iTube? No…YouTube!

I love YouTube. I am not the type of person who uses it every day or spends hours watching different videos, but I love how easy it is to find great videos and share them with my friends. Usually, I will get to YouTube videos through Facebook or Google, but once I am there I will watch a few of the recommended videos and post them to my Facebook page. However, I do try to be selective with what I share.

According to Zwiers and Crawford in Academic Conversations, “popular modes of communication, such as video, podcasts, written texts, music, and images are mostly ‘one-way.’” (2011) They argue that these types of videos have a static message that cannot be adjusted after conversations, so to speak, with their viewers. I originally expressed my disagreement with this statement in my blog, which you can read here.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I read Prensky’s article, which states “Perhaps the thing about You Tube that is least understood by people who do not use it regularly is that it is not just one way, or one-to-many, communication; it is designed to be, and very much is, two-way…Many users post ideas and opinions, looking for feedback, and many get large numbers of responses to their clips.”

Well, well, well! Take that Zwiers and Crawford!

One trendy video topic is Sh*t (Social Groups) Say. I first saw one of these videos, “Sh*t Girls Say”, when visiting a couple of my friends. They could not stop laughing and joking about it, so they showed me the video. I thought it was funny, but I wasn’t as amused by it as they were. I didn’t think about it again until earlier this week when a friend from college posted “Sh*t Burqueños Say” on her Facebook wall. As a “Burqueña” I decided to watch the video.

I watched the video on Tuesday, and I loved it – not only because my students say this stuff all the time, but because I say it too. I linked the video to my Facebook wall, and by the next day the video had over 150,000 hits and forty-eight pages of comments. When I had first watched the video, it had less than one hundred hits. Now, according to my super-secret source, part two is in the works.

I think that one of the fallacies in Zwiers and Crawford’s argument is that they are looking at communication as being between two or more people, with one of the communicators being the original creator of the content. Their argument, simply put, is that the person who created the video, podcast, or blog must be engaged in the subsequent conversations – but this isn’t actually what happens.

Instead, the subsequent conversations occur between completely different people. The content creator (or facilitator) may chime in occasionally by responding to comments or posting a follow-up video, but most of the communication happens between the viewers. In the world of YouTube, the viewer’s respond through published means such as comments, similar videos, Facebook and Twitter shares, blog mentions, and more, but they also respond through unpublished means such as face-to-face conversations with friends, family, and co-workers.

Isn’t this what we want to happen both in and out of the classroom? The students, sparked by the teacher, drive the conversations while the teacher sits back and listens and silently assesses, only intervening when beneficial to the students. The important thing is that the students are talking about and responding to information that is read, heard, and viewed (and yes, that is a direct quote from the New Mexico ELA Content Standards).

Perhaps now I need to make a video titled “Sh*t Teachers Say.”Oh, never-mind, it already exists.

*Disclaimer*

I am not suggesting that we show these particular videos in schools. I am merely thinking about the sociological and educational implications of these videos. That said, it would be interesting to have students create a video of this nature about what characters say in a novel or story as a lesson on characterization.

You can watch some of these videos below (but keep in mind, some of them are stereotypical and offensive).

Sh*t Brides Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut8kwaKvZc0

Sh*t New Yorkers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRvJylbSg7o

Sh*t People Say on Facebook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVQeB_LlmRI

Sh*t Burqueños Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IucBp1yrr7A&feature=share

Sh*t New Mexicans Don’t Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndbjEvN8AtM&feature=related

Sh*t Teachers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLXfwvaBXLc

Yes, you DO have to type your final draft.

I completed my student teaching experience at a low-income inner city high school. The school had a bad reputation for having a high gang population and “bad” kids. So, when I first announced my student teaching placement on Facebook, I was not surprised that most of my friends’ comments revolved around the reputation. One friend even joked that I should buy a bullet proof vest.

They were wrong. That school had some of the nicest kids. When I walked down the hall carrying a heavy box of books, a student I didn’t know offered to carry it to class for me. This happened on multiple occasions, with multiple students.

Needless to say, I had a fabulous student teaching year. My CT (cooperating teacher) was excellent, and taught me a lot about the importance of setting high expectations for all students. Most of our kids were English Language Learners (a.k.a. ELL’s) and were of low socioeconomic backgrounds. There have been many studies done on students who grow up in a low-income household, which you can read about here.

We required the students to create a poetry portfolio early in the second semester. I expected the final draft of the portfolio to be typed, so we spent a week in the computer lab. Many of the students did not finish typing their portfolios during the allotted class time, and as a result the final scores for the portfolios were lower than I would have liked.

While reflecting on the unit in one of my seminar classes, one of my peers suggested that by requiring the portfolio to be typed, I set the students up for failure. He pointed out that because most of my students are of a low socioeconomic background, I should not expect them to use the computers at school – especially if they do not have computers at home. After all, how could they finish the assignment without a home computer?

His response reinforced my belief that bringing computers into the classroom is vital to student success. If the students do not have computers at home, then where else will they develop the technological skills they will need as adults?

The middle school I work at now has a very similar population to the high school I just described. While I have had to spend more time teaching basic computer skills (such as how to save files to a USB drive, how to copy and paste, and how to use Google), the students are much more motivated when using the computers.

Besides, the public library provides free internet access after school and on the weekends. Since when has it become inappropriate to expect students to do something or go somewhere educational outside of school?

No Zeros: Recipe for Future Failure?

I just read this article about no zero policies. Isn’t this just focusing on a short-term solution to a long-term problem? We learn best from our failures. If kids don’t experience failure in school when a support system is in place to help them overcome it, how will they succeed in adulthood?

What is your policy on zeros?

Digital Conversations: Pros and Cons (Well, mostly pros)

As an English Language Arts teacher one of the tools I rely on is my students’ ability to discuss writing and literature in an appropriate manner. I teach seventh grade. My students are professionals at inappropriate behavior.

When I try to facilitate class discussions, they usually do one of two things:

1) They clam up and suddenly become fascinated with whatever is under their grubby fingernails, or…

2) They all shout out ideas at once, competing with each other instead of bouncing ideas off of each other.

The first scenario is not as common as the second, which is a good thing. With the second, at least my students are excited and thinking about the topic. The thing is, I often feel like the basket in a game of basketball – but instead of the players working together, every player is trying to grab the ball (my attention and approval) and make a basket by sharing their ideas without any help from their teammates. In basketball this is catastrophic. It has similar results in the classroom.

My solution was to use My Big Campus’ discussion feature as a way to force the students to talk to each other instead of to me. Unfortunately, this did not work out as I had hoped. When planning the lesson I blissfully envisioned a discussion similar to those I have on Facebook with fellow teachers, or those that take place in a college environment. It wasn’t until after implementing the lesson that I realized how naïve my expectations were.

The students had no problems posting their ideas to the discussion. The hitch came when they started commenting on each other’s posts. Instead of questioning each other or adding to each other’s ideas, the students became very complimentary of one another. They also became grammar Nazis.

At first, I found it sweet when a student would post, “good idea” or “you did a good job.” I was ecstatic when I read, “make sure you capitalize your I’s” and “you used the wrong there – it is their not there.” However I soon realized that they weren’t thinking deeply about what the other students were saying. Instead, they were using the compliments as a cop-out to thinking critically about their responses.

Two hundred notifications later, I realized that I am still the basketball hoop, my students are still competing, but now they all have their own basketballs to shoot. Duck for cover!

This led me to the realization that I can’t expect my students to lead productive discussions in class or on the computer without first teaching them the appropriate skills. Whether typing or speaking, the students need to know how to bounce ideas off of each other without dominating and how to ask clarifying questions such as “can you elaborate on that” or “can you give me an example?” The skills are the same no matter what medium we use.

Time to hit the books (so to speak).

Expert Advice

I have a book called Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford (2011) which identifies five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting:

1) Elaborate and clarify

2) Support ideas with examples

3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas

4) Paraphrase

5) Synthesize conversation points

It hadn’t occurred to me just how much academic conversations rely on the higher order thinking skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy until I read that chapter.

I continued to read, but was disturbed when the Zwiers and Crawford argued that technology was not a good tool for developing academic conversational skills. They argue that because of the lack of face-to-face communication with digital discussions, “exploration of a topic, the building of ideas, and emotional connections are often missing.” They also argue that “popular modes of communication…are mostly ‘one-way’ [and] do not adjust their messages or negotiate meanings with their viewers” (2011).

I stopped reading Academic Conversations. I disagree with their claims that the lack of face-to-face communication does more harm than good and that digital modes of communication have static meanings. Instead of fighting technology integration, the authors should be asking how students can use technology to explore topics and build ideas.

The toxic statements ate away at my brain for a few days until today, when I stumbled upon an article called “The Must Have Guide to Helping Technophobic Teachers” by Dr. Abir Qasem and Tanya Gupta. They argue that “using technology in education is about redesigning pedagogy by taking advantage of available technology, and not just substituting faculty time with technology.”

Qasem and Gupta go on to argue that technology actually facilitates productive conversations instead of hindering it. The reasoning behind this is two-fold:

1) Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own

2) People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”)

*Read these statements with caution*

Do not assume that all group work is bad. Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop his or her own ideas before coming together as a group.

UNM taught me that group work is a valuable strategy for encouraging all students to participate. Group work can also be a great tool for teaching students to think outside the box and value different perspectives.

But here is the thing: according to the “The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain, brainstorming sessions stifle creativity instead of stimulating it. Woah.

Apparently, “when we take a stance [that is] different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.” (Cain, 2012)

This makes sense, considering what most of our students want most is to be accepted by their peers (want proof? Click here).

But how does all of this information apply to both spoken and typed class discussions? I am getting there, but first I will condense the information into a list of facts for your sanity and for mine:

  • Students lack academic conversational skills and need explicit instruction in these skills.
  • There are five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting: 1) Elaborate and clarify 2) Support ideas with examples 3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas 4) Paraphrase 5) Synthesize conversation points.
  • Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own.
  • People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”).
  • Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop their own ideas or part of a project before coming together as a group.
  • When people take a stance that is different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.
  • Adolescents are constantly seeking social recognition and acceptance from their peers.

So here is the whammy: Digital discussions enable students to think independently while also being socially rewarded by their peers.

But first, in order for them to be effective, I have to teach my students how to pick each other’s brains effectively…and because they use similar conversational skills as speaking when typing, I will once again pick up Academic Conversations (and ignore the technology bashing sections). Perhaps in doing so, my students will start to discuss as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other before shooting for the basketball hoop. Swoosh!

Wish me luck!

Works Cited

Cain, Susan. “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” The Sunday Review. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&gt;.

Gopnik, Alison. “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind? – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB&gt;.

Quasem, Abir, and Tanya Gupta. “The Must-Have Guide To Helping Technophobic Teachers | Edudemic.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012..

Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.

Mondays, Tech Talks, and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Monday. I have a love hate relationship with Monday. I love it because I get to teach again…but I hate it because I have to wake up at five after sleeping until ten on the weekends.

Yesterday was a particularly bad Monday for several reasons:

1)      I didn’t feel well (I left school early today and I am typing this blog from home).

2)      It was the day of our first annual magic show – a fundraiser for our renaissance program. Everybody was going nuts with last-minute plans.

3)      I discovered that wordpress.com is blocked at school, which annoyed me. What does THAT say about our preëxisting notions of digital literacy?

4)      I wasn’t fully prepared for the day because I spent the weekend obsessing over blog posts and reading education articles instead of planning my lessons (bad teacher!).

So there I was, at the beginning of the period, frantically finishing my SmartBoard presentation for my adjectives and adverbs mini-lesson. I killed a bit of time by having the kids copy down the agenda from the board, but it wasn’t quite enough. I decided to have them do a quick write on how they use technology in their lives.

Their responses varied from playing internet based games to fiddling with the GPS systems in their parents’ cars, which surprised me. The word “technology” automatically conjures up images of computers and smart phones – not cars and toenail clippers (one of the boys shared that thought, which I thought was very clever. After all, technology does not always involve sparks and wires).

Among the Facebook comments, YouTube videos, and video game cheat codes, one of the students said that he likes to use the internet to “look stuff up.” When I asked him what kind of stuff, he couldn’t (or perhaps wouldn’t) tell me. At the other end of the room one of the girls said that she likes to look up ways to solve math problems using YouTube because “the guy will solve it in the video and then it makes sense.” That comment then reminded another student that he likes to use the internet to clarify his understanding on a specific topic with sites such as Wikipedia.

These comments raise an interesting point about our students changing literacies: they use and think about technology on a different level than their parents and teachers. This is because they are considered “digital natives” and their parents and teachers are considered “digital immigrants.” Digital natives navigate digital waters effortlessly, and the comments above show that they use the internet to learn new material – such as how to solve algebraic equations or just “stuff” about life and the world – that may or may not be purely academic.

But who is to say that “academic” learning is the only important type of learning? To our students the new understandings they construct about life and the world outside of school may be more relevant than finding the theme of The Giver. How then, can we as educators make academic learning exciting and relevant to our students?

Now for a brief tangent…

Research has shown that a multilayered approach is most effective, and the layers I am referring to are as follows: 1) Construction of Knowledge 2) Disciplined Inquiry 3) Value Beyond School. Construction of knowledge requires students to use new knowledge gained from a variety of sources to create something original; and students can engage in disciplined inquiry by expressing their thoughts and ideas about new knowledge through “elaborated and extended communication;” but neither of these criteria will be effective without having some relevance to the real world (Gibbons, 2009).

Gibbons ideas closely follow the higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Construction of knowledge requires synthesis, evaluation, and creation while disciplined inquiry requires the students to analyze and evaluate information as well. So, in order to pull these theories (and this tangent) back into the digital age, I have included a link to a fabulous article that details the progression of Bloom’s Taxonomy through our changing society.

And, because I don’t like the bland graphic organizer the article has provided, I created a newer, prettier one. Take note of the list of verbs for each level of thinking. I’ve included the traditional verbs, but I’ve also added the digital verbs from the article. Enjoy!

Works Cited

Churches, Andrew. “TechLearning: Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally.” Classroom Tech Learning, Education, PC, Mac, IPad, Bloom’s Taxonomy – Techlearning.com. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://www.techlearning.com/article/44988&gt;.

Gibbons, Pauline. English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.