Daily Archives: May 31, 2006

One of the best ways to annoy me is to come up to me in mid-conversation with someone about the benefits of blogging and drop this line," Blogging. You've obviously got a lot of spare time." It annoys me on a number of levels. Firstly, because it dismisses blogging as frivolous and as a spare time hobby not worthy of serious time commitment. Secondly, it infers that I'm not working as hard as everyone else and have the before mentioned time to "fill". So what makes blogging, especially the educational type, so compelling to me?

A chance to reflect on my daily work. Since I started this venture last August, I have left signposts of my work along the way. I have thought back on successes, how I would do things differently, recorded steps in processes and resources that I have utilised in my classes. I can check exactly how I was travelling at a particular moment in time, and if I need to construct a report, all of my raw ideas and data are waiting to be moulded.

A chance to build valued connections with other educators globally. Through this medium I have had conversations with other bloggers from all sectors of education, from all corners of the world. I've commented on their posts and they have repaid me many times over with their observations, counsel and insight in my comments section. As I scan through my blogroll, I read online colleagues who have chosen to be a part of my professional learning. I wouldn't be presenting at CEGSA with Al if not for blogging or have met Bill Kerr. I wouldn't have crossed words with Alex or Leigh, or shared anecdotes with Doug from Alaska and Doug from Minnesota. My ideas and writings would not have been remixed in other blogger's posts - this helps to build on my understanding.

In a fortnight's time, Technology School Of the Future here are holding a Blogging Masterclass featuring the wonderful talents of James Farmer and Barbara Ganley. I'm going and I have heard that it is almost totally booked. Today I found the link to the official blog for the Masterclass put together as an example for the session. Before I stuck my big nose in, 16 people had already posted a response making the section read more like a forum. I'm glad this class is happening because I have some concerns about how blogs are viewed currently in our education system and the comments section reflect that to a certain degree. People seem to be worried about moderating and filtering, and that a platform that looks as good as WordPress does must be complicated, and only viewing as a vehicle for their students. My comment summed up my thoughts when I got to the end of the comments:

I’m really looking forward to the Masterclass but my initial response to this post (still very much like a forum, a blog in full flight has many different characteristics) is that we need to look at how we as educators can use this tool ourselves first before we think we are ready to plug it into classrooms. I strongly feel that unless you invest the time to really develop your own blogging skills, what hope do you have of using it to be a transformative tool in the classroom? There is so much opportunity using a blog to improve your practice in terms of gaining a better perspective of education globally, reflecting on your own work and making connections with others worldwide. You have to be a reader of other people’s blogs as well, otherwise you may as well write your thoughts up in a Word document. In summary, until you become aware of the power of a real audience that can potentially come with a blog, you won’t be able to harness that power effectively for your students and blogging runs the danger of becoming a short term gimmick. I think that Barbara especially will emphasize this point of view. See you all there.

I shouldn't be so concerned - after all, these are the educators keen enough to take time out of a busy term, grappling with common report expectations and surely, surely the light will click on as it has for me and the edublogosphere will benefit from their reflections, connections and participation. So blog on......

Tonight after school, we held our termly Middle School Kooyonga Cluster meeting. The focus was on Student Initiated Curriculum and we had some guest speakers - practicing teachers who were prepared to share their experiences and individual approaches. First up, we heard from Richard Maynard, who talked about his school's approach titled "Personalised or Individualised Learning @ Seaford Rise 6-12 School." He started by briefly skimming though the theoretical base (omitted because of time constraints which is a pity because it would have been useful background) and then gave us some contextual information. Seaford Rise has a purpose built Middle School which is quite uncommon in the South Australian education system. The 6-9 year levels comprises 50% of the school's 888 kids in a low to middle socio-economic area in southern Adelaide. There, the Middle School is divided into four sub schools. Richard talked about the use of the James Beane model of negotiated curriculum with three focuses that the students identify through the process (an issue you are interested in that affects your life, Australia and then the world) which then leads to interest based planning. For students inexperienced in the process, scaffolding is provided for successful negotiation. As Richard pointed out, a "free for all" with choice doesn't work and the structures also include rubrics generated for marking. Reflection is also a very important component and is based on DeBono's six hats. An interesting point that Richard also made was that it takes time for students to effectively be in charge of their own learning but once they mastered the strcutures and accountabilities built in, they used the independence effectively. He also pointed out that his classes weren't as switched on or cooperative when faced by more "traditional" or authoritarian style teachers. A high school teacher in the group asked the question about what to do if a student encountered a teacher later in their schooling (Year 10 onwards) whose planned content had already been covered as an independent choice. Richard's response was beautifully simple - let them negotiate an alternative! As he pointed out, covering the curriculum is about mastering skills and concepts, not chewing through prescribed content.

We also heard from Peter Jones, a Year 6/7 teacher from East Torrens Primary, a very culturally diverse school. All children have an Indiviual Learning Plan (ILP) which lasts for a semester and culminates in a three way interview. All ILP's have the previous ILP goals listed, then the next goals are negotiated with the teacher. His perspective was quite different from Richard's as he had inherited a system - albeit, one he was happy to be part of, while Richard's point of view was driven by the fact he was a prime mover in the design of his school's negotiated curriculum focus.

This was an informative hour and it is great that student initiated curriculum is still a focus within our education system, although I am sure that a majority of educators would find the approach to be a big risk to take in terms of changing their practice.