as well as many other education classes that I’ve taken), and how to best utilize the technology within the classroom.  According to Magiera, there are five things which she believes are most important:

1. One Classroom > Three Classrooms

Instead of having a small number of iPads that can be checked out by teachers and circulated throughout the building, much like many schools do with laptops, it would be much more efficient to keep a cart of iPads as a permanent fixture in a classroom.  Magiera touches on a caveat of iPads; that in order to share information and programs between the devices, they must be synced, and this requires time and skill to do effectively that wouldn’t be possible through an occasion-checkout system.  Allowing students more time with the devices would also allow them to become more familiar with the interfaces.  And I must say I agree.  A student with more access to any technology will become more literate in its use.

2. Teacher Buy-In Is Half the Battle

This point is a bit more teacher-centric; if a cart of iPads is to be kept in one teacher’s classroom, who is the lucky teacher that gets it?  Magiera suggests having teachers share a video or blog demonstrating how they would effectively use an iPad in class, as well as giving an honest expectation of how, and how often they would be able to incorporate the device into their lesson plans.  Once again, this seems a good idea.  No sense letting the iPads sit in classrooms and go to waste, only being used two or three times a year, when they would be better off in a different class.

3. We All Need a Little Help From Our PLCs

Mageria focuses on the importance of teachers practicing together to support one another.  After spending two-days together, teachers learned about the basics of iPads; syncing, apps, certain technical restriction, etc.  From there, teachers would meet once a month to discus problems, challenges, and goals.

4. Plan for Incidental Expenses

Apps.  While a $1 or $3 may seem like an insignificant expense, keep in mind that number must be applied to all students in the classroom, as well as any other students in any other classrooms that may have iPads as well.  Allow teachers to make some decision making; cost of app against how often it will be used.  This is extremely important, for the cost off apps can quickly add up.

5. Save Room for Failure

Perhaps the most important thing, Margiera says, is to not be discouraged by failures or mishaps.  According to her, her initial failures are one of her most useful learning experiences that she had.  As a result of the failures, and the schools giving them the room to fail, teachers are able to grow, and improve their pedagogical practices.  Most importantly, and something that I think is incredibly important, is how these failures can turn a teacher into a role model for their students.  “I was demonstrating that it is OK to fail, and that it’s rewarding to reflect, learn, and try again.”

Here’s the article itself.




Filed under Uncategorized