The second session I attended, “Why Rubrics Don’t Work for Me: Reclaiming Subjectivity in writing Assessment” presented by Maja Wilson, was very thought provoking. She began her presentation by talking about the phrase “Objective Assessment” as semantically contradictory. The word objective is related to distance/disinterestedness, as opposed to the word assessment, whose root means “to sit beside” or proximity. She related this contradiction in terms to educators use of writing rubrics, focusing specifically the way using rubrics to grade student writing forces teachers to change the way they read in order to assign a grade to student writing. She referred to this change in reading as “The view from nowhere,” a view where the richness and power of language is devalued in exchange for an ‘agreement’ about what good writing is – the agreement known as a rubric.  I can’t remember how many times in highschool when the teacher would hand back graded papers, and the only explanation for the grade were check marks next to the items on the rubric.

To illustrate this idea of “the voice from nowhere”, Wilson had her audience turn to one another and describe what came to mind when they thought of the word Grandmother. Several people shared their thoughts, most involved a story and very vivid details about their own grandmothers. She then asked the audience to come up with a definition of the word Grandmother. The difference between the two approaches was stark.  When we asked to be objective, to define what a grandmother was, all of the personal stories and vivid images disappeared. This is what Wilson is referring to when she talks about the difficult of applying objectivity to writing: describing vs. defining, objectivity vs. subjectivity — the evocative power of language is lost when we try to come up with a definition that everyone agrees with.

Maja went on to explain that assessment not only changes the way that readers read and writers write, but leaves no room for dialogue between the two. There were two important questions she kept in mind when reading student writing: What were you trying to do and why? When we are ticking off the items on the rubric as we read student’s writing, are free to think about the writing in terms on what goes on in our mind and why? The idea here is, that by allowing ourselves to read from our own view, we open up a dialogue with the student writer – we share what goes on in our mind while we read the work and ask what were you trying to do and why.

I think this last point is key. In viewing writing as a process, it’s easy to see how rubrics could derail the dialogue between readers (peer editors or the teacher) and writers — a critical component to developing writing. As a writer, when you give your work to another person, you want them to respond to the work, not to how well you satisfied the requirements of a rubric.


The first session I attended, “Hanging on by your Fingernails until you gain a Toehold: Advice for Future Teachers from New Teachers,” presented by GVSU’s very own Dr. Jill Van Antwerp, dealt with the relatively high incidence of teachers leaving the profession. statistics were a little surprising to me; 40-50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. While I knew that the turnover rate for new teachers was relatively high, I would not have guessed this high. At first I thought we would be in for a “Shock & Awe” session, where all the pitfalls, bad experiences, and general anxiety about being a new teacher would be expounded upon in detail. What actually happened, however, was a pleasant surprise. The most commonly cited reason for educators to leave the profession was related to Administration. Not surprising. Administrators are the people that set the “tone” of the place where we work and are largely responsible for the type of work environment that’s created. It’s gotta be difficult to work in an environment where you feel threatened, micro managed or tied down by administrative red-tape — things I’ve noticed even though I have yet to work long term in a school setting.

The majority of Dr. Van Antwerp’s presentation focused on the positive things that kept teachers teaching. The most common response was ‘the kids,’ which definitely implies that we have to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. Essentially, if you don’t love working with kids, you’re going into the wrong profession— duh. (At least for me this is a ‘duh’ point, where it seems blatantly obvious, but Dr. Van Antwerp did give a few examples of people who wanted to teach because it was a ‘steady income’…hmmm) At any rate, she also gave some advice to new teachers for those first five years.

Look for an advocate

Dr. Van Antwerp pointed out that many schools don’t have mentoring programs for new teachers – or if you find yourself with a deadbeat mentor, look for another teacher who is willing to help, but be tactful in your approach.  It’s definitely a bad idea to offend your current mentor or alienate fellow teachers in your first year

Be strong

She also explained that it’s important to give yourself time to relieve stress, get enough sleep, and realize that you’ll be developing an immune system – it’s not uncommon to be sick when you first stop as the kids bring their colds to school. 

Don’t pick sides (at first)

Dr. Van Antwerp cautioned against siding with faculty members early on in your first year teaching – being careful to whom you align yourself with, until you have a good idea of what everyone is about and how they relate to the administration.


I’ve been thinking about what happens in our schools when we deny students access to information on the web. While it’s somewhat troublesome to use class definitions, the largely white middle class students in the district where I tutor can go home and use internet resources, whereas for students from low income families, the school might be their only access to that information. Of course there are public libraries where people have relatively open access, but I’d like to examine what we are really doing by disallowing access to so-called social sites. I’d like to think that a lot of these pages are actually blogs that are discussing very relevant political/social/economic topics; like this post I came across in one of my rss feeds.

“I attend high school. Today I had a free period and with nothing else to do in our half demolished campus [my school is undergoing serious construction] so I decided that the best place to spend this one hour is by going to the library to check progressiveu and read people’s blogs. However, when I surfed the internet, progessiveu was blocked. The reason: personal blogging & something having to do with socializing.

I understand that myspace, xanga, youtube & urbandictionary are blocked and I see the reasoning behind that, but progressiveu???

I do admit that this is a blogging website but it is not just about anything. It is about blogging that interests people’s attention, not just another website like the ones mentioned above. The purpose of this website serves for other causes than the other restricted websites.

For example,I get informed about many things going around in the world, like foreign affairs and US politics. I have the opportunity to express what I feel, just like I am right now. Most importantly, ProgressiveU lets people’s write down their opinions. Their emotions. Their sympathy. “

                                                               link to the full post here

Obviously there are steps that this young student can take to get access to blog pages(and a good lesson in using the system to implement change) but what are we saying to students who can’t go home and write a post like this? I know this is a minor point, as there are so many reputable news organizations whose content is readily available – the issue I think is the missing element of debate and discussion – sure this student can go to the BBC or NYT webpages and get news – but where can she go to discuss/debate the issues that are presented? I’d hate to think that out of (a fairly legitimate) concern regarding child predators/objectionable content, that school districts would simply put a blanket ban on any site that has a social premise – like Maybe their hope is that by excluding all content, students will petition for sites like the one discussed above that have some academic merit. After all, most schools have come a long way with their internet filtering policies. I remember wanting to research sex discrimination for an essay in high school and running into dead end after dead end because by search queries contained the word sex; this is largely not the case now as internet filters have become more advanced and better designed. My hope is that we are careful to ensure equal access to what has been called web 2.0 – the interactive, collaborative side of the web which holds so much potential – hopefully potential that far outweighs risk.  I like this example from another high school student really illustrates the kind of meaningful/insightful blogging that happens every day;

Today, as I was blogging, my brother walked in. He didn’t say anything, he just sat down and watched me type. He looked at me in a way that words can’t describe. I was looking into his eyes at what was in his soul.

My brother is autistic. He doesn’t talk. Autistic children don’t usually make eye contact. So the very little communication that I do get from him is rare. It’s hard, like standing on the edge of a cliff. You don’t see anything ahead of you, and life at times seems grim. I have wondered, who will take care of him when my parents are gone? How will he understand? How can I reach out to him and explain? At this cliff, I can’t move forward. I can only look back. I can only look back on how in the past 17 years of my life I have never had a normal brother. I don’t know his favorite color. I don’t know if he would have liked to play scrabble with me on friday nights. I don’t know what its like to have a conversation with my brother. As I write this I am crying. I don’t know why. I don’t know why all feeling hasn’t been numbed, I want the pain to numb, I just want my brother back. I want to know what he likes, I want to know if he prefers chocolate or vanilla, I want him to tease me, I want to see his heart and soul. Maybe I am asking for too much. I just want the 17 years that I have gotten used to him to overcome any hidden feelings that I have left of grief,sometimes anger, and simply “why?”

Today, as I was blogging, my brother walked in. He didn’t say
anything, he just sat down and watched me type. He looked at me in a
way that words can’t describe. I was looking into his eyes at what was
in his soul. I wondered, what is he thinking? He looked at me so intently like he was dying to say something. I thought, there really is a human in there, a being with a mind and a soul. I started thinking, maybe, just maybe he will say something. So far, he hasn’t said it with words. Sometimes, if you look hard, you can read it in his eyes. We sat there in silence. He searching my eyes, and I searching his. What did he find? Understanding. We both found understanding. This is the way it is. That moment we shared I will always treasure. We both have different roles in life. In his eyes, it was like he accepted his. Like he had this far away look that was beyond my understanding. Does he know that he is autistic? He looks far off at times, and we sit in silence. The silence that created a gap between this complete stranger that I live with. This stranger who I know nothing about besides his name. The silence is deafening.

                                                                                      link to blog here

Not only is this student’s writing insightful, but it’s meaningful because the writing is about a topic the writer cares about and the writing is addressed to an actual audience – a small glimpse of what it’s like to live with a family member who has autism.  As far as I can tell, there’s no indication that this is an assignment or something someone asked them to do – they were simply motivated to share their own personal experience.  As an educator this is a goldmine – it can be a struggle to help students find motivation, and I really think that writing of this type can be an excellent way to motivate students, get them writing.  Whats more, I think this demonstrates, in a way, how blogging can be more than a bunch of kids carrying their lunch-hour conversations into an internet environment.


So, as tech-savvy as it is to maintain an educational Blog, there’s still one online phenomenon that I have yet to explore – social networking sites.  Setting up a facebook or Myspace account has been on my list of things to do for the last few years (maybe I should call it, “things I might do”).  I just haven’t gotten around to it.  Meanwhile, as I’ve procrastinated, more than one billion people, according to PCpro online  , subscribe to some form of social networking  sites, which account for roughly one quarter of all internet traffic.  (full brief here) Here in the United States, a recent Pew Survey indicates that,

“More than half (55%) of all of online American youths ages 12-17 use an online social networking sites, according to a new national survey of teenagers conducted by Pew Internet & American Life Project. ”   full survey here 

That’s a very significant number of American middle & high school students maintaining their own pages on the internet – sounds like a naturally occuring literary behavior to me, and a perfect opprotunity for literary instruction. 

The idea of  social networking sites for literary instruction isn’t new; Bethany Erikson and David Knapp presented the idea at last years Bright Ideas Conference at MSU.  (link to the screen cast here)  They set up myspace pages for characters from two novels, Jay Gatsby from “The Great Gatsby” Titus from M.T. Anderson’s “Feed”.  The pages didn’t just include these main characters, but other important characters from the novels were added to their ‘friends’ list.  It’s a very interactive way to explore the relationships between characters, and when students construct their own character pages, an excellent way to engage them in the ‘world’ of the text.  And it’s an idea that’ s actually making it’s way into classrooms, according to a recent article in the Republican Herald;

Last year seven students in Kelly Crowe’s advance-placement literature class at Minersville Area High School created a MySpace page for the main character from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” with the goal of having 25 people add him as their friend.

“After two weeks, Holden had 50 friends,” Crowe said. “It spread to the point that we had kids from other schools adding him because everyone recognizes him. He is the epitome of a teenager and a timeless character.”
full article here

I think beyond a sort of recreational standpoint, that having students create their own character myspace pages  is a great way to encourage the kinds of writing we want from our students: we want them to think in depth about the characters & their relationships, to think within/extra-textually about what motivates those characters, to have an audience in mind when they write.  Structured in the proper way, a student produced community of novel characters could, in my opinion, be as rigorous the kinds of in-class writing instruction we already do. 


Over this last weekend I thought a bit about the angle I wanted to pursue on this blog. I kept coming back to something that Doc. Rozema said in class about using “naturally occurring literary behaviors” on the web (facebook, myspace, etc.) to engage students in reading/writing as well as critical thinking. I really like this phrase for a couple of reasons. First, you’re taking a framework that is already in place, and using it to your educational advantage; most students already know how to maintain blogs. That knowledge can serve as a foundation for a student blogging community that utilizes rss technology to read/write and think critically about current events or other instructor-guided topics that directly relate to materials studied in class. Secondly, it applies not only to technologically driven behavior, but to elements in pop culture: music, films, plays, slam poetry, the list could go on— all of these “literary behaviors” that have been taking place for thousands of years and that students have likely participated in. For now, I’ll be exploring these literary behaviors and the ways that teachers are incorporating them into their instruction –

I’ll be using multiple RSS feeds to gather articles: Two Google News Feeds on high school literature & high school writing instruction, the education section from both the New York Times & the Washington Post, as well as an Google Blog search on high school writing instruction.


paint-sticks-header.jpgThe first session I attended at the Bright Ideas Conference this weekend, was  Using Art as an Assessment presented by Professor Anna J. Roseboro from GVSU.  While I’ve read about using art as an assessment in Jeff Whilhelm’s You Gotta Be the Book, Ihad never really thought any further on the subject – While it might seem unrealistic to use art as an assessment in the classroom, I was very impressed with Professor Roseboro’s ideas. 

The most obvious connection that was made between art and literature, was the use of metaphor – particulary the way metaphor easily lends itself to visual representation.  It makes sense that, since we are always telling our readers to ‘visualize’ the scene or setting as they read, to visualize it literally, as part of an assessment.  Professor Roseboro definitely had my attention at that point.  What an excellent way to help get students into the reading, by literally visualizing the text.  She described two projects, Weaving Strips and  Geometric Representation (for now I’ll only discuss Geometric Representation.)

The students were asked to pick three main characters from (whatever they were reading in class) and choose a shape that represents each of them, choose colors for the shapes and then arrange them in a way that deomnstrates the characters relationships, or the plot of the book.  While this sounds simple, it goes a little further.  The students had to justify each of their choices of shape, color and positioning, with a one page essay, explaining their Geometric Representation.  The instructor would ask: Why is the character represented by this shape?  Why this color?  Why are they arranged in this manner?  What does that arrangement mean?  This form of assessment really gets the students to think deeper into the text, as I found myself when I tried to so a Graphic Representation for The House on Mango Street.  I had to ask myself: what geometric shape would Esperanza be? Why? What does that indicate about her personality?  What color(s) best suits her character?  What colors does the author use to describe her?  Where should her shape be on the page, and why?  Some of the questions I couldn’t answer without going back to the book and re-reading, digging deeper- exactly what we want our students to do with the Literature we read in class. 


Here’s all my comments, just look for Napolean.


sketch_reader.jpgDid anyone besides all theses dead white guys write something worth reading?

 We discussed in class, several weeks ago now, an article by Arthur Applebee that surveyed some 42 Literature anthologies in 1989. In short, his study found that even by 1989,

“some effort has been made to provide balance, particularly in the materials for Grades 7 through 10. In these volumes, between 26 and 30 percent of the selections were written by women, and 18 to 22 percent by members of various nonwhite minorities. The selections for the British literature course were much narrower, with only 8 percent by women and 1 percent by members of minority groups.” Full study here

While these findings are a bit dated, I can’t help but feel there is definitely more work to be done when it comes to diversifying the canon. What does this have to do with censorship? I can’t help but think of the textbook our class used in its British Literature course – in particular the absence of women writers. Leaving out women and minority writers constitutes, in my view, a sort of covert censorship. It wasn’t until I took American and British literature in College that I read authors like: Mary Wollstonecraft, Odulah Equiano, Mary Prince, Cabeza De Vaca or Crevecouer. And I’m still finding that there are many other influential authors I can’t help but feel I should have known about. This was part of the discussion on The Blog Books, in a post by Mari Hughes-Edwards…

“But what about the arts? Surely there women are given a better deal? After all, it’s nearly 200 years since Anne Elliot declared in Jane Austen’s Persuasion that “men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.” And yet the vast majority of Booker Prize winners have been male. And, although the Orange prize for fiction at least attempts to redress the balance (with an all-female judging panel appointed this year) we’ve still NEVER had a female poet laureate in this country.

I run Edge Hill University’s MA in Women’s Writing: 1500 to the Present Day, and was amazed to be asked by an acquaintance recently whether enough female writers even existed to fill our two-year degree… our course demonstrates that women writers have been just as prolific as their male counterparts for centuries now. Female authors such as Aphra Behn were largely responsible for the creation of the novel form – yet still some other university English departments marginalise them and instead teach Development of the Novel courses which feature few, or no, female writers.”

Another author I should have heard about. I suppose a person could say that about any author (I could spend my lifespan reading and hardly make a dent in the amount of literature that is available), but nonetheless I was astonished that I had never heard Aphra Behn’s name uttered in any of my courses previous – Especially when Virgina Woolf had written about her:

“All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she–shady and amorous as she was–who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”

— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

If you’re interested in learning more about Behn, visit The Aphra Behn Web Page

So I guess the point of this meandering post it two-fold; First, that we should look outside the anthology to incorporate diverse texts when the anthology does not, and second, that the canon is changing (hopefully for the better) and we shouldn’t think of it as a set of books that can’t be added to.


book-burning-poster-c10094979.jpgThe title of this post comes from an article I found in me Education & Censorship feed.  The article, by Darren Bernard, outlines what he describes as a shift in the motivation behind challenges to ‘controversial’ texts in schools as well as censorship attempts. 

“It’s nothing new for literature to be censored for public reading. When Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was banned by the Concord, Mass., library, the writer reportedly told his publisher, “They have expelled Huck from their library as ‘trash suitable only for the slums;’ that will sell 25,000 copies for us for sure.

Today, the debate over censorship is not about maintaining moral standards in public view as it was in Twain’s time. Instead, it is about the tradeoff between political correctness and learning in American schools. It is about whether teachers should edit their curricula to shield students from literature that addresses old ideas of race and imperialism.”

While the example of ‘Huck’s banishment’ reflects this idea of ‘Politically correct book burning,’ there is definitely another side to the issue.  An article I read through Emo Kids Rejoice , a problem novel focused Blog, really illustrates the other, more politically conservative area of censorship.  The article appeared in the rather interestingly named Americal Center for Cultural Renewal, and threw some pretty scalding criticism upon the ALA for several of the books it chose to award, saying of the books it chose,

“This is how the ALA pushes pornography on and endangers children. This is just one of the ways, giving sexually inappropriate books top awards for children….” Full article here

Obviously, there is a very strong moral objection in this writer’s view, to John Green’s Alaska.   While I wouldn’t attempt to use this book in class, I really don’t think that morally based objections are going away.   Objections to texts which are used in the classroom come from all over the political spectrum, and I think that it’s foolish to try and make sweeping statements about why books are challenged- sometimes removed from school libraries.   When choosing texts for use in class, it’ s good to be aware of what objections could  be raised, and those objections will vary largely depending upon the community in which you teach.