Sunday, November 7, 2010

1200 to 300 in one year?

A few Tuesdays ago, I went and saw Davis Guggenheim's new documentary film, Waiting for "Superman."  As a preservice teacher, I knew I wanted to go see the film.  But it was my awareness, my hyper-attentiveness you might say, to the vast social injustices in our society--the glaring disparities between various "superior" and "inferior" groups--that told me I needed to go see it.

The second education I'm currently receiving (so I can officially make the career-switch from business to public education) is responsible for this hyper-attentiveness.  The texts I read, the class discussions I participate in, the news outlets I access, and the stuff I think about all contribute to my greater awareness of the many social injustices that plague our society daily and hurt, unfairly, so many people who don't deserve it.  It can be very depressing stuff, but I actually don't mind the hyper-attentiveness I've developed as a result. For me, hyper-attentiveness just means more awareness.  And I don't think there is a limit to the amount of awareness I can or should have.  I believe the more aware I am, the better positioned I am to make positive choices in my life, and even more, the better positioned I am to positively affect others in my life.

Anyway, the point that I ultimately want to make here is that awareness is a good thing even when what we are becoming aware of is not.  We need to make ourselves aware of what is really happening around us, of how our actions are really manifesting themselves, of how other people are really having to live, even if that stuff is unpleasant or disturbing.  This is doubly crucial for people who are privileged in some form or another.  It is in succumbing to the tendency to want to turn our backs on such unpleasant and disturbing realities, to want to sweep it under the rug, forget about it, let someone else worry about it, and hope that it just magically goes away, that we actually aid in perpetuating someone else's pain.  The great majority of us never want to intentionally harm another being.  But when we hurt people unintentionally through our unwillingness to learn about and do something to help other people's problems--for no other reason than to keep us from feeling bad or depressed--what does this actually say about us?  It almost seems like just as much of a disservice as intentionally hurting someone.

When we choose to make ourselves aware of the realities that characterize ours and other people's lives, we are taking the first step toward positive change, the first step toward eradicating unsettling social injustices which are responsible for unnecessarily pitting human beings against each other.  In Waiting for "Superman," director Davis Guggenheim has produced a film that allows viewers to take this first step, specifically regarding the social injustices around public education in America.  In the companion book of the same title (2010, Participant Media), his intentions for the film are made clear: "Guggenheim wanted to take the conversation beyond staid policy discussions and into the subjects no one wanted to talk about, what he calls the 'uncomfortable truths' about public education" (Weber 20).  Weaving together the narratives of five public school students--all from various cities, in different life situations, and at different grade-levels, Guggenheim tells a story that no viewer will soon, if ever, erase from his or her mind.  He has done his homework and it shows: he includes several mind-boggling, but terrifyingly real statistics that are conveyed in an easily accessible manner and he has done interviews with top education reform leaders in the nation.  Even though there are several elements in the film that I could discuss at length, one statistic in particular has been at the forefront of my mind ever since I heard the gentleman speak it.  He was a staff member at a low-performing Los Angeles-area high school, one of the "failure factories" highlighted in the film.  He explained that they typically begin a freshman class with about 1200 students; then he said that by the time sophomore year rolls around, the class is down to 300.  I was stunned when I heard it and I'm just as stunned now as I type it.  Where are these 900 kids going?  What are they doing everyday?  Why did they decide high school wasn't something they needed to complete? Where do they think they're going to end up?  Where will they end up?  Do bad communities or bad schools come first?  Is the community responsible for the failure of the school or is the failure of the school what creates these struggling communities?  The film raises so many questions, and if you care at all about kids and communities and education in this country, it does so much more than that--it makes your blood boil.  And still for others, it brings them to tears.

Though Waiting for "Superman" is anything but a warm-fuzzy, inspiring production, it does an effective job of achieving Guggenheim's goal--to generate awareness about what's actually happening in the public education system today.  As someone who so passionately wants to go to work at an inner-city public school, Waiting for "Superman" was not only something I wanted to see, but it was something I needed to see.  It moved me to tears. And it's a documentary for crying out loud.  What does that say?  Social injustice in our society is rampant and that we willingly allow it to happen to kids and in the field of education, of all places, is downright disturbing.  It makes me want to vomit, really.

Above I say that the first step one can take toward helping to eradicate social injustice is to make the choice to gain awareness, to really learn about an issue.  The second step, then, is to take that awareness and do something productive with it.  Get involved with organizations that are already established with similar passions as you; go talk to your school board members; write letters to congresspeople suggesting ways to help alleviate problems; join the conversation, get others talking about these issues, and help to generate even more awareness; delve further into the issue by reading/viewing other similar texts; donate money to the organizations on the front lines of education reform who make the kids their number one priority (as opposed to something else); become a teacher if you're so inspired; the list goes on.  Do something, anything, to help fight the social injustice.  It can be discouraging to think that you are only one person and what real difference, what real change can one person make or inspire?  But if everyone thought that way, no positive changes would ever be made in our society.  And that's the truth.  Do not mistake small steps for no steps. Progress is progress is progress.  If we are determined and passionate enough, we can all work together to make change happen.  But it starts with awareness.  And it continues with action.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A recipe for making effective academic arguments

Being always on the lookout for valuable and relevant material to use, learn from, and retain, I wanted to share a tool I got from one of my professors in the Colorado State University English department, Dr. Michael Lundblad.  The tool provides elements necessary to make an effective academic argument.

The Tool:  Problem Statement -- consists of four elements, each generally one sentence in length; see below.

Element #1:   Status Quo Claim -- "a debatable and supportable argument about how a specific audience should think, act, or respond to a given text or context (the argument to which you will object)"

Element #2:   Destabilizing Condition -- what is "missing, wrong, or problematic in relation to the status quo claim"

Element #3:   Costs -- "why people in the status quo (or people who might find the status quo convincing) should see the destabilizing condition as significant, and/or what will happen if these people don't pay attention to the problem identified"

Element #4:   Global Claim -- "a debatable, supportable, and significant (to the intended audience) argument that proposes a solution or alternative to the status quo argument, logically related to the destabilizing condition and costs"

If you need to write an academic, thesis-driven paper, the idea is that you can use this initial statement to frame the paper and then continue using it to drive the remaining development of the paper, too.  If you're just wanting to engage in an intellectual speaking debate, the problem statement is a good place to start because it shows 1) that you've identified a problem, 2) that you've considered potential objections and costs associated with the problem, and 3) that you've thought of a potential solution to the problem.

Below is a Problem Statement I wrote for Dr. Lundblad's course I'm in this semester.  (The course focuses on cancer literature and explores how cancer is depicted in texts and thus how it is shaped in larger social discourses.)

Though I've been writing academic papers for many years now, up until I'd received this tool, I'd never been introduced to such a clean, simple, sensible approach to writing an argument.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited, in a nerdy, intellectual way.  I definitely was.  And I still am because I feel more powerful, more confident knowing that when I use this tool, I'll be setting myself up in a stronger position, from a thinking, writing, and/or speaking standpoint, to more effectively assert myself AND to more thoughtfully approach any objections I might run into while making my argument.

Again, thanks to Dr. Michael Lundblad for this Problem Statement tool.


Example Problem Statement: written by me (Stephanie A. Griffin) on September 26, 2010 for E370

         The Value of the Negative on 

[STATUS QUO CLAIM] Some visitors to might argue that its content is too negative, and therefore, contradicts what they have been culturally taught about the need to maintain a positive attitude during the fight against cancer.  [DESTABILIZING CONDITION] What these visitors fail to recognize, however, is that underneath the veil of the positive attitude is the very human need for a safe writing outlet for people affected by cancer to temporarily break away from their positivity by expressing their true negative feelings about how cancer has impacted them.  [COSTS] If people affected by cancer are not able to express their true negative emotions on or a similar site, they may be forced to repress these emotions entirely, especially if the people they are physically surrounded by expect nothing but a consistently positive attitude from them. Given the physical and emotional damage cancer inherently causes, denying people an outlet such as to release their true emotions will cause them further damage.  [GLOBAL CLAIM] Even if people affected by cancer are expected to maintain a positive attitude about it, they must still have the opportunity to safely express their negative emotions about cancer on or a similar site. Just as it is necessary to have Internet sites encouraging positive attitudes about cancer, it is also necessary that people affected by cancer have or a similar site to express their negative emotions about the illness.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reading more than just words

I enjoy writing six-word memoirs and mantras.  One that I've written recently is a reminder of the importance of reading in our lives:

"All the world is a text."

Reading doesn't just have to be limited to words--in a book or magazine or on a website or email or billboard.  Reading is actually something we can do on a larger scale.  And we can do it often and regularly.  We can read the world around us--situations or events that unfold in our lives, our circumstances, our choices, our experiences, our successes, our failures, our learnings, and our relationships.  What's more, we can read these things in other people's lives, too.

Reading is something we do actively.  Reading is perceiving.  Reading is learning.  Reading is growing.  And perhaps most important of all: reading generates awareness.  It's about more than just words.  The whole world is a text waiting to be read, analyzed, critiqued, learned from, emulated, not emulated, enhanced, or changed.  

So, when you get up tomorrow (and everyday thereafter), remember all the world is a text.  Go out and read it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My final thoughts... a book review: Lance Armstrong's cancer memoir

Now that classes are back in full throttle, I'll occasionally write a post featuring my final thoughts on a given text. When I read a text, it is important for me to be able to articulate what I learn, what I take away, what I can apply from the text to my own life. I'm taking an interesting literature course this semester, one that's different from the traditional lit courses you'd find in an undergrad English department. It's called "American Literature in Cultural Contexts" and it specifically focuses on cancer and how it's portrayed and perceived in American culture. So far, I am really enjoying it--the content we read is engaging and thought-provoking and the class discussions we have are intellectually stimulating. The text we just finished studying is Lance Armstrong's NYT Bestseller It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (written with Sally Jenkins). What follows are my final thoughts on the book. (If you haven't read it, you can read a quick summary here.)

There are multiple ways you could critique this text in terms of its reinforcement of certain dominant discourses in American culture. For example, there are several instances where one could make the argument that this book both illuminates and reinforces aspects of American patriarchal society and gender roles. Or, when Lance talks about himself being the first American on the first American team on an American bike to win the Tour
de France, one could make the argument that he is reinforcing the larger cultural discourses around American nationalism and colonialism. Other similar arguments could be made with regard to how the text reinforces the notion of the American Dream and the idea of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps"; or how the text is just another book that tells the story of a boy becoming a man; or how it's just another story about a brash, cocky, immature athlete learning the ways of the sport and maturing into a better athlete and human being; or how the text illuminates class differences and specifically how privilege might increase one's chances at surviving an illness such as cancer. The list could go longer, but I'll stop there. I'm eager to share with you what I've taken away from it, which is more positive.

While these criticisms are valid and are definitely good to analyze, discuss, and be aware of, I find these of less importance than the life lessons weaved throughout the text. This book provides a frame through which to look at and approach life. In sharing his varied life experiences and his honest responses to them, Lance Armstrong conveys a series of life lessons--lessons that can be distilled from the life story of this famous, privileged, larger-than-life cycling superstar, lessons that common, everyday, average people in any circumstance can apply successfully to their own lives.

Lesson #1: As Lance so aptly explains about the Tour de France, "It's a metaphor for life, not only the longest race in the world but also the most exalting and heartbreaking and potentially tragic. It poses every conceivable element to the rider, and more: cold, heat, mountains, plains, ruts, flat tires, high winds, unspeakably bad luck, unthinkable beauty, yawning senselessness, and above all a great, deep self-questioning. During our lives we're faced with so many different elements as well, we experience so many setbacks, and fight such a hand-to-hand battle with failure, head down in the rain, just trying to stay up right and to have a little hope" (Armstrong 68-69). In other words: life is a roller-coaster ride and it's how we respond that matters.

Lesson #2: It really does behoove you to maintain a primarily positive attitude in life, especially in the face of adversity. In other words: choose to see every obstacle in life as an opportunity; choose to find and focus on the positive in every situation, regardless of how small it may be; be determined to fight and win; never give up; believe and hope; embrace every opportunity as if it's your last.

Lesson #3: Be aware... of yourself and the world you live in and always strive toward greater awareness. In other words: understand what you've been through, what you've achieved, what you've learned, what may lie ahead, what limits may exist, and what you're capable of; fully realize what you've gained from your opportunities in terms of what you've learned, how you've changed, and how much you've grown; understand the amount of choice you have and how you can use it to positively (or negatively) impact your life.

The life lessons presented in this book are priceless. And they're ones we (hopefully) encounter often in various avenues in our lives. Lance Armstrong, through his honest account of his life--his lows and highs and everything in between--and most importantly in his viewing cancer as an
opportunity has produced a text from which anyone can positively gain. Behind all of his privilege and fame and superstar prowess, the life lessons are there--and they're as human and down-to-earth as they come.

It's time to take tolerance one step further--to ACCEPTANCE.

Like millions of others this past week, I have been deeply disturbed and saddened by the rash of reported suicides among young men around this country.  When I came across the NPR story about Tyler Clementi on my Facebook feed, my heart sank, my jaw dropped, and my eyes welled with tears.  When I followed a link to an article listing three more teenage boys whose lives all ended in the same fashion--all in September--I nearly vomited.  And these are only the reported cases.  

Losing someone to suicide is horrible in its own right.  Losing a kid to suicide is even more horrible because he or she still has a whole lifetime to live.  Losing a kid to suicide because he or she has been mistreated so horrifically by other kids…now that's just unspeakable.  Completely unacceptable.  Despicable.  Outrageous.  Sickening.  And preventable.  IF we focus our teaching.

As parents, as teachers, as community leaders, as role models, as mature, open-minded human beings, it is so incredibly important that we teach kids tolerance, that we really work to make sure they understand that just because people are different from them, they don't need to hate and hurt them.  But you know what?  We MUST go one step further, and teach kids ACCEPTANCE.  It's unequivocally imperative.  We must MODEL acceptance for them.  We've got to show them what acceptance is and how to really live it.  In one of my classes the other day, a classmate made an interesting distinction between tolerance and acceptance that I have since embraced: tolerance is a decent first step but it is only a shallow "I can be OK with that" mentality; acceptance though is where we need to get to, for that is a true embracing, a true accepting of something.  It's genuine; it's from the heart.  We're all different in myriad ways.  But we MUST MUST MUST learn to accept those differences and to work together to make this world a better place.  For your survival.  For my survival.  For the kids' survival.  For OUR survival. 

No one, especially kids--who generally lack the maturity and emotional stability necessary to overcome such blows to their self-esteem--should have to endure bullying from others because of who they are.  NO ONE.  They should never feel that they have to hide how they identify themselves, whether that's heterosexual, homosexual, transgendered, questioning, or whatever else there may be.  Kids' lives are already hard enough, what with trying to figure out who the heck they are and even more, who they "think they're supposed to be".


Monday, September 20, 2010

The third time is not always a charm.

Even though I just posted this weekend, my heart really hurts right now and I want to write about it...

For the third time this year, I have been impacted by suicide.  In February, my best friend's husband died by suicide.  He was only 32.  In July, another friend's sister died by suicide.  She was only 26.  And now, today, a player from my favorite NFL team, the Denver Broncos, died by suicide.  He was only 23.  Even though these last two weren't people I knew personally, the tragedy of their deaths still affect me greatly.  And dealing with the death of my best friend's husband was… one of the hardest things I have ever had to come to terms with--and I'm still working on it.  I was the maid of honor in their wedding.  He was not just my best friend's husband, he was my friend, too.  And they hadn't even celebrated their second wedding anniversary yet.

In this instance, the third time is not a charm.  I have the hardest time understanding the choice…  Every time I hear about a suicide, it forces me to stop and remember.  And think.  Suicide affects so many young people every year.  What is going on in their lives that is so incredibly painful, that they feel the need to deal with the pain by ending it completely?  What do they need help with?  As friends, family members, coworkers, classmates, professors, teachers, school administrators, community leaders… are we keeping an eye out for kids, people who may be struggling and afraid to verbalize their need for help?  Are we doing everything we can to reach out and help them?  Are we making ourselves available and making sure we convey an open mind?  Do we know the specifics of what to do if someone says he or she is contemplating suicide?  Are we as prepared as we need to be in dealing with situations like this, situations that may arise in our lives and with people we love and care about?

Suicide is never, EVER the answer.  Being depressed and in pain is one thing, but making the choice to end everything and all possibilities for making things better--that is something completely different.  It doesn't have to be that way.  Suicide is NEVER, EVER the answer.  It breaks my heart to know that people get to the point where they feel that it is an answer, the only answer.  And as a friend, a family member, a classmate, and a future teacher, I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to help those around me who either directly reach out to me for help or who I notice could use some help even if they don't specifically ask me.  As I say in the poem I wrote here, "Love is great, and life is potential.  There is hope.  There is always hope."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Infinitives I live by

I used Wordle to put this graphic together during the summer. My love for language and my tendency to try to organize my life in helpful ways motivated me to make this: "Infinitives to Live By".

All of these verbs are present-tense; they are actions I try to do as much as possible in the appropriate contexts in my life. This collection of words inspires me to do my best and to be the best person I can be, everyday, on all levels, in all areas.

My favorites: reflect, learn, think, choose, connect, pursue, experience, create, and realize.

Putting my teaching hat on, these words are great to share with students. They're empowering and varied and a great way to encourage students to learn and grow and think and explore themselves and their worlds.

What words here do you do? What words do you do that aren't included in this graphic? Which words are your favorite?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The importance of finding your element

There's a lot to be learned from dogs. Whenever I take my dog, Chloe, on a walk, I am reminded of how important it is to find something in life that I really enjoy doing, something I can get lost in and never get bored with, something I can continually get excited about and never get enough of. In short, this is called being in one's element. When I take Chloe on a walk, she is totally in her element. Before we even go out the door, she's gushing with excitement in anticipation of the journey ahead, jumping up and down, barking energetically, imploring me to hurry up and throw my shoes on and go. Once out the door, she's eager to smell everything and look in the direction of every sound she hears, leading me every which way. She loves quickly running ahead only to stop and sniff every square inch of ground in sight. She wants to take it all in. Oftentimes I have to pull her away from certain spots because she's taking way too long and I'm up against the clock. Even if we were to walk the same route everyday (which I don't actually do, more for my sake than hers), she'd never get bored, never lose excitement.

When Chloe's on a walk, she's in her element, she's a fervent learner, and she's always reminding me how important it is to seek out and choose something that I'm so passionate about, something where I can be totally in my element, too. This goes for both my personal life and my professional career. For the former, I know I'm in my element when I'm reading, thinking, learning, taking photographs, and having intellectual, inspired conversations with bright, motivated people. For the latter, I know that teaching and education and learning are where I genuinely belong. These are the things in my life where I'm totally in my element. Thanks, Chloe, for leading by example and for constantly reminding me how important it is to find and be in one's element.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking responsibility, taking initiative

On Seth Godin's blog yesterday, I read a post titled "Responsibility and authority."  It got me thinking of the relationship between responsibility, initiative, and leadership.  In the post, Godin highlights the seemingly subtle relationship between authority and responsibility as it has been constructed in our society.

"Many people struggle at work because they want more authority," he writes.  People believe they have to have authority to do more work, to contribute more value-added effort to the bigger cause.  They feel they need some kind of special entitlement or power to be able to have a bigger impact, to make a bigger difference where they are.

Godin's most powerful argument in the short post counters these typically falsely-held beliefs: "It turns out you can get a lot done if you just take more responsibility instead.  It's often offered, rarely taken."

There are always things we can do over and above our main/primary obligations (both in our professional and personal lives), if we just open our eyes wider and really look around.  Responsibility is there for the taking--either in the form of something on the table waiting for someone to claim and run with it, or in the form of a new idea that hasn't yet been explored but could have some benefit for the cause.  And in most cases, you don't need authority to take this responsibility.  Step up, take it, and run with it.  Not only will it show initiative on your part, but it'll also make evident your desire and will to be a leader, or if you've already established yourself as one, it'll give you an opportunity to show that you're an even bigger, better one. 

Have you been thinking a lot lately about starting a new group or campaign to focus on meeting a specific need in your organization?  Is there a new report or document that needs to be made that your boss or others of your coworkers have been frequently mentioning in meetings or brainstorming sessions?  Or in a similar context, is there a premature idea that needs to be further fleshed out and given more dedicated thought before it can be acted on?  How about an engaging lesson plan or unit idea that you've been mulling and know you should share with the other teachers in your department?
The responsibility is there for the taking, someone just needs to step up and do it.  So why not now?  If you have the bandwidth and you want to develop your leadership skills, or you want to contribute more, or you just want to learn and grow further, take that responsibility you see.  Take the initiative.  Eat it up.  Be a leader.  And be an even bigger impact for the cause.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is less really more? I think it can be.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the notion "less is more."  Especially when it comes to my reading, and more importantly, my learning.  It seems like I hear the mantra quite often and read about it quite frequently.  Less is more.

I'm a big reader.  I spend a great deal of my time regularly consuming texts such as blog posts, news and journal articles--I'm a huge internet reader--my college course books, novels, and professional literature relevant to educators.  Yet, the thought keeps coming back to me: less is more, less is more.  It's as if something is telling me to slow down--slow down and really spend time stewing for a bit on whatever I'm reading.

With today's ubiquitous availability of information and reading material and the rate at which it is created, shared, and turned-over, it's so easy to get caught up in it.  (My PLN--which I love and am so thankful for because of the learning opportunities I'm afforded--is a great example of this.)  It becomes akin to a race where I try to read as much as I can as fast as I can because I feel like that's what I have to do in order to keep up. And then it's easy to lose sight of what's really important: engaging with the text, broadening my understanding, and deepening my learning.  I have to force myself to stop and ask: when I read (or even skim) a lot at a fast pace, how much am I actually letting set in, how much am I truly learning and retaining?  In today's web 2.0 world especially, it's so important for me to remember that less really can be more.  I need to slow down and spend more time with each text that I read.

Slow down.  But what does that mean?  Taking the time necessary to develop a deeper understanding of the material.  OK.  And what does that mean?  It means focusing even more closely.  Taking more notes about the BIG idea(s) and MAIN argument(s) and the most SUBSTANTIVE supporting examples... which also means underlining and highlighting less than I currently do, too.  It means asking more questions.  Exploring the text from different angles. Identifying what I like or don't like about it, what I agree with or disagree with.  Giving myself more time to see and articulate connections between the text and what I already know.  It means sitting with the text to really let it percolate.  Being more deliberate about synthesizing my learning.  It means balancing going broad with going deep.

Obviously, this is a new strategy for me.  It's a big change; it'll require a significantly new mindset.  But it'll help me learn even more than I already am with my current reading style.  It'll be worth the change.  Is less really more?  I think it can be.  And with time and practice, it definitely will be.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making the most of my semester breaks... a plug for PLNs by a pre-service teacher

I've been spending a lot of my time this summer consumed by my PLN I've started developing, trying to read all of the relevant blog posts and links I come across either in my RSS reader or in my Twitter stream. And let me tell you, there is a TON of stuff to read. I could spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end reading content and I still wouldn't feel like I've made much of a dent. Of course, that wouldn't be healthy as it would lead me to live a completely unbalanced, one-dimensional life, and that just wouldn't be good. My Twitter stream updates a mile a minute and my RSS reader adds new articles and posts faster than I can click on a link! Ok, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much...

There are a few reasons why I choose to read this stuff and why I want to read all that I can. First and foremost, I am a learner. I love learning, and when I find something I'm passionate about, I want to explore and find out all that I can about it. I read in Ellin Oliver Keene's book
To Understand: New Horizons in Reading Comprehension (Heinemann, 2008) about the concept of a "fervent learner" and how when we get so consumed by something that we want to know more about and explore and ask questions about, we become fervent, to the point that we lose ourselves... in time, in space, in thought. I am a fervent learner when it comes to the education space and preparing myself to be a teacher. When I finally become one, I want to be the very best teacher that I can be.

So I figure, what better time than in between my semesters as a pre-service teacher to front-load as much of this reading and exploring and learning and growing? Not only am I able to keep my brain fresh and developing throughout the summer and winter months, but also I'll be able to use what I'm learning to contribute more in my course discussions and to enhance my overall learning experiences. I'll be able to bring in other messages, bits of advice, and perspectives which my PLN affords me and I'll be able to synthesize it with what I learn in my courses. I'll also be able, and glad, to help my classmates set up their own PLNs so that they can start front-loading this learning, too. Exposing oneself--and really delving into--the flurry of teaching and education resources and the many years of wisdom and experience that Twitter and blogs enable, can only help us pre-service teachers to be that much more prepared, to be that much better in our teaching careers. (And I know above it may sound like I am only going to make use of my PLN during my semester breaks, but that just isn't true. I'll definitely be utilizing it during my semesters; I'll just need to make sure to have balance, given that I'll have lots of required reading and writing for my courses as well.)

I have already reached out to a few of my classmates, letting them know that I want to help them make use of some awesome learning tools, tools that will only enhance their college education experience. I'm going to meet with a few of them before the semester starts on August 23rd. I'll help them set up their PLN and make the most of some social media tools I have found to be extremely beneficial since I started building my PLN this summer. These include the following: (if you have others you would like me to share, please leave a comment!)

  • Google Reader. I subscribe to lots of blogs, and not just ones in the education realm, but ones that allow me to get outside the "echo-chamber" and to explore concepts and ideas that I can transfer to and apply to education. 
  • Twitter. I follow several educational leaders and experienced teachers, all who are active tweeters and provide valuable links, quotes, advice, and other resources. 
  • Diigo. I absolutely love this social bookmarking tool. I really dig the highlighting and sticky-note functionality. And of course, being able to share my bookmarks with people is great, too! 
  • Mindmeister. This web-based mind-mapping tool is so easy to use; it's a great way to visually lay out and organize ideas and other facets of my life. I lean way more to the side of visual learning, so mind maps are great friends of mine. 
  • TED. This. Website. Is. Amazing. All of the content is free and is totally fascinating. And even better, many of the talks include ideas, concepts, and perspectives that can, with a little thought and creativity, be applied to education. TED is just such a golden nugget. How can anyone not be absolutely crazy about it?

My point with this post is to share with others who haven't yet started a PLN, either because they aren't aware of the concept and its opportunities or because they are skeptical. Whether they are veteran teachers, new teachers, or pre-service teachers, I want to share with them how, in only a few months so far, my PLN has helped me immensely. It has given me exposure to ideas, concepts, lesson plans, instruction tips, experiences, examples, success stories, failure stories, advice, perspectives, new books that I should put on my to-read list, etc. that I most likely would not have come across in my college curriculum, simply because in my college curriculum, I don't have access to the specific educators and administrators and tech leaders that I do in my Twitter feed or we don't talk about or get assigned the blogs that I have loaded in my RSS reader. It (my PLN) lets me join the conversation--the many conversations that are being had on Twitter, in blog comments, about teaching with technology, education reform, classroom management, PLNs, etc.

With the internet and social media, our opportunities to learn and grow professionally are literally unbounded. Why not take advantage? After all, it can only help us and make us become better educators. This post is for everyone out there in either of the two categories I mentioned above. I am free and willing to help you get started in this new world, in this new avenue of learning that I have already reaped great benefits from and will continue to do so for years and years to come. Who's ready?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Trying to organize it all...

With the massive amount of information and online tools available today, I have been thinking about a productive way to organize everything so I don't feel overwhelmed.   I am a visual thinker, so things like mind maps really help me. I did some research and found a tool that I'd like to recommend: Mindmeister.  It's a super easy-to-use, highly functional web-based tool that allows users to create mind maps. While not cheap, the Premium account costs $59 (it's the one targeted for individuals), it is worth it as it allows for unlimited map creation and sharing/collaboration functionality.   There is also a handy iPhone app (not cheap either-$6.99) that allows users to create and edit maps on the go and then the changes sync automagically with the maps created using the full web interface.

So far, I've created 4 maps that are great places for me to start organizing my thinking and the resources relevant to my preservice teacher prep.  I've created maps depicting my PLN, my teaching philosophy, my online and social media learning tools, and I've started a map for adolescent literature.  This last one is something I've always wanted to create so that when students approach me asking for another related good book to read (by genre, author, topic, theme, etc.), I'll be ready to give them valid suggestions.

I really like the MindMeister application so far... it's a great way to organize thoughts, ideas, resources, and whatever else you need to organize.  Go give it a look.  I hope you find value in it like I do!