Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thoughts on school leadership for the future

Yesterday, there were a number of teachers and students at school although it was the holidays. Why? The students were there in order to start their practice exams and the teachers (from our school and two other schools) were there to participate in a presentation on leadership. Kevin, who is doing studies in school leadership, took us through a presentation to help us think about the needs of our school as it undergoes its restructure. He introduced us to Margaret Wheatley and Robert Starratt's views on leadership, and the need for leaders to critically reflect on their practice.
Margaret Wheatley
who wrote Leadership and the new science, looks at chaos theory and its relationship to leadership, schools as living systems and the idea of servant leadership.
Robert Starratt says: "During ordinary times, which are never ordinary, but especially during a period of school restructuring, educational administrators need to consider their responsibility to promote an ethical environment in their schools." This is something I am very interested in.

My position in the new leadership structure is that of Domain Leader for English looking at the scope and sequence for the students studying in this discipline from years 7 to 12. The main new focus of the restructure is to look at horizontal integration across each year level. I think the role of the domain leader is to bring the new understandings of learning for the digital age to the discipline of English, not just continue doing what an English coordinator has always done. We need to do it with the emphasis being on links across discipline areas for each year level as well as looking at communication and reflection skills that are needed to help our students be lifelong learners.

So there was a lot to think about as a result of the presentation. I think that blogging is definitely a way that teachers can reflect critically with others. I also found a video via Ubiquitous Thoughts that Scott Mcleod at Dangerously Irrelevant thinks should be required viewing for secondary educators, among others. The talented student, Consuela Molino, who made this video is talking about college teaching but it also applies to us in secondary education.
One of the quotes from the video says it all, I think: "If your sole purpose is just to prepare them for the future, then you have to go outside and see what the future's going to be."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nancy White and online communities

Last night I went to most satisfying performance of The Winter's Tale put on by the Eleventh Hour in a converted church in Fitzroy. The actors made the most of the space which was very unusually arranged. It was the first time I had seen this play and I was rivetted all the way through. The themes were so well presented, redemption and resurrection as well as destruction and jealousy, so thought provoking. I would recommend it if you're in Melbourne and can get to it. It is on till 7th October.

Also yesterday I participated in a live conversation with Nancy White in Seattle on Blogs and Community: launching a new paradigm for online community, which was hosted by the Knowledge Tree. It was the first time I had participated in an Elluminate event and it was interesting, although because it was the first time, the technology takes the foreground and not the experience itself. I think you have to get more familiar with the technology to allow it to be a totally transparent tool. The recording of the event can be found here and the article and a podcast with Nancy White can be found here. One of the interesting facets of the discussion that the 22 participants became, in effect, a community for the time we were in the discussion which felt very unusual when I asked a question in the text chat thinking that someone else would answer and Nancy herself stopped and commented on my question. And I was trying to be unobtrusive. One of the best things about blogging that I have experienced is the sense of inclusion I have felt since I joined the edublogosphere. I am glad that, in the words of the cliche, "you learn something new everyday", and if you're lucky it can be two things.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Learning is social

I'm just reading Jeffrey Wilhelm's new book (with Michael Smith) called Going with the Flow: How to engage boys and girls in their Literacy Learning. It's full of good ideas for learning that is authentic, social and inquiry based. Just thought I'd share this excerpt:

Principles for making it Social

  • Create a context of inquiry, whether for a lesson or a unit.
  • Ask a significant question or pose a real problem.
  • Connect the question/problem to the material, to student lives and to the world.
  • Pose questions or problems that must be addressed from a number of perspectives.
  • Foster debate; consider, read, and discuss these multiple points of view.
  • Create situations in which students can read, write, talk, role-play, and make things together that address various facets of the question or problem.
  • Provide time for exploration.

I try to do these things in my classroom already, as so many of us do, but it is good to be reminded. Even though it is not even the start of Term 4 (still another week of holidays!) there is a need to prepare for next year and the new curriculum opportunities that arise for us then, especially at our school where so many changes will be happening in 2007.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A reader for life?

I have been thinking a lot about what makes a life long reader lately. I keep coming back to Wes Fryer's blog post where he talked about Stephen Krashen's idea of a "home-run book". This is the book that a previous non reader, or reluctant reader or even just a child reader, is introduced to that hooks them on reading for life. In my research I am finding that children who previously liked reading in primary school sometimes go off it when they reach puberty,.for reasons that I don't yet know.When I think of my own experiences as a reader can remember two times in my life that I became hooked on reading. The first was when I was five and I learnt to read after about six months of school. The second time was when I was introdced to reading adult books when I was thirteen. I still remember the teacher's name, Mrs Kenworth, and what she looked like. She was a kind, motherly woman, with a sense of hmour and she turned me on to life long reading as an adult. The strange thing was that she was my maths teacher. I've never been good at maths but I liked it in Year 8. Mrs Kenworth was teaching us about deductive reasoning and she said that Sherlock Holmes exemplified this. She suggested we read Arthur Conan Doyle, which I did. Since then I have read all of Agatha Christie and enjoyed a lifetime of literature and crime fiction, not to mention English teaching. I guess she suggested my "home run book" for me. How often do we think that no matter which subject we teach that we could be the one suggesting the home run book for one of our students. Makes us think again about how we are all teachers of literacy, doesn't it? Can you remember the person that got you into reading for life?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Naked language in our blogs

This evening I went to hear David Crystal speak at a free public lecture at Melbourne University on Language and the Internet (which happens to be the title of his latest book, a second edition only five years after the first). The lecture hall was packed with an audience that covered most of the age groups from late teens and up, and he was welcomed as a hero, or a rock star, almost. He is a well dressed, genial gentleman with a high domed forehead and a fluffy white beard - he reminded me a bit of Professor Dumbledore of Hogwarts (in the books, not the films). He knew his audience well. He gave an animated lecture which centred around why the second edition of his book was needed so soon after the first. The main reason he said is that new technologies have arisen on the Internet which have implications for language and one of these was blogging. He stated that before blogging (and similar computer mediated communication) there have been really only three revolutions in communication: the development of speech, the development of writing , and signing for the deaf community. Now there is this electronically based communication. This last is not like either speaking or writing. In particular, it is not like other writing in the public domain, as it is unmediated writing. Natural, perfectly understandable writing that is not under the subjugation of a copy editor in the way writing in books and newspapers is. He called it "naked writing in the public domain". Crystal sees that there will be linguistics consequences for this, although it is too early to see yet what they will be. He reminded us that it was the first time since the middle ages that this situation has occurred. It is interesting to think about. I guess naked writing is less standardised and more individual. It gives the author more autonomy and is potentially more democratic. David Crystal was certainly optimistic in his view of these developments, seeing them as huge potential enrichments for individual languages, showing remarkable diversity and creativity.
It is now holidays for which I am grateful, but I wanted to mention also the last class of the term on Friday, which happened to be my Recreating the Writer blogging class. For anyone who does not see the point of classroom blogging, I wish they had been there in that classroom. The students were totally engaged on their blogs, some of them publishing poems or stories they had written in the last couple of weeks. The only sounds except for typing noises were, "How do you make a hyperlink again?" "How do you upload a file?" and the help from other students that was forthcoming. And then, "Ooh, look, I've got a comment from Brazil," or "I've left you a comment," speaking to a friend across the room. This continued till the very end of the class and I had to remind them that the bell would begoing in a few minutes. It is very satisfying and enjoyable to be in a room where creativity, thoughtfulness and communication were so evident. So good on you, David Crystal for recognising the significance of blogs.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How do we know that blogs and podcasts improve student learning?

Just a question that I'm wondering about. I have started blogging with my classes and continued to do it because I believe it will help my students learn. And lots of teachers do say that it will help students become better writers, that they will take more care and be more motivated to learn skills they need when writing for a real audience. And that does seem to make sense. I feel that I have enjoyed writing more and that the practice of writing on a regular basis has made me a better writer than I would have been without the regular practice. But how do we know it is working to improve learning for our students? Has anyone done any studies? How do we evaluate the use of blogs, podcasts and digital learning environments generally? Would these convince teachers who are sceptical?

Student dreams

This really happened. I was talking to a student, reminding her that she needed to use her class time wisely, and save herself from having to do the assignment entirely at home, when she informed me that she wasn't that interested in the topic she had chosen. We talked some more about what she might be interested in and she said: "Look all I need to be happy in the future is a house, a husband, two kids and some chips and dip, and I'll be right." For a minute I was speechless. That student is in year 8 and feels that her education (at least at that moment) is just time filling until that moment when all her dreams come true. That was yesterday. Today she came to class with half a page of writing and I still have some hope that she will see that what we discussed about conversations that had more in them than looking after children and house might be worth something in her present, as well as her future. After all, Sydney Harris does say something about education being to "make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's leisure."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Century of Spelling Research

You can tell it's Saturday and I'm catching up on my bloglines. Via my delicious network, which comes up in my aggregator, I came across this beauty, saved by Wes Fryer. It is Krashen's Reading-Spelling Connection - a hundred years of research into spelling. An extract from the website:
While there is ample evidence that diverting attention to spelling when writing "disrupts the planning process" of writing, there is an alternative to those who propose spending more time on direct spelling instruction:
Advise writers to delay focusing on correct spelling until their ideas are firmly in place, while, at the same time, building up spelling competence through massive reading.
A number of studies show that good writers delay editing concerns until the final draft, and "premature editing" has been shown to be a predictor of the frequency of writing blocks.

Sounds about right to me. At the same time there are strategies that we can teach students to self correct and at our school we are looking to have David Hornsby come to work with us on a whole school approach to teaching these strategies.

Krashen's final piece of advice: "let spelling develop naturally through massive reading in the early years, and provide older writers with some guidance in the use of spell-checkers and spelling dictionaries, as well as advising them to delay spelling concerns until the final draft."

I think this is something the movers and shakers of the Aussie group, the
Literacy Educators Coalition have been saying as well.

First annual K to 12 Online Conference 2006

Via Will Richarson:
Announcing the first annual “K12 Online 2006" convention for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice. This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, October 23-27 and October 30 - November 3 with the theme “Unleashing the Potential.” A call for proposals is below.
There will be four “conference strands”– two each week. Two presentations will be published in each strand each day, Monday - Friday, so four new presentations will be available each day over the course of the two-weeks. Each presentation will be given in podcast or screencast format and released via the conference blog (URL: TBA) and archived for posterity.

Week 1
Strand A: A Week In The Classroom These presentations will focus on the practical pedagogical uses of online social tools (Web 2.0) giving concrete examples of how teachers are using the tools in their classes. They will also show how teachers plan for using these tools in the delivery of their curricular objectives.

Strand B: Basic/Advanced Training (one of each per day) Basic training is “how to” information on tool use in an educational setting, especially for newcomers. Advanced training is for teachers who have already started using Web 2.0 tools in their classes and are looking for: (a) advanced technology training (eg. how to write your own blog template or hack existing ones), (b) new tools they can make use of in their classes, (c) teaching ideas on how to mash tools together to create “something new,” (d) a pedagogical understanding of how technologies such as weblogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarking sites, RSS feeds and others can deepen learning and increase student achievement, or (e) use of assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of Read/Write Web technologies in their personal practice and with their students.

Week 2
Strand A: Personal Professional Development Tips, ideas and resources on how to orchestrate your own professional development online; the tools that support Professional Learning Environments (PLEs); how to create opportunities to bring these technologies to the larger school community; how to effectively incorporate the tools into your personal or professional practice; or how to create a supportive, reflective virtual professional community around school-based goals.

Strand B: Overcoming Obstacles Tips, ideas and resources on how to deal with issues like: lack of access to tools/computers, filtering, parental/district concerns for online safety, and other IT concerns while trying to focus on best practice in the use of Web 2.0 tools.

CONVENORS and KEYNOTES: For organization purposes, each strand is overseen by a conference convenor who will assist and coordinate presenters in their strand. The first presentation in each strand will kick off with a keynote by a well known educator who has distinguished his/herself and is knowledgeable in the context of each topic. This year’s convenors and keynote presenters are:
A Week In The Classroom
Convenor: Darren Kuropatwa and Keynote:
Bud Hunt
Bud Hunt teaches high school language arts and journalism at Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado. He is a teacher-consultant with and the Tech Liaison for the Colorado State University Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a group working to improve the teaching of writing in schools via regular and meaningful professional development. Bud is also the co-editor of the New Voices column of English Journal, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. A consumer of copious amounts of New Media, Bud blogs and podcasts about his practice and larger educational issues at

Basic/Advanced Training
Convenor: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Keynote: TBA

Personal Professional Development
Convenor: Will Richardson and Keynote: Ewan McIntosh
Ewan McIntosh is an educational technologist and teacher of French and German. Based in the Edinburgh area of Scotland he frequently works around the UK and Europe, leading student and teacher workshops and conferences. He is an experienced workshop facilitator in the area of Web 2.0 technologies in education across stages and curricular areas. Ewan blogs at

Overcoming Obstacles
Convener: TBA and Keynote:
Anne Davis
Anne is known for seeing the educational possibilities in the use ofweblogs with students in classrooms, having implemented wonderful ideasand weblog projects with students and teachers in K-12 classrooms and atthe university level. She currently works at Georgia State University inthe Instructional Technology Center in the College of Education as anInformation Systems Training Specialist. Her weblog, EduBlog Insightsis a co-winner of the Best Teacher Blog in the second international Edublog Awards, a web based event thatrecognizes the many diverse and imaginative ways in which weblogs arebeing used within education.

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: We’d like to invite you to submit a proposal to present at the conference. If you have something you’d like to share with the community, both people who are new to blogs and/or experienced bloggers please email the appropriate conference convenor above with your ideas. The deadline to submit a proposal (just the proposal, not the finished product) is September 30, 2006. One of us will contact you to finalize the date of your presentation. Your presentation may be delivered in any web-based medium (including but not limited to…podcasts, PowerPoint files, blogs, websites, wikis, screencasts, etc.) and must be emailed to your assigned conference convenor one week before it goes live, (see above strands) so that it can be uploaded to the server.

The conference organizers are:
Darren Kuropatwa
Darren Kuropatwa is currently Department Head of Mathematics at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is known internationally for his ability to weave the use of online social tools meaningfully and concretely into his pedagogical practice and for “child safe” blogging practices. He has more than 20 years experience in both formal and informal education and 13 years experience in team building and leadership training. Darren has been facilitating workshops for educators in groups of 4 to 300 for the last 10 years. Darren’s professional blog is called A Difference (
Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach
Sheryl is a technology/education consultant for the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality, SRI International, the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Department of Education, the Miami-Dade Public Schools, and the Alabama Best Practices Center. She has had several journal articles and book chapters published, been featured on public broadcasting television and radio shows, and is a regular presenter at local, state, and national conferences speaking on topics of homelessness, teacher leadership, virtual community building, and 21st Century learning initiatives. Sheryl blogs at 21st Century Collaborative (
Will Richardson
Will Richardson is known internationally for his work with educators and students to understand and implement instructional technologies and, more specifically, the tools of the Read/Write Web into their schools, classrooms and communities. A public school educator for twenty two years, Will’s own Weblog ( is a primary resource for the creation and implementation of Weblog technologies on the K-12 level and is a leading voice for school reform in the context of the fundamental changes these new technologies are bringing to all aspects of life. Will is the critically acclaimed author of the best-selling book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms (March 2006, Corwin Press).

If you have any questions about any part of this, email one of us:
Darren Kuropatwa
Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach
Will Richardson

Please duplicate this post and distribute it far and wide across the blogosphere. Feel free to republish it on your own blog (actually, we’d really like people to do that ) or link back to this post (published simultaneously on all our blogs). Please tag all related posts with k12online06.