Engage Them, and You’ll Get Amazing…

These kids will be taking our state writing test in a few weeks.  It’s a shame they’ve had to spend the year practicing writing prompts, as they obviously need practice to get their point across and be creative, compelling, cohesive writers. Don’t you agree?

What we did:

THINKING! about our THINKING!

Then look at Jordan’s creativity:

What Are You Thinking Now!

and Abby’s fun (when nudged a bit, I admit)

Deeply Thinking About What Goes On In Our Heads

Then look how Evan and Lucy explored the verbs

Thinking With More Understanding……

Thinking about how I think

and how Noa played with words and definitions:

The Long, Long, Thinking Map 

See how Ashley made connections?

What’s Going on in Your Head

And, finally, I’m honored as to how Blaine describes our class:

Metacognition 

 

These were written after these kids participated in a “Silent Chalk Talk” which is an activity I learned about at Educon from  Sean Nash (@nashworld on Twitter). His initial question was: “What does it mean to be a “Tech-Savvy” teacher?”  Mine was:

When you tell someone you are thinking, what kinds of things might be going on in your head?

(from Making Thinking Visible)

Beyond the Assessment Institute…

This is cross posted at the Cooperative Catalyst.

I do think words matter. (See a previous post here.) I think how we define words matter and it’s important to have common definitions, language and belief systems when working together and sharing kids.

Joe Bower ended his post today with a quote from Socrates about the beginning of wisdom and defined, “…assessment as a process where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning…” That made me wonder…Is that how I would define assessment?  Is that how YOU would define assessment?

I KNOW it’s not how many teachers would define assessment. This summer, I’m going to participate in a professional development opportunity in my county, one we call the CAI (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction) Institute and the topic is assessment.    Two of the outcomes are supposed to be:

  • A shared model for a process of assessment among stakeholders
  • Develop knowledge and skills for participants in assessment:
    • process
    • task and item creation
    • leadership

So, clearly the leaders of this work see assessment as a process.  But, is it a process “where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning” as Joe says?  Is it a process to find out what is known and unknown?  Is it a process to define future steps for learning and evaluate past actions? Is it all of those and more–or less?

Will teachers leave after three days with new skills in assessing? Will we have an opportunity to define assessment and come to a common understanding of the purpose of assessment? Or will we simply go back to our schools and continue to do weekly multiple choice tests to see what kids have learned in math, or drill kids with online programs like Spelling City and Accelerated Reader to define what they know and don’t know?

In looking at this year’s purpose of the CAI Institute, will we change our practice and how will we know whether it has made a difference? Will the representative teachers chosen to go then return to their schools and share what they learned to make changes in more teaching practices? Will we see language shifts in talking about student learning?  Will “item” mean a multiple choice question and “task” mean a real world one? Will we spend time on developing common language and exploring beliefs and building on current understandings to deepen knowledge and experience? Will there be opportunities to really delve into the work of creating high quality assessments that will make a difference in classrooms and in students’ lives? Will students see a difference in how they are asked to show their learning, or will worksheets still abound?  Will principals allow that to occur or will they be the leaders who set guidelines that drive a change to deeper ways of assessing?

HOW will the Institute be set up to forge common beliefs, to change the language we use in describing student learning and to refine assessment literacy to move beyond traditional methods to ones that make sense to the learner?  How would you set up a workshop like that?

What advice would you give the people who are setting up this opportunity, and how would YOU structure my day to have the biggest impact on students when we return to our schools to share what we’ve done?  How would you ensure that this three day institute would actually change what teachers and students do in school?

Wiki Work

Recently someone asked for wikis to share in a wiki presentation, and thinking about how to explain mine, I decided it would be easier just to blog about them.

The first one I’d show is Potatoes, Pumpkins and Plenty More which is a wiki fourth graders put together to make their learning transparent to the classroom teachers while reading a couple of Megan McDonald’s books. The setting of both books is the early 1900’s and both books begin with grandpa telling the grandson and granddaughter a story of when he was young.  The story ends with a set-up for the next book and the kids clamoring for the story, but grandpa says something like “Not now.  That’s another story for another day.”

When I asked the kids if they wanted to make a wiki based on these books, they immediately wanted to write the third story in the series, which Ms. McDonald  never published. So some began composing while others immediately went to the wiki and began making new pages.  Two students began creating a dictionary page for  The Potato Man and when two others saw that, they asked if they could then do one for The Great Pumpkin Switch. Of course I said yes.  Without prompting, kids created an author page, a character page, and then an opinions page showed up!

But the most incredible thing to me were the stories the 4th graders wrote. The stories were filling up this wiki, though, and so we decided to move them to a separate wiki and connect that one to this one. One student’s Lucky Penny story amazingly captured Megan McDonald’s style and even set up yet a fourth story at the end of her writing!  Thus another wiki, the Brown Box Stories was born. Another student went down a different path and suggested yet another connected wiki, the one called Plenty More.  A great piece of this work for all of the students was the amount of self direction and creativity they showed.

Wiki #2 is one I created as part of a collaborative lesson these same fourth grade teachers and I planned together. The name of this one is “When is an estimate close enough?” In this one, I wrote up the lesson we planned to do together and set up additional pages  for them to use later when back in their classrooms.  On the resources page is an estimation calculator that is fabulous!  There are also videos about how to estimate in specific situations. It’s worth showing a teacher-created wiki.

And, wiki #3 would be either Nicolas’s wiki, specifically his iPad Review pages or the Crozet LED Kids wiki, specifically the report pages from each group. Nicolas is a self-directed learner who “gets” social media and how important the connecting piece of that is. One could spend hours studying the work he has done on his wiki in the two years he’s had it, and the quality is pretty sophisticated for a young man who wrote it as an 11 and 12 year old. This is an independently designed and created wiki.

The Crozet LED kids shared the process they followed while participating in a contest that was aimed at middle and high school kids where they were the only elementary kids designing an LED project. The honesty and the forthrightness is refreshing and they clearly understood how to show what they know. It’s about making learning transparent and sharing.

Kids truly never cease to amaze me. Their willingness to work hard on stuff that matters, to share their thinking and to support each other to create quality work is simply astonishing to watch and support.

THE State Writing Test

Our state writing test is coming up in early March and the tension around it is beginning to rise. Our fifth grades departmentalize, so one teacher teaches writing every day, and the others integrate it into Science and Social Studies some, as well as address it in Literacy and Math as they can, so these kids have gotten lots of practice with writing.

What I see, though, from many of the kids, is quite a bit of this:

19950925

In spring of 2013, our writing test will be online, so that all students will do it on the computer. Our teachers have questions about this decision:

Is it best for all kids? Don’t some of us prefer the actual act of writing–pen to paper-to feel that flow of thoughts?  Are we handicapping those kids by forcing them to tell their story through a keyboard?

Will this decision force keyboarding lessons? How fast should kids be able to type?

What about all of those articles that talk about how fast kids can text?  Is this even something we have to worry about?

What about the kids who do NOT text?  Is there an equity issue we need to address?

Will they be allowed, or not, to use a spellchecker? (If integrating contemporary tools, why not utilize the full functionality–is the test on writing or spelling?)

Will the font be fixed, or will they be allowed to use text features as part of their composition (such as bold, underline, italics, etc.)?  They can do that with their handwritten texts, so why not with ones using technology?  They will probably be allowed to use spacing and indenting, so why not the full menu of text features we teach?

But, in the bigger scheme of things, why are we even considering these mechanical kinds of questions about the tools of the word processor?

We have access to the features our state will test through a program called Perspective (formerly NCS Mentor).  Here we can learn about scoring, access anchor papers to show our kids, understand the scoring domains and rubrics, and actually practice scoring actual compositions submitted by real fifth graders.

We can spend a ton of time helping kids understand the process, the scoring domains, rubrics and anchor papers.  Would our time be better spent with kids writing? Some say yes.

I think that our third graders ought to be exploring the access we have to this kind of information.  I believe that when kids clearly understand the expectations and have seen examples–both good and bad–and know the rubrics by which they will be judged, they can more clearly write for the prescribed audience–in this particular case, the test scorers. In this case, the state has provided a reasonable tool by which we can do this kind of teaching. Why not use it–and not just right before the test? Why not make it an integral part of our instruction as one more tool in our arsenal?

However, isn’t the real question this:

Wouldn’t it be better if the state just allowed us to police ourselves and examine our student writing portfolios to see if they can construct a well-organized composition?

Expect More. . .

I have been thinking about a statement Adora Svitak made in her TED talk...”Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations as we have implemented our schoolwide mastery extension this year.  See my post here to get an idea of what my dreams were for that time: Time to Explore Passions in School? It hasn’t come to full fruition for my groups yet, I don’t feel, and even so, the kids are clamoring for more. (See the comment here: Scream When Someone Takes Your Spoon.)

“Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities.” Adora says. . . and I think about my working with a fourth grade literacy group, where I asked them to choose one of three books to read and some followed through to read their book and some did not. I kind of let that go because I am an “extra” class to many of my teachers–and while they send their kids to me, they also expect them to do every single thing they miss in the classroom as well–so the kids DO get double duty. Then, there’s the fact that these are typically kids who LOVE to read, so they have their own books to read (Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Mysterious Benedict Society, H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, etc. . . not easy reading necessarily.) Today, though, I talked with them about why they didn’t read their book, and basically the one that wasn’t read was because the kids didn’t like it–they didn’t relate to the historical period it was set in, they found the action way too slow and they were confused by the set up in the book of the chapters being time driven and jumping around in the time described within each.

I asked one kid to give himself a grade on the book, deliberately not describing the standards for the grade, anxious to see what he came up with. He gave himself a C, and when asked why, he said it was because he didn’t finish it. He could describe what he liked about the part he’d read, and what he didn’t like. He specifically spoke to the confusion he felt with the chapter names being dates and jumping around. He cited details about the characters and their actions, making comparisons to other books and other characters.  WHY would he give himself a C because he chose to stop wasting his time, and do something more worthwhile?

How incredibly sad that was to me that he saw that as something that wouldn’t be appreciated in school. It blew me away that he saw his perfectly good common sense behavior as not valued. We DO underestimate kids, and beyond that, we often negatively reward the very behaviors that will stand them in good stead in their own life experiences.

No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.” Adora again, near the end of her TED talk…I would add, and be open to those opportunities.

Today, some kids were playing Blokus Trigon. (I had gotten it for Christmas and brought it in for the kids.) One of my girls was unfamiliar with Blokus, so we got the duo version and I said I’d teach her. This is an absolutely brilliant child–she can read and write like nobody’s business, has an amazing general knowledge of the world, catches onto mathematical concepts fast–and makes connections with other similar ideas–and is just a delight to work with in any and all areas.  So, I figured that after I showed her the general idea, she’d easily give me a run for my money in this game.

Surprise, Surprise… She began putting pieces down randomly, and seemed to be paying me no attention whatsoever. I was offering suggestions, sharing my strategy, and she really wasn’t giving me the time of day.  The pieces she placed seemed almost  without thought, and as I monitored the 30+ kids in my room doing different activities and tried to be strategic in my placement of game pieces, and as I answered other kids’ questions or responded to their comments, I was also thinking that I really needed to do some spatial thinking/reasoning work with this kid.  I was thinking that I needed to help her visualize better how shapes could fit together better.

Turning back to our game after helping another child with a laptop issue, she gently touched my arm, smiled her sweet smile and said, “Look, I spelled nature.”

nature

Adora says, “it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.”

My student doesn’t need to grow up to blow me away. She managed it just fine.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t smart enough to get the camera to take a picture of her rendition of the word nature. . . this picture is of a word that three of us (2 adults and a 10 year old) created after struggling for about 10 minutes together to build the word with these odd shaped blocks.  My little thinker did it in about 2 minutes by herself.

So, does she need help in spatial thinking and visualization?  Don’t think so. . .I simply need to be open to opportunities to see what I didn’t think I was seeing. I need to be open to learning from my kids, and I need to know them well enough to think about what their strengths are as well. Oh, yeah, and when I was listing her strengths, did I say she’s also crafty and artistic?

“You need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us, and expect more from us.” says Adora at the end of her talk.

For me, it’s not just about expecting more, but it’s also about providing the right kinds of support, the right kinds of materials and changing the environment so that kids can be themselves and use those brains in ways that both make sense and stretch themselves. Don’t underestimate, let them blow us away, and trust them.  What would schools be like if that was every school’s mission?

No Fiction? Grant Wiggins, What Were You Thinking?

Because of reading fiction with 5th graders, I had a student write this after reading Grandpa’s Mountain:grandpadrop

The Park did something wrong to do something right. It wasn’t black or white, right or wrong. It was shades of gray. ThinkQuest has made me think for myself. Now I don’t think what other people want me to think, I sort it out myself.

(from “Our Stories” on What Price This Mountain?)

About a dozen years ago I was teaching 4th grade and had to teach about the Civil War. The kids had to know some specific battles and the basic issues for the state test, but that wasn’t what worried me about teaching it–it was how to teach it to 9 and 10 year olds without the blood, guts and gore of teaching about war. I think about that a lot because I’m a softie who cries at anything, and I also have nightmares easily when I hear about cruelty–and I didn’t want to cause my students either nightmares or tears!

When studying the Civil War, I decided to teach the idea of conflict through the book, Across the Lines , which is a point/counterpoint between two young boys.  One is a slave who chooses to escape in the craziness of the master’s plantation being overrun by the “Yanks” and the other is the master’s son, who has always considered the slave his friend, without realizing the condescending attitude he held toward his “friend.”

acrossdrop

Because of reading the  fictional Across the Lines with students, I had a young Jewish student state in class that he, too, was nervous about learning about the Civil War and all the blood and horror it might include, but he really liked the way we had studied it, through books.  He went on to say something like, “When we began, I thought I knew what the Civil War was about–it was about slavery and I knew that was wrong.  But now that we’ve studied it, I know it was about more than that–it was about state’s rights and the federal government’s right to tell states what to do, and it was about more than slavery. I understand now that slavery was complicated, and it wasn’t just black or white. It really is shades of grey.”  (He is currently in college studying politics, fully intending to go to Washington and make a difference.)

(Both classes had been reading historical fiction novels by Carolyn Reeder, and one of her books is called Shades of Grey.) These are NOT isolated responses–read the other students’ thoughts on “Our Stories.”

The other day my Superintendent, Pam Moran, tweeted : “U of Mich study shows today’s college students: 40% less empathy than 20-30 yrs ago.”

Would you say my students had no empathy?  These groups are currently in college or freshly out.

Come on, Grant Wiggins–admit there’s a place for both fiction and non-fiction, and realize great teachers can do great things with a great piece of fiction.  We teach WAY beyond the fiction in the book.

Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance

“Planting Brilliance” is a phrase I first heard in a post by Ben Grey. After thinking about some conversations with some of the teachers in my school, I’m thinking it’s more about uncovering brilliance. Or maybe it’s about building faith in one’s own brilliance.

I grew up in a household where I was told (in an era of stay-at-home Moms) that I could do or be anything I wanted to, if I just put my mind to it. That was from my Mom.  My Dad always said he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did my best and did something I loved. There was never a question as to whether I was going to college, although Dad hadn’t graduated—he met my mother in college, they fell in love, eloped, and he went to work and just never finished—but we kids always knew he was smart, just as we knew our mother was, too. I grew up in a home where parents believed in the power of an education, and were supportive of schooling—and also learning. My mother and I spent many Sunday afternoons (after church and cleaning up from Sunday dinner) playing Scrabble with a dictionary between us. We paid no attention to the time rules—the goal was to find new words, interesting words, and to make the most points we possibly could. I don’t remember a winner or loser—or caring about that—it was the pursuit of words that was the goal.

When I became a teacher, I was much like Ben describes in his post—“We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds.” but then reality set in and I found out not all kids had been taught to believe in themselves. It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that many kids just needed someone to believe in them for them to believe in themselves. I also had been punished enough as a kid for being a rule-bender, a limits-pusher and a question-asker that I wasn’t interested in being a yeller or a punisher, so kids quickly figured that out about me. I ignored a lot and didn’t give them the attention they were seeking—yet I did give them good kinds of attention. I think my joy of learning, my love of books and my generally happy attitude was somewhat contagious to kids and caused most to want to try in my classes.

However, I also realized a long time ago that I would have kids in my class that I didn’t immediately connect with—or worse yet, that immediately made me bristle for some reason. The fact is that if I catch myself feeling like that with a kid, I consciously make an effort to be one on one with that child as much as I can. I invite them to have lunch with me.  I ask them to run errands to the office. I ask them to hand out or collect papers, or be line leader.  What I discovered (again, long ago) is that when I am with a kid one to one, I find ways to connect with them. I discover their interests or humor, or sadness, or something that builds a connection between us. . . so that we are no longer at odds or strangers to one another.

As an adult, I’m realizing now that that was kind of what happened with my 6th grade teacher—I just didn’t connect—ever—and I don’t think she ever tried to connect with me. What a shame—I’ve never forgotten her—first name of Pocahontas, and the Indian native, Pocahontas is one of my distant relatives. Could have been quite an opportunity to connect, but instead I remember her because we didn’t. I only remember one other first name of a teacher and that’s because he connected with me academically and as a human being…he used to pass the bus stop each day and on rainy/cold/snowy days he’d give my brother and me a ride to school.

John Dewey says we are there to help find “out the conditions of the environment and the kinds of activities in which the positive capabilities of each young person could operate most effectually.” (John Dewey.p 139) Pocahontas didn’t do that.  Mr. Arrington did. I am trying to, and I look every day to try to uncover brilliance or build a child’s faith in his or her own smarts. Challenge them, give them success and then raise the expectation… and then challenge them again. Teaching is not just about sharing knowledge, it’s about being human and helping kids feel smart and finding their own strengths. The more they know about themselves–about how they learn, how they think, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, the more prepared they’ll be to learn throughout life and find their niche–or niches. So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.. .so the next time you feel your hackles rising at something a child did, stop yourself from responding immediately  and then ask him or her to have lunch with you today. Watch the situation deflate and enjoy the company at lunch! See if you can help uncover some brilliance!

What’s Working? Conversations!

This post was originally entitled “We Need To Ability Group” but after listening to the NBC Town hall on September 25, 2010 @johnccarver had the idea of asking “What’s Working?” on Twitter. I suggested we all go write a blog about what’s working and share them with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine.

My 4th and 5th grade teachers are thinking reflectively through grouping, response to intervention and providing enrichment an quality learning experiences for all kids right now. They’re thinking though pre-assessments, flexible grouping and ways to differentiate that meet many different kinds of learning needs.

On Thursday, several of us were having a conversation about some of the issues we face when adding a SPED teacher and Gifted teacher into the mix. Both grades have math at the same time, and scheduling and flexible grouping brings many challenges. One of the teachers said, “We just need to ability group!”  and I responded, “Ability group, or achievement group?”  The teacher nods and says, “Yeah, I meant achievement group.”

The third teacher is looking at us quizzically, and I said, “There’s no way we can truly know the real ability of these students–we can only speak to their current level of achievement. We don’t know what these kids are capable of, giving the right situation and opportunities, so how could we possibly group that way?  If we say “these kids are the bottom kids,” then what do we doom them to believing about themselves? And what are we saying to parents about the potential of their children?”

She then nodded and said, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at–achievement grouping and NOT ability grouping–we all need to use that language as we talk about just how we’re going to meet the needs of all of our children!”

It’s not JUST about the language, but also the beliefs…and helping folks be aware of the beliefs they may accidentally portray by words is important. We haven’t decided just exactly how we’re going to split up the kids… but as we do, I know at least three of us will be thinking about the differences between achievement and ability as we talk.

Words do matter. When teachers confuse the language, how do we help parents understand education? Achievement and ability are two different things–let’s make sure we don’t confuse them, or use them interchangeably!

Related Posts by DJakes:

Words Matter

Words Matter: Game Changer

Incidental Learning #2

This post is a continued reflection of me going  into a Kindergarten class to do a series of lessons on graphs and wondering about the incidental learning K kids are doing while I’m in there.  The set up for this series of posts can be found here or here, I cross posted it.

So on Thursday, I went and introduced myself to them with a book called “Once Upon a Time”  where “A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there’s “Not much to do. / Not much to see.” As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters.” (The quote is from Amazon’s review, and the picture below is from Amazon as well.) I was using it to see how well-versed the kids were about what are supposed to be familiar stories for young kids, so I wanted kids to call out and I wanted to see how many could name the characters as they entered the pictures.

onceuponatimeIt was hilarious–kids were giggling, fidgeting, talking to one another and the teacher and I were just howling with some of their comments. It was also a hit–the kids couldn’t wait until I returned the next day to help them tell a story with “just dots and lines.”

So the next day I came back, read a fairly traditional rendition of The Three Little Pigs (Paul Galdone’s verison) and then I pulled out the paper where we were going to make a line graph and tell our story with “just lines and dots.” I modeled doing the worksheet shown here, and we then sent all of the kids to their seats to make their own story to take home.  What an eye-opener–just ask any teacher what they can see when you ask K kids to do a worksheet on the 17th day of school when you’ve just done it in front of them. You can see the kids who have preschool experience who have learned to “play school” well–they want to copy yours exactly.  You can see the kids who have little experience with writing… you can tell the kids who know how to line items up well and those who don’t get that detail…you can see names written (or not) and as they work together, you can clearly see kids who need support.

So I’m standing by a table with several kids who are struggling to do the dots and lines and I’m helping them along.  This activity isn’t set up to see who can do the worksheet perfectly, but to help us see who gets the concept of lines going up and down to symbolically represent high and low feelings of fear in the story.

As I was helping one child, two boys at the other end of my table began the “he wrote on my paper” call outs. I moved to lean down beside the closest one to me and a third child also said it, pointing to the boy beside her. (I’m beside a black kid, looking across the table at two white kids.) I immediately turn to the boy beside me (to stop his continued tattling) and  as I do so, I think to myself, “Dang, what are they thinking with me talking to the black kid first?”  I KNOW how kids watch everything the teacher does and read into it… so I’m now thinking,”This is a predominantly white school, and many of these kids haven’t much experience with other races. Are they reading into my looking to the black kid first that I think he’s guilty when the two white kids aren’t? I know I did it because he was closest and I can have a semi private conversation with him if I need to, but they don’t know that. What can I do to take any possible stigma away here?”

So I say, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?”  The kid is STILL saying “He wrote on mine first” and, looking at the other boy,”You did it to me first.” He was clearly trying NOT to be the first one in trouble, and staking his claim as simply doing back what had been done to him. I literally leaned forward more so he could no longer see the other boy and repeated, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?” He stopped cold in the middle of another disclaimer and looked at me.  I asked it again, and he and I both were conscious of the whole table watching and listening. I repeated my question again, adding, “Did it feel good?  Did you like it when he wrote on your paper?” He simply shook his head no. I then backed up so the two boys could see each other again and asked the white boy how he felt–did it make him feel good when his paper was written on. He also said no. I then asked him if he meant to make the other (black) kid feel bad.  He said no.  I then asked the kid beside me if he meant to make the other (white) kid feel bad, and he said no.  I completely ignored the girl who had tattled, as my goal was NOT to get into who did what when.

I then looked at both of them and said, “If you didn’t mean to make the other boy feel bad, please think of that next time you start to write on someone else’s paper–think how you’ll make them feel.”  And I backed off and went back to the kid I had been helping. They looked at each other and then went back to their own papers.

I hope they learned it’s not about placing blame.

I hope they learned I really don’t care who started it.

I hope they learned it’s about how you make someone feel.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is ALL about how you make them feel.

And when teachers shape behavior, we have to be cognizant of ALL the nuances–what kids might be learning incidentally if we always look to certain children first, or if we always choose certain children to be our helpers, or if our messages are not consistently about taking care of each other and not making others feel bad.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is all about how you make them feel.

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?