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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English Companion Ning

I am so excited!  Some time ago, I mentioned that two English teachers I’d love to see blogging are Jim Burke and Carol Jago.  Jim Burke has created a Ning for English teachers, where, presumably, we can all look forward to regular posts in the form of blogs or forum posts from Jim!  And Carol is a member, too, so perhaps we can expect the same from her as well.  Some of you have already received an invitation from me to join the Ning, but if not, consider yourself invited and come on over.  Looks pretty active already.

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The Faculty Room Hiatus

You may have noticed that the Faculty Room has not been updated in some time.  We have been on hiatus since August, and though the last post said we would resume posting in September, it hasn’t happened, and I’m not sure why.  I contacted both Meg Fitzpatrick (who administers the blog) and Grant Wiggins, and neither responded to my query.  I hope the blog is not shut down for good.  I felt the conversations were valuable.  I have noticed that when I mouse over the title of the last post in the RSS feed in the sidebar to the right, I see a bunch of pharmaceutical spam.  Try mousing over the link that says “See you in September!” and you’ll see what I mean.  Not sure what happened there.  I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything about the Faculty Room.

Update: Grant has re-opened the Faculty Room, although it appears to be retooled as his personal blog.  The rest of the contributers are now listed under a column labeled “Past Bloggers.”

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NCTE 2008: Thursday

After breakfast and a quick chat with my husband and my mom, I went to the Alamo.  The tour interested me a great deal, and if you go, it’s worth it to rent the mp3 player for the audio tour.  The guy running the booth for the audio tour also said nice things about my hair, which is always a nice way to start the day.

I went to a preconference session on teaching tone, and it was very interesting and encouraging.  Carol Jago and John Golden presented.  Carol had some really snazzy boots, but aside from that, she is a warm and engaging speaker, and she shared some solid ideas about teaching tone.  John Golden is very funny.  I’m not sure I would have thought of using some of his techniques for teaching tone, which include use of images and creating multimedia projects, but they were really good ideas.

After that session, I went to the Secondary Level Get-Together.  I met Penny Kittle (who is very tall and very nice), and I saw Mike LoMonico again (who is always lovely to see).  The featured speaker was Francine Prose.  I had read her article “I Know Why the Caged Bird Can’t Read” not too long ago (Nancy sent it to me), and it challenged my thinking, but I also disagreed with parts of it.  Prose spoke about that article and some of the backlash it has received and mentioned that over time, she has come to change some of the views she expressed in that article.  She felt that many teachers saw the article as an attack, and she explained that she values what English teachers do and did not mean for anyone to take her criticism about how she saw some works of literature being taught as an indictment of teachers.  When I met her to get my books signed (we received copies of Reading Like a Writer and Goldengrove), I told her about how the article had challenged my thinking, but also that I found her comments about revisiting her views interesting in light of the fact that we readers tend to see writers’ viewpoints as fixed and unchanging because the print is always there.  It’s something I haven’t given much thought to, considering I’m an English teacher.  What Prose said in response really struck me, and I’ll paraphrase it here because I didn’t write her words down immediately after.  She said that if you really want to know what you think about something, try publishing it and revisiting it through the feedback you get from others.  That sounds like blogging to me, although I’m sure she wasn’t thinking of blogging when she said it.  I know blogging has certainly made me think more about everything I teach and read and think, and the feedback from others, whether agreeing with me or challenging me, has made me think about it even more.

I wish it were possible for me to attend this conference every year.  It’s got to be the most valuable interaction I can have with my peers outside of blogging (which has a smaller audience and can sometimes feel like an echo chamber).

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NCTE Bound

Tomorrow evening I’ll be flying to San Antonio to the NCTE Annual Conference.  I haven’t been to an NCTE conference since 1998, which took place in Nashville.  I went then because Atlanta is within easy driving distance of Nashville.  While this is not true of San Antonio, I really wanted to go this year because the focus is on 21st century learning and technology.

I’ll be blogging from the conference, and possibly the hotel, but I think it’s a crime I will have to pay for wifi at the hotel.  Hope it’s free at the convention center.  At any rate, if you read this blog, feel free to say “hi.”  I’m meeting up with some Folger folks on Saturday night, and if you want to go see Twilight Friday night, let me know.

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Should We All Stop Blogging?

Wired has a new, somewhat controversial article about blogging:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

Author Paul Boutin makes some valid points:

  • The blogosphere is dominated by online magazines, corporations, and paid bloggers.
  • Insult comments and trolls wreck personal blogging.
  • Text-based Web sites are sooo 2004; social networking and video/audio/image-heavy content is the thing.

It can be argued that it’s hard to compete with the likes of the Huffington Post, Engadget, Boing Boing, or the like.  This blog — and most likely your blog — will not be in Technorati’s list of the top 100 blogs.  But if that’s why you’re blogging, then no wonder it’s unsatisfying.  The first person you should be blogging for is you, which is what I intend to argue in my presentation at the Georgia Independent School Association conference the week after next.  If you are simply trying to get a big audience, I have to question why.  Sure, it’s nice to have regular readers and commenters, but if your main concern is being the most popular, most read, then I, for one, wish you wouldn’t blog or wouldn’t start a blog because I think you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Insult comments suck.  Trolls suck.  They’re part of the Web, and they’re one reason why despite how much I love Web 2.0, I don’t have my students establish their own blogs.  Maybe I will some day, but I know how furious it would make me if my student received a trollish comment I wasn’t able to delete first.  There are always folks who feel it’s OK to be rude jerks, and for some reason, the anonymity possible with the Web brings out the worst behavior in people in that regard.  However, what Boutin doesn’t mention is that all the blogging systems I can think of have comment moderation, and no one is beholden to publish comments at all.  A comments policy should cover anyone interested in allowing comments.

Many changes made to blogging allow for all kinds of media to be incorporated into blogs, and indeed, a lot of the posts I see (and some of my own, at that) incorporate this media effectively.  I don’t know why they should be considered mutually exclusive at all.

I have become a much more reflective person as a result of blogging, and I don’t think it’s an inherently bad idea to blog, provided one is doing so for the right reasons and has given some thought to direction, purpose, and policies with regard to blogging.  I like Twitter, but 140 characters will never be able to replace what I do with my blogs, and I enjoy Facebook, but I don’t use it for the same purposes of self-expression that I do here.  Maybe it’s because I don’t take many pictures, but even though I have a Flickr account, I am just not into it (aside from finding good Creative Commons licensed photos to use on my blog).

I guess my response to Boutin’s claims is that they’re legitimate, but that blogging doesn’t have to be defined in such narrow terms and for such narrow purposes as he proposes.  What are your thoughts?

[via Roger Darlington]

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Grouch Alert

I am becoming increasingly irritated with requests, nay offers, from people I don’t know to do guest posts on my blog.  Let me get this straight.  You are offering me the opportunity to loan you my blog to promote your [fill in the blank] in exchange for…. what?  Decreased control over the content on my site?  Decreased respectability among members of the education blogging community?  The opportunity to look like a shill?  Let me get this straight, you want to borrow my blog, which I have built up to a fairly decent size, respectability, and readership over three and half years, in order to promote yourself because you are too lazy to do the exact same thing?  And to top it off, you have the nerve to make the request without reading my site policies, which clearly state that I do not accept guest posts?  Clearly you aren’t familiar enough with my site to make such outrageous requests, or you would have seen this policy declaration, which is not hidden.  To prove how accessible it is, I won’t even link it, and I’ll just see if any readers have trouble finding it.  If you do, let me know, and I will make it even more obvious.

Can you believe the gall of some people?  I can’t be the only education blogger who gets these requests.  What do the rest of you do?  I said I would ignore them, but they make me so mad that I respond with a link to my policies.  Should I just ignore them, or call them out on their rudeness and obvious lack of knowledge of the site they’re requesting to grace with their presence?

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Practicing Teaching

My friend and fellow Folger Shakespeare Seminar participant Nicole has a new blog called Practicing Teaching.  Very reflective, and just the kind of thing I want to encourage people who participate in my GISA conference presentation to try for their own professional development.

I submitted a proposal to do the same presentation at the GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) conference in February.  I’ll let you know if it’s accepted.

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