Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Thanks for the suggestions

Well, if I weren't already convinced, the quick responses I got to my earlier post about ideas for sharing blogging with some teachers would have made me a believer in the support we can get and give in the blogging community! I'd like to thank Bud and Stephen for their ideas.

I was interested that they suggested Darren's work -- not because I didn't know about Darren or because I didn't think his work was any good but because I had shown my students one of Darren's class blog just the other day. I was trying to get them to better understand what I wanted in the daily log/scribe posts. We have been doing them all semester, but I thought it would be good for them to see other examples. So I guess Darren will definitely be included in my presentation!

To try to answer Bud's questions, this presentation is part of what is normally the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project's "October Showcase". Because of Katrina, it wasn't held in October but was postponed to March. The audience is largely teachers or ed students who want to get some ideas about including writing in their classes. We have some writing activities throughout the morning but before that there is a time when attendees wander around looking at posters and talking to the teacher-consultants who have prepared them. Last year (actually a year and a half ago - before I was blogging) I talked about using Nicenet as a place to publish students' writing and as a way of communicating with students and, if desired, with their parents. The teachers I spoke to said it sounded good, but they had no real access to computers in their classrooms -- or there was one computer for the whole class to use. I doubt that things will have improved in this past year. My guess is that most teachers who come this time will not be at all familiar with blogging, so I will be introducing the concept and then talking to them about the possibilities for blogging with their students.

That being said, there are a few teachers who will be there who are already using some blogging in their classes, so I will be further exploring the possibilities with them. I think they can benefit from Darren's work, too.

So once again, thanks for the suggestions, Bud and Stephen. I want teachers who aren't yet blogging to see the kinds of support available to them through the blogging community, so I will be talking about you on the 18th, too!

Helping student bloggers get it

In a comment to a recent post below, Susan made some great points. She said
As I introduced the blogs, I told them that part of the power of having their own blog was that it could help them share the things they care about, and it could connect them with other people with the same interests.
What a perfect explanation!

She goes on to say that she is thinking of having her students set up Bloglines accounts so they can begin to read and comment on blogs of interest to them. It seems so obvious to me now that it will be easier for my students to get commenting if they are reading blogs -- especially blogs they are really interested in! So that goes on my agenda for things to do this semester.

Any suggestions?

I have been asked by our local Writing Project to prepare a presentation on blogging to share with local teachers on March 18th. Does anyone have any specific suggestions as to blogs to send them to or anything else that I should be sure to include? I think there is added value if I can tell them that readers of my blog made suggestions because they will start to get the idea of how blogging can create connections between writers and readers, who are themselves writers with readers.

Anyway, I'll be looking forward to your suggestions. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Networked learners

A post over at Remote Access today made me think about what I am doing in my classes and in my life. But then, that's the point of all this, isn't it?

Clarence Fisher talks about how, as a "professional learner", he has come to depend on the networking that goes on online. And then he goes on to talk about how that translates -- or doesn't -- into the classroom. He says
How much time do we give kids to explore, to think, to gather, to graze? We often look upon this time as unproductive when we see kids grazing across the information ecosphere, but yet that is when we often stumble across a gem of some sort..... Literacy is a social act of understanding, I get that now. How social is it when kids turn their work in the inbox on my desk for only me to see?

I think about my own classes and wonder how much time I allow students to "graze". Don't we, usually, consider it a waste of time? At the very least, it is not considered academic. I have to think about how I can incorporate more grazing, more reflection, more networking into my classes.

And I have to thank Clarence for the post that caught my attention and made me think about my classes in a way I hadn't before. Like, him, I can always use a little help from my friends.

Not really failed...

As I looked at my blog just now in preparation for a different post, I saw the title of the last one, "Another failed experiment". And I had to ask myself why in the world I had chosen that title.

The only thing that failed was that my students were not able to get what I wanted them to from the other blog. They didn't see what I wanted them to see. But once I pointed it out to them, they understood and began to make some edits on their own posts to the blog. So on that level it was a success.

The title, then, is more a demonstration of my own frustration when nobody got it on their own. But since I hadn't really prepared them to see what I wanted them to see, I really had no right to be frustrated, much less turn it into a "failed experiment".

What I got from this is that I need to teach my students to sometimes look at the bigger picture. And I need to remember that what is in my mind as I design an activity isn't in theirs -- unless I put it there.

So it was only a failure if I don't remember those things and try to do it better next time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Another failed experiment

Sometimes it seems that I only learn from my own mistakes. Today it led to frustration and, for me at least, a little learning.

I have been blogging with my intermediate level ESL students this semester. It has been a great experience except for one thing: the students post things that are only minimally intelligible even to me. Not all of them all the time, but enough that I think it is a problem.

I tried to address this today by having them look at a high school math blog to see what a class blog could be like. I asked them to look at some of the posts and then comment on what they noticed about the blog. They commented on the substance of the blog, on the explanations of math that they didn't understand. None of them noticed that words were spelled correctly and that there was appropriate punctuation. Finally I had to point it out to them. After that they said they understood what I had been trying to get at, but I am not convinced.

I am not sure where to draw the line with this. I believe that their writing will improve by writing, so maybe I should just be patient. But I don't like the idea of them publishing their writing without any concern for the formalities and conventions of writing in English. The blog is for a reading class rather than for a writing class, but I still believe they should at least try to write correctly. I'm just not sure how to make this happen!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Some ideas for writing

Thanks to Mark Liberman for this link to a list of the 100 Best First Lines from Novels.

The list is interesting reading in and of itself. But I immediately began to read the list as a teacher.

When I got to
41. The moment one learns English, complications set in. — Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)
I could no longer control myself. What a great beginning to an essay for an ESL student!

But then I began to think about this seriously. Why not give the students this list to read? They are bound to find at least one of the openings that resonates with them. Have them use that as a writing prompt. I would ask them to write the story that comes after that line. I wouldn't actually ask them to use the line, but I would ask them to write that story. I think it could work. I think I will try it!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Change is possible

Well, this is post 200, and I had been waiting for an appropriate topic. I think I found it this morning as I checked Bloglines and found this post from Will about his experiences in Savannah.

The post was very upbeat and encouraging -- until I got to the last line. He said:
But while the tools are certainly disruptive and potentially powerful, few if any of them really think things in education are going to change anytime soon.
I agree and disagree with that opinion. I think that the big cumbersome process/institution we know as education won't change any time soon unless we are willing to change. If enough of us change how we teach, how we run our classes, how we allow and encourage students to "be" in our classes, education will change. If, however, we say that nothing is going to change so we might as well not bother, then things will never change.

I guess I am naive. But I really believe that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Writing on task -- maybe too much so

Over on the blog of proximal development, Konrad wrote about writing assignments for his students. For some reason, it made me think of an experience I had today in class.

My ESL students are in the process of writing an essay for their Psychology class comparing their ideas on religion to some of those of Freud. We have talked about Freud's ideas. I have asked them to think about their own ideas on the topic. We have talked about how to write a compare/contrast essay. I had done everything I thought I should have done -- until I looked at what was supposed to be their first drafts today. While they addressed the task, they were lifeless.

We talked about it and I finally realized that they were trying to answer a question, not write. They had followed the formula we had discussed for compare/contrast essays, but I quickly noticed that they had discussed Freud's ideas more completely than they had their own.

This was my fault. I should have encouraged them to explore their own beliefs more first. But even I got caught up in the task. I put too much emphasis on the task, on the form of the essay, and forgot about the content. Or I assumed it would take care of itself.

So I told them to put the psychology assignment aside for awhile. They need to explore their own beliefs, their own thoughts and ideas, before they can hope to write a decent essay.

I only hope I can remember this next time.

I couldn't agree more

As frequently happens, Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users has said what I have been trying to say, but she always says it so much better. Her post here is a great one. She talks about the power of blogs and blogging. She says, in part:
To those of you blogging (or commenting on other blogs) who may be thinking of giving it up... don't. You never know how the "butterfly effect" of that one sentence on your blog or a comment you leave--that someone found serendipitously (or even randomly)--can change a life.
And those who post comments (or send emails to the bloggers) are just as important to the discussion as those who make the posts. It all matters, and it's all meaningful... even when we're simply having fun.

Check out her post -- and her blog.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


I have been writing in this blog for more than a year now. I have made almost 200 posts. I have been fortunate that many people have taken time out of their day to comment on my posts. And if that isn't amazing enough, I can honestly say that I have never in that time received a comment that has not been positive. I don't mean that everyone always agrees with me, but there is a level of civility on blogs (at least on mine and on the blogs I read regularly) that I don't always see out in the world at large.

So I guess the purpose of this post, other than to generally thank everyone who reads my blog, is to let Joanna and others know that I have never found their comments to be critical in a negative way. I think we are all trying to do the best we can in life and, in the case of us teachers, what's best for our students. I appreciate all your input, both thoughts and questions.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

New look - sort of

In case anyone actually visits my blog, you will notice that I have done away with the tan/green background. It is the same basic template -- just new colors. After more than a year, I was ready for a change!

What makes Writely different?

I feel a little funny explaining Writely when I am only beginning to explore how to use it, but I have been asked what makes Writely different from a word processor, and I need to respond.

The easiest way to explain it is to ask a question: What is the difference between a blog and a paper journal? You can express yourself and your ideas in a journal. Why bother with a blog? The answer, quite obviously to anyone reading this, is that a blog encourages interaction. It brings people together and can deepen our knowledge and understanding as we enter into dialogue about our ideas.

A word processor allows students to record their ideas, to edit their writing, to produce papers that they will, in turn, submit to instructors for grading. Writely allows for those same things, but it also makes it easier for students to work together on things. They can submit parts of a project and it will all be instantly available to any member of the group. Once again, it is the ease of interaction that sets Writely apart.

I am sure I am not really doing Writely justice. As I said, I am just beginning to explore how I can use it with my students. Ask me in a year, and I will probably have a much better answer. For now, though, I just recommend that you look at it and see what uses you can come up with!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

An explanation and an update on Writely

I have been incredibly busy at school working on getting my classes up and running on Moodle and various other things. I have thought about writing, but somehow or other, it hasn't gotten done.

But I wanted to write about what I've been doing with Writely. I have used it with my advanced writers several times, and they have really enjoyed it. The first day, I gave them something I had written and then created verb errors in and asked them to correct it. Now, I only have students in that class this semester, so this might not work for everyone, but this first time I just told them to correct it. So they were changing things and then having their changes changed. They had a lot of fun with it. Eventually we settled down and I assigned different paragraphs to each student and they finished the task. The next time I gave them a different piece with different problems and had them correct them. The energy in the room was good throughout the activity. I had them do some as homework, too.

The last thing I had them do was post their own writing to Writely and invite the rest of us to collaborate. I started by having them underline verb and pronoun problems they found or thought they found in the other's work. Then the author went in and looked at the marked parts and had to decide if they really needed changing or not. When thus was finished, I went into their papers and highlighted one kind of error that I found (verb, word form, whatever). They then made the corrections they thought were needed. I erased the highlighting if the change was correct and left it when it wasn't. When all of that kind of error was corrected, I moved on to a different error. The students really enjoyed this. It was certainly more fun for me than wading through pages of essays marking errors.

Since one of main goals for the students this semester is to get them to edit their own work, I really think Writely will be useful. I am not sure how it would be done with a large class, but I could easily do what I did with my students with a group of ten or so.

As I do more with Writely, I'll let you know. And if anyone comes up with ideas, please let me know!