Category Archives: Blogging

This I Believe: Blogging Transforms the English Classroom

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About a half-dozen years ago, as an English teacher – a lover of reading and writing, my heart was breaking as my students seemed to be floating further away from my love of books and the craft of writing; I was getting older and feeling irrelevant in the world of my students – an annoying necessity of a class. Yet, I also am a theatre teacher and noticed that with a stage and lights, my students would work hard to perform when starring on the stage and being acknowledged with accolades of applause – an inspiring option for a class.

Blogging revealed itself to me as the quiet stage and lights for the high school English classroom. Students had been building online, virtual lives at home with daily hours dedicated to their online identities – a world where they were reading and writing. I needed to learn how I could create that world for the students in the English classroom. By immersing my PGP (Professional Growth Plan) in 21st Century digital literacies, and by practicing what I preach by blogging myself beside my students, my classrooms have transformed into rehearsal spaces of reading and writing, preparing for our performances on our blogging stage. Blogging inspires kids to offer their best efforts as writers, but it also inspires students to be peer tutors offering great leadership and character, as we expect from our FFCA students:

Vision of an FFCA Graduate With intentional thought given to the design of the learning experience at FFCA, graduates will leave us with core knowledge competencies, skills and abilities that are both essential and timeless. As creators of knowledge, students will have achieved the ability to think critically, care deeply and act ethically so that they can contribute to creating a world that cares and nurtures the diversity of cultures, celebrates personal contributions, and inspires others to reach their true potential. Proficient in their technological communications, FFCA leaders will be able to work independently or interdependently in a globalized society where partnerships and relationships strengthen the capacity to solve problems in collaborative ways. Possessing the attributes of life-long learners, graduates will be reflective and self-aware as they continue to evolve as successful individuals guided by moral purpose.

Our kids constantly humble, impress, and surprise me with their incredible writing and thinking. I love reading the students’ blog writing, as you can experience by reading some of our Grade 12 This I Believe blogs that are linked in this Storify:

https://storify.com/PamelaHunnisett/this-i-believe-blogs

However, what I love even more is the comments the students write to each other after the blogs, offering applause and critical feedback for improvement. Students are connecting with each other, they are building caring communities, they are reading as fans and critics of each other. The comments they craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive; furthermore, the most surprising benefit is that “blogging with commenting” has developed a trusting, compassionate, and respectful community – virtually – that transfers into the classroom itself.

Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other. Blogging is our stage that features the embodiment of our vision for our FFCA Graduates.  Our classroom – both during our 90 minutes and in our virtual world – is an inspiring, highly relevant, necessity of a class.

Here are examples of student feedback:

Dear Jaiveen,

Wow! This piece stood out to me because I too wrote about TIME and once I read the title I knew I had to read it to see a different perspective on this topic. I really enjoyed the first line due to the nature of its contest because as a child time does not mean anything but as you grow old it means the world. By the first line it immediately made me read the whole blog.

Something I saw that you could improve is giving the audience more of what time has impacted your life. I felt like you gave a glimpse of the big picture by just giving a bit more detail and more personal connections to time would have made it way better and made it a bit more extended piece.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this post due to the topic and your personal opinion because got to see another perspective to the same topic. Hope to read more posts from you.

Sincerely,
Karamvir

Dear Rachel,

I think the overall message you’re sending out in this blog is immensely important for everyone in today’s society. You’ve done an amazing job at explaining the difference between loving oneself and not becoming arrogant. I think the fact that you encouraged more independence of people is great as too many people these days are depending on others to get somewhere in life.

The only thing I would liked to have seen more of in your blog are personal connections to your own life as I feel that would have made me even more engaged.

All in all, I think this was an excellent piece that everyone should get a chance to read as this could definitely help a lot of people in becoming more independent and less self conscious. Just add a bit of personal experiences in your writing and I think you’re set.

Sincerely, Shaan

Dear Daman,

I really connected with what you wrote in the fifth and sixth paragraphs about how you analyze the behaviours of those around you and then choose how to act accordingly. It makes me wonder about how I affect those around me who, whether it be through timidness or their lack of a loud enough voice, manage to escape my attention. It makes me wonder if I’m giving the right impression. Am I the one you, or others, characterize as a jerk? Am I one to be avoided and my behaviour a model of how not to act? Or am I seen as a genuinely good person?

Either way, this piece has made me realize that I need to put forth a conscious effort to analyze my actions and behaviour. I never know who might be watching an silently taking mental notes of my character; I want to make sure that I leave a good impression on everyone.

For improvements, I think those fifth and sixth paragraphs, even though they were so well written, do go on a bit of a tangent. From my perspective, I didn’t really see how someone’s behaviour affects people’s choices so much. Someone’s behaviour does give the choice of wanting to model, or avoid a behaviour like that. However, when you said, “It’s difficult to not be affected by all the people trying to change who you are, what you believe in, and the choices you make.” I felt as though you had a deeper connection to the point you were trying to convey through the fifth and sixth paragraphs. Making this connection to the reader would really tie your post together and make your post appear much more meaningful and organized.

Good luck with your writings in the future. I look forward to reading more posts like this.

Sincerely,
Chad

Dear Noor,

Noor that was amazing! Reading this I felt a connection to you as I myself also find more happiness in simple things. I also feel that the little things, the things we wouldn’t really think about meaning the simple things are much more rewarding. I really liked the way your blog just flowed. The transitions and the way you organized your paragraphs really helped me stay engaged and helped my understanding. At no time did I feel confused. Your explanations and evidence was of perfect amount.

To improve, I also agree with Yashii and Sukhjot. Although you maintained perfect flow, sometimes your sentences were really long. An example would be your last paragraph. I understand that the ideas presented in that sentence are vey connected however splitting it up into two sentences would help to get your message across more efficiently.

I would like to end off by saying that I can see this believe in you. You seem to be very humble and appreciative and after reading your blog I respect you even more.

Sincerely, Aman

Dear Jas,
I believe you have a lot of good ideas and that you have the ability to make this great piece about the potential of humanity. I liked how you discussed both the good and the evil of human potential. Keep on giving it your all and don’t get discouraged. I enjoyed your writing and images.
My criticism is about the sentence structures you used for your piece. Most of your sentences were simple sentences which can feel choppy and disjointed to the reader. I would advise keeping the hand-out that Ms. Hunnisett gave on sentence structures beside you as you write to help make your piece flow. Challenge yourself to write with most of the sentence types in every piece of writing; once you are comfortable use them to create an effect on the reader. I have to do it as well. As an added comment unify your ideas; do not contradict yourself. In the first line you say “I believe in the potential of humanity, and that the key to unlocking that potential is the unknown.” And at the end you say “I believe that if we are to unlock own true potential we must strive to put aside our differences.” These ideas do not agree with each other. I believe that you can make this a great piece.
What would you recommend each person do to help the human potential?
Sincerely,
Matt

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Growing and Learning

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Blog-A-Month Challenge – APRIL’s TOPIC: Professional Development

As April comes to a close, I’m left pondering the topic of Professional Development.  The prompts for the month suggest:

  • For PD to be effective it must have the following 3 characteristics…
  • The conference/book/activity that delivered the most meaningful PD experience I have had was…
  • My most powerful source of ongoing PD is…
  • Blogging is essential to my own PD because…

To begin, I feel that to be an educator one must really be an impassioned learner for education is not only about expertise, it is about being confident enough to make yourself vulnerable to a constancy of change and uncertainty; we are explorers, sometimes with a map, sometimes without, but we are always learning something new on each voyage, and constantly depending on our wits to respond and react to the unforeseen.  

Professional Development should be the keystone to provide us with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the vacillating waters – of pedagogies, teaching assignments, leadership, technology, time, and especially the students –  with greater success for each expedition we take.  A student once said, “each day I get up trying to be better than I was the day before” (Arsh), and this was one of those moments when you could hear a choir of angels sing, this was the “aha” for all of us blessed to be in the class that day, and so this is what I too strive for both personally and professionally!  

Professional development is something I depend on to fuel my growth, and I admit I’m a bit of a PD junkie; I don’t just depend on my administrative leaders to arrange what professional development I need to do to be better and grow; although, yes, as part of a community that is necessary too.  But that is like saying “okay – I will eat healthy and exercise on these specifically designated days a year, and that will be enough fuel to motivate my improvement.”  We all know that is ridiculous, so why would a professional teacher think their entire professional growth should be motivated by only the school’s designated PD.  We grow and learn by our own intrinsic desire to improve, and our own established inquiry and PLNs (Professional Learning Networks).  So in the quest of Professional Development, we need to work with our school community’s PD goals and plans, our department’s PD goals and plans, but we must also seek out the PD we know we need “to be better than [we were] the day before.”  

I think that our organization at FFCA has worked hard to offer Professional Development time  to help foster and tweek teachers’ growth and excellence to meet our Guiding Principles .  We’ve seen PD in  classroom management (CHAMPS, ACHIEVE, STOIC), in our FFCA Direct Instruction Framework, Character Education, Inclusive Education, English Language Learning, Educational Technology, etc…. I believe that teachers – me included – are one of the hardest bunch of learners in any PD session, but it can offer an opportunity to the workshop organizers to really model excellent “designed instruction” in the planning and teaching to engage these tired teachers; the greatest model of a talented teacher engaging an audience of tired teachers was when our school arranged PD with Marcia Tate’s on brain-based learning.  Phenomenal!

One of the other great opportunities I have had for learning and development was through our AISI work (Alberta Initiative of School Improvement – a now dissolved Alberta Ed funding opportunity) with Critical Thinking.  The training and learning that I received in developing a critical thinking classroom through Garfield Gini-Newman, the Critical Thinking Consortium, and The Critical Thinking Community was transformative in educating me in how to train myself and students to be more critically mindful!  The work we did with Gini-Newman lay a foundation to help meld the ideals of Direct Instruction with Critical Thinking into a Synergistic Reality (as can be seen here in the article written by John Picard and Garfield Gini-Newman).

I’ve also been so inspired by  the PD I experienced from being on our Learning Commons committee – this is an endeavour that marries so many of our school’s initiatives while providing the foresight and navigation for 21st century learning and the future redesign of eduction in Alberta. Yet,  at the present time – like Columbus’ misunderstood quixotic ambitions – schools lack the funding from Alberta Education to support this transformative work.  Someday I dream of evolving into a Learning Commons Leader  for our school where I can help create a place to work with all students, all educators, and all curriculums in both physical and virtual settings of  learning.

Finally, in our community of Calgary, I also find valuable PD from our local Calgary Regional Consortium whose mandate is to create PD opportunities for our local teachers.   Through all of the various opportunities I’ve experienced at my campus, my school, and my community, I believe leaders need to mindfully craft and design PD  to maximize teacher engagement, learning, and take-aways, and I am ever so grateful that our organization prioritizes PD towards helping us improve and grow.

This is also where I have come to appreciate our school’s expectation that we create and reflect on Professional Growth Plans (PGP) yearly.  When working with teachers and administrators I think it is relevant to know the best PD that the teacher or administrator has ever experienced and why?  How did the PD invigorate or change his or her paradigms, for we need administrators and teachers who are learners and know how to direct their own PD and accountability.   It is through PD that our paradigms of education are rooted and honed towards excellence!  We need great PD, we need great PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and we need visionaries who know how to help us excel and even change, especially in a world where 21st Century Learning and Innovation in education is essential.

I also believe that the reading habits of all teachers matter – whether the educator teaches English, science, math, physical education, or is an administrator.  In his book What is Stephen Harper is Reading? Yann Martel has said that the reading habits of politicians matter because “in what they choose to read will be found in what they think and what they will do”:

As long as someone has no power over me, I don’t care what they read, or if they read at all. It’s not for me to judge how people should live their lives … Once someone has power over me, … it’s in my interest to know the nature and quality of his imagination, because his dreams may become my nightmares. (Martel, p 10)

So, in regards to Professional Development, teachers and administrators should be accountable to answer:

1)   What are they reading right now?

2)   What professional development book would they recommend to the organization or their curricular team, perhaps as a staff book read?

3)   What is their favourite book of all time – from any genre?

The answers to these questions, I believe, are the true secrets to the character and mind of the educator.  There is much to be understood and inferred by these answers, and much credibility to our work with students.  It can also build a synergy, community, and culture  amongst staff who have common reading interests and pursuits.  Would I want a doctor who did not read and stay current in his or her practice?  The same needs to be said and expected of educators.

Back in 1997-98 when I was in the Teacher Education program at Nipissing University I had a great professor named Terry McEachern who taught us about the need for Professional Development through professional networking and professional journals.  This was in the day when the internet wasn’t readily available at our fingertips, so I came to be enlightened through the reading of journals.  Today these are a couple of journals that I continue to read for my monthly PD “aha”: 

To find any journals that might interest you, see a full listing at Genamics Journal Seek.  But there is also great PD through readings of:

  • The Atlantic
  • The English Companion Ning – this online network of professional English teachers was established by Jim Burke.  On it I found countless lessons, constant inspiration, and answers to my many ponderings from wonderful educators who share their resources and experience!  On this site I found one of the greatest of all people in my Professional Learning Network – the humble and talented Carol Mayne – an educator in Canmore, Alberta who has guided me through the many landmines of teaching Diploma courses in Alberta.
  • The New Yorker
  • Newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The Calgary Herald.
  • Blogs from great educators – like in this Blog-A-Month Challenge
  • Twitter – all the links and “aha’s” of the twitter stream offer heaps of reading and PD – once you learn to navigate the busyness of these waters.

In recent years I have turned to professional literature to read and re-read and re-read – here are a few, among many, must read favourites (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below), and here is a LINK to my GOODREADS page of PD reading I’ve been doing this year:

 

Of course, the true soul mate of all my Professional Development has come through the Annual Conference for the National Council of Teachers of English.  I first attended in Chicago 2011 (which inspired this blog), was able to take my entire team of ELA teachers to Las Vegas 2012, and finally was offered the opportunity to be a speaker in Boston 2013 – and fingers crossed will be accepted to speak in Washington 2014 about Blogging and Storytelling.    The learning and paradigm shifting that happens through these conferences has been nothing short of mind-blowing!  It truly meets my PD criteria of being highly engaging, transformative learning, and have immediately applicable take-aways that improve my teaching the next day when I re-enter my classroom.  I hope that I continue to afford this opportunity that re-invigorates my spirit each fall!  It has made me a much happier and better teacher today, and I’m grateful!


Clearly, Professional Development is something I feel a passionate zeal for pursuing in my life.  It keeps me motivated, inspired and hopeful to be the best educator that I can be for my students; it helps keep me skilled to captain my ship, for my students in these constantly changing waters.  This “leave of absence” from my school for a semester, so that I could sail away abroad to sunny Argentina has been a total respite, but has also provided me the elusive TIME that I have yearned for in life. Time to find my ZEN life (as I wrote about in my other blog), but also time to invest in my professional development through reflections, reading, and writing – this blogging is a power
ful reflective tool that really helps me make sense of my values, learning, and perspectives.    Many chastise me for working on “vaca”, but I argue that I’m not on “vaca”, I’m on “living”, and because I love my work too, and must return to it in the fall, I am loving the opportunity to further my learning and my growth without any pressure, so that I will return in peace with calmer waters because I am reinvigorated!

 

Blog-telling: Storytelling in the 21st Century

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Story   builds community, and blogging is a 21st century story circle. Storytelling is the essence of building culture, and so too is “Blog-telling” whereby the walls of the class disappear and the community circle strengthens identity and relationship within the classroom walls. Blogging has built our community and crafted our culture.

Story is the essence of my pioneer efforts with blogging in my Grades 10-12 English classes. Students carve out their stories and knowledge through blog writing, and in the process of sharing their works, publicly, they are connecting with each other. Blogging creates an e-portfolio of the evolving story of our writing identities – theirs and mine.

Writers in this 21st Century learning space are not only sharing stories, but in doing so, they are the stewards of their digital footprint – a footprint that not only contributes to their personal identity, but also to our class culture. Essential questions are asked: What will you contribute to our world? Will your voice be a voice of change, creativity, logic, inspiration, reflection, enlightment: “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse… What will your verse be?” (Dead Poet’s Society)

The students’ verses become transformational when the students are not just the writers, but also the readers, as fans and critics, of each other. The exchange of story and feedback builds the community. The comments that the students craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive. The most surprising benefit is that the blog has developed a trusting, compassionate, respectful community, virtually, that has transferred into the classroom itself. Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other.

As a teacher, I continue to “write beside my students” (Penny Kittle). My blogging journey continues this coming year: professionally and personally. Professionally, colleagues are jumping into blogging, with many cross-curricular classes; this is exciting to mentor the evolution of voices from various disciplines. My professional reflections will continue on my blog: https://thehunni.wordpress.com/. Personally, my family of four will be a family of blog travel writers living in Argentina for a semester; blogging will be the vehicle of our story to be shared with our friends, family, and classes. So, my experience in teaching blogging to students will expand to my nine and ten-year-old where they’ll share their journey, both experiences and learning, with their classes back in Calgary.   Our personal story, as a family, will be evolving at http://writeawayhunni.edublogs.org/ .

The journey of blogging has brought so much reward and satisfaction.  Please enjoy the journey of my students at our class blogs:  Creative Writing (see their individual blogs on the sidebar to the right), Grade 12 (ELA 30-1), Grade 11 (ELA 20-1) ,  and Grade 10 (ELA 10-1).

As my semester comes to a close, I will miss my students so very much as I journey abroad, but with blogging I get to keep the treasury of their voices always nearby.  I am so grateful for their efforts, for this treasure chest is filled with gold.  I’m also grateful that they too will keep me nearby via my blogging.  Like I said earlier, blogging makes the walls disappear!

“Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told. Story heard. Story written. Story read creates the web of life in words.” Christina Baldwin – Storycatcher

Spreading the Sunshine

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The Sunshine Award or the Sunshine Elevens or one of several other versions of inspiration and encouragement for bloggers has been rapidly circulating the blogosphere. Thank you, Scott Hazeu, for nominating me. Scott has been an inspiring educator since we met a year ago, in virtual-land, via the ETMOOC (Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course) through the genius work of Alec Couros.   His commitment to education, reflection, and writing is a motivator in my teaching, and he always seems to pop-up when I need a boost.  Thanks for this too Scott, it’s a great blog post that I’ll use with my Creative Writing class for their blogs!

Dosia McKay - Abstract Art

Dosia McKay – Abstract Art

Here’s how this chain letter of inspiration works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger & let them know when you complete your blog post.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  6. Hunni’s additional criteria: embed links and visuals that personalize the post

Eleven Random Facts About Me:

1. My first university degree is a theatre degree.

2. I bite my nails and it drive my husband crazy.

3. I’m an introvert (few believe this, but it is true).

4. I broke a girl’s arm in three places, in Grade 8, and the kids called me “Rocky” (I kicked her in defence, I swear)

5. I am an art and music aficionado, but suck at both, being neither an artist nor a musician!

6. I procrastinate with Facebook games (sigh) – Candy Crush, Bubble Witch, Words of Wonder, and Solitaire.

7. I have loved home architecture and home design since I was nine years old.  Pinterest and HGTV continue the passion!

8. I have wanderlust to travel and experience the world!

9. My classroom is a like home and to my students I’m “mom” (I love that they feel this way about me and my class space)

10. I love being surrounded by flowers and in nature.

11. We hope to retire half-time in Argentina.  (as we’ll be doing for a semester starting next month – tee hee)

Answering Scott’s Questions:

1. What do you do for escape or relaxation?

I LOVE escape and relaxation, but usually as a lazy homebody!  People never believe I’m capable of it because I’m a workaholic.  I guess I’m like a faucet – I can be all hot (working like a maniac), but easily switch to pure cold (totally relaxed and chill). So, what does my cool look like?  

  • IMG_2280hanging with my beautiful children and husband
  • reading
  • writing
  • music
  • film
  • theatre
  • cooking and baking, especially with my hubby or kids
  • dinner parties, tea parties, or BBQ with friends 
  • TV shows (HGTV, Coronation Street, Parenthood, Orange is the New Black – otherwise, it is tough to get my attention to watch TV well)
  • gardening
  • biking
  • day-tripping
  • beach lounging
  • hiking
  • camping
  • travel
  • I hate being cold, but have enjoyed skiing and snowshoeing

2. What is one concern you have about the future of technology?

letter-writingAlthough I’m a strong voice for the use of technology in my teaching, I don’t believe that school should just have students hiding behind computer screens.  I believe that having my home and class lined with actual books is essential, that opening a book and smelling the pages will always be a value to me and I want to model this for my students.  I believe that students should learn the art of cursive writing – we may type more than anything else, but a paper and pen never fails you and I pray the beauty of cursive should never die; along with the beauty of journal writing and a snail mail letter!  Regarding thinking with depth and breadth, I fear students often don’t expand their thinking beyond 140 characters.  Finally, I also worry that students could lose the ability to carry face-to-face conversation. We, as teachers,  are the vanguards to save books, handwriting, critically thoughtful writing, and speaking with social etiquettes.

3. Share one Ah-Ha! moment you’ve had (in or out of a classroom).

My greatest “ah-ha” came from attending NCTE 2012 (National Council Teachers of English) in Chicago when I sat in an audience watching – in utter awe and humility – Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Burke.  That moment changed the trajectory of my teaching practice, my writing identity, and my blog pioneering with students!  It lead to me finding the courage to present at NCTE 2013 in Boston!  I am a fan-girl of those three gurus and an NCTE junkie every since.  The more I experience, the better I get in the classroom!  I love the growth, inspiration, and learning and I especially love meeting great teachers from across the US and Canada!

4. Which books (one fiction, one non-fiction) would you recommend to new teachers?  1034

An Interesting Question!  And I cannot control myself to ONE of each when asked such a question, silly man!

Let’s start with non-fiction that would help an English teacher:  Book Love and Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle, Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, English Teacher’s Companion and What’s the Big Idea by Jim Burke, and Teacher Man by Frank McCourt.  For any new teacher I’d recommend: The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer and What Great Teacher’s Do Differently by Todd Whittaker.

For personal fiction – this is hard because it is based on such a personal preference (see my Goodreads).  I believe that people can connect when they have like-minded interests in books.  So, my favourites of all time are Wuthering Heights, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Book of Negroes, The Virgin Blue, The Last Cato, The Shadow of the Wind, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Unbearable Lightness of Being, Time Traveller’s Wife, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. (okay – I’ll stop here, but I could go on and on)

Regarding the teaching of novels, I believe teachers are always seeking “to teach” lists, so I’ll share some of mine.  These are the books I enjoyed teaching at various grades: Shakespeare with every grade from 6-12 – but I am a true devotee to Hamlet with Gr. 12, The Giver (Gr. 6), Diary of Anne Frank (Gr. 8), Of Mice and Men (Gr 9), Speak (Gr.9), Cry the Beloved Country (9), Forbidden City (Gr. 9), Joy Luck Club (10), The Hunger Games (Gr. 10), To Kill a Mockingbird – this one is my old friend (Gr. 10), The Kite Runner (Gr. 11), Flowers for Algernon (Gr. 11), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Gr. 11), Cyrano de Bergerac (Gr 11), The Crucible (Gr. 11), Frankenstein (Gr. 11), Life of Pi (Gr 11), The Wizard of Earthsea (Gr. 12), Streetcar Named Desire (Gr 12), Night (Gr. 12), Handmaid’s Tale (Gr. 12), One Hundred Year’s of Solitude (Gr. 12), Things Fall Apart (Gr.12), and House of Spirits (Gr. 12).

5. What’s one of your guilty pleasures? (again one? I’ll take 4)

  • books (obviously from above) and reading anything from blogs, to news, etc…  coffee
  • coffee – oh, how I love thee, especially hip coffee houses with cappuccino
  • red wine
  • Indian food

6. If you had to change careers, what new career would you choose?

  • In Kati Marton’s memoir Paris: A Love Story I felt that I was reading my other life’s calling:  international diplomacy and journalism;
  • Owner of a hip coffee/tea shop with a borrowing library: a meeting place for music, slam poetry, improv games, small theatre, and classes in all art forms;
  • A travel writer;
  • An architect or home designer.

7. When you’re not immersed in the present, do you find yourself more often looking back or looking ahead?

  • ALL!  I’m a hopeless muser of the past, present, and future: a dreamer and a reminiscer.

8. What is your favourite season? Why?

  • Summer!  Although I love my work, I hate structure, bells, routines, marking piles and to-do lists.  So the freedom of summer let’s me revel in a peacefully creative state-of-being and I get to see my own family and friends.  Plus, I’ve come to love camping in the mountains!

9.  If I handed you $100, what would you do with it?

  • I’d go out to dinner at Notable with my wonderful husband!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA10. What metaphor/simile describes your writing process? (eg. My writing is like a tube of toothpaste. It flows quickly at first, but at the end it’s hard to squeeze out the last little bit and finish the tube.)

  • A small boat on a river – get in and it starts to float with ripples and rapids along the way; I love that each journey is different and I always end in a different place.

11. Which Twitter hashtag would you follow if you could only follow one?

  • Penny Kittle – a constant source of inspiring PD

Bloggers (some of these good people have been through this exercise, but they are worth taking a look)

Eleven Questions for Bloggers

  1. What do you do for escape or for relaxation?
  2. What film or play has captured your heart?
  3. What books would you recommend?
  4. What has been the best vacation you have ever had – specify where, when, and why?
  5. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
  6. If you could travel to any ONE place in the world, where would you go?
  7. What is your life mantra, or quote, or credo?
  8. What is your favourite season? Why?
  9. What is your favourite musician/band or artist (or all)?
  10. Who or what inspires your writing?
  11. What metaphor/simile describes your writing process? (eg. My writing is like a tube of toothpaste. It flows quickly at first, but at the end it’s hard to squeeze out the last little bit and finish the tube.)?

Happy blogging in 2014! Thank you for your inspirational words and efforts.

A Year to Create, Explore, and Expand

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My title owes complete homage to an inspirational blog post that stirred my imagination at 10:30am on New Year’s Day – a post that instantly spun my world and gave clarity of purpose to my new year – my 2014!  This post is a must read: 50 Ways to Find Inspiration: Create, Explore, Expand at Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives.  inspiration-create-explore-26868877

I guess my whole life’s mantra has been to “Create, Explore, and Expand” as there is a wind in my spirit that craves to be in the world, to experience and learn in awe from the stories of its people and its places. This blog post and list reminds me to live mindfully and engaged while fanning the embers of my inspiration, my curiosity, and my creativity! For 2014 I will do everything on this list; most I do every year at some point, but I like the challenge of doing so with intention and love doing so while adventuring abroad in Argentina.

The blog begins with this quotation: “If we look at the world with a love of life, the world will reveal its beauty to us.” ~Daisaku Ikeda.  The list in the blog categorizes sources of inspiration in nature, on the web, in possibilities, in people, and in yourself.  Here are a few favourites in each category:

  • In Nature: Take a camera outside and photograph everything that looks beautiful to you.
  • On the Web: Watch a TED video to learn about inspiring ideas.
  • In Possibilities: Try something you’ve always assumed you can’t do but secretly wanted to try.
  • In People: Spend time with children and see the world through their eyes.
  • In Yourself: Try something new and revel in the sensation of stretching beyond your comfort zone.
Costanera

Costanera in Santa Fe, Argentina

I am contemplative of all possibilities as my journeying of the horizon nears.  This February brings a respite as our lil’ family of four moves to live, for nearly six months, in Santa Fe, Argentina.  This journey allows me and my family so many opportunities to find inspirations to create, explore, and expand – to mindfully live a life of opportunity, dreams, and learning.

My husband – Cristian (who is from Santa Fe) –  is on sabbatical from teaching math at the University of Calgary, so his journey will be about researching, writing his papers, working at the University in Santa Fe alongside his professors and peers, and joyously being with his extended family and friends.  He both revels in the joy of us living near family and learning spanish, but he also worries about all the issues of safety and finances that come with such an endeavour.  Yet, he shares my enthusiasm for this change of pace and the opportunities that abound.  He is my soulmate!

My children, Luca(10) and Tulia(9), are so excited for our journey to begin.  They just get it!  DSCN5380They are willing enthusiasts of this opportunity – a spirited energy that is a constant source of inspiration.  They look forward to being with their Argentina family, living in constant warmth with a pool, the giant slide in the park (tee hee – their favourite memory – kids!), but most of all they are so excited to get to go to school at Nivel Primario – Universidad Nacional del Litoral and learn Spanish – it offers a half day of classes in English and a half day of classes in Spanish! I, too, will be an eager student to learn the romantic language of Spanish beyond my fragmented Spanglish – so this will be a co-journey where they will likely be teaching me!   They are so brave and filled with curiosity – this, too, inspires me to live without fear!  At that age I would have been paralyzed by fear to have my parents send me to a foreign school in another language, fear of being “foreign”, fear of failing.  Obviously, those fears have subsided in my adult self – so I admire their youthful positivity and energy.  The purpose of life is to live itOf course, they are not jumping into the unknown – they’ve been to Argentina many times, they LOVE our family there, and they have visited the school they get to attend. They are also excited to become bloggers – reporting their adventures and learning to their classmates in Calgary, their friends, and their family – plus they are excited to become “travel writers” as children with a – hopefully – world wide audience.  Luca’s writing will be found at Write Away Luca , and Tulia’s reporting (she likes the idea of being a reporter) will be found at Write Away Tulia.  We got them set up in the fall and I worked with them for a first post, but we’ll engage with this as we begin our journey.

imagination_by_archannFor the romantic side in me, my journey is filled with so much hope, reflection, and exploration.  Blogging will be the central axis for most of my goals and purposes.  I am so enthusiastic to do the blogging with my children, and even my husband is interested.  We will be a family of bloggers whereby I’ll be using a “hub and spoke” approach that interlinks all our blogs via Edublogs (the same platform I use for class blogs and powered by WordPress), and keeps me in control (for safety) of my children’s blogging.   For my “travel writing” experience of living as a Canadian ex-pat in the centre of Argentina, I’ll keep a separate blog from thehunni blog – it is called Write Away Hunni .  0703_writing_cogThis is the blog space where my life experiences will be ruminating, rummaging, and reflecting on all the wonders, curiosities, and challenges of living abroad in a foreign space and culture.  I LOVE travel and Argentina – I am compelled to capture and share it this time with an audience.

The teacher side in me is compelled to delve into digital citizenship and educational technology with my own children – to really learn about all the possibilities of blogging from an elementary to high school perspective (see the side bar to explore my high school class blogs in the Blogroll).  So, I guess you can say this is self-declared  Action Research project for me.  My children are happy to be my lil’ guinea pigs (or so I keep reminding them)!

blogging journey

Further to this personal writing journey, I will be looking at achieving professional writing too.  First of all, this blog – thehunni: Blogging Beside My Students – will be a continuous space where I’ll write as a learner, a teacher, a professional.  I plan to continue to read and learn from my PLN (personal learning network) and to reflect on this learning so that when I return to my classes in the fall of 2014 I’m refreshed, refocused, revised, and relevant.  Secondly, I’m apprehensively excited to look at publishing the work I’ve done pioneering class blogs to improve and empower student voices as writers. travel-quotes-12908-hd-wallpapers I’m hopeful to at least look at article writing, but ambitiously, I am hopeful to write a book on the topic.  The work my students and I have engaged in has been inspiring!  This past year when I presented at the NCTE conference in Boston I was so inspired by the collegiality and support I received from like-minded educators.  I hope to follow-up with professional writings and hopefully will be offered an opportunity to present again at NCTE 2014.  I would love to explore the possibilities of being a professional teacher writer/consultant.  Who knows?

So, my bustling life continues just in a far more adventurous and personally reflective way.  I am so grateful for this opportunity to re-engage with my personal interests and passions.  My days in Argentina will rarely be lazy-hazy, although there will be plenty of opportunities pool-side and beach-bound for that too!  length and width of lifeI will get healthy again with yoga and daily walks, I will learn Spanish because I want to build stronger conversational relationships with my amazing family there, I will explore and experience all that Santa Fe and Argentina can offer me, I will capture the beauty of that world through photos and writings, I will read – voraciously, I will cook to nourish my inner foodie-wanna-be, I will inhale the opportunities to live in a foreign country, I will play with my children and family, I will become the writer I dream of being – even if it is merely enjoyed by my family and friends,  and I will use the list of 50 Ways from Buddha Wisdom to help me find inspiration so that I can mindfully create, explore, and expand myself!  Here’s to 2014!  Happy New Year!

Etiquettes with Blogging

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Etiquette and expectations for blogging and commenting has always been part of my blogging journey with my students.  Being thoughtful as both a writer and reader are important.  I love that my students start to think of themselves as writers, but more importantly, I love the community they build through the process of “joining the conversation” with each other through feedback.  Their virtual community has transferred into the classroom itself – bringing the students together as a family. Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, respect, and validate each other.   Here is an example of a student’s comment from our student blog and the writer’s response:

Dear Gurleen,
 
This piece, in a kind of tragic way, was beautifully written and illustrates the existing ignorance that continues to plague our society. “Due to my awareness of my flaw, I am able to hold myself accountable to discovering one’s true nature through personal experience rather than what I have been told.” This sentence made me smile because you do exude that radiant confidence and are able to hold yourself up throughout the length of any bad day. The relevance of this judgment issue is one you portray very well in your writing through honesty and passion.
 
To improve, I would suggest expanding upon your personal experiences with this topic as you slightly mentioned in your first paragraph. It would add another layer of understanding especially for the readers and make it more relatable.
 
As soon as I saw you writing as much as you did in the lab last week, I knew this was going to be worth reading and it absolutely was. Your devotion to this piece clearly reflects and hopefully, this is an issue that eventually will resolve in the future.
 
Sincerely,
Namitha
 
Hey Guys,
Firstly, thank you so much for reading my blog! Coming from you two ,who art is almost a second nature for , it means a lot that you liked the comparison.
Kiran, that’s a good point and I realized after reading you comment that I do that quite often. Thanks for pointing it out and making me accountable to putting it to a stop. It definitely takes away the experience from the reader and would make my writing better to let them deduct it themselves.
Namitha, holy that was long. It’s always nice to know that someone can hear your voice in your writing so I appreciate that. Adding that personal touch would’ve made this that much stronger, and I’m regretting leaving it out now. From now on I’ll add a little bit of my personal experiences to help you see it from my P.O.V. and make it more relatable for the readers. I also hope that in the near future equality is no longer something we have to fight for, and will become something we begin to wonder why was ever a struggle to achieve.
Thank you again for reading my blog. From the two of you, whose writing I think is absolutely brilliant, it means so much that you read and commented on my blog.
-Gurleen

So, I have been very happy thus far, but I am ready for next steps to improve our process.  Thanks to Sue Waters’s Thursday session on Advanced Blogging through etmooc, I have had some “aha” visions for my next steps with my students:

  1. We need to learn to embed pictures, music, videos, and links in their blogs.  It makes their work more interesting, inviting, honest, and it joins the conversation with the rest of the world.
  2. We need to learn to write engaging, creative, thoughtful and relevant titles.
  3. We need to respond and link to each others’ work to further the discussion.
  4. We need to be grateful to those who take the time to read our work and comment  (as Gurleen does above).
  5. We need to take commenting to the next level.  We already write to our blogger in the form of a letter, we offer positive and a constructive criticism, but I want to add the expectation of furthering the discussion.  (see my ideas in the box below)
  6. We need to be “tagging” our own work as I believe that is part of the metacognitive process in the “final touches” of their posts!
  7. Finally, we need to be more mindful of “polished” work; we don’t take enough time to structure, revise, edit, or embed with their posts.

So, if you have any comments, questions, feedback, models, suggestions, or if you just want to join the conversation on this subject, I look forward to it!

Cheers,

Pamela

ETIQUETTE and EXPECTATIONS for COMMENTING

Format = friendly letter form Dear ______________________,
A) GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK:

  1. Encouragement
  2. Praise
  3. Reaction – when positive

(be specific, thoughtful, friendly tone)

B)   CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK:

  1. Suggestions for improvement
  2. Be specific
  3. Be a helpful and kind tutor

C)   Further the Discussion:

  1. Response to another comment
  2. Enter the conversation about the idea the blogger presented in their post
  3. Provide added value
  4. Offer links that could help to improve or continue the conversation

Sincerely,  ________________________________

*Etiquette is to ALWAYS respond to any comment that was given to you on the blog.  Try to further the conversation!

CRITERIA for ASSESSMENT:

SPECIFIC   *   THOUGHTFUL   *   GUMPS   *    STRUCTURE     *   FRIENDLY TONE

 

* GUMPS = Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Punctuation, and Spelling – Ensure you Edit to Eliminate Gumps!

More advice on Commenting:

http://tlcteach.edublogs.org/about/