Monday, 26 May 2014

Student Blogging: te timatatanga

There's something fresh and beautiful about typing or writing on a blank sheet of paper. Something even more beautiful when teaching my students to appreciate writing for what it is and for what it can be used for.

Last week I tried to do some of the basics in researching... mainly focussing on formal language and why we use it. I'd like to teach my students how to research books via ISBN numbers or at the very least through keyword boolean searches. Then my students can use the school library effectively instead of lazily going to the school library first (without having tried to hunt for it themselves). My problem in doing this is that they can't actually practice because there isn't a computer dedicated to being a catalogue in our library... with the exception of asking the librarians.

This post is quickly turning into a research focussed one...

When I was little, my whanau - particularly my mum, nan and grandad - taught me to search for information and knowledge first before asking them. At times it would simply mean asking questions to one family member rather than another and then going back to the first to share what I'd learnt. I think that's why I've always had a love for researching... because it was a game, a quest for knowledge. Same thing that the encarta game was for me when I was 8 and my human resources were quickly running out of answers for the big world questions I was thinking about.

It's this kind of love of research I try to instill in my students. But during the teaching I forget why I love it mainly because of the extreme stress that goes with doing research with a group of sometimes unwilling, uninterested, and apathetic and quite often lacking in the research and computer skills students in front of me.

Usually with these research projects they are taught how to reference... mainly because it's one of my pet peeves when people don't reference in their work and also because it's good practice for later life and I suppose everyday life as a  digital citizen.

I attempt to teach them source identification early on mainly so that they have solid notes... because I've always been about the journey in finding information rather than the destination... so much so that I would take home easily 50+ books from the uni library for a 500 word essay merely because I couldn't choose between 10 books which seemed to have relevant information... which meant hunting and searching for the right books at home... turning out to only be that initial ten and not the rest. Albeit to say my essays were usually late because I found the research more fulfilling than the culmination and collaboration of it with my own ideas.. not that I didn't enjoy that too!

The skills I'm teaching this time round with my Year 9s:
- to identify a interest based project idea
- to identify the difference between formal and informal language
- to describe the appropriate usage of both types of language
- to explain their findings in a research log done through word
- to locate the source where they found the information (url, publishing info, author, title)
- to collate and compare and contrast information with their own knowledge
- to publicise and share their findings
- to evaluate their findings and their research hunt through their blog and talk about what they could do to improve or strengthen their skills
- to show others what they're interested in and give others constructive feedback and feedforward.

Now I know that this is a lot of skills. But really it's stuff they probably already know.. but over the last year has somehow fallen out of their heads... I really wish I had taken some human development classes... might just ask mum for the reason why Y9 is the age that it feels like a blank canvas in your brain and you've forgotten everything from before.. there's a term for what I just did then in ... Dr Webbo can remind me later.. stream of conciousness right?

Anyway.. this is what I plan to do. Though as I said earlier it's more difficult to research without a catalogue... because without one it becomes a neverending mess as books you'd expect to be in one part of the dewey decimal system are in another... argh.

So having to rely on research skills using the internet is the next problem... though I suppose it's even more important that they learn how to weed out the less important links that come up in a Google search. As a digital native myself.. I say that mainly because I taught myself these skills... it's difficult teaching them the right way when they know inherently what to do without knowing that typing in a full question into the search bar isn't always going to get you the best results. More likely it will come up with yahoo links where you are given opinions rather than actual facts. Though in essence a lot of the stuff on the internet is opinionated rather than factual... although there is a certain perceived factual basis for any opinion.

My big problem really though is the policies.. what I need to do is get a copy of all of my Y9 student enrolment forms and a copy of the part at the back where it says they agree to be complying to our cybersafety policy.

If they realise the agreement is a somewhat legally bound document then they surely would be more careful in searching online. Right?

Regardless of all of this... I realise that as a teacher the destination is just as important as the journey. I'm hoping that I can tutu with the COWs (Computers on Wheels) and despite the amount of moaning that goes with using them I've heard from others... we're incredibly lucky to have them. I say that because I haven't used them yet.. and am hoping I can tutu and magically make them all work like they're supposed to!

The destination - a student blog for each student where they can:
- evaluate their own learning
- create an audience to share with
- show off the amazing things they do in class
- write to their hearts content about what interests them and also take part in blogging challenges
- read other student's work
- give constructive feedback and feedforward to their peers
- dip their toes into becoming a digital citizen safely with guidance and support

I'm hoping I can start this this week. I'm going to send home some information but I think what I need to do first is get started teaching these skills. But really what I want to do is avoid the red tape somehow, tell the parents what I'm planning and then tell my principal once it's up and running. 

Though because of the person I am I know I'll do the policies first, talk to my HOD, check in with the principal for the OK, talk to parents and then talk to my students. Though because we have reading room today I know my students will ask if we're again on the computers doing their research.

There's so much to do... but my steps in getting this done are:
1. Find and copy student agreements... or at the least copy off a bunch of student cybersafety policies again so my students are reminded that they must abide by the rules in our class especially.
2. Show the principal my ideas and what I'm planning on doing.. I'm guessing others have done this before me so I'm hoping it won't hit too much resistance
3. Talk with parents.. maybe hold a teacher parent night where they come in to talk about what theyve been doing and what we're planning on doing... or at least ring every parent and then continue emailing from then on...
4. Answer all questions about safety and privacy and the need to build an audience safely although our audience will be ourselves for a while til we're up and running and confident
5. Talk to my students.. because they will be the ones who are my guinea pigs and who will take the most convincing to try with me to do this
6. Get student emails and get them to email me firstly before setting them up with blogs.
7. Create a different blog perhaps for students to get the task of what we're doing that lesson or just use this one..
8. Set up a google plus circle and community for us to collaborate and discuss in
9. Begin blogging... with set tasks in mind - introductions while being safe, discuss something they're learning in school- doesn't have to be just in english, develop their personal interests and show the work they've done in class, use book creator and storify to publish information
10. Share blogs with student agreement and permission with the principal, other teachers and parents
11. Continue blogging and see where we go...

Am hoping it will all be safe sailing.. but with students it is usually anything but. So with much trepidation and excitement I will attempt this long road to our destination through doing required research before letting my students know what I'm up to. Though I'm pretty sure they'd be keen it takes a lot of work to set up safety guidelines and parameters and boundaries so I know that they're safe, that I'm safe and that what we're doing will keep the school safe.

I intend on upholding my schools mana and reputation and making sure my students do as well. Each blog will be shared with our principal and heads of houses to ensure safety parameters are being followed. In the event a student is going against the guidelines I will suspend their account until further notice.. so that they know the seriousness of it. I will maintain student passwords for their blogs and uphold my students safety above all else by ensuring that they aren't targeted by others by making sure all comments are moderated and seen by me as an admin before allowed to be published.

My students should be allowed freedom to write but must make sure they are within our safety guidelines... to keep themselves, their parents and above all else our school safe. Why? Because I'd like to make this an integral part of my teaching and this class has the capabilities of brilliance. I just need to make sure it's a possibility.

Now that I'm starting to freak myself out I'm wondering why I never did this with my extension class or my Y10 class last year. But for all intents and purposes... student blogging ticks off so many requirements within the NZC. I will find a copy and show that here:

Until then... thanks to Myles and his class at Auroa School in particular Emily for being the inspiration.

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