Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Today, I'm thinking style. Not the "Devil Wears Prada" sort, but blogstyle. As a teacher of writing's Avram Pilch's "Web Writing Rules to Live By" caught my attention. Here are his rules (although some really need his explication to provide the full benefit):

1.Conserve Your Words
2.Write to Empower, Not to Impress
3. Follow a consistent Web Writing Style Guide
4. Avoid Unnecessary Intro Text
5. Avoid Redundant Adjectives
6. Watch Out for Wimpy Words
7. Replace Wordy Phrases with Single Words
8. Replace Prepositional Phrases With Adjectives
9. Don't Turn Verbs Into Nouns
10. Use Precise Language

These are good rules to pass on to my students for their blogging as well as for their other compositions.
Image credit: "Prada Eyeware Models." Go Optic. 30 May 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Really Simple

I've seen several RSS explanations in the past months (and I have to admit sometimes I still am confused about how to create subscriptions). I guess it is so easy to do that I think it should have more steps to learn. Mark Wagner at The Infinite Thinking Machine has just posted one of the simplest intros to Really Simple Syndication for teachers.

And now the Google has iGoogle with widgets with which I can subscribe to everything right down to my own podcasts (just to make sure they are getting through the blogosphere), RSS makes even more sense. Before I'd forget to go look in my "favorites" folder. Now they just appear everytime I open my homepage to iGoogle. Now that's really simple.

So as a teacher I have my students subscribe to daily homework updates I send as podcasts through Gcast. They think it is really cool that when they synch their iPods afterschool, they don't have to do anything but listen. Er, well listen, and then DO their homework.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Always Have a Backup Plan

Always have a backup plan. I was about to say "what teacher doesn't," but I find that many of my colleagues simply don't. The fall back plan is "study hall." After reading Karl Fisch's blog on "Customer Service," I am imagining what if the computer techs just said, "too bad." (Although I have had two recent out-sourced service reps from Verizon DSL ("Eric" from India, and "Chris" from the Phillipines) give really bad service--one said it was my problem and the other said there was no problem! Anyway, throwing up our hands and saying "study hall" or "talk amongst yourselves quietly" is rather the same.

Still, in my last post I mentioned I was to by in San Francisco at this time. Last-minute change of plans. Trip postponed till September. So this week I am working on another blog for the Carnegie Museum of Art and students at my school. We are going to be taking visits to CMA over the next year and blogging about our experiences. And as I was flipping between blog accounts on another server, I accidently deleted not just a blog, but my entire account and all blogs on it! I couldn't believe it. I was numb to the realization. All of the HTML code!--gone!

Then I realized that although the year's English 12 Honors blog was history, the CMA blog was actually under another account, and this morning, by a stroke of good luck, copied the code of the English 12 Honors page to another account for next year's class. I was able to retrieve it and set up my previous account. The year's work is now only on hard copies, and the students' most recent work is lost, but at least we can get up an running for the last two weeks of school. I could say "chuck it," but my blog's not out-sourced yet, and there'll be no "study hall."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blogosphere, San Francisco Calling

I'm looking forward to visiting San Francisco to present a session on Weblog Literacy to a conference of teachers later this week. After being in the blogosphere it's nice to put one's feet on terra firma and talk with teachers about blogging, share challenges and inspirations.

Sort of like the experience politicians must feel inside the beltway and losing track of reality, being in the blogosphere and surfing the Net one can get a rarified view of technology in education and loose track of what's really happening in classrooms across the country. To only read the tech-savvy blogger-educators can leave one with the impression that everyone else is way ahead of the game.

As far behind in learning about how to integrate Web 2.0 tools into my own teaching in comparison to others in my blogroll, I feel I am even more arears to getting colleagues and students and parents up to speed. It's easy to feel overwhelmed at how much there is to learn, and then to think about how what I'm trying to learn today is already being usurped by the "what's next." It will be good to find out what educators in silicone valley are thinking, tooling, and teaching.

Comparing my practice to some of the pioneers out here in the blogosphere, or even Californians on the ground may miss the point. As my uncle who used to take me and my belongings to college once told me on one of those sojourns said, "You'll always be better than somebody and somebody else will always be better than you."

Maybe that's where the paradigm of collaboration begins, and the spirit of competition peters out. Reading and writing blogs and web pages with colleagues and mentors, as well as with students, has enriched my teaching practice in a few short months and years--a grand self-paced professional development, it's like grad school, only without the federal loans and without the Act 48 (PA re-ceritification credits). As I figure out what I have to offer my students and my colleagues, I find benefits of what they offer in return.

Image credit: 14 May 2007 San Francisco, CA, USA. Google Maps

Saturday, May 5, 2007

While My Students are On There

Blogging like the Web itself is a visual as well as a textual medium. So as when I have my students responding to Sherman Alexie's film Smoke Signals in our class blog, I have them visit the National Museum of American Indian online art exhibition called "Indian Humor."

On the site they find out more American Indian art, identity, and humor. The site showcases the winsome wit and wisdom that comes from oppression and disenfranchisement, just as Alexie does so well, in his poetry and film, uses humor to explore and express what it means to be an American Indian in the United States today.

Not quite a webquest, the assignment works with the media and provides plenty of inspiration for students to express ideas related to Smoke Signals, humor, and identity. I figure as long as I have my students sitting in front of a computer, accessing the Internet, they might as well take full advantage.

Breaking Blogger's Block

As I thought about this blog entry, I realized I had some blogger's block akin to "writer's block." I've had a couple of ideas rambling about in my mind this week but nothing really came forth as the "must blog" about item. I have spent my last couple of drive times to and from work catching up on podcasts from The teachers there often discuss their collaboration on the elgg In these talks, they've presents a few worthwhile ideas on prompting student writing and blogging. So I thought I'd pass along some these today.

Unlike the blog I host with my literature students where the blogspace is devoted to discussing the texts we're studying, the Youth Voices elgg seems to be set up with the purpose of getting students to write about a variety of topics, whatever interests them. And they've come up with some great prompts or ideas of how to spur student writing that could lead to opening up discussions and collaborative posting in the blog. For instance, Paul Allison, often the moderator of TTT writes in response to the question "What do we want students to blog about in school?:
"One of the ideas we are working on with students in these
high school and middle school elggs is '20 Questions: 10 Self and 10 World'.
This is an idea that we’ve adapted from
James A. Beane's from notions of
the integrated, democratic curriculum."
That sounds like a super prompt to get students involved and talking about what matters to them and their world. And from the sound of things on TTT it is yeilding some worthwhile results.
Another interesting idea I heard in a recent podcast is the idea of assigning letters of the alphabet to students to inspire their writing. The challenge for each student is to write about something that begins with a given letter. This was part of a digital storytelling project presented on a TTT podcast by Kevin Hodgson. For one project he and his sixth-grade students decided to tell stories that were each based on the alphabet scheme. Further, he considers assembling them in a variety of ways from alpha order to arrangements of words. Clever stuff.