No rubric for rapture

Image result for eyeball nature

In Fortress of Tedium, novelist Nicholson Baker recalls his month as a substitute teacher. One day, he leafed through an 11th-grade English textbook with excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Nature.

Emerson writes: “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball.”

In the textbook, next to this passage, there was a brief assignment printed in the margin. It said: “Review the elements of transcendentalism listed on Page 369. Which aspect of transcendentalist thought is reflected in Lines 12-19? Explain your answer.”

Isn’t that just about the most paralyzingly unrapturous question you’ve encountered in any textbook? “Explain your answer.” No, thank you. I will not explain my answer. My answer is my answer. I am a transparent eyeball. I am a huge, receptive visual instrument with a flexible lens, and I’m taking in the infinitude of all space and time and dragonflies and owls and life and roadkill and hydrogen gas. I am nothing and everything. I am bathed in air. I’m a carefree, happy huge shining slimy eyeball of weird wonderment. I can swivel in any direction. Any direction I look, I will find something interesting.

As a sub, he passed out a lot of work sheets. The high school work sheets were the worst. “In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-­provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-­O-­Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back.”

Baker’s book on his experience, Substitute, is just out.

Wasting time online — for credit

Wasting Time on the Internet is a new creative writing class at Penn this spring. Poet Kenneth Goldsmith hopes “clicking, SMSing, status-updating, and random surfing” can be “used as raw material for creating compelling and emotional works of literature.”
Kenneth Goldsmith

“Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs,” the course descriptions states. “Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.”

They’ll also read “critical texts” about boredom, “affect theory, ASMR, situationism and everyday life,” the course description states.

Distraction can unleash creativity, Goldstein tells Jason Koebler on Motherboard.

He’s tired of reading New York Times articles “that make us feel bad about spending so much time on the internet, about dividing our attention so many times,” he told Koebler. “I think it’s complete bullshit that the internet is making us dumber. I think the internet is making us smarter.”

“Electronic distraction and multitasking is the new surrealism,” Goldstein argues. “Surrealists wanted to get unconscious, well, we’re doing that now all the time.”

Why teachers hate ‘close reading’

Close reading is being turned into a do-it-or-else teaching fad, writes Coach Brown, who’s being professionally developed yet again.

Close reading is basically hyper-analysis of a small text or a small piece of a larger text.  Kids identify first impressions, vocabulary, main idea, points-of-view, contextualization, and so on.  The goal is to get students to not only have a greater understanding of the literary passage but to also be able to apply it to something else.  It’s actually a very effective method of analyzing text.

But not for all subjects and not all the time, writes Brown. Among other things, “advanced students hate it,” “it’s boring,” and “the skill becomes the important part of the exercise.”

He cites John Spencer’s explanation of why teachers hate close reading.

Often, due to policies that demand “evidence of close reading” during walkthroughs, teachers are using this strategy for everything. Poems should be closely read. Difficulty, but relevant, primary sources need close reading. However, novels don’t need this. Grade level articles don’t, either. And when close reading replaces things like silent reading, kids lose their passion and interest in reading.

The Common Core is very big on close reading.

Bored in class? Deal with it

Nancy Flanagan writes about bored students and boring teachers at Teacher in a Strange Land.

Boredom isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, she starts.

If you’re bored, see it as an opportunity to figure out why. In addition, bear in mind that many excellent life habits are established through repetition and plodding along.

Boredom isn’t a sign the curriculum or teaching has been “dumbed-down,” Flanagan adds. “Practicing almost anything can feel boring, at times.”

Buying into kids’ boredom as valid reason for disconnecting or misbehaving corresponds to another fallacy: the idea that “good” teachers should make every lesson novel and entertaining to kids. True, there is a strong acting/entertainment factor in dynamic teaching. Great teaching should inspire learning through more than attention-grabbing, however.  Reminder: the person who does the–hard, and occasionally monotonous–work of learning is the student. It doesn’t matter how many white-lab-coat chemical explosions they witness, or if their fifth grade teacher dresses up like Amelia Earhart–there is no learning without diligent effort on the part of the child.

Boredom is not a sign of giftedness, Flanagan writes.

Students who “own their boredom” can find ways to deal with it, she advises.

I went through school before the invention of “gifted and talented education.” There was no tracking till high school. I read in class, which made it possible to go through 10 books every two weeks. (When the library gave us three weeks, I started reading longer books.) It’s the core of my education.

Learn to work through boredom

Working through boredom — without a parent or teacher to nudge you along — is a critical college readiness skill, writes Mark Bauerlein on the Core Knowledge Blog. (I’d say it’s a life readiness skill.)

K – 12 teachers try to use “relevant” materials that will engage and motivate students, writes Bauerlein, an Emory professor.

. . . teachers may go too far in presenting an exciting, relevant curriculum, unintentionally giving students the message that their boredom is a justifiable condition that somebody else must remedy. Better for them to absorb a different lesson: boredom, in itself, is no reason to stop working.

Many college students don’t have a clear goal. They want “the college experience.” They want to please their parents. It’s the thing to do. If it’s not fun, there’s no reason to keep working.

Patience is the missing 21st-century skill

The 21st century skill students lack is patience, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham.

We oldsters grew up with “fewer sources of distraction and entertainment,” he writes. The TV had four channels. “Digital natives” can avoid even mild boredom, most of the time. They never learn that patience brings rewards.

Jennifer Roberts, a Harvard art and architecture professor, tells students to select a painting in a Boston museum, study it for three hours and write a paper on it.
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The duration is “meant to seem excessive,” Roberts says. She wants students to think they’ve seen all there is to see, keep looking and see more.

As part of a book she was writing on 18th century American painter John Singleton Copley, she studied at length the painting A Boy With a Flying Squirrel.

Despite her experience, it took time before “she noticed that the shape of the white ruff on the squirrel matches the shape of the boy’s ear, and is echoed again in the fold of the curtain over his left shoulder.”

Students “need to feel the pleasure of discovering that something you thought you had figured out actually has layers that you had not appreciated,” Willingham writes.

Boring is bad, responds Tim Holt. He accuses Willingham of shouting, Get off my lawn, you damn kids.

From boredom to creativity

A little boredom is good for children, Dr. Teresa Belton told the BBC. Children who are kept active and stimulated every minute don’t have a chance to develop their imaginations, argued Belton, senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning.

Interviewing writers, artists and other creative people, Belton heard many stories of boring childhoods. Writer Meera Syal grew up in a small mining village with few distractions.

“Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons.

“But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life.”

Society sees boredom as uncomfortable and uncreative, Belton said. But creativity “involves being able to develop internal stimulus.”

“When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”

Reminds me on Diana Senechal’s book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

Turning reading into a bore

Students spend too much time practicing reading strategies that won’t improve comprehension, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham on his blog. A little dab’ll do ya, he writes in a longer article. More is a waste of time — and it makes reading a bore.

The chart shows the various strategies:


Too much strategizing turns reading into drudgery, Willingham writes.

How can you get lost in a narrative world if you think you’re supposed to be posing questions to yourself all the time? How can a child get really absorbed in a book about ants or meteorology if she thinks that reading means pausing every now and then to anticipate what will happen next, or to question the author’s purpose?

My daughter’s second-grade teacher thought she read too quickly. I guess she wasn’t using reading strategies. She was just reading.

$100 to go to school for 5 weeks

To combat truancy in Camden, New Jersey, 66 students will get $100 if they come to school for five weeks and attend after-school sessions three days a week. Students will get $100 on Sept. 30 “if they attend most anti-truancy sessions and school days.”  Most?

A $63,000 grant — which expires in five weeks — will fund the program. (Someone must be making a lot more than $100.) The program was organized in a hurry: Only 25 percent of students enrolled are chronically truant; the rest are borderline truant or attending school regularly but doing poorly.

(Ramona) Pearson-Hunter who has been in charge of the district’s truancy efforts for the last year said some of the truants cite boredom.

“We know we have to keep them active,” she said, adding that she suggests students ask teachers for extra-credit activities to remain engaged.

They’re bored because they don’t have enough assignments? Or is it possible they’re bored because they don’t understand the classwork?

After Sept. 30, the students will be asked to promise to attend regularly.

On the other coast: Told to pull up his sagging pants, a San Francisco student became belligerent, according to his teacher, who called the police. The student was not arrested.

Do children need to be bored?

Children need a little boredom, writes Nigel Farndale in The Telegraph.

 With more toys than ever, children are overstimulated and unable to focus their attention.

 How can a jigsaw puzzle that might take hours to solve compete with a PlayStation game that has the synapses fizzing within seconds?

We did succumb to a Wii last year, however, and I regret letting it into the house. Not only is it the rival of den-making, football-kicking and tree-climbing, it is the enemy of reading. But ordering your children to turn the Wii off and read a book instead hardly sends out a positive signal about the pleasures of reading – which is a shame, because a child who has discovered the magical world that lies between the covers of a good book is rarely bored. I have a feeling our Wii is going to meet with an accident any day now, and will take several months, possibly several years, to repair.

There’s no such thing as overstimulation, counters Amanda Marcotte on DoubleX. Farndale is just a curmudgeon, she writes.

Constant stimulation may annoy curmudgeons, but it helps work those growing brains into the sort of brains that parents supposedly want for their kids.

. . . After all, a good video game is a rapid-fire series of problem-solving situations. Shouldn’t we want kids to spend their leisure time working on that? (Scientist friend on hand wants it to be known that video games are used as therapy for ADHD kids, to retrain their brains to concentrate.)

Do kids need the stimulation provided by gaming? Or would they be better off spending the time with a jigsaw puzzle, a book, a ball or a tree? I’m pro-book, but I have almost no experience with video games.