Sunday, October 26, 2008

Content, digital tools, and glimpses outside the classroom

Although I haven't kept up with this blog as much as I have in the past, I'm still here in F14 - or whatever room I happen to have a key to - plugging away at this thing called 21st Century learning. In the nearly two years since I started this blog, my thinking has evolved, and my practice in the classroom has grown more refined, yet my time spent reflecting on it in this space has dropped precipitously.

The teaching challenge is still there for me - how can I embed digital and web 2.0 tools into my students' learning?

Well, let's see...

This year I've had the good fortune of teaching a class called 21st Century Journalism, which has allowed me the freedom to try different approaches with the students. There's no set content requirements. Instead I've turned things around, focusing on the digital tools that may help students find content rather than using classroom content (the assigned reading books for example) to experiment with digital tools. So while my English 10 classes read a series of short stories and created a wiki resource about them, my 21st Century journalism students signed up for a Google reader account and have begun reading blogs tailored to their interest. As I watch them work, I continue to think about the challenges they face when they encounter a broad variety of digital content.

It's a challenge that Bud the Teacher seems to working with on a recent project about generating research questions for a class studying digital literacy. Having kids explore the issues and contexts of digital literacy would be a valuable activity, if for nothing else to help them make the connections between what they already do online with other valuable productivity tools available. Right now, I think there's a disconnect in kids about that. They may spend several hours on facebook or myspace, but never consider the other applications and implications of the technology they use. I guess that's a teacher's job, to help forge those connections and help trigger that learning.

At the moment, where I'm at is using blogs in the class for students to practice the skills of reading and writing. The more I think about Bud's project, it seems to make sense to include a reflective piece, maybe even borrowing some guiding questions from his project. Do we read websites differently than we do books? Does literacy only mean reading and writing? Or, has the meaning of literacy expanded to include how we understand digital content?

As I ponder those questions and how best to integrate them in class, here are some examples of where so far student blogging has reached outside classroom.

One of the students has begun reading about some local issues, but I've been trying to encourage her to expand her reach and read more about statewide and regional stories. I directed her to a blog by a Connecticut attorney, and she mentioned it in one of her posts. Within a few days, he had left her a comment and, in turn, gave her kudos on his own blog. It was awesome to see the reaction of all the students in the class when they huddled around her computer to read the blog entry where she was mentioned. Sometimes it's the small things that have the biggest impact - even though they all laughed because of the name of her blog.

Another student has begun reading numerous different blogs and now maintains two of them, one for the class and the other a little less schoolish. However, there are times when her personal interests and school do mix. She discovered the postsecret blog and absolutely loved it. She decided to bring that idea to the school. And guess what? That's what she did. Read about it here.

I hope the students keep going, and they don't stop here. There's just too much more to learn.


rachel said...

Hi Miller, I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm a researcher from New Zealand, and my colleagues and I have just started a collaboratve blog and webspace called "shifting thinking". I've referred to your blog here (see It's really great to be able to hear some of your thinking and also see traces/artefacts of the work you've been doing with students in your own teaching. We'd welcome your comments or input into our Shifting Thinking webspace. Keep up the good work and the interesting blog postings! I have added you to my iGoogle feed reader.

MrWoody said...

one and keep it up - I have found using blogs with my students most rewarding. They are younger than yours so are even perhaps even more in need of guidance in the use of Web 2.0 within a genuine and engaging context.