Blogging : The writing’s not on the wall (or window)

A few years ago, I attempted a class blog with Year 5 students. Not many of them contributed and now I know why. I was asking them to express their thoughts about a topic of little interest to them. I thought the technology would be the catch but as Jenkins et al explain, although technology is important, it is more important that it fulfill a need for a particular user.

Image: Geralt
Image: Geralt. CCO Public Domain

I’d do things differently this time. My research on blogs has led me to three conclusions to support the use of blogging in the classroom. First, blogs provide students with an authentic audience for their writing. Second, and following on from the first, blogs provide an authentic opportunity for students to learn about appropriate online behaviours. Finally, blogs can be a useful tool to trace students’ learning journeys.

Blogging can improve Writing

Maria Howard (2011, p 33), a primary teacher, describes the enthusiastic and on-task behaviour of her students as they write posts for their class blog. She claims blogging encourages students to write because they’re writing for a real audience. Hani Morgan notes this may be particularly applicable for reluctant writers. When introducing students to blogging, teachers may feel more comfortable limiting this audience to parents, relatives and peers.  As students and teachers become more familiar with the process, the audience may be expanded to more distant students, similar to the traditional pen pal setup. Morgan describes how quickly students identify the need to attend to grammar, punctuation and clear sentence structure when writing posts on which others may comment.  Blogging for an audience may be a great way to improve the quality of students’ writing, but as Morgan points out, blogging for blogging’s sake will yield few educational benefits. This is where I went wrong with my first attempt to encourage student blogging.

Image: Jeff Peterson. laptops 001. CC BY 2.0
Image: Jeff Peterson. laptops 001. CC BY 2.0

Blogging can teach Online Safety

Another spin-off from blogging for a real audience is that it naturally teaches students about their online presence. Kathleen Morris writes that class blogging provides her students with almost daily discussions about online safety. No-one’s suggesting formal digital citizenship lessons be abandoned, but concepts covered in these lessons can be reinforced as students put theory into practice.

Blogging for Reflection

There are many ways to incorporate blogging in the classroom to improve writing. I’ve written about fanfiction in a previous post, and to my mind blogging and fanfiction fit like hand and glove. I can picture my students now, blogging about their favourite texts (including movies and games), commenting on the characters, images, and game strategy. But I would also like to try using blogging for reflection. Howard (2011, p. 33) describes how she plans for blog time before, during and after lessons to catch students’ before-and-after understandings. Presently I have student inquiry questions about living things on my classroom windows. It’s a visual reminder of the students’ ideas at the start of the unit, but they could have also blogged new questions and new understandings as the unit progressed, tracing how their learning evolved. Blogging can be a great way for students, teachers and parents to trace students’  learning journeys.

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Science wonderings written on the classroom windows.
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Blogging could trace this student’s learning over the unit.

I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas about blogging. For further information about blogging in the classroom and tips for teaching students about posting comments see Traci Gardner’s Teaching with Blogs Strategy Guide.

References:

Howard, M. (2011). Not an unfeasible “extra”. Science and Children, 49(4), 32-35. Retrieved 24.10.15 from http://search.proquest.com/docview/916226299?accountid=13380

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Toys and Cheerleaders

I missed Darius Boyd’s intercept try at the Broncos V Roosters grand final qualifier match because it happened in the opening minute of the game while I was distracted by interaction between the Broncos cheerleaders and some of the crowd. I’ve long been concerned about the stereotyped portrayal of women in the media and cheerleaders at the footy ‘push my buttons’. Luckily I had the game recording at home and here it is again for Broncos supporters who need a little comforting after their deflating loss to the Cowboys.

Video: from 40/20 Rugby League. published 25.9.15

Pink is for Girls

In an earlier post, I wrote that some of the girls in my Year 3 class were fans of 2015 Girls Toy of the Year, Shopkins. As a mother, I avoided buying my children gender-specific toys in the hope that they would not be limited by cultural stereotypes. Of course, relatives and friends didn’t always appreciate my concerns. Over the years however I have come to acknowledge the roles that both nature and nurture play in shaping a child’s identity.

Melissa Hines explains that girls’ preference for pink emerges around the age of three years, the same time they begin to understand that they are girls. If the toys we decide to colour pink are only those toys we consider culturally suitable for girls, then are girls missing out on the learning opportunities provided by non-pink toys, i.e. traditionally ‘male’ toys? Similarly, do boys who learn that pink is only for girls miss out on the learning opportunities that playing with dolls and other ‘girls’ toys provide? Gayle Allen and Deborah Farmer Kris identity gendered toys as a possible barrier to boys learning social skills such as empathy, so necessary to leading a successful personal and professional life.

Image: Janet McKnight
Image: Janet McKnight.  Boys’/girls’ toys in Debenhams. CC BY-ND 2.0.

The absurdity of colour stereotypes is that before WW2, red was regarded as a strong masculine colour and pink was recommended for boys. Maria Popova explains that the switch to the colour codes we know today, was implemented in an attempt to reduce gender stereotyping. How ironic it is that the result has been a consolidation of reverse gender/colour codes.

It is pleasing to learn that some toy shops have responded to campaigns such as Let Toys Be Toys and Pinkstinks by reducing gendered signage to differentiate boys’ toys from girls’.

Critical Media Literacy

So how do girls’ toys and cheerleaders relate to my Year 3 students? Popular culture, including toys, is saturated with stereotypes that define male and female norms and can contribute to a limited version of women’s (and men’s) role in the community. It is perhaps an instinctual response, but directing children away from popular culture will not develop their ability to engage critically with it. The Canadian group, Girls Action Foundation assert that when girls are provided with the necessary tools, space and information, they are able to engage with popular culture in liberating ways.

Image: Brad Flickinger. student_ipad_school - 154. CC BY 2.0
Image: Brad Flickinger. student_ipad_school – 154. CC BY 2.0

Among several strategies suggested by the Girls Action Foundation are two which I find relevant. The first is a no-brainer, but so crucial for student engagement with pop culture. As an educator I need to ensure girls (and boys) are provided with opportunities to examine the messages contained within their popular culture. Questioning texts in terms of: who is included, who is left out, how is gender represented, are diverse cultures represented and do they accurately portray real life, can help students identify stereotypes and biases.

U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers
Image: from U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers. CC BY-ND 2.0.

The second is to provide an all-girl space in which girls can discuss popular culture messages about girls and women. My experience of teaching has been that girls’ behaviour is different in all-girl classes from their behaviour in mixed classes. Providing all-girl spaces may be hard to achieve in some schools, but it could foster deeper conversations about stereotypes of women presented in pop culture. It could also symbolise the importance educators place on the status of women in the community.

Image: MJGDSLibrary. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Image: from MJGDSLibrary. 1st Grade. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If this post has struck some chords with you, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about the representation of girls and women in pop culture. The Girls Resources page provides links to related topics including lists of books with strong female role models, lessons on gender stereotypes and suggestions for gender-neutral toys.

Writing in the Treehouse: Fan Fiction

I don’t write fanfiction, but I think it’s a great thing. It’s got to make the process of writing easier to start because you already know the characters and their world. Presumably, you’re really into them. Fanfic can be inspired by books, TV, movies, games.

Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lupuca/8720604364
Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Students as Producers

The really awesome thing about fanfic is that it helps kids to become producers, not only consumers of texts. Christina Olin-Scheller and Patrik Wikstrom use Toffler’s termprosumer to highlight the importance of fans’ participation with the text. Katie Behrens emphasises that fanfic needs to be transformative rather than derivative and therefore contain substantial original material. Yet fanfic etiquette requires writers stay within the canon i.e. the world of the text created by the author. In the primary school context this might be less rigidly enforced, particularly for reluctant writers. But, remaining within the canon could enable teachers to gauge students’ comprehension of the text, particularly character traits.

Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/5437572328
Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0.

When students are inspired by a text to write fanfic, there is potential for them to become involved in a community of similarly inspired writers, or an affinity space. An authentic fanfic community provides members with the feeling that their writing matters to someone. Group members share and receive feedback on their work. To nourish such a community within a classroom/school the teacher can encourage several groups of students to write fanfic based on texts that are relevant to them. Debra Sprague has created a wonderful forum for primary school students to share and receive feedback on their fanfic. Where the Story Never Ends is a purposefully created site for primary school writers. Alternatively, students could upload their fanfic to school based websites.

Image: Debra Sprague, from https://kidfanfiction.pbworks.com/w/page/44891487/Kid%20Fan%20Fiction
Image: Debra Sprague, kidfanfiction

Inspired by The Treehouse Books

Survey results suggest my Year 3 students could be inspired to write fanfic by Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s The Treehouse books. I know most of them have read these books. Some of them were in my Year 2 class last year and I read them The 13-Storey Treehouse and took them to a theatre adaptation of it. The boys especially loved drawing their own treehouse designs; they would create group drawings that required up to 12 pieces of A4 paper taped together. This was a wonderfully collaborative experience for them.

Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on ipad
Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on iPad

How to start writing after reading any of these books with the class? Students could collaborate to produce group drawings and discuss possible story lines as they draw. The exchange of language and ideas can propel students to write individual or shared fanfic. A fantastic idea from Debra Sprague is to provide students with fanfic mentor texts written by the teacher (or other teachers or older students). Simple innovation on a text, a common classroom writing strategy, can be the beginnings of fanfic. Students could also create cartoon strip fanfic using Comic Creation Apps.

Book Fair: Treehouse Series display
Book Fair Treehouse books display. These books sold like hotcakes and have potential to inspire readers to write fanfic.

I’ve looked at how The Treehouse books could be a perfect fit for many of my Year 3 students. What texts (books, games, TV shows, movies) can you see inspiring fanfic with students? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Making Sense of Makerspaces

Finally, I understand the move toward makerspaces. I’ve been concerned that they were evidence of what some critics regard as the diminishing role of the teacher librarian in the digital world. When discussing my teacher-librarian studies in conversation, I am frequently asked, “Are schools still employing teacher-librarians?” Without understanding,  makerspaces seemed to me to be a trendy, almost last-ditch effort to claim validity for the school library. They symbolised a perception by some in the community that the teacher-librarian just fluffs about, not really teaching much and just looking after the books. (Whoa, settle all you TLs!)

Image: Mitch Altman. MakerSpace Urbana, Feb-2012. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: Mitch Altman. CC BY-SA 2.0

The shift in thought came when reading Kay Oddone’s claim that makerspaces and libraries share similar characteristics.  I was particularly triggered by her observation that libraries inhabit the only space within the school that is not confined by the curriculum.

Image: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: 5chw4r7zCC BY-SA 2.0

Makerspaces are Knowledge Commons

The shift for me is in understanding that makerspaces acknowledge students’ learning, knowledge creation and meaning making on their own terms, outside of formal learning. They allow for multiple learning scenarios: individual, one-to-one, small group, whole class, peer-to-peer. In the library environment, the facilitator, or as Steven Kurti dubs ‘spacemaker’, can be present to scaffold learning as needed. Makerspaces can fulfill the some of the characteristics of participatory learning. They foster collaboration, creativity and by bridging students’ home and school life, make learning more authentic and stimulating. They encourage problem solving and allow for ‘mistakes’. They are a knowledge commons for kids.

From my experience, the implementation of makerspaces would need thoughtful planning to ensure support from administration, teachers, students and the broader school community. In order to secure funding for resources, including human resources and time, the spacemaker would be wise to make clear the educational validity of makerspaces. Schools are already extremely busy places, so support is crucial for the introduction and sustenance of school makerspaces.

In their small study, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas identify several important competencies of the spacemaker. Ringing most true for me is the observation that the spacemaker needs to be an advocate for the makerspace. The spacemaker needs to be able to assure/persuade/affirm stakeholders that the makerspace enterprise is of value. David Raths stresses the importance of showcasing the makerspace through avenues such as open days, blogs and videos. ‘Selling’ the idea of makerspaces and celebrating the achievements of a school makerspace will aid long-term sustainability.

Image: Wesley Fryer. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/17258563285. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Image: Wesley Fryer. CC BY-SA 2.0

Importantly, school makerspaces need to focus on the students. In seeking to outline essential competencies of the spacemaker, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas note the importance of understanding user needs, including the popular culture and technology relevant to the user group. I know this is where I need to pick up my game and become more attuned to students’ pop culture.

Maker Spaces and Digital Technologies

Makerspaces don’t need to involve digital technologies, but they certainly provide a ready-made environment in which to make best use of digital technology. Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas highlight the need for spacemakers to avoid including technology without understanding why, and which technologies are most appropriate to achieve desired goals.

I guess it’s the antithesis of makerspace philosophy, but because I’m a classroom teacher and bound by the curriculum, I can see potential for makerspaces to provide engaging and creative assessment opportunities. I am mindful, however, that the makerspace remain user-driven so I wonder if the marriage of assessment and makerspace can ever be authentic. I’d love to hear your opinions, ideas and experiences with makerspaces; leave a reply below.

For a variety of makerspace resources, including Makerspace Charter and real-world examples see my Makerspace Resources page.

Vox Pop Year 3

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Image: Raphael Jeanneret. CC0 Public Domain.

The Survey

To find out more about the world of popular culture texts in which my Year 3 students are engaged I asked them to complete this quick and dirty survey.  No time to employ the scientific method, and allowing for possible peer-peer influence, I hoped some of the information gathered would help me better understand what my Year 3 students get into away from the classroom.

The Results

The graphs below present some helpful information about my students’ preferences for books, TV shows, movies and other popular culture. Where useful, and for ease of interpretation, I have colour-coded exclusively male and female responses with blue and pink shades respectively. (Yes, goes against the grain but everyone knows this system!)

Q. List 5 things that are really popular right now.

The results from this question, shown in the graph below,  are enlightening for me. The singers, books and mobile devices were predictable, but some of physical toys and TV shows were unfamiliar to me.

A high number of responses indicated the popularity of physical (real-life) toys.  The graph above shows a break-down of the Physical Toys category to highlight specific answers. Responses from boys and girls are coded with blue and pink shades respectively. As shown by the graph, many of the girls are into Shopkins.

Image: lu-lu. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/_lulu/. CC BY-NC 2.0
Image: lu-lu. Shopkins army, assembled. CC BY-NC 2.0.

I’ve seen my Year 3 girls playing with these little figurines, but I’ve been completely unaware that these Australian created and manufactured collectibles are such a big craze. Cindy Train (Daily Mail Australia) claims the toy has attracted 13 million fans to webisodes and 400+ million views on fan videos. They’ve taken out the 2015 Girl Toy of the Year Award and even have their own Ekka (Queensland Royal Show) showbag. I feel a post on gendered toys could be in order!

Movies

The second highest number of responses to what was most popular things question was movies. The graph below shows a variety of movie titles, but Minions the clear winner. When the most popular movies from the above graph (scoring votes of 2 or more) were broken down to specific titles and collated according to gender, differences in preferences became obvious. Overall, the girls indicated a higher interest in movies than the boys. The takeaway from this data could be that my selection of popular culture movies to enhance student engagement in the curriculum might require more careful consideration than initially anticipated. How to find a movie or movies that inspires all students?

Image: stevepb. minions. Creative Commons CC0. from https://pixabay.com/en/dancing-dave-minion-minion-tim-510835/
Image: stevepb. minions. CC0 Public Domain.

Q. What books are popular right now?

I was also really keen to find out what books ranked with my students. Books nominated by both girls and boys are shaded green. It is clear that The Treehouse series books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton are the books most favoured by my students, and I know they are excited about the latest title, The 65-Storey Treehouse. The breakdown of responses for The Treehouse series was 5 girls and 6 boys, showing a gender-neutral spread among these readers. These books were selling like hotcakes at our recent Book Fair.  I think there is wonderful scope for using this series to inspire learning and I am keen to explore this idea in a future post.

Overall, I think this survey has been a valuable exercise for me as I feel I know my students a little more. It has also provided me with impetus to continue to follow my students’ popular culture interests.

Floundering

Me? Blog about youth popular culture? The title and the pic give you some idea of my reaction (only I don’t feel as colourful as the flounder looks).

Image: Kevin Bryant https://flic.kr/p/4F7QSG
Image: Kevin Bryant. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

(There’s an even more expressive flounder picture here. Go on it’s worth the look!)

In Hiding

Bothus_mancus
Image: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR. Public domain

So in keeping with the floundering theme, I admit I’ve been hiding. My own children are grown up now; the youngest being 28. I’ve managed to distance myself from youth pop culture and until now, haven’t seen the need to get involved in it. It’s been my modus opeandi to arrive at pop culture late – after all the hype has died down.

But to acknowledge the interests and prior knowledge of the students with whom I work, to facilitate their learning in ways more relevant to them, I need to make a commitment to understanding the popular culture in which they are engaged. So the posts that follow will be my discoveries about the popular culture of primary-school aged students and it’s application to the school library setting in which I hope to work. And in the meantime, find out a little more about how to make best use of the pop culture enjoyed by my Year 3 students.

Image: Tom Simpson. Flounder - The Little Mermaid VHS box art (1989)https://flic.kr/p/rCBxpf
Image: Tom Simpson. CC BY-NC 2.0