Thursday, 5 May 2011

They owned it

A few weeks ago started working with on a new approach to the five-paragraph essay with my English 101: College composition course. I detailed the new approach I took with my class in a post titled, “Own it”. I simply wanted to share what we were doing, get feedback for some of my students, and solicit suggestions for making this project better. Maybe someone would land on it and steal a piece of it or the whole thing and then remix it. That was pretty much it. 
The next morning I discovered this in my TweetDeck mentions column:

Let’s be honest, Will Richardson, much like Ron Burgundy, is kind of a big deal in the education community. When he tweets your post A LOT of people get to see it. The web of influence grows significantly. This was awesome. Throughout the day I watched as the post got retweeted and shared amongst my PLN and from some I had never met. Kathryn, the student who I profiled in the post, received lots of suggestions, links, resources, etc. on her Google Doc. That day in class she asked me, “What happened to my doc?” I asked her if she was happy with the responses and she returned with an emphatic, “Yes, this is awesome!”

Kathryn even connected with a student in Nebraska who was working on the same subject of gay teen bullying and suicide. I connected with her teacher and the connection was made between the two students. Kathryn and Kelli shared sources and videos that were right in line with their topics. Kelli shared her blog with Kathryn as well.

I continued to tweet out my students’ Google docs throughout the day for collaboration. Jason, another student in this class, went to bed with four bullet points about his topic and was struggling to find information. After sharing with my PLN he had two pages of links, resources, videos, and several twitter contacts for follow up. That day in class he was thrilled. He began digging through his doc and evaluating these sources. He asked me if it was okay to use what others had posted for his project. I said it was fine and told him to make sure he evaluated the information and made sure it was worth using.

It didn’t end there. Last Friday, I skyped with Dean Shareski as he was wrapping up a presentation with 150 high school teachers from Elk Island Public Schools on the subject of rethinking learning. We connected through my last post and I shared this concept with the teachers present at his presentation. Some of those teachers visited my blog, read the post, and left thoughtful comments.

It kept going…
Kathryn presenting her essay
This past Monday I wrote my latest post for Edutopia comparing the comedic idea process with the idea process in teaching. I reflected on the HBO series, Talking Funny, with Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais, and Louis C.K. The final segment of the post presented a challenge for teachers to share their innovative or dynamic ideas with me and I would share the ideas in future posts. At this writing I have ten posts lined up with ideas to share. One of them is from a former colleague at Radnor High School.

I decided to share what I was doing and amazing connections flourished. It is that simple. I shared, created a transparent learning environment in my class, and made a typically boring assignment very dynamic and engaging for my students. I helped open up new learning avenues for my students and did my best to give them access to the most current learning tools. They have never been more excited and ready to write, create, demonstrate, present, search, listen, etc. Intrinsic motivation became contagious in my class. Students could not wait to see who was commenting on their Google docs. Our class time became a rich discussion about social media, the students’ topics, and how they could harness the power of social and digital media to empower their projects. To steal a line from Penny Lane in Almost Famous, “It was all happening”.

There is no denying we all encounter speed bumps in our teaching. Some of us are bludgeoned with testing while others cannot simply gain access to the most current learning tools out there. Incorporating this type of an assignment might seem like a far off dream, but don’t stop trying. I did not ask any of my supervisors for permission with this assignment. I just did it. And I knew if anything went wrong I would have happy, engaged students to plead my case. In fact, most of them said they had no idea they could enjoy English 101 this much.

Thanks to all of you who helped my students and joined in our learning. Thank you for the comments. Thank you for the tweets and the retweets. Thank you Will Richardson for putting this post out there.  And thank you all for showing my students the power of learning network.

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