Into the unknown…

How do you take blogging beyond the classroom? The brief for my session is to show teachers what’s possible in the hope of inspiring them to take their current practice further. It’s one in a series of sessions for the Global Education Project.  Some of the participants are new to blogging, others are further ahead… I like to encourage them, irrespective of where they are at, to take one small step forward and see where it leads.

Meet Lindsey Bates, Year 3 teacher at Serpell Primary

The starting point for any good inquiry learning is the known. It is all well and good to begin there, but if the known is where you end up, well, it’s not really learning. This is true of our students and it is true of us as teachers and learners.

I recently attended a Blogging Master Class by Edna Sackson. The afternoon was engaging and inspiring and she left us with a sense of adventure and a challenge: to take the next step in our blogging journey, whatever that might be. I had to go from the known, to the unknown.

I had run a class blog for four years, we attracted a few visitors from around the globe, and I had even made connections with classrooms overseas via twitter. But I hadn’t actually tweeted. My challenge was clear.

Having just completed a blog post about my grade’s newfound fascination with Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (ISS), I knew that the stars were aligning. I followed Edna’s clear ‘how-to’ guide about how to get noticed on twitter and @ed Commander Hadfield into my tweet. The 120 characters sat on my screen- trapped between laptop and cyberspace. What if I finally spoke up, put myself out there, and no one cared to listen? What then?

After much hesitation I clicked ‘tweet’ and off my words went. Seven minutes later a reply came through. Within minutes my blog post was racking up views. The world did care to listen.

My students now feel themselves to be close and personal friends of Commander Hadfield and are delighted and inspired by the idea of the world watching us learn. It has only been a few weeks, but our virtual audience and connections continue to grow. Who knows where these adventures might take us?

Once you experience the authenticity that comes from learning and reflecting within the globally connected environment that educational blogging can provide, there is no going back to the once cosy and comfortable four walls of your classroom. Learning might begin there, but one can never anticipate where it could end up.

What’s your next step into the unknown going to be?

10 20 ways to think about your class blog…

One of the ways I like to encourage learning based on my school’s learning principles is to promote the use of class blogs. In the lower primary years, the blogs are often used to communicate with parents and to share the learning that takes place at school. As we move higher up in the school though, the class blog has the potential to be so much more than that.

I’ve written about class blogs several times in the past, but my thinking  has changed as I have watched the blogging experience unfold at my school. I have seen even the most motivated teachers become disappointed by the lack of student interest, poor response from parents and the absence of the anticipated authentic audience.

A great post this week by Andrea Hernandez, entitled Where is the Authentic Audience? got me (re) thinking. And another thought-provoking post by Kath Murdoch exploring what inquiry learning is NOT, as a way to understand what it IS, inspired me to consider class blogs in the same way.

I think that a class blog is not (just)…

  • A  place to post questions, worksheet style, with an expectation that all students will respond.
  • A space for teachers  to assess and comment publicly on students’ writing.
  • A sort of online vacuum, into which students’ writing is sucked, never to be seen by anyone.
  • A compulsory homework assignment.
  • Something managed entirely by the teacher, who makes all the decisions as to what will be posted and when.
  • An occasionally used alternative to writing on paper.

(With apologies if you use your blog successfully in some or all of these ways!)

Some questions to consider…

1. Do you teach students how to write meaningful comments that promote conversation?

2. Do you set aside time every day to check  for new comments and  discuss the comments that come in?

3. Do you encourage your students to respond to each other and whoever else comments?

4. Does your blogroll include other class blogs within your own school and are your students actively engaging with these?

5. Do you encourage your students to comment on class blogs at schools in your own and other parts of the world?

6. Have you and your students considered ways to involve their grandparents and retired people they know as a potential audience?

7. Do your students have ownership of the layout and theme of your class blog?

8. Do you frequently discuss the potential  audience and purpose of blog posts?

9. Do you model good writing for your students by blogging yourself? ( A collective in-school blog doesn’t require a great time commitment).

10. Do you regularly read and comment on other teachers’ blogs and discuss your learning with your students?

11. Do you encourage students to take photographs of great learning experiences and share their reflections with the world?

12. Do you have a visitors map or a flag counter and check them every day with your class to see who has visited and where they are in the world?

13. Have you considered a class Twitter account to share learning and tweet your posts to other classes?

14. Have you thought about blogging as authentic writing, rather than another separate thing you have to fit in?

15. Do your students choose where to post their writing and thinking, with the blog as just one option?

16. Have you exposed your students to great blogs (not just class ones) so that they can discover what makes a blog appealing and interesting?

17. Have you helped your students see how blogging is different from other writing? Can they drill down to the essence of something, add images and use  hyperlinks?

18. Do your students see the blog as an additional place to share and provoke thinking, and to make thinking visible?

19. Is your blog a place to continue the learning conversation from school to home and back?

20. Are you working on building a learning community which includes yourself, students, parents and other learners in your school and the world?

Conversations to improve practice…

Guest post by Jocelyn, a Year 6 teacher who invites conversation and listens to her students. She is wondering where she has gone wrong with class blogging…

I am a teacher who thrives on the adrenaline I get from learning so that I can pass this on to my students. I understand the power of collaborative learning and it excites me. I work hard at creating a collaborative learning culture in my room and in the last few years have been passionate about using technology to help me create this culture.

I see our class blog as a collection of our learning and sharing. I also see it as a tool to enable students to gain the understanding of building a digital footprint. It is for this reason that today I got the shock of my life when I initiated a conversation about our blog with my students. We are very active on our blog and it has been puzzling me why it is that the students have not taken more ownership of commenting on each other’s posts. Today I decided to ask them why this is the case and the responses disturbed me to my core. I felt that everything I thought that I was building up in my classroom was not valued by some of the class members at all.

They said things to me like:

I would prefer to write on paper!
When I asked the child how her learning could be shared she just looked at me. I suggested that maybe she could pass her paper to others in the class for commenting and she looked at me in horror.

Comments should only be written by the teacher.
I asked if he thought I knew everything. ‘No’, was the reply. I asked if he felt that his classmates had nothing to offer him…

Why can’t people present their learning in front of the class and everyone can comment orally?
‘Wouldn’t it be boring to listen to and comment on one presentation at a time?’ No reply.

Uploading to the blog makes me feel pressured in terms of time.
This is my fault. I need to allow more time for this.

It took so long to get one of my presentations onto Slide Boom so I could embed it, I had to get help from the ICT teacher.’
I asked if he had learned learn anything from the process. ‘Yes, you are right, I did. Point taken.’

‘If not for the blog I would not have been able to make connections in the world.
Thank God for her….

Why don’t we just save all our learning to our own accounts only?
‘Is that the same as saving it on the blog? Who would your audience be?’ ‘No, it’s not really the same…’.

I ended by asking them to write or come and have a conversation with me if they had anything more to add… I have not heard from them.

While trying to recover from this frank discussion I began asking myself where have I gone wrong…

I realise that before these kids came to my class, most of their collaborative experiences on a blog had been limited. I took it for granted that my philosophy would rub off onto them. I might not have been explicit enough at the start of the year. Maybe I needed to build up more ‘culture of learning’ skills.

I was away on leave for a term and while I was away they did not go onto the blog at all.

Last year I had more of a global audience, thanks to the help of a colleague. I have just started on Twitter so I need to get my blog out there myself.

I need help…..

With whom do you learn?

With whom do you learn?

Do you collaborate with a group of teachers at your grade level?

Do you share and bounce ideas with others in your school, your building, your area?

Do you belong to a network of teachers who meet to exchange ideas and share practice?

Do you participate in voluntary reading and learning groups?

Have you been to informal ‘teachmeets’ organised by teachers for teachers?

Have you participated  in global online conferences?

Do you write your own blog to share your ideas, reflections and practice with other educators?

Do you participate in the global education conversation by reading and commenting on educational blogs?

Do you engage with other educators on Twitter?

A session with teachers yesterday on developing our class blogs,  highlighted ways we can learn together.

  • A group of teachers of different grade levels gathered together (voluntarily) to share ideas and learn together.
  • A  range of great ideas was crowd sourced via Twitter before the session, with contributions from educators around the globe.
  • At the last minute, David Mitchell offered to Skype in (at midnight!) from the UK to share his schools experiences with blogging.
  • David introduced the concept of Quadblogging, in which classes around the world are grouped together

I was reminded of one of the most powerful influences in the building of my online  PLN.

It was Kelly Tenkely‘s blogging alliance that first connected me with many other educational bloggers around the world.

  • The more I read other’s blogs, the more I wanted to find and read.
  • The more comments I began to get on my posts, the more I wanted to write and share.
  • I was exposed to different people, places and practice.
  • I began to engage with teachers and learners around the globe.
  • Connections were made, friendships were formed, ideas were exchanged.
  • The learning was addictive.

It seems to me that connecting our students via Quadblogging can have similar effects. It’s much more than what David describes on the website as ‘a leg up to an audience for your class/school blog’,  although that’s an important starting point. Writing for an authentic audience, receiving feedback from the world, reading what others write and responding to them are all undoubtedly valuable outcomes.

But it’s more than that.

With whom do your students learn?

Are they expected to spend a whole year engaging with the same group of  twenty or thirty students in your classroom?

There are so many ways we can help our students create their own personal learning networks.

Quadblogging is another way to extend the potential for learning beyond the classroom walls…

Learning beyond walls #2…

As I said before…

Learning for teachers isn’t limited by the walls any more. We can share ideas, discuss our practice, learn with and from other educators outside our own institutions. Skype allows us to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, (almost) any time.

On a cold, wintry morning, twenty educators rose early for an a voluntary professional learning session before school hours.

Kathleen and Kelly are a couple of vivacious and energetic, young teachers at a school a couple of hours away from ours. They were in their classroom early, supported by their principal Ruth, to share their experience and advice with us via Skype. At my school, teachers gathered in the library to further their own learning about class blogging to promote literacy.

Many of our teachers started class blogs this year for the first time. A few were blogging with their classes last year. None are bloggers themselves.

Kathleen and Kelly talked us though their class blog and explained how it is an integral part of teaching and learning literacy. They answered questions about how to encourage students to blog and parents to comment. We saw a delightful video of students talking about the benefits of blogging. We were shown evidence of students’ progress in writing, through the development of their comments on the blog. Teachers left the session inspired to move their own class blogs forward, armed with new ideas and examples.

As always, here’s what I learned:

  • Teachers enjoy learning from other real, live teachers, sitting in their own classrooms.
  • Hearing voices from outside can be powerful, even if they say the same things voices inside have already said.
  • There are incredible, generous educators out there, willing to share with anyone who is open to learning from them.
  • Passion and love of learning are contagious.
  • Offering every kind of support, when people are ready, is an effective way to instigate change.
  • Teaching is changing. Ways of learning are changing. The possibilities are endless.
  • A head of school who makes breakfast so his teachers can learn is an example to all.
  • If you have an idea, run with it. Don’t wait for a better time, particular conditions or permission to try. What’s the worst that can happen?

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