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John T. Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.
John T. Spencer has written 128 posts for Cooperative Catalyst

Jeff Bliss Wasn’t Arguing Against Teachers

Or at least it seems that way. The truth is that I don’t know what Bliss believes. I don’t know the whole context and I don’t pretend to know. Which is pretty much the point of this post. I’ve seen people watch this and use it to say, “We need to get rid of all … Continue reading

Why I Won’t Be Neutral

Juan’s mom shows up, make-up smeared, holding his younger brother. My Spanish isn’t great, but I can understand the message. We’re going to Mexico. And if they don’t want us there, it’s back to El Salvador. His dad works construction while his son constructs sentences and equations and whatever else it takes to make a dream. Juan … Continue reading

UnBored Board Games

My students are spending the entire week filling out bubbles in an effort to prove their mastery of reading, writing and math. I slip into the role of a gentle drill sergeant, giving them the death stare when they can’t sit still for three hours. The upside of the testing week is that we have … Continue reading

What Happens When Kids Craft Their Own BYOD Policy?

It started out with a standardized writing prompt and was never intended to move outside of the small testing window. However, when students finished writing a persuasive text on whether students should  be allowed to have cell phones and MP3 players (a student aptly pointed out that banning MP3 players would still allow him to … Continue reading

Filling Up a Sketchbook

My wife bought my seven-year-old son an Angry Birds sketchbook. I wanted to buy the cheap one on sale, but she insisted that if it felt special to him it would be a subtle message that we think his learning is worth investing in.  So, we give him the notebook and instantly he starts filing it up, … Continue reading

More Like a Hobby

I just finished re-writing the first half of Keeper of the Creatures, a book that I’ve been writing for my kids. I’m enjoying the process as much as the final product. True, I have deadlines that I set up for myself. However, these deadlines are flexible. Yes, I’m held “accountable” to someone, but it’s an audience of three … Continue reading

Why Do We Need to Play? (My #rechat Reflection)

The kids are in the backyard blowing bubbles. The canister reads Miracle Bubbles and it seems, at first, like hyperbole. Joel pulls out the wand and creates a floating orb. Brenna jumps up and pops the first one in delight. Micah pulls out a wand (a fitting word for the magic that happens) and asks … Continue reading

If Not Now, Then When?

The shock and horror of a school shooting becomes a reminder for me that schools are still seen as safe places, refuges, at times even sacred spaces in a broken world. The fact that we are so surprised speaks volumes about how safe schools feel to most people. Still, when the collective unity begins to … Continue reading

10 Ways to Deal with a Hard Year

I am having a difficult year. It’s hard for me to admit that, because I don’t want to be “that teacher” who complains about the kids and who blames the administration and who acts as if the universe owes him a unicorn and a mountain of peppermint fudge. I worry that in admitting just how … Continue reading

You Should Ban Beowulf

I don’t know why I had to read Scarlet Letter, but I know that the themes of hypocrisy, sin, redemption and religion imposing on individual will should have resonated with me. My guess is that I hated it, because it was assigned. It’s why I loved Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and The Color Purple. None … Continue reading

Invisible Stories: From Rockstars to Jam Sessions

Originally posted at Stories from School AZ (a local blogging co-op) The Need for Story I’m watching a Forty-Niners game on a late Sunday morning when someone posts a Facebook video comparing the social networking service to chairs, basketball games, picnics and other deeply human experiences. Minutes later, I look up at the television and notice … Continue reading

rethinking acceptable use

The boys wake up from their nap and ask to play with the iPad. They want to play games and make videos and Joel wants to play around with Instagram again. I’m not anti-technology, but I’m not giddy about it. I know that their stack of straws and construction paper that they left on the … Continue reading

why we need art

I’m not sure if there is a utilitarian value to art. I’m not even sure that it matters. I’m sure there are socio-political reasons for art and the act of persuasion and the way that art can be used to create social changed. Used. We talk of art as if it is a product, a consumable, durable … Continue reading

A Week without Homework Challenge #aweekwithouthomework

I’ve written before about my belief that homework is far more destructive than constructive. I don’t think it increases learning, adds to motivation or develops a strong work ethic. For a long time, I assigned homework out of a sense that I was “supposed to.” I never questioned it as a practice. After getting rid … Continue reading

How to Make a Class Behave

My class is well-behaved right now. You might not notice it at first glance. At one table, a group of girls are working on their STEM project. It’s a solar oven and they’re frustrated with trying to keep the heat from escaping. A visitor comes in and leaves surprised that English Langauge Learners are engaged … Continue reading

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