My students' blogs have experienced a flurry of comment activity since we returned from camp last week, with generous support from educators from all around the world. This has meant a real learning curve for my class in terms of being more diligent about checking for feedback, learning to be clearer in their own writing and beginning to learn how to facilitate written conversation with the adults who have offered encouragement and challenge in equal measures. Some of my marginally semi-motivated writers have become very enthused and engaged in their own digital writing now that they know people other than their classmates and their teacher are reading. The unwritten social expectations about who is a good writer amongst their peers and most likely to attract comments has also been turned on their head. Quieter, less academic, less disciplined students have received significantly more comments than some of the students used to their work being noticed.
But good writing has been recognised. One of my students has even been mentioned as motivation in a Chris Harbeck blog post. (You should have seen the quiet smile of pride on this normally reserved and self-conscious student's face!) From a teacher's perspective, it now really becomes a process of letting go and seeing how they build on their original lists, seeing how they respond to the challenges others give to them in the comments. I wrote about this very promising start in my beginning of term newsletter in an article I'd like to share here. I've added in links where needed and changed student identities back to their online nicknames.
One of the benefits of safely using online technology like blogs is the ability to learn from beyond the classroom. With our new inquiry topic and the class developing into a very good learning community, I felt the time was right to invite other teachers from my own online network in to assist with the class’s learning.
All students have been publishing an initial post titled “ What’s Unique About Being Australian?” where they created a list of ten things they felt were uniquely Australian. Some students added links to specific websites, some added relevant images and others added their own written descriptions.
Then, I promoted their posts on our classroom blog, my own professional learning blog and directed interested educators to add their comments. They were asked to have a read and leave them some observation or feedback about the students’ choices. I noticed a few comments coming into my moderation mailbox Tuesday afternoon before we left for our camp and this was quite exciting for the students.
One of the first students to publish was Alex008 and she received a comment from Canadian Maths teacher, Chris Harbeck who asked what Milo was. The very next day, a student in his class brought a can of Milo and Chris posted a photo of himself with the can onto Flickr and e-mailed me the link to share with the class. As well as making the connection of an unknown name in the comment to a real person with a real face and a real classroom on the other side of the world, it showed the students that their unique Australian point of view does need careful explanation in their own writing.
When I returned from camp, I had over 60 comments to approve from all over the world from educators (some classroom teachers, a few university staff and a couple of retired teachers) all adding in comments about the Top 10 lists, asking questions, making comparisons and pushing the students’ thinking.
Here are several examples:
“Hi Danni from Chardon, Ohio, USA,
I enjoyed your list and the links with explanations!
I have two questions about vegemite. Do you eat it often and do you like it? Is it a spread used mostly by itself or as an addition to complement the taste of other foods?”
Lani Hall, retired teacher.
“Although I live in New York State [out in the country, a few hours from New York City], I admire John Howard and I’m glad to see him on your list. Australia should be proud that he’s a part of your recent history.
I would have liked to have seen him continue, but I’m glad that he has more time to go about and talk to people all over the world about the issues facing Australia and the United States.”
Matthew K. Tabor, education consultant.
“What an awesome list, you have obviously worked very hard on this project. I’m not too sure that I’d like Kangaroo pies either, I think kangaroos are too cute to eat. I teach 10 year olds over in Auckland, New Zealand. I just had one thought though, ANZAC stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps - so does that make ANZACs uniquely Australian or unique to Australia AND New Zealand? What do you think?”
Kirstin McGhie, classroom teacher.
And some students have really taken to responding respectfully in their own comments to improve their learning.
Anast responded to her commenters in the following way.
"@Chris Harbeck: Anzac biscuits are tasty but sometimes a bit sweet. Hear (sic) is a website for the recipe of Anzac Biscuits: http://www.aussieslang.com/features/anzac-biscuits.asp Your (sic) not the only one who likes chocolate, I LOVE chocolate (but I’m not fat)Yes, In Australia, we do have chocolate chips- I wish I could just get a spoon and eat them out of the packet and a golden wattle is a type of golden/yellow flower. Thanks for leaving a comment on my friends and my blog- do it again sometime!”
She is also planning to modify her list based on the feedback she has received so far, using the internet for learning beyond the four walls of our classroom.
My apologies if I have mis-described any commenter's job description. Our next task is to look at the cultural characteristics of Australians without resorting to stereotypes - and once again, using the viewpoint of others from outside of our classroom will be invaluable. I'll keep you all posted.