Slice of Life: These Days of Discombobulation

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It’s easy to forget what creatures of habit we are … until something disrupts our routines. For the past few years, my teaching schedule has been fairly stable. Most of my classes began on the hour, so I knew as the minute hand approached the 12 that we had better start getting ready to switch classes. The visual cue was my friend.

This year, all that has changed. We’ve added a new intervention block into our day, and our specials (art, music, etc.) got shifted later into the morning, and then our lunch got moved ten minutes later (our sixth graders don’t eat until 1:15 p.m.). This has meant that the flow of day is always in flux, and I am constantly relying on my paper schedule to figure out where we are in the block and how much time we have left.

discombobulation flickr photo by TheoJunior shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I’m discombobulated. (And a cool word to say out loud. Go ahead.)

Which I suppose is par for the course at the start of the year for students, too, and so my sixth graders and I are in this together. I’ve told them, be patient — we’ll all be where we need to be when we get there.

So far, so good.

Peace (starting),


Book Review: The Card Catalog (Books, Cards and Literary Treasures)

Let me admit up front: other than the introductions, I didn’t read much of this book. I perused the images of the cards from books in the Library of Congress catalog system. It sort of seems appropriate that I would do that, given the nature of the book.

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures is published by the Library of Congress, and while I am sure the text for each chapter is a dive into history, I found myself enjoying the flipping of pages so I could “read” the notecards on all sorts of books. Seeing the handwritten notes and the typed information was a sort of Wayback Machine. Most libraries are now searched digitally, but this book reminds us of the long period where the art of curation was found in little notecards of information.

Here you will find replicas of the original notecards in the LoC catalog for books like W. E. DeBois (Souls of Black Folks), James Joyce (Ulysses), Orville Wright (Stability of Airplanes), and Edward Lear (The Complete Nonsense Book). In many cases, we see the original cover art of the books situated next to the card from the catalog. It’s fascinating.

Another interesting area of the book is the design pages, showing how the physical aspects of a catalog works, and was engineered, complete with schematic drawings. This is real library geekiness, but even a breezy read of The Card Catalog will spur appreciation for the work of librarians, even in this digital age.

Get thee to your public library and breathe in the air of books!

Peace (page after page),

What Clocks Do to Us: Only Time Will Tell

Martinskirchen: strange clock at the church tower. flickr photo by fchmksfkcb shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

My friend, Charlene, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some “unintended consequences” of our digital lives. Her story has to do with helping young students in the first days of school, and her observation that some students struggle with alphabetization perhaps because they never spent time exploring the dictionary, and its sequential patterns.

She writes:

This disconcerting realization caused me to consider the ramifications of a generation(s) of students who haven’t learned and practiced alphabetization skills. The literature is rife with studies where memory system capacities, especially working memory, are measured and analyzed using span tasks which appraise the subjects’ ability to recall and sequence information.

Read Charlene’s piece here.

Her post connects to another activity a handful of us did last week, in which we were annotating an article from The Guardian about how digital reading was impacting the comprehension skills of young readers, and how brain scientists are studying the impact of screens on how we interpret text.

Check out the annotation activity for Skim Reading is the New Normal by Maryanne Wolf

And I was reminded about something else, too, along Charlene’s observational lines, in my first days with my new sixth graders when some students had to sign out to use the bathroom. Many stare at the huge analog clock on the wall, sometimes for extended moments (I guess the bathroom break is never all that critical), trying to figure out the time. Some even turn and ask me for help. Others give up, and either scan the projector screen for the digital time or ask someone else.

This is not a new observation. I’ve noticed it for years now. And wondered about it. We’ve talked about it as teachers, too. You should see students when I give them some “clock” math work to do, using the hands and face of clocks to calculate basic math skills. It’s like a foreign object.

Stereo clock flickr photo by cbcastro shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It occurs to me that something might be lost with this shift of how we tell time. It’s true that a digital clock is quick and accurate. But being able to see the movement of the seconds hand, and then the movement of the minutes and hour hands … these things give you a “sense” of time’s movement in a given day. You “see” the rhythm of your experiences.

I’m not suggesting all clocks in our lives need be digital. But like Charlene, who wonders about what gets lost when we don’t use the physical dictionary, I sometimes wonder what gets lost when we don’t teach basic analog clock skills. What are the unintended consequences?

Ever step forward seems to leave something behind — for good and for ill.

Peace (in the new school year),

August Rest: A Poem Unfolds 31

All month, as part of my break from blogging and other technology, I have been releasing a poem, one word a day starting on August 1 and ending yesterday, August 30. If you have been a casual visitor at all during that time, you no doubt thought something had gone haywire here. Mostly, I suspect, no one stayed long enough to care about what I was doing. Here, though, is the whole poem in its entirety. — Kevin



patience –
running —