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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“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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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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