Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about this blog. I set a goal last summer to write 5 posts/month. At that time, that was a lot, and I thought I could only begin to consider that much writing in the summer when I may be working, but the pace is summerish.

It turns out, I could make the goal. I think maybe in August I didn’t make it, but that’s such a crazy month from the middle on, that I gave myself a bit of a break a bit. It also turns out that it wasn’t hard to do. Certainly it helped that I was participating in a great online mooc/community (CLMOOC–can’t wait to participate again.) That gave me a lot to consider and write about. What it also did was get me in the habit of writing.

Then, this past school year, I was teaching a new senior English elective each semester (Truth and Fiction in the fall and YA Literature in the spring), which also gave me a lot to ponder. In addition, I started thinking about sets of works (either art or poems or just creations) after hearing a colleague talk about her MFA course work (Taxonomy projects). And, finally, I have some wonderful colleagues with whom I chat regularly which also gives me plenty of food for thought. All of this is to say, I found I could keep writing during the school year as well.

Since June 2015, I have written 4 posts each in September and December, 5 posts each in October, November, January, and April, and 6 posts each in February, March, and May. I know these are not big numbers for serious bloggers, but they are huge numbers for me. I’m not getting many comments, so that’s certainly not keeping me going. And, I don’t get many reader either. However, I’m still writing. So far this month, I’m only on post 2, and it’s already mid-June. I still think I can make it to 5 this month.

I may not have been able to get in the habit of exercising this year, but I’m getting in the habit of writing, audience or no. Maybe I’ll get on the exercise thing this summer.

So, I’ve been thinking about teaching writing. This coming school year I will be teaching some 12th grade English electives, each a semester long. And, this past summer I attended a fantastic 4 morning workshop on teaching writing. Now I’m in planning mode and thinking how will I put into action all the great ideas and information I learned.

First of all, one of our sessions was led by a retired teacher who taught in a public school system, 5 sections of 30ish students and each year he had his high school seniors writing the following:

  • 28 in class writings
  • 32 poetry papers (some in class I think)
  • 6 process papers (multiple drafts)

And they read 3 novels, 3 plays, and 50 some poems.

flickr photo by lamusa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by lamusa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Holy grading nightmare, Batman! We were all blown away by the sheer volume of writing the students did. Lots of the student writing was “holistically graded” using the AP scoring rubric. He contends that students get better at writing by writing, not as much by teachers giving a million edits and comments on a handful of multiple draft big papers. I would say I definitely saw that when I taught 5th grade. The years that I had students writing short responses to all sorts of things on our class blog, I saw student writing get better and students become more comfortable sitting down to write. It became less intimidating.

So, back to my goals for my seniors. I’m certainly not ready to leap to our presenter’s expert level in one go. He stressed the critical skill of being able to grade holistically quickly, consistently, and effectively. Something to work towards. However, I am looking at my schedule and trying to plan writing opportunities every week or rotation. Of course, I also had already planned all sorts of other things. For example, I want to have students doing more leading of discussions, which takes class time to practice. Plus, I think I’m going to do some of the writing in an online forum format. The addition of an audience, even if only classmates, is powerful. As I think about how to balance writing and grading, I plan to have students choose some of these short writings to edit a bit and then submit for more formal grading, and some will remain as ungraded, but not necessarily unread or reviewed. I’ve got a rubric ready for feedback for forum posts. I’ve got the AP scoring guide ready to share as well.

Here are the other items I already in the course in terms of writing. We will be writing one significant analytical paper, multiple drafts, longer length. I also have planned a podcast project for the end of the course.

So, how much should I have students writing in class, online, at home? Any thoughts are welcome.



Writing in the Digital Age

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about student writing. I have assigned a lot of writing in my years teaching, and I am sorry to say that not enough of it has been for an andience beyond the classroom.

I moved to doing most responses to reading on a class blog a number of years ago. I’ve written about it several times. The blog was truly a class changing move. I got better work, more work, and we had better discussion in class once I moved to the blog. It served served us well in many ways.

I tried to have students do more writing for a wider audience. I have to admit in the several of years that I tried to have students writing for folks beyond our classroom, I did not master it. I did ok, but I’m not a big fan of Ok.  It worked for some students, quite a few actually. It didn’t work for me. I found it overwhelming to keep track of everything and didn’t approve writing fast enough so that students had to wait too long to see their work published. I know I could have just let it all go, and that was the ultimate goal. I’m not a perfectionist at all when it comes to student work. Bu,t I am a fan of paragraphs and believe that punctuation is your friend. By 5th grade there are some things that I just can’t send out there looking all ugly.

Anyway, I am still thinking about students writing for an authentic audience. What is an authentic audience anyway? Is a teacher an authentic audience? I would say no. A teacher is an audience that you need to have sometimes, but a teacher is not a peer.

I recently saw this video on Edutopia. I think it pretty much covers it.

So now I’m thinking again about how to get at the public possibilities of writing in 9th grade.

20101006 - PRIVATE - IMG_7904So, I’m still thinking about EduCon. The first conversation that I attended was presented by three impressive ladies:  Pam Moran, Becky Fisher, and Paula White. I knew from past experience that I would not be disappointed spending 90 minutes with them. I follow all of them on Twitter, try to keep up with that they write, and have either attended sessions with them before (f2f or virtual) and/or met them. Rather than sum up their presentation, I am sharing what ideas it brought to my mind.

The topic was writing, but we quickly moved to communicating more broadly. One of the things that I have written about before is having my students record themselves reading their essays. I was remembering this as the conversation bounced around ideas about grammar and punctuation. One of the things I like about teaching in the lower grades and at an independent school is that I do not have to give a single grade for writing or reading. Instead I have a skills list that allows me to comment on a student’s ability to do many of the individual parts of writing. So as I wrote last year, listening to my students read their work allows me to focus on the communication of ideas and not get bogged down by the grammar and spelling errors. I need to comment on them too, but I don’t like to have that be the only thing. It reminded me that I need to do this more. I have tended to keep this for more personal essays rather than expanding it to analytical writing. Although everyone could probably use some speaking practice, there is a limit to what I can cram into the school day/week/year. It might be that I should focus on having those students who struggle with the mechanics record more of their essays. It may not be as critical for everyone as some are quite proficient in being able to write what they think.

The other idea that came up for me was the public nature of students writing for a real audience. I am totally for student writing getting beyond the classrooms and hallways. When blogging and using wikis for  writing came up, there was, of course, some push back as to security. There was the usual conversation about students not sharing personal information online. It’s a pretty techie crowd, so we moved on quickly. But, then as we talked about giving students choice and writing about ideas and following their passion, we were talking about students being personal. I have a few things to say on the topic:

  1. It is more of an issue for elementary students; I get that.
  2. Schools routinely publish pictures of students who play on teams or win awards in newspapers or online. These pictures include first and last names as well as year of graduation and sometimes town of residence.
  3. Personal is not the same as private.

I think that we really need to expand the conversation to a distinction between personal information (I like soccer. I love to swim with my family in the summer.) and private information (I live at 123 Main Street. My social security number is). There is a lot of education conversation going on right now about personalizing learning and students writing about authentic interests and sharing those thoughts. Great, no problem, in my opinion. My students are only a few years away from being able to join social networking sites using their real birthdays where they will undoubtedly share both personal and probably some inappropriately private information.

What they are doing now is blogging. Blogging about their ideas and interests. They are neither picking on other students nor navel gazing. I like to think that they are learning to share publicly what is personally of interest. I hope they catch the blogging bug, and get a real serious case of it. Maybe that way they will not be so tempted to fill their networks with pettiness because they will have already built networks around shared interests and ideas. (Cue the dramatic music, sunrise with silhouetted person etc.) Ok, that might be a bit of wishful thinking. But it is still true that we are blogging. It is also true that we have had, and will continue to have, conversations about what is ok to share, what is not ok, and what is a gray area that depends on family comfort levels.

Spending 90 minutes with Pam, Becky, Paula and the other educators in attendance not only gave me a chance to see some of the great work that other students are doing, but it also inspired my to think more about ideas that have been swirling around in my head. Time well spent, for sure.


(creative commons licensed photo by Nicola since 1972)

So, I’ve been thinking lately, but as my lack of posting here shows, I have not been writing about it. I could and have come up with all sorts of reasons, which I will not bore you with here.  Anyway, I decided to make a list of topics I would like to write about, if I could get myself going.  I love to make lists, which is a post for another day.

But, here’s what happened. A lot of the things I would really like to write about didn’t seem like a good ideas once I took into account the whole “public” part of blogging. I have to say here that I am probably more cautious in this area than many. I have read many interesting blog posts by educators that I would not have been comfortable writing. These were not posts that were insulting or offensive.

I’m not sure how much the public/private school thing impacts this discussion. I, like the vast majority of teachers in independent schools, have a year-to-year contract; I am no longer a member of union as I was when I taught in the Chicago Public School system.  I teach in a competitive independent school market where there are a number of top-notch schools competing for students. If any school’s enrollment goes down because they cannot attract students then there go the jobs. I know that I am completely foolish to write assuming that no one will see it. First of all, I used my name so that it would be more public on purpose and so that I would not be fooled into thinking that I could actually be anonymous anyway. Plus, I know for certain that at least a few of my current class’ parents have seen my blog.

As I said, I have a low tolerance for airing laundry of any variety, unless it’s real laundry, in which case I hang it all outside and my neighbors are welcome to see what color underwear we wear at our house. When I started writing this blog I wanted to write about more than just my classroom.  I was not looking to chronicle the  days and weeks of 5E. There are plenty of things that go on in my room that I am happy to relay to the masses my one or two readers. There are even plenty of mistakes that I have made that I have and would freely share. Where I am having second thoughts is in just those bigger issues that I was interested in from the start.

Here is a list of some topics that I have seen others write that I would be uncomfortable with:

  • Ideas about administration reorganization
  • Thoughts on how to maintain interest in teaching the same thing
  • Opinions about the requirement or lack there of for teachers to use technology
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Teacher pay
  • Teacher evaluation and its connection to teacher pay
  • Ideas about balancing supporting students and honestly reporting progress
  • Administration’s balance of supporting teachers and parents
  • Teacher frustration with student interest level

I may not be as young as I used to be, but it’s not as if I’m about to retire anytime soon. I like and need my job. I am in no way looking to go down in a blaze of any sort. So, I guess I’m wondering what other people think? How cautious are you, would you be, or recommend me to be?

Blogging in the Hallway, Update

Posted: October 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about our paper blogging. We are starting with this format to develop some good habits before we head out into the blogosphere. At the moment the students’ blogs are hanging in the hallway outside our classroom. We have a desk out there with supplies for commenting (post-its and pens) and a poster with guidelines.

On Thursday we had an event in the morning that meant parents were in the classroom. It also gave the students a chance to show off their blogs. Some of them got questions about proof reading and spell checking. I have not been correcting every error, which I have told the students. But, it’s always more effective to have someone else mention the same thing. It was also a motivator for writing because at that point, not everyone had finished a post.

On Friday, we were going to do some work on Island of the Blue Dolphins. However, there was serious lobbying for blogging, so we did some blogging. Everyone has now posted at least once. Some have posted several times.

I had sent out 2 emails to the lower school faculty to come by either alone or with their students to read and comment. Then Friday afternoon one of the 4th grade sections came with their teacher to read and comment. I came back from lunch to see an entire class of kids reading and commenting on post-its. They were silent, and 4th graders are not generally known for their quietness. As I walked by several kids turned and said things like, these are so good, and these are so creative. Big smiles, wide eyes.

Victory! When  students got back they were super excited to have comments from people other than their direct classmates. I am betting some of the kids will write posts over the weekend, even though I did not assign anything. My plan is to alter this blogging license made by Katy Gartside to fit our situation a little better. I would guess that a few students will be up and running before Halloween.

I’m looking forward to the next posts.

So, I’ve been thinking about student blogging and what to do differently this year. Last year I used Edublogs and each student had his or her own blog on a topic of his or her choosing. The students liked the “Blogger’s Cafe” idea and wrote some good posts. But, we never really got much in the swing of commenting or getting a wider audience for our writing, which was the point.

This year I again showed some blogs and talked about how a blog is different from a read-only web page. Students made webs of writing ideas using iThoughts on the iPads. Then, I opened the foodless cafe again.

Some students got really into the whole thing. They set themselves up with their web plans and then a laptop to write. A little over the top in the tech department, but it made people feel cool, no one else was using the iPads at the time, and people got a lot done. Works for me.

Here are a few photos.


This year though, we are starting our blogs on paper in the hallway. Everyone has a bright piece of paper as a background and will put up posts there. I have set out paper, pencils, and tape for students and teachers to leave comments. I have emailed all the teachers to encourage them to come by with their classes or independently to read and comment. The plan is to have students try out writing in public at school and then earn a digital blog as they write and comment consistently.

One student already has 2 posts up.

(Once again, I can’t seem to get the text and photos to go exactly where I want. But, enough time has been spent. Moving on.)

I Might be a Blogger

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I think I might be becoming a blogger.

I started a blog in January of 2010 after attending EduCon (if you’re a teacher you should go). I gave it a try for a while, but it just wasn’t happening for me. I felt like it was something I should do rather than something I wanted to do.

Then this summer, I started up again. I got a few posts under my belt before school started. And, even with school going full force, I’ve kept up somewhat. And, sometimes it calls to me-in a good way, not in a creepy Lord of the Rings kind of way.

Yesterday, I felt like I needed to write a post about something I was thinking about. That’s a switch for me. And, it’s not the first time that’s happened. I am not foolish enough to think that this blog is making a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it just might be that this blogging thing is becoming part of who I am and how I am as a teacher and person.

Cafe is Open

Posted: October 31, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about how much 5th graders will buy what you are selling, in a good way.

As I mentioned here I have finally set up a blog for each student using edublogs. (I continue to battle with edublogs regularly, but that’s not the point of this post.) Last year The Nerdy Teacher was posting and tweeting a lot about his ideas to set up a blogger’s cafe in his new classroom. He had some great space, was scoping out chairs at Ikea and netbooks. It sounded pretty nice. (Here’s his October update post.)

I have recently changed my room around for the purpose of having a more flexible seating arrangement so I’m not looking to unflex it right now with a dedicated area. Plus, my room is not big enough to set a side that much space. However, I liked the idea. So, in the words of Tim Gunn and Project Runway, I had to “make it work.”

Well, lucky for me, 5th graders are easy targets. My major redecorating consisted of three things:

  • dragging a few tables and nicer chairs (I scavenged them this summer from an admissions office getting a redo) into a corner of the room near some outlets
  • put out some computers on the table, screens up
  • put a sign on the board announcing that the cafe was open

It was definitely an “if you build it they will come” moment. The first students to arrive saw the cafe and went right over. They didn’t have to; it was before school started. By the time school was actually supposed to start the cafe had spilled out into the rest of the room. I had to change the morning plan.

The next morning, I did not put the sign on the board. The first students came in and said, “The cafe isn’t open?” Well, I may be a lot of things, but I like to think I’m not an idiot, at least all the time. So the day after, the cafe was open again as was artifact reconstruting (we are studying archaeology at the moment).

“The cafe is open, yes!”

“Hey guys, the cafe is open.”

“I love the blogger’s cafe!”

Once again, an hour later, I finally had to say we needed to close the cafe. But for an hour, students were writing, reading posts of other students, and commenting. One student even did some online investigating for a post. Now, we still have work to do on writing quality and/or interesting posts. But, I for one can definitely put up a sign with some loopy designs if that is what my students want.

Anyone else blogging with students?

Student Blogs-Update 1

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about student blogs.

I won a free upgrade to Edublogs-Pro as a prize at the Reform Symposium over the summer. (I love prizes.) The upgrade would allow be to upgrade up to 50 student blogs as well. That way, video and audio can get embedded on the blog and there are no ads. Great! So, student blogging was on my list of things to try this year. (see my post about new year ideas here.)

I’ve had a class blog for the past 2 years. We use it mainly for language arts-related activities and a lot of the comments are required work. It has been a great experiment. I am asking students to write more creatively. Students are enjoying the options, giving each other feedback, and getting a lot of thinking and writing practice in the process. We are learning how to be a digital community of learners as well as a face-to-face community. Towards spring last year, I had students take over facilitating discussions on the blog. It was their idea, and they took it very seriously. It was really great to see.

So, this year, we have our class blog up and running and prize-in-hand, I was ready to start student blogging. We’ve talked, multiple times, about appropriate use. I’ve sent a letter to parents describing the plan and the safety aspects. Parents have returned the letter, with signatures. We’ve made charts of potential ideas for posts based on interests (partly stemming from our “5E Day” event-read about it here.).We were ready to go.

The only problem was I had all kinds of trouble with Edublogs. Links don’t work to activate accounts, etc, etc. My class blog is on wordpress and I’m pretty good at all the “back-office” stuff. But, after a number of hours setting up accounts, or not, I had to walk away from the computer. So, I checked out kidblogs and set up an entire class with blogs and passwords in about 15 minutes. The thing is, it’s not at all attractive, and I am a visual person. Just looking at that plain old list of names and posts makes me sad. I discussed the situation with some folks at school and got a number of different responses. Finally, I showed my students the choices, trying really hard not to sway them one way or the other. And the vast majority (by this I mean all but 1 or 2) wanted an edublog. And, because they’re my kids (just not my personal kids) I went back for another round with Edublogs. This time I was victorious.

So, today we started writing on the blogs. Most had written or at least had begun a post last week. We toured the dashboard, wrote, changed themes. There was a lot going on, even considering I had only half the class at a time.

I set up all the student blogs under my account and then added the students as contributors. This allows them to write posts, but means I must approve them before they are published. I, wrongly as far as I can tell so far, guessed that I could get to everything that was awaiting my approval easily or at least know it was there. Nope. I have to go to each dashboard, click “posts” and then I can tell if one is waiting. I will have to check the settings and see if there is some way to at least get a notification, like I do with for waiting comments.

On the very bright side, the kids are really excited. I heard, “I love my blog!” more than once this afternoon. And, by the time I got back to them this evening to approve posts, etc. there was even a comment on one. I’m going to think positively and figure I will get faster at working with Edublogs. I’m enjoying reading a number of the blogs already!

Next up, a “Blogger’s Cafe” in the classroom.