Are Student Really Failing Because of T.T.G.?

February 1, 2010 at 5:50 am (blog, professional_learning, twitter)

I learned of the article “Students failing because of Twitter, texting and no grammar teaching via Twitter as I did another article yesterday.  It discusses the insidious nature of sentence fragments and  inappropriate emoticon abbreviations into University papers…and even into letters of academic appeal.  Maybe I have become an eternal optimist (rather than a realist like I used to be) but I don’t see this as the case.

I use a Writers’ Workshop model.  I first learned of it when I began teaching more than a dozen years ago.  It is based on the work of Nancie Atwell.  Students are provided with the opportunity to select what they wish to write about and what format they wish to write it in.  Sometimes, I will provide some sort of basic guideline i.e. we are going to submit this to a writing contest so it must fulfill these criteria or we are going to compile all of your pieces into a magazine that we are going to base upon a central theme.  So, kids care about what they are writing about becasue they get to select it!  And, I meet with them, conference and model sentence structure (eg. this is a fragment or this could be combined into a more sophisticated sentence) and grammar (eg. you switch from past to present to past verb tense again).  Grammar outside of a meaningful context, such is the case with worksheets, is not going to serve to correct the errors of sentence structre and conventions.  I also remind students of formal (eg. writing in school) vs. informal (eg. facebook updates) writing.  We brainstorm a list of distiguishing characteristics so that they own it…and there is much more to this list than simple emoticons!

Further, I can’t even keep track of how many authors I have heard speak that tell me they can’t spell to save their life and thank goodness for grammar and spell checkers and their amazing editors!  So, is the sentence structure, grammar and emoticons the issue…or is it that students need to be reminded / taught to proofread?  Or that they need to be presented with a meaningful real-world writing challenge?

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Revisiting Creating & Connecting

January 31, 2010 at 7:31 am (blog, podcasting, professional_learning, twitter, wikis)

Just learned about “Schools lost and puzzled with multitasking and ubiquitous media” via heyjudeonline‘s Twitter.  The opening quote goes like this:

“The average young American spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using electronic media.”

This quote reminds me of something that I’ve heard one of my Teacher-Librarian colleagues say the last couple times I saw her: when our students come to school, we expect them to disconnect.  It’s like cutting off their arms!  Yet, as I sit in PD sans laptop or Blackberry or iPhone (not because I don’t want to use the technology but because I don’t have it – it’s difficult to take my desktop PC to PD), taking notes with traditional pen-and-paper technology, the majority of adults there with me do not disconnect.  They are constantly checking their phones or typing away on their laptops.

This made me think about something I blogged way back in March 2008.  It was after I had read a study from The National School Board Association’s entitled “Creating and Connecting” (pdf).  The report talked about non-conformists which I equated to Malcolm Gladwell’s early adopters rather than (traditional) rule-breakers. 

Which brings be back to our highly connected students and how they must disconnect at school.  Up to this point I have been quite grim in this post.  But I see glimmers.  My own experience: If you provide students with engaging real-world tasks or challenges, ones that they know will be published to the world wide web to add to the body of worldly knowledge, they will rise to the occasion.  My most recent experiences were related to publishing Writers’ Workshop pieces (a la Nancie Atwell) and submitting them to a writing contest, a pdf online magazine and a wiki for the world wide web to read.  Knowing that these pieces are for the world, student ensure that their pieces are polished and on time – they don’t want to be the one that hasn’t met deadline (kind of like a traditional newspaper deadline)!

Outside of my own school, I have another middle school example as well as a high school example.  In the first, students are using a version of a Moodle to collaborate on a planetary project – which they learned about in a very official letter to which they were to solve a problem and rise to the challenge.  Many chose to report back via a webpage.  And at this school it is the norm for students to have a variety of differentiated technological and learning style options to demonstrate their learning. 

In the high school setting, both an English teacher and Biology teacher are using Google Apps via a student portal in their paperless classes.  Both teachers commented on how students don’t lose things and always have access via an internet connection regardless of where they are.  Students commented on how they have never felt more organized.  No more missed assignments/handouts if a student has been absent as everything is available via the student portal.  Also, when reading students writing, teachers are able to make revising or editing suggestions in a different color so that it is very evident what the teacher’s feedback is – and it can be compared to the student’s original version as it tracks all changes like a wiki. 

I really can’t believe that it has been almost two years since I initially explored Web 2.0 tools.  Back then I wondered how I could possible be so oblivious to all the tools.  I had heard of blogging and wikipedia and had my own students blog – albeit in a very elementary way.  Until you really immerse yourself in which ever of the tools that you wish for your students to use – be it blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc – you really don’t know their power.  And, this is particularly the case if you don’t interact with people via the social web that is afforded to you as part of these tools – comments from unknown strangers who share similar interests and are compelled by what you say to comment on what you have published to the WWW – kind of like I did today as I haven’t blogged since May of last year!

Yes, students are connected today like they never have been before.  If we do not harness the power of their skills in this area, they will disengage.  They are able to use some of the tools, although, not all consider the benefits and consequences.  At school, we can purposefully engage them in meaningful learning and unassemble the walls that confine us in our classrooms.  The walls come down and the world comes in!

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Hyperlink Literacy

September 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm (blog)

During the Spring Session, right after I finished the online class for which this blog constituted the main portion of the course work, I enrolled in a face-to-face class.  I had every intention of continuing to post here.  My plan had been to post the reflections I wrote before, during or after each class. 

At first, I really struggled because I found I wanted to include hyperlinks in my hand written or typed reflections.  In some cases I did in the pre-session responses to selected chapters from the course text.  However, these were lost when they appeared simply as underlined text when printed in hard copy form for hand written comments from the instructor.  I assume the instructor wondered why I would underline such things.     

Another major difference between the in class reflections and posting online is the scope of the audience.  There were only a handfull of us in the class.  As such, the audience was very small and intimiate.  Because of this, one is more comfortable revealing thoughts and feelings, ones that may be misinterpreted in the wider forum of the blog.  Sometimes taking the form of streams of consciousness, my reflections would have required much editing to make them blog worthy, time that I did not have to devote.  Besides, I suspect that in doing so, what made the hand written reflections effective would be lost, or at the very least, lead to weaker writing.  

I thought a lot about this while taking the Spring Session course, however, it is the benefit of the summer break, and an article that I finished reading Monday, that finally brought me to solidify my thinking here, not to mention my goal to post on a more regular basis.  Tiffany Hunt and Bud Hunt wrote an article in the September 2007 issue of the EJ on the web called “Linkin’ (B)Logs: A New Literacy of Hyperlinks. 

In it they write:

In terms of professional development, I have learned more from blogging and the community of readers and writers I have met than I have learned anywhere else.

I agree with this in part, the part where I have learned a lot from blogging, the actual writing of the blog.  In fact, the Web 2.0 inquiry that I was engaged in and blogged about led me to learn the most I ever have in the shortest time span ever.  While I have received written comments from people who read my blog, and learn much from reading the blogs of others, I feel that because I have not kept my blog up to the degree of other edubloggers I have not developed the community that Hunt and Hunt talk about. 

At the end of the school year, I met with an old friend with whom I worked on many telecollaborative projects, ones in the vein of the work of Judi Harris of Texas.  We talked a bit about blogging, as it was in sharing the link to my blog that led us to get together for dinner one evening.  She mentioned that she had registered and set up a blog to see how to do it.  She commented on how easy it was.  It was then that I made, what I thought to be, a very bold statement, one that is very true. 

You must blog to understand blogging.

Blogging is hard work but it is also very rewarding.  It takes time and practice to get good at it and I am afraid that I have become rusty.  I picture my blogging like a boom and bust cycle with its ups and downs.  Yet, as I wrestle with ideas, reflect and compose, I am invigorated at the same time!

Even though I seemed to end up doing it anyway, I think I would have found the three categories of blog post types that Hunt and Hunt talk about helpful when I first started blogging.  I’ve described them a bit differently then they were in the article.

  1. Questions, research findings and learning.
  2. Self-reflection and metacogition
  3. Read, reflect and respond to peers, quoting when appropriate. 

At this point, I am reminded of when I first started Literature Circles with my classes.  It took quite a few years to fine tune the process.  Hunt and Hunt talk about the same thing when assisting students in writing their own blogs.  It takes a while to figure out how to instruct students in how to write effective blogs. 

We can’t learn how to write connectively, to get into blogging, without first learning how to make those connections….Much as we want them [students] to understand how hyperlinks work for them as readers, I want students to appreciate the value and power of hyperlinking as a composition tool.

This is where I find the articulation of four types of connections also helpful.

  1. Connecting to locations eg. people, places, events
  2. Connecting to ideas eg. quotes, sources
  3. Connecting to self eg. conneting to earlier blog posts you wrote
  4. Connecting for attention eg. knowing that there is a possibility that someone is keeping an eye out for when they are quoted or referenced may lead to them responding. 

I see this as a continuum of increasing sophistication.  Connecting to locations and ideas is the easy part.  Unless you have blogged for a while, you probably won’t be connecting to yourself very much.  At least, I didn’t.  I started connecting to my own blog posts after blogging for several months.  While I didn’t purposely connect for attention, when I received responses from those whom I linked to, they certainly had my attention!  It make me much more conscious of my audience when I was writing.

I think Hunt and Hunt end with an important reminder:

I am seeking . . . to teach blogging, the verb, and not just writing blogs, the plural noun. 

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“Dormant Season”

August 22, 2008 at 10:17 am (blog, professional_learning)

Unfortunately, I only have one page of an article that I read in the English Journal and it doesn’t tell me which issue it was.  I do know that Connie M. Brass of Richfield School District wrote this and I feel it acurately describes my last four months.  It reminds me of how Joyce Valenza talks about concepts and metaphors and reformed PowerPoints.

Like a garden with its seasons of planning, planting, nurturing, harvesting, and rest, my mind must have its dormant season.  Every summer I validate what I learned early in my teaching career: to revitalize for the coming year, I must unwind ….  I set aside all school related work and thought (as much as is possible for a teacher) …. I catch up on all the household and personal chores that I’ve put off during the school year. 

Although I’m getting a little ahead of myself, still thinking about quotes, I love the idea of quoting a student’s own writing and inserting it into a fortune cookie to give to them at the end of the year.  (Willard, N.  Editor’s choice: The cookies of fortune.  College english, 61(2), 167-8).

I can’t make any promises but I hope to get back into a blogging routine.  I just read somewhere, we may not have time to read but that never stops us from finishing a good book.  Similarly, we may not have time to blog but something compells us to write.  When I re-read the above quote I thought, hey, that would be a good way to get back into blogging, something I wasn’t sure how I was going to do.

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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 Think.com and Imbee.com, 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 del.icio.us 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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