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Friday, October 28, 2011

Helping Students Have Learning Conversations that Matter

Social media has added to my life because there are incredible people in my sphere of socializing.What you get out of your time engaged with social media is directly proportional to the number and kind of people you socialize with online.

I've seen teachers get on Twitter and follow no one and say,

"I don't get Twitter."

That's because Twitter isn't solo. Find the people who are using Twitter, like Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) and Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), and you'll learn a lot from them.

If you don't get Google+ (and I don't really... yet, but I will) then follow people like Peter Vogel or Chris Porter who do.

If you don't understand Facebook, I've really found that Mari Smith has helped me get it. And in the last month or two, I've been enjoying my twice daily visits to Facebook. (5:45 am and 7 pm ;-)

These people help us understand how to have effective conversations.

Cool Teacher Conversations on Facebook
Over there on my fanpage, it has become a teacher conversation center. In fact, I've been thinking about renaming the page altogether. It isn't about me at all.It is really a place for people to talk about teaching. Now, I know that with the new settings people can follow me on Facebook without having to fan me, but I see my fan page as not about me but about the conversation.

Like a lot of you who blog out there, I cogitate on a subject long before it comes here to my blog. I think about it and ask questions on Twitter about it. But I'm finding that my best answers from real teachers tend to happen on Facebook. Whether we talk about a talkative class (like we are today) or the struggle to keep up with grading, I always find that great ideas are coming in.

Recent conversation about assessments. I keep coming back and learning more.

It helps me to not feel so alone with my struggles. As long as people preserve the privacy of their students and keep it professional (which it has been so far) I find that I'm learning a lot.

Learning from Conversation
To me, the great value is often not in the neat and tidy packaged textbooks and books that come out but in the rough, nubby, conversations with real teachers who are struggling like I am to be excellent, teach in powerful ways, and engage students in rigorous learning experiences.

I had a teacher stop and talk to me at the church the other night and she was talking about her new principal. She is frustrated and said she just wants to ask:

"Do you want me to teach for this test or teach for their future?"

Because she feels that multiple choice just doesn't cut it.  I find that by networking like this, I am learning for my future. So, this leads to my next question -- how are we letting students network for learning? Do they have places they can go for conversation to learn?

Learning Places for Conversation
I don't know the answer but we all have to get there. I know on our Flat Classroom Ning and Digiteen Edmodo that we work hard to have conversations. ON the Digiteen project we have one group Digiteen 11-3 and one group called recess and we work hard to have the social comments posted to recess. But it is Friday and I guarantee someone will go on the digiteen group and post, "I'm so glad its friday" and put a cute little moving avatar. And then another moving emoticon will be posted. And Another and another an dall the way down the page we'll see cute little moving avatars - pushing down the conversations about digital citizenship.

This is not a problem altogether. It is great for kids to talk. But we're working hard to teach kids context. 

Where is the PLACE for that conversation? 
Places should have a purpose. When they do and you establish community guidelines that are community enforced then it begins to work and that takes time. But you can't have community if you're in and out in the span of a few weeks. This takes long term relationships and community building. It will happen but right now onine learning is so much in "project" mode and we need to move to "place" mode with projects moving in and out via groups.

We need places with purposes so kids can have conversations that matter about learning. We need to help faciliate that. Facebook for them should be fun, but can't we have LearnBook? or the MathMatrix? or some places where kids can go for these purposes that are long term places for kids to join and move into the future?

Learning relationships and communities are needed in education and we haven't even begun to get there. Sure, I think Flat Classroom is a start, but I think Flat Classroom should be years and years long and should be more than about technology but extend to all subjects. We compartmentalize our departments so much that that sort of thinking is tough.

Lets ask ourselves these questions. I do think textbook companies should look at communities but right now I don't think they want to be in the business of linking up kids - I mean look at the headaches involved? The only way to do this is to create communities of practice undergirded by teachersourcing and community guidelines.

Conversation spaces will emerge but we have a long way to go. Let's start talking about it now.

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