Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
How many times have you heard a student ask, “How long does this paper have to be?” or “Will this be on the test?”
Many students come to school with little desire to please their teachers. Grades, stickers and pizza parties are among the many forms of external motivation that create students who no longer learn purely for the love of learning.
Throughout my career as an educator, I’ve had an interest in changing the paradigm of public education to win back students by cultivating an internal motivation to learn. I believe that a key ingredient to this is providing authentic learning experiences in the classroom.
Recently, I worked with a high school world affairs teacher named Jeff Jakob to use blogging as a platform for writing with students in his class. Not only is this an example of student outcomes driving the use of technology, but also it demonstrates the power of an authentic audience and how that affects student motivation and engagement.
When students turn in writing to their teacher, they often don’t care if it’s good — as long as it’s good enough. But when they publish their work online, they want it to be good. Knowing that someone else besides a parent, guardian or teacher cares about their work and will be reading it has a profound impact on the quality of work that they produce. Often, students are more interested in knowing what their peers think about their work than what their teacher thinks.
Before beginning the blogging project, Jeff went through the proper channels to get parental permission for students to publish their work online. He also invested time in providing the scaffolding needed for students to learn about interacting appropriately on digital platforms, such as a blog.
Then he had students create their own blog — one that was public, for all the world to see. Once each student had his or her own blog, Jeff registered the class on a site called quadblogging.net, which connected his class with three other classes around the world.
Here’s how it works: Each class, or “quad,” has a coordinator to oversee communication among the groups. Each cycle lasts four weeks, with each quad having one week in the spotlight. During that week, their blog will be visited by the other quad members, who will leave feedback. In return, the class commits to visiting the other quads’ blogs when it’s their turn in the spotlight. The result is a fast-moving cycle of four weeks that is repeated two or three times and ensures that the blogs have an authentic audience.
I made a video in collaboration with Jeff and his students while working as an instructional technologist on this project. The goal was to give the students a chance to share their perspective on the experience. Student feedback is something I feel we should do a lot more of in education, but that’s a topic for another post.
This wonderful experience with blogging had a tremendous impact on these students. We watched some quiet and timid students blossom into confident writers, ready to tackle the blogosphere. However, the goal in sharing about the project is not to suggest that every teacher should begin blogging with his or her class this school year. The key takeaway here is that it's not about the technology, but the learning opportunity the technology affords. The decision to harness an authentic audience — and see what it could do to motivate and engage students — was driven by pedagogy and student outcomes.
As educators, we should show students that someone other than their teacher or parents cares about their work. It's unbelievably empowering. Challenge other teachers to expose students to the perspectives of their peers on a global scale. It will be an eye-opener for them — especially for those who may never travel outside the district.
Finally, erase the notion that publishing student work online is a bad or scary thing in education. Provide students with an opportunity to learn that what they post online does not go away, and that this can be leveraged positively to help them get into college or even perhaps find a job someday.
What will you do to transform your classroom this year?
This article is part of the Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.