Tag Archives: learning

2 Year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian YA authors and lots of blogs

This is a progress report for our blogging Year 9s (2 classes). Let me first say that I am loving, loving the learning that’s happening with this cohort. Following Michael Gerard Bauer‘s guest post, ‘I blog therefore I am‘, Nick and I were wondering how to respond and which direction to take. We loved the fact that Michael had tuned into what the boys were writing about. Michael has been generous to my students before – several years ago at my previous school. He has a brilliant way of speaking directly to the students in an informal way, combining humour with a serious message. Nick and I wanted the students to respond to his post, and to develop a theme in a post of their own. We decided to pull out Michael’s final message to the students:

So I encourage you to keep up the writing boys. Words are powerful, amazing and life changing things. Don’t pass up this opportunity to find your own and share them.

I like the idea of teachers modeling what they want their students to do, and happy that Nick agreed to both of us writing our own posts about the power of words. In doing this we lift the barrier between teacher and student, and we also let the students see a little of ourselves. I was also toying with the idea of introducing hyperlinked writing to the boys. I’ve written about the importance of hyperlinked writing before, and since then I’ve read an excellent post by Silvia Tolisano about it. Jenny Luca has referred to Silvia’s post in her own recently.  I believe it’s something we should take seriously – it’s the way we read online so all the more reason to incorporate hyperlinked writing in our set of literacies. Modeling is a good way to make a start. And so Nick and I both wrote posts using hyperlinked writing.

Nick’s post was entitled ‘Find the right words’, linking back to the earlier theme of ‘you are what you know’ and highlighting the idea of learning not just for school but ‘for the person you want to be’.

At school, we are constantly engaged in the getting and using of knowledge, and the main thing that makes this possible (even more so than an iPad!) is language.

Nick talked about poetry and revealed that he looked to

‘poets to reveal to me the ideas about life I sense in my gut, but don’t always have the words for myself.’

In his final paragraph Nick asked the students to

respond to Michael Gerard Bauer’s clarion call to embrace the power of language. Reflect on what this means to you. Perhaps think of a time when choosing just the right words was important.

The students were asked to read my response to the theme of the power of words, and to comment on three other posts, and see what kinds of ideas their classmates came up with.

More than anything else, I love the way we are all entwined in ideas which have been shared and developed – 2 year 9 classes, a teacher, a teacher librarian, a couple of Australian authors and the 2 classes of student blogs housed in the teacher’s blog. It really does become a form of diary, but not that of a solitary person, on the contrary, a shared document which traces the collaboration of ideas and dialogue as they develop over time.

It’s words, and it’s also so much more than words.

Please read some of our students’ posts (their blogs are linked on the right hand side of the main blog. We would love to hear your comments and ideas.

WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

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Writing – audience optional

For a very, very long time we have accepted the fact that teaching writing to students takes place without an authentic audience. Students’ writing is the property of one subject teacher, and if the students are lucky, they’re permitted to read their piece to the class. Generally it’s considered that learning takes place once the student has received a mark and feedback from the teacher.

There is a much better way, and students are often finding this independently, outside school. This is why, as moderator of my school’s Competition Writing Group, I’ve created a blog and a Facebook Group so that students can share their writing, receive feedback and feel like part of a like-minded, community. It’s taken a while for the conversation to develop as students gradually embrace ownership of the group, and that’s when I can pull back to allow peer learning to take over.

I’d like to post something written by a student who has experienced the benefits of a global writers’ community. Best to hear it from the source.

As a young writer looking to develop my skills, I started writing many short stories, and novellas and the like. After having written a large amount of stuff over the course of a year, I was faced with another problem. I was in need of feedback, but wary of going outside of my immediate circle of friends to find it.

One option was suggested to me, and that was to submit some things to competitions for students. I thought about doing this for a long time, before I realised I had a problem with that as well. Friends of mine had submitted things only to get a reply email saying they hadn’t made the shortlist, and that that was the end of that.

This was something I didn’t want. I wanted somebody who was good at writing themselves to look at my work and maybe leave me some constructive feedback, and the seemingly faceless judges of these competitions didn’t seem to be too willing to do that.

So it was by pure chance that I discovered another medium to gather feedback for my various writings, one that I still participate in today, and one that has led me on a literary journey of amazing experiences and wonderful creations. I discovered two websites, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com, from a friend of mine.

Fictionpress.com was more relevant to me to begin with, because it is a site where authors can effectively post any kind of original material, and the wide variety of reviewers and other authors on the site can respond. I found the society there to be highly constructive, and highly informative. These days, some three years later since I began that journey, many things have changed. I now give tips more than I take them, but that is a perfect example of how the site has affected me. It breeds a community, where new people get help, become experienced people and cycle goes on and on. With many friendly people, the experience has been brilliant to be engaged in, and while it is also a faceless medium, it is certainly far more constructive than entering competitions.

Fanfiction.net wasn’t something that I got involved with until later, when I became more confident in my writing skills. Ironically, most people step the other way, and begin with fanfiction.net and move to fictionpress.com. One of the reasons for this is that fanfiction.net provides writers who want to improve their writing without spending enormous amounts of time creating a world and creating characters. On fanfiction.net, the worlds and characters have already been created for you, which is sometimes really useful. All the writer has to do is invent a plot and write.

The site is also particularly good because the community is very friendly and very informative. When I first began to work on this site, people critiqued my writing effectively, and in return I critiqued theirs, and since, I have had some amazing opportunities through the community. I have had the opportunity to review works by some truly outstanding writers, and the opportunity to work on things collaboratively with up to as many as five authors from all over the world. The experience is amazing, and the friendliness of all involved has been outstanding.

Overall, I like the online community because of its productive kindness, as opposed to judges for a writing competition who are mostly nameless, faceless and not really helpful at all.

Cheers, Leon 

Thanks, Leon.


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Open minds welcome – Year 9s begin blogging

I’ve noticed that Melbourne High School has two mottos. One is ‘honour the work’ and the other, perhaps more recent, is ‘more than just marks’. The school is a hub of co-curricular activity which attests to that. And yet, not surprisingly for a selective school full of bright and competitive boys, the focus is largely on attaining high marks and, in particular, a high ATAR in VCE. There’s nothing wrong with that if it doesn’t interfere with what matters more – the development of a love of learning, a thirst for understanding and thinking.

When English teacher, Nicholas Fairlie, and I put our heads together in the hope of doing something different with Nick’s two Year 9 classes, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Nick found the perfect quote by Thomas Mann to introduce the point of blogging, a quote which so beautifully expresses the reflective aspect of blogging.

Keeping a Diary

“I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

(Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939)

Nick had the boys spell-bound as he introduced the project –

And so, boys, this is why we’re blogging. Not for the rightness or wrongness of our ideas, but for the having of the ideas and shaping them fit for the page. These pages will celebrate and affirm thinking: bold thinking, creative thinking, subtle and robust thinking. What goes here is valuable because it is the product of our minds and because of that will be respected by us all.

Without making a big deal of it, Nick spoke to the boys about responsible and respectful behaviour, pointing them to the guidelines:

5. Nice as it is to read encouraging comments, such as “well done” and “good job”, try to give some more feedback than this. Work on building a dialogue.
6. Keep track of what has been said by others before, and then try to provide some new viewpoints. You can also ask thoughtful questions, as there may be new and unfamiliar cultural references in other students’ photos and commentary.

Past experience has taught me that rich commenting is an art which has to be taught. So much learning takes place without much effort though – writing not just for your teacher and a mark, but for a peer audience and a potentially global readership, will open up the scope for authentic discussions and social learning.

And so we have made a start. Two classes of Year 9 boys have created their own blogs and personalised them (as they all naturally want to do), and these blogs have been linked on the front page of Nick’s blog. They have written their first blog post on a topic which has yielded some mature and thoughtful responses (to ‘We are what we know’). It was exciting to read such interesting responses to an open and abstract topic which may have intimidated much older students – a rich start to something that promises to truly be “taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

After sending out a tweet and Facebook status to promote the blogs and encourage commenting, we sat back and waited for readers to bite. My generous network jumped in immediately with responses to encourage and challenge the students in their thinking. My online colleague, Sinnika Laakio-Whybrow, from Finland, was amongst these and will no doubt impress upon the boys that their writing attracts a global audience, and that it’s just as easy to have a discussion with someone on the other side of the planet than with someone interstate.

sinikkalw responded:

I would go along with your reasoning that most of us don’t really know who we are or what exactly we know. But why is that perfectly fine with you? Wouldn’t we all be better off if everybody knew a bit more about themselves and what they know?

1 day agoAndrew Poxleitner responded:

Andrew Poxleitner
I would agree that if people knew more about themselves than they do right now, not only would they benefit, but the contributions to society would also be invaluable.Perchance I was a bit vague on this, in the post, but we also have to question ourselves on how to do so. How do we find about ourselves? I believe, at least, I’m in the dark in regards to who I am, and how to figure out who I am.
Therefore, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that maybe not many people know who they really are, because from the very start of the discovery, it’d be like picking needles out of a haystack.
Being realistic, not everyone can figure out who they are, and that’s a fact. Well, at least to me it is.

1 day agosinikkalw responded:

Technology truly is amazing, here I am on the other side of the world having a “discussion” with you!In hindsight, and with life experience, I can assure you that teenage is the very time when you really start on the lifelong journey of “finding yourself” and becoming your own independent individual. What seems like needles in a haystack to you now, will become clearer and clearer to you as years go by. If there was a reliable method of “finding your true self” that worked for everyone, I’m sure we’d know about it. The beauty of life is the journey, the process, the gradual deepening of our understanding, the willingness and openness to find out. Because not everybody can figure it out, doesn’t mean that you can’t, does it?
I’m grateful to be collaborating with a teacher who has a focus on the deep learning beyond marks, one who is excited about the possibilities of social learning and willing to take the small and larger risks associated with such a project. Our clustrmap already shows over 80 visitors from different parts of the world. Nick has been in touch over the weekend and is cooking up a meaty follow-up for the boys.
This is going to be so good. Here is the link to Yr 9 English MHS blog. Please come in to read the blogs which are linked on the right hand side of the blog. We would love you to leave a comment and add to our rich conversation.

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Discussion about teacher control of iPads in classrooms

Image from Sophie Horwood’s blog

Catering for differentiation in the classroom can open up new possibilities if you combine alternative approach with technology. Some schools are skipping the one-on-one notebooks and thinking about the lighter iPads. Of course, this opens up a whole range of new issues which need to be addressed before the investment is made.

iPads in Education ning features a discussion about teacher control of iPads – one of the first issues to arise when considering the use of iPads in the classroom. Sam Gliksman, creator of this ning, has posted a question on the forum:

Is the relative lack of teacher control over student iPad use a relief or a recipe for disaster?

Unlike laptops, which can be monitored with purchased software, the lack of such control of iPads presents a problem for teachers. Or does it?

Commenters of this post express different opinions. Some see this as a significant obstacle to iPad use, and others are willing to overlook the issue considering advanced features of the iPad. I’ve pulled out some of the positive comments:

What I do know is that iPads can bring up web pages faster than any computer that I have ever used, their use is completely intuitive, apps are endless, their fun, and on and on.

I think that if students are really inspired by their lesson, what they are being asked to research or present – whatever, they will be engrossed and will not bother to stray from the requirements of the lesson.

I generally believe that if teachers are walking around the room and being engaged in the learning process, nothing horrible is going to happen. I prefer to give students more control and responsibility rather than less.

I would like to focus on the positive side of things. Yes, there are issues but if we focus on those then we won’t get to play with the iPads, and we won’t discover their use in the classroom. Before I bought my iPad people asked me what I would do with it. I honestly didn’t know because I needed to have one in order to find out. I’m hoping to do the same if I can convince teachers to purchase at least one per faculty. The lack of control here is no different to a lack of control over notebooks. If we’re worried that students will be able to purchase apps we don’t want, how is it different to students downloading things onto their notebook?

First things first. I’m researching apps for each faculty area, and I plan to show staff or at least faculty heads. My focus in on apps which provide the kind of learning you don’t find anywhere else. I think converting teachers is a necessary step in the the whole process.

Please share your favourite iPad apps for secondary school, and any experiences from which we could learn.

 

 

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Focus on national tests robs children of true learning

Richard Gill says it well and with the passion of a man for whom educational change is not just a pedagogical exercise. My younger son, a VCASS music student, has had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with Richard on a performance of Dido and Aeneas, as well as during recent MYM Summer School.  Richard’s love of music and dedication to excellence in music education was obvious – my son would come home glowing, impassioned and totally connected to the the process of learning within the musical work. He was reflective, evaluative and lucid in ways I hadn’t observed before.

Before the MYM concert – presented as a transparent workshop – Richard Gill spoke passionately about the importance of music education, and the need for people to speak up collectively so that excellence in Arts teaching would not be compromised in Australia. In the following article, his message is loud and clear – the obsession and complete focus on our current testing in schools is robbing our young people of true learning – learning which develops and nurtures creativity, originality and imaginative thinking. I absolutely agree.

Read the article and judge for yourselves.

Wake up, Australia, or we’ll have a nation of unimaginative robots.

School is back and it is a matter of regrettable fact that large numbers of children in state and independent schools will be subjected to a style of teaching directed exclusively to producing satisfactory results in national literacy and numeracy tests and consequently scoring high ratings with My School.

I want to make my stance very clear from the outset: NAPLAN tests and My School have nothing to do with the education of a child. This abhorrent and insidious method of assessing children, teachers and their schools needs to stop now. Principals, teachers and parents need to stand up and be counted and resist this unnatural activity, which only succeeds in turning education into some sort of cheap competition in which the last consideration seems to be the mind of the child.

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Screaming the words literacy and numeracy from Canberra does not constitute having an educational policy. In fact, the race to become the most literate and numerate schools with the best rankings nationally is exacting a terrible price.

Evidence is now available that schools all over the country are cutting back on arts education to devote more time to subjects that will make children literate. It can be demonstrably proven that activities used in teaching for the national tests destroy individuality, stifle creativity, stultify thought and make all children respond in the same way – a sort of educational circus in which the children are the trained animals and the teachers the poorly paid ringmasters.

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition.

Parents need to know that it is through participation in arts subjects that the mind, imagination, spirit and soul of a child are stimulated. Through this stimulation comes a bonus in all other areas of learning.

Music, for example, when it is properly taught, requires an extraordinarily high level of listening and concentration from the student. It requires the student to have a capacity to work in the abstract, an ability to work across several skill areas simultaneously and the ability to rationalise this verbally.

Children’s involvement in musical activity has a profound effect on the development of the child’s general learning. It is now proven beyond doubt that children who are engaged in arts activities, especially music, have advantages in all areas of learning. The research is in, proven and beyond doubt. Why, then, with the evidence so overwhelmingly supporting children’s involvement in arts education, would schools decide to reduce teaching time in these important fields?

In supporting statements of this nature, let’s examine one school in Victoria, the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where senior students spend half a week on the academic curriculum and half a week on their chosen arts discipline. Each year the students from this school seem to do extraordinarily well at the year 12 examinations in spite of only spending half the time on academic work.

How can this be? My view is that they are highly motivated children who have, early in their lives, encountered enlightened parenting and teaching and are motivated to work hard in all disciplines in an environment that promotes creativity, imaginative thinking and individuality. In short, most of them have had early, prior opportunities.

All children in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark seem to have such opportunities; why can’t all Australian children? By ignoring arts education we say to our children: ”You are too stupid to have good education in the arts – your brains will never cope with intense learning in music, for example, so we will only do the bare minimum with you in any arts education and really concentrate on getting you through your NAPLAN tests.”

Wake up, Australia, before it’s too late. Teachers, parents and children need to let governments know that we are heading into a cultural and educational crisis unless we address these issues now.

Richard Gill is the music director of Victorian Opera.

Article in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 February 2011.

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Kids teach parents tech in their own way

This makes me laugh; I think my eldest son may have left home because of this.

It’s true that many of the ‘parent’ generation are less than expert at tech. Embarrassing, yes, and something I can completely relate to. When I did my Master of Education online, I didn’t even (dare I say it) know where the ‘on’ switch on the computer was. So the line ‘have you tried switching it off and on?’ would have not helped me one little bit.

My son was about 12 then and helped me struggle through the whole thing so that I could complete the degree. It was painful for both of us. I used to think that, once I’d logged onto the Charles Sturt University site, if I made a mistake, the people at the other end would know, and it would be embarrassing. The same as when I was a very young and I thought the people on the TV could see me. I’m not very tech-savvy.

It’s ironic  because, as my friends know, I’m connected a lot of the time (still don’t have the phone, but contemplating). My role as teacher librarian in finding and setting up the most interesting, relevant and engaging resources is made possible only by the enormous amount of time I spend online connecting with people and organisations, asking questions, joining discussions, saving it all to Diigo and Vodpod, sharing it with people.

It’s interesting to note the emerging learning styles of young people, on the whole, demonstrate an independence we never had. Connected, they find what they need to do what they want. We get on their nerves because we are helpless and think we need someone to tell us how to do something. They google, youtube, and whatever else, or even create videos to teach us, just to get us off their backs.

As educators, it would be nice if we let go of the traditional teaching/preaching approach, gave our students some credit, trust and space, and allowed them to learn actively by taking charge of the research/learning process. Instead of us teaching them, they could create teaching videos for each other. I hope to try and turn around some of the learning and teaching in the classroom this year.

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What George Siemens knows and is sick of asking.

George Siemens’ recent post is to the point. He says we should stop asking useless questions about learning and just get on with it. The following convictions explain the kind of learning he’s talking about. His second last question has made me think: ‘Which questions are you no longer asking about the role of technology in learning?’ Definitely worth reading the whole post as well as the comments coming in.

Amplify’d from www.elearnspace.org

I’m firmly convinced of the following:
1. Learners should be in control of their own learning. Autonomy is key. Educators can initiate, curate, and guide. But meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity
2. Learners need to experience confusion and chaos in the learning process. Clarifying this chaos is the heart of learning.
3. Openness of content and interaction increases the prospect of the random connections that drive innovation
4. Learning requires time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. Ingesting new information requires time for digestion. Too many people digitally gorge without digestion time.
5. Learning is network formation. Knowledge is distributed.
6. Creation is vital. Learners have to create artifacts to share with others and to aid in re-centering exploration beyond the artifacts the educator has provided.
7. Making sense of complexity requires social and technological systems. We do the former better than the latter.

Read more at www.elearnspace.org

 

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