Blog on Blog #1

I’ve decided to put posts about blogging as “Asides” and not publicize them.

Today I experienced how blogging is changing my teaching.

I told my year 12s that they needed to elaborate as much as possible on their answers. I found myself saying something like:

“The more you write about this the more your mind will work on clarifying what it is that you’re thinking. By writing about something we’re forced to think more deeply and more critically about it.”

I’m pretty sure that this is coming straight out of how I’m feeling about blogging. If nobody ever reads it, it’s still allowed me to clarify, refine and question what it is I’m thinking about my teaching.

Advertisements

The Adult in the Room?

A few years ago I used an online collaborative whiteboard (I don’t remember which one) to collect student’s opinions about something (again, I’ve forgotten what). It was going really well until one of my charmers drew a lovely big willy in the middle of the screen. These were year 12’s and, frankly, I found it a bit funny, so it wasn’t a discipline issue. Still, I shut down the session straight away and moved over to WallWisher. “Right! you can write your ideas down.” Almost instantly someone put a note in the middle of the screen that just said “Willy!” I, of course, was juvenile enough to still think this pretty funny.

Now this is the first question I have:

I know that I can moderate my padlet walls, but are the students really getting genuine student voice if they know they are being moderated? If they know they’re being potentially censored, will they start self-moderating, and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I self censor all the time. Perhaps it’s a good thing that they learn to do so.

At the start of unit two this year I decided to ask my year 11s how I could improve my teaching. I actually did this on the fly, but padlet was in the front of my mind thanks to this post and these comments by and with Aaron Davis. So I told them to tell me how I could improve and this is what I got:

How I can ImproveNow there’s quite a bit to be embarrassed about on this. I do tend to be pretty late with my marking, and I do tend to leave a lot of theory until the last minute. I obviously haven’t taught my students how to spell excursion, either. I’m quite happy with the fact that one of my cherubs had the thought to tell me about a lesson that they thought was particularly good.

Encouraged by this, I then asked them to write down what they thought they could do to improve. Here it is:

padlet2

What struck me about this is how little the students have any idea about what they can actually do for themselves. I know dozens of ways that I can improve, but all they can come up with is “try harder”, in essence. I get PD all the time about how I can improve my general teaching, but (question 2):

When and where do my students get PD about ways in which they can improve their general learning? Is this a problem for other people, or is it just me?

Finally, what I’m pleased about with the examples above is that, despite the fact that students were anonymous, and despite that I was actually asking for a critique of myself, nobody was untruthful or nasty. In fact, I’m sure they pulled a few punches. I think this comes down to having positive relationships with them, and that comes down to their feeling of agency in our classroom. Their feeling of agency makes them able to have an adult exchange, which improves their feeling of agency, and so on.

Am I really the adult in my classroom?
Am I really the adult in my classroom?

As the adults in the classroom it’s up to us to allow our students’ voices to be heard. If at first their voices are nasty and unpleasant, that’s because they’re not used to using them. The more they use them the nicer they’ll become.

At least that’s what I hope.

World-Class or Just Global?

With my deadline for reports looming, I thought I’d just quickly take on Khan Academy.

At the opening session of TL21C Will Richardson presented this slide.

khan

 

He briefly questioned what “world-class” actually meant. My immediate thought was “I’ll bet it means that it’s in English.” Now, this isn’t really a huge problem. One of the great things about online content is the possibility of media being automatically translated and there are benefactors paying to have Khan Academy’s content translated. However, for me it does highlight a more serious issue; what voices are under-represented or completely missing in the online world and what might the effects of this be?

There have always been Big Voices in education, but until now they have been restricted in their reach to regional, or maybe national levels. Occasionally there have been some Very Big Voices who have influenced educational practice internationally, but their influence has been at an organisational level. I don’t know (and there’s a lot I don’t know) of a voice so big in the past that it has influenced on an international level the minutiae of what is being taught at a classroom level, and how it is being taught.

Let me be clear; I think what Khan Academy is doing is excellent. I think the object of bringing education to the entire world is totally noble and I’m really glad that it is being done. I am in no way critical of Khan academy. What troubles me is this: I had a conversation with a maths teacher in which I offered to teach him to screencast some content. He basically said “No, there’s heaps of that stuff on Khan Academy”. This teacher was happy to outsource his teaching and focus on assessment. Again, I’m sure that he wasn’t proposing to outsource entirely, however the fact that he could only name one source of online content was troubling.

I drew this!
I drew this!

Our students deserve a diversity of voices. All our students deserve this. If we choose to outsource our teaching, and fail to effectively curate diverse content, then we are failing our students.

 

 

Moreover, effective learning should be a social endeavour, and the most important relationship our students should have is with us. If they are not hearing our voices, and we are not tailoring our teaching to work specifically for them, then we are also failing them.

Our students need to hear our voices in the classroom and online. If we want them to be learning anywhere at anytime, then we need to make our little voices available to them as well as guiding them to a diverse range of bigger voices.

I feel as though I’ve failed to really say everything I wanted to here. Globalising education, while noble, must have some long-term effects. Our own little voices must be present to provide diversity, and therefore we must develop the skills to make all our voices present.

I refuse to outsource my teaching, however, If Salman Khan wants to drop by and do my reports for me, he needs to get cracking. They’re due in 36 hours.

Why I Lie to My Students

Every year, when I’m teaching Media Influence to my year 12s, we look briefly at Orson Welles’ War of the Words broadcast, And every year, discussing how it had so much impact one of my students says something along the lines of, “but we’re just sort of smarter than they were back then”. What I hope they they are trying to say is that people today are more cynical and less trusting of the media, however I suspect that, deep down, many of them suspect that they are, in fact, sort of smarter than “people in the olden days”.

martian_nonsense

So, every year, in preparation for this conversation, I try to trick them, to prove that we’re all susceptible to a bit of media skullduggery. This year, I’m not sure whether to use this bit of Barry from Watford, which had me in stitches the first time I heard it, and (because I’m such a trusting soul) in no doubt that Barry was a real caller. Or this bit of trickery by Improv Everywhere. I might use both.

I hope that this does two things for my students. Firstly, I hope that they are forced to reflect on how they were tricked; to ask what media codes and conventions were used to trick them. Looking at the Improv Everywhere clip, it’s the cutaways to the supposed bystanders that really suck the audience in.

Secondly, I hope this somehow blunts the arrogance that they have in believing that they are somehow smarter than every generation that has come before them. That they feel connected to people around them, including people around them chronologically, fosters empathy and helps them to consider every situation they encounter from the point of view of others.

More broadly, though, it makes me wonder what the benefits might be of misleading our students more often. One of my favourite devices in both film and literature is the Unreliable Narrator. Think The Usual SuspectsThe Others, or The Sting. The joy of watching these films is the moment when you realise that you’ve been misled, and you then go back over all the events of the narrative and question what was real and what was not. The unreliable narrator forces us to recall, reflect, question, think, evaluate evidence… all the things that we want our students to do.

So, how much should I lie to my students? Could deliberately misleading them on a regular basis actually improve their outcomes in the long run? Could their trust of me actually make them lazy? I suspect it depends, as always, on them.

 

 

The Lurker Emerges

I imagine that you’ve wondered who it is that is reading your blogs and tweets but not commenting. It was me.

Actually, pretty accurate.
Actually, pretty accurate.

I was inspired to start this by this post by Aaron Davis in which he asks, among other things, why I lurk. I’ve lurked for a while now. I’m told that this is a normal phase in one’s emergence as a connected learner, but I feel the need to answer Aaron’s post. By the time I get to the end of it, some sense of its worth may have emerged.

This post began as a comment on Aaron’s original post (which I never actually made) and I’ve written it several times in my head over the last month. I think I’m now resigned to dot points. So, here’s why I lurk:

 

 

  • I’m a traditional teacher and traditional learner. I have generally viewed these activities as existing in their own silos. I’m either teaching (which is something I do to teenagers) or being taught (which is something that gets done to me). I’ve never thought of myself as contributing to the development of other teachers. I realise now that this leap is imaginary. That we all contribute to each other’s development in every professional conversation we have. However, In the past I’ve always seen this as a leap.
  • I’m not a writer. Writing is a craft. It’s not something that every teacher is good at. Some people are excellent writers. All the blogs I enjoy reading are by people who write really well. I’ve never counted myself as a writer, but I guess I’ll just have to learn.
  • I’m not trained in any sense as an eLearning coordinator (which is one of my roles and one of the things I suspect I’ll end up writing a little about). I’m a Humanities teacher who’s fallen into ICT and Media teaching, and eventually into eLearning. I imagine that everyone else in my role is actually trained. Is this right?
  • When I read others blogs, tweets and comments, I actually imagine that all these people know each other. I still imagine that this is the case. So responding to anything online actually feels like intruding into a private conversation. Writing this feels like standing up at a party, uninvited, and making a speech justifying why I’ve turned up.

All of this boils down to fear. I don’t like being afraid of stuff, so I’m jumping in.

So, has any sense of it’s worth emerged? I don’t think so. But I had to start somewhere.