978-793-1553 fitz@johnfitz.com
Teach Like a Shop Teacher

Teach Like a Shop Teacher

 Teaching Traditional & Modern Skills for Reading, Writing, Creating & Sharing in a Digital World

Create a Better Classroom

for You & Your Students

 

Teaching Traditional & Modern Skills

for Reading, Writing, Creating & Sharing in a Digital World

Teach Like a Woodshop Teacher

A Workshop Forum & Presentation

 

 

Tools & Tips for Building a Dynamic Classroom

 

Video Essays

Creating video essays out of traditionally constructed essays bring a whole new dynamic and range of possibilities for every student. A hard wrought and well-crafted essay is no longer a static piece of paper tucked away in a teacher’s desk or stashed in a crowded hallway locker. It is a multi-dimensional project that is shared with the world. Check out some of these that were created by my eighth and ninth grade classes.

It’s Over: A Final Reflection

~Paul, Eighth Grade

A Trip with Thoreau

~Charlie, 9th Grade

A New Way of Creating Rubrics

No longer will the term “rubric” create dread in your students. The Crafted Word Rubrics are not checklists; they are guides to help students respond to almost any assignment in a clear and confident way. 

Try them out!

    Few of us can do well if we don’t feel confident in what we are doing, but neither can that confidence be a misplaced confidence that is more succinctly called arrogance–a presumption of skill rather than an actual skill. Every time I create a teaching unit or plan a lesson–or even when I sit down to write something like this–I have to ask myself: “Do I really know what I am teaching, and am I teaching what I know in a way that all of my students are learning what I presume I am teaching?” I have to keep asking myself if I am the sage on the stage or the guide on the side; I have to keep asking if I am teaching essential skills and content or am I teaching what some reading workbook or English composition textbook says I should teach. Thankfully, at heart, I am still the shop teacher I have been for almost twenty years, but I am also the writer and teacher of writing I have been for more years than that. 

    Teaching shop is pretty cool because every kid comes into the shop with an untamed enthusiasm and eagerness to build something that is already in his or her head, and they are remarkably unfazed by their limited woodworking skills or by the scope of their dreams. I remember well an old student of mine who came into seventh-grade shop some years ago with detailed plans for building a one-man submersible submarine (as if you could build a non-submersible submarine:) and he begged me to give him a chance to try and build his design. Somehow he settled for something like a knapkin holder, but I heard the other day that he is now in Navy Seal training, so his ultimate dream never died; however, he learned that dreams can be realized and built out of a series of steps, an accumulation of skills forged out of the iron of real life and a dogged clinging to a vision of what he ultimately wanted to build.

    Young writers (all writers) need that dream and vision, too. They need to love the possibilities that writing offers to build something as awesome and real as a six-board chest or a sparrow whittled out of a piece white pine. They need to go to the empty page with the same sense of possibility as the kid walking into the woodshop, and they need to want to learn the skills that will get them to a place they want to be as craftsmen and craftswomen of words and sentences and paragraphs and stories. Most importantly, they need a place and a way to learn and practice those skills: a workshop of their own to walk into and dream and learn and create.

Thoughts...

Thoughts…

The Woodshop as a Metaphor
 
THOUGHT: The woodshop is a metaphor for what should be possible in the classroom
 
 
Points:

  1. “Ah, the shop!”  It smells good!

  2. They can move: 

  3. They get to use cool tools

  4. They learn to “cut the board all the way through.”

  5. They need help–hence collaboration is natural and reciprocal.

  6. Their hands work as much as their heads.

  7. They own what they are building–and it has a purpose and a destiny.

  8. They get the teachers undivided attention–at least some of the time.

  9. The teacher leaves them alone–most of the time.

  10. Mistakes are fixed, not criticized.

  11. They “never” worry about their shop grade.

  12. They are surrounded by the future possibilities of shop class.
     
  13. They can see that building their toolbox is just a first step towards something like a boat, a chair, a bed, a table, a sculpture, etc: [We can do this in the classroom by having publishing parties, sharing digital portfolios, blogging—anything that allows students to see where their education is going.]

  14. There is a completion of a cycle: Though my students usually have smaller whittling projects going on the side, there is always one “big” project that takes them the entire term to complete, and it is always a source of pride.

  15. What you build stays with you for your life, if you wish.
 
 
 
How Is Your Classroom Experienced?
Thought…
Your classroom should reflect your students needs, not your comfort zone–and definitely not a pedagogy which is not your own.
 
 
Points…

  1. A class is a physical place but also a metaphysical place:

  2. We can alter both the physical and the psychical to create a better classroom.

  3. What does your classroom look like?

  4. Is it yours? Or are you part of the shared classroom model?

  5. Does it reflect that part of you that you want to reflect.

  6. What does your classroom feel like?

  7. Where do you sit, stand, or move when teaching? (There really is not a right way if it keeps the students engaged, interested, and ready).

  8. Is there any cool factor? 

  9. Is your class any different than the classroom next door? Should it be? 

  10. What is the temperature of the emotional warmth?


 
Experiment #1…
 
At your next faculty meeting have the faculty sit in rows of desks.  Raise hands only if you know the answer.

  • Only 30% can respond
  • No talking allowed when leaving the room. 
  • The results of the problem are never published.


 
Experiment #2…
 
Have another faculty meeting where a common school problem or issue is presented and ask if small groups could possibly come up with some solutions. Have this group meet in a room with comfortable chairs or couches, and some refreshments. Let this group present their solutions to the rest of the faculty.

  • Hmmm. How would it go?
 
Respond To the Primal Needs of Your Students
Thought…
 
How do you respond to and prepare for the real and most primal and essential needs of your students?
 
 
Points:

  1. They need you to be genuine: if you can’t then you shouldn’t teach.

  2. Notice them. As much for the good as the bad. Class Dojo maybe?

  3. Say hello when they show up for class. Students need affirmation that they are welcome in your classroom.

  4. Give feedback–verbal, visual, & written. They need affirmation that their efforts on your behalf will never go unnoticed and unappreciated.

  5. Show students you care about more than how they are doing in your class. This is where the power of blogging is unparalleled. In the shop, the very nature of the mentoring makes kids feel connected because the shop teacher really is helping “them.” 

  6. Say goodbye when your students leave: make some sort of tradition surrounding the end of class. Your students last impression is a huge one, so make your goodbye a good and affirming ritual.

  7. Have special days, reward days, random acts of “let’s do something different days.
 
What Does an Engaged Student Look Like?
Thought…
 
What does an engaged student look, act and feel like?
 
 
Points:

  • What is Engagement and what does it took like?

  • How do we create an engaging classroom?

  • How do we nurture and sustain engaged students?

  • How do we assess engagement?

  • Create Rubrics, Folio’s, Videos, and blogging communities.

  • You know it when you see it.

  • An engaged student is willing and happy to figure it out.
  • An engaged student feels like he or she has accomplished something worthwhile.

  • An engaged student appreciates the value and or necessity of the content.

  • An engaged student is alert, involved, and curious.

  • An engaged student “can’t believe shop is over.”

  • An engaged student will actually talk about what they did in class while driving home–and they might even bring it up on their own.

  • An engaged feels like his or her time in your class is time well spent!
What Does a Disengaged Student Look Like?
Thought…
 
It seems like there are a few switches that engage students, but a lot more that turn them off and disengage and disaffect, so focus on what turns them on–and keeps them on!
 
 
Points…

    1. They can’t move.

    2. Everything is boring.

    3. The content and delivery is predictable.

    4. They can only use a pencil and paper.

    5. They work on their own—even when struggling with the basic concepts.

    6. Their heads are exhausted.

    7. Their bodies are exhausted.

    8. They’re hungry.

    9. They don’t know how to do what they are being asked to do.

    10. They only get help when they raise their hands.

    11. There is nothing palpable to show when class is done.

    12. They don’t know what they just learned?

    13. They don’t know how they did it?

    14. There is no endgame.

    15. The teacher hates them.
 
….And, yes, the list can go on as long as there is strength in the body.

 

Limits, Rules, Expectations & Values
Thought…
 
Kids spend a huge portion of their childhood in your classroom. What “family values” can and/or should carry over to your classroom?
 
 
POINTS…

  1. Set Rules, Limits, Expectations with the same passion and resolve as you would with your family.

  2. Let them in!

  3. Set rules, standards & expectations.

  4. Create traditions.

  5. Do fun things together.

  6. Laugh a lot and tell stories.

  7. Point out right and wrong. The moral compass!

  8. Forgive and Move on.

  9. Treat everyone equally. Get rid of tracking unless absolutely essential! It is a caste system by any other name.

  10. Treat each student uniquely: know your kids, accept them for who they are. This is quite different than being a “friend” to your students.
 
Create Possibility
I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government 
from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. 
~Thomas Jefferson
 
 
 
Thought…
 
We need to give our students projects and possibilities that they create, own, oversee, and present. We should not try to own what they create.
 
 
 
Points…

  1. There should always be a project going on.

  2. Projects should include collaborative and individual work.

  3. There should always be some sort of self-assessment.
  4. Students need to be able to claim genuine ownership, be free to pursue new directions and ideas, and exercise responsible and mature judgement when developing and creating that project.
  5. There needs to be an endgame of sorts–some way to showcase and curate that work for future generations to share.
The Power of Portfolios
Thought…
 
We need to create portfolios that capture and collate a history of every student’s journey through school.
 
 
Points…

  1. Collect. Collate. Curate: A new mantra for change!

  2. Our profession is only possible because of those who collected, collated and curated our bodies of literature, art, philosophy, history, and culture.

  3. Metacognition: It is important to remember, reflect and respond as a way of understanding who and how we are as learners (and teachers).

  4. Use journaling as a way to enable and practice metacognition.

  5. There are practical and affordable(as in free)  ways to start doing this today!  

  6. There is no downside. You are just being lazy if you don’t! (sorry)
 
The Perils, Pitfalls & Promises of Technology
Thought…
We need to start bridging the digital divides that are separating teachers and department and find fertile ground (not common ground) to allow our collective and individual digital fluency to evolve in a dynamic and energizing way.
 

 
Points…

  1. Are technology decisions being made for the right reasons?

  2. Are there a few people making the decisions for all of you?

  3. Do you want it that way?

  4. What is holding you back from using more–not less–technology?

  5. Does technology engage or simply distract?

  6. Does it simplify or complify (I need this word to exist)?

  7. Keep the focus on focus!

  8. Does technology make you grumpy?

  9. Do you, as a teacher, fully grasp the implications, limitations, and possibilities of technology?

  10. Is being engaged with and connected with a broader, diverse world important to a child’s education—to you?
 

 
What works…
 
  • Managing classes and curriculum: Using an LMS such as Schoology, Edmodo, Haiku, Canvas, Moodle, Lore, etc., allows for easy access and sharing of assignments, grades, student and parent communication and a relative transparency of process.

  • Allows parents to “see” children’s grades as they are posted: [See “What doesn’t work” ]

  • Extending the classroom: online discussions, portfolio sharing, flipped classrooms…

  • Increasing collaborative opportunities.

  • Leveling the playing field.

  • Rethinking pedagogy.

  • Teaches how to manage a digital footprint
 
 
What doesn’t work…
  • That which attracts, distracts–and vice versa–that which distracts, attracts…

  • Complicates the classroom experience: too many logons, computers don’t always work, not enough access at home, hard to find work.

  • Allows parents to “see” children’s grades as they are posted.

  • Introduces a world the kids may not be ready for emotionally

  • The learning is too distant from the classroom: kids don’t bond with each other in the same way.
How To Help Teachers

Thought…

How do you help teachers who are struggling to engage their students?  How do you help teachers let go and grow and love and cope and change?

 

Points…

  1. As a teacher, you are the root of the problem or the source of inspiration. [No one wants to admit that they are not able to do well what they’ve been hired to do, nor do schools, private schools in particular, like to air their dirty laundry, and so change is made behind closed doors; administrators give advice, make demands, and press the issue and the teachers being questioned are fearful of losing their jobs, bitter at being unfairly targeted, and often still unable to change.

  2. Metacognition: Encourage teachers to “self reflect.” Explore and possibly embrace initiatives such as The Folio Project. [It has to start with how can we best adapt, change, evolve–whatever–in ways that make us better, more engaging, more joyful, and more effective teachers.]

  3.  What can schools do to help teachers be more engaged and engaging?

  4. Set high, yet realistic, standards that encourage and enable teachers to feel empowered and energized by their career choice.

  5. Let teachers make the best use of their time.

  6. Get rid of content driven faculty meetings and focus on process driven meetings that invite participation, reflection, and renewal—stuff that might possibly energize, enlighten and transform—not simply educate and inform.

  7. Do all meetings have to be synchronous? 

  8. Do all meetings need to be mediated by the same few people with responses generated by the same few teachers?

  9. USE TECHNOLOGY WISELY: Use discussion threads and require teachers to respond within a given time frame.
  10. Post power points and/or presentations online with a comment thread instead of making teachers sit through them.

  11. Take steps to lessens the work and time that keeps teachers from the core expectations of their jobs. Many schools still operate under the assumption that our parents only hear from us once or twice a semester, and so schools place great value on formal communications: conferences; mid-term comments; end of semester letters, etc, all without any built in time to accomplish these tasks in the course of their school days.

  12. Meet less or meet more, but never meet just to touch base unless it is a truly mutual meeting. 

  13. Consider allocating days to parent meetings (a lot of schools already do this).

  14. Have a comment writing and proofreading professional day. If you give teachers the time—even if they do not use that time when it is given.

  15. Use an LMS/CMS that is open, interactive, and dynamic and which gives teachers room to evolve in their teaching practices and maintain communication with students, advisors, and parents.

 

Reflections

Reflections…

Are You Ready?

 

        Writing an essay for me is relatively simple. I choose what I want to write about, and I start writing. There is not a soul in the world who is expecting anything out of this essay—or even know it is being created, which will be great if it dies an early and ignominious death. I don’t have a teacher pushing me in any one direction–like I am pushing you. The writing prompt and the inspiration is already in me; but, though I try to write well, there are no real-life repercussions when I don’t write well.  My audience for this (which is you—my upper school English class) is remarkably small and polite, and as much as I’d like to think that you are captivated by my writing, I know that in reality you are a “captive” to my writing, because, as my students, you are a prisoner in my classroom. You are somewhat doomed to read what I write, but your actual freedom to write is hobbled by a teacher who is intent on extracting (by what must sometimes feel like any means possible) what you know and think about a narrow range of literature–in this case, the first chapter of Walden: the essay called “Economy.” Throw into the mix your other classes and what do you get: a few more books, an era or two of some history; some idea of why leaves turn red; a handy way discerning volume from the breadth and width of a fruit–a smattering of Spanish words or Latin roots: a bookshelf from shop and an abstract oil painting for your wall.  Don’t forget your soccer and football teams, the school play, band, and student life, and now your day is completely filled.
 
But is it full?
 
It is certainly filled with an exhausting range of activities designed and structured to educate, enlighten, inform, and inspire. Your teachers are a diverse mix of people who really do give a damn about you and who spend more time than you might ever imagine trying to create and perpetuate this living and breathing machine called school, but, as Thoreau writes, “we[teachers and students] labor under a mistake.” We fill the day, but we rarely fulfill the possibilities of each day, and we never will until we remove the blinders that keep us on the beaten path. Frightening as it sounds, the lunatics must run the asylum: students must be allowed to take the reins and become learners and explorers, while teachers and administrators must adapt or die.  “New ways for the new; old ways for the old.” (HDT) The world really is a different place now. The “noosphere” or “omega point” predicted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin almost a hundred years ago is becoming a reality.  People can be–and are–connected in ways unimaginable to the visionaries and teachers who broke the backs of tradition to create the schools we have today. But times have changed. The desk is more a ball and chain of myopic restraint, while our opportunities for true learning–for all of us–have never been greater. 
 
Something has to give. Society and its schools have become as much slaves to assessment as we are creators of destiny. Measuring someone by “the content of their character” seldom makes it onto report cards. Instead, we measure your progress and achievements with a reptilian calculation of the merits and deficiencies of your responses to specific inquiries and lessons we are convinced we have taught well.  We critique what and how you write, but rarely consider why you write.  Though we seem compassionate and practice empathy, we still erect a barrier that only a few of you can get over unscathed–and those are the celebrated few:  the smart, hard-working, and diligent students who somehow manage to do it all. Everyone else plays catch me if you can, and so this paradigm is set in motion, and it becomes the foundation of almost every school and university in the world. The gifted student becomes a recognizable icon, sculpted, shaped, and polished by the whims of academia. As parents we stumble over each other trying to weave our child’s place on the honor roll or his or her SAT scores–or even the average score of the whole town in comparison to every other school in the district–into the most casual of conversations. On the flip side of this coin, these honors are hardly as respected by peers and classmates (perhaps because  they sense the inherent fraud and advantage to the system) and past prowess as a student soon makes for unsavory and indelicate talk even just mere hours after graduation.   
 
Maybe doing well in school is not such an impressive accomplishment. It is pretty cool that we have a black president raised by a single mom–and we use this as praise for what educational opportunities can do; but history is full of great individuals who rose from humble beginnings. It is a recurring theme of humanity itself. It is part and parcel of what Joseph Campbell has termed “The Heroic Cycle.”  Schools do not create greatness; our primal need to be great is what creates greatness. No one reading this is precluded from realizing his or her individual greatness. We don’t have to be Telemachus facing up to the rowdy suitors in his house, but all of us have challenges that are unmet and untested, and we must meet them and we must test them if we want to be a hero. There is courage and strength of each of us, but not as much motivation, perhaps because the tools we use in school are not the best motivators. We instill as much fear as desire, and there is a subtle paralysis that takes hold. Only if the doors open wider and the walls fall down will we see the expanse of our opportunities–and only if you give enough of a damn to reach for the dream at hand, and then only if you see the dream. Realizing your dream should be your accomplishment, and layering dream upon dream should be your life.
 
Life has a way of doling out hardship in unequal proportions, but school should not be one of them. There is certainly very little that is fair about who goes to what school, but that is the unspoken inequity. We praise the notion of an egalitarian educational system, but we shudder at the thought of implementation.  Few of my Concord friends would ship their sons and daughters to our schools in Maynard because…well, just because.  Ironically, few of my Maynard friends would feel comfortable with their sons and daughters trying to mingle in a Concord milieu.  And so we keep up a pleasant caste system that feeds off the tension between the rich and the poor. It’s like the old camp song: “Don’t chuck your muck in my backyard/my backyard’s full,” but because of the internet, our backyards have merged; the demarcation line is blurred, and there really is a chance for every kid to play on the same field–if we let them.  Caesar accidentally burned down the Royal Library at Alexandria; we shouldn’t do the same with our new library of knowledge. During the first solo circumnavigation of the world, the Afrikaners in South Africa scoffed at Joshua Slocum’s claims that the world was round, even as he was ninety percent of the way around the globe!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if our schools lost the race for knowledge because we dithered at the starting gate?  
 
I certainly did not start this narrative with any plans to take on our educational system.  Sharper minds than mine could tear this essay apart, but only because they have had so many generations to practice.  The hurricane yesterday gave me a rare gift of time today, so I was just hoping to give you a few words to help you get started on your Walden essay. Words have that effect on me.  Maybe my own rereading of Walden made me listen more closely to the drumbeat of my heart no matter how measured or far away; maybe in these political times of gloating,  bitching, and belittling I didn’t want to be one of the thousand hacking at the branches of evil; I wanted to be the one striking at the root. The beauty and bane of Thoreau’s words is how easily they can prove either side of an argument, and my mind is so scattered that I could never get around to organizing all the facts; instead, I’ve simply scattered some seeds among the compost of my experience. Hopefully, one or two will be like the mustard seeds in that parable of Jesus. If not, I’ll have to till again and plant more thoughtfully.

All I know is what I sense: change is coming, and if you have your wits about you, you will be riding the edge of that wave. 
 

Do You Really Want to Be a Teacher?
Let Kids Write
 
        There are plenty of smarter, more gifted, and more interesting writers out there than me or you–but there shouldn’t be a more passionate writer. For better or worse, your blog is you–as my blog is me, and until you want a better you and I want a better me, readers will find another place to go.

         Few things in life are more important than having a passion for something. It is an offshoot of “give damn.” To have a life without a focus on some something or somethings to do and explore and develop on your own is a pretty pitiful life. When I was your age, I had a rock collection that filled a bazillion egg crates with chippings and scrapings I hammered off ; I had snake and reptile aquariums that had specimens of most any cold-blooded creature in the White Pond area of Concord. I had a shortwave radio that I made with my father–and a huge antenna on the roof to help pick up conversations happening anywhere in the world. I had a collection of fishing poles and rods and reels and lures and baits to somehow tease trout, bass, horned pout, kibbers, pickerel and anything else out of the Concord River, Walden Pond, the Assabet, Nashoba Brook and Warner’s Pond. Best of all my family had a plywood sailfish sailboat my father built in our garage from plans he got in somehow to magazine, and in that 12 feet of arc, I got my first taste of sailing–a taste that is as strong today as it was back then. My bedroom was a mess of magazine both strewn and piled–but always read: Boy’s Life, Popular Mechanics, Popular ScienceField and StreamSears Roebuck, National Geographics and any other magazine, book, or journal that fed my passions. Most of those publications are still around to buy in some way today, but there is an even larger world of bloggers out there who cover everything those magazines covered–and a whole lot more. These blogs and websites are where people go to feed their passions and develop their own knowledge and skills. It is where you go and where I go, and the better the blog or the better the site, the more often we return, and the more we return–the more of a mark that writer has left on the world. And that mark says something about that person. You. Something good, I hope.

    In ancient Rome there was a saying: “De gustabus non disputantum,”otherwise known as “There is no accounting for taste,” which is a good thing because it keeps the world to this day interesting, diverse, and dynamic. We don’t have to like what other people like, nor are there any compelling reasons why we should–but we should like something; we should want to be knowledgeable about something, and be good at something, and to constantly be getting better at something. Think of your passions, and think of what you can do to live out that passion or passions and share it with the world. Think of what you are going to leave behind as your footprints in this life. You do not want to be like the drunk sailor Elpenor who fell off the roof and died a death that no one remembers or cares about. As Odysseus himself said: “No songs will be sung about him.” Your “digital footprint” is the song that is sung about you.

     When I first started blogging with my classes–now close to ten years ago–most people were paranoid about kids names being “on the internet,” and so we built firewall on firewall behind private servers to keep you safe and removed from the real internet. In most ways it has been great. It gives you guys a safe place to practice living and sharing in the digital world without the dangers of anyone knowing you are out there. But times have changed. Soon you are going to want your name be out there–and out there in a good and positive way. You are not going to want someone to google your name and come up with…nothing. I am really proud to have discovered that it is relatively hard to study haiku and not come across my website at some point in your studies. I like that if someone googles my name they get the best of me and not the worst of me. I want that for you, too.

     If you’ve got a passion, then keep learning and practicing and experimenting, and then share it with the world. If the seed dies with the flower, there is no beauty left behind.

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Digital Damnation

 

  As teachers, it is critical that we teach our students how to leverage the power of the web to create, cultivate, and curate positive digital footprints in and out of the classroom; moreover, as mentors and role models, we need to do the same. We need to put into action best practices, wise pedagogy, and a well-rounded understanding of the implications, promises, and potential to show thoughtful leadership and take control and realize the dynamic and transformative possibilities of our presence not the web.

     Someone is not just looking for you; they are searching for you, and you are only one one regrettable statement or stupid posting away from your judgement, and hence your character, being questioned by an admissions committee, potential boss, or anyone else casually (or intently) searching your name on the web—and it is going to happen! The irony that the only thing worse than a questionable digital presence is no presence at all. While there is some nobility in being off the grid, there may also be precious little else to set your particular genius and passion apart from the masses that are arrayed beside, before and behind you. A powerful and compelling digital portfolio puts your proverbial best foot forward. Your digital portfolio collated and curated over the course of years makes a powerful statement of who you are, what you value, and what you have accomplished. A digital portfolio shows that you give a damn, and that you have been giving a damn for a long time.  And that is a powerful reflection of your inner character, your persistence, and your values.

     We must teach our students how to leverage the power of the web to create positive digital footprints. We need to put into action best practices and wise pedagogy, to show thoughtful leadership and an understanding of the pitfalls, promises—and potential of digital classrooms by taking control of our digital footprints (and our student’s digital footprints) and harnessing the transformative possibilities of an engaging, and forward-thinking digital curriculum. I will share how ten years of my teaching using blogging communities, online assessment, and ongoing portfolio creation has transformed a generation of teenage students into eager, confident, and capable writers and readers. I will demonstrate how an online, blog-based curriculum works on a practical and philosophical level to create amazing writing pieces, podcasts, video essays, discussions, and multi-media content, and how students can use blogging platforms, compelling portfolios, and focused social media to avoid digital damnation by creating, collating, and curating an informed, powerful and positive digital footprint in an increasingly connected world. 

Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving

 

I am surprised sometimes
by the suddenness of November:
beauty abruptly shed
to a common nakedness—
grasses deadened
by hoarfrost,
persistent memories
of people I’ve lost.

It is left to those of us
dressed in the hard
barky skin of experience
to insist on a decorum
that rises to the greatness
of a true Thanksgiving.

This is not a game,
against a badly scheduled team,
an uneven match on an uneven pitch.

This is Life.
This is Life.
This is Life.

Not politely mumbled phrases,
murmured with a practiced and meticulous earnestness.

Thanksgiving was born a breech-birth,
a screaming appreciation for being alive—
for not being one of the many
who didn’t make it—
who couldn’t moil through
another hardscrabble year
on tubers and scarce fowl.

Thanksgiving is for being you.
There are no thanks without you.

You are the power of hopeful promise;
you are the balky soil turning upon itself;
you are bursting forth in your experience.

You are not the person next to you—
not an image or an expectation.
You are the infinite and eternal you—
blessed, and loved, and consoled
by the utter commonness
and community of our souls.

We cry and we’re held.
We love and we hold.

We are the harvest of God,
constantly renewed,
constantly awakened,
to a new Thanksgiving.

~Fitz

 

Have a great break. Thanks for all of your good work this semester. No homework until you return!

The Gift of Words

The Gift of Words

If you want to learn to write well, start writing and do not stop. If you do not want to learn to write well, this will be a wasted class—empty time leading towards a deeper emptiness. We are all born communicators. We all feel angst when our words are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misplaced. Our lives, and the lives of those around us, are surrounded and immersed by our words. It is the one continual reality that will pervade our lives, so why not create the space and the time to richen the time given to us to learn, practice and share in the process of crafting our thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams and experiences in memorable and profound ways? For better or worse, we are judged by our words and our actions, but it is primarily through our words that we are remembered, especially if the power of our actions and our words are brought together to perfect our humanity and inform the directions our lives take.

I do not teach writing to help you get into a better school or get a better grade. I teach writing because I believe writing can make your life a more fulfilling, more wise and more centred life—a life that hopefully leads to a golden and ripe old age surrounded by family, friends and the contentedness of a life fully-lived. The academic benefits of writing well are just a no-brainer to me, and you will certainly not regret learning how to write a good essay in the crunch of pressure and deadlines, and much of this year will be spent learning to do just that; but, the true value in writing in a sustained and continual way is that it will help you find the words that truly express what is in your head and heart at any given moment—not simply in response to a writing prompt or assignment.

You will not grow old (or perhaps even grow up) wishing you had spent more time on your xbox or Snapchat, but you will always regret the time and opportunities you let slip away from you. I certainly do. My shelves are full of books I wished I read. My mind is full of the would haves, could haves, and should haves that I either ignored or passed off as, at the time, not worth the effort. My life is very, very good, and I am supremely happy, yet I know I have left too much trash in my wake. Too many times I turned around before reaching the peak of the mountain; too many times I took the road more travelled by, and too many times I let silence fill the void that words should have filled.

If I can get you to willingly fill voids with words, then I can say that my job is done. If you leave this year with more love and lust for words, I will at least know that I helped prepare you for the unexpected twists and turns your own lives will take. If you pick up a book or write in your journal simply because you want to, then I will notch that on my stick of life as a great and worthy accomplishment.

So this is why I do what I do. The hard part is that I cannot do it without you. You have to be the writer. I can bring you to the river, and I can tell you what I know, but you are the one who has to jump in and swim.

No one ever learns to swim by standing on the shore.

Creating a Digital Workflow

Creating a Digital Workflow

The Crafted WordSo much of school can—and often is—hard, but what should be easy, should be made easy. Finding, creating, and submitting assignments should be easy. Receiving timely assessments and grade updates should be an expectation of every student and a practice of every teacher. I have spent the last 12 years working and trying to make my curriculum a paperless stream that is simple and effective, but for it to work, you must be willing to swim in that stream. The school is embarking on a noble effort (Using My Fenn and Finalsite) to help facilitate how we assign, grade, and manage our respective classes. For the most part, and if used wisely, it is a pretty good system. For my part, I will post all of your assignments on Finalsite and allow you to see your assignments and view your grades in a fluid and ongoing way throughout the year. It is important that you check your grades regularly to be sure that I have not made any mistakes when entering your grades. It does happen sometimes, and I am more than willing (even eager) to fix what is wrong. We also take the idea of a digital workflow a bit further than is possible with Finalsite, so it is important that you embrace and utilise the following resources.

The Crafted Word: Fitz’s Reading & Writing Website

Website: http://thecraftedword/fitzenglish8

The 8th Grade pag e and Freshman pageon my website (and the website as a whole) will always give you quick and easy access to the whole spectrum of what we are doing in class. Additionally, it allows me to share my own blog, view and download my resources and rubrics (of which I have many!) and it serves as a central hub to read my essays on writing and reading, to study my punctuation and grammar rules, to learn and practice essential vocabulary, engage in class forums, and access our class writing community. In short, it contains everything I know and have created over the years to help anyone become a better reader and writer. It is also easily accessed anytime by any device connected to the internet. Bookmark the page and you will always be “one click” away from knowing what to do.

Blogging: Creating and Maintaining a Personal Blog

  • Required Apps: Weebly (free download from the app store),
  • Day One: a private journaling platform (paid app $3.95)

As a long time writer in my own right, I have always kept a journal, which later in life evolved into an online blog where I share my words—songs, poetry, essays, journal entries, videos, podcasts and photo galleries with whomever is interested or willing to read, to watch or to listen. I create blogs using Weebly for each of you to do the same, which we share as a class writing community. It has always been an energising and powerful way for my students to live and act like a true writer—and that is what you will be: a true writer; moreover, we will comment on each other’s work and strive to help each other create a compelling and intellectually rich digital portfolio. Since you may not want to share everything you write, we also use Day One, which is without peer the best and easiest to use journaling app I have ever used. ( I am using it right now to create a draft of this post!)

iTunes U: Accessing, Creating, Submitting & Grading Assignments

  • Required App: iTunes U (free download from the app store)

Since we are an iPad school, I feel it is important that we learn to use our iPads as effectively and dynamically as possible. iTunes U allows me to post assignments, documents, videos, and literature that you can upload and complete with relative ease. It also allows me to grade, edit, comment on your work, and return our work to you in an uncluttered and easy to use interface. It also allows for private discussion on individual assignments. Perhaps its greatest feature is that it works with almost every iPad app out there, so frustration levels are kept pretty low.

Pages: Document Creation

  • Required App: Pages (free download from the app store)

Pages is a feature rich, easy to use program for creating documents that simply works better on an iPad than any other program I have used on an iPad. Finished documents can be uploaded to iTunes U quickly and easily, and it allows work to be saved as pdf’s, word documents and epubs (which can be saved to your iTunes libraries as iBooks).

Other Required Apps: 

  • Garageband: we use Garageband to create podcasts and voiceovers for video essays.
  • iMovie: we use iMovie to create really cool videos throughout the year.
  • Keynote: we use Keynote for creating presentations.
  • Adobe Voice: we use Adobe Voice for creating a quick and beautiful visual and audio presentations.
  • Book Creator: we use Book Creator to create and share individual portfolios for distinct units of work.
  • Notability: we use Notability for notetaking, uploading and annotating selections of literature, revising and peer editing–and many other handy things.

I hope this does not look daunting to you, and it should not be. I will spend time in class this week to get you all up and running. I am surely not reinventing the wheel because I have tried it and it works, and I am confident that it will help us all have a rewarding and productive year in 8th grade English. In practice, it will help us create and sustain a workflow that will simply become an organic part of your life and a practice. As always, contact me if you have a question or problem that needs fixing.

Thanks,

Fitz

Build It & They Will Come

Build It & They Will Come

I’m sitting here thinking of that old baseball movie where Kevin Costner builds a baseball field in some remote cornfield, and by the magic of the game itself, people begin to flock to that reinvigorated part of the earth.  I’m wondering if the same magic can, could, or will happen here.  Writing is as exciting as baseball–isn’t it?

Probably not, but it’s worth a shot.

Up until now, this site has been pretty much just a place for my students at The Fenn School to collect assignments, find the rubrics for writing and to engage in the discussion forums–but it has never really been open to or geared towards the general public.

My brother Tom, a successful business executive, once remarked that my approach to marketing is like a man opening a sushi restaurant with a big sign outside that say’s “Cold, Dead Fish for Sale.” And he is pretty close to the truth in that assessment, for my love for my music, writing and teaching has always been (and always will be) rooted in that one word–love. I do love what I do, and I “love” sharing what is quintessentially “me,” warts and all.

I added the “Welcome” essay to my site not to be self-deprecating, but simply to emphasize that I am not proclaiming this site to be anything more than it is–one man’s attempt to share who I am, what I do, and why I like doing what I do.

I have been a family prolific blogger for the past ten years, though my blogs have been spread around my private blogs I share with my students, a Typepad blog that I used for many years, and a blog I have kept intermittently on my music website JohnFitz.com. My hope is to now keep everything here. My larger hope is to host blogging communities directly on this site so that people who want to blog with a community of like-minded writers, musicians, poets and journalists (as in folks who simply want to share the art of journaling) can find a safe, supportive, and dynamic place to engage in the art and craft of what they like doing–and if that is something that interests you, I would be happy to have you as one of my first bloggers!

This is essentially “day one” for me, and it is pretty good to be here right now doing this. How it unfolds (and in some cases, I’m sure, folds) is the big unknown, but as Thoreau once wrote, “You only hit what you aim at, so aim high.” My highest aim is to realize the loftiness of my dreams–and to cling to those dreams however attainable or unattainable they may be.

So it begins…

What Writer’s Do

What Writer’s Do

This is perhaps the biggest thunderstorm that I haven’t been in.  The lightning is flashing and bolting to the ground, and the thunder is booming in every direction—though it is all five miles away.  Here there is no wind or rain.  The sky is bright directly overhead, but the tall pines on the far side of the field are backdropped in roiled, dark clouds.

Strange.  There is a shift in the clouds.  They are coming towards us now from the northeast….

I had to run from under the comfortable shelter under the awning of our RV and take some “shelter from the storm” as a huge gust of wind and pelting rain came at us from this strange direction. Just as suddenly, it shifted again and renewed its course to the southwest leaving me perplexed and dampened.

Writers often do the same thing with their writing.  They build up a storm of unimagined intensity and create a looming confrontation between the opposing forces whom have been long at battle in their story line.  Readers sense the impending conflict that will finally resolve the richly thickened plot; the wind whips, lightning flashes, thunder crashes and…

The storm takes a new direction—blows all hell and fury in another direction—and then returns to its insidious and relentless march to the sea (in New England, all thunderstorms march to the sea!) but the reader is no longer in the path of the storm; they are stranded like a desperate mariner on a now lonely shore watching the clouds boil away over the horizon. The writer, still caught up in his or her storm, assumes the reader is still with them anticipating the coming climax, but they are not.  They’re more like me;  they are left wondering why the storm took that irrational jog to the southeast, because that is the rational response to mystery—to ask why. There is no reason—aside from perhaps a schoolmasters admonitions—at require us to wade through the muck of tortured writing.

Most of us are rational and surprisingly intuitive, and a good writer needs to recognize and respect that reality. Good readers are like oft jilted lovers wary of another disappointing affair. They know when to put a book aside and find another writer, one who won’t let them down. They love the reward of a well-written story, an inspiring essay, or a compelling narrative; they love writers who consistently provide that reward, and they return to those writers over and again with their time, attention, and money.

A good writer is not in love with his or her own writing.  They are in love with the process of writing well, regardless and because of their chosen genre! I will read and re-read Patrick O’Brien’s endless repertoire of naval sea novels, not because O’Brien’s novels are masterpieces of literature, but because he consistently provides a rewarding reading experience for “me” as someone who loves stories of naval battles! O’Brien found his niche, and he found his audience.  It is an audience that he respected and worked tirelessly to please before passing away (sadly for his devoted audience eager for more novels) at a ripe old age. Though O’Brien will never be placed among the pantheon of “great” writers, what he aspired to do, he did well, and certainly well enough for me.

Thoreau once said, “Measure a man, not by what he is, but by what he aspires to be.” My readers are, by and large, writers who aspire to be better writers. In the greater scheme of things, I can only give you bits and pieces out of my own insights, experiences, and aspirations. I am only the proverbial finger pointing at the moon.

You will only reach the moon through your own labors.

~John Fitz