Friday, April 20, 2007


Inspiration for today's post: Sole-Smith, V (2007, April). The upside of online. Family Circle Magazine, 69-73.

I'm sorry to say this article is not available online, but I'm hoping Ann and Crystal just might subscribe to Family Circle. Richard, I'll try my best to extract the most important points from the article, unless of course your wife subscribes as well!

While enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon of skimming through magazines, I came across an article that includes some real statistics about teenage online usage. The blog has become mainstreamed to include all of society rather than only those who are priivy to the newest technologies. There were some interesting points about the benefits of the web (including blogs) for kids and some insightful commentary by experts and teens.

First, let's explore some stats. The source of this information ranges from surveys to studies conducted by numerous outlets.

1. "More than 40% of teens who go online say they're more outgoing when they talk to friends on the Internet" (Sole-Smith, 2007, p. 69).

It's all about connection, isn't it? As educators, learners, friends, or humans, we are always trying to make connections with others. We want to feel like we're part of something and fit in somewhere. The Internet seems to allow children and adults to feel "empowered" because many feel more secure behind the wall of the web than face-to-face (p.69). Additionally, as we have seen with Celest's Skype classroom, students who are home schooled are able to identify with the class and feel as if they belong.

2. "Twenty-six percent of online teens think the Web helps them deal with subjects that are hard to discuss, such as health and sexuality issues" (Sole-Smith, 2007, p. 70).

Yet another connection to our previous discussions. Blogs allow students to vent to peers who understand what they're going through. Sole-Smith writes "In the event of a tragic loss of a peer, pages and profiles often turn into memorials where friends of the deceased post their feelings as they grieve" (p.70). We've seen this over the past few days as the friends of those killed at Virginia Tech have posted memorials to honor their lives. Not only have these memorials served as a place to read about those lost, but they have become places for conversation, reflection, and catharsis. The author does make a good point that a child who starts to withdraw from the outside world by spending all of his or her time online might require counseling or help.

3. "A third of teens and 17% of tweens say they're able to share more with a friend online than in person" (p. 70).

Allow me to revisit the following discussion by referencing a quote made by our lovely group member Crystal Crozier; "Technology cannot replace face-to-face human interaction." I agree. At the same time, I do think that there are moments in time when technology allows us to connect with others on a deeper level than face-to-face communication as the above statistic confirms. I've always been somewhat fearful of saying my true feelings (especially when negative) to friends and family members when I am right in front of them. It's much easier for me to send a card, an email, or instant message. Richard, I know you will be one of the first to respond to this, but I'm asking if we could possibly amend the quote to the following: Technology cannot replace face-to-face communication altogether, however there are certain situations in which technology offers a superior emotional and intellectual outlet.

4. "Eighty-six percent of teenagers believe the Internet helps them do better in their classes" (p. 73).

Wow! Anyone else pleasantly surprised by this statistic? Even though I teach elementary age children, this is a definite incentive for me to create a blog next year. As for the improvement of writing skills (since I'm trying to synthesize my thoughts), I'm a firm believer that constant writing is one crucial key to success. Of course it's not the only element of powerful writing, but the exposure to different styles of writing, not to mention the public element of blogging, should facilitate gains.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blog culture: Making connections & Making sense

Inspiration for today's post: Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom. Lowe, C. & Williams, T.

In this article, Lowe and Williams discuss the impact of blogs in the writing classroom. I especially enjoyed this reading, as it addressed the public vs. private debate with substantial research by both professionals and teachers. Writing about the use of blogs as a journal or as a more public conversation tool, Lowe and Williams state the following: "However, to use blogs merely as a tool for private journaling is to privilege our understanding of journals as private writing spaces without considering the benefits of weblogs as public writing" (¶ 2). Well said. This topic has come up on my blog before, but it's worth mentioning again as I must consider all sides to blogs before implementing one in the classroom.

Lowe and Williams go on to list several ways they use blogs, ranging from answering questions about a particular reading to exploring personal thoughts. They argue that blogs allow students to approach thoughts in a comfortable arena from which they can learn and gain insight. Consider this idea: "Because of the benefits of social interaction, most writing teachers would agree that students sharing their writing—making their writing public—is important" (Lowe & William, (¶ 11). Absolutely. As a writing teacher, I see such growth in student writing when they observe their peers, discuss work, and create final edited versions. The difficulty with face-to-face communication among students young and old is the grouping of students. When a shy student is paired with the most outspoken student in class, the shy kid might squirm into his or her shell and get academically bullied by the loud one. That's a definite plus of blogs. They allow the quietest child (or adult for that matter) access to the same space, the same time, the same passion as anyone else. Each student can easily achieve the feeling of belonging and equality, unlike in the classroom.

I'll end with my thoughts about a question posed by Lowe and Williams: "Isn’t it possible that the paradoxical situation of creating a risk-free space in which to enable risk-taking has led compositionists to forget a primary purpose of privacy, which is to provide a comfortable writing space, comfort which can also come from community?"

I guess I never thought of it that way. While I do believe there is a great place for journals and I would never, ever put my most personal thoughts and deepest emotions out there for all to see (that's just not me), the beauty of the blog as a learning tool is that it provides an outlet for open communication that extends beyond the walls of your community. I've arrived at this conclusion; The decision to use a journal vs. a blog should be based on purpose. Journals certainly have a place in our lives, especially when recording private thoughts. You can keep a public journal without any communication purpose, but it seems like you are missing out on the greatest opportunities for growth. I've learned so much from the commentary on this blog...I would argue that my peer comments have directed me to new knowledge faster than many of the readings. That is by no means meant as a knock on the articles I have read. Instead, it is a testament to the power of discussion, interaction, and a complete affirmation of the potential for intellectual growth when blogging.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blogging during a crisis....

I've previously mentioned the power of blogs during times of catastrophic events and trauma such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Tragically, we can now link the significance of blog communication to yesterday's Virginia Tech massacre.

Students locked down in dorm rooms relied on the Internet as their only source of communication. Click here to read the correspondence between a current student who was trying to obtain information and those who wanted to offer words of support. I would imagine that this dialogue was a source of some comfort. Simultaneously, others turned to blogs to write down their thoughts, concerns, and to inform loved ones of their safety. Click on this link to find out how a Fox station in Kansas City even hosted a chat session with Va Tech students and created a page for citizens to convey their condolences. As you probably know by now, friends of those killed have set up memorials on Facebook and this ongoing dialogue allows us all to connect with victims in a raw, real way.

How Media are Evolving

In this article, Dan Gillmor discusses how the course of events yesterday show us how the media "shift" from old school media such as newspapers and television has evolved to newer, faster, not to mention more personal methods of communication like cell phone videos and blogs.

Any average Joe with a computer and some time has the opportunity to hear primary-source accounts of the events rather than waiting for the news media to process packages and relay information second-hand. We have access to gut-wrenching tales of sorrow, despair, relief and shock like never before. And this is just the beginning.

Now I realize my blog purpose is to find out the potential for technology to improve writing and you might suggest that this conversation has nothing to do with writing skills....well, I have to argue that when you're writing about the most poignant, heartfelt, disturbing moments in your life, there has to be a level of growth as a writer. These students are simply going someplace with words that they have probably never ventured before.

The dialogue between Va Tech students and the rest of the world is in its infancy. One local news station said that blogs are serving as a sort of therapy for many affected students and staff. I'm not so sure as to its potential in that arena, but I pray they are right. We shall see in the near future. On a personal note, my thoughts are with the entire Virginia Tech community, including those involved or affected by this tragedy. I wish I could express my feelings of sadness at the loss of such precious life, such potential, but to be honest, sometimes words just are not enough.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My friend, media...

This morning my dog had a fit. As soon as we stepped outside the sliding glass doors into the backyard all of the red hair on his spine spiked, showing his agitation with someone or something. At first I assumed it was the ominous weather that greeted us creating such doggie drama, however I soon realized that a gray tarp from the construction pile next door (where they're building a new home) had blown its way into the far corner of the yard. No, it was not large- probably about a 4 foot square piece. Such a menacing gray tarp, let me tell you. What followed was a series of growling, whining, sniffing, barking, and running away each time the tarp crackled with the wind. My dog had given life to this tarp, assuming it was real.

Amusing? Definitely. Far fetched? Apparently not, even for those of the human kind. In The Media Equation, Reeves, Byron, and Nass state that "media equals real life" (p.6). They argue that through research and investigation, we can conclude that all humans respond to media as if it is real. For example, in a U.S. congressional hearing in which Shari Lewis and her puppet pal Lamb Chop attended, Lamb Chop made a statement and a senator then asked Lewis if she held the same opinion. Laughter came only after a brief pause, as, according to Reeves, Byron, and Nass, people thought this behavior was normal and absolutely acceptable (p. 12).

This brings me to another personal experience, this time related to television. Last week, my husband and I were watching a Mets game. For those of you unfamiliar with this stellar (yes, stellar) team, they were the 2006 NL East division champs. April is the very beginning of the season so crowds are often sparse and subdued. It caught me off guard to hear the deafening roar of the stadium as the Mets rallied and took the lead from the Braves. Nonetheless, I was pumped! My heart was racing and I felt like I was right there. I said to my husband "Wow. If the noise level is like this in April, can you imagine October?" With that, my husband asked for the remote and turned off our surround sound. The crowd roar was still loud, but no longer deafening. It had never occurred to me that we didn't have surround sound last season and I was unaware of what a difference it made in the overall experience of watching a game. It took me from watching to feeling more like a participant. My point is that I was fooled. For me, the media equation was very real. Not only was I fooled, but it changed the way I wanted to enjoy the game. I immediately insisted we turn the surround sound back on so that I could feel those heart-palpitating cheers again.

Yes, I was fooled, however I do have some doubts. Reeves, Byron, and Nass believe that although the human mind has the ability to work itself around the media equation, it is often too challenging. They argue that "The automatic response is to accept what seems to be real as in fact real" (p.8). Haven't I learned from my "mistake" regarding surround sound? It seems all too likely that from this point on I will recognize the difference between what is real and what media creates. Sure I prefer to listen to the games with the more powerful, life-like sound, but does that really mean I am incapable of knowing the difference?

Whatever the case may be, there is no arguing the power and potential of media which affect so very many facets of our lives. It makes a valiant effort at bridging the gap between what is real and what appears to be real and it absolutely entertains. Perhaps we are no more inclined to decifer media from reality then a dog can decifer a tarp from a dangerous creature. I would certainly like to think so.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Facing the Digital & Real World, with or without hope.

Inspiration for today's post: June 2, 2006 blog entry by Barbara Ganley.

Ganley offers readers a chance to read the speech she presented at the first ever UK edublogging conference. She discussed several key points that struck a nerve.

"The assembly-line system of marching out knowledge in tidy boxes to be delivered at defined times in specified places produced generations of docile factory-workers and obedient, avid consumers. But our children, in spite of what they’re told and the obstacles placed in their path, have moved out of the boxes and into a fluid world where what’s evolving online is as vital as anything off" (Ganley, 2006).

We've read about the digital divide, we all know it exists, and yet today's rapidly evolving society is beginning to leave the have-not's in the dust. Don't agree? Consider Ganley's statement that research shows those who survived Hurricane Katrina and had access to the Internet were much better able to cope with the catastrophic course of events. The digital world offered information and, more important, connections to devastated residents. Remember my previous comment about the surge of blog usage during the September 11th tragedy? Those involved with blogging at the time felt such connection to the tragedy because they were able to communicate with those who were affected, those who knew someone who was killed, or miraculous stories of survival. As inhuman as the blog might seem, it has certainly shown its power when it comes to human feelings. In fact, the blog (along with other technologies) provides an outlet for the individual to communicate things that otherwise might be left unsaid. Teachers who are as rigid as wooden sticks are ignoring the correlation between today's digital world and the real world. I'm one of those teachers when it comes to IM language. Yuck, as I said before. Perhaps I, too, need to rethink my position and realize that we're not a stagnant world and things will keep spinning with or without my presence. There's an undeniable connection and those left without are at a serious disadvantage. Technology is more than a means to make things faster or easier, it is a way to connect, discuss, and learn from others.


"I have to stop hoping that anything can change; instead I must go about getting the work done. Inside. Where it counts. We edubloggers have to get our acts together, as you are doing here by gathering at this conference, forming communities amongst ourselves to lay out the direction. We’ve got to get the word out, show models, examples, proof—that means everyone of us needs to blog...We must listen as much as we talk. We must reach out to one another. We must risk failure. Every one of us in this room is deeply involved in the unfolding uture of this next generation, and as James Martin of Oxford’s Twenty-first Century Institute has observed, it will be up to this transition generation save this world or to lose it entirely" (Ganley, 2006).

Intense? I think so. Ganley faced losing hope but instead pressed on, knowing that "getting the work done" is more powerful. I'm not sure I understand the losing the world idea completely in this early state of my technology research, but I do understand the importance of opportunity and exploration. I'd be curious to hear commentary from the other participants in this conference.

Blog, the marriage counselor?

Allow me to end with a strange, somewhat humorous thought. If the blog does so much for personal communication, learning, understanding, and discussion, why not use it in marriages? I'm a writer, so it is my nature to write apology notes before saying the words, or to express my feelings in a poem. It's much easier for me to offer my true feelings in writing, rather than speech. I can totally see myself responding to my husband's "sorry for leaving the toilet seat up again" post with a "I accept your apology, but...." This could lead to a life-altering discussion about the importance of leaving the seat down, especially when it is 2 am and I don't know what I'm doing! Something might actually get done instead of the typical "mmmhmm." A stretch? Perhaps. But isn't it true that most marriages fail because the couple lacks communication skills? Hey, if it ever comes down to that, I might just give it a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Inspiration for today's post:
Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere.' Dr Richard E. Ferdig and Kaye D. Trammell, University of Florida, T.H.E Journal Online, 2004.

I thought it was time for a blog check-up to compare my actions with those recommended by Kaye Trammel and our very own Dr. Ferdig. I know our group has referenced the article previously, but the information is pertinent for all of us. In the article, Ferdig and Trammel offer some tips to help a blogger integrate the blog into their classroom.

1. "Consider blogging yourself" (p.2).

Hooray for Instructional Computing! We are all currently experimenting with the blog, which allows us to know the technology before passing it on to students, who are, ironically, likely to pick it up faster than any one of us.

2. "Spend time visiting other classroom blogs" (p.3).

This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to gather ideas for your own blog. There are hundreds of possibilities for blogs, as my own research has shown. Although I have looked at various classroom blogs, there is still work to be done. In order to get a comprehensive outlook, it is crucial that I continue to explore classroom blogs. Trammel and Ferdig recommend, a site that I have yet to consider.

3. "Model blogging for your students" (p.3)

Ferdig and Trammel offer the following suggestion when beginning a classroom blog adventure:
"Spend several sessions introducing the concept of blogging, how it is done, why it is done, showing good and bad blogs, etc. Then, provide a set of strict rules for blogging such as frequency, length of posts, number of hyperlinks and staying on topic" (2004, p.3)

I'm the type of person to just jump right into things, so I am appreciative of this suggestion. When the time comes to introduce the blog, it is important that I remember not to throw the kids into the deep-end without their floaties. Similar to classroom management, a good example of routine often helps students stay on target.

4. "Make the blogs more public" (p.3).

Ferdig and Trammel suggest that a connection with the community on the outside of the blog might lead to an increased level of thoughtfulness by students when posting. Instead of pounding the keys to finish and be done with it, students take more time to explore their minds, their writing, and their creativity all because someone is watching.

5. "Explain the 'reach' of blogs to students" (p.3).

You can't use the blog to tell off a friend and then go back the next day to edit your message because you've made up. The damage may have already been done. In the classroom, it is important to show students that their writing, as edit-friendly as the blog may be, is permanent and damage may be irreversible. This is another tip to break out in the early introduction of my classroom blog.

All in all, I'm on my way. The purpose for this post was to check myself before I wreck myself, if you know what I mean. If you're going to put so much time and effort into something, you should make sure you're going about it the right way. I feel confident in my progress thus far, but I realize there's a lot left to be done and the true test comes in August when my class blog will finally begin to shake and bake.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Dizzy with Excitement & Skype

Happy Easter! In honor of the Easter eggs I didn't get to color this year, today is a pretty pink text day. :-)

It has happened again! Fred Roemer, the teacher whose website was the subject of my March 26th entry, has posted a response on my blog. Without sounding too geeky or pathetic, I have to say this blog is one of the coolest educational tools that has ever found its way into my life. It becomes more meaningful by the minute and I just love the quality of discussions we've been having. Roemer's response is very thoughtful and he cleared up some of the confusion between a log (his primary purpose) and a blog.

As for the Jeff Utecht communication, I'm impressed. I think we have all found something useful and I noticed that Richard even responded to one of his posts, keeping the dialogue alive. Very cool.

I nearly missed Roemer's post, which leads me to a few tech questions:

First, is there any way to be notified of new posts to your blog other than to scroll through old posts? You all know this is my first attempt with blogs, so I probably sound ridiculously amateur and I apologize. I know the RSS feed subscribes you to other blogs, but can you include your own?

Next, how are these people finding out that I posted blogs about their sites? Are they searching for their name? I'm curious.

On to today's inspiration:
Usually when I say inspiration, what I mean is that the article inspired me to write. Today's site did so much inspired me as a human being. This is a MUST SEE!!!

Mr. Crosby and his fourth graders use the web cam communication program Skype to include a very important member of their class. Celest has luekemia and must stay at home for school. In an attempt to bring the class to her, Mr. Crosby and his students use Skype to include her in some of the day's activities. Celest is improving her writing skills as well as knowledge of technology all while interacting with a class she never knew would reach out with such compassion. When you click on the link, be sure to click on the picture and watch the video. It is 5 minutes of sheer inspiration. In my mind it is the perfect link for Easter.

The class also has a blog that you can access here. Most of the class consists of second language learners, but that only seems to motivate them more to write meaningful entries. Ann, you will note that Crosby's class is part of a 1:1 laptop initiative. Perhaps you can get some more information.

Enjoy the day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Media Law needed a blog

Inspiration for this post:

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let me say we're famous! Not really, but in his latest blog entry, Jeff Utecht provided a link to my blog. His discussion relates primarily to the evolution of written language in this IM -friendly world, a subject Richard brought up in a recent post and something we have all considered. Check out

Now, on to the latest. While reading an old (2004) review of educational blogging by Stephen Downes, I was struck by a particular quote: "At the State University of New York at Buffalo, for example, Alexander Halavais added a blog to his media law class of about 180 students. Course credit was awarded for online discussion, with topics ranging from the First Amendment to libel to Irish law reform."
I took media law in college and it was my ONLY 'C' in all 4 years!! I remember the nightmarish hours upon hours of reading, the in-class lectures that were more blah than hurrah, and the inability (for some reason) to process anything I read or heard. Once I realized I was on the fence with my grade, I went to my professor and told him I was trying my hardest but didn't seem to get it. My professor merely quipped "You've never taken a law class before," and excused me from the room. Aaaahhh! If only the blog had been around at that time. Every once in a while something just doesn't sink in (with me at least). No matter how many times I read a passage or hear a professor explain, I don't get it. Now take the example of our class. The last readings, particularly Bransford, were tough for me to understand. After a brief discussion with my group members, I got the idea. That enabled me to go back to the readings, re-read, and successfully (I hope) complete the assignment. Thank you, group! You might argue that I had the opportunity to ask my classmates for help, but I was in college and would rather spend that time talking about boy troubles, the latest gossip, or the weekend plans. The class provided no outlet for discussion, no opportunity to learn from one another. This class offers both and is part of the reason I believe I feel things

A blog has the wonderful benefit of providing students with a place not only to express themselves as equals, but also a place to learn from one another. Perhaps I'm taking this too far, but I believe that in itself helps us understand each other and ultimately makes us more compassionate as human beings.

Side note:
Interestingly, the educational blogging article also mentions the impact of September 11th on the future of blogging. Downes (2004) discusses how the blog allowed people to feel like they were part of the tragedy, rather than simply a spectator.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Blogging about my blog

Inspiration for today's post: My blog (check out the last entry)

Something very cool (yea, cool) happened this week that opened my eyes to the personal power of blogs. In my last entry, I wrote about a blog article I found by Jeff Utecht, which discussed the importance of using blogs for communication instead of simple journaling. Joe (our TA) responded to my post with a quick question of whether or not I believed there was value in simple journaling. Before I could respond, Jeff Utecht himself responded to Joe's question, beginning a discussion about journaling. This led Richard to respond, followed by Crystal who also offered a link to good blogging and her comments on journaling. Are you following? Basically my blog was used as a discussion forum that led to communication, thought, understanding, and learning. I'm psyched! Isn't this what we are after with blogs?

Of course, our group has been doing something similar but we are "forced" to be here (please don't get me wrong, I adore you all and appreciate every bit of time you put into this group, but the reality is we might not respond as frequently or with as much 'gusto' if we were not required). It was quite motivational to see someone from the "outside" step foot into our world and explore these ideas with us. Hopefully the dialogue will continue.

Now for my own two cents about the value of journaling: I think journaling is fantastic and should be open for anyone to see if the author so desires. I keep a pen-and-paper journal and would consider keeping one online as well. A blog is a nice place to post a journal and a new way for the average Joe to feel like he is part of something bigger in this world. At the same time, to maximize educational opportunities with blogs in the classroom, I am beginning to think it is essential to foster a community of communication and questioning, as we have within this group. If each of us created a blog that did not allow responses, I think the amount of learning within the group would diminish. It is often through the responses, the questioning, and the encouragement that we learn the most.

I'm speaking from personal experience, of course, but I am still plowing through the research to gain a deeper understanding. In any case, thanks for the thoughts and communication. This is a blog in action. :-)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Journal or Communication?

Thank you, Ann, for the first inspiration for today's post:
Huffaker, D. (2005). The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote
literacy in the classroom. AACE Journal, 13(2), 91-98.

This is an excellent article for the beginning blogger. It provides an overview of the importance of literacy, storytelling, and the potential success of blogs in the classroom. Much of the article reinforced other recent readings, however there were a few quick bits of information that I picked up.

First, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of blogs are maintained by people under the age of 20 (p.1). That's an impressive number and offers more incentives to incorporate blogs in the classroom. I would imagine most of that percentage falls in the 15-19 range although I can't be certain.

The article also suggests that blogs help improve literacy and are easy to use, whether you can barely turn on your computer or are an ed tech student. Sure anyone can create a blog and write entries, but how is a blog used effectively in the classroom? Huffaker offers some ideas for first time users, like the journalism/editing idea we have previously discussed and a writing display site for third grade students. He does not, however, discuss the best ways to use a blog or give examples of "bad blogging."

My search continued and I came across the next link:

Jeff Utecht begins by telling the reader there is a problem with blogs. He continues by discussing numerous problems with blogs. The chief complaint? Blogs are being used as journals, not as a vehicle for communication. Many teachers are using blogs in a way that offers no reason for communication. Teachers are asking kids to post thoughts but there is no need to respond or engage in thoughtful communication. Utecht writes, "When blogs are viewed as a conversation vehicle, they bring on a completely new meaning to the term blogging. They no longer become journal assignments; they become thoughtful discussions that extend well after a lesson ends." Yes! This will be one of my goals when I create a class blog. I want my students to feel connected to the blog, to eagerly await their responses and look forward to hearing their classmates' ideas. I do not want them posting just to get the job done or thinking about the blog as an online journal.

Utecht concludes with the following assertion, "So really, there is not a problem with blogs, the problem lies in how we utilize the power of the conversations that they create to engage students in the learning process." As we know, this applies to many other technologies, not just blogs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I had many issues with this post (html problems), so I'm not loving technology at the present moment!

Today I'm going to start checking out some elementary school blogs. I found two that I'd like to discuss.
Blog #1:
Another example of a blog that uses the format to keep parents and students updated on classroom happenings. If you check this blog out, notice the comments links...almost all of them show 0 responses. This blog seems more teacher centered than student centered and doesn't require much effort on the part of the student. One plus- the students write about using a lot of technology in the classroom. Let's just hope the technology is successfully incorporating curriculum, right?

Blog #2:
Hip, hip, hooray! I found a fourth-grade blog that uses the format to answer teacher questions about chapter books. Students are required to answer these questions (often for a grade) and the best part is that the teacher opens discussions every now and then to encourage communication between the students! Check out the March 1st entry. It is an open discussion day and the responses number 120. Normal entries only get 45 responses because discussion is not encouraged. Granted, some students write very brief entries, but they are communicating, making each other think, and learning from one another. Job well done.

All of this blog searching leads me to the inspiration for my next post. It seems like many blogs are using the format as nothing more than a web page. I'm going to search for some articles that tell how to use a blog effectively. See ya next time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Media Coverage

Inspiration for today's post:

In August of 2005, the St. Petersburg Times Online featured an article written about a fifth grade classroom in Florida that had created their own blog. The teacher, Mr. Roemer, had developed a website ( that included various tabs like class news, homework policy, behavior, reports due, pictures, and more. He also included a class log link where students could report about their daily adventures in the classroom.

The article addressed many of the concerns, questions, and information that we have already discussed. Instead of focusing my attention on someone's interpretation of the site, I wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty, which is why I clicked on the link and checked it out for myself! Here's what I found:

The site is well-developed and student friendly. I was impressed with the detail provided and the regular updates. I was also impressed with the Mr. Roemer himself, as he is incredibly open and encouraging with his students. He even lets them call him at home! I would be very proud to create a website half as informational as his.

Things to Consider
The blog portion of the site seems more like a continuation of the site itself. Students use the blog as a location to post a commentary of the day's events. As far as I could tell, the blog does not encourage commentary or discussion, which is one of the greatest ways for students to learn from the blog. On the other hand, I'm sure parents with computers at home are extremely appreciative of the logger's work each day, as they have immediate access to what's going on in their child's class. The logs are incredibly detailed, which makes me wonder how the loggers get anything done in class- they are always writing!

Be sure to check out the site. It's worth a few minutes of your day. Mr. Roemer also writes about a classroom behavior management routine called Whole Class Self Monitoring- very interesting. Has anyone heard of this before?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Back to blogs and Bees!

After our recent discussions regarding the need for teachers to be sufficiently trained in a technology before introducing it into the classroom, as well as the idea that "content is key" (not to mention a helpful hint from Dr. Ferdig), I've decided to keep my focus on blogs and roll with it until I have achieved a greater level of expertise. While I do have an interest in implementing other areas of technology into the classroom (including wikis, thanks to Crystal), I do feel the need to further explore blogs- otherwise I will be just like the teachers we have spoken about who dive in without thinking about implementation!

So, I'm using one of Ann's suggested websites to continue.
The inspiration for today's post is:

This is the actual blog created by the literature class that read The Secret Life of Bees. I was very impressed by the high school students' open responses and ability to discuss required terms like themes, realization, symbolism, and more. The blog is easy to follow and well put together, although there are some areas that I believe could improve. For example, while discussion is required at times throughout the class, it seems like student discussions were minimal. A few students might post a summary for the chapter readings, but they might not compare and contrast viewpoints. Perhaps some of the students were posting just to post, signing off when completed. I'm not sure how many students were in the class, but it appears there were at least 15. Maybe small groups like the ones we work in would foster more communication, inevitably leading to more learning.

The quality of writing overall is impressive, suggesting that students are indeed more conscious of their writing when they know it is projected across the "world." There were still a few students who seemingly refused to use capital letters and others who did not use proper paragraphs. As an observer, it's difficult to tell whether they are lacking English skills, too familiar with the online, casual type, or just rule-breakers.

Another interesting idea was the inclusion of an "artistic interpretation" section in which students created illustrations to represent certain scenes and/or characters. I like this idea, especially when considering a blog for an elementary classroom. Students love to draw at 9 or 10 years old, and the chance to illustrate anything is typically a pleasurable experience. If students knew their work was going to be posted on the blog, they might use more details in their illustrations, which actually correlates to the quality of their writing.

The blog offers a link to Sue Monk Kidd's responses to several student questions. She tells the class that she has been following their posts- how empowering for high school students! This was what Oprah refers to as a "full-circle" moment for this class. They read, they posted, they discussed, they learned from each other, and they had the opportunity to receive feedback from the author. Sounds like a winning educational experience to me!

Now I'm torn between literature reviews and journalism...perhaps both? More to come!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Grant reflection on literacy

Inspiration for this post: Reading, Writing, and Technology: A Healthy Mix in the Social Studies Curriculum by Susan M. Tancock.

This is an article that our entire group can take something from. In short, it is a summary and reflection of a grant project completed by an associate professor at Ball State University in conjunction with a local fourth-grade classroom. The focus of the grant was integration of technology into a social studies curriculum. Specifically, Tancock wanted to find out how reading and writing skills were affected by the use of technology.

The Internet element focused on Web quests, PowerPoint, and a classroom created web page. Students were given four focus areas and were assigned "Explorer journals" with which they wrote responses to higher-order thinking questions.

What I really enjoyed about this article was the depth of reflection. There are several paragraphs noting strengths/weaknesses, advice, and a wrap-up. Tancock divides the reflection into four sub-groups; reading, writing, language development, and technology. I will focus on the writing and technology, although I encourage you to check out the reading and language development sections.

Writing: This area proved to be the most challenging due to students' struggles with elements of PowerPoint (spell-check and using complete sentences in the notes section), as well as summarizing text. Despite much instruction, students did not adapt well. On a positive note, students were able to type with relative ease and it made reading a much more pleasing task for the teacher.

Technology: Students caught on quickly. The following quote relates to some of our readings and discussions about the need to focus on the instruction more than the technology: "I believe the children acquired technology skills easily because they were involved in meaningful learning activities. For example, had we attempted to teach the children how to navigate the Web for the sake of navigation, they would not have learned as quickly as they did. In fact, we spent little time (less than we thought we would need) on teaching technology skills. We demonstrated just enough for them to get started, and the students then either taught one another, learned on their own by trial and error, or asked one of us when they hit a snag. This proved very effective. We found that the children took a real problem-solving stance with the technology throughout the project. Their motto seemed to be 'When in doubt, click on something and see what happens' " (Tancock, p 9).

So here we have someone who has been through the numerous ups and downs of technology implementation and came to the conclusion that it is in fact more advantageous to center technology around the learning, not the other way around. This makes me think of our PowerPoint assignment. Dr. Ferdig gave us an assignment, provided some useful tech-help links, but first and foremost focused the assignment on the content. We had to read about learning theories before we could attempt to integrate the technology. Granted, some of our classmates likely had a prior understanding of the theories, but the purpose was still the same. No matter what, we as educators have a core curriculum to follow and it doesn't seem like that will change anytime soon. It seems like the best way to use technology successfully is to focus on the education and enhance with technology. A little trial and error never seems to hurt.


Just a quick side note:

In my search effort, I found a great book called The Handbook of Writing Research. You can preview it at, but I wasn't able to read enough to create a post for this week. Considering our similarities in posts, I thought you all might like to take a peek. I think I am going to purchase the book anyway because it is chock-full of research related to technology and writing.

Thank you all, by the way, for the terrific links that you have suggested. I'm gaining so many new ideas and perspectives.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Change Will Do You Good....

Inspiration for today:
On Writing Well, the National Writing Project, and the Future (2005).

During the annual NWP meeting in 2004, Richard Sterling gave a speech that resonates today. In his speech, Sterling addresses several of the concerns we have mentioned as a group (Ann, Crystal, and Richard). At the same time, he notes that valuable strides are being made but there is, of course, the need for continued growth.

The theme that struck me was the idea that professional development is key to success, yet often hard to follow through. Sterling says: "Powerful professional development in the hands of knowledgeable teachers can, and does over time, change and improve classroom practice. Even the No Child Left Behind Act insists in its documents that professional development must be long term and sustained. So why is so much of it not ? Many districts are driven by external concerns—adequate yearly progress (known as AYP), state assessments, and the threat of action if results cannot be shown within a short period of time."

Those "external concerns" surely feel internal to me. We take two steps forward through research and exploration, but are often forced to take a step back to meet state demands and district requirements.

Sterling addresses another whopper of an idea in the following quote: "In many ways, our task is more complex than when paper and pencil and typewriter were the only tools available. Our work to improve the “craft of writing” in Zinsser's terms—learning to use the tools of writing well—for different audiences and purposes, with this increasing array of technology at our students' fingertips, is daunting." So true. Technology is wonderful, helpful, innovative, and rapidly changing! We work so hard to bridge the gap, only to hear one day later about the latest and greatest. Professional development so often goes sour because something bigger and better comes along. It takes guts to stick to one idea or program, but we never want to risk missing out on the new.

It reminds me of a recent exchange between our tech coordinator and myself. She came to me with a CD and said "Here. I'm hoping you can use this graphic organizer program in your room. Go home, explore, and let me know if I should install it." I did as she asked, only to find that the program, developed in 2000, was no longer compatible with our computers and would not download. Ah, technology....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Inspiration for this post:
'Blogs' Catching on as Tool for Instruction. (2005)

This will be my final post related to blogs in the classroom. Next week I'll move on to another area of technology.

The article above discusses the impact of blogs in the classroom. It actually references some of the same teachers/school as my last post, including the school in New Jersey that used the blog to converse with the author of The Secret Life of Bees. Borja also writes extensively about teacher Matthew J. Clausen, who uses blogs in his 10th-12th grade classrooms. Clausen uses blogs primarily as a place for his students to feel like they are heard. He teaches at an alternative school and says the blog assignments make students feel like they are "noticed."

What interested me most was his use of the blog as a place for reflection. The purpose of the blog was not solely to improve writing skills, but to have a place where students can periodically reflect on their assignments. Senior Caitlin Nunberg said "Blogging allows everyone in the class to share their opinion, not just the loudest or most outspoken student," (Borja, ¶ 15). Some of my most talented writers are often shy and don't like to take center stage. A blog would give them a space to express thoughts and showcase talent without feeling that pressure of a face-to-face audience. At the same time, I'm not sure a 'reflection blog' would suite fourth-graders as well as it does high-school students.

Borja also helps ease my security concerns by giving options for teachers that ensure safety for children. The primary suggestion is to eliminate last names and not allow students to post pictures of themselves. Borja also recommends some basic blog sights to get you started.

At this point, I have seen some examples of blogs in action, and I feel fairly confident that I'll be ready to attempt a class blog next school year!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blogs in the classroom, continued...

Inspiration for this post:

Is there a place for blogs in the elementary classroom? I came across the site mentioned above and enjoyed the perspectives shared by Kristen Kennedy. She mentions how one literature classroom used the blog format to respond to their reading of The Secret Life of Bees. The teacher made the blog interactive by holding a virtual session with the author, Sue Monk Kidd. I've read this book and adored it, so I'm a bit jealous of their opportunity! What a great moment for these kids. Knowing that their posts would eventually be read, even perhaps by the author, seems to give them a real purpose. Not only that, but it holds them accountable for the words that they put on paper (or web, in this case)!

The thought of collaboration within a blog also interested me. Reading about the partnership between Middlebury College and a 5th grade classroom was inspiring. I thought about perhaps having my students (next year) do a journalism/reporting theme and partnering with a college journalism class.

If you read the article, be sure to stick with it until the end. The last section about assessment is very helpful. There are some suggestions that would make life a lot easier for the teacher.

Now that I have some ideas about blogs in the classroom, I am going to try to find some examples of student blogs that I can refer to. Any recommendations?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why are fourth graders so tech-savvy?

Inspiration for today's post:

I've finally started my journey into the world of blogging and I couldn't be more excited. I'm a natural journal writer, but somehow have excluded myself from this high-tech world, until now. So, let's get this party started, shall we?

Before I talk about the above link, I wanted to discuss the fact that at 25, I'm beginning to feel technologically "old." How is this is possible when I am working toward a Masters degree in Educational Technology and know far more about the latest software and uses than some of my colleagues? Read on...Today, when discussing a fourth-grade poetry book project with one of my classes, I was asked why we're not using computers to help create final drafts, use clip-art, and share our poems. Ouch!! To say that I was embarrassed is an understatement. While I explained to the students the fact that there is such limited computer access in some of the classrooms and each class has a varying level of expertise, I did applaud the students for being "with the times" and for wanting to share their work with others beyond the realm of the classroom. I guess I was just amazed that some nine-year-olds were more intrinsically aware of the possibilities of technology-assisted instruction than I was. Now I'm on a mission to show these kids that I too am "with it" and can utilize technology to improve their writing skills.

Now on to the above-mentioned link and inspiration for today's entry. I visit the Education World website often, but have never come across technology tied to writing. A simple Google search for elementary education and technology in writing brought up a link to a very interesting article about the possibilities of blogs in the classroom. How perfect, considering I'm a newbie to this world!

I really reacted to the following quote: "Although blogging in schools is still in its infancy, anecdotal evidence suggests that students' interest in, and quantity of, writing increases when their work is published online and -- perhaps even more importantly -- when it is subject to reader comments." Hmm....has anyone ever tried this with their class before? I am very much interested in using the blog in a similar manner as Mr. Villasana, who assigns each student to be a reporter for the day and report on the latest news. It is definitely right up my ally due to the connection with broadcasting and journalism, but I think students would feel so professional and take things seriously knowing their work was subject to the scrutiny of others.

I was also impressed with the security and classroom-friendly elements of KidzLog. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but it seems like a great place to start.

My biggest concern with blogging in elementary school is that it introduces kids to a whole new domain where there could be trouble if they are not safe. Of course things would be monitored closely at school, but what if a child really gets into the idea and wants to start his or her own blog at home. Am I overreacting, or is this a legitimate fear? I've heard several news stories about the lack of parental supervision when kids are online.

In any case, a blog about the local, national, and world news seems like a great place to start and it would be the first of its kind at my school. Something to think about for next year when I will likely have my own classroom again!