Where did the work go?

What do parents think when their kids school really starts delivering on the promise of 21st Century Pedagogy? Not the end result, when they sit the exams, but right here right now. There is a possible issue if we don’t effectively communicate what happened to their work. As parents, we soon learn from primary years, that our kids get homework. We are keen to see them doing it, and keen to help them if we can. That homework used to come in a familiar book. In our school, kids also write their homework in an official diary. Parents are instructed to sign it, so they know that we’re giving them work to do.

This, to parents, is what learning looks like. A physical book, a record and observable activity somewhere between getting home and bed time. If you then start getting kids to work online, then the line becomes really blurred. There is less observable evidence, and therefore parents become concerned that their child is ‘doing less’ and therefore may be ‘learning less’.

Communicating a radical shift in the process we’ve been insisting on for a long time, must lead to some concern. For example : I have a project running with 156 kids all working online in their current project.

This is a massive shift, and we’re working hard to embed reflective, critical literacy inside the project. Writing in a community, reflecting on their learning is a critical 21st century skill, and doing it on this scale poses teachers with a very different pedagogical challenge. How do we co-ordinate feedback ‘visibly’, so that parents can ‘see’ what their kids are doing, and how their teachers are supporting this.

One way is to ensure that parents get the URL and get to observe, not just the work, but the collaboration, success, frustration and creativity that as teachers, we see, but couldn’t before give parents a value added shared experience.

Secondly, we encourage teachers to reflect on the week, using the same scaffold that we are modeling to students. It also helps with the comment challenge. If we comment too much, we are overtly interfering with the very ethos of project based learning. If we don’t comment enough, then we are seen as apathetic – doing little more than ticking off the event of posting a journal entry.

I am encouraging, and modeling, the idea of teachers using a weekly post in their page of ‘Ning’. It is an opportunity to show kids that we are learners too, and that we are listening to them. It is also a powerful way to ‘weave’ the learning scaffold – by referencing the work of kids using hyperlinks. Rather than say ‘It been great to see students understanding the project’ – we can hyperlink a few words to a few examples of what we are talking about – so we are evidencing teaching success and student support.

In a class this week I gave an example of how blogging communities give students more opportunity to demonstrate their learning than can be done in our normal mode of operation.

I asked the class a question. Immediately, a dozen hands went up, and kids all started pulling the usual faces to catch my attention – in the hope they would be selected to answer it. So I asked the teacher – “what happens to the other 11 kids, how do they feel at the very moment we make our selection”.

We empower one student and de-motive 11, that seems like a stupid thing to do. But thats how classroom questioning works. But in a classroom blogging community – every kid gets to answer it. Not only that, the kids are asking the questions, and teaching each other.

So I really think that teachers need to consider the effects of moving their classrooms online. Sure the parents like the idea that their kids are online-savvy – but they don’t really know what that means or looks like. Its critical to consider the implications to parent confidence when the ‘books’ and ‘worksheets’ suddenly stop being the normal method of evidencing activity. As kids don’t communicate what they are doing on the computer much of the time, there is a real risk that we loose some degree of confidence.

Giving parents the URL, allowing them to see the work in the community and being able to see what the teacher is thinking about, what they are doing reflectively – significantly changes the communication channels and the relationship that parents have with teachers. I think it is a great move away from the passive nature of parent-teacher relations – but equally some teachers are not going to be too happy about being ‘outed’.

Just an observation following a parent comment this week – “I am not sure he is studying as much as he used to”.

2 thoughts on “Where did the work go?

  1. I echo your sentiments regarding the physical v digital nature of children’s work and how it needs to be thought through carefully.

    It becomes an even greater challenge when the children are online more at school than at home – for various reasons including socio-economic. How do you show parents the act of learning when one of the only ways is sharing a URL on a computer or internet connection they haven’t got?

    It’s not impossible of course – but it becomes a greater challenge.

  2. I have had similar concerns from a Primary School perspective Dean. We provide release from face to face teaching in the form of ICT lessons. When we started, in order to give the teachers and parents an insight into what is happening for these lessons, I made class blogs & wikis as simple ‘newsletters’ for the younger grades.( & ‘basic’ digital portfolios for want of a better description). I know this takes away the whole concept of what these tools are for….but in terms of ‘audience’ these stakeholders needed ‘quantitive’ results in order to see any value in the lessons. Unfortunately in Primary schools, kids on computers can still be seen as simply ‘playing’.

    I liked your example of the ‘hands up’ questioning.
    In the higher grades it has been easier to begin creating ‘learning communities’ & we have some enthusiastic teachers who embrace this concept, lately welcoming the parents into their ‘spaces’.

    We will continue to try and develop better learning communities…I know podcasts & other tools can be used with younger students who are still developing their communication skills. I am still grappling though with how to share all the work our students do online with parents & teachers.

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