Monday, November 23, 2009

Next Installment on Diigo

I have been delaying writing this post because I had hoped to be able to work things out and have more to offer. But I haven't, and as a result, I have temporarily suspended my students' Diigo work until I have time to get to the bottom of the issues.

Our work started out well. We read in class a section of Antigone, and that night, they annotated spots where they saw characters developing moral dilemmas (these dilemmas are our entry point into the play -- we will eventually write compare/contrast essays on modern moral dilemmas and what we can learn from ancient dilemmas -- more on that later!). Here is an example of one of their comment threads (with their typos and all!) on this quote from Antigone to Ismene, "Yes, I'll do my duty to my brother -- / and your as well, if you're not prepared to. / I won't be caught betraying him."

  • I believe that this is an example of a moral delima, Antigone is going against what they king has said in order to honor her brother. She also puts her sister Ismene in a moral delima, Ismene doesnt want to tell anyone that her sister plans on diobeying the king, but her sister says that if she doesnt tell the people that she will hate her even more. Ismene is the one that is faced with the true moral delima, whether to protect her sister, or tell the king.

  • Alex on 2009-11-18

  • Indeed, the moral dilema here is paying respects to Antigone's brother and being stoned, or leaving him to be eaten by birds in the desert. If he was not buried then according to Greek customs he would not be able to cross over into the underworld and have to wander Earth for the remainder of time, the greatest dishonor.

This is only one example of many where they read each other's ideas and built their own thoughts on them. I was thrilled. We started class the next day just skimming the play -- I asked them to notice who had a moral dilemma so far just by looking at where the annotations were. They could SEE that every character so far had some kind of dilemma. We were on a roll ...

Then came that day's work. They were to annotate for character development after our in-class reading. I intended to use these character annotations the next day when they got into acting companies to perform the parts we had read so far -- they would have insight into the characters right there on the play itself. But the wheels came off, and I have not figured out how to get them back on. I was getting email after email as the group manager telling me annotations were being put on, but I could not see them. I got to my first class, and I learned none of them could see them either, even their own annotations. Out of 25 students, only four of them had annotations that could be seen. They were anxious because this was their homework -- I was at least able to assure them that I could tell from the email notices they had done what they were to do.

My tech director, Susan Carter Morgan, and I have been trying to get to the bottom of the issue. Here is what we think we know:
  • The Antigone website I chose is a page that loads slowly, so this might be why it is glitchy. Note to self for future: be sure the site we are working on is fast without Diigo since Diigo does add another layer.
  • Diigo itself seems to be having problems. Susan has Twitter friends who have commented on having annotations disappear this past week. Susan and I have both emailed Diigo directly (in fact, I think Susan has emailed them more than once), but we have gotten no response. I am disappointed by this because if there is not strong customer service, we end up with an insolvable problem.
On the bright side, my history colleague did not have these issues last week. She was able to complete a really neat cross-curricular test with the students using Diigo. They had been learning about Greek culture plus studying primary texts. She told them their test would be annotating for Greek culture on a primary source document. When they got to class, they learned that the primary source was the section of Antigone I had read with them the day before. They made very insightful comments, and even better, all of their comments appeared right away. This was the same day my Diigo group had become totally non-functioning, so she was very relieved hers still worked. Here is an example of one of their cultural connections:

Isabel on 2009-11-18

This is an indirect example of the social inequality of Athenian life. Women did not have a large role in Athenian life outside of the home. Ismene does not know of what is going on in the outside world because her place is in the home, away from the news of the city. Because women were not valued no one has a priority to tell women what is going on.

Great thinking! The history teacher had put the play section onto her class's wiki, so she was not working from the same slow-loading page I was. This could be a great answer for how to use text you really want to use (I like the translation of Antigone that is on this slow page the best) but not have to use the slow page.

So, my students and I will finish reading Antigone without annotating, and that is fine. I hope to be able to truly know what all is going wrong by January when we start our next genre: poetry. Collaborative annotating of poetry has such possibilities! So, I am not giving up, and I will keep you posted.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NCTE 2009

While there is more that I learned at NCTE than I can possibly share in a blog post, here is what is going through my mind as I am back at home and should be in bed. No particular order ...
  • If you have not read Clyde Edgerton, do. Then have your students read his work. Laugh and see the honesty of humanity all in one place. Thank you Yvonne Mason for introducing me to both the man and his writing.
  • Still pondering: Why do boys stop reading? Maybe it is because they have learned to hear the question, "Are you reading?" as "Are you reading fiction?" Maybe they are reading more than we know, but they are reading things we do not "count" as reading?
  • Philadelphia has done a remarkable thing with their convention center -- to see a beautiful and modern convention center fit inside an old train depot was breathtaking. Kudos to this urban wisdom.
  • Great idea from B38: Rediscovering ourselves as readers. Ask students to bring in the last book they truly enjoyed reading (no matter how long ago they read the book). On one day in class, all start rereading these personal favorites. Give the class and you time to finish the rereading out of class then discuss (together, in essays, ...) what each reader learned about themselves as a reader -- how this book marks a moment in their lives as readers. Let them rediscover why they like to read then take that enthusiasm into their reading with you.
  • (I twittered this one, so move along if you follow my tweets ...) Have students pair up throughout a text. For each chunk of reading, they switch roles: one posts quotes they find particularly noteworthy; the other responds to the quotes. Gives variety to reading responses through both alternating roles and immediate collaboration. Great way to use blogs/nings/discussion boards.
  • Everyone deserves an "open destiny." "Even fictional characters deserve to have hope." (Emma Walton Hamilton)
  • Still pondering: Can being more careful with the semantics of how we talk about grammar help us to better define the learning we hope to engender in our students? Think about the progression underlying these three terms: GRAMMAR --> USAGE --> RHETORIC
  • Great presentation on comedy from G38: A paraphrase of Chris Rock ... Comedy deals with things we would be uncomfortable with if we weren't laughing. Still pondering how to craft my dream elective, "Why don't we ever read anything happy?"
  • Did you know Art Spiegelman drew Garbage Pail Kid trading cards??
  • Paused for a long time on this one from Kelly Gallagher (my best memory of a quote): "Kids see reading today as a means to taking a test." Ninth graders have had NCLB in their lives since third grade ... what does that mean they make of their education?
  • Why do some people put the work into sending in a presentation proposal then not prepare a full presentation? Nothing was more of a downer than reading about a presentation and getting excited by what it would have to offer to find that it was over 25 minutes into the session block and I had missed out on the first half of other sessions. Thank you to each presenter who worked hard to craft an engaging and informative session (@tomliamlynch was a perfect example).
  • If you have any doubts (which I have had at times), Twitter is truly a relationship builder. I have attended the past two NCTE conferences without any colleagues, and this year I was able to attend with both an actual school colleague (Jennifer Clark Evans) and my Twitter network of colleagues. To meet in person the written voices I have learned so much from (@readinator, @ydmason, @klbz, @msstewart, @englishcomp, @iMrsF, and almost @nooccar ... I am sure I am missing someone) was something my Web 2.0 work offered that the convention could never have done all on its own.
Off to bed to make it through the next two and a half days before Thanksgiving. This weekend was a perfect pre-Thanksgiving celebration for me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Starting with Diigo

The time has come ... my freshmen and I are venturing onto Diigo next week. I am excited for the sharing of annotations that Diigo allows. Last year's freshmen English teacher used Diigo to great success with the students' poetry studies. Having just focused on annotating The Importance of Being Earnest, I think my students will see pretty quickly the additional layer Diigo adds to their active reading and thinking.

What I am most curious about is how they decide to involve themselves in the sharing. I plan to have them do guided annotations at first where they find connections between our in-class discussions of moral dilemmas and what we have read of Antigone. What I will tell them is that if they get on to Diigo first, they have wide open choices for what to highlight and comment on. As more and more of them highlight, the options for new connections will diminish, so those who come on later will need to respond thoughtfully to an exisiting comment -- adding something of value to the class's accumulating ideas. I think it will be really neat the next day in class to have a compiled set of connections to jump right into. In prior years, we had to spend class time sharing them and marking others' ideas in our own texts -- how nice to be able to skip this step and start right into what we have made together.

Here are some things that have seemed important as I have gotten ready for all of this:
  • I am working with the freshman science and history teachers to get the students on Diigo. The science teacher a few weeks ago got them all to set up their accounts, and they have been sharing bookmarks. The history teacher then had them join her class group (more on that below) and do an annotation together in class this week. Therefore, when my classes go onto Diigo next week, the students should be able to use it right away. As a laptop school, this is the biggest hurdle we have found we need to negotiate -- the time it takes to get students logged onto and acclimated to a new Web tool. By sharing this over three courses, we have accomplished two things: no one of our classes has to bear the whole brunt of time needed to get familiar with the program and the students see right away that this is a tool they will truly use and not an "add on."
  • We have decided not to use the educator's account but instead to set up private Diigo groups. Knowing we want our students to use Diigo on their own ultimately, we did not want to limit what they do now to an ed account. However, we did not want them open to every Diigo user. So, we each have class groups they join, and they are learning to categorize their comments and bookmarks accordingly.
  • Our remaining issue is what to do with separate sections of our courses. We know that having all the students across different sections share their annotations is a wonderful, collaborative thing. However, we also know this sometimes will produce too many annotations for the students to truly use. They will just tune out as a result. Our history teacher came up with a great solution. She has all of her students still in the same history group, but when she wants the annotations limited, she has them annotate different web versions of the document. For example, they are starting with Aristotle's Poetics, so she found two websites that had similar translations for her two classes to annotate. What is really neat about this is that at any time, she can have the one class visit the other's site and see their annotations and compare them.
I will be back on here to let you know how all of this goes in reality!