ITMA Project Update

NECC 2009 Wednesday Day 4  - 07I am making some good progress on my ITMA project. You can read my project proposal here. I finished my instructional analysis, which was a lot of work, but valuable for planning.

I have just begun creating the actual project. I have been having a lot of fun with the project. So far, I have completed six pages on the wiki that will house my project. For the first module, I have teachers exploring what kind of website they want to create. I had a lot of fun finding models of wikis. Some teachers are doing some great things with wikis. Here is my model wikis page.

I’m possibly looking for something else to use for the personality quiz on types of websites. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the one I used will do what I need (it seems to limit the number of quiz takers, forcing me to reset the numbers). If you know of a good personality quiz maker that I can embed in a wiki, please share.

A while back I promised more regular posting. I am going to commit to three days a week for the summer, starting this week. Here’s the schedule:

  • Mondays: Reflections on professional reading, professional development and grad school.
  • Wednesdays: Sharing lessons, tools, or ideas.
  • Fridays: Wild card. Whatever I feel like posting goes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krossbow

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Project and Report Proposal

working on my MacBookProThis summer I am taking a course called Project and Report as part of my instructional technology program. The goal of the course is to select a topic of interest and spend approximately 150 hours developing a project. My proposal was approved, and my adviser seem enthusiastic about it. Here is my proposal.

Project Description

I would like to create professional development program for my colleagues at the Weber School in Atlanta that will help them learn how to create and implement Web sites (including wikis) and podcasts in their classrooms. This professional development program will consist of a series of modules that my colleagues will be able to work through at their own pace. After they complete the modules, my colleagues will have created a Web site and podcast as well as a unit or lesson plan implementing the Web site and creation of a podcast in the classroom. I would also like to submit a proposal to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission in order to pursue accreditation for the course as a means for educators in the state of Georgia to earn professional learning units.

Objectives

  • Given access to a variety of Web site creation tools, professional educators will be able to construct a Web site for managing materials, communicating with students and parents, and sharing resources.
  • Given Audacity or Garage Band, a computer, and a microphone, professional educators will be able to construct a podcast.
  • Given access to a variety of Web site creation tools, professional educators will be able to execute a unit or lesson teaching their students how to use and construct a Web site.
  • Given access to Audacity or Garage Band, computers, and microphones, professional educators will be able to execute a lesson or unit teaching students how to construct a podcast.

Materials and Methods

I will create a wiki that will house the modules. On the wiki, I will create lessons in the modules that will be delivered through the following means:

  • Written tutorials on wiki pages.
  • Screencast tutorials (video).
  • Podcast tutorials (audio).

Learners will need the following tools in order to complete their tasks:

  • Computers.
  • Microphones.
  • Audacity or Garage Band audio editors.

I will need the following tools in order to create deliverables:

  • Snapz Pro X Screencasting Program.
  • A wiki site.
  • Garage Band.
  • Microphone.
  • iMovie video editor.

I will begin by creating a wiki that can be accessed by students (professional educators) can access at their convenience so that they can complete the course asynchronously. The wiki will include pages with written, video, and audio tutorials on creating Web sites and podcasts. For the purposes of this course, I do not plan to teach students HTML but instead guide them toward creating Web sites with WYSIWYG editors. Once teachers feel comfortable using the selected Web editors and programs, they will create and submit a lesson or unit plan implementing what they have learned in their classrooms (for example, a history teacher might create a lesson plan in which they will teach students how to create a podcast discussing a historical event).

Justification for Project

I met with my Instructional Technology department and other faculty members in order to determine what instructional technology needs they had that could be addressed through my project. They unanimously expressed their desire to learn how to create Web sites and podcasts for their students. They also wanted to be able to use these tools in their own classrooms, constructing lesson or unit plans in which they would teach students to construct their own Web sites and podcasts in order to demonstrate their learning.

In our most recent SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) evaluation, one recommendation that the SACS accreditation committee had was that we implement technology more effectively across the board. While our school offers several computer labs and appropriate equipment that would enable teachers not only to create their own Web sites and podcasts but also for our students to do the same; however, because we have not had professional development in creating Web sites and podcasts, many teachers feel uncomfortable with or uneducated about the process of constructing Web sites and podcasts. They have admired some of my efforts in use of Web sites and podcasts both as resources for students and as tools for students to demonstrate their learning.

Criteria for Evaluation

The criteria for evaluation will be successful completion of modules designed to teach various steps involved in the construction of Web sites and podcasts. Teachers will also develop a lesson plan or unit plan implementing Web site or podcast creation as a means for their own students to demonstrate their learning. Upon completion of the course, teachers will evaluate the course using a rating scale evaluation that rates the course based on the following criteria: clarity of instructions/tutorials; organization and ease of use; and relevance of the content of the course.

Creative Commons License photo credit: icatus

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My Next Book: Readicide

Thank you to all of you who voted in the poll. It was a close one, but in the end Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide inched past Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them by a single vote. The final tally was as follows:

  1. Readicide, Kelly Gallagher—8 votes
  2. Write Beside Them, Penny Kittle—7 votes
  3. Blending Genre, Altering Style, Tom Romano—5 votes
  4. The First Days of School, Harry Wong—3 votes
  5. Genre Theory, Deborah Dean—1 vote

Because the voting was so close, I’ll probably read/revisit the books in the order of voters’ preference. I am going on vacation next week, so I’m not sure if I’ll do Readicide before or after, but it won’t happen at all from July 6-10.

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Designing Writing Assignments: More Writing Assignment Resources

Book Cover of Designing Writing AssignmentsI should begin this post by saying I have not heard from NCTE regarding my complaint that since they have changed their website, they have dropped Traci Gardner’s companion page for this book somewhere. Also, the page for this book still incorrectly links to a page that doesn’t exist. I find this extremely frustrating as I feel that Traci Gardner took some time to gather helpful resources together to accompany her book, and NCTE seemingly is not concerned that they remain available. Gardner begins the final chapter of Designing Writing Assignments with a pointer toward this resource that is no longer accessible. I have sent Traci Gardner a message on Twitter. Perhaps NCTE will be concerned about the issue if the writer says something to them. I’ll update with any responses I receive from Gardner or from NCTE.

The remainder of the chapter outlines several writing prompts that you can adapt for use in your own classroom. The writing prompts are grouped according to type of writing: narrative, informative, analysis, persuasion and literary analysis. I have to say the book is almost worth the purchase and read for this chapter alone. Gardner has some excellent writing prompts. Considering how difficult it can be to come up with writing tasks and performance tasks, I would imagine this chapter reflects a lot of time and hard work on Gardner’s part.

My final assessment of this book is that it is a good addition to any writing instructor’s arsenal, but I think especially middle and high school teachers should read it. In fact, I don’t think just English teachers could benefit. Any teacher who uses writing in his/her curriculum would do well to read it. It’s a very quick read, chock full of practical advice and tips for teaching writing. Highly recommended.

What should I read next? Don’ forget to vote in the poll.

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Professional Reading Survey

OK, just for fun, I thought I’d conduct a quick survey. I will finish Traci Gardner’s wonderful Designing Writing Assignments later today. Which of the following books do you think I should read (and reflect on here) next? Vote in the poll. You can only vote for one choice. Voting will close at midnight on July 2!

Which professional development book should I read next?

  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher (33%)
  • Revisit and finish Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle (29%)
  • You need to finish Blending Genre, Altering Style by Tom Romano (21%)
  • Revisit The First Days of School by Harry Wong (13%)
  • Genre Theory by Deborah Dean (4%)
  • I think you should read something else (suggest in the comments) (0%)

Total Votes: 24

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New Teacher Assistance

My friend and colleague Lauren, who returned to teaching this year after working with administration at my school, has started a blog called New Teacher Assistance.  Lauren’s self-proclaimed audience is new teachers, but we can all learn from her insights.

Welcome to the edublogosphere, Lauren, and watch out — I might recruit you to help me with my GISA presentation on using blogs and wikis for professional development!

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Write Beside Them: This I Believe

The main message I took away from the second chapter of Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them is that writing teachers will not be effective unless they are also writers.  She says, “We don’t learn many things well just by following directions” (7-8).  However, it was this remark that struck a chord with me: “[T]he instruction has to come during the process of creating a piece, not in polishing the product, or nothing changes.  That’s a crucial error I was making for years” (8).  I think perhaps focusing on the product and not the process of creation may be why students flip to the last page to look at their grade.

Kittle compares learning to write to teaching her son to drive.  Parents wouldn’t send their sons and daughters out on road without being in the car with them, modeling first by “talking [them] through [our] decisions” (7).  The important thing to do is model writing: “If we don’t model smart thinking in writing, our students will write like kids who’ve read the driver’s manual but still hit the curve too fast and just about send us to the hospital” (8).

It’s interesting — I recall modeling writing poetry for my students years ago.  I slapped a poem in progress on the overhead and walked through developing it.  I remembered that it worked really well, too, and it’s a wonder I didn’t try other types of writing, too.

What Kittle learned are three important truths about teaching writing:

  1. Teachers needn’t be writers — “just someone trying to write” (9).  The process of modeling and thinking through a piece was the important part.  I would argue that Kittle was mistaken in not thinking of herself as a writer.  Our students don’t, either, and that’s why they think they’re no good at it.  One of the questions I often ask on a writing inventory I give my students is “Are you a writer?”  Almost none of them think of themselves as writers.  We make these arbitrary definitions of words like “writer”: writers are published and other people (important people who should know) consider them to be good.  Writers are people who use writing to communicate.  Period.  We can all consider ourselves writers.
  2. The books we read are great models of the product of writing, but it is the teacher’s job to model the process of writing.  We don’t see the effort that went into selecting the words and stringing them together.  We don’t see the painstaking process of editing.  All we see is a great piece of polished writing.  No wonder it looks daunting.
  3. We can learn how to teach writing by doing the writing ourselves.  Think how much easier it will be to plan for writing assignment instruction if we’ve already struggled through the assignment ourselves.

A few years back in order to better teach my students how to write a research paper, I wrote one myself.  It was probably the most effective thing I had ever done in terms of teaching the process; however, it might have been even more effective if the students could have seen me do it.  If they had seen me locating resources, taking notes, putting my notes in effective order, and outlining my ideas, it might have been even easier for them to figure out how to do it.  Well, there is always next year, and with my next class, I will write research paper beside them.

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Write Beside Them: It’s a Wonderful Life

I began Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, and even though I am posting at the Learners4Life wiki, I wanted to keep my own reading journal here.  In this chapter, I felt Kittle outlined some of her core beliefs:

  • Standardized testing does not rule how she teaches writing in her classroom.
  • The single greatest influence on a child’s learning is the effectiveness of a teacher.
  • We don’t tap into our students’ passions; therefore, they don’t care about what they write.
  • Students try to figure out what we want and deliver it — they believe there is a correct way to write.

In some ways I am fortunate that my school does not used standardized testing to dictate curriculum.  It is important for our students to do well on the SAT and AP tests, but we do not have to contend with testing requirements of NCLB as a private school.  I am, however, glad to see that Kittle, who does have to contend with standardized testing, doesn’t let tests determine all of her instructional decisions.  I would argue, however, that if a good teacher makes sound instructional decisions that truly teach her students what they need to know to be critical readers and effective writers, then the standardized test scores will follow.  I think perhaps Kittle included these thoughts to appeal to teachers who might be afraid to try her methods and are used to teaching to whatever test they have to worry about.

Kittle echoes research I have read elsewhere regarding the influence of a teacher in a student’s learning.  It is both empowering and daunting to know that teachers can have such an impact.  Teachers have a lot of responsibility, and I think sometimes we feel helpless in the face of all the problems our students have, testing, and other constraints.

Why aren’t students motivated?  Why won’t they revise?  How come after all the time I put into commenting on that paper, he just turns to the last page to find the grade?

If you ask them, they’ll tell you.  We aren’t tapping into their passions. (3)

I could have written the first three sentences.  In fact, I have often lamented about the fact that students don’t read my copious comments and focus on the grades.  My students are motivated, all right, but too often it’s a grade that motivated them instead of a desire to be a good writer or to learn.  In fact, one of the reasons I was attracted to this book is that I hoped I might be able to learn how to tap into my students’ passions so that grades will no longer be the motivator.

Kittle quotes the literacy biography of one of her former students — a man who entered university to major in writing:

My childhood love of books fizzled when I entered junior high — all of a sudden I was in an environment where I had hours and hours of required reading, so much homework about boring subjects that I had no time to read what I wanted to read.  With this went the writing — we never had “freewrite” time anymore, I always had to write what the teacher wanted, the “right” thing, what needed to be done for the grade.  Creativity was gone. (4)

His comments could have been written by any number of high school students who once loved school and enjoyed what they were learning only to discover at a certain point that they had to basically play a game — figure out what the teacher wants so she’ll give me an A.

I don’t want my students to feel that way.  I want them to enjoy writing, but also learn how to do it well at the same time.

I have created pages for each chapter and student focus in Kittle’s book over at the Learners4Life wiki.  It’s not too late to join us.  If you want to go ahead and start reading, like I did, feel free.  I have posted a tentative reading schedule that allows for members to obtain copies of Kittle’s book and still finish before school begins again.

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Write Beside Them: Summer PD Update

Write Beside ThemAs you may recall, I am reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them as part of a professional development project along with several other teachers this summer.  I am very excited about this project.  Using my experience with the UbD Educators’ wiki coupled with this upcoming experience, I plan to present a session at the next GISA convention in November on using blogs and wikis for professional development.  It is not too late to join us in reading Write Beside Them.  Just come on over to the wiki and follow the instructions Lisa Huff provided.

I encouraged visitors to order their copies of Write Beside Them from Amazon because the book qualifies for free shipping, which would save buyers about $8.  However, after two weeks with no word on when the book would ship or even when Amazon would consider a book that was released on May 1 as “released” (the button still says “preorder”), I decided that if I wanted to be sure of receiving my book before the reading begins, I had better cancel my order with Amazon and order the book directly from Heinemann, which is what I did just yesterday.  I will let you all know when I receive the book so you can decide whether you need to do the same thing (links to Heinemann’s product information for the book are provided above).  Amazon is generally really good about orders, and I don’t really think this problem is their fault.  I suspect it might be Heinemann’s.  I can’t recall the particulars, but I seem to remember having trouble ordering new Heinemann titles from Amazon before.  I don’t know what the reason for the delay is, so I won’t speculate.

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Teachers Can Be the Worst Students

I am currently taking two online professional development courses through a local school system. Both are book studies, and if you look in the sidebar, you can guess which two books. The interesting thing to me is that one group is active, dynamic, and interested in conversation about the book we are reading. Participants are posting resources. Participants are actually reading each other’s posts and providing feedback that instigates discussion. Interestingly enough, a large number of the participants are not currently teaching, but they are taking the course to keep their certificates current.

The other group does the bare minimum required. Many of the response posts are bland recapitulations of the poster’s points with a somewhat encouraging “I agree” stamped on. We’re reading a really interesting book, and the discussions are just mind-numbing. I think the majority of this group is in the classroom, too.

I really hope these teachers are not accepting the kind of work they are producing from their own students.  On the other hand, part of me wants to say that if you aren’t willing to be a good student, it doesn’t make much sense to be a teacher.  I think the best teachers genuinely like to learn.  I know, I know.  A lot of professional development is stupid.  But these two online courses really aren’t!  That’s just my opinion, I guess, and clearly the majority of the other participants don’t agree.

I find the dichotomy really interesting.

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