A Great Way to Obtain Quality Student Feedback

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School's out for summer! Take 2.jpg

I’ve just completed my 15th year of teaching high school students in the area of biblical and religious studies. And I’ve learned a lot during my 15 years.

I’ve learned that in spite of having a plan, things don’t always go the way I’ve planned.

I’ve learned if I don’t have a plan, don’t try to wing it, because students will see right through it (very early lesson).

I’ve learned I can’t get better as an educator if I don’t know what I’m doing right.

I also can’t get better as an educator if I keep doing the same things that have a negative impact on my students over and over again. That’s called insanity.

So I learned that to know how well I’m doing as a teacher, I must ask those whom I serve how well they are being served. I must ask for feedback from my students.

For some teachers, asking for feedback from students can be a scary proposition. I’m no different. Because I might get slammed.

And, of course, my feelings might get hurt.

But for any teacher to improve his or her teaching practice, it’s necessary obtain feedback from the learner.

I’ve been asking for that feedback for many years.

When I first began, I asked my students to fill out feedback forms with ratings-type questions, asking students to follow up their rating with written feedback to elaborate on their responses. I’ve received some good feedback that way. However, students often don’t go the extra mile to provide that type of feedback, especially if it’s at the end of the semester. Students just want the semester to end, and to do anything extra is not on their radar.

After awhile, I began creating Google forms to obtain feedback. Using technology to ask the same types of questions was a bit more efficient, yet, students still weren’t providing the detail I was seeking.

I was probably asking for too much. Or not asking for the information I needed in the right way.

I recently read about a way to elicit student feedback in a way that not only provides effective feedback for the teacher, but also might be a little fun for the student – writing a “Letter to Future Students of Mrs. Solomon’s Class.”

mailboxInstead of directing my students to a Google form with the standard questions, I used the Google form to present my students with the following prompt:

Now that we’re done with the course, I’d like you to reflect on the course’s high points and low points, and offer advice to those who will sit in your place next fall.  What do you wish you had known going in to the class?  What do you wish you would have done differently?  What should future students know about the course and your teacher, Mrs. Solomon?

It seemed the students had a bit more fun completing these evaluations. But more importantly, in my mind, I obtained the type of feedback I had never received in past years that I had always sought after.

In past years, I’d get favorable reviews, not really understanding why the reviews were favorable. This year was a bit different. For example, one student wrote:

Hi Future NT Student,
Going into this course, I expected to be just sitting and memorizing names, dates, and other information as we went through the books. Instead, we have had interactive activities and amazingly fruitful discussions about the Bible itself, present-day interpretations of biblical ideas, and many pertinent ethical issues. If you ask Mrs. Solomon a question, she truly thinks about it with an open mind from different view points and the resulting answer is well thought-out and unbiased. I don’t think I would have done anything differently except for maybe participate more at the beginning – our class discussions (especially towards the second half of the semester) have been amazing because of our class’s participation. This class has definitely been one of the most interesting classes I’ve had and it has taught me so much about the New Testament and about life in general.

This “letter” provided valuable feedback for me in that I learned that the “new” way I did discussions in the class was fruitful for my students. The way I conducted class for this student successful.

Another student wrote:

…there are open note quizzes and discussion quizzes that end up making you remember more information in the long run than you would if you had to cram to memorize your notes the night before.

I learned from this comment that the methods I use for assessment have been effective. It’s always been the bane of my existence to have to have students memorize information for a “test.” I mixed it up this year, trying to provide different methods of assessment that suited all my students.

I am writing to you to tell you all about Mrs. Solomon’s New Testament Bible class. Honestly, nothing surprised me academically in the class, except I did not expect us to have such profound and deep discussions. I felt like not only were we learning about history and the bible, but how to apply the bible to our lives, which I think is the most important. We were able to learn, grow, and discover new things in this class. Honestly I don’t think Mrs. Solomon could have made the class any better. She focused on the learning aspect of the class and less about grades, which I truly appreciated. Since I wasn’t as worried about my grade, I was less stressed and more of a willing participant in class. The advice that I could give to future students, is to participate in class, because if you don’t you will honestly miss out. Don’t be afraid to open up, because your bible class can become a lot closer with each other and enjoy each other’s company throughout class time.

(emphasis mine)

I wanted to include this because one of the things I tell my students is that it’s not the grade that matters, but what you learn and how you learn. It sounds like lip-service to say it at times, but I now have evidence that my teaching methods reflect this mindset.

Student feedback is no fun unless you receive some constructive criticism.  A student remarked:

…I really appreciated the way that Mrs. Solomon taught the bible as a historical text, rather than a religious one. I wish we had done more projects, or at least done assignments that were different. We did a lot of the same stuff.

I didn’t include enough variety in terms of assignments in my course. I’ve already got a solution for this (I’ll talk about this later). But it reaffirmed for me that students need a bit of variety to keep things interesting.

Here’s another one that showed me how important it is to check student work:

I think that you should walk around the classroom to check for annotation work, giving the students a little feedback along the way and also ensuring everyone did the work they were supposed to do.

Got it. Will do.

Here is one last one that scared me when I first started reading it.

To whomever it may concern,

The class you are about to take is incredibly boring and teaches absolutely nothing about the New Testament. There is no interaction, no discussion, no fun, and certainly no enthusiasm on the part of the instructor. Literary devices are overlooked to push the Christian agenda of the Bible, and there is certainly no room for your take on the text. Brace yourself for a semester of gritty, hard work and tedious lectures that ultimately serve only to glorify Christianity.

Also, everything above is entirely false. This class was not at all what Old Testament was– at least for me. Filled with conversation and passion, this is a class that teaches both the objective historical context of the Bible and the subjective thematic meanings within the passages. There will be creative thinking, there will be analytical thinking, there will be individual thinking, there will be group thinking; there will be a lot of thinking about the concepts explored by the authors of the Bible followed by a lot of discussion in which you will be introduced to countless other viewpoints and begin to harbour a deep appreciation for the complexity of the Biblical text, regardless of your religion. This is a great class. Mrs. Solomon is clearly both highly knowledgeable about and incredibly enthralled by the New Testament, and her teaching style definitely reflects it. This is not a difficult course, nor is Mrs. Solomon a difficult instructor— just pay attention. My advice: do your reading, do your annotations, take good notes, and you’ll be fine.

I don’t include these excerpts to toot my own horn. I include them because I learned a lot about my teaching practice from these “letters,” feedback that I’ve not ever received from a “traditional” student feedback or evaluation method. I’m not saying that the traditional methods are not valuable. It seems, though, the “letter” format was more fun for my learners, because they know their letters will be seen by future students. They will have an impact on the success of my future students.

Nonetheless, next time I do this, I will ask students to expand upon the “lows” of the course by asking them to include in their letters:

  • What did you not like about this course?
  • Provide some insight about problems you had in the course.

If your academic year has not ended, and you’re wondering how to find out what worked in your teaching and what didn’t work, I recommend asking your students to write a letter to your future students. You should get great information to help you as you reflect on your past year to make your next year a great one for your future learners.

Have you used this method of obtaining feedback in your teaching practice? What methods work for you? Let me know in the comments.

Update: A Great Way to Recharge – The Educator’s Room National Conference!!!

UPDATE: The conference date will be rescheduled for the Fall of 2015.

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I’ve been teaching in the humanities at an independent school in Atlanta, Georgia for 15 years.

Specifically, I’ve been teaching biblical and religious studies since I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2000.

My daughter is about to “graduate” from a public elementary school in Douglas County, Georgia. People often ask me, “Why doesn’t your daughter attend the school where you teach?” To that I answer,

“I believe in public education.”

In spite of budget cuts and high-stakes testing in American public school systems, I believe all children can get a quality education, no matter where they attend school. But it takes considerable work and commitment on the part of parents as well as teachers and administrators. We all have to work together to ensure children of all backgrounds can get the quality education they deserve.

So like many of us, I have had to work to advocate as a parent. But I’ve also had to reflect on the effectiveness of my own practice as a teacher.

I try to evaluate myself regularly, both formally and informally. And frequently, I feel I come up short.

Which is why I’m excited about “The Educator’s Room National Conference,” being held in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, July 17, 2015 at the AMA Executive Center located at 1065 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309.

UPDATE: The date of the conference will be rescheduled for the Fall of 2015.

As stated on the conference page of The Educator’s Room, “The Conference Team picked a line up of dynamic speakers who embody the phrase, ‘Educators as the Experts’.” And who better to learn from than classroom teachers who’ve been in the trenches, who’ve experienced the ups and downs in their teaching practice, and who’ve discovered ways to help teachers become better teachers, so that children under their care can receive instruction that best meets their needs? Here is what your registration will include:

  • Access to numerous workshops centered around teaching and learning
  • Complimentary subscriptions to digital resources, such as Flocabulary
  • One keynote speaker and panelist of teacher leaders
  • Opportunities to connect and network with hundreds of teachers

The day promises to be filled with lots of opportunities to learn and network with other educators. One of the workshops to which I’m looking forward is “Bridging the Racial Divide vs. Crossing Cultural Lines: Challenging the Values of Other People’s Children,” by high school English teacher Dr. Jacqueline Burnett-Brown from the Cobb County School District (Georgia). This session is particularly timely given the state of race relations in our country, and I am certain I will learn effective strategies I can share with my colleagues and use in the classroom.

Click HERE for the entire schedule and workshop offerings.

The day is sure to be informative and energizing. And with the conference scheduled just a few weeks before school begins, attendees will have time to plan curriculum using the strategies learned and practiced at the conference.

If you are an educator who seeks to make a difference in the lives of their students and schools, register NOW for The Educator’s Room National Conference.

Teaching as Wisdom-Seeking

I love teaching.  I love teaching biblical texts.  Teaching biblical texts affords me the opportunity to help my learners understand scripture in a way that they’ve never had the opportunity to learn it before.  I get to help them explore the texts in their historical and cultural contexts, but we also get to explore together how those texts influence our culture and lives today.

In my Old Testament classes, we’ve been exploring the narrative of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.  We do a pretty close reading of texts because I find that students’ assumptions of biblical events and the meaning of those events is often colored by what they may have previously heard in church, and crucial details are often missed, which sometimes leads us to a not-so-complete interpretation of the stories.  I think we do ourselves a disservice by not attending to these sacred texts intently, because we can possibly miss what the original intent of the writing was.

Not that there aren’t other ways to interpret the Bible other than historically.  I’m by no means saying that.  I’m just saying that I’ve discovered that examining scripture in its original context can provide some pretty rich interpretations, and can really help to enrich one’s faith.  At least it has enriched my own.

Okay, I’m a little off on a tangent…

My learners and I were exploring the following text:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“  (Genesis 3:1-3)

Now, that’s not the command God originally gave regarding that tree.  God originally told the man (Adam):

“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”  (Genesis 2:16-17)

So you can see, what God told the man and what the woman said God commanded are a little different.

So I asked my 9th graders, “Why do you think she got the commandment wrong?”

Some students said, “Maybe she just didn’t hear the command clearly.”  Others said, “Well, God didn’t give it to her, and so the man (Adam) may have not communicated the command clearly to her.”

To which one of students said,

“Maybe he just didn’t like her.”

Silence.

I was speechless.

Because it made sense.

For what other reason would he blame her for being tempted to eat the fruit?  For what other reason would he not fess up to getting the command wrong?

So I stood there in the front of the class, pondering what she said.  For about a minute.  I couldn’t seem to move on from my learner’s statement.  It intrigued me.

And my other learners watched me in my state of intrigued-ness.  I think they took some delight in it, knowing that, as I said to them, I had heard something about that text that I’d never heard before, and it came from a 14-year old.

Which is why I teach.

I learn so much from my learners.  If I ever think that I’m teaching only to impart a bunch of knowledge, to open my students’ brains and pour into them everything I know, then I need not be in a classroom.  For my classroom is a community, and we are all there to learn.

In that moment, I was reminded of how each of us has a voice, a very important voice, because God has imparted to each of us a measure of wisdom.  It’s up to us to hear that wisdom and use it for the betterment of us all.

And it doesn’t matter who imparts it.  Whether I get it from my 8-year old daughter, my 14-year old freshmen, my 17-year old seniors, my ??-year old husband (who is incredibly wise), or someone on the street, it doesn’t matter.  God uses His children to share His wisdom with us all.

And I’m thankful I’m in a position in which I can encourage my students to explore their own inner wisdom by asking questions which causes them to dig into texts differently than they’ve done in the past.  Because in doing so, I think I’m empowering them to use those voices for good.

I hope.

The challenge – look for wisdom to come in unexpected ways.

(Cross-posted at my other blog – Wisdom Walking In Wisdom’s Footsteps)

9/11 Remembrance

As we approached 9/11 this past week, I struggled a bit with what to do with my students in my classes this week. I wondered if my students would weary of the remembrance of the day, not because of any disrespect, but just in hearing about it every day for the past couple of weeks. Yet, I finally decided to show a documentary by Brooks Peters, who was in his second day of kindergarten when 9/11 happened. The documentary is entitled “The Second Day” (named so because it was Brooks’ second day of kindergarten in Manhattan on 9/11). He completed this documentary just recently at the age of 14, and recounts the voices of students and teachers who were at school in Manhattan that tragic morning. It’s a great documentary; you can view the trailer here, and get information on how to view it here.

Earlier in the day on Friday, Sept. 9th, our school conducted a memorial during our assembly period, in which members of the community recalled what they were doing the day the United States was attacked and thousands of people died. At the end of the assembly, I assumed that the 12th graders to whom I planned to show “The Second Day” wouldn’t want to hear about it anymore. I talked about it with a couple of colleagues, who shared with me that there may have been students who hadn’t had the opportunity to tell their stories, and it may be a good opportunity to do so.

When the time for class came the last period of the day on Friday, I asked them about the memorial, at which time most of them stated that they hadn’t had an opportunity to reflect on the event. I was surprised, but felt privileged because I had the opportunity to show the documentary to my students and to have them reflect on where they were and how they felt. It was interesting because my seniors were in 2nd grade at the time, and their memories were, for the most part, pretty clear. For that brief period of time, they had the opportunity to discuss the impact of that day on their lives and the lives of their families. And when the bell rang, they didn’t rush out the door as they normally would have. I even had the opportunity to continue the conversation a bit after class ended – on Friday afternoon at 2:40pm.

What a privilege to be able to share moments like this with my students. I am grateful to my colleagues who encouraged me to show it even with my reservations, because I had the opportunity to hear the voices of my students regarding an event that impacted so many lives.

The Value of All Voices

I think we often discount what our students can bring to the table. I try to espouse at the beginning of the school year that my students’ voices are just as important as scholars who exegete biblical texts for a living. And I try to embody that by having them analyze texts in class and commenting on those texts.

Last Friday, my 12th graders and I were examining Luke 24 in light of the religious dimension of biblical texts using a thinking routine called “Sentence, Phrase, Word.” After all my students completed the routine in their groups, I had them share with the larger group those sentences, phrases, and words that made an impact on them as individuals before they shared what themes they determined they saw within the narrative.

One student identified Luke 24:51 as a sentence/phrase that impacted her: “…[Jesus]…was carried up into heaven.” The reason it impacted her so was that it reminded her of what a minister said at a funeral service she had recently attended. He talked about a father carrying his child in his arms and laying the child in his bed, comparing that with God carrying the loved one who had just passed away into heaven, just as Jesus was carried into heaven. When she talked about it, I became a bit emotional because my father passed away last year, and I immediately thought of him. What she shared wasn’t necessarily “scholarly” or “academic,” but it had real life application – to me.

We as teachers often talk about how we want students to be apply what we teach to their lives. And while my student was able to make a real-life connection, I was able to enter that space, unintentionally, and make a very emotional connection as well. And it was one which was special and tender. I’ll never forget that. I shared what I was feeling with my class, so that they would know that what they share is important and valuable, that I wasn’t paying them lip service by saying, “every person’s voice means something.”

What if I had not assigned the “Sentence, Phrase, Word”? I think my students would’ve missed out on some great analysis. I would’ve missed out too.

Learners Reflecting on Value of Ancient Texts

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On Friday I asked learners from one of my New Testament classes (high school seniors), “How can an ancient text written many years ago help people to deal with their lives today?” After giving them a few minutes to reflect and write, I got some insightful responses:

  • The texts describe human nature, which is constant, no matter the time period
  • The texts contain stories which can help readers enter into the experience because they can identify with those same experiences
  • The texts provide moral instruction, which is constant
  • The texts describe problems people encounter; and problems are constant
  • How people respond to the text – positively and negatively – indicates the text’s relevancy, and therefore, there is much to be gleaned from such texts
  • Characters’ interactions with a higher being provide guidance for readers seeking guidance
  • The texts provide structure and principles by which adherents can live

This was a great activity, I think, because each learner heard the thinking of their peers, and therefore, could comment on what they had to say during the whole class discussion. And even as important, my learners could see that the texts, no matter if the class is required for graduation, and no matter that they themselves may or may not be Christian, are important and have value to their own lives. It’s so much better for them to come to that conclusion than me telling them that the texts have value and giving them reasons why.

Great way to start out the course.

Starting the New Year

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So today was the first day of our faculty forum, and oh my, what a day! George Couros, a K-12 principal from Alberta, Canada and our keynote speaker, challenged us in many ways regarding educators as learners, technology, change, and what’s best for our students. But what was great was that it wasn’t a one-way challenge, as in him speaking from the stage and his audience just taking it all in. In the age of Web 2.0, much Twitter backchannelling was happening, where we were able to dialogue with one another, challenging him, challenging ourselves. One of my colleagues tweeted (which I retweeted):

Of course, this goes directly to the idea of educators as lifelong learners, because if ever we think we’ve arrived, that we’ve got it all down pat, and that we can walk into a classroom any time and wow our students into submission because we’re all that and a bag of chips (I think that’s an outdated expression now), then in reality, we really shouldn’t be in the classroom teaching any one.

So in that light, I had the wonderful privilege of co-facilitating a professional development session with one of my colleagues on Schoology, a social networking type learning management system.  I used it last semester, and found it way more useful and easier to use than Moodle.  Approximately 17 of my fellow educator colleagues attended our session in my small classroom.  To say that I was nervous is an understatement; my colleagues are some of the most intelligent, most thoughtful people I have ever met in my 11 years of teaching at The Westminster Schools.

And as nervous as I was, I had such a great time, because my colleagues didn’t come to hear me wax eloquent about Schoology; they came to learn about it and practice it.  So all I had to do was show them a little something here and there (well, not quite like that; Mary and I did have an agenda), let them practice, and be okay with all the questions, especially the questions to which I didn’t know the answers.  And there were lots of those!!!  But the fabulous thing was that we all discovered what we needed to know together.  So it was okay for me to say, “I don’t really know,” because there was someone else there who had begun to use it who could lend her expertise (thank you Dana!).  And the Moodle expert (thank you Mary!) provided valuable assistance to say that Moodle had some useful features Schoology didn’t have that some people really want to have available to them.  Needless to say, I lost the anxiety and became quite comfortable learning and growing with my colleagues during this two-hour session.  I was encouraged when I saw this tweet from Dana:

This experience was great for me, because I modeled what George talked about this morning during our session this morning and what Becky (@madamemcknight) tweeted above.  Students need to know that we have lots to learn too, that we aren’t the end-all-be-all experts, that we are all in this learning journey together.  Sure, we are experts in our content areas, but I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t any academic discipline that is constant and never-changing.  And our students want to be part of the process of creating content to illustrate how what we learn together affects their lives.

So I’m excited about this year.  I’m excited about the possibilities.  Excited about creating an environment in my space where students are empowered to explore.  Because really, as George Couros stated this morning,

“Kids need to create…we need to jump in.”

(I know this statement to be true; my seven-year old loves to make videos of herself and her animal friends, and she makes my husband and I watch them all the time!)

Great first day of faculty forum!  By the way, you can view the slides from his presentation here.  Take a look!

Lausanne Laptop Institute – Last One!

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Okay, the Laptop Institute ended last month, but I’m still writing posts about it. This is actually the last one.  I’m finding this to be a reflective activity for me so I don’t forget what I’ve learned, and so I’m sort of forced to follow through with what I said I was going to do.  There was so much valuable information shared that I want to get to the last couple of points I learned while at the conference.

The last session I attended at the institute was led by Jeff Utecht, who was also the keynote speaker for the conference. In the session entitled “Using Blogs as e-Portfolios,” he talked about blogs as mediums by which students reflect on their own growth over time. Moreover, if students’ blogs are made public (which, according to Jeff, makes it blogging; otherwise it’s not), students will get an “authentic” audience, as opposed to the audience just being the teacher.

Basically what blogging does is help students connect to the world. And if the teacher (or the tech person in your school) has access to a network outside the school (such as with Facebook or Twitter), that network can quickly be notified of student posts (where appropriate), thereby giving the student an instant audience outside of the classroom.

Nonetheless, there are some obstacles to overcome. Am I inclined to read 65-70 blog postings on a regular basis, in addition to everything else necessary to my teaching practice? The honest answer – no! But Jeff provided a solution to that problem…

Having a group blog!

Jeff gave an example of a teacher who set up a blog that all students posted to each day. Every day, a student was assigned to write a blog post. Other students were assigned to comment on that post. Using this structure, the teacher isn’t reading everyone’s posts everyday, getting lost, and then losing momentum by having blogs in the first place. It’s only one per day (for the number of classes taught). If you integrate reverse instruction into the mix, each class can start with the student defending his or her post, and the post evaluated by the class. So in this instance, students provide the content for the class discussion, while the teacher facilitates that discussion.

So that was exciting for me. I’ve wanted to integrate blogging into my classroom not just for the sake of saying I’m blogging in the classroom, but to foster critical and creative thinking leading to authentic learning in which all students will participate, not just those who are vocal.

To that end, I want to make it easy for my students to participate with this medium. Because I’m familiar with WordPress, I searched the platform for a WordPress theme that would be suitable for group blogs. And I found a theme that I think will work. It’s Twitter-like (without the 140-character limitation), a little customizable (not much, though, at least not with the free WordPress platform), and students can post right on the homepage real time, so reloading the page is unnecessary. So I created four blogs, one for each of my classes, using the P2 theme.

Click here to see what one of my class blogs looks like so far, and click here to see it in action.

With this theme, I can set it up where only students who are registered for the blog can author posts once I set up the students as authors or contributors.

So the problem with having to read 65-70 (or more) blog posts regularly has been eliminated.  Moreover, I can keep track of my students’ posts through categories and tagging.  And finally, I can empower my students to blog related not only to assigned readings, but to current events and personal interests.

So many possibilities…one blog – per class.  I think this will be manageable.  We’ll see when school starts.

The Good Samaritan – 21st Century Style

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A few years ago, I assigned a project for my New Testament students entitled “The Parables Project.” The students were required to choose a parable from one of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, or Luke) from a list I provided. Once they chose the parable, they were required to reflect on why they chose the passage, then research commentaries about their parable to determine the meaning of the parable. Lastly, the student was required to present an interpretation of the passage in a creative form, given the research they completed. They could present in the form of video, audio, painting, photography, or any other form they felt comfortable with.

My rationale for this project was getting the students into higher-order thinking. I wanted my students to make the parables their own; in other words, I wanted them to find some relevance to these ancient texts (particularly for students who were not Christian).

One student chose the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) because, as she stated in her reflection, “The parable’s message of merciful kindness is one of my strongest personal beliefs.” She created a video demonstrating compassion, with the main characters being the mascots of our school (Wildcats) and our rival school (Lions). It’s a great rendition, which I continue to play for my students to this day. A fine way to show how compassion is shown in the 21st century.

Enjoy…

Lausanne Laptop Institute – Part 3

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Okay, so in my second Lausanne Laptop Institute post I said that I went to the conference with expectations.  Specifically, I wanted to find out how I will use the new technology we’ve been so blessed with (I consider it a blessing, others may not) to enhance my teaching practice, to increase my students’ engagement in my classes, to help my students learn in the best ways possible.

The topic in which I was most interested was blogging in the classroom.  I’ve done a lot of research on it, yet it is one thing to read about it and another to actually talk to educators who’ve done it and see it in action.  There were several teachers who gave presentations on blogging in the classroom; those sessions made the difference in helping me determine the framework I’ll use this academic year to get me off to a good start.

Lynn Mittler from MICDS (Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis, MO) gave a session on Nonfiction Blogging in the Classroom.  In her classroom, all of her students have blogs, and they blog on issues that are of interest to them as individual students.  It is a way for students to learn how to read closely, develop skills in listening, writing, developing an audience, and demonstrating understanding of texts.  I took three big ideas from this session.

  1. Students’ blogs are public, but not so public as to cause privacy issues for students.  The students use their first names only when identifying themselves on their blogs, which I will definitely implement with my students as well.
  2. When students are required to defend their ideas, they have to use links to other sites other than Wikipedia or YouTube (because if you can find stuff there, why do the assignment?).  The idea is to use other sources like online academic databases to find material to support their ideas.  Again, I will implement this idea, since we have so many online resources from which to choose at the Carlyle Fraser Library!
  3. Blogging and commenting are skills – if I might say, 21st century skills.  If I ask my students to blog, I must blog to model what writing blog posts and commenting on posts should look like.

Okay, so hopefully you’re still with me.

The second session I attending related to blogging in the classroom was presented by Jeff Whipple in a session entitled, “Learning to Blog, Blogging to Learn.”  He started out by asking three questions:  What am I doing everyday in my classroom to:

  1. Produce information artisans,
  2. Develop networked learners,
  3. Manage digital footprints?

(Forgive me if the punctuation above is a little off…)

Assuming you believe 21st century skills should be developed in our students, these are noteworthy questions to ask.  Of course, blogging is a great way for students to tell their stories and develop all three of these skills.  But the greatest takeaway for me was how students can use their blogs as e-portfolios, especially if they start their blogs as high school freshmen.  Imagine a student starting a blog highlighting their work as freshmen, reflecting on that work continually, and then when it’s time to apply for colleges, having a portfolio of tangible work to which they can point admissions officials.  No more trying to remember what they learned and writing a random essay about it!  Having a body of work to refer to can be a powerful tool when it comes time for a student to talk about who he or she is as an individual.  As a parent, I will be implementing this for my daughter later on.

Okay, so because this post is longer than I thought it would be, I’m going to stop now.  But I want to whet your appetite for the last two sessions I want to talk about in my next post.  The first is managing your own web brand (have you Googled your name yet to find out what the internet is saying about you?) and the last was how to manage blogging as a teacher without it becoming overwhelming.  These last two sessions brought everything together for me, so stay tuned for the last installment!  I’ll also show you the blogs I’ve started for my classes in a few weeks.

Let me know your thoughts, experiences, questions, and concerns on blogging in your classrooms!  I’d love to hear from you.

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