Thursday, November 10, 2011

What It Is All About

I have not been good about writing on my blog. But I am inspired to be here today by an email I received from a student who graduated last year and is now a freshman at a large university. She was in my AP English Lit class, and I showed them my blog every now and then -- trying to share that I think about them and learn from them an awful lot. Here is what she wrote to me:

"Hi Mrs. Nobles! I am in a writing class here called 'the future of writing' and we have a class blog where we are supposed to write in the blog 5 times about something relating to where writing is going, and how it is affected by technology. I know your blog has some topics about this, and what you do inside the classroom, so I was wondering what the link to your blog is so that I can get some ideas! I'm coming back home in a few weeks for thanksgiving and I'll definitely be making a pit-stop by FA to see everyone.Oh and also, I've gotten As on both of my english papers here, so I owe it to everything I learned in AP english!"

To see that my blog is a way that my students and I can continue to learn from each other is something I had never considered before. It might be one of the best reasons for blogging yet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Things I Have Learned as an EduBlogger

1. Reflection makes me a better teacher.
2. Making the time to come to my blog and write is always invigorating and rewarding.
3. Blogging will be sporadic unless you make yourself a blogging goal. I have to admit I have not made blogging regular in my life, despite having years of posts. I envy those bloggers who set weekly or even daily blogging goals. Imagine the reflection and growth they achieve ...
4. Sharing links to your posts in other forums (Twitter, Facebook, blogs you comment on) may feel like bragging, but instead it is inviting conversation.
5. My students are intrigued when they learn I blog about my teaching and therefore them. I think this helps them see that I really care about what I am asking them to do with me in class.
6. The first thing your students will do when they learn that you blog is go on your blog and look for mentions of themselves. They will laugh when they admit this to you.
7. An EduBlog is not a personal blog, but that does not mean it does not get personal (see my last post for evidence of that). You will need to decide for yourself, just as you do in your classroom, how personal you are comfortable going.
8. Link to other blogs and sites that you enjoy and learn from. The collaborative web is as much (if not more so) about who you link to as it is about who links to you.
9. Use visuals and videos and try to condense your writing (I fail regularly at this, but I know that people are more apt to read my and your posts when they are not scrolling down and down and down.)
back going back through your posts and seeing the history of yourself as a teacher is powerful and often surprising.

What have you learned as a blogger? [#11: ending with a question is always inviting to your readers :)]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back to School

School has fully started for me now -- both my teaching and my doctoral class. While I always mourn the loss of loose summer days, I am a teacher because I do still love the start of school. I have a few goals for this year:

1. Deepen the collaborative work I have done with the wonderful Katie Dredger at Virginia Tech. Katie and I have used a Ning to link preservice teachers with my AP English students as they study Othello (see post here about this work) . Katie and I are going to try to link her students and my freshmen this fall in a study of poetry. I already use a Wiki for my students' poetry work -- they post their own poetry, their favorite poems by other authors, and recordings of their poetry recitations. Having this new platform to experiment collaboratively with is very exciting for me (and leads to me next goal ...).

2. Develop students' understanding of collaborative learning through new media and technology. My freshmen this year used a few different technology tools in Middle School, and I hope to build on their experiences with an emphasis on linking to others through these tools. We have started this on their blogs, as they have been excited to receive comments from each other. (Maybe you will comment on a post too!) We will use these blogs as joint repositories for our ideas about short stories, and we will talk at the end about how they are a great study guide since there are so many ideas to test your own against. We will move to the Wiki later this fall where they will put their own work out there more directly for comment, and I am excited to have Katie's students as an audience for this work. That is still for me the major roadblock for taking full advantage of the collaborative learning potential of Web 2.0: finding an audience. Students lose steam when they are only interacting with their teachers online, but it can be very hard for teachers to find strong collaborative relationships to create audiences for their students. Yes, there are students out there who end up finding their own audiences, but that is rare, to be honest, in the world of everyone as a blogger, tweeter, and vlogger.

3. Dive deeper into my study of collaboration through social media platforms. I was able to write about my Ning work last spring in my doctoral class. I hope this fall, as I am taking Research Methodologies, to move into full research of this work. Once again, Katie and I hope to work together on this, with her mentoring me as I am new to "official academic research."

4. Stay clam and in the moment. My most important goal. My children are growing, my body is waiting for me to take care of it, my bookshelves are filling with future reads, my trees will drop leaves to be raked, apples will grow that need picking and canning into applesauce ... These are the things I want most to do as I also work on my professional goals above. I have made this goal many times in the past and, to be honest, not done very well achieving it. This school year is different though, and while I am not fully sure why, I think I know a big reason.

I spent this past summer for 6+ weeks in my first "summer doctoral institute." While I learned a ton and enjoyed it in many ways, I also truly wore myself out. My eyes were bloodshot from all of the reading, my legs were stiff from all of the sitting, and my brain was too full to take in anything new. Yes, doctoral students hold these ailments as badges of honor, and certainly going through these stresses does warrant congratulations. However, I do not want to live my life that way, and I went into this doctoral program with the self-promise that it would not consume me. I had no idea how I was going to make sure it didn't (I am no better than all of the doctoral students who have cone before me, so who I am to do it differently?), and I failed at it this summer. But it was not a total failure in the bigger sense of things. Instead, I have seen clearly where I do not want to end up, and I have seen how I got there.

So, I have been doing very well ever since stepping back and doing only what I can, trusting that what needs doing will get done. My biggest achievement has been not griping at my kids every morning as I get them ready for school but instead enjoying the time I am lucky enough to have with them since we go to school together and remain together until I walk them every morning to their classrooms. That is an amazing thing I get to do, and I know it will come to an end as they get older. Better enjoy every minute of this now.

I will be back to this blog throughout the year each time I find myself failing with my fourth goal ... because I know I will fail and regroup many times. Here's to 2011-2012!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tracing Pottermore

What happens when an actor desiring creative control tries to own the open spaces of participatory culture?

That is the research question I have written for Tracing Digital Cultures with Dr. Liza Potts. Dr. Potts told us as we started this class that we needed to find an event to track as it unfolded through social media. Well, since this was June 22nd and anyone who is even a remote Harry Potter fan knew what was happening on June 23rd, I chose the unveiling of Pottermore. I started out wanting to know how JK Rowling was going to enter into the world of participatory culture, a world she had clearly up to this point left to others such as her fan sites.

What happened has become much more intriguing. Pottermore itself is just not participatory. The fans were hoping the site would be a place where they could participate, but it isn't. Not yet anyway, and how much participation will ultimately be available is still a mystery.

So what did the fans do? They created a space where they COULD participate: #pottermore. This hashtag stream has been flying every day from before the announcement to now. But another intriguing thing has happened: the conversation has moved to be more about the final movie release than Pottermore because ... well ... nothing is happening on Pottermore.

Now comes the last intriguing piece that brings me to the formulation of my research question. The Pottermore staff created a Twitter account @Pottermore, validated by none other than JK Rowling herself (Side interesting thing: they did not validate themselves through Twitter. Clearly JK Rowling's approval is enough.). @Pottermore has used #pottermore for a grand total of three times -- to build excitement for the opening of Pottermore. Ever since opening day, @Pottermore has tweeted without any hashtag at all, their 184,762+ followers clearly making them feel like they got enough out of dabbling in participatory culture so they can now return to finding users rather than working with participants. #Pottermore is still an incredibly active place for Potter fans, but if they want anything from @Pottermore, they have to head to an online journal (it does not allow commenting, so blog is not the right term) where they can read information and see still pictures of Pottermore under construction.

So, as I have mapped all of this out using actor-network theory, I have come to an interesting answer to my question. What happens when an actor desiring creative control tries to own the open spaces of participatory culture? Yes, maybe Pottermore, its staff, and even JK Rowling (although she has made it pretty clear that she won't) will eventually participate in participatory culture. But for now, they seem to be using participatory culture to change eager participants into simple users.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Those Days After the AP Exam ...

I got an idea years ago from another teacher (I wish I had kept his or her name so I could give credit here) for the best thing I do after my AP Lit students have taken the exam. We read Walt Whitman's poem "There Was a Child Went Forth." As juniors, they study Whitman, so we take a minute to review his major style traits (observations, listing, non-rhyming, no meter ...), then I set my students to writing their own versions of his poem looking back over their lives. Even my students who do not enjoy writing poetry enjoy this because the style is so non-threatening and they have something say because they are looking towards graduation and naturally looking back at what this milestone means. Here is the template I give them:

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

(Stanza 2: earliest memories)
… became part of this child.

(Stanza 3: mom and dad – plus other family members if you want)

… they became part of this child.

(Stanza 4: Lower School)
… became part of this child.

(Stanza 5: Middle School)
… became part of this child.

(Stanza 6: Upper School)
… became part of this child.

(Stanza 7: anything else – think individuals, outside school, local, global …)
… became part of this child

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who
now goes, and will always go forth every day.

I then print their poems in colored font with some sort of picture -- whatever makes them look a little more published than their everyday writing. I attach these poems to a poem I write to the whole class of my year with them, and I give these gifts on our last day. I read them my poem aloud, which traces my memories of the whole year, and it is really a wonderful way to end and an easy way to give them all a gift to remember the class and high school by. Thank you to the teacher who suggested this so many years ago!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why Do We Read?

My 2011 APEs have given me a great year. Today, we reflected on why we read and books we value. Above (click to be able to read their stars) are the books they shared today for our final Book Celebration Day, and below are their final thoughts on the power of reading.
  • Books inspire us to do different ... life-changing ... things.
  • Books teach us who we want to be and who we do not want to be.
  • Books bring us to times when things weren't so difficult and when messages were still important but simpler.
  • Books help us understand and be able to cope with difficult situations we go through in life.
  • Books help us connect to other people.
As I said to my students today, their final bullet is a perfect one to end with. Literature connected me to my 2011 amazing APE readers, and I will miss them next year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bringing the World into Your Classroom

I want to recommend a great resource: the Peace Corps for Educators website. On this site, you can find first-person accounts written by Peace Corps volunteers divided up by region of the world, a Peace Corps challenge game, and (my personal favorite) a speaker match program. I put in my request for a speaker who had been to Africa, and within 24 hours I had a list of people within my region to contact sent by the Peace Corps coordinator as well as an email from a former Peace Corps volunteer who wanted to speak to my students. My speaker is coming in two weeks, and I cannot wait to hear his story. He is talking to my seniors, so another great possible result of this is that, by hearing about the Peace Corps, one of them may decide to join themselves. Yes, they will learn about Africa and tie that to the literature we are reading; more importantly, they learn about their world and their possible futures. Thank you, Peace Corps!

Blog Assignment #5: Rhetorical Literacy

Selber, Stuart A. "Rhetorical Literacy: Computers as Hypertext Media, Students as Reflective Producers of Technology." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

When I read Stuart Selber’s first chapter of Multiliteraries for a Digital Age, I was struck by his inclusion of “rhetorical literacy,” that is a literacy where students are “producers of technology” (25), as part of computer literacy. He acknowledged that scholarship on this literacy was in its earliest stages (26) – indeed, I saw him as prescient defining this literacy in 2004. A quick look into what was happening in 2004: Facebook was founded while “historians may well date the golden age of the blog from 2004—when's most searched-for definition was blog. How long can it last? Who knows?” (“10 Things We Learned About Blogs”). I was therefore curious to read what, by mere timing, was one of the earliest looks at user-generated technology and the way education should integrate the required skills.

In his rhetorical literacy chapter, Selber writes that the “broad shifts in audience, genre, and context that have helped to move this activity into the territory of writing and communication teachers” (139) mean English departments must learn what skills are needed for this type of writing and communication. “The audience for computer interfaces is no longer solely, or even primarily, other computer scientists … These changes have altered the ways interface designers must think about audiences …, genres …, and contexts … As should be evident, the competencies such new realities call for are largely rhetorical in nature” (142). English departments risk losing a voice in this new rhetoric if they do not become involved in understanding then teaching the necessary skills.

Selber defines four components of the rhetorical literacy: persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action. (147). This chapter is for educators because Selber connects his theory to praxis, offering lesson ideas for each of these categories. For example, he suggests students apply “classical, symbolist, and institutional perspectives on persuasion” (151) while analyzing an organ donation website. His lessons are geared to high school students and older based on the websites he suggests; however, his methods can be applied to websites more appropriate for younger students.

Selber’s chapter finishes with the creation of interfaces, a logical step after students practice being rhetorical users. “The research literature stresses that the creation of interfaces for hypertextual media frequently places increased demands on writers” (168), and Selber examines three metaphors for this new writing: “nonlinear text,” “modular nodes,” and “associative links”(168, 172, 176). Overall, by theorizing about human-computer interaction and applying his theories to classrooms, Selber shows educators how to help students become “reflective producers of technology” (182).

Works Cited

"10 Things We Learned About Blogs - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - Time, 19 Dec. 2004. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. .

Selber, Stuart A. "Reimagining Computer Literacy." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blog Assignment #4: Teaching Writing in the Space of Blackboard

Davis, Evan, and Sarah Hardy. “Teaching Writing in the Space of Blackboard.” Computers & Composition Online (Spring 2003). 15 Feb. 2004 .

“As we ask our students more and more frequently to inhabit a virtual space, we would do well to investigate just what kind of space it is” (“Introduction”). Evan Davis and Sarah Hardy articulate a question I have struggled to articulate: What are these virtual communities?

As a user of online communities in my classroom, I have sought insight into the nature of these spaces. Davis and Hardy’s essay is not a research study; instead, as professors who use Blackboard, they explore how to define the metaphors created in these shared spaces. Their essay is grounded in practical experiences and deepened by extensive theory from Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Michel de Certeau. For the writing teacher who wants practical advice on using online communities and Blackboard specifically, the section “Tips on Teaching with Blackboard” is invaluable. However, this essay does much more – it achieves the "theory-practice orientation to the classroom" Len Unsworth calls for (6).

Davis and Hardy’s conclusions illuminate my Ning experiences (while Ning and Blackboard are different, they are comparable as online private classroom communities). First is the tension between the goal of open, visible learning and the unavoidable containment of the system. “In a process-based composition course, such visibility holds out the tantalizing possibility of self-reflection … [Students] can become aware of their own mental processes and of the social context in which they write, seeing themselves … as members of a larger group” (“Panopticon”). This is the goal I have for my students; in fact, on my ning’s front page, I wrote, “We are about to join [Othello’s] long literary history with our own ideas about Shakespeare's masterpiece … You will have blog topics that ask you to think about the play … [and] you will explore and react to classmates' blogs. In the end, you will have created together a web of thinking … Here we will be able to … learn from everyone's thoughts and insights.” However, the systems’ nature creates a false sense of venturing into the full conversation. “By setting off a discrete territory …, Blackboard lets us use the web without being overwhelmed by it, hugging the coast while priding ourselves for venturing into the ocean” (“Panopticon”).

In the end, Davis and Hardy conclude that Blackboard is a successful system for student learning. It “makes it easy to take the goals of a student-centered class one step further, … introducing peer response and … critique into every level of the composition process” (“Panopticon”). What a teacher-researcher must be aware of is how far, or not, the system allows students to go. Davis and Hardy assert that students must know how to engage in public collaboration. It is up to us as teachers to thoughtfully expand the limits of these online spaces, guiding our students into full participation with their collaborative world.

Works Cited

Unsworth, Len. Teaching Multiliteracies across the Curriculum: Changing Contexts of Text and Image in Classroom Practice. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press, 2001. Print.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Days That Count

I am teaching for the first time in many years the seniors who are not in AP English. I have worked a great deal in my head on what this kind of student needs -- the student who has had to take English every year of their schooling life but does not plan to study English in college. What can I offer them in this final year that will make English mean something to their interests and choices?

While I my curricular answers are for another post (here's one!), what I want to post today is simply this picture of the Valentines my seniors made for their first grade buddies. My students and I started this semester going over to the Lower School every Friday as our "class." We do whatever the teacher needs us to do with her students -- sometimes reading, sometimes dissecting owl pellets (really!), sometimes brainstorming word lists, but always talking and sharing. When I look at the care and fun my students put into these surprise Valentines for their newfound "buddies," I think maybe this is what matters: the chance to be with others through the written and spoken word.

Blog Assignment #3: What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?

Elizabeth Brockman, Marcy Taylor, Melinda Kreth, and MaryAnn K. Crawford. "What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?" English Journal 100.3 (2011): 75-81. Print.

After exploring social software in two posts, I wanted to learn what professors expect in student writing because of the debates (for good and ill) about writing skills and digital tools. What kind of writing skills should students have? The answer to this will allow me to focus on how social software can help my students develop the writing skills they need in college.

The four authors of this article completed an extensive research study of writing at Central Michigan University. They published their findings first in the January 2010 English Journal (“Helping Students Cross the Threshold: Implications from a University Writing Assessment” may be accessed with an NCTE login). The 2011 article that is the focus of this post delineates the findings of the study’s focus groups. These groups consisted of professors from “various disciplines, experience levels, and pedagogical views” (75) who met to discuss the kinds of writing and how much writing they assign, strengths and weaknesses they see, and their definitions of “’good’ writing” (75) in their disciplines.

What is nice about this study is the authors split their findings into two articles. Each article is more accessible for high school English teachers, due to the shorter length and singular focus. While many teachers would love to keep current of in-depth research studies, the demands on their time just do not always allow for such reading.

The authors’ goal if this article is “to promote not automatic acceptance of [the focus groups’ comments] but, instead, teacherly reflection, further assessment, and ongoing conversation about what our colleagues across disciplines say about student writing” (75). They present direct quotes from the groups in three areas: writing overall, “reading and managing sources” (77), and “learning to write” (79). Each of these sections, after presenting quotes without any commentary, follows up with a summary of the conversations. This structure achieves what the authors hoped – a springboard of quotes for further discussions plus reflection on writing overall.

Ultimately, as a high school English teacher, I take away from this article a clear idea of how to enhance students’ writing preparedness. First, assign writing tasks that require “complexity of thought” (76); next help students see research as a “variety of skills associated with managing sources” (78); and finally “combine the previously mentioned strategies with the right mindset toward writing, especially writing growth” (79). The authors do not offer ready-made assignments, something that might frustrate a teacher looking for next week’s lesson. However, I was left with enough information to feel empowered to revise my own writing instruction, which brings me back to the social software I have been exploring. I see social collaboration as an excellent tool to deepen writing instruction for the complexity that can come with interacting with many viewpoints, the shared integrating of research findings, and the constant inducement to write to engage your readers.