Friday, November 03, 2006

Long over due wrap up and notes

The group working on this blog in Spring 06 finished up their work within a Blackboard discussion forum.

A new sets of postings to the blog will begin in early December 2006.

See you then.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Copyright discussion

I'm not sure if this fits in with the multi-media discussion, but it touches on some of the topics we talked about in our copyright discussion. Specifically, where does the line end between your own work and that which came before? How much can you borrow from other authors and creators?
This is just a link to a Da Vinci Code copyright case that was posted Sunday. Apparently the case (which inlvolves other authors who had espoused many of the same ideas as Dan Brown) should wrap up Monday.
Whatever the outcome, the article makes clear it will have momentous impact on the copyright discussion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Multimedia: No Child Left Behind, Camcorders, and Original Poetry

An article in the online Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes efforts by four school districts to engage middle school students who were "not inclined to create" by encouraging them to use technology. Using a grant from No Child Left Behind to purchase laptop computers and video-production software, the districts designed a project with goals, " use modern technology to research, write and design multimedia projects, boost the students' motivation and self-esteem in the classroom, and have the teachers involved integrate the technology into everyday teaching methods, according to Kevin Messman, the district's coordinator of instructional technology." For example, one district's students illuminated their own original poetry. The results were very positive. Students knew more about the technology than the teachers, which reversed the role of "teacher" in the classroom. Students who did not necessarily "like" writing before enjoyed the process and empowerment: they realized that composition is an emotional process. Their confidence increased in English and other subjects as well."Kirsten Yoder, the Eisenhower teacher assigned to the project, said she's seen her students react positively to the project because it doesn't penalize them for past problems, like being behind peers in a particular field. 'It's more of an equalizer, because the kids are all starting from different backgrounds. It's not so much about how did they do on their last test.'"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Portfolio Assessment Model for ESL

I discovered an interesting article which gives practical advice on developing a portfolio assessment model for ESl students in The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students. To sum up, the proposed model breaks down the development of a portfolio into six main levels as well as subheads.

Identify purpose and focus of portfolio
1. Establish a portfolio committee
2. Focus the portfolio

Plan portfolio contents
3. Select assessment procedures
4. Specify portfolio contents
5. Determine frequency of assessment

Design portfolio analysis
6. Set standards and criteria
7. Determine procedure to integrate information
8. Schedule staff responsibilities for analysis

Prepare for instruction
9. Plan instructional use
10. Plan feedback to students and parents

Plan verification of procedures
11. Establish a system to check reliability
12. Establish a system to validate decisions

Implement the model

While I found the real-time model useful, the authors also offered another reason portfolios may work well for ESL students. "Linguistic, cultural and educational diversity in the ESl classroom are easily addressed in assessment because portfolios can be individualized." While they don't spend anymore time on the topic, it really got me thinking.
What I love about portfolios is that they can be so easily tailored to a student's interest, thereby reaching and hopefully interesting everyone. For example, using the gender issues we've been talking about and trying to get boys more involved in reading and writing--say you assign a story about baseball. You think that the boys are going to all love it, yet if they didn't grow up in a culture that values baseball, they could probably care less about the topic whether they're male or female.
Yet, if you allow students to pick topics meaningful to them, you not only show them their new school values their heritage or culture, you can get them more involved. Additionally, during the peer review section students of other nationalities can hopefully learn something about another culture or value system.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Premature Obituary of the Book
Hi everyone-
This isn't really on my topic but it touches on a lot of stuff we've been discussing: why males don't read as much as females and the replacement of books with computer screens). I'll post on my other topic later this week, but thought this was worth a quick mention.
Published in The New Republic in May of 2001, the author is Mario Vargas Llosa, a Georgetown professor and author.
While the article is a defense of the study of literature, he concludes that most men don't read enough because they are "too busy" dealing with the realities of life. I'll let the author explain in his own words. This excerpt is from his opening paragraph.

It has often happened to me, at book fairs or in bookstores, that a gentleman approaches me and asks me for a signature. "It is for my wife, my young daughter, or my mother," he explains. "She is a great reader and loves literature." Immediately I ask: "And what about you? Don't you like to read?" The answer is almost always the same: "Of course I like to read, but I am a very busy person." I have heard this explanation dozens of times: this man and many thousands of men like him have so many important things to do, so many obligations, so many responsibilities in life, that they cannot waste their precious time buried in a novel, a book of poetry, or a literary essay for hours and hours. According to this widespread conception, literature is a dispensable activity, no doubt lofty and useful for cultivating sensitivity and good manners, but essentially an entertainment, an adornment that only people with time for recreation can afford. It is something to fit in between sports, the movies, a game of bridge or chess; and it can be sacrificed without scruple when one "prioritizes" the tasks and the duties that are indispensable in the struggle of life.
It seems clear that literature has become more and more a female activity. In bookstores, at conferences or public readings by writers, and even in university departments dedicated to the humanities, the women clearly outnumber the men. The explanation traditionally given is that middle-class women read more because they work fewer hours than men, and so many of them feel that they can justify more easily than men the time that they devote to fantasy and illusion. I am somewhat allergic to explanations that divide men and women into frozen categories and attribute to each sex its characteristic virtues and shortcomings; but there is no doubt that there are fewer and fewer readers of literature, and that among the saving remnant of readers women predominate.

This article was great, if for nothing else, as a reminder that reading is important and the study of literature is crucial to the human race.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Males vs Females: Creating Assignments that Boys Enjoy

“If we leave [the] processes of reading and writing cloaked in mystery, telling ourselves that it all either comes naturally or else it doesn’t, we surrender to voodoo pedagogy. In voodoo, privileged people, objects and rituals are invested with secret magical power, and to some of our students it certainly seems that there must be mysterious, unnamed powers needed to do well in English.”(Pirie, 2002, p. 52)
As a female English teacher, I am discovering more and more the need to identify with my male students so that I don't leave them victim to voodoo pedagogy. One of the main errors, we make as female teachers is that we fail to acknowledge the differences in boy's and girl's learning styles, and therefore, fail to teach the process of discovery within the text. This makes boys feel stupid and eventually turns them off to reading and writing. Still, not only do we fail to teach the process of textual analysis, but as I had stated in an earlier post, we fail to create themes that intrigue boy learners.

I found two pretty interesting ideas for teaching reading and writing to boys. In the first, the teacher focuses on sports and in the second, the teacher focuses on masculity.
Working with a local sports organizationIn the United Kingdom, the Arsenal football club (or soccer club, as we would call it in North America) has set up an outreach literacy program for schools, using specially designed literacy materials. All of the reading and writing in the program is related to football and its star players. The program is delivered by football-loving teenagers. Among other benefits, the program draws on the uncanny ability of some children to absorb sports 'facts'. Being able to apply that knowledge in a learning situation gives them a surge of confidence.(Klein, 2002)
In one all-boys class run by a male teacher in a co-educational school, discussion focused on an up-front-and-personal investigation of masculinity: what meanings are associated with being a boy at school and a man in the wider community?The teacher harnessed boys' personal interests and experiences as a starting point for literacy activities. He brought to their attention for debate and discussion the privileges and limitations associated with living life as a male, and the problematics of gender and power relations that circulated among them. As well, boys were invited to discuss how particular versions of masculinity were produced and disseminated in popular media.(Alloway and Gilbert, 1997, p. 138)

Finally, based on the discussion we had last class about incorporating multi-modal/media writing assignments to attract boys, I found evidence acknowledging that indeed incorporating more kinesthetic learning activities will engage boys. They enjoy any kind of manipulatives. While we may not have ready access to computer-related activities, we can begin to incorporate more drama and small group research projects into our classroom activities.

Ultimately we have got to be steadfast in seeking an answer because the gender gap in literacy is a real problem. According to one source, “Boys’ underachievement is a major concern. Nationally, boys fall behind girls in early literacy skills and this gap in attainment widens with age. The challenge of raising achievement directly addresses the learning needs of our students and the professional growth of our teachers, and enhances the role of the school as an agent of social change. We want to give boys and girls the best opportunity to become powerful learners.”(UK Department for Education and Skills, n.d.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Reflective Portfolio: Two Case Studies from the United Arab Emirates

I wanted to continue the theme of using portfolios for ESL students, because I think the skills they teach these students also pertain to students who may use English as a primary language, but may not be proficient. In many urban, poor areas students are not always coming away from school with a full command of the English language; portfolios seem to be an excellent resource for these students to learn. Speaking as a literacy tutor, my current student (who is a 46-year old male) could not sit down and bang out a timed composition no matter how hard he tried. Other students I've tutored have told me when they were called on in class, they would act up so they were sent to the principal's office rather than look foolish in front of their classmates.
I believe portfolios can relieve some of these types of students' anxieties (and I also believe there are a lot more students like these than many people think). Giving them time to go over their work is an excellent way for them to feel more comfortable and thereby learn more.
Anyway, I found an interesting article on a pilot portfolio experiment at Dubai Men's College and the United Arab Emirates University during the Spring 2000 semester.
What I found most helpful with this article is it gave concrete examples of portfolio inclusions. For example, students created five entries: a letter of introduction to their teacher; using the past tense to write about a prior important experience; a formal complaint letter linked to their content area; a student generated topic (in this case, the problems or challenges facing the UAE and possible solutions); and finally, a reflective letter, detailing their feelings about the experiment, areas they felt where they improved and areas that still needed improvement.
The only quoted student wrote that he is more comfortable in writing now, and his problem areas of grammar and spelling have improved. While he agrees portfolios are the best way to improve writing, he did find them boring.
What struck me as most beneficial about the reflective letter is the idea of forcing the student to think in a new way. Most students will likely never have thought much about their work, it is usually just produced automatically. Forcing a student to think critically about themselves and their work is a good exercise in critical analysis that translates to the everyday world (as anyone who has been on a job interview can attest).

"Boys far behind in WASL" [focus: stereotyping]

Something Andrea said during our last class session piqued my interest. She talked about boys' interests and the fact that video games are probably more appealing to them vs. reading and/or writing. This lead to Natasha's comment about technology, how working on the computer is usually more appealing to boys. I agree with both observations, however I wonder how large a roll stereotyping plays in this scene. Are boys supposed to like video games more than girls? Are boys supposed to be better on the computer than girls? Did boys have to stake claim on playing video games and working on the computer as boy activities?

Have any of you read or see the public broadcast of "Raising Cain"? It provides a wonderful peek into the lives of boys in today's society. Like girls, boys seek acceptance by their peers, however it is crucial for boys to find a niche. Sometimes this comes naturally; sometimes boys force themselves into a group, just to say they have a group. As far as most boys are concerned reading/writing is not an option as a group to join. “That’s something girls do.”

The media, books, teachers, parents, and kids have created a stereotype for how boys should act – defined what groups they should join. How can this stereotype be broken down, so that boys feel safe to explore literature, prose, poetry and writing without feeling like they’re breaking an unspoken boundary?

The article "Boys far behind in WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning)" by Eric Stevick and Scott North, hits on, among other things, the issue of stereotyping. In the article, First Lady Laura Bush, “linked boys' classroom woes with societal ills, including gang violence. …Bush in May told The Miami Herald that "in a lot of ways, we have neglected boys over the last several generations, that we bought into the stereotype of boys that all of us know intuitively is not right, that boys don't need nurturing, that they can take care of themselves, that they don't need special mentoring from a father or really from anyone."

Recently Natasha responded to a blogger post: “it is finding valuable works by African-American writers who have come out of the oral tradition, and teaching those texts in a mode that is familiar and appealing to our African-American male students. I believe strongly, that if we could and would do this with an understanding, we could reach more of our African-American boys and men. They are not idiot; we just haven't learned how to reach them.

What Natasha posted is exactly what’s suggested in this article, at least as a place to start. “Writing can be personal and boys are often reluctant to open up, said Peter Hendrickson, an assessment specialist with the Everett district. One option is to connect reading and writing to an activity boys enjoy - especially sports and other physical pursuits. As a soccer coach, Hendrickson used to bring books onto the practice field to share with his players. "The boys need that OK, that permission, from an important male" to develop reading and writing skills, he said.”