Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Looking forward to the next semester

I am excited about this new semester. My intermediate reading students will be reading two books by Thomas Merton about the Psalms. We are going to have a class blog where we will post summaries of the reading we have done, daily class logs, and whatever else I come up with. I am going to require posts to the blog instead of having them type the same information up and print it out. I am also going to require comments. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I am on my way!

My advanced writers, if I have any, will also blog. I haven't quite figured out how. I think I will move some of their journaling to the blog. We will also be reading a novel, and I may track their progress on it through the blog. I obviously have a lot of thinking to do on this class still!

Last semester's blogging was good in that it acquainted the students with the concept and with blogger. But that is about all it did for them. They never really got blogging. My goal this semester is to help them/us build a sense of community on a class blog. If they achieve that, they will be much, much closer to understanding what blogging really is and what it can do for them. I will be extremely happy if we get to that point!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What do you want your kid to do?

As the mother of an 18 yr old who is occasionally trying to find some direction in his life, I really appreciated Kathy Sierra's post about career advice. I am so sad to see the number of kids who feel at 14 or even 18 that they have to know exactly what they want to do when they are 40!

Only one of my three children knew what they wanted to do by 18 or so. And even she has altered the picture somewhat. (She is a nurse.) Her sister at that age wanted to be a doctor one day and a diesel mechanic the next. She designed her own Bachelor's degree in "Sustainable Communities" and then decided she didn't want to work with non-profits. At 24 she decided she wanted to go to law school. Since starting law school she has become less sure about the kind of law she wants to practice. And my son? He may want to be a game designer or a chef or a librarian. Or something else.

Kathy says:
The advice I would give ... is that the most important preparation skills/orientations today are:

* Creativity

* Flexibility

* Resourcefulness

* Synthesis

* Metacognition (thinking about thinking)

I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I guess I was lucky. Or maybe just not brave enough to think outside the box. But in my life I have had to be creative and flexible and resourceful. In addition to teaching a variety of subjects Pre-K through college , I have also worked as a bookkeeper, a nursing assistant, a mental health technician, an egg handler, a health club receptionist, a drug store cashier, and probably a few other things I can't remember right now. Right now I am teaching at a college. But what will I be doing in 10 years? Who knows?

As Kathy says, this isn't the the world of the parents of the 1950s, the world of my parents. We need to encourage our kids -- and ourselves -- to take Kathy's advice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

As the semester comes to a close...

I find myself trying to see what actually transpired in my classroom. It hasn't been a particularly stellar semester, but I am trying to not get bogged down in the negative. I am looking for some of the good and trying to figure out how to improve the rest.

I didn't give my students a fair shot a blogging this semester. It was complicated by switching blog providers mid-semester. But I just never managed to convey my enthusiasm for blogging to my students. But you know, I never really shared my blog with them, either. Maybe I will set up a class blog for the next semester. Maybe participating in it together will help them see the communal nature of blogging more easily.

I haven't worked this out in my mind yet, of course. As a matter of fact, the idea just came to me now as I was writing. But I can see advantages.

Mostly, though, I have to work on setting it up so they will want to blog. I have to help them see the value in it. I didn't achieve that goal this semester. Hope I do better next time!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What is wrong with us?

If you read the Washington Post report on the student who was expelled for answering a question in Spanish, I hope you are asking yourself that question.

I can see encouraging students who are learning English to speak the language, but this kid was bilingual. What harm does it do? We should be praising him for being able to speak two languages. But instead, we expel him.

This is old thinking. Native Americans used to be punished for speaking their languages in school. Mexican Americans were often punished for the same thing. But that was 30 or more years ago. Have we really learned nothing?

Check out the article if you haven't yet.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

But I am grateful for so many things.

The last post was very depressing, and it is important that you know that most of the time everything is pretty good and I am doing pretty well. The problems we have here are minor compared to what people in many parts of the world experience on a daily basis. I have no real right to complain!

I am grateful for the fact that, even though it is maddening slow, there is progress. Things are improving. Everyone that I know personally is OK. Some have lost their jobs; others have lost their homes; a few have lost both. But they are alive. That is a blessing. My family and I have a place to live and jobs to go to. Everything else is really pretty trivial!

I am also grateful to the many friends from around the world who have taken time to write to me or to leave comments here since Katrina. It is nice to know that people I have never met face to face care enough to send a good word or ask a caring question. Part of the difficulty for us in this recovery process is that everyone around us is in the same boat or worse. There is no one here who can really lend a hand or even an ear because everyone has their own situation to deal with. So you are all especially important to me right now.

I hope to get back to blogging on a regular basis. It is important to me. Thank you for reading and sharing.

To give you an idea of what we live with still...

People are always asking me if life here is back to normal yet. Surely, here on the north side of the lake where there was not as much devastation as in New Orleans, things are back to normal! Well, it is 8:35 am. Let me tell you about my day so far.

I got up and got ready for work. I live about 3 miles from the college where I teach, and the trip takes me 5-7 minutes. Well, I was about 2 minutes from work, on River Road, the little road the college is on, when I saw up ahead a lot of trucks and a big machine moving debris from the side of the road and loading it into the truck. There was no warning. They were just there. There were a number of other vehicles lined up along the road in front of me, but they were all trucks of workers involved in the project. I waited a couple minutes, but as there was no workman on my side of the work, no one knew I was there. Now, I have waited as much as 15 minutes for these guys to finish loading a truck before they let cars pass. I have also waited 15 minutes and still not seen any sign that they were going to let cars pass, so I have turned around and gone another way. I chose to leave after just a couple minutes today because it was pretty obvious they had a long ways to go before the truck would be filled. So I backed up, turned around and went back towards home. I had to wait a couple minutes to get back onto the highway because of all the traffic. Finally I was able to get on the highway and get to an alternate way to get to school. Everything was going well. I got back to River Road the college was on, or almost to it, when I saw a big truck -- a semi tractor pulling probably a 30 foot trailer that was built up to carry storm debris. I was on River Road and wanted to turn onto the road I was on. Now, you have to understand that these are not real roads. Two cars can pass on them, but there is no shoulder, so passing a truck that big requires caution. I waited and let the truck begin his turn -- because he gave no sign of waiting for me to do anything else. The turn is not a normal 90 degree turn but, from the side he was on, probably about 75 degrees. And there is, of course, a power pole right on the corner. He could not make it in one try or even two or even three. Finally, he recognized the fact that the truck would have to be perfectly positioned on River Road before it could hope to turn onto the smaller road I was on. So he played around and got the truck back on River Road. After a bit longer, he backed up enough to clear the intersection, and I was finally able to turn onto River Road and get to work. All this took about 30 minutes.

So, while I now have Internet at home, life is hardly normal. Or at least I hope this isn't normal. I am really tired of it. In all honesty, I think they should declare a moratorium on debris pick-up over here. That would help me get back to normal more than having all the debris picked up will. This formerly heavily wooded area will never be back to normal in my lifetime. All we can do is try to make life as easy on us as it can be.

Sometimes I think people who have evacuated feel that they are suffering more than those of us who are here now are. They feel a loss of community and experience a lot of nostalgia for how things used to be. They do not, however, have to deal with the fact that nothing works yet. Nothing. We may have the basic services, but we don't get the bills on time or we don't get them at all or they are totally wrong. Everything is a battle.

I didn't sleep well last night, and that may account for some of this, but my tiredness is deeper than lack of a good night's sleep. I am tired of the struggle that life here is now.

My friend Melanie wrote
I wish I could remember being light-hearted and happy, feeling attractive, being fun and flirtatious. I've gotten so old-hearted lately. I've lost my mirth. And I don't know how to retrieve it. Is innocence and joy ruined?
I understand completely. There is a heaviness in all of us that doesn't seem to want to go away.

So this is my life for now. I don't expect you to really be able to understand because I don't even, really. But I wanted to try to explain anyway. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And another apology

Well, after my moaning and groaning about the fact that we still don't have internet access at home 3 months after the storm -- I came home to find out that the cable company finally got here today to solve our problem! So we are back in business again! So this time I must apologize to Charter Communications for not believing them when they told us, yet again, that they would be out to take care of it. And I apologize to you all for taking up your time with this drivel!

An apology

Actually, I have no excuse for having been so negligent with this blog. I truly consider it a casualty of Katrina. I can only hope that I someday get regular Internet access at home again and get over this funk that I have been in. I am ready for normalcy again!

Thanks to any of you who are still willing to drop by or look at my feed. I appreciate it!

Friday, November 04, 2005

A blog you might like to read...

I just stumbled across a blog called After the Storm. It is written by a teacher from New Orleans who has been displaced to South Carolina. It is a wonderful read, and I encourage you to stop by and take a look at it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Teaching in a Lower Gear

If you haven't read this article on the NEA website, I recommend that you do. It reminds us of the value of slowing down our classes, taking time to really explore topics.

For me, I know that sometimes I allow myself to worry about my students not finishing the textbook or not writing as many essays as I had originally planned. Then I think about what we did instead. Maybe we had wonderful discussions about the topic being studied. Maybe we finally grasped some concept that had evaded us. Almost always there has been something of equal or greater value that has transpired.

I am lucky. I wrote the curriculum. My students don't have to take highstakes tests (except the TOEFL, but that is different). We have the luxury of taking or time and doing a good job rather than rushing through. Sometimes, though, I need to remind myself of that. This article helped to do that.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Links to my students' new blogs

Here are the links to my students' blogs here on Blogger. They like Blogger better already!


So far you have to have a blogger account to comment on their blogs. We may change that once they are used to the new site. Until then, I apologize for the inconvenience.


I finally gave up on journalspace and decided to move the students to Blogger. We are working on it right now. I will update the links here as soon as I can.

Where do the days go?

It has been over a week since I last posted. I honestly can't understand why. I am busy, but I think the biggest problem is still not having internet at home. I hope someday to get back in the swing of this.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Bud and others have been talking about the subject of filters ... something near but not-so-dear to my heart. E-school news has an interesting article on it that you might want to check out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

An example

I meant to include an example of cell phone failure in the last post. It will give you an idea.

I called my son, Parviz, yesterday. The first time I tried, it rang and then went to his voice mail. But instead of the male voice I was expecting, I heard a woman say, "You have reached the voice mail of Roz A..." I hung up, figuring she -- whoever she is -- wasn't going to get a message to my son. I tried a couple more times to get him, but I always got a "System is busy" message. Finally, I was able to make the call. It rang a couple times and then there was silence. I said, "Hello," and a woman's voice answered, "I'd like to speak to Terry, please." I explained that I had been trying to call my son. We hung up. Then I tried calling my son again. I got through this time. As I started to explain what had happened, he told me that he had answered that last call to him. His phone, instead of saying I was calling him, said that he was calling me. And when he said hello, he found he was talking to someone in a store somewhere.

That story, 100% true, is my life in a nutshell right now. Things like that seem to be happening on all fronts. So if I seem a little crazy these days... I probably am!

An update

Well, I guess it is time to give you an update on life in these parts. There really isn't much to say except that we are all still recovering. Those of us who suffered no real damage - and I am fortunate to be in that group - have the luxury of talking about how our cell phones don't work half the time and we still don't have cable. Others, of course, are not so lucky.

Time here is still screwy. We can't remember what day it is. Did something happen last week or three weeks ago? Now, normally I have a little problem that way (old age, I guess), but this is way beyond me and my normal forgetfulness. Things are not helped by the fact that a trip that used to take a half hour may now take an hour.

You have to think about what stores are open and what hours they are open. Most stores still aren't back to normal hours -- largely because there aren't enough employees to keep them open. The ones that are open (which is most of them), have trouble keeping items on the shelves because so many people have had to replace so much.

We are trying to retain a sense of humor, but for all of us from time to time, it gets old. We are short on patience. We want things to be easy again.

And then we hear the stories of more bodies found or someone's elderly relative having suffeed due to being evacuataed. Then -- if only for a moment -- we are grateful.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Links to my students' blogs

Well, here are the links to my students' blogs. We have a new student who started today, so his is empty at the moment, but it won't stay that way for long!




Also, they are now listed in a sidebar on this blog, for those of you who actually look at the blog!

Another glitch

Well, as you may know, I have chosen journalspace for my student blogs because it was the only site we could access at school with our regular ISP. (Things are different now because of Katrina, but I didn't want to set them up anywhere else in case we go back to the old ISP next semester.) Well, Bud just told me that he can't access the site at his school because it is blocked. I hope there won't be many people who have that problem.

Journalspace is really clunky to me -- probably just because I started here on Blogger. For instance, I had trouble figuring out how to get links to my students' blogs on my journalspace blog. And it says there is RSS feed, but I haven't gotten that straightened out on their blogs yet. Next semester, if it looks safe, I will set my students up here. It is so much easier.

But at least we are up and sort of running. I'm happy about that!

Monday, October 03, 2005

An invitation

Well, my students have started posting to their blogs, and it is quite exciting. They have really gotten the idea of publishing their work! They were writing stories for another class and told me that they wanted to post them on the wall outside the other class so others in the college could read them. I suggested that they post them to their blogs, and they are going to do it!

So here is the invitation: Come over to my blog at journalspace. In the top right corner is the list of our class blogs. Click on them and see what has been posted so far.

I guess I am going to have to go back in and look at how to set up RSS feeds for their blogs as I couldn't get it to work today when I tried to subscribe. I probably just need to have them change a setting. Until then, though, you can get to them easily through mine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Problems, problems

Well, my students have set up their journalspace accounts and have begun writing in them. They posted introductions and an essay about immigration. They are next supposed to be comparing their own personal immigration history to that of the group they wrote about before. They seem comfortable with the format, but I am not finding journalspace as comfortable and easy to use as blogger. So I am not sure what to do. I guess I will stick it out this semseter and then change to blogger -- assuming we can still access it then. Anyway, the students are almost ready to have visitors to their blogs. Once they are, I will let you know how to find them!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thanks again!

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you all again for your good wishes.

Of course, as I sit writing this, we are watching Rita closely to see where she will go. We are all hoping and praying that the forecasters are right and that she will go away from us -- almost anywhere as long as it isn't here. Of course, all the refugees from Katrina currently in Houston and elsewhere in Texas are right in the path of this one.

The people of New Orleans still need your good wishes and thoughts! And I know you will send them their way. Thanks!

A start ... at last!

Well, I have finally had my advanced students set up their blogs over at journalspace. While right now they could access any blog site, I decided to stick with journalspace since it was the only one they could access before -- and it may be the only one they can access again.

Today we just set the blogs up. They haven't posted to them yet -- that will come in a few days. I told them that I wanted to share their blogs with other people, friends of mine, and they seemed amazed. I also told them that, eventually, I want to share them with the college administration. I want them to take this seriously because if they mess up, it could cause lots of problems for future students. I am really sure, though, that they will be responsible and make me proud!

Now, this may seem like a lot of work and worry and bother for 2 students (Yes, I have only 2 advanced students!), but I am excited.

Once they are up and running, I'll let you know. The students won't be posting there a lot -- and some of it will be formal postings (responses to assignments and such). But I know they would appreciate your comments.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Update from my part of Louisiana

Well, we started classes today at the college. We are still running on generator power and there are no phones, but we have Internet -- although it is not real reliable right now. I am hopeful that I will be able to get my advanced students blogging, but I am not counting on anything at this point in time. I am just glad to see them again!

People here are in kind of shock. None of us can tell you much about the last two weeks. Many people still don't have power and/or water, and many people are not back in there homes yet -- and may never be. The good news is that things are moving forward. As gasoline and food have become more readily available and banks are opening up again, we can begin to take control of our lives again.

I am looking forward to getting back on here more regularly. I thank you for being patient with me in the meantime.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Thanks to you all

Many thanks to you all for your emails and comments inquiring about my safety after Katrina. We stayed in our house through the storm and got through it with nothing more than a blown out rear window on the car. We have no electricity or water, but we are fine. We have food and can haul water from the college where I work. Things are getting better every day.

I had to drive 30 miles to get internet, so it will be awhile before I post again, I'm afraid. I just wanted to let you know I am fine and that I will write again when I can.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What happened to me?

I don't know what happened this last week, but I am finally here to post again. Actually, I know what happened. Students arrived on campus; I had to test them; I had to finish getting things ready for the start of the semester. And now, of course, I get a two-day "reprieve" due to Hurricane Katrina since the start of the semester has been postponed in anticipation of her arrival. While I am glad for the extra time, I am not looking forward to the storm. But there is nothing I can do about it - except find my flashlights and candles - so I might as well sit back and relax.

Not knowing whether we will lose power or not, I don't know for sure when I will post again. Please forgive my absence.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Update on possibilities for my students

Well, I have thought a lot about it and talked to Anne and looked around, and I have decided that I am going to set my students up on journalspace this coming semester. It looks like it is the only (Wait, I don't want to say the B word! Someone might be reading!) site my students will be able to access. I am busy trying to get the semester planned out so I can get us started ass soon as classes start on the 30th. I'll let you know the addresses as soon as we have them set up.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More on blogging and professional development

Dave Warlick has a great post over at 2 Cents Worth talking about using blogs rather than discussion boards for collaboration among teachers. While I found the entire post interesting, there was one part that really attracted my attention. He said:
A teacher blog article comes from the person first, and the teacher second. Discussion boards are designed around topics. Blog environments are designed around people.

This idea of putting the person into a blog, and therefore, into the discussion that ensues, is a truly important one. How much of our professional life is spent without the person being present? In "professional development" situations we sometimes have a tendency to tune out entirely. But that isn't how blogging works. We are present if we blog. And we are present when we comment on the blogs of others. And when we are present, we can truly learn from one another and from ourselves.

As I write this, I just got through talking with Anne Davis about my blogging problems. This is just one example of collaboration that has arisen out of blogging. I feel sorry for anyone trying to teach who doesn't have blogging friends to bounce ideas off of. I couldn't do it without you all!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Looking forward to fall, continued

First of all, I'd like to thank Jo from over at The Open Classroom for commenting on my last post. It's funny what a comment can do. It lifts the spirits, points in a new direction, and just generally lets us know we are not alone out here.

Jo comments on Anne's post about things students might blog about. There are some really good ideas. I will have to think some about how to adapt them to my situation (college ESL), but I know I could do it.

So I am back to being more optimistic about this. I will have to make my decision soon because there is a lot to do to prepare for the semester, regardless of what I decide.

Anyway, thanks Jo and thanks, Anne!

Fall 2005 semester

The new semester is about to begin. Actually, classes don't start for 2 more weeks, but the final preparations for the semester have already begin.

As you may remember, if you have been reading this blog for awhile, the issue of getting my students to blog is one that is, at best, problematic. The seminary college where I teach is required to get its internet access through the archdiocese. Our students are bound by the same rules and limitations that apply to all Catholic schools (including elementary schools) in the area. And the archdiocese has seen fit to block blog sites.

I was optimistic that I might be able to get the students blogging on, but I have just discovered that it, too, is blocked.

Now, before you tell me that I might be able to get a particular site unblocked, let me tell you that I have considered asking for that. The problem that I see is that it is entirely possible that I might get it unblocked today but in a month or two or three they would decide to block it again. I am not sure I want to start my students blogging with that possibility hanging over our heads!

And, I must also point out, my students don't really have access to the internet except through the college. They live here as well as study here, and the only public access internet is at the public library, and it is difficult for my students to get there.

I haven't given up on this yet, but I am not overly optimistic, either. My main concern at this moment, I think, is trying to be sure that I would have a real way to use blogs in my classes if I can get my students blogging. It will be a lot of work to arrange, if it can be done, and I want to be sure it will be worth it. So I am really looking at what I normally do and seeing if I have real uses for blogs already or what I can do to create authentic uses for them. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago. I keep thinking about what Konrad over at the blog of proximal development had to say about not using blogs just to replace paper journals. I think I have some ideas, but I am not there yet.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and let you know where I am at in terms of getting my students blogging. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Learning Styles

Ula over at Blog, blog posted the results of her VARK questionnaire on learning styles. I decided to check it out myself. I was pretty surprised by the results of my test. I came out
  • Visual: 5
  • Aural: 1
  • Read/Write: 4
  • Kinesthetic: 3
Actually, I guess I wasn't all that surprised -- except that aural got one point. (I would have expected it to be lower!) What I noticed as I was taking the test, though, was that I answered some of the questions differently than I would have a few years ago. I used to automatically read everything before I would try anything new. Now I am much more likely to just get in there and try it. The change started with computers and has extended to other things as well. Interesting.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Community, blogging and professional development

Refelctive Teacher writes about blogging as a means of professional development. It is a good one. Check it out. I have been thinking about this all summer. I even wrote about here after I read this post by Anne.

Reflective Teacher includes some ideas from nb on what makes for a good professional environment. The first four on the list are:
1. A willingness to listen,
2. The confidence to admit one's own weaknesses and gaps in knowledge,
3. A willingness to share your ideas and understandings
4. Having confidence in the other member(s) to question and think critically about what you have to offer,
You can see where Reflective Teacher saw a connection to blogging, can't you?

Anyway, I am going to be reading both these blogs for some time to come because I think they have a lot to offer. Why don't you check them out?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

More on reading

This article from the Washington Post a few days ago talks about the lack of progress in reading by middle school students. In light of the article from USA Today I posted about earlier, I found it particularly interesting. The article did not discuss what the schools were going to do to help students. No, that isn't entirely accurate. It said:
For example, seventh- and eighth-graders might be enrolled in "power literacy" classes, ninth-graders in "expanding literacy."
That certainly doesn't sound like anything that would make me want to read, and I am fairly literate already! I don't imagine it would be much better for the struggling kids who are put in the classes.

I don't know, obviously, what the students in these classes are reading, but it seems that it would be worth talking about how the schools are trying to inspire kids to read, not just how they are going to drill them on reading skills and, possibly, test them more often.

From my experiences with my own kids and with students, they will read if you let them read things that they are interested in. It is obvious. We are more interested in eading something we choose to read rather than something we are forced to read. Why should kids be any different?

I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Wilhelm speak a few weeks ago, and he had some great suggestions on how to reach adolescent readers. None of them, I am sure, would be included in a "power literacy" class, although they should be! Wilhelm makes the point that kids need to see an immediate value to learning activities and that they seldom do. They too often think they are doing it for us, the teachers.

We have to get kids to see the value of what we are asking them to read. That, of course, presupposes that there is some value in it aside from completing the assignment or preparing for the test. If there isn't any real value for them, maybe we need to think about asking them to read something else. And this brings us back to the textbooks. Most of them contain things I wouldn't want to read! How can I force a student to read something even I am not interested in reading?

Reading and other things

A post over at The Endless Faculty Meeting refers to the USA Today article about schools killing reading for kids by making it too heavy and too lightweight at the same time. If you haven't read the article, please do. It makes the point:
It's time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that's paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry.

This is something we talked about some in our Advanced Institute this year: the influence of business in schools. We didn't talk as much as I would have liked about the textbook industry, though.

But what I found even more interesting in the article was:
The desire of school officials to make courses teacher-proof — to put more faith in bland compendiums than in the skill of teachers — is only getting stronger with the spread of high-stakes state exams.
I listened to my fellow participants in the institute talk about the new mandated curriculum they are forced to use and how they will, or will not, use it. That is what it boils down to: the school systems are so afraid of "failure" that they don't want to give teachers a chance to be creative. They want something they have been led to believe is foolproof.

I find this ofensive. It denies our standing as professionals. It implies that we do not know what we are doing. Schools are looking for something that will make all students successful, and I don't think they are going to find it. There is no one thing that will work for everyone. Good teachers know that.

How would I react if I were in this situation? I honestly can't say, but I hope I would be able to do what I felt was best for my students. I know you have to pick and choose your battles, so how do some of you deal with the issue of mandated curricula and the pressure to prepare kids for exams? How much do you use the required texts and how much do you supplement with more interesting or appropriate materials?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


I just set up a nicenet "class" for participants in the New Orleans Writing Marathon to post their pieces for response prior to publication in the anthology, and I realized that I haven't talked much aboutNicenet here in a long time.

With the SLWP Advanced Institute this summer I had opportunity to use Blackboard for the first time. I was struck by how I could do all those same things on Nicenet -- for free! Since many of the participants in the marathon just came for the marathon, setting them up on Blackboard became a very difficult task. Hence, the Nicenet home for those folks.

If you aren't familiar with Nicenet, it is worth a few minutes of your time to check it out. It is internet-based, so there is no software to download or host. It can be accessed from any computer with internet access. Also, there is "protection" for students because the classes are closed, and you need a class key to join. As the instructor, you have the key and give it to the students. You could also give it to their parents if you wanted. That would make students' work available to the parents. It could function as a way to communicate with parents and for parents to communicate with you.

I have used Nicenet for about 2.5 years now, and I continue to see new ways to use it. And, as I said, it is free. In those 2.5 years, I have received one message from them soliciting a donation. Because I so highly value it, I sent a small donation (very small, as donations go!) and have not heard from them again. That was over a year ago, I think.

I really can't speak highly enough of Nicenet. Please check it out!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Child's Play

I was quite happy to read this article from the Hunsville Times about a pre-K program in Alabama that is not designed to give students a head start academically but rather to prepare them socially for Kindergarten. The article says, in part:
"Play is children's work," said Pamela Patton, program specialist for federal programs for the Huntsville school system. "The play that they're doing leads to the skills required for kindergarten.... We're not trying to make them into little first graders"
How wonderful it would be if all young children had a chance to experience this kind of early education!

And it would be even more wonderful if we could learn to incorporate some of that attitude into all levels of education. Especially in elementary school, but also throughout their education, we would be well advised, I think, to put more emphasis on exploiting the natural curiosity of human beings and on allowing students to utilize their creativity. This is where student choice comes in. It makes teaching harder in some ways, but it is definitely more interesting than teaching to a test.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

As the new semester approaches...

I find myself at the point of trying to work out what my students and I are going to do. I want blogging to be part of it, so I was interested to read first James Farmer's post How NOT to use blogs in education, in which he says
Almost invariably the first thing people do when encountering new technologies is to try and get it to do what the technologies they are used to do and this is no exception when it comes to blogs.
Good insight and something I want to remember. So, he says not to try to use blogs as a discussion board, and he doesn't like group blogs at all.

More good insight on what NOT to do can be found over at The Blog of Proximal Development, where he says
Do not use blogs to replace writing or reader-response journals. If the only goal is to get students to write online what they would otherwise put in their notebooks, it's probably not worth the hassle. Blogs can do much, much more. Use blogs to enhance personal journals. Take advantage of the community-building potential. Let students work as a group of individual writers.

I think their advice is good, but I am not sure where it leaves me. Fortunately, James Farmer follows up with a post How you SHOULD use blogs in education He makes one point that I find quite useful. He says
You must incorporate blogs as key, task driven, elements of your course.
It sounds almost obvious, but I don't think it is.

So here I am trying to find a reason for my students to blog rather than journal and a way to make blogging a key part of my class. Interestingly enough, I think I can find more reasons to blog in my reading class than in my writing class. But maybe I just need to put more thought into it. As I said, I am just getting to the point of actually trying to figure it all out for the fall.

Would anyone care to share how they are going to use blogs in the fall?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Anne does it again!

Why is it that every time I get a good idea, I discover that Anne has had it, too -- and usually a step or two ahead of me? I'm glad, though, because she develops it and expresses it so much better than I could. This time it is the idea of using blogs for professional development. If you haven't read her post, please do.

Actually, Anne's spin is a little different than mine. I have been thinking a lot about how my colleagues, at least as far as professional development is concerned, are the bloggers out there who share their insights with me. We enter into conversation, and I learn a lot. I wish I worked at a school where everyone was willing to investigate a question dealing with education and share their findings with the group, but I don't. We aren't required to do any professional development. So I turn to you, my readers, and to the people whose blogs I read to discuss my questions with me. I thank you for contributing to the conversation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm back from New Orleans

It was a wonderful three days. The writing was slow the first day, but yesterday it all seemed to flow. My focus was there, and I accomplished a lot.

In addition to writing with my fellow Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project people, we had the opportunity to write with writing project people from Oregon, New York, Colorado, and Vermont, in addition to many who came from other parts of Louisiana.

I am too swamped tonight with work for tomorrow and too tired from pushing myself for three days to post much more tonight. I just wanted to say hello and let you know I'll be back in the swing of things tomorrow or Friday.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

See you in a few days

I will be gone for a few days. I will be at the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project's New Orleans Writing Marathon. We will be in the French Quarter for three days writing with people from around the country. I will computerless for the duration, so it will be Thursday, probably, before I post again. Sorry you can't all be with us for this truly inspiring event.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Grammar in the writing class

Joanna asked about the circmstances in which I teach writing. All my students are English language learners. I am working on integrating grammar most in my advanced class, but it is a goal across levels.

I have so much to learn about this. One thing I need to remember is how much my students know about writing and about English grammar when they come to me. So just opening the grammar book and doing exercises 1-7 is kind of silly. I have found that when students read their work aloud, they are often able to correct their own mistakes. And then in conferences, I will point out to them a word or phrase that contains a problem, and they are quite often able to correct it themselves. This is even true of my beginning students.

In the fall I am hoping to do much more individualized or small-group grammar instruction, depending on the probelms different students seem to have. I am struggling to find a way to get them to apply the grammar that they "know" to their writing. It is a struggle.

Does anyone have any good ideas on how to do this?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

SLWP Advanced Institute, Days 2 & 3

Well, yesterday was the second day of the institute. I made my presentation. Since I was to get participants to discuss some of the issues involved in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) in mainstream classes, I had asked Mr. McNamar over at The Daily Grind if I could use his summer school post in which he talks about his experiences with ELLs this summer. He graciously said that I could. I handed out copies of the post and read it aloud. I explained the conversational nature of blogging and then asked students to write "comments" for Mr. McNamar. Everyone was sympathetic, many having had a similar experience. They raised good questions (Does anyone else in the class speak the same language as the student in question? Could you find another book covering the same material that the student might understand better?). They were encouraging, telling him to try everything and anything and noting that the fact that he was asking the question was a good thing. In and around the reading of the comments, we had some great discussion. I encouraged them to actually post the comments to The Daily Grind, but I don't know that anyone will. (EXCITING UPDATE: One of them actually posted to The Daily Grind! Of course, she is a blogger herself, so itwas a natural thing for her to do!) All in all, though, I was quite happy with the way it went.

Today I only had to bring food and participate in the discussion and, of course, do some writing. I worked on a piece I had started the other day about integrating grammar instruction into the writing classroom. I have an idea for a piece on blogging as professional development. I hope to get at least a start on that one tomorrow.

It is so good to spend the whole day with writers!

Monday, July 18, 2005

SLWP Advanced Institute, Day 1

Today was the first day of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project's Advanced Institute. It was a great day! We had three presentations, guided inquiries into topics related to teaching. Then we did some serious writing. After that we got into our response groups to read and comment on the writing.

Since this is only a two week institute, we have to really hit the ground running. I am glad to be writing with other writers. And I am learning from the guided inquiries.

Tomorrow I do my presentation on teaching English Language Learners in the regular classroom. We will be looking at different situations and trying to figure out what is going on under the surface. I will be using a post from The Daily Grind as part of it. I'll let you know tomorrow how it went.

I wish everyone could have this opportunity. Please check out the writing project in your area, if there is one.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Using film in class

Over at The Endless Faculty Meeting a few days ago there was a post about classic film trailers that can be used for educational purposes. The trailers are part of the Digital History website and can be found here.

As an ESL teacher, I am constantly looking for prompts and activities for my students and I think this is going to be great! Some of the movies aren't "classic" or "historically significant" in my opinion, but so what? They have clips from films like "Gold Rush", "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "The Littlest Rebel" alongside more modern films such as "Big", "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Rising Sun". I know I will be using this site a lot this coming year. Why don't you check it out?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Preparation for the SLWP 2005 Advanced Institute

Bud asked me the other day about our advanced writing institute. While it doesn't actually start until Monday, we are all working to prepare for it already.

This year the advanced institute will be run a little differently than it has been in the past. Each of us has selected a book related to education and/or writing to read prior to the institute. During the mornings of the first week of the institute, we will lead guided inquiry sessions on the issues raised by the books. Being an ESL teacher, the book I chose was Myths and Realities: Best Practices for Language Minority Students by Samway and McKeon. It is an interesting book, and I think it will be helpful to the participants in the institute who have not yet had English Language Learners in their classrooms. At least I hope it will.

In the afternoons, we will be writing. I will be glad to have the time to do that. I have about four projects in mind but I have taken them no further. Hopefully by the end of the two weeks I will have made progress on at least one of them.

The second week of the institute we will spend 3 days in New Orleans doing a writing marathon. This is always a magical experience. As usual, writers from across the country will be joining us. I am really looking forward to it!

And, of course, we will produce an anthology of our best writing from the institute. We will actually be finishing that up after the institute itself ends.

I am really looking forward to the institute and to taking/having the time to write. Since I started blogging in January, most of my writing has been done here. While I am happy that I have been able to sustain this blog for what is now 136 posts, I need to do more and different writing.

As the institute progresses, I will give updates. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Those who can... teach

Once again Kathy over at Creating Passionate Users has struck a chord with me in her post Ten Tips for New Trainers/Teachers. She said, in part,
Just because you've used lots of software doesn't mean you can write code. Just because you've been in lots of buildings doesn't mean you can be an architect. And just because you've logged a million frequent flyer miles doesn't mean you can fly a plane.

But if that's all ridiculously obvious, why do some people believe that just because they've taken classes, they can teach? (Or just because they've read lots of books, they can write one?) The problem isn't thinking that they can do it, the problem is thinking they can do it without having to learn, study, or practice.

I'm amazed (and more than a little disheartened) how many people believe that simply by virtue of their being skilled and knowledgeable in something, they're implicitly qualified to communicate, mentor, teach, or train that thing. It devalues the art of teaching to think that because you've been a student, you can teach well. That because you've experienced learning, you can craft a learning experience.

She goes on to say that having a PhD may not be necessary, but you can't just wing it. She goes on to list Eleven Things to Know and Ten Tips for Trainers.

As a teacher, I appreciate the fact that someone recognizes that it requires something more than subject matter knowledge to teach. The current trend in federal regulations and state teacher licensing seems to only concern itself with that subject matter stuff, and I think a teacher needs more than that in order to be successful. As a professional, I am continually upgrading my skills and my knowledge -- both about my subject matter and about pedagogy and human behavior and lots of other things. I take this very seriously, as do most teachers I know.

I advise you to check out her post if you haven't yet.

Monday, July 11, 2005

No textbooks?

Let me preface this by saying that I don't teach K-12, so I may not know what I am talking about. If that is the case, please let me know -- as gently as possible, if you would be so kind! Anyway...

Yahoo! News has an article about an Arizona high school that is getting rid of textbooks and going to online sources of information, instead. It is an exciting article for me because I have found that text books are seldom appropriate for my students.

The article says
Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail Unified School District, said the move to electronic materials gets teachers away from the habit of simply marching through a textbook each year.
That is obviously a good thing. What worries me a little, though, is the very next paragraph:
He noted that the AIMS test now makes the state standards the curriculum, not textbooks. Arizona students will soon need to pass Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards to graduate from high school.

So I guess Arizona teachers really are supposed to teach to the test. Lets hope Arizona's standards are broad enough to ensure a well-rounded education for its students. I wonder, though, if it isn't going to end up being a case of teachers marching through the standards as if they were a textbook. I don't see that it would be an improvemment.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

This is a test

I was happy to read a post on the Boise State Writing Project blog that told me that I can now post photos directly into my blog without using flikr or anything. So I am going to try it out. Let's see how it goes.

It worked! Cool!

All you have to do is click on the little picture icon in the toolbar.

Hey, did everyone else already know this?

By the way, this is a picture of me taken at a writing project mini-marathon last November.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Writing Project

I just returned home from a mini-marathon in preparation for the Advanced Institute sponsored by the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. It was, as writing project activities always are, a wonderful experience. We spent six hours wandering around town writing. There is nothing quite like it.

Monday I will be attending a workshop by Jeff Wilhelm, author of Reading Don't Fix No Chevys. (You can read a review published by NCTE here.) Then on the 18th I start the two week Institute. I am really looking forward to it.

If you are an educator in the US and don't know about the National Writing Project, please check it out. It doesn't matter what you teach; we can all learn a lot!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Picture this...

Lilia over at Mathmegenic shares the metaphor of weblogs as mushrooms. Can't picture it? Check out her blog.

Archiving lesson plans

Well, I have to hand it to Will once again. He has a post on using a blog to archive lesson plans. This is a perfect idea for me. My ESL program is small. Sometimes we have to teach courses that we aren't used to teaching. We try to pass the ideas back and forth, but a lot of it gets lost. Or we forget to dig out the papers until it is too late. But a blog or a wiki would work wonderfully for that! If I didn't have so many irons in the fire right now (finishing teaching a 4-week course, getting ready to do an Advanced Summer Institute with the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, getting ready to move, and preparing to help my daughter and her family move -- among other things) I would start on it right now. But instead, I think I will try to figure out how I want to do it and begin to educate the other faculty about blogs and/or wikis. Then when the semester starts, we can be ready to post what we do.

I have to agree with Will, who wrote
Paper just seems so restrictive anymore, doesn't it?

Thanks, Will, for the great idea!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

What I've learned...

Well, Anne started it. And then Will came up with his own list of what he has learned from blogging. So I decided it was time to make my own list.

Anne's list includes many items I would put on my own. I especially liked
I've learned that with weblogs the educational possibilities truly are limitless! We can learn right along with and from the students. Weblogs can be the portal to bring about change in our classrooms (like less lecturing, etc.) The conversations need to continue. We need to share those conversations. We're in a new type of learning and writing space that moves way beyond our classrooms that have been closed for so many years. I like to think that letting all our voices be heard will bring about needed changes in our educational system.
As an educator, I have learned more from weblogs than other school type inservices I've attended.

Will's list includes so many good things that it is hard to pick a couple, but I really liked
Weblogs are personal. It doesn't matter what I blog about, I leave a piece of my soul every time I blog because I'm always feeling the reader on the other side of the screen, imagined or not. I'm not just putting words out there; I'm putting a part of myself, and even though I've been doing it for four years now, each post still feels like a risk.
Blogs take work. They need to be nurtured. They demand attention. It really is like planting a seed and then consistently tending to its growth.

Now, I don't have the years of blogging experience that Anne and Will have, but blogging has affected my life in ways I would never have imagined. So here is a list of some of the things I have learned from blogging:
  1. My blog posts are better if I am reading and thinking about what others have said. Now, I didn't imagine that I would have that kind of a blog, but I do. I thought I would probably keep amore journal-like blog than I have ended up doing. I think that was due to my own lack of confidence. When I started blogging I hadn't read that many blogs; I didn't know much about what was out there. I had read Dan Gillmor's blog and Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs, and I certainly couldn't begin to put myself in their category as bloggers. So, to my way of looking at it, I would have to be more of an online journaler. Over the months I have been blogging, I have lost that idea and and have developed confidence in my ability to blog on topics of more importance than my own life. So I have to read a lot. And that is good!
  2. I have leared that it is important to use an aggregator like Bloglines if you want to try to read enough to find interesting things to comment on. I remember whan I discovered Bloglines. It saved me tons of time -- and I wasn't even reading that many blogs back then!
  3. I have learned that blogging, at its best at least as far as I am concerned, is conversation. If I post and no one comments on my blog or writes about my post on their blog, the blog isn't doing much more than a pen and paper journal would do. It is the conversational possibilities, the communal nature of blogging that make it so amazing.
  4. Because of that conversation and communal nature, I have learned a great deal about my profession that I would probably never have learned elsewhere. Blogging has provided me with some of the best professional development I have ever received as an educator. It has provided me with information and with a forum in which to discuss that information.

Blogging is part of my life now. I am anxious to see what I will be able to say I have learned this time next year and the next and...

Blogging administrators

Anne Davis had a post about an article in the American School Board Journal by Craig Colgan entitled What's in a Blog? that I found fascinating. I would advise you to check it out if you haven't yet.

One of the people highlighted in the article is Superintendent Clayton Wilcox of the Pinellas County schools. I went to his blog The Classroom and found it to be quite interesting. Employees and parents seem to comment fairly frequently. The superintendent asks questions and readers respond. They, in turn, ask questions that they would probably never ask the superintendent in person. They would certainly never call him up to ask him, most likely not wanting to disturb him for something so "inconsequential". But those "inconsequential" things add up. People care about them. By taking the time to communicate with people through his blog, Superintendent Wilcox has given people a chance to speak, to have their voices heard. I really applaud him for the effort.

Blogs make us accessible to each other. When we communicate, we can begin to understand each other. In schools and in the world at large, that is a very big deal!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

20 Technology Skills Every Educator Should Have

What's New at the e-Learning Centre led me to an article at the THE Journal on technology skills all educators should have. What is great about this article is that, in addition to listing the skills, it offers links to websites with tutorials on each of them. Check it out!

As the author says:
... it is no longer acceptable for educators to be technology illiterate.

Ready for college?

A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser discusses the fact that many students entering Alabama's two and four year colleges are not able to do the work required of college freshmen. It is an interesting article, but it probably won't surprise many of us working in colleges and univeristies. There is some laying of blame on standardized testing, which probably won't surprise many people in K-12 education. The question is, of course, how do we change it.

This is something I deal with on a regular basis as an instructor in an Intensive English Program. There is generally a bog jump in complexity from ESL textooks to regular college textbooks, from ESL assignments to regular college assignments. So I have consciously worked to bridge that gap as much as possible. I try to make the work demanding and, at a more advanced level particularly, don't like to use ESL texts. I would rather give my students materials prepared for native speakers and them give them the extra support that they need to understand it and work with it than to give them easier work to do. I think that I can help them learn how to approach these materials so that they are better prepared to dela with them on their own in the future.

But I am lucky. I am the program coordinator; I designed the curriculum and choose the texts. We have no exit exam as such; our students have to reach a certain TOEFL score. High school teachers do not have that luxury.

But I worry about teachers who would allow a situation such as this one Jean Kerr from Auburn Univeristy Montgomery found:
I had a student who said she had not written a single essay her senior year in high school. All they did is study grammar.
That just doesn't seem right. But it is not an isolated incident, I know. One of my students this summer graduated from a US high school in June. He says he wrote one or maybe two papers last year in school.

English instruction doesn't have to be that dismal -- even with the burden of state testing. My friend, Melanie, taught English in an inner city school in New Orleans last year. Check out her blog, They Have Their Own Thoughts, for an idea of what her classes were like. Her students did work that would truly help to prepare them for college.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

How blogging affects our grading practices

There is a great post over at the blog of proximal development about how the way Konrad grades and comments on his students has been influenced by blogging. It is a very insightful post, and I advise you to check it out.

It made me realize that I often still do things the way I have always done them -- even though I don't necessarily believe it is the best way. Is it laziness? Lack of thinking and follow-through on that thinking? Uncertainty about how to do it better? I know that as much as I try to reflect regularly on what I do in the classroom, I could do a lot more in that regard.

Every change we make in the classroom leads to more changes -- or more things that could be changed. It would be a shame to stop en route and not make it to the finish line!

Anne's reasons to blog

Anne Davis has a great post outlining reasons to blog and reasons to blog with our students. It is definitely worth looking at if you haven't seen it yet.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Did you notice? Probably not!

Unless you actually visit my blog rather than reading it through Bloglines or wherever, you won't have seen the latest addition to my blog. And you may not have noticed it even if you did visit my blog. I took Nate's advice and played with my template to set up what could serve as a portfolio of my "best" posts if I were being graded on them.

I am not sure, though, what to do about comments. I would want to have students include their "best" comments on other blogs in their portfolios, and I don't know how to include them. Should students put links to their comments on other people's blogs in the portfolio sections of their own blogs? Are there any drawbacks to doing that? Any possible problems? Is there another way to do it?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Another diversion --in the name of science

Well, Lesley did it again! She got me to go online and answer some questions. This time, though, it is in the interest of science. So I guess that makes it OK. Anyway, you might want to check it out!

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Thursday, June 23, 2005

With a little help from my friends...

Well, this is what I love about blogging: You ask a question or raise an issue and someone comes through with an answer or at least with more food for thought. This time the help came in the form of a comment from Nate. Now, you could all read it for yourselves if you just went to my blog and read the last post, but I doubt that many of you will do that. And this is too good an idea not to pass on.

I asked about how students would prepare a portfolio of blog posts for grading. I didn't want them to print them out, as that seems kind of silly. And I was honestly at a loss as to what to do. But Nate had a great idea:
I pulled some of my key writings out of my Cognitive Dissonance blog and put links in the sidebar to the items I didn't want to get lost in the sauce.

Having a category of "Portfolio" might do the same ... the key element is capturing the links and making it easy for the students to submit them, I'd think...

Nate, that was brilliant. I am going to try it. Thank you so very, very much!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Grading blogs revisited

It seems I am catching up with my reading and my blogging. Sorry!

Aaron had a great post about grading blogs. He says
However, when we assign 'blogging' for homework and give students grades on how often they post or comment, are we not shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot? If students come to see weblogs as the latest homework delivery method, then are we not directly encouraging them to take a surface approach to the whole process?
This is so very true. And obviously, that isn't what we want to do. He goes on to say
Teachers should stop placing such a high value on quantity of posting and commenting and start honing in on the quality of social interaction.
Once again, I am in total agreement. But I am not sure what this actually looks like in the classroom and in the gradebook.

I go back to what I said earlier, that grading should be on a portfolio basis, where students pick their best posts to be part of the portfolio. I think that is critical. The criteria for inclusion could include demonstrating interaction and growth.

Having said that, however, I am at a loss as to how to actually pull that off. Somehow or other, it seems really silly to have students copy and print out blog posts and comments. But I can't see any other way to make it practical with more than a very few students. Any ideas?

Being friendly online

Kathy over at Creating Passionate Users has done it again. She has struck a chord with me, and I think it is important for us to talk about. She talks about how to build a successful online community and refers to the success of javaranch, saying
They did it by being passionately, single-mindedly, ferociously committed to enforcing one rule: "Be Friendly."

Not that you can't have a huge community without that rule... slashdot is the perfect example. But if you're trying to inspire passionate users, I believe that enforcing a "Be Friendly" rule can be one of the best moves for long-term growth and retention of the community.

This sounds so simple, and yet I think this idea of being friendly is often overlooked. Take Lesley's post about being blasted for her comments on a blog.

As organizations with moderated lists, a policy of friendliness might be possible. But how do we establish such an environment in our own blogs?

People don't seem to feel a need to be friendly anymore. Not everyone, of course. I have to say that everyone who has commented on this blog has been very friendly. But I know not everyone is so fortunate. It is really too bad.

An apology

Well, Bud brought me back to my senses here by commenting on the fact that I haven't posted in awhile. I can't believe it has been so long!

Last week was difficult for me. Our summer program started, and we have 2 students. I know... It sounds like heaven, but it hasn't been that way for me. One of the guys got right with the program and was into it almost immediately. The other one resisted everything I tried to do. Since I see them each for two hours and a half every day, I was nearly frantic for something to do with the one guy. I wanted it to be meaningful for him and useful, but I couldn't seem to find the secret to doing that. To make matters worse, he loved the other teacher's class. See, she teaches listening and speaking, and I teach reading and writing. The student in question didn't want to read or write.

To make a long story short, I finally realized I was giving him too much power. So I prepared the best lesson I could for Friday, making it a little less text-intensive, and decided that we would do that lesson no matter what. It went real well. Part of it was maybe a better plan for the class. Part was my belief that it was a good lesson and the determination that we would do it, and part was the fact that the student came in with a different attitude on Friday.

After what had been, for me, an exhausting week, I just enjoyed the weekend.

But anyway, I am still alive and well and, it seems, back to my blog. Thanks for asking, Bud.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The communal nature of blogging

On the Blog of Proximal Development the other day, I saw a reference to a post I made a few days ago about grading blogs. Konrad talked about grading the contributions that students make to the blogoshere through comments. He said:
I think that student bloggers should be recognized for writing as part of a larger community of inquirers. Some of my most successful writers are those who are aware of what their friends are writing about and who participate in conversations with other bloggers in their class.
I agree with him very much on that point. It is the exactly that communal nature of blogging that makes it so exciting.

But I wonder how we instill that in our students.

I think we have to carefully develop blogging assignments so that students are led to comment without really realizing it. It can't be left as something "extra" to do after completing the assignment. The comments have to substantive; they have to actually contribute to the conversation.

One way that we can do that, I think, is to take a page from Anne Davis' book (yet again!). She invited us, her blog readers, to comment on the blogs of her students. This provided tham with the opportunity to see that other people were interested in what they had to write. I think that seeing genuine comments from total strangers helped them to appreciate the value of comments. I hope it also encouraged them to take commenting more seriously. I know that they commented regularly on each others' blogs, and I know their comments were good ones.

I think that Bee hit the nail on the head when she recently commented on an earlier post of mine here when she said:
The essential, however, ... is to keep the conversation potential open...either with yourself or/and with the others.
When we see it as conversation, we understand that it involves sharing, opening ourselves up. Blogging is communal and, I believe, ultimately very humanizing.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

What I don't care about

Scott over at I Know What I Know (That title always bothers me a little bit! I hope against hope that I know a few things I don't think I know. Otherwise, I know precious little! But never mind... It's an interesting blog.) posted a list of things he doesn't care about. His list included, among other things,
1) Paris Hilton
2) Makeover shows.
3) Reality TV shows.
4) TV shows about cruelty.
5) Britney Spears-Cooterfunk
6) Jessica Simpson
7) Brad and whoever
12) Michael Jackson
16) Screaming head shows passing for “debate” or “discussion.”
17) Television shows about the crazy things rich people™ do.

I find that my list would have to include these very things. So I began to wonder about who does care enough about these things to make them so popular.

A student project at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point a few years ago looked at reality TV. One student, Cassandra, did research led her to the conclusion that a lot of it is about the conflict and competition. I think that explains most of the above-listed things Scott and I don't care about. As a nation, we seem to delight in looking at the stupid things rich people do and the conflicts that they become embroiled in as a result. We argue and call it discussion.

Personally, I am tired of it all. I would tend to agree with the grandmother of another UW-SP student, Lindsey, who said,
Whatever happened to shows like I Love Lucy or Gunsmoke...
Now, I am not particularly a fan of either of those shows, but almost anything is better than TV fare today!

And unfortunately, it isn't just TV. News on my search engine of choice regularly lists important things like the fact that some 18 year old star has broken up with her boyfriend. Are our own lives so empty that we have to live vicariously through others? And even if they were and we did, couldn't we find better people to live through? What is wrong with us?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Instruction as if students mattered

My friend Melanie and I have been talking about this over at her blog and elsewhere. She relates the story of a child she knew who never fit in at school and eventually committed suicide. Now granted, I don't have all the answers -- maybe none of them -- but it seems pretty obvious that schools aren't really meeting the needs of a great many students.

Then today I read Darren's post with a link to an article about Pennsylvania's virtual charter school. The article stresses the way instruction is individualized. The article quotes Sharon Williams, the Middle School Principal, as saying
it provides another model of how to learn, especially for students who may have problems fitting into public school.
Seeing as how there are many students who fit into that category, I really hope the virtual model works for them.

But of course, there were critics of the model, people like a school superintendent who used the old argument:
What you won't get is any socialization.
and another who said
Students who take classes online also miss developing friendships and ways to deal with adversity.

I feel strongly that socialization in schools is part of the probelm, not any kind of solution. Not always, of course. But for those students who don't fit in for whatever reason, subjecting them to more of the same isn't going to help matters at all. Many of them haven't formed friendships in school, and they haven't really learned to deal with adversity, either.

So I say, best of luck to this virtual school and to brick and mortar schools that approach their job differently, like Bud's school seems to do. What we have been doing hasn't worked for many, many children. We need to try something else, probably lots of something elses.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Presentation advice from Creating Passionate Users

As I am in the process of preparing a couple conference presentations, I found Kathy's advice on the use of PowerPoint quite timely. You might want to check it out.

I am almost always a big fan of what goes on over at Creating Passionate Users, and this post is a good example of why. It is as applicable to me as a teacher as it is to companies trying to design and sell products or services. It is about connecting to people. I read it all the time and am seldom disappointed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Do we all need blogs?

James over at incorporated subversion titled his post Everyone shouldn’t have a blog, but everybody should have a blog and then went on to say
Everyone does need a blog… we need to get over what we think blogs are and will become.
I am inclined to believe him on both counts.

I asked the question back in January: What is a blog? I have since answered my question a couple times. But now I am not so sure. Since January I have begun three personal/professional blogs. One is this one. Another is what I am using as an ePortfolio. The last one is a mock-up of a class blog for a class I hope to teach in the fall. Each has a unique purpose and a unique (intended) audience. I expect that I will have more blogs as I go along, and I imagine they will all be slightly different in scope. I am excited about the prospect! I think that it is only my lack of vision that keeps me from using blogs in a million more ways.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Paper or computer ?

Lesley asked yesterday in a comment here whether I get more pleasure from my blog or from my paper journal. I had no immediate answer. Then I realized that they are both equally pleasurable to me -- although in different ways.

My blog is pleasurable for the community that it has made me part of. People all over the world read and comment on my blog. I read their blogs and comment on them. I have collaborated with people from different parts of the US and from Mexico as a result of my blog. That gives me great pleasure. I also like the fact that blogging stretches my mind. It has enriched my life tremendously.

But there is something about picking up my Parker 45 fountain pen and notebook that is pure joy. I guess my journaling gives more private pleasure. There is the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a notebook and reach for a new one. And then there is the beauty of an empty notebook that you know will soon be filled with your thoughts. Somehow a blank compose box in Blogger isn't quite the same!

I use both my blog and my journal for personal writing and more professional writing. In some ways they are redundant. But for now, I choose not to abandon either one for the other.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Writing and blogging

It has been an interesting few months for me since I discovered blogging for myself back in January. On the whole, I am very happy with what I have done -- over 110 posts, some of them not all that bad. I have read more words in that time than I would have without the benefit of blogs. I have written more words, too, probably. And that is where my thoughts are today.

Back awhile, Bud asked how long it takes to develop the habit of blogging. and then he reflected on the coments he received in another post. I was, at the time, concerned about the fact that perhaps I didn't blog enough anymore. I guess, looking back at it, that really isn't my concern. But maybe you need some background to understand where I am coming from.

Prior to blogging, I was pen-and-paper journaling for an hour a day, every day. It was a practice I developed in a summer institute with the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. For about a month after the start of my blog, I kept up my journaling, but then it began to taper off. I told myself it was OK because I was still writing daily. But as I saw my blogging drop off, I began to wonder if I was giving up on writing. And that concerns me. It took me a long time to develop any real confidence in myself as a writer, and I wonder what will happen if I lose my momentum and stop writing for extended periods of time. Will I come back to it? What worries me, then, is giving up on writing. I don't think it matters to me right now what kind of writing I do, as long as I am writing.

In that connection, I am reading more about writing again. So don't be surprised if you see some posts about writing here over the next few weeks.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Question #3 part 2

In reading through some things I had saved in my bloglines list, I came across Will's recent post on using blogs as exams. He talks about students demonstrating what they have learned in the class on their blogs throughout the semester. Maybe that is a good way to do it. We know what we would ask on a test. Why not use blogs as a replacement? Then they don't need to be graded separately. Anyway, check out Will's post if you haven't seen it yet.

Question number 3

Well, as intrigued as I was by Mr. McNamar's questions, I am just now getting around to thinking about #3:
3. Should posts be graded, if so, what should the criteria be?
This is something that I have thought about and written about before - here, here and here. I have seen several rubrics and schemes for grading blogs, including Dennis Jerz's, Bee's, Rick West's, Jill Walker's and some others I can't find right now. It seems that people who are assigning blogs for their students are grading them.

Of all the ideas I have seen, I think I like ones suggested by Bud's students best of all. Elle had some really excellent ideas, including
Blogs should be graded on all three; frequency, subject matter, and content.
For example; when writing a newspaper article (as I often have for the class we have at the school), you need the entire package of Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?
Blogging has the same kind of essentials; Frequency, Subject, and Content. Kinda like the whole a+b+c = d, well Frequency+Subject+Content = Good Blogging.
Tyr' had some very good ideas, saying
I would like to put forth the idea that blogging should be based on a student by student draft, this is rather hard to do for large-scale communities, but at the same time for what we are doing in our experimental blogging class it is the perfect way to address the grading issue. Students, at the beginning of the class should explain what they want to accomplish with their blog as a final goal or as a 'major' goal. The occasional assignment/prompt from the teacher is fine to keep people on track and to make sure they have an accurate depction of what they are meant to do. If a student then does not do what attempted to set out for the class goals, then s/he will not receive an A, the grade would then fall into the hands of the teacher based on the other work this student has submitted. I feel this is the most fair way to grade without degrading the usefulness and limiting our abilities as a community to blog.
I guess I believe that blogs should be graded - or at least that some blog posts should be graded. The criteria should be spelled out and understood before the class actually starts. I think it should be graded in a portfolio format where students choose their "best" posts. It seems obvious that the student who writes more would have more to choose from and would, therefore, be likely to produce a better portfolio. That would seem to cover the question of frequency and content and, to a large degree, subject matter, as well.

Well, I am listening to Bud's podcast as I am writing this, and I think I have babbled on long enough. Still no real answers, but it was interesting to think about it. I'd like to hear your adeas.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Some questions about blogs in the classroom

Mr. McNamar over at The Daily Grind has an interesting post reflecting on blogging in classes. He asks and answers some interesting questions. What intrigued me most, however, were the questions at the end of the post that he didn't answer.
1. Should the teacher post on the classroom blog?
2. Should the teacher interact, through comments, on the classroom blog?
3. Should posts be graded, if so, what should the criteria be?

Now, I cannot answer really from my own blogging experience with my students, but I am willing to take a stab at answering them anyway.

As to teachers posting on the classroom blog, I definitely think they should. But it has to be done with a purpose and in moderation. Care should be taken not to monopolize the class blog and, as a result, keep the students from posting as freely as they might.

Barbara Ganley has a slightly different perspective, though. She says
* I stay off the blogs as much as possible. The blogs are for student exploration and discussion--not for me to guide and teach and dictate. I don't just talk about student-centered classrooms, I am committed to them. Of course, this means I have to plan the blog and the course very carefully, a complicated choreography which calls for the teacher to be confident in the process and in herself as teacher.
We must, of course, bear in mind that she teaches at the university level. But she makes a valid point. If we are truly committed to student-centered classrooms, we have to get out of the way. But I think that teachers can post as an equal member of the learning community. It requires a certain classroom environment, but I have seen it happen. I see teacher comments on the classroom blog as important, too. Here again, they must be made with the idea of facilitating discussion, not stifling or eliminating it.

Anne Davis' blog Teachers & Technology is an example of a class blog that is almost entirely done by the instructor. Her approach is to have the class blog for announcements and such while students do their posting to their own blogs. I will say, though, that there seems to be very little commenting on each other's blogs by members of this particular class. Anne's blog with elementary school students, the Write Weblog, was handled in the same way: Anne posted to the class blog and the students posted to their own blogs. But there is one notable difference between the elementary student' blogs and the college students' -- the elementary students commented on each others' blogs.

Well, this post has gone on long enough. I haven't answered anything, have I? And I haven't even gotten around to number 3, the question about grading. So I guess I will leave it here and come back and finish tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you have any ideas on the subject, please leave a comment.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Now we get to the real issue, I think

Jackmoron commented on a recent post here, saying
but so many teachers and parents simply don't know what kinds of plusses and minusses there are in an online life--and think, not unreasonably, when it comes down to it, that the kind of publicness that comes with writing online might be inappropriate or dangerous for an child.
I think this is a very important point - and maybe where our emphasis should be now. How do we educate parents and teachers about blogging, the Internet and technology in general?

As I think I have mentioned before, I am almost 55 years old; so my involvement with blogging cannot be blamed on the fact that I am young. How did I become involved in blogging? Why do I feel that online tools are invaluable in my classroom? I have to admit that my 60 year old husband was involved on-line long before I was. Why? I think we both became involved because of a basic attitutde toward technology - we love it. This may, in part, come from the fact that our last child only turned 18 this year. He is a videogame fanatic. But I think it is something else, too.

I think we are so interested in technology because we have lived in many different countries and have moved a lot when we are in the US. We haven't had all the "distractions" of family close by and a house to take care of. We welcomed email once we had access to it because it made communicating with family and friends in other parts of the world so much easier.

As for me, my interest in blogging was fanned by my love of writing. I have always expressed myself better on paper than in person. So blogging has given me a forum that I would never have seized otherwise. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't write anything if he can avoid it, but he loves to talk. He posts to discussion forums and has a lively group of friends with whom he "talks" regularly. And he reads blogs and comments on them, too.

So we may be slightly unique in our reasons for getting involved with technology. The question is, then, how do we educate teachers and parents who are more "regular" than my husband and I are?

As a teacher, I can say that a lot of it depends on an institutional attitude of openness to technology. As my institution becomes more innovative and more tech savy, it becomes easier for me to use more technology. And as more people in my institution use more technology on a regular basis, it becomes easier to convince others to give it a try. But looking at my own institution, I know that even though I will increase my use of technology in my classes again this coming year, almost no one else in the institution will follow suit. Unless the administration takes the time and money to educate all faculty about what the possibilities are, few people will find out for themselves. So we are back to that institutional attitude again.

As for parents, it is trickier. We live in such a climate of fear in this country right now, that I wonder if most parents could see past the possible dangers to see the value in blogging. Until we can move past that fear -- which recent events involving children prove is not ungrounded -- this is going to be a tough sell. I think that as schools come to embrace blogging more, parents will naturally be educated about it. Schools will send out permission slips like this one created by Lori Deucher Yum (linked by Anne Davis). Gradually parents will learn what blogging is and isn't and how to protect their children better at home as well as at school. But if schools don't take the lead, it will not happen.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Comments, anyone?

Lesley had an unsettling experience. She commented on a blog and then people blasted her for what she said. Actually, they just told the blogger to ignore her.

And I guess my question is, what are a commenter's rights and responsibilities? Can we comment on any blog no matter what? Do we have a responsibility to be respectful of each other when we comment? I would hope so.

I suggested to Lesley that maybe "blogs" where readers blast each other like that are not "blogs" so much as journals. Blogs, to me, should allow for and welcome discussion. There should be a level of respect so that even if we disagree, we can talk to each other about the topic.

If we stifle discussion on blogs by blasting comments, I think we've lost one of the greatest benefits of blogs -- the ability to communicate with people we would never otherwise meet and to share ideas with them. We may not always agree, but the discussion is what matters.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

How does RSS change the rules?

Will furled an article by Mark Bernstein, 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web. He makes some great points, including that we must write for a reason and that we not be afraid to stand up and speak out. His second tip is one that I have been thinking about a lot lateley. He says that we should write often. He goes on to explain that it doesn't mean constantly but that it does mean consistently. He says
If you don’t write for a few days, you are unfaithful to the readers who come to visit. Missing an update is a small thing – rudeness, not betrayal – and readers will excuse the occasional lapse.

If you are inconsistent, readers will conclude you are untrustworthy. If you are absent, readers will conclude you are gone. It’s better to keep religiously to a once-a-week, or once-a-fortnight schedule, than to go dark mysteriously.
The article was written in 2002, a long time ago in terms of the Internet. It is a good article and still has lots of good advice, but I wonder how RSS changes things.

Few people actually go to my blog. (Heck, not that many read it anyway!) If they log into Bloglines or whatever aggregator they use and there is a post to my blog, they might read it. If there is no post, it doesn't even enter on their radar. At least that's how I am with my Bloglines account. I notice that there are some people who haven't posted in months, but I keep them on the list. When someone who usually posts regularly doesn't post for awhile, I notice it, but that is about it.

So I ask you, does RSS change the rules about how often we should post?