Monday, April 11, 2011

Collaborative Blogging, Sheep's Wool and Lots of Correcting

Ah, the reality of how I want to teach and how I am (sometimes) required to teach!  Two conflicting aspects of our teaching profession have both been quite evident today!

My students and I have decided to add another 'class' to our Kidblog site and use it to upload pieces they work on together.  They have lots of thing in mind: group book responses, our Beothuk projects, perhaps a 'newspaper' about our shared class experiences, Public Service Announcements, digital stories and so on. To walk around my room this morning and see the kids huddled at tables, on the floor and out in the hallway making plans is the kind of rewarding response I get in my classroom on a regular basis.  My kids are not expecting me to lead in all areas, to tell them what they want to learn about (all the time), nor do they think anymore I expect them to complete the same assignment on the same material.  And so I get things like this happening:

Three of the kids  quickly blogged together about the Visiting Arts project we spent most of the afternoon doing together--felting- making a fabric with real  (and somewhat smelly) sheep's wool!  Their learning, their enthusiasm and their questions all were shared in a brief post they wrote to this new classblog.  Further work will be done tomorrow as they add to it based on the responses from parents and absent students. (After all  they didn't explain what the soapy water or the pot full of boiling onion skins was for!)

I did look at setting up a wiki but just haven't had the time to check out the difference.  Is there an advantage I haven't seen?  (I do know that students can revise and add to a wiki from school and their home PC; I am assuming without a password or a shared one.  More on that at a later date, I guess!)  At the moment, where we are right now meets our needs and Kidblog has the tools to allow for the inclusion of new literacy possibilities that I am aiming to develop with my students.

The power of working together to create a representation of shared knowledge is really quite something - for the students, and for me.  Recently I had a small group of Grade Five girls who decided to collaboratively complete a PowerPoint presentation about a book they had read together. However, they recognized the medium had more to offer their audience than just raising the text up onto a screen. Their search for appropriate images, the talk about how to do a catchy layout, the decisions about what, and where, to embed links to other sources of information all indicated a growing sophisticated understanding and use of the tech tools available to them.

As well, the discussion that was held around which themes to share with the class, along with the idea of perhaps comparing the experience described in the novel with the devastation that occurred in Japan last month, were also explored within the group.  The process of locating the images they felt suited their purpose, and making the link from one horrific time in Japanese history with another was remarkably done. They ably shared their thoughts and newfound information with their fellow classmates who peppered them with questions, and applause!  That's the type of authentic learning experience I so enjoy seeing unfold!

However, the other side of the coin is the evaluation that is so built into our education system.  In the Junior High Social Studies class I teach, so much time has to be given to study skills, prepping for tests, (not that these don't have value), taking the test and correcting the tests!  (And we're 'lucky' compared to our American colleagues.)  Much of my own time is taken up with said evaluating/correcting; I just wish I had more time to develop and carry out more meaningful projects that would truly involve them in learning about significant events and about the people whose story is embedded in the history. (Though we did do that Fishing Families role playing project... which could have been so much more if I didn't have as much content to cover!!)

I have to mention one such project I recently read about through following Shelley Wright's blog Wright's Room..  Her project, a student-built Holocaust Museum, is an incredible testament to her vision of what can be carried out with students.  It is REAL teaching and learning in motion; of course the other students want to do it too!  I  loved the personal notes about the growing pains and the accomplishments Shelley included in her post!  Thanks for the inspiration!

Now I just have to get those papers finished...

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