Sunday, June 21, 2009

Articles that support using technology in the classroom:

Tweeting Your Way to Better Grades by Zach Miners


Job Seekers Find New Rules Of Recruitment by Yuki Noguchi

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review: Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy


I've kept a personal blog for about ten years now. I keep this blog as a sort of journal and a way to keep in touch with friends and family with whom I would otherwise not have as much contact. I've found this space to be a creative outlet and a great tool for communication and creative writing.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to create a blog for my students. I figured that I could reach out to parents with this blog and have a sort of reflective space where I could write what we accomplished in class for those who were absent and for my future planning. What I found is that students at first hated going to the blog because they wanted me to retell them what happened in class. As I got more and more into the routine of keeping a blog and using it as a tool to lead instruction, students used it more and more as well. Now, I don't even have to tell my absent students where to go to find out what they missed. In fact, if I forget or do not have time to post, I am chastised by my students. Also, several parents tune in on a regular basis to see what their kids are doing in class.

I've been using this tool without much of a firm philosophy about why I needed to do it. So, when I found Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning, I couldn't wait to read it.

I truly enjoyed reading this text because it has definitely helped me to firm-up my philosophical reasonings for blogging for (and now with) my students. I have truthfully seen a shift in student interest and attention whenever I mention that we're going to complete an assignment using their blogs. I've also heard from other faculty that my students talk with their peers about blogging in my class. I feel like this buzz creates a sort of pride and excitement for students who might otherwise be turned off from the traditional worksheet and notes approach to teaching.

Not that this is going to be the sure-all in motivating disinterested students! I know that there will be and are students who would rather write than type, who are uncomfortable using technology, and who cannot handle the freedom that using a blog allows. I've dealt with this in several situations, but I still feel like the benefits outweigh the minuses.

The book definitely addresses the fact that there are some dangers in using blogs with students. The author, Diane Penrod, talks about cyberbullying as well as online predators. In addition to providing warnings, though, the author cites a lot of research about how technology and gender and ethnicity play into the blogging interests and ability of students. She also addresses at-risk students in great detail.

In sum, I truly feel like blogs are going to be an essential part of a lot of students' lives. And, even if blogs disappear tomorrow and are replaced by another format or forum for online journaling and conversation, the skills and literacies gained in practicing with a classroom blog cannot be ignored. I feel like using the blogs has allowed my students a bite of reality and a vision for the types of writing they might actually want to do after high school. Internet communication and collaboration is not a fad; we need to update our practices to expose students to real avenues for personal expression.

Great read!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: Reading Reminders


I cannot say that I completely read all of Jim Burke's Reading Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques because that would be a lie. I have, though, had it checked out from the library for a coupla months and have been flipping through it here and there. It is now due to go back to the library, so I'm going to record my thoughts about it before I forget what I did manage to read.

The fact that I did not read this text in its entirety is not a reflection on the book but on my crazy/ busy schedule and the amount of other texts I've been reading. I would like to attempt this book again, but I actually don't know that it requires a thorough reading. The book is set up into very short, straightforward tips and explanations about a variety of strategies and techniques.

Because of its skimable (not a word, but I like it) set up, I was able to find some really cool, student-centered, artistic ideas that I will definitely use next year. In particular, there are some promising graphic organizers that I plan to use in several of the classes I teach. I try not to use too many graphic organizers, because I feel like kids tend to get bombarded with them and they're not always that effective. The ones I found in this text seemed to truly organize thought and encourage deep thought. I liked that Burke included tons of students samples in this book. I look for student samples because I think that real samples often show me more about how I could use a potential strategy than do the instructions offered by the author.

Though this text is getting somewhat dated (published in 2000), most of the ideas are fresh and relevant. Those that seem dated could easily be updated by adding-in new technologies. Really, this text seems user-friendly and timeless in its quality and understanding of the process of teaching and learning. Also, the ideas in this text could translate easily to content areas other than English. I look forward to finding more texts by this author.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Review: Readicide


Kelly Gallagher's new book Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It is engaging, real-world, honest, and important. It's definitely written for secondary English teachers by a secondary English teacher, but I think that there are ideas and lessons that all secondary teachers can take away from this book.

I love this book because Gallagher is all about what's really happening in our schools where reading is concerned. He pulls together a huge array of resources, studies, quotations, and voices to comment on where our nation is headed in terms of "killing" any joy, interest, or ability students have in gained where reading is concerned. I am impressed at his candor about the problems he's witness and experienced in his own district and classroom, as well as his intriguing, interesting ideas for creating and maintaining a "flood" of reading in the secondary classroom. The student work he includes show real thought and excitement and --best of all-- it's authentic in a way that I've not seen in other professional texts.

Simply put, I am excited about some of the strategies I'm going to try out in my classroom and I was pleased to read positive comments about the strategies I already use in my teaching. I feel like I now have a renewed understanding and excitement about SSR and why I spend so much money on high-interest free reading selections for my students.

I would recommend this title to any teacher who is concerned about the state of reading, writing, and thinking among the US population (not just teens!) because Gallagher has some real suggestions on how we can improve the reading lives of those we teach.
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