Teacher Training


K-12 teachers get training on how to teach in education courses. It's something that separates them from higher education teachers. When I moved from K-12 to higher ed, part of my job was to work with professors on curriculum design and "pedagogy." I was actually hesitant to take that job because I thought that I would not find my suggestions welcomed by all the professors.

I was pleasantly surprised. It's not that every one of the 400 or so professors wanted my help. I couldn't have worked with that many people in any case. But the people who came to me did want help. And what I heard on a number of occasions was "I never was taught how to teach" and "I just try to copy the good teachers I had and not the bad ones." I recall a workshop when we were talking about Bloom's taxonomy. There were about a dozen professors in the session and none had ever heard of Bloom or his taxonomy. They were very interested. We discussed (actually, argued about) knowledge versus comprehension so long that we never made it to the higher order thinking skills.

Everyone who teaches has learned how to teach from the good and bad teachers they experienced as a student. It's not the only training required, but it's there.

I was thinking about this because I went to a bookshelf at home full of teaching books I read in my "formative years" (high school and as an undergrad) and realized that some of those books had a pretty big impact on my desire to be a teacher and how I would teach.

They were not books on pedagogy. They were stories by teachers about teaching. They made teaching seem real to me and I carried them into the educational psychology and foundations courses that were full of theories that made little sense in comparison to what I was finding in my field experiences.

The first Pat Conroy book I ever read was The Water Is Wide which I bought while I was in college preparing to become an English teacher. (It wasn't on any course reading lists.) It seemed like a good choice. It is a 1972 autobiography based on his work as a teacher on Daufuskie Island (called Yamacraw Island in the book) off South Carolina. I also saw the film adaptation, titled Conrack, before I graduated.  (There was also a TV movie version of The Water Is Wide in 2006.)

It is a poor, run-down island which has no bridges and little infrastructure. He has trouble even literally communicating with the islanders, who are nearly all Gullah who were directly descended from slaves and who had little contact with the mainland or its people. I couldn't imagine that I would ever teach in a situation like Conroy, but his struggles to find ways to reach his students, aged ten to thirteen, came back to me a number of times when I was teaching students in a suburban middle school years later.

Conroy (called "Conrack" by most of the students) also battled the principal and the administrators of the district because of his "unconventional" teaching methods. Luckily, my battles were minor compared with Conrack's. Maybe I was more conventional. But, I learned from his story something about which battles were worth fighting.

bookI know I saw the film To Sir, With Love before I read the book. Say what you will about that pop classic, what I took away from it was that some teachers that really cared about what they taught could make a difference. Of course, when I saw it, I was 15 and had an English teacher that I thought was the greatest teacher ever. Big influence.

My first year teaching, I taught the book To Sir with Love to ninth graders. Tough book for ninth graders to read but it worked. I made them call me "sir" while we read it. We did some of the lessons in the book. We learned about British English and the differences in schools here and there. We watched the film. I tried to explain mods and rockers, Lulu and The Mindbenders - and I couldn't just click on Wikipedia to do it. And we talked a lot about what made a good teacher.

I looking at the books on the shelf and as I paged through Up the Down Staircase and The Way It Spozed to Be, I realized that none of the books were anything like the actually teaching experiences I ended up having in my 35 years in classrooms.

In The Way It Spozed to Be (from 1968), James Herndon writes about his first year teaching, in a poor, segregated junior high school in urban California. I thought his ideas for teaching reading in a poorly equipped school were innovative. He gets fired at the end of the year for poor classroom management. I read that one the summer before I started my first year teaching.

Luckily, I also read Herndon's second book, How to Survive in Your Native Land, that summer. That one is about his next decade teaching and he's successful and Vonnegut-funny about it.

It's important for all teachers to give some thought about the where, when, who and how of their teacher training.

The Generation Lap

Originally posted on Weekends in Paradelle

In my last post, I wrote about the generation gap - something that I associate with the 1960s. Today, I want to write about what I and some others are calling a "generation lap" that I think exists today.

It's something that has been in my thoughts off and on for a few years, but it didn't come together until I saw a news piece on TV about the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, followed by reading a like-minded piece in Time magazine.

In that Time article, Nancy Gibbs says that:

And now? Today's kids aren't taking up arms against their parents; they're too busy texting them. The members of the millennial generation, ages 18 to 29, are so close to their parents that college students typically check in about 10 times a week, and they are all Facebook friends. Kids and parents dress alike, listen to the same music and fight less than previous generations, and Millennials assert that older people's moral values are generally superior to their own.
But Gibbs also notes that young people still seem to perceive a generation gap. She points to a reports from the Pew Research Center report, 79% of Millennials say there is a major difference in the point of view of younger and older people today. I write about that report on another blog and I don't dispute their findings. And yet, I still feel the gap is much narrower than 40 years ago.

I would not dispute that young Americans today are now more educated, more diverse, and more optimistic than previous generations. But that is exactly what was said about my generation in the 1960s.

Technology has something to do with the overlap. Though I can't say that my fellow baby boomers can match the 83% of young people who report that they sleep with their cell phones (and I see my millennial sons do it), we do have the same smartphones, do texting and add apps in much the same way. In 1969, parents were not rushing to put tape decks in their cars and were not listening to the same music as their children.

I also accept the idea of social historian Neil Howe who suggests that technology largely shapes a generation; a generation does not shape technology. I could come up with some arguments against it, but I think the Internet shaped (and is shaping) the Millennial Generation more than they are changing the Internet. That may change as they continue to enter the workforce and have the power to change it.

Were the Millennials "raised in a cocoon" as Gibbs suggests. Yes, I saw my fellow new parents fearful of letting our kids go to the park alone, walk to friends' house to play unsupervised, get dropped off at the mall or walk home from school alone. Their games and sports were largely structured and supervised by adults. Do kids actually go to parks and organize their own pickup games anymore?

But online they are known for their willingness to share personal information, share and build community. They tweet and text and have hundreds or thousands of "friends" and people they "follow."

Then again, I do the same thing. I started an online site for my high school class, but Facebook has quickly outdistanced it for participation. My fellow classmates post daily, comment incessantly, post pictures of their kids, spouses, vacations and pets with people they wouldn't have sat with at a lunch table.

Gibbs concludes by saying:
"Youth is easily deceived," Aristotle said, "because it is quick to hope." But I'd rather think that the millennials know something we don't about the inventions that will emerge from their networked brains, the solutions that might arise from a generation so determined to bridge gaps and work as a team. In that event, their vision would be vindicated, not only for themselves but for those of us who will one day follow their lead.
I go further and propose that the generation gap is so much smaller today that there's more of a generation lap - as in overlap - than a gap.

It far more likely today that a teenager and their parents might have the same tech devices (iPods, cell phones) and might use the same online services (like Facebook) and might listen to some of the same music and go see the same movies than it was 40 years ago. There's overlap.That's a good thing, right? The gap was bad. It separated us. So, an overlap would be good.

Well, I'm not sure how young people feel about the older generation playing in their generation. I wrote last year about the "creepy treehouse effect" that comes from adults (including teachers) coming into the space ("the treehouse") that young people consider to be their own.

I first entered Facebook so that I could write and present about it to other educators. I had to request friends from amongst my former students so that I could show how it worked because, at that time, none of my colleagues used it. My sons agreed to "friend me" with the understanding that I would never post to their wall. (That rule has relaxed a bit since they graduated college, but I'm still cautious about their treehouse.)

Michael Staton has suggested that the creepy treehouse is the wrong metaphor and that a "functional mall" might better describe the effect, at least for educators. Perhaps. But both point to the shared space the generations now inhabit.

Historical Note
: I am using the term "generation lap" here (like Gibbs) in a different way from its original usage. Don Tapscott used the term in the October 14, 1996 issue of Advertising Age when writing that "We're shifting from generation gap to generation lap as kids flash by their parents on the track, lapping them in many areas of daily life. This generation of Net-savvy kids, quite frankly, doesn't trust its parents' ability to drive fast enough in the wired world." I don't think parents are being beaten so badly in the race (in technology & other areas) as they were in 1996. We are closing in.

The Generation Gap

Originally posted on my Weekends in Paradelle blog 3/27/10

The WhoWhen I was a teen back in the turbulent 60s, there was always talk about the “generation gap.” The generation gap was a reference to differences between people of the younger generation and their elders, especially between a child and his or her parent’s generation.

The gap was a result of some rapid cultural change especially when it came to music, fashion, and politics. This was probably made more pronounced by the unusually large size of the young generation during the 1960s.

“My Generation” by The Who was a kind of youth battle cry.


People try to put us d-down
Just because we g-g-get around

Things they do look awful c-c-cold
I hope I die before I get old

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

I saw a reference on TV to the Kent State shootings that occurred at Kent State University in Ohio and was surprised to realize that this year marks 40 years since that event.


It involved the shooting of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Some of those students had been involved in a protest against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon had announced April 30.  But other students who were shot had merely been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

I was finishing my junior year in high school. There was a national reaction to Kent State amongst students at high schools and college, including a student strike that involved four million students. It made the gap even wider concerning the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.

I had to fill in my draft information that year. College students were burning draft cards on TV and I was filling in the paperwork to make myself eligible. I felt a year or two distanced from everything that was going on. I had no idea what was coming in the next few years – college or Vietnam?

Yesterday, I was looking through a copy of Time magazine that I hadn’t had a chance to read, and there was an article on all this.

The author, Nancy Gibbs, not only writes about Kent State, but my other thoughts about whether there is still a gap today.

Come back with me 40 years to the rabid spring of 1970. President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, and campuses exploded. Kids who had never picked up a rock in their lives were occupying the classrooms they used to study in. When National Guardsmen shot four unarmed students at Kent State, virtually the entire system of higher education shuddered and stopped. The fabric of the country seemed to be tearing; everything about the older generation was
contaminated, corrupt. Asked in a Gallup poll if there was a generation gap, 74% of the young people of that era said yes.

Filo photoThe photo that brings that time back for me is the one by student John Paul Filo taken that day at Kent State. Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo shows Mary Ann Vecchio beside the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, at Kent State University. Filo was a journalism student at Kent State University at the time.

The song that brings it all back for me is Neil Young’s “Ohio” that was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young 40 years ago.

From Wikipedia, I learned that Young wrote the lyrics  after seeing the photos of the incident in Life Magazine. CSNY went into a studio in Los Angeles and recorded it live in just a few takes. They also recorded the single’s b-side, Stephen Stills’ bare and haunting song for the war’s causalities, “Find the Cost of Freedom.” The single was mastered, rush-released by Atlantic and heard on the radio with only a few weeks delay.

I recall playing that 45 RPM single over and over and wondering what was ahead.

John Filo photo via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings

A Millennial Personality

Do generations, like people, have personalities?

Several studies released by PEW Research on the Millennials say they are confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.

Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and PEW believes it can identify unique and distinctive characteristics of a given age group, though they concede that it is not an exact science.

Some of their conclusions are that Millennials are:
more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults
less religious
less likely to have served in the military
on track to become the most educated generation in American history
more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.

chartThey are a generation that embraces multiple modes of self-expression.
75% have created a profile on a social networking site
20% have posted a video of themselves online
40% have a tattoo (half of those with tattoos have two to five and 18% have six or more)
but a majority have placed privacy boundaries on their social media profiles

90% either say that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals.
37% of 18- to 29-year-olds are unemployed or out of the workforce (the highest share among this age group in more than three decades)

They are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times. 25% have no religious affiliation, but not belonging does not necessarily mean not believing. Millennials pray about as often as their elders did in their own youth.

60% were raised by both parents (a smaller percentage than with older generations) but they place parenthood and marriage far above career and financial success.
Only 21% are married now (that's half the share of their parents' generation at the same stage of life)
34% are parents (In 2006, more than a third of 18 to 29 year old women who gave birth were unmarried.)

Millennials are good for the education business. Among 18 to 24 year olds a record 39.6% was enrolled in college as of 2008, according to census data.

Politically Millennials backed Barack Obama by more than a two-to-one ratio (66% to 32%) and had the largest disparity between younger and older voters recorded in four decades of modern election day exit polling. But about half of Millennials say the president has failed to change the way Washington works, which had been the central promise of his candidacy. Of those who say this, three-in-ten blame Obama himself, while more than half blame his political opponents and special interests.

I have written elsewhere that I think we have gone from a "generation gap" that was strong in the 1960s to a "generation lap" that exists today. I think the younger and older generations are coming closer together rather than pushing apart. And I think that technology plays a part in this overlapping.


Making Sense of the World Through Maps


In 1562 Diego Gutiérrez, a Spanish cartographer, and Hieronymus Cock, a noted engraver from Antwerp, collaborated in the preparation of a spectacular and ornate map of what was then referred to as the fourth part of the world, America. It was the largest engraved map of America to that time.

Maps help us make sense of our world.

A sampling of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division’s 4.5 million treasures has been digitized and is available in Map Collections: 1500 - 2003.

Introducing students to these primary sources through activities using historical maps from the American Memory collections is an excellent classroom activity. (A Primary Source Analysis Tool for analysis and note taking is available.)

What can be learned from historic maps? In addition to teaching geographic understanding, maps do an excellent job of illustrating change over time. They personalize history by giving evidence of familiar landmarks and of people, their beliefs, and the political policies of an era.

Most maps have a title, which often includes temporal information. Maps have orientation, which includes compass direction and geographic relationships within an established area. Maps have a source, or author, which often gives insight about its intended purpose and reason for creation. Maps may have a legend explaining the symbols used and a scale showing how distance is represented. Many maps use grids to show lines of latitude and longitude.

Use the Teachers Guide to Analyzing Maps to find guiding questions and activity ideas.