Teaching Blogs as a Non-Fiction Text

My experiences as a librarian and tech coach met at an intersection earlier this week as a seventh grade ELA teacher and I were helping her students set up their own blogs for the purpose of publishing their writing to an authentic audience.  A few minutes into explaining how to create their student Blogger profiles, I realized that most of the seventh graders in the room had likely never seen a blog and certainly never explored the organizational structure common to most blogging platforms.  I quickly made a comparison between the organizational structures of printed books and online blogs, and then prepared a more organized presentation for her second and third classes who were completing the same activity later in the day.  My primary shortcoming in coaching this teacher was not missing the fact that her students were unfamiliar with the structure of blogs–my failure was that I did not suggest that she spend some time teaching blogs as she would any other non-fiction text before asking her students to create their own blogs.

I realize that all blogs are not non-fiction, and many contain clear examples of fiction writing at best, and highly biased information at worst.  When I say non-fiction, I am referring to the organized structure that accompanies most non-fiction writing.  Tables of content, indexes, tables, charts, captions, etc., can be directly compared to navigation panes, widgets, information pages, posts, archives, and feeds–thus blogs have more structural similarities to non-fiction texts than to fiction texts.  Talking about blogs as information sources also opens the door for digital literacy conversations, which are even more important in an online environment.  While a student has access to a professionally curated non-fiction library at school, they are the primary curator of the material they access online.  Blogs present great opportunities to teach fact and opinion, bias, evaluation of sources, intended audience, purpose, and author tone, among other elements of writing.

I remember teaching basic non-fiction text features to my elementary library students as they explored a variety of books and reference materials.  The purpose of this instruction was to familiarize them with the structure of informational texts and help them access, read, interpret, and evaluate non-fiction texts in the future.  Blogs are certainly not a new format, and I see no indication that they are reaching the end of their life cycle–so are we addressing this growing informational text structure with the attention necessary to equip students to consume, evaluate, and respond to the information communicated within blogs and the Internet at large?

As fake news currently receives heightened attention following the election, we are reminded that misinformation is not only being presented, but this misinformation is being intentionally presented and shared with the intent of persuading the audience with false and exaggerated information.  Our students do not have to find poor informational sources, these sources will find them in their daily journies through social media and online spaces.  Using blogs as a teaching tool is not only about understanding the organization of information contained within the site, it is about navigating through the information itself with the critical thinking skills necessary to detect good sources from poor sources–which has always been the objective of any teacher charged with guiding students through the research and writing process.

OTMS October 24 Newsletter

The ISTE Student Standards were refreshed last year and the new Student Standards were  introduced over the summer.  The new standards reflect the suggestions made by students, teachers, and administrators as they anticipate future shifts in education and the role technology will play within instruction.  More details about the philosophy behind refreshing the standards are available in this article and the new standards are published on the ISTE website.

MobyMax is now fully operational (a few subjects weren’t working correctly).  MobyMax is now integrated with Clever, allowing students and teachers to access MobyMax without a separate login.

Diffen is a website I recently discovered that will support the strategy of comparing similarities and differences.  It is setup similar to a search engine, but requires two search terms.  Those two terms are then compared in a table.

Registration is still open for EdcampKC–there were still 21 available slots as of Friday morning.  It will take place Saturday, November 5 from 8am to 4pm at Truman High School.   https://edcampkc.wikispaces.com/

Investigating Instructional Rounds

I have made several attempts over the past two years to encourage teachers to connect with educators outside of the building–but I missed a step.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was assuming that teachers were already connecting with other educators in the building.  Or, I was underestimating the interactions that I saw as connections built on trust and focused on a common goal to improve instruction and learning.  Was I really listening to the conversations between teachers?  Where those participating in the conversations truly engaged or just complying in an effort to outlast the meeting?  In all the talk about student engagement, what about teacher engagement?  What does that look like?  How do you assess quality teacher engagement?  And how do you support those who truly want to engage with other faculty members in deep and focused conversations aimed at improving student learning?

At the beginning of the year, the instructional facilitator and I were brainstorming ways to spend more time in classrooms and replace a culture based on a fear of evaluation and judgment with a culture of support and collective learning.  We set a goal to visit every classroom in the building as a first step.  As we discussed this, we thought it be great to eventually bring other teachers along with us during future classroom visits.  After some investigation, we discovered instructional rounds as a possible model to facilitate this cultural shift.  After some reading and connecting with other educators who had utilized rounds, we decided to implement the rounds in phases, giving us time to explore rounds and customize the practice to the needs of our learning community.

  1. The instructional facilitators visit each classroom and plan the instructional rounds debrief process and prepare for stage 4
  2. The instructional facilitators will read Instructional Rounds in Education and Leading Instructional Rounds in Education for guidance in implementing rounds
  3. The PLC will participate in an article study* and discussion to prepare for phase 4
  4. The PLC will practice the debrief process after watching a short classroom video
  5. The instructional facilitators will bring PLC members along with us to refine the process including the debrief process and norms. We will also be exploring problems of practice that are present throughout the building.
  6. The facilitators and PLC members will take other teachers on rounds with us and facilitate the debrief process. We will focus these rounds on the problems of practice that we define in phase 4

I know this process is subject to multiple changes and course corrections, and many adjustments have already been made in the recent weeks.  I’m anxious to see the process unfold and facilitate opportunities for our staff to improve their instructional skills in a collaborative setting.


#ETCoaches Blog Challenge Week 5 and Beyond

I have enjoyed interacting with other #ETCoaches for the past month as we have strengthened our PLN through sharing thoughts and experiences as part of the blog challenge.

As a result of the challenge, I have two goals.

  1. Read the blog posts that are shared through the #ETCoaches hashtag when I see them, rather than planning to read them later–which rarely happens.
  2. Continue commenting on blog posts.  Before the challenge, I never took the time to comment.  I’m beginning to realize that a simple comment or response can be a huge encouragement to the author, and the author wouldn’t be sharing if he or she didn’t want interaction on the topic.

Thanks again to Penny Christensen for organizing the challenge and coaching us through the process of growing our PLN and sharing our voices!


Even thought the #ETCoaches blog challenge is complete, we can still continue the conversation in several ways:

  1. Tweet with #ETCoaches and add a column for #ETCoaches to Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, or your preferred social media dashboard
  2. Share your future blog posts with #ETCoaches and explore the links shared by others.  Take the time to comment on future blog posts.
  3. Follow @EdTechCoaches through Twitter
  4. Join the EdTech Coaches PLN for our upcoming book study of “Integrating Technology in the Classroom” by Dr. Boni Hamilton.  All registered participants (ISTE membership required) will receive an ePub copy of the book.  Registration opens November 28 and the study runs January 17-February 24.  We will discuss the book through a Twitter slow chat using the #ETCoaches hashtag.
  5. Attend a monthly #ETCoaches Playground webinar.  These webinars are led by PLN members who presented at the ISTE 2016 EdTech Coaches PLN Playground.
  6. Participate in the PLN discussion boards (ISTE Members).  The discussion boards are great for questions or answers that require more than 140 characters and all responses are threaded with the question, making the conversation easy to follow.
  7. If you are a Voxer user, join our #ETCoaches Voxer group by contacting Lisa Hervey (@lisahervey) and she will add you to the group.
  8. Participate in the #ETCoaches monthly Twitter Chats.  They occur on the last Tuesday of the month at 1pm and 8pm EST.  Follow @EdTechCoaches for updates and reminders.
  9. Join and participate in our Google+ Group
  10. Host an EdTech Coaches PLN meeting at your local or regional conference.
  11. Visit the EdTech Coaches PLN Library.  The library contains archives of Twitter Chats, Webinars, Book Studies, and Playgrounds.

#ETCoaches Blog Challenge Week 4

I enjoy reading the blogs of other educators because it gives me the opportunity to hear them think out loud.  I tend to gravitate towards blogs that expose the thinking process and philosophies behind instructional decisions and tech adoption strategies.  This does not mean that I don’t benefit from the more “newsy” or tutorial based blogs, but I’m also interested in why a tool is being recommended and how it worked in an instructional setting.  I also benefit from hearing how other coaches solve problems common to the coaching practice.

I use Feedly to curate my blogs, which allows me to easily scroll through the most recent posts and click on titles that interest me.  I also created a custom search with Google Custom Search as a tool to search the blogs I follow in Feedly.  Feedly has a search function in paid accounts, but the Google Custom Search wasn’t hard to set up–and it is free.

Here are some of my favorite blogs (beyond those participating in this challenge) to follow (in no particular order)

  • I always find something new in the Edsurge blog.  I even subscribe their email newsletter, which I don’t do often to avoid inbox overflow.   Their posts contain a mixture of cutting-edge technology, entrepreneurial information, and great tools for teaching and learning.
  • Mindshift,  Edutopia, and GettingSmart contain a variety of thoughtful posts on many educational topics.  Although not always tech-based, posts are typically thought-provoking and promote new approaches to old problems.
  • Education Closet  focuses on arts integration and STEAM topics in an effort to support all teachers as they employ the arts in all content areas.
  • The Cool Cat Teacher Blog includes a lot of great content.  The author also publishes podcasts through the iOS Podcast App, which allow me to listen in while I’m driving.

#ETCoaches Blog Challenge Week 3

After a couple weeks of reflective blog posts, week three shifts to sharing tools–which is one of the EdTech Coaches pillars of practice.  The right tool for the job can make all the difference, and the wrong tool can quickly frustrate the learning process.  Here’s a few of the tools that I regularly use in my coaching practice.

  • Tweetdeck is a must have for any Twitter user.  It tames a never-ending Twitter feed into neat columns sorted by hashtags, users, lists, and more.  Tweetdeck also allows users to schedule Tweets–which prevents forgotten Tweets and frees users from being tied to Twitter at all times.
  • Nuzzle  summarizes my Twitter feed by collating the most popular posts shared by those I follow.  The best part about Nuzzle, is that it requires to setup–just login with your Twitter account and it starts working.
  • Feedly is another tab pinned in my browser that I access daily.  I began using Feedly when Google Reader was shut down and I needed an RSS reader to collate my list of blogs.  The free version has enough features to meet my needs, and displays the most recent blog posts in a magazine-style layout.
  • I created a Custom Google Search containing all the blogs I follow in Feedly.  This allows me to search only those blogs and websites, cutting out a lot of irrelevant search results.  My custom search is setup as a webpage, and looks like a standard Google Search-except it only searches the sites I have included.  There is some setup on the front end, but it was time well spent.
  • Canva is steadily working its way onto my list of favorite tools.  I’m not a graphic designer, but Canva helps me hide that fact.  I find it easy to create great designs, and there are many templates available for various social media and communication applications.  Plus, they just added team functions to the free account.  Some graphic objects are paid, but there are more enough free objects to cover my lack of artistic skills.
  • My district recently purchased a district license of Nearpod, and I am exploring ways to use that in professional development.  Nearpod is a 1:1 presentation tool that combines content slides with question slides.  There are several free features and more are available for paid accounts.  Peardeck is a similar tool.

If you are still seeking to build your EdTech Coaching Toolkit (and who isn’t?), the EdTech Coaches PLN is leading a webinar on Wednesday, September 21 focused on presentation tools.  It is free to ISTE members and registration is open in the ISTE Store through Wednesday.  If you miss the live webinar, ISTE members may view the recorded webinar through the same link.

#ETCoaches Blog Challenge Week 2

Week two of the challenge shifts from thinking about the purpose of my blog to reflecting on my purpose as an EdTech Coach.  You would think it wouldn’t be a problem to come up with challenges, but I became stuck sorting through various challenges as I tried to separate the urgent issues from the important issues.  Before going further, I read Penny Christensen’s blog post on this topic, which helped me focus my thoughts, or at least come to the realization that I needed to separate the urgent from the important.  We all face challenges throughout the day, but are we addressing those as a reactive response, or as a proactive priority?  If we identify the truly important challenges, we have taken the first step to meeting them mindfully and with a plan.  Anything not on the important list may present itself as an urgent challenge needing attention, but it shouldn’t consume the majority of our time and energy.  As Shaina Glass said in Tuesday night’s #ETCoaches webinar, everyone else’s priority can not always be your priority.  There isn’t enough time or energy to make that happen. How much time do we spend reacting to urgent problems that would have been better solved by addressing the underlying issues in a proactive manner ? I know I’m not the only EdTech coach that feels like I spent too much time addressing symptoms without focusing on the underlying causes of those symptoms.

While it may appear that I’m just rambling on in an effort to avoid defining my important challenges, I may be illustrating one of my biggest personal challenges–my tendency to over-analyze things.  I admit that I’m a compulsive planner and would love to plan every detail for any given coaching session, PD event, or meeting.  If you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you are already thinking of all the variables that make that impossible–primarily the variability of adult learners and their needs.  A friend recently told me that I could find the potential pitfalls and loopholes in any process or project and I really couldn’t argue with him–he had called me out leaving little room for debate.  As Penny said in her blog post for this week, balance is the goal.  I am still searching for the proper balance of planning and flexibility as I fine-tune my coaching practice.

My next big area of improvement is empowering teacher leaders  and sharing the great things going on in classrooms.  I am working with the instructional coach in my building (she is a planner too, which sometimes reinforces my own compulsion to plan) on implementing instructional rounds as part of our PLC process.  We are starting small with the coaches visiting classrooms in the first phase, then in the second phase we will bring PLC leadership team members with us on the instructional rounds, and the final phase will be giving the whole faculty a chance to participate in the instructional rounds.  We are hoping this promotes collaboration and supports the goals of our PLC.

As I begin my third year as a coach, I can see successes emerge from the groundwork of the past two years.  I am continuing to build relationships both with staff in my building and my international PLN, and I am comfortable with how my role as an instructional technology coach fits into the structure of the building.

What is the Purpose of My Blog? #ETCoaches Blog Challenge Week 1

I originally created my blog in December of 2014 as a place to curate information I shared with my faculty in weekly newsletters, but it quickly became much more.  My blog has evolved into a website that serves as my digital homepage and portfolio.  What makes this so useful is the fact that I can easily update my blog/portfolio and it is ready at a moment’s notice to share.  It has become the center of my digital footprint and serves as a connective hub to other online spaces in which I participate.  A web-based portfolio also allows me to link to other  resources that document my experience and growth as an EdTech Coach.  I am beginning my third year as an EdTech Coach in the Fort Osage School District, and since I already have information about me curated in my blog, including links to my Twitter and Linkedin accounts, I don’t need to duplicate that biographical information in this blog post.  Feel free to explore and suggest any improvements to my blog in the comments below.

The intended audience of my blog started with the staff of my school and has expanded to my PLN.  In actuality, the audience could potentially include anyone with internet access.  This is both great and a little intimidating at the same time.  Perhaps this is one reason why the blogging process is a challenge to begin and maintain.

My year is off to a great start and my next big project is developing, in collaboration with the instructional coach in my building, a system of instructional rounds.  Our goal is to give faculty the opportunity to visit other classrooms in the building and find ways to improve their own practice based on what they observe.  We also collaboratively developed an Instructional Strategies Challenge for our faculty which gives them four weeks to focus on implementing a specific instructional strategy and then sharing their learning with the whole staff at the end of the challenge.  I’ve also started working with another #ETCoaches PLN leader, Pam Shoemaker, on preparations for the next #ETCoaches book study that will begin in January.  Technical issues have consumed quite a bit of my time during the first weeks of school and I am anxious to focus on instruction and learning as those technical issues are corrected.

I’m excited to participate in the blogging challenge with the #ETCoaches PLN and look forward to learning with other EdTech Coaches in this context.  Participating will also encourage me to update and improve my blog along the way, and I know I will see great things in other blogs that will inspire me to improve my practice as an EdTech Coach.  Don’t hesitate to comment.  Honestly, I had turned off comments sometime in the past due to spam, but comments are now re-enabled for some great conversations.

#OTFalcons Tech Update September 9, 2016

If you are new to Nearpod (we have purchased a district license) or thinking about using it in the future, Nearpod has created a short presentation to orient new users to their product.  This tutorial will show you how to create an account, find existing Nearpod lessons in the library, and launch your first presentation.  I will share more Nearpod tutorials over the next two weeks.  If you prefer printed instructions over a presentation, Nearpod has created a getting-started checklist.  Contact me if you have questions or want a district license to use in your classroom.
Listenwise is a library of podcasts and recorded news reports.  It contains recordings on recent events grouped by Social Studies, Science, and ELA.  The site supports creating an account with Google and when you login as a teacher, you can share podcasts through Google Classroom.  When you find a recording you want to share, click the blue link button between the assign and favorite buttons.  The window that pops up has a “share with classroom” button at the bottom.  Students do not have to create an account with Listenwise to access the recordings through Classroom.
I sent out an email last week saying MobyMax is working.  That was partially true.  We have since discovered that it works on a desktop computer, but not on a Chromebook.  We are looking into this and I will keep you informed of our progress.