Monday, September 26, 2016

Not that debate, another one

In case you missed it Monday night, there was a presidential debate, which reminded me of my own debating experience, which triggered this slice.

Twenty-five years ago, I spent a gap year as an exchange student in England. (It wasn't called a gap year at the time, but study-abroad.) Hindsight tells me I went into that experience as a callow fellow. So, I embarked on the adventure with clear intentions to shake off my callowness by saying yes to most invitations that came my way.

Thanks to that casual calculus, I found myself standing in front of a crowded lecture hall one month after I arrived in 'England's green and pleasant land.' The occasion was the weekly convening of my school's debating society. The society invited; I accepted. Thus, I was tapped to take the con side, arguing against the following claim: "The world would be a better place if America had not been discovered."

The audience was politely hostile; I was still plenty callow. Let's cut to the chase: Charged with defending my country's place on the planet, I failed.

Then, as now, the world kept spinning. Plenty of work remained to do.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The slice where I invite more voices

For today's slice, here's a conversation among four students. It unfolded as a string of comments added to a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet contained a list of English standards that we've been re-purposing in middle-school-friendly ways, as well as room for students to reflect on their progress in relation to those standards. During today's class, I wanted students' input on a draft of this sheet.

To serve us well, it should afford practice that enhances students' self-assessment and feedback capacities, not to mention their requisite reading/writing/speaking know-how. I envision this document inching us towards a more collaborative stance on grading. (I've changed student names because that felt like the right thing to do.)

Exchanges like this strike me as meaningful for pedagogy generally and direct instruction specifically. I'm still trying to put my finger on that meaning. Sure, Stu asks a crux question; Misty wants to belong; and Ann shows admirable initiative, but should cite sources better -- and may still not know what she's parroting! Among the bigger fish that seem worth frying is how, in the worthiest learning, application ought to trump recall.

What do you see looking through this slice-lens?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Twist of life in nine lines

Efforts to rehab my reconstructed knee
Saturday, I tested its mettle

with ginger twisting
to extricate myself
from my bike's clipless pedals.

Felt momentously uneventful,
no big thing,
for having been first go since spring.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Under the wire by a nose?

Before becoming a teacher, I was a sportswriter. I still enjoy the dramatic story lines and athletic feats inherent in sports, not to mention the abundantly available metaphors. So, count this entry as my checked-swing effort to dribble a hit past tonight's Slice of Life deadline. A bloop to keep my weekly blogging streak alive.

An hour ago, I found myself near the end of middle-school Back to School Night. Two parents dropped in to ask a question about Ultimate Frisbee on behalf of their son in high school. (The son, I'd taught back in sixth grade; Ultimate Frisbee is a volunteer coaching gig for me these days.) After getting their question answered, the parents also gifted me with the news that their younger son, still in middle school, fondly remembered my attendance at a play in which he acted last year and a compliment I'd shared with him about his scene-stealing performance. (He and I have not yet shared a classroom.)

At the end of a long day, the exchange left me wrapped in the comfortable blanket of historian Henry Adams' now borderline cliche: "A teacher...can never tell where his influence stops." Sometimes, though, we get clues.