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
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 videoto learn about inspiring ideas.
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.
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! They 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. Of 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.
For 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 . This 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)!
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. 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! I 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!
As for her PD Workshops: I’ve seen her in about 10 NCTE 20-30 minute Sessions in the last three years, and I participated in CRC’s Workshop last year for an entire day. With every encounter I have a new strategy, a new “aha”! Her generosity knows no bounds, and she empowers teachers with what they need and how to do it for student engagement and success. She helps teachers with inclusion strategies so that all kids can find success and inspiration too. Plus, she provides all her materials through handouts and on her site.
Her books are excellent, but like getting materials from any good teacher, you need to find a way to make it your own. Usually with most good PD or good materials, the piles of good ideas remain in piles – awaiting the elusive concept of “time” to come along to allow a teacher to comb through the pile. Yet, Penny’s full day PD is different, it forces you into the “doing”, allowing you time, inspiration, conversation, and practicality so the PD develops you quickly and effectively. In “the doing” her materials and strategies become accessible to our classes and our collegiality, immediately.
Sending ELA teachers from our campuses of middle to high school, allows for wonderful collegiality to develop as the teachers can equally be inspired, can equally develop common language and paradigm shifts, and they can equally experience collective transformation of pedagogy and practice. It is a common place to build collegial practice and professional conversations that can unify our goals and strategies. In fact, I’d encourage administrators to join in this paradigm shifting PD too!
Here is a list of things I (and some of my ELA colleagues) do differently thanks to the Kittle-aha (I’m sure I have only captured the tip of the iceberg here):
Daily SSR – for students and for me to model
Strategies to help kids find the “right book” to hook them into reading
Methods to manage student accountability in reading (i.e. book talks, read-write-revise in Writing Journals, Reading Ladders)
Inspiration to build the classroom library
Book talks and book trailers
Reading strategies that work to improve students’ reading skills
Conferences about reading – how to do this well
Class discussions about Reading Identity of students
Close reading analysis strategies – how to dig deeper
Poetry – teaching it for kids to connect (especially been inspired by Slam Poets I would have never heard of if not through her – Sarah Kay, Phil Kay, etc..)
Non-fiction writing and writers as source materials – and how to analyze the rhetorical strategies in the text.
Novels and authors that have been popular with her students (this is a huge asset when trying to match students with the right books)
How to have a Reader/Writer notebook for novel studies (authentic academic note-taking that moves students beyond worksheets)
Learning to read info-data as a text (this is significant for new things we’re seeing on Diploma reading exams, but given no resources for to prepare students as all our “Released Material” is at least 4 years old.
How to “Read like a Writer” with annotations
Writing Journal – which she calls a Writer’s Notebook. She does extensive work showing the effect this has on the teacher-as-model-writer and the effect on students.
Quick Write ideas/inspirations
Writing with students – “Write Beside Them”
How reading great writers inspires great writing through emulation and inspiration
Penny Kittle is a rock star in English teaching circles. But her humility and integrity compels her cite her sources and her own inspirations through her books, her website, her PD workshops, and her twitter updates. She leads teachers to other rock star English teaching inspirations, forcing us into a transformative world of English teaching that continues to morph and improve. Here are a few other great teachers she has led me to:
My Response to a Central Office query regarding the value of Kittle:
Penny Kittle is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully inspiring educators I have ever seen. She has been the source of my shift in crafting a much stronger ELA program over the past couple of years since I was first inspired by her in Chicago at NCTE.
I believe she is “THE” missing link for our Scope and Sequencing from K-12, as her work is both as an ELA High School teacher AND the Literacy Coach from K-12 in her district of New Hampshire.
It is my belief that ELA teams – inter-mixed from K-12 – attend. What I mean by intermixed is that at a session HS doesn’t sit with HS, MS with MS, and E with E; rather, we build conversations and PD across campuses and grade levels. I would support and persuade that the entire HS team to attend.
IF we can support CRC’s efforts to bring in this amazing educator, we would benefit greatly!
Original email proposal supporting a Scope and Sequence of educators to attend PD:
CRC has arranged for Penny Kittle to come to Calgary. She has been my #1 mentor these past few years regarding my professional growth and development.
Penny provides practical advice and strategies for teachers to foster student reading and writing. As ELA teachers we have so much to manage, with very few resources for HOW to do what we need to be doing. Penny’s advice is sound and effective, as I’ve witnessed in the success of ELA classes through my improved design of instruction and the students’ improved engagement.
The beautiful thing about Penny is that she too is in the class. So, her advice and strategies evolve and are tried and tested with everyday classes, everyday challenging kids.
As an organization, I believe that our Scope and Sequencing from middle school to high school is an essential ingredient for our school’s success, yet we have so few opportunities to foster this. If ELA teachers are sent to this PD – en mass – from 7-12, intermixed in groups from different campuses and grade levels, we would all share in some powerful strategies to develop our students’ reading and writing skills; with Penny, the focus is not on the “what” should we teach, it is on the “how” we teach. So, the more our teachers develop “Kittle” proficiencies, the more our organization benefits, the more our kids benefit.
Hopefully, we can find the funding to support this PD opportunity for our ELA teams. I suggest that teachers sign-up soon as she renowned beyond my world and I have a feeling this PD could fill up quickly!
Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.