Whatever Happened to Leisure?

Seamus just saw a bird fly through the sky.

Seamus just saw a bird fly through the sky.

What do you do when your work day is done? What do you do on your days off? What do you do with those moments of inactivity that punctuate even our busiest days?

Do you plug-in to some form of the cyberspace? By cyberspace I include iPhones (any phone), iPods (any music delivery system), the internet (I include smart phones, lap tops , PCs—you know, computers). I realize it is rather sloppy grouping these together; my point is they are all members, as it were, of the same collective.

I appreciate computers. Before I became a teacher, I was fortunate enough to run the computer system for a very busy building materials company. I ran accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory control, and point of sale. The amount of work a well run computer system does is, quite simply, remarkable.

As a teacher I use the computer every day. I use a Smart Board in my class; we have a moodle that acts as an adjunct to our class activities. I have five (whoa) email addresses; some I use for school, some for family and friends, some for my hobbies (numismatics is one). I have four blogs; again, they have their specific personas: a professional blog, a school blog, a summer school blog, and a blog focused on what Montaigne calls essays.

I use my computer at home for work and pleasure (I watch more Dodger baseball games and Notre Dame football games than ever!).

The computer is, quite simply, remarkable.

But I must admit that with the advent of this remarkable machine, I realize I’ve made a trade off, and it was the birth of my first child that inspired this epiphany (as histrionic as that word can sound, there is no other word to use). Aristotle says, “All philosophy begins in wonder.” By that, The Stagirite does not mean, “I wonder how that works?” No, he means something much more basic, something much more essential. Aristotle means, “Wow! Is that wonderful or what!” Aristotle means that all philosophy begins with our ability to take the necessary time to appreciate wonder. Seeing how wonderful my son is makes me realize that there is a huge difference between wonder and pleasure/amusement.

I (we) live in a world that has come to idolize all things cyber. I (we) worship the pleasure of the often mindless “know-how” (“yeah! I can write code” or “finally, I got that application to work”). I think the computer has helped nurture the infantile cult of youth (you remember: the old computer cartoon where one dog sitting behind his PC is telling another dog sitting on the floor, “On the computer no one knows you’re a dog!”).

In his ariticle for CNN, “Mind control: Is the internet changing how we think?,” Matt Ford writes, “Earlier this week Baroness Greenfield, the Oxford University researcher and former head of the UK’s Royal Institution, called on the British government and private companies to investigate the effects on our brains of computer games, the internet and social networking.
“We should acknowledge that it is bringing an unprecedented change in our lives and we have to work out whether it is for good or bad,” she told reporters.”

“For me, this is almost as important as climate change. Whilst of course it doesn’t threaten the existence of the planet like climate change, I think the quality of our existence is threatened and the kind of people we might be in the future.”

Greenfield calls the effect of too much time in front of a computer as “mind change.” Nicholas Carr, author of a new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, goes further in his analysis and talks about how the way we think is shaped by the tools we use to think with.

“This was true of the map, the alphabet, the clock, and the printing press, and it’s true as well of the internet. The net encourages the mental skills associated with the rapid gathering of small bits of information from many sources, but it discourages the kind of deeply attentive thinking that leads to the building of knowledge, conceptual thinking, reflection, and contemplativeness.”

“So, as with earlier intellectual technologies, the net strengthens certain cognitive functions but weakens others. And because the neural pathways in our brain adapt readily to experience, the changes occur in the actual cellular wiring of our brains.”

Back in 1948 (the same year that Orwell was writing 1984), the German philosopher Josef Pieper wrote a slim text entitled, Leisure, the Basis of Culture. He echoes what Aristotle says at the beginning of this blog post: unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture-and ourselves (http://www.amazon.com/Leisure-Basis-Culture-Josef-Pieper/dp/1890318353).

I do not count my voice as one with those who intone that Luddite like cacophony aimed at the internet. On the contrary, the internet is a wonderful tool. Tool.

If we were, like Shakespeare, “. . . to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure . . .” (Hamlet; III, ii, 22-4)—what image of the zeitgeist of our era would be reflected there?

In an un-Aristotilian way . . . it makes me wonder.


normal_representation_of_a_university_class_1350_Laurentius de Voltolina

In this compostion of “University Class,” circa 1350–by Laurentius de Voltolina, as a teacher, there are couple of things that I quickly recognize. The students in the front of class are paying attention, but in the third row, off to the side (foreground) there is a student asleep. The students in the back row, especially back in the corner, are in a world of their own. Would a Smart Board have changed “things?” Obviously something is needed to get the students engaged.

A few months ago I made the case for making electronic portfolios an integral part of my syllabus. I’ve just recognized something; what I posted bears repeating:

E-Portfolios are an alternative means of learning and assessment that helps develop a student’s intrinsic interest.

Carol S. Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, says, “It matters greatly what students believe about their intelligence” (Dweck 2007; http://www.isacs.org/misc_files/EducationCanada.pdf).

Traditional grading practices (A, B ,C, D, F) are based on extrinsic motivation, a system that seeks to motivate as a function of reward and punishment. Developing students into self-directed, independent, lifelong learners “will not happen if educators rely on extrinsic motivation” (Principal’s Research Review January 2009).

Many student’s view their intelligence as it is tethered to this traditional and seriously flawed system.

E-Portfolios help foster a student’s intrinsic motivation. “The ePortfolio project team shows how we believe the portfolio can stimulate learning and a move away from extrinsic towards intrinsic motivation through a cycle of goal-setting, action and reflection” (INTERACT, INTEGRATE, IMPACT; Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) Adelaide, Australia 7–10 December 2003; Editors: Geoffrey Crisp, Di Thiele, Ingrid Scholten, Sandra Barker, Judi Baron (,+INTEGRATE,+IMPACT&cd=1&hl=th&ct=clnk).

Although lifelong learners is a term that we hear so often that it may lose significance, I can’t think of any one of my colleagues who does not want their students to become lifelong learners.

I believe that electronic porfolios are one of the ways that students recognize that they really are owners of their education; it is a way to coax students toward becoming lifelong learners.

Netvibes and Facebook Help Organize E-folios


Since I started using student blogs this year one of the problems I’ve faced is how to access 66 high school student blogs–regularly and easily.

My colleague Dana Watts showed me how to use Netvibes. I have RSS feeds from all my student blogs feed right into Netvibes. As soon as any of my students post something to their blogs–I know. You can see my Netvibes page: Quarks.

I also ran into a problem a couple of times this year when I wanted to notify all of my eleventh grade students about something. One of my students suggested a Facebook group page. We now have ISB IB HL English Year 1.

Using these two “tools” has made organizing and using student blogs very smooth.


Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy: Final project will be looking at 2nd Semester and creating a unit and assessment based around your content area that address ISB TAIL Standards (Technology and Information Literacy).

Detail Brueghel's "Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus"

Detail Brueghel's "Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus"

Blog Unit: IB HL English, Year 1: Ekphrasis
(Ekphrasis, alternately spelled ecphrasis or ekfrasis, is an ancient Greek term used to denote poetry or poetic writing concerning itself with the visual arts, artistic objects, and/or highly visual scenes.)

The Argument:
In his book, The Educated Imagination, the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye says, “There are two main kinds of association, analogy and identity, two things that are like each other and two things that are each other. One produces the figure of speech called simile: the other produces the figure called metaphor” (Frye, 32).

An issue that I often encounter when I teach literature I associate with building bridges. Many of my students see the relationship between the shoreline of the “real world,” that world wherein they live, and, say, the shoreline of biology or economics. They can imagine that someday, somehow those academic subjects might play a role in their future careers. My students have constructed a bridge between themselves and those disciplines. My subject does not offer them the ground of cause and effect or demand and production. I offer them a world founded upon mere imagination where almost any argument is as good as the next, a world that in comparison appears groundless, and any bridge under construction seems but a “ghostly paradigm of things” (“Among School Children,” 43, Y.B.Yeats).

My students often ask the pertinent question, “Why should I study literature; why should I spend time on a subject which is a place where there are few, if any, absolutes, where rights and wrongs are relative?” Any honest consideration of these questions begs another question even more basic, one with significant ramifications: Why Art?

Suppose we go on a trip to a distant planet, but it’s a planet like our own, one that will sustain human life. The first thing we notice is that this is a place that is not “us.” We see this planet’s mountains and valleys and oceans and sky. But we realize that they are not a part of us. Two things happen: we become curious about this world, and we have feelings about it. Our curiosity leads us to explore and measure and weigh and make distinctions: this thing is heavy; this thing is wet; this thing is green. Eventually our emotions run the gamut from curiosity and wonder to anxiety and fear. But regardless of our itinerant emotions, our habitual state of mind is one of separation; this place is not a part of us.

Soon we realize that there’s a difference between this world we see and the world in which we want to live. We begin to realize that we have needs and desires: when it rains we want to be dry; when it is cold we want to be warm. We want to live not in the world we see, but in a world that we build out of what we see. We want to build and live in a world that is human/humane; we want to build a home. Art is born. Northrop Frye says, “Art begins as soon as [the idea] ’I don’t like this’ turns into [the idea] ‘this is not the way I could imagine it’” (28). In our imaginations anything can happen that can be imagined, and “the limit of the imagination is a totally human world” (Frye, 29).

The imagination is the place where we can create the sense of identity with our surroundings. The poet doesn’t write a poem because he wants to simply describe nature, he wants to create a world that is totally absorbed and possessed by the human mind, and we’ve come round to an answer to the question about why we should study literature. Two of the tools that the poet uses are simile and metaphor; tools, as mentioned earlier, of association. “The motive for metaphor,” according to Frye, “is a desire to associate, and finally to identify, the human mind with what goes on outside it, because the only genuine joy you can have is in those rare moments when you feel that although we may know in part, as [St.] Paul says, we are also a part of what we know” (33).

Unit Lesson Plan/Outline:
Students, I want you to search the web (and others sources—i.e., books, magazines, etc.) and “find” a work of art. It can be a painting or sculpture or photograph or tapestry; it can be a dance video or music—you choose. Please “check” with me when you have decided what “object” of art you have chosen to use. Regardless of your respective artistic talents, you are required to sketch (reproduce as it were) the work of art that you have chosen. If you’ve chosen a dance video, think about some of Degas’ paintings that feature dancers; if you’ve chosen music, think of Disney’s Fantasia. You are allowed to also use a photograph of your object in your blog if you wish (Flickr: Creative Commons), but you are all required to draw! You must post your sketch on your blog! (with or without an accompanying photograph). Are you an artist? If you are a photographer, painter, sculptor (etc.), you may choose a work of your own. Just remember: you still must do a sketch!

Think of it as a variation on a theme.

You need to reflect upon the reasons that led you to choose that particular object of art. Each student will write and post a brief explanation (a kind of abstract) on your blog in which you discuss the reasons that led you to choose that object of art.

You are then required to compose a poem (of no less than ten lines) inspired by your object of art.

In class we will read “Musee des Beaux Arts,” by W.H. Auden. I will have an image of Brueghel’s “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus” for us to observe (this painting inspired Auden’s poem). Together we will do a close reading of “Musee des Beaux Arts,” paying close attention to Auden’s literary devices and allusions. We will discuss Auden’s tone.

For homework, subsequent to our class discussion on Auden, you are required to compose a comparison/contrast personal reflection paper comparing Auden’s poem with your poem (think of it as a kind of Commentary on your own poem where you include a discussion of “Musee des Beaux Arts”). An emphasis should be placed on whether you think the similarities or the differences between your poem and Auden’s are more significant. This, too, will be posted on your blog: word limit: 750—1,500.

In our first section, subtitled “The Argument,” I discussed the world of the imagination. I’d like to finish with a quote from Northrop Frye, to whom I am completely indebted for much of the substance of this lesson plan (including planetary exploration). Frye writes:

But the study of arts, such as painting and music, has many values for literary training apart from their value as subjects in themselves. Everything man does that’s worth doing is some kind of construction, and the imagination is the constructive power of the mind set free to work on pure construction, construction for its own sake. The units don’t have to be words; they can be numbers or tones or colors or bricks or pieces of marble. It is hardly possible to understand what the imagination is doing with words without seeing how it operates with some of these other units” (Frye, 120).

Action Plan:

Activities: Students select an “object” of art.
Students sketch their chosen object.
Students post their sketch (students may include a photo of their “object”).
Students post a brief abstract (one paragraph) that discusses what led them to select their work of art.
Students compose a poem inspired by their “object” of art.
Students post their poem.
Students compose and post a Personal Commentary discussing their poem and Auden’s poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts”.
Timing: IBHL 1: 2009-10; Spring Semester
Resources: Described in length above.
Monitoring: Student Self-monitoring, Socratic Seminar, Criterion-based Rubric (for the student’s reflective essay: IB “Written Paper 1: Commentary” Rubric, pages 61-66 in Language A1 Syllabus).
Evaluation: Individual student self-assessment via conferencing with the instructor (me). (Process) HAL: 1-7. (Product) GPA: A-F.
Success Criteria: Bloom’s Revised Taxononmy (hierarchically—from least to most important): Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating (Bloom’s Traditional Taxonomy = Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Evaluation, Synthesis).

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus, Pieter Breughel, c. 1558; Oil on canvas, mounted on wood; 73.5 x 112 cm;
Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

Musee des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.

All Things In Moderation: Are You Addicted To The Internet?

addicted to the net

Battle lines are being drawn.

But the combatants who confront each other in this battle are difficult to define.

This conflict surrounds what some “experts” call computer addiction.

As early as 1979, Nicholas Rushby, in his book An Introduction to Educational Computing, was discussing this issue.

Now, I should make my case clear. I use a computer every day. I am a teacher, and an increasing amount of my curriculum delivery (sorry; I know that’s a fairly clumsy term) depends upon a computer–and that most definitely includes the internet. Three sites that immediately come to mind that we consistently use are You Tube, Flickr, and Wikipedia (articles for just about every author we study–I teach literature). All of my students have personal blogs that they use, in part, as electronic portfolios. Computers, as far as education is concerned, are here to stay; and I think that is a very good thing.

On the other hand, I have students who admit that they lose sleep or stay sequestered in their homes on nice days because of their computers–and it isn’t always because of a school assignment. They are playing “Modern Warfare 2,” “Grand Theft Auto,” or “World of Warcraft” (I just had a student claim that more than 12 million people today play “World of Warcraft”). And it is not only computer/internet games that rob people of sleep. If we include Facebook, Twitter (any other social networking you can think of) and, of course, the ever increasing proliferation of iPhones and Blackberrys (only to name a couple of the internet phones), then it is easy to find people who are “connected” the vast majority of the time.

It is not only students who lose sleep or stay home because of their computers. I have colleagues who admit they “stay connected” for periods of time that are obvious (to them) to be well beyond excessive.

Complaints about computer overuse are often unfounded, annoying and  frequently attributable to techno-phobes.

But not all critics are shrill; many are quite reasonable, and acknowledging the need to evaluate our relationship with computers is healthy.

At ancient Delphi, not far from the Oracle’s seat, there were engraved two maxims: “All Things In Moderation” and “Know Thyself.”

I’ve included a couple of links below; hopefully they might engender some thinking about this issue.

Here is an article by Ben Macintyre from Times Online, “The internet is killing storytelling.” The first couple of comments on Macintyre’s article present cogent, keenly insightful disagreement.

Here is an additional definition of internet addiction.

CSI Bangkok: Visible Thinking


During a recent Professional Development day, I was introduced to Visible Thinking. According to the Visible Thinking home page at Harvard’s Project Zero:  “Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters.”

The Visible Thinking “Routine” that I am featuring in this blog is called CSI: Color, Symbol, Image.  My Higher Level International Baccalaureate (IBHL) year one students have been asked to use this twice, recently. I asked my students to think of any of the characters in Albert Camus’ The Stranger and think of a color, a symbol, and an image that would represent that character. They were then asked to write (discuss) the reasons they made the selections that they did and post them to their blogs.  I subsequently asked my students to do the same routine for characters in Bao Nihn’s The Sorrow of War.  I think the the results have been nothing less than phenomenal.

Here is a link to one of my student’s, Andreas Rausch’s, CSIs for both The Stranger and The Sorrow of War that is posted on his blog: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/andreasr/

If you are interested, I encourage you to check out all of my students’ blogs. I have them posted on my NetVibes page: Quarks. They are listed in the tabs for Periods 4, 5, 6 and 7.]

More Visible Thinking “routines” to come!

Getting E-Portfolios Started

Here at the high school at the International School Bangkok (ISB) we are just beginning to use student blogs. Our colleagues have been quite active and successful in both our Elementary and Middle Schools in using student and classroom blogs.

Dana Watts, my colleague in the English Department, has spear-headed our efforts in establishing individual student blogs and electronic portfolios.

Dennis Harter, our internet guru extraordinaire and the newly appointed Assistant Principal of our high school, came into all of my junior International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level English classes last December and helped my 68 students acquire their individual blogs. We are using WordPress blogs.

Our first blogging assignment (described in length below) is now in motion. I want my students to “live” with this assignment for “awhile,” and therefore I am giving them extra time to complete this “assignment.”

My desire is that I don’t want my students to think of their blogs/e-portfolios as just one more “thing” that they have to do. I really want them to develop a sense that this is their blog; this is their e-portfolio.

All of my students have a high level of internet “skills;” this becomes a natural “scaffold” for web-based publication. I hope it encourages their creativity.

I’ll be reporting on our process/progress over the next few weeks.

Interactive Whiteboards

Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy: How do you manage the use of technology peripherals with students? What are some things you’ve learned and hope to implement.


The single most “important” peripheral that we (my students and I) use in our classroom is (this answer sounds so abvious) the Smart Board (interactive whiteboard).

We use it for a myriad of purposes. We analyze poetry together; we do close readings of student compositions. I often include digital images to enhance our lessons. My IB students use it for their Individual Oral Presentations: creating iMovies (or MovieMaker videos) and Power Point presentations. YouTube has become a “real” teaching tool!

On my RSS feed I have The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution. This site is a place where I have conversations with other educators, and we share our ideas about how we use our SmartBoards (interactive whiteboards).

My colleague Dana Watts and I have been implementing student blogs in our curriculum. We hope that we can help nurture the idea in our high school of the use of electronic portfolios.

My next blog will outline a “blog unit.” I have already introduced my classes to this unit, and our SmartBoard was instrumental.

It seems to me that the use of our classroom SmartBoard is only limited to our individual and collective imaginations.

Photo courtesy of Mrs eNil, Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic.