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!