I recently realized I use the word “nuance” frequently in my blog posts and tweets. It is my “go to” word. It is my “philosophical” word. It is my “argument” word.

Nuance is a pretty difficult word to define. I have touched thematically on this word HERE. There are the standard “shades of grey” and “wiggle room” definitions.

But I think there is more to this shape-shifting word, much like there is more to unicorns and hobos. While I use the word to in ways similar to the above definitions, I often use “nuance” as an excuse to cover up my arguments’ shortcomings on various issues.rr

Photo by Jeanyves Lemoigne

Nuance takes time and is a linked to one’s reputation.

People are willing to let some bands experiment with their sound if those band have the reputation for pushing themselves forward musically and lyrically. The Beatles come to mind.

People gave The Beatles time to develop their nuance.

Would The Beatles be as influential today if they only wrote songs similar to their first three or four? I doubt they would be influential to the same extent they are now. The Beatles did not go from “Help!” to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” over night. They began experimenting in the studio, with herbs, and with chemicals, slowly adding more “nuance” to their songs.

The Ramones perfected the two minute blitzkrieg bop. If they were to write a 23 minute epic about unicorns chasing ninjas, people would be upset. People do not expect, or even want, “nuance” from The Ramones.

Nuance is given to the writer by the reader after many blog posts and tweets.

Saying Nice Things to Students

For the thirteen years I have been teaching, I have a tradition I do around the last week of school.
I say something nice to each student.
No technology needed.
No pedagogy needed.
It started with me going around the room thanking my students for an amazing year of wild ups and downs my first year of teaching.
It has now become an emotional day for me and the students where I open up and tell the students how I really feel about them.
My students and I are pretty close and we generally know how we feel about each other. But there is something special about saying nice things to each student in front of their peers. In addition, there is the community aspect.
Often, we joke about certain events that happened through the year. Over the years, students have begun to say something nice to me, too.
It is pretty early for me, but I am already thinking about the things I am going to say to some students this year!
Try it with your classes…

Striped Pajamas

During today’s book fair at school, a parent came up to me and lamented that the novel The Boy In Striped Pajamas should be placed, at the most, on the “Mature Shelf”.  She asserted that she saw the movie and that there was no redeeming value to to the movie or the book.

I asked if she had read the book and she immediately said, “No!”

She pointed out that at least Schindler’s List had hope at the end, “Pajamas” does not and has no redeeming quality.

“What if the redeeming quality is that a student is reading a book” I asked.

More of the same argument.”What if the redeeming quality is that it reminds us of humanity’s potential for evil” I asked. More of the same argument, with a little “it made me depressed and angered…” sprinkled in.

“What if the redeeming quality is that it allows students to live vicariously through characters, testing out newly forming ideas and concepts in a safe way?”

She laughed, “I wouldn’t let my eighth grader read this because there is no hope in it. And, it isn’t even real, it’s made up! Fiction!”

“What if the redeeming quality is that the book sparks a prolonged conversation with your son, a shared experience that will last long into the future?”

More of the same argument.

The parent went on to tell me about her undergraduate degree in history and other things not related to my questions.

Even though I completely disagree with this parent, I am happy for this exchange.

It reminded me that there are parents passionate about what their students are reading and doing in school.In the past I would have argued vehemently about the power of books and reading, of having one’s views challenged.

However, this morning I found myself calmly asking her questions that I hope caused her to think about her position deeper and further. It also reminded me that I do not have all the answers.

Even if I did, the parent was not receptive this morning.

It also reminded me to be humble: it is easy to be comfortably arrogant with knowledge that with a few key strokes and a minute or two, I can likely have a well thought out argument against any position – but miss out on the humanity and nuance of AND.

I did not tell her to change her thoughts. This parent was able to voice her opinion, hear an opposing view, and interact positively with a teacher.

Chaos Theory

I have been thinking much lately…

What if we put Chaos Theory into action in the school reform movement?

What if each one of us made one small change in our classrooms?

Would other administrators, teachers, parents, and students be more apt to embrace small changes?

I would like to be one of Nabokov’s butterflies, fluttering my wings….

Photo Source: Sean Williams

Jon Gruber

John Gruber is an awesome writer and tech geek; you can find him over at Daring Fireball.

He took part of a presentation at SXSW that I thought was interesting.

From the presentation description:

In this presentation, you will see the same set of 15 slides — three times. Three different writers will walk through the same set of slides and explain their approaches to getting started, editing ideas, figuring out how to get unstuck, and understanding when they’re done. Part improv and part preparation, this presentation will give you three totally different and unexpected perspectives regarding the art of writing.

I thought this concept could translate relatively well into our classrooms. What do you think?

P.S. HERE are the slides they used…

I Love Insta…

I messed up. I let my hosting of my blog lapse and I am now trying to rebuild my blog. This is an old post and I now have different thoughts about what I have written. I will update later…

I love Instapaper

I love Instagram

I love Instacast

Instapaper is an app that allows me to save a blog post or article for later reading. I often come across interesting articles or blog posts in my RSS reader while at work, however, I am unable to read them due to firewalls and, oh, teaching.

Part of my daily work flow is to read prior to going to bed – this is when the magic of Instaper begins. I can read the articles I saved earlier now. Many great curators of longform articles are sprouting up on Twitter and other places on the intertubes.

I highly recommend Longform , Sportsfeat and Longreads to find interesting articles on a variety of topics.

You can read about my love for Instagram in another post HERE. You can see all of my Instagram pictures HERE.

I discovered Instacast this week and, I am doubtful I will ever go back to subscribing to podcasts via iTunes. Shawn Blanc has an excellent review HERE .  My favorite feature of this app is that you can fast forward through advertisements with just a push of a button, instead of the bar on the iPod. This feature is even cooler because you can preset the fast-forward button for 30 seconds, one or even two minutes!rrI love me some podcasts! I frequently listen to Marc Maron’s WTF (NSFW), No Agenda, Mac Power Users, Back to Work with Merlinn Mann, and Never Not Funny (NSFW).

Check them out, check it outers…

How I Time Shift Exit Slips

I previously wrote about my dislike of the manner in which most teachers use the well intentioned formative assessment strategy Exit Slips.

I asked this student for her sticky notes from the week for illustration…

Below is how I tried to effectively and efficiently Time Shift Exit Slips this week.  It is not perfect and I want to tweak a few things.

On Monday I began to introduce Theme prior to our beginning a unit on The Diary of Anne Frank (unfortunately, just the play, not the actual diary…).

At the end of the period, students write down three things they learned, questioned, wondered etc on a sticky note.

“Mr. Davis, aren’t you going to collect these?

“Yeah, on Thursday.”

“But…um, how do we get points…

“After you get done watching Jersey Shore you may have something to add to your sticky note…write down your understanding when you understand it…”

Bell rings.

Repeat above scene on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday students “pair-shared” their sticky notes, adding new discoveries, reviewing at the beginning of the period.

Today (Thursday) was a minimum day.  While students were working on their Weekly Summary, many began asking me if they could use their sticky notes from the week.

“Of course!”

“Mr. Davis, when are we going to turn in our three sticky notes today?

I chuckle, passing out a final sticky note, “Nope.


“Write down three things that you learned this week.  Show me what you know.  Keep the other sticky notes.”

Students then wrote down (some drew pictures) on the last sticky note what they learned, questioned, wondered for the week, giving me a snapshot of their understanding.

But, more importantly, students had all week to assess their own knowledge, to figure out what they know and do not know.

And students new they had time to acquire a better understanding, to wrestle with a concept, to see Theme play out in their world…even if it is by watching Jersey Shore.

Because, after all, it is not about the teacher; rather, it is about the students taking ownership of their own learning.

My Problem with Exit Slips

I have never been a fan of “Exit Slips”.

I think it is unfair to introduce students to Concept A at the beginning of the period and expect them to write their understanding of concept on an “Exit Slip” within the last few minutes of class.

I understand that many teachers are not expecting students to have mastered the concept in a forty-minute class.  I understand that the “Exit Slip” could be a good formative assessment tool for the teacher to gain insight into a student’s understanding of a concept.

I think this well intentioned activity is flawed.

I believe the goal of formative assessment is not to give the teacher more information about a student’s learning; rather, the goal of formative assessment is for the student to gain more understanding about what they understand and do not understand.

This year I have tried to use WallWisher to “Time-Shift” the “Exit Slip”.  Unfortunately, WallWisher has been loading really slowly all semester and not all of my students have internet access.

The goal of this “Time-Shift” is to give students the opportunity to think, and even NOT think, about Concept A for a while; to let the concept germinate into understanding at a later time.

Often we understand a concept or joke after the fact. How often have you been cooking dinner, taking out the “Shake and Bake” pork chops and finally understand that joke Mark Maron said on his podcast you were listening to that morning on the way to work?

Why not give our students this opportunity to understand a concept on their own time?

My next post will be how I have come to solve my problem with “Exit Slips”.

I Love Instagram

I love Instagram.

Photo: Stephen Davis

I have been using it now for about two or three months and I see no turning back; it has become part of my workflow. (Right now it is only an iPhone app…)

Photo: Stephen Davis

Another benefit of using Instagram, or any other photo app for you smart phone, is that you are creating the images yourself, you do not have to worry about copywrite or credits.

Photo: Stephen Davis

Websites like Inkstagram and Webstagram enable you to see your pictures online. Both of these sites are not blocked at my school, yet.

After we review for and take the obligatory state tests May 5th and 6th, I am going to begin integrating this app into my classroom. Much like a Twitter hashtag, you can create hashtags within Instagram. Creating a hashtag for my class will enable students to see all their pictures in one place. I am looking forward to seeing their pictures and reading their comments.

I can see my Special Education students excelling with this app. I can also see this as a visual bridge, or example, to exhibit the editing process in writing and its importance.

What ideas do you have for using Instagram in your class?

Photo: Stephen Davis

Related: I also would like to point you to Luke Neff’s great Writing Prompts site. Neff sets great visual images along side writing prompts that get students thinking deeply. I use his site weekly in my AVID class!

Photo: Stephen Davis