I have enjoyed the blended approach to teaching and learning for some time now. But this year, due to the new and improved Ako Orewa approach, I am actively giving choice and agency over to the students. For the writing standard in year 11, we have moved away from doing both creative and formal writing. And, unlike last year, I never gave the option of doing both standards. What I did ask is for students to dig deep and find what they are passionate about. And write about that. Ten students chose to do the Creative Writing standard. Six of them boys. The rest chose to tackle Formal Writing.
Asking students to dig deep and find what they feel passionate about does force them to take ownership of their work. When you have a teenager saying: “I think I’m good at creative writing” it almost forces them to prove their point by getting on with it. And doing a good job of it. So unlike in previous years, I found that students very quickly came up with plans for their writing. I was prepared to workshop ideas, but instead, for the most part, simply listened to their good ideas and then told them to get on with it.
With the formal writing I found much the same thing. I had students writing about Tibet, New Caledonia and the migrant crisis in Europe. And it took them no longer than a lesson to come up with their topics. When I dug a little I found that they all had a deeply personal connection to the topic. So what we were able to work on was personal teenage voice. This took the work from good formal, factual writing to another level as it was infused with an authentic teenage flavour. With some encouragement, I found that they were adding details like the following:
I am Tibetan, and my grandma was in Tibet when China took over and was there when they were under China’s rule. My grandma fled Tibet through the Himalayas to India and had to leave all her possessions in her home. She said that the Chinese once came and took all the males and said that they would help them, and so this left all the woman and gathered them into a group. This is when she escaped and went through the Himalayas with her children and a small amount of food, as they left most of their livestock back where they used to live. Many children on the road died due to malnutrition and so, because they were weak, they either died from malnutrition or they died from illnesses and diseases such as chicken pox. Due to the shortage of food my grandma and the group she stayed with went to villages and ended up trading expensive jewellery for simple cups of rice or flour. And when they had traded all their jewellery and what else they had left, they had to beg for food from the villagers. (Year 11 Student)
But the real test is always when the grades are returned. We do not mark our own students’ work which really helps with moderation and equity across the standards. Suffice it to say I had some pleased students with the following grades:
I found these students to be independent, resilient and happy to rely on feedback from people other than myself. They shared their work with family members and peers for both critiquing and feedback.
And in this age of concern over boys’ writing, I am pleased to report that out of the 14 boys in the class, 11 got excellence.
This video reflects my TaI plan. Mindlab has been so worthwhile as the assignments we have had to complete have been relevant to our practice and topical. This year I will continue to look at how blended learning and student agency affects, not only grades, but also enjoyment and engagement in my class.
- DEFINE THE COMMUNITY:
As a secondary school English teacher, I based my literature review on the impact of blended learning on secondary school students. However, while this review uncovered a wealth of research and investigation into tertiary students’ responses to blended environments, little was undertaken in secondary schools, (Sparks, 2015) and even less into the impact this teaching approach has on Kaupapa Maori students. I have some anecdotal evidence based on my own students and that of my colleagues, evidence to be found on our professional blogs. However, there is still a substantial gap in relevant New Zealand-based data which looks at the benefits and challenges of implementing blended learning. This includes whether giving students more control over their learning improves their learning outcomes.
To gather qualitative data, I will conduct an on-line interview with the English Head of Department. In addition, I will do a video recorded interview of the senior management team. It is important to ascertain the level of interest this teaching approach has with colleagues in order to determine their level of support. It is also important to get buy in from the senior leaders in order to drive the initiative through, particularly if it is going to benefit the student body. In addition, student voice is vital. Therefore, I will survey my two control classes to find out what they feel works best for them. It is important to remember that students have diverse talents and learning styles that should be respected and individualised by teachers (Kruger, n.d.). Probability surveys should give estimates from which findings can be concluded.
I am focusing on my year 10 and 11 classes because they have moved up through middle school where there is a lot more freedom and choice in how they approach their work, based on observations at the college I teach at. However, teachers tend to become more autocratic as students head into NCEA years, as the pressure to get credits tends to take precedence. My aim is to see whether giving higher levels of individualisation and independence with more senior students can lead to potentially higher levels of engagement. The potential impact of my findings could result in successfully attaining those highly sought-after credits.
The blended approach promises more one-on-one teacher contact, as well as peer-to-peer instruction. This seems to be in keeping with Kaupapa or collective philosophy and Mahi Ko tahi tanga or co-operation between students.
- TEACHING AS INQUIRY PROJECT PLAN: Description
The topic area of this teaching as inquiry plan is blended learning, with particular emphasis on secondary students in a one-to-one device school. If blended learning is said to combine the best of online learning with face-to-face contact, how does this impact on outcomes or results for secondary school students? I will examine how the experience differs from upper middle school, to their first year in NCEA. In particular, I will investigate the impact blended learning environments has on my Maori students.
In addition, I would like to weigh up the benefits and challenges of implementing blended learning in the classroom, given that these students have largely been part of a BYOD school for the past 4-5 years. How have their expectations in the classroom changed over the years? I would also look at what the contributing factors are that lead to effective uptake of the blended learning approach.
A branch of blended learning is the flipped approach which I have been adopting in my classroom for the past three years, to varying levels of success. Through the Mindlab course I have discovered that, not only are there a variety of methods of flipping course work, but also that blended learning is potentially more effective than flipped coursework. So what I would like to ascertain is if the blended approach is more readily adopted by students rather than the purely flipped approach.
Project plan: Justification in context
I have created an electronic book for each year level, which includes videos, presentations, tasks and reflective questions. I will put a link to this onto Google Classroom for each student to access and download. It will then be resident on their device and is not internet- dependent. This should facilitate access anywhere, anytime.
I will then share evidence, largely gained from my literature review, with my students of the benefits of blended learning in an attempt to show them an alternative to the traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ method of teaching. This could be a new concept for them and it deserves a measure of justification and explanation. I have found one of the hurdles to new approaches in teaching is assuming students will simply adapt and accept. Students will be encouraged to take ownership of their learning and, through increased one-on-one contact, we should be able to adapt the projects and assessments according to their preferred method of working, as well as their varying ability levels.
Data in the form of surveys, interviews and grades will be analysed and shared with the relevant community. Data will be gathered at the start and end of term one, and then again at the start and end of term two. This should give a good reflection of what is working well, and what needs adjusting and improving. This data will be reflected on my professional teaching blog and shared with the relevant colleagues, Community of Learning teachers and the senior management team. Their input will also help with the reflective process.
Critical to my findings is the shift from student as consumer of knowledge and technology to student as producer of knowledge (Vickers & Field, 2015). So this focus, along with the impact on outcomes for secondary school students, will form the basis for the dual spirals of inquiry. Reflection and refinement will inform teaching practice.
- EVIDENCE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The communities I will focus on are:
Qualitative: Year 10 and 11 students:
Student voice is vital as they are the target group. So they would need to answer two surveys, one initially to ascertain their preferred way of working and gauge their understanding of blended learning. And then another near the end of term to ascertain how they feel they have progressed with their learning and enjoyment of this teaching approach.
I have taught both of these year levels for a number of years so I feel that I have data to compare to previous years. But more importantly, I will compare their responses both initially and then after each internal assessment or project. (See appendix 1 and 2)
A comparison of grades between last year’s classes and this year’s classes at the same stage of the term. While this is not fully credible data, it can give some generalised findings.
A comparison of the student’s grades from last year to this year. Again there are a number of variables but it could give an indication of the student’s progress, or lack thereof.
A comparison between my year 10 and 11 classes with that of other classes taught in a more conventional or traditional way will also give some insight. Estimates can be based on this sample of data.
The data will be analysed and put onto a simple, colour co-ordinated pie chart. I will post my findings onto my blog, being careful to exclude student names, classes and colleagues’ identities as the research must be ethical and responsible.
English department colleagues: It will be interesting to note the different approaches to similar topics. I will interview a range of teaching styles, going from traditional face-to-face approaches through to those at the start of their blended approach to teaching.
Community of Learning: Although my target group is years 10 and 11, I am also part of the Community of Learning (CoL) leadership team. Thus I would have small group discussions with the relevant teachers to get their insight and input on blended learning for their areas of expertise. This will further inform my own approach as it gives insight into how students are taught in the junior levels.
Senior leadership team and English Head of Department: It is important to discuss new approaches with the leadership team, particularly when it might have an impact on NCEA classes. Questions for interviews, as well as their responses, can be found in appendix 3 and 4.
Whanau: Instead of a survey, I will initially send an explanatory email home to parents, inviting discussion, questions and interviews if necessary. This is possibly the hardest group to engage and inform as generally I have found parents to be conservative in their approach to teaching, basing their views on their own experiences of school.
- REFLECTION ON EVIDENCE OF ENGAGEMENT
As an on-going reflection, I will record students’ collaboration and participation on a regular basis on my teaching blog. However more immediately I have reflected on the feedback given to me by Richard Wells, Deputy Principal at the college and Meryl Howell, Head of English department.
Reflection on how feedback informed plan
Having considered their responses, I feel that my plan might have too many strands. So upon reflection, I will spend the first term focusing on the changing pedagogical approach with both classes, making sure that all class members understand the blended approach. I will, with consultation with students, drill down to find the impact this has on Māori students. I will only address the merits of blended versus flipped learning at the end of term 2. Given that I will have more one-on-one time with my students, I should have a clear understanding of their preferred learning styles by the end of term 1 so that I can make any necessary adjustments to my course.
In terms of student outcomes, it is vital to go beyond grades to look at how empowered and confident students feel about their learning. While this is harder to measure, it can be reflected on in an anecdotal way.
Another aspect I feel I might have glossed over is that some teachers have a fixed mindset. So change like this blended learning approach might make them feel challenged and even have an emotional response against it. I need to be empathetic in my approach to colleagues.
Lastly, the point that Richard made about whanau is vital and should not be overlooked: blended learning has an impact on home life; learning should be seen as a social experience; perhaps whanau should be upskilled in order to fully understand this new approach to teaching and learning. These points will be addressed in my email home.
What I was encouraged by was that the respondents in my community did feel that blended learning was a pedagogical approach worth pursuing and that my spirals of inquiry were applicable to our students.
- POTENTIAL IMPACT OF FINDINGS
The outcomes of this project might benefit my community by creating greater understanding and communication between colleagues, not only at the college but also across the CoL. Through discussions, interviews and shared resources, the idea is to improve not only collegiality but also awareness of how students prefer to work. Initially it can be quite taxing to create the online resources in the form of video content and digital artefacts. However, once they are created and shared, it minimises the time needed to create resources in the future, particularly if there is buy-in from a few colleagues and a team effort is established.
This brings in the most important stakeholders, the students themselves. According to much of the research undertaken in the literature review, researchers indicated that teachers are freed up to support students individually and that blended learning removes classroom walls (Vickers and Field, 2015). When teachers make the work available online and allow students to communicate via social media, rather than being anchored to the front of the class, one-on-one time is more feasible. And with this, relationships improve.
John Hattie (2013) said that the biggest source of variance in schools is teachers. Surely it follows then that students experience daily, hourly and lesson-to-lesson variance. If this Teaching as Inquiry plan works, and not only outcomes but enjoyment, collaboration and engagement improves, surely this will have a flow-on effect into the school community as a whole? This should encourage colleagues to embrace blended learning over the tried-and-tested traditional approach many still cling onto.
Hattie, John. (2013). Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful? [Video]. Norrkopping TedX. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch
Kruger, M. (n.d.). Students’ Changing Perceptions on the Impact of the Online Learning Environment: What about Good Teaching Practice? In Proceedings of the European Conference on e-Learning. 188-196.
Sparks, S. (2015). Research Uneven, Tough to Interpret. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/blended-barriers
Staker, H., & Horn, M. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Retrieved from http://www.innosightinstitute.org
Vickers, R., & Field, J. (2015). Media Culture 2020: Collaborative Teaching and Blended Learning Using Social Media and Cloud-Based Technologies. Contemporary Educational Technology, 6(1), 62-73.
As I suspect with most teachers, I have inquiries swimming around in my mind all the time. Looking for solutions to help students improve outcomes, that’s what we do right? And looking for ways for students to develop these skills independently. So for my inquiry I have to narrow it down to two aspects:
- How increased student agency can improve outcomes. And
- How blended learning helps facilitate this.
I am focusing on two classes, namely my year 10s and my year 11s.
My year 10s are a largely mixed ability class. They are self motivated and respond well to a relaxed environment with largely facilitation and small group discussions. They have responded well to both flipped aspects of the course, as well as in-class flipping. This helps with differentiation. I have provided them with all the course work in a book which I created in iBooks Author. Unlocking English includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics. It makes flipping aspects of the curriculum easy.
My year 11s are also self motivated and are largely driven to achieve good grades. That being said, they are a motley crew with a keen sense of humour. So although they are an academic class, they seem to be far more relaxed than classes of this nature in some previous years. They don’t seem to take themselves as seriously as I have experienced in previous years, for the most part anyway. And the biggest factor that I have noticed and that I will investigate more fully, is that they are far more independent and resourceful. I have also provided them with all the course work in a book called Engaging English. This also includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics.
So the scene is set for a student centred environment, where learning can take place in a differentiated way. Having the work in a variety of ways should facilitate learning anywhere, anytime, at any pace.
I have done an analysis of the grades obtained by my three senior classes over the course of the year.
The Year 11s had some very pleasing results with 68% of all their credits being at Excellence and 29% at Merit.They wrote three external exams which I still believe is asking too much in three hours. Two exams in three hours seems far more realistic to me. I do believe that is why the excellence grades are diluted.
On analysis of my Year 12 students, it was clear that they improved as the year progressed.I attribute this to their growing confidence in their abilities. I discussed Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset with them and referred to this way of thinking in my teaching practice. They were also a class who preferred the casual layout of my classroom.
The year 12s wrote one exam with some mixed results. As most of them had got all the necessary credits throughout the year, the pressure was slightly less for the exams.
My year 13 class had success with getting through the standards, with 66% passing all internal standards with Achieved, and 30% getting to Merit. As this year level was my cohort, we already had established positive relationships. I believe that this goes a long way in promoting students’ confidence in their abilities.
Much the same as the year 12 class, the year 13 internal class had gained most of the available credits throughout the year.
From this analysis it seems evident that developing mini teaching as inquiry approaches is successful. This means that I am continuously refining my approach.
For my class’s end of term task I wanted them to do something fun but also something that would be real. Our school is looking at designing a new website. So I thought, shouldn’t we get the students’ input? I created a resource with a few ideas, but very little direction. My idea is to eavesdrop and see what they come up with, and so promote collaboration, creativity and student agency.
I introduced it today and the first question was: “Why not get the experts to do this? Why ask 15 year olds?”
So I explained that their ideas mattered. That the website, while it is our contact with the ‘outside world’ should also be something that they refer to and use because it is useful to them. And who knows best what is useful to students than the students themselves?
One group spent pretty much the entire lesson discussing what photos should represent the school. They finally decided that a slideshow would be best. But they were adamant that the slideshow should represent all co-curricular activities.
Another group analysed our website and felt that the colours didn’t match. They also felt that we should have widgets for social media links. Yet another felt that the tabs should include the school app and frequently used contacts.
So that’s after lesson one. I think they will come up with some very useful ideas.
I’ve been blogging for a number of years now. And what it has taught me is that I actually love writing. I often blame having not enough time for not writing. That’s simply not good enough. I have also learnt that it is important to reflect and act on those reflections.
In addition to my personal blog, I’ve also written a number of articles for Fractus Learning, an educational blog coming out of Ireland. I loved the reaction from the editor on my last article so I include part his email along with a link to my article:
Woweee Linda! That was such an incredible read! So much experience, heartache, success and inspiration have been poured into that post. Just magnificent! It really shows how much a rollout like that is about culture as it is technology. What an amazing professional experience! NICK GRANTHAM
And here’s the rather lengthy article based on our one-to-one device journey, five years on.
This week has been a week of goodbyes. My year 13 cohort graduated and this ends my five years of deaning. We finished off with a heartfelt goodbye, first from my English class.
Next it was the walking school bus followed by the ‘big reveal.’ I really wanted to surprise them. The theme was “Goodbye childhood, hello world.” So what we created was a really childish playground with jumping castles, water slides, jousting rings and mini rugby. Add to that as-much-as-you-can-eat candy floss and lolly bags. The general consensus was that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They did exactly what I hoped they would, and that was dive headlong onto the slides.
And finally we got to graduation. They all did remarkably well and I am so proud of their behaviour, and their accomplishments. A moving moment was the standing ovation, I must admit.
I attach some of my speech for my reflection:
The last five years seem to have passed so quickly. I clearly remember sitting on stage as the year 9 Dean, and watching the year 13 Dean give his graduation speech. As his tears welled up, I sat wondering what all the fuss was about. Now that I have walked that same journey and watched these students grow in confidence as well as maturity, I totally get why he was so upset. This group of students are exceptionally talented and I feel privileged to have been their dean. This night marks the end of our journey together, but remember that graduation is not the end; it really is only the beginning. Take stock of what you have learnt in your time at the college, and then look forward to the amazing opportunities that await you.
One thing that you won’t forget is that you are ground breakers. You were the first year 13s to go from mufti to uniform. Doesn’t it make dressing up tonight so much more special? You were also the first cohort to use one-to-one devices. Technology is such an integral part of the class now, that it’s hard to remember what school was like before the introduction of devices. I do believe that our students have developed 21st century skills that far surpass anything we originally envisaged. At this point I’d like to take a moment to remember Mark Quigley, who was our senior manager for the past four years. A few years back he said to me: Linda write this down so we don’t forget: we must remember to say a special thank you to our students at graduation for allowing us to make such a big change.
So, thank you for moving forward with us and for setting the example for others to follow.
I’d like to conclude my final duty as a dean with a quote from Steve Jobs:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
This is the next video I created to reflect my findings on the digital and collaborative strand in Mindlab, where we had to implement, document and critique a learning innovation applied to a specific area of practice. I looked at the research that suggests that having a personal blog can improve writing. I looked at the work done by David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) and his ideas on @QuadBlogging. I also looked at the merits of ‘blogging’ on Facebook as opposed to a dedicated blog site like WordPress.
Mark Twain said that “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” He may have been a novelist, a journalist and even an adventurer. But never a teacher. As a teacher he would know that even getting words on the page for many teenagers is a struggle. Ask students and they would likely tell you that “writing sucks.” So the problem I would like to address is literacy in the form of creative and formal writing for the average teenager. The innovation is weblogs, or more commonly known as blogs. 15 years ago the word blog did not exist and now an estimated 150 million blogs exist.
In our cluster of schools, 16% of students are below or well below the expected writing standard. 19% of our Maori students are below or well below the standard. And 23% of our boys are below or well below the standard. Our schools have identified trends that indicate that there is less success for Maori boys in writing. The aim is that the secondary schools will raise the overall core writing skills for year 9 and 10 in preparation for success at NCEA level 1, 2 and 3. But how? My solution is through social media, in particular a personal blog.
So what makes a blog different and therefore a tool for improving writing? Most of my hesitant writers are not hesitant talkers. And if writing is communicating, as is talking, nothing stops them recording their thoughts in a podcast and popping that onto their blogs. This is the first step to getting students to capture their quality thoughts and convey them to an audience. Obviously we don’t stop there, but you often do need to build trust and confidence initially before you start to make progress. The beauty of a blog is that you can easily add text, photos, video and audio to a post. So if we get our students thinking and reflecting in the form of a video to start off with, then build on that, we are going to make progress with the goal of improving the standard of writing. The next step to building confidence is to comment on their unique ideas and the way they structured their thoughts. Then start talking about how these ideas could form a paragraph of writing.
John Hattie said that “feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.” In addition, he said that “interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback are needed.”
So feedback, in the ‘comments’ section of their blog, is vital. This includes peer reviews. But first we have conversations about the importance of good digital citizenship and give “comment guidelines.” Peer feedback needs to be both constructive and relevant. Students need to understand the marking criteria in order to give informed feedback. This in itself will raise awareness of good writing practice. What a powerful tool when we get students giving their peers, people of the same age group, feedforward and feedback.
So in theory, maintaining a good blog site should raise the level of writing. Again I ask, how? If this was the case, and given that the majority of students have Facebook which is, after all, a form of a blog, why hasn’t this raised writing skills?
The reason is simple. Facebook pages are owned, run and edited by teenagers. And so they should be. But when blogging is brought into the classroom, the teacher, and later peers, can fill the role of the critic. It means that we can have conversations about content and style. A good blog post has a magnetic headline, like all good media. The post opens with a bang in order to hook the reader in. Persuasive words and good sentences abound. And finally, no one wants to read a post that is simply made up of text. So engaging and authentic images and videos should be encouraged. We don’t have these conversations about Facebook, but maybe we should. And just because we’ve brought blogging into the classroom, it doesn’t mean that fun goes out the window. Part of the beauty of blogging is the audience. There are interactive widgets like “Revolvermap” which tracks your audience. When someone reads your blog, a little flag pops up on the revolving globe and tells you which city they are from. Students get quite excited when they recognise the fact that people, other than their teacher, is reading their work. This is also key to understanding the global audience.
So not only are we raising awareness of good writing, we are discussing what good digital citizenship looks like. In addition, it reminds students that “the internet is a big place. Everyone can see it.” Kate Friedwald from Wairakei School made a good point: “Writing is no longer just on the classroom wall, it’s not just in their books. It’s out there for the world to see.” Students say that, once they start receiving comments, they feel like people are waiting for them to post more of their writing. This encourages them to write regularly. The global audience can include parents and family, even those that are half way across the world. Instead of the stereotypically mono-syllabic conversations parents have with their teenagers, they could actually be reading about what their children did at school that day.
Audience is key to the success of the writing. It’s one thing to hand a half-baked piece of writing in when only your teacher will see it. But quite different when you realise that you could potentially have a global following. So with all this in mind, the skill of commenting and posting increases the awareness of good writing. Correct punctuation becomes more meaningful. Teenagers become empowered to write. For my generation, you studied journalism, you worked for an editor, you begged a publisher to look at your work. For this generation, they are journalist, editor and publisher rolled into one. My generation knows the silence of censorship. Letters to the editor that contained controversial ideas got ‘lost in the mail.’ Talk back radio hosts simply put the phone down on troublesome callers. But for this generation, their voice can be heard. They are shaping what we read. With social media, we own the printing press. Besides which, it’s free and therefore accessible to all.
So why not allow them to post their writing onto Facebook as opposed to a blog site like WordPress? The reason, just because I deal with teenagers all day doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them at the skate park. Which is what I’d feel like if I was commenting on their Facebook posts. Their personal Facebook page is their domain and I simply don’t belong there. But their WordPress blog is a place where we can hang out together, where we can encourage good writing, which will no doubt have an impact on their other social media activity. At the very least it means that we can have meaningful discussions about what they post on social media.
A prolific blogger, danah boyd (she spells her name in lower case) said that blogging is “a place where my voice sat.” So we need to harness our students’ writing and give them a platform “to think, to process, to understand” and in the process improve their writing. And if they come to a better understanding of the online world in which they are growing up, then they would have received an effective 21st century education.
Writing online makes copyright authentic. At the back of their mind, the blogger is always asking the question: Who will read this post? If we encourage good reflective practice, the teenage voice establishes itself. And that authentic voice is what sets excellent writing apart from mediocre writing.
The impact goes beyond improving writing. The skills my students have acquired is that they can set up a website with categories for a variety of subjects. They can embed videos and understand the rudiments of HTML coding. They are developing the skill of critiquing each other’s work through feedforward and feedback. And we are constantly discussing what a good digital citizen looks like. UK teacher David Mitchell founded QuadBlogging which has now seen over 500,000 students from 55 countries take part. As a group of four schools, each week a different class will be the ‘focus class’ allowing the other three classes to visit and comment on the focus class blog. That’s got to have a positive spin off for writing. In his school he saw that blogging had a dramatic impact on writing standards. Writing scores “rose from 9% to 60% in just 12 months with each child in year 6 making on average double the expected progress for the last three years.” Why would our kiwi kids be any different?
Data suggests that they’re no different. Take my year 10 English class. Looking at a comparison between their English GPA from last year to this year, there has been a general increase for most students, particularly the boys. One boy went from an English GPA of 45% to a whopping 75%. Another went from 37% to 50%, a third climbed from 21% to 50%. That’s overall for English, not just writing. But if we are looking at the impact of tools like blogging, ideas like collaboration and put them together in a positive learning environment, the outcome for the student can be very pleasing indeed. In addition, this GPA is based on a creative writing project which consisted of a number of tasks and culminated in a story written for a teenage audience. So writing made up a huge component of the marks.
Anecdotally I can add that I don’t have the problem from years back when students simply did not submit work. In part I think, because I encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas, it means all get involved. But I do believe that writing on-line beats handwriting for most students. Having poor handwriting or being weak at spelling is no longer a hurdle for students, and is no longer a block for generating a writing piece. It has even been a while since I heard a student say that they didn’t know what to write about. Sites like “Instagrok” are there to counteract writer’s block.
I looked at student feedback where they suggested that posting onto blogs can be challenging if the network slows down. And we all know that if you get a class full of students hitting the same website, it does slow things down. So as a school we have decided to self-host WordPress. At $30 a month, it’s a bargain, given that speed is remarkably improved.
As with most websites, rather than a finished product, the blog can be constantly updated and refined. Meaningful feedforward results in improved writing, which is the intended goal.
“I reflect and share publicly to engage others and build understanding. This is my blogging practice. What is yours?”
NZQA visited our school to make this short video depicting our journey after introducing technology into the classroom. The positives that I take out of this visit is that in New Zealand we have a qualification authority that is consulting with teachers who are at the proverbial coal face. But far more importantly than that, they are interviewing the students. If you want to know how a new initiative is working, ask the people most affected by it.
I was appointed as year 9 Dean, the year one-one devices were introduced to this year 9 cohort. As I reflect I feel immensely proud of these students. We have travelled on this journey of discovery for the last five years and I have witnessed their growth and their incredible potential to succeed in this ever changing digital world. At the start of this journey it was all about the technology. What we could do, now that we have a class of students with technology in their hands. All discussions surrounded possibilities: apps that would do the job better than before devices and websites that made work more engaging. Activities that were inconceivable before, were now a reality. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR scale was invaluable as a driving force to shift pedagogical thinking.
However five years on, with all students in the school carrying devices in their school bags, we have largely moved on from the discussion surrounding technology. Technology just exists in the class, along with everything else you’d expect to be there. It’s a given. Now I find that I am simply looking for the best tool for the job.
I feel so grateful that as a teacher we have so many options. I used to dread this time of year because most of my classes are immersed in revision. But we are actually having a great time. Our AKO OREWA drive is towards student agency. So I have given my students choice in the area of work they will focus on. Consequently I have some groups creating Kahoots for their extended texts, others are videoing instructions for their teach-back session based on their section of work. Still others are creating Google Forms for recall type questions. After our PD this week where a colleague, Annie Davis, gave us ideas about revision, I have groups playing “Bananagrams” which is a word game similar to Scrabble.
She introduced us to an excellent app called Exam Count Down which I have found my students love. It shows them at a glance how many days they have left before the NCEA exams. For example:
So yes, we do still share good apps. But it is far more about changing pedagogy to suit the situation. It is more about students taking ownership of their learning and finding out what works best for them, and working at their pace. And it’s about us being flexible enough to allow and promote student choice.