To Blog or Not to Blog

The perfect sunset.  The funny moment. The great jazz performance.  There are all kinds of reasons that people take to social media to “share”.  Tweets and blogs abound.

  

I started my first travel blog,  Hoodooquest.blogspot.com, on my first trip to China as a way of learning about this “new terrain of blogging” and to share my Chinese teaching adventure with family and friends.  My friend, Jan Wells, informed me she read it every morning with her coffee and the newspaper while I was in China.  Then I discovered that people I didn’t know, read it too.  This gave me the confidence to jump down the “rabbit hole” into the world of blogging.

I’ve always written a journal. I have volumes, starting with the pink Holly Hobby diary, on family, school, friendship, skiing, romance, food, travel, motherhood, injustices of life and grand celebrations.  They are highly personal and come with disclaimers that they should be destroyed and certainly not read when I die.  Yes, I have always had a flair for the dramatic.  Blogging can encompass a similar style of writing with strong voice and opinions.   However the public aspect of blogging requires an additional lens.  I am processing my own thinking, but very aware of engaging an audience.

My early blogs were specifically intended as teaching tools (T2fish.wordpress.com, tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com).  They had specific learning outcomes and a body of content to present.  They targeted Tecumseh students but the stats reflected the interest was beyond the school community.  My next evolution of blogs were very similar to newsletters.   They shared relevant information with a specific audience and I tweeted them for accessibility to a greater audience:  For the foodies – SeriousIdulgences.wordpress.com; For educators and community members interested in social justice for children-  cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com ; For PDK members in Vancouver – pdkvancouver.wordpress.com.  However I learned most about engaging an audience when I used Kidblog to introduce blogging to gifted students.  Those kids created amazing blogs about their passions and our conversations about audience inspired interesting thoughts about reaching a like minded community of learners to provide feedback and mentoring.  I’m just beginning to touch on the things they taught me.  It was at that time that I started to actively follow blogs and the twitter feeds of people who inspire me and make me think, such as Jordan Tinney, George Couros, Chris Kennedy, Steve Cardwell and Ruben Puentedura.

This input, suggested reads, my professional  inquiries, collaboration with colleagues and students have made Inquire2Empower (carriefroese.wordpress.com) my most interesting blog to date.  I started writing it as a way to build community with other literacy educators in British Columbia.  It has emerged to a place where I not only share information but also develop my thoughts on a variety of professional topics including literacy, leadership, thinking skills, educational technology, human rights …basically all of those issues that are near and dear to my heart.  The public nature of my blog, holds me accountable for taking the time to reflect on my learning and articulate my thoughts. Once it hit over 2,000 views, I realized people were interested and I had developed an online PLN.

Inquire2Empower is very much question driven, as suggested by the name.  During my first temporary contract as a teacher, I was doing a maternity leave.  My burning questions were why did I hate teaching reading when I loved to read?  How could I engage students in the lesson with contrived, didactic material?  It taught me early on in my career that the pursuit of the answer is what has the real power to make a difference my practice.  Blogging and tweeting brought to light the concept of Virtual PLCS (Casey Reason 2015).  Social media has very much facilitated the formation of a wider community of informal groups that have emerged into symbiotic relationships.   The world of blogs and twitter have provided a structure for me to reflect on my learning but also provided opportunities to participation in Ignite Nights in Vancouver and Coquitlam that personalized the online connections.   It also opened up risk taking ventures like “One Word Burger”.  It has provided amazing choices of speakers for professional learning and the people attending are eager to participate.  It also allows for the follow up and consideration of the ramifications after complex sessions, like Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.   It has opened up opportunities for me to personally present to interested audiences.  Multiple pathways of learning.  Isn’t that what makes the world of education so interesting? Yes, for me, the answer is “to blog”.

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Blogging for Thinking – Reboot

As you may remember from the earlier Blogging for Thinking post, Virginia Bowden and I started our inquiry project in February of this year with two groups of students identified as gifted. These students were participating in two different district programs at an elementary school in Vancouver. Our quest was to use blogging as a means to develop writing skills and critical thinking skills in our students. We posted this entry on the Kidblog sites we had each created to guide our classes.

***** Blogging for Thinking Post on Kidsblog *****

Technology is a tool just like a pencil or pen. We are using blogging as a tool for two reasons. Kidblog allows your teacher to adjust the security settings so only your classmates, parents and teachers can read and respond to your blog. It allows you to creatively personalize your space and learn about blogging before you start posting in a public space. Blogging is also one way to develop and extend your thinking through writing by reflecting on your learning in and out of the classroom. Because you are not able to use your facial expressions or other body language to communicate, your words must clearly express your ideas. You also have the task of using your creativity and language to grab the interest of your audience.

Throughout your learning, we are using the following questions from Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (Spirals of Learning 2013) to keep us moving forward.

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Where am I going next with my learning?

We will be using the following a rubric based on the article “Responding to the imperatives of learning in the 21st Century” (The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2011) to evaluate your progress.

  1. Developing Self-regulated learning: The goal is for you to be able to say: “I am in charge of my learning and motivated to carry out my work in personally responsible, self-reflective ways and to exercise reasoned judgment to meet my goals”.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I depend on others for almost all

decisions about what,

how and when I learn; I follow the teacher’s directions but I don’t add my own thoughts, ideas or interpretations.

I demonstrate personal

responsibility to take charge of what, how and when I learn but I need the teacher to provide specific options to choose from.

I exercise thoughtfully

informed judgments in the pursuit of agreed-upon targets and self assess my work according to teacher provided rubrics..

I put a lot of thought and planning into setting goals and a plan to reach them.   I self evaluate how my learning is going and where I want to go next.

 

  1. Developing my Thinking Skills: The goal is to develop your critical thinking skills. The word “critical” does not mean finding fault in this case. It means that you are not just “parroting back” information, but demonstrating proficiency by making connections, analyzing evidence, and making judgments.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I report back what I heard, did, or read during class or out of school learning experiences.

I report back what I heard, did, or read. I make connections between my learning experiences at school or home.

I consistently describe my learning and express why my learning matters. I understand where I am going next with my learning and come up with an efficient and effective plan of action.

I understand the value of my learning and where I want to go next with my learning.   My plan, conclusions & opinions are based on careful analysis of my experiences and a variety of evidence.

***************

The Blogging for Thinking post reflected how I had come to use blogging in my professional practice.   To post information. An online newsletter. When I started the process of developing personal blogs with my students, I shared several blogs with a range of purposes. We discussed the intent of the blog. The existence or non-existence of “voice”. Establishing credibility as an author? The theme holding together the blog entries. The role or comments in pushing thinking or shutting it down.   Great conversations ensued with students who were adept online.

It was no surprise that the writers in my class and those students with clearly defined passions, immediately took to blogging. Some students played around with a variety of ideas before settling on a theme for his/her personal blog. Some students decided in their self evaluation that they didn’t really see the purpose of the assignment until they saw where some of their peers had gone with their blogs.

As Virginia and I shared student blog entries with each other, our hearts palpitated with powerful pieces of student writing. Not only did these blogs reflect well-developed background knowledge, they demonstrated an ability to skillfully use language to convey a message that mattered, as well as an ability to engage the peers who were able to view the blog.

In the midst of reflecting on blogs of our students, I could hear Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s voices in my head with the mantra…What are you learning? Why does it matter?…What next?…   Add Jim Gee to the mix with the challenge to consider our responsibility to provide “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring to our students to guide them beyond “the entertainment only “ aspect of the digital world. Add the discussions of the expanded definition of literacy at The International Reading Association Leadership Conference took place in Florida this July.   I certainly had the front end loading to write many, many blog entries.

Meredith Kezar catapulted me into the world of blogging 5 years ago by providing an example of what it could look like. She insisted I delve into her blog and showed me the possibilities for my upcoming trip to China. I was on my way to teach English and BC methodology to Chinese teachers in Fuyang. I started a travel blog to keep very specific groups of friends and family up to date on my adventures. It was fun to write, had strong “voice” and I got lots of positive reinforcement.   Many of the blogs that I have done since then have been a way of sharing information with a specific audience. More or less a group send without the hassle. However it had stopped there.

My vague goal this summer was to write widely. Stephen King’s book hit home with the need to be disciplined about carving out time to write.   I always think of Margaret Atwood and the dentist sitting beside her at an awards dinner saying “When I retire, I’m gong to become a writer” and her hitting back with “Oh, really. When I retire, I’m going to become a dentist.” My summer goal was to focus my attention of both personal and professional writing as a way to live life.

Art Markham’s work has been a good reminder about how the brain forms new habits. Where my journal writing often happened on the beach or in a café, my disciplined focus on writing required early mornings at home with no distractions.   I decided to use blogging as the tool to develop my background knowledge of digital media and develop my professional writing.   I stepped away from the blogs that I had used to share information with a tightly defined audience. I reframed three previously established blogs to explore unique purposes.

The blog that I had developed as The Provincial Coordinator of BC Literacy Council of The International Reading Association (BCLCIRA) became Inquire2Empower  CarrieFroese.wordpress.com Initially I started it when I became Provincial Coordinator, of The BC Literacy Council. The purpose was to create community with literacy educators who were International Reading Association members. It is now emerging into a tool not only to provide information, but also to engage a wide range of educators in asking questions and reflecting on learning. It put the onus on me to engage in regular reflective process about my reading, writing, perspectives, conversations and invite feedback.   It was empowering to have Art Markham responding to my comments on his book and learning about creating “unanticipated community”. It’s interesting to learn which issues and ideas resonate with other people. How does this inform the professional offerings we offer through BCLCIRA and PDK in Vancouver?

My Hobbit travel journal came to with me on my first 6 week trek to Europe when I was 17 years old. It is filled with descriptions of what we ate and drank. Some things don’t change. My seriousindulgences.wordpress.com blog reflects that enduring fascination with food and drink. Entries come naturally and much of the writing has been done at Kit’s pool between laps, on the beach, in hotel rooms or in cafes. It has really pushed the development of my technical knowledge about digital media: Format; mobile posting to Facebook; Posting to Pages as opposed to timelines; Twitter; Instacollage; Pinterest… Because I like to travel, eat out and go wine tasting, posts are frequent. This lends itself to considering timing and frequency of posts to reach a vaguely defined audience. So much to learn about the how to’s and why’s and really’s?

I have been on the board of directors for Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society of British Columbia www.wartoystopeaceart.com for many years. Susan Ruzic, Sandy Murray and myself set up a blog cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com site last year. Our intention was to create a dynamic site that allows multiple people to post projects and publicize funding for peace art projects with children.   My summer goal has been to develop a standard for posts that will invite active participation to report projects funded by PC2 (Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children), keep our eyes open for ideas for other possible projects and perhaps attract funding.   Although this site has the least activity, it does open the possibility of redefining how the board functions and invites participation from others in a noble causeJ

As my holidays come to a close, I feel energized by my summer learning. Although blogging is defined as public due to the nature of the audience, the actual writing and subsequent growth is extremely personal. This spring, Virginia and I were trying to teach our students to apply and develop their writing skills and critical thinking skills. That is just what I did as I carved out time for regular reflective practice, wrote for a larger audience and broadened my perspective on the possibilities of social media. The PDK professional development with Chris Kennedy and crew, the journey of literacy practitioners to expand the definition of literacy, the quest of neuroscientists working with educators to bring new understanding of learning, all came together for some very powerful personal professional development.