Monday, May 30, 2011

Parent survey says communicate!

I did a SurveyMonkey survey of my middle school parents to find out how best to communicate with them in the future. In 5 days I heard from more than half the parents. Interesting results:

Nobody wanted Skype or WebEx/Elluminate-style parent conferences, mostly face-to-face (71%) email (52%), and telephone (24%).  But parent conferences weren’t even that high on the list of “ways to find out what’s happening in my child’s classroom.”

The ways parents found most helpful to learn what was happening at school were (with parents choosing more than one):

  • Edline progress reports 96% (This also showed up in comments, with parents complaining about teachers who rarely update progress reports). Edline allows us to post progress reports at the assignment/test level that come right from the gradebook at any time. This shows parents how their kids are doing at the assignment/test level as of today. They like it. What does this mean to teachers? Take the extra 5 minutes to post your grades to the online gradebook and upload progress reports about the grades to Edline. There are many gradebook/progress report packages available for schools. For those who use Edline and need a refresher click on
  • Emails about my child 92%    Easy to do via Edline, and you automatically get a copy of the email sent to your school email address. Not sure how to do it with Edline? Click on
  • Emails about class activities 83%   You can send an email to the entire class via Edline – great way to introduce a new unit, a field trip, a problem that arose in class, a major assignment. These are their children. Parents want to know what they’re doing. Based on the number of emails I got from high school parents this year in response to whole class emails, I’d say high school parents still want to hear from us. Not sure how to do it with Edline? Click on
  • Conversations with my child 79%
  • Class web pages (Edline) 75% Not sure how to make your Edline class web pages more useful and appealing? Click on
  • School email newsletter 67% If two-thirds of parents use the enewsletter to find out what’s happening, it seems like it’s worth the effort to give the editor the information so that she can let parents and other interested parties know what’s going on.
  • Study guides (which I email home and post on Edline) 67%
  • Report cards 58%
  • Parent-teacher conferences 29%
  • Looking at Moodle over parent’s shoulder 13%
  • Back to School Night 13%
  • Comments in Agenda (assignment book) 4%

What does this tell me? Parents want to know what’s happening in classes (class emails) and how their child is doing (progress reports). We have effective tools that don’t take a lot of time to use that help parents keep tabs on their children. Teachers often complain about uninvolved parents – but we have tools to help them be involved. We sure better use ‘em.

Trusting students to learn

    As I was grading the final essays, I was reflecting about how much learning takes place outside of the classroom.  I don't want it to take place solely F2F - I only get my students for 42 minutes a day for all English instruction. 
Trust in paintphoto © 2010 alice combes | more info (via: Wylio)

    When does such outside-the-classroom learning take place?  When reading - and thinking about what they read.  When writing - which is thinking on paper.  When participating in online activities:  online discussions - thinking, pitting their ideas against others', seeing new ideas and comparing to their own, sharing ideas (like vocabulary understandings) to help everybody understand material better.

    I want the F2F classroom for that it's best for: group and pairs work, asking questions about assignments, asking questions about what they've read - and don't understand, for drama, for presenting work to others, for tests.

    I love that I've expanded class - and in ways students don't always perceive as work!  This reflects my core belief - it's the kids who should be doing the work.  And I have to trust them enough to give them the space to do that thinking work on their own. 

    How demeaning to stand over them, with the idea that students will only do work when I'm present.  I want them to be independent learners.  Well, the training wheels are off. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Looking back on our Moodle year

    Looking back on this year, where my students spent the whole year becoming good blended/online learners, I have these observations:

Offering online work can attract those students who are a bit indifferent to school.  If the work is interesting and worthwhile, they can become very active learners.

But offering work online doesn’t change the kids who don’t want to do the work.  If they don’t want to do it, they don’t do it, no matter how much fun it is.  Middle school kids can be experts at stubborn for its own sake. 

Offering work online helps the organizationally challenged because it cuts out all the intervening steps where work gets lost. 

But offering online work doesn’t help those who are just chronically late to do work.  I don’t usually hear from them until after mom saw the zero grade on the Edline progress report for the week. 

Online work is not a panacea.  It does have its advantages, though. 

As I had hoped, offering online asynchronous discussions has brought everybody to the table.  In the F2F class (Face to Face), I have “shared inquiry”/ Socratic discussions on occasion.  We sit in a circle, everybody has to participate, and we have good discussions.  But it’s excruciating for the shy, and the deliberate thinkers feel out of sync.  

Online, though, everybody participates.  We hear from kids who never would have raised their hands in class – and they have something interesting to say.  I overheard one kid tell another, “I didn’t know you were so smart,” after reading his posting.  And kids write back when they like another student’s post – powerful peer reinforcement. 

One unexpected result is that more kids are comfortable participating, more comfortable raising their hands in F2F class.  The very shyest still don’t talk much, but I’m hearing questions from just about everybody, and I’m hearing answers to my questions from just about everybody. 

The culture of the F2F classroom has changed.  We are all much more comfortable with each other.  Individually and in small groups, students have always talked to each other, but now they talk in the whole-class setting more.

Still another reason to like the blended classroom!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer revamp

Now that summer is almost here, I’m thinking about how I’ll revamp my Moodle courses to make them more effective. Recently, I took classes to became a Quality Matters peer reviewer for K12, so naturally all the things missing from my courses have become glaringly apparent. I’ve always relied on being able to talk to my students, which overcomes a lot of online difficulties.

But when kids can’t talk to me – during snow days, at night, on weekends – that doesn’t work.

So this summer I plan to make Jing videos explaining how to do everything I can think of. Also, beef up my FAQs, and similar help documents. And add a Start Here button, with all the introductory information in one place.

And think about how to use the wiki this year, and… This is how we geeks play. ;-p

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spillover - online discussion comes back to F2F class

    Two exciting things I’m seeing.
synergyphoto © 2007 Justin Henry | more info (via: Wylio)

     First, the conversation that may have started in class, then extended and deepened online – continues back in class.  All seamlessly. 

     And kids who used to be silent in class are talking.  I’m not seeing the same 4 or 5 hands.  Now, I’m seeing a forest of hands; kids who never used to ask questions or make comments are part of the F2F conversation.

     I would love for somebody to do research on this.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing about the N-word

    I always get a bit nervous when we get to this discussion, which I’ve used online for three years now.  My 8th graders are reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and talking about the N-word is an important part of understanding the book and its historical context. 

    I make clear up front that kids are not to use the word, either speaking or writing.  I also tell them that some people think they shouldn’t read this book, because those people think they can’t distinguish between a word they read and a word they can say – which my students find insulting.

    At the start, I thought kids might just parrot ideas from the readings I gave them (which included an Ebony editorial, and an article about censorship of the word in a dramatic version of To Kill a Mockingbird).  There was a bit of that, but while middle school kids can suck up, they tend to leap directly from brain to output, without benefit of a whole lot of editing. 

    What happened in the discussion forum was a real conversation, with kids saying what they really think.  From one telling people to get used to hearing the N-word since it is popular in the black community, to another stating the word should be able to be used by either all groups or none, to another asking about its use in literature (we had been talking about the Huck Finn controversy). 

    Here’s another cool thing.  The work was due before Tuesday morning, but here it is Wednesday night and they’re still posting to the discussion.  When they’re not interested, the conversation stops on the due date.  But here, there have already been two extra days of discussion so far. 
    And everybody is part of the conversation, including those who never used to talk in class.  This is one of the things I like about online discussion - everybody gets to play.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why I don’t follow you on Twitter?

    It’s all about you.  “Come check out my website, and buy my stuff, and look at me, and did I tell you to check out my website?”  The only thing you “share” is another post on your blog selling your consulting services/software/product.  This is not sharing; it’s advertising.

    Your picture looks like you have mistaken Twitter for a dating website.  Ladies, if you want to be taken seriously professionally – and a lot of us on Twitter are here for professional growth –  do you really think cleavage, go go boots, and coy poses are the way to go?   I do not want to be demonstrating Twitter to my colleagues or students and have your picture pop up.

    You only post in a language that I don’t speak.  Nothing personal, but I’m not getting anything out of this.

    You protect your tweets.  If you don't feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, maybe Twitter isn't the spot for you. (My personal favorite was a follow request from a "social networking guru" -- who protects his Tweets.)   --  Just added

    You post mostly drivel

Who I do follow?

    Newbies in education who are just getting started with Twitter.  Newbies need encouragement.  As long as they aren’t tweeting moronic nonsense, I’ll help them out.  I remember how cool it feels to have your first few followers.

    People with interesting things to say
… and resources/ideas/articles/links to share…
… about topics of interest to me. 

    Twitter is interest driven.  That’s why hashtags are so popular.  So provide something of interest once in awhile.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Professional development in your jammies

    Recently I’ve “attended” conferences without ever leaving my LaZBoy.  Many of us have taken online classes this way, but online conferences are a bit different.  And online conferences frequently offer ways to participate in real-time (synchronous) or at a time more convenient for you (asynchronous).

    Last month, I went to TCC (Technology, Colleges, and Community),, a great annual conference for college/university online teachers, but it also includes K12 online teachers.  While presentations spanned the day and well into the night, I couldn’t possibly attend them all (time zones I saw included Japan). 

    Some I was able to attend in real time, via Elluminate. Similar to GoToMeeting and Adobe Connect, Elluminate offers a whiteboard/slide space, sound, written chat for backchannel conversations or questions for presenter, ability for presenters to show their desktop, and many features for attendees (polls, hand-raise, asking question via microphone).  I really enjoy taking part in the backchannel and being able to ask the speaker questions.

    Right now, I’m participating in  iMoot,, an international Moodle conference based in Australia.  There are attendees from throughout the world Moodle community, including K12 teachers, college instructors, and developers.

    These conferences seem to cover about 18 hours in the day.  But if I can’t attend a particular session because either I’m teaching or I’m asleep, no problem.  Sessions are recorded as they occur, and can then be watched later.  The conferences makes the recordings available shortly after the conference ends, or even within 24 hours of the session.  And often these are available for months afterwards. 

    TCC provides the slides afterwards as well, so it’s possible to look at the slides to both refer to later, or to see if this is a session that I want to watch.  The slides usually include contact information for the speaker, so if I want to get in touch, it’s not hard. 

    Besides savings on travel costs and time, I can attend all the sessions, even those that are scheduled simultaneously.  And when my brain has fried, I can stop for awhile without missing out

    What do you need to attend?  A computer with a decent Internet connection.  Dial up simply will not do.  Elluminate and similar also need software to be installed on your computer, so if you’re going to participate in a conference from work, you might need to get this installed ahead of time (if, like me, your employer limits who can install software on your computer).  Also, all the capabilities use a lot of computer resources, so it’s worthwhile to close other programs and reboot so your memory isn’t tied up. 

    These conferences not only provide food for thought in their content, but provide ideas about presenting material, too. And each costs less than $100.