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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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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Presentation: Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development

If you are in the Georgia Independent Schools Association, and you’re going to the annual conference this year, feel free to stop in my session, “Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development,” if that topic is of interest to you.  Vicki is also presenting about her Flat Classroom projects.  My colleague at Weber, Mike, is presenting about free tech tools for teachers.  I think all of us are in the morning session.

Meanwhile, I have been thinking about my presentation, and if you were in a session about using blogs and wikis for professional development, what would you hope to get out of it?  What sorts of examples would you like to see?  What issues would you like to discuss?

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Back to School

I’ve said this every year, but I’ll say it again: you sure can tell when school starts again around this blog.  Anyway, our students come back on Wednesday, and my own children went back today, so I feel like we’re all back in the saddle.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a few new visitors coming by looking for UbD information, and I thought I’d make it easier for you.  First, these are my “reading journals” for Understanding by Design in which I reflected on what I was reading and posted here:

Of course, I invite and encourage any interested teachers to join us at the UbD Educators wiki to share and obtain feedback on unit plans (or perhaps borrow those shared by others).

Meanwhile, once I get back in the swing of my schedule, I should have more time to write, although I start grad school on the 25th, which I imagine will make me busy again.

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Write Beside Them: The Opportunities in a Writer’s Workshop

Write Beside ThemIn chapter 6 of Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, the reader gets a glimpse into how a writers’ workshop might run.  The first thing I wished was that I had a writing class all year next year on a block schedule.  I really want to go out and try everything!  Based on the schedule Kittle outlines, she has 90-classes, and she also mentions A and B schedules, so my hunch is that she’s on an alternating block schedule.  Her writing course is a one-semester course.  My own school schedule is so complicated that I’m wondering how and when I can implement some of her ideas that I really liked.  For example, I would really like to try Sustained Silent Reading.  When I was a student teacher, the high school where I did my student teaching assignment had school-wide SSR two days a week.  Everyone in the school — teachers, students, administrators, janitors, everyone — was expected to read for that twenty minutes.  Magazines were OK.

Here’s what my schedule looks like:

  • Mondays: Block 3: 7:55-8:35; Morning Program: 8:38-9:21; Block 4: 9:24-10:09; Double-Block 5: 10:12-11:45; Lunch: 11:45-12:27; Double-Block 6: 12:30-2:03; Break: 2:03-2:12; Block 7: 2:12-2:57; Block 8: 3:00-3:45.
  • Tuesdays: Block 5: 7:55-8:35; Prayers: 8:38-9:21; Block 6: 9:24-10:09; Double-Block 7: 10:12-11:45; Lunch: 11:45-12:27; Double-Block 8: 12:30-2:03; Break: 2:03-2:12; Block 1: 2:12-2:57; Block 2: 3:00-3:45.
  • Wednesdays: Faculty Meeting: 7:45-8:30; Block 1: 8:35-9:21; Block 2: 9:24-10:09; Double-Block 3: 10:12-11:45; Lunch: 11:45-12:27; Double-Block 4: 12:30-2:03; Break: 2:03-2:12; Block 5: 2:12-2:57; Block 6: 3:00-3:45.
  • Thursdays: Block 7: 7:55-8:35; Prayers: 8:38-9:21; Block 8: 9:24-10:09; Double-Block 1: 10:12-11:45; Lunch: 11:45-12:27; Double-Block 2: 12:30-2:03; Break: 2:03-2:12; Block 3: 2:12-2:57; Block 4: 3:00-3:45.
  • Fridays: Block 1: 7:55-8:35; Morning Program: 8:38-9:19; Block 2: 9:21-9:59; Block 3: 10:02-10:42; Block 4: 10:45-11:25; Lunch: 11:25-11:53; Block 5: 11:56-12:36; Block 6: 12:39-1:19; Block 7: 1:21-1:59; Block 8:  2:02-2:45.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it did take me a whole year to learn it.  We rotate the schedule so that each class has one double-block per week along with three regular blocks and one day off.  On Fridays, we finish up at 2:45 to allow students who travel from far away to get home in time to prepare for Shabbat in the winter.

So given that I don’t meet with my students on a schedule that’s regular, my first thought was that Fridays would be a good day for SSR, but how long can I realistically devote to it then?  I could make the day when the class has double-block another day, but again, how long?  Is 10 minutes OK?

Another thing I took away from this chapter is that I need to work on writing conferences.  I do not allow students to do enough of the talking, and they are walking away trying to fix their writing to please me so I will reward them with a good grade instead of really learning to write well.  The good news is that I can fix it, and happily, Kittle provides models on the DVD.  I wrote Listen more!  Talk less! in the margin of my book.

Finally, it occurred to me that two of the suggestions Kittle mentions — publishing writing students wish to share on a shared drive on the school’s network and creating posters for units of study — could also be done and perhaps even more effectively on a wiki, even if it was a closed wiki that only the students could use.  The added advantage would be that students could keep adding to the information and writing pieces gathered, even after they were no longer students if they wished, and they could also access the wiki at home.  Wikis would also have the advantage of being hyperlinked, so if students wanted to link to an online editorial they found interesting for further reading, they could easily do so.  Kittle has mentioned the multi-genre research paper, but so far only in passing.  I hope we get a good picture of what it looks like because based on what I’ve read, it also looks like a prime candidate for a wiki.

I’m guessing I should be getting my Teacher’s Daybook any time now.  I need to start planning, and I mean really planning.

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Learners4Life

Lisa Huff has created a wiki called Learners4Life where those of us interested in exploring Write Beside Them (which I mentioned in my last post) can gather, discuss, question, journal, interact, respond, and all the other million things you can do with a wiki. In order to join up, all you have to do is

  1. Pick up a copy of the book. My order is being shipped Monday, according to Amazon, but your mileage may vary.
  2. Join us over the wiki, and follow Lisa’s directions there.

That’s it! I like love it that Lisa set it up so that we can use the wiki to discuss future books.

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Thinking Out Loud

At my school, I am often sought out for technology ideas. For instance, my school is really good about publicizing the things I do with blogs and wikis. When The Atlanta Jewish Times called the school looking to speak with educators about their use of technology, my colleagues made sure the reporter, Suzi Brozman, talked to me. They are really supportive of what I do with technology, and they seem really interested in the applications available. My colleagues, in short, see me as a leader in integrating technology into the classroom. But I’m not nearly doing enough. So much more could be done! A cursory glance at the things Lisa Huff (no relation — I don’t think!) is doing with her students was enough to tell me that. I was quite humbled by what I saw — saving and sharing her posts in Google Reader left and right. Here is what I want to do next year:

  • More wikis. Some ideas: wikis for portfolios, wikis for collaborative learning, wikis for teaching.
  • Blogging. I would like my students to have individual blogs for reflective writing. I think having a student blog where I publish their work is not really accomplishing all that I want to accomplish.
  • Podcasting. You really should hear my students talk. I tried to talk them into letting me record their Socratic seminar on the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, but they knew I’d post it here, and they weren’t ready for that. It’s a shame because it was a great discussion. They debated the issue for well over an hour! I like what Lisa Huff is doing with VoiceThread, a tool I was introduced to at a conference in November and still haven’t experimented with.

I find myself feeling so excited about these potential ideas that I want to sit down and plan it all out, which is crazy because I’m not really sure what I’ll be teaching yet (for one thing), and I still have seven weeks this year. I know what you’re thinking. Go ahead and try some things. Better late than never, right? Well, I just might. My ninth graders will be studying poetry and short stories soon (May), and I see some potential there. I think the student blogs will need to wait for next year, but perhaps I can do a poetry project using wikis and VoiceThread and/or SlideShare.

It didn’t occur to me until I saw Lisa discussing it in her blog that the fact that students could display their finished work through these types of online portfolios might be the “something extra” that makes them attractive to colleges and employers — a pretty persuasive argument for, as we say down here, getting off the stick and making it happen.

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Death of a Salesman

I have been struggling with writing a UbD plan for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I think have have one sketched out, though I still need to create guiding questions for various pieces of the unit, including YouTube videos and a selection from Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat.

In looking at the plot and themes of the play, and perhaps because it is so much in my thoughts lately because of my professional development courses, I made a connection between the play and the modernization/globalization or flattening of the world that our students will need to contend with in their work lives. One chapter of The World is Flat in particular came to mind — “The Untouchables” — as I began thinking about connections. I opened my book only to see Friedman himself referred to Willy Loman in that chapter. It must have been there in my subconscious because I had recently read it, but I was grateful to have my connection thus solidified.

I struggled to come up with a performance task that is relevant and addresses my essential questions, but would also be engaging. I think I have one. I am fairly happy with the unit as it stands because I think it is a unit that connects a past Miller was familiar with to a present and future he probably could not have imagined, and I think it will have interest and relevance for my students. You can check out the unit at the UbD Educators wiki.

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