Monday, March 28, 2011

In the Studio with Lori

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

It's been a long time since I've been in a recording studio. Boy, did it bring back memories, like creating playlists and listening to demos during my early days at WSKB (my college radio station), when I sat in the booth for the first time. The first minute on the air felt like an hour but I quickly adapted. My radio career continued in my early twenties as I went on to another college station and then auditioned for a professional station, WLYT: "light" radio. My audition went well, though I must admit that hearing my "night-time" voice on the playback sounded pretty cheesy to me. I would have taken the light radio gig if it hadn't been an overnight shift beginning at 11:00 PM. Back then, that was prime nightclub time and I just couldn't give up dancing to live music with my friends instead of playing tracks to a faceless audience. After that, I did some voice work for some local politicians, commercials for a variety of businesses, and most recently a series of live TV spots for Staples: Stick-to-it Business Challenge.

Currently at PSG, we're producing a multi-level, educational Spanish audio project for one of our repeat clients. We completed the written translation, prepped the scripts, chose the voice talent and now we are in the studio managing the recording a few days a week for the next 4-5 weeks. Since we have so much studio time booked, I decided that I would take my interns into the studio with our engineers & content managers for a field trip. The interns loved the idea and signed up right away. The funny thing is, so did the rest of my staff. They all wanted to be a part of the training and the audio portion of the project. So, off we went to the studio with scripts in hand. We waited in the green room with several teen pop hopefuls and a few Berkley College of Music seniors who were finishing up their demos. Once the voice "talent" arrived, we headed to the studio for the first of many sessions. What a GREAT experience, both from a content and a technology perspective! The "field trips" were a great learning experience for the staff and our interns. We all felt a great sense of accomplishment when the sound engineers officially "called it a wrap."

Though my radio days are over, my love of technology continues. I may not be behind the mic, but I enjoy watching (and listening!) as our work takes shape. These days we’re in a studio more often since many of our clients are looking for audio tracks for interactive and multi-media projects. And fortunately, for me and my clients, I have a staff that is becoming more and more talented with each new opportunity to put in studio time.

That's a wrap!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Write On

By Richard Carson, PhD, Senior Editor

At the start of every term, I used to ask myself two questions about the intellectual location of my students: Where are they? and Where do you want them to be?

These questions had a particular relevance with regard to writing classes. Many of them began with a kind of bifurcated writing life, in which they wrote one way for themselves and another way for school. Some hinted at journals, stories, and poems. More often, at least from what I could gather, their writing was interpersonal: letters in the early days, emails in later years.

When they made the leap to a more academic format however, something happened. So often their papers were, for want of a better word, nervous. They were halting and repetitious, like a speaker with a half-prepared speech. It was as if the act of writing stopped them. Write in any way you can, I would tell them, write for different audiences, including yourself. Where I wanted them to be was a place where some of their creativity could drive their academic writing. In retrospect, perhaps the one who needed to be more creative was me.

These days, students write a lot and in a way that forces us to expand what we mean by writing itself. Emails are supplemented if not supplanted by instant messaging. Our students write blogs, tweets, and Facebook profiles. Many design web pages for themselves, their friends, their bands. They film narratives and record poetry set to music. As Traci Gardner states in her book Designing Writing Assignments (Urbanna, Illinois: National Council of Teaches of English, 2008), "Writing is placing words on screens and paper, recording words and sounds and images on video, arranging words and images and sounds in audio and video recordings and creating links between all these means of expression (29)."

Ms. Gardner's book reminds us that our lesson plans for writing assignments need to tap into these areas of creativity. While some of us may not be practitioners of all of the media our students use, we can use that media to help students realize that they have ideas, and they can develop those ideas in traditional and nontraditional formats. Students might imagine characters writing Facebook profiles, Ebay adds for key elements of setting, Tweets for key elements of plot. As teachers, writers, and editors, we can learn from where our students are and move them forward to write with confidence and competence.

Monday, March 14, 2011

School Turn-Around Specialists: Modern Day Carpetbaggers?

By Caitlin Dwyer, Sales and Marketing Assistant

Soon after the Obama administration allocated billions of dollars in Federal aid to our Nation's schools, dozens of new companies sprang up looking to capitalize on the funds. Under the rules of the stimulus package, school districts are permitted to hire companies or a nonprofit to help in the turnaround, but the availability of such companies is slim. Companies formerly involved in markets such as life-coaching, communication skills, and classroom technology skills are jumping on the opportunity, but many involved in National education policy are worried that these unprepared companies will do more harm than good. Dr. Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor, compared it to Reconstruction-era exploitation from carpetbaggers and charlatans: "Many of these companies clearly just smell the money."

In June 2009, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, warned that only a handful of groups nationwide had any experience in school overhauls. He urged many, however, to "to get into the business of turning around our lowest-performing schools. That includes states, districts, nonprofits, for-profits, universities, unions and charter organizations."

Charter school management groups seem to be the most qualified companies for the job. Last year, Duncan expressed hope that these nonprofits would join the efforts to re-haul more than 5,000 of the nation's struggling public schools. In an effort to combat the risks posed to school districts who hire consultants without the proper experience, the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit conservative policy group, issued a report last month urging that districts require performance guarantees, under which contractors failing to meet achievement targets would forfeit payments.

Though some companies are looking to capitalize on this crisis for financial gain, countless others exist that truly have the best interest of the education system and the children it serves at heart. It's going to take a lot of work, but the stimulus package could be the much-needed change in reinvigorating America's school system.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Increasing Class Sizes

By Julia Hardy, Editorial Assistant

In a recent interview on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" program, Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of the Success Charter Network, discussed her opinion that class size is not nearly as important as people make it out to be. The theory has been that a smaller class size enables teachers to spend more time one-on-one with their students, thus improving the quality of their education. Moskowitz argues that this is not always the case.

She claims that too much emphasis has been placed on keeping class sizes small (i.e., below 25 students), and not enough on the quality of the education the students are receiving. With recent budget cuts, schools have had to cut certain programs and lay off teachers, so class sizes have become larger. Moskowitz asserts that it is more important to structure the schools around the needs of the children, and as such, it is important to hire quality teachers and principals, and to apply a cost-benefit analysis to the situation; with such an analysis, there are a few benefits to larger class sizes that one would not find in a smaller classroom. For example, with a larger class size, while a teacher may not be able to spend as much time one-on-one with their students, hiring an assistant teacher to help with this is a beneficial move. Moskowitz argues that there are certain trade-offs one must consider when choosing a class size. To quote: "I think that if I had to make the choice between 32 and 34 kids, it would depend on what I would get in the bargain. In other words, if I could take my kids to trips across the country, and I could hire a tutor to help them in math, those are the trade-offs that we have to be looking at."

Moskowitz has denounced the laws that mandate class size to a certain number, because it takes away the flexibility of the school system. To quote Moskowitz: " actually takes away the principals' and the teachers' ability to be nimble and to say, well, you know what? This year, why don't we have 24 kids in a class. And that would allow us to pay for an assistant teacher. Or that would allow us to raise teachers' salaries. Or that will allow us to get all the supplies that our kids need to be really, really engaged and productive." After all, what is a geography class without maps and globes, a math class without calculators, or an art class without paintbrushes?

Larger class sizes allow schools to become better structured and more flexible to the students' needs. It's not a crazy idea, so why not give it a shot?