The Concept Of The Virtual Schoolbag

As part of the journey of establishing  and implementing our school improvement plan as a brand new school, we have a school closure day planned for this Friday. We'll be discussing this article as part of the day to help with getting teachers into a common "headspace" about our diverse and complex student population.

In summary, the article makes the point that all kids bring a virtual schoolbag of knowledge, skills and experiences from their home life - but that not all of it has a valued place in our educational system or fits with our preconceived ideas of what is necessary to be a successful learner.

Some children are able to open their school bags when they get to school and make use of what is in there – such as knowledge of the English alphabet, book language, computer experience, and family genealogy. Other children may find that there is little or no way that they can make use of their knowledge and experience – bilingualism, non-English folk music, family small business, sibling care and kitchen duties...

...There are, of course, many possible virtual school bags and many possible educational trajectories as Thomson points out. The problem occurs when some children’s capacities, interests, knowledges and experiences count for little or nothing at school, in comparison to their peers.

This is an important challenge for all teachers but impossible to overlook in a Category One school. If we are serious about personalisation and relevance for students, then working out how to leverage what the student already brings in through the door has to be a priority. That almost always begins with building a positive relationship with the students in one's own classroom. In my new role, that is a much more difficult proposition but I try as much as I can to strike up conversations with students in the yard, on the bus heading off to an excursion, when helping a kid borrow a book in the library or when working side by side with them on their learning. Any snippet that I can notice and enquire about can build that relationship. I've noticed that because I've only been at the school for a term and because I have an official leadership title, kids are surprised if I greet them by name and respond very positively if I can ask a question or make a comment that shows I know more than that. Whether it is an interest in Transformers that I notice, a sibling from another building that I ask about or even enquiring about the ingredients in many of our students' lunchtime Vietnamese rolls, I gaining valuable insight about their "virtual schoolbags".

Link to the full Virtual Schoolbag article.


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6 thoughts on “The Concept Of The Virtual Schoolbag

  1. Jim Stuercke

    Thank you for your post. I am convinced that students will respond in a positive manner when they recognize that they are genuinely cared for, and their interests are taken to heart. Those “positive relationships” that you mentioned are built on a foundation of hope, encouragement, guidance, appreciation, and achievement. The interaction that you describe having with your student population is admirable because it shows a picture of someone who is committed to building such a foundation; more concerned with what he can give to children, rather than what he can get from them.

  2. Michael

    The link to the virtual school bag article seems to now work. Any chance you can attach the article or post the URL? Very much appreciated.

  3. Amar Skalonja

    So as I’m writing an assignment for uni I type ‘virtual schoolbag’ into Google to try and find someone else’s perspective on the concept. Upon doing so I stumble across this blog post, with a rather familiar name attached to it. As a former student of yours it is only now that into the third year of my education degree do I realise the some of the intricacies that are associated with teaching. The virtual schoolbag is a concept that I think everyone ponders at some point, even if that is without realising it or knowing the term ‘virtual schoolbag’. We all think about the different skill sets we acquire outside of school, which are ultimately put aside in the classroom. I agree that it is a difficult to personalise learning for each and every student, however making an attempt to do so is definitely better than presenting content with a cookie cutter teaching approach for each child. I would definitely recommend a reading I was required to do (reference below) which describes two very different children who are about to start school, and how their personal lives have already set them apart in a multitude of ways on their very first day of school. Finally I would like to thank you Graham, and all the other fantastic, innovative, and passionate teachers who have had their own respective impacts on me to ultimately guide me towards a tertiary study in education, and hopefully a career as a teacher.

    Thomson, P. (2002). Schooling the rustbelt kids (pp. 1-16). Australia: Allen & Unwin.

  4. Graham Wegner

    Hi Amar,
    I remember you well – a deep thinker for sure. It is great to see someone wanting to head into the education field. This feels like quite an old post but was written at a time where I had recently moved from Lockleys North (where you went to school) which didn’t have a lot of disadvantage to Woodville Gardens where poverty and other complexities were a much bigger factor. And establishing those relationships are the only real way to truly know what is in someone’s backpack – for example, I still recall your father telling me in a parent teacher interview about your keen interest in history and that you’d stood on the exact spot in Sarajevo where World War One was sparked with the assassination of the ArchDuke of Austria! I’m not saying that I was great at making those connections but I am glad that you recognise their importance. Best of luck – when you gain employment, we will probably cross paths. I am still a long way from retirement!


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