Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sending the right message

Today I was working with a class of grade 5 students who were using Posterous.  We were talking about blogging and discussing how they could post their work onto their blog to keep a permanent record of what they have been doing in IT to support their work on the units of inquiry.  We didn't really discuss the word ePortfolio, but of course this is what they would eventually end up with if they continue to display their work on their Posterous blog.

This was only the second time the students had worked on this blog.  The first lesson had just involved setting up the blog and choosing their design.  We wrote one blog post on the first day so that they would see how to add to their blog - students wrote a simple recount of what they had learned in their current unit of inquiry, Who We Are, which deals with physical, social and emotional changes during the different life phases and the roles and responsibilities associated with each.  Today I wanted to show them how easy it was to put other things to their blog, so we looked back to see what they had done over the past few months that they could add.

At the start of the year the students worked on Sharing the Planet.  They were looking at peace and conflict and all of them made a Bitstrip cartoon showing a situation of conflict and how it could be resolved peacefully.  We therefore decided to try to post the cartoon they had created.  This was a very simple task which involved saving the image from either the Bitstrips website or from the student website if it had already been displayed there.  We put this image onto the desktop and then uploaded it into Posterous (after which we trashed the image from the desktop).  Students wrote a few sentences to reflect on making their cartoon and how this helped their understanding of the unit.  This was such an easy process that we then went on to upload a movie that students had made and saved on the school's YouTube channel, for their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.

Some students didn't finish in class but I reminded them they could always log onto Posterous/YouTube/Bitstrips and the school website from home so that they could finish off.  I found myself talking to students about how easy it was to use Web 2.0 tools and that creating, communicating and publishing their work online was a 21st century skill that it was important for them all to master.

I know of teachers whose eyes glaze over when they hear the words 21st century skills.  I know of others who switch off when they hear talk of some skills now being obsolete.  Often this is because they are worried that their traditional skills may no longer be seen as relevant or of value.  Some feel threatened or criticized - they feel that all this talk about the 21st century skills that our students will need for their futures means that the skills they learned in the 20th century when they became teachers are no longer valid.  For many of those teachers, publishing was the final step in a long series of writers workshop lessons, and happened only after careful discussion, editing and peer review.  Publishing two or three pieces of work in one lesson, with little time given at this stage to editing and no time at all for discussion or peer review of what the students were writing would have seemed very shoddy!  Yet for the Grade 5s today, publishing this work was the first step in a process that will go on to look at reading and commenting on each other's blogs - the discussion and peer review will happen online and at a later date.

For me, sending the right message is letting our teachers know that the skills that they taught in the past are still there - perhaps they are being taught in a different order, perhaps they are being taught in a different way and using different media and tools, but the communication skills remain the same.  By writing a blog we are still working on the PYP transdisciplinary skill of communication - which includes, for example, keeping a journal or record and also constructing visuals and multimedia for a variety of purposes and audiences - and using appropriate technology for effective presentation and representation. What I was hoping for today was that our 5th Graders would come to love writing on their blog and publishing their work in all its various formats - and that they will want to do it more and more.

Photo Credit:  Embraced by Words by Robbert van der Steeg

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