Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Classroom blogging: two way learning

I have been thinking about the uses of blogging in the classroom with regard to studying writing and literature. What I have experienced in the two classes that are using blogs to reflect on the process of completing an assessment task creating a poetry anthology has been amazing and better than I expected. In reflecting on what is happening in my classroom, particularly with the international students commenting on other (local students’) blogs, I’m so encouraged. It’s like I have heard their voices in the class context for the first time. Of course the ESL students do speak, but mostly one to one, and now they can be heard more widely. The opportunities for students to use a way of communicating that they are comfortable with – not all of them, though – and the insight that the teacher can have into what the students are thinking can make the learning in the class truly two way.

My musings have been encouraged by Barbara Ganley at bgblogging in her post on blogs and letter writing. Some excerpts:

“…blogging… invite(s) students to experience the pleasures and rewards of, surprisingly enough perhaps, writing the extended letter. Indeed, I often remark here on the wonderful irony that this speed-tool, this hand-it-to-ya-quick-n-easy format, actually encourages the slow, the discursive, the thoughtful and thought-out remarks, extended correspondence between my students, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes one-to-many, sometimes many-to-many...”


“…if you have something to offer your reader--something expressed authentically, with all the deep thinking and feeling you can muster, well then, someone else will hear, and respond, and most likely be touched in some way.”

And, finally,

“We can use technology to bring people together rather than to isolate them further into themselves through using social software to connect communities, through the age-old community-building friendship-bonding, extended ruminating, reflective practices such as letter writing.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Poetry, verbs, nouns and so on

I just wanted to share this with you from poet, Megan Freeman. Thanks to Bud the Teacher for the link.


I am going to breathe verbs
all over your chair
and pour beakers of adjectives
on all the desktops.

I am going to rub the pencil sharpener
with nouns no paper can resist
and hang contagious phrases
from the ceiling.

Your notebooks will run a fever
and your pens will bleed dry
in an effort to keep up with your
Brilliant Ideas.

Don’t bother washing your hands.

Antibiotics and tincture of echinacea
will only encourage me while
lowering your resistance.

This epidemic is airborne
piss-and-vinegar borne
and it doesn’t matter
what kind of immunity
you may have built up
over years and years of
swimming around in
educational Petri dishes

because we are quarantined
and this condition is permanent
and the date to drop the class
was yesterday.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Some new blogs

The students are blogging. Have a look at the class blogs here and here. Not all the students in each class are up yet as there are still some technical difficulties. But most of them are. It is still a work in progress. For most of the students this is still very new, and of course there are a variety of reactions to work that is framed by the context of school.

Friday, August 26, 2005

VELS Forum

Last night I attended the VATE Forum on the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. A number of teachers came to speak at the forum on where they had found their own entry points into VELS as English teachers. There were teachers from private schools, state schools, experienced teachers who were heads of faculty (one was the innovations and excellence coordinator) and a first year teacher. The highlight of the night for me was the team of two teachers from Melbourne Girls College, Deb Huismann and Sally Sutherland who had been involved in revisioning their Year 9 program. They went for an integrated curriculum and experiential learning (sounds a lot like one of the working parties at my school, doesn’t it?). An important part of the revisioning was the formation of teams; as they said, they expected the students to work in teams so they should model this as well. The group that was composed of all the English teachers, teachers of SOSE (the Study of Society and Environment, including History and Geography), Information Technology and Health teachers for the eight classes at the year level formed a unit called The World of Ideas. There are nine periods a cycle for this and the periods are seventy minutes long. For Maths and Science they had another integrated unit that was called – naturally - The world of Science and Maths. Then there were a few electives they could choose as well. Each term in the World of Ideas saw the girls at the school get into a different theme, such as Humour, Decision making, Opening Doors, and Global Citizenship.

The term one theme on comedy was based on a serious issue and turning it into a comedy performance. They ended up with a Comedy Festival that was put on simultaneously with the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was linked in other ways to this wider festival, as there were guest speakers from the Melbourne Comedy Festival brought to the school to work with the students on their presentations. This unit incorporated peer and self assessment and was linked to the keeping of digital portfolios.

The theme that interested me very much was the Opening Doors theme which was put on with a cluster of nine schools. It had a history focus and involved the students in researching the local community around the school. The students were acting as historians, trying to find out the untold stories of their local area. The students will be curators of a museum they will be setting up and they will have a choice as to what and how they present. The students are working with real artists who will help the students chose and help with Photoshop and so on. They will be involved in excursions to other museums, such as the Immigration Museum and the Holocaust Museum. The emphasis is on giving students choice and responsibility.

Another interesting account was from Julie Brennan at Strathmore Secondary College where they set up professional learning teams. In these learning teams, small groups of teachers discussed units of work, and ways of teaching thinking and personal learning. They found that for these learning teams to work democratically they needed to institute formal meeting protocols. Each contribution is timed and no one voice can dominate. The teachers retain some student work after the unit has been taught so that work becomes the focus of the discussion. Julie finished by reminding us that it is in the classroom that initiatives happen but that is important that these professional conversations are maintained. I tend to think that excitement and passion for teaching comes also from the rich professional conversations we have with our colleagues in many different forums.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What makes a great teacher?

While I’m thinking about What is teaching, and by implication, What is great teaching, Matt Lehmann points us to a post in his View from the Classroom archives on What makes a great teacher; something I found very timely in my reflections. Still chugging along.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What is teaching?

One night, many years ago, I asked my children round the dinner table what they thought teaching was. We discussed and rejected lots of ideas similar to those I mused about in yesterdays post. Then my daughter, at the time in Year 9, quoting an unknown source, said: "Teaching is lighting a fire inside someone." I have not been at a loss since then. My dream is to motivate and engage students to the extent that they will no longer be dependent on a "teacher". They will know and value the fact that they are teaching themselves. This is the experience I want to play a part in providing for the students I am responsible for.

I received permission from L. to quote her reflection, "How well does any child know their parent", on her interview with her mother, which was mentioned yesterday. (The activity is from the VATE study guide Inside Stories on the novel, written by Rima Perkovic). Here is L.'s reflection:

It is my firm belief that we know our parents to the extent that we want to. After completing this exercise, I've learnt things not only about my mum, but also about myself. The fact that stood out most significantly was that I really don't know that much about the most important person in my life and that I hadn't bothered to take a direct interest in the many events that had shaped her life.

Many children are so absorbed in what's going on with themselves that they fail to engage with their parents' lives. They forget about the past and only know the present. What they see of their parents is usually how they perceive them. I had never asked my mum about what she had wanted to be when growing up and just assumed that being an accountant was what she wanted. Life is full of stories both joyous and saddening, and should be shared with loved ones to strengthen relationships. It is through this that people learn the most about others and how they cope with the ups and downs. But sadly it is impossible to know everything because our hectic life doesn't allow us to sit down and simply talk for hours on end. But still, it's always enlightening to listen and gain knowledge from the more experienced people.

For the children, especially those who are in their teens, parents are seen as providers and are used when needed. Special care and thought is rarely given to what makes them who they are. We know the basics about them, but when it comes to the small, seemingly frivolous details, we find we really have no idea. For instance, someone brought up in a poor environment such as my mum, would probably cherish what they have, not what they want.

There are so many things I would love to know about my mum and her family, but the reality is, that it would take a lifetime to hear. But in the end the wonderful stories are worth asking about, and listening to, because they are the pieces of the puzzle to not only who are your parents are, but who you are.

Thank you L. for allowing this to be shared.

Monday, August 22, 2005

More musings on my study

Learning to write a narrative of my teaching is proving to be harder than I thought. It is a whole new genre for me and requires me to be consciously mindful of things that I may have only subconsciously monitored in the past, or deliberately not wanted to face because of what it revealed to me as a teacher and as a person. nb’s link to her narrative in English Teaching: Practice and Critique is a great model, but I’m not sure how to do it myself. I guess that what’s this blog is for, to try to learn how to do this. The teacher as learner.

What is it that a teacher does? Teaching is not telling; that much we know, although students often still expect us to tell them the answers. Teaching is not presenting a worksheet and going through it with the class, although my student teacher overused this method. One of my students, G, when she was preparing for a SAC that she needed to do before the other students, as she would be overseas when they did it, told me accusingly that she had had to teach herself the skills of language analysis, as if she had expected something else from me. For me to provide her with the resources to learn what she needed to know before she was assessed was all I could do in the short time G gave herself. With the rest of the class, there were lots of opportunities to discuss, to learn annotation of persuasive articles in order to recognise how language positioned readers in certain ways, to read models of analysis, to practice analysing articles. In the end G decided she had been too ambitious in trying to do the SAC before she went and will complete it later. But her complaint that she had to teach herself still rings in my ears.

I like this definition of teaching: “Teaching is providing students with experiences that have the express purpose of bringing about planned changes in their capabilities” from the Centre for Learning and Teaching Support at Monash University. Unless our students say something, write something, make something, calculate something, do something, we will not be able to infer that any change in their learned capabilities has occurred.

What should an accomplished teacher know and be able to do? The Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia (STELLA) have something to say about this. The Standards have been developed by teacher members of Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) and ALEA around Australia and are supported by national and state English Teaching Associations Councils in all states and territories. These bodies recognise that “professional standards only have validity when grounded in teachers’ own knowledge, experience, skills and values.” The standards are illustrated by keywords and questions related to the keywords, plus narratives by teachers who demonstrate the standards with reference to their own classrooms. An example of something that recently happened in my Year 11 English classroom that may be illustrative of the keyword: “Significance” and the question which asks: In what ways does the teacher provide all students with opportunities to participate in literacy learning that is personally and culturally meaningful to them? are the parent interviews done by the Year 11 students. This came about as a result of our study of the text One True Thing by Anna Quindlen. In this novel one of the themes is the developing of the relationship of the narrator with her mother, and the alteration of her relationship with her father as she comes to see more clearly the relationship between her parents. The question posed to my students was “How well does any child understand their parents?” In order to investigate this, the students had to interview one of their parents over the holidays, preferably the one they interacted with least. The students were to make up the questions and attempt to predict what the answer would be on aspects of the parent’s life: background, ambitions, fears, and hopes. The students would then write a one-page reflection on their interview. These were very moving in many cases. Some were so thoughtful and interesting to read that I have asked the students if they would be prepared to have them published in the school anthology of exemplary writing. This was one activity that I really had no idea would produce writing and reflection of such a high standard, but I believe that it is because that this activity was so personally meaningful to these students.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ethics in Education

Recently I was contacted by Emma at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne to trial a resource for teaching and exploring ethics in years nine and ten. The material uses examples which focus primarily on computer technology (and how students use such technology) but which is also relevant to disciplines within the humanities. I agreed to do it because in two classes at this level I have recently started blogging and thought it might be of interest to the students. The resource consists of background material, case studies and a short film on DVD. When I looked at the material I had to think of how I would present it to the students. I also wanted to try out the new smart board that we have been invited to trial. So I combined the two and brought the students into the staff lounge (where the IWB is) to sit at tables and look at the video and case studies on the screen and discuss the issues. It was, I agree, not the best use of the interactive whiteboard – I didn’t do anything with the technology – but you have to start somewhere. The students loved it. They were engaged with the issues. The case study I used was on censorship and the students discussed how and why websites are blocked on the school server. I had someone from the IT help desk to help with the smartboard and luckily he was able to engage with the students in this discussion. I was particularly interested in seeing how the whole discussion on ethics in technology would unfold as I had recently heard that technology that is introduced to a person before age fifteen is simply normal, part of their world and not an issue, technology introduced to a person between the ages of fifteen and thirty five is "really cool" and technology introduced after the age of thirty five is seen as "the work of the devil". I think I heard this right. (It must be wrong though because I am in the last age group and it doesn't apply to me). But my students are on the cusp. They are 14 and 15 and I was very interested to hear their thoughts on pirated music and software, and censorship regarding technology. Not surprisingly their views ranged quite widely. The killer for me though was when one student said, “Well, why do we need the internet at all. We got on fine before it. We have libraries full of books.” I think she was just trying to provoke discussion and she did. Afterwards some of the students came up to thank me for the lesson. Maybe it was because I had let them have hot chocolate but I don’t think that was it. They loved the discussion and I had got over “my first time” with the interactive white board.

Friday, August 19, 2005

(Partly) Negotiated Assessment

Continuing on from yesterdays post. Here are the final agreed criteria for assessment that the students came up with. They did this with almost no input from me until the end when I asked a few pertinent questions such as, “How am I going to judge that?”
These were the criteria for the product they will make:
  • Creativity – how well the imagery is developed
  • Originality – thoughtful language, minimal use of clich├ęs
  • Presentation – the anthology had to be presented in a visually appealing way
  • Use of the correct form/structure for the poems – where this is specified
There are more criteria for the process. Student were also more open to the idea of self assessment for this aspect but overall the general feeling seemed to be that this should only form part of the assessment – the teacher should still have a say in this part. Interesting. Seems to match some experiences of Nat over at My Brilliant, Happy Career.
These were the criteria for process:
  • Using class time effectively
  • Effort shown
  • How much was learnt
  • Enjoyment in the process (these last two will obviously be only self assessed)
  • Participation in class
  • Evidence of editing
  • A statement of the source of inspiration for the pieces of writing
We also talked about the weighting of the assessment and how each criterion could be measured. There is obviously still some more discussion to be had about this. I am hoping that at least some students will present their anthologies in digital form, although I haven’t said anything about this. The class blog for these students is now linked here. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A good day at the chalkface

Today several things came together to make for a professionally rewarding day. I felt that the students had enjoyed their lesson and that they had learnt something. At our school we have a section on the staff intranet which is called strategy of the week where teachers can read examples of interesting teaching practices put up by our Teaching and Learning Coordinator. Of course he doesn’t have to think of them all himself as teachers who try something will often email him with ideas. But this strategy did come from him. He calls it Blockwords. It can be done to open the lesson at any year level and with any subject area. The teacher chooses a word and writes it in big letters across the board. Today with my writing class I wrote METACOGNITION. We talk about the meaning of the word (sometimes breaking it down into component parts) until the students get the idea. Then students suggest words that use one of the letters in the main word that are associated with it. This is what we came up with: words like imagination, thinking, educate, organised, searching, ingenious etc until we had thirteen words that were in some way associated and illustrative of the theme of metacognition. Then I gave them their task sheet for their poetry anthology. I left the area where I would have put the Criteria for Assessment blank. This was so the students could come up with their own criteria of how I would assess and grade their anthologies. I asked them to think of some criteria for the categories of “the product” and also for the process of creating their anthology. After a few minutes they joined up with another student to discuss what they had come up with and then two pairs joined up. At this point each group was to come to consensus on what they thought the three most important criteria in each category were. We wrote them on the board and then discussed them as a class to come up with an agreed set. This took one period. For the second period we went to a computer room where I helped them set up a blog each on edublog, James Farmer’sfree education blogs for anyone who darn well wants them.” I explained they were to use the blogs to reflect on their process of making their poetry anthology. This is an example of what one student did. Jessie’s blog is simply called “Reflecting”. I’m looking forward to continuing this process with the students and developing the whole concept some more.

In another class I was able to think about student produced resources on the novel, Animal Farm. This came about from an idea I got from a fellow blogger nb who, as a way to help students get their heads around a (different) text got them to collaborate in groups of two or three to make a study guide for one chapter per group. These were then collated. It is not the final product so much as the process the students go through that nb found was so valuable for the students.

It has been a good day at the chalkface for me and, I hope, for my students (and nary a piece of chalk in sight).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Interactive Whiteboards

After school today we had a PD session to explore the potential of the interactive whiteboard, with a view towards their application for classroom use. We have one installed in the staffroom and we saw a demonstration of its use. There were lots of appreciative sounds from the teachers as we saw some of what we could do with it. What I particularly liked was the potential for student interaction and the huge variety of different things it could do. This technology seems to cater for different learning styles - as we were told: “Teachers have embraced the Smart Boards technology as they have seen the heightened interest, enthusiasm and participation in the classroom. The physical involvement (that comes with the use of the boards) is a key factor in the impact that the Smart Boards have on learning. The students are active participants rather than passive observers.” Teachers who are using these boards have designed learning experiences for a whole range of subject areas and some of these are included with the software. We have been encouraged to play with the software on the four laptops available to staff and to book classes in to the staffroom for lessons with the whiteboard. I think I would like to play with it for a day or so to become familiar with it, but it does look like a great tool. D, our chief techie, quoted a study that showed that the rate of student absenteeism at one school dropped to almost zero when they introduced the smartboard. Of course, there is even a blog about one teacher’s record of the implementation of a SMART Board Interactive whiteboard into a primary school classroom.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Teacher Research

I am taking a step back as an "accomplished teacher" (I'm sure the irony will become apparent) with a number of years of experience and attempting to articulate what it is that I know now as a result of my experience, formal and informal study, and reflection. The use of blogging in my classrooms has an impetus from a number of sources: the blogs that I read, my interest in constructivist classrooms, my philosophy of teaching (I’ll post more on this later), my own enjoyment of learning about blogging and finally getting up the courage to commit to a blog of my own, and the potential I see for this to be useful. The Open Classroom is an ongoing place where I can reflect in the company of like minds, who inspire me, whether in awe at their ideas and prodigious energy (yes, I’m thinking of you Steve Dembo, among others (good that you’re back) or to self satisfaction (no comment – I know that pride goeth before a fall). As a teacher researching my own practice for my Masters I can keep a research journal on this blog as they both have a similar purpose. The thesis that I write, however, may be in the form of a portfolio, recording my learning throughout the process. It is intended to be an account of my learning, but it doesn’t have to be in a traditional form – indeed I feel now it must include hypertext. Could it end up being a portfolio like this (possibly not), or maybe even a digital portfolio?

When I started my study I thought that I would implement a strategy such as Literature Circles and investigate this in the context of the increased emphasis in the Victorian curriculum, through VELS, on the social aspects of learning as well as the integration of technology and collaborative learning in a constructivist type of classroom. But the data I have collected is not substantial so far. The students have experienced Literature Circles and they recorded their impressions in learning journals; talk happened in the groups and some learning undoubtedly was constructed by the students. I even recorded the discussion of a focus group of students who agreed to be involved in the experience, but it all seems rather thin.

This semester we (the students and I – some the same, most different) are doing other units, and these do not include Literature Circles. Instead, I am teaching writing to two classes. Both groups have been given a writer’s notebook to facilitate the recording of ideas, but this journal is essentially private to each student and not for assessment. They have certain pieces to write for assessment: a writing folio consisting of a short story for a teenage audience, a poetry anthology with examples of different forms of poetry they have written, a critical review of a film and an informative piece based on research. It seems like a lot for a semester. And, as well, they are being introduced to blogging. There are certain problems with the software the school is using that has prevented them from being made public at this time, but I expect that will be fixed soon.

Throughout this unit with these two groups I think I am learning as much as the students. I am certainly impressed with the amount of craft that has gone into some of the short stories. The poetry is bringing out some interesting results too, some variations on the sonnet form and haiku based on events in the world gathered from newspapers as I have already posted about. I love what is happening in the classroom but again I am not sure how to record it so that it can be data for my research. I guess I’ll keep thinking about it, but if anyone has similar experiences and would like to let me know what you have found about researching your own practice and contributing to teacher knowledge I would be grateful. Here are my del.icio.us links for my study.

At least now when I’m blogging I can say it’s for my study and I won’t have to feel so guilty about all the time it’s taking (time that I love, btw). Still am not up to date with my marking.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


I recently came across this great post on using del.icio.us tags for educators at Emily’s World. I have become entranced by the possibilities of social bookmarking as a way of sharing and creating knowledge. Check it out.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

My Favourite Podcasts

Just lately I have been enjoying listening to these educational podcasters, probably because of their enthusiasm for the use of these new technologies, which I find refreshing. They vary in quality and production values but I really like the unedited nature of these reflections on aspects of the work of these educators in their different ways. Especially with Comprehensible Input, the podcast of Scott Lockman, an ESL teacher working in Tokyo we get to hear incidental bits of his life like the sounds of the busy railway station on his way to work, and the voice of his little daughter who is sometimes around when he is doing the recording. I also like the thoughts of Australian English teacher, Brett Moller with EDTech OZ and his musings on his year 7 class, Bit by Bit with Bob Sprankle, Connect Learning with David Warlick, and Teach 42, with Steve Dembo from the US (who has been on holidays for a while). It has got me noticing however, that the voices of women in educational podcasting are not often heard. Why is that I wonder?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


This week we have a meeting coming up at school where one of the working parties looking at school improvement will be discussing Teacher Professional Collegiality. One of the ideas we will discuss is Team Teaching, whether in the classroom teaching the same group of students at the same time, or Collaborative teaching where the team work together in designing the course and then model inquiry based learning by discussing ideas and theories in front of the learners prior to student led discussion and small group work. Other models include team members who meet together to share ideas and resources but function independently in the classroom. These are just two of the many models of team teaching that exist that have the potential to promote collegiality among teachers working in a school. As well as doing some reading before the meeting we are also thinking about questions such as why is professional collegiality important, what are the constraints in working in this way, and what would we ideally like to see in our workplace?

One of the drawbacks, as I’ve said before, is time. Since early in the year one of my colleagues, J. and I have been going to observe each other’s classes to help foster a sense of collegiality, and to learn from each other. We know we have similar philosophies of learning and teaching, but we haven’t yet sat down to synchronise our timetables. But I’m determined to get it happening. Perhaps after this week when my student teacher finishes. All in all, it’s an exciting time and place to be working at the moment. There’s never a dull moment.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Professional Learning

Why do teachers blog?

In a recent post nb shares an important insight into what makes a fulfilling professional environment to work in. It includes relationships based on a shared love of inquiry. Here are some features of those relationships:

“1. A willingness to listen,
2. The confidence to admit one's own weaknesses and gaps in knowledge,
3. A willingness to share your ideas and understandings
4. Having confidence in the other member(s) to question and think critically about what you have to offer,
5. A willingness to question and be critical of your own practices,
6. Having confidence in each other (and giving each other the occasional supportive pat on the back)
7. A desire to learn,
8. A desire to learn together,
9. An ongoing collaborative process that you reflect on together from time to time, to see what good things are springing from it, and,
10. TIME to talk with each other.”
And this is just what makes blogging so important for me. Though I am so new at it, the blogosphere is an intellectual space where people share a love of inquiry. Here teachers can “engage in sustained reflection and research into their own classrooms and as a result experience great professional growth” as Scott has said. This makes blogging an effective personal reflection tool that also enhances collegiality among those who participate. Fortunately, the technology means that people who otherwise would never meet or know of each other can now be connected and a community, of a kind, is formed. Not to mention the increase in knowledge, inspiration and ideas that, hopefully, transform our learning spaces where we are. At least the potential is there. Just my thoughts on this freezing cold Sunday night. Am I avoiding those papers I should be marking?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Improving schools

Our school is looking at changes it needs to make to keep up with the pace of change in the world today. Last year a review was done where all members of the school community had a say: students parents, teachers and all other staff. It was very wide ranging and there were surveys done, focus groups, and all the staff elected to go into one or other review team to look at different aspects of the school, such as pastoral care, learning and teaching, assessment and reporting and various other facets of a school. This year some of the staff has elected to be in working parties looking at ways of implementing the recommendations of the review. It is an intense and on going form of Professional Learning. On a student free day next month the teachers have been asked to do some research into alternatives, either from other schools, perhaps shadowing a teacher for the day, or research at a Uni or other institution or even in another kind of workplace or industry. It is called shadow day and promises to be an interesting way of spending some time. Of course, for the last six months I have been looking at using various forms of technology in education, hence my exploration of blogging, both for me and my students. I have been keeping up with a myriad of fascinating blogs, articles and websites and feel that I have been travelling in another country. Listening to podcasts makes the learning seem a lot more immediate and ideas have been infiltrating my classroom on a daily basis. I love it. But when I try to talk to my colleagues at school about this, I am finding that they don’t share my enthusiasm, and perhaps I am speaking another language. Some see blogs as ephemera and not worth the effort, that what they contain is trivial. I ask one staff member, L. if she had ever read a blog, but she said she didn’t need to, and anyway she didn’t have time. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all I suppose. But with all the focus on education with the review and the working parties and the learning I am doing online and in my research for my Masters, I feel my head is nearly bursting. What I particularly liked this week was from Will Richardson:

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the transparency of all of this early thinking about how we can use these tools (Moodle, blogs, ePortfolios) in new and interesting ways? Way too much fun.

That is what I like as well. That and having the students at the centre of our thinking about education and collaborative and transformational practice that these new technologies have the potential to encourage.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

All about writing

Being passionate about writing means there’s lots of opportunities to get involved at school. C. just came over and gave me a whole folder of info on creative writing, journalism, script writing and poetry competitions. She wants me to continue the writing club which meets at lunchtimes once a fortnight or so, to encourage student writers who write in their own time. The variety of opportunities is amazing. I’m looking forward to starting with this. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
As well as this there is also the editing of the anthology to do. Every year, well, this is only the second year, we publish a volume of exemplary student writing as judged by teachers and the students themselves. Anyone can submit prose or poetry to the editorial committee (made up of teachers and students) which then selects the content. The cover is designed by an art student, and I’m expecting it to look great again this year. Last year we launched the inaugural edition of Ellipses at the Presentation Night, a huge ‘do’ at Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash Uni.
And then, in my writing class the students were (re)introduced to Haiku. They had a go at writing some themselves and some students read theirs aloud. They were asked to pick the one they were most pleased with and make a PowerPoint slide of the Haiku and illustrate it with an image they liked which suited the poem. They had a lot of fun doing this and some really beautiful pieces resulted. I was reading over at Anne Davis’ Weblog projects about some work she did a couple of years ago with her primary school students on writing haiku from the newspaper. It seems like a great idea.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Some issues in educational technology

I read an interesting couple of items today. One was from Kim Flintoff reflecting on the survey much commented on about ubiquity of teen internet use. He quotes from eSchool News staff and wire service reports July 28, 2005, “Educators who have yet to do so might have to re-evaluate their current instructional strategies in light of a new survey compiled for the Pew Internet & American Life Project; it indicates internet use is nearly ubiquitous for today's teens. Of those youngsters surveyed, 87 percent said they use the internet.” He goes on: “The need to look at the existing skill set of learners (when it comes to technology) is now paramount. As educators we really have to consider the implications of the emerging usage trends. A colleague has been running an online cybersoap called Cleo missing. This colleague is also finding useful information, probably only corroborating what many experience daily, that the pragmatics of internet usage seem to remain constant regardless of context. Many students have a well-established behaviour set when it comes to using various internet technologies and apply the same habits when it comes to learning contexts. He asks: So what do you think are the habits brought into class... AND how can this skill set be recognised and inform the educational journey?

Similarly, Leon Brooks quotes an item why use open source software when Microsoft products are so cheap? “Studies we carried out at Grant High School, Mt. Gambier, South Australia, showed that users' preference for applications to do specific tasks, is closely related to when in their education they were introduced to the applications. A concrete example: Half a photography class was subjected to Adobe Photoshop for image manipulation, the other half was using The Gimp. Halfway through the term, the students swapped 'weapons'. The study showed, that the ones who were initially using Photoshop didn't like Gimp, and the 'Gimp-borne' students thought that Photoshop was crap.”


“With this in mind, I move that we need to consider carefully whenever we introduce new tools to students. If we critiquelessly roll out Microsoft Office on all school networks, with no consideration of alternatives (or no support for the alternatives) then we are effectively CREATING Microsoft Office users. I wonder what this process is worth to Microsoft? New users, created by the tens-of-thousands, every year. Still, WE pay THEM. This 'addiction' to certain brands of software is not a problem as long as the students and their work is confined to the school networks. It becomes a problem in many ways when students want to do their homework, using the same tools as in school. Firstly, they need a copy of the software they use at school, obtainable in only two ways: Legally or illegally. Microsoft has cleverly made available an 'Educational Version' of their Office pack, obtainable for about 1/4 of the cost of the commercial package, for the students to do their homework. The price of this 1/4 pack is still prohibitive for many users, who then choose to get a pirated copy or miss out on the computer based homework option. This 1/4 priced solution is also 'off-limits' for mum to do her business correspondence, even though she owns the computer it is installed on. She'll have to fork out the money for the full version (which,luckily enough, her kids can use for homework as well ;-)


Microsoft is securing their foothold in South Australian schools by making their software portfolio available, for free, for all teachers to install and use at home. This is removing all incentive for – and all initiative from - teachers to change to other products/standards. Nice move.

The obvious connection here is that we as educators need to think broadly about how we use technology in schools. As a lurker on the echalk email list I am very grateful to these two educators who always make me think with their thoughtful reflections and critical thinking on these issues.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blogging = Writing

In my middle school (Years 9 and 10) writing class today the students started looking at blogs with a view to starting their own blogs. We looked at different examples of school blogs and others written by young people and discussed what made blogs interesting to them as readers. Because I could only get half a class set of computers the students were working in pairs and this seemed to go quite well. Some of the students already had their own blogs or had had them in the past, but for most of the students this seemed to be new material. The student then composed pieces, which could be posted on a blogsite, which we will get to next lesson. We looked at how to include a hyperlink and pretty soon the double period was nearly over. I’ll keep you posted when they go online. There is still a fair bit of work to do and of course I am open to suggestions from other teachers who have had their students blogging in class.

At the moment I have a student teacher. It is really interesting, once again, to sit down the back of the classroom and see the class from a new angle. It’s great to reflect on the teaching when it’s not me in the hot seat. However my student teacher is on her second last round and is doing a sterling job. She has a calm demeanour and a sense of authority which the kids like. What I have noticed is that when I am preparing lessons and interacting with the students, I do not articulate what I expect to happen consciously, yet I know when it is lacking. There is obviously an ideal to which I aspire with regard to my interactions with the students, in particular the questions I ask to extend the students’ thinking. This is why it is good to have a student teacher because it allows/forces one to articulate this aspect of planning. I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t do that normally, it’s just that I haven’t in the past.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What's the news about VELS?

Tonight I went to hear John Firth, Assistant General Manager Curriculum at VCAA, speak on the implementation of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. What I found interesting about his talk is that results so far of the validation process show the standards are almost impossible to meet as they are currently worded. They need to have rich examples of students’ work, annotated, and discussed by professionals alongside them. Standards setting is a process, which they need to trial, revise, and ensure there are examples to accompany them. It’s gratifying to hear that the VELS aren’t perfect, that the professionals in the classroom are needed to make them come alive, but then we already knew this, didn’t we?

The new elements of VELS when compared to the CSF is the focus on personal and interpersonal learning. This is becoming a common theme of the inservices that I go to: a fortnight ago I went to hear Art Costa speak on the habits of mind, last week I heard Tom Hoerr speak on Multiple Intelligences and they both emphasised the personal and interpersonal aspects of learning. This is not new to those who value student centred and constructivist classrooms. It’s interesting that it’s now becoming mainstream. The VELS are fairly conservative but they are at least a step in the right direction; VELS gives schools and teachers the authority to make their own decisions. It all depends on how they are interpreted by the schools. Overall though, I didn’t find the session that inspiring for the day-to-day work of being in a classroom.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The value of a life

I love my Year 11 English class! At the moment we are analysing the persuasive language devices used in newspaper articles, specifically letters to the editor, editorials and opinion columns. An article we looked at by Michael Read in The Age “My abortion would have spared my mother” included the comment that “it would have been better for her had she aborted me. After all, my life then would never have been, and logically, I could not have regretted not living it.” The students could see that this was persuasive. I have heard a similar comment from other young people as well. But I disagreed. I wanted to argue that all human life had value. This led to a lively discussion about what the value of human life is. A letter the following day, which the class also analysed, commented that it was good that Read had been born as he was so compassionate. At the end one of the students commented that she was sorry that she had questioned my beliefs. I felt that both the students and I had been engaged during the lesson, that they had learnt about an aspect of persuasive language and that, in articulating their beliefs and hearing the beliefs of others, the students would have gone away with something of value to think about. The comment at the end showed that compassion was not lacking, whether or not the students believe in an abstract concept of a hypothetical life.