Friday, February 26, 2010

Backchanneling is Brilliant!

During a recent conversation with my Middle School Head, he described an activity he had just completed with his Sixth Grade Geography students. He had planned to show them a video and then lead a discussion of the main themes and supporting ideas. Pretty traditional. I'm not sure why, but he changed his plans and instead created group chat rooms through FirstClass, our email system, and asked his students to write comments as they watched the video.

I leaned forward in my seat as he described the results. The students were completely engaged, he said. They asked questions which other students jumped to answer before he could, they absorbed the content, and made the important connections he had hoped to lead them to himself. Even the quiet kids contributed more to the discussion than he would have expected had he gone with his original instructional plan.

"So you had the kids backchannel while watching the video," I said. "You're backchanneling with Sixth Graders. That's brilliant!" While he had no idea what I was talking about, that's exactly what he had done. And I think he liked it when I said it was "brilliant."

I had literally just finished reading a blog describing this very thing. This happy accident confirmed what the blog's author, Chris Webb, reported, only with Eighth Grade students: engagement, ownership, collaboration, and they were present, not day dreaming or waiting for the class to end. The blog referred to TodaysMeet, a website that allows teachers to set up simple, private, and free rooms for backchanneling events. Teachers can even retrieve a transcript of the discussions.

So kudos to my Middle School Head/Geography teacher. And kudos to all the other fearless, brilliant teachers willing to try something new in the pursuit of learning.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Plan Will Let High Schoolers Graduate Early -

  • I'm not sure this is the best reasoned argument for early graduation and more, more, and more testing. But it does raise the question - what makes those last two years of high school relevant and worth sticking around for? I'm sure the independent schools in those eight states applying for the grant are wondering the same thing. 
    Back to the question - what makes the last two years of high school relevant, purposeful, and worth sticking around for?  Is the is rigorous curriculum?  Is it student life and relationships with teachers? It seems clear that schools must change in order to survive. But how will school thrive?  Moving beyond content and testing has to be a first step. Building communities of learners with a shared purpose might be a second step.  Revising curriculum and moving toward demonstrations of learning through project-based, real-world work might also be part of the equation. How do others feel about graduation by tenth grade?  What can schools, public and private, do to remain relevant?

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Demonstrations of Learning

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Pat Bassett writes about "tangible output" in terms of student portfolios and "demonstrations of learning." How would your curriculum change if the assessment was an actual demonstration of a student had learned? Take a look at the list that Bassett and a group of college presidents and school heads put together as demonstrations of learning. What would you include?

Diigo: More Amazing than Ever!

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

I just figured out how to use "Easy Blog" at Diigo.  This tool makes blogging and sharing with your personal learning network amazingly simple.  So, you find an article online that excites you, you use your Diigo toolbar to bookmark it, tag it, and save it in the cloud.  You add your invitations.  Now all you need is a way to invite others into the conversation.  Wow.

The resource about is an amazing treasure trove of "7 Things" about back channels, about using ning, about lecture capture, about google apps.  Ah, so many things to play with and, yes, so little time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Conversation over Time: The Rationale for Blogging

Anne Davis wrote two years ago a "A Rationale for Educational Blogging" that gives voice to many of the things I've been feeling on a gut level. The rationale addresses not only what students can gain from blogging, but also exhorts teachers to examine their responsibility for preparing students for the new world of communicating and building their ideas. Davis (no relation, I'm afraid) says, "teachers need to address writing for a public audience, how to cite and link and why, how to use the comment tool in pedagogical ways, how to read web materials more efficiently as well as explore other ways to consider pedagogical uses of blogs. Blogging requires us to teach students to critically engage media. Students need instruction on how to become efficient navigators in these digital spaces where they will be obtaining a majority of their information."

And to her long list of pedagogical reasons for incorporating blogs to help our students learn, I add this comment:

"Wow. You can add another item to your list. This conversation has gone on for 2 years! The ability to build a conversation over time — what a remarkable thing! This reminds me of the wonderful way artists, writers, and thinkers have used letter writing in the past to develop, test, and share their ideas. This makes me feel like I’m part of something huge and historic."