Beyond the Blog

I know how to use blogs in my classroom. Facebook, Twitter, Glogster, Skype, text messaging, instant messaging, digital stories, podcasts, video games,  wikis… I can make anything DIGITAL relevant to the world I create in my classroom. If teaching were a war, I would consider myself fully armed with tech-weapons. (I can see it now…”Wait, wait! Don’t shoot! Give me ten seconds to consult my social network first! Now let me think, how can I say ‘I am going to die. Please someone come to my rescue before this antiquated lit-lover without an iPod tries to shoot me with his metaphorical bullets of published lead? Never mind, I’m toast!’ in 140 characters?) But I worry—can I make the digital equally relevant to the world I create outside my classroom?

I think so.

Blogging this semester reminded me that technology can be a tool for my professional life, in addition to being advantageous to my students’ learning. It can scaffold my understanding of lesson planning, help me build a community of reflective practitioners, and challenge me to experiment. I often get so caught up in perfecting the craft of teaching that I forget that teachers must be students first, educators second. In my vain attempt to flawlessly inspire creativity, I forget that all art teachers are artists themselves, all professors of poetry writers beneath their tweed blazers. I can’t expect to hop on my digital ten-speed and lead the tour-de-Wikipedia without peddling my way through the course first. I don’t expect my students to do this without falling down, and I shouldn’t expect myself to either.

Blogging forces me to be the creative risk-taker I hope students will become in my classroom. It asks me to shape my virtual identity. It wonders if I can train my academic voice to post with hyperlinks and sidebars. It demands that I walk outside my Zone of Proximal Comfort and, Universe forbid, admit my imperfections. It flattens me with its shared trial and errors.

Seasoned teachers tell me that the door used to be closed. What you did within the classroom was your business aside from the occasional administrative visit. But with resources like those posted to each of our blogs, the share-steal mentality has become a reality (rhyme woefully intended) that I embrace with every flaw in my inexperienced body. My angst is so easily consoled by the notion that other newly trained digital front-men exist on these blogs. Our doors are open—to each other and to the network of teachers at large.

My hopes for this blogging-bond beyond graduate school are this:

  1. That I continue to spend time experimenting with my own creativity in print and non-print worlds.
  2. That I open my door and ask for help online.
  3. That I contribute to the great body of ideas and plans and creations that make teaching so damn exciting and perfect.

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Facebooking Fiction

The potential for digital natives to establish multiple online identities is vast: screen names, MySpace pages, Facebook profiles, fanfiction contributions, and gaming avatars are only a few examples of the diverse, self-created-selves populating the internet. So how can teachers use these identities to learn more about our students perceive themselves and the world around them? Should we friend them on Facebook? Allow them to text in the classroom? Encourage afterschool games of World of Warcraft?

As most of you know, my beliefs fall on the liberal side of digital literacy practices. Optimistic tendencies aside, I recently came across a fun tool that incorporates out-of-school literacy with in-school objectives: Facebook profiles for fictional characters. This template asks students to think critically and creatively about the characters they encounter in text. As they move through the activity, readers relate facts from the text itself in addition to making inferences based on the relationships, symbols and events implied by the author. In short, they create a Facebook profile for a character as they would themselves: fan pages, friends, and wall posts included.

One could argue that our personal Facebook profiles are fictionalized versions of our true selves anyway. Why not use the same process to interpret the fiction we read, in addition to the fiction we create? This Facebook_Template could be used beyond the language arts template. Science teachers could ask students to create profiles of the elements, history teachers of presidents or civil rights leaders, math teachers of prime numbers. There are characters everywhere! Hope you enjoy.

Special thanks to Lisa Foord from Independence High School for sharing this resource!

 

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Life on the Virtual Frontier

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/view/

Before committing 90 minutes to watching Frontline’s latest documentary, Life on the Virtual Frontier, I gathered an hour’s worth of reading material, opened up two word documents- one for noting bits to share on this blog, another for editing a paper- heated up my dinner and turned the TV on to watch the Olympics on mute. Although everything I need to know about life I’ve learned through PBS, I doubted these segments would teach me anything my New London-inspired courses hadn’t already covered.  I was wrong. The documentary raises new questions about digital life beyond the classroom and about our generation of “highly-evolved multitaskers.” It forced me to question the read/write/watch/listen/eat equation and ask where, in this complex set of variables, was my ability to think? Although I’m not backing down from my new literacies podium, I realize I’ll need more than a few James Gee articles to defend this changing digital landscape.

The link above connects to ten segments which explore a range of technology territories, from “internet rescue” camps in South Korea to virtual meeting spaces in Second Life to brain scan laboratories at MIT. Take it from me, you don’t need downhill skiing and a microwave burrito to make it any more stimulating than it is on its own.

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Digital Storytelling

I spent the fall semester exploring how Digital Storytelling can build students’ literacy skills and confidence inside and outside the classroom. Educators, non-profit organizations, and creative corporations across the globe are using these 3-5 minute video narratives to tell powerful stories of community, discovery, and hope. This video, sponsored by Pearson Education, features the efforts of Life Academy Instructors and Bay Area Writing Project Teachers to help students share stories on immigration. There are countless resources online to help teachers use Digital Storytelling in the classroom.  I am happy to pass them along!

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