Finding Your Voice in a Figured World

I am a Career and Technical Education teacher in the urban district of Meriden. We have adopted the practice of blended learning in the classroom, with the student to device ratio being 1:1. James Paul Gee, in Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, discusses that we live in a “figured world” full of  “cultural models” and “master myths.” Devices have now become part of our students “figured world” as Gee would put it, and brings several “master myths” with it.

This year I have incorporated the flipped classroom model into my pedagogy in my Computer Applications classes. Because we are a 1:1 school in a blended learning district, I assumed that all my students would automatically be motivated to use my how-to-videos in class rather than listen to me talk at them at the front of the room. This myth was shot down and not true in the figured world of a teenager. I noticed that students did not know what to do with the videos and how to navigate through our Moodle site, which serves as our content management system for class. I figured that since every student has a device and access to the Internet, that they would want to use that method of learning rather than just listen to me.

My assumption that students will take a liking instantly to this method of “taking charge of your learning” was a failure early on. I had frequent questions of why we were doing things this way and that certain things on Moodle were confusing. I also saw more Snapchat and text messaging on phones as I walked by than I expected. In my figured world, I assumed that students would automatically receive this in a positive light because they had full access to me at all times and could pause me, mute me, and fast forward me all in the same class (what young person wouldn’t want this power, right?).

After much thought and self evaluation of what I was doing the first couple weeks of school, I realized that I am dealing with a very complex cultural model, being that we have a school comprised of students who come from all different types of socioeconomic backgrounds. This is not a one size fits all figured world we live in, so I had to come up with a way that would work for every student, but in a different delivery system.

I agree with Risley and Stanovich in their “Children of the Code” series, that the more we expose our students to something, in this case leveraging multi media to create class projects, the more they will learn and adopt this learning into their lives. Risley mentions that a talkative parent will produce a talkative child, and that a taciturn parent will produce a taciturn child. This was an interesting point because I realized that after my first couple weeks with this new method of flipped teaching, I was not really good at how I taught my students to use the resources I have provided them with. If I want my students to use these resources effectively, I have to teach them how to use it effectively.
After this self evaluation, I decided to do a little more work on myself. I took more time in class to show students how to navigate the Moodle site, and where to find the resources they need in a given class session. I no longer assume that students know where to go, or assume that they will watch the video just because it is posted on the site. I have to lead them to it, and make it a part of how they learn. I want to continue making this new way of learning a part of their figured world in my class, and I am starting to see positive results through student feedback and scores on their assessments.

To dig even deeper and address another topic, but continue with reaching my students in this flipped model, I wonder if I would have had more success early on in capturing their attention on video if I had a different voice. Is my voice too deep? Do I talk too fast? Do I not speak clearly? Do I have a weird accent?

Rupal Patel, in her Ted Talks video “Synthetic voices, as unique as fingerprints” spoke about how powerful a voice can be and how it serves as a reflection of who we are. I believe that we should have the opportunity to choose our voice for any situation, whether it be on a gps, emergency system, or how to video on how to tie a full windsor knot.

This weekend I was away at a wedding, and I  wanted to teach myself how to tie a full windsor knot. I went through dozens of videos until I finally found one who spoke clearly and did not speak with a heavy accent.

Why did this video work for me? Was it because he spoke slowly and paused, allowing me to make mistakes and catch up without pausing the video? I went through so many videos until stumbling upon this one. All the others spoke too fast, and I simply just could not follow along with how they were trying to teach the tying this knot.

I will tell you one thing, I would not be able to keep a straight face and steady hands if it was Really High Voice Peyton Manning teaching me the Full Windsor Knot!

When I think of how powerful a voice can be, I think of Peyton Manning in his most recent DirecTV ad. He is seen as his regular self, and then enters again as himself, but with a very high pitch voice. Would the great Peyton Manning that we know today, be the same icon and celebrity that we know, if he had this high pitched voice? The answer is no, probably not, but this makes for an entertaining close to this blog post!

-John V


Google Sites: A Digital Learning Hub

I spent the last few hours putting my digital learning hub together in Google Sites, and have to say that I expected a little more than what it is available within this platform. I knew going in that the site was limited and focused more on the ease of creating sites in Google, but I was hoping that there was more opportunity for creativity within this site.

I am going to continue messing around with the site and watch more videos on creating pages and how to organize them efficiently before I switch to another platform. I am going to take into account that I use Google Apps for most of my schoolwork, and Google Sites will play nice with the resources I provide for my students.

Today I created my site and found it difficult to find a layout that I really liked. I will continue tinkering with different layouts until I come across one that I find aesthetically pleasing. I have to use Google Sites because it is unblocked on our network in Meriden, and should be easy for students to navigate through and interact with.

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I have created pages for announcements and resources thus far. Within the Resources page, I will include links to all the tools we use for class including our CMS Moodle, Quizlet, and a link to our class list of blogs. Within these resources I will use it as a space to embed the link to my Youtube channel so that students have a direct link to my videos that I record from class. This way if a student is absent, they can go right to the channel for that day’s lesson. I already do this in Moodle, but one more avenue wouldn’t hurt!

I am going to keep the door open to try other sites for my digital learning hub, but will give Google Sites a legitimate chance as I add more content and resources on my hub. I look forward to building up my digital learning hub as a place for students to access class material and for parents to see what is going on their child’s Business class.

-John V

Searching for Exemplary Digital Learning Hubs

In EDUC 7720 we have been assigned the task of creating a digital learning hub for our classes. This is a space where teachers can post announcements and class content onto their own website for students to have accessible to them wherever there is an Internet connection.

After looking at some of the exemplars provided by Tim, I have to say that I am looking for something a little more interactive and engaging. I am a fan of the aesthetics when it comes to searching and sifting online. I get hooked in by visuals and embedded content. I enjoy sites that allow the user to interact with the content and provide easy to follow resources including multimodal tutorials.

When I think of an effective digital learning hub, I think of Tim’s hub because it provides students with a place where they can stay informed with class announcements, learn via multimodal tutorials, and serves as a form of professional development in its offerings of teacher resources.

In my site I will try to include a more engaging design, but I like Tim’s site because it is clean and easy to follow. I looked through several other digital learning hubs and just thought that there can be so much more to this site to offer for students. As important as I think the aesthetics are in designing a learning hub, I believe the functionality is even more important. Students need to be able to easily navigate through the learning hub to access content for class.

I am going to take all these ideas and observations into consideration when building my learning hub. One thing I would like to include is a section where students can contact me with any questions, almost like an online office hours section. I have chosen to start with Google Sites because I have heard that it plays nice with everything Google, and am looking forward to creating a digital learning hub for my students to use for class!

-John V

Multiple Literacies and ‘Digital’ Code Switching

In today’s digital age, students are now learning in blended learning environments and flipped classrooms, where they are asked to use their devices for means other than personal and social use. Students are asked to use their devices to search for an article and respond to a prompt in a blog post, or to watch a how-to-video on a computer application and perform that skill on their own. Students are so used to using their smart phones and tablets for means other than education; most notably Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and others.

Students being asked to change the way they use their devices is a prime example of code switching in today’s education. (I like to call this ‘digital’ code switching). To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, he urged people to “adjust their default setting” and think outside the box. I feel that in today’s education (at least in the district where I teach) students are now being asked to adjust that default setting and use modern technology for learning to enhance their digital literacy, which in turn will improve their reading and writing skills no matter the socioeconomic background.

I have seen that many districts now are using the term “career ready” when discussing skills students will obtain in school. In my opinion, to authentically prepare our students for a career in their chosen fields, they need to have a sound background in how to properly use this technology to complete tasks and solve problems. Those who do not experience this until after high school will already be behind their peers from districts who did utilize this technology to improve digital literacy in their schools. This can have a huge impact on students who are not digitally multi lingual in large part because of the larger learning curve and lack of preparation compared to their counterparts from districts who did use this technology to prepare them for a career in today’s digital world.

In “Social Linguistics and Literacies,” James Paul Gee explains, “If readers know the language, can decode writing and know the requisite background ‘facts’ to draw the inevitable inferences any writing requires, they can construct the ‘right’ interpretation in their heads.” (p. 46, 5th ed.). In my school, I have to interpret different speech on a daily basis. Our student population is so diverse, bringing several different cultures into the classroom. Each culture has their own way of speaking, and with that I have to interpret the meaning of what my students are trying to express. In my classroom, if you were to listen to me speak when walking around the room and conversing with my students, you would hear different tones in my voice and varying rates of speech with all the different cultural and societal backgrounds in the class.

To echo James Paul Gee, because I have a sound educational background and enough experience working in a diverse environment, I am able to put together a valid interpretation in my head of what a student is asking me, and what their current needs are. Below is a clip from the movie “Airplane!” that relates to how my speech changes from student to student at times. (NSFW).

When I think about technology and what it affords our students, it allows them to be who they want to be and escape the social norms of the educational society they are in on a daily basis. Education is now asking teachers to utilize technology into their classes, tapping into students’ social interest in social learning sites such as Edmodo and Google Classroom. I appreciate and respect the fact that young people can now separate themselves from their educational selves, and be able to truly express themselves on other personal platforms that they interact with outside of the normal school day.

Jamila Lyiscott discussed the ability to diversify your speech to display articulation in her Ted video, “3 Ways to speak English.” Modern technology offers this ability through how people interact in social media. I do not expect my ‘straight A students’ to retweet the latest article on the current unemployment rate of our country; where as I appreciate that they have the opportunity to display how they can be themselves, whether it is expressing their current emotions or retweeting the latest viral video trending on Twitter to their peers.

Whether it be in school, hanging out with our peers, or highlighting our qualifications in a job interview, we live in an age where we are free to display our vast levels of articulation no matter who the audience is. If President Obama, perhaps the most articulate man in the public eye, can let his guard down in public, why can’t we?

One person who apparently does not care to adhere to the norms of society is Marshawn Lynch, star running back from the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch has become a pop culture icon within the last couple years for his refusal to cooperate with the media. I understand that he does not want to speak to the media about football, but it is part of his job description. There are many things that I do not like to do in my job, but I do it anyway because that is called discipline and being a role model for others. Lynch clearly does not care to be a role model to our young citizens, but his actions are actually glorified in the media.

His interviews are shown on loop on ESPN and shared via Twitter and other social media outlets. This has a negative impact on our youth as they see a professional football player who does not go by the rules. This just shows our youth that they can do whatever they want and make up their own rules as they go.

I respect Marshawn Lynch for the talent and competitor that he is, but he has to understand that he has to shut off his ego and switch on his professionalism, because he has an easily influenced audience just craving for someone to look up to.

-John V

Dear Students: You Are Not Alone

Recently I watched Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk, “Connected, but alone?” and it forced me to reflect on my teaching and the type of environment that I provide students in my classroom. She discusses how people today are always plugged in, meaning they are constantly checking their phone, texting, and even shopping during board meetings. I thought to myself, “Man that sounds like my students!”

I teach at Platt High School in Meriden, where we are 1:1 in terms of students to devices. We have adopted the blended learning environment, where teachers utilize modern technology into their instructional pedagogy. These devices are to be used for educational purposes only, and not for personal use. In my class students know that the expectation is to be professional at all times, and that using your device while your manager (teacher) or coworker (classmate) is talking is unprofessional in the work (class) environment. This aligns with the district policy of devices being used only for educational purposes.

Last week, in the second week of school, I observed how students were interacting with each other. I noticed students who were engaged in what we were doing, and others who were somewhat engaged; attempting their work but using their device for personal use at the same time. Her talk really struck me in that students today seem as though they are alone, even when they are with other people.

All week students were creating their blogs in Weebly, to provide an environment where students will interact with each other not only in class, but also outside of it as well to reflect on what they are learning together. Every student has a voice in my class through their blog, and they are asked to comment on the work of others to show the class community that this is a shared learning experience. I want students in my class to know that they are never alone, and that their blog will be their companion to communicate their ideas and viewpoints with their new personal learning network.


In my classes, I have set up a Google Sheet that has every student’s blog address by class period. Students will be assigned to comment on a classmate’s blog post each week, and eventually they will have the task of commenting on someone’s post from an entirely different class. I am using these posts as reflections to what my students are learning; and to the degree of how much they are learning. These blog posts serve as an indicator of comprehension of class topics and how well they are grasping the content of the course.

After reading their blog posts, I will be able to determine how well I am teaching the material and tinker with the way I am teaching it. If students are blogging about how they did not grasp a certain topic, I can now go back and alter how I am teaching that particular topic. I am using the blogs as a way for students to express their learning freely with no judgment. I will also be using student posts as means to differentiate future instruction.

I am excited to read my students’ posts from last week, and see what they think about blogging in my class. I look forward to interacting with them outside of the traditional classroom and hope they find their voice in expressing themselves through their blog.

John V

A Biker Bar Moment in Athletics

In James Paul Gee’s book, “Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses,” he discusses the social context of ‘discourses’ and relates it to being at a biker bar. In this analogy, he discusses how in social context the focus is not in what you say, but in how you say it. Instantly when I read this I thought of the scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when he walks in the biker bar to make a phone call. I also thought of the scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but Pee Wee seemed more appropriate for all audiences.

I experienced a biker bar moment not even a year ago when I first started coaching girls high school basketball. I have coached high school boys basketball seven years, and decided to make a change to take the opportunity to coach with my wife, Michelle, who is the Varsity girls basketball coach at Wethersfield High School.

I can remember the first day of practice, walking in with my new Under Armour polo and pants, new sneakers, and same swagger that I always have when I coach. I pride myself on being a confident person in everything that I do, because it fuels the people around me and motivates me to be at my best at all times. I had my fresh hair cut and shave from the day before, ready to make a big first impression on the team.

Several young men who have played for me have played and are playing college sports, and tell me to this day that if it wasn’t for how hard I pushed them it would have been very difficult for them to be where they are. For the better part of seven years coaching boys basketball I had the confidence and competitive attitude that I was the best coach on the floor no matter whom we play.

So we are twenty minutes into our first practice into a drill that I call “perfect layups,” where the team gets two minutes to make twenty layups. If they fail to get twenty, they have to keep trying until they get it.

Twenty minutes is all it took for my confidence to be questioned, after the team failed to get twelve made layups on the first try. We tried again, with little improvement. I looked at my wife and said, “We might have to go back to 3-man weave.”

This was the moment when I realized I was not coaching high school boys anymore. One of our players, hearing what I said to my wife, exclaimed, “That was offensive.” I saw how upset and insulted she was at what I said, and it broke my heart.

That same style of coaching that I have been using for years was put into question after twenty minutes. At first I didn’t understand what I said to make her so upset. After speaking to my wife, I understood that I had to change the way that I coach. I have learned that boys perform better when they are full of pure adrenaline, and that girls thrive off of emotion, performing at their best when they feel good about what they are doing.

This has made me a better coach, more empathetic to the athletes that I interact with every day. It has also made me a better teacher, as I am more aware at the buttons I can push with certain students. It has made me a better husband, as I listen more than I talk (a more common word in my dictionary now is “yes”.) As a bonus, this biker bar experience has also prepared me for fatherhood this January, as I will treat my athletes and students with compassion and respect to their emotions, the exact way I would want my daughter to be taught and coached.

John V

My Digital Learning Hub: A Work in Progress

Towards the end of last school year (14-15), I decided to begin moving my classes from Edmodo to Moodle, which is the tool that our district (Meriden) uses for our content management system (CMS). I wanted to make the move for a few reasons. Edmodo was a nice tool, but it was lacking the creativity and flexibility that Moodle provides.

The biggest reason for moving to Moodle away from Edmodo was that it allows the teacher to place their content into sections, or topics. I like this element of Moodle because now the teacher can place any content and assignments for a particular chapter or unit of study in a section specifically devoted to that topic; Edmodo lacked this feature.

So far this year I have introduced my students to blogging and the opportunities to enhance our learning that it brings. I planned to have students create their blogs in WordPress, but unfortunately it is blocked in our district; we improvised and used Weebly since that is not blocked on our network. I created a Google sheet for students to input their blog address, allowing everyone in the class to have access to each other’s blogs.

In this digital learning hub, I am including discussion responses to go along with class content and resources that I post within each topic. I have how-to-videos on how to execute certain skills and commands in Computer Applications classes, which have prove n helpful to students of various learning capacities. Within this hub, I can post assignments and have students add their submission right into the prompt, making it easy for me to assess them as the responses are right in Moodle and can be graded within the same page.

Below is a screenshot of what my class looks like so far. After evaluating myself and getting student feedback, I would like to “clean up” the workspace so that it is easier to follow for students. For example, I would like to create a folder within each topic strictly devoted to how-to-videos; this will help declutter the earning space and make it easier for students to follow.

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Within the Blogging unit I provided my blog address to students so that they can follow me and use my blog as a model while they build up their own blogs and digital identity. I feel this is important to practice what I preach so that students can see that I am not just giving them something to keep them busy, but something that will help them reflect and build upon what they are learning in class.

As great as Moodle is and all the positives it brings, it does have a rather large learning curve. I am still learning how to use the system, and would like to experiment with the “chat” feature to provide students with a place to contact me with any questions or concerns.

Finally, after reading Ian O’Byrne’s post on using Google sites as a digital learning hub, I am interested to give it a try and experiment with it to see if it offers the same features that Moodle offers, but in a more user friendly way. I do like how Google Apps will play nice with its own sites, and embed these apps right into the site, making it “shiny and sticky” as Ian cleverly puts it. I might try using Google sites with my Intro to Business class, and continue using Moodle with my four Computer Applications classes. I am a glutton for technology, so I will most likely continue using Moodle with my Business class but moonlight with Google Sites on the side to see if it offers anything that Moodle does not.

All in all, I am excited to continue learning and enhance my digital learning hub to provide my students with the most empowering and authentic social learning environment one could have.

-John V