Originally posted on While We're Paused!:


And How Flannery O’Connor Can Help us Learn Better

Donald T. Williams, PhD

A version of this essay appeared as “Writers Cramped: Three Things Evangelical Authors Can Learn from Flannery O’Connor,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 20:7 (Sept., 2007): 15-18.

There is a certain irony in the fact that I, an Evangelical, am now offering to you words I wrote down about why Evangelicals can’t write.  Whether I am the exception that proves the rule, Posterity will have to judge (if the publishing industry ever offers it the opportunity).  At the very least, the ironic presence of this paper in your hand is an opportunity for exegesis.  It suggests that my title is not to be taken literally.  Evangelicals obviously do write, and publish, reams upon reams of prose.  What they have not tended to write is anything recognized as having literary value by the…

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Twitter in the Classroom: Worth Considering



Preliminary research seems to indicate that social media in general, and Twitter in specific, can be used successfully in the classroom as a pedagogical tool.  The first order of business, therefore, is to convince administrations and boards that there is a valid use for Twitter in the classroom. Like any new educational approach, it will take the boldest and most innovative to begin the trend of acceptance, but the same can be said of other educational devices. Chalkboards gave way to white boards and then to Smart Boards with a side trip to overhead projectors along the way. Film strip projectors fell away when reel-to-reel projectors became school standards. Since the dawn of video, however, those projectors are generally covered in dust in a warehouse, or perhaps, if fortunate, housed in a museum. Of course, the television and VCR on a cart has long been replaced in many schools by in room screens and DVDs or streaming video. Computers in the classroom were unheard of even 20 years ago, and schools lucky enough to have computer labs required floppy disks for memory storage.


Technology is evolving faster every year, and each generation of students has access to newer and better ways to communicate. The smart school board will search out ways to utilize the technologies already in the hands of their students. There is no extra cost to the school district, and students would lose yet another set of excuses for not knowing assignments and deadlines. Research at the college level is indicating that Twitter offers a positive change in student engagement when it is offered with specific scaffolding, explicit rules and expectations, and instructor modeling.  Students required to use Twitter in the classrroom ultimately had better grades than those for whom it was optional. Student community can be enhanced with particular hashtages and attention to privacy by employing school-specific accounts. Students can learn citizenship skills by participating in civil discourse with classmates or other students in other schools.


There is potential for Twitter to allow students to reach beyond the classroom and interact with the world beyond through use of specific hashtags. Communication skills may be enhanced by the 140 character limit, and tweeting may level the playing field between dominant classroom speakers and more reserved students who may never raise their hands in class. Teachers using Twitter have the ability to track backchannel discourse and make adjustments to teaching methods, even as the conversation is occurring. Teachers can personalize the learning environment, thus providing greater enrichment for students who need it as well as quietly remediate weaknesses for students who need bolstering. With appropriate boundaries for usage and intent,  Twitter offers a modern element for improved student engagement, which may, over time, lead to greater student achievement. At the very least, Twitter should be considered as a beneficial addition to the pedagogical toolbox.

12 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom: Creating a Global Classroom.

My Thoughts about Common Core: Doomed to Fail


The debate over Common Core is raging and will continue to rage for the foreseeable future. Concerned parents worry that their children will miss crucial elements of education as administrations and school boards require teachers to ensure high scores on standardized tests. Teachers who entered the field with a desire to mold young minds and encourage creativity and critical thinking are burning out as test scores become the sole measure of success. Administrations interpret the standards differently, and so, even in the quest for ultimate equality, curriculum decisions vary widely. 

I get the need for some basic standard to measure educational success/progress. But we go about it all wrong. We pay publishers (Pearson) to write tests and sell us textbooks to meet some arbitrary standard that may or may not be a true measure of anything besides the ability to take a multiple choice test. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are destined to fail, just as No Child Left Behind did. Both have lofty and noble ideas, but implementation across a country as large and diverse as this one is virtually impossible. There is very little students in Oregon have in common with students in Michigan or Alabama. The basics of education need to be flexible enough to function anywhere in the country, yet tailored to the local needs and priorities. This can’t be done by a group of intellectuals, researchers, and publishers in Chicago.

I have an idea, slightly unorthodox, but practical, useful, and potentially able to create some kind of national unity in the US. Instead of tests created by textbook manufacturers, use real life measures to determine graduation readiness. The first test: all high school students must pass the Citizenship test currently administered in the path to naturalized citizenship. This demonstrates ability to read, write, remember, understand, and relate US history, government, and ideals. I wonder how many current college students who scored well on the SAT could pass this test? It already exists, so cost is less an issue, and it would put all citizens on the same page, so to speak, when it comes to national identity. How regions, states, and school districts prepare for this test is completely up to the local boards. 

Secondly, I would have students demonstrate the ability to create a budget and reconcile a bank account. Or, even more useful, have all potential graduates successfully prepare their own taxes using a standard tax preparation software. Create a scenario of income, dependents, debt, etc, an let the students figure it out. If they can submit a return with no red audit flags, they’re ready for the real world.

As for science, a page from the Scout book on survival might be enough to cover botany, engineering (one needs a degree to set up a tent these days), and chemistry. 

So there it is, my idea for a simple set of standard outcomes nationwide. How the tests are administered can be determined locally. How students are taught these elements is determined by the people who actually teach them. And there’s still plenty of time to discover the classics of literature, the intricacies of discovery, and the ramifications of Pythagoras’s Theorem on world events. And in the end we have a citizenship that knows its history and its present, which makes it more prepared for its future.

Rap Genius, a Textual Annotation Browser for Education, Digital Humanities, Science, and Publishing



Love this site and the potential for engaging students!

Originally posted on Chris Aldrich:

Since the beginning of January, I’ve come back to regularly browsing and using the website  Rap GeniusI’m sure that some of the education uses including poetry and annotations of classics had existed the last time I had visited, but I was very interested in seeing some of the scientific journal article uses which I hadn’t seen before. Very quickly browsing around opened up a wealth of ideas for using the platform within the digital humanities as well as for a variety of educational uses.

Rap Genius logo

Overview of Rap Genius

Briefly, the Rap Genius website was originally set up as an innovative lyrics service to allow users to not only upload song lyrics, but to mark them up with annotations as to the meanings of words, phrases, and provide information about the pop-culture references within the lyrics themselves.  (It’s not too terribly different from Google’s now-defunct Sidewicki or the impressive

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On Writing: Changes in Practice



Good stuff—and I tend to agree. The unorthodox approach to writing is the most genuine.

Originally posted on The Art of Forgetting:


So, much like I revised my philosophy on reading in my classroom, my doctoral studies have also affected my philosophy on writing in my classroom. The history of research in writing is deep! There is no hyperbole here. Much like I had posted early this past summer, reading up on writing research is like drinking from a fire hose. (Except without all the pain and trip to the emergency room.) The point is that the research is ripe with tradition has taken various detours in the last several decades. I promise not to give anyone a history lesson (not that I could at this point), but, if you’d like, read on to see how I changed some of my writing instruction and activities in my classroom this year.

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