Sunday, December 23, 2007

Is there a Professional Knowledge Base for Using Web 2.0 tools for Student Learning?: A Question, The Education Context, The Implementation Context

A Question

Why not start [teacher's modeling for students] earlier, right from the moment our students sign in [to their blog] for the first time?

Patrick Higgins, who works for the Sparta Township, NJ Public Schools, posted on his blog, Chalkdust: the latest incarnation of my professional self, about the help he gave to one of his colleagues who wanted to set up a blog for her class. His protocol for assistance in this case involved
... showing her what the other Civics class blog looked like, including the types of assignments and assessments the class was using, and the general pattern we followed to allow the students to transition into writing on blogs. A couple things stood out to me as I was describing the process to Carole on Friday:
  • allowing students time to get used to the space is essential
  • rigor is also necessary; time given to assimilate onto the blog should be limited and have a definitive end time where the students know that they can still play, but they are being held accountable for their content.
After we had set her up to play with the blog and finalize her vision for where she wanted to go with it, which she will have time to do over the holiday break, I headed home, still thinking about how I described the process to her.
Later in the post Patrick comments that he read a post by Kim Cofino.
When reading this passage from Kim Cofino, something new was apparent to me about the blog spiel that I deliver to teachers:
All too often, teachers set up an online space for their students and then just “let them have a go” - basically leaving the students on their own in this new environment (sometimes because the teacher is not sure where to start). Not only does this provide fertile breeding ground for misbehavior, but it is definitely not something teachers would do in the physical world, so there’s really no rationale for letting them go in a virtual environment. Teachers must be the model for appropriate behavior online, just like they are in the physical classroom.
It makes perfect sense: teachers rarely give students directions so vague and expect anything of quality to return. As Kim states, it's a breeding ground for trouble to begin. We ask our teachers to be present online, as it insures that they are an integral part of the process the students undergo online; our most successful teachers with students online are our most frequent commenters. Why not start that process earlier, right from the moment our students sign in for the first time? Instead of "hey, let them play for a couple of days," I think I will advocate having the teachers model how to customize their page and require that they "assign" a few of the layout changes to the students by a specified date.
I responded to Patrick Higgins post with the following comments on the educational context I believe is very relevant to the question raised by his post.

The Education Context


As you know, it is not about technology, it is about learning.

We need to professionalize PK-21 leadership and learning. The way to do that is for everyone in the profession to always use our knowledge base to guide our decisions and actions each day for each student. We meet with student 180+ days a year to help them learn. Each of those days is precious and must include relevant learning activities and formative assessments guided by three beliefs: 1) What we are doing today is important; 2) You can do what I am asking you to do; 3) I(we) am(are) not going to give up until you have learned what we believe is essential for you to learn. It is critical that we communicate these beliefs in our words and actions to students throughout school day, each and every day.

Are activities using technology any different?

A blog provides a tool for learning. "Students, what we will do today with this blog is important, you can do it, etc." Prior to that event in the class, our grade-level team or department team should have asked what is essential for the students to learn? We decided that using the blog is the best way to help the kids learn the essential "it." During and after students have used the blog, we check (formatively assess and then summatively) to see if the kids learned what we believe is essential for them to learn.

But what do we do if students do not learn what we consider essential?

As a team, department, and as a school we must have a plan in place to ensure that students will receive emotional and academic support from a variety of different angles and providers to ensure that we find a way for students to learn the essential "it" that, so far, they have not learned.

Providers that could be part of the plan for helping students learn the essential "it:"
  • Guidance counselor
  • Administrator
  • Faculty advisor
  • Upper class student mentor
  • Teaching team members with special skills
  • Grade-level or cluster team leader
  • Department head
  • Special education teacher
  • Volunteer mentor
  • Volunteer tutor
When it comes to the essentials, I think we need to trim down the learning standards that the academic associations and the states have set as targets for student learning and integrate the Framework for 21st Century Learning ( and the new literacies for powerfully using the internet for learning. We need to act on "What are the essential" standards students need to learn.

FYI, I am collecting information related to 21st Century Net Literacies on a wiki in case you are interested.

Thank you for the prompt your post provided. I hope my comments are helpful!



The Implementation Context

Kim Corvino on her blog, always learning: teaching technology abroad, posted about the first year implementation of social networking with elementary school students at the International School, Bangkok, Thailand. She pushes the profession to take Web 2.0 very seriously, as serious as any other effort to establish a meaningful learning environment. Kim models what we need to do to advance the knowledge base in this area. It is an excellent commentary on academics, technology, implementation, change, learning and leadership. Thanks Kim.


Patrick Higgins said...


I figured I would come here and drop my comment off and continue the conversation a little bit.

You lay out a great plan for implementation as a thought and planned process, and I must admit, since reading Kim's post initially, I have had visions of how to organize this meeting with our ed tech and curriculum staff. We need plans like this for addressing exactly how an why we ask our teachers to introduce technology, or better, to embed it into their planning.

As you probably can tell, I am a blog "evangelist" among our district's teachers; There is so much power right at the fingertips of students when you give them space, guidance, and freedom to choose their voice. But that is not to say that we put them there and let them go, yet. We've got much scaffolding to do in order for our students to understand the parameters of writing online and for a relatively unknown audience.

Does blogging or any form of connective writing differ from traditional paper and pen writing? Absolutely; however, there are so many things about it that easily translate: drafting before you publish, proofreading, prompt writing, process writing, relevant topics, finding voice, bringing in expert sources, etc. My biggest stumbling block has been to pull teachers on board to show them how similar the two can be and that the shift, while significant, is not much of a change for them or their students.

mscofino said...

Thanks for the kind words Dennis.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with the need for re-focusing priorities. Schools are notorious (or at least the ones I've worked for) for having too many priorities, too many initiatives, too many specialties in an effort to appeal to all parents on all fronts.

If we don't start to narrow down our focus, all we get is a watered-down fly-by education covering a little bit of a lot of things...

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