Friday, May 18, 2007

Class Blog Discussion

Well, we had our class blog discussion today. Overall I think it went well, the kids definitely seemed to enjoy it. The responses to the topics ranged from insightful and profound to completely inane and totally random. Luckily I have my rubric so that I can give credit to those kids who took it seriously and did a great job (which was the vast majority of them).

Grading this is going to be interesting, but I have a system worked out. I am going to have a rubric printed for each student and as I go through the discussions I'll be adding points and taking them away in the relevant categories based on the quality of the comments they make in each post. Then I'll be able to give each student credit relative to the quality of their contribution to our discussion. Focus will be on quality as opposed to quantity; quality will be defined by the rubric they created. It'll take some time, but not any more time than reading and grading a stack of essays.

One other thing that I think is cool. There were four kids gone today, but unlike most class discussion days they don't have to miss out on what we did. I can just give them the web url and they can read the discussion and post their responses when they get back. Yet another benefit of this forum.

By the way, I've linked the discusssion page above and I'll do it again here if you'd like to take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Preliminary Results

Well, we did our "Moodle" experiment in which I asked the students to identify four examples of web writing and to categorize them as "Excellent," "Decent," "Poor," or "Horrible." I then asked them to explain why they put the example in the category they did. On moodle I was able to create four different forums for the students to post in, which made the organization easy and accessible.

The students seemed to really enjoy the project, and I am happy to say, I/we seemed to get something out of it too. I did have a couple of students who didn't really engage with the project or wrote random, sarcastic things like "blah, blah, blah . . . same as everyone else's." But overall they took it seriously and did well. (By the way, "random" is one of the characteristics of bad writing they identified--so on their web discussion this kind of thing will affect their grade--by their own choice!!) I'm hoping that the fact that they created the rubric themselves will give me more buy-in, we'll see.

I have to admit that this rubric is quite a bit different from the one I would have created had I done it on my own and just given it to them. For one thing, they roundly rejected web language or "txt tlk," which I found interesting. They also helped me think of things that I wouldn't have thought of, like "random," "rambling," and "offensive." I would have definitely told them to be appropriate, but I like the fact that this last item is part of the rubric itself--I probably wouldn't have done it that way on my own. If you're curious, my rubric would probably have been some slightly modified form of six traits (which is my default rubric for everything--and as you can see, some of those traits show up here, but this one is more to the point for our particular assignment).

I also found it interesting that it did turn out to be important to include both good and bad examples; I debated about the value of this with myself (and one of my students remarked "duh, the opposite of good writing" in the "bad" forum). But there were things that showed up more in the bad column than the good that might have been missed had I focused only on good examples, and that made the rubric better I think.

Here is the rubric we created (the numbers reflect the number of students who mentioned the trait). Interestingly, when I totaled the votes for each of the eight most popular items in the rubric, it magically and miraculously came out to exactly 100, which made the weighting of each item easy (based on how many students identified it as important).

Results of Class “Moodle” on

Good and Bad Web Writing

By combining the good and bad characteristics you identified, I created the following rubric, which is based on the top items you thought were most important overall. They are weighted based on the number of you who identified them as important. I will be using this rubric to grade the web discussion we have on Friday:

Good Spelling and Grammar/No Errors _______/19

Has a Point/Is not Completely Random _______/16

Understandable/Clear/Logical _______/15

Stays on Topic/Does not Ramble or Digress _______/12

Does not Contain Slang/Txt Tlk _______/11

Uses Factual Information/Credible Sources _______/11

Is Interesting/Funny/Entertaining _______/10

Is not Offensive/No Profanity _______/6

Total Points ____________/100

Monday, May 7, 2007

Teachers are the World's Worst Gossips

I couldn't let this go without some comment. A recent poll has revealed that teachers gossip more than professionals in any other field. I'm sure this comes as a complete shock to all of us, since none of us have EVER heard any gossip around our schools. One theory is that it's because we don't compete with each other the way other professions do, so there's less concern about burning bridges and making enemies while in other fields they worry that what they say might come back to haunt them and hurt their chances of getting a raise or promotion.

Hmmmmm. Or maybe it's just because we're teachers, and we tend to be of a certain personality type . . . I don't know, but I can tell you that this poll surprised me when I first heard about it, but now that I think about it I'm not sure why I was surprised. I have heard some crazy stories, let me tell you . . . or actually . . . maybe I shouldn't tell you, I might be accused of being a gossip.

Maybe that is why it's so nice to come to CSUWP--we can work with professionals from outside our own schools and put some of the politics aside in order to get things done.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Getting Started

Thanks to Bud (and some very good advice and input from a lot of others) I am very close to getting this project off the ground. I am getting my students registered for Moodle. I am hoping that from there we can conduct our web searches, post some examples of good and bad web writing and generate some discussion toward the creation of our class rubric.

I may also be looking into 21publish as an option for posting our actual discussion about A Tale of Two Cities. Bud has suggested that it might be easier/better to keep everything in the same format which is probably true. I figure it will be worth it to at least check out 21publish to see how it works and if nothing else, expand my options for the future.

So thank you for everyone who's helped me with suggestions and ideas so far, I'll let you know how things go once this thing gets rolling!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


This discussion is all over the place, showing up in various comments and referenced in various posts, but I think it's a fascinating side issue that I wanted to provide a specific forum for while I continue frantically to get my blog project running for my t-r. I am very interested in hearing Stacey (Or anyone else who wants to chime in), express an opinion or two about this, and don't worry, I'm not easily offended so don't hold back and let me have it!

My objection to spelling is philosophical. Let me first state that I agree that students need to learn audience adaptation and that giving students access to the power code is an essential part of what I do as a teacher. I would not be a good teacher if I did not follow the curriculum standard which clearly states that students should learn and use proper grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

However, I do not believe that spelling tests are an effective way to teach spelling. They are an assessment of a student's ability to spell, but they don't teach a student how to spell. The best way to learn spelling is by reading--repeated exposure to words in context works much better. By the way, the same is true of grammar rules--reading is the best way to learn them. Check out the book Understanding English Grammar, particularly the first chapter, or just about anything written by George Hillocks for more on this.

Bottom line is, if in doubt look it up (which is much easier now that so many kids have a spell-checker and are writing on a computer that has web access so that they can double-check problem words like their/they're). Using all the time saved by not giving spelling tests to work on grammar and spelling in context allows me to apply these concepts to what the students are actually doing rather than forcing them to engage in an exercise that doesn't relate to what they are writing. I do grade spelling in my student's formal essays, but not in their journals. I want their journals to be a place where they can focus on content and critical thinking rather than worrying about spelling and grammar (I give guided, specific prompts [level 3 questions about the texts we're studying] for journals--they are not free writing or morning pages style journals).

The issue goes deeper than that for me, however. While it is part of my job to teach students how to write in formal situations for audiences that expect good spelling, it is not my job to like it, or to believe that it is an important, worthwhile, or even legitimate project. I believe that spelling is just another way for people to judge others, feel superior to others, and find ways to discriminate against other people. I can't count the number of times I've seen a comment posted on the web criticizing another person's spelling and the comment itself contains misspelled/misused words or grammar errors!

This is a fact of life, I know, and kids need to learn that they will be judged, whether it's fair or not, by the way they speak, dress, wear their hair, and write. But spelling in the English language does not make sense. We have held over spellings of words from Old English, and continued to include letters that are no longer pronounced. Words like "weigh," "through," "night," and "sleigh" were originally spelled phonetically by speakers of a "vulgar" tongue that did not have a codified system of spelling. Having studied Old and Middle English texts, I can tell you that often the spelling of words changed even within a single text, let alone between different texts. Eventually spellings were codified into a dictionary, and the spellings at that time reflected the way words were pronounced--words were spelled phonetically. But as the pronunciation of these words has changed, and the meaning of our words has changed, and the syntax of our grammar has changed, the spelling of our words has not changed--why?

It makes life more difficult for English language learners of all ability levels and backgrounds. It makes students afraid to write and "dumbs down" their writing because they replace the word that they really want to use with one that's easier to spell. By the way, I feel the same way about some of our grammar rules. Some are necessary to avoid ambiguity; other rules are arbitrary and unnecessary impediments to our student’s ability to express their thoughts freely and without fear.

I devote two whole days of my Freshman English class to reading about and discussing the idea of grammar and spelling rules, in which I explain the importance of learning the power code, while also explaining how much I detest and resent the fact that the power code is defined and enforced by those who are in power at the expense of those who are not. It's just another form of discrimination masquerading as education.

The following excerpt is from a junk email, and I have read various opinions as to whether the idea contained herein is legitimate or not, let alone the assertion that it comes from research at Cambridge (which I've been unable to find any evidence of). But at the very least, I think that it is food for thought. I turned it into a poster and have it posted in my classroom:

Do Not Read This!

I cdnoult blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg! Wtienss the azaimng pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rseeacrh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit too mcuh torbule. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Itnseretnig, huh? Wow, and I awlyas tuohght slpeling was ipmorantt!

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Defining Good Web Writing

I am working on the technical questions with Bud (Thank you, Bud!!!!) so hopefully I am on my way to finding the answer to my "how" question. But I'm also thinking about the idea of bringing the process of discovering the differences between good and bad writing more in line with the underlying idea of the project. I think that rather than a Power Point that includes good and bad examples, I'd rather set up a discussion page for the purpose of writing a rubric, based on student input, to use to grade the project. It might also be a good opportunity to get the students to learn how to set up links, cut and paste examples, etc. So I think smb is right in her reservations about Power Point as a format to "deliver" my standards.

As a group, we've decided basically that we don't need a formal "protocol" beyond the guidelines that Cindy gave us at the beginning of our Mother Blog. I think that's fine for the Advanced Institute; we're all adults and we're all genuinely trying to make this work, so we're learning, discovering and building our techniques as we go. But for high school kids I really want to develop a clear set of guidelines, based on student observations (along with my observations), that will hopefully give my students (and myself) a clear idea of what their posts should look like, sound like, and contain.