Friday, at the very end of the day, I had the opportunity to work with a teacher, Carole Sobiechowski to help her set up her class blog for her Civics class. It was an appointment that was a long time coming, as both of us had rescheduled it several times.
As most of us are, I am a big advocate of blogging, especially in classes designed like this one, where the curriculum is something the students have not been exposed to previously. Our Civics curriculum is brand new as its own entity; it had previously been embedded into our Grade 8 History classes. For various reasons, including alignment to state content standards, we removed it from the 8th grade and designed an entire curriculum around civics and citizenship. It’s an exciting class, but the students need to be able to digest it and internalize it in order for it to truly have an impact on future learning and application. One of our other civics classes is blogging already, with some great results.
In working on Friday to get her set up, I began by showing her what the other Civics class blog looked like, including the types of assignments and assessments the class was using, and the general pattern we followed to allow the students to transition into writing on blogs. A couple things stood out to me as I was describing the process to Carole on Friday:
- allowing students time to get used to the space is essential
- rigor is also necessary; time given to assimilate onto the blog should be limited and have a definitive end time where the students know that they can still play, but they are being held accountable for their content.
After we had set her up to play with the blog and finalize her vision for where she wanted to go with it, which she will have time to do over the holiday break, I headed home, still thinking about how I described the process to her.
My wife and I went shopping on the way home from work, which, if you are like me, means a lot of sitting in stores watching the baby while she and the toddler run around finding things to buy. This is great reading time, the iPhone and Google Reader have truly transformed these moments for me. When reading this passage from Kim Cofino, something new was apparent to me about the blog spiel that I deliver to teachers:
All too often, teachers set up an online space for their students and then just “let them have a go” – basically leaving the students on their own in this new environment (sometimes because the teacher is not sure where to start). Not only does this provide fertile breeding ground for misbehavior, but it is definitely not something teachers would do in the physical world, so there’s really no rationale for letting them go in a virtual environment. Teachers must be the model for appropriate behavior online, just like they are in the physical classroom.
It makes perfect sense: teachers rarely give students directions so vague and expect anything of quality to return. As Kim states, it’s a breeding ground for trouble to begin. We ask our teachers to be present online, as it insures that they are an integral part of the process the students undergo online; our most successful teachers with students online are our most frequent commenters. Why not start that process earlier, right from the moment our students sign in for the first time? Instead of “hey, let them play for a couple of days,” I think I will advocate having the teachers model how to customize their page and require that they “assign” a few of the layout changes to the students by a specified date.
One of the things I love about education and teaching is the myriad ways there are to do it. Yes, there are acceptable norms and practices, but, especially now, they are constantly under revision. School 2.0, always in beta.
Flickr image credit: “2007 Honda Civic Coupe” by Lazy_Lightning’s photostream