286 posts categorized "Weblogs"

July 14, 2015

Celebrating 10 years of edu.blogs.com - could we have yesterday's time with today's thinking?

First edublogs post

It's ten years today since I wrote my first blog post for me, and I wish we could have today's thinking with the space and time of a decade ago.


I've blogged since around November 1999, one of the first users of a new, shaky service... Blogger. My first one was, as a student teacher, some kind of "making sense of Scottish education" affair. It was short-lived, audience-free, and felt presumptuous in the extreme. As a French and German teacher, I used the more stable Typepad service to run blogs with students on all sorts of field trips and school partnerships.

Early 2000s

There were various Paris-Normandy trips, the highlight of my teaching year, where we live-blogged from a Nokia 6230i with a 1.3megapixel inbuilt camera and extortionately expensive and unreliable 2G connection, while munching on smelly cheese and exploring the history of Omaha beach and surrounds. In the early years, mums and dads were sceptical of what it was for and why - most posts would garner barely 30 comments. Just one year on, though, the utility of the blog was clear to all: no more nervous phone calls to the school asking how we Johnny was doing, and literally hundreds of comments per blog. In fact, I've just spent the weekend at a wedding where I met many of the students from the 2005 blog for the first time since then.

Carol Fuller, a US teacher from South Cobb, near Atlanta, who I have never met, but to whom my primary school colleague John Johnston paid a visit over a decade ago, is still an online friend today. She got her students helping in a couple of projects where a US perspective on the world was essential to gain empathy beyond the pages of the textbook. The most popular post in one collaboration on politics was by far around banning guns. Plus ça change...

Her students took the often traumatic and insightful writing of our senior students' field trip blog to Auschwitz and wrote their own play on the back of it. It was pre-YouTube, so VHS cassettes flew across the Atlantic. Having the powerful writing of students still online, still being downloaded, feels important today as our world continues to struggle with terrible things happening in the world, viewed only through a screen. Laura Womersley's Confession is still one of the best pieces of writing I think I've ever read from a student, rendered more poignant than ever today knowing that just a few months later she died, suddenly, from an unexpected illness. Her words live on.

We used our blogs to publish the first high school podcast in Europe, maybe in the world. The wee lad who edited everything is now an accident and emergency doctor, and through micro-blogging - Twitter - is newly in touch with me this past year. He's no long a wee lad, either - six foot tall, and seeking his next challenges in life.

2005: the start of edu.blogs.com

It was only when I left my classroom to start a secondment with the Government, in the summer of 2005, that I knew I would miss sharing with other people. Until that point, it had always been through the conduit of my students' work. Now, I wanted to share whatever I might with a newly emergent group of educators, educators who wanted to share beyond their four walls. The first post was awkward (and indeed called "That awkward first post"). The early posts are bum-clenchingly naïve. But it was also the place that some small things were kicked off, and became big things. A few weeks after the first ScotEduBlogsMeetup, TeachMeet was born in a post in 2006.


Early on, Loïc Lemeur, the founder of the blog platform I had been using for so long, invited me to speak at his emergent Les Blogs conference in Paris (now Europe's must-go-to tech conference, LeWeb). It's his birthday today, the day that I started my own blog - serendipity perhaps?

What followed my intervention there was the first sign that people might actually be reading and listening to what I was saying. James Farmer got stuck in, annoyed, I think, that a young buck was on the stage talking about classroom blogging (and he wasn't ;-). He was actually complaining about what everyone else on the panel had said, not what I contributed, which were just stories (much the same I what I try to contribute today). We didn't speak much after that, in spite of promises of beer in Brissie. 

I was fed up at how few teachers were sharing long-form thoughts and reflections on teaching, through blogs, and how a self-nominated cabal hectored those of us joining the fray "for not doing it right". Today, I feel that about the self-nominated if-Hattie-didn't-say-it-it-didn't-happen brigade. Back then my chief supporter in the collision with James Farmer and, later, Stephen Downes, was one Peter Ford - still one of my best buddies today, and working partner of the last three years. Collisions, I learned early on, are how we challenge ourselves to learn better. Heck, even Stephen came around to like something I did once... one of the best presentations he's ever heard. The content of it, too, came from collisions on this here blog.

I also had collisions through the blog with people who did not blog, namely my employers at the Scottish Government. I spent a few blog posts correcting newspaper stories in which I was misquoted, and many more writing my own thoughts on why the creation of a national schools intranet, a social network no-one outside schools could see, was doomed to fail. It did. Two years after leaving the education department, I was invited back by a new Education Minister to his expert committee that has overhauled the whole, expensive, useless venture. 

So, collisions on the blog were vital to my job, when I had one, and for the creation of NoTosh, my company. For ten years of professional collisions, thank you. I really wish there were more of them in long form.

TLDR has become the norm as educational discourse takes place in machine gun ratatats-à-Twitter. Where once we had comment feeds, dripping ideas, thoughts and disagreement with our ideas each day, we now have a tsunami of detritus in which we must seek out the comments of yore, never connected directly to the original thought that sparked them. Ten years ago, the half-life of an idea, of a discourse, could be as long as a month. Today, one is lucky if a thought lasts twenty seconds before it falls off the fold of the electronic page.

In the past decade, though, something better has come along, I think. More educators are writing books than ever before. More than most genres, there are plenty destined to become pulp, but there are so many more than a decade ago that offer genuine insight, great ideas, years of learning to the reader for no more than thirty bucks. They even come to your screen in a flash, if you want them to. I wonder, sometimes, if teachers writing books is not the long-form blog post in a different guise.

To that end, I've wondered about going back over ten years of blog posts, ignoring the truly embarrassing ones and unpicking the contentious ones with a more mature head on my shoulders. I'd love to write a book that takes ideas that mattered 10 years ago to me, and see whether they might matter more to people today. I have no idea whether this would work, whether it would even be of interest to people - the same questions I asked in my parents' dining room as I set about kicking off this electronic version of the book draft.

Thanks to those of you who have read my stuff, especially the longest posts like this one. Thanks, too, to those with whom I have collided over the last ten years. And to those who don't read my blog any more, who have unsubscribed because you feel it is "no longer relevant" (that's the most common reason for an unsubscribe), peace be with you. You have no idea of the fun you've missed out on ;-)

February 24, 2015

When there just aren't #28minutes for #28daysofwriting

In 2007, I posted a picture of me blogging, with a one month old Catriona in one arm, one-handed typing on the other:


One year later, I had stopped writing on my blog regularly (until this month) for many reasons:

  • At Channel 4 in 2008, I was so unschool in my work that I felt totally uninformed and uninspired to write about learning - this was daft, since every public service platform I funded and produced had learning at its heart.
  • By 2010, having started NoTosh, I ended up with a crisis of living in two electronic worlds, at a time when many of us were really at the beginning of fathoming how to live online privately as well as publicly. The NoTosh blog (we used to have one, and it'll make a reappearance in 2015!) was where I spent most of my writing time until 2011, as my edu.blogs.com writing fell away.
  • By 2012, I was on mega travel - nearly 250,000 miles a year - and the simple fact of being in the air without wifi thwarted efforts to write.
  • By late 2013, with the stress of opening a new office in Australia (even if it was led by the wonderful Tom Barrett, who was also, without a doubt, feeling a tad stressed himself), and then expanding it in 2014, and adding an office in San Francisco later that year, both delivering great learning for educators and creatives, planning it and attempting to keep a team happy was proving tough - writing on a blog, if I'm honest, didn't make any sense. 
  • One of the reasons for stopping transient writing was just that - I wanted more permanence. So I wrote my book, long form, as well as a new Masters course. 120,000 words in 12 weeks, while also traveling twice around the world. It helped me realise that writing was not the issue, but publishing it live was. 
  • And so to February 2015. I turned 37 yesterday, on a plane, and with no chance to write 'live'. Today, I'm in meetings from 8am until 9pm. I'm not going to have the energy to write, so this, too, is a forward-post with my head spinning from jetlag in Hong Kong.

I wouldn't swap my life for the world. I'm very fortunate to have a family that has come to cope, somehow, with my travels, and a supportive team who I can lean on when I need to. But when push comes to shove, it is writing on the blog that has always had the shove.

Maybe that's what making things explicit and public is all about - you magically find time to do things, ditching others, and not giving up what is truly important to you.

Above all, writing every day has been a wonderful model for that little Catriona, and her new (well, now four years old) sister, Anna:

Catriona and Anna.001

February 01, 2015

#28daysofwriting - it starts with one


A confession: our team at NoTosh has had blog guilt for years, and we keep having tense conversations about why we can't better share the amazing work the team and our clients get up to.

We developed a new website two years ago, with a flurry of writing, but haven't updated it half as much as we'd want to. We all have our own individual blogs which we update when... we have a holiday. If our time is not spent in the high energy, high adrenalin of engaging with thousands of teachers at an event, or the intensity of one business leader over the table, it is in the deep troughs of loneliness and boredom that come with sitting on planes for hours, or facing off the computer screen at the home office. 

Well, I know one thing: a good idea never came out of a computer. Great ideas come out of people's heads, and they come from experiences that have provoked them, jarred them, annoyed them, made them laugh or made them cry. The most vibrant of these experiences are not found on our Facebook walls; they are in the world around us.

My colleague Tom, who came up with this idea of 28 minutes of uninterrupted writing over each of February's 28 days, has kicked off what might become a kind of 'writers' anonymous' (indeed, I've fallen off the wagon twice already in this paragraph, helping my daughter work out how to programme her Dash and Dot). A group of fellow bloggers - writers who share their stuff straightaway - who can provide the mutual kick up the backside that no-one else is going to give you.

What do I plan to do with my 28 days? I have no plan at all. Most of my writing is planned - my 60,000 words of book writing was planned. Most of it is to deadlines - while I wrote my book I underestimated the effort it would take to also write 50,000 words of a new Masters course. A large chunk of my writing just needs done (if you've had an email from me this past week, that's you).

But my 28 days of writing, no matter how much arse-kicking my fellow blogging travellers give me, does not need done, and this is no doubt what will compel me to thump out my 28 minutes, every day, without fail.

My only foreseeable challenge with this 'writers' anonymous'? My writing is akin to an alcoholic's drinking - I go cold turkey for weeks on end, but once I start, I find it hard to stop. Keeping to just one 28 minute stint a day will be the challenge.

Here endeth the lesson / the first 28 minutes.

January 14, 2015

Engage, Inspire, Empower - language learning and technology

I got back to being a language teacher last night, doing a quick talk and then conversation with some of the teachers participating in our Malta Better Learning with Technologies groupHere is the video of the talk, where I was inspired by the instant nature of understanding we gain from the cartoons we've seen over the past week:

  • The universal language of image
  • The growth of the image thanks to technology - Insta...everything
  • The move of technology's dominance in text (blogs and podcasts of 2005) to image (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat in 2015)
  • How do we play the whole game of learning, every day, in the language classroom?
  • What S.T.A.R. moments do we create for our students to amplify the meaning of what we're doing?
  • Can we inform students later, and start with the why of engagement, inspiration and then empowering through information and the 'how'?
  • "Real world" does not mean we have to take every student on a foreign exchange visit. Real world is no longer the long-term relationships we had to build with partner schools in 2005. Real world can be short-term reaching out to someone, just for a lesson, for a moment, to gather an empathy for how others might think.
  • Real world can also be imaginative - video games as a stimulus for writing, or TED talks for stimulus in reading and listening (and speaking!).

June 19, 2012

#NeverSeconds: Students can change the world - when we get out of the way

When I was at school, I wrote an article in the student newspaper (the Pupils' View) about how fresh, healthy food was disproportionately overpriced compared to the "yellow food" on offer in the school canteen. The result was that the Catering Director for the Local Authority actually left her job. And I got into a fair bit of trouble.

This all happened in Dunoon Grammar School, part of the Local Authority Argyll and Bute who, with similar sense of grievance and bullying last week attempted to silence one nine-year-old Martha Payne with a brutal, long-winded press release and ban of Martha's online activities.

Martha First Meal
Since the end of the Easter holidays, Martha has been writing a daily food blog about her school lunches, with the support of her dad, as a self-initiated writing project. It also set out in the noble aim to fund the building of kitchens for less fortunate children in Malawi, through the Mary's Meals charity.

Her first posts revealed the tiny portions (hence the name of her blog: NeverSeconds) and, yes, the rather yellow fried nature of her food. But things improved within barely weeks, and most meals were absolutely fine (a summary average of the scores she gave to each meal results in something over 7.5 - not bad for mass-produced school meals, but with room for improvement, a point which was very much Martha's).

Where Martha forgot her camera, she took to drawing her meal. She scored not just out of ten, but also on a health rating, how many mouthfuls it took to get through and, disturbingly, how many pieces of hair were found in it (I've yet to spot the post where there is some hair; again, a good sign).

Within weeks, her notoriety was such that school kids from elsewhere around the world were sharing their meals for Martha to publish on her blog on their behalf. 

TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn championed her and invited Martha over to learn how to cook herself.

Nick Nairn

Vitally, her food portions became bigger, so that a "growing girl" like her had half a chance.

So far, so good, so much a passionate kid with a passion for food, and a good way with words. And a nine-year-old changing her school's approach to food. 

Until last week:

This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today. 

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either. 

Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve "deserts" to our children, really?), "afraid for their jobs". It was, according to one legal journalist, "one of the most piss-poor justifications of a ban of anything from any public authority".

Martha Payne legal tweet

Celeb chef Jamie Oliver, known globally for his crusade against poor school food, waded in to get people to lend their support with a simple retweet of his "Stay strong, Martha".

Martha Payne Jamie Oliver Tweet

Mary's Meals, for whom Martha's blog had raised £2000 by Thursday night, the day of the ban, issued a statement outlining the consequences of the ban on her efforts to build kitchens in schools in Malawi, a country with whom Scotland has a long-standing official partnership.

Martha's "Goodbye" post earned over 2000 comments and Twitter's #neverseconds tag went into meltdown. #NeverSeconds, the girl Martha Payne and, excruciatingly, Argyll and Bute council all hit the top trending terms in the UK. Her blog, having reached 2m hits in just over a month already, now saw its blog counter unable to keep up as she broke through 3m in one day.

And I was livid for her. How dare councils, and this council in particular, once more attempt to bully those in its learning community. I sent a quick tweet to the Education Minister, who is also the member of the Scottish Parliament for the area, requesting he do something in what had already been established a ridiculous and illegal abuse of power. He tweet back that he agreed, having requested the Head of the Council to lift the ban immediately.

Martha Payne Mike Russell to EM

Within 20 minutes the Head of the Council was on the radio, announcing a change of tack.

Argyll and Bute finally managed a new statement, the politicians showing more sense than their feckless faceless bureaucrats and lifting the ban.

As a result of the debacle, Argyll and Bute has gained a global reputation for awful PR, a tortoise-like reaction time on Twitter and, potentially, an interesting place to go on holiday. Was it all a tourism ploy? Given the repeated mess they get themselves into, they're almost certainly not not that clever.

But, on a positive note, Martha's long-term goal of raising £7000 for a new kitchen in a Malawi school was rather superseded: she was at nearly £50,000 ($100,000) at the weekend just past, now at £100,000 ($200,000) with more rushing in every day

She has also created the beginnings of, hopefully, lasting change: she will head up a council summit on school meals and work with them longer term on improving the quality of food for every child in the district. Happily, she's back to blogging it all once more with the support of her school and, reluctantly or not, her Local Authority. She has now had her first kitchen in Malawi named in her honour.

Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. She is another 'Caine', with a supportive parent and facilitating adults around her. She'll go far.

Donate to Martha's campaign through her blog: http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/

January 04, 2012

Collaboration 3: Overcollaboration

One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:


BP fell into the trap of having the emergence of far more networks and subgroups than were strictly necessary to get a result. There was a period where there was “always a good reason for meeting”.

Through social media, particularly in education, it can feel that there are just too many places to go, too many hashtags to follow, too many LinkedIn Groups and Nings to join in order to get some strong, actionable learning out of them.

The result of this over-collaboration can often be disastrous for the student publishing their work or seeking someone to collaborate with - "it's just another student blog", "it's just another wiki of debatable quality" might be the thoughts running through the minds of teachers and students elsewhere when the initial callout for peer support and comments goes out.

Even if comments are made, are they genuinely helpful in the way that structured, framed formative assessment can be within the walls of a classroom, or are they perfunctory "well dones", a digital kiss on the cheek before moving onto the next request?

September 23, 2010

The Learning (B)log: Darren Kuropatwa's class scribes

Darren Kuropatwa Students who explicitly write down what they think they've learnt, what they didn't understand and what they think they need to know next time tend to perform better as a result. It makes concrete the self-assessment and peer-assessment we know help them perform better over time (cf Inside The Black Box (pdf) for details).

Learning logs were a core part of my classroom practice, having seen the effects they have on improving student performance in the bilingual schools of New Brunswick in my first year of teaching. A student there would write down what they had learnt and what they felt they'd have to learn tomorrow in order to achieve the goals of the project they had set out on. In paper format they were quite tricky to manage, and as students peer-assessed there would be paper flying all over the place.

With the emergence of easier-to-use blogs around 2002/3 I started getting students to keep logs of their learning online, instead, initially using the extra time afforded by school trips, before getting more personal blogs set up to keep track of their learning.

At the same time, Darren Kuropatwa, a maths teacher on the other side of the Pond in Manitoba, Canada, had developed an even more manageable and, I think, even more empowering means of having students think about what they had learnt: the learning scribe.

In this podcast series from Alan November, Darren explains the genesis for setting these learning scribe posts up, where one student writes down (online) on behalf of the rest of the class what he or she thinks they all learnt, and what they think they've not understood.

If you've ever doubted how a piece of technology builds upon what we know is great teaching practice, this is it. Harnessing both the online nature of transparent reflection and the constraint of not having a laptop for every child, Darren was able to create a rich experience for every student.

August 23, 2010

Thinking out of the (x)Box: Gaming to expand horizons in creative writing

Originally shared October 11, 2007. Updated August 22nd, 2010.

As a high school French teacher I found the Sims one commercial game that had both the interest of the students and something that directly helped instruct the content I wanted. Since the early 2000s the quality of commercial off-the-shelf games (COTS games) has risen to match the values of feature films.

Most people's perceptions of games and gaming have more to do with the arcade or shoot-em-ups that they experienced when they were teens. How wrong (happily) could they be.

Certain games are incredibly effective at generating more expanded horizons in students imaginations when they are writing and speaking creatively or transactionally. But play itself is not easy to define. In school we have "play time", which must be both different and more fun than any other time in school. If you hear this three times a day over 13 years of schooling what happens to your notion of work and play? It can't be good.

The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.

Jane McGonigal is probably the leading expert in what games offer. She suggests that it's arguably not what most educators think. 'Fun' is but one element that many, but not all, games inspire in us. For learning this is great. 'Fun' gets you the same effect as in this video - you grab attention in the short term, you might even change behaviour. For a while:

'Engagement' is something different. Toledano's pictures of engagement show all sorts of emotions and experiences: fun, fear, angst, perplexity.

I delve into the difference between engagement and fun, and how the former makes video games particularly powerful for learning, in another post just on that.

I've opened some training sessions by looking at something from which is relatively easy to draw the educational link: the arithmetic and literacy challenges in the Nintendo DS game Dr Kawashima's Game Training. LTS's Derek Robertson has undertaken some small-scale case study work which revealed, in this example at least, some increase in attainment, but, more importantly, a great motivation on the part of students to undertake mathematics drills using the game. The interviews with teachers and students help us see where the game added a certain value, and in late summer 2008 this research is being scaled up to 500 DS users.

"New Contexts for learning"

The educational links have to be sought out, though, when the game is not quite so obviously related to curriculum. This is a skill and confidence teachers have to generate by playing games, or at least spectating their children's efforts and discussing the potential with them. Take Nintendogs as an example. In one Aberdeenshire school we have seen how a game about putting virtual dogs through competitions can generate multiple contexts for learning and activities, from running a business to art and design work.

This is what Derek Robertson, heading up the Scottish Centre for Gaming and Learning, refers to as seeking out fresh contexts for learning.

Another popular Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) game, Guitar Hero, has been used in hugely varied ways by clusters of primary schools and their local secondary school in Musselburgh, Scotland. Depute Head Ollie Bray explains the background to the project, the planning that had to take place and some of the activities that prepared primary school students for a day of collaborative Guitar Hero action in the secondary school at the end of the school year to get secondary mentors and their new primary school friends to get to know each other. Activities included designing guitars, learning how to DJ, designing CD cases, writing fictional band member descriptions and life stories, finding out about suitable locations for a world tour using Wikipedia, tourist websites and Google Earth, planning and costing said tour, and, of course, learning how to play a real guitar.

This example, like the others before it, have been inspired by the work of Learning and Teaching Scotland's Consolarium.

We also need to consider the kinds of skills games can help students learn before jumping in. Marc Prensky's breakdown of the stages of learning in a game are useful for starters. Most teachers would see the 'how' in playing as the main activity in a game, but moving into the moral dilemmas and complexity of decision-making in more long-term "no endgame in sight" games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon, we can see that very quickly students are moving into the areas of when, where and, ultimately, 'whether and if' type decisions.

To see where this might head in the very near future, it's worth bearing with Sim City creator Will Wright as he takes us exploring his forthcoming PC and console game Spore:

Expanding the horizons of our imaginations
The environments within Spore are far more graphically advanced and appealing, far more personalisable than anything that has gone before it. While we wait for Spore to hit the shelves, though, we can still get that buzz and expansion of our imaginations by touring around Myst, Samorost 2 or Haluz. Taking Myst first, a $20 game that has been around for 10 years now, we have ample resource on the web already to see how it could be exploited to bring students' use of language up a bar or two.

Maintaining rigour and engagement
Tim Rylands is by far the Myst Master, using the dreamy and occasionally spooky landscapes in Myst III in particular to get students loving creative writing - and improving attainment as a result. LTS has also carried out a Myst case study to show how replicable this way of teaching can be. Viewing Tim at work you'll notice that although the method appears spanking new, the pedagogical background is as firm as it's ever been. I love the use of realia to help students find out what sand really feels like, for example. You'll also notice writing being modeled around extensive use of adjective and adverb, effective punctuation using the punctuation pyramid to differentiate and escalate grammar use:

. ?
. ? , !
. ?, ! ’ “”
- . ? , ! ’ “” : ; ()

He sits with the children in the class, with one computer, a wireless keyboard and mouse meaning he's not bolted to the front stage. He praises students by repeating, affirming their work. Students write, write, write, all the time engaged with the task in hand. The result is the kind of writing from young children that is well beyond their (apparent) years. And even with our youngest learners, these ones just seven years old, we can use paired writing to achieve equally magical results. The trick is not the technology, but the support it provides to a great teacher intent on getting kids exploring the wonderful world of words.

Visuwords.com was a wonderful tool introduced to me here in New Zealand just minutes before the workshop in Auckland, which will provide more independent learners with a means of seeing the connections between the basic vocabulary they already have and the new words they don't know exist yet.

We can analyse students' writing afterwards, seeing which words they are overusing or if they could make their text more powerful (by taking a deluge of continuous presents into the active (e.g. the clock chimes, instead of "the clock is chiming") by copying and pasting their text into Wordle.com.

The kind of tasks you can do with these games, though, is not limited purely to 'creative' writing in the fantasy-land way:

  • journalistic accounts of what has happened (past tense)
  • descriptive tourist brochure of the place you are
  • "What happens next?" cliffhanger writing
  • poetry or haiku (this could even be done through Twitter, as I described here).
  • writing a transactional piece of writing (a cheat sheet or walkthrough)

And the writing needn't be done individually: group and collaborative writing is possible, too, either using the technology of Google Docs and wikis for some virtual collaboration, or using large A3 paper, rectangle drawn to create a large margin in which up to four students write a little before spinning the paper to add to their friends' texts.

Other ideas to help structure writing might be found in books that have spawned from Raymond Quéneau's original "Exercices de style". The notable visual literacy offspring from this masterpiece would be Matt Madsen's 99 ways to tell a story, some of whose pages you can preview on the web. You might also think of taking the writing into a new format, copying some of the ideas in Penguin's We Tell Stories series by incorporating place into writing using Google Maps, for example.

'Free' writing
Buying Myst or a bunch of Nintendo DSes (for which Myst was launched in November 2007) might still be too much of an investment for a teacher just wanting to dip their toes in the water. In terms of Dr Kawashima-like games, plump for Tutpup, a free online mathematics and literacy gaming platform that keeps children's identities safe and provides email reports for parents or teachers. In terms of Myst-like creative work, there are some flash-based free games on the web which provide equally mysterious imagination food.

Samorost is available in two versions. Samorost 1 is great fun, although the opening scene with a hooka-smoking hippy may push some teachers away. Samorost 2 is a great game for all ages when it comes to dreamy landscapes on which to base some creative writing. When I blogged about it last session Kim picked up on it and almost instantaneously jumped into creating some amazing teaching and learning opportunities in her classroom. Thankfully, she's blogged about the process and her thoughts on using the game as a stimulus for creative writing. I don't want to copy and paste her thoughts, so take a look for yourself at this great teacher's work, in particular:

I think I know the answer to the last question, and it's the answer with so much of this technology. It's not that the technology is particular cool, funky, well-made or educationally sound. It's that the teacher's style of teaching and learning has almost undoubtedly changed. We've been seeing it since, too, with Ant's students with additional support needs.

Here, in this last example, we witness Kim going from the unknown into the deeper unknown. Living on the edge, not sure how it will pan out, being on the same level of anticipation and discovery as the kids in this new emerging world, means that her practice is also constantly emerging. And that, as I have said [too] often, is a central key to us doing better.

Are you using games or game-making to expand the imaginations of yourself or your students? Are you talking about it on your blog or wiki, or even sharing your students' work? I'd love to know about it.


January 12, 2010

My Top 20 On The Web: and yours? #mytop20

AllMediaScotland asked me to line up my top 20 sites, apps or feeds and, of course, it's one of those impossible-to-hone -down lists. I took up the challenge, though, and picked 20 from my "Read Me First" folder on Google Reader. Have a look and see if there are any new ones on there for you, and then, if the desire takes you, post your own top 20 with the tag #mytop20

December 17, 2009

Blogging improves young people's confidence in their writing and reading

Parent and student at Humbie Primary School blogging

A parent learns to blog on East Lothian's eduBuzz blogging-for-learning platform, alongside her daughter at Humbie Primary School. Pic: David Gilmour

Today, in a world of social networks young people have never written or read so much. And now, a new more robust survey in the UK shows conclusively that social networking, blogging and generally publishing writing online does improve students' attitudes to writing by about a sixth. I'd add that, in the hands of a good teacher's structured approach, the quality of that writing itself should be seen to improve, too.

Action research of mine that got published almost exactly four years ago showed that blogging within a structured learning environment improves writing in a foreign language, by providing an audience - and would help improve reading, too. Last year, Becta's Web 2.0 research showed that the increased use of social networks in itself didn't necessarily correlate to more creativity or better production of media, but that the role for mentors (e.g. parents, teachers) was still paramount in eking out the most constructive use of technologies.

From the BBC this week:

A survey of 3,001 children aged nine to 16 found that 24% had their own blog and 82% sent text messages at least once a month.

In addition 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends.

...Of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47% rated their writing as "good" or "very good", while 61% of the bloggers and 56% of the social networkers said the same.

"Our research suggests a strong correlation between kids using technology and wider patterns of reading and writing," Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, told BBC News.

"Engagement with online technology drives their enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries."

Mr Douglas dismissed criticisms about the informal writing styles often adopted in online chat and "text speak", both of which can lack grammar and dictionary-correct spelling.

"Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive - the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills."

It's good to see some balanced journalism from the Beeb this yuletide, pulling in the pantomime "boos" of the National Association for Primary Education to cast a de-professionalising spell over any enthusiastic educator:

"Most primary school teachers are doubtful about hooking children up to computers - especially when they are young," said John Coe, general secretary of the National Association for Primary Education.

"They see enormous advantages in the relationship between teacher and child. Sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the age of 13."

Nonetheless, it's vital that research like this being taken on board by those making purchasing, training and pedagogical approach decisions.

A question, then, to those in the higher echelons of classroom practice decision-making: will over four years of conclusive research tip  you into overtly supporting the use of web publishing in your school environments, from elementary through to secondary and higher education?

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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