Category Archives: Blogging

Happy Birthday, Blog

Happy BIrthday Austin

Six years ago today, the first blog post appeared on Just as I have done for other anniversaries, I begin by sharing some statistics with you:

  • This is my 765th post.
  • This blog has received 2,942 comments.
  • 1,297 readers subscribe to my RSS feed.
  • 157 subscribe to updates via email.

Some of my favorite posts over the years:

  • A Hogwarts Education: Being interviewed for Irish radio was one of the highlights of my career as a teacher/Harry Potter nerd.
  • Shutting Down Class Discussion: I thought it was an important topic for English teachers, and perhaps all the more timely in light of recent debates on the place of the whole-class novel study.
  • Blogging Teachers: Some Advice: I think teachers should blog, but we have to be wise about how we blog, too. There is plenty of stuff I’d like to write because ranting feels good, particularly when others side with you. But it stays out there, too. People are fired for what they put out there. It’s wiser to be more positive.
  • Why Fiction Matters: A response to Grant Wiggins in which I advocate for the teaching of fiction.
  • Failure: My post about failing as a middle school teacher and how it helped me be a better teacher today. I labored over whether to write that post for years before I felt confident enough to do it.
  • Would You Send Your Kid to Hogwarts?: I never thought this post had much traction, but it was a lot of fun to write. Though it’s now five years old, I still agree with everything I wrote.
  • Grade Inflation: A Student and Teacher Dialogue: I wrote this post with Anthony Ferraro, who was not my student, but was in tenth grade at the time. Last I heard from Anthony, he was studying at Yale. He made a really good case in his argument. I think of this post as a real turning point because it was one of the first posts I wrote that received some fairly serious attention. I also had the distinct feeling of having scored a coup in being able to host the dialogue between Anthony and me.
  • A series on teaching Romeo and Juliet (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four): I’m still proud of these posts and hope that teachers have gained something from them.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: katalicia1

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    Tech Frustrations

    I'm sitting here in pieces, and you're having delusions of grandeur!I hate it when I become dependent on a piece of technology and its creator decides to stop updating it. I feel kind of lost and directionless. I have been frustrated trying to find methods of keeping up with replies to comments I leave on blogs without subscribing to a bunch of comment RSS feeds that will clog up my feed reader. So as a result, I feel like I have just dropped out of the conversations I start. I used coComment‘s Firefox extension. It was great. Every time someone replied to a comment thread in which I had left a comment, the little coComment button turned orange. New comments! I could easily go check them and see if any of the replies were to me, and I could continue the discussion if they were. After Firefox 4.0 came out, coComment was broken. It’s been like that since March, and despite several comments in their help forums, no one representing coComment has said whether they intend to update the extension or let it die. And I can’t find an alternative. You know of one? If so, please, please tell me about it. Some folks allow you to subscribe to replies via email, but not everyone has that feature enabled on their blogs.

    Another frustration: I used to use a WordPress plugin called Apture to add links to all kinds of content. I could click on a button in my post editor, and I could search for information on the Web using a variety of search engines and easily link to books on Amazon or Wikipedia articles. I thought it was great because it made writing posts a snap. Then Apture decided not enough people were using the plugin, and they pulled it. It didn’t even work if you already had it installed. I was not alone in my frustration on this one, but it looks like the folks at Apture felt that what users liked most was the Apture Highlights, which allow readers to highlight text and search right from your page without leaving it. Well, I don’t care because I can always open a new tab rather than leave a site. What I liked was the ability to easily create posts that had links to relevant material. I found a great Amazon plugin called WordPress Amazon Associate that enables me to easily link to books and other items for sale at Amazon the same way that Apture did, but there is not another plugin that does everything Apture did.

    I think a lot of Delicious users had a similar panic attack when it was announced that Yahoo intended to “sunset” Delicious. After Chad Hurley and Steve Chen acquired Delicious, users had a reprieve from losing a social bookmarking service they loved (I had moved on to Diigo and cross-posted links at Delicious so that anyone subscribing to my Delicious bookmarks would still receive them).

    It is anyone’s prerogative to take their toys and go home, I guess, but I just find it frustrating when I really enjoyed playing with those toys and can’t find any like them to have for my own. I also don’t know how to build them myself—which is a fixable problem, but a one that will not be fixed without a whole lot of work.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: pinkpurse

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    Negativity PSA

    Folks, I have received two comments lately in which teachers have shared their belief that I’m lucky to be able to get to the literature part of teaching. I published the first. The second was linked to a site that made me wonder if the comment might be spam. In any case, if you do not enjoy teaching where you are teaching, please remember that this blog is not your forum to complain about your job. I think that’s not very wise anyway, but even so, if you have problems with your job, there is little complaining here about it can do to resolve the situation, and such comments do nothing to further conversation here.

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    ???This blog is in the doldrums, and I’m not sure how to pull it out yet. I always hate those posts in which people say they’re going to take a break from blogging, and I don’t really want to take a break, but I do want everyone to be aware I know I’m not writing much and what I’m doing feels more forced. Comments are by and large still kind, but more often I notice the odd cranky comment. It feels like crankiness is just sort of in the air.

    It’s also March, and that’s a tough time of year. It’s hard this time of year. I often feel uninspired and really tired this time of year, and I think that’s normal for teachers.

    All of the anti-educator rhetoric in the air is depressing. There is so much anger and uncertainty in the air.

    I will work on it.

    Meanwhile, I did hear that the NCTE conference proposal put together by Paul Hankins, Glenda Funk, Ami Szerencse, and me on the hero’s journey was accepted. Unfortunately, I will not be able to present with the Folger folks because the sessions were scheduled for the same time, but I am very excited about this presentation, and I hope to see you there. And that right there is a good reason to get out this malaise.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: charles chan *

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    Book Blogging

    Tome Reader

    First things first, a few questions. How many books do you estimate you read in a year? How do you know how many you read (do you have a system for keeping track, if so, what)? What kind of books do you like to read?

    Do you blog about your reading?

    Some years ago, I started a blog. It’s a bit older than this one, but it didn’t find a real focus until after this blog had already been established. The focus became books. At my book blog, I write about books and reading, I review every book I read, and I participate in reading challenges and memes. It has revolutionized the way I read.

    First, I know that my blog has an audience, however small and perhaps irregular it might be, and I feel some compulsion to update with new material. I am reading more now than I ever have. The first year I blogged regularly about books, I think I read only 12 or 14 books that year. Last year, for the first time, I read 40. It might not seem like a lot to those of you who read 100+ or regularly devour over 50 books a year, but it was a milestone for me. I don’t mean to imply that it’s all about quantity instead of quality (if it were, I would read only skinny books instead of some of gigantic ones I’ve picked up over the last couple of months). However, I find that the more I read, the more quickly and more deeply I seem to read.

    Reviewing each of my books gives me a record of what I read and what I thought about it right after I finished it. I can turn back and read my initial impressions on finishing each book I’ve read over the last three years or so. I am enjoying this record of my reading life.

    I have also begun trying different ways to read. I have a Kindle, and began subscribing to DailyLit books some years ago (first read was Moby Dick, and I’m not sure I’d have read it otherwise, but I truly enjoyed it; my review is here). One thing I decided to try after some serious book blogging is audio books. Now I often have a book going in the car on my commutes, one in DailyLit, one paper book, and one e-book. I never used to juggle more than one book at a time, but I find that I can do so much more easily now than I used to be able to.

    Another fun part of book blogging for me is the reading challenges. They vary in subject and theme. I decided to host my first reading challenge this year, and I am participating in many others. I find that they honestly remind me to try reading different things (although at the moment I’m on a huge historical fiction kick—always a favorite with me).

    If Goodreads or Shelfari had existed when I started my book blog, would I have started one at all, or would I have used those networks to share reviews? I don’t know. I do have more freedom to completely customize my blog in ways that I can’t customize Shelfari or Goodreads, though I use both networks.

    Ultimately, as this blog has made me more reflective of my teaching practices, my book blog has made me more reflective of my reading, which can only be a good thing—at least in my book (sorry; couldn’t resist).
    Creative Commons License photo credit: Ozyman

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    Blogging Teachers: Some Advice

    Through the Lens

    The investigation into the blogging of Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe has generated a great deal of discussion about whether teachers should blog or what they should blog about, while Munroe contends she’s done nothing wrong and hopes the attention her blog has received will encourage debate about the more difficult aspects of teaching. I have read some of the cached comments Munroe made on her blog. My own advice would have have been not to express such sentiments in a public forum, such as a blog.

    Teaching can be frustrating, and I think it does help to vent sometimes, but it’s important to remember that even if we feel our blogs are small and unlikely to attract notice, as Munroe did, or even if we believe we are anonymous, we are putting information out there into the ether, and I think Munroe would certainly agree that once it’s out there, it’s hard to erase it, especially as caches and archives make it difficult to ensure no copies exist somewhere.

    One of the more frightening responses I can imagine administrators might have to this story is to ban their teachers from blogging lest they lose their jobs. I think teachers need a voice to talk about education and to share their ideas. If you are considering blogging or are already blogging and are now hesitant to move forward after hearing about this story, I would advise the following:

    • Don’t count on remaining anonymous if you choose a pseudonym. In fact, I have long contended that teachers should blog under their real names.
    • Don’t blog negatively about your students. However frustrated you may feel, think about how you would feel to read a teacher’s disparaging remarks about you online, even if no names were used.
    • Don’t blog negatively about colleagues or administrators. I think that’s just asking to get fired.
    • Pay attention to language, tone, subject matter—fair or not, teachers are held to a higher standard regarding public persona.
    • Don’t give up. Building a readership takes time. You can encourage others to check out your blog by commenting on theirs and linking to their blogs in posts and/or blogrolls.
    • Try to update consistently, but don’t stress out if you can’t. I know I’ve lost readership as my posts have become less regular, but I had to cut back for a variety of reasons.
    • Figure out what you want to do with your blog—reflect? share? interact with others? Blogs usually do better with some sort of aim or niche, but you need not feel confined to discussing only that subject.
    • Keep the conversation respectful. Making a lot of noise and attacking other bloggers might get you attention. The wrong kind, in my opinion. People won’t listen to you if you’re rude and nasty.
    • Trust your common sense. If you wouldn’t say it at work in front on colleagues, students, administrators, or parents, you should probably not say it online.

    Should Natalie Munroe lose her job over her blog? Well, indications are that her school had no blogging policy that she violated. I’m pretty sure they will now, and it’s likely to be a draconian one that prevents teacher voices from being heard, which is unfortunate. I don’t know the context of the comments she made, but on the surface, it’s an issue of professionalism. That said, I’ve had my own comments taken out of context and exaggerated, and I really wish I’d never made them in the first place, but I own up to having made some of the mistakes I’m advising you to steer clear of. Not all of them, sure. And that’s perhaps why I’ve managed to stay out of trouble at work.

    What advice would you give? What did I miss? If you’ve been following the Munroe story, what do you think?

    Creative Commons License photo credit: davidz

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    The Kids are All Right

    I just came across this tweet by Jim Burke:

    Jim Burke's tweetI feel the same way. I love to hear from students, both current and former about the great things they’re doing out there in the world. Jeremy came by the school to visit last week and told me about his work with the Wilderness Society. He’s been blogging with them at WildernessU-Georgia. You can learn more about him by clicking on their About page. They don’t have posts tagged by author, but if scroll a bit, you can find some of his posts. Here are a few recent ones:

    As his former English teacher, I’m thrilled he’s writing. He graduates from college this year, and I’m proud of him.

    I shared Jake’s blog and wonderful photography with you recently, but here it is again, in case you missed it: Life of Jake. Jake is a gifted artist with that camera—something I didn’t know about him when he was my student, but I’ve been happy to discover it since then. He’s also an excellent writer and thinker.

    Julian is really busy with college, but he blogs about GTD, organization, and productivity at 2WheeledLife. He has some helpful tips, and I have enjoyed discovering all he’s learned.

    They are just beginning to go out into the world and do great things, but I’m really proud of them, and I will be interested to see what they do in the future. And I don’t worry too much about the future, because in the inimitable words of Who, “the kids are all right.” [Sorry for the paraphrase—I teach grammar and can’t write alright. See? Although I will voice my radical opinion that it should be standard when its cousins altogether and already are. Just saying.]

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    Edublog Awards

    Nominated Teacher BlogThis blog has been nominated for an Edublog award in the category of Best Teacher Blog. If you feel this blog has earned this distinction, you can vote for it here.

    I mentioned on Twitter tonight that I have some mixed feelings about these kinds of awards. I think often this particular awards competition turns into a popularity contest. As far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever been shortlisted for any sort of Edublog award, but I see a lot of the same names appear on these award shortlists over and over. Also, I don’t know about a Lifetime Achievement Award. Education blogging has only been around about ten years or so, and Lifetime Achievement doesn’t seem like the best language to use. I also don’t really think these awards are necessarily about good or helpful writing or tweeting.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m honored that any readers enjoyed this blog enough to feel it deserved to be nominated for the award. As far as I’m concerned, if I was that helpful to anyone, then I won.

    I think Edublogs does good work, and I think it’s nice that they recognize the hard work of other bloggers, even bloggers that don’t use their service, but I also don’t like the idea of “competition” for this sort of thing. I like to see blogging, tweeting, and wikis as collaborative, as conversations. I like to reflect here, to share resources. If there were any awards for blogging when I started doing it five and a half years ago, then I didn’t know about them. I would hate to think anyone was motivated by these awards (and I actually don’t believe that). Who knows? Maybe it bothers me that this blog has never been recognized until now—I fully admit my ambivalent feelings about blog awards could be tied to the fact that I haven’t won one. If I had, perhaps I might value them more highly.

    I think this kind of thing is different from teaching awards, such as teacher of the year. The process for selection is so different. As far as I know, the process is blind in that judges evaluate the parts of a TOY application without knowing the nominees or perhaps even knowing the names of the nominees. The application package I submitted included a description of a typical day in my classroom, two letters of recommendation (one from a student and one from my headmaster), my philosophy of education, and descriptions of two sample lessons. I have no idea how many people were in the running for the award. I can tell you that I tied for GCTE’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. The reason GCTE selected me for the NCTE Secondary Section Teacher of Excellent Award is that they could not recognize both of their winners for the ToE award, so they took a revote, and I was selected. That award means a lot to me because I was selected by other English teachers—my peers.

    While Edublogs awards work in a similar fashion, I think it is dominated (and understandably so) by “tech” folks—instructional technologists, technology educators, and ISTE folks. They would, after all, be the most comfortable with blogging, at least early on. Older blogs have an edge in this competition, and most of those older blogs are owned by tech folks. But tech folks aren’t the only ones with great ideas and knowledge to share, and I think in recognizing these same people over and over, we are missing out on some great new voices or even some older voices who for whatever reason are not nominated.

    One of the reasons this blog has a high page rank in Google is that it’s been around for five years, so lots of people have linked to it (and thank you!). If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure it is the best teacher’s blog out there, or even the best English teacher’s blog—it is, however, one of the oldest. I’ve been very absent from writing here as I attended graduate school. I have felt uninspired with regards to this blog, too. As a result, I haven’t posted a whole lot on this blog in the last year or two. I do feel that may have changed in the last week, but the year as a whole has not been a stellar blogging year for me, at least not here (my book blog is quite another story, and frankly, I think the nomination and shortlisting process for Book Blogger Appreciation Week is much more sound and thorough—and no, that blog wasn’t nominated for a Book Blogger Award because I didn’t submit my blog for one). Actually, I think Silvia Tolisano’s Langwitches blog has probably been the most influential teacher’s blog I’ve read in the last year. Plus the witches are extremely cute. It has a great design and great writing. And she updates frequently.

    Thank you for reading. Thank you for nominating me.

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    Having Coffee #2Before Thanksgiving, I turned in my final portfolio for the Instructional Technology Master’s program at Virginia Tech. Once I receive word on how I did, I will share the portfolio here.

    Turning in my portfolio was the last thing I needed to do to complete my degree. If it’s accepted, I’ll have a master’s degree. I am happy to be finished, and I feel the portfolio was a great way to show what I’d learned. I do wish that my program had worked in opportunities to build the portfolio throughout the coursework rather than just at the end, but in the end, I think I did learn from the program, particularly during the last three semesters when I took Multimedia Authoring, Project and Report, and Portfolio Evaluation. I had a truly great learning experience in Multimedia Authoring. I learned how to use Flash and built a little grammar game. My instructor for that course was the best instructor I had in the program. Project and Report was great because I was able to create my own project, and I learned a great deal about manipulating digital audio and video and the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law. Assembling the portfolio allowed me to reflect on my learning. I have already begun using some of what I’ve learned at my school as a member of the Technology Committee.

    On an unrelated note, I have been meaning to share a former student’s new blog with you for some time. Jake was an absolute pleasure to teach, and I enjoy seeing what he’s up to as he makes his way in college and the world. I was really pleased that Jake not only felt comfortable sharing the blog with me, but also with my sharing it with you. Jake’s an amazing photographer, and I’m very proud of him. Hope you enjoy it!

    Creative Commons License photo credit: ReneS.

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    Any idea?

    I began really working on my ITMA portfolio yesterday. It seemed like a huge task because I wasn’t really sure what was expected. After I started working on it, I found myself really enjoying it. I liked the freedom to choose artifacts. In choosing documents that illustrate my progress with design, I included my project from Instructional Design, which I am decidedly not proud of, simply because I was proud of subsequent designs in Multimedia Authoring and especially Project and Report. I knew I had learned a lot, and showing that progress was important to me. I am enjoying writing the reflections, too. Once I’ve completed the portfolio sometime later this semester, it will have a permanent home on my website.

    Speaking of reflection, I was wondering the other day why writing over at my book blog is giving me so much joy lately. It’s not the conversation, exactly, because aside from a few regulars, I don’t actually receive that many comments over there. I keep meaning to update my education blog, but I think that grad school, coupled with work demands, seems to be sapping so much of my energy lately. And my education blog suffers because I associate it with work. My book blog, on the other hand, I associate with reading and escape from work. So it’s probably no wonder I am feeling more like hanging out over there lately. The upshot is that I graduate this December, and maybe I’ll have more time then. Then again, maybe not. I just have to tell myself that’s it’s really OK if I need a little break. I certainly don’t want this blog to feel like one more thing I have to do.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Massimo Barbieri

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