Blog #5: Can we make them read?

On September 10, 2007, Tim Fredrick writes in his blog (

I received an e-mail from Julie, a reader of this blog, and she agreed to let me post her letter and my response:


I agree with your "we've beaten reading" down philosophy and have taken the fun out of it. I'm just starting out in the world of teaching English and have a special ed background as well. One of the things I'm having my students do is pick out a book to read and then, they have to do a book report on it. The reason I'm asking them to do the report is because I don't have enough time to read 1,000 books to see which ones kids in 9th and 10th grade actually like. I'm doing live research by having them read these books and rate them so that I will know what books I should recommend based on student picks.   How can we assess reading if we don't use a "book report" form? I had to do them when I was young and although I hated them, too, they at least forced me to read those books. Sure, a lot of them I didn't even finish, but I always attempted to read the books. I discovered a lot of good books that way and equally bad ones. I've iterated and reiterated to my students and will do so again Tuesday, when we go to the library, that if they don't pick out books that they're genuinely interested in reading, their success rate will also be diminished.   I'd like to hear your opinion on this topic and how to assess reading without a "book report."


I wanted to post her e-mail because I think it very clearly articulated a valid and major concern of ELA teachers.  My response:


Thanks for your e-mail.

You can assess if the students have been reading by occasionally having them read in class silently for 15 minutes.  Keep a log of what they are reading and what page they are one every time they read in class.  It takes a minute or so to go around the room and write down page numbers on a chart.  You will be able to tell who has the same book over and over again and makes progress on the page numbers.  In addition, talk to the kids about their books on a regular basis.  If the kid can't be specific about the book or his/her opinion, he's not reading.  This should not be punitive and if the kid isn't reading just subtly let him know you notice and move on.  Having "the talk" with him about it will only make it worse.  It becomes a way to rebel against you and then you are dealing with strong, strong forces.

As I tell teachers, there's no way to MAKE a kid read a book. There are only ways to make the act of reading something that they want to do.  Have patience, it doesn't happen right away.

Let me give an example ... I had a student who approached me at the beginning of the year, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Tim, I need to tell you this: I don't read." I said, "But ..." He said, "No, Tim, you don't understand.  I ... don't ... read."  Knowing that I could not make him read no matter how many reports I assigned, I let it go.  Every once in a while I might put a book on his desk and say, "I know you don't read and won't be interested in this, but I wanted to try."  I did it with books that I saw his friends reading or books that had really great covers.  Eventually, after a LOT of doing this, he picked up the book. A week later, he left the book in the classroom when he left to go to lunch and someone in the next class picked it up.  He had lost the book.  He came to me the next day very upset that the book was missing (and, of course, blamed me!).

It happens slowly - but it can't be forced.  Sometimes the trick is finding the right book.  Don't look at it as trying to MAKE them read.  Try to MAKE reading something desirable.  You can't go home with them and force their little hands to pick up the book and their little eyes to read the words.  You simply can't.  You can only create conditions in which they will want to pick up the book and read.

Hope that helps.  Keep me informed!


She replied, asking how to handle being asked by an administrator for proof of assessment.  My response:

Your chart on reading progress would provide accountability.  If you have those conversations individually and take notes in a notebook, this provides accountability.  If you don't feel that this will be satisfactory to the administration, have the kids write for 10 minutes every time they read in class and hand it in.  Ten minutes is not a lot of time and won't feel like a book report.  The assignment could be to have them write you a letter saying whether or not they would recommend the book at this point and why.  This would probably wind up being more writing than a book report, anyway, but it is very low stakes and because you are the audience will seem more informal and personal.  The words 'book report' have certain meanings and feelings.  If you do keep it an end of book assignment, call it something else!!  :)

I know this will be an unpopular idea, but book reports need to go!  For students who struggle with reading, it is just another reason not to read when we should be giving them more reasons to read.  I can tell you from experience, that the methods of assessment I suggest (the progress chart and individual conferences) provide you will much more information to assess a student than any book report (which many students just copy from the back of the book, each other, or the Internet!)

My Response:

            As a future high school English teacher, I was very interested in the ideas and concerns presented by both Tim and his reader, Julie. Their correspondence reminded me of a thought I had just the other day when a friend and I were talking about a novel I had read in high school for a book report. At the end of the conversation, I unthinkingly mentioned "I hated doing book reports!" As I said it, I realized... pretty soon I was going to be the teacher assigning the book reports that all students hate!  I always loved reading, but I hated doing reports. Rather than writing a three page summary of what I had read  and preparing a two minute speech with a visual aid, I would have rather just started another book! On the other hand, I know students who hated reading but loved doing these reports, because it was easy to get points without reading anything but a summary. I'm not sure about "renaming" book reports, though, because I've heard them called everywhere from "Book Beat" to "Reading Reviews" and students always seem to know that they're still book reports. It was very coincidental that I came about this blog entry since I have been thinking about the issue of book reports for the past few days.

            I really like the idea of having students read in class for fifteen minutes and record what they are reading, how far along they are, etc. We always had programs in high school that mandated reading for fifteen minutes a week in your first period class, but teachers would never know the difference if you brought the same book every week and never read a word of it. I think if you have students read silently without any other distractions, and, like you suggested, gently recommend books you think "non-readers" might like, you just might get through to some students who think reading isn't their thing. I will certainly use this advice in my future as an English teacher and I'm lucky to have stumbled onto this entry!

Laura Blaskey


Blog #4: Words that Define your Online Presence

On March 11, 2008, at Jeff Utecht writes:

Words that define your online presence

March 11, 2008 - 2:06 pm

I told you this blog was one to follow, and have your students follow as well. The TOK blog (Theory of Knowledge) is up and running and the kids are already posting stuff that I'm bookmarking left and right.

Take this as an example. Sou an 11th Grader who gives suggestions for how to handle your online presence.

With all this in mind, how would one go about creating those words that define their online presence? Those that have no problem at all with the idea need not read on, but I've compiled a few quick pointers to help out my kindred souls (I know you're out there, I'm not all that eccentric..).

  1. RESPECT THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. This is something just as important as it is obvious. Netspeak and 13375p34k can discredit even the most brilliant of blog postings, not to mention it opens the door to unnecessary comments about how there's no ‘z' in ‘please'.
  2. Avoid sweeping generalizations. Of course, this should be absolutely no problem at all, considering we've covered it in the ToK classroom. If there's one sweeping generalization that may be true, it's that there are always exceptions. And even that one probably has an exception, too.
  3. Don't complain. Unless you're at some website made specifically for the purpose, people don't particularly care about your latest ex or the pet dog that just died. Furthermore, there will inevitably be somebody out there that has it much, much worse than you do, and will not hesitate to rip into you for it.
  4. Don't lose your temper. Should somebody post a scathing comment despite all your precautions, the worst thing you can do is flip out. Remember that everybody can see your retort, and there's no glory in being baited by an uppity visitor. If it's a baseless insult, ignore it. If it's a legitimate critique, handle it objectively.
  5. Chill out. This is one that I need to put into practice more often. I admit I'm far too paranoid when it comes to what I'm putting out for public viewing. The truth is that as long as you're sub-celebrity-status, you're still considered a mere mortal, prone to mistakes like everybody else. So don't worry so much- it takes all the fun out of blogging.

WOW...5 simple rules for high schools in understanding posting online content from a high schooler. Again..this blog is just starting. It's only going to get better from here.


My response:

I love that this student came up with a "how-to" guide for high school bloggers. While some blog sites (Xanga, just for an example) allow for personal sharing, complaining, ranting, etc., high school students need to understand the difference between these personal "journal" sites and other online blogs. The exponential rate at which blogs are growing in popularity means that many students will be using them in their professions in the future, and just as students are taught to write business letters and emails, they also need to understand basic blogging etiquette that he has described above. Hopefully, as blogs slowly move their way into the classroom, educators will use tips like these to help students understand that just because their writing is happening online, does not mean they have permission to write in Netspeak. What a great way to help students get started off on the right foot in the blogging world!

Laura Blaskey



Blog #3: The Distributed University

On February 27, 2008, at the above listed address, Will Richardson writes the following in his blog about what he calls the "distributed university" and the "shifted-intellectual":

The Distributed University    

Jeff Jarvis riffed yesterday on "Google U," the idea that there are all sorts of new ways to think about a college education aside from the 4-year, right outta high school model that most kids go through. Jeff and I both have kids and are staring the college decision game (and the subsequent payouts) in the face, so his post caught my attention. Reminded me on some level of my "Dear Kids, You Don't Have to Go to College" post from a couple of years back. (Funny to think how much things have advanced even since then...)

So, seriously, as Jeff asks, "Why should my son or daughter have to pick a single college and with it only the teachers and courses offered there?" In eight years when my daughter gets to this point (if I haven't convinced her to travel the world and "find herself" first, or, if she hasn't started her own business), I'm hoping she'll be able to cobble together her own coursework from whatever the "best" options are at that point. And, as Jeff asks, why shouldn't professors be able to pick their own students from among the best of the bunch, not just those from his or her institution?

Which leads us to the nub of all of this disruption:

Once you put all this together, students can self-organize with teachers and fellow students to learn what they want how and where they want. My hope is that this could finally lead to the lifelong education we keep nattering about but do little to actually support. And why don't we? Because it doesn't fit into the degree structure. And because self-organizing classes and education could cut academic institutions out of the their exclusive role in education.

I know, I know. There is more to college than classes. I'm a poster child for that. And accreditation is a huge issue. (I'm sure Gary will be along shortly.) But I just see this more and more as a coming reality. As Jeff says, the "internet is unforgiving of needs to preserve old models and methods. It disaggregates ruthlessly." The whole idea of scholarship and expertise is changing. (Watch Sir Ken Robinson on that concept.)

Not saying I know what the answer is. But I am saying that whether we like it or not, these structures, both higher ed and K-12, are starting to bend as the alternatives are becoming more and more pervasive. We're modeling that every day in this network, those of us who are learning just as much if not more about the things we are interested in without signing up for a program. That's not anti-intellectual as much as it is shifted-intellectual, if that makes sense.


My response:

I love your use of the term "shifted-intellectual." As a college student, I feel there is an overbearing amount of pressure on most high school juniors and seniors to choose a four-year college. The truth is that this option isn't for everyone, and parents and counselors need to help their student explore the other options that are available, rather than pressuring the traditional path. There are online colleges, study abroad programs, junior colleges and exceptional vocational schools that should be considered, along with many other options and variables. Just because a student does not choose the four-year university does not mean he or she is "anti-intellectual," just as you have put it. I can relate, as my younger sister is a high school senior who recently committed to Western Illinois University, her last resort school, and is still very uncertain about her decision. The fact that my older sister has a degree from a four-year institution and I am also enrolled in one, puts great pressure on her to do the same, although I feel she would be better suited to attend a junior college at least for a year and decide then if she wants to transfer to a university. The world has become a place where a degree is almost required for a desirable job, and the bureaucracy, limited choices, and "jumping through hoops" of getting a degree is often a waste of time and money that leads to less being learned than in the past. However, as you said yourself, we don't really have the "answer" to solving this problem, so what can anyone really do?


Laura Blaskey


How to Start Shifting your Teachers: A Successful Model

On Saturday, February 16. 2008, Julie Lindsay writes:

"When our teacher development and networking Ning, E-Learning for Life, reached 81 members in 2 days, when teachers are commenting and posting and sharing online and when at the end of 2 days of hard work and challenging sessions there is still a buzz of excitement in the air....I think we must have done something right. So, in my usual approach, I wish to share this experience with readers as maybe this is a successful model that you can adopt for your school in the future.

To start with I am sharing this amazing comment from a participant:

Ana - classroom teacher (when asked what she was going to do to take the first step into 21st century teaching):
"I am going to make better use of my information searching and storing system by using Delicious as my 'filing cabinet and more'... I have placed many photos on Flickr and invited my friends and family to view... I have started my Wiki page and am using it to set up a webquest on The Five Senses for the grade 2s. I am going to seek support from Mike in order to set up a blogging page for the students in my class...I've customized my iGoogle page to include all the relevant links. I've shared all that I've learned with my husband and daughters and whoever else cared to listen... and, most importantly - I've taken the plunge! I have moved from being an expert 'lurker' to...posting, and, that's big for me. Thanks for kicking me from inaction into ACTION!"

Also, this podcast of some teacher reactions during the sessions: (thanks to Ana, Sandy, Sean and Mike)

Our Ning is now filling up with comments, blog posts, new groups, new forum topics, multimedia and resources. Teachers are now aware of the possibilities and the early adopters, such as Ana, are out there doing it already.

So what did we do? How can you emulate this?

ONE - Grab an Opportunity!
Two student-free days have been on the calendar all year. Originally the administration planned for PYP training and workshops but the IBO, at 3 weeks notice, could not provide any trainers to come to Qatar so....... we were asked for ideas for substitutes. There is nothing worse in a school than being told the PD days are now private planning time....yes we all need time to do our own work however special calendared days should be planned! Thanks to our Head of IT in the Primary, Mike Boulanger, for acting quickly and recommending we use the 2 days for e-Learning PD! Thanks to Google Talk (chatting through GMail) and to Kim Cofino for being online just as we were discussing who we could bring in. Thanks to our administrators in the primary school, Sandy and Kirsten, for supporting a shift in focus for the PD days. Within one week we had approval for Kim to come, Kim had approval from her school, we had drafted a program (in Google Docs, shared between Kim and us) and were feeling excited about what was going to happen.

TWO - Plan for inclusion
We discussed the need to include large information sessions as well as workshop ideas during the two days. Teachers need to time to have personal contact and to feel that their questions are being answered. Our final schedule and full information about the 2-days of PD is on the PD Wiki.
Here is a brief summary:
For 2 days we followed this model for plenary and breakout sessions. Essentially Kim gave 2 main presentations and then each group of teachers rotated through breakout sessions with IT leaders so that they saw them twice over the 2 days.
Plenary sessions:
#1 - "Developing the Global Student: Practical Ways to Infuse 21st Century literacy into your classroom." Kim talked about a shift in thinking, played 'Did You Know' which is the updated version of 'Shift Happens' by Karl Fisch and Scott Mcleod. Interestingly, there is also a Shift Happens wiki, including a list of educational bloggers who are blogging about the change they see. What I liked about Kim's presentation style was the way she left time for participants to turn to the person sitting next to them and discuss what they had just seen. This is a very powerful technique. There was also time for whole-group discussion and questions.
#2 - "The 21st Century Educator: Embracing Web 2.0 in your professional practice." Once again Kim detailed what tools are available and how important it is to develop a personal learning network as a professional educator in order to extend beyond the traditional 4-walls of classroom existence.

Breakout sessions: About 80 participants were split into 4 groups and we rotated them through 4 different breakout sessions, each 45 minutes long. It was grueling but worked!
Kim - Planned to go over global collaborative projects and embedding 21st century literacy, but was very flexible with what each teacher-group wanted. In some instances the sessions became question and answer with a focus on how to use the tools.
Mike - Focus on delicious and wikispaces
Julie - Focus on PLN's, Twitter, Ning and starting an RSS reader using iGoogle
Team planning - time to debrief and plan as a year-level group

  • Closing session for Day 1: 'The 21st Century School: Making the Shift Happen' This was an opportunity for Qatar Academy to learn from Kim and what was being developed at her school, International School Bangkok. She shared best practice and ideals and showed that change was possible given support from school administrators and willingness from teachers. This session also included a panel of QA leaders who each spoke about the direction the academy is taking and how it aligns with our curriculum objectives and how teachers are encouraged to move their professional practice into 21st century modes. It was also an opportunity for frank discussion about where QA is now and where it wants to go in the next 5 years.
  • Closing session for Day 2: A simple, whole group wrap up with everyone having an opportunity to speak out about learning experiences and to ask final questions.
THREE - Allow time for Discussion and Sharing
Instigating change in a school is scary for everyone. It was obvious from the first plenary session that many teachers were afraid and uncomfortable with this thing called a 'change in mindset'. It is so important to allow time for discussion and for sharing experiences. Over the 2 days the discussions centered around the main points raised in the presentations and workshops, but at times they did not. There were times when people wanted to talk about other worries, related to the theme. This need can be accommodated through careful planning and facilitation of sessions. However there is a fine line between sharing a concern and upsetting a session through negativity. We (Kim and organizers) navigated through some interesting attitudes and discussions, but I see this as all part of the growth a school must go through.
FOUR - Plan to Support Teachers after the PD
After it is all over and everyone goes to their much deserved what? How do we continue to foster growth and change? What happens at the start of next week when the grind of everyday teaching comes back in real terms?
At Qatar Academy this is what we are going to do. (Note however that this new setup in its entirety does not take affect until the next academic year).
  • Provide leadership for 21st century learning using information and communication tools
    • Time allocation and administrative level for a whole school leadership position has been acknowledged as required and supported
    • Time and status has been acknowledged for Primary School leadership
  • Provide technology integration support
    • There will be 3 Technology Integration Facilitators next year working mainly in the Primary School, but with some overlap into the senior area. Two of these 3 are in place now but continue this year as computer lab. teachers with set class rotations. Next year this will change as all facilitators will have flexible schedules and be able to work in the classroom as needed to support curriculum objectives and the teacher
  • Provide resources and staffing for 21st century libraries
    • The library as the hub of learning is under discussion as the emerging role of the librarian in 21st century education is evaluated
    • How this then merges with other positions and objectives in the school and how the 'librarians' come on board with 21st century literacy to work with IT specialists is being investigated and supported
Primary School IT Team and Kim Cofino

My final comments:
  • Having someone like Kim Cofino in the school with her passion for learning and passion for sharing has been a real shot in the arm for our teaching community here at Qatar Academy. I am convinced this is an important model that can be emulated elsewhere. There are 'experts' in many schools who, and I will be blunt about this, for less cost than a professional consultant (however, don't get me wrong here!), can come and be a new face in the crowd for your teachers, be a new voice that encourages and inspires, rather then the 'old' and often 'tired' voices of teachers already in the school.
  • I am pleasantly delighted at the enthusiasm of the teachers and hope we can sustain this into next year when our plans start to kick in for more support in the classroom
  • I am seriously thinking about how this approach to making shift happen can be a marketable commodity that other schools can take advantage of. I welcome you (reader of this blog) to add your ideas. How can schools tap into this working model? What would you consider doing differently? What have you already done to move teachers along the path?"

My Response:  The program you describe for acquainting teachers with these internet technologies seems fantastic! I had always wondered why concepts like wikis, blogs, etc. were not used as teaching tools when I was in high school, even here in the U.S.! Now that I am in college, they are used more often, but still not often enough. These can be great tools and should be used when available by teachers and students alike to come together and share ideas. It makes sense that they had not been used in the past because teachers were not trained to use them. This program seems well designed and, as a prospective teacher, I hope I am able to attend a similar function once inside my own classroom so that such innovative technology is put to good use in the realm of education worldwide. Great work!

-Laura Blaskey


Learning, Networks, and Distance

As a college student, I also find it interesting the ways in which students use these social networking sites to stay in touch after they have left high school. Although I went to a small high school, there are many people I would have never spoken to or heard from again had it not been for Facebook. It also allowed students from my small school to keep in touch with friends from other area schools that they know through sports and other activities. It truly has revolutionized the way students interact. This new way of thinking about communication has both advantages and disadvantages. One important advantage is that staying in touch means college graduates know that many more people, which greatly enhances their professional networking in the future. However, relationships that are maintained through social networking sites can be very impersonal. It will be very interesting to see what kinds of effects social networking sites, especially Facebook, will have on education and our society.

 Laura Blaskey

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