What Makes a Great Teacher?

By Tom Johnson, January 30, 2010 10:16 AM

Atlantic Online has a long article on teaching in the D.C. schools:

This tale of two boys, and of the millions of kids just like them, embodies the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade: more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter. Put concretely, if Mr. Taylor’s student continued to learn at the same level for a few more years, his test scores would be no different from those of his more affluent peers in Northwest D.C. And if these two boys were to keep their respective teachers for three years, their lives would likely diverge forever. By high school, the compounded effects of the strong teacher—or the weak one—would become too great.

Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among schools.

It’s a very interesting article.

As Long As We’re Talking About Formulaic Writing…

By Tom Johnson, January 29, 2010 10:45 AM

I previously posted How to Blog about formulaic blog construction. This is something about how to put together a television news story. It’s very funny, but it has a dirty word in it so you’ll not want to show it to the kiddies — or even watch it yourself if you’d prefer to avoid the fallout of an entirely gratuitous f-bomb.

If nothing else, it can spur a conversation about whether this website needs Standards & Practices.

How to Blog

By Tom Johnson, January 27, 2010 3:36 PM

Getting it down to this kind of formula is impressive, and very funny.

Jargon: One Enemy of Good Writing

By Tom Johnson, January 12, 2010 8:20 AM

This article is about jargon in the workplace, but highlights the confusing aspects of insider-only language:

Business people use jargon, thinking they’re showing off their intelligence or trying to win respect from their peers, even if it doesn’t work that way, said Michael Sebastian, a Web editor at Ragan Communications, a Chicago-based publishing and training company. Others turn to jargon to avoid offending people or appearing politically incorrect, said Chelsea Hardaway, the co-author of “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots.”

There are, of course, few fields more given to jargon than education. If you want your writing to reach a broader audience than just teachers, you need to excise jargon from your writing the way you’d swat cockroaches on a kitchen counter: with horror-fueled determination.

Amateur Hour

By Tom Johnson, October 27, 2009 12:40 PM

I went with Sarah and Charles to Grant County H.S. and filled in some blanks for the kids on story structure and creative process. It was fun, but I don’t envy you teachers staring down groups like this every day. That’s a scary and demanding bunch.

Rumor Mill and the Concept of DSL

By Tom Johnson, October 16, 2009 8:14 AM

RCA Dog“DSL” is slang for “digital as a second language.” It’s the difference between people born in or before the 1980s and those born after. We oldsters may be fluent in digital communications, but we’re never going to be native. Where the break between DSL and native falls may not yet have been determined. There will be new ways of using digital technology to fuse what have always been different media, and the dividing line between DSL and fluency may not have been drawn yet.

Rumors persist of an Apple tablet computer. The interesting part of the application of Apple’s intuitive design to multi-media, always-on computing — or the idea of it, at this stage — is that it posits an entirely new way of communicating. Call it omni-media, all-tools-all-the-time, real-time  storytelling, Daniel Lyons of Newsweek puts it like this:

For people like me, who produce content, this change is both great and scary. Great because the techies in Silicon Valley are giving us powerful new tools for telling stories. Scary because the old ways of telling stories are about to become obsolete, and if we cling to them, we’ll be washed away. In the past we’ve all worked in silos. “Print people” had one way of describing the world. “Video people” had another. But the silos are getting crunched together. It’s as if for most of your life you could get by speaking only English, but now you need to learn a bunch of other old languages, and, what’s more, you must then master a new language that is evolving out of the DNA of all the old ones.

I’ve worked in most media: daily newspaper, monthly magazine, television, radio, various forms of the Internet. “Writing” for each of those is different, with different requirements. (I scare-quote “writing” because the act of authorship in non-print media includes an assemblage of things other than words.) Awareness of those requirements is key to working well in whatever medium or mixture of media you use to present your story. Now, as a DSL adult, I’m going to have to learn to manage not just the different media, but the connections and transitions between those media. There are times when I’m as confused by what I see and hear as the RCA dog was from hearing his master’s voice.

As you work toward your presentation, consider the components and ask yourself how best to present what you want to present. You may find yourself moving from words to pictures to moving pictures to animations to interactions. It’s a good workout, one we’ll discuss more in the future. The trick is going to be creating a presentation that is whole, not merely a succession of chapters. As you do it remember that you’re learning what is likely to come naturally to your students. You’re DSL, learning their language.

Remember also that as teachers you have unique advantage. You already understand the different ways people have of learning — of absorbing and assimilating information.  That knowledge will form the basis of your judgment as you consider how to tell a story.

National Day on Writing: October 20

By Tom Johnson, October 13, 2009 11:26 AM

Medieval_writing_deskU.S. Senate Resolution 310 declares October 20 to be the National Day on Writing. Among the whereases included in the resolution are these:

… people in the 21st century are writing more than ever before for personal, professional, and civic purposes…the social nature of writing invites people of every age, profession, and walk of life to create meaning through composing…more and more people in every occupation deem writing as essential and influential in their work…writers continue to learn how to write for different purposes, audiences, and occasions throughout their lifetimes…

On October 20, the National Gallery of Writing will be unveiled. The gallery is a searchable collection of all kinds of writing from all kinds of people. Schools can set up their own sub-sites within the gallery to feature student writing.

Writing More Than Ever

By Tom Johnson, September 21, 2009 1:43 PM

Andrea Lunsford, Director of the Writing and Rhetoric program at Stanford University (click here, scroll down), contends that technology is making writing more prevalent than it’s ever been before:

I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.

Lunsford said this after reviewing data from the Stanford Study of Writing, a research project that surveyed the writing of almost 15,000 incoming university students over five years.  She found that today’s students write more than any students to come before them. The reason: online communication is text dependent, and much social activity carries on over the Internet. The survey revealed that 38% of students’ writing comes outside of the classroom, most of it online.

Clive Thompson of Wired magazine puts this into perspective:

It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

Is the endless stream of tweets, blog updates and text messages of any value, intellectual or literary? Lunsford’s research indicates it is:

Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

What do u think?

Let Me Introduce Myself

By Tom Johnson, September 14, 2009 5:01 PM

I’m Tom Johnson. I’m a writer and consultant working with the Northern Kentucky Writing Project on this blog and some other things. You’re going to see me slouching around, posting interesting things I run across on the web and commenting on the nature of writing and creative processes. If you’ve got questions, you can reach me either through the blog’s comments or by emailing me: Johnson.TomJ@gmail.com. If you come across something helpful, post it for discussion as well.

Rule #1 of this blog: what you post doesn’t have to be of epic importance.  A link, a photo, a casual observation: what is interesting to you is likely interesting to your fellow fellows. Don’t spend a half-hour carefully crafting every post. If you do, you’ll post seldom. There’s a quick post function at the top of the page for a reason.

There are several different ways of thinking about the Writing Project and what you’re doing with it. It’s a research project, an experience of professional development, a way of improving the education of your students. I think of it as a creative project, with the result being the presentation you’re going to make to your peers next year. That’s the type of input I’m going to have, kibbitzing as if the point of the entire year’s work is an entertaining and informative live performance.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to what you’re doing than that, but if you remember that you’re going to have to present what you’ve learned going along, it will bring a measure of focus to your process. Or so I will lead you believe.

See you around the blog.

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