Friday, February 20, 2015

A brief winter post

A view of the rail trail behind my house.
For anyone who reads this blog from time-to-time, it's not hard to notice the decline in postings over the years. Marriage, a second graduate program, a CAGS program, and then the birth of my daughter last July are where I've been investing my time.

Given that I do enjoy writing in this space, I hope to carve out little niches here and there to post updates and reflections over the coming months.   

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Buds sprout in soil
Seasonal shift upon us
Bring on the sunshine!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Presenting at NCTE

Tomorrow I head into Boston for the 103rd National Council of Teachers of English conference. This will be my first time attending NCTE's national conference, and I'm looking forward to meeting some fantastic teachers and taking back great ideas to engage and enrich my students. On Friday I'll be participating in a poster session with other high school and college teachers. More to come!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A meditation on student engagement

It is our challenge to get students – and their parents and guardians – to bite from the apple of knowledge so as to savor its sweet, nourishing offerings. Too many of our neediest students think the tree of education is not for them, and instead gravitate toward the rooted vegetables of ignorance. We must become stewards of the orchard, and let all of our population know its gates are open for them.

Flickr Creative Commons Image by emoeby

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Poetry Reading

In celebration of National Poetry Month, here's my reading of "Hemingway Never Did This" by Charles Bukowski.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Post - Journalism, and Seeing Beyond the Ambulance

I've been writing Mr. B-G's English Blog since 2006, and up until now, all 230 posts have been my own. Today, I am featuring a narrative essay from Jacleen Charbonneau, a recent college graduate from Massachusetts with a penchant for all things English. Ms. Charbonneau authors a blog,, where she offers writing and editing advice.

Over the years I've received a number of requests for guest posts, but they've usually been from "educorporations," and would, essentially, be a form of advertising. While I have nothing against people making money off their blogs (and I realize that for some, revenue is essential for them to continue putting out content), that has never been my aim here at Mr. B-G's English Blog.

So, when I saw an opportunity to provide an audience to someone with an earnest, authentic voice, I went with it. And, if the roles were reversed and I were a young college graduate hoping to further establish myself, I would hope Ms. Charbonneau would respond in kind.

Below is her piece, designed to give students a glimpse of an undergraduate as she commutes to her 9:00 a.m. journalism class.

Journalism, and Seeing Beyond the Ambulance 

Traveling down the street on a busy Monday, I hustle my way through the bumper-to-bumper traffic in hopes of making it on time for my 9 o’clock class. What is this guy in front of me doing? Why is he stopped when there’s a green light?
“MOVE IT ALONG,” I yell, in hopes that he hears me through my thick windshield and rolled up windows. The windows would be rolled down if it wasn’t fifteen degrees during a mid-winter flurry. “LET’S GO, WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?”
Finally, he proceeded until we reached the second light. This time it was red.
“LET’S GO HERE,” I yell, suddenly realizing the light is still red and I am just merely mad at the man in front of me, for being so, ignorant.
The light finally hits green. There’s a one second pause as the car in front of me is likely moving his foot from the brake to the gas. 

Perfect opportunity to blow him off. 
I rev my engine and fly around the side of his, I’d guess, 2001 Ford Explorer. Bright blue. A color that I haven’t seen on many modern cars. Outdated car, outdated driving skills.
Driving in a busy city has always been hard, especially for morning classes. There was no time for errors, no time for any unexpected hindrances. There is nothing worse when there is an. . .
Ambulance. Are you kidding me? I have to pull over? Where is there to pull over? 
I squeeze my car as far towards the sidewalk as possible. The Chevy minivan in front of me does the same, clearly struggling more than I am due to the monstrous, nearly immovable size of the  vehicle. Egg-shaped even.
Wow! I hear you, Ambulance, but I cannot move over any further!

8:55 a.m. Oh my gosh!  Where has the time gone? Five minutes, two miles, already tardy twice. Should I just skip all together? That way I don’t look like I’m always late?

The ambulance finally gets through, and cars are still moving their way back to their original driving positions.

Finally. I take a swig of my water to quench the dryness of my throat. I take the opportunity to swerve my car back onto the road within seconds, passing by cars still struggling. 

Here we go, I still have a chance.

Flooring the gas pedal, my little red Pontiac makes its way closer to my school, racing against the enemy of time. I pull into the parking lot, park my car in a faculty parking space, and run into my classroom. Two minutes late.
Uh oh, I’m going to get a ticket for parking in the wrong space.

When I settle into my seat, my journalism professor hands out his usual daily newspaper articles that we read as a class. He claims it helps us get used to the unique style of journalistic writing. You know, the straight-to-the-point, never-allowed-to-be-opinionated, never exciting writing.
“Can I have a volunteer to read this to the class?” Professor Lasky asks. The room is silent. The barrier of silence presses against him, likely the cause of his red face. He clears his throat. Loudly. “Anyone?”
To make up for my late run into the classroom, hoping the volunteering will cause him to forget my tardiness, I raise my hand shyly. I look at the article, quickly scanning it over to make sure I know how to pronounce all the names. The names are always the hard part. 
Just what I figured. It is straight to the point, full of quotations, and appears condensed, yet informative. How fun, I think to myself. I clear my throat, now scratchy from yelling at the man in front of me on the way to the school.

“ ‘It’s sort of what I do,’ says Matthew Thompson on Tuesday, November 23. ‘The families appreciate it and it’s really rewarding.’
Thompson, EMT for the city of Boston, saved three lives last Friday by his timely arrival with the ambulance. 
“He knows the back roads really well, and that saves him time to get to the patient in need instead of having to force his way through aggressive traffic,” says Marissa Lampton, Thompson’s friend of twenty years. “One can only imagine how frustrating it is to try to get around cars that don’t want to move. . . ’’”

Wow, this sounds familiar. I stop reading and suddenly a revelation comes upon me. My eyes are open, my ears are hearing the words I am reading as if they are speaking directly to me.
There is life out there that isn’t mine. There are different sides to every story, whether we all realize it or not. There are stories and events that need clarification, even to help us gain an understanding of everyday situations.

No longer is this plain text monotonous, but my eyes open up and I am now appreciative of this access, this simple access to another side of the story. A simple access to a piece of paper that leaves my fingers full of black ink. A simple access to my 9 o’clock journalism class. 

My mind suddenly flashes back to my earlier commute: 

Are you serious, Ambulance? And where do you want me to pull aside? I have to get to class, thank you!

I realize I am sitting in class again.

“Are you going to finish?” my professor asks.

-Jacleen C.

Creative Commons Image by four12 on Flickr

Monday, January 28, 2013

Screencast videos and FETC 2013

Well, I'm here in Orlando, FL, putting the finishng touches on my presentation at the 2013 Florida Educational Tehnology Conference. FETC is the nation's most comprehensive edtech conference, and I'm excited to be a part of it. I'll be making a presentation on how I've used a free screen recording program, Screencast-O-Matic, to create tutorial videos for my students, which I've uploaded to BGtechnology, my YouTube channel.

I first learned of Screencast-O-Matic through my Master of Educational Technology degree with Boise State University's EDTECH department. It's a simple and free way to create video tutorials on almost any topic. By using YouTube as my delivery vehicle, any student with an Internet connection can view the videos. Most of the videos I make are three minutes or under. I find that brevity is essential, as it's easy to tune out anything that isn't concise or straightforward.

I'll sometimes play a video at the beginning of class when I'm introducing a new skill, task, or concept, and then have students to refer back to the video on their own as needed. This helps eliminate unnecessary repetition, as students who got it the first time can begin their work, while others who need the information or steps repeated can cue up the video and watch at their own pace. Of course, if there's something they don't understand in the video, I am there in class to answer their questions.

To be clear, I am not assigning videos to students to watch at home, a la the flipped classroom. Rather, these videos aid me when giving direct instruction in the classroom.

I hope to blog regularly this week about both my presentation and some of the session highlights I attend. In particular, I'm excited about hearing Google's Jaime Casap and
New Jersey high school principal Eric Sheninger.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Proffed out

After sitting through a full day of professional development where I literally sat in a chair and read pages and pages of evaluator rubrics, it was nice to get out and take the dog for a walk. I decided to bring along my camera, as since reading Seth Godin's Linchpin, I've been feeling the need to "create art and ship," in Godin parlance.

Godin's book is inspiring and affirming. It speaks to our inner artist, and empowers us to stifle the lizard brain, put ourselves out there, and create something unique and important. I suppose it follows that in order to best help my students discover and cultivate their passions, I need to nourish and sustain my own.

I already do this by reading and writing. It's been a while, though, since I've picked up the camera and shot on a consistent basis. Taking pictures is something I love to do, and have for more than 20 years. It was in high school that I learned the basics of photographic composition, and first encountered a darkroom. There were few things I enjoyed more than using the enlargers to create photos from a fresh roll of film. There was something magical about the way the image burned onto the paper, made all the more special by the fact that I controlled the final product.

The photo below was taken at the end of our walk, just after the sun had set behind the horizon. I like the colors of the toys, and the warm glow from the Christmas lights in the background.

"Doggie toy bucket"  f/2, 1/30, ISO 1000, 20mm
Here are a few others:
"Toboggan" f/2, 1/30, ISO 1000, 20mm

"Bridge" f/2.5, 1/30, ISO 640, 20mm
"Mr. Fence Post" f/1.7, 1/30, ISO 100, 20mm

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow day

Today we had a snow day. I got to catch up on some sleep, do some chores around the house, and take our dog for an extended woodland walk through the fresh snow. I was also able to take this picture and post it to the blog, two things (taking photos and writing in this space) I look forward to doing more of.

"Snow laurel" f/1.7, 1/250, ISO 100, 20mm

Monday, October 29, 2012

Surviving Sandy

At this time one year ago, a freak snowstorm caused massive damage to Western Massachusetts, resulting in the loss of power for an entire week. We've been much more fortunate this time around, maintaining electricity (and Internet) during the brunt of Sandy's blow.

Strong winds downed trees and sent debris everywhere, yet the electricity still flowed even as gusts approached 60 mph. Well-deserved props to the folks at National Grid for keeping the juice on during the turbulence.

The jury's still out on if we'll have school tomorrow. A handful of districts have cancelled, while a number of others have signaled it's all systems go. With college recommendation letters, an upcoming workshop at the New England Association of Teachers of English conference this Friday, and pieces to still pick up after being out two days last week to attend the 30th Massachusetts Computer Using Educators conference, I could certainly use another day "off" to make headway.

In addition, on Tuesday (or Wednesday) I'll resume control of my three ninth grade college prep English classes, as my practicum student from a nearby university concluded her placement in my classroom last Friday. She did a wonderful job introducing the students to PVLEGS, the acronym developed by educator Eric Palmer to help students remember the keys to speaking effectively: poise, voice, life, eye contact, gestures, and speed. After reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, the students gave speeches where they made connections between events in their lives and the book. My practicum student was able to explicitly show the students how the PVLEGS skills can really make a difference when it comes to speaking effectively, and the students bought in.

The image at the top of this post was obviously not taken today; it was snapped up at The Flume in Lincoln, NH, over Columbus Day weekend. Rather than post an image of destruction, I prefer to remember this month for the gorgeous foliage and temperate afternoons, not the carnage from Sandy.

My studies through Boise State University's EDTECH program have kept me quite busy as I've made progress on my Master of Educational Technology degree. The coursework requires reflection and journal writing, much of which I've done on a separate blog just for graduate school. I am halfway through one of the two final classes I need to complete before I earn my degree this May. Once my coursework concludes, I look forward to bringing my voice back to the blogosphere. In the meantime, I've still been active on my Twitter account, although I don't read nearly as many tweets from the folks I'm following as I'd like to. For my friends on the East Coast, I hope you stayed safe during Sandy's passing.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Using Creative Commons Images from Flickr

I recently began using the screen capture program Screencast-O-Matic to create video tutorials for my students. Below is one I made about using Creative Commons images from Flickr. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

In a few hours, the clock will strike midnight and we'll bid adieu to 2011.

After a two-month hiatus, I hope to blog with greater frequency in 2012. While life has a way of keeping us busy, there's real value in finding the time to record and reflect on events - both in and out of the classroom.

Catch you on the flip side.

Fireworks image by Flickr user martin.linkov

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A good walk

Recently, I went for a walk with one of my 9th grade classes. It was an impromptu, unscripted jaunt, and in total took less than five minutes.

It was the last period of the day and it was gorgeous outside. My students were about to work on major essays. What I would be asking of them would require focus, concentration, and attention to detail.

As soon as the bell rang and they were seated, I made an announcement that we would be going outside for a walk.

Their faces beamed. Smiles and grins filled the room. "Really?" "Outside?"


And outside we went. I had charted the route a few minutes earlier during the end of my prep period, leaving one of the side doors to the school ajar with a rock. I told the students I knew they had a lot to do that period, I knew it had already been a long day, and that I thought a little fresh air might help them focus. They all agreed.

"We should do this every day." "How far are we going?" "Can we go all the way around the school?"

We went about one quarter of the way around the building before turning in a side door and returning to the classroom. Once inside, students pulled up their essays on the computers and netbooks and began making revisions. Once done, they copied their work from Google Docs to Blogger, where they posted their essays for classmates to comment on.

Most of them did a nice job focusing on their work and being productive. I was able to circulate through the room, offering feedback and answering questions during mini writing consultations. It was a positive ending to the day, set in motion by a gut judgement about what the students needed most at that time.

Forest path photo by my sister-in-law, mindwhisperings at Flickr

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vocabulary Video - Ebullient

As I wrote about earlier, one of my goals this year was to create vocabulary videos with my students. The above is an example video I created and shared with my classes. By early next week, my seniors will have made their first videos. The freshmen will follow suit. I'm excited about the possibilities of this new teaching tool.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Keeping my jog on

I just got back from a 3.5 mile jog. One of my personal goals this year is to maintain - and eventually improve - my current level of fitness. Part of being a public high school teacher is coming to terms with the fact that there is always going to be an inordinate number of things to do, and never quite enough time to do them.

This means that when I go to complete a task - be it grading an essay, crafting a lesson plan, writing a letter of recommendation, or researching an idea for a new lesson - I need to be at the top of my game. In order to maximize my time and efficiency, I need to be taking care of myself.

This year, that means adding a banana and yogurt to my regular breakfast of an English muffin or bagel. It means getting seven hours of sleep at least five of the seven days of the week. And it means working out five of those days as well.

I've found it's easy to pay lip service to the idea of working out, eating better, and sleeping more. It's quite another to actually live those ideas. I will say that since my wife and I got a dog this past summer, we've both been more active, and a little less self involved. Having something else to care for besides ourselves has helped expand our sense of what home life is like. It's allowed us a bit more perspective, and given us more opportunities to live in the moment, something our dog Alyza is able to do quite well.