Oct 072010

My 6th graders just completed their Digital Citizenship websites using iWeb. I am very proud of them as this is the first project we have completed together and it is the first project they have completed using Macs.

As I have no server yet, I had the students hand their work into my favorite site, drop.io. They were instantly able to see and comment on each other’s sites. I handed out our rubric to help them focus their comments on our guidelines (Layout, Graphics, Fonts, Spelling & Grammar and Content Accuracy). I told them they had a chance to ‘practice what they preach’ when it comes to Digital Citizenship by following good netiquette when leaving comments.

As I expected, there were a few mean comments (this is not the first time I’ve done this lesson so I was prepared) so we discussed how to handle anonymous bully-like comments. I was able to delete the comments that were borderline inappropriate, also modeling how webmasters can decide what they want to remain on their site and what they want to take down.

From reading their comments it was obvious that they knew what made a good website, that they had read and understood the rubric and that they had read each other’s text. In addition, I was able to view all of the websites and comments in one place and I left each student a personal message about his or her project.

There is huge opportunity, when letting students share and respond to each other’s work, for deeper reflection, higher levels of motivation, and a classroom culture built around constructive criticism, higher order thinking and collaboration.  No longer are they writing and creating for the teacher, they are writing and sharing for each other. I am excited to see what effect this has on their writing process and progress.

In the words of Neil Postman:

Once they have become literate, most people have intellectual and emotional powers that are irrevocable.

Postman also asks:

When was the last time you wrote a ‘composition?’

In the ‘real’ world, we write with a purpose. We write from the heart, we don’t write cookie cutter, ‘constructed responses’ that follow a pattern and a uniform structure. (Can you find the topic sentences in this post?)

Don’t you think a school year ought to be a continuing exchange of ideas, rather than a series of staccato “lessons” and “units?”

quotes from Teaching as a Subversive Activity, 1971

Feb 042010

My 4-6th graders have been working Persuasive Essays for the last month. (While that seems like a long time, it is really only 4-5 class periods.) I decided to have them hand in their work using a drop.io dropbox rather than my server dropbox so I can grade their work from home. 

While playing around with the drop.io settings and functions, I noticed a ‘comment’ feature.  “How cool!” I thought. Not only could they read each others’ essays, but they could leave feedback as well!  I created a guest password and linked it to their assignment page.  They logged in and then the fun began.  It was so exciting to see them taking the time to read each other’s essays.  While the comments were not exactly what I wanted (some were more about say “what’s up” or “you go girl” than actual feedback–totally my own fault because we didn’t spend a lot of time going over giving useful feedback) it was fun and engaging for them and they were excited to know that their work was being read by their classmates. 

There were a few teachable moments when a student posted a “so and so likes you” comment to a boy’s essay and when another student left a few rude comments signing someone else’s name.  It gave me a chance to remind them that once you put your words and thoughts up on the Internet, they are there forever and you can’t take them back.  It also gave me a chance to discuss netiquette and real life situations that occur when using social media.

I kept having to remind myself that nothing is perfect the first time you try it.  This was a great activity and a successful one with a few hiccups, and it is a great jumping off point for the collaborative work I am planning for the Spring.

Every day I see proof of the power of social media to motivate students to engage with content.  There is no other kind of tool that would allow for students to view each others’ work so quickly and leave feedback so easily.  Also, knowing that others are going to read your work, especially one’s peers, often motivates students to take more time and be more careful in how they write and what they write.

Now my question: am I going to get in trouble now? The District is so fearful of these kinds of tools and activities.