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Is It Worth It? Student Created Tutorials

You are reading another post in the series “The Digital Learning Farm” based on Alan November’s work of “The Digital Learning Farm“, which he also outlines in his chapter of Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ book “Curriculum 21“.

Adapted from Alan November (pp.188-193), Curriculum 21 (ASCD, 2010) by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

I am looking today specifically at the role of “Tutorial Designer”.

You can read previous posts of mine about Tutorial Designers below:

They say

If you can teach it…you know it!

We put 4th grade Math students to the “test”… well not really… No traditional test was required to show their understanding of multiplication. We asked our students to create a tutorial explaining multiplication to peers, future fourth graders of our school, etc. We started out with a lesson on Becoming good Tutorial Designers to show them examples of tutorial design techniques as well as to give them an understanding of the importance of clear and precise step by step directions.

In groups, students set out to write the scripts of their tutorials. Each group decided to use different tools to create a video visualizing the math problem and the step by step solution. We had one group creating a PowerPoint document, another one used sticky notes and the third group used various apps on the iPad to film and record.

The process of creating a simple tutorial was elaborate. From breaking the multiplication process up into individual steps, to being able to express these steps verbally and visually to creating a storyline around the math problem/solution to make it flow. We definitely spent most of the time fine tuning the step by step guide and rehearsing the script.

Recording of tutorial video

Now my question is:

Is it Worth it?

Do I have evidence that student created tutorials are worth the effort. An effort that takes (especially in the beginning) considerably more time than filling out a worksheet?

  • I think about the service that student created tutorials provide to fellow classmates (or global peers)? Some students learn (listen?) better (different?) when the concept is explained by someone their age.
  • I think about the skills that go into the development of  tutorials:
    • communication/verbal/language skills
    • critical thinking skills
    • creation skills
    • media skills
    • presentation skills
    • design skills
    • problem solving skills
    • empathy (How can I explain best, so SOMEONE ELSE will understand better?… How can I put myself into their shoes?)
  • I think about the motivation to do your best, that comes with the knowledge that it will not only be your teacher or your parents who will see your work, but by sharing it online, you have a global audience.
  • I think about the reward when you find out (verbal, via comments, tweets, embeds, etc.) that your tutorial helped someone else learn.
  • I think about the collaborative construction of resources- the curation of information (watch for an upcoming blog post on that topic), when work from one year is added to the work from previous and future years?
  • I think about the metacognition of the learning process, the documentation of the process and breaking it apart.

What is some evidence you see of “being worth our time” when students create tutorials to teach and learn?

Take a look at the final product of each 4th grade group.

4th Grade Multiplication Tutorial from langwitches on Vimeo.

4th Grade Math Tutorial from langwitches on Vimeo.

4th Grade- Math Tutorial- Multiplication from langwitches on Vimeo.

Do Student Jobs in the Classrom Affect Learning?

As I discussed in a previous post What is…will be obsolete in Second Grade?, I am taking a closer look at student jobs and responsibilities in the classroom in relationship to 21st century skills, literacies and “The Digital Learning Farm“, a term coined by Alan November.

A few months ago, I sent out the request to contribute to a survey about Classroom Job and Responsibility Assignments. I asked for help…

As I am collaborating with teachers to create classroom job responsibilities that allow their students to make meaningful contributions, I wonder:

  • What kind of jobs, responsibilities or contributions do YOU allow your students in your classroom?
  • Are younger students (lower elementary) as capable as older students to be contributors to a classroom learning community?
  • What is the difference between “classroom management” jobs (ex. pencil sharpener, line leader, attendance taker, etc.) and “learning management” jobs (ex. official scribe, tutorial designers, collaboration coordinator)?
  • Do these responsibilities/contribution make a difference in your students’ learning?

Here are some of the results:

I received 18 contributions from educators teaching at the following levels:

Survey participants teach at the following levels

What kind of jobs, responsibilities or contributions do YOU allow your students in your classroom?


What jobs do you assign in your classroom?

It looks like that the “traditional” jobs ( I refer to them as classroom management assignments), such as teacher’s assistant, pencil sharpener, door holder and table captain, are the ones who in comparison to the “learning management” jobs are more regular classroom responsibilities.

What other kind of job duties/ responsibilities do you assign in your class?

  • Line Leader, Prayer Leader, Calendar & Weather Man
    Each of my classes decides what jobs we need and who will fill those jobs. Typically, we update the jobs at the beginning of each month.
  • “Photographer, Videographer, Blogger, Secretary, Librarian, Scorekeeper. Facility Manager”
  • “Documentation of class learning. Rotate different documenters each week. Start the next week with a report on the class learning from the previous week, ie. how and when the class learned. Photographer, Reporter (for audio recording), Recorder (for graphing, drawing, etc.)”
  • “Locker of classroom door after lunch, attendance taker. homework completion checklist”
  • “Job Boss-makes sure all jobs get accomplished, Cleaning Boss-makes sure no one leaves any thing behind and all chairs are pushed in, dismisses students when their area is clean, Homework writer-writes daily assignment on dry erase homework calendar
    Pass out/back papers-passes out papers from “”to give back”" box (although this job is becoming obsolete with google docs and all web 2.0 tools
    Peso writer-person to write number of pesos paid to teacher when Engish is used in class
    Euro counter-counts class euros toward class party and adds some to bank each day
    Smart board person-this person explains our daily agenda”
  • “Rotational leader in opening exercise : writes up agenda and date, leads the choral reading of positive affirming statements.”
  • When we are reviewing for our math enrichment activities time, I have a student leader at each center. This leader is responsible for knowing and enforcing the rules for the game assigned to their center. Also, I have a remediation center where students pretend to be the teacher and help/coach their classmates solve word problems.
  • Teacher’s Helper, Paper Collector, Paper Passer, Morning Opening Leader, Line Leader, & our new Bloggers! I have eliminated Door Holder and Pencil Sharpener.
  • “Line Leader
    Read in the “”pond”"
    Gardener/ Fish feeder (depending on the year and what we have in the classroom)”
  • “Line Leader
    Weather Person
    Calendar Person
    Errands Person”
  • This is a great way to get teacher feedback. I too am a big believer in student responsibility. It’s the teacher’s job to provide some boundaries, and the students are generally quite good about staying within them and working well. Some things I do: I do duplicate posts of my assignments on facebook (since 95% of my students are on it), and there are a couple students that have admin priveleges and can also upload these assignments and other announcements to our group.  Another idea is that I’m big on allowing students to move around (especially boys), and I have bathroom passes that double for “I need to move around” passes, which students just grab and go. Only one boy and one girl can leave at a time. For the last two years I haven’t had a student abuse this privilege (that I know of). I hope this helps!
  • Line leader, snack tub carrier, messengers, paper passer, paper collector, sweeper, board cleaner, library organizers, substitute, overhead set-up/screen puller, and computer start-up/shut-down.
  • Attendance/lunch

What about the “Learning Management” style job assignments?

  • “These specific roles have a limited role currently but I like the idea! Our bloggers, videographers, photographers, etc. help put technology into the hands of the students and allow them to practice new skills.”
  • “They involve kids more in real roles where they’re responsible for learning–not for make-work–and make group collaboration smoother.  For example–a 3rd grade group did a science / math project where they designed small rubber-band-powered machines. Photographers recorded the process, reporters recorded predictions and results on Audacity, data kids measured & recorded their machines’ performance, etc. Each group collaboratively ended up with a narrated slideshow of the design process, their thought process, and their evaluation of the whole experiment.  (I handed out pencils as needed.)
    older students come in to assist students with their work – helps build community in the school    note-taker for students with severe arthritis, poor vision – same effect – develops empathy.
    Students learn to work together while managing each other. No one is boss or in charge (even though two of my jobs have the word “boss” in them)  They kindly remind each other of their jobs and are rewarded by the teacher if they get them accomplished.”
  • “Very early in my teaching I coveted collaborative learning.  I truly believe in learning through sharing. This would be the greatest influence on my learning practice.”
  • “With learning management responsibilities make students think about their learning and puts them in charge of their learning. Instead of being passive participants in a group, they have designated roles that they can contribute.”
  • “This is my ninth year of teaching, and my first one where I began using 21st century learning techniques. The students act as “scribes” by blogging about a specific subject area: Reading, Spelling, Grammar, Wordly Wise, and Social Studies/Science. This technique pushes them to reflect on what we have learned as a class, and what they have learned as an individual, during that particular week. I am considering adding “class researcher” to my job rotation in the future.
    The photographer can take the camera at any time and take photos of peers who are on-task. This gives me a great record, they love to take pictures and I don’t forget to do it! I print these pictures for the students’ portfolios. I would like to use them more for discussion in class…”
  • “We are just beginning this in my classroom, and it has been a learning experience. My students are both eager to do the job and they struggling with it.”

Additional thoughts from survey…

  • “Student ownership of learning is so important to create lifelong learners, meta-cognition, foster goal setting and create a collaborative environment.”
  • “Teachers should also not spend their time doing tasks that the TEAM can complete, this time can be used for individual instruction, guiding small groups and preparing and supporting lesson resources.”
  • “We have a saying posted in our room: “”The one with the primary responsibility to your future is YOU”.”
  • “This year I finally did student-led conferences and these were the most authentic, effective, meaningful and inspiring conferences with families that I have ever been a part of.”
  • “I created these jobs based on the things that I was constantly doing 10 years ago during my first year of teaching. My students helped me create these jobs because they wanted to help me. By 8th grade they usually “forget” to do their jobs, but they are the ones who neoprene create them in the first place.”
  • “My classroom is not very visible other than physically looking into the room. I have just started to develop a more global network.  I am not overly confident in my ability to create a global collaborative classroom.  Just exploring and trying a few things at a time.”
  • “Student jobs build classroom community. It teaches students that they can help in running the classroom as well as gives them the opportunity to contribute to their learning and learning among their peers.”
  • “Even as a child myself, I remember having classroom jobs that we were expected to do. The two I recall the clearest are chalkboard cleaner and the person who cleaned the chalk out of the erasers! I remember the cloud of chalk dust that would appear around me as I clapped the erasers together! It was a messy job, but one that I took pride in. Those may not have been 21st century learning responsibilities, yet we still contributed to our positive classroom environment. When I imagine a class where students are not given any jobs, and are not accountable for even small things, I see a teacher who is more of a dictator and students who are less motivated and excited to learn. Just like the old-fashioned farm jobs, I believe that kids need to participate, contribute, and be validated for putting some of “themselves” into their class and their school.
    Years ago I worked with grade 2 teachers who have had a different student add to a class journal at home each evening. This allowed parents to see what had been happening in class and created a nice record of the year from the point of view of the students. I suppose that nowadays a blog could achieve this!”
  • “Student contributions are essential no matter what age or population you teach. They are critical with high poverty populations, which is where I teach.
    It teaches them about responsibility and gives them pride in their learning environment.”

Do these responsibilities/contribution make a difference in students’ learning?

I wish I had included this direct question in the survey. Since I did not, I am going to ask YOU, my blog readers, to answer it. Do you believe (have you observed) an increase in student learning due to classroom jobs that allow the learner to contribute in a meaningful way to a learning community?

I will answer that question in my next blog post with a review of “The Digital Learning Farm” examples from this past school year.

ShowMe App for the iPad- Good Tutorial Designer App?

Through a tip from Twitter, I requested a beta invite from a promising new iPad app called ShowMeApp

It promised to screen capture AND upload the video recording AND then provide me with an embed code. That ability was the one that caught my attention. I have been working with several grade levels over the course of the school year to Become Good Tutorial Designers. Although the emphasis for the younger students is learning how to envision and script step by step tutorials, it has been a challenge to easily produce them. From capturing media with digital cameras, Flip videos, SmartBoard notebook software, Skitch (Screen capture), Garageband (audio), etc. to importing, editing, converting and then uploading them has been somewhat of a hassle ( and there is NEVER enough time!). The more we can hand the process over to the students, the better!

Although ShowMeApp suggests the following reasons for teachers and educators to use their app and community site…

  • Reach more Students
  • As an Online Business Card
  • Being found as a Tutor

…I immediately wanted to see how easy it would be for students to use and to create simple tutorials which could then be shared on classroom blogs and/or wikis.

Initial Screen

Create your Recording

Manage your recordings: Save, upload and choose to share

Grab an embed code from Showmeapp site

We have been working with 4th grade over the last few weeks to create multiplication/Math tutorials. We are finally ready to record the tutorials. I decided last minute to give one group the option of using my iPad with the ShowMeApp. They jumped at the opportunity and immediately were into it. It was super-intuitive, no instructions or help needed from me!

Exploring the ShowmeApp

Testing out recording the script



This group tested and experimented with timing, changing of colors and the overall flow of the step by step guide. All three members of the group were collaborating (two were recording their voices, while the third member of the group was following their directions and visualizing the solution to the problem). Towards the end of the class we had several of the other groups standing around the iPad group and observing. We need one more class for a final recording in quiet surroundings and the tutorial will be ready to go:) So stay tuned for their example (coming soon…).

Here is my initial impression of the app:

I liked:

  • very intuitive
  • simple interface (not many distractions)
  • easy way to upload and get an embed code
  • good sound quality for recordings
  • can use image from photo gallery as background.

What could be improved?

  • more color options including highlighter
  • different brush sizes
  • option to type text
  • different background fill colors to choose from
  • undo button
  • export button of final movie clip

I am thrilled that more and more app developers are remembering that CREATING is the highest level of all Thinking Skills!

Thank you ShowMeApp, you are on the right track.

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