Rachel Lynne's Blog

Exploring English Education

Wrapping up my Junior Year April 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 3:53 am

It’s hard to believe, but this is my last week of classes as a junior at Penn State.  Next Wednesday at noon, I will be completely done with the semester and on summer break for four months, and technically a senior.  As I’m finishing my final week of classes, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned this semester.  I really feel like I’ve grown and finally begun to develop at teacher identity and philosophy.  Before my LLED block this semester, I couldn’t even imagine really teaching high school English.  Although I’d had plenty of experience with kids and adolescents, I still felt completely unprepared to teach.  I still feel like I have a long way to go before teaching a class of my own, but I do feel many steps closer to feeling ready.  I know I still have a lot to learn, but I can actually see myself teaching English now.  I have developed many good ideas about how to run my class and have learned how to create lesson plans.  I have written a teaching philosophy, conducted an inquiry project about assessment, and created a web portfolio.  I learned about different teaching philosophies and became introduced to many English education networks that I can connect to and use as resources.

Some of the most useful parts of the semester were connecting to networks like the NCTE, National Writing Project, and English Companion Ning.  The Ning was my favorite resource this semester; I consulted it regularly and learned a good deal about practical teaching skills through fellow teacher discussions.  It was helpful to hear advise from teachers who are currently in the field.  I posted a question about assessment on the English Companion Ning and received 15 comments in just a matter of days.  I know this is a source that I will continue to use throughout my entire career.  The NCTE and National Writing Project are also gems that I was introduced to this semester and will remain plugged in to their sites throughout my career as well.  Prior to my networking this semester, I had no idea that there were resources like these available to me online.  I feel so much more comfortable and connected now, knowing that I can communicate with teachers and researchers within minutes, access ideas for lesson plans and classroom management, and seek advice.

I owe most of this networking to my Personal Learning Network.  I believe my PLN this semester has enabled me to connect with my fellow classmates and fellow educators and create a pool of resources to use for the rest of my life.  It was through my PLN that I explored the National Writing Project, Teachers Teaching Teachers, and the English Companion Ning.  Reading my fellow classmates’ blogs was also incredibly helpful, as they turned up some amazing resources and ideas as well.  The PLN became a network of sharing ideas and tools for me and my classmates this semester.  I feel much more comfortable moving forward in my teaching education/career having established this PLN.

In one of my block classes, we wrote teaching philosophies and created iMovies about our teacher identities and dispositions.  This was really the first time that I began to consider my identity as a teacher.  After learning about different educational philosophies, I was able to create my own philosophy.  Yet, I know that my philosophy will continue to develop and change, as I grow, learn and experience more.

I feel satisfied with my Personal Learning Network.  I could have done more and better, but that can be said of everything in life, and I am pleased with how my PLN has developed.  I have had 296 total views, which is 56 more than when I posted my self-evaluation almost a month ago.  This is my 21st post, and I posted almost every week, at least once.  There were a few weeks that I did not post, but overall I remained consistent.  I think my last two posts were my “best” posts, although it’s difficult to tell based on feedback from others.  Most of my classmates have stopped working on their PLNs in the past month, so conversation has significantly decreased recently and I have received fewer comments.  However, I believe my past two posts, “Assessment in the English Classroom” and “Technology in Education and Where I Stand” are my best and most informative.  Since my self-evaluation, I have posted a question and engaged in conversation on the English Companion Ning and engaged in conversation with a few people not in this class.  Engaging in more conversations outside of my classmates was my main goal and my number one area for improvement after my self-evaluation, and I feel that I accomplished them.  Overall, I am pleased with my consistency in posting, my engagement in conversation, and the quality of my posts.

As I look back on the semester, I realize that I wish I would have learned more about how to actually teach English, especially writing.  Through the book You Gotta Be the Book by Jerry Wilhelm, I feel that I have gained many good ideas about how to teach reading, but I don’t feel that I really learned how to teach writing.  Since I have been working as a peer tutor at Penn State’s Writing Center for the past year and a half, I feel that I already have some knowledge in this area, but I still would have liked to have learned more about teaching a class how to write, as opposed to working one-on-one.  I hope that I can learn more in this area through personal inquiry and through future classes.

While I know I still have much to learn and there are some things I wish I would have learned this semester, I do feel much more prepared now than at the beginning of the semester.  I feel that I am ready for the next step in the process and that I am significantly closer to becoming an English teacher.  I will definitely continue my PLN and inquiry through the rest of my career.  I believe it will always be important to engage in professional development, and PLNs can play a role in that.  As I say goodbye to my junior year, I am thankful for the learning experiences that I have had and hope that in the future I can learn what I wish I would have learned this semester.


Assessment in the English Classroom April 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 12:02 am

For one of my other LLED block classes this semester I am conducting an inquiry project about assessment in the high school English classroom.  My initial interest in this topic was sparked when I was a sophomore in high school and my Honors English teacher evaluated us solely on multiple-choice and true/false exams.  This frustrated me and I felt like I was never once asked to demonstrate my knowledge about complex concepts or my writing progress.  The class overall seemed very trivial and focused on insignificant details about the books that we read.  I still to this day remember that class as a waste of time and a missed opportunity to learn.

Now that I am a future English teacher, I have begun to take a greater interest in assessment in English classes.  I want to ensure that I send my students the message that I care about deeper, more complex concepts, the process of writing, and the love of reading.  I don’t want them to leave my class only feeling like we talked about character names, dates, and plots.  Yet, I do want to ensure that I hold them accountable, offer them regular feedback, and effectively assess their learning.  For the reasons I have discussed, I am not a fan of multiple-choice or true/false tests, or really tests in general.  I am interested in finding alternative forms of assessment, like portfolios, journals, conferences, class participation, and group work.

With all of this in mind, I set out on my inquiry project with the hopes of discovery the best ways to assess high school English students.

I posted a question on one of my favorite sites, the English Companion Ning: “I’m an English Ed major working on a project about assessment in the high school English classroom, and trying to determine how I want to assess my future students.  I don’t like multiple choice or true/false tests, and I’m not a big fan of tests in general.  What are some other forms of assessment that you have found effective?  I’m thinking about portfolios and journals, but am looking for more ideas.”

So far I have received 15 replies to this question, which was very helpful.  Check out the discussion here: http://englishcompanion.ning.com/forum/topics/assessment-3

Here’s a summary of what people had to say:

The responses I received from this question were many and varied.  Two teachers replied that they do use multiple choice/fill-in-the-blank/true/false tests because they are quicker and easier to grade.  Yet, several other teachers argued that these types of tests are just about recall and we should not use them just because they are easier for us.  Instead, we should do what is best for our students.  One woman wrote that she always asks herself: “How will the student grow from this assessment?”  She advises centering assessment on benefitting the students.  Another teacher wrote about some problems of the typical English exam: “These types of questions assess knowledge and comprehension. And they reduce higher level thinking to simple choices (which of these sentences is punctuated correctly?) when in reality no one actually thinks this way. We don’t write a sentence three different ways and then select the correctly punctuated one; we just write. We examine the punctuation later, in the editing stage.”  While there were advocates both for and against multiple choice and true/false exams, the majority sided against them.

Many teachers offered alternative forms of assessment.  One woman suggested using student-teacher conferences to discuss papers and overall class progress.  Many recommended in-class writing journals, although they warned that they take a long time to read and grade.  To combat this problem, several people suggested grading journals on completion, which will not only take less time, but will emphasize what some see as the objective of journals: engaging students in frequent writing.  It was suggested that journals should be used to get students writing often and not be graded on mechanics.  You can then assign students one or two larger pieces of writing to submit for grades, after revising, editing, and peer-reviewing.

Several teachers suggested using class participation and projects as a means of assessment.  Students can present group projects to the class, such as skits, posters, and power-points.  Students can recite monologues and engage in dramatic re-enactments.  Points can be awarded for participation in group and whole-class discussions.  Students can compile portfolios for each unit.  One person gave the example of a poetry portfolio after a poetry unit, in which students could include poems that they have written, reflections and interpretations of poetry, and visual representations of poems.  As one woman put it, the possibilities with projects and class participation are endless.

While there were many different ideas, one thing that most people shared was the need for rubrics.  They agreed that it is essential to create solid rubrics for every assignment so that your students are completely clear of the objectives and requirements.

My question on the English Companion Ning raised many ideas and suggestions for assessment in the classroom.  After reading each response, I realized that there may not be one right way to assess, but that there can be many approaches.

In addition to posting the question on the Ning, I conducted some research and found several articles that discuss assessment.  Here’s a summary of what I found:

In the article “Teaching English: Portfolio Evaluation” Stephen A. Bernhardt, author of the piece, writes: “Writing is a skill or a practice that is evidenced over a range of situations involving various purposes, audiences, and genres.  We simply cannot gauge a student’s ability with a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt).  He argues that assessment solely through tests contradicts what we try to teach in English classes.  If we teach them the importance of writing as a process, revising, editing, and peer-reviewing, why would we ever then evaluate them on a timed, in-class test essay?  As an alternative to this, he recommends using portfolios, which include different types of writing that students have worked on throughout the year.  Portfolios can  be compiled in many different ways; they can include all of the student’s work throughout the year or only a few select pieces; they can include only final papers or notes, outlines, and rough drafts as well.  Portfolios can be adapted to fit any classroom and subject as needed and as is appropriate (Bernhardt).

This article also discusses the benefits of portfolios: students develop as part of a community, the importance of the process and revision is emphasized, and students gain more control over their writing and learning.  There are drawbacks to portfolios too, however.  They generate large amounts of writing for teachers to read and grade, and can cause stress and a lack of feedback for students if the portfolio is not submitted until the end of the year (Bernhardt). To combat this problem, teachers can have students submit portfolios for each unit and then compile each of those into one final portfolio at the end of the year.

Link to “Teaching English: Portfolio Evaluation”: http://proquest.umi.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/pqdweb?index=4&did=5219601&SrchMode=2&sid=2&Fmt=6&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1269560965&clientId=9874

According to the article “Assessment Models Worth Sharing” by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the government recently allowed several Elementary schools to use portfolios as assessment instead of standardized tests.  Teachers have to compile completed assignments that demonstrate how well students meet grade-level standards and work with struggling students to help them reach proficiency.  On average, student literacy scores increased in schools using portfolio assessment (Yancey).

Link to “Assessment Models Worth Sharing”: http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CC/0182-nov08/CC0182PresComm.pdf

Portfolios assess students on their long-term work and progress, rather than their ability to recall information or write on the spot.  They allow students to demonstrate their revision abilities, which emphasizes the importance of writing as a process.  They evaluate student learning and growth more accurately and effectively than tests.  While they are effective assessment tools, there are other forms of evaluation that teachers can use in addition to portfolios.

The NCTE article “Formative Assessment: Helping Students Grow” by Deb Aronson discusses the benefits of formative assessment opposed to summative.  Formative assessment is low-stakes evaluation during a unit in order to daily check for student understanding.  Summative assessment is high-stakes test at the end of a unit or year.  Aronson writes: “NCTE supports formative assessment as the most valuable classroom tool for evaluating student learning in time to adjust teaching to meet student needs” (Aronson).  Yet, Aronson acknowledges that summative assessments still have their place and are not altogether bad.  She cites an example of a language arts teacher who assigns his students a five-minute speech as a summative assessment, but works with them on their brainstorming, outlines, research, and preparation along the way as formative assessment.  Through formative assessment, teachers can ensure that students understand the material before they fail the exam and it’s too late.

Formative assessment also enables students to demonstrate their understanding of more complex concepts.  It emphasizes the importance of more over-arching themes and evaluates their understanding on a deeper level than multiple-choice tests (Aronson).   Examples of formative assessment include student-teacher conferences, reading logs, class discussions, free-writes, journals, and quizzes.  Diane Mulligan gives examples of alternative assessments in her article “Beyond Reading Check Quizzes.”  She suggests using one-paragraph reader responses to check for reading rather than quizzes, keeping reading response journals, and award points for class participation (Mulligan). Teachers can assess student learning along the way and offer feedback through these and other similar methods.  Aronson summarize the benefits of formative assessment when she writes, “Formative assessments are particularly valuable for measuring how students are progressing toward learning goals because the results of the assessment give both the teacher and the student immediate feedback on what to do next” (Aronson).  These practices can be implemented into the classroom in addition to or as alternatives to exams.

Link to “Beyond Reading Check Quizzes”: http://highschool.suite101.com/article.cfm/dont_make_them_prove_it

Link to “Formative Assessment: Helping Students Grow”: http://www.ncte.org/magazine/archives/126802

When discussing assessment, the question arises: what is the ultimate purpose of assessment?  If your goal is merely to make sure students learn characters and details of a novel, then fill in the blank tests are suitable.  If you want to ensure they can choose the proper use of an apostrophe out of a list, go ahead and use multiple-choice.  But if you really want your students to understand complex concepts, to grow as writers, and to learn to love reading, alternate forms of assessment are more successful in reaching those goals.  Diane Mulligan addresses when she writes: “The teacher must assess students and make sure they do their work, but the nature of her assessments sends the message to the students that they aren’t smart enough to read and understand literature, so they should either give up or seek answers outside the texts” (Mulligan).


Alternatives to traditional tests:


-Reading quizzes

-Group work



-Student-Teacher conferences

*Multiple-choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank tests are not completely evil.  If used thoughtfully and appropriately, it is possible to make them effective.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to do that.

After conducting this inquiry project, I feel much more equipped with assessment options for my future classes.  I know that I still have a lot of learning to do, but I know that I have many ideas and alternatives to incorporate into my plans.

Any feedback or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom and Where I Stand April 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 9:22 pm

I recently presented a 90-minute workshop with three other members of my LLED block–Rae Theisen, Jesse North, and Eric Yingling–for one of our classes about Media Literacy.  Our topic?  The positive and negative effects of technology on literacy and learning among high school students.  We chose this topic for several different reasons.  Primarily, our LLED block this semester has been very technology-heavy and it seemed appropriate to delve into both the positive and negative effects in order to further develop what we’ve been studying in our classes.  This is also incredibly relevant to us and teachers everywhere, as there’s no escaping technology, which has and will continue to be a large part of adolescent’s lives.  Our group acknowledged that there are benefits and drawbacks of technology in the classroom, and we as teachers need to be as educated as possible in order to effectively incorporate technology rather than letting it become a stumbling block.

Prior to this project and this semester, in fact, I leaned towards feeling that many forms of technology are unnecessary distractions that cause adolescents more harm than good.  Yet, as I researched and learned all semester, my biased, uneducated prior opinion changed.  After having almost completed this semester, I now realize that technology can be used to enhance learning and engagement and can really be a helpful tool for English teachers.  In this post, I will share some of the findings of my group and explain how they impacted me and can impact all educators.

Negative Effects:

Spell-check: Through our research we discovered that many students rely too heavily on spellcheck to correct their spelling, and as a result, have poor spelling skills.  In the following video, a high school girl describes her spelling problems from dependency on spellcheck.  It also addressed the problems that arise from text speak.

Other negative effects of technology on learning:

-Technology makes it easier to cheat and plagarize

-Decrease in critical thinking

-Decrease in analysis skills

-Decrease in imagination

-Don’t process as much during class, easily distracted

Positive Effects:


-Better note-taking skills

-Improved multi-tasking abilities

-Easier and faster access to information

-Faster typing skills

-Better visual skills


Are Digital Media Changing Language?


Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis?


Today Show clip:

Ultimately, the point of our presentation was not to determine if technology is good or bad.  In my opinion, that questions is insignificant, because there’s no avoiding the fact that technology is a big part of life today.  The question, then, is: How can we as educators effectively incorporate technology into our classrooms to minimalize the negative effects and enhance the positive effects?


-Sparknotes and other such sources: When I was in high school, most of my peers never read the novels assigned in our classes because they could easily and quickly read a plot summary, character analysis, and theme, symbol, and motif summary on Sparknotes.  With this site and others like it so easily available, we can’t be surprised when kids don’t read books!  This technology definitely has the potential to have a negative impact on student’s reading, writing, and critical thinking.  As teachers, we need to be aware of sites like these and do what we can to minimize or eliminate the negative effects.  My group found a great discussion forum on the English Companion Ning that discusses ways in which teachers deal with Sparknotes.  Many of them incorporate the site into their classrooms, showing that Sparknotes could be used for good.  Before reading this discussion, I had never thought about using Sparknotes in my class, but now I feel equipped with ideas and methods of combating the problem of Sparknotes and using it as a positive resource.   Here’s the link to the conversation:


Texting/Digital Communication: One of the issues we discovered is the negative effect texting and instant-message language has on student’s writing capabilities.  Our research shows that acronyms and abbreviations are slipping into student’s writing.  Rather than using formal English when writing papers, many students use digital language, which includes things like:

-lower case ‘i’ rather than uppercase ‘I’

-b/c for because

-idk for i don’t know

-recurrent grammar issues

-Many, many more: http://www.aim.com/acronyms.adp

This phenomenon is happening whether we like it or not, so what can English teachers do about it?  According to the NCTE article “Flipping the Switch: Code-Switching From Text Speak to Standard English” we can use our student’s knowledge of text speak to enhance their formal English.  To do this, we can engage our students in translating text speak to formal English and help them better understand the difference between the two and when each is appropriate.

Where I stand

After this project, I have a much greater understanding of the issue of technology in the classroom.  Instead of looking at it in terms of good or bad, we need to accept that technology is a part of life and work with it to give our students the best learning experience possible.  While this doesn’t necessarily mean that I will base all of my lessons on technology, I will definitely incorporate technology instead of just avoiding it.  This semester I’ve been introduced to Nings, blogs, Twitter, and iMovies.  These are some tools that I can use in my classroom to improve engagement.  To me, the most important thing is to be aware of the prevalence of technology and how it impacts adolescents.  Staying knowledgeable about these issues will enable us to adapt and maintain a balance in our classrooms.


Self-Evaluation of my PLN March 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 6:54 pm

It has been two months since I first began my Personal Learning Network journey. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing and was annoyed with the project. I explained my technological incompetency, which had led to an aversion to technology. Looking back now, I see how much I have learned and how much I have explored in the realms of online networking and even just basic computer skills. Today I want to evaluate my PLN and assess my progress and shortcomings in the past two months.

My blog stats:

Blogging consistency: Good

I think my consistency is strong. I have 17 posts to date, and with the exception of a 13-day inactive period in February and spring break, I post at least once a week, often twice a week. My goal for the month of April is to maintain my consistency by publishing one or two posts a week.

Blogging Quality : Fair
I can see why it’s important for teachers to use rubrics in grading papers, because I’m having a bit of trouble evaluating the quality of my posts. I’m not sure what exactly is considered a “good” posts. In my opinion, my strongest posts are those that discuss a newly discovered resource: “Teachers Teaching Teachers and Twitter” and “The National Writing Project.” Interestingly, however, the posts which have received the most views are the posts in which I simply share my own thoughts and experiences: “Reflection on Films,” “Missions, the Homeless, Writing Centers, and the Importance of Literacy” and “Feeling Reassured.” This doesn’t necessarily mean these three posts are of higher quality; perhaps it just means my fellow classmates found them more interesting. While I think that all of my posts are focused and have something to offer, I don’t think any of them are astounding. I really do like everything that I blog about, but I could have more concrete information in my posts. I would say that the overall quality of my posts is average. My goal for the month of April is to improve the quality of my posts. For me, this means focusing more on researching and networking and blogging about what I learn.

Conversation: Fair/Needs Improvement
In the past two months, I have made nine total comments on my fellow classmates’ blogs and in response to their comments on mine. This averages out to about one comment a week, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great either. I have not engaged in conversations with anyone outside our class. Overall, I need to improve the quantity of my conversations. My goal for April is to comment more frequently on my classmate’s blogs and to start a conversation with someone outside of our class.

Overall: Fair

As a whole, I think my blog is currently fair. I am happy with my consistency, but should improve the quality of my posts. I also need to engage in more conversations.

Although I still have some work to do, I have made great progress in the past two months. When I first began this project, I was annoyed with the assignment and had no idea what I was doing. As time passed, I lost my negative attitude and actually grew to enjoy blogging. My posts became more informative and exploratory. My personal learning network became more of a legitimate learning tool rather than a homework assignment. In the past two months, I have become more comfortable with technology and networking. For me, the personal learning network has been a positive experience.

How I have improved:

-Became more comfortable with computers and technology
-Expanded my online network
-Discovered helpful resources (English Companion Ning, National Writing Project, Read, Write, Think, Teachers Teaching Teachers, NCTE)
-Learned methods for implementing technology into my future classroom
-Shared ideas with my classmates
-Explored my own beliefs and ideas

Where I can Improve:

-Post blogs of higher quality
-Engage in more conversations
-Continue to explore and research online resources
-Network more (LinkedIn, participate more on English Companion Ning)

Please feel free to share your thoughts about my blog. I am open to constructive criticism and ideas about how I can improve!


Confessions of an Aspiring Teacher March 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 9:48 pm

I sat down at my mac half an hour ago with the goal of publishing a blog post. Yet, as I’ve checked in on my usual sites (English Companion Ning, the National Writing Project, Teachers Teaching Teachers, other people’s blogs..) I haven’t really been inspired with anything revolutionary. In my past two posts, I talked about my discoveries of the National Writing Project and Teachers Teaching Teachers, but this post is going to be less concrete and more of just some random thoughts that I’ve been having.

I actually feel that blogging shouldn’t be a task that must be done simply to check off a list. Unlike most homework assignments, or even daily tasks, the quality and quantity of blogs completely lies in the hands of the blogger. What I’m trying to say is, that as this blogging project has developed, it has become less of an assignment that must be done, and has become more of a project that interests me. The reason that I blog has changed; initially I only blogged to meet requirements for a class, but now I blog because I really want to expand and explore english education through my personal learning network and the myriad of networks and resources available online.

In Jessie Bindrim’s most recent blog post, she describes her feelings about the verb clinic last week in our LLED 420 class, and comments that we have not really been taught how exactly to teach writing in our LLED 411 block (which focuses on writing). I share Jessie’s views on both of these areas. I really appreciated Jason’s verb clinic, for it helped me improve my own writing, but also gave me some great ideas about how to teach writing. Besides this verb clinic, I don’t feel like I have really learned much about how to teach writing. We’ve talked a lot about theory, but this was the first time that we were really shown how to actually stand in front of a classroom and teach a lesson on writing. I want to thank Jason for modeling this clinic for us; it will definitely help me in the future, and even today. Jason made a good point during this clinic: we should let our students know that we are also struggling writers. Everyone is a struggling writer; even professional writers go through multiple drafts. Jason told us that even though he has taught this verb clinic many times, he still isn’t perfect when it comes to ‘to be’ verbs. I agree that it is important for us to tell our students that we aren’t perfect. I think this will make them more confident and less self-concious about their writing and it will emphasize the importance of the writing process. It’s also important for us all to remember that we can always learn, grow, and improve our own writing. I believe that no matter how old and experienced we are, we will never reach perfection, nor will we ever come to a point where we can stop learning.

There’s one final point that has been on my mind lately, which deals with the issue that Diane Mowery discussed in her most recent blog post, This is how you know we’re teachers. In this post, she expressed her frustration with people who constantly criticize our major and our profession. I have discussed this topic in a previous blog, so I won’t rehash my feelings on the matter, but I will include the quotation that I think of every time someone criticizes my major: “A calling is something you discover, not something you choose.” I read this quote in a book a few months after graduating from high school. At the time that I read it, I was Undecided in college and really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. After reading this quote I realized that I had been trying to choose a major and a career (and was having no success!) Once I thought about it as a discovery I realized that all of my life experiences, my talents, and my passions and interests point towards teaching English. Once I figured this out, I knew that teaching English is exactly what I want to do, and my future career became a passion and lifestyle, rather than a job. I know that I love what I want to do and I am so excited to do it. I know that it’s what I’m meant to do. I know that it will be meaningful and have an impact on people, and be more than just a paycheck. So any time someone criticizes my major, I remember that it’s just what I’m mean to do and exactly what I want to do. Any of you who have discovered that teaching is your calling, stay strong in your choice. Don’t let others discourage you, but be confidant knowing that you’re where you want to be.


Teachers Teaching Teachers and Twitter March 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 5:41 pm

Over the past few days, I have been browsing through the National Writing Project website. One of the resources that I have discovered through the NWP is Teachers Teaching Teachers. I had never heard of this network before, but checked it out and was really excited with what I found. Teachers Teaching Teachers is a program that publishes weekly podcasts about teaching methods, implementing technology, and a wide variety of issues surrounding teaching. The website (http://teachersteachingteachers.org/) posts every podcast along with a brief summary and the opportunity for people to comment on and discuss each podcast. While many of the podcasts are about technology, the range of topics covered is huge and it seems like a great resource for teachers of all grades and subjects.

This afternoon I listened to one podcast: “A Student-Centered Follow up: More on Games, YouTube, Twitter, and Research,” posted by Paul Allison, one of the creators of the program. Paul is not an English teacher, but he still has a lot to offer English teachers. His ideas can be adapted to any grade and any subject. His primary focus at his school and his classrooms is global connections, which he does through technology like Twitter, Classroom 2.0, Nings, and other social networking sites. In this podcast, he discusses a Twitter project that he is beginning with his high school students. This podcast caught my interest because I have often wondered and if and how Twitter can be used academically and in the classroom. I pretty much had it written off as a stupid social site that wastes time, until I listened to this podcast.

Paul had all of his students create Twitter accounts and use them to connect with students in Tanzania. He has established connections with a classroom in Tanzania, so his students engage in conversations with the Tanzania students and they ask each other questions. They learn from each other and each group shares their own culture, views, and knowledge with the other. Since the start of this project, a few other schools from other countries, including China, have discovered it and expressed interest in connecting and joining the project. So far, his students are only interacting with Tanzania, but will hopefully expand in the future. An important element of this project is self-directed learning. Through these connections and conversations, the students explore on their own and teach each other.

Paul has also begun integrating other social networking sites and Classroom 2.0 into his classroom. He explains that a focus of his school is to connect students with students throughout the rest of the world. He himself is a member of dozens of different global education nings and is very active in his networking. He searches for global connections and uses some of them in his classroom. This Twitter project is just one of the projects that he has implemented in his classrooms over the years, in order to connect and engage students with other cultures.

The radio host asked Paul about safety issues regarding this Twitter project. The teacher sent home a letter to his student’s parents, explaining the project and requiring their permission. He instructs them to only tweet during designated class time–not outside of class at all. He has each of his student’s user name, so he can monitor their activity and ensure that they only tweet in class.

Here’s what Paul has to say about the project, as posted in the summary of the podacst on the Teachers Teaching Teachers site:

“The idea is to have kids search for answers from the crowd of kids with no help from the adults (aside from monitoring and guiding offline). The idea is to seek answers to “why” questions as opposed to “What” questions. For example, a question that a kid can simply Google like “when did the civil war start?” is a bad one, but a question like “WHY did the civil war start?” is a good one. Questions that start discussions, lead to independent research and sharing links fit the bill. The idea would be to keep it loose and low impact- not a heavily dependent collaboration. I will probably tell my kids to post a new question each week and I will probably give them an arbitrary number of questions from other kids to help answer.
For the first month we will work in depth on the project, then I hope to make it part of the routine when they come to the lab, meaning they login and check twitter for 5-10 minutes before we launch into whatever other projects we are doing at the time. video and self-directed learning via youtube.I haven’t scrapped that platform yet, but I decided to try to use Twitter for self-directed learning first. It is so much more nimble of a platform, I figured it would allow for a more fluid discussion and more immediate feedback and clarification.I saw that you have a Youth Voices account on twitter and I just started following it. My kids are almost ready to start tweeting out their questions and connecting to other kids as part of this “KidSourcing” project. My kids are 6th graders, but I have invited any classes in the ballpark to connect with my kids. We are connecting to kids in Tanzania (http://epicchangeblog.org/2009/10/21/the-twitterkids-of-tanzania/) and I am working out the involvement with schools in Peru, Brazil, China and a couple here in the old U.S. of A. I don’t know how neatly our project meshes with what you are trying to accomplish with youthvoices, but I figured I would reach out and gauge your interest in connecting.”

I checked out the link that Paul gives to the Tanzania school, and it’s very inspiring. This quote from the webpage really speaks about the importance of this project and the impact that it is having:

“Students who have never even had access to a library now have access to an entire world of information. Children whose voices are seldom heard can now speak, in real time, to people, like you, across the globe. To our knowledge, it is the first classroom of its kind, a classroom in which primary school children in Africa are using twitter to share their lives with, and learn from, the rest of the world.”

I encourage you to check out Teachers Teaching Teachers and it’s abundance of information. It’s awesome. I know I will be using it from now on as a resource for my future classrooms. As a said earlier, I had decided that Twitter was a useless waste of time, but after listening to Paul Allison’s podcast about using Twitter to make global connections and engage in self-directed learning, I think it could be used as a tool in an English class in many different ways.

While I was on this topic, I did a bit more research about Twitters in education. Here’s a short but sweet video I found of a teacher explaining how she uses Twitter in her classroom as a search engine, a tool to set up discussions among her students, and as a way of alerting people to updates to her blog. The embedding for this video was disabled, but here is the link:


Another video discusses how teachers can use Twitter to keep students updated about things that are going on in class, like reminders about homework assignments.

These videos and podcasts changed my view of Twitter from considering it worthless to viewing it as a tool that can be used in the classroom. If you hate Twitter, don’t worry about it, there are other networks that can be used in the same ways. But if you find that your students love Twitter, use it your advantage! If they’re already tweeting, add your class to their network and engage them in tweeting about your class. Take something that they’re comfortable with and like to do, and use it for global connection. There are many ways in which Twitter can be implemented.


The National Writing Project March 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — racdab2819 @ 8:32 pm

In one of my LLED classes at Penn State, we were recently introduced to the National Writing Project, an organization and campaign that serves to enhance writing in America. I have been exploring the NWP website and have found that it is an incredible source of information, knowledge, and resources. I highly recommend connecting with this program or at least perusing the website. In this post, I want to cover a broad overview of the NWP, as well as some of what I have learned so far through their site.

“Writing is essential to success in school and the workplace. Yet writing is a skill that cannot be learned on the spot; it is complex and challenging. Through NWP’s professional development programs, teachers in all subject areas and all grade levels learn new strategies to help their students become accomplished writers and learners.” The National Writing Project

The National Writing Project is a network of sites located at universities all throughout the country. The purpose of the NWP is to spread and improve writing education and enable students from early childhood to college to become competent, able writers. The NWP believes that writing is an essential skill and element of the 21st century, and that everyone deserves to receive a solid writing education. There are over 200 NWP sites in all 50 states, each working with local school districts and students. Their mission statement is the following: “The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.”

The following video documents the Southern Arizona chapter of the National Writing Project. It talks about the mission and methods of the program.

On the website, I also found three videos about integrating technology in the classroom. The Consortium for School Networking and the Common Sense Media presented a congressional briefing in order to discuss the role of digital media in improving lifelong learning. These are three videos of researchers discussing digital media’s affect on learning. For some reason, I can’t get the videos to embed in this blog, but you can click on the links to view them.

Congressional Briefing Highlights from Spotlight on Vimeo.

Yumi Matsui from Spotlight on Vimeo.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl from Spotlight on Vimeo.

The National Writing Project seems like an incredible program that is improving writing across America. I really think that I will use it a resource now and throughout my teaching career.

Here’s the link to the site: www.nwp.org