Monthly Archives: January 2010

Creating a community of readers

We all read, don’t we? If not books, then newspapers, if not hardcopy then online, if not novels, then graphic novels – does it really matter?

Having started my reading blog for school, I soon realised that it had to move from being limited to my own reading to including that of all the members of my school community. Of course, this is still an unrealised dream, but I was happy that so many teachers (and some students) offered their diverse reading reviews.

This year I’d like to expand the scope a little more to include anything and everything related to books, reading, film and whatever catches my eye and leads to a love of literature and ideas, as well as interaction and possibly a good laugh or at least a chuckle.

The variety of topics will hopefully mean that something will appeal at least some of the time. Ideally, interaction and collaboration with others is the goal.

Here are some examples of my recent posts:

The Age Resource Centre not only contains great resources you’d expect, but also a Reading and Writing page which includes extracts from great books (as described in this post):

Currently, Andy Griffiths has contributed a hilarious short story, Just commenting,  as part of a special series on the Summer Kids pages of The Sunday Age.

Here’s the first half of Andy’s story (you’ll love it):

WHEN I grow up I’m going to be a commentator. I’m getting really good at it, too, because I practise every chance I get. In fact, I’m practising right now.

I’m sitting at the dinner table using the pepper grinder as a microphone.

“It looks like we’re in for an exciting night’s eating,” I say in a hushed voice. “Anything can – and probably will – happen. The father is chewing on a chicken bone. The mother is pouring gravy over her potatoes. And the sister . . . well, the sister is looking directly at the commentator.”

“Can you pass the salt please, Andy?” says Jen.

“And the sister has opened play by making a direct request to the commentator to pass the salt,” I say. “The question is, will he give her the salt or is he too busy commentating?”

“Mum,” sighs Jen, “Andy’s commentating again.”

“Oh dear,” I exclaim. “The sister seems to have forgotten about the salt and has decided to tell on her little brother for commentating instead.”

“Just ignore him,” says Mum.

“I can’t,” says Jen. “I want him to pass the salt.”

“She’s getting impatient now,” I say. “She’s thrown away all pretence of politeness and good manners. Looks like she still really wants that salt. But her little brother is just shaking his head. Looks like we have a stand-off on our hands.”

Jen rolls her eyes. “Can you pass me the salt, please, Dad?”

“A brilliant change of tactics on the sister’s part,” I say. “Let’s see how it works out for her.”

Dad nods, picks up the salt and leans in front of me to pass it to Jen.

“What a pass!” I say into the pepper grinder.

“Straight from his hand to hers, no fumbling – and Jen is wasting no time in transferring the contents of the salt shaker to her dinner. Just look at her shaking that thing – she’s giving that shaker everything she’s got. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the salt-shakingest salt-shaker action we’ve seen around this dinner table in a long time.”

“Jen,” says Mum, “that’s quite enough salt.”

“Looks like the mother has stepped in to shut down the sister’s salt offensive.”

“Shut up, Andy,” says Jen.

“Jen!” says Mum. “Please don’t talk like that at the dinner table.”

“But, Mum . . .”

“I know your brother can be very annoying, but there’s no excuse for language like that.”

“Oh dear,” I say.

“Looks like Jen’s dinner has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Not only has she been cautioned for excessive salt use but now she’s getting into trouble for being rude at the dinner table.”

“All right, that will do now, Andy,” says Dad. “Just eat your dinner.”

“But who will do the commentating?”

“NOBODY will do the commentating!” says Mum. “We’ll all just eat our dinner in peace and quiet.”

“But that’s boring.

“And unfair.

“How can I be a professional commentator when I grow up if you don’t let me practise?”

“Just eat your dinner,” says Dad, “or else you’ll have to leave the table.”

When I found Nancie Atwell’s quote about reading and how it makes you smart, I knew I had to put that in.

There’s nothing better for you – not broccoli, not an apple a day, not aerobic exercise. In terms of the whole rest of your life, in terms of making you smart in all ways, there’s nothing better. Top-ranking scientists and mathematicians are people who read. Top-ranking historians and researchers are people who read. Reading is like money in the bank in terms of the rest of your life, but it also helps you escape from the rest of your life and live experiences you can only dream of. Most important, along with writing, reading is the best way I know to find out who you are, what you care about, and what kind of person you want to become.

When I found the homonymic (is that a word?) poem, Sum thyme’s I’m ache Thai pose (Sometimes I make typos), I thought I had to put that into a post. I love quirky stuff, and I think many students do too. Anything that has value but isn’t what they expect to be ‘academic’, classroomy (another made-up word).

Then I found out about an exhibition which included the biggest book in the world, and thought this would be perfect for the blog too.

I’m hoping that the diversity and quirkiness of the post content will work well with the reviews and trailers, so that members of the school community and readers outside the school will turn to the blog for enjoyment. It would give me deep satisfaction.

Your contribution is very welcome, wherever you are.

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Filed under Children's books, Literature, Teacher librarians

Learning: that’s how we live

Learning is not something that can be captured, predicted or assumed. It doesn’t fit neatly in a table, it’s not defined accurately in a chart, a survey, it doesn’t happen the same way for you as it does for me.

We try to prove that we understand it, control it by conducting research, analysing results, following assessment rubrics, but we should just keep our eyes open and watch. It’s happening around us, at breakfast, in the classroom, the playground, during the holidays, on the bus, and even as we sleep.

Sometimes, as educators, we think that we haven’t influenced the learning process in any of our students (or even our colleagues). We may have been too impatient, too hasty in making that assumption. Evidence of learning can surprise you at the most unexpected times.

I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to return to school after many weeks of holiday, but it had to happen. Last year I was very happy to join forces with a dear friend, teacher of English, who was brave enough to weather the uncertainties and hazards of ning learning. We tested the Web 2.0 waters together, and made learning interactive with real-life connections and conversation for our students. It seemed that this kind of teaching and learning was not going to catch on fast.

In the first couple of days at school this year, to my delight, several teachers have approached me to help them create a ning, blog or wiki for their class. I’m stoked. I hope that this year will be as fulfilling for them and their students as it has been for me in my own participation in learning communities online: learning from each other wherever we are.

One (or even two) of our classes will be participating in a photo blog project with Marie Coleman in Florida, USA, and Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow. Inspired by our own experiences in the Flickr 365 day photo challenge (and similar projects) – and this is how we met – we wanted to try this out in the classroom. With a weekly theme for photos, we hope that students will enjoy learning from each other,, and that literacy development will naturally spring from curiosity and an exchange of cultures.

A seemingly simple task, posting a photo and writing about it, can actually be a higher order exercise. Marie’s and Sinikka’s posts attest to the depth of thought which can be achieved.

Sinikka’s post:

Today’s Daily Shoot also became the theme of my 365 photo:

“Let’s have some fun on a Friday. Make a photo that goes with the title (or lyrics) of a song. Interpret away!”

Another ordinary day at school, in the familiar red-brick environment. I am thinking what is the state and purpose of education today. I’m sure many students would still sign Pink Floyd’s message of not needing any education from back in 1979. At least not the same old, numbing and repetitive, factory style.

Aren’t schools still too often working like the meat grinder in the brilliant Gerald Scarfe animation of the song where kids are dropped only to spew out uniform minced meat at the other end? Is there any space for individual thinking, learning methods and goals, or chances for each individual to realize their full potential? Why does it seem that the spark, the passion, the joy and creativity are all buried and forgotten inside these walls? Can our students, in their bright pink and red coats, be themselves, and not just other bricks in the wall?

By the way, there is a Finnish expression ‘counting the ends of bricks’, meaning to serve a prison sentence. Sometimes, for me as a teacher, the brick school seems prison-like, too. There are too many outside pressures, constrictions, national assessments and rigid attitudes, which tie my hands.

Marie’s post:

While keeping an eye out for right angles (today’s @dailyshoot assignment), it became apparent that there were a large number of examples in ‘man-made’ structures. On the other hand, there were fewer (or perhaps less obvious) instances in nature and humankind.

Though there is an expectation of support from the angled structures, this cobweb’s network may exemplify the ‘real world’ much more accurately! It certainly reflects the ‘hyperlinked’ nature of today’s youth in their learning and in the interconnectivity of the Internet and all of its tendrils. The web is also much more appealing to the eye, but where would it be without the support and structure of the foundational right angles – guess we need the synergistic relationship of both!

I think these examples illustrate the depth of thinking and fluency of writing which can result from a single image selected to address criteria which still allows choice.

One more thing…

The learning that springs from passion is a wonderful thing. My elder son, who has never studied photography or even art (as an elective) at school, has recently discovered a love of photography, and is learning on the fly. He has joined Flickr groups, and has challenged himself to a daily photo blog. Just last week, he was approached by Zulya and the Children of the Underground for a photo shoot for their next album!

I’m holding onto these examples of learning in the hope of making a difference to student engagement with learning, not for grades, but for life.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, networking, photos, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

A few minutes on Twitter yields hours of exploration

It does. I just spent about 5 minutes on Twitter and pulled out what caught my eye for further investigation.

Google Wave – feature by feature by Jane Hart (tweeted by @TBGooglewave)

Pythagorean Theorem on animoto made by student  (sorry, forgot to note who tweeted this)

Article about Beth Kanter posting links to Haitian support I follow Beth on Facebook and am amazed by her efforts to rally people into supporting the Haiti relief efforts (tweeted by @ZolaMedia)

Her links communicate the groundswell of support, both financially and emotionally, that has grown so large, so quickly, thanks in large part to the role of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Linked In and You Tube. 

Jane Hart shares a passionate discussion about the need for change in learning and teaching (tweeted by @netdimensions)

Jenny Luca shares on Twitter her blog post where she recommends a video of a speech by Steve Jobs on life, love, loss and death.

John Connell tweets a post about how the Scottish digital intranet enables students to keep learning when severe weather prevents them from getting to school.

Dianne Cordell shares a Winter photo on Flickr

Joyce Valenza writes about rethinking the role of the teacher librarian (library media specialist)

I wonder if we are too busy doing lots of things that don’t really matter to others.

It’s still January and this is going to come in just under the wire for suggesting resolutions. I am going to suggest a new type of resolution for school librarians.

Let’s stop resolving to do the stuff that doesn’t matter. 

Instead, let’s unresolve.

Let’s focus on those things that make an impact on learners and learning.

@coolcatteacher informs of Google certified teachers and their useful tutorials, including turning spreadsheets into self-grading quizzes

A post about the myth of internet safety; it should be internet awareness that we teach (from the blog Library Media Tech Musings)

@karlfisch asks if anyone has used the search engine Yolink

@langwitches writes about connected learning opportunities

I would like to share a small examples of how technology tools can enhance a learning experience by making (personalized) connections to what is being learned in the classroom, bringing in the outside world, and taking learning literally “off the page”.

Twitter really does churn out the good stuff, and that’s because it’s from people you’ve decided are doing the things you think are valuable. What only took minutes to pull out will provide deep learning. That was just a drop of the ocean I allowed to wash past me. You can’t keep up with everything, but you can be selective.

Whatever time you decide to give to Twitter, it will always provide plenty for deep investigation, keeping up with what’s happening in your sphere, and many, many links embedded in each tweet.

 

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Filed under 21st century learning, network literacy, networking, Web 2.0

Who needs to learn first?

Amanda Marrinan shared this video on Facebook today – Kevin Honeycutt’s song I need my teacher to learn 3.0.

Yes, I think the learning needs to start with us. Thanks, Kevin, you’re amazing – doing so much to make real learning happen and sharing it with all of us. Not sure how he manages to find enough hours in the day. And thanks, Amanda, for finding the video.

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Filed under 21st century learning, film, learning, teachers

How do we learn from people? Do we trust people? What do people know?

Photo courtesy of Okinawa Soba on Flickr

If I’m going to convince others about the whole point of Web 2.0 technologies, not just teach them how to use the technologies (what for? being the pivotal question), then I’m going to have to sort through for myself what it means to learn from and with other people (as opposed to the traditional learning from books, teachers).

Here’s an example. I’ve been reading the photo blogs which are part of a 2010 flickr challenge. Many of the blogs I follow are written by those living in the northern hemisphere. It’s interesting observing opposite weather patterns, for example, of those celebrating Christmas and the new year in snowy winter while I’m experiencing sweltering heat with temperatures in the high 30s in Melbourne today. Not only is the blog reading informative but the conversation is satisfying, and underpins the joy of learning from people who are real, who have a sense of humour and can answer your questions.

I’ve been enjoying sinikka’s blog. Sinikka writes from Finland so, for example, I learned about Finnish Christmas and post-Christmas customs. Not only that, but I could tell her about our Russian customs. Again, learning through conversation. Not static, dynamic learning.

Some blogs are very specialised. The library history buff blog is very impressive in its range and detail of information about the history of American libraries. You’d be surprised how esoteric some blogs are.

Photo from Library History Buff Blog.

Recently I’ve been mesmorised by the Flickr photostream of priest Maxim Massalitin who shares photos and information about Russian Orthodox churches. He’s from Kiev, and currently lives in France. He seems to have done his research about the churches and monasteries he photographs. In this way, writing blogs and posting photos on Flickr becomes a learning experience for the author too; information is retrieved and provided at point of need. It’s a great way to learn for me, like virtual travel. This photostream contains beautiful iconography, and I love the Byzantine tradition. It’s interesting to see so many different churches and monasteries and to read about their history.

Photo courtesy of H.Maxim on Flickr

I think it’s good to think about what learning means. Does it only happen at school? Obviously not. But we may not realise how much of it happens outside of traditional environments. Think back to when you finished school or university – did you think the main part of your learning had been completed? Well, sure you didn’t. But did you realise that you’d barely begun?

Maybe we don’t think that way but kids sure do – at least younger teens. If you don’t give them a written assignment to complete and hand in for correction, they don’t consider themselves working. Spend the lesson having a discussion which peels away at layers of understanding, and you’ll still be the only one considering this work. The kids won’t think they’ve learned much unless it’s on paper and with a percentage or grade.

My elder son has recently discovered a passion for photography. Now that he’s on University holidays, he has been able to spend a lot of time taking photos, learning how to play around with them, and reading books and manuals about photography. He has spent many, many hours of his time voluntarily researching and learning. And he is loving it.  The best example of out-of-school learning. I note that it takes time, and unlimited, but focused learning can be very, very productive. He also commits to daily posts in a blog celebrating his final year as a teenager. Self-initiated and passion-based learning.

Photo courtesy of phillipsandwich on flickr

Every day I learn so much that is interesting from people online – people who share their expertise and special interests, and who are willing to communicate with others. So much more engaging than learning facts from a static page. We can learn a lot from each other.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, Web 2.0

People are brilliant

Long school holidays have given me the time to browse online to my heart’s content. I’m overwhelmed by the constant stream of what everyone is reading, writing, thinking, commenting, asking, creating and sharing. How would I know about any of these things otherwise? I wouldn’t.

Examples of people’s creativity are shared online all the time. I love the way technology combines with basic skills like drawing and paper folding in this video. The creator of the following animation describes this as ‘a shot at animating the old flip book’.

I can’t upload the video so here’s the link.

parkour motion reel from saggyarmpit on Vimeo.

Thanks to @mizminh

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Filed under animation, art, creativity, film, Interesting