Ice ain’t back with a brand new invention (thankfully)
This week I wanted to set up a collaborative approach to editing written work in the classroom. I have two emergent writers who I am helping support at the moment, one of whom is in Fifth Grade and the other in Third. I decided it would be beneficial to have the older student act as a mentor to the younger student, in order to build confidence and help him to see the progress he has made.
The goal of this lesson was to help students notice the differences between spoken and written English. I wanted to provide an opportunity for discussion in which students justify the changes they made to a text. Both students have been working on biographies over the past few weeks. Now that they had completed a draft, I wanted to help support them as they moved onto the next stage of the writing process.
Benefits and drawbacks to using technology
While both students have demonstrated that they are willing to work for longer periods of time, when typing their work, editing and redrafting can be frustrating for them, when using the computer. This is particularly true for my younger student, as he is working towards extending his writing stamina. Both students planned and drafted their work using Microsoft Word and were able to edit synchronously using two devices.
A great benefit to using technology was that students could see edits that were being made in front of them. I asked the students to highlight parts of the text I wanted them to edit before making changes so that they could go through our chosen thinking routine. I had to help support my Third Grade student in locating the different tools in Microsoft Word as he is still familiarizing himself with how everything works.
Throughout this activity, both students were in the classroom discussing changes made face to face. If we were forced to return to distance learning, however, I would feel confident that the students would be able to follow the same protocol online using either Zoom or Teams to communicate.
Making thinking visible
In order to help support the students’ rationale for their changes, we made use of the What makes you say that? visible thinking routine. I felt this worked well as it required both students to work on editing the document whilst simultaneously ensuring that they were giving justification for the changes they made. One of the reasons I felt that this protocol was so useful was that once my Third Grade student started to hear the reasons for edits to his work, he began to make them himself and provided good reasons for making the changes.
School is back in session and everything feels like it is slowly returning to normal in Hangzhou. The barriers in the cafeteria have been taken down, students are not required to wear masks when entering or leaving school, and many of our students who were “locked out” of China are starting to make their way back. My role has changed this year from being a homeroom teacher to working as part of the Student Support Team and we have had a really dynamic start to the year, which has been exciting!
New School Year
A new school year has also meant the start of a new COETAIL course and I took the opportunity to look back over my blog after reading this week’s articles. It was eye-opening, to say the least. I remember throughout courses one and two trying to keep a balance of images and videos which, in my mind, would help create a visual hierarchy of sorts. How wrong I was.
Today I looked at my blog as if I were a reader and it looked like a list. My eyes were not particularly drawn to anything and instead, I felt overwhelmed by a stream of text. Clearly things need to change here and so I began by thinking about what made some of the blogs I use most so approachable.
Looking at other blogs
I started thinking about two of the blogs I look at most often. These are COOKIE + Kate and Smitten Kitchen. I have been using both of these blogs for a few years now to get recipes and inspiration for meals and sometimes the food I cook almost looks like the photographs. Looking at the visual hierarchy of these blogs they have a number of things in common. They both use black text on a white background which makes the blog feel very clean, obviously appropriate for a food blog. This is paired with large photographs of the food they have prepared, drawing in the readers’ eyes. Around the images and text, there is a substantial amount of negative space which, as Alex Bigman mentions in his blog post 6 principles of hierarchy for designers, gives the “content ample room to breathe.“
The changes I want to make to my post then come from inspiration from these blogs alongside Whitney Museum for American Art. I want to try and use more negative space to allow my blog posts room to breathe. I find the visual aesthetic of black and grey text on a white background very attractive so I want to continue using this but think more about how text size can be used to draw in the reader. Finally, I want to try and give more prominence to images I post to help them stand out more, rather than being lost in the text.
After playing around with some new themes and trying to scan as both an F-scanner and a Z-scanner I have come to the conclusion that I need to start including more images to break up paragraphs. My hope is that this will help
A work in progress
After spending far too long with various settings I am yet to find the right aesthetic for me. One issue is that, in the past, I have neglected to include enough images so I am trying to remedy this. I hope that by including more visuals it will help to make my blog stand out more. I would love to be able to play around with the presentation further and start to include elements that would help throw-off particular scanners, however, I feel as though my grasp of graphic design is still very much at the early stages. For the first time, I have started to use the preview button on WordPress to look at what my post will look like before I post it.
My group worked together to write a plan for a PD session centered around the themes we had been learning about from this unit. Here is a link to the finished plan.
On reflection, I feel I left finding a group to work with far too late. I was keeping an eye on Twitter and checking comments on my blog posts but I didn’t hear from anyone. I assumed that many of my cohort were in the same position as myself, feeling overwhelmed from work and behind on everything else. It wasn’t until I saw a post from a cohort member on Twitter saying that their group was almost done that I realized I should have been more proactive in my search.
Fortunately, I received an email regarding a member of our cohort who was in a similar position to myself and we managed to quickly start connecting and collaborating. Working with my group was really easy. The time difference between the places we live is only an hour so it was easy to meet up and check-in with how we were doing. We used Google docs to write our plan both synchronously and asynchronously over a couple of weeks. At my school, we meet to plan collaboratively almost every day so that aspect of the project was fairly easy. We divided up the ISTE standards we wanted to hit and then came up with some ideas. After checking in with each other we fleshed out our plan and delved into the various activities we felt would benefit teachers most.
In terms of the activities we chose, these were largely based on our own feelings about what made other professional development sessions useful. In addition to our own reflections we talked to other teachers at our schools about what they felt made professional development sessions a success. As much as possible, I tried to keep this feedback in mind when planning the activities the teachers would take part in.
When thinking about what to talk to teachers about I thought about the things I had found most useful and engaging from Course 2. I wanted to put together activities and resources that teachers could put into action immediately. One difficulty I encountered was there are so many different resources to pull from that I didn’t want to overwhelm teachers with too many resources or too much research. One of the huge personal benefits I found to this end of unit project was that I ended up rereading quite a lot of the articles from this unit. There were a few snippets I had missed or didn’t remember from the first time through and I’m happy I reread my blog posts too.
I have not had the chance to facilitate this PD yet, however, my vice-principal is a COETAILer from a couple of years ago and he asked me to share my plan with him after reports are in. Similarly, I am looking forward to talking to our head of technology tomorrow about the possibility of drawing up a new AUP for Lower School with some student input. The last few months have been a whirlwind but I’m looking forward to the challenges of next year and Course 3.
After reading through my school’s acceptable use policy I was struck by just how little it mentions social media use. There is a lot on digital citizenship and expectations students should be upholding, however, when it comes to empowering students to connect across global communities there was very little outlined in the school’s policy. Our AUP does lay out expectations regarding the creation of responsible user IDs. It also asks students to consider who they are communicating with before giving out personal information online. Additionally, there is a paragraph on how students are expected to protect themselves on the web and report malicious attacks or inappropriate material.
The acceptable use policy is available through the school website and is reasonably easy to find. A quick GOOGLE search will also allow access to the document. All teachers ask students to sign an agreement at the start of the year where they promise to adhere to this policy. I have tried to always tie this into our digital citizenship unit and encourage students not to sign the document until they feel comfortable with what it says they need to do. I haven’t had to review the policy yet with any students, however, I know that there have been instances where students have had to relinquish control of their device as they did not follow the procedures set out in our AUP.
In times when students do not follow the AUP and misuse technology, they can find themselves banned from having access to tech for a given number of days or weeks. I sometimes wonder if a blanket ban really does anything though. I can’t help but feel that, at times, it introduces the idea that technology is to blame for the actions of a student, rather than the student themselves. If a student hits another child with a ruler we don’t ban the use of rulers in class. Part of the reason this for this is that rulers are not seen as a privilege but rather as a tool. Is technology a privilege or a tool? Rather than taking away complete access to technology, should we instead explore the possibility of restricting access to certain apps or internet sites?
My school’s AUP uses a lot of negative language in order to set out its guidelines. After reading Scott Mcleod’s blog I feel that an Empowered Use Policy should become the norm in schools. Students have a desire to be curious and to mess around with technology. I feel that when a school’s acceptable use policy is worded in a legalistic way it could make students feel less willing to try out new programs or apps. Speaking personally, I want my students to have the confidence to take risks and show off their creations, an EUP could help with this. I also like how simple the language is. It is far more approachable and student-friendly than my school’s current AUP. The other difference in having an EUP is that I believe it would help students know that they will be supported when something does go wrong. Our current policy seems to insinuate that students are wholly responsible for anything that goes wrong with their devices.
In order to make students feel truly empowered I am now wondering if they should have more of a voice when it comes to drawing up an Acceptable Use Policy. I feel as though this would make an AUP more relevant and meaningful to all students. I believe too that the language used would become more positive through having students set out the guidelines for other students. I want to talk with my school’s tech director about the possibility of having our Lower School student council draw up and present the policy after the summer vacation. I would be really excited to see what they come up with.
In a tiny corner of the Northwest United States their lives a creature so rare that few have ever come face to face with it. I refer, of course, to the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus (Octopus Paxarbolis.) The reason for it being so endangered is due to pollution, destruction of its natural habitat, and the fact that it is a prized fashion accessory, adorning hats of the rich and famous. Thanks to the hard work of Kyle Zapato and his campaign to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus there is a small chance that this creature may survive, that is if the remaining few are not devoured by their natural predators bald eagles and sasquatches. At least, this is what I tell my students before asking them to evaluate the website and check for reliability.
I love teaching this Brainpop lesson about website evaluation for two reasons. The first is that students get really excited when they realize that this is a hoax website and start compiling evidence that proves the information is not true. The second is that I find the conclusion to the lesson, the fact that there is misinformation online, really powerful and it’s always interesting to hear the students’ takeaways from this. They really start to question what they are seeing online.
Thinking prior to posting
The most widely used form of social media in China is WeChat. It’s used for everything from chatting with friends, paying for groceries, booking train tickets, and even dating. It perhaps comes as no surprise then that students cannot wait to get their own WeChat account and start hanging out with their friends online. One of the big ideas I try to push is that whatever you post online sticks around. We only need to look at celebrities who have had tweets come back to haunt them as to why students might want to avoid leaving this kind of smoking Gunn. Teaching the acronym T.H.I.N.K to students is an important part of digital literacy and something everyone needs to be aware of.
At this point, my question is how can I ensure students are THINKing before they post anything online? My students last year were an awesome group and I thought I had impressed upon the importance of using T.H.I.N.K before creating posts online. This year, however, temptation got the better of a few of them and they started “roasting” one of their peers online. Fortunately, the student who was being roasted did the right thing and let his teacher know and it was stopped before it could get any worse.
I don’t want to use scaremonger tactics and have them thinking that having an online presence is a terrible thing, but I also don’t want them to create posts that have a negative impact on others. Throughout this unit I am consistently coming back to the conclusion that students need to have more exposure to social media platforms as part of their digital literacy curriculum. Furthermore, I feel that the platforms they use in class should be the same platforms they are going to be using at home. By incorporating online realia into the classroom we can help students make good decisions online and help to keep them safe.
One way I am thinking of doing this came from reading Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) In the article there is a mention of Byrd Middle school using a MySpace clone to create social media accounts for historical figures. I am already thinking of how this could be adapted next year to pair with our unit on biographies. This could potentially allow students to interact in character and let them role play different ways of responding online.
I think encouraging students to question what they see and hear is a start. Being able to evaluate sources for bias and going as far as to understand the differences between domain suffixes can help students gauge whether a source is reliable or not. We also need to allow students opportunity for experimentation, to make mistakes and be encouraged to learn from them. To me, I feel as though the classroom is the best place this can happen.
On a final note, as more schools are reopening what is everyone doing to continue to support students who are out of the country? I have three students who are unable to reenter China as they are not Chinese citizens. I am still setting work for them to complete with the rest of my team, however it feels a lot more like setting homework assignments rather than teaching. I talk to my students after school each day and try to give them feedback on their work as well as touch base with how they are doing. I have also been having students from my class call them and discuss work and strategies for solving maths questions. I am wondering if anyone else has had success with supporting students who cannot return to school for any reason after school has reopened?
And now for something completely similar. After reading through all of the material this week and feeling rather self-congratulatory on how safe my personal data is, I got phished. On Friday morning I received an email that was posing as a co-worker asking for a “FAVOR.” Without thinking (or checking the email address) I responded straight away happy to help out this person in need. She then asked if I would send her some STEAM (online gaming platform) gift cards offering to reimburse me for my effort. I blame James Veitch for my response.
I quickly blocked the sender as I had more pressing things to get on with, however, it really made me realize just how easy it can be to fall for such an obvious scam. This is especially true when the email comes from, what appears to be, a coworker’s email account and even includes their email signature. My school’s tech director quickly sent out a message informing teachers of what SHOULD be done, including advice not to respond and to forward any emails to the technology department.
I would not share my response to this particular spam email with my students, however, I do think it is important to make students aware of the fact that they will receive emails that will be directly attempting to steal their data or worse. As educators, we need to be explicit in our instruction on how to deal with fraudulent emails. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) warns of how having a “laissez faire approach … assumes children, on their own, can develop the ethical norms needed to cope with a complex and diverse social environment online.” Without having some strategies that they can implement independently, students are at risk of handing out their personal information. This Blog post by Chris Zook spells out some teaching suggestions for keeping Middle School students safe online. I would argue that many, if not all of these, can also be taught to elementary students in order to increase awareness of online safety.
My school does not allow access to many forms of social media from student computers. This ban can be lifted by our technology department depending on whether teachers need access to specific sites. Until this unit I hadn’t ever really questioned this. It seemed logical in order to keep students “safe” and focused on class. I am staring to question this though. In the video I posted last week Henry Jenkins asked, “Why students are safer encountering social media on their own outside of the classroom, rather than entering into a space where there are knowledgable adults who can talk to them about safe and ethical use of technology.” When “Omeagle gate” hit the fan a few years ago it became abundantly clear that those students did not know how to protect themselves online. I talk to my students about safe use of digital media and how to guard themselves against cyber-theft. Now I am asking myself though if I am depriving students of the opportunity of gaining experience with forms of social media in a safe environment where they can have questions answered and receive help as needed.
Another element I am reflecting on is sharing student work online. My school doesn’t really have any formal guidelines for this so I sometimes question whether I have the right to do so or not? I know I can post work anonymously but does this take away from students as creators? I enjoy getting ideas from my PLN about ideas to incorporate into lesson plans, and it is always useful to see exemplars/ finished products that help bring lesson plans to life. My hesitation still comes from a respect of and desire to protect privacy, am I taking this too seriously?
And now for something….
I had just started to read an article titled, “The Real Cost of Tweeting About My Kids” as it had an intriguing subheading, “When I’ve told you what my son said, it’s not “his data” anymore.” Suddenly a notice popped up asking me to log in to support independent journalism. I clicked “Sign in with Google” and, pretty much on auto-pilot, didn’t think about what I had done until a few minutes later. I went to my Gmail and, sure enough, there was a message confirming my subscription to The New York Times. The first page of my email contains messages from Duolingo, REI, Asus Web Storage, Twitter, Code Academy, TES, and Kate at Twinkl. One of my big takeaways from this week is that I need to start really thinking about who I am sharing my data with and why. I want to try and encourage my students to think like this too. While logging in with Facebook or Google is convenient it allows access to personal information and data. I want to try and facilitate more opportunities for students to encounter situations such as this. My hope is to help them analyze what they are sharing, who they are sharing with, and to think critically about why they are being asked to share their data. I feel that the classroom setting is the perfect place to expose students to questions like this. An environment where they can feel safe and know they will be supported.
I’ve had students back in class for a week now and I have to admit it has been wonderful to see them all. There has been a lot of work reestablishing routines, reflecting on successes, venting frustrations, and rebuilding our community. I’ve also taken the opportunity for a change in role next year. I have been a fourth grade teacher for the last three years however, as of next year I will be the lower school student support specialist. I am really excited about the change in position and continuing to work with a number of students who are currently in my class.
I talked with a few students today about their use of social media. We still have a few students who are stuck outside China and unable to reenter the country. Because of this many of my students are still logging into Microsoft Teams to catch up with each other. They spend a lot of time sharing Gifs and messing around with different fonts. There are even times when they talk about work and ask each other for help accessing files and folders online. Another popular social media app with students is TikTok. I had heard of this app but I had to research what it actually is used for.
My students told me that they use TikTok to create and share videos dancing or lip syncing to songs with each other. It’s great to hear about them being creators and admit to geeking out over a social media platform. Thinking back to when I was in school, this all feels a long way from monochromatic text messages sent from my Nokia 3310 or meeting up with friends on MSN messenger.
During the Global Read Aloud my class connected with a few classes in the United States. Students shared their thoughts, reflections, and predictions through the social media app FlipGrid. While we had some successes in linking up with other classes it was difficult for students to fully engage with the application. Some found that they could not log onto the website at home due to issues with their VPN while others never received a reply after sending messages to other students. This has, distance learning aside, been our only foray into using social media inside the classroom. In some ways we are limited, being in China, to which applications we can ask students to use. I am curious to hear about alternative apps that teachers have had success with in promoting social media use amongst students. Stephen Mosley lists 16 Ways Teachers Can Use Social Media in the Classroom and I can see some applications we could use here, particularly when it comes to showcasing student work.
Effects of Social Media on Students
I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of ways students are able to communicate with their friends online. From chatting in games such as Fortnite and Minecraft to sharing videos on YouTube, my students have a vast array of tools at their disposal. In her article Video games level up life skills, Kathryn Hulick reports how “Researchers in Scotland found that playing video games in a group can improve young adults’ communication skills.” After speaking to my students, however, a number of them report experiencing some form of verbal abuse when playing games online both with strangers and with their friends. I teach students the importance of being a good digital citizen and how to have positive interactions online. It often seems though that students want to try and push the boundaries and experiment with sending messages they know to be inappropriate to their friends or classmates.
It was refreshing then to read the NPR article Teen Girls Flip The Negative Script On Social Media. Stella Lau’s report on how some teenagers in the US are trying to create a more positive place online for teenage girls was inspiring to read as it shows just how much power our students can have online. As teachers though I feel it is our place to help students see that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I know, and I apologize for the cliché, but one way I can see of doing this is by exposing students to social media in class. In his video, Henry Jenkins talks about the importance of incorporating social media into the classroom and how many teachers, of whom I admit to being one, shy away from using it in class.
A few years ago someone stole my photos. Full disclosure, it happened on Facebook. Nonetheless, a “friend” reposted a collection of my photographs as one of their albums. In some ways, I suppose my ego should feel a little inflated by this, however, I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to my ability as a photographer. Instead, I felt a little hurt that I didn’t receive any credit for my original photographs or at least a message asking if he could repost them.
I always share this anecdote with students during our (now revamped) digital media unit when we explore a creator’s rights and responsibilities. Common Sense Media has an excellent lesson plan on this subject that serves as a great introduction to plagiarism and giving attribution. In the past, I had relied heavily on photos for class as photographs from this site come with attribution embedded. Moving forward, however, I want to start teaching students how to use advanced Google Image searches to help them find photographs that they can use and give attribution to.
In all honesty, I had never really considered the importance of giving attribution to internet resources until I participated in professional development by Project GLAD. At the end of this training, I and the other members of staff who completed the course were given access to GLAD’s resource bank. We were encouraged to share any resources that we created and given free access to other teacher’s work with the proviso that we give credit to the creator. At the time I was still very new to teaching and I remember thinking that I didn’t mind if people used my resources and didn’t give me attribution. My feelings towards this have changed over time though, now I feel that when I share a resource and sign my name to it I feel as though I should receive credit for it. This is a feeling I want to instill in students too.
Times are a-changing
As mentioned in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) “57 percent of teens who use the Internet – could be considered media creators.” I am very curious to see, after a few months of distance learning, how this number will change. I would expect to see a huge increase as students adapt to online platforms and start messing around with the tools at their disposal. Equally interesting will be how students perceive themselves as media creators. This census by Common Sense Media in 2015 found that teens felt as though they spent far more time consuming, as opposed to creating, media.
I wonder if more students would now see themselves as media creators or if they simply see themselves as students completing work for their teacher? Over the past few weeks, my Fourth Grade students have been creating and sharing stop motion videos about the rock cycle. Using a combination of Stop Motion Studio and iMovie, the students have been sharing their videos with their classmates and giving each other tips during our daily meetings. Many have been inspired to make their own videos on subjects ranging from penalty shootouts to the woes of having a slow internet connection.
I would like my students to know that they are creators, directors, writers, and editors. As such they are the owners of their intellectual property. Nobody has the right to simply take their work and claim it as their own. As an addition to my unit plan, I think it will be important to look at remixing work and how this affects copyright.
I think that schools have a huge responsibility in teaching students about ownership of intellectual property. Educators need to serve as role models for students in order to reinforce the importance of copyright. Last week I was called out by one of my students for a PowerPoint I created as none of the images had attribution. On the one hand, I felt a little embarrassed as he was completely right, however, on the other hand, I took this as a sign that my students were beginning to take action and apply their learning to the world. We need to ensure that schools are also modeling copyright protection even if the country the school is located in does not have strict copyright laws. I think this is important in order to dissuade students from plagiarising work, even unknowingly, not because it is illegal but because we want students to think for themselves and concentrate on developing their own skills.
I chose to revamp my How We Organize Ourselves unit of inquiry for my COETAIL unit 1 final project. I really wanted to review this unit as I felt it connected with so many of the elements from course 1 and, although I was proud of what we achieved, I felt I could have done more to integrate more tech into our unit. It was this paired with my recent experiences of teaching distance learning that inspired me to revisit this unit. On the one hand, it’s a shame that I won’t have the opportunity to teach it until August. With the current uncertainty of when we’ll get back into the classroom, however, I feel as though this will mean I am able to get the new school year off to a tech-filled start. My unit plan can be found below and here.
The planner I used does not really have a space to include the ISTE standards. Seeing as my school is moving towards using them I wanted to include the standards that I have tried to incorporate into this unit below. I chose these standards as I felt they best fit this unit of inquiry and would benefit students most at the beginning of the year.
1cStudents use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
1dStudents understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
2aStudents cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.
2bStudents engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.
2cStudents demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
2dStudents manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.
3bStudents evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
5bStudents collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
Differences from other units
I suppose the biggest difference between this unit and others I have designed is that I intentionally reviewed this with the aim of including as much authentic technology integration as I could. I kept the central idea and lines of inquiry the same, however, I really questioned how I could add technology without making it feel tacked on. I believe that by adding more tech integration I will see students make stronger connections to the central idea but also see students starting to take action even more than they have done this year.
While the inclusion of the Common Sense Media units remains the same I wanted to try and extend many of the tasks so that students could have more experience with using technology. Much of the tasks students did after completing the Common Sense Media units earlier this year were done on paper. I found the Google training inspirational and felt G suite integration would be highly beneficial for students. Through the use of Google forms, for example, I believe students would feel more comfortable answering questions about cyberbullying. The addition of a collaboration with the Mandarin department was an idea I discussed after the unit was over this year. I think that by adding this, however, I would be in a stronger position to support language learners with some of the technical vocabulary of filming.
As students have been completing many of their tasks digitally over the past two months of e-learning it has become apparent that students are in need of an online portfolio. One of my objectives is to have students create and maintain an online e-portfolio for the whole year. If introduced at the start of the year I am anticipating there will be much geeking out as students learn how to customize their site.
Relating to course 1
I think my biggest take away from course one comes from Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) and that is the necessity for giving students the opportunity to geek out and mess around with tech. I want to give students ample time to experiment and try out new things in a safe environment. My hope is that this will build students’ resilience when facing issues with technology and equip them with strategies they can implement independently. Once they have some skills in their toolbox I plan on giving students search quests where they can further hone their computer literacy skills while being supported by their peers. I also want to help students feel empowered through technology and give them a sense of ownership over their creations. This is something I really hope comes through over the year as they build their e-portfolio.
My biggest aim in terms of outcomes is to help students feel as though they are equipped to show resilience. I want them to feel confident in solving problems independently and know where to look for answers. I also, rather selfishly, hope to instill a love of creating and editing video in each of my students. I have hyperlinked the rubric I plan to use here as an adapted Summative Evaluation Rubric. I feel as though this would give students plenty of opportunities to find success and also to start learning about the importance of collaboration.
Spring break has been moved forward by a week so it seems as though this is a good opportunity to reflect on things that have and haven’t worked during e-learning. As the rest of the world starts it feels strange to have been on the front lines, trying out a number of different ideas to keep students motivated and engaged. Some have been more successful than others but I am proud of what my team and my students have accomplished. On Friday my class had a reflection meeting where we took stock of our accomplishments and reflected on how had felt things had gone so far. It was good to hear the students’ perspectives on how they felt they had done, activities they had enjoyed, and what they would like to see more of when we return from the break.
Well that went well…
I began the first week of e-learning by assigning the students a summative task for the end of our unit of inquiry. The students had planned a migration story before the Chinese New Year vacation and so I set them the task of drafting and revising their work. The idea was that this would be a week-long process allowing for teacher feedback and guidance with the final product due at the end of the week. The first thing I realized was that distance learning is not like learning in the classroom. Students saw that the deadline was Friday and so the majority did their work on Friday. Looking back I now see the students needed additional scaffolding with a more gradual release of responsibility. If I were to do this again, I would begin by modeling the writing process through videos shared with the students. I would have written a paragraph collaboratively using the meeting feature on Microsoft Teams and then assigned students partners in the same time zone to work on a paragraph together. All of this would have been done before asking them to work independently. By aligning this task with Vygotsky’s gradual release of responsibility model I could have reduced student anxiety in addition to helping all students find success.
Strict deadlines are another thing that I found do not work with e-learning. I had students in different counties around the world who were unable to access material posted online at the same time as their peers. Flexibility and a focus on communication helped alleviate some of the pressure many students were feeling at the start of e-learning. I have observed that more students have started to reach out for help as the weeks have progressed and the majority of students have settled into a daily routine.
Access has been a recurring area of difficulty during e-learning. After attending the ACAMIS technology conference in October I was incredibly grateful for the toolkit I had at my disposal. I quickly found, however, that many websites were having issues that meant students could not view content from their homes. I had to work closely with my team to come up with solutions that would allow students to be able to access the materials we had posted each day. We posted files to Google Drive for students outside China and Microsoft’s One Drive for those here at home. We found that by posting videos to YouKu we were able to support students in China whose internet was too slow to download large MP4 files. Additionally, I quickly learned that I needed to test all websites using an internet connection without a VPN before asking students to use them. During the first week of e-learning, I forgot to do this and found that many of the websites I had posted to had restricted use for students in China. Perhaps the biggest take away though was that e-learning is not the time to be attempting to introduce students to new websites. They need to have had previous exposure and feel confident in navigating platforms in order to make the most use of it.
Microsoft Teams has been incredibly useful in allowing students to stay connected to the rest of their class. I have been holding daily meetings in the mornings and afternoons to connect with my class. I feel that building a learning community is one of the most important and best parts of teaching. I’m looking to Vygotsky again here but his theory on social learning has heavily influenced my pedagogy. One of the big questions I faced was how do I let students know that they are still part of 4B when they’re out of the classroom? Consistent video conferencing has been extremely helpful in helping me meet my own expectations. These meetings have followed a familiar formula each day where I explain the day’s tasks and schedule, answer questions and clearing any misconceptions students may have, and finally sharing stories or work from the previous day. Students reported they found these motivating and enjoyed the opportunity to meet online with their peers. The more experience they gained with Teams the more they began experimenting and building their own communities. Different chat groups started to spring up and the students had a place where they could talk to one another and feel connected again.
For students with ESOL needs, I felt it important to try and talk over the phone every day in small groups so that they could maintain their conversational English. By doing this I have found that students quickly grew in confidence when speaking over video chat. After the third or fourth session, many of these students felt more comfortable in joining meetings with other members of our class and began asking me for help independently when they needed it.
One of the benefits of students being at home is that they had access to their personal devices. This allowed for a great deal of tech integration into every single day. Students regularly used PowerPoint to create presentations and share their understanding with others. A number of students have been creating videos and a few have started to edit them to add music or titles with iMovie. I had the students create a Leap Year detector in Scratch that they could use to test whether years from the past were or weren’t leap years which helped to round off a maths unit. My team also managed to have the students take part in a virtual field trip, exploring the galleries of an art museum. All of which has helped the students stay motivated and excited about learning.
My own experience
It’s incredible just how much extra work e-learning is compared to being in the classroom with the students. The thought that needs to be put into every assignment as to whether students will understand directions or they will know what to do if they’re stuck can feel overwhelming at times. My experiences with COETAIL have helped me see things from my student’s perspective. Many of them are taking extra online classes in addition to the work set by me and they are finding it hard to find balance. It’s something I have found difficult too but I am slowly finding it easier and getting back to feeling grounded. We still have some time with distance learning ahead of us, however, we have started to hear rumors that we may hear of updates regarding school reopenings soon. Things are starting to feel more like they are getting back to normal here so I think it’s good for all educators to know that there is an end to this. I asked if I was meeting the needs of my students in a previous blog post. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to answer that question yet but I am proud of all I have achieved over the last seven weeks and it’s amazing to read and hear the experiences of other teachers going through the same thing.