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Famous last words in my previous post about using tried and trusted platforms for senior assessments. You would think having used WordPress since 2010, guiding six Year 9 classes through the process of blogging on Taieri Hot Reads and administering two sites that using this format for my Level 2 Media Studies recent Design and Plan a Media Product assessment would be a walk in the park.

Sigh.

I’m not sure if it was because they were working on streams rather than laptops/PCs but despite me projecting the entire set-up process and talking them through it, students had no end of problems setting up blogs with four separate pages representing each stage of the assessment.

Once again, I’m left worrying that the use of technology simply added to their angst when they should have been focussing on the content more – planning a film trailer using their knowledge of various conventions and feedback from me and their peers (hello comment function – seemed ideal?!).

In the worst case scenario, when the clock is ticking and no amount of creative thinking solves an issue for them, it pays to go back to basics so I suggested they avoid trying to add pages and simply put all four stages on the home page with clear headers so external agencies 😉 can follow their planning. Having just had a quick check of some of their sites, it appears even that threw them.

Anyway, here’s a couple of the ones that are currently working to plan. They were due to submit them on the last day of term but were in such a tizz, I’m letting them tweak over the holidays and submit first day back – yay, lots of Week One marking for me.

Student X

Student Y

Student Z

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Setting up an entire new course is not without its challenges. One of the biggest issues getting our Level 2 Media Studies course up and running this year has been integrating technology into as many assessments as possible. Although we are not a 1:1 or BYOD school (yet), students have access to HP streams. I feel it is really important that if students sign up for a subject like Media Studies, they are offered a range of technologies as part of the learning process. As a teacher, this sometimes entails lots of trial and error getting to grips with various hardware/software/gear/platforms/programmes before guiding students through the process.

At the moment, the class are working on a standard that involves designing and planning a media product. Next term, they will use that planning to make the product. Their task is to produce dystopian film trailers of 2-3 minutes duration. Before they can do that, there are several checkpoints to get feedback from me/their peers on their planning documents.

To make it even more real, we were lucky enough to visit internationally-acclaimed television production company NHNZ this week where they heard first-hand the importance of sound planning in the moving image production process. They also got valuable careers advice and a tour of the production facility which left them gobsmacked!

Reading through online discussions between Media Studies teachers, it seems gathering evidence is one of the toughest aspects of successfully offering this standard. The TKI task we’re using suggested blogging. Although we are a Microsoft school, I opted not to use OneNote for this activity due to the ease of sharing with people (moderators) outside the organisation. Instead, students have set up WordPress sites and are slowly getting to grips with adding posts as well as uploading documents.

We used Office Forms to survey our target audience and they’ll insert links to responses (all wonderfully collated and summarised in graphic form) into their first post as proof they have considered target audience in their planning. This was pretty straightforward although having done a whole uni paper on survey methods and efficacy, I wish we’d had more teaching time around creating robust surveys before they sent them out! I suppose flaws in the wording of some questions can be part of the feedback process. Certainly a teachable moment about how people can manipulate questions to get desired responses …

The benefits of using WordPress for this assessment are:

  • posts are time coded providing evidence the assessment has taken place over a period of time (never long enough though!)
  • students can name pages to reflect the four stages of this assessment (concept, treatment, production schedule, pre-production activities)
  • visual learners can take pics of rough planning from their initial pitch and insert into a post
  • the class can comment on each others’ posts providing more evidence they are seeking and using feedback
  • their sites are public so easy to share outside school

It was a relief to be able to use a platform I was familiar with as having set up Taieri Hot Reads a couple of years ago and this site six years earlier, trouble shooting has been pretty simple plus I’d already developed a series of worksheets around signing up, commenting and posting. Like most things, the proof will be in the delivery. I’ll add some links soon as tomorrow is their first real checkpoint.

 

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Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.

Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos.  I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.

I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!

Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently.  Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.

Successes have included:

  • students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
  • students making links between texts
  • students engaging in conversations about books
  • students learning how to be good digital citizens
  • students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
  • students discovering new books to read through the site
  • Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
  • Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
  • Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
  • Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
  • creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded

Downsides have included:

  • students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
  • students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
  • students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
  • too many posts on the same text  – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
  • cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
  • overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would  go back to the author and request better responses
  • students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
  • having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming

What would I do differently?

  • ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
  • ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
  • create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
  • create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
  • limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion

At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.

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So what does it mean to me to be a connected educator? As an English teacher, I started with the dictionary and confirmed my suspicion that connected meant unified, joined or linked. So far so good. But did the blogsync  challenge mean connected strictly in a digital sense or were they seeking broader reflections?

Coffee time. A connected educator for me means so many things. I definitely need to connect with my students. Know them as people, their likes, strengths, (a bit old hat) learning styles. I’ve also learned it’s helpful to connect with family/whanau. One short phone call to give feedback on progress or discuss any concerns is far less scary than I’d imagined. As a parent, these are the interactions I expect from my sons’ teachers. The learning process is a partnership between home and school – has to be. Being connected also means linking with colleagues. I’ve often heard it said in schools (mainly during in-house PD sessions) that we teach in silos and need to reach out more, share ideas, discuss experiences. This segues nicely into being connected digitally and Connected Educators Month which promotes connecting with colleagues around the world.

These ruminations funnily enough took back to the CEM starter kete. Should have started there. Beautifully summarised is the event’s purpose “together we can be stronger and move on the digital technology pathway in a shared, collaborative approach.” Ah. So digital is in fact key.

Onwards then to the Connected Educator Manifesto where previous participants shared their vision on being connected. Here I struck gold in the preamble which clearly states connected learners collaborate online via social media, engage in conversations in online spaces and take what they learn back to inform their classrooms, schools, districts, and the world.

Key here for me was the phrase inform their classrooms. Back to the blogsync schedule of selected topics.  Oh yeah there is is – how has being a connected educator affected my work in the education. So if you’ve managed to read this far (yes Chris and Karen – too long I know), here’s the rub.

I became a secondary teacher five years ago. My year training provided a rare (though costly) luxury in that I was able to explore a range of online technologies, immerse myself in the NZC, set up wikis, blogs, make prezis I could use later and generally have a good play. I fully believe that’s where a lot of the angst comes from in New Zealand secondary schools around digital technology. There just isn’t the time for teachers to play, to find out what works for them and their learners. And then if they do take the plunge, there next to time to share.

The other issue we have in terms of informing our day to day classroom activities is access to technology. Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here but I’ve had conversations with many teachers working in state secondary schools and most are in the same position. Three-four labs to be shared among 800 odd students. Laptops that can be booked but generally have to be priortisied for senior assessments. BYOD doesn’t ensure level playing fields but is a step in the right direction.

At the weekend I attended a high school reunion. Amongst our crowd were several teachers, all primary bar me. One observed that she felt secondary schools were “slow to get on board’ with inquiry based learning. She’s right but it’s not down to teachers. Many of use still teach in box shaped rooms with rows of desks squeezed in, little or no access to technology other than a data projector and assessment conditions defined by NZQA. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a connected educator in such environments but it is more challenging.

What I have managed to use successfully includes:

  • LMS – wikis, moodle, ultranet
  • Facebook groups – for senior revision
  • Blog – junior wide reading, used library sessions to set up and then offer ongoing assistance if no computer at home http//:taierihotreads.wordpress.com
  • Pinterest and Scoop.it – topic specific information
  • Read, write, think – great interactives for writing and detailed lesson sequences
  • Quizlet and Spelling City – apps, the year I taught a trial iPad class. Bliss.
  • Socrative – app for revision
  • TedTalks – all the time, speech topics, creative writing
  • Simple Mind and Big Mind – brainstorming apps
  • Evernote and Dropbox – apps for document sharing
  • Showme and Prezi – topic specific presentations as starters or for revision

Aside from specific apps, sites and online tools, the biggest thing I bring back to my classroom through stepping out of the silo is a sense of purpose and excitement about the possibilities that exist to learn in a connected world. So where to? I’ll keep sharing, keep talking to strangers (drives my kids nuts but it’s in the manifesto so clearly, it’s a good thing), keep exploring and playing. And I’ll definitely keep hoping that one day, the allocation of resources needed to make the visions inherent in the NZC become a reality for all our learners.

 

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I’m sure a collective sigh of relief graced the classrooms of many schools around the country a week ago as the third term (aka the term that ends in a whirlwind of reports, assessments, deadlines and in our case, preparation for a major rebuild) stormed to an abrupt close.

So really, you’d think the last thing on anyone’s mind is … school but that’s where educators constantly amaze me. Not only have I found myself drawn into a virtual vortex of professional learning and development (reflective journal anyone?) this week but despite my initial misgivings, I have found the launch of Connected Educator Month and its associated smorgasbord of seminars to be rejuvenating in many ways. And the best thing is, I can take part from home!

So far I’ve listened via a webinar to a wonderful collection of stories from New Zealand educators about our success in using technology to enhance learning opportunities across the board. Through this, I heard more about the e-learning planning framework straight from the Ministry and been introduced to NetNZ via Trevor Storr. Amazing to hear what others are doing at the chalkface as well as getting the big picture view.

I’m currently listening to the launch of #blogsync, a project inviting New Zealand educators to share posts throughout the month on a range of topics including Diversity and Inclusive Practice and Student Agency and Voice. #blogsync enables members to blog on an elected topic each month on their own platforms but publishes links to all others educators blogging on the same topic. The aim to to encourage deeper level analysis than 140 characters in a tweet allows. Posts are shared allowing a long form conversation to develop. And in a first, I’m doing so using google hangouts – fantastic! What a great way to present online conversations, run revision sessions with students, share information and connect with others.

Tomorrow I’m logging into a session run out of the States on using technology in quick writes and next week, I’m going to hear more about NZQA’s plans to carry out assessments digitally. I’ve also signed up to find out how to become a social ninja? My kids are quite intrigued by that one. The schedule is exhaustive (literally and metaphorically I’m sure) but rest assured, once you sign up, regular reminders keep you organised. Possibly picking one or two sessions a week is more realistic for most of us.

And why? When the sun is shining and the kids are home and there are essays to mark and lessons to plan would I add another thing to the to do list? Because I know this will inform my teaching next term and beyond. Because I owe it to my students to discover new ways to teach and learn and because teaching can be extremely isolating. Teachers work so hard and there are such huge demands on our time meeting everyone’s needs that sometimes, it’s easy to forget to set time aside to critically reflect on why we’re doing what we do.

As I type this post, Christpher Waugh (ex Mt Aspiring College) is presenting the #blogsync launch. He’s reiterated the importance of using technology to connect with colleagues and learners.  Maybe he’s preaching to the converted but even the converted need inspiration.

So my advice is get online, give it a go and get connected.

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It’s a common complaint in English departments acorss the country and probably the world – they’re just not reading.  We all know that there are plenty of reasons why young people are opting out of reading and we all try our best to encourage reading inside and outside school.

This year, in addition to library visits where my junior classes take part in book waterfalls, book speed dating and other activities designed to turn them back onto reading, I’ve launched another blog. Initially this was to share my own reading experiences with my students and point them to sites to inspire their reading. what I found was, they just weren’t using it and if they were, I certainly didn’t know about it.

I’ve now sent invites to 58 students with a view to them being able to post about their reading as well as comment on posts.  It seemed when we shared reading expereinces in the library orally that they were most keen to hear what their peers were reading so here’s hoping their additional format helps to build on that, and helps to develop their writing skills along the way.

Watch this space!

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Hard on the heels of my post on Digi-teachers, here’s a follow-up on the importance of listening to young people (in case you needed convinced).

You’ve probably heard of TED (Technology Entertainment Design) Talks. The US not-for-proft organisation that nurtures “ideas worth spreading” and, true to form, spreads those ideas via conferences, and a vast online repository of some of the world’s most interesting  and engaging speakers presenting a dizzying plethora of ideas on just about any topic you can imagine. Espresso for the mind.

Earlier this year, TED hosted Adora Svitak, an articulate advocate for student-directed, student-centred learning. Not surprisingly, Adora ia pretty hot right now on the educational speakers’ circuit in the US and can teach us all a thing or two about reciprocal learning.

Described as a prolific short story writer, a blogger, her presentation is full of pearls of wisdom (she’s a child prodigy but don’t let that put you off!) on why the world needs more childish thinking.

Here’s a sample of highlights I took from her talk:

“When expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them”.

“Our audacity to imagine helps push the realm of possibility”.

“Students should teach their teachers. Learning between grownups and kids should be reciprocal.”

“No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so we can grow up to blow you away.”

Go there now – it’s chicken soup for the student teacher’s soul!

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One person who knows the power of blogging is Kings High school librarian Bridget Schaumann.  Not only does she blog but this C21 savvy librarian tweets, texts, surfs the net and is a great exponent of how librarians and teachers can work together using digital technlogy to enhance students’ learning. Every school should have a Bridget!

Bridget created the school’s blog two years ago to further inspire the Year 9-13 students at the single sex Dunedin  school to share their reading preferences through reviewing books and posting information on their favourite reads.   

Since then, the blog has attracted a world wide following and although this was not entirely the original intention, Bridget remains commited to continuing the blog as part of a wider approach to ensuring libraries and books remain current for the students she works with and for.

I visited Bridget at the library this week to find out more about how the blog has evolved and where it might be heading in the future.  You can hear what Bridget has to say about blogging, boys, reading and more here!

PS – A confession.  I had such a good time talking to Bridget I’ve split the interview into two instalments so expect to hear more soon…!

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If you’re reading this, you know what a blog is.  In simple terms, it’s an online journal or place where an author or group of authors can share information in a collaborative environment. similarly a vlog is an online video diary.

A blog is one of many applications reflecting the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. A blog ticks all the 2.0 boxes – it is participatory, collaborative and easily shared. Blogs put people in touch with each other, create communities (you’re part of one right now!), encourage conversations, enable knowledge sharing and promote creativity. They allow information/dialogue to be directed towards specific groups and communities.

Like many Web 2.0 applications, blogs are often established with niche communities in mind, they often concentrate on one narrow topic or present opinions from individuals with strong view points or specific interests. There are literally millions of blogs out there. In 2008, media research company AC Nielsen revealed that around 1.3milion New Zealanders had read a blog and 451,000 had created a blog.

Some blogs have large followings and the bloggers themselves become celebrities such as  Cameron Slater of the Whale Oil blog who has sparked public debate on name suppression policies for well-known New Zealanders – particularly after he broke a suppression order via his blog.

Politics aside, in the education sector, blogs can enable us to action many of the core underlying values of the National Curriculum. Consider the document’s vision of our role in “creating confident, connected, actively involved life long learners”, of the principle fo encouraging students to reflect on their own learning, of community engagement and of creating links across learning areas. Yes a blog can do all these things, and more!

Whatever your subject area, I would suggest there is a place for a blog in your class. This could be approached in two ways. You might help students, or group of students, to set up a blog around a particular topic and then disable it once they have completed the relevant unit.  Alternatively you might guide students to set up a blog as part of longer term goals of your teaching programme. Perhaps it has a place in developing their transactional writing, honing communication skills or creating a media product?

So how might you approach blog creation? Depending on your intention – is creating a blog the point or are you including a blog creation as one of several learning activities within a specific unit around a topic?  If you are going down the open-ended path, you might need to brainstorm with students and give them some writing prompts to get started such as books they are reading, their interests, current affairs topics etc.

Anne Davis and Ewa McGrail in their article Joy of Blogging (Education Leadership, March 2009, Vol 66, no. 6) reported that writing and replying to comments was a favourite part of the process for their student bloggers. To encourage students to make thoughtful comments on posts, they supplied starters such as “I wonder….”, “Another thing to consider is…” or “I don’t understand….”. They also recommend recruiting readers from outside the school who are happy to comment on student posts. This might include other students or other teachers in your school or perhaps affiliated schools.

Students were also encouraged to create their own unique voice, to quote and link to other blogs and respond to readers’ comments.  Through creating a blog students also learn about correct attribution of other people’s ideas (more on that in a future item!) which is sometimes a foreign concept to digital natives.

Other benefits for students via blog creation Davis and McGrail observed included:

  • introducing students to new words, concepts and points of view
  • providing links to further understanding
  • providing opportunities for students to clarify/elaborate on their opinions
  • helping students understand that grammar, punctuation, syntax, word choice and spelling weren’t just
    “a teacher thing” – yes these are skills needed in real life!
  • encouraging reflection  
  • allowing students to self-direct their learning
  • enabling freewriting which enhances metacognitive ability
  • making learning a creative, exploratory and joyful process

Of course with any online project, you will need to be familiar with your school’s Internet Safety Policy and make sure students understand those rules and their application to the blogging project.  In particular Davis and McGrail suggest:

  • Discussing Internet safety issues with students at the start of the project
  • Advising students against including personal details through their blog
  • Instructing students to minimise their screen and tell a teacher immediately if they receive anything that makes them uncomfortable

On reviewing these issues, it strikes me that before embarking on a blog creation project, it would also be advisable to inform parents/caregivers of the activity and give them the opportunity to discus any concerns with you. Once students leave your classroom and the school grounds, they will probably also want to log on at home and check posts and comments too. Your HOD might even insist that permission slips are needed to enable a student to participate fully in the activity…

 So there’s a lot you could do but don’t be overwhelmed by the logistics! Because blogs aren’t new, there are several well-developed and tested formats available. This blog is created on WordPress and I can vouch for its ease of its use. Other options are typepad and blogger.com.

To wrap up, here’s a quick checklist of steps for incorporating a blog into a unit of work:

  1. Test drive some of the applications above, make sure you can do the basics
  2. Get a copy of your school’s Internet usage policy, make sure it permits this level of online interaction
  3. Decide if the blogs are part of a topic or an ongoing piece of work
  4. Clarify how you will assess students work
  5. Make sure you have access to computer labs and book them ahead of time
  6. Inform parents/caregivers of the project and discuss any of their concerns
  7. Introduce the project to students ensuring they understand: your school’s policy on internet safety, the basics of blog usage and correct etiquette for posting material/responding to posts
  8. Get blogging!

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