I’m sitting in the second row of the classroom as Mr Digital waits patiently for the chattering of the year 6 class to stop, it doesn’t take long. He explains that the children will be accessing their WordPress™ sites for the first time.
Blogging not only has psychological benefits for students but may eventually also take over from the persuasive essay as the predominant form that students use to express their ideas! “Woo hoo” I hear you say! No more essays! Maybe in time, dear student, but please, don’t hold your breath, as our education system is a fair way from responding that dramatically to current theory.
Back in the classroom the log in process is laborious, many students don’t know their login details. Some queue for help while the rest wait or independently browse their computers without supervision nor direction.
The whole process take no more than ten minutes. But I feel it could have been managed more effectively through one or more of many different approaches.
Mr Digital uses classical direct instruction method to conduct the lesson, a style he’s mastered over a strong career in teaching, yet, while approaching digital content with a group of 12 year olds, it doesn’t seem to fit. He spends the entire lesson at the front of the classroom and finds only token moments to give the students praise, such as when they parrot back the website address to him. I couldn’t help myself, I really wish I could, but I brainstormed three other ways to conduct this lesson.
The ‘Two heads are better than one’ approach
Pairing students so that they can direct each other would free the teacher up from having to visit every individual student that doesn’t get it (rather only any pair where neither student gets it), which would allow him to move about the classroom and give praise for good work and speed up the learning. Pairing would also encourage collaboration amongst students and foster discovery and creativity. Check out this great TED video where computer illiterate peasant children in India collaboratively work out how to use computers without instruction!
Flip the classroom
Mr Digital has a number of good instructional videos at his Youtube site, and I can’t help wondering if he wouldn’t be better off making a short video for the kids to watch that walks them through how to set up and use the various features of WordPress™. It would be self paced and time spent giving instructions to be freed up for helping those kids who are really struggling, or even to create some content! A great (and free) self paced learning website that is being used in classrooms in the USA is KhanAcademy.org. In his TED talk, creator Salman Khan tells the audience that his cousins prefer to get his lessons via video over face to face. For this particular lesson Mr Digital could use a screen recorder to go through the process step by step for students to follow in their own time.
Mr Digital could use the airdrop function of the Macbook or file sharing as a way to access files or walkthrough documents. In the lesson I observed different aspects of the blog were demonstrated using the smart board as a large computer monitor to perform routine tasks. This approach to integration of ICT is limited, and perhaps even less effective than some well designed screenshots on various slides with important areas highlighted.
Up to Standards!
The National Professional Standard for Teachers 4.5.1 requires a teacher to use strategies to support safe use of ICT in learning. Mr Digital knocks this standard for six by getting students to activate an anti-spam utility (AKISMET) on their WordPress™ site and explains to them the dangers of spam and the need for online security.
Despite my indulgent advice, the kids get to the stage of choosing a theme for their WordPress™ site and activate their anti-spam utility. Yet, I can’t help but feel one or two students are hopelessly lost and still can’t login, and another one or two finish in the first two minutes and are either watching the clock or engaged in their own independent online pursuits. Either way it was an enlightening first class and I look forward to many more observations in the weeks to come.