Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The value of photographs

Despite a penchant for the written word, I'm a guy who digs images. In high school I spent hundreds of hours in the photography class darkroom developing pictures. I carried my father's 1978 Olympus OM-2 everywhere, snapping shots of friends, nature, and random occurrences.

I like adding a visual element to my blog. I feel a blog post is best digested with an accompanying image. It's also possible for images to stand on their own.

Originally I was thinking I would create a separate blog page to post some of my stories, photos, and poems. Yesterday I deleted that page, and made the decision to post that content here, on my main blog page.

I'm trying to find the best way to balance and organize my blog. I'm also trying to appeal to a variety of audiences.

I hope you enjoy this photo. It was taken two years ago in Killington, VT, near the Appalachian Trail. Given that we're in for more snow this week, it seemed fitting.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A comment's worth

Below are two comments from Louann's Multiliteracies blog about the value of blog comments. I think without comments, a blog wouldn't be, by definition, a blog. Any comments?

Anna Marie Strzyz said...
Because I'm so new to blogging, I find exploring other blogs to be more fulfilling than working on my own. I've left a few comments along the way and enjoy engaging in this way. I don't want my blog to be a site that just tells/shows - I want a conversation. But, I know I need to provide a few more prompts for feedback and responses. I also wonder, with so many blogs out there, how much conversation can there be on one post?
February 21, 2007 3:12 PM

Mr. B-G said...
In response to Anna, I'm sure it depends on the quality of the conversation, and also on the number of comments a post initially receives. Sometimes when reading a blog post that's received numerous comments, there's a greater lure or desire to make a comment, as I suppose we think more people might hear us.

I guess if a posting moves you, make a comment, although I acknowledge it's not always that easy.

Blogging is a different form of communication. Imagine being able to read something, post a reaction, and then have the author of that post - or other readers - reply back to you! I don't think we've been taught to read and think this way, although as English teachers we try to teach our students to respond to and become engaged with literature.

This response and engagement means sharing reactions, thoughts, feelings, insights, favorite passages, themes, characters, plot developments, writing techniques, etc.

I suppose it's the blog medium, and the action of commenting, that's different.

In a literature circle, we discuss aloud with classmates after having read and written something. With a blog, we read, type, post, and then read. It's a silent (digital?) discussion. It's a medium change. The question is, what of this medium change? What are the implications? What new things can we achieve? What are the limitations?

I think each of us is finding this out as we go along. These comments allow us to communicate these and other insights, but perhaps more importantly, allow us to realize that we're blazing the same trail together, even if we aren't riding side by side.
February 24, 2007 5:50 PM

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Old Man Essay Prompts

I've posted a copy of The Old Man and the Sea essay prompts on my English Teaching Resources page.
I'm hoping that students are able to use that page to access handouts and assignment sheets they might have accidentally misplaced.

In a nod toward our school's Environmental Club, I hope that by "going digital" I am able to conserve paper, as when a student asks for a copy of a document I already distributed, I can refer him or her to the blog. I envision in the not-so-distant future a time when assignments are posted solely online, and essays are submitted digitally without unnecessary use of paper.

By posting some of my handouts and assignments online, I allow other teachers to borrow, tailor, and build. I am grateful to teachers like Mrs. Huff who have posted their handouts for others to peruse.

It is extremely beneficial to see how others in the profession teach similar units and concepts. Exposure to others' lessons and ideas have shaped my own instruction by validating what is working and helping me to strengthen, tweak, or scrap things that aren't as effective as I might like them to be.

Thanks the blog, I'm able to commiserate and learn from colleagues I would otherwise never meet due to geographical constraints.

On a final note, the image to the left is a photograph I took of a painting on display at Ernest Hemingway's Key West, FL, home, where he lived for about 10 years.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The break

In one day winter break begins. I will have a week to rest, relax, work, lounge, travel - essentially, do whatever I would like. Aside from a two-night trip to Vermont with a few high school buddies, the rest of the week is wide open.

I'd like to go snowshoeing, see my family, play basketball, finish the book I started reading over Christmas break, watch a few movies, write, and think.

In 2001 when I hiked half the Appalachian Trail, I had plenty of time to think about life and my place in it. I miss the clarity of mind that comes from a rested, active body. Gradually I would like to restore a routine of physical balance to my life.

Over the next week I'm sure I'll also spend some time viewing other teacher blogs. It seems that with each blog I read, there are 10 more I discover that I should probably be reading too. I need to organize all the links I've bookmarked, and revisit some of the sites I've saved. There's so much information out there.

I'll also plan upcoming units. For my freshmen, I have a poetry unit that I'm really looking forward to. My students last year seemed to dig it, and this year there are new tricks - one being a poetry slam.

At the NEATE conference last fall, I attended a seminar put on by Geof Hewitt, Vermont's poetry slam champion. He was energizing and inspiring, and I can't wait to host a slam in my classroom.

With my seniors, we'll be doing Lord of the Flies after we finish up our Macbeth skits and essays. Hopefully the thematic similarities will carry over. But perhaps more importantly, I'll be able to present the material in such a way that my reluctant readers will tolerate - and perhaps even enjoy - William Golding's haunting story about human savagery and society.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Polishing the whole apple

Last Sunday the Boston Globe ran this editorial about the state of education in Massachusetts.

It contained a host of information, including details on sound legislation that would "set up a pilot plan for a sophisticated [teacher] training system -- one that far exceeds anything that now exists in the United States."

In addition to revamping teacher training and professional development, the bill calls for improved teacher evaluation and increased communication and planning time for teachers and administrators.

The article also articulates the skills and competencies required by public school educators:

Teachers and administrators need to know a huge amount: what to teach, how to teach, how to align with state frameworks, what cognitive science says about how children learn, how to motivate students, how to manage classrooms, and how to engage parents and communities.
Given the above, it's a no-brainer that teacher education and professional development needs to be relevant, current, nuanced, and top-notch.

One of public education's greatest ironies is that the current system provides little time for teachers to help each other improve what they do in the classroom.

School districts - looking for a panacea - too often contract professional development speakers who know little about the inner-workings of a particular system. As a result, the prescriptions these individuals dole out usually effect little positive change.

Aside from attending specific conferences tailored to what I do in the classroom (such as the New England Association of Teachers of English's annual New Hampshire colloquium), the best professional development I receive comes from those most familiar with my curriculum and students - the colleagues with whom I work.

It would be wonderful to have more time to learn from them.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Scratching the surface

This article from eSchool News online does a nice job giving a basic overview of the rise of employee blogging, and the questions that administrators and CEOs face when it comes to crafting guidelines and regulations for employees. It also praises blogging's potential, especially for educators:

Self-initiated and often self-sustaining, employee blogs can speed information sharing, increase problem-solving, and improve productivity within an organization. For example, teachers can post an internal blog about a challenge they're facing in the classroom and receive hundreds of potential
solutions from their colleagues quickly and easily.

Combined with RSS feeds, which automatically update subscribers whenever new content is posted, blogs can be used to swap lesson plans, teaching strategies, discipline tips, and new research. Blogging's potential for connecting and engaging employees in online conversations can help reduce classroom isolation,as teachers find a home in professional online communities.

Blogging also can help educators meet and converse with colleagues in other district schools without leaving their respective school campuses.
By increasing collaboration, many school leaders hope blogging will help their faculties generate new and better ways to help students succeed.

Since I began blogging in December, I've felt more energized and excited about what I'm doing in the classroom. Being able to easily communicate with educators from across the country and the world has broadened and deepened my sense of professional community. I still find it amazing that I'm able to get lesson ideas from teachers in Texas, Hawaii, or Alaska - but I can, and I have.

I feel we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the digital innovations that will shape public education in the 21st century.

Monday, February 5, 2007

How to write a hyperlink

Last night I was reading The Cool Cat Teacher Blog and came across this image. It shows you how to manually create hypertext links.

I always wondered how people were able to include hyperlinks with their comment posts. I used to think I would be forever clueless. Now, like Siddhartha, I am enlightened! Thanks Cool Cat Teacher. Your name does not belie your nature.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Stand Against Wikipedia

I recently did group research projects with my 9th grade students on Ernest Hemingway and deep-sea fishing. I worked with our school's librarian to help students learn how to search for information, and wrote two blog entries about using Infotrack and Google Advanced Search to search for information.

While most of my students found a variety of primary sources, one group used Wikipedia as a source. I remember feeling a little uneasy about that group's choice to use Wikipedia, but I allowed it because the information seemed solid, and they did have other sources.

In the future, as this article from InsideHigherEd.com suggests, I will allow students to use Wikipedia as a starting point, but explain to them its limitations and potential for inaccuracy, and require that they use primary or academically sound secondary sources for research.

As the Internet continues to grow and new tools become available, I believe it is important for teachers to stay abreast with the times and be able to give students accurate guidance when it comes to navigating the overwhelming amount of information available to them at the click of a button.