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A funny thing’s happened at the farm. Firstly, strange messages started appearing on the walls in the barn. A few days later, students were given the shocking news that they had to not only read, but talk about Orwell’s Animal Farm. The farmer did come in and ‘yeah but’ a few things, but the animals didn’t bark or moo back.

Students remind me constantly that what they have learned this year in a web2.0 classroom, are skills and methods of learning – that boost learning. One example. Students chose one of several study themes while reading the book this week. So for instance, one theme is Napoleon, looking at power. They share a GoogleDoc with Napoleon, and answer the questions. Each day, the questions move onto 2 new chapters.

This was Lucy’s idea not mine – for the character in the book to be having the conversation with the student – about the content of the book – and as a formative tool. So the learning goes back and forth in a very conversational style.

The benefit, and perhaps the significant shift that technology brings – is that the conversation is instant and between teacher and student. It is not marking at all, it is a conversation and the teacher is able to push or pull the student to explore any ideas they have. The teacher is NOT asking all the questions, but posing questions that generate discussion. The learning comes from that discussion – no getting a question right a,b, or c.

GoogleDocs allows that to happen. It also gives the teachers an opportunity to share and work with students outside of the classroom setting, where peer pressure and ‘its not cool to read a book’ might otherwise stop boys asking questions. But in the classroom is not silly-boyish behavior, over what many 9th grade boys would cite as ‘boring’ .. why are we reading this old book about stupid animals.

Why is not a question that immediately comes to mind for them now. As they know that the answer will not be simple enough to be given to them.

I think that is what schools need to see happen. Students learning that there is often no single answer and that even if there was, then they know how to challenge it – not simply accept it as truth because the teacher is the one with both the questions and answers. Technology enables but does not determine this learning.

Perhaps from a social media perspective – the most significant ‘observation’ I’ve had is that students no only shared their document with the teacher (who remains anonymous throughout the week), but with several of their friends. There is discussion about the book at school. Not teacher led but student lead. GoogleDocs is being used in a way that negates asking ‘class questions’ at all, so even though they are sharing, each only has ‘their answers’ which are related to others, but in no way singularly satisfies the teachers question.

This promotes more sharing, and more discussion. It leads to clarification, and the teachers are now being asked to have a book-group in lunch times. Some read, some listen, some GoogleDoc.

As they know there is more creative work to do next week, they also know that in someway, just as the pictures appeared in the barn, that reading and talking about Animal Farm must in someway link to what comes next.

Right at the center of this project is not a book, or a GoogleDoc – it is a natural conversation between tutor and learner – in which the teacher does not have to have or offer all the answers, but also pose questions – based on what the student is saying. It is a wonderful dialogue. Part digital, part face to face. Almost fireside at times.

Each teacher has the opportunity to explore the text with each student. GoogleDocs affords massive accountability to the student and teacher. It’s a living document, showing the relationship between teacher and learner. The students automatically ‘shared’ those conversations with other students. Not to copy, but to compare. Very little activity is given over to list, identify questions. The entry point is compare and it rises from there.

I think that finally, I’ve found a significant lens to say that I know what makes collaborative projects work in the classroom. There is a balance between mystery, interest, accountability and propaganda. As I end my time here, it do hope that I can continue to look at media literacy based learning with Lucy. But then these days, we never really leave do we.

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