Thursday, April 28, 2005

Reading students' (and teachers') blogs

Barbara Ganley has a post discussing students and teachers reading each other's blogs. She says that her students read her blog, usually without commenting on the blog itself. She talks about teachers reading students' blogs, the personal ones, and whether or not they should do so without informing the student. She asks:
But do we have a different kind of responsibility to let our students know we're reading their blogs if they haven't identified themselves on it nor have they openly identified us yet we know who they are and that they're, in truth, writing about us?
It is an interesting question. I am not sure I have the answer.

With my particular students, I can't imagine being hesitant to share my blog or to read their blogs. I would do this openly. But I am teaching adults, men who are studying for the priesthood. (My students currently don't even have access to blogs because of current Internet policies in place.)

I think the issues might be different for high school teachers. Bud has talked about similar issues over at his blog. So have other people; you can read some of the discussion here and here.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What kind of English...

Another quiz. I got this from hipteacher. It is to see what kind of English you speak. I, rather predictably, being 55 years old and from north of Chicago came out like this:

Your Linguistic Profile:

85% General American English

10% Upper Midwestern

5% Yankee

0% Dixie

0% Midwestern

Check it out!


One of the first pieces of advice I read in all lists of hints for bloggers is to check your spelling. I usually do that, but I guess I don't all the time. This was made painfully obvious to me when I saw a quote from my post about Xanga in Iowa schools on Bud's blog. Those mistakes really stand out when we see them "on the big screen", don't they? I am going to try to be more careful about this. But I just wanted to let everyone know that I do know how to spell reason. (I've fixed it in my post now, so if you want to see the error, you'll have to read Bud's great post! Hey, maybe it wasn't such a bad mistake if it gets people reading Bud!)

Benefits of Xanga

Bud makes an excellent point over on his blog. He says that maybe there is a certain type of educational value to Xanga. He says
But I think that there's something more important that these journals can be useful for in schools. But not all schools -- only those schools that are interested in students as human beings instead of products to be completed or vessels to be filled.
Can you imagine the power of a school counselor getting an update or status check on a hundred students via a single mouse click? For those counselors willing to pay attention, and those students willing to share, online journals can be a valuable tool for assessing the well-being of students.
That really struck me. First of all, I thought it was a very sad commentary that not all schools would be interested in students as human beings. I agree with Bud, of course, that not all schools really have that as a priority, but it hurt to actually read it in print. Secondly, I think this is an absolutely wonderful, easy-to-use tool that I as a teacher or someone else as a counselor would be crazy not to take advantage of.

I hope that some of the teachers and counselors in Vermont and Iowa and other places where Xanga and other such sites are blocked from school computers will find a way to read their students' personal blogs and get to see another side of these young people. It seems especially important in the Iowa school where the IT person thought the Xanga posts were so frightening (Her word, not mine!).

But first of all, I guess you have to care.

Friday, April 22, 2005

More problems with student "blogs"

An Iowa TV news station report linked to from eSchool News online says that some Iowa schools have started blocking Xanga now.

A school IT person is quoted as saying
"it's frightening. It's frightening. That's why it is filtered here at school."
"kids use it to vent. And sometimes they say good things, sometimes they say inappropriate things."
"they were making harassing statements towards other students, towards staff members."

What I find disturbing is that the emphasis seems to be on limiting students' ability to read these "frightening" posts. I wonder what is being done to try to get at the reason WHY students are posting such things in the first place. Am I just out of touch? Am I worrying about something that everyone else knows can't be solved? If so, that is more frightening to me than the posts themselves.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

End of the semester

As we approach the end of the semester, I find that I am being pulled in a thousand different directions. There are exams to write and then to grade, a summer program to design, a new course for immigrants to be designed and taught starting next week, and all the end of the year hoopla.

I am so busy that I am not able to read enough with enough care to come up with much to write about here. I think this is the first time I have really realized how much I depend on the blogs of others to spark my writing on my own blog.

I miss both the reading and the blogging. I hope to be back up and running soon.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Minority students and testing in Virginia

The Washington Post has an article about a recent study undertaken at the request of the Virginia Department of Education on the affect the state testing program has had on graduation and dropout rates there.

It seems (surprise, surprise) that there is no change in graduation rates for white students. There is, however, a drop for African-Americans and Hispanics. The state vows to continue to work to close that gap.

The study also discovered that the rate of "special" and "modified standard" diplomas for African-Americans and Hispanics went up. These displomas are supposedly reserved for Special Education students. My first reaction to this is to wonder whether some of those students were placed in special ed to make the numbers look better. I have known schools to put limited English proficient students in special ed because it's easier than teaching them. Now, I have absolutley nothing to back up that suspicion in this case, but it is curious that the graduation rates went down for Hispanics and African-Americans in regular classes but went up for those in special ed. And, yes, I have been called cynical before!

What really intrigued me, though, was this:
Department officials had contested several major components of the report, rejecting two previous drafts. They accepted the final version, submitted April 8, but attached a letter from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary explaining some areas of continued concern.
I didn't know you were allowed to have them write the report the way you wanted it to be. Either you trust the people you hire to do the study or you don't. If you trust them, you let them do it the way they see it fall. If you don't trust them, why did you hire them in the first place?

Now, another disclaimer. I know very little about such studies. I know even less about education in Virginia. But nothing here makes me very eager to know more. It seems like just another example of the government doing whatever they can to justify what they are doing and going to keep doing anyway.

Regardless, this is a study that shows that these high-stakes tests do not help minority students. Now all we have to do is get people in charge to care about that fact.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just say no... to textbooks

Will R has once again articulated something that I have felt for a long time: that textbooks are not the best tool for the classroom.

As an ESL instructor, I have yet to find a textbook that really does what I want to do the way I want to do it. I always end up at least supplementing texts. I prefer to replace them when I can with materials from many sources, includiing the Internet. (Since I wrote the curriculum and decide what books are ordered, I have a lot of leeway here!)

One place we have always used textbooks in our program, though, is in speaking and listening. I know... That seems like the one class where a textbook would be totally unnecessary! But since I don't usually teach those classes, I was reluctant to force other people to create the course themselves. Some of the instructors we have had couldn't have done that if their life depended on it. But this coming year we are eliminating the text in our beginning level speaking/listening class. The instructor, who comes to ESL with a background in corporate training, is more than happy to develop the course she wants to teach. I think it is going to be a lot better for the students.

Anyway, I encourage you to read Will's post if you haven't.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Update on my situation

Well, as I knew he would be, my IT guy supports me in my desire to have the students blog. We have a plan. It requires getting the adminstration from the college to go and talk to the system adminstrator with the archdiocese. Of course, we have to demonstrate why it is imporatnt -- which I am confident I can do -- first of all to the Academic Dean. Then he has to help us convince the rector that blogging is worthwhile and that he has to fight for it for us.

We are a long way from solving the problem, but at least I have an on-site ally and he has a plan.

Friday, April 15, 2005


I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my last post about my blocked access problem. I am trying to be very confident that we can work it out, but your encouragement helps a lot!

I work in a college, but my students' access is severely limited. The access to the web is, by default, the same for my students as it is for any kindergarten child in a Catholic school in our area. (We have the same provider and cannot switch.) And my international students don't really have a home here except the college. South Louisiana is not a real tech friendly or savy place (not a lot of WiFi, for example), so they don't have a lot of outside options.

But I am hopeful. I will wait until Monday to see what the IT guy tells me as his initial response. Sometimes he is able to get some of these decisions changed, but there is no guarantee. If he doesn't get back to me by then, I'll talk to the Academic Dean and explain my problem. Somehow or other, it will happen.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Dead in the water - temporarily, I hope

I am really unhappy right now. I have been working on ideas for blogging with my students on the fall. I have 2 different class blog ideas set up on Blogger. But now it looks like I may have to cancel the whole thing. I seriously don't want to do that.

As I said before, because of firewall issues at my college, I can't access most blog sites. Well, I can, but my students can't. I can only access them from my office, which runs off a different ISP. But I had always been able to search for blog providers and I could access some of them from the computer lab the students have access to.

Today I went to the computer lab to try out a couple blog sites - or to see if I could access them. I couldn't. For some reason, I couldn't remember the sites I had been able to access before, so I decided to do a search and see if I could find some of them that way. But when I tried to search for "blog providers", I was denied access to the search by the firewall. Then I tried to search for "free blogs", a term saved in my history on the computer, so I know I had been able to do this before. I was denied access to this search, too. I tried a couple more, all with the same result.

I have contacted our IT guy, and I will see what he says. I am fairly sure I know what he will say, but I hope I am wrong.

Somehow or other, my students WILL blog in the fall. This is a battle I will fight.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ask the students? What a novel idea!

Bud has the somewhat novel idea that we should ask students what they think about blogs in education. He says, in part,
Blogging is a unique set of skills and much of what my students are doing on their personal blogs (journaling and ranting, mostly, according to one student) isn't really what I'd like to see in the classroom. But I wonder how many students are actually participating in this conversation. Are adults once again making decisions for students without their input? Wouldn't it be terrible if the decisions about blog use in classrooms were all made for students, instead of with them?
Bud took the plunge and asked his students. He promises to report back once they have posted their responses.

Reading Bud's post, I suddenly wonder if we shouldn't be teaching students about register in blogging, too. Well, not really, but I wonder if we shouldn't help students at the high school level especially see that there might be some things you write about in a class related blog that you wouldn't put in a strictly personal blog and vice versa. If we don't teach them the difference between blogging as a way of thinking, as Will R refers to it, and online journaling or flirting, who will?

Looking at my own blogging habits, I have several blogs. Each has a different purpose and a different audience. Why couldn't we encourage students to do the same right from the beginning? Maybe they could have a "serious" blog for school and an online journal and a xanga page for whatever.

I hope Bud can fill us in on his students' ideas before long. I am really interested in finding out what they have to say.

Teaching about thinking

The New York Times has an article about a grad course for math teachers. Doesn't sound like much of an article, does it? What is unusual about this course is that it is taught by a chess grandmaster.

Maurice Ashley is teaching a course on chess, not so the teachers will become great chess players but rather so they can learn to think - or at least think more deeply or in different ways. He is teaching them the strategies chess players use - to do things like
think backward with a desired outcome in view, generate multiple options as possible solutions to any question, consider the perspectives of others, and give respect to the least powerful, the pawns of the game.
He is quoted as saying:
"A lot of times in education we try to teach kids the one right answer and that leads, in my opinion, to robotic thinking," he told the players, encouraging them to think of multiple possible moves before choosing the best play. "Real life isn't like that. Is there ever one right answer? Generating alternatives for the sake of alternatives is a good thing."

I see so many teachers kind of on autopilot. They teach as they were taught, sometimes even teaching what they were taught. They believe there is a right answer - and, of course, may wrong answers - to everything. Sometimes I am one of them.

I am not a chess player, but maybe I should be.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Getting students started blogging

Once again Anne Davis is pointing us in the direction we need to go. She has a past called Simple Beginnings that is just that: easy ways for us to start blogging with our students. Check it out!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Learning about teaching in New Orleans

My friend Melanie left her cushy high school teaching job across the lake from New Orleans to become a New Orleans Teaching Fellow and work in a city high school. Her blog, They Have Their Own Thoughts, chronicles her experiences.

Melanie's blog is a good read. She is a great writer and a passionate teacher. She has learned a lot and experieinced a lot this year and has shared a lot of it with anyone who wants to read her blog. But she hasn't shared all of it. As horrific as some of the stories have been, she hasn't written it all. And she is struggling with that issue now on the blog. She has begun to share some of the truths that she had kept from us before.

I am amazed by how similar some of Melanie's feelings and experiences have been to those of the 2003 Teacher of the Year, Betsy Rogers's. Both went into their new situations with some misconceptions and some false expectations. Both freely admit that. They both help me to face some of my own preconceived ideas and biases. I highly recommend both blogs to you. Especially Melanie's - because she's my friend!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Are you behind?

Will R referred to a very interesting post by Collin in which he says:
"Bottom line: it's not time to start thinking about technology. If you haven't started yet, it's time to catch up. If you don't know how to put together a QuickTime movie, you're behind. If you haven't futzed around with sound tools, you're behind. If you're still thinking about how to do web pages, you're behind. If you don't 'get' blogs and wikis, you're behind. If you don't think that the Grokster case has anything to do with you, you're behind. And I could keep on going. There is nothing wrong with writing an essay, a view, a site, whatever, addressing those who are (by now) late adopters, but why in the world would exhortations to think critically about technology have any effect on those people when they've been hearing the same song for years now? The net is changing education, journalism, politics, science, culture, etc etc etc. If you're not keeping track of those changes, you're behind. Pure and simple."

As I may have mentioned before, the college where I work is not very technologically advanced. Our students aren't very tech savy, even! But the faculty are definitely behind, by Collin's definition.

The problem is, as he indicates, how do we get them to change? I think the only way to do it is by example. The more of us who are out there trying to use technology regularly, the more we get our students to use it, the more these other folks will be curious. We have to make it seem fun and easy -- because none of them/us want or need any extra work. So I say, rather then spending time encouraging teachers to get on the technology bandwagon, show them! Show them what they are missing. If all this is as great as we say it is, people will want to try it once they see it in action.

At least I hope so!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The need for innovation

I discovered the Teacher of the Year blog written by Betsy Rogers, the 2003 Teacher of the Year, who is now working in one of the worst schools in Alabama - by choice. It is an interesting read.

In a comment on Betsy's blog, I found link to a site and a blog by a guy named Bruce from new Zealand. He has a post entitled We need mavericks that I found really interesting. Near the end he says:
Our schools are full of people who, to ‘succeed,’ have had to comply, when we really need creative innovative thinkers. If we continue to fit in with imposed constraints and requirements, we will all pay the price. None more so than the creative students, on whom the future will depend to solve answers to question not yet being asked.
Innovation isn't easy, but I think we all see that what we have now isn't working. How do we make the changes that need to be made?

Change is messy and difficult. It is uncomfortable. Maybe the first question we must ask ourselves is how many of us really want change.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Reasons to blog

If you are ever in need of justification for blogging, you might want to check out Scott Adams' post What do you get from blogs. He has several lists there that contain some good ideas.


Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has a post on his blog asking if we are as big as the Pope. He's talking about the Pope's ability to forgive his would-be assassin. Zorn says:
Very few people are capable of this kind of forgiveness – I doubt I am, and hope fervently that I'm never put to such a test -- but it has to make you stop to wonder about any grudge you may be holding onto.

Is the offense worse than two murderous pot-shots?

A very good question, I think.

Arts and Letters Daily

Something I had never seen until last week: the Chroncile of Higher Education site has a link to what it calls Arts and Letters Daily, "a guide to some of the best writing on the Web". It is a page full of links to fascinating articles, including this one that discusses the history of "intellectual" thought about comics. They have an RSS feed, so you can subscribe to the new articles being posted. Check it out!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Revolutionary blogging

The BBC has an article about blogging that seems to cover a lot of territory in a limited way but brings up some interesing ideas. It discusses the limits on blogging in China and how revolutionary blogging is. There is a video clip if you want to watch rather than read it.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Writing teachers as bloggers

Nick over at Teaching Writing in an Online World has a great post recommending that all writing teachers at least try blogging for a time. He outlines the requirements for blogging:
It helps to have something to say (it doesn't have to be brilliant, you just have to want to say it where others can read it if they're of a mind to), and you have to want to write on a regular basis to keep your own interest up.
He gives a great list of ways blogs can be used in a writing class, which you should check out. Some of them are pretty basic, but you may find a couple things you hadn't thought of before. He also says:
A blog is the place where a writer can think in public, and the act of sharing thoughts is both intimate and anonymous in this space. You never know, to start, who, if anyone, will read what you write. Yet over time, most blogs will find some audience, no matter how small. And a writer who likes the writing and posting, will grow.

I totally agree with him that writing teachers and students learning to be writing teachers should try blogging. If they don't like it, they aren't required to continue. But they may find, as I did, that the world is opened up before them. Once they start, they may not want to quit.

Thinking about student bloggers

In case there is anyone out there who doesn't read Barbara Ganley's blog (I can't imagine that anyone reading my blog wouldn't already be reading hers!), she has a great post this morning about student bloggers and how she deals with the fact that some students really get into it and others don't.

Barbara makes an interesting point:
And something I see, too, in both my spring classes--the students who blog confidently and read the blogs get more out of the course than the students who don't. But I'm okay with that and see it as a decision the students have to make for themselves, and I shape the class discussion around what is discussed on the blog. I teach to the highest possible level.
I think that is a great way to do it. If the non-bloggers or reluctant bloggers don't want to feel left out, they will begin to at least read their classmates' blogs as preparation for class. Eventually some of them may be sucked into blogging themselves.

One of the problems that I anticipate as I think about blogging with my students in the fall is that I have very small classes -- sometimes only 2 students. (I know it sounds idyllic, but it has its own problems!)There won't be much activity. I will have to work doubly hard, I think, to get my students involved. Especially at lower levels of language proficiency.

I think that's why I didn't start blogging with my students this semester. I needed time to plan it well. I have learned so much from Barbara and from Anne Davis and from their students. I think I will be able to do a halfway decent job next fall. I am really excited about it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Math troubles

Chris Correa points us in the direction of an intersting article in Education Week. According to the article, it isn't reading or writing that is so difficult for minority students but math. The article opens:
Researchers from the United Negro College Fund went to West Virginia last year and asked 62 high school dropouts in the federal Job Corps program a simple, open-ended question. “What was it about school,” they wanted to know, “that caused you to quit?”

With surprising consistency, a majority of the participants, most of whom were African-American or Hispanic, gave the same answer: “Math.”

I think this is very important. And I suspect the problem goes far beyond our country's minority population. I see it in the students in the college where I teach. Many of the students do not come to college prepared to do college level math. I am talking here about white male students coming out of Louisiana high schools.

As the article says, we have to do something to improve math instruction and help all our students with math. The decision at my school has been to lower expectations. We will no longer require students to take a college algebra class, opting to offer a more "practical" type of math instead.

Somehow, I don't think that is the answer.