Tag Archives: commenting

What am I hoping to achieve by encouraging my students to use social media?

What am I hoping to achieve with social media and my interest group, Writing Interest Group (WIG), formerly known as Competition Writing?

Why am I insisting so much on the students’ participation in the comments section of the Facebook Group or the blog, Unicorn Express?

The screen capture below gives a clue. I had shared on Facebook Jason’s blog post (sonnet).

I want the blog to be a publishing platform for student writing. I want students to write for a real audience – both their peers as well as anyone outside the school and even in other countries.

I want students to know their work is being read and appreciated, and that other students will take the time to tell them so, or to leave constructive comments.

My aim is connected learning, interaction and reflection after writing.

I love the fact that former MHS students are still part of the Facebook group and read current students’ work, and even more when they come in to say something about it. That connection beyond the classroom, beyond the year level, the school – that’s what I want for our students.

How do you think Jason Li feels when he reads what Hanford, a former MHS/WIG student, says in the comment section of the Facebook group:

I stay to get the opportunity to read things like that poem!

Open minds welcome – Year 9s begin blogging

I’ve noticed that Melbourne High School has two mottos. One is ‘honour the work’ and the other, perhaps more recent, is ‘more than just marks’. The school is a hub of co-curricular activity which attests to that. And yet, not surprisingly for a selective school full of bright and competitive boys, the focus is largely on attaining high marks and, in particular, a high ATAR in VCE. There’s nothing wrong with that if it doesn’t interfere with what matters more – the development of a love of learning, a thirst for understanding and thinking.

When English teacher, Nicholas Fairlie, and I put our heads together in the hope of doing something different with Nick’s two Year 9 classes, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Nick found the perfect quote by Thomas Mann to introduce the point of blogging, a quote which so beautifully expresses the reflective aspect of blogging.

Keeping a Diary

“I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

(Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939)

Nick had the boys spell-bound as he introduced the project –

And so, boys, this is why we’re blogging. Not for the rightness or wrongness of our ideas, but for the having of the ideas and shaping them fit for the page. These pages will celebrate and affirm thinking: bold thinking, creative thinking, subtle and robust thinking. What goes here is valuable because it is the product of our minds and because of that will be respected by us all.

Without making a big deal of it, Nick spoke to the boys about responsible and respectful behaviour, pointing them to the guidelines:

5. Nice as it is to read encouraging comments, such as “well done” and “good job”, try to give some more feedback than this. Work on building a dialogue.
6. Keep track of what has been said by others before, and then try to provide some new viewpoints. You can also ask thoughtful questions, as there may be new and unfamiliar cultural references in other students’ photos and commentary.

Past experience has taught me that rich commenting is an art which has to be taught. So much learning takes place without much effort though – writing not just for your teacher and a mark, but for a peer audience and a potentially global readership, will open up the scope for authentic discussions and social learning.

And so we have made a start. Two classes of Year 9 boys have created their own blogs and personalised them (as they all naturally want to do), and these blogs have been linked on the front page of Nick’s blog. They have written their first blog post on a topic which has yielded some mature and thoughtful responses (to ‘We are what we know’). It was exciting to read such interesting responses to an open and abstract topic which may have intimidated much older students – a rich start to something that promises to truly be “taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

After sending out a tweet and Facebook status to promote the blogs and encourage commenting, we sat back and waited for readers to bite. My generous network jumped in immediately with responses to encourage and challenge the students in their thinking. My online colleague, Sinnika Laakio-Whybrow, from Finland, was amongst these and will no doubt impress upon the boys that their writing attracts a global audience, and that it’s just as easy to have a discussion with someone on the other side of the planet than with someone interstate.

sinikkalw responded:

I would go along with your reasoning that most of us don’t really know who we are or what exactly we know. But why is that perfectly fine with you? Wouldn’t we all be better off if everybody knew a bit more about themselves and what they know?

1 day agoAndrew Poxleitner responded:

Andrew Poxleitner
I would agree that if people knew more about themselves than they do right now, not only would they benefit, but the contributions to society would also be invaluable.Perchance I was a bit vague on this, in the post, but we also have to question ourselves on how to do so. How do we find about ourselves? I believe, at least, I’m in the dark in regards to who I am, and how to figure out who I am.
Therefore, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that maybe not many people know who they really are, because from the very start of the discovery, it’d be like picking needles out of a haystack.
Being realistic, not everyone can figure out who they are, and that’s a fact. Well, at least to me it is.

1 day agosinikkalw responded:

Technology truly is amazing, here I am on the other side of the world having a “discussion” with you!In hindsight, and with life experience, I can assure you that teenage is the very time when you really start on the lifelong journey of “finding yourself” and becoming your own independent individual. What seems like needles in a haystack to you now, will become clearer and clearer to you as years go by. If there was a reliable method of “finding your true self” that worked for everyone, I’m sure we’d know about it. The beauty of life is the journey, the process, the gradual deepening of our understanding, the willingness and openness to find out. Because not everybody can figure it out, doesn’t mean that you can’t, does it?
I’m grateful to be collaborating with a teacher who has a focus on the deep learning beyond marks, one who is excited about the possibilities of social learning and willing to take the small and larger risks associated with such a project. Our clustrmap already shows over 80 visitors from different parts of the world. Nick has been in touch over the weekend and is cooking up a meaty follow-up for the boys.
This is going to be so good. Here is the link to Yr 9 English MHS blog. Please come in to read the blogs which are linked on the right hand side of the blog. We would love you to leave a comment and add to our rich conversation.

Week 2 – People in your life

This has been reposted from Through global lenses

Week 2 assignment:

Who are the people you see every day? What do they mean to you? Are you a person who needs to be with people all the time or do you also like solitude? Which people have been most influential in your life, how and why?

Week 2 took students from the initial focus on who they were to their circle of family and friends.

I was surprised again that our boys were so unashamedly grateful to their parents; I think that they’re more likely to admit their feelings in writing than through class discussion. It has been very encouraging to note that all students have exemplified the best online behaviour, leaving comments which have encouraging, supportive and leading to spirited conversation.

Although Week 2′s contributions were all similar, centring on family and friends, the little details created interest. I thought I’d share some of these details.

Photo by JamesMAU

“My Mum and Dad will do anything to make me happy and to see me having fun, they even wake up at early hours of the morning to take me to 5am basketball training 30 minutes away from our house and school, just to make me feel happy and cared for.
My Mum and Dad aren’t life savers but they are just regular parents who provide so much for me and make me feel safe and secure. I am very lucky to have them and there are many ways I wish I could thank them”.

“My family mean a lot to me; they help me through the hard times and support me through the good times. My parents are great; they support and respect the decisions that I make.

“My friends mean the world to me, if I am having a bad day they can make me smile, they are always there to support me and help through the good and bad times and I try to help my friends as much as they help me”.

Photo by LukeS,Au

“My little brother is a person i see daily and also someone whom i love to spend some time with. Not only is he my brother, he is one of my best mates and i adore him for that”.


“I really like this picture. It made me smile. The light from the sun completes the picture, in my opinion. I also like it because it shows how close you are with you little brother. I, personally, have three little brothers and they mean a lot to me. =]”

Photo by KierenT_au

“This Photo to me shows my relationship with my friends, I really don’t care if people say wearing that stuff is for girls only and stuff like that. I think it’s fun sometimes just to dress up and mess around and not care what the world thinks of you. The relation with all my friends is great we all get along and we are all into music also we all love to chat and just hang and chill at places”.


“You seem like a really cool person. :)
I love how you can be your own person and not really care about what other people think”.

“I’m not really a person who needs someone always to be around them I love just being by myself and seeing where I’m heading and also just time to relax. I love to be outside when I’m by myself I sit on my fence or either up on this brick wall at the side of our house and I just sit there and enjoy the wind and the fresh air and free space, I got to say that the only thing I don’t like about sitting outside is at night I cover my whole body basically from head to toe but I still get bitten by the mosquitoes”.


“love listening to the wind too. It’s amazing. Especially at the beach. And, yes, wow mosquitos are the biggest pests any where in the world. :P

I love how the Week 2 assignment broadened the group’s knowledge of each student within the circle of his/her family and friends. It brought together students from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, highlighting what young people have in common everywhere. In some cases it aroused curiosity –

“Is these clothes what you wear at school? We don’t wear school uniform in Finland.”

The best part of the project for me, again this week, was seeing the enthusiasm of the students racing to read what others had said in response to their posts and  photos. The smiles on their faces …

Thinking about evaluation

Contributed by Darren Kuropatwa in Flickr Group Great quotes about learning and change (pool).

I’ve been collaborating with Marie Coleman (Florida) and Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow (Finland) through Flickr to bring our students together in a photo-journal project. Yesterday I interviewed some of the students for feedback and, once I figure out how to edit these avi files, I’ll be sharing these very interesting interviews here.

This has been cross-posted from Through global lenses.

Our Flickr project has come to an end, and I haven’t even been able to keep up with what’s been happening.


I’m not going to let the opportunity for reflection, evaluation and showcasing escape. It will be done – eventually.

This week I hope to start asking students and teachers for feedback. This will take the form of questioning on the ning, as well as recording interviews which I hope to start today.

Here are some questions for student evaluation:

1. What did you enjoy the most about the Flickr project?

2. What, in your opinion, didn’t work for you?

3. How could this project have been improved or done differently?

4. What sorts of things have you learned?

5. What was the most valuable thing you learned?

6. What do you enjoy about connecting with students from other countries?

7. How important is the photo in the writing assignment?

8. What did you enjoy about other people’s photos?

9. What did you learn about taking photos?

10. What was your favourite/What were your favourite weekly theme(s)?

11. What was the most interesting thing you learned from another student?

12. What have you learned about other cultures?

13. What sorts of things do you have in common with students of other cultures?

14. What do you think are the main differences between you and students of other cultures?

15. Would you like to visit/live in the USA or Finland? How has the project influenced your answer?

Some questions to ask teachers:

1. Did you enjoy the project? What were the highlights?

2. What did you expect from the project at the outset?

3. Did the project meet/exceed your expectations? In what ways?

4. How did you find the collaboration? online/global aspect; time differences; school term differences, etc.

5. What difficulties did you experience during the project? What worked and what didn’t?

6. How would you do the project differently if you did it again?

7. What do you think students gained from the project?

8. In your opinion, how important a role did the photo play in the writing?

9. Was this project an enhancement for students? Which ones in particular (were there any surprises)?

I’ll be responding to these questions myself because I think that an evaluation is the only way to truly learn from something. Some of these things are only half-formulated in my mind, so this exercise should help me think more deeply and define what I think.

So what does the quote – If all your kids do is learn to read and write, they won’t be literate – mean to me?

There’s a bigger answer to this, but for now I’ll give the smaller answer, the answer relevant to the objectives and outcomes of this project.

The learning that has taken place here has been learning with and from other people – students who share interests and passions with each other regardless of their geographical location.

Instead of learning from a book, a fact sheet or article provided by the teacher, our students have learned from each other.

Their learning has been sparked by curiosity, a desire to connect with peers, natural dialogue, and an opportunity to share and be creative within a stuctured but relaxed framework.

They have learned by asking, by reading each others’ contributions – within an online community.

They have done this with respect for each other and through positive comments. This is much more than just ‘reading and writing’.

More about this later….

Reading in the margins with others


I’ve been involved in a discussion lately about different types of reading. Most people have agreed that reading a novel is very different to reading a website or anything else online. Some people think that deep thinking and understanding are becoming extinct since reading online has distracted a large part of the population. People are concerned that online reading is superficial, and that commenting revolves around less than challenging subject matter.

Well, today I discovered a very interesting project which combines serious literature with the trappings of online interaction. It’s called The Golden Notebook project.

Doris Lessing’s The golden notebook was digitised by HarperCollins. The book was allowed to be reproduced in digital form in its entirety without any cost.

Here is some information from the website:

What is this?
It’s an experiment in close-reading in which seven women are reading the book and conducting a conversation in the margins. The project went live on Monday 10 November 2008.

Why are you doing it?
It’s part of a long-term effort to encourage and enable a culture of collaborative learning.

What do you hope to learn?
We don’t yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web’s two-dimensional environment and we’re hoping this experiment will help us learn some of what we need to do to make this sort of collaboration as successful as possible.

How come only the seven women can comment in the margins?
Good conversations are messy, non-linear and complicated. The comment area, a chronological scrolling field just isn’t robust enough to follow a conversation among an infinite number of participants. Seven may even be too many. [Note: the forums are open to everyone and we do hope that readers beyond the initial seven will join the fray there both as regards the text and the process. We really want to know what you think works and what doesn’t.

The seven women authors are profiled on the homepage. Towards the bottom of the page you can see recent comments, pages with the most comments, and recent discussions.

A reading schedule is included

We’ve developed a reading schedule; so for the next six weeks, you can follow along with the readers and discuss the same passages that they’re dissecting.

The blog, a collaborative one amongst the women, is fascinating. Here’s part of a post on reading by Nona Willis Aronowitz

For me, what is inspiring and magnificent about reading is the sense of communion with one single other human mind. No other artform, I think, is so direct, so unmediated, so simple. There’s no need for lighting, makeup artists, camera operators or directors. There’s no studio or network calling the shots. No orchestra or actors have to interpret the work. I don’t even have to be in the presence of the artist’s personal handiwork. A scattering of printed characters on a page or a screen and I am in the presence of another person’s creation.

Here’s a short section from Naomi Alderman’s post

A recent story in The NY Times asked if stories have a future. If we’re blogging, texting, doing rapid response communicating, who cares about the narrative, tortoise slow and painfully digressive? Naomi’s comment that she needs to come up for air now and then from TGN to overcome the characters’ depressive tendencies makes me wonder WHY DO WE READ? What do we get from books; what are we getting from Lessing? I have just moved from NY to Portland, Oregon with 140 book boxes, the collected treasures of a life spent in books. In each box I am finding approximately one book per 30 worth saving. Looking at them all with fresh west coast eyes, I’m not sure what these books have given me. I can tell you what they’ve taken away: an ability to live a good life OUTSIDE of books.

I’m thinking about the possibilities of a pared down project for students. How would this look?

Fascinating… fascinating….