Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If you are still linked here...

You won't find new content. That's all over at the new home of Random Thoughts, http://nmckeand.wordpress.com. Come on over and check it out!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I saw a UFO

Well, not really. But check out the new site if you want to see the pictures I took.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Teacher training videos

If you haven't seen them yet, these teacher training videos by Russell Stannard are really cool. Thanks to Darren for the link.

And if you are still visiting this site or are subscribed to the feed here, please check out the new site here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A blog worth reading

I have been a fan of Mike Rose for some time now, but I didn’t know he was blogging. While it isn’t a real active blog, what he has to say about eduation is always worth reading. Check it out here.

If you don’t know who Mike Rose is, you might check him out here on Wikipedia. Out you could read his book Lives on the Boundary, in which he uses his own story to talk about education.


(Cross posted at the new Random Thoughts)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Taking the "social" out of social media?

I have just posted on the new site about the use of social media in the classroom. If you haven't changed your bookmarks and subscriptions to that site yet, come on over and help me think about the topic.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Swurl

Jane has a link to something I hadn't seen before: Swurl. It claims to allow you to bring your web life together. You can access your various accounts and have them all feed into your swurl account. I set one up here, and I kind of like it. I am not sure how useful it will really be to me, but it is fun to play with.

(Cross posted at the new site. Please remember to update your subscription!)

Migrating to WordPress

Well, I have threatened to do it before, but now I really have gone and done it. I have migrated this blog to WordPress. Random Thoughts can now be found here.

Gabriela's comment on my previous post made me realize how silly it was not to make the move. I had imported posts from here to Moving Along earlier, thinking I would merge the two. But I decided, after importing all the new posts here to Moving Along, that I really didn't want to merge them. So I opened another blog as the new home of Random Thoughts.

This blog will stay open, and for a while I will cross post. But please, if you have subscribed to this blog, change your bookmarks!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Using Blogger

I felt a need to change the look of this blog today, but I was unable to find a template in Blogger that I liked better than this one. Isn't it about time they added more options?

I have played with my portfolio on WordPress over the last few days. Guess that's where the template envy comes from. I keep saying I am going to migrate this blog to WordPress, but I never do.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wikisend

A link to another interesting tool comes from Barry Bakin.

Wikisend allows you to upload files of up to 100MB. They will be available for 30 days from upload. You can access them yourself by emailing yourself the link. You can post the link somewhere, as I am going to do. I have uploaded the same Writing in Cyberspace presentation. You can access it for 30 days here. After that, the link won't work.

As Barry says, this would be perfect before a conference presentation: Upload your presentation to Wikisend and you will have access to it during the conference. If your bag is lost, if your computer crashes, whatever, you are covered. I like the idea.

By the way, you can keep a document live for anywhere from 1 to 90 days. And you can protect it with a password.

Thanks for the tip, Barry!

Calameo

Stephen Downes had a post about Calameo, so I knew I had to give it a shot. I tried it with a couple different documents that I had lying aorund, and it didn't do much for me. Then I tried it with an old presentation that I had on Slideshare. I converted it using Calameo, and this is what I got.


While it isn't spectacularly different, I like the page-turning more than the arrow-clicking of a regular presentation. I think I will be playing around with this some more.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Reading

Bryan inspired me to share with you what I have been reading.

I am finishing up Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

I just finished The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. The true story of his suicide attempt at fourteen, it is not a book for everyone, but I think it is an important book. It is billed as Young Adult nonfiction, but parents should read it, too, I think.

And what will I be reading next? There's nothing waiting on the bedside table. I may try one on Bryan's list, but I don't know. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thanks for the encouragement.

Many people have been very kind, encouraging me to get out there and take pictures. My life has been a little crazy lately, but I have been trying. This is one I took today as we were driving through Texas.




We had been going along fairly flat land -- or so we thought. We came around a corner and got a breathtaking view that extended for miles. By the time I got the camera out, I had missed the best shot. But this one was pretty nice, too, I think.

Letting students inside the process

Clarence has a great post called The Things I Carry. He talks about things he has given up in his classroom and things he is going to give up. He has what, to me at least, is a great idea:
This year I'm starting off the year with having the kids look at the required outcomes for the ELA (english language arts) curriculum. There are a whole lot of them and I've decided to start with this one document since it is the one I am most comfortable with. I have placed all of the outcomes onto a spreadsheet, and in the fall I plan on having small groups of kids take one or two outcomes, write it up in kid friendly language, make up a rubric for assessing this outcome and then make a work sample that would meet it. Once all of this documentation has been produced, it will all be assembled into a binder which kids can access. But this is all background work. The purpose of it is to give kids choice about what they are learning.
This part of the idea is important, I think. It takes the outcomes and makes them accessible to the students. After this step, you can be sure that the students know what it is they are expected to do during the year. And they have have more than a vague idea of how they could demonstrate that they have met an outcome. I think this gives students very valuable tools to use throughout the year.

He then gives an idea of what students would these tools and what it might look like in the classroom:
For example, if we are doing a unit on present day societal issues, at the beginning of this unit, I plan on having the kids choose possibly four or five of these outcomes that they want to pursue over the unit. They will then have to collect evidence and conference with me, showing me they have met the outcome. By years end, they should have spreadsheet that shows they have completed all of the outcomes. Done on a Google spreadsheet, we will be able to see its revision history, make comments on it, etc.
This is such an incredibly simple and yet profound idea. It lets students in on the process: Why do we make them do the things we make them do? How do we decide what they do when? It is transparency in the classroom on a daily basis. It gives the students choice. It trusts them to understand that there are certain things that have to be done. It gives them ownership -- or at least can help foster ownership -- of what goes on in the class.

As I am not currently employed, I can only dream about this. But I would really like to try it. I hope Clarence will blog about this process throughout the year.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wordle for tag clouds

Everyone seems to be doing it, so here's the tag cloud for my del.icio.us account.

I think I need to rethink my tags. But it is interesting to me to see this.

The tag cloud was done in Wordle, and I really like the way it can be customized.

Thanks to Bryan for the link. (His is so much more interesting than mine! Check it oot!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Back from New Orleans

I just got back a couple hours ago from the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project's Advanced Institute 2008 New Orleans Marathon. It was, as always, a wonderful experience. We wrote. We talked about writing, talked about teaching, and just talked about life. We stayed at the lovely Le Richelieu Hotel in the French Quarter. It is always hard to leave my writing friends after such an experience.

Now comes the hard part: finding pieces begun at some time in the past that can be revised and turned into finished pieces. It is a challenge -- but a good one. I am ready!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Writing among writers

I spent yesterday with a group of Louisiana writers. Most were from the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. The others were from other Louisiana Writing Project sites. And then there was Kim Stafford. He is director of the Northwest Writing Institute and son of the late Poet Laureate of the US, William Stafford.

Kim had us writing and talking about writing all day. It was great! I hadn't realized how much I missed it. I thought blogging served as my outlet for writing, but I find that I need this community of writers, too.

Tomorrow we head into New Orleans to write for three days. I am really looking forward to it!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Photography and me

First of all, thanks to those people who commented on my last post, encouraging me to take pictures. I appreciate it. Thanks, too, to Gabriella for making me feel guilty for not having uploaded pictures to Flickr yet!

I am stuck with photography where I used to be stuck with writing: I can't see that anyone would be even remotely interested in any pictures I take. I don't seem to be able to find anything unique or beautiful or even interesting to take pictures of. I went out to the back yard today and took a couple shots, but they weren't even interesting to me! I am going to keep trying, but it may take me a while to work up my courage.

It goes back to what I was saying about the Nikon site: they want you to figure out what your passion is right from the start. That is where my problem is. If I knew what I wanted to photograph, it would be easier to do it, I think.

Do I have it backwards?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Learning photography

While in Albuquerque, I bought my husband a new digital camera. See, I wanted one, and he thought I should get a really good one. But I know myself: I will take snapshots with it. What do I need a 10x zoom for? So, he gets the new Canon and I get the "old" Sony: 7 megapixels, 3x optical zoom. I am happy and so is he.

I have never considered myself particularly artistic. He is definitely the photographer in the family. But I have an urge to be more creative, to take more pictures. I look at the wonderful shots Teacher Dude posts on his blog, and I long to be able to do the same.

So today when I saw a post on Open Culture on the Nikon Digital Learning Center, I was really happy. I haven't done much more than just look at it yet, but I want to take some time and really check it out.

The hard part, for me, is the first step they talk about:
Find the type of photography that moves you!
How do I do that? It's the same problem I used to have with my writing, though, so I am fairly sure that if I explore photography enough, I will eventually figure it out. At least I hope so.

I have always been so focused on words. I want to break out of that, to become more image-oriented. Maybe this will give me a little guidance on taking pictures and maybe that will inspire me to move beyond the written word. At least I hope it will.

The future

I sit here unsure about what the future holds and yet not worried. That's a minor miracle! I have two basic options: get a job or try to work for myself. Actually, I wouldn't really be working for myself because I don't pay much, but you know what I mean!

I have a possible paying "consultant" job doing course development that would pay OK. No benefits, of course. It would be 6-12 months. I have been working for these people as a volunteer for about 3 years now, so I pretty much know what I would be getting into.

I have 2 job applications out at the moment. One is here in Louisiana and the other is back in New Mexico. Both jobs would be OK. Both would have benefits. Both have their drawbacks.

If I decide to go the consultant/course developer route, I am probably making a decision about the rest of my working life. (At almost 58, it is hard to find a job. It isn't going to be easier in a year.) That is the only scary part for me. Can I make enough money piecing things together? I want to do it. I want to try.

The other disadvantage to the consultant thing is that it takes me out of the classroom entirely. I could probably find some part-time teaching opportunities, I guess, if I felt a real need to do that.

I am doing the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project's Advanced Summer Institute starting next Monday. That gives me two weeks of writing and time to reflect before I really have to make any decisions. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Back home again

Well, I made it back to Louisiana without incident. It is good to be back. Not sure what will happen in the future, but at least I am here for now!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Last day at work

Didn't I have a similar post this time last year? Well, I guess it is that time of year again. Today was officialy my last day at work in Albuquerque.

I don't know what I am doing next, but contrary to how I felt last year, I am not too stressed out about it. Actually, I am not stressed out about it at all. I return to Louisiana on Sunday -- well, I start the trip on Sunday. I am not one for long stretches of driving, so I probably won't get home until Tuesday. I am taking a two-week class that starts on the 9th, and I will begin to think about the future after that. I will, of course, keep you informed.

DIY dictation

Listen and Write is a great site that lets you listen to an audio text (including VOA Special English news reports and fables) in their entirety or in chunks to use as a dictation exercise. It looks pretty cool. You can log in to keep track of your scores, or you can just listen and type without logging in. I would really like to give this a try.

Thanks to Darren for the link.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Visual Chemistry

Jenny's other post was an example that I think Garr Reynolds and Dr. John Medina would approve of. It teaches chemistry in a very visual way. While I am sure some people will object to parts of this, the theory behind it is one that is definitely OK: We learn better with visuals. See what you think:



Chemistry was not really a favorite of mine when I was in school. No science was, really. But how much more might I have learned if I had had something like this to watch? The concept of attraction and separation of elements is made real. It is visual. It is in my brain.

Garr Reynolds on Brain Rules

Jenny Luca had a couple of posts that really caught my attention. One is a Slideshare presentation by Garr Reynolds on Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina.

Not only is it a wonderful example of a presentation (of course!), but it also provides a few simple ideas that we, as educators, need to remember. Things like the fact that we don't pay attention to things that are boring and that we remember pictures better than text. (If you know Garr's take on presentations, that will sound real familiar!) He also talks about the fact that we need to exercise our brains.

As teachers, we need to remember these ideas and, I suspect, the other ideas in Dr. Medina's book. I know I am going to check the book and the website out. Thanks to Jenny for the link!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More PCLinux machines

Well, we have added three more PCLinux machines in the family.

It was really kind of funny. Almost. Sort of. Now that the disaster has passed. I upgraded my Ubuntu machine to Hardy Heron and was quite happy. I had decided to keep it (Compaq Presario V22630US) an Ubuntu machine because it has a Broadcom 4318 wireless card -- and they aren't the most Linux-friendly cards out there. The wireless worked fine for a week or so and then started disappearing on a regular basis. Since I am teaching an online course, my Internet connection is not something I take lightly -- especially since my Acer seems to have bit the dust and I am waiting until I get back to Louisiana to officially declare it dead and look for a replacement. I tried every fix I could find in the forums. I made up some fixes of my own. Nothing worked. My husband, who at that time ran Debian on one machine and PCLinux on the laptop, suggested I try PCLinux on it. He had tried it on his Acer with the same wireless card, and everything seemed to be OK on the live CD. I was reluctant because I had not been aable to get the Live CD to see ot on mine, but he was persistent and suggested I try TinyMe. So I downloaded it. And it worked. Wireless, printer, everything. I am thrilled!

While I was doing this in New Mexico, my son finally consented to turn his Acer laptop over to my husband for some Linux distro to be put on as he had all kind of problems on it running XP. (Most of them may have been of his own doing, but the fact is that the machine was dead running Windows.) My husband put on PCLinux, and everything worked.

Meanwhile, my husband has had trouble getting things to work on his Debian Acer desktop, the one he had tried the PCLinux liveCD on, so he finally broke down and installed it. For the first time in the more than year and a half that he has had the machineee, he got the wireless working.

Over the last year or so I have become very detached as far as Linux distros are concerned. If they work, I use them. If they don't, I move on to another one. So far, PCLinux seems to work more consistently on our machines than anything else. Thanks to all the people who have put in so much time and effort on it!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Isn't it odd...

I recently had my first run-in with a Microsoft docx document. A friend was complaining tht she couldn't open it with the version of Microsoft Word that she runs. She was told to download a conversion program, but both times she did that, her computer crashed. I tried opening the document with OpenOffice 2.4 and had no problems with it at all. She was amazed. I said, "Of course!"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's a computer buyer to do?

Vicki Davis has a heartfelt post about Vista and how it has disrupted her mother's life. I am sure you've read it already, but if you haven't, please do.

I have been thinking a lot about Vista lately because several people in my family are to the point where they need new computers. My son-in-law, currently running PCLinuxOS, needs a new computer badly, but he doesn't want to get Vista until they get it working better. I was hoping he would be "converted" to Linux before this old computer died completely, but that doesn't seem to be happening. And even if he was converted, it's hard to convince someone they should wipe out everything that comes on a new computer and replace it with something else right away.

I'm also in the market for a new computer -- maybe. My Acer seems to have died again -- one month after the 90 day warranty on the new motherboard they installed in January expired. For me the decision is a little easier. I am committed to Linux. There is no question of giving Vista a try. But I still have the question of getting a new one and wiping out Vista, buying a used one and installing Linux, or buying a machine with Linux pre-installed.

Buying a computer isn't as huge a decision as it was 20 years ago, but it is still something that requires thought and planning.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Do our test scores matter?

Scott McLeod has an interesting post entitled Low ability teachers, low ability students? . He cites evidence that leads him to assert that
the percentage of teachers with lower academic ability increases in schools over time. The brightest go elsewhere.
He then goes on to demonstrate that this adversely affects education in this country. Finally, he turns the discussion over to the rest of us, saying
Let’s assume that, generally speaking, these studies are correct: 1) smart people are less likely to stay in teaching (thus resulting in a concentration of teachers with lower academic ability), and 2) the academic ability of teachers impacts student learning outcomes. Now what?
Now, what? How do we keep the brightest teachers? One answer, I think, is to allow teachers to actually teach. Teaching is a very creative activity. When bright people are allowed to be creative, I think they are happier. When they are told that it is the third Thursday in March so they have to be doing X, they are denied the opportunity to be creative. And they are more likely to become unhappy.

But that isn't going to solve the whole problem. What else can be done? If these "facts" are true, we need to do something.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Make your own quiz 2

Barry posted a quiz on his blog that he had made with MyStudiyo. I decided to check it out. It is a really, really simple way to make a quiz for students to take online. It is possible to include photos, as Barry did, and even video, I guess.

Once you have created the quiz, you have two choices: post it immediately to a blog or other site (as I did, with the result being my previous post) or copy the code and paste it (as I am doing in this post).



When you post the quiz to your site, you have the option of posting it to the sidebar. I tried this, but I couldn't get the size right. My lack of skill, I am sure. It is a neat option, though.

I can see a ton of uses for this. It is very easy to use and can, apparently, do so much more than my simple quiz does. I want to play around with it more.

Oh! I forgot to tell you it's free! Check it out!

Make your own quiz

Friday, April 18, 2008

Attention writers... and readers

Jane posted a link to what looks to be a great website, StoryMash. According to the site, it is

the future of collaborative fiction. A creative writing community for authors, amateur writers, readers and anyone interested in collaborative fiction and collaborative creative writing.

I went and looked around a little, read the beginning to a story, Two Steps Back. I really enjoyed the story chapter.

I think this could be fun. Could it be used with students? My guess is it would depend on the age of the students. But I could see having students find a story they like and then add to it. This could be done off the site, probably, for my ESL students or on it for college students. It could be very interesting. I haven't checked it out a whole lot yet, but I like what I see so far.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How do we carry on the conversation?

I had a comment the other day on my other blog from the Literacy Adviser. He talked about being a new blogger and said he was
Not even sure whether to reply to someone’s comments by leaving another comment or by linking through to them like this.
For me the answer lies in the content of the comment. If it raises an issue that I want to discuss further or feel I should address further, a new post on the blog linking to the post with the comment seems to me to be the most appropriate. If I want to really respond to the comment, this seems better because there is a better chance that it will be read. But that assumption could be entirely inaccurate.

If someone makes a comment that is nice but not necessarily extending the discussion, I may just comment after the original comments to say thank you. That is what Clarence Fisher does here. It is very appropriate, I think. But it would probably have been just as appropriate to write another post about the support he received -- if he had wanted to.

Another option, and the one that the Literacy Adviser used, was to leave a comment on one of my blogs acknowledging that I had commented on his blog. To me this is OK, too, but it is a little awkward as the comment and the post aren't necessarily connected. But I know I have received a number of comments like that, so a lot of people must do it.

I don't know that there is a real protocol for this. Or if there is, someone forgot to tell me. So now is your chance: What should bloggers do when they want to comment on a comment? Bill and I are both anxious to know.

So obvious I hate to even say it

In my efforts to eliminate worksheets and as a result of some of the awesome ideas I got from the teacher's institute I went to last weekend, I am struck by a simple truth:

If a student can miss class and get the worksheets later on, there is little incentive to come to class.
If a student comes class and misses an experience that can't be duplicated, then there is a lot more reason to make an effort to show up.

Of course, this awareness isn't going to be automatic. Students don't have any way of knowing now that there are a lot more experiences to be had in class. But I think that they will figure it out pretty quickly.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A new blog I'm reading

Miguel has a new blog. This one is more about writing than anything else. It is a good read -- as all his blogs are. He has made 20 posts in two days, so don't wait too long to start reading or you may never catch up!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Professional Development

I just got back from a training institute put on by the New Mexico Adult Education Association. It was the best PD I have ever received, I think.

Friday I attended an all-day session on TESOL run by John Kongsvick of TESOL Trainers. His focus was low-prep materials for use in the ESL classroom. A lot of what he talked about was not totally new to me, but it was really good to be reminded. He presented 8 strategies -- including my favorite: Don't do for students what they can do for themselves.

This morning I had the opportunity to talk with GED instructors from UNM-Gallup and Dine College. Although our teaching situations are very different, we found that we struggle with many of the same issues. It was great!

I was able to attend this institute at no cost. It was held at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe, NM. The accommodations were lovely. The food was wonderful.

My boss sent out an email a few weeks ago asking who would like to attend. I was the only person who expressed interest, so I got to go. We could have sent 2 more people, but no one else was interested. I couldn't believe it then, and I really can't believe it now. We missed the opportunity to have a real core group of excited teachers working together to improve our program. Now, I am excited, but I am sure that excitement will be killed after about ten minutes back at work on Monday. That makes me sad.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Helping students learn to write

Over at Hey Mister, a teacher shares his method of working with student writing. It is really easy and simple and, possibly, quite effective. He reads until he gets to the first "problem" and then makes an X. He then gives it back to the student to revise. Next draft, he does the same. Eventually, students seem to figure out that it is easier to make an effort and try to do it right the first time. Or at least the second or third!

I really like this idea. I have heard it before, but I haven't heard as good an explanation and justification before. He does it because he was plagued by questions like these:
How do we get kids to actually worry about the work they produce? How do we get them to work through draft after draft of a paper in search of perfection?
... questions that, of course, all of us who teach writing ask. I love the idea, and I think it would work.

But I wonder about my students - adult second language learners. I would have really limit what I marked. They don't have the proficiency with the language they would need to be able to decide what was wrong every time there was an error. But surely, if we are working on a particular verb tense and I marked an X the first time I found an error of that type, they should be able to fix it. With help, at least. And then, they could be responsible for finding the other mistakes of that type before I look at it again.

My Intermediate students are writing this term, focusing on different verb tenses as a way of review. This would be a great opportunity to try this. I think I will.

Thanks to Bud for the link to the blog.

More on community

Miguel wrote about community today. I commented over there, but his post made me think about this issue again and in a different way, so I decided to bring my part of the conversation back over here.

First of all, I agree with Miguel that there is danger in only doing this for myself. I have given up on lots of projects over the more than 5 decades of my life. Many of them were great ideas and good causes, but I just couldn't sustain interest in them in the face of all the stuff that life brings. Blogging, for me, is different, though. Blogging feeds me and helps to keep me going. I may be sporadic, but I cannot now envision not blogging. I have been doing it for more than 3 years - a fact that amazes me!

When he comments on my post, though, he says:
Again, there is a perception that the edublogosphere isn't a community, or that such a community, if it exists, isn't worthy of existing if it's focus is going to change. This disillusionment is natural.
I really don't agree with this part of Miguel's post. At least it doesn't reflect how I feel about the edublogosphere. I think that we are a community of sorts, and I am glad of it. And I certainly do not object to it changing. What I object to is the perception that I have to do what everyone else does and be where they are if I want to be part of it.

I think that we are a lot like a brick and mortar community. We don't all go to the same coffee shop. Some people don't even drink coffee. But we run into each other at the grocery store or at the library. It doesn't matter where I see you; what matters is that we care about each other enough to speak to each other and, at least sometimes, exchange our thoughts and ideas.

Maybe what I am part of isn't "the edublogosphere" that everyone talks about. I honestly don't know. But, I read lots of blogs every day. I value the discussion. I participate probably not as much as I should, but I take part. I try to take what I learn here and apply it to my own life and work situation. I try to be a responsible member of this community. Whatever it is.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Help them succeed by getting involved

Schools Matter always has some good ideas, often in the form of articles written by others. Today was no exception. The post includes an ABC News article by Neal Karlinsky about high schools raising graduation rates. It showcases a couple schools that have seen dramatic increases by getting more involved in the students' lives. Karlinsky writes:
A handful of schools across the country have discovered that a key ingredient to helping kids be successful in school is helping them deal with the problems they have in the outside world.
It really is that simple, I think.

The article closes with these words:

Educators say the solution won't come in the form of more testing. As one principal put it today, the key is to see students as human beings, not statistics.
Now, if only we could get someone to listen...

It's up to us to make the change

I know you've seen it: Will's post about tests and cheating. Probably his shortest post, but one of the most important, I think.

If kids cheat on tests today, it is largely our fault. If we use fill-in-the-blank tests, we obviously don't really want students to think too deeply, so what does it matter if they cheat? The same is true of "essays" copied from the encyclopedia or whatever. We need to craft assignments and assessment tools that require students to create something, to synthesize information, to express opinons and back them up with "facts". I wrote about this last year a couple times.

This is tied, of course, to my current struggle with worksheets. I am happy with how this term is going so far without worksheets in two classes. We are having more quality discussion. Students are writing more and better. It has been hard to get this all organized, but it is worth the effort. At the end of the term, I will know that my students have learned something. Also, I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am enjoying my classes a lot more. Even more important, my students seem to be enjoying them more, too.

But back to tests... In one class, we are eliminating the end-of-term test and replacing it with portfolios of the students' writing. We are allowing students to select 5 from among 12 pieces of writing, some of it more complicated than others. This is something new for our students, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to it. In the other class, I think I will give them a test but ask them to respond to "essay" questions. They will be similar to questions we have answered in class in writing and orally, so I don't think it will be too hard. At least I hope it won't. The writing will be personal and pertinent. I am not sure exactly what this will look like yet, but I know it will be better than the suual tests they have to take. And they won't really be able to cheat. Not substantially, anyway.

I am ecitied to see what happens. These next 6 weeks are going to be fun!

Are we a community?

Bud's post in response to Doug's post was one I was glad to read. Bud's point, which he made back in November, too, is that there is no such thing as "the edublogosphere" but rather that there are lots of us out here doing what we do -- whatever that is. He said in November and quoted again now:
Mostly, the assumption that’s troubling me so much is that there’s one group (community - whatever) out there that exists for educational conversation via electronic media, and that we should all try to engage and involve everyone in that one (fallacious) group so that we’re all friends and reading and commenting each other. And that we’ll all agree on where that group should go, when they should meet, and what we’ll all do when we get there. Or that we ever agreed in the first place.

Ain’t going to happen. Not now, not ever. Never did happen, in fact. We all construct our blogrolls, our Twitter friends, or our other social networking relationships for our benefit and to meet our own unique needs. That leads some folks to add everyone as a friend. Others, no one. And whichever way you want to go is fine for you - but please don’t require that I or anyone else goes with your system to meet our own needs.

I think that there is possibly a community of those "A-List" edubloggers whom everyone wants to read. Or most everyone, anyway. But there is no way I will ever be part of that community. I don't even want to be part of that community, really.

I am interested in what I am interested in. I read what I want to read where I want to read it. I am not in love with Twitter and probably never will be -- but you never know!

Blogging, for me, is as much about reflection as it is about exchanging ideas. I will stay here, read the blogs I read and add a few more from time to time and be happy. If I am not part of the "community", that's OK. I am doing this for me.



Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Google survey tool

Randy Rogers has an interesting post about Google's survey tool, which is part of Google Docs. I haven't really used Google Docs much, but this looks like it could really be useful. He also has a link to a great video to explain how to use the tool. It can be found here.

I tried this out for myself and was really amazed by how easy it was. The data automatically goes into a spreadsheet in Google Docs. I was afraid that you might need a GMail account to access it, but you can send the form in an email to anyone, and they can complete it in the email itself. At least I was able to do that with my Yahoo accounts, and the results showed up in my Google Docs spreadsheet.

Right now I am not sure why I would need a survey tool but this is definitely where I would go to first if I needed to survey people. It was super easy!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

PCLinuxOS 2008 Gnome

I downloaded the new PCLinuxOS 2008 Gnome the other day. So far I have only run it as a live CD on my Acer laptop, but I really like the looks of it. It found my Atheros wireless card immediately but was having trouble with my printer. When I finish a project I am currently wrapping up, I think I will install it and see how it goes installed.

More on my use of worksheets

Both Angie and Gabriela responded to my last post about eliminating worksheets. And I owe them a response, so here it is.

Gabriela, I really appreciate your comments. I have changed a little what I want them to do, so there will be lots of sharing before the end. And as soon as I read your comments about the grammar, that all came together for me, too. I still have some work to do, but it is nearly finished. Thanks for your encouragement.

As to why we use worksheets in the program I teach in... I am not sure. But it is easy for the people who buy into it. I know that there was no money in the beginning, and I think they were doing the best they could, but it is not at all in keeping with any kind of current thought about ESL teaching that I am aware of. We had a meeting about the curriculum last week, and there was a lot of discontent when the director said we were going to choose a textbook series and use it next year. Change is difficult for a lot of us.

Angie, you raise some great points. There is so little time and so much to do that worksheets are a big help. But most workshets don't require students to think or to really make much effort at all. They don't promote skills that extend beyond the worksheet. They don't, really, promote learning.

This is where I struggle with the concept of worksheets, though. Students need practice. Worksheets have traditionally provided that practice. If I want students to practice using a particular verb tense, for example, it would be easy to have them complete worksheets where they fill in the correct form of the verb. If I don't do that, are they getting enough practice? I am not sure. But I know that no matter how many worksheets I give them to complete, they aren't going to be able to use the correct verb in free speech or writing. So the practice doesn't guarantee they will be able to produce the form in real life.

I try to give my students a lot of practice with whatever we are learning. We talk a lot in class and they have to write fairly regularly. It isn't as much practice as they could get from a worksheet, but I think it is higher quality practice. It has more carryover to real life, I think. I hope.

One thing I need to make clear is that I am not trying to judge anyone here. We all do what seems best to us at a particular time. Have I used worksheets? Sure! Will I use them again? Probably.

What this is about for me is reflective practice. The worksheets I was using weren't ones I had invested in at all; they were given to me to use. In an attempt to make these classes my own, I have moved away from those worksheets. In an attempt to make the class more meaningful for my students and more cohesive, I have moved away from them. But if there comes a time when I think my students need a quick review of something or if there seems to be some other reason to use worksheets, I will most likely use them on a limited basis. But they will be reintroduced to my classes after reflection. That makes all the difference, I think.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Harder than it ought to be

Last week I wrote about my decision to eliminate worksheets from 2 of the courses I teach. One of them, my Intermediate class, will be pretty easy. The other instructor of that level and I have been modifying the stated curriculum to make it more meaningful for our students, and I don't use many worksheets with them anyway. The other class, though, is proving to be a little harder.

I am the only teacher of the Beginning II class. As a result, I have a lot of autonomy, but I miss having someone to discuss the changes with. I need to stick pretty much to the curriculum, I think, until we make changes this summer. I teach two classes of this level, and each will have 24 hours of instruction before the term ends. I am supposed to cover workplace safety, finding a job, future tenses with "going to" and "will" and prepositions. The worksheets that have been prepared for this term are a hodge podge of things, with no apparent attempt to connect the topical content and the grammar content. We have no textbook for the course; those worksheets are all I have to build the course on.

That is, of course, a blessing. It opens the door for me to do basically whatever I want -- as long as it touches on those topics. I have decided that I am going to modify the test I give students at the end of the term to reflect the more communicative nature of my class, so I am not strictly bound to the test. I do, however, feel I need to cover those topics.

I think what I want to do is have students work in groups of three. They will choose a job that interests them. I want that to be the basis of the work they do all six weeks. I want the culminating project to be a sharing of what they have learned about that job. If I had access to technology, I would have students do this on a wiki. Since I don't, they will have to work on paper and then make an oral presentation, too.

I have to include grammar instruction in here somewhere and somehow. I think that the topics we have to cover are going to be familiar enough to them that it won't require instruction as much as reminding them of what they already know.

Anyway, I am working on this. Today is Tuesday. I have to be pretty much ready to go with it on Monday evening. Fortunately, I love this kind of work. I am looking forward to seeing what I can do with it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Prepare to be inspired

Bee posted a link to a great talk by David Eggers as he accepted his TED prize. He talks of becoming personally involved in a local school, being present for young people. He calls on the audience -- and on all of us, really -- to take up the challenge and find our own ways to help, not with our money or our good wishes but with our physical presence. That is his wish.

To learn more about Eggers' own project, 826 Valencia, and its national partners, go to 826 National. Another website, Once Upon a School, is filled with ideas and stories of people who have pledged to make Eggers' wish come true.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Forums

Thanks to a post on Mashable, I have discovered Lefora, a free forum-hosting site. As I continue to think about how the program I teach in could begin to handle distance ed, this seems like it might really be a big help. If you have tried it, please let me know what you think.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not on the test

Tim Chapin has a great song about high stakes testing. Watch the video here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I have to do it!

I have been frustrated with my job for a while now. I wrote about it earlier, when I commented on Woody's decision not to use worksheets anymore. But yesterday in class things really seemed t come to a head for me. I have students who come to class and do their homework as class is starting. The better students are very quick to respond with the answers when we go over the worksheets, and I feel like others are being left behind. I could try to blame it on our "curriculum", which is nothing more than a series of worksheets, but I really have to accept more responsibility myself.

So, I want to take a stand here and now. I will eliminate worksheets from two of the three levels I teach. I have a week of spring break to figure out how I can adapt the "curriculum" to something other than a series of worksheets. It is way past time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do we want to be that safe?

I got an email from Graham today telling me that he was going to have to hold off on his Blog Coach plan. If you have been reading about Al Upton's blog closure, you can probably understand why.

I won't pretend to have read everything about Al's problem, but what I have read allows me to see what a shame this is. And when you add to it the fact that other people, like Graham, are now having to wait to see what they will and won't be allowed to do, it becomes an even bigger shame.

I understand the need to try to keep our kids safe. But I don't know if it is really possible to keep anyone as safe as we seem to think our children should be. We do not and cannot, for instance, protect children from many dangers that are much more likely to occur. We are very selective about the dangers we protect them from. We let them go to schools and colleges where they may be shot. We let them play sports where they may end up being paralyzed. We let them ride school buses and vans, which may be involved in serious accidents. We don't stop them from dating, which opens the door for physical and sexual abuse.

And what do we lose in the process of trying to keep them that safe? We lose all the much more likely positive benefits of whatever it is we make off-limits to our kids. In this case, they cannot interact with adults from around the world who might be able to teach them something valuable or encourage them in a way that no one else has before. They lose the opportunity to develop their own voice online. They lose the opportunity to learn in a safe setting how to conduct themselves online. They also lose their openness to new experiences.

I agree with what Meg Ryan's character said in "French Kiss":
I realized that I've spent most of my adult life trying to protect
myself from exactly this situation. And you can't do it.
There's no home safe enough, no relationship secure enough.
You're setting yourself up for an even bigger fall and having
an incredibly boring time in the process.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

FTP Clients

Miguel has a post about FTP clients and, while it veers a little from the kind of posts I make here, I wanted to chime in. One of the clients Miguel talks about is FireFTP, an Firefox add-on. I have been using it for about a year now on a regular basis, and I have to say that I absolutely love it. I tried some Linux options, including gFTP, but nothing beat FireFTP for ease of use.

When you download it, a screen comes up one time to ask you to donate through PayPal if you feel so inclined and are able. As you can read here, the developer isn't using this money to buy new toys. Half the money goes to help orphans in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. He keeps the other half to help his family, which includes an orphan from that area that they have adopted. So if you are in need of an FTP client, check FireFTP out. And once you do, please consider donating what you can. It is a good cause, and FireFTP is worth at least whatever you feel inclined to give!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Needed change

Woody has, again, written a post that got me thinking. He is talking about being proactive in our efforts to get kids interested in math, science, and engineering. He discusses a project at his school that was designed to address the issue but isn't, in his view, really working. He says:
Bringing in an Engineer to talk to the students is not going to get them interested in becoming an engineer. Most of these students cannot see this in their future. It is not real to them.
His notion of what needs to be done is this:
I believe we need to change the methods of our teaching first. We need to give the students a way to express how they feel. We need to listen to them. We need to talk with them, and not at them. We need to present ourselves as learners also. We need to let them know that their voice is just as powerful as ours. We need a collection of voices to make learning more powerful to everyone. We need to invite schools to be more proactive instead of reactive. Until this changes, I don't see the students changing.
I couldn't agree with Woody more. Even though I teach adults, my program is set up the same way Woody's is. We talk to the students. We decide what they need to learn. We do not really feel a need to give them a voice in anything that goes on.

I wonder what would happen if I were to throw the "curriculum" out the window and teach students, not some material that they may or may not need or want. I try to adapt what I do to make it more meaningful to them, but my students still have to take the same tests as everyone else. If I don't cover the same material, they are at a real disadvantage. If I try to cover it in a different way, they may have a real understanding of the material but be unprepared to answer the fill-in-the-blank questions on the test.

I would love to teach in an environment that valued learners more. It would be messy, and it might be more difficult to prove to funders that learning had taken place. But I think, given time, we could develop a really excellent program that met students where they were and took them to where they wanted to go. That is a program I would be proud to be associated with.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Influence

Ewan's post today has me thinking about influence. He talks about the small group of

... good teachers sharing new ideas about how we can do our jobs better.

We all know who they are. Ewan himself is one of them. But then he goes on to discuss two other ideas. The first is:

It's not how influential you are...

Ewan says that us regular people can also become influential by being passionate about an idea to our friends and colleagues. So it seems to be as much about passion as influence. He says:

Get some regular folk together and you have a chance that your idea hits the mainstream.

I think that is what is happening with the use of social media in schools. I wonder how many of us really blog or use wikis because Will Richardson says its a good thing to do. A lot of us, I'm sure. But I know more examples of people who have been influenced to blog by watching their colleagues do it. Because that is where the support comes on a daily basis.

I have noticed in my own life that I read fewer and fewer of the most important bloggers and more of the regular people bloggers. Some of the "influential" bloggers that I read are ones I have been reading since before they were so influential. But more often than not, I get really great ideas from regular people who are passionate about what they do.

Ewan also says:

If being influential isn't important, wherefore professional organisations?
Does this stand up in an age where anyone with ideas that society can grasp can take on an influence of their own?

This is also an interesting idea to me. I find myself not very interested in what my large professional organizations can do for me. Because I don't see that they can do much for me. On a more local level, yes, professional organizations can help me, but an international or national level organization seems too far removed from me to be of much benefit. The influence of large groups comes from sheer numbers. And that makes it hard to create a sense of passion about anything but increasing the size and influence of the organization.

Influence is a tricky thing. It is probably true that we need "influential" people and organizations. But I don't believe we should abdicate responsibility to be influential in our own spheres -- however small they might be. In the long run, the most influential people are those who just go about their lives doing what they can to make the world a better place.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Change

I've been reading Woody's blog, edumorphing, for a little while now. A little more than a month ago I wrote about his decision to eliminate worksheets from his classroom, and I have been reading him ever since.

He had a post the other day about change and our role in creating it. He said:
We love to make everything look like it's alright, even though it's not. I think its time that we start calling a spade a spade. Do something about it.
I commented there about my situation at work. And it got me thinking.

That same day I was talking with my husband about work, and he told me that I had to speak up more directly and more forcefully than I had. So I did. I don't know how it went over. It isn't always easy to tell. But at least I said what I felt.

We are having a meeting next week where all this will come up in front of everyone. It will be a real pivotal meeting for me. I don't know how it will end up, but I cannot sit quietly, hating the way things are but unwilling to take a public stand.

I have to try to create positive change on an institutional level, not just a personal one. This is what Will was talking about a couple weeks ago and what I wrote about after reading his post. I am not sure, of course, how this will turn out, but I am ready to try.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

HipBone Game - roommate prewrite


roommate prewrite1
Originally uploaded by namckeand.
We would regularly do TOEFL writing practice. I wanted students to put more thought into their essays than they usually did, so I started doing whole class prewrites. Often we used a HipBone board. The main reason I did tht was to force them to think of more than 3 possible ideas to discuss in their essays.

Another time I used a more complex board with 12 places, I believe. We talked about ideas related to the topic: Why movies are popular. After we filled the board, we looked at it for some possible ways to structure the essay. This extended the value of the game.

Day of the Dead HipBone Game


Day of the Dead HipBone Game
Originally uploaded by namckeand.
This is a game that was just to provide structure to a discussion of the Day of the Dead. All the words were in some way connected to the topic. The discussion was wonderful.

HipBone game - sentence combining


sentence combining
Originally uploaded by namckeand.
This is one game board I did that first year with my students. Without giving them any clue as to what we were doing, I had students give me simple sentences. I wrote them on the board in the order they were given to me. They could combine any two sentences that were connected to each other on the board. We ended up with some crazy sentences, but they had a lot of fun.

This isn't really much different from any other sentence combining activity. Students got good practice with combining sentences. But it seemed much less like work and more like fun. These were adult students I was working with, but the game approach really appealed to them.

HipBone Games

Bee also asked about my use of HipBone games with my classes. I first heard about HipBone games in 2001. I was teaching in Mexico at the time. A colleague told me about them. I couldn't quite see what I could do with them, but I loved them!

The next year I went to Louisiana to start a new ESL program at a small college. I had the same 5 students in the same small room for 25 hours a week. We needed stuff to break up the monotony, and I decided HipBone games were going to be part of how I did that.

I started with simple vocabulary games, where students posted words we had been studying and made sentences with them. Of course, they had to incorporate other people's words into their sentences as the board filled up. I was surprised how well students were able to do this.

We played many other kinds of games, too. We did grammar-based games where students combined sentences or practiced a particular verb tense. I used the games as discussion starters and as prewrite activities and as a story-mapping activity. Students always enjoyed the games, no matter what we did.

I used a game as a vocabulary review activity at a Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project workshop. This activity, which was just supposed to be a demonstration of the potential of the games, ended up being a defining moment in the summer workshop.

I have played a couple games with my adult immigrant students recently. The first one was a vocabulary game that I have written about previously. The last one, though, was more like what I used to consider a "real" HipBone game. I explained that we were going to be talking about our memories, and that one person would have to keep talking about his or her memory until it made someone else go "That reminds me..." I wanted to introduce the past progressive tense to my students, so I started by telling them about what happened to me when I was learning to ride a bike. I told the story in some detail, but I wrote it on the game board as a one sentence entry:
When I was learning to ride I bike, I fell down a lot and cut my knees.
That prompted another bike-riding memory and another. We branched out from bike riding to other memories, but each time I wrote it as a sentence on the game board using past continuous and simple past. At the end of the game, we talked about the grammar of it. The students were intermediate level, and almost all of them had naturally used the past continuous. This was more of a question of drawing their attention to it. And it worked.

I have uploaded a few game boards to flickr, and I will post some of them here.

SMiELT and Blogging

Bee asked if SMiELT had kept me from blogging. I realized that I didn't make myself clear. I would not ever say SMiELT kept me from posting to this blog or to Moving Along. I may have used it as an excuse on occasion, but that isn't really what happened.

The big division of loyalties that I wanted to comment on in my previous post was between my two blogs. I have been posting slightly more regularly on Moving Along than I have been here. I don't use Moving Along much except during EVO sessions, for some reason or another. But during EVO, I use it more than I do this blog because most of what I am thinking about and writing about is related to the EVO session.

When I am exploring different tools for a session like SMiELT, I don't spend as much time reading other blogs as I normally do. And when I do read them, I read more superficially. I seldom reflect on them the way I try to otherwise because I am usually in more of a hurry. In that way, I guess maybe SMiELT did affect the amount of blogging I have done these last 6 weeks.

SMiELT, like all the other EVO sessions I have participated in, has been a great experience. I have learned about tools I would never really have looked at on my own. I have tried them out and attempted, at least, to give them a chance. If I haven't kept up my every-day blogging here the way I wanted to, oh well... There's always the other 46 weeks out of the year!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Divided loyalties

Well, I haven't been here much lately, have I? We are entering Week 6 of Social Media in English Language Teaching. It has been interesting for me to participate as a co-moderator, to see it from the inside. Right now we are playing a HipBone game. I have been playing HipBone games with my students for years, and this is the first time I have seen one played online. The board we are playing on at the moment looks like this:

It is really interesting to see how this plays out online. It is a lot like the way it plays out in person except there is a lot more time between moves. And, since I volunteered to update the board after each move, I have learned more about actually doing something in Drupal.

And then, of course, there is the fact that I really like wordpress better than Blogger. Even though I am not posting there much more than I am here, I find that it just works better for me. I year or so ago, I copied everything here over into Moving Along, but I haven't been able to bring myself to close this blog. Somebody asked me not too ling ago why I was reluctant to give up this blog, and I didn't have a real good answer. I guess it is force of habit more than anything else.

Once the SMiELT session is over, I hope to be back here full-time again. Let's see how good I am at actually doing that!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Attrition

As you know if you have been reading here, I am involved with a TESOL EVO session on social media. It has been a very interesting experience. I am learning that I am a decidedly unsocial person. Actually, I knew that before, but I am being reminded every day now. But that is another post...

When we started the session we had many participants and, as you would expect, we have lost a good number of them. Or at least they are not actively participating anymore. I am especially aware of this today because one of the remaining participants contacted me to ask me what was going on, why there were so few of us left.

I have the same problem with my face-to-face adult ESL classes. People have great intentions. Sometimes their life situations become more complicated or a work schedule change makes a class impossible. Sometimes, too, they just discover that the class isn't right for them.

Most programs know that this is going to happen. But what I am starting to realize is the extent to which other students/participants feel deserted by those who no longer attend. While we may understand on an intellectual level, I am seeing that it does have effects on an emotional level. Classrooms, virtual or traditional, are about community for many of us, and it hurts when that community loses members.

This is a new way for me to think about attrition. Am I overreacting?

Friday, February 08, 2008

What I've been doing, when I have been doing anything

While I have been feeling so bad for almost a week now, I haven't been doing much online. I come home from work and go to bed. But on occasion I have gone online and played around a little, mostly in connection with the EVO2008 session I am supposed to be co-moderating on Social Media in English Language Teaching.

We are looking at uses of blogs, wikis, Twitter, the 43 Trio, del.icio.us and other tools in language classes of different kinds. It is interesting.

I have also been posting a bit more on my other blog, Moving Along, as part of the session. I haven't been doing as much there as I should be, but there have been some posts.

I am also, at the moment, trying to help my daughter figure out a good alternative to iTunes, now that she is running Linux on her computer. The front runner seems to be Amazon, actually. Of course, that might not work for the real serious user, but I think it might work for her. We'll see.

So, I hope to eventually get back to reading and posting like I should be here. Maybe this is even that start of that. I would like to think so, but...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Good intentions come and go

Well, in spite of my good intentions, I have not written here in five days. I have been fighting a cold and coming home from work and going straight to bed.

I don't know what more to say.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Some creativity

I started reading edumorphing only a couple weeks ago when Jo wrote about him eliminating worksheets from his teaching. Woody commented on my post that he had, indeed, done that and that he was excited by the prospect. Now he is sharing with us some of what he does instead of worksheets.

He writes:
These students are not used to sharing their voice. It takes many months of explaining to them that their voice counts when it comes to school.
and he closes the post by saying:
Expect creativity and you will get it. Expect the minimum and you will get it.
The same could be said of teachers, couldn't it?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Creativity

Miguel's response to my post about a good teacher provided more food for thought. He wrote:
But quickly, I believe that we've set teachers up to atrophy that creative engine of their's. Experience teaches me that it doesn't atrophy, but that you can lose confidence in your own ability...creative juices flow strong as ever, you just don't think they're there.
First of all, I think Miguel is very right about the creativity existing long after we have confidence in ourselves. I think of my own experience and know that. As a child, my brother was the artistic, creative one and I was the smart, studious one. I never thought I could be creative at all. But as time passed (and as we discovered my brother was smart and could be studious, too!) I realized that I was as creative as he was. But it took a long time for me to believe that.

I think this is really true for teachers. Teaching is a creative art. Every day we have to go in the classroom and respond to our learners and their needs. We have plans, the broad outline of the painting, but the details must evolve. That is where the creativity comes in. As teachers, we do this on a regular basis. We start a lesson, see it isn't working, and find a new way to present the material. I think that most of us do this even when we have a very rigid curriculum that we have to follow -- or maybe because we have a very rigid curriculum. It requires a great deal of creativity to make that kind of curriculum work.

But we do start to lose confidence in our abilities to be creative when people are second-guessing us, when we have to be too accountable.

Miguel also said:
Reflecting on instructional practice is the catalyst for change, not what you use to accomplish it...however, being connected via blogs and wikis helps accelerate that change tremendously.
I agree with that statement, of course. The connections that we make online can give us ideas we might never have had on our own. We are constantly challenged by the people we read and the ones who read us. We are inspired to action by the success of others.

Change is not easy. If our institutions are not open, innovative places, it is hard for us to find support for change there. The online community meets that need. I still struggle with the question of how to actually bring about the change I want, I but I know that there are people out there who will give me advice, who will let me learn from their successes and their mistakes.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An adult education resource

A while back I wrote that I wanted to write more about adult ed on this blog. I haven't been doing that (I'm not sure what I have been writing about lately really!), but I am about to correct that right now.

I have been reading a great adult ed blog, Adult Education Matters. The most recent post linked to a number of surveys they do with their students. They have also linked to their course outlines, their student self-evaluation forms for each level, and just about anything else you might be interested in.

This is a tremendous resource for a program like the one I teach in. I am especially interested in the needs assessment survey and their course outlines. There is a lot of information available on the site. It will take time, but I am determined to really look it over.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Three years of blogging

Clarence posted today about this being his third anniversary as a blogger. I was embarrassed because I thought he was much more experienced than I am. He is one of those bloggers I always encourage others to read. Come to find out, I started blogging 10 days before he did! My first post was dated January 19, 2005.

Who would have thought I would have kept it up -- to varying degrees, to be sure -- for so long?

In one of my two posts on that first day, I wrote:
I am glad to know that I am not expected to know all about blogging before I start, and yet this is one of the most difficult aspects of it for me. I don't like not knowing, not feeling confident in what I am doing.
I was amazed to read that. After three years, I look forward to not knowing, to learning about whatever the next challenge is. I do not need to always be in control. How much of that difference can I attribute to blogging? Quite a bit, I think!

Thanks to those of you who have been reading since that first blog post. Thanks to those of you who have been more recent readers. Thanks to those of you who have only stopped by once or twice to comment on something. I would most likely not have continued had it not been for your support and encouragement.

A good teacher is...

Thanks to Ewan's del.icio.us feed, I came across this article from the BBC about good teachers. Researchers were asked to pool their findings in an attempt to answer the question, "What makes a good teacher?" The results were interesting.

One researcher, Professor Patricia Broadfoot, was reported to have said that
the key ingredients of good teaching included: creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and fairness in the classroom, providing opportunities for "active learning" and humour to encourage pupil engagement, making learning interesting, and explaining things clearly.
According to the author, another researcher, Debra Myhill, reported that

The crucial ingredient... was a teacher's ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it.

and that

teachers should neither passively comply with government initiatives, nor should they point blank refuse to implement them. Instead they should "adapt them creatively".

A third researcher, Mary James, said that

the teacher should "promote the active engagement of the learner".

and the author stated:

She noted that teachers liked to be given practical guidance on how to improve their teaching, yet what they really needed to develop was their own judgment of what works and what does not work in their own teaching.

The author of the article, Mike Baker, then goes on to say
The big question now is whether - after 20 years of being told exactly what and how to teach - there are enough teachers ready to be "creatively subversive"?
Also, after years of being told in precise detail how to teach, will teachers feel ready both to devise their own way of teaching and engaging students and also constantly to evaluate and adapt their own teaching methods.
These questions are good ones, I think. I have seen my K-12 teacher friends struggle with mandated curricula that, in some cases, tell you what page you should be working on if today is January 29.

I think, though, from talking with other teachers, from reading the blogs of some really great teachers like Darren, Clarence, Jo, Graham, Eric and a bunch of others that there is, indeed, hope. There are a lot of good teachers out there. And those of us who aren't as good as we would like to be have tremendous opportunities to learn. We can all learn from each other.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Playing around

In doing some of the tasks for the EVO session on Social Media in English Language Teaching, I started playing more with my blogs, to see what I could do to the way they look. I ended up adding a feed to my other blog (Moving Along here; Random Thoughts there) on each of the two I maintain. This has been interesting because it lets me kind of compare the two, see where I am at with each of them, without navigating anywhere.

I don't know why I worry about how the blogs look, but I do. I like adding to them, to the way they look. Now, if only I worried as much about the quality of the posts...

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Guerilla Season Book Blog Project

Eric Langhorst has a notice on his Guerrilla Season Book Blog that the 2008 project will take place March 3 - April 4. If you want to participate (either as an individual or as a class), all you have to do is write him. The details are on the blog.

I hope to participate the project again this year. I read the book and participated to a limited degree on the blog last year, and it was a great experience. The author, Pat Hughes, interacted with Langhorst's 8th grade students on the blog. This year he is promising new features, and I am sure they will be exciting!

I would encourage you to follow the project even if you don't want to participate. (The book is very interesting, though. I really enjoyed reading it.) The blog they will be using this year is http://www.guerrillaseason2008.blogspot.com/. It isn't really up and running yet, of course, but it will be before long.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Creating an audience

Reading a post on one of the blogs for the EVO session Social Media in English Language Teaching, I came across this:
I have used blogs, wikis, 43 places and things to some extent and I enjoy using them, however, I have not had much luck in creating any communities or an audience for what I have added to these platforms.
Creating an audience is a challenge for a new blogger. I remember my early days and not even being sure I wanted an audience, much less having a clue about how to develop one. With time, though, an audience developed.

It seems to me to be a question of commenting on the blogs of other people who share your interests (or not). I can't think of any other reason that most of you are reading this -- assuming you are. But maybe there is more involved. What advice would you give new bloggers?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Another example of not getting it?

I have written before about how it isn't enough to use these exciting new tools to do the same things we have always done. So, I had to stop and think when I read Karen's post about the EVO session she is doing this year: Research and Web 2.0. She makes what was for me, a very startling statement:
For starts, I got kind of hung up on the doing of things the same way…. that is… ok, let’s start with introductions.
And in her introduction she said
I’ve been thinking during this week about this course and wonder about the function of introductions in this setting and the best use of web tools for that.

What was startling? Well, I am a co-moderator of an EVO session called Social Media in English Language Teaching. And we began by asking out participants to introduce themselves. It never occurred to me, at least, that there might be an alternative. Actually, that isn't exactly true. We also had Charles Cameron set up a HipBone game that was supposed to get us in different groupings for deeper conversation than the traditional intro. And that worked. But I would
never have thought not to have participants introduce themselves in a forum-type post. After all, that's how I always begin my classes: We go around the room introducing ourselves to the group.

The question, then, becomes, "What else could we have done?" That's what Karen is asking. Unfortunately, I don't have any answers.

Is there a way to get people to know each other and to begin to develop a sense of community without introductions? Do we actually need to develop community from the beginning or could we allow it to develop over the course of the 6-week session? I don't know. But I want to think about it.

Visuwords

Reading an old post on Sarolta's blog, I found a link to Visuwords. It is a visual dictionary/thesaurus that shows part of speech, definition, and the relationship between that word and others.

This is an example of what it produced for the word connection.


Sarolta says she as begun preparing activities for her students using this site. I can see lots of potential.

Friday, January 18, 2008

VoiceThread for K-12 Education

Listening to Wes Fryer's Podcast 218, I learned that VoiceThread is coming out with a special site for K-12 education. It will be restricted to K-12 teachers, students and administrators, providing a more secure environment for teachers and students. According to the podcast, it was to be up and running today, but when I checked tonight, the notice said they were running late and it would be up and running on January 22.

I love VoiceThread, even though I don't use it much, but I think this new site will make it even more useful for K-12 teachers.

(Cross posted at Moving Along)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HipBone games

I finally got around to playing a HipBone game with my adult ed students. It was wonderful -- as I knew it would be. I have used the games with my students for years but I had not used them with my adult immigrant students until this evening.

For those of you not familiar with HipBone games, they based on Hesse's Glass Bead Game. They are games of connections. Beyond that, they are totally flexible. With students tonight and usually with any group of students, I begin with a very simple vocabulary game. Tonight we formed three teams of 4. Each team got to draw 7 slips of paper into which I had written the vocabulary words from the story we just finished reading. Because I have a very low-tech classroom, I had drawn a Psyche Board on the whiteboard. (I have been trying to upload a picture here, but for some reason I can't.) Each team played a word and then made a sentence with it. As the baord filled up, they made sentences with their word and the other words connected to it. We kept score. Students loved it.

I copied the board onto paper when we were done. I don't have access to a scanner right now to upload a copy of it. When I can, though, I will do that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2008 Education Blogosphere Survey

The 2008 Education Blogosphere Survey is open and runs through January 26. Please take a few minutes to participate. You can find the link here on Dangerously Irrelevant.