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    23rd October 2011

    A few pictures

    From October 23, 2011

    My mom had giant sunflowers this summer.

    From October 23, 2011

    Like being in Alice In Wonderland or something.

    From October 23, 2011

    Sunset over Lake Loveland.

    From October 23, 2011

    Getting my start on the guitar.

    22nd October 2011

    Modern Writing

    From October 22, 2011

    Click on the above picture to see a bigger version of a chart that I created giving different types of writing that most of us do or have done. (I created the chart using, exported it to jpg, and then loaded it onto google docs). I started the chart by modifying one found in Kathleen Yancey’s report for the National Council of Teachers of English, “Writing in the 21st Century”. She made a distinction in her chart between “obliged” writing and “personal” writing – obliged being writing for school or work or other obligations. I added a distinction between formal and informal writing. There is, of course, a great deal of overlap as well as some blurring between these categories. Letters/emails are written for personal reasons as well as for work/school reasons. They can also be formal or informal, depending on the recipient and occasion.

    Yancey’s point is that we can no longer only use traditional academic writing forms in the classroom because 1) essays and reports do not pique the interest of students – which of course isn’t itself a reason not to do them; but, 2) ignoring other – especially web 2.0 – writing forms will not adequately prepare students for further schooling and work in our modern, wired world; and 3) privileging the traditional canon of literary forms shuts out important modern voices.

    I’ve thought a bit about this on my own – how to use facebook or other net media in writing assignments. Could we have writing prompts that begin with, Imagine you’re writing a note for all of your facebook friends, trying to convince them to take action on a certain issue… Or, imagine you are one of the main characters in X book. Create a series of 10-20 160 character or less entries that he or she would have tweeted if he or she had a Twitter account. Give page numbers for where the tweet would have happened in the book. Bonus points for actually creating the Twitter account (like this one for Frodo Baggins).

    It’s no secret that most commercially successful writing fits within a range of expected formulae, whether we’re talking about novels, magazine or news articles, or television shows and movies. There’s a book called The Screenwriting Formula: Why It Works and How to Use It. Some screenwriting is so predictably over the top that it inspires parodies, such as this.

    But writing for academic purposes can also be formulaic. Hook-general statement-thesis. Topic sentence-detail-detail-transition. Topic sentence-detail-detail-transistion. Concluding detail- concluding detail-restatement of thesis-possibly another research angle. I really appreciated James Collins take on how strategies and forumulae can be useful, but they must be accompanied by the student knowing why, when, and how to effectively use a given formula.

    “If it is a pattern to which students must conform without knowing when or why to use the pattern… it is indeed formulaic. If, on the other hand, the structure provides a meaningful scaffold for writing, meaningful because students know how, when, and why to use it to guide their writing, it is not a formula at all. It is a writing strategy.”
    -James L. Collins, “Writing strategies are no formulas: (But they can be used strategically)”

    21st October 2011

    Federal Funding… (a song by that title – and a discussion of music education)

    I have long thought the band Cake was awesome. Now I think they’re awesome and respect their occasional political statements. After making a comment in class about principals at schools with great music programs not worrying about their music instructors helping improve student literacy because those schools – or at least those students – probably don’t have problems with their test scores, and then getting ripped by classmates and professor alike as a generalization that doesn’t always hold true, I went searching for some evidence on the topic either way. Of course it was a generalization – and very few generalizations ALWAYS hold true – and so you have to treat each school and student on an individual, case by case basis… but… in a discussion where we had been role-playing as principal and teacher, discussing the need for literacy development in all subjects – and of course I realize that subject literacy is not the same as the type of literacy that is reflected on standardized test – BUT that IS perhaps the type of literacy that a principal who is looking to keep his or her job would be looking at: the sort that shows up as improved test scores. And there *might* be *some* evidence that shows that *generally* (it is a generalization after all) students who participate in music programs do better on those tests. A USDOE study found that consistent participation in Music Ed throughout junior high and high school lead to *generally* higher test scores in math – a finding that held across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. (I didn’t find the study itself – it might be dated a decade or two as I found it was cited in a UCLA published paper from 1999, itself quoted on this page [and yes, I know, UCLA is not as awesome as USC, but it’s still a pretty good school]). But who is to say that the link is really such that students who participate in so-called GOOD music programs do better than students in so-so music programs? Oh right, there’s a study that shows that, too. (More here).

    I’ll post my findings here and just not talk in that class next week because I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve been kind of argumentative lately. Maybe because I haven’t been sleeping enough, or because we keep going over the same things in my three classes and no one else raises any questions about them, or maybe because I’m becoming old and senile… but in any case I really don’t want to be that guy. The guy arguing just to argue. So I’ll try to get back to encouragement. And suggestion. Much more effective combination.

    As for how all of this relates to my opening statement about the band Cake, well, in my little search for info, I also ran across this article, in which a member of cake talks about the value of music education. And it also links to one of the bands new videos, for a song called “Federal Funding,” which I think is an interesting statement on a whole ‘nother education topic that I might take on at some point: standardized testing as a key to distribution of federal education funds. That isn’t the only kind of federal funding the song talks about, but if you want to know more, you can check out the song/video here.

    It’s Friday, I have to go flip my laundry. Then clean my kitchen. Then work on all of the schoolwork I have to do for this weekend, which should include another awesome post on this here blog. Does anyone read it anymore?

    I also promise that music is still being worked on, for those of you who care. It is happening, albeit slowly at the moment. And maybe at some point I’ll get on here with a funny story or two from my life instead of just political/educational rambling. Or I’ll just keep ranting about things, like how my doctor from Colorado wouldn’t send a referral to a rehab center here in LA for me because apparently Medicare (my insurance provider) doesn’t like it when doctors write referrals when they haven’t seen a patient in the last 3 months… Yeah, you know, my permanently disabled condition has changed a lot in that extra month since I saw him in May. And my need for a new wheelchair goes on. For me to see a new doc then I’ll still need to have that office send my chart somewhere… what’s the difference between that and a referral? It would actually be easier for them to do the referral.

    16th October 2011

    I went for a little stroll around LA City Hall last night…

    Excuse me, is anyone in there?

    Sorry, this stall… er, Wall Str… er, City Hall… is Occupied.

    I went downtown last night to see my friend Chris, who is in LA for business for a few days. Parking was impossible to find near his hotel and I refused to pay the $3.50/.25 hour rate at the hotel garage – or any of the other nearby garage fees. So I decided to take Chris on a little adventure. He hopped in the car and we went down to LA City Hall, where there have now been folks camping out and protesting for 13 or 14 days, joining in with the movement started as “Occupy Wall Street”.

    It was about 10 p.m. and there were several hundred (really nice) tents and maybe between a thousand and two thousand people in the (no longer) green areas and steps surrounding City Hall (which has this slogan engraved on the pediment-like area on one side: “THE HIGHEST OF ALL SCIENCES AND SERVICES – THE GOVERNMENT”). The general impression I got was that the movement does not have much unity (as evidenced by these two semi-official websites for the LA movement: OccupyLA & OccupyLosAngeles). The most interesting thing about our walk around was probably looking at signs (“15 years ago we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash, and Bob Hope – now we have NO JOBS, NO CASH, and NO HOPE”), but we also overheard arguments about international trade, banking bailouts, and an extended rant about 9/11 being a set up by the US Government. We also heard some interesting music, saw some old (65+) hippies dancing like teenagers, talked to a stoned middle-aged, middle-class woman who decided to come support the event with her lap dog, saw the biggest roach I have ever seen (and I’m not talking about a cockroach, I’m talking about a marijuana torch that a group was standing around, inhaling), and also saw a couple of guys taking pictures (and I think trying to hit on) a local news reporter. All in all an interesting trip.

    Read more/see pictures of Occupy LA from the LA Times.

    15th October 2011

    More theory: a little Marxist, a little deconstruction

    “The apartment where much of the show takes place is enormous by New York City standards, leading the viewer to wonder how dwellers pay the rent, given their itinerant jobs. Also, we know that New York City is among the most racially diverse cities in the United States. So why is it that we rarely see any one other than people of European descent populating the settings? We must conclude that the writers of the show are privileging a particular ideological viewpoint, one that features only attractive characters who have few financial concerns, plenty of free time, and who are racially segregated in a setting that is anything but homogenous.”
    – Raymond Philippot and Michael Graves, Fostering Comprehension in English Classes, p. 82

    Can you guess what popular 90s sitcom this paragraph is talking about? It is very likely that you can, but if you cannot, I would not be that surprised for this reason: if you replace “New York City” with any other city name, and “apartment” with “dwelling”, you could be talking about a great number of popular television shows that air in the United States. A Marxist critique of popular culture would be very revealing – and hopefully interesting – for students or adults alike. We don’t like to think about what we watch for entertainment – it’s entertainment, not school, not our job, not our political stand! Let’s just enjoy it. This refusal to think critically about media should worry us – have you read any dystopian literature? Pretty much all fictional dystopian governments use entertainment to keep the masses happy. There’s 1984, A Brave New World, We… Why wouldn’t an actual, non-fictional government or capitalist conglomerate do the same?… Oh no, that couldn’t happen in our society…

    “The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.”
    -Chip Morningstar, “How to Deconstruct Almost Anything”

    Did you understand that paragraph? If not try reading it again.

    Still no? Hopefully at this point you realize that the author created as a joke – a way of poking fun at other presenters at a conference. At the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 1991, Morningstar and his co-presenter Randy Farmer read the statement, paused for laughter and then revealed that the statement was “constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so.”

    Deconstruction is not really like the footage in this video:

    That is demolition. There is not real use for the pieces of the building after demolition has taken place. Deconstruction similarly breaks down the original structure, but it doesn’t jettison the pieces. Instead it attempts to use the original language/form to show how the same work can be demonstrated to have multiple – and mutually-exclusive – meanings.

    I think that a lot of high school students employ deconstruction already, they just don’t realize it. Ask them about what their parents say about curfew, drinking, sex, drug use, or any other house rule – and then ask them what those rules actually mean for them. Or watch them try to make a teacher’s stated assignment seem like they didn’t have to do as much work. Or if they have a Christian or other conservative background, ask them what the Bible – or their scripture – says about drinking, drug use, or sex. Ever heard about how God wouldn’t have put any plants on the planet if they weren’t good and we weren’t supposed to use them? Well… I guess maybe that one does have a point.

    (Click here to watch a video of where Derrida himself starts to define deconstruction).

    9th October 2011

    Reading and thinking from different perspectives: Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial literary criticism

    First, before getting to the topic mentioned above, and since this is another post that I’m submitting for my class on teaching English, I’m going to provide a link to a website that more or less collects good web content about teaching English. allows users to create pages about certain topics. then crawls the web finding content related to that topic and creates a stream that the page moderator can browse through, choosing which content to post to the main page. Here’s the link for the “TeachingEnglish” page.

    Some English majors/teachers do not have a good relationship with modern literary theory, in large part because college lit theory classes can be heavy on the theory and not ever show how the different theories in practice. When I was at Denver Seminary read scholars using all of the different theoretical perspectives, and also wrote using many of the perspectives as well. I then was able to refresh my understandings last year while taking English classes at Colorado State, so I feel pretty confident when it comes to most lit crit. The discipline of academic biblical studies has been using Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial criticism at least since the start of the liberation theology movement in the 50s, 60s and 70s; and now there are many works in biblical studies done utilizing one or more these (i.e., see a short article utilizing postcolonial and feminist readings).

    I’m not going to explain the details of Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial literary criticism right here because there are many other resources to do that for me (click the links for some sweet wikipedia action). These three have in common that they cause readers to more carefully examine and question the world and worldview within a text (the setting of the story!) as well as the world and worldview of the author, and how that contributed to the creation of the text. And when I say question the world and worldview, what I mean especially is looking critically at the power structures and asking questions like: Who or what groups have the most power and influence? How do they exert their power or influence? What of their beliefs are influential? What are their interests and how do they protect them? How does our reading change if we imagine ourselves as part of a different group of people (upper class, lower class, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, native, foreign, in-power, out-of-power)?

    In the Deborah Appleman book I’ve already mentioned in earlier posts, Critical Encounters in High School English, she has chapters for each of these three theories, discussing ways to include them in the classroom. I personally think it’s great, and think that these three theories in particular are perhaps the most useful for helping students develop the ability to think critically about their world and the influence of the texts that they are reading. No matter what social standing a student has, it will be valuable to understand how literature and other media contributes to the structure of the world they live in – and potentially question that structure or the ideology that keeps it in place by asking questions such as, Is success the result of hard work?

    In the “Teaching English Language Arts in Secondary Classrooms” class that I am in right now, as well as in the literacy and teaching English language learners classes I am taking, we have talked a bit about whether Standard or Academic English is the best and most acceptable English for classroom use. This conversation really does fit in under a discussion of Marxist and postcolonial criticism because the designation of a correct or official version of a language is ultimately related to politics or power structures. Whatever group has the power (whether political, monetary, military, or other) will be able to decide what knowledge is worthy of passing on in classrooms. Generally, education systems tend to perpetuate whatever systems are in place that keep power with those who already have it. Thus, in the United States the English variety used primarily by the well-off and educated is made to seem superior to other dialects, especially those used by black and Hispanic-origin Americans.

    Listen to one of my favorite cajun chefs; watch a clip of featuring “a sampling of the many neighborhood and class-based accents in New Orleans circa 1983 from the documentary YEAH YOU RITE! by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker” (the documentary is old and somewhat backwards; or search for “accent” on youtube and listen to the accents of different people all over the globe!

    However, what I was really wanting to get to was this video featuring an audio essay of sorts by Stephen Fry, in which he talks about his journey from language snob to understanding and accepting that there are different times and uses for different syntactical structures:

    “Most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances… But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There is no right language or wrong language any more than there are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention, and circumstance are all.”

    [Edit: For those of you interested, there are now 5 members of my class blogging about our reading. Check the others out if you’re ever craving more English ed blogs:]

    1st October 2011

    Knowing vs. Understanding

    Click here for a quick video clip.

    And another video clip to watch (don’t watch the whole thing unless you want to).

    And one more pre-post video clip.

    The clips above, from fantastic but very different programs, give examples of people who had some knowledge, but not a full understanding. When my niece was 3 or 4, she memorized the whole Christmas story word for word (can’t remember if it was Matthew or Luke’s version) by listening on a CD she had. She could repeat the whole thing if prompted. And if asked she would have understood some of the details, but at that age many of the “between the lines” elements of the story would have been beyond her grasp. She had knowledge but not full understanding of the story.

    Likewise, when I was in middle school, on a whim I memorized the first 40 or 50 elements, elemental numbers, and atomic masses in the periodic table. However, there was very little I could practically do with that knowledge until I was a high school AP Chemistry student, when that knowledge served me very well. Then I knew the various periodic trends and knowing exactly where the elements were located in the table allowed me to quickly balance reactions, among other things. But even then my knowledge of chemistry was such that I wouldn’t have been able to put it to use in creating a new, more efficient production method for an important chemical – something that chem grad students work on day in, day out. I had some knowledge, and some understanding, but not the ability to apply what I had learned.

    Each of those phases – knowing, understanding, applying – require different skills. This is one of the emphases of Wiggins and McTighe’s book, Understanding by Design, that I mentioned in an earlier post. They actually consider there to be six “facets” to understanding: Explanation, Interpretation, Application, Perspective, Empathy, and Self-Knowledge. As a former (and future I hope!) runner I still like to keep up with running news by checking on a site called Letsrun. On Letsrun there is a “World Famous Message Board” and on that message board community members post about running and all kinds of other topics. One topic is relationship advice. Now, a running website might not be the best place to go for relationship advice (here are some great thread examples), but I think that the advice given often reflect Wiggins and McTighe’s six facets of understanding.

    Most posters on these discussion threads usually ask for more information about the situation. They want to know the details before they give advice. Or they have standby advice that comes from others but not their own experience. Other posters will try to interpret the actions of the girl in question (90% of those on Letsrun are of the male persuasion). They’ll offer possible (or impossible/improbable, most of the time) explanations for the behavior in question. Next there will be folks who post advice of what to do based on their own experience. This is application. These posters will tell a fellow runner that what they need to do is just get out there and meet new girls to get over an ex, or to just go for it and ask that girl at the coffee shop out (what do you have to lose?!).

    There will also occasionally be either male posters who try to look at it from the girl’s perspective, or female posters who really do give the female perspective. They’ll say things like, “Don’t hit on her at work – all baristas get hit on and she’s probably just being nice because it’s her job…”

    Other posters will show how they feel for the OP (original poster) by letting him/her know how sorry they feel – some will even share from their own experiences and talk about how those situations turn out. Finally, some posters will try to turn the situation around on the OP and present it as a situation in which he or she can learn more about himself/herself.

    All of these responses are valid in some way and can help the OP understand the situation, even though they all come from different angles.

    Ok, I’m going to the USC-Arizona football game, so I need to finish this post! Have a wonderful Saturday and fight on!


    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.