Feb 13 2008

Moving day

Filed under Uncategorized

The Lamppost Blog is moving to its new home.

I’ve decided to do this despite the easy-to-use features and fantastic support available through Edublogs. There are two reasons prompting this: first, I’d like to have different user names for my class-focused blogs (which I will continue to host on Edublogs) and my professional blog; and second, I thought that it would be challenging for me to maintain a blog on my own domain, and therefore a good learning opportunity.

My apologies for any inconvenience, and I hope to see you at the Lamppost Blog again.

2 responses so far

Feb 12 2008

Thinking about why

Filed under Technology

Ryan Bretag makes a good point about asking why – not just what and how – we’re using technology in education:

In the midst of this exciting time of change, it is easy to focus on what tool … It is also just as easy to focus on the how given the various details needed and the actual fun that goes into such details.

However, skipping the why because of the excitement of the what and how is a poor practice to get caught up in for educators and it surely is unacceptable for those in roles to assist educators in such planning.

This adds another dimension to my earlier questions about evaluating technology use in the classroom. Or maybe just simplifies it.

Anyway, I’m going to confess to using technology for a “why” that has nothing to do with offering new learning experiences or assessment strategies or any other appropriately educative reason. I’m using it for the sheer excitement factor.

I’ll explain: Right now I’m teaching an after-school literacy class for students needing extra support to prepare for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). Many of these students are there because their parents were convinced by their practice test results and a follow-up conversation that they indeed would benefit from extra help. And I am responsible for the 2-hour extra help sessions after school.

Stereotypically students who aren’t performing well on the practice tests aren’t all that excited about literacy in general. And I find that adding another two hours to their school day doesn’t usually increase their enthusiasm. They tend to show up tired, frustrated, and ready to be bored.

I tried to use pen and paper work today, rationalizing that they will have to write their test using those old-fashioned tools.

Next day I am going to use some online literacy excercises simply because a computer might make things more interesting for some students. And hopefully if they’re even just a tiny bit interested, then they might be able to get something out of this class.

We just might all survive it.

One response so far

Feb 11 2008

Is there a how-to for online reading?

Despite my wistful comments about books, I do like incorporating online texts into the classroom. Students often tend to sit up a bit more and, when they have the opportunity to feedback right away (like on our class blog), they can really engage in the learning.

Today we were in the computer lab, and the task at hand was for students to read and comment on the topic “What makes a movie sell?” Trying to model good blogging – at least insofar as linking goes – I had included a hyperlink in the text of the post that outlined their task. I noticed that many students repeated the same reading behaviour: they quickly scanned the text up to the hyperlink and immediately clicked the link without understanding why it was there, why they were clicking it, and what they were supposed to do when they got there.

This led to some frustration, but not necessarily to any lessons learned for the future. Therefore, I want to be more intentional about teaching online reading skills, but where to start? I found some tips for retaining what you read online that will do for now. The ones that seem most pertinent to me and my students include:

  • Reflect: Pause periodically to let information sink in and reflect on it.
  • Review: Take the time to go back and re-read parts that didn’t make sense, or to read parts that were missed.
  • Read at a time when you can focus: The implications of this for the classroom are huge. How to create an environment where readers can focus?
  • Be aware of visual cues: This needs to be fleshed out more for my students. That is, I think I need to take some time to talk about how a blog is typically set up vs. how a website is, and how that might change the requirements for effective reading.
  • Map out what you are reading: Interesting, but is it realistic for students to adopt this as an everyday practice? Or would they simply benefit from using mapping occasionally in my classes so that it is a tool they can pull out when they need it?
  • Outline the article: As above — would this be a good tool for me to introduce them to in the classroom?
  • Use a bookmarks manager: I agree with this, but haven’t sorted out yet which bookmark managers are accessible through the school filtering service.

I think I’d add three more for my students:

  • Think before you click: Particularly in a world of phishing and spam, I’d like students to be selective in their clicking habits.
  • Think before you read: Ask why you’re reading an article. Why are you here? That should guide some of what and how you read.
  • Drink less Red Bull before arriving in the computer lab

Doug‘s thinking about reading skills and strategies has got me, well, thinking. As I approach this, am I trying to teach online reading strategies, skills, or both? What’s a good way to integrate this seamlessly into an already very full course?

And is anybody else already doing this with lots of advice to share?

No responses yet

Feb 10 2008

Lesson Debrief: Sex in Advertising

Filed under Collaboration,Lessons

I have the wonderful opportunity to collaborate closely with a colleague in delivering a Grade 12 English course this year. He and I are trying to find a way of collaboration that works for us and thus learn lessons for future collaboration across the department. We are working with the same broad outline for the course, are using mostly similar texts (more on that later), and similar assignments. Two weeks into the course and I’m loving it. I think that one of the reasons this is so enjoyable is that we’re comfortable with each other taking the basic material and adapting it to our particular class interest and needs.

One of the many aspects of this collaboration that I’m enjoying is the debrief that happens after particular lessons. This past week we both facilitated learning activities based heavily on the Media Awareness Network‘s Sex in Advertising lesson plan. We chatted about the lesson on Friday afternoon, and agreed that this lesson works well in the first unit of the course. (Our unit outline with lesson plans is available, too.)

What we liked

  • The topic of sex in advertising suits the grade level. I had considered trying this with a younger group, but we agreed that Grade 12 students bring a maturity to this that is important for getting into the material.
  • It gets students really thinking. After looking at some advertisements as a class, they work in groups to analyze some of their own selected ads. There’s a lot of discussion about how sex is being used to sell products.
  • It gets us as teachers thinking. It’s not always obvious how sexuality is being portrayed or used in some of the advertisements, but we jump in and talk it through with students. Usually they arrive at interesting conclusions in the course of the discussions – conclusions that we wouldn’t have expected, but that are backed up by some careful thinking.

What needs work

  • I need to think more about gender in advertising vs. sex in advertising before facilitating this lesson again. Some of the discussions that we had made me wonder if I’d be better off preparing for this with a discussion of gender.
  • The overheads available on the Media Awareness Network are a great resource, but like the authors suggest, it’s nice to freshen them up with ads from magazines that students bring in. I’ve adapted most of the overheads into a PowerPoint presentation for use in the classroom, which students can download from the unit page on our course website. I’d like to get these into a more web-friendly format, though. (Time to dust off iMovie.)

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Feb 09 2008

For the love of reading

Filed under Reading

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is that I love books. (And to anyone who can name the source for that first line … a free lifetime subscription to this blog!)

Books are one of my lifelong passions. I enjoy the heft of them in my hand. I like turning pages and scanning the black-on-white text. I like flipping forwards and backwards quickly through a book, anticipating and revising my reading.

I love the experiences that I have with books. Sitting outside on a fall day, a worn copy of The Lord of the Rings propped on my knee. Reading Dracula aloud by flashlight on a night near the end of October. Tucking my daughter in at night and watching her eyes grow huge as we read about Winnie-the-Pooh’s attempt to capture a Woozle.

I am so sad when I encounter a young person who cannot read. I am sorry for the experiences that they have missed and will continue to miss. I can accept that some people will not have the same love of books that I do; I can’t accept that they haven’t had the chance to make a choice.

It has been one of the most surprising things about this career: regularly meeting high school students who cannot functionally read an article or a story. And then when I watch those same students march across the stage to get their diploma, despite their continued illiteracy, I am disappointed and frustrated. Somewhere we have decided that ‘student success’ equals ‘getting a credit or diploma’, and we’ve glorified that version of success to the extent that we are willing to graduate someone who is illiterate.

Susan’s reflection on the qualities and practices of excellent reading teachers has inspired me to consider my own teaching practice in light of those. My goal: high school graduates who can decide for themselves whether or not Barney’s Version is a great Canadian novel.

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Feb 08 2008

Citizenship, not safety

Filed under Digital Citizenship

Wesley Fryer has given me somewhere to start working out these questions surrounding technology, education, and safety. Rather than focusing on online dangers and how to stay safe, he advocates for a more holistic, and in my mind healthier, approach. In “What is digital citizenship?” he says:

We hear a fair bit about “Internet safety” in educational technology circles today, and more schools are starting to address online safety issues with students. Many of these presentations do not delve into the rights and responsibilities which accompany technology use, however, as discussions about digital citizenship naturally invite. Rather than simply tell students “don’t talk to strangers” and “don’t reveal personal information” online, educators need to be discussing … issues surrounding the ethical uses of digital technologies and the impacts those uses can have not only at a personal level, but also on larger scales.

Thinking positively about fostering good citizenship is a step in the right direction for me. It’s a lesson that I have to re-learn often in life: instead of expending energy and effort on staying out of harm’s way, it’s better to throw oneself into making the world a place where fewer bad things happen. Recasting online safety as digital citizenship is going to help me do that.

The Digital Citzenship site has lots of resources to help me explore this much further. One of the things I am pleased to see in the DC space was the concept of “Technology License,” which is something I’ve been toying with implementing with at least some of my younger students.

I feel like I’m making progress here.

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Feb 07 2008

Facebook Funeral

Filed under Technology

Today I attended the funeral for a person who has been central in our community. His 80-plus years had been spent in a community where his presence mattered very much, and where he will be deeply missed.

Times like these make me think hard about the boundary between this life and the hereafter. But today I also found myself wondering about the border between the real and the virtual when I overheard a conversation at the funeral. One woman was explaining that she had only just found about the funeral a few hours before it had started. In frustration she exclaimed, “If someone had posted it on Facebook, I would have known!” To which someone replied, with a small frown, “You don’t post something like this on Facebook. It’s not the place.” There then followed a conversation about the way some people do use Facebook to create memorials, and why it wasn’t appropriate for this person.

While listening to this conversation, I was at the same time able to observe several of my students who were also in the room. One of them clearly was the leader in this situation, and I believe because his peers saw that he knew how to behave. He knew how to fit in and how to convey respect and care.

These two things — the Facebook conversation, the mature student — have focused some of the questions that I have had. Are students today going to have the opportunity to live life well, like the person whose life we celebrated today? Will these teens who spend so much time virtually be able to participate in communities who come together to grieve and celebrate some of life’s deepest moments? Will Facebook become another standard way of honouring the dead? And ultimately, does a tool like Facebook have a place in the classroom?

In the Economist-hosted debate on Social Networking in Education, Ewan McIntosh argues in favour of social networking tools :

We are all learners, all the time. Ubiquitous social technologies help us connect to those who can help us learn when we’re outside the domain of formal education.

I appreciate Mr. McIntosh’s advocacy for technology in education very much, but I do question this statement of his – perhaps because I am narrowing it too specifically to consider Facebook here. On the one hand, I agree that social technologies can help us connect to those who can help us learn, but there needs to be an intentionality about that connection that seems to be missing in the usual Facebook teen’s motivation. My impression is that teens connect with their existing social networks, not necessarily to people from whom they can learn.

Dana Boyd offers a different perspective on the social networking debate:

I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom. Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing).

Right now, today, I agree. She goes on:

I’m not saying that social network sites have no value. Quite the contrary. But their value is about the kinds of informal social learning that is required for maturation – understanding your community, learning the communicate with others, working through status games, building and maintaining friendships, working through personal values, etc. All too often we underestimate these processes because, traditionally, they have happened so naturally. Yet, what’s odd about today’s youth culture is that we’ve systematically taken away the opportunities for socialization. And yet we wonder why our kids are so immature compared to kids from other cultures.

Is a site like Facebook offering the kind of social learning required for maturation? Is it helping teens understand their communities? Or is it enabling them to check out of one community and into another one where just their peers and friends exist? And for me as an educator — what’s my response?

2 responses so far

Feb 06 2008

Snowed under

Filed under Technology

Today was our second snow day within the last week. Since I work at a school that can only be reached by bus, this translates into a day without classes. There are some nice things about these random winter breaks, one being the opportunity to chat with my colleagues about those things that we’ve been meaning to find more than a few minutes to discuss.

But one of the challenges of snow days is adjusting my plans. I tend to sketch out the entire semester and its due dates before we even start. One reason for doing so is that it just helps me keep on track, else I might end up with only three days to study Hamlet.  (And that would be a real tragedy!)   I’m willing to flex my plans according to student interest and ability, and usually a snow day can be worked around.  Two snow days are harder.

The other reason for my semester-long planning is that then I am able to book days in the computer lab at relevant points in the course. The labs are in high demand in our school and I can be certain that once the semester has started, I’ll need to book weeks in advance if I hope to get my students online. Snow days seem to land on days that I had booked for the lab, and I find it difficult to make my plans work around that lost day. I can’t expect to get students into the lab until my next booked date the following week. So do I put off the assignment we were going to do today until then, even though it was designed to precede our next phase of study? Do I skip the assignment and hope that I can cover the ideas in another way?

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the conversations about Web 2.0 and multiliteracies in education, and forget about the real limitations that prevent so many students from participating online. Classrooms without internet access. Over-booked computer labs. No computer or internet access at home. Snow days.

No responses yet

Feb 05 2008

Assessing student blogging

Filed under Assessment,Blogging

A colleague of mine once asked me how I assess the blogging component of my course. I didn’t have a ready answer, because I have been using blogging mostly as an opportunity for students to write in an environment that may be more interesting to them than pen and paper. Assessment has been largely confined to a form of a participation mark — anyone who commented on a post received marks.

I think that assessment can be more meaningful than this, but I am limited by the structure that I have chosen for student blogging. I am giving them a very constrained taste of the blogging world by asking them to comment on posts that I make on the class website. Evaluating on a comment-by-comment basis is not realistic.

What I am planning to do within this structure is to evaluate blog comments much as I do their almost-daily “ThinkBooks” or reflective journals. I won’t dive into every entry in a students’ ThinkBook, but I will check to see that they have at least engaged each topic. And the final culminating activity for the semester will require students to re-read their blog comments and ThinkBook to write and reflect on their own learning.

Konrad Glogowski has given me much to think about today in “Towards Reflective BlogTalk.” His ripple effect worksheets have students reflecting on and analyzing their own blog writing. It’s almost inspiring enough to make me consider having students develop their own blogs as part of my courses.


No responses yet

Feb 04 2008


Filed under Blogging

I was discouraged after reading Crux-of-the-matter‘s “Blogging no longer fun” post today. I have certainly enjoyed her eloquent opinions on a range of Canadian topics, even where I haven’t been able to completely agree. It is sad to think that she has been receiving volatile comments in such numbers as to make the whole blogging experience more of a burden than an opportunity for dialogue. I’m glad that her blog isn’t being shut down … yet.

This event reminded me of something of Dana Huff‘s that I read a little while ago: “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” Her recommendation to develop a blog policy at first reading seemed heavy-handed. A blog policy? I’ve operated as if the internet is an ungovernable, unstoppable network, a place where policies would be laughable. But after checking out Dana’s own policy, I’m beginning to think that I may want to have something similar in place for my classroom blogs and resource website.

I am continually aware that blogging is still a rather unheard of phenomenon at my school. There’s a level of nervousness around it (and any other online activity) that needs to be addressed proactively. Developing policies for my class blogs, my resource website, and the class wiki would send the message that I hear the concerns and am doing all I can to alleviate them.

TeachersFirst offers a sample “wiki warranty” that can be adapted for use.  It reads long and stern to me, but it’s a good starting place.  I wonder where it will take me?

No responses yet

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