The EduCon Experience- A Collaborative Reflection

I was so fortunate to facilitate a conversation at EduCon 2.3 with Kyle Pace, Yoon Soo Lim, and Elizabeth Peterson! We are four very passionate educators, and talking about Cultivating Connections through Arts Integration is obviously something about which the four of us are deeply passionate.

We wrote a reflection, along with Andrew Garcia (who attended our EduCon session virtually) about our experience collaboratively in Google Docs. Elizabeth has posted the “finished product” on her blog. Please take some time to visit and read about the continuing conversation (#artsint on Twitter)!

The EduCon Experience- A Collaborative Reflection

An Inspired Post

I was recently asked by Elizabeth Peterson to guest post on The Inspired Classroom blog. Elizabeth is an elementary classroom teacher dedicated to infusing arts education into her instruction. This is a great blog to add to your blog reader!!

This week, the theme is Arts Integration. You can find my guest post here:

Thanks, Elizabeth, for this great opportunity!

Why I Blog

Recently, I overheard some educators discussing personal websites, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Although I wasn’t a part of this conversation, I couldn’t help but hear what they were saying (okay, I was eavesdropping).

The most disappointing part of what I heard was this statement: “Oh, who has time for all of that garbage?!?! All those things are just vanity tools. Nobody with a real life has that kind of time to waste.”

If you know me well, you know that 1) my blood pressure probably sky-rocketed after hearing that, 2) my eyes went into “crazy” mode (that’s for you, Jacen), and 3) it took every ounce of restraint I’ve ever had not to walk up to the group and set them straight. I started to walk in their direction three times, and then turned back around. I wanted to tell them that, yes… SOME people use those tools for their own personal celebrity. There are plenty who don’t, though. How can you have an opinion over something you don’t even use???

In this post, I want to address only one of those so-called “vanity” sites: blogging.

When I started this blog, I primarily used it to share what I was learning, as well as a reference site for some presentations I had given.  I’m not sure it was a tool for reflection as much as it was a tool for me to “speak my mind.” … and there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s the purpose of your blog.

Now, though, I want to use this blog as an instrument for reflection, as well as a means for holding myself accountable.

  • Do I walk my talk?
  • Does my teaching reflect the passion I spell out here?
  • Am I living that philosophy that I have shared and preached for the last few years?

More than once in my life as a student, a teacher told me that journaling was one of the best ways to record your thoughts, feelings, new experiences, and anything else you felt that you wanted to include. It was personal. It was reflective. It was a part of you. Blogs are simply online journals… and unlike the journals no one ever saw because I squirreled them away, my blog is viewed by others. Some of them even leave me feedback.

Hmmm… reflection and feedback. Aren’t those two very important pieces in the learning process?

It’s really easy for me to play the role of the puffed-up windbag. I have a lot to say, and I’m not shy about saying any of it. The only way, however, for me to ensure that I am NOT just a windbag is to back up what I say with action. The action is more important anyway!

If I blog about what I’m doing in my classroom and what I’m learning,  and I know people are reading, I can be a better reflective learner. I can hold myself accountable to always do what is best for kids. It doesn’t matter if I have two readers or 2,000.

That’s why I blog.

Classroom Blogging with a Purpose

I am always extremely encouraged when I hear about teachers who incorporate blogging as a tool for students to reflect and evaluate. There are some really great classroom blogs where teachers have provided some guidelines about blogging and expectations for their students. One good example of a classroom blog is the South Titan Government Blog. Read the posts, but also read the guidelines from the teacher on the side.

Unlike the above example, I have found that some teachers assume students already know “how to blog” and, therefore, do not provide any structure. In most cases, these are classrooms where the teacher is not a blogger and is simply unaware that students need some specifics about blogging topics, expectations, and even etiquette.

There is a big difference between knowing what a blog is and blogging with a purpose.

Here are a few tips and resources for being planful with your students in class blogs:

1. If you are an educator who does not blog, be sure to read some education blogs* first.

  • You need to understand a little bit about the nature of blogs yourself before opening them up to your students.
  • Feeling confident? Start your own edublog!

*Not sure where to go to find edubloggers? Try Jolene Anzalone’s “Blogs in the Classroom” page. Also, check the blogroll on the right side of this page. When you jump to another blog, view that edublogger’s blogroll, too. OR– use a search engine to find blogs about education.

2. Provide guidelines. Discuss digital citizenship and responsible, constructive blog posts and comments. Check out this network for discussion about digital citizenship by kids:

3. Classroom vs. Individual Blogs: Make the decision about having a classroom blog (one blog with many contributors), or each student create his/her own blog. If your school subscribes to a service such as Gaggle, students can blog within their own accounts in a safe environment.

4. Encourage constructive commenting. Remember the advantage of blogs vs. journals on paper is the instant feedback option.

  • Students think more about their writing when they understand it will be read by more than just the teacher.
  • If their classmates are reading and providing comments as well, students tend to think differently about what they write.
  • Empower your class by allowing them to comment on each others’ blog posts. With appropriate guidance, students can help each other grow as writers by commenting constructively.

5. Start with something simple. Try any of these suggestions… they may be used in any subject/content area:

  • If you’re not quite ready to turn over blogging to your students, start a teacher blog and allow students to comment on your blog posts. After you’re all comfortable with the functionality of a blog, you might consider a classroom blog or allowing students to have their own blogs.
  • Provide your students a writing prompt for a blog post.
  • Ask your students for a reaction to a class activity. What did they like most? What would they have changed about the activity? What did they learn from the activity? How could they learn more? (this could easily tie into using a graphic organizer for K-W-L-H activities, with the L and H sections added to the blog post!)
  • Students can post blog entries about an assigned reading. If you already have your students journaling about assigned readings, adapt the journal activities/assignment for blog posts instead. Again, encourage students to read their classmates’ blog posts and comment constructively.
  • Ask your students to debate one side of an issue as a blog post. They should include justification for their stance on this issue.
  • Within students blogs, start a “Good Questions” category or tag for blog posts. When you ask students to think about good questions for a specific lesson or unit, they can enter these questions as a blog post and tag or categorize them as “Good Questions” for easy access later.
  • Use a classroom blog for virtual trips and journal entries. Take your students around the world and then ask them to generate a class post about their experiences.

There are endless possibilities to how you might use blogging with your students. What is most important, however, is the impact on student engagement that good blogs can provide. Again, with proper structure and teacher guidance, blogging can add to a teacher’s ‘tool box’ for good instruction and learning opportunities.

Looking for some more resources and examples? Try these:

Using Blogs to Promote Authentic Learning in the Classroom – guidelines, help, more resources, blog examples

Collaboration Nation- A Middle School Blog – middle school blog from a Connecticut school

Rach’s Blog – a blog by a student from Australia

Mr. Klein’s 5th Grade Blog – classroom blog from Plainfield, IN, US

Creative Writing Chronicles – a literary journal from Stratford High School

Primary 5 L/W Class Blog – a primary class blog from Carronshore, Falkirk, Scotland

Stretton Handley Primary School Blog – a year 6 class from Derbyshire, UK

July 2008 Think About-Digital Literacy and Administrators

Discussing Digital Literacy with educators usually brings about a list of excuses why they can’t implement teaching digital skills in the classroom:

1. I have too much curriculum content to cover, and I don’t have time to teach anything else.

2. I don’t know enough about Web 2.0 (or even what that really means) to help kids… besides, the kids already know more than I do, right?

3. Is anything about digital literacy on the ‘tests?’ No? Then I can’t teach it.

4. My administrator doesn’t support anything that isn’t research-based or a tried/true approach.

… and the list goes on. And for most of them, these are valid reasons for being hesitant, especially #4. But I’ve never really heard a good list from administrators. And without administrative support, classroom teachers can’t really move ahead either.

Jeanette Johnson is a principal who is also a blogger. About a year ago, she posted a top ten list of “not so good reasons… why educational leaders don’t embrace digital technologies.” It’s worth reading, whether you’re an administrator or not.

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that our kids don’t have time for the adults to catch up, but at the same time, I need to be empathetic to the needs of administrators and teachers. Do administrators need to step up? How could they even begin? My suggestion to many has been — start doing something that you haven’t done before:

1. Do you blog? If not, start by reading other educators’ blogs. If you’re reading mine, check out my blogroll on the right side of the page. I’ll be adding more later today.

2. Have you ever ventured into social profiles? They’re not all bad, even though there’s a lot of garbage out there. Jump into one, or better yet, have a kid show you what they do. That’s the best way to introduce yourself.

3. Find an educational podcast– or any podcast that you find interesting– and subscribe to it.

4. Talk to kids about what they do when they’re not in school. How much time do they spend on the web? Do they satisfy a direct need from what they do on the web? Or is it simply communication to them? How many of them post videos to sites like YouTube? Are they involved in any groups in MySpace or Facebook? Why? Do they podcast? Do they listen to podcasts? Why?

5. Think about the websites that are blocked by your school’s internet filter in the name of “safety.” How many of those sites are really unsafe for kids, and how many of them are considered a nuisance by you and/or your faculty? Brush up on the CIPA requirements and then compare your blocked list. And then… ask kids what they think.

Will kids think you’re weird or old school for not knowing about these things? Probably. But they already think you’re old school, right? So what’s the harm in asking?

21st Century Learners need educators who understand them and know what they need to learn to be prepared for their world. Educational leaders have to help their staff members to be prepared to teach 21st Century learners. If our leaders/administrators are behind, who will help them?

Blogging Can Be Good for Kids!

I know I’m a little late in posting this, as it was published on April 30, but I think the findings are promising.

Blogging helps encourage teen writing from eSchool News:

“Bradley A. Hammer, who teaches in Duke University’s writing program, says the kind of writing students do on blogs and other digital formats actually can be better than the writing style they learn in school, because it is better suited to true intellectual pursuit than is SAT-style writing.

‘In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate actually foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis, and argumentative writing that universities value,’ he wrote in an op-ed piece last August.”

In my personal experience with students, they tend to be very excited about their blog posts. Kids who don’t ordinarily “shine” in the classroom are proud of their personal writing and want to share it with others. The opportunity to revise and update as they blog and then receive feedback… it’s all about those authentic experiences that make writing powerful for kids.