Monthly Archives: March 2012

Writing for an authentic audience, being real. Thanks Isobelle Carmody.

Nick and I are very excited about the way our Year 9 blogs are developing. But before I go any further – Isobelle Carmody has visited us in a guest post!! Isobelle has been very gracious and has taken the time to write down her thoughts for our boys. I would like to share her entire post with you:

I was never much for diaries, and then I read the Diary of Anne Frank, and it was so vivid and real and it felt so true, that I have on and off again over the years, tried to write diaries. I was never very good at them, perhaps because I was the only audience and it seemed to me that I poured the best of myself, the truest words I could write, into my books. You might smirk at this, given I am captive in the fantasy genre corral (save when I can jump the fence and go for a midnight roam in the other paddocks or even out into the wild, where there are no rules or fences). But I don’t see the best fantasy as escapism. I see it as an attempt mostly to try to look at human existence from the outside. To get outside of ourselves, because reality always feels like I am too close to the mirror to see properly. You know when someone shows you something and they hold it too close?  For me right from the age of 14 when I first started to write, I was striving to get some distance, some breathing and thinking space, and fantasy and science fiction allowed this. For me it is a very philosophical genre – it allows me to grapple with the great questions of human existence. Why am I here?  What is the nature of existence?  Am I (are we) FOR anything? Why are humans capable of such wonderful and dreadful extremes of behavior? etc
When Ms Sheko asked if I would like to post on your site, I came to visit to see how I would fit in there. I was immediately taken by the techno-beetle, and then that lovely quote from Thomas Mann had me hooked. It was also timely because having resisted blogging as I resist all new things that force me to pay attention to the world and hence to neglect the worlds I am building in my imagination, I was asked by the State Library blog for a month Inside a Dog. I was intrigued and agreed before I could stop myself. So, ten days and five posts in, I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously. It allows me to find out what I think about things- that in fact is what I think all writing should be about. Writers figuring out the world for themselves.So, good luck to all of you and take full advantage of this site. It really does help you to think better.

Oh, and if any of you would like to visit me, either send me a friend request on Facebook or better still, come visit me this month on Inside the Dog– it is a lot less unsavoury than it sounds. Here is the link to the latest blog and you can read down and back from there. There are lots of other fabulous blogs too, and you gcan get to all of them.http://www.insideadog.com.au/blog/short-story-pt-1

best wishes

Isobelle Carmody

I particularly love this section of Isobelle’s post

I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously.

Having an audience, even a potential one, apart from the teacher and outside the classroom, sets the boys in a completely different space. I know that because I’ve been writing blogs for a few years, and although I’m never sure who will read my writing, I have a sense that somebody out there might, and so I write for that somebody. That’s entirely different to writing a prescribed piece of writing you know your teacher will read – not for pleasure, but in order to give a mark.

Amazingly, Nick has already seen evidence of this awareness in our boys within a very short time –

They are all really experimenting with voices. I love the difference in voice between the first and subsequent posts. They very often go over the top, and mimic what they think is an adult voice. This is so much better than what they usually produce, which is the voice they think is the ‘right’ one (bland and devoid of personality).

I’m overwhelmed by what is happening in these blog spaces within such a short time. The boys have demonstrated some excellent philosophical thinking. In the second task they have reflected on what constitutes learning, whether this happens in or out of school and about their ideal learning context. They have been reading each others’ posts and have started to have meaningful discussions. This is a far cry from the banal commenting which is often associated with teenage social media environments. This is high quality writing, reflection, evaluation and interaction.

Most of all, the boys are feeling their way into their blog spaces. They are starting to feel comfortable in their blogs and are finding their authentic voices. As Nick has observed, the quality of their writing has increased noticeably. Some are using images to complement their writing. It hasn’t taken long at all.

Who says deep learning isn’t possible within social media?

Take a look at the boys’ blogs, their online conversations. Please come in here and leave a comment.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Collaboration

Open minds welcome – Year 9s begin blogging

I’ve noticed that Melbourne High School has two mottos. One is ‘honour the work’ and the other, perhaps more recent, is ‘more than just marks’. The school is a hub of co-curricular activity which attests to that. And yet, not surprisingly for a selective school full of bright and competitive boys, the focus is largely on attaining high marks and, in particular, a high ATAR in VCE. There’s nothing wrong with that if it doesn’t interfere with what matters more – the development of a love of learning, a thirst for understanding and thinking.

When English teacher, Nicholas Fairlie, and I put our heads together in the hope of doing something different with Nick’s two Year 9 classes, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Nick found the perfect quote by Thomas Mann to introduce the point of blogging, a quote which so beautifully expresses the reflective aspect of blogging.

Keeping a Diary

“I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

(Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939)

Nick had the boys spell-bound as he introduced the project –

And so, boys, this is why we’re blogging. Not for the rightness or wrongness of our ideas, but for the having of the ideas and shaping them fit for the page. These pages will celebrate and affirm thinking: bold thinking, creative thinking, subtle and robust thinking. What goes here is valuable because it is the product of our minds and because of that will be respected by us all.

Without making a big deal of it, Nick spoke to the boys about responsible and respectful behaviour, pointing them to the guidelines:

5. Nice as it is to read encouraging comments, such as “well done” and “good job”, try to give some more feedback than this. Work on building a dialogue.
6. Keep track of what has been said by others before, and then try to provide some new viewpoints. You can also ask thoughtful questions, as there may be new and unfamiliar cultural references in other students’ photos and commentary.

Past experience has taught me that rich commenting is an art which has to be taught. So much learning takes place without much effort though – writing not just for your teacher and a mark, but for a peer audience and a potentially global readership, will open up the scope for authentic discussions and social learning.

And so we have made a start. Two classes of Year 9 boys have created their own blogs and personalised them (as they all naturally want to do), and these blogs have been linked on the front page of Nick’s blog. They have written their first blog post on a topic which has yielded some mature and thoughtful responses (to ‘We are what we know’). It was exciting to read such interesting responses to an open and abstract topic which may have intimidated much older students – a rich start to something that promises to truly be “taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

After sending out a tweet and Facebook status to promote the blogs and encourage commenting, we sat back and waited for readers to bite. My generous network jumped in immediately with responses to encourage and challenge the students in their thinking. My online colleague, Sinnika Laakio-Whybrow, from Finland, was amongst these and will no doubt impress upon the boys that their writing attracts a global audience, and that it’s just as easy to have a discussion with someone on the other side of the planet than with someone interstate.

sinikkalw responded:

I would go along with your reasoning that most of us don’t really know who we are or what exactly we know. But why is that perfectly fine with you? Wouldn’t we all be better off if everybody knew a bit more about themselves and what they know?

1 day agoAndrew Poxleitner responded:

Andrew Poxleitner
I would agree that if people knew more about themselves than they do right now, not only would they benefit, but the contributions to society would also be invaluable.Perchance I was a bit vague on this, in the post, but we also have to question ourselves on how to do so. How do we find about ourselves? I believe, at least, I’m in the dark in regards to who I am, and how to figure out who I am.
Therefore, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that maybe not many people know who they really are, because from the very start of the discovery, it’d be like picking needles out of a haystack.
Being realistic, not everyone can figure out who they are, and that’s a fact. Well, at least to me it is.

1 day agosinikkalw responded:

Technology truly is amazing, here I am on the other side of the world having a “discussion” with you!In hindsight, and with life experience, I can assure you that teenage is the very time when you really start on the lifelong journey of “finding yourself” and becoming your own independent individual. What seems like needles in a haystack to you now, will become clearer and clearer to you as years go by. If there was a reliable method of “finding your true self” that worked for everyone, I’m sure we’d know about it. The beauty of life is the journey, the process, the gradual deepening of our understanding, the willingness and openness to find out. Because not everybody can figure it out, doesn’t mean that you can’t, does it?
I’m grateful to be collaborating with a teacher who has a focus on the deep learning beyond marks, one who is excited about the possibilities of social learning and willing to take the small and larger risks associated with such a project. Our clustrmap already shows over 80 visitors from different parts of the world. Nick has been in touch over the weekend and is cooking up a meaty follow-up for the boys.
This is going to be so good. Here is the link to Yr 9 English MHS blog. Please come in to read the blogs which are linked on the right hand side of the blog. We would love you to leave a comment and add to our rich conversation.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, Collaboration

Poetry Graffiti at MHS

The library is a space with unlimited potential. Of course I’m not talking about things that are financially prohibitive. It’s not bound by faculty, it serves an enormous range of purposes; it’s the social and cultural centre of the school – at least potentially.

I’ve been thinking about how to dispel the fallacy that the library is just about books, how to include popular culture and encourage students to feel that the spaces in the library belong to them. It’s good to start small. I spoke to my colleague, Denise, about setting up a ‘Poetry Graffiti’ board. The idea is that students pin up poetry they like and have either found written. I thought we’d add some pictures to inspire thinking and whimsy, and we hope the students will understand ‘poetry’ in a broad sense and contribute both text and images.

To share pictures with Denise without the hassle of emailing them back and forth and keeping separate folders, I decided to try Pinterest. I warn you about Pinterest, it does suck you in if you’re a picture person (no, I’m not talking about wedding photos or recipes). My Pinterest boards have grown amazingly fast. I started collecting interesting or quirky images into a poetry board.

To provoke interest in a cryptic way, we decided to start off by creating a ‘Watch This Space’ board. This is how we did it.

Denise has done a fantastic job on creating the board. In the solitude of a library on Athletics day, she has created a brick wall using A4 prints and pinned up a couple of poems to get the boys started.

I hope this board will take off and that creativity, love of poetry and poetic image will fill the space and give students the chance to contribute their graffiti. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under Libraries, poetry