Tuesday, April 03, 2018

March Courtyard Birding

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata).
This is my seventh(!) Western New York Spring in the second floor classroom where I teach high school English Language Arts. On most days there is some bird activity taking place in the courtyard the windows overlook. Occasionally I take out my camera (sometimes during class) and attempt to snap pictures. Most turnout poorly, and only a few of those are worth posting. These represent the two week's leading up to Spring Break 2018.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

Blue Jay (background) with Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus).

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

Monday, April 02, 2018

Building a Running/Jumping/Throwing Reader

Despite having coached middle and high school sports for nearly ten years, or 20+ seasons, prior to each season I still habitually purchase a variety of texts related to the sport. While some are drill-based manuals, others are fiction and nonfiction narratives set in the world of track and field. Among running readers, or reading runners, there are some clear classics such as Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr., or even Running with Buffaloes by Chris Lear. The overwhelming majority of these are bout distance running or endurance racing. There are also some obvious sport-based magazines that include relevant human-interest or historical essays, for example Runner's World, and others, like Outside, that regularly feature well-written pieces that touch on aspects of what could be called "the track and field lifestyle."

In my primary professional role as a high school English Language Arts teacher, I relish the days when I come across books, chapters, articles or paragraphs that I sense might resonate with the student-athletes I coach--often because they do so with me. Getting high school student-athletes to actually read and reflect on such selections is not easy as not all athletes, or high-schoolers for that matter, are readers-for-pleasure. Just as in English class, motivating students to engage text is frequently a matter of trying to fit a square peg into a triangular hole. At the beginning, I did what my coaching-mentor modeled for me: attach 1-3 page articles with titles such as "You Are What You Think You Are" to weekly team updates of information and training tips. After doing so, he and I might refer to the concepts or ideas with individual students-athletes as the teachable moment presented itself. Most times there would be minimal practical impact on the team dynamic as a whole since the articles and the messages inherent in each would be lost to the sands of time.

BEWARE: Typos above!

Last week, in the two days of practice leading up to our school's ten day Spring Break, I tried something more ambitious. I assigned "homework" for the members of the Girls Track and Field team. Yes, homework that did not include self-directed fartleks or core workouts (though those would be great, too). In addition to "enjoying family time," I wanted them to read. For this reading, I selected a personally annotated 10 page chapter entitled "Probing Commitment" from the tremendous book Dirty Inspirations: Lessons from the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports by Terri Schneider. I first read Dirty Inspirations nearly two years ago and have waited for the right opportunity to try to use it with a team. With a relatively new squad of girls, and a solid group of returning trackletes, this year seemed the right time to go for it. With a few days prior to break, I assured that everyone on the roster had a copy and articulated the task on the weekly update posted above.

Teaching experience reminds me that simply assigning and hoping text will be read because "it is the right thing to do" is likely to lead to only the few most dedicated girls actually doing so. During our last pre-break team meeting, I let them know there would also be a test of the concepts such as "leaving your ego at the starting line gives your team its best shot" (page 61) at our next full practice upon returning from break. I also reiterated verbally that which I had written in the assignment: "If you ARE part of the TEAM and the coach asks you to READ a selection, how do YOU demonstrate your commitment?" I am confident that this current collection of jumpers, throwers and runners are up to the task of reading and learning, and ultimately acting on something new...

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spring Break Reading: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Prior to saying goodbye to my eleventh graders before our ten day Spring Beak, I suggested that they find a book or two to read during our time apart. Though more than a few groaned, a few asked for suggestions to which I replied a number of titles from high school cannon, such as I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and even a classic from middle school that most had not, surprisingly,  even heard of, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. At this point a couple of students began reminiscing about titles they had (shock of shocks) enjoyed reading that I had not heard of. One young lady mentioned her affection for a book read in middle school entitled The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. As she began describing the book as being about a "rabbit doll that gets lost," I scribbled the title in my notebook for future reference. Maybe it was the promise of a rabbit protagonist or the recollection of my own prior devouring of the wonderful The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe, also about rabbits.  These factors along with the student's passion for a book read years ago moved it to the front of my spring break reading list.

Right to the top of the pile.
A longtime high school teacher, I have often searched for "lighter" fiction for sharing with students, and as a reader I, too, struggle with finding meaningful books with slightly less angst. I continue wishing for lighter literary entres to consume. Given both these factors, in addition to considering myself a reasonably "well read" person, I am embarrassed to share that I had not heard of writer, and Newbery medalist, Kate DiCamillo previously. If The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is any indication, I have been missing out by having not picked up any her many titles before. My student was telling the truth, and showing a pretty good memory in giving me a short synopsis; the book is indeed about a somewhat snooty, China rabbit (not a "doll" as he reminds us at every turn, though something he'll need to come to terms with) who goes missing. During a decades long journey, Edward comes to learn the value of loving and being loved.

This 211 page book is a joy, and like most good books, defies being placed into a box. I found this book in the children's area of my local bookstore, and after reading am going to share it with my mother who, like I, is beyond the publisher's target audience. Edward's travels take him through multiple relationships and a variety of lifetimes, but never loses a sense of the timeless. DiCamillo's narrative is further enhanced through the inclusion of illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline. Beautifully rendered in black and white, Ibatoulline's illustrations avoid anchoring the story and character in a specific time period, and do nothing to mitigate the reader's ability to imagine the events as taking place right now. Perhaps it was my nostalgia but I found the drawing reminiscent of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit art (my son's nursery had a border of the characters).

As a middle-aged high school teacher, I was impressed by DiCamillo's willingness to avoid writing down to her audience. There are heavy questions posed and big themes explored throughout, such as love, death, regret a nd patience. Lines such as "How does a China rabbit die?" (page 47), seem perfectly at home in DiCamillo's world of China rabbits and hobos. Vocabulary such as "ennui" (page 3), "discerning" (65) and "contrarian" (194), suggest an excellent opportunity for readers of all ages to add valuable words to their working vocabulary.

I am grateful for the quick conversation with one of my student's for leading me to this beautiful book. I strongly recommend The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline to readers of all ages looking for a powerful complex read disguised as a children's book about a China rabbit!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Johnny's Runnin' of the Green

A beautiful morning for a 5 mile run with 1,000 or so of my closest
sort-of acquaintances. (3/17/18)
Weather: Fair, 24°F (feels like 12°F) , 80% Humidity, Wind: WSW @ 13 mph.
Route: Johnny's Running of the Green, an out-and-back course.
Time (Pace): 41:29 (8:08 min/mile) Unofficial.

Pre-Race Observations:
With my forty-ninth birthday less than two months away, I have only recently returned to actively "running". My "competitive" racing "career" has entered a new stage beginning with this morning's awesome annual community run, the Johnny's Runnin' of the Green. In years past, I would fancy myself occasionally competitive. Now, I am just happy to be out there.

Following January's aborted Winter Warrior Half-Marathon, due to very inclement weather and, if I am honest, poor pre-race training on my part, this morning's (morn's?) run is my first organized one since December's equally festive Reindeer Run 5k. In the interim, I have been rehabbing my hamstrings, reading books, and whining about the weather (oddly, a time-honored tradition for those in Western New York born to it!).

Pre-run jitters less of a problem when
you're doing it for fun. (3/17/18)
After getting out and about on one-day-icy, one-day-spring-like roads for the past week-and-a-half, I registered for the Flower City Half Marathon this past week. This run takes place toward the end of April and today's run is just another step toward accomplishing crossing that finish line with a smile. This is my sixth Johnny's, and third consecutive one, and after posting admirable times the previous two years (38:20/7:40 per in 2016 and 38:33/7:43 in 2017), I suspect the law of diminishing returns will bite hard this year as I project a finishing time of around 45 minutes based upon the past two weeks. Like most "old grey mares", this one ain't what he used to be. An increasing comfort with that new reality does not mean I am resigned to not going faster, further in the future!

Post-Run Reflections: As usual, the Johnny's Runnin' of the Green was a festive, enjoyable community event regardless of how well one might have run. Lots of friendly faces, green t-shirts and picturesque skies made for a very pleasant morning jaunt. Though I am a little socially awkward, it is always nice to see some familiar faces enjoying their time together as a community of runners. It is even nicer to be a small part of it for a few hours on a cold March morning.

I felt remarkably well for initially feeling so unprepared to run. Though my pace was slightly slower than in years past, I was happy with both the final time and mile pace. As is to be expected with a back-of-the-pack position at the start (intentionally), my first mile was at a leisurely 8:49 pace though the final two miles were consistently faster (7:51 and 7:42). In both instances I settled within 5-10 meters of faster runners in an effort to pace with them. The pace also allowed me the breath with which to thank the many volunteers and police officers who helped keep the course safe.

While there was some slight discomfort in my hamstring, overall, I felt strong and excited about what comes next. With a little ice, core work and stretching, I look to be ready for tomorrow morning's longer, slower training run and ultimately (fingers crossed) ready for that half-marathon a few weeks.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Need for Lighter Literary Entrees

Just as we are what we eat, what is ingested intellectually (and let's face it, often on a spiritual level) can color one's outlook. Neither a "good" or "bad" thing, depending on the nature of what is being read, the experience can lead into some dark, though not wholly unsavory, places. This reality is further enhanced in the winter months of perceptibly shorter days and longer periods of darkness...

As a result of recent wear-and-tear that has kept me from running, I have more time. In an effort to fill this gap constructively, I have been reading quite a bit, perhaps more than usual. Though not part of some New Year's literacy resolution, since the start of the new calendar year I have been taking in numerous titles in rapid succession including The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roadside Picnic by Boris Strugatsky and Arkady Strugatsky, Monsters Among Us: An Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms, and Odd Phenomena by Linda S. Godfrey, March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

As is always the case with new menu items, in some case I have taken one or two bites and walked away. The Breach by Patrick Lee, for example, just didn't offer enough nutritious value to warrant a full commitment. My personal reading, as has been the case for going on 35 years(!), is always supplemented by a healthy diet of 6-17 comic book titles weekly ranging from the familiar (Action Comics, Detective Comics, The Walking Dead, Black Panther) to "smaller" titles (Evolution, Atomic Robo, Saga, Hack/Slash or Bloodshot).

Each of the literary dishes on this reconstituted diet plan contained some very satisfying flavors in the moments of their enjoyment. In retrospect, however, the majority also possessed some dark and bitter tones. There is a valid argument to be made that much good reading, when considered beyond the superficial, does. Of course, this type of diet does not come without consequences, especially to a body (or mind--trying to stick to my metaphor!) already deficient in certain nutrients. Just as a lack of sunlight in one's day may require adding a Vitamin D supplement to any gustatory regimen, at some point, lighter, more uplifting literature becomes a necessity.

This is where I am at today--in dire need of some light, airy, new reading! While I have a number of books of poetry I turn to for warmth, and more than enough long boxes of past favorites from a "friendlier" time in comic books, filling this requirement in traditional longer-form narrative literature is always a challenge. Interestingly, two recent titles I have enjoyed in the past deal with anthropomorphic animals--a pattern I am unsure as to why it exists it my personal reading tastes (especially as I no longer literally "eat" animals). The first came from a recommendation made on NPR Radio. A few summers ago I read a wonderful piece of historical fiction entitled The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe. It remains the rare book that is neither insultingly silly or immature, that tells a compelling story with weight in a manner that suggests joy and warmth. It also serves as a reminder of the value of expanding one's book choice as it was purchased on a lark, but was significantly rewarding. The second was first read was first read ten years ago and (brainstorming as I write this) may very well get reread soon for purposes of sharing with my current high school juniors, Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh.

With these two titles (and a few others) in mind, the search for lighter literary entrees continues as I attempt to cleanse my intellectual and spiritual palette of some darker (albeit delicious) flavors...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Organizing Titles: Sci-fi Books

After multiple moves and seasonal cleaning flings, what remains of my book collection are those with either a high level of re-readability or a personal connection. While some were gifts (my son bought me 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights nearly six Christmases ago), others are titles acquired at different stages in my life (the original Dune series were given to me in a paper bag rescued by a co-worker cleaning her garage--and quickly devoured--during my divorce 17 years ago). It's not just the memories of each book's content, but the nostalgia provided via the tome's acquisition. It's true that even after being read and shelved and re-read, some titles continue to grow.

Remnants of fancies past still present themselves in the forms of duplicate copies of the same title by different publishers. Though this phenomena is occasionally the result of my repurchasing a title because I forget that I had it, or had lent it out when I really needed to read it, most are the product of collecting. Back when used book stores were more plentiful, I would come across editions with interesting covers or alternate forwards and pick them up for a dollar or two. The older I have grown, the less likely I am to do this, though multiple copies of Stranger in a Strange Land reveal that my forgetfulness is still a factor.

Not surprisingly, going back through titles also elicits a few pangs of regret. For example, at one point I had the complete Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer, where now only the first, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, remains. Fortunately, lost or misplaced titles are quickly replaced by new once as my affection for Science-Fiction as a literary genre only continues to grow...

Bookshelf Titles
  • Asimov, Isaac. Foundation.
  • Barlowe, Wayne. Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.
  • Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man.
  • Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice. A Princess of Mars.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. Rendezvous with Rama.
  • Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).
  • Dick, Philip K. Ubik.
  • Dick, Philip K. Valis.
  • Eisler, Steven. Space Wars: Worlds and Weapons.
  • Farmer, Philip Jose. To Your Scattered Bodies Go.
  • Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. x2
  • Herbert, Brian. Dreamer of Dune (Frank Herbert Biography).
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Atreides.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Harkonnen.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Corrino.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: The Butlerian Jihad.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: The Machine Crusade.
  • Herbert, Frank, Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. The Road to Dune.
  • Herbert, Frank, Herbert, Brian (Editor). The Notebooks of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
  • Herbert, Frank. The Book of Frank Herbert.
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune Messiah. x3 
  • Herbert, Frank. Children of Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. God Emperor of Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. Heretics of Dune. x2
  • Herbert, Frank. Chapterhouse: Dune. x2 
  • Herbert, Frank. The Worlds of Frank Herbert.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World Revisited.
  • Kirkman, Robert and Bonansinga, Jay. The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor.
  • Kirkman, Robert and Bonansinga, Jay. The Walking Dead: Road to Woodbury.
  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven.
  • Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris.
  • Miller Jr., Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz.
  • Moorcock, Michael. The Final Programme.
  • Murakami, Haruki. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
  • Mitsuse, Ryu. Smith, Alexander O. (Translator) 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights.
  • VanderMeer, Jeff. Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1). 
  • VanderMeer, Jeff. Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy Book 2).

Monday, December 18, 2017

Inspired by Students... to Organize!

Blackbeard the cat taking a quick look at titles of zero interest to him. (11/11/17)
During class a few weeks ago, while talking with my students prior to teaching, in a segment I call "Housekeeping" on the agenda, our conversation turned to books. As this is an English Language and Composition class, I was happy, and pleasantly surprised to learn, that a number of my charges enjoy reading so much that they, like I, collect books. As one student so succinctly put it, "I like to own the books I read." I can relate.

My childhood book shelf, now
in my son's old bedroom. (11/11/17)
Over that past 35 or so years, I have purchased and been given numerous titles, and though I have occasionally purged by shelves of those without emotional connection or with little likelihood of being shared or re-read, books cover much of the space I am afforded at home. This more a source of embarrassment than pride as 1) I rarely have people over to marvel at the spines and 2) I recognize the inherent wastefulness of hording books where no one can read them but me (or my largely disinterested family). During what became a wide-ranging discussion of reading for fun, I introduced my class to the Little Library phenomenon that has long take root in my urban community and off late had begun popping up in our suburban school district (most notable with an elementary school sponsoring one just outside its entrance).

While my wife has often suggested I donate the books to the public library or some other organization like the Salvation Army, I balk at that as I know the fate awaiting them: sitting on a 50 cent shelve until eventually being discarded like so many old shoes. I can't do that to my friends, even if our relationship has grown frosty over the years... On an old cell phone somewhere are images of sadly discarded books from my school library, secretly hidden in black plastic garbage bags awaiting a trip to the dumpster after hours. That fate just doesn't seem right.

So, with my cross-country season having drawn to a close and a desire not to spend every last free, moment gaming or grading, my students have inspired me to organize my collection. The ultimate hope being that I will find away to meaningfully disseminate them to interested readers, or at the very least purge the shelves of unwanted hangers-on...

One shelf in gaming room (daughter's old bedroom). (11/11/17)

One of four shelves in the attic; my default Sanctum Sanctorum. (11/11/17)

Second attic bookshelf. (11/11/17)

Also in my daughter's old bedroom. (11/11/17)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holiday Flick: Smoke (1995)

The story shared by Auggie (Harvey Keitel) to Paul (William Hurt).

As often happens, I have fallen behind--about two-years behind--in posting my Twelve Days of Holiday Movies. Here I sit a week away from Christmas Eve thinking about a movie I first wrote about in 2011. Though as much a "Christmas movie" as the original Die Hard (1988), in my mind it still counts. While the original Mighty Joe Young (1949), and King Kong for that matter, will always be Thanksgiving movies for me, and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is must-see viewing for Lent, today's film, and in particular the closing credits, is must-see Christmas viewing.

Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995) is one film I rewatch during the Christmas season every year since I first saw it. Though not a family film (it's Rated R for language), Smoke is an ensemble piece starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Harold Perrineau, Stockard Channing, and Forrest Whitaker, among others. A quirky film, it speaks to such powerful holiday themes such as the many faces of redemption, the power of family and the quiet power of compassion.

Back-in-the-day, Smoke, and it's follow-up Blue In the Face (1995), were frequently promoted as slapsticky, New Yawk comedies (such as on the most common, and goofy, DVD packaging seen here). Promoted with (then) celebrity cigar smokers and an emphasis on the more humorous moments, this film and it's characters have much more going on below the surface. The slipcase developed for release in Japanese(?) markets (pictured to the right) offers a more evocative (not to mention holiday themed) image: this is a moving multi-character piece.

I can't recall exactly how I first got turned on to this film, almost twenty years ago now, but I do remember buying a VHS copy of it in a supermarket one day on my way to work. At one magic point in our culture, rare and unusual movies could be had on VHS for two bucks as the marketplace was transitioning to DVD). Up until our VHS player went the way of the dodo six years ago,  I would watch this film each year at just around this time. Taken as a whole, Smoke is not easily pigeon-holed as a “holiday film” (which is a good thing), but the values it eschews do seem to hit home, especially at this time of year.

The final five minutes are more overtly holiday-themed which contributes to its easy selection as a  holiday film, much more so than Die Hard. Originally published as "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story" by writer (and the co-director and screenplay writer for Smoke) Paul Auster (a version of which is available here), the final moments of the film show what is told earlier in the movie. The set-up is this: two of the primary characters, Auggie and Paul, are having lunch. Paul is a columnist who needs to submit an essay to the New York Times for its holiday edition. Auggie (the cigar store owner whose own story is intertwined with those of the other characters) has a story he'll share for lunch. The emotional impact of Auggie’s story is further punctuated by the Tom Wait’s song, "You Dream," which accompanies it.

The story acted out and set to "Innocent When You Dream" by Tom Waits.

Unfortunately, hard copies of Smoke in DVD/Blu-ray are difficult to come by. Nor is it available on Netflix or Amazon Prime for direct streaming. Thanks to the magic your local public library (in my hometown of Rochester, New York, there are two copies for borrowing), Smoke is worth seeking out.

Great stuff, and just one of many evocative scenes from an excellent film.

Originally posted on December 24, 2011

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Veggie Cooking: Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

Don't let Bertie's expression fool you, he was also impressed by the final product! (11/11/17)
Attempting to maintain a less cruel diet, I haven't eaten meat, fish or chicken since July 1. While I have also tried to reduce/eliminate products harvested from animals, by replacing animal milk with Almond for example, a satisfactory replacement for some favorites has thus far eluded me. By far the two animal-product-based meals I most miss eating are ice cream and chicken wings. With the ice cream absence addressed by a delicious banana-almond milk-peanut butter smoothie, the chicken wing "loss" is one that often aches at my gut, especially on Sundays.

After recently enjoying some baked cauliflower buffalo wings at a local vegetarian eatery, I sought to duplicate the epicurean experience at home. Fortunately an easy to prepare recipe for Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings online at Gimmedelicious.com was quickly found, and after carrying it around on my cell phone for a month, my tummy prompted me to action. On this wintry November afternoon, Bertie, our English Springer Spaniel puppy, and I set about making our first batch.

I am an unremarkable cook, choosing rather a clich├ęd path of learned helplessness when it comes to the kitchen. Even with this culinary handicap, I found this recipe remarkably easy to prepare, in addition to being incredibly rewarding. That the sauce consisted of two favorite ingredients (butter and Red Hot) was a bonus.

A key ingredient: classic Frank's Red Hot! (11/11/17)

Baked once in batter for 20 minutes. (11/11/17)

At this point Bertie had other plans. (11/11/17)

Twenty more minutes after being drizzled with buttery Frank's. (11/11/17)

Plated and ready to SLAY! (11/11/17)
The final product proved an excellent gustatory eexperience. Though too spicy for milady, my stepson and I quickly gobbled down the order of "wings" with a side of dressing. The crispiness of the twice-baked flowerets was solid and the overall flavor VERY reminiscent of the far less fowl-friendly original on which it is based. I am excited to have discovered, and actually tried, a recipe from GimmeeDelicious and look forward to attempting another cauliflower recipe, the Sticky Honey Sriracha Cauliflower “Wings” in the very near future!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Reading: Assessment 3.0

Each summer I intentionally mix a little professional reading into my bedside book pile. In many instances, the titles I choose for this purpose are read with the thought of using them to enhance the  range of content for the courses I teach. More and more frequently, however, books are chosen in an effort to improve my teaching craft. Late this spring, a coaching/teaching peer of mine from a neighboring district began chronicling his move toward a "grade-less classroom" on his personal blog.

In an effort to reach out to like-minded educators, he also invited others to dialogue about their own efforts on Twitter. Though I have often thought (and read a little about) the use of anecdotal evidence and conferencing in place of traditional numbers as a means of assessing and motivating student learning, the excuses I could (and continue to) tell myself far superseded my will. I also was unclear as to what primary text could best articulate a practical approach.

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes was the book he suggested I start with.

As the subtitle Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning suggests, this is a book of interest primarily to educators. I read this as a means of personal professional development over the summer at the suggestion of a colleague. Short (124 pages including appendices), Barnes’ book is written in very accessible language for teachers of all experience levels. The author uses examples from a variety of educational levels as a means of validating his assertion that using his model of assessment (SE2R) will lead to more independently motivated learners.

The approach employed by Barnes in delivering instruction and feedback can be distilled down to "four simple words," which when combined result in the aforementioned acronym SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect, Resubmit. Assessment 3.0 guides the reader though numerous situations across multiple disciplines and grade levels using this technique to promote the creation of an ongoing, objective conversation about learning. The final result, if properly facilitated, is mastery learning on the part of the student.

As a widely read piece of educational literature, there are quite a few excellent summaries and thoughtful analysis on the validity of Assessment 3.0, much of it written by teachers implementing it. Though I am currently just researching and evaluating the potential, I did have two thoughts:

  • The greatest challenge to change is time, and Barnes addresses that concern head on, by acknowledging and asserting that "Yes, You Have Time For Feedback" (64), and furthermore, offering some suggestions as to how to meed the added expectation of responding in "more than simply written descriptors of work." (61) The central point of his concept is that the work, whether by student or teacher, should be meaningful and that this targeted conversation is a way to make it so.
  • While a well-intentioned (if traditional) educator, I continue to operate under a number of the misconceptions (preconceptions?) regarding effective student assessment and learning that Barnes' work seek to counteract. This doesn't make me "bad," or even ineffective, but it does shed light on the truth that there are areas for improvement. Throughout Assessment 3.0, Barnes cautions against an all-or-nothing mindset, suggesting the practical, intellectual and cultural transition necessary for the shift to an SE2R-centric approach. I am excited to follow the implementation of my colleague at another school district, but the extensive leg work and culture building with administration and colleagues he has taken on prior to doing so reminds me that I am still only cherry-picking.

Ultimately, good books, like good teaching, provoke more questions (the result being the dialogue key) than answers. As an introduction to grade-less (number-less) teaching Assessment 3.0 makes a compelling argument for more research on the subject by interested educators such as your's truly.