The First Day

Let’s start with a quick introduction to this post:

I won’t be the first to say it, but sometimes a book finds you at the right place and time. For me, this serendipity happened last week when Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie’s new book came onto my radar. For anyone who is thinking about how to build a successful school year, you’ve got to get this book in your hands. When I bought my copy, I purchased the digital, Kindle version and saved myself at least $15.

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Why the right book at the right time? Well, they captured my feelings about the first several weeks of school and what I’ve got to ready myself for in September. My previous post starts to reflect on the important moves that I’ll need to make in September, but I appreciated the way that Fisher, Frey and Hattie capture this in the success criteria in “Module 2: The First Days of School.” I’ve listed them below and the language in the parenthesis is mine:

I can establish norms for students.

I can develop class agreements.

I can identify (a)synchronous distance learning classroom expectations. 

I can teach organizational and procedural routines (and tech tools). 

I know my students’ names and interests. 

What follows is how I’ll try to accomplish these items.

What do I want to accomplish in the first day? 

In the past, when I thought about the first day, I wanted to do three things. First, let students get to know me a little. Second, let students get to know each other. Third, introduce a procedure that we would be using almost everyday in class. 

Here’s what I do. The activity is called “Frayer a Friend.” The idea comes from the great tech blogger, Matt Miller. The idea is simple. Students find a partner, conduct a short interview of each other, and then after a designated amount of time, introduce their partner to the class using the information gained in the interview. I actually model the activity by sharing a frayer that I completed with information about me. At the end of the activity, I’ve accomplished all the goals I listed above. 

By sharing the model, I’ve introduced myself and shown a bit of my personality. Because of the nature of the interview process, students have a low risk way of sharing something about themselves, and because their partners introduce them, they don’t have to talk about themselves.

Using our LMS, Schoology, I put the assignment, linked above as a Google Drawing, in as a Schoology Google Drive assignment. Once students go into the assignment, they see how I will give them materials in Schoology, how to open them, and then when we are done, they also know how to submit. Routine 1: Accessing and Submitting Assignments…check!

However, I get a bonus here, because using a Frayer as a concept attainment strategy is something I use throughout the year. When I get into my first set of vocabulary, we use the Frayer as a way of learning terms and sharing them. Kids already know the template!

Now, doing this in a face-to-face class is probably pretty straight forward. Doing this in a synchronous session in a virtual meeting is also easy, if you have the ability to do a breakout session. Asynchronously, it gets a little more tricky, and honestly, if I had to do asynchronous, I would choose a different activity.

A note on routines and procedures

What are the routines and procedures that are essential for your instruction and that you train students on in the first weeks of school? While everyone has individualized procedures matching personality, content, and grade level, there are some core items that everyone does: 

  1. What do you do when you come into the classroom? 
  2. Where do you put your stuff? 
  3. What should be the items on your desk at the start of class? 
  4. How does the teacher give signals about when to focus? 
  5. How do you access materials? 
  6. How do you turn them in? 
  7. What do you do when you need help? 
  8. How do you move about the room? 
  9. How do you work in groups? 
  10. When is it okay to talk to a peer? 
  11. When can I pack my stuff up and leave? 

There are probably a lot of others that you’ll have. Please leave them in the comments. Some may be asking, but what if I’m teaching remotely? Think about the list above rewritten for virtual classrooms and meetings: 

  1. What should you do when you get into a Zoom meeting? 
  2. What should be in the camera view when in a Zoom meeting? 
  3. Before the Zoom meeting, what should you do to be ready? 
  4. During a Zoom meeting, how do you let the teacher know you have a question or want to participate? 
  5. How is the course organized in our LMS or website? 
  6. How do you get into and out of breakout rooms? 
  7. How do you get help outside of Zoom? When is it okay to talk to peers about work?
  8. When is it okay to leave the Zoom meeting? 

The moves are the same. I’m also asking these as questions because everyone’s answer is going to be a little different. When I’m in a physical classroom presenting material to students, sometimes I want questions from students as I go, and sometimes I want them to hold them until the end of the instruction. In a Zoom, sometimes, I want them to use the chat, and sometimes, I disable it. Context is everything, right? 

However, looking at the above list of questions, one thing that I know I need to do is to generate a document that has my Zoom meeting expectations, and I need to develop either an activity to practice this, and I might also need to build in a conversation about Zoom meetings as part of our class agreements. Developing class agreements is a post for another day.

Also, looking at the list above, I need to develop an FAQ page for students and parents. I’m not quite ready to do that yet. Currently, my district plan is a hybrid model where students come on different days of the week, so I still don’t have a concrete picture of how the schedule will look, developing an FAQ that listed how I will give help outside of class isn’t clear. However, according to Fisher, Frey and Hattie, good FAQ documents for the coming year will respond to the following: 

  1. Where can I find weekly and monthly schedules? 
  2. Where do I find assignments and materials? 
  3. How do I submit work? 
  4. How do I find graded work and comments? 
  5. When can I get help? 
  6. How do I get technical help?

This is a helpful list, and one that combined with the procedures, would give us even more to think about in terms of our training of students. 

More on connecting to students and learning their interests

An activity such as the Frayer interview I describe above is an easy way to start to get to know kids. They’ve submitted their interviews, so later I can pull them up and use them to guide my work. However, I want to start to get to know them and their interests more deeply.

Interest surveys abound and are a good way to continuing the process. However, I want to dig in a little more deeply.

Two things I’m considering are below. These activities move beyond that first day of class, first encounter with students.

  1. Five-things listicle blog: In it’s simplest form, students write a “blog” post on their five favorite songs and explain about why that song is so important to them. It’s easy to give choice here, too, and allow them to write about any form of media. I use the term blog loosely, because not everyone is going to have a blog. Instead, I’m suggesting that given the technology available, students can embed links to YouTube videos to create a multimodal composition.
  2. Using Robin Bowman’s It’s Complicated, students continue with their interviewing, and create something more long form and personal. Thanks for the idea from Marchetti and O’Dell in their excellent book Beyond Literary Analysis.

Some final thoughts

Getting Ready for Next Year

While we don’t have any official ruling on whether the physical school buildings will be open to hold students and teachers, teachers should start thinking now about how they’ll begin the year in a remote teaching situation.

Start this thinking by reflecting on the final months of your school year. Ask yourself, what went well? What didn’t? As you engage in your reflection, center your thinking on your role as teacher. Take ownership and have agency over what happened during the closure. If the reflection focuses on the problems with your administrators or deficit views of students and families, it will be challenging to grow from this period of reflection.

Coming out the reflection, make a list of the problems and gaps that you’ve identified. Collaborate with your department and grade-level teams on how you’ll go about finding solutions to these issues and how you’ll address problems. If you have access to technology integrators in your building or district, schedule meetings with them to discuss issues, and to get professional development and coaching to help you.

Below, I’ve hyperlinked a series of the best blog posts on characteristics of online learning. I would encourage you to read all of them.

Jennifer Gonzalez’s “9 Ways Online Learning Should Be Different from Face-to-Face.”

Eric Sheninger’s “The Vital Role of Digital Leadership in Transforming Education.”

A.J. Juliani’s “The 9 Dimensions of Online Learning.’

Catlin Tucker’s “The Buildling Blocks of an Online Lesson.”

I’ve started to think about September and how I’ll start the year with my students without the virtue of a classroom for connection. Yes, as I said above, there’s no official decision made, but in my mind, starting to think through this now will make August easier, and if we are back in classrooms, the shift of the materials to a face-to-face model will be fairly easy.

For me, the first weeks of school and the first weeks with a new class involve three key themes: Building Relationships, Routines and Proceedures, and finally baseline Academics. Below, I’ll outline these in some more detail.

Building Relationships

Icebreakers and team building: 80% to 90% of my first class times with students will be spent focused on getting to now them, building relationships, and doing some online icebreakers. Check out this blog post on how to move those first-days icebreakers into online environments.

Finding out what my kids are passionate about. One of my first informal writing prompts is asking students what they are passionate about. They write on this topic for a few minutes and then share out. For me, passions are the big things that drive them, so I hear a lot about sports that are important, how family is central to their lives, or a hobby like horseback riding is motivating.

Finding out what my kids are interested in. I also like to have activities around their interests, which are for me may be smaller than a passion, but none-the-less, still important. I want to know what kinds of games they play, what genres are music they listen to, what they binge on Netflix. My favorite activity is to have them create a playlist of their five favorite songs. I take these lists, create playlists in my Apple Music account and then play them when we have work time.

Routines, Procedures and Protocols

Organization of the Course: I’m going to spend about 5% of the time showing students how I’ll organize each weekly block, or two-week block of course material. Making them literate in how things are set-up will help establish clarity when they need to access materials and lessons. As part of this, I’ll also use this time to develop digital literacy around the tools that I’ll be using most. This means some form of a Flipgrid, Google Slides (shared and as Schoology Google Drive Assignments), Google Drawings.

Lessons: Part of this 5% time in my first few weeks will be on the actual instruction that we’ll be working on. During the closure, most teacher provided, direct instruction was done via video with a series of Zoom office hours to help students connect and ask questions. At some point, there will be a short lesson, on some concept, so that they can get into the procedures for watching videos, taking notes, and doing some form of formative assessment.

Assignments: As I alluded to above, most of my assignments are given via Schoology Google Drive Assignments. I’m fairly adept at this tool; however some students come to my class never having done this kind of assignment. They need a little orientation to how to access the assignment. After the assignment has been given feedback, they need to be directed on how to access the feedback, and what to do with it.

Contacting and Conferencing: I’m thinking through my rules, routines and procedures for how students can contact me, and when they should do so. It means I’m thinking about how often I want them checking-in and what ways we’ll do this both synchronously and asynchronously. One of my other tasks is to figure out conferencing schedules and how this will fit into all of the above.

Baseline Academics: Writing and Discussion

As an English teacher, the development of student thinking through writing is the core part of my academic practice. The overwhelming majority of the writing students are assessed on comes from text-based responses to the literature we’re reading. One of the core ways we come to understand the the texts we’re reading is through written and oral discussion. Above, I laid out a framework of activities that situate academics in the rear seat of the opening weeks of school.

However, I’m thinking about how writing can be a way to get students to share themselves with the community we’re building, and how I might use shorter literary texts as a way of connecting and engaging students in conversations to sense who they are, allow for the sharing of ideas for self-expression, and to be ready to make the turn towards academic work.

Over the next several blog posts, I’ll be sharing reading that’s helped me prepare for the coming year, how I’ll organize this time, and what activities I’ll be using. Please follow along, and feel free to reach out to me for further discussion and problem solving.

My journey to the dark side?

Earlier in the month, I applied to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and the Leadership program for an administrative certificate. It’s my intention to leave classroom instruction and seek a leadership position. On Monday, I got my acceptance letter. In a move to share this decision with friends and colleagues, I posted a picture to of this letter to my Facebook and Twitter. The response from my community was really positive, and the acknowledgement received helped me to feel better about this line of decision making.

And, I’ve also taken the jab: “Traitor,” “Turncoat.”

I’ve never seen any teacher’s move to administration as turn toward the dark side, as it’s often referred to in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way. These remarks from teachers have always bothered me. They suggest that teachers hold some form of moral superiority, and continue to exacerbate the us-versus them mentality and binary thinking that is, arguably, at the root of many problems in the field of education. No one holds any kind of moral superiority in the field of education.

So, not only is this post a sharing of my decision to pursue administration and school leadership, but it’s also a chance to share why I’m taking this path. Below is the personal statement submitted to MCLA. While it was written with the program admissions panel in my mind as an audience, I think it captures my thinking at this moment in time.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Leadership Academy

Statement of Goals

Submitted by Keith J. Pedzich

The choice to obtain an administrative certification has not been a straight line, an easy path or in a timeline that falls within the neatly demarcated lines of a calendar. Instead it has been something that has developed over time. What I hope to do within this personal statement is weave together important highlights from my career as an educator with an explanation of what brings me to administration, the Leadership Academy, and what I hope to achieve.

In my role as classroom teacher, I have wanted to create students who were auto-didactic and who leave my classroom a little wiser about the world. When I started as a classroom teacher twenty years ago, I asked questions like “How do I make a dynamic learning environment for my students?” or “How do I create experiences that will bring literature to life?” and “How do I motivate resistant students?” These questions were about how to do this within an individual classroom setting. Both as a new teacher, and as I gained experience, the way that I thought about interactions were only within my classroom community.

I have been fortunate to answer the above questions in approaches such as inquiry-based instruction and the adoption and maintenance of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in two different schools. Over the past three years, I have worked to harness the power of blended learning through technology use. Through committees I am a part of, we adopted a district-wide Learning Management System, planned a K-12 roll-out of 1:1 devices, and wrote training curriculum. These efforts kept my practice fresh and helped me to find ways of engaging students that allowed me to facilitate instruction while simultaneously making students in control of their learning. These experiences in coordinating instructional practice began my interest in administrative work.

Goal 1: As an administrator, I hope to continue to answer questions and be a part of conversations to answer questions to drive change

 

For all the power and influence I may have as a classroom teacher and in working on committees, my reach and influence only go so far. The question I ask, frequently, is how can I take my knowledge of instruction, and leverage it for change at an organizational level. My inquiry has shifted from looking within the classroom for ways to improve student learning and achievement to looking at how to accomplish this at an organizational level.

Now the questions I ask look like this:

How do we prepare teachers to ready students for the dynamic changes they will find in the 21st century job market?

How do we get teachers to reconsider their role in the classroom when most of human knowledge can be accessed on devices someone can keep in the pocket of his or her jeans?

How do we best prepare our teachers for a shifting role in a technology-driven classroom?

How, in an age of diminishing time resources, do we maximize efficiency in our professional development program?

While I do not have all the answers to such questions, in my shift to administration I would like to engage with organizations to answer these questions.

What appeals to me about the MCLA Leadership program is the ability to have conversations in two existing worlds: With those involved in the Leadership Academy, and in my home district and school. The range of these conversations between these two worlds, I am guessing, is purposefully designed. It will allow us to learn from others in the program and within the cultures we are already a part of.

 

Goal 2: Through this program, I want to make a shift from the practice of teaching to the practice of leadership and organizational thinking

 

Attending the Leadership Academy and working through an internship next year, I might expect that I will learn things such as creating master schedules, observing teachers, and  running New York State Regents exam sessions. These are important items in which to become literate. They form the bread-and-butter of a building administrator’s tasks. In small part, I think I have begun to make the shift I describe in the goal above.

As International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, I spend time working with administrators and teachers on issues related to implementation of this program. Working with the building principal, we have had to make decisions around course offerings, promotion and teacher workload. For me, one of the interesting things is observing the principal thinking through these decisions not only in light of what would be good for the IB program, but also how these decisions are tied to other programs and resources within our school. The complexities of the contemporary U.S. high school are many, and developing a literacy around this is intriguing and necessary. My hope is that over the year and a half in this program, I begin to develop a sense of how to prioritize the decisions leaders face.

Another experience that has brought me to consider this more deeply has been my involvement with our district’s move to a digital conversation and 1:1 devices. In a committee, we developed mission and vision statements. I have spent time on the road looking at other school 1:1 programs. We presented to faculty. We went through an evaluation and adoption of district wide use of an LMS. We retooled our professional development plan to prepare teachers to deliver this technology initiative in their classes. I worked with a team to develop training curriculum and schedule of professional development opportunities. I had to look beyond my own interest in equipping my students with devices and think about the entire K-12 population.  We have worked to do something pretty innovative–establishing a 1:1 technology program through listening to all stakeholder voices. Still, we got push back and we have those who resist and continue to use traditional methods. As a classroom teacher, I might have been able to simply turn my back on these technology resisters, close the door of my classroom and simply continue on with my passions for using technology to develop 21st-century skills in my students. However, in my role as a technology integrator, I have to consider how we bring people along in our digital conversion, and how we make sure everyone knows how to use the tools we have been given, so we can measure change. Our efforts at change and innovation need to be grounded in what we know to be true about good education–building relationships, listening and empathy, and working from what our people know. I learned that change in schools can be slow to come by.   

In going into the Leadership Academy, I am adopting a “I don’t know what I don’t know” approach. I have put aside preconceived notions about what I think administrators do, so that I might look at this work and to gain from the experience. The Leadership Academy clearly provides the opportunity through sustained mentorship and self-study.

 

Goal 3: As an administrator, work to become a more powerful and effective innovation change agent, who can balance the checkboxes of public education with the need to find new solutions to problems.

 

For the last three years, I have been thinking more deeply about schools from people such as Ira Shor, George Couros, Will Richardson, and Grant Lichtman.  These thinkers challenge traditional notions of education and are arguing for new and different approaches to creating schools. I am also interested in those thinkers who are outside of education to gain additional perspective, including Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, and Sven Birkerts.

The future’s best leaders will be remixers and repurposers. We will need to look for the lessons and learnings of different industries–automotive, technological, agricultural–and how we might adopt them to make our educational organizations better at serving our communities.  

Perhaps the most decisive experience in the decision to enter administration came late in the last school year when I was the point-person for developing an end of the year professional development session for the entire faculty. While I had done this for smaller, shorter faculty meetings, I challenged myself to create a professional development experience reflecting the innovation I read about in Couros’ work paired with the choice and independence that is advocated for by Richardson. Working in a team, we developed a unique experience. In my high school, we had never done professional development at the end of the year. My work here was a culmination and synthesis of a year’s worth of work from learning about technology integration and training, to making it valuable to adults. The program was largely a success. It was here that I realized I could design experiences that combined solid learning tasks with innovative, technology-driven approaches that teachers could learn from.

My passion is learning and helping teachers get better at what they do. However, like what I did in the professional development I described above, I am motivated to find ways to blend the traditional with the innovative to meet goals. It is at the Leadership Academy that I hope to continue to develop these interests and avenues.

 

Goal 4: Grow as a professional through non-traditional certification program

 

From all of this, why the Leadership Academy at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts? I am seeking something non-traditional. While I am deeply committed to learning and intellectual advancement, I hope to seek a balance between “classroom space” in on-line environments with practical advice, guidance, and instruction from those working in my school. The administrators in my district have a wealth of knowledge from which I hope to learn from next year.

Where do I hope to land? When I look at the through-line of my career, the thread that ties it together is learning and instruction.  Whether it is my work as an IB Coordinator, my role as a Technology Integrator, my courses in blogging and new-media writing, or my presentations on personalized learning or process writing or writing to learn strategies, my interests have been in how we create classrooms that engage students in critical thinking. As someone who has valued learning throughout my career, my move to administration is not a turning away from classrooms or teaching. It is a move to assist and lead in a new way. While I remain open to exploration, positions as the Director of Professional Development or Director of Instruction are immediately on my radar.

As I alluded to in the above discussion, I am excited by the structure of the Leadership Academy. Coming from Rochester, New York, there are several, good administrative programs in the area, but I am not looking for a traditional classroom approach. It is during my time in this program that I hope to work to meet the above goals and answer the questions about which I am so passionate.

 

So, You’ve Been Asked to Write a 4,000 Word Research Paper: Where to Begin

As an IB Coordinator and long-time IB kool aid drinker, the Extended Essay (EE) poses an important, appropriate and formidable challenge for Diploma students. The EE is supposed to be the central experience of this program. In my mind, it’s meant to encapsulate everything about the IB experience: Inquiry-based teaching and learning, source-based writing, in-depth study, time management, collaboration with others and reflection. It’s an experience that all students should have a brush with, not just DP students.

This year, not only am I an IB Coordinator, but I’m also the parent of a rising year-one diploma student. Last night, as my family was sitting down for a dinner of enchiladas, rice and beans, and a salad, my daughter brought up the first hurdle in taking on the Extended Essay: “I’m not really sure how to get started.”

The first step in the EE process is settling on a subject area and broad topic that can start to narrow the sources to be consumed. For example, the IB EE website lists some examples of broad topics for Literature:

  • Marriage in the novels of Charlotte Bronte 
  • Comedy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night
  • Autobiographical details in the novels of Cesar Aira.
  • A comparison of the main characters in Huckleberry Finn and Candide.

These are by no means final topics, but for me as a coordinator, they are a starting point that allow a student to create a preliminary bibliography and begin the process of research (and by this I mean reading). By June, I’d like my students to have settled into a specific topic. For example (and again from the IB EE website): 

  • The portrayal of marriages as imperfect in Sarah Water’s Fingersmith and The Little Child.
  • The use of the Clown archetype in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night
  • Satirical techniques and travel in Huckleberry Finn and Candide. 

In response, I thought I would share somethings that I would do if I had to write a 4,000 word research essay. Don’t see the list below as steps in a process. You could do them in any order!

  1. Start by thinking about subjects at school that I’m passionate about and that I might be thinking about studying in college. Then, I would go to the Extended Essay site and read the “Subject-specific guidance” and particularly “Choice of Topic” sections. These will give examples of the kinds of topics that are appropriate.
  2. Make an appointment to see AP and IB teachers of subjects you are passionate about. Talk to them about potential EE topics. Don’t know who in the building might know about something you are interested in researching, see your IB Coordinator or Librarian.
  3. Brainstorm lists of ideas your interested in. Use these as jumping off points to further reading and exploration.
  4. Surf Twitter, find blogs, podcasts and content aggregators who post interesting material and content. Read this stuff and add to your brainstorming.
  5. Read the Sunday New York Times. All of it. Take topics and stories from the issue that are intriguing to you, add them to your brainstorming.
  6. What are your hobbies? How might what you do outside of class lead to topics and research? I’ve seen great essays come out of a love of Ultimate Frisbee, or Violin playing, or War Movies, or Harry Potter.
  7. Talk to family. Have mom or dad or aunt or uncle help you brainstorm about your passions and interests. Talk to them about how their experiences with research and their passions. Maybe this will spark topics.
  8. Go to a museum or historical society. In our area, the George Eastman house, Strong Museum of Play, Art Gallery, Women’s Rights Hall of Fame could all lead to you thinking about interesting ideas.
  9. My English students write “Passion Blogs.” If you write in any way about stuff that interests you, go back and look at other writing and add to your brainstorming, Not only should you add it to your brainstorming, you should “content spin it” or “topic spin it.” What does that mean? Look at my example below.

Recently, I had a student write a mock “How-to” blog post on surviving a zombie apocalypse. To content spin it, with an aim of developing topics, I take the central topic and consider how different IB subject areas or disciplines would explore that topic.

English:  The presentation of the zombie in post-millennium YA literature.

History: The history of zombies in American culture.

Sciences: Necrotizing Bacteria.

Film: The presentation of the zombie in film.

World Studies: Beliefs about zombies in religion and the treatment of the AIDS virus in Africa and the Caribbean.

My last thought is schedule some time over Christmas break to meet with your IB Coordinator for coffee or a burger and have a chat about the EE. Get his or her perspective on this project and talk about your ideas.  

Learning from Learning: Documentation and Blogging

It sounded like a good idea at the time: The Documentation Project.

The end of August was rolling around and I was starting to think about the school year. What were my goals? What key pieces of instruction did I want to take on? What were going to be important milestones and projects?

In thinking about these questions, Angela Stockman (@AngelaStockman) posted in the Building Better Writers group on Facebook. She was offering a year-long session in documentation of learning, creating, a private group called “The Documentation Project.”

Currents were converging.

The offer of documenting learning would keep me honest about a goal, and perhaps help me to both step up my instruction and really learn from it.

At the end of August, all this sounded like a good idea. Last week, in the middle of a 20-point To-Do list, not so much. Additionally, Angela was pushing us along, asking What we were going to document and how we were going to do. Again, not so much.

However, last week and over the weekend, some stuff kinda gel-d for me. This blog is what I came up with.


I’ve decided to document the learning about writing that goes on in my IB English 11 class. We spent the first 4 days of class creating student run Edublogs, and populating them with several different kinds of posts and pages. Students will blog once a week, writing about either personal interests, mentor-text reading, or in further their thinking about current texts under discussion.

One of the questions that I’m asking about blogs is do blogs and blog writing create better writers.

I see the learning and documentation coming from weekly reflection on what I’m seeing in their blogs, and the lessons that I plan coming from this cycle or process.

For example, in the first round of blogging, I asked students to comment on each other’s blogs. Here, students are in groups of four, commenting on blogs in these groups to keep it manageable.

After the first round of blogs and comments were submitted, I asked students to reflect on what we’ve done so far. Flipgrid was an easy tool for collecting this feedback. The primary feedback I got was that commenting on other student work was the most difficult part of the process.

When I teach giving feedback–whatever kind of feedback that might be–I use the Stanford Design school technique of “I Like, I Wish, I Wonder.” This gives students a way of looking at student work and moving feedback from something personal to something constructive, and that is both positive and critical simultaneously.

Certainly, commenting on the work of others is a challenging task. No one would disagree. It requires us to carefully consider, to understand intention, to think about the effects of writing on our own experience as the consumer of a piece. Then, to articulate those noticings into writing.

Today, we’re going to look at some mentor texts by looking at public comments to the New York Times blogroll to see what we might learn about the moves we need to make as participants in a conversation.

I use that phrase, “participants in a conversation,” intentionally. From looking at blogs and my students reflection on them, my purposes behind blogging with them are clarified. Better writing means, for me, increased engagement in a conversation. I want them to participate with each other in a conversation of ideas and thinking.

Teaching commenting and giving feedback is one way to do this.

The other aspect that’s come clearer for me this weekend, was that blogging, for all its coolness, offers a challenge to today’s high school writer (and perhaps today’s high school English teacher): There is no right way to do it. In a Regents-exam driven classroom, where the answer for how to write the essay is clear and easy to teach, the blog form does not lend itself to “This is how you do it.”

Instead, the blog post is, perhaps, the most complex of rhetorical situations students might have to respond to. Worthy territory for writers, indeed.