Thursday, May 29, 2008

Got some advice, it sounds like this.

As advertised, I emailed a bunch of friends who blog for a living, design websites, work as online editors, etc. Got a mix of results, and I'm not sure there's a consensus. I didn't ask anyone if I could use their name, so I'll just put down the kind of work they do. Oh, I asked some teachers, too. It goes like this:

(a VP works on Internet Presence at a PR firm) - the white on black is a bit rough on the eyes, or my eyes, anyway. Looked at it on a couple of monitors (all LCDs) and the effect is worse on some than others. It's challenging to read, and if you're writing a blog, you def want people to read it. If the vibe of your blog was only a couple of sentences per entry and then maybe a photo, it would be OK...after staring at the white on black for a little bit, and then shifting my gaze slightly, I see "ghosts" of the words.

(blogs for an international finance weekly magazine) - conventional wisdom is that background's should be light colored and text dark, but I'm not bothered by your site, though

(blog was featured in the Washington Post last year) - don't have any major suggestions...The only thing I'd do is to fiddle w/ the customization on the colors, fonts, formatting, etc. It helps your site look a little different than the other blogs using the same template. What settings you choose is all a matter of personal preference.

(designs ads for the Washington Post) - I mean, it is true that some design people frown on black backgrounds. I actually prefer black backgrounds on monitors because white backgrounds give off a lot of light and can be hard on the eyes, especially on LCD monitors. I've always been really fond of this particular off-the-shelf design. A lot of people are, I think...

(multimedia editor at NPR) - too much text - not enough space for my eyes to rest. I would say write shorter posts, or break it up into shorter blocks? Also, add a picture every now and again for good measure. When there is so much text I tend to just glaze over it...
So fundamentally - I'm not opposed to the white on black, but I agree it's just a bit hard to read.

(blogs for a national political magazine) - I'm sort of partial to white on black, but that's just me. I think it's the only way to read long pieces online.... something that's hard to do under any circumstances... one of the reasons I fear the Internet: it is forcing people to write shorter stuff.

(web consultant for local professional sports team) - I'm going to side with the instructor on this issue and recommend you avoid knock-out text for the body of the page. My usability studies have shown that users do [glaze over long texts] [s]o I would uses a dark text color against a contrasting body color (bgcolor)...[they are] right about pictures and more pithy posts. Keep it short, dude.

and from three teachers:
- i like it. in fact, i used to teach online and distinctly recall receiving info on a study discussing minimizing eye strain by using black (or dark) background with white lettering. maybe...bold the white

-I like white on black. I can barely see blue. How do I leave a comment?

- the verdict here is "no," we like it (teacher and her roommate)

Ok, it's me again. Coupled with the comments left on the blog, it looks like a split (though the teachers push it into "pro"). Between designers, bloggers, editors, I've got people saying it's better, it's worse, studies say "yes," studies so "no." Hard to say. It's my first blog, so I might mess with the colors, the size, the format, so if you see something you like or hate, let a brother know. Taking a poll of people in the biz was pretty interesting to see styles and aesthetics. A few editors / writers haven't written back yet, we'll see if anything change. Thanks to everyone for the quick replies.

Now to figure out how to write shorter posts and add pictures.... (Happy birthday, Erica)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

None more black

I wasn't sure about posting this, but hey, I'm new to blogging and am up for any and all ideas on how to make this site better. At the top of class today our professor suggested that I not use a black background with white text because it's hard to read for many people. So I looked at the blog, surfed around a bit, looked back at my blog, surfed around a bit. I have to say, I like how it looks, and I'm not sure it's that hard to read.

Then I thought about my students, and how they take my suggestions on their essays. Most of them are happy to hear what they need to fix to make the grade, though some are sure they know better. Sometimes the fix is factual or grammatical, in which case if they don't fix it, it's wrong. But if it's something stylistic, and might not be how I'd do it but they like it that way, it's tough. I have a degree in English, I've written thousands of essays, and I read essays constantly. I can't stress that word constantly enough. English teachers? With the current personal / reflective essays that my class is writing, I've taken great strides to make sure that their voice is preserved and that I don't end up with 70 essays that sound like me, except from El Salvador, or Anacostia.

In this case, our professor works on computers for a living, teaches classes on it, and has written far more blog posts than me (not to mention has worked on / seen more blogs, websites, forums). I'm torn, so I tried to do some research. I Googled "black blog background" (name that poetic device). The first thing I found was that Google briefly considered switching to a black backdrop to save energy. They did some research, found that it wouldn't change anything, and abandoned ship. Interestingly, (a science blog) shows how it DID lower the power usage on CRTs, but not flat screens. I looked on. I found a web design blog from Sweden where the author hates white on black. But in the comment section, a few folks say that their optometrist told them to switch to white on black for less eye strain. There were no links to any hard studies. A few folks make mention of photo sites that use white on black, like this one.

I don't know. I think I'm going to leave it for now, but please comment with any thoughts, opinions or studies you know of about readability. I have a few friends who design for a living, I'm going to hit them up, too. I'm not changing it, yet. For now my site remains none more black.

More art / less weight

Over the weekend the Post had another story about the budget for next year for DC public schools. Once again I'm split on the news. In the past there was a rate of $8770 per student given to the schools, and the budget was left to the principal's discretion. (Editor's Note: Microsoft Word is telling me that "principal's" is, don't believe all the edits Bill Gates throws your way) (Editor's Note Mach II: if anyone out there knows how to make Word 2007 look like the old Word, let me know, it's driving me nuts, argh) Under this system, some students were weighted differently based on special needs (ELL, low income students, special ed, etc.) so that schools with more complex situations had funding to cover everyone's needs.

The per student amount is still in place, but the weighting based on need is replaced by specific staffing for each school. This is the part that I like: one goal is to make sure that there are art and music classes in all schools. After hearing atrocious suggestions during the Bush administration to cut arts funding (in schools, in society), it's nice to hear someone seeing the value in art and music classes. Without a doubt my music class in grade school begat my middle school music life, and my middle school ensemble classes begat my high school concert / marching band experience. And let's be serious here, this begat my love of punk rock and playing in bands. Without begatting you to death, I must add that now, years after I quit touring with bands, the ability to go home, pick up a guitar and make music after a long day of's the only reason I'm still (somewhat) sane. Make the connection - music classes in school = more sanity for future teachers.

Returning to education, my only issue here is, in the same way that the Federal government can't know the needs of every last district, I'm not sure DCPS HQ can know the needs of each specific school. Maybe there's a happy medium? Include the principals in the budget creation? Or vice versa? I'm going to follow this one over the summer, I'm assuming there will be some battles over this one.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Challenge Index

The school was buzzing earlier on this week as the Challenge Index was released showing the top 100 most challenging schools in the U.S. We came in at #76, which was quite the coup as I believe we were in the 300s last year. As it's been said elsewhere, we're had a little help in beefing up the numbers of students taking AP classes / tests - all juniors and seniors have to take AP English. Without opening the debate on if AP-for-All is a good idea of not, I'd like to think of some of the positives of us being ranked. Even if many kids struggle through these classes, I know that when they get to college, their early English classes won't see as intimidating. I think they may balk at the amount of reading coming their way, but I'd like to think that when writing essays, they've seen a bunch of what is to come. Likewise, I know DC school don't have the best rep with college admissions, and in some ways this will be a nice pay off for our students' hard work if an admissions officer happens to have our school's name in the back of their memory somewhere. yeah, I'm the optimist. Either way, it's a start, and an attempt at drastically changing things, which is much better than doing nothing at all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Learning to Screencast

Today we're learning to Screencast, which I hadn't heard of before. But now that I'm learning it, I'm pretty sure that the MyDamnChannel video "You Suck at Photoshop" is just a screencast. Interesting. Right now I'm trying to figure out if I'm better off uploading this to the screen, or link to it from Archive. I'm going with the former, looks like it's working. You'll see my first practice typing - it didn't take, and I couldn't figure out how to stop. The second one I had the mic set up, but had the wrong 1/8" in the wrong input. Third take worked out. Dig how tired my voice is - this is your voice on teaching. I should sort out that mic level / breathing thing, eh? Enjoy. (note: before you press "Play" see below the video)

Ok, so that didn't work. I got this to upload, but when you hit play it buffers for ever, and ever, and then forever. Try it if you don't believe me. If you click here it should embed there's a link to where the screencast is saved. It's only up for 30 days (it's a test), and after that, well, you're out of luck.

Still reading? Nice. You're so hooked. Well, for the last 30 minutes I was messing with the screencast. First one I saved as an .avi, which I've learned in massive. How massive? 63 megs. Yeah, pretty much feels like dial up on a rotary phone. Then I learned to convert to .swf (shockwave format, not single white female), which made it 3MB. Much better. Posted it above (where it says "click here") incorrectly about three times before finally sorting it out. I think I got it now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

PT final numbers

21 parents showed up, and four students came by themselves.
A little less than normal, but still about 30% - we'll call it a success.
I got another batch of essays turned in, some kids made up time that
they owed me, and I'm a few inches closer to being organized.

Looking behind me to another English teacher who set up a table where students had to come in and make up time, complete work, etc. She made it fun even though it was serious. I think she had 30 kids, and in some ways her work table seemed like the hot spot. Don't get me wrong, some of them were clearly bummed to be in the cafeteria on a day off, but the others cranked out essays and joked around and stayed much later than they had to. The pizza she bought them didn't hurt either. Looking back at the year it makes me wish I'd thought of more ways to make class and work fun or interesting, even adding incentives. I should figure out a way to pull this off in the next four weeks.

Barring any last minute parents (it's 4 minutes til), these are the final numbers.
Over and out.

Parent / Teacher midway

Half-way through now, we're up to seven parents, which is a little over 10% of my roster. How's the spectrum look? Friends at Anacostia and Cardozo see about three parents all day (roughly 4% for them), but others at schools like Oyster get about 85% (I don't have the hard number, just their estimation). I know our school sends out a mass phone call to all homes, which must help on some level, though it's hard to say how many messages get intercepted. I usually call the parents that I need to see the most, which also helps. It's hard to say how many parents aren't coming because they work more than one job, or aren't able to leave their position. I get the feeling that's part of it, especially at our school where I know many kids are working to help pay the bills at home. The second half is about to begin, let's see if things pick up.

Parent / Teacher Day

Always interesting, always different. It's the 4th P/T day of the year, and so far 2 hours in and only 3 parents. Some days it's like being a line cook and you have constant parents and you talk and talk and talk, except for when you're getting translation. Others, like before the holidays, it's dead slow like today. Maybe I'll get the post-work rush between 5-7pm? But for now there are no parents, apparently.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

To translate or not to translate...

Thinking back over the year, one of the early debates in AP English Lit was "Do we buy the students copies of Othello or No Fear Shakespeare: Othello?" The former is what most high school students, or anyone for that matter, reads. The latter is the whole play with a modern translation side-by-side with the original. Realistically, the students would just read the translation, if anything at all. But, if by having a more accessible version of the story, would more students actually make the effort to read the whole play? And in the end, are we trying to teach them to read Elizabethan English, or to understand the themes and concepts of the play? In the end we went with the original, though now that the year is closing, and I see how much the students remember of the play, it makes me wonder if we made the right decision.

Four weeks left

We're in the home stretch now, four more weeks of class to go. How to balance the kids who are all caught up and on the verge of being bored with the kids who are desperately trying to catch up? In class tutors? Extra credit assignments? Public service hours? Not sure yet. But with college essays being the equivalent of a homework assignment to half the class and the equivalent of the Great Wall of China to others, I better figure it out fast.

DC School Roundup de la Rachael

Happy B-day FAA

We also needed to post something from YouTube, and this was all I had to offer. This is what happens when I'm not grading. Sometimes this happens when I'm grading, too.

This is why

As we learn to set up the blog, we were asked to post a picture. James Jamerson came to mind. He is the reason, right?


This is a test of the Public Broadcast System, this is only a test, if this were a real emergency...