Tuesday, 24 March 2015

It takes a village...

After almost 8 weeks of consistent effort with my students this year to improve their writing skills, I feel that today I have had a memorable moment!
My 27 Year 4 students are good little students and okay writers, but eight weeks ago, they were happy enough to give me a response that was "near enough" and not quite good enough.
Little things like capital letters, punctuation and editing for basic spelling were not a high priority for them. If they felt they had completed a task with a mediocre effort, they saw no point in refining their response, editing their work, or sometimes even putting a capital letter for their own name.
Turning them around to actually taking some pride in their work has not happened overnight but lots of practice and feedback, feedback and more feedback has had some effect on their writing habits.
Earlier in the year we watched this great short video about feedback:

We discussed the role of feedback in helping us to grow as learners and the students have had many opportunities to give and receive feedback and to reflect on what they learnt from the feedback.

This week we are looking at how we are part of a bigger, global community of learners, and my success with my young writers can be attributed to the work of other passionate and dedicated educators around the globe.
In particular, I can thank three great educators for my success as a classroom teacher this week:
Julia Skinner @100word from the 100 Word Challenge
Sue Wyatt @tasteach from the Student Blogging Challenge and
David Mitchell @DeputyMitchell from Quadblogging

Each of these people is passionate about making a difference to the learning of students not only in their own schools, but all over the world. They share their amazing talents and energies to assist other teachers like me to make a real difference in classrooms all over the globe.

This year is the first time I have been involved with the 100 Word Challenge after having seen it somewhere (probably Twitter) a while back. Each week Mrs Skinner posts a prompt and around 2000 students from around the globe respond to the prompt in 100 words. They post their responses to a class or student blog and then a band of volunteers provide specific and effective feedback to the students about their writing. The look on the faces of students as they discover that their assignment has been read and appreciated by someone from another part of the world, is priceless.

The Student Blogging Challenge was a (very) lucky find after I decided to try using Edublogs as my blogging platform for my class this year. The Student Blogging Challenge has been running since 2008 and through the weekly activities that are interesting and relevant to student bloggers. As a bonus, many activities align quite well with a lot of aspects from the Digital Technologies curriculum and ICT capability continuum from the Australian Curriculum. Participating in the challenge (I'm only four weeks in) has already helped to push me as an educator into trying new things or rediscovering old tricks. I know my students are benefiting from their involvement too. So far, we have focussed on protection of personal information, writing quality comments, and understanding creative commons and copyright issues. All of these are important issues for digital citizens and learning these things alongside hundreds of other students and teachers from around the world makes our learning even more exciting and purposeful.

Quadblogging is something I have been involved with before. I have just been assigned to a quad for this year and after sending out a first welcome email to our quadblogging buddy teachers and adding their blogs to our side panel so the students can easily access their blogs, I am eagerly anticipating getting started on a new adventure with classes from Sweden, US and UK.

What these three opportunities have in common is that they have given my students a real purpose for their learning and particularly for their writing. When you know that someone else (besides the teacher) is going to read your work, then there is suddenly a reason to make sure that what you have to say is both interesting and well punctuated. While they enjoy reading and commenting on their classmate's work, receiving a comment from a stranger who has taken time out of their day to say how much they have enjoyed what they have to share is so much more special.

So today, we shared our thoughts on how we can save water after World Water Day 2015 and as I approved the comments a tear came to my eye as I noticed how far they have come as a class with taking pride in their work and editing for punctuation and basic spelling. While their sentences are still not perfect (and I have some concerns for the hygiene of the child who has pledged to have 40 second showers in a bid to save water) I can see that all the hard work is paying off. (If you have time to drop by the class blog and leave a comment - they really love comments)

Thank you to those inspiring educators who inspire me and challenge me to push my students to new heights!