Monthly Archives: September 2007

On Community

I am posting this response to McKibben’s lecture on both my 541 and 506 blogs, so if some of the references don’t ring a bell it’s not your fault.

 I think that McKibben’s central point was that environmental and social ethics are inextricably intertwined.  It comes as no surprise that we are failing at both.  What I found most compelling is his suggestion for change. If I could ask McKibben one question (in hindsight) it would be this: Given the recommendation to build sustainable communities in order to confront social, economic, and environmental issues, do you think that the “flattening” of the world, with the technologies that facilitate that flattening, is creating the kind of community you envision? I’m sure you can all guess where I come out on this thing.  I question whether or not digital communities are sustainable.  I see them in terms of what Hakim Bey calls “temporary autonomous zones,” spaces where identities are negotiated in order to create a kind of guerrilla culture that emerges, thrives, and vanishes.  I think here of what McKibben said about community and commercial activity: a credit card, laptop, and internet connection can get you pretty much anything you need without leaving your door.  He didn’t mean it complementary.  I think, and any of you who were there can correct me if I’m wrong, McKibben would suggest that community isn’t encountered on a screen, but through interactions between human beings (the living, breathing variety). Localizing action (against the globalizing trend- a la Friedman) to form more sustainable communities shouldn’t sound as radical as it does.  But we live in a world where rampant commercial culture is emerging a controlling discourse of attention, not focusing on the kinds of social and global ills we ought to be thinking about.  I imagine it is this kind of consumerism that McKibben is critiquing when he notes that general happiness recedes in reverse relation to our increasing wealth.  I’m afraid that I don’t find in McKibben’s vision of social and environmental activism anything that makes me more inclined to accept the globalizing economy on its own terms.  Globalization, which I understood to be an opposing force to community or local action, may be the inevitable trend Friedman and others suggests it to be, but I do not see a socially competent, ethical response in accepting it.  Our project, if it is to be of any worth outside of the purely economic (that is, the training of future workers in the globalized economy), must be founded on social consciousness. Whether or not we take heed of McKibben’s thinking about community, I would agree that simply maintaining our trajectory is not an acceptable response. J. Degan



Filed under Uncategorized

Atwell in Action

After finishing Atwell’s last chapters of The Reading Zone, I am psyched to say that I have seen some of her methods in action in the classroom I am observing in!


Each student in my host classroom has a marble composition notebook that is their journal. After class one day, I asked my teacher what students were actually using the journals for and she explained that this was an “Atwellian” idea that she loves and had to incorporate into her classroom. The students use the journals for most of their writing activities, with the most common being letter exchanges between the students and the teacher, regarding the books that they are reading. I think reading is a separate class at this school, so I am not sure if they are reading about books of their choice, or a collectively assigned book. I will find out this week.

However, students also use their journals to take notes, for vocabulary activities, and other writing assignments that the teacher assigns. One in particular was of interest to me because it relates to my S of I project. The 7th and 8th graders did a unit about gender and had prompts that the teacher had given them. There were some very creative and interesting responses to prompts such as “If Ken and Barbie switched bodies, but kept their personalities and genders, what would each say?” Another was, “Imagine that you are inside the heads of a man and a woman as they argue, what would each be thinking?” So while the focus of the journals is exchanging letters with the teacher, they are also used for other writing activities as well.

Further, an important philosophy that my teacher stressed to me while we reviewed some of the journals was that she never grades the students’ ideas; she only grades mechanics, which I can appreciate. However, at the same time, she doesn’t accept plot summaries, at Atwell mentions, but rather encourages the kids to think critically about their books. To help with this, she gave each student a model letter that she had written about a book that she was reading, so that they can use it as a guide while writing, and recognize that this is not a task focused on reiterating plot, but on developing ideas and articulating how the text made you feel.

I just wanted to share this with everyone, as it is exciting to see that the methods that we are reading about in class are being used in classrooms. Has anyone else noticed this?

– Mandy


Filed under Uncategorized

Thoughts on my second book review…

Since I missed a few classes in the last two weeks, I wanted to share with everyone a little bit about my next Book Club review.  I have chosen a book brought in by Dr. Stearns, entitled Everything Bad Is Good For You, by Steven Johnson.  I am finding the book particularly appropriate for me because it challenges many of my own beliefs about pop culture.  Coming from a very conservative, traditional background, I am finding that Johnson heads straight to discuss everything that I tend to shy away from. 

Take the Xbox game Grand Theft Auto, for example.  My husband plays this game often, and I despise it for its language, violence, and lack of what I would call “wholesome values”.  Johnson argues my voice by claiming that the world of gaming sets clear goals for its players, with clear objectives to accomplish before those goals can be achieved.  Ultimately, when goals are met, players know they will be granted a reward.  In real life, objectives, goals are rewards are often fuzzy and confusing.  Gaming gives young adult players a good sense of what “real life” does not provide in a clear way.  Playing a game in a defined sequence of events also shows players that gratification cannot, in fact, be instant, because one must work hard to accomplish an ending.  By practicing all of this in a game like Grand Theft Auto, teens become sharper mentally, and this transfers itself into their lives away from the TV screen. 

Thinking of how this all relates to the ELA classroom, I can predict that Johnson will be the true-blue advocate of incorporating all avenues of technology into the course syllabus, no matter how “off beat” they might be.  I tend to favor all things in moderation, but I think Johnson will help me see positive in what I call negative.  -Sofia 


Filed under Uncategorized

McKibben’s Turtle

Because last night’s lecture was our class this week, I hoped for some posts on the lecture while it’s still fresh.

I included the lecture on our syllabus to focus a spotlight on the importance of helping our students know, name, nurture and work their intellectual projects, their “turtles.”

Bill McKibben’s palpable passion for his own intellectual work was for me last night a model for living an engaged life.

As a long-time high school teacher, I wanted to ask him about the origins of the project in adolescence and the influences that were especially important to him as a young man. I wanted to know if there were teachers, a teacher, who had “known” him and had affirmed his interests. Maybe even suggested books for him to read.

I wanted to know how Bill McKibben came to embrace his turtle. This has been my own project — over decades–to help my students recognize and or find their turtles.

I wonder what you’re thinking. Do quote Carroll and/or McKibben in your comment or post. KES


Filed under Uncategorized

The elusive English Journal

Hey everyone,

I was just wondering if anyone had received their English Journal yet. Yesterday I received a lovely catalog from NCTE, so I could order more things that I would presumably never receive. But no journal. Has anyone else gotten theirs?



Filed under Uncategorized

Plato’s Meno and Unlocking Excellence

“What is more suited to conversation is not just to give the true answer, but also to do so in terms of what the questioner has in addition agreed he knows.”-Socrates (Meno p. 49)

“There is no truth. Everything is permitted.”-Hassan I Sabbah

Hey, it’s Raph here with a post on Plato’s Meno. I’ve talked with a few people in class about this text and mentioned it briefly as an example in my review of Critical Pedagogy by Joan Wink, but I really must stress its importance as it goes along with much of our course work.

Meno is one of Plato’s Socratic dialogues and it deals with the discussion between Socrates and the slave-owner, Meno, as to whether or not excellence can be taught. Meno poses the question and Socrates claims to have no knowledge as to the definition of excellence. He then asks Meno if he could explain excellence. As Meno struggles to explain the meaning of the word by citing many examples of what excellence could be, Socrates throws more questions at him and points out how these definitions could be problematic. He tells Meno to “stop making many things out of one” (p.53) and in the process works with Meno in un-learning what he thinks he knows of excellence.

Once they reach common ground, and Meno realizes that he no longer knows anything about excellence, Socrates addresses the question again. Socrates states, “…As far as excellence is concerned, I don’t know what it is; you perhaps knew before you came into contact with me, but now you are like someone who doesn’t know. All the same, I want to consider it with you and join with you in searching for whatever it is” (p. 63).

Eventually, Socrates asks one of Meno’s slaves to take part in answering some basic questions dealing with geometry. As you read, you notice that he is drawing the answers from the slave by asking the right questions. From here, Socrates concludes that knowledge and excellence is something within us all. Excellence cannot be taught. It is our own responsibility whether or not we choose to unlock it by asking the right questions of our teachers and of ourselves.

So, with the conclusions of Meno, we can see the importance of the question (ie. for our project, and bigger questions about life in general) and look at teaching under a whole new light. I’m really interested in seeing what you all think about this material. If anyone is interested in reading Meno, I highly recommend it. It’s a very quick read and clocks in at under 50 pages. I have a copy if anyone is interested in borrowing it.


Filed under Uncategorized

Higher Learning (Book Review)

 I have always liked the idea of teaching gifted students. Teaching students who “want to learn” can make classroom life more enjoyable for everyone. However, I was not familar with how to go about teaching gifted students. Until I read Bloland’s book, Gifted Students, I did not realize how much I needed to know about gifted students.

        The most inquisitive question about this subject is how does one recognize a gifted student? Are gifted students always the first ones to raise their hands in class? Do they always get answers right and stand out amongst other students? 

         According to Bloland, gifted students are often times the ones who fall behind in the classroom. This happens when they feel that they have not been adequately challenged by the coarse work. If they feel that the lessons are going too slow, they easily get bored and will turn their attention elsewhere. They will “act out” in ways such as getting bad grades or solving their problems through violence. Bloland refers to gifted students as Gifted, Talented, and Exceptionally Conscientious (GTEC). She states in her book that many gifted student get “lost” in the system because they do not have teachers who know how to meet their needs.

    This book is good for teachers because it can help new teachers learn how to address these students. It also helps teachers recognize gifted students when they teach in regular classrooms. When I was in ninth grade, I was in the high school drop out program for “at risk” kids. However, my teacher at the time (Ms. Dorsey) realized that it was three members in the class who read at a higher level than the rest. She put us in a quiet room by ourselves and had us read our text seperate from the class. This teacher realized that we had special needs and she catered to them. The three of us who were in this group went on to be high school graduates while many others in the class did not achieve this goal. This is a great example of what Bloland is trying to convey to teachers; that there are gifted students who are in “basic” or even “at risk” programs in high school. According to Bloland’s definition, “a gifted student is when a six year old can comprehend what a ten year old can.” (p.6) She states that when parents are told their kids are doing well, its because their child is achieving slightly above grade level. Achieving above grade level, however, is not good enough for most gifted students. Teachers should realize that gifted students have a closer relationship with their parents at an earlier age than many other students. Many of these students trade books with their parents. This is the reason why so many English teachers are attracted to gifted students because gifted students enjoy reading just as much as they do.

     Gifted students are taught differently than other students. A teacher should have a routine that supports their goals, for example having then bring a book to class. Gifted students tend to benefit more from reading young adult novels about adolescent problems. They tend to read more once they realize that they have more choice in the selection process. Bloland suggests that if a teacher were to teach a gifted class or be involved with gifted students, they should try and use challenging texts. The best way to ensure that the students read the text is by keeping a log. She states that gifted students often times tend to over excel and if you give them six pages to read, they will read twelve. Bloland is an advocate for small group discussions over large because they give the students more time to interact in discussion.

     Bloland also recognizes that there are many similarities between gifted and standard students. She finds that both groups tend to need assistance when it comes to grammar. In regards to grading, gifted students should be given a self-assessment or porfolio so they can analyze their own work. Gifted students tend to need less governance and often times are trusted by their own decisions. Gifted students stand out from their counterparts mostly in regards to their committment to learning even in the most difficult times. They are dedicated to the tasks and will not stop until the job is complete.

        Teachers can learn from this novel and can help make the classroom a more enjoyable place to learn. How to teach gifted students is not a topic this is widely addressed and needs attention. Many classrooms today are integrated with slow and fast learners. This may help some of the slow learners get ahead but the fast learners are often times bored because they are not being challenged. Many are not being prepared for college and many teachers are not being taught about how to recognize a gifted student. Many of the classrooms today are quite the opposite and gifted students get ignored while slower members tend to get most of the attention. It is true that many teachers may not even have the time to address a student which is gifted and it is difficult for a high school teacher to address the personal needs of every member of a class. Teachers are often bogged down with lesson plans and the pressure of getting students ready for statewide tests. However, Bloland gives a resolve for how the teacher should address the gifted student and how it is equally important for all students to reach their full potential. If one student is left behind them the entire system is responsible.

 Ray Canada Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized