Thursday, December 10, 2009

Information Consumption

What would your pie chart look like?
I asked my students who are overwhelmingly computer based, with high use of phone, and variable amounts of TV.
I use the TV very infrequently, but question what these categories actually mean. I no longer subscribe to cable so I get no TV at my house, but use my computer to access, netflix, and youtube for TV shows. Does that count for computer?
Also, what about reading print material on the computer, as opposed to reading non-print blogs and other social media sites? I think it's time to get more specific on the computer category.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Future Trends

I just stumbled across this from my Diigo education Group. It's a "Map of Future Forces Affecting Education" made by Knowledge Works. Have you seen this map or know anything about the company. We're getting ready for exams next week, so I won't be able to look into this too closely, but it's something that I want to come back to soon. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the business world

I just skimmed some new posts in my aggregator and was surprised to see that a prime topic of discussion these days is how businesses are using social media and online tools to improve their business model (and ultimately their profitability). The cutting edge of education is actively using and exploring available online tools to 1) enhance learning and 2) better prepare students for work in the 21st Century. We may not know what exactly that work will look like, but we do know that it will involve harnassing information available on the Internet. With the rapid growth of the Internet industry, it's also safe to say that learning to be flexible and adaptable to new technologies is also a key component of future jobs. What else do you predict we are preparing our students for by using technology in the classroom today?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting Students Involved

To enliven a presentation on the history of the English language and how Old English was formed for my British Literature class, I got all student involved. As they entered the classroom, I gave each student a card with a role: Saxon, Celt, Roman, Christian monk, etc. I told students that I was playing the role of the scop, the Anglo Saxon storyteller, and they would be various characters in my production. I began the story of the "Birth of the Little Baby English Language" and throughout various students entered the "stage" and participated as everyone listened and waited for their part.

When my story was finished, I asked everyone to open a new blog post on their class blogs and record the same story for themselves. In this way they too became the scop. Here are some of their posts:
Their stories aren't elegant, but the facts are there and they are all pretty consistent. Getting students involved as active participants in their learning instead of passive listeners makes learning more fun and ultimately more meaningful.

Stepping Out of the Way

One of the best conferences that I went to last year was not a technology conference. The speaker spent the day reviewing recent brain research and how it applies to teaching and learning. This school year I have been consciously applying some of the lessons learned with great results in my classroom.

Friday was Spirit Day, the culmination of a week of dressing up, competing for class spirit points, and general chaos. Class periods were shortened for the end of the day parade and pep rally. Here is a picture of my class that day:All students were actively engaged in a task that involved reviewing dates in American history. It certainly wasn't the task that was so engaging, but how it was framed and presented. After a quick review of our last unit, Puritanism, I told the class that the rest of the period would be spent in a class challenge. My next class period would do the same task and the groups would be timed. Their task was to match dates to important events in American history, but I also told them that it was not important to know the date but instead to understand the overall chronology. I then gave a stack of dates to one half of the class and a stack of events to the other half. No one moved at first so I asked if anyone had a strategy for tackling this task. Students jumped up and started posting the dates in chronological order on the board while other students sifted through the events.

Whenever the students reached a stumbling block I threw out a question, not about the task but about how they could solve the problems they encountered. At one point everyone was standing around the table looking at the cards. I said "are these all of the resources that you have available?" and looked pointedly at each of them. Someone tentatively suggested that they could use their history books. I said "why not!" Then they pulled out the computers too. When the same thing happened in the second class, I showed one student this picture of the first class as a hint. "We can use our books and laptops," he announced to the rest of the class, and they opened notes from a Power Point used in their history class. This was a curious point for me, why did they wait until I gave them "permission" to use their outside resources?

In the end, it was a tie between the two classes, which was also interesting because one of the classes has twice as many students. Instead of having everyone copy down the dates, I'll send them digital pictures of the board.It's not the task, but how you frame it that helps create a productive learning environment. Students now have a sense of how different the time period was between the Puritans and the Revolutionary writers, like Thomas Paine. They are now prepared to tackle their reading, "The Crisis, No. 1," with a general understanding of who he was, what he was writing about and why, and how all of this makes him so different from his Puritan predecessors.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Authentic Writing

Throughout their study of American literature, my students are asked to examine who they are as Americans. We are beginning the year with a study of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a contemporary novel that does not challenge students in decoding language, but rather in uncovering meaning for themselves. I hope that my students are coming to an understanding that they bring meaning to a text from their own experiences and prior knowledge. The questions that they bring to the text are just as worthy of consideration as any question that I could propose as their teacher. I like the idea that we are studying a novel that I have not taught before and that others have not taught and prepared lesson plans posted online. We have a situation where there is no "expert" on this text in the classroom or online.

Of course, I am the expert reader, modeling questioning and how to discover valid hypotheses about the text, the author's intentions, and the universal meanings presented by the story. In their discussions, my students are beginning to make some great connections between their own lives and the circumstances of this novel. A question that I would like them to continue to explore is: What can this novel say to me in my life now?

Now it's time for some assessment. How can I test their understanding of this process of self discovery that I hope is building a foundation that we will continue to develop throughout the year? In terms of examining the novel, reflecting, sharing their ideas, and developing understandings about McCarthy's impact as a writer, my students are working on a class wiki. They use individual pages to post initial thinking about the novel, group pages to post their group discussion notes, and a class page when we have whole class discussions of the novel. I will use these pages to construct a final unit test including sections of quotation explanation, vocabulary enrichment, and McCarthy's writing techniques. These sections will be individualized to each group using ideas and points that they found to be most relevant in their discussions. (I'm not exactly looking forward to making six tests though!) But, I think that makes them more authentic, especially in light of the unit goal that students understand the validity of their own examination of texts, not teacher or expert driven. I hope that the test does not ask them to "regurgitate" any material that I alone value, but rather to synthesize ideas examined throughout the unit in their own reading of the text and in their small group discussions.

A writing task: my English department has a consistent approach to writing and as a school we produce strong writers. I would be remiss in serving this goal of my department if I didn't include a writing assignment in this unit of study. In continuing the concept of self discovery and the idea that we all "bring something to the table," my students are going to make short presentations about who they are. After these oral presentations I want them to synthesize all of the ideas presented by their classmates and write a paper about "who we all are as Americans." At this point, my writing assignment is as vague as that. They could write an essay focusing on certain qualities shared by a number of their classmates. I want their papers to be interesting and authentic so I am trying to consider alternative audiences besides just myself and their peers (they're not going to read all of the papers anyway).

As I imagine this paper I keep thinking about The Breakfast Club and the final letter those teenagers left for their teacher. And, as a teacher of the 21st Century, I think something like that would be really cool too!

What ideas or suggestions do you have? If you were to write this paper, what kind of direction would you want me to include in the assignment sheet?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Learning to Understand

The entire faculty at my school is studying Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe this year. While the ideas are not completely new to me, it is an interesting exercise in trying to get the whole school thinking on the same page. I find that every year I am rethinking my classes and approaches and making small adjustments. Using web 2.0 technologies both in the classroom and to build my own personal learning network has certainly prompted and encouraged much of this thinking.

This year my American Literature course is getting a bit of an overhaul. I'm starting the year with the contemporary novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Students are studying it in cooperative learning groups, recording their work on a wiki, and then sharing their insights with the whole class. Working with such a contemporary novel has been an interesting challenge for my students and myself. While they do not need to decode language, the structure of the plot and the message are mysteries to them at this point. I am trying hard not to give them ready answers and instead encouraging them to see this overarching idea:
There is no right answer to what the text is about. But that doesn't mean that all answers are equal. There may be no right answers, but some answers are better than others, and figuring our what that means and how it can be so is one of your major challenges. (Grant 143)
Working in their own literature circles, with their peers, I encourage them to be persistent and not give up on a discussion question too quickly but instead to "consider, propose, test, question, criticize, and verify" (129). In developing their own theories about the literature and seeing these develop and change throughout their reading of the novel, I hope to instill the understanding that they make their own meaning from the literature that they read which is based on their own skills and prior experiences and not solely reliant on an expert opinion about the literature. If they can then transfer this confidence in their own reading and theory making to our next unit, a study of Puritan writings, I'll be ecstatic!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Personal Connections

Here is the value of Twitter and my RSS reader for me. I was playing around online for about 10 minutes, saw the following and got inspired to write this blog post. I started out by skimming my RSS reader and stumbling across an invitation to check out #steconf on Twitter. Summarized, this is what I gained:
  1. checked out and added one new follower
  2. searched for the hashtag #steconf to find out what was happening yesterday at the Social Technology in Education Conference
  3. Saw this tweet and thought it was worth reflecting on in my blog
As a classroom teacher/facilitator, I think that one of my main jobs is to facilitate personal connections between my students. Or maybe it's because I'm an English teacher and our classes tend to be discussion based. I need my students to think and consider alternative points of view in order to develop their own opinions. So first and foremost they need to get along with and respect each other.

This is particularly challenging for me as my school has about 100 students total in the Upper School. Sometimes it's difficult getting my students past the assumption that they know each other too well. And sometimes it's an advantage for them to know each other so well.

One of the reasons that I have jumped into using web 2.0 tools is because they are an avenue for facilitating these personal connections. I have used discussion boards to not only encourage students who are less likely to speak up during class discussions to voice their opinions, but also to connect different sections of a class so that we could get more opinions and ideas into our discussion of a topic. Of course, blogging and helping form connections with students in other schools is valuable too in gaining a broader perspective, which is so important for my students in their small, insulated school experience.

As a teacher, I want my students to know and discover who they are and who they want to be. In this journey of self discovery, seeing the potentials offered by the experience of others is invaluable. Of course, breaking down stereotypes by recognizing generalizations and assumptions are a means to this end of valuing others. It's not about mastering a particular curriculum or who knows the most. Instead learning is about seeing what others have to offer and whether that insight can help you develop yourself in positive ways toward your own goals in learning and in living a rewarding life.

I learn and gain so much from the social connections that I make online everyday by following others' blogs, skimming tweets on Twitter, and the various Nings that I belong to. Thanks to all of you for sharing yourselves and helping me to develop my ideas and learn new things about myself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The New Progressivism

I kept a folder on my desk last year and titled it "Ideas." Throughout the year I put in articles to ponder, strategies big and small to use, handouts from faculty meetings, my own lists of notes and intentions for next year. It's next year now so I dusted off the folder this afternoon, found some gems and threw away just as many pages that are now either not as thought provoking or have become incorporated into my lesson plans already.

In the batch I found an article titled "The New Progressivism Is Here" by Peter Gow for NAIS, National Association of Independent Schools, April 30, 2008. Here are my notes.

Gow defines key characteristics of the New Progressivism as practiced in independent schools throughout the nation as the following.
  • assessment against high standard: drawing on Gardner, Wiggins, and Sternberg including backwards planning, variety in assessments, project & problem based learning, and seeing textbooks and teachers as resources
  • professional development is mission-driven and collaborative
  • encouraging students to make real-world connections
  • multiculturalism as a process, not a program
  • character and creativity are encouraged and rewarded and "help students discover and strengthen deep and abiding personal values"
  • civic engagement
  • technology as tool to enhance learning and "freeing the mind for more interesting and worthy challenges"
the goal: "innovative, flexible, and resourceful citizens and thinkers"

Now for my reflections:
This year I'd like to spend some time evaluating my assessments. As a school, we are reading Understanding By Design by Wiggins and McTighe (that should take care of the prof dev point too). Stage two in the UbD pattern is on assessment, so I prarticularly looking forward to that part.
Do you have any great assessments that encourage your students to be "innovative, flexible, and resourceful"?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dusting Off the Computer

It's been a while since I wrote a blog, so it's time to get back to work. I gave myself the entire month of July off. Off of the computer, Twitter, Nings, blogging, my RSS. Off from reading educational treatises online and off, off from reading school books. Now, I'm feeling a little behind the eight ball, but refreshed and ready to start a new school year.

I've been reading the latest issue of The English Journal (Vol. 98, no. 6, July 2009) and enjoying the theme of fun in the English classroom. Teaching is fun for me and that's why I do it. I spent too long in college and graduate school because I refused to get into a career that was not intrinsically rewarding to me. I didn't want to spend my life earning a paycheck. I wanted to spend my life pursuing a calling that would allow me to continue to grow and learn about myself. A career that benefited others, but also (selfishly?) benefited myself. My first couple of years in the classroom were tough and I vowed that I would stick it out for ten years then find myself another calling. After my fourth year, I no longer entertained thoughts of ever leaving the teaching profession. I am now excited to begin my thirteenth year of teaching and looking forward to the changes and opportunities that this new school year offers.

I enjoyed Tom Romano's essay "Defining Fun and Seeking Flow in English Language Arts." I was first introduced to flow, a concept identified and studied by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in my senior seminar for Psychology majors in college. Now I'm thinking about how to help my students experience it in a 45 minute class period. I find it to be a bit unfair to put this kind of goal or expectation on ourselves as teachers. My students travel from class to class with two minutes of passing time, social concerns buzzing in their minds, a laptop to distract them throughout the class period. How can I create a meaningful learning experience which they value and willingly participate in. Well, that's the real challenge isn't it. And, I'm not afraid of a challenge.

The following points are summarized from Csikszentmihalyi's descriptions of elements reported by people who experienced flow in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
  1. we can experience flow when we confront tasks that we have a chance of completing
  2. we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing
  3. concentration is possible because the task has clear goals and provides immediate feedback
  4. deep and effortless involvement removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life
  5. enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control
  6. concern for the self disappears, and the sense of self emerges stronger
  7. the sense of the duration of time is altered
Thinking of teenagers with these concepts in mind is daunting. Can I invent a lesson that distracts a teen from the worries of his/her social life, left just minutes before in the hallway before class? Can we complete tasks in the 45 minute class period (minus settling in time)? In the above list, numbers 1-4 worry me, but 5-7 give me courage that this is possible and that these are the goals that teens want for themselves too. And, while no one is going to experience flow in my English classroom everyday, not even me, this is a goal worth setting for ourselves.

Romano continues in his essay to examine various angles of the English classroom and curriculum that invite fun in to help in achieving these daunting goals. This year I'd like to work toward emphasizing these areas in all of my classes:
  • read a poem to the class (and have students take turns) for the fun sounds of language every day. This would be a great way to start class on time and get everyone focused on language, whether they just came from study hall or math class.
  • read more essays throughout the year to make contemporary connections and to examine this idea from James Moffett from "English literature has maintained a marvelous tradition fusing personal experience, private vision, adn downright eccentricity, with intellectual vigor and verbal objectification. In color, depth, and stylisitic originality it rivals some of our best poetry."
  • encourage students to write in and develop their own authentic voice, which Romano defines as voices which "provide substantive information, use narrative at least a little to make their points, and surprise readers with interesting perceptions." And most particularly encourage students to use humor in their writing. Keep it fun.
  • I also want to check out and consider multigenre writing on Romano's website.

Teaching literacy these days is a huge challenge as the definition of literacy is currently in such flux. But the end products of literacy "thoughtfulness, judgment, and vision" (36) are so crucial to a satisfying and meaningful life that we English teachers may have the most important job in the world. At least, that's what I like to think.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

National Conversation on Writing

Just submitted this video that I made with my sophomores this past year to the National Conversation on Writing project. We made it at the beginning of the school year, but I had trouble uploading it to You Tube or Teacher Tube. Just tried Vimeo with great success. Guess I'll be using that for my video projects in the future.

wikispaces in the classroom

In the recent e-newsletter from Wikispaces there was a call for sharing stories about using Wikispaces. Here is my response to them. It's a little pro-wikispaces, but as I was writing it I realized that each year I am finding even more ways to use and tie this resouce into the daily work of my classroom. Here are a couple of non-Wikispaces wikis that I used this year as well: Black Ice literature circles, A Thousand Splendid Suns book study.

To Wikispaces:
I began using wikispaces in my high school English classroom two years ago. In 2007 I learned about the power of using web 2.0 tools in the classroom at the VAIS (VA Assoc of Independent Schools) annual technology conference. After feeling overwhelmed, and a little inadequate because I was "behind the curve," I quickly started my own blog and wikispace. This is my main resource for my students now. On it I share my curriculum, classroom resources, and publish student work. Students have enjoyed using the discussion board feature to comment on each others' work. I have also created wikispaces for particular projects throughout the year. I have juniors work cooperatively in literature circles online. Here they complete their homework to prepare for the in-class group work, then record their group notes for the day. In a senior level course this year, students worked cooperatively to create a class novel. They used wikispaces to share their ideas and early drafts with each other to help them develop cohesive characters and plot lines. My sophomores have used wikispaces to work with a partner to complete research and present historical topics to their class.

I love using wikispaces because it is flexible and easy to manage. It has helped me take my previous lesson plans to a new level, making them more effective and meaningful to my students. My focus as a 21st Century teacher is on engaging my students in my curriculum to foster their own appreciations and curiosity in persuing the subject beyond my classroom. Wikispaces gives me the place to do this transparently online. Getting my students to think and work online cooperatively with each other and with me, is one of the greatest values of wikispaces that I have found.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I was a little jealous this year when my husband was featured in a local magazine Virginia Neighbors for his extraordinary teaching and cycling (I can't say "hobby" it's more like a "lifestyle"). This week I got my own notoriety in the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach) newsletter. I posted the entire article below, which sums up my intensive personal learning this school year.
Seeing Tech in a Different Light

By Mary Worrell

Jennifer Clark Evans is an English teacher at Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia and a member of the PLP International Schools Cohort. She's been teaching for 12 years. As the year-long PLP experience winded down, Evans had a chance to reflect on her personal experience and what she'd learned along the way.

"PLP has been an interesting process. I felt all along I wasn't sure what I was doing, but I've been using technology in the classroom for a while," Evans said. "It really gave me a chance to get outside support and ideas and make connections outside of my little school. That was the most advantageous part for me."

Even though Evans had been using technology, including wikis and blogs, in her classroom for some time, the way she viewed incorporating it changed over the course of the year.

"Whenever I think about my lesson planning, I'm always thinking about the benefit of doing it with technology versus just paper and pencil," she said. "I'm much more careful to ensure that using the technology is an advantage. Now it's more purpose-driven and more transparent to me and the parents than before."

Evans incorporates blogging into her classroom.

"I had my students involved in the blogging and they showed me the many different advantages they got out of the blog," she said. "Students were discovering it for themselves rather than me just telling them."

Another tool Evans uses in her classroom is wikis to enhance literature circles where students work in small groups together to study a book.

"Traditionally they would prepare homework on paper and bring it to class. With the wiki they can post it online and the group can see their homework," Evans said. "It much more ensures that they do their homework - their team is counting on them. And they can see how other people do their homework and can improve."

While Evans considered herself a veteran to incorporating technology in the classroom, her view of it changed over the course of her involvement with PLP.

"It's to the point where I don't realize I'm using it in my lessons with students," she said. "It's not an add-on, it's just a part of what we do."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Push to online learning

I just got this on Twitter. I've been wondering, too, what would happen if my school closed, as we only have four weeks left. The last week is exams, so that doesn't count. It's the end of the year again, and again I am not where I would want to be in my curriculum. I have a bit of an excuse this year because we switched to a new schedule that makes little logical sense, but actually has many advantages. One of the biggest issues in shifting to the new schedule was that we would lose about two weeks of class time. There are blocks of unscheduled time for students to work at school with their classmates on group projects or with me conferencing about their writing, or just getting homework done earlier in the day. I have seen a tremendous decrease in the number of students posting blogs at midnight, and group projects completed outside of class but during school time have gone well this year. But, I'm still stressed at the end to "get it all done" on time without stressing my students out in return.
I have found, in the past couple of weeks, that I am turning more and more to online learning and discussing as opposed to directing it all from the classroom. To expedite our study of The Glass Menagerie my students created blog posts about characters in class, then revisited them for homework with the direction to 1) add new understanding in the original post and in comments on other characters' posts and 2) use that as the means to study for the upcoming quiz. Tonight students will use a Voice Thread to examine the meanings of symbols throughout the play.
One of the reasons that this works is that we have studied these concepts (character development and symbolism) all year. Now is the time for application, not introduction of ideas. I predict that this will also help as we are beginning to review for the final exam. My expectations of the students are that they will be more independent in their application of the concepts and their use of the online tools, ultimately really testing their understanding more authentically. Understanding does not, and should not, always be tested in a student's participation during class discussions or on quizzes. Using tools to replace some of these traditional real time class activities is beneficial and prevents monotony!

Analysis of Symbolism

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Friday was the final face to meeting of the PLP lead by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was a powerful :) day after a very hard week for me. The part that resonated the most with me was this quote that Will shared at the end from Howard Gardner:
...we may well have reached a set of tipping points: Going forward, learning may be far more individualized, far more in the hands (and the minds) of the learner, and far more interactive than ever before. This constitutes a paradox: As the digital era progresses, learning may be at once more individual (contoured to a person’s own style, proclivities, and interests) yet more social (involving networking, group work, the wisdom of crowds, etc.). How these seemingly contradictory directions are addressed impacts the future complexion of learning.
We have plenty of teachers at my school who are not re-envisioning education in terms of 21st Century learning for many reasons. We hope that our efforts to create a Ning for our school faculty will engage more in these conversations, as active participation in the conversation is a key element of 21st century learning. However, some aren't there and that is discouraging to me sometimes. It was particularly on Friday as I learned some in-house decisions that are being made which will affect my family members, and not positively in the direction described above. Sometimes its hard to keep the personal out of the professional when they so directly impact each other. I'm trying not to be too specific here. But, ultimately, how do we dream and work so hard for the future when our own children may not get to particpate in that kind of learning directly themselves?!?

Here's my solution for now. 1) model it transparently at my own school and 2) teach her myself-now I'm going to help my third grader set up her own blog!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pop Quiz for Teachers

My students know that I love the "pop" quiz, which isn't always very much of a surprise :)
Here's one for me from Jenny at Lucacept:

Am I “network literate”? I strive to be.

Am I “Googled well”? Yes. This gets better every year, and I love finding myself on other people's blogs and presentation wikis.

Am I learning with others “out there”? Canada, Australia, and all over the US - YES

Am I a “mobile learner”? No, I don't own a cell phone (maybe that will change soon)

Am I reading and writing differently? As an English teacher, I think NO. Although I try to skim online, it's very difficult for me. I go to catch up on my reader and get stuck on the first two posts I come across. There is SO much great info out there; I just can't skip over it. I'm fascinated by it all.

Am I collaborating, co-constructing and collectively acting with others? My collaborations have improved this year, but I want to do much more with this whole area.

Am I a learner first, teacher second? I don't know that I can put it in this kind of hierarchy. I feel that learning in a continual process running over everything that I do, and teaching is a framework underneath that - the structure and prior knowledge that I need to progress and help my students progress more efficiently.

So, final grade? I'm definitely a work in progress.

Words, words, words

They matter. My students are studying diction these days, and whether it's "rain" or "bad" in A Farewell to Arms or colors and a rich vocabulary in The Great Gatsby, words matter. We think a lot about how writers use words to create particular effects, but we don't often think about the effect of some of the words that we throw around has on others.

I am particularly sensitive to some words because of my experiences in life. And, while we won't be able to predict everyone's personal sensitivity, some sensitivities are shared by so many that we cannot continue to ignore those effects. When used in a derogatory way, the meaning of a word changes. The poison spreads and then, there is no good, positive context in which the word can ever be used.

So listen to the people whom this harms the most. Stop the R-word, in any context, around any person. It is a poisoned word and should be allowed to die. I will never say it again.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blogging Works - We Proved It

I've used blogs with my classes, especially juniors, for three years now. I have told them each year that it was a good idea. I have modeled blogging with my own blog here, but they have never bought in and really experienced the various advantages until now.

I started my new unit on Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms with a new mission: extend discussion beyond the classroom to the blogs. Every year I am frustrated by not enough time to really discuss all of the great topics and writing developed in this novel. I am also really stepping back this year and have developed a class environment in which students direct and choose topics, not just me all the time. While I have skills to review and concepts to cover, I don't need to be the one who picks the direction of the discussion every day. My students have great ideas, passion, and interest in their reading, so I'm the last one who wants to get in the way of that.

I began a previous unit with a new blogging concept. Instead of writing a traditional reading log (reflect on the pages that you just finished before we have class tomorrow), I asked students to choose one or two quotations from the reading to comment on. This, I think, made the assignment more personal and interesting for the students. Reading each others' ideas also became more relevant. While some students had benefited from reading blogs written by more skilled readers, many students didn't comment on each others' work. Writing about a particular reading passage also lead to ideas which would quickly become outdated and irrelevant. Why look back at any earlier blog when we'd progressed in our class discussions?

For A Farewell to Arms, we started with a lottery. Everyone chose a name of a junior and selected a second junior to follow. Besides choosing a quote to reflect on, students also read and commented on two classmates' blogs. The first effect: students talked about blogs during class, their own and their classmates'.

When it was all said and done, I asked them to grade themselves with these directions:

I structured the blog assigned for A Farewell to Arms in a different way, so I would like to structure the grading of that differently as well.
The purpose of the blogs was to:
  • help you further your understanding of the main ideas of the novel,
  • give you practice in composing effective written communications,
  • give you more opportunity to share your ideas beyond class time, and
  • give you more immediate feedback to help you refine your ideas about each reading assignment.
Wow! That’s a lot. So, how did you do? Here’s where you respond to the following questions to help me assess how well you accomplished the above goals through blogging. (If your answer is not 100% yes, then please explain)
  • Did you write a blog post for each reading assignment?
  • Did you write each one quickly or thoughtfully?
  • Did you comment on your assigned classmates’ blogs faithfully?
  • Did you discover or clarify ideas through writing blogs yourself, reading others’ blogs, and commenting?
  • Who were the classmates who commented most often on your blog?
  • Who was the classmate whose comments helped you to develop your own ideas about the novel?
  • Did you ever bring up a blog post during class, yours or a classmates?
  • Did Robin ever comment on your blog and what did you think about that? *
  • What was most valuable to you about blogging with this novel?
  • What grade did you earn on this assignment? (review the 4 goals at the top)
* One of Dean Shareski's students who volunteered to comment on my student blogs as part of her college course.

The final result. Great learning and the majority of students took this opportunity to share and discover new things about the novel that they were interested in for themselves.

Here is a partial list of some responses to number 9:
  • Writing about things that we didn’t necessarily cover in depth during class.
  • I enjoyed discussing our blog posts in class and debating over which ideas we thought were the most correct. I thought that it was fun to comment and read other people’s blogs, but what I enjoyed the most was discussing our comments in class.
  • The commenting, because it forced us to see what our other classmates were thinking and then we could receive a different insight
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • I was able to voice my opinions on the book easier.
  • The most valuable thing was probably the studying I can do from it.
Sigh. I love my students and my school for allowing this kind of experimentation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Changing Face of Literature

What do you think about this?
How does it change how we think about telling stories, writing/composing, and studying literature? Will the novel be rejuvenated by making it more interactive? Can this open a new audience to the classics? Is this the next step after the graphic novel?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sophomore Romanticism Presentations 2009

Eric, Elizabeth, Rachel:

Maya, Jess, Ty, Josh:

Austen, Sofie, Tony, Lindsay:

Prescott, Paige, Cory, Nathan:

Margeaux, Kahlil, Megan:

Colleen, Emily, Tyler, Maddie

Mrs. Clark Evans's sample presentation:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spicing Up Lessons with Video

My sophomores are finalizing presentations on the British Romantic poets today. After reviewing the standard grading rubric that I will use tomorrow, I reviewed tips for making a powerful and effective PPT presentation by showing this video:

Find more videos like this on TeacherLibrarianNetwork

We particularly noted the reactions of the audience members, and I reiterated that should any of their audience members behave as the first example then they would definitely lose points on the rubric. I thought this was a much more effective way for me to make my point to them.
  • How have you used video to enhance a traditional lesson?
  • When have you been in the audience when video enhanced your learning or understanding of the main point?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Engaging Me

I have really enjoyed reading and thinking about Will Richardson's recent blog post: Personalizing Education for Teachers Too. So far there are about 54 comments on his original post. Since I selected to follow any additional comments, I get a couple new ones in my email every day which have lead me to think about the issue from several different perspectives.

Blogging is such an interesting way to have a conversation. It's great for people like me who need the processing time between comments (I was never one who did well in the college history course in which my grade depended on how many times I spoke during the two hour class discussion). In following this conversation I have found my own thoughts developing from the multiple perspectives of the contributors who have commented, I have read online articles including "What Research Says About...The Continuum of Teacher Learning" from Educational Leadership, and I have contributed my two cents a couple of times.

Today I added:
There seem to be two threads to this conversation 1) how to best engage students and 2) how to best engage teachers. And, the answer seems to be the same-with direct one-on-one interpersonal interactions and guidance. This is an area that I am always trying to improve in my own teaching practices. And this conversation only solidifies for me its importance. Although time is always an issue, building meaningful connections with other people doesn't have to take a long time. It's the little things you do to show interest in the person. When you show that kind of interest more times than not the student reciprocates with giving your subject a more open-minded approach.
The same goes with helping colleagues open up to discovering the many opportunities that web 2.0 has to offer to the learning experience. Reaching out to them where they are, hearing their concerns, and giving them practical help where they need it will make their transition even smoother and hopefully "light the fire" within them which could spread to others. Is this too optimistic? I hope not. I can't see our institutions changing significantly any other way.

As far as taking time to learn the safe and efficient way to use tech, I'm not sure that's necessary or if that's even a luxury that we have at this point. The time to use tech in the classroom is now. The only thing you have to "learn" about using it well is to use it purposefully, not as a gadget or for entertainment value. How do you learn this? Seek out a mentor for yourself, in person or online. The resources for learning are all around you.

We know that students learn best when they are engaged. Engage them and they will be ready for the standardized tests. Engage them by using the resources available to you and to them to light their fire for learning.
I don't often get so involved in a blogging conversation like this one, but I'm glad that I did. Ultimately, I want to be able to help my students create these kinds of conversations in their own blogs. Just haven't figured out how to fit that into my prescribed curriculum yet.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Getting My Head Back in the Game

I like this list of things that teachers should strive to do these days. I'd like to use this list to focus some of my own efforts. I feel that I am pulled in too many directions lately: new teacher mentor, PLP cohort member, writing teacher, literature guide, builder of personal connections, encourager, grader, lit mag advisor, student advisor, service organization club advisor...and of course, mother, wife, friend. How to do it all? How to do it all well?

It's good to sit back, take a breathe and reflect on what is going well. Number 10 on the attached list is one that is most intriguing to me now. How can I encourage and grade creativity and collaboration in my 21st century classroom? The first seems so subjective and the second is sometimes hard to assess because a lot of the work can happen outside of the classroom and my observation. My sophomores are currently working on a project-filming a scene from Macbeth-which encourages both creativity and collaboration. I tried to set it up with an open discussion "what do you need from other group members to make a successful movie?" I want them to feel accountable to each other more than to achieving a particular grade. Also, I told them that we would show their movie to the entire Upper School in hopes of encouraging their creativity-driving them to create an interesting film for a real audience. I'm excited to see what they produce and share it with our school audience.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"You mustn't take everything so literally."

This is a quote from A Farewell to Arms by Ernst Hemingway. My juniors are being a new unit on Modernism and WWI, so I am beginning a new push for blogging. Here are my new guidelines. The goal is to get them reflecting about the book and the writing style and connecting to their own lives/world. We have tackled a short story by Hemingway so far and identified his propensity to leave out important information thus the need to work hard as a close reader and the ambiguous ending. Using blogs and actively commenting on each others' blogs could be a great way to help each other uncover important themes and techniques, important not because I lecture and say it is but because they identify with some universal idea and find writing techniques that they can begin to employ in their own writings.

So, here is my first blog:
I am rereading this book WITHOUT a pencil in my hand, and it's killing me! I have already marked it up in three different colors, so what more could I need to mark. Well, I came across two quotes that struck me as meaningful, not only for this novel, but also for us as readers and "interpreters" (thanks Stephen Crane) of it.
The first quote is my title, "You mustn't take everything so literally" (21). This is spoken by Ferguson, friend of Catherine. On the one hand this is so true for reading fiction; writers want us to think beyond initial reactions and identify meaningful, figurative ideas that we can apply to our own lives. On the other hand, much of this book so far is SO literal: pebbles in a river bed, the sounds of a gun battery waking Henry up in the morning, the green of new spring. So, why all the literal, Hemingway? That's one question I hope we can answer in our class discussions.
My second quote is (not required, but short) "Anybody can crack" (20). Catherine says this to Henry on the first day that they meet. I think that it's safe to say that we can all relate to the truth of this statement and add "under pressure." Whether that pressure is grading papers in a timely fashion :), taking tests and writing those lovely papers, or participating in or witnessing war-not all equally weighty experiences-but all pressure situations, nonetheless. I agree with you, Catherine, though from this point you get a little kooky. So, my second question is: what's up with Catherine?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Using the Tools for your Own Goals

I liked this idea from Jenny Luca:
We have to start thinking about the tools we can use that are going to extend the thinking of our students and help them make some connection to the idea that they can make use of these tools for their educational benefit.
I think that I have really gotten to this stage. I am not planning lessons around tools but vice versa. I am thinking about ways to use online resources to enhance learning goals. Right now I am most excited about the work on my seniors in The Novel elective. As we study the development of the novel through time, we have started writing our own class novel. The students are beginning to have fun with their characters and to realize that writing is entertaining for the writer too.

My goal all along has been to publish their book at the end of the semester. I have no idea how close we will get to this, but one of my students talked on Friday about making money from our venture. I was so excited about that because my non-AP students are beginning to see themselves as writers, and they may never have felt that confident about their writing before.

So, where are the tools? We have a class wiki where students take turn taking the notes for the day. This is also where I post topics and information and link to each of our blogs, where we reflect on the big ideas of each reading. We also have a page for the class novel and can use the discussion board to leave notes and ideas about the developing plot of our own work. I made a working timeline on TimeGlider of some significant dates as our characters began to develop and interact with each other. Students have written character descriptions and dialogues, which they have posted to so that they can peer review each others' work. Finally, we'll self publish on a site like this. Or some other that we find before May. Do you have any ideas or other resources that we could use?

Final learning goal: my students will know first hand what a novel is by writing and publishing one of their own collaboratively.

And, I don't see how that would have been possible before.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Keeping up with the Blogs

I want blogging to be more meaningful to my students and mostly I struggle with helping them get connected to a wider audience. Here is a student who "gets it" and I want to promote her work and encourage you all to post a comment to encourage her:
"However Mrs.Blashford totally changed my interest – after doing activities, projects, BLOGS, discussions I really became more involved. She is the person who got me in love with blogging! I have never been so into this. I’m not doing it because my teacher is forcing me to – otherwise I wouldn’t be replying to comments and posting extra posts. I do it because it’s a great way to reflect and see other people’s thoughts and opinions….it gets my mind thinking – as with others I see! I am constantly checking to see if new people are commenting on my posts – it’s like opening a present! If I could I would do this all day."

And, kudos to Mrs. Blashford for creating a classroom that allows her students to discover their passions! Here latest endeavor.