Archives For student blogging

Not sure how November became so loaded with conventions, but Thanksgiving holiday plans have taken a side seat to presentations. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to present at International Conference ICT for Language Learning in Florence, Italy, (11/9-14) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) section (11/23-25) of the National Conference of English Teachers in Washington, D.C.

These opportunities to present nationally and internationally have come as a result of this blog and connections I have made with other educators who use social media to connect and to collaborate. So, it is not surprising that the first session I will be presenting in Florence with world languages teacher Amy Nocton is titled “Blogging to Share, Exchange and Collaborate”. I met Amy through her husband, Jason Courtmanche Director of Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. She is a world language teacher (Spanish and Italian) at RHAM High School in Hebron, Connecticut, and she needed help setting up her classroom blog, Perdidos en sus pensamientos. Her success with this technology in offering students an opportunity to choose topics as part of  is best summed up by the sentiments of one of her students who began posting more than a year ago. Her student Annie Maclachlan noted:

Screenshot 2014-11-12 04.44.15

Presenting on 11/13/14 “Blogging to Share, Exchange, and Collaborate”; student quote from the  on the right

“Instead of writing to a rubric, I wrote what I wanted, how I wanted. I wrote about what interested me, because I firmly believed that whoever took the time to go on the blog would love hearing what I had to say. And this was a good feeling. It was a feeling of complete intellectual freedom, a feeling that I believe everyone should experience at least once.”

Like Amy’s student, my students also enjoyed the freedom to explore a topic and publish for a world audience. Sharing how our students can connect with readers from all over the globe at a conference with teachers from all over the globe has an internal reverberation. We have the chance to see how others are guiding students so we can better prepare them to share their ideas and understandings with local and global audiences.

This opportunity has also given me the chance to visit the city of Florence with its amazing architecture and even more wonderful art collections.  To say that my jaw has dropped on more than one occasion is an understatement.

After this cultural saturation, I return home only to head out to the National Conference of English Teachers Conference in D.C. There I will be presenting “It’s Not the Math in the Literacy Standards; It’s the Literacy in the Math Standards” at the Council for English Leadership section of the program. I will be presenting with my former colleague Stephanie Pixley, from Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

I have already written about the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards (English/Language Arts Can Persevere with Math Practice Standard #1and Author’s Craft Revealed Through Mathematical Practice Standard #7 ) on this blog, and this presentation will feature many of the ideas I outlined in these posts.

Screenshot 2014-11-13 01.57.03The NCTE Conference is usually so jammed packed full of sessions that my heads spins. I do not think I will be afforded any museum time there as I want to see many of the sessions. I especially want to see sessions offered by other bloggers who I have met socially and virtually, including one offered by Fran McVeigh, Vicki Vinton, and Mary Lee Hahn“It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiosity, Openness, Creativity and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading.”

Needless to say, I have not thought about turkey, stuffing, or any other side dish, but I am confident after these next two weeks that I will have plenty of photos to share and things to talk about and add to the conversation at the holiday table.


This is the bold notice at the top of each of five blogs that the grade 10 teachers organized for teaching William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. This survival game is played in the English World Literature course at the end of the school year. The intent is to engage an entire grade level of 10th grade students in discussing a text without the limitations of the class schedule.

The game is simple: there are five teams (red, yellow, blue, green and orange) that are invited to a blog to respond to posts within a short period. Once the students are sorted onto teams (2 or three in each class period on one team), they respond to a post on their team’s blog using the comment box. Points are awarded on the percentage of team participants who respond to a blog post, and the winning team receives a 100% test grade.

The five posts on each blog are scenarios adapted from a number of similar activities I have found on the Internet. We used Blogger for our platform without much difficulty last year; this year their new interface has been glitchy, but since the game is about survival of the fittest, we have soldiered on! Each post deals with a scenario similar to the daily experiences of Ralph, Piggy, Jack and the choirboys, etc. The posts are uploaded over the course of a  two week period.

Post #1 deals with a list of 15-20 resources that were “recovered from the plane.” The post asks students to comment individually, “What do you do now?”

Post #2 poses the next complication suggesting that a giant storm seriously damaged their resources, “So, what happened to the supplies you gathered yesterday?” (ex: Bed Sheets: blew away in the storm last night; mosquito netting: large gashes/holes created by trees in the storm)
“What do you and your fellow survivors do now? What supplies do you have remaining? How are you using these remaining supplies?”

Post#3 Provides directions for shelter, fire and potable water. The post reads, “While you and some members of your group were building the shelters, digging the fire pit, and setting up the water supply; two (2) of your members decide that they are tired of working and want to go swimming instead. What do you do with the slackers in your group?”

Post #4 begins, “You wake up on the third morning to find that half of the food you had taken from the plane and gathered since is gone. Either some sort of animal has taken it, or one of your group members has taken it and hidden it for himself or herself. You start out the day suspicious of the other members of the group – and hungry!
• What sorts of rules/procedures are you going to put in place to make sure your food and water supplies do not get stolen or contaminated?
• Now that you are suspicious of your other group members, how are you going to act around them? Are you going to be able to continue to work together? What is your plan for discovering who took the food? What will you do with that person when you find him or her?”

Post #5 is the final opportunity for students to participate. The post reads, “A ship is in sight! You are going to be rescued! Now that rescue is in sight, how do you feel? What was your favorite part about being stranded? What was the worst? Compare your situation to the boys in Lord of the Flies. Who had it better? Why? If you had been stranded with the characters, what would you have done?”

This year’s comments were similar to responses from previous years with team members discussing suggestions for survival:

  • Nobody goes off exploring alone, pretty much NOBODY GOES ANYWHERE ALONE. We don’t know what’s on the island but if we stay together and work as one, unified, force; we will get off of this island alive. There’s no doubt in my mind that we WILL get off of this island. 
  • Water will be gathered by our “plastic bags” that we have laid out in a hole, held together by rocks. The water will be collected by nearby dewey grass etc. The rest of our plastic bags will be placed in a hole on top of a cup-or carved out fruit shell if cups are not available. 
  • The food has already been taken. Yes, it is maddening that one on our own team would have taken food from their own, but what can you do? I would move on, with a warning that if this ever happens again, whomever dared to steal twice will be exiled.
  • To deal with the ones that aren’t helping, we should put dead fish in their beds and then we’ll see who doesn’t wanna work then. 🙂 
  • Our slackers on the other hand will be banned from any rations of food caught by our hunters. The only way to become accepted is to find food elsewhere, and make sure (the slackers) they are able to feed the rest of the group.
  • To keep the fire going there should be a 2 person shift, and while one sleeps the other maintains the fire. The shift will be rotated i.e. 2 new people every night. 
  •  im surviving so as long as the slackers arent affecting me then they’re not my problem, if they were affecting me then id prbably end up killing them in a survival situation
  •  You never know who it could be so there’s always that feeling of suspicion while you’re near and working with the other group members
  • For the slackers, they can continue to eat the food and stay in the shelters. Karma will get em.
While Golding did not write Lord of the Flies as an adventure story that is in the same genre as Robert Louis Stevenson’s  Robinson Crusoe or Robert Zemeckis’s film Castaway with Tom Hanks, there are elements of survival that make the book appealing to 10th graders. Once they are placed on “Sophomore Island,” the Blogger platform lets them communicate their expectations as to what might happen in the unlikely event they were marooned with classmates. Not surprisingly, they often found themselves frustrated and caught in similar power struggles as those between Jack and the hunters and Ralph and Piggy. Once they are on “Sophomore Island” they discover Golding’s real reason for the novel, for the Lord of the Flies who challenges them by asking, “I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”  Their virtual experience on “Sophomore Island” helps them understand why Ralph would weep “for the end of innocence.”

Advice to Hamlet, “The main point here is you over think everything. You get deeper and deeper into these brilliant plans, but without execution they truly mean nothing!”

“Hamlet, you yourself had said that to dwell on an act too long leaves one part good, and ‘three parts cowardice;’ please, Hamlet, PLEASE learn to follow your own advice,” pleads TJ in his advice to Hamlet.

The Advanced Placement English Literature students are posting their advice to characters from Hamlet by responding to “Stop the Action!” prompts on a blog. Students “advise” Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, and Ophelia in response to lines from the play. Students discuss whether the Ghost is from Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell; whether Hamlet is mad or acting mad; or choose between the soldier Fortinbras and the scholar Hamlet. Their online discussion is equitable and collaborative, and the format allows me the opportunity to assess student understanding of this play.

I organized the “Stop the Action, Hamlet” on the Google Blogger platform, an easy platform for posting comments or replies. I invited students by email to the site, and they needed only a minute or two to learn to navigate through the 10 prompts that I posted. The  “comment” feature on the Blogger dashboard was helpful in assessing their time stamped responses.

The advice my students gave to each character in the play makes for entertaining reading, but more importantly, each student  was able to share his or her ideas online in an academic manner that cannot be duplicated in class. Class discussions are notoriously short, limited in scope, or marginalize quiet students, unless they are moderated. The class period is limited in time, whereas online discussions can continue for weeks, 24/7 with students posting when they have time to focus. When my students blog online, they respond to each other thoughtfully, post citations to support their positions, and choose their words carefully. The blogging platform elvated the class discussion.

For example, Colleen’s first entry was on whether the Ghost is from Purgatory or from Hell:

“If the ghost was from heaven, I feel as if he would not ask Hamlet to commit such a foul crime. It is through hell that the Ghost is speaking like this. As the play continues on, the Ghost does not seem to leave his demon thoughts but rather continues to carry them out. It is clear that through these actions, the Ghost is from hell.”

Devin later responded to this post,

” I was re-reading the conversation that Hamlet had with the spirit, and another line I found interesting was when the Ghost says to Hamlet, ‘taint not thy mind.’ I think this is interesting because it suggests to the audience that the Ghost cares about Hamlet. If the Ghost was from Hell this wouldn’t make sense and if the Ghost was from Heaven he wouldn’t be there in the first place. The only compromise to this situation is if the Ghost was from Purgatory, then he could care about himself and Hamlet at the same time.”

Annie’s  post followed this argument when she posted a question for Shakespeare:

“Why if the controversy for the ghost is so divided between heaven and hell not bring up any religion? There are very few if any religious references except this whole ghost thing. ..I do think your choice to ignore religion is a reason for your timelessness. By discussing certain religious topics, you may only appeal to one audience. You doesn’t even hint as to what your own opinions are. Choosing not to discuss such controversial topics was a smart decision on your part, and is perhaps why you are so popular even today.”

Colette had advice for Gertrude and Claudius. To Gertrude, she posted, “Your son is clearly in pain and instead of stopping and trying to communicate personally with Hamlet, you’re taking Claudius’ advice to hire spies to keep ‘watch’ over Hamlet when in fact, that’s a mother’s duty. Your maternal switch is definitely shut off.” Her advice to Claudius was equally blunt, “Murder cannot simply be ‘washed’ away. Much like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you [Claudius] are searching for a way to wash the blood red off of your hands. However, they are forever stained. No matter how much you clean your hands, they will forever be tarnished and filthy.”

TJ humorously advised Polonius indicting him on the line, “Beware/ Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, /Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee” (I.iii.69-71). “Hey, Polonius,” TJ writes, “remember when you were hiding behind that curtain? Remember when Hamlet pulled out a knife on you and you screamed for help instead of present yourself so that ‘the opposed may beware of thee?'”

Kelsey begged Laertes to walk away from Claudius, She recalled his line, “And yet ’tis almost ‘gainst my conscience,” and argued:

“What I want you to do right now, Laertes, is just stop and think. Why would Claudius actually want to help you? He is a manipulative man that just wants power…. Some advice- stop and let Claudius fall to his own fate! He already basically showed that he knew the cup was poisoned by calling out. He is guilty to everyone in the room. Let him take the downfall and WALK AWAY MAN! Gah! Your pride is not worth your life!….you will realize your mistake in about 30 lines in the play….just thought I would let you know…”

Finally, Sara posed a question for Shakespeare:

“As we continue reading through the play, we notice how Hamlet is struggling with avenging his father – yet, he knows he must complete the task of murdering his uncle, as his father had ordered. I leave you with this question – do you [Shakespeare] believe we were all born to complete a task? Does this apply to other plays ? Romeo and Juliet? Macbeth? King Lear?”

In addition, the Hamlet blogs are a means for me to directly address educational technology standards that have been developed by different educational organizations.
Using the standards for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these blogs allow the students to:

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through writing
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives

Using the standards for NCREL(North Central Regional Educational Laboratory)/engage, the blogs promote:

  • Teaming and collaboration to create to solve problems and master content
  • Willingness to make mistakes, advocate unconventional positions, or take on challenging problems to enhance growth.

Finally, using ISTE ( International Society for Technology in Education) standards, the blogs provide an opportunity for students to:

  • Interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts and others employing a variety of digital tools and media
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences
  • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternate solutions.

More importantly, the “Stop the Action” blogs have allowed my students to function much like Horatio in the play whose advice to Hamlet, “If your mind dislike any thing, obey it…” goes unheeded. The characters also do not heed the advice of my students, but my students have become proficient in their ability to “tell my story” of Hamlet.

Our English classrooms have been provided net books to use in class this year, making each classroom  a 1:1 classroom. Teachers have been using these net books for student blogs with seniors, or in responses to literature. The Freshman class was blogging about Of Mice and Men using Google’s Blogger software. The combination of reading with authentic writing was the incentive for one of my New Year’s resolutions in 2012, to improve student blogging beyond the “I like your post” response.

Our 9th grade team blogs are organized across the grade; students from different class periods or with different teachers collaborate as a team on the blog. For this assignment, we developed four journal questions in order to engage the students in discussions related to the universal themes of  Steinbeck’s novel; questions were centered on the ideas of goals, dreams, loneliness, privacy, and companionship. These journals were posted two or three days apart as students read the novel in class during silent sustained reading (SSR) or at home. An audio tape of the book was also available for some students who needed support with reading independently.

In order to begin the discussions, students first needed to post a response to each journal question, then they need to respond to another teammate’s post. Since the goal was to improve student responses to another student’s post, a set of criteria was suggested to help student in their response:

Good Student Response to another student on a blog will be:

  • thoughtful
  • consistently positive
  • respectful

Good Student Response to another student on a blog will also:

  • clearly add to the original discussion (compare, contrast, contribute, ask questions)
  • take advantage of the medium (linking, video, audio)
  • follow the standards of good writing

There were four journal prompts to Of Mice and Men; student responses to another student’s post are below each journal prompt:

Journal One:  What is your hope for life, goal, or even dream?  What do you think you want from the future?  Not the fairytale, but the reality?   What could you live without, dream-wise?  What couldn’t you live without? What matters, what are your priorities?

Patrick, I think your blog is good! It shows that you really want to be stable with your life. That you don’t need big things but you just need the things that make you happy and not stressful. We both don’t want to be stressed out and that’s something that a lot of people don’t want I think!

Sean, I think that my house would be similar to yours. I too would like to live in the woods away from big cities and government. I think it would be great to live in a log cabin style house with a large woodstove too. It would really give off that self dependent feeling, were you would have to chop your own wood, and produce many of your necessities.

Sara, It seems to me that you seem to know what you want to do when you grow up. Well, I have no idea really, so I envy you. I am disappointed to see you would move away from here, I love it here. good luck with all your plans!

Journal Two:  Do you have a pet? a younger sibling or cousin?  If so, describe your feelings and relationship with them.  If not, what do you think it would be like to have them?  How do/would you feel as the one on whom they depend?  How important do you think it is to care for or nuture others?  Do you want to be a mother/father?  Why?  What do you think about the role of parents, brothers, sisters, and family?

Johnny, I think you need to appreciate your sisters a little bit more!! Even though they can be a pain, they’re still always there for you and won’t leave your side.

I am commenting on Regan’s post: She did a very good job, she went into detail about each question such as when she explains how it makes her feel “It makes me feel good when he looks up to me and tries to do stuff that I do because It lets me know that I do have an effect on his life and when he does.” It is simular to mine because our brothers act the same way, she gets along with her brother too and we both have younger brothers.

 I’m commenting on Sara’s…I can definitely relate to when people say they want a sibling and you’re thinking ‘NO WAYYY….’ because they haven’t lived with one their whole life! But I’m also the same way with how I realize that I do have an effect on my little brother’s life and choices… it just wakes you up and helps you make good decisions.
Journal Three:    How important is privacy and space to you?  Can having privacy get too much like being lonely?  What about being with people all the time?  Which is worse, being always with or always without others?  How much alone vs. social time do YOU need?  Why?  When do you most need each (alone/social)?

I agree with you, Zach. Like when I was around mt best friend. We did EVERYTHING together. At first, it didn’t really bother either one of us. We where content always being in each others business. We knew EVERYTHING about each other. And by accident one of us (not saying who), spilled a big secret. That’s why it’s not a good idea to be around the same person ALL the time!

Riley I think your take on privacy is very good. I agree with you about how there are times that you dont want to be around people and if you are it can be annoying and distracting at a time where you’re trying to do your homework. What are some times that you do like being around people? Would you rather be alone or with someone else? Overall, you did a good job, those are just some things you could have included.
Journal Four:  What would you do to avoid losing your dream?  Are dreams easy to replace?  What would life be like if you didn’t have a goal, dream, or hope?  Can others take away your dream or not?
I am responding to Taylor’s blog. I have similar dreams to Taylor’s, how I dream of what I like to do. I dream a lot about going to the beach with my friends. Also I agree with Taylor’s thought of dreams being “easily replaceable”. I think that some dreams are hard to replace if they mean a great deal to you. Other than that dreams come and go very often. I also agree with Taylor that life without goals will not be very boring and you would not have anything to achieve!
 Agreed, Emily. I haven’t really thought about it that way, but after hearing your opinion, I have to say, I agree. If your dream doesn’t come true, it means that your destiny lies somewhere else. Unfortunately, destiny rules over dreams. Just like with Lennie, it wasn’t his destiny to “tend to the rabbits”, he was too strong and dumb to do that.
Ultimately, there has been some improvement in student responses on the blog. Many students wrote thoughtful responses which indicates that they understood that simply praising another writer’s blog was not sufficient. Students did like reading the post responses, however, I was actually surprised how empowered some of the students became and did not anticipate how seriously they would enforce the criteria in the original posts.
The only problem I see here is that you did not describe how you look up to your family… Everything else is very well done. I see no errors in spelling and no errors with how you described the way they acts, but remember to try and stay on topic” 
Your blog was good but it was not 200 words and it needs more detail so you should answer more questions in your blog to make it flow and so you make it longer and to answer the question more clearly.”
One month into the New Year 2012, and the 9th grade students are improving their ability to respond on a blog with something other than “good work!”
I’d say that is “great work”…but I obviously need to improve on my response!