What to do once you are there.

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

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5 thoughts on “What to do once you are there.

  1. Hi Patrick

    Thanks for this post.
    This is one of the major issues in my school. There is a culture of teachers letting kids rum amok on computers while they sit at their desk and mark. So, when I come along and advocate a further push into the online environments I am met with negativity and scepticism form the leadership.
    We trust you, Russel, they say, but there is too many staff who will just not supervise their kids while online. They are right, They won’t supervise them. let alone model good virtual behaviour. It is a major hurdle for me.
    I think that part of the issue is that we see computers as tools (convenient teaching aids) but the kids see them as integral to life. So there is littel incentive for teachers to get real in the virtual environment and kids continue to roam feral free of adult guidance.
    Interested to hear your further thoughts.

  2. Russell,

    The whole “they know more than I do” feeling among some teachers is problematic for us as well. What it causes is exactly what you describe: the sit back and mark phenomena. Luckily, or unluckily, for us, we have had some issues with cyberbullying which have now started to wake the teachers up to the fact that there are some bigger problems that students need to be aware of. What that has done is make teachers leery of giving them carte blanche; however, that seriously limits inquiry into areas outside the “accepted” sites. Teaching students how to be academic online is a whole new dilemma we are facing.

    The dichotomy between how educators view computers and how students see them is an interesting one. We recently opened up a pilot program with tablet pc’s for our high school teachers where they could “volunteer” to receive a tablet PC for the year to use instructionally. Those teachers that opted for it (close to 75%) are feeling like you describe your the students–this is integral to what I do. However, that is only in one of our schools. The shift towards teaching using deeper inquiry methods, less reliance on knowledge-based responses, and more reliance on transferring learned information to new areas has not fully occurred in our buildings yet. But we are working hard to see it happen.

  3. Patrick,

    As you know, it is not about technology, it is about learning.

    We need to professionalize PK-21 leadership and learning. The way to do that is for everyone in the profession to always use our knowledge base to guide our decisions and actions each day for each student. We meet with student 180+ days a year to help them learn. Each of those days is precious and must include relevant learning activities and formative assessments guided by three beliefs: 1) What we are doing today is important; 2) You can do what I am asking you to do; 3) I(we) am(are) not going to give up until you have learned what we believe is essential for you to learn. It is critical that we communicate these beliefs in our words and actions to students throughout school day, each and every day.

    Are activities using technology any different?

    A blog provides a tool for learning. “Students, what we will do today with this blog is important, you can do it, etc.” Prior to that event in the class, our grade-level team or department team should have asked what is essential for the students to learn? We decided that using the blog is the best way to help the kids learn the essential “it.” During and after students have used the blog, we check (formatively assess and then summatively) to see if the kids learned what we believe is essential for them to learn.

    But what do we do if students do not learn what we consider essential?

    As a team, department, and as a school we must have a plan in place to ensure that students will receive emotional and academic support from a variety of different angles and providers to ensure that we find a way for students to learn the essential “it” that, so far, they have not learned.

    Providers that could be part of the plan for helping students learn the essential “it:”

    Guidance counselor
    Faculty advisor
    Upper class student mentor
    Teaching team members with special skills
    Grade-level or cluster team leader
    Department head
    Special education teacher
    Volunteer mentor
    Volunteer tutor

    When it comes to the essentials, I think we need to trim down the learning standards that the academic associations and the states have set as targets for student learning and integrate the Framework for 21st Century Learning (21stcenturyskills.org) and the new literacies for powerfully using the internet for learning. We need to act on “What are the essential” standards students need to learn.

    FYI, I am collecting information related to 21st Century Net Literacies on a wiki in case you are interested (innovation3.wikispaces.com).

    Thank you for the prompt your post provided. I hope my comments are helpful!



  4. I tend to work in a very sequential manner with my students. I introduced blogging for the first time with my sixth grade math students. Two had *gasp* MySpace pages already and they are usually last to update the math blog assignment. The rest are new to all this. They don’t fool around on the web site. They did ask permission to leave each other little hello messages which I allow. I’m using Classblogmeister which gives me a lot of control with this young group of students. I like that at this point. We are working on one concept at a time and getting to delve deeper into research and discussions.

    I have the luxury of teaching the same group in a computer class. It took a couple of group sessions before I released them to working at home. It’s considered classwork and they’re expected to treat the area as such. I’m happy with the results so far for a first attempt. I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows over the next few years.

    You are giving the teachers a direction and you have people willing to give it a try. As you introduce more teachers, you’ll refine the process. I look forward to your continued posts about the subject.

  5. Ann,

    There is a lot to be said for being sequential, especially in a process like blogging with students. What you are doing is scaffolding and modeling the appropriate processes for them.

    My experience with this has run the gamut from total control, to little control, or more aptly, little follow-through. Our best blogging teachers or collaborative teachers are those who are voiced on the student blogs or wikis. Without a doubt, they made an impact on the outcome achieved by the students just by providing constructive criticism while the project was going on.

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