Animal Farm 2.0 – Reading and Talking in Google Docs

In my previous post, I talked about the balance and opportunity between instructional learning and inquiry (or project based learning).

My last project with Lucy Gresser in Project Based Learning at my school.

I was a real attempt at combining the two methods of learning. If you’ve not read the other posts on Animal Farm, then here’s the gist of part one of the project.

The students were charged with reading the novel in a week, in preparation for a second week of learning about creative writing. At the end of the second week, they work collaboratively to write a 7000-8000 word novel in groups of 6 in a day using Google Docs and Blurb’s Booksmart application.

These 9th grade students did not know what the second week project woud be about, whilst reading Animal Farm – but they knew it was connected somehow.

Lucy is an amazing teacher, and I’d put my kids in her charge without hesitation. She demonstrates what I think are the critical characteristics of a 21C teacher – and engages and enthuses students and uses technology fluidly to connect with students.

Part of the task, for students to select an online group – in which they would talk to a character in the book – who asks them questions – Each day, the character asks a few questions on each chapter as the student progresses – using Google Docs. The ‘teacher’ is blind to know who the teacher is online – though they do know their classroom teacher – so in effect many students online teacher was not their face to face one.

We wanted to create a feeling of a third space, in which students would undertake conversational learning. They would debate the classroom discussion online, and answer questions that we not set ahead of time. Whatever topics the students raised, the teacher expanded upon – we didn’t want the teacher to be the ‘expert’ in the conversation – so took the approach of using the various characters of the book as the students online conversational tutor.

This is a link to a PDF file of the Google Doc ‘learning’ conversation that took place over the week. The teacher comments are in green, the student’s are in black. I would really like comments on what you see going on here – in contrast to ‘instructional’ learning only.

Feedback on the approach and what you see in the document is much appreciated. How has the student reacted to online conversations, is it effective learning, do you see him grow in his understanding of the text and wider issues? How?

Thanks!

Animal Farm 2.0 – Reading and Sharing

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.

Graphic-a-day #5 – I’m Engaged

Engaged Learners are active in making sense of the world – through media literacies.

They are not listing, identifying or seeking, but collectors (delicious), critics (comments), creators (youtube), phototogaphers (nokia), composers (garage band), joiner (facebook).

The pace of change has not yet been matched within education-especially higher education. We need curriculum leadership that values flexibility over rigidity, and process over content.

Media Literacy should be a core component of all school learning frameworks.

Yet with our complex system of faculties and departments, courses and units, curricula and assessment, we offer students little control over their own learning. We should be discovering which are the most effective way of using technology to facilitate learning and building classroom practice from the student outwards.

The NSW Quality Learning Framework promotes

  • Intellectual quality
  • Quality learning environment
  • Significance

These are very ’rounded’ desires. As a parent, I am not sure these things are anything less that I expect from the educational system. Whilst some schools are still preparing to adopt the aims identified in the QLF, the Rudd government has released proposals that transcend many of the ‘desires’ of the older framework. Specifically, greater ‘online’ learning.

Online Learning is in itself a complex notion – do they mean ‘learning management systems’ or facebook? However the original NSW QLF is far less specific about technology than the federal government is.

The Howard Government’s was cited as having a lack of investment and passive approach to technology. Rudd’s ‘digital revolution’ has been labeled ‘too ambitious’ by the NSW Teaching Federation and the Department of Education – who deliver on the QLF. By 2012, over 16,000 of teachers will retire anyway – placing the burden on higher education to deliver ever greater levels of ‘tech savvy’ teachers.

Darcy Moore describes the problem.

“As you know we have been concentrating on professional development and introducing systems to support digital learning. We really need leadership at the moment and expectations are not being met”

Engaging students through ‘frameworks’ is problematic using 20th Century management strategies. The ‘lag’ between policy and adoption is getting bigger. We need to be brave and clear about what ‘online’ means. Engaged online means active online, not spectators – for everyone – not just students.

Animal Farm 2.0 – How to

Just spent a fantastic day off and on with Lucy Gresser, who is part of our PLP leading teacher project team. Lucy is one of the most creative, democratic and inspiring teachers in the schools Project Based Learning. She has an absolute passion for English which resonates with her students. I constantly think as a parent – what kind of teacher do I want my kids to know – and Lucy is exactly that.

So we’ve modeled a two week descriptive writing project today and going to try and share how this collaborative project works, and maybe give people some idea of what I consider 21C practice.

Why? Well at the end of very interesting week in which I was asked to ‘describe what it is I do’ in my role as LTST. It’s hard to explain something like this to people who really don’t have a context for it, suffice to say, this is not what LTST does as far as I know. Confused? Yeah, me too.

This is what I do because I hope teachers will do with my own kids in the future.

Overview

Once again, we’ve opted for ‘classless’ grouping of students. I am a massive believer in the ‘collaborative discourse’ community approach to learning.

This means we have 6 teachers working with 160 students – online, but in class, 2 teachers work with about 55 students in two hour blocks – in one room. In this way we blend learning between virtual and face to face.

Components

The project runs over 2 weeks.

Technology

  • it is a digital storytelling set up.
  • It uses reflective writing as formative assessment
  • final product and presentation as a summative assessment.

The first stage is the entry document and project launch – and that is very important. The initial introduction of the project needs to create plenty of questions in the minds of students. As we move through the project, the teacher’s role is to scaffold the learning – to navigate students though ‘way points’ – from the syllabus. How they get to those is largely the students choice.

Preparing the project

To get to the launch – there is preparation. That I did using Second Life. Quite by chance as it happens. One goal of the project is to prevent students ‘creating graphics’ – but to focus on reading and writing. We know that we also need to general visual scaffold and stimulus material in reaching our end product and I’ve been thinking about that. How to make it interesting, but not schooly.

I was talking with Jo Kay, Al Upton and Leigh Blackall at the tail end of a small event – and Leigh got talking about the changes in graphic themes and styles that is maturing in lots of Second Life builds now. Lots of this is soft, organic and a kind of steam punk/manga feel. Korean and Japanese designers are often ellustive to talk to, but they are creating some amazing visual effects and spaces with that are edgy and at the same time highly detailed.

Once such space Jo took us to was JAPAN : Tempura Island. As anyone who knows me, I am an Art Director by trade – so I love to look at the technics of builds. Tempura Island is outstanding.

As we looked about, I took ‘photos’. These images show lots of interaction between characters, elements of nature, man made items etc.,

I was using SL to create a portfolio of images that the students will use as part of their final work – where they will produce descriptive writing.

There are 3 reasons for this. 1. The students respond to this type of ‘gamer’ visual representation. 2. It is very easy to do and 3. It provides the students with a ‘core’ visual stimulus to work around – in what will be a single day of final work.

Observations

Collaborative Web2.0 projects have greater impact if they are broken down into fast and furious hands on activities – followed by more sedate reflection. There has to be a degree of pressure and urgency in the task to push the students in the task – but well resourced so that the distance between a thoughts and a ‘win’ is not too far and reinforced through reflection via Google Docs. The book itself is a class text – but we also provide a Google Books link to the online text, but we want students to go home and READ.

Process

Week 1 uses Moodle and Google Docs.
Week 2 uses Google Docs, Blurb and the images from Second Life, via a Flickr account.

The reason for this lies in the formative assessment tools developed to support this format of learning.

Formation of Groups

  1. We created 6 ‘themes’ for the final product. For example, ‘Equality’.
  2. Each theme is presented to students as a 50 word ‘outline’.
  3. This gives an ‘idea’ of what the end product might entail – but by no means exhaustive – it is named and described to create curiosity.
  4. 160 students are broken down into 7 groups. 6 groups are ‘mainstream’ and 1 group is hand picked based on differentiated needs or students that are identified as needing ‘special help from past performance’.
  5. Moodle is used to form the groups. Here’s how we do that – We open the themes for online enrolment. First in bessed dressed is the way we do it. Kids opt into 1 chosen theme on that basis. They do not know who the ‘teacher’ is who is mentoring the group online. This stops kids trying to get with their mates or hooking into the ‘best worker’ groups – as they fill up fast – and kids soon learn that if they want their pick, then they’d better get on, else that group gets filled out.
  6. Group names. We used ‘Snowball’, etc, to name the study groups – rather than a classname. This again is there to build curiosity and links to the text.
  7. Google Docs – We created 7 Gmail Acccounts for each group. Students invite their mentor – using the given gmail address – to share their individual documents for the project. This makes it simple – and private for teachers.

So at the end of formation, kids have chosen a group, set up a Google Doc and shared it with a teacher – via a special email address. Each teacher will have about 26 shared documents to work with.

Its important to note that the kids in their Google Group – may not actually be in their class. This means that the kids they teach face to face may or may not include those they teach online. This ensure’s teacher buy in and also is a stragic way of norming Google Docs in professional development.

The strategy behind this : The kids are selecting the topic, and have no bias to the teacher and visa versa. The teachers we involved in the process of choosing the ‘theme’ from Animal Farm that they want to teach. This is a strong bargain.

Week 1

Reading is not a normal 9th grade activity. Reading a whole book in a short space of time is even less so. In week one, the students read the 100 pages or so of Animal Farm – which is made of 10 chapters. Our expectation in the classroom is simply reading. 2 chapters a day in class/home. At the end of the lesson the teacher asks one question – relating to the text. This formative assessment is based on comprehension and communication, and equates to 30% of the end mark. The teacher has the ability to vary the question – depending on how they feel the previous responses were made.

I think that it is critical – in 21C learning, that we leverage the teaching experience and skills of staff – and not dictate inflexible lesson planning.

Students respond to each question (2 per day) using Google Docs – together with the a reflective addition – “things I wonder about right now”.

During the first week, the students are learning that sustained, personal reading is valuable. The teachers can allow quiet reading – or model reading with all or some of the students in break out groups.

We are not seeking to explore Animal Farm in a historical context – that is another project. We are also aiming to use scaffold thier comprehension though rising taxonomy as the week progresses.

Week 2 – Descriptive Writing

The first lesson is 2 hours. In the first hour, we show them one image from the Tempura set. In the hour they are asked to write a descriptive text. A saga. So they need to research that. More specifically, they have to write a 50 word saga. This is a soft exposure to descriptive writing – and an introduction of the final assessment criteria. This is 10% weighted and sumbmitted via Moodle. Most kids will nail this – and its really important to start ‘new’ projects with ‘easy wins’.

In the second hour, the kids are given a ‘writing brief’, and watch a short video. This is just an Animoto – using the 6 themes and images from Tempura. This is called the entry document. This informs them of what they will do to create their final product – but at this point the have little idea how to reach the goal.

The end product is a book using Blurb – and the images supplied from Tempura.

  • Each book is a collection of short stories.
  • There are 6 chapers. The chapters are based on the themes and the Google Doc Groups.
  • Each chapter has three short stories (one per student).
  • The story is constructed around the images – and the themes that they chose at the outset – taken from those in Animal Farm – so there is immediate meta-cognition for the students to scaffold from.

This is where collaboration returns. In the first week, they worked in a Google Doc Group as individuals, now they need to work together, so each book is produced by taking 3 students from each theme.

During the week, the teacher models the descriptive writing process. For example a teacher may ask students to write an alternative last chapter for Animal Farm or perhaps the first chapter of a sequel. Again this is open to the teacher to decide.

The end product

Using Blurb, the students produce a short story of 800-1000 words – on a single day. For example, they may create a story called ‘Julies crisis’ – their contribution to the chapter. In effect it means that we have a ratio of 1 teacher to 15 students during the writing day. They will have to use Google Docs to submit an outline by a deadline – which will be graded, then the majority of the day given over to writing.

The final product is the assembly of the book itself – largely a cut and paste task from Google Docs.

Students then submit their final work as a .pdf file into Moodle to time and date stamp it.

Evaluation and Real World relevance

I like everything to have a real world aspect in learning. We’ll invite an external ‘friend’ to read the books and to select a ‘winner’. Each student will then get a copy of the book using Blurb as a hard copy. Each book is then evaluated and feedback given to students.

This gives them incentive – the chance to have a quality portfolio piece  – A professionally produced book, with cool illustrations containing 8000 words on average.

In addition to this, we will offer each of the books for purchase online. Students are invited to consider how to market their work, and as a default position, they will be offered for sale to parents and community using PayPal or Blurbs ecommerce engine via the schools website or their personal blogs.

Summary

I think that giving students not only the opportunity to write a book at the age of 14/15 – but also to sell that book to everyone and anyone is poweful. The proceeds of sale go to the authors. We often talk about each of us having a printing press – but in this case I think its important to show them that not only can they complete this task – but you can put a value on the work.

Designing a project is FUN. Its fairly manic – and we constantly are looking to encourage some activities – and negate others. For example, there is no value to a student in attempting to Google any element of the project and there is not opportunity to move away from reading and writing. There is no ‘graphic design’ and so no need to worry about ‘design’ or allow students to ‘bling up’ their work – that is not the focus.

To me being a 21C Educator is not about delivering ‘content’ but developing learners to achieve authentic goals using technology. This kind of project, and working with teachers like Lucy to unpack ‘how they learn’ not ‘what they learn’ is the difference between so many teachers, but anyway – this is what I do (or did).

If you want to know more, talk about it, comment on it – then I’m more than happy to do so!

The power of reflective practice


This is a thread from a current 9th grade project that is drawing to a close. You’d think that as most kids have presented and handing in their project that activity in the Study Group would be slowing down. So I was suprised to see the sudden appearance of a forum topic :

ITS OVER- DID U LIKE IT OR MEH?

What is even more powerful is that fact that it clocked up over 120 comments in a day or so. There are a percentage of students that really benefitted and understood the purpose of being in a reflective writing community, a number of others, saw it as work – lots of work. The reality is that it wasn’t ‘work’ as in a task.

I don’t encourage ‘marking’ blogs. I think that that approach gives the impression that being a reflective, individual learner is tied to a ‘task’ and then in turn a ‘judgment’.

Here’s an example of why:

1 more thing based to my perspective i also think that the blogs weren’t really necessary even though it helps the teachers to see what we are learning i just reckon the affect they have on our marks was just to much cause we had quite a percentage coming out of them so yea. BLOGS = NO GOOD.

They understand that blogging helps teachers to help them – but they don’t want this to be a measuring tool. When designing a project, this writing is put into the rubric as ‘participation and work effort’. This means that the student is left to judge how many posts, when to post and what to post. The biggest single motivator is peer pressure, explicit and implicit.

Designing a project, and then facilitating it collaboratively works better when it is large group. But that means you have to know how to do it, manage it and lead it – online. That isn’t something you are going to pick up unless it is extensively modeled and supported.

This seems a little odd in comparison to what Shirky talks about as the ‘tragedy of the commons’ – in which he argues that when more than 5 people come together, getting a concensus agreement is very difficult. As you add more people, it becomes even more complex.

By using a large group in an discource community it becomes easier. Students work in micro-groups, but when they are writing as individuals, they are drawing knowledge and motivation from the macro-group.

Tanuj you said “projects in PBL r never fun but its r imagination and creativity that make it fun……. ”

I have found some projects to be fun including the designing digital media (photoshop car) project, our current animation project, and even the images of Jesus project, mainly because of the photoshop aspect, and best of all SPJ!!, just to mention a few.

This student obviously enjoys learning ‘mastery skills’, but never the less does engage in the macro discourse.

Comment by Charbel Assaf 1 day ago Tanuj, what are you tallking about?
Anyway i have to agree with all of comments made. I think thay all made a valid point. But I do have to agree with Gabby. I commented Mr. Henry’s blog and told him the same thing. I think we should of used a better program. As in our need to know list stated, ‘Which It program should we use,’ I think we should of been given the chance to choose a program, not just be forced to use one of the teachers choice. Anyway its all good. But overall I sort of did enjoy the project, I have to say this project was better than previous projects.

This student is talking about how he feels empowered to give a teacher a comment about being able to select alternate technologies – as he’s identified, in agreement with others, that they he thinks he knows a better way and is able to justify reasons for that. As these students have been ‘pushed’ to write reflectively about their own learning, and draw on the macro learning – after only a few weeks, we are seeing them being critical of not just their own work, but how they learn.

That to me is evidence that EdTech can work for both students and teachers. To be able to design projects strategically to get these reactions is at least as important as meeting outcomes/standards – which is where they begin to talk about their past experiences.

Id love do secondlife and us it as a tool to help our knowledge of the new technology we have in this new aged world also it would be a good tool for , to be houst it was quit boring but secondlife would make it funner.

This is addressing that a presentation or product looks like.

Yes, i would agree with you Reece, i would of liked to use Second Life as a tool in order to succeed my project by getting a A or B. I think that this is a great idea Reece, it would of been alot better in my opinion, so i could show you fellow students what i think Westmead can look like instead of copy and pasting information and solar panels,water tank’s etc.

Here are two students discussing the benefit of the ‘tool’ (their language). They are comparing using Photoshop to doctor images in 2D with being able to create them in 3D. The see a value in it.

They also check what we are checking …

Mr Hays, if I was you, I would have checked that comment more thoroughly before submitting it when your talking about spelling errors because I know the first thing I did after reading it was to go over it and search for spelling errors, and I am sorry to say but I found two. (not to be a smart ass but I found it quite funny)

But even that is an opportunity for an English teacher to get involved and re-address the learning.

Well Reece you need to check YOUR spelling of YOUR.. it should be YOU’RE as you are saying when you’re talking about spelling..

The last two are probably one of the most important. In an online community, you have to relinquish power. You have to accept that there is an ebb and flow of communication, language and hierarchy that probably has never existed before – and that challenges teachers as it is a fundamental shift in pedagogy.

I think that is the same for this project for social studies. Previously, you would have been given a series of broadsheets discussing spatial inequality in some part of Australia that you have never heard of or ever been too. However, in this project you were able to apply your knowledge to something real that you see every day. We learn by doing!

This is talking about the cartesian learning verses collaborative learning in a discource community. But they also notice their perception of how engaged the teachers are with them – and they know what that engagement has a direct impact on their learning.

one thing I notice is that 9.3/9.4 teachers are not using ning as much as the others? could be the reason why the other classes are head of us? :s

9.3/9.4 teachers should be up equal with the other class teachers because 9.3/9.4 are so far behind… Its not fair on the students..

I was asked how we should deal with comments like the last two? – Should we close the thread? I argue not. I think that there is a right of reply offered, and that during the process, teachers had equal opportunity – at least in class. If a proportion of the learning is in Second Life – then go to Second Life, if another is in Ning, then work in Ning – it exposed the embedded notion that learning is linked to geographic proximity when it should be linked to a ‘zone of proximity learning’.

EdTech is about designing ‘projects’ that draw out learners in multiple ways – to make reflection authentic as well as making the project authentic. I am really over people talking about ‘tools’ and ‘possibilities’. I dont know what is not possible right now – so that’s what I want to learn from the inter-webs and other teachers – but I want to see it, be involved in it – not listen to camp fire tales.

This is what I am looking forward to in the Powerful Learning Project – the engagement. And what I want to see happen is that the frameworks created and lessons learned are not talked about later – but work shopped and unconferenced later – to me PLP’s value is to take it on the road in Australia and NZ. We really need it!

Final Word on this : Here’s a tip for ALL VENDORS – get people an/or kids in a room and let them work with the technology – Employ an EdTech to show you what your stuff can REALLY do – You’ll sell more stuff and create better teachers and learners – email me: I’ll show you how to end the digital winter and discussions around ‘what will it do in the classroom’. You’re missing the opportunity! (But I’ve been listening to Kid Rock all week, so yeah I’m cocky).

Engaging Reflective Writers

Reflective writing is different to other types of academic writing that students are more commonly required to do in thier studies. Students using technology will often complain about doing it initially, especially if they have been engaged in primarily ‘seek and report’ activities.

Reflective writing challenges students. They may well spend time ‘researching’ aka Googling, but a well constructed ‘reflective writing group’, cannot simply copy and paste ‘content and information’ without having to justify why it applies to the context, situation or problem.

As this is often new to high school students, I have found the following scaffold effective – to get students writing. As they become effective at using this structure, I then add more ‘structures’ – using different questioning strategies to challenge them further. Initially though, I keep it really simple. This allows me to oil-dip some basic literacy and get a sense of the student as a writer.

  • What you were learning about/to do
  • Where you think that learning experience (not just content) puts you in the particular task
  • How does the completion of this task affect your overall goal
  • What are your next steps
  • Do you have any questions

The hallmarks of reflective writing

  • The writing is about you. Your thoughts, your feelings and your learning journey in a course or task
  • The language used in reflective writing includes words like ‘I’; ‘my’; ‘I felt’; ‘I think’.
  • It can start with a description of the learning before moving into reflection of the learning
  • It is less structured than academic writing, but requires a clear articulation of your thoughts.
  • Reflective writing illustrates a ‘continuum of development’. It shows personal growth and development. It shows how you have linked your new experiences to existing knowledge and used this to move forward. It captures the strategies you used to deal with issues in your learning.

Blogs and reflective writing

  • Blogs are like online diaries, each piece of writing is called a ‘post’.
  • The organising structure is the date.
  • Blogs can be interactive and colourfull and besides text can include videos, sound, photographs and links.
  • They provide an archive of posts, all of which can be easily edited whenever you choose.
  • Your teacher can see when you write and can provide you with feedback via comments linked to your post
  • Blogs can be assessed by looking at the quality of reflection the student demonstrates and secondly how the student optimises the functionality of the blogging tool.
  • Allows the teacher and student to engage in meaningful discussion beyond the walled garden of their school or classroom
  • Blogs tell the reader, what you are learning about, where you are in the project (by learning this), where you are going next.

This reflective writing needs an audience – and I’ve previously posted my thoughts on writing communites – but I was asked today to outline a basic framework of what I am teaching in the classroom – that works.

Authentic Applied Learning using Ning

The power of working in a Web2.0 discourse community to me, is the speed at which students adapt to it’s technical processes – which leads to almost a ‘fast forward’ in terms of their writing skills. These shots are from our Geography and English project, Green Up 2145.

But we don’t mark it!.

For example, a teacher might ask students to ‘define’ Spatial Inequality. In this project, that is indeed one of the concepts that students need to know about. Their findings however are not 4/10 or 9/10, they are stepping stones to much deeper application and justification in a wider discourse.

In this project, the aim is to teach students about geography, environment and writing for an audience. The first image shows the first reflective writing by a student, when they are first introduced to the project. Notice that title of the post – it’s just how kids are used to answering questions for teachers. They write 1,2,3,4,5 etc., as they see that the requirement to answer is based on a prediction of sequential tasks to come.

By writing and modelling in a discourse community, the student learns not just content, but how to write reflectively incorporating that content into the wider ‘driving question’.

The students are preparing to write a comment on the Australian Green Party’s blog. To do this, they need to have a solid vocabulary and be able to interpret the language of the Green Party, to their learning, and the local issues.

This is of course is quite different to using a text book – as the Green’s constantly blog about issues – so our students are in a shifting conversation not a static one. In just a few weeks the students have moved from recounts to some very reflective and targeted writing. They are starting to voice – and justify – their opinions.

One thing I have noticed is how they are referencing the project itself as a framework for developing personal views. The language they use is more technical.

They also start discussions. These have included: ‘Should we start a wiki‘ – as a few identified that Ning is not the best ‘organiser’ of information; can we create an interactive presentation using Second Life? – as they are thinking about what a presentation could be. They are thinking about how best to represent their learning.

We are also seeing students working from a central idea suggested by the teacher – and working out into related concepts and issues, such as the one above. They are now far less interested in trying to used Google to define:term – but to research the term, then apply it from a personal perspective.

This is my ‘thing’ right now – how to create frameworks for learning – using ICTs – in which students can’t Google the solution. The idea of applying knowledge as opposed to gathering information. I’m also trying to expose the ‘copy and paste’ approach as the wrong approach.

By developing a framework for students to work in such as Ning, and focusing on this as more than ‘blogging’, I really thing (and see) how quickly students who develop as writers and learners – both in school – but more importantly after school.To do this you have to surprise them, in ways in which you give them information and also give them simple sub-frameworks to move them along when they are ready.

Its also interesting to see how getting comments from teachers outside our school (who ironically out number the teachers who are actively commenting online in our school) – has pushed the students to appreciate their audience – which is a key consideration – as they are about to post a 400 word (ish) comment on the Green Party site – in which they discuss the issues raised in the blog post – using the content of their own learning using thier own local area.

Students are well aware that what they say is ‘public’ – as they are reading comments from ‘outside’ people in their own community – whch in turn is making them think about their ‘public’ comment on the Green’s blog. I am really happy with this project’s design so far. It’s exposed areas that we need to do more work in, and given me lots of ideas on how to better scaffold the use of Web2.0 discourse communities next time.

So designing a project, using Ning – needs to be more than blogging. Its a window on student learning, which I think can’t be achieved in a conventional classroom project. 600+ posts, 1500+ comments in a few weeks – and we get to see it all.

Developing sustainable change programmes

How do you ‘mark’ blogging, wikis etc.,? – A question I am getting a lot right now. My EdTech professional development programme for staff is actually based around the notion that ‘digital literacy’ is in fact just literacy.

In order to show teachers how go about developing online learning communities, I am running a sequence of sessions with staff to model how to rethink how they use and embed ICT into their ‘normal’ classroom activities. I firmly believe that this is the only way to get greater acceptance of it’s importance and greater use in the classroom.

Heres how it works. Firstly, I base the initial stages firmly in literacy. It starts with setting up a learning community, discussion of what should be ‘normal’ ICT based activities – selecting the appropriate central mechanism for this – and sending home permission notes to parents.

I then model how to use it as reflective practice. I don’t think that ‘tool use’ is effective, and serves to silo activities, so the learning community extends out into ‘digital story telling’.

To me this is the act of ‘showing’ – it is the application of ‘content’ into higher order activities. I ask teachers to use 3 tools to do this – that best suits the age/skill of the learners and the time they have in ICT rooms.

We have to begin all this with the end firmly in mind. So by selecting 3, I can them model how to use just about any Web2.0, MUVE, gaming type scenario into a classroom. Each time, we are looking for the same key performance indicators. I have identified 8 ‘digital story telling’ tools, each based on the idea of developing ePortfolios and digital reputation.

Finally, we use the existing standards/outcomes. This means that the reflective writing process and the story telling is geared to meet the outcomes. Teachers seem to find it really hard to relate how Web2.0 information processes map to standards and outcomes.

You can see that this is a big spreadsheet! – Given the last 4 columns are really what we used to report on. In Australia we use A to E reporting. This rubric is flexible to allow teachers to apply definitions to the A to E, but still gives them a scaffold and rubric to deliver it.

The key PD skill in all this is not ‘tool’ focused at all. In fact I don’t teach ‘tools’ to teachers. What is important is the reflective practice that both staff and students are now engaged in. The PD skill is to move them away from assigning ‘marks’ and to get involved in learning. To be able to observe in an online community the pedagogy. Teachers are learning to comment reflectively, and weave the conversation between students. I have developed a set of ‘marking’ guidelines that are matched exactly to the activities that students are now asked to do – daily and weekly. Each of the things students do in the collaborative and individual sense, are mapped to a ‘feedback’ scaffold, which in tern relates to this rubric.

Changing the classroom, is not about new tools to me. I think it would be a ridiculous vision to see kids ‘blogging’ in every room. That would change nothing – apart from maybe delivering new mastery skills.

My approach is to change learning. To change the reflective nature of learning and to provide ways in which teachers can do this without significantly adding to the overhead. If you want to get more than a few adopters in your school, then don’t ask them to ‘learn and use’ a new tool, but show them the how the output of that tool represents learning outcomes. Show them how to scaffold activities such that they are neither too simple (boring) or too complex (frustrating).

This diagram won’t solve the issue, but by starting to change the reflective nature of classroom literacy and focusing on ePortfolio and digital reputation, I am able to allow teachers to maintain their ‘style’, but to now focus more on the learning than the content. Staff are now not rushing to spew out content and then ask kids to sumarise electronically.

Reflective Learners who are given interesting activities are engaged learners which in turn leads to teachers having MORE time to observe and support them. The down side – you have to set it up, manage it, support them and the kids, model new methods until such a point that the original ‘norms’ that the teacher and kids want are second nature. Its about changing the very nature of student/teacher interaction and learning processes – not about the ‘tools’ or how many IWB resources you’ve created this week.

Change starts with curriculum and pedagogical approaches – then you can access the thousands of widgets, gadgets and tools (if you know where they are).