Saturday, August 27, 2005

What happened to me?

I don't know what happened this last week, but I am finally here to post again. Actually, I know what happened. Students arrived on campus; I had to test them; I had to finish getting things ready for the start of the semester. And now, of course, I get a two-day "reprieve" due to Hurricane Katrina since the start of the semester has been postponed in anticipation of her arrival. While I am glad for the extra time, I am not looking forward to the storm. But there is nothing I can do about it - except find my flashlights and candles - so I might as well sit back and relax.

Not knowing whether we will lose power or not, I don't know for sure when I will post again. Please forgive my absence.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Update on possibilities for my students

Well, I have thought a lot about it and talked to Anne and looked around, and I have decided that I am going to set my students up on journalspace this coming semester. It looks like it is the only (Wait, I don't want to say the B word! Someone might be reading!) site my students will be able to access. I am busy trying to get the semester planned out so I can get us started ass soon as classes start on the 30th. I'll let you know the addresses as soon as we have them set up.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More on blogging and professional development

Dave Warlick has a great post over at 2 Cents Worth talking about using blogs rather than discussion boards for collaboration among teachers. While I found the entire post interesting, there was one part that really attracted my attention. He said:
A teacher blog article comes from the person first, and the teacher second. Discussion boards are designed around topics. Blog environments are designed around people.

This idea of putting the person into a blog, and therefore, into the discussion that ensues, is a truly important one. How much of our professional life is spent without the person being present? In "professional development" situations we sometimes have a tendency to tune out entirely. But that isn't how blogging works. We are present if we blog. And we are present when we comment on the blogs of others. And when we are present, we can truly learn from one another and from ourselves.

As I write this, I just got through talking with Anne Davis about my blogging problems. This is just one example of collaboration that has arisen out of blogging. I feel sorry for anyone trying to teach who doesn't have blogging friends to bounce ideas off of. I couldn't do it without you all!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Looking forward to fall, continued

First of all, I'd like to thank Jo from over at The Open Classroom for commenting on my last post. It's funny what a comment can do. It lifts the spirits, points in a new direction, and just generally lets us know we are not alone out here.

Jo comments on Anne's post about things students might blog about. There are some really good ideas. I will have to think some about how to adapt them to my situation (college ESL), but I know I could do it.

So I am back to being more optimistic about this. I will have to make my decision soon because there is a lot to do to prepare for the semester, regardless of what I decide.

Anyway, thanks Jo and thanks, Anne!

Fall 2005 semester

The new semester is about to begin. Actually, classes don't start for 2 more weeks, but the final preparations for the semester have already begin.

As you may remember, if you have been reading this blog for awhile, the issue of getting my students to blog is one that is, at best, problematic. The seminary college where I teach is required to get its internet access through the archdiocese. Our students are bound by the same rules and limitations that apply to all Catholic schools (including elementary schools) in the area. And the archdiocese has seen fit to block blog sites.

I was optimistic that I might be able to get the students blogging on, but I have just discovered that it, too, is blocked.

Now, before you tell me that I might be able to get a particular site unblocked, let me tell you that I have considered asking for that. The problem that I see is that it is entirely possible that I might get it unblocked today but in a month or two or three they would decide to block it again. I am not sure I want to start my students blogging with that possibility hanging over our heads!

And, I must also point out, my students don't really have access to the internet except through the college. They live here as well as study here, and the only public access internet is at the public library, and it is difficult for my students to get there.

I haven't given up on this yet, but I am not overly optimistic, either. My main concern at this moment, I think, is trying to be sure that I would have a real way to use blogs in my classes if I can get my students blogging. It will be a lot of work to arrange, if it can be done, and I want to be sure it will be worth it. So I am really looking at what I normally do and seeing if I have real uses for blogs already or what I can do to create authentic uses for them. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago. I keep thinking about what Konrad over at the blog of proximal development had to say about not using blogs just to replace paper journals. I think I have some ideas, but I am not there yet.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and let you know where I am at in terms of getting my students blogging. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Learning Styles

Ula over at Blog, blog posted the results of her VARK questionnaire on learning styles. I decided to check it out myself. I was pretty surprised by the results of my test. I came out
  • Visual: 5
  • Aural: 1
  • Read/Write: 4
  • Kinesthetic: 3
Actually, I guess I wasn't all that surprised -- except that aural got one point. (I would have expected it to be lower!) What I noticed as I was taking the test, though, was that I answered some of the questions differently than I would have a few years ago. I used to automatically read everything before I would try anything new. Now I am much more likely to just get in there and try it. The change started with computers and has extended to other things as well. Interesting.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Community, blogging and professional development

Refelctive Teacher writes about blogging as a means of professional development. It is a good one. Check it out. I have been thinking about this all summer. I even wrote about here after I read this post by Anne.

Reflective Teacher includes some ideas from nb on what makes for a good professional environment. The first four on the list are:
1. A willingness to listen,
2. The confidence to admit one's own weaknesses and gaps in knowledge,
3. A willingness to share your ideas and understandings
4. Having confidence in the other member(s) to question and think critically about what you have to offer,
You can see where Reflective Teacher saw a connection to blogging, can't you?

Anyway, I am going to be reading both these blogs for some time to come because I think they have a lot to offer. Why don't you check them out?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

More on reading

This article from the Washington Post a few days ago talks about the lack of progress in reading by middle school students. In light of the article from USA Today I posted about earlier, I found it particularly interesting. The article did not discuss what the schools were going to do to help students. No, that isn't entirely accurate. It said:
For example, seventh- and eighth-graders might be enrolled in "power literacy" classes, ninth-graders in "expanding literacy."
That certainly doesn't sound like anything that would make me want to read, and I am fairly literate already! I don't imagine it would be much better for the struggling kids who are put in the classes.

I don't know, obviously, what the students in these classes are reading, but it seems that it would be worth talking about how the schools are trying to inspire kids to read, not just how they are going to drill them on reading skills and, possibly, test them more often.

From my experiences with my own kids and with students, they will read if you let them read things that they are interested in. It is obvious. We are more interested in eading something we choose to read rather than something we are forced to read. Why should kids be any different?

I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Wilhelm speak a few weeks ago, and he had some great suggestions on how to reach adolescent readers. None of them, I am sure, would be included in a "power literacy" class, although they should be! Wilhelm makes the point that kids need to see an immediate value to learning activities and that they seldom do. They too often think they are doing it for us, the teachers.

We have to get kids to see the value of what we are asking them to read. That, of course, presupposes that there is some value in it aside from completing the assignment or preparing for the test. If there isn't any real value for them, maybe we need to think about asking them to read something else. And this brings us back to the textbooks. Most of them contain things I wouldn't want to read! How can I force a student to read something even I am not interested in reading?

Reading and other things

A post over at The Endless Faculty Meeting refers to the USA Today article about schools killing reading for kids by making it too heavy and too lightweight at the same time. If you haven't read the article, please do. It makes the point:
It's time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that's paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry.

This is something we talked about some in our Advanced Institute this year: the influence of business in schools. We didn't talk as much as I would have liked about the textbook industry, though.

But what I found even more interesting in the article was:
The desire of school officials to make courses teacher-proof — to put more faith in bland compendiums than in the skill of teachers — is only getting stronger with the spread of high-stakes state exams.
I listened to my fellow participants in the institute talk about the new mandated curriculum they are forced to use and how they will, or will not, use it. That is what it boils down to: the school systems are so afraid of "failure" that they don't want to give teachers a chance to be creative. They want something they have been led to believe is foolproof.

I find this ofensive. It denies our standing as professionals. It implies that we do not know what we are doing. Schools are looking for something that will make all students successful, and I don't think they are going to find it. There is no one thing that will work for everyone. Good teachers know that.

How would I react if I were in this situation? I honestly can't say, but I hope I would be able to do what I felt was best for my students. I know you have to pick and choose your battles, so how do some of you deal with the issue of mandated curricula and the pressure to prepare kids for exams? How much do you use the required texts and how much do you supplement with more interesting or appropriate materials?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


I just set up a nicenet "class" for participants in the New Orleans Writing Marathon to post their pieces for response prior to publication in the anthology, and I realized that I haven't talked much aboutNicenet here in a long time.

With the SLWP Advanced Institute this summer I had opportunity to use Blackboard for the first time. I was struck by how I could do all those same things on Nicenet -- for free! Since many of the participants in the marathon just came for the marathon, setting them up on Blackboard became a very difficult task. Hence, the Nicenet home for those folks.

If you aren't familiar with Nicenet, it is worth a few minutes of your time to check it out. It is internet-based, so there is no software to download or host. It can be accessed from any computer with internet access. Also, there is "protection" for students because the classes are closed, and you need a class key to join. As the instructor, you have the key and give it to the students. You could also give it to their parents if you wanted. That would make students' work available to the parents. It could function as a way to communicate with parents and for parents to communicate with you.

I have used Nicenet for about 2.5 years now, and I continue to see new ways to use it. And, as I said, it is free. In those 2.5 years, I have received one message from them soliciting a donation. Because I so highly value it, I sent a small donation (very small, as donations go!) and have not heard from them again. That was over a year ago, I think.

I really can't speak highly enough of Nicenet. Please check it out!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Child's Play

I was quite happy to read this article from the Hunsville Times about a pre-K program in Alabama that is not designed to give students a head start academically but rather to prepare them socially for Kindergarten. The article says, in part:
"Play is children's work," said Pamela Patton, program specialist for federal programs for the Huntsville school system. "The play that they're doing leads to the skills required for kindergarten.... We're not trying to make them into little first graders"
How wonderful it would be if all young children had a chance to experience this kind of early education!

And it would be even more wonderful if we could learn to incorporate some of that attitude into all levels of education. Especially in elementary school, but also throughout their education, we would be well advised, I think, to put more emphasis on exploiting the natural curiosity of human beings and on allowing students to utilize their creativity. This is where student choice comes in. It makes teaching harder in some ways, but it is definitely more interesting than teaching to a test.