Listen, Share, Repeat.

There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about  lately. They revolve around listening to students (I’ve blogged about this before) and measuring technology integration success/effectiveness. I really thought that these two topics would be separate posts. The more I thought about it, which was spurred on further in a blog post I read earlier today by Ryan Bretag called The Real Change Agents, where Ryan asks this (in what I believe is essential to our best practices) question: “How many of you are having ongoing conversations with students about school – a genuine conversations about learning, leading, and teaching?”

I started to realize how important one was to the other. If you don’t think what you’re doing to integrate/infuse technology is working effectively, shouldn’t we be asking our students how to be better at it? These can be very powerful conversations that not only can impact the effectiveness of students using technology, but can leverage effective change in education. I see this as two rather basic and straightforward questions: 1) What technology opportunities should we be offering students to impact every facet of their education? 2) How can we make it better (perhaps after some initial implementation)?

My friend Russ Goerend also tweeted this out this morning that got me thinking further about the impact listening to students can have:


Now I don’t know the reason that Russ was spending his prep period with these students, but I gathered from his tweet that there was some pretty powerful (or at least interesting) conversation happening. I would love to hear what these students came up with about what “school” should look like.  I also wonder what impact Russ’ conversation made on them personally. If you are having “student focus groups” (light bulb moment) at your school, are you varying which students you gather input from? We should be.

I invite you to watch this 5 minute clip from a student panel titled “Is ANYONE listening to students? Students Speak Up About Education Technology” – and think about what kind of real change listening to students could bring to change what “school” looks like.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0GU72f9IH4]

Students want to have access to the types of devices (mobile or not) that allow them take their learning experiences further at that moment. Our students have passions for learning and if they want to take it further than we can in one class period we’re doing them a disservice by not allowing/banning/generally frowning upon them doing so. We’ve been in the 21st century for eleven years now! When are we going to stop referring to “21st century skills” or “21st century classrooms”? How about we just make this necessary in terms of  skill sets and how our classrooms look/function?

As I look back to the title of this post I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the importance of sharing, which continues to be a critical component after we have listened to our students. I always try my best to stress this when I’m working with teachers, especially if they’re considered a “trail blazer” in their school for using said technology with students. Share with your parents, share with your staff, share with your principal. Share what worked, what didn’t work, and share feedback from students. Just share!

Listening to students. Should this be a critical component of a school’s or district’s improvement plan? Oh, and I think I’d add another word to the title after Listen: CHANGE.

Collaboration: The Lost Skill?

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This blog post is cross-posted over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

First I’d like to say thanks to Scott McLeod for the opportunity to write a post for Dangerously Irrelevant. The topic of student collaboration is one that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I want to disclaim at the forefront that I want this to be a conversation. I want to learn from you. I want you to make me think. This is not the end-all be-all about collaboration. I want to talk about the necessity of this 21st century skill and how I think it dwindles as a necessary skill as students move away from elementary school.

My daughter is almost 6 years old. She just started Kindergarten. Recently she was at a playground with her brother and numerous other kids. As I watched her play, I noticed how comfortable she was going up to kids she’d never met, introducing herself, and engaging these kids in conversation which led to a new playtime opportunity. She was probably doing whatever she could to not have to play with her younger brother for a while. 🙂

If you have young children it’s really an amazing thing to watch. She just went right up to these other kids, and started in like she had known them already. Right away I thought about collaboration. Even if it’s in the most simplest form, she is collaborating. It doesn’t matter if it’s in her kindergarten classroom or on the playground. She wants to have a productive play/learning time. That is her goal. It would seem, that she is eager to collaborate for this to happen. I feel like I’ve been a positive guide for her to be this way; but it wasn’t decreed like, “You shall speak to all of your peers and engage them!” I am blown away by her comfort level. Even when I’m in a classroom of younger students (I’m thinking Kindergarten through 2nd grade), I am always intrigued at their collaboration skills (as basic as they may be) to achieve a common goal.

All of this thinking on collaboration and 21st century skills led me to ask this via Twitter, “What field of expertise DOESN’T require some form of collaboration to succeed?” I didn’t get one serious response. My friend Andy Marcinek, however, gets the award for funniest response. “A mime.” Seriously though, how can we say that students don’t need the skill of effective collaboration? I want to hear your thoughts on this.

I have seen tweets and blog posts recently about frustration that teachers are having getting their students to collaborate. These were mainly secondary teachers and library media specialists. It was even an #EdChat topic a few weeks ago: “How do we engage students who find participatory learning uncomfortable?” What do you find most difficult when getting students to collaborate? Criticism from their peers? A bad experience with a previous teacher? It seems like there’s so many factors that can come into play.

How are we fostering this skill beyond kindergarten? What have you found that really is motivating for students to collaborate? What gives them true ownership of their learning? There’s awesome digital tools that aid in collaboration, but those tools don’t MAKE the collaboration. It’s a skill that still has to be fine tuned. It’s a skill we should all be modeling effectively if we want our students to do it effectively. If you’re looking for some great suggestions on how to foster collaboration in your classroom, I would suggest reading Michelle Bourgeois’ post titled:  The Collaborative Classroom: It’s a Juggling Act. In this post Michelle tells a story of teaching students how to juggle and says. “Just like the art of juggling, there are several skills that need to be balanced and constantly monitored in a collaborative classroom to make it all come together.” Please be sure to check out Michelle’s post on how to monitor and keep balance of some essentials in classroom collaboration.

This leads to my questions, “Where does this skill go?” Am I the only one that thinks younger students are better at collaboration than older students? Shouldn’t this be the opposite? This is something we want our students to be better at right? We should be fostering this skill in our classrooms, not hindering it. How often are you allowing students to collaborate? Not to say that awesome things can’t come out of individual thinking, but as I always like to say, “We’re better together.” Sure, one mind can do awesome things, but a collective could really rock someone’s world.

Thanks for reading.

The Other End of The String – Thoughts from this week’s EdChat

Some thoughts and tips from this week’s EdChat, having a positive digital footprint

This past week’s EdChat was about best practices for increasing parent/teacher communication. Lots of great tips, resources, and ideas were shared as always. How effective is the digital communication between school and home? How great is the digital divide in your school or district? I need the proper PD to do this well, I don’t want to do it half way. These were just a few of the topics that came up during the evening edition of EdChat. If you weren’t there or haven’t yet had a chance to read the archive, check it out here.

Teacher ambition is always so high during the infancy of  implementing a digital communication tool. I know some districts, such as my own, offer teachers space on the web server to store their classroom/team/department/grade level web site. I realize this is not the case in every district. If you do have this option though, I recommend taking advantage of it and invest in the initial training necessary to create a web site for your classroom. Not only is it an excellent way to communicate with parents, but it can also provide resources for review, remediation, and enrichment to supplement the instruction that occurs in the classroom.

No matter which way a teacher chooses to communicate digitally with parents, choose one tool and stick with it. Consistently update it. If you post something that’s relevant for November, don’t still have it posted in February. Decide how much time you want to invest up front. Quite often the ambition quickly fades to update and maintain a classroom web site. Which, of course, easily happens with the one million other things that classroom teachers have on their plate at any given time.

If a district hosted site is not an option, blogs and wikis can be of use nicely and are easier to maintain when it comes to content and overall design. There are also many free web services that will walk you through building a professional looking site. I recently tweeted this resource, “45 Web Builders to Create an Insanely Awesome Free Website“. Definitely check out the tools there.

Our students also need to know about creating and communicating a positive, professional presence on the web. I call it “having a positive digital footprint”. I spoke this week to students at the Missouri FCCLA State Conference about this very topic. I wanted to help students understand that the way they communicate on the web now can either have a positive or negative impact for when they enter the workforce after college. I shared with them tools and strategies that will help them have a positive digital footprint. Universities are starting to look at a student’s web presence when determining whether to accept or deny entrance into the school. Potential Employers are certainly looking at a job candidate’s web presence when deciding whether to hire someone or not. I shared this recent study by Microsoft in regards to why your online reputation matters. Be sure and check out the statistics and watch the video “What does your Online Reputation say about you?” Whether we like it or not, teacher or student, Google is quickly becoming one of the “silent references” on our resume.

Creating any kind of classroom website, blog, wiki, or Twitter account can be a great way to keep in communication with parents. Some of those allow for two-way communication, but some don’t. The teacher has to evaluate and plan exactly what type of information and resources they want to provide to parents via the web BEFORE any creation starts.

Thank you for reading.