Sunday, July 29, 2012

How do you use your class blog?

Once in a while someone stumbles across my work and has a question. I love when that happens because I get a chance to answer it.
"Hello! I found your "Fresh English" class blog and love it! I am wondering how you do your posts every day-do you create them the night before, then post, or do you create them off-site (Google Doc), then copy and paste them into your blog? Any info you can provide is much appreciated. Thanks!"
I've used a blog to manage my classroom since 2006, first as a newsletter and then as a daily management tool. For the first four school years I was using a blog while teaching American Lit. Last year I switched to 9th grade and opted to create a new blog for my freshmen. That's the one she stumbled on and asked about.

I do a great deal of detailed long term planning with my PLC, (I've blogged about them before here and here.) After that I create the blog posts as needed based on our long term plan. Usually, I am writing the blog post in the afternoon and using the scheduling tool in blogger to have the post go live just before my students arrive. When I get behind I do have a bit of time to pull a post together in the morning if I need to, but I prefer to get them done before I leave campus.

On occasion, there are things I need to discuss with students before posting, so sometimes I even write a post during class while students are working. Often I will edit a post with students as well based on their feedback. I want them to see how easily I can make the changes and that I am responding to their advice. I try to think of it as authentic shared writing and not "you messed up Jen and now the students have to help you get it right." Of course all typos in my classroom blogs are deliberate attempts to encourage students to correct me.

I typically compose straight into the post editor in blogger. Class blog posts are heavy on numbered lists, links and images. It's just easier to pull all that together in the blogger editor.  I sometimes use Docs to write posts for this professional blog, especially if I am expecting to go through a lot of revision or if I need to use the research bar a lot.

The best part of the class blog, as I have said before, is the automatic archiving.  That makes it so simple for me to search my own blog and find similar lessons I have done before. With my freshmen I was creating all the posts from scratch because it was my first year teaching 9th grade. With my American Lit class blog I was often able to reuse, copy and paste, bits and pieces of previous lessons that had similar directions or resources. That often saved me a lot of time.

My class blogs are a crucial part of my mostly paperless classroom. If you think you don't have time to write blog posts just think of all the time you won't be spending in the copy room. And if you have a question about 1:1 or class blogs or anything else edtechy just post a comment here or find me on Twitter @JenRoberts1

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Focus on Curriculum Collaboration

Do you collaborate with your colleagues? Collaboration and particularly curriculum collaboration have become buzz words worthy of a staff meeting bingo card, but I'm finding that, like many over used terms in education, collaboration has many layers of meaning.

In my role as department chair I am planning some grade level team meeting days that will be focused on curriculum collaboration. In preparation for that I am defining for myself what I think that means.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that last year I worked with a particularly strong team of teachers and we collaborated very closely to write and implement our ninth grade English course. I have blogged about that previously in my post, A Functional PLC and about our use of Dropbox For Curriculum Collaboration.  That functional experienced shifted the way I see curriculum collaboration.

This year I will be teaching eleventh grade with a team of strong teachers and also helping the tenth grade team improve their ongoing collaboration. While planning I had a flash of insight about degrees of curriculum collaboration and an idea for the graphic below that I thought would help explain my thinking to my colleagues.

Very simply,  teachers can say they are collaborating on curriculum if their work comes together at any of these levels, but the work our team did last year showed me that collaboration is most effective when teachers are working together from the unit level all the way down to the level of daily lessons and formative assessments.

It's not enough to agree on a unit title and some standards. I want the teams I work with to collaborate on all of it, to share the work load, to review the student work that comes out of the formative and summative assessments, to agree together on modifications and next steps.

The pyramid above also represents the basics of our process. We identified units based on Common Core standards, filled in the associated standards (in English there are always lots of associated standards because many are things we work on all year long like revision skills etc.), determined our guiding questions, created or found summative assessments (and then mirrored them on to diagnostic assessments), defined what projects and or other assessments would support student learning and worked backward from there to scaffold daily lessons that would support students to meet and exceed the standards. (Our team was quite familiar with the process of Understanding By Design.)

This is the very streamlined and oversimplified process, anyway.  In reality, there were hours of discussion about text selection, text complexity, pedagogy, scaffolding, skill development, reading strategies, grammar instruction, research etc. We also ate a lot of chocolate.

I am reading Focus by Mike Schmoker. He writes that the key to successful schools is, "...coherent curriculum; effective lessons; and abundant amounts of purposeful reading, writing and talking should be our highest priorities."(17)  That is exactly how I would describe the work that happened in our ninth grade classes last year because of the curriculum collaboration that happened in our PLC. It is exactly why am working next with tenth and eleventh grade teachers to move the process forward.

9th Grade Team 2011-2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Should I still become a teacher?

Last year a young woman, an undergrad, who was considering a career in teaching spent 30 hours observing in my classroom before applying to several local credential programs. She wrote to me last week, after being accepted into several, to ask if I thought she should still become an English teacher.

"If you don't mind, would you tell me what you think of the job market right now? All I seem to hear are horror stories and people telling me it's a bad decision. If you were me trying to get into the field, would you still get your teaching credential?"  -J
 Public version of my answer:

Dear _________,

     If you really want to teach then there will be jobs available, especially if you are willing to be flexible about where you live. Lots of districts still need teachers, they are just more remote.

Also, teaching experiences a boom and bust cycle. Right now with terrible budgets and a bad economy, lots of older teachers are hanging on to their jobs instead of retiring.  That means there will be a wave of retirements in the next five years.  My district just offered a retirement bonus to people who retire this year or next.

At the same time, people like you, who are considering teaching, see the prospects as iffy and don't get credentials. This creates a shortage 3-5 years from now. I already see numbers dropping in the courses I teach to pre-service teachers and I expect that to continue.

Absolute truth. There are always people who get credentials and can't get a job teaching. They aren't very good. I could tell you horror stories about a particularly horrible (and flat out racist) student teacher I had once. I refused to let him keep "teaching" my students. His credential program placed him at another site and he got his credential. Last I heard he was a paid signature gatherer and I never worked with that university again. 

On the flip side, another student teacher I had, who was excellent, had offers from a local district and a charter school at a time when my district had laid off a thousand teachers. The leader of my credential program, Dr. Nancy Farnan, addressed this question back in 1995, when the 28 teachers in my student teaching cohort were stressed about getting jobs even before they started student teaching. She said, "There are always jobs for good people." I'm not sure that is a universal absolute and the job may not be the one you want, but I have seen it is generally true.

If you can make yourself more employable by adding a Social Science or Special Ed credential then do that too. I got my first job because I had English, Social Science and a complete CLAD credential. I also wrote a letter directly to the principals I wanted to work for, which was against procedure, but it worked. 

If you like kids and you want to teach then go for it. If you love English and you can't wait to teach Emily Dickinson then I have some bad news, she's dead already.  You have to love kids because you'll spend 90% of your work day with them.  If you are considering other careers, and they seem equally tempting, then you should probably choose one of those.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Teaching Students to Type

I was giving a workshop last week on Google Docs when a participant asked a question I hadn’t heard from an adult before. He said, “What about kids who say they can’t type?”  In the context of the workshop I really couldn’t give the question the attention it deserves, but it is a valid point. Though adults never mention it, I do get that complaint from students occasionally.

Kids who can’t type need to learn, and they won’t learn by taking a six week course and typing, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” over and over again. I took that course. It was useless. I learned to type in college, not because I had papers to type, but because I wanted to chat with my friends on line. (This was 1992, IRC text only chat rooms. Yes, I have been talking to strangers on the internet for over 20 years.) When you are typing to another person or group of people speed counts. Students will learn to type and type faster when they have a reason to want to communicate. No one gives them texting classes and they seem to be able to manage that just fine, even a few years ago when they had to use number pads as keyboards.

Students will type when they have something to say that they feel passionate about. Typing skills are a side effect of passion based learning and access to a keyboard. If you expect students to use a keyboard for daily work, communication and yes, chatting with classmates, they will learn to type. It may not be perfect touch typing at 90 words a minute, but those students will be able to type. Confession, my own typing is not perfect form, but I still managed to crank out a masters thesis, a novel, and all these blog posts with my less than stellar skills. I think the kids will be okay.

Typing is a great equalizer. Once the email is written no one knows if it took you five minutes or fifteen to type it out. Grammar, spelling and punctuation may still reflect on their skills, but their handwriting is not part of the equation.  When students see that revision no longer means rewriting their entire paper by hand, they suddenly prefer typing. When they have handwritten and then typed up several papers, they figure out it is easier to just type them the first time. Students who can’t type need more time to use computers in school, not less. 

When students new to my classroom tell me they can’t type I don’t worry too much about it. Some days we write a little some days we write a lot and they do alright. Over time their typing skills improve, they realize no one cares how fast they type, and their papers get written just fine. In the end they thank me for teaching them about writing, about tools like Google Docs, and about books. No one has ever thanked me for making them a better typist. I think that’s because by the end of the year it is just another skill they take for granted, just like most of the adults I know.

Disclaimer: I teach high school. I still think it is perfectly appropriate for students to learn both printing and cursive writing in earlier grades. I am not saying those skills are obsolete. I just don’t think lack of typing skills is a valid reason for keeping kids off computers in classrooms.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No Products Were Placed In This Post

My thoughts on marketing and product placement at ISTE 2012:
Opinions ahead, you were warned.

It is striking to walk the exhibit hall at ISTE and see the millions spent and earned there by companies providing services to the education sector. By all accounts schools and districts all across the country are slashing budgets due to state funding cuts, laying off teachers, closing schools and cutting programs. At the same time there is a thriving industry providing, or trying to provide, tools to schools and districts. ISTE is definitely the place to see educational technology marketing machines at work.

I noticed a lot of product promotion at ISTE. Perhaps you did too. It was in several of the keynotes, as you may have heard. The interesting thing is the product promotion and product placement, I think, really backfired. Each mention of the company or item only made the promoter seem desperate. Everyone in the room was already well aware that these products existed, and many had already chosen not to use them. If the featured products had been more popular I think the perception that there was too much product placement might have been different.

Several companies deemed themselves too big or too important to have a presence in the exhibit hall. Instead they had rooms, some quite large, up in the areas where sessions were being held. I walked by one of them several times, but the doors were always closed. On Wednesday morning, when I did make it in I found out why. This corporate giant was holding sessions about it's products in one quarter of the room and they closed the doors when they did that. The rest of the room was mostly empty and the closed doors meant no one else would make it in for thirty minutes. This doesn't strike me as as marketing genius. I tried sitting through that session, but the display was an awkward assembly of four monitors pushed together, making a large black cross in the middle. The black lines cutting across the information was frustrating and I decided to go.

I did go to a one hour session by the same corporate giant about a new product that I wanted to learn more about because my district is going to use it. The presenter spent the first 15 minutes, yes I timed him, showing  pretty pictures of students in classrooms and telling us that the future would be about collaboration. It seems to me like an ISTE audience probably already knows that. Yeah, I left that one too. I may have attention span issues, and I definitely don't mind voting with my feet, but I have zero patience for people and corporations who waste my time with fluff.

I did love the exhibit hall. I spent several hours there on different days. I talked to vendors whose products I use and like. I appreciated the ones who honestly asked me what they could do to improve their product and listened to my answers. I was amused by those who were more interested in scanning my badge than talking to me, just booth flunkies racking up numbers. I took their shwag and left. It will be a long time before I need to buy pens for my classroom.

I think there were lots of companies that did very well at ISTE, spread their message, grew their customer base and increased their visibility. Disruptions are happening in education, but they are happening even faster in marketing. It's not about who knows about your product. It's about who is using it. What's funny is the company that had the most users did not have a booth or any corporate sessions. Why spend the money on a booth when everyone is already holding your device? Even the official conference app was only available from one app store. Product placement is probably more effective when the product is in the hands of nearly all the people sitting around you and not just on a slide in the keynote. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Things I Learned from #ISTE12

Social Ed Con Stair Photo
Some of these things are useful in general and some are more specific to me,  but hey, it’s my blog and I get to write whatever I want.  This list ranges widely from the mundane to the profound, but that’s the way I learn.

In an effort for originality I left out all the very true things I have read in other posts about making connections, planning but being open to change, acting on learning while it is fresh and making sure your learning reaches your students.  (Most of those were things I knew already from other large conferences, but the reminders help.)  So, without any more stalling, my list.

1. Whenever possible always wear a large VIP badge at ISTE. There are confirmed reports of several tweeps getting access to locations they would have otherwise been excluded from just because they were wearing their Ed tech Karaoke VIP badges at the time. Go #ETK12 (Yes, I know mine is still on my blog. I'm not ready to let it go yet.)

2. Review the online program early. There were free, but ticketed, sessions I didn’t get a spot in because I waited too long to review the online program.

3. Always attend Social Ed Con. I did and it was fabulous. I learned about great iPad video production apps and hardware when I wandered into a session Brad Flickinger was leading. He also asked a great question at the opening of the session, “Who is here to share and who is here to lurk and learn?” Since most of us did not have much experience using the iPad for multimedia production, Brad generously shared his knowledge and student work. We took notes and bought apps as fast as we could.

4. Bernie Dodge has some really interesting work coming up using mobile technology for running educational simulations. I’ll be keeping an eye on that.

5. Things I quickly learn to take for granted, like the research bar in Google Docs, will astound and amaze an audience who hasn’t seen it before.

6. My fellow GCT’s are an awesomely knowledgeable and talented group. (Okay, I kinda already knew that one.) They are also generous, supportive, and very kind.

7. Common Core standards can be an opportunity to revise curriculum and instruction to incorporate digital pedagogy and lots of technically based production projects for students.

8. Don’t ask how much the food costs in the convention center. Just get your two things, hand over a twenty and don’t look at the change. Trust me you don’t want to know.

9. If you are at an event where pictures are being taken by an actual photographer have a friend snap one with your camera/phone too. You’ll get tweetable access to the results much faster.

10. The people I like the most online tend to be the people I like the most in person. 

I was going to end this list with 10, but I should also add. I learned that I really want to attend ISTE13.