Thursday, November 29, 2007

Instant Messaging for Class Makes Student Thinking Transparent

The ThinWall Classroom which is predicated upon connectedness, networking and learning beyond our class walls changes everything. Over the last few days the students in Snow Lake and Van Nuys began their final projects on The Oustider . They are exploring themes related to the book like teen violence , friendship and death. I have been busy lending support and collaborating with Clarence and Terri as we worked out the details and solved day to day glitches.. I worked with the students in Van Nuys modeling how to develop their topics and teaching about Creative Commons. I have been monitoring the wiki and checking on the students to assure they completed their scheduled chats. It has been an intense time of activity, monitoring and coaching.

Today I had a few moments for reflection and I had a new revelation of just how powerful and exciting this kind of teaching/learning can be. For the first time I realized that we were doing something that we never could have done in a more traditional setting…..we could literally see the students think. When technology allows you to be connected to the students thinking and processing you can guide them to build essential skills in a way that was never possible before.

Here is what I mean. I taught at the Junior High level for many years. I did enumerable group projects which fell under the umbrella of “cooperative learning”. I was careful to make sure that each student had a specific part to complete and that the work was divided between all students. I walked around the room listening in for a minute or two as they planned,(of course while I stood over them they were very productive) I watched them work and I talked about timelines etc. But I am not sure I was really very effective in teaching any of them how to think a project through in a collaborative environment. I am not sure that they really respected one another or in some cases that the kids even listened to each other.


Now imagine you actually had a transcript of their discussions as we do with their IM chats. I not only get a momentary glimpse of what they do in school but a detailed look at all of their planning, discussion and thinking. If two students are taking over I can intervene right away. The students and I can look at the chat together and talk about how they came across and what would be a better approach and why. If they are not on target we can remediate. If they are having trouble with any part of the process we can see how they are thinking and give guidance.

Because we can see their thought processes we know what skills they need. It is an absolutely incredible moment. Yes, it means we are working hard but the opportunity to give the students the thinking skills, communication skills, planning skills, and talents they will need for ….well for the rest of their lives is an unbeatable experience.

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Patrick Higgins said...


I recently opened up a backchannel for one of my workshops to illustrate the point that the learning doesn't begin and end with the speaker in the front of the room, but truly lies in the power of the community to dissect and vet out what that speaker is teaching. They were blown away by their ability to both listen and process at once. It sounds like you have uncovered another benefit from enabling chat during teaching.

This project seems to have transformed how you think. Is that a fair assessment?

Barbara said...

This project seems to have transformed how you think. Is that a fair assessment?...

I think that is probably an understatement. It has changed things on many levels but one that Clarence and I talked about today was that the learning process is really where we want to focus our time and that the push to cover "stuff" gets in the way. I have really been struck by how important it is to teach them how to learn...and it is something that technology enables in a whole new way.
For years the process the thinking , the student interactions remained hidden except for occasional glimpses as you walked around the class as we judge only the outcomes or products.
Thanks for stopping by Patrick. I always love to converse with you. I wish I could have been in on more of what you did...the days seem to fly by.

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