Saturday, September 17, 2011

You've lost that chaotic feeling...

I am Comm2.0-ing two courses: ELL 101.XXXX ( and ESL 099.XXXX ( (I will look up the sections and edit in a bit!)
I spent considerable time before the semester envisioning/designing how the platforms I'm using could/should look and "feel." So though they are both "blogs," they are also integrally connected to Google Docs (including Forms, Spreadsheet, Presentation, and Docs) and Google Sites for the class wiki we will be developing in ESL. (Yes, I am now LOVING Google.) The blogs feel like flexible Web sites and I stole plenty from Jason and Ximena (thanks, guys) to set mine up. 

Getting students to create their blogs on the first day of class was a lot less chaotic than it has been in the past. I can always depend on one or two people in the class to go around like I do, helping people figure out what's not working. Inevitably they have a Google account but have forgotten the username or password or they miss the whole point of setting up a blog and spend a considerable amount of time (until I see what's going on) tweaking their Google profile. But I found myself sort of "surfing" that chaos and trusting that it would all come together. Which it did.

The down side of all of this, is that in an effort to set everything up in the linguistics course, we didn't have enough time on the first day to talk about the overview of the course. I feel that somehow the cart got a little ahead of the horse. 

This course is in a cluster with Justin Rogers-Cooper's Eng 101/103 and Bojana Blagojevic's Law and Human Rights. The students are using their individual blogs for all three courses. The cluster is "The Language of Human Rights" and I think having the work for all three classes on their one blog is going be a powerful determiner in how we co-construct what the language of human rights might be!

I only meet with my ESL students once a week for the reading component of their course. (The writing component of this course is taught by an adjunct instructor, Pamela Soto.) The semester is nevertheless ambitious since we plan to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. As I prepped the book over the summer, I thought a lot about what it would mean to use Web 2.0 tools with a community of readers to make sense of what I see as essentially three stories going on in the book (one that's the scientific aspect; one about civil rights, ethics, and the legacy of being African American; the third is about the writing process of the book itself and the relationship of the "story" to the journalist/author). Of course, the stories intertwine, intersect, overlap, and make up the one narrative that is the book itself. To tease this out and grapple with the structures and themes, I set up a Google spreadsheet for a class-generated glossary of vocabulary and Google Sites to create a class Spark Notes. Okay I'm kidding. It won't be Spark Notes, but we'll use Sites as a Wiki to "make sense" of the book according to how this group has unpacked their experience of reading of it. Stay tuned.   

The upside is that a lot of community building has occurred in both classes.  The writing "on the wall" is already blowing me away: their language, their insights, their range of knowledge and thoughtfulness, and, for some, their limitations to express themselves. These are formulating exciting opportunities for teaching and learning as we all have the opportunity to not only "hear" each other, but to "read" each other too. 

For me, this is an invaluable opportunity to feel what it's like to be teaching and composing using 21st century literacies. I think about audience, purpose, and form in ways that are dynamically shifting from how I've approached them previously--not that my approach to teaching and writing has ever been static or predictable; it's always some form of chaos coming into sublime moments of control, before crashing down into chaos again. 

BTW: I've also created a blogger platform for my graduate course on Effective Academic Writing and will be creating one for the Literacy Brokers Program. 

In all of these "places/spaces," I've been intrigued by the exchanges between folks (e.g., "How do you link this phrase up to Google Docs without showing the URL?" or "How did you upload a PDF to Google Docs?"). It's exciting to see that we can all help each other, show short cuts. It definitely plays around with the teacher-student, reader-writer dynamic and we're obviously together in this sea of change--surfing the chaos. 

More about actual lesson plans, etc. next week. Promise! (And I'll try not to be so heavy-handed with the metaphors!)


  1. I'm so glad you've lost that chaotic feeling! Just give us a couple of years and we'll be experts on these platforms...just in time for new platforms to befuddle us, hehe.

  2. Hey, I tagged the post with your name. I hope you don't mind.

  3. Sounds interesting...& I hope the surf in the chaos was fun. I think the co-authoring of the Notes project might be helped greatly by using diigo since it's possible to share not only bookmarked sites but to highlight and annotate passages on most webpages. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet you might want to give it a try. There's a link to Ximena's diigo tutorial on our 2011-12 page.

  4. I am so intrigued by your post that I started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm wondering if reading this book will spark students' interest in science careers. My goal in participating in this community is to explore ways to integrate career information into existing classes. More about that on my blog.