Friday, March 30, 2007

SSR 2.0 continues...

SSR 2.0 continues...
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Took this picture today of my little reading group at silent reading time. The only student not in the picture is at a computer. I have let them have free choice. It is interesting to see where they are drawn.... the majority, obviously, choosing blogs. The picture from yesterday would have had different students at desks/computers - but the ratio about the same.

Today in our library book checkout time, I asked one of my kids if he was checking out a book, and he proclaimed, to anyone listening, "I don't read books - I read BLOGS!" Librarian blood runs cold at the thought....

They are reading so differently. What strikes me the most are the reluctant readers who are not so reluctant to read online...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Beyond comments

A week ago Jeff Utecht posted A Problem With Blogs, talking about the connections made - and sought - in conversations, on blogs. He made an important point about the function of comments. Great post, wonderful follow up comments. I encourage people to read it and think about how their classroom blogging reflects - or even mirrors - their personal blogging habits.

A few weeks ago I made a concerted effort to get my third graders into the blogosphere beyond where they naturally went. They seemed stuck in writing mode only - as if writing were some narcotic they could not get enough of. Sound ridiculous? Not to me. I had kids staying in from recess, connecting from home, using every minute to put something out there for the worldwide audience. Too cool!!! But that's all many of them did. They rarely read the writing of others. It was all about their writing - and comments they got.

So I gave them time when they could read online ONLY. Silent reading, 2.0. After doing this for a while, and thinking about what Jeff said, I struck out in a new direction. A direction in which many adult bloggers move quite often. Writing about the blogs of others. Recommending other bloggers - as most bloggers do, a Blogrolling kind of thing...

This week I asked my third graders to write about 2 or more bloggers they enjoyed reading. Knowing some would see this as a "friendship" thing, and only mention their own classmates' blogs, I said they could only write about one classmate. The other(s) had to be from other places - and they could even be adult blogs. Pushing them out of the nest, if you will.......

And then, just to see how far the envelope would stretch, I showed them how to hyperlink to those blogs, using raw html. To be clear, the blogging tool they use does not have an html editor, so everything had to be hand coded. They got it. They are so totally amazing in this medium. They helped each other, and they taught me a lot in the process.

They chose their favorite bloggers thoughtfully, I thought. Granted, their experience and exposure to blogs is limited, in large part predetermined by links I preselected and made easy for them to get to.... but I thought they chose well. Here are their posts:

Now what does this have to do with Jeff's posting about conversations and connections? I believe it is about qualitatively different CONTENT. What my kids wrote about this week is different. It is exactly what their blogger teachers write about regularly - about their peers - and what they are thinking and saying. This is extending their writing in a different dimension, I believe. Comments are nice, polite, back patting, and sometimes informative. And indeed, a conversation can occur.

But writing about what others think and how they write is a major leap in a different direction, one in which we are not accustomed to taking our kids, at least I am not, with third graders. Not sure where it leads, but it feels absolutely right.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Doing report cards, 2.0

I don't know a single teacher who enjoys doing report cards. Matter of fact, most teachers dread doing them. It's one of the most unpleasant things I have to tackle, and of course I have left the task for the weekend before they are due to go home. Grrr...

Report cards, 2.0Today I sat down to go through the motions of "providing feedback". Bailing me out of this cynical mood was the realization that I have a new way to evaluate my kids. A new way that just might be a little more meaningful- and definitely more fun - and undoubtedly more long-lasting. So I pulled out my laptop and jammed it in there with all the other papers, forms, gradebook, etc. On our little kitchen table that knows the drill...

21st century evidenceI took great pleasure in writing in "blog" on the "Other" line for measures used to evaluate student progress. No more flipping through a big stack of manila file folders for the "choice" pieces of I had selected to save - to maybe send home at the end of the year (ultimately relegated to a box in an attic) - or to pass on to next year's teacher (to be buried, if lucky, in a file cabinet for who knows how long). I have student files from nearly ten years ago taking up space here and there in my classroom... really.

Evaluating writingSo when I got to the Writing section of the report card, I simply went to my third graders' blogs. There is all kinds of writing there. Some assigned, some written because the spirit moved these young scholars. It's funny. When I started this process, I was thinking that I knew and remembered my kids' writing so well that I probably didn't really need to look. Big surprise. They have written so much, that I often had to shake my head as I went through their blogs. I had forgotten much of what they wrote, even though I had read oh so carefully every single word appearing there (publishing on the Internet makes you do that). What is also there for me is their work behind the scenes. I can browse through the database on my Classblogmeister account and look at many pending pieces, comments I had left for them in the publishing process, and so much more. It is a literal gold mine of information for following the development of the writing skills of these 8 and 9 year olds. Rather than being on the refigerator for a short time at home, buried in a teacher's file cabinet, or recycled immediately, these pieces of writing can be there forever. For the world to see.

Now if I can get us using the classroom wiki soon, I'll be able to look at math in a 2.0 way as well in the next round of report cards.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Documenting chaos

I don't know as I start out here where this post will end up. However, I feel somehow it's important for me to document the chaos (some good, some not so good) in my working life - and this is just the tech stuff - the past couple of weeks. In no particular order then, here goes:
  • For the past week I've been setting up donated PIV's for my students to use in the classroom, from scratch, one at a time - while at the same time the kids continued to use the PIII's they are replacing. Over 20 cpu's in the classroom, some towers on top of others - yikes, good thing we didn't have an earthquake. Yesterday after school I moved them (all but one of six) into place. They are cool - and speedy! I am so grateful to the parent who donated them!
  • I'm still constantly frustrated by the relentless taking away of student permissions on my classroom computers - and all the student computers in my school. The more permissions are taken away, the less the computers are being used in the classrooms. It's a real clear relationship. So far, the new computers I just set up are still working the way they need to, but I fear it's only a matter of time before they will be rendered nearly useless again. I have not found the time nor energy to defend and explain the educational justifications for every little permission I need (that we'd had for the past ten years) to non educators making the decisions. I try and chip away at things one at a time via email and whatever, but it's a big mountain to reclaim. And I am getting nowhere. Huge frustration.
  • The parents in my classroom just came up with a large chunk of money so I could buy flat panel monitors for some of the 12 desktop student machines in my classroom! I had tried other funding sources, including our PTSA, and had got nowhere. Then I started asking for donations of used flat panels (15" ok). Next thing I knew, my parents were organizing donations to the cause, matching funds, and they came up with this amazing gift. I was, and still am, just blown away by this!!
  • Then a couple of days later, I was awarded this pretty hefty technology grant for computer equipment in my classroom. Talk about an unexpected long shot coming through. I've never won competitive grant before (not like I've tried a ton, either), but holy crud, this is amazing. So now, with an embarrassment of riches, I am figuring out how to handle it all. For a guy who has scraped and created everything in his classroom on his own, out of his own pocket, well you could say it's about time - but it does feel a little - I don't know. It's so foreign , I can't even think of a word.
  • The Earth Day Groceries Project is underway again. I've got the announcement out to several lists, and, as usual, lots of email is coming my way with questions and requests. I love coordinating this project, but it takes so much time. And I need to find corporate sponsorship for the project, or I won't have the bucks to pay for the database development for this year... I am always so far behind.
  • Last is an event that almost didn't happen - and may not - but is still real exciting to think about and plan for. I was invited to present as part of a Preconference Institute (Using Technology to Develop and Extend the Boundaries of Literacy) at the IRA National Convention in Toronto this May. Just to be included in a group that includes Don Leu as a keynoter blows me away. Having found no local funding to finance the trip, I initially sent my regrets - and added a long shot ps about presenting virtually. Now it seems that may actually happen (via Skpe video). It's on a Sunday, so I'd luckily be at home (Skype is not allowed at school anymore). I'm in the process of preparing my piece and writing the abstract. Very exciting.

Looking back over what I just wrote, the chaos is mostly good stuff, for sure. It's just that it's all happening at once. This weekend I can relax and start in on report cards - ha.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hard decisions

Nothing about technology here. This is about something harder than learning ANY new program, harder than any teaching ANY thing.

Deciding on the school budget for next year - with less money (positions cost more, schools get the same as they did before). Net effect: what position will not be there next year?

Trying to talk openly and honestly. Trying to pretend that the two individuals whose jobs are on the line are not present in the room nor in on the discussion - right.

I somehow ended up trying to organize this horror - to give folks choices, to moderate the discussion, to facilitate making a decision. It was agony. We made a decision, and I feel terrible. I would have felt this way no matter what the decision was.

If anybody wonders why a teacher might not have the perkiest smile every minute of every day, well it's hard to explain, but there is a bunch of stuff we deal with that the public will just never know about. There will be a smile tomorrow in the classroom, but it will be a shallow one, with a deep sadness underneath.

I can only hope that when I end up in a meeting where my colleagues are deciding the worthiness of me compared to somebody else - that I conduct myself with the grace and dignity that a couple of my colleages did today.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Audience and Body Blows


Lately I've been getting readership and comments here from students, elementary aged students. It has to do with my post about silent reading. It also has to do with posts from other adults to the blogs of my students. They are curious, of course, and it's pretty exciting to track down the URL of a commenter on their blog - and oh so very cool if it's a grown up with a slick looking blog. And some have tried to read - and even comment to - those grown up bloggers. Several adults have done this, and I expressed appreciation to them at the end of the school year last year. They are still there this year, and there are more of them. So kids are reading grown up blogs. And then eventually, they check out their teacher... not my intended audience, but it IS important to keep in mind.

Yesterday one of my kids got a comment from MV, a fifth grader. Following back the URL left in the comment, I was amazed to see MV had posted some thoughts about reading my blog, and (this is the really cool part) some thoughts about the blog of Logan, one of my most prolific third grade bloggers. Many readers here know the excitement of having yourself cited, quoted, hyperlinked. Imagine how this feels to an 8 or 9 year old. You just can't buy this. It is, as the ad says, priceless.

Body Blows

1. Early in the week I was showing my class some comments left for them by Wes Fryer - very exciting, motivational stuff. They all know how to click on the name of a commenter to get to a url (if it was left for them). On this day I was showing them how to deal with a malformed http... address - how to cut, extract the URL, etc... - to get to the blog of the writer. All ready for Moving at the Speed of Creativity to appear (ta da!), and it is BLOCKED by the district filter. Out of nowhere. Never had been blocked before. A lost moment in the education of a classroom of third graders in so many ways. Ugh.

2. Later in the week, Logan moved quickly to compose a comment in response to the post of MV. All the kids in my class know they must let me see any comments they write from our classroom before they are sent. He spent some time writing and revising this comment. It was a thoughtful piece. I gave him the go ahead to click "submit". BLOCKED by the district filter. What does a teacher say at this point? Ugh.

Body blows are meant to wear the fighter down. They are delivered repeatedly, the effect is cumulative, and eventually the fighter gives up from exhaustion. These would have been glancing blows if I had not worked so hard to create and craft this environment for my kids. They would not have even landed if I did not believe so desperately that what I am doing with my kids is absolutely right.

Audience and body blows - two unrelated topics, maybe. Perhaps my new found audience can deliver a more powerful counter-punch than I've been able to muster.