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Category Archive for 'technology'

Have you no shame?

This is a cross-post that originally appeared on Reflections on Teaching

I love getting and reading the Sacramento Bee, and love being able to read it online. The comments however are a real mix of the bitter and the sweet. I hate how the limited space in the print version constricts representations of different points of view. If that is the problem in the print paper, the online version is like a polar opposite. To be frank, it’s embarrassing. Many commenters think nothing of making racist comments, ad hominum attacks, or weaving entire backgrounds for stories that have little to do with reality.

A recent Sacramento News and Review (our independent weekly) had this to say:

“If you are someone who leaves comments below news stories on the Sac Bee’s web site, chances are your politics are reactionary and inhumane and your heart flinty and cold.
Under a story about a child who drowned in the river, you might write, ‘Kids drown all the time. Why is this news? And Rodriguez? Was the kid even here legally?

Like a piece in the Onion it is funny and sad, because you could literally find comments that read almost exactly like that in the comments section in any given week. It’s like all the happiness and joy has been sucked out of the comments section. Instead of the milk of human kindness, they’ve reverted to the poison of reptilian bitterness.

My husband follows transportation articles as part of his job, and shares the story about a woman who was forced off the road by a driver enraged truck driver who felt she had taken too long in a drive-through line where he had been stuck behind her. The commenters all came up with reasons why this must have occurred: texting, using a cell phone, putting on makeup, including elaborate descriptions of what she was doing. All of this with no facts to back up any of their suppositions, but it obviously filled their preconceptions.

The comments on recent story on burn victims from the daycare fire in Mexico coming up to Shriners International Hospital here in Sacramento was the most recent example of this combination of ignorance and meanness. Commenters were angry that we were taking care of non-Americans showing their ignorance that other commenters were fortunately quick to address; services are not paid for by taxpayers by the international efforts of Shriners and the hospital is part of a network which includes a hospital in Mexico. The response? One commenter vowed not to contribute any longer to Shriners because he only wanted to help American kids. Local columnist, Marcos Breton, has weighed in on the ugly nativism that paints all folks from South of the U.S. who have a Spanish speaking ancestor as illegal (and squares off on the reality of “illegals” as well).

My maternal grandfather was a proud Shriner for years who collected his own spare change and stood in front of grocery stores raising money. It was to help sick children. Period. I could resort to terms like, ignorant, racist, etc. but the one that really fits is small. We Americans like to think of ourselves as generous people, and we are, those comments were not from that America.

There is another more general concern that I have about the online comments. I teach in Sac City in an elementary, but one of my colleagues is Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches at Luther Burbank. We both have large immigrant populations from Mexico and SE Asia. Our problem is that we rely on using links to stories to help teach our students about their culture and how it intersects with mainstream society, which can expose them to the comments section.

A few months ago Larry pointed out a story on traditional conflict resolution methods in the Hmong community in light of the recent murder that had it’s roots in an extra-marital affair. The comments were the usually blend of sanctimony and bigoted opinions that have marked the online comments.

I wondered, what will students make of this? Most of the commenters probably don’t consider the students important enough to worry about it, but they should. Proposition 13 passed around the time I was 13 years old. In the flurry of threatened closures of libraries and other services Howard Jarvis opined that it didn’t matter if libraries closed because none of these ignorant kids read anyway. That was my political crucible and I have never and will never find anything that Howard Jarvis or his taxpayers association has to say to be credible.

I have to think that some of Larry’s students might be coming to the same conclusion about folks in the Bee comment section that I once came to about Howard Jarvis and his ilk. I once was 13 and powerless, but now I am 44, vote in every election in an electorate where my views are shared by a majority. Someday many of Larry’s and my students may be too, demographics is on their side. Meanwhile, those commenters will still be trolls.

Photo Credit: Dirty Troll Revue on Flickr

iPods In Schools

Earlier this month I wrote a post here critical of having students use cellphones in the classroom and shared why we banned their used during the school-day at my inner-city school.

In that same post I just briefly mentioned that this year we also banned iPods from the school, though I didn’t go into the reasons why. Jim Peterson, an exceptional Assistant Principal at my school, recently explained the reasons for the ban in an email to staff, and I thought I’d share them in this follow-up post.

One reason, he wrote, was theft. Cellphones and iPods have been the two most frequently stolen items at our school. I can personally attest to the disruption, tension, and fights that can result from this problem.

Another reason for the iPod ban was safety. Jim writes “On a regular basis, administrators and monitors would have to chase down a student in the hall who could not hear them calling because he or she had the music cranked.” I, too, have directly experienced this problem.

Lastly, he writes about “Discipline: Faculty, monitors and admin used to have to spend time giving detentions, Saturday schools and suspensions for iPod-related incidents.” I’m very confident in my ability to engage students, and feel like I have excellent relationships with them. However, even though I never gave any kind of official consequence for a student listening to music when he/she was supposed to be doing classwork, on occasion it did happen. When it did, a quick private conversation worked fine. However, I’ve been pretty lucky in that I have generally either taught all ESL classes (where classroom management is really not an issue) or small double-period classes of mainstream students. If I, as many of our teachers have to do, had to teach five different classes each day with thirty students each, I know I would have quite a few students facing many challenges that even engaging content and good teaching could not solve alone, and being able to avoid one more possible problem by banning iPods would sound good to me.

And, yes, I do understand that iPods could have an effective educational use. When I was a community organizer in my nineteen year career prior to becoming a public school teacher, we would talk about the “world as it is” and “the world as we would like it to be” (Barack Obama has used that contrast in some of his speeches as well). We want to always strive towards “the world as we would like it to be.” In our inner-city high school, though, sometimes we have to make compromises with “the world as it is.”

Is Brainpop Bad For Students?

Blogger Gary Stager is never afraid to speak his mind, and often provides a lot of food for thought. I’m a regular reader.

Sometimes, though, as all iconoclasts do, I think he goes a bit too far. His critique of VoiceThread was one of those times, and his just-published post that begins “Brainpop gives me a headache,” I think, is another one.

He critiques the use of Brainpop animations in class (using their recent one on the events of 9/11) as simplistic and not worthy of use in a classroom.

I’m a big fan of Brainpop movies (and of Voice Thread) for English Language Learner students of all ages. They are accessible, especially now that they are all closed-captioned, engaging, and short. They provide listening and reading opportunities, along with imparting basic content knowledge.

I would say the Gary’s critique of the site holds true for most content on the Internet and elsewhere.   The key to teaching, and learning, in my view is what you do with students prior to and after their reading or watching the material.  Sticking a student in front of an individual computer without combining that action with activities that access prior knowledge, without including small group collaborative learning, or without adding other engaging questions to provoke higher-order thinking skills is just taking the “easy way out.”

Brainpop provides a nice little introduction to factual material — no more, no less.

And, in my opinion, it does a pretty good job at doing just that.

Cellphones In Class

Alice Mercer and I have recently had a couple of discussions about the use of cellphones in the classroom, and there have been a number of other recent blog posts about it — including in Darren Draper’s fine blog.

However, I’m still not convinced cellphone use in the classroom is generally a good idea.

I think having a zero tolerance for use of, and even seeing, cellphones during the school day has been a small, but important, element of the growing success of our inner-city high school. It has reduced the odds of students calling friends or family to come and participate in fights (or potential) fights. In addition, many of our students come from hectic home situations, and the added distraction and temptation of using a cellphone in class, I think, carries with it more negatives than positives (on another note, we’ve also recently banned students using ipods and mp3 players, and I’ve got to admit that I believe that this change has also been a positive development for our school culture).

I also want to note that our school certainly does not have a “police-state” mentality. We have a very relational culture, divided into small learning communities, and we overtly refuse to “teach to the test” and instead focus on developing life long learners. We have a very relational discipline system that tries to get to the root causes of conflict and does not just rely on punitive measures. We are recognized internationally for our creative use of technology in instruction. And we recently became one of the few high schools in the country to come out of Fourth Year Program Improvement status under No Child Left Behind.

I’ve been trying to keep an open mind on the topic, but still haven’t been convinced. I’m not sure where many of the primary proponents of cellphone use teach, and and wonder if any work in an inner-city high school environment.  I’d be very interested in hearing about their specific experiences if they do.

Crossposted on Borderland:

Once upon a time I looked forward to seeing mainline literacy journals take an interest in blogging. So, it was good to see an article in this month’s Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy on using of blogs for literature study, Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. However, for an education blogger, there’s a gaping disjunction between the academic world of the journal, and the world of classroom blogging described in the article.

The irony of publishing an article about online “socially situated identities” in a print journal that doesn’t provide a reference for the author’s online identity was too incongruous for me to focus seriously on the content of the report, and I drifted in and out of a weirdly schizophrenic consciousness where I wasn’t sure how to read the article. I imagined being the “ivory tower academic” reading about blogs, a cutting edge communication tool that could revolutionize literature study. And then I’d flip into “blogging teacher” mode, wanting to follow a link back to the students’ or teacher’s blogs, hoping I’d learn something from their example. But the JAAL article didn’t provide source citations for the students’ blogs. So the article became its own example of the disconnect between the theoretical world of academia and the messy particulars of the classroom.

Will Richardson and Konrad Glogowski might be interested to know they were casually cited along with Gee, Fairclough, and Jenkins, even though the students’ blogs, the subject of the article, are not listed. Nor are they indexed on Google from what I can see. Which is not to say that Kathleen West, the author of the study, doesn’t have interesting things to say in her account of her 11th grade AP English students using weblogs to engage in authentic talk about books.

I did find a copy [doc] of the article on a digital media course wiki. West used discourse analysis for a case study of three variously successful students to show how each of them created distinct identities and integrated their social language with the discourse of literary analysis. She showed how the “relationship-savvy teen,” the “tempered rebel,” and the “pop-cultured humorist” all constructed hybrid identities as “serious literature students” and “web-literate communicators.” She provides samples of coded transcriptions, and quotes from the student’s blogs as exemplars. The article, written for a university course, is slightly different from the version published by JAAL, but West’s data and discussion are essentially the same in each.

A couple of things about this piece bother me, though. West’s research question, “What is the nature of literary response as communicated via weblog?” was asked about kids in an AP English class at a school which West described as an “AP-saturated,” white, upper or middle class context. She concluded that the discourse of “serious literature student” could coexist with the more non-standard, non-academic online discourse. Fair enough. But what about kids who come from less privileged neighborhoods? Case study documentations that tell only success stories, especially when they come from upper middle class school environments, have limited use for teachers who work with less privileged student populations. I am always curious about what case studies don’t show, because the disappointments in my classroom are often more instructive for me than my successes. What about the kids who weren’t “serious literature students?”

The research question about literary response and weblogs tries to bridge the rift between academic and online discourse, where “socially situated identities” are constructed around different norms and conventions. Case in point from the article: The f-word was spelled out in the JAAL piece, where West apparently has to explain the meaning of ‘WTF’ for the academic readership. It was funny to see them explicitly deal with it, tacitly acknowledging their own cluelessness, like a parent using teen jargon.

Control of academic discourse is challenged by the read/write web. Anyone can publish now, about anything they like, in any style they choose. But the academy still has the credentialing job. For how long? I wonder. We’re publishing our own research, and linking directly to the evidence, every day. So, what can the academy tell us about blogging that we don’t already know, or won’t find out on our own? And when will the academy admit the social languages that kids are bringing with them into the groves of academe?

West, K.C. (2008, April). Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(7), 588–598.

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