Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Really?? Do Sal Khan and his supporters really understand where the word "nitpicking" came from? I know it's used informally as an adjective to suggest that one is looking for small or unimportant errors or faults. But I also know nitpicking, literally, is critical for student success.

Almost a month ago two math education professors from Grand Valley State University released a video they made satirizing one of the Khan Academy videos on multiplying and dividing integers. They highlight both mathematical and pedagogical concerns.

If you want to see the entire history, check out this Storify page by Audrey Watters. If you're wondering "what were these guys thinking??", check out these blog posts by Dave Coffey*.

Khan's initial response was to pull the video in question and post an updated video. He also commented on Justin Reich's Education Week blog post entitled Don't Use Khan Academy without Watching this First:
We at the Khan Academy really appreciate the feedback from you and your colleagues regarding videos that could use improvement.
But, a few days later he was quoted in a piece by the Chronicle of Higher Education:
. . . so it's kind of weird when people are nitpicking about multiplying negative numbers.
What really struck me in Khan's comments to the Chronicle, was the word "nitpicking". He's not alone in suggesting that those who find errors in his videos are nitpicking. Many comments made by Khan supporters also suggest these two professors are nitpicking and, just today, Teach for America had a blog post that also dismissed critiques of Khan Academy videos as "nitpicking".

Picture Courtesy: Medline Plus
Nitpicking is, unfortunately a very common occurrence in elementary schools. Over the years, I have had a number of students who reported to the office daily for nitpicking. It was the only way we were able to keep them in school, because in Michigan, students can be in school with nits, but not with live lice. If you don't get rid of the nits, AKA nitpicking, the live bugs hatch, multiply and spread to others.

So, maybe it's a good idea that someone is "nitpicking" Khan Academy videos. If Khan doesn't find and correct the little, seemingly unimportant errors (nits), the millions of viewers that he reports watch his videos from around the world may find they've developed critical misconceptions, kind of like having the nits hatch into live bugs.

*Full disclosure, I am married to Dave Coffey. Don't let the lame satire fool you, he's really a nice guy. :)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Read at the Beach!

Read at the Beach is an annual March is Reading Month tradition for 1st graders at my school. Of course the end of March is usually too cold to really go to the beach, so we turn our cafeteria into the beach with a little imagination, some beachy props, and great calypso music by our own technology director, Jeff Grossenbacher. (Also of Two Dudes in Flip Flops and Island Breeze fame!) Jeff gets us started with a reading of The Jolly Mon by Jimmy Buffett and his daughter, Savannah Jane.

Then, the kids are off to "read at the beach"!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Writing Process

A few years ago, Su Palmer was assistant superintendent of curriculum for my district. She introduced me to writing workshop, "draft books", writing demonstrations,  Dancing With the Pen, Smith and Elley's (1997) How Children Learn to WriteEffective Literacy Practice. I couldn't get enough. As I began to develop my understandings, I made significant changes in my teaching practice and watched my students grow as writers.

After serving as superintendent in a K-8 school for a few years, Su is now teaching at the college level. She visited my classroom last week to observe my students during our literacy block to get a feel for the realities of the classroom.

She reminded me of two key components of effective writing instruction:
1) make the writing process explicit
2) follow the writing process all the way through to publishing

And, she reminded me of the value of collegial conversations.

My students have been doing lots of pre-writing, drafting, revising, and some editing all year. But, somehow in our busyness, publishing had taken a back seat. The reality is, it's not easy to squeeze in publishing without making it a priority. So, to help make the writing process visible and explicit, we made this chart as a class and have it posted in a prominent place. And, I've started publishing student writing--my goal is to confer with at least 3-4 students each day until each student has one published piece over the next 2 weeks.