About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Involving Faculty in Pedagogy - Modeling Constructivism

As part of my constructivist agenda, I have been aiming high and trying to get the staff at my college to participate in, and generate our own professional development. See my post from where I spoke at the Staff Conference about Trends in International Pedagogy, in September.

One of the things I am doing with the generous assistance of an energetic and enthusiastic colleague, and a fabulous Educational IT person, is building a Wiki for staff from all departments across the college to participate in. I'm hoping at least some of the nearly one hundred academic staff will want to help construct the Wiki. Here's what it looks like.

It was important for the Wiki to be both aesthetically attractive, and easy to use. The name, Volta, was a brain wave of my colleague - a way to bring together the arts and sciences disciplines. It tells participants that

"This Wiki is a resource for sharing ideas, resources, research, classroom practice and pedagogy. Our broad aim is to foster interdisciplinary appreciation and collaboration, and to cultivate an intellectual community of scholars."

We announced it's "Activation" at the last All Staff Meeting, and showed staff through some of the most enticing pages, including: Book Reviews, Useful Teaching Resources, Our Research Interests, Worth Reading, Informative education Blogs, Wiki's and Twitter feeds / groups (including #mathchat and #edchat), Ideas Forum, Philosophy and Literature. Also, importantly, there is much there to look at and laugh about. Hopefully this will entice the more reluctant ones to at least look

All academic staff in the program have been invited to take part, and I will let you know how it goes. The wiki is, however, restricted to academics in our college. If there is no interest, I will try and find out why. I've had a few emails to say, "Well Done" - and "about time someone did this" but no participants yet. I wish I could set up a counter (will have to see if the IT person has an idea how to do this). Must give them time to finish marking exams, I guess... I'm impatient!!

My hope is that, being "grass roots" rather than administered from above, there will be some people who want to take part. It certainly has support on many levels, but will people make the effort? Do teachers really want to take part in evolving a resource which enhances our own professional development, and improves the learning experiences of our students at the same time?

Time will tell. It's the end of the semester, and it's winding down time. I have hopes, though.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Culturally Responsive Story Choices - Evaluation with students' voices

Well, I've had some time to read the short essays from my class, and reflect on the success, or otherwise, of the task. I have some very positive reflections about the value of the exercise overall - and in particular, the positive effects of including of a slideshow of visual images; the constructive elements of my earlier 'looking behind / below a word" exercise, and finally, the value of the exercise in terms of discovering my students prior knowledge (or lack of it) as the case may be.

Ironically, I'm really excited by my own failure to choose a story they would all understand.

The essays themselves were a mixed bag. The students who came to the last tutorial before the holidays, to engage in discussion, and receive the handout where I gave a suggested outline of things to discuss, generally produced clearer writing, and communicated more effectively. The handout justifies the suggested structure with reference to the elements of longer essay writing in Literature with which the students will soon need to become familiar. I reduced this structure to three or four very short paragraphs.

Introduce your theme / topic / (in this case 'image'.)
Indicate some places in the text where this image occurs (quotes and evidence).
Give your impressions of what purpose the image has in conveying the "deeper" meaning (from looking behind a word).
Close with a sentence suggesting an overall meaning for the role of the image in the story.

The students who didn't come to the last tutorial, struggled to structure their work effectively, and generally had a hard time linking back to the earlier exercise of looking behind an image, to this new story context. Those who did, and who referred carefully to the examples I gave using another key image from the story, wrote much more usefully about their chosen image.

No surprises there. The written work tells me a lot. However, I wasn't satisfied with only evaluating the written work. I wanted to hear from the students how they had approached their task, and some of the positive and negatives they could identify. This feedback, when combined with assessment of the writing, was infinitely more useful for my evaluation purposes than writing alone.

Employing the Ipad app Audionote for Evaluating student work

As the owner of a new Apple iPad, I am particularly keen to explore ways I can use it in my work - both to enhance my students' learning experiences, and to make my own teaching, administration, and professional development activities more effective, and enjoyable. In our first class back this term, I invited each of my ten students to consider some questions about their writing task - how they approached it, what they struggled with, what they learned - and jot down some notes. Then I sat with each student, and recorded their responses using the Audionote application.

As each student spoke, I typed their name on the note 'paper,' so that I could easily find each students' response on my recording. I could then listen back to the responses when I was reading their essays. Short notes can be added in afterwards, to jog my memory about certain issues. It is a great way to add supplementary detail about students' responses, areas of difficulty, and strengths.

I fully realise that this strategy might be great for this small class, but my regular teaching timetable brings over one hundred students into my classes each week, and the challenges might be more substantial. However, the potential is exciting. What I was able to gain from it was interesting and useful feedback from students about the challenges they faced.

Listening to the students responses before I read their work was illuminating. I learned that several students in the class had little or no knowledge,let alone understanding, of religion, and that this factor severely limited their appreciation of one of the story's major themes. Even with the three tutorials of discussion and analysis, this concept hindered a deeper understanding.

I learned that the slideshow of images I made was highly effective at helping several students to "see" the connections made in the story between the main character, the underlying theme of lost traditions in an ancient culture, and between the repeating images which all intersected and built up a powerful aesthetic. It allowed them to see in to a foreign world, using images to which they could relate, simply because the work of imagination was done for them.

Putting the images, words, and meaning together in a piece of written work, however, is something they need to learn to do on their own, with support. I feel rather pleased that the challenge was high enough that many difficulties were able to come to light. It is easy to be complacent about what we think our students know, or should know, but if we bothered to find out, we can help them to help themselves fill in the blanks. They are such vulnerable things, I've come to appreciate.