Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First day of classes went OK. In looking over my roster, eleven students have taken a course with me in the past. I think, sort of egotistically, that it means I must be doing something right - either that or my courses are an easy A - or maybe it is just that there is a shortage of education classes at the university and since I teach two of them I get most students more than once.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another jerk, Chad Johnson, opens his mouth and removes any doubt that he is a moron, as he spouts off in support of Vick.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now, it is no secret that I am no fan of sports, especially football. But my disgust with everyone involved in all flavors of games grows daily. Now some jerk who plays for the Knicks named Stephon Marbury comes to Albany and while here, spouts off about how dog fighting is a sport and Vick is a good guy. I guess he thinks he's so cool that he can say whatever vile thing he wants and suffer not at all? Hey, I have an idea. Why don't the feds dig around a little into this guy's activities? Think attending dog fights run by his pal Mike might be one of his past pleasures? And here's another idea. Email Steve & Barry's, his sponsor, at to let them know you will boycott their product if they don't dump him. Hey dude! That's not a's called the market.
Since I haven't been able to post for the past few Thursdays, I thought I'd catch up today. Not sure if this will be my last BTT for a while - classes start next week, and Thursdays are always difficult during the semester.

Booking Through Thursday: Indoctrination

When growing up did your family share your love of books?

The only other avid reader in my immediate family is my sister.

If so, did one person get you into reading?

Besides my sister, there were two others: my maternal grandmother Mimmie and my paternal Aunt Jean. Mimmie didn't have a lot of education - formally it ended after eighth grade at the West Hurley one room school. But she loved to read and we shared many books with each other. Often I, or my sister, or my mother would go to the library to check out books for her since she didn't like to leave home very much. Aunt Jean worked at the library and at a vintage book seller and she also was a voracious reader. Some of my most precious books were gifts from her.

And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

My father read me a chapter from Pinocchio every night for a while when I was a kid. We read it over and over. He also acted out the story with Pinocchio and Geppetto marionnettes. Sometimes his performances drifted quite far from the Collodi story line!

Booking Through Thursday: Monogamy (from 8/16)

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar? (We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

I generally read one book at a time and don't start another until I finish it. However, right now I am reading two books at once: Uncle Tom's Cabin and a book about Terri Schiavo. The Stowe book is very heavy reading. The Schiavo one is quite upsetting too, but it is a much faster read.

Booking Through Thursday: Multiples (from 8/9)

Do you have multiple copies of any of your books?

Yes, I have quite a few multiples.

If so, why? Absent-mindedness? You love them that much? First Editions for the shelf, but paperbacks to read?

I collect Mark Twain books, and have numerous copies of a few titles, including Life on the Mississippi, Huck Finn, Roughing It and his autobiography. I got the Complete Works of Mark Twain when it came out again a few years ago, after I already had some of his other books, so probably about a quarter of the complete works made me have duplicates. I also have some very old editions that are sort of investments (as if I could ever part with them)! I may have one or two first editions of the more obscure books, but most of the antique ones are second editions. Sometimes someone gives me a Mark Twain book as a gift, and of course I already have it. Finally, if I see a Mark Twain book at a yard sale, I have to buy it - even if it is a paperback in pathetic condition. I have an entire bookcase devoted to Mark Twain, both paperbacks and hardcovers, some pristine and some battered.

Finally, I bought books I liked as gifts for my grandmother, and after she died, they were given back to me. So that made me have two copies of some things.

If not, why not? Not enough space? Not enough money? Too sensible to do something so foolish?

Root canal is done and the novocaine is worn off. This one was awful!! Not so much the actual procedure - it didn't last as long as the other one I had (that time he had a hard time finding the last root and it took forever) and he didn't hurt me at all, he never does. But after he gave me the second shot of novocaine something happened to my face on the opposite (right side) near my eye - it felt like I was having a stroke, with tics, involuntary movement, etc. Combined with the usual numbness in my mouth it was awful. I didn't say anything, but covered the area with my hand to try to get control of myself. My heart was beating very fast too. I am not all that nervous at the dentist so it was really odd for me. The dentist noticed and said, "are you OK?" I said, "not really. I am having some sort of weird nervous reaction." He asked, "right eye?" I said, "yes." So he told me that is a very common reaction to a shot of novocaine in the location I had it - it crosses over and is nothing to worry about. He told me to close my eyes, but I couldn't. Keeping them open was unpleasant, too. Eventually I got my sunglasses and I wore them for the entire procedure, which helped. But it was all I could do to stay in the chair and not freak out. I have had an episode on one other occasion where I was in such a panic that my leg shakes and no matter what I do I can't make it stop (it happened when I first was learning to drive, the first time I went on a busy road where you have to do 55). That is what happened after I couldn't make the eye thing go away. The dentist didn't seem to notice or care, but it is very upsetting for me. About halfway through he gave me a break, I went to the bathroom, discovered I was still in control of my body, calmed down, and as a result I felt a lot better for the second half. I get my crown on 9/14. Hopefully that will be easier! (But I'm not optimistic.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We saw Hairspray (the movie) last night. It was great!! Worth seeing.

Here's Beloit College's list about what incoming freshmen don't know. I might have added a few things, but some are funny. (Others I don't know, either...)

I've been reading both Uncle Tom's Cabin (which I have always wanted to read) and Silent Witness (about Terri Schiavo). I'm about halfway through with each. I don't usually read two books at the same time, but Stowe's book is very heavy. Not that the other book isn't, but it is a much faster read. I reviewed them both on Goodreads.

One week until my classes start, and I am in good shape. I got my summer class grades done today. Two days until my root canal...popping advil until then.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Two weeks countdown to the start of classes! Bittersweet. As my summer winds down, it is jam packed, not only with work-related stuff, but with "fun." I took a little trip on Amtrak to Western New York to visit a friend, and was away from the PC for a few days. (I paid the price, too - I finally managed today to get through my 100,000 emails - some were second and third follow-ups from students, demanding to know why I had not responded to their original query within the first hour after it was sent. Sigh.) Before that, I swam, and went to the winery I mentioned a few posts ago (too lazy to link), and the Ulster County Fair. I took some pictures while I was out in Buffalo, and I'll post at least one, as well as some flower shots soon. This weekend, we may go to the Grahamsville Fair.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

My fall classes begin on August 28, and I have a long list of things to do, especially because I am changing books in my classes, so that will involve a lot more revisions than usual. Plus, my summer class ends August 17, so very soon there will be some things to do to wrap up that course.

But instead, I was enticed by this Daily Freeman article to do a little data analysis. I'd read about this Forbes magazine article recently, but didn't look at it that carefully. However, when I noticed that it listed Ulster County's schools (home of my alma mater and weekend house) as third worst in the nation (of the 100 counties they ranked), I couldn't resist! I'm not sure why they chose Ulster County as one of the places to include - perhaps because it is a weekend vacation spot for NYC folks, and they resent the high school taxes they pay on their second homes, or because some of them consider abandoning the metro area and making the move north permanently.

So I tossed my to do list aside (temporarily) and visited the NYS Education Department's school report cards website. I don't feel too guilty, because it is sort of work-related!

Now, Forbes is refusing to give any more details on what formula they used than what is already provided in the article. So naturally, that makes it hard. Hiding the methodology isn't the scholarly way. But then Forbes is hardly a scholarly publication. However, valid or not, such articles do get attention, and so I can sympathize with the school representatives quoted in the Freeman article, that it is an unfair analysis. On the other hand, I have written before (here, here, here, and here) about how the numbers simply don't add up in the district that is my alma mater, so I was willing to give Forbes the benefit of the doubt.

In addition to Forbes' stonewalling on how they figured this out, NYSED changed the format of the report card publications from 2005 to 2006, which makes it very difficult to locate the data. But it still is possible to wade through the reports, do a little number crunching, and compare it to the chart in Forbes. They used four measures: per pupil spending for fiscal year 2004, mean SAT or ACT (whichever is the most common in the state) scores for 2005, participation rate on the SAT or ACT for 2005, and graduation rate for 2005.

In New York, the SAT is the college entrance exam usually taken. I'm not sure how Forbes got the details for the SAT down to the county level. Maybe the College Board is willing to share that information, or maybe individual schools are. For Ulster County, Forbes lists 1,032 as the mean score in 2005, with a participation rate of 62.10%. The only data I could easily access was the statewide average score, and for New York, that was 1,008.

Forbes lists per pupil spending in fiscal year 2004 as $12,482 for Ulster County. They note that this has been adjusted for local cost of living, although no additional information is provided. Ulster County is made up of 10 districts. Assuming by fiscal year 2004 they mean 2004-05, the total per pupil expenditures ranged from a high of $18,543 (for Onteora) to a low of $12,336 (for Saugerties), with an average of $15,794. So I am not sure where Forbes' numbers came from. The NYSED data actually makes the county look even more costly.

The graduation rate was 83.6% for the class of 2005, according to Forbes. That would mean a dropout rate of 16.4%. The data from SED does not support this, although the numbers listed are inconsistent from year to year and so it is not very illuminating. When I consulted the report card data published in the 2005 report, it was different than what was listed for the prior year in the 2006 report. The 2005 report has dropouts ranging from 10.9% (for Kingston) to 1.9% (for Walkill), with an average of 5%, which is terrible in my opinion, although better all around than what Forbes claims. The 2006 report lists the dropout rate for 2005 as ranging from 15% (for Rondout Valley) to 1% (for Walkill), with an average of 5.9%; that's even worse, but not as bad as the number Forbes published.

Then, when I do my own calculations based on the 2005 numbers from SED for 12th grade enrollment and graduates rather than accepting the proportions listed for dropout rate, I wind up with graduation rates that range from 94.3% (for Marlboro) to 81.4% (for Saugerties), and a County average of 88.2%; it's not the same as the dropout rates published by SED, and it still doesn't match the data in Forbes!
Booking Through Thursday: Letters! We Get Letters...

Have you ever written an author a fan letter?

No, I can't remember ever writing a fan letter to an author. I considered writing to Gore Vidal over twenty years ago when he was my favorite author, but never did.

Did you get an answer?

Well, since I haven't written to any author - I guess the only answer possible is "no."

Did it spark a conversation? A meeting?

Again, the only possibility here is no.

I have gone to a couple of book readings, but nothing recently. They weren't superstar-level writers, and I don't remember ever waiting to shake the author's hand or get a book signed. Authors often visit my campus, but I rarely go to the events. And William Kennedy teaches there.

Now, if Mark Twain was still alive...I definitely would write to him! And go to see one or more of his lectures. Does seeing Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain count? I also saw an actor perform as Robert Frost. (Can't remember who that was.)

Semi-related note: I did email the researcher and webpage master of some of the i.t.a. material that I wrote about yesterday, he responded, and it did spark a conversation, mostly him promoting how great simplified spelling is an approach, regardless of the individual's experience with the method.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Here's something interesting about an effort of parents to ban the Junie B. Jones books. I thought I had written here on the subject of learning to read a while ago, but perhaps I am remembering some comments I posted elsewhere.

In 1966, when I was learning to read, my school used i.t.a. (the initial teaching alphabet). There were two kindergarten classes. Mine used i.t.a., and the other class used a traditional method to teach reading. I often wondered about i.t.a., especially after I became an educator, so a few years ago I did some research on it.

It was more popular in the UK than it was in the US, and there are still some proponents for using it, or a similar simplified spelling method to teach reading and writing. Apparently, i.t.a. was a response to the difficulties of teaching children to read and write in English, a problem that is not as often seen in cultures that speak a more phonetic language such as Spanish.

I.t.a. didn't harm me at all; it may have helped me (my parents believe it did), or perhaps I would have learned easily no matter the method. I am a voracious reader, I like to write, and never had trouble with spelling, grammar or punctuation (aside from when carelessly writing on the 'net :-).

You can see the influence of i.t.a. on my writing in this story I wrote in February 1969, when I was 7 1/2 years old. This was written during second grade, the transition year from i.t.a. to regular spelling. I didn't write A Cat in a Boat for school; I wrote it at home, to amuse my family. We were definitely not up to writing stories of this length or complexity in school! I would add that the dark theme probably would have gotten me sent to the school psychologist's office...except that in 1969, such things didn't happen, and I don't remember my elementary school having a psychologist. Plus, in second grade I had a wonderful teacher who would not have overreacted. (You can tell even at age seven how much I preferred animals to people, eh?)

However, I do remember that the transition to regular spelling in second grade was very traumatic for a lot of kids in my class. Some struggled for years, and I think some still struggle as adults. Whether that would have been true, regardless, is a good question. Parental resistance is one reason cited for failure of innovative methods by proponents of simplified spelling, but the transition is the most important reason given for failure of this approach. My school abandoned the i.t.a. pilot after just a few years.

I do notice that a lot of students in my classes have trouble with spelling, punctuation, word choice and grammar, and they certainly didn't learn via simplified spelling, but perhaps they were taught with the whole language, rather than phonics approach. I have always chalked my students' weakness in this area up to over reliance on spell checkers, and also to the love affair with text messaging and IM-speak.

I don't have any wisdom regarding the merits of the Junie books, although I think banning books is always misguided. I do believe that reading is better than an activity such as television watching or gaming. But I remain interested in the topic of learning to read, and this is a fascinating debate.
Here's a fun site for book lovers.

On Sunday, we are going to a wine tasting and dinner at this winery.

And, of course, there's the Ulster County Fair this week. I love county fairs, and haven't been to one in a few years. I hope to take in at least one this summer.