Creating visibility around student learning can redefine a learner’s understanding of the world.
When facilitating in classes, I often open with the question, ‘Do you know how many people in the world have access to the Internet?’ There are a myriad of guesses from the students. Very few get anywhere near the 3.1 billion internet users suggested by websites such as Internet Livestats. By the time this blog post is published, I’ve no doubt that number will be closer to 3.2 billion and still climbing. Of course, these are estimates, but the realisation that the potential audience for a student’s learning could number in the billions is a very exciting place to start with a classroom full of learners. Be under no illusion, I’m very careful when I use the term ‘potential audience’, because, without driving traffic to any online space where learning is shared, it is as redundant as the marked work in an exercise book from years ago that currently resides in the bottom of a box in the attic.
But, it begs the question, why isn’t everyone sharing his or her work online? For some, it’s simply a lack of knowledge. If you cannot identify a vehicle within which to share, then you cannot begin sharing. For others, it’s fear. Students and teachers alike are often afraid of criticism or being judged by others. This is something we develop as we get older; my two-year-old son certainly isn’t fussed by what others think of his finger painting! It would be easy to say to those, ‘Get over it’, but it’s not that simple.
It’s a mindset shift. It’s an understanding that sharing learning online needn’t be in the form of a portfolio or record of achievement. It could echo the journey that millions of students take every day, the visual growth of knowledge and progress in an online forum. And lastly, for many, it’s time! Teachers in New Zealand are no different from many others around the world: overworked, exhausted, and constantly being bashed by the media.
I’m very fortunate to work in one of the world’s leading education sectors, and within that, alongside a well-known, progressive group of schools — a truly inspirational and world-recognised cluster — focused on accelerating student achievement in a low socio-economic area. And they’re doing it! So I thought I’d take the opportunity to delve a little more into the ‘Why’, the ‘How’, and the ‘What’ of creating visibility around learning —a reference to Simon Sinek’s amazing Golden Circle TED Talk.
I briefly touched on this earlier, but I often ask students why they feel it’s important to share their learning. The usual answers of, ‘to connect with my family’, or, ‘let others see what we’re doing’ come up, but when you drill down a bit further, students as young as seven or eight years old begin to talk to you about audience and purpose. It’s amazing to watch the transformation in a student’s effort and dedication to learning when they realise that the audience is no longer their peer, their teacher, or (in the very ‘best’ case) the principal. The audience becomes real. It becomes unknown but exciting. The awe and wonder that comes from a student asking the question, ‘Who could end up reading this?’ is a magnificent sight. We should never stray from the vision within the NZ curriculum — to create young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. Forgive my paraphrasing.
So, I return to the Why that underpins the need to make learning visible. Our learners need to be confident when sharing their learning, proud of their progress first, and then their achievement. They have the right to connect beyond the four walls of their classroom. This enables them to seek feedback from those interested in their learning wherever they may be in the world. They can connect through structured commenting, through ongoing feedback in an online environment as well as the classroom, gaining perspective and new momentum. Our learners need to look for their audience, find the opportunities to connect and engage both in and out of the classroom, and become actively involved in online communities and develop their voice. And lastly, it falls upon us as educators to show students that learning doesn’t end at 3pm. It isn’t constrained by the four walls of the classroom. It’s re-windable. It’s about finding passion and pursuing dreams!
How can this be achieved? In a Google Apps For Education (GAFE) environment, it’s certainly a little easier. Access to collaborative tools, sharing formats, and a wider, authentic audience means that the purpose behind learning can be far more powerful. Outside of it (with a little grit and determination) visibility within learning is certainly just as possible. Within a progressive cluster of twelve schools here in New Zealand, students each have a blog. This is a seemingly underwhelming statement until you realise that there are around 1500 active blogs within the cluster, all being posted to regularly by students, and all being commented on regularly by other students from all over the world.
So my ‘How’ becomes, ‘How do I do it?’
Start small, create a class blog, and post examples of students’ learning. Encourage others to look at it, comment on the learning. Share the comments with the students. Parent engagement is a powerful tool to motivate learners. The wonder of a conversation between parent and child about their day that doesn’t start with, ‘How was your day?’ Instead, it begins with the parent sharing their thoughts on their child’s learning posted online that very morning! It’s about looking for opportunities to connect with other blogs, and analysing the style of comment you’d like to see — Is it positive, thoughtful, and helpful?
So, create a simple blog, share ongoing learning to engage the community, and connect students to the world. They can also use some of the many apps out there to help capture their learning and experiences as they happen, stopping it from becoming yet another thing to do! Of course, there will be times that a post needs to be something special, not a snapshot window into the classroom, but a carefully constructed display of the brilliant things happening in and outside of the room — but I can’t think of many better teachable moments, can you?
And so, I come to the easiest part of all. If you know Why and How you’re sharing, then the What falls into place effortlessly. Whether a student blog or a class blog, what to share isn’t really the question. It’s more about defining what the purpose of the blog is. To me, it isn’t a portfolio of best work. It isn’t a place for typed-up stories after being drafted in books, or perfect, finished pieces. It’s a place to show the journey — the ups, downs, ins and outs. The rollercoaster that learning can be. Whether it’s simple photos of the stages involved in creating a piece of artwork, or a digital story plan, it’s about showing the process and thinking just as much as the outcome. A blog can be a place for incredibly elaborate animated movies, or a quick picture of something that made a student think, and everything in between! It’s a place to show student voice, progress, achievement, failure, success, choice, and perhaps, most importantly, reflection and growth.
Something I’ve lived by over the past few years has been, don’t be afraid to FAIL. Because, in itself, it’s simply your First Attempt In Learning.
- Manaiakalani Blog http://manaiakalani.blogspot.co.nz/
- Manaiakalani Story http://www.manaiakalani.org/our-story/the-manaiakalani-story
- The Manaiakalani Outreach Project https://sites.google.com/a/manaiakalani.org/manaiakalani-outreach/home
- Start with the why https://www.startwithwhy.com/
- Start with the why- blog http://blog.startwithwhy.com/
- The Principal of Change http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3721