Memorial Day: Bits Flashback for May 30

Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base GuamIn honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to point back to an entry I wrote last October on writing about photos. The image I used to illustrate it was the one that came to mind when I thought about Memorial Day this year.

Look back to that entry for some ideas for writing or discussion, and for more ideas for the classroom or professional development, look back to these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

[Photo: Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base Guam by Beverly & Pack, on Flickr]

Graduations: Bits Flashback for May 16

Lightning!! A severe thunderstorm brought graduation ceremonies at Virginia Tech to an abrupt and very early conclusion here in Blacksburg on Friday night. The keynote speaker never even made it to the podium. Fortunately, students were able to pick up their diplomas on Saturday morning during college and departmental ceremonies. It may not have been the original plan, but everything worked out.

As you reach the end of the term where you teach, I hope the ceremonies and celebrations go well (even if they aren’t what you originally expect them to be). As move on to the second half of the month, take a few minutes to check out these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

  • Now that testing is finished for the year, High School Bits blogger Jesse Tangen-Mills shares some classroom activities that work well for Treating Post-Test Syndrome
  • Andrea Lunsford argues that Texting IS Writing, and that we need to pay very close attention to it and learn from our students how they use this new way to communicate.
  • Mary Tripp discusses Self-Efficacy in the WAW Classroom: Preliminary Research Results. Her report includes interesting student visualizations of themselves as writers.
  • Want to create a super-mobile, super-light virtual classroom? Barclay Barrios describes the system he is adopting for his class this summer in Twitter Me This.
  • Are students doing Long Writing vs. Hard Writing? Traci Gardner explains the difference (and why it matters).
  • Nancy Sommers reflects on her year of teaching and shares some plans for the summer in Looking Back, Looking Forward.
  • Susan Naomi Bernstein reminds students what is important to them—where they come from, what and whom they love, why they have succeeded in the past—in Writing Beyond Stereotypes.

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.


[Photo: Lightning!! by aresauburnâ„¢, on Flickr]

Bits Flashback for May 2

Day 4: Truffle sleeping on the job again (and browsing!Did you stay up late last night watching the developing news (or maybe grading papers)? If so, it’s possible “Parts of your brain could be sleeping right now,” according to a recent study.

The NIH-funded study of the brain activity in rats found that “if you deprive them of sleep (aah, sleep), parts of their brains take a nap anyway. Even though they appear awake and active, brainwave measures show that scattered groups of neurons in the cortex are nodding off on their own.” Okay, so there may be questions about the research that readers bring up in the comments, but if you need an excuse for not getting enough done today, it’s a handy study to be able to mention.

Before you head off for a nap though, head on over to Bedford Bits for classroom activities and teaching strategies, which were posted last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.


[Photo: Day 4: Truffle sleeping on the job again (and browsing! by star5112, on Flickr]

Bits Flashback for April 24

Bunny RabbitI have a weakness for bunny rabbits. I encourage them to visit my yard and exclaim happily when they comply. Not so for the folks at Long Beach City College. Their campus was so overrun with cute, fluffy-tailed bunnies that they embarked on a bunny-reduction campaign. The campus is now down to 70 bunnies from an all-time high of 300 rabbits, according to the head of the college’s Rabbit Population Management Task Force.

You think I’m making this all up, don’t you? That’s why I think it would make the beginning of some interesting classroom projects. How do you write about “Rabbit Population Management” persuasively? What strategies will convince readers to take your story seriously? How would you talk about the project with students, faculty, staff, and the public? This one little story from the Chronicle of Higher Ed has so many possibilities for discussing persuasion, business reports, and technical writing!

If you’re looking for other classroom activities and teaching strategies, hop on over to Bedford Bits for more on these entries, which were posted last week:

  • Holly Pappas considers the many concerns teachers face when they assign the personal narrative and wonders how teachers can best respond when students write about intimate or painful topics in The Trauma Narrative.
  • Andrea Lunsford describes the peer tutoring program at Stanford in Writing Tutors Save the World!
  • Jack Solomon explains why educating students about the complex operations of social class is one of our most important tasks in the teaching of cultural studies in The Middle Class Goes to the Movies.
  • Barclay Barrios discusses the difference between Ideas and Examples and shares a response worksheet and some teaching strategies.
  • Steve Bernhardt reflects on thirty years of attending the CCCC Convention and describes the highlights of the convention in What’s up at CCCC?
  • Traci Gardner reviews a free, online resource classes can use to share student work and discuss current events or pop culture in in the Classroom: The Basics.

  • Jay Dolmage explores what Disability Accommodations look like in the writing classroom with some specific examples.

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

[Photo: Bunny Rabbit by wwarby, on Flickr]

OMG! LOL! Bits Flashback for March 28

photo of the Oxford English Dictionary, opened to the page libraryLast week, the OED announced a new batch of words that have been added to the dictionary. Among this year’s inductees are OMG, short for “Oh My God,” and LOL, short for “Laughing Out Loud.”

My favorite part of the announcement is the background on the word LOL: “the letters LOL had a previous life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old lady’; see LOL n./1).” Other fun new words include ego-surfing, smack talk, meep, and muffin top.

OMG! It’s hard to compete with all these new words, but I’ll try. LOL! Here’s a run-down on the new entries posted on Bedford Bits last week.

A Few Extra Reminders

Finally, let me hear what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your suggestions will shape upcoming posts.

—Traci Gardner

[Photo: 15 by Cofrin Library, on Flickr]

Trying Out Some Tasty Blackbird Pie

I immediately liked the name of the new WordPress plug-in, Blackbird Pie. The nursery rhyme popped right into my head: Four and Twenty Black Birds, Baked in a Pie.

The plug-in makes this, essentially a jazzy block quotation:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/tengrrl/status/1348769496965120″]

You include the URL and get a very nice looking presentation of the Tweet that you are writing about. Twitter is behind the functionality, and you can create the links the old fashioned way at Twitter Media’s Blackbird Pie. The WordPress plug-in simplifies things by making it a matter of clicking the blackbird button when you’re in the Visual editing tab for your post.

One of the coolest features of the plug-in is the Search. Know you want to refer to someone’s Tweet, but don’t have the URL handy? Use the search in the plug-in to load up that person’s recent comments and just click the one you want.

Nice and slick. Only problem is it’s not working for me if I use a new Twitter link. You have to delete the #! from the Tweet’s URL to make it work properly.   It’s a minor bug though, and since I know how to fix it, I think I’ll keep the plug-in.

What Are Kidwatching, Microblogging, and Podcasts?

Writing a Podcast by Irish TypepadSoon NCTE will be launching an online site for members that will include many cool features, including an online glossary for English teachers.

My assignment this afternoon was to come up with 3 definitions to add to the collection as examples—and to make sure they were backed up in case they get accidentally erased. So here are my three rough drafts. What do you think? I’d love to hear suggestions to make them stronger!

Kidwatching Definition

Kidwatching, a term popularized by Yetta Goodman, is a way to record your students’ development by observing their behavior, strategies, and ways of making meaning. In the simplest explanation, kidwatching is exactly what it sounds like: watching kids—as they read, write, collaborate, and participate in your class—and taking notes on your observations of students’ effective use of skills, concepts, and strategies.

Observations alone can be useful; but what makes kidwatching a particular strong tool in the classroom is the step that teachers take to move beyond observations and note-taking to analysis and curriculum building based on on those observations and notes.

For more information, see O’Keefe, T. (1997). The Habit of Kidwatching. School Talk, 3(2). 4–5. [Available online at]

Microblogging Definition

Microblogging is an online publication method that allows writers to publish very short updates, typically in 140 characters or less. Tools used to post microblog updates include Twitter (the most popular tool), Jaiku, and Plurk. Status updates posted in Facebook can also be microblogs.

Microblog updates can touch many kinds of writing, from exposition to fiction and more. Twitter originally asked writers to post a response to the question “What are you doing?” The question has evolved to “What’s happening?” today. Microblog posts can include any of the following:

  • a status update on where you are and what you’re doing
  • comments and reviews on a book, movie, concert you’ve attended
  • links to pictures with short comments on their significance
  • pointers to websites, news articles, and other resources you’ve found valuable
  • questions and calls for suggestions (as well as related answers)
  • haiku (or Twaiku, as they are sometimes called) and other ultra-short poems
  • one-sentence stories

As far as the content is concerned, anything goes. What primarily defines microblogging are the length and its publication in an online forum.

Some teachers use microblogging assignments as part of their class activities, to share quick updates on class business and as a writing activity. See Profhacker’s Framework for Teaching with Twitter for additional tips if you decide to try microblogging with students.

Podcast Definition

Podcasts are serial audio or video recordings, posted regularly online. Some people call video podcasts vlogcasts. You might think of a podcast as a kind of blog that posts recordings (rather than webpages) on a regular basis. Some call any audio or video recording a podcast, but in the strictest technical sense, the word refers to episodic publications.

To listen to a podcast, you can either play it directly (streaming) on your computer or download the file and listen to it later (on your computer or on an MP3 player or smartphone).

Podcasts can be used for any purpose a text might serve—they can tell fictional stories, share and comment on recent events, inform listeners about a topic, and persuade listeners to take an action or adopt a stance. As a result, podcasts are valuable tools for teaching students to use spoken language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

For more information on podcasts, see the ReadWriteThink strategy guide Teaching with Podcasts.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Irish Typepad]

My Top 3 Tips for Teaching with Twitter

Blue Cartoon Bird by Lisa YarostSo you’re ready to dive in and try Twitter in the classroom. Let me share these tips that can make sure your classroom experience is a smooth and effective.

  1. Create separate logins. Audience and purpose shift from message to message. Set up different Twitter accounts to keep classroom updates separate from updates for family, friends, and others. There are tips to make managing multiple accounts easier. Encourage students to create a separate account for official class work as well. I actually post on four accounts:
  2. Use hashtags. Choose a specific and unique hashtag (# plus a keyword) to group updates from your different classes (e.g., #VTEngl10). See “How To Create Successful Chats on Twitter with Hashtags” for more suggestions. Lists can work too, but you have to set up a list. You can just search for hashtags.
  3. Use search creatively. Obviously you can search for those hashtags you’re using, but there are some more sophisticated search tools you can use to narrow down exactly what you’re looking for. Pair a search for your hashtag with filter:links to get just the Tweets that have URLS. That’s an easy way to find those links to an assignment students posted. The until: and since: operators can narrow down Tweets by date.

And one extra tip: you can always Make your own Twitter bird if you need to relieve some stress.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Lisa Yarost]


Classroom Activities Using Twitter

Sending Twitter Message by Cell Phone Image by rockinfreeSince Twitter is a communications tool, there are infinite ways to use the site in the English classroom.

These two excellent videos provide introductions to using Twitter with students that are polished enough to share at staff meetings and professional development sessions:

  • The Twitter Experiment – UT Dallas is one of the first stories of a teacher using Twitter in the classroom to hit wide distribution . The YouTube video includes discussion and feedback from Dr. Monica Rankin and students in her history class. Rankin’s focus is on increasing discussion and class participation.
  • Twitter in the Classroom? shares details on a partnership between University of Minnesota and Roosevelt High School to use Twitter to communicate and engage students.

In addition to giving students some basic tutorials and guides, it’s useful to go over the information from College Student’s Guide: Twitter 101. The page shares advice on how to make choices wisely so that students are taken seriously when they use Twitter as part of their classes.

For some more concrete classroom activities, look at Twitter Resources for the Classroom and Ten Ways to Use Twitter with Colleagues, both from Bedford Bits.

You’ll also find useful examples in these articles:

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by rockinfree]

Resources You Need to Teach Effectively with Twitter

Twitter Button from MilkAddictTuesday, I argued that Twitter is a great classroom tool. Students can publish their ideas immediately to a ready audience of readers. This authentic audience and purpose makes Twitter one of the many ways that teachers can engage writers in meaningful communication.

So how do you teach effectively with Twitter? Today I’m sharing classroom resources you can use to get started and tomorrow I’ll have details on specific classroom activities you can complete with Twitter.

Basic Twitter Guides

Regardless of the project or activities, you’ll need some basic tutorial or guide to share with students and colleagues.

The classic explanation of Twitter is Twitter in Plain English from The Commoncraft Show. Originally produced in March 2008, the video is dated in places, but it’s still a good overview for someone who has never heard of Twitter. Chances are your students already know all about the tool, but if you’re trying to explain the resource to colleague or students’ family members, the video can be useful.

Ten Handy How-To Resources for Twitter from Bedford Bits includes guides and tutorials you can use yourself and share with colleagues or students. Twitter features have changed over the months, so some information will no longer match the site exactly.

Twitter’s Help Resources and Twitip’s Beginner’s Guide Posts are the best place to find the most current information. The 5 Naming Tips can get you going if you still need to set up your own Twitter account.

Specific Twitter Features

For classroom use, be sure that you talk about these features:

Twitip’s 5 Commonly Misunderstood Things on Twitter addresses several specific features quickly. Some may not be very relevant for class activities (e.g., tracking retweets), but others are crucial—like effective use of the @ sign in Twitter updates.

Be sure to come back later for information on how these features can be part of great classroom activities.


[Twitter Button Image by MilkAddict]