What I’ve learned so far

Once a teacher, always a teacher and as such I am always curious about learning. So this adventure is letting me really look closely at my own learning. Overall, I’m getting some huge lessons.

The biggest is of course around learning, or perhaps not learning to speak Spanish.  For almost four years now I’ve been trying hard to learn some basic Spanish:  I’ve attended night school four times through Vancouver School Board-level one successfully two times and half way through level two twice; I’ve done a week of Spanish class in beautiful Yelapa, Mexico, a small village a forty minute water taxi ride away from Puerto Vallarta and I’ve made three other trips to Mexico seeking some kind of immersion experience; I’ve listened to hours of podcasts including Coffee Break Spanish, Showtime Spanish and most recently Michelle Thomas’ excellent series for beginning spanish; and I’ve even worked my way through several exercise books and a couple of very, very beginning novels.  While I’ve come a long way, I am far, far from fluent.  At least now I usually know when someone is speaking spanish to me and in all honesty, I can understand more and more of what I’m hearing around me.

Shopping at the Calvia market today after I managed to park.

Shopping at the Calvia market today after I managed to park.

Today though I’m having a bad spanish day. At the market in Calvia, when I was trying to park the car an older spanish woman cut me off, literally stealing the parking space that I’d waited patiently for by pulling up in the lot to block my entrance to it. While I politely reversed the car  so she could pass me by as I thought we clearly had an understanding that the spot was mine-the driver pulling out had even told her that I was taking the spot-she then had the gaul to pull into the spot while yelling at me, in spanish, that she’d been driving around for twenty minutes waiting for a spot, as if that entitled her to so rudely do what she did. I pulled up to her window dumbfounded, with a stupid idiotic look on my face I’m sure, while she hurtled explanations at me as to how tired of waiting she was and that she was entitled to the spot after viente minutos.  I understood pretty much all of what she was saying but my active spanish vocabulary vanished completely and all I could think to yell back was “puta!” (Oh what a dishonorable person I am!) So how did I learn such language in the first place you might wonder?  Well apparently swearing is quite the past time here.  Robert and Hannah have both been learning to  swear up a storm while I thought I was above it all.  We hear it on the buses around us, from the people at the side of the soccer field, pretty much everywhere, little children, teenagers and adults alike.  Last week when I asked Hannah how she was doing with speaking spanish on the soccer field con las otras jugadoras she told me very proudly that she was doing really well. She’d sworn twice at the mosquitos on the field.

Starting to make friends

Starting to make friends

But honestly, what  I am learning beyond the language itself is about the learning of a language. Learning a language is really, really hard work and immersion doesn’t happen naturally.  It is far too easy for me to sit at home in the comfort of my family, and to rely on the very few english speaking people, including my family here, to speak and translate for me. I have experienced too the huge feeling of helplessness that comes from not being able to speak the language, a helplessness that for me actually makes it even harder to learn.  I watch myself going into “shut down mode” when I don’t understand what to do or how to find what I need.  I see myself withdrawing and choosing not to participate in the community  rather than seeking help and pushing myself harder to try to overcome the language that I don’t understand.  So for example in our trying to deal with “officialdom” here I feel so lost.  It took us a whole week just to find out if there was a soccer team that Hannah could play on.  Then we needed help finding the field where they practice. Now we’re struggling through some kind of registration process that we just don’t understand. We’ve pretty much given up on finding any sort of schooling experience for her outside of the VLN program that she is registered in from home. Our next step is to try to find spanish language classes for all three of us but even that is hard to do. It is hard to sort out what is tourist hype and what might be real. It would be easier to just stay on my beautiful deck, keep swimming daily to the island across the bay until the weather gets too cold, continue to play on my computer and forget spanish all together.  Keeping at it is tough going.

In short, this is giving me a whole new perspective on all of the amazing parents I’ve dealt with over the years who have moved to Vancouver despite not knowing the language, and really truly persisted to get their children into good programs and to learn the language themselves enough to actively participate in the school at any level.  To those of you reading this  who are teaching and working with ESL parents in your schools right now, please reach out and find one parent or one student who is trying to understand but may be feeling frustrated.  Please, even for a day, give them all the help you can.  You will make a world of difference.

My Twitter Update

Back on November 16, I wrote a blog post declaring my intention to give Twitter a try for a full month. Today I’m going to summarize what the experience has given me so far.

1) An amazing network of people: Initially I had a four people to follow from my short venture into twitter last spring; as I picked it up again I added a few more, and then a few more until I got up to a critical mass of about 29. At that point I figured out how to go to the twitter pages of the people I want to follow and check to see who they follow, so I found a few more and so on and so on. Eventually I got a tweet from MrTweet who’s bio says “I am your personal twitter assistant – add me as a friend, and I’ll suggest to you which influencers and followers you should check out. (More coming soon! ).” True to his word Mr Tweet somehow looked at who I had already decided to follow, checked out who they follow (are you following?) and recommended who else I should follow. I took his advice and now have 82 that I am following, with more being added as I find discover more people that I want to network with.

2) New tools for connecting: So Twitter probably wouldn’t work without good webtools to make it easy to keep up with. A month ago I was using Firefox but knew that there had to be an easy way to see tweets as they came in. Firefox wasn’t doing it.  Then Claire Thompson suggested Flock, so I downloaded that to give it a try.  Today I’m still using it though probably not yet to its full potential but I do like what it gives me. I can have twitter on in a sidebar, or switch to Facebook which I use more for my family network.  There is even the potential for network in flicker and possibly so much more.

A couple of weeks, or about 20 tweets, into my trial I started noticing some posts that said posted from Tweetdeck. That sent me off looking for Tweetdeck which I’m now using.  While I still often have my sidebar in Flock on, I find that using Tweetdeck at the same time works well. It provides a better system for reading back through past posts whenever I come back on line, a nice consistent alert systems, and system for sorting the posts more easily. There are still functions in it I’m just learning about but even in this simplified way I’m using it, I find it very useful.

There are still tools I need to check out and learn more about. These include twhirl and twitterfox (maybe I left my firefox browser to quickly). And who knows, if Santa’s good to me this Christmas maybe I’ll get to try using twitter on an ipod with twitterfon.

3) Increasing involvement: By far the most exciting result for me has been the fun I’ve had getting up the courage to participate in the interaction. Twitter offers a kind of light weight connection, if you will.  With it I’ve become involved in a network of people, many whom I’ve never met, but who have agreed by letting me “follow” them, and often “following” me back, to allow some conversation between us.  These are folks that I don’t know well enough to email out of the blue given that I’m a relatively shy person. But folks with whom I seem to have a lot in common such as an interest in education, specifically technology in education and/or online tools for communication and education. So more and more I’m finding myself willing to try a response or even (more daringly) a direct message in response to some tweet from someone else.  The first one I received was exciting; the first one I sent, a little scary. But more and more I’m having fun with it and really learning a lot. I’ve started engaging in conversations that I wouldn’t have joined into before. The next conference I go to I think I’ll be much more willing to step up and introduce myself.

4) Great new resource, blogs and updated information: Perhaps this is all just the benefits of an expanded network but with regular tweets coming in as people complete accomplishments from posting a new blog post to publishing a book, I’m finding myself much more up to date with relevant and important information.  I’m reading new blog postings much more immediately.  I’m learning about good tools and resources that fit well with my work.  For example, through Twitter I learned about Liz Davies revised edition of 21st Century Technology Tools; Tutorials for Teachers, 2nd Edition which I’m just settling in to read. You can be sure though that I’ll be keeping my twitter on while I read.

Twittering a network

So Phil Macoun,  in his recent comment on this blog, recommended I give Twitter another try in response to my commenting that I didn’t really get it. So I’m doing so, a full-on commitment to twitter for a month and see how it goes. Already you’ll notice the twitter widget in the sidebar. To date I’ve found 41 people worth following (including Barack Obama along with 135,841 other followers) and 27 people are following me. That’s not a bad start to a network, but in the end it really depends on what I learn, contribute and gain from it all.  As my real interest here is in how it could possibly be of help to overworked classroom teachers, the vote is definitely still out.

Claire Thompson, one of my new contacts from KnowSchools, has tweeted me already to check that I’ve got some system set up for managing all the tweets.  Of course, I don’t as yet but she’s pointed me in a good direction and so I’ve just downloaded Flock. I’ll give that a try. If social networking is the way to go, and Flock is better designed to support that, it is certainly worth checking out.

Watch for an update or, better still, follow along with this little experiment on twitter.

Finishing up another KnowSchool course

So the week of Knowschool’s Using Blogs in Education has come to an end. I’ve learned so much. I want to summarize some of what I’ve taken from the course and decided to do it here rather than on the course Moodle forum so that I’ll have it to come back to. So, here are 10 things I’ve learned:

  1. I am learning so much from other educators. All week I’ve been immersed, not only in the course discussions, but with reading blogs. So many of the course participants have great blogs. Plus, I’ve found the Top 100 Education blogs and I’m working my way through them all. I’m finding experts on all kinds of topics. I’ll be adding a whole new list of blogs to my Xtra Links.
  2. Like the 31 day comment challenge (which I’m still working on… possibly my 31 month challenge), this week has retaught me about the power of blogging for building community. So, as well as reading blogs, I’m practicing getting out there and adding my comments.
  3. I’ve learned that I really need a better system for following blogs, so I’ve revitalized my netvibes account. It’s been my browser homepage for a long time, but I haven’t used it efficiently enough. Now I’ve cleaned it up and added feeds for the best of the blogs that I’ve found. I’ve got a special section to follow my TLITE bloggers as well as my Global Ed bloggers.
  4. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned to my horror that edublogs now allows for ad links. So, if you are viewing this page for the first time, or from a different computer that you normally use, you’ll see a bunch of double underlined words that are linked to mini ads. It is distressing. I’ll add a note in my sidebar to help new visitors avoid those.
  5. I already knew that innovative teachers are using blogs with their students but this week I’ve heard about some amazing projects, difficulties that teachers run into, and successes that they have. I’ve watched an excellent video from the students’ perspective. All this has encouraged me to keep on promoting blogging as a learning tool and given me some resources to recommend. Watch for future posts regarding these.
  6. I’ve learned that blogging should have a point or purpose, particularly if it is intended for others to read. This led me to reassess whether or not my blogging was really about my own learning and reflecting or if I had expectations that it might be of interest to anyone else. So I’ve thought about, who am I writing for? And, I came up with the idea that I am indeed writing for others, any others who might be interested in entering into conversation about the topics and issues I raise. Some times that is no one, others times I’m surprised at who stumbles across my blog. When readers lead comments it always entices me to look for ways to respond, and thus conversations start. In this very digital world, I think these kinds of conversations are exciting.
  7. Surprisingly I learned that everyone twitters…well except for Jan Smith who is on a “self imposed twitter fast”. Twitter hasn’t made much sense to me. I’ve tried a couple of times. Perhaps when I get through all 100 blogs I’ll give it another try.
  8. I’ve collected a number of really excellent resources for my own teaching. This includes sites with information about blogging and tech savie stuff. Particularly good ones include Cristina Costa’s wiki, Konrad Glogowsky’s blog on How to Grow a Blog.
  9. I’ve given more thought to assessment of blogs. I like the idea of having access to rubric suggestions (such as the one by Ryan Bretag) and tools although I have to admit that I still lean towards having students self-assess their blogs.
  10. And finally, I’ve picked up lots of new ideas for adding voicethreads and video to my blogs. In this sense I’ve been inspired to continue try to be more creative in my posts.

So that’s about it. I’m not finished with this challenge as yet though as there are still more articles to read in the reference list and a wealth of other resources I’ve only looked at long enough to write a description in Diigo.

What I learned from Ohler

Dr. Jason Ohler spoke at the CUEBC Horizons conference. As expected, he was inspiring with his work with digital stories, but what surprised me was not what I gained in terms of motivation to get students and teachers using digital stories, but rather what I learned about visual literacy.

In fact, Ohler has really moved beyond speaking about visual literacy perhaps because in today’s context, literacy has to include visual literacy. He clearly defined literacy as being able to both consume and produce, considering not just text, but also form and colour. He talked about moving from words to collage, about the importance of moving from text centricism to new media collage; the value of learning to interpret and create web writing which is visually different text. He emphasized Art as the essential fourth R because it is part of literacy in our medial rich world. Multi media, he argued is the www esperanto, an intriguing concept. While he outlined nine essential guidelines for digital literacy, what struck me is that this kind of writing is different. It needs to be different. Even I read differently on the web. So my goal is to start finding ways to make my writing more visual. For someone like me who has truly denied my artistic abilities, this will be a challenge…. but something to work on.