Monday, November 2, 2009

Teaching and Learning, Pt. 2

So you think you can blog…
Just joking, but moving beyond the tools to the curriculum itself was an amazing experience at the Will Richardson conference last weekend. We learned how to "21st centurize" a lesson. Really!
To start with he had us think of a lesson that we enjoy teaching. I tried to come up with something that did not use any technology, and chose teaching symbolism in poetry. Typically I have done this with group work and chart paper. I ask the students to work on one common symbol for literature, for example a colour, and brainstorm as many inferences as possible. For example, green can mean spring, or new; white can mean new, pure, or perhaps winter, cold, etc.
Other in the room put forward fascinating lesson examples.
Then we were asked to consider author Clay Sherky’s criteria of: sharing, cooperating, collaborating and acting collectively (working to change or improve something in the context of your lesson). Did our lesson meet all these criteria?
On the first go, it was quite easy, fun and creative to do this.
I had the idea of setting up a wiki with the different symbols, and having the students work together on those pages. Then, they would choose one and write a blog entry summarizing and explaining it. Then they would choose a stanza from a poem or a verse from a song and put it in a text document, adding hyperlinks to certain words to explicate the passage for a reader. Very cool, and feeding off a unit I actually wrote in teachers’ college ten years ago. (It was called “The Pop-Up Essay,” a la MuchMusic, and I took our niece Andrea's essay on Catcher In The Rye and did it up as an example.)
Anyway, the second level of thinking was much more difficult, because what Will was now asking us to do was to move “from network to community,” taking our students and their ideas beyond the walls of the school.
One example that I loved was put forward by a teacher who thought of doing shared reading using electronic sticky notes; the class was looking at a magazine article on waste disposal. This made the students want to talk about the recent garbage strike in Toronto so he thought they could Skype some students there. I suggested they could also get in touch with people from a rural township that does not provide garbage collection. Or, as Will said, they could contact people in other countries. How do they handle waste collection in China?
This is just one example of many exciting ideas that were discussed.
As with the skydiving, it was a beautiful ride, and over all too soon.

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