Blogging Tools: Beyond Content Management

ToolboxIf you have a blog and have already chosen a platform (if need help with this, click here or here), this post might just make some aspects of your blog richer for you and your readers.

  1. Apture
    Apture works with any publishing platform, and it’s easy to install. It allows you to make your site more interactive. For instance, you can embed popup links to Wikipedia articles and Amazon merchandise. This site uses Apture. What do you think?
  2. Delicious or Diigo
    You can share your links with readers by programming your Delicious or Diigo account to post links to your blog. Although I have my Diigo links in the sidebar, many readers who only read my posts via RSS might not see them, so I decided to start posting them to the blog. I hope the links will prove helpful and interesting. You can find instructions for posting links via Diigo here and for Delicious here (you’ll need to be logged in to your Diigo or Delicious account).
  3. Share What You’re Reading
    Many reading social networks have widgets you can embed in your website. For instance, I am a fan of Goodreads and have a widget on the left that displays the last few books I’ve read along with my starred rating of that book. However, other networks like Shelfari have similar widgets. I also have a plugin called Now Reading, which only works with WordPress, that displays what I’m currently reading in the sidebar.
  4. coComment
    It’s easy to leave a comment and forget to check back to see if you have a response, but coComment can help you keep track of the comments you leave and the responses you receive. If you use Firefox, you can download a browser extension that will make using coComment even easier.
  5. Photo Dropper
    If you use WordPress, Photo Dropper is a plugin that allows you to easily find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses to share in your posts.
  6. Twitter
    Many ways of integrating Twitter with your blog exist. I use a WordPress plugin called Twitter Tools that is flexible. It allows users create blog posts from my tweets (I choose not to), display tweets in my sidebar (which I do), and notify via Twitter when I update my blog (which I also do). Twitter also has instructions for badges and widgets. TwiTip has gathered together some resources for other Twitter badges.
  7. iPhone Apps
    If you like to blog about iPhone apps or make recommendations for the same, you might find AppsFire‘s widget fun. It enables you to create a javascript widget to display the apps of your choice.
  8. Feedburner
    Google’s Feedburner gives you more control over and information about your RSS feeds. You can find out how many subscribers you have, what RSS reader they use, and the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin for WordPress will help you integrate your Feedburner feed seamlessly.

If you have a favorite blog tool, please share it in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: StevenBrisson

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THE PUSH Needs Your Help

Scott McLeod has posted the details on Dangerously Irrelevant. Since I know most this blog’s readers are English teachers, I urge you to help out and post links to your blogs and your favorite English/Language Arts blogs on the Moving Forward wiki. Thank you to whoever it was who added my own blog, too!

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I Have a Blog Problem

I definitely have a problem. Do you know I have been telling myself for about a week now that I do not need to start a blog about apps and products for Apple’s Mac and iPhone? I mean, first of all, The Unofficial Apple Weblog and other sites do a much better, more thorough job than I would. Second, I already have several blogs, and I don’t update any of them with any regularity. And yet, I find that I do occasionally want to discuss some of the apps I’m using, even if they’re not education-related. To that end, I have decided that I will occasionally use this space to discuss education-related apps or products, but I will not, and I repeat will not respond to requests to review products unless I am interested. I have received quite a few requests from companies to review books or Web sites, and even been asked if I would link to products or allow advertising on this site. I want complete control over the content, and I want you to know that if I am discussing something here, it’s because I wanted to—because I either really liked it or because I didn’t—and not because I was paid to do so.

Because you perhaps are not as interested (if you’re reading this blog) in apps not related in some way to education, you understandably might not want to read posts about those apps. Therefore, I won’t subject you to them here. However, if you would like to read them, you might want to check out my book blog. I do allow myself to go off topic over there. In the sidebar to the right, you’ll see an RSS feed for that blog.

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New Features

When I remembered today that WordPress 2.7 enabled threaded comments, I decided to try to implement them here on this blog. While enabled threaded comments within the content management system involved only checking a box, I realized my theme didn’t support threaded comments. I tried to follow instructions for modifying my theme that I found online, but I messed it up somehow, so I checked out Cutline’s Web site (that’s the name of the theme I use), and lo and behold, they had created an updated version with support for threaded comments. I updated the theme. Now you can reply to commenters as well as to me, and it will be perhaps a little more clear who is being addressed in comments.

I also added some sharing and saving capability. On the bottom of each post, you’ll see a new button with a few familiar icons: the share icon (or at least it’s used by Shareaholic, the Firefox add-on), Delicious, and Facebook. If you mouse over that button, you’ll discover lots of ways to share and/or save the post. Just about every kind of social bookmarking, networking, and note-taking service is included. You can also e-mail the post or bookmark it directly in your browser. I removed the Feedburner FeedFlare, which enabled sharing by e-mail, Delicious, and Facebook, from each post. Essentially the new sharing/saving feature does much more in the way of allowing for users to save and share content that I decided it wasn’t needed. If you care, the plugin I used to create this button is called Add to Any.

The new theme handles a few tiny details differently. For instance, there is now a frame around images inside posts. I kind of like it, so I left it there. If there is some element of functionality you miss that I’ve forgotten to implement again after the upgrade, please let me know.

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Happy Birthday, Blog

Fourth BirthdayToday is the fourth anniversary of my blog. In light of that fact, here are a few facts and statistics:

The first post on this blog was a review of Constance Weaver’s Teaching Grammar in Context. Since that post, I’ve made 564 posts (including this one).

The first commenter was Ms. Ris, who commented on my post about The Teacher’s Daybook by Jim Burke. Since that time, this blog has received 2,004 comments. Some were lost when I had a problem with a Web host.

Although readership is kind of hard to track, and I tend not to get caught up in readership stats for that reason, Feedburner reports that I have 683 subscribers to my RSS feed. Feedblitz reports that 57 people subscribe to posts by e-mail. If you want to subscribe, click here. I don’t check site statistics that often, so I was interested to learn that since I installed Statcounter (and I confess, I can’t remember at all when that was, so this next bit is fairly useless), my site has received 809,143 page views. Now, many of those are for subdomains that serve other areas of interest and many are for Google searchers who landed here and probably were not looking for my site. That number has nothing to do with readership. That much is evidenced by the fact that 68.9% of the last 500 visitors only stayed for 5 seconds or less. Then again, I haven’t updated in a few days, and some of those visits may in fact be regular readers who are checking to see if I’ve updated. (You can save yourself the trouble if you subcribe!)

I began this blog using Movable Type. Here’s a peek at what my blog looked like back in those days. Some time after I started this blog, I had a major problem with my Web host at that time (see a page I put up in the interim until I could fix it). Some time later, I came back with WordPress, and older readers might recognize this design. I have not changed the look of this place many times. My blog has only had those two looks and this current one with the exception of some slight experimentation that never lasted long.

If you are a newer reader, you may not have seen some of my older posts. Here are some of my favorite posts over the past four years:

In this time when some folks are saying blogging is dead, I have to say that nothing I have done for myself as an educator has helped me learn more and be a more effective teacher than starting this blog. Nothing else has contributed as much to my reflection and enabled me to connect with other teachers and learn from them like this blog has. Starting it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I am glad and humbled by those who visit and find it useful for their own learning as well.

Happy birthday, blog!

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No Blogging = No Reflection

My full schedule has not been conducive to blogging. I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, but I’m not blogging as much as I have in the past for two main reasons 1) grad school, and 2) department chair. Well, I’m not taking any classes this summer for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with money, and I will no longer be the English department chair at my school. I think it’s a good thing for my family that I will no longer have this role. I am hoping that giving up this leadership role will enable me more time to be reflective here at my blog.

Like my students, I can feel the end of the year. We really have just three more weeks before final exams. I am noticing that I’m working hard to try to keep my students engaged. In the past, I’ve given in to spring fever, but I’ve learned that I have to work extra hard at the end of the year on planning engaging lessons. I am not going to flatter myself that my students always respond the way I wish they would, but I had a great class today (at the very end of the day, no less) in which we read and discussed Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover.” I created the lesson plan I used today about 10 years ago as part of a model lesson for a job I really wanted (and got). I also published it in an old edition of Ideas Plus (I think it was No. 16, but I’m not sure). I’ve described it in a previous post. Because this is only my second year teaching British literature (my passion), I have only had the chance to teach this lesson three times, but each time, I have had the same success with students. It’s so exciting to see them debating about a poem, each side pulling out lines to back up their claims. It’s a great little close reading exercise that can be done in a class period. It’s important for me to have time to reflect—to celebrate the successes and dissect the flops.

When it works and a class is really clicking, and all the students are into it, there’s nothing quite like teaching.

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Engagement

I created a Diigo group for my students some time ago, but it wasn’t until Monday, when we had a snow day (weird that we’ve had 70° weather in the same week as a snowstorm) that I invited all my students to join.  The lack of response has been deafening.  I understand to a degree.  It’s one more tool, one more crazy thing Ms. Huff wants us to do, blah, blah, blah, don’t see the point.  One the one hand, I hate that I have to make use of these tools a requirement to convince students to use them.  I am not going to make the Diigo group a requirement the way I did commenting on my blog.  However, I have noticed something.  Those students who do engage with the tools I provide — whether it’s watching videos I share on the classroom blog, using Diigo, commenting on the blog, listening to recommended podcasts, or even reading suggested links — tend to do better in class.  Why?  Simple.  The tools help.  Reading, viewing, listening, engaging — all these tools help my students learn the material in more depth or in more ways.  Learning more leads to better understanding.  Better understanding leads to higher grades.  I prefer to leave it for my students to come to this realization, but when/if they do, I wonder what will happen when I have full engagement.

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Transparency and Reassurance

Bill Genereux has an interesting post about what he calls “The True Digital Divide.”  He discusses in detail something I touched on in my presentation at GCTE.  If we truly want students to engage with the technology and use the Web 2.0 tools available to them, we have to be leaders.  We have to use the tools ourselves.  If we want students to blog, we should be blogging.  I think educators blogging could be a very positive form of transparency.  In an age when people make a lot of assumptions about what is or is not happening in classrooms, often I think the teachers’ voices are missing, and blogging can be a positive platform to share what we are thinking and learning and doing.  On the other hand, I think it has become for many teachers who blog a platform to complain.  No doubt teaching is hard work, and sometimes it feels good to vent.  I personally think blogging is a terrible platform for complaining.  First, I don’t think most of us like to read it.  Second, it’s just not wise; Regnef High School anyone?  I am very interesting in posts and conversations that make me think.  So yes, we need to be using the tools, for as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach notes, “Technology will never replace teachers. However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.”  And of course, Alfie Kohn reminds us that sticking techy labels on tired or misguided practices isn’t the answer either.  Still, I think we’re moving into a positive direction when parents and students (as well as other teachers) can gain insight into what teachers are thinking and doing.  I have actually noticed something interesting: students joke about Googling me and finding lots of links.  I admit it’s true that I am in a lot of places online.  But I encourage them to read it and tell me what they think.  And when they do, they share their observations.  It can be a good thing when students, parents, and colleagues get a glimpse into a teacher’s mind and like what they see.  Transparency can foster reassurance.

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GCTE, Reflection, Looking Ahead

Some of you may know I went to the annual GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) convention this weekend.  It was great, but the numbers were down — probably the economy.  I know lots of the schools systems have probably told teachers they would not pay to send them to conventions this year.  For instance, my children’s system is not paying for field trips this year, so it may be they are also not paying for conventions.  I presented a session on Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development.  I was at first disappointed that it was somewhat sparsely attended, but I think that was the norm.  Several sessions I attended were like that.  I had six folks, which I think is just about what I had at GISA.  It makes sense that the folks who attended the Folger TSI except for Mike LoMonico, who was awesome moral support, didn’t come as I had presented some of the technologies I shared with them over the summer.  Lots of my fellow TSI participants were there, and it was good to see them again.  I was also grateful that my friend and colleague Rebecca came to my session, even though she didn’t have to because she works with me, and I was thrilled to finally meet Clix after working with her online for a couple of years.  She also came to my session even though she already knew everything I was sharing (thanks!).  Aside from my three friends, I had three other attendees, and I hope they found it interesting and learned something they can use.  I do think the presentation went well.  I used Keynote instead of PowerPoint, and I basically wrote down everything I wanted to say in my notes and created the presentation from that so I could avoid crowding my slides.  I’m learning!  Keynote has such beautiful templates!

I went to Mike LoMonico’s Folger presentation, and it was good as always.  Julie Rucker and I covered some of the same ground, but our focuses (foci, if you want to be a pedant) were different, and it was good to meet her as well.  I also attended Buffy Hamilton’s presentation on multigenre research projects, and I am most excited to try one.  Multigenre research projects are something I had heard about but didn’t know much about, so I saw Buffy’s presentation as a great opportunity to learn more.  She created a fabulous wiki to share her presentation.  I found it so inspiring; I think I’ll work some more on the wiki I created for mine.

Aside from the wonderful presentations, the best part of GCTE was seeing everyone again.  Gerald Boyd, who is our state Language Arts Coordinator, used to be the Language Arts Coordinator for Houston County when I worked in that system, and we had crossed paths on several occasions.  It was also good to see Peg Graham again, who was not my professor when I went to UGA, but whom I knew through my own professor.  Of course, all the Folger folks were fun to see again.  I also got to meet Jim Cope, with whom I have exchanged e-mails and who really saved my rear-end when he loaned me a cable I didn’t realize I had forgotten to pack.

I had a great time, and I hope Rebecca did, too.  I feel excited and energized!

Last week, I had one of my classes present their scenes from Taming of the Shrew. I have some great comic actors in my classroom.  This coming week, another class will present scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I am looking forward to seeing these scenes as well.  My ninth graders will begin preparing to present scenes from Romeo and Juliet, too.  I am so excited to have finally figured this out.  I have used some Folger stuff for years, but I shied away from performance because I just wasn’t sure how well it would help students learn the play.  And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.  After actually going through the process of performance and presentation myself, I learned how much it truly does help foster close reading, critical thinking, and enjoyment of the plays, and the light bulb finally went off.  I will never teach a Shakespeare play in the future without incorporating some elements of performance.

Here is my GCTE presentation for those who are interested:

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Blogs, and Wikis, and Nings, and Things

This is liable to be a rambly post, and frankly, I’m not sure I like reading those myself, but sometimes they have to be written.

Those of you who are members of the UbD Educators wiki — are you interested in having a Ning, too?  It wouldn’t mean shutting down the wiki, but Nings seem to enable more different kinds of interaction, so I thought I’d float the question.  Jim Burke’s new Ning has become incredibly active and interesting, but he’s also Jim Burke.  Still, the success of Jim’s Ning made me wonder about UbD Educators.

Which leads me to something I have been mulling over for a while.  I think I’m stretched too thin.  I join too many online “clubs.”  And I probably just used unnecessary quotation marks.  I am currently a member of nine Nings (0nly about two or three of which I even look at, much less contribute to) and nine (or ten?) wikis, again most of which I don’t contribute to, or at least not regularly.  I have six (I think) blogs, and the one I update most is the one I do for my students.  This one comes in second, followed by my book blog.  My other blogs are fairly shamefully dormant.  When I look at the numbers, I freak out a little and feel bad.  I also wonder what to do about it, or whether what I’m currently doing is OK.

Long term career goal I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years: teacher education.  I think I want to work with English Education majors.  I’m not sure what I need to do to reach that goal, but the good news is that I am in touch with my own English Education professors, and I can ask them.  Meanwhile, if you do work with preservice English teachers, please share your advice or experiences.

I asked this question on Twitter, but got no response.  If I am a member of ISTE, is it still worthwhile to join AECT?  My ITMA program at VA Tech keeps talking about AECT, but all the tech folks in the Edublogosphere (should that be capitalized?) always mention ISTE.  Just wondering.

Finally, if you are headed to the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) conference in February, I invite you to the session I’m presenting on Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development on Friday.  It’s the same session I presented at November’s GISA conference, so if you already came to that, you wouldn’t miss anything new if you skipped it.  Suggestions for the presentation are welcome.  If you were going to the session, what would you hope to learn or want to know?

OK, I have picked your brain enough today, Internet.

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