Getting into the right mindset for better learning

20130406-112318.jpg

Thanks to Educational Technology and Mobile Learning for drawing my attention to this infographic. I hadn’t heard of this learning theory and finding this drew me into performing a couple of quick searches to get a bit of background information on the Fixed v Growth Mindset research. Originating from Stanford University psychologist/researcher Carol Dweck , its premise (from my initial reflection) is that as learners, we can either improve our intelligence through hard work or that we are born with a skill set and intelligence level that we are stuck with.

What makes this powerful to consider as teachers ( and parents) is that we need to reflect on how much impact we can have on the learning and lives of our children. If we resign ourselves, which I have done often in my 25 years as a teacher so I’m not ‘absolving myself from sin’, that there is not much we can do for some students because they are “just like the rest of their family”, we are not doing our job. If we look at underachievers and their test scores and accept that they will forever be underachievers – or if we allow them to accept their position in life without making the effort – we have failed in our duties.

After finding this research last week, I just happened to watch “Coach Carter”, thanks to my son’s choice for our weekly family movie night. Based on a true story, either Carter or the scriptwriters were big supporters of Dweck’s theory. Yes, there is no doubt a bit of Hollywood Hyperbole is involved here, just like in ‘Stand and Deliver’, but it really resonated with me as I watched it from the teacher’s point of view.

For those unfamiliar with the film, Coach Carter takes over a basketball team from a low achieving high school and demands the players meet academic expectations to stay on the team. After the obligatory instant success as a basketball team, Carter finds his players are failing and slacking off and he locks the gym and cancels games until they reach the academic goal. Parents, some teachers and the local community ( as an Australian, I am forever amazed by the importance of school basketball to you Americans!) protest and force the reopening of the gym, to the dismay of Carter who laments the lack of priorities toward education.  In the end, the players themselves, with the support of some teachers realise that their education is more important and impose their own bans until they succeed in school.

I particularly like this clip, in which Carter (Samuel L Jackson) explains to the boys why he is so committed to their educational success.

This scene and the movie overall encapsulates all that the infographic summarises about Growth Mindset -

  • Developing a desire to learn
  • Embracing challenges
  • Persisting in the face of setbacks
  • See EFFORT as the path to Mastery
  • Learn from criticism
I reflect on the students I have taught over the years and I can see “the Fixeds” and “the Growths” and I wish I had pushed some of “the Fixed” more. From the teacher pleasers who made teaching easy but were never challenged ( and when I checked their VCE results in Year 12, didn’t do as well as I hoped). To that ‘too cool for school’ boy I often quote to colleagues in jest who, in response to me challenging him during a lesson, remarked, ” I didn’t know I had to remember this stuff!!” But also the success stories – the newly arrived Sudanese girl who worked her butt off to go from 4/50 on a start of year Maths assessment to 36/50 by year’s end. That ‘labelled underachiever’ I had a few years ago, whom I encouraged enough to join the ‘advanced maths’ kids in our class and pushed and pushed himself until he felt he belonged with them. And then there are those stereotyped Indian and Chinese students in our grades. Are they all gifted with great intelligence or have their parents just developed in them a great work ethic based on the Growth Mindset model?
So where do we sit as teachers? It’s a tough job teaching, and it’s getting harder and harder with all the bureaucratic requirements. Regardless, though, are we willing to accept the Fixed Mindset in our students? Or in ourselves?
OR are we going to embrace the Growth Mindset model and strive to get every one of our students to improve through our and their hard work?
Reflect for a moment on the five categories within the Infographic’s take on Mindsets.
CHALLENGES: Do we avoid challenging our students/ourselves for fear they/we will struggle?
OR
Do we embrace the potential benefits of the struggle and grow as a result?
OBSTACLES: Do we allow our children/ourselves to give up when learning becomes too difficult and stay in a growth- limiting ‘comfort zone’?
OR
Do we expect our childen/ourselves to persist until we overcome those obstacles and celebrate the achievement of success against all odds?
EFFORT: Do we resign ourselves to a predetermined level of achievement and accept that trying is fruitless and improvement is impossible?
OR
Do we realise that sustained effort is the  path to real learning FOR ANYONE?
CRITICISM: Do we avoid/ignore/complain about justifiable criticism because we are more worried about self-esteem than improvement?
OR
Do we actively seek out critical feedback for our students and ourselves to improve learning?
SUCCESS OF OTHERS: Do we avoid helping and working with others, seeking advice from others because we are threatened by being seen as inferior or worried we are making others look better than you (applies to students and us)?
OR
Do we actively seek out help, get inspired by others’ work, learn from their successes and improve ourselves as a result of trying to match them?
I don’t mean to sound like I’m pontificating. This is, as always, a personal reflection, like many non -iPad Mr G Online posts. I was very much a Fixed Mindset person during most of my school life. A teacher pleasing, straight A ( except PE!) student who only answered when he knew he was right. I cruised through school without being challenged or challenging myself beyond collecting unlimited trivia facts to impress my fans. As a teacher, I have embraced both mindsets for myself and my students and still do today…because the Growth Mindset is hard. So I’m in no way putting myself on a pedestal. I’m calling on myself AND you to reflect on your mindsets to improve the learning of all our students. Yes, it’s a lot harder to do than what can be achieved in 120 minutes of Hollywood Sports Movies but we have to try to inspire kids to want to be great. Great is not nerdy. Great is cool.

To finish, I’d like to quote an inspirational poem I knew nothing of until, yep, “Coach Carter” – Marianne Williamson’s “Our Deepest Fear”. Let’s not be scared to be the best we can be.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

And for a little extra emotional impact, recited by ‘last to get but needed to the most’ Timo Cruz in “Coach Carter”

Link to article ‘Even Geniuses Work Hard”

Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.

20120923-154619.jpg

I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Learning and Teaching-quick fix diet or lifestyle decision?

I’m feeling strangely reflective today. This time two years ago I was recovering from the back operation that changed my life for the better. To cut a long story short, I was 125kg pre operation and 6 months later I’d lost 30 kg thanks to my new ability to exercise and a serious change of diet. So why am I writing about this in my education blog? Well, it got me thinking ( strange though it might sound ) about how education is a lot like what I went through to lose all that weight. I think education is like the weight loss industry. You can treat the experience two ways – a quick fix, short term success crash diet, or a life changing lifestyle decision.
Bear with me, if you can, as I explore this analogy further. For three months after Christmas following the operation, I became firmly focused on changing my body forever. I studied everything there was to know – being a self directed learner, I wasn’t going to any weight loss centre. Just like learning anything else, I felt it was best that I do it my way. By mid April, I had lost 25 kg. I had all but achieved my goal. For the rest of the year, I felt comfortable that I had changed my lifestyle and had consolidated my learning. And how did I do it? The way we should be doing it as learners in the classroom.

  • I set myself a long term goal to improve part of my life that wasn’t working. I didn’t make it unrealistic., though. A student in Grade 5 who has been assessed and diagnosed as 3 years behind in Mathematics is not going to be achieving a consistent, Grade 5 standard by the middle of the year so teacher, parent and child need to be realistic and set a goal for gradual but real improvement. You need to believe you can reach the goal or you won’t make the necessary effort. Sometimes, by making it achievable without too much work results in better than expected results because it wasn’t the struggle you expected. My goal was 30 kg by September – I’d reached 25 by End of April. Without stress but gradually working hard, I have taught students that have made huge improvements in a year.
  • I planned achievable steps to reach my goal. I took away the foods that were a problem, then added in the foods that would make a positive change and then organised the daily menu plan that would become a sustainable, enjoyable diet for me long term. I started walking for 3o minutes after school, built up to 30 minutes before and after, increased one of those to an hour, added in some bike riding of gradually increasing durations until I had a daily program which was manageable, flexible and consistent. Likewise, with learning, we need to plan goals that gradually build to success. If a child wants to improve their multiplication skills, we don’t rush into the ultimate short cut algorithm without going through the stages of conceptual understanding. If we rush, we will think they can multiply but then find out when concepts become more difficult, that they don’t really understand multiplication, just a procedure.
  • I monitored and tracked my progress. All the good nutrition and healthy living advice really stresses this. Once I was fully into my lifestyle change, I tracked the calories of each meal and snack to check I was maintaining my goal intake. I measured and recorded the distance, time and calorie burning result of each of my exercise sessions. I checked my weight regularly ( but not obsessively). This appeared over the top to some in my midst, but the methodical monitoring ensured my success and also enabled me to track my mistakes as well and plan for getting back on track. This is the same in education. Learners can’t just set goals and steps; they need to monitor their progress and level of achievement as well. Students need a journal to reflect on their learning and how it related to their goal. If they achieve some success, by recording what they did they can reflect back on those actions that worked. On the days they ‘failed’, they can think about what they didn’t do and plan what they need to make the progress they need. They can adjust the steps in their plan to catch up if they have fallen behind ( more revision, learn more strategies, work harder on editing, research a better way)
  • Above all, it was my responsibility and I made the decision. I had advice from my doctor and physio. I received encouragement from family and friends. But in the end, it was up to me. For years I had found being healthy difficult to achieve because of something I had let happen. Yes I had a bad back but it was caused or sustained in a big way by my weight problem. The operation fixed the back. I now had the chance to change my lifestyle tof fix the bigger issue. In the same way, it is the student’s responsibility to improve. Great teachers, dedicated parents, fantastic, well researched educational programs can all help, just like the back operation. But if the student doesn’t really want to make the effort, the goal will not be fully realised. It is the same with education in general. School leaders and departments can have the greatest plans but the teachers and students have to buy into them.

So, why am I being so reflective about my lifestyle change? Unfortunately, because I have fallen back into bad habits. I’m like the student who comes back to school after summer vacation and forgotten everything my teacher ‘taught’ me last year. I thought I learnt. I thought I had changed my lifestyle permanently. But ‘one good year does not a great education make.’ Where did I go wrong?

  • I stopped tracking my progress
  • I lost sight of my goal
  • I started taking shortcuts and stopped making the effort
  • I stopped taking responsibility and let others affect what I was doing
  • I decided near enough was good enough
  • I chose short term success over life time success
  • I ignored my mistakes even though I recognised them
  • I stopped planning and put off what I needed to do to a later ( but never completed) date

This is bad learning but it can be fixed. I still know what worked and I am recalibrating next week when Term 3 holidays begin. I got too close to stop now and the plan is coming back.

On the larger scale of Education, there are lessons in this.

Learning is not an isolated year by year proposition. The aim is not to get all the work done in Grade 5 so we can go on holidays at the end of the year. The aim is not to ‘cover the curriculum’ and hope that next year’s teacher will start all over again from scratch. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be tracked. And as soon as cracks start to appear in EVERY student’s progress, we need to be able to identify what happened, what caused it and have a plan for doing something about it. We can’t find out in Grade 4 or 5 that a student can’t count past 100 or double numbers.

We can’t rely on a curriculum set in concrete. For the last 25 years, I have been told that our curriculum documents are guides, not prescriptions. It is the responsibility of schools and individual teachers to ensure that students’ individual needs are met. This has for a long time troubled me. There are gaps everywhere in our systems’ curricula. Mathematical concepts are being introduced in Grade 3 then not reappearing again until Grade 6. Then we wonder why our students aren’t making connections from year to year. It’s one thing to have a curriculum that adresses key essential learning for each grade level. It’s another thing to actually provide a sequential plan for getting from Point A in Grade Prep to Point B in Grade 8. This is too often lacking system wide. We rely too much on individual schools solving these problems. We are doing a great job planning our new Maths curriculum but I don’t get why the Education Department doesn’t do that in the first place so that EVERY school has access to what we will have by the end of the year.

Learning is not a superficial experience. It is not a set of disconnected assessment tasks and projects that result in a good or bad report card. It should not be guided by week by week handing in of work that is judged by a teacher and handed back to file away for parents to see three months later. It certainly shouldn’t be determined by a series of multiple choice questions on a given day that are then reflected on four months later. It needs to be meaningful, ongoing, flexible, monitored, altered, maintained, ‘owned’ and lifelong.

Just like my diet and fitness program.

What are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Are your students writing for you or themselves? Are your students writing for you or for a real audience? Are your students writing because they have to and don’t know or because they want to and have a purpose? Have you thought about what you are doing to make writing real in your classroom?

  • Do your students write the school newsletter and fill it with interesting student generated content or is just full of a bunch of reports from teachers, parents and the principal?
  • Do they publish their writing as ebooks that are uploaded to the school website or a class/personal blog so that parents, friends, other students and any other interested reader can download it onto their iPad, Kindle, smartphone and read it, giving them a audience beyond their teacher and classmates?
  • Are your students writing advertisements on fictitious products because it’s the genre of the month in your class or have they made a connection with a local business and put forward a proposal to create some real ads for them to promote their product in the local community or on YouTube?
  • Do your students write a news report so it can be checked off as a non fiction piece of writing to contribute to the requirements for Term 3 writing OR are they part of a dedicated group of students across the school publishing a school newspaper or online news service including school and local news, sport, editorials on important issues they are concerned about, restaurant, music, book and movie reviews, comic strips or satirical cartoons, letters to the editor as well as ads for school and local events? OR Have you made contact with the local newspaper and set up a program allowing children to have their articles published on a regular basis in an actual newspaper?
  • Are you singing Silent Night and Jingle Bells for the 30th Christmas Concert in a row or have you used the talents of local songwriters to run workshops to write some student created songs to perform instead?
  • Have you contacted and made arrangements with an interested author to run workshops with budding writers and possibly collaborate on a book together instead of relying on your own limited narrative writing abilities to teach them to write something with a decent plot?
  • Have you thought of students creating textbooks for other grade levels to use for their next inquiry topic instead of just finishing the unit off with long winded presentations in front of the whole grade and then filing them under “Done”?
  • Have you given them the opportunity to collaborate on a play that they will write and perform for an audience of their choice? Have you given them the opportunity to write a letter to the local theatre company and put forward a proposal to gain their support in the production?
  • Have you considered contacting the local community radio station and booking a regular spot for your class to present a radio program, reader’s theatre performance of a play they have written, conduct an interview of a local celebrity, participate in a debate,all of which have been written by them? OR if not the radio station have you published them as podcasts online?
  • Instead of getting them to write expositions in preparation for the next state or national standardized writing test, have you given your students opportunities to send persuasive texts to the principal, local councillors, members of parliament, major newspapers, TV and radio news programs to argue for change?

(There are a lot of other great examples teachers are using. I’d love to hear them in the comments below.)

If we want to know why our students are still not correcting their spelling errors or leaving out punctuation and paragraphs, maybe we need to consider whether we give them reason to. So let’s make writing real. if you at going to put all that effort that teachers do into conferencing, feedback, exposing them to all those great tech tools for publishing, surely we should give them a reason for all that effort to be put in.

So what are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Edmodo vs Blogging

20120902-071937.jpg

When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

EDMODO
Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs. Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects.

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds or the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like student’s to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack - for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges - Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

BLOGGING
I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

Creativity and Quality vs Time Constraints and Quantity

Thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant for the video and the spark for this post

What do we hope to achieve as teachers? Good grades for our students? Year over year growth based on testing, standards and outcomes? Engagement in life long learning? Develop fully their talents and creativity? All of these are important goals in education but at some point we need to decide which is the most important in this “21st Century/Contemporary Teaching/Personalised Learning Education Environment we purport to be in today.

This simple video has made me think again about my philosophy of teaching and my dream for education. Creativity is one of the great goals that drives the push for contemporary teaching and learning. Do our actions support its development?

For me, we are still driven by time constraints in the day to day reality of school. This hampers creativity.

Instead of expecting a student to write, edit and publish (whether teacher or student is satisfied or not) a text every week so we have “enough” evidence to justify the grade on the semester report card, why can’t we allow the student time to work on one or two texts over a long period of time until we are all proud of the result? Did the D student get a D because he can’t write or because he didn’t get the opportunity or support to improve his text before moving on to task 34? ( It reminds me of 2007 when my daughter came back from our Europe holiday and had to complete the statewide Gr 5 writing test, a 40 minute exercise in putting words on paper. She was ‘slightly below standard’ on the report because she didn’t finish. I should have sent the assessors her 100 page journal she compiled while on our trip, the writing that captivated family and friend alike for its detail and reflective depth.) What is it as teachers we are assessing – product or process? The time limited end result or the growth and improvement over time? Do children have to write a persuasive text, a narrative, a report, a review, an explanation, a recount, a book response all in one term or semester just because they’re all written in your system’s curriculum document? Was Shakespeare not “at standard” because he didn’t write an expository text on the strengths and weaknesses of Queen Elizabeth?

Is it more productive to assess ONE 15 page piece of quality writing over the course of the term or semester (not just at the end when its finished-no one wants to do that), progressively monitoring and assessing the language conventions, sentence structures, use of literary devices that you have discussed and taught the student over time OR give a score to 15 “OK” pieces of writing the child gets no opportunity to improve? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Our students may not want to persist at editing and improving a text over a long period of time because they have grown up in a system ( and I’ve been part of it for 25 years so I’m not criticising anyone without taking the blame too) that values quantity over quality, product over process and finishing over creating. If we really want to bring about Sir Ken Robinson’s revolution, this has to change. Collecting 20 samples of writing that are not good enough has to be replaced by a paradigm shift to working on a text until it is great. Ticks, crosses and percentage points don’t teach a student how to improve their writing ( or counting, calculating,thinking, questioning,researching, drawing). Guidance, tracking, encouragement, constructive feedback, expectation and TIME does.

Can we do it? Should we do it? What do you think? Would love to hear what others have to say. Join the conversation.

Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 

PROS FOR BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.

CONS OF BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

Parents – making them part of the solution

We spend every day of our working life talking to our colleagues at school about the challenges of the students in our care – and rightly so. The students in our classes are given feedback daily on their learning – that’s part of teaching. But how many times do we talk to the parents of the students beyond biannual parent/teacher meetings? Education is changing before our eyes. It’s a challenge for us and we experience it first hand every working day of our lives. I think we forget sometimes that the changes we are implementing are so foreign to the parents in our community there is no wonder why they have so many questions.

So how do we react? How often do we proactively seek to communicate with the parents of our schools? If you surveyed a group of teachers, I think that situation in the cartoon above is probably the most common interaction we have with our parents. Does this really build the supportive collaborative relationship we area trying to encourage our students to develop with others as 21st Century Learners? As we revolutionize the education system we have to make sure we modify the parent/school relationship as well.

The more parents have hands on experiences with school, the more they become accepting of the changes we are trying to initiate in education. As someone who has gone away on school camps with parent helpers, I have seen first hand the appreciation parents develop for our work as they observe and ‘live’ what our job entails. Why don’t we replicate this “parent helper” experience more often in a classroom setting? These are just my initial thoughts and ideas for what we could do at schools. It’s a bit of a ‘What If?’ list that I invite others to contribute to.

1. What if we organize regular, timetabled, informal chats in the staff room for interested parents (limited numbers to keep it simple) before or after school to just share what’s going on in the classroom, the latest initiative your school is starting or a strategy or two you are developing that week?
Keep it to 15 minutes, just sitting around the table ( compulsory coffee in hand ), with no expectations to always be there but give parents an opportunity to hear some positive messages from the school and build a positive community relationship between parent and staff. I don’t want to cut into teacher downtime here but i don’t think 15 minutes once a month would kill us.

2. What if we create a blog that is open to parents, students and staff? 
Schools could share information about new initiatives taking place at school, post links to websites that explain what teachers are doing in the contemporary classroom, give access to websites that can help parents support their children in their learning. Of course this could happen through your typical school website but instead of static, rarely updated website, a blog would allow for two way communication and content contributions from everyone in the community, including student work to showcase the best of what the school can achieve. It would also allow for moderated discussions through comments and discussion boards so that parents could provide positive feedback to the student and ask reasonable questions directed to staff about the work being done.

3. What if we open up some of our staff PD to interested parents?
Most of us teachers are learning new ways of teaching these days. What if we did this learning alongside parents so that they could talk to us in real time about how their children are being taught today. Parents could then be informed participants in the traditional parent car park talks after school and let other parents in on the secrets of the school. It could be a part of a staff meeting, a student free day, a before school “techie brekkie”‘ or an off site conference with attendance open to anyone. It would mean less confusion about homework, less contradiction over “times tables” and more open communication between school and parent about teaching methods. Like everything else I am pondering here, it would have to be carefully thought through so there is no extra commitment for teachers and parents don’t overstep the mark on what is expected of them.

4. What if we bit the bullet and went for full Parent access with Edmodo?
For those who don’t know, Edmodo has a parent account that allows for access to their own child’s work on Edmodo and also allows for communication between child, parent and teacher. Not everyone uses this option ( we certainly aren’t yet ) but planned and implemented properly, this would provide an effective way for parents to track work and check in with their child’s teacher via an easy online service without any additional set up or planning.

5. (Staying old school without tech) What if we just made far better use of the old fashioned student diary?
If the student had the diary beside them all day every day, we could write comments about the work at the same time we record comments in our assessment records. I would be. Nice change for parents to read about the successes of the day rather than the usual reminders about school uniform and late homework issues. Of course, if the student was in a 1:1 iPad or laptop school, their diary could be in electronic form and the process could be far more streamlined.

6. What if digital portfolios or file books were accessible all year?
Too often in schools we keep all the work that children do throughout the year in folders, files, computer programs etc and don’t release them until the end of the year/semester/term for the parent teacher interviews. We stress over the the layout, the organisation of the work, how many stickers they have on their work, how attractive the published pieces are and so on. Why don’t we make it accessible to parents all year?

Digital or paper based, send it home every week, finished or not. This would make the parents aware of the progress their children are making on tasks and projects and also make the children more accountable for their work, knowing Mum and Dad are going to see it all the time. Parents would get used to seeing the real work their child does, not the artificial perfectly published work for display purposes only. It could place the need for unnecessary homework preparation – sharing the work done in class would allows for revision of work without having extra work to prepare or complete. Parents would know exactly what their child is doing before the formal interview and can be more active in dealing with issues before it’s too late. I would prefer it digital and easily accessible from school and home. Digital portfolios are more engaging, easier to maintain and build on and allows for online interaction between student, parent and teacher.

7. What if we have have more open days or evenings so parents can see their children in action with their teachers? Have an occasional late start/late finish day to accommodate the working parent and let the parents see first hand how their child is learning.

8. What if we have regular online surveys created for specific information we want to get fromparents? With all the online do-it-yourself survey tools available these days, this is a simple task and could be a way for parents to feedback to the school in a non threatening way.

In today’s always connected tech driven world, there is really no reason for parents to be out of the loop. School should be a 3 way partnership. We need to embrace relationships with parents to ensure the best possible results for our students. If we don’t communicate with each other we can’t expect miracles. All of these ideas would need to be carefully thought through and the expectations of parents need to be controlled but I think we need to be finding ways to share what’s happening at school and what we are doing with the children more effectively. It will never be 100% access either way but we can make a go of it.

What other what ifs can you think of? Am I expecting too much of teachers and parents for this to really happen? Let me know what you think. Join the conversation.

Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

20120422-070609.jpg

This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

20120422-071440.jpg

Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.

A break from iPad talk – Open letter to our Grade 5/6 students this year about Blogging

Ready to send to the students when school is back in the swing of things and Canberra Camp is over. What do you think?For teachers reading this, you may have already read something about blogging 7000 times on the Internet. Forgive me. Kids, this is for you.

Why do YOU write? Is it because you HAVE to? Is it because your teacher has to have a piece of writing by the end of the week so they can do your reports? Maybe it’s to show your teacher that you understand a topic. That’s a good reason. Sometimes you write to inform other children in the class about a topic you have researched. Another good reason. There are probably LOTS of reasons why we HAVE to write – we go to school!

Now put your hands up if you write because you WANT to. (pause to allow time for children to raise their hands before reading on). If you didn’t put your hand up, that’s OK. No doubt, you’re not alone there. I don’t always want to write. I think sometimes we don’t want to write because we see no purpose to it. ( Before we go any further, just want to remind you that at school, you still HAVE to write, OK? I am still a teacher after all.) Anyway, my point is I think a lot more of you would WANT to write if we could give you some good reasons to write. That’s why I want to talk to you about blogging.

Perhaps you don’t know what blogging is. Blogging is a writing publishing platform on the Internet that allows ANYONE to get their message across to the world. In other words, it gives you a world wide audience. You can share words, pictures, videos, animations, quizzes, polls – anything – and find out what other people think. There are obviously lots of rules we need to go through before we start this blogging thing but we’ll go through those later. Let’s just get back to blogging.

Here are my reasons why I think you should consider blogging.

Audience. Blogging means people other than your teacher, a couple of classmates in a conference and your parents when your file book comes home at the end of the term, get to see what you have to say. Think about that. A reason to write because others WANT to read it. A reason to write about your passions and interests that your teacher and Mum might not find interesting but 100s of children around the world find fascinating.

Sharing your knowledge. Guess what? You know stuff. It’s hard to let everyone know that sometimes when you have to stick to topics in class. When do you ever get the chance to share your knowledge of African capital cities? ( OK, Mr G, this isn’t about you, move on.) Or, your skills in playing a sport, your expertise in making animations? Blogging let’s you share this knowledge with others interested in the same thing. People learn from you and in return you may learn something you didn’t know. Since I’ve become interested in blogging I have learnt so much about Web tools, teaching methods, Maths and iPad ( yes, that’s right – I’ve learnt something from others about Maths and iPads. Shocking!) I’ve taught others too through my blog. It’s a nice feeling. And I want to keep doing it.

Purposeful homework. Your blog could be your homework. Teachers get to see it. Others, including your parents, get to see it. You can toss ideas around with your friends online to support each other. The dog can’t eat your homework! ( boo! Bad joke alert!)

Reflective thinking. “OK, so this is starting to sound like school work now, not writing because I want to.” I hear you say. But hear me out on this one. Seriously, you should WANT to think. It helps you learn and improve. Writing a blog gives you a chance to write down your thoughts. Spending the holidays starting my blog on iPads in Schools has really enabled me to clearly think through what I really believe. Without writing the blog, I would not have a clear plan in my head. I would not have come up with half the ideas if I hadn’t spent the time thinking and writing. Give reflective thinking a go. After a Maths class, spend some time writing about what you just went through. It will help, trust me.

Feedback and collaboration. At school, you get, at best, one chance a week to get some real feedback about your writing and thinking. If you’re lucky, your teacher will give you advice and 3 or 4 classmates in a conference might as well. On a blog, your writing is there for everyone to comment on. Your teacher, your friends, your family, a scientist from Germany, a sports coach from Brazil. Who knows? If it’s good, they’ll tell you why. If it needs work, a random student from the UK is more likely to give you honest feedback than your best friend will. Maybe other teachers from around the world will give you added feedback to support your teacher’s advice. It happens. You can also start up shared projects through your blog. It really can be a great opportunity if you want it to be.

It helps you feel good. Sometimes there has to be selfish reasons too. I have to be honest. I got a huge ego boost this week when I saw my blog appear on Google Search, Scoop-it and Zite Magazine’s Top Stories section on my iPad. Watching 33  countries’ flags appear on my blog and seeing the views counter tick over from 800 to 1400 overnight gave me a buzz. It’s a far better feeling than seeing your writing sitting on your teacher’s desk for a week or waiting 5 days for a response to an email you send to your colleagues. Knowing that other people want to read your work inspires you to want to do more. Especially when they tell you. So go ahead, kids. Do it for the attention… But do it well or you’ll lose your audience.

There are a lot more reasons for blogging than this but it’s a start. Of course we can’t do anything without the go ahead from school. There are a lot of rules and permissions and other important necessary stuff to go through before we can get started. You can get it going, though, if you tell us you really want to do it. So I ask you – do you want blog? There are massive numbers of kids out there on the Internet doing it right now. If you want to join them, let us know and we’ll see what we can get started.