How should a blog be used?

I was reading some random blogs today looking for inspiration for a post of my own.  I came across a blog I hadn’t seen before, T.Howe | Glosses, and a post that ended with this line:

New year’s resolution? To use this blog the way it should be used!

This idea that there is a way a blog should be used intrigued me.  Am I using this blog the way it should be used?

I use this blog to record my thoughts, to try to create conversation, to ask questions.  I use it to comment on things — issues in education, technology and life — that interest me.

I have other blogs that serve other purposes, and I guess they do what they are supposed to do.  But this blog has a more nebulous purpose.  I guess that means it is fulfilling its purpose.  (Low expectations are easier to meet!)

Is there some way that a blog should be used, though?  If so, what is it?  Any ideas?

Yes, please!

Tim over at Assorted Stuff has a post Please Stop Saying That that I could really relate to.  He identifies four phrases that he would like to see eliminated from our discourse, and I have to say I totally agree with him.  The offending phrases are:

21st Century skills

digital native/digital immigrant

web 2.0

back to normal

Tim explains his reasons for disliking all four, and they are good ones, I think.

The digital native/immigrant divide really irritates me.  As Tim says, it is now used primarily by adults as an excuse for not using technology or for not keeping up with technology.  As I am sure I have said somewhere before, I am 59 years old, and I am much more technologically aware than many of my students, who are about 20.  It isn’t a questions of age but rather one of experience and interest.  It is, I think, also a question of what we in the langauge teaching business refer to as tolerance of ambiguity.  It is why some people travel and others stay home.  Some people like to be out there experimenting and others don’t.

So what terms could we use instead of these?  What terms actually describe the dichotomy, if there even is one?  What is the real question?  Any ideas?

Finding some balance

I am one of those teachers who bends over backwards for her students.  Now that my kids are all gone, it fits into my life to do that.  My husband doesn’t object and he is big enough to take care of himself if he needs something.  But this semester I have a group of students who are extremely demanding.  They question every assignment grade.  They wanted to submit many drafts, with only the most minor of edits made.  And since I have more students than normal this semester, this has been a real problem.  I ended up spending all weekend every weekend working on stuff for school.  So I decided to make some changes.

Last week I explained to the group currently writing papers that I would look at three drafts and I would look at them on certain days.  If they wanted me to look at the draft, it had to be submitted before then.  So yesterday I looked at 20 drafts.  But that was it.  Of course, some students submitted a second draft before they read my comments, but I am ignoring those until I check drafts again on Wednesday.

I hope that this will help make the students more responsible and thoughtful about the work they turn in as well as help me find some balance between work and life.  We both need it!

Mid-semester break

Here we are, halfway through the semester.  I don’t remember any semester that has left me needing a break as much as this one has.  For the first time, I am thinking of imposing an attendance policy similar to what the math department has – the equivalent of 2 weeks’ worth of absences means you fail the course.  Attendance has never been a problem for me in university level ESL until now.  On top of that, simplifying my expectations for the courses does not seem to have helped.  Maybe I do need to go back and teach simple sentences.

Anyway… I am really trying to take a break from it here.  But I can’t stop thinking and trying to come up with answers.  I am hoping that I can gain a little perspective.  I need it!

Cell phones and other burning issues

I am late getting on this topic.  I read the post on change.org when it was made,but I didn’t have time to really pay a lot of attention.  I pretty much dismissed it almost immediately.  While I don’t love phones in general, anyone who says

Cell phones baffle me.

is so far from my world that I didn’t pay a lot of attention.  But Ira’s post over at SpeEdChange made me look at the original post again.  He says:

This teacher is talking about nothing here but her own comfort and belief system. She thinks best when it is quiet. She thinks best when focused on one thing. She believes there is a specific way to study a text. And it is her job to bring these students to her beliefs.

The fact that some of us might function best in other ways, that some of us might need other structures, does not occur to her. If we would only “come to the light” – we would understand.

He encourages people to go to the original post and read the whole discussion, so I did.  It was fascinating.

The original post discusses everything from cell phone rudeness in class to the author’s belief that

By forcing them to put their phones and laptops away, I am giving them the opportunity to stop the random, jittery stimulation and instant information that surrounds them at all times, and instead turn their attention to a deep and slow understanding of one specific text, idea or question.

What strikes me most about the original post is the author’s conviction that she is right.  Maybe I am crazy, but I am seldom convinced that what I do in the classroom is “right”.  I am constantly experimenting, looking for a better way to do things.  While you may not agree with me, I do not think this makes me a “bad” teacher.  In fact, I think it is one of my strengths as a teacher.   But, of course, I may not be right.  Maybe it is a weakness.  What I am sure of is that if I continue to question my own teaching, I will discover if I am on the wrong track pretty quickly.

The discussion after the original post is even more interesting than the original post.  Both sides of the issue (and maybe a couple other angles, too!) are represented.  Ira himself posts his rules for cell phones in his classroom:

(1) Keep it out, on your desk. That way, if you’ve forgotten to silence the ring, we’re not waiting for you to find it in your backpack.

(2) If you need to talk, go outside. No big deal.

(3) Have it on all the time – we’ll be using it – polleverywhere, todaysmeet, SMS questions to people out of the classroom, sharing links, putting important notes in our calendars.

Of course the discussion that follows points out that not everyone has internet access on their phones, but basically Ira’s rules make sense to me:

  1. Keep the cell phones out. It gretly increases the chance that you will remember to set the phone to silent.  I have on occasion forgotten to do that.  If I had taken it out of my bag, I would have remembered to do  it.
  2. Keep the phones on.  I have no problem with that.  Like Ira, I don’t mind if a student has to leave the room to make or receive a call.  If it happened all the time, it would make me wonder if the student has a problem I need to know about or if I am somehow just not engaging him/her in class.  If my students are not engaged, I need to know it.
  3. If I didn’t teach in a computer lab and if my students — even some of them — had access to the internet on their phones, I would definitely use them this way.  As it is, that is how we use the computers in front of us each and every class.

Another comment talked about it being more important to have students respect us than to like us.  I agree.  I do not have to be my students’ friend.  But I also don’t think that they will respect me because I tell them to put their cell phones away.  I earn their respect by creating a learning environment where they feel free to express their ideas, where they feel respected in every way.  Students don’t respect us because we exercise our authority but rather because we demonstrate qualities that they see as worthy of respect.  Respect doesn’t come automatically with your teaching credentials or your degree.

If students are consistently using cell phones in non-academic or non-emergency ways in class, it is time to think about what you are doing as a teacher.  If they use them to cheat on exams, maybe you need to change your exams.  If they use them to escape from the monotony of a boring class, maybe you need to try to make it not so boring.

As teachers, we are responsible for what goes on in our classes.  It is our responsibility as the professional educator to look for the causes of the problems we encounter, not merely to deal with the symptoms.