best of the turnip

championMy love of blogs and blogging continues.  This turnip forum has helped clarify my thinking, explore technology in new and exciting ways, vent my frustrations, and ask for help.  And now I get to award myself prizes!  How much better can it get?

Most professional post: “the new hidden curriculum?”

This is one of my earliest posts, but it still feels like the most professional one.  I describe a particular topic of interest to me as a special educator (the hidden social curriculum) and tie it directly to the skills Jenkins proposes as integral to digital literacy.  To me, this post balances exposition and inquiry.  I tell a little about what I know as a special education teacher and then ponder how what I’ve read will affect my teaching and my students.

Best design: “I’m not a girl.  I’m a football player.”

Apparently I don’t incorporate a lot of design elements into my posts.  There was very little fanciness to choose from in this area.  In the end I chose the post about digital storytelling because of the way I organized the text.  Does that count as design?  I used a bulleted list (so cutting edge!) to help readers skim through the post without feeling bogged down in paragraphs and sentences.  In my other posts I tend to embed links within my “usual” writing style so the links themselves don’t visually distract readers.  Those embedded links feel like little bonus features to me…hyperlink magic that the reader can choose to follow or not.  But in this post I wanted to make sure the sites themselves were the key feature.  Lists are supposed to be concise and accessible, and I think the bulleted list style kept me from rambling on and on.

Most creative post: “toes first”

Hmmm…creative meaning what exactly?  I don’t think I was too creative in my posts, mostly because I don’t attach that adjective to myself.  But I liked “toes first” because it was short and sweet and completely captured how I was feeling.  I didn’t set out to write an analogy or metaphor; I just wanted to explain how it felt to start participating in role play.  I consider “toes first” an interruption in my regularly scheduled programming (meaning a little breather between all those other posts that reflect on my work, my worries, my goals).

People’s choice: Isa’s post on Digital Storytelling

I could pick a people’s choice entry from every cohort blog I’ve read over the past few months.  Maybe that will be another post.  But I landed on Isa’s post about digital storytelling because it combined our “choice” elements in a powerful way.  There are a couple links, but not so many that I felt overwhelmed, and Isa embedded an example of digital storytelling within her post so we could see it in action right there.  Isa described this storytelling as a kind of collective documentation of the people’s history, which gives me the shivers right now just thinking about it.  It’s amazing to be at the front of this movement in which we are the history writers.  Hurray for getting the shivers from a colleague’s post!


shiny happy


I did promise hearts and rainbows.

Collaborative digital writing does offer opportunities for growth and higher-order thinking.  And the students I work with will need to develop these skills.  Which makes me wonder…

A lot of my work in writing with students is side-by-side, with me jotting down ideas on paper, showing kids how to visually organize their work, modeling the importance of brainstorming by writing key phrases, numbering our ideas in a logical sequence…all attempts by me to make my process transparent to kids.  But as much of our work moves to digital formats, perhaps my side-by-side work should shift toward using a laptop instead of pencil and paper.  More and more I’m feeling like the way I write is less relevant to how my students will be writing as they move through the grades.

In our building, teachers use interactive whiteboards or Smartboards to model skills to the whole group in new and dynamic ways.  But in some respects our special education departments are stuck in the pre-digital ages…we don’t have Smartboards or laptops.  We have real whiteboards, and notebooks, and pencils.  Our students definitely have access to computers and portable word processors and assistive technology, but the way we teach is very different from what’s going on in the classroom.  In many respects that’s how it should be.  Our students require specialized instruction, and our instructional techniques really need to be research-based and data-driven.  But if I want to model the composition process, wouldn’t it be great to have my work projected in a way that’s visually engaging?

One of the biggest things we emphasize in special education is application of skills, meaning once students can complete a task or a series of skills in the resource room setting we work toward transferring that level of mastery to the classroom setting.  What if students don’t see the connection between the work they’re doing with me and the work that’s going on in their classrooms because I am using very different tools?  It’s my job to point out those connections to kids, because most of the time they are not going to make the connections themselves.  And of course I can do my job with the tools I have, because really, we have access to a lot of technology in our district.  But I do wonder how my work could be different if I too were using more of the tools our classroom teachers use on a daily basis.

all together now

Collaboration is a tricky thing.  Some kids are naturals; they know how to facilitate interaction, smooth things over, take the lead if no one steps up.  Other kids go with the flow, happy to follow whatever path the group happens to take.  For the most part, the students I work with do not fall into either of those camps.  Instead, my students tend to struggle with the idea of shared control, or they lack the social skills to assert their ideas in an appropriate way, or they are easily distracted from the assigned task.  I do understand that lots of kids need direct instruction in how to function in a group, and I know classroom teachers model and practice these skills.  But my students frequently need support above and beyond the instruction they receive in the classroom, and often I need to decide if it’s more important for students to access the content or to work successfully in a group.  The answer varies depending on the task and the student.

I think collaborative digital writing offers opportunities for success, but the challenges of working in a group are there whether the interaction is digital or face-to-face.  Just as teachers provide group roles for students (the note taker, the timekeeper, etc) in hands-on experiences, we also need to outline how to participate in collaborative digital projects.

It’s not all gloom and doom though.  My personal experience with kids and group work this week is coloring my perception of what’s possible.  Tomorrow I’ll probably post a chipper little entry about how great collaboration can be!  I know there are amazing possibilities for wiki use (so many ideas here), and I especially liked the little blurb here about the importance of scaffolding content to ensure kids are successful in their wiki participation.  I’m also intrigued by the idea of Thinkature, perhaps for collaborative brainstorming, but I need to use it myself to really see how it can work with groups of students.

Stay tuned for a shiny happy hearts and rainbows post in the next day or two.

“I’m not a girl. I’m a football player.”

Whew.  I did some internet wandering to check out some of the digital storytelling links mentioned in Lisa Miller’s chapter, and there are some very powerful stories out there.  We talk about writing with an authentic voice, but actually hearing the storyteller’s voice can bring a narrative alive in a whole different way.  A few places I visited:

  • KQED’s Digital Media Center This site is the home of the Digital Storytelling Initiative, a portal for community-created digital content.  KQED, Northern California’s public television and radio provider, sponsors an annual digital storytelling contest for students in grades 6 through 12, and winners from the past 5 years are available to view on the website (here).  This would be a great resource for middle and high school teachers who want samples of student work to get their own classrooms thinking about digital storytelling.
  • Center for Digital Storytelling There is so much good stuff here!  Resources (articles about digital storytelling, tutorials, links to other websites), stories organized by theme (oh the stories…if only I had more time to watch every one of them), descriptions of workshops offered at or through the CDS.  It makes me wish I lived in Berkeley.  I wonder…is there a similar storytelling initiative happening in Minnesota that I don’t know about?  Clicking around on CDS website led me to…
  • The Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project, a program that works with current and former kids in foster care.  The kids in this program create training programs/materials for social workers to improve the way child welfare services are delivered.  One component of this program involves the use of digital autobiographies to tell the stories of kids who have lived through the foster care system.  These are extremely compelling stories.  Amazing stories.  Captain’s digital story, which inspired the title of my entry, combines personal poetry, music, images, and written text in such a determined, impassioned narrative.  If only we were all so articulate in our storytelling.

I haven’t really initiated digital storytelling assignments with my students, but I have supported their work as they created stories for their classrooms, mostly using Photostory.  At this point my students know a lot more about video composition and editing and all those storytelling tools than I do, so I rely on our media specialist’s tech tip sheets to help me help them.  It’s clear that storytelling using digital media involves all kinds of writing processes, and my students are much more willing to jump in and embrace the process when it involves more than a piece of paper and a pencil (or even a blank Word document and a keyboard).  There’s still a huge amount of organization and sequential thinking required to complete these multi-modal stories, processes that are hard for many of my students with executive function disorders.  But when we’re engaged in motivating, authentic projects, it’s easier to tackle the tough skills, to take redirection without taking offense, and the end product is often a more true reflection of my students’ skills.

oh what fun…

image courtesy of Photo Dictionary

…it is to create a voice thread. Very fun! Of course it’s always fun to talk about one of your favorite things, which is what I did. I also did a pre-practice thread about my cat. Not sure if my cohort can handle all that excitement.

Writing with just words is a very different process for me than writing (composing) with words and images. I like language. I like words. I don’t necessarily consider my writing as a way to create visual pictures for the reader. Or at least I’m thinking in words and not so much pictures during the creation process. I usually want readers to feel what I’m trying to express. With my voice thread, I started with the pictures, and I had to figure out which words should go with the pictures. Should my pictures tell the story? Do I need to describe the pictures? How does a narrative look when it starts with the pictures?  Visual imagery isn’t something I’m fluent with like language.  It has its own elements of style, and I definitely feel like a beginner when it comes to visual storytelling.  But it’s fun!  Pictures are fun.  And I think pictures are more accessible and exciting to most kids than words and language.  I can see my students being very engaged in voice thread production, and it feels like a tool that even primary level students could use.

The end product, the final voice thread, should tell a story that combines the best of language and visual images.  Great images alone, or great words alone, will not cut it.  I think students are visually literate enough to appreciate when the combination of words and pictures tells a compelling story.  Now, can they create those stories?  I can’t wait to see how they approach the process.

Now…if only I could embed my own voice thread into my blog like all you lucky blogger users.  A link will have to suffice.  Last but not least, my resource: Boomerang, an audio program geared toward elementary-aged kids.  Boomerang is all about “big ideas” that challenge kids to think in an engaging format.  I know that the audio format is just one digital input–no fancy images or hyperlinks to carry the listener to another place.  But it reminds me a lot of the radio shows that captivated kids in the 1930s and 1940s.  Who knew that Little Orphan Annie and The Lone Ranger were precursors to podcasts?  The downside to Boomerang is that the episodes are not free (although there is a free sample episode available)…perhaps a PTO request is in my future.

just pretend

Well, I tried.  I tried to be a gamer, but it was hard!  I spent a lot of time scouring mmorpg (massive multi-player online role play gaming) websites and blogs and message boards in an attempt to absorb the culture.  Perhaps I should have actually attempted World of Warcraft so my experience could have been more authentic.  But I did learn things, and that’s the whole point, right?  Pre-role play, I was not a video game person at all.  They never appealed to me, and I never understood how people could spend hours each day lost in gaming.  Reading the research helped me get a more objective view, and now I really do see value in those all-encompassing online role play games.  There’s even a whole line of research dedicated to tracking the mmorpg community.  Amazing.  A whole world I never really knew existed.  It might not be my thing, but it’s also not a waste of time.

Adopting my new persona was a challenge, but it was also liberating to try out new styles of interaction.  I think we all maintained a certain level of civility, but I do feel like I “pushed it” a little more than I would in face to face conversation.  I probably could have pushed it more, but like I said, it was a challenge being this new person.  I do think that students get into this way more than I do, and I definitely see the value of online role-play in an educational context.  I especially liked the link “Dr. Synapse” posted about an online forum students at the University of Virginia used to explore and understand a 19th century poem.  What a perfect application of online role play to really deepen appreciation for complicated literary work.

In addition to struggling with the whole role play thing, I also struggled coming up with a resource link this week.  My brain is a bit fuzzy lately.  But I do remember some of my fourth graders making an avatar to represent themselves last year, using Voki.  I should have tried it for my own avatar…maybe I still will.  I can give Jesse a new look.

toes first

Even though we specifically weren’t supposed to wait until this weekend to start participating in the online role play, I did.  I procrastinate on things that I’m not too sure about, and role play is definitely one of those things (see previous post!).  So tonight I immersed myself in the Ning, explored member pages, followed links, and dipped my toes in the water.  It’s not so bad.  Just like with cold lake water, you stand in one place for a while and then the water doesn’t feel so frigid anymore.  Then you inch in a little bit farther, acclimate again, and eventually you’re neck deep and feeling fine.  Tonight I’m only ankle deep.