More of This, Please

I read Eric Langhorst’s blog, I’ll confess, not for the great history links he sends out, but for ideas about how I would run my my own classroom.  In one of his latest posts/podcasts, Eric talks about how his class skyped in author Pat Hughes to talk about her work (and it magically fit right into what they were studying–imagine the serendipity!).  If you know how to use skype, you understand how simple and easy it is to use.  My mother uses it.  My kids can almost use it now.  It’s simple to pick up. After our impromptu conference with Shelly Blake-Plock last week, I began thinking about why we don’t bring others into our classrooms this way more often.  It’s not all that crazy to plan–anytime I have done one, it originated from an idea, that led to an email, that became a brainstorm for a date and time, and then some quick tech set-up.  Voila.  Instant access to smarter, more interesting people (choose your interviews wisely). The next level then becomes something like this once you’ve become more established: This was taken from Silvia Tolisano who uses htis with her students to help them engage more fully in the many conversations they have with people from around the world.  I’ve said this before in this space, and Sylvia characterizes it nicely here, but we need to be outsourcing more of what we do to our students.  By creating all of these opportunities for student learning out of one phone call (augmented with video, of course), Sylvia and others who do this sort of thing, have given students the opportunity to explore something more than just the history book or primary source documents.  The teachers who do this sort of thing are creating avenues for curiosity and exploration.  And that’s something we need to be doing more of.

Side note: if you get the chance, check out Silvia’s flickr visuals.  They are the bees knees.

The Questions They Won’t Ask

In talking to Shelley Blake-Plock today, I continued my habit of ripping quotes from people and saving them for later.  From Shelley, I got this gem today:

We are probably the last generation that will make the distinction between being online and not being online

This was stated in response to a question I asked that I felt obligated to ask given the company in the room and their relative knowledge levels of social media and its use in the classrooms.  My question was as follows:

Considering the amount of time you now require your students be online, and considering some of the writing that’s been done (a la Nick Carr’s Google=Stupid work), do you feel that you are asking your students to spend too much time “online?” and do you get any pushback from teachers or students?

His response fits well, but, still, are we old-fashioned for asking questions like that, or better yet, do those questions need to be asked?

Just wondering…

A Foray into the Paperless Fray

Today we were fortunate to Skype in Shelley Blake-Plock into a lunch-hour session in our high school.  Blake-Plock, the driving force behind the recent paperless push by educators on Earth Day, spoke to our staff about his classroom design, philosophy, and practice in a 45-minute session today.

When I originally contacted Shelley last week to inquire as to whether or not he would be willing to talk to my staff, he jumped right in, and he didn’t disappoint.  What impressed me most about him as I listened to him describe his practice was his clear vision of what it meant for his students to function in a classroom that he designed: it was about them learning.  He truly designed the environment with their learning–their unbridled learning–in mind.  His decision was not a secretarial one, but rather came from a desire to push students to take control of information gathering, processing, and creating.

At one point, a teacher from our Social Studies department asked about how he assesses his students if he doesn’t give tests or quizzes on paper.  Did he design them through some sort of CMS in the formed of timed essays, or online quizzes?

Shelley’s answer was flat-out brilliant.  He described the manner in which students are required to keep a blog that he is tied into via RSS, and daily they add content to that blog in the form of class notes, personal reflections, or other media.  His assessment then becomes his analysis of their thinking and reaction, and he does this using screencasting (he uses Jing).  This way, instead of notes in the margin that are loosely tied to anchors in the text, he can pinpoint exactly where in the writing he is talking about and offer precise, quasi-one-on-one feedback even though he is not present.  I just dug this.  We often bemoan our students willingness to skip past any comments we make on their writing in their desperate rush to find out their grade, but what Shelley is doing is removing much of that and asking students to take constant feedback and do something with it.  Our teachers have long lamented the amount of grading that has to be done, our parents and students complain about the length of time it takes to get it back, and all research shows that feedback given after a certain point is nearly useless to the student in terms of increasing achievement.

What if they got feedback consistently over time?  Would that change the final outcome (the grade)?  In my follow-up with the staff, I am going to be sure to inquire about that one.  With a budget that includes nearly 60% of supplies being cut, looking at alternative options in terms of assessment–and those options that are grounded in formative assessment–is necessary.