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With only ten days to go before I head to the United States, I’ve been bust typing up odds and ends leaving me with little time in which to think about writing a thoughtful post.

Between all the assembling, wrapping and packing however a series of thoughts, some coherent, others less so; some connected others as different as the quiet of assembly to the ruckus of recess.

I’m going to jot down thoughts in random order. Here we go!

How can we improve our Knowledge Management?

Schools, as institutions for learning and knowledge-creation often do little to archive the creativity and potency of the materials that our teachers create. There are two primary gaps in our management of knowledge:

a) In accessing organisational knowledge and

b) In archiving accessed knowledge

– It surprises me how few of the teachers in schools visit other classrooms or other schools. There is so much to be gained by having two teachers collaborate on observing each other (maybe to solve a particular problem identified earlier while sitting in on a pre-determined session) or even by observing how other schools get their basics right. I would like to see Principals set a policy where every school year every teacher collaborates with another teacher for at least two half-days on peer observation.

– Rookie teachers routinely flounder through teething troubles that a well-organised experienced-teacher-written wiki could easily solve, as could a mentor at school.

– As a newbie teacher, I spent several hours designing experiments, crafting props to use in the classroom and making sure I got my hand-outs spot on. It took a lot of my time. It was easier back then without a wife to come back home to, with more energy and maybe more nerves. Sure, all of us would love to have children immerse into practical hands-on learning, we would love to wipe the dust of teacher resource books and create new materials- but if you are teaching a large number of classes (or worse, large number of students) even the best intentions can go awry. Moreover, many activities-for-teachers books are well-intentioned but often carry programs that are not-pilot tested, causing demonstrations to blooper and learning to falter.Some of us give a few classes our best, disadvantaging the others – the best of us try and give all classes our best and are forever running to catch up with own own schedules. Several of our classes then become ‘chalk and talk.’ It would be nice if schools kept teaching materials, curricular samples, worksheets from year-to year as a one-stop-resource for teachers looking for a handy resource. It would help the dull teacher make his classroom more exciting and help the reflective teacher think about improving student success rather than with cutting chart paper.

 

What makes a good teacher?

I spent some time crafting a personal vision for myself. At the very top of this assignment, I wanted help!

What kind of teacher did I want to be? Obviously the kind that motivates students towards a love for learning, that makes class fun. What did that mean? What traits would embody a teacher of that kind?

I reflected on my own days as a schoolboy and found myself remembering teachers who were as different as chalk from cheese; from the tough booming-voice Mr. Sharma who was soft on the inside, who set us dry assignments and made us read textbooks in class as a way of learning, yet who loved each of us dearly to Mr. Bhagat whose classes were an intellectual adventure like no other but who outside the classroom was unapproachable. Also Ms. Singh, who would feed us (I went to a residential school) cookies in the evenings and run an efficient classsroom in the mornings- yet who wasn’t even a trained teacher (she was a teacher’s wife subbing for a regular on leave). Why did each of them endear themself to us?

I realised that my year at Harvard would do nothing to make me a better teacher. It could probably make me a more aware teacher and a better-equipped one, but not a better teacher because teaching rises above what we are and comes alive in the moments when we reach out to a student and focus on him, not on ourselves.

Which is why most we had less hiring mistakes with those we hired post a Classroom demonstration compared to others hired through more conventional recruiting procedures.

I wonder if you could help me with this? What do you think makes a good teacher?

 

 

Who does the Principal learn from?

In this country, most Principals are captains of their own ships. Yes there are board meetings with experienced educators. Yes, there are workshops. But that happens one one or two occasions a year. A principal is coming from a context where as a recent teacher he has had a Principal/Administrator to guide him, workshops in collegial environments to share and learn from. With the elevation to Head, he moves from being to counselled to being the counsellor.

I know many people who find it rough. It can be difficult to provide all the answers when you are at sea yourself.

I call for a Learning Circle where Principals of a few nearby schools visit each other, observe, evaluate, comment, critique, learn and share. Apart from making the Principal a more able leader it would also send a strong signal to the staff about personal development and collaborative growth.

 

 

Better Writing and Better Assessment

This one could interest all you bloggers and creative writing teachers. I came across Creative Writing 101- tips on better writing by Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to his excellent collection, Bogambo Snuff Box. I have included 4 of the 8 tips here:

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot.

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible.

I found this interesting because I love to write and have penned several short stories. But his tips, especially point #2- every sentence must either reveal character or advance the plot, is relevant to every writing situation, be it blogging or even teaching- whether in class or while setting questions for student assessments.

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted. Students know when the unexpected assessment in class means that you have not prepared your material and being unable to teach, are using the assessment as a diversion. Don’t waste their time. Ditto with asking them to read pages and pages of hand-outs that have little relevance to the learning objective, simply because as a teacher, its been difficult to find appropriate passages and reading material.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot. Now wouldn’t that make for great teaching even if we were lecturing?

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia. A call to action for those differentiated instruction and differented assessment designed to meet the needs of individual students.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible. Very often we either expect students to guess what we want in response to a question on an assessment. It tickles our ego, provides us with the thrill that beseiges a creator of a good puzzle, but it does nothing to advance student learning.

 

Other Random Thoughts

– One way to promote classroom collegiality may be to shift seating plans in classes around every few weeks. It will make students more comfortable with each other. The next time there is a problem, the student in question, will have several other to consult with rather than just one trusted friend; a situation that most teachers crave.

– If there is one thing I would like to do at the start of every school year it would be meeting every student of mine for a one-on-one chat where I learnt more about him as a person, as a member of a family and community, as a young man with hopes and dreams for his future. That would probably help me shorten the learning curve and understand him better than I could even after several conventional assessments or classroom sessions.

Reading five blog posts and offering thoughtful comments and engaging in dialogue is better than reading twenty without doing any of these. Holds true for any kind of reading. I plan to stick to this principle even when new carnivals and my Google Reader conspire to seduce me into reading several blogs at a go.

 

 

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This post is the second in my series of Up and Coming Blogger Posts.

 

The first, A Bigger and Better Teaching and Learning Circle mentioned how expanding the EduBlogsphere and hearing less-heard voices currently on the fringes would improve the blogging experience for all of us exponentially. Getting more people involved is my new thing, my new cool.

 

This post begins what I hope will be a weekly custom: Every Saturday it will be my endeavour to introduce you to a blogger whose writing you should check out. I have laid down 3 simple criteria for identifying these bloggers:

 

a) A Technorati Authority of 25 or less.

 

b) One post in the last 10 days and at least 5 in the last two months (this would give me a large enough sample of posts to decide on whether the writing appeals to me as also to exclude bloggers who write sporadically).

 

c) Focus on personal, opinion-driven writing, rather than on posts linking to other writing without comments by the writer herself.

 

The chosen blog will be linked on my site, will always be linked every subsequent post in the Saturday Spotlight sessions, and will hopefully get some traffic going towards her blog that should get her to write more and write better. A recent convert to blogging myself, I know how important readership numbers and feedback can be in the early days.

I have also tried my hand at Photoshop (first attempt ever) and created a badge the blogger may like to display on her site (there is a smaller version of the one below, Nancy!)

 

 

 

Saturday Spotlight

 

 

The blogger who kicks off the Saturday Spotlight Award is Nancy Flanagan who writes at Teacher in a Strange Land

 

Nancy has been blogging since the start of 2007, but is no newcomer to Teaching. A Doctoral Student, Nancy is a 31-year teaching veteran and has a varied career that spans Teaching (web and classroom), Providing consultancy to the Michigan Ed Department, and running all-line communities and workshops to promote Leadership in Schools. She was also Michigan Teacher of the Year 1993.

 

Congratulations, NANCY!

 

She has a warm and thoughtful writing style and she gels teacher and administrator persepctives quite eloquently. Most of her posts are comments on reports and surveys emanating from Research Universities and Think Tanks- I found her post on Tracking Students by Achievement Standards quite interesting and extremely well-written.

 

I hope you will visit her blog, read her posts and write in with comments. We need to motivate her to write more often than she does. Here is her link again:

Teacher in a Strange Land

 

Happy Reading!

 

More about Up and Coming Bloggers:

 

1. Eric Turner over at Second Hand Thoughts runs, I found out through his comment on my first post in this series, a similar exercise. You can access his latest blogger finds right here. (I love his Green Blackboard Award!)

 

2. Dr. Scott McLeod has been posting information and comments on new bloggers intermittently. You can access his range of posts starting with this one on Pete Reilly.

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Back during my MBA, I learned about network effects. Simply put, a service (for us, a blog) becomes more valuable as more and more people use it, mainly because every user functions as a switchboard connecting many (until then) unknown people together.

 

Think of it like this.

 

I have a Telephone. Noone else does. Who can I call? Noone.

 

You have a Telephone, so do I. You can call me, I can call you. That’s one call (Talk combinations possible- 1 – You and I).

 

John (J) gets a phone. You(Y) and John don’t know each other. Now you can call John, I can call John, and he can call both of us. Or three of us can be on the phone together. (Talk combinations possible – 4 – IY, IJ, YJ, IJY)

 

Priyanka gets a phone. Now John can Call Priyanka, me and you. Same for Priyanka. Also for me and you. One of us could choose to call two others on conference but not the third. (Talk combinations possible – 11 – IY, IJ, IP, YJ, YP, JP, IYP, IYJ, IJP, JPY, IYJP)

 

So now with 4 phones in the network, the number of conversations possible has increased in a proportion exponentially greater than the number of people added to the network.

 

This diagram exposes 1-1 connections :

 

Network effect

 

In fact, network effects are the magic ingredients that make sites like FlickR, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster so appealing. Every time a person joins Facebook, the number of connections he can make and every other person who has a Facebook Account can make goes up exponentially.

 

Same is true of the local mall. Every time a vacant spot in the mall is taken by a new retailer, the value of the mall goes up exponentially, the value of being in that mall for the other shopkeepers goes up exponentially.

 

Or of the local stock exchange.

 

Or of your rail or bus network.

 

In fact, it is also true of most social spaces that thrive on collaboration.

 

So, when I read Scott’s post on Top Edublogs, I started thinking of the Long Tail– the hundreds of thousands of brilliant bloggers with exciting ideas on education that have got themselves the tools to belong to a network, but still haven’t logged on. They have a blog but know of no tools to connect to the EduBlog network or have had less time/patience/energy to do so. We are missing out on voices what are yearning to think thoughts and inject ideas you and I would love to think and collaborate on.

 

Every one of these voices would exponentially improve the conversation in the blogosphere.

 

 

collaboration

 

So starting today I am going to, every two weeks, introduce a less read EduBlogger to you through this blog. My three criteria for identifying a less read and definitely-readable EduBlogger?

 

a) A Technorati Authority of 10 25 or less- this would, according to Scott’s analysis, be all blogs outside the top 500 320.

 

b) The blog should have have had one post in the last 10 days and at least 5 in the last two months (this would give me a large enough sample of posts to decide on whether the writing appeals to me as also to exclude bloggers who write sporadically).

 

c) Focus on personal, opinion-driven writing, rather than on posts linking to other writing without comments by the writer himself.

 

Look out for the first of the New Blogger Introductions today.

Update: Click right here to see our first featured Ebublogger in this series.

Also: Click here to see our latest EduPosts.

 

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In response to Dr. McLeod’s question on how his survey on the Top EduBlogs can be improved, I had put forward 5 suggestions. You can read them here.

One was that the rankings should reflect blogs that are currently popular, blogs that are fresh. In the same post, I recognised my limited understanding of internet metrics, site ranks etc.

This morning, I decided to read around on Technorati and see that their Authority Rank really meant. Here’s what I found.

On Technorati, only links to you from the last 180 days count towards your authority. So, it does seem that the EduBlog rankings show the fresh, now popular stuff.

MOUNTAINS TO CLIMB

It also means that if I want to keep Ms.Teacher or Clay’s Beyond School consistently ahead on the Technorati scoreboard, I need to link to them at least once in 6 months. One link from One Blog = One Authority Point on Technorati.

Before one of you Good Samaritans go on and send several links from your blog towards this one, let me tell you that one blog gets one vote for every other blog. So even if I link to Ms. Cornelius’ Shrewdness of Apes 15 times, she will get only 1 Authority Point.

Another interesting point. Technorati does not distinguish between a ranking from a Top Ranked Blog and a less ranked one. So, a link from Inside Higher Ed (Rank #1) or from Christian’s Think:Lab (Rank # 22) will not count for more than the link from Exhausted Intern’s Not enough Hours (Rank # 569) or Kelly Christopherson’s Educational Discourse (Rank #650), all sites I like to visit (the first two are old bookmarks, the latter two new discoveries I am savouring).

However, Google does make a distinction. Its PageRank alogrithm gives greater weightage to sites with more pages linking to them, so if Christian at Think:Lab were to link to you it would do more to bring your page higher up on Google than if I were to link to you.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was my learning for the day. Hope it gave some of you something new too.

Btw, I encourage you to visit all the links above, they are some of the blogs I enjoy reading.

(image courtesy: Inky Circus)

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Since my entry into the blogging world almost a month ago, I have discovered Dr. Scott McLeod‘s work and have been very impressed by his incisiveness of thought.

If you haven’t seen “Shift Happens” (created By Karl and modified by Scott, YouTube tells me) – I recommend you do it now. For your convenience, I am pasting the YouTube video on this post. Watch it

 

 

It seems that Dr. McLeod is also a data junkie! He has compiled, with great effort, a list of the top EduBlogs (Thanks, Scott). You can download the sample excel sheet and and go through it at your convenience and maybe discover many new Education voices you may have not heard till now.

I had a look at the excel sheet and was disappointed to note that it did not have information other than the EduRank, Technorati Rank & Authority and the url. Dr. McLeodd, I would love to see, in the next round up of EduBlogs the following information:

1. Geographic Distibution: Who is blogging and from where? I suspect the current data may have a US bias, but I can’t be sure.

2. Type of Blogger: Who is blogging? Is he a teacher? A Student? A Professor? Administrator? Researcher? Government? Watchdog?

3. Give Readers a Weightage: Possibly weight the data to show how many people visit the site. My understanding of the data tells me that this shows how many people link to the site and how many the site links to (weighted appropriately) but not how many visit it. (being constrained by my own understanding of Internet metrics and tracking, I can alas, only preach from the pulpit but not suggest how to make this happen!)

4. Give Vintage a Weightage: This one is a tricky one. It depends on how you classify Top. Is the Top blog that has been cross-referenced the most? Or is the Top Blog that has been cross-referenced the most within a given time-period? I think there’d be rooters for both ideas, but personally I’m in favour of a defined time period (preceding 12 months, last calendar year etc). It makes it Current and Fresh, it tells you what the people are rooting for today.

5. Eduposts too, please!: Is it possible to have a similar list for the top EduPosts? Now that would be something!

I can understand that this is a lot of work the team to do, but maybe there is some way to collaborate on this? Wiki-style? Create a sheet with data that you want to collect and blog writers can fill in missing information about their blogs? Write-protect rank/authority data so that cannot be manipulated?

Looking at the Long Tail

I noticed that there were only 900 or so entries that had Authority on Technorati (i.e. Authority rank of 1 or more – simply put, Technorati had indexed pages that linked to these blogs).

Similarly, only 500 odd blogs had a Technorati authority rating of 10 or more.

Let me put this in perspective. After 3 weeks of blogging, My Technorati authority rating is 27 – no doubt a miracle, but if the Red Pencil can achieve this, so can almost all of us.

The list has over 3600 blogs. This means that, if one were to use Technorati as proxy for validation of content (and then by a small leap of logic, readership), we EduReaders are missing out on almost 75% of the blogs out there.

That is a shame.

For anyone who’s been blogging for even a few days, it’s obvious that the network effects of blogging are stupendous. A bit like in a telephone network, the power of the blogging world increases exponentially every time a new blogger is added to the network.

I wonder, then, what can be done to bring some of these blogs readership? Apart from the efforts they put into “publicizing” their blogs, maybe its worthwhile for some of the leading EduBloggers to evangelize their effort.

I am contemplating starting a small exercise where some of us check out blogs ranked between sub 500 (to around 1200) and put up posts that we find interesting. That should drive traffic to those blogs.

Maybe the traffic generated to the blogs would lead to more effort on the writers’ part to post regular, more cogent work. We in turn would find new, thoughtful and refreshing opinion.

The only caveat I see is evidence of blogging activity: any blog that qualifies for linking should have had at least one post in the last 10 days and at least five in the last two months. Wouldn’t want to be spending time linking blogs abandoned by their writers, would we?

What do you think? As ever, grateful and keen for comments.

Update: August 4, ’07 here.

PS: Karl and Scott, whats the background score on Shift Happens? Not the Scottish music in Braveheart, is it? Whatever it may be- It’s Brilliant.

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My submission to the Carnival was rejected! In case you are wondering which one it was – it’s called A Nation at Risk and is about Sexual Harassment in Schools.

Sigh.

Maybe it was too long. Maybe it wasn’t ‘instructional’.

Maybe you’ll read it and tell me whether it worked for you? What could I do to improve it?

It was probably just the quality of the other posts that did me in. Yes, the Carnival is open and Dr. Homeslice has made it a great read. Go have a look right over here.

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One of my biggest learnings of 2004 was understanding Reading levels. I knew, earlier than 2004, that there are reading levels, age-appropriate bands of text complexity, determined by research for classroom settings.

This meant that in your classroom you would want to use text:

a) That was at the reading level of the children in your class or just slightly above

b) That there was the possibility that some there may be a range of reading levels in your class: some students may be reading ahead their age-appropriate reading level and some behind

c) That you would have to make allowances for this spectrum of reading levels, especially in Individual reading classes or Sustained Silent Reading Lessons, else you may end of frustrating the reader (should there we a dissonace between his reading level and that of the text he is offered)

I used reading cards and books in the class that came with the publisher’s recommended reading level guidelines. Else, by scanning the material I made an educated guess on what the reading level could be.

That’s when I stumbled upon stuff like the Gunning Fog Index and the Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease.These are tools to determine the reading levels of any piece of text.

 

The Gunning Fog index can be calculated with the following alogritm (courtesy wikipedia). Don’t get bothered by the computation; towards the end of the post I will provide links to sites that can compute this stuff in seconds for you:

  1. Take a full passage that is around 100 words (do not omit any sentences).
  2. Find the average sentence length (divide the number of words by the number of sentences).
  3. Count words with three or more syllables (complex words), not including proper nouns (for example, Djibouti), compound words, or common suffixes such as -es, -ed, or -ing as a syllable, or familiar jargon.
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words (ex., +13.37%, not simply + 0.1337)
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4

 

gunning fog index

 

 

 

 

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease can be calculated like this:

flesich kincaid reading ease

 

The Gunning Fog Index gives you a number that corresponds with the number of years of schooling one would need top understand the text. A number of 6, for example, would mean that a 6th grader could understand the text.

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease would return a number between 0-100 with numbers closer to 0 being meaning easier text.

The alogrithms look complicated in their computation, but simplistic in the number of variables they take into account. The shortcomings of this approach may be that the formula cannot account for

  • account for writing style or genre
  • usage of passive/active voice
  • redundancy of expression
  • use of language that is simple or familiar
  • complexity in ordering of logical thought,

all of which are important in making text readable and determining what grade they could be appropriate for.
Here is a look at some popular texts and what their readability is like (GF: Gunning Fog, FRRE: Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease)

New York Times (webpage at http://www.nytimes.com), GF 9.04 FRRE 60.09

Wall Street Journal (webpage at http://www.wsj.com), GF 9.18 FRRE 59.33

Walt Disney Company (webpage in the site disney.go.com), GF 7.13 FREE 54.02

The Bible has a GF of 6, Reader’s Digest of 8, Time Magazine of 10. A GF of 16 or above means readibility suitable at a post-graduate level.

I ran tests on the first page of my blog and came up with this:

Total sentences – 455

Total words – 4936

Average words per Sentence – 10.8

Words with 1 Syllable – 3298

Words with 2 Syllables – 963

Words with 3 Syllables – 410

Words with 4 or more Syllables – 265

Percentage of word with three or more syllables – 13.68%

Average Syllables per Word – 1.52

Gunning Fog Index – 9.81

Flesch Reading Ease – 67.04

Flesch-Kincaid Grade – 6.60

 

This seems to suggest that my blog is readable by some 9th graders and most 10th graders: given the directionality of the content on this site, I am happy with that. Ideally, I would recommend a readability between 8 – 10 on the Gunning Fog Index.

How does one use this in the classroom? Here are instructions on calculating readability statistics for Webpages, Word Documents and Texts:

Word Document: Fortunately MS Word has an inbuild functionality for this- for many years I was just ignorant of it!

1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. Click Spelling and Grammar on the Standard toolbar.

Now every time you spell check a document, Word will give you data on Reading grade and Level. As a bonus, it will also tell you how many of your sentences are passive!

Web Page: I recommend Juicy Studio– thats where I ran the stats for my blog shown above.

Text: There are several on the web, I love Jack Daniel’s is one.

The good news: It has its limitations, but can be handy for a quick check of readability and hence a great help in the classroom. Also, it unfortunately it won’t make you a great writer, but it can stop you from being an ordinary one!

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