Monday, February 26, 2007

101 Days

I've been at this now for 101 days. I started Throughlines on November 17 of last year, and have been able to keep up with my initial intention to post something each day, even though yesterday's post, as one of my close friends was busting me about, "shouldn't have counted," because it was essentially just a link to a video. In any case, there's an exercise I ask my students to do from time to time, by way of taking stock, and I'm thinking this is as good a time as ever to do it myself. The exercise is a self-assessment in the form of three questions: Where are you now? Where are you trying to get to? and How might you get there?

Where are you now?

Well, I'm a hundred days in. It's been probably the single most productive period in my writerly life. I started out wanting to find out what the whole point was about blogging, and to learn enough to try to find a way to make it work as a tool in my classes. And that has happened. One of my classes is blogging away happily, one of my classes is using a wiki, I've started a blog for the department, and a number of individual teachers, listed on the department site, have jumped in on their own. I've been able to explore a lot of connections, throughlines, running through my head and my teaching practice. I've started to find my way around the edublog community and have been inspired and gratified by the large number of thoughtful and dedicated teacher-bloggers who are trying to do the best by their students and to sustain a serious professional dialogue online. I've been blown away by the crossfunctionality of so many emerging technical tools: flickr, skype, google docs, google reader, youtube, pageflakes, podomatic, and God knows how many more. Three months ago I knew nothing about any of these things. Three months now seems like a long time ago.

I'm reading more every day than I ever have, but I'm reading differently. I've got RSS feeds coming in by the dozens each day, but I'm having trouble finishing books. I've got a stack of brand new books waiting for me by my easy chair, and there are so many things going on in my head that I don't have time to get to them. I've written very little poetry lately, and I'm not even napping the way I used to. I don't know whether this kind of continuous tech-assisted intellectual stimulation is sustainable. At some point I'm going to have to take a deep breath, back off, make some decisions about boundaries, but right now it's still pretty fresh and exciting, and I feel like I'm learning a ton and like the time that I'm spending is time well spent. I collapse into bed at the end of the day and my brain is exhausted. I'm asleep in minutes.

Where are you trying to get to?

I think this is a real essential question for me, and I don't really have an answer for it yet. I'd like to be able to find a sustainable pattern. I've had arthritis in my body for 16 years and I've been able to keep it pretty much at bay because I've worked out a series of stretches and strengthening exercises that I do the first thing in the morning every day without fail in the darkness on the living room rug before the sun has risen. It takes me about 20 minutes, which is enough to have the desired effect and not so long that I'm ever tempted to skip it. I'd like to be able to find the blogging equivalent of that rhythm. Over the last three months I've averaged probably an hour to two hours a day of blog-related just in terms of the writing, and I don't think that's sustainable in the long run, given that I have other responsibilities as a teacher a student (of piano, among other things), a department head, a father, a husband. Plus I need to exercise during the day as well, mostly by walking. And I need to sleep. Right now I have three sets of student papers waiting for me, and I'd like to have them for the kids tomorrow. So the time that I am spending doing this is time I'm spending not doing that.

In a year, I'd like to have some applications and some templates in place that will assist my students in their journeys toward quality in reading and in writing and in thinking and in the conduct of their lives. The question has been raised in a number of quarters recently (like in this post at Borderland ) about why we blog in the first place, and whether we perhaps shouldn't. To me the answers to that question are pretty transparent. I've always been a believer in the discipline of writing, and the value add in blogging is that you not only get to explore but you are able to make connections with other explorers. I'm aware that there are bloggers out there who are doing what they do for entirely different reasons than that, and some for reasons that I do not admire or respect, but that's not really a problem. I don't think they have any interest in what I am trying to do, and I have no interest in what they're trying to do, so we basically don't exist for one another. But I do think that in a year I would like to be part of, and do what I can to support, the community of teachers who are trying to use technology to make learning more interesting and exciting and sustainable for our students.

How are you going to get there?

A few thoughts, resolutions maybe, in the form of a list:

  • I want to use Throughlines as a space to talk to myself, and to anyone else who is interested, about how to read and write and teach well.
  • Having come this far, I'm going to give myself permission to take a day or two off, especially when I'm tired, or conversely, when I'm onto a Big Idea that is going to take longer to work out than I have on any given day to spend on it. It's been a good ride, but there have been times when I would have been better off building longer and hitting the "Publish" button less frequently.
  • I've gotten the framework set up for my students, and so far, in the first month or so of class, I've pretty much made the preliminary decisions about what's to go up on the sites. But it was my intention all along to invite their input and let them start to shape these spaces in ways that work for them, so that's something I need to do more of, starting now.
  • Some of my colleagues, notably Chris Watson, have gotten involved with other teachers across the world and initiated larger projects which at this point almost make my head start spinning. I don't feel I have enough space left in my brain to stake out yet another territory, but I want to keep an eye on what they're doing and at some point try to get my foot in the door.

I'd like to close this post with a sincere thank you to all of you who have been reading this blog and giving me feedback about what you see here. I've appreciated your comments and support, and I've learned just an amazing amount from following what you have been writing in each of your own spaces. The cliché about teaching has always been that it's an isolating profession. What I've learned is that it doesn't have to be.


Doug Noon said...

I look forward to looking over your shoulder as you continue to talk to yourself. Always a pleasure.

Clay Burell said...

I second Doug's comment--but I've told you that indirectly--and really hope we can talk soon about how to refine student blogging.

Maybe join Chris and me in our Skype talk your Saturday/my Sunday?

The classroom blogging question has fought its way to the sunlight in my canopy. I need some group reflection about it. You make me want to hear more with this post.

Podcast, anyone?