BCTELA/NCTE Regional Conference 2009

I have been meaning to post something about the recent BCTELA conference, which was actually, this year, an NCTE North-West Regional conference.

I think it went wonderfully.

All the educators who came to share their practice were of such high calibre, and the attendees were so open to expanding their practice, that the whole weekend couldn’t help but be productive and inspiring.  We also had some excellent vendors’ displays (which teachers always like :).

There were a few disappointed folks who had signed up for Susan and my session which was changed to be part of the High School Matters session.  We still got to meet with them but didn’t have the time we had hoped.  We did get to hear the keynote speakers in that session, which we wouldn’t have otherwise.

I am always so energised when we (teachers) get together with a common purpose.  We are so much stronger and effective as a group than we are as individuals.  That’s hard to remember in our classrooms from day to day but it’s so important!

I truly hope that folks went back to their home districts and shared what they had learned and their new ideas.  I’ve already heard of one group who is going to start a professional study group (for lack of a better title) and the first text they’ll look at is Pulling Together, a newly released text from Pembroke by four very talented teachers in the Richmond school district and who also happen to be my colleagues on the BCTELA Executive Committee (I’m going to read it very soon and will make efforts to reflect here).

**I’d like to point out that if you are an ELA teacher in BC and you have a local group with which you meet to develop your practice, we (BCTELA) would love to hear from you!

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Visual Thesaurus

I stumbled upon a neat site the other day.  It’s called Visual Thesaurus.  It acts as a dictionary and a thesaurus  all in a mind-map format.  Check out the sample, and be sure to hover your cursor over the junctions.

The site also has some pretty decent lesson ideas.  Really, one could adapt their concept to produce a paper output.  The software isn’t free (sigh) but they do have an institutional rate.

I think it’s cool.

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This is such a perfect example of the time and energy that students are willing to dedicate to an issue/topic in which they’re interested.  A textbook example of authentic inquiry.

Physics Inquiry

It’s pretty awesome.

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Visits with The Adolescent Literacy Network

The week I gave a short presentation to the Adolescent Literacy Network on graphic novels and comics.  The ALN is composed (mostly) of literacy consultants and helping teachers from districts all over BC – whoever wants to come (from what I understand).  They meet regularly to share what they are doing in their own districts: what’s working well for their teachers and what their teachers are struggling with.  They are a lovely bunch of people.

The format for my presentation was very loose and I was a little nervous that I would bore them or seem to be some kind of inexperienced fool.  Actually, it was wonderful!  They really enjoyed what I had to say and I think we started some conversations that will continue into the future –  I made tentative plans to visit some of their districts to continue the conversation and to draw other teachers in to it.

I had decided to present the Persepolis unit on which I have been collaborating with Chris.  Mostly, I presented my Vocab ppt to illustrate an entry point to the academic, literary study of comics for students and teachers.  It was well received.

I am formulating ideas that teachers who have never read comics or graphic novels should absolutely spend time reading some before approaching planning lessons around them.  Some teachers are feeling pressure to encorporate comics into their lessons, especially at the elementary level.  To those teachers, I want to suggest starting with smaller scale visual literacy, using classic art works; learn to read the story in the  picture.

My strengths are in literature at the secondary level, so that’s what I see/read in the way of comics;  like comics that employ the literary devices that we study in secondary grades.  I don’t think, though, that I am wrong in thinking that basic visual literacy skills and story-telling devices can be taught seperately at the elementary level.  Students need to become comfortable in, or familliar with, expressing their ‘reading’ of a text aloud before they can tackle the more sophicticated literary texts.

I am looking forward to spending more time with the lovely people I met at the ALN.

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Podcasting: My Next Project (also, response to lesson 9)

I recently read an article about podcasting in education called There’s Something in the Air.  It was exactly what I needed to start planning (and scheming) for my next project of influence.  As is often the case, the target of my influence will be Christopher.

I have mentioned to him that I have plans for a school-related summer project and he seems to be on board.  The plan is to record a few podcasts over the summer which he can then use in one or two courses next year.  Baby steps, but slow and steady wins the race 🙂

My initial ideas are:

  • choose a difficult text (perhaps a grade 11 or 12/DP level, on a grade 10 subject) and do a simple reading.  Students will follow along and understand advanced syntax, vocabulary and phrasing more easily when they hear it spoken.
  • prepare mini-lectures on some topics that don’t usually make it into the schedule in the end of year crunch or on ‘further reading’-type topics to supplement advanced texts for students who may want to inquire further.
  • Model active reading by doing a think-aloud while reading for students who need more support in cultivating their inner reading voice.

I realize all the above ideas are things that can be done in class.  The podcasts we make will be in addition to Chris doing these things already in class.  Keep in mind, while we might do one or two think-alouds during a course to model how we would like students to engage with a text, some studnets may want or need more.  Chris and I can start making a bank of course-related podcasts to which we can refer students if they would like more practice.  It’s also a good way to assign listening homework (think: oral/aural skills in the new BC ELA IRP).

By encorporating podcasts into the bank of course resources, we could then move to getting students to create their own.  This may be an asset for their preparation for the IOC they have to do in DP English.

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Teaching Persepolis: mid-way

So Chris’ and my Persepolis unit is coming to the half-way point.  We had a status meeting yesterday in preparation for the return to school after his two-week spring break and modified some of the blogging requirements.   We also wrote up the unit MYP-style on Atlas Rubicon.

The students have not been blogging as much as we wanted them to.  I think this is partly due to the fact that they think this is an ‘easy’ unit because the text is in comics and therefore their reading doesn’t take as long as with other texts.  Chris and I discussed that next time we’ll have to repackage the blog homework and/or do more modelling in class so that it the process isn’t a barrier to their showing us their understanding.

We also reduced the number of posts they have to make per week but have decreed that the quality of language/grammar/syntax must improve.  In the first week back Chris will devote a lesson to appropriate tone, mechanics, and awareness of audience and lead a discussion about how one of our unit questions (How does the medium affect the message?) apply to their using a popular digital tool (blogs) to demonstrate their academic experiences.  He will also showcase on or two highlight posts each week from now on in class to encourage the students who are struggling. 

The wiki has been very sporadic.  When we discussed it, Chris and I found that we had differing views as to how it would be assesed.  It was a good moment to realign our collaborative goals.  I think I will try t o get him to use a wiki for his grade 12s’ year-end review as I’m not convinced that his grade 10s will do what I want to see them doing.

Overall, this unit is going well.  Persepolis has been a great bridge between 1984  and The Godfather.  We will sit down again at the unit’s end and debrief.  We will definitely do this unit again and I think I have made a little room in Chris’ classroom practice for blogs and other new technologies.

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Creative Commons

I’m sure everyone has had students who have “borrowed” images or other project enhancers from the internet.  Even though we teach them about the evils of plagerism and how to cite sources, it often feels like we’re simply saying “don’t” more often than not which seems to stifle their eager creativity. 
We need to teach and model an educated awareness of intellectual and creative property – openly.  This presenation provoked me to think about how I will modify future project instructions and pre-project activities to lead students into the arena of the Creative Commons.  There are some neat sites and services mentioned in this presentation that I will check out when I have a moment too.  It was posted to a site called Slideshare (more on Slideshare later…).

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