Tag Archives: community

Writing – audience optional

For a very, very long time we have accepted the fact that teaching writing to students takes place without an authentic audience. Students’ writing is the property of one subject teacher, and if the students are lucky, they’re permitted to read their piece to the class. Generally it’s considered that learning takes place once the student has received a mark and feedback from the teacher.

There is a much better way, and students are often finding this independently, outside school. This is why, as moderator of my school’s Competition Writing Group, I’ve created a blog and a Facebook Group so that students can share their writing, receive feedback and feel like part of a like-minded, community. It’s taken a while for the conversation to develop as students gradually embrace ownership of the group, and that’s when I can pull back to allow peer learning to take over.

I’d like to post something written by a student who has experienced the benefits of a global writers’ community. Best to hear it from the source.

As a young writer looking to develop my skills, I started writing many short stories, and novellas and the like. After having written a large amount of stuff over the course of a year, I was faced with another problem. I was in need of feedback, but wary of going outside of my immediate circle of friends to find it.

One option was suggested to me, and that was to submit some things to competitions for students. I thought about doing this for a long time, before I realised I had a problem with that as well. Friends of mine had submitted things only to get a reply email saying they hadn’t made the shortlist, and that that was the end of that.

This was something I didn’t want. I wanted somebody who was good at writing themselves to look at my work and maybe leave me some constructive feedback, and the seemingly faceless judges of these competitions didn’t seem to be too willing to do that.

So it was by pure chance that I discovered another medium to gather feedback for my various writings, one that I still participate in today, and one that has led me on a literary journey of amazing experiences and wonderful creations. I discovered two websites, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com, from a friend of mine.

Fictionpress.com was more relevant to me to begin with, because it is a site where authors can effectively post any kind of original material, and the wide variety of reviewers and other authors on the site can respond. I found the society there to be highly constructive, and highly informative. These days, some three years later since I began that journey, many things have changed. I now give tips more than I take them, but that is a perfect example of how the site has affected me. It breeds a community, where new people get help, become experienced people and cycle goes on and on. With many friendly people, the experience has been brilliant to be engaged in, and while it is also a faceless medium, it is certainly far more constructive than entering competitions.

Fanfiction.net wasn’t something that I got involved with until later, when I became more confident in my writing skills. Ironically, most people step the other way, and begin with fanfiction.net and move to fictionpress.com. One of the reasons for this is that fanfiction.net provides writers who want to improve their writing without spending enormous amounts of time creating a world and creating characters. On fanfiction.net, the worlds and characters have already been created for you, which is sometimes really useful. All the writer has to do is invent a plot and write.

The site is also particularly good because the community is very friendly and very informative. When I first began to work on this site, people critiqued my writing effectively, and in return I critiqued theirs, and since, I have had some amazing opportunities through the community. I have had the opportunity to review works by some truly outstanding writers, and the opportunity to work on things collaboratively with up to as many as five authors from all over the world. The experience is amazing, and the friendliness of all involved has been outstanding.

Overall, I like the online community because of its productive kindness, as opposed to judges for a writing competition who are mostly nameless, faceless and not really helpful at all.

Cheers, Leon 

Thanks, Leon.


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Back from Google Teacher Academy, Sydney. Time to debrief.

So I’m back from Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, conducted in the Google offices located in gorgeous Pyrmont.

I suppose you’ve noticed my Google Certified Teacher badge taking pride of place in my blog’s sidebar. I hope that’s more a sign of what I’m going to share than any attempt at self promotion. So, you say, how was it? After the hype (which I half joking referred to on Twitter in Wonkian terms), it’s definitely time to share the experience.

For me, it was a little like T.S.Eliot said in The Dry Salvages –  ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’, that is to say, it was such a big experience, I had to come away from it to understand its impact. One and a half days in the Google offices but many weeks of suspense, attempts at imagined scenarios leading up to the much awaited day had put us all into an emotional state which delivered us to the Google headquarters as children at a birthday party. The mystery shrouding the event and Google interior wound up the intensity even tighter. It was fun spotting the large Google sign in the foyer of the building, spotting real people whose faces matched their tiny avatars on Twitter or Facebook, meeting for breakfast and become initiates by wearing the Google Teacher Academy name tags.

So, you’re saying, stop dragging out the preamble, get to the point: what was it like? What did you do?

Short answer: It was full on!! The Magic Hat had sorted us into teams; I was in Silverbrook. We sat at brightly google-coloured tables and, shortly after breakfast, were treated to Google Educators giving us an overview of the enormous range of Google tools: Search (web, specialised, multimedia, language, custom), Google Apps Education edition, Docs, Sites, Calendar, Blogger, BooksScholar, News, Blog Search, Alerts, Maps, Earth, Gmail, Chat, Talk, Mobile, and more. Added to these sessions, some of our 55 strong cohort had offered to present Inspiring Ideas. We were treated to Google Spreadsheets (Pat Wagner), Sites for student e-portolios (Joe Donahue), creating an augmented reality school tour (Chris Betcher), e-portfolios using Blogger and Apps (Rob Clarke), using Blogger and Video Chat for minimally invasive education (Tara Taylor-Jorgensen), and an inside view of Google Apps for Education in a school (Dorothy Burt).  At 6pm, in the last session: reflection and review, we shared our ‘Aha’ moments for the day with our group, and at 6.30pm we were treated to a lovely celebratory dinner.

You can breathe now.

How do I do justice to such an intensive day and from all angles? I can’t.  Obviously the breadth and depth of the material was overwhelming, and at times it was challenging to keep up and remain focussed. I really enjoyed what the members of our cohort had to share, and I wish we could have seen more of how the Google apps could be used in creative and innovative ways in the classroom. We really needed more time and I suppose that was the biggest drawback – cramming so much in so little time.

Was it what I expected? I’m not sure. It’s not that Google apps/Apps are not out there for everyone to see and learn about. In that sense, we learned nothing new. But seeing everything in one and a half days, we probably saw more than we would have if left to our own devices. In between we struggled to make a dent in activities which gave us the opportunity to put some of the Google tools to use.

Most of us agreed that meeting up, connecting, collaborating and sharing was the most valuable part of the experience. So many interesting, passionate and innovative people, and we would continue to collaborate on Twitter (#gtasyd and #gct) and the GCT Group (sorry, closed community). I am grateful for new friendships and acquaintances. Thankyou so much to our GTA leaders, Dana Nguyen, Dr Mark Wagner, Wendy Gorton, Kern Kelley, Danny Silva and Lisa Thumann, for your expertise and passion.

Next on the agenda is formulating an action plan – how we will share what we have learned, either through presentations or in the classroom. It’s difficult to decide where to start.

As a teacher librarian, I’d like to say to my colleagues – you are already well skilled in many of the Google tools. We are experts in Search, News, Scholar, Google Books,  and there are experts among us with things like Google Lit Trips. What we don’t know, we can learn from the excellent Google help and crib sheets.

So, having said that, here is my initial idea for a Google action plan – to create a community for Google PD either in Google Groups or Sites specifically for teacher librarians. This would be a place to share knowledge, ideas and material. There are experts amongst us, and it would be good to pool our collective talents to present professional development either face to face, or through slideshows and webinars. Glenda Morris and I are both GCT  TLs in Victoria, and when I spoke to Glenda about this idea, she was happy to take part. There is already so much prepared by Google, for example, take a look at all the material in Google Web Search: Classroom lessons and resources.

What do you think? I would love to receive feedback for this idea. And please, if I’ve missed something you wanted to know about the Google Academy experience, please ask.

(A big thankyou, also, to Lisa Perez (TL in Chicago) who initiated meeting Glenda and me before the conference, and encouraged us to join forces as TLs).

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How Delicious it was

The words from Big yellow taxi come to mind

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone

That’s how it’s suddenly hit me with the news about Yahoo terminating the popular social bookmarking  site, Delicious. I haven’t felt this disappointed since Ning stopped free service. Delicious was one of the first Web 2.0 tools I used and raved about to other people. Not only an extremely efficient way to save links and render them searchable via tagging, but also a very transparent way to follow what other people are reading and saving.

I’m slow off the mark with this post; so many people have already tweeted and blogged their despair but it’s taking a while to settle in. At first I thought, oh well, I still have Diigo. And actually, I’ve been sending my links to Delicious via Diigo for some time since it’s so easy to use Diigo’s bookmarklet for recording essential information, and since, like others, I’ve used the automatic Diigo to Delicious function.

But then today I decided to have a look at my Delicious and realised how easy it is to see what people in your network are reading and saving. The beauty of Delicious is in the Network. Not only can I see what someone in my network is reading and saving, I can see an alphabetical listing of their tags, their tag bundles and their lists. This means I have an insight into the way their thinking, what’s important to them, the direction they’re taking.

And now I’m lamenting not using Delicious as well as I should have. Why didn’t I use tag bundles or make lists? Typical that I’d want to start now that Delicious is on its last legs.

Seriously, many people have written about the demise of Delicious with informative alternatives. I like Anne Mirtschin’s post. Anne’s not a whinger like me; she’s a postive, forward thinking person who remains open to future possibilities.

Just the other day, when Anne read on Twitter that @ggrosseck and I were wondering if we could trust cloud applications, if we  should stop promoting Web 2.0 tools to colleagues, Anne responded with her characteristically unwavering conviction:

“Never any guarantee on the future of any Web 2.0 but will always be alternative”.

Wise words, Anne, very true.

Good luck, everyone, in exporting your Delicious bookmarks and finding alternatives.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Social media, technology, Web 2.0

It helps to have a hand from the top

I think I have mentioned that I’ve been working at Kew High School one day a week. It’s been 9 weeks now, and I’m happy and excited to play a small part in connecting the school community with transformative aspects of new technologies . It’s the ideal role for me – introducing Web 2.0 tools, creating and sharing blogs and wikis, helping teachers integrate connective technologies into their curriculum.

This could have been a frustrating experience, considering I’m only at Kew one day a week – trying to catch people throughout a very busy day which happens NOT to be their day for professional development. It could have been, but it wasn’t thanks to the brilliantly supportive and proactive deputy principal, Bernie Lloyd, who organised a lunch in the library (my ‘office’) and lured staff with free lunch. Not only did she bring the sandwiches but she also cut up the fruit and washed the dishes afterwards! How many DPs would do that? She is definitely a linchpin.

That lunchtime session made all the difference. I was introduced to teachers, I pulled out my bag of tricks, gave them a whirlwind tour of Web 2.0 projects and possibilities, and answered questions. I wasn’t sure how much of an impact this would have – although Bernie had assured me that Kew teachers were open to new things – my past experiences had made me somewhat sceptical. Not so at Kew. Teachers gave positive feedback and some immediately arranged meetings to get started. Wow.

I’d started a blog for Kew which Kevin Whitney, Head of Library, named I get to say what’s culture. Just as in my Whitefriars blog, Fiction is like a box of chocolates, I wanted to bring the school community in to assume ownership. Kew’s blog, though, will have a broader base, since it’s not  library-centred, and will showcase people’s talents and passions. That’s why I’ve only thrown a few posts in, just to populate it a little, but have stopped posting with the intention of handing it over to the Kew school community. In order to do this I need the collaboration of teachers and their knowledge of the students.

Collaboration with the deputy principal, collaboration with the staff, eventually collaboration with the students. I can’t wait to see the blog in the hands of the Kew High School community.

Thanks, Bernie.

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When failure means growth

Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales on flickr

Today I found out that I didn’t get the teacher librarian position I’d recently applied for in a girls’ secondary school. Initially I was undecided about applying for the position and upsetting my world with change, then I decided that I’d go for it, and that I’d get it only if it was meant to be, after that it became something in which I had to succeed, which is silly because it turns into a personal quest. So when I received the fatal phonecall today, the rejection hit me on a personal level, although fortunately not for too long.

After asking for feedback, the head of library and I had a lovely conversation which had me thinking I would like to keep in touch if only by seeking her out at PD sessions. Some people you feel you would click with in the first few minutes of conversation.

Anyway, I’ve processed the whole thing to the point where I can put the matter behind me and return to my previous life. I wanted to write about this experience of job seeking, applications and interviews because I was interested in other people’s experiences. How many people go for new teaching jobs, how often, and how many rejections do you have before it hits you where it hurts, or before you decide no more?

And isn’t the interview a strange, artificial beast? I’m not very good at the interview thing but with practice (I don’t get any better but) I’m not as threatened and start to feel more confident about what I have to offer. I won’t be fake though, won’t talk myself up, and I definitely wear my heart on my sleeve. I suppose I feel that I don’t want to trick people into thinking I’m something that I’m not. I want to be able to say, here I am – warts and all; take me or leave me. But that’s just unprofessional. Nobody wants to hear about your shortcomings, they just want to hear your uncompromising assurance that you will do a brilliant job.

Photo by Terry297 on Flickr

Meanwhile, I’m staying transparent, sharing everything I have with whoever is interested – and if that includes my failures, then so be it.

Just today I read a very transparent graduation speech by a  primary school principal whose openness and generosity of heart really touched me. Here is a principal whose strength lies not in top-down leadership but in the acknowledgement and appreciation of the members of his community.

Although this was grade 6 for you at Forest Green as a student, this was Kindergarten for me as a principal. .  I am honoured that I got to address you on your first day of grade 6 and now your last. In my first year as a principal, I wanted to sit back and learn the environment of the school and I was so impressed with all that you did.  As a teacher first, we are suppose to be the ones that teach YOU, but in reality, you taught me just as much.

As I get older, I feel not so much that I’m more knowledgeable – in fact, my questions increase – but that I’m stronger in that I draw my strength from others and I’m not afraid to admit it. My hope is that I pass on the message to students – that their greatest achievement is their learning community or network – not their mark but the support of and appreciation of others in their learning journey.

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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

Shakespeare on Facebook

This made me laugh. Some of my favourite Hamlet statuses:

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.
Hamlet added England to the Places I’ve been application.
Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers, flowers, flowers. Oh look, a river.

I wonder if other versions exist. This could be a creative writing idea. You actually do need to know about the play to be able to write the statuses.

Photo courtesy of Sakypaky on Flickr

 

Our Head English teacher is using Facebook in the hope that it will allow boys who don’t usually contribute in class to have a voice in front of their peers. How do you explain to cynics your choice of Facebook as a platform for learning?

Adolescents have moved to Facebook for networking and communication. I’ve become a Facebook addict myself. One of its offerings is a non-threatening form of communication with a potentially large group. Another is the satisfaction of belonging to a group. It’s more accepting and democratic than face-to-face interaction – it doesn’t judge you by your appearance, age or abilities. You can choose your own hours. You can stand back and observe, or you can jump in and lend your voice.

Transfer all this to a learning environment, and you have a potentially brilliant scenario. Those who are slower to respond to discussion will not be pushed out. There’s time to think, respond, edit. The teacher can set the stage and then creep back to give control to the students. Hopefully, students will feel more comfortable to ask questions, give suggestions.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog will know that I believe we should use technology and social media in creative ways to facilitate learning and engage students. Not for its own sake, and never without good reason. Recently my webpage on the school library intranet has evolved into a blog ‘What’s new in fiction?’ I’m so over people saying things like ‘Oooh, a blog! You’re really into all that technology stuff!. Well, no… I’m not. I’m not into it. I’m just looking at what possibilities it has for engaged and creative learning and teaching. Here is a list of things I appreciate about the fiction blog when talking to classes about books and reading:

It evolves nicely; each post introduces a new book, author, series, etc.
I can use casual, relaxed language, with even some humour
I can include pictures (book covers, author photos, etc.) and videos (book or film trailers, interviews, etc.)
Colour, font size, layout make a difference
I can include links to author and series websites, transcripts, extracts, maps, etc.
There is choice in what the students read, how much, when, etc. Compare that to a teacher’s talk;
Authors become real people as students link to interviews, blogs that reveal everyday chat or writing processes, weaknesses, personality, background, musical tastes, etc.

(OK, the above points are not unique to blogs)
Here come the blog-specific points:

The students read and write comments, ranging from the non-threatening two-word comment, to the more elaborate or passionate response;

Reading peer comments is more satisfying than listening to teachers’ views (hence Facebook idea);

Other people in the school community can write a post or book review, eg. non-librarians (leading the students to the realisation that it’s not just librarians who read, and that reading is ipso facto not solely a librarian’s past-time;

These other people could be students of all ages, teachers, teachers who wouldn’t normally be associated with reading by students (don’t take offense, but I’m thinking sport teachers, science and maths teachers, male teachers…)

The combination of different readers, each with their own reading preferences, their own way of writing, provides students with a kaleidoscopic view of what’s interesting to read;

Students take ownership of the blog by writing or commenting, by suggesting content, and the school community becomes involved in what was previously a librarian’s domain.

Reading is actually discussing, arguing, agreeing and disagreeing, thinking, wondering, escaping; and you know all this because of the discussion;

Reading becomes collective, cool, broader (you realise that tastes vary greatly and it’s okay to have your preferences; reading can be student-directed and even fun.

What I regret is that my fiction blog is a closed blog on the school intranet. It serves its purpose, but misses out on further possibilities and connections.

What are your views about using Web 2.0 tools like blogs and Facebook in teaching and learning?

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Filed under 21st century learning, author, creativity, Education, learning, Literature, networking, reading, Teacher librarians, technology, Web 2.0