On Language and Power: a WMWP Keynote Address

Dr. Floris Wilma Ortiz-Marrero gave a powerful keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project on Saturday on the topic of language, power, and teaching to all students, particularly those whose second language is English. Wilma is the 2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a fearless and tireless advocate for English Language Learner students. She is also a longtime leader in the National Writing Project’s ELL Network.

Here, Wilma advocated for recognizing the authenticity of the cultural values and languages that students bring to the classroom, and use those understands as the underpinning for learning. Wilma urges all of us to open our eyes to possibilities, and even shares a few anecdotes of her own stumbles in the classroom (including a funny exchange in which she wanted her students to talk about what makes a good “speaker” but one of her students assumed she meant music speakers, not human speakers.)

Peace (in the sharing),

Some Words about the Writing Project

One of my mentors in the early years of teaching and in the National Writing Project, Bruce Penniman, received the 2010 Pat Hunter Award at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project event this weekend. To say that Bruce nurtured WMWP during his tenure as site director would be a vast understatement. And although retired from teaching, Bruce continues to be a force in education to be reckoned with. (See his book, Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support and Success, which was published last year)

Bruce instills leadership in those he works with by instilling trust of ideas and the confidence that the person can get things done. Although I did not know Patricia Hunter, who helped found the WMWP, she apparently had the same qualities.

Peace (in the sharing),

The Glogster Session at WMWP

glogster website
(Go to my Glogster Website Resource)

Yesterday morning, as part of our annual Best Practices event with Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I presented a session on using Glogster.edu in the classroom. I had about 25 people in the session and guess what? The technology worked! They all had computers to work on, the site was not blocked by the University, and they had plenty of time to play around with creating a project and reflecting on the use of Glogster in their classroom.


The things that I emphasized in the workshop were:

  • Teaching the elements of design principles
  • Copyright issues
  • Using multimedia for composition
  • The difference between regular Glogster and Glogster.edu
  • Technology being a learning tool for all curriculum areas
  • The importance of writing before technology (ie, planning, drafting, revising)
  • Advertising on websites and some strategies for avoiding it

Then, I set them up with accounts in my Glogster account, and let them have about 50 minutes (more than half the session) in playtime, which they all greatly appreciated. You can talk and talk about Glogster, but this is one tool that you have to experience to really begin to understand it.

As the Exit Slip, I had them use Wallwisher to leave a note on how they might envision using Glogster in their classroom:

Peace (in the sharing),

Fare thee well, Bloglines (old friend)

There was a time when I had no idea what RSS was, or had any clue as to what an aggregator might do for me, or had more than a limited notion of the concept of “pull” when it comes to bringing information to you. And that time wasn’t really all that long ago. I still remember the meeting where my National Writing Project friend Christina Cantrill said the word “Bloglines” to me, and explained how it would “aggregate” my “feeds” and it was as if she were speaking a foreign language to me. I had no idea what she was even talking about, although I probably nodded my head “yes” as if I did. (I’m good at that)

Christina was speaking another language (tech tongue?), really, and yet I needed to know what she was telling me because we were in the midst of a pretty large blogging project with multiple sites and, as the project leader, I was having to go to each site to check up on updates. That was a lot of surfing. I didn’t immediately catch what Christina was telling me. It too some time to sink in, to wrap my head around it, but soon I went to a RSS Aggregator called Bloglines, and I was hooked. It also helped that at the time, I was reading Will Richardon’s book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom and Richardson was clear that RSS was a game changer for gathering tools to transform the classroom.

I used Bloglines for a long stretch of time, and loved it. Except it kept breaking down on me. There were times when I would not get updates when I knew there were updates. I have patience with technology but there was a point when I finally said “enough” and moved over to Google Reader, which I love.

I learned the other day that Bloglines is now dead.  I’m sorry to see it go, even though I wasn’t using it anymore. Bloglines brought me into the Web 2.0 world like nothing else had, and opened up doors for connecting with other teachers and learning from others, and stealing their ideas (I admit it). I’m grateful for that, old friend. I’m sorry you could not keep up with the sweeping changes, and sorry I had to abandon you.

Peace (in the feeds),

Voicethread, Tech Troubles, and Student Voice

(see the voicethread)
It was too late yesterday when I suddenly remembered an old blog post from my kindergarten colleague, Gail, about her difficulties last year with using Voicethread in the classroom with all the laptops up and running. And so, I found out what Gail had earlier discovered: the wireless “pipes” soon became overloaded with data flows as my four classes of 21 students podcasted their voice into our Voicethreads of Vehicles of the Future. The browsers had trouble loading, and to top it off, our Microsoft virus/spyware protection was downloading updates in the background.

We survived, by adapting. I channeled students to my two computers, and when one of the laptops was working, we shuffled students around. I had a secondary activity waiting for them, so mostly, they all had something to do even if they were waiting. But I was running to and fro like a madman teacher, fixing problems and helping students with Voicethread, which they had never used before but liked it.

The result is that MOST of the students in three of the classes were able to complete their podcasts on Voicethread, and the remaining ones I will find a way to get to today, I hope.

The funny, and good, thing is that they didn’t seem too flustered with all the problems. I kept my calm demeanor (sort of), and came up with solutions as needed, and they mostly just went right with it. In the past, I have used Voicethread by having students come up to me and podcast with me working the computer. I didn’t want that for this project. I wanted the tools in their hands.

(On a sidenote for teachers considering voicethread: I used my teacher account to create the four voicethreads — for four classes — and then had a secondary Voicethread account for students to use. I did this so they could not edit the thread beyond adding voice or text, and because we don’t have student email. I then embedded the thread at our blog, which is where they worked from. This system seemed to work fine.)

Next time, I am going to do things a bit differently. I will have them pair up on a single computer, alternating, so that we can reduce the flow of data on our wireless server. Yes, there will be a “next time,” because I try real hard not to let the technical difficulties get in the way of using a tool that brings out the creative voice in my students. We’ll figure it out.

Peace (in the threads),