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Funny sometimes how the classes you lose the most sleep over end up being the most rewarding. Last holidays I tried to devise a new approach to teaching formal writing with a class of 28 mixed ability Year 10 learners which features an ORS student, 2 ESOL students and 8 SENCO tagged learners with a variety of learning challenges.

As a group BOY formative testing showed they struggled to unpack ideas in reading, and without an idea, it’s hard to form opinions and without opinions it’s difficult to be persuasive – you get the drift!

I recalled that at the end of Term 2, the entire Year 10 cohort had workshops with guest speakers from Police and other agencies about cyberbullying. It struck me I should start with something they had discussed recently and were likely to have an opinion on. In an aha moment, I came across two FREE DVD teaching resources on the NetSafe website complete with downloadable worksheets. Perfect – these guys love visual starters. So the seed was sown.

My objective was to help students progress their formal writing skills by developing ideas around a class wide topic – the perils of cyberbullying. As well as watching the DVDs, I provided opportunities to develop ideas and conduct research together to ensure they ALL had facts to back up their opinions while at the same time exposing them to a heap of valuable online resources. The lesson outline was a mixture of core skills and ideas development that went something like this:

Lesson 1 – SEXY para revision via reflective writing in journal based on TVNZ reporters sharing their experiences: Do celebrities deserve the same rights to privacy online?, formal vs informal language, paragraphing using BBC Skillwise site.

Lesson 2 – SEXY para revision based on Sexting clip: Why is sexting dangerous?, Tone – rewrite a bogus school report, Research Skills discuss ACC (authenticity, credibility, currency) show tree octopus and the “True” Martin Luther King website, show students how to conduct keyword searches, show students how domain names give clues to authenticity, research trash and treasure hunt – find 3 facts about cyberbullying in New Zealand

Lesson 3 – Watch Tagged, write own definitions for bullying and cyberbullying, check actual definitions, friend request worksheet from Tagged, Role of bystander – write a SEXY para in journal: Why don’t people stop bullying when they see it?

Lesson 4 –  SEXY para The dangers of stereotyping via YouTube Clip Other People’s Shoes. Class discussion Why do people follow the Queen Bee? Watch Tagged webcam character interviews, complete timelines, profiles and what’s the status worksheets/activities.

Lesson 5 – Watch Let’s Fight it Together, answer focus questions in groups, devise solutions as mind map, watch character interviews on DVD, blow up character questions to A3 complete in groups, share. Hand in journals for feedback on this week’s reflective paras. (Give feedback on SEXY structure and explanation of ideas)

Lessons 6 – Complete THINK worksheet and discuss as class, revise language features via Pimp My Writing ppt, write two pimped sentences in journals. Issue task: We need to get tougher on cyber bullying.

Lesson 7 – Complete research worksheet in pairs in class using websites supplied.

Lesson 8 – Spelling rules starter, draft intro and BP1: What is cyber bullying and how big is the problem in NZ?

Lessons 9 – Spelling rules, Draft BP 2: What are the effects of cyber bullying? and BP 3: What is being done to stop cyber bullying?

Lesson 10 Draft conclusion (think about causes, effects, solutions) hand in for feedback, discuss feedback with students

Lesson 11 and 12 – craft, edit, publish, submit

During the five assessment sessions, our ORS student was working on his own presentation about cyber ullying using MySimpleShow which he presented on the last day of term – and it was awesome. He told his teacher aide what to type, they selected pics together and he presented it. The other students were gobsmacked!

As for those completing the essay assessment, their results showed some incremental improvements in terms of summative assessment but for me, the real results were less tangible and included:

  • addressing issues within the class between different clicks by using THINK
  • establishing who specifically their own “trusted” adults are
  • reaffirming the sanctity of their own bodies and how they most respect themselves
  • crossover with Health and PE. Students were getting double exposure of key concepts and ideas

Here are extracts from some of my favourite essays – regardless of where they sit on the curriculum scale, I’d like to think they learned a few valuable lessons during the process:

We definitely have to get tough on cyberbullying. The victims of cyberbullying are getting younger and younger. Cyberbullying is no game. It’s not something you do as a joke; it’s serious and pointless. Cyberbullying destroys people and makes them feel unimportant.

Cyberbullying is when someone uses social media or technology to bully and put someone else down. By using this method the bully can hide behind the screen instead of having to confront the victim face to face. My opinion is that if you have a problem with someone, you should sort it out then and there, face to face and not cower behind a screen and bully others without having the guts to say things to their face.

Cyberbullying is when people decide to bully other people online with technology and turn it against each other to make a horrible situation for the victim or victims. Cyberbullying gets worse at high school where 25% of students report they are constantly cyber bullied, 30% say they have sexted and 67% say they have been asked to sext. The most common type of cyber bullying is using cell phones because 80% of high school students use them.  Cyber bullying is most common with girls. An example of this is in the Tagged film when two girls start cyberbullying the victim as a “joke.” Clearly, cyberbullying is a vicious game that needs to be taken seriously.

The effects of cyberbullying are long term and potentially deadly. In Dunedin, a 14 year old girl received 150 threats to kill herself in three hours. In another incident, a 15 year old girl on tumblr was asked for tips and messages on how to kill herself. People who get cyberbullied fell depressed and can end up self-harming. Most of them can’t handle being cyberbullied. In my opinion, cyberbullying is pathetic and cowardly. The victims have a whole life ahead of them. They shouldn’t have to put up people bullying them. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

There are now multiple places for victims to get support such as websites like nobullying.com or helplines like 0800WHATSUP. There is also a programme called Sticks and Stones started by young people in Alexandra. These are all for people in need of someone to talk to and get help to prevent further problems around cyberbullying.

In conclusion, I think cyberbullying is a gutless way of putting someone down. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it at all. Cyberbullying ruins lives and you don’t want that sort of guilt on your hands.

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Friday. Students currently enjoying coffee and croissants supplied by me (on World Teachers Day too!) as inspiration for an afternoon of feature writing with a 4pm deadline looming. So a chance to reflect on digital technology my students have embraced independently to enhance their learning as part of a Media Communication course.

It was with some delight I learned at the end of term one when conducting a survey on their study habits that several of the keener learners had been connecting outside the classroom via Skype. Now Skype (or a Voice over Internet Protocol VoIP as it’s technically known) isn’t new.  But what has been interesting is how my students have utilised this tool. It has been hugely significant in terms of reflecting a transition towards taking more responsibility for their own learning which has been a challenge for many of them this year. While the keener learners set it up, the less engaged were also using this option by the middle of the year when they could see and hear how the rest of the class were benefiting from it. Skype has enabled them to :

  • clarify ideas/concepts discussed in class
  • brainstorm story ideas
  • share ideas/networks for interviews
  • develop their intro writing skills through the “tell a friend” approach
  • learn how to give constructive criticism of their writing
  • test their knowledge of key terms and concepts
  • revise for tests

Yesterday they started work on a class newspaper with their peers in Christchurch.  Coordinating a class newspaper with a team of fledgling reporters some 350km apart is a daunting prospect (for me at least).  They met for the first time via video conference and learned when trying to allocate roles that paper-scissors-rock doesn’t work via VC due to broadcast delays!

That afternoon, they quickly set up a google docs account where they are building a bank of story ideas, allocating pages and assigning tasks.  Again google docs is not new. It enables users to create and edit web-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations as well as store documents online and access them from any computer. I am interested to see how my students are using it to their advantage.  Our chief reporter is currently watching the ChCh-based editor type feedback in real-time as they refine story ideas together. Simple.

And while I have used Moodle this year for extension work, sharing readings, assessment updates and to send email messages to students, the ChCh group has used Facebook.  Straight after yesterday’s first VC my students were added to the ChCh group and can now instant message their peers to keep each other informed of progress, share ideas and give encouragement.  Perfect.

So while producing a 14 page, tabloid newspaper with a group of students based in separate cities who have never met might seem daunting, suddenly thanks to digital technology, social media and good old Kiwi ingenuity, anything is possible!

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If you receive the New Zealand Teachers’ Council’s weekly e-letters, you’ll be aware the council has just launched its Teachers and Social Media website – yeeha.  And if you’re lucky enough to be on holiday you might have even had a look at it! The site aims to promote discussion about the relationship between the registered teachers Code of Ethics and social media.

It’s important that all teachers are familiar with the code and being relatively fresh out of training, I’d read it fairly recently. The site is structured around the code’s four stakeholder groups so commitment to learners, parents/families, the profession and society are all covered in relation to social media usage.

Home page of NZTC social media website

The resources section features animated videos that pertain to each of the four groups and deal with scenarios such as texting students, blogging, Facebook and digital footprints. Under the resources tab, you’ll also find guidelines and docs (including a staffroom-friendly social media map explaining what social media is), a presentation framework enabling schools to use the videos etc for PLD, FAQs and links.

True to form, under the reources tab, the guidelines and documents page features a prezi with tips on how to manage and recognise ethical dilemmas when using social media.  A lot of information is repeated throughout the site so what you read in the prezi (don’t set to auto play unless you’re a speed reader!) also features in a downloadable poster. The same page also includes a link to a seminar that was held a few months ago where the site’s developers discussed its content with teachers.  It’s 58 minutes long but interesting to see the initial response to what was essentially a focus group for the new site.  As I’d already explored the site, I found the teachers’ comments in the chat box in the side bar of more interest that the presentation itself.  Some pointed out that their schools still had firewalls blocking the use of Facebook and other social media – these comments were not always picked up on by the moderators but I suspect those and the usual access to technology issues will ensure some of the scenarios discussed are a long way off being reality for many teachers.

My favourite section is  Your Stories under the pink tab where teachers share experiences about using social media tools – yes. That’s what I was looking for!  So far there are only four posts but obviously that will build over time.  I’d used all the tools discussed except pinterest but it’s always good to learn how others are using Facebook, Twitter etc to engage their learners.  The links page in the resources section provides more hands on assistance with the “How do I…?” questions rather than the “What will I do if…?” focus that is the site’s raison d’être.

Overall, it’s a great site and one that is long overdue. I love the resources, enjoyed the stories and have bookmarked many of the links as well as adding #educhats to my twitter feed.

My only concern is the emphasis on the “What ifs…?”.  Because teachers want the best for their students, and possibly due to some of the bad press the profession has received this year, we may be over thinking things somewhat. I’m not trying to be blase about the importance of ethics, a subject I’ve taught most Fridays this year to my aspiring journalism students.   Ethics is all about shades of grey. There’s no way the NZTC can develop a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts to cover every possible scenario that might (or might not) occur.  I guess that’s why the site focuses on linking the existing code to the social media environment so that if members are in a position of having to justify their decision-making, they can refer back to the code to explain themselves.  But surely that’s the same for countless decisions made in every classroom, every day? I guess also for members, this approach provides protection against potential critics.  But should professional protection be at the heart of discussions over usage? Certainly we need to have those conversations but it would be a shame if developing pedagogy that encompasses social media is driven by fear of stuffing up. And that’s ethics too – there is no right or wrong so even with the best of intentions, we might have to accept that sometimes we get it wrong. Hopefully if best professional judgement is applied, those mistakes won’t be career ending, hangable offences.

If we wait for an elusive list of dos and don’ts, we might miss a golden learning opportunity. Digital tools are evolving at such a rapid pace, by the time we work out how to use them ethically and acquire the technology (and skills) to use them, the next tool is here. This results in teachers being in a constant mad scramble to keep up, make lessons meaningful and head off every ethical issue imaginable before it happens.  It’s easy to see why social media ends up in the too hard basket.

It shouldn’t be that hard and it shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of classroom teachers to find ways to successfully embed social media into their schools’ learning programmes. Let’s not forget that social media is all about interactive community building. One teacher in the webinar said when a negative post was made on his school’s Facebook page for parents, before the school worked out what to do, other parents had (diplomatically) shut the negative, naysayer down.

And that’s what it’s all about really – yes we need to be careful and well-informed in everything we do and say with our students BUT we also have to have a little faith that social media, if used wisely, will enhance communication, strengthen communities, engage learners and keep our jobs interesting and personal commitment to lifelong learning relevant.

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Been a while.  This can only mean one thing – yup, I am on holiday of what appears to be a permanent nature due to not being offered a permanent position at the end of last year. Ho hum – back to the drawing board.  Despite the hugely disappointing end to my first year teaching, I would not change a single thing about the year itself.  I taught  students from Year 9 to 12 with a range of abilities.We had our ups and downs and our moments, some we made the most of, some we’d probably prefer to forget!   I will miss ALL of my students this year, am proud of how much we achieved together in 2011 and am very sad I won’t get to see their various learning progressions.

So, before I have to make some really tough decisions about what to do (and it looks as if teaching is simply not an option) I thought I’d share a list of links and brief comments about ICTs and digital technologies trialled last year.  As always these choices are dictated by environmental factors. The school I taught at did not have PCs or laptops for students in the class.  It used a book in lab system. It was tricky getting into the labs for some of my classes and there were never enough PCs for one computer each student. Mid-way through the year the school bought sets of netbooks (20 per set minus a couple that were generally out of action). These had limited applications installed and again had to be booked well in advance. Still a step in the right direction. 

So here’s the summary, take from it what you will and feel free to ask questions if you’d like to know more.  This is not a comprehensive list  – just what I can remember after far too many days off! I’ll start with Year 9 today and add others later.

Year 9 – lower ability class:

  • History of English – 10 short clips from the Anglo Saxons to Language of the Internet, worked really well.  Developed focus questions around each one so this can be used as a listening exercise too.
  • Grammar Skills Testing – Spent a session in the computer lab working through at their own speed. Good before creative writing. They could go back to problem areas and retest – also handy for diagnostic testing.
  • Persuasive arguments  – an interactive online organiser, used for speeches, would also work for formal writing  Because we didn’t have PCs in class, I developed an argument for them and then projected the template to copy.
  • Creative writing starter/poetry taster – pick an image then drag and drop words to create poems, see earlier post on PicLits.
  • Animate words from essays – the visual learners liked this, most failed to see the point, used for early finishers, similar application can be found at pimpapum.
  • Fractured Fairytales – another great interctive from Read Write Think, students create their own characters, setting etc to rewrite well known fairytales.

And when all else fails, I used social media sites they knew about as a basis for static activities.  For example, I created a Facebook profile template and used this for note-taking on key characters. I also created a template for a twitter feed (after showing them the basics online and tweeting them via my account) and used this to rescript a scene from a drama studied in class.  They weren’t convinced about this approach but some really enjoyed!

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Love them or hate them social networking sites are deeply embedded in our lives. And if they are deeply embedded in the lives of those aged over 20, it’s safe to say they are second nature to anyone under 20.  Sitting in a campus computer lab writing this blog there are more than a dozen people in the room checking their Facebook pages at any one time.  For the under 25s, Facebook is a conduit to life. It forges their sense of identity and  belonging.  Older generations may struggle to see the relevance but I’d suggest you leave such thoughts at the door.  While you ponder “Why would you?”, “Who has time anyway?” or “No wonder their personal communication skills are so poor”, a new social network site will have sprung up defining the next generation of communicators, collaborators and colleagues.  You don’t have to “get it”. You don’t even have to like it, but if you truly want to connect with secondary students  – now, today –  you’d be crazy not to use them in class.

So clearly I’m not going to bother to defend the “Why would you?” question for this post.

First up the sea of blue and white screens currently threatening to engulf me is the portal to the wonderful world of Facebook which surely needs no introduction.  If we’re looking for ways to engage with our students , to build positive and possibly lasting relationships with them, this social network ticks boxes.

So here’s a few basics pointers in case….Facebook has a number of features with which users may interact. They include the Wall, a space on every user’s profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user to see; Photos, where users can upload albums and photos; and Status, which allows users to inform their friends of their whereabouts and actions,  News Feed appears on every user’s homepage and highlights information including profile changes, upcoming events, and birthdays of the user’s friends.  Users can control what types of information is shared automatically with friends. Facebook Notes is a blogging feature that allows tags and embeddable images.

If you’re considering setting up a Facebook group, there are a few things to consider first. Here are a few tips for starting out:

  1. Create a separate account just for your classes. Keep two accounts if you want to use Facebook personally as well. This keeps your Facebook relationship at school on a professional level.
  2. Manage privacy settings. If you don’t want to manage two accounts, use these tips to manage privacy to keep your personal and professional lives separate.
  3. Friend students carefully. Make sure you are “friending” students in current and former classes for professional purposes. As a rule of thumb, maintain the same level of professionalism on Facebook as you would in person.
  4. Ask students to put you on limited access to their pages. This keeps you from having to see their personal photos, status updates or other information that may compromise your professional working relationship.
  5. Use FB as a course management system. Use in place of other course management systems such as Blackboard to access all your online information and connections with fewer restrictions.
  6. Stay active. Keep posting messages, use as many Facebook apps and resources as possible, and update status reports so your students know you are engaged.
  7. Get over the term “friend”.  Some teachers are disturbed by the idea of making friends with their students. Instead of adapting the Facebook term in the common way, try to think about the relationship as one of a mentor.

Sribd has a visual presentation which covers off a lot of the privacy/security questions as well as the ethics of communicating with students this way in its Teachers’ Guide to Using Facebook.   or you can read a teacher’s suggestions here.

So exactly how might you choose to use Facebook in class? 

  1. As a way to manage assignments, to network with students and learn more about them.  Dunedin School Logan Park High is doing this successfully….
  2. For class projects – share book reviews, poll your class using the poll app, bring literature to life by doing a character study
  3. To establish your own personal learning networks – Facebook in Education aims to be an ongoing resource for information about how educators can use Facebook – yes, free resources and lesson plans! Join groups, stay in touch with former classmates, share material and access resources.
  4. Facebook has student resources – weread, flash card creator and more.
  5. And of course there are resources and tools for us too – webnaria enables you to post lesson notes to your group, there is a file uploader and a quiz creator
  6. Plus resources for both students and teachers – slideshare etc.

If you need more ideas – here’s another 94!

Now I said I wouldn’t but in case you’re not convinced about the potential of social networking sites as a learning tool, here’s a few more positives to ponder. Online social networks:

  • create an inviting atmosphere
  • are informal
  • encourage collaboration
  • are current
  • assist with engagement outside the class
  • teach personal responsibility (through educating students about privacy and security issues)
  • enhance student-teacher relationships
  • encourage active learning

There are various social networking tools you can set up to help students collaborate, share and discuss learning online. I am out of time to look at more today but will quickly mention Ning which is a bit like Facebook for education. It allows you to set up a closed community where students each have their own profile. You can customise the tools you want to have available but typically there are resources to enable everyone to upload video, documents, photos and sound files, have online discussions, blog and create events which are stored in a calendar and shared with all users.

The main difference between Facebook and Ning is that Ning has far fewer apps (add ons/tools/toys) than Facebook.  Personally I think the interface is cleaner, smarter and simple to use.  Setting up a group on Ning would certainly keep your class work separate to students’ personal social networking activity – less danger of crossover. But it would also mean students would need to join another site and set up another account which may be off-putting for some …

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…that may well be the question you are pondering. Twitter is one of those Web 2.0 applications that people either love or love to hate.  “Why would I?”  is probably the first reaction from time poor teachers. Fair enough.  As with any online application, it pays to keep an open mind but in reality, you should only go there if it enhances the teaching and learning process.

In case you’ve been asleep for the past five years, Twitter is a microblogging service. Think of it as the equivalent of a Facebook status update. In 140 characters or less, you can share news and information with a network of followers and vice versa. 

Here’s some tips on getting started:

  • Sign up and create a profile at twitter.com
  • Include a photo or Avatar and a quick description of yourself
  • Unless you specify otherwise, what you write will be seen by the whole twitterverse
  • If you want to follow a person, click on their name and then click “Follow”.
  • If you don’t want to receive their updates click “unfollow”.
  • If they are being a pain, you can block them.
  • Links to websites in your tweet are automatically shortened but are active so your followers can click on them and visit sites of mutual interest
  • RT is a retweet – handy for passing on useful information to your network while acknowledging the source
  • Use # hash to tag tweets and make searching easier
  • Te reply to a fellow tweeter or mention them in your tweet, use the @ sign For example:

@budgie10 thanks for that link to the Kings High blog (reply)

Just saw @budgie10’s newest post on the Kings High blog – hilarious (mention)

For English teachers, the brevity of twitter can make it a useful classroom tool.  Using 140 characters or less is a great way to teach young people to write simply, using the best words available.  Twitter also presents a range of specific classroom activities. Here’s a few I’ve gleaned from reading how “real” teachers are using twitter:

  • A tweetstory – Choose a theme/genre, post a standard story opener and tweet to your network, ask network to continue the story and follow them via www.twitterfall.com or a #tag. Then students can follow, choose the best ones and edit them into a coherent story – great for editing skills.
  • Short but tweet – give students the 140 character rule, assign them with either the intro, character description or whole story.  In groups, get students to play “pass it on” – but they must do this in twitter speak (140 characters). They then add to it in their groups. Results can posted to twitter or via blogs.
  • Word morph – Use twitter to send out a word and have your network give students the synonym and other meanings.  Or have the classroom connect during a writing workshop.  Then have the students help each other create a wordle cloud of a word and its synonyms, antonyms and examples to foster more descriptive writing.
  • POV and character development – After reading a novel or short story, assign students a character and create a twitter account e.g. @atticusfinch. Students use their study of that character to create conversations around key events in the plot.  Or focus on events or situations that are omitted from the plot but referred to so students are creating their own fiction based on their knowledge of the writer, the time period and the characters.
  • Word Play – online games eg: anagrams – post 8 letters and see how many new words can be formed, “What does it mean?”, use twtpoll to post definitions – “Who can guess the correct definition?” post a word and guess – synonyms, antonyms, homonyms?
  • Bite Sized info – Set up a twitter account dedicated to just one topic for pure information eg: Shakespeare quotes, poetic devices, newspaper jargon etc
  • Multi-media class newspapers – Students shared links and tweets become professinal looking articles. Create a class or project newspaper at Paper.li by creating a specific twitter account for the class/project. It will auto-publish a multimedia newspaper to all the tweeps followed by the main twitter accounts and send it out to those who subscribed.  

More ideas like this can be found here with thanks to @tombarrett on Twitter.

Personally I can’t wait to have a go at paper.li  but there are clearly lots of really practical and engaging ideas of use to English teachers.

For all teachers, twitter offers a forum for professional development and reflection. Here’s why Twitter is also useful in this regard:

  • It’s instant – if you’re under pressure to find a resource or come up with a lesson activity, tweet to your network and get help quickly!
  • Access to global experts – you can follow people you may not get a chance to shoulder tap in the real world and ask them questions
  • Access to colleagues – twitter can be used for peer review – ask and you may well receive
  • It’s quick and easy to use  – which lays to rest the “time poor” argument!
  • It’s inspiring – you can follow really smart people on twitter as Phil Beadle says: “Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of espresso”

Don’t forget to visit my resource page for links to more articles and resources on Twitter in the C21 Classroom.

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Social media, Iphone and Ipod apps and a raft of Web 2.0 tools are changing the way students work, study and the way they find answers to questions. Maybe I’m teaching to the converted but here’s a clip that sums up why we should care about digial technology, where’s it’s heading and how it’s consumed.

I’m also including the original Shift Happens clip which is a few years old now but paints a clear picture of how the global village is changing. Whether you’re a digital native or a digital immigrant, those with digital media literacy are so far ahead of everyone else…it’s scary.

Digital divide aside, students today in Aotearoa are highly media savy. If you want to understand them, you need to know how they are using social media tools and other digital technologies.

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