Ten Sites, Huh?

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Apr
  • 06
  • 2009

Scott McLeod asks us to name ten sites that are resources for our subject area. I mentioned this to a friend just today. Two or three came to mind, but that was it. As far as ten useful sites per unit/novel/writing style/skill… fuhgeddaboudit

The fact that I can’t name ten (and that you likely can’t either) suggests a few things to me:

  1. The Internet isn’t as full of great information as we think;
  2. We don’t use Web sites in instruction;
  3. We don’t know how to find what we want;
  4. What we want isn’t out there.

I’m going with option four on this. My typical search finds me cobbling lots of different pieces together with an idea I’ve had for the last two years along with a little something I got from watching SNL this weekend attached to the core of an idea I got from a discussion with some friends last month. I rarely find resources online that fit right into what I’m doing or that hit on what I want to address. I wish they were out there, but not even Discovery Education or any of the lesson plan warehouse sites cut it. Lots of chaff to sort through there and I worry about my return on time invested.

I found an online index to the text of The Things They Carried. It looks like a cool resource, but I’m not sure how my students would even begin to use it. Much of what I find is just like that — nice to look at, but without a practical application that makes it useful.

Here’s where you’ll find all ten of your sites, though: the most excellent Web sites for your subject area are the ones that make you question what you do and that let you do what you do better than you did yesterday.


1. Scott McLeod says:

[4/7/2009 - 2:40 am]

Wow. Really? There aren’t 10 good sites on English / Language Arts (or whatever it is you teach) on the entire Internet? What are you looking for that you aren’t finding?

I like your 4-point list. If you can’t find what you want, it might be time for you (maybe in conjunction with others) to make it yourself!

2. Todd says:

[4/7/2009 - 8:54 am]

My first year, I was searching for study questions about The Scarlet Letter. No where. Nothing that was good enough for what I wanted to do. Surprising, right? But what I came up with were lame questions, ones too easy or that didn’t even begin to cover what was really important in the study of the work. That year, I created all my own questions and then posted them online. Every year, I get at least two pieces of email thanking me for that list of questions. Every year. And the questions aren’t even that terrific. I also get at least one email asking me for the “answer key” to the questions.

Yup, E/LA is what I teach. And yup, I don’t think there are ten solid sites out there dedicated to teaching English, ones that I can reliably go to again and again to pull from. I’m just not seeing sites that do a good job of addressing what we do in the classroom. The lesson plan sites for the most part are terrible. Bits and pieces here and there, but even those need significant tweaking before deployment.

I’m typically looking for lesson plan ideas, handouts, and audio/video resources. What I’m finding are half-baked thoughts, poorly articulated assessment, and soft lessons that only barely cover the material I want to cover.

I’m trying to make it myself a little bit at a time here. That’s why I started writing entries that are titled by the piece of lit we’re working on and the days covered (TTTC: Day One, for example).

So Scott, can you name ten sites right off the top? Could you when you first wrote that entry? Can you do it for every unit you teach or just for your whole subject area?

3. Dan Meyer says:

[4/7/2009 - 9:28 am]

Is there a wiki, Scott, for these indispensable ten websites per unit per course? I mean, isn’t it curious that no one in the comments of that post had much to offer?

The choice of the word “website” is what has me stumped, I think, recalling (for me) Geocities and aggressively Web 1.0 HTML files.

I subscribe to a bunch of education & media & news blogs, none of which are essential to my practice but, taken as an RSS-aggregated whole, which offer me something essential almost daily.

Thus my trouble answering.

4. dy/dan » Blog Archive » What We Want Isn’t Out There says:

[4/7/2009 - 9:55 am]

[…] Todd Seal, the best ELA blogger you don’t subscribe to, responds to Scott McLeod’s recent provocation (paraphrased), “Can you identify 10 excellent web sites for your grade / subject area, and if not what’s wrong with you?” Todd: What we want isn’t out there. My typical search finds me cobbling lots of different pieces together with an idea I’ve had for the last two years along with a little something I got from watching SNL this weekend attached to the core of an idea I got from a discussion with some friends last month. I rarely find resources online that fit right into what I’m doing or that hit on what I want to address. I wish they were out there, but not even Discovery Education or any of the lesson plan warehouse sites cut it. Lots of chaff to sort through there and I worry about my return on time invested. […]

5. Tom says:

[4/7/2009 - 10:48 am]

I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon. I look at what cuts into the amount of good stuff and what adds to the chaff.

Start off with all the HS English teachers
minus those that are weak
minus those that don’t publish online (time, skills etc.)
minus those who just don’t mesh with your teaching style
minus what you can’t/don’t find for whatever reason
and on and on.

You’ve then got that in a sea of garbage. Most of the lesson plan sites I see are hideous with occasional decent material. That makes sense with lots of authors. It makes sense because it takes a lot of time to write a good lesson plan that someone else can follow.

Besides, it always seemed to me the best stuff is blended from “real life” and takes advantage of both the moment and the interests of your students. Hard to bottle and store that.

I think we’ve got better hope of individuals like Dan and yourself working hard on their own stuff. Finding them is harder but the quality is far more reliable than any mass site I’ve seen.

6. Tom Hoffman says:

[4/7/2009 - 11:36 am]

If you’d asked me, say, six years ago, I’d have told you that by now there would be interlinked communities of bloggers discussing practice in each subject area. All teaching Shakespeare blogs, blogs devoted to tracking specific math curricula through the school year, etc. All the linky goodness from these blogs would increase the Google Juice of good resources, virtuous feedback loops would bring great stuff to the top, etc.

Clearly, most of that didn’t happen. Maybe it will just take time (start the clock when every teacher in the US has a laptop, broadband at home, and unblocked access to Blogger and YouTube at school.

Of course, the other theory was we’d have fantastico meta-data systems by now. That hasn’t happened either.

7. Todd says:

[4/7/2009 - 5:16 pm]

What Dan mentions is exactly what I was getting at with item number 2 on my list and in the final sentence of this post. I visit quite a few sites that make me a better teacher nearly every time I read them. But if you forced me to pick sites that explicitly inform my instruction of, say, an analytical essay, I can’t do that. Not only that, I honestly don’t think such sites exist in droves.

And Tom H., more than just having access, we need teachers who are strong in pedagogy, content, and lesson design. The digital divide will settle itself much sooner than those other things, I’m afraid.

Tom W., that’s nearly the list I created originally. It’s a looooong funnel down to that one lesson plan you can almost nearly use in class sometime next month. If only that person had included a copy of the handout mentioned in step 3 of the plan…

8. Education Blog » Blog Archive » A seemingly simple question - Follow-up says:

[4/8/2009 - 2:18 am]

[…] Todd Seal nor Dan Meyer agree with my assertion that teachers should be able to identify at least 10 good […]

9. Simon Oldaker says:

[4/10/2009 - 11:11 am]

The question is, what is a good website? I’ve got hundreds I use, but I seem to be looking for different things than you are. I gave up looking for lesson plans years ago. I’ve never seen a usable on on the net. Spot quizzes and so on for quickly checking student’s retention of new material, on the other hand – there is tons of excellent material out there. Examples of language use, reference material, guides for writing in different genres, etc. In my main courses, I don’t even use a textbook. Why should I need one?

10. Todd says:

[4/10/2009 - 12:45 pm]

There are plenty of reasons to need a textbook. I’m pretty tied into reading a text and forming a response to it. That’s the best way I see for me to communicate the instruction and skills I need to communicate.

I’m also in a school where the digital divide is huge (actually, most teachers are in such a school). And there’s also something to be said for being able to respond to the text right there with Post-Its or underlining and such. I wouldn’t be horribly upset if textbooks became digital, as long as everyone had equal access. That’s a rare thing, even in 2009.

11. Iron Teacher at Bionic Teaching says:

[4/10/2009 - 5:12 pm]

[…] there’s been good conversation lately recently about the lack of good lesson plans on the Internet. I think that’s true. I’m not sure […]

12. Tom K says:

[4/11/2009 - 8:28 am]

I think the four item list covers it quite well. As a recent entrant into the web 2.0 foray (December 2008 through a masters class) I have been somewhat overwhelmed by what is out there. It has been like getting a drink of water from a fire hose. My best source of resource information has always been my colleagues at school. In a five minute conversation between classes they have often given me ideas that have taken root and grown with me as I have introduced them into the classroom. I have not incorporated every idea or gone to every teacher because I had to find what worked for me personally.

Ironically, the more developed an online resource, the less likely I seem to be able to incorporate it. My teaching is so connected with my personality and students that I need to find others who give me the ideas that I can, in a sense, make my own. This is where the PLNs of the web can really be helpful through RSS feeds from blogs and Twitter. Twitter has gone from something that I had no use for to a great resource. I follow and take a look at what floats by and find an idea that can be a seed for growth. The next step for me is to refine the list of who I follow. If I become part of a network of people who teach the same novels and stories, we can pass ideas as general as approaches to a novel to as specific as what worked in discussing a particular chapter or quote. A dialogue can begin when I find an idea that may work for me and/or my students and that may lead to something even better for all of those involved.

13. Simon Oldaker says:

[4/11/2009 - 11:42 am]

@Todd – yeah, I’m pretty tied to reading a text and forming a response to it, too. A great deal of what I make my students do is just that. With the internet at hand, I can often find a text that is more up-to-date, relevant, challenging, better-written, etc. than the tired pre-digested gunk in the textbooks. This is partly a practical issue, I know.

@Tom K – exactly – it’s raw material, ideas and resources (dictionary, verb conjugator, visual thesaurus, phonetics bank) that are the gold mine for the teacher, not someone else’s lessons.