Sunday, January 28, 2007

Before school starts...

Tomorrow we teachers are back for our second day of preparation and on Tuesday we meet our new students for the first time. The time for reflecting on what went well in 2006 and rehearsing/planning/thinking what my focus will be for 2007, as Linda Shardlow recognises, is here.

Thanks to Stephen Downes I found a presentation by George Siemens, which he has put together in preparation for the Connectivism Conference and in it he discusses various learning theories. When he came to Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development, I remembered that I had been thinking about ways to get to know my students better and why. I know that at the start of this year I want to make a special effort to get to know the students as individuals earlier than I usually do. (I must say I also loved this post from Bruce Schauble on names and how he gets to know his students). The connection between knowing our students and being able to move them forward is self evident, I know, but it is still something I need to focus on, as in all the busyness of the start of the year I usually tend to focus on the students as a group and developing an atmosphere in the class of a community of inquiry. This year I would like to also add gaining a picture of the students as individuals.

Our new chronicle this year has an innovative idea or strategy on almost every page to help with teaching thinking, authentic pedagogy, habits of mind and ways of assessment which take into account Gardner's multiple intelligences and Blooms revised taxonomy. Naturally I spent some time during the holidays browsing through it and was particularly taken with strategy 205: “select one student each day to be the designated student of the day. Throughout the day focus on completing the various assessment tools on just that individual student. Conduct a running record on this student.” What I like about it is that I would not be trying to do everything at once but over time you could really get to know each student you teach as individuals. Negatives of this strategy are that it is a bit artificial and you would not want the student to know that you are focussing on them "Why are you looking at me all the time, Miss?". What I like about it is that it is a way of being mindful in the classroom and you do remember a lot more abut any observation if you write it down close to the time. I see it as a way of helping us to know where students are in their Zone of Proximal Development and figuring out ways to extend a student who needs it.

One of the emphases for our English Domain this year is on literacy. I made sure there was a dictionary on the book list the students for all year levels this year and have told all the teachers what dictionary the students have. This means we can incorporate lessons based on the dictionary. The students also have a pocket speller that they can take to all their classes. We also now have a whole school spelling policy in place which is based on the work of Debbie Sukarna and David Hornsby. It helps teachers to work with students as we teach students to analyse their own spelling, affirm more correct and nearly correct spellings, use praise and encouragement, recognise that all students are building their vocabularies and this will inevitably involve a “work in progress” approach to spelling errors. We want to encourage students to continue writing despite “wobbly” spelling. If they are unsure of a word they can simply underline it and continue to come back to it in the editing process. Alongside this, our library has also established a wide reading area with comfy seating that can be booked in the normal way. Teachers at all year levels from 7 to 11 can book the area (big enough for a class) for a half or a whole period once a cycle (every ten days). The type of reading that will go on there is any kind of reading. It could be fiction or non fiction, comics, magazines or picture books. Students will not be discouraged for not finishing a book and there will be no formal assessment of the wide reading (no book reports or comprehension questions). On a voluntary basis each time one of the students will be invited to talk about a book they may have just finished or are in the middle of. The emphasis will be on reading for pleasure and trying to match up each student with their "home run book". Of course this is the first time we will have done anything like this, in my memory anyway, at my school so it will be interesting to see the way the students take to it.

There is a lot more to think about before Tuesday and I hope I will be able to blog my thinking processes. I must admit to a feeling of writer's block over the last two months or so. I am sitting on a post about whether or not blogging changes the blogger, and what impact blogging has on a person. I know that not blogging has made me less happy and less creative. It feels like a cycle in a way: blog and get more creative, stop blogging and lose the creativity. So I thank all the writers on my blogroll who have continued to inspire me even though I have been less than forthcoming myself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Education Revolution

Kevin Rudd, Federal Opposition Minister, has announced an Education Revolution: The Age reported yesterday that "Kevin Rudd is set to promise an "education revolution" under Labor, making it his top priority in government to overhaul the entire national education system from early childhood to mature age learning."

Don't know if he had this headline in mind but it sure would be good if he did: Futurist: To fix education, think Web 2.0
"A consultant and former chief scientist at Palo Alto Research Center, John Seely Brown argued that education is going through a large-scale transformation toward a more participatory form of learning."

"Rather than treat pedagogy as the transfer of knowledge from teachers who are experts to students who are receptacles, educators should consider more hands-on and informal types of learning. These methods are closer to an apprenticeship, a farther-reaching, more multilayered approach than traditional formal education, he said."

"With every new piece of technology, to make this technology work, you have to change your teaching practices," Seely Brown said. "Part of it is (thinking about) how to go from sage on the stage to being a real mentor."

He suggested a "hybrid" learning approach. Schools can teach essential knowledge and critical thinking through somewhat traditional means. But they should complement that teaching with what Seely Brown called "passion-based learning" that focuses on getting students more engaged with topic experts.

This would really be a revolution. Bring it on.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Invitation to participate: acceptable use policy wiki

Another great initiative by Sharon Peters and Vicki Davis has come about as a response to the increasing use of social technologies in schools. They have started a Social Networking Acceptable Use wiki to explore the updating of schools acceptable use policies. Much of the fear surrounding the use of social technologies in school comes from the unacceptable and unethical uses of the tools and the results which are then spread far and wide on the internet. Incidents of teachers being recorded in the classroom like this one mentioned by Vicki:
“A Quebec teacher is on stress leave after a video of him shouting at students was posted on youtube. The article says that: "the incident took place a month ago, when one student provoked the teacher into yelling at her while a classmate secretly taped the confrontation." (November 2006)”
show that the existence of new technologies does have implications for teachers in the classroom. As teachers what should be our response?
Some of Vicki’s suggestions include:

  1. Update Acceptable Use Policies in schools
  2. Understand that new school hours are 24/7.
  3. Understand the importance of technology education including ethics
  4. Understand that blocking doesn't protect your school from this issue
  5. Understand that information does not travel in straight lines.
Vicki has decided to record all her classes as podcasts and put them on itunes, both as a way for students to have access them to deepen their learning but also as a way of "getting in front of the issue". Hers is truly an open classroom, and the transparency and reflectiveness that this shows has got to be good for the students as well. I really like the focus on teaching the students about the ethics of the these new tools.

On her blog about this issue Sharon Peters says:

“Together we have started a wiki to discuss these issues. If you are an educator, please help us out! We would like to know what your school is doing about its Acceptable Use Policy and if you have any suggestions for us.”
I hope that lots of educators get involved in this.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Connectivism Online Conference

Many would have heard about the Connectivism Conference being organised by George Siemens that is to be an online forum exploring how learning has been affected by ongoing changes and the new opportunities that exist. The conference will be on from the 2nd to 9th February. See the schedule here. Presenters include Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, Bill Kerr, Terry Aderson, Diana Oblinger (from Educause). To get a sense of the issues that will be covered, the wiki Learning Evolves is full of intereting points of view and links. Can't wait to be involved in this, as underlying all my almost obsessive reading in the edublogosphere, I am really trying to understand how to be a better teacher to my students. To do this, I am interested in theory and trying it out, action research and self study, being involved in discussion both virtually and face to face with other professionals, and just recently getting into Second Life to experience its educational possibilities. (I am Joanna Hathaway in second life if anyone wants to make contact). I love the way online conferences allow us to be involved and the way edubloggers are encouraging participation and conversation. Speaking of inviting participation, here is another intriguing blogger I am enjoying lately.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Catching up with blogs

I decided it was time to add some new blogs to my bloglines account when I read Kelly Christopherson's Educational Discourse blog via Dean Shareski. I also added John Schinker's Taste of Tech after finding his name in the chat log at an Edtech Brainstorm. During my enjoyable catch up with older posts I also found an interesting discussion on the Future of Learning and Christian Long's manifesto. Well worth a read for some thoughtful ideas. And via my network I found this really interesting periodic table of visualisation methods. It's been thought provoking time catching up.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Survey of educational bloggers

Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant has put up a survey on his blog. He would like us all to fill it in:
"All education bloggers are hereby invited and encouraged to...
1. complete the short and completely unscientific, but hopefully interesting, education blogosphere survey;
2. forward the URL of said survey to all other known education bloggers to ensure decent representation of the education blogosphere; and
3. publicize said survey URL on their own blogs to foster greater participation in this most noble endeavor.
Survey results received by Sunday, January 14, shall be posted in the town square (Scott's blog) on Wednesday, January 17."
When asked why he said:
"It just seemed to me that some folks have been blogging lately about 'A-list' bloggers, motivations for edublogging, etc., so I thought I'd throw out some questions that were floating around in my head (plus a couple I thought might be fun)."
I thought I'd like to know what people were thinking too (although I don't think much of the term "A-list bloggers") and I found that I enjoyed filling out the questionnaire so it might be good to see what's out there and have a go.

On a similar topic, I remembered Christopher Sessums doing a blogging questionnaire back in April so I looked up his reults here. His post is very thoughtful and worth a read. What I liked was his conclusion, based on the responses he got:
"Blogging is not for the impatient educator. It requires patience and thoughtfulness wherein time and effort is needed to make lessons and assignments develop appropriately."
It is for this reason - the patient reflectiveness required and the benefits it has for students - that blogging (both reading and writing them) is so important to me, not any question of popularity or hype, which is a distraction. I think that the benefits of blogging come from the willingness to reflect on ideas and discuss them in meaningful educative dialogue. I have missed many opportunities to blog just lately and I am looking forward to getting back in the swing of it. I found that doing the questionnaire actually made me reflect on what blogging meant to me and in this way I found it inspired me to get back into it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Flat classrooms project revisited

Previously I blogged about the Flat Classroom Project. I have just read all the pages of the wiki and watched all the videos about the levellers that operate in our educational and industry institutions. Students made these webpages and videos in a two week project in which one or two students from Bangladesh were paired with one or two students from southern USA to work together. Not only did the students collaborate - the judges did also. The collaboration among the judges, Darren Kuropatwa, Terry Freedman, Jeff Utecht and me, has been done mainly on a wiki and by email, although we experimented with Yackpack as well. I have felt so honoured to have been involved in this even in a small way and have learnt things I didn't know and that I can use. I would dearly love to know what the students got out of this project (and I'm sure we'll get to hear something). The discussion pages on the wiki show the students starting their collaboration, before they go on to use other means of communication such as meebo and skype as well as IM, so we don't get to hear their thoughts as they get further into it.

On the issue of international collaboration
Janet Barnstable says, "The more the students broaden their ideas, the more they reach out to other people the more they learn about themselves." She says this in the course of the Virtual Staffroom podcast with Chris Betcher and Sharon Peters. Chris Betcher reads an acceptance speech written by students, who in a previous time had been involved in the Virtual Classroom Project which had won an award. The students wrote that they had dealt with language barriers, time zones, and changing stereotypes. They said that countries "have gone from being names on a map to becoming real places with history and culture." They had gained a worldwide perspective. As Sharon says about her experience of the interview:
"Chris interviewed us by using Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat as a lens through which we now see the world. The global flatteners include such leveraging technologies as the Internet, online telephony services, web -based management software (i.e. Google docs and wikis) and so on. These have greatly facilitated communication and collaboration between groups at a distance. What a terrific opportunity we now have to provide our students with training in cross-cultural communication, collaboration skills, good netiquette practices - all while we can be also addressing our curricular goals. During our interview, we offer up some good tips and strategies for making use of these tools to participate in projects, big and small, that involve students from different
places around the globe."

It's really encouraging to know that students in 2007 have these experiences available to them so that there is more chance of global understanding and more realistic learning. Have a look at what the students have made of their collaboration at the award winning website (Best wiki) in the Edublog awards. As Vicki and Julie say: "The world is indeed flat as are our classrooms. We truly believe that we taught lifetime lessons within a short two and a half week project. Our students entered the projects as kids and are now using terms like “professional” and “collaborative” to talk about who they are."