PLN Day 64: LLED 420 Blog Digest

18 03 2010

I have had my LLED 420 class blog all semester long, and I subscribe to all 21 on Google Reader. Their task is to develop their PLNs by finding resources and people to support their learning, and to use the blog to report back and share their emerging understandings while providing useful resources to their classmates and a larger audience.  They are free to blog about virtually anything, though chiefly the emphasis has to do with their course of study.  Thus it is typical to see posts where students reflect about things that are going on in class, and they most commonly write on the subjects of English education, literature, literacy, educational technology, personal learning networks, and pedagogy. I started off without giving many guidelines at all.  Then I provided some in a post “PLN Day 34:  My Definition of a Good Blog/ Blogpost.”

A few other pieces to consider:  Their blogs are being graded, and I acknowledge that many of them would not blog at all if there were no grade attached to it.  Some have overcome their reluctance and have found an authentic interest in blogging.  Perhaps a few started off liking it, and then their interest levels dropped.  They encompass a wide range: some show a very slight investment in time, others have the potential to go pro.

I am continuously surprised with the resources they find and the conversations they create. This post is meant as a digest of recent blog posts by my students, to show what I see from my Instructor’s vantage point two months into the course.  Also, I wrote a synopsis of each to try to interest my students  in one another’s blogs, and to possibly help their blogs find outside readers who are interested in clicking through.

Elizabeth Bartel returned from Spring Break to give updates about her life in her blog. She will be student-teaching in Pittsburgh.  She read Wilhelm and Smagorinsky, was inspired by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and is psyched by The English Companion Ning and the potential of networking.

Amanda Shaw wrote in her blog about being placed in Philadelphia.  In addition, while doing research on her reading wiki, she got interested in the topic of how to identify a weak reader, and on English Companion Ning, she explored the efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of remedial reading programs.

Nicole Dado writes in her blog about her experiences using iMovie, wikispaces, and explores the spontaneous video chat our class had with a class of students in Sweden.  One of the funnier things she found a few weeks ago was a video about a freestyle rap battle with the sound replaced by extremely vanilla commentary.

Rachel Dabiero writes in her blog about The National Writing Project.  This is welcome.  I was a fellow and consultant at the South Coast Writing Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2004.  Much of my wife’s research pertains to the Writing Project.  I would attribute much of my success as a teacher to my experiences in the Summer Institute, and I would say that there is virtually nothing more life-changing to a teacher than to have the opportunity to get involved with such an inspirational group of fellow teachers.  Her previous post “Missions, The Homeless, Writing Centers and the Importance of Literacy” explored her reflections about tutoring English language learners at Penn State and the homeless population she encountered on a service trip to Miami.

In her blog, Amber Henry returned from Spring Break in North Carolina to work on her reading wiki and got interested in issues pertaining to discipline in the classroom, and she found some helpful suggestions for substitute teachers about how to minimize disruption.  Planning, preparation, minimizing downtime during transitions, and keeping students busy more or less sums up the advice she was given.

Bri Rafferty wrote in her blog about flash drives and cloud storage.  She also learned a crucial lesson about backing up her materials, since her computer crashed, and then was restored.  She is also using Evernote, and she describes the program’s assets and limitations.

Brittany McHale posted three times in recent weeks to her blog.  In her first post, she wrote about Mr. Holland’s Opus.  She found the film inspiring.  In her second post, Brittany wrote about running into Penn State alums at a play, including another English Education major, and described how they became fast friends.  Her best blog post yet, signaling a personal best for her, is entitled ‘Observing at Chartiers Valley over Spring Break.”  She spent her break in the classroom and listed some things that surprised her.  Brittany noticed that students weren’t doing the reading, that they thought over ten pages of reading was an unfair assignment, that students loved working on photo projects, and that they loaded their projects onto their class wiki on Wikispaces.  She wrote, ‘Yes, I said it, they have a class Wiki!!! So, technology really is being used in the classrooms everyday.”  She also noticed how the school uses and and vowed to become familiar with those apps.  She observed that teachers choose the reading list in the following way:  they have to choose three books off a list and then they enjoy considerable discretion as to the rest.  They prepare for PSSAs by going to Study Island and taking practice tests  that are scored instantly.  Also, students were allowed to eat and drink beverages in class.

In her blog, Chelsea Sandone was working on her reading wiki and had difficulty finding information about two of her questions, so she posted them to the English Companion Ning, and she received multiple responses, and people were enthusiastic and even wanted to see her Wiki.  She also had a bit of a gut check about her comfort levels surrounding privacy, remarking that she feels uninhibited on Facebook but more reserved on English Education and professional sites.

Diane Mowery writes in her blog about a conversation she had with her family, comprised overwhelmingly of  teachers.  They had some conversations about technology and teaching, and some said they taught in schools that severely restricted technology.  Another said he taught in a school that lacked the funds to provide laptops.  This was discouraging to her, considering the heavy emphasis on technology in her classes.  But then she found that Smartboards were present in most classrooms.  Read her post “SMART board technology in the classroom:   What is it and how can I use it?” if you want to get an overview of Smartboards.  She details some of its features, posted some videos, and found related resources about using the Smartboard in your teaching (and some were English specific).  Thanks Diane for a very welcome post for a resource that is becoming increasingly common in classrooms across the country.

Eric Yingling returned to Penn State after a period of substitute teaching.  He writes in his blog about how he subbed over Spring Break, covering a Physical Science class.  He used a Writing Across the Curriculum approach and had his students write their critical thinking essays, and encountered some resistance, which is also the title of his latest blog post “This Ain’t English Class.” His prior post was about self-efficacy, in which he considered how important it was to a reader to think that he is a good reader.

I had thought that Jaymee Frankel last posted January 26th, seven weeks ago.  Then she informed me that for the last seven weeks she has been posting to a WordPress blog here.  She writes about technology, the novel Feed, her alter-ego as a performer (she has been featured in music videos), and about her bad luck with crashing computers.

In her blog, Jesse North wrote about digital media, and she posts videos that explore if, how, and to what extent shorthand texts such as OMG, LOL, etc. are transforming the English language.  Her previous blog post was about the fictitious nature of teacher movies and the distortions present in the image of teachers represented there.  Prior to that, she reflected on our video conference with the class from Sweden and compared the structured American school system with the more freeform Swedish high school culture.

Kim Cuppett posted about Teacher Tube in her blog.  She’s found a way to integrate her wiki with a post on the English Companion Ning.  Her blog epitomizes the surprising benefits of creating a PLN, and in addition to exploring resources in her blog, she very often finds ways to connect with people directly.  In addition, she writes about working with students with low socio-economic status.  She is also great at finding resources, and frequently she finds clever ways to integrate technology.  In a previous post, she shared a variety of web-based tools to aid in concept mapping.  Her blog is in communication with other blogs as well.  She comments on other blogs frequently, and they comment on hers.

Laura Young’s latest post “Writing Out of the Blog Rut” I found mind-blowing.  This is a post that could be helpful not just to me, but the sort of post that could serve as a profound resource for bloggers anywhere, in which she offers helpful suggestions to folks that are feeling blocked when it comes to blogging.  Her previous post “The Arts in Educa(r)tion” is this extremely impressive overview of the issues facing art education in the current academic environment.  Her post before that, “Listen deeply; tell digital stories” creates an overview of the value of digital storytelling, posted some videos and related resources, and even provides guidelines for how to set up digital storytelling projects in the classroom.

In her blog, Lisa Angelucci has been putting together her materials to find work after graduation, and she writes about preparing to work as a substitute, and she passes along some advice to write lesson ideas on a notecard, so they are not forgotten.  Her previous post was about the assumptions that people have about making a beginning with technology, and how people should allow themselves and others to begin their learning process with a certain measure of grace.  Recent blog posts have explored teaching English as a second language and exploring the benefits and pitfalls of rubrics.

Meghan Shanley writes in her latest blog post “One-to-One Computing?  Necessary?” about laptop programs and privacy.  She asks about whether students should be able to take notebook computers home.  She asks, “What really works when it comes to computers and schools?”  She raises some issues surrounding various initiatives across the country to have one-to-one computing.  In her previous post, she wrote about the benefits of becoming a fan of Penn State College of Education on Facebook, and shared some resources and discusses her experiences with using digital textbooks.  He post before that discussed ways of re-energizing interest in reading.

Rae Thiesen tends to follow good blogging practices.  She posts regularly, for starters.  She writes about creating a group in The Educator’s PLN that has six members.  In her post “The PLN” she posted videos about why we connect and a video about using Twitter in the classroom.  She reflects in another post how she feels guilty taking a vacation and wonders how she became so wedded to constant productivity.  She is interviewing to teach in South Dakota.  She also posted about homeschooling and some controversy surrounding such practices in America and abroad.  She also did research on her wikis and explored SAGrader (follow-up note.  I once wrote of SA grader that though I try to keep an attitude of contempt prior to investigation, I find SAGrader to be one of those really terrifying things that emerge in education that is such a bad idea, such an evil idea, such a teacher-hating idea, that it will be probably be implemented across the country by the end of the year.   A computer that grades essays with “standards-based” accuracy.  I mean holy crap.   To me, that’s akin to saying, “an oven that roasts your children in half the time.”  Since speaking with SA a representative of SA grader, I was impressed by his professionalism and candor.  Mr. Foster wrote, “If you have some time, I would love to chat with you and get your perspective on SAGrader and other tools like it. We ultimately would like to create something that is useful and valuable to students and not ‘roast them in half the time.'”  So I made a decision to be a little more fair to this company.  I wrote to Wade Foster, saying “I read through the website, and I do agree that having students craft writing is superior to multiple choice tests in large lecture classes, and you may be providing a valuable service in that context.  Plus, you emphasize revision, which is sound practice as far as writing is concerned.  I’m obviously disappointed when universities offer large lecture classes, especially classes that  are primarily based on a transmission model where students memorize and retain information in order to perform well on tests, but that’s not your fault, though I sense that you are enabling the large lecture format.  Whether you intend it or not, this software seems to be a means of assessing writing, which is often GA work that they count on to further their educations — basically, the best reason for your clients to use the software is because your clients are understaffed.  Maybe your software comes with a certain moral hazard there.  Do not tell me your software can be as responsive as a human being with something as nuanced and complicated as writing and expression.  Your testimonials speak mostly to students’ happiness at having retained (memorized) more content than they might have otherwise.”  He replied conceded that they are filling a need in precisely the area I mentioned, and that indeed it may displace GAs, and that my points were legitimate.  Placated a little, I  suddenly I felt reluctant to waste their time writing an investigative journalism piece about SA Grader.  I had meant to test the software and write about my findings, but I suddenly lost my enthusiasm for windmill-tilting.  I find that I sometimes become a little too excited and distracted by the conversations that come from this PLN,  simply because it is a conversation, and I thank Rae for starting this one. )

In his latest blog post “‘The Professor Burns Vegas'”, dated February 15 (all Ben’s posts are song titles), Ben Craig considers video games as potentially viable and highly sophisticated texts in their own right.

Caitlin Mulroy writes in her blog about the difference between “trying harder” and “trying different” and looks into Google Reader, Wikispaces, and WordPress.  Her previous blog post was a sort of digest of her fellow students posts, and then she initiated a think piece about students and how tethered they are to technology.  She has been steadily developing her blog, and she frequently puts a great deal of effort into her posts.

In his latest blog post  “PLNS:  Not Good-for-Nothing, but Hardly Good-for-Everything”, Colin Hill produced a very thoughtful dissenting opinion about PLNs and lists a handful of very valid reasons why he is not enthusiastically adopting a PLN.

Jessie Bindrim’s blog (in response to my blog post about playing Halo and Call of Duty with middle schoolers)  has been exploring the world of the Sims that she has been part of for years.  She shows how Romeo and Juliet can be enacted in the Veronaville community, and included some humorous videos.  But then she tied it back to Wilhelm and found that there are ways to incorporate video games.  For example, she found resources that discussed using the Sims in the ESL classroom.  Her previous post some follow-up and individualized learning plans, was excellent.  She was discussing the “wikiality” of things — a term she borrowed from Stephen Colbert, and she found a resource that spoke of students specifying an individual learning plan, providing their teacher with all sorts of information about their learning processes.   She tends to post very regularly, as well, which is a real plus.  Her post ‘Learning, Learning, Learning” was funny, and she “stumbled” upon a very humorous video that compares how Google tracks your information with someone rummaging through your toilet.

Together, these blogs represent to me the type of inquisitive and reflective practices that are of critical importance to the developing teacher.  They have developed networks and discovered resources, and they have been in communication with one another and a larger audience.  For students at this early stage in the SecEd English/ Communications program, they have a surprisingly keen connection to fellow professionals and the sorts of resources that are available to support teachers, such as the English Companion Ning.   I’m proud of this group, and I find that they have risen to the challenge in all sorts of unexpected ways.




6 responses

18 03 2010

Hey Jason, I just wanted to make sure that you were only checking my blog @ I obtained a new blog in order to have a more professional URL, and I transferred my previous blogpost from to my new URL. Unfortunately, I could not delete the old blog once I had transferred my blogs so it is still floating around in internet space. You have me mentioned in this blog two times for both of my blogs. I wanted to make sure that we were clear that I have updated many times in the last 6 weeks. Sorry about the mix up.

18 03 2010
SAGrader « Raebee's Blog

[…] another blog about this educational resource, but I find it necessary. Jason’s note in his blog about this program got me thinking. I went back to SAGrader’s website in order to examine […]

18 03 2010
Jason Whitney

Thanks very much. I will make edits and combine the two write-ups.

24 03 2010
Britanny McHale

I am glad that you enjoyed my blog post about observing over spring break. I learned so much in that short time period there and I felt the need to share it with everyone. I can’t believe how much high school has changed since I was there. Although, I did graduate high school 6 years ago! I was surprised that every classroom had HP laptops and that they were able to take ‘practice’ PSSA’s. Oh how the times change….

5 04 2010
Self-Evaluation of My Blog « Welcoming Learning: Becoming a Teacher

[…] for their blogs.  Also, my stats grew tremendously after my teacher posted the link to my blog in one of his blogs.  I think that really helped my classmates and I connect with each other if we hadn’t […]

6 04 2010
My PLN Progress Thus Far… « DianeMowery's Blog

[…] Board post received the second most clicks partially from its mention through my professor’s blog and one of his ECN posts on a “Teaching with Technology” discussion (thanks […]

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