Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Socrates Would Go... 2.0

I've been dropping knowledge from Proust and the Squid in just about every conversation for the last week or so, and using the research and questions to drive my lesson planning. I'm only 90 pages deep but just finished a section about Socrates's protests of written language. It's not in front of me to quote (and I gotta blog when I have time) but he essentially said that written language will destroy the memory, for one, and that it gives words and ideas an authority that they shouldn't necessarily be afforded. Dialogue, on the other hand, requires memorization and analysis of all hitherto cultural knowledge, and leaves ideas up for challenge and revision. Wolf points out that Socrates's concerns are the same as our modern concerns about digital literacy and communication.

But there's a different comparison that has me thinking and questioning. She also points out that Plato, all the while, is putting Socrates's dialogues to writing. He had a better guess at what might be possible with the written word. Socrates didn't live long enough to see writing past its infancy. That's where I find myself and my school one year into a one-to-one laptop initiative. There are so many issues: distraction, bullying, superficial knowledge, reliance on Google, memorization-what's that. And there are maybe just a few places where the integration of technology has made better, after the cost-benefit analysis, teaching and learning. And mostly, I think we find ourselves doing the same things, just digitally.

I find myself in a funny place, between the two camps. I love my noteback and paperback, but don't have whole poems or books memorized. I can see the benefits of digital literacy, but how do I balance it all, helping my students navigate a new form of communication meaningfully. Sometimes it feels like a lot of guesswork, in the company of Plato, I guess I can deal. I think Socrates would have a blog too, since the written word has been networked. Authority of voice and content is a different matter now. Conversation doesn't necessarily entail only the auditory.

Can't wait to make it through the next few chapters and the discussion of how to purposefully teach new and old literacies.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Bawds of Euphony"

Today, we had a Sophomore English: Critical Thinking sub department meeting. There are ten of us, and we take turns each meeting running through a lesson from our respective class. Hopefully, the lesson leverages our one-to-one laptop environment in some way. The lesson today was a critical thinking exercise using Wallace Steven's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

The subject of this post is not really the lesson, rather, something that came up within the activity. A very 21st century question. The activity had us in partners, posting ideas about a stanza to a Moodle forum, where other sets of partners answer meta questions about our original ideas.

My partner and I had stanza ten, which includes the phrase "bawds of euphony." Better look that one up. As a phrase search, Google takes us straight to a scholarly (or maybe pseudo-scholarly) essay explicating the stanza. There we go. Being the fun-loving English teachers we are, we continued the activity by looking up each words individually in the dictionary. These definitions helped us form our own idea.

So the question is: how do we teach critical thinking if students have easy access to somebody else's (an expert's?) critical thinking?

It doesn't work to say "don't use those sites." That'll be as effective as scaring students away from Sparksnotes.

Finding somebody's thinking isn't the same as doing your own thinking.

My initial idea was, well, you do the activity. Then, you teach students how to conduct a scholarly search, find some materials, and hold them up to the class's discussion to identify similarities and differences.

BTW - that's a pic of an albino blackbird

Monday, October 6, 2008

Reinventing My Job

Well, I've been busy, and the blog was one of the first things to neglect. But I've realized that its penchant for helping me reflect and synthesize is actually exactly what I need. So I'm starting with what I'm doing for my school this year and the big questions for each project.

Leading a pilot of Tablet PCs in a school of all Macs. (This is also my M.Ed. plan B).
What do students and teachers gain/lose in a cross-platform environment?
What will it take to support?
What kinds of learners will benefit from a different interface? And how?

Coaching 10th grade teachers in their first year of teaching in one-to-one laptop environment.
What kinds of technology enhanced activities support good teaching and learning?
What do we need to know about reading and the brain when we consider online texts and materials?

Stay out in front of new and effective tools, practices, and research while being one of four Technology Resource Teachers in a high school with more than 150 teachers and 800 students in the one-to-one program.
How to balance?