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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Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…