Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Transforming learning

Today we are having Student-Led Conferences at my school. For those who are unsure what this process involves, the conference involves students leading their parents through evidence of their learning. The students are responsible for discussing and demonstrating their work and progress with their parents and it is an opportunity for them to report to their parents the skills and attributes they have learnt over the school year. I really enjoy this process as it allows the parents who don't always get the opportunity to get into the classroom a chance to see what has been happening. It also allows the students to demonstrate some of the understanding they've developed by taking an active role in the process. Although this isn't a time for parent meetings with the teachers, there is an expectation that the teacher will be available to welcome and acknowledge the families when they arrive.

One of the things that the students could share was the work they had been doing during Literature Circles. After discussing and reading their books over a period of 3-4 weeks, the students created a book report style presentation using an on-line tool called Wevideo. The students were introduced to the Wevideo tool as a way to contribute to the school community through the recommendation and review of the different literature they have read. As the tool is collaborative and hosted on-line, it has benefits over other movie making programs that are only hosted on a singular computer. With Wevideo the students can share resources and ideas as they create their responses. All of the groups first discussed the elements of a book review and highlighted specific aspects that would relate to their audience. One example that they came up with was that in order to keep the viewer engaged the project shouldn't be longer than 2-3 minutes. Each group then planned out what their project would consist of and the order that it would follow on storyboards. Once they were satisfied that they had identified exactly what they needed to include, and why, they were able to begin the process of creating their movie review. The movie making process involves the students selecting text, images, music and other effects to create a review of the book they had read. These movies are then going to be displayed in the Library as advertisements for the other students in the school.

During a discussion I had with one of the parents, they were referring to the Wevideo part of the process when they said 'this is really just the icing on top, wouldn't you agree?'. I had to answer that I definitely disagreed with that statement and was grateful for the opportunity to explain why I didn't hold the same perspective. If I think back to when I was in Primary School, a book review meant that I had to read a book and write a description about what the storyline consisted of, whether or not I enjoyed it and if I could choose to read any other books by the same author. This was handed into the teacher who marked it and gave it back to me. By completing the Wevideo version of this the students are still required to add their personal thoughts and opinions on their book. Additionally, they are required to consider which music, images and text best represents the book. There is a whole new layer of meta-cognitive processes being asked of them in order to produce a good book review.

Not only does this learning experience require more from the students at the cognitive level, it also provides them with an authentic audience that will be viewing their products. Recent research into neuroscience has uncovered a wealth of evidence supporting the notion that the brain learns best in context. By making the purpose of this task clear for the students, they were able to better understand the work that they were required to do.

The idea that we use Wevideo, or any form of technology, for these things simply as a way to 'prettify' students' work is misguided. Clearly there are additional and sometimes new skills and processes that are introduced with the use of technology. It is not simply enhancing the products of student learning, in many cases it is totally transforming the entire learning process. The viewpoint of technology as a 'distractor to learning' is rooted in the past. Students are responsive to technology, and learning the appropriate skills required to use it effectively are no longer a choice, they are life skills.

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