Home / Blog (page 2)


20 Time

We’re in motion. Friday was a day of publicizing our ideas.

Best practices for teachers: Give your students plenty of time to think about what they would like to pursue.  Some students will instantly come to an idea, but many more will need time to work through what they would like to do.  Plan plenty of activities, big and small, that will help students to arrive at their perfect projects.

One of my favorite leading questions: What do you do when you are supposed to be doing something else?

Help students work through their answers.  You’ll undoubtedly find that some students believe that they are completely uninteresting or uninspired or that their interests aren’t worthy of further exploration.

Example: One of my girls told me that her favorite way to spend her time is on the phone.  She loves Instagram and Twitter.  Now we’re working on a project that will allow her to teach others about social media.  What is it? What can it do?



The 20% Project

After ten months of planning, it’s time to put the 20% Project into motion.

What I have learned so far:

1. Students don’t know what to do with academic choice.

2. Students don’t know what they are truly passionate about.

3. Students are risk-averse.


All three of these issues stem directly from the traditional schooling model in the USA.


How Do We Know If A Student Is Learning?

My English 9 honors students recently finished reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.  We still had a few days before final projects were due so we were working on some enrichment activities in class.  My grand plan for last Thursday was to watch roughly 15 minutes of the 1998 film version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow and then talk about classic works transcending time and place.  That’s not how things went.

Before I could start my “planned” conversation, the students ran in a different direction.


“They never should have changed Pip’s name.  Names all have an important meaning so changing them is wrong.”

“It was too sunny in the movie.  The clouds and the gloom in the book help the story.”

“Why was there so much green in the movie? Was that supposed to symbolize the gardens?”

“The real Joe never would have taken that money.”


The conversation went on  for the remainder of the period, about 20 minutes. The passion of the arguments caught me off guard.  I guess that’s what happens when I plan how things should go.  I like to think that I am an innovative teacher who creates copious opportunities for students to discover knowledge.  But it’s events like this dynamic Dickens conversation that remind me how true learning tends to exceed the artificial boundaries that we put in place in our lesson plans, in our expectations, and most notably in our assessments. I wanted students to go in a certain direction and to discover a certain knowledge.  They denied me and went their own way.  It was truly one of those moments when I re-realized that sometimes my job is to get out of the way.

And so I sat quietly as students used evidence, analysis, and extrapolation to make claims, to back up those claims, and to discuss Dickens’ characters, themes, and settings. Perhaps the best part of the whole experience is that they weren’t talking to me; they were talking to each other.

Go away Pearson.  We have Dickens.


When Students are Fully Alive

Sir Ken Robinson stands as a foremost advocate for true education reform. At his NCTE 2012 keynote address, he talked about  what happens when students are fully engaged with content.   Their hearts and minds soar.



Passive vs. Active

I tell my students that they aren’t allowed to use passive voice unless they do it on purpose.  Passive voice is just that passive.  Instead of the doer actively doing something to something or someone, something or someone has something done to it.


The dog bit the mailman. (ACTIVE)dog-mailman
The mailman was bitten by the dog. (PASSIVE)


Though passive voice is generally frowned upon in most academic writing because of its wordiness and lack of active movement, there are situations where passive voice is more appropriate.  Some examples of these situations include: when you don’t want anybody to know who did something; when you want to emphasize the “done to” rather than the doer; when you are writing science-y stuff.

-The toilet is clogged. (Who did it? Could be anyone.)
-The suspect was apprehended by the task force after 12 months of investigation. (The focus is on the suspect rather than on who did the apprehending.)
Chemical X will be mixed with Chemical Y.  (an objective distance.)

If passive voice is used judiciously, then the effects can be powerful. Cases in point, “The village was bombed” connotes distance from a violent action whereas “We bombed the village” denotes responsibility for that violent action.  “A new drug was used to treat dementia this week” gives priority to the new drug rather than to the doctor(s) who prescribed the drug.

One of my favorite examples of well-placed, passive voice construction comes from DonorsChoose.org . The subject line of their email notifications when a project has been funded is always in passive voice. I came home today (July 15, 2013) to find this email notification in my mailbox. Oh, how I love smartly and deliberately used passive construction.  donors-choose