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!