Saturday, April 29, 2006

Maybe it is all about me!

Yesterday we learned that the two students who had taken the TOEFL earleir in the month did not get the scores they needed to leave ESL and enter the regular program. It was the end of the day, and we were all pretty shocked by the news.

My first thoughts were about what I could have/should have/might have done differently so that they would have done better. TO eb honest, I guess that is still what my thoughts are.

I find it interesting since, a few short weeks ago, I felt that my students' performance wasn't a reflection on me. As I write this, though, I think this is slightly different. Maybe that is a rationalization, though!

I am coordinator of the ESL program. I designed it. I developed most of the courses intially. Until this new TOEFL, what we were doing worked. Our students seemed to advance through our program and get the TOEFL scores they needed to move on.

This new test tests different things in different ways. And my institution has set the scores pretty high. These are the first two of our students who have taken the iBT, and this is the second time they took the test. Their overall score was about the same on both attempts, but there was significant difference in some individual section scores.

So my question for myself has to be about what we can do differently to help students on this test. It may require some substantial changes to the program or they may just be minor tweaks. But I will be spending a lot of time this summer trying to answer that question!

It could, of course, be these students, both of whom have been in this country for years and have some pretty well-established bad habits. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we will have anyone else ready to take the TOEFL for a while, so I can't test that hypothesis. So in the meantime, I have to assume that there is something we could be doing differently.

If any of you have experience with the TOEFL iBT, I would love to hear about it. How are your students doing? What scores has your institution set? If you do not want to post here, please email me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Frequent blogging

The other day I was working on my faculty self-evaluation. Having decided that I would include my blogging in the evaluation under professional development, I decided to count my posts from the current academic year. I was really shocked to see how few posts I had. Some months there were only 4 or 5 posts. What happened to me, the daily blogger?

And then today I was reading Vickie A Davis's post where she highlights portions of a post by Marshall K in which he interviews Gina Trapani of Lifehacker (Wow, that's more than my usual quota of links!)

Vickie seleceted portions of the interview to post in her blog, and one of them really got me thinking.
Gina on building an audience

* On the editorial side, to build an audience, you need to post often. .. definitely update every day, if not twice a day. Your posts don't have to be long and thoughtful - though some should be - just summarize and point to a news item of the moment that's related to your nonprofit's area of interest. You want to establish a constant conversation about particular themes, and show that you're an authority on those themes, able to discuss them intelligently on an ongoing basis.

I am amazed that people are still reading my blog. Looking at how few posts I had during this academic year, and reading Gina's advice, it looks like no one should be bothering anymore. Now, granted, I am not the non-profit she is addressing, but I think that the advice is valuable. If I want this blog to be for more than just my entertainment, I have to make an effort to post more frequently again. Something for me to keep in mind. I may not achieve it, but I want to try.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Blogging vs life

Christopher Sessums has an interesting post stemming from a comic strip. It is Zits strip that is, at least right now, available here. (Like most comics, it won't be available forever, so please forgive me if you look and it is gone!)

The comic has the son, Jeremy, interupting the father from telling the mother a story about his day. The son says,
I hate to see a person waste perfectly good blog material by describing his life experiences out loud.

Mr. Sessums has some interesting comments about the comic that are much more profound than anything I am going to say, so I advise you to read his post. I, on the other hand, have what is undoubtedly a much more mundane take on it.

What interests me about the comic is the idea of someone "wasting good blog material" by talking about it to a real live human being. This reminds me of something an acquaintace shared with me about her mother, who leaves family gatherings to journal about them. Do I want my written communication to replace face to face interaction with a human being? Or to take priority over it?

I love blogging. I love the conversation. But I wonder what I might be losing by blogging. Am I taking time from talking with my husband or with my friends to blog or to read blogs?

I guess I was thinking about this because of a post on a friend's blog in which he talks about his life at this point. He says, in part
Start with the little things like finding/making/carving out the time I need to write/think. Or take my daily walks - which I miss dreadfully but which are pushed back so I have more time to do -- what? Read blogs? Discard email spam? Patch computer programs? Fix stuff? Break stuff?

Heck, I haven't watched a movie in a month or more! Last thing I saw was an episode of Battlestar Galactica from season one.
I guess I am in a strange frame of mind today. But I think I am becoming clear about the place of blogging in my life. It is important. But it is not my life. I am not going to save the best parts of my life, the funniest, saddest, most interesting parts for my blog.

That being said, I have to get back to looking through my Bloglines account.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blogging at my institution

Christopher Sessums has this post in which he gives initial results of his survey of edubloggers. Now, I had thought about answering the questionnaire but didn't. But - better late than never - I want to consider his questions here.

My institution does nothing to support or hinder my blogging either as a professional educator or, as of this year, with my students. We do not presently use any technology that would affect my blogging in any way. We began to use Moodle this year, but we have not set up its wiki capability yet. I don't think the institution has an opinion about blogs or wikis; I don't think that, as an institution, we are even really aware that they exist.

I plan to include my blog in my list of publications for my performance evaluation this year, but I have no fantasy that it will be viewed as professional writing or professional development of any kind. Since my institution does not offer tenure and evaluations don't really count for anything, I am in a position to do this to make a point -- even though few will "get it".

I feel very strongly that I connect to a community outside my institution through blogging. It is an informal community, but it is very real. This community, as I have often said, is the source of most of my professional conversation and, as a result, most of my professional learning. We don't have these kinds of conversations about teaching and learning at my institution.

But let me hasten to say that individuals in my institution have been extremely supportive of my blogging. Without their encouragement, I might have given up trying to blog with my students long before now. So I can't complain at all. The fact is that, by the very nature of my institution, we are not cutting edge in terms of technology. But we are moving forward, and there is a surprising level of acceptance.

I somehow think that my experience is not all that unusual. Maybe I am wrong. Please let me know if I am!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Keeping fresh

Kathy Sierra has a great post about pushing your skill set. Now, as usual, Kathy is talking primarily to tech people, but, as always, there is a lot that speaks to me as an educator. She starts out saying:
Are you doing anything to keep up your skills? Some of you don't have a choice--especially if you're doing client work where each new job "forces" you to learn something new. But for those of us who--like me--are mostly working on our own stuff, we can get... a little lazy. The techniques we've been using are like old friends. Doing it the way we've been doing it feels comfortable and less risky.

There has been discussion lately at my school about how students make use of what they call the "fund": knowledge passed from student to student, class to class about what particular professors emphasize, what they test on, etc. There was concern that maybe students aren't as "present" as they might be in class because of it. Now, obviously, this isn't anything new. Most of us have made use of that kind of information ourselves. But what amazes me is the reaction of many people to the situation. There is a feeling in some quarters that we should try to limit this in some way. No one is suggesting that maybe we should not teach the same class the same way with the same assignments and tests each and every year. Why? My guess is that it has something to do with what Kathy would probably call our "skill set". We are comfortable with the way we teach, with the material we present and the way we evaluate students. We shift the blame for the problem to them.

How can we push our skill set as educators? There are so many ways and they are so common and ordinary that I hesitate to even discuss them. But I think it is good for me to remind myself.

One way, of course, is just to learn more about our area of expertise. Even if you teach ancient philosophy, there must be something new you could learn about the subject matter.

If, however, you know absolutely everything there is to know about Plato, then I guess you have to think about learning something about teaching and learning. There is always something new to be learned in that area. Maybe you could learn about technology and how it might enhance what you do in the classroom.

Aside from our own learning, I think another important area to consider is how we evaluate students. If we always give the same assignments and the same type of test, we are foolish to think students aren't going to take advantage of that fact.

To K-12 teachers this probably sounds ridiculous; you cannot imagine any other way of doing things. But at the college level, it is fairly rare.

The key to pushing our skills, I think, is reflection. Unless we think about what we do in the classroom, we will never realize that maybe we need to do something differently.

So how do you keep yourself fresh? How do you vary what you do from year to year, semester to semester? I am interested in hearing and learning from you. I want to push my skills, and you can help me do it.

Update: Anne's post here seems to speak to this same issue. While she is talking about student reflection, there is a lot of food for thought for teachers as well. I am going to reread it and do some reflection of my own.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Computer problems

Just wanted to let you know that I am having computer problems and so may not get a chance to post much until I figure out what is going on with that. Hopefully it won't be too long, but you never know!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Blogging and the examined life

Jo has had a couple of posts lately that I have found to be extremely interesting. First came this one, in which she passes on some thoughts from Inspiring Teachers that she got from their eZine. She quotes some ideas about reflection, including these:
What type of reflection works best? As usual, it varies from person to person, but there are a few things that everyone can do to make full use of those informal and formal reflections we make each day.

Catch yourself thinking...
2. Don't be afraid to make changes immediately...
3. If you work in a teaming type situation where you and one or more teachers work together some reflection together at the end of the day or at some point during the week...
4. Keep a journal...

I was an avid journaler before I became a blogger. Written reflection is critical to me. I still journal with my students, and it is usually of the writing-as-thinking variety. But now that I blog, the majority of my reflective writing is done here. Why? Because I have people to bounce my ideas off of. You. All of you who at one time or another have read and commented on my blog. You have made me examine my thoughts and ideas in new and different ways. I am grateful to you all.

Then Jo followed the other post up with this one, in which she refers to a post by Christopher Sessums. She ends that post by saying
... blogging is more than just professional learning - it is the opposite of the "unexamined life" which Socrates so disparaged.

What more could I possibly add? Check out Jo's blog, if you haven't yet.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bud made the papers again!

Well, there I was reading a Washington Post article about teachers who blog, and all of a sudden I was reading part of a post that was very familiar to me. It was Bud! In the Washington Post!

While I was glad to see Bud getting the recognition, I was not happy to see the lead into it:
Read some and find out why more teachers than ever -- some estimates say up to half in this decade -- are leaving the profession feeling exhausted, disillusioned and underpaid.
It seemed to me that the implication was that Bud was leaving the profession or getting ready to or thinking about it.

The article is pretty simplistic, but it is nice to read about edubloggers in the Washington Post!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Characteristics of good blogs

Thanks to Darren for the link to Bill MacKenty's post in which he lists the eSchool news criteria for what makes a good blog. It includes:

1. Personality

2. Usefulness

3. Writing style

4. Usability and design

5. Frequency

6. Relevancy

7. Interactivity

8. Fulfillment of purpose

9. Appropriateness

10. Would you revisit
Bill's post includes the description of each of these. You really should check it out.

As I look at my own blog, I see that I need to do some work in some of these areas. Maybe all of them. Something to think about...