Speech: Underused In the Classroom

Just a quick post about a rather underused OS X feature in the classroom:

Thinking back to the good ol’ days of MacOS 7.x (Yes, I’m old enough to remember…thank you very much!), what was the single greatest feature of Apple’s SimpleText application?  That’s right.  Its text-to-speech functionality (using MacInTalk or PlainTalk for the Apple historians in the room).

Boy, were those days fun, or what?  One could spend hours trying to get your Performa 5200 PowerPC to correctly pronounce your last name after several hundred attempts at spelling it phonetically.  And when no one was around, maybe, just maybe, you even had Ralph, Fred, Cellos, Kathy, Princess, or Bubbles whisper a few certain four-letter words at you.  Rebel, you were.

But alas, in my teenage mind, that was the extend of the functionality of SimpleText: digital swearing.

Then I became a teacher.

As my fifth graders work through the writing process, what’s the single phrase I use the most when Johnny tells me, “I’m finished.”?  Yup: “Have you reread what you wrote?”

So back to Johnny’s desk he goes to pretend to reread his work through the end of class.  Enter: Apple’s Speech System Preferences.  One of the great, updated features of Apple’s OS X is the ability to quickly highlight text on your screen, hold down your hotkey combination, and have a choir of voices read you your text (with eerily close voice inflections!) right back to you.


As I’ve been working on my grad school work, almost every abstract, journal, reflection, paper, or key assessment has had itself highlighted and read aloud before I print or submit.  Why not do that in the classroom with your students???

We all know that during the process of hearing your work being read back to you, you’ll catch gramatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, and better-phrasing opportunities.  Since a vast majority of my students’ work eventually makes it to a screen of some sort, why not make this a required step in the writing process?

Just a thought.

What self-check tech solutions have you used with your students?

Drill and Kill at its Finest

So at some point in that secretive, allusive  “teacher school” we all attended, they dress the males in ABC ties and the females in jumpers and make us chant: Drill and Kill is Bad, Drill and Kill is Bad, Outdoor Recess Duty is Fun, Drill and Kill is bad…

Okay, so maybe your experience wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.  Our professors uncovered the unyielding power of the meaningful, experiential education world, filled with self-discovery and connections to relevant material.  This leaves little educational value for the repetition of massive amounts of similar problems in an effort to work toward mastery.  Essentially, those math worksheets of 200 addition or multipcation problems make Piaget and Vygotsky turn in their graves.

Or does it?  Are there some things that can be mastered through rote experiences?

My district’s adoption of a “Balanced Literacy Framework” outlines a “Word Study” component that is based on a classroom “Word Wall” made up of high-frequency (often ruleless) words.  During a recent unit, I came across the challenge of teaching the word “beautiful.”  As the lesson-planning wheels started cranking in my head, out came Jim Carey’s “B-e-a-utiful” line from Bruce Almighty.  The more I ran “beautiful” through my mind, the more I thought about Taylor Mali’s popular video On What Teachers Make. Assuming you’ve seen it (or just clicked on it), you’ll remember his repetitive approach to spelling the phrase, “definitely beautiful.”

And so launched my Fifth Grade Definitely Beautiful Challenge.

Over the next few weeks, my students spent every “free” moment writing “definitely beautiful” on any small slip of paper they could find, adding their initials and homeroom on the back.

100_1593Basically, there were two parts to the challenge.  First, the individual challenge:  At the end of the competition, four slips would be drawn from the container (for which I had to eat 7.2 million cheeseballs) and the winners would all be invited to a Definitely Beautiful Pizza Party with a friend.  Putting it in fifth grader language: the more slips you fill out, the better your chances are to get pizza! For the group challenge, if my 69 kids were able to produce a total of 5,000 “definitely beautifuls,” their oh-so-masculine teacher (that’d be me) would dawn a pink tutu for a full day of school.  Over the next two weeks, the following transpired:

– notes from parents asking if they could participate!

– students choosing to sit in the autidorium part of our gym during indoor recess to definitely beautiful (yes, it became a verb)!

– contacts from parents saying that this contest should be extended because their student ceased fighting with a sibling while she definitely beautifuled (apparently a past-tense verb as well!) each evening!

– students writing “definitely beautiful” all over every paper they submitted, in an effort to show off their mad spelling skills!

– 5,815 definitely beautifuls (look, a noun!) appeared in the contest tub.100_1604

So alas, two colleagues drew the pizza party-winning names (much to the disappointment of some sore-handed non-winners).  And as promised, there I taught with my pink tutu, magical fly swatter wand, and my homemade Definitely Beautiful t-shirt.  I even busted out the tiara from my costume drawer in my curricularium at home.100_1598

Funny what things make it to YouTube, as well.

Well?  Have my students mastered the spellings of definitely and beautiful?  Ask them to find out.  Are there appropriate uses of drill and kill?  Ask them to find out.

Professional Organizations Update: I Caved

Last summer, I wrote about “Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees”.  Well, I caved.  During the fall, I took a one-hour graduate class about educational readings.  When the time came to find professional articles to read, I, admidingly, went to my principal and asked for copies of her professional journals.  And before I knew it, I was stretched out on my couch with a stack of ASCD’sEducational Leadership” magazines.

So when the time came to write my letter to Santa, I added “ASCD membership” to the list.  I figured it was easy for the elves to make in the workshop.  Low and behold, I was a good boy, and my girlfriend purchased a membership on my behalf.

February is a fairly edtechy month for me, as it brings Ohio’s eTech Conference.  Even better, my first Educational Leadership magazine (of my own!) is titled “Teaching Screenagers” and focuses on edtech issues!

Okay, so there is some value in professional organizations.  I certainly won’t let it replace my PLN on Twitter, but it definitely makes a lovely compliment to it.

Our Spinning World

Behold, a quick tip for helping students with geography.

In seventh grade social studies in Ohio, there is a significant amount of curricular energy spent helping students wrap their geographically self-centered minds around foreign lands.  Since a lot of what I did with geography was based on different activities with Google Earth, my students were accustomed to manipulating the controls to pan and zoom into different locations.

Inverted globeI began each lesson, however, with a little trick.  Before class, I zoomed out to a world-view level and gave the globe a slow spin.  It was always a cool effect for when I finally pulled the Google Earth application to the front.  It gave it that national-nightly-news-corner-graphic-kind-of-feel.

Then, before I walked away and let the kids teach themselves, I’d give the “earth” a quick spin.  From a cognitive analysis, there is a lot of thinking that goes on for a student to bring a flying globe to a sudden stop, then to rotate, pan, and zoom to a perspective she or he is familiar with.  I loved watching the Social Studies Synapses firing in their brains or listening to the, “No, that’s the southern tip of the Persian Gulf!” heckles coming from the analyzing 12-year-old audience.

Sure, it’s nothing fancy.  But it is a step over Miss Bliss pulling down the wall maps and having Jessie point to Greece.

Click here to see what students see: Spinning Earth

Textbooks? Oh bother.

If you’re a loyal follower (or my mother), you’ll remember that I spent two years teaching seventh grade social studies.  During that time, I was given a ten-year-old textbook and supplemental materials to pass out to my students.  Not exactly knowing how the year was going to unfold, I mistakenly passed the books out to the students.  At the end of the year, I collected them – unused all year long.

They were old, boring, and full of boring stuff like…words.  <Insert snoring sounds here>  Seventh grade social studies in Ohio is all about world history.  The kids didn’t want to read words about them.  They wanted experiences.  Anyhow.

For Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Time magazine’s “100 Events that Changed the World.” If you’re in a position where you’re charged with getting 21st century minds to wrap around ancient world history, PICK UP A COPY!  This paperback, glossy-covered, 122-page Time magazine on steroids is more than enough to guide learning  for all ancient civilizations.  It starts with “Man’s Prehistoric Breakthroughs”, moves through Minoans and Greeks, hits the Roman Empire, discusses The Renaissance and gets its Enlightenment on!  And that’s all before the “Modern Times” section!

So much of world history isn’t “What they did,” as much as it is “What they influenced.”  This magazine demonstrates outstanding segues from one civilization to another, touching on why it came to be and what we got from it.  Your lesson plans are done (kind of)!

We each have our own teaching styles.  We each balance printed and digital resources with our mind’s knowledge and past experiences.  If your repertoire is lacking some of the former, I’d at least check out a copy of this valuable tool.

Reflections for School Finance

As I continue my journey toward my Master’s in Education Leadership, last Wednesday began my school finance section of the adventure.  While this program has taken me through a few pretty disastrous courses, there have been some outstanding ones as well: Supervision and Leadership with Dan Major, School Law with Dr. Pat Pauken, and now, hopefully, School Finance with Dr. Paul Johnson.

Although the traditions of “syllabus night” held true (early dismissal!), we did begin with some reflective dialoge concerning where school finance issues stand today and why this is an incredible time to be taking the course in Ohio.  With a new governor (and friends) taking the lead, we’re likely to witness some major transformations in school finance approaches, procedures, and laws.  The challenge will be keeping a room of nine passionate individuals on an apolitical and productive approach to the topic.

Much like my law course, this class appears to be one taught by an individual who is downright passionate about the topic.  I’m sure he’s knowledgable and experienced as well, but it is the passion that is presented during each class session that really makes the experience worthwhile.  As an interesting pre-administrator reflection, I found one of his introductory comments absorbing.  While explaining his resume, including time as a building-level and district-level administrator, he explained that he has always just asked his staff members for two things: 1.  Teach kids in a way that they will learn. And if you’re not in a teaching position, support teachers so that they can teach in a way that kids will learn.  2.  Treat others well. While these are simple and broad expectations, they are also wholly encompassing.  Just something interesting to keep in mind as I prepare for a principalship.

Finally, I walked away from the first class with a few quotes that may bring a nod to your head or a smile to your face:

“School Finance is not a math class; it’s political science.”

“There are only two kinds of school districts in Ohio: those that are on the ballot and those that will be.”

“Don’t watch sausage or laws being made; You’ll lose your appetite for both.”

“The study of School Finance is like a Russian novel; It’s long and boring and in the end, everybody dies.”

I’m excited for the course!

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m rather embarassed that it takes a national holiday for me to have enough time to sit down and hit the blog again, but alas, life is busy.  I was given a new teaching assignment this year, which has challenged me (and made me incredibly happy!).  Additionally, in my graduate work, I just finished my school law class (an amazing experience!).

These two things combined, have drained every minute of my schedule.  Two things have suffered: running and blogging.  Although my school finance class and principal internship starts in January, I’m going to make an effort to get both verbs back into some sort of routine.

Until then, enjoy your day of giving thanks.  I’m thankful for my job, the opportunity to play a role in each of my students’ lives, and great, supportive coworkers, family, and friends.

And on a sidenote, if you’re looking for a neat, modern-day twist on the Thanksgiving story, check out Eve Bunting’s How Many Days Till America?.


Last night was our open house for my new fifth grade class.  It went really well!  The kids have a lot of energy, their parents seem very supportive of the kids, and I’m really….really…looking forward to a great year!

As is typical with open houses, parents often want to give you a heads up on things they think the teacher should know.  “He really struggles with reading,” they say, standing in front of the child.  I usually want to reply, “Well if he didn’t before, he will now!”  I understand where they’re coming from and recognize that they’re just trying to do what they think is best for the child.

Teachers do it, too.  Each year, as I send on the kids that I’ve invested so much in, I always want to talk to their new teachers and explain what works…and what doesn’t.

But what about the fresh start?

How much information is too much information?

Exit reports and informal conversations are all aimed at providing a student with future success.  But like I said, that’s their aim.  Is that really what they achieve?  Or are they really assigning undue bagagge to an unsuspecting student hoping to turn over a fresh leaf?

Is there an answer?  What does your school do?

Resourced Out

I’m moving to a new building and new teaching position this year – seventh grade social studies to fifth grade language arts.

To support me in this transition, my district has done an outstanding job of providing tons, and tons, and tons, of resources.  We have a district literacy consultant.  We have two literacy coaches.  My new principal is our district’s former (position cut) curriculum director.  I have textbooks (don’t use ’em!).  I have workbooks.  I have website subscriptions.  I have supplemental material.  I have supplemental material for the supplemental material.  I have Spanish, Braille, and audio versions of the supplemental material for the supplemental material.  I am RESOURCED OUT!

Too much of a good thing?

Too much of a good thing?

Looking at my filled filing cabinets, overflowing bookshelves, and forever-scrolling bookmark lists, there is no possible way I can digest that amount (or even close to it) of information in my lifetime.  And I don’t know that I need to.

Don’t get me wrong: I would much rather be over-resourced than under-.  I certainly recognize that there are still teachers in our society who are given class lists (maybe), a key to their classroom, and a good-luck handshake.  But with all these resources, am I forgetting still one more?  Me.

Didn’t I spend a whole slew of time, money, and energy going to college (“teacher school” as I tell the kids) to learn not just how-to-teach, but how-to-THINK?  I know exactly what kids need.  I know exactly how they learn.  I spend hours reading blog after webpage after tweet after book after magazine about how to truly master teach.  I don’t need more resources.  I need to use the one resource I’ll always have with me.

So late last week, when I went in my room and saw the stacks of resource books, file folders, and legal pads that I had tried to categorize, I made a simple, but profound move: I put them all away.

Make no mistake, I’ll use them.  But I don’t want to start with them.  I want to start with what’s in my head…and my heart.  I still believe in myself.  On the days where those two things fall short in giving me ideas or direction, only then will I reach for the filing cabinet.

Bucket Filling

This summer I started reading The Tipping Point.  I didn’t finish it.

This summer I started to listen to The World Is Flat on audiobook.  I didn’t finish it.

This summer I started reading How Full is Your Bucket?.  I finished it.

Oaks, Linda. bucket2.jpg. 2008. Pics4Learning. 18 Aug 2010 <http://pics.tech4learning.com>

Oaks, Linda. bucket2.jpg. 2008. Pics4Learning. 18 Aug 2010

I’ll be the first to admit that I ended last school year on a negative foot.  Without getting too detailed, I declare it was simply the year of a Perfect Storm.  Lots of factors compounded each day, making it harder and harder to be the positive, chipper educator I used to (and wanted to) be.  So this summer, as I sat through one of the worst classes I’ve ever attended, I did find one piece to grab ahold of and investigate further.

In between my graduate professor having us match up with our “elbow partners” to discuss the “most important point” and taking turns reading the subheadings on the book-provided PowerPoint, my professor mentioned Tom Rath’s book, How Full is Your Bucket? The text is built on the simple metaphor of a full bucket equating a fulfilling, positive life.  Each interaction either adds or subtracts a scoop of water into each person’s bucket.  While this is nothing revoluationary, it does help me, the visiual learner, to imagine this image during each interaction.

The book ends with the author challenging readers to spend a week mentally noting the “bucket effect” of each interaction:  Did you just add or subtract to that person’s bucket?  What did they do to your bucket?  What words or tones made it that way.  Can they be changed?

Rath challenges readers to practice a 5:1 “magic ratio” of bucket filling to bucket draining and cites more than enough statistical research to show how this ratio increasing productivity, your pleasure to be around, and even whitens your teeth (just making sure you’re still paying attention).

So as I enter a new year, I’m out of the negativity rut.  And I’m positive about it.

How Full is Your Bucket? is available is several versions including a cute children’s book and an educator’s edition.  It’s an incredibly quick read and offers supplemental website access.