Better Together: United as One

Professional Learning Networks In consideration of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs), it really dawned upon me what a small world it is. A teacher recently shared with me that she still serves as a reference for an individual that she worked with 13 years ago. Sometimes after you leave a place, you have a tendency to just become focused on the here and now, but it is nice to know that you have great connections no matter how far back you go.

There’s Someone Out There I have no idea how many schools I will work at across a career, but it is nice to know that there is someone out there who understands and can offer support from a building/county/state/or even country afar. I think this will especially be key in these earlier years in the profession and I hope that I will utilize these resources despite the inevitably of being buried in other tasks. “…the loneliness and isolation I felt as a new teacher has dissipated because I have found a community that supports me no matter what I might be grappling with in my practice” (Rodesiler, et. al. 2014). What encouragement it is to know that not only can I find this type of aid online (English Companion Ning, #engchat,) but also with other professionals in-person at events/workshops hosted by (NCTE, GCTE, Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project, etc….) Such can also be accomplished on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn (connect with me there at the link below).

My Past/Present Network
  • Teachers, secretaries, clerks, administrators, and para pros that I met and established professional relationships with during my substitute and supply teaching journeys.
  • My 1st Cohort at Kennesaw State University (I am doing an altered version of the Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary English program that will provide me with the affordance of having two cohorts…more people to meet/have in my professional network!)
  • Professors from the Department of English and Bagwell College of Education at Kennesaw State University.
My Future PLNs:
  • Professionals that I will meet in the high school and middle school placement of my Year-long Clinical Experience (YCE).
  • My 2nd Cohort at KSU (Fall 2019/Spring 2020)
  • The 2-3 remaining professors that I will have in the final year of my graduate program.
  • Professionals that I will meet wherever I land a job for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Professionals that I will meet from other schools within the county that I find employment (and neighboring systems).
  • Professionals who connect with me on LinkedIn.

Using Technology to Map My PLNs I have captured the above networks using mind-mapping tool, XMind: ZEN (see mine of my PLN below). To use the tool, you must download it from their website. It costs $1.24 (mobile) – $4.99 (mobile/desktop) a month, however, there is a limited free version. This version allows you to add topics (I chose- Schools, KSU, and Beyond), subtopics (here I broke down the names of schools/position titles), and draw relationships between different items on your map (I linked my YCE placement school from “Schools” to grad school under “KSU”). 2 other free features to use that I chose not to employ- summary and notes. While this presents my past/present/future PLNs in a visually appealing/organized format, I personally prefer the straight-forwardness of bullet-point lists.

Strategy to Expand My PLNs: During breaks (maybe not Thanksgiving and Christmas), I would like to evaluate at least one PLN that I am not implementing into my study and reach out or make plans to initiate that relationship. It may be signing up for a seminar or workshop, joining a certain online group, contributing my own writing on teaching ELA (on this blog or at writerswhocare.blogspot.com ), emailing a former professor questions that I have about my practice, or scheduling lunch with a former cohort member(s).

Mind map of my past/current/future PLNs. Created with XMind: ZEN.


Affordances of Mind-mapping with XMind: ZEN:
  • Allows you to add many topics and subtopics.
  • Users can share their work via PDF, Word, or PNG.
  • Program is easy to navigate. Users can go into the “outliner” view to form the map in a more traditional “bullet points” format.
Constraints of XMind: ZEN:
  • Requires users to download the program onto their PC or phone.
  • Options such as uploading photos to your mind-map are not available on the free/trial program.
  • A non-removable watermark is left present on products produced by the free/trial version.
Suggestions for Using XMind Zen in the Classroom:
  • Mind-mapping would be beneficial for ELA activities such as designing character charts/maps.
  • Could use such as a platform to list strengths and weakness of several arguments.
  • Additionally, mind-mapping could serve as a method of brainstorming topic ideas for writing assignments.
Cautions:
  • XMind: ZEN may not be the best program for students as it requires a system download (unless school computers already have the program ready for student usage).
  • It is important that students/teachers save their map sooner than later (I recommend downloading it by sharing it with yourself as a PDF) because if you do not properly save your work, the trial version will not save/recover it.
  • It is probably best that teachers do not mandate mind-mapping and allow for other forms of organizational diagrams to cater to a variety of learning styles.
Questions for Teachers About Mind-Mapping:
  • Have you used mind-mapping in your classroom? If so, have most students found it to be useful? What have been some of the drawbacks?
  • What is the best FREE mind-mapping program that you have discovered?
  • What types of assignments have you used mind-mapping for with your classes? How often do you think this tool should be employed in the classroom?
  • What advice do you have about maximizing your PLNs?
  • What PLNs do you utilize and which ones have you found to be most beneficial in your practice?

Reference:

Rodesiler, L., Rami, M., Anderson, G., Minnich, C., Kelley, B., & Andersen, S. (2014). Transforming Professional Lives through Online Participation. The English Journal,103(6), 52-58. 

INTRODUCING…MR. WATSON

Check out my VoiceThread to see and hear parts of “My Story.”

Introduction So here it is…the inaugural blog post! Much like the first day of a school year, this post is intended to work in conjunction with my About Me page (see navigation at the top of the page) to tell you about who I am before we go on our upcoming journey together. A traditional teacher intro would probably look something like one reading the bullet points found on my About page. However……keeping with this blog’s theme of “The Digital ELA Experience,” this first post will look at the experience of using modern technology to potentially better support the purposes of hello activities.

About the Technology VoiceThread allows users to upload photographs, audio, and video files. It has a slideshow functionality, allowing the user to record videos or audio narration as each photo appears. It also includes an option to provide text to either add more commentary to the images or captions to the narration. This makes it an effective classroom tool for differentiation. Additionally, If the user chooses, other viewers can comment on their presentations in text or with an audio recording.

VoiceThread in the Classroom I chose to use VoiceThread as a way to experiment with how I may better introduce myself to students because it is a good way for my audience to have visual aids along with my voice. It could be something that students could even potentially view outside of class in the event that they are absent during “syllabus day.” It could also be a way for them to present similar material to me as well as their classmates in lieu of traditional “getting to know you” welcoming activities. Perhaps students could have a choice between making one of these, using a different digital platform, or drawing or writing about what they would like the class to know about them. They could even speak to why their selected technology best represents their personality.

Affordances As a potential tool option for project presentations, students who struggle with public speaking can practice formulating their verbal responses in a more controlled environment. Additionally, the mix of images, audio, video, and text allow for the content to be accessible to many different types of learners. Finally, it presents a modern method of classroom discussion and offers students who do not regularly participate in class to make their contributions in an interactive way that is likely more comfortable to the tech-savvy student of 2019.

Constraints While VoiceThread is fairly simple and quick to use, there are some shortcomings. It takes a little too much time to find a few of the features and the layout seems somewhat dated. Additionally, the audio quality is not as strong as some other digital tools that I have experimented with for different assignments. I think the biggest issue that I have with it is that you have to click when you are ready to go to the next slide during a presentation instead of having continuous play. It is not as flashy or contemporary as some of the applications that the students may be used to using. Finally, if students were to use it for their assignments, it would likely be necessary to require that they turn off the commenting feature or to heavily monitor what they write or say in their replies to ensure that cyber-bullying does not occur as a result of someone anonymously creating an additional account.

Questions for Teachers about Using VoiceThread:
  • What kind of assignments (besides introductions) have you employed VoiceThread?
  • Have you had or have you heard about a negative experience concerning students and inappropriate reply comments?
My Suggestions for Using VoiceThread:
  • Use this tool (or one like it) instead of the standard/traditional “getting to know you”/welcome day activities.
  • I would advise other teachers to search for similar platforms that seem more user-friendly and cutting-edge. If they do endorse VoiceThread in their teaching by commonly employing it, they should continuously check to see other options if VoiceThread does not update with new versions somewhat regularly.
Cautions Using VoiceThread: 
  • The audio quality may be poor.
  • Potential issues with cyber-bullying. Have students turn off the commenting feature.