Recently I conquered Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld by listening to the unabridged audio version (a whopping 15 CD’s). Lee narrates her experiences of self-discovery, exciting teenage drama, and surviving bad choices during her four years at Ault Preparatory School. Like many high school girls, Lee is painfully self-conscious, which causes her to describe every incidence with family, teachers, and friends, every event, and every conversation (regardless of significance) in extreme emotional and psychological detail.

Lee keeps her scrutiny of the student body of her prep school to herself until she is interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times, who capitalizes on Lee’s mistake of sharing a little too much about Ault. It is ironic that Lee nearly makes it all the way through Ault completely unnoticed and in the last month of her senior year she is unfavorably exposed by her experiences of being unnoticed. This version provides a very interesting “ten years later” follow-up of some of the major characters, which gives necessary closure to the story.

Because Lee is a highly analytical teenage girl, this book can be very valuable in providing insight into the adolescent psyche. There is one moment of particular interest to educators. In Lee’s sophomore year she has a teacher who really thinks she has Lee’s personality and student work ethic pegged, when in reality she couldn’t be more wrong. The way Lee feels in that moment serves as a reminder to me as a teacher that I don’t always know everything about my students. In my library, I have little cardboard stands that display the number of each table. Sometimes when I am tidying up, I see where my kids have written their names or drawn pictures on the cardboard stands and I always wonder, When did they have time to do that? They are busy from the time they sit down until the time they leave. I just think I know what is going on in the room. I don’t really. Not at all. The implication for all of us is that there is significance in recognizing that at any given moment there are so many other events occurring in a classroom prior to, during, and following instruction that we simply don’t have a clue about. I do wonder whether increasing our awareness of these side-shows would increase our understanding of kids and therefore our effectiveness in reaching their minds.


The Beauty of EduBlogs

If it is enigmatic to answer a question with a question, what then is it to blog about blogging?

I’ve had some thoughts swirling around in my head over the past several months about the opportunities for use of web logs in education. Blogs (and social networks that call themselves blogs but aren’t really->see previous tech posting) have become immensely popular over the past 2 years. It began as a trend with young adults, then filtered down to colleges, then to teenagers, and now even to middle schoolers. They love them, they post several times daily, and for crying out loud they are excited about writing and then reading what their peers are posting. Do you realize what this means? Willful creative composition, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. The best part? They do it for fun.

Stop the presses.

Someone please tell me why we aren’t using this in schools? Many of the most commonly used blog-wares are currently blocked in my school system via network filters set at the central office. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that some of these kids are using their blogs or MySpace accounts to gossip and in the worst cases, cyber-bully others. I’m neither denoting that fact nor demeaning the power of public slander in the life of a student. As a matter of fact, initially I almost understood the ban because it is our foremost responsibility to protect our children. But as the potential for blogs continues to grow, I am convinced that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. We shouldn’t be afraid of this new technology that can be so great for the students for whose instruction we are also responsible. If their education can be enhanced by utilizing it, then we owe it to them to try.

You know, when the internet became a big thing, educators were afraid of it. “They’ll see trash!” we cried. “They’ll play games!” we protested. “What good is this www, anyway? None of that information is reliable!” There’s this silly little cycle. Whenever something is new, we fight it. We protest, we cry, we make lists of all the reasons it just won't work, we bang our fists on the floor, and we are dragged kicking and screaming (led by the kids, most times) into the future. Then after our tantrum and after we recover from the paralyzing fear over what will go wrong, finally, as a last resort, we figure out how to modify the new thing into something that is useful. We taught them (with relative success) to stay away from the smut, to evaluate their sources, and to play games in their free time. We’ll teach them to blog responsibly, too.

I’m telling you right now, people, mark my words. Blogging is here to stay, and its uses will only continue to multiply. Don’t pass out at the following suggestion, but why don’t we embrace it this time (gasp)? Frankly, I think we need to take advantage of this tool before the powers that be catch on and start making us pay for it!

I most assuredly believe that the use of web logs can be an invaluable tool in teaching the writing process (how exciting will it be for students to see their very own words published on the web?!), and easily integrated across the curriculum. This newfangled (did I mention FREE?!) technology is a beautiful tool, full of potential for our kids; but as we all know so very well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Memoirs of a Geisha revisited