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Education Learning Life

Literature and the Human Condition

We study literature to study the human condition. We engage in conversation with a text, with its context, to understand where we were within our reality, or to understand where we may be going within our reality. Readers cannot escape their reality; indeed, they should not. Every time we open a text, we are engaging its now with our now.

We are engaging its now with our now. We are confronting its now with our now. We are embracing its now with our now. We are conjoining its now with our now. We are acknowledging its now with our now. We are debating with its characters. We are struggling with or connecting with its setting. We are processing its plot. We are appreciating its beauty with all its flaws. We are interrogating the narrator, even if the narrator is reliable. We are appreciating the figurative language through our personal “ah ha” moments.

Oh, those amazing “ah ha” moments. They don’t always come on immediately. For example, I had an “ah ha” moment a few years ago with a poem I read over 20 years before. We study literature to have those “ah ha” moments immediately, but also 20 years later. We study literature to pass on the lessons we have learned to others in whatever profession we pursue. I have a friend who teaches psychological wellness through movies and novels. When a client learns about Gaslight or Shirley Valentine, their lives are never the same. The more we read, the more we have to share, for we know more about…

…the human condition.

I really could not help myself there.

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Education

Live Blog: My First Week Teaching Virtually in K-12

Since I need to get back to writing regularly, I have to start somewhere. Perhaps keeping a live blog of my reflections on virtual teaching in K-12 during the COVID-19 pandemic will help foster that habit.

Today, we teachers are getting ready for the students to return to school. Personally, I am overwhelmed. Scenarios keep running through my head like those nightmares you have during which you make a complete fool of yourself and cannot stop it. What if I am off-base with an assignment? What if the assignment is too hard? What if the technology fails?

In my previous career, redundancy was so important. It’s instinctive now. So, I put lesson plans in one place and the same content in the LMS. Guess what happened? The lesson planner “ate” my lesson plans! Well, that was unexpected.

Earlier today I was on a conference call using a currently-very-popular app. Guess what? It messed up my computer. I’ve uninstalled it. I’ll join through the browser now, thank you, the browser I rarely use. For heavens sake.

Today’s been very stressful. I hope that my lesson plan problem can be fixed. I had everything set up and ready. Please, higher power, do not let this be a disaster. I know that the first time I do anything, it usually is, but I can’t deal with it right now.

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Education

HyperDocs and UbD

In the AP® Literature and Composition groups on Facebook, there has been a lot of talk about HyperDocs as we all transition to virtual learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During my investigation of the teaching strategy, I realized that I have been using many of the principles already since I rarely rely on textbooks and prefer to find up-to-date information on the Internet. However, I’m sure there are many ways I could improve upon what I have been doing on my own. To help me, I’m reading The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps.

UbD, or Understanding by Design, is a pedagogy (or philosophy) that has been part of my curriculum building for years, since at least 2010. How can I incorporate that pedagogy with this? It’s simple: UbD is all about the result – which is the understanding of content and its relevance. As I develop curriculum, the question in the back of my mind is the favorite of students: “Why do I have to learn this?” UbD helps teachers to answer that question effectively.

After a Short Break

I started this post a couple of days ago and then took time to start planning and using hyper docs starting next week. I have to say that it’s pretty easy, and I am already starting to see it’s value. Perhaps I will write another post after I’ve been using them a while.

Stay safe.

I just felt like trying the new editor blocks.
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Education

COVID-19 and The Five Conflicts

The last time I wrote in this blog, I had no idea how much my life was going to change shortly after I published a post about Moodle. Since then, I have entered the life I have always wanted: I have become an English teacher. This is my first year in public education, and it has been cut short by COVID-19. I offer this blog post as a reflection on that reality.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

From Meditation 17 by John Donne

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

Why Do We Have to Read Literature?

I’ve heard this question so many times. My answer, now that we are in the midst of a crisis, a pandemic: Because we need to prepare for moments like these. We need to prepare for frightening times, for joyful moments, for sad moments… for moments. We read literature to learn about the human condition, to absorb it within ourselves, to emerge from reading more a part of the human community than we were before. We read literature to learn more about our interdependence – not only with other humans but with the entire world, with all the beings, with all of it. We read literature to help ourselves admit our interdependence and to learn how to accept it. Eventually, we get it. It may be long after high school is over, but I hope that most do not have to wait that long.

What about the Five Conflicts?

We read literature for examples of the five conflicts (some might disagree on the number, but I learned of five, so I am sticking with that number) because we need to know how to cope with them. As a history major in 1993, I realized that humans can learn from the mistakes of the past. Our condition is such that we reflect on what has happened historically to make progress. As an English teacher, I have seen that we can use the five conflicts to categorize history within the context of literature (fiction and nonfiction) and make it more manageable.

The five conflicts are: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus self; and person versus the supernatural. For each, we can find examples within literature to help us learn how to deal with these conflicts in our own lives.

Therefore, I leave you with this question (because English teachers aren’t supposed to spoon-feed the answers but rather help you to discover the answers within): What examples can you find within your literature treasure chest to address these conflicts? I bet you have read more than you might realize. While we have this time, think about it. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Be good to you, your family, and your loved ones.

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Education Learning Moodle Teaching

4 Ways to Establish Relevance with Moodle

One of the first things you learn when studying adult learning is that adults need to know why they are learning something and how they can apply it to their lives.  In other words, they need to know how something is relevant to their condition and context.  It’s not only adults who need that.  Humans of all ages need to know, too, why they are learning something and how it is going to change their lives for the better once they know it.  It is the teacher’s job to help students establish relevance.

Please notice that I said “help students establish relevance.”  I say that because teachers can’t open up a student’s head and put the information into it.  Rather, they have to offer the tools by which the students deconstruct and reconstruct the knowledge for themselves.  Tools include activities that are transferable, lessons that are well-organized and include materials and activities that are on point, and resources that students can explore outside the classroom.  At times, we can all get lost in the details of a lesson or a unit while planning it.  We generate an assessment and align it to the standards of the lesson.   Then, we create these fun and engaging activities, or serious and challenging ones.   In short, we do all the other things that lesson and unit planners should do, except we forget the part about helping the students answer the question, “Why do I have to learn this?”

Here are four ways you can use Moodle to establish relevance.

Labels

Take the mystery out of it by explaining the WIIFM of an assignment immediately.  WIIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?”   It’s an acronym trainers and adult educators use, but K-12 educators can also use it.  Essentially, you are telling them what you expect them to get from the lesson.  Then, it’s up to them to verify that is what they got.  In my classroom, I would expect my students to challenge me if my WIIFM statement doesn’t match their experience or understanding.  I would also work hard to rectify that problem.

Competencies and Learning Plans

Do you share your standards with the students?  Make it easier for the students to understand what’s happening in class!  Share with them the standards you have aligned to the lesson and unit.  Additionally, in Moodle, you can create learning plans based on competencies (Moodle’s term for standards) that administrators load into the software.  These learning plans will show the students all the standards aligned to a course and the activities aligned to each standard.  Be sure to explain all of this to the students when you share their learning plan with them.  Otherwise, they might think this is nothing more than a checklist, and learning plans can be so much more useful than that.  For more information on competencies and learning plans, please click this link.

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Discussion Forums

Use discussion forums to address the “elephant in the room,” which is the usual question about relevance.  In this case, peers can help peers; we often find that peers can teach one another just as much as the teacher can, so give them this opportunity to help one another.

Journals

You can download the journal plugin from Moodle.org at this link.  Teachers use the journal activity to pose a question and review students’ answers to that question, which is a great way to do a little formative assessment!  Explicitly pose questions such as

  • “What do you think this unit is all about?”
  • “How can you apply what you’ve learned during this unit to your life?”
  • “In five years, what will you remember about this unit?  Why?”

What Do You Think?

Do you think these four components of Moodle can help learners to establish relevance within their own minds?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section provided.