Grading, Rubrics, teaching, Writing

Formative Assessment, Rubrics, and (that pesky ol’ issue of) Grades

In the week before our school year started, our in-service professional development days focused on the topic of formative assessment and what techniques and strategies make for the most effective types of formative assessment. (If you’d like a more thorough recap of those sessions, check out the write up in Fine Print, one of my school’s online publications).


Leading us through these sessions was Jan Chappuis, who has written a number of books on formative assessment. Her presentation focused on her Seven Strategies book and the ways we could both implement these techniques and use them to help improve student learning and foster a “learning orientation” within students.


Jan’s day-and-a-half presentation was really dense and filled with more specific suggestions and ideas about restructuring classroom activities than one could possibly hope to implement in a single year (let alone in the last few days before a new school year). She did, however, note at the end of her presentation that the best approach for integrating formative assessment into one’s classroom is to “start small and keep going.”

With that admonition to adopt and work to implement something from her presentation, I gravitated toward her suggestions to use rubrics (framed around specific learning goals rather than check-list, task-completion goals) and sample student work (of both excellent and not so excellent quality) as a way to help students understand both what they’re supposed to be learning and how they can become more adept at self-assessment.

Rubrics of Yesteryear

My interest in using more effective rubrics, however, was spurred entirely by this presentation. Last year my colleague Kate and I experimented with using the “single-point rubric” as a way to get away from the overwhelming check-box features of traditional rubrics. This change had the benefit of pushing me to explicitly articulate (and visually center) the major learning goals for a particular assignment.



Sample “Single-Point” Rubric via the Cult of Pedagogy. The “Breakfast in Bed” assignment is obviously one of the most important encapsulations of learning in any history course.

I used the “single-point” rubric for a seminar on disability history that I taught last fall and found it a useful framework for explaining to students how they were doing on the various learning goals of the assignment. I even wrote a whole post for my students about my rationale for using this rubric and what I hoped they’d gain from it. The labor involved in articulating the positive and not so positive aspects of each piece of student work, however, ended up being pretty overwhelming by the end of the semester.

I ended the term feeling unsure about the net benefit of this framework. Yes, it gave a lot of feedback, but how effective was it when I shared both positive and negative aspects for a single learning goal? Did it always give students a clear sense of what to work on to improve? Unfortunately, I didn’t survey my students about their reactions to this rubric format, so I don’t have a clear idea about how well it worked. Missed opportunity [sigh].

Everything Old (or at least rubrics) Is New Again

So, when Jan Chappuis made learning goal-centered rubrics a centerpiece of her presentation as a way to do less grading and commenting while also providing more effective and punctual feedback, I was intrigued.

Jan recommended that rubrics should be written in student-friendly language (often using the first person—a stylistic choice that makes the learning goals more accessible and thereby helps students self-assess more readily) and only include as many different tiers/levels as there are gradations of mastery. In other words, if you only see four different levels of student skill for a learning goal, there should only be four potential outcomes on that rubric.

These guidelines ultimately recommended (and many of Jan’s models confirmed) using a more traditional-looking rubric with lots of boxes and descriptions of performance at various levels.

With our shift to Canvas this year, those recommendations ended up being good news because (at present) Canvas’ rubric creation tool doesn’t allow one to create a single-point rubric. Instead, the tool creates the fairly traditional rubrics with lots of boxes and descriptors—essentially the kind Jan recommended using with students.


“I call this one, ‘Rubrique Vintage‘”

I used this style of rubric for the first time this year for a comparative writing assignment about our summer reading books for AP European History: Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve and Joyce Appleby’s Shores of Knowledge. Because I use this introductory writing assignment to get a sense of students’ ability to structure an argument, use evidence, and offer analytical commentary, I only have them write a two paragraph response—an introduction with a thesis and one body paragraph. Given this narrow focus, I similarly made my rubric focus only on the learning/writing goals that apply to those part of an essay. Here’s what I’ve developed/adapted from an excellent writing rubric created by my colleague Kate:


I spent a day walking students through the rubric and reading two sample essays, which gave them the opportunity to put the rubric into action. By working with the students through one strong and one weak example, I hoped to both give them a sense of what I’m looking for in this assignment and give them some practice at identifying those characteristics in anonymous student work. By the end of that day, students had become pretty adept at evaluating these elements in sample work and grounding their assessments in the particular language of the rubric.

Although this marks a good start for me in terms of using rubrics and sample student work more extensively this year, it nevertheless leaves me with the remaining challenge of figuring out how to translate those “learning goal”-based rubrics into grades that are recognizable on the traditional grading scale. In experimenting with this task, I was heartened by a comment Jan made during her visit: (I’m paraphrasing, but it was something to the effect of) “it doesn’t matter what type of grading system you have so long as those grades are based on the learning goals of the course.”

But how do you grade it?

Good question, Italicized Header 3! Before creating this rubric, I did some research into how others have gone about translating learning goal or standards-based grades into a more traditional format. Here are a few links that I found useful in explaining potential solutions for that process:

Of all the systems explained in those posts (and others I haven’t linked to), I found the “Logic” or “Piecewise Function” for converting learning goal-based grades into traditional grades (explained in the Always Formative post above) the most compelling and adaptable. With that inspiration, I went about drafting, getting feedback on, and revising my own “Piecewise Function” for this particular assignment. Here’s what I settled on:


At present, I’ve only used this translation table for 11 essays, but I think it’s leaving me with predictable (and similar) results to what I’ve gotten in previous years when using a more holistic approach to evaluating assignments like this one. My hope, however, is that this rubric provides students with clear feedback that will help them see where they should focus their attention on upcoming writing assignments. I’ll certainly have more to say on all those topics once I’ve finished grading all the essays and get some feedback from the students.

I’d love to hear how others have used systems like this one and what advice they have. Given that math and science teachers wrote those blog posts from which I drew my inspiration and models, I’d love to hear insights from humanities (and especially history) teachers who have used a similar model. What types of scales have others used? How have students reacted to the feedback from the rubrics versus the translated grade? How has this system worked when the learning goals aren’t as explicitly skill-based but are more focused on content?

Nota Bene

There’s a whole boatload of material online about what formative assessment is and how best to implement it in the classroom, but I’ll leave that to your Google or YouTube searching. Here’s just one example of the sort of tutorial/instructional materials that you can find (thanks to my colleague, Wendell, for passing along the following video) that addresses the benefits and best methods for implementing formative assessment:


Presentations, Publications, Research, Writing

Benjamin Lay article published! (but read on here for a “tl;dr”)

Shortly after I’d passed my comprehensive exams and begun working on my dissertation in earnest in the Fall of 2012, one of my committee members suggested that I look into the early Quaker abolitionist, Benjamin Lay, as a potential subject for one of my chapters.

At that point, I had the outlines of the dissertation and its focus: Quakers, their ideas about disability, and how those ideas influenced their reform activities. However, beyond a seminar paper I’d written about the Quakers’ Retreat at York—a groundbreaking insane asylum that used “moral treatment” and other more humane methods to treat those perceived as “insane”—I didn’t have a lot of clear areas for focus.

To help remedy this problem and gain some wider context about Quaker humanitarians in the eighteenth century, my advisor, Sarah Rose, suggested that I talk with one of her former graduate student colleagues who had studied Quakers of this era and who might have some good leads.

Lo and behold, that conversation with Michael Goode, yielded what became two conference presentations, two dissertation chapters, and now a published article in the Disability Studies Quarterly.

If you didn’t want to click that “published article” link above, let me entice you with a teaser image (courtesy the lovely and helpful archivists from the Smithsonian Institution) from the article below:


Benjamin Lay, Artist: William Williams, Sr., c. 1750-1758, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society.


(Now that you’ve seen that, let me spam you with many more links to that very same article…pretty annoying, huh?)

Part of what made researching Benjamin Lay so fun and so much of a challenge was that Michael Goode first presented him to me as an individual whose disability left some scholars skeptical. Because Lay served on a sailing vessel, those skeptics argued, he couldn’t have been disabled because such a job in the eighteenth century wouldn’t have been possible for an individual with such a striking bodily aberration (and its perceived limitations) as you see in the image above.

So, as I learned about Lay’s life in the eighteenth century and about how later abolitionists perceived and presented him in the nineteenth century, I was on a quest to piece together (from varied and fragmentary evidence) how disability, in fact, was present in (spoiler alert!!!if not central to) Lay’s life, his advocacy, and his legacy.

My argument acquired a bit more intrigue when, in the summer of 2014, I had the privilege of presenting a focused version of my argument at the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists where one of the skeptics was in the audience! After my talk, that scholar asked a number of good questions and seemed persuaded by my overall assertion that Benjamin Lay did, in fact, make his disabled body a crucial part of his abolitionist advocacy. I got further feedback and support for my developing argument from Caleb McDaniel, a terrific historian of slavery and abolition at Rice University, when I presented my Benjamin Lay talk as a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic conference later that same summer.

With those votes of confidence, I continued my revisions and work on these chapters about Benjamin Lay, submitting the one that was just published to the Disability Studies Quarterly journal shortly after passing my dissertation defense in February of this year.

So, feel free to click on to read the whole thing, or, as I promised, here’s the “tl; dr”:

Benjamin Lay was disabled and his disability proved central to his abolitionist advocacy during his lifetime in the eighteenth century. Lay actively used his non-conforming body to challenge the Quaker community to give up slaveholding and the slave trade and acknowledged how his aberrant body helped lead to him to his abolitionist views in his 1737 publication, All Slave-Keepers, Apostates. After his death, Lay’s disability became inextricably connected to his abolitionist work both in visual and written representations of Lay, his body, and his unconventional advocacy.

Now that this article has made it out into the world, I’d like to thank all those who’ve provided feedback, guidance, support, and encouragement over these past four-plus years as I’ve worked on this Benjamin Lay research and the rest of my dissertation. We’ll see where this work goes next, but in the meantime, it’s quite gratifying to send part of it out into the world.

If anyone does opt to read the non-“tl;dr” version of the article, I’d love to hear what you think!

Academic Skills, AP Skills, Writing

“Flipped Tutorial” Entry #2: Writing AP European History DBQs

As my AP European History students have their first full-length DBQ essay coming up this week, I had a few requests to make a video about approaching and writing those essays as I did for the AP European History FRQs.

While we’ve done a bunch of practice and discussion of this skill in class, I thought the suggestion was a good one, so I went ahead and created a video that students can consult not only in preparation for their essay this week, but also as we move closer to the exam in May.

One of the suggestions that I got in the comments to my FRQ video tutorial post was to break down the video into shorter segments so that students can focus in on the areas where they’d like additional clarification and review. I thought the suggestion was a good one, as navigating even that nine minute video can be a hassle, so I broke this video tutorial into a five-part playlist with each video focused on one of the steps of writing the DBQ.

I used the released question about the German Peasants’ Revolt for my examples in the video, as we had used those documents in class and it addressed a topic that we’ve already studied in-depth by this point of the year. As I do in class, I frame the approach to the AP European DBQ as almost like putting together a puzzle — an analogy one of my students used this week that I think it really apt. While I didn’t use that analogy explicitly in the video, I think it carries through in the way I’ve structured my explanations and broken the process down into “steps.”

As with before, I welcome any feedback or thoughts on how to further improve this type of “flipped” instruction.

Academic Skills, Pedagogy, teaching, Writing

Finding Venues for Authentic Research: The Family History Paper

Bound oral history transcripts

Image by Kennesaw State University Archives via Flickr

I’ve been unfortunately quiet of late and have decided that rather than attempt (unsuccessfully) to complete the variety of half-baked posts that sit in my “Drafts” folder, I’d find other ways to get new material up here. With this post, I think I’m going to adopt a strategy to generate content that I’ve seen on other education related blogs: use material that you’re creating for a student audience and share that same material with others.

This post focuses on an assignment that I distributed to my U.S. History students today, but is one that I adapted from a professor of mine in my Master’s Program at UT-Arlington, Dr. Gerald Saxon. In Dr. Saxon’s Texas and the Spanish Borderlands class all students wrote a family history about one of their sets of grandparents. These papers were based on oral interviews and other written and photographic documentary evidence. I had the good fortune of interviewing my grandparents in Richmond, VA, and in the course of preparing the paper collected 5+ hours of interviews with them on my computer. It was a great experience to research and write and was an assignment that felt more authentic than more traditional research questions (not that there’s anything wrong with those).

My colleague (who took the same class in an earlier semester with Dr. Saxon) and I are hoping that this assignment will not only allow students connect with their family in a unique way, but will also help them reinforce the research skills they’ve developed in the first semester by using a topic that has inherent interest to them — their families and themselves. I’d like to thank Dr. Saxon for allowing me to adapt his assignment and borrow much of his language in this assignment sheet.

Below I’ve copied the (rather lengthy) assignment sheet I distributed to my students. Feel free to offer me whatever thoughts or feedback you have. Also, if anyone has done a similar project with high school students I’d love to hear about your experiences and what made the project successful and rewarding.


U.S. History Research Project – Family History Biography

For this assignment each student will write a social history about the lives of one set of grandparents. Writing a family history requires interviewing family members, searching for old family records, and perhaps doing other research as well.  However, a family social history is much more than a genealogical chart of names, dates, and significant events. Rather it is an attempt to reconstruct the lives your grandparents led, and your paper should have in it information on jobs, living arrangements, major problems, migration from place to place, social activities, personal relations, family information, and socioeconomic status. In addition to documenting and creating a narrative of the lives of your grandparents, you also need to contextualize their lives within the larger historical developments of the era(s) in which they lived. In other words, work to answer the question of how your grandparents’ lives were shaped by the surrounding events and developments they experienced in their lives. This question will require you to do background research on, analysis of, and writing about the broader cultural and social events of the 20th and 21st centuries and how those shaped your grandparents’ lives.

We will spend the bulk of the third quarter working on this assignment, much of which will be done independently while you’re working on other assignments. Therefore, it is vital that you be well-organized and diligent in completing the various steps of this assignment before it is ultimately due at the beginning of March. However, this flexible time-frame should also allow you to complete the steps of the process at times that are convenient in relation to your other obligations and allow you to conduct your interviews with family members at various times.

Oral History and Ethical Issues:
Please know that there are ethical considerations you must take into account when doing oral interviews. No one can be interviewed against his or her wishes. Also, you must explain the purpose for asking the questions and that the information is intended for use in your U.S. History class. No other use of the material should occur unless you have the approval of the individuals you interviewed.

How to Collect Information:

  • Which families?

Any family is a good subject. Whether your family was wealthy or not, powerful or not, all families have a history. To make research and writing easier, I suggest you select the set of grandparents on whom you have the most information, whether this information is in documents, scrapbooks, family photos, or in the memories of your grandparents themselves or their kin. Also, be sure to collect evidence and include in your paper something about the lives of your parents, especially as they relate to your grandparents.

  • Interview techniques and considerations?

First find out if your parents and grandparents will cooperate. Even if all of your grandparents are deceased you can interview your own parents about their parents. You can also interview and gain valuable information from aunts, uncles, and cousins. I would suggest that you tape record the interviews because these will become important family resources now and into the future. As you move into writing your paper and incorporating quotations, you may find that having a transcript the tapes makes it easier for you to access to the information and use it argumentatively.

Check out the questions below. I am providing them as a guide. You do not have to ask all of them. Draft your own set of questions and be sure to follow-up with additional questions during your interviews. We’ll also spend some time in class working on drafting questions. Moreover, I encourage you to check out this site for some helpful advice regarding asking questions and capturing the responses.

Once you’ve asked the questions, listen very carefully to what your interviewees are saying. This is hard work. Try to get the exact words if they use unfamiliar terms; clarify spellings of names and locations if you are not sure of them. If you have to obtain information by letter or email, do so as quickly as possible to avoid any problems with deadlines for this project.

As you ask questions, be sure to make them as specific as possible. For example, ask for exact dates, amounts paid in wages, full names, and feelings and motivations. Ask about the problems your relatives faced and how they may have overcome them. Give as complete a picture as possible. Not only concentrate on the positive, but be realistic and objective about their lives and work your hardest to tell the “truth” that your research reveals. Check stories with other relatives to verify the information and/or get another perspective.

  • What kinds of questions to ask?

The questions you ask will determine the quality of your family history. Below are some questions you might want to pursue. You will probably think of others more specific to your family and more relevant and interesting. Do not be bound by asking only the questions below.

  1. How did your grandparents meet? Where/when? What attracted them to each     other? How was marriage decided upon?
  2. Ask about dating and courtship practices. What kinds of dates did they go on?
  3. Ask about their backgrounds. Where did each grow up? What kind of families did they come from? What were their parents like? Did they live on a farm, in the city, or a town? Describe the communities in which they grew up.
  4. What about their educations? Where did they go to school? When did they—or did they—graduate from high school? What about college, trade school, or other training?
  5. After they were married where did they live and what did they do for a living? Be specific and have them tell about their jobs. Also, if someone stayed at home to raise a family ask about his/her routine.
  6. Did other relatives live with them? Talk about children. When were the children born? What were their names? Where were they born? Were any lost to accidents, miscarriages, illness, etc. How did having children change their lives?
  7. Did the family consider itself poor, average, well-off? Why?
  8. What were the daily routines of family members? How did they spend time at home and on holidays? Who visited whom and how often? What kinds of family celebrations were held? Any reunions? What are the family traditions?
  9. What did they do for entertainment?
  10. What part did religion play in family life? What is their religion and why?
  11. How were key decisions made on moving, schooling, occupations, and approval of marriages?
  12. Have them discuss child-rearing. Who raised the children? Disciplined them and how? Helped with homework?
  13. What were some of the problems and conflicts the family faced? How were they dealt with?
  14. When were the first radio, TV, washing machine, car, and other gadgets of modern life purchased/acquired? What difference did they make in the life of the family?
  15. Describe the community in which your grandparents lived and raised their family. How big was it? What was it like? Why did they settle there?
  16. How important was politics to the family? What political parties did they belong to and did they change affiliations? How did the family react to major events in American history such as war, depression, civil rights, hippies, etc.?
  • Records, diaries, letters, and other primary sources

Your paper will be even richer if you are able to locate and examine photographs, letters, family Bibles, scrapbooks, and other family sources. Use these to help fill in the gaps in your research. Also, please include illustrations in your paper where possible, like photos of your grandparents, their house, and children or maps marking the locations where they lived and raised a family. You are only limited by your imagination and the historical material that you can find.

  • Resources on the Internet

The Internet may contain many resources for researching your family history, but I will assure you it will not answer all, or even most, of your questions. It is a tool, nothing more. It does not contain a database on everyone who ever lived (that is wishful thinking!). It may help point you in the right direction or put you in contact with an individual or institution where you can get help. In the end, however, like all research projects, it is up to you to find the information that you will need for this paper. Like most papers on recent history, your research will take you to web resources, archival and library resources, and oral history interviews, to mention only a few varieties.

There are literally thousands of web sites relating to genealogy. What follows are a few links that you might want to investigate:

  1. [This is the genealogy site for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons, the most active individuals in the preservation of genealogical resources in the world.]
  2. [Genealogy home page for the National Archives and Records Administration.]
  3. [Site for Texas genealogy.]
  4. [Excellent commercial site but you have to pay to conduct serious research on the site.]
  5. [Family Oral History Using Digital Tools; lots of good advice and suggestions regarding how to use digital recording resources to conduct oral history interviews.]
  6. [ allows searching of U.S. Census Bureau records for 1790-1930]
  7. Proquest Historical New York Times [accessible via the FWCD Libraries webpage; good resource to establish historical context and broader cultural development that surrounded your grandparents’ lives]
  8. Google Books [This resource contains a large variety of secondary sources, which will also be helpful in provided a broader historical background for your grandparents’ lives.]
  9. Google News Archives [This resource, much like the Proquest Historical New York Times, provides primary sources from various newspapers and other online sources about key events immediately after they happened and can also be helpful in establishing context.]

Mechanics and Format:

  • Proposal due

Turn in a proposal for your family history project on the date specified on the syllabus. Your proposal should be typed, double-spaced, and 1-2 pages. Please include the following information: 1. Your name; 2. The names of the grandparents on whom you plan to focus; 3. A paragraph about your grandparents; who they are and where they are from; 4. The sources you plan to consult for the project; and 5. Any questions you have for me. I will keep your proposals unless there are problems with your project. The due date for the proposal is Monday, Jan 10.

  • Original copy and title page

Turn in one copy of your paper typewritten, double-spaced, with one-inch margins all around. The length of your paper should be 5+ pages, not including the standard heading, the cover page with a creative title, and the bibliography. Check your paper for grammatical problems and spelling mistakes. We’ll spend some time peer-editing in class, which will hopefully draw attention to common grammatical and stylistic errors and give you plenty of opportunity to correct those before the final due date (March 7).

  • Bibliography

After the narrative, please include a page of bibliography. Your bibliography should include every source you consulted for the project, such as books, letters, scrapbooks, family Bibles, and interviews. For interviews, be sure you include the complete name of the interviewee and the date/s of the interview/s. We’re going to gain an introduction to the Chicago Manual of Style during the course of this project. I believe that NoodleTools has the capacity to create footnotes and a bibliography in the Chicago Style, but if you have questions about specific bibliographic formats, you can also consult a recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) or Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also experiment with the really excellent Firefox Plug-in called Zotero, which offers the ability to digitally take notes, capture meta-data about sources, and generate citations and bibliographies within Microsoft Word.

  • Organization and style

You can organize your paper any way that you wish. For those of you searching for a way to organize, however, you might consider the following as a guide: 1. Life of your grandfather up to marriage; 2. Life of your grandmother up to marriage; 3. Their life together; 4. Maps and illustrations; and 5. Bibliography.

  • Maps and illustrations

As stated above, your report will be enriched by adding illustrations, maps, and photos to help reflect your narrative. Your report must include a map or maps showing all locations of towns and cities mentioned or of farms and homesteads referred to in your paper. You may use a gas station map, a map from the Internet, or one of your own making. Describe locations carefully so that someone from New York would know where to find Cut and Shoot, Texas, for example. Include copies of family photos where possible to add visual documentation and interest. When using illustrations, be sure to place a caption under each one giving dates, persons included, or locations.

  • Careful descriptions

Keep in mind that contemporary readers need to be told how even simple tasks were performed years ago. Most people today know nothing about farming. Who knows what it was like to hitch up a horse to a buggy, or start an old car, or get ice from an iceman, or take a bath before indoor plumbing? Explain these things carefully if they are relevant to your family history project. Write as if your reader knows nothing about these activities.

Learning Objectives and Standards:
This essay will be evaluated on the following standards. Each of these standards will be evaluated on a 1-5 scale (5=Outstanding, 4=Good, 3= Competent, 2=Approaching Competency, and 1=Unacceptable).

  • The essay clearly details and explains the lives of one set of grandparents.
  • The essay draws on oral histories and interviews conducted by the student, which are based on a prepared set of questions with appropriate follow-up questions.
  • The essay uses written primary source materials (letters, photographs, journals, etc.) to help supplement the oral history component of the paper.
  • The essay effectively draws on appropriate primary (newspapers) and secondary sources to help contextualize one’s grandparents’ lives in the larger developments of U.S. and (potentially) world history during the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • The essay includes an appendix including map(s) and other images to help supplement and enrich the overall paper and documentation.
  • The essay employs proper grammatical constructions, stylistic conventions, spelling, and strives to avoid the use of the passive voice and vague pronouns.
  • The essay employs Chicago Manual of Style footnotes and bibliography in an appropriate and accurate way.

Calendar and Due Dates:
Click of the following link to find the due dates for the Family History Paper project. Check this link frequently, as it will be updated and possibly amended as we move through the project.

This assignment has been inspired by and adapted from an assignment created and given by Dr. Gerald Saxon at the University of Texas at Arlington.

history, Research, Technology, Writing

Omnipresent and Unexpected Reminders: Google Tasks and today’s New York Times

When I returned from vacation a few weeks ago and once again immersed myself in my Google-laden existence (which extends to virtually everything except my iPhone), I realized that they had moved the Tasks functionality from Calendars into GMail. I was excited about this shift as I don’t spend a whole lot of time using the Calendar page, given that my schedule tend to be pretty predictable, but I do use GMail all the time. And while my schedule is predictable, the list of long-term, short-term, and indeterminate-term things I have to do isn’t always predictable.

Back-to-School Tasks in GMail

So, when I saw the Tasks is now part of my most frequently-used Google tool, I realized that this change should help me keep track of all the things I need to take care of in the near and distant future. Particularly useful in the new pop-up Tasks window in GMail is the ability to create different Task lists rather than just have everything subsumed in one gigantic “Default” list. Upon figuring this out, I went about creating a “Back To School” list, a “Blogging/Blog Post” list of writing ideas, a “Music to check out” list to remind me about interesting bands I discover via All Songs Considered or Sound Opinions, and the “Default” list of large, typically long-term regular life things I need to address.

One of the good things about having this “Default” list in my face with regularity is that I’m less likely to forget about them. The top item on that list is definitely the longest-term project I’m dealing with at the moment, which is to take my (rather verbose) article about the Mormon Pavilion (“…and in the left corner, weighing in at 52 pages…”) published in the Journal of Mormon History’s Fall 2009 Issue, and condense it down to a 6,000 word entry for a forthcoming collection about Mormons and American Popular Culture. I’ve not had to revise a previous work in quite so significant a way beforehand, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and figuring out how to convey my argument clearly and effectively in a much shorter amount of space.

The newfound prominence of this list brings me to the second good reminder about my impending writing assignment I received today: an article in the  New York Times about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their role in a satellite broadcast to Europe in 1962. I really enjoyed reading the article and it definitely reengaged my scholarly interest in the LDS Church and their movement into mainstream American culture. Similar to an argument I made in a portion of my article, the NYT piece by Kirk Johnson contended that the early 1960s marked “a high point of assimilation for the choir and the church” as “Suburbs and large, baby-boom families were in vogue, and that made the Mormons, who’d fled to Utah to escape persecution in the 1840s, look more like everybody else than they ever had.”

Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Image courtesy of Flickr user Laurel Fan

However, Johnson’s article concludes by arguing that this moment in 1962, when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was broadcast to an ideologically-divided European continent, marked the apogee of LDS integration into the American mainstream. After this moment, Johnson notes, “As the sexual revolution, the drug culture and the social upheaval of civil rights and the Vietnam War advanced, the LDS Church retreated, re-emphasizing modesty in dress and behavior, sharpening the cultural conservatism that remains a church hallmark today.” Therefore, by the “late 1960s and early 1970s […] much of America looked alien through Mormon eyes” given an increasing resentment of Washington and the changing cultural mores.

Perhaps because I’m so steeped in thinking about the 1964-65 World’s Fair as a catalytic moment in the history of the LDS Church, I have a hard time seeing this broadcast that took place two years before the opening of the Fair — an event where the Church very self-consciously sought to proselytize to a broad audience — as the last moment of real integration of the LDS Church into mainstream American culture. In fact, it seems that given the Church’s later participation in other World’s Fairs, the rise of prominent and influential LDS politicians (see: Reid, Harry; Romney, Mitt), and the continued expansion into the built environment through the construction of ward houses and temples, that satellite broadcast really wasn’t as end of an era, but instead marked a step in a process of increasing prominence and integration.

If nothing else, this article has helped re-spark my thinking about the development of LDS integration into the American mainstream. Hopefully these initial ruminations will shortly manifest themselves in the form of making progress on my encyclopedia entry!

Academic Proposals, Social Media, Writing

ISTE MixedInk Session: And the topic is…

Well, the day is finally upon us. Dave Stern and I will be presenting on using MixedInk in the classroom at a Bring Your Own Laptop session at 1:30 Mountain Time today.

After the Google Form poll that I conducted asking participants to vote for what topic they’d like to write on, we had a majority for something dealing with “The Value of Technology in the Classroom.” So, as I’ve done many-a-time before, I wrote an essay question that we’ll share with the participants this afternoon. However, if anyone attending wants to get a head start on brainstorming, or if anyone not in attendance is desperately curious to know what I came up with (and how could you not be?), I thought I post the question here.

To what extent do you agree with Georgetown University professor David Cole’s characterization of the effects of technology in the classroom?

“I’ve barred students from using laptops in my classes for two years now, and it has manifestly improved student participation and the level of engagement and discussion. And no wonder — allowing students access to the Internet is like putting several magazines, a telephone and a television monitor at each students’ seat and inviting him or her to tune out and browse, talk or watch TV anytime their mind starts to wander. It is corrosive of an engaged classroom.”

Don’t worry — it’s not graded and no additional research is required. If you’re following my Twitter stream, or that of MixedInk, we’ll get out the link for the project this afternoon so those of you not at ISTE can feel free to jump in and contribute to our project remotely. We’ll look forward to hearing from you!