Sunday, November 28, 2010

RSS and Blogs-BLOG POST #9

It's not about the tools.  It's About the Skills.

Photo from Flickr by langwitches

Becoming a Blogger

Mary Lee Hahn and I began our blog, A Year of Reading, on January 1, 2006.  Mary Lee and I have been friends for years and we had a tradition of getting together to talk about books and predict the Newbery winner each year.  In 2005 when we met, Mary Lee suggested we have our 2006 conversation on a blog instead.  I had no idea what a blog was but it sounded like a good idea, so Mary Lee set up the blog and we began.  Little did I know how that conversation would change my professional learning life.

Our blog started out slow. We didn't know much about blogging and used it mostly to talk to each other. We had very few readers and didn't understand how blogs worked.  But then we discovered that there were other people out there, blogging about books. Some of the first people we blogs we found were Read Roger and A Fuse #8 Production (before she began blogging at SLJ).  We started to read their blogs and in turn,  learned so much about writing a blog.  We quickly realized the power of linking and began to read and write differently. We slowly became part of a larger conversation, and part of a community of bloggers who call themselves the "Kidlitosphere".  

On June 5, 2008, Melissa Wiley a blogger invented the world Kidlitosphere as a way to define our group.    In the post below, she proves to us that she invented the word because it had zero hits when she googled it.  (Today, when I googled the word, there were 88,300 hits! Kidlitosphere has definitely become a word!)

Blogging is really about a community coming together. Blogging allowed me, as an educator, to become part of a community I could not have imagined.  For years in my professional life, I shared and talked with other teachers and reading specialists. The conferences I attended had the focus of reading and education. When we started blogging, our community grew. All of a sudden, I was also learning from librarians, parents, authors, and illustrators.  The community of people who love children's books is bigger than I knew before I started blogging. Blogging allowed me to learn from people who had different areas of expertise than I did and the community grew and changed based on the people who joined.

On his wiki, Will Richardson defines connective writing as "the ability to publish in a variety of media with the intention of connectingand sharing it with others who have an interest (or passion) in the topic." He goes on further to explain the specifics of connective writing on the wiki. For me, this connectedness is what makes blogging so important to me as a professional.  

As bloggers subscribe to other blogs on similar toipcs, conversations build. Comments are a natural way for conversations to build but blogging allows for more depth than merely comments.  Linking allows bloggers to connect to something another blogger said.  When this occurs, ideas are grown throughout the blogging community. As a blogger, I learned this early in my blogging experience and it changed my blogging practices.  Soon after we began our blog, A Year of Reading, we noticed Jen Robinson's list of "Cool Girls in Children's Literature."  We loved the idea and had also noticed the stereotypical ways teachers are often portrayed in children's books. So, we decide to begin a list of "100 Cool Teachers of Children's Literature" and to ask readers to submit any that we had missed. The list has been growing for 4+ years and has definitely been a community effort. Two recent examples of this type of idea growth are Reading Trading Cards and ARCs Float On Campaign. Both of these ideas began with a blog post and grew as others picked up and changed them.

Community events are also an important part of being a blogger. These events evolve over time and take place both online and in person. The Kidlitosphere is quite active and has several events throughout the year.  The group has created the CYBILS awards-book awards given by the Kidlitosphere.  There are blog carnivals each month, a Poetry Friday celebration each week and a Kidlitcon (conference) each year where bloggers meet and learn in person.

Blogging has given me a professional community I could not have without Web 2.0. Becoming a blogger helped me to see the power of the Web and how much it could impact my professional learning.
I agree with Will Richardson when he says, "As you'll see, blogs are only one of many tools of the Read/Write Web, but I would argue that they are the most important and the most reasonable place to start your travels." (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom p. 54)  Blogging is one of the few Web 2.0 tools in which I am equally a consumer and creator. For me, it is hard to separate out the consumer/creator aspects of being a blogger because they are so connected.  Reading and writing become one in blogging and that connection has been powerful.

Many teachers who blog feel the same way.  In her post, "Blogging: How It Has Changed Me", Katie Dicesare says, "Learning is not about right or wrong, rather, it is discovering what you love, searching for more and creating with what you are learning along the way. Blogging has allowed me to discover my own voice, dabble in collaboration, reflect then make changes in my own practice and share my love of teaching and learning with others"

RSS Feeds to Keep Up With Blog Reading

As the Kidlitosphere grew, so did my list of blogs to read each day.  I had an RSS set up long before I understood what it meant and how it worked.  Now I understand it better. In Reach: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development, Jeff Utecht explains it this way, "RSS is nothing more than a connection between your RSS Reader and a website of information.  ..An RSS Reader acts like a gateway to the web. After the connection  to the website has been made, your RSS Reader 'fetches' the information from the website and delivers it to you.”  And in Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World, Pam Berger and Sally Trexler further explain the way that it works, "Once a blog is included in the aggregator, the aggregator takes on the job of checking, usually frequently, for new content on that blog.  Users decide when to read the chosen blogs; they will be left on the reader." (p. 109)

I set up my RSS feed years ago using Google Reader. It has worked well for me, except that it is disorganized due to the subscriptions I add almost daily. I add subscriptions quickly every time I see a blog I like. My problem is that I haven't organized it in any way so my reading feels very sporadic.  I sometimes read everything in my reader. Other times, I mark everything as read to keep my sanity. I have trouble finding articles I have read before and I have never weeded out the blogs I subscribe to in my reader.

So, I decided to learn how to better utilize my Google Reader and to find ways to be more strategic about the feeds I subscribe to.  I was amazed at the many features Google Reader has that I was unaware of.  I have definitely been underutilizing the tool!

Learning About Google Reader

I began my learning by looking more closely at the Folder option in Google Reader. I had played with this a bit earlier but had only put a few items in folders. Since I have so many subscriptions in my reader, I went to my Folders and Tags to remind myself of the folders I had.
I started several folders to begin to organize my subscriptions.

I then went into "settings" to look to see how things were set up.
When creating folders, the "Settings" allow you to decide whether or not to share lists.

I finally was able to put subscriptions in folders.  When adding a folder, the steps are clear. I went into my "Subscriptions" tab at the top of Google Reader.  Then I was able to see all of my subscriptions, alphabetically, in list form.  On the right side, I could choose to put each blog into a folder.  I had the option to choose a folder from the pull down menu that was already created. Or I could create a new folder. This made folder-making easy as I could look at each blog to see where it best fit. I also had the option to put blogs into multiple folders if they met multiple categories.  

The folder options helped me to organize and reorganize my subscriptions.  This is a process that will take time but with folders in place and in use, I can now add new subscriptions to folders as I subscribe.

Google Reader Sharing
Another feature I was unaware of was that I could create "friends' and "groups" in Google Reader.  This was a good discovery for me. I found that I could share things I want to from my reader with various people. I can also highlight and add notes before I share. I think this is a great feature to know about and I see it as one that will be a great addition to my professional learning.  I love the idea of having access to articles and links that other people think are worthwhile. I found a few people I wanted to follow with the follow box and added them to my list.  

I figured if I was following people, I should also learn how to share articles.  So I went into my Google Reader and decided to learn to share. What was interesting, was how it changed my reading. I shouldn't have been surprised. All of the Web 2.0 sharing that I do, really changes the way I read. But, with the new share feature, I find that I am already reading wondering whether this is something worth sharing via Google Reader, Twitter, etc.  The same toolbar lets me "star" or "like" items. Starring an item puts it in my "Starred Items" folder. If I "like" an article, that becomes public.  

There are several options for sharing at the bottom of every post in Google Reader.

Google Reader-Sort by Magic
I also looked at the sorting features. My reader is always sorted by date so that I see the newest posts first. When my box is too full, I tend to only look at the first several.  I have been trying to use the "Sort By Magic" sorting tool when my box is full.  Based on my history, the reader will decide which posts I probably want to be closer to the top. I love the name and the idea behind this tool but I realized after reading Google Reader Adds Magic to Your Feeds by Barb Dybwad, that I need to favorite, share and like items for this to really work.  

I can now see why my Google Reader box was becoming so overwhelming.  I was not aware of many of the features available to better utilize and organize the information that I am receiving through this RSS. Now that I know about following others, I will have access to other great articles that fit my areas of interest. The Sharing and Starring features will also help me revisit items rather than reading and forgetting about them.  Taking the time to learn the organizational features of this RSS feed was definitely time well spent.

Learning About Netvibes and Pageflakes

I have been hearing about Pageflakes fand Netvibes or a while. I had the opportunity to hear Joyce Valenza speak this summer and she mentioned them. I also read a bit about them on Buffy Hamilton's blog, "The Unquiet Librarian". But I had no idea what they were.  I came across them again during my RSS study and decided to explore.  

Pageflakes advertises itself as "Social personalized homepage-the easiest way to read, see, discover, and share your favorite things on the web." Netvibes and Pageflakes have many similar features and they both describe themselves as personalized dashboards.  Will Richardson writes about Pageflakes on his blog in a post titled Using Pageflakes as Student Portal.   He says, "
From a student standpoint, I think it’s a great way to introduce RSS, to give kids some ownership over the type of page they create (assuming you’ve had all the responsible use conversations already) and let them start working out their own processes for consuming and deciding about content in this content rich world."

So I played around with Pageflakes to try to understand what they meant and how these tools were related to RSS.

With Netvibes, I was able to choose a topic of interest.  Below you can see that I created a page by searching "Library Design".  A page like this allows me to discover web resources that I may not know about on a topic of interest to me and keeping them updated on this page.  I started by creating a "New Dashboard".

Once you decide to create a new dashboard, Netvibes asks you to type in your search/topic.

Then you choose one of their images to personalize your page.

Below is the final page with recent web resources around Library Design.

I see this as a useful way to find new web resources on a given topic. 

Pageflakes is very similar.  Pageflakes seem to have more features for teaching and it allows you to build your own page with your own resources.  For example, for the page below, I was able to create a page with all of the blogs about children's books that I follow. When I go to this URL, I find updates for each of these through the RSS. Pageflakes allows you to build a page to collect RSS feeds.  It is a way for me to collect RSS feeds on a similar topic.   

Carl Harvey shares a benefit to Pageflake that I hadn't thought of. He says, "Another option is to set up a site using PageFlake for students to view RSS feeds from.  This eliminates the need for them to create an account with Google or Bloglines." (The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program, p. 88)  

What Does this Mean for the Library

The library is a perfect place to support blogs as both a consumer and a creator. When thinking about RSS, 
I see great possibilities with these tools and the ways they can support students.  As a teacher-librarian, creating Pageflakes on various topics brings current information to students.  For students, this is a great intro into RSS feeds and how to personalize information you'd like to receive.  Looking ahead, I can see the power in creating Pageflakes for and with students.

In his book, The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program Carl Harvey shares his support for RSS when he says, 
"In an elementary school setting, the teacher might set up an account for the class and subscribe to blogs, wikis, podcasts, and so forth that connect with their current topic of studies.  The resources would be helpful to both students and the teacher.  Older students could begin setting up their own RSS reader."  (p. 88)

Blogging is also a powerful tool for students.  In his book The Digital Writing Workshop, Troy Hicks says, "students using blogs are engaged not only in what would have been solitary writing that is, coincidentally, posted in an online space but also in digital writing where students begin reading and responding to the blogs of others.  This recursive process, enabled by blogging technology, invites the same kinds of thinking that traditional, face-to-face peer response does, yet demands that students read, respond, and write in ways that encourage more specific response and utilize the features of digital writing space. That is, students who blog are able to hyperlink to sources of information and inspiration, embed multimedia for specific rhetorical purposes, and engage in larger conversations about their topic through the circles of other bloggers. (p. 41)

Lee Kolbert shares a great deal about her elementary students as bloggers on her blog, "A Geeky Momma's Blog". She works hard to help her students be effective readers and writers of blogs by teaching skills specific to Web 2.0 writing. One of my favorite posts was a lesson she shared on creating good comments.

Our district has art students at our high school who are using blogs to create a online portfolio.  My husband, Scott Sibberson, is the Technology Specialist there.  He worked with the students to set up their blogs, sharing this presentation, Creating Your Blog With Blogspot, and then sharing it on Slideshare so that they can refer to it later.  This is a comprehensive introduction to creating a blog that is helpful to students and teachers who are interested in blogging.

There are many ways to use blogs in schools. Teacher blogging provides a tool for professional development. Class blogs are a way to showcase learning with a global audience.  Student blogs can support students in writing and reading specific to topic or interest.  

It's not about the tool. It's about the skills. The possibilities for student and teacher learning are endless.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Making the Most of Twitter


If you know the meanings of these words, then you must have a Twitter account. The list of words are words specific to the Twitter community and words that we learn as we go. The words alone tell a great deal about Twitter as a tool. First of all, it is a fun tool. It has a sense of humor.  The words are even fun to say. But it is more than that. For so many of us, Twitter has been the link to a Professional Learning Network we didn't know existed.   It is amazing what can be said in 140 characters.  We can spread news of a new baby, distribute a professional article we like, share a photo from a parade, inspire with a quote and more.  Twitter is a tool that can do all in just 140 characters at a time. Will Richardson states, “It’s the blend of the professional and the personal that makes Twitter such a cool tool on so many levels. Some people have described it as a “sixth sense” in terms of the network: you feel more a part of the larger conversation, more a part of the community.  (p. 87)

I have heard Twitter defined in many ways. Wikipedia defines it as:
a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., which offers a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read other users' messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user's profile page. 

My favorite definition is one that I heard from Lee Kolbert in a presentation at November Learning's BLC10. She described Twitter as "The teacher's lounge where you get to decide who gets to come in and who gets to stay."

People join Twitter for various reasons but most come to realize its power rather quickly.  Twitter is a tool that provides a way for us, as educators to learn and grow.  In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson explains, “Following  other educators on Twitter creates a 'network at my fingertips' phenomenon where people ask questions and get answers, link to great blog posts or resources, or share ideas for projects as they go through the day.  For many, it’s becoming a running river of conversation and ideas that has cemented their connections to the community and made the network even more palpable.” (p. 86)

I have been a Twitter user for exactly two years. I began with a Twitter account at an NCTE conference in 2008.  My process was a long one and I described it in an article last year.   I have built my network and am learning from more and more amazing people.  I chronicled my use of Twitter in my early stages in an article for Choice Literacy titled, Addicted to Twitter: How Did It Happen?.  

Since writing the article, my Twitter group has grown over the last few years and I rely on it consistently. In order to push myself to learn more during this study, I wanted to figure out ways to get more out of the conversations that are happening. Because the list of people I follow has grown, I have no good way to keep up with all of the good information being shared. It is time for me to better organize and take advantage of some of the tools available to help me manage Twitter better.

Learning to Participate in Focused Conversations

I have listened in on groups talking about "Twitter Conversations", "Book Parties", etc. I could not figure out how those could possibly work when everything seemed so sporadic.  So, I decided to join in on a Twitter Conversation that happens on Sunday evenings called #Titletalk.   I learned a lot and was amazed by the depth of conversation.

Here is how it works. At a certain time (8:00 on Sundays for #Titletalk), people who want to join in, get on Twitter. The facilitators, Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Paul Hankins (@PaulWHankins) usually sends out a tweet with the topic and hashtag (#) prior to the event.  The October topic was "Challenges and Successes to Leading Kids to Books."  Participants create a search for the hashtag and you can follow the conversation. I usually participate via Tweetdeck and the column with the #titletalk search collects the conversation. The key is that participants must hashtag each comment that is part of the conversation.  The other part I love about this is that you can revisit the conversation because it is archived on a wiki. The address to the wiki is It is a great resource and a great way to have a more indepth conversation on a particular topic.

 I have since found other ways people are using Twitter to dig in to deeper conversations with their tweeps. I enjoyed this series, "Sir Ken Robinson Answers Your Twitter Questions".   Ken Robinson is answering questions he receives with a hashtag on Twitter. He is posting videos with his thinking on various questions that have come to him with the hashtag

Learning to Better Organize My Use of Twitter

When I started Twitter, I followed a few people and I added as I found new people who seemed interesting.  It was very manageable for a very long time.  But then I found that I had to organize my tweets. I began to use Tweetdeck a while ago as a way to organize my tweets. Because I didn't always have the time to read tweets from the hundreds of brilliant people I was following, Tweetdeck allowed me to organize the people into categories and my tweets were organized in that way on Tweetdeck. So, I could keep my personal friends from home in one column and librarians in another. I could create as many columns as I needed. This works out most of the time.

Twitter Lists

But when I try to divide my groups into the smaller segments I want, there are too many groups for the column set-up. So I decided to explore the idea of lists. Twitter Lists were launched in 2009 and Josh Catone explains them this way, "They offer a way for you to bunch together other users on Twitter into groups so that you can get an overview of what they’re up to."  

Creating a list is easy to figure out on your own.  First open the tab that says "Lists" on your Twitter sidebar.  Once you get into "Lists", you can then click on "New List" to create a new list.
The "New List" feature is at the bottom left.

A pop-up window then appears asking you for details about the list such as title, privacy, etc.

Then you can add people to your list.  

Each list allows you to pull up those people you follow.  Twitter Lists is a great feature for me to find what I am looking for now that my Twitter list is so big. 
Another feature of lists that I discovered was the ability to follow someone else's lists. I had trouble understanding this idea because it isn't as I first understood it. When I follow someone's list,   For example, I began to follow @mcleod's edtech list. I could follow it as its own list or add it as part of a list I've already created. This list does not mean that I am following the people in @mcleod's list. They do not show up in my Twitter feed. But I can have access to their tweets by going to the specific list.  

Lists are a big "aha" for me.  So often, I don't have time to visit Twitter or Tweetdeck in a week and I can't catch up. But there are certain people I follow whose tweets I do not want to miss.  I also tend to follow people with various areas of expertise. I follow librarians, technology specialists and children's literature experts. I will be able to think through these people and create lists that help me organize the information.    

Learning to Use Seesmic
Another big problem I am having with Twitter is organizing my accounts. Because I tweet from 3 separate accounts, I have had to sign in and out to send status updates and to follow others, and to read updates from various followers.  A friend told me about a tool called Seesmic. Seesmic is a tool advertised as one to manage social networks. This is a tool that is also available on iPhone and IPad, which is an important feature for me.

When you register for Seemic, you can go into settings at any time to add an account. 

My Seesmic account is then organized with all of the information I need for all of my accounts. I can read status updates from people I follow, create status updates from each account, go to lists, direct messages, mentions, etc.  This tool pulls everything together in one place.
I can follow all of my Twitter accounts in one place.
My favorite part of the tool is the ability to create status updates from each account separately in the same box. The box (below) allows you to write a status update and check off the account that you'd like it to be sent from.  So, if appropriate, you can tweet it simultaneously from more than one account at the same time. Or you can choose the account that you want the tweet to come from.  The box also allows you to add a link, photo, location, etc. so I don't need to have separate Twitpic accounts either.  

Seesmic allows me to Tweet from each of my 3 accounts in the same box.

Resources for Teachers
Twitter is one of the best tools for teachers that I have found. In terms of my own professional growth, I have learned more since I joined Twitter than I have ever learned. I have always participated in professional learning communities but Twitter allows me to expand my professional world and to learn from people anytime. 

For teachers to use the tool, they have to see the value in it.  In order to do that, I have found some resources that will help teachers get started. In my experience, the beginning of Twitter was difficult. I didn't feel like I was part of the conversation and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be.  But since then, I have found great resources to support teachers and I am keeping these in my Delicious account so that when teachers are ready, they will have access to the resources.  Delicious is starting to feel like a file cabinet to me--for resources for teachers.

I really liked Neal Chambers' video called "Twitter Kit". This gives an overview of not only Twitter but how it can help educators. It is a good combination of information discussed in a way that makes sense to people who are not yet part of Twitter.  There are a few follow-ups to this first video which are also helpful.  

There are also people who have collected lists of people to follow. Gwyneth Jones has a newbie-to-follow list as part of her Twitter List page.  I also like to take advantage of #FF (Twitter's "Follow Friday") in which people tweet out Twitter handles of people they recommend following.  This is another great part of Twitter--sharing networks with others has become part of the Twitterstream.

The Twitter4Teachers Wiki is a great resource that is always growing. It is a collection of teachers who tweet and they are organized by field/area of expertise. As I find new areas of interest, I find myself revisiting this site. For teachers new to Twitter, this wiki provides people right away that they can follow--they can begin to customize their list by studying the list and finding people who meet their goals for Twitter us.

I also like this collection of 30 Essential Twitter Tutorials for Newbies and Experts. I like how specific the topics are and I find myself revisiting this list often even though I found it after I'd been a Twitter user for a long time.  I am intrigued by the idea of creating a website with Twitter updates and other ideas in this list. It is a great collection and you can jump in wherever you need to jump in based on your Twitter experience. Another similar collection is 

Everything You Need to Know About Twitter and Tweeting. Although this list provides some ideas for people new to Twitter, this is a good one to have on hand as teachers are looking to move forward with Twitter.

Implications for School

As part of this study, I began a Twitter page for our school library ( I think Twitter can be a powerful tool for public relations and a great way to share news of the library. I am hoping that as Twitter grows in our community, it will become a great tool for communication. I agree with what David Stuart says in

What are Libraries Doing on Twitter? "Twitter posts can build relationships with the community and point users in the right direction for more specializd information."  I see Twitter as being a great tool for increasing community involvement and for building a relationship with families and the outside community. 

Final Reflections
In his book, Reach, Jeff Utecht says, "When do you officially have a network?  There is no magic number. A few people can be a network, or a few thousand. What makes it a network is when you start using the collective intelligence of others to find information, resources, and collaborate on projects.  The interaction between you and the people you have connected with,  or who have connected with you, is what creates a network. Once those connections are in place, you can start using your network to learn, hence creating a Personal Learning Network." (p. 36)

For me, Twitter has been a key to my professional learning network.  I don't know exactly when it happened or how, but I know I am learning more every day than I could ever have imagined. And I am learning from people I never had access to before. Twitter seems to be one of the best ways for educators to begin to create their own network.