Friday, November 21, 2014

Let's Blog It

My tenth grade English students have jumped in, feet first, to our #HavPassion inquiry research projects.  Last week, we mapped our passions as we tried to narrow our research questions. This week, not only did we share our initial inquiry questions with one another, but we also had an opportunity to connect with fifth grade students at an elementary school in our district.  We used Google Hangouts to share our inquiry topics with the elementary students, and they in turn, shared their research questions with us.  In the coming weeks, both groups of students will be using Google docs to collaborate. We'll be looking for connections with our inquiry questions, building our knowledge together.

And, as a way to share our process and reflections, we set up our blogs.  This is a new adventure for me.  In the past, I have had students blog on our closed website, a Ning, which made it difficult for students to reach a readership outside of our classroom. But this time around, I'm jumping in feet first as well.  We're using Blogger, allowing for a greater connection to a wide range of readers.

Another change that I have made this year is spending a bit more time deliberately introducing the concept of blogging to my students. Today we examined the 20% time blogs of the Nerdy Teacher, Nicholas Provenzano's high school English classes as well as blogs from Mrs. Scheffer's Burlington High School students. Rather than standing in front of the room and dictating a list of what to do and not to do when blogging, I had the students use a shared Google doc to come up with the list themselves. Before they began, we reviewed our earlier discussions on the impact of written and digital rhetoric, and I asked students to pay attention to not only what they were reading on each blog but also how they were reading. Here's what they noticed:

What Works?
Having looked at a number of sample blogs, use the space below to note what works. What do successful bloggers do to engage their readers? Take into account both written and digital rhetorical choices made on the part of the author.

  • No longer than 2 paragraphs.
  • Black/white or blue/yellow text (contrast makes text easier to read)
  • Times New Roman font is easy to read.
  • Some posts are long and detailed, and others are simple and sweet. A mix of lengths, which is something that I like.
  • I like how they give a brief description and then explain what they did to accomplish their task.
  • Short headers, capitalizing works well and use of colors to separate sections of a post.
  • Explain why they chose what topic they wanted to use for the project and the story behind it.
  • Pictures!!!! Make it interesting.
  • Actually title the post. Please don't title it Blog Post #3 and the date.
  • Spell check!!!!
  • Bullets are okay, but numbering is boring.
  • Keeping posts short lets readers read the post without losing interest, while in a long 5 paragraph blog post, readers could lose interest.
  • I like when they have pictures of themselves and when its colorful, not just boring white.
  • Bold letters with color emphasize important points.
  • Make sure the background picture doesn't distract from the text!!!!!!!!!!!!
I shouldn't be surprised, but for both sections of my tenth grade class today, we were hard at work to the last minutes of class.  In fact, I had a couple of groans in each class that our 90 minute class period had come to an end. On a Friday!  Students wanted more time to write. What more could an English teacher ask for!?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And So It Begins

I have been waiting for this week since the start of our school year - the start of our #HavPassion projects.

Last fall my students and I completed our first 20% time projects. While my students researched the most effective ways of addressing the homeless problem in our area and learned how to quilt, I completed my own research on the teaching of research writing. In the process of my researching and presenting, I connected with so many educators interested in how passion-based inquiry changes our learning communities. It is a growing community, a community of teachers excited about sharing how voice and choice impact student learning.

It was at July's Chromebooks and the Common Core conference that I met Chris Aviles. Following my presentation on Empowering Writers through passion-based inquiry, Chris shared how he and his students are creating and collaborating in a similar way through his Be About It project. Since that first meeting, I've had opportunities to hear Chris present on his 20% time inquiry research project, and specifically, how he renamed it for his unique group of learners, branding his passion-based project to meet the needs of his students. The combination of meeting Angela Maiers in June and talking with Chris in July inspired our own name change. And so #HavPassion was born.

But we've made a few other important changes as well.  Some of the feedback that I received last fall from students was about how overwhelming it was in the beginning to be faced with so much choice.  Initially, many students selected topics they were interested in but not necessarily that they were passionate about. So this past week when I introduced our passion-based inquiry project to students, we spent more time exploring just what passion entails. It started with sending students home with this assignment:
You have this page. Use it to depict your understanding of “passion.” Consider researching the definition and etymology of passion. Reflect on the ideas and issues that you are passionate about.

You have 8 ½ x 11 inches to share your passion. How will you do it?

Be creative.
  • Try Canva or PiktoChart to create a stunning visual.
  • Use Tagxedo to craft an image using words.
  • Take a picture of your passion and use Aviary or Pixlr to alter your image.

What is passion?

The next day in class, we shared our representations of passion and discussed our definitions.  A number of students discovered that the etymological roots of passion lie in suffering. The Latin root of passion, pati, means to suffer, to endure. What is it that you are willing to suffer for? We used this question to help us map our passions.

In a similar way that Angela Maiers has students map their heartbreak, I asked my students to create a visual map of our passion. We started with the big categories: what are the issues and ideas that we are most passionate about?
I got us started by adding "education" to our map. Students added art, bakingmusic, languages, and helping others as our initial categories.  Then, I directed students to help each other think through the issues and concerns that stem from these categories.  I added literacy and digital literacy as off shoots from the larger category of education. Then from digital literacy, I added access as a concern. And that's all it took. Students jumped up to surround our map, adding connections and concerns to their initial categories, helping their peers think through different perspectives on our initial categories. More categories lead to more concerns. After five minutes, I stopped students and directed them to only contribute to the growing map in the form of questions in order to push our thinking further. Questions, connections, and collaboration helped us to think through potential inquiry topics.

By spending a bit more time helping students develop a more nuanced understanding of passion, my hope is that they develop inquiry questions that will lead to inspired learning in the weeks to come. Passion and purpose must be connected. As A.J. Juliani writes in his recent book titled Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom,
"Passion may get you going. It may have you fired up about a new project or opportunity. It may lead you to shout it from the mountain tops. But purpose is a different animal. It keeps you going when others fade away. It drives your everyday actions because there is a reason behind everything you do" (60).
In the coming week, students will continue to brainstorm and explore.  As they do, we will be using collaborative tools like Google Docs and Hangouts to connect with Christy Brennan's fifth grade students who are undertaking a very similar learning adventure. I'll be asking my high school students to not only find mentors for their own learning but also become mentors to younger learners.  And along the way, all of us will be blogging our adventures in learning. So, stay tuned! Our adventure is just beginning.

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