Saturday, October 31, 2009

Building Knowledge and Learning

I'm sitting here early on a Saturday morning taking a look at what's going on in the world through the eyes of those I follow on Twitter.

I've had more questions and more conversations about Twitter recently and I'm asked about how it works and why I use it. Here's why... This morning, I'm came across a tweet from Wes Fryer (@wfryer) about a presentation he's sitting attending in China. (at about 7:45 am my time, Twitter shows that it was posted about 3 hours ago). I now have his notes from the presentation and links to several videos on Edutopia that I hadn't know about 15 min. ago. What's even more important to me is that I can now connect the teachers I support in my school district with this resource. I have some knowledge that connects with my personal learning but can also be distributed so others can gain new knowledge or build new connections in their own learning. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool!

So, here's what occurs to me...if I didn't have a Twitter account and didn't follow the people that I do, how would I have known about this? Why do I use Twitter? Because it helps me to build my knowledge and learning from the experiences of others. As a teacher and as a learner I can't think of any reason more important than that.

Image by mndoci on Flickr

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Creating Conversations

As the school year has gotten under way here, many new opportunities for working in collaboration with teachers have come up. It’s been an exciting start to the school year!

Today I spent some time in another classroom helping kids (and teachers) to understand more about blogs. Last year, some of these teachers had begun blogs but they had had a difficult time sustaining their use throughout the school year. This year, as we talked about starting the blogs up again, I suggested that we work together to present a lesson (or lessons) to the class that would help students understand what a blog is. We talked about some guidelines for safety on a blog and we talked about their “digital footprint”, although we discussed that in terms of “character” or how you portray yourself to others on the Internet.

For the most part, the lessons have been structured in much the same way for both 4th and 5th grade classes. We get them thinking and making connections to their prior knowledge by talking about ways that we communicate on the Internet. When we did this with our first class of 5th graders, we thought that if they could list at least 5 then we would be doing well. Of course, I’m sure you know what happened… We listed probably 12-15 ways of communicating – everything from email to playing online games. They definitely understand the concept of being able to communicate with people in the outside world!

The next part of the lesson is devoted to giving them new information – in this case, the blog which many of them have never used before. Now that we’ve sparked their thinking about communication, we begin to talk about an author’s purpose for writing. They’re well versed in that – inform, persuade, and entertain. Their teachers talk about author’s purpose throughout the reading and writing program. But, we add just one more to the list because it seems appropriate to blogging…”thinking out loud” or reflecting.

We have some blog postings from students who worked with Anne Davis a few years ago and we’re using those as sort of mentor texts for right now (and continuing to look for others). We use these examples and talk about author’s purpose. Students have also pointed out things like mistakes in spelling and punctuation and even one where the student used his full name (we have our students created pseudonyms for their blogs).

We’ve continued on with some guidelines for blogging. While it’s more meaningful for students to create their own guidelines, we’ve found it helpful to use some that were developed by 4th graders in Thailand. (thanks to Kim Cofino for sharing her practices) Since most of our students have had some Internet safety lessons with our librarians, many of the guidelines are already familiar to them in that regard so then we can concentrate on the “digital footprint” aspect a little more closely.

In some classes, we wrap up this portion of our conversation by asking students to write down one question that they still have about blogging. This gives us a little feedback about the lesson and lets them consider what they’ve just learned and tell us what they still need to know more about.

As we continue on, we’re moving into talking about commenting. Keeping the focus on communication and conversation, we’ve pointed out to our students that one practice that can encourage conversation is to ask your audience a question in your blog article. Then we ask students what naturally happens when someone asks you a question? The answer, in terms of a blog, is called a comment. We talk about commenting first in terms of how you would answer a question in a face to face conversation. We’ve given them four reasons to comment:

  • “ I agree with you…”
  • “I (respectfully) disagree…”
  • “ I have some more information I can add to this…”
  • “I have a question to ask…”

Using the blog articles from the previous lesson, we go back to take a look at the comments these articles received. We have one article where the student’s Mom replied to him so now we can talk about how anyone can comment on a blog! We’re comparing the comments to our four reasons and finding that many of them conform to these with some variations.

Today, in a 4th grade, we tried something different because of the time available for the two lessons. Yesterday, after we wrapped up our discussion about communicating and author’s purpose for writing, we had the students start a list of at least 2 topics that they could write about on their blog and note what their purpose would be for writing. Later in the day, the teacher had them choose one idea to write about.

This morning, after our discussions about commenting, we paired up the students, had them exchange their writing and asked them to write a comment. As we walked around to watch their progress we noticed that the students were quite thoughtful in creating their comments. Their comments were positive, they asked questions back to the author and some students had the time to write additional comments.

As we wrapped up today, students were asked to write down two things they learned about creating comments. Each of them were able to quickly write these down.

So…where do we go from here? I’m trying to comment on student blogs as often as I can. A mother of one of the students I’ve worked with has told me already that her daughter was impressed that “that lady” wrote to her. The mom said how personal that was to her daughter. Will I continue to comment? You betcha! How could I not with that kind of feedback. Let the conversations continue!

Image by Markus Koljonen