Saturday, May 27, 2006

Year 12 Oral communication and other learning

I've just come back from a Saturday morning (till 2 pm) at school where all the Year 12 English students came to present their orals for assessment. The way we organised it meant that the students signed up in groups of seven or so, with their friends for an hour that suited them, then those seven students did their presentations with one teacher assessing. The students didn't know who would be assessing and there was a second marker who came in and second marked some of them as a control. It took about five hours with about five teachers working all the time and by then all the students had done their assessment. It meant that we saved about 4 periods of class time that we would have had to spend if we didn't do it all on one day like that. I felt it went well. The students all turned up and although some were very nervous it was a relativley painless way to do it.
Work has become very crazy actually with having to write and organise the exams for Years 9, 10 and 11 as well for yesterday and Monday (not to mention marking them), and of course the Government mandated report cards that we English teachers have to write (along with our Maths colleagues). As well as this we are implementing the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) for next year and also the new year 11 study design for English in 2007. Our school also has a proposal to go to 75 minute periods next year (which I'm in favour of,I think) but there certainly a lot going on. I feel like I'm trying to juggle lots of balls in the air at once.
On Thursday I enjoyed having a focus group discussion with some of my Year 9 students who are experiencing Literature Circles. We tape our discussion and I'm very glad to outsource the transcribing of the tape. It's always interesting to reflect on the students' views about how they are experiencing the crriculum that I am enacting with their participation. When I have the tape transcribed I may reflect some more about what they have said. The focus group consists of some self described reading lovers and some very self described non readers (outside of the classroom, at least) so the discussions are interesting for me. I would love to hear some comments from readers who have experienced longer lesson times (75 minutes or so) to hear what you think are the pros and cons of this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Students' views

I have just realised I've passed the 100 post milestone! Wow. Today I read the article in SPress where students in my class were interviewed (it actually came out two weeks ago but somehow I missed it). Natalie Ryan of SPress interviewed three of my Year 8 students on the phone and wrote up some of their comments. Because I wasn't there for all of the interview I was most interested to read what they had said about the experience of blogging for them. One of the comments from Bree was "It's a lot different to writing things down on a piece of paper." I would love to know how - I suspect she means the impact of a potential global audience. Bree also states that when others comment on what she has written, "it gives me ideas and makes me consider the views of others". Zoe talks about blogging helping her "with spelling and grammar" and welcomes the chance to "express yourself and what you think about different issues". This is reflected by Hannah who states: "We don't have anybody cutting us off and stopping us saying what we want to say. I have improved how I say things - to make things not offensive but still get my opinion across." I know this is especially important for Hannah as she often has an opinion not shared by the majority. She feels able to express this opinion on her blog but has learned how to express her view effectively.

On another matter, I just read this post from Wesley Fryer on the conversation between Darren and Dean that I was so taken with yesterday,"Blogs like a neutron bomb!". He summarises and reflects on what these interesting educators say and adds value to the conversation too. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More thought provoking podcasts

I have just really enjoyed listening to Will Richardson being interviewed by Dave and Jeff on Edtech Talk about his change of career and his reflections on the state of the edublogosphere and education generally. He mentioned his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, which I recently ordered on line. It came within a week and is full of all the information you need to start using the tools that our students are using and will be using in their careers in the future. What I particularly liked was his final chapter "What it all means" where he looks at the “new literacies” and the “big shifts”, some of which I know we’ve been talking about for a while, such as student centred learning (rather than teaching as lecture) and the social construction of knowledge. But it doesn’t hurt to say it again and in this new context it makes a lot of sense. When I recently did a workshop with my colleagues nb and Scott which was about blogs, podcasts and other web 2.0 tools I naturally mentioned Will’s book as it is an easy to read primer on the subject. But of course nothing beats experimenting and learning by doing. In the podcast I just listened to there was a rather sombre note I thought which is the result of the initial enthusiasm of people being excited as they learn to use these new tools and as they learn about learning, both their own and their students’ being replaced by reflection on the difficulties that still exist in the use of these tools, mainly difficulties of equitable access, and difficulties caused by an understandable fear of the unknown potential of this largely untried and even disruptive technology. But as I heard in an excellent series of podcasts done by Dean Shareski where he interviewed such reflective practitioners as Darren Kuropatwa, Kathy Cassidy and Clarence Fisher on their use of social software with students, and as I have found in my own experience, the potential motivation, and the connections and learning for students is a powerful recommendation for their use.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Primary school podcasters

I would just like to feature some of the people who have listed themselves on the Directory of Australian edubloggers. A recent listing is by Paul Fuller who says:
“I am the teacher of a Year 4 / 5 class in Western Australia, and I am passionate about using technology to enhance learning outcomes across the curriculum. My latest project is a class podcast that the students write and record themselves. As you will hear in our podcast, this medium is an incredibly engaging way of encouraging students to write and reflect on their learning.”
I have listened to the students’ podcasts and was again amazed at how well these primary-school students present. It’s very professional. Currently there are thirty one edubloggers and podcasters listed in the Directory. Go on over and have a look if you want inspiration.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Adventures in classroom blogging

Some interesting things have been happening. In two weeks one week two colleagues and I will be doing a blogging workshop at the VATE State conference. Yesterday we met for a planning meeting and we decided to set up a wiki for our resources that you can see (just the bare bones as yet) here. In our discussion we talked about what blogging has meant to us, what kinds of writing we each do on our blogs and why people blog. I told a funny story from classroom which I will repeat here. My year 8 class had the experience of doing some research and then blogging about it. Various students set themselves various questions that they wanted to find out more about. At the time the class was deep in a discussion of global issues and the term "third world " had been mentioned (probably by me). The students wanted a definition and we discussed a couple of different definitions. One student, Fran, commented that people in "third world countries" seem to have less control over their lives than people in "first world countries", and then a student whose parents had taken her to India to visit relatives mentioned what she had seen and the discussion turned to the caste system in India. Various people contributed what they had seen on their travels, or heard about on TV. And that's how Bree came to choose this topic to research and write about it on her blog. Her blog post raised some interest in Clarence Fisher's classroom in Snow Lake. He has written about their discussion here.
"A ... group of kids were discussing a recent post they had read by a student in Australia that was trying to explain the caste system in India and how many lower caste Indians have an incredibly difficult time gaining a good job. The kids were amazed by what they felt was the brazen racism of this student, writing about "Indians." In Canada, our first peoples used to be called "Indians" (thank you Columbus) as they are in the United States; but in our current society, these people prefer to be called "natives" or "first nations." Many of my students thought this blogger was discussing the plight of Canada's native peoples and felt this blogger was being insensitive. I had to step in and remind them of where Australia sits on the globe and that this blogger was not talking about people in Canada, but about "Indians. People from India." Many light bulbs lit up around the room and they were shot into an entirely new perspective of understanding as they realized that their world view was not the same as others. It was a powerful moment of global realization."
I showed this to Bree and she was amazed at the effect of her writing. Later she was one of three students who were interviewed by a journalist for SPress for a student's perpective on blogging. The journalist asked her what skills she thought she had learnt from blogging. The communication that my students in suburban Melbourne are having with people across the country and across the globe was something that all three students spoke about. But I had to smile when Bree said that she was now more conscious of her spelling as part of that communication. And I hadn't even prompted her.