Muddling through the blogosphere

February 24, 2008
by blogwalker

In Praise of Great Teachers

a_wteachers_0225.jpgThanks to a post in the NCTE Talkies listserv this morning by Nancy Patterson, I visited (revisited) high school CyberEnglish teacher, Dawn Hogue‘s blog. I’m very glad that Dawn has posted the podcast of her recent interview (Part 1) with Professor Susan Antlitz about the importance of technology as a means of engaging student writers and “keeping their writing alive.”

I’ll be thinking about Dawn and other great teachers, who like Dawn “know things,” when I sit down tonight- after the Academy Awards – to read Time Magazine’s feature article How to Make Better Teachers.

Image from,8599,1713174-1,00.html

July 8, 2007
by blogwalker

Overcoming the Achievement Gap – Can It Be This Simple?

To pass the time on my flights to and from NECC, I grabbed – and dusted off – a few magazines from my nightstand. The first article to catch my eye was from the April/May 2007 edition of George Luca’s edutopia: Overcoming Underachievement – How a simple writing exercise dismantled negative racial preconceptions. I’ve since reread this short (2 pages) piece several times. The article describes a study run by researchers from Yale, Stanford, and the University of Colorado, with many quotes from lead researcher Geoffrey Cohen. The researchers had a theory that “the disparity in academic performance between white and African American students is partly fueled by a psychological effect called stereotype threat.” To narrow the achievement gap, they proposed using “a simple fifteen-minute writing exercise.”

What really grabbed my attention about the experiment is that the setting could easily have been a middle school from my district: “… a middle school attended by about even numbers of African American and white students, mostly from middle or lower middle class families… this school already had positive forces in play – sufficient resources, devoted staff, academically prepared students…” Nevertheless, an “invisible obstacle” was blocking African American students from “fully exploiting those benefits.”

The 15-minute assignment (randomly assigned with a control group given a different set of choices) was “to choose from a list of attributes the ones they value, such as relationships with friends or being good at art, and write about them.” The researchers believed that allowing students to write about things they cared about would “counter the fear of being stereotyped long enough to boost their grades on the next assignment.” And it did. Grades improved not only on the next assignment, but on their final grades too.

It’s a no-brainer that letting students write on topics that are important to them fosters improved writing. But what jumps out to me is that the significant achievement gains were attributed to a single assignment. Teachers are under tremendous pressure right now “to fit it all in,” but I think they can always squeeze one more thing in if they see the value. I’m going to pass the article on!

Of course, I couldn’t keep from thinking what if… the students were invited to go “live” with their essays in a Web 2.0 environment?!?

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March 11, 2007
by blogwalker

Blog Rubric – A Work in Progress

I think it’s important that students understand that blogging is different then IMing or text messages – two genres associated with fast, spontaneous dialog. To justify blogging within the school day, I believe our students should gain a sense of audience, which, depending on the blog project, may extend across geographic, socio-economic, and generational boundaries. And let us not forgot the administrator, be it a curriculum “coach” or even a supportive principal. How can we justify the in-class time if we do not promote opportunities for our students to grow as writers?

With enhancing student writing at the core of this post, I am throwing out a rough draft for a rubric. As I toy with this draft, I’m thinking of the students in the Youth Radio podcasting project. The problem with this draft is that it’s my words and does not yet reflect the voices and input of the students themselves – or any exemplars/non-exemplars. I’m hoping to get with Jim Faires’ class when they come back “on track” for some feedback and a revision session or two.


Blog Rubric

A Road Map to Full-Credit Posts and Responses


  • Blog Etiquette – Shows clear respect for the learning process and patience with different opinions. Shows initiative by asking others for clarification, bringing others into the discussion.

  • Critical Thinking – Entries indicate critical thinking and personal reflection about the discussion topic and an understanding of questions and comments before responding. Makes connections from ideas of other Youth Radio members.

  • Writing – Entries show excellent command of Standard English.


  • Blog Etiquette – Shows respect for learning process. Comments often encourage others to participate.

  • Critical Thinking – Most entries indicate critical thinking and personal reflection about the topic. Ideas are interesting enough that other participants respond to them. Comments are logical but may not make connections from other Youth Radio members’ posts/responses.

  • Writing – Entries show good command of Standard English.


  • Blog Etiquette – May make some insightful comments; however, by insisting too forcefully, or by not participating enough, does not contribute much to the overall progress of the discussion. Word choice and tone may send negative messages.

  • Critical Thinking – Posts indicate limited personal reflection about topic. Comments may not always flow logically from previous comments or responses.

  • Writing – Entries contain a number of grammatical and/or spelling errors that may cause readers confusion and interference with understanding.

Not Yet Meeting the Standard

  • Blog Etiquette – Displays little respect for the learning process. May respond about individuals rather than about ideas.

  • Critical Thinking – Responses display a lack of preparation and/or reflection.

  • Writing – Numerous grammatical and/or spelling errors make entries difficult for reader to follow.

My favorite online road map so far to “good blogging” was posted by Susan Ettenheim to the Youth Voices elggWhat’s Good Blogging on the elgg? Intended to be read online, this resource uses hyperlinks to provide examples and additional explanations. It also includes a great list of sentence starters.

And for the billionth time, I’ll reference David Warlick by ending with his guiding questions for evaluating a blog:

When reading a blog, ask:

  1. What did the author read in order to write this blog? What did he or she already know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are the other points of view? What are the other sides of the story?
  3. What did the author want readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What was left unsaid? What are the remaining questions and issues?

When writing a blog, ask:

  1. What did you read in order to write this blog? What do you know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are all points of view on the issue?
  3. What do you want your readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What will not be said? What are some of the remaining questions about the issue?

Oh, and I like Kathy Schrock‘s Guide for Evaluating a Blog.

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