Who to Follow on Friday, #FF


I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, I often do what I assign to my students. If I don’t like the assignment, why would they?

I introduced Twitter to my digital communications students yesterday. You may be asking (while belly-laughing) why I, as a stodgy old teacher, would think I could INTRODUCE students to a social media platform that is supposed to be their own territory to begin with. Well, I’ll tell you.

  1. They don’t all use it. The most cited reason for not using Twitter is that they’ve seen how it’s used by their peers, and they don’t like it.
  2. I want to show them effective ways to use Twitter, ways that could help them collect and curate information or begin a personal learning network that could result in acquiring knowledge they didn’t know was there.

Their assignment, thus my assignment, was to start an account, if they didn’t already have one, and find five accounts to follow. These five accounts should NOT be peers. They should be entities that could provide them with information that would be helpful. I suggested colleges, specialist magazines, news media. They are to tweet a #FF (Follow Friday) post and write a blog post to tell the world about the five accounts they found, what they are about and why they followed them.

Here are mine:

@geniushour – I’ve been doing Passion Projects, also known as Genius Hour or 20% Time projects in my DigiComm classes the past several semesters (coming up soon, kiddies!). This seems a valuable account to follow and a valuable chat to participate in to make our projects even more meaningful. I’m pretty excited, too, because they followed me right back.

@theskimm – Suggested by my daughter-in-law, The Skimm is a news service. Well, it is to me. For those of us with little time to read all the news every day, but who still want to be on top of things, well, The Skimm is there to fill us in at whatever level we want and in a conversational tone. It’s like I’m having a morning cup of coffee with someone like me – only better informed. It’s just plain embarrassing to be a journalism teacher and have people bring up big news stories that I know nothing about.

@Time – I thought I was following all the news magazines, but I guess I somehow missed Time. No idea how that happened. Again, I’m embarrassed. Breaking news and current events.

@WSJ – The Wall Street Journal is another news outlet I should have been following all along, and I’m surprised I’m not already. I used to think WSJ was too sophistocated for me; however, I think I’m up for it. Breaking news and features. I love me some good feature material.

@oklahomacontemprary – I was excited to find this one. It popped up in my sidebar, and I’d just been talking to a student about arts, and, well, this one hits the spot. Oklahoma Contemporary “encourages artistic expression in all its forms through education and exhibitions.” Can’t wait to see what they have to offer.

So there are my five. I’m sure I’m going to benefit from each one.

Who do you follow for the value they bring?

Connecting with students in a shared space

A few years back, it was taboo to friend your students on social media. I never bought into that. And here’s why:

I am a role model on social media, and I don’t even try. The way I conduct myself on Facebook and Twitter – if only I could get to using my Instagram with an regularity – is the way I’d like to see students conduct themselves. I don’t use bad language, usually. And if I do, it carries the impact desired because I rarely use it. That might be a turn off for some, but I’m still being true to myself, something teens understand.

A devil’s advocate approach often gets things going in a civil debate with folks. A good debate is a healthy thing. Not that I participate in debate for the sole purpose of teaching students how to offer up evidence and use sound reasoning for arguments, but when I am in a back-and-forth with someone on Facebook, I am aware that a large part of my potential audience is students.

I sometimes get into discussions regarding policy issues that I’m not always completely knowledgeable on, but I take part if I want to learn or if I have a strong opinion. It’s always educational, and I have a list of people I enjoy “verbal fencing matches” with, as one friend put it just the other day.

One of the most important reasons for being friends with students on social media is hearing what they have to say, getting a point of view you might not get in the classroom. Now, if students have requested friending me, they have to realize I’m going to see what they post. I’ve been known to private message them to call them on something I saw that was inappropriate, but by and large that hasn’t happened much. I’ve messaged students to suggest other ways to go about whatever it was they were trying to get across in their posts so they didn’t come off so negatively. And even to check on someone who seemed particularly down in the dumps. Being able to communicate with your students in this other atmosphere is just another way to “teach” and connect.

I was a little distressed last night, and similar situations have happened in the past, to hear a student stressing out over school. She was specific in how school is affecting her, how she struggles just to be able to accomplish her goals, which are the goals we would want for most students.

It made me realize – AGAIN – that we teachers often are not paying attention to students’ points of view. These kids have seven classes with teachers who all think their curriculum is the most important. Most of their seven teachers probably give homework. Most of their seven teachers know their own content so well they take it for granted and it seems so freaking simple, but to the kid who just came from science and had new material crammed into probably less than 30 minutes because of interruptions and is now seated in the algebra class where the teacher is cranky because the previous class did not behave well, it’s a little rough when she starts with a quiz over yesterday’s material, while this student is still trying to process what she just got in science and remember what her homework is. She is stressed because the short classes follow one another quickly, content is crammed in, some classes are chaotic because many students’ behavior is less than model – school is a place to be dreaded but gotten through so one can proceed to the next level, instead of a place to learn.

We have to fix this.

We can start by hearing what they are saying. One place to do this, besides while they are conveniently sitting in our classrooms, is on social medial.

Listen to these kids.

To blog with abandon or purpose?

My teaching strategies have changed so much in the past year. I credit my Twitter PLN for so much of that. I find myself teaching more critical thinking than ever, giving student choice wherever possible and inviting technology where it would enhance the lesson,  further engage my students or help prepare them for college and the work world.

Enter blogging for almost all of my students. Have I taken on too much? Maybe. Have I discovered things I’ll do differently next time around? Definitely.

It all started last year, my first with the intro to journalism class I requested. Previously I had been teaching newspaper, yearbook and English I. I did lots of research before I started the blogging project, and I had been blogging myself for a while. I found Pernille Ripp‘s post about paper blogging with all of its links to other resources. Though she blogs with elementary kids, I still thought the idea had merit for my mostly 9th graders. It went over well, and soon we transferred what we learned over to Kidblog. On that platform, the students’ posts automatically came to me for approval before going live, something my principal appreciated.

This year, I asked for and got permission to create another class: Digital Communications. I pitched this for students, not necessarily journalism students, to develop their online communication skills, preparing them for college and the real world. We would look at Internet protocol, safety, privacy, and ethics as well as plagiarism and learning about copyright law and how fair use works. Most of their work would be based on blogs that would serve as portfolios. After learning basics of posting, linking, inserting images and sharpening their writing skills with an audience in mind, we would learn some research skills using social media. Then would come curation apps and learning some audio and video skills and web-based presentation software. We’ve stalled out a bit as their motivation has caused the earlier lessons to take much longer than I had planned. I had this largely senior class using WordPress, feeling Kidblog was a little too limiting. After all, most were near or already 18.

The more I read online and heard from my tweeps, the more excited I got about everybody blogging, so I made plans to get my English class blogging this year as well. That’s when I discovered that Kidblog had changed how they do things and in order for students to have more than one option of theme, I’d have to pay. In Oklahoma, schools are receiving less per student than they were in 2008. I’m not even going to ask for money. I already pay for pencils, paper, Germ-X and tissues from my own pocket. I am not going to shell out a monthly amount so my students can have different themes like they did last year. I compromised by using WordPress for these youngsters as well, the caveat being that they give me editor user privileges and the password in case I need to intervene for any real reason.

I got the new intro to journalism class started blogging on this same system as soon as we’d gone through an opinion writing unit.

My real dilemma, and the reason for this post is that though I’ve explained over and over that much of their credibility depends on correctness of their writing, I still have some students for whom spelling, correct capitalization and punctuation, sentence structure and usage are less than secondary to their content. I’ve tried to tell them that their readers will not stick around if they have to work at understanding what they are trying to read – to no avail. Their process is supposed to be drafting in GoogleDocs, sharing for editing, which works great in my newspaper and yearbook classes, even sharing with me for feedback – maybe they don’t like my feedback? I think it’s pretty darn helpful – before they post.

Do I grade those posts on correctness of writing? I don’t want to decrease their excitement for blogging, but they have to know that in real life, these kinds of errors may cost them jobs. Did I just answer my own question? I love how writing helps me work through processes and develop ideas, and yet hate that I cannot convince many students that this magic exists. I would love to hear suggestions on how to assess correctness of writing in their posts when I had truly planned on only giving credit for completion, leaving them to explore the process and their own ideas for the joy it should bring.

In DigiComm, assignments might be a post with a link to another page, or a post with a copyright-free image, etc., so completion was all I had planned, until I realized that some posts were only a few sentences long with no craft and several writing errors, as compared to another student, passionate about his topic who wrote on about something with great sentence structure, good vocabulary, etc. They shouldn’t both get the same grade. Learning as I go …

The English class is doing group blogs, with groups ranging from 2-4 people in each. They will rotate with each assignment, which I tie to whatever we are doing. They’ve chosen topics for their blogs, so they will tie my assignment in with their topic. For instance, after reading two short stories that both dealt with suspense, my assignment was to write a post that deals somehow with suspense, but tied to their own topic. For a pair of students writing about music, they could talk about scoring a movie based on either story and what type of music would best create the suspenseful mood. Within their group they are to discuss the assignment, so everyone has some input, but one of them writes in Gdocs, shares with others who get to comment/edit, then it goes live. Next assignment, someone else is in charge.

The intro class each has their own blog and most of them have been great. Consider though, that these kids chose a journalism elective. They knew there was writing involved, so for the most part, these have no problems. However, there are a few who have issues as mentioned above: lots of grammatical and mechanical mistakes and no desire for making the posts better. In one case, the student doesn’t see the point, thinking it won’t matter to the reader like it doesn’t matter to him. In another case, the student is disappointed that I’m making something fun, like a blog, into something like an assignment. His two posts have been one sentence each, nothing that would make anyone come back for more, as I explained to him.

While I feel I’m doing dozens of things right, like I tell my students, there are always ways to improve. I’m looking for methods to improve my students’ online writing through my teaching and assessment, and I welcome suggestions.

Loving learning through blogging

I am so much better at preparing lessons than grading work. I’d just rather be teaching than assessing. And I figure kids would rather be learning than being assessed, but it’s become all about the assessment, hasn’t it?

Disclaimer: This post may ramble. It’s the first I can think of that I didn’t plan, draft and edit much before posting.

Going through my Twitter feed this morning, I came upon the latest of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts  in which she commented on a story in the Washington Post about 120 children’s authors and illustrators writing to President Obama to plead with him to “curb policies that promote excessive standardized testing.” The jist being that we are training kids to equate reading with testing, thereby hating literature instead of loving it. I completely agree. I truly feel that if we can teach kids to love learning, whatever testing comes along should take care of itself.

Starting (or restarting) student blogging

So … I’ve promised most of my kids we’d get to blogging soon. I have five different classes, but see no reason why they can’t all be blogging. Blogs are the basis of my digital communications class, as they have been not only blogging with links, images and other tools we are beginning to explore, but the blogs will serve a their digital portfolio once the class is over. I set up a separate blog to post their assignments and link their blogs, and have now added pages for English and Intro to Journalism blog links.

I began student blogging last year with my Intro to Journalism students and meant to get around to it with the newspaper staff. It’s just that they are always so busy. Add to their usual busyness the fact that we are trying to add an online edition to our print edition, and we’re doubling their chores. But the blogging kind of goes hand-in-hand with developing an online presence for our news media.

I’ve also gotten at least some of my freshman English class excited about publishing online in the form of blogs. We took a shot at paper blogging a few weeks ago, but all did not go as I had intended when during the commenting portion of the exercises, many did not take it seriously. I made it voluntary at the time and had a few tell me they were interested, but when it came down to coming in on their own time for instruction then following up from their home computers, well, it just never happened.

I feel it’s important enough to get back on the horse, however. Common Core Standards, which I’m a fan of (not so much on the testing aspect), stipulate  some form of writing and publishing online as early as fourth grade. I’m doing a disservice to my students not to introduce this to them.

Deciding on the right platform

As I began working on the logistics, however, I came upon the problem of which platform to use. I had chosen WordPress for my digicomm students, who are all seniors. I figure when they graduate, they can continue to use their blogs if they choose to without having to export to something more grownup. They’re already there.

Last year, with my I2J kids, who are mostly freshmen, I used Kidblog. It was fairly limited, but looked at as a sort of “training wheels” vehicle, it worked for us. There were 10-12 themes to choose from, all posts and comments were filtered through me for moderation and all linked to my Kidblog page. Nice and neat. Last week, though, as the English kids were setting up blogs, there seemed to be no choice for theme. The only option they had matched the teacher’s page. On investigation, I found that I would now have to upgrade for my kids to get to choose from those 10-12 themes. I already pay for whiteboard markers, tissues, germ-X and keep a supply of peanut butter crackers for those who missed breakfast. I resented having to pay even $6 a month so these kids can individualize their pages. Back to the drawing board.

Last Sunday, I hooked up with some tweeps on #sunchat and got some good feedback and discussion on my dilemma. After some exploration – and meeting Andy McIlwain of WPUniversity through my Google search for information – I finally developed a plan. This morning I produced the document I will give to my students to help them set up their blogs this week. I share that here if it will help anyone else:

Start Blogging

Basically, I will have them all use WordPress, but as administrators of their own blogs, they will list me as a user with editing privileges. This will allow me to edit or delete posts and moderate commentary. This gives me a little more security in being able to watch over them and guide them in what they post. I don’t want to control, but I do want to keep them and their peers safe.

So to all of you tweeps I’ve followed who have promoted student blogging and helped me to develop the system I’m slowly pulling together, I thank you. I think giving these kids a voice and the tools to do more will go a long way in developing them into students who could love learning.

A little help from my friends

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Lately I do more than get by with a little help from my tweeps.

Today was like that. Though I knew I had tons to do – a teacher’s work is never, ever, remotely near completion – I gave myself permission for that chocolate treat of social media: a tweet chat. A switch from daylight savings to standard time found me waking an hour earlier than I needed to, but just in time for #sunchat.

Since there was no specific topic this morning, lots of side chats were going on. Something about student blogging popped up and I remembered I had been frustrated last week by the fact that a student blogging platform I had used with success last year, @kidblog, was now charging for the modest attributes it offered its young bloggers, especially the theme variety. Oh, I could stick with the basic, free version, but that limited everyone’s blog to looking exactly the same. So I tweeted about it and tagged @kidblog. They actually responded, which I appreciate, but the response was’t helpful. They want me to upgrade. I already pay for Germ-X, tissues, Expo markers and extra mechanical pencils out of my own pocket, not to mention occasionally giving away cracker packages and granola bars to kids who somehow missed breakfast. Even $5 a month is just one more expense I cannot afford and I shouldn’t have to.

So I posted the issue in #sunchat and got several responses for alternative ways to help my students blog. In fact, the conversation went on for several minutes.

A little while later I found myself in another side convo about whether or not points should be deducted for late work, which was really a smaller issue of student motivation. That turned into a chat that lasted an hour beyond the #sunchat. One tweep suggested we should have had our own hashtag.

We disagreed with each other on a couple of points, but kept it civil and kept on discussing, sharing points of view and an occasional link to one authoritative article or another. Though we were not in agreement with each other, I found it to be one of the most stimulating conversations I’ve been in for a while. Seeing other points of view helped me to think through how I manage some of my classroom situations.

I can’t say enough about the value I find in communicating through social media with others who do what I do. I get inspiration, I get ideas, I get actual lesson plans and other materials, I get questions answered, I get laughs. It’s just a beautiful thing, and though I continue to preach it to my co-workers, I do not see them taking advantage the way that I do. I know they are missing out.

If I just keep sharing what I’m learning, how I’m learning and from whom I’m learning, if I just model the behavior that I know would work for others, maybe, just maybe some of them will pick up on it. Once they realize the vast network of helpful educators out there, they can’t help but join in.