Monday, October 27, 2008

Keeping track of those connections

Several of the students in my 21st Century journalism class have asked about how to find and reach a larger audience with their blogs. Right now, they've been mostly confined to our classroom. I'm the audience. However, that model's no different than just typing away on a word processor and handing in a sheet of paper.

The next four things I need to teach and encourage in class:

  1. They've got to register their blogs with a blog tracking service such as
  2. They have incorporate hyperlinks to other blogs they read as part of their writing.
  3. They have to keep reading other blogs to help spur ideas and thoughts for their own blogs so they can link back to those blogs when they write. See number two above.
  4. They have to leave comments on other people's blogs and get themselves involved in the discussion generated by someone's posting.
You know, the more I think about it, I can't just think of this as a prescribed step-by-step process. Yea, I can show them how to sign up for technorati and then subscribe to the feed for their blog links. It's going to take a broader approach and one that does more to provide a broader understanding of what a blog is, how to read one, what it's purpose is. I've touched on this before. In a way, it's like teaching a short story unit. You might start off with Edgar Allan Poe's theory of a short story, then you might read different examples that illustrate plot, irony, or symbolism.

That's where I am now, looking for resources on types of blogs, and examples to illustrate different components. Where should I go? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Content, digital tools, and glimpses outside the classroom

Although I haven't kept up with this blog as much as I have in the past, I'm still here in F14 - or whatever room I happen to have a key to - plugging away at this thing called 21st Century learning. In the nearly two years since I started this blog, my thinking has evolved, and my practice in the classroom has grown more refined, yet my time spent reflecting on it in this space has dropped precipitously.

The teaching challenge is still there for me - how can I embed digital and web 2.0 tools into my students' learning?

Well, let's see...

This year I've had the good fortune of teaching a class called 21st Century Journalism, which has allowed me the freedom to try different approaches with the students. There's no set content requirements. Instead I've turned things around, focusing on the digital tools that may help students find content rather than using classroom content (the assigned reading books for example) to experiment with digital tools. So while my English 10 classes read a series of short stories and created a wiki resource about them, my 21st Century journalism students signed up for a Google reader account and have begun reading blogs tailored to their interest. As I watch them work, I continue to think about the challenges they face when they encounter a broad variety of digital content.

It's a challenge that Bud the Teacher seems to working with on a recent project about generating research questions for a class studying digital literacy. Having kids explore the issues and contexts of digital literacy would be a valuable activity, if for nothing else to help them make the connections between what they already do online with other valuable productivity tools available. Right now, I think there's a disconnect in kids about that. They may spend several hours on facebook or myspace, but never consider the other applications and implications of the technology they use. I guess that's a teacher's job, to help forge those connections and help trigger that learning.

At the moment, where I'm at is using blogs in the class for students to practice the skills of reading and writing. The more I think about Bud's project, it seems to make sense to include a reflective piece, maybe even borrowing some guiding questions from his project. Do we read websites differently than we do books? Does literacy only mean reading and writing? Or, has the meaning of literacy expanded to include how we understand digital content?

As I ponder those questions and how best to integrate them in class, here are some examples of where so far student blogging has reached outside classroom.

One of the students has begun reading about some local issues, but I've been trying to encourage her to expand her reach and read more about statewide and regional stories. I directed her to a blog by a Connecticut attorney, and she mentioned it in one of her posts. Within a few days, he had left her a comment and, in turn, gave her kudos on his own blog. It was awesome to see the reaction of all the students in the class when they huddled around her computer to read the blog entry where she was mentioned. Sometimes it's the small things that have the biggest impact - even though they all laughed because of the name of her blog.

Another student has begun reading numerous different blogs and now maintains two of them, one for the class and the other a little less schoolish. However, there are times when her personal interests and school do mix. She discovered the postsecret blog and absolutely loved it. She decided to bring that idea to the school. And guess what? That's what she did. Read about it here.

I hope the students keep going, and they don't stop here. There's just too much more to learn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Irony in the 21st Century classroom

Here's another taste of an authentic 21st Century English classroom, sprinkled with a healthy dose of the latest and greatest technology, and finished off with a hint of irony to keep it real.

It started when I figured out a way to incorporate text messaging into the lesson - something I've been trying to attain for over a year. Anne posted about how she used Polleverywhere to set up an in-class poll that took text message votes. What I did was ask the kids which of the five stories we read in class they liked the best. Simple enough. Just five minutes at the beginning of class to try out the service, get a quick feel from the kids what they thought, and then use that to plan the next step.

It went smoothly, and I recommend Polleverywhere to everyone who's willing to experiment. It's free and easy to use. (Go ahead and respond via text to the one on this page and you'll see what I mean) What I did in class was project the live poll on the SmartBoard, and the kids got a kick watching it move with every vote.

Several of the kids were genuinely enthusiastic about whipping out their cell phones and sending a text. A few kids thought it was a joke, and I think they were legitimately amazed that a text message and a lesson could ever find common ground. That's great. One student even suggested that I do this again, but set it up so kids could text in a discussion question or idea as we walk into class. I plan to take him up on his idea at some time.

So the rest of the class is spent doing a "Take A Stand" activity to discuss upcoming themes in the novel A Separate Peace. To do so, I was using the SmartBoard, projecting a Google presentation of the discussion questions which was embedded in my classroom wiki. What's more 21st Century than that? After the discussion, which covered topics such as jealousy, friendship, and honesty, the kids spent the last 10 minutes of class writing about one of the ideas from the discussion they felt the strongest about.

So where's the irony? Well, during the writing portion of the lesson, I confiscated a kid's cell phone because he was texting during class.