A rant: AP US History

The conservative mind is a curious thing, divided against itself in so many ways.  On the one hand, you have the “business interests” portion of the mind insisting that the schools must—absolutely must—graduate students who are incredible critical thinkers and problem solvers.  On the other hand, you have the “god, guns, and gays” mindset that recoils at any suggestion that the ground on which they stand might not be as solid as they’d like to believe.

This conservative schizophrenia is now playing out in the Gwinnett County School System as the usual suspects pick up the screeching about the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, which was revised in part to challenge our top students to think critically about historical data.  But Noooooooooo! scream the howler monkeys, It’s all radical liberal communist propaganda my country tis of thee american exceptionalism no exceptions! 


Here’s the problem.  There are two ways to frame education.  One is that it’s a process of learning how to learn, of making sure the student is prepared to face the modern world with the proper skills and attitudes to be a productive member of our democratic society.

The other, alas, regards education as a set of facts and figures to be learned. And tested on.

I will now pause while you decide which framework is the one to which the GGG conservative mindset clings.

The problem is that the proponents of each framework will never agree on curriculum.  They can’t; they don’t even see the goals as the same.  One side envisions the best students as regurgitators of facts, essential facts, while the other sees them as problem-solvers who are able to evaluate data and propose solutions based on them.

Here’s why the GGG conservatives are wrong—and they are wrong—about the APUSH curriculum.  Their cry that important stuff has been left out of the curricullum is misguided, mainly because it’s not so much the factoids as the mythic filter of those factoids that concerns them.  “We’re teaching them that the U.S. has been wrong.”

Well, yes, we are because we were.  These students, the top of the top, have already gotten the mythos in the previous years of their education, assuming their school system hasn’t shortchanged history in order to slam the students with MATH AND SCIENCE WHY WOULD THEY EVEN DO THAT EVEN?

These students already know that the U.S. is the bestest ever.  By the time they enter APUSH, headed to college, they need to start examining more nuanced views of our history.  What have we done right?  What have we done wrong?  Where have we learned, and where have we not learned?  It’s questions like these that keep the policy makers in Washington up at night, and it’s a good thing, too.  As H.L. Mencken (PBUH) said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  We don’t want people in our government who are so sure of the facts that they can’t see significant alternatives.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Republicans.   Dickheads.

Here’s why the GGG mindset about facts—just the facts, ma’am—is not only wrong, but stupid.  Once you’ve decided that the curriculum is just going to be a Gradgrindian slog through all the essential facts, then you have to fight it out over which facts are essential enough to be slogged through.  In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article which prompted this post, the reporter slyly ended the article with a quote from a former Gwinnett teacher who is a lead howler monkey:

…Urbach, the former Gwinnett teacher, stuck to his claims about what not’s taught in the district.

“Over 200 years worth of European history is not taught,” he said.  “I taught the course for six years, and we never made it to the 1970s.  Only one, maybe two days teaching on the Holocaust.”

Such is the totality of the GGG’s un-self-awareness that Mr. Urbach cannot see what he’s just said: if all you teach is the facts, you cannot possibly teach all of them.  I used to tell teachers all the time, if you make my son love history so much that he will continue to learn about it the rest of his life, I don’t give a crap whether you cover Jacksonian democracy or not.  (Indeed, his APUSH history teacher was a Gradgrind of the worst kind, and not incoincidentally I think, was a conservative who brooked no discussion or opposition to the literally thousands of “facts” she required them to memorize.)

There is no solution.   The howler monkeys will never shut the hell up, while their own corporate masters bemoan the fact that there’s no one they can hire because schools are not giving them the problem-solvers they need.  No solution.

At least not until those FEMA camps get built.

A Chomskian post from the past

I was trolling through files on my hard drive, wondering what some of them were, when I came across a word processing document that impressed me. I was working on my specialist degree, five or so years ago now, and I think it was the piddling psychology class they make you take to give the psychology professors something to do. It was like the last class I had on my agenda, and like me, most of the students were old enough to be the professor’s parent. We were mostly amused by his efforts.

Anyway, there was some online discussion as part of the class, and this one was on Chomsky and others of that ilk. I had gone away for the whole week (could it have been that historical trip to the mountains that Thanksgiving?), and when I got back, I was bothered by the turn the conversation had taken. Most of the participants had taken “grammar” to mean “rules of speech,” and it took a pretty prescriptive turn. Silly.

This was my response, and I think it still reads well:

I notice there is some confusion in our discussion of Chomsky over the nature of grammar. “Grammar” is not that set of rules set up by the dominant power structure to govern our language, nor is it a set of exercises out of Warriner’s. Grammar, as Chomsky means it, is innate, that is, born with us, and it includes our ability to recognize and create sentences that no one has ever heard before nor ever will again. It is not literacy and it is not writing.

The comparison of transformational grammar to math [in the textbook] is interesting, since one of the biggest problems non-mathematicians have with symbolic logic is the idea that an argument/syllogism can be true even if the statements which make it up are false. To wit:

  • All women have three heads.
  • George W. Bush is a woman.
  • Therefore, George W. Bush has three heads.

The structure is perfectly valid, perfectly true, despite the fact that the premises are outrageous fabrications. This is grammar. The most famous example from Chomsky is the sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” immediately recognizable as a correct sentence even though it makes no sense. In contrast, “Dog the his ate brown under food tree the” is not a sentence in any language. Innate transformational grammar is what allows any child in our schools to a) recognize those words in that order as gibberish; and b) rearrange those words into a real sentence. If literacy is removed from the equation, any child in the school can perform that task without any instruction from us.

A thought experiment: take the “dog” sentence, and consider how you would present those words on cards to a non-reading child and ask him to put them in some grammatical order. If you decided to start simple and then ask the child to add the remaining words one at a time, you’d probably begin with “dog the ate food his.” How did you know that? That’s Chomskian grammar. The kicker is that eventually you come up against “under.” Even a moment’s thought is enough to show you that you can’t hand the child just the word “under” and expect him to proceed. You would have to give him “tree under the” and ask him to put all three words in, which he would proceed to do after rearranging them into a prepositional phrase. Finally, the word “brown” can go in any of three places, but only in those three places. That is transformational grammar.

Our concerns over “street” grammar and “standard” grammar are misplaced in this discussion. Standard grammar is one of the tools used by the dominant power structure to cement its influence, and anyone who intends to live profitably within that power structure needs to know how to speak and write it. Indeed, one of our duties as educators is to provide students the opportunity to avail themselves of that knowledge. However, bemoaning the decline or absence of that structure in our students is trivial. One might just as well compare the writings of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln with those of our current political leadership and conclude that we were suffering from a precipitous decay in the public arena.

So, how would I use Chomsky’s theories in my media center? If I were coaching a student in his reading, I would (and do) rest comfortably in the knowledge that the child is capable of recognizing the sentence on the page, whether or not he is currently capable of translating those squiggly black marks under the illustration. The words on the page are not arranged randomly, but in a pattern that is born in the child’s brain and already expanded by his experience in the world so far. This is a hopeful, and helpful, hook: whether or not the child says, “Bobby be’s riding his bike” in his daily life, he will not be puzzled by the sentence, “Bobby rides his bike” on the page. Whether we then correct the child’s daily speech is a political choice, and with Chomsky, it’s all political anyway.

Reading Caves: theory & practice

On the Nature of Reading Caves

At Newnan Crossing Elementary, we’ve been celebrating Read Across America, as is our wont, with our Reading Caves event. I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the theory and practice of this curious cultural artifact.

First a photo of this year’s caves:

As you can see, teams of teachers come in and transform the media center with bulletin board paper and fripperies. The idea is that students will come in and secrete themselves in one hidey hole or another and read for a short time. It’s just something out of the ordinary and fun.

But why? Why don’t I bring in multitudes of volunteers to read books, usually something by Dr. Seuss, to classes all over the school?

I used to do that, actually. As the school got larger, however, it became more and more of a problem to line up the number of volunteers needed, then match their availability to our insane patchwork schedule all over the building.

And then one year, I forgot. I looked at the calendar, and it was February 25, and I had done nothing about Read Across America Day on March 2.

I panicked.

But then, somehow, I remembered a thing I had read years before.

The Theory of Reading Caves

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander, et al., is a tome published in 1977, and it bears every hallmark of the sensibilities of the 1960s and their aftermath: utopianism, rejection of urban/corporate life, respect for older ways, optimism, etc., etc. Large parts of it belong to the “isn’t it pretty to think so?” school of planning, but a great deal of it is not only heartfelt, but valid.

The book is essentially a grammar of design for living spaces: towns, buildings, homes, neighborhoods. More than 250 ‘patterns’ in this grammar are presented, hierarchically listed and interlinked. The patterns are derived from the authors’ observations about how healthy cultures live(d), and many are precisely archetypal.

Late in the book, p. 927-929, we are presented with a detail pattern: 203 CHILD CAVES. I will quote the pattern in its entirety:

Children love to be in tiny, cave-like places.

In the course of their play, young children seek out cave-like space to get into and under, old crates, under tables, in tents, etc. […]

They try to make special spaces for themselves and for their friends, most of the world about them is “adult space” and they are trying to carve out a place that is kid size.

When children are playing in such a “cave”, each child takes up about 5 square feet; furthermore, children like to do this in groups, so the caves should be large enough to accommodate this: these sorts of groups range in size from three to five, so 15 to 25 square feet, plus about 15 square feet for games and circulation, gives a rough maximum size for caves.


Wherever children play, around the house, in the neighborhood, in schools, make small “caves ” for them. Tuck these caves away in natural left over spaces, under stairs, under kitchen counters. Keep the ceiling heights low, 2 feet 6 inches to 4 feet, and the entrance tiny.

I don’t think I need to provide a lot of proof or defense for pattern 203: who among us has not thrilled at the receipt of a refrigerator box? I remember that one reason I looked forward to school being out each summer was that I could prevail upon my father to go to Maxwell-Prince Furniture (“Drive a little and save a lot,” a slogan necessitated by the fact that they were not on the Court Square but, gasp!, nearly a whole mile away out on Hwy 27, at the Hospital Road intersection) and get me a box. It would become my Fortress of Solitude for weeks.

So, in my panic and desperation at having not scheduled a single reader for the school, I boldly announced a new initiative: Newnan Crossing Reading Caves!

That first year was more than a little desperate. I pulled the thing together literally overnight, bringing in sheets and swaths of fabric; lamps; pillows. I turned over tables and enveloped them in bulletin board paper. I turned the book aisles into long, narrow enclaves. I borrowed the parachute from the gym and draped it over tables and the couch. I borrowed materials from teachers. The whole thing was quite lame.

And it was a huge hit. The kids didn’t see the tape and bulletin board paper, nor did they see how desperately cheesy it was: they saw CHILD CAVES, and they were ecstatic.

At that point, Newnan Crossing was pushing 1,000 students, and it was clear to me that Reading Caves was a much more practicable solution to Read Across America Day than the nightmare that scheduling volunteers had turned into. We went with it.

Reading Caves in Practice

Since that first year, I have invited teachers to join in the fun. Those who choose can volunteer to put up a Reading Cave, and they choose their theme. On the afternoon beforehand, they come into the media center and transform it. For the next two days, media center traffic comes to a standstill: it’s silent reading time in here, and besides, most of the shelves are covered by the caves.

After the teachers have set up theirs, I’ll go around and do the table thing to fill in the gaps. (I also have my own major Cave to put up.)

We run Reading Caves for two days so that most classes have a chance to come in and spend a while reading. After each class comes in, I give them four minutes to explore, and after a one-minute warning, they have to sit and read. (This year, I created two sound files, one with an introduction, and the one-minute warning, followed by a “sit and read”; and a 20-minute loop that had nothing in it but a chime to end the session about three minutes before the end. During the entire day, I play quiet music, this year all space music. Drove me nuts.)

The four minutes are insane: we usually have two classes at a time, and they go nuts as they explore one cave after another. And then when the one-minute warning sounds, it becomes bedlam. Now they have to choose which cave to sit in, and the friend/clique factor kicks in, and lo! there is much squealing and running.

And then it’s quiet for about ten minutes as they settle in and start reading. For the little kids, that’s enough time. For the older ones, I need to find a way to have longer sessions, because they’re just getting into it when the chime instructs them to close their books and “return to real life.”

They leave on a high, chattering about how much fun they’ve had. It’s pretty neat: a really big response for not a lot of work.

The caves can be elaborate, or they can be simple as pie. Here are some from this year and the past:

Charlotte’s Web, complete with bales of hay, the web, troughs, and a fence of yarn (that no one could see and which we finally had to take down for safety’s sake). If you look in the trough on the right, you can see a little brown Templeton. Kids climbed up on the tables inside, somehow managing to not knock off all the chairs that were perched up there with them, holding up the roof.

The fifth grade’s Iditarod cave. Simplicity itself, but because you entered from one aisle and had to crawl all the way down and around (in a U-shape), it was very popular. Also popular, and pictured up at the top of the post, was a Twilight cave. How do kids this young even know about that accursed phenomenon? That cave was actually two: a cave and a den (for the werewolves.)

My 100 Book Club cave. Not very flashy, but it was comfortable. More than a few kids found it cozy:

I have these large pieces of cardboard that were donated several years ago by Multec, a local company that makes packaging. I’ve saved them and use them every year, so my cave has actual walls. I’m thinking of ways to make it more complex and interesting next year. And I hold them together with Mr. McGroovy’s Box Rivets, a wonderful, wonderful invention.

One year, I did a Hogwarts. Here’s the Slytherin common room from that cave:

Above that was the Gryffindor common room. You entered the cave by crawling under a table; that table had the Great Hall on top. I had house banners hanging, and great portraits all over the walls.

Here’s a glance at the exterior, beyond the Three Little Pigs houses:

The houses of the Little Pigs were made of PVC pipe, covered in fabric. Each would hold one child.

My all-time favorite was the year 5th grade did Narnia. You entered through the Wardrobe, of course:

There was a stretch of Narnia in winter:

Then you turned the corner, and there you were in Mr. Tumnus’s house:

Pretty spectacular.

Some practical considerations: since we turn out the lights, you will need to consider how the children will see to read. There are outlets nearly everywhere in the media center, so power is not really a problem. I made that mistake with the “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way” cave two years ago: the all-black and black-light lit space was very cool, but no one could see to read.

You have to consider supervision. Make sure there’s a way an adult can see into the space and check on things. We had to cut a flap in the Iditarod cave this year for that reason. Otherwise, the more closed in, the better. One reason the 100 Book Club cave was not as popular as it might have been was that it was largely open.

Seating is an issue. This year’s Magic School Bus looked great, but was not very popular because there were no cushions. The same went for the secondary parachute cave. There was just bare carpet, and not many kids found it appealing.

Like A Pattern Language suggests, room for more than one student is good, but more than five is just not cozy. Still, most of the one-kid caves were occupied, because there are some students who are serious about the reading part and don’t want the distraction of other kids.

The cave does not have to be elaborate:

This one, just a table on its side draped with paper, was occupied more than half the sessions. If I had gone a little more origami on it and closed the front a bit, it would have been even more popular.

I’m already planning next year’s Reading Caves. Let me know if you’d like to join in.

CRCT Festival Time

I have issues.

Specifically, as we head into our annual celebration of the Criterion Reference Content Tests Festival next week, I have issues with the questions purporting to provide data on our students’ information skills, aka research/reference skills.

Many are innocuous, asking which word comes first in ABC order, which guide words would include a specified topic, that kind of thing. But many are sloppy, betraying outdated perceptions of how research works even at the elementary level, or worse, complete ignorance.

Here are some examples, taken from the practice questions provided by the state, and which I’ve been using in review lessons (The Evil Game) with 3rd graders:

Which do you need to have if you are going to type a story on a computer?

  1. a database
  2. the internet
  3. writing software

“Writing software”?? Even kindergarteners call it a word processor, for heaven’s sake. So what we end up testing is not their awareness of text generation on a computer, but whether they can synonymize an archaic and unfamiliar term with something they use on a regular basis. And of course, it seems that the test makers are unaware that kids have more than a little experience on websites provided by PBS, General Mills, etc., that encourage them to “type a story.” So, if I don’t know what “writing software” is (to practice my handwriting??), and the last time I went to the computer lab we played on the Dora the Explorer website and wrote stories about our adventures, then the correct answer is obviously 2.

To keep a list of all the animals your class saw in a month, which is the BEST to use?

  1. a database
  2. a radio
  3. an encyclopedia

This inclusion of databases as a technology we need to test kids on is very amusing to me, because not even their teachers know how to use one. I mean, they know how to negotiate a database like the county’s Infinite Campus student database, but almost none of them have ever created a database for regular use, nor do they completely understand why one would do so. The reason is simple: Microsoft Office doesn’t come with a database. And for that reason, our teachers are trained to use Excel’s spreadsheets to keep lists of information in. They have no clue as to how that differs from a database like FileMaker or, heaven help us, Access. Do you know how much this makes me despair?

Of course, we know (or hope) that the student will eliminate radio and encyclopedia as choices because they’re just stupid, but then we’re not testing their information skills, are we?

Which do most people use to connect to the internet?

  1. database
  2. computer
  3. videotape

“Connect to the internet.” You mean like when I place my phone receiver in the cradle of my mo-dem and send the AT* commands to it? Confronted with a term he has surely never heard before, a student is thrown back onto his knowledge of what he’s encountered on the internet. Internet Movie Database? YouTube? Hm, your guess is as good as mine.

Read the part of the index below. Which page should you read to find the information on the bottlenose dolphin?

God in heaven. Yes, I know that a child with even half a brain should be able to untangle that, but is there anything correct about that sample’s formatting? It looks like something an actual 3rd grader would produce.

Try this:

Or even better:

You know, like an actual freaking index in an actual freaking book.

Mr. Pope wants to make an apple pie, but he can’t find his cookbook. Which resource is the BEST for Mr. Pope to use to look for another recipe?

  1. a database
  2. writing software
  3. the World Wide Web

Oh, where to begin? This question must have been written in 1998, including such quaint terms as “writing software” and “World Wide Web.” Seriously, does anyone call it the World Wide Web any more? Even the major newspapers have stopped capitalizing Internet and Web. The kids these days simply call it “the internet.” So do I. And once I’ve gone on the “World Wide Web,” where will I find recipes? Let me count the ways. Databases all, and found via Google, itself an enormous database. And what if Mr. Pope has one of these? If we’ve been as thorough in our teaching of databases as these questions seem to imply is our job, this question will thoroughly confuse a student.

Which address on the World Wide Web would MOST LIKELY have information about cats and dogs?

  1. www.toys.com
  2. www.pets.com
  3. www.birds.com

This is not an unfair question, but at my school at least I teach the kids that URLs must not be thought of as search engines, i.e., www.whatIwantofind.com is never the way to navigate the internet. Pardon me, the World Wide Web. Still, as an internet-age version of “Which book title would be best for Topic A?,” it’s unoffensive.

Which is the BEST way to select a topic that you will enjoy for a report?

  1. Find the topic that looks the easiest.
  2. Choose a topic that interests you.
  3. Ask a friend what she wrote about.

All right, I’ll close with a question that I really liked and had fun going over with the kids. What we do in the Evil Game is I show the question on the Promethean Board (a smartboard kind of thing) and ask the kids to hold up little cards indicating whether or not they understand what the test makers are trying to ask them. If I get a smattering of question marks or Xs, we stop and deconstruct the question.

With this one, we actually parsed the gender-specific approaches to the problem. I told the girls that #3 was their answer. When they denied it, I launched into a sample dialog: “What are you going to write about? I’m doing koalas. Let’s both do koalas!” They giggled and copped to the plea. The boys were looking smug, until I pointed out that #1 is the boy answer. They readily admitted to it.

The really interesting thing, I pointed out to them, was that the correct answer is actually ambidextrous. For the boys, the correct answer would be “Choose a topic that interests you.” For the girls, it’s “Choose a topic that interests you.” And along with all that, I gave advice on making the correct answer work in real life as well.

On the whole though, the questions our students will face next week during the CRCT Festival regarding information skills are not up to par. The state is not getting good data about how prepared our children are to engage the information age effectively. And because, as the Curriculum Liberation Front says, what’s unassessed is unaddressed, these flawed test items produce flawed and inadequate information instruction across our state.

Teaching and testing

I’ve spent the past few days working with 1st graders, trying to show them atlases and dictionaries, and then at the very end of the session, sneak the internet in.

Why? Because on one standardized test or another, there is a question which asks them which would be the best place to find a picture of some animal. Would you look in an atlas, in a dictionary, or on the internet?

Whoever wrote the test item knows that dictionaries don’t have pictures. Except, of course, when you’re six years old, and the whole frickin’ dictionary is pictures.

Up and down the grade levels, our standardized tests ask similarly narrow-minded questions about reference sources that indicate that the people who wrote the test items do not know how the information society works, at least since 2000.

This has been a message for those who think that they’re getting reliable data from those standardized tests.

More good times in teaching

Last fall I applied for and got a National Endowment for the Humanities package called Picturing America: twenty or so gorgeous prints of notable American works of art that illustrate one or more American characteristics. These are double-sided, heavily laminated, and are accompanied by a really good teacher’s guide.

I’ve been posting them on my bulletin board, with the heading I Have a Question… I post a question, and the first student who researches the correct answer gets a free book.

This week, it’s been Norman Rockwell’s “The Freedom of Speech”:

(click for full size photo)
(click for full size photo)

The first question is “What’s going on in this photo?” And a kid we’ll call Jimmy figured out that it was a debate. (Technically, it’s a town hall meeting, but let’s give the little Southern kid a break here.)

Then I asked, “Where does the freedom of speech come from?” And Bobby quickly found the 1st Amendment.

Finally, this afternoon I posted, “What exactly does freedom of speech mean?”

Jimmy was back in the media center, this time with his friend Huck. Huck and Jim had a pretty good idea what it meant, but they weren’t putting their finger on the crux of the issue. They found a Constitutional dictionary. They found a book called Constitution translated for kids. They even found the vertical file folder on the Constitution.

Every time, they reported what they found, but it was never the exact answer I was hoping they’d find. Finally, I asked if they had read the actual Amendment itself. They quickly pounced on a copy, and within 60 seconds Jimmy was at my desk, announcing that the freedom of speech meant that the government could not control what was acceptable speech and what was not.


And to make it even more wonderful, he selected as his book a Star Wars novel that Huck had been shooting for and gave it to Huck. I love my job.

Fred & Mary

I have had fun at work today.

Each week, third grade classes come to me for Info Skills, wherein we learn to approach information problems in a structured way. The first half of the year is given over to learning the Big 6, the structure we use, and the various resources available to us.

It’s an interesting proposition, because when we begin, they’re still sort of second graders, and as such are just emerging from the “learning to read” stage into the “reading to learn” stage. They have no mental picture of how information is structured, nor how to decide whether or not they even have an information problem. They can’t disaggregate multiple strands within one question (e.g., “Who was President when Minnesota became a state?”). They don’t really have any sense of which resource is the best to use. And they are just unwilling to read through all the information to find their answer.

So we take it step by step, making lots of lots of mistakes along the way and debriefing each and every one. With any luck, we’re ready at the semester to begin applying our knowledge.

Which is why I was excited when the third grade teachers approached to see if we could combine Info Skills with the performance standards about Frederick Douglass and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Here’s the standard [SS3H2]: The student will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy. Frederick and Mary are two among a small flock which includes Paul Revere, Susan B. Anthony, FDR and Eleanor, Thurgood Marshall, LBJ, and Cesar Chavez. We are also to explain social barriers, restrictions, and obstacles that these historical figures had to overcome.

(We also have to describe how these historic figures diplay positive character traits of… respect for and acceptance of authority. Que?? ?)

So now we have something to which we can apply our info skills. I’m thinking we can do a timeline of these two’s lives, along with the others, and flesh them out with Presidents, wars, etc., just to give the kids some historical context. For one thing, of course, their lives barely overlapped.

Which gave me an idea. The children have no historical context. They really have no clue when it comes to sorting people and ideas and events into some kind of timeline structure in their heads.

So, I present to you Frederick Douglass & Mary McLeod Bethune: BFF! (Notice the next button down at the bottom; you’ll probably have to scroll.)

You like? I think we’re going to have a great time.

Wonderful Car (Day 235/365)

Yes, I finally got work done. I listened through Blake’s Wonderful Car Delivers Us Wonderfully Well and made a few tweaks. Pretty subtle, but they were necessary. I think it sounds marginally better.

In other work, I dug out my personality profile from when I was a student at GHP in 1970. I find that it is the Cattell 16PF Profile. We were given this test, and then called in by the counselor (Eddie Najjar, a theatre person actually, and kin to the Mansours here in Newnan) to discuss it. He would show us our score on each item, and then we got to choose which of the synonyms on that end of the scale we thought described us.

Looking at it now, I’m a little surprised to see that I was in the average range for Self-Assured. Geez, I was an insufferable little thing. I must have cheated on the test.

Anyway, I dug it out because I’m going to use its scales to give my little bloggers a handle on describing characters from their books. If they can see some contrasting personality traits, they can latch on to one or two to hang their writing on.

Another blog (Day 218/365)

No, never fear, I am not starting another blog. At least, not one for me, and not one that you will ever read. Today I worked on the Newnan Crossing 100 Book Club blog. We’ve been trying to get it up and running since October, and on Monday I decided that it was time to implement it whether it was exactly in the shape I wanted it or not. After all, it was ready for me to put students in as users, and they would each have their own blog.

I had originally wanted to use the multi-user version of WordPress, called WordPress MU, but apparently there were installation issues. (All the tech end of this is being handled by the school system’s IT people, specifically Mike. He’s been great.) So we switched to Drupal, with which I have been unfamiliar.

WordPress is a dedicated blogging software package. Drupal is a “content management system,” whatever that means. All I know is that it has a lot more buttons to push and boxes to check to make it do what you want it to do, and sometimes those boxes and buttons are distributed in non-intuitive ways.

Anyway, I got all the kids put in, with nifty passwords that look random but actually are rememberable for the kid. I got it to look like a nice place to be. And we’re ready to start training the 8-10 year-olds how to blog.

The idea is that they read a book from a preselected list of award-winners or starred reviews, then blog about their reading. I’ve trained them (although I have no doubt that training was shallow and noneffective in 80% of them) not to write about the book, but about their reading.

After they post, then I and the other Book Club members can comment on it. Lo, a conversation about reading occurs. Children, these are advanced readers, who otherwise would be zooming through “short books” and racking up AR™ points just to rack up AR™ points are now thinking about what they’re reading. They’re making predictions. They’re discussing an author’s use of language. They’re deciding what makes a book good. And they’re learning, most importantly, to write.

If this works, I shall be called blessed.