creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16113234922

As I look back on 2014 I am faced again with the question: why do I blog or more importantly, why should anyone blog? Is there any point? Is it self indulgent? Does it actually serve any purpose? I have written a few posts about blogging. Some of the thoughts that I had about why to blog were:

  • To scratching an itch
  • Be connected
  • Critically engage with ideas
  • Form of life-long learning
  • Lead by example
  • Share with the wider community
  • Notes in the (digital) margin
  • Refine thoughts

The problem is, every time I think I know why I blog, some other reason springs to mind.

The ambiguity associated with intention is best epitomised by Margaret Atwood in her collection of essays, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. In her introduction she confronts the question of motive and compiles an extensive list:

To record the world as it is. To set down the past before it is all forgotten. To excavate the past because it has been forgotten. To satisfy my desire for revenge. Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die. Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know we are alive. To produce order out of chaos. To delight and instruct (not often found after the early twentieth century, or not in that form). To please myself. T express myself. To express myself beautifully. To create a perfect work of art. To reward the virtuous and to punish the guilty; or – the Marquis de Sade defence, used by ironists – vice versa. To hold a mirror up to Nature. To hold a mirror up to the reader. To paint a portrait of society and its ills. To express the unexpressed life of the masses. To name the hitherto unnamed. To defend the human spirit, and human integrity and honor. To thumb my nose at Death. To make money so that my children could have shoes. To make money so I could sneer at those who formerly sneered at me. To show the bastards. Because to create is human. Because to create is Godlike. Because I hated the idea of having a job. To say a new word. To make a new thing. To create a national consciousness, or a national conscience. To justify my failures in school. To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be a ‘writer’ unless I actually did some writing. To make myself appear more interesting than I actually was. To attract the love of a beautiful woman. To attract the love of any woman at all. To attract the love of a beautiful man. To rectify my imperfections and my miserable childhood. To thwart my parents. To spin a fascinating tale. To amuse and please the reader. To amuse and please myself. To pass the time, even though it would have passed anyway. Graphomania. Compulsive logorrhea. Because I was driven to it by some force outside my control. Because I was possessed. Because an angel dictated to me. Because I fell into the embrace of the Muse. Because I got pregnant by the Muse and needed to give birth to a book. Because I had books instead of children (several twentieth-century woman). To serve Art. To serve the Collective Unconscious. To serve History. To justify the ways of God towards man. To act out antisocial behaviour for which I would have been punished in real life. To master a craft so that I could generate texts. To subvert the Enlightenment. To demonstrate that whatever is, is right. To experiment with new forms of perception. To create a recreational boudoir so that the reader could go into it and have fun. Because the story took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go (the Ancient Mariner defense). To search for understanding of reader and myself. To cope with my depression. For my children. To make a name that would survive death. To defend a minority group or oppressed class. To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. To expose appalling wrongs or atrocities. To record the times through which I have lived. To bear witness to horrifying events that I have survived. To speak for the dead. To celebrate life in all of its complexity. To praise the universe. To allow for the possibility of hope and redemption. To give back something of what has been given to me.

At the end of the day, why we do anything is always complicated.

In this myriad of explanations and elaborations, I therefore have another reason to add to my ongoing discussion about why to blog. My latest thought is that blogging provides a means for meta-reflection, the possibility to look back through past opinions and practises. An example of this in action is Alan Levine’s post ‘From Javier to Norbert‘. In it, Levine is able call on his vast digital repository to reflect upon past experiences of the Grand Canyon to recollect his experience of being caught in the canyon in the midst of a flood.

It needs to be understood that such reflection is in addition to the actual act of reflection that is often a central part of each and every blog post. For as Clive Thompson accounts in his book, Smarter Than You Think, that in world where abundance is ever present, technology allows us to keep and curate memories that we may have otherwise have lost. I recently had a moment of meta-reflection as I went through my posts and adjusted the categories having moved from Blogger to WordPress. It was an interesting experience skimming back through what I had written. Although some posts never leave you, there are others that in rereading them create an uncanny feeling. That moment where you have to check yourself, wondering if you actually wrote it and what was going on at the time. A message from the past to remind you of those underlying values, beliefs and events that sometimes drop out of our memory overtime.

Here then are three posts which have had the greatest impact on me in reviewing them after the fact for what they remind me of and challenge me with:

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16109207045
  • Celebrating Other Voices in the Moment – I don’t think that I realised how raw this post was until I looked back on it a few months later. I remember getting a few tweets at the time about how open I was, but sometimes when you are in the moment you don’t always see that. Perspective can take time. I have reread it a few times since and each time it reminds me to always be mindful of those moments that are so easy to pass on by.
Via @hhoede on Twitter
  • This Is My #EduDream What Is Yours? – It is a challenging exercise laying out your supposed dreams. Not only is it difficult to articulate them in a meaningful manner, but there is a certain lie and fragility in giving voice to them. For dreams and ideals are are neither static nor wholly our own, therefore to commit oneself to such a fixed notion can miss something. For as I have written in the past, ideals are not always ideal. Interestingly, one person stated, such ‘dreams’ are best formed collectively as a community. I have subsequently found that the more I engage with others in education the more I question each of the assertions I laid down. I critique them and they continue to evolve. For as I have mused elsewhere, ideas are best held loosely, for it is only then that they can actually grow.

Listening to Voices DLTV2014

  • Learning to Learn by Learning – a Reflection on a Collaborative Project – This was an attempt to collect together my thoughts and experiences in regards to a presentation Steve Brophy and I did at DLTV2014. I say ‘attempt’ because even though the conference has long gone, the actual experience continues on. I initially contacted Brophy with two thoughts in mind: how do you collaborate on a topic with someone from a different educational background who you do not necessarily know and what would be an alternative format to the usual conference experience of chalk and talk. Without a script to go by, to ascertain ‘success’, I often think back over the choices we made and wonder. Would it have been different if we weren’t in a lecture theatre? Could we have done anything to make the session more interactive and hands on? What did people actually come away with? Going out on a limb into the unknown as we did, I think that it will be one of those moments of learning which I will always come back to again and again as a point of reflection.

Although these posts may not have been the most read by others, they are the posts that mean something to me and sometimes this is the forgotten element. For as Pernille Ripp recently wrote, “Start your blogging journey for yourself”. To add to that, make sure it is always about yourself first and fore-mostly.

I remember reading a post from Doug Belshaw in which he wrote a letter to his past self with some advice and general pointers. Flipping this idea, I think that we can undersell our past selves for failing to find the solutions for tomorrow. Stopping and looking back on the past can be often be the catalyst needed to drive you forward. Blogging provides an easy means for doing this.

So what are those moments of learning that have made a difference with you this year? Would love to know. See you in the new year.

For those interested in my top ten most read posts for 2014, here they are:

  1. What’s So Digital About Literacy, Anyway?
  2. Are You Really Connecting If You Are Not Giving Back?
  3. What Digital Revolution?
  4. PLN: Verb or Noun?
  5. #GTASYD 2014 – Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds
  6. To Quickvic with Love – My Reflections on Reporting
  7. Why I Put My Hand Up For GTASYD and Why I Am Excited
  8. Presentations Don’t Make a Conference, People Do
  9. Becoming a Connected Educator – TL21C Reboot Presentation
  10. This is My Edudream, What is Yours?

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14606572678
 
I have spoken elsewhere about how I have become a connected educator. However, I have not necessarily spoken about those who have had an ongoing influence on me. +Cameron Paterson talks about finding someone who scares you to drive you, but I feel that it is more important to find some who inspires you and drives you forward. Sometimes such moments can be intimidating or awe inspiring. They provide us with a choice, we can either say that is too hard and baulk at the challenge or say that although it is a lot of work, with a bit more effort and endeavour I could achieve that too.
 
Although ‘influence and inspiration’ exists outside of gender, I am inspired by a tweet from +Julie Bytheway to be more equitable. So I have decided to split my list between two five men and five women. So in no particular order, here are ten people who have made an impact on my journey and my first year of blogging …

+danah boyd

I can’t remember the list I found, but Boyd was one of the first people I started following when I got on Twitter. I would read her posts and relish the different perspectives which she provided. Boyd’s work has helped me realise that there are different ways of seeing teens and internet, as was documented in her fantastic book It’s Complicated, which I reviewed here.

+Peter DeWitt

DeWitt completely changed the way I saw Twitter and being a connected educator. Although I had connected with many other teachers, DeWitt was the first leader who I connected with. I had grown up surrounded by some great leaders, however they did not always share so openly and honestly. I can’t even remember how I came upon DeWitt’s blog, but it soon became a staple of my digital diet. Even when talking about tales and topics with little direct influence on my own day to day happenings, it is his endeavour to always keep the conversation going is what I aspire to the most and keeps me coming back.

Jason Borton

Although I had engaged with various school leaders from abroad both directly, as in the case with +Peter DeWitt, but also through such spaces as Connected Principals, Borton was the first ‘local’ principal who really changed the way I saw things at home. (Bit ironic how in a global world Canberra and Melbourne become local.) Whether it be questioning homework, reporting and whole school enabling, he has engaged with all those big topics on both Twitter and through his blog that from my experience many leaders baulk at. It was actually through Borton that I came upon Edutweetoz and the +TER Podcast, two other priceless points of perspective and great ambassadors for more empowered voices in education.

+Jenny Ashby

As I have discussed elsewhere, Jenny was very much the start of my connected journey. I am always inspired by how much she manages to achieve. Whether this be her podcasts (RU Connected or AU2AZ) or here involvement in such projects as Skype Around the World in 24 Hours and Slide2Learn. What amazes me the most about Jenny is that it would be so easy for her not to be involved in many of these things, distance to travel or quality of internet connection. However, from my experiences with Ashby, she often seems to find some reason to be involved, rather than an excuse not to be. Great mindset.

+Doug Belshaw

I came upon Belshaw via his phenomenal work around digital literacies. However, what stands out the most to me is his sharing and giving back. People tell me that I write a lot, then I ask them if they follow Doug’s work. In addition to this, he is always pushing the envelope, question and critiquing, innovating for tomorrow, rather than living for today. Take for example his recent push to take back ownership of his data by self-hosting his own email. Although this may seem an impossible task, many great changes in history have been started by a lone nut who takes a stand.

+Richard Olsen

If ever I want a different perspective on something, I often go to Olsen. He always finds something that I have missed or puts a different spin on things. As I have stated elsewhere, a part of me lives for such critical engagement. Really though, what I respect most about Olsen is that instead of simply writing things off, ignoring them, carrying his own conversation, he puts in the time and effort to fuel the wildfire of learning and keep the conversation going.

+Pernille Ripp

Ripp has been a constant inspiration ever since i got online. Unlike many who perpetuate change from the top down, Ripp is a great example of what is possible from the bottom up. One of her greatest attributes is her openness and honesty. Although it can be easy to consider Ripp as taking ‘risks’ and going beyond the perceived status quo, what she has taught me is that in some respect we are all risk takers, whether we like it or not. That we are all making a choice. I think that what makes some people like Ripp empowering and important is that they own the choices and decisions. I must admit that I spent the first few years as a teacher thinking that it wasn’t my roll or right to make big decisions, I thought that was the role of those above to feed down ‘best practise’. However, when those answers never arrived I realised that change starts with me today in my classroom and that there is no time to wait.

+Amy Burvall 

Like Belshaw, Burvall’s ability to seemingly achieve so much is a constant reminder that there is always something more I could be doing. In addition to her awesome amount of sharing online, she has also influenced the way I consider the assessment of art and creativity. She has also introduced me to the potential of some amazing applications, such as Mozilla Popcorn and Paper53. To me, Burvall demonstrates that there is no limit to engagement with and through digital literacies, instead the only limit is ourselves.

Inquire Within

I am not sure exactly when I came upon +Edna Sackson‘s group blog, Inquire Within, however it has become an important part of my growth in regards to teaching and learning. Having had a mixed past when it comes to inquiry, something I have discussed elsewhere, Inquire Within has brushed away so many misconceptions. I think that my greatest fault was to think that inquiry could actually be defined, rather than be what it actually is, a myriad of combinations which form to make different pedagogical cocktails. During my time following the site, I have come upon so many great posts and awesome ideas there, such as +Bianca Hewes ‘Managing the Mushy Middle’ and Kath Murdoch’s ‘How do Inquiry Teachers Teach?’ Along with Ripp’s blog, Inquire Within is often one of the first sites that I recommend to other teachers in regards to teaching and learning.

+Ed Tech Crew

When I think of influences, I find it hard to go beyond the +Ed Tech Crew. Whether it be guests on the program, such as +Ian Guest and +Alec Couros, the community curation in the Diigo group or the dialogue and discussion between +Darrel Branson and +Tony Richards, there is so much sharing that occurs. I have lost count of the thoughts and ideas that have taken seed via the +Ed Tech Crew. In addition to this, I have also been lucky enough to share my thoughts of Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013, as well as my thoughts on leading ICT and where we have come in regards to technology in education. It was sad to hear that the +Ed Tech Crew would actually be going into hiatus. However, it is also a recognition that it takes a village.

The Word ‘I’ Refers To …

It is good to recognise our influences in life. However, one of the problems with such a practise is that there will always be someone missed or overlooked. I was really taken by Jack Welch’s statement that “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people” as quoted in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In some vague attempt to recongise some of these ‘other people’ I have listed all the people who I have mentioned through my many blogs over the last year: +John Moravec +Kevin Miklasz +Troy MONCUR +Tom Whitby +Andrew Williamson +Joe Mazza +Peter Kent +Rich Lambert +Corrie Barclay +John Pearce +Deb Hicks +Seth Godin +Ian Guest +Suan Yeo +Jim Sill +Chris Betcher +Anthony Speranza +Mike Reading +Jason Markey +George Couros +David Truss +Tom March +Vicki Davis +Ben Gallagher +Rebecca Davies +Anne Mirtschin +Adam Bellow +stephen heppell +David Tuffley +Tony Sinanis +Dan Rockwell +Alf Galea +Mel Cashen +Matt Esterman +Darrel Branson +Ashley Proud +Ryan Tate +Roland Gesthuizen +Aubrey Daniels International +Catherine Gatt +Celia Coffa +Kynan Robinson +Mark O’Meara +Lois Smethurst +Darren Murphy +Mark Barnes +Chris Wejr +Doug Belshaw +Miguel Guhlin +TER Podcast +Bianca Hewes +Luis López-Cano +John Spencer +Tom Panarese +Edna Sackson +David Zyngier +Cameron Malcher +Mariana Funes +dave cormier +Dick Faber +Ewan McIntosh +Darryn Swaby +David Price +Alan Thwaites +Stephen Harris +Corey Aylen +Simon Crook +Nick Jackson +Simon Ensor +maureen maher +Keith Hamon +John Thomas +Margo Edgar +Jan Molloy +Kim Yeomans +John Bennett +Will Richardson +Bec Spink +Sam Irwin +Corinne Campbell +Rick Kayler-Thomson +Adam Lavars +Heather Bailie +Dean Shareski +Stephen Collis +Michelle Hostrup +Starr Sackstein +Charles Arthur +Craig Kemp +David Weinberger +Eric Jensen and +Katelyn Fraser. Although extensive, these are simply people whose thoughts and ideas I have been conscious of, emerged from the noise. For as +Keith Hamon recently suggested in an interesting post on authorship, “while I can find sources for all of my ideas, I’m not sure that they are my sources, but I am sure that it doesn’t matter.”

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‘Nepal – Embraced by Shangrila’ creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by dhilung: http://flickr.com/photos/dhilung/3904555723
This post was originally posted on +Peter DeWitt‘s Finding Common Ground blog on the 6th of January. It seems with the latest changes to the Performance and Development Process and +Will Richardson‘s message in his #TL21C Keynote to change just 10% of your practise pertinent to repost it here.
Recently, as a part of the Ed Tech Crew Christmas Hangout, +Darren Murphy posed the question, what would your ideal school be? It got me wondering, what does the talk of ideals really achieve?
Often discussions about the ideal school converge with the amalgamation of a diverse range of ideas and practises. Where there is not only a wide range of technology on offer, but it is ubiquitous. Where connections are made around the world. Where students are creators of original content that is published for authentic audiences. Where learning happens in open and flexible spaces, which have the ability to be manipulated to suite a range of needs and purposes. Where teachers are seen as lead-learners, that is facilitators and motivators who help students to manage their own learning. Where learning happens when it needs to happen, not necessarily when it is forced to happen. Whatever is included within this educational cocktail, it can just about be guaranteed that it is not usually found within the dominant status quo.
What was interesting about the responses from the various participants was that no one had actually experienced their ideal school. Although everyone had seen aspects of such learning, with different schools showing strengths in various areas, no one had actually witnessed the magical Shangri-la, that ideal school that encapsulates everything. What then is the purpose of such ideals? If they are lists of attributes that never actually exist in their entirety, what purpose do they serve? Should ideals be our barometer, our measuring stick of success or are they more a point of inspiration, those ideas that drives us towards greater things?
I came upon a great quote in my feed the other day from Rebekah O’Dell who said that, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” I think that this is a really good point. We should never limit our dreams. However, what are the use of dreams and ideals if all they do is set us up for perpetual failure? I am not saying that failure is a bad thing, but surely if there is little hope of success, isn’t it a little counter-productive.
Although it is important to dream and dream big, at some point our efforts need to turn to finding pragmatic solutions for the now. They need to be ideas and initiatives that respond to the problem at hand. Instead of calling for a revolution, our attention should be on how we can evolve education one change at a time.
Sometimes our desire to change education is beyond our means. Whether it be because we are not a part of leadership, there are no funds to support such a change, it does not fit within the school’s annual implementation plan, the list goes on. The challenge for us in this situation is often how we actually respond, just as much as what our eventual response is. Instead of baulking at the challenge, one answer is to break the problem down into its parts. In doing so, it is important to look at what it is that is trying to be evolved and consider whether there is anything that we can do to get one step closer towards our ideal.
Take for example the ideal of the global classroom, an environment where teachers and students connect and collaborate with others all over the world. For some this is a choice out of reach based on various decisions, whether it be because of the policy of the school, lack of resources or the need to get permission of parents. However, what is possible is to create a means to collaborate within school, creating space to share and celebrate outside of the classroom, providing staff and students with opportunity to learn together, whether it be across different year levels or learning areas. Although this may not be flattening the walls globally, it at least flattens the walls locally.
What is important in turning an ideal into some sort of reality is setting goals. A good criteria to support the development of goals is the SMART acronym. That is that the goal is specific, able to be measured, actually attainable, realistic and is bound by time. Associated with this, it is important to make explicit any steps, strategies and speed humps at the start, as well as reflect upon any failures and celebrate the successes along the way.
For instance, last year, having read quite a few people share about the successes associated with project-based learning, I really wanted to trial it in my class. So after looking at all the subjects that I taught, I decided that it would fit best with my Digital Publishing Elective, particularly in regards to the development of the school yearbook. From this point of view, focusing on a certain unit of work within a particular class meant that it fitted with all the different attributes of a SMART goal. In addition to this, choosing a subject where I was the sole teacher allowed me to easily manage the strategies and speed humps, as well as clearly manage the celebrations and reflections.
Not all change needs to be linked to a revolution, take for example +Pernille Ripp‘s fantastic list of simple ideas of how to re-energise the classroom after the break. With the new year having just rolled over, what is your educational resolution this year? What is something that you feel needs to change in education and what steps are you taking to change it?

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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by antaldaniel: http://flickr.com/photos/antaldaniel/2912118873
 
In an ongoing conversation about the challenges with being a connected educator, +Alan Thwaites posted the following comment:
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
Although these were some very nice words, it sometimes misses the full story. Being a connected educator is not something that happens overnight, it is not a case of joining this site or posting that comment. Being connected is much more complicated than that, it is better understood as a journey with everyone a different point on a continuum.
 
Short of some sort of autobiographical recount reminiscing every event and connection that I have made, I thought that it might be more meaningful to list the five ‘markers’ that have led to me being a more connected educator. These are not necessarily distinct periods of time and some spread across weeks, if not months, but they are the significant events that have made me who I am today. The first of these step relates to connecting with people.
 

Connections Start with People

I have read so many examples where teachers before getting students writing blogs begin by getting them to write paper blogs. (See for example +Pernille Ripp‘s ‘Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs‘ and +Bianca Hewes‘ ‘Paper Based Blogging with Year 7‘). Students then publish them in the room in order to share and continue the conversation. I think that in the same way the mindset and actions associated with being connected starts long before people get ‘online’.
 
Through my involvement with +Alf Galea and the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people. Formed as a part of the Ultranet project, the network was a place to share and collaborate with other teachers in the area who were grappling with the same sort of problems.
 
Through this group, we were invited to be a part of ATC21S project running put of the University of Melbourne. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and involved working with a range of teachers from around Victoria. However, through this project there was one teacher that stuck out in particular, that was +Jenny Ashby.
 
I must be honest, I was slightly intimidated at first. I am reminded here of a comment from +Cameron Paterson on Episode 17 of the +TER Podcast to find a mentor that scares you. I think that what Paterson is saying here is that in order to drive you forward that you to find someone who challenges and pushes you. Jenny whether meaning to or not definitely did this.
 
My colleague and I would leave the sessions reflecting on all the different ideas that we had picked up and so often they came via Jenny. The educational environment in which she existed was so different. As a starting point, her school (although a little smaller than my own) had already had a significant investment in ICT. Far above anything that I could imagine, well at least far above anything that I had experienced. In addition to this, she was confident, a little brash and eager to get into things.
 
No matter what was discussed, Jenny would always have an idea and was willing to share it. I think that by the last of the planning sessions at University of Melbourne, I had actually adjusted to her frenetic style and was beginning to really thrive on the chats wherever they would go.
 
Although I could have described numerous examples of connections that I have formed as a teacher and a learner, I would argue that my connection with Jenny stands out because it was one of the first connections that I made that was outside of my usual surroundings and hasn’t it changed me.
 
What is an incidental connection that you have formed and how has it changed you?

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Conferencing, the CAFE Way

A few years ago daily conferencing sessions came to the classroom with a whirlwind of change. Along with a plethora of comprehension strategies, it was argued by the local region that regular reading and direct teacher instruction would lead to an overall improvement in student reading levels. This change was all based around the work of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser and their book The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction.
 
 
Boushey and Moser divide the act of reading into four clear areas: comprehension, accuracy, fluency and expanding vocabulary. This is where the acronym, CAFE, comes from. Associated with the focus on the different areas of reading, the program also has a big emphasis on making thinking visible, particularly through the use of tracts. Overall, there has been many successes since the initial implementation, the most obvious of which is that students now sit and read uninterrupted for fifteen minutes each day. However, looks can sometimes be deceiving, for when you dig just beneath the surface, there is an issue that seems to be raising up again and again, the issue being the lack of responses and deep student engagement with the program.
 

Conferencing, Whose Problem Is It?

If you go back to Boushey and Moser, their program was originally devised to be run for an hour a day – something not possible in a Secondary environment – where you would meet with four students, therefore meeting with every student at least every fortnight. In the Secondary classroom, the time allocated to reading only allows for one student conference per day. Subsequently, you are only able to see each student maybe twice a term. One of the problems that arises with this is that students can go for a month without conferring with a teacher, but more importantly, actually responding to the text. For many students, the time spent with the teacher is the only time that they ‘respond’ to their texts in any sort of meaningful and explicit manner. Even though responding is stipulated as a requirement at the start of each year and set as a ‘goal’ for many students through the conferencing process, a lot of students simply ignore it as there is no direct consequence. Before I move on, I just wish to clarify what I mean by ‘responding’. To me responding can be anything ranging from using tracks to record new words to writing reviews of their books once they have completed a text. Basically, any form of explicit action taken while reading, in regards to the conferences, this action is usually in a verbal manner. This all begs the  question, whose problem is this? We talk about problems all the time and finding answers and solutions. However, the issue with this problem is that no one quite owns it. Without any direct ties to curriculum, a part from an informal association with English, who owns it? Does the problem reside with the teacher facilitating the conference and setting the goals or with the student reading but not responding?
 

 

Real and Imaginary Reading

One of the big criticisms that students often raise is that ‘leaving tracks’ is not real reading, that is, it is not natural to stop reading midstream to jot down a question or make a connection. Firstly, I’d argue that many of our habits are learnt and not necessarily natural. While secondly, It is not the ‘done thing’ amongst teachers either in the classroom or within their personal reading. I maybe wrong, but I know many teachers who practise a ‘do as I say, not do as I do’ approach to such learning. This may work with tasks where the explicit goal is set within the task through assessment rubrics. However, this does not necessarily work when the task at hand is open-ended, primarily driven by the student and does not have a clear end in sight.
 
Originally, I thought that the answer was to create a collaborative document using Google Drive to share the goals and touch base with students in between conferences by getting them to record their responses. However, what I found was that most students who I conferred with still showed little interest in responding, let alone placing their responses in the document.
 
One of the biggest hurdles that I have found with developing responses is encouraging students to respond when they need to rather than when then have to or even worse, when they are forced to. This sense of authenticity is, in my view, is what is most lacking in the whole process. Personally, I have always annotated my texts as I read, this has only been enhanced through the use of technology, from making highlights and capturing quotes while reading eBooks to posting quotes and ideas via twitter and other such social media. One of the keys to this though is that it is ‘personal’ and has been my choice. No one told me to do it, instead I saw some greater good, some intrinsic motivation, to taking action in what I read. However, not everyone sees it this way, whether it is staff or student. 
 

Repositioning the Student

All this discussion of readers led me back to a book that got bandied around a few years back The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac.
 
Pennac mentions many things within his book, all of which strangely lead back to the reader and even more strangely lead away from a teacher centred process. I think that this is currently one of the big problems revolving around the way conferencing is currently being practised, the focus is too centred around the actions of the teacher-cum-facilitator and not around the student-cum-reader. I have therefore gotten to the point where something needs to happen to rebalance this equation. Some possible ideas of how to reposition this whole process include the gamification of the reading process through the implimentation the notion of badges in the classroom. In setting these achievements students would then be given some point of guidance through various competencies found within the reading continuum. However, as +Kevin Miklasz suggests: 
That structure behind your badge system is much more important than the simple fact that you use badges in your activities.
To point is that such a change would need to involve a complete rethink of the whole process and would be bound to fail if it were done in some sort of ad hoc fashion. Another plausible element of change is to make responses more authentic and meaningful by posting to a wider audience, not just for the teacher. Some possibilities include posting to social reading sites, such as Goodreads, or creating a blog to share with those in and out of the classroom. I have been particularly inspired by the work of Pernille Ripp and her blog Mrs. Ripp Reads. Although I am sure that she is not the only teacher out their using blogs to develop responses. What these things did teach me was that the first point of change in the whole process should probably be the teacher as leader learner, modelling what they preach, not preaching an empty practise.
 

In Conclusion: Is Reading Really Reading Without Responding?

I have come to the realisation that unless students are empowered and shown where the value exists for them, by teachers, and given more opportunities to develop authentic responses then the problem will continue to exist for teachers. The reality is, whether staff or students, we are all readers, therefore, in the end, we all need to find our way of responding. You may not want to write reviews online reviews or write extensive tracks in your margins, but the question needs to be asked: are you really reading if you are not responding?

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