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.