Category Archives: blogging

Blogging tips and assessment

Some useful tips on good blogging practice, from Idratherbewriting. Nothing revolutionary or outrageous, just common sense, but it works as a useful reminder.

#10 spoke to me: “archive by topic rather than date”, unless yours is a purely personal journal. “Date archives mean little to readers.”

Following his own tip of linking abundantly (#8), idratherbewriting includes links to some interesting sites. One of the first ones I clicked on (Creating Passionate Users) included this thought-provoking tip:

Parelli Natural Horsemanship sells horse-related products including saddles, bridles, ropes, etc. But you have to pay more to learn how to use them properly. Much, much more. Users are paying anywhere from $200 to $1000 for home-study kits including booklets and DVDs. Yes, horse training is not the same as using a project management app–clearly the markets and context are different–but the main point is the same–people place an extremely high value on quality learning and support materials… FYI: Parelli has one of the largest, most loyal passionate fan bases I’ve ever seen… Characteristics of World-Class User Learning Materials

1) User-friendly
Easy to use when, where, and how you need it.
2) Based on sound learning principles
i.e. users actually learn from it, not just refer to it.
3) Motivational
Keeps users willing to push forward to higher “levels”

The following pictures are some examples of how Parelli does this. The only thing you need to know to understand the examples is that the Parelli system groups a set of skills and knowledge into “levels”. Founder/creator Pat Parelli designed levels into his program based on the success of the martial arts belt system and video game levels. In other words, he knew that the levels –key achievement milestones with clear rewards–are more motivating than just, “here you go… keep going.”

Hmm, “just ‘here you go… keep going.'” In my EFL classes, am I offering more motivation than that? I’ve bookmarked the entry because there’s more in this post that I might use to improve my teaching.

(Check out the neat, simple, graphics Parelli uses, which exemplify blogging tip #5 “present your ideas visually”. They reminded me of another “tips” post by math teacher dan meyer on how not to use Powerpoint. Be sure to click thru the links. I love the post-it-photo-presentation. And Miranda July’s presentation using her kitchen appliances is hilarious.)

I got fired up about vocab acquisition after reading Paul Nation. I think vocab acquisition could provide some clear milestones for students. I also was impressed by math teacher Dan Meyer’s ideas on assessment, and his article on the subject got me thinking. One of the problems I think my students have with learning English is the apparent slow pace of progress and the difficulty in getting clear, “milestone”-like feedback on how they are doing. With motivated students, this isn’t a major issue (tho still an issue), but with students who a) are not sure whether they are interested in English or not, and b) will likely have almost no chance to use English after they graduate (and know it), little sticks and carrots like these become more important (and I can’t make up my mind if a “milestone” is a stick or a carrot).

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Bloggy thinking?

Harold Jarche points out that blogs are good for conversations, but not so good for longer, more sustained thought, and his own entry is a good example.

Homework is only one activity that lacks evidence to support its continuance. Subject-based curriculum, age-based cohorts and reliance on unsound models like Bloom’s Taxonomy to measure learning outcomes are other examples.

Oh, really? There are good reasons for looking critically at these pedagogical methods, certainly, but I’d like to see more evidence that these are “unsound models” before I make up my mind. And where is the evidence that NOT assigning homework is a “sound model”?

Oh, I forgot, this is a blog, where you can throw out such comments and not have to provide any supporting evidence. Is this kind of gratuitous criticism (and how hard is it to knock homework?) part of being a good conversationalist, or just another nail in the coffin of rational debate?

Finally, I’d like to quote Shawn, at Anecdote, on the importance of conversation, “… most learning comes through interacting with people. Learning richness increases as multiple perspectives are described, discussed, challenged and explored.“

Actually, Shawn writes, learning is social—it benefits from conversations. Not quite the same thing. And I’d disagree that MOST learning comes throught interacting with people. I think this idea may be a distortion of ideas from Vygotsky and Bakhtin who (if I remember rightly) suggested that even reading or thinking are in fact dialogues or dialogic activity.

In fact, this suggestion kind of contradicts what Shawn writes in the previous paragraph: people don’t think they’ve learned anything until they’ve reflected on what happened. Reflection can be prompted or encouraged by others, but other people are not necessary for reflection (and therefore learning) to happen.

And even if it is true that most learning comes from interacting with people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that interacting with people provides the best or most efficient or effective kind of learning.

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When public education, isn’t

The situation in the US just boggles my mind. My first recent brush with it came after reading this post, then after reading Savage Inequalities and Doc, and again after reading this post.

Now, after reading this exchange between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch on the blog Bridging Differences (HT to Borderland for the link), I understand the situation a little better, although it still boggles my mind: the gap between the rhetoric (“land of the free, home of the brave, best country in the world, if you don’t like it – leave!”) and the reality is so wide that “gap” doesn’t cover it. It’s more like the reality is the opposite of the rhetoric.

Blogging to broaden your perspective

Karl Fisch responded to my post on his impressive presentation “Did You Know?” and it raised an issue I’ve been wanting to write about.

But first, go see the Doonesbury cartoon for Sunday, March 4th 2007. Are you back? OK.

Karl writes

As far as the “nationalistic” piece, that was not the intent – please follow the link and note the original context of this presentation. It has a U.S. flavor because it was created for my teachers and students at my school which does happen to be in the U.S., therefore it was designed to capture their attention. If I had known it was going to spread like this . . .

I’m not criticizing Karl; his comment gave me food for thought.

If you put something up on a blog, it can be read by anyone anywhere in the world, regardless of the writer’s intended audience. As Uncle Duke says, “Only a couple million people have seen it. I justed posted it!” You are putting your communication, deliberately, on a global stage for all the world (with a browser and Internet connection) to see. Maybe in your little head, your audience is your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, whatever, but that may not correspond to reality. As Karl wrote, “If I had known it was going to spread like this…”

A friend of mine goes running. Recently, he took part in his first big marathon race. Why? To raise his game. A personal challenge. To run with a different calibre of runners than he normally runs with, and by doing so raise his game.

Putting your thoughts on the Internet, as opposed to a Yahoo!Group or some other mailing list, or into a printed faculty or neigbourhood newsletter, I would suggest, has the same kind of purpose: to challenge yourself, to run with a different calibre of people than you normally run with, and by doing raising your game. As English-teacher -in-Hawaii Bruce Schauble writes about blogging,

It’s been a terrific learning experience, not only because of the writing itself but because of the feedback that I have gotten from the emerging community of readers that have stumbled upon or found their way to the blog.

I blog in order to broaden my community, to open myself to communication with people I would not and could not otherwise communicate with, and to get perspectives which are different from mine, to raise my game.

This brings a benefit and a responsibility: you get the benefit of (potentially) all kinds of varied input, but also you need to raise your game: you are now writing (potentially) for people who do not share your values, your background, your experience, your view of things.

There are few truly global citizens (I mean people with a global view, not just people who travel a lot), and many of us are still trapped in our parochial thinking, me included. But when we put something up on a blog, we are writing for a global audience, whether we are aware of that or not, whether that’s our intent or not.

It’s kinda like being married: you think you know why you married your spouse, but life (or your subconscious) has its own reasons: to challenge you to be the best person that you can be, to push you beyond what you think your limits are.

A student of mine wrote to me that he came to university because he wanted to become more intelligent. What if that wasn’t just a personal wish? What if the planet right now was really hoping all of us would become as intelligent as we can, real fast? OK, that’s kinda freaky, forget I said that.

“How many people have seen this?”
“Only a couple million. I just posted it!” (Doonesbury, March 4th, 2007).

We’re not in Kansas anymore. None of us.

(The graphic above comes from the Buckminster Fuller Institute. Buckminster Fuller created the Dymaxion map to show the people of the world that we are not living in separate countries in separate continents, but on one world island in a one world ocean. Searching for a graphic for this post, I found lots of globes and pictures of the earth, but many of them were US or Euro-centric, with the US or Europe in the middle of the globe. (Guess which country is centre-stage in world maps in Japan?). I wanted a graphic that matched what I wrote: something suitable for a global stage.) Spaceship earth, Fuller called it.

A 16-year-old with a laptop

Here’s a story with several interesting themes: an enterprising young lady, someone who doesn’t fit in with the crowd, the power of the blogosphere and of web-connected PCs, virtual communities, and the courage to speak up for peace.

It’s a nuanced, complex story. As I’m reading, I can feel my mind badgering me, begging me to let it make a snap judgement: “is she a good guy or a bad guy? Is home-schooling good or bad? Is the Internet and freedom of speech good or bad? Is this activism or propaganda?” The article raises questions as well as informs. And for me, never lived in the US, it’s a “slice-of-life” look at a part of America today. Fascinating.

Meet Ava Lowery, the Southern homeschooler whose antiwar videos get 30,000 hits a day.

Read more.

I was going to attend a birthday party for Ava Lowery, a homeschooled teen activist who posts professional-quality antiwar video shorts on her website,, from her bedroom in a small town about an hour’s drive from Montgomery. Ava, whose videos have a worldwide following thanks to the blogosphere, had decided to throw her Sweet Sixteen party on the steps of the Capitol to protest the war in Iraq.

A decade earlier, a teenage girl out of the local political mainstream might have held her tongue until she could leave Alabama. But these days the Internet provides a means out—a community of like-minded people, albeit a virtual one. Ava’s website averages 30,000 hits a day and is recommended by Michael Moore’s. It remains to be seen, however, whether such virtual, viral efforts can serve as a replacement, or even a stimulus, for face-to-face networks such as church groups or labor unions. Ava’s rally/birthday party was a small test of what Internet activism can look like on the ground. And it was a particularly ambitious test…

As Ava’s website was linked to by high-profile sites such as CrooksandLiars and Daily Kos, its viewership grew. After Yearly Kos kicked off its 2006 convention in Las Vegas with one of Ava’s videos as a rallying cry, a New York Times editorial asked: “Could a 15-Year-Old With a Laptop Be the New Campaign Media Guru?” More recently, United for Peace and Justice solicited her to produce a video promoting its January 2007 march on Washington…If the innovation of cable news shaped the representation of the first Gulf War, then this war is partly being defined by another new form of media, one practiced by amateur diarists and commentators.

(link from DailyKos).