Tag Archives: future work

Coda: A Lesson Plan on Raphael’s “The School of Athens”

While working on posting the eleven lessons below, I came upon this lesson plan on The School of Athens, the painting by Raphael. I have no idea how it ended up there, or even when I wrote it, but I think it may have been for a professional development obligation of some sort. Here also is the bare-bones worksheet template I started to go with it.

So, if your interested in developing this further, there it is. Keep in mind that there are all manner of excellent websites–like this one–to point you in the right direction for completing this lesson.

If you do in fact develop this further, and you are so inclined, I’m interested in hearing about where you took it.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

We Should All Be Feminists

In my current posting in Springfield, Massachusetts, I have encountered the most simpatico colleague with whom I’ve worked as a teacher. Unfortunately, she is about to depart the school. I bid her a fond farewell; I also thank her for bringing into our classroom Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s slim but compelling volume We Should All Be Feminists. I was aware of Ms. Adichie over the years, and at one point, on National Public Radio, I listened to a feature on what I could have sworn the reporter called the “Children of Achebe”–referring, of course, the Chinua Achebe–but I cannot for the life of me find anything on this on the Internet.

This is not to say that NPR didn’t cover Mr. Achebe, a towering figure in global literature in general and African literature in particular, because the media outlet definitely did, including an interview with that great interrogator, Terry Gross. The BBC reported on something close to what I thought I heard on NPR, to wit a report on Achebe’s heirs–which names among that group Ms. Adichie, Ben Okri, and Chris Abani. Just so readers don’t think I missed anything (even though this is still a far-from-complete list of Nigeria’s distinguished writers), Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka makes this list–and he is eatured, incidentally in conversation with Henry Louis Gates, in the current edition of The New York Review of Books.

In any case, I’d of course seen the We Should All Be Feminists over the years since its publication, but was too busy with other things to engage with it. But now that I’ve had time to read it a couple of times, readers of this blog won’t be surprised that I’ve begun developing a self-selected and self-paced reading unit to accompany the book. Incidentally, part of the impetus for this (it has turned out to be a bigger project than I’d initially envisioned) project is the fact that this text began its life as a TED Talk, which makes it accessible to struggling readers and English language learners; the other, major part of my motivation for this is the interest the girls in our class took in it. This is a book kids like and to which they relate.

So, the fruits of my labor thus far are five vocabulary-building worksheets and five comprehension worksheets. These are, you will perceive, in their initial stage. Owing to time constraints, as well as to focus on this endeavor and put my best work into it, I am working on this in stages. By this time (i.e. March, which is of course Women’s History Month) next year, I plan to have this material ready to post as a Weekly Text.

For now, however, this stuff is just too tentative. I do want to say this: if you have ever considered commenting on material on Mark’s Text Terminal, I would encourage you to do so now. I am particularly interested in hearing from women about how I could dilate upon the basic questions the comprehension worksheet asks, and improve them, and improve this whole project. And internet trolls? Don’t bother. I’ll just trash your comments.

And, as always:

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Speech Accent Archive at George Mason University

Last spring, George Mason University (GMU) showed up in the current events column for its record of accepting large contributions from Charles and David Koch.  The Kochs’ money bought them, apparently, some latitude in the hiring of faculty, particularly in the economics department, at GMU. Transparent GMU, an activist group dedicated to exposing the relations between donors and GMU and their effect on disinterested inquiry at this institution went to court over the Koch’s relationship with GMU, which literally put the University on the defensive. GMU is not the only post-secondary institution which has accepted money from the Kochs; indeed, another activist organization, Unkoch My Campus, serves as something of a clearinghouse on the Kochs’ largesse and how it is used to influence inquiry and scholarship in colleges and universities.

Charles and David Koch have long sought scholarly support and credibility for their libertarianism which, by some measures, is a fringe ideology. By way of such organizations as the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), they have also sought to shape the political landscape of the United States through “scholarly” writing and political activism–particularly aggressive lobbying. All of this has been extensively documented just about everywhere someone has taken up pen or word processor to report on the David and Charles Koch’s political activities. That said, I particularly recommend Jane Mayer’s thoroughly documented and in every way excellent book Dark Money, which covers the political effects of corporate spending in elections in the United States by the Kochs and other members of their funding network.

Mark’s Text Terminal is not a political blog, but if this blog and its author stand for anything, it is for learning by way of intellectual independence and scholarly disinterest. If wealthy, self-interested Americans seek to create scholarly and/or institutional legitimacy for themselves at the expense of scholarly freedom, then I must speak. This is one of those moments, and one of those situations.

All the news from GMU is not bad, however. The above excursus is simply a long way around to calling teachers’ attention to the interesting and potentially quite useful Speech Accent Archive at George Mason University. This appears to be one of the intellectual bright spots at GMU. For the classroom teacher at the elementary and secondary level, particularly those working with English language learners, I think this is a valuable resource. If nothing else, though, it is a pretty cool piece of scholarship, for which George Mason University, in spite of whatever compromises it made with unscrupulous, self-interested donors, should be commended.


Over the last week, while lazing around in northeastern Massachusetts, I read several back issues of Rolling Stone magazine. In one of the them I learned that Steven Van Zandt was on tour with his band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Back in the 1980s when Mr. Van Zandt was recording and releasing his albums with this group, I actually preferred them to the recordings of the band for which he was best known. I speak, or course, of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. For some reason, only the first album from Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, Men Without Women, is a available on the streaming music service to which I subscribe.

And if you watched the crime drama The Sopranos, then you probably know that Mr. Van Zandt ably, and often with dark humor, played “gentlemen’s club” (ahem) owner and member of Tony Soprano’s inner circle Silvio Dante.

In other words, Steven Van Zandt is a protean talent. Reading the article on him in Rollng Stone, I learned that his current tour was expressly in appreciation of teachers, and that the proceeds from the tour would be used to continue building a website for teachers called TeachRock that provides lesson plans and curriculum on popular music. I just established an account there because it looks like very good material.

Although I’m just sayin’, you might want to take a look. And thank you, Steven Van Zandt.

The One-Thousandth Post on Mark’s Text Terminal

Today is Thursday, July 5th. It’s Independence Day in Algeria; in related anniversaries, today is the birthday of one of history’s nastiest colonialists, Cecil John Rhodes, who, in a characteristic act of his humility, helped himself to territory in Africa and created a nation-state he named after himself. That country is now the independent nation of Zimbabwe. Today is also Venezuelan Independence Day. All in all a good day for those seeking to shake off the oppressive hand of colonial governments.

I’m just back from a week on the North Shore of Massachusetts. This is the one-thousandth post on Mark’s Text Terminal, a milestone I didn’t think I would reach until the end of this year. I’ve been trying to figure out how to “celebrate” this, but have decided that I won’t. It took almost three years to publish this many posts. I imagine I’ll keep this blog going for awhile; at the moment, it’s one of the key sources of professional satisfaction for me, which matters.

Anyway, I offer today something I started working on about three years ago, but never really made any progress on developing. In the autumn of 2015 I was summoned to jury duty in my borough. I’ll spare you the details other than to say it was a particularly tragic case involving the murder of a child. While waiting in the jury room for what  seemed like interminable periods of time, I worked on a variety of things. Along the way, I read David Crystal’s book on what was then a favored mode of communication among my students. That book was Txting: the Gr8 Db8 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

One of my obsessions as a teacher is helping students become proficient writers. I saw in Txtng: the Gr8 Db8 the possibility of helping students develop their own understanding of the various registers in which people use language, how proper English usage works, to introduce them to the field of linguistics, and to demonstrate while texting language is perfectly appropriate for communication between social acquaintances and intimates, it is inappropriate for other kinds of communication and correspondence. At issue, in Mr. Crystal’s view, is whether or not “textese” is a language . Starting from the basic laws of linguistics, he says yes, it is. I’m not so much interested in that question per se as much as the answers it yields and their implications for proper and clear usage. The essential question for this unit (which, alas, is not on the overarching unit plan, is this: What are the characteristics of a language, and does “textese” feature them? If so, how?

So I began compiling this aggregated text sheet from the book for use in developing worksheets and learning supports. I also started outlining a unit plan to use with this material. And, finally, I started this lesson plan template. And that, esteemed reader, is as far as I got with it. In the meantime, the students in the school in which I serve took a step down–in my opinion–in terms of compositional sophistication and began communicating via Instagram and Snapchat, which rely, I gather, on images rather than text.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. I rather doubt I will take this work any further, so after I post it here, I will remove it from my computer. However, if you develop this further, I would be grateful indeed if you would let me now where you took it. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Parents Across America: A Detailed Critique of the Dangers of Screen Time for Young Children

[Here’s something from Diane Ravitch’s Blog that should interest and concern all teachers; I post it here as much for my future reference as anything else, as I am planning to write a couple of lessons on smart phones and screen time and their threat to education.]

Diane Ravitch's blog

Parents Across America (an independent group of parent activists that is critical of the commercialization and corporate takeover of education) has created a valuable resource about the effects of screen time on children. 

It is titled “Our Children @ Risk.”

The paper is 26 pages long. It contains extensive documentation.

It is a valuable resource in light of the profit-driven effort to promote EdTech in the schools without regard to is effects on children.

Here is the introduction:

“Children have a basic right to live in environments that promote their social, emotional and intellectual well-being. They have the right to grow up, and parents have the right to raise them, without being undermined by greed.” Susan Linn

“Parents Across America has developed a position paper and associated informational materials which detail a number of concerns about the invasion of EdTech* into our schools, and which we have collected under the…

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Literacy and the Learning Sciences

“A second program of research addressing multimedia learning has been conducted by Richard Mayer and his colleagues and is summarized in Mayer (2001). A caveat relative to this research is that multimedia are construed very narrowly in this research to mean ‘the presentation of material using both words and pictures’ (p. 2) and do not study information technologies specifically. Furthermore, the preponderance of his research has been conducted with young adults. Nevertheless, we include his work because: (a) it is informed by and contributes to a theory of multimedia learning, drawing upon Paivio’s (1986) dual coding theory, Baddeley’s (1992) working memory theory, and Mayer’s (1996) theory of meaningful learning; (b) it attends to the issue of individual differences; and (c) it may productively inform the work of learning scientists studying new literacies.

This program of research has yielded seven principles regarding the effective integration of words and pictures:

1. Multimedia principle–Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.

2. Spatial contiguity principles–Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are present near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.

3. Temporal contiguity principle–Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

4. Coherence principle–Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.

5. Modality principle–Students learn better when an animation is accompanied by spoken text, rather than printed text.

6. Redundancy principle–Students learn better from an animation accompanied with spoken text rather than an animation accompanied with spoken text and printed text, and

7. Individual difference principle–Design effects positively correlate with users’ domain knowledge and spatial ability.

Learning scientists should study whether these principles still hold in the contexts they find most compelling: real-life settings in which learning is taking place through interactions with others and with technological artifacts.”

Excerpted from: Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar and Barbara G. Ladewski, “Literacy and the Learning Sciences,” in in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, ed. Robert Keith Sawyer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 306.

One Thought About Teaching

“Drawing connections to students’ personal lives, embedding the introduction of new concepts and skills within meaningful tasks, and emphasizing the instrumental value of mastering a skill or or doing well in a subject area enhances value. For example, teachers can bring in speakers and experts from the local community to more authentically draw connections with life outside of school. A second way to enhance value is by incorporating topics that students find interesting (e.g. space travel, dinosaurs). Finally, value may be enhanced by having students work on questions and use practices similar to those used by members of the discipline (e.g. scientists and mathematicians).”

Phyllis C. Blumenfeld, Toni M. Kempler, and Joseph S. Krajcik, “Motivation and Cognitive Engagement in Learning Environments,” in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, ed. Robert Keith Sawyer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 477.