Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creating Process

This is my 1st picture with the new MacBook camera - not bad! It's going to be a useful tool in the classroom!

Committed to group building and eventual student leadership of literary discussions, I have been working the kids hard. To my surprise, they seem to enjoy the challenges of pre-collaboration. We have read and tried to agree on solutions to some pretty tough "Puzzles." Today we began "silent conversations," which were more difficult. In a silent conversation, each student in a group (of 3 -4) writes a response to a tough question or quotation, then the paper is passed around the group until all have read and responded to others in the group. Our context came from a Time Magazine review of Catching Fire, a sequel to the very hot YA novel The Hunger Games. The question raised by the quotation comes down to this: Do kids (e.g. YOU) really know what real violence is? If you don't, are adults right in protecting you from it? If you do, is it good or helpful to know about violence in the world? Why or How?

There was a silent and active response - strong opinions that were quietly expressed. It is a beginning. We are building the skills for significant oral and/or written response - a linchpin for collaboration.

We moved into literature land with the study of fairy tales - violent stories really, but until recently heavily cleansed. As we move from old tellings to modern [print & media] retellings to modern novels with fairy tale roots, the violence and the evil magnify. One of our Essential Questions for the year is, What is meant by the phrase "vague dread"? Why do we like to experience "vague dread" in stories and other media?

It is, I think, good stuff for dialogue.

Today I told the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. It was disappointing that no voice joined mine. Only one in three students knew the story, which is a great introduction to the "basic 3" - character, setting, plot. I handed out picture books of fairy tales, retold and related tales. HW is to identify characters, setting and plot. The lists have already begun to turn into two fairy-tale pictionary boards that will help us to identify the core set of story characters and settings for the readings of the first half year (and beyond). We will also use this to build our inference skills. As for the summaries, I want a Twitter plot summary of no more than 140 characters (good training for focused thinking). Eventually, students will post these summaries to Edmodo and back-match them will the books.

These classes bring to mind again the questions surrounding student readiness for and the projected effectiveness of digital texts and digital classrooms. How would my students have responded if I had recorded the Billy Goats instead of telling the story?

Take a look at this recorded storytelling posted to YouTube. Is it as captivating as live story-telling? Not to 12 year-olds. It is true that I am creating a digital textbook this year, but that web notebook can not replace the interactions that happen in class. I have learned, for example, who can draw, who attends to detail, who can categorize and who can not, who can follow oral instruction and who can not, who is visualizing and who is not. I have good feed-back on the buy-in to my teaching. I would miss these interpersonal discoveries in a fully digital classroom. And the students would miss the individual encouragement, tweaking, re-direction and support they get from me during class.

On the other hand, I am itching to get done with process and to begin with content. As soon as my students can do basic tasks on their new laptops, and as soon as their Web 2.0 Contracts have been submitted (most of my students are under 13), we will go partly digital. With this in mind, I have begun to use partner check-ins during laptop instruction and to ask the seating group to answer individual questions (and know what questions have been asked) before I will step in.

We have developed guidelines for group work; the same guidelines will apply to digital discussions and collaboration. This is what we have come up with:

  • Ask good questions
  • Listen to other members of the group [read everyone's comments]
  • Everyone must participate - everyone has to be heard
  • Don't put down the ideas of others - build them up!
  • Don't all talk at once - take turns
  • Brainstorm as a group
  • Share your ideas - don't hold back
  • Help each other to understand
  • Be prepared
  • Don't interrupt
This list will function as well in a digitally collaborative environment as it will in classroom Inquiry Groups. If the classroom fails, the digital environment will fail - and it is not about my "powerful presence" in either environment. Structuring learning to cement processes has to happen first - period.

1 comment:

  1. Betsy -

    Found my way to your blog via Aquamind's Scott Love. I appreciate your efforts - working to find the best way to help kids. Your comment about "one in three" knowing the story of the 3 billy goats made me think of this post I wrote in my Spiral Notebook blog:

    The work you are doing builds Any-Century skills!

    Jim Moulton