Will Richardson, the beloved author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts..., recently posted an interesting, and somewhat troubling, anecdote on his blog. His blog is called Weblogg-Ed and the post is entitled Reality Check. It is compelling, and yet brief, so I'll post the entire text here:
Recently a school administrator shared a story that reminded me why I need to spend more time talking to more people outside of the echo chamber.
She said that a group of parents had requested a meeting to discuss the methods of a particular teacher and his use of technology. It seemed this teacher had decided to forgo the textbook and have students write their own on a wiki, that he published a great deal of his students’ work online, that he taught them and encouraged them to use Skype to interview people who they had researched and identified as valuable voices in their learning, and that he shared all of his lectures and classwork online for anyone, not just the students in his class, could access them and use them under a Creative Commons license.
When the administrator got the phone call from the parent who wanted to set up the meeting, she asked for some sense of what the problem was. The reply?
“Our students don’t need to be a part of a classroom experiment with all this technology stuff. They need to have a real teacher with real textbooks and real tests.”
What is so troubling about this story is that these students were acquiring knowledge through an authentic process. The teaching may not have been traditional, but it was good teaching. The content and Web 2.0 skills they learned by taking this class will outlast most of the information they memorized from textbooks and regurgitated on tests in other classes. If we want to prepare our students for real world careers, we need to start holding them responsible for creating real products in school.
Now, after taking a deep breath, I took comfort in the fact that Reading parents, in my experience, have been more forward thinking. My freshmen students have grown so much since September. I have started holding them more responsible for their own learning, although I have to admit I haven't done anything as daring as the teacher mentioned in Will Richardson's post. In one of our recent units we had a couple of student-centered activities in which I was merely the facilitator. They students took responsibility for their own learning and the learning of their classmates.
First, they created museum-style exhibits complete with interactive elements and even artifacts, to help teach their classmates about some portion of the unit. Then they created worksheets for their classmates to fill in as they visited the exhibit so that they would have accurate notes to study when the classroom museum activity was over. I don't have electronic copies of the worksheets, but here are some pictures of the kids with the exhibits they created.
Review Rap Podcast
Later in the unit, I decided not to create the traditional study guide or run the traditional review session. Instead, I challenged students to get into groups and write raps that explained the major concepts from the unit. Then, I promised to let them record the raps and publish them on our class Edline page as a podcast. Not only did they have fun, but the discussion we had after listening to the raps truly helped the kids understand the material better in preparation for the unit test. (Yes, I'll admit I gave them a "real test" as the parents in Will Richardson's post demanded.)
The parents' responses to both the pictures and recordings of their kids was positive. Here are quotes from a couple of the emails.
Cool! Congratulations to you and your class for doing great research and using the wonderful technology you have at RMHS. Please keep sharing!
Dear Ms. Gallagher,
Megan and I loved the podcast! Thanks for sharing with us and making history fun!!
What was so exciting about receiving these emails is that they were completely unsolicited. I hope to continue implementing Web 2.0 tools.
My next undertaking is a long-term research project that will culminate in a documentary. I assigned it today and, although their eyes grew large when I explained the scope of the assignment, they left the classroom excited about their topics and the prospect of sharing their final documentaries with each other when we have our "Viewing Party" in May. It isn't the traditional research paper that students are accustomed to writing in history classes, but I hope it reflects the same research process with a final product that better reflects many 21st Century skills, including writing. Wish me (and my students) luck!