Quality Blogging

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to realize that I have to actively teach blogging in the classroom if we want our blogs to be a quality tool to showcase and track our learning. Over the last two weeks, we have been talking about quality blog posts and making great comments in our class. Chrissy Hellyer has really helped us think about what makes a great post or comment by showing us examples of real student blog posts and comments. Surprisingly, my students were harsh critics and came up with a great list of criteria for making great comments and creating quality posts. So now is the time to put it all into practice. Over the next few weeks we’ll be refining our blogging skills, creating our own blogging rubrics and looking at other students’ blogs. It’s amazing how others can inspire us and teach us how we can improve our own blogs.


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More than anything, I have realized that I need to model great quality blog posts for my students to understand how to raise the quality of their own blogs. I’ve now posted an article on my class blog about Quality Comments and I’ve been inspired to post not once, but seven times in this past week! Thanks to Chrissy Hellyer I’ve upped my game and I’m hoping that the spin off will be magnetic. In fact the students are loving to create blog posts and are now really focused on making great comments. Chrissy has made me aware that writing blog posts and making comments is a skill that doesn’t come naturally. We all have to think carefully about the posts we make and it’s important that students consider the posts as a form of writing, rather than just a quick note or simply ‘spewing’ out their thoughts. How can we expect to attract readers if our blog posts don’t make sense? Would you want to read a post that is full of spelling and grammar errors? What about a ton of writing with no images?

I was also inspired while reading one of the blogs I follow. Silvia Tolisano is an expert blogger and I’ve learned a lot from her Langwitches blog as I improve my own blogging skills. Her latest post: Quality Commenting- Student Guest Post by Zoe M shows some great tips from a fourth grader at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School. Zoe’s post on How to Make A Quality Comment shows just what fourth graders are capable of.


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So, what does Zoe have to say about making quality comments? Here’s the tips from her blog post: How to Make A Quality Comment.

When you comment on my blog, I want your comments to be memorable. I want them to represent you, so even if I don’t know you, I will feel as if I do. When you comment on a blog you want it to be unique. To make it a quality comment it has to have fancy words such as, instead of writing, “That is a pretty butterfly.” Which is what 1st graders could do, write, ” What a lovely butterfly! I love how its wings are all sparkly. I would enjoy it if you could teach me how. Did you know that a butterfly’s wing is its most fragile part?” That already is a better comment. To make a comment better, add on to the post, writing a new bit of information, makes it a quality comment. Also, links help. If you find a website that has something to do with the topic someone is blogging about, put the link. Here is how you put a link on your blog:

<a href=”link”>words you want to be the link</a>

That is how you make a quality comment.

I’ve also realized the importance of writing a comment or question at the end of the post to

inspire my students or readers of our class blog to respond to the post.

So what are your thoughts on modelling quality blog posts and great comments in the classroom?

How could you use these ideas in your own classroom?

Top 10 Lists- Course 1 Final Project

Project Background

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I’m excited to launch a new writing unit this week in my Grade 4 classroom. Top 10 lists, or list articles, are topical, relevant and ‘cool’ so I know my students are going to have a lot of fun reading, analyzing and creating top 10 lists. It also brims with opportunities for ‘real’ digital connections- reading top 10 lists from the Internet, creating lists with digital tools such as images, audio, video and text, and sharing the list articles with peers locally and globally. The unit has so much potential and I’m excited to see how it might hook students, particularly reluctant writers.

I was also inspired by Angela Maiers and her list of 12 Things Kids Want from their Teachers. I’m enjoying ‘dabbling’ with technology and finding fun lists and websites to share with my students. I’m anticipating a lot of fun, laughter and totally engaged students!

Considerations

While I’ll be using a variety of mentor texts during this unit to demonstrate the features of list articles (Top 10 lists), I will also be sharing a number of websites with my students. I’m considering the best way to give students access to websites to explore list articles and research their own lists. As this is a writing unit, the focus should not be research, however I believe that students should have the opportunity to explore a number of websites to help add authenticity to the unit. I will discuss the best way to do this with our Technology Coach, Chrissy Hellyer, later this week. At present, I’m thinking that sharing the list of websites I’ve personally screened with the students on a Google doc. This will provide an opportunity for exploration and an element of choice, with a fair amount safety and security.

Due to the nature of the Internet, however, I feel I will have to brief students on the possibility of coming across inappropriate content or images, and what they should do should this happen. Of course, these kinds of discussions, and exploration such as this is necessary to prepare students for using digital media in the modern world. As Jeff Utecht states, “digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate and create information using digital technology” (Reach: Jeff Utecht). Exploring websites to better understand top 10 lists will help students become literate in the digital world.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post: Connect, Create, Collaborate, Utecht also believes that teachers need to understand and become prosumers. In order to prepare our students for today’s connected digital world, teachers need to be familiar with the tools students will need to survive. Throughout this course and in preparation for this unit, I have explored websites and continued to upskill in order to help students gain success in locating and organizing information and creating their own products. As we work through the project I hope to gain more insight into how to successfully navigate websites with students and facilitate learning. We will all be learners and prosumers together.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Wheel

Julie Lindsay‘s latest post on technology tools included a fabulous link to Blooms Digital Taxonomy Wheel and Knowledge Dimension. The wheel helps us to better understand Bloom’s digital taxonomy and understand how it can be applied in the classroom.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Wheel

Metacognition and Bloom's Taxonomy

Dabbling

Dabbling might be the first step of Mark Prensky’s process of Shaping Tech for the Classroom, but it is critical for teachers to explore and discover digital tools. As we gain confidence, we can implement these tools more successfully in the classroom, hopefully leaping more quickly into creating new things in new ways.

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I am constantly dabbling with technology in the classroom, and more recently I have felt more ‘techie’, exploring new tools in my own time. With an updated RSS Reader, I am now following my student blogs more easily. Though I’ve had two different RSS readers over the last two years, I have recently been motivated to explore new blogs and add new URLs to my Google Reader. I am now often quickly checking in on my student blogs and their blog posts. It has been easy to give feedback to students, validating posts and making them aware that I am reading and keeping up with blogs. An issue still arises time and time again, however. Making the time to comment and read blogs carefully is always hanging over my head, and it’s difficult to make the necessary time to comment on blog posts.

My colleagues constantly inspire me, as was the case when my class created ‘What Rings My Bell?’ slideshows using Photo Peach. I find Photo Peach an ultra-easy digital tool to use in the classroom to create products easily and demonstrate learning in a visual and inspiring way. Plus, it’s accessible to all students because it’s so user-friendly.

I am now continually thinking about Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and how it relates to learning in the classroom. I’ve realized that students in my class are constantly creating, evaluating, analyzing and collaborating, although I can always improve my teaching techniques, use different digital tools and empower students in different ways.

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Currently, I am working on improving our student blogs, making effective blog posts, reflecting on learning and creating social networks through commenting on others’ blogs. My students are becoming more skilled in selecting and inserting images, making attributions, embedding YouTube videos and Photo Peach slideshows, and inserting audio files. As always, there are some students who become the ‘experts’ in the class but, in my opinion, this is the only way to successfully use technology without the teacher going mad! Over the next few weeks, my students will focus on making clear descriptions and blog posts, explaining their learning and making effective comments, with the help of our tech coach, Chrissy Hellyer.

Recently, as part of an author study unit in reading, my students were asked to perform a collaborative task using VoiceThread. Each group was comfortable working together, having videoed several discussion groups together during the unit. They had refined their discussion skills using a rubric and set goals for improving their contributions. The students are now skilled at using i-movie and uploading to YouTube independently and are gaining skills in reflecting on their performance when viewing videos of their learning. Listening to their discussions, their learning was evident when they referred to author’s craft, made references to passages in books and made connections between books. My main issue, however, was watching all the discussion group videos. At an average of ten minutes long, with five discussion groups and several discussions each, I am still devising the most effective way to evaluate the discussions. Sitting in on discussions for a few minutes is possible, and usually the most manageable way to deal with so many videos, but technical hitches often get in the way.

As the culminating project for the author study, each group created a VoiceThread slideshow to recommend authors to others. This provided a perfect opportunity to create social networks and learning communities. Now my aim is to find others who will collaborate- hopefully friends teaching Grade 4 around world, but firstly our Grade 4 team and colleagues at International School of Bangkok who are participating in COETAIL. From previous experience, I need to find partners who are motivated to create learning communities and who are willing to put in the time.

This week has also been an inspiring week for technology in my classroom. In the elementary school at International School Bangkok, we’ve been celebrating International Week. I was blown away by the quality of my students’ country presentations, which displayed  a great deal of thought, effort and quality of design. Students used a wide variety of tools to create their projects- in particular posters, PhotoPeach, i-movie and PowerPoint. Time after time, I gasped at the creativity of students and their skill at inserting images, and embedding links and YouTube videos. Many times their skills surpassed mine, as they weaved images and words incredibly effectively on slides.

The activities this week were also a reminder that students can still create incredible learning with simple pen and paper. In fact, a student wrote on her blog, “In Pakistan we use Arabic numbers so i made a activity with Arabic numbers and Aleenish numbers. Aleenish numbers were created by me!” Such a basic reminder that with pen and paper it is still possible to create amazing products, but then we can step up the learning even further and blog about it!

Embracing Collaborative Projects

Collaboration, on a global scale, is a key component of 21st Century Learning. So how can we embrace globally collaborative projects in our schools and classrooms? There are numerous wikis and collaborative projects out there, but which are truly educational and worthwhile?

Over the last two years, I’ve been involved in a few collaborative projects. Some have been grand pie-in-the-sky dreams that never amounted to the projects I had imagined, like Classroom Bridges.

Creating Classroom Bridges

As I mentioned in the blog post: Connect, Create, Collaborate, this project was a dismal flop. It snowballed into a collaboration of 7 classes over 6 continents, but I struggled to get other teachers to commit the time and energy to guarantee the success of the project. From being truly excited about the possibilities of networking across all six of the habitable continents, the wind was knocked out of my sails and all year I battled with trying to get others to share and collaborate. Again and again, I keep finding examples of Jeff Utecht‘s phrase (Reach (2010)) that teachers often become overwhelmed and find it hard to remain active. Or even get a project off the ground in some cases!

Currently, my class is involved in two projects, the Postcard Project and a sharing of our Top 10 books with classes in Taipei, Brussels and Tunisia. Again, I am wondering about the value or effort involved in these projects. While they appear fun, exciting or valuable on the surface, I am constantly asking myself if sending postcards between classes across the world is really valuable. We often receive postcards from younger classes containing basic information, and writing on a postcard seems so limited. While we reply to the cards, it is often a struggle to complete our replies in a timely matter. I’ve decided to view the project as a fun activity which we’ll continue as a very basic example of social networking.

I am now endeavoring to share our class’s Top 10 books with other classes around the world. Again, I have encountered problems with commitment, and though one class has shared information with us, making time to follow-up on the activity is also a stumbling block. I’m hoping that our Top 10 books can be integrated into our upcoming ‘List articles’ writing unit.  This unit lends itself to sharing top 10 lists with other classes via our blogs. While sharing with other Grade 4 and 5 classes in our school (International School of Bangkok) is guaranteed, sharing with other classes around the world, such as Taipei, Brussels and Tunisia would be much more rewarding for both myself and my students.

PictureFrom exploring wikis which feature collaborative projects, I was inspired by the Flat Classroom Project. One project, ‘A Week in the Life’, caught my eye on the wiki, in particular because it is so similar to my aims for the Classroom Bridges project. It also connects remarkably well to a Social Studies unit in Grade 4 focusing on influence. While I still hope to be able to relaunch the Classroom Bridges project, after consultation with our Technology Coach and refinements to make the project more feasible, ‘A Week in the Life’ would be a perfect collaborative project for our Grade 4 team.

Through my Google Reader, I was also made aware of a collaborative project on the Langwitches blog. Currently, a Grade 5 colleague and COETAIL online member, Stacie Melhorn, is involved in an action research project on “Quality Writing through Blogging”. This ‘quadblogging’ project seems exciting yet achievable, connecting just four classrooms and making the tasks manageable.


It appears that, for my own collaborative projects to be successful, I need to scale them down and make them more manageable. I am reluctant to make teachers sign up and jump through numerous hoops to participate in a project, but there does need to be some form of accountability. I’m still grappling with how that should look, but I’m hoping that with the assistance of our knowledgeable coach, Chrissy Hellyer aka Teaching Sagittarian, I will finally experience greater success in connecting global classrooms.

The Power of Social Networks

This week, the power of social networks was never more evident than with the Kony 2012 video. With over 32 million views, this video has demonstrated the power of Facebook and social networks the world over. Even over dinner tonight, a friend started discussing the Kony video and just how incredible it is to see how fast the message has spread via Facebook.

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There has been some backlash over the video, with some saying Kony 2012 is a shady nonprofit that is ”misleading,” “naive,” and “dangerous”. There are always two sides to a story, and we have to be careful to consider the implications of social networking. Whatever the real story, I believe that it’s important for the world to remember what is happening in Africa and the atrocities that occur there every day out of the public eye. Many human rights abuses happen in the far corners of the world, and Africa has more than it’s fair share. Whether or not you believe in the Kony 2012 cause, at least this video has raised the profile of human rights abuses taking place in Uganda and around Africa. That is the power of social networking.

Blocking the Flow of Technology

Many of us value the role that technology can play in the classroom. Promoting metacognition, encouraging high-level thinking skills, such as in Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, and motivating students are key reasons why digital tools enhance learning. But there are many barriers to integrating technology and using it effectively.

As Jeff Utecht, states in his book, Reach,  teachers become overwhelmed and find it hard to remain active. There are so many digital tools, and technology is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up. As the video ‘When I become a teacher’ indicates, many of us get ‘stuck’ in teaching and are not willing to explore, create or take risks.

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Mark Prensky, in his article Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom, states that new technology still faces a great deal of resistance. As Prensky says, many schools lock down computers and refuse to allow students to access a number of educational tools and technologies. In many classrooms and schools there is a fear of what students could do with technology, as indicated by the article: Blocking tech in classrooms impedes learning: Teachers.

Prensky points out that schools famously resist change. The pressure to avoid disruption is stronger than the pressure for change, therefore change hasn’t happened. We have a clash between the “digital natives,” those students born into digital technology, and their teachers and administrators, the “digital immigrants.”

So, how do we close the gap? Dabbling is only the first step in the process that Prensky believes leads to Edutopia. Many schools are still doing old things in old ways. Others still are simply doing old things in new ways. Doing new things in new ways is the only way to reach full immersion into the digital world.

The key to success? One-to-One. As Prensky states, “Any ratio that involves sharing computers – even two kids to a computer – will delay the technology revolution from happening. The only way to move forward effectively is to combine what students know about technology with what we know and require about education.”

As Prensky so eloquently puts it, “Let’s not just adopt technology into our schools. Let’s adapt it, push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it, and redo it, until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel we’ve done our very best.” Maybe then we can feel we’ve effectively used technology and all of the digital tools at our fingertips. And maybe we can even reach Edutopia.