Archive for the ‘Writing’ category

Coffee Stains: The Five People you meet in School

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I’ve just finished emailing a former student and saying that I couldn’t attend her wedding reception in a few weeks. And it’s got me thinking about a previous comment that I’ve made to a student when they asked “Do you like all of your students?” To which I replied simply “No.” And I think that conversation then pushed the limits of typical classroom scripting when the same student asked “Are there teachers here that you don’t like?” And I simply said “Of course.”

And you can probably see where the script goes from there…well actually this is more improv stuff as we’ve strayed from some point about Sentence Patten 2 and making sure that the verbs are in the same tense to create balance. It’s the stuff I like about school: the unscripted things.

“What teacher or teachers don’t you like?” he asks and before I can answer he says, wisely: “You said we can ask anything…you said that you are looking for us to ask honest questions…”

(I hope you can envision that smiling, smart alecky senior boy, trying to use the teacher’s words again him). It’s a double-dog dare moment and I still answer him truthfully in front of the class.

Nope, not going to tell you my response because you didn’t ask the question. But I think it may be safe to say that teachers are as much students in school as the students are.

My mom tells me that she simply couldn’t find me and that the office would call her and say “Mrs. Judson, your son is here at the school. Will you be picking him up?” The son was me and I was 4 years old. I wasn’t in preschool and I wasn’t enrolled. And here’s how I remember it:

When my mom wasn’t looking, I would simply walk down Washoe Court, turn left on Neotomas Ave, cross Tachevah Drive and walk across the amazingly large field to Yulupa Elementary school. You’d run into the original playground first (the one with “all things metal-tubed”: monkey bars, balancing bars, swinging bars and lots of kid-smashed sawdust). The community chipped in a couple years later (I think the National Guard even showed up) and built a huge playground to the southeast out of recycled tires. Anyway, from the playground you crossed the blacktop and headed through a corridor and I decided to turn right and opened the door in the corner.

No one saw me slip in and so I waited a moment, closed the door and saw that several classes were spread out this enormous open space (California was still playing with the open classroom concept). I scouted the groups, found one that seemed interesting, and simply plopped myself indian-style (as we called it then…now it’s “criss-cross apple sauce,” so my sons tell me) and listened to the story being told.

I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually (I think it was about an hour) I was asked a question by an adult (such as “So what is your name?”). And I remember her looking at me with that look. I think the expression was a cross between the look that Julie Vogel gave me after our first kiss and the look that Lois gives me when I say something in which I am trying to cross a social line. And I think it was my response that prompted the look, because, I’m told, I had a speech problem. Apparently, as my mom reminds me, I was inarticulate and what came out of my mouth sounded more Chinese than English.

[Insert way-too-obvious student quip here such as: “Not much has changed, eh?”]

The adult then walked me to the office (sort of that “lost boy in the big mall thing” scene) and I was greeted by soothing and understanding tones (yes, I could understand English…I just couldn’t speak it very well). The secretary (that’s what we called them back then) called my mother while I got to do “real school work”: color. Mom arrives, nervous smiles/apologies/thankyou’s, driving away in the 1968 Ford Galaxie.

I don’t think she yelled at me, but I think I remember some type of “You had me worried” thematic explanation. What I do remember is that I couldn’t wait to go back…and so I did–a year later–sort of legally. My mom’s gift to me was to sort of fudge my birthday date so that I could be in school a bit earlier than originally planned. And that was okay by me, because I couldn’t wait.

And I have to say, most days I still can’t wait to get to school. And I find that what I like and hate about school is about the same as when I was a student. Under the “Things I like” list, and at the top, is one of the reasons why I keep coming back. Sorry, it’s not students. They’re probably second or third. But really, it’s the same reason why students come to school: their friends. I like the people I work with. We drink coffee and occasionally go out to breakfast and, yes, we might even sit by the same people at lunch. We have stuff in common and we know each other and they let me hang around with them. Yes, students are a big part of my day, but frankly, you people don’t stick around for very long. I’m not sure if you realized this, but we get you for maybe an hour or two a trimester and then you’ve graduated. The constant in my work are the people I work with and that’s what brings me back.

Ah, I can see the smart alecky kid ready to ask about the things I hate and to that I will list the usual suspects (and, btw, some of these are fairly universal along many career lines):

  • A seemingly endless amount of non-classroom things-to-do that simply lack cohesion, for the purpose of trying to show something that the organization is not. (Busy work)
  • A loss of vision of what we are really here for and in its place check lists from outside experts who are not even practitioners of education. (Vision)
  • A underlying, smirky and patronizing attitude from the people that make the decisions– that don’t acknowledge the teacher as professional. (Respect)
  • A society that has given into the notion that one can effectively, efficiently, and accurately quantify learning. (People as numbers)
  • A belief that all people learn the same way and the same pace and that a moving target called a “benchmark” is the trump card for whether a student passes or fails. (No achievable goals)
  • A notion that education is the magic bullet for all of societies ills. (“We can always do better”)
  • A belief that students are simply not as smart as they were back when and that schools are simply watering down the basics of a good education.
  • And, my favorite: A “commonsense” notion that education’s purpose is to turn out better workers in society (say nothing about living and thinking).

I simply hate and abhor those things; some are out of ignorance and most are simply not true.

And I take a look at the list of things that I like and the things that I hate and I think “Not much has changed from when I was a student.” I have about five or so people that I really like and, I have control issues. And, I still sometimes show up in the classroom simply speaking something Chinese…oh, that’s for next year.

It’s nice to settle for Safari

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

I’m looking at a draft post that I never did finish. It’s about how I was getting frustrated with switching to a certain browser for specific tasks. Call me old-fashioned, but I want it my way and that way (in my perfect world) is that one browser should be able to do all of my basic InterNetTubes things I do: 

  1. Quick browsing
  2. Really good display of pages
  3. Ability to enter text into a html text field (or something like it).

Specifically, WordPress and Moodle text fields.And up to this point, Safari always met the first two requirements but always failed on the third one.Bummer.And so, here’s what I was typing 4 months back as I was working through my browser-angst:

I’m writing this entry in Safari to see if I can do the “Code” work around to get the post to look how it ought to.See, for any of my usual browsing, feed-reading, emailing, Safari is great. I have an older machine with limited resources available, and I would rather use the Cocoa app that is known as Safari.But, for the times when I want to do any text-editing windows, Safari simply will not render the correct editing toolbar. Thus, I have to switch over to Camino (which is also lightweight and snappy) to do editing on two of my major sites: vergil66.com (a Moodle-based site) and vergilscoffee.com (a WordPress.com site).Here’s what I mean:Moodle-editing (vergil66.com)This is my main classroom site throughout the school year and I am constantly updating information, communicating with students and posting assignments. The typical set-up in creating an assignment or any text-based item has a html-edit area as follows:(Dang, I just saved my WordPress post for this piece and now all the formating is gone:          

BTW, that’s exactly how the editing came out: one big long text block. But not anymore with the recent update to Safari. In their blog post, the developer folk over at WebKit mention the improvements and my particular priority (#3) was addressed as their #1.

1. Enhanced Rich Text Editing As you browse the web with a WebKit 3 based browser, you will get a complete and functional rich text editing experience on the new read-write web. Here’s a sweet demo of our improved editing support, just click the text and editing controls appear.Specifically, we have worked together with developers of RTE libraries and applications to improve compatibility. WebKit 3 fixes many bugs, and supports additional text editing features like links and lists. We now have support from web applications like WordPressGoogle DocsGMailBlogger, and many more. We’ve also improved editing to support libraries like TinyMCE and FCKeditor. We expect even more web apps and toolkits to add support over time.       

My Moodle editing issue hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t affect me as much anymore: most of my editing for that site is done from another computer.Thanks WebKit bugwatching-developer folk; thanks for listening and improving a really good browser.  

Update: my post, as you can see, was a bit premature: WordPress editing looks good when you’re editing, but gets lumped together (esp. paragraphing). I don’t know, when I use Camino and other browsers, if I hit Return in the editing field and it will show up as a new paragraph…not so with Safari (BTW, I’m using the most recent build of WebKit). So, I suppose I will continue to switch back and forth between Safari for #1 and #2, Camino for #3.  (and the only way to get this last paragraph to paragraph was to enter in the <p> tags manually) <sigh>.

The Things I Love

Sunday, 25 November 2007

We’re back from the 9th annual family gathering of the Bickels (Lois’ parents and Lois’ brother, his wife [Jinger] and their son), the Certalics (Jinger’s parents) and us on Thanksgiving weekend in Schaumburg, IL (home of the Woodfield Mall<= really big).

And, for the last 9 years, we had all read the same book and had a book talk (this year: A Thousand Splendid Sunsets [Hosseini of The Kite Runner]). At the suggestion by Lois, we each created a list of “Things we loved” that didn’t include the usual things like family or country or belief-like items. I scribbled mine on the back of notes from a little talk that I gave the editors of the Student Publications class and found more room on the hotel’s small notepad paper. It was interesting to hear each person’s list and was in general a pretty cool to do.

Try it sometime…or now–as a response to this post–it’s fun. It’s not so much in making this list, but sharing it with someone else who has made the list too.

So, here’s mine:

The Things I love:

  • Venti Bold lots of room for cream with four packets of Sugar in the Raw from Starbucks at 7:07 a.m. before school.
  • New England Clam Chowder with sour dough bread at The Tides restaurant in Bodega Bay, California.
  • The Mac OS X OS with its Unix core underneath and the bling bling of the UI on our eMac.
  • That each Bickel has a bottle of nasal spray on their night stand.
  • Celtic Women, Riverdance, and “Danny Boy.”
  • Most BBC comedies.
  • Netflixing with Lois.
  • Colin’s red hair and Evan’s hitting the floor.
  • Making Ken and Doris coffee.
  • The first bass note in a song.
  • The pictures of Lois and me at the Japanese Tea Gardens (Golden Gate Park) in 1989 and 2001.
  • The beginning, middle and end of a marathon.
  • My 2007 Grand Rapids Marathon shirt.
  • NPR (“Wait, wait…Don’t Tell me,” “This American Life,” and “Speaking of Faith”).
  • Troubleshooting a website’s code and the moment when it works as it ought to.
  • Writing in a black marble composition book.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge on a bright foggy day.
  • My running shoes.
  • My Timberland shoes.
  • A 1988 Ford Festiva.
  • Building inuksuk on the Lake Michigan shore in Milwaukee, WI.
  • The flatness of the Midwest.
  • When Lois calls me a jackass.

Coffee Stains: A Haiku Moment

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

I’m going to avoid a nifty post about how sometimes students’ papers are much like “flaming bags of poop”; partly because my last “Coffee Stain” was about plumbing, but mostly because it’s the humor that my sons really like.

So, instead, I’d like to tell you about what prompted Spencer to ask (or retort):

“So, you should be practicing what you preach, eh?” Or something like that.

I think I blame much of the bad writing in student essays and papers on the film Dead Poets Society. It’s that notion that if one just takes all of that angst and emotive power and focuses it into a poem or a writing, that the “feeling” will overshadow all of the “plumbing” of writing (mechanics, usage, grammar) and a thing of beauty will be called into existence.

“Carpe Diem!” Mr. Keating shouts and now you have the confidence to ask the girl out and act in the play on the heels of “sucking all the marrow” out of life.

Actually, I think what was born in that edenic moment were occasions for Xanga and MySpace.

You see why I wanted to write “flaming bags of poop”? But, I resist.

Spencer was responding to my “working through the editing process” that we English teachers talk about in our classes. For some reason, the last three weeks has had me writing three formal pieces: a conference proposal, an article for an educational writing journal and a grant proposal. All of the writings are done (yes, I met my deadlines) and have been sent to their various locales. The most difficult one was the grant proposal as it took more time than usual to figure out the form of the writing.

At one point I think I actually said to the screen “I hate you.”

I had the “stuff” or the details of my proposal, but the way (or, yes, the rhetorical strategy) I was presenting the case for my grant just wasn’t happening. So I did what I usually do in these situations and found an audience who could hear me out (this conversation usually begins with “Hey, I wanted your opinion on this…”). Of course I don’t want the listener’s opinion as much as hearing my voice talk through the options.

The reason: I want to avoid the “flaming bag of poop” type of writing that sometimes comes across my desk.

Sure, I want the grant, I want the article to be published, yes, I want to present at a conference. But more than those nice things, I write for the same reason I run marathons: to amuse myself. It has little to do with “success” (what an impossible, shifty word that is) nor “fame” (though I might not “live forever” the words still hang around…maybe). No, there’s usually a little nuance or something newish that “happens” when I run or when I’m writing something for my writing group or even when I “twitter.” I sometimes refer to those little ironic times as “haiku moments” (it’s the most Oprahish I get, people).

My understanding of the haiku is just that: not so heavy on the form that we’ve restricted it to, but more how the form affects it’s function. Remember: the first two lines are some observation (many times a common place setting) and the last line grins some bit of ironic twist.

A lot of times it is something of nature that somehow crosses my path (as in Mile 17 in the Sunburst Marathon last June, when in the literal heat of the moment, a turtle crossed my path and I resisted carrying the thing across the finish line: that would be a human thing to do, wouldn’t it?). You can’t anticipate these moments, they just happen.

It’s mostly a Halloween prank, but when you really want to “get” someone down the street from you, I’ve been told what you should do: grab some of the dog droppings from the neighbor’s house, put it in a paper bag, and then place that “gift” on the recipient’s of your passive-aggressive wrath. Light bag, ring doorbell, run. The gag: the person answers the door, thinks there’s a fire and they then step on the “flaming bag of poop.”

It’s not that I’m trying to scrape stuff on my teacher shoes from the papers that I’ve received recently or that I find that writing is worse today compared to the days when students “really cared.” No, I’m merely amusing myself because the 11-year-old just saw a word on my screen and it made him smile and laugh and say with amazing glee “Poooooooooop.”

Coffee Stains: Gunk in the drain

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Salvete, discipulae et discipuli!

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I got here. This was exactly what was going through my mind last weekend when I was unclogging the upstairs bathroom sink.

I didn’t grow up with any special knowledge of plumbing, but when something is overflowing or making gross noises, I get the nod. Perhaps it’s by proxy or process of elimination, either way it’s the expectation and I was pondering that all-important existential question as I looked down the drain and my suspicions were confirmed: months of hair and body stuff stopping the flow of water.

Most people will go with a liquid drain opener and so I did the same: poured the stuff down and waited the 15 minutes and then “flushed” with hot water. It almost never works. It amazes me that during times such as these, that I really pay attention to the details and sequence of the directions. It is as if I think that the mighty Genie of Unobstructed Drains will grant my wish and do the thing that I don’t want to do.

And it almost never works the way it is promised.

So, like millions of other folks with clogged drains, we eventually surrender to the reality of the situation and get the hands dirty. And by dirty, we’re talking about the greasegrime that stains–even tattoos–the occasion for weeks to follow. Still, the foolish ones, will get yet another brand of liquid drain opener from another store just to make sure (this, my friends, is called desperation and good marketing).

And it will not work and I speak from experience on this.

After removing the J-trap (yes, that is the term) from the sink (take a look at what’s hidden in underneath the sink sometime…it’s actual a simple contraption and is pretty cool) and the excess water will spill out (yes, you have to put a bucket under it: plumbing is all about puddles of water). Using my powers of reasoning, I deduced that the 11-month hair-skin-gunk traffic jam is between the stopper and the now-open pipe. Enter in a wire hanger: very handy for poking and grabbing things at distances and various angles.

The evolving blob got stuck on the natural hook on the end of the hanger which meant that I had to physically touch the toxic matter. (And, yes, I actually said “Ewww”).

I’m pretty good at putting things back together and cleaning up the area for normal traffic flow. And so I did and I couldn’t help but smile at a “job well done!” from the plumbing gods who were really messing with me because of the apparent “ease” of the previous week’s replacing of the seal on the toilet.

The expectation at this point is to make some connection with my little ditty about plumbing (and all of it’s ickiness) and life, but I’m not. Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m trying to point out to you that when you procrastinate, it’ll only make things worse. Maybe, I could say that after you do a task that you really don’t want to do, but know you have to do, that you actually have a good feeling about yourself and perhaps, even get a bit giddy.

Or, and probably more likely, I just want you to take a look at what the plumbing looks like under your sink.

Valete,

Magister Judson

Enjoying the “Gettysburg Address”

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Inspired by the PowerPoint wizard’s treatment of “The Gettysburg Address,” I decided to play with a pair of Unix analysis programs– style and diction— and see what would happen to Lincoln’s famous speech.

Here’s the original speech:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And now the analysis (style first, then diction):

readability grades:
Kincaid: 10.2
ARI: 12.1
Coleman-Liau: 9.1
Flesch Index: 70.4
Fog Index: 13.4
Lix: 40.8 = school year 6
SMOG-Grading: 10.1
sentence info:
1149 characters
272 words, average length 4.22 characters = 1.29 syllables
10 sentences, average length 27.2 words
50% (5) short sentences (at most 22 words)
10% (1) long sentences (at least 37 words)
3 paragraphs, average length 3.3 sentences
0% (0) questions
60% (6) passive sentences
longest sent 82 wds at sent 10; shortest sent 11 wds at sent 3
word usage:
verb types:
to be (8) auxiliary (11)
types as % of total:
conjunctions 5(13) pronouns 16(44) prepositions 9(24)
nominalizations 2(5)
sentence beginnings:
pronoun (5) interrogative pronoun (0) article (2)
subordinating conjunction (0) conjunction (1) preposition (0)

Diction

gettysburg.txt:3: Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing [whether -> (avoid using “or not” after “whether,” unless you mean “regardless of whether”)] that nation, or any nation [so -> (do not use as intensifier)] conceived and [so -> (do not use as intensifier)] dedicated, [can -> (do not confuse with “may”)] long endure.

gettysburg.txt:3: We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that [that -> Double word.] nation [might -> (do not confuse with “may”)] live.

gettysburg.txt:5: But, in a larger sense, we [can not -> (use “cannot” unless you want to put special emphasis on the word “not”)] dedicate — we [can not -> (use “cannot” unless you want to put special emphasis on the word “not”)] consecrate — we [can not -> (use “cannot” unless you want to put special emphasis on the word “not”)] hallow — this ground.

gettysburg.txt:5: The world [will -> (shall is sometimes used with first person pronouns and the future tense. It expresses something you believe will happen, not something that you are determined to do. A drowning man shouts: “I shall drown, no one will save me!”)] little note, [nor -> Restrict to following “neither”, but do not use instead of “or” in negative expressions.] long remember what we say here, but it [can -> (do not confuse with “may”)] never forget what [they -> (do not use as substitute for “each, each one, everybody, every one, anybody, any one, somebody, some one”)] did here.

gettysburg.txt:5: It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work [which -> (use “that” if clause is restrictive)] [they -> (do not use as substitute for “each, each one, everybody, every one, anybody, any one, somebody, some one”)] who fought here have thus far [so -> (do not use as intensifier)] nobly advanced.

gettysburg.txt:5: It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for [which -> (use “that” if clause is restrictive)] [they -> (do not use as substitute for “each, each one, everybody, every one, anybody, any one, somebody, some one”)] gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead [shall -> (shall is sometimes used with first person pronouns and the future tense. It expresses something you believe will happen, not something that you are determined to do. A drowning man shouts: “I shall drown, no one will save me!”)] not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, [shall -> (shall is sometimes used with first person pronouns and the future tense. It expresses something you believe will happen, not something that you are determined to do. A drowning man shouts: “I shall drown, no one will save me!”)] have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the [people -> Do not use with numbers or as substitute for “public”.], by the [people -> Do not use with numbers or as substitute for “public”.], for the [people -> Do not use with numbers or as substitute for “public”.], [shall -> (shall is sometimes used with first person pronouns and the future tense. It expresses something you believe will happen, not something that you are determined to do. A drowning man shouts: “I shall drown, no one will save me!”)] not perish from the earth.

23 phrases in 10 sentences found.

Permacloud has lifted; welcome Mr. Sunshine!

Saturday, 10 March 2007

And for the 14-miler this morning, I over-dressed and had to take off the hat and gloves by Mile 9 and eventually had to do that thing we used to do in elementary school: tie the coat around the waist. I felt a tad school-aged, but it was getting a bit warm (+45f) and bright running back into town.

The run itself was a bit rough with more walking than I usually like, but it did mark my first run out on CR32 (also known as the “hilly” way–as if Indiana is known for it’s topography). The inclines were a nice change and the “crying hill” (Mile 6) went off with few tears. Listened to “Wait, wait…don’t tell me” and Tony Snow was the guest for “Not My Job” and then listened to Bruce Hornsby’s compilation Intersections (very cool, still). The “Fortune SonComfortably Numb” combo is incredible and I usually find myself doing a repeat on the iPod shuffle.

Finishing up on the writing gig thing and should get the final out tomorrow night. No sure on what my rights are on posting the piece, but when I can, I tell you more about it.