Friday, December 21, 2012

The flame that reading lights

I love librarians, I always have. I am old enough to remember a time when research was done without the internet. I literally drove to New York City in order to use the public library resources for a paper on the Hungarian Revolution and discovered the incredible world of library science. The staff there seemed to be of the category of super heroes and I contemplated joining their ranks instead of pursuing a career in teaching.  Ever since then I have spent many hours in libraries, with librarians. In fact, it isn't the reason I married my husband, but it is true, his mom is a librarian.
It is my daughter's last day of school here in New Mexico and it is bitter sweet.  I had to withdraw her and check in with the librarian in order to close the account without overdue books. I was immediately drawn to the lighted candles on her desk. The project is so simple and sweet, I snapped a photo and stayed to swap praises for new takes on literary enchantments. The light that reading brings was an idea that she had for promoting favorite authors. The battery operated tea lights would be scattered throughout the book shelves of the library for students to discover.  Students engaged in developing this project could choose an author, find an appropriate image or book cover, words or quotes that would entice other students. The four panels were printed on overhead projector sheets and attached to velum. Voila!

I'm not entirely certain but I believe library regulars can receive a library credit for their weekly services and activities. If they don't, it suddenly made sense to me that they should. This idea seems especially appealing to the high school crowd that I teach in back in Vermont. A language arts credit in library science could open many doors of opportunity for students. If only I had known of this when I was in high school.

We continued chatting longer than anticipated. Or maybe I continued gushing praise while the librarian eagerly shared with me more of her approaches to engaging readers. For the middle school students,there is a weekly coffee club in the early morning before school begins. Students can enjoy one cup of tea or coffee and a treat while reading.  They do not use computers or electronic devices. They just read or talk about reading.  Ages ago I had coffee house clubs in my own classroom.  I started this with another teacher but over time this idea had slipped away.  Again, I think it would be fun to bring mentors, teachers and students together in a weekly coffee club at our own school. It would encourage me to pursue donations and funding for that espresso machine that I believe all schools need for making adequate progress.

I did brag about my Vermont librarians and the high school database. I love how the online search takes you through a virtual library.  This school in New Mexico had a similar system but the name has slipped my memory. Similar to the Kindle interface, students can search titles and see a virtual image of that book to place on a virtual shelf.  In their account students create an avatar to protect their identity. They can take out hard cover or E readers but more importantly, the system allows students to develop book reviews edited and published by the librarian for other students in the school wide system.  The librarian herself writes reviews. Students often follow her recommendations and leave comments most often of approval. What is even better is that her dog is a certified reading dog.  It accompanies her to story hour and students love reading to or with the pet.  Just as students can have an account so can her dog. His account is already full of reviews and comments on books.  His profile describes him as an emergent reader still reading at or below the third grade reading level. He is also very disturbed by the recent activities of a feral cat in his neighborhood.  Students find and recommend books on cats and other reading materials appropriate for his interest.

I have had this vision in my mind for some time. I imagine that teachers would write reviews of books and resources at our high school just as we require students to do.  We would offer audio or video commentaries on books accessed from the library webpage.  I used to host a freshman study hall. At the time I was involved in progress monitoring strategies and spent most of my time trying to improve study techniques and skills for students.  My students all were required to read the Odyssey which can be a difficult read.  What appalled me was their lack of interest and that they only read it silently.  It is meant to be read aloud with different character voices. I love reading the parts of Calypso as if she were a Desperate Housewife.  All of the innuendos and subtle humors are revealed when it is read aloud.  What if, teachers were interviewed and offered to read just one passage of their favorite part for recording? What if students could access this and as an assignment, offer comments related to their understanding of the book? Would this model help students as better readers?  Every so often the staff at NPR read passages of the Declaration of Independence or Moby Dick.  Hearing it gives me pause and I reflect on how I interpret different meanings, different text to text connections as I grow older into new stages of life.

I left the school almost an hour later, with excitement for learning, new titles in my head and a new friend I hope to meet again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Letter Writing Part 2

link to published article
link to article- part one

In this time when school securities are threatened by unmitigated attacks, technology in education serves to open campuses between distant communities. A recent pen pal project entered a second phase of practice with letter writing and Skype. It has served to distract us from tragedy and fears of being able to engage in meaningful, safe dialogue.

Last week Flatdaddy and I facilitated a follow up session with the classroom to classroom Skype between New Mexico and Vermont .  Our first chat gave students an opportunity to see the face of their pen pal.  Each class enjoyed watching each other hear ideas and evidence pulled from past letters and visually seeing each other respond to questions comparing culture and geography. Our follow up chat would give students three minutes to converse with a penpal. Management was discussed and planned ahead of time with the decision to model a structured conversation deliberately related to Common Core standards. What did they learn about their pen pal or their state from the previous letters? What do they hope their pen pal will write about in the next letter?  We established five small group sessions with set amounts of time. Teachers kept the class occupied in a lab while the smaller groups congregated around a computer in a separate room.  I acted as one facilitator and another parent volunteer helped the teacher shuttle students back and forth from the session.

Students were given an opportunity to reflect on the conversation prompts and to discuss what they wanted to say.  For the student that is shy or uncomfortable the prompt not only gave them something to focus on but also the opportunity to let someone else speak for them. I like to credit students for active discussion even if they don't utilize the Skype time. They can still gain value and receive credit for conversing with me if they are too uncomfortable to converse with unfamiliar faces.

With three minutes per pen pal, time moved quickly. Student recall was strong. Many students knew details concerning their pen pals interests in pets and animals. Descriptions of the love of horses was a common topic of discussion. They were able to remember birthdays and differences. Not celebrating Halloween or being able to hold a tarantula were recalled with delight. Students did not hesitate to pronounce what they hoped to read about in future letters. Most students wanted to read lists of favorite music or song artists. Both classes made requests for descriptions of winter and what they do when it snows. New Mexicans wanted to know more about moose, hunting and favorite chapter books while Vermonters wanted to know about the taste of green chile, and the colors of adobe. As facilitators, Flatdaddy and I kept notes to share with the classroom teachers to use for future writing prompts.  Reviewing the results of a conversation makes students understand that their involvement was appreciated and ti will lend to greater ownership in writing.

Some students could not follow the format of the conversation prompts.  I spoke on their by modelling recall and asking one student if I could boast about his dad's experience as a forest ranger. The Vermonters eagerly wanted to hear stories which led the student to exceed his time limit and requests to write about parents. Flatdaddy too was able to urge students to speak by boasting of their involvement in club activities. I liked being able to give students' praise and good public recognition as a means of establishing value in continuing in this authentic task. We discovered that some students were ready to perform for their pen pal through song and skit. One boy brought his turtle puppet as a prop to the delight of everyone moving it in and out of camera range giving students something to focus on besides themselves. Students did wave or wiggle their finger at one another even when they didn't speak. I discovered that students love to talk about cats even when they can think of nothing else. A sudden interest in mewing or mimicking cat like moves was engaging and is something that can not be done in letter writing.  The bond of sharing cat sounds may seem ridiculous but it should serve to activate fond memory and a reason to write later during letter writing prompts.

Letter writing has survived the test of time because it is a gift that anyone can afford if they can afford the time to do it. By combining video chat with letter writing students have an opportunity to develop rapport, trust and dissolve miscommunication. As a tangible exchange of property a letter holds value. As a shared experience, video chat becomes a moment in time to revisit and reshape for future writings. Our schools must tighten security with police patrols locked doors and identification but our minds and our hearts are still able to freely connect in these virtual spaces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lucky Teacher on sabbatical

link to published article

I just read an interesting blog on surviving teaching by Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis and John Kuhn's viral hit, The Exhaustion of the American Teacher.  Teacher burnout is a perennial problem. It is impossible to survive with idealism, purpose and dignity intact amid changing mandates, recessions, and media inflamed paranoia about American public education. Public schools do not advertise or lobby for their best practices and public school teachers tend to receive less praise, less attention the longer they stay in teaching.

I guess this is why I feel so fortunate to not only survive twenty years of service in education but to look forward to my start in 2013 as happy and idealistic.  I am returning from a mini sabbatical in New Mexico to teach at my Vermont public high school and I have never felt so alive. A sabbatical is a true gift. I have been thinking of the spirit of giving this holiday season and I am grateful to have a school board and an administration that appreciates its professional community enough to grant such a leave. Not many school systems afford this opportunity and it is a shame. Teachers encourage students to follow their bliss, to strive to be the best they can be and yet they often settle for much less.  Allowing me to step away from the classroom, tour someplace new and to take risks is both humbling and enlightening. I can now say to students with confidence that I practice what I preach.

Two things needed to change for me.  I have not been unemployed since the age of sixteen and I badly needed a break.  I have spent my entire teaching career in Vermont which makes me wonder how well I prepare students for their experiences in a multicultural world. A family home in Santa Fe, New Mexico became available so I seized upon the opportunity to pick up and move temporarily. On former visits I had volunteered in a literacy program and was able to persuade this contact to allow me to shadow her program while I wrote a case study for my Masters in Literacy. My adventures began mid summer on our drive across the country, each mile, each frustration, each responsibility melting away behind me.

Crossing the Mississippi gave me pause as I considered the long history of other migrants who learned to let go of their securities and trust in the unknown. I would experience both the hardship and the joy of starting from scratch. My husband would need to stay behind in his teaching position but I had faith that we could mold our distance into a new family experience. This sabbatical began with the challenge of passing through drought ridden landscapes, devastating heat waves. angry traffic and dust storms. We met and talked with people all along the way, enfolding their stories into our own new awareness of what it means to be American.

New Mexico was everything I hoped it would be. My daughter transitioned into one school community while I began my volunteer work at another. Age and experience allowed me to make some smart decisions about my role. I purposefully limited the number of hours and days I would work in the school system.  I gave myself ample time for research, writing and time to enjoy my surroundings which I never had as a regular classroom teacher. Time to reflect is extremely important to development in education. Letting go of my own management and teaching style in order to work under the tutelage of someone new requires a great deal of faith and self assurance. I spent my first month hiking at 9,000 feet heaving for each breathe as my brain stumbled over all that I had seen in a day. I learned to let go of ideas in teaching that I thought were valuable and I learned to accept it with grace.  The person I shadowed had survived education longer than I and I had much to learn from her positive outlook and her steely resolve.  In return, I was able to use my own experience as a veteran teacher to jump in without a great deal of explanation.  I plunged into daily routines and responsibilities that were taking a toll on my adviser and her staff.  Educators are not used to having back up help or a lending hand and on several occasions I know I saved the program from unexpected emergencies.

My humility became a source of strength. Most of my students did not speak English as a first language and my grasp of Spanish was weaker than I realized. Their rapid dialect made the spelling of names in my ledger and the request for directions to the school baño humbling tasks. I was lost in translation. I took it upon myself to spend days aside from teaching by jogging roads, taking pictures of anything unusual and then striking up conversations with strangers in museums or coffee shops. Everyone I met was friendly enough to help me with pronunciations and cultural differences. People here seem to move at an unhurried pace, maybe it is a Southwestern attitude or my new approach to listening but I have learned much coupled with recommendations for travels into quiet canyons, hot springs and spiritual places.

Not everything is perfect in the Land of Enchantment.  I have witnessed parents angrily blasting the school systems for allowing outsiders into their public schools or for not giving their kids enough homework.  I have seen teachers here berated by the media for high rates of absenteeism yet no mention of their lowered salaries.  Some public schools have more field trip opportunities than others and all are constricted in their access to technology and digital applications. Everyone worries about being part of a hierarchical order and trust is a huge issue. I realize here that it is important to be an involved parent but one who doesn't say much and offers real time with kids.

Familiarity with two schools gave me freedom to volunteer in more than one program, to introduce and integrate technologies and to pilot lessons that were successful back east. The exchange of ideas and conversations with educators here have been fruitful. I regret that I can be too busy in my own practice, in my own school to have these opportunities. The transition from beginner, to observer, to trusted colleague has allowed me to weave together a stronger thread of experience and  knowledge. I can't wait to bring home to my classroom an efficient system of management, new lessons on histories not covered in our textbook and a better understanding of what a multicultural classroom should look like. Most importantly I have gained an appreciation for the toils and troubles that plague educators everywhere and that everywhere there are individuals whose positive energies do transcend the daily grind, changing education for the better. I hope it isn't my last chance to work and observe a school system outside of Vermont.  I have visions of a long future in education and in travel.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Regional Connections

link to published article- mentoring

Today celebrates a major breakthrough for me and Flatdaddy!  We successfully connected a Vermont public school with a New Mexico public school via Skype.  This is amazing for a number of reasons.
First, our Vermont school seems to have more liberty with use of technology than New Mexico- for that I am grateful. But with perseverance and patience, the New Mexico school system gave approval for the video chat and once in place it went smoothly.  It is now a successful model for other classrooms to follow for improving student conversation, discussion and writing. We brought two schools in two different regions towards a common practice.
Second- We are both teachers who view technology as a medium for connecting students' to regional similarities and differences that they can not extrapolate from reading alone.  It is painfully sad to observe high school students who make a common, nonchalant error in thinking that New Mexico or Vermont do not matter or that they belong to neighboring states and countries. Bound by positive dialogue these students will not likely make this mistake
Third- Kids ask meaningful questions when they are given meaningful opportunities.  These 40 students had begun their relationship through letter writing as pen pals.   I viewed student improvements in writing, especially for the Vermont students whose first letters were but a paragraph each. Curiosity stimulated students to expand writings up to 2 page letters with questions and cartoon drawings.  Months passed and enthusiasms waned. Skype provided opportunity and incentive for continuing relations because kids could see and talk to their pen pals. A New Mexican student used his speaking opportunity to inquire why some Vermont students hadn't responded on time to the last letter exchange? His admonition and protest of unfairness caused a stirring of embarrassed excuses and sincere promises to write. This charge should carry the weight of similar Response to Interventions. How could anyone ignore this boy's plea or his adorable face?
Fourth- Parents and teacher collaborations were successful. In this case I acted as a parent and not a teacher. I learned to respect the two teacher's methodologies and management of the classroom.  I volunteered in other capacities; field trips chaperoning and book club monitoring helped establish a rapport.  Flatdaddy and I suggested the pen pal program but offered to volunteer in a role that they structured, following the rules that they stipulated. We expressed the upmost respect for our teachers before initiating this exchange and we agreed that should the school schedules become incompatible for the Skype chat, we would forego the opportunity. We shouldered the responsibilities for acquiring school permissions, setting up equipment and downloading Skype to computers which were time consuming tasks that deter a busy teacher. It was a model team effort.

Fifth- This exchange broadens opportunities for travel. What if these students could actually meet? As teachers, Flatdaddy and I have brought students camping on bike tours, on ski trips to other countries. Why not bring students to New Mexico? it has always been frustrating for me to know that students may see other parts of the world long before they see other parts of their own country. The trip is costly but not impossible. Small groups of students acting as ambassadors could make the journey on behalf of their class. they could stay with families in either place. As a child I began to care about Vermont when I hosted others outside the community. I suddenly was aware of the state history, the traditions and the landscape with a sense of pride that I hadn't had before. One Vermont girl made the trip to New Mexico this fall. She had never been west, had never travelled so far away with her mother, had never tasted homemade tortillas or seen such diverse populations. Not only does she report to her peers that cacti is common in backyards, and that Pueblos are much older than any historic site in Vermont but she now enjoys writing articles and stories of her experiences. She never enjoyed writing before this. She gained a new perspective of the worlds we live in.

I wish I could include pictures of the Skype interaction but for confidentiality purposes I won't.  Both classrooms were sitting and jumping up and waving at one another on the Smartboard Screens.  The session was short (25 minutes), engaging and thoughtful.  Flatdaddy asked a series of questions to stimulate conversation- how many students went skiing last weekend? how many enjoy skiing? How many students have cactus in their back yard? How many students have pets?  Who is wearing only a t-shirt and who is wearing a sweater? We asked individuals to volunteer to answer questions about temperatures and time zones.  We then let each class alternate asking questions and giving group responses.  Both classes agreed that they would want to continue their discussions on a following session but in smaller groups of 2-3.  Students ended their Skype with Simon Says despite 2,000 miles of separation.  I wish newspapers could promote and advertise this experience and thank the classroom teachers for providing students' with an authentic learning opportunity.  I hope that budgets will allow room for teachers to seize on technologies that provide rich experiences when they are given the time and the training and the support necessary.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Flat Daddy diaries-

Flatdaddy just received approval to pursue  and to institute a one to one ipad program for each student.  I am out here in New Mexico persistently hoping to convince tech support in two different schools within the same district to allow access to Skype or Facetime.  I made this request in August, it is November and still no attempt to install it has been made.  I visited the computer labs and discovered that the computers do not even have web cameras.  And school wifi for personal devices is prohibited.  We live in different worlds.
Flatdaddy's recent visit gave us an opportunity to meld the best of both worlds.  His gentle demeanor set a tone of assurance for the administrators who were reluctant to be assertive on behalf of teachers hoping to install programs on their computers.  One administrator was excited and nervous about allowing a video chat in an elementary classroom.  Do students need permission slips? Do they need parental approval and a media release?  In this part of the world, technology is still eyed with suspicions. I'm not certain if close proximity to Los Alamos is cause for reluctance to support liberal change with technology use or if they know more than us about the reprecussions of unlimited freedoms with technology.
 We explained that a video chat is just like a telephone call or a pen pal letter, except that one class or classmate can speak and see students that they are conversing with.  So, no media release is needed.  A video chat is a passing moment in time, unrecorded.

I have had the opportunity to do something rare in education. I was a personal shopper for our pilot project- setting up an E Literacy Lab.  While presenting at NMTIE, Flatdaddy won a Kindle Fire.  Immediately I thought to have him hide it and give it to our daughter as a Christmas present.  Being more charitable than I, Marc thought to donate it to my elementary school here in New Mexico.  He felt uncomfortable receiving a raffled item that would have gone to an educator in state.  I acquisced and immediately saw an opportunity to promote both the Common Core and 21st century learning.
I was unfortunate to run into the same issues with school policy against releasing a wifi password.  And in both schools, the wifi password that was issued by Central Office did not work.  A request to meet with the tech support is still pending. So, we have a Kindle but can not utilize several applications that would connect students to the outside world.  In fact, Amazon is blocked and I can not make purchases for the Kindle unless I drive a 1/2 mile to the local Starbucks. Two weeks later, I have loaded the device with items purchased with funds dontated by mentors in the program.  I am shopping!
Dr. Seuss,  Ocean House Media created applications that engage students in emergent reading.  Interactive screen allows students to read aloud, to be read to or to read uninterrrupted. As students swipe images on the screen words identifying objects help build vocabulary.  The website offers fiction and nonfiction favorites and Christian spiritual readings as well.  For Kindle Fire, only the app for the one title or author's collection is added to the device, not the entire website.
this was a big hit for one particular student. She is unable to meet with a mentor during the scheduled time.  and comes at a different time of day without her peers.   The student was immediately engaging with the reader.  She could replay the audio and pronunciation of words again and again In particular she hates having a mentor correct her or prompt yet relied on the computer for the same assistance without frustration.  She read an entire Dr. Seuss book, refusing to stop early.
without wifi accessible at school, I could not utilize the following:
Pandora, image searches, Words with Friends, Newshog, email. We wanted to allow mentors unable to travel to Skype in for 1 to 1 reading and that wasn't possible.

Lack of connection isn't the end of the world but it is less fun. Fun is a very big factor in developmental learning.  Flatdaddy was eating dinner at his parents house when he met us through FaceTime.   They have a dog who loves attention. Our daughter yelled commands, he sat, jumped and ran to retrieve his favorite toy animal.
Flatdaddy had us squealing and laughing when he held up my cherished JCrew winter catalog and pretended to give the male model a wet woolie or pick his nose.  My daughter reciprocated by searching our home for objects of equally entertaining value. Unfortunately our cat is too dignified to take part in Simon Says.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Link to published article
The spear whistled through the air, but the aim was low. The huge tail swished and contemptuously flipped it aside. Then the black form dropped into the foaming waters.
"Missed," Cico groaned. He retrieved his line slowly...
"Are you sorry you missed?" I asked as we slid our feet into the cool water.
"No," Cico said, "it's just a game."   (Bless Me Ultima, Rudolpho Anaya)

As a life time gamer of Four Square, Monopoly, backgammon, Scrabble, I am hard pressed to define gaming by today's standards. As an educator who relies on games as incentives for inquiry I have ignored digital game technologies. I awoke to realize that just as the number of books children access is a predictor of reading ability so too is gaming a predictor of digital literacy.  I have fallen in to the very literacy gap that I fear exists for students.  Never has it been more urgent for teachers to introduce and promote deliberate gaming in education yet it is difficult to find clear approaches to balancing effective classroom management, strong connections to content with the fast pace of the gaming world.  Often teachers' good intentions ruin the fun factor crucial to skill development which paralyzes us and gives voice to the skeptics.  Observations of both traditional and unconventional teachers who game assures me that everyone can succeed with the gains of gaming.  I organized a thinking map of all that I have observed over the last five years and whittled it down to common practices that always result in success.

First, most of teachers I admire most as mentors will ask the important question, what are we calling gaming and why are we doing this.  James Paul Gee and ...... can answer this better than I can.  My husband, a tech integrationist is currently building a website for our own district to answer this question.  Gaming is defined by the free online dictionary as An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; wordgames. 2. a. A competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other.  To me, gaming meant an ongoing role play of "let's pretend" and as a teacher it meant finishing each unit with something that students could connect to.  Card games after studying the Enlightenment, Tug of War during political units or studies of Israel.    I found early on in teaching that I would never have the build or the ego to be a dominant force in a classroom. Students would never just stop talking or eye me with obedience just because I walked into a room.  In conversation with coworkers who were women, boys tended to role their eyes at us as if we were their mothers, or liked to strut invasively into my personal space with snide comments, "you'r not the boss of me".  Girls eyed me as competitive and sneered behind my back.  So I discovered gaming.  Gaming gave me authority, it made me a confidant, it allowed students freedom to back out of a situation or to direct their anger.  Gaming was an incentive at the end of a unit, an incentive to be someone new or an incentive to step outside your learning.   Games are a gateway tool they get kids to do what they should.  Edutainment.  

good games have freedom to fail, to experiment, intense and relaxed moments, interpretation, open ended, together builds new cognitive structure.  (James Paul Gee).   Students can walk away from a game when they get frustrated and they offer second chances for entry, students are never permanently labelled as failures because persistence is rewarded with harder levels, more power.  Hockey is a perfect example. You foul, you go to the penalty box. But when you are done you get back no hard feelings.    Good games can evolve, change as long as rules are clearly defined.  Bad games are too complicated or are too educational.  Interactive quizzes are not games.  Word Island- not a game. Illustrative

 The approaching holiday season advertisements bombard us with console and application games providing individuals with a private game world (Wii U) or a global network like the ever popular Sims. In the upcoming educational era of the Common Core there is an emphasis on teaching with clarity towards expression of gains in knowledge and new understanding with informational text.  The emphasis on evidence is apparent when reviewing standardized test questions.  Every moment of my curriculum is being analyzed for purposeful planning and content.  Students are pre tested, post tested and tested in between for learning progression.  Never has it been more urgent to encourage students and teachers to insist on gaming in the curriculum.

Students were asked to read from a written passage and take a position or explain something. Nona Allen.  Debate Clubs

Libraries, the great equalizer, “what is crucial for a child is not jkust having access to digital media but also having access to good mentoring around that media.” (Gee, 63).
Students as mentors

Video gaming tends to make me wary.  I don't know how to coach students who are gaming, I can't anticipate whether a game is good or bad or if it connects to my curriculum.  I worry about lost amounts of time, student inequity or harassment.  I don't know where they begin or end.  I have learned over time how to use questions to trigger meaningful exploration within a unit and developed role playing (RPG) or Multiplayer situations as test the context of our unit study.  Most of my games are person to person interactions within the confines of a classroom over a period of days.  We study, read, question and then have 20 minutes of game time.  We can redefine the rules for the next day.  We can expect more from analysis and individual or team efforts that will impact a final assessment.   Students sometimes want even more and speculate on how they could keep a game going.  It has made me take online and application games seriously.  I discovered fantastic research behind meaningful connections and gaming but no real explanation of how teachers balance both their classroom structures with gaming opportunity.  

Affinity spaces- players use the context of thegame to engage in subsequent challenges, redesign games, work out physics,formulas,problems, puzzles. Social and learning activities- meta games. ARG- alternate reality games- blur the boundaryof creativity and practicality

 Ineffective teaching- begin the first day of a unit or theschool year with a fun activity or diving right into subject matter
Effective teacer- organize and structure the classroom sothat it is very clear to everyone involved as to what it will take tosucceed.  Develop gaming into yourroutine and structure (Harry Wong)

Stay organized, with claearly defined classroom proceduresand routines. It is easier to branch into gaming when you have your routines tofall back on.  The program I amvolunteering in currently has gaming activities once a week, every Tuesday.Students have two routines to work through before they have unlimited remainingtime for gaming.  Consistency causesstudents to be on time and to avoid absence
incentives-  I love starbucks.  

The Common Core emphasis on critical thinking and evidence seems to be designed just for the online gamers.  I realize that my daughter, age 7, can get a free game from me, such as Amazon.  play with the screen several times until her finger creates an interaction, fail and try again until she slowly develops a sense of the environment and its rules.  I can't do this, as a teacher I highly recommend googling the game name and "how to". I think wikipedia gives me a simple sense of what I should or could know as a coach.  Otherwise, game reviews are good to look at. 
Theroutine is a perfect fit. Study a theory, understand how it played out inhistory.  Build a base knowledge andthen, game it.

games are like science labs.  I always thought thatsocial studies should teach students as if they were in a science lab. Testinga theory or a moment in history and comparing the outcome to the actuality.  It worked. I flew to Colorado one summer andVirginia another and watched, practiced physical classroom games that test oneeconomic principle after another. Sometimes students were brought in. They received a credit of economics, we watched their response andreaction to a lectures and games. 

get a gaming mentor- I had my fellow teachers from FTE who kept in contact with me for years through email.  Now I have students. I have one or two students who hate school, love online interactions.  I excuse them from certain assignments or give them community service credits.  They play, analyze a game, write rules that link to our studies.  I will give them the facts or evidence that I hope to see students build connections to, they embed questions in the game or in forums for me.  In fact, they will perform higher with content and contextual connections because they have a role as a teacher.  

create or let students create roles for themselves.  First, before you game there has to be an element of fun.  Even when we play cards at home, we all have to make a noise, a dance, a game name before we play. Doing so builds rapport.  And for online gamers, picking an identity that is not your own protects student privacy, confidentiality and drowns a stereotype. 

When you game should stay the same, how you game should change.  

point value- must impact classroom.  EduArcade- games are a context for description, replay, probability. They areengines for analysis. They run themselves. You keep track of the outcomes.
Balanceindividual responsibility and group points. I find the best is to award a wholeteam a minimal point value once everyone becomes involved.  If it is speaking, The quiet kid can mumble 2words and the wordy kid can go on and on. The rest of the team won’t let eitherruin the opportunity for the group.

Games need to: “children who make the most of thesetechnologies do so in the context of families and communities of practice(& sometimes schools) that support their efforts or at the very least havemodeled some of these same dispositions (5)
Myfavorite one was a game where you were a boy in a snowy field and you had tothrow snowballs at other kids trying to hit you. I loved this game as a littlekid and I wish that they would remake it for windows 7 so that other littlekids can have their dads show them how to play.
— joe p^2

Gaming is intertextual absolutely. I find it best to endgames on a second day after student discussions prove to me to be engaging andrich.  The incentive to have one last goat a game causes for rich discussion. We draw on comparisons from games tocontent, we make text to text connections,  or real world connections especially with newsarticles.

Redesign-   What if.... very powerful.

Lists- everyone likes lists- helps us present choice.

Use sims to study the many ways life affectsyou if you choose a worst case scenario.
Gets you unsolicited reflections and discussionon poverty.  Sims can be considered as atext to text, first hand account, evidence.  love the British accent, mention chips instead of fries, lorries etc.
Form-  log/ report/ analysis/ strategize/
same link to common core each time.  Teacher adds comments and one new question per session.
action chart in the classroom tracks common reactions,
paper- simple rules.  recently rewrote rules for Mad Libs.
Something additional- dress as characters- add dialogue- kata's crazy uncle monkey dialogue.
scavenger hunt.
incentive at Starbucks-  Why I react to this.
Independent Lens-   muslim comic books- or maps or phrase book- something tangible to walk away with.
checklist- team discussion.
back to class.
Theory- prove it right/ wrong or nuance.
writing a game for class- needed a menu of product choices.  Need a mandatory test.  Need some mandatory participation.  Discussion.
something that students keep- tangible- to walk away with.
cartoon wall.
reminds me of lobbyist - bill to law.

world without oil- suggested teaching strategies
Suggestion: Blog 
Each lesson asks students to reflect upon the day’s theme. Blogs are well-suited to this activity: students can prepare reflections as text, images, videos or audiofiles and upload them to an individual, group or class blog. Blogging echoes the way in which the participants in the original game shared their ideas.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flat Daddy diaries

link to published article
and related   link to published article

Many nights ago, my daughter (KF) sighed and said to her dad,"it's been such a long time since I was able to lay my head on your shoulder." She snuggled against him while he held her tight and finished the bedtime story. Flat Daddy flew out to New Mexico to present at a tech conference and to see KF for the first time in person in over six weeks. Flatdaddy is my husband's Facetime nickname. Being that we are both teachers I couldn't help but compare our temporary separation and online communication to the blended classroom.  For all teachers worried about online learning as a destructive opponent of classroom teachers, there is no replacement for the real deal. But it has me questioning the following: what can technology provide for students that couldn't be there otherwise, what can teachers provide that a computer will never replace?

When real daddy arrived in October we took a day together to heighten the senses by strolling under a golden canopy of autumn cottonwoods through the city of Santa Fe and breathe in the scent of green chiles roasting on each corner.  We ended up along railroad tracks teetering on the rails. We crouched down to examine the spikes and showed our daughter how the date on the spike heads placed some rails as old as 1916 and as new as the 1970s.  We ended the day dancing the Folklorico hat dance in (mostly) rhythmic unison. With the city as our classroom, we provided educational experiences that literally touched us.  The virtual world is unable to offer this.
One to one mentoring, hands on activities, physical exertions, body language and stimulation of all five senses is possible in a classroom with a teacher. Nuances in communication that are lost in email or video chat help students establish comprehension and direct understanding.  Email allows me share an idea but meeting someone in person helps me clarify it.  Every night while I am 2,000 miles away from my husband, I use video as an opportunity to summarize or review my daily activities, he used video to remind me of the bills or chores that need my attention.  Prior to our time together the virtual world can be used to set a stage, create anticipation for a planned adventure.  It is an incentive only if the promised engagement takes place.
What can technology provide beyond the four walls of classroom?  That was actually the focus of Flatdaddy's discussion at the NTMIE technology conference, Creating Cool (with Ipads).  Online tools allow students to transcend regional differences.  One of our favorite activities is to point our Ipad at the window and remark at how dark it is back east or how sunny and lovely it is out here.  Being seven, my daughter is fascinated by time zones and will ask her dad "what life is like in the future."  A textbook might offer a definition and a worksheet activity on time and movement but the video call puts knowledge into context.
Out here in New Mexico my daughter is one of 22 students in a classroom. Online she is the sole focus of her peer group.  Teachers can not give students individual attentions that they crave or attention is given to students who abhor it.  The online world gives the student the power and authority to determine the time and place of their audience.  It can offer instant response or be purposefully asynchronous.  People need different amounts of time to respond to a question, some need a momentary disconnect while others expect quick answers.  The social network is a population that students can determine, they are no longer limited to an immediate vicinity.

My transformation as a New Mexican has made me realize that there is nothing in Vermont that can emulate the roasted green chile.  If I did not live here I would never really know what it is like to feel dry in a semi arid plateau, at altitude, four weeks without a sprinkle of rain. For this physical classroom I am grateful. My desert life seemed distant from Hurricane Sandy but the virtual world of Twitter kept me in touch with friends frantically scrambling out of flood zones and assured my daughter that Flatdaddy was safely stranded in the Cleveland airport as evidenced by Facetime chats. In the storms that face education today it is important for teachers and students to embrace the escapism of the virtual world, to venture outside the norm but to return to that classroom with heightened senses.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Conversations & Gaming serve a vital purpose

published links: E Literacy Changes Everything
                 gaming dialogue
The majority of homework in elementary schools and high schools tends to be practice or preparation leaving less than 30% for integration, interpretation opportunities (Brozo, 2010). The Common Core  is shifting assessment from a focus on skills and gains of knowledge to information analysis, critical evaluation, and expression of new understanding (CCSSI; This means our standard practices in education are not necessarily preparing students for the Common Core.  Instead of causing great alarm this lead me to reexamine isolated practices in our literacy program that could be improved to promote information analysis and new understanding.   Review of our fall diagnostic testing allowed me to isolate inference questions as a common miscue.  51 of our 127 students (grades 1-4) tested missed inference questions, second graders being most in need of skill development.  Repeat adherence to inference types of questions alone won't improve this skill. A combination of methods, direct and indirect rather than a single teaching method leads to the best learning. (NRP).Students need to build confidence and to enjoy learning. This means that our gaming day will be our most important developmental day of the week.

Fun games alone become the incentive for repetitive experience with literacy skills. Certain games, Draw Something, Scribblenaut are intentionally designed for indirect exposures to print text instigating skills such as interpretation and inference. Scribblenaut relies on gamers who solve a puzzle by implementing words that take on actions within the puzzle itself.  Like Mad Libs, the words you choose each time create a different scenarios. (wikipedia)  Draw Something relies on two alternating players who draw pictures to convey a definition of a word. Online players can see a drawing develop and scrambled letters which improve chances for a correct guess.  For emergent learners, unlimited attempts to play each game do lead to improved vocabulary and as a school tool we can increase the opportunity for word exposure and inference by making this part of the relationship that students share in a one to one tutorial.  
My administrator and I sat together and rewrote the rules for each game.  Our modifications meant simplifying the rules to increase discussion time for word choices and rationale.  We have provide mentors with time for helping students verbalize all possible definitions of a transformable word and to emphasize acceptance for creativity when a word choice is made.  Mentors would need to praise students for defending word choices and integration through drawing. Building the practice of delivery and defense is more important than winning a game.  My administrator and I had to sift through word banks in search of words that met the eleven different reading levels of our students.  What Scribblenaut did with five people and six months of dictionary and encyclopedic research to create a database of transformable words, we accomplished in one week (wikipedia). 
Parents can be a big help when it comes to gaming and education. Educators need to consider the contributions that supportive home  literacy practices offer because  motivation to read increases when parental involvement is taken into consideration (Jossey-Bass. Ying, Klinger, Living., Fox, & Doe, 2011).   Not all internet gaming is educational.  Even the educational games do little more than help student develop base skills on their own.  When adults use indirect gaming experiences as the catalyst for discussion or further investigation greater opportunity for print exposure and  domain specific comprehension arise (Brozo, 2010).  Many games now include links to twitter or Facebook in order to access suggestions offered by a greater audience.  This audience could and should take place in the home.  When my husband and I discuss the games our daughter is introducing we spend dinner time speculating on strategies and predicting outcomes.  Whereas the usual "how was your day?" delivers a quipped response, gaming discussions are prolonged into a family time, applying just learned concepts to new material (Willingham, 1998). 
Parents should not worry about being out of their element with educational gaming.  World of Warcraft is a great example of a game in which the text is written for high school reading levels, (higher than some newspapers) (Kimura, 2012).   A handy dictionary and a family discussion becomes a means for  fixing comprehension issues on the spot.  What happens if decisions made lead to failure? Good games rely on unlimited plays that lead to eventual measures of success.  And good discussions lead to deliberate intertextual connections beginning with simple questions:
  • Asking students "why they like a game?" and encouraging a detailed answer validates summative interpretation and judgement. (Blooms Taxonomy)
  • When parents & teachers model aloud that "the game reminds them of" (personal experience, another game or activity, a film or book)  it encourages text to self, text to text, text to world connections (Lenski). 
  • Students should be encouraged to make their own intertextual connections aloud. (Lenski)
  • Speculating on "what should we do to win?" develops prediction and strategic planning. (Kimura)
  • Asking students how a game could improve prompts analysis, critical examination and creativity (Marzano).
  • Carefully arguing that this game isn't real could lead to inquiry and investigation. 
  • Concluding what is then learned from the investigation builds argumentative defense and synthesis. (Blooms Taxonomy, Wiggins, Marzano)
  • Asking if they can help you play your own game is constructive collaboration and honors a student's sense of responsibility. (constructivism)
In conclusion, gaming proves to be an excellent vehicle for blending learning environments beyond classroom walls. Gaming builds relationships and rapport which is essential for healthy communities.

References: see link. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Flatdaddy tips & more E-Literacy

Screenleap       is a fantastic tool for distance learning. Flatdaddy needed to share Haiku learning platform with me. Using Screenleap, he talked me through the tutorial as I watched him navigate his own screen from my laptop here in New Mexico.  This tech to tech connection gave me the impression that screenleap could be a useful conferencing tool to use with my own students absent from class. Students who attend ski academy, who move temporarily, who hunt for weeks at a time would not have to have the excuse of losing a classroom connection.  Does this excuse students from meeting daily in the classroom?  I think it makes a class of students reliant on each other if what they are missing is truly interactive. This is why I teach lessons that revolve around situation gaming both online and offline. Admittedly, I can improve how I actually blend the learning environments.

image courtesy of Wikipedia. 
Scribblenaut was introduced to me by daughter.  It seems that elementary age up to adult are drawn to this emergent puzzle action video game. "Write Anything, Solve Everything"  The 2 dimensional graphics are simple while the complexity lies in understanding a puzzle without any written instruction. The player problem solves by recording words that become interactive objects in the game. The more nouns that are recorded in a notebook icon, the easier it is for the avatar to employ actions that lead to puzzle solving. Your thoughts, nouns,synonyms are  "tools to cut down trees" or items "to create a classroom"(scenarios).   For students unable to think of extended vocabulary there is a link to social networks like Facebook, Twitter with unlimited assistance.  Rules are learned through through repeat experience but rules change the more the game is played.  When a level is played more than three times, the game is designed to expect you to increase your vocabulary, identifying new words utilized as new tools for solving the same puzzle.  This is a super E Literacy tool for building vocabulary.
Wikipedia helped me understand that Scribblenaut used a "data driven approach, and a significant portion of the development time was spent researching nouns and their properties, and categorizing them into the Objectnaut database. Originally it was a Japanese game (created in 2009) under the name Flash Puzzle: Maxwell's Mysterious Notebook (ヒラメキパズル マックスウェルの不思議なノート Hirameki Pazuru: Makkusuweru no Fushigi na Nōto?) on January 27, 2011."

I really liked perusing this website that helped launch Scribblenaut,    Designers, publishers, bloggers, artists share forum space, edits, ideas, insider scooprs. Intertextuality abounds!
 Example blog from Kotaku hints at  true edutainment and rewards new perspectives on gaming. As educators we need to get students to synthesize bodies of evidence into something new, something that has never been done before.  Students need to critic, analyze and defend that creativty.  Funomena is an indie gaming company from San Francisco behind this the dialogue surrounding a game integrating pedometer and a fight against childhood obesity.  Phys ed teachers- check this out.  Mr. Robinson's health class could design games like this too. So, as a teacher, gaming, discussion, critic, inquiry, analysis, it is all at your fingertips. 

Thanks to the  Academy of Interactive Arts & Science I now know what cross curricular, cross genres appeal to the video culture.  Awards in music composition, design, etc. are cataloged at this site.  I found this category which gives the game player responsibility, similar to Scribblenaut.
Orcs Must Die! won best in strategy games. This is defined to be titles in which the user directs or manipulates resources to create a set of conditions that result in success as determined within the confines of the game. These games can offer the user the chance to simulate or to virtually reproduce an experience, real or imaginary, which would require some form of equipment. Strategy games emphasize the planning of tactics rather than the execution. 

Again- phys ed department, who says gaming isn't healthy? Fifa Soccer 12, simulates real game executions that could be utilized before and after playing soccer together in class. 

       I liked this webpage that listed other edutainment selections
       I didn't really review many games listed, just not enough time....

Games for Change- This is a favorite site of mine.
I downloaded the Ipad app for  Guess My Race- I think it mixes inference and investigation well. The descriptions of peoples' cultural heritage appeal to text to self connections. I would use this as a bellringer routine. Groups of students assigned to an Ipad would play each scenario, reading aloud and deciding their choice together.  We'd meet for a group discussion after and hopefully it would lead to demographic research.  This is a game which would be useful once or twice. I would expect students to congregate and collaborate on designing a new level for this game based on their research.  We would share our design with gamers at Games for Change. Ethnicities of China would be a level that would really stump many of my students. Can I design that?

What? The THING is Jewish? Smash that Stereotype slide show on history of comic book heroes that are not male, white and Christian.  Go PBS and Independent Lens.  So I can't stop I must play Hunt for the Noor Stone brought me to this great comic series, The 99.  And the documentary. As I'm playing I begin to look for literacy connections to gaming. I fear that I am draining the fun out of learning.  But it is true- this is a great example of improving reading comprehension for middle and high school students at differentiated levels of learning. I think it would appeal to informational text lovers.
Hunt for the Noor Stone 
 The game moves through still comic book images. The captions can be read by the player and are read aloud by an embedded voice. Once into the game, those who read with difficulty should partner with someone who reads quickly. Together, they can learn cultural etiquette, Arabic and history which leads to riddles solved throughout the game. The player needs to interpret what is found in the graphic images and maps.  A notebook icon keeps track of whatever knowledge is gained. The quicker a player can recall information, the quicker they can beat the clock.  I discovered that a player is blocked if they do not conform to expectations of etiquette as practiced in Arabic.

  • The timer runs quicker than my computer can load new pages, so I had to play through the first level three times. Luckily you can skip the reading of the introduction.
  • It didn't load on my Ipad.  
  • It isn't really like the 3D games our students might play on their own time but it is better than a textbook study.
Here are some less exciting links but useful to teaching:

Hotchalk lessons page      

Aesop's platform for organizing complicated schedules like one sub for several teachers.

Some games for purchase are drawing my attention:
The Curfew

  • My game picks were based on improving literacy that meets Common Core standards.  The Common Core expects all students to have fluency in writing, vocabulary and reading.  But this is not what will be assessed.  Assessment shifts from a focus on developing reading, writing skills and fluency to expressing understanding, reading critically, investigating inference. Students need to sythesize bodies of knowledge that will answer their own inquiries and show how they came to this conclusion.  Sounds like gaming to me!   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Zero is not a grade. Or is it?

My colleague, Jim, is a guidance counselor at my school.  From him I learned a few simple lessons about education.  I came to him with concern for a student who was unable to come to class on time or finish classwork. This student was refusing to learn or to pass.  Jim came to the classroom door and asked the student for a hall meeting.  The three of us stood there, Jim led the short conversation with three question, "Are you coming in late? Can you pass if you do the minimum in class? Do you want to graduate?"  
That student mumbled yes and yes and yes.  Jim said, Now repeat for Ms. Kaulbach what you will promise to do."  
The student looked at me, and repeated that he would come on time, he could do the classwork and that he wanted to pass. Jim looked him in the eye and reminded him that he said this in his own words, the responsibility was his and he would let himself down if he didn't do these three things.
The student did graduate, he was on time every day after that and he worked towards the minimum every day.  What I learned from my colleague was that simple tasks yield great rewards, making kids repeat what they learn is essential to not only learning but owning this education.

I have learned valuable, practical lessons from my colleagues over the years and now I am discovering the science to back the prevention of failure and repetitive opportunity for student ownership in learning. A retired colleague used to ask his class "how do we learn?" and in eery unison they answered, "by the miracle of repetition".  He always put an agenda on the board,  hand wrote his notes on the board for copying and kept a very simple grading system in his notebook.  His students always passed the unofficial standards based exam for economics.  All of his students passed.

The miracle of repetition, repeat, redoing assignments or tests are all opportunities for application of a just learned concept or new material (The Cognitive Scientist). Building background knowledge allows for more room in the working memory, which makes synthesis and analysis likely. Practice,  establishes minimum competence which is why even the student who copies someone else's answers should receive some reward. If we don't want students to value copying alone, it is up to teachers to include a second tier of application. All copied answers are a base knowledge to be used to solve puzzles or problems that has the possibility of more than one right answer.  

Failure is 50% not zero.  I still have a difficult time accepting this policy. My Vermont school is adjusting to schoolwide, mandatory reforms dividing our faculty as much as it brings us together.  Common grading polices especially concerning definition of failure is our current, divisive issue. Nationwide school systems struggle with discrepancies between actual and recommended practice. (Cox,2011). Grading policies have been individualized in education for so long that research matching methodology and student development are not well documented over time.  Google and  EBSCO Host search engines did present for me both the media storms and the science behind the practice. It is conclusive throughout most sources that grading practices are individualized and highly subjective. Most grades carry the weight of more than just mastery of a standard  and this shouldn't be. (Wormeli R, 2006). Grades should not embed an array of indicators such as ethics, discipline and responsibility. Nor should grades reflect all of the above and or reward, behavioral contracts etc. 
What should grades convey? This is the question that drew my research together. It should convey accountability which does not mean blame. Values, meaning and benefit to others form as a result of interaction (Wormeli). Grades are supposed to motivate students, keep them from failing often and early. (Cox,K. 2011). They should provide feedback, document progress or inform instructional decisions. Nothing else. Graded work should have a proportionate influence on an overall grade meaning that all grade intervals should be equal, failure should be 50%.  (Reeve,2004)

Links to more research:

Middle level Education- no zero           Video:  Tim Brown & assessment

                                                          video- What's Wrong with Traditional Grading?

As strong as the case against zeroes & grading is, practical application is difficult for teachers. I discovered a case study of a school similar to my own school. The study focused on interviews of reformers and resistors and why there were excellent leaders in teaching in both of those groups. By charting pieces of grading reform it was easy to isolate and discuss the areas with the greatest discrepancies. I wish our school had done this... I guess there is still time. 

 Field of teacher
Grade agreement / same course


minimum on tests

of late work
 no penalty





does not grade hw
total for actual study
A sample of 9 teachers resistant to reform out of 500 districtwide (Cox, 2011).

Identifying course or field for each teacher was useful to group discussion. Some courses have embedded mandates because they follow an administered program, ie- Collegeboard, Driver's Ed, etc.  Grade agreement for same course referred to the framework of a course being taught and graded the same by various teachers. The greatest objection focused on 50% testing and all of those in opposition were in agreement that "giving students 50% when they achieved a lower score does not prepare them for the real world."  One teacher did not grade homework (Biology teacher) and indicated that on the chart. While this teacher refused to reform, it was discovered that his own grading policies were in line with the intent of the reform, not allowing students to fail.  He replaced infrequent testing and homework with daily starters: opened ended short answer question/ tests that were reviewed, rewritten and used for study purposes on tests & exams. So, this study presented the question , what does a grade convey? Consistently, even the biology teacher was able to agree that grades need to reflect knowing, nothing more.  

Is 50% a real world value? There are many arguments in the media, on the internet over what is a real world connections.  It is impossible to determine what jobs, careers, futures our students will actually have so I eliminated this conflict from my study. It is self defeating to give all students the work  to match their future real world, it is self defeating to give all students the same assignment. The Cognitive Scientist also points out that it is "naive to think that students come to class equally prepared to excel."  Vygotsky, long ago, proved that not all children learn in the same amount of time but all are capable of learning either towards a minimum or to a specialized field or somewhere in between. Many variables affect learning and this is why repeat opportunity for success will reach all or most children.  My own daughter has progressed through 2nd grade without any failing labels but does know her limits.  If elementary teachers can teach students without (F)  Why can't we?

My role in literacy enables me to work individually and in groups.  The school practices enable us to pinpoint issues preventing student progress and work on them repeatedly until there is mastery.  Every student is self paced. Every student is self reliant,working on routine lessons until mentor/educators notice improvement. There is no grade nor failure. We promise progress at differentiated levels.  Teachers are able to let go of the responsibility of some learning and all of that failure. Students know that they are excelling and that overall grades will reflect this.  Because we work with students who would be failing and students who have accelerated beyond their peers we have to have uniform systems schoolwide. We take 92 students daily and could not do so if we had to create 6-8 separate plans for each student and each of their teacher's instructional methods. Students procure individualized results when schoolwide practices insists on repeat opportunity to develop and do not allow students to get away with not learning.  

The major benefit despite all of my own arguments for schoolwide agreement on grading is this.  It is easier to explain one policy to parents, it is easier for parents to explain or promote one policy to children than it is for everyone to understand everyone's best intentions.  There will be discrepancies even within one policy.  I learned this from working with AP and other scripted programs. I learned from our guidance counselor, less is more. I am learning now, 16 years into teaching that I can give up a great deal of my own practice for the good of the whole.  I can't have people belittle or find fault with what I have always done, that is not fair.  But I can come together if it individualized learning, this I learned from special educators.  They literally run around from classroom to classroom trying to meet one student's needs for each classroom teacher.  They have  accommodated each student and each teacher for years, balancing student's needs with perceived values of motivation, discipline etc.  My brief study of special ed law, and my attempt to move toward consistent practice has made me very sensitive to the nature of their work and the nature of child development which is still not fully understood.  One schoolwide policy would allow these educators more time to focus on students.

The greatest argument again redo/retake/ 50% failure is that the burden of work shifts to the teacher.  "I would have to grade more papers, write more tests, accept answers that were copied from others." I did offer retake, redo, 50% minimum failure over the last two years and I discovered how well it worked.
First- I did grade more because every student had to hand in work.  I always benefitted from teaching students who did no homework.  On those nights, I watched more tv.  I had created a policy that benefited me, not the students.  Students who did redo or do work late had to receive credit.  More students did work. I was busier, but not more than I should have been.  I should have policies that expect 100% return from each class.  If this burden of grading is too great, it is my own fault for trying to grade more than the mastery of the standard. (this I learned eventually)
After working for the collegeboard and learning to grade 200 essays per day, following the same rubric, I guess grading workloads are relative.
Second- some students waited for the repeat opportunity and some did copy my answers or friend's answers for full credit. It made me change the nature of the homework.  I discovered that by setting point values for total accomplishment per week, I could offer fewer points for tasks that build repetition and fluency and greater point values for concept understanding, in depth exploration and open ended questions (Danielson, Strom, &Kramer,2011).  I changed the classroom activity to focus on synthesis of those copied notes. Pick any 5 concepts from a list and group similar outcomes, competing perspectives, causation, etc. I could walk around the room and give some students 4 more concepts to integrate for homework, other students 2 concepts, other students redo with more meaning.  If they wrote this on the assignment and I gave my initials, it became a contract of learning, differentiated, reasonable, relevant. I discovered that common practice for types of homework looks like this:
elementary- 96% practice, 41% prep, 16% integration
high school- 92% practice, 41% prep, 29% integration

The research has benefits and it has costs.  There is no doubt that excellent teachers will sacrifice a great deal of time or tradition in order to make these reforms.  But what I have realized working on a literacy team in a school that is in its third year of schoolwide initiative is that All our standards and tests mean nothing unless the failure constructs a "ladder that extends to that student needing to crawl out of the hole" (Biology teacher from a case study by Cox, 2011).

Cox,K., (2011). Putting classroom grading on the table: a reform in progress. American Secondary 
         Education, 40(1), 67-87.

Reeves,D. (2004)The case against the Zero, Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4),  324-325.

Danielson, M., Strom,B., &Kramer,K. (2011). Real homework tasks: a pilot study of types, values, 
         and resource requirements. Educational Research Quarterly, 35(1), 17-32.

Wormeli, R.(2006). Accountability: teaching through assessment and feedback, not grading. 
         American Secondary Education, 34(3), 14-27.