Solid on the How, Struggling with the What

Yesterday I participated in the Reform Symposium as a keynote speaker. I’m not quite sure what distinguished keynoters from presenters, but it was pretty cool presenting virtually and having an audience of over 100 people that participated with questions and comments. Their intereaction in the chat made my ability to share much more powerful and I appreciate every one of you who were there. You have certainly made me think more deeply as I read your comments and questions. Not only did I reflect with you then, but I am continuing to reflect on  the what and why of my work with students’ wikiwork.

I shared the work my kids have done on wikis and blogs and talked about the reflecting I was doing on that, the questions that guide me into a new school year, and the concerns I carry as well. I celebrated what my kids have done, as they far surpassed anything I could have imagined as we began. Some of their wikis are creative, some are creative acts of curation and all model communication in some way. All of them are connected.  All of them are personal. All of them contain passion and work worth doing.

Yet I’m NOT satisfied with what we’ve done and I am struggling with how to set it up this year to help students rigorously pursue inquiry. I am constantly thinking about how to help them work and worry and struggle with complex content that stretches them and causes more questions and more inquiry.

Having worked with wikis for three years now, in both structured and unstructured ways, I have seen students show passion around the projects they design.  I have seen intricate projects and ones with little depth. I have seen collections of pictures, or videos, or games, or game codes, but little curation going into those collections.  I have seen some collaboration, but much more parallel play online–the collaboration often happens in my classroom as they collect and post. I have certainly worked with them on the technology and understand the pedagogy of using technology, but something, in my opinion, is still missing in how they work with their wikis. It’s NOT just the issue of parallel play versus collaboration as I spoke to over a year ago.

I know they haven’t collaborated outside of our school much with other kids. When I have set them up to participate in online projects, though, it has only been parallel play, and not true collaboration. I decided to back up– back into my school to work on collaboration there first. I was thinking of Ryan Bretag’s comment in the parallel play post about pedagogy, about kids needing to be taught collaboration skills. So, I watched, prodded and led this year to help kids learn a TON about online courtesy and communication. They learned how to allow others to work in their space and be diligent about the need to monitor it. They learned to ask questions others would be interested in answering on their polls as they became more aware of their audience. There was a tremendous sense of serious play, feelings of power over their content, and a sincere belief that people would read what they wrote as they found their voice and developed niches for themselves–or struggled to do so. I aiding in building their readership by tweeting out links to their wikis, by inviting my colleagues into their conversations, and by blogging about their insights and incredible creativity and commitment to the work.

Are these pre-collaboration skills? Because I work with elementary students, is part of my quandary because my kids need experiences with collaborative activities and they need ways of understanding global connections and audiences??

As I begin to plan for this next school year, I am struggling with my learning objectives for getting kids to work with wikis.  Our county has a goal that we will “prepare all students to succeed as members of a global community and in a global economy.” I am attempting to do that by enlarging their view of the world. I am attempting to do that by helping them learn about publishing in a global community.  I am attempting to do that by helping them become aware of digital citizenship and their digital footprint. So, is letting them have pretty free rein over the content on their wikis okay, or enough, or should I be tying it more to the designated content for their grade level?  Your thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Solid on the How, Struggling with the What

  1. Excellent post that shows you are a truly great teacher. I remember a couple years ago, when I was just starting out, a teacher who will be retiring next year told me something about the best teachers never being satisfied and always looking for ways to improve. I’ll admit, after attending your session on wikis, I feel a little more confident in trying it someday… but it’s all way over my head right now! I look forward to reading about your continued discoveries as you work to make each year better than the one the preceded it!

  2. Enlarging students’ view of the world, publishing to a global community, increasing awareness of digital citizenship and the power of a digital footprint…I think these things must be accomplished through careful combination of both guided and self-directed experiences.

    By the time students are in the upper reaches of elementary school, I think it’s essential that we provide explicit instruction on what online collaboration is and what it is not. I’m okay with “parallel play” in some cases, but as students mature, I believe they need to shift their level of engagement. What role does reflection play in your classes — ongoing and at the end of an experience? I wonder if that could be an interesting place to start the conversation about what true collaboration looks like, feels like, etc…

    I’m also thinking of the F2F cooperative learning activities we do at Trinity. There’s always a “social skill expectation” for students to focus on. It can range from “everyone’s ideas are valued and respected” to “consensus building” I wonder if establishing similar expectations for online collaboration could prove useful? I really love Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec’s Cooperation in the Classroom for building these f2f interactions.

  3. Kudos to you, Paula, for continuing to push for deeper, sustainable growth in collaboration, thinking, and play via wikis. You are surely evolving and growing deeper and broader in your use of connective technologies

    My thoughts are driving down multiple paths so let’s hope this makes sense 😉

    1. I’ve always focused on skills, knowledge, habits of mind/dispositions, and experiences when determining what we are striving to achieve broadly. If you brainstorm

    2. I would look at transfer of learning as a critical concept for you. Are students applying the four items across multiple fields and different contexts that are both directed by the teacher and selected independently by the student.

    3. I have leaned on a modified Johnson and Johnson to establish language and process review with students. This allows for great feedback and dialogue on their growth while also making it helpful in seeing Transfer of Learning. When I taught, we modified this based upon our discussions about what is collaboration and our review of what will help make the future brighter.

    4. Talk, Talk, Talk with students about process, connections, involvement, and opportunities/hurdles.

    5. Play is critical. When we think about when we are most engaged or we look at the big two (Apple and Google), what makes collaboration and engagement thrive? Don’t lose that because they are getting older. I would go the opposite. There should be more emphasis on play and helping them show how their play can make for serious results 😉

    Keep up the great work!

  4. It is great to see that you are always searching for something new for your students, I believe that is a quality every great teacher should have. You seem to always be striving to reach deeper down into them with new intellectual ideas. I think it is great that your students have created wikis and are very passionate about them. It sounds like their passion comes from you! I also agree with collaborating. Collaboration will only improve the learning process whether you are a student or a teacher. Collaboration leads to new ideas and the growth of previous thoughts and ideas. Collaboration is also made easy now with the web and other new technology. It is important that as students, teachers, and even people that we expand our global community and learn something from each other. It seems to me that you are a fantastic teacher and know exactly what you are looking for from your students.

  5. It is very encouraging to me that there are teachers still in the field that are trying to do their best to help the kids prepare for the everchanging technilogical world that we live in. It seems that a common theme among great teachers, is that perfection if ever reached, would still require work and have room to improve, and that is what I get out of reading this post is that no matter how well your students do, you are always going to push them harder and let them realize on their own accord what it is that they may have questions about or are curious of. Also, learning from other people, students, and teachers, should be mandatory in todays educational field. How can one teacher, one class, or one set of guardians, possibly teach a child everything he/she needs to know concerning the childs education or behavioral norms.

  6. I think it is great that children are learning how to use technology at a young age. Teaching children how to communicate through the internet with other schools or children is teaching them more culture and showing them what and who else is out there. I can remember when I was in school we wrote letter and had pen pals and the fastest way to communicate with someone somewhere else was by snail mail and it would talk forever to get a response and vice versus. Since technology is becoming the base for everything it is important to show and teach young children the many different things to do on the internet for educational use.

  7. Hi again Paula! I commented on your post on August 27 but I left out a few things! My name is Leigh Setser and I attend the University of South Alabama. I am studying elementary education and I read your post as an assignment for my EDM 310 class with Dr. Strange. I really enjoyed reading your post. I will be summarizing two of your posts on my personal blog and you are more than welcome to stop by and check it out! You can find me at and our class blog is

    Thank You!

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