Saturday, December 31, 2005

Gunther Kress and 2006

Just lately I have been thinking of what we need to teach in subject English and whether, and why, English should be a discrete subject (notwithstanding Leigh Blackall’s question via Wara of whether there need to be subjects at all; this reminds me of the discussion over at David Warlick about what schools of the future will be like, as the result of an interesting experiment he did, asking teachers what their classrooms will be like in 2015)
Reading Don Watson’s Weasel Words about public discourse in Australia, and a recent find by my sister about the PowerPoint form of the Gettysburg address (part of the PowerPoint makes you stupid meme, I think) has made thinking about what students need all the more relevant. Similarly, the experience of reading Gunther Kress has been absorbing for me as an English teacher. The concept of the ‘affordances’ of the modes of writing and image is very interesting. The uniqueness of each mode give them particular capacities to communicate in different ways; as he says "the world told is a different world to the world shown”. I found chapters 6, 7 and 8 really compelling. He theorises about literacy and the genre debates in his social theory of text; and looks at punctuation as framing. One quote in particular was “…punctuation can give one kind of insight into a writer’s sense of their place in the world, whether as a child or as an adult.” (p. 124)
Kress’ take on genre is affecting how I read all the texts I’m exposed to – it adds another layer of interest. When you think about genre “who acts in relation to whom” as “a social practice” taking place in “fields of power” (p. 85) you can see I have a lot to think about. His discussion on punctuation will definitely affect me next year when I’m responding to students’ writing. He gives lots of examples to illustrate and back up his points and, while I don’t understand it all, it seems to have enough in it to reimagine my teaching in 2006.
The subject that we in Australia call English is called different names in other English speaking countries: Language Arts in the US and Tim Frederick’s blog is called the ELA teaching blog (the ELA stands for either English Language Arts or English Language Acquisition, I think – maybe you’ll leave a comment, Tim, putting me straight). In a recent post Tim posits a divide between English teachers between those who see themselves as primarily Literature teachers and those who see themselves as Language teachers. That has been a great aspect of teaching English as I know it – that there hasn’t been a divide like that. In Year 12, the revised Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) English study design, to be implemented in 2007, does sit midway between the two other related subjects, English Language and Literature. Students wanting to pass VCE can now do four units of any one of these three subjects and combinations in of these in year 11 (thus English Language 1 and Literature 2 and English 3 and 4 or English 1 and Literature 2 and English Language 3 and 4.) One of the Englishes is still compulsory to pass VCE. Our challenge is make the subjects for our diverse cohort doing one of these three subject combinations as interesting as possible. Gunther Kress’ Literacy in a New Media Age looks at these issues in a way that makes me interested and thus I hope I can design classroom experiences that engage and energise the students.
The debate on what constitutes appropriate texts for study that has been simmering in the Australian media gets another little run in The Age today in Helen Razer’s article. Interestingly, Kress looks at the texts we should study in our English classrooms in three categories 1. literary texts, 2. socially significant texts that are not literary, and 3. banal, everyday texts. His analysis of a simple card that came with the purchase of a leather wallet was fascinating about what it communicates and the design and creation decisions that had to be made by someone (including background colour, size shape and weight of the paper that made up the card, font and so on) argues that being aware of these factors, making them visible, is a necessary precondition to being considered literate in this century.
It all leads me to think about what kind of teacher I want to be in 2006 and reading these two posts from Aaron Nelson and Graycie are just spot on. I love the title of Aaron’s post “Creating addictive classrooms” and similarly Graycie’s post “Passion” and the comments made me think about these issues. I’m sure there’s another post for me in there somewhere, when I’ve finished all the essential holiday tasks such as buying new bookshelves and getting my books and papers and so on into some kind of order.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Listening, Reading and Viewing

This post is a short one just to let you know about a wonderful podcast I just listened to on blogging and eportfolios by D’Arcy Norman. Well worth a listen. My holiday reading includes Andrea Levy's Small Island and Gunther Kress Literacy in a New Media Age. And the other day I saw Goodnight and Good Luck, (tag line: we will not walk in fear of one another) which is a bit of a treat.



Tuesday, December 20, 2005

2005 reflections

It’s coming close to the end of the year and it seems a good time to reflect on all that I have learnt since I started this blogging adventure. I’ve had it in my mind for a while to write such a reflection but have been so busy reading (and being speechless) I haven’t written. Then I read Graham Wegner’s post and found so many similarities between his experiences and mine. I started reading blogs about 18 months ago starting with my friend Scott’s blog and just kept reading. Sometimes I read from his blogroll as well but I felt a little bit like that was o.k. for these people: they were young enough, techie enough, maybe radical enough, but I wasn’t anything like that. Scott seemed, however, to assume that it was not totally impossible that I might one day start a blog but I was fearful. What if I made a mistake, what if I wrote something wrong, what if …. Oh well I’m sure you know the kind of thing. Then one day in May I stumbled across a podcast by Steve Dembo (I wonder if it was the same one, Graham) and through him found Will Richardson and David Warlick (it must have been the same one) and all of a sudden the world seemed to open up. At one particular point when faced with the Blogger home page it just seemed easier to start a blog than to continue to resist. And boy was it fun. Like Graham I found myself encouraged by Will Richardson, and the sense of community I found in the Worldbridges webcasts (as well as meeting Daf and Bee and others from the Webheads in Action) cannot be overestimated. When I started my blog I was still a bit cautious so I wanted to be anonymous. I called myself Reflective Teacher and then listened to Scott Lockman’s podcast. He referred to my blog (“he or she”) and I knew then that I didn’t want to be anonymous (at least not nongender specific – I know Ms Frizzle does it (be anonymous, that is, with class). As part of the edublogging community I wanted to be me, so I added the subheading for my blog “constructing an identity in the blogosphere”. Later still I added a photo which I would never have dreamed of before – I normally hate photos of myself. But this photo was taken by my fourteen year old son without me expecting it. I had just received my school supplied PDA which came complete with camera (though I didn’t know how to work it) and then he just snapped the photo. I like it. Later still I added my email contact details as part of being open to my community (not that I get many emails from readers – yet). I am amazed at all that has happened, and I haven’t even begun to speak of all that I have learnt from reading, reflecting and commenting and receiving comments. Or the joys and learning experiences of blogging with my Year 9 students and the contact with Clarence Fisher’s class. I would like to thank Clarence for his inspiration and guidance. To top it all off being nominated for Best Teacher Blog in the Edublog Awards (I was just blown away and to be honest I found it hard to write after that – I was speechless). I am just so glad to be on the same page as Anne Davis and Konrad Glogowski (who has just been contacted by a mainstream radio station to speak about blogging) Good on both of you for your win in the category. You deserve it and I find you both very inspiring. I plan on continuing on this journey with a various group of very fine teachers who show a range and depth of thought about learning and education that makes me feel quite optimistic about my profession. I’ll be doing a lot of professional reading over the holidays as part of my studies (which have taken a backseat in the middle of all this informal professional development) so I’ll be continuing to post my reflections about my reading and planning for next year.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How should we teach English?

LAST week I had my first meeting in my capacity as new Faculty Head of English at my school. The current Head started the meeting and then I took over. At this end of the year the idea was to be well prepared for next year, to introduce the new staff who will join us, and to end off with a look at the mission statement for our faculty and our goals as a faculty. This made me think again about how I would articulate my own goals as head of English: how would I see my role as providing for the students the best possible educational experiences for their lives and their futures and how I will support the staff in this as well. I know I will post about this soon.

At the same time there are rumours and whispers around schools in general that faculties or key learning areas may be dissolved in favour of an integrated approach to learning. That we should not be looking at discrete subjects like SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment) or Science or English but at ways of providing learning experiences for students where they choose a project to investigate and learn what they need to learn in any discipline as they need to learn it. I don’t know of any specific school doing this but I have heard that some are thinking about it. I’m sure some schools out there are doing this or something like it. I’d love to know how it’s going.

In other cases I have heard of, it is agreed that there should to be content taught in Maths, and Languages such as French or Indonesian, so these Faculties need to be retained, and even History and Geography. But for English there is seen to be no such requirement. I know of one school that has done away with the English Faculty although there are still English teachers. English is seen as Literacy and Communication, and it is agreed that these should be taught across the curriculum, along with ICT (also in some schools not seen as a separate subject). It is true that in an earlier iteration of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS), there was no separate discipline called English (it was put together with Languages Other than English in the category of Language), but this has since changed and English is again one of the discipline areas. However, Technology is still seen as being integrated into all the discipline areas. I’m interested in other people’s views on this. What are the arguments for each side? Are they convincing? What leads to better learning experiences for students?

New Literacies

I have just seen (I’m a bit behind with my Bloglines) the most fantastic presentation on multimodal literacies by Angela Thomas when she was presenting at NRC (?) in Florida on "Out of Bounds: Some social, psychological and pedagogical implications of new literacies for young people’s learning, lifeworlds and social futures." Angela writes on new literacies and feminism and many other topics, and is always a good read.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Reflecting on the semester

We asked the students to do a report on the "Recreating the Writer" English unit: “It’s your turn to have a say about this semester’s course and the way it was presented.” The students were allowed to stay anonymous to encourage freedom of expression, although we promoted constructive comments “to help us plan for a better course”.

Many students put the blogging section of the course as “the topic/section I enjoyed most”. Some of their reasons were: “they were a good opportunity to express myself”; “I liked using the computers”; and “It was good to communicate with people”; “It was a different experience of writing”; “it was more interesting to receive a response compared to writing in a book no-one reads.” Some said they enjoyed “all of it” and mentioned the “great discussions in class”. Others nominated their family stories as the best part of the unit citing “getting to know more about your family history”; and “it helped me to think about my family background”. The poetry also got a big rap: “learning new ways to write poems and different styles of poetry”; also “I had never been a good poetry writer but I gained new knowledge and improved my skills”. Some students referred to their love of poetry and one said “I learnt heaps about the different styles of poetry and we got to be creative.” Students also spoke positively about the Family Stories and the Personal Best style of writing. We also asked students to comment on the topic/section they liked the least and the aspect of teaching they liked the least. Of course some students liked least the topic that others liked most, so poetry was mentioned here as were most of the other assessment tasks. One student said she liked the poetry least but then admitted “only because I didn’t put enough work into it. I believe I would have enjoyed it if I had”. Some mentioned they would like more time given for writing before the due date. One thought blogs “wasted too much time”. One didn’t like the conferencing with others. But what I take away from the experience of having the unit and my teaching evaluated is the students who wrote (in answer to the prompt: List any three new things you learnt during the course) “to trust my imagination, a fluidness in my writing and the importance of having a notebook to write ideas in”, and another student: “I like the blogging; it was fun and I will continue mine.”

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

We are the readers of ourselves

At the moment I have just finished reading How Proust can change your life by Alain de Botton. It is funny, very tongue in cheek. But I loved this quote from Marcel Proust in the book:
In reality, every reader is, while they are reading, the reader of their own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he or she offers the reader to enable them to discern what, without the book, they would never have experienced in themselves. And the recognition by the reader in their own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity. (somewhat adapted).
And I just have to say I am very excited. This little ol’ blog has been nominated in the Best Teacher Blog category of the Edublog Awards. If you are interested go on over and have a look, and vote if you want to. And, via Bill Kerr’s blog, here is the blue ball machine animation.

Don’t sit there too long now! ;-)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The last lesson of the year

It is the last lesson of the year in my writing unit. The students have a chance to pick their favourite piece of writing that they have done in this unit. It could be a poem, a short story, something they’d researched or a family story or an excerpt of one of these. Some found their favourite blog entry. We sit in a circle and each student reads her selection. There are memories here. Each piece that is read has its echo in each other student’s own folio. There is genuine appreciation here of others’ writing. Because I’ve read each piece they read, and some more than once, there are no surprises for me. However, this is the first time that the whole class has heard a piece from each other student. This was certainly an oversight. Next time I will definitely do this more often. After this there was a chance for the students to fill in a report from them on the teaching of this unit. And that will be the subject of another blog. But, as one student said, the public sharing of the writing was a way to see another aspect of each of these students. It was a privilege to be there.

del.icio.us for English teachers

One of the bright sparks in the Victorian Association of English Teachers (VATE), Greta Caruso, had the idea of gathering an extensive collection of interesting and valuable websites for secondary English teachers. I had the notion of combining this with the convenience of tagging and social bookmarking and thus the idea of http://del.icio.us/tag/VATE was born. The bookmarks are for sites that are especially useful for teachers in Victoria as they contain references to texts that are on the Year 12 list of texts for study but the websites are from all over and would no doubt be useful for any study of English, Literature or Language Arts for secondary school students. It is only a beginning at the moment and the tagging is in natural language so it may take a bit of getting used to. The idea would be to click on any tag to get other links of that tag or to add + novel to the adress bar to get all the VATE items that have the tag ‘novel’. At the moment there are five of these items giving useful site for the novels Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis, First they killed my Father by Loung Ung, I’m not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti, and others. The other items that have been bookmarked are items on Shakespeare, grammar, literary theory, engagement, resources on teaching language analysis and lots more: books, classroom, drama, education, educational, engagement, English, lesson, lesson_plans, links, literature, plays, poetry, reference, research, sonnets, teaching, text, texts, writing). There are a few blogs as well. Go on over and have a look if you're interested. Let me know if you find it useful , or if you have some ideas for improvement. If you are an English teacher and know some good sites for these categories you can tag them with VATE too to add to the list (if you have a delicious account). It's a free resource to save your bookmarks so you can have access to them anywhere, that anyone can have and I would recommend it. Just go to http://del.icio.us and get yourself a username.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Some thoughts on literature


I’ve been in the habit of going to Monash Uni library to do my marking. I can get heaps done there when I’m not distracted by housework and my computer (yes I know they have computers at the library but they are not so obviously in my way, tempting me). This afternoon when I was driving home I was listening to an interview on Radio National with Wayne Macauley author of Blueprints for a Barbed Wire Canoe. It has recently been put on the list of thirty recommended books available to be studied by Year 12 students in Victoria by the VCAA. This list has caused some controversy recently in certain sections of society as it contains (shock, horror) films, Paul Kelly’s song lyrics, a blog and even a CD, as well as novels, for example Camus, Green, Hardy, poetry, drama (Hamlet and King Oedipus and others) and short stories (Henry Lawson and others). I really enjoyed hearing the conversation between Wayne and Ramona Koval on writing, literature, the effects of a parent’s death at a young age, and more. I had decided to read as many of the texts on the list as I could and I will definitely be looking out for this debut novel of a new Melbourne writer. Recently I read another novel on the list, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, “an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy to the atrocities of the present.” I found this book gripping and absolutely unputdownable. I read it in a day and was haunted by the writing. I am so glad that literature like this is on the list that our young people may get to interact with. I’m pleased that the list contains such a rich range of literature in its widest definition, texts that teach us what it is to be human.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Creative family stories

The family stories that my writing classes have been working on have turned out to be really interesting. With some students the learning was able to be integrated with the history subject they were taking concurrently, as they were doing family histories. It led to some rich learning opportunities. Because the stories were from the generation of the students’ grandparents or even further back, we had lots of cultures represented: Armenia, Ireland, Afghanistan, China, England, Wales, Holland, and Scotland to name some. In their reflection the students commented that they had learnt so much from their parents and grandparents in finding out about the earlier generations. I am grateful to Wendy, my colleague who developed this activity. The idea of being able to fill in gaps with imaginative reconstruction was so fruitful. I did invite the students to post their stories to their blogs if they felt so inclined and some did, so have a look if you want to here and here. Here is an example from Bry’s blog who posted just an extract from her story:

Here’s just a paragraph from my family story... It’s the second paragraph about my uncle Pete who had a really interesting life and I want him to write a book…

I was born in South Africa in 1948 and spent my childhood in a boarding school from the age of six, therefore I never really knew my sister who was eight years younger. My Father was European but had grown up in South Africa; my mother was English and met my father on one of his trips to the English headquarters of his ever expanding role in the Aacommodation Iindustry. I try not to remember my parents but the only time I really did was when I was four, because at that age I wasn’t too young to understand them, yet not old enough to defy them. I remember one summer day I was playing outside and saw one of the maids throw out a poisoned rat into the garden. Curious I went and picked up the lifeless rat, and being a typical, lonely only child I decided to keep it in my pocket for someone to talk to I found that a poisoned rat was the only thing I could truly relate to. As I was not allowed to play with the black boys at the market and the only interaction between me and children my age was at fancy dinner parties where I was forbidden to make noise. I remember my mother called me inside, she hated me getting dirty or smelling of perspiration from the intolerable heat, annoyed that I couldn’t play I sulked in my room for several hours, I heard my mother in the basement laundry of our over the top and far too big home, I walked to the laundry shoot and let my new little friend rat, that had been fermenting in my pocket, fall to the pile of washing below. The shrieks and fuss made me smile. At a ripe young age of six, I wasn’t sure what hate was, but I was pretty sure it was my feelings for my mother. She knew after that I would be trouble, even as I knew it too.
J. a student from Clarence Fisher’s school recently posted on her ideas of the educational value of blogs. It is very interesting.
Yesterday our teacher wrote this quote on the whiteboard, "Blogging can be dangerous and has little educational value." We had to agree or disagree with this quote. I disagreed and these are my reasons. One reason I disagreed was because I find bloging very educational. I believe that if you write information you have heard or read you are most likely to remember it, just like if you don't know how to spell a word you write it correctly over and over when you get it wrong and this helps you learn how to spell it, or when you study and your trying to remember something you write it down and it helps you to remember it instead of just reading it.
Blogging is like this and kind of like writing notes just you can go back and review the stuff you have written any time and any where as long as u have a computer. Also it is available for everyone else if they don't know something they can just read your blog entries or if they don't know what you are talking about and they want to they can just comment and ask you what it means or what it is. Logs aren’t dangerous as long as you don't write down any personal information about you, your classmates or anyone else. These are all reasons why I disagree with this quote.
There were some comments on this post by some students in my class, which were also interesting for me, as they showed a variety of views.

This week two fellow edubloggers and I are going to be presenting a workshop for teachers on blogging as a reflective space, as a dialogic space for reflection, both for teachers and students. There is much discussion happening in the blogosphere at the moment to do with what students and teachers can say in such a space. I am really looking forward to this, to get to meet with fellow teachers interested in blogging, not to mention being able to meet with James Farmer after only knowing him through cyberspace (although since he’s been on the World Bridges webcasts I feel like I know him in another dimension than just through his web-presence and his web enabling.)
I was also really chuffed to read this post on Graham Wegner's blog about his top five blogs at the moment.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Saturday afternoon

What's been happening? I know you're wondering. I haven't posted for a while and boy have I been missing the buzz. There have been several good things happening (it's not worth going into the bad things) One of the real satisfactions of teaching came the other day when I had my writing class in the computer lab working on their family stories, some of which are well written and really crafted pieces. I'm sitting there, totally unnecessary (the point I have been trying to get to) hearing voices from around the room - Jess would you conference my story with me, Nicky can you come and read this - what do you think, what does 'enticing' mean, and a little later, what does 'intensely' mean? (I later found these were words Elise wanted to use in her story but was confirming their meaning before she used them). There was a real buzz in the room, the very buzz one does associate with a workshop.And then there's preparing for the Year 12 orientation classes that happen next week. These students have only just emerged from their year eleven exams a few days ago and now they are in year twelve. We want them to have a sense of the classes they are going to have next year and so they start before their holidays. They may not consciously think much about the work they are to do but at least we can plant a few seeds that may germinate over the holidays and give the students a sense of agency and control about how they approach Year 12. In English we will be starting with the short stories of Henry Lawson. But before that we will talk about their goals for 2006 and give a clear indication of where they are headed by the end of that year. They will also write a letter to their teacher so that we have a sense of our students as people and in my reply they will get a sense of who I am as a teacher. Of course most of these students know me as I have had them before in different English classes. We will start looking at the Henry Lawson stories through artworks of Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin and others illustrating what life was like in the Australian bush in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow blogger face to face where previouly we knew each other only through our online personas. It was great. It made me reflect how different or similar our online persona is to our 'real' persona. (I have great trouble with that sentence as I am sure that both personas are real, but then what is reality?) In this case N's online and f2f personas were closely aligned. Even though I haven't posted much lately I have still been reading voraciously and listening to podcasts. I have still been learning and reflecting. But I've had writer's block! Hopefully that will go away soon, because I love my virtual community. I just found this and though it very funny. I hope you enjoy it too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blogging Rhythms

I find that being part of a global community has its really interesting aspects. I sense a rhythm in the way we post. I go to bed having posted and wake up with lots of news to read and sometimes comments. Similarly, the rhythm of the seasons, particularly obvious in the exchange of posts between my class and Clarence Fisher’s class, commenting on the weather. I also felt it when Clarence wrote beautifully about the change of season from summer into “fall” and at the same time I also felt the change of seasons here in Melbourne. But now one that’s not so good. Now that we are winding down, I am getting great ideas from Tim Frederick and hoping that I’ll be able to remember them when I need them. Likewise when I would have appreciated the ideas that I am getting now, teachers in the other hemisphere were on their summer break. But I won't complain. I’m glad I’m part of a community.
And as part of that community listening to the EdtechTalk webcast with Barbara Ganley was really excellent. Barbara’s interview with Jeff and Dave on the benefits of student blogging – stating that it's all about the connections, the ability to connect in so many ways, ways that involve extending the creating and writing process, and being able to chart the journey, to encourage active learning, with the students reflecting on their own learning, and connecting with each other. It’s really worth listening to.

Just lately I have noticed that it’s harder to spend the time really thinking about what I want to write, and again Barbara talks about time and teaching and time and blogging. She articulates it very well. “And of course good teaching takes a lot of time. Reflective practices take a lot of time. Nurturing communities takes a lot of time. So I'm okay with the time it takes.”
And so am I.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Farewells and moving on

This happened a few weeks ago, but I’ve only had time to post about it now. In our school the homegroups are mixed, that is, there are a few students of each year level from year 7 to year 12 in each homegroup. This means that every homegroup is affected when the Year 12s leave. We all had farewell parties in an extended homegroup time a couple of Fridays ago. Another thing that our school does when the students are in year 7 is to make a time capsule. In this time capsule they put in things that are important to them at the time, questionnaires they have filled in about what their favourite song, group, movie, tv show, or what ever, is. They put in certificates they have received, or photos, whatever symbolises year 7 to them. These are then stored for five years and returned to them at that homegroup farewell party in Year 12. It is truly an experience to see them exclaiming over how they have grown, changed, developed, or not, in those five years. All the rest of the homegroup looks on as they open their time capsules, and there are tears and laughter. It really is an amazing time. It is a ritual greatly valued by the students, that I have never seen in any other school. As an observer of all this, it makes me think of the real meaning of what we are doing here at school. It reminds me that learning takes place in many different ways.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blogging News

Konrad Glogowski writes passionately about what student blogging achieves:
“When I think of blogs, I think primarily of what this technology enables my students to accomplish. When I look forward to reading their entries and comments I am really looking forward to thoughts made visible. And so, when they write, I don’t want the journey to end with me as it inevitably does when the teacher is the audience. I want to be part of the collective journey.”

I too have seen a pleasing development in class blogging. My students are thinking about their writing voices and experiencing the pleasure that I get from blogging. Recently some of Clarence Fisher’s students have been interacting with students in one of my writing classes. It certainly adds to the pleasure and excitement of writing. Students are experiencing a sense of place, a sense that that their place is different to places where other students live. Tiffany says
“It’s the long weekend for everyone living here in Melbourne. I wonder what everyone is getting up to. I’m playing netball, working and doing a lot of homework.”
We are seeing a sense of writing for an audience wider than just their class-mates. Tiffany goes on:
“Melbourne is a pretty big city if you think about it…around 4 million people living in it. Comparing to a town in central Canada - Snow Lake who only have around 1600 people. I’d like to say hi to those students who have been replying to my blogs, thanks it’s wonderful to hear what you have to say.”

Breaking news: On Friday night James Farmer announced that he is offering a place teachers can get free blogs for their students.
And here is a fascinating post by Joan Vinall-Cox on the genre of blogs.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Edublogger map

Here is a way for all edubloggers to put themselves on the map. Thanks to Josie Fraser of EdTech UK who says:

I thought I'd set up an edublog map for everyone (well, everyone covered by Google maps at the moment anyway), not just us UK & Ireland based types. So please, if you're an edublogger of any shape, size or persuasion, please head over to http://www.frappr.com/edubloggers.

Please remember to put your blog name and url in the 'shoutout' section. And please do advertise the map - lets make a great resource for edubloggers and for everyone interested in using technology to support teaching and learning.

I agree.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Strategy of the week

Our strategy of the week idea continues. As I have posted earlier, each week the Learning and Teaching Coordinator posts a good idea for adding interest to classes that different teachers have emailed him. Today I tried one – a strategy to enhance vocabulary. This was contributed by my colleague Kevin. The students were asked to form pairs and use a dictionary. Each pair came up with an unusual word that they thought no-one else would know and one made up, or invented, word. In turn each pair came up to the board and wrote up their two words. The rest of the class then had a go at saying which they thought was the real word and why. Lots of time for discussion about words that might be related, the possible origin of words and words they’d seen before, even if they couldn’t define them without context. After this the pair revealed which one was the real word and what its meaning was, rubbing out the other word. After a while we had a group of student chosen unusual words, which had been discussed and the meanings given. I then asked them to pick one or two of the words from the board, write them in their books, together with the meaning, and commit to using them in writing and conversation over the next few days. The students loved it and wanted to keep doing it.

Another strategy that I will contribute to the Strategy of the Week is one I thought of today and called Roving Reporter. My Year Sevens were reporting on research they had done using PowerPoint presentations in groups. I wanted to add a reflective component to the activity so after they finished I popped up with a pretend microphone (I literally thought of the idea in the class) and said. “Hello, I’m Sandra Sully from Channel Ten News. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your presentation. Where exactly did you get your information?” (Pause for answer) “Did you find one source more helpful than the others?” and “You have obviously spent a fair bit of time on research. What was the most interesting thing you found out?” And so on. There were a couple of different questions for each group. After a while the students caught on and one volunteered to be Livinia Nixon from Channel Nine. She asked her question (she realised the first one she asked wouldn’t work and she had to think of another one). After a while Livinia Nixon decided to take questions from the audience to those who had just presented. It turned out to be a fun and engaging activity, and achieved its aim of providing some reflective time for the students. Even though they were put on the spot (in a fun way) their answers and musings were surprisingly good.

Monday, October 24, 2005

More on family stories

The students are beginning to think about writing their family stories. In preparation for this I read my students a short story by S. K. Martin about family stories – Three Daughter Stories published in The Age in 1996 where the author wrote about her grandmother. One of the three stories was very simple. My grandmother, she writes, was born in a tent. From this detail she weaves a scenario from imagination to posit how and why this may have happened. Martin knows that it occurred on the goldfields at Avoca but not what the family was doing there – whether mining gold or running a shop or some other occupation. So the details necessarily come from imagination.
It made me think about the two versions of the ‘missing brothers’ story in my husband’s family. As my sister-in-law overheard it in snippets as a child, the story was that three brothers had emigrated to Australia in the 1850’s from Scotland. Shortly after their arrival two of the brothers went missing and were never heard of again. But just after we were married we heard from Vernon in Tasmania who was compiling a family history and who had worked out that we were related to him. He knew what happened to the two missing brothers. They were part of a much larger family who migrated to Tasmania in 1853, and had never arrived in Australia, choosing instead to go to America. He had copies of letters written by the brothers from Chicago in the late 1850’s (complaining, in part, about the quality of the whiskey). They were still missing, as nothing is known about them after 1858 but it added greatly to our knowledge to think of them making their way in America. Similarly, in my own family (my parents migrated to Australia from Holland in 1955) there is a story where the details were missing. When I was growing up I took it for granted that when my mother cooked pancakes, she stacked them up and then served them to the family after having cut them in quarters. Nothing that could be the basis of a story here. But when I went to Holland and met my aunts and uncles for the first time this fact came up in conversation. They laughed and explained that my grandmother had a very large frying pan and cut up the pancakes for practical reasons. This reminds me of the story of the monastery cat (which had to be tied up during meditation) that I read at Computer Drone, where the original reason for a tradition or ritual is lost in the mists of time.

What’s all this got to do with teaching writing? The students are researching their family stories. In some cases, to follow up their family story they may need to write letters to relatives they don’t see often or who live in other countries. They may need to write advertisements to find out things, as Vernon did to find the Victorian branch of his family. They may need to write to Government departments to get Army records of a family member – oh, if we only had time to do this properly! The writing skills they gain in the process of doing the research will be transferable to other aspects of their education and to the future working lives (one would hope, anyway). But the stories they will find about their families and the original writing they do will be invaluable.

And here is another great idea for writing from Blended Edu: Social Media Resources for Learning using Flickr “we decided to use digital pictures for paragraph writing. Pictures easily lend themselves to descriptive and process writing. Students will be given an assignment first, then they will think about what they will photograph and then write about it. These types of assignments actively engage learners and put the students in charge of their own learning.”

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Classroom Blogging

“What is it about the Australian educational system that keeps blogging from taking off as it has in the US? I'd be very interested in knowing how pedagogy and theory and real world computer access are similar to and different from the US.” Just recently this question has been in my mind (although the comment I am quoting is from a post published in March this year). While the Directory of Australian Edubloggers is growing as more people find out about it, there are not so many teachers using blogs with their students that I have been able to find. In my search, though, I did find Our Class 2005 which is “a blog for an English class of adult migrants in Sydney, Australia.”
Certainly, community building is being promoted among edubloggers by James Farmer at the Edublogs.org community and Leigh Blackall with the Teach and Learn Online TALO Group (and there are no doubt other that I’m yet to discover). I would love to get more Aussie teachers using blogs just so I have more people to learn from and with, and because I think it is an interesting thing to do. It is true that we are on a journey and there are things we need to figure out, but we can figure them out together. Dave Cormier has posted on some of the issues over the last few days here and here. Something that I like a lot is being able to share with my students other student blogs such as those in Clarence Fisher’s class of bloggers and A School of Voices by Anne Davis just so they hear voices on blogging other than mine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Memory and imagination

My two writing classes have moved onto their next piece. In this one we are aiming to access the students' memories and imagination. It is a family stories piece, and to start with they will come to school today with a story that begins with “I remember when…”, following this with a reflection on a family photo they have brought to class. Eventually I think they will be able to write something about, not what’s happened in their own generation or their parents', but something that may have happened in their grandparents’ generation. We will consider whether the tense of this piece of writing alters what they can say. I’m thinking that by writing in the present tense they will be accessing their imaginations. I have left this piece to last as I think that the writing the students will be able to produce in this way will be very interesting and that they will be proud of what they write. The students are reflecting as they go in their blogs (ERE A and ERE C), and as usual there is a variety of reactions.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Poetry and podcasting

I am listening to a Paul Allison podcast. He is talking about how to get more people connected to technology and trying to integrate technology into the regular classroom curriculum. During the conversation he is having, he refers to Ed Tech Posse podcast 7 where they suggest connecting with teachers around something personal, asking what is personally interesting or fascinating to them. When I think about what is fascinating to me personally, what is exciting to me at the moment? I know what the answer is: the students’ blogging project interests me.

During class as the students were writing, one asked me if I had a blog. I was surprised as I had thought that it had been mentioned, but I think it was rather that now that students have ‘got’ the idea of blogging, they are interested in it in a different way. At the beginning, it was just words, the teacher talking, but now having experienced the idea of conversation and self expression through the medium of blogs, they were ready to hear more about it. It hasn’t taken long and I see that the students are learning while having fun. It reminds me about what Anne Davis of Edublog Insights says: “Writing/blogging really does benefit learning. We need to encourage, cheer our students on and work at releasing them from trying to write for us or for a grade.” She references Konrad from the Blog of Proximal Development: “It is fascinating to watch how students gradually abandon writing for their teacher and begin to develop readership among their peers,” and “by creating a community of bloggers, the teacher can ensure that writing is perceived as a process of sharing personal views and ideas.” Hear, hear.


But when I thought further about what fascinates me I drew a blank. I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the marking I have to do (it seems never ending) and the feeling that I am never doing enough for my study. Although I did have another thought. At the moment my Literature students (a year 9/10 combined elective unit) are studying poetry. I have asked them to choose a poem that appeals to them and to write a reflection which tries to express just what it is about the poem that speaks directly to them. Then, during class two or three students each class will read their poem aloud and speak about their poem. I have thought that we could record these and any discussion that ensues and think about making a podcast. The idea of a poetry podcast is not new: here is a beautiful one from Sandaig Poets - Poems from Sandaig Primary School.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Webcasting and blogging

This week as part of the Worldbridges live webcast we shared a conference call between Jeff Lebow in the US, Dave Cormier in Canada, Scott Lockman in Japan and me in Australia. It certainly was an interesting, if somewhat nervewracking, experience for me. We talked about many things, including our class blogs, the Learning Times Australia group and the Directory of Australian Edubloggers. Some of the people I have met in the chatroom include Dennis, elderbob and Sue Roseman. The audio is available here and the chatroom transcript is here.

Part of the the conversation was about using blogs in the classroom and the practicalities of setting them up. Just this week the two writing classes have begun blogging again for fourth term. I was surprised and pleased to learn that quite a few had been blogging on their own (having set their personal blogs up during the holidays) and reading blogs. They seemed to get back into class blogging with some enthusiasm and it seems the quality of their writing has improved. The links to the class blogs are here and here and the students are linked to the class blogs, if you want to check them out. Please leave encouraging comments if you wish.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fun with Interactive Whiteboards

From Danny Maas at Tilt TV (Teachers improving Learning with Technology) in his lastest vieocast come resources that can be immediately adapted for the Interactive Whiteboard. He points to this site of games templates. These games were created in PowerPoint and you can download the templates and modify the games to fit your curriculum needs. He credits Mark E. Damon for these Millionaire and Jeopardy templates.

At our school we now have another IWB installed permanently in a classroom, which can be booked. It is available and ready to go at any time, just by saving any activity or game you have made to the shared folder. I know I’ll be adapting these templates for games and activities in my middle school units. The last game I made for the Merchant of Venice was very well received and what I saw was students going back to the text, talking about the characters and what the caharaters said and did. It was really intense engagement (not to mention competition) with this famous Shakespearean play and the students were having fun as well. I love the whiteboard.

With regard to classroom blogging Scott Lockman in his Comprehensible Input blog shares this great link. Thanks Scott.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Writing and Assessment

This term in the writing classes we have started our next project, which is called Personal Best. This is based on the old Year Eleven Communication Project of a by-gone VCE English Study Design, but limited to writing. The students were invited to think of a topic that they had always wanted to find out about (or find out more about). They had to submit a plan (which will be assessed) stating their topic for research, the questions they need to find out and how they will go about finding out what they need to know in order to write for an audience interested in the same topic. The writing could be informative or persuasive. I’m hoping that we will get a wide variety of topics and I think that we will, judging from what I’ve seen so far. Some students are researching the country or city they were born in but had left five or ten years ago. They can find out their information by the usual ways but they are also being encouraged to interview relatives either personally or by email or any other way. I hope to find out more about Afghanistan in this way. Other aspects that will be assessed are the research itself, as well as the writing. They are expected to keep a running list of all the ways they tried to find information and state how helpful or otherwise it was for their writing. Needless to say the students are very happy to be researching a topic of their own choice as well. So far there have been a few teachable moments when we’re talking about a suitable topic or question to research. It’s never too soon to learn about this aspect of research, I think :D.

Another interesting class has been the Year Eleven English class. They have been preparing to do their second writing folio piece which is personal or imaginative writing. As practice exercises we had fun with doing personal alphabets thanks to this site, and an exercise where I gave the students a small squares of paper each. They wrote a setting in the middle of their square (anywhere a narrative could take place.) Then the squares are taken up and randomly distributed. This time they write imagery and metaphors that match or are related in some way to the setting they received. Again they are taken up and redistributed. Then they write other words related to the setting. Finally after another redistribution, they write a story using the stimulus of the square. I took up the resulting stories and was pleasantly surprised.

And speaking of assessment this looks interesting:

Are you interested in knowing how teachers translate the theory behind strategic questioning into their classroom practice? A Strategic Questioning DVD is in production that has actual examples of strategic questioning used in Australian primary and secondary classrooms. It also includes teachers reflecting on their practice and providing useful tips and insights. Limited copies of the Strategic Questioning DVD with be available free of charge to Australian educators. Register now to be one of the first to receive the Strategic Questioning DVD on its release in February 2006.

Have a look at the site.
Posted in Australian education


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Australian Edubloggers

Just recently I have been enjoying listening to the Worldbridges webcasts. The name is very accurate as the guys there do bridge the world in numerous ways. They are in North America (both the US and Canada) and have people skyping in from all over. Last Sunday it was Josie Fraser from EdtechUK and another week it was Suse from Denmark. Skype really is amazing. I have just downloaded it and I am impressed with the clarity of the sound and it's very good value. Free! Free telephone calls regardless of where you call or how long you call. This conversation between people who have similar interests is really making bridges across the world.
On another matter I am wondering if it would be good to have a directory of Australian Edubloggers. Some time ago Leigh Blackall expressed a wish to have people comment on his blog if they are an Australian blogger to get a sense of who they are. He really gets us thinking about what we could do to increase the uptake of this reflective practice. Now there is a wiki which is a Directory that lists all Australian edubloggers who want to be listed. In this way we can support each other and learn from each other. I hope that this can be the start of an edublogging community that will have benefits to all on the list.
This Directory uses pbwiki - short for Peanut Butter wiki. This has recently been re-launched. It really is very fast, simple and easy. It’s free and the interface has been improved. As Derek Baird says it’s even easier than making a peanut butter sandwich. Have a look and see how you can use it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Listening and Learning

Over the last two weeks I have been doing a lot of learning by reading blogs and listening to podcasts, by finding resources in my areas of interest, including the latest area of the use of interactive whiteboards and putting them in my del.icio.us, even watching recordings of elluminate sessions which were part of an online conference on Cool Tools. I have even done most of my marking and planned the lessons I will be teaching in the next little while. I have also been reading for my Masters, including John Dewey’s Experience and Education and Douglas Barnes From Communication to Curriculum; oldies but goodies, especially in the light of the debates on education which are going on at the moment.
Some links I have enjoyed lately:
Fred's World for Blogaholics Anonymous
Sandra Effinger for Resources for secondary English Teachers
Dick Hardt’s presentation on Identity 2.0 is entertaining and informative, and his style is inspiring. Thanks to Martha Burtis for this.
Now I know I will get overwhelmed again when school goes back tomorrow but for now I feel rich and inspired and full of good will.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reflections on research

Reading the article by Wells will give me somewhat more of a theoretical framework for looking at my study of the use of Literature Circles in the English classroom. I’m constantly thinking about how my professional reading helps to refine my teaching. Then I write about this in my research journal. This, of course, will become part of the data that I analyse. Although I have a transcript of part of the focus group interview I now know that my tape of the focus group interview stopped working and did not record the whole interview. This is obviously an issue I have to work on for next time I do tapes. Obviously I need to transcribe the tape sooner, or at least listen to the whole tape soon after the interview to find these things out sooner. What I would have done in this case I don’t know, maybe redone the interview? Another problem that I had was that the Literature Circles part of the English course was too short and too intense. I need to start earlier with it next year. Clearly there will have to be negotiations with the library if this is to happen. There need to be more meetings with the focus group in order to get a sense, through their commentary, of their learning over time.
What have I learnt?
I have now refined my topic question and will be focussing on the role of talk in learning. I am asking what is of value in the teaching of literature and looking again at what does it mean to be an English teacher? I now know that I need to do my study with just one class rather than the three I was trying to do research with this year. I am asking questions about the learning that happens in Literature Circles, not just seeing it as a way to do the texts part of the curriculum, as the latest fad. I want to know what are the students’ goals in reading literature and discussing it in this way? I do want to negotiate these things with the students but there are problems with negotiating the curriculum because of the constraints caused by society’s expectations, by the all the things that mediate relationships in the classroom (number of students, time constraints and so on). I want to focus on what are the learnings that I am facilitating with my students in this intervention in the curriculum.
What I want to do next year?
I want to begin the small group discussion process earlier in the semester (with short story discussions) and incorporate lots more small group work into other areas. I want to record my experiences more often in my research journal, to find ways of capturing the moment of learning. I want to continue to think about my role as teacher in the class. In the past I have not been a member of the small group discussions. But I will try next year to rotate among the groups, to have that as normal practice. In this way I can model the kinds of talk by occasional interventions (without dominating the discussion or having it go through me). If I take on a role in each discussion as any student would and do the reading the students are doing, this may be a helpful thing. It’s worth a try I think.
In the meantime I will continue with my professional reading and reflecting in my research journal.

Dialogic Inquiry and Literature Circles

I have been spending some time this week on work for my Masters. I now have a transcript of a short focus group discussion with some of the students involved in the research about their experience of Literature Circles. In addition, as part of my professional reading I am tackling an article by Gordon Wells called “Dialogic Inquiry in Education: Building on the Work of Vygotsky”. So many interesting points are raised: I am making notations in the margins in almost every paragraph.

I really like his statement, referring to Vygotsky 1978 chapter 8, that curriculum needs to be reconceptualized in terms of “a negotiated selection of activities that challenge students to go beyond themselves towards goals that have personal significance for them.” This seems to articulate so much of what my vision is in the classroom.

Wells argues that the curriculum should be arranged around what he calls real questions – those that “correspond to or awaken a wondering on the part of the student”. Here I am reminded of the students who were reading and discussing John Marsden’s Tomorrow when the War Began in their Literature Circles group. They said themselves that a key component of their discussion was the conjecture of what it would be like to like through a terrorist attack. It seemed that they discussed this often and in their group oral at the end focussed on this as well. It is not surprising really in the social context of terrorism that pervades media representations of the world today. It could be see as a real question and one member of this group participated in the focus group. It will be interesting to read the transcript.

Another question for me is Wells’ insistence that “the goal of inquiry is making not learning”, and thus the construction of an artifact is necessary. The artifact can be “a material object” (some of my students made collages in their presentations to the class) “an explanatory demonstration” (some students gave PowerPoint presentations to the class) or a “theoretical formulation”. The problem with discussion on its own is that “it leaves no record of what has been jointly constructed”. This is interesting because the discussions can be taped, but would the process of taping the discussion change the very nature of the dialogue?

In another section he writes about inquiry not being a method rather it is an “approach” in which “tentative answers are taken seriously” and the teacher should be involved as a co-inquirer. As well, the importance of dialogue in coming to understanding is stressed. Wells writes on what he calls “progressive discourse… the process by which the sharing, questioning and revising of opinions leads to a new understanding that everyone involved agrees is superior to their own previous understanding,” and it would seem that taping a discussion would be important to show this happening in Literature Circles despite the reservations.

In the implementation of Literature Circles, if we want to conceive the activity in this way, we see knowledge as being (re)created in the school setting, which is the group of students pursuing their common goal. And what is the goal in Literature Circles? What would the students say it is? To come to an understanding of the meaning of the literature they are reading? I think it might be important to work out what this is. The data from the focus group may be able to help here.

The learning from Literature Circles in Wells’ view seems to be that it is the basis on which students can go on and create further texts in response. But surely there is more value in reading and discussing literature than solely its ability to create texts?

Wells discusses writing as a tool for thinking: I saw a poster on the wall of Yvonne Hutchinson’s classroom with the old quote, “how do I know what I think till I see what I say,” variously attributed to Faulkner, W.H. Auden and E. M. Foster (turns out that it’s from Forster in Aspects of the Novel). Wells sees that “few students seem to have discovered that writing can function as a ‘thinking device’. I admit that my first thought when reading this paper was to go to my computer and type up my thoughts and reflections as I was reading here on my blog. Wells sees this as “knowledge transformation” where the writer tries to anticipate the likely response of the envisaged audience (teachers and other interested in education, I guess) and “carries on a dialogue with the text being composed.” I will be seeing my supervisor later today and continuing this dialogue and my thinking some more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What I love about the internet

What I love about the internet

Looking at this post on the Remote Access blog led me to Darren Kuropatwa’s blog and a video. Watching it I hear Yvonne Hutchinson say, “This is what we call ‘metacognition’” (a recent topic of mine.) This is the real open classroom. Going public with teaching. This is brave – it’s easy to judge others (I found myself thinking that Yvonne was taking centre stage a bit too much) but would we do it, so others could learn? She is obviously a great teacher.

Then here I was checking out Edblogger Praxis and I found Teachers Improving Learning with Technology. Some good reading, listening and viewing here.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The middle of the holidays

A week of my holidays has gone by and what have I achieved? It seems not much. But I have spent some time with my family which is good, and I have spent a lot of time reading blogs and listening to podcasts. But I haven’t done the marking that I should have, nor written my research journal. But I have written a little description of a workshop session on blogging for the VATE mini conference Consuming Culture Creating Curriculum that I’ll be contributing to in December, and prepared the workshop notes for a student revision day in October, and contributed to two meetings on the draft VCE English study design. But I haven’t yet tackled the editing of Ellipses, the anthology of exemplary student writing from my school, that will be published later this year, although the editorial committee has agreed on the pieces that will be included.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What should English teachers teach?

What do students need? What makes a good teacher or a good classroom or a good school? These are some thoughts that engaged me today when the wider curriculum committee got together (in the holidays) to discuss VATE’s response to the draft VCE English Study design that is now up for consultation and has been the source of quite a bit of angst in some sections of the media. Commentators are fond of saying the world is different now. And in many ways I am glad that it is. But students need something different from teachers now too. And what we teach our students must recognise this as well. The draft study design is an attempt to cater for this realisation. The two main areas of concern are the reduced number of literary texts, and the inclusion of a new area of study called Creating and Responding. In this space there is the opportunity to make better connections with our students. As Chris Wheat’s article offers: the draft study design “engag(es) them more closely with the language” and that it does so “by moving the course onto their own turf.” It is the connections we make with the students and the connections we facilitate in them to their learning that are so important.

As Konrad Glogowski from the Blog of Proximal Development says: “This (the idea of teaching students to make connections) reminds me … students need to learn about great minds and the ideas they produced, and not just what’s online (or in books). They also need good teachers, people who are experienced “connectors” - people who will help students…(to be, as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English states, “individuals with skills for critical reflection and questioning. Such skills will equip students to be informed participants in our democratic society, allowing them to thoughtfully consider issues, and effectively articulate their own point view in keeping with their developing moral and ethical frameworks.”)” Konrad goes on, “They need to realize that this kind of content (”great minds” or “great books”) is not a set collection of facts.” And so we want them to read critically and to learn how texts are constructed. “Finally, they need the freedom to explore and connect, to co-construct, to learn through discovery. They need to know that the journey takes precedence over the final result.”

It is compulsory for VCE students to complete studies in one of the English subjects to achieve their certificate. Why should English be compulsory in this way? What should this English subject achieve? The reasons given above by AATE is clear. However, any study design for English should recognise and cater for the diversity of students who will take the subject, and the wide variety of knowledge and experience that the students bring to the study, to offer choices for students and teachers in the way the course is developed. So, while we want students to read literature and gain from it wisdom and pleasure, the idea that that this can only be done by reading “classic” literature is too narrow. It’s good that the course is offering choice while encouraging students to still read deeply and respond. To quote from Chris’s article again: “All students have a place at the table despite their reluctance to embrace King Lear.”

And what’s going on in the world of Ed Tech? The Worldbridges Webcast, a live discussion about what’s going on in educational technology, is informative and interesting. Recently they have discussed the use of blogs, and podcasting, connecting students worldwide, students publishing content, ideas for involving students in posting their own finished edited content to a wiki and more. At the same time the hosts are connected to a chatroom so the listeners can intersperse their own comments, which are then incorporated into the podcast, not to mention talkback (a teacher from Brazil called into share her work with students, inviting participation from the hosts).

When I reflect on this sort of potential I say bring on changes, engage the students with technology, embrace student creations and presentations. The literature we love is not going away, but we need to build on it. We need to broaden the range of literacies we foreground in our English classrooms.

Monday, September 19, 2005

(Re)creation





It’s holidays and this weekend I spent some time at my mother’s holiday place in the country. Here there is no television, no telephone and no computer. So what did I do? I went for walks, read the latest Henning Mankell translation, slept and played scrabble. Some photos:



Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Writers workshop

Today I booked the computer lab for my two writing workshop classes, period 1 and period 3. I also booked the data projector and laptop. What was I planning to do with all this technology? Well, it wasn’t about the technology, it was about the information; this is as you would expect. The students came into the room and logged on to pick up the message I had sent: it was a reading assignment. Inspired by Anne Davis I asked my students to get onto A School of Voices and read the posts and respond if they’d like; some did. Then there was the blog of the group at Nanyang Girls High School in Singapore who were the winners (out of 20 schools) in a blogging competition run jointly by the Ministry of Education and Singapore Telecommunications. The “blogs were evaluated in terms of the depth and clarity of thought as well as the creativity of presentation by a panel.” These blogs were very interesting to read, and the students were engaged in reading and discussing what they read for nearly the whole period. It was interesting for me because once again there was a great point of contact with the international students in one of my classes who were able to decipher the writing in a photo of a newspaper article written in Chinese about the winning bloggers.
After they’d had some time reading, I brought them up around the screen where we looked at some of our class blogs (although some students were too shy to have theirs discussed). We looked at what made some entries so successful that they had attracted a lot of comments (obviously they had been able to communicate an idea that resonated with others). The students’ comments and discussion during this activity were perceptive and involved a lot of participation from many students. They then eagerly (or am I dreaming? I thought it was like that) went back to their computers to write their own blog entries.
The period three class was half of a double (2 times 57 minutes). When that finished we had to leave the computer room, pick up some laptops and keep writing. I do look forward to reading these latest entries, as now we have finished the poetry anthologies the student will be free to write about what interests them. My suggestions to them will be to write about something they have learned lately, whether in or out of school, but that is mainly for those who don’t have an idea themselves. I think the reading of other blogs and the freedom of topic should result in more learning about good writing.

Monday, September 12, 2005

So what did I learn...

…on shadow day? On Friday, the teachers at my school went to various schools and other institutions to do “Professional Development” with other teachers or practitioners. We were given a list of schools to choose from, though other suggestions were certainly welcome. There were certain aspects of the schools that we could express an interest in. Some schools do a middle school International Baccalaureate program, some have integrated curricula in various year levels and in VCAL or VET programs that our school is interested in. As I wrote before, I went to see English teaching at another school as well as experience the 80 minute lessons and no bells that my chosen school had. I observed a Year 12 class hard at work revising the short stories of Henry Lawson. (One interesting decision that this school had made was to study only three examinable texts in the three terms and flesh these out with poetry that related to the various texts.) I thought this was an interesting idea in that it had the potential to add depth to the study of the texts they did do. It often seems rushed to complete four set texts in three terms. It is especially interesting in the light of the revised VCE English study design to be implemented in 2007 and now available in draft form for comment. One of the changes to the study design is that in year 12 students will now study two set texts instead of four. This has been described as the “dumbing down” of English study. But what are the students doing instead of the study of the four texts? In a new area of study called creating and presenting, “students read print, non-print and multimedia texts related to the context in order to reflect on the ideas suggested by these texts, to explore the relationship between purpose, form, audience and language, and to examine the choices made by creators in order to construct meaning. They then draw on knowledge gained from their exploration of this context, to create their own text/s in oral, written or multimodal form for adult audience/s and context/s, and draw on their experience of analysing the texts they have read to explain in writing their own decisions about form, purpose, language, audience and context.” To me this seems to be going in the same general direction as Will Richardson and co where the students’ own voices are valued and it is the creation of texts that is seen as (equally) important as the “consumption” of texts. Maybe the revised study design is in some way looking at this balance. I don’t know – I haven’t yet looked at the new study design in detail. In any case the reason for the reduced number of texts at the school that I visited would be more to enhance the exam marks of the students by giving fewer choices of texts to write on in the exam but giving the students more in-depth knowledge of them. And that is a whole other story.
What else did I see? I spent time in two year eight English classrooms with two different teachers, and in one of them the students were participating in Literature Circles. There were differences in the way that this school was doing them but the groups that I sat in on certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and were engaged in the process of making meaning collaboratively. This was especially evident in the group where the students were creating an alternative ending to Two Weeks with the Queen (they didn’t like the one in the book). The students organised themselves to go round the circle each contributing one sentence each in turn to achieve the desired “happy ending” to the novel. I loved the long lessons (the pace was more relaxed and the students did not flag as you might expect, as there was more than one activity in the lesson) and I loved the no bells. It gave the teacher more control over those last few minutes of the lesson. These are two innovations I would definitely love to see in my school.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Nearly the end of term

It’s getting close to the end of term and I have just collected the two classes of poetry anthologies that my students have written. With all the reflection that went into the process - the negotiating the assessment criteria, the blogging, and maybe just because it was poetry, the students found it hard to submit them, hard to let go of them, to say they were finished. So much work went into them, and more than one student asked me to assess it then and there. They were so proud of them. A few students wanted to point out different features of their anthologies so I wouldn’t miss them. I just felt - wow! I have not had a reaction to an assessment task like this before. I know that reading the poems will be a moving experience as I have seen many of the poems in progress, have commented on their development, and read about their genesis in the student blogs. Part of their assessment was to write a statement about the inspiration of their poems and from what I have seen so far I think this will be a moving read as well.
So what to do now until the end of term? I don’t want to start anything major, so I have been doing something I call working on their writer’s toolbox (soppy, I know). For this we have revised some rules of spelling, and today we did an activity I found on the Teacher’s Lounge site on Greek and Latin root words. After they deduced the meanings of four root words used as prefixes or suffixes, such as anti, bio, ology, neo etc., students chose one to make either a PowerPoint slide of or a poster. I wanted them to be able to flesh out the concept of the root word. This was a buzz. Students became interested in talking about words and some stayed talking after the bell went. And people wonder why I love teaching?
Next term I have a couple of ideas for writing. One is from Working Blue, an exercise to help a writer begin connecting. The writer starts with a historical fragment about a place they know well and then goes on to develop a mythological account of some detail about the place, then a personal account inspired by a detail about the place. It sounds fascinating. Another idea is called Personal Best. In this case the writer chooses a subject they have always wanted to find out more about and researches it in detail before writing an informative or persuasive piece on it.
Previously I wrote about the writing competitions that some of the students are entering. Today they came and gave me their finished stories and poems for the competitions. There are two main ones that the students want to enter – the Oz Kids in Print and the Eastern Regional Libraries Short Story Competition. We’ll see how we go.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ethical blogging

Some interesting questions posed by Barry on the ethics of blogging. He asks “Is it ethical to publish private conversations without the speaker's approval?" and goes on to ask, “or has the nature of networked community become such that just as the public has become personal, the personal has become public?” That’s transparency for you. A comment on the post asks: "Is anyone doing anything regarding the ethics of blogs?

Alex Halavais has an interesting take on this from an academic standpoint. The educational blogging community discusses ideas and, as Alex comments, as part of that community, individuals have “a special obligation to cite ideas that we may have gathered from others”. Maybe it is about “making (the) invisible assumptions of bloggers visible." Or maybe it's just about thinking of others' feelings. It's about time that we have this discussion, I think.

A fraud?

A new blogger hits the ground running. Read and enjoy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Interactive Whiteboard Conference

During the last two days I attended the IWBnet Conference in Melbourne. There was a trade display and a number of workshops. So many things I want to learn. The workshops I attended were several by Jo Bonaz who presented (interactively) on bringing PC software to the Interactive Whiteboard. She showed us how to use Excel and PowerPoint in an interactive way involving the whole class. Many of the things she showed us could be done using free downloads from Microsoft (It’s really hard to blog about this without sounding like an salesperson for the company). Another of her workshops was on authoring your own digital lessons. (Is authoring different to writing? but I digress). What I was particularly interested in was the student created content and publishing this in a student centred classroom. There was a lot of information on this, and there is obviously a lot of learning and making mistakes for me to do before I’ll really feel confident about doing interactive things in our trial of the technology. But I am going to try something in the next two weeks. I’m sure there’ll be a future post on these trials. One thing that I want to try once we’ve read our text (in this case The Merchant of Venice) is to have students take a scene from the play and use Photostory to narrate it, adding visuals and music to present a powerful interpretation of their chosen scene. In doing this, students would have to research to find appropriate images and music, demonstrate comprehension and analysis, pay attention to intonation as they read their scene, and think about how they can manipulate visual representation of the information to make it make it more powerful. At the moment I was imagining just one speaker for each scene, but there are also great opportunities for collaboration as well.

Right now the next session is just about to start and it’s on Blogs, Podcasts and the Interactive Whiteboard so I’ll sign off now.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Is 'blog' a stupid word?

I was talking to a colleague today about the enjoyment and learning I was experiencing by reading educational blogs, and, just recently, starting mine. I mentioned how much I learned from my students' blogs and even referred him to a website, Blogs as tools for assessment, since we have been discussing our assessment and reporting practices at school as part of our school review. He looked at me, bemused, and said, “Blog, that’s a funny word. What do the letters even stand for? Is there a synonym we could use?”

I said that in simple form blogging was publishing to the internet, that it was a log or map of our learning as we searched the web and followed up areas of interest. I tried to say that there is a feeling of students and ordinary people being able to create content on the web not just consume it, the read-write web, that it gives students a voice and positioned them as constructing their own learning, I was on a roll, you can just imagine. Well, that’s enthusiasm for you. But it got me thinking about the word ‘blog’. Does the very term put some people off? Stop them from even finding out more? Is it jargon? Do you have any similar thoughts/experiences?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

An academic's view

From Ula at Blog blog comes this link to an article Across the blogosphere from Anne Bartlett-Bragg, Lecturer, Faculty of Education at the University of Technology in Sydney, on her PhD on the use of weblogs for developing knowledge and collaborative learning networks from a students’ perspective.

Some extracts from the article by Anne:

My PhD looks at the weblog phenomena for developing knowledge and collaborative learning networks, from the students' perspective. When I first introduced blogs in teaching and learning (in 2001), I was astounded by the enthusiastic uptake….

A weblog can develop into a series of conversations across the internet through the use of links created by the author. The linking structure makes it possible for the author to be notified when a reader has commented on their writing, creating an opening for dialogue….

Using a weblog is a dynamic and immediate process - as one student wrote, "...I was so impressed because [xxx] replied to my comment and gave me another link to look up. It was all very exciting!" The intimidation that many students feel about participating in classroom discussion evaporates in the blog domain as attention is shifted to writing in a dynamic internet context. Many students find this empowering - "...collaborative learning is so effective because it brings about confidence and helps to reflect upon issues in a different way. It opens up a dialogue and prevents isolation."…

It is also a good introduction to the real world as the responsibilities of publishing publicly apply - plagiarism, copyright, privacy, ethics and defamation must all be considered. My research shows that students feel their writing has visibly improved as a result…..

Blogging provides new ways for knowledge to be expressed and distributed, and as a personal learning or knowledge management tool, it assists in shaping the structure of cognitive processing. Students have indicated that it enables them to make connections between subject topics and content…..

Used appropriately, weblogs in teaching and learning encourage students to write regularly. This in turn assists in developing competencies in critical thinking and in making connections between theory and practice. The use of weblogs switches the focus from a single end-product such as an exam or essay, transforming learning into an ongoing process…..

While Anne is referring to tertiary students, I think that these extracts reflect the experiences of the students in the secondary classroom. This student blog entry by Katrina shows what I mean.