Sunday, March 25, 2007

Students blogging again!

Rather late after the start of the year (about seven weeks in) I have started my new year nine class with their own blogs. They have only just started but already they get it. I was so impressed when one of the students entitled her blog “Warning: readers will get hooked”. As at the start of every blogging adventure I feel nervous and have some excited anticipation regarding the project. My reason for wanting to blog is the conversations they can have with people around the world and I am hoping that Clarence Fisher’s class will be able to join in. Of course, in only a week we go on first term holidays for two weeks, which is not great timing but we’ll cope with it. Have a look at those that are up there and maybe leave a comment or two if you like and we’ll see what happens.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How to 'sex up' English studies

Maybe by facing up to my recent difficulties in blogging I have to a small extent started to overcome them. I certainly have a few ideas due to recent reading and reflecting. My last entry on the use of IBWs attracted a really useful comment with several ideas I want to try out. One of them was, “You can also cut out pictures with a great deal of accuracy using screen capture at the board. Great for taking a character into a new context. Enormous potential for bringing the power of art into the study of literature.” There's more like that. Thanks heaps, Marita. When listening to a podcast by Vicki Davis last night I was again inspired by one of her ideas about 3D worlds that she had discussed on her blog (maybe I’m more of an auditory learner). I’ve had a bit of a look and I think it seems to have great potential although I am concerned that it may take a lot of time to become proficient. It would be great for exploring literary settings for novels and other texts we study, giving students experiential knowledge of a sort.

Another thing that I have been reflecting on is the challenge of making English exciting, as we say at my school “sexing up English”. We have noticed that students doing certain subjects will give up lots of their own time to create excellent projects and put other things like English on hold. We wondered why. I had a chance to find out the other day. Steph, a student in my year eleven English class was buzzing with suppressed excitement.
She sighed at the work in front of her: “I just can’t think about this now.”

Naturally, I replied, “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m always like this after Studio" says Steph (Studio Arts for the uninitiated). "I can’t concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day."
I asked, deeply interested by now, knowing I was about to be let in on the secret, “why?”
“He (the teacher, Anthony) talks so fast, he tells us ideas about this way of doing the project, “or you could do this or that.” There are so many ideas and they’re just so good. I don’t want to forget anything because I know I’m going to want to think about them more, I just have to write them down so I don’t forget.”

I just know there’s an answer here somewhere. Is it the fast pace, the quality of the ideas, the intrinsic excitement of creation? Maybe it’s the personality of the teacher, or a combination of all of these? It’s like this with blogging sometimes for me. Sometimes I feel just so full of ideas I can’t settle to anything until I’ve at least noted them down. I know how Steph feels. I just don’t know how to get the same quality of excitement in my classes. It’s definitely what I’m looking for.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogging woes

As I mentioned previously, I have felt that my reflective habits have been unravelling lately and I have found it hard to blog. But I am inspired by reading the blogs of others. Just last night reading Crib Chronicles by Bon who reflects on her mommy blog I felt touched by her openness and a sense of fellow feeling. Bon mentions blogs that inspire her and tells how much comments mean to her. That's the problem with easing up on blogging. The interaction slows down and it slumps into a vicious circle. Reading Jeff Utecht's latest article in Techlearing: A Problem with blogs eloquently explores the meaning of blogging: it is not about writing; it is about conversation. For me this is true and although his article is about students and blogging, it is no less true for teachers and others. Another day, another insight.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reflective Practice with a Swedish flavour

This week I had the interesting experience of having two teachers from Sweden, Frederik and Felix, visit my Year Eleven Literature class. They were part of a delegation of eight teachers who were visiting Australia to investigate what schools here are doing particularly, in the field of elearning (a return visit after some Aussies had been to Sweden). These teachers were specialists in Maths and Science at a senior secondary school in Halmstad, and they showed their breadth of interest by showing up in my class. I was happy to have them for a number of reasons, not least of which was because it was an occasion for self reflection for me. I knew they were keen to see the interactive whiteboard in action as they were about to implement the technology in their school and I made what I thought was a reasonably interesting interactive lesson on the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. BUT – it didn't work. I still haven't quite figured out why but I couldn't find the flipchart on the classroom computer after I saved it to the shared drive which is what I usually successfully do. So I invoked Plan B and still used the electronic whiteboard and had students present the results of some group work on it. But it was disappointing. As Frederik and Felix accurately pointed out, I had only done on the IWB activities that could have been done using a non digital whiteboard. I guess the student work was able to be saved to the network for access at a later time (or by other classes) and multiple screens could be used without having to wipe them clean between presentations. The work the students had done in groups was the selection of key passages of the play for close reading and analysis and a presentation on why they had selected them. The students still learnt and it passed my test of learning in a constructivist way. I shouldn't feel dissatisfied that we didn't use the IWB interactively. But it got me thinking. I teach mainly senior English and it is hard to find materials created for the IWB at this level in this subject area. Is that because we rely (or I rely) so heavily on small group and whole class discussion to create knowledge and meaning in the texts we study? Do you have ideas on activities or pedagogies using IWBs that are productive as well as engaging when studying English or Literature at senior levels. I'd love your ideas and suggestions. Please leave a comment (grin).

A resource I like a lot even though they don't answer my specific question is the podcast The Smartboard Lesson Podcasts at It is mostly a conversation between Ben Hazzard and Joan Badger about ideas and resources that have found or made. Sometimes they will include a guest to interview. I like their chatty style and how informative they are. It is never a waste of time to listen to them. Have a listen if you are interested in Interactive Whiteboards no matter what age level or subject area.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Interactive Whiteboards and other reflections

It’s still dark this morning as I’m up early to go to the Year 11 camp with my school. All students and teachers have what is known as “co-curricular week” when all the camps happen, along with work experience for the Year 10s and activity week for Year 8. I’ve written lots of blog posts lately that have not seen the light of publication. This is a difficult blog post to write. Our family has been through a rough time just lately. Last month my mother in law had a stroke and later passed away. The celebration of her life was very moving, and my daughter who had been away in Bolivia made it to the funeral with just five minutes to spare after several plane delays.

And yet life has to go on. I meant to reflect on the beginning of my year with my five classes of students. I meant to do lots of things that haven’t quite happened yet. When we get back from camp I will be setting up some classes with blogs so that they can write and publish and make connections and find sources of information networks. I am lucky enough to be in a classroom with an interactive whiteboard full time (except for four lesson when I am in a computer lab). I have really enjoyed the learning that comes with this new technology and incorporating it into student centred learning. And the students have entered into it with gusto. But I always have to have plan B ready as I am still not confident that it will always work (after only two weeks the globe in the projector blew and it took a week to be replaced). We’ve had several lessons in various classes where the students work in groups to investigate a chosen topic (a section of a novel, the characters or themes in a film, parts of speech) and produce a report to the class using some aspect of the technology. In the study of the film Ice Age with year 7 for example I had pictures of the characters on various flip charts and the students annotated the charts with words describing the characters and favourite sayings. I have had the students using Inspiration to make concept maps prior to writing essays and class collection of quotes for a Year 12 text. I feel I am only just starting with incorporating the IWB into what I have heard Steve Hargadon refer to as School 2.0 in his fabulous series of podcast interviews.

I also had the chance to present about using the whiteboard to some of my colleagues, a chance I took with alacrity as I know that the best way to learn something is to teach it and also to learn from my colleagues things that they had learnt which I didn’t know. I started the presentation with a quote from Eric Hoffer: “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists" which I found via my network. I also alluded to the fact that this kind of practice (the use of the IWB) in a classroom is not neutral and that we should remember to subject it to critical inquiry. There are issues of power in it’s use (who gets to control it, who gets to interact with the board and so on). With these provisos said we had lots of fun exploring and experimenting. The session is to be repeated with other colleagues and I do find that using the IWB and thinking of and planning activities does make me reflective of my practice. This is what writing in this blog is good for as well and I hope that I will not have such a long time between posts in future as I was starting to think that some of my reflective habits were unraveling.

I’ve just noticed that it’s not dark anymore and I have not yet started packing for my three days away. I still have to make some lunches and feed the chickens so it’s time I wasn’t here. Till next time, then.