Monday, February 27, 2006

How to be a good commenter

Anne Davis over at Edublog Insights posted recently about how to be a good commenter. This is an issue that some of my year eights were struggling with today. They are very new at blogging and some have taken some comments personally as criticisms of their writing, when the commentors were simply asking questions and clarifications. It took at lot of fancy footwork on my part to not have some of the students going off at their commentors with pointed criticisms of their own, and I'm not sure that I wholly succeeded. I have decided that I will post this list over at the Year Eight Class Blog to help them with their commenting and also with how to interpret comments by others. But the good news is that Susan, a teacher at another Melbourne school, has set up blogs with her year 8 class and there may be some interaction betwween the two lots of students. Anyway here are Anne's comment suggestions:

  • This made me think about.......
  • I wonder why.......
  • Your writing made me form an opinion about.......
  • This post is relevant because.......
  • Your writing made me think that we should.......
  • I wish I understood why.......
  • This is important because.......
  • Another thing to consider is.......
  • I can relate to this.......
  • This makes me think of.......
  • I discovered.......
  • I don't understand.......
  • I was reminded that.......
  • I found myself wondering.......

Anne goes on to say :

Asking good questions is so important in our classrooms. We use them to guide our discussions and push our students to a higher level of thinking. So the questioning and the discussion part is crucial when blogging. Then, the comment feature on blogs has the potential to really push those learning connections. I discussed these comment starters with my students and encouraged them to use them in the beginning of their comments. It was not required. I just encouraged them to try it out and perhaps add to the list themselves. It seemed to help the students get to deeper type thinking. I think the important thing for us to remember is that we're fostering cooperative work and guiding the process. We teachers have to be knee-deep in this process. We can't just say, "Get in groups and critique each others posts or comments." We can't just expect our students to know just what to do. We have to model it, teach it, guide it, discuss it and most of all have fun with it. Show them the joy of language.

I know this is what I have to do with my students, and it's great to have such good models ourselves.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Some interesting thoughts on literacy and writing

Another great post from Doug at Borderland. Doug's post should be read in its entirety but I have just lifted a quote to give you the flavour. He is talking about an acitivty he did with his grade four students in looking at an article on civil rights. In his post he quotes Neil Postman of Teaching as a Subversive Activity. This quote however is from Postman's The End of Education. This what Doug has to say:
“I thought about how useful these kinds of tasks are for keeping kids busy. Now that they know how to read well enough to look things up, reading can become an end in itself. I could do this continually if I wanted to. What a terrific club literacy is for subjugating and controlling people in school, I thought. It keeps them docile, and allows me to force them look for meanings that I have determined ahead of time. They learn compliance and accountability. Literacy is a useful tool for creating a passive public. Neil Postman said that what is public about school is not that we serve the public, but that we create a public through schooling.”

Such a lot to think about, and then on top of that is this post from Konrad. He shares his interesting thoughts about classroom writing. He is talking about his students who have read and discussed a novel (Animal Farm) and how they might respond to it:
“I want them to see their writing as an attempt to capture the current state of their engagement with ideas not the final pronouncement on the assigned topic. Writing and learning itself are not about coming to immutable conclusions. They are about negotiation, about branching off into other avenues, about exploring possibilities.”
And instead of a text response essay on the novel he gives them this challenge:

“I encourage you to blog about your thoughts, brainstorming ideas, and your views on the novel in general. You will be given plenty of time in class to record your thoughts on your blog. This will help you arrive at topics that you as a reader find especially interesting. It will also give me an opportunity to read your comments and respond to them. Think of blogging about the novel as thinking out loud. If I can hear your ideas, I can join the conversation. In other words, by writing about the novel from your own point of view, you can gradually develop your own “map” of the novel, find your own way into this text. Once that’s done, your essay will practically write itself.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


From Josie Fraser a contribution to the development of something (a party?! I'm in) around International Women's Day to raise the profile of women edubloggers and ensure that the fantastic work going on out there is recognised. Josie says:
Many countries celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th. This year, we'd like to encourage the whole edublogging community to celebrate the women edubloggers in their lives - friends, mothers, sisters, daughters, online colleagues and co-workers. Please join in the party on this special day with at least one post about women who edublog. It might be a profile, interview, overview of their blog - or just a round up link-fest of all your favourite women edubloggers. So if you have benefited from the contribution of women who blog in, around or about education (and let's face it - who hasn't?), please take part in the women edubloggers blog extravaganza!
What a great idea.

My profile is of Bronwyn. I first met Bronwyn on Clarence Fisher's blog in Canada. I followed some of her work and found her commenting on students' blogs all over the world. She is an appreciative audience for these student writers and encourages them to think and to clarify their posts. My Year Eight bloggers just set up their blogs and made one post each, then they went off for a week of other activities. Bronwyn has commented on all of their blogs. One parent of a student valued what Bronwyn said about her child's writing and got in touch with Bronwyn. I am very impressed with the impact of blogging, commenting and the power of an audience. I can't wait for my students to come back and see what happens next. Good on you both, Bronwyn and Josie.

Classroom Blogging and Wikiville

In a recent post Warrick Wynne concludes that classroom blogging makes sense: “Of course classroom blogging does make sense; in essence it's writing isn't it? Ongoing, reflective, linked to the world writing.” And I would have to agree with that.

So blogging in the classroom makes sense. But why is it worth pursuing? Isn’t it just a fad that will fade out like so many others? Shouldn’t we be wary of the hype around blogging? Our principal this week quotes Chas Savage in his article “Dump your iPods, mobiles: try living in the real world” by Chas Savage:
“In the dysfuture, individuals will be either fierce champions of their own cult logic or artisans in favour of their favourite chariot team/consumer bonbon. Yet a general political atmosphere of indifference will prevail. Common ground for conversation will be difficult to find, and dialogue will be impossible to hold.”
But I disagree with that. On the contrary blogging is inherently conversational and gives a voice to those who may otherwise have no voice. As James Matthew says:
“The arrival of blog technology allows access to those who are not necessarily ‘net literate:’ “[Blogs allow] average users with no technical ability to easily maintain a regularly updated web presence””
I guess what I am most impressed with is the thinking of my friend Scott:
“I would like to talk about how blogging orients writers rhetorically, i.e. that it is a unique (at least for most students) textual practice, which positions them in interesting (and problematic) ways. It does this for all of us of course. Furthermore, we might argue that blogging is a social and cultural practice, or a literacy and one that in may ways lends itself to critical literacy, community, and reflection.” I want to take this position because I guess I grow increasingly tired of those who talk about blogging some amazing and life changing technology. I don't doubt that it was had this kind of effect for many people - but I would argue that the technology is the least interesting part of the whole situation. It is the practices that something like blogging encourages (one might say 'the affordances' of blogging) that are lifechanging or affirming or rewarding or whatever superlative is being used. I think this thinking(!) also moves beyond the hype and begins to engage more critically with blogging as a practice.”
And from John Pearce: “For those interested in being involved in a really neat and very brand new wiki project then have a look in at Wikiville. This project set up by John Bidder in Bolton, England seeks to get students to reflect on and describe their local area in their own voices. With input and assistance from Will Richardson, the project has been up for a week now. So far there have been contributions from Tasmania and Western Australia as well as from my grade 3/4's in Geelong and another student in Ballarat. The challenge is for other classes or students to get the real Oz-voice up and running. Adding entries is quite simple and the project is a great way to introduce wikis to students.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New Year Eight Blogs

We have finally done it. All (except two who were away) have set up their blogs on learnerblogs. It is always a bit of a challenge at first and many students need to check with the teacher to see why it might not be working (had to get the site unblocked first!) but now it's done. There are, as usual, a variety of opinions, but at least they feel they can express them. They are still beginning and thus would appreciate feedback from people out in the edublogosphere. I thank you all those who commented and interacted with my other students' blogs in 2005.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

More from Kress

During the holidays, I was alerted to an article by Gunther Kress called "English in an era of instability: aesthethics, ethics, creativity and design" which I liked very much. Although he takes a long time to develop his argument it is very cogent and I found it very timely. In my new role as faculty head I don't want to just be involved in the practical day to day routines but be thinking about, and encourage others to think about, the bigger picture. (That's definitely been one of the attractions of the edublogosphere). I find that other teachers like to do this as well, but unless we make time for this sort of thinking the pressures of daily life can swamp us. Anyway, back to the article that I was so impressed by. He begins by asking 'what is English for?' which regular readers of this blog will recognise as a niggle of mine as well. I would recommend that you read the whole article; it is published in English in Australia 134, but here is a quote that summed up what I liked. "...there is an absolute need for a subject with the task of relating the world of inner work and action with the outer world of social and cultural work." He explores the meaning of curriculum and its relation to learning and the needs of 21st century students in a world of globalisation and the ubiquity of multimodal communication. He sees that "both meaning and the resources for making meaning are made by individuals in the exercise of their interests, in their transformative use of culturally made existing resources..."
This is particularly relevant in the world that our students find themselves in. This morning in The Age there is the launch of the Victorian Premiers Reading Challenge for children from Prep to Year Nine. Our students will be invited to participate in the challenge in which the students are to read 15 books in a period of seven months and record their progress online. It will be interesting to see what they make of this. There are over 2000 books suggested for Years Seven to Nine and a brief look at them made me wonder at both the inclusions and what has been left out. I'm looking forward to seeing how our students take up this challenge and talking to them about the meaning they make of it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The first week is done

It's been a while since I wrote, but I have been reading. However, this is only half a conversation. I would like to post more often and now that the first week of the new year is past, maybe I'll get into a routine of writing befor school (if I get there early enough). We can but hope. The first week went well. My year 8 class have started to set up their blogs with Learnerblogs and I can't wait to see what they make of it. I have set up a wiki with Wikispaces for my homegroup and we hope to get that started pretty soon. With the wiki I hope that the students will be able to create a record of their year the highs and the lows the learning and the friendships and that it will be able to be put on disc to beput into the year 7s who are in my howmgroup's time capsules. We'll see. I will also be starting with blogs for my year 9 class. This class however is not ever booked into a computer lab so we will have to borrow a class set of laptops (which is only 15) for a class of 24, but I'm sure we will cope. I have planned more carefully for this class so that they get enough time to participate in the Literature circles. I have learned that they need about a week between meetings to get their reading done. I also want to have focus groups with volunteers and have planned for those as well. I want to write a narrative to explore how I have come to these understanding of what I have to do in order to ensure that the students have the conditions they need in which to maximise their learning, but that will have to wait for now. The staff area is filling up as teachers come in on this Monday morning and I know I have to turn my attention now to what is around me.