California English Journal



June 2007

-Debbie Weissman

-Rebecca DeLaRosa

-Bharti Kansara

-Mark Heydon

-Heather Anderson

-Maureen Wanket

-Benoit d'Oloron

Artist of this issue
Leo Posillico

Features & Departments


-Debbie Weissman

The Internet, for anyone on the uninitiated side of the digital divide, is a very odd place, it is another world. Yet, for someone fully integrated, it is like home. What the Internet is and how it is used depends upon an individual’s maturity and skill. At the same time, some Internet issues transcend age and experience. I have been exploring behaviors of Internet users for the past five years. I have looked at how email is used and abused in the workplace. I have investigated how social networking sites are populated for fun and status among young adults. Currently I am exploring ethics in digital communication among elementary school children.

In each of my areas of research I am interested in cases where real world behaviors are mirrored in virtual worlds and instances of online behaviors that are seemingly disconnected from real world accountability. While my work with children is still in progress, this article describes some of the trends I perceive in elementary school children using digital communication tools and the intersection of these trends with ethical issues.

When thinking about the Internet, preconceived ideas about Internet dangers can sometimes prejudice thoughtful discussion. This is an essay about ethics, specifically personal ethics of children. This is not a forum in which I will discuss adult lie-in-wait behaviors that exist in cyberspace. This essay explores behaviors and ethics of the elementary school children, playing their Club Penguin and Neopets games, and chatting with each other using their messaging tools.

Finding Children, Finding Games
Although children experience computer games through a variety of activities, a typical introduction to the Internet may be through Club Club Penguin is a virtual amusement park created for young kids that offers various levels of play and chat. General accounts are free but special features such as an igloo to decorate or clothes to model require additional membership fees. On Club Penguin kids own a virtual penguin, to which they assign a name, and race each other in virtual competitions or play games to win virtual coins to spend at the Club Penguin shops. Chat is severely limited for the young players on Club Penguin and the site is monitored for language infractions. Although kids may meet many other kids on the site, I have found that children like to find and play with their real world friends. It is not uncommon for children to call friends on the telephone and agree to meet virtually at the Club Penguin park. Children enjoy talking on the phone with a friend while playing in the virtual park with this same person. Club Penguin strives to be a safe place for kids to play online, and apart from occasional attempts of a game player to circumvent the site’s prohibition on mature language, the site is able to provide tame amusement.

From the tame confines of Club Penguin many kids migrate to Neopets. Neopets offers a degree more freedom. The chat is not limited to pre-defined text or controlled text boxes. Children are more apt to play and converse with strangers as often as with real world friends. Like Club Penguin, Neopets is about a pet and playing virtual games. Additionally, Neopets offers chat boards and Neomail. Neopets also offers children the opportunity to set up virtual stores, buying and selling Neopet goods from each other. The creators of Neopets change opportunities often. Children log on daily to accumulate points and try out new games. Neopets creators have successfully employed the strategy of providing a stable virtual world with consistently new activities to keep children’s interests.

When children move on to sophisticated social activities in their real worlds, they often move on to more liberal communication tools in their virtual worlds. One example of a more liberal communication tool is IM, an abbreviation for Instant Messaging. IM is similar to Email in that it is a digital communication tool. IM provides the same degree of freedom from monitoring and supervision as Email with the added appeal of knowing when one’s buddies are online and being able to hold several individual synchronous conversions at once. IM is a powerful communication tool for several reasons. IM allows users to see, from among one’s IM buddies, who else is online. IM users garner instant satisfaction from an immediate response from a remote buddy. And, IM users have the capability literally to interrupt the activity on a buddy’s computer screen by sending an IM solicitation.

With the understanding of some of the tools children are using and why these tools are appealing, we can think about the intersection of ethics and children engaged in virtual play.

Self-Monitoring and Limits on Use
For young kids fully engaged in the World Wide Web, their virtual world can be an addiction. Kids spend hours on their game accounts. They are often unwilling to get off the computer or disconnect from their online chats. And, parents have used the removal of the computer as the ultimate punishment.

In all-consuming behaviors, the ethical challenge to consider is limits. A couple of decades ago, TV time was limited to weekend mornings, or an hour after homework is done. With kids who are able, silently and surreptitiously, to turn on computers, hook into the Internet, and access their online friends, limits such as weekends only are impractical and difficult to enforce. With wireless access, kids take laptop computers to their bedrooms and play their games in and on the quiet. Kids who use computers to do their homework can key up their online games and alternate between activities. The challenge is to instill in children the ethic of limiting their own use of computers, rather than relying solely on limits imposed by external forces, such as parents.

One way to think about this issue is whether strategies for using calculators can be applied to computers. Calculators are inexpensive and ubiquitous (and usually bundled with computer programs). Children know that they are allowed to use calculators for some math assignments but not for others. Some kids will use calculators regardless of the homework instructions. But others will follow directions and use calculators only when specifically permitted, on a problem-by-problem basis, when they are doing their homework at home. How did they learn to control themselves? How did they internalize a sense of ethics about calculator use? How early did this training begin? Answers to these questions may inform how we can teach children to impose limits on themselves with regard to the Internet.

Limiting the amount of time children spend on the Internet is not the only issue. Children need to be able to limit what they say about themselves to others on in the Internet. Children need to have a sense of propriety and respect when using digital communication tools.

Respect for Oneself and Respect for Others
It is known that the Internet fosters addictive behavior. It cultivates addictive behavior because the Internet is just plain exciting. For young surfers, the Internet is a boundless recreation area. Children, even those as young as 7 years old, play games that emulate adult activities. On Neopets children buy and sell from each other. On Club Penguin children decorate themselves and their environs. On both Club Penguin and Neopets children enjoy chatting with each other and competing with each other. All the while, the Internet sites keep track of the points earned, the games won, the items traded.

Kids’ involvement in online gaming activities may provide a way to think about online ethics. Games have rules. And, when kids break the rules, they are barred for a period of time from playing the online game. Some of the rules require honesty in business dealings, e.g., if you put an item up for sale and set a price, you have to sell your virtual item for that price. Other rules regulate speech, e.g., no inappropriate language. And yet others enforce a code of conduct, e.g., no bullying. In many of these online games, players are monitored. But, the online sites can only punish behaviors that are discovered. Furthermore, kids can sign up with new virtual identities and continue to play during the period in which they are punished. The lesson for children is equivocal. Some children may internalize the ethic of following the rules, but others may see rules and something to be circumvented or avoided if they can get away with it.

A deeper and more important issue to consider is to consider how to train children to behave ethically online. One goal would be to teach kids to treat each other respectfully online. This means not broadcasting each other’s secrets, and not broadcasting gossip or demeaning banter. But the converse lesson is equally important. A child who exposes his or her own vulnerabilities online, or shares secrets, passwords, or other personal markers online, is vulnerable to the unethical behavior of other online users. Kids can be lulled into a false sense of security and privacy and misplace trust in other users whose true identity they know, and those they do not know. How do we help kids understand their vulnerabilities online and the scandalous, injurious potential of digital communication? Thinking about respect, vulnerabilities, and injurious potential requires further consideration of children’s use of good judgment online.

Unsupervised Time and Good Judgment
Kids experiment in virtual worlds. Kids test boundaries, they try new ideas, and they discover for themselves. For example, on the Internet kids seek out new websites, find new buddies, access online photo archives, and research favorite topics. In their virtual worlds, kids become “the authority” in that often they know more about accessing and using their virtual spaces then their adult caretakers. They have their own passwords and online identities. Adults may be present in their real world, potentially within a few feet of the child’s keyboard, but kids do not “see” adults in their virtual worlds.

The implications of children not seeing adults in the children’s virtual worlds are two-fold. First, when children are playing their virtual games they do not expect their new penguin buddy to be an adult observing their penguin chatter. They are not on guard, alert for stranger danger in their world of little pets. In addition, engrossed in play and not considering adult observation or management of their activity, kids are less likely to conform to adult-imposed standards of conduct. In other words, without a parent around, they are more likely to treat each other disrespectfully, to use language pointedly, and to surreptitiously explore unsanctioned Internet sites.

It is paramount to recognize that kids use digital communication tools, online games and instant messaging because that is where their friends are. They chat with each other, they monitor each, and they compete with each other through their buddy lists and virtual pets.

In many ways, the Internet generation uses virtual spaces like the telephone and television generations used the city parks. They go there to meet friends, see who’s hanging out, get the news, behave badly at times, and learn from their mistakes. Current parenting trends that have foreclosed the hours of unsupervised play in city parks may be correlated to the increased time children spend at virtual parks online. It is possible that the same motivations that caused parents to foreclose unsupervised play in city parks cause parents and others to worry about play in virtual parks.

The ethical question in this regard is whether foreclosure or close monitoring is the solution? One may consider whether judgment skills and notions of respect are better tools to help children learn about the world as it exists for them and to help children mature. Judgment is taught everyday by parents, teachers, siblings, and friends. Children are told: Stop, listen and look before crossing the street. Know who the safe adults around you are. Don’t undress in public. These ethical teaching strategies could be appropriately modified and given online relevance. Kids could be told: Stop and figure out who is online with you. Know safe harbors online. Don’t share secrets or passwords online. Rather than view online activity as another world, we might think about mirroring real world judgment acquisition in virtual world ethical training.

Here and Now, and in the Future
A case for ethics among elementary school children in virtual spaces is not merely an end unto itself. High schools, colleges, and adult working environments are faced with teaching ethical behavior online because online communicators in these populations are subject to the same intense forces as children. Adults and teenagers become addicted to exciting online environments. Adults and teenagers often forget to use their best judgment. If children can be taught online ethics when they are young, they may become high school, college and adult digital communicators who are able to control themselves, use good judgment, and demonstrate respect for others in light of temptations in their virtual worlds.

About the Author
Debbie Weissmann is a doctoral student at UCLA in the department of Information Studies. Her research interests include ethics in virtual world discourse, First Amendment rights on the Internet, and notions of privacy in digital communications.


-Rebecca DeLaRosa

Cell phones — banned; Mp3 Players — banned; Digital —banned;
Social networking sites — banned.

School districts across the country are prohibiting their students from using their personal technology because of the potential for problems. Cell phones and mp3 players are outlawed due to the possibility of cheating. Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are forbidden to “protect” our kids from online predators. The public school, a place where we are supposed to be educating and preparing our children for the future, is running away from technology rather than embracing its unlimited potential. Because of reluctance to incorporate cell phones, mp3 players, and social networking sites, the school is teaching that technology is taboo. Many of students believe, because of their school’s negative reaction to cell phones and social networking that text messaging and blogging must be used under the radar, stealthily, or not at all. The reservations are producing a generation that believes the only use of this technology is in a non-educational setting. It is imperative that public schools capitalize on the power of digital media and develop its positive aspects instead of banning it due to potential worst-case scenarios.

Relying on the school to provide materials to facilitate the incorporation of digital media is impractical. Currently, at the school which I teach, our library has only two digital cameras, one of which is several years old. We have a few digital video recorders on campus owned by clubs and organizations. While we have very little in the way of recording equipment, we have a good amount of projection equipment. In our library, we have approximately twenty-four digital projectors available for check-out. Each classroom is equipped with at least two computers. Our faculty could be creating innovative, technologically sound lessons with the technology our students carry. Research, projects and study would be revolutionized by accessing this equipment.

On my campus, we are taking baby steps toward embracing this technology. We have begun a focus group that advocates for technology and are fighting the juggernaut of district policy, teacher reluctance, and a general lack of knowledge on the part of our staff. By incorporating pointed professional development targeting easy-to-use equipment and tools available, we are beginning to bridge the digital divide.

Our group began our research with a quick poll of our students. The results suggested that at least twenty percent of them had access to and brought electronic devices to school daily. The poll indicated that many more used these tools on a regular basis. With the knowledge that our students brought technology to school every day, we now understood that we have a plethora of untapped resources on our campus. Our groups’ driving question was, “how can we incorporate this technology on our campus?” We knew that the first hurdle to overcome was convincing administration that there is a very valid use for these banned devices.

I decided that the best way to approach this subject with administration was to frame my proposal around an educationally sound project. After studying a unit on Transcendentalism, I took my eleventh grade students out into the school yard to capture and record “lessons” from nature. The plan was for them to photograph plants, trees, rocks, and flowers around the campus using their personal cell phone and digital cameras. After the photographs were taken, they were to write an essay in the spirit of the Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In the end, the students would incorporate their photographs with their writing using digital media and present the lesson that they learned from nature. Excited about my project, I explained it to an administrator. He sarcastically answered, half-joking (I hoped), “you collected the phones didn’t you?” I dropped the subject immediately. Dismayed, I modified the project to conform with school policy.

While I was discouraged by this conversation, I was still very intrigued with the great potential for digital media in my classroom. I knew that, based on my experience with the Transcendental project, and with our district’s attitude towards digital media, many other teachers could be dissuaded form pursing projects that utilize student-procured technology for fear of retribution. Despite the negative influences on us, our small group of teachers, technologists, students, and community advisors marched defiantly forward with our conversations. We knew that our mission was to get administration and others to embrace, rather than vilify, technology.

After our poll, continued our conversations trying to define exactly what our goals were. With the broad driving question of “how can we incorporate technology into our subjects”, we decided to talk openly as if the problem of accessing the technology was a non-issue. We convinced ourselves that, by piloting successful projects using this media, we could, in fact, convince our administration that the all-encompassing bans were counterproductive.

With a cross section of advisors from the community, teachers, students, and administrators from the school, we polled and probed each other, looking for simple ways to incorporate technology into our classrooms. With the guiding force of an expert on distance learning, we decided to focus our energies on digital storytelling – creating content that could be shared online. We knew that our students would have to take the lead in our process; they were far ahead of many of the teachers technologically, so we asked them to create a training lesson for us using the technology that they carry.

At our next meeting, we had an exciting, organic lesson plan. One student, Rachel, presented a lesson on taking and sending photographs on a digital phone. She demonstrated how a lesson could be augmented by allowing students to photograph and record notes with their cell phone cameras. While Rachel presented her lesson, Chris filmed her with a digital camera. Chris took his film and transposed it into I-Tunes Podcasting. He demonstrated how easy it would be for a teacher to record a lesson and transfer the lesson into a sharable, digital format. While Chris was creating the Podcast, our distance learning expert, Katie, recorded and captured Chris’s lessons through Camtasia Studio. She then showed us how easy it was to put the final lesson onto various sharing websites.

All of this technology cost the school nothing. Each student in our demonstration had her or his own equipment and had been bringing it to school on a daily basis, despite the bans on technology. By simply utilizing these items, we increase the available technology on our campus many fold.

Our school is planning large-scale digital storytelling project with a major TV station. Our students will be interviewing veterans and creating digital storytelling projects. Because of our limited recording technology on campus, we must have plans and policies in place to allow our students to use their personal technology. By piloting smaller projects, such as having our students interview people on campus, that utilize cell phone cameras or other digital recorders in a classroom setting we can show our administration the value of digital media in the classroom. Additionally, we are modeling for our students responsible and mature uses for their cell phones. By pulling the cell phones out of their laps and pockets and incorporating them into the classroom, we create a controllable situation that highlights the usefulness of technology rather than pushing it into the background.

Not only must we encourage students to find positive uses for cell phones, but we must also advance the educational usefulness for social networking sites. I was inspired to find a way to use social networking in the classroom after one my projects this semester. I directed my students to summarize the story of Romeo and Juliet through digital storytelling. One student, Lily, recorded photos of her friends posing as Romeo and Juliet with her cell phone. She used tools available to her on MySpace to create an original movie. She proudly tried to pull up the movie and show me, but was dismayed when she saw the “Internet Content Filter, Inappropriate Content” screen pop up. She asked if I had a MySpace account (which I did), and told me that she would contact me that evening. After she sent me a message to allow me access to her site, I was able to go onto her account and pull off the video. I was also able to quickly leave a comment. While participating in this interaction, I marveled at the educational potential of social networking sites. Not only could I go and see her video, her fellow classmates could see it as well. The educational discourse that I encourage in my classroom could continue after hours as they read, watch, and connect with each other through the social networking site.

As a result, I will pilot a project that will explore the usefulness of social networking in the classroom. Next fall, I plan to research and find a social networking site that is acceptable to the school so that I can dialogue with my students during the evening. After gathering data and examples of responsible and educational usage of this technology, I plan to present a multi-media presentation to the administrators at the school.

Through engaging our children on their turf, we can find new and innovative ways to dialogue with them. By creating content that is socially and morally responsible, we will be able to present an argument for having these technologies on campus. But, if we continue to criminalize and ban cell phones, mp3 players, and social networking, we will guarantee a further disconnect with our children, leaving ourselves behind technologically.

About the Author
Rebecca DeLaRosa has been an English teacher at Houston ISD’s Waltrip High School for eight years; in her dual roles as a teacher and as the coordinator of the Arts and Communications Academy at Waltrip, she has been an advocate for incorporating digital media into the classroom. Miss DeLaRosa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Gifted and Talented Education from the University of Houston.


-Heather Anderson

Allusions to the popular social networking site,, frequently pop up in my seventh-grade classroom. Students discuss the various things they post on their sites, who is going to add whom as a friend, and which MP3 files they want to play as background music. As my students describe the website, it sounds innocuous enough, despite its unmistakable adolescent appeal. However, there are other stories: the seventeen-year-old who flies to Jordan to meet a man she “met” on MySpace; the teacher who is fired for posting nude photos of herself on her MySpace page; and the National Security Administration trolling MySpace to ferret out terrorist cells. How could I reconcile these stories with the ones so happily chirped out in the transition times between lessons? One day, I decided to log onto MySpace and see for myself.

It was an eye-opening experience. Although MySpace claims to be a private online community, it is easy for anyone to search for and access members’ profiles. Furthermore, since MySpace is a networking site, a teacher needs to locate only one student’s page in order to gain access to the pages of all of his or her friends. A quick keyword search using the name of my hometown, Lemoore, returned pages for three of my students; from that point, I was able to look at approximately fifteen student profiles.

Of those profiles, not a single student reported his or her age truthfully. The “youngest” identified herself as fourteen, the minimum age to have a MySpace account; the “oldest” presented herself as a twenty-one-year old. Along with these misrepresentations of age were comments about racial pride, rollin’ with the gangstas, and sexual readiness – not to mention a good number of four-letter words forbidden in the classroom.

I was shocked – and torn. On the one hand, I knew that I probably had an ethical responsibility to notify these children’s parents about the kinds of things they were discussing and posting. On the other side, however, I know that many parents do not have the time, energy, or resources to deal with the issue. Many of my students come from low-income households; their parents work long hours and strange shifts, and are consequently unable to supervise their children during non-school hours. Furthermore, many of my students are already more computer-savvy than their parents ever will be; Mom would not know how to stop her daughter from writing online odes to her boyfriend even if she wanted to. Finally, I struggled with my authority, as a childless woman, to provide parenting instruction to others; I had no desire to face a flashback of parental wrath.

Apart from the issues related to parental monitoring of children’s activities, I also wrestled with the needs of my students. With a phone call, I could temporarily pull the plug on their quasi-illicit adolescent posturing; however, in doing so, what would I accomplish? First, I could count on their feeling betrayed and resentful, a sentiment that would undoubtedly worm its way into my classroom. Moreover, I seriously doubted that my efforts would have any permanent effect; there are already multiple websites modeled after MySpace, and new ones are appearing regularly. Evading detection would be as simple as setting up a new account at another site; it is impossible for me to monitor every site for every student. Lastly, I had to acknowledge my students’ developmental need to experiment with various forms of self-expression, as well as try on different versions of selfhood. Although I found some of my students’ choices puzzling and even repulsive, I wanted them to practice making decisions for themselves.

After considering the arguments on both sides of the issue, I was tempted to forget what I had already seen, and in the future, to look the other way. The school year was about to end, and soon these children would no longer be my concern. If I stopped seeking the truth about my students’ online activity, I would not have to take responsibility for what I might find.

My attempts at denial, however, did not serve me well. Finally, weary of my discomfort, I decided to try a different tactic: I went back into my classroom and told my students that I, too, had visited MySpace. In words I knew they would understand – I think I even used the word “gross” -- I expressed my disappointment in them for lying about their ages, for misrepresenting themselves and their interests, for letting the world see their adolescent vulnerability so nakedly. The class was silent for a moment, and then there was an audible “ew.” With that single interjection, I knew my point had hit home.

The end of the school year came and went, and I found myself without much time for extracurricular supervision. When I clicked back in to MySpace at the beginning of summer, however, I was gratified to find… nothing at all. Of those fifteen profiles I had originally located, more than two thirds had disappeared from MySpace entirely. The rest, mercifully, had been marked “private.” Even though I had chosen not to teach my students anything about consequences, it seems that they had managed to learn something about discretion.

In retrospect, although I advocate a moderate stance when dealing with students’ online activities, I still wonder whether I did the right thing. I have heard it said, “Character is what you do when no one is watching.” If you try to arrange it so that nobody will be watching, is that still demonstrating character?

About the Author
Heather Anderson worked for almost ten years as a human resources manager and a minister before deciding to become an educator. She is currently enjoying her fourth year of teaching reading/language arts to seventh graders at Liberty Middle School in Lemoore, California.


MySpace Versus My Bad Shoes
-Maureen Wanket

When I was a teenager, I was a good kid, but I had a bad pair of shoes. I covered my Converse high top sneakers with naughty words and antisocial lyrics from colorful British pop bands of negligible talent. In real life, I never did anything to make my parents worry. I hated parties, had no interest in drugs and alcohol and only liked nice boys. I focused all of my rebellion and skewed sense of humor through my black Sharpie pen and onto my shoes.

I’m sure these sneakers were an embarrassment to my poor parents. As soon as I matured into a little bit of common sense, I threw those terrible shoes in the garbage. And I retired the Sharpie.

A person looking at the Converse high tops I wore when I was fifteen years old might understandably come to the conclusion that the girl who wore them needed a few lessons in manners at the very least. Those walking billboards for my teenage angst, experimentation and bad moods are the last thing I would have wanted the admissions administrator at my college of choice to see. I’m glad they were over twenty years in a landfill the day I applied for a teaching job. I’d hate to be associated with those rude words and silly song lyrics (Thompson Twins, anyone?) in any aspect of my life today.

Let me put it this way: I’m glad you can’t Google my name and find an image of me in the sneakers I wore in 1985.

Teenagers in 2007 have concerns that those of us who grew up in earlier decades never considered while we went through our periods of shaky common sense. Personal web pages, message centers, blogs and video share sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube provide endless opportunities for self expression. The problem for teenagers lies in what psychologists call the “online disinhibition effect” (Stanford Center for Internet and Society) in which Internet users express themselves in ways they would never dare outside of cyberspace. The seeming anonymity and privacy of Internet activity can give a teenager a false sense of security regarding the photos or comments that she posts online. What seems like a joke or a meaningless comment can read like a serious indication of poor judgment or questionable character to a future employer, college admissions officer or even a potential social or business contact.

Like my old Sharpie, digital words and images make permanent marks. Unlike my old shoes, they can’t be thrown out. Once images and text are posted online, they may become available to any one with a computer, at any time, forever. It is important for young people to realize that the online activity they participate in today can affect their futures in ways they may not realize. According to Trudy G. Steinfeld, the executive director of the center for career development at New York University, job recruiters are increasingly using Internet search engines to scope out applicants for online evidence of lifestyle practices that future employers “might find questionable or that . . .(go) against the core values” of a corporation. Youthful indiscretions posted online could ruin a graduate’s chances of success before she even gets an interview.

The best thing for students to do if they have posted potentially embarrassing material online is to simply pull it offline. Keep in mind, however, that once an image or text is launched into cyberspace, it can be shared, downloaded and passed around even after the original poster erases the file. While it’s never too late to clean up an online image, the best thing for a student to do is to show discretion at all times in her Internet activity. The lack of control over posted information can come as a surprise to Internet users who mean to aim their material only towards a selected audience of friends. The virtual audience to a poster’s online activity may in fact be much wider and have far reaching implications.

The most important thing for teenagers to remember about their Internet use is that anything posted online, from blogs and photos, to MySpace messages and homespun YouTube videos, are permanent and public. Internet social behavior reflects on the user beyond what a student venting her frustration, or making inside jokes with her friends, ever intended. Therefore, a young person’s Internet persona should be as careful and intelligent, if not more so, as the one he or she would present to teachers and parents.

Teachers have an important role to play as adult leaders in their students’ navigation of the potential pitfalls as well as promise of online culture. It’s important that teachers not fall behind on computer technology and the unique issues it raises in the culture. Students need our help to use technology to enhance their education experiences, rather than to inadvertently threaten their futures.

First of all, teachers must simply educate. As cheerleaders for their academic futures, we have a responsibility to keep the ramifications of online behavior at the top of our students’ minds. As computer savvy as the current generation of “Digital Natives” are, many students honestly don’t realize that anyone would look at their internet material out of context, or as a tool to get to know them in a professional or academic capacity. It is up to teachers to inform them of their vulnerability in cyber space, and to allow for classroom discussion and journaling about the issue.

Secondly, once they understand their vulnerability to harm, students can learn how to create internet material to their advantage. Despite all of the dangers of irresponsible internet use among students, some kinds of internet exposure are positive, and even necessary in some professional and academic careers. Once students learn how to control an internet persona, they can highlight accomplishments, and get in touch with opportunities through the artful and responsible use of original content.

Lastly, it’s important that teachers remain educated themselves about the latest trends in the technology that students are using. It’s not acceptable anymore to hide behind a lack of experience with this thing of the future. The future is now, and we do students a disservice by forcing them to navigate these waters alone. The English classroom and the internet have in common that they are both places of discourse and communication. Who better but English teachers to refine that discourse as much as possible, and to encourage students to communicate effectively, and with dignity?

After all, the tasteless graffiti sneakers I wore as a kid were just another weird form of communication meant for public consumption. The advantage of those shoes as a medium for self-expression was that they couldn’t follow me around after I finally threw them out. My bad shoes didn’t reflect the real me, just one rebellious, immature, and thankfully temporary part of who I was at a brief moment in my teenage years. The young people in our classrooms today deserve the same privacy and grace as they make their own marks on the world. As their teachers, we can help them to express themselves and to learn from their mistakes in the public electronic forum without jeopardizing their opportunities in the future.

Sources Cited:
Finder, Alan. “For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé.” The New York
. 11 June 2006. <> Rule, Colin. Exploring the "Online Disinhibition Effect."
27 February 2007. Stanford Center for Internet and Society <>

About the Author
Maureen Wanket is English Department Chair at Loretto High School in Sacramento, California.


Research Update
-Barbara Bartholomew

For many of us, the words “educational research” bring sweat to our brows evoking images of graduate school torture carried out by way of turgid, inscrutable passages and conclusions whose rendering is far from clear.

My own work demands that I examine many such reports every month. While any number, I can convey, do produce an Ambien-like effect there is nonetheless much crucial data and lively debate waiting for discovery by the informed practitioner whose interest lies in California Secondary Education English and Literacy. Nothing appearing below is likely to knock James Patterson off the best-seller list, but it could be exactly what you have been looking for to provide a vital missing link in your practice or professional development.

Of special note in the sea of research and policy papers, data studies, and roundups that have recently crossed my desk are the following best bets:

Taking stock of the “Big Picture” in California

Getting Down to Facts, released by Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice, March, 2007.

The behemoth and noteworthy $3 million, privately-financed report was requested in 2005 by a bi-partisan group of state educational leaders. With information gleaned from 22 separate investigations specifically requested from universities, researchers, and think tanks, the final product avoids the cliché and instead aims its sights on many apt targets: unfair, labyrinthine, and insufficient school funding; the perils of devaluing school-level input and expertise; lack of flexibility for schools to address their special problems due to “regulationitis;” and inadequate material and personnel resources vis a vis high state performance expectations. It’s conclusion? California’s educational system is in dire need of reinventing its present course. The report comes with an executive summary and is worth a look.


Of special note among the report’s 22 studies, see

Successful California Schools in the Context of Educational Adequacy, American Institutes for Research (AIR), 2007.

As part of their research, AIR researchers examined high needs California schools over a four-year period that had consistently outperformed comparison schools with the same demographics. They labeled these above-average bright spots as beat the odds (BTO) schools. I am including the BTO list from the report. Elementary schools are included here since they serve as feeder schools for middle and high school. Secondary schools are marked with an asterisk:

. Monte Vista Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Fremont Primary, Calipatria Unified
*Azusa High, Azusa Unified
. Cahuenga Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Cantara Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Clifford Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Commonwealth Avenue Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Mayall Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
. Normont Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
*Leroy L. Doig Intermediate, Garden Grove Unified
. George R. Moscone Elementary, San Francisco Unified
. Dewey Elementary, San Diego Unified
. Olivewood, National Elementary
. Baldy View Elementary, Upland Unified
*Ramona High, Riverside Unified
. Garden Grove Elementary, Los Angeles Unified
*Orange High, Orange Unified
*North Salinas High, Salinas Union High

Compared to their lower-performing counterparts, teachers in secondary BTO schools shared certain common features:

• teachers in Beat the Odds (BTO) schools hold higher numbers of Master’s and doctoral
• more teachers at the BTO’s are fully credentialed, have on average two extra years of
teaching experience, and are supervised by more experienced school administrators,
• teachers at BTO secondary schools are more likely to be tenured,
• teachers at BTO middle and high schools receive more support from pupil personnel

Available through the IREPP website, above, and at this ARI website:

For those interested in further reading on BTO schools, see

Beat the Odds ...Why Some Schools with Latino Children Beat the Odds and Others Don’t, Center for the Future of Arizona, 2006.

Arizona, like California, serves a large Hispanic population, many of whom are new immigrants and poor. Written in conjunction with public policy researchers at Arizona State University, the report looks only at K-8 education. However, its debunking of the usual high-performance suspects—longer school days, parental involvement, lower class-size, highly-qualified teachers— will provide you much to reflect upon. Fair warning—what makes a successful elementary school is not always equal to what makes a successful secondary school, nor do public policy researchers necessarily see things through an ’s lens.


Resource guides for teaching secondary English when your students need help

Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents: A Guidance Document from the Center on Instruction, Center on Instruction, 2007.

Here is an extensive, nonideological look at what secondary students need to know to be successful readers and comprehenders. Along with the obvious need for reading fluency (to read passages quickly and accurately), vocabulary, and comprehension, the report examines successful teacher practice--including strategies—as well as the importance of high-interest literature. Do not throw away the Hawthorne and James just yet, but for your EL students and struggling readers, there may need to be some important ground work to lay prior to getting to the main course. This report comes with California educational references and a helpful annotated bibliography. A separate indexed bibliography covering teaching resource books, journal articles, and research reviews is available also.

Adolescent Literacy Resources: An Annotated Bibliography and Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents, Center on Instruction, 2007,

vailable at: See Reports No. 4 and No. 5.

The two-minute NCLB
New York University historian and author Diane Ravitch has written an extremely clear thumbnail of the present No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on The Huffington Post. Included is an enlightening history of the bill (it was supported by both Republicans and Democrats), testing requirements, sanctions, and recommendations on the law’s reauthorization. Best quote: “First…that the goal of 100% proficiency for every student in the United States is unattainable. The fact is that no nation or state has ever achieved 100% proficiency. The only way to reach such a goal is to redefine ‘proficiency’ to mean functional literacy.”


Have we overlooked a key component of schooling by ignoring the human elements of motivation and morale to worship at the shrine of curriculum and instruction? For those who think yes, I have written a research-based treatise. The article connects the dots between relationship building, choice, age and developmentally appropriate practice, affect, and teachers as leaders in support of the overarching theme that we must be satisfied by what we do or we will not work to our full potential.

Available: Why We Can’t Always Get What We Want. Phi Delta Kappan, April. 2007

The newest statewide school data for 2005-06 is now available on Ed-Data. Included among other items are individual school scores, API, California schools compared to the rest of the nation, demographic data, bureaucratic terms explained, and more. Invaluable for grant writing, grad students, or the simply curious.


Websites for adolescent differentiated instruction
Using longer authentic book passages (complete with book covers), Ken Campbell of Great Leaps has posted a leveled reading compendium for teachers of English and reading. Passages span Grades 3-12 and allow for quick identification of a student’s reading level. More importantly, a large number of titles are included, allowing pupils to browse and identify topics and authors that are of interest to them. From Judy Blume and Roald Dahl to Louis L’Amour, Carl Sagan, and Edith Wharton, you will find an entire excerpted library on your desktop.


See also . California State University Dominguez Hills professor Danny Brassell has compiled a website for extensive book selection browsing. Titles are presented by age group, and contain content and plot reviews of leveled high-interest books for adolescents of all reading abilities.

For book titles selected to be of interest to boys, go to where author Jon Scieszka (of Stinky Cheese Man fame) has set up a website with book selections linked to reviews for adolescents who are, well, guys. Books are well-chosen and span sundry reading and interest levels.

About the Author
Barbara Bartholomew is an Assistant Professor of Reading and Literacy at California State Unniversity Bakersfield, where whe ccurrently serves as Single Subject Program Director.


President's Perspective
Michelle Berry, CATE President

As another school year closes, I am again awash in conflicting emotions. Pleased with the academic and personal victories of many of my students, I will tear up with joy and pride, as I always do, at their graduation. And yet I am also, again, frustrated by some of my students not reaching their potential. Some barely have tried. It's so cliché, the asking, "What else can I do?" But the idealist in me wants to know. What strategies might I attempt in my classroom next year that could strike the flint that ignites those students' fires?

This issue of California English addresses using of the Internet in new ways as part of our curriculum. Remember when that meant having students do online research on a topic? We worried about plagiarism, and rightly so. Surely the ability to "borrow" someone else's words became even easier. In retrospect, that was a relatively simple issue.

By now many teachers have begun to use the Internet in more creative ways, ways that seek to engage students' interest: blogs for reading response, website design as assessment, chat rooms for discussion… I understand there are countless opportunities to tap students' enthusiasm and their comfort with the computer as a valuable learning tool. Last November at NCTE's annual convention I attended a fascinating workshop on integrating interactive blogs into literature study, including as assessment of their understanding, and I was intrigued enough to commit to trying that this coming year. I'm eager to see how it goes.

But many teachers (and parents) are raising legitimate concerns about this new direction. As educators, having conversation about the questions these new strategies raise certainly seems both prudent and necessary. Here are some:

• Does embracing these technologies and their implications mean sidestepping or even minimizing the practice of more traditional writing?
• Has email replaced, for example, the formal business letter? Is that inevitable? Is that necessarily a bad thing?
• Has the spell-check feature eliminated the need for students to know how to spell correctly?
• If social networking (MySpace, LiveJournal, FaceBook, et al) takes the place of so much physical face-to-face interaction, might we risk a generation of socially inept adults?
• Does such reliance on Internet mean a greater number of isolated individuals? Should that be a concern of ours? What can/should we do to compensate for that potential?

No one would dispute the benefits of this amazing communication technology. Never before has worldwide communication been so simple, so immediate. Ah, but…

What about the safety issues? And privacy? Are social networking sites a boon, a bother, or an abomination? Or all they all three? Is it over-reaction to worry about what could happen, or, as in some cases, what has happened?

Because Internet use is both popular and unavoidable, and because our students look for new ways of communicating, it is incumbent upon us to do our research. Maybe these strategies about which we'll read are the ones that reach those students here-to-fore unengaged. Wouldn't that be terrific?

I look forward to reading this issue's articles, as I know you do. I'm interested in your opinions on and experience with Internet use, as well as any other issues you find pertinent to our doing our best job for our students. You may always reach me at

I close with the results of CATE's recent election. It is with honor that I announce the following newly elected teachers to the CATE Board:

Secretary: Lorraine Tracey
Membership Chair: Joan Williams
Member-at-Large (Secondary): Tish Griggs
Member-at-Large (Elementary): Kathy Allen
Council Representatives:
Angus Dunstan (Capitol)
Liz McAninch (Central)
Cathy Cirimele (Fresno)
Greg Johnson (Kern)
Anne Sahlberg (Redwood)
Carrie Danielson (San Diego)
Carmen Carillo (Southland)
Carol Surabian (Tulare)
Shelly Medford (Upper)