Monthly Archives: March 2004

Dana inspires ESL students to blog!

Dana was one of the members in our online session for ESL/EFL online class.  She replies to another member, Blinger,  on our YahooGroup who had asked that Dana talk some more about her experiences using blogs in her ESL class. Her post, Educational Blogging, is an excellent read.

Quotes from Dana:

Blogs are an excellent way to introduce the concept of writing for an audience. The teacher can spend a lot of time talking about the fact that because their blogs are on the internet, the students need to consider the following things:

1) What topics are appropriate to write about? Anyone can see their blogs; classmates, teachers (their own and others in the program), friends and family from home, random strangers. They should spend some time thinking about what kinds of things they feel comfortable writing about.

2) What topics are going to be interesting? This can get them to think about presentation. They need to think about their prospective audience and how they wish to present themselves to these people out there.

3) What kinds of details should be included? This is a good time to emphasize that writing is different than carrying on a conversation. Students need to think about what kind of background information their audience shares with them, and what information needs to be explained. This is especially important to think about when contrasting ESL and EFL teaching contexts.

Dana continues with this point:

Many ESL students seem to become overly concerned with making sure their grammar is perfect, rather than pursuing overall fluency. I told my students that I would not correct their grammar on their blogs; instead, they can see it as a easily viewed personal record of their language progress from the start of their current course onward. I have tried to make them more aware of how much actually trying to think in English can help the fluency of their writing, whereas stopping too often to make sure the grammar is correct or to look up many new words makes their writing choppy and hard to follow.

She also encourages them to continue with their blogs after class time.  She will keep in touch with them.

I just hit a few highlights on her blog. Dana makes some excellent observations plus she really gets the nature of blogging and there are links to her student blogs on her site. You need to read her blog.  I plan to follow her weblog journey. She is doing great work with the students!


Let’s change our focus

Will points to Brook’s essay “Stressed for Success?”.  Will says “that Brooks is not kind to public education and accuses the system of “trying to whittle you down into a bland, complaisant achievement machine.” I think that unfortunately, there’s some truth there.” Will closes with this question, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could create an environment that nurtured that exploration in kids instead of deadened them with conformity?”

I say yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately, our curriculum in schools just does not allow this. We are on such a lock-step method of teaching objectives that we never seem to have time to stop, reflect, and discuss what we are learning. I call it a skill-a-day, or should I say, skill-an-hour classroom and I hate it. No wonder creativity is going out the window along with writing in our classrooms. I think a love of learning has to be nutured, fostered, and developed throughout their school days – PreK to High School and ever after. 

I have a four year old grandson and he is bringing worksheets home. Aaaarrrgh! This is a kid who has a cool imagination and a body that needs to romp around exploring everything he can find. Paper and pencil should be thrown out the window at this age! We have after-school programs that again go over the same skills they had all day. We have kids who are not getting the skills and we never think about teaching less skills and providing time to apply some of those skills to discussions where they can make connections to what they have learned, develop passions and then have time to explore, and see the value and joy of learning.

I wish we could get away from our test-driven craze and realize that if we really want to put the joy of learning back in our classrooms we need to focus on models that emphasize good thinking and skilled teaching. We need time for dialogue and reflection. Small classes, multiple forms of assessment, and valuing the educator and the student with a whole lot more than lip-service wouldn’t hurt either. 


Blog to learn

Vitia’s post, The Blogging Panel, comments on some of the sessions that he found really engaging. These sessions were given at the 4C’s Conference in San Antonio. A quote from Mike:

All were engaging, and all were radically different in style and content, and all throo of them did a fine job of usefully pushing the boundaries of the way writing teachers talk and think about the practices associated with weblogging.

I spent some time looking through Terra’s presentation. She breaks it down into the following:

  • The Community Weblog

  • Student Writing on the Community Weblog

  • Individual Weblog Writing

  • Linking and Individual Weblogs

  • On Audience

  • Other Weblog Teaching Experiences

  • Weblogs as Information Storage and Retrieval

  • In Conclusion

  • Works Cited

  • 2004 CCCC’s abstract.

I like the way she has incorporated her community weblog with the student weblogs. She makes very astute observations about how the students write differently for each. She notes that when she looks back on her classes before weblogs, her students would never have written journal/diary-like posting and turned them in to her. She goes on to say that they wouldn’t have written them on paper or even have posted them to a Blackboard discussion. She credits this to the sense of ownership weblogs give to her students. Terra sums it up like this:

This is my site and I can write about what I want, students might think.

The audience aspect is discussed in this interesting paragraph in her conclusion:

Similarly, because of the way reading responses are organized…posting initial blogs, then returning to the site to post comments, and then returning again to post more comments, often posting new initial blogs and working on larger writing projects simultaneously on both the community weblog and their individual weblogs, using both environments gives students practice at working on several writing projects of various sizes and importance (grade-wise and investment-wise) simultaneously…a skill that will be beneficial in their academic careers and potentially once they finish with academe and enter the “real” world.

Everytime I follow a link from a fellow weblogger and end up getting to attend a conference throught the eyes of another through posts and links, I still marvel at what a great way this is to learn! I love it! Nothing like it! And I can save it in Bloglines and come back another day to learn even more.

Plus, I only got through one of the presentations. More to look forward to!  Thanks, Mike! Thanks Terra!


Comments? Kaput!

Sometimes Manila drives me crazy! I have had a couple of my kids just lose the comments feature.  I really prefer that mode to the discuss mode. It just happens randomly.  Looks like Frontier knows about it but there’s not a fix yet.  Have any of you had similar problems with comments?

I’m Back!

I’m back in the world of weblogs! Our weblogs have been down since last Friday! Tim, my co-worker, has had to spend several days on the update to the OS x Server 10.2.8 and a new installation of Manila 9.0 (formerly known as Frontier.) He had to resolve a port forwarding issue that prompter the overdue upgrades. Accolades are due to Sam DeVore who always comes through and helps us through our Manila challenges. Boy, do we appreciate him! Weblog withdrawal was hanging heavy on me. It amazes me how out of touch you feel when you can’t get to your blog. Hmmmm, what does that say?  Anyway, I’m glad to be back!

Let’s shape it!

Pete, one of the members of the ESL/EFL weblog session, decided to install a weblog on his own website rather than use a hosting service. He said it was less scary to set up than he anticipated. He did a good job. One of these days I’m going to do that!

Comments: Some thoughts about weblogs in ELT is a post he made right around the time our session was ending. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I am so glad he posted this because I think it hits on many of the concerns that educators have. It also shows us how some are viewing weblogs. It seems to get to a comparison, either-or, type of check-list. I wonder why the discussion can’t center around the possibilities!

He wonders about how well learner writing can be served by this kind of random audience. He talks about the audience for weblogs being essentially unknown.

I don’t think you can rely on the random audience although it can be quite wonderful from time to time. I think we, as educators, need to set up that audience, be it within our own classroom, another group (such as retired citizens, other teachers, friends, other classes, etc.). It won’t just occur. The point is you have the means to expand that audience for your students in many ways. We’ve not had that before. Generally, the audience is the teacher and/or other peers in the class.

Pete also felt that the power relationship implicit in a weblog might be unhelpful. He noted that weblogs are owned – they ‘belong’ to an individual or group. He goes on to say that an e-mail list is basically a community of equals.

Here again, I think that an educator working with a group can oversee and make sure that everyone feels ownership. With my students’ blogs, I run a parallel blog that discusses what we are doing, but I make sure they know what I am writing. I also include their thoughts and ideas in my blog and build my community by recognizing them in many ways. That said, I do think that, as educators, we have a responsibility to oversee what is going on with the students and empower them while at the same time guiding them in the learning process. That’s our role. To do less would be misuse of the responsibility we have as educators. I guess I just do not see it as a power relationship implicit in a weblog, as relates to working with students. I see email lists and weblogs as different ways of learning and see no need to compare the two. They offer different ways to do different things.

Next, he addresses student journal writing, and the privacy issue.

I agree. I can see using journal writing as a way to reflect on what they are learning, but I would not be interested in using weblogs for students to use as journals to write about anything they wanted. If you as the teacher are overseeing what they are reflecting about it can be a way to get them to make connections, share learnings, and ask questions concerning the curriculum you are teaching. I think this is good. While I do see that personal journal writing can be good for some, I do worry about what some write and what effect that might have on them in many areas down the road. I think private journal writing about certain subjects is best kept private. I also think we could never sell this type of weblogging to our administrative educators and I have no interest in going down that road.

Pete also thinks that there is often an assumption that publishing student writing is a good thing, and he feels a little uncomfortable with this. . He goes further to say that it is often suggested that providing writers with an audience leads to increased motivation. He suggests that perhaps students could do this more successfully through an organised e-mail exchange. Plus, he’s not sure he actually wants his learners to be spending time reading other people’s weblogs as they might be better served reading novels, articles, etc.

I do think that publishing student writing is a good thing. When my students published and knew that an audience of high school journalism students would be reading their work I found that they were very motivated and excited. At first, they were scared that their work would not be good enough. There was hesitancy on their part. This gave me the opportunity as their teacher to explain the value of opening yourself to help from others, taking a risk to improve, and trying your best. Boy, did they try, and it’s like having many other voices that are cheering and helping your students along as they endeavor to become better writers. So blogging is hard work, both on the student and the teacher. Both have roles, but weblogging helps you become a team working toward a goal. That said, it doesn’t just happen. Just like good teaching in any other setting doesn’t just happen. The teacher guides the ship. Weblogs spell possibilities for me, and I wish we would all focus on that. Just imagine ™ã it boggles (or should I say ‘bloggles’ the mind?)

I think there is one other piece to weblogs that just doesn’t get discussed much and that is the dialogue that happens between the teacher and the class. This is crucial to the learning process. We can learn so much from the students, and it’s not us telling them what to do, but learning together and then tweaking the process to meet our educational goals.

His closing remark wasSo what exactly do weblogs allow us to do that we couldn’t do before? And what do they allow us to do more effectively?”

I say, go forward and explore possibilities and we all can answer that. I’m just at the beginning of the process, but I know for sure that it’s a tool that gets many voices heard by many. Let’s shape it

Class Reflections

I received this comment in response to a post Class Reflections that I had made on my Thinking & Writing Wrinkles weblog.

“As I was browsing through various blog sights, I stopped for a moment to read your class reflections. I saw several things as I read between the lines that you had written. First, you really enjoy the material you are teaching as well as the students. Secondly, you do not see this as a job but a calling. I do hope the students understand how fortunate they are to have someone like you in their corner. Someone to cheer them on, to guide them and provide them with the information they need to make decisions. I especially liked the way you encouraged them to write with words that would allow the reader to paint a picture in their mind. We must not let students forget that they do have an imagination that is only limited by their willingness to open their minds.”

Good Job! Bob Caine

Bob Caine  3/15/04; 8:18:42 PM

I have no idea who Bob Caine is. I do appreciate his commenting. Of course, it is very nice and sure made me feel good but I decided to post it here because he picked up on three important things that weblogs allow us to do with students.

Someone to cheer them on, to guide them and provide them with the information they need to make decisions.

Now while we can do this, and we indeed do, do this on a daily basis in our classrooms, weblogs provide us a way to show this in a public arena! It’s a way to let the public know what is going on in our classrooms in a real and meaningful way. I hope more webloggers will start including students in their weblog journeys. Yep, my favorite walk is the Weblog Walk with the Students

 That’s where the real learning, for me and my students, is happening! Yep, the power and the possibilities of weblogs!


Thoughts about RSS

This post, Why I Don’t Use RSS  hit on something that I have been thinking about for a while. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bloglines and find it so helpful to do a quick check daily to see who has posted. I also like being able to organize in the manner that works for me. However, sometimes I have felt like I just keep on adding links and the task of sifting through them is taking some of the joy out of actually visiting a site.  What I have done is continue visiting about 10 weblogs that are “must-reads” for me.  Bloglines helps in that I can just click on the site link and go there.  What I used to do though is spend more time browsing back through weblogs and that is where I would get a chance to rethink different posts. I miss that and plan to get back to more of that.

This writer also stated that he liked other people’s list of links and I agree.  It’s fun to discover new sites of interest and you’re pretty sure you’ll like them cause you relate to the weblogger who is listing them.

Also, he pointed out how he liked announcing his visits in referrer logs.  He called it his “internet calling card.”

I thought it was a great read, especially his concluding paragraph:

There are lots of other reasons I don’t use RSS, but underlying almost all of them is my resistance to putting in yet another layer of abstraction and technology-based information management between me and content. I still think that the value of the internet is not that it allows people to post technological standards and pass information more quickly, but that it connects people who create content with people who want to see content. I like the fact that I am inspired by the beauty of other people™≠s work, and I hope that in some small way I can provide that same inspiration to someone, somewhere. The value-add of the internet, in my opinion, is that it makes such inspirational connections more likely. And I just don™≠t get that same feeling from a technology that makes the beautiful content of creative people look like another form of email. If it works for other people, that’s truly great. But it just doesn’t work for me.

Now, I’m not giving up Bloglines but I think I can figure out a way to have the best of both worlds. It keeps coming back to information overload and how to set priorities.  It’s an area we need to think some more about, especially as relates to our students!

GSU instructor will be teaching weblogs!

This Monday morning started out kind of slow. It’s an overcast day and I arrived at work with lots of things on my plate that I needed to complete.  You know the kind of tasks you put off until you just have to do them.  So I’ve been plodding away, wishing I could be working on my weblog group or something else as interesting when one of the GSU instructors popped in.

Nancy Schafer, one of the educational instructors from the Early Education department, came by to confirm the schedule for a class on WebQuests that I will be teaching to her students. Today I introduce the concept of WebQuests, give good examples, and set the stage for good classroom applications.  Then I follow up in a couple of weeks to assist the students as they create their webquests.  Now she has a large class of 40 so they are being split up for the following two sessions. 

Here’s the great part!  She has decided that she will teach weblogs to the other half of her class while I am teaching the WebQuest part.  This all came about after I spent a little over an hour one evening  a few weeks ago with Nancy teaching her how to use tBlog.  It just happens to be one of the free weblogs software programs that we had introduced in our ESL/EFL weblog session.  It is the program I used when I created Idioms Are Fun

Those of you who teach weblogs know how hard it is to get people going on it, let alone decide to teach it! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. It will be interesting to see how these students do with tBlog as compared to Manila.  I know Manila offers a lot more but maybe quick and easy is the way to start.

Anyway, my mood has definitely improved.  In fact, I have to not range out of control but a blue Monday has quickly turned into a red-letter day!