The last two weeks have been hectic to say the least and as I sit down now to reflect a bit about them I am exhausted, yet exhilarated. My practice has clearly shifted over the last few weeks and my students instantly took notice. Comments ranged from “you’re happier since you came back from that Conference thing (ConnectEd)” to “this project was a lot more work than a book report, but I learnt a lot more investigating my book and explaining to others why I loved it”. I would like to share just a few minor things that I have done since coming back from ConnectEd, but I must say that this by no means is where I want to be (in terms of my practice) and I am aware of the amount of growth/learning that I still want/need to do in order to feel like I am a better learner and teacher.
1) Blogging- I knew that it would be difficult to incorporate full-blown blogging into my classroom with little over three weeks of classes left, so I decided that my Health 7′s year-end portfolio would be a compilation of blog posts about their skills/talents/short and long-term goals.
Issue #1: I just learnt how to blog myself and have no idea which are the best ones to use.
Solution #1: Conversations within my room with students, as well as conversations through twitter with colleagues I decided that blogger or kidblog would be sufficient for what I had in mind. I also had to explain to my students what blogging was and why we as a class should use it. I found many useful blog sites (http://photomatt7.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/reasons-to-blog/ & http://mrspripp.blogspot.ca/2011/10/why-students-should-blog-my-top-10.html) that I used to help facilitate the conversations in my classroom. I also found a great teachertube video (http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=12423) that helped give them a quick 101 run-down of what a blog is.
Issue #2: Parents who were scared of having their child “exposed” on the internet, which is more than a valid concern considering the students are 12-13 years old.
Solution #2: I chose kidblog, which allowed me to create a secure blog site where only students who signed in could access/read/respond to their classmates work. The only problem with this is the leg-work. I had to make numerous phone calls to parents regarding the safety of the site, as well as describing the “academic merit” of such an activity (online portfolios). Those are not easy questions to answer, but I found by being upfront and honest with them about the risks, and discussing the benefits (students encountering new technologies and building new relationships with others based on similar interests/goals) parents were more than willing to say yes. They just wanted assurance that I would be taking care of their children.
Issue #3: Ensuring my students had an understanding of cybersafety (even if we were only using kidblog) and understanding what it meant to be a respectful, 21st century digital citizen.
Solution #3: This was an area where I know I COULD and WILL do more in the future. However, with the help of some twitter friends who shared their cyber-responsibility page with me: http://superspaghettis.wordpress.com/category/blogging/ (superspaghettis blog) and some youtube cyber safety videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgCNGvL0g1g&feature=related) the students realized that they needed to be careful when posting/sharing any information about themselves online and they needed to be considerate when posting comments/feedback to their peers blog posts.
In the end, my students each had the opportunity build a “mini-online portfolio” that shared their hobbies, skills/talents, training and goals with their classmates. The outcome was a bit staggering to witness (at least for me), with students comments (both virtually and verbally across the room) ranging from “hey I never knew you volunteered there, I go there Saturday’s. Do you want to come with me?” to “wow, I could totally see you as a Vet because you’re always talking about how much you love your pets.”
I found the Health 7 portfolio project lent itself nicely to building up peer relationships within my classes (as I did the kidblog with both my of my classes) and I found that blogging was a beneficial way for the students to recognize what it means to give meaningful feedback both verbally and virtually. Each class was filled with excitement and electricity as students wrote out their posts and waited expectantly for feedback from their peers. My students also finally saw me as a “co-learner” because I didn’t know all the answers, in fact many of my students became the teacher, because they were more familiar with blogging than I was. It was a great introduction to what blogging could be like in my classroom. I cannot wait to use it in more in-depth (cross-curricular connections) in the future.
2) Literary Kiosks- The idea for this project came after a tweet I made asking about creating a book report that incorporated technology. One of the most influential tweets I received back came from @Neilstephenson who said that I should focus on WHAT I WANTED THE STUDENTS TO LEARN (what did I want them to demonstrate). This comment stuck with me because it made me realize that all the technology in the world wouldn’t make the project a success if I (and my students) didn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted them to LEARN. I realized I wanted them to demonstrate a passion for a book they had read this year, and I wanted to incorporate all six strands of the AB ELA curriculum into it. At this time, a dear twitter friend @wheninromeci said that she had done a literary project with her elementary kids and offered to share it with me. After reviewing her project and realizing how I could modify it to meet the needs of my students I set forth on the journey of encouraging my students to create a kiosk that demonstrated to others their passion and understanding of their book.
This project helped me realize how I want my future classes to look like. The students were asked to share their book of choice with an audience (which ended up being parents, staff, and other classes from the building) and they were asked to demonstrate a proficiency in a number of areas: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing.
The first class I was met with resistance, and understandably so. The students were unreceptive to “more work”, as they saw it. I understood the resistance, because up until this point I had only ever focused on getting them to demonstrate a proficiency of curricular outcomes through writing assignments. Now, I was asking them to do some writing, as well as create and design something that was interactive, informative and creative, which would essentially breathe “life” into their book.
To soften the blow of this project, I shared with my class a video @gcouros shared via a tweet. The video is called Validation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao) and before I showed it to my class I asked them to think about WHY I would show them a video like this. The video was met with a lot of eye-raising and some muffled chuckling, but at the end when I asked the WHY question I was stunned by their response. “You showed this to us because you believe in us and you think we’re ‘awesome’.” BOOM! They got the message loud and clear from a short video, which I would never have been able to convince them of before. I reaffirmed their comment by saying that if I didn’t think they could be successful at this, I would not have challenged them to do it.
At that moment the attitude within my room shifted dramatically. The students’ outlook on the project completely shifted. The students who typically “sign out” were not only engaged, but were asking for help, discussing the different aspects of the project with their peers and sharing their excitement with other students in the building. At that moment, I finally realized the importance of validation and encouragement.
- Literary Kiosk in my classroom… crowded!
The two days when the literary kiosks were presented were two of the proudest moments I have had thus far in my teaching career. The students blew my mind. Their individuality, passion and understanding for a novel came shining through in a way that NO simple book report could have ever demonstrated. The energy in my classroom was crazy and OUR NERVES and FEARS were at an all time high. I remember thinking: “Please allow the students to have the opportunity to speak to an audience other than myself”. I had spent many hours talking with parents about the project, and had sent out many emails to my staff asking for their support in this project. Both days, my heart was filled with such gratitude and appreciation for parent involvement and for staff participation. My students were also blown away that people would come to see what they had learnt.
- Student Literary Kiosk on the book “Heartland”
In essence… the two attempts I have made at “trying” new inquiry and technology-infused projects in my classroom were successful. I’m aware that this might not always be the case… but I am looking forward to the challenge.