Today (May 6, 2011) I am attending the New Literacies Institute 2010 Follow-Up Session #3. Teacher Teams that began work last summer at the week-long Institute, have brought lessons to share with the rest of the teams. They have also reported on the challenges and successes of using the Internet and digital tools to strengthen lessons and student learning.
In addition, some reported on the work that they have done with colleagues. They told us that often what catches on is what works in other classrooms. The "buzz" will bring other teachers asking for a tutorial on something that would support student learning in their classrooms. Several teachers reported the ability to differentiate learning for students using some of the tools. They pointed out how important it is to have time to collaborate with colleagues on a regular basis. That, coupled with the expectation that all teachers will update lessons with appropriate new literacies, would go a long way to improving the current curriculum in many places.
One team found that Edmodo is particularly useful. It is a place where students can have literature circle discussions online. Students can put documents on the site as well. Students can access the site from home or homes (in some cases). The site does not use email and is private and protected and, best of all, free. The teacher assesses student work and the expectation is that the students will use the protocols for discussion online that they have been taught in the classroom. There are parent protocols so that families may monitor student work as well. The teacher monitors the discussion; recieving an email every time there is a post. However, the teacher can shut the site off during vacations or when she is away.
According to the teachers, students had better discussions when they had the prompt ahead of time, reminding us that whatever your best practices are without digital tools, the same ideas infuse work with digital media. Additionally, some students who were often distracted and oof task during face-to-face discussions, provided very focussed and high-level entries online. Some teacher groups have established adult learning communities using the same tool with colleagues in the district and around the world. What an opportunity for professional collaboration!
Another Teacher demonstrated her use of Webquest. For the project each student needs a Google account. Students prepare 5 web pages based upon research of a specific content topic. They start with criteria and a rubric for content as well as for presentation. Students present their work when finished and must cite their resources. They are reminded to take audience into account when planning the content. One caution that was shared was that in the middle of the project, the site (Google) asked for a phone number. It may be Google's way of preventing spam accounts. However, students did not give phone numbers or any personal information and they were able to finish the projects. When we use new tools, we are sometimes subjected to surprises. However, if we want our students to take risks to enhance learning, we must model our own willingness to do so.
Both of these projects demonstrate the use of digital tools and the Internet for providing and communicating content learning. Who owns the learning? Who is doing the work? In these cases, students are creating products that not only demonstrate their own learning but create a legacy of that learning that can be shared with students who come after them.
The Massachusetts New Literacies Institute 2011 will continue the implementation of digitally-infused teaching and learning across the state. Our new English Language Arts Curriculum Framework is filled with references to use of digital tools and the Internet. The Framework encourages all kinds of research projects and use of a variety of sources for research as well as methods of presentation of learning. If you are interested in sending a team to the 2011 Institute, please access the flyer, New Literacies Institute 2011 Flyer, and respond according to the directions. Literacy is not added to the plate, it is the plate and the new literacies are delectable!