I get to teach a master’s course on social networking and schools. Wanna come learn with me?

I missed teaching more than most anything else during this last year of grad school.

From the first weeks of the first semester, my body was confused by the sleeping in, and my brain was confused by the writing of a single essay instead of the grading of 120.

This is why, when I was offered the chance to teach a course next year as part of Antioch New England’s new Next Generation Learning Master’s Program, I was keen to seize the opportunity.

I’ll be creating and teaching the program’s course in social networking for teachers and in the classroom. I’m more than a little excited to be a part of this project. After suffering through some unbearable online courses, I look forward to the chance to design something that can be useful and user friendly.

I’m also pleased to be a part of Antioch New England. Their progressive, experimental approach to learning and teaching is simpatico with my own.

The course is one in a 5-part master’s sequence, but it (and any of the others in the sequence) can be taken as a stand-alone.

For my money, each of the other courses, led by Cathy Brophy, Gary Stager, Dan Callahan, and Cathy Higgins are worth every moment. I’m more than a little humbled to be included in the team, and I’m planning to sit in on each of the courses to whatever extent I can.

I’ve started tinkering with ideas in my head, and I’m certain that tinkering will spill out here once some of the formalities are taken care of. One piece I’m certain of is wanting to run a large portion (if not the entirety) of the course through Peer to Peer University’s School of Education. That way, anyone wishing to get credit for the course can sign up through Antioch and anyone interested in augmenting the fund of knowledge for the group can walk through the P2PU door.

For now, if you’re at all interested in learning along with us and/or earning a master’s degree, head over to sign up. I’m excited to be learning alongside everyone who takes the course and/or enrolls in the program.

Class blogs should be open spaces


The walled discussion board almost feels normal at this point. As a tool, I can understand the use of a discussion board as a community builder and idea incubator. I’m a fan of those concepts.

I’m still calling wangdoodles when discussion boards are utilized for awkward or inauthentic purposes, but I can see their usefulness as an archive of correspondences for an online community. On SLA’s MOODLE install, all community members have access to a discussion forum that’s been live since the first year – SLA Talk. New freshmen are part of the fold, and their thoughts intermingle with those of the first graduating class when they were freshmen. It’s readable, documented institutional memory. An observer is just as likely to find a thread discussing student language use in the hallways as they are to find a debate about the latest movie release. It is a simple artifact of community online.

This semester, I’ve two courses implementing blogs as assignments.

For one course, a few students are assigned each week to post their thoughts on the reading leading up to that week’s class. Each other student is required to reply to one post per week with the option of passing on one week during the semester.

The posts have yet to be mentioned in class discussion.

In the other course, each person is encouraged to post weekly. The posts’ content might be related to the readings or simply to the topic for the week. No replies are required, and the posts are weekly referenced by the professor in discussion.

If blogging is to be required for a course, the latter instance comes closest to ideal practice – not required, but preferred; not for nothing, but tied to class.

In both instances, our class blogs live within the walled garden. The thoughts with which my classmates and I play will never find footing in a feed reader or enjoy comments from those who have reading lists contrary those chosen for us on our syllabi.

They should be public. Comments from anyone around the globe should be invited and commented. Our thoughts should mingle in the cyberether.

This is true for two reasons.

One, the refinement of thinking benefits from a plurality of opinions, and the Internet offers a cacophony that would challenge us to sculpt our thinking in ways we could not imagine.

Two, an open class blog asks participants to clear their throats and use their public voices while connected to a class setting in which they can find support when their voices are challenged. More than once, I’ve felt pushback when posting in this space. Early on, it was difficult to take. Sure, I wanted people to read what I posted, but how could they disagree with me?

Opening our blogs would give my classmates and I the chance to write with the training wheels of a cohort of support while enriching the experience by exposing us to the democracy of thinking on the web.

Walling a class blog runs the definite risk of students taking their opinions into the world untested and unprepared for criticism. It also robs them of the practice microphone a class blog could become.

Between the Secretary and the Trumpeter, our priorities were off

When Secretary Duncan spoke at the Askwith Forum here at the Ed School, every seat was filled. Tickets were raffled off and his talk was streamed for those who didn’t make it in the room.

As expected during an election year (not sure which years aren’t), Sec. Duncan’s talk was light on anything that could be taken as disruptive thinking. The title of “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles” was fleshed out not with a clear cry for which battles were worth fighting, but for compromise and ceding of ideology.

It was the stump speech I expected and that Sec. Duncan needed to make in an age when leadership has become conflated with keeping power. Because I understood the politics of the moment, I wasn’t surprised by the speech.

The underwhelming feeling came from the audience’s response. It almost felt as though being in the room negated the potential to disagree. Access trumped democracy. When we arrived at the Q&A portion, questions were largely driven by personal interests and not thoughtful engagement with the positions the Secretary had outlined.

This was expected. As columnist David Brooks noted at his Askwith, I’ve been at Harvard enough to know people were there to hear themselves talk.

All that was not what frustrated me.

The next day, Wynton Marsalis joined with a distinguished panel for another forum titled “Educating for Moral Agency and Engaged Citizenship.”

Marsalis and the rest of the panel explored education from the perspective of jazz, the arts, and non-religious spiritual education. They challenged notions of masculinity and community involvement and considered how educators and officials could shift the way they listen in a move to improve students’ learning.

It was exteporaneous and free-flowing. Tangents were followed. Ideas explored. Standards challenged.

…rows empty.

Whereas a stump speech brought out throngs and was streamed and archived, I can’t post the footage of the Marsalis panel because I can’t find it.

I wish I could.

If we continue to flock to those in power who are encumbered in the service of multiple masters for inspiration and solutions, the future we hope for will continue to exist on a far distant horizon.

If more and more we realized the value and wisdom of engaging with those who are in an of the doing of the work, that horizon would be far closer.

Things I Know 116 of 365: Something’s rotten at the Core

Pearson already dominates, and this could take it to the extreme.

– Susan Newman, University of Michigan Professor

You may have heard Mr. Gates and Pearson are working together to make teachers obsolete improve online learning. A less humble person would say he called it.

I’ve actually been working with Pearson since last summer as well. The university I’m studying with right now buys their curriculum from Pearson.

I wish they didn’t.

Last night, I finished the final assignment of this module-instructional-block-class. It was a course reflection. I dig reflection. I think the past 115 entries are a testament to that fact. But reflection should be about inquiring into your own learning. Some prompts should be provided, but not mandated.

A few times, I’ve called out my instructors as being ineffective or not modeling the very practices being pushed in the program. While I stand by those claims, this module-instructional-block-class’s instructor has been more present than the previous three. He consistently spells my name correctly, provides personal feedback other than copying and pasting the text of the rubric and sets a tone that implies a higher standard.

With improved instruction, I’ve had time to more clearly see the holes in the materials.

As I was completing the course reflection last night, I found myself hitting my head against the Core Propositions of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

5: Teachers are members of learning communities.

The propositions have been causing an itch in my brain since I first met them when completing the School District of Philadelphia’s induction program. Then, as in my program, the propositions were taken as dogmatically true. What’s more, the implication that these five statements make a quality teacher worries me.

At the end of each module-instructional-block-class, I’ve had to explain how the content of the prior 8 weeks has pushed me to grow as a teacher insomuch as each of the propositions is concerned.

In the previous three m-i-b-c I’ve not so much lied as stretched the truth, grasping at any possible evidence, not matter how circumstantial, to prove I’ve grown. I’ve been the good little student, “Look at me teacher. I’ve done what you ask – even though I don’t care.”

Last night, I decided to tell the truth. My grade hasn’t been posted yet, so I don’t know what the possible repercussions of said honesty might be, but I felt good clicking the submit button.

I’m posting my responses below.

Before I get to that, though, I want to make clear that I have nothing but the highest respect for any teacher who has completed the National Board certification process – successfully or not. It is arduous and life-interrupting. Only those who have fallen in love with teaching could find their way through it. Those friends I’ve watched complete the process are some of the strongest teachers I’ve ever met.

I tip my hat to them.

My beef is with the lack of inquiry and humanity I see in the propositions.

Prop.  1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

I cannot say that my commitment to my students and their learning has improved in this instructional block. As with each instructional block reflection, I remain uncertain as to how one is expected to quantify or qualify his or her level of commitment to students and learning. The simplest and truest answer is that I looked beyond the course materials when completing the coursework. If the goal was to improve student participation, I visited peers’ classrooms during my prep periods to observe their methods of eliciting learner responses. I informally polled learners between classes to find out what was working, what was not working and what they wanted to happen in class. My commitment grew because I realized more than what was required of me would be necessary to improve learning in my classroom.

Prop.  2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

I completed each assignment alongside my learners. If they were coming up with exemplars and non-exemplars, so was I. In class discussion, I asked questions and offered answers. I told learners when I agreed and when I disagreed. If they disagreed with me, I found out why. I admitted I was wrong when I was wrong. I grew in my ability to teach my subject because I focused on teaching my learners, not subjects. The best evidence of this was my asking questions of myself and my learners every class period of every day.

Prop.  3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

I grew with regard to this proposition because I ignored it. Proposition 3 winnows leaners out of the equation of learning management. If a classroom is to be fully learner-centered, then the responsibility to monitoring and managing learning must be shared. In having my learners build an online artifact that was centered around their learning as they saw it, I was respecting their growth and giving them room to experiment and fail in their learning.

Prop.  4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

The implementation plan drew from multiple models and integrated each one seamlessly with the next. It also used each artifact as learners created it and asked the learners to build something new. That was by design. A note on my answer to Prop. 3 compared to what I’ve just written. I did not know what the something new they would be creating would look like. I just asked the question.

Prop.  5: Teachers are members of learning communities

I learned alongside my learners. I asked colleagues to come view the class and I volunteered my free time to watch those colleagues teach so I could learn from them. I was asking questions all along the way and learning from what I saw and the answers to every question.

Will you invest in my education? OR Crowdfunding Harvard

I was accepted to the Harvard Graduate School of Education Master’s program in Education Policy and Management.

I found out today I didn’t receive the merit scholarships from Harvard. While I’m willing to take out student loans to make this program a reality, there’s only so much money I’m approved to borrow. With an estimated $60K price tag, this makes things difficult. I’ve come up with an idea, and I’m asking for your help.

Will you invest in me?


I know a couple things:

  • I believe in transparency.
    • The kind of transparency that shows not only what is happening, but also what is possible.
  • I believe in the value of education.
    • I believe the value of any education can be increased by dialogue and transparency.
  • I believe there’s value to be had in the discussion of a transparent education.
    • The connections made in the pursuit of this discussion are the value. The discussion has happened and will continue happen, but the experience of transparent education and the network of people that gather around this experience will exponentially increase the value. It is the sustained part of the discussion that will make this important. It isn’t one paper. It isn’t one blog post. It isn’t one Personal Learning Network (PLN) project. It is the ongoing experience of learning in an transparent way. Finding a way to make the value grow because there are more people learning together is worthwhile work.
The traditional view of higher education has the student leaving the community to study in an cloister of learning, only to reappear upon graduation, degree in hand, ready to move to whatever’s next. With this project, I will bring the community along with me, invest the community in the process and build an archive of a transparent, dialog-driven education.For all the discussion of higher education, no true, public archive exists of the university experience, let alone an archive built in the public as the experience happens. Not only will this project generate discussion, debate and study of the graduate process, it will serve as an artifact of that process as it currently exists.


I want my graduate experience to be a conversation and a text that builds itself. I will blog about my studies every single day. Every paper and project will be shared online (and built online whenever possible) and Creative Commons-licensed. As a function of the blog, the program of study will be posted publicly so that all backers will be able to view any class notes as they are drafted in Google Docs to later be posted as part of the archive.

In every possible way, the experience will be public, transparent and built around the dialogue it generates.

What you get:

Funders will receive access to the project blog as well as be guaranteed one public thank you throughout the course of the program. Starting at $40, backers for this project will receive live access to all course notes as they are drafted when available, a weekly multimedia e-mail blast documenting the social highlights of the course of study including music, films, books and television shows. From $80 and up, backers will also be invited to monthly online chats to discuss the program status, content and any issues of relevance. Should the archive be published in book form, all backers will be thanked within the text.

Funding Goal:

What I’m asking from you:
  1. A donation of $40 or more.
  2. Blog, tweet, e-mail, text and share this project with everyone you know and tell them to do the same.
  3. Join the conversation.



If all of this proves impossible and I am not able to attend Harvard, any collected funds will be donated to Science Leadership Academy.

Things I Know 75 of 365: Today I ran nowhere in particular – for an hour

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.

– John Hope Franklin

Today, for my run, I put 60 minutes on the clock and ran wherever for an hour. I did the same thing yesterday.

Pace and distance didn’t matter; I was worried about the run. Both days, I ran routes I’d hesitate to call straightforward. Yesterday’s, in particular, included more staircases than I’d ever knowingly include in a route were I planning for distance.

Yesterday, though, I came to some staircases and understood they would be part of the run.

I wasn’t trying to solve the problem of how far or how fast. I knew I would be running and let that happen.

This is the same reason I like Star Trek. No matter what problems they faced episodically, the missions of the crew from any iteration of the Enterprise was to boldly go where no one had gone before.

I wasn’t exactly hitting warp 9 on my runs, but I felt kindred.

This is the same reason I asked the instructor of my newest grad school module if I could forgo coming up with a problem statement for my course project and focus on trying new stuff. My instructor told me to message him separately after explaining we needed measurable goal lest my work appear to be innovation for innovation’s sake.

It was all I could do in that moment not to reply, “I’m a fan of that.” Instead, I told him I was worried about getting lost in a deficit ideology about education. I wanted to try something new.

When I was younger, I called it play.

I didn’t sit with my toys in front of me and think, “Now, what’s the problem I’m trying to solve here?”

Sure, kid life must have been full of its fair share of dilemmas, but I didn’t play for the purpose of solving them. I played to play.

I’ve no doubt I was able to solve many of those problems because of play – because of the time away from my problems that playing involved and because playing in a non-problematized world let me develop skills without worrying about transference or application.

In one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, Rob Lowe’s character Sam Seaborn is explaining to Chief of Staff’s daughter why it was important for the government to send a probe to Mars.

“Why?” she asks.

His answer is why I decided to run nowhere in particular and what I’d like to guide my course work:

‘Cause it’s next. ‘Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.

I want to solve the problems in my classroom. I want to improve my teaching. I also want to remain passionate about ideas and where they can lead. I want always and forever to have the freedom to ask, “What’s next?”

Things I Know 30 of 365: Feedback can be tricky

Do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few.

– Pythagoras

For a pretty large chunk of the day, yesterday, I was in my office – lights off, bottle of lavender essence open, Balmorhea playing on iTunes.

I was working to complete an implementation plan for the inquiry project assigned as part of my grad program.

By the end of it all, my desk was covered in printed resources and my web browser was creaking under the weight of all my open tabs.

I submitted my 6 hours of work ahead of schedule, hopeful it rose to the challenge presented by the assignment.

For the plan, I’d suggested some ideas the practicality of which I was unsure. As I juggled them in my head, I was fairly certain I’d culled the best of the ideas. Still, I was uncertain.

This afternoon, I logged in to the course to find my assignment had been graded. I’d earned 45 out of 45 points. Relieved, I turned my attention to the comments field to see how the ideas had played out with my facilitator:

The plan summary clearly articulates a focused problem statement: the specific goals, which are measurable; the specific solutions you have chosen for t his project; the preparatory steps; and the expected outcomes for the inquiry project. The weekly plans are clear, creative, and appropriate with evidence of insight and thoughtful planning.

While I’m pleased with my score, it doesn’t doesn’t really do much for me as feedback.

Neither do the comments.

Two circumlocutious sentences with words that certainly sound as though they should mean something, but no.

Today, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion on how schools can foster student innovation. While, I can carry on a conversation with a tree stump, I’ve never moderated anything. For 90 minutes, amid some interesting audio issues, I attempted to probe the minds of five deeply thoughtful educators. I was, in a word, nervous.

While the audience clapped when they were supposed to and several strangers told me “good job” when everything had concluded, I was uncertain of the job I’d done.

Later, sitting in the office snarfing a bag of popchips and downing lukewarm coffee, I checked in to twitter.

From Chris, I saw “@MrChase is an amazing moderator,” with a picture of the panel in progress.

Michael replied with, “So true…You are rocking, Zac.”

And from Ben, “You did an amazing job. Period. You=my hero.”

I realize they are tweets. Even re-typing them here, I feel a bit silly.

Still, those three lines contained more feedback than any of the acrobatic language from my facilitator.

I know these three. Through the relationships we’ve cultivated, I’ve come to understand their expectations and what it means to earn their approval. While I see the hyperbole in what they’ve said, I also know they do not offer up public praise lightly.

I understood their expectations, and they offered up their opinions using clear language.

I know I completed neither the implementation plan nor the panel moderation perfectly.

The feedback I received on both was positive. In fact, the implementation plan score implies I did nothing wrong.

Still, I’ll never message my facilitator seeking advice for improvement. The relationship is too distant, the language too obtuse.

Should I ever need to moderate again, though, I’ll seek the advice of these three, knowing they will evaluate me with a notion to help me be a better version of myself.

Things I Know 26 of 365: I need to know my teachers

No more teachers’ dirty looks.

– Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”

“Do you like your facilitator?” one of my kids asked the other day about the facilitator of my grad class.

I paused.

“I don’t know her.”

I truly don’t.

This course has featured no welcome e-mail, no bio on BlackBoard. Nothing.

In the course chat, I learned a little about her church, but not much about her.

Were it not for the tacit trust I put in the university’s hiring processes, I might worry she’s a pimply-faced high school sophomore who fits his grading in between Dungeons and Dragons sessions.

I don’t know her enough to like her.

I’ll never know her the way I would were we to share physical space. I’ll never know the color of her hair. I realize the strangeness of that statement, but it’s nothing to the strangeness of the not knowing.

Her face looks like as she gives a class time to ponder a question will forever be a mystery to me.

Does she pronounce my name with a drawl? Would she appreciate my humor? I’ll never know if she’s someone who stands the entire class or leans against a wall or desk.

I’ll never know.

These things I’d like to know.

If I’m to like her, these things help me decide.

If I’m to respect her, I need to know her.

She is responsible for facilitating my learning around curricula and learning, yet I can tell you not one thing about her pedagogy.

I imagine these weeks we’re together in this course to be similar to the early days of an arranged marriage. Contrastingly, though, we both have designs on an annulment.

It’s easier to dislike her if she exists as this disembodied set of deadlines and dropboxes.

My own little Milgram experiment.

A key piece of learning from my grad program has been my understanding of my drive to connect my learning to relationships.

My mathematical matriculation through AP Calculus was due solely to the care and academic craftsmanship of Mr. Curry.

I’ve yet to feel that care or craftsmanship in my courses.

This is not whining.

This is me attempting to understand why my otherwise voracious appetite for learning, understanding and creating meaning absolutely vanishes in these courses.

In no small part, I need to know my instructor as much as I need to know my content.

Things I Know 22 of 365: I need my learning to live

Is anybody alive out there?

– Bruce Springsteen

I had an assignment due for my grad class today – the proposal for an inquiry project.

Life has gotten in the way over the last few weeks, and I haven’t had a chance to give grad school my attention. Today, it got all of my attention. ALL.

I wrote 17 pages.

17 pages.

The directions for the assignment lived in one file, the assignment description lived in another file, the rubric lurked in a separate space altogether.

It’s submitted now.

17 pages,

Gone to the ether of online learning, never to be read by anyone.

Except, I’ve made another space for online learning.

So, I’m posting it here, too.

Read it, don’t read it. I’m posting it here because I know it has at least a chance of living here.

The file’s at the bottom. The annotated list of references I’ve pasted here. If nothing else, it can help jumpstart some thinking about reading instruction.


Brozo, W., & Flynt, E. (2008). Motivating Students to Read in the Content Classroom: Six Evidence-Based Principles. The Reading Teacher62(2), 172-4. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.2.9

The authors again make the case for increasing choice as a means to motivating student reading. Though the article is designed to engender motivation for reading in disciplines outside the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, it’s information stands true. Some pieces act as gentle reminders for common best practices within the ELA classroom, others such as finding ways to connect traditional texts to students’ existing multiliteracies shed new light on possible approaches. The authors argue the need not only for allowing choice, but for providing a rich variety of texts from which to choose. If this project is designed for increasing student readership, then the authors’ point of a diverse, accessible library may prove key. Also suggested is the creation of student-to-student partnerships within the reading process as a key to student motivation. The social experience, the authors argue, can push students to expand their reading horizons. These tactics for motivating readers outside the ELA classroom will likely prove equally helpful and effective within the ELA classroom.

Duncan, S. (2010). Instilling a Lifelong Love of Reading. Kappa Delta Pi Record46(2), 90-3. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Duncan culls several decades’ worth of research to provide her readership with the basic best practices in helping students become lifelong readers. Of particular note are Duncan’s suggestion of providing students choice of reading materials as a way to help them invest in their own reading. She also calls on the practice of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) within the classroom as a way of putting a premium on the act of reading. Duncan also unexpected calls on teachers to read aloud to their students beyond the primary grades as studies show this can build motivation to read within students. This source is helpful in listing research-supported approaches to motivating reluctant readers. It also serves as a nexus for follow-up reading on those approaches needing greater clarification.

Flowerday, T., Schraw, G., & Stevens, J. (2004). The Role of Choice and Interest in Reader Engagement. The Journal of Experimental Education72(2), 93-114. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.72.2.93-114

The work of Flowerday, Schraw and Stevens delves more deeply into the realm of choice than simply suggesting choice can have a positive effect on student engagement and reading. Specifically, the authors findings suggest situation choice built on the qualities of novelty, curiosity and salient informational content. The implications of this research suggest that building a classroom practice around student choice should also include some sort of attempt to excite students about the reading possibilities they encounter. In short, an element of play should be curated. For the purposes of this inquiry project this approach could well improve the excitement of reluctant readers around texts that contain familiar words, but speak to ideas and stories those readers have not yet encountered. Taken with other research, this also implies the need to make certain classroom and school libraries are well stocked with book choices that appeal to a wide swath of interests and appear novel.

Gable, C. (2007). The Freedom to Select. American Libraries38(3), 38. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Gable’s passionate argument for the neutrality of librarians when considering the book selections of their patrons raises important questions for a teacher considering a choice-driven approach to student classroom reading. While many researchers note the importance of students selecting texts that are not too far above or below their assessed reading levels, few speak to the implications of teacher opinion when assisting students with text selection. Mindful of Gable’s argument, I must be careful not to belittle or bruise students’ book choices based on content or authorship. Furthermore, Gable raises an important point when suggesting those who send library patrons the direction of bookstores to find “lesser” titles are ignoring the possible economic limitations would-be readers could face. If moving toward a choice-based system, I must be sure my classroom and the school’s library shelves are stocked with texts representing as diverse a reading profile as possible or risk alienating reluctant readers with the implication the books they’re looking for are not worth reading.

Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2009). It’s All About the Book: Motivating Teens to Read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy52(7), 556-61. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.52.7.1

Lapp and Fisher discuss a classroom setting incredibly similar to the object of the inquiry project. Their use of framing thematic questions provided their students with anchor points to which they could return to examine how what they were reading related to what they were attempting to learn. The authors also present the idea of having students choose from a list of books for independent reading and combining that with texts read in small groups. This idea of choice within a framework points to the idea of creating greater student investment in their reading. Also of note is the idea of teacher read-alouds and think-alouds to model positive reading practices to underdeveloped readers. These tactics could certainly prove useful within my own classroom to help whet the reading appetites of those students most uncertain of how to approach new texts. Most importantly, the authors surmise their students became more willing to read due to peer support, and they believe that support led their students to seek even broader reading options.

Lu Ya-Ling., & Gordon, C. (2008). The Effects of Free Choice on Student Learning: A Study of Summer Reading. School Libraries Worldwide14(1), 38-55. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Though centering on a summer reading program, this study notes the difficulties of engaging low-achieving student in reading. A key element of note was the summer reading program’s voluntary status. Perhaps, these same tactics of choice and project-based learning surrounding student reading would prove more effect during the school year given the structure of a classroom environment. Also of note were the reservations of participating teachers around the idea of both student choice and students reading for pleasure. It points to the need within this project to be aware of how colleagues may react negatively to more creative and progressive strategies for improving the readership of reluctant readers. Though this study was not keenly focused on the subject of this project, some of the findings reflect possible elements to be considered as the inquiry progresses.

Mertzman, T. (2007). Interruptions and Miscues: How Teachers Interrupt During Reading. Journal of Reading Education32(3), 20-7. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Mertzman’s study focused on primary grade reading and writing instruction. Specifically, the study reviewed the types of interruptions made by teachers when students exhibited miscues in their reading and writing. While this is not entirely aligned with the purposes of this inquiry project, one element of Mertzman’s findings is worth noting. In comparing teachers’ professed reasons and beliefs for the outcomes of their lesson plans to the pedagogy underlying their interruptions, Mertzman found the two to be at odds. Frequently, teachers who professed a strong belief in pointing out students’ positive work would interrupt to point out negative aspects of miscues or poorly used reading strategies. In my own practice, I must be certain that my approach aimed at increasing reader engagement do not work at cross purposes with my goals of building stronger proficiency regarding my students’ reading. One possible carryover from Mertzman’s work is the idea of interrupting good reading to recognize and name it. This could prove a strong factor in improving the motivation to read.

Ratcliffe, A. (2009). Reading For Pleasure? What A Concept!. The Education Digest74(6), 23-4. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Ratcliffe’s Reading Round Table approach encourages student choice in the same manner other authors do. One difference within Ratcliffe’s approach is the one-on-one connections between students and reading. While others encourage the literature circle approach with 4 or 5 students interacting, Ratcliffe provides students with the opportunity to have more intimate discussions of their reading. She also opens up the reading prospects by allowing her students to select any book within the library. While others suggest students selecting from a list, Ratcliffe’s approach gives students greater and arguably more authentic choice in their reading. Her estimation of 85% reader engagement falls short of the goals of this project, but still speaks to the program’s effectiveness in moving students to read. One minor point that proved interesting was Ratcliffe’s acknowledgement of the dryness of some opening chapters and her setting the goal of at least 25 pages for her students before they decide whether they will continue with a book.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Tomlinson’s work on the impact and need of differentiation in the classroom relates strongly to the idea of changing strategies to excite and engage all students in reading. Her insights around planning for differentiation will likely prove key if practices are to be changed and greater student choice is to be encouraged. For student choice of texts, Tomlinson’s guide to differentiated assessment will prove particularly helpful in collecting data on student learning from reading varied texts. As a teacher used to facilitating class discussion around a shared text, I will use the author’s notes on the role of the teacher in a differentiated classroom as a guide for changing my conceptions of who I am and what I am to do as a teacher. Additionally, Tomlinson’s descriptions of the operations of a differentiated classroom will prove helpful in visualizing the flow and function of a reader-empowered space.

Trudel, H. (2007). Making Data-Driven Decisions: Silent Reading. The Reading Teacher61(4), 308-15. doi: 10.1598/RT.61.4.3

Trudel continues the theme of the importance of student choice in developing a lifelong attachment to reading. She takes the research a step further, though and looks at the implications of where students read. Specifically, Trudel points to the effects of silent sustained reading on varying aspects of students’ reading profiles. She also points to the need to add structure to the freedom inherent in silent sustained reading. Trudel’s suggestions are of particular value in consideration of the objectives of this project. Her note that students should participate in reflection on their selections is a natural fit with the core values of my school and provides and element of accountability that will help to determine effectiveness of the time spent reading. Trudel’s suggestion of a structured independent reading model seems more in keeping with the needs of my students and accounts for a greater range of collaboration around the texts being encountered.

Worthy, J., Patterson, E., & Salas, R. (2002). “More than just reading”: the human factor in reaching resistant readers. Reading Research and Instruction41(2), 177-201. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Patterson and Salas present an interesting, though not surprising, argument for the importance of personal interaction in the development of reluctant readers. In their research, the authors found the tailoring of reading instruction to the unique needs and interests of each student helped to pull that student into greater connection to reading. When taken with an understanding of the importance of student choice and the research behind silent sustained reading or independent reading, the authors’ work points to the importance of helping students select texts in which they can see themselves and find specific relevance to their own lives. Additionally, any writing or discussion of the texts outside of that reading should include a driven attempt or opportunity for students to make specific detailed connections to their own interests and lives. This research proves extremely relevant to the topic of inquiry being considered.

Wutz, J., & Wedwick, L. (2005). BOOKMATCH: Scaffolding book selection for independent reading. The Reading Teacher59(1), 16-32. doi: 10.1598/RT.59.1.3

Focusing their study on primary classrooms, the authors still encounter and elaborate on ideas of relevance to those teaching reading at the secondary level. While other researchers are looking to the role and importance of student choice in reading engagement, Wutz and Wedwick discuss a systematic framework to matching their students with appropriate and engaging texts. The BOOKMATCH system uses a series of threshold questions to help students select texts that will be positive fits for their abilities and interests. What’s more, the author’s illuminate the idea of posting guidelines for selecting texts in the classroom. This not only frees up teacher time, but it allows students to gain access to assistance without requiring them to open themselves up to feelings of inadequacy when asking for assistance. Furthermore, this approach could be helpful within a secondary classroom by helping students to build their vocabulary around aspects of text they encounter or seek out when selecting new reading materials.


Hi, you’re doing it right: Introductions

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks months ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong right.

With the advent of the new school year at SLA, a new term is also beginning for my grad program as well. This means a new course, a new “Academic Specialist” and new material.

They’re small, but the signs thus far point to the idea that Course 2 will be a different experience than Course 1.

I’ve received two e-mails thus far from Academic Specialist 2.

The first was a general welcome greeting us and talking about the University’s move from WebCT to BlackBoard:

See what AS2 did there? That’s right, admitted her own learning in front of us. I actually felt a little better about the move because of this e-mail, and I wasn’t even feeling timorous about the whole thing. (Truth be told, I’m no fan of monopolies, but moving around in BlackBoard is, so far, much better than moving around in WebCT).

Looking at the e-mail again, I realize it’s exactly the kind of thing Harry Wong would support. For the first few years of teaching, I returned to The First Days of School just before the start of the year each year. Even this year, I’ll probably skim through it. I’ve read it enough to surmise that AS2 has at least a passing familiarity with Wong’s “7 things kids want to know on the first day of school.”

Turns out, they are the things I want to know.

The second and longer of the two e-mails from AS2 truly worked to set the tone for the class.


and, finally:

Did you catch that?

Throw out everything from the last class? Check.
No need to find the book, all you need for learning style is available through a web search? Check.

Facilitator, research practitioner working daily in schools, open lines of communication, using the web when it makes sense – in two e-mails, we’re miles ahead of the last course.

Hi, you’re doing it right.