Student Personal Learning Networks: How Can Teachers Help Students Create Them?

About a week ago, my students began blogging about how Transcendentalism permeates pop culture. Visit the post entitled “Inspiration: The Bee’s Sting,” if you are interesting in learning more about the project. They have cited songs by Lady Gaga and scenes from The Lion King and  Pocahontas. I told them when they began this project that the possibilities are endless. Once they get started, they will be amazed at what they find. I’m not sure that they believe me yet because the project is in its beginning stages.

One of the requirements of the project asks students to solicit experts in the field to provide them with feedback about their blogs. I have a feeling that this aspect of the project is what makes my students most nervous, so tomorrow we will discuss the definition of “personal learning network” and how we create begin creating one. My personal learning networks include the people I see at work every day, the people I follow on Twitter and Google+, my friends and colleagues on Facebook, and my current students, some of whom I follow on Twitter, and my former students that I connect with through various social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’m not yet sure how my students define their personal learning networks. Who do they follow on Twitter? In some cases, I know. In many others, I don’t. For personal reasons relating privacy, I don’t friend students on Facebook until they’ve graduated. I do follow some students on Google+, but I’m finding they use Twitter more frequently, just as I do.

Vicki Davis, teacher and author of the blog “Cool Cat Teacher,” calls student PLNs “a students virtual locker.” By this definition, students’ personal learning networks are organic and change based on their projects or interests. My goal tomorrow is to expose my students to some new resources or ways to expand their PLNs. Peter Dewitt’s article entitled “Do Our Students Have PLNs?” has given me a better idea of my path for tomorrow. In his article he reminds his readers that students do have PLNs–and pretty strong ones at that. Many students are already on Facebook and Twitter, but the question is whether their purposes for joining these networks are the same as mine. I use Facebook to connect socially, and generally, I use Twitter to connect professionally. Is the same true for my students? Probably not. Peter Dewitt also reminds us that students’ parents are part of their personal learning networks. In fact, he writes that “their PLN begins with their parents.”  According to Dewitt, teachers are also a large part of students’ PLNs, but so are students’ peers. Young adults may learn more from their peers than they do the other two influences. I would like my students to reach outside of their comfort zones a bit by beginning to publish more of their writing online and then sharing that writing with others who can provide them with constructive feedback. There is no greater teacher than a public audience.

Students, if you are reading this post, please comment. Other educators, if you can provide me advice or share your experiences, I will be grateful. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s class. I have a feeling 42 minutes is not enough time. These are the days when I wish for block scheduling.

After Class

Sometimes the best conversations occur after class.

As I stated in a previous post, my students are currently studying the Transcendentalists. After class yesterday, one of my students asked me about the connection between Jack Kerouac and the Transcendentalists because she did some research on her own and thought the tenets of the Transcendentalist movement and the Beat movement were the same. Bingo! She is the first student to verbalize the connections I’m hoping others will make along the way.

As a teacher, I always wonder what students take from my class on a daily basis. I do my best to streamline my lessons so that the objectives and focus for each class are clearly defined. I know that at least one student left my room yesterday with a strong understanding of purpose. I am looking forward to reading her blog about the connections between the Beat generation and the Transcendentalists. More often than not, my students surprise me. When teachers allow them, provide them with the opportunity, to use their wings–their imagination, their creativity, their critical thinking skills–they usually exceed our expectations.

If you are reading this post, you may be interested in reading this article, “The Four Traits of Great Employees.” If the goal of educators is to prepare students for the world after high school and college–and it should be–then they should allow students to use the skills Paul Shread mentions in his article: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. I believe this blogging project will provide my students the opportunity to hone and develop the important skills they need to be great employees someday.

There is always a first time . . .

And today was the first time that I introduced an authentic blog project in my class. In the past, when I’ve assigned a blogging project, my students have worked inside the confines of Moodle, which in my opinion, is not true blogging. A blog should be available to a wide audience outside of the classroom and school. My students produce better work when they know others (besides me) will see the final product. They proved this fact when they wrote editorials and submitted them to local publications. These assignments were the best pieces of writing I have seen all year.

The class’s homework assignment for tonight was to create a WordPress account. They should be posting their material in a few days. I am truly looking forward to it. Here are the rules I would like to follow throughout the course of the project: 14 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging. I covered safety today, but I plan to speak to this issue a little more as we progress. I’m not sure about step #11. I had intended to grade the blogs. Educators, what have you done in regards to evaluating blogs? Do you grade them? Do you ask peers to evaluate each other’s work? What is your advice? They will be investing a great deal of time in this project, so how do I make sure their work is valued?

Inspiration: The Bee’s Sting

I’ve started this blog because I will soon introduce WordPress to my tenth grade class. I am not very familiar with the platform, but my friend and colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, recommended I use it because of its professional appearance and its feasibility. So here goes!

In regards to my inspiration for the tagline of the blog, I chose the quotation from Emerson because I think it speaks to me as an educator. I consider my profession an art form. Every day I work to hone and craft my skills. I give my lifeblood to my art, and my art is my lifeblood. The title “Becoming Conscious” comes from Adrienne Rich‘s poem “The Phenomenology of Anger.” In it she writes that “Every act of becoming conscious . . . is an unnatural act.” Even though learning may be natural for human beings, change is not. And through change, we become more conscious of the world in which we live. The world is changing rapidly. As teachers, we need to take risks, and through modeling, we then teach our students how to take risks. If we don’t model this behavior for them, we are doing them a disservice.

The project my students will begin in a few days is not much of an original creation since I got the idea from a lesson I saw on NCTE’s website (read·write·think.org) called “Examining Transcendentalism through Popular Culture“; however, I did ameliorate the lesson a bit. Instead of having students write an essay and provide examples of how Transcendentalism is still alive and well today, my students will create blogs where they post their examples–videos, comics, songs, art, literature, etc. After they have polished their blog posts, they will solicit the opinions of experts in the field.

I will keep you posted about the progress of the project!