Friday, March 21, 2014

Motorcycle Safety

I had lunch with some coworkers a few days ago and the question of motorcycle safety was raised at the table. One of my coworkers, a gentleman, shared that he was interested in buying a motorcycle and the group erupted in a cacophony of nay saying. "I would never let my wife get on one of those things." "I'm not a thrill-seeker." "Those things are death traps." It was obnoxious to say the very very least.  So lets look at the issue of motorcycle safety.

First, lets identify how many motorcycles are on the planet. According to the Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan, around 2006, there were around 200 million motorcycles in the world. 58% of those are in developing areas of Southern Asia. By comparison, there are 500 million cars on the road. In some places, like Taiwan for instance, have a 2 to 1 ration of motorcycles to cars, a complete flip-flop of the global trend. 

Accidents do happen out there. Motorcycle accidents are four times as likely to be fatal. The numbers of fatalities are still remarkably low, however at just 75 per 100,000. Hardly a death trap, unless your idea of a trap is something that functions only 150 times for every 200,000 times it is activated. Let's look at these fatalities. How are they happening?

75% of motorcycle accidents are caused by passenger cars. 3 out of 4 times a person is injured on a motorcycle, a car was the cause. Nearly half of the accidents that cost someone their life involved alcohol. 

So, to me. It really seems like the dangerous subject in a situation would be the one which is most destructive to other subjects. Motorcycles do not seem to be the deathtraps they are purported to be. However, it is true that people do die while operating a motorcycle. Well, the numbers for 2006 were around 4,000 motorcyclists were killed on United States roads. 

There is no doubt that there is less protection on a motorcycle than in one of the 2,000 lb. grocery haulers piloted by a distracted drivers that kill motorcycles. A collision between a car and motorcycle is extremely imbalanced in terms of likelihood of death by the operators. The real issue seems to be motorists running down motorcyclists, and a good portion of those motorists are under the influence of alcohol. Damn it. 

If automobile drivers stopped running over motorcyclists the number of casualties in 2006 would have been reduced from 4,000 to 1,000. And of those 3,000 saved lives. 1,500 of them would be saved from a drunk or intoxicated driver running them down.

So how does one stay safe on a motorcycle? Ideally, avoid all cars and don't power into your corners too hard.  In reality,

  • stay off the road between 12am-4am if you can help it. The number of inebriated drivers is radically higher, and thus the potential vehicular homicide opportunities is also increased exponentially.
  • Keep new rubber on the rims and inspect your tires for unusual wear patterns regularly. 
  • Ride with your brights on -all the time. Try to position your bike so that your headlight hits drivers ahead of you in their side mirror, not their rear-view. You don't want to piss anybody off, you just want to make sure people are aware of you at all times. 
  • Install a high decibel horn-and use it. When people change lanes in front of you without signaling, let them know that it is an inappropriate method of changing lanes. A couple of quick honks translates to "Heads up, num-nuts, get your head out of your ass and let the people around you know when you decide to slide that 2,000 lb. death machine around the highway like it was a demolition derby."
  • For personal safety, always wear a full face helmet, riding jacket with armor, gloves with leather palms and knuckle armor, jeans, at the very least, and shoes with ankle support.Wearing the appropriate gear will greatly reduce the risk of injury or death as a result of an accident. Plus, you feel like Iron Man. 
  • Another situation to avoid is unprotected left turns or turning across traffic. Try not to give people the opportunity to make a poor decision, like taking your life instead of waiting to reply to a text message.
  • The chief response to "Why the hell did you kill that motorcyclist?"  tends to be "I didn't know they were there." Make yourself seen and heard. big time. Loud pipes, hi-visibility riding gear, neon lights, loud horns- whatever it takes. Be proactive about your self-preservation. 
  • Ride with a buddy. Make some friends, go for rides. Increasing your visibility by numbers is great, unless some members of your party take to cutting off cars and generally acting like a bunch of children, then it becomes a big pain in the ass and you have to go lone wolf for a while. Generally though, the more buddies the better. Plus you'll feel like a total bad-ass when you and your friends line your bikes up in front of some back roads BBQ restaurant and go jangling and shuffling into the joint like something out of a Tarantino movie, dust from the road falling off your boots and onto the old wood floor with every heavy step. Wild ones. "What you rebelling against Johnny?" "What ya got?"
Bottom line is, to some extent there are some proactive things a motorcyclist can do to increase their chances of being part of the 99.925 riders a year that avoid getting into an accident. Then there is the thing that everyone can do. Don't drink and drive, don't let your friends drink and drive. People are drinking, driving and killing motorcyclists. Don't let our brothers and sisters die without action on our part. People that drink and drive are setting themselves up for homicide, with little chance of physical harm to themselves, and oftentimes, little political recourse. 

Stay alert, make good decisions, and keep the rubber side on the road. 

Slim Vulcan

Friday, December 14, 2012

Academic Writing Part I


Addressing the prompt

The very first part of writing an academic paper is to properly address the prompt. Consider the following:

To what extent did the Jacksonian Era (1824-1848) live up to its moniker as "the Era of the Common Man." Consider at least two of the following-Reform Movements, Economics, Politics.

Let's break it down bit by bit.

1. To what up to
The preceding phrase informs the writer that the answer should be a judgement of quantity. Possible answers must include words of measure such as- completely, not at all, somewhat, not at all.

2. ...the Jacksonian Era (1824-1848)
It is very important to address the time period and not focus solely on the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The key is the window provided by the dates. 1824-1848 is a twenty-four year span. Andrew Jackson was only president for eight of those years. The danger of focusing on the "Jacksonian" part of the prompt is that it effectively precludes oneself from volumes of history and sixteen years worth of activites. An alternative misstep would be to preclude Jackson from the paper all together. If it is named the Jacksonian Era there is a pretty good chance that researching AJ would be a really good idea.

3. ..."the Era of the Common Man."
This is the most important part of the prompt. This phrase is the main idea, it will find a nice tidy home in the thesis statement, every topic sentence and ultimately in the conclusion. Understanding the main idea of a prompt is key to writing a concise, well argued paper.

4. "Consider at least two of the following...."
It seems obvious, but a writer should address at least two. The bonus of this kind of prompt is that it allows the writer to play to their own strengths. A writer should choose two that a.) best support their thesis and b.) they have the most information on.

5. "Reform Movements, Economics, Politics."
A writer should love seeing this kind of prompt. These are the topics for the paper. The exact words should be in the thesis and topic sentences within the paper.

In the next blog I will address structuring the essay. This series will ultimately address outlines, topic sentences, thesis statements, introductory paragraphs, facts, analysis and conclusions, and style. Ultimately, I plan to design a graphic organizer to assist students, at all levels, in planning and executing well structured academic essays.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Addressing multiple skill levels and abilities

Multiple Skill levels and abilities
The American public school systems were initially set up in the same manner as the factory systems of the 19th century of which they were contemporaries. At the time, this was a revolutionary idea and a great leap forward from the private tutors of the aristocratic years preceding the establishment of free public education. The idea behind public education is that a democratic society is dependent upon a well-educated populace. Over the last two hundred years there have been remarkable advances in psychology, pedagogy and technology which have sparked a new revolution within education. It is clear now that every student is unique, with different abilities and skills. Therefore, an approach such as the factory system, treating every child the same, does a very poor job of addressing the unique gifts of the children within the system. Now, in the 21st century, we understand the uniqueness of our individual students but are still charged with the task of educating as many as forty students simultaneously. In order to accommodate this seeming paradox, effective teachers have developed creative solutions involving a diverse approach in all aspects of the classroom. I employ a variety of instructional methods, including the more traditional direct-teach method, utilize a wide range of materials and activities including multimedia, and use a variety of assessments, such as formative evaluations, in order to address a wide range of skills and abilities.
When providing instruction in my classroom I use direct teaching methods, inquiry based practices and peer teaching to address a wide range of skills and abilities. Direct teach is the most traditional method of teaching and usually entails a lecture. I direct teach within the classroom to provide instructions, procedures, and overviews for my students but rarely employ this method for more than a ten to fifteen minute period. The reason I use smaller time-frames than a traditional teacher is that I am focused on maintaining student engagement in the curriculum and learning environment. In this way I am able to check for understanding more often and repeat, rephrase or review to address students of all skill levels. Oftentimes I transition from direct teach directly into cooperative learning which centers on collaboration, inquiry and discussion. While direct teach provides structure and clear expectations, cooperative learning directly involves the students in the learning process. It is very important to me to facilitate learning, rather than rote memorization in my classroom. Additionally, cooperative learning allows students to contribute to the learning process in a structured and organized way and benefits more students that direct teaching alone would have. Cooperative learning is not restricted to large class discussions with me as the mediator, however. I progressively move the focus of the learning into the hands of the students. Therefore, after a direct teach period followed by guided inquiry, I often will have the students work in small groups or with partners to complete activities or conduct content centered discussions, at which point I monitor through circulation of the room. By arranging groups with various skill levels and abilities I am able to scaffold the student’s learning with each other. The natural progression from this type of work is peer teaching. With peer teaching, each small group in the room is working on different aspects of the same large project. At the end of the activity, each group will present their results to the rest of the class. In this way I am directing the class back to a large discussion group before transitioning to another activity at which point I will employ direct teach to summarize the completed activity and provide the appropriate structure for the next task.
The activities and materials that I use within my classroom include traditional materials, multimedia materials, and project based activities such as posters and presentations. Traditional materials such as worksheets and essays both have an important role in the classroom. Worksheets can come in various forms and provide an opportunity for practice on tasks that require repetition for mastery and scaffolding student’s writing skills. Multimedia materials, such as videos or online resources, are useful because they appeal to visual and auditory learners and oftentimes provide a great deal of information in a very concise and creative package. As a general practice, I tend to only use videos that are fifteen minutes or less and provide a video guide to the students for writing notes. In this way I help increase the engagement and accountability of the students during a multimedia activity. Using resources, such as the internet or videos, can be a good way to introduce a subject or provide in depth, interactive curriculum which can be useful in a project-based assignment. By incorporating project based assignments, usually cooperative projects, students of many skill levels have an opportunity to use their creativity to complete the task. Project based learning also provides an opportunity for cross-curricular study which can greatly increase a student’s understanding of a topic and mastery of the skills necessary for being a successful student. By utilizing multiple activities and materials, I provide a learning environment that steps out of the traditional assessment model and allows a student to flourish in an environment that values them as individuals and enhances their natural abilities.
Assessing students in the 21st century requires multiple approaches such as formative, interim and summative assessments in order to properly address students of different abilities and skills. Formative assessments are used during the lessons to insure that the students are understanding the material. These assessments can come in the form of leading questions from me or the class and can help me adjust my teaching methods to the ongoing needs of the classroom. Interim assessments play a crucial role in ascertaining the various skills and knowledge the student is learning between major assessments. Interim assessments tend to be more formal than formative assessments but are not necessarily as formal as an end of term exam or a quiz. I use a variety of formats, such as posters, worksheets, and verbal presentations, for interim assessments to allow students of all skill levels to achieve their maximum potential. At the end of a unit I administer summative assessments. Oftentimes these will be in the same format as a standardized test to help familiarize the students with the format and reduce the amount of anxiety they may associate with more formal assessments. Through a diverse and inquiry based approach to assessments that focuses on higher levels of cognitive learning, I facilitate a learning environment that addresses multiple skill and ability levels.
      The 21st century is an exciting time in American education and in global community building. I am passionate about providing a classroom that promotes diversity, scholarship and cooperation. Through diverse instructional methods, varied assignments and multiple levels of assessments, I work very hard to address students on an individual level according to their personal abilities and skill levels. It is important that students are recognized as individuals and as members of a cooperative learning environment. Modern society is so diverse that individuals of all abilities and skill levels have an integral role in the growing global community. In education we are providing students with more than curriculum. Rather than ignore previous generation's methods it is important that we hold on to time-proven techniques and expand upon them while incorporating new and dynamic methods that takes into account the growing research and scholarship in education, pedagogy and psychology. We, as teachers, are welcoming the next generation of leaders into the community and facilitating a leaning environment that values the student as individuals, preparing them for a life-long journey of learning, cooperation and success.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning

          A cooperative learning environment helps students develop social skills from  basic communication skills to collaborative problem solving. At the root of a cooperative environment is 'cooperation.' A basic function of society is cooperation. Through encouraging a cooperative learning environment we, as teachers, more adequately prepare students for the structural format of modern society. As our society becomes more integrated through communication networks and more complex social structures, the skills developed through collaborative learning environments increase in value exponentially.

The ability to communicate effectively is a key life skill. Cooperative learning involves groups comprising multiple perspectives, skill sets and communication procedures. By working within these groups students are encouraged to express themselves and listen to the feedback of others. Oftentimes another perspective can add clarity to one's own perception of events and of the ways in which one relays information. The ways in which we communicate ideas is shaped by the needs of our audience. The process of re-telling an idea in order that other people can fully understand one's self is an extremely valuable skill because it teaches students not only how they speak, but how others listen. Minimizing misunderstandings allows a student to build an invaluable skill set for conflict resolution, clear, concise communication and an understanding of the diversity of their counterparts' experiences.

The mastery of communication is by far the most important portion of cooperative learning environments. However, communication is merely the foundation of the benefits of a collaborative learning environment. Cooperation is built upon solid communication. Through the combination of communication and cooperation the full benefits of collaboration may be realized due to the development of one very important skill - compromise.  Cooperation requires, at most levels, some form of compromise. Each member of a group may develop strong reasoning for a given solution but the best solutions to a problem rarely arise from a single idea. More often than not, the best solutions involve a give and take from many interested parties. With strong communication, collaboration can move more smoothly through a phase of compromise and ultimately arrive at a destination that best expresses a group's best solution or course of action given the information and background which were made available to them. Certainly, this method is beneficial to students as they work their way through public school, but it is also useful in giving them direct, personal experience of the complex nature of social and political history.

Most great feats of modern civilization have been the result of collaboration. The development of the US constitution, the ability to fly, the complex global economic systems are all examples of the effects of collaborative problem solving. Our great achievements as people have been made possible through the work of skilled collaborators, communicators, and calculated compromises. The future success of our great nation, and indeed, the world is dependent on each successive generation operating in a world with highly trained and skilled collaborative learners. 




Project Title: Explorers.
Goal: The goal is to have students learn everything necessary to master the different aspects of the exploratory era from the perspecive of different key players. The assignment incorporates research skill development, various writing styles and the potential for a technology component.

Description: A class of 20 is divided into four groups.

Group 1: Nations (financiers)
France (Francis I), England (Henry VII), Spain (Ferdinand and Isabella), Netherlands (Dutch East Indies Company), Portugal

Group 2: Crew
Traders, Colonists, Soldiers, Industrialists, Agricultural Settlers

Group 3: Writers
(research those people responsible for primary source accounts of the different voyages)

Group 4: Ship Captain

 Verrazzano,John Cabot (Giovanni Cabota),Cortes or Columbus,  Hudson, Cabral

Each group has five members in this scenario.

Group 1: Nations (financiers)

            The first group is comprised of the Dutch, the Spanish, the English, the French, and the Portuguese. Each member has separate goals and motivations, which are provided on a handout. The first group interviews each of the fourth group to decide who can best meet their goals. The interviews would be panel interviews where the interviewers and interviewees don’t reveal which nation/ ship captain they represent. Using the information they find through research, the nations will choose the best captain. This group remains separate from the other groups because there is a difference economically and geographically between them and the other groups.




Chief Financial Officers:

Ferdinand and Isabella


Read the Capitulations of Santa Fe and determine the budgetary allowances for Columbus’ voyage.  

 (include link to document or instructions on navigating in JSTOR or similar resource)


(include link to document or instructions on navigating in JSTOR or similar resource)
Job Openings:
You will need to write "help wanted" ads for each of these people. If you hire your writer first, they can help you write an ad for a Ship Captain.

1. Writer: This person will communicate between yourself and the Ship Captain.

2. Ship Captain: This person will lead your exploration, make sure he shares your goals and will agree to your terms.


Group 2: The Crew

            Each of these individuals represents different crews, for instance, the English group is colonists, the Spanish group is soldiers etc. It is up to the Captains group to interview each of the crews and decide which crew will best meet the shared goals for themselves and the financiers. The captain will collaborate with the writers to write a help wanted ad and then there is a ‘job fair’ where the captains hire crews by interviewing them.

Group three: Writers

       This group is charged with communication between the financiers and the captain. They are chosen by the financiers to write help wanted ads, and later to accompany the captains and send reports back and forth between financiers and the captain.


Group four: Ship Captains
     This group attempts to get a position as an explorer through interviewing with a nation and then hires a crew by conducting an interview process. They then organize their expedition and communicate with the financiers through the writer.
Ultimately, there will be five groups of four members. The goal is to develop a working relationship between all four members that meets all of their private goals.

 The groups progress from leaving their country of origin to arrival in their destination, making choices along the way as to how to raise money and dealing with native populations as well as balancing the needs of their crew, themselves and the financiers. The different scenarios are presented by the teacher. An example of a scenario would be native contact. For instance, the decision would need to be made whether to trade or war with the native populations, these decisions effect the outcome of the expedition.  


Final reports are required of each of the members as well as a summative analysis.


Time: Variations of this outline could be used from a simple project lasting only one class period, to as much as an entire unit.  


Variations with technology:

Fakebook could be used to develop the different groups and to communicate with each other using a medium the students already have excessive experience with. The students could develop LinkedIn sights to show their skills and goals. The project would incorporate researching online to find relevant primary source documents for example, actual correspondence between explorers and nations. Skype could be used for communication between nations and explorers while they are “overseas.”  

Assignment Goals: SWBAT Skype, develop professional web pages, construct professional and personal correspondence, and identify the pressures, goals, key players and outcomes of all five of the key exploration missions of the fifteenth century. SWBAT research databases and identify primary source documents. SWBAT write an essay that takes information from multiple sources and communicates it in a direct and effective manner. SWBAT interview and be interviewed.
The idea behind setting up the skype interviews, linkedin sights etc. is to give the student experience for the future with college and job interviews as well as understand some of the basics around contract negotiation and relationships between finance and labor.

Benefit Breakdown

Active Participation in Class, Community, Culture 

            Encouraging students to be active participants is the goal of collaborative learning and a key component of Democracy. Encouraging activism, participation, and collaboration prepares students to reshape the future of personal, local, and global relationships and politics. Encouraging active participation within the classroom creates an environment of active learning as opposed to passive learning. It is important that students understand that this is THEIR education and through active participation they may shape it into the most beneficial and rewarding experience possible. Also, it shifts the role of the teacher from orator to facilitator. A teacher who is guiding a student is one who is encouraging the process of learning rather than limiting a student's experience based upon rote memorization.

How does one ensure shared responsibility in collaborative learning?
Sharing responsibility for a project is important for student growth and development. Requiring documentation, personal summaries and collaboration as constructs of the assignment help prevent uneven distribution of work. Additionally, offering personal and group grades is important to communicate to the students that their role within the group is as important as their individual role. Most importantly, using creative, fun projects that operate within student's skill sets helps them to enjoy and take ownership of the experience. When a student has taken ownership of a project they are much more likely to put in more work and inspire those around them to stay involved and on task.

2 methods for assessing participation: 
1.Identifiable portion of group work.
It is important for each member of a group to have a distinct role. However, these roles should be equally important within the construct of the group. In this way, the members are able to take ownership of their role and understand the importance of their contribution as a component of the group's success.
2.Peer evaluation.
Peer evaluation is important to get, as a teacher, insight into the working dynamics of the group and to ascertain how each member perceived each of the other member's contributions. This can be done through a survey or a writing assignment.


Ways to choose groups.

 a. Student choice

 b. Proximity

 c. Number off


Student Choice.

      This option allows students to choose their own groups. This method would be useful at the beginning of the semester to determine preexisting social conditions within the classroom. A risk of using this  method regularly is that it discourages new relationships and lacks diversity. Additionally, the amount of ti e it takes to organize cuts into time-on-task. However, this method also works as a form of reward for positive behavior, which can be a very powerful motivator while meeting the goals of the students and teachers. Ultimately, the method is useful but should be utilized with other methods as well to insure diverse groups and time-on-task.


            This method assigns, for instance, every student in Row 1 to Group 1 and so forth. This is a helpful method to help insure diverse groups as well as reduce time between transitions, which increases time-on-task. However, this method limits the students to the same group throughout the semester. A possible solution would to be using proximity in a diverse way. Using columns instead of rows, changing the number of groups or allowing for multiple seating arrangements that would change the dynamics of, for instance, Row 1. A mixture of methods is more effective than relying solely on proximity.


Number off.

             This is a very popular method of choosing groups but does require a bit of time while the students move about the room to get in their groups. This method would work best for breaking up the class into more random groupings than using proximity. This method is also very useful for allowing students to move about the classroom in a semi-organized way and could be useful from a management perspective to get some blood flowing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Week 11

After Reading Strategies
Writing after reading has three main purposes:

Integrate: The student integrates the new information into their schema.
Elaborate: The student elaborates on what they have learned.
Apply: The student applies the information they have learned in some practical way.

Formal Writing

The Before-During-After format can be interpreted as a KWL graphic organizer. KWL stands for:

Know: What do I already know?
Want: What questions do I have? What do I want to know?
Learn: What have I learned? How were my questions addressed?

Formal writing allows the opportunity to increase student comprehension by allowing the student to ask serious questions, analyze text, and then interpret meaning. By using a KWL organizer a student has specific goals in mind at the outset of the reading assignment. A KWL chart looks a lot like this:

In the Know column, after a topic has been decided on, a student will write down everything they know, without concern for formatting or chronology. The second step would then be to look for connected ideas. After the connected ideas have been located, the unnecessary details can be removed. Finally, the organized Know column will be complete. 

In the Want column, the student will then post questions pertaining to each area of their organized Know chart in which they have questions. For instance, should there be a break in the logic between two main ideas, the student would look to repair that break. The student then undertakes the task of research in order to answer these questions.

The Learn column would then be the findings from the research that was completed as a result of the questions in the Want column. After all three columns are complete, the student is well prepared for formal writing. The basic steps are as follows:

summarize in an outline
construct sentences

Key to forming good Want questions are the five W's and the H:


Another way to organize information for formal writing is an "I-Chart."

TOPIC        I      Question 1  I    Question 2   I    Question 3
Source 1      I                         I                        I               
Source 2      I                         I                        I     
Source 3      I                         I                         I 

An I-chart could be utilized at the Want and Learned stage and is especially well suited to support projects which require multiple sources. With an I chart the student finds the answers to the same question in multiple sources and then records the answer. This format is especially well suited to research  papers and comparative essays.

There are four types of Formal Writing Strategies that are especially useful, they are:

GRASP ( Guided Reading and Summary Strategy)
KWL     (Know, Want, Learn)
I-Chart   (Graphic organizer for multi-source work)
Multigenre Research (research that incorporates multiple genres of writing)

Creative Writing

Creative writing can be a very useful tool for assessing comprehension and encouraging high order thinking by students. When instructing a student in creative writing it is important to impress upon them the RAFT formula for pre-writing. The RAFT formula is as follows:

Role-         Who are you?
Audience- To whom are you writing?
Format-     What form will your writing take?
Topic-       What will you write about?

RAFT could certainly be used for any style of writing but is especially useful in creative writing as a starting point. Two creative writing assignments that can offer students a great deal of structure and at the same time encourage creativity and critical thinking are Cinquains and Diamantes. Both are poem structures. The Cinquian is five lines long: 
The first line is a singular noun. 
The second contains two adjectives that describe line one. 
The third line has three action words describing line one.
The fourth line is a four word feeling verb phrase.
The fifth line is a single word synonym to line one.
The following is an example of a cinquain poem found on Cinquin examples.
Cinquain Pattern #2
Messy, spicy
Slurping, sliding, falling
Between my plate and mouth
(by Cindy Barden)

The Diamante differs in that it has seven lines. All are the same on lines one through three. However, at line four, something different is required. The reason being is that the seventh line is an antonym to line one and at line four, the poem switches focus from the word in line one to it's opposite in line seven. In this way, a Diamante is a literary reflecting pool where everything in the reflection appears as the opposite of the original. It is fascinating really, because the student reflects upon the reading to determine an important word and then reflects on the word outside of the context of the reading in order to construct the second half of the poem. The student has constructed, at this point, overlapping realms that both contain the same word but in which the word takes on very different connotations.

Relavance to History

Writing for understanding is an imperative part of the History process. In fact, the act of Historicizing is extracting meaning based on documents. Formal writing is important to be sure, but using creative writing offers a student to experience empathy and connect on a more emotional level with their text. The KWL, I-Chart, and RAFT format are all exceptional organizational tools to lower student's affective filters in regard to writing. A well structured essay or story also offers a source of pride to the student who, rather than just taking in information, has taken part in the process of creating something. The act of creation is an act of giving to the great body of literature that grows each day. Students, through writing activities are taking an active role rather than a passive one in regards to the creation of knowledge.

Application in a US History classroom

Students are often instructed to read segments for Upton Sinclair's muckraking novel The Jungle during the study of the early nineteenth century. There are a variety of assignments that could work well after a reading of this type. For a KWL, the students could be asked to write what they know about how hamburgers are made. Everything they could think of would be included in the Know column. Then, they would organize these ideas into a process and, after eliminating unnecessary concepts, identify questions they have. As they read, they could write their answers to their questions in the Learn section of the chart. Armed with the chart, the students could then write an essay on the differences between a consumer's perception of meat packing and the description in the text.

A creative writing assignment could be to have students, after reading the text, imagine themselves as the child of one of the workers and write a story about what it would be like to see one's father coming home maimed and injured from the conditions at work.

There are many possibilities within history for role-playing and exploration. By using these tools teachers can assist students in kick-starting the writing process. The more a student writes, the more comfortable they become with it. Eventually, through critical thinking and analysis, the student becomes a teacher whose subject matter is their own perceptions. When a student reaches this level, it is the joy of the teacher to explore how and why the student learns and experiences the world. To have a student be able to write in such a way that gives the reader an opportunity to see with new eyes is the ultimate reward of instilling a love for reading and writing in our students. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 10

Writing For Comprehension
While there are certainly many ways to show understanding, writing is perhaps the most comprehensive. Oftentimes, when one hears "writing," the mind can jump immediately to research papers and essays. Essays are, without a doubt, valuable tools but not the only form of writing that can offer students benefits. There are three styles of writing, each with their own merit: formal, informal, and creative.

Formal writing is writing that has a predetermined structure and purpose. Oftentimes formal writing will be revised and edited. Examples of formal writing include articles for publication, novels, business proposals, technical manuals, essays, research papers and dissertations. Even this blog could be considered formal writing. Naturally, not all essays nor blogs are designed the same, but most will consider at least some formal elements.

Informal writing is writing that is loosely structured, not intended for a large audience and does not require the use of traditional grammar rules. Informal writing may be condensed or summarized but is rarely edited. Examples of informal writing include personal journals, notes, outlines, brainstorming, lists, tweets, some emails, and text messages. Informal writing exercises are excellent to use prior to a formal writing exercise. Since a writer is unrestrained by rules of grammar and structure in an informal writing exercise they would be free to get all of their thoughts on paper and organize them afterward. The organization of informal writing into a structure is the transition from informal to formal.

Creative writing is exactly what it sounds like. Creative writing can take on characteristics of both formal and informal writing but is far less concerned with facts and more concerned with imagination. Examples of creative writing include stories, poetry, skits, stream-of-consciousness and imaginative exercises. Creative writing assignments are good for letting a writer discover their own voice without the constraints of being 'right' or 'wrong.' As a writer develops their creativity they will find informal exercises and formal structures useful for strengthening their writing. Creative writing encourages the heart and mind to act as one. 


Each style-formal, informal, and creative- do not exist independently of each other but are complemented by one another. By encouraging students to utilize all three writing styles we, as teachers, offer them opportunities to express themselves more clearly. This expression is just as much to an outside audience as it is to themselves. Through writing we determine how and what we want to say and why we want to say it. Writing gives students a voice. In a world that can oftentimes seem overbearing and confining, giving a student a means by which to develop their identity and express themselves, we are empowering them. Lowering the affective filter between students and writing is a key to their mastery of all subjects. 

Relevance to History

History lends itself to formal writing, ultimately, but leading up to a formal paper it is important to experience all writing styles. Creative writing allows a student to put themselves in the shoes of a character in history. Informal writing is used constantly with note taking, journal entries and all of the tools that help develop a formal paper-such as outlines. In addition to the writing process, the student comes into contact, especially with primary source material, with all of these writing styles in the research process. For instance, Anne Frank's diary was an informal writing by Anne Frank, but is a useful tool for understanding the conditions of Jews in Germany during the second World War. Also, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is a piece of creative writing but provides keen insight into the types of problems facing the nation during the Progressive Era. History is dependent upon writing and the field only progresses because of the due diligence of good historical writers.

Example of use in a History classroom

Creative writing

Student's would be asked to write a page about an average day in their life. Then, the student would write a version, with the same basic structure, from the point of view of a person their age in the unit that was being studied. The whole unit could be set up so that the role of teenagers was discussed during every time period covered. For instance, during the Progressive Era, child labor could be discussed.

Informal writing

Student's would write a journal that had topics covered during class and their impressions. Additionally, the student's could practice designing outlines for topics. For instance, an outline for benefits of the Railroad would look something like this:

Topic: Railroad
Bias: Benefits

Paragraph I: Introduction
Thesis: The development of the railroads positively influenced the US by...
                  a. speeding up travel
                  b. speeding up communication
                  c. connecting consumers with goods and services
Paragraph II: Travel
                 a. before (average trip time)
                     1. problems
                 b. after    (average trip time)
                     1. benefits
Paragraph III: Coomunication
                 a. what was used  before
                     1. problems with that system
                 b. how railroads were used to facilitate communication
                    1. how the problems from a.1. were solved
Paragraph IV: Enlarged Market
                 a. limitations of markets before railroad
                 b. benefits of railroad in delivering goods and expanding markets
Paragraph V: Conclusion
                 a. place railroads in context of world history
                 b. restate travel, communication, market expansion
                 c. It is clear that railroads were epic wonderful for the furtherment of mankind blah blah blah...
Formal writing

In formal writing the student will use the outlines they have been creating during the semester to begin writing well structured essays. As the semester progresses, essays can become more personal incorporating the creative aspect of role-playing into a historical essay. For instance, the student would answer the prompt "I would most like to live in the time of _____  rather than ____because..." The student would use the formal essays they had written to support their argument as to why the time period they chose would be better than the time period they are arguing against. The student would have the experience of analyzing key characteristics of a time period while simultaneously empathizing with the role of the youth in that particular culture. By identifying with a group, such as youth, the student would be better equipped to relate the experiences of their own life to the lessons they explored in the History classroom.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Week 9

During reading strategies Part II

Graphic organizers are a great way to engage a student during a reading activity, and increase comprehension. Essentially graphic organizers are representations of details and big ideas in such a way that the relationships between them are shown. The risk of reading without an engaging "during" strategy is the student may grasp the big picture but be unable to relate the details that ultimately determined the main idea. Should some of those details fall by the way-side in the recollection process, it would be feasible for a student to gather a completely contrary picture of the main idea of a piece of literature. That being said, there are many types of graphic organizers that can be used. Many of them are good for a variety of uses.

There are essentially two different text structures in any piece of literature. The first is the external text structure. This refers to things that are included with the text to serve as guides or navigation tools, or simply supplements. Table of contents, index, photographs, end-notes, foot-notes, and bibliographies are all examples of external text structures. Internally, text has four basic structures:

1.Description- This style is a classification of information using characteristics, definitions or examples.         a. suitable graphic organizer: web, or mind map

        2.Compare/Contrast: Great for showing similarities and differences. Oftentimes one or the other may be readily seen, but the converse requires more critical thinking and encourages analysis.
        a. Venn diagrams, T-charts and tables are good for representing a compare/contrast text structure.

3. Sequence: Sequences are good for representing text in relation to time. Not to be confused with the next structure, cause and effect.
      a. Timelines, lists and cycles are good for representing sequences.

4. Cause and Effect: This structure is good for showing how one event leads to another. This structure lends itself to representing the influence of one event upon another. Ultimately, seeing things as inter-connected heightens comprehension of all text. 
    a. The Cause/Effect text structure can look very similar to a sequence. The difference is that there is explicit causality in a cause/effect graphic organizer. A sub category of cause/effect is problem/solution.

Application to History

Each of these structures have an important role to play in history. Oftentimes history is portrayed in the simplest format, description. The most important tools are cause/effect and compare and contrast. Understanding the similarities between events and the multiple causality of our rich history is the most direct path to comprehension. 

Example of Graphic Organizer in History Curriculum

Given a piece of text, perhaps on the effects of developments in technology on agriculture in Virginia, a student could interpret that information using a Venn Diagram to compare pre-industrial and post-industrial Virginia. Certainly there would be many similarities and differences. 

Parallel timelines which showed the average population, crop production and developments in technology could be used to show sequences. Then, from those timelines, cause and effect analysis could be used to show the relationships between the three. 

These methods would cause the students to analyze one piece of literature from multiple perspectives. The comprehension of the text would increase exponentially with every examination of the text. Full mastery would be the desired result, naturally. The added bonus of graphic organizers in history is that it gives the teacher a picture into the logic process of the student. In this way a teacher can see, quite directly, where a student may or may not be understanding the material. Much in the same way that a mathematics teacher can pinpoint the line of reasoning that led to an incorrect answer, a history teacher can identify which piece of information led to a false conclusion due to omission or misinterpretation of facts.