Starting with Student Blogs – Creating Learning Journals

Last week I wrote about the importance of  allowing time and opportunity for students to reflect upon their learning. It is this reflection that allows for deep rather than superficial learning to occur.

I reflect on my learning through blogging. The routine I’ve created of having to write an update every week forces me to stop for a moment, think and consider. The process of explaining my thoughts helps me synthesise my ideas and move forward. So it made sense for me to use blogging as a platform for my students to reflect.

On Monday I set each of them up with a blog using the NSW DEC ‘s Blog Ed. It’s not a great platform, but it was one I could start straight away with as the DEC issues an account to each student enrolled in public schools, and the permissions have already been taken care of. Their blogs are private, however they can log in at home if they wish to show their parents what they are doing. I asked each student to write about one thing they had learned this week. or about something they would like to learn.

Here are a few of their posts:

‘I  learnt that I need to take my time for writing.’ ‘

I learnt to Do some hand print art. I learnt how to retell a story.’

‘In maths groups some girls and I have been practising finding change. We did a video. It was very fun.’

The posts weren’t very detailed,  but they were fine for 7 and 8 year olds writing their first ever blogs. I loved the fact that each one was different. It gave me a good insight into what they valued in their learning this week.

Writing for many 7 and 8 year olds is still a challenging task. I realised quite quickly that this wasn’t really allowing them to reflect in the same way I can while writing – they become preoccupied with finding the keys on the keyboard, working out spelling etc. So I decided to try recording video diaries as well.

At the beginning of the week my maths students chose a learning goal related to our unit about money.  At the end of the week they had to make a video that would teach a concept to the other students.

Unfortunately I can’t show you their actual videos, but I’ve used the transcript of one and put it into Xtranormal to give you a sense of what they created.

My students loved making the videos. They also proved to themselves that they learned something new.We’ll be uploading the videos to their  blogs this week.

I’m just getting started with this so would love to hear from anyone who is using blogs with their students to reflect upon their learning. Please let me know your ideas in the comments section.


Reflecting on Learning

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the importance of reflection. I NEED to take time out to reflect upon my teaching and my learning. It’s the way I process events and ideas, and discover what’s working or what isn’t. Sometimes I discover answers,  more often I discover new questions.Through reflection, I find inspiration. It’s what moves me forward, allowing me to grow and develop my practice.

We need to give students the opportunity to reflect upon their learning too.

A quick google search for “Why reflect on learning?” led me to great website by Dr Helen Barret in which she reviews the literature about how reflection supports learning. She says,

Jennifer Moon, the most recent researcher on reflective practice, provides the following definition:

Reflection is a form of mental processing – like a form of thinking – that we use to fulfill a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.  It is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution and is largely based on the further processing of knowledge and understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess (based on Moon 1999)

Moon points out that one of the defining characteristics of surface learning is that it does not involve reflection (p.123). “

Read the rest of Dr Barret’s article here.

Dr Barret’s website led me to this great wiki about using digital portfolios with K-2 students. This is an area I’ve been wanting to explore, as I mentioned here,  but I’ve hesitated to try because I wasn’t sure how to begin with such young students. All of the 6 year olds in teacher, Kathy Cassidy’s class have personal blogs which they use to reflect on their learning and build a digital portfolio.  She has plenty of examples and suggestions for getting started on her wiki.

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities.

Here’s a brief reflection on my learning:

My first Xtranormal project –  I think I’ll try this with my class!!

You’ve Started on Twitter – What Now?

5 Tips for Avoiding Information Overload

Once you’ve built a personal learning network on Twitter, you’ll find yourself inundated with a deluge of information. Twitter executive, Michael Abbott said at a recent conference,

We’re not a social network. We’re an information network.

So how do you deal with all the information flying at you without becoming overwhelmed and giving up? Here are some tips I’ve picked up on my Twitter journey.

1. Be Discerning

You don’t have to read everything. A lot of what you’ll find in your twitter feeds won’t be of interest. Learn to skim, and just click on the links that interest you.

2. Use Lists

I use lists to sort my feed into information types. I have one for educational technology, which is populated with people who mainly tweet about that. I have another  for public education which is populated with people who tweet a lot about public education policy and reform issues. When I look at  a list, it stops me seeing the other information in my Twitter feed so I can focus on what or who I’m interested in.   Tweetlist for iPhone and Hootsuite for iPad are really helpful apps if you are using lists. Several people also recommend Tweetdeckwhich can be used on PCs and Macs.

3. Use an  RSS Reader

If a link takes me to a blog where someone is sharing good information  I often subscribe to it directly. There are various ways to do this but my preference is Google Reader. Whenever a new post appears on a blog I’ve subscribed to,  it will arrive in my reader account. RSS allows me to access all the blogs in one place, rather than having to visit multiple websites. I can read them any time, and not have to continually check websites or Twitter to see if there are updates. For a great article about how to use Google Reader, click here. My favourite way to read RSS feeds is on the iPad. I use an app called Flipboard, which turns my Google Reader and my Twitter feed into a magazine. It’s easy to flip through the pages, browse the headlines and read articles that interest me. It’s much like reading the newspaper.

4. Use Favourites

If someone tweets a link that you find really interesting and want to go back to, you don’t want it to get lost as more information comes into your feed. To avoid this,   favourite it. Twitter will store your favourites so you can look at them at a later time.

5. Use bookmarking tools

Bookmarking tools enable you to easily save, access and share the great information you have found. I use Delicious which allows me to add a little button at the top of my web browser. Whenever I find something I want to keep, I just click the “save on delicious” button and it will save it to my account. Then, when I want to go back to that information, I just go into my delicious page and it’s all there. Of course, if you’re new to Twitter, you might not be getting much useful information at all.  This post has some tips to help you get started.

Creating a Learning Culture

Praise is a powerful motivator, but according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and professor of psychology at Stanton University, if we give the wrong type of praise, we can discourage our students from learning and set many on the path to becoming non-learners.

I read her book last school holidays (after discovering it through my Twitter PLN of course) and have spent the last few days preparing a presentation about her research for my colleagues when we return to school for Term 3, on Monday. The results of her research are startling, with enormous implications for teaching and learning.

Dweck’s study has revealed why some people go on to achieve and succeed, but others opt out, drop out or simply coast along, never really fulfilling their potential. She asks the question,

How can we ensure our students remain learners?

It comes down to what she calls ‘mindsets’.

There are two: Fixed and Growth.

People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is finite. We are born with a finite quantity of intelligence (or ability in any field – sport, music etc) and that’s it. That’s your quota for life. You either have it or you don’t.

People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, and all abilities, can be developed over time.

Those with a fixed mindset usually become non-learners whereas those with a growth mindset become lifelong learners.

Which mindset is correct – is intelligence fixed, or can it be developed?

According to Dweck, most scientists now believe  that while we are all born with certain genetic endowments, intelligence can be developed.

Even the man who invented the IQ test, Alfred Binet,  believed that intelligence can be grown.

‘With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent that we were before’ – Binet

Scientists also talk today of  neuroplasticity, which  refers to the brain’s ability to reorganise itself based on experiences.

Would you like that concept explained? Here’s a video.

The important thing though, is not so much the nature versus nurture debate, but the attitude we take towards our learning.

It’s what we believe that matters.

Problems with the Fixed Mindset

Effort is seen as a bad thing. 

I often see this in students, particularly some of the apparently more capable students. Students who have been praised all their life for being clever, or doing things easily (“Wow, you solved that quickly, you must be really clever!”) start to associate effort with ability. They start to think that If it comes quickly and easily then they must be good at the subject, but if they have to work at it,  they mustn’t be all that smart. They may have been clever enough for less challenging work, but not  enough for any work that requires an effort.

And if they’re not all that smart, then what is the point of trying? They’ll never be any good at it anyway.

In a growth mindset, however, effort is seen as the key to learning. Students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, so they don’t view effort as a sign they are not clever, instead they view it as the path to learning.

Mistakes are evidence of failure

A person with a fixed mindset views a mistake as evidence that they are not smart or clever. They will avoid situations where they are likely to fail, stay in their comfort zone, and attempt to make excuses or hide their mistakes.

Students with a growth mindset view mistakes as an opportunity to learn new things. They will analyse their mistakes to work out what went wrong, and use this knowledge to go on to greater learning.

How can we encourage the growth mindset?

Dweck discovered that the way we praise students can have a powerful impact on their learning, and can encourage either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Students praised for being clever and talented start to develop fixed mindsets. Students praised for effort develop growth mindsets.

She explains the powerful effect of praise on student learning in this video:

So there you have it. Praise is very powerful.

What not to praise:

  • Intelligence: “Wow, you must be really smart!”
  • Speed/Ease: “You did that so quickly/easily. Clever girl.”

What to praise:

  • Effort: “You must have tried really hard.”
  • Challenges: “Well done, you’ve chosen a really tricky problem. You’ll learn a lot from that.”
  • Strategies: “You used a good strategy to solve that problem.”
  • Choices: “The adjective you used here is very effective.”

Learning about the Mindsets has had a powerful impact on my teaching. I still catch myself from time to time praising intelligence and cleverness, but more and more I’m praising the effort that my students put in. By the simple act of changing my language, I’m  promoting values such as persistence, effort and embracing challenges. I want to develop a learning culture in my school and classroom where all students are engaged, experience that joy of learning and go on to become lifelong learners.

For more information about Mindset, I highly recommend you read Carol Dweck’s book.

You can also visit my delicious stack where I’ve collated several websites and resources about Mindset that I find useful.

Finally, here’s a great info graphic by artist Nigel Holmes which I found on this website. It summarises the key differences between the mindsets.



5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

Twitter is by far the most powerful professional learning network (PLN)  I participate in. Using it is like being at a teaching conference every day. I am constantly exposed to new ideas that inspire and challenge me to try new approaches and rethink old ones. Through Twitter I’ve met a great group of educators from around the world, all of whom are passionate about teaching. We have great discussions and share resources.

However, I know that for many, Twitter is a bewildering experience. It’s easy enough to join, but what then? How do you move from sending random thoughts into the ether, or following a small network of friends, to making connections with inspiring educators from around the world?

I thought I might share what I’ve learned so far on my Twitter journey in the hope that it might help others get started.

Tip 1: Let people know who you are

If you are planning on using Twitter to build a PLN it helps to have a public profile. That way its easier for people to find and follow you. Using a real name will add credibility to your account, but many people use nicknames, and that’s fine too. If you worry about mixing your personal and professional lives, you can always create an account just for your professional network and a separate one for private use.

You will also need to set up a bio. If you want to make connections with other educators, they need to know what you are about. If a random stranger starts following me without a bio,  I am unlikely to follow them back, but if their bio describes them as working or interested in education, I usually add them to my list right away.

Its a good  precaution to add a disclaimer such as ‘opinions are my own’ in your bio, making it clear that anything you say on Twitter is your own opinion and does not represent the views of your employer.

Here is a screenshot of mine:

Tip 2: Find some good educators to follow

I find these educators and organisations particularly helpful: @tes  @daveandcori  @gcouros    @principalj    @patrickmlarkin  @edutopia

To find more people, have a look at who the people you are following follow.

Another way to find people to follow is to use the search function. For example, today I did a search for “Flip Classroom”. Have a look at the results:

Not only did I find some great links about flipping the classroom, I also found some great educators who might be worth following!

Tip 3: Start Contributing

It’s possible to get a lot out of Twitter  just by lurking and seeing what others have shared, but since I’ve started joining in the conversation I’ve found my experience  more rewarding.

One way to begin contributing is to simply retweet links that other people have shared which you find useful. People appreciate this because it sends their message out to a wider audience. As you begin to share links that are useful, other people will begin to find you helpful as well, and your network will grow.

If you find a useful or thought provoking link, share that as well. For me, sharing is at the heart of what my PLN is all about.

Another way to contribute is to comment on what people have shared with you. If you found a link helpful, reply to that person and tell them you appreciated it. If you have a question or a thought about it, share that. You can start some great conversations that way.

Tip 4: Use Hashtags

Hashtags are a very useful way of sending out and searching for information on twitter. If you are sharing a resource about educational technology for example, add the hashtag #edtech. This way other people who are interested in educational technology will find it, even if they aren’t following you.

A great list of educational hashtags can be found here.

Hashtags are also useful for retweets. For example, you could change #edtech to #edchat. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it will allow the tweet to reach a different group of teachers than the original tweet. Secondly, you will avoid creating spam in the original  feed.

Tip 5: Use Lists

It took me a while to figure out lists, but as my network grew, it became essential. I reached a point when my twitter feed became overwhelming and I couldn’t keep up with the amount of information. To solve this I created lists that group the people I follow into areas of expertise or interest. I have a list for my friends, a list for teachers,  a list for educational policy and several more. If I want to catch up with my friends, I click their list and it will block out all the other traffic.

The native twitter clients for iPhone and iPad aren’t  great for using lists. I  use Tweetlist for iPhone and Hootsuite for iPad.

For more ideas for getting started, have a look at this article by Danny Nicholson (@dannynic):  Ten Twitter Tips for Teachers

I also like this one by @syded06, which very much describes my own journey: Teachers – The Ten Stages of Twitter

Do you have any Twitter tips? Leave them in the comments section.

What I learned on Twitter this week – How Twitter inspired me to start students blogging

People often say that if you learn one thing at a course or conference which you can take back to your classroom, then it was worthwhile.

Since I started to build my Professional Learning Network on Twitter (PLN) I can honestly say that I have learned things almost every day that I can use back in my classroom. Through my PLN I am exposed to ideas daily that challenge the way I think about my teaching practice, that cause me to reflect, learn, change and grow.

For me, Twitter is like being at a conference every day.

Take this great article, shared on Twitter by @gcouros, that made me think this week.

The author, high school English teacher  Shelley Wright, makes an excellent case for teaching blogging as a persuasive text type. In fact, she suggests it is the new persuasive essay. She goes on to give a great explanation of blog structure which is very helpful for anyone planning to teach blogging to their students.

Her article really made me think. Should we be including blogging as one of our text types throughout the primary school? Most of us wrote our last persuasive essay at the end of high school or university, and those were generally written for exams.

The amazing power of blogging is that anyone can create a blog, and put their message out into a public forum. A well thought out, well written blog has enormous influence. It’s an exciting and empowering tool. And what is the purpose of education if not to empower and equip our students to function as effectively as they can in society?

I’ve used blogging with my class before, but I’ve created all the content, and their role has merely been to respond by commenting on it. However, I’m  now inspired now to get my students started on creating their own blog posts. I’m a little apprehensive about how to do that with a Year Two class, but I’m going to search the web to see how other K-2 teachers are making it work.

Do you use blogging with K-2 students? I would love to hear what you do.

Why I Went on Strike

Last week I, along with thousands of other NSW public school teachers, went on strike for 24 hours. Many sections of the media portrayed it as a dispute between teachers and the government, and questioned how long parents would continue to support teachers if the dispute becomes prolonged.

The thing is, this is not a dispute between teachers and the government. We are not asking for more pay, or for improved working conditions (though both would be nice). We took this action because we are trying to save our public education system. This is a dispute between anyone who values a well funded, quality public education system and the NSW government who seem to think that there are more important things to spend our taxes on.

A few months ago, the NSW State Government announced a radical restructure of our public education system called “Local Schools, Local Decisions”. The government claims that these so-called reforms will improve the quality of the education that is delivered in public schools across the state. As part of that reform, 200 positions were axed from our state office. Adrian Piccoli, the NSW education minister said in relation to the job cuts,

‘Taxpayers expect efficiency. Where we can reduce the bureaucracy and eliminate duplication we will, in order to maximize the resources going to schools.

Here is just one example of how Piccoli’s job cuts are eliminating duplication:

NSW is a large state, and we are divided into educational regions. Each region had a literacy consultant for primary and another for high school. Their role was significant. The consultants would run professional development courses across each region. They would keep us up to date with the latest best-practice models, would visit us in schools, working with individuals and teams to improve our delivery of curriculum. Whenever a new syllabus came out, the consultants would work with us, assisting us in understanding the documents adapting them to suit our individual school contexts. They were experts, and worked closely with many of us as mentors. I can honestly say, I would not be nearly as effective in teaching or leading literacy at my own school if it was not for the ongoing support of these experts.

In a remarkable act of efficiency, and to eliminate duplication, we now have just one primary literacy consultant for all of NSW.

That’s one consultant for 1, 605 schools!

I would very much like to know how reducing our support in this way is intended to improve educational outcomes.

Including the literacy consultants, 200 similarly important jobs were cut from our state office at the beginning of June. In yesterday’s  Sydney Morning Herald, it was revealed that a further 2, 400 jobs will go over the next four years.

The infrastructure that supports the delivery of quality educational programs is being dismantled, and our minister has not provided any information about how education will be supported in the future. It seems that this so-called reform is driven by cost cutting, rather than any true vision for education. Is that what we really want for our children in NSW? In the words of Eva Cox,

We live in a society not an economy

For more information or to send a message to the minister go to the Local Cuts website.

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