Write or wrong…

Are you on the platform? What are you waiting for? Are you ready and willing to buy a ticket to the destination of your choice? How serious are you about getting there?

I really like the ‘platform’ analogy we talked about in today’s Solution Focus coaching master class and it makes me realise that I’ll never get back on the blogging train, unless I buy a ticket and get off the platform!

In the past, writing was a vehicle for reflection. Blogging was an avenue for distilling the essence of  learning experiences, documenting the process of learning, testing ideas and theories, questioning, probing, provoking , identifying issues, exploring possibilities and sometimes getting on people’s nerves.

I often encourage others to blog, highlighting the value of sharing your practice and amplifying your learning. I stress that perfectionism holds you back. ‘Just write what you want to say in your own voice, without over-thinking and click ‘publish’, I tell them. ‘Write for yourself, not for an audience.’

Yet here I am, pacing the platform, mulling over the reasons for not buying a ticket and getting back on the blogging train.

Is it because writing is a habit and I’ve lost the flow? Is awareness of my increased audience inhibiting me, because I can no longer simply write for myself, in my own voice and click ‘publish’, without caring what anyone thinks? Have I been muzzled by the knowledge that saying what I think sometimes gets me into trouble, because people identify themselves in the issues raised?  Or is it simply that I’ve said what I need to say and it’s time to put down my ‘pen’ ?

In the spirit of today’s master class, I’ll let go of the reasons for the problem and focus on positive change instead. One of the coaching strategies we practised was identifying the issue of concern and giving it a name. I’m calling mine ‘Write or wrong’… I’m buying a ticket and moving off the platform back onto the blogging train to see what happens.

It will either be wrong for me… or write.

Blogging for authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

Overwhelmed by demands of mandated curricula?

The Australian curriculum lists ten learning areas (English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Arts, Economics, Civics and Citizenship, Technologies, Health and Physical Education) as well as general capabilities and cross curricular priorities. If you had to ‘cover’ all the skills and knowledge listed, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day for about thirty years.

Learners reading, writing and collaborating on a class blog can address a range of curriculum areas simultaneously and incidentally. Take a look at what’s happening in @Mr_Kuran’s class.

All you need is imagination…

Blogging in the classroom is an exceptional tool for learning that is engaging, relevant and trans-disciplinary. All you need is a bit of imagination and you’re away. (Or you can borrow my ideas)

And a blog…

Our new Year 3 teacher @Mr_Kuran kicks off with a few simple posts for all the Year 3 students to comment on. The children are still learning how to sign in and respond. They have yet to work on writing quality comments that encourage conversation, before moving onto writing their own posts later in the year. The blog will provide an authentic context for reading and writing, as well as a forum to express thinking and an avenue for extending inquiry beyond the school walls.

Meanwhile, the children have started to write…

And an audience…

A tweet out  to the world by @Mr_Kuran (with a #pypchat hashtag) brings a visitor from Mozambique! Checking the flag counter in the next few days, the children discover they have had visits from Poland, Switzerland and Laos. Barely a week later they are hooked! The blog has received visitors from near and far, including countries the children haven’t heard of. Our young learners are exploring the geography of the world as they plot their visitors on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 6.19.55 pm

The flag counter encourages not just curiosity but a range of mathematical skills, enhanced by engaging learning experiences such as this QR code investigation.

Hopefully, as things unfold, a global audience will motivate our young learners to write more…

Authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

After only an initial introduction to blogging, many areas of the curriculum are already being addressed and the children are developing a range of trans-disciplinary skills.

And they are loving it!

More ideas here – 20 ways to think about your class blog.

 

Leave a message…

What messages do you get from this great little clip?

Here’s the kind of responses that came from teachers in our Learning Team Leaders group…

  • Anyone can be a leader.
  • Collaboration leads to success.
  • Set an example and others will follow.
  • Find a solution, rather than complaining about a problem.

The clip elicited different responses from 6th grade students, asked to make connections with themselves and their learning…

  • It makes me feel that I have a strong power inside me that can allow me to do anything.
  • It tells me a lot about learning, it tells me to be a risk taker and never be scared…
  • Everyone can be a leader and do what ever they want, if they have a lot of determination.
  • Team work is very important in and out of school.
  • We need to learn to help people even though you haven’t been asked.
  • This video tells me that even though I’m a small kid doesn’t mean I can’t do big things.
  • One small act can infect a lot of people.
  • I think this video will inspire children that think they can not do anything.
  • Everyone can learn something from someone, no matter what age or gender.
  • Anyone, doesn’t matter what size, can help the community and be an active citizen.

You can read the whole delightful conversation, including responses from kids in other schools, here. (It highlights the possibilities of blogging as a tool for authentic reading, writing and conversation beyond the classroom walls, but that’s another story!)

Often the best clips to stimulate thinking are not directly related to the subject at hand and can be used in a range of contexts. Do you have any other ideas for using this one? Have you come across any great, short videos that provoke thinking and inspire conversation?

Looking back and forward…

Looking back…

Interestingly (or not), my most popular blog posts in 2013 were not written last year. These three have been the most enduring:

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning (2010)
10 ways to differentiate learning (2012)
10 ways to encourage student reflection (2011)

My WordPress ‘Annual Report’ suggests I consider writing more on those subjects. In reality it seems that any post written in point form tends to be more popular as it’s quick to scan and requires less time and effort for the reader to process.

My top posts written in 2013:

10 ways to create a learning culture
10 questions to help you become a better teacher
10 principles of effective professional learning

As Seth Godin says, my most popular posts this year weren’t necessarily my ‘best’.

In 2013 my colleagues and I spent a great deal of time exploring inquiry and concept driven learning, improving our planning process and developing more effective approaches to in-school professional learning. So I liked these posts, with less advice, more reflection:

How do you assess understanding?
Planning for inquiry and Planning in response to learning
Concept based learning
Choose your own learning and There is never enough time
5 misconceptions about professional learning

Looking forward…

I don’t ‘set goals’.

Goals need to be specific, focused, achievable and include a plan of action. Ask me what my goals are for next year, I feel pressured to come up with something that fits those criteria, and I can’t think of anything to say.

I’m more of an inquiry kind of person. I love learning and exploring, making connections, going off on tangents, finding and solving problems, experimenting with ideas and possibilities, questioning and innovating.

So, rather than asking me for goals, ask me what I’d like to explore and I will rattle off an ever growing number of books, ideas, experiences and possibilities.

Watch this space…

Into the unknown…

How do you take blogging beyond the classroom? The brief for my session is to show teachers what’s possible in the hope of inspiring them to take their current practice further. It’s one in a series of sessions for the Global Education Project.  Some of the participants are new to blogging, others are further ahead… I like to encourage them, irrespective of where they are at, to take one small step forward and see where it leads.

Meet Lindsey Bates, Year 3 teacher at Serpell Primary

The starting point for any good inquiry learning is the known. It is all well and good to begin there, but if the known is where you end up, well, it’s not really learning. This is true of our students and it is true of us as teachers and learners.

I recently attended a Blogging Master Class by Edna Sackson. The afternoon was engaging and inspiring and she left us with a sense of adventure and a challenge: to take the next step in our blogging journey, whatever that might be. I had to go from the known, to the unknown.

I had run a class blog for four years, we attracted a few visitors from around the globe, and I had even made connections with classrooms overseas via twitter. But I hadn’t actually tweeted. My challenge was clear.

Having just completed a blog post about my grade’s newfound fascination with Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (ISS), I knew that the stars were aligning. I followed Edna’s clear ‘how-to’ guide about how to get noticed on twitter and @ed Commander Hadfield into my tweet. The 120 characters sat on my screen- trapped between laptop and cyberspace. What if I finally spoke up, put myself out there, and no one cared to listen? What then?

After much hesitation I clicked ‘tweet’ and off my words went. Seven minutes later a reply came through. Within minutes my blog post was racking up views. The world did care to listen.

My students now feel themselves to be close and personal friends of Commander Hadfield and are delighted and inspired by the idea of the world watching us learn. It has only been a few weeks, but our virtual audience and connections continue to grow. Who knows where these adventures might take us?

Once you experience the authenticity that comes from learning and reflecting within the globally connected environment that educational blogging can provide, there is no going back to the once cosy and comfortable four walls of your classroom. Learning might begin there, but one can never anticipate where it could end up.

What’s your next step into the unknown going to be?

Just write…

For one reason and another, I have been posting less frequently than I used to and it’s made me realise…

The less frequently I write, the more difficult it is to get going again.

So, I’m wondering…

Is writing something that happens in period 3 on Tuesdays? 

or

Are your learners constantly picking up a pen (iPad) to write their reflections, thoughts and ideas?

and

Is writing a task that you set?

or

Do your students have time to write (something!) every single day? 

and

Do you write?

or 

Do you wonder if  your writing is ‘good enough’?

Just write…

Image: Jenna Avery

What’s it all about?

If I paste the URL of my blog into Wordle, I get the cloud below. Predictably the key words are learning, thinking, inquiry, creativity and community – I write about what matters to me.

What Ed Said

I’m curious what the key words might be in some of my favourite (and less favourite) blogs and spend a bit of time investigating some well-known ones. The results are interesting and I confess to being a little surprised that learning doesn’t feature more in educators’ blogs.

Here’s a sample… (Guess which one is a class blog!)

Blog1 Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 6.12.35 PM

Class Blog Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 6.14.28 PMBlog2

10 tips for (reticent) bloggers…

A colleague who teaches writing, draws incredible poetry and prose out of her students. Yet she has what she calls ‘writer’s blog’ (block) which prevents her from starting a blog. Another has just had an incredible learning experience and spent four hours organizing her thoughts and experiences by writing blog posts… despite not having a blog, as she feels uncertain whether others will be interested in what she writes.

It seems they are not alone…

When I started blogging, I struggled to find my voice. My first few posts (some of which were subsequently deleted) sounded as if they had each been written by a different person. Then I realised I didn’t need to try so hard.

10 tips for reticent new struggling teacher student  bloggers…

  1. Write in your own voice, as if you are talking to people you know.
  2. Don’t over-think and over-plan, just write what’s in your head. You can write another post when you have developed your thinking further.
  3. Don’t agonise over whether it’s good enough. Write, check, post, done. You’ll improve with practice.
  4. Never force it. If an idea for a post isn’t working, scrap it.
  5. Avoid long slabs of text. Write in paragraphs. Use headings, images and bullet points to express your thinking clearly and ensure your message is evident.
  6. Don’t explain everything. Use hyper-links to existing explanations on your blog and elsewhere on the internet.
  7. Shorter posts are better than long ones. Always. Big idea? Break it into two posts. Small idea? Sometimes one paragraph is enough.
  8. You don’t need to have all the answers. Some of my most successful posts have been composed entirely of questions.
  9. Exclude all words that just don’t add anything. This was the very best piece of advice I read when I first started blogging. Carefully re-read posts that you have written and  try to remove all the extraneous words that add little or nothing.
  10. Exercise humility. (The tips above work for me, I’m just sharing…)

10 20 ways to think about your class blog…

One of the ways I like to encourage learning based on my school’s learning principles is to promote the use of class blogs. In the lower primary years, the blogs are often used to communicate with parents and to share the learning that takes place at school. As we move higher up in the school though, the class blog has the potential to be so much more than that.

I’ve written about class blogs several times in the past, but my thinking  has changed as I have watched the blogging experience unfold at my school. I have seen even the most motivated teachers become disappointed by the lack of student interest, poor response from parents and the absence of the anticipated authentic audience.

A great post this week by Andrea Hernandez, entitled Where is the Authentic Audience? got me (re) thinking. And another thought-provoking post by Kath Murdoch exploring what inquiry learning is NOT, as a way to understand what it IS, inspired me to consider class blogs in the same way.

I think that a class blog is not (just)…

  • A  place to post questions, worksheet style, with an expectation that all students will respond.
  • A space for teachers  to assess and comment publicly on students’ writing.
  • A sort of online vacuum, into which students’ writing is sucked, never to be seen by anyone.
  • A compulsory homework assignment.
  • Something managed entirely by the teacher, who makes all the decisions as to what will be posted and when.
  • An occasionally used alternative to writing on paper.

(With apologies if you use your blog successfully in some or all of these ways!)

Some questions to consider…

1. Do you teach students how to write meaningful comments that promote conversation?

2. Do you set aside time every day to check  for new comments and  discuss the comments that come in?

3. Do you encourage your students to respond to each other and whoever else comments?

4. Does your blogroll include other class blogs within your own school and are your students actively engaging with these?

5. Do you encourage your students to comment on class blogs at schools in your own and other parts of the world?

6. Have you and your students considered ways to involve their grandparents and retired people they know as a potential audience?

7. Do your students have ownership of the layout and theme of your class blog?

8. Do you frequently discuss the potential  audience and purpose of blog posts?

9. Do you model good writing for your students by blogging yourself? ( A collective in-school blog doesn’t require a great time commitment).

10. Do you regularly read and comment on other teachers’ blogs and discuss your learning with your students?

11. Do you encourage students to take photographs of great learning experiences and share their reflections with the world?

12. Do you have a visitors map or a flag counter and check them every day with your class to see who has visited and where they are in the world?

13. Have you considered a class Twitter account to share learning and tweet your posts to other classes?

14. Have you thought about blogging as authentic writing, rather than another separate thing you have to fit in?

15. Do your students choose where to post their writing and thinking, with the blog as just one option?

16. Have you exposed your students to great blogs (not just class ones) so that they can discover what makes a blog appealing and interesting?

17. Have you helped your students see how blogging is different from other writing? Can they drill down to the essence of something, add images and use  hyperlinks?

18. Do your students see the blog as an additional place to share and provoke thinking, and to make thinking visible?

19. Is your blog a place to continue the learning conversation from school to home and back?

20. Are you working on building a learning community which includes yourself, students, parents and other learners in your school and the world?