Category Archives: English

A Strange Aside – A Rejoinder About Crackers

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I saw this interesting photo on the Smithsonian Libraries Tumblr which led me to this online archive of Forest & Stream from the 1890s. Where I found the letter included below (because of the interesting photograph beside it). Bonus points for the ability to download specific pages with or without the OCR data.

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The letter makes for an interesting read in a variety of ways. Just another example of how much amazing content is out there.

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A Rejoinder About Crackers

While I do not wish nor intend to enter into controversy with “A Georgia Cracker” over the manner in which I described my first meeting with a “Florida Cracker,” still if you will kindly allow me a little of your valuable space in which to defend myself, I promise not to transgress again.

Now, in the first place, if “A Georgia Cracker” will kindly look on page 507 of Forest and Stream, in the first column near tbe top, he will find these words: “There may be a better class of this part of the human race than we met. I hope there is.” I did not say that there was not a better class of these people. That I hoped there was. My assertion that we did not meet this better class, however, I still stand by. While I do not in the slightest doubt the word of your Atlanta correspondent when says he has met this better class, still what he has met and what I have seen are “horses of different colors.”

Secondly — 1 do not wish “A Georgia Cracker” nor any one else, from anything I may have written, to infer that I include all persons born in the State of Florida categorically as “Crackers.” Far from anything of the kind. I always supposed that they were to be found exclusively in the lower class of Southern whites. And from all accounts of camping, hunting and fishing in that State that I have read (for I, too, have read Forest and Stream very closely ; in fact, as I write my eyes rest on more numbers of that valued journal than an able-bodied man could very well lift, as they date as far back as 1879), I do not remember having read anything that would lead me to infer to the contrary. I would not for one minute class the considerate Fernandina storekeeper with the concave-chested exister.

Thirdly— It puzzles my mind considerably, in fact, it is utterly impossible for me to get it through my head — how under the sun friend “Georgia Cracker” could investigate such cases so thoroughly as in one place to say that if I “had taken the trouble to inquire of them their birthplace,” as he had done in Georgia and Florida, “I am sure their answer would have been Philadelphia or other refined centers of the North;” when in another place he distinctly says he never has run afoul of a case of the kind while hunting, fishing and traveling in every State east of the Mississippi.

Fourthly— Of the hospitality of the people of the South as a whole there is no question. But as to his inferring in one place that my article was written to suit the taste of Northern readers of Forest and Stream; then again, in another place, of his distastefulness of my use of Forest And Stream’s columns in which to vent spleen and prejudice against the South he simply is ‘way off the track, as I have no feeling of prejudice whatever to vent against the South— for, list you, Sir Georgia Cracker, while I gently whisper in your ear the fact that every drop of blood that flows through my veins is Southern. My parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and each and every one of their preceding ancestors, extending far back into the past, years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, all first beheld the light of day in that sunny land to the south of Mason and Dixon’s line.

With good feelings for all — even concave-chested “Crackers”— and animosity to none, I close.

Wm. H. Avis.

New Haven, Conn., July 4.

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Vocabulary Acquisition & Digital Word Walls

Kendall Latham worked with all of our ITRTs this past Friday around best practices in vocabulary acquisition. She gave us a decent overview of the research including the idea that it takes upwards of 13 interactions with a word to make it stick. That’s a lot more interactions than normally happen.

We also have a push in a number of schools around word walls. This has the normal mix of decent implementation and compliance implementation. It did start me wondering about ways we might use online word walls to take this to the next level as both a teacher led interaction and as a way to aggregate diverse student content in ways that would be interesting.1

I thought about a range of examples I’ve encountered over time and space that might be educational/inspiring/worth thinking about.

General Activities Around Words


  • 100 Words – Defective Yeti - a quiz that allows you to select a portion of words from a total and enter your self-created definitions. It then provides a place for you to see your definitions vs the official definitions and decide if you were correct. His tool gives you an embedable “score sheet” but I wonder what could be done with aggregate data in terms of redisplay and in terms of analyzing submissions. It seems it wouldn’t be too hard to make this do a lot more for the group as a whole.
  • Gyp – Defective Yeti I’ve also like his exploration of etymology and the way that models interesting habits for students.
  • Defective Yeti Again – I like everything about this structure and the more organic pursuit of understanding words that are included in his summaries of Moby Dick.

Structural Examples

Below are some ways I’ve been playing with both creating semi-amusing vocabulary content using found photos around a theme (zombies in this case) and how I’ve been capturing language I find in the wild. I can easily imagine doing this at a larger scale in a class with all the content aggregating centrally and then leveraging the words/images to do many interesting things – playing a role in a system like this.

Other vocabulary related pieces I pulled from previous posts on this site.3

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Another random thing I’d love to do with English. On Twitter, Peter Sokolowski4, posts popular searches from Merriam-Webster’s site. He also explains why the search is popular based on what’s going on in the news. I’d love to have the kids trying to figure out why the word has suddenly become of such interest. It will also, likely, give your kids an ego boost when they know words that the English speaking world apparently does not.

Presto, change-o, you’ve got context, current events and all sorts of other interesting possibilities with absolutely no work on your part.

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Step Up Yo’ Vocab

I’d show the kids a bunch of article headlines and quotes complaining about the deterioration of today’s society and how today’s music sucks. This is really just to get them riled up and interested in proving they’re not the brain dead people being described.

The kids pick their favorite favorite song and go find the lyrics.

Then you have the kids run they lyrics through something like this site which calculates reading levels. This one isn’t great for this purpose but it’ll do for this demonstration. We just want some sort of number that quantifies the sophistication of the lyrics.

The challenge for the kids is to increase the reading level as high as possible while maintaining the spirit of the song and its rhyme scheme (if any). – original post

Shirts/Mix CDs

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From “I love the ocean” to “Esteem the ocean” and the Fresh Prince theme translated until mangling occurs.

1 I also have a side interest in how adults model vocabulary acquisition as they go about their normal lives. Consider this tweet a very beta salvo in what that might eventually look like.

2 GAAWs – after MOOCs peter out it’s the next craze)

3 If I numbered them and changed the title, it’d be SEO GOLD!

Rebuses and Icons in English

From national geographic #english

I saw this in the August 2013 National Geographic.

It reminded me of when I taught 6th grade English. I used rebuses quite a bit. It was a fun way to help reluctant readers and writers. The National Geographic article sparked a few new ideas though.

First, using The Noun Project as a source gives you and your students a huge repository of icons to use for games like this.1

The portion of the article that got me interested was the idea of intentionally misinterpreting the rebuses or reading them from right to left so they tell a completely different story. It feels like there are some opportunities there.

Take a series of icons and -

  • summarize a book, article, or poem
  • make a rebus palindrom
  • make a rebus when read right to left means the opposite of the left to right reading (I can’t find the opposite of a palindrom)
  • create a famous quote (bonus points for how fast your classmates figure it out)
  • use them for simple writing prompts (add variables for student interpretation (e.g. look at this literally, read it left to write, interpret is like a surrealist). That way you and your students are not bored and they have a reason to read other students’ interpretations. At this moment in time, I’d build a random viewpoint website and add lots of options to it.
  • use them as a gateway to synonyms

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This was just a random four icons taken from the browse section.2

In the anti-understanding vein-

I was slapped in the face and for what? It was the best drawing of a tornado I could manage as I was in a hurry. I had to be halfway up a mountain range by dawn.

From right to left-

Life is a downward plunge. The clock started long ago. It’s a downward spiral. No one hears your screams.3

1 Although I am not a fan of downloading zipped svg files. I understand but I don’t like it.

2 All images from Rémy Médard from the Noun Project.

3 Wow. That was a bit dark.

Some Elementary Attempts

I’m working more closely with some of our elementary specialists this year. It’s been a good while since I worked with this age group. I’m pretty excited the potential to do some interesting things.


Measurement is a big issue for our students in elementary. It spans math and science standards and kids are not connecting it with their lives. I’m playing around with some graphic ways to get students engaged.

When I tried this out with my own kids (ages 9, 7, 5) they all really wanted to know how big the dog was. I realize it’s not the best sample but they aren’t shy if they don’t like things.

I don’t know that will stick with an apple as the visual reference object. I’d like it to be something they have in their hands at the time and on a regular basis.1 I hope to encourage a lot of measuring against their own bodies. My kids like that- holding their hands up to where on their body the dog’s head would be.

It might also be interesting to run a number line down the wall and have kids move to the numbers to indicate guesses, kid of a kinesthetic graphing exercise. I am pretty sure I saw that someplace.

I’m attempting to imitate some of Dan Meyer’s three act math strategies (guess too high/low, what information do you need?, progressive release of additional information) but may be missing the mark. If you look at the other Flickr photos, the guidance may be way too heavy handed. I’m still feeling my way here and will need to see it live.

Another problem area in English is synonyms and antonyms. I happened to see these two items in the grocery store that day. I have no idea how they’re differentiating chopped vs diced foods. I’m hoping that by modeling capturing media of this type you’re turning on a lens for both teachers and students. It feels like it ought to be so easy to do things like this.2 We are bathed in words every day, we just have to look around.

I saw a number of other interesting language choices in just this one trip in a tiny section. I was told by someone that I looked lost. After I responded “I’m just capturing vocabulary in the wild to use with elementary students.” She opted to move on.

These mushrooms were growing in our front yard. I added the quarter for scale but have one without it as well. That might be an interesting piece for measurement as well. The idea of context for measurement is more and more interesting to me. Strangely, I remember reading in Capstick’s Maneaters about how hard it was to estimate the size of crocodiles in the water because of the lack of visual references, even by experienced guides. This lead to claims of really huge reptiles. There’s probably some interesting way to use that.

1 A pencil might work but I wonder about it changing size as it’s sharpened.

2 Clearly it isn’t.

What Transitionary Personalized Learning Might Look Like

media/project mixtures

In most English classes the teacher chooses all of the content in addition to all of the assignments. In some classes you’ll get to choose between a few books, assignments, or essay topics that the teacher has provided. The projects tend to tier upward in terms of sophistication and/or length.1 There is essentially one broad common experience for everyone and virtually every structural element originates with the teacher. The student ability to alter the class is limited to asking questions. That leads to a fairly predictable experience built to produce similar products which are easier to compare to one another.

English, in particular, seems to beg for a different paradigm for course participation/creation. I talked some about the mechanism for infusing student selected media into a course in the previous post, so I’m doing this backwards to some degree. The lower portion of the image above is a rough conceptualization of what the course itself might come to look like as compared to a traditional course (the upper portion of the image).

A chunk of this is colored by how I’ve seen elements of #ds106 play out. I have always loved the idea that participants can submit project ideas. Linking those ideas to the student work created based on them makes it far more powerful and interesting for everyone. It also substantially changes the locus of control for the course. Cory Doctrow recently had something similar happening in an English class using his novel Little Brother as basis for songs, fan fiction extension chapters, and alternate chapter extensions. Doctrow goes out of his way to make this possible with his CC licensing and general enthusiasm for fans interacting with his work.

Will you have to think through quality control? Sure but it’s worth considering how you can integrate that into the course by infusing an understanding of standards based grading and guiding the alignment of projects to that concept. I’d look at quality control here as a problem I’d want to have as it opens a number conversations that should be valuable and should further the goals of the class.

The other portion of DS106 that I found particularly interesting was the progressive extension and remixing of participant created projects. The idea that other students would look at something you did and find it inspiring enough to make them take action (create a similar work, remix it, create something new). An example of that chain that mattered to me in ds106 was when I watched No More Digital Facelifts. I believe the assignment was to reflect on the talk in a blog post. I was interested enough in the language and poetic elements of Gardner’s talk that I opted remix it over Nas’s If I Ruled the World. You can see all kinds of responses to that post. That was empowering to me in a variety of ways and it made me reconsider exactly what role I might play in this course and how my actions might create ripples or waves greater in size than the originating force. There is an audience and what I do can have power.

Clearly, none of this is rocket science and none of it is a promise of instant engagement and success. In many ways it creates different problems than the traditional class but the problems are more interesting to me. Breaking students out of the consumption mindset will be a fairly difficult task by itself.

In the end, I see little choice in our current landscape. Either teachers start actively harnessing and successfully promoting the interesting human elements of differentiation and relationships or they’ll be replaced by the mechanical versions. I know “A computer never hugged anyone.” but a human shaped pillow could and a low-paid child supervisor endorsed in hugs probably already is. Teachers seem to be making the wrong arguments and thinking of the past as a far more solid foundation for the future than it seems to be, especially given the PR arrayed against the institution.

1 These two things are often conflated.