> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Five things you don't know about me

I prefer reading blogs that have a point to them, or a mutual interest. But from time to time I do wonder a bit about the person behind the blog. So, I've been rather intrigued to see people asking other bloggers to write down 'five things you don't know about me'. Tess Watson has asked me to take part. So here goes:

1. I was named after my grandmother Elizabeth Grant Neeson (nee Davidson) who was born on the same Highland Estate as the Elizabeth Grant who wrote ‘Memoirs of a Highland Lady’.

2. When I was 18 I saw the great Ginger Rogers, in a musical review called ‘Anything Goes’ in Detroit, Michigan.

3. I met my future husband when I was sixteen -at a prayer meeting. We disliked each other instantly. We met three years later, by which time he had improved enormously.

4. In 1998 we adopted our youngest son (Jerry) from the Philippines.

5. I persuaded my oldest son Sean David (known as Sid) to start his own blog recently.

I'm not sure if they have been tagged already but I'm going to tag:

David Gilmour
Mrs Blethers
Andrew Brown

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Trials of a NVT (Not Very Technical) Teacher

Oldest son is home from uni. He’s busy on his laptop writing an email whilst having conversations with several people via some form of instant messaging (the names change just as I get the hang of them. Meebo? Peepo? Don’t know).

Out of the corner of his eye he is watching me trying unsuccessfully to upload files to my new mp3 player. I can’t work out how to change the settings. He leans over in mid typing rattle, presses a button, and suddenly it’s working. I stare at him aghast.

‘What did you do there?’

He shakes his head.

‘You just try out things.’

He sees it as a game.

He doesn’t read manuals. He can only show me what he does by doing it. He approaches technology with a spirit of 'now-what-happens-if-you-click-that-and-then-that-mmm-interesting’.

Me? I approach it like a soufflé in the oven, which must not feel the slightest cool air current or it will be RUINED.

Why? I think it’s because that’s how I was taught. By uptight people to uptight people. You might BREAK something. You might make a MISTAKE. You might DELETE something. Younger people don’t have this technology anxiety.

On the other hand this might explain why my mp3 player ‘support’ website was totally useless to me. It was cluttered up with troubleshooting information. I haven’t learnt how to get into trouble yet. But I'm getting there...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Jings! Crivvens! Help ma blog!

Sorry about the title, but we're getting really excited about Christmas here in the O'Neill house, and reading our new 'The Broons' annual is a big part of that. If you are bewildered by this, you might want to click here

We're happy to report that here in Wigtownshire a lot of those words that your granny used are still alive and well. When we moved here we re-discovered some of them. Children are amazing copycats. Our son, aged seven at that point, had just perfected his London accent -we'd spent a couple of years down south. A week in a local primary school and he was coming 'hame' from school asking for 'twa' biscuits. We bought him 'The Broons' to improve his vocabulary.

Anyway it's great to hear these words and ponder on the versatility of language in our culture, which allows us to dip into both English and our shared Scots wordbank. It also gets me thinking about our presence online. Will we be able to sustain our identity in global conversations? Do we want to?

Does a Scots blog have a Scottish accent? I'm not talking about dropping in those 'wee' Scotticisms. I'm thinking more about viewpoint, philosophy, and yes, language.

What does it mean to be Scottish? The BBC reported last May on a survey carried out by the Scottish Centre for Social Research at Edinburgh University.

Read it here.

It does seem to suggest that language, and specifically accent, holds the key to identity in most people's eyes. It gives me one concern: what about those people who come to Scotland, enrich our lives, but don't pick up our accent? Will they never be part of us?

Maybe we should be handing out more copies of 'The Broons' and 'Oor Wullie'.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ideas to chew on

If you could make three changes in your (old) school, what would they be?

Here's three ideas I thought up this morning:

1. Begin the school day an hour earlier. Make the final hour voluntary classes that pupils have to sign up for giving a reason why they wanted to take part. These could be vocational or study based.

2. Develop links with other schools that pay more than lip service to the idea. Each school should have a genuine exchange programme that would allow pupils and staff to spend time in the other school.

3. Have schools nominate a key 'value' or virtue or strength, which they will focus on. Put it on their blazers ( or sweatshirts...) Reward schools that do this with imagination and commitment.

What do you think of these ideas? Got any of your own?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Secret Knowledge

I have to post this because it's coming up again and again, especially when talking to other people about the Internet. A long time ago when I first discovered email (1995 -yes, child there were computers in those days) I also discovered 'the secret'. What is the secret? Well, it goes like this:

I am an IT person. I get it. You don't.

I am not especially good at IT. In fact, to be honest, the odd way that you have to write in code (HTML) in order to, say, put a link on your web page fills me with horror. I look forward to saying in the future: 'Yes, in those days, you won't believe it, but we had to write a special instruction around the words we wanted to link with!'

In the future we will simply speak aloud to our computers when we are dictating our blog. 'Italic...cease italic' or 'Put in the link' and 'Choose image, something with clouds and a little flower, pink, no purple.'

In the meantime, why don't computer literate people stop showing off and start talking plain English? I think that's one of the reasons a lot of teachers are put off blogging. They sense that it involves secrets that they will not find easily accessible. And to be honest, they get enough 'trying to guess the right answer' at school.

Do you feel kept out of the secret knowledge? Let's talk about it!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What's next?

The Seattle Times reported last month on a grant given to the Bellevue School district (Washington) to allow them to put their entire curriculum online.Read the article

According to the Times , 'The grant ... will develop the district Web site to help teachers build and share lesson plans and ideas and help parents stay on top of what their children are being taught'.
The current Bellevue School District Curriculum Web already gives detailed information about what is being taught at each level. But the long term plan, according to the executive director of the school district, is to have everything a child is doing at school available to parents. This would mean for example, 'a parent who has a child who comes home baffled about a lesson plan can log on to the site and look to see what the student was supposed to learn that day.' There would even be 'the possibility for the child to watch the lesson again'.

Teachers from other districts (countries?) would also be invited to the 'wikipedia' like site, to log on and offer their insights and practice.

Do you like the sound of this level of openness?
Please comment.

Can you contact the school please?

A few years ago a request to contact the school meant either your child was sick or an INCIDENT had occurred which the school could not keep to themselves.

Either way it was bad news.

This week I was accused, as a teacher, of not wanting to return the phone calls of a parent. The reality was that I thought I was having a dialogue with the parent via the pupil. The pupil was passing on a message from her mother 'that she wasn't available this week.'

I should have seen that one coming, but had a daft idea that this pupil would respond better if involved in the process.

One of things which I have re-learnt from this, is that the conduit we use for communication, normally the pupils, isn't always the right one.

Scenes of child at kitchen table with strong light being shone in his face.

‘But who exactly said that?'
‘I don’t know –maybe it was George.’
‘MISTER George the headteacher? Or George your wee pal?’
‘I can’t remember, but we have to have it in for tomorrow.’

Well, I am exaggerating. Schools send home letters. Good parents remember to dismantle the school bag each evening in search of them. Don’t throw anything away, that scrunched up paper inside a banana skin might just be the news that Friday’s fun day has been cancelled, and your child should not now arrive dressed as a character from a book. (I speak from bitter experience.)

Maybe it’s just my children. Girls apparently are much better at relating news.

I’m interested in things that help communication. What works? Some schools have websites. Would it be a good idea if parents could email teachers?

What about Glow –this is the new intranet which is being piloted by teachers like Tess Watson. To quote the website ‘Glow is the new name for the Scottish Schools Digital Network, the national intranet which will link Scottish education safely and securely’. On the GLOW site there is a scenario of how it might be used by parents. Check it out if you are interested.

In the meantime, aforementioned parent and I did meet up and had a good talk about our mutual interest -doing our best for this child.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Is school a window on the world?

On a previous post Tony suggested I do some sort of survey on what young people think education is. Ask pupils what they think they are doing at school and I am sure they would say things like ' to learn stuff' or if they are older, 'to get qualifications'. They have a pretty good idea why they are there.
Or have they?
If you are a teacher, or at school, or in education, do you think that schools (and colleges and universities) are giving pupils what they should be? What do you think they should be doing?
Have you learnt anything at school which you think was a waste of time?
Just to start the ball rolling... I had an interesting conversation with one of my classes recently on something that was never (to my memory) broached when I was at school: money. In the course of discussing a character in a novel, we ended up talking about debt, and someone asked what a mortgage was. I couldn't help noticing the interest that was stirred up by this question.
I know schools provide some Financial education. I've taught it in a Social and Vocational Skills (SVS) class. It comes under the heading of 'life skills'. I can imagine it being a small part of several subjects. I wonder whether it -and other skills like it - should be given greater prominence in our curriculum.
What do you think? Do we need more of this sort of education for real life? Or would that be too functional an approach to education? Are some sorts of knowledge more important than others?
Please comment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What a difference a decent book makes: Buddy

Just have to post about my current experiences in teaching English using the novel 'Buddy' by Nigel Hinton. We use 'Buddy' with s2 -and I think I can safely say that all of the teachers in our department enjoy teaching it.

The story is set in the UK -and although it was published a while ago it manages to remain up-to-date and interesting for our pupils.

'Buddy' has a great central character, and looks at themes like racism, family breakdown and teenage anxiety in a sympathetic, but thought-provoking way.

'Buddy' also provides a way into the whole issue of parenting and fatherhood -which, to my mind anyway, doesn't really get enough coverage in a secondary school!

Buddy's dad, Terry, is a 'teddy boy' who uses the music of Buddy Holly and his era to communicate. His character develops alongside that of Buddy. The kids love it! It's the sort of book you have to count back in at the end of each lesson, as they are always sneaking it home to read it...

Nigel Hinton has a website (www.nigelhinton.net) with some useful background to his work on it.

Finally, there is a brilliant TV series which goes along with the book. I hope that the BBC run it again. Email Nigel Hinton via his site for details of how to get a DVD of the series should you require it. Our school copy has been used so often it's starting to sag a little.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Do you have a red pen?

Hannah (2nd Year B.Ed student) commenting on my last post about apostrophes, said that she had recently been taught about the (presumably negative) effect of using red pen all over a pupil's work. She was looking at it in the context of teaching grammar.

One of the good things about AifL is the emphasis on being more directive in our comments. Put simply: you did this well -and to improve that, try a little of this . Target marking or 'comment only' marking helps get away from that disheartening 'not good enough' or 'try harder' type of response that doesn't really help a pupil improve.

If anything, I find I am using more red pen than ever -because I am entering into a kind of dialogue with my students about their work. Granted, I have had to explain that the red pen is A GOOD THING. I hope they are getting it! I try to encourage them to write back to me about my comments. Using red pen helps me find my comments, and maintain some sort of consistency.

There is something about this whole issue of 'not upsetting a pupil's confidence by pointing out their mistakes' that bothers me. I think we are passing on to them our own fear of making a mistake- when the reality is that learning moves forward through mistakes. I would rather a piece of writing full of mistakes and possibilities than one with no mistakes and no soul.

I like showing my pupils the writing notes of some poets e.g Wilfred Owen. His first draft is full of re-writes and scoring out.

I hope my red pen is 'The red pen of Creativity' rather than 'The red pen of Wrong'. But I also think we need to teach our pupils that it's okay to make mistakes.
This blog is in part my own attempt at putting my money where my mouth is - I started it knowing I would make mistakes at times -and fearing that the technology would be beyond me. It is! But I am learning...

Friday, November 17, 2006

I think the apostrophe is beginning to mutate

Don't want to sound too pedantic, but what's happening to the apostrophe these days? I find myself giving constant speeches to kids about it. I also find myself talking more and more about it, as if it were some sort of animal facing extinction.

I admit I find its presence in my surname a bit spooky at times. I have almost given up using it online because it almost always gets rejected. It causes all sorts of strange stuff to happen.

Should it be removed? Is there a point in punctuation?

This week I had an odd apostrophe moment:

I was marking the jotters of one class. I couldn't help notice the dearth of apostrophes. They just didn't feature in this class consciousness. Where were they? Had they crept silently out of their jotters?

It scared me a little. Then I found them. They were lurking in groups in the next set of jotters I picked up -different year group, different homework. Gathered in group's around letter's and sentence's. Picking on 'it's' whenever they appeared.

It's worrying me. Is the apostrophe mutating? Is it... alive?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Why are they blocking blogs at school?

There seems to be a lot of talk right now about internet sites that are being blocked by schools. The fact is, I can't access my blog from school. Right now that isn't a hardship. But if I wanted to begin using it with my classes I'd be in trouble.

I'm interested to know what people think about the current situation in school. I find it really irritating when that great site I saw at home, and want to draw to the attention of my colleagues or pupils is blocked by an unintelligent filter.
For example, today the site of an author whose books are being studied by my S2 was forbidden to me. I've been on the site at home and found it educational and entirely suitable. The essay on muslim women wearing veils, which my S5 are just completing would have been a lot easier to discuss through various blocked sites, and the art work I wanted to show another class who are writing 'poetry provoked by images' was classed as forbidden.
I'm not against censorship, and I appreciate there are difficulties in fine tuning this stuff. But come on, can't we do better than this? Is it really impossible to have a better system of content filtration?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The art of Creative Writing: new competition

Ever since Miss Fisher (P4) got us to write a story 'about something scary' I've been fascinated by creative writing. Funnily enough my story involved a man giving a speech. Some people do find that scary. Miss Fisher had a problem with my description of the man 'throwing his arms and his words out towards the audience'. Later on I discovered that this odd manoeuvre was called a zeugma. I also discovered that I am probably more intrigued by the process of writing about something, than the actual outcome. In other words I should be an English teacher...
However, like a lot of people, I make up little stories all the time in my head.
Look at the photograph above. What does it you think of?
A withered leaf from a single rose that has been thrown away by someone perhaps...
For the less imaginative or more scientific perhaps you're thinking of Gardener's Question Time: what is that fungus called?
Anyway I came across this competition which might be fun:
Creative Writing Competition.
The competition is open to everyone, and simply requires that you write a short poem or piece of prose in not more than about 1,000 words inspired by a piece of art, taken from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland . You can view many of the works online at their site.
Prizes? Well it's art for art's sake, the prize being free entry to all National Galleries exhibitions for two people for one year. The winner also gets published in the Scotsman newspaper.
I am happy to read over anyone's ideas, and make encouraging sounds.
Oh, go on. You know you want to...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Are your parents interested in your blog?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Recently Ewan McIntosh made some very interesting comments on how little many parents know of their children's online experiences. You can read his post here:http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2006/10/internet_and_so.htmlIt got me thinking about how young people would feel about letting their parents look at their blog or their page/website. I'm struck by pupils who think that the stuff they publish on the net is actually private. Let's face it, complete strangers are reading it, so it's not exactly like that diary you used to keep under your bed...I'm going to do a survey with my nieces and nephews -incredibly bright and fascinating, talented group, so not exactly typical. Would you mind your parents looking at your site?

Friday, October 27, 2006

I've been trying to a few more education blogs and have found some which seem really exciting. I really like it when there is a link to another site which tells you more.For weeks now Jerry has been talking about putting mints into a bottle of coke and causing it to fizz up. I wasn't sure if this was more of his high jinks in the park with his pals -last month they got a free biology lesson by dissecting a dead frog they found...Then I came across Tess Watson's site and discovered what science teachers are getting up to nowadays. Have a look at her mentos and coke podcast!http://tesswatson.blogspot.com/

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This is the view we have from our upper floor front window. It's the sky which is most magnificent. But if you look carefully you can see Drummore primary school in the very bottom of the shot, and Luce Bay to the left. Lovely isn't it?One of the nicest things for us - we moved to Drummore three years ago- has been seeing Jerry, our youngest son, go to a rural primary school. Unlike city schools, where kids jostle with one another in tiny concrete squares, Jerry and his pals have loads of playground space.Another nice thing has been the location. Here in the Rhins we can regularly see views which make you feel as if you are on holiday. Of course you aren't on holiday... much.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We've returned to Drummore after a visit to the Big Smoke (aka -our son Sid, who lives in Glasgow).I'm glad to be back, even although the house looks like there's been some sort of 'dirty bomb' exploded in it.Starting to think about how exactly I can use blogging in my classrooms. How will pupils respond? In order to test this out I have invited SD to join my blog, whatever that means.Now I shall post something with a vague reference to English teaching and see if he comments on it.How about this: Is it time to bring back the interrobang!? That's a cool new punctuation symbol invented a few decades ago, and sadly not able to sustain its initial popularity. It looks like a cross between the question mark and the exclamation mark. Unfortunately my keyboard doesn't support its existence.It's intended to be used when both an exclamation mark and a question mark might be used.For example: How strange was that (interrobang)Is it time for a revival. Comments please subscriber(s).

I've been reading other peoples' blogs for a few weeks now. I find it fascinating how many teachers are posting. Had a wee look at Bebo with Sid today.Why do people blog? Why do they have their own websites and pages?I think it must be something to do with our need to communicate.Does make me wonder if modern life has suppressed our ability to talk about life -and all this blogging and posting is a response to that.How obsessive do you have to be to run a blog? The first time I heard about it I thought it sounded sort of narcissistic and well... sad. But I've found blogs make good reading.The styles are different. Some bloggers sound thoughtful and considered. Some are 'knee jerk' reactors. Some are strident, some are apologetic.My question for today is: Do the comments other people write actually change the opinions of the bloggers? In other words is a blog an un- dramatic monologue or a genuine attempt at dialogue?What do you think?

Mrs O'Neill dips her toe into blog water

I've been interested in the possibility of blogging for some time. I like using email. And I like the idea of keeping a diary.
I'm also enthusiastic about the possibilities of using blogging at school.
This blog will have the following areas of focus:
Teaching English
Of course that will give me plenty of scope to talk about everything!