Education “Effective Despite Brokenness” | John Spencer Interview

Inspirational educator, author and blogger John Spencer of Meandering Musings of an Indie Teacher reflects on his passion and motivation to teach authentically. To learn more about Spencer’s efforts, click here.

What tech tools, software, and websites do your students use regularly and how did you get all those computers in your classroom?

I encourage students to find their own. For example, in writing, some use Google Docs, others Zoho. In blogging, some use Edublogs and others use Blogger. In terms of getting the computers, I found old computers that they were about to throw away, ran Linux on them and had to keep things really cloud-based. It worked surprisingly well.

Where can we view your student’s documentaries?

I don’t have any place (yet) where I have whole documentaries. However, if you go to, you can see some clips.

Walk us through a day in your classroom, from a student’s perspective.

A student would walk in and begin working silently on his or her blog. On a few occasions, I allow them to do a blog comment or discussion board day. Generally, though, it begins with a personal blog. On two days of the week, it is student choice. On the other two days, I choose a series of four questions and they pick one. Then on Friday, we do a Philosophical Friday question. After about four weeks of that, I switch it up and we might read a novel together and they’ll do a blog post about it. Then maybe they’ll spend a week and write a paragraph each day that will lead up to an article for our website.

After this individual work, they do a small group discussion. We transition from that to a whole class activity (usually interactive, often kinesthetic, typically some reading involved as well) and they finish with about twenty-five minutes of class time to work on the project. Often the project is linked to the previous activity. We alternate between collaborative and individual projects. The documentary, for example, is very collaborative. The History of Me project is very individual.

What drives and motivates your passion about education, your love of learning?

I believe that learning is powerful and meaningful, that we are public servants. I see teaching as an act of social justice. I don’t think we can “create better people,” but I do think education has a value in helping students learn to live well.

Do you have any role models or favorite bloggers you follow?

I love reading Science Teacher.

In this era of standardized tests, many teachers fall in to the trap of teaching to the test. What advice do you have for teachers on teaching authentically?

I would give this advice – figure out which battles to pick. Do some of the irritating things like Word Walls and guard the valuable things whenever you can (instruction and learning). Learn to use some of the standardized lingo if you have to. In the end, the authentic approach will actually lead to higher test scores. At least that’s my experience. So, the admin will generally leave you alone.

What 3 words would you use to describe education today?

Effective despite brokenness.

-John Spencer






Photo from Teaching Unmasked by John Spencer
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