Monday, November 21, 2016

Peyton Online Academy and Peyton Junior/Senior High School

So, once again taking advantage of posting later than almost everyone else, I've read what those ahead of me on this lesson (Nathan, Jenni Esser, and Jen Rice at this point) did for their assignments and am taking some of what you, my gracious colleagues have produced as a starting point.

In particular, I was drawn to Jenni's own blog on creating a successful POA. I guess I'm left wondering what, exactly, we're trying to create. Organizationally, the Peyton Online Academy is a separate institution with in the district, with its own administration team, testing numbers, etc. However, we've talked about leveraging PJSHS proper as a resource for POA students. Inviting them to participate on our sports teams and in other extracurriculars, even--if I'm remembering correctly--suggesting that in future perhaps the POA kids would build their own homecoming float.

While I'm not as there in the thick of things as Jenni is, I want to make bold enough to say that there are a few more fundamental questions that have to be answered before her questions about credit recovery and the TOR's roles, etc. can be addressed.

For me these would be (1) What do we want the POA to be? and (2) What model is best to accomplish that purpose? At the moment we're far more integrated with PJSHS than our administration set up etc. suggests. We have students moving back and forth for credit recovery and study halls. All of the TOR's are PHS instructors, and by necessity and contractual obligation PHS instructors first and foremost. We (the POA) seem to be seen at the moment as a supplemental program attached at the hip to PJSHS, and as such subject to the digital coursework needs and goals of PJSHS as they see it. Hence the study halls and the credit recovery. If we're an independent entity that wants to exist on its own, than things like that, designed to serve the needs of PJSHS and students who spend the majority of their time in that building should definitely be separated and become the responsibility of the main school through some other tool set.

To my mind the truly independent POA model would have to function as a disruptive blended model--really an enhanced virtual model. Until such as time as we can hire more teachers to work directly and exclusively with those students enrolled in the POA, a hybrid or sustaining blended learning model won't work because the teacher's simply aren't available enough to make it happen. We're being given twenty hours a month to devote to this. That's not adequate to support a slipped, station rotation, or rotation model. It's not enough to support a Flex model either, because Jenni alone can't run true flex model. She's doing a fantastic imitation of that right now, and is doing better than anyone has any right to expect her to be doing, but none of us has the knowledge necessary to effectively coach/tutor/one-on-one/small-group instruct in all the subjects an effective Flex model would have to provide at a high school level. I can't teach any of the classes our Jennifers-3 teach, and I'm not going to do as well in social studies as Nathan would do, although I flatter myself that I'd do okay. So given our current enrollment numbers and shared instructors we can't really do a flex model. That leaves either the A La  Carte approach or an Enhanced Virtual approach.

I think the decision between these two formats depends on how closely tied to PJSHS we want to be.

If we (the POA) intend to be a fully separate entity, functioning as a second or alternative high school in the district, than we should go with an enhanced virtual model. At the moment given our resources that is the model we can best support. We have the students work through our designed courses at home or in the building as they please, and make ourselves available during set office hours or by appointment. In this model the TOR's would not give up their planning periods--at least not by requirement or official request--but would be available in person during fixed hours or by special arrangement with a given student. We would continue of course to be available via email for anyone who wanted to contact us--allowing for reasonable response time. In this set up PJSHS has to deal with their own credit recovery because that's not our job and those students aren't ours unless they switch over to the POA program instead of being primarily PJSHS students. The job of POA in this case is to provide a primarily virtual education, supplemented with F2F time with teachers on a weekly basis or by student arrangement. The idea would be that those students who are ours are just ours. While they may participate in PJSHS extra-curriculars much like home school students can, they are not PJSHS students per se.

If the POA is going to be, despite it's nominal separateness, an extension of PJSHS, with students moving back and forth between buildings for various purposes--credit recovery, electives offered through POA that aren't offered onsite at PJSHS, whatever--than we need to go with a very different model: the A La Carte model. the A La Carte model would allow POA to function as a Jack of All Trades within the district, providing electives that aren't otherwise available as independent study courses, credit recovery options that, being teacher created, will require some real meat and won't allow for--"oh I took my senior year off, but I can make it up with a hard week's work at this online course!," providing a full enhanced virtual curriculum for students that want their entire experience online rather than through the virtual classroom, and probably a number of other things as well.

Either way, without drastic changes in personnel and/or funding, we don't have the people and tools to implement any of the sustaining hybrid models at POA, and Flex model would be severely limited by a comparatively small number of computers and only one in-class always available instructor/tutor/coach the model requires. That leaves us, for the foreseeable future with a choice between the Enhanced Virtual and A La Carte models, and before we can choose wisely between them I think we have to decide on a clearer definition of who we are as the POA.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Post @ 7 Worlds

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Revisiting Shakespeare, Macbeth, and Feminism...

So we're covering Shakespeare (specifically the major tragedies, Hamlet as a class and Macbeth, Lear, and Othello in small independent reading groups) in my College Prep English course right now, and I have the students posting blogs in response to their outside reading of the tragedies. I've been particularly troubled/intrigued/interested in the blogs that have dealt with Macbeth, as the students have inevitably spent sometime--some have spent a lot of time--on the fact that Lady Macbeth drives her husband to his crime.

All the students who discuss how easily Macbeth is swayed to murder--by the witches and their prophecy, by his own ambition and finally by Lady Macbeth when he wavers in I.vii--find primary fault not with Macbeth, nor with Lady Macbeth's argument, but with the lady's sex and her social position of wife. The thing that seemed most disturbing to them about the sequence wasn't the ruthless evil of her argument but the fact the she as a woman and as a wife persuaded Macbeth to act.

What disturbed me most was the assumption implicit in these posts that it is inherently "unmanly" for husband to allow his wife to influence his decisions, or by extension for man to be counseled or directed by a woman. And so I've been kicking around what they said, and kicking around my own thoughts on Shakespeare in general and Macbeth in particular, on Shakespeare's inevitably complex approach to his plays' major themes, and the extent to which he challenges or fails to challenge the gender constructions of his day.

Certainly there are moments when Shakespeare falls far short of treating his female characters the way a modern reader would want them to be treated. He is a product of his time and we of ours and he inevitably shows the influence of his environment. One need only think in passing of The Taming of the Shrew or King Lear (in which the tragic hero's hamartia seems to consist of not only abdicating the position in which God has placed him but giving power [gasp!] to women) to find ready examples. Still, there are strong female characters who must be accounted for--Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing, Portia of A Merchant of Venice, and, yes, Lady Macbeth.

In replying to the students and challenging some of the underlying misogyny implicit in their fear of Lady Macbeth having actually changed her husband's mind (O crime of crimes!) or given him direction, I found myself discussing the fact that Lady Macbeth is a character the audience is clearly meant to find repugnant. In doing so I thought about her, and about her attempts to motivate her husband by verbally assaulting his manhood, and decided that I find nothing repugnant in her attempting to direct or persuade her husband, and I don't that is the element intended to cause the audience's rejection of Lady Macbeth. And while her professed willingness to murder her own child is horrific that is as much from sheer lack of human feeling as it is tied to her sex or her role as wife and mother. No, I think the primary element of the scene that is offensive here, and that is intended to be offensive here, is a definition of strength and manhood that includes things like being willing to murder, to step over moral codes and boundaries.

By placing this description of violent and amoral "manliness" in the mouth of a character so obviously vile, I think Shakespeare is intentionally challenging this formulation of strength. We are meant to despise Lady Macbeth, and all that is inhuman about her, including her linking of strength and manhood to a willingness to give in to our basest desires in order to force the world to our will. I think Lady Macbeth's strength of will and character is something admirable in itself; it is the misplaced sense of what constitutes strength and manhood that transform that will and strength of spirit into something that is disturbing and haunting. Lady Macbeth's sex and her role as wife/mother is at most tangential to the moral wrong presented.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Superstars Writing Seminars

I had the wonderful privilege of attending the 2013 edition of the Superstars Writing Seminars. This seminar is a business of writing seminar (although craft inevitably slips in a bit when you have this many writers hanging out talking for three days) taught by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson, and David Farland (Wolverton). They add various guest instructors each year. Last year Dean Wesley Smith and James Artimus Owen attended as guest instructors, and this year’s guest instructors included bestselling romance writer Joan Johnston, Mark Leslie Lefebvre of Kobo, James A. Owen, Tracy Hickman, and Jim Minz of Baen Books. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these names, they are mostly giants (and if you don’t buy giants because it is subjective, than bestsellers is inarguable) of science-fiction and fantasy, although Farland has written outside the genre, and the guest instructors can vary widely. 
With panels discussing everything from balancing a writing life with a “real life” (whatever that means…) to the details of contracts, to inspirational presentations, to an entire day discussing ebooks and indie publishing there is an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge covered here in these three days. In addition the instructors are available for meals which often resemble one-on-one and/or small-group tutoring sessions (I had the privilege of dining/”lunching” with several of the instructors over the three days and am quite grateful for the friendship and knowledge extended each time).
The session is made up primarily of people in the early stages of a publishing  career. That is, this is not eager-beaver college students or still dreaming oldsters who only talk/think about writing. We had several published authors among the attendees, winners of the Writers of the Future Contest, and one of my new friends walked out of the conference and his first follow up post to the seminar’s facebook page was to announce that he is meeting with an Independent publisher who bought his pitch and wants to see his manuscript on Monday. So not that true beginners couldn’t benefit from the seminar, they absolutely could. I left feeling like I needed to keep my head straight so knowledge wouldn’t spill out my ears if I leaned my head too far to one side. And honestly, with only a non-SFFWA (Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) short-story publishing credit to my name, I am probably a little closer to wet-behind-the-ears newbie than most attendees, but this seminar is designed to help those on the cusp push over. 
If you are interested not just in writing, but in developing a career as a writer. Give yourself the opportunity of a leg up. Join us next year for Superstars Writing Seminars. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Blessings of Literary Theory in Teaching Composition

One of the debates that I had with myself in attempting college level instruction for the first time (I am teaching the "College Prep English" course, our unofficial AP Lit/Comp course), was the benefits that literary theory provides students in learning the art of college level analytical composition.

My wife told me early on in the process of formulating my curriculum for the year that I should be sure to include literary theory as a portion of the class, and that I should do it early. Being enrolled at the time in the introductory Grad school theory class and encountering anew the pleasures and challenges of our major theoretical thinkers, I was surprised at her adamant suggestion. However, after some thought I agreed to give it a try, figuring that Literary theory couldn't hurt and I could always adjust.

She was absolutely write. And I'm not certain why it hadn't registered with me before the benefits this could provide. What had become second nature to me through undergraduate and now graduate training, namely that there are multiple set perspectives from which academics traditionally approach literature most of which can be employed to provide a legitimate reading of any given text, was (of course) news to my students (prisoners of the "correct interpretation" myth) and helped immensely in what has proven to be the most demanding aspect of my course for them - knowing what to write about when the teacher refuses to tell you.

What I had forgotten, or failed to realize, was that a basic knowledge of theory provides instant topics for analysis. I keep a small tool chest of basic analytic options that I can whip out at anytime that something new and striking doesn't just jump out at me as I go through a given text. I know that there are always several old tropes I can fall back on that will provide academically sound analytical work. My students didn't have this tool chest, and what's more were terrified by the cutting of the given topic umbilical cord. When I refused to budge on that point (leading guided brainstorming sessions of possible topics rather than providing even examples or lists) they soon found that the theories I was exposing them to could provide the scaffolding they needed to come up with topics on their own. Why it is that this was not immediately and painfully obvious I'm not certain I can say, but it has proven an invaluable tool to me as a teacher, and far more importantly, to my students as writers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eagleton One More Time (Although I doubt anyone will read this...)

I apologize as it appears that I was bothered far more by Eagleton's comments on Mormonism than I realized, and it led to my hijacking the conversation somewhat this evening. That wasn't my intention, and I did not consciously take the snubs as a reason to hate Eagleton or After Theory. My primary argument with the text (as I said in my first blog and won't rehash in any detail here) was that Eagleton oversimplifies the argument in favor of a truth that will allow for the kind of moral judgments that he is calling for.

I actually applaud his position on a majority of the issues he presented. There was a moment in class where Dr. Eskew asked how it is that Eagleton divided truth, and we only partially addressed this question before moving on (which was quite possibly my fault, although I don't remember). I think that the truth Eagleton describes as the false "absolute truth," the straw man set up for knocking down by enemies of the idea of truth, is a moral truth that is completely free of any situational conditions. When he says truth is neither timeless nor non-historical it does not mean that there are not some things that are always true, it means rather that as he says later "Principles can be flexible and still be principles" (144). I think that Eagleton rightly recognizes that principles are always contingent. The Bible does say "Thou shalt not kill," but it also orders the wholesale destruction of communities: every man, woman, child, and all the animals besides. Is it inconsistent? Although I can understand the tendency to say it is (and many have said so, many far smarter than me), I don't think so. I think it is an example of the contingency of principles that Eagleton is pointing out separates truth from the supposed timeless, non-historical "truth" that he attacks as a false version of a concept that he sees as essential. I think that's the divide. All ethics/morality is situational. The application of principles is always contingent, the right thing to do inevitably depends on the situation. This is why our law allows an exception for violence, even lethal force, if it can be established that the action taken was in self-defense. The situation merits the consideration rather than a blind application of an "absolute" principle. I think that's the division of truth brought up in the text, and, for that matter in class.

In my haste to defend the Church while separating myself from elements of the culture that has grown up around it in Utah, I gave a wrong impression. First of all, I stereotyped those members of the Church that are from Utah. Unfortunately it's a bit of a habit in the Church to refer to Utah Mormons in much the fashion I did. I loved my time at BYU. It was the right place for me. I never felt dominated in thought or action by the professors there. However, there was a sufficient contingent of the student body, normally locals from within the state, that had been among like minded folks for so long that they had begun to stretch the beliefs of the Church to take in their own completely separate political positions. Because they saw their own political beliefs as God's will, there was a shut-up and get in line mentality among this minority of students at the institution. I should not have generalized about Utah in that fashion. It was childish, and motivated partly out of fear that I would be painted with that same brush because I was so vigorously "defending the faith." I certainly never intended to imply by speaking of the hard right "Ayn Rand" style position of this group that it was reflective of the Church itself, or of its policies or doctrines in any way. The members of the church and the organization itself certainly deserve the reputation they have been given for "taking care of their own" as it was put in class. I hope that nothing I said would lead anyone to conclude that I feel the Church has somehow abdicated the responsibility to care for the poor, or even that the minority whose views/mentality I did single out for criticism were necessarily averse to helping out personally or as a church. Such was not my intention as nothing could be further from the truth.