My Writing Idea

iGoogle Page

With all credit to Bill Ferriter who posted a link to his Pageflakes page that he uses with his students, I created this iGoogle Page to begin to flesh out an idea I have for a writing class that I am thinking about for a future pet project.

Inspired by all of the work Justin and Dennis, Jeff, and Kim have done in Asia, as well as a host of the other wonderful people in my network, I’ve decided to begin to craft the vision of what I think a writing class should look like in the grade 6-12 setting. Here is my short list of adjectives/descriptive phrases for what it should look like:

  • Connected: our students and their writing should be done in conjunction with some other, larger project that connects them to other classrooms and work being done in their community or another community somewhere in the world.
  • Reflective: our teachers should be striving to teach their students to understand how they are learning, not just what they are learning. By asking them to discuss their learning and their progress, failures, and processes, we allow them the freedom to think out loud and open their thinking to the world.
  • Archival/Portfolio-driven: students need to be shown visual representations of their improvement, and shown often. Being able to pull out writing from September to view in June and show growth and depth will change the way a student looks at their writing.
  • Driven by student-interest: I keep hearing about student apathy from the teachers I work with. I want it to stop, and I want to know how you can drive student interest through the roof. Tim Tyson made Mabry Middle School “Irresistible;” why can’t I?
  • Public: Hearing Chris talk about how SLA was a walled garden, yet so full of connections made me think hard about my definition of audience. Yes, I would like our students writing to be global, but I would also like it to be intensely local as well. Regardless of where it’s seen, I know it needs to be seen. Students need audience in order to shape their voice.
  • Vibrant: I didn’t grab onto writing for myself until I got to college, and many people don’t ever or won’t ever. Clay speaks often about taking his high school students into the fray by helping them find their writerly voice. It’s difficult, it’s going to be marred by failures, but I want these students to find the spark, the one piece that generates interest–the one that keeps them coming back to the page to try again.

I am in the early stages of creating this class, but it’s exciting to do this. My appeal to all out there who might come across this is simple: what would you include in a writing class that spans all academic disciplines in its content?

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16 thoughts on “My Writing Idea

  1. This course sounds awesome! Get it going!

    Good to know that inspiration goes both ways!

    On another note, looking at your post, I am reminded how lucky I am…the 3 people besides me that you mentioned in the 2nd paragraph are all colleagues of mine! Kim has been instrumental in moving the work that Justin and I started into a more workable and real curriculum for ISB (and of course she is the global learning stud!). And Jeff is joining us next year to replace Justin who we are sad to see go.

    Wow…when I read posts like this I realize, I can just grab on and ride some coat-tails!!!! Woo Hoo.

    Best of luck with the course. Will it be easy to convince administrators to make it real?

  2. Hey Patrick,

    Glad that the Pageflakes link was helpful to you. I think I picked up on the idea of creating Pagecasts for kids from something Karl Fisch wrote a while back.

    He promotes the idea of having the kids create their own list of feeds on topics that are of interest to them…and then to have them use those feeds as starters for writing assignments and focused study. That brings the motivation back to school because kids are studying areas of personal interest.

    I like the idea of having kids use feed readers in class primarily because they are a tool that I think will become essential in the future. Managing the ridiculous quantities of content online can only be done efficiently through feed readers.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get my kids to the point where they can create and manage their own page of feeds yet. They just plain struggle to find worthwhile sites to begin with. My solution has been to provide “seed feeds” for them…and that’s what you’ve stumbled on.

    I am using Pagecasts for other topics that we’re studying in class, though. Here’s one that my kids have access to on current events from the regions we study in SS:

    http://www.pageflakes.com/wferriter/16714925

    I find my kids poking around here a ton during silent reading because we study current events in class. They love to find updates on stories that we’ve already read…and to be the first to tell me about the changing event.

    Through this process, I hope I’m modeling how feed readers can be valuable to people…and that I’ll be able to push them towards more independent use of feed readers in the future.

    Another thing that you’ve got me thinking about today is how I use Voicethread as the stimulator for writing as well.

    My kids love Voicethread…It’s interesting and easy to use…and it’s focused on images….which kids love. I’ve been teaching them commenting skills lately—the fact that in a digital conversation, it’s important to challenge the thinking of others and to allow your own thinking to be challenged.

    They also love Voicethread because of some of the SLA stuff you mention—it’s like a closed garden with their best friends. The kids get really fired up by conversations/comments left by their peers.

    While they are always interested in the international comments and audience that we get, they are even more motivated by the comments from their peers. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that. They are middle schoolers after all. The local network means so much more to them.

    I bill Voicethreads as cooperative digital dialogue. Students working together to make meaning out of a particular image/situation. And it’s starting to pay off. Check out some of the commenting happening on this Voicethread about Darfur:

    http://ed.voicethread.com/share/62276/

    What I’m starting to realize based on your post is that the comments that my kids are leaving in these Voicethread conversations would be great seeds for further pieces, wouldn’t they?

    In a sense, the Voicethread can serve as brainstorming for a selection. Kids can test out their ideas and have their thinking challenged. They can polish positions here in a form of uber-prewriting.

    Then, when they’re looking for a topic for a new piece, they can return to our Voicethreads and see what it was that left them jazzed.

    Does this make sense? Would it work? Would it fit in your developing plan for writing?

    Looking forward to seeing what this becomes—for both you and I!

    Bill

  3. This admin would say yes in a heartbeat!
    As always patrick solid thinking and a great idea. Can I borrow from you? I am trying to create an online junior High writing course to offer here next year…i would love to bounce your ideas around. i am going to look at bill’s page too but can i get a link to your google page?

  4. Justin,

    Thanks for the comment; and I am glad to hear you realize how fortunate you are. It seems every time lately I hear of innovation in Asia, it is coming from ISB. Best of luck to you all as you head into next year; Jeff should be a great addition.

    The administration, so far, is on board, although here in the states we are bound to follow mandated standards. My feeling is that is fine, as long as what you do far surpasses what the state requires.

  5. Bill,

    I agree, we have been running into each other’s ideas lately. Karl’s idea is one that I remember earmarking for future thought, and I guess its time has come.

    Using feed readers in class, especially in a place of somewhat limited accessibility to computers in the classroom, presents both unique possibilities and problems. On the one hand, I agree with you that this is one way they might be filtering information in their futures, but on the other hand requiring them to create individual feed readers in class but not guaranteeing them access to them in school will cause issues with teachers. Your plan, of creating one for them, looks like my best option in the short term until the class begins to grow roots.

    I, too, find voicethread fascinating for similar reasons. One thing I think many of us are guilty of is looking at tools like voicethread as the final product. What if, like you said, it became a form of pre-writing, or idea generation? It will work, or at least something will be learned in the attempt. Also, what about using Voicethread’s as non-linguistic representations and sources for student elaboration on complex topics? One of the best methods for students to practice understanding was to be able to frame a concept in the form of a story. I’ll definitely throw this idea into the mix.

    Again, this feels more like a post.

  6. Barbara,

    Please feel free to pull from this in whatever way you need to. I am hoping to do this in some form of collaboration, whether on a wiki or via this blog, but wouldn’t it be great to design this class as a “best ‘new’ practices” type of class?

  7. Bill,

    Thanks for the comment. When I began to blog somewhat regularly, I began to really take ownership of what it was that I could learn. This wasn’t too long ago for me, unfortunately, but what if this class is the vehicle that begins to turn it around for the students in my district? What if there is a trickle-down effect to the elementary schools? Writing for audience has completely been revolutionized by the web, and it is really time for our schools and the classes within our schools to take full advantage of that. I am hoping this class begins to knock down those walls.

  8. Patrick,

    I think that you’ve really nailed what student writing in the 21st century should be. I am inspired to look at Science instruction in a similar way, focusing on what sorts of skills students need to have (even they never become “professional scientists”) in order to view their world in a new way and develop critical thinking skills.

    Thanks!

  9. Paul,

    You should really look into reading “Minds on Fire,” in Educause. John Seely Brown and Richard Adler talk about the idea of having students become scientists, or writers, or historians: “Mastering a field of knowledge involves not only “learning about” the subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant in the field.”

    I would much rather have my students associating with people much more impressive than myself.

  10. Chalkdust101, I like the iGoogle page and the Pageflakes you link to, but I can’t figure out exactly what you are doing. Can you enlighten me a little? Are these feeds that YOU have chosen and put on YOUR page? Can students see/access your iGoogle page? Feel free to contact me offline if you prefer.

  11. Marco,

    Thanks for stopping by. First off, I have to admit that these are Bill Ferriter’s ideas that I just played off of. His Pageflakes pages are used in classes by his students. They have full access to view them and use them as resources. If you’d like to contact him directly, he can be found at: http://www.teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/.

    My excitement over this is that the students will learn how powerful RSS is for bringing information to you, instead of vice versa. Plus, aggregating content and making decisions about its validity is a skill that will be ever more useful in their futures due to the sheer volume of information produced and distributed on a particular topic.

    The end goal, for me, would be to have students creating their own aggregators once they are comfortable with the process. Can you imagine the types of conversations you could have if you asked students to defend the sources they chose in their aggregators? They would be the types of conversations we want to have occurring in our classrooms.

  12. Awesome! This sounds like a class I want to be in! And would absolutely love to teach! Your goals are so student centered and engaging – your class will love it, for sure 🙂 Good luck and keep us updated!

  13. Kim,

    Thanks for that. We are stuck in a holding pattern right now as for the green light to finish this process. I know, it’s going to be hard to turn this one over to someone else to teach, but I will have to.

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