National Writing Project

Indiana Teacher-Consultant Creates Popular Website—Web English Teacher

By: Art Peterson
Date: July 2008

Summary: A popular website with a panoply of teaching resources is hosted by Indiana Writing Project teacher-consultant Carla Beard, who credits the writing project with giving her site a new, more effective direction.

 

In 2002, when Carla Beard applied to have her budding website, Web English Teacher , linked to Read-Write-Think —one of the preeminent websites for language arts resources—she received some disappointing news. The folks at Read-Write-Think said they couldn't link to her site because it was too "conservative."

Looking back now, Beard, who has taught English at Connersville High School in Connersville, Indiana, since 1978, would have to agree. She came out of teacher training in the 1970s, so the five-paragraph essay was the rock on which she built her instruction.

She was unimpressed by the genre of how-to articles published in educational journals, which often ended with what she saw as a give-away phrase, ". . . and the kids loved it." She retreated behind her classroom door with her tried-and-true methods of instruction, avoiding the seductions of what she described as the "touchy-feely."

However, all that was to change in 2004, when Beard was recruited as a fellow for the summer institute at the Indiana Writing Project at Ball State University, Muncie. "I came to realize that there were other forms of valid writing than the five-paragraph structure, that there was real value in, say, the multigenre paper," said Beard.

Beard's change is evidenced by a visit to her class website . Here, for instance, students are asked, after performing a WebQuest to better understand Mark Twain's humor, to develop a brochure for an imagined Twain exhibit at the Kennedy Center explaining Twain's writing in the context of American humor.

The Web English Teacher website also underwent a transformation: it now gives more attention to writing and offers continually developing categories of links to topics such as "memoir and autobiography writing" and "6+1 trait writing." As a result of these changes, Read-Write-Think now links to Web English Teacher.

A Traditional English Teacher . . . Who Loves Technology?

But there's a bit of a mystery in this narrative. How did a self-described "traditional" English teacher take up with a technology as forward-looking as the Internet?

While technology is expanding the possibilities for our profession, it seems not to be making the job any less rigorous.

"Well, I've always been a technology geek," she says. Back in the '80s she got hooked on word processing. "I'd stay after school teaching other teachers how to use this stuff. " And the technology advances began to affect her own teaching. "After my students performed oral history research, we used the word processing technology to write and publish a book about our findings."

The inspiration for the Web English Teacher site came to her in 2000 when she was working with a student teacher who was completing her college work in literature. Beard says, "The woman was poking around on the Web doing a lot of research, and it occurred to me, wouldn't it be great if all this information could be found through one source." And that was the bright idea that inspired her site.

Now she'll spend a few hours after school each day working with her site, which presently provides hundreds of links to topics as varied as ELL, Shakespeare, and Young Adult Literature. How does she do it? "I belong to quite a few listservs, and people send me information about their sites, about 50 percent of which are created by teachers. Of course, my first criterion is 'do I love this?' but then I say 'well, somebody else might love it.'"

In evaluating a site, she'll check it out for a bias or agenda, but won't necessarily reject a site that has one. "Recently, I looked at a site that was using children's literature to teach the principles of capitalism. I thought, well that's not such a bad idea."

She can get excited about some of the sites that come her way—like one she recently added, Finding Inspiration in Literature and Movies. Sometimes she'll go looking for a site on request, as when one teacher asked her if she had anything on Cry the Beloved Country.

But she doesn't link to everything. "I'll get one with lots of flashing images and little content, and I have to say 'sorry.'"

A Site for First-Year Teachers and Veterans

Beard sees her site as useful not only for first-year teachers, but also to the veterans looking for fresh ideas when they cannot face one more semester of teaching Romeo and Juliet with the same lesson plan.

In the writing categories, both "creative writing" and "grammar" get a lot of traffic. The literature topic that draws the most attention is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. "Everyone in the world must be teaching To Kill a Mocking Bird," she says.

Web English Teacher links to the NWP website, but Beard doesn't stop there; she goes deep into the NWP resource pages. So when, for instance, visitors to her site go into the revision category, they may pull up a specific article about revision posted by NWP.

Beard takes an interest in tracking the busy times for Web English Teacher by analyzing the site's Web metrics. "It starts about seven in the morning and continues through much of the day. There are a lot of small towns where internet access isn't available to everyone. Teachers log in from school. About four in the afternoon, the rush subsides. Then things pick up again about seven in the evening until midnight." Then she adds, somewhat wistfully, "That should be family time."

But as Carla Beard, veteran teacher, writing project convert, and webmaster extraordinaire, knows well enough, while technology is expanding the possibilities for our profession, it seems not to be making the job any less rigorous.

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