Stephen King On Writing Concepts, Not Plots


I’ve been reading a lot of story-driven fiction lately, including a lot of young adult books like Divergent and things like Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. This prompted me to delve into King’s On Writing, in which he explains that good stories start from concepts, not plots.

stephen king, on writing, fiction, literature

When I first started writing fiction, I generally started with an idea or feeling I wanted to express, not with stories or characters or anything even remotely interesting to readers. As I evolved a bit, I read Story by Robert McKee and learned the value of plotting out engaging stories with notecards and developing interesting characters using Dungeons-and-Dragons-style character record sheets. This is a laborious approach, but it helped me to refocus my writing. However, it makes for a slow process, and I had to put a my pots on simmer rather than boil while starting a family and enrolling in grad school. Continue reading

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Remembering Ronnie: An Old Soldier Tells His Story

vietnam, purple heart, veterans

I’ve learned there’s more to memorials than this.

I wrote a little while back about learning to listen better. At the time, I was primarily concerned with improving my relationships with my family, friends, students, and colleagues. What I didn’t expect was that actively practicing my listening skills might lock me into an hour-and-a-half long conversation at CVS. Yes, that’s where I spent last Wednesday night, talking with a Vietnam vet named Ronnie. Here’s a brief retelling.

I went out to CVS to pick up some antacid that night. I recently did a little self-diagnosing, and I think I have LPR, or “silent reflux”, but that’s a story for another day. I stood around trying to decide which medicine to purchase, when suddenly I heard a gravelly voice behind me. Continue reading

Will Smith’s Words of Wisdom from the Tonight Show


I don’t watch a lot of late-night TV. As a new father, teacher, grad student, and martial arts instructor, I don’t have a lot of energy to stay up at night! I do like watching clips of episodes from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Conan O’Brien, and my new favorite, Jimmy Fallon.  You’d have to be living under a rock if you missed his ascension to the hosting spot on The Tonight Show.  If you’re like me, you may have even missed this great interview with his first-ever guest, Will Smith.

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How to Get Teachers to Stop Hating the Common Core


The backlash against the Common Core among teacher is, at its essence, a leadership problem.

In Heifetz and Laurie’s near seminal “The Work of Leadership” the two leadership scholars start by explaining the difference between adaptive challenges (game-changers, challenges that enable positive growth) and technical challenges (business-as-usual type stuff that just needs to get done).

In general, it seems that CCSS and the challenges it presents are being approached as technical challenges by many school leaders. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to make them out to be adaptive challenges and to rally staff behind a common vision.

ccss, leadership, the work of leaders Continue reading

Why I Love the Common Core State Standards Part II

ed reform, ccss, common core, liz natale, diane ravitch

If you thought I was out there with my opinions last time.

I’d like to continue the ideas from my last post about the roll-out of the Common Core State Standards.  Recent outcry makes my view even more unpopular–especially among teachers.

A colleague of mine,  Liz Natale, recently wrote an essay lamenting CCSS and education reform that, rightfully, went viral.  Her writing is heartfelt and brave and I admire her for sharing her passion.

My union also distributed this speech by Diane Ravitch. In it, she details the history of the CCSS, how they were developed in a sort of secrecy, and why they may not be the best solution for education reform.  As usual, Ravitch is well informed and cogent in her statements.

I agree with Natale and Ravitch on many points.  Do I love the NCLB-esque focus on testing?  No.  Do I love the new models for teacher evaluation?  No.  Do I love the breakneck pace of implementing the Common Core and it’s correlated assessments that districts face, the whirlwind that has teachers questioning whether to remain in the profession? No.

I wrote my own critique of how Connecticut planned tackle education reform a few years back.  I still feel teachers aren’t given their due.  The old saying that teaching is a 5-9 job is more of a truism than a witticism, and even more unrecorded work hours will slip on by as we rally to meet all the new demands placed on us.

But there’s still something that bothers me about rejecting CCSS wholesale.  While many of my fellow teachers’ reactions range from frustration to righteous indignation to utter despair, I can’t help but notice the silver lining.  I am actually excited by the Common Core, and I can’t wait to effectively incorporate it into the curricula of the classes I teach.  And after even more reflection, I think I know why.  Originally, I thought it was because of the focus on independent learning.  Now I know it’s more than this. Continue reading

Why I Love the Common Core State Standards

arne duncan, ccss

What did you just say about the Common Core? I am THIS close to giving you a detention!

I’m probably about to lose a few readers by posting this . . . but here it goes.

If you’re an average adult reading this post, then you may be looking for more information about education reform.  If you’re a parent or guardian, you may be seeking information about how to best prepare your student for the PARC or SBAC tests.  If you are a teacher who chose to read this post, then you’re likely looking for ways to argue with me.

Before you start reaching for your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.

There are so many reasons for and against the new Common Core State Standards.  Pros include improved student performance, better teacher support and accountability, and the promise of equity among school districts across the country.  Cons include educational control shifting from local to central agencies, an increased focus on standardized testing, and the possibility of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to curriculum and instruction.

I agree with many of the for and against arguments I’ve heard.  Both sides have good points.  But I can’t help but notice too many of the arguments are short-sighted and have veiled their true intentions.  Many teachers are just trying to guard their old lessons and content.  Arne Duncan may have a point about parents afraid to see their “honors” students struggle.  Policymakers and bureaucrats have a shiny new system to uphold.  Test companies have a ridiculous amount of money to make.  And politicians need to say they’re doing something about education and the economy.

Here’s my take: no one locked in this debate truly has students’ best interests in mind.

common core, standards, ccss, education
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Why Video Games are Important in Education (Infographic)


As an avid gamer, tech writer, and full-time teacher, I always try to bring game concepts into my lessons. At the very least, talking about games is a great way to connect with my students. However, I rarely use games in the classroom. This infographic has me thinking it’s time to start! Take a look. How do you, or would you, use games in your teaching if given the chance?

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics