Friday, October 31, 2008

Can Cell Phones be Safe?

Today is "Fun Friday" in my AVID classroom. A day when we do team building activities or have guest speakers visit. I had planned to try and play Jumbli with students. Have you heard about Jumbli? It's the scrabble-esque game you can play live on a billboard in Times Square. Quite fun, especially when the letters rearrange themselves on your computer screen after receiving your text. I thought that would be a nice fun Friday activity, that is until I learned what a problem texting can be at my school. It seems that students text each other to meet during class time--meet at the bathrooms, meet in the hall, clandestine encounters, some likely innocent, others decidely not. So, I'm torn. I do believe that cell phones are more tool than toy and am ordering a copy of the book from ISTE by Liz Kolb as I type. I've long wanted to use them as such in my classroom and I've tried to have conversations with administrators and tech evangelists about making use of cell phones in zero tolerance policy school climates, but I don't have any easy answers. I'd be interested in hearing how you keep students safe (and productive) when using cell phones in a high school classroom.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Counting on It

Isn't there so much you want to do in your classroom? I want to have students working on the computer, creating projects, managing and manipulating information. I want my students to read every day--in print or online. I want students to write--to create podcast scrips, to detail their lives in narratives that we can then turn into essays comparing and contrasting the past to the now. There is so much that I want to do with my students this year. It can be overwhelming, can't it?

Scheduling sets us up for success. With a routine and systems in place, we can do more. I'm teaching ninth graders and routine is everything in order to get them to develop habits of mind and to become academically engaged. Students need the stability of the schedule--they need to be able to count on it 100% of the time, so that their minds can think about something other than "what are we doing!"
We begin each day with reading: 10 or 15 minutes of reading workshop time. We're building a reading habit. We work together and in small groups on Monday and Wednesday (me teaching and students practicing), students work with each other in tutorial groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are "fun" Fridays in the AVID program guest speakers and team builders mostly. We're making progress.

Students are starting to predict what we do in class, "we're reading today, Miss?"
I smile, saying a simple yes.

“Every day we read, Miss?”

“Yes, we do,” I reply. Students settle in to books or notes or textbooks.

It's time well spent building background knowledge, building vocabulary, and building reading habits. Time that students have started to count on.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Politics and Persuasion in the Classroom

This year I consider myself quite lucky to have about 100 of the students that I had last year. It’s fun to begin the year knowing where your students are and what they respond to. And yet, even when you think you know them very well, they still can surprise you. This year I am amazed at the number of my students who have a strong opinion about who is going to or who should win the presidential election. These are not students who typically discuss current events in politics. Current music…yes. Current shoes… absolutely. Current technology . . . most definitely. But never current politics. So, it’s nice to see the sudden interest.

Unfortunately, I’m reminded of a conversation with a Republican friend of mine from the last election. I asked her why she was supporting Bush. She had absolutely no idea. She couldn’t tell me one reason why she would vote for him, she just knew that’s who she was voting for. This is an educated woman; a college graduate who makes more than $100,000 a year. Scary! And it’s really the same for my students. They do not know what the candidates stand for. They have no idea how the new president might affect our country or why you should pick one over the other. So, I certainly feel it’s my obligation to take this teachable moment and show them things they might consider not only for this election, but for the future presidential elections when they will be old enough to vote.

To begin with, we are participating in an online project sponsored by the National Writing Project called Writing Our Future: Letters to the Next President. It is a great way to teach persuasive writing and to look at topics the president is responsible for. In addition, I’m having to teach my students how to work with Google documents, which has been great fun and will have applications far beyond the end of this project. Although it is too late to sign up for the project, you can certainly get your students looking at persuasive writing and talking about the issues. Visit the website at

If you want some professional models, visit This is a forum for young adult authors to explain why they support Obama and for teenagers to respond. In response, a Ning was set up for McCain at, but unfortunately, it does not yet have the same type of participation. Regardless of who we, the teachers, support (because this is about teaching the importance of the election and the issues, not about getting kids to believe exactly what I believe), these sights show persuasive writing and different perspectives, and they encourage young people to be aware and to vote. And because they are both nings, they are communities and participation is encouraged.

Finally, it is a good idea to point out that no matter who is speaking, ideas and records can be misrepresented in political speeches. There are many writers out there who are getting paid to check the facts for us. Here are a couple: and

Lee Corey

Building Relationships

Last week was homecoming. On Friday, spirit day, my ninth graders were wound up. Excited about the homecoming pep rally (their first for which most paid a dollar) the buzz in the room swirled around the parade, the game and the dance. Sensing that the lesson I had planned wouldn't be very effective against the lure of homecoming and after a few weekly essentials we abandoned our agenda. Instead of scoring their AP Human Geography essays with the state's writing rubric, we talked about the meaning of homecoming and I painted spirit designs on their faces. Of course, my administrator came into my classroom for a classroom walk through. My assessing administrator had yet to walk through my classroom though the principal has, twice. Face painting was not the first impression I wanted the administrator to have of my teaching, but when I laughed about the Murphy's law of it with my principal at the football game later that evening, she said to me, "you were building relationships." And you know what? We were. I am building relationships. I am also sowing seeds of school spirit and pride.

Do I feel guilty about giving up instructional time to something that seems so frivolous on the surface? I do. However, in the near twenty years I've been teaching I've grown to be more of a realist. I chose to spend some instructional time (25 minutes a class period) building relationships and school spirit. I chose to connect. My freshmen had never experienced homecoming--this was a big high school moment for them. Did I sit behind my computer? Did I put a movie on and grade papers? Did I give students unstructured "free time"? No, no and no. I think there are many ways we teachers can choose to spend instructional time and though some moments may seem frivolous, we're teaching just the same.