Personal Learning Network Day 21: Customizing EVERYTHING, Our New ReadingWiki Project

2 02 2010

My Personal Learning Network is now three weeks old, and here’s what I’ve been up to.  Warning:  It’s pretty nerdy:

1.  I customized Firefox like crazy, using Tools>Add-Ons, and am currently running Walnut 2 (which makes everything look like it’s made of wood), a Google Tool Bar, Styles (which allowed me to customize Google Reader and make it less generic), plus colored tabs.  A few more.

2.  I like aesthetics, and I wanted to customize OSX to have cooler themes than the generic grey bars everywhere, and I found that there are many custom themes out there, but none that are ready for Leopard.  Magnifique was a free OSX Theme Customizer, but they seem to be discouraged or something.  They released a download, and then they unreleased it.

3.  I decided to figure out how to synch my work notebook computer with my desktop at home, and to find a way to check all my email through Thunderbird 3.0 (which now thanks to Tools>Add-Ons also brandishes Walnut2 and looks COOL).  About this email synching:  It’s a work in progress; I know it’s possible, and when I have done this I will have saved myself considerable aggravation.  First off, apparently last year Penn State began providing free IMAP service for mail (go to that link and request it and in one business day you will have IMAP service.  Readers who don’t attend Penn State, consider Google Mail, which offers free IMAP — which is huge, and all the major providers will be forced to follow suit if they wish to remain competitive in the free email market).  Why would you want this IMAP service?  Because when your email is stored on a server, it can be organized across multiple computers and iPhones and whatnot.  Read your email at work, delete files, send files, and then when you go home and log on from another computer your email is how you left it when you were accessing it from your other computer.  Plus I’m trying to figure out how to get Yahoo Mail to go to Thunderbird as well — I have a ten year relationship with them and employers seem to have this email address for me (and this is where I get invitations to read and score papers mostly — usually this is a very good deal for me, and I’d hate to miss an opportunity) and thus I cannot delete the account.  So either I get my mail forwarded somehow, or get IMAP service, maybe by paying $19.99 a year for Yahoo Mail Plus or use some POP3 emulator (gack), and now I’ve got Thunderbird 3 downloaded for free, and I get my email just fine, but I cannot send email at the moment, which is a tad inconvenient.  Basically, I’m stuck, and now I need an IT person.

4.  The Wikispaces project is up and running.  Here’s how we approached it as a class.  We used Nik Peachey’s “Using Wikis for Teacher Development.” In particular, we were drawn to these suggestions:

  • “You could use it to create your own online course book, either working with other teachers or your class. You could get students to select texts and subjects that they are interested in and type / paste them in to pages on the wiki, you or they could then create learning materials to go with the text, as well as adding extra information and background on the them or topic or the grammar or lexis that goes with the text. You would then be able to build on this with other classes.
  • You set up collaborative assignments such as Webquests and get students to use the wiki and work together to produce their outcomes.”

Because we are in a class whose title is LLED 420:  Adolescent Literacy and Literature, we looked up “literacy” and found some definitions:

Definitions of Literacy on the Web:

Then, as a class, we watched the movies in my blog post about Wikis and decided that the first wiki would be about reading.  Next, after a discussion of inquiry as a method, we spent the better part of an hour writing down every single question we could think to ask about reading, realizing that many more questions would emerge, but we thought several dozen questions would make a good starting point.   Then we set up our wikispaces and titled them and imported the questions from the previous brainstorming.  Then I had students break into groups of four and organize some of these questions by concept on their new wiki.

Next, they divided the categories amongst themselves and their pages began to look something like this (Courtesy Jessie Bindrim, Colin Hill, Elizabeth Bartles, Lisa Angelucci):


How do you teach reading to an illiterate person?
What is meant by adolescent literacy?
What’re the characteristics of a good reader? A weak reader?
What do you do with a class of varying reading levels? (or with ESL students)
How do you teach: critical reading, active reading?
What’s the connection b/w reading & writing?
What are some predictors of success in reading?
What percentage of prisoners is illiterate?
What is Phonics and what is the controversy?
Who are the reading gurus/ leaders in the field?
What is the role of the librarian? What can you learn from them?

Subject Matter

How do you add a book to a HS approved list?
How do you choose a book?
Teaching canons v. contemporary v. multicultural v. experimental v. short stories?
How to teach a novel that uses racist language?
What do you do with parental disapproval?


How do you get a student to actually read?
What do you do about movie versions, Sparknotes, & homework helper sites?
How to get students to participate in discussions about the reading?
How do you make a text relevant to your students?


How do you make accommodations for special need students?
How do you evaluate reading skill & comprehension?
What can you tell by listening to a student read?
How do you determine if an activity or book is grade-level appropriate?
Advantage of teaching shorter/longer books? Drama?
How do you teach a book you’ve never read?
How do you teach new criticism? (conduct reading of a text)
What do you do with poetry? Shakespeare?
Do you have to teach/read a novel all the way through?
To what extent can you have your class reading multiple books at the same time?
Struggling readers & remedial reading courses?
What is a cognitive strategy?

Then they webquested for the remainder of class and reported back to the wiki what they’d found, any additional questions they have, and links and resources that they’d discovered.  Part of their homework for this week was to spend two hours this week on that wiki and develop it.

How’s it going so far?  We’ll see tomorrow, but this week’s blogs are going surprisingly well.  I have them lined all 21 of my students’ Blogs in a folder on Google Reader and check them every day:

From Rachel Lynne (in her blog):  “Last week in 420, we created Wikispaces and used them to form groups that will be used to investigate questions about teaching English.  It was definitely a new experience for me, as I have never before had a Wiki.  I was the one in my group who created it and uploaded our questions–it was quite a challenge for me.  Like I said, I’m terrible with technology, so creating this group Wiki page was difficult for me and outside of my comfort zone. But, after about an hour, I succeeded! I’m still hesitant about using it, but I am proud of myself that my group was able to figure out enough to get the site up and running.  So far, so good, I guess.  We’ll be working in these groups on our wikis all semester.”

From Bri Rafferty’s Blog:  “For my LL ED 420 class, we were asked to form a list of questions we were interested in with regards to reading.  We then were told to break into groups, create a wiki for those groups, and find answers to those questions.  After watching a short video in class, I began to get a better understanding of what a wiki was – like a lesser version of wikipedia, a wiki allows its users to come in and edit content about a given subject.  I’m still trying to think about what the benefit for an individual could be, but for a group the ability to come in and edit one online page together while working toward a collaborative goal seems to really simplify things.  Instead of e-mailing drafts etc, group members have the ability to save changes that can immediately be seen by anyone else with access to that wiki.  I wish I had known about wikis for many of the group projects I had to work on throughout my career as a student – they could have simplified the process so much.”

From Kim Cuppett’s Blog:  “The nerd in me is coming out. Yes, I admit…I think Wikispaces is the coolest thing ever! Obviously, this is my first experience using wikispaces or any type of site like it. Wikispaces makes it so easy to do a project without having to get together in person. Just like the video in Jason Whitney’s blog, by using wiki, it makes planning much more organized between multiple people. Just this morning, before creating this blog post, I was working on our reading questions assignment. After searching for information, I was using the wiki site to post hyperlinks and regular text to answer the reading questions. To conclude, Wiki Spaces: two thumbs up!”

5.  So many thoughtful posts this week — i.e. check out Caitlin Mulroy’s Blog caitfordly yours, the post “Go Small?  Or Go Big?”  But this week’s most inspirational post comes from Jessie Bindrim in her blog Let Us Talk!, in which she describes her arrival at understanding:  “So I just got out of my English 202B class where we’ve begun to read “They Say, I Say” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. The gist of the book is that it is important to recognize in our writing that we are entering conversations that’ve been going on well before we joined and will continue to go on well after we’ve left them. They used Kenneth Burke’s analogy in “The Philosophy of Literary Form” to further this idea. In the middle of our discussion I felt an epiphany come on. You know that exciting feeling when you just know you’re on to something exciting, now imagine trying to contain that during a subdued discussion in a class full of people who would have no idea nor care what you’ve come up with. Alright, I’ll end the suspense. What we do in our classes is dig through old arguments and “conversations” and form our own arguments, referring to these past ones to build our own viewpoint. By creating a PLN, we’re opening the conversation not to just the past, but to the conversations that are going on around us now. The internet has allowed us to not just look at old journals from years past, but to keep up with what is going on now, the new ways of thinking that are changing our field as we take part in it. Having a PLN centered around your field allows you to dig through all the conversations until you find where your specific conversation of interest is going on and “put in your oar”. Though this makes the research aspect of your papers that much more daunting, I daresay it will make the papers our generation produces more complete and applicable than many written to this date. Though I realize I am probably not the first to have this epiphany, I have mentioned before that I like my classes to coincide so the more connections I can draw, the more pleased I am with the semester.”

6.  In addition to blogs and websites about technology and education, I became interested in Productivity Blogs, using a guide to the 50 Best Productivity Blogs at Zen Habits (one of my favorite blogs).  I now have a dozen lined up in a folder entitled “Productivity Blogs” on Google Reader.




5 responses

3 02 2010

So I realized part of my beef with Google Reader. I have gone in an set up some folders, added a blog folder- did what I could to make myself feel organized and in control. I think what keeps me from assimilating to it is that i can’t make it MINE. If you figure out how to customize Google reader so it is more personal than organized folders, I may change my view of it!

10 02 2010
My PLN Progess-Week 2 « Caitlin's PLN Blog

[…] My professor, Jason Whitney, blogged about our in class inquiry project and you can view blogpost here. We have asked and started to answer all the questions we have about teaching reading that we could […]

10 02 2010

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I changed my blog URL to I thought that being able to change your blog’s title meant that it didn’t matter what it started as. I couldn’t decide in the beginning, but now all my comments are left under this goofy username. Do you think I should switch again?

15 02 2010

I will add a question to the list of questions your class is developing: What is the difference between “compliance” and “engagement?” There is a difference!

15 02 2010
Jason Whitney

Great to have you as a participant in the conversation. I see what you are referring to: one group had created a heading called “Compliance/Engagement” and you would like them to be aware of the distinction. I will be sure to bring it up.

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