At present, I am sitting at the best kept secret in Atlanta, GA – Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee House. While overlooking the Hooch, I am catching up on my RSS blog feeds. I particularly try to stay current with the Westminster faculty bloggers. Well, I had gotten behind.

Yesterday a tweet caught my attention – a new post from a Westminster JH teacher of 8th grade students who are focused in her class to further develop their writing. The post is titled “A Real Audience,” and it can be found here (sorry, working on iPad WordPress app). Having seen the tweet, I could not wait to read the actual post this morning.

A mystery solved! On Wednesday, I had received an anonymous email about our dress code in the Junior High. I wondered about somebody creating such an account, but the letter was compelling, so I responded to the request for uniforms. Well, now I am thinking that the anonymous plea and persuasion came from this class of crafty writers looking for a real audience.

I came to the coffee house to sit and think about grading, PBL, and integrated studies. I had no idea my thinking would take such a turn with this blog reading and perceived solution to my recent email mystery. But I am thrilled. If my hypothesis is correct and the email came from writers workshop, then that writing is non-graded. But it was heavily assessed. Isn’t that the best! The student’s letter served a purpose beyond writing for a grade from a teacher. The writing was real, for a real audience. Mine is too. This morning, my learning feels even more real!

Calculators, Spell Checks, and Ideas

As a regular thread of my educational contemplations, I wonder about the use of calculators and spell checkers in our learning. The debate is more than just about those tools – it’s really about the heart of learning, automaticity, and retained knowledge. I have a colleague that uses this analogy to try to convince me of her side of the argument: “Bo, are you teaching your boys to tie their shoes, or will they forever wear velcro?”

Recently, Bill Ferriter posted a brilliant piece entitled “Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?” Instantly, it reminded me of Jill Gough’s extraordinary post, “Calculator is to Arithmetic as Spell Checker is to Spelling???”

This morning, when I re-read both posts (I am a “stack reader”), I was reminded of the 6+1 Writing Traits Rubric that I have been studying with colleagues for the past 18 months. Finally, I had the Eureka Moment (sorry…I mean Coffee House Moment, Steve)! Texting and spell check and calculators may never help with conventions. BUT…I can imagine, as Ferriter and Gough suggest in their posts, that these tools make it easier for kids to spend more time in the other 5 areas: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, and Voice (and the direct or comparable areas in numeracy and mathematics).

As I understand the Bard Method of writing, one major tenet is to write often and to write often. We learn by doing. Failure is part of the practice. We don’t reinforce bad habits to an unrepairable degree when we fall while learning to walk or talk. Why do we assume mistakes always reinforce bad habits?

According to Ferriter and Gough, these tools are not crutches. I offer that they may even be wings for getting off the ground with ideas, organization, etc. May be worth testing the hypothesis, don’t you think?

Presentation Zen and The Blessings of Science

Because I make numerous presentations* in my line of work, I am committed to kaizen – continuous improvement – in this area. Garr Reynolds is one of my virtual mentors in the area of story-telling design. His recent post, “Science & the importance of having a sense of wonder,” led me to this TEDxTokyo talk by Ken Moji. In his ten minutes, Mogi-san reminds us of some critical elements of learning: a sense of wonder, curiosity, explanation, exploration. His concluding lesson is tremendously powerful! What a strong reminder for us pursuing the science of teaching, the science of learning, and “presentation zen” in the classroom.

* By “presentation,” I mean being an organizer, coordinator, and facilitator of ideas. As much as possible, more and more, I try to avoid simply standing and delivering.

The World Becomes What You Teach

Yesterday, in a Center for Teaching brainstorming meeting, one of us suggested some curriculum-design work that would go beyond traditional subject-area or departmental curricula. Then, this morning I read David Wees’s blog post about Zoe Weil’s TEDxDirigo talk. In the 17 minutes and 24 seconds, Zoe explains the brainstorm idea perfectly…