Sara Primerano’s Blog

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blog reflection April 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 10:23 am

I can’t believe I’ve finally arrived at my final blog post.  I admit I hadn’t had any experience with blogging – I’d read a few maybe, and heard that they could be used in the classroom etc., but I’d never really tried it out.  I was hesitant to fully join the digital age for fear that my students could too easily track me down.  I finally just relented and joined facebook (and am consequently obsessed) once I learned there was a way to keep privacy safeguards in check.  Privacy is certainly one of the issues to be considered when blogging, both for personal use and certainly in the classroom – protective measures need to be considered.  I actually have a meeting set up for next week with a librarian in my district to teach me how to set up a classroom blog for each of my classes.  I may not have time to work it in this year, but I certainly will next year – I’m looking forward to the challenge.

When I originally began this blog, I basically used it as a recording space for my notes on the readings for the course.  I wrote my blog postings as a I read each piece, using the blog essentially as a dialogue with myself – thoughts, comments, questions on each reading.  I didn’t even really consider my audience (sorry!) until I started receiving comments from outside readers.  Though I do think privacy is often a concern, I wasn’t too worried about people (including students) reading my blog about the composing process.  Though I figured it very unlikely that I would gather much of a following, I don’t have any qualms about sharing the thoughts with anyone interested in reading them.

As class progressed, the assignment morphed from just starting a blog to maintaining an interactive space – not just discussing each reading but adding photos, video – adding some “life” to our blogs.  I did attempt this, but I struggled almost immediately with voice.  I changed up what I was writing, posted a different sort of discussion, but I was uncomfortable with this.  I had already created a persona, a voice, with this blog, and changing that felt very false.  So I did continue to add video clips etc., but I needed to remain true to the voice I began with.  In compromise, I did start two other blogs – one for just random thoughts on life (http://ablogofbinaries.blogspot.com/) and another to focus on my interest in Young Adult Literature (http://teachyalit.blogspot.com/).  While I think I might let the first blog lapse, I really enjoy the YA Lit blog and have developed some “relationships” with other YA Lit bloggers.  I’ve already used it to gain information and tips for selecting titles for school and to elicit feedback on titles.

So, I’ll admit it – I’m a blogger.  I blog.  I read other blogs.  It’s interesting and has turned out to be a more fulfilling experience than I had originally imagined.  I think I may continue the trend as I begin my doctoral studies.  It seems as though using a blog to work through ideas I’m tackling in my coursework in a somewhat public forum – maybe to receive comments from others, maybe not – but either way keeping a dialogue with myself will be a useful and hopefully productive tool.

 

Spoken word poetry April 5, 2009

Filed under: Weekly Readings — saraprimerano @ 1:17 pm

Writing in Rhythm: Spoken Word Poetry in Urban Classrooms, Maisha T. Fisher

Fisher explains an interesting term and seemingly integral part of spoken word poetry – literocracy, defined as “literacy is an act of reciprocity; you pass on what you know, and all participants have an opportunity to cultivate their minds with the skills they bring” (p.5)

An authentic connection to students seems to be an integral part of the trust required for students to take that step into literacy and sharing their thoughts.  The students interrogate Fisher when she first joins their group, making sure that she understands their interests, their lives, and with good reason – it is difficult to trust someone else with your thoughts, your writing, your effort – it’s reasonable to want to know that their intentions are good, real, worthy.  This disconnect between teachers and their students might be at the heart of some of our disengaged students.

“The Power Writers redefined literacy to include mastering one’s life story and providing rich details about everyday life,” (p.68).  This sounds like a great way to involve students in their own literacy, instead of simply dragging them through academic literacy – making them read and write about literature chosen by their teachers, often having little to nothing to do with the real lives of the students.  Why is it so important to us to have them master other people’s life stories when we don’t focus much on their stories?  Why don’t we value their stories?

I love the product of a spoken word poetry classroom as both Fisher and Grimes create in their books.  I’m curious how I can create such an atmosphere and a product in my classroom – majority white suburbia with very limited racial diversity in my classes.  It’s not that I think white kids can’t create this type of poetry, or even that they won’t exactly, but how to move them from writing their standard five paragraph Regents essays to writing expressive, musical, radical spoken word poetry – it’s a daunting thought.

 

Teen Book Festival. Awesome! April 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 7:20 pm

I went to the Teen Book Festival today in Rochester.  It was awesome!  I was able to attend author presentations by Linda Sue Park (When My Name Was Keoko), Matt de la Pena (Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican Whiteboy), and Sharon Flake (The Skin I’m In, Money Hungry).  They were all great!  It was nice to get to see the authors up close and personal, and I’ll definitely be going back to school to brag to my students.  I really wanted to see Ellen Hopkins and David Levithan, but I knew their sessions would be overloaded, and since it was a book festival for teens it was only fair to let the teens have the seats.  I was so glad to see how many avid readers were there!  I was able to get David Levithan to sign my copy of The Realm of Possibility.  I seriously felt like a devoted groupie to a rock band – I absolutely adore that book, so it was really cool to meet the author and have him sign the book for me.

I was also able to have Sara Zarr sign my copy of The Story of a Girl. They’ll join my two other autographed books (from Laurie Halse Anderson) on top of my whiteboards at school, where I can proudly display them but students can reach them… I’m now determined to get the same kind of festival started in Syracuse.  If Rochester can do it, so can we!

 

Technology Integration March 29, 2009

Filed under: Weekly Readings — saraprimerano @ 11:32 am

“Learning from Teachers’ Conceptions of Technology Integration: What Do Blogs, Instant Messages, and 3D Chat Rooms Have to Do with It?” Erica Boling

– I’m a fan of professional development workshops, at least the really purposeful and constructive ones, which is not something all teachers will say.  I was confused as to why so many of my more veteran colleagues were so intently negative about attending workshops.  I quickly learned that, perhaps rightfully so, teachers are wary of fads.  They get frustrated to put forth a lot of time and effort learning a new technique and initiative that the district pushes for a few months, maybe even a year or two, and then drops and never revisits.  Often the administration changes and brings in new initiatives, sometimes budgeting fails, or more often, interest just vanishes.  Then, fifteen or twenty years later, the same general ideas are repackaged under a new name, and the cycle begins again.  So I don’t necessarily blame my colleagues for their resistance and this is something that researchers, administrators and curriculum development specialists need to be aware of.  Training in new techniques or philosophies needs to be couched in specific pedagogical terms with clear guidelines and plans for continued support and training, some evidence that the information is “fad-proof” or teachers aren’t likely to commit.

It’s interesting though that Boling found that her study participants, a group of current and pre-service teachers, had already relegated technology to the status of a bonus or perk, an additional way students can express ideas after they’ve already mastered the skills of literacy.  So more than half of the study participants hadn’t even started teaching yet, and already they were adverse to technology, so the fad excuse doesn’t work there.

– I’m glad that Boling acknowledged the “added responsibility” that incorporating technology into the classroom can result in for teachers.  When we began our laptop program at my high school, or even now with the laptop carts instead of individual student laptops, a plethora of time-consuming almost administrative tasks came with them.  We had to instruct the students on proper use, monitor that they were not doing inappropriate things with the laptops, buy our own extension cords so students could remain charged (the school said it was the students’ responsibility to charge their laptops – not useful to teachers when students weren’t prepared). We had to go to training on how to remotely monitor their computer use, we lost class time when the laptops weren’t working, students lost time going to the computer technicians for help.  It became increasingly annoying and time-consuming, and worst of all, ultimately, student performance didn’t show any measurable gains, so it all felt like a waste.  This is probably what ultimately led to its downfall. But even now, we drag carts back and forth with minimal assistance.  What we really needed, and still need, is more training that shows how technology can be used in meaningful ways, not just for word-processing.

– I find it somewhat disheartening (as I imagine Boling did) that teachers were so resistant to using technologies even as they were enrolled in a Literacy and Technology course.  While I certainly don’t advocate using technology just for the sake of using it, I do believe that we as teachers can’t be resistant to change and to learning new things if we expect those exact things of our students. I think it’s important to reach students where they’re comfortable, and not all students are comfortable with pen and paper or with books, but some students might be more comfortable expressing themselves through different forms of technology.

– The last assignment in my ETS142 course requires my students to make a visual argument (using PhotoStory or i-movie) rather than write a traditional paper.

It is entirely possible to make a claim or an argument visually.  Selecting what images best express your viewpoint, finding music to enhance that argument, all of these things require a higher level of thinking than simply following an outline to write a standard essay.  While I wouldn’t expect exactly the same output of my tenth graders, I could easily modify the assignment to suit their developmental stage.

– Boling’s final discussion about the public nature of curriculum decisions and acceptance is a little more accurate than I’d like.  As I’m finding, repeatedly, at my own school, all it seems to take is a few outspoken people who are set on a particular format for instruction or who are resistant to change to make their voices heard, and others become resistant as well, either because they agree or don’t feel like subjecting themselves to conflict. It’s so important to keep looking for ways to motivate students and research best practices, and this might be difficult.  Finding ways to navigate the social structure of a school might seriously be equally tricky.

 

Digital Storytelling March 28, 2009

Filed under: Weekly Readings — saraprimerano @ 10:35 am

“Inside the Digital Classroom,” Dave Boardman

“Space to Imagine: Digital Storytelling,” Lisa C. Miller

Newkirk & Kent, chps. 14 & 15

“Giving the students a portal to the outside world seemed to change the idea that writing doesn’t matter” (p.164).  Dave Boardman is spot on here, for how many times have I seen students get back an essay with my editing comments, look at the grade, maybe glance at the comments (but most likely not), then ask “do I have to keep this?”  Despite my efforts to convince them to keep their work, take it home, put it on the fridge, at least keep it to study from for the final – more often than not, I find their essays casually (or maybe purposefully?) tossed in the trash.  Having writing matter to my students, beyond just getting the grade? Yes, please!

– How great would a classroom blog be?  We have a journalism class that produces our school newspaper, but how great would it be to set up a writing workshop in class that centered on creating a blog or website that covered different themes or topics each month?  Students could choose the topics.  Boardman’s chapter offers the following suggestions:

“Where are you going?” – narratives of graduating seniors

“What’s in your wallet? – getting different students to spill the contents of their wallets

“PDA” – not the technology but problems with public displays of affection

A team of three or four students could be editors for each topic, then the editing role would rotate to the other students, so everyone would share the responsibility.

I was introduced to Digital Storytelling this past summer at a professional development workshop I elected to take.  I had missed the end of the school year due to maternity leave, so I was attempting to ease my way back into schoolwork.  It was a perfect reintroduction – in fact, I couldn’t believe my school was actually paying me to learn this!

Digital Storytelling transforms the narrative – it requires you to choose very carefully what you want to say, what images best represent your story and what music will compliment your theme as well.  Then putting it together requires real attention to detail to make sure the story achieves the desired effect.

My first digital story was about my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter (surprise, surprise!)  It was incredibly emotional for me to put together and I was incredibly proud of my final product – thought it was an assignment I had to complete for this class, it was so much more than that to me.  Subsequently, I created a digital story to show at my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party,  my brother’s anniversary party and my daughter’s baptism.  (It’s seriously addicting – my dad has even used them for business meetings!) Inspiring the same feeling in my students is certainly one of my goals, and digital storytelling is a great way to achieve this.


 

Emergent technology in the classroom

Filed under: Weekly Readings — saraprimerano @ 10:08 am

“Plugging in to Twenty-First Century Writers,” Sara Kajder

Newkirk & Kent chp. 13

– Kajder makes clear the difference between urgent technology – the automatic use of computers in the classroom just because they’re available versus emergent technology – use of various types of technology after a careful study of how they might compliment our current teaching goals.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  As I’ve previously blogged about, my high school instituted a very expensive laptop program maybe 10 years ago under the tutelage of a superintendent who loved technology and wanted to develop a cutting edge.  Five or six years into the program, it self-destructed, since suddenly teachers were teaching “laptop” classes with only technology-based support, not pedagogy-based support.  The students viewed the laptops as toys and many students’ grades actually went down since they spent much more time figuring out how to get around firewalls so they could play World of Warcraft during school rather than do their homework.  We’ve now rejoined the dark ages of outdated computer labs, looking for some sort of happy medium of responsible, productive use of technology.  It sounds as though Kajder’s description of emergent technology might be what we’re looking for.  Her two essential questions, are a great starting point.

1. What are the unique capacities of this tool? (i.e., what can I do with it that I can’t do with anything else?)

2. What does it allow me to do that is better (instructionally) than what I        could do without it? (p. 152)

– Using podcasts to invigorate student interest in and dedication to literature circle discussions is a great idea.  Still providing some guidelines, questions to consider like Kajder’s: “What questions were left unresolved? Which moments of the discussion were the most compelling? What parts of the discussion might help convince a peer to read it? Where did the discussion fall apart or fail? What are the key ideas emerging in your conversation of this text?” (p.155) will help keep students on track, but allowing a podcast to be the final product, rather than a rote worksheet could be a real asset in motivating students and getting them involved.  I could then play some of my favorite podcasts for the class before their next literature circle meeting so the other groups have some sense of what is going on with their peers and it will hopefully motivate each group to perform better each time.

– I really liked the three objectives listed for using literature in class:

1. to engage students in reading for an authentic purpose

2. develop the beginnings of an interpretive class community

3. explore the essential understanding that literature is a mirror of human    experience (p.156)

To make lessons and assessments authentic, to provide an audience for the students’ work and to motivate students using a different output, something as simple as building a wiki or recording a podcast, writing a blog or building a webpage is such a refreshing change from filling out a packet of comprehension questions.  This would also better prepare students for the future – these differing skills of analysis and uses of technology will be valuable assets in the future workplace.  Plus, from the personal standpoint of the teacher, how much more enjoyable might our classroom experience be to have students be actively engaged in their own learning in a productive, dynamic setting, rather than sit quietly in their desks and fill out worksheet after worksheet?

 

Teen Book Festival

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 8:43 am

I just found out about a Teen Book Festival (thanks Book Girl!) that will be in Rochester, NY next weekend.  Check out the information at http://www.teenbookfestival.org/.  A great list of authors will be presenting, including Ellen Hopkins, Sharon Flake, David Levithan, Chris Van Etten and lots more.  All I need to do is arrange a baby-sitter (my daughter is a little too young for this just yet…) and I’m there!  Anyone else interested?