I recently had the opportunity to observe a senior English class in a work block where students were workshopping their compare and contrast essays. I had the opportunity to engage with some of the students when the teacher suggested that they ask me questions about their work. This was a great experience for me, particularly because it raised some questions for me about how I will teach writing skills.
First, this experience demonstrated to me that students will have certain expectations about what I will know as an educator in a room. For example, one of the students asked me about using the word “whom” in her essay, which is a word I generally avoid in my own writing. I was able to answer her question about whether it should be used in context, but I was careful in giving a full explanation of its use because it’s not something I am particularly familiar with. This prompted me to think about how I might respond to students in my classrooms when they ask questions I do not know the answers to, particularly in cases like this where the question is not open ended and there is some expectation that I should be an authority on the subject matter. I did not come to any strong conclusion, but my goal is to find a way as a teacher to be honest with students about what I do not know while maintaining their faith in my ability to teach them.
I also had the opportunity to help a student with a paragraph she was formulating. In this case she did not have a particular question and just wanted general feedback. My immediate inclination was to explain to her directly how I would choose to structure the paragraph. However, I realized that this might not be particularly helpful in terms of her own skill building process because it would mean her skipping the step of thinking through what kind of organization might serve the information best. In this case, I realized presenting students my own way of doing things in such an explicit manner might ultimately get in the way of them learning how to work through the process themselves. This demonstrated to me that coaching students towards the best output without considering other factors might not be the best way to support learning.
This Wednesday, I had the opportunity to observe and support learners in a Learning Strategies class. This was an excellent learning experience for me particularly because I would likely not have chosen to observe this class, but having done so was incredibly valuable and I am intending to return. It also challenged my expectations about which students I would learn the most from engaging with.
Several of the students worked independently throughout the block, but a group of them finished their activity and I was able to help them with other class work and engage with them about personal projects they were working on. I observed a huge change in the students from the start to the end of the class, not only in terms of how they interacted with the adults in the room, but in how they interacted with each other. The majority of them went from silent and independent to eager to share what they were working on with me and their other classmates. Their teacher used some simple strategies to encourage this, asking students simple questions about their favourite childhood books that the students and myself as an observer could build upon to have a conversation.
I also observed a student that I had seen having difficulties participating in another class being much more willing to interact with me and with other students in this classroom environment. This emphasized to me the value of interacting with students on their own terms through whatever they are passionate about, which in this case was personal artwork. I would like to explore this further and learn how to use this kind of non-academic engagement with students as a starting point to move towards meeting curricular outcomes in a way that works for the individual student. This also appeared to be a major goal for the teacher, who had students filling out questionnaires with the intention of them contributing directly to their own IEP and making it more user-friendly for teachers. Overall, I was surprised by how valuable this block of observation was for me and I learned a lot about how I might work with learners who are not as immediately invested in classroom activities.
Today at Vic High I had the opportunity to present my inquiry project on teaching current Events in the Social Studies classroom. I had some great conversations with both students and teachers about what is covered and what maybe should be covered in classrooms. A number of them came up with some events and issues that I wasn’t familiar with myself.
With the idea of multiliteracies in mind, this lead me to think about where educators and students are getting their news. Physical paper newspapers now come second to a number of other modes of presenting news including websites, television, and radio. In terms of more in depth news coverage, there are documentaries and podcasts on almost anything you can think of. The way information spreads in a world where there are a seemingly infinite number of news sources has always fascinated me, but it was interesting to consider how an increasing number of not only news agencies but news modes changes things. Major news outlets have television stations, publish articles online, and make content for their own apps and other social media apps.
In particular, I’ve been surprised to see major news sources like CBC , NBC, and CNN making content specifically for Snapchat. (Pretty much every major outlet is engaging with consumers this way—here’s a list of some of them: https://mediablog.prnewswire.com/2018/07/26/11-news-agencies-to-follow-on-snapchat/). These Snapchat articles are the ultimate form of multimodal expression, using text, music, other audio, video, and interactive components.This is such an engaging and concise way to consume content, but complex stories are condensed into soundbites. In addition, it can be hard to follow up and learn more about these news stories since there are no links that connect you to information outside the app.
Ultimately, I just ended up with more questions than answers. Is there a “better” or “best” way to consume news? Is any news mode inherently more reliable than others? Is any news mode inherently better suited to going more in depth? What works best for students?
In the context of multiliteracy, the big question that I have been considering lately is: What does this mean for me as an educator in spaces where my job is to teach “conventional” literacy? How does a broader understanding of literacy as including things like financial, musical, digital, and mathematical literacies inform my ability to teach reading?
The concept of multiliteracies is undoubtedly valuable, but it was not immediately clear to me where it might fit in to my own teaching practice when I first learned about it. In English and Social Studies, the classic concept of literacy as reading and writing is still relevant, and these are still the “literacies” I will most often be teaching.
The graphic novel workshop was useful to me in terms of considering how teaching a basic concept like setting up a story can be taught in a visual way. It led me to consider how an approach like this would be useful in terms of supporting learners who might need additional visual components to comprehend a story. However, I’ve also seen firsthand how something like a graphic novel can be used to introduce advanced concepts through my own experiences studying “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” and “V for Vendetta” in upper level university courses. My takeaway from this is that supporting literacy with a multimodal approach can be more than just a means to help those who struggle with the basics, it can be a means of enhancing the learning process for advanced students.
The recent workshop on technology integration models was also useful to me because it emphasized that a single concept can be taught in a number of different ways. In particular, the SAMR model demonstrated that the same learning task might be taught in a number of multimodal ways. For example, I might be able to support students in building their reading skills by integrating technology and visual or audio components. Alternatively, advanced literacy skills could be taught through more transformative technology. In my observation at Vic High today, I observed students working on a project where they had to create their own piece of dystopian fiction to demonstrate their understanding of the genre. They had the option to write a short story in conventional or graphic novel form, or to create a short film. This was an excellent example of how basic “conventional” literacy skills can be a learning objective in a lesson that also allows students to build visual or digital literacy skills.
My high school English class experience reflected an understanding of literacy as simply reading and writing. The new curriculum, however, clearly recognizes the value of a multiliterate approach, and this is the most evident in how the English curriculum and class breakdown has changed dramatically even since I was a student. The fact that what used to be English 11 is now broken down into Composition, Literary Studies, New Media, Spoken Word, and Creative Writing indicates to me that the new curriculum recognizes that students have varying strengths and interests in different forms of literacy.
At Vic High I sat in on an English Composition 11 class that was exploring the topic of biography. The class watched interview videos, looked at online celebrity biographies, read interview questions, and considered how to write their own. This led me to consider a biography, which I would generally only associate with classic written content, is something that we actually read, consume, or experience in a multitude of ways. There are clearly benefits to using a variety of modes of presentation: by incorporating online articles with photos and text, videos, and written activities within a single class, students get a more dynamic experience and an overall more interesting lesson.
Another strength of this method might be that students who struggle to engage with certain materials have the opportunity to take on the same topics and learn the same concepts in a form that works better for them. Students who zone out during a video might engage better with physical materials in front of them and students who may not be strong readers could benefit from having topics reinforced through other modes.
My major takeaway from my school observations and this course so far is that it’s important for lessons to be multimodal because the rest of world is inherently multimodal-and that’s what we’re preparing students for.
This week, I had the opportunity to learn about Ed camps firsthand by participating in a small scale one in class. It was a great experience and doing one like this showed me how small-scale ones can be easily facilitated. The concept of a more fluid structure is exciting, as is the idea of choosing topics based on the interests of who is actually in the room at the time. I found this approach a lot more reflective of reality, considering there’s no easy way to accurately predict what a room full of people will be most interested in. Allowing participants to guide an event like this is an ambitious approach, but I found it worked surprisingly well.
In a more formal setting, it would certainty be useful to have topic experts involved in discussions, but a format where group members are supposed to contribute more than just listen or participate feels authentic. I found that I was comfortable engaging in the conversation even when I did not feel like an expert on the subject.
I was also surprised by how much the format facilitated in depth discussions that went in several directions. For example, my group was discussing aliens and the focus of the discussion ranged from science and math, to philosophy and literature.
I have had the experience before of signing up for a workshop, or activity that was not what I had anticipated and feeling stuck there. The freedom to move around without being a significant disruption was a great feature and I can see how it would create a more dynamic environment for a large-scale conference. However, I did not actually take advantage of this feature, nor did anyone in my group, which surprised me, but was reflective of how engaging the conversation was.
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