Tag Archives: research

The Gulag Archipelago

“(Russian title; Arkhipelag Gulag) A three-volume history (1973-6; English translation 1974-78) by the Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) of the Gulag, the Soviet administrative department responsible for maintaining prisons and forced labour camps. ‘Gulag’ is the abbreviation of Russian Glavnoye upravleniye ispravitel no-trudovykh lagerey, “Chief Administration for Corrective Labour Camps.’ Such camps–scattered across Siberia like an archipelago of islands–were a notorious feature of the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1955 and resulted in the deaths of millions. Having been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1970), Solzhenitsyn was in 1974 deported after the publication in Paris of the first two volumes and the suicide of his former assistant wh, after five days of interrogation by the KGB, had revealed where she had hidden a copy of the complete work.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Blog Post 2000!

I started this blog in 2015, mostly because I found serious discourse about students, teaching, learning, and curriculum in the school in which I served at the time left a great deal to be desired. In the first three years I maintained this site, in other words up to July of 2018, I published 1,000 posts. Since last July, I have published 1,000 more. I’m not sure how I did it, but here we are.

What I do know is this: when I feel dissatisfied with the professional environment in which I am working, I tend to use these pages as an outlet for my professional curiosity and, yes, I suppose, ambition. If I am to be honest, I also turn to this blog, as I once did to personal journals, when I am anxious.

Last November, I made the grievous mistake of accepting the position of “literacy interventionist” (I don’t speak or read bureaucratese; if I did, that position title would have been a dead giveaway for what came next) in an utter disaster of a school, the High School of Commerce, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Starting from my first day of work, when the principal who hired me was absent, and had left no word with her subordinates–or anyone, really–that I would arrive, I have been both professionally dissatisfied and anxious: the former because this school is a place where professionalism and engagement are pretty much subordinated to mindless personal ambition; the latter because I am concerned, as I have been similarly concerned in the past when working in troubled schools led by less than competent principals who can destroy a teacher’s career with their own incompetence, that I had inadvertently put my career at risk.

So, you can see why I produced 1,000 posts this year. I am in the last part of my working life, and at this point I just want to work in a school whose administration and faculty doesn’t see children as abstractions, as data points on a graph, to advance their own careers. I became a teacher to help kids, not play power games and office politics.

In any case, here we are at Blog Post 2000. I have a number of documents to post, all from the first third of my career, when I was just figuring out how to assess students’ abilities and design instruction that challenged them, but didn’t frustrate them.

So, for starters, here is a learning support on the kinds of questions that drive research projects.

Next, here is a learning support on writing notecards for research papers. I don’t know if teachers still require students to keep analog note-cards in the real world, but the social studies teacher with whom I taught sophomore global studies in Manhattan at the beginning of this (2018-2019) school year still–to his credit–required them. Whatever you do in your classroom, perhaps this structured note-card blank will help students learn and master this task essential to the craft of research.

This sample outline learning support and this style sheet on using structured outlining blanks, you will notice, are basically the same material. The style sheet accompanies these structured outlining blanks.

Finally, here is a document I call the research paper in miniature. I use this document to show students, in essence, what a research paper is, why the authors of these kinds of papers must cite sources, and even ask them to infer the argument (i.e. the origins of rock and roll are in the blues and other African musical forms) from the paragraph they read. As I write this, I realize that I have a lesson plan to rationalize the research paper in miniature, so I’ll post that as a Weekly Text sometime over the summer when I have a chance to revise it.

That’s it. I emptied out the folder for Blog Post 2000. Now to start working on my next thousand posts.


“A painting (1937), perhaps the most famous of the 20th century, painted by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1937 in horrified protest at a notorious atrocity in the Spanish Civil War. On 27 April 1937, bombers of the German Kondor Legion, in support of Franco’s nationalists, destroyed the ancient Basque capital of Guernica, causing many civilian casualties. Picasso’s stark monochromatic painting has become a symbol of the barbarity of modern warfare. There is a (probably apocryphal) story that while Picasso was living in Paris in the Second World War, a Gestapo office visited his studio. Looking at the canvas of Guernica, the Nazi asked, ‘Did you do that?’ ‘No,’ Picasso replied, ‘you did.'”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.


Crime and Puzzlement: Dead Man’s Curvature

Alright, it’s Monday again, and already light at a little before five in the morning. I love this time of year.

Let’s start the week with a Crime and Puzzlement Lesson Plan, to wit, number seven from the first volume of Lawrence Treat’s seriesDead Man’s Curvature. I start this lesson with this Cultural Literacy worksheet idiom “Steal Someone’s Thunder.” Here is a scan of the illustration and questions that are texts for this lesson. Finally, here is a typescript of the answer key.

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.


“A resinous varnish that, when applied in several layers, attains a high polish. True lacquer comes from the Japanese lac tree. Characteristically oriental, lacquer work spread to Europe in the early 18th century. Usually decorated.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Cultural Literacy: Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Over the years I worked with struggling learners in New York City’s schools, I always counted among the students on my rosters a complement of English language learners. Observing them across time, I noticed that all but a very few struggled with idioms from American English. Idioms are, arguably, one of the most difficult if not the most difficult figures of speech to master: they are not literal, and as abstractions they are difficult to interpret because they don’t bear any resemblance in most cases to the concept they describe and represent.

Which is why, when I started using E.D. Hirsch and Joseph F. Kett’s book, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, I wrote up worksheets on American idioms and attached them as short, do-now exercises (they take five to ten minutes at the beginning of a class period and help with transitions between classes) to as many of the lessons as I could.

So, here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”. This is still, I think, a very commonly used idiom, and is easy to explain conceptually, which will help students make the jump from the figurative to the literal and back again on this worksheet, and, this teacher hopes, to many of the other of its type I have posted and will post over time.

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.

The Mozart Effect

[N.B. that this quote contains an apparent error, to wit that number 488 in the Kochel Catalogue is not a sonata for two pianos, but rather the composer’s 23rd piano concerto.]

Mozart effect: A finding, first reported in the journal Nature in 1993, that listening to compositions by Mozart increases scores on tests of spatial ability for a short while. In the original experiment, college students were given various tests after experiencing each of the following for ten minutes: listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos in D major K488, listening to a relaxation tape, or silence. Performance on the paper-folding subtest of the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale was significantly better after listening to Mozart than after the other two treatments, but the effect dissipated after about 15 minutes, and other (non-spatial) tasks were unaffected. The finding has been contested by other researchers and has been widely misinterpreted to imply that listening to Mozart (or listening to classical music) increases one’s intelligence. Several independent research studies have shown that children who receive extensive training in musical performance achieve significant higher average scores on tests of spatial ability, but that long-term consequence is not the Mozart effect.

[Named after the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-9100]”

Excerpted from: Colman, Andrew M., ed. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.