A reader’s questions

Melissa recently asked me some questions about blogging with students, so I thought I would answer them here. Thanks for asking and giving me an opportunity to share what I do!

-What tool do you use for your
student blogs? Is it secure? I am up against admin that want to make
sure that our kids are safe using blogs and I have to battle with them
not understanding the richness of a read/write web.

It depends upon what you mean by secure, Melissa. I use 21 Classes, which allows me to set up a teacher's blog with links to all the students' blogs. No one but students may leave comments, but anyone may read what they say. I am beginning to see some dialogue back and forth between the students, but this mostly happens when I give them time in class to respond. Also, their blogging to date has been assignment driven. For example, I ask them to respond to a reading or answer a question.

I hope to move to a different form of blogging second semester, when I will give them more leeway. In fact, I hope they will begin using the blog as a place to reflect on class or school issues.

Our entire English department has embraced NCTE's literacy standards that encourage us to use the technology tools that allow us to collaborate, create, and publish in a connected environment. Of course, we do try to protect students' online profile by not using last names or pictures on the site.

– What type of lesson do you do with your students prior to launching the blog? Blog etiquette…etc.?

We typically do at least one session with all Upper School students on "developing a positive online presence," where we talk about the trail of footprints they can leave behind. Before we begin blogging in class, we talk about not using first and last names in ninth grade. (Older students are obviously taught/treated differently.) We also spend time talking about how we respond to one another–and discussing how writing online is different from communicating face to face.

I don't know that I have protected my students from any possible scenario they might face. But I also believe this is the time to use these experiences to teach them how to handle being online. Most are there anyway; whatever we can do to guide them in managing information, connecting and networking with friends and others, and thinking about the kinds of images they are creating for themselves will benefit them down the road.

One of those days……

  • This morning, I tried to get my 9th grade students logged into Diigo, and it was blocked.
  • My colleague unblocked it right away, and then my bookmarking tool wouldn't work for the students.
  • I then tried to show them to use Wordle to see how often they used certain words in their short stories, but many students couldn't get java loaded on their laptops to make it work.
  • During my sixth-grade tech class, the students were ready to upload their photos to Animoto and compare the design and choices of technique to PhotoStory. At the exact moment they were ready to upload, Animoto went down. Is it EVER down?
  • This afternoon, I prepared to start grading the students' drafts of short stories, which they had sent me via MS Word, and I realized I would need to download the documents from my Gmail account to my Mac's Text Edit program, then copy and paste the stories into Mac's Pages in order for me to add comments.
  • The yearbook's online design program wouldn't create the kind of split screen photo the editor wanted so we had to call tech support. No luck.
  • After school, I tried to show several teachers Voice Thread, and I was so tired, I couldn't remember how to add students to the education account we have.
  • At dinner, I said to my husband, "You know, opening up a textbook and asking the students to read and answer questions in their notebook sounds pretty good right now."

Tomorrow's gonna be better.

Running with my iTouch

Photo by Meredith_Farmer
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Though some days I feel like I am running around in circles, I have found a way to catch up with my podcasts.

I listen to them while I run!

One has become more meaningful now that I have met one of the podcasters. This morning I tuned into Alex Ragone's and Arvind Grover's EdTechTalk "21st Century Learning," and I was totally able to dissociate from the run and enjoy listening. Alex, a teacher from the Collegiate School in NY, and I met at our PLP's first face to face meeting here on Sept 8. What a pleasure to touch base with another thoughtful teacher from my "network."

At one point in the podcast, one of them mentioned a recent NY Times article and quoted the last lines about the impact of participating in social/educational networks:

Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant
status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person”
because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces
her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she
added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly
is yourself.

This comment resonates with me as it is one of the reasons I worked to include our school in the Powerful Learning Practice year-long professional development opportunity this year. My own learning, both about myself and teaching in general, is enriched by various social media in which I participate. Writing about what it means to prepare our students to work and live online helps me see more clearly and share with others. Participating in Twitter, Nings, and Diigo gives me instant access to what others are thinking about similar issues and "drags me out of my own head."

As we all struggle to define 21 century literacy skills, I often look to my new friend Elizabeth Helfant at MICDS, who articulates her school's vision so well. One of our PLP team goals is to participate fully in our online virtual network, sharing our thoughts about this shift in learning. Elizabeth points to this research:

Early evidence (Labbo, 1996; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998), as well as
logical deduction from current trends, suggests that the new literacies
will be ever more dependent on their social construction than
traditional literacies.  It will be impossible for every child to
become expert in every new technology for information and communication
that appears. As networked information resources become more extensive
and complexly structured, and as ICTs continue to change with some
frequency, no one person can be expected to know everything there is to
know about the technologies of literacy; these technologies will simply
change too quickly and be too extensive to permit any single person to
be literate in them all.  Each of us, however, will know something
useful to others. 

This is why I stay (sometimes it feels like living) online, trying to collaborate and connect. I have the opportunity this year to practice what I've been preaching, and I hope to post more about moving my English 9 class forward with NCTE's Literacy Skills in mind. Perhaps I will be able to share something useful to other English teachers forging ahead toward this exciting but capricious future.

In the meantime, our PLP team is off to a great start this year. I have been watching and hearing about:

Carey's students flying around Google Earth and creating Voice Threads in Spanish
Katie's students discovering that their political blogs aren't really "blogs to nowhere." (Can you lend a hand with a comment?)
Jennifer's students learning to voice their opinions and reflect as they work on a new style of writing.
Susanne's students presenting in AP English using a variety of tools to enhance their learning.

This is an exciting time to be a teacher.