Monday, November 16, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

I love writing, getting my ideas out there...sharing them with somebody, anybody who may find what I have to say interesting. However, I get all prickly when something I have said is taken out of context, or is misinterpreted for the world to see.

It all started innocently enough. A few years ago, I had just begun investigating social networking when I ran across a student's MySpace page. On it, one of my students had written this:

"wut it do i ain't talked 2 u n a minute ever since da last day of skool fo christmas break wut been ^ 2 me nuttin jus sittin @ home ain't gone nuttin 2 do........well i wuz jus stoppin by 2 sho ur page sum luvin get baq @ me when u can"

I was horrified! I was reading this before (B4) I began participating in social networking myself, before I figured out how to text on a teeny keyboard on my phone, before I became cool. So I developed a presentation for my students that eventually found its way around the entire school. I was able to share my ideas on writing with every language arts student in my building that year.

What I did was talk about the history of our language. I went way back to our Greek and Roman roots (pun intended) in language, traveled through old English, middle English, Elizabethan English, and onward to modern times, providing examples along the way. I ended with the MySpace quote, and the students and I had a grand time discussing what effects, if any, this type of abbreviated writing would have on formal writing. I was pretty sure we were doomed. They just laughed at my concern as if they had not a care.

Shortly after, I wrote an article I called "Grammar Interrupted" for Teacher Magazine online. It received lots of "hits" and folks emailed me for awhile, asking questions about my lesson. From there, I was interviewed by Sara Bernard from Edutopia. Her article, "The Zero Thumb Game: How to Tame Texting," came out on May 28, 2008. Ms. Bernard interviewed several teachers and did a great job of summarizing all of our comments. When she mentions my use of the MySpace page for instruction, she says,

"Some English teachers are tapping into their students' own instant messaging style to get their points across. Some, including Cindi Rigsbee, are guiding exercises in text translation: pulling up a MySpace page...and asking students to translate the writing into standard English. Or they ask students to translate passages from classic literature to texting speak to demonstrate their comprehension..."

The key word here is "some." Sara Bernard is not only talking about me. She interviewed several people! She has correctly identified the activity that I did, "pulling up a MySpace page" and thrown in another activity - translating passages from classic literature - which can be attributed to the teachers she refers to as "they." So far so good.

Here's what happened a few weeks ago, a long two years later: I started getting calls and emails from local media as well as from news anchors in New York City. After some investigation I found out that an article had come out in a major newspaper in my state, The Charlotte Observer, naming me in a report about texting. On October 29th, the following was printed in US News and World Report:

"Teachers such as Cindi Rigsbee have asked students to translate passages from classic literature to text-speak..." I didn't!

So when the reporters called me and found out that I didn't actually have students translate from classic literature to text-speak (instead, it was the other way around for me), they weren't interested in interviewing me. That was okay...I had "not a care." Until today...

While searching to see if my upcoming book was listed, I found myself in another book, a book by an author I've never heard of - Why can't U teach me 2 read? by Beth Fertig.

"Cindi Rigsbee, a middle school teacher...asked her students to translate lingo-based websites into standard English and to translate classic literature into text-speak."

Okay, now my feelings are hurt. Not only do I not have students translate from classic literature into text-speak, I know that I never would! Why in the world would I ask students to write incorrectly on purpose? Goodness knows they're practicing enough of that! Meanwhile, who is Beth Fertig, and couldn't she have contacted me before mentioning me (and my alleged activity) in her book?

So there are several problems here. One is that what I actually do has been interpreted across four articles until the original meaning has changed. Another is that our "global" access to information means that anyone can get their hands on what is actually a teacher's intellectual property and use it as they wish, even if it's incorrect.

So here I am setting the record straight. If any of you ever see anything about me in print and want to use it in your book, please just ask me. I may have been misquoted, misinterpreted, or misunderstood.

Jus send an email 2 me or sho my pag sum luv.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Think Before You Speak

Teachers have powerful voices. As we struggle to be heard by policy-makers, the community, and others who can impact our profession on a large scale, we are definitely being heard...maybe not by those groups as often as we'd like, but by another group that is even more important - our children.

Recently I watched a class of third graders read together. It was a Halloween story, spooky and scary, and they loved it! They read together, a chorus of ghouls, and on the scary parts, they got louder and louder! There was an energy in the room as they got more and more excited. They started squirming in their seats, wiggling and looked as if the room would erupt at any second.

And then the teacher said, "Calm down. If you get out of control, we won't be able to do fun things like this any more. Instead, you'll have to read to yourself."

(Insert here the sound of a needle scratching across a record.)


Okay, you know what she literally said. But what those kids heard was that if they didn't behave they would have to read for punishment. Punishment? Reading should be a reward as in... "If you walk nicely to the cafeteria for lunch, I'll let you read silently for the rest of the day...the week...the year...!"

I've heard it too many times to count - "Jacob, you can't work nicely in the group. Get a book and sit over there and read."

And what about writing for punishment? Teachers have been assigning the ever-dreaded "sentences" for years.

I will not talk in class.
I will not talk in class.
I will not talk in class.

And we've all seen these writing prompts: Write one full page explaining why you didn't do your homework.

No wonder our students hate to write stories and poetry and reflections. We may as well assign:

I will never like to write.
I will never like to write.
I will never like to write.

Teachers, let's make a commitment to think before we send the message that literacy's not important.

And while we're at it, let's stop making our athletes run laps when they lose a game or run a drill incorrectly at practice. Exercise - another activity we want our children to choose - but they won't if they "hear" it as punishment.