Monday, January 16, 2012

A bone to pick with Amazon alleged 2-day shipping

I buy hundreds of dollars of books every year from Amazon – used, new, Kindle.  For me, for family, for school.  Recently, I needed some leveled readers right away.  As part of my regular English language arts class, I’m working with ELLs (English Language Learners) who need help reading English, and need materials that are high interest but have a simpler and gradually more difficult vocabulary; leveled readers fit the bill exactly.

I ordered several of these books – all listed by Amazon as “in stock.”  Ordinarily, I use the “free shipping if the order is $25 or more,” but this time I wanted the books ASAP.

So I decided to spring for 2-day shipping – which cost almost as much as the books.  But my students have been totally frustrated trying to read age-appropriate materials  published for native English speakers that just have too much new vocabulary.  I wanted my students to have something good to read.  After all, when you select shipping speed with Amazon, bold letters next to 2-day shipping tell you you'll get your items on a date that's 2 days after today; they give the actual date.  (See example, right.) 

But only one book out of 6 ordered came (in 3 days).  Then a second came a day later.  Then nothing.  Eight days after the order, I received an email that the last 4 books just were shipped.  With 2-day shipping charges.

According to Amazon’s friendly and courteous support email, 2-day shipping means it takes 2-days from when they actually ship to when it gets to you; Amazon has multiple fulfillment centers, and items aren’t all necessarily shipped right away.  More than half the order, listed as "in stock," wasn't even shipped for more than a week.  

Amazon's policy certainly doesn’t mean  Amazon ships the day you order and you’ll get your order in two days .  Even though that's what you see when you order. 

Ironically, I ordered used leveled readers through Amazon and also from  at the same time, and virtually all of those have already gotten here.  The shipping for used books from Amazon cost me $3.99/book.  The shipping from  varied, but sometimes was as little as $1.00 per book.

Lesson learned.  Don’t waste your money on Amazon’s 2-day shipping because you’re sure not going to get it in two days.  Amazon did refund the extra shipping for the books that weren’t even shipped out a week after I made the order.  But shouldn't they be more honest about what a customer gets for "2-day shipping?" 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Building Community in the Blended Classroom

Whether online, F2F, or blended/hybrid, to help our students learn, we need to build an effective community.  That means learners feel a part of something bigger than themselves, they use bouncing ideas off of each other and working collaboratively to deepen their learning, and they want to take care of each other.

'Community' photo (c) 2007, Jeff Kubina - license:
In the F2F classroom, this happens, but shy kids might stay observers, rather than comfortable community members.  In small groups and work done in pairs, shyer kids have an easier time, and also get to use social learning to add ideas, possibly challenge their ideas, and work collaboratively.  Working with a friend feels safer, but sometimes socializing becomes paramount.  Also, if a student has poor social skills – whether in the whole class, small groups, or in pairs – both that student and others have difficulties.

In the purely online classroom, which I have only experienced with adults, the community gets created by effective facilitators build community using discussion forums (particularly where students are required to be active throughout the week) and sometimes small group work.  There are still students who don’t like discussion, don’t like group work, who choose to lurk.  They may be learning, but they are on the edges of the community.

In the blended classroom – partly F2F and partly online – I feel like we have the best of both words.

We build community in the F2F classroom.  But we also build community online.  Shy students have an opportunity to work privately; deliberate thinkers get to think as long as they need to before sharing.  The playing field (to use an overused metaphor) is leveled, because everybody can participate without needing to have the courage to raise their hand.  (See

But in the blended classroom, I’m not limited to posting information or replying to discussion forum posts or uncovering new and interesting resources and activities.  I can also talk with students F2F.  Kids like to hear the words.  And because I can’t count on middle schoolers to go back to a discussion forum to see what I wrote (they tend to consider themselves done once they have posted and replied to other posts), I need to make sure they actually hear from me.   I have to say my kids sure like hearing, “Good post!” or “I enjoyed what you wrote last night,” or “Good point!”   And dealing with problematic posts is easier to do F2F, where communication isn’t restricted to written words, but can include my tone, gestures, and posture. (See

As I’ve written before, the blended classroom seems more cohesive and there is more risk-taking.  Many more students raise their hands in the blended F2F classroom because they’ve had success online.  And not just from me.  There are also the “Gee, I didn’t know you were so smart” comments from peers. 

Finally, everybody gets a chance to be successful somewhere.  For example, some students have great computer skills but aren’t strong writers – they get to shine when we’re in the computer lab.  Middle school is not a time when kids feel confident or successful.  And I think the blended classroom lets them find a place to experience success and confidence.