Blog Finale?

April 13, 2008 at 6:13 pm (professional_learning)

My Highlights and Lowlights in the Web 2.0 Sandbox

Podcasting proved to be the lowlight and the highlight of this course because it was the most challenging tool to learn how to use.  There are so many more steps and programs, both online and off, involved over any of the other web 2.0 tools.  Three hours of frustration was definitely the lowlight of the course.  However, overcoming these challenges and problem solving using different online tools that Web 2.0 has to offer also proved to be one of the highlights of this course.  I like how it seemed to fall in the middle of the course as everything else after that seemed to be much easier after podcasting.   

Receiving the first unsolicited comment from someone unrelated to the course was also a highlight.  The more comments I receive, the smaller and flatter the world gets and I see how our students could feel if they were given the opportunity to feel connected in the same way.  By not providing them with these opportunities, we are holding them back from having these very powerful inquiry-based constructivist learning experiences.  I can’t help but reiterate once again what Valenza has said.  First, we are working ahead of the rules.  The old rules don’t apply to the new tools.  We need new AUPs that include Web 2.0 and social computing.  Second, by sheltering students from what could happen, we are not allowing for the (1) intellectual freedom that is possible by having access to the tools and (2) the doors to information that are opened by knowing how to access and interact with the information that is available within them in constructing knowledge.  Knowledge construction is so much different than it was when I went to school where the information you needed to know was fixed.  Now, information is growing exponentially.  It is no longer a case of learning a set number of facts.  Instead, it is a case of how do you find the answer to any question that may be posed, how do you deal with differing results, who do you believe, what is your reaction to what you have found and how do you feel about it.

Unfortanately, like many people, at the beginning of this course I had no idea what Web 2.0 was, all the different tools that are out there and the opportunities that are available for students and their teachers because of them.  I didn’t knowingly deny my students access to what web 2.0 has to offer.  It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know.  Armed with the knowledge that I now have about web 2.0 tools and how they relate to the skills of 21st century learners (ALA, pdf), I must share this with others so that they are no longer uninformed as I was before this course. 

Learning from My Peers

The most important lessons that I can take away from reading the experiences of my peers is not everyone’s journey went as smoothly as mine.  As one of my colleagues reminded me this past week, I enjoy playing with technology and seeing what I can do and what it can do for me.  (I loved the overview that connected Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to play at “seven styles of learning” but it is no longer available).  I must remember that this is not the case for everyone. 

“[E]very educator has different skill sets, goals, and challenges at various times in their professional lives, so their desire for information knowledge, expertise and technical competence varies accordingly” (George, 2007).

While basic skills are a necessity, everyone doesn’t need to know every tool.  Instead, it’s important that colleagues find a few tools to include in their tool box that they are comfortable with integrating into teaching and learning.  

What are my future plans for technology?  Where do I go from here in terms of learning about technologies and integrating technologies into my classroom, library and school? 

Personal Technology Exploration

My technology “to do” list includes exploring Jumpcut as I know students would love it as well as Animoto using John’s torso down camera angle to make it more anonymous.  I want to make a Pageflakes that include all the sites I visit everyday – a one stop web browsing experience.  I would love to use Trippermap to locate my own pictures on a map to use in teaching and learning.  I am frustrated by how slow Furl is so want to transfer over to  Now that WordPress has a new interface, I think that it allows for more features – maybe a dictionary feed (like Elisa’s), a video feed (like Jean’s) or a voki (like Rhonda’s)?  I would like to be able to add those.  I would also like to select an avatar like Glogowski has with the fern globe that he thoughtfully explained.   These are all related to my own personal uses of technology and Web 2.0 tools. 

Personal Professional DevelopmentI want to go back to the Horizon Report wiki and contribute to the creation of next year’s Horizon Report.  I would love to read next year’s report knowing that I had a hand, no matter how small, in its creation.  I want to spend more time in the Ontario-based teacher SNS Communi-IT and explore the possibility of completing a free online summer workshop with global participation


Classroom Based Technology IntegrationRichardson and others talk about a blog as an e-portfolio and a source for reflection and metacognition.  Another one of my mottos that I frequently share with students is you don’t know what you think until you write it down.  Yesterday I read my blog from beginning to end.  First, I can’t believe how much I wrote.  Second, I liked seeing how my blog formatting changed.  While I knew how to incorporate hyperlinks because I was able to transfer the skill having done it with other software, at first I didn’t know how to do block quotes.  Once I did, I found my blog much easier to read.  Third, I surprised myself with some of the ideas that I came up with for technology integration into teaching and learning!  I forgot that I ever had those ideas in the first place.  It is for this reason that I am grateful that they are all recorded for me to look back on.  I’ve identified some of my favorites below.


I would love to have students collaborate on what they believe are the seven wonders of Edmonton just like the wonders of the world.  This project could easily evolve into a community based project.  Students could make use of the images at Flickr and Woophy (thanks, Linda, for this link). 

As suggested by Valenza in her Manifesto, I planned to loan digital cameras, (removing the digital divide due to access to digital cameras), have students take pictures of the place of their choice and justify why it should be a Wonder of Edmonton.  Flickr could replace students having to go to different places in the city, something that I wondered about the logistics of as I don’t know how safe it would be for them to be going to unknown parts of the city by themselves.  At the end, we could message the original photographer to have them view our finished collaborative project somewhere online…maybe in a blog? from “Flickr in the Classroom

I’m sure that some of my colleagues would be comforted by the opening to Richardson’s Flickr chapter where he says:

The easiest place for teachers and students to begin experimenting with creating and publishing content other than text is with digital photography. 

I’ve always wanted to have students write poems that were hyperlinked so that a reader could go from one poem to the next by clicking on one word.  This is so much easier if using a blog or a wiki because knowledge of HTML is not required.  David Jakes takes this idea a step futher by linking words in Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” to pages in Flickr tagged with the same words such as wheat. (“Flickr – Real Life Examples“) 

School Level Technology Integration in no particular order.

  1. A revised Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that includes Web 2.0 and involves students in its creation (via a wiki perhaps) so that they take ownership.
  2. The school webpage needs be be “renovated.”
  3. The school library needs a web presence, one that serves to connect students to the links that they use in their core classes so that they never have to type in a link – this has been one of the things that stuck out for me in this course. 
  4. Our schools’ media class takes fabulous photos.  I would love to have an online Flickr portfolio of their photos.  This could feed into our school/library webpage.

These are some lofty goals for one person.  However, I am not an island and I don’t have to do it all myself.  I can enlist, guide and facilitate others – students, colleagues and parents (thanks, Jenn).  I remember a program on CBC radio that suggested that many people would make the committment to volunteer if only they were asked.  I’m willing to ask.  By asking students, I am helping them to make important connections to the school community.  By asking colleagues, I am immersing them in using the tools and by including parents, communication is a two-way street. 


I began the course by listening to and actively reading (highlighting, making notes, asking questions) Valenza’s manifesto for a 21st century school librarian and exploring the links in her informationfluency wiki.  I used it to create a traffic light chart of things I knew, thought I knew and had no clue.  Most of the items now fall in the yellow or green light section.  There are still a few things in the red light column but I’m okay with that.  With the nature of technology there will always be things that I won’t know.  It’s impossible to know everything when everything is constantly changing, in a world where

One week’s worth of New York Times contains as much information as a lifetime’s worth of information in the 18th century (Donham, 2007).

I am grateful that I have skills so that I am not “held hostage by information overload.”  I can’t help but be reminded that we are teaching students skills that they will have to transfer to new computer tools.  We are preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist (Fisch, Shift Happens).

Over the Christmas break I was trying to find information on how I could tap into students visual strengths as my colleagues and I find that students at-risk are very visual, a strength that is often not validated.  Despite my best attempts, I didn’t have much success.  I didn’t know that what I was looking for was related to the concept of visual literacy (Farmer, 2007; Burns, 2006; Lambert & Carpenter, 2005; Callow, 2003).  We need to redefine many things beyond libraries (Valenza) including literacy (Friesen, 2003) to encompass the breadth of “emergent” literacies including information, visual, data (Gunter, 2007), technological, digital, media, global and cultural, scientific and cognitive literacies (Getting Started & Topic 1),  that are required in our Information Age.

I can’t believe how fast this course has gone.  As I mentioned before, this is the most I have ever learned in such a short period of time.  Over the course of the week, I would keep my eyes peeled on my blog reader for anthing related to upcoming topics and stockpile that information, scrutinizing, analyzing, questioning, and then synthesizing and incorporating personal thoughts, reflections and connections into my blog postings.  Despite being uncomfortable with and unaccustomed to this new form of writing in the beginning, I love it regardless of whether you call it connective writing (Richardson) or transactional writing (Glogowski).  It incorporates many skills of a 21st century learner (ALA, pdf). 

Last term I completed the inquiry course.  When I looked back on it now, that course provided me with the theory and the background for the work I did this term.  Every week I was immersed in a new inquiry topic.   Every week I had to work through the processes.  In this way, I feel that I am a much more skilled inquirer having repeated the process throughout the term.   

Even though our course is over this is not a blog finale.  This is only the beginning of my journey with Web 2.0.  Now I have a taste of what the tools have to offer teachers as a topic for professional development in themselves or as a vehicle for professional development on other topics.  Even more powerful are the real-world experiences that students can be engaged in as they, too, dabble in the Web 2.0 sandbox applying the revised Bloom’s higher order thinking skills – analyzing, evaluating and creating.  


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Introducing Web 2.0 to Staff

April 13, 2008 at 6:12 pm (professional_learning)

One of my most important and powerful strategies I have found in sharing professional development with others is leading by example.  If I want to encourage technology integration, I must be walking the walk as I talk the talk so to speak.  I must serve as a role model for curriculum-based (core, complementary, ICT, inquiry) technology integration where the technology serves as a tool, a platform (Warlick), with a learner centered focus (Subramaniam, 2006).  The technology must be a means to an end and not an end in itself (Knezek, Christensen, Bell & Bull, 2006).  I think because most of the Web 2.0 tools are so easy to use that the tools become invisible; For example, they make all the strands of the langauge arts curriculum – reading, writing, listening, viewing, speaking and representing – more visible and meaningful as they more readily connect to real life when there is a live global audience.  The technology allows us to do things that weren’t possible without it (Knezek, et al).  The real audience makes every task more authentic, always being curious who will respond and what they will have to say.  As my students are engaged in the tools and share their experiences with their other teachers, they too will become curious as to what we’re up to.  It has been my experience that this kind of word-of-mouth enthusiasm, such as that now found on the internet, is contagious and leads to a tipping point (Gladwell) in integration of technology. 

There are so many fabulous YouTube videos (like Stephen Heppell that I learned about via the TL-DL Blog), TeacherTube videos and Slideshare presentations that could be the starting point for discussion, such as Fisch’s Shift Happens.  These can be found on any specific Web 2.0 tool or skills of 21st century leaners (ALA, pdf) in general.  I am always envious of those who work downtown and can attend brown bag lunch time speaker presentations at the public library, city hall or CBC stage.  What if the brown bag speaker presentations came to my classroom via such as Sir Ken Robinson’s presentation entitled Do School’s Kill Creativity? which we watched at the end of one staff meeting?  Could I “screen” one of these one lunch hour a week? Absolutely!  (Anderson, 2003).  

I like the idea of speed or lightening demos to present a Web 2.0 tool to a group in five minutes or less that I learned about through the  EduBloggerCon wiki.  Anderson (2003) calls these “Ten Minutes of Tech on Tuesdays.”  A five or ten minute edtech component could be added to each monthly staff meeting agenda in addition to the troubleshooting that already takes place.  The brown bag lunch time presentations and the lightening demos could both be used to maintain momentum. 

I must be ready and willing to answer questions as they arise providing just-in-time PD, turning inquiries into lessons (Anderson, 2003).  On Friday a colleage emailed me about some pictures saved from Google images to use in a Photo Story assignment.  Were these within copyright?  I hopped on the internet, went to my blog, to Valenza’s blog and scrolled to the posting on copyright (thanks, Steph for reminding us about this post on Web CT).  I copied the link, explaining in the email that I had just read about this very topic, adding in links to Valenza’s copyrightfriendly wiki and the Flickr Creative Commons Attribution page.  I never would have been able to do this at the end of January!  

Part of assisting colleagues in understand why integrating technology is so important is to demonstrate the links to core curriculum, complementary curriculum, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Outcomes and Focus on Inquiry (pdf).  This is particularly important with the new constructivist, inquiry based curricula that are now being developed (Anderson, 2003).  Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe talk about backwards design in Understanding by Design (2005, 1998).  We must identify the curricular objectives that we want students to achieve with every task that we design that integrates technology. 

I recall a day I spent collaborating with two other teachers in the fall.  At one point, all three of us were working away at different computers trying to find exceptional websites for students to consult for this cross-curricular, interdisciplinary project.  I wish I had known about social bookmarking then instead of writing all the websites down on paper!  That would have been a perfect time to model and provide a hands on learning experience with this tool that, as Chris Harris puts it, has the potential to be “a powerful research network.”  Richardson puts his finger on it saying, “We can build comprehensive lists much more effectively than any one of us could working alone.”  By visiting a social bookmarking page students wouldn’t have to type URLs into browsers, something Friesen (2003) says should never happen.  I’m glad that I now know what social bookmarking is so that we can take advantage of it as a tool for organization, sharing and an archive the next time we collaborate.  Similarlily, when our class was in the midst of our wiki discussions, my colleagues and I were reflecting on our body of work, something that could have been done in a wiki, like these table discussions, rather than chart paper, serving as an archive and place to continue the discussion

Which Web 2.0 tool would I choose to present to staff?  Unfortunately, I can’t pick any one tool.  To explain why, I keep going back to the article by Knezek, Christensen, Bell and Bull (2006) “Identifying key research issues” where they say, “The use of technology in each subject area needs to address the learning issues specific to that subject area.”  If I combine the needs of different subject areas with the differentiated nature of professional development that occurs at our school and the different levels of comfort in working with technology, one Web 2.0 tool will not fit all.  I must take into consideration the learning context that exists.  While I can facilitate general discussions regarding integrating technology and introduce staff to each Web 2.0 tool and its place in helping students master skills for the 21st century, I believe that I must leave it up to the individual to decide which tool they wish to learn about.  This has been how we approached integrating reading strategies across subject areas as well as adopting best practices in assessment.  People need time to digest and come to their own understanding of what works best for them.  In the end, we all end up in the same place, however, we all take different paths to get there.   

I also think about Michael Fullan’s presentation that I was fortunate to hear at the provincial Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) conference in February, the video of which is available online as well as the handout (pdf).  Fullan says teachers much participate in professional learning which occurs in context rather than professional development which occurs out of context.  Top down and bottom up must meet in the middle.  This is a shift for me from the beginning of the course where I believed that teachers must determine the direction of their personal professional growth because in my experience directed PD is not very fruitful.  Yet, I don’t know when I would have learned about Web 2.0 without this course.  I wouldn’t have been able to work from the bottom up because I had no idea what I was missing out on.  To me, the outline for this course provides an element of top down.  The way I chose to learn about each of the Web 2.0 tools represents me working from the bottom up.  The two meet in the middle and, as Fullan says, “the learning is the work.”  I can introduce my colleagues to the skills of 21st century learners and each of the Web 2.0 tools formally (eg. staff meetings and pd days) and informally (eg. email, lunch time conversations); it is then up to each individual to determine which tool they are comfortable with which also meets the curricular outcomes of their specific subject area.  Others can then take over the staff meeting lightening demos, or even have their students present, showcasing how each subject area is integrating technology.  This could also form the basis of full day PD Day as well as student-led conferences or demonstrations of learning. 

Before determining where we need to go with technology we must determine where we are.  Many colleagues are already using YouTube videos in core and complementary classes to introduce topics and spur student discussion (Subramaniam, 2006).  Throughout this course I have been sharing my blog with my colleagues as well as subject area links where appropriate.  The math department was greatful for the uses of Flickr in math links.  One social teacher has already talked about using a VoiceThread in Social Studies.   

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Web 2.0 Alphabet

April 13, 2008 at 6:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Just for fun!  All the ones in bold I knew nothing about before this course. 

Analyze, Analogical, Avatar
Blogger, Blogging, Bloglines
Critical, Creative, Connect, Contribute, Constructivist, Curriculum
Exposure to Quality Information
Flickr, Facebook, “friend,” Flexible, Furl, Folksonomy
Hippel, Stephen
Intuitive, Increased Access, Interact, Information_Ethics, Inquiry
Learner-centered, LibraryThing, Long_Tail
Metacognition, Motivating, Mashup, Multimedia
Problem_Solving, Peer-Reviewed, Process, Podcasts, PageFlakes, Patience
Synthesize, Socialize, Social_Responsibility, Self-assessment
TeacherTube, Tagging, Technorati
Updated more frequently than print resources
Verify, Viewpoints, VoiceThread, Video
Wikis, Warlick

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The Art of Blog Commenting

April 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm (blog)

Building on 10 Golden Rules that Linda linked to at her blog as well as reminding us of the lasting consequences and unexpected results of being online, students need to know how to blog and comment both constructively and safely to be active contributors in their online community.  On every blog of Kuropatwa that I visited, one of the first things a student or visitor reads is “This ongoing dialogue is as rich as YOU make it. Visit often and post your comments freely.”

Even though Lee Gomes says that allowing blog comments can “expose readers to the nasty underbelly of blogging,” commenting is half of what blogging is all about!  Simply publishing writing online (Noon) is not blogging.  Blogging is engaging with a reader, saying something that motivates them to question, express concerns, complaints, comments, compliments, confusions, uncertainties and other perspectives (Kuropatwa).  The “nasty underbelly” can be circumvented by teaching students blogging and blog commenting etiquette and moderating posts and/or comments.  I like the resources that Kuropatwa has compiled at The Mentorship Project for his student mentors including “The Artful Comment,” “Comment Starters” (Ann Davis), and “Art & Aspirations of a Commenter” (Lani Hall).

I also like Ms. Armstrong’s gentle reminder at S2 Consumer Math – AM:

Have fun, be creative, and remember this is a public forum. What you write represents yourself, your classmates, your teacher, and your school so blog responsibly and safely.

Glogowski models “readerly comments” that are separated from peer comments in the platform he uses with his 8th graders called 21 classes encouraging instructional conversations similar to discussion forums which become and integral part of blogging. 

This does not mean that teacher comments are more important than those posted by the student’s classmates.  In fact, my doctoral research suggests that peer comments can have a stronger impact on confidence, engagement, and development of writing skills than comments left by the teacher.  However, having the peer and teacher comments arranged side by side, I believe, in learning to see every entry as an originator of activity that can lead to deep reflection.  The students quickly learn that the same entry can generate different responses or responses that address the same aspects of the entry but from two different points of view. 

bvjheard also pointed me to and, that dubs itself as a social network for young people but includes a blogging feature, both of which allow students to blog in a safe environment.  Blogs can have different levels of participation – from wide open to only allowing comments from registered users or only being accessible to those with a password.  To determine what blog provider I would choose to use with my students, I would need to spend more time exploring them.  I would also engage students in a discussion of what is and is not appropriate in a public forum, perhaps working through the process in a wiki linking to our class blog or having them link to it from their individual blogs as a friendly reminder. 

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A Blog Banquet

April 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm (blog)

Unlike a buffet where your friends and neighbors bring various dishes and the “food” takes the show, a banquet has invited guests.  Richardson suggested a few whom I visited and I offer up some of my favorites from their ideas for class blogs and individual student blogging in this “blog banquet.”

Ideas for Blogging Across the Curriculum

  1. Collaborate with subject-area experts on cross-curricular and interdisciplinary activities and projects
  2. Archive learning for student e-portfolios and reflection
  3. Share results of science experiments and polls
  4. Publish student work

Blogging across the curriculum (1) infuses writing and (2) facilitates connections.

Will Richardson suggested checking out three bloggers: Bud the Teacher, Anne Davis and Darren Kuropatwa.  I reversed the order in which they are suggested, looking at classroom blogs as end products of works in progress (yes, an oxymoron, but I think you catch my drift) then working backwords looking at the theory or process in getting there as well as some possible challenges and alternatives in overcoming them. 

Bud the Teacher pointed me to The Reflective Teacher who has actually closed the book on the second year of teaching and this blog, but recently started a new blog at Hey Mister.  In The Reflective Teacher I came across Friday HaikuThis one I particularly enjoyed:

If they are excited
They are learning.  Maybe we
should make that our focus.

The Reflective Teacher blog linked to Jody Hayes’ Set Sail classroom blog of eleven and twelve year olds in New Zealand that are buddied with Kathy Cassidy’s grade ones student in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – if you don’t already know, I love coming across Canadian content.  (As a side note, writing to loyal readers and a potentially new audience presents its own unique challenges – how much backstory, summary and review should I include – that Seth Godin wrote about.)  The grade one page is also linked to five other class blogs and two wikis – one on math and the other on traditions.  Because I examine all Web 2.0 tools through a middle school lens, I often wonder how students in primary grades could use the tools.  Kathy Cassidy’s class page served as a very powerful example for me, seeing her class networking with other classes, sharing, celebrating their learning in a real-world context.  Students will carry these experiences with them always, enstilling in them 21st century skills from a very young age.   

What I love about the posts at these two blogs is they tell how many times each post has been read.  I never knew this was possible.  How powerful this is to visibly see how big the audience is!  The Set Sail classroom blog links to other classes, a class Flickr account, the teacher account and student blogs.  Students have also been working on vocabulary with six word stories modelled after these at Flickr.  The range of media that can be embedded in a blog or linked to from a blog is a bit mind boggling.  The class blog, library blog or school blog, depending on the structure choosen, can serve as a virtual hub of teaching and learning that parallels, intersects, enriches and extends what happens within the classroom.

Anne Davis pointed me to one of her favorite blogs, From the Paws of Harley where I found other class blogs that link to student blogs including the fifth grade Blogical Minds which is no longer updated but I loved this message to students:

Remember to read, read, read….
Then reflect, think, contemplate, and ponder…..
And write,write, write or blog, blog, blog!!!

From the Paws of Harley quoted student reflections of their growth through their Blogical Minds blogs.  It’s one thing to hear that blogging is beneficial.  It is another to read it in each student’s own voice.    

Lastly, Darren Kuropatwa from Winnipeg has a whole bunch of blogs, that can be accessed from the profile page of his personal professional edublog called A Difference, including examples of student blogs related to science such as BioTrek, many math blogs, a programming blog called Drops of Java, professional development session archives and professional collaboration blogs.  When I read in Will Richardson’s book that Kuropatwa had six classes blogging, my immediate thought was how does he keep up with all the blog reading.  Solutions:

  1. Shared responsibility of overseeing blogs with other teachers who teach the same courses or
  2. Have peer mentors like Mark, whose work is supported by the The Mentorship Project Blog.

Kuropatwa describes his approach to student blogging in considerable detail for the benefit of his blog readers which I much appreciated.  For each class period there is a scribe.  When I first read “scribe” I interpreted them as a recorder and didn’t equate that with complex blogging.  However, as I read on it described how scribing does indeed exemplify complex blogging (italicized).  The first scribe was a volunteer.  There after, each scribe selects the next scribe.  Kuropatwa describes the role of the scribe like this:

When a student is scribe they take particularly good class notes and think deeply about what they learned that day. The process of writing their scribe (we’ve created a new use for that noun) forces them to reflect on their learning and work to articulate the lesson as though they were teaching it. The paradigm in medical school is “watch it, do it, teach it.” My students have brought that paradigm into our classes. Students have told me that they spend upwards of an hour composing their scribe post — that’s a lot of deep thinking to do for just one class! Since the work is distributed across the entire class I guess they’re more willing to invest a lot of time once every few weeks — they all come out ahead this way.

They take real pride in their scribes and want it to look good and impress their classmates. I’ve told them numerous times how they’ve blown me away, or in my vernacular, “knocked my socks off!” — I finally had to admit in one comment that I no longer had any socks.

Kuropatwa also talks about the benefits for him and how it has made him become a better teacher.  Richardson also discussed this fact, identifying a shift in the way we think about student work knowing that it will be critiqued by a world-wide audience. 

I know that someone is going to write about what I do in class each day — I had better make certain that they have material to work with!  The scribe posts have allowed me to see how and where students are struggling with the material. Face-to-face, some students say they don’t understand anything from a particular lesson. But when they have to scribe that class we both learn they understand a lot more than they thought they did. This has allowed me to provide detailed and focused feedback to a student to: (a) help them learn and (b) give their self-esteem a boost because I can honestly say they have a better grasp of the material than they thought. Contrast this to the typical oral feedback I get from underconfident students: “I don’t understand any of it.”

Most importantly, Kuropatwa identifies the benefits for students:

The scribe post has also resulted in students taking greater responsibility for their own education [my emphasis]. When the scribe is late getting their post up comments begin to appear in the chatbox; “When is the scribe going to post? Where’s the scribe?” Part of this is because the only way for a student to find out if they are resposible for the next day’s scribe is by reading the blog — it’s never announced in class. But the scribe tends to “feel bad” if they don’t get the post up in a timely fashion and they frequently include an appology to the class to that effect. Recently, one student had computer trouble and didn’t get his post up. He came to me, of his own volition, the next day and said “Mr. K. I’m sorry about not getting my scribe up so I’ll do yesterday and today because it wouldn’t be fair to assign a scribe at the last minute in class today.” In my grade 12 class a scribe was uncertain of whether or not they should scribe a class because they “got in trouble” that day. The students arranged between them, outside of class, who would be the scribe each day for the next week! Missing a scribe post isn’t an option because the whole class is waiting for it; they have expectations of each other and they are rising to the occasion [my emphasis].

Of course, one of the most obvious benefits is that any student who misses class can easily find out what they missed — now they even get a complete, student generated, online lesson! This has also made things easier for me when a student is sick for a couple of days or is away from school for any other reason — all their classes are in the web log. Also, anyone who didn’t follow what was taught in class gets another student’s perspective on it and can get even more help in the chatbox.

Recently I was explaining to another teacher how the scribe post works in my classes. I heard myself say, without realizing it, “The students are writing the textbook for the course together; one day at a time.”

Exemplary work is nominated by the teacher of the course, a teacher of a different course or by peers to The Scribe Post Hall of Fame which serves to

  1. Recognize accomplishments
  2. Motivate to excel
  3. Build self-esteem through widespread recognition 

Kuropatwa describes what he calls a hybrid class, that has both elements of face-to-face and online components, in even more detail in his post entitled Distributed Teaching and Learning which can be summed up like this:

“Scribe Posts and Feed Windows, pedagogy and audience; the first leads into the second” because “[s]ribe posts make your students teachers . . . with a global audience.” 

Because I don’t know how to create a feed window in my blog (yet), or even if WordPress has this capability, I would substitute feed windows with RSS feeds in a blog aggregator such as Bloglines.  I know that this is not the same as seeing what everyone is writing right in a blog as it feeds in but I think it is the next best thing until I learn how to do this. 

Getting students blogging is not without its challenges as James Tubbs describes at his blog, misterteacher, as he tries to have fifth graders scribe.

Despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to get an out-of-class community going with my students. There just isn’t enough interest. Between sports, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities, they just don’t seem to want to get on the Internet late in the evening to complete anything extra for school. This is supposed to be the Net Generation, kids who grew up surrounded by digital media. For years I have read about how much time they spend on the Web consuming and creating information, interacting with one another, and playing video games. Yet, I’m not seeing all of this enthusiasm.

This is quite similar to my limited experience blogging with students.  I assumed that once students were introduced to the blog that they would be chomping at the bit to comment outside of school hours.  This was not the case.  Instead, because they weren’t interested, I didn’t pursue it further in class.  For me this exemplifies one of my mottos: if we value it, we must provide students with time during the school day. 

Related to writing in general rather than specifically to blogging, Doug Noon tried a They Say / I Say approach in Writers’ Workshop to help students “whose writing tends to be monologic and self-absorbed.  They really don’t get commentary, which is one of the big difficulties I’ve run into trying to help them learn to blog about their online learning.”  He describes his success here which I believe would be transferrable to blogging.

Many others have had enormous success with class blogs as well as individual student blogs.  David Warlick describes one teacher’s success in having students engage in conversations outside of class despite Class Blogmeister being blocked at school.  Students were even engaged when school was closed because of a snow day.  Konrad Glogowski describes the process he used this year in How to Grow a Blog and Towards Reflective Blog Talk.  I love his concreate visual metaphor which helps his grade eight students to see what he hopes they will achieve through blogging which is accessible at looking at things for a long time.

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Blog Scaffolding

April 6, 2008 at 7:33 pm (blog)

Richardson suggests the following scaffolding for blogging.  I believe the increasing complexity reflects both the age as well as the skill level of the blogger. 

  1. Model the deconstruction of site design for students.
  2. Model how to write about what is useful at a site as well as what is missing or what would make more useful.
  3. Provide students with sites to write about.
  4. Ask students to find interesting and relevant sites to write about.
  5. “[Recruit] an audience [teachers, friends, parents] to interact with students, allowing them to begin exploring what it means to write with an ear for readership and enter into conversations about ideas” (33)
  6. Have student ask questions and reflect on answers from primary sources: authors, scientists, historians
  7. Compare information from different sources
  8. Reflect on the process of determining which sources are trustworthy and which are not
  9. Structure ways to integrate reader response
  10. Extended topic of study and reflection

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Blogging Binds Critical Reading and Writing

April 6, 2008 at 7:33 pm (blog)

As I started exploring the topic of blogs in teaching and learning in more depth, and read about, and was reminded of, how audience and purpose lead to your format, I wondered if a blog is a genre or a format.  Richardson identifies blogging as a new writing genre which he calls connective writing which can include, but is not limited to any combination of  

  • personal reactions
  • reflections
  • links
  • summaries
  • annotations
  • creative writing
  • exposition

Richarson identifies that connective writing:

  1. forces bloggers to read carefully and critically because they are reading to find ideas to write about
  2. demands clarity in persuasion
  3. is intended for a large audience
  4. links to sources of ideas
  5. often begins with reading

“This, in turn, requires critical thinking skills as they consider their audience and clarify the purpose of the writing.”  Many times, one post is the synthesis of the reading of many texts, so bloggers must be able to find connections and articulate the relevance of those connections.  In composing the post, this genre of writing demands organization and clarity as well as a keen awareness of audience.  Also expected is the writer’s own reflections on or experience with the ideas she’s writing about” (31). 

I think Doug Noon takes this even a step further at his blog Borderland

…there’s more to blogging than just adding links to our writing.  Yes, linking is important.  Mainly, it allows us to extend a conversation by connecting one source with another….Doing that requires us to make judgements about how texts are related, and to take a position to one or another.  But that doesn’t happen just from linking.  The linking…facilitates criticism.  [my emphasis]

While not exclusive, for me the critical thinking would occur during the process of reading while the criticism takes place during the process of writing. 

“Throughout this process, bloggers are constantly making editorial decisions, and these decisions are more complex than those made when writing for a limited audience.  Because students are regularly selecting content to include or link to, they learn to find and identify accurate and trustworthy sources of information.  Because of a potential audience that goes beyond the classroom, they pay more attention to the editorial correctness of the post as well” (31).  Bleimes describes how even writers as young as first-graders take the writing process more seriously knowing that the blog is available for the whole world to read.

In contrast with traditional writing where publishing marks the final step of the process, Richardson says connective writing continues post publication.  The ability of readers to interact changes the purpose of the writing from a traditional closed completed piece of writing to a draft to be tested against an audience.  Konrad Glogowski calls this “transactional writing” to be interacted with, returned to and reflected upon.  Comments are most motivating when they come from the wider audience beyond the classroom. 

Steve Matthews puts it this way:

…the social side of blogging is where the value is.  Blogs aren’t magazine articles, and they’re not a simple diary – blogs are personal commentary with social networking baked in.  Tell me what you think, and tell me how you feel about it.  And whenever possible, link out to other bloggers and exchange ideas.  Every successful blog does this.  No excpetions.

One of my favorite parts of Richarson’s discussion is where he identifies the distinctions between traditional writing and blogging.  I write it here in the format of a found poem:

Writing stops; blogging continues.
Writing is inside; blogging is outside.
Writing is monologue; blogging is conversation.
Writing is thesis; blogging is synthesis. . .
none of which minimizes
the importance of writing. 
But writing becomes an ongoing process,
one that is not just done
for the contrived purposes
of the classroom (31).

Richardson quotes Ken Smith’s (2004) description of blogging:

Instead of assigning students to go write, we should assign them to go read and then link to what interests them and write about why it does and what it means, not in order to make a connection or build social capital but because it is through quality linking…that one first comes in contact with the essential acts of blogging: close reading and interpretation.  Blogging, at base, is writing down what you think when you read others.  If you keep at it, others will eventually write down what they think when they read you, and you’ll enter a new realm of blogging, a new realm of human connection” (33).

This directly connects to the Schmoker presentation I attended in the fall and the follow up reading from Results Now about having students read critically and respond in writing.  However, there was no mention, that I can recall, of blogging or any other Web 2.0 tools.

Richarson identifies, what I picture as, a hierarchy or continuum of the uses of blog sites.  Even though some use a blog to share information, this does not fit the definition of blogging.  Posting information, such as (1) assignments, (2) journalling the days activities, (3) posting links with (4) brief annotations to a blog is not blogging.  If the annotations are longer or more critical, it may then be the beginning of blogging.  Analyzing the meaning of the content that is linked to is simple blogging (5). Reflective writing and/or commenting (6), articulating the relationship between linked content with audience in mind (7) leads to complex blogging which involves analysis and synthesis over extended periods of time that builds on previous posts, links and comments (8).   

While I feel that I have engaged in reflective writing for the majority of my posts, it is only recently that I have been much more conscious of my audience as I receive more comments from people that I don’t know, which led to, what I referred to in a previous post as, “blog block.”  It is also only recently that I have begun to link to previous posts and to comments others have made on my blog.  To do this, you must have a large enough number of blog posts to be able to link to something that you have said before or discuss further at a later date, demonstrating how thinking or perception has changed as a result of new learning.  This week I am particularly aware of the possibility that those who I am linking to and quoting may pop by pushing me to ensure, even more so than before, that simple things as the conventions of writing are accurate and that I am clear in what I am trying to say so as not to be misinterpreted still keeping in mind that, “blogging is not about posting well thought-out entries, and that each entry does not need to present a definitive and complete view on a given topic.  Rather, . . . blogging is about engaging with ideas” (Glogowski).  I am definitely engaged with ideas, most of which I never knew existed three short months ago or how they related to teaching and learning.  In this course, I have learned the most I ever have in the shortest amount of time. 

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Blog Pedagogy Top 10

April 6, 2008 at 7:32 pm (blog)

Blog Pedagogy Top 10 courtesy of Will Richardson (2006).

  1. “A constructivist tool for learning” (27)
  2. Students contribute content to a growing body of knowledge
  3. Potential for audience is one of most important parts, expanding the classroom beyond its walls making collaboration more accessible and diverse
  4. Motivating
  5. “Create a signifcant shift in the way we think about the assignments and work we ask of our students in the first place” (28)
  6. Archives facilitate reflection and metacognition
  7. Supports differentiation by accomodating different learning styles, preferences, abilities and intelligences (Gardner)
  8. “Everyone has a voice in the conversation, and all ideas, even the instructor’s, are given equal presentation in the blog” (27); (Bleimes)
  9. Focus reading and writing to develop topic-specific expertise creating a database of learning
  10. Teach students the ability to research, manage, analyze, synthesize – new literacies for 21st century learners

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A Blog Buffet

April 6, 2008 at 7:31 pm (blog)

I called this the post a blog buffet, kind of like a potluck, because there are many different ways that blogs can be “served up” in teaching and learning. 

1. Class Portals and E-Portfolios communicate class information and archive course materials such as the syllabus, handouts, rubrics and completed assignments creating a digital filing cabinet and e-portfolio for student reflection.  Students can use it to find out their homework or print another copy of a class handout; assignments never go missing and students can always find out their homework, particularly if they are absent.  It also provides an outlet for communication between school and home, including extended family as blog updates can be subscribed to using an RSS feed. 

For some of the student benefits to come to fruition, all students would need to have regular computer access.  Not all students have computers at home so lab time would need to be provided.  Ideally, one-to-one laptops would make a paperless classroom a more likely outcome.  I don’t think it would be possible with only limited lab access.  A blog portfolio does provide the added advantage of being searchable if students know how to tag their posts. 

2. Collaborative Space

Blogs provide a collaborative space not only for interaction between students and their teacher but allow experts to come into the fold whether it is a historian, scientist, writer or mathematician.  It is not limited to core subjects as musicians and athletes could also interact with students via individual student blogs, a class blog or a school blog. 

I like this real world example of blogging as a form of peer review.  A professor posted sections of the draft of his latest book for praise and criticism.  The authors he critiqued shared their thoughts which, in the end, will improve the book.  Further,

Comments I might have brushed aside, not fully understanding their import, instead became the starting points for exchanges that revealed significant issues I must address in my revisions.  [my emphasis]

Blogging provides the benefit of time-shifting as commenters of all ages can do so “on their own time, in their own way.”  Because of the comments, the blog leads to better writing.  This strategy is not for everyone as some would prefer to read the whole book at once rather than reading it discontinuously; because books are a different format they may not serialize well into a blog. 

Will Richardson quoted the following from a response from Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, who followed the student blog discussion of her book.  The part I italicized exemplifies integration of technology that leads to liberating social interactions as well as a learning experience that is mutually beneficial for the student and the teacher, or in this case the author-mentor (Subramaniam, 2007).

What fun for the author to listen in on your discussions and see the wonderful and provocative artistic interpretations that you’ve created.  The experience has opened my eyes to new ideas bout my own work! (25)

Richardson summarizes by saying “…blogs are a collaborative space, as readers become a part of the writing and learning process.”  Further, “…the blog…allow[s] us to build a community around collaborations, and…enhance[s] the depth of our curriculum” (25). 

This doesn’t happen by accident.  As Konrad Glogowski summarizes in a blog post dedicated to moving Towards Reflective BlogTalk,

…when we talk about blogging, most of us focus on writing.  We tend to ignore the fact that a class blogging community provides teachers with a valuable opportunity to use informal instructional conversations to engage our students as thinkers and writers.  These conversations can help our students immerse themselves in the rich tapestries of voices that characterize blogging communities.”

Glogowski constructed a Ripple Effect sheet where students can analyze and discuss characteristics of a post they select as having been particularly successful, identifying what make it appealing to their peers and the impact it had on them.  This assists students to look discerningly at their work and seem themselves “as a member of a larger community of thinkers.”  Peers take on “readerly roles” as well as role of editor.  One student, for example, came to their own realization upon reflecting on their work and the comments of others that their work would benefit from proofreading. 

This is a very important realization for a thirteen-year-old student.  It’s a realization that I could have tried to drill into his head by printing and then underlining or circling all the careless mistakes that he had made in his entry.  I did not do that.  But I did not abdicate my role as teacher either.  I merely adapted my presence to work within a class community of writers.  In other words, I chose not to say anything.  I chose not to directly address Terry’s carelessness because I knew that the community I had helped created would step in and make Terry aware of this problem….I believe…that creating a  community of reflection and support that the student can depend on for timely and accurate feedback that can replace, or at least complement, the role of the teacher is more important and effective than maintaining my authoritatian voice of the expert.        

This is something that has evolved in my own classroom through peer feedback and peer editing followed by reflection during Writers’ Workshop.  I like how blogging can be a further extension of community that is already established. 

The Ripple Effect sheet also allows for individuals to reflect on how the posts of fellow bloggers impacted them by answering the following questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • How did you respond?
  • How big a ripple did this cause in your own understanding of the topic?
  • Was there a ripple effect in our community? 
  • Did people respond?  If so, how? 
  • Did this writer help you grow as a thinker, a writer?  Why?  How? 

3. Professional Development and Knowledge Management

Blogs provide a way for colleagues to

  1. Communicate internally within a subject area, department, grade level or committe
  2. Archive minutes
  3. Promote the continuation of the discussion beyond face-to-face
  4. Incorporate links and attach documents
  5. Identify and share best practices

4. The benefits of using a blog as a School Website or School Library Website include:

  • updating easily – each time the site can be reinvented
  • increased communication with parents and community either by visiting the blog or subscribing through an RSS feed; doubling as a tool for advocacy
  • post pictures and student work with permission
  • include a yearly calendar

Even though there may be many contributors, Richardson maintains that there should still be one person that oversees the site.  The school website helps to build, support and maintain the ties of the school community like Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Online or one of the many school library blogs listed at the Blogging Librarians Wiki and the accompanying blogwithoutalibrary (or is it the other way around?), a blog dedicated to what libraries can do with blogs.  By engaging students in the design it is more likely that students will visit rather than the librarian only posting for themself.    

5. Blogs As Resources

While blogs exist on every topic imaginable, it is critical that students learn how to evaluate them and determine if the author is someone who is trustworthy.  Richardson suggests three things:

  1. Who is the author? – profession, title, level of expertise? 
  2. What is there reputation?  The more an anonymous blogger is linked to, the more reputable they are.  While 100 links is a good guage, blogs with fewer links may also be reputable and those with more than 100 links may not.
  3. Who’s on the blogroll?  Who does the blogger follow?  Who comments on the blog? 

I don’t know how I came across this post but I thought it provides an interesting take on uncovering untruths.  When making introductions during the first class of an economic course, a professor indicated that every meeting he would weave in one lie.  The students were obviously taken aback by this and, initially, the misinformation was easy to identify.  Over the duration of the course, the untruth became less and less obvious.  The blogger reflected on how engaged the class was in the content, which tended to be somewhat dry, because they had to listen and review content with a critical eye.  I think this same story could be shared with students and provide a perspective for them on not only blog reading but reading of all types and not just on the internet.  People may not knowingly share falsehoods.  Rather, they could be the result of not taking a critical stance in the first place. 

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Finding a Blog Balance

April 6, 2008 at 7:31 pm (blog)

What Is A Blog?

According to Will Richardson (2006),

“a Weblog [or blog] is an easily created, easily updateable Website that allows an author (or authors) to publish instantly to the Internet from any Internet connection.  The earliest blogs were literally ‘Web logs’ or lists of sites a particular author visited on any given day” (17).

In contrast to edublogs for professional development, “teenagers use these sites more as social tools than learning tools, and…their behavior is sometimes reckless.  As a result, “…the powerful instructional uses of the tool are being at best ignored and at worst not even being considered” (20).  This reminds me of a slide in one of Valenza’s reformed powerpoints, at her informationfluency wiki, that says “While we look out for the safety of our students, we must also protect their access to the information and communication tools they need to learn effectively.”  Here intellectual freedom and student safety are on two sides of the same coin. 

This reminds me of a post at Seth Godin’s blog where he discusses the need for an online presence which replaces a traditional resume.  Employers can read a blog, for example, and make a decisions based on what they read that demonstrates the ability of a potential candidate to question, think critically and reflect thoughtfully.  If we don’t provide students with the opportunity to play with these tools, become comfortable with them and use them to demonstrate skills of a 21st learner, are we preparing them for what future employers will demand that they be able to do? 

Richardson states that what teenagers often do is journalling rather than blogging which is an important distinction to make when implementing blogging into teaching and learning because “thinking in words [is] not simply an accounting of the days events or feelings” (20).  And, danah boyd, long-time LiveJournal user specifies when she was asked to be on the LJ advisory board, “My private LJ is going to remain private, but will be my new public LJ,” yet another distinction to make with students.   It is important for teachers be aware of these distinctions, communicate them to students and provide exemplars so that students don’t fall into the trap of journalling their daily activities.  Blogging requires thoughtful reflection, connecting, analysis, critical thinking and synthesis. 

Richardson identifies the following benefits of blogs:

  1. Doesn’t require any knowledge of code or FTP
  2. Reflections and conversations are updated rather than static
  3. Engage readers with ideas, questions and links, asking readers to think and respond: they demand interaction

Speaking from experience, I am grateful I no longer need to know code or use an offline software package to create and FTP updated pages.  This is something that I no longer look forward to doing.  Knowing that there is an engaged blog audience encourages one to update regularly.

Referring to Eide Neurolearning Blog (2005), Richarson also identifies that blogs promote:

  1. Critical and analytical thinking
  2. Creative, intuitive and associational thinking
  3. Analogical thinking
  4. Increased access and exposure to quality information
  5. Solitary reflection and social interaction at the same time

Since I have started blogging I have definitely been more critical, analytical and sometimes even analogical as I make connections between new reading and prior knowledge.  Because of the RSS feeds that I collect via Bloglines I have a steady stream of new information from experts in the edtech field – Warlick, Richardson and Valenza to name a few – that push my thinking into new territories.  I enage in social interaction via the comments, although, this is an area that I wish to improve upon, particularly when I read that every comment I receive should be commented on. 

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