LanguageArts


This blog has had a good run, but much like the Scotch Tape store, I think the singular look at just blogging leaves me too confined when I’m pushing so many more things each week. ClassroomBlogging won’t be going away, but my holiday goal is to get a much broader look at classroom technology going and get back to posting on a weekly basis. My secret desire is to have a semi-regular podcast on there as well. Oooo, this could be real fun!!

So, for now, this last post of 2008 centers on using multiple tools to create the writing idea generating rolling. For example, if we are blogging at this time of year about family traditions, why not add some photos of families from the classroom. “Wait a minute there! You can’t publish student pictures and keep them safe!!” Well, Alarmist Al, yes you can.

We’ve probably all Simpsonized ourselves long ago. The process is simple enough: take your photo, upload it, press the button that makes you look like you belong on The Simpsons, and export for your avatar. With just a little effort, your students can do this to create a web-safe photo of themselves and even make one for each family member.

“But what do I do with 5 family photos?” You have a bunch of options, oh one so full of questions. The easiest would probably be to just import them into a Powerpoint slide and export it as a jpg. You could draw on the slide for more effect. My favorite, however, is to put them into FireWorks or Photoshop. Using FireWorks, I drop the new photos onto a page, each on their own layer. Backgrounds are put on other layers. I can reposition each item at will until I get the photo composition the way I want it. I use the effect and fills to add even more realism or creativity to the photo. I export a copy as a jpg file and them upload it to my blog or web photo storage site. With that, I have a photo-realistic picture of a traditional event but with no real people having their identities splattered across the internet.

Here we were in NYs Central Park in November 2007.

Here we were in NY's Central Park in November 2007.

Simpsonizing oneself doesn’t take long and is fairly simple. Simpsonizing your family in the midst of a traditional setting for y’all can be creatively engaging and give the student plenty to write about.

There are many other graphically creative tools online for students to use. Put the ‘fun’ back into fundamentally good education for the students and you may find their writing and communication skills will have a new experience to use. Merry Christmas to you all and to all, a good blog.

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I’ve tried to present blogging as that teacher’s tool for getting the kids writing or discussing meaningful events. So, I’d better throw in more of the tools that enhance the blogging experience if I’m to keep this blog meaningful as well.

One of the tools that I’ve introduced to my teachers is Voicethread. This mostly-free resource is an excellent way to get students connecting visual learning to written or spoken feedback. Voicethreads are picture sets to which users can add their voice/text to, creating a community dialog. Take for instance the following Voicethread made by a Kindergarten class. This is VT that has young students creating a script for an ABC book and recording it. What a nice product to follow-up the usual ABC book created in early childhood classes

I really like this Fourth Grade VT that has students giving book study reports. Notice that there are different opinions being expressed about the same book sometimes.

One great thing about Voicethreads is that other people can leave comments. I’ve seen students posting short reports as a Voicethread with other students asking questions or elaborating on the topic. With the visual nature of these media shows, students often generate lots of ideas through their sharing. Reluctant writers can then take the collection of ideas and more easily create a written response.

One of my favorite collections of Voicethreads comes from the Mathcasts 500 Project. The site is a collection of math concepts being explained by students K-7 organized by math skill. Another math VT is one of my favorites, not just because the teacher is an acclaimed Discovery Education Network member, or because they used my math problem, but because they did a great job of using Voicethread to capture their problem-solving skills. Check out Martha Thornburg’s Mathlincs.

Again, your blog may just be the place where you embed your Voicethread, but what a great audio/visual writing prompting tool! I’m really not one who likes recreating the wheel so, visit Mr. Jarrett’s Voicethread training wiki. It will get your account setup and you off and running. Thanks Mr. Jarrett!

Now, wouldn’t this post have been just super cool if it embedded the Voicethreads?  Well, yeah!  Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow it. Edublogs.org is now allowing Flash code within the post, which means Edublogs allows Voicethreads.

I’ll leave you with an enormous collection of Voicethreads. This wiki is even bigger than what appears on the page. Everything from Flat Stanley to Fifth Grade Number Sense is collected here. Browse through and find your own inspiration.

Blogs are intended to be chronologically organized posts that allow for feedback.  There have been several universities that have maintained a website that assumes the identity of a particular historical figure. For instance, students could write Thomas Jefferson, ask him a question, and get a response.  A classroom blog could do the same thing in a couple of different ways.

One project a class could undertake would be to have the whole class assume the identity of one historical person. The class would write introductions and post some support background. Each week or two, they could post a new story about their person.  Readers could reply to the blog with questions about the historical person and the class could continue that dialogue.

Another way of impersonating people would be to have a shorter-term blog where the teacher gets to be James Lipton (Actor’s Studio guy) and pose broad questions to be answered by students.  Students can be in small groups and assume the identity of a person.  Mr Lipton could ask, “What was the defining moment in your life?” One group could respond as Abe Lincoln while another responds as Harriet Tubman. After answering the initial question, the historical person could also respond to something someone else said in that series of replies.  I wonder how well Dolly Madison and Susan B Anthony would get along in the same blog. J

For the younger students, a class blog could be just weekly posts without the need for responses.  The class could invent a character to write about together. The blog would be his own ‘Day in the Life’ blog as seen through the eyes of the students. The students would collaboratively write about the character’s day, about his likes and dislikes, and even create a family for him. By the end of the year/project timeline/, the class would have a substantial story created that would undoubtedly reflect the attitude and opinions of the class without giving any personal identifications of the students.  After the character has been ‘alive’ for a while, have your own Flat Stanley project by inviting family and friends from across the country to write a response on a blog entry.   Creating that opportunity for communication with others would benefit the students in ways that seeing Flat Stanley come through the door would do.

Impersonating fictional characters, famous historical figures, and creating a story character are great purposes for a classroom blog. Maybe some of these ideas will help you find a new purposed for a writer’s blog.

I was talking with a teacher the other day about this blog. She made the comment, it would be nice if you included some real examples of class work. Well, okay then. Below is an excerpt from my class blog in April 2005. We were studying character development and I wanted the students to write more about it.

————————————-
Thursday – Character
From Michael Cricton’s “Timeline”: “She tried to place that rumbling sound when a teenage boy burst around the corner, racing toward her. the boy was wearing black hose, a bright green quilted jacket and a black cap. He was red-faced with exertion; he’d clearly been running for some time. he seemed startled to find her walking on the path. As he came near her, he yelled, ‘Hide woman! For the sake of God! Hide!’ “

In an instant, the author has a character painted with words. He’s young, not dressed in modern clothing, and has been running scared. I can picture in my mind a teenager with eyes wide open and the look of true fear on his face.

As you did yesterday, quote your author’s work where he or she described a character. It can be from any place in the book that you have read already. DON’T FORGET: write about what you think about the description. Did you get any extra meaning from it? This is character development, not plot.

Blogger Mr. M said… (I cheated. I posted the first reply this day.)

Okay, had to add one more from the book, ‘Timeline’, by Michael Crichton.
The driver of a car just hit a guy in the road. “As the dust cleared, he saw the man lying at the side of the road, trying to raise himself up on his elbow. The guy was shaky, about seventy, balding and bearded. His skin was pale; he didn’t look Navajo. His brown clothes were fashioned into long robes. Maybe he’s a priest, Baker thought.”
The setting is a dusty, desert road. The man doesn’t look Navajo, (American Indian.) So, he’s out of place. His clothing is out of place as well. This character presents a mystery because he’s an old out of place guy in the middle of the desert…in the middle of the road. It made me want to read on.

What did you find today that made you want to read on? Mr M

12:01 AM
Anonymous B.R said…

The boy named Marty loves dogs he works for money to buy Judd’s dog.Judd is not nice to his dogs he shot one of his dogs for not lisining to him.Marty keep him a secrat from him because he does not want him to kill the dog.He buys his dog from him.So Shiloh is his dog.

11:19 AM
Anonymous NM said…

“And suddenly, according to my imagination, I’d been on my feet, screaming,’Why didn’t you leave us alone? Why did you have to drag us in? You’re scum, filth. I hate you. Go away. You deserve everything, everthing, you understand? Everything that you get. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.'”
You can tell that she really hates Jack(dad’s friend).
She had the same nightmare over and over again. This is what she says right after.
“It was so real I was trembling.None of it happened of course. But for hours Cindy gazed at the TV, I watched this movie in my head, running it over and over, changing the dialogue each time, trying to find words I could say to him that would be more powerful, more affective.”
I don’t really know if this “nightmare” really happened or not. She either already told him or is thinking about it.
She says she needs words more affective so maybe it didn’t happen…maybe she thinks thats what will happen.
Jack and her talk a little bit before that. I couldn’t right it because he says a cuss word. Well…thats all for now.
BYE!

11:35 AM
Anonymous sb said…

The book i’m reading is The Mystery of the Cupboard by Lynne Ried Banks. The main charater of my story is a boy named Omri.I think he likes to read because he’s reading a journal he found in thatch & he likes the journal so much that he has trouble breathing when the writing gets to the climaxe.Hears a part of the story so you’ll get what I mean.”Pressuredas he was by the life around him, he was sorely temted to just flick throgh the thin pages of the notebook, picking out the bits that concernd him the most.”Gotta go bye!!!

——————————–

We had 27 posts during that class. There was a lot of typing with one hand going on since their other hand was keeping their place in the book where they were quoting from. I really felt that they were using great lit skills that day.

Previous posts have discussed the different natures of blogs in the classroom. There are blogs that are updated once a month or once a week for just parent communication. Other classroom blogs are for student use and may see active posting for a week during one project and then take two weeks off until the next project.  Other blogs maybe an every Wednesday routine. Timing your blog to fit your classroom needs is critical.

But what are you going to have your students blog about? Meeting with a  group of teachers this week,  several  ideas were thrown around.

Language Arts

  • Using your blog to continue classroom discussion is fantastic. When studying character development in writing, could you ask the class to discuss what they are doing to develop  the character they create for their story? Students could ask for feedback or suggest ideas that may help improve their writing.
  • In some elementary grades, blogging can be cumbersome because students are focused on writing mechanics.  A teacher could remove some roadblocks by changing the blog environment for the week.  “This week, don’t worry about spelling” may be used to just get student ideas down without fear of reprimand. The teacher could get more writing from the student and gets a more honest assessment of spelling at the same time. Pick some of the frequently misspelled words for the next week’s spelling list.
  • Instead of a paper assignment for collecting sentences using the grammar skill taught that day, have the students write their sentences in their blog comment.  See if they can migrate from random grammar practice sets to meaningful statements which they own that also show the grammar lesson for the week.

Science

  • Used as a pre-assessment, the blog comments can gather prior knowledge data before you undertake a new unit. Gather student predictions about a lab you will do the next week. Students can predict and revise predictions before the lab ever becomes an assignment.
  • Data collection is easy to teach with fictional data. Increase student ownership and have the students comment about a topic that will include data. “How many of you watched a ‘reality TV’ show last week? Who would watch a reality show take from inside our classroom? How many weeks would you follow the class and why?” There could be significant number generation from their data and you would have real data collection from a source that your students own and value.
  • Find classes in other parts of the country. Convince them to comment about their weather every Thursday.  All of the classes involved would not only have a record of their own weather, but would be able to compare weather histories across the country.

Math

  • Math is often seen as a ‘one right answer’ class. But we know that there is usually more than one way to answer most problem situations. Pose the weekly math problem and have students or small groups create their solutions in their comment.  Students will have a record of the possible answers that they can retrieve from home or elsewhere in school. Additional comments can discuss why the other groups’ answers were or were not correct.  The teacher can give a historical perspective of how groups have been using a particular method of the past so many weeks.
  • There are many online videos that demonstrate a mathematical  method. Include a video in your post. Have the students comment on how they used that method in their solutions that week.
  • A weekly challenge problem can be designed to have many answers.  Students can post their solutions and get points for correct answers. Other students can respectfully discuss errors in other students’ solutions or confirm a solution and get points that way.  Using descriptive words without the ability to add graphics to ‘show’ an answer helps build written language skills and reinforces the use of math vocabulary.

Social Studies

  • What text book doesn’t have open-ended questions at the end of the chapter? These questions can be great discussion starters.
  • What if questions were never my favorites as a teacher, but students sometimes feed off of them like candy. “What if Abraham Lincoln didn’t get elected?”  “What if Thomas Jefferson were president today?” Students can bring in primary sources or reinforcing websites as links in their comment  to show that they are really thinking their answers through.
  • Biography studies can show commonalities between historically important people from across the time line. “Name a person in history who was a failure during his lifetime, but who later became ‘successful’ due to his previous achievements.”

Looking at topics such as these, it is important to keep in mind that some student comments can be impromptu thoughts and others may require problem-solving or research before leaving the comment. Your blog is what you want to make of it.

What are some other general or specific topics you have used or have seen used with students?

Okay, so the title should say, “Blogging Bloom’s”, but I liked the figurative language picture of little blogging flowers. (I lost a man point on this one, but gained an Early Childhood Class point.) Anyway, I wanted to return to the idea of “How are we using a blog with students in the classroom?” It’s easy to come up with a simple Answer-The-Question blog, but how can we use it to really push learning?

Well, it occured to me this morning, as I was looking at the picture of Benjamin Bloom on the front of the Wheaties box, that using Bloom’s taxonomy for catagorizing questions can be a great reminder for how we are to meet the needs of all students with the same blog post. If my post for today’s literature group work is, “How old is Brian Robeson?”, then everybody commenting after the first two kids can just copy the previous answer. I would get many similar answers if I posed the question, “Tell what happened with Brian’s plane crashed at the beginning of Hatchet.” Again, the kids commenting later have the advantage of just copying someone else’s work.

As I added the third spoon of sugar to my bowl, I remembered some of the great discussions in my classroom and how the divergent thinkers would get us sidetracked. It was great! They were putting the work into their mental environment and authentically applying it to their own experiences. By giving the blog post an opening for synthesizing or evaluating the classroom lesson, students will see a much broader answer base and have much greater room for dialoguing with thier peers about their answers.

“I don’t think Brian really wanted to go home and leave the forest. Using only information from the book up to Chapter 11, convince me that he did or didn’t want to go home. Using accountable talk, question other students about their answer with evidence you feel is appropriate.”

How can we use Bloom’s ideas in a Math teacher’s blogg? in Science? You can start discussing while I put my cereal bowl in the sink.

One of my problems with being a teacher was that I too often got sucked into children’s books. I started the whole Harry Potter series in order to share a good story with kids and stay knowledgeable. Um, yeah, now reading them for myself. Anyway, some other adult friends stuck in this phase handed me the book, “What Will Happen In Harry Potter 7”. Pure conjecture, but interesting reading. I know kids who would eat that book up. But the great part is that JK Rowling writes it with constant references to previous books and interviews. What a great example for students!

I found good success in adding the blog to my book study time in the classroom. The students were already reading the chapters and writing about them, but now they were discussing and not writing as little as possible. A requirement I would put into our framework would be to give page numbers when referring to their evidence. I found several students slowly reading with their pencils in hand so they could make notes in the margins of the books. It was great to see them taking ownership of the material they were reading. The blog would show evidence of that because they would argue their points or validate each other with evidence.

A simple statement and assigning ‘devil’s advocate’ roles to a few students can provide a wealth of literature review practice. “Harry is secretly a bad guy” or “There is no global warming” can get book pages and notebooks flying in order to give proof of an opinion. The blog can provide a quite place to have that discussion and record it for future reference.

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